Milk and Honey (or, The Story of a Novel)– An Unpublished Manuscript By Nick Lyons

Milk and Honey, (or, The Story of a Novel)

A Novel By:

By: N. Oswald Lyons

Part One

Chapter One

Go here for brief synopsis.
It was a most usual night, the night Luc 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 twenty minutes for it to set in. Blood and soap mingled pink. I had stolen the technique from Luc, whose disinfecting procedure was as elaborate and despised as his lengthy, profane monologues: both were seen by management attempts to waste precious company 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. His hastily written note to the Meat Manager simply read, Dear Brian, Buh-Bye. He’d written it in blood for dramatic effect. Luc asked me drive him to “the other” grocery store, where, that morning, his wife had resigned in a similar fashion. He then 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.

As we were driving, Luc told me that he and his wife were going to move to Vancouver for a while and then backtrack to Saskatoon, where they would take up a life of solitude in a cheap prairie palace. Prior to that day nobody else 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 soundproof doors of the butcher shop, on that night, shocked me: “Hey Fucker!” I was surprised by his raspy voice; 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.

“L—L—L–Luc? Is that really you?!!”

“Whatd’ya think? Were you expecting a call from yer fuckin’ boyfriend?”

“Oh, fuck off!” His language was contagious. “How y doin’?”

He was 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 revealed two of his disparate and intense emotions. He had showed me his peculiar breed of ecstatic excitement and, at times, he showed me a rage as pure as the driven snow. His emotions were also contagious: they determined the atmosphere of wherever he happened to be. If he was having a good day, if he’d 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 demons, an insane customer or, worse, all three—he lapsed into total silence, leaving those around him agitated and more prone to conflict. If Luc was bothered, the rest of us were much more prone to fight in the sullen periphery of his vacuous silence.

Luc’s was a quiet not of contentment or peace; it was not a comfortable resignation of his coffee- and tobacco-stained tongue, but a violent silence that wounded innocent and guilty alike. It often lasted for an eternity. Until I talked to him on the phone that night, I had never met the genuinely sad incarnation of this strange man from Ontario’s darkest wild.

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 such days, he was noticeably lacking clarity and good humor, both qualities replaced by an undirected and intense hatred for everything and everyone who happened across his angry path. That night, Luc’s voice told me, without saying the words, that he had already moved well beyond his rage and on to sadness. He told me about what had happened since we said goodbye, only 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 pick up when I phone. The wife always has to use a payphone to get a-hold of her, and sometimes she hangs up when she hears the voice of her own fucking mother! She refuses to speak to me, Nick. Fuck! What the…what the fuck have I done?”

Luc commenced slamming the phone against what I imagined to have been a pay phone. When he finally relented, enabling me to bring the receiver to my ear once more, the line began to crackle, making the distance between us tangible. Luc continued his confessional sobbing, and I stood speechless in a river of 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 his unintended farewell. It was the last I ever heard from him.

Since that night, I have been searching for Luc Louis. On a few occasions, I have found him (though not him) in the strangest of places. I mention his name sometimes, a reference not only to the man himself but to an entire breed of human that I’ve come to know and to love. Some people recognize him, most do not. Those who know the man, by this 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 would undoubtedly come as a surprise, if not an outright insult, to the man himself. Yet, his story, and by extension, my own, 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.

Chapter Two

For the first thirty years of my life: from the early 1980’s until now, I have inhabited three conflicting universes. I was raised in the Church. Both of my grandfathers were ministers of the Methodist persuasion, and I was the intended heir to their wooden throne. I went so far as to attend Bible College for a year, but it didn’t take. Which brings me to the second, and much more interesting, world I have had the opportunity to inhabit.

It all began in Grade Ten when, on a job-shadow project for the Career and Life Management class I was taking, I chose to follow some butchers around for a day. They wrapped me in a swaddling white smock, telling me that if I wanted to succeed in this profession, I would have to learn how to suck a mean cock: “Get on your knees, boy!” they laughed. I blushed.

I immediately fell in love with the world of their bloody work. I had never heard anyone swear with the regularity and vigor of the meat cutters who worked there. Even the “gangstas” at the public high school I attended didn’t hold a candle to the vulgarity of the butchers. I blushed at first, though, silently, when no one was looking, I giggled. I remember experimenting with swearing.

I was in the freezer the first time it happened. I dropped a box of turkeys onto the frozen floor and, a “fuck” sprung, all too naturally, from my virgin lips. A huge sense of relief washed over me as I repeated it, a bit louder the second time around.

I learned other things too. I smoked my first joint inside the same freezer. One of the young meat cutters sold pot on the side. He came to work high for every shift and was more than happy to pass it around. He and a beautiful young woman from the Health and Beauty Care Department had conspired, during their smoke break, to get me high for the first time. I could not say no to her, and so I smoked “the blunt” while shivering in my short-sleeved, pin-striped uniform.

For the next three hours, I walked in circles, partially because I couldn’t think of anything more productive to do and partially because the Duty Manager on that night had been informed that our freezer door hinge was broken. He opened and closed the door repeatedly. I was sure he was on to us: I would be fired and, ultimately, arrested once I finished my shift. Fortunately, the fans in the freezer did an excellent job of chasing out the blunt’ skunky smoke perfume, and my paranoid imaginations were left unrealized.

Marijuana never took, because, in my experience, a dreadful fear follows Mary Jane wherever she goes. But the Meat Department also introduced me to her boisterous bud, Alcohol, with whom I instantly fell in love.

My first drink was downed in the presence of Dale and Dean, my two Meat Department comrades, who were drinking buddies, eternal. One night, the three of us shared a late shift, and they had planned go to Buffalo Bob’s (the pub across the street) for several post-work pints, as neither were scheduled to work the next day. Dean left early (they Paper-Rock-Scissorsed for who would get to leave early, and Dean won, leaving Dale with his swipe card), and a couple of hours later he phoned the Butcher Shop from the bar with explicit instructions for Dale to grab a pack of smokes before heading over. I answered and eventually delivered the message to Dale, who was too busy cleaning up the shop to answer the phone in the first place. Dean also told me that I should come to the bar with Dale. “Man, I’m only sixteen!” I said, fishing for a response, which was delivered immediately back to me in half drunken bombast.

“Don’t worry ’bout that, Nick. Irene’s on tonight; she’ll letcha in. Come if you wanna, but make sure to tell Dale to pick up some smokes for us: du Maurier lights…he always gets the bargain-bin shit, and it’s like smoking fucking saw dust, swear to God.” I could hear drunken female laughter in the background. “Gotta go, Nick, see ya in a bit.”

I was elated by the prospect of drinking with the boys after a long, Sunday night shift, but was also crestfallen, unsure of what excuse I might provide to my parents for coming home well after the end of my shift. Upon telling Dale about my concerns, he just laughed and asked me for my parents’ phone number. He then proceeded to phone my mother, telling her that he was the Meat Department Manager and that we had received a large order of chicken breasts much later than expected. He covered the receiver and laughed frantically as he said this.

According to the “Meat Manager” I had to stay for an hour or two of overtime. My mother bought his tale, and though I didn’t have to lie to her directly, I remember feeling incredibly guilty as I walked to the bar with Dale.

My guilt had somehow vanished by the time I finished my first beer, a Kokanee Gold draught; I remember well. A warm sensation washed over my body, and I confidently ordered another. The three of us played pool, and, miraculously, my accuracy improved with every drink. I became more social and a hell of a lot more fun. “Who knew the boy could talk?” Dean screamed, impressed by my sudden transformation, as he sunk the nine ball in the corner pocket. We argued about music that night.

By the time we left the bar, I could barely walk. Dean, a self-confessed alcoholic, scrawled his phone number on the flap of his empty cigarette package and gave it to me, telling me that if my mother had any questions, to phone him directly. Already, I worried about going home, but I was drunk enough to go anyway.

I drove and, somehow, made it home that night—even managing to park my parents’ car in the small garage without any significant damage. Stumbling through the gate, I saw my mother’s silhouette in kitchen window: her arms were firmly crossed and, upon seeing her, I slowed my staggered walk…toward…the back…door.

“Have you been drinking tonight, Nick?” she asked, blinding me with kitchen light.

“Naw, Ma, I don’t drink. You know that! I’m jus’ really tired: we got a shi—crap-load of turkey in tonight and I had to put it all away. I gotta go to bed right now though. Night.” I knew my speech was slurred and my breath, gaggingly acidic. I descended the stairs quickly and clumsily. I went to bed without washing my face.

As soon as I lay down, my entire universe started to spin. I had experienced nausea before, but never the kind initiated by drink; I was scared, but excited too. My mouth began to water.

In the corner of my bedroom was a small Ikea chair, the last remnant of a childhood I’d tried desperately to abandon: nostalgia alone had forced me to keep the thing, for I never sat on it.

In my numb intoxication, I mistook the chair for a toilet, and proceeded to cover its pine seat with violently ejected vomit several times throughout the course of that inconceivably long night. At dawn, my mother stormed into my room, somehow managing to abstain from vomiting herself, and woke me with violent shakes: it was time to go to school.

I expected a lecture but did not receive one. Instead, my mother made my breakfast in complete and utter silence; for the first time, I struggled to keep her food down. At school that day, I was quieter than usual. Instead of bragging to my friends about my first night out at the bar with the boys, I imagined excuses for the inevitable questions I faced upon my arrival home. On that day, the ring of the final school bell was met with feelings of trepidation rather than relief.

When I got home, my mother was reading her Bible alone in front of the fire place; she didn’t look up when I walked into the room. Her silence continued as I sat down in the chair next to her.

Later, she made dinner, still silent. My dad came home and tried to cheer her with his warm embrace. She barely managed to mumble hello. Even the combined love of our half dozen cats failed to cheer her, that night. They rubbed against her legs, but she, committed to a silent refrain that overpowered love itself, refused to sing to them as was her custom. Today silence, and the next morning, the same.

After supper, I went to bed to find my room immaculately clean. All ten liters of vomit that had, the prior evening, been forced from the depths of my gut had disappeared, replaced by the similarly strong smell of vinegar. I couldn’t sleep, for all my guilt. I cried several times, swearing to myself and to God that I would never return to that dreaded Butcher Shop. But I did, after a brief talk with my mom.

“You lied to me, Nicholas.”

“I know I did, Mom. I’m sorry.”

“You drove home drunk last night. You could have killed someone. You could have killed yourself.”

“I know. I feel horrible.”

Silence.

I told her I had to go to work and walked out the back door, reluctantly walking to work with plans to give my two weeks’ notice. But, miraculously, I didn’t; I was too shy to talk.

For the next few shifts, I kept to myself. I had already been christened “the mute” and, in the following weeks, I lived up to the title. When people asked me if I was dumb, I shrugged my shoulders silently. Dale and Dean both asked me how it went with my mother; I shrugged, having lost the power of speech the Kokanee Gold had, all too briefly, bestowed upon me.

Stories of my debauched evening spread throughout the store. When people asked me about it, I got increasingly frustrated and resigned. Upon arriving home after my shift, I crawled into my room, put on some music and wept into my pillow with hopes of falling asleep.

I received no formal punishment for my behavior that night, but I punished myself instead, stopping short only of self mutilation. I didn’t wear a coat of itchy fur, but would have had one been provided for me. Instead, I cried…profusely.

And so it was. At first, I tried to inhabit both of the conflicting worlds simultaneously. But until I replaced my sanctimonious Sunday mornings with the heathen stink of the butcher shop, I remained agitated and exhausted.

Upon finishing High School, I took on a full-time position at the Butcher Shop, and by doing so, relinquished my right to request Sunday mornings off: “Nobody likes Sunday-morning shifts, Nick. Deal with it. Ain’t yer Church open on Wednesdays? Repent then. Bwahahahhaa!”

By this time, I preferred the Butcher Shop to Church anyway. For the first time in my life, I had a legitimate excuse for my absence at Church on Sunday morning. I capitalized on my Church’s reverence for the Protestant work ethic. Instead of watching the “worship team” (a group of musicians who clearly and painfully, to even the most Evangelized ears, lacked the necessary talent and genuine musical interest required to perform professionally) writhe and weep on the small stage of our Church, say: “Oh Lord, I just want to thank you so much for everything! You are just so good, God. So good, so good, so good! Let’s sing the chorus again! So good, father…”, I got to work in the Butcher Shop instead: I finally met some genuine people.

A bit more about the “Worship Team”, since they angered me so much: clad in high heels and fake tans, after the service they would invariably strut to Lexus, Mustang and BMW, thanking the Lord all the way home to their suburban palaces. Hungover or not, their contrived prayers made me sick to my stomach. While Christ represented the downcast, these phonies represented only their sickening selves: millions starve to the hollow sound of their distorted prayers every day.

The Evengelical Church, a breeding ground for pettiness and scantily clad women who love to declare their undying love to a God of their own device, had lost its hold upon me by the time I met the strange, middle-aged fat man known as Luc Louis. I worked alongside him for his first shift at the Butcher Shop, and I worked alongside him for his last shift at the Butcher Shop. I was an instant convert to the profane anarchy of his speech. I owe my salvation to Luc Louis alone.

Chapter Three

My introduction to Luc, and the friendship that followed, instilled my life with a holy glow. In hindsight, the whole affair is even more important now than it seemed at the time. Having obsessively analyzed Luc, my subject over the past five years, I am convinced that my association with him (and, perhaps, with everyone I have ever met) is nothing short of the work of the divine. Maybe this is nothing more than the manic and excited ramblings of one convinced that everything is, indeed, holy: “God is alive; magic afoot!” all that jazz. Like when you’re walking home and a particular street-light either turns on or off as you walk underneath, leading you assume that it, an inanimate object, is doing its best to bow at your feet in spite of the undeniable fact that you are drunkenly stumbling home to vomit and masturbate (in that order) into a familiar and dirty toilet. It’s really easy to get wound up, you know? I do; I did, and I do. Consider yourself warned.

That being said, the most definitive moment of my life, thus far, came on a Sunday afternoon, when a strange-looking man walked into the Butcher Shop, asking me if he was in the right place. In the midst of the stink, the bullshit and the fury of all those years at the Butcher Shop, I had no idea what Luc would, in time, come to mean to me.

My time at the Butcher Shop was once a baptism from, and back into, infancy: a ten-year sentence and an education. While working there, I caught glimpses of the truth and of the life I would eventually receive upon meeting Luc. I found a host of fathers during those years, but they were all mere whispers, prophesying the gigantic yawp of he who welcomed me at the doorway to my manhood with stained lips and comical moustache.

It was Luc who turned me on to the nobility of the animal, carnal intelligences that are hidden, or even worse, despised by men. He was a light in the darkness of the dank, cool confines of the Butcher Shop’s sound proof walls. Many who bore witness to Luc’s light were burned by it. Unused to raw angelic and, yes, at times, demonic forces, most cast Luc off as a brute and a letch. Some, however, were able to recognize the strange manifestation of truth among us. On us, consequently, lay the onerous duty of bearing witness to he who came, seemingly only to leave. When Luc left, we were all tragically alone.

Those who received him as he was intended—as a gift, a precious memory, not meant to disappear into grey skull but to burn brilliant, illuminating the impenetrable darkness of foggy, grey-stone-prairie night—were blessed, and word spread. In these days, conquered by spirit and soul, imaginations and longings, in these very hours, hours in which the flesh is constantly forsaken, Luc reminds us that we are not the sons and daughters of spirit alone. He commands us to enter in, once again, to the creamy white profundity of the flesh; he offers to lead us into our own peculiar enlightenments, but encourages our pursuit of the good destruction, too. That’s the tough part. That is where many get into trouble.

And Luc’s Soul was made flesh and dwelt among us. And his flesh was made spirit, forcing us to remember. We bore witness to his Truth and beheld his glory, his infinite splendor. He came to us in yellowed rags, huge eyebrows and moustache. Yet, many were unable to comprehend his light. He smoked with us. Word was made tangible, but it was sucked into the same miserable vent as all the rest: pipes filled with his profane, yellow speech, almost bursting before they emptied into then-clear Alberta blue sky. Many of us looked up, momentarily mistaking it for some yellow, emphysemic cloud. We didn’t know any better, back then.

This is the record of Nick. So, when the head office sends duty-managers to ask “Who was this man?”, let no mistake be made between him, the subject, and me, his faithful scribe. If any shall ask, “Are you whom you speak of?” I shall say no. And when he, Luc himself, was asked, “Are you he?” He smiled and simply saying, “Fuck you, I’m goin’ for a fuckin’ smoke.”

And though our beast-moan baritones were often mistaken over the phone, though he took meat orders using my name, and customers, upon coming to receive their pound of flesh, would swear it was me who they had spoken to, I remained knowingly baffled and confused. While, on a number of occasions, I was called into the Meat Department’s windowless office, accused of being the man behind the voice who, in the sanitary mist, had baptized shocked customers’ ears with an eloquent, though vile, form of slander, simply for opening the doors to our lair, I would say, “It is not I, for I am not able to even comprehend that kind of verbal jazz lunacy. My argument, though simple, was sound. I kept tight-lipped for most of my time there.

There were many, during my years in the Butcher Shop, who saw me as the light, the one hope in the midst of blood and music and bone, for I was somewhat separated from the place and curiously uninvested. But when they asked me who I was, I just smiled and said, “Have you met my friend Luc?”

“Him? He’s from Ontario! Nothing good comes from out east. He is always dripping with sweat and blood and burger and anger!” They were all blinded by Luc’s tremendous light.

Sometimes, Luc happened upon us in our eager chatter: “Hey, you—fuckin’ fag!” Our collective eye would instantly become a-glaze, affronted by Luc’s linguistic alloy: homophobia and vulgarity. And yet I know that he might be an example to all of the brave. He walked alone, truly alone: wilderness alone. Undefined by race, creed, or departmental loyalty (for Luc had also worked at the gas-bar and was well-received there, too), he was the sheep cast into the desert to die of thirst. I knew him. I knew him not. And yet, I saw him adorned in light and rags. He received a blessing from his mother above; a crow descended. It was good.

By the turn of the Twentieth Century, many followed Luc, but many more despised him. He transferred from store to store quite frequently, never setting down deep root. Miraculously, though, his seed bore fruit. There was a small group of people who, in attempts to remain part of Luc’s company, transferred stores a couple of times, in order to keep up, but Luc always returned to the Richmond Center, the most despised of stores, talking over smokes and endless coffee of possibly assembling an “A-Team” there. He spoke in spring’s early morning light, and a murder of crows gathered around the bone-barrel feast he had prepared for them at the band saw. The sky broke under the weight of light and warmed the black backs of bird. And it was good.

Chapter Four

Luc’s first shift was on a Sunday afternoon in late October. He transferred to the Butcher Shop from the Gas Bar which was the only department whose staff was seen in lower regard than us ‘Meatheads’. He was happy to have escaped the gas bar right before winter hit even though he now had to walk across the parking lot to score weed from his dealer, a gas bar ‘lifer’.

Working in the Butcher Shop also forced Luc to trade Calgary’s natural, though temporary winter freeze for the manufactured, permanent chill of the ever-buzzing Meat Department fans.

The first thing I noticed about Luc, of course, was his gigantic moustache. While moustaches were very common at the store and, more particularly, in the Butcher Shop, Luc’s take on the ’stache was more elaborate and ridiculous than any I had ever seen in my life. He used special wax to curl up each perfectly symmetrical side of the thing. Prior to meeting Luc, I had only seen such a ‘stache on cowboy legends such as Doc Holiday or Wyatt Earp; it seemed to suit him just fine.

Luc wore the moustache without the slightest bit of irony. He never felt the need to explain its significance to the rest of us, who looked at it with awe and wonder. Luc, as I would later find to consistently be the case, was the only person capable of ambivalence to his own extravagance: he was an ever present calm in the middle of the storm which often surrounded him.

But, for his first shift and, indeed, his first couple months in the Meat Department, Luc was reserved and painfully polite. He tried to please his peers with his rusty-at-best meat cutting skill (for the man hadn’t cut meat in over a decade); upon his return to the Butcher Shop, Luc couldn’t see the difference between Pork and Beef, much less a hind and front quarter. He was the butt of every joke and prank the other butchers managed to muster and they were relentless.

In Luc’s first few months on the job, he often arrived for a shift to find his knives at the center of a block of ice. While visibly angry, he just sighed and resigned himself to bringing out the hose to melt the huge block with hot water. The other butchers laughed aloud, asking one other who could have done such an awful thing.

As an outsider myself, I made it my mission to make Luc feel welcome. He and I were both stuck with the shittiest shifts. We worked together until ten thirty every Friday and Saturday night. In the beginning, I sympathized with Luc. As an introvert, I found it extremely difficult to break through Butcher Shop’s vulgar banter. When it was just the two of us working, I tried to coax Luc out of his shell. I meekly asked him about his other job. I asked him about his wife, his kids, friends and hobbies. He always answered my questions, but his answers were always disappointingly brief.

Luc’s only other ally in the Butcher Shop was Norm Lappiere, for the two shared a mother tongue. When working together, their French banter managed to conquer the regularly Anglo centric atmosphere of the entire City of Calgary. Coworkers, myself included, speculated as to what, exactly, they were screaming to one another. It was undoubtedly hilarious, for they laughed violently, often coughing, doubling over exaggeratedly.

Norm was the horniest human being I have ever met (and again, remember that I attended a public High School). The man’s exploits in the sexual realm were nothing short of legendary. Indiscriminate towards the sex or even genus of his multifarious conquests, Norm fucked anything in his path; even a pound of lukewarm ground beef would do if he was going through a dry spell.

Norm’s stories often crossed the line, bringing a tangible discomfort to the staff room, as regaled all who listened (and tried not to listen) with stories about how to properly fuck a goat in the asshole. According to Norm, you have to lead a goat to water if you want “a good fuck”. Goats avoid water and if you lead on to stream and ‘push’ from the back, it will invariably push back ‘just like a woman’. As I said, Norm was an outcast.

And for this reason, and a variety of others, the bond between Norm and Luc was a strong one, almost immediately; they were like father and son. Their bond rescued Luc from unemployment. While the other butchers despised Luc for his inability to perform even the simplest of cuts, Norm chose to take Luc under his wing and Luc’s skills increased exponentially.

Luc could not have asked for a better mentor. Norm’s roasts and steaks were more exquisite than those of even the most experiences meat cutters in the organization. Norm knew this, and he often moved from store to store to test the loyalty of his customers. And they followed. Norm was on the prowl for a much higher cause than affirmation, however. He was searching for the wettest, tightest ‘cashier pussy’ in the City; he proudly christened himself as the organization’s only real “Connoisseur of Cashier Cunt”.

While Norm’s quest for sexual adventures with the cashiers often failed, he had a loyal customer base to choose from, mostly composed of elderly women. His ‘groupies’, as he called them, batted their eyelashes at the mere mention of the man’s holy name. Other meat cutters were jealous of Norm’s popularity. They mumbled curses under their breath when I shouted out that yet another customer wanted Norm to cut this or that roast or steak for their dinner. Norm was the father figure of our silent, and holy trinity; I learned much from him, most importantly with his advice on how to pleasure a woman.

As Luc’s mentor, Norm shared his expansive knowledge of knots and other forms of Gnostic Butcher knowledge with Luc, and Luc alone. Norm’s passion for cutting meat was only surpassed by his passion for pussy: soon, Luc’s skills increased in both precision and speed. The flashing light of Luc’s blades (note the plural, for Luc was ambidextrous and used two knives) soon blinded us all, for he, as we all slowly came to realize, was a born butcher.

So, for the second time, Luc fell in love, not only with the trade, but with the strange group of people who committed themselves to a life of blood and bone. As his skill increased, the other butchers warmed to him: he spoke more, and he spoke loudly (even in mongrel English); his once mute tongue, every bit as engaged and as frantic as his blood-stained hands.

And we were all amused by Luc’s verbosity. His epic, yet mundane tales were, to those who worked beside him, divine liturgies. We, who were fortunate enough to share the same sound proof room he inhabited every weekend, were transformed. And it was good.

Chapter Five

By December, Luc decided to quit his job with the Streets Department of the City of Calgary so he could take on full time employment as a butcher. It was not a decision he took lightly. For the past twelve years, Luc had maintained steadfast employment with the City of Calgary: it was a ‘cushy’ position, progressively so as he gained seniority, and it was the position for which Luc had abandoned the meat cutting trade.

But Luc genuinely loved to cut meat. Upon receiving Norm’s priceless and sage wisdom, Luc cut meat with the confidence and foolhardiness of the few people on earth who have managed to find the thing in which they were sent here to do. Blood would fly, bone would break: it was like music. When Luc was cutting, we all knew better than to disturb him. He cut and cut and cut, with both hands. Pork chops, lamb shanks, beef stew, and turkey portions all seemed to spring into existence instantly when Luc stood in front of the block. We all wanted to just stand back and watch, but his tremendous output necessitated our own.

The Butcher Shop was unionized too, of course, but our union didn’t hold a candle to the iron clad job security and solidarity an employee of the City of Calgary enjoyed. Luc told us stories of rebellion at the City, which bordered on treason; he and his coworkers essentially worked for and against the City of Calgary and we tax payers effectively signed their cheques. If a City employee was disciplined or punished by ‘green’ manager who had yet to pick up on ‘the way things (instead of people) worked’, the employee and several of his or her coworkers revolted in the most creative and destructive ways imaginable.

In his years at the City, Luc had seen entire sections of streets destroyed and rebuilt for no reason in particular. He, himself, had compromised the integrity of more than one of the City’s monstrous tractor lawn mowers by decimating abandoned pop cans, wallets, couches and even refrigerators, just for kicks. He, and the rest of the City staff, took their work quite casually; the only exception was if revenge, in the form of destruction, was involved.

With his obvious predilection for anarchy, Luc took a leap of faith as he jumped from the City’s ship to the less fortified Butcher Shop. But he quickly took command of our Shop, gaining the love and disdain of all he would meet while he worked with us.

Luc didn’t cut meat for the benefit of his employer; he cut meat because he loved to cut meat. His ever increasing skills had nothing but a negative impact on the company’s bottom line. Meat is a perishable product, after all, a product best preserved uncut, hanging from a hook in the cooler. But Luc refused to wait for old stock to disappear before cutting more. In his time working at the Butcher Shop, Luc did only two things: he cut meat like a man possessed and shot the shit… like a man possessed.

As soon as a semi-truck aligned its gaping mouth with the cement edge of our loading dock, Luc liberated the steel from his ‘holster’ (he, like many of the meat cutters there had a plastic sheath in which they held their knives. It hung from the chain of white plastic wrapped round beer-gut). Luc salivated at the prospect of cutting every piece of pig, cow and lamb inside of the truck into steak, roast, and cube (the rest was, of course, ground in our gargantuan grinder). Luc loved to cut meat.

Other meat cutters arrived to their afternoon shifts only to be informed that Luc had already ‘cut the cooler’ (meaning that he had taken it upon himself to process every sizeable chunk of flesh we had received that morning). There was, quite simply, no work left for the other butchers to do, thanks to the man whose monstrous, ambidextrous paws processed tons and tons of meat every hour. Meat wrappers struggled to keep up to Luc’s manic ambition. Racks of meat surrounded the automatic wrapping machine. For hours after Luc left, the wrappers struggled to wrap the endless amounts of meat Luc left in smoky wake.

