As some of you may know, I have had the opportunity to finish the same novel several times. Right now, I find myself with a similarily absurd opportunity as I get to start writing the novel, again. I have realized that the first drft was a painting with no frame, no context from which to emerge. I am excited by the opportunity to draw such frame and here it is, the first chapter of Milk and Honey, version 2.0:
It was a most usual night, the night he called. I had spread a nice coat of disinfectant across the textured cement floor of the Butcher Shop. Thick white foam bubbled and popped at my feet as I waited the prescribed 20 minutes for it to set in—blood and soap mingled pink. I had stolen the technique from he, whose disinfecting procedure was every bit as elaborate and despised as his lengthy monologues: both of which, seen by management as desperate attempt to waste time. I wasn’t expecting the phone call. I didn’t think I would ever hear from him again.
Luc had resigned about four months prior, seemingly without provocation. A hastily written note to the Meat manager simply read, “Dear Brian, Buh-Bye.” He requested that I drive him to another ‘the other’ grocery store (our main competition), where, that morning, his wife had also resigned in a similar fashion: he left my life as abruptly as he had entered it, assuring me that he would never forget me as he closed the passenger-side door of my 1988 Nissan Micra. I never forgot him either, as the rest of this ‘novel’ will make abundantly clear.
Luc and his wife planned to move to Vancouver before backtracking to Saskatoon, where they would take up a life of solitude in a cheap prairie palace. Prior to that day nobody had the slightest idea they were leaving.
Luc’s telephone greeting, identical to the once familiar form of ‘hello’ he bestowed upon me whenever I walked through the sound-proof doors of the butcher shop, shocked me that night: “Hey Fucker!” It took me a moment to realize that, for the first time in months, I was speaking to Luc rather than about him and so, I stammered.
“Luc? Is this really you?!!”
“What’d ya think? Were you expecting a call from yer fuckin’ boyfriend?”
“Oh, fuck off!” His language was contagious, “How the fuck y’ doin’?”
Luc fell silent, for a while and then, for the first time in our friendship, he dropped his guard. “I’m not good man: fuckin’ hurtin’, actually.”
In all the time I’d known Luc, he had only shown me two, disparate emotions. He had revealed his peculiar breed of ecstatic excitement and, at times, he showed me a rage more pure than the driven snow. His anger, also contagious, dictated the atmosphere of anywhere he happened to be. If Luc was having a good day, if he got laid the evening prior or was under the influence of some particularly potent hash, those working alongside him absorbed his excitement and it spread. If Luc was provoked, however, either by management, his own, very real, demons, an insane customer or, even worse—all three, he lapsed into total silence. His was a quiet, not of contentment or peace, it was certainly not a comforting resignation of his coffee stained tongue, rather, a violent silence that wounded the innocent and guilty alike, often lasting for a painfully long time. Until that night, I had never met the genuinely sad incarnation of this strange man from Ontario’s darkest wild; I had never met this side of Luc Louis, in all his tragic beauty.
That night, Luc told me that he had quit smoking pot: ‘for real, this time’. He had been trying to quit his habit for the duration of our friendship and I could always tell when he had been without puffs for a few days. On these days, Luc lacked his usual clarity and good humour, both qualities replaced by an undirected and intense hatred for everything and everyone who happened into his angry path. That night, Luc’s voice told me that he had already moved well beyond blind rage and on to sadness. He told me about what had happened since we said goodbye, just a few months prior.
“I have come to the realization, Nick, that for the entirety of my children’s lives, I’ve been gone. My little fuckin’ girl won’t even answer the phone when I call her: the wife always has to use a payphone to get a hold of her and sometimes, she hangs up when she hears her own mother’s voice! She won’t even talk to me, her fuckin’ father, Nick. Fuck! What the fuck, man? What the fuck have I done?”
The line crackled under the strain of its Rocky Mountain Stretch; forever freckled foothills and pock-marked prairies only made things worse. Luc continued his confession sobbing, and I stood speechless in a disinfectant that slowly ate away at my boot heels. I only heard half of what he said before he was taken away, a thunderous ‘click’ announced unintended farewell. It was the last I ever heard from him.
Since that night, I have been searching for Luc. Miraculously, I have found him in the strangest of places. I mention his name sometimes, a reference not only to him, but to an entire breed of man that I’ve come to know and to love: some recognize him, most do not. Those who know the man, by his name and many others have been as eager as I am to share stories: together, we have constructed a chronological account, a hazy combination of history, biography and even, on particularly drunken occasions, hagiography. This is a composite sketch of memory and fantasy that will undoubtedly come as a surprise, if not an outright insult, to the man himself. Yet, the story must be told. This is the way the story begins, this is the way the story begins, this is the way the story begins, not with a bang but with a whimper.