Upon ‘cutting the cooler’, as he called it, Luc retired to the staff room to impress and offend those surrounding him. No subject under the sun was left unmoistened by his tobacco stained tongue: his stories upon stories. He told us about his mother’s habitual, Ontarian, feline slaughter; he told us, in disgusting detail, about dreams he’d had about Head Meat Wrapper May MacDougal spreading her legs for his benefit. Luc never paused, nor did he depend on a transitional phrase, a ‘like’ or an ‘if’. Some left the staff room howling, and many left quietly in disgust. Nobody was able to leave the room unaffected by the lash of Luc’s profanely hilarious words.

For most of the entirety of the time I spent with this strange and brutish man, I attended University. This, the third world I inhabited during my first thirty years which I have, up until now, failed to mention. As a History/English major, I was exposed to some of history’s most vibrant voices. I met that madman Shelley and exalted in his political poetic. I was knocked down by Whitman’s gigantic yawp. I met Alexander the Great and I knew Napoleon well, but ironically, I became transfixed by the more relevant and contemporary bard with whom I conversed with strictly outside of class and study.

It seemed absurd, for English was not the native tongue of my new favorite poet. Luc never wrote down any of his stories, none of his songs, preferring the fleeting impermanence of oral communication alone. He introduced me to literature’s oral cradle, summoning me to become his scribe. I did so, in a modern way.

Luc inspired me to purchase a tape recording device which I brought with me to the store with me every time our shifts overlapped. Luc and I loved to tell stories. Usually a day would go something like this: I got to work, Luc would mock me and we would immediately retire to the smoke room. After killing the cobwebs with nicotine and caffeine, we would begin to speak. Thankfully, Luc took pity on my weak attempts at storytelling and dominated our ‘conversation’ with his infinitely craftier tales. I have never heard anyone tell a story like Luc: he spun tales like tops.

One of Luc’s stories, in particular, caught my attention; it was the reason I purchased my first recording device. Luc, as you will soon find, came from a small village in Ontario. It was a place he described as being “so far past the wrong side of the tracks that we didn’t even know there were any fuckin’ tracks” and, in contrast to most parts of rural Ontario that suffer from an inundation of raccoons, Luc’s portion of the province was overrun by feral felines.

To hear Luc speak of the place, one would think it impossible to walk anywhere without tripping over two-cats-fucking. While Luc’s father had a soft spot for cats, his mother ruthlessly tried to massacre every one of “the dirty little fuckers” in the most elaborate of ways. Yes, some of her kills were conventional: she set snares for them and she poisoned them. But she also used machetes, nun chucks, dynamite, and a chorus of other means by which to rid her homestead of the beasts. Marie’s husband was unaware the scourge, of course; he was often working as she hunted. But, for some reason, she confided in her youngest son.

By the time Luc finished telling his mother’s tale, the rest of the Butcher Shop’s staff, including the manager, had arrived to work. Rick (Meat Manager) burst through the smoke room doors, immediately chastising Luc and I for the deplorable state of the display case, not to mention the fact that we had failed to turn the lights on before the store opened. My heart raced, fearing Rick’s discipline. Luc, however, just looked at our boss blankly before telling him to “fuck off”.

When Rick threatened to suspend Luc for insubordination, Luc countered with his own threat: “Rick, do you really want me to go to all the trouble of phonin’ up that big ol’ bulldog of a Union Rep, on her weekend off, no less, to tell her that you’ve made some big fuckin’ assumption that, just because the lights aren’t on Nick and I’ve been fuckin’ the dog all mornin’? Fuck off, we just got back here. Buh-bye now.” Luc lit up another smoke as he stared his boss directly in the eyes.

It was a standoff, for several minutes: neither of the men budged until, finally, Rick relented and politely asked us both to return once our break was over. Luc and I finished our coffee before we went back. I waited until my second coffee break to drive to the Radio Shack down the street and bought the best pocket tape recorder money could buy in hopes of recording all of my future conversations with the man who would become my obsession for the next decade.

Chapter Six

And record I did. I quickly accumulated an entire library of microcassettes which I have since organized by nothing as mundane as chronology or even biography; rather, I have arranged these tapes by theme. For example, I have a collection of over 100 microcassettes which feature Luc’s musings on Meat Wrapper May’s vagina. To this genre’s immediate right is a comparatively small (about 73 microcassettes) collection devoted to ‘pussy farts’: the list goes on and on, scrawled in blue ink.

The electronic age has forced me to digitize microcassette. It has caused me a lot of grief. I can’t even speculate as to how many times I have hosted a dinner party, put iTunes on shuffle, momentarily forgetting about the massive library of Luc’s barbarous voice, only to have he, who I said goodbye to long ago, disrupt my intentions for the evening. Only akin to an unwelcome and drunken guest, Luc’s is a voice prone to various ‘fuck’s’ and ‘cunt’s’; dinner music these tapes are not, though ironically, most of them were taken from our lunch break conversation.

On the evenings when Luc joins us over dinner, our guests leave confused and disturbed despite my attempts to explain why I have recordings of this ‘repulsive man’ filling up valuable space on my hard drive. And still, I continue to compulsively convert the tape to WAV and WAV to MP3 (if the quality of the recording is good enough), in hopes that Luc’s memory might remain.

And though I have digitized all of these tapes, I refuse to get rid of them. My girlfriend claims they are a waste of time and space (for they are the center piece to our “living in sin” domestic and displayed, prominently, upon mantle), but I am compelled to keep them. I keep them for the comfort and satisfaction only a physical presence can offer. I want to ensure that should my external hard drive crash, should back up files be destroyed by a fire, flood or a tsunami, the sacred originals might remain. You wouldn’t believe how many guests have absolutely no clue as to what the strange, small three dimensional rectangles are. Again, all attempts to explain are met with confused nods and blank faces.

Here’s an example. One weekend, a former Bible School professor of mine came to our house for dinner. He and his wife were in town for a wedding and looked us up. Well read, and incredibly well spoken, Dave Ashton was my mind hero for the extent of my young adult life. He, a ‘liberal Biblical scholar’, in the incredibly conservative, Evangelical climate of Southern Alberta, was a key factor in my own enlightenment. He encouraged me to seek out works by John Wesley and even Thomas Merton, as I gathered materials to build my own theological world-view. For some reason, now unclear to me, I played the tapes for him and his wife after dinner: I was disheartened to here Ashton’s assessment of my new ‘hero’.

Dave Ashton thought Luc to be self indulgent, and immature, lacking any refinement of character. And I really tried. I wanted to share the modern-day Christ I had discovered in my time at the Butcher Shop: I was proud—I felt like an agent, of sorts. But Ashton didn’t bite, even after the third tape, he remained unimpressed. Sensitive to he and his wife’s (and, by extension, my own wife’s) discomfort, I shifted the conversation to a more acceptable subject: we commenced deconstructing the novels of E.M. Forster.

Our conversation suddenly came to life, but I was bored; he alone tried desperately to perform literary artificial mouth-to-mouth, and succeeded to some degree, as he was undeniably loquacious, but all in all it was more reminiscent of masturbation than love making. I nodded to everything he said that night, but, for the most part, I ignored him: I thought about Luc instead.

Ashton was the first of many who, upon seeing my devotion and excitement to the life of a Butcher, questioned the sanctity of my soul. And I am no better; I too have struggled with doubt. Upon hearing critiques of Luc’s story, my own faith has oft been shaken. I have abandoned Luc and, much worse, I have abandoned this novel, the sole salvation message to the working class and to all.

But, faith now restored, I continue to write. And though my own eyes, at this moment, have been the only eyes to survey the harsh landscape of these hundreds of thousands of letters and words, I have faith that one day this document will be handed over to the masses: private will give way to public. And so, if you find yourself reading these words right now, I have succeeded. I now can rest assured in the fact that I am not the only one who has been blinded and, hopefully, transfixed by Luc’s supernatural glow. I shall now give you Luc’s words, completely untouched. Nothing has been added and nothing has been taken away.

Chapter Seven

I

Two men stand on the loading dock of the Butcher Shop. They both shiver, for it is a cold (but clear) November morning in Calgary, Alberta. Nick (the younger of the two) is being filled in by Luc (the older) about the ‘goings on’ in the Butcher Shop over the past few days as he was sick with a cold.

Luc: I’m gonna make my own porno: “Big Butcher Bitches”. Whadya think? Eh?

Nick: There’s a market for that…

L: Oh, well, that’s what I thought… there’s lots of pig meat cutters out there and a variety of assorted wrappers to go with it…

(Laughter)

L: Fuckin’ Joey… he’s loosin’ it man… May is just fuckin’, oh, she said, just today, on and on and on… she said I tried talkin’ to him intelligently and that didn’t get anywhere, so I tried to be stern with ‘m, and that didn’t get me anywhere cause he is just ‘(mock effeminate laughter)’ whenever you give him shit, eh? And yesterday, oh God, she said ‘Now! Momma’s gonna go fer a break’ and he’s runnin’ away, ‘No come here, I’m not finished talkin’’ he comes back… ‘Now, momma’s gonna go for a break and mamma wants you to do this and this and this and this and this and it’s gotta be done before I get back…now if it isn’t done, I’m gonna spank you!’

(Laughter)

L: And I said, ‘Now June, ya just turned him on, I mean, come on, ya lost the effect there! Ya had ‘im with the stern look, but, the spankin’, aw, that’s it!” So she leaves and he’s like, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, I got to get some smoke, or somethin’, I’m goin’ outta my fuckin’ mind…’ ‘Jacques!’ (Jacques was the Butcher Shop’s drug dealer) He fixed Joey up, he was happier than shit for the rest of his shift…

(Laughter)

L: …What a fuckin’ insane asylum… oh, and Bryan’s girlfriend is workin’ here now…

N: Oh, I know, I bet Cindy’s happy about that…

L: Oh, I made sure to tell her, eh? But she didn’t believe me, I said, ‘You don’t believe me?’ She says ‘No. You’re just a bastard trying to get under my skin.’ I said ‘Really, do you think Nick’s a bastard too? Cuz Nick was here when Bryan came in looking for work for the bitch.’ Remember that day he came in? She said, ‘Nick?’ I said, “Talk to Nick if you don’t believe me, he was standin’ right fuckin’ there.’ Her face, man, just welled right up. And then she gone to the shitter for about fourty five minutes. I thought, ‘Thank God, fuck off. Change the station to .107 you fuckin’ whore.’

(Laughter)

L: I mean, just fuckin’…

(More laughter)

L: This is the same time when she was havin’ morning sickness, eh? Did I tell you what I did there?

N: The fish?

L: Yeah, I got, oh, I got such a kick out of that, I swear. Semi-woody, eh? A soft one, nevermind….

(Laughter)

L: And Peter’s at his table and he’s lookin’ at me cuz she’s starting to turn white in the face… almost instant, eh? Fuck, oh, fergetaboutit… oh, God.

(Laughter)

L: She fuckin’ runs out, man, after pukin’ in the garbage can and I thought, ‘Ugh, now that’s just wrong’…

(More laughter)

N: You’re a fuckin’ asshole, Luc.

(More laughter)

L: Ah well, it’s not as bad as… Peter’s joke, ‘gotta new job…fixing, well, you don’t remember that?

N: No, no…

L: ‘Got a new job at the Foothills Hospital, startin’ Monday… fixing broken wheels on miscarriages…’

(Laughter)

L: And she heard about this. Aw, fuck! The hatred ran deep.

(Laughter)

L: ‘Fixing broken wheels on miscarriages?’ Fuck, man… What a bunch of heartless bastards… and then, she goes home sick (cuz she miscarried)— well that’s a day (the Butcher Shop had a disciplinary program set up for workers who missed shifts without provided necessary documentation) and then she had a couple complications a few days later—that’s another day, ‘you are now on the program’…

N: Rick probably could have got fired for that…

L: “Oh yeah…he was sayin’ it in the smoke room in front of a whole bunch of people, y’ know, the guys were fuckin’ bustin’ a gut, but the women were all…fuckin’ schocked! ‘I can’t believe he said that, the fucker!’ Rick was like, ‘What?!?!?!? Ya fuckin’ whores…’ what’s Bryan’s girlfriend like, anyways? I still haven’t seen her. The grocery guys were checkin’ her out tho’

N: Oh yeah?

L: They all approve.

N: Oh, do they?

L: Mhmm…

N: Yeah, she’s not too bad…

L: Big tits? I’ve heard she’s got a plump butt.

N: Yeah, she’s pretty plump… she’s short, really short…

L: And plump, just like mom, just like mom…

N: Whose mom?

L: His mom! His mom’s not exactly a small woman…

N: You’ve met his mom?

L: A couple times in the store… I didn’t actually meet her but she was quite plump… she’s a big woman…

(Belch)

L: Yeah, if she had more hair on her she coulda looked like a fuckin’ sasquatch.

N: Sasquatch?

L: Yeah. A female one. I bet she’s stinky too… you know? That’s somethin’ else, when they talk about sasquatches, they always kinda refer to them as ‘a male’

N: Yeah, that’s right…

L: I wanna see a big female Sasquatch too… with hair all over her too and big, silver dollar nipples.

(Laughter)

N: Eh?

(More laughter—door opens. Muffled voice of condescension).

L: Hey! We’re having a fuckin’ meeting here, close the fuckin’ door!

(More laughter.)

L: “Fuck!”

(More laughter)

L: Oh, God… so, two kids come to our door the other night… the first two in four years livin’ there, eh?

N: Really?

L: For Halloween… we had full sized chocolate bars, eh? Of assorted kinds… the old lady’s into this, eh? Kids never show up and I keep givin’ her shit, but anyways, DING DONG, about quarter to eight and I said, “Well, fuck me gently”… I couldn’t believe we actually got some kids here… just two little kids about, nine… eight, nine, ten… the old lady takes pity on them, she knows the night’s pretty much over, so she gives them three chocolate bars each… they look at her and just fuck off, eh? And I’m standin’ there watchin’ this and… not even a ‘thank you’, eh? So I open the door and I’m like, ‘You little cock-suckers!’

N: I wonder why the kids don’t come around?

(Laughter)

L: ‘You little ungrateful cock-suckers…’

(Laughter)

L: The old lady was like, ‘Luc! Fuck!’

(Laughter)

L: So I says to her, ‘You shut the fuck up and go upstairs and drop your linens…so, we did…. ‘Turn off the lights and lock the fuckin’ door, it’s over!’

(Much laughter)

L: They’re a bunch of little cocksuckers anyways….

END OF TAPE

II

Luc and Nick again walk onto the Butcher Shop loading dock to talk over smokes. This time, they are joined by a refrigeration repair man named Steve, who soon joins the butchers in their banter. The following conversation was recorded the day after Saddam Hussein’s capture: two days prior to the execution.

Luc: What they should do is stomp him on a stump.

Nick: Stomp him? What the fuck you talking about Luc?

L: What they would do is they would have this big stump and they’d put the guy’s head on it and just have an elephant fuckin’, (simulates squishing noise)…

N: Aghhh…

L:…the beast puts his pressure on the guy’s head.

Steve: You know what I read in the Sun? This columnist had this great idea: “Give him a sex change operation and stick him back into the general public!

(Much Laughter)

L: Oh, fuck, eh? Hala, hala, how you say ‘Oeee’?

(Much laughter)

L: That fucker would be hittin’ the high notes. Like, he’s still conducting himself with an air of authority.

N: Oh yeah.

(Door opens. Head Butcher Harry comes out to see what’s going on.)

L: Harry, that wasn’t four cases, that was six cases.

Harry: Of what?

L: Those buck-eyes.

H: Oh.

L: I cut all of ‘em.

H: Some woman wants ten… ten pounds of fuckin’ Blade Steaks.

L&N: Ten pounds of blades?!?!

L: Was it that old guy that I kicked out of the cutting room earlier?

H: No. A woman.

L: An old one?

H: Oh yeah, Luc. You’d like her.

L: Eighty years old? It’s my old girlfriend eh? I had to drop her though, she was too loose.

(Laughter)

S: We’ve got a fuckin’ Larry Flynt here…

Much Laughter

L: Ok, man. Just regular sized steaks?

H: Yeah.

L: Oh, ok.

H: So big Bryan wants to come back, eh?

L: Yeah, he does!

N: They all come back.

L: They all come back! Even you!

N: Even me!

L: Even him!

H: Yeah!

L: All three of us went AWOL in the last year! Fuck, eh? I though, ‘Yeah, it’s bad out there, but as bad as it is man, home is home! Fuck, y’ know. They’re nuts, but it’s home!

(Laughter)

L: Fuck!

N: You get used to it after a while.

L: Yeah, you do more than get used to it; you learn to thrive on it. I do, anyways. Like uh, if Jim or any other manager, doesn’t matter who the manager is, really… if they’re not around, y’ know… and I’m workin’ with Harry or Peter, the boys, eh? It fuckin’ gets done, Harry.

H: Yeah…

L: At the end of the day, the sales are good, everything’s cut, everybody’s happy, y’ know? But the managers, they just… I don’t know… they just get in your fuckin’ way!

(…)

H: It is actually kinda nice out here.

L: Hey did Joey get his evaluation, Harry?

H: I don’t know. But on Friday he went home early.

L: Oh, you’re right. He came and asked me, he said, ‘I got a sore ear, should I go home?’ and I says, ‘Fuck, man… fuck…you’d better get a doctor’s note…’

Door opens, Joey sticks his head out.

Joey: Somebody needs Meat Cutter.

L: Yes, yes, ‘Meat Cutter’ will be right there.

Joey laughs loudly.

L: Tell that old cock-sucker I will be right there. ‘Yes. I know, now get out!’

(Laughter)

L: May fuckin’ laughed her ass off the other day. This old Chinese couple walked right into the… the cutting room and Peter’s on break. “We want to talk to Peter.” “Peter? Ah, Peter’s havin’ a coffee and too many cigarettes, now get out and close the door behind you. Ok? Thank you, bye.”

Loud laughter.

L: And then I go back to work, real busy eh? May just fuckin’ bustin a gut… “I can’t believe you said that to those people.”

Laughter

L: Eh? ‘The Home of the Abuse’!

Laughter. The men all go back into the building. Recording overpowered by the sound of refrigeration fans.

H: What’s with these little bugs…. They’re itchy…

L: You know what those are, eh? …..

Fans.

Chapter Eight

In spite of Luc’s habit of speaking at incredible length about fantasies he had about other women, many of whom worked along-side us, ‘Big Butcher Bitches’ in particular, one of the most touching and endearing things about the man was his obvious love for his wife. I only met her a couple of times but she, much like her husband, made a lasting impression on me.

Her name was Doreen and long before I met her, I felt as though I knew her. I had heard stories of the two of them getting plastered together on days off. In their drunken revelry, Doreen took it upon herself to cut Luc’s hair with an old pair of sewing scissors. The result was invariable disastrous.

Before passing out, Doreen would try to cover up her mistake by doing something even more extreme such as bleaching her beloved’s miss-shapen skull and brow. Hair-styling nights forced Luc to phone in sick for a week to recover, both emotionally and physically from his wife’s impaired aesthetics.

I saw Luc and Doreen at their worst. Sometimes, Doreen’s calls to the Butcher Shop were ended brutally when, after a long argument, Luc slammed his receiver against brick wall until it shattered. As far as I know, he never showed the same violence to his wife’s body but with Luc, especially, I hate to make assumptions.

Doreen was beautiful. Her skin, veiled by an omnipresent shield of cigarette smoke, was defiantly radiant. Hair, permanently floured and tied back in a pony tail, betrayed her profession (she was a baker); her voice was akin to William Burroughs’, or even Tom Waits’. I was intimidated by her, at first as for me, she had assumed the status of Royalty by virtue of her marriage to Luc. She was incredibly kind and incredibly shy.

At a Christmas party one year, I took advantage of my chance to speak with her, for the first time, one on one. My Deli-Department-Date had abandoned me for one of the more handsome Grocery Clerks and they were dancing suggestively to Britney Spears’ latest hit. Luc was outside smoking. Doreen looked uncomfortable without him as she sat at the table with an almost untouched plate of roast beef and mashed potatoes—- several empty glasses. I introduced myself and sat in Luc’s abandoned chair.

While Luc’s subsequent mythological incarnation largely ignores Doreen (as you shall see), she was absolutely foundational to the man’s identity. His love for his wife, a strange mix of passion, rage and, sometimes, ambivalence, was the only anchor in his life.

Doreen and I talked for the rest of the night. I told her stories, mostly about her husband, and she would nod and grin, often saying, “Oh my God. He does that at work too?” I discovered that the two of them were High School sweethearts and that Luc was the only man she’d ever “fucked”. She told me that though her friends frequently asked her if she’d regretted marrying the first man she’d ever slept with, to which she always replied that “being with Luc was the equivalent of being with a thousand men, or more, all infinitely captivating and virile.”

The woman could drink. I struggled to keep up with her, trying desperately to refrain from sacrificing the feast I had just eaten. Her drink of choice was Double Rye and Coke. By midnight, she was exhausted, physically and mentally. She was not accustomed to talking much to anyone aside from Luc.

Luc was the first to notice that she was fading and with an air of compassion and love, he came up behind her and stroked her back gently whispering in her ear. “Honey, let’s get home, you’ve got an early shift tomorrow.” And she smiled.

When she got up from her chair, I was surprised by surefooted she was. She excused herself after firmly shaking my hand, telling me that it had been a pleasure ‘making my acquaintance’. Luc overheard her and protested in artificial belief: “A pleasure to meet this fuckin’ guy? You must be even drunker than I thought…. see ya tomorrow, fucker!” I waved to both of them.

Luc and I were scheduled to work at 6:00 AM. We showed up just after 8:00, having planned it well ahead; he bought the coffee that day. And we talked about his wife— he teared up more than once. It is all on tape, if you don’t believe me.

Chapter Nine

The weeks I spent with Luc and the rest of the crew quickly turned into years. When, as I High School student, I applied for the job at the Butcher Shop, I certainly hadn’t expected that I would be there for a decade. The Butcher Shop was once at conflict with everything I held dear. It conflicted with the rigid moral boundaries I had blindly ascribed to in my childhood. A child once punished for saying foul words such as “heck” or “geez” was, at the Butcher Shop, bombarded with a litany of cusses and sexually explicit banter that would make even the saltiest of sailors blush. Even the female butchers (yes, there were a few) cussed with an astounding authority.

The job also conflicted with the academic life which, much to the chagrin of my coworkers, I began to cultivate. It all started with a year of Bible College, an institutional residency that would lead coworkers to call me “God-Boy”. Luc, of course, christened me with the new name as soon as I announced that I was dropping down to part time in order to go back to school. He didn’t want me to drop down to part time.

“We should start a cult, God-boy! You could deal with all the theological shit and I would be your right hand man. I’d get the drugs and fuck all the bitches… ugly ones first, of course!” He laughed perversely, almost choking on the phlegm that forever accompanied his frenzied cackle. I shook my head with a condescending grin, though I secretly considered his proposition.

Upon realizing that I wasn’t clergy material and failing to find a prospective wife, even in Alberta’s most fecund “Bridal School”, I transferred to a community college to take up a degree in History, a subject which had won me over during one of my elective classes (one of the few that actually transferred to a secular college) at Bible College.

While attending College, I only worked weekends at the Butcher Shop. It was an experience I imagine is only akin to a child who, under shared custody, only sees a deranged yet infinitely entertaining mother on the weekends only to return to school and a stern, resolute father from Monday to Friday. My weekends at the Butcher Shop were a time most cherished. In theology class, I would often daydream about work, unsuccessfully trying to muzzle my laughter while mulling over the words and actions of various coworkers. Luc, of course, figured prominently into such daydreams: I missed him and all that he stood for, but managed to do quite well in my studies, despite blood-soaked weekend perversion.

Upon escaping Bible College, I became a student of History and Literature. I was instantly enamored with many the dead people I met during my studies. But one man, especially, captivated me: I became obsessed with Louis Riel, Canada’s lonesome rebel.

For those of you who don’t know who Louis Riel is, here’s the quick and dirty. Riel is Canada’s Che Guevara. At the turn of the 19th Century, Riel led his rag-tag army of fellow Metis warriors against the Canadian Armed Forces: Riel was on a mission from God to reclaim the Metis people’s land and, unfortunately, Canada won. Saskatchewan was Riel’s Bolivia… his Waterloo, if you will. He was captured and executed on the plains of our young nation.

Despite being slain for treason, Louis Riel has become Canada’s folk hero. Even the most repulsively biased scholars such as Thomas Flannagan have made excuses for Riel, describing him as a troubled man with good intentions and delusions of grandeur. During my residence at the University, I learned that Riel was to blame for compromising the otherwise sound military strategy of the Metis in the great battle of Duck Lake, a battle which ultimately led to the hanging of our hero and the displacement of the people he represented.

Like so many other heroes before and after him, Riel represented a minority. The Métis, a hybrid of French Canadian and Aboriginal People were time and time again the victims of colonial greed. Riel had the ability to organize a revolt: two wars resulted, first in Red River and then in Saskatchewan.

Riel, an intelligent and well educated man, drew the obvious parallel to the displaced Métis and the Israelites of the Old Testament. He equated himself with David, Israel’s great poet King, going so far as to sign his name, “David” when he was taken to the asylum. Historians would eventually interpret Riel’s eccentricity as insanity: I preferred, however to take him seriously in much the same way I would, on the weekend, take Luc seriously.

I would often stumble into work, high on an evening/morning of inflicting my brain with various histories or novels. Riel’s story, in particular, affected me. Luc seemed most receptive, on such occasions, to indulge my thoughts. He too was also a history junky. Luc would watch CNN’s portrayals of the most recent geo-political events from his bed, and though I didn’t share his enthusiasm for contemporaneous history at the time, he drew enlightening parallels which have started to make sense to me, only recently.

On days when Luc was weary from cutting ‘a shit ton of meat’, he was a great listener. I often shared ideas for my papers with him. I worked through a paper’s logic, or lack thereof; he hummed and hawed, until one night, as I relayed the absurdity of Flanagan’s ‘insanity argument’, Luc got very quiet. It took me a while to notice, as I was rattling off information and historical statistics with a rigor peculiar to an undergraduate student, still excited about learning. Soon, I could only here the fans and the spray from Luc’s hose (for it was a closing shift). I asked him if something was wrong.

It took a while for Luc to reply. He was meditative, cleaning the blood and bone dust from the band saw in the corner. Sweat dripped from his brow in the steam. He spat before saying, “It’s just that… well, Nick… here’s the fuckin’ thing.” And I waited.

“Riel is my father, Nick, swear t’ Christ he is.”

It was one of the rare moments when an abstraction of history and myth joined forces with a reality most mundane. Part of what I liked about the study of history is that it allowed me to escape from the comparative chaos of contemporary life. While events (the most profound of which included 9/11 (I worked that day and all was eerily quiet)) lacked future context, allowing ‘History’ to bleed the dynamic from every event it found to be significant, I was quite happy in my objective Ivory Tower. At the time, I took pride in my ability to define the predictable and logical Universe. Luc shook me from my objective and empirical dream.

“Ummm… ok. So, by ‘father’ do you mean, like, metaphorical father. Well, obviously you do, I mean, he died in what 1890, which would make you 100 years old, at the very least, so unless you’ve aged incredibly fuckin’… naw, you’re shittin’ me, Luc.”

Silence.

After a few minutes… “C’mon man, you can’t say something like, ‘Louis Riel is my father’ without expanding. What the fuck are you talking about?”

Silence.

The silence lasted the rest of the night. And though, even then, I knew Luc’s silences well and was assured that this particular type of silence was not a silence of rage or anger, but a thoughtful one—a reflective state, not a vengeful one, I was incredibly bothered by what he had uttered. It haunted me, and though I pestered him about what he said that night for the rest of the time we worked together, I never got an answer. He smiled coyly and shook his head. Luc forced me to fill in his blank.

Chapter Ten

Upon dawning a funny hat, walking across the stage to the amusement of all who knew me and were there to bear witness to this rite of passage, I started working at the Butcher Shop full time, once again: I put all the skills and learning from my degree to work! I was excited. Finally able to regain a relationship with the people who, for all their shortcomings and bad habits, were infinitely more amusing, and in most cases, more intelligent than my classmates, I saw my relocation as a blessing instead of a failure to ‘do something’ with the education I had purchased for close to $30 000. I was thrilled by the prospect of working alongside Luc for five days a week rather than two, but instantly began to realize that things had begun to unravel for him.

A major factor in Luc’s downfall was his conflict with best friend and mentor, Normand Lapierre. One afternoon, Norm crossed a boundary, perhaps Luc’s only boundary: Norm talked about Luc’s wife in the most suggestive of ways.

As I mentioned earlier, Norm was a swinger. It was not unusual for him to undress and to fuck the wives, lovers and/or girlfriends of his best friends. Luc laughed when Norm recounted stories about his ongoing predilection for a golden shower from a friend’s beloved. Several women rebuffed Norm when he requested his fetish, but he remained undeterred. Norm estimated that in his fifty plus years he had been pissed on thousands of times, never by the same woman: it was always a onetime thing as he found it difficult to look his ‘pisser’ in the eye after she’d finished up.

One fateful day, in the francophone fury of conversation, Norm revealed to Luc his desire to have Doreen release her urinary stream upon his bald head. Luc, to put it simply, snapped.

For the remainder of the time the Frenchmen worked in the same store, an air of resentment and hatred lingered there. The stench of their rotten relationship was infinitely magnified by their previous, almost brotherly, love and affection. They did not speak, though Norm would often throw out a French phrase or two in hopes of regaining Luc’s ear; none of his attempts were successful, however. Luc took out his vengeance on all surrounding him with his silent rage and flashing blade(s).

Eventually, Luc’s anger forced Norm to transfer to the Butcher Shop downtown. Though the downtown store was far away from Norm’s Killarney residence, its clientele was much more suited to Norm’s high cutting standards. The downtown store was Calgary Co-op’s new maiden ship. It was the first franchise’s very first store and they had recently rebuilt it in the heart of Calgary’s downtown core. The store was immaculate as it had three times the amount of staff to ensure that everything went smoothly and customers always had someone to talk to; the management was eager to impress Calgary’s ‘movers and shakers’ such as the mayor and many corporate tycoons who lived in the area, all of whom grew to love Norm’s cuts: his devoted following grew once again.

Luc had single handedly forced Norm from our store. He never once attempted to veil his newfound hatred for his ‘Father’ and stooped to the lowest of levels to express it. One day, I walked into the Butcher Shop to find Norm frantically searching the hampers, which were full of bloody, mildew-soaked smocks, for his beloved vest. The vest had gone missing that morning. Norm had worn his vest with pride for the entirety of his long career and it had become much more than an article of clothing to shelter his core from the Meat Department’s unrelenting fans and humid cold. The vest was, to Norm, the symbol of the man’s career as a ‘Meat Cutter’ (for Norm despised being called a butcher). The vest, which Norm’s mother modified with her manual sewing machine to fit his torso perfectly, had disappeared. Everyone, including Norm, knew exactly who was to blame for its disappearance, but we didn’t dare say a word; we knew it was gone for good.

Norm left early that day, never to return. Cory, the manager at the time, respected his ‘lead hand’ enough to put in a transfer for him immediately. Two days later, Norm punched in at the new Downtown store, bumping Harry up to full time and hiring an extra utility clerk to fill Norm’s immaculately clean boots. But even when the transfer was officially announced, Luc remained silent. His vacuous anger loomed large in the sound proof interior walls of the Butcher Shop and we were all affected. It was a horrible time. The black misery of Luc’s rage did not lift for several months, until, one day, he chose to speak, and we were all instantly liberated.

“Can you fuckin’ believe that short little fuck had the nerve to go so far as to even think about Doreen in that way? I mean, we were friends! I was stupid enough to think of the fucker like a father! And then, in all of Norm’s sick, motherfuckin’ perversion, he managed to imagine my wife, my wife, Nick, as some fuckin’ whore who, of course, would be happy to piss on his wide-fuckin’-open-mouth. Of course she would! That fucker; he’s fuckin’ dead. He can fuckin’ run away from this shit, but it ain’t over, you can fuckin’ mark my words here, Nick. It ain’t fuckin’ over. Trust me!”

I have never been comfortable with anger, Luc’s anger especially as it was of the most distilled and potent variety, so I took him out to the loading dock for a smoke. We even shared a hit of whiskey from the flask I’d begun to tote around with me. Still, he was angry. For over a month after Norm’s departure, Luc raged. In the next two months he destroyed every inanimate object in his path: Luc was dangerous during this time.

Luc’s anger went unabated until a crow interrupted his usual rant one morning on the loading dock. At first, Luc tried to ignore the squawk of the black bird, but when the crow persisted, Luc went white, and started to cry. Needless to say, I was confused, not yet knowing my coworker’s ability to interpret the otherwise inchoate banter of bird. Obviously, the crow was able to articulate what we had been trying to tell Luc for the past month, in a much more direct and affecting way. Again, Luc fell silent.

His was a silence that spoke much louder than words. Though Luc went about his destruction in the most subtle of ways, it had become, by then, a part of the Butcher Shop’s staff’s daily life. Luc hid fish heads above the panels of the Manager’s windowless office: the smell of head incited us all to gag. A few vomited.

Things went missing too. The store’s supply of Telson machines, which translated bar code into garbled fax-talk, took a hit. Five of the machines were thrown indiscriminately into the wet trash compacter with other ‘waste’, be it slightly browned banana or half decomposed monkey from a country far away. Everyone knew that Luc was responsible for the disappearance of the expensive machines, but he was never caught tossing them into the metallic jaws of the store’s compactor.

I was ambivalent towards Luc’s rage: impressed by its consistency and affect, but dismayed by the wastefulness of its execution. His anger did not discriminate. It was an unfocussed form of punishment, which must have taken just as much out of him as it did the rest of us and remember that by this point Norm, the source of Luc’s anger, was long gone.

A few months later I took a shift at the downtown store partly out of being strapped for cash and partly out of my desire to, once again, work alongside Calgary’s greatest meat cutter. He had a lot to say that morning.

“Your store has gone insane, Nick!” he screamed as he jumped in the air, adding an embodied exclamation mark to his exaggerated speach. “You have it together, and on a good day, May does too. But the rest of them are fucked in the head! They follow that crazy man around without even thinking about why they’re doing so! They applaud Luc as he destroys the very foundations on which their careers rest. He’s gone fuckin’ crazy, Nick! You must know this!” I nodded.

The following week, I officially transferred to the Downtown store. A move most mundane yet, to all who worked with me, Luc especially, it was a symbolic betrayal. I had started my ‘career’ at the Richmond Center; by then, I had been there for over seven years. Upon hearing the news of my departure, Luc refused to speak to me. And so, I left.

(Break)

The staff at the Butcher Shop downtown were incredibly strange. They didn’t cuss and everyone seemed to get along with one another. They had ‘Team Meetings’ every Thursday morning and even the staff who were not scheduled to work that day were more than happy to attend voluntarily for the betterment of the department; a few of them even brought donuts and ‘Timmy’s’ for the rest. At each of these meetings, the Butcher Shop manager gave out a “Gold Star Award” to the ‘staffer’ who had gone the furthest out of his/her way to provide the highest level of customer service in the week prior. There was a lot of laughter during these meetings.

I had never been in such an environment before. Back ‘home’, we all kinda hated each another, only banding together in times of desperation in attempts to get rid of a new member of staff, especially managers. While some friendships managed to blossom there, the staff was divided amongst itself, for the most part. We hated each other, our customers and the management, especially. This was my home, unhealthy, and familiar.

Glen Berger (I’m not even half joking about his name), the Meat Manager at the Butcher Shop downtown was very happy to have Norm and I on board at ‘his store’. I had worked with Glen a few years prior, just before he made the leap into management; he too, had a moustache, though not nearly as extravagant as Luc’s.

Glen worked at least 80 hours a week. His goal, simply, was to make the Downtown Butcher Shop the most profitable shop in the western world. He paced around like a panther in its cage, inspecting the place for any potential improvement, no matter how minute. Even as a manager, Glen was not above picking up dropped gum wrappers and on occasion lice, from in front of the immaculate display case.

Glen wasn’t averse to cutting meat either. At any other Butcher Shop in the system, he would have been reported to the union for ‘insubordination’ immediately: managers who took on butcher-work were seen as thieves, stealing work from us downtrodden. But, at the downtown store, nobody seemed to mind: the staff there went so far as to pat their manager on the back when he decided it was time to ‘pick up his knives’.

Luc had worked a few shifts at the store Downtown for its “Grand Re-Opening”. This, of course, was long before Norm transferred; in contrast to ‘his father’, Luc was unequivocally despised there.

On more than one occasion, various staff members would exclaim to me: “Nick, I don’t know how you managed to work with that man for so long! He doesn’t put any pride into his work! He cuts everything in the cooler, whether we need it or not! And that mouth of his! Can you believe that he actually said “the F word” in front of a customer? Good grief! Can you believe that? There’s an example of someone who bites the hand that feeds. I don’t think he won the Gold Star Award even once!”

I laughed aloud, knowing that all they said was true. But I missed Luc and the rest of the crew at that dysfunctional store. I immediately devised a subconscious plan to get the fuck out of downtown Calgary, back into the home where I belonged.

My opportunity soon came. One day in the staff room, one of the other butchers introduced me to his ‘favourite cashier’ as he bestowed upon me a knowing wink. The cashier, though incredibly sexy, was all of nineteen years old. We said hello to one another and engaged in a bit of small talk (I later learned that small talk was as this particular cashier cared to go). Sen, the butcher who introduced ‘his cashier’ smiled almost excessively, as he asked her to join the two of us for a beer after work. She virtually jumped in the air, grinning ear to ear at the prospect (I am not being vain, here either, I think she was more excited about the fact that she was now allowed into bars than the prospect of getting to know me any better). And so, after work, the three of us went to the downtown pub in search of beer and conversation.

I had heard of one night stands prior to that night. As a hopeless romantic, however, I had a tendency to draw what should have been one night flings out for months, if not years (you know who you are). That night, I was determined to suck the juice from forbidden fruit. I was horribly manipulative. I nodded frantically to everything the seductive cashier said about trivialities such as her makeup, leggings and pop music even though I was infinitely bored as I listened to her.

And we drank. The bar closed. Sen informed me that it was my duty to “drive this young lady home, lest she be accosted by some downtown street thug”. And so I did.

I shouldn’t have driven that night, but I did, still fearful of arriving home (as I still was living with my parents) without my car, thus having to explain myself the following morning. The cashier owned a downtown condo. As we drove up to the elaborate driveway, she invited me into her place for one more drink. I agreed, and soon we pulled into her heated, underground parking lot.

When we got upstairs, she quickly made me a White Russsian— coffee mate in place of cream: her bar was suspiciously elaborate. I quickly noticed the plethora of hockey paraphernalia in ‘her apartment’. Again, I was suspicious. “So, do you have an, umm…. Roommate?”

Immediately, she looked down at her toes. “Well, that’s what it feels like, lately…” Her voice trailed off.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa… are you saying you have a boyfriend?”

“Kind of…”

“I gotta get the fuck outta here. Holy shit!”

“No, no, no! Don’t worry, Nick, he’s outta town… we’re on a break too. The fucker!”

“How is it possible that we talked all night and you failed to mention the fact that you have a fucking boyfriend?” I was angry, and scared.

“We’ve been fighting lately. I never see him. He plays for the Hitmen. He’s always on the road and you know what happens on the road, right?”

“Yer dating a fucking Hitman? Fuck! Seriously? I’m gone!”

She literally grabbed my arm. “No, Nick, finish your drink, at least!”

I must admit that I was quite flattered that a puck bunny found me even remotely attractive. I had always hated jocks and, upon hearing her tale, I had a renewed sense of purpose for my potential ‘conquest’: to put it simply, I had to sleep with this woman.

“Alright.” I made an elaborate and exhausted display of falling into the belly of her couch and soon, she joined me.

I didn’t bring up her Hitman boyfriend again. Since revealing the fact that she was involved with someone else, she became more stand-off-ish. She sat at the opposite side of the couch and didn’t look me in the eye as I tried to get some fleeting glimpse of conversation going again.

She got up to pour us each another drink. When she returned, she sat much closer, and I smiled. It took about an hour for us get back to the ease of our conversation prior in the evening at the bar.

When she finally let down her guard, I made my move. I kissed her on the cheek, at first and waited for her to follow my lead. And then, she did… she grabbed me by the base of my skull. Soon, we stumbled into the bedroom.

I was much to intoxicated to pleasure her that night. If I remember it correctly, I fell off the bed a few times as I did my best to get naked. After the ‘climax’ (not sure it happened) I excused myself, telling her that I had to get home to my mother: she giggled until she realized that I was, in fact, serious. As I drove home, I contemplated all of the diseases I potentially contracted in the course of my attempt at a sexual union with the girlfriend of some fucking hockey player, thus adding to an already formidable sense of guilt and regret.

We lay down side by side, not saying anything to one another for some time after we’d accepted the fact that it just wasn’t happening. I then explained to her that I had to get home and excused myself. I drove home that night, ridiculously intoxicated, but managed to make it. I slept as soon as I hit the pillow. I dreamed with the steadfast and comforting knowledge that I would never return to the downtown store to look that poor girl in the eye. I put in for an ‘emergency transfer’ the next morning, shaking under the tremens of my own guilt and hangover.

(Break)

And so, just a few days later, I returned home, a shamed Butcher’s son, not sure how I might be received by the rest of the staff. At first, they were predictably cold, offering a reluctant, “You came back, eh?” if anything at all. The way the schedule worked out, I didn’t share a shift with Luc for my first week back and, to be honest, I was most relieved, fearing he would brand me with his silent rage.

When we finally worked overlapping shifts, I was terrified, purposely arriving over ten minutes late to avoid him. I walked into the Butcher Shop careful to avoid even a glance in Luc’s general direction. I mumbled hellos to the other staff only to be interrupted by Luc’s booming voice.

“Hey, fucker! Yeah, you! Who the hell let you back into this fuckin’ place, huh?”

I froze and studied my black boots.

And before I had the time to even look up, Luc gave me the biggest bear hug I had ever received. Dumbfounded and verging on tears, I only heard half of what he whispered into my ear, though I am sure it was something like “It’s good to have you back you little fucker.” From then on, we were best friends.

(Break)

Upon my return, it became completely clear to me that Luc was hell bent on his own destruction. Every morning he dutifully made his way into the Meat Manager’s office to plant an old package of offal or fish heads in the panels overhead. By noon, the office would smell like an abandoned murder scene: many people walked in there only to soon run back out and vomit in the nearest receptacle.

Bryan, the meat manager at the time, knew exactly who was responsible for the anarchy, but he could not prove it. Instead, he relinquished Luc to closing shifts exclusively. This move, further provoked Luc’s rage: the men had reached a stale mate: ‘rotten mate’ to be more accurate.

Luc was also becoming increasingly antagonistic toward the rest of the Butcher Shop staff. He frequently employed phrases like “Bull-Dyke” or “Fuckin’ Cunt” while sitting in his designated smoke room table. By then I was close enough to Luc to confront him, and I did.

As we were sharing stories and cigarettes on the loading dock one day, I made my move. It took quite some time to get off of Luc’s most recent fascination: pursuing a career in art. Luc planned to stretch out his wife’s menstrual cycle cotton panties over a frame. He already had a name for the piece, which he planned to put on display at the Alberta College of Art as “Colours of Autumn”. Luc told me about a million such plans in the time we worked together, none of which came to fruition.

During a brief pause in his monologue, I started into my own angle. I asked Luc how he was doing.

“What the fuck, God-boy, is this some sort of fuckin’ interrogation? Fuck.” Despite Luc’s harsh diction I knew he wasn’t angry.

“It’s just that… well, Luc you’re… agghh! You’re really fucking yourself over here. Bryan’s pissed off at you, obviously. I mean, when was the last time you worked a day shift? And what the fuck are you pickin’ on Heather for, I thought you loved her!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa: you fuckin’ know for a fact that she crossed me, Nick. Fuck her! And fuck you!”

“Luc, you know that I love ya. I just don’t wanna see you fired is all. Bryan is talking some serious shit. Lay low for a while. Have an extra puff or two before you come to work. Please!”

“Fuck that, man. If they wanna fuckin’ get rid of me, fuck ‘em. Me and the wife want out of here anyway.”

It was the first I had ever heard him talk about leaving.

“Alright. But I seriously think you should lay off Heather though: she’s fucking fragile and you know it! Fucking LAY OFF!”

Luc smoked reflectively: “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

We finished our cigarettes and returned to the meat department’s manufactured cold to commence cleaning up under the bright white halogen light. In hindsight, I should have known that my days with Luc were numbered. I should have been even more diligent in recording his every word. And, yet, I failed. I have no recorded memory of what was to transpire from that moment on. The rest of this account will be strictly off the record.

(Break)

When Luc abandoned the Butcher Shop staff, we were all left to deal with the void he left in his wake. Most were relieved, happy to experience work life anew, without his lucid and invasive observations about their lives and/or menstral cycles. Regardless as to whether a person loved or loathed Luc, he/she was forced to adapt: the Butcher Shop was ominously silent without Luc’s peculiar and profane stories.

Looking back on it, I have come to realize that Luc’s departure instigated my own. I had, in the past few years, at least, imagined myself as a reluctant Albertan, a martyr who worked quietly on his art, going against the grain of the money-hungry, entrepreneurial “New West”. Alberta lost her grip on me as soon as Luc crossed her Western border.

Alberta’s treacherous grip on me was also compromised by a woman I had recently met who had managed to escape several years prior. Her name was Margo. We met at her farewell party (she had come home for the summer) and I was immediately entranced by her physical, intellectual and spiritual beauty. I knew, when we said goodbye that it wouldn’t be for very long.

We exchanged letters, by email, and snail mail both, slowly, at first. After a few months, a mail-less week was met with anxious disappointment. I’d never met anyone like her: my love, for the first time, fell upon one of substance and seemed to blossom in the fertile soils of the vast, mountainous space between us.

She lived in Victoria, a place I had only visited once, in my youth. I remembered it because my family I had to take a ferry there. For some reason, I feigned sea sickness (probably for some attention). Even the idea of Victoria went against the grain of everything I had learned in my decade-long stint at the Butcher Shop. And I was transfixed. It summoned me; I drove there the moment winter’s snows melted away.

I did my best not to scare her off, telling her that I was going to be in town for a meat packing conference at the Empress Hotel. And thanks to her inconceivably humble countenance, she bought the tale. I brought a tent to her island, so as not to appear presumptuous. Thankfully, I didn’t even remove the thing from its sheath.

Margo was kind enough to show me her town, and a most magical town, it was. Our accounts of our first few hours, and our first few years together, for that matter, contrast immensely. Mine goes like this. I drove off the ferry, following the directions I had frantically dictated from a brief phone call and miraculously managed to make it to the right place. I found her, sitting in front of the coffee shop she then worked at, consulting her astronomical guide about her future.

I was not expecting the overtly sensuous hug she bestowed upon me so freely: I had forgotten how incredible her cleavage was and melted into her welcome like butter over a hot bed of popped corn. She asked me what I wanted to do, so I requested that she lead me to the nearest beach, for I had romanticized the sea to the point of absolute oblivion throughout our correspondence. And so, her hair blew around frantically in the wind: she, my guide to Island majesty and Southern Desolation Mountain peak.

The waves crashed heavily upon the shoreline that day. I fell under the spell of her brown-red hair, which writhed as the wind’s invisible fingers teased it, and by extension, me. My guide’s every movement was at once, improvisational, and studied. I read her some arrogant and silly poem which I had desperately composed while in line at the Ferry terminal as I had no other gifts to give her. And she listened to those words, taking them in with the moist air’s salty brine. We shared cigarette, a couple cigarettes, as we watched the waves.

I assumed that she fell in love soon after I’d finished reading her my poem: this is where our stories diverge. We spent the afternoon and evening together, filling in the gaps of our correspondence. Upon waking the next morning, we exchanged our bad breath of young lovers, a breath that memory forgets. We talked excitedly, about history and the future alike. We talked about past lovers and future music festivals.

But, I had to go home all too soon. I remember well, the morning of my return. I left her in bed, with a promise to forget all that had transpired, to take it for what it was. That promise, like many others, I broke almost as soon as I spoke it into existence.

Now aboard the Blank (Ferry Name Here), half way between my newfound Promised Land and Tsawassan, I decided to leave Alberta for good. My time at the Butcher Shop had come to an end, as had my time with my family and friends there. By then, I had reached my breaking point: as Luc penned his letter of resignation, he also signed my own. I was finished; those who knew me best weren’t surprised in the least when I told them. A few had taken bets as to whether or not I would be leaving as soon as I returned and just three weeks after returning to Calgary, I left for good.

(Break)

Of course, I didn’t leave Alberta without bidding her a fond farewell. I planned my own farewell party at a lil’ place called the Hop In Brew Pub. I read the the first few chapters of this very novel at my own farewell, sitting on a stool behind a battered pool table. The week prior to my departure I had obtained my motorcycle license, sold my car and bought my first bike (in that order): I knew I had to ride into the Promised Land on a black motorcycle: and I did.

I had purchased a 1983 Yamaha cruiser. At only 400ccs, the bike sounded like a machine possessed as it took me across the Rocky Mountain path. I left at the end of May, snow was still blowing in Calgary, and especially Banff, but on I rode. Other highway travelers knew I was insane. I had indeed exchanged my perfectly reliable Toyota Tercel for the old beater of a bike, which squealed like a winter mosquito between my legs. But, on May 29, 2007, I said goodbye to all the people I loved in hopes of cultivating a love supreme. My journey was the first of many obstacles to achieving my goal.

I was saved, on this particular journey, by the kind wisdom of a good friend of mine’s father, who was also a motorcyclist. He kindly donated his old raingear to my absurd quest, along with some practical advice: “What you gotta do, Nick, is carry a couple newspapers along with you in your backpack or saddle-bags, if y’ got ‘em. If you get cold, crumple up the paper and shove it down your pants, jacket and sweater. Paper is excellent insulation—it’ll keep you warm in the coldest of colds. I’m no stranger to ‘the shit’. Here, take this (he handed me yesterday’s copy of the Sun), I’m done with it anyway.”

So, by the time I got to the top of the Coquihala, paper flew from every article of clothing on my body, teeth rattling as I gave the woman in the toll booth at the top of the pass the requisite $10.00. She took pity on me. She instructed me to pull over beside her booth and gave me a cup of coffee as I warmed up beside her tiny portable heater. Without exaggeration, the time I spent inside her booth probably saved my life as I was nearing hypothermia as I rolled into Hope.

My next savior came in the form of the local McDonald’s’ fireplace, which I sat in front of for over an hour before daring to resume my journey. I hadn’t the slightest hope of catching the last Ferry to the island, so I stayed in Mission BC that night with only the consolation of possibly building the romantic tension between Margo and I even more. I phoned her collect from the hotel room as she painted her nails.

(Break)

It took me much longer to reach Vancouver than I expected: my license plate had fallen off and by the time I reached Tsawassen terminal, the cops had pulled me over three times. Some will say that I should have taken it as an omen, but it was an omen I chose to ignore as it didn’t fit into my expectations as to what the move meant for my life.

When I finally reached the Ferries, I had just missed the 1:00. I had to wait for yet another two hours and I was infinitely frustrated. I parked my bike at the front of the line and wandered around the station, surveying its many gift shops and buying a coffee. It was then that I spotted a familiar couple.

I had only met Luc’s parents once. They wandered into the store one day as if out of a dream and Marie, in her thick Francophone accent, asked me if Luc was around. He was working that day and I asked them who I should say was here to see him (as Luc had many enemies even then and was selective about who he would talk to). “We’re his fuckin’ parents! Can’t ya tell? Look at Marcel for Christ sake: I think he, Luc and our other boy are the only fuckers on earth cursed with that ugly appendage… on the front of their faces, no less. Good God. Go get him.” The apple obviously had not fallen far from the tree. I went back into the cutting room and when I told Luc that his folks wanted to see him, he went as white as a ghost.

“Tell them I’m off today, Nick.”

“I already told them you were here. C’mon, Luc. They’re your fuckin’ parents. They seem nice enough. You look a lot like your dad; same nose, ‘n’ all.”

“Never, ever say that again fuck face.” It took me about half an hour to convince Luc that he should say hello at least. The tension between Luc and his father was tangible, though I was only able to understand only the smallest bits of their Francophone conversation.

Their conversation was brief and obviously fraught with anger and resentment. Upon returning to the cutting room, Luc was strangely silent. I knew better than to ask him any questions about his visit. It took him over a week to get over whatever had transpired that afternoon.

And, there they were, in Tsawassen of all places, speaking very loudly to each other in their mongrel Franco-English as they decided which souvenir t shirt to buy for their grandchildren. I was in awe as I stalked them; I wondered what I should do. They had no idea that I was infatuated with their son: they probably would have laughed if I had told them so.

It took me thirty minutes and almost as many cigarettes before I worked up the courage to approach them. I waited for Marie to go to the washroom: I wanted to get Marcel alone. I made my move as soon as she left the shop: I shook as I walked up to short, yet impossibly large, old man.

I had planned an elaborate introduction, as soon as Marcel looked me in the eye, I abandoned all that I had previously contrived; I stammered, instead. “Umm… hi. You don’t know me… Well, actually, we did meet a long time ago, but I doubt you remember me…” He stared me down, intimidating man he was. “I, ah, I know, or I guess I knew your son very well: worked with him in Calgary for about five years!”

“You know Mike? Are you a police officer?”

“No, no… Certainly not! I know Luc! I worked with him at the butcher shop!”

Marcel’s face fell downcast as soon as I mentioned Luc’s name. “Oh, Luc. Well ain’t that fuckin’ wonderful.” I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic.

The conversation had, by then, reached its inevitable demise, but I was so elated to see Luc’s old man, that I pressed on. Thankfully, Marie had returned to the shop by then: she looked me up and down as she grabbed Marcel’s ass. “Who in the hell is this, Marcel?”

I quickly extended my hand, “I’m Nick! I used to work with Luc, back in Calgary!”

Marie’s response to my mention of Luc was virtually opposite to that of her husband. “Well isn’t that strange! We just saw this morning. You know that he and Doreen are living in Vancouver now right? I am Marie! You’ve met Marcel, of course.”

“Well, not formally. Nice to meet you, Marcel!” I extended my hand, which was soon crushed by Marcel’s strong fist as I asked them how Luc was doing in Vancouver. Marcel and Marie both looked down, obviously choosing not to answer my question. Instead, they gradually turned their collective gaze to one of the Ferry Terminal’s many clocks. We weren’t set to sail for an hour and though I was excited to get to Victoria, I found myself to be much more excited by the prospects of this miraculously fortuitous meeting. I was determined to press them for all the information I could possibly get regarding their son.

“Do you guys wanna grab a coffee? I’m buyin’!” I was surprised by my forwardness, as was Marcel, who looked at me suspiciously. Luckily, Marie took the lead as Marcel and I followed dutifully followed.

“We would love that, dear. Starbucks? Or, what is this? Salt Spring? Oh, Marcel, that’s the fuckin’ place Luc was tellin’ us about. We should go there.”

“That sounds great!” I exclaimed. Marcel groaned.

“So what are you doing all the way out here, Nick?”

I quickly told them that I was, in fact, moving to Victoria to meet a girl: it was a story most romantic. I spoke incredibly quickly, trying to appear mad. I looked at the coffe shop clock: only an hour left.

“This is gonna seem weird, but I want to write a book about your son.” Both of them chuckled nervously.

“That’s not the first time we’ve heard someone say that. If we were to believe everyone who’s told us that, there’s already has been a few books written about Luc, at least four, anyways.” I was devastated, but continued to prod.

“Really? Well, would you guys mind telling me a bit about him? He never spoke about his childhood… I don’t even know where he was born…somewhere in Ontario, right? I worked with him all those years, but you know how aloof he can be.” Marie smiled, and Marcel sighed, drinking deep from his Americano.

“Oh, Marcel tells that story much better than I do. My English isn’t as good as his, you see.” She slapped her husband on the back to shake him from his silent anger: “Marcel, tell this nice young boy about the night Luc was born.”

Marcel muttered some French slang before being sharply rebuked by his wife: an “Aw, for fuck sake…” and he began to tell his tale.

Marcel’s story began reluctantly, but it quickly gathered steam. He spoke without pause for the duration of our Ferry ride to the Island. Upon starting into his tale, he pulled a flask from his leather boots. The booze pushed him deeper and deeper into his dramatic rendering of his youngest son’s early life.

Part Two

After parking our respective vehicles in the belly of the massive Ferry, Marcel, Marie and I met up at a designated sundeck on the top of the ship. It was a beautiful Spring day, and Margo had suggested I sit on the deck as the prospect of seeing a whale or two at this time of year was incredibly good. As soon as we sat down, Marcel launched into his story like a man possessed.

“The lad was born on a cold winter’s night in 1960. It was a beastly, beastly cold night; trust me. I’d been out in the bush all day. Normand, my hunting buddy, was supposed to come too, but his porch light was off that morning, betraying the man’s unfathomable laziness: I decided to let him sleep.

I’ve always liked huntin’ by myself better anyway. As much as I love the ol’ bastard, Normand makes too much noise when he’s hunting– scares off all the deer before we even see ‘em. The ol’ codger breaks every friggin’ branch in his path with those big, black boots of his. That’s when he actually hunts, of course, which happens only once in a blue moon. I don’t believe that man gives even two shits about gettin’ anything–usually just dicks around, spending most of the day tending the fire and whittlin’ wood and smokin’ ‘bacci: he is a hell of a bullshitter, too— talk both yer ears off, if ya let ‘m. I hunted alone that day.

I didn’t see an animal all day, and I did a hell of a lot of walkin’: there was just a lil’ skiff of snow on the ground, not enough to see a blood trail, much less track anything. I built a small little fire ‘round noon and cooked up some sausage and a couple potatoes. I made some good strong coffee to wash down the greasy sausage (mostly pork) I had in my pack that day. I had a nap next to the fire and then I walked out into the bush again. The wind started blowin’ real hard-like after lunch, so I sat behind a big ol’oak tree for shelter.

I’ve always told Normand that the best time to shoot a deer is just as the day is getting dark: that day was a perfect fuckin’ example. I’d been sittin’ on my ass for over two hours: it was a good spot—I could see a lot of country, it was on top of a lil’ hill, way back in the bush—long way from the Dodge. I had my thirty-thirty with me: open sights, not much use for long range shots. I was shiverin’ pretty bad by the time I saw the little buck come out of the bush.

“Marcel, I doubt the boy wants to hear your endless talk about what an amazing hunter you are. Cut to the chase for fuck sake!”

Marcel went on with his story, undeterred by his wife’s critique of how he told it.

“Like I was saying, it was pretty dark by the time I saw the deer’s silhouette. I knew he had a rack on ‘im, but couldn’t tell how many spikes. He just stood there, happy, I suppose, in the almost-dark. He was about 100 yards away. I knew I had to shoot quick; I even considered not shootin’ at all. I stayed down on my ass, using my knees to steady my arms and BANG: the lil’ buck went down like a cheap whore. I put the bullet right through his pink lungs.

I lit a fire and started pullin’ out the fucker’s guts. I had my frying pan with me, and an onion, so I was eatin’ by the time I finished dressin’ him out: nothin’, no. thing. tastes better than fresh deer liver, trust me. I felt kinda bad eatin’ though; Marie told me before I left that morning that she was gonna make a stew for supper. She makes the best friggin’ venison stew there is, or ever will be, but I must say that I like fresh liver’n’onions even better! I figured by the time I dragged this big bastard home I’d be hungry again anyways.

So, I started draggin’ him. I wished that Normand was there to help me, useless as he is. If there was some snow on the ground, the whole process woulda been much easier, but there wasn’t, of course. I sweat like a goddamn pig goin’ up and down those hills. I made it about a mile before giving up, pretty good for an ol’ boy like me. I figured I could hang the beast from the big ol’ oak at the bottom of the hill (had my winch with me, like every good hunter does), go fetch Normand and finish the job. I got to his house a little after six.

The fucker was passed out again, just as he had been that morning. His wife had already eaten her supper alone. She gave me a piece of the pie she’d made for him. She apologized on his behalf. I felt bad for her and told her it was alright, that I understood full well; I did. I walked back to the truck and drove home. The wind was howling like a friggin’ coyote. The heater in the truck was busted, so I shivered despite the truck’s shelter.

By the time I got home, the kids were already asleep. Marie sat there in her reading chair— didn’t even look up from her book when I came through the door. “Hey babe.” I said.

“Oh hi Marcel, there’s some stew left on the stove; probably burned by now. You’d better have blood on your hands.”

“I do! Got a nice little buck, just as it was gettin’ dark, of course. Where’s the fuckin’ ladle?”

“I have no idea, we used the wooden spoon– it’s in the sink. You save some liver for me?”

“Ummm…. Bad shot. Poor bastard: his lungs looked like Normand’s fuckin’ liver! Figure we’ll have sausage by Monday though, if the old boy gets off this fuckin’ bender he’s on…”

“You didn’t bring it home?”

“Nah, I’m beat. I’ll go fetch it tomorrow.”

“Marcel, didn’t a fuckin’ bear get at the last deer you left in the bush over night? The freezer’s almost empty, and Jean eats like a horse. You know that. We are going to get that meat before something else does. Put on your boots.”

I chuckled under my breath and quickly changed the subject, hoping she’d forget about the fresh meat hanging from that old oak: “How you feelin’ today, Marie? Yer back still givin’ ya grief?”

“I am fine, Marcel, thank you. Finish your fucking stew and let’s go get that deer before it gets even colder.”

“Marie, you’re pregnant. There’s no fuckin’ way I’m gonna let you pull that a deer up a hill and into the back of the truck. Finish your chapter and come to bed.” But she already had her boots on, stubborn broad.

“Marcel, I’m only eight months pregnant. Jean and Anne were both late; I’m fine. I want that meat. We’re getting that fucking deer tonight. If you don’t wanna come, tell me where it is and I’ll drag it myself. I’m not like your sisters, by the way. I refuse to sit on my ass for nine months bitching and complaining, us Dulouze women are tough. I can do this and I will.”

My mother had always said that she hoped I would marry a woman as stubborn as I am: I did. Marie’s stubborn as a fuckin’ mule. But God, she looked sexy, standing there in boots and a big ol’ beaver skin coat. I’ve always loved pregnant women—my wife especially, of course. We got in the truck and drove south. Our black shadows soon fell upon moonlit grass.

I had just freed the deer from his tree when Marie let loose a howl and dropped the lamp. “You alright?” It was the wrong question to ask.

“FUCK! Marcel. Oh, my God! My fucking water just broke! Holy… fuck! Jesus Christ!”

A wave of nausea washed over me; some of the deer liver made its way up to the back of my throat. “Oh my God, Marie? Sit down here. What the fuck are we gonna do? Fuck!” She listened to me, for once, and sat her ass down on the deer’s hind quarter. I couldn’t believe it. “Are you sure it was your water that broke? You said you would be ok!”

Her eyes poked two hatred holes in the darkness: she silenced me with those eyes. She lowered the lamp to light her pants to make her point; the wool exhaled a thick cloud of steam, the wind was wild.

We didn’t say anything for a while, though she was crying, by then. She threw the lamp at me in despair. I knew we needed to get back home. It was beastly cold and getting worse. “Do you think you can make it home, babe?”

“I think he’s comin’ now, Marcel. What the fuck are you doing, just standing there! Build me a goddamn fire; I’m fuckin’ freezing, you lazy motherfucking piece of shit!” I stumbled about the darkness, my knuckles dragged along the ground in search of sticks and smaller tinder. By the time I had a fire lit, she was even more frantic. I have never seen her as scared as she was that night.

Believe me, when I tell you that, at the time, I had had absolutely no training as a midwife. My sisters had helped Marie the first two times she gave birth. Her water broke: I went fishing. Between breaths, she screached something that vaguely resembled coherent speech: “Help me off with my pants, motherfucker” or something like that. Usually, I’m more than happy to oblige such a request, but in the wind that night, I cringed at the mere prospect of touching her filthy wool pants. I looked away and held my breath as I delicately took off her soaked, woolen pantaloons. I gathered the courage to do the same with her drenched linens.

I’ve never seen anything even vaguely resembling what I saw by the lamplight that night. “Tabernac!” I screamed as her huge, red, gaping wound stared right back at me from between her shaking legs, “It looks like you’ve been fucked by a horse, Marie!”

She screamed, louder than I have ever heard anyone on earth scream, and pushed out the tiny, hairy head of he, who would, one day, be my second son, Luc, to you. I almost puked again, and almost fainted; I had to sit down beside her for a while to get my bearings. “Marcel, what the fuck are you doing? Taking a fucking break? Get up off yer ass and fucking help me you bastard motherfucker!” Her kind words shook me from the paralyzing, sickening shock which, temporarily, commanded me. I stuck my hands between her legs, once again, this time supporting the tiny head of our infant son.

“You’re doing a great job Marie! You are a wonderful woman!” I screamed.

“Shut the fuck up motherfucker! I hate you!”

The boy was over a month premature. He was tiny as fuck. I can’t quite remember what the doctor said he weighed the next day when he put him on the scale, but, it sure didn’t take much for her to push the lad out of her snatch and onto the dead grass. Soon, she was closing again, silently sobbing. I held my boy for the first time.

My job was to deal with the thick cord which was lying next to the rope I had used to lift that fuckin’ deer into the sky: it was almost as strong, too, swear t’ Christ! I cut the chord with my father’s ol’ hunting knife, which was covered with hair of the deer Marie was sitting on. I used my extensive knowledge of various fishing knots to take care of the boy’s portion of the cord; doctor said I did a good job, too! Father Baudrillard three days later: Luc Marc Louis entered the Holy Roman Catholic Church, small as he was. He cried bloody murder throughout the service.

But I’m gettin’ ahead of myself here: we were a long ways from home. When the cord was finally tied, I tried to shelter the boy’s face from that nasty, winter wind. I then checked on Marie, who was shook like a friggin’ leaf as she sat on the buck’s hindquarters. I helped her with her linens and her pants which were, by then, frozen solid. “Are you gonna be able to make it home, babe?”

“Yeah, I’m alright, just really cold.”

“Ok, let’s get home then.”

“Wait, what about the deer?”

I laughed outloud. “Don’t worry, babe, I’ll come back in the morning and get ‘im.” She gave me that stubborn-assed look of hers.

“Oh, fuck off, Marcel. We’ve dragged it this far—might as well finish the job. Did you leave your fuckin’ balls at home, or what?”

“You can’t be serious.”

She was.

“Well how are we gonna drag this fucker and carry the little guy?” She smiled with that sexy, aggravating smile of hers.

Following her instructions, I pulled the boy from his makeshift nest inside my warm, down jacket, and placed him in the vacant cavity of the deer’s chest, which, miraculously, was still warm. I only saw Luc by lamplight, that night, but I would be willing to bet that he cracked that ridiculous grin of his for the first time as we dragged him and the deer back home. I’d bet he delighted in the smell of blood and bone and cud; God knows I always have. The boy’s journey was finally over; he slept between us that night without making much of a fuss.

Chapter Two

I woke up early the next morning to take my first good look at the boy. On the night he was born, I was too exhausted and shocked by the endless birth fluid to really behold the lad’s face. I woke early to see him for the first time.

Luc slept on his belly, a practice he continued well into his teens. The first thing I noticed about the boy was that he had a lot more hair than his brother and sister: dark, black hair, all wild and messy.

I was worried, at first, by the sight of Luc asleep on his belly. I was afraid he might smother himself so I picked him up and turned him around; nothing, no. thing. could have prepared me for the sight I then did see.

The boy, a day old mind you, already wore a moustache, every bit as thick and as dark as the hair on top his small head: I almost dropped the bastard. I blinked several times, hoping to erase it with my eyelids and tears, but the moustache remained. “Oh my God.”

I hoped it might be coagulated deer’s blood. I tried to scrape it off with my thumbnail, to no friggin’ avail: “Marie, wake up and take a look at this.”

Marie was slow to rise that morning; she’d had a bit of a rough night, of course. But upon seeing the little lad in my arms, she smiled and reached out to hold him. When I turned him around to face his mother, she gasped and then, impossibly, she laughed. “The little fucker’s got a moustache, Marcel”.

“Yes. Yes he does.”

Allow me to emphasize my disbelief, Nick. I myself have never, been able to grow a moustache, much less a beard, or goatee, or anything else of the sort. I must admit that I’d often look at the men who sported the things, in our village with a silent and intense jealousy. I wondered if the boy was indeed mine. I had my doubts.

I questioned Marie’s faithfulness for the first time, that morning, taking a quick inventory of our village’s mustachioed men: “OK—Father Baudrillard—no, he’s out—I hope. Jacques? No, no, I think he likes men, I’m sure of it. Hmmm. NORMAND!?! The fucker!” I studied the boy’s face for the slightest resemblance of my best friend aside from, of course, that miserable fuckin’ ‘stache.

This was not the first time I’d been suspicious. Normand and Marie had always shared the things that were completely foreign to me. He, an amateur writer, and she an avid reader. He shared much of his library with my Marie. She borrowed books two at a time. Every night, she read through my snoring, it happens still. I often awake in the middle of the night to find her lamp still burning–her eyes awake, frantically eating up black words. “Go back to sleep, dear, I’m just about finished this chapter”.

Whenever Normand and I took our wives to the pub for dinner, the double date quickly turned into literary debate with Gene and I on the sidelines exchanging uncomfortable glances. I was convinced Normand had knocked up my wife.

I managed to conceal my rage for a few minutes, at least, pretending to laugh at the hairy symbol of my wife’s infidelity. Again, I tried to scrape it off; again, it didn’t budge.

I held Luc in my arms. I tried to tame my suspicions, but the moustache ruined everything. I nuzzled the boy’s face, closing my eyes and the beastly thing stung my own hairless flesh.

I tried to destroy the moustache a couple days later. My mother was on her way to visit her newest grandson and, I feared her reaction to the lad’s extra appendage. I covered his lip with shaving soap and tried to guide the straight blade down his lip, but he flailed. “Come here for a minute, Marie!” She walked into the bathroom howling with laughter at the whole thing.

“Marie, I need you to hold his head still!” She didn’t like the hair above Luc’s lip either–the moustache embarrassed her when she showed him off to her friends and they tried not to notice. She cradled the boy’s head in her hands, but failed to keep him still enough.

Again, the boy squirmed and I almost cut off his fuckin’ lips. “For fuck sake Marie, I told you to hold him still!”

“I’m doing my best, Marcel, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

I placed the cold blade against Luc’s baby flesh again. After finishing the left side, Luc began to wail; I lost it.

“Fuck! Marie, give him your tit and we’ll finish the job when he stops crying! This is fuckin’ bullshit!”

The boy cried even harder.

“Don’t talk to me like that in my own fuckin’ house, Marcel. What the fuck’s your problem? You’ve treated me like shit ever since Luc was born. I went through seven months of hell to give you another boy, one that your paycheck can’t afford, by the way (fuck, I hated when she said that). I told you I didn’t want another kid, but you insisted so I did, and now you treat me like this? Fuck you!” She too, began to cry. “Now your fucking mother’s coming—this is just fucking great!”

“I don’t want him, Marie; I wanted you to have my fuckin’ baby.”

I hadn’t planned to reveal my suspicions so soon. The moustache…. Or, half a moustache, rather, was evidence, not proof, of my wife’s affair. “Are you… did you just? Oh, fuck you. We are fucking… I’m gone.”

She grabbed Luc and ran away to her mother’s house in tears. I stood alone, and in a burst of rage, sadness and confusion, I planted the razor in the bathroom wall before searching the pantry for some whiskey.

After a couple of shots of the Whiskey, I tried to distract myself. I went to the shop and started sanding the oak table I’d built before hunting season began. I had just hit my stride when the door to the shop flew open; it was my mother: “OK, where’s the baby?”

I had rehearsed my answer prior to her arrival: “Marie took him over to her mom’s house. Do you want a drink?”

She shook her head defiantly. “Marcel, if I wanted a drink I would have gone to the pub. I came to see my grandson.”

“Ok, I’ll walk over there with you” I said.

We walked; she talked. She was completely and totally unrelenting in her gossip that day, incorrectly assuming that I gave even half a fuck about what she was saying. I nodded, and said “yeah”, or, “oh”, every once in a while, but mostly I thought about Marie. I felt awful about everything I had said to her that morning.

You see, Nick, Marie has been the love of my life since elementary school. I can now say with confidence that she’s never strayed; I couldn’t then. I’ll be honest. She’s never done so much as think about it, I’m sure. But, at the time, all I could think about was that accursed, fucking moustache! I told myself to forget about it, but…Fuck! C’mon, a moustache?

We were soon a knockin’ on my mother in-law’s door. I walked in ahead, after being greeted coldly by Marie’s mother: I was pretty sure she knew everything. She was kind enough to keep quiet about it in front of mom though. She talked with ma about how cute their grandson was. I noticed that she failed to mention the moustache; “She’ll see for herself soon enough”, I thought to myself.

We walked into the living room: Marie was nursing. I noticed that the flesh of her breast was crimson, irritated by the hairs of her suckling child’s half moustache. Marie too pretended that everything was okay. “Oh, look Luc; someone has come to visit you.” She cooed in her baby voice. She cut the boy off early, and handed him to my mom: he started crying instantly.

Ma had always been critical of our kids. Jean was too thin, and Louise too fat, for her liking. She didn’t have to look very hard to find fault in Luc. “What the hell is this?” She looked in disgust at the hairy-lip, which gleamed with watery breast milk.

Marie answered before I could: “Yeah, that’s Luc’s, uhhh, moustache”. By then, Marie was used to answering the inevitable question. It did not satisfy my mother, however.

“It is most certainly not a moustache; it is half a moustache!”

I took it upon myself to step in and take the pressure off Marie. “Yeah ma, I shaved the other half off this afternoon”.

“You shaved your infant son?” She asked, turning her glare from Luc to me.

“Well, he has a fucking moustache!”

“Why does he have a moustache? He’s only three days old and he was two months premature!”

“Marcel has a theory about that. Care to share Marcel?” Marie said. She too now glared at me: I sweat profusely, and fumbled for an answer to her question.

“Ummm, I ahh… Well, Marie ate a lot of sausage during the, uh, pregnancy?”

My mother sighed and said: “You’ve gone insane, Marcel.”

After ma had her fill of the lad, she got up, proclaiming for all to hear: “I am starving! What’s for supper tonight Marie?”

I looked at my wife, instantly realizing she would not be coming home with my mom and I that evening: “Well, ma, we have some sausage we could fry up.”

“You’re not coming with us, Marie?”

“Actually, Luc and I are going to stay here tonight with my mom. You two can eat whatever you’d like, but make sure that Jean and Louise get some greens. There is some broccoli in the ice-box.” She didn’t even look at me.

“Ok, well, let’s get going ma. The other kids will be home soon. Thanks for the tea, Mom!”

She knew: “Don’t call me Mom, Marcel.” Luckily, ma didn’t hear her say that as she was already half way down the drive; otherwise, the tale of Marie and I’s troubles woulda been around the village before we got home, sure as shit. I closed the door behind me, sighing in resignation as I ran to catch up to ma.

I was restless, that night. Already accustomed to sleeping with both Marie and the lad, our family bed felt much too big for me alone. I lay in the dark, reassessing every word I’d said to Marie earlier that day.

I felt awful, but justified. At first, Marie’s reaction made me feel pretty guilty, but by the time I laid weary head down on her fragrant, abandoned pillow I was suspicious; if she was indeed innocent, why was she hiding from me?

I decided that night to divorce Marie.

I decided I would start a new life in Alberta. For the past several months, I had been corresponding with my friend Philip, who had recently moved to the prairies. He had started up a farm and had mentioned a few times that he could use my strong back to bail hay. I’d always loved the musical quality of that province: “Alberta”. I whispered the name over and over like a prairie mantra. “Alberta. Alberta. Alberta…”

I was still sleepless at 3:00 AM. My mind had, by then, moved far past Marie. I was convinced she’d made a cuckold of me; I didn’t want to face my coworkers ever again, knowing as much.

I grappled with the minor details of my immanent move to Alberta, wondering how I would manage in an English speaking province. Don’t they hate us ‘frogs’ over there? Probably. My thoughts were interrupted when, upon rolling over, I was completely blinded by a heavenly light.

I heard the slam of a steel door. I was scared, I realizing that I hadn’t locked the front door that evening, in case Marie came back. I heard the front door of our house open with a bang and a muscular, white t-shirt soon came a-jumping into my room; I almost shit the bed, swear t’ Christ.

The light completely transformed the bedroom. I knew the room very well. Marie had always been very particular about the arrangement of the assorted pieces of furniture I’d made for us; every picture and every mirror was in a spot seemingly pre-ordained. I didn’t dare to move any of our furniture: the room had, for over ten years, remained fixed and unchanged. But in the holy light, everything changed. Large shadows covered the walls like tar.

I was terrified, but felt a peace too; this probably sounds insane, I know.

Music followed the light through the cracked glass and, like the music, it seemed to refract. I had never heard anything like it before. I don’t know if I’d even consider it to be “music”, as such, but for lack of a better word, I will call it that anyways.

The ‘music’ spoke of wonderful, drunken, things: “Cobs of corn painted oceanic blue! Southern Comfort panty hose! Embryos carrying daggers!” I tried desperately to stay afloat in the waters of these deep and terrifying visions until the man in white, who I somehow had forgotten once again captured my sleep-deprived-eyes.

The angel didn’t introduce himself. Instead, he paced frantically ‘round the room like a panther in a cage: back and forth and forth and back, wringing his hands like I do when the wind gets cold.

I could tell that he struggled to find his words which eventually exploded into the air of the room: “Now Marcel, you must, you must bend your mind a little bit here–you must, you must (!), bend your mind now, in order to wrap it tightly around every word I’m about to tell you. Yass, yass, see, I know about the little drama you’ve been going through. I know that you’re pissed about the supposed longings of that sweet lil’ Marie. You’re nervous that the sweet little piece of flesh she carries around between her legs has been poked and prodded by your good pal Normand. And I know how it feels, man! I know how it feels to think about her gigglin’ the way she does juss’ before she gets off! I know you’ve probably thought to yourself, several times—‘that sombitch, Normand, has heard that laugh I know so well, and now you don’t know who you should off first, him or her. I know you’ve been thinking to yourself the best ways that you could get rid o’ the whole problem—to try to make it look like an accident, y’ know? Hmm? Hmm.” His head nodded vibrantly and bobbed frantically to the far-away beat behind the light.

He didn’t relent. “But you see, now Marcel, Marie is true blue– she would never even think of letting hands, no matter how fine, touch her in those sweet spots that bleed milk. She’s given you a son now, a son who has been prophesied by a good pal of mine, who did fuck my wife on a number of my occasions… we won’t even get into that… see, lil’ Luc’s gonna make everyone’s head flip and go ‘awwweee’- you know what I’m talking about? See, ummm, Jean, he was a great guy, but he always told me he wasn’t the end. He always told me about this mad child who would come one day to liberate us all! This son of yours is a gift, Marcel! You need to trot on over to where your wife sleeps and tell her, in every possible position you can think of, that you’re sorry. She, Marie, blessed mother of eternity! She carried he who he lept in her belly! Now, follow me and put some of that sweet-smelling stuff you always throw on your face and, quick, jump into black chariot– we’ll be there in jus’ a few seconds, le’s go, le’s go, le’s go!”

I felt like I was gonna fuckin’ throw up, Nick. My arms shook under the weight of the angel’s strange tongue. He walked into light; he walked into music, and I ran to catch up. Soon, I jumped into the passenger side of the angel’s black Hudson.

The frantic figure proceeded to bang the beat of this ‘music’ into his Hudson’s steering wheel as we pulled out of my dusty driveway: I feared he would wake my children. Headlight cut through the night’s impenetrable darkness, and the darkness, overcome. Strange music populated my mind with more mad mental peculiarities: black-whiskered goats on bikes! Japanese hills all ablaze with serene, cool-water center! Oblivion, death and rebirth feasted at the bunny’s table that night, and I couldn’t have given two fucks about it! We arrived at my mother in law’s house. I walked his planet of sound; I walked out his light, staggering to her door as if drunken. I knocked softly.

Marie opened the door. Tears of joy and forgiveness flooded her eyes. We made love in the pale-moon-light, that night. I think we woke her mother and our son with passionate, giggly love joy. Darkness, on that night, was overcome by a love supreme.

(Break)

And the lad began to eat. Doctor Chassie was worried about the boy’s scrawny state. He told us he would drop by every day or two to check on his progress and to make sure that Luc was ‘puttin’ on the pounds’ fast enough. “Sometimes,” said Dr. Chassie, “Premature babies have to be force fed in order to gain sufficient nutrition for the first crucial months of development. Luc is at risk for a number of ailments due to his early delivery.” I’m sure the doctor was encouraged to see that every time he knocked on our big oak door, Marie would invariably have Luc firmly attached to one of her big ol’ crimson nipples. The boy was growing into a huge parasite feasting on his mother’s milk. Dr. Chassie’s visits soon came to an end.

At first, Marie and I were encouraged by the boy’s insatiable appetite. Luc’s unrelenting cry from a hand-me-down old cradle I had built for my eldest boy a few years before, announced the dawn of an insatiable hunger. At first, his shriek was met by Marie and I both rejoicing and rising happily from our warm bed to console and feed him. As the weeks went by, though, his demands became friggin’ outrageous. 1:00 AM—weeping. 2:30 A.M., more weeping mixed with a low, sustained drone for mother’s milk. 3:45 A.M., the same.

Marie’s eyes were soon framed with tremendous dark circles: they cringed when Luc cried. Luc’s shriek punctuated our life more and more frequently. I took mercy on her; I tried to pacify the lad’s lactose tyranny. I cuddled, rocked, and spoke in fatherly low-tones to him, but he still wailed. Marie, was eventually forced to come to my aid.

On a particularly cold evening in January, the boy broke my wife’s spirit. I awoke to a tearful duet—she, head buried in pillow, had given up, throbbing with an unbearable sadness.

“What’s wrong, honey?”—my attempt at a reassuring embrace was blocked by our mattress. “This child of yours is not content to drink my fuckin’ milk, Marcel; he wants to drink my very heart’s blood!” I chuckled quietly to myself.

You see, Nick, when Marie gets emotional, she transforms into one of her beloved poets.

“Aw, fuck off, Marcel.” It was the first time Marie had spoken on our shared journey. for she too was captivated by her son’s tale. Marcel continued without pause.

“’Marcel, I have not slept since he was born. My own mother tells me how hideous I look—my breasts can’t keep up to his lips and that fucking moustache of his is ripping holes in not only my flesh, but my very soul!’”

I concealed my laughter once again; sometimes the broad sounds like the Bible.

“And what do you think he does with all of this milk? He paints his fucking diapers brown with it, that’s what he does! You go off to work every morning. You have a good time with the boys while I have to stay at home with this awful shitting monster! He would eat me alive if he had the chance! I want to shove one cork in the little fucker’s mouth and another in his ass, that’s what I want to do! I’m not feeding him again tonight! Fuck this shit. You deal with him for once.”

And so, she snored: just for a few seconds, as she does, before falling into a deeper sleep: exhausted breath, and a whimper. I listened to Luc’s intensifying scream and grinned. I thought back to my encounter with that angel, or whatever the fuck it was, and wondered how such an ‘important’ child could be so fucking abrasive. I considered waking Marie to tell her about the angel’s proclamation, but I eventually came to the conclusion that since she obviously harbored a lot of resentment toward… well, everything, at that stage of the game, she probably wouldn’t believe me anyways.

You see, Nick, I’ve always been much more open to ‘superstition’, as she calls it, than she: she still reminds me of this constantly.

“He’s not lying, boy. Trust me.” The second and final time Marie spoke on the water. Marcel continued.

I walked quietly, on the balls of my feet, to the lad’s crib. And, swear to Christ, even at the youngest of ages, he looked up at me in disappointment; immediately, he started to scream even louder than before. I had an idea, and left his room momentarily.

His screaming continued until I returned; this time, with a sizeable jar of good, cold coffee cream from the icebox in the kitchen.

At first, Luc wasn’t sure how to accept my offering. Prior to that moment, the boy had had absolutely no experience with an open, glass vessel for he was accustomed to Marie’s warm, pink nipples— can’t really blame the lad for turning his nose up at a cold, hard glass.

To be completely honest, most of the viscous, white liquid poured down the boy’s plump chin and then his belly. But, the remaining portion of the potion, the part which managed to get past his lips and gums, and finally down into his interior belly, seemed to please him immensely. The boy had never tasted milk like this before.

Luc coughed in objection, at first. But when I tried to take the glass from his lips, he rebuked me with a loud friggin’ scream. In those days, my wife’s milk was thin and watery; I, myself, tasted of her sacred, pink chalice every evening and noticed the deterioration of its quality. But the cream I gave Luc that night was thick; it was creamy and, gall-dangit, it was tasty: a heaven and a creamy emptiness for the young lad’s tiny tongue to explore!

By the time Luc had finished the last dregs of cream from the jar, he’d mastered the art of drinking—the boy skipped the sippy-cup stage entirely. My wife’s breasts were, by now, rendered obsolete. Thank God, eh Marie?

Luc’s tongue wrung the final remnants of cream from his half-moustache, though I am sure the thick smell remained and reminded him of the new elixir every time he awoke. “You are going to be one fat fuck, Luc,” I whispered. And I chuckled.

The next morning, the sun shone on our strangely silent home. I built a roaring fire in our stove— even chopped some wood, and miraculously, the boy didn’t awake; happy in his cream induced soma. Marie told me later, that she was surprised by the sight of the sun through our cracked window when she awoke. It had been months since she woke up to sunlight across her face instead of the lad’s hungry howl. She also told me that she was frightened, at first, and didn’t even take the time to put her slippers on when she ran to check on the boy.

As I told you earlier, Luc slept on his belly since the night he was born. Marie gently wrapped her fingers around his chest and flipped him over like a plump, momma-trout. The lad’s moustache was still covered with white dust, I’m sure. Her heart surely raced until she saw the empty cream jar I’d left on the side of the oak crib. She then understood why Luc didn’t wake her up with his hungry wail that morning. “So, daddy’s got you drinking coffee cream now, eh? Thank God”.

Marie put on her slippers and walked into the kitchen to stoke the dying fire I left in the stove. The flame leapt up to greet her as soon as the hinge of the fireplace squeaked open. Her water soon boiled furiously: she dipped her tea bag into spirit, into steam: it had been months since she enjoyed her long-standing ritual in silence. Sipping her tea, Marie read poetry from an anthology Normand had lent her the week before. She felt pale sunlight on her face. Luc didn’t wake up until 9:00 that morning, she said, when the other two kids are running out the door to school.

Now that Marie and I were sharing feeding duties, the next couple of months went by much more easily: the lad grew exponentially. At six months old, Luc tripled his birth-weight. Thick rolls of fat conquered his belly. Sweat gathered in his thick folds of fat: he smelled like my hunting socks. The sweet aroma people generally associate with little babies did not apply to Luc. He exchanged that sweet aroma for a thick, unpleasant, and heady smell even though we bathed him three times a day.

At Mass, the priest was forced to compete with Luc for attention. Though the boy was usually quiet and well behaved in church, entranced by the liturgy and incense, his mere presence made people shift in their seats. They did their best to sneak a quick look at the diapered baby Buddha who sat between Marie and I. Luc quickly outgrew the clothing that the Church’s sewing group had made him. Luc usually only wore a diaper (often overflowing with shit), roll-folds and a god-awful lacquer of sweat. It didn’t seem to bother him, yet, that most of the people in the congregation referred to him as the “petite walrus[Md1] ”. He didn’t seem to mind having his belly poked and prodded by people in pews who made fun of the his size, shape, or, of course, that moustache of his, which Marie, by then, had started to wax and curl: toward the sky first and then back to the ground.

When the boy was full of cream, he was happier than a pig in shit. He laughed uncontrollably at the attention he garnered from complete friggin’ strangers: he was a sensation in our little village.

By the following winter, excitement about Luc grew. It seemed that all of Canada, and some of the States was curious about him. We welcomed strange visitors into our house on a weekly friggin’ basis. Some came from as far away as Newfoundland. They had heard about the lad, and wanted to see him with their own eyes. A formality developed around the visits: people treated the young lad with a peculiar reverence. Gifts were brought. Nothin’ too spectacular: a loaf of rye bread for all of us, or a pouch of fragrant tobacco for me (that was nice). But the gifts intended specifically for the boy tended to be fancier. The cradle I made for him was soon surrounded with gold, and with icons. Soap was another common gift, for the child’s pungent odor, or stories of it, at least, spread throughout the land.

Visitors seemed surprised by our place: it was hardly a palace, simply a small hut for nineteenth century fur traders. The walls were thin, lined with old hides: our coarse friggin language and endless arguments (Marie was a real bitch for a few months after she birthed the boy) seeped into the surrounding woods. I’m sure our domestic disputes often greeted visitors before we were able to do so.

She was always bitching: “Marcel, how am I supposed to clean your son’s goddamn diapers when you use all our water to clean your fucking feet?”

“Ahh, give it a rest, bitch, I’ll get some from the well as soon as I’m done cooking us some fucking dinner!”

“That’s not good enough, Marcel, by then the diapers will be frozen to the fucking floor-boards!”

“Well go get a fucking chisel: tabernac!!!”

I did my best to be supportive of the broad’s temporary insanity. Often, I would place my fingers on the small of her back, trying to caress her in a most sensual way. Sometimes, she would return my caress with a sultry glance or imperceptible sigh. The older children never flinched at the sight of our supposedly ‘unorthodox’, ‘colorful’ expressions. We did our best to teach them how to swear, and swear well. They grew not to trust anyone who refrains from cussing. Honest people swear, Nick: don’t forget that.

And the lad sat in the center of all this mayhem. His high chair a throne surrounded with incense, fine soaps, and various iconography most of which depicted the Madonna and child in golden splendor. Incense seemed to intoxicate Luc: his laugh was so loud that it boared holes into the loudest of the broad’s constant bickering. Music also seemed to elevate his mood. A visitor from New York brought him a friggin’ record player and an assortment of scratched records. Beethoven intensified the lad’s gluttony: by the time the first half of the Fifth Symphony was touched by the record player’s dull needle, the lad had usually consumed about a quart of good, cold coffee cream. Brahms made Luc sleep, but I bet that music filled his mind with silver and gold: it always did so for me, anyways. The boy’s favorite composer by far, however, was Mozart: I kinda him too… but not as much as Beethoven. The fury and tenderness of Mozart’s music seemed to enter into Luc’s pores. He sat completely entranced, in his high chair like some sort of drug fiend—taking in every note, pause and crescendo. And he drank deeply, from both cup and composer.

The lad received visitors from the animal kingdom too. Before Luc was born, the odd stray cat wandered onto our property in search of food (which, sometimes, I would give to them). After the boy was born, however, our property was completely over-run with cats. Shorthaired calicos, longhaired Persians, and mysterious Siamese—all strays, all in heat. The painful fury of the consummation of those beasts forced us to reveal the mystery and wonder of sex to our two eldest children much earlier than we had originally planned. I’d bet Marie’s late-night giggles made more sense to them after I awkwardly told them about penises and vaginas, but I’d also bet the broad’s moans weren’t nearly as captivating or as insane as the cries of those beasts at night.

One cat, especially, took interest in Luc. I noticed that Luc often looked out the kitchen window to see his beastly, heavy-set tom peering in at him: the cat stood guard outside our bedroom window all night. I called him Luc’s protector. The boy smiled, and reached out try to touch the dirty beast, but Marie would never allow me to let the dirty, spermy tom into the house.

Crows came too. They lined the branches of oak like exclamation marks with their big, hideous, black bodies—far from the reach of even the most nimble of cats. The cats I could handle, the birds I could not. I was brought up with cats, I kinda liked them. But those crows never shut up. Their constant jabber irritated me to no end. They swooped down at my eldest children as they tried to walk to and from school. I kept one shotgun (a little ten gauge, my father had given me) primed at the front door of the house and another one the steps of the outhouse and I hunted those beastly crows when I was bored. Sometimes I mixed their white breast meat into the stew in order to thicken it up a bit. Nobody, not even Marie, ever noticed.

Luc seemed immeasurably blessed by the sight of those black beasts I hated so much. He appeared to respect their “scavengerial quality”, even at the tender age of two (or so he later claimed). He learned from them. Before the boy was old enough to speak Francais, before he, supposedly, mastered the English language, or the bit of Italian he picked up from that friend of his, he learned the language of the Crow. His first word kinda sounded like a crow word, if you could call it that. His first joke, was told in crow— I didn’t find it the slightest bit funny. Marie and the other kids laughed, as did he; I knew, even then, that the crows outside actually understood his dialect.

The crows bowed to Luc when we carried him to Mass in his finest swaddling clothes every Sunday: they fell silent too, swear t’ Christ. The boy’s wails invited them to their tree-top perches and I dropped them with a bang as Luc wept.

Fortunately, the lad’s fixed, high chair vantage point didn’t allow him to see the devastating effect my shotgun had upon the population of his black friends. Luc heard those beasts jabbering to him: he grinned excitedly and he summoned them to the big ol’ maple in our front yard. Upon seeing them, I rose to get my shotgun: BANG. Birds, dead as doornails. Nobody except Luc flinched: the sound of my gun was as predictable as the morning sun, and much more regular. I think that, somehow, the boy began to catch on to what was happening. His black friends were intimidated by the sound of the artillery. They, humble and meek, refused to compete with the furious noise of the shotgun blast. Silence, at last. Golden silence.

One rainy afternoon, the boy was gawking out the window. He saw one of his friends singing from his perch. The rain had transformed the beast’s jacket to dirty oil black: thick and lustrous. I imagine the bird and his friends were discussing their recent discoveries—whole rotten oranges, the carcass of skunk… the carcass of raccoon. I got up— two bangs from out derelict front porch and the boy’s friend fell from the oak tree with a dull thud. I returned to my paper, lit my pipe and hummed a joyful hymn. And the boy looked at the abandoned tree, searching for the black-hole voice of his friend only to hear silence, instead. He saw me there, smoking and muttering profanities under my breath about the Government. No “music of birds”, as he now would probably say. No cream, either, just the quiet avalanche of smoke falling from my bottom lip and the rustling of news.

And how does it feel to be born a million miles away from home? How does it feel to be forced to call frail imposters “father” and “mother”? How does it feel to lie between the cold, damp sheets of a crib meant for someone else’s arrival or to smell the wrong brand of firewood in the hearth, to scream invocations at a deaf, blind father whose face has yet to come, or to be born to a land so barren, and so strange that one is forced to wonder why anyone would choose it as a place to live. How does it feel? How does it feel?

(Break)

The boy became a cub scout on his sixth birthday. I remember that often, in the months before this time, he would look enviously as his brother put on his own dull, brown uniform— the textile symbol of his clan. Luc studied every patch that graced his brother’s arm. He watched as my Marie proudly sewed the patch-representations of his brother’s accomplishments on top the dark brown fabric of his button-up shirt: sometimes, she sacrificed her own blood in the process, cursing under her breath as she bled: the uniform would have to be washed again and never truly came out, freckling his shirt, defiantly— brown on brown.

And so, I walked Luc to the clubhouse on his birthday. I stayed to see Luc stripped of his own extra large clothes. His plaid shirt was folded and neatly placed on the dusty floorboards of the Cub Scout den, where they soon were joined by his thick wool pants. And, in that moment I thought back to the infant son I had fed a few years prior, who now stood naked before me. Even at the age of six, he seemed to be beyond my command: Luc always had a supernatural authority about him. Sunlight spilled upon his dark skin as he tried on his uniform for the first time. The lone patch on the uniform wasn’t a symbol of achievement; everyone got it in exchange for the registration fee, which had broken my bank account.

Luc jumped into the uniform’s pants. He looked out of place in his new apparel. For Jean, the uniform was a second skin— he wore the uniform proudly and it looked good on his back. Luc, on the other hand, looked like a hobo a friggin’ tuxedo. He stood in front of the dusty mirror and cocked his head to the left, hoping he would look better at that angle: he didn’t, I assure you.

The uniform’s sleeves were much too long for Luc’s arms and the buttons around his fat belly almost burst. The Cub Scout leader also noticed that Luc looked completely absurd in his uniform. He made the lad try on three different uniforms, only to settle upon his first choice. I must admit, that I took some pleasure in seeing my boy writhe uncomfortably in his new clothes, like a beaver in the skin of a deer. I walked back home with a spring in my step.

The boy moved up the Cub Scout ranks very quickly. Badges were brought home; the broad bled. The boy’s wilderness skills were preternatural….no, I can say it now, they were supernatural. He made roaring fires out of damp kindling; his long, nurturing breath spoke fire into the dark. Surely he learned all he knew from watching me.

Luc handled a compass with the sensitive confidence of a lover: he proudly told me that he easily found every flag in the Cub Scouts’ orienteering exercises, even ones yet to be hidden. On Cub Scout nights, he invariably came home late. Sometimes, we worried about him, and made the long journey through the dark to the clubhouse to find Luc arguing with his Cub Scout leader about the finer points of water purification. How the boy knew of such things, I have no idea. His superiors were also surprised (and a little bit threatened) by the wealth of knowledge Luc was more than happy to share. They asked him where he learned such things but he simply shrugged, saying it was intuition that enlightened him.

Luc’s ascent to the top of the Cub Scout ladder was far from solitary; he made friends quickly. If I remember correctly, Luc’s best friend Paul was a hell of a fisherman. While Luc effortlessly fashioned dry-flies from pieces of wheat and an old penny, while he could do incredible things with his cast– wrap his fly around the branch of any appointed tree, he didn’t never had the sufficient dedication to the sport. He followed Paul to the river, cast a couple of times, and set his rod against the nearest tree. In Paul’s words, Luc puttered around like a ‘fuckin’ hen’ for hours— kinda like Normand always did when we were hunting. Luc often brought books along on his fishing trips. If he’d had his fill of reading, he whittled with his dull, Cub Scout blade. Sometimes, he just sat on his ass, content to watch the river flow as if waiting for a friggin’ anointing. Regardless of what mindless activity he chose, Luc sure as hell kept his tongue busy, screaming impossible commands at his poor, confused friend: “Try casting with your left hand, I promise you’ll catch a big’n!”

“You’re fuckin’ crazy Luc, why don’t you put your hook in the water if you’re such an expert!”

“Trust me, Paul, switch hands!”

And, sure as shit, Luc’s fish prophecies were sound. Paul swore that my boy had the curious ability to speak flapping fins into existence. I know for a fact he wasn’t bull-shitting.

The lad’s success was not limited to the delicate art of fly-fishing. At the time, I was known to many of the people in our village as the “Bombastic Fisherman”; it was a charge I never took lightly. Many took issue with my unorthodox approach to fishin’. I used no hooks, no lure graced my blessed vessel. Instead, dynamite fetched my kill a-floatin’, sending a death charge through the deep, dirty lake water. I shocked my prey into somnambulant submission.

My bombs rendered the fish underneath me unconscious.

I collected them with my dad’s oversized, aluminum net.

I took Luc to the lake whenever I could. He loved to be pulled behind my truck in a trailer containing the aluminum boat, a six pack and of course, a shit-tonne of explosives. Those trips were the only time I ever felt connected to Luc and, soon I too obeyed every one of his insane demands.

“Don’t light the dynamite with your Zippo anymore Marcel, use matches for Christ sake!”

The fuse was lit. The dynamite dropped. Deeper and deeper into the lake’s black water. Tender perch bellies floated white upon black lake surface. Luc never missed, trust me.

To pacify the community’s reservations about my, shall we say “unique”, style of fishing I was more than generous with my harvest. I provided the butter, and Luc provided the fish: most fishermen were happy to catch four or five— Luc was disappointed if he failed to catch enough to feed the five thousand men and women of our village.

With ever increasing eccentricity, Luc refused to eat anything but the cheeks of the fish he summoned. He loved to feed his village. Neighbors flocked to our home, and Luc smiled so long as nobody partook of the smallest morsel perches tiny cheeks. His was as strange request, almost as strange as the ones he screamed to me from the back of the boat, but I swallowed my pride and complied, dutifully carving the cheeks from the stiff fish before placing them in one of Luc’s golden bowls.

It took the cheeks of thousands of fish to satisfy the lad’s enormous hunger. Numbers were never an issue, though. On the ride back to dock, my boat sagged under the tremendous weight of perch, pike and pickerel, all unfathomably large: I barely managed to steer the bastard, Nick, trust me! Even the senile villagers smelled my vessel from a hundred miles away.

In spite of Luc’s incredible, almost prophetic, fishing skill, there was one fish that eluded him, and all the rest of us too. The way I see it, every village, town or City, has its unconquerable monster. Stories of fantastical creatures rise from fire-side conversation, like so many sparks.

And our village was no different; its mythology starred a large fish, sometimes called the Leviathan, which grew with every story. The beast taunted me for years. Sometimes, swear t’ Christ, he arched his back to rub against the aluminum hull of my boat, assuring me that the all the myths were true indeed.

No photographs were taken, but the stories, especially the ones crafted by my brother, were worth a thousand pictures. When the Leviathan was mentioned, I fell silent. At the time, I refused to endorse, or deny, its existence publically, but without a doubt my ominous and foreboding silence screamed his name: Leviathan!

And so, on a Friday evening in late September, I prepared a feast for my youngest son. It was the lad’s favorite, I assure you: venison tenderloin, with creamy juniper-berry gravy drowning a big ol’ mountain of home-grown potato, completely saturated with three pounds of butter and garlic, also from our garden. I passed the pepper mill to the boy and soon, his forearms bulged as he ground a thick blanket of pepper on top his plate; Luc liked his pepper coarse, as I recall. In addition to the meal, I’d prepared a speech to be served with our dessert: “Luc, your uncle Pierre is coming here tonight. He wants to go fishing tomorrow morning and I’ve promised him that we will be feasting upon the flesh of the Leviathan by tomorrow night. He will be here at dawn, so wash your feet and go to bed right. friggin’. now.”

The boy’s belly was full of butter and starch. He complied with my command, and blew his candle out early that evening. He slept a deep sleep and awoke the next morning to the hearty laughter of my brother and I.

I knew then and I know now that Luc has always idolized his Uncle Pieree. Pierre was always more man than I, to Luc at least. While I was, and always have been, more powerful than my brother, while I laugh louder and drink more than Pierre, my brother’s arrogant silence always captivated Luc. Pierre’s words, always few, send an unspoken challenge to us, who hanf off of the man’s every word. My children, and even my Marie, listen carefully when Pierre speaks.

Usually, we have to ask the person next to us what Pierre just said, for he speaks quietly. All who listen take care to laugh loudly at my brother’s deadpan humour, in hopes of encouraging him to open up, but my brother cannot be manipulated by humans, he answers to angels alone; he is more than comfortable with the impenetrable silence surrounding him. The power of my brother’s silence is immense, Nick. Listen to me. It has a tremendous effect on the lad, especially.

My boy adopted Pierre as his alter ego. I noticed that when he spoke to his Boy Scout buddies on matters concerning fire or fishing, the lad mimicked the low, emphatic voice of my brother. His friends would, in turn, copy Luc’s borrowed expressions, celebrating an earthy charm they had never directly experienced. Luc grinned from ear to ear whenever he heard his uncle’s expressions burst from the pink lungs of his friends, though I’m sure it probably worried him some of the time.

Indeed, Luc’s Cub-Scout buds didn’t know him at all: they met a translation of my brother instead. Luc’s impression of Pierre, a persona Luc grafted into his own, was even more charming than the original. If Luc had his way (and he did), his friends would never meet my brother: Luc wanted Pierre all to himself.

The chances of such meeting were slim. Pierre has always been the type of man who prefers the companionship of his tools or his gun to the comfort of fellowship with fellow human beings.

Pierre celebrates New Year’s Eve every year with himself, alone in the wilderness. When the midnight hour comes, announced by his lonely, moonlit watch alone, Pierre rises from his seat in front of fire and announces the beginning of the New Year with his rifle. He then extinguishes the fire with his own piss and goes into the kind of deep sleep only open air can create.

Anyways: the fishing trip. I almost forgot. Luc came into the kitchen that morning, greeted by his uncle in a way most predictable. I mouthed the words as my brother spoke them: “So Luc, what do you think?”

The boy was never quite sure how to respond to my brother’s question—it was a question both literal and rhetorical. The boy mumbled something incoherent, which Pierre and I promptly ignored. After breakfast, the three of us drove to the lake in Pierre’s beat-up, creamy white, Dodge Ram pickup truck. My brother and I filled the truck with talk with excited banter. Luc was silent.

Luc was always silent around Pierre: it was strange. When Pierre chose not to join our family gatherings, Luc was the center of attention. Even at a young age, Luc’s command of the French language was extraordinary. He entertained us all with an elaborate collection of anecdotes, both real and imagined. He made us laugh and he made us cry. When Pierre was there, however, Luc fell under the spell of Pierre’s silence, though all of us, including his uncle, tried to coax him out of it. We prodded him to tell us this or that story. And he laughed quietly (which was also strange, as the boy’s usual laugh was one of bombast), suggesting that one of us tell the story instead. He insisted, even though we all knew it to be a lie, that we could tell it better than he.

The boy stared at his plate and shouldered the burden of uncustomary silence. I’d bet he wished he could perform, but it seemed as though his powers flew away at the very moment he heard the sound of the Pierre’s beat up 4X4 descend down the drive. His silence was one of reverence—- an oblation given to his uncle’s burning quiet. Luc hung on every one my brother’s few words.

Smoke filled the cab of my truck. The smell of cigarettes follows my brother wherever he goes. I have tried to tell him, on a number of occasions, that those things will kill him, that he should smoke good ‘bacci, like a pipe or one of my cigars instead: dumb bastard has never listened to me. Luc was then unaccustomed to cigarette smoke: he coughed. But on a later occassion, he told me that duMauriers have always smelled holy to him. That’s what he smokes now, methinks.

I don’t know if it was our talk, or the cigarette smoke, or what, but Luc was soon lulled into a deep, and dreamy sleep despite the rough road to the lake. Pierre carried my boy to the boat before we launched and Luc continued to dream. I’d bet he saw God as the sun greeted my brother and I with a warm, golden kiss.

Luc told me later, of his dream: “Dad, God commanded me to wake and spread the good news to you and Uncle, that morning. I rubbed my eyes and saw you smoking. I watched you throw dynamite at God’s creation. I felt so sad.”

We had an awful morning of fishing. Many sticks of dynamite were thrown with not a single friggin’ fish to show for it. The boy slept.

By 10:00, a storm had gathered tremendous force in the west. A clean, loud thunder echoed our dynamite’s furious sentiment, and still, not one friggin’ fish came to our boat. Pierre gave up: “Maybe we should pack it in for the day, Marcel. I don’t think there’s any fish in this fuckin’ lake”.

I couldn’t believe it: “You ate a fish from this lake for breakfast, you silly cocksucker. Be patient.” He sighed.

My brother knew me well enough to recognize the blood lust in my eyes. God himself could not have pulled me off that lake. I continued to paddle strongly, with the blessed assurance that we would find fish up ahead. I wanted to prove to my boy I could find ‘em without his help. Pierre smoked another cigarette and helped me with the paddlin’ as Luc slept defiantly, provoking God and the skies into a more exaggerated form of rage.

By noon, oceans of rain fell from the sky. The waves threatened to destroy our small, aluminum craft and frantic paddles fought against the black water. “I’ve never seen a storm like this before, Pierre. Paddle harder.” My voice, by then, cracked with fear I am sure. My brother, once again, seemed to have given up.

“I don’t think I can Marcel” he screamed over the torrent, “you’d better wake the lad”. Panicking, I shook the boy from his deep sleep, and upon seeing the whites of Luc’s heavily lidded eyes, I became a child once again in the face of my own friggin’ son.

“Luc, wake up! We’re in a bad storm, what should we do?” He must have seen the fear ravage my face. He then looked to the back of the boat to see his uncle paddling in vain. Luc then looked at the waters around us, and while he had assuredly seen the waters of this lake innumerable times, they were now estranged from him—black and deadly as they were that afternoon.

Once again, the boy took a gander at my brother; he knew what had to be done. “Uncle Pierre has to get out of the boat”.

“What?” Pierre and I replied in unison.

“If Uncle Pierre doesn’t get out of the fuckin’ boat right now, we will all drown—get the fuck out of the boat, Pierre.”

We were all shocked by the boy’s words, even Luc himself. I had never heard Luc speak so harshly to my brother, whom he obviously idolized. Despite the fact that the lad’s words put Pierre in peril, I could tell he was proud of his nephew.

‘The lad sounds like a man’, he thought to himself, I’m sure.

And, momentarily, I too was possessed by the words of the lad. I temporarily lost control of my limbs, grabbing my brother by his thinning, black hair and pushed him toward dark waves.

Awkward instant; the boat swayed and Pierre disappeared into the black water. Luc screamed, but in doing so, he was compromised; I had simply obeyed his absurd command, after all, but the boy was, by then, a little bit too comfortable with my insane adherence to his nautical commands. I eagerly complied with every suggestion the lad made… on the boat, at least. I was like a court jester, all too eager to please a deranged king. Luc and I sat on the water in silence and mutual disbelief. The boat rose an inch or so higher above the waves.

Now cast into a cold and silent universe, my brother simply vanished. He choked on the lake’s cold, life-extinguishing water.

Pierre told me later, in his own peculiar way, that he tried to rise to the surface, but was temporarily devoid of his bearings: poor bastard didn’t know up from down at that point. To make matters worse, his black boots quickly filled with cold lake-water, and he was cast into a deeper, blacker darkness. He reached for the fishing knife he carried on his belt and tried to cut his laces. In his panic, he sliced the top of his foot but didn’t feel a thing; the water was freezing cold—his feet were frozen too, I’m sure; he now entered the sights of a new, strange companion.

I’d be willing to bet that the Leviathan smelled Pierre before he saw him. The pungent aroma of duMaurier tobacco followed my brother wherever he went and I’m sure it was a smell most strange to the nose of the monster. It wasn’t the usual fishy smell of the monster’s prey, but the formal smell of prayer obviously quickened the monstrous heart of the beast. He flapped his tail languidly and, moved upon my brother quick fast, in a hurry. I’m about to get a lil’ creative here, so please bear with me.

For months prior to Pierre’s big splash, the Leviathan had subsisted on rodents, frogs and flies alone. I’d reckon a deer had fallen through a thin patch of ice the previous winter, giving the beast a taste for red meat. Pierre’s frantic, and hypothermic thrashing undoubtedly made the beast salivate heavily (do fish salivate?— doesn’t matter, they do in this tale, trust me).

The beast had long since eliminated its competition: he secured his own survival bite by bloody bite. Sometimes, in search of excitement, he would take a nibble at a fisherman’s old five of diamonds just to feel the strength of the man on the other side; though the fight was never fair, it provided the beast with an abstract sense of companionship. You see, Nick, a fisherman, no matter how strong, is only as strong as the line on his rod, and most of the fishermen on our Ontarian lake used 10 lb. test, at most: a violent shake of the beast’s head effortlessly snapped the thin line.

Whole lures were partially digested, providing the beast with a false sense of metallic nourishment as they rested and rusted inside the Leviathan’s distended belly. That day, the Leviathan finally ate, gall-dangit: and Pierre was quite the mouth-full, I assure you!

Pierre was swallowed whole. Confused, I’m sure, he muttered to himself: “Well, what the fuck happened there?” He was most assuredly confused, but comfortably warm now: no longer did he have to struggle in search of oxygen from the thick water of the black lake, for the beast was bloated.

Instead of water asphyxiation, Pierre dealt with the half digested shards of rodent, frog and insect. I’ve learned, over the past several years, that, ironically, the inside of a fish smells nothing like a fish itself. The gastric smell surely reminded Pierre of the few times he had accidentally punctured the stomach lining of a fallen deer as he dressed it out. It isn’t an awful smell, mind you—very strong, but not unpleasant; it is a smell I equate with victory, triumph and… food!

In that instant, I’d bet my brother wondered if he had died. I’d bet he mistook the belly of the fish for the afterlife. Was it Heaven or was it Hell? It didn’t seem to be either; it was dark, I’m sure. It is warm, but certainly not a Hellish heat. The bugger probably shit his pants, muttering to himself: ‘I don’t see any fuckin’ angels here, no demons; I don’t see anything at all.’ The stomach lining around him shrunk and expanded and he lost all sense of time.

By then, on the lake’s opposite vertical end, the lad and I had forgotten all but forgotten our fallen comrade. We each grabbed a paddle and struggled against the rising tide. As we paddled, we failed to notice that the mighty lake was relenting at last. The storm had subsided and, the lake, more calm—appeased by our human sacrifice. The rain stopped. Our strokes became more and more effective. Our battered boat soon reached the Lake’s North Shore, by now illuminated by the sun: a rainbow also came ‘round. The storm had only lasted for an hour. All was quiet and we wiped our brows: everything that happened in the past hour, reduced to a dream.

While the lake was now sedate, the beast’s belly surged. Gastric juice upon gastric juice stormed against the tender lining: violence among insects and Lake Weed and Frenchman. Pierre choked on the yellow bile of his captor, slipping in and out of consciousness. He told me that his paranoid delusions became reality: nightmares exchanged for nightmares. Pierre remembered the last time he had seen death; our father had died two years ago on a hunting trip. Pierre was the only one to see it, for I hadn’t been invited. Our dad fought death; he tried to breathe life into the cold lips of the man he loved more than any other. Pierre listened to our father’s ribs crack under the weight of his own tragic hands, he looked on helplessly as a last gasp issued from blue lip. When my brother’s truck slowly pulled into our driveway, I knew death followed.

Despite the unanimous consolations of the entire Louis family, myself included, assuring Pierre that our father’s time had come and he was not to blame in the slightest, my brother thought about our the death of our dad every day there-after. I can tell ya right now, Nick, that he also wrestled with such thoughts as the fish’s belly tried to lull him into submission.

And I’m sure that fat bastard of a beast had never felt nausea before that day. The hooks in his guts may have, at times, caused him some minor stomach irritation, but nothing compared to this; he was frightened for the very first time. His mouth filled with thickening saliva; instinct led him to the shoreline, where his gigantic belly scraped against the rocks and sand like the hull of a doomed ship. Here, for once, the fish’s gills and fins were rendered useless, trust me: I know. He suffocated on oxygen, most pure, before finally giving in to the resurgent quakes of his own blessed nausea; and he puked, good God, he puked, his own vomiting the only cure for a sick countenance.

The fish then used his massive stores of energy to return to his lake. He flapped around for a bit like the village epileptic, but his situation only worsened. His left eye stared at the lake; he was too far from home. Flies soon covered his body and everything started to fade. He died in a pile of his own vomit, at death worthy of some friggin’ rock star, like, what’s his name again?

Two days worth of regurgitated kill, a semi-conscious Frenchman and a very large, dead fish lay on the southern shore of the lake. My brother coughed. Oxygen, which was by now unfamiliar to him, tasted odd in his gullet. He felt the earth beside him with his tobacco stained fingers and felt grateful—sand underneath fingernail. He passed out with a broad smile upon his face.

It was nighttime by the time our lamp lit my brother’s face. The boy and I fought the urge to cover our noses; the smell on the beach was overwhelming. Luc urged me on into the night in search of his uncle. I must admit that I was frantic; much like a broad in labour. I sobbed as I followed my son’s lamp. I was sure that my brother was dead: “If only we’d waited ten fucking minutes! What the fuck was I thinking?” The boy remained calm. He was confident that we could pluck Pierre from the darkness just as we had done with so many fish.

“Oh my God. There he lay.” The boy nudged his uncle out of a peaceful slumber. Their eyes met, and from then on there would no longer be silence between them. I was too overwhelmed with joy to be even the least bit jealous: at the time, I knew they were brothers, after all. Luc knew this then, as did Pierre.

And so, on that day, a sacrifice was made, and later spit up; rainbows hovered above a rejected offering. None of us ever utter a word about the incident; Marie worries enough about me going out into the bush, or onto the lake without such tales.

Before we went home, the three of us pushed the miserable beast back into the water; we took no pictures, it was too dark, anyways. We came home in the dark and went immediately to bed.

(Break)

The benevolence of the Leviathan made a deep impact on Luc. Prior to that fateful September day, Luc saw fish, and the rest of the animal kingdom, as being under the jurisdiction of man. Father Baudrillard often spoke about this; it served him well as his congregation was mostly composed of hunters and fisherman. When the Priest encouraged hunters in their quests, offering plates overflowed with money and pelts.

The Leviathan’s mercy upon my brother made an indelible impact on the boy. For years, the beast had been stalked mercilessly; he was the village’s Holy Grail. We all wanted to spill his blood; we all wanted to tug at his guts with dirty fingernails. And yet, for some inane reason, the miserable bastard passed up his chance at revenge: he spit up my brother, and in doing so, sacrificed his own life.

I’m afraid that the boy’s opinion of our relationship with animals, even fish, was forever changed. We never fished together again.

The boy no longer hunted for sport. When he and his fellow Cub Scouts were sent into the sticks armed with slingshots of various calibers, my son always came back empty handed. Instead of hunting squirrels, Luc hid in the bush, and with his incredible aim he sabotaged his friends’ best efforts to kill a squirrel or even a beastly bird. The lad’s chosen smooth stones collided with the young knuckles of his peers, and many animals were saved.

It didn’t take long for the other boys to figure out what Luc was up to. At campfires, my son raved like a man possessed about the sanctity of animal life: Luc became a tenderfoot and a tree-hugger right in front of my eyes. At first, the other boys found Luc’s newfound eccentricities amusing. They started to call him “Francis”, and Luc got stranger and stranger. He claimed that he talked to the crows regularly, saying he had been doing so since he was born. I believed him, at times: many did not. Luc also set out on a mission to baptize every infant squirrel in the village; nervous laughter rose from the Cubscout fire.

On a Friday in mid-October (year?), some boys cornered a cat. Her back arched and her fur swelled as she hissed and spat at them like a cornered badger. Joey, who I never cared for (grew up with the boy’s father— he was a real cock-sucker, trust me), led the assault. My boy often said, and I will friggin’ confirm, that Joey’s dad used traps for strays: he would catch them live and commence torturing the poor lil’ buggers, sick bastard he was. Joey had, by then, stepped out of his father’s dark shadow. While some kids burned ants with magnifying glasses, Joey caught squirrels with fishing hooks and cheese. He was a dreadfully mean child.

Many an unfortunate animal was subject to that boy’s cruel and torturous imagination. Some animals were drowned, and others torn limb from limb. Joey was rumored to have set a cat’s tail on fire near the schoolhouse just for kicks: when asked about it, he simply smiled a malevolent smile. Predictably, it was Joey who threw the first, and largest stones, at the cat who soon bled blood-red-blood in the midst of all of all of Fall’s grey ash and rotten fragrances.

The laughter of the feline’s tormenters caught my son’s attention, as he walked home from school that day. He later told me that he assumed the tight circle of schoolboys was formed around a fight. Fighting was quite common in the village and hardly discouraged. Sometimes us dads watched proudly: we cheered on our sons. While my oldest boy was a veteran in the human circle (and often won) Luc rarely fought. I never watched when he did: t bothered me for it never seemed natural for Luc to fight.

Anyways, the cat’s scream caught the boy’s ear immediately; it lay, almost lifeless, at the centre of a dozen sweaty, adolescent bodies. I’m sure the lad’s heart beat rapidly as joined the din.

Luc saw blood dripping from the cat’s whiskers. By then she had given up any attempt at defending herself and lay in a pool of coagulating blood. None of the boys, save for Luc, were perceptive enough to notice that she was pregnant with her first litter; it is highly unlikely that it would have dissuaded them for they craved a kill. They screamed blood thirsty screams.

Suddenly, a large stone smashed into the back of the ringleader’s head and he was knocked out immediately, falling to the ground with an ominous thud. Before the other boys could react, Luc sat on top of Joey’s limp body, delivering blow after blow with fist, and rock alike. Joey’s blood flowed freely, and mingled with the darker blood of the cat, which lay at the centre of a fast-dispersing crowd.

I was kinda proud to know that it took five boys to pull Luc off of Joey. My son snarled and spat. He screamed curses at Guy’s treacherous son. One of the boys ran to the club house to fetch Victor, the Cub Scout leader. When Victor arrived on the scene, he slapped Luc with a force he usually reserved for grown men. He pulled Luc up of the ground by his shirt, which Marie had made earlier that fall. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing Louis? Huh? Are you trying to kill him or what? Look at him for Christ’s sake! What the fuck?” He threw my boy to the ground and inspected the Joey’s bloody mass, which lay crumpled next to the dying cat. Guy’s heart sank, thinking for a moment that Joey was dead. He shook the boy and was slightly reassured when Joey’s eyes tried to open. His eyes looked straight ahead. They were filled with confusion, terror and blood. Red dust swirled ‘round the mayhem.

Joey managed to survive; the cat did not, and Luc wept. A few days later the boy officiated at a small funeral in honour of the cat, whom he posthumously named Mary; I chose not to attend. The boy’s grief for the cat distracted him from the severe reprimand he received from me, his mother, Guy, Father Baudrillard, and countless others in the village. A meeting was held to determine Luc’s fate and despite Luc’s passionate self-defense, the Scouts disgracefully discharged him.

Ten of the boy’s closest friends protested. They burned their own uniforms, their second skins, at the next Cub Scout meet. Victor looked on in horror as smoke from the sacred threads of the brown uniforms burned in his vien-y, red nostrils. He told the boys to go home immediately.

Luc’s sympathizers walked through the night, arm in arm, wearing only their ginch. They shivered; it was a cold night.

Luc had always been patient and methodical in exacting his vengeance. From a young age, Luc was adept in making those who attempted to thwart him feel the full force of his fury: Joey aside, Luc was usually subtle in his punishment. When angry, Luc usually became stoically silent. Usually buoyant and amiable, Luc, when angry, simply turned off a switch. This case was no different from any other.

For three months, Luc did not say a word; not one. Marie and I had sympathized with him. We punished him very sparingly. We grounded him for a week, if I remember correctly, to satisfy the community’s need for ‘justice’. And yet, Marie and I became the primary target of our son’s silent rage.

By November, my patience was wearing thin. One morning, Luc came to our breakfast table with that silly, defiant look of his. He sat down and nodded in my general direction. Before the Joey incident, Luc was always full of excited chatter in the mornings; I enjoyed eating eggs with him. Luc told jokes between sips of the good, strong swill I made. He made up stories that always had me, Marie and the other kids piss our pants with laughter. Since being excommunicated by the Cub Scouts, however, Luc ate in utter silence—only grunting requests for me to pass more food his way. By November, I’d had enough.

I was stern with the lad. “Luc, this has to stop. We let you off pretty easy, you know. That kid is gonna look like some sort of fuckin’ mongoloid for the rest of his life, thanks to you—if you were over eighteen, you’d probably be in jail. His father has threatened to kick my ass: I can’t even go the God-damn pub now, thanks to you! We only grounded you for two fuckin’ weeks, Luc! And now you act as though we don’t exist. Be a man! Sleep in the bed you made for yourself, and quit taking it out on us! Yesterday, Baudrillard told me you don’t say a word in the confessional, that you sit there all quiet, like a friggin idiot. Your marks have gone to shit! You don’t even speak to the friends who went and quit the fucking Cub Scouts to support you. God! Boy, you’d better get the fuck over this or you’re gonna fuck up your life and go to Hell. Speak! For Christ sake, SPEAK!”

Marie must have heard me screaming at the lad. She came in to join us in the kitchen. “Your father’s right, Luc. Get over it! Forgive and forget, this is fuckin’ stupid.” Her words stirred something in the boy. He looked up; I will never forget what he said.

“Marie, don’t speak to me as if I’m a fuckin’ child. Don’t you see that you mean shit to me? I answer to God alone. I don’t need you, of all people, to tell me how to live: GO TO HELL, MA. I don’t need Victor to tell me how to live and I certainly don’t need the fuckin’ Catholic Church to tell me how to live! Baudrillard’s a fuckin’ faggot and the nuns who try to teach me every day are a bunch of fuckin’ dykes. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all! The fuckin’ Catholic Church is nothin’ but a bunch of fags and lesbians…” He went on like this for quite some time before I sprang to my feet.

“Go to your fuckin’ room right now, Luc! Never talk to your mother like that again, or I will not hesitate to beat the living shit out of you! And I swear t’ Christ that if you ever blaspheme like you just did, I will send you away—you are no fucking son of mine!” I quivered, almost cried. I have never been used to conflict: I avoid it at every turn, especially with the kids. But I could not have the boy speaking in such a way, so profanely. It was a sign of things to come, I’m afraid.

“But you are not my father, Marcel.” He spoke those few words quietly, but his voice hadn’t the slightest bit of hesitation.

As looked at the boy through a veil of tears: I knew that the words he had just spoken were true. From the moment Luc was born, I knew that he didn’t belong to me. He looked directly into his my eyes, as if for the first time, and saw my tears, saw my weakness. He felt embarrassed for his me, I am sure, as he rose from his chair and went to his room; I went to my wood shop and wept for some time.

Tears flooded Marcel’s eyes as he gave his account. Marie sidled up to him, rubbing his back and handing him a handkerchief. And she began to speak.

“Marcel and Luc’s standoff didn’t surprise me in the slightest. For years, their relationship had been strained. Even when Luc was shitting his diapers, he possessed an unnatural authority over Marcel and I. While I got used to it, Marcel never did. He struggled against Luc’s almost divine authority and he lost every time.

I must admit that I couldn’t help but feel a bit responsible for the tensions between Luc and Marcel. I felt bad for my husband. He could tell, which made things infinitely worse. Sure, he had Jean; their relationship brought Marcel great joy. But he wanted, more than anything else, to truly connect with Luc; he never really did, and I am sure he never will.

Sure, they went fishing together, but more often than not, Marcel came home with sadness that started in his heart and moved on up to his darkened eyes in spite of how many fish they brought home with them. Luc went to his room until his cheeks were fried up.

Marcel noticed how Luc was with his brother and his jealousy was painfully apparent. When he returned from his shop that night, his eyes were red; it broke my heart. Do you wanna tell the rest, Marcel?

“Sure.”

“The boy’s silence went on unabated for a long time. Christmas came. When Marie asked Luc what he wanted, he shrugged. He gave no gifts that year, and Luc always gave the most thoughtful gifts. This year, however, he quietly said that it slipped his mind. When we gave him our tattered copy of The Imitation of Christ, he reticently thanked us.

Luc had always treasured that book. We often found him reading it alone underneath the big Maple in the back yard. He read meditatively, like his mother always had. He was calm and focused as he read, he often had a strange little grin on his face when he hid behind a book: especially that one. And still, he barely acknowledged our presence as he unwrapped the gift. Christmas, that year, was unbearably silent in our home. Then, Boxing Day came; everything changed very quickly.

Several years later, Luc gave me the following account. Take it with a grain of salt, or two, or three—the boy tends to exaggerate. After we had all gone to bed, Luc walked across the frozen waters of the lake. In the summer, it took about an hour to get to the Cub Scout den from our place, but when the surface of the lake was paved with ice, the journey was significantly shorter: walking on water cuts time in half.

The wind blew cold that night. He did his best to keep warm as he walked in the wind– shivering deeply as he looked up at the sign, which was covered with fresh snow. The boy’s anger piqued. He then walked around to the south side of the clubhouse for shelter and spied a place in which he could build a fire. While Luc’s fire building skills had always been remarkable, he’d brought some wrapping paper and an old jar of bacon grease in his small backpack just to be sure.

The lad lit a greased, paper wick. The flame grew, and quickly consumed the tinder. Fire began to nibble at the clubhouse’s foundations; the boy giggled, I’m sure of it. A breeze came up from the south, giving the flame bigger, hotter teeth. Soon, the clubhouse’s wooden bones were blackened, and exposed. The snow surrounding the cub den melted quickly. By the time the boy started walking back home, his feet were absolutely soaked.

Luc walked home quickly; he lifted the latch of the front door carefully so as to not wake us, and slipped underneath his sheets giggling silently at the thought of fire. He blew out his lamp and dreamed crazy, flashing dreams. He dreamed of Joey’s gnashing, broken teeth and the fire he brought to our village. He slept deeply; he breathed deeply. By morning, smoke from the blaze trickled through his open window.

The next day, Luc returned to the breakfast table in old form. Marie was taken off guard as she listened to the boy ramble with the intensity of one who hasn’t been home in months. She was, at once, excited and worried, suspicious as to what brought on the profound change in the lad. Luc continued to speak insanely, as if possessed. He was late for school that morning.

I went to work early that day. I was just finishing my first cup of coffee when my foreman arrived and asked if I’d heard about the fire the previous night. I knew immediately who was responsible, though I pretended not to: “Fuck no, did they catch the guy who did it?”

“How do you know someone did it?” His question caught me off guard.

“Well, it’s fuckin’ winter. How many fires just begin in the dead of winter for no reason? It must’ve been arson.” I worked my ass off that day, frequently checking my watch. I skipped my coffee breaks and my lunch too; I went home ten minutes early so as to avoid talking with my co-workers. I knew that we had to get the Hell out of there immediately.

(New Chapter)

I got home and before I even said hello, I said to Marie, “Honey, we have to get the fuck out of here.” She looked terrified.

“What the fuck are you talking about, Marcel?”

“Luc burned down the Cub Scout building last night, we’re moving to Alberta.” I could tell by the look on her face that Marie wasn’t the slightest bit surprised. She had seen how jubilant the boy was at the breakfast table that morning. She knew the boy well; the fire made sense to her. We both knew it was only a matter of time before the other villagers reached the same conclusion.

“Fuck.”

We didn’t have much in terms of possessions back then. Our home was small, as were my paycheques: we always prided ourselves in our simple way of living. I was sure to grab all of my tools, which I received when my father passed (Pierre never liked woodworking as much as I).

We chose not to tell the kids the details of what was happening, saying simply that we were going away for a while. I was surprised at how little of fuss they made. Luc knew what was happening: he grinned that arrogant grin as he carried his record player outside. The crows screamed at him as he walked out the door.

I was surprised by my lack of emotion about the move. While I loved the wilderness in which we lived and knew it well, while I was born there and memories hung like ornaments from the branches of every tree, some beautiful and others hideous, I often found myself searching for a reason to leave and try something new. My time there was finished.

Marie packed her things too. I had to stop her from cleaning as she did so. The move, sudden as it was, wasn’t entirely against her will. Since the cat incident, Marie felt out of place, even at Church. I started up the old school bus I’d bought for real cheap a couple years prior. Blue smoke hovered in the cold winter air before disappearing. The sun was just going down as we finished loading up the bus.

Before leaving the village, we stopped in on Marie’s mom, so that we and the kids could say goodbye. Marie wept. It was hard on both of them… Marie was an only child; she felt guilty for abandoning her mother though I ensured her that she would be taken care of by her Church friends.

We also said goodbye to my brother, the old bugger. In his stoic way, he simply scratched his head and mumbled something I couldn’t understand when we told him. It was then that Luc’s calm finally dissolved. He gave his uncle a big hug and told him that he loved him: Pierre looked embarrassed, but also amused, rubbing his nephew’s thick hair with his calloused knuckles. As we pulled out of the driveway, Pierre shot into the night sky: flame issued from his barrel.

And so, we left. We didn’t make it far that night, all exhausted by the hasty move. The bus was silent, save for the loud roar of its old engine. I drove until my eyelids were too heavy for my liking. We pulled off the highway, and parked at some park. We slept in the bus, of course, as we hadn’t the money to get a hotel—never had. After getting the kids to sleep, Marie and I rolled out an old foam mattress in the narrow space between the buss’s rows of benches. I kissed her goodnight, and fell asleep with the gaseous aroma of the bus in my nose. I woke up early the next morning: it was the first morning of my family’s new life.

(New Chapter)

Our family fit into Alberta like a square peg into a round hole. We didn’t speak the same language as our fellow Calgarians: we even smelled different! Back home, the kids learned a bit of English in school, but the only words that ever stuck were the swear words we taught them. We used them quite frequently, even in Ontario. Our family had always been fluent in the curses of many tongues. In Calgary, we were forced to learn other, stranger English words and phrases to survive.

I found a construction job quick enough. I work hard, I’m reliable, and I’m good with my hands. My foreman was a real asshole. He got tired of explaining things with exaggerated, charade-like expressions to get his point across and I was pretty much limited to grunt work for the first several months.

The kids also had a rough go of things. Jean had always been reserved and tight lipped. In Alberta, and Ontario as well, I suppose, Jean preferred to spend most of his time by himself. Louise was more outgoing: she had a knack for language and she made friends quickly. But Luc, who had always been the most social of all our kids, suffered incredibly. The move was very hard on him.

Luc worked with what he knew. Always the performer, the boy was chided by his teachers for giving lengthy monologues in nothing but curses. At first, fellow students were impressed by Luc’s impassioned, dirty speech but they quickly tired of it: Luc became an outsider at school. Only speaking to us and the school’s aging French teacher who struggled to understand the boy’s ‘mongrel’ Quebecois.

My family’s pent up loquaciousness erupted every night at 6:00 sharp over a feast Marie always provided. Our eager chatter usually lasted well into the night. The boy was always the center of our rabble, making up for his silence at school and for his linguistic celibacy in the months before the fire. We were all in awe of the boy’s gift for story-telling. His dormancy of speech only seemed to improve the detail and extravagance of the tales the lad told in our mother tongue. He rambled endlessly, often forgetting about the plate in front of him until Marie reheated it. The tenants on either side of our two-bedroom apartment must have figured all of French speaking Quebec had descended upon their building.

By spring, it was obvious that Luc was not adapting to his new school in even the slightest bit. While Jean and Marie worked hard to overcome the language barrier, and soon spoke English well enough to make friends and do alright at school, Luc seemed to have given up. His teachers noticed.

The school board sent Charles de la Croix, a bilingual aide to pay my wife and I a visit to inform us of the severity of Luc’s situation. He knocked on our door just before supper; it was spring and the birds were starting to sing again.

Marie opened the door and invited Charles in. He must have smelled the thick, gamey fragrance of Marie’s best venison stew because he apologized right away for interrupting our dinner. Marie assured him it was fine: “Oh no, no, no! Come, sit down, we would love to have you as our dinner guest—I hope you like Venison!”

“I love it, but really, I don’t want to be a burden.”

“Shut the fuck up and sit down—it is so nice to have someone outside the family to speak to. Are you Quebecois?” Charles joined in on our dinner and conversation that night: both were incredibly rich.

Over dinner, Charles asked the boy how he liked his classes. “I fuckin’ hate school. I have no fuckin’ clue what the fuck the teachers are saying. The kids in my class are a bunch of fucks. When I try to speak English, they make fun of my accent and when I speak French, they ignore me, which I don’t mind, really. I’d rather be ignored. I fuckin’ hate them all- they’re a bunch of fags and lesbians—fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em all!” It took a couple of massive spoonfuls of potatoes in hopes that it would make him shut the fuck up.

Charles seemed to understand the boy’s situation immediately. He told us later that he’d seen it a thousand times before and that it never ceased to amaze him how cruel kids could be, especially at Luc’s age. He asked no more questions of the boy that night.

The rest of the evening was pretty much the same as any other in our home: Charles was a good listener. Luc told us tales of his day at school: he sounded like some sort of profane, friggin’ prophet. As Charles excused himself, putting on his hat and his coat, he told Marie and I that he had never heard someone of Luc’s age speak with such authority and command. We understood exactly what he was talking about.

I must admit, that around that time, I had become jealous of the lad’s speak. Luc spun tales like tops: ornate, hilarious, and poignant, his stories put us all under a spell. I myself am no idiot, but I am human. I frequently pause, and sometimes stumble over my own words. Occasionally, I get so frustrated that I abandon my story entirely. My linguistic failures have always been magnified by the boy’s eloquence. He never misses; you know.

It must’ve been 11:00 by the time Charles left our house. I could tell he liked us, though he was noticeably surprised, and a wee bit disappointed to find that the kids didn’t have a curfew. Truth is, we’d missed Luc for a long time, and were more than happy to listen to him talk for as long as he wanted to. Marie spilled coffee into Luc’s cup deep into the night, and that night, to us at least, was no different was no different from any other.

Charles acted quickly; we got a call from him the next evening saying that Luc reminded of a student he’d been sent to help just a few years prior. The kid’s name was Tony; he was an Italian.

Tony Primastrada was about Luc’s age, maybe a year or two older. It was obvious, when I eventually met the lad, that he was smart. He knew a lot about music; I never did. Like Luc, Tony had troubles at school due to his problems speaking English. His first language was Italian. In much the same way that we only spoke French in our house, the only language spoken in the Primastrada home was Italian. Victor said that when he visited the Primastrada’s to tell them that Tony was doing poorly in school, they, papa Bruno, especially, took the situation very seriously.

Bruno was a lawyer. He had worked very hard to gain his position: his parents were poor, first generation migrants. He had to join the army to pay his way through school. Both of Tony’s parents were fluent in English, but, much like us, they wanted to preserve their heritage by making sure that Tony was also fluent in Italian.

According to Charles, Tony had difficulty jumping back and forth between languages, and consistently reverted to Italian in his frequent fits of passion at school. When he did speak English, he was quite fluent, but had a whisper of an accent, which attracted the wrong kind of attention from his classmates. He was bullied, made fun of and often called a wop. He had very few friends, and his response to his tormenters was identical to Luc’s: “Fuck ‘m”.

Charles decided that Luc and Tony would be friends, matchmaker he was. He filed a request to transfer Luc to A.E. Cross Junior High School where he would join Tony for the rest of the school year. Luc had not set down any roots at St. Francis, so Charles doubted he would resist. He was right. The following week, Luc boarded a bus en route to his new school.

It was a series of busses, actually- it took three transfers and over an hour for Luc to get to school, but he looked forward to his opportunity for a new start. It was difficult at first. Luc had attended Catholic Schools for his entire life and AE Cross was much different; they didn’t pray there, nor did they attend mass. Luc’s only interest at the new school, however, was social. Luc wanted to make friends more than anything else.

As soon as the lunch bell rang on his first day at AE Cross, Luc left the school in search of the smoking pit. Every school has one of these, I’m sure, and though Luc, to my knowledge, had never joined in, he figured it was his best chance of connecting with his new schoolmates. There was a group of about ten kids smoking near the parking lot who paid absurd prices for coveted smokes; the laws of supply and demand are a painful reality for underage smokers. Tobacco forces kids to steal from their parents, make elaborate plans for someone older to buy a pack, or even collect dirty butts from public ashtrays. Marie and I never smoked that type of tobacco, so the lad was forced to use his lunch money for his first taste.

“How much?” he asked a freckled boy near the edge of the pit, making a smoking gesture to ensure his request would be understood.

“I don’t got any; ask Dylan over there, he’s got a whole pack.”

Luc approached Dylan, who stood at the center of the biggest smoking circle. “How much?” he asked again.

“I have no idea what the fuck you just said to me. Take your dick out of your mouth, rinse and repeat.”

Luc didn’t understand what Dylan said, but recognized from the slant in his voice, and the laughter that erupted from the surrounding crowd, that it was an insult. He calmed himself, knowing that he, a complete outsider, was outnumbered. He repeated himself, patiently: “How much for smoke?”

How much for a smoke?” Dylan mimicked in an exaggerated French accent “Well, I usually charge a nickel, but for you, fifty cents.” Fifty cents happened to be exactly half of the boy’s lunch money, but he wanted to smoke, to fit in.

“Ok, here.”

Luc gave Dylan his money.

“And here you go”, Dylan threw the cigarette outside of the circle and as Luc went to retrieve it, he kicked him squarely in the ass. “Go get it you fuckin’ frog!” Another loud chorus of laughter rang out.

Luc picked up the cigarette, and did his best to suppress his rage. He had a tremendous capacity for anger, and having recently emptied his wrath upon the Cub Scout den, Luc took this most recent rejection in stride. He walked away from the circle quickly and thought of Mary, the mother of God, who bestowed upon the boy her peculiar peace of mind. He left the school grounds in search of an alley in which to light his first cigarette.

Luc was happy to have been rejected, I am sure; he had heard that the first cigarette was the harshest and that some even puke. I told him such things to try to discourage him from taking up smoking cigarettes: beastly, dirty things they are. But the lad wanted to be like his uncle Pierre. He brought the cigarette to his nose reverently and breathed deeply. The boy treated the cigarette as sacrament.

Luc found an alleyway a safe distance from the school and the pack of cruel kids who mocked him. He burned his finger as he fumbled with the pack of paper matches he snatched from 7-11 earlier that day; his hands shook with an alloy of excitement and fear. Finally, the cigarette was lit and Luc breathed deeply, repulsed, but excited by the intoxicating smoke. He coughed for what seemed like an eternity and sweat covered his brow. He took another drag- not quite as bad this time. He watched his breath rise and hover in front of him just before it disappeared into the blue Alberta sky. He looked at the cigarette he held awkwardly in his left hand. Pierre had always held the things with such grace; they were an extension of his body, an eleventh finger, if you will. My boy stood in the alley, smoking and coughing and gagging.

Suddenly another boy appeared and stood next to Luc. He looked at the cigarette in disappointment. “Shit, I thought you had some grass by the way you were coughin’ there.” Luc didn’t understand what the other boy said and assumed that his greeting was an insult. He stood silently, with his head down. “I’m Tony. Haven’t seen you around here before. You go to Cross?” He extended his hand.

Startled by the nicety, Luc stumbled on his own name as he shook Tony’s hand firmly. “Ahhh, Luc, my English is a shit, sorry.”

“No shit! You Italian?” Tony looked at Luc’s dark complexion.

“Naw, Francais, errr.. French, do you parle Francais?” By now, Luc’s head was spinning from the combination of his first nicotine buzz and the excitement of interacting with someone other than his own kin.

“Mmmm a little bit, they’re kinda similar, um, c’mon t appelles tu?”

“Tres bien!” Luc shouted. His skin contracted and tingled with ecstatic joy.

The boys spoke to one another frantically as they walked back to their school. Luc let his usual barrage of French loose upon Tony’s skull, hoping that he would understand some of it. Tony got the gist of what Luc was saying thanks, mostly to Luc’s tendency to speak with his body just as much as he did with his lips. In turn, Tony relayed to Luc his hatred of the various kids who attended their school. He spoke in Italian and Luc was able to get a sense of what he was. Both boys grinned widely as they walked through the front doors of the school ten minutes late. They parted in the foyer and shook hands again. I’m sure Tony’s delicate hands ached as he walked to English class: Luc has a hell of a handshake.

Luc’s smile lasted well into the evening. He spoke about Tony like a brother he had lost and barely remembered. When we asked the lad about Tony, he didn’t seem to know all that much: “Well, he’s Italian and he’s pissed off at the world!” For the boy, that was enough.

The memory of Tony’s strange, cousin tongue lulled Luc to sleep that night. Tony’s was an accent far more beautiful to Luc than the mongrel Calgarian slurs of other classmates. For the first time since moving to Calgary, Luc looked forward to his next day of class.

Break

Our ship had, by then, pulled into the terminal. I walked Marcel and Marie to their beat up Pinto, which waited in an endless line, deep in the Ferry’s guts. My motorcycle guaranteed me a spot at the front of the line. It was time for me to say goodbye to Marcel and Marie.

He opened the rusty, passenger-side door of the Pinto for his wife and the three of us just stood there looking at the ground awkwardly. Marcel, it seemed, wanted to continue his story, which had picked up considerable steam as he tried to fit it all into the one and a half hour sail. I wanted him to continue as well, but our time had come. Margo was waiting at her coffee shop, an Americano with extra cinnamon at the ready for my arrival. I was excited and exhausted from the long trip west, but temporarily energized by Marcel’s tale. I was convinced that our meeting had been arranged by the divine.

I gave them both a handshake before walking to the front of the ship. “It was so nice to meet both of you. If you see Luc on the way back to Calgary, tell him that I’m thinking of him and that I miss him a lot. Your son is very special to me.” They both seemed baffled that I cared so much, but politely said goodbye regardless. I started up the engine, riding slowly through the yawning mouth of the vessel. I was still high on the conversation I’d had with the divine kin of Luc Louis.

I was exhausted by the time I got to the coffee shop. For the entirety of the ride from the Ferry to the town, I thought not of the new life I was riding toward, or the beautiful woman awaiting me: I thought of Luc alone. Marcel’s account had upgraded a passing interest in Luc to a full blown obsession. His account of his son’s life completely substantiated the plans I had already made to dive headlong into Luc’s deep waters. Marcel thrust open Pandora’s Box: I was elated. Visions of Luc danced with steel soles upon the soft, grey electricity of my skull.

Soon, I parked my bike in front of Margo’s coffee shop, a tiny little place in the Shire-Like community of James Bay. I burst through the door to find her sitting beside her astrologer, who was revealing both her fate, both past and present, to her ever-listening ears. She looked up, and smiled before she stood and walked toward me: her movements, incarnate grace. I lifted her in the air, squeezing her with all of my strength and growled like a big ol’ bear.

I immediately launched into a detailed account of my meeting with the Louis’. I had told her about Luc before, even sharing with her the first confused chapters of this novel. Her response to the writing was encouraging, a huge motivation in my decision to go to such absurd lengths to follow her to the Island. She gave me much critique and advice.

On that day, Margo and I both fully realized the obsessive nature of my relationship with Luc’s mythology. In hindsight I realize that we both got a glimpse into what the next four years of our lives together would be like. I didn’t stop talking. I didn’t ask her about her world at all. We got to her place and I passed out on her couch, snoring with my head on her lap. She ran her fingers through my greasy hair. When I woke up, she was gone.

Part Three

Moving to a new city or a new neighborhood even allows one to re-create himself anew. In Calgary, I had a group of good friends I had known for my entire life. I went to High School with all of them and as the years passed, it became increasingly evident that we were growing into very different people.

My best friend had taken up a life of Child and Youth Care Counseling. Others were Accountants, City workers and even Police Officers. The disparity in our professions led to lengthy conversations about times long past: mournful psalms of times long past. Only a few of these friendships transcended nostalgic melancholy. But we were, indeed, friends and good ones too.

Moving to Victoria enabled me to become myself. I was able to choose friends who spoke the same language as I did, and though it took some time, I found a group of like-minded individuals who aided me in my growth. I became more and more myself.

I became a writer in Victoria. I was obnoxious about it, at first. Two weeks after moving there, I hosted a welcome party for myself, inviting many of Margo’s friends who I had only recently met. At the end of this party, and several parties to come, I gave a reading of the first few chapters of the book. While some of the guests enjoyed the readings, many of them were somewhat put off by my assumption that they gave a shit. And so it continued.

I wrote. And I made a point of writing in the most visible places. I wrote at the workplaces of several newfound friends. I wrote in the rain and watched my pen bleed blue onto the soaked note book. I wrote at night and in the morning as well, trying to remember every detail from Marcel’s fast disappearing account of his son’s childhood. I wanted to be noticed, undoubtedly I was chuckled at in the best of times and ignored for all the rest. I was incredibly self absorbed at this time. I was arrogant and desperate for attention. Fortunately, Margo’s friends, many of whom I would later call my own, were forgiving enough to look past my immaturity.

My inescapable poverty only further contributed to my increasing self-identification as a writer. I was, quite literally starving and though I am tempted to through in the “artist” to complete the phrase, I’m not sure I was. I stunk. And I lost 50 lbs. in the first six months of my Victorian residency.

I couldn’t find work on the Island: another premonition of things to come. I walked around the town a lot, however, usually late at night (it was another thing I thought ‘writers’ did). One night, I had a lengthy conversation with a pedi-cab driver named Chico, who assured me that should I take on his trade, I would be set for life. I was skeptical, but desperate enough give it a try.

The next day, I walked down to Tataki Taxi in hopes of procuring employment. The place was reminiscent of an episode of the popular seventies sitcom, Taxi. By the time I got there, the early morning cabbies were just returning from their shifts exhausted: a crew of late night cabbies took their bikes. I asked one of the cabbies that I needed work and he pointed me in the direction of an office from which thick clouds of cigar smoke flowed like the blanket of Victorian fog.

“The owner’s name is Bill” the cabbie said with a grin, “He’s quite the character, but he’s a good man: remember that.” I walked toward office with a spring in my step, eager to see the man responsible for all that smoke.

Bill was on the phone, but gestured for me to grab a chair in front of his desk. I sat down and pretended not to listen to the intense conversation he was having with his girlfriend.

I studied Bill as he talked. Bill was well into his fifties when I first met him, though he did everything possible to hide it. His first line of defense was the ever-present cap on his bald skull. For the first three weeks I worked at Tataki Taxi, I was under the mistaken impression that my boss had a full head of hair. His male-pattern baldness only revealed when a disgruntled employee stole the cap from his head and ran out the door. Bill dove desperately under his large, cedar desk. He didn’t come back to work for days.

When Bill finally returned, he wore a newly purchased poor boy cap upon his gleaming skull and fired all who were bold enough to delve into topics of the follicular nature.

In my four months of employment at Tataki Taxi, I earned about $200: I was an awful salesman. I was forced to take a one-on-one introductory course from Bill himself; he personally instructed me on how to make money as a Tataki Taxi driver, speaking at length about how lucrative a job Kabbing is, if sees things in the right perspective. On the wall of his office, Bill had amassed a collection of previous Tataki drivers’ notes documenting days they made $500 or more. I was convinced that I too would be rich.

“What you are selling here, Nick… is it Nick?”

“Um, yeah. My name is Nick”

“Alright, Nick, the question was rhetorical. I’ll give you a freebee: what you are selling here is not, let me emphasize, it is most definately not, a Kab ride.”

“Um, ok. Well, Bill, what am I selling… is this a front? You guys sellin’ pot like everyone else here?”

Bill did not pause to chuckle.

“You are selling an experience. Every summer, over 100, 000 tourists come to Victoria. They come for one reason, and one reason only. Guess what reason that is, Nick.”

“Um, to see the sights?” I grinned, ironic.

“No. Nick, they come here to spend money! Think about it. North Americans have, on average, three weeks of holiday time per year. Those three weeks are what keep them going when they are going out of their fucking skulls punching the clock at some bullshit 9-5 job. (note: Tataki Taxi recruited potential Kabbies by offering an alternative to comparatively dull 9-5 work) They save every penny, Nick, for these three weeks. They want to give it to you! Let me give you a little scenario here. You’re a dude. You will understand.”

“So, you take your lovely lady away on a magical vacation to Canada’s most beautiful city (note: in 2011, Victoria was named Canada’s most romantic city). You get off the plane, take a cab to the hotel and drop off your shit. You wanna show her a good time, right? Hope you do! So you leave the hotel and you are totally lost. You get one of those free, yellow maps they give out in the lobby: it doesn’t help at all. You want to eat, but where should you go? You want to have a drink, but have no idea where the hotspots are! And suddenly, God himself sends you an angel! And who is the angel, Nick? Tell me who this angel is!”

“…”

“The angel is YOU, Nick! God has sent you to deliver these poor bastards from what has the makings of a boring vacation! YOU can tell them where they should go! You even have coupons… you know about the coupons, right?” I pull the pile of coupons he had given me three days prior from my pocket to show him. “You can save them, 10% on a succulent feast of crab from some of this towns best restaurants!”

By this time, Bill stood on his chair. “NICK! You are their angel! Not only can you tell them where they should go, but you can take them there in the back of your wonderfully unique and completely absurd ‘vehicle’! NICK, do you know how much these men wanna get laid? Allow me to reiterate: they have been busting their fucking asses for the better part of a year in order to pay for this vacation and trust me, if you are working nine to five, five days a week, you are not getting laid regular! I mean, you sink into a routine, man! You wake up at the same time every day! Maybe you give your wife a kiss on the cheek before heading out to a day that resembles, no, doesn’t resemble, but is EXACTLY THE SAME as the one before!”

He is now standing on his desk.

I am scared, at this point, though I try not to let on.

“NICK! Vacations are the only time in the shattered and pathetic lives of such men when they have a hope in hell of getting some pussy! SHAVED PUSSY, you understand? Do you?”

“Yeah, Bill. I like shaved pussy.”

“OF COURSE YOU DO! You have a set of balls, don’t you Nick?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, use them! Follow their lead!”

“Um?”

“Follow their lead, Nick! You’ve got a girlfriend, right?”

“Uh, yeah, I think so…”

“Ok. Well, you’ve got yourself a special lady then, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Ok. So NICK, you’ve gotta let your fuckin’ balls lead you! Because you are the other side of the fuckin’ gold coin I’m gonna throw at you right fucking now. Follow me, follow me, follow me (Note: Bill loved Snoop Dogg), so, on one side of the coin is the middle aged motherfucker you are trying to persuade to get into your Kab. This guy has blue fuckin’ balls man, partially ‘cuz his wife’s not interested anymore and partially because, on the odd occasions she is turned on the fucker can’t even get it up! You understand? Ha! Probably not!” He gives me a fatherly slap to the shoulder.

“This is his big fuckin’ chance, Nick! His old ass certainly would not be able to do what you are offering to do. Fucker would have a heartattack half way up that little fuckin’ hill on Government Street even if he was on top of a regular bicycle, let alone one of these big bastards… you riding a four seater or a two seater right now?”

“I’m mostly riding twos.”

“Well, anyways…. you need to own the twos! Fours are a totally different universe! But you my friend are lucky: you are riding romance incarnate! Follow me, follow me, follow me…”

I think I rolled my eyes, but luckily he didn’t see.

“You, Nick! You are fully responsible for getting this fucker laid! His wife has a front row seat! She is looking at your ass, Nick, don’t kid yourself! Here you are sweating, trying to get this fat fuck and his wife to a four coarse meal of prawn, potato and salmon: you bust your ass, to get them there as fast as you possibly can. And they notice. He, is conflicted of course: he has to look like he’s enjoying the ride; he’s paying for it after all. But he knows full well that his fucking wife is looking at your ass—she’s having a bit too much fun doing it, but maybe her pussy’s getting a little wet. But, here’s the interesting part: he is sure that all of her adulation and excitement regarding your bum will be transferred onto to his miserable, old, limp dick… if he waits it out!”

“Nick! That is why he is willing to pay you! That is why he is willing to give you a one hundred dollar tip! He knows that, in time, all the energy you have created with those fucking legs of yours will be thrown upon him! I know these pricks. I used to work nine to five. I built this industry with them in mind.”

“And you! Let’s not forget about ‘number one’ here! You are getting paid to get in shape! I’ve been watching you, my friend, and I’ve noticed that since you’ve started working here, you’ve toned down quite a bit. When you came in here that first day, I looked at you long and hard. I knew that instant that you had potential. Maybe a buck or two overweight, but I could tell you were strong even then. And now, you’ve shaved a bit of weight off: you’re lookin’ good, my man! (He gave me a high five) Every girl in this town wants to fuck a Tataki Taxi driver: that’s just the way it goes. We’re in good shape, we make good money and we’re social: a good catch, it you ask me! Tell me, Nick, is your special lady happy you’ve started riding with us, or what?”

Again, he gave me no time to reply.

“Of course she is! I betcha part of the reason you’ve dropped all that weight is that you are getting laid, what, four, five times a day?”

“Ummm…”

“No need to get into the nitty gritty here, I know. So, there you have it Nick. You’ve got motivation coming out of your fuckin’ ass! You know they’re out there, you know they want to give you some money! You just have to get out there and put yourself in a place where you can get it! So do it! What the fuck are you doing here, listening to me fuckin’ yabber when there are rich motherfuckers out there right now, looking around waiting for someone to give there unending supply of American, yes, American, greenbacks to! Betcha Chico made $1000 today! Did he tell you he spends his off season surfing in Hawaii? That could… no, it will, be you! You are a prodigy, believe it! Now, get the fuck out of my office! Go forth! Make some money for that special lady of yours! Leave! Now!”

Bill got off his desk, nonchalantly and resumed his perch on orthopedic chair: he adjusted his cap and looked at me to see if I had any questions. I did not.

I set off that day, after paying the obligatory $60 lease for the squeaky cab between my legs. I was emboldened by Randy’s excited rant. I made $30 for a ride to Big Bad John’s with two middle aged women who complained, for the duration of the ride, about my ‘lack of initiative’. They tipped me $1 on a $29 fare.

On that day, as well as many that came before and after, I paid to work in our Province’s capital city.

(Break—This Will Be the Chapter Closing Part One)

At the bar, again. This is where my search has taken me. I have a wealth of information about Luc here, scrawled on napkin, recorded on tape and remembered from conversation. I am trying to make sense of it all, trying to build chronology and sense out of the conflicting documents I’ve amassed over the past several years. And I drink.

Four months ago, when I first visited the pub, I was a fresh face, a youthful contrast to the regulars who punish their internal organs with assorted perpetual poisons. I have found in my time here that most of the regulars wear hats, that they lean in when to talk to one another, and that while they sit as close to the actual bar as possible, they avoid it like the plague as to take a seat there would confirm their status as alcoholics.

I grew to hate the other regulars as I quickly became part of their drunken choir. I wrote out elaborate lists of their habits and behaviors, watching them with detached curiosity from my perch. The reality, however, is that I was in much worse shape than any of them. My self absorption and detachment from reality, combined with excessive amounts of beer, made for absurd results.

I was becoming an incarnation of Luc’s rage, and had long since abandoned my naturally thin frame; a large belly walked in front of me everywhere I went. Another thing: though I am usually reserved, to the point of withdrawn, terrified of eye contact and all that brings, I was becoming a creature driven by uncontrollable urges. It affected my work, my friendships, everything. Luc hovered over me. No, not Luc, but the Luc I had created in what was, more and more, my own distorted image.

I went to class drunk after a long liquid lunch and I was the teacher. For homework, I told the students that they all must go to a bar, preferably one of my favorites, and transcribe an entire conversation. When the students returned the next day, thinking the assignment was a joke, I publically berated them all and disciplined them by pouring my entire cup of coffee onto the classroom carpet; they looked at me, rather confused by my behavior.

Looking back on it, teaching was the worst profession I could have possibly undertaken at this venture. By day, I lectured on whatever happened into my mind at the time. I had the students read my manuscript aloud in their own broken tongues. On several occasions, I recorded them speaking, later playing the lossless reproductions to yawning friends at parties. By night, I delved further into my shrinking world. I showed up at the Beagle, predictably, at 3:45 every afternoon, greeting the waitress with an order. Drinking Blue Buck upon Blue Buck, I was intoxicated by six o’clock drunk on booze and on Luc or, rather, my configuration of Luc.

I avoided phone calls, friends and mirrors. I came home only when the bar closed, to Margo, who was forced to endure my rants, and insane prophesies. Suck rants only ceased when they were replaced by my voracious drunken snoring. She tried to shut me up by nudging me, trying to get me to roll over. In a half conscious state, I severely reprimanded her, throwing a near-miss elbow into the darkened bedroom night.

Our situation worsened when I lost my job. After three months, and many warnings, I was laid off from King George International College; my pink slip enclosed in the same envelope as my last paycheque. It was a Friday. One of my students had, that afternoon, dressed up as a Vampress: teeth and all. When I was called into the Executive Director’s office, I assumed he wanted to talk about the troubled vampire. Instead, it was regarding her infinitely more troubled instructor.

“Ok, George, I know exactly why you called me in here today. As I am sure you are aware, Bruna dressed up as a Vampire today and this is how I dealt with it….”

“…Nick, this isn’t about Bruna…”

“I incorporated into the class George! I introduced her to the rest of the students as a Vampire! They’re all into Twilight, anyway—figured I would let them meet an actual vampress! Now George, I’m gonna warn you, a couple of the students actually left the class when she started writhing on the floor in fake blood, but other than that, it was great! And look, she bit my neck!”

“Nick, you no longer work here.”

(Silence)

“Are you surprised?”

(Silence)

“Nick, I really tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. Kate is one of our best teachers and I didn’t take her recommendation in vain. Every time I’ve received a complaint, I talked to her about it and she assured me you’d come around eventually: you haven’t. Since you’ve started working here, I’ve received calls from several agents about “the new teacher?”, a teacher who doesn’t bother to shower, a teacher who eats in front of the class, and whose only assignments revolve around pubs. I have done my very best to keep you informed, but you seem to ignore everything I have said to you, you’re done here, as of now.”

(Silence)

(Break)

I returned to the school the following Monday, wearing a tie. After my meeting with George the previous Friday, I had told my students about what had transpired. Some were shocked and angry: most were elated, happy to bid farewell to the unfamiliar anarchy that, for the past three months, had plagued their school and, consequently, their lives. I chose to ignore the bidding of the latter party, however, and focused my energies on the students I had managed to inspire during my brief residency at the school.

The first item on my drunkenly scrawled ‘to do’ list was checked off almost as soon as it was written: I printed off over one thousand frog stickers and disseminated them to my favourite students. By the time lunchtime rolled around, the entire school was covered with frogs. I watched students affix the symbolic stickers to the walls, ceilings and doorknobs of my former workplace as I stood outside with a large banner which read, “The Devil Has Come to Victoria: His Name is George. Reinstate Nick Lyons.” The police showed up as the students returned to afternoon class.

“Hello sir.”

“Ok. What’s going on here? We received a complaint from several businesses in the area about vandalism and we’ve been told that you are orchestrating all of this. We have a few questions for you, so let’s go.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! This is a protest and as far as I know, this is still public property, so you can go straight to hell, ok? Go ahead and fuck right off, motherfucker. I’m just minding my own business here and you can do the same.”

I trembled as I said those words. I couldn’t even look the policemen in the eye, preferring to search my pockets for a cigarette. The policemen stuck around and, when I extinguished the smoke on the public pavement, I was taken into the police station for littering.

The station was nothing like the movies might suggest. When I asked for my one phone call, they laughed at me and passed me a phone, telling me to press line one and call whoever I wanted to call. I phoned Margo, who wasn’t in the least bit surprised: “Well, honey, I’m at work. Phone me at 5:00”.

I wasn’t even given a cell, which would have been a great story. Instead, I just sat in the office as if at a medi-clinic, waiting for a reluctant doctor dressed in blue instead of white. Eventually, my name was called and I met with a (blank).

“So, what do we have here? Littering and a possible public mischief charge pending: what’s going on Nicholas?”

“My name is Nick.”

She smiles. “Ok, Nick, what’s going on?”

I plead my case in the most elaborate of ways, bringing it to a spiritual level: me, the victim. She listened to what I had to say before, again smiling, telling me my circumstance. “Well, Nick, that is all very well and good. You’re in here for littering, and the pending charges stand little chance of being realized. Might I ask what you are trying to prove though? You seem to be incredibly agitated. How are things at home?”

“That’s none of your fucking business. I pay my taxes so people like you can go to work every day and you’ve got a lot of nerve to even ask about my personal life. Fuck you. Can I pay my $50 and get the fuck out of here?”

“Sure.”

“Ok. Good. You guys take interac?”

Upon leaving the Police Station, I went immediately to the pub, my quest for beer justified by the obvious breech of justice that had been inflicted upon me that afternoon. I ordered a beer, upon arriving, to chase a shot of Jagermeister. I was intoxicated well before I usually was, on that night. A glass shattered on the hard wood floor as I took my seat.

Several beers into the evening, Margo phoned. I ignored the call, hoping that my failure to answer would build the suspense of the day’s drama. She called me from a home that neither of us wanted to return to after work. It showed. Our tiny basement suite smelled of rot, still water in the sink and the dirty laundry which hid the floor of the bedroom. Margo didn’t leave a message on my voice mail: she preferred to eat her dinner in silence; the dog slept soundly on blue couch. I continued to drink.

The pub was at capacity that night: the Canucks game on every television. I was the Beagle’s omniscient narrator, again, a title self ascribed. From my perch, I could see the raised floor before me and, with the help of a strategically placed mirror I could see all that happened behind me as well. The waitress station to my left let me in on all the prayers and other petitions of the exclusively female staff, who provided me with a running commentary of all the goings on at my second home. All of this is greatly exaggerated, of course: please take with an equally coarse grain of salt.

All quickly became blurry, with the exception of one man. And I write this man with an authority usually reserved for God himself:

He probably thinks himself a miss-placed soul: according to his logic, a mixture of folk wisdom, trade school lectures and Eckhart Tolle, he should have been incarnated in the late 1930s, thus reaching the peak of his virility by 1959-1961. Suspenders mark his plaid back with an authoritative X. He speaks animatedly, with his hands, about the football game on the big screen at this old tavern.1. “Nobody will ever be as good as Sammy Baugh!” He screams, round spectacles alternately reflecting and refracting the pub’s dim light. “I mean, he wore leather on his skull! Not like these newfangled plastic helmets with cameras and lightning bolts and whatnot! Sammy was a real man! He took his fair share of hits too! ” People listen when he speaks.

Across the pub from the man is a table of twenty some things, who are well into their cups. All four of them wear their caps backwards and they have, in the past few minutes, started to toss pigskin back and forth to one another across the table; no glasses have been broken, yet. Their waitress (Ashley) has shot them several dirty looks, all ignored; instead, the men commenced in an ogling, very blatant. They are becoming increasingly aggressive.

By the second period, they leave the pub, temporarily, to practice longer throws in the parking lot. Half way through, the dude in the Redskins cap is struck by a light blue, 1987 Volvo wagon: he walks it off, though, and he and his buddies soon return to the pub. Redskins cap receives a Jager-bomb for his bravery and becomes more exuberant and expressive as soon as he “knocks her back!”

The men at this table never look at one another in the midst of their eager chatter. Instead, they take turns speculating as to whether or not their waitress would be a good lay. They also look over to our misplaced soul, who becomes the subject of many an off-color jab. By the end of the last game one of the backwards-cap-men finds himself standing beside misplaced soul at the urinal. Misplaced soul makes the mistake of trying to strike up a conversation: “Hell of a game, that was.” He says. Backwards cap takes great pride in recounting the rest of the story to his buddies.

“So the fuckin’ guy starts talking to me! Can you fucking believe that? He probably just wanted an excuse to look at my huge fucking cock. ”

“How do you know, did he bring out his fucking microscope?” Laughter.

“Fuck you man, serious… anyways, so I turn and face the guy—pissed all over his fuckin’ gay-ass loafers.” Table erupts in laughter and banging fists. “Oh, I am so sorry, I said, must’ve forgot what I was doing there for a sec!” Table once again erupts. “I think it really pissed him off!” (Laughter: faces turn, once again, to face big screen).

No longer content in simply observing, I wait for team ball cap to settle their bill and leave the pub. I follow them to the parking lot.

“You fuckers have a lot of nerve behaving the way you did tonight.” (Slurring)

They don’t have to ignore me as my voice betrayed the quiet it had become accustomed to for my entire life. The least drunk of the party of three must have heard something though, as he turned around. “What?”

As I repeated the words I had uttered so recently, they gained momentum and confidence. “I said: you fuckers must have a lot of nerve behaving in such a fucking deplorable manner tonight. I watched you stupid fucks violate every fucking moral code under the sun as you watched your silly little game and I am here to tell you that you are all a waste of fucking skin!” I spoke: the mixture of rage and booze spoke louder.

When I came to, I was in pain. Someone must have seen me lying there and told the pub’s staff about my current situation. The waitress, whom I had but ten minutes prior tipped incredibly poorly, hovered above me like an angel; she asked if I was ok.

My words managed to navigate around fat lip and broken teeth, I uttered something about having stood up for her and all the waitresses in the place: she rolled her eyes, I am sure, and told me to go home: she also offered to phone a cab for me, but I declined as I lived just a few blocks down. I stumbled home and slept on the couch: I snored with tremendous gusto, spitting up the occasional blood clot or two as the feverish evening progressed. When I woke up, she was gone. No note on the table: I wasn’t sure if the dog had been fed, so I put food in his dish to be safe.

(Break)

On Tuesday, I didn’t return to the school. I imagined the place, covered in frogs and rebellion, thinking to myself that I would inevitably be receiving a phone call begging for reinstatement coupled with excessive apologies. Instead of filing for EI, I masturbated and fell back asleep, warm cum cooling and hardening on my rotund belly. She didn’t come home that day.

Upon waking up from a long nap, I rode my skateboard down the hill to the Beagle. I took my usual seat and began to empty a backpack full of manuscript and frogs. I noticed in the mirror in front of me, my usual waitress speaking rather intensely to the bar tender I had always hated because he had sideburns. I was writing a to-do list, getting as far as number five by the time she came to my table. “Nick, I hate to do this to you, but I think you should probably go back home, sweetie.” Again, I fell silent.

She had always been like a mother to me. On some days, she would stop serving me after five drinks, not verbally cutting me off, but discouraging me from drinking any more. Her face grew more and more concerned with every visit I paid to her pub.

And she knew drunks much more than I could ever know drunks. She would always tell me that she could set her watch, not only by the time Larry or Floyd would walk in to the place, but also by the time they had their first smokes or second beer. The sad part about addiction, she told me more than once, isn’t its dramatic tragedy, but its predictability: “Most of the people that come in here have the privilege of being able to forget or ignore the fact that alcohol is a depressant. If there is one thing that I’ve learned during my time bringing poison to these men, it is that alcohol is a depressant; it is the deadliest of drugs.” Though I would later write down what she said that day, I did not hear it.

At that point, she was probably the only person in the world who could suggest something to me without inciting a fight. I gathered up my stuff and walked out of the bar quietly, without the slightest clue as to where I would go.

I ended up in the park and stayed there until it was dark.

I noticed from the street that a light was on in our suite and I almost retraced my steps back to the park bench from where I had come. I didn’t want to see her, and I certainly didn’t want her to see me. My face was almost unrecognizable even to myself (for though I had managed to avoid the mirror in the morning, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the pond later that afternoon) and I was, once again without a job. I opened the door and she was sitting on the couch reading.

“Hey”, I offered, walking directly to the pantry in search of some Mr. Noodles. She didn’t return my greeting.

I boiled some water and threw in the noodles. In ten minutes or so, I joined her in the living room, looking at her through the steam of my dinner. My glances were not returned and I pretended not to care, taking up a magazine from the coffee table between us. Soon, she put down her book and walked to the bathroom in total silence and, again, I pretended not to care. The dog sat at my feet, it was two against one.

Her light went out early that night, not a word was exchanged, nor a glance. I sighed, for her benefit more than any actual feeling of rejection or betrayal, as I pulled the mattress from the guts of our Hide a Bed love seat. I didn’t brush my teeth that night, didn’t wash my face as it was sore and I didn’t want to see it in the halogen light of the bathroom. The dog went to bed with her; I slept alone.

The silence lasted for an entire week. Some nights she came home and others she didn’t. I had nobody to talk to, our friends all shared and the bar no longer an option. I didn’t want to see anybody anyway, as the gash under my left eye had become infected and filled with pus. I knew I needed to find a job, for relationship leverage, if nothing else but couldn’t fathom an interview in the shape I was in.

Luc had long since left too. By then, the only place I could commune with him was at the pub. I tried to invoke him at my house, at the beach and in coffee shop, but only received worried looks from strangers and cravings for beer I couldn’t afford. Once again, we parted, this time without a fond farewell to send us off. For the first time in months, I was actually by myself when I was alone without Luc Louis to populate my imagined world. I had forsaken all for him and, in my moment of need, he had forsaken me. I was truly alone with only copious amounts of time to keep me company.

(Break)

And so, I set about creating a savior. Luc’s historically based narratives were no longer enough. I needed him to be something else: something larger, something more important. By that point, the Beagle Pub had become my primary residence. I had no friends there; I, simply an observer. I didn’t speak to the other regulars, preferring to sit at a distance and study their drunken movements, and cast judgments like stones.

Until one night, having spent the day alone, headphones plugged into my ears tightly, I had enough solitude. I walked up to their table in the corner and introduced myself, asking if I could join their table. They all looked at me, baffled, before pulling out a stool for me to sit on. The one who always wore a fedora said to me, “Nick, I’m Dave. Welcome to our table.” And so, I sat down.

They were all curious about me, though all were resolutely aloof at first. Once the questions started, however, they flowed until last call. Each of them had formed his (and they were all men) own opinion of me. One of them thought me an eccentric professor, who retired to the Beagle Daily to grade papers with a disgruntled look on my face. Another thought me to be an alcoholic homosexual, who cruised the place while hiding behind black notebook to let other ‘fags’ onto his ruse. One thought me to be a tight lipped entrepreneur, unsuccessful for all his devotion to his own business as I failed to conform to the rather rigid norms surrounding hygiene (I rarely bathed, at the time) and office. When I told them that I’d been working on a novel the whole time, they all quickly lost interest. They asked me if I was a Hockey fan.

I got riotously drunk that night. When I got home, I was unable to make it to the couch, passing out on the kitchen floor. I had some Ichiban Noodles in a boiling pot prior to the black out; it was my custom, upon arriving home from the bar to fill my belly with noodles and MSG. Consequently, the smoke alarm woke Margo up, announcing the arrival of her charming boyfriend. I woke up to her shaking me violently. “Nick, we are done. Do you fuckin’ hear me? Done. Pack your shit and get the fuck out tomorrow. I’m not dealing with this.” I passed out again immediately.

And a dream, somehow, managed to break through the darkness of that black. I looked up, only to see a fast galloping steed fleeing from me. It was uncomfortably warm. I was in the desert, I think.

A wounded hand appeared, seemingly from nowhere. I grabbed the hand, failing to see who it belonged to and was back on my feet again, though I was wavering. “How ya doin’?” The question was obviously rhetorical.

I tried to speak, but my tongue was paralyzed. My words reduced to a babble inchoate and disturbing even to me: “Ahwazzz kannan latta.”

“What’s going on, Nick?” Another rhetorical question. “I’ve been watching you and I’m concerned. You seem to be self-destructing.”

I tried to defend myself, shouting, “Ah kakka latta mana!” It didn’t appear to help my case.

“You are loved, Nick, by me and, more importantly, by many others and you are slapping their extended hands; you’re spitting in their collective face. Margo loves you, I know. She cries, sometimes calling upon me. It is a hard thing to watch. And who the fuck do you think you are?”

“Aggh, hanna nanna.”

“You think you’re inspired, but you are wasting your time. You are more captivated with the idea of writing than you are by actually doing it. When you do manage to get something down, it is sure as hell passionate, but it isn’t going anywhere: you aren’t either. You want to sit at the table of wastrels and you will become a wastrel: don’t get me wrong, I love all of those guys, but I am so fucking disappointed it hurts me. They’re all killing themselves, slowly but surely. Can you see that? I don’t know.”

By then, I had given up on arguing. I tried my best to see the face behind the voice and I could not. A large sillouhette is all I could make out amongst the rising heat. The voice, at once familiar and foreign to me, gave me a sense of peace I hadn’t experienced in a very long time, however, and I began to weep uncontrollably for what seemed to be hours. I collapsed in his arms.

When I came to, I saw a number of boxes on the floor before me: labeled with hurried black ink scrawl. I laid there for a while, rolling over to survey the ceiling. I smelled charred ichiban and fought a wave of nausea, sitting up to stop the spin of the kitchen. I groaned and stood up.

The first thing I noticed was the hastily packed shoe boxes, cereal boxes and beer boxes that surrounded me: they were all filled with my things: cds, nail clippers, soap. I grunted, moving toward the stove to inspect the burned pot on the burner.

If Margo had been more thoughtful, she would have packed my records first but in her haste (she had a job, and was going to school as well to support me) she hadn’t had the time to think things through. I put on Dark Side of the Moon and laid back down, this time, in the living room as it was carpeted and more dignified. I thought back to the dream-vision I had had the previous night, wondering how seriously I should take it.

I had had dreams like this before, but not for quite some time, not since moving to the Island, for sure. Since moving to Victoria, I had completely abandoned all affiliation with the Church. I was done, with no desire to return. Though still, I would occasionally venture into the vaulted doorways of the various ornate Cathedrals that infested an otherwise progressive town. I smelled the hardwood and felt compelled to pray, often without uttering a word aloud.

After laying there for quite some time, only getting up to flip the record over, I went back to the Beagle. I didn’t bring a pen with me, that day, nor a notebook, nor a book. I just sat there, looking into the yellow haze of my delectably murky White Bark, thinking about what the fuck was happening with my life and, most notably, the dream I had had the night previous.

I thought about Luc and I thought about Christ; and, I most certainly thought about myself. In my undergraduate degree, I had taken a number of classes on Buddhism and the like, which made it incredibly clear that everything was connected, that everything was one. Following this philosophical impossibility, I traced a vague outline of myself, over which I then transposed Luc’s huge frame, Riel’s comparative average build and Christ’s emaciated body.

And maybe it was because of my afternoon buzz, maybe it was because I had nothing else, but I held to that idea, that image. It made sense to me at the time. I also thought about certain quotes I had heard attributed to some of the great writers, both of my time and others. I recalled them saying that all writing is autobiographical. I remembered overtones that every character in one’s dream is actually a different manifestation of one’s self. And I took all of this to heart. I looked deep into the murky depths of my beer and, after paying my tab, walked directly home. And I wrote.

Part Three

And in the third season, there was a wedding in Airdrie, Alberta. Marie’s second cousin Amalie, who had moved to Alberta the previous summer, was getting married for the second time around. She had come to Alberta in order to escape Jean, her first husband, an abusive drunk. She brought a two year old daughter with her, who played flower girl at the small ceremony in the groom’s back yard. Marcel had always hated weddings and had a viable excuse not to go. He was working an early shift the next morning and Marie talked Luc into coming instead. He agreed, on the condition that he could bring a couple of his buddies with him.

The wedding, in Luc’s own words, was a “fuckin’ gong show”. Amalie had always experimented with various drugs and chose men who did more than dabble: it had been the downfall of her previous marriage and would, eventually, be the downfall of this one too. Victor liked his puffs, especially. The ceremony was short, but the party lasted well into the night.

By 11:00 PM, the pot had run out. Victor cursed himself for not inviting his dealer to the wedding. Everyone was more than half baked, but wanted more. Marie was commissioned by the groom to ask her youngest son to score more pot. Luc, by this time, was pie-eyed. He had made an oath to himself, after the fracas that was his brother’s wedding, not to drink in excess at public gatherings—instead, he smoked. Luc was high and well-behaved.

“Luc, we’ve got a big fuckin’ problem here. Pierre’s out of pot and everyone wants some more. Do you or any of your buddies got any?”

Luc rolled his glassy eyes: “Christ, ma, you trying to get me fuckin’ arrested? Brother Jean’s right over there!” He then smiled and shot her a wink: she understood and went to tell the caterers to follow his lead.

The wedding was on October 28th and carved pumpkins littered back yards and front porches of the neighborhood. Luc surveyed the yard and called one of the caterers over saying, “Take this knife over to one of those pumpkins and cut the fucker open, wouldja?” The caterer, who Marie had spoken to only moments before, complied with Luc’s demand. He hastened over to the yard’s largest pumpkin with Luc’s Boy Scout blade in hand and pumpkin murder in his eyes.

He attacked the sacrificial pumpkin with a rage one usually reserves for a sex offender. The blade, barely an inch long, didn’t make it through the orange squash’s thick exterior. He noticed that the pumpkin wasn’t hollow, as he expected. The sounds his fists pounded into the orange were not cavernous beats he had anticipated, and his prey, surprisingly resilient. As the pumpkin finally opened up for him like a rare, orange breed of fleshy flower, he saw why.

The pumpkin was tightly packed with BC’s finest, and most aromatic strain of pot. Fresh bud, dense, green and succulent filled the cavernous guts of the squash. The caterer looked around to see if his violence had attracted the eyes of those in attendance. It hadn’t. The wedding guests paid no mind, and continued on with their respective conversations. He pocketed some of the green and brought the rest to Luc on a silver platter. Luc smiled, and quickly rolled some joints with the ease of a chronic smoker before handing them out to the crowd personally.

The pumpkin pot was soon sparked and smoked, and the wedding guests embarked on a collective hallucination. They all saw Christ that evening. They saw Louis Riel too as two separate and distinct visions manifested themselves in grey matter brains.

Riel’s execution came first. The wedding guests saw the executioner. They saw hempen Saskatchewan noose. They saw Riel, prophetic and dark eyed. They were surprised by the brutality of the procession and surprised even more by the response of those gathered in front of the gallows. People cheered blood-thirsty cheers as Riel swayed dead in front of them.

Next, Jesus. He dies on a garrulous cross, a contrast to the golden incarnations hanging from many of the neck of many a wedding guest. Old wood: unadorned, unsanded, and stained with the blood of Christ but also the darker blood of many previous enemies of the state. People cheer as they watch him die too. Dice are tossed, linens torn. The king of the Jews and the king of the Métis died side by side.

“Where the fuck did this shit come from?” the wedding party asked aloud.

“I have no idea”

“Must be from BC.”

“Yeah, man: nothing good comes from BC, except for pot, I guess.”

Laughter.

“Why the hell didn’t we smoke this first?”

“I don’t know.”

Exhausted, the guests left in the early morning light in search of coffee shop: brake lights lit up and shut off. The party was over.

This was the first of many strange occurrences documented concerning Luc’s life in Alberta. While other stories are in circulation, don’t believe them, lest you be deceived: this is a Gospel truth. After the wedding, constantly harassed for pot by many of the wedding guests, Luc continued on up to Drumheller. He needed to escape the city for a while. He needed to be alone.

Chapter Three

Luc often found himself on long, solitary journeys through the sands of Drumheller. It was a landscape he would never grow accustomed to: vast, barren and ever changing. He went into the desert without water or sunscreen, taking only a couple of joints and the tattered copy of The Imitation of Christ his parents presented to him that Christmas long ago. He appreciated his desert surroundings, though the limitless sand and heat intimidated him. He went to the desert to clear his mind and to sweat unapologetically.

It was on one of these journeys that Luc confronted the Great Snake. He heard the echoing rattle of her massive tail from far away and followed the sound like one hypnotized. Soon, he stood with her on top of Drumheller’s highest Hoodoo.

Luc’s unconditional love for all animals had always been a source of great pride, but he struggled with his feelings toward the scaled creatures that shared his love for solitude. Upon seeing the snake, a shot of adrenaline coursed through Luc’s veins: every instinct urged him to flee, and yet he followed her call and soon stood in her sun. Her eyes opened as soon as she felt the shadow cast by Luc’s frame eclipse the sun. With a seductive voice, the snake welcomed Luc to the top of Alberta’s desert.

Luc often spoke to animals. The language of Crow was his first language and he spoke it more fluently and with greater ease than the barbarous English tongue which had been forced upon him in his early adolescence. The language the Great Snake spoke was both unfamiliar and understandable to Luc. His ability to understand and understand the snake’s forked dialect surprised him. She had incredible command of language and anticipated every word Luc said in the conversation. Luc, who had no previous disposition toward bestiality, was unpleasantly surprised by his reaction to the Great Snake. Her body was flaccid and moved about the sand as though hovering above it. His dick became hard: there was something terrifyingly seductive about her, perhaps her ever-present, ever-writhing tongue which crafted words like the delicate fingers of a potter.

“What is it that brings you here to my desert, Luc?”

“Last time I fuckin’ checked this was Crown land” his voice cracked, betraying his mixture of excitement and fear.

She scoffed at him: “Ownership is tricky, m’ dear. Not too long ago, this land ‘belonged’ to your people. Do you think that their title holds any weight now? Ha! Their claim is almost as useless as that of this present Canadian Government; this is my earth—it always has been and it always will be. Scorched though it is, by a million suns and a thousand moons, it is mine.”

“Oh go fuck yerself!” Luc’s mixed feelings made his stomach flip; he felt ill and, impossibly, very cold.

“Who do you think created this? Look at your people, half of them are drunk and the other half, dead. And people say that some kind of ‘God’ created it? Where is He in all the torment and agony? Sitting back, paring his fingernails a long, long way from here I suppose. And people worship him? This, this monster?” Luc’s fists clenched but fell uselessly to his sides.

She continued: “We share this, you know. It is ours.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Small trickles of semen ran down his left leg.

“You know exactly what I am talking about, Luc. Don’t play dumb, it is not becoming of you. You know that this land was stolen from you and your people and you also know that you have the power to take it back. Do you know your own strength? You have been wasting it on party tricks for too long; the time has come for you to change things for the better. Riel tried, but lost. Nobody else has had the courage; you need to do this for yourself and for an entire nation. I can help you.”

Luc surveyed the desert sand at his feet, partially because he was captivated by it and partially to avoid her eyes, lest he fall in. He saw plants and wildlife abounding in the harsh desert. In a land where even the almighty dinosaurs had fallen long ago, in a land that seemed to laugh in the face of life, life had overcome and spilled over like running water. Nimble antelope drank from the river, rare breeds of cacti, unique to Drumheller’s desert extremes, gathered their life from invisible, underground founts. Hawks flew overhead. Their screams were absorbed into the song of choir of Angels that began ministering to Luc in another strange tongue.

Luc looked up and saw the Angels: the sons and daughters of light. They pierced him with their sword. Again, Luc was surprised by his response to the numinous unknown. In contrast to his attraction to the evil underbelly of spirit, Luc was, at first, fearful of the Angelic host which surrounded him; every angel is terrifying. They descended upon him like white, luminescent bats and with them came their music, lubricating Luc’s sunburned eardrums with a honey-sweet, sugary rhythm. He was intoxicated by a planet of sound.

Luc had listened to a lot of music in his youth, and never before had he heard music like this. The timing of the angels’ song, if indeed there was one, was unrecognizable to him. Numerical representations of time, such as 4/4 or ¾, melted away in the intense heat of furious crescendo. He basked in the molten light, was burned by it and yet remained unscathed. The angels’ song strengthened Luc for the second round of his battle against the sexy serpent.

“Lead your people, Luc. It is your duty. Your land is now overrun with infidels who seek to drink your blood. Can you hear their laughter overwhelming the gates of that whore of a City you once called home? They all laugh in your face and the faces of your people, who have been ravaged, raped and disfigured by greed. You are endowed with tremendous gifts; why do you lay idle during this sickening age? Rise up, Luc. Make hast to destroy the City!” Her voice stood out from the song of all of Heaven’s hierarchies. Luc’s mind was lost.

The bones of ancient birds started to rattle in sandy sarcophagi—burial reversed, and the screams of paleontologists echoed against the polished walls of desert canyon. Their collective scientific flesh was torn to shreds by rabid, fleshless mouths of bones they had been attempting to reconstruct just a few moments prior. Blood spilled on the desert’s sandy floor and the thirsty earth drank deep.

And then came a disarming silence. The creatures made no noise save for the rattling of their skulls. Excited by the resurrection of ancestors, the serpent started to fuck the smaller dino-skeletons. Her eggs rolled down the valley below like streams of mother’s milk down ripe breasts. Luc lay down; his eyes rolled to the back of his brain.

A loud and terrifying thunder rolled over the uprooted desert. Black clouds came from the West, bearing gifts of a pulsing and electric light. Sound and rain spilled upon Luc’s parched lips. He felt the hairs of his forearm and moustache rise to greet the god of electricity above. He turned over to lay prostrate on top of the desert; his blackened skin contracted in the cold face of Wild West wind. Luc shivered feverishly. The serpent, momentarily distracted from her frantic, coital romp turned once again, to continue her plea.

“Look at you! You are pathetic! Cowering under a force of nature you know that you could easily manipulate. Tell the clouds to flee from me! Bring back the sun! My back grows cold!”

Luc vomited an alloy of bile and sand before uttering his painful reply: “I thought this was your earth you fuckin’ cunt! Are the clouds beyond your command? Show me your strength and I will show you mine!”

“You dare challenge me? I will call Dr. Sax from the East and he will annihilate you! Nothing will remain! Not even a memory of you or your pathetic existence will remain; not a trace!”

Luc’s face fell.

Water came down from the sky, running over the weathered bones of now animate dinosaur life. Large stones were resurrected from underground: mayhem, darkness. They burned in reverse and hailed toward the heavens. Drumheller looked like a war ravaged Hamburg.

And the Angels cast their songs upon the surrounding hoodoos. Drumheller was transformed into an outdoor amphitheatre—no echo left unturned. The angels hovered above, descended below and passed right through Luc’s shivering body. His sweat turned to blood. He coughed and quaked yet didn’t awake. Surrounded by sonic symphony; Luc remained a still and silent center of the surrounding madness. It was then that he received a vision.

A stranger approached; she was in no way threatening. Luc collapsed into her fragile arms and her eyes swelled with tears as she cradled him. He couldn’t find the strength to return her gaze, but rested. She wiped the blood from his brow and whispered an immortal hymn into his ear. The darkness of her simple and constant rhythm complimented the angels’ song. He drank her song deeply. He was nourished and he was strengthened.

The madness stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. Dino-skeletons retreated to their mass grave and slept for another eternity. The cool waters of flash flood dimpled the torn earth as western winds countered by smoothing the restless plain. Even the keenest eye was blind to the afternoon’s upheaval; a storm raged into the night, thus restoring the dynamic symmetry of piecemeal earth. Luc lay at the epicenter, his eyes wide open. Deep, black sockets collected water as he surveyed the impending darkness through a veil of rain.

The Great Snake slinked back into her hole. If she had had legs, her rattle would have been placed firmly in between them– she was defeated. Evelina left with her. She gave a last good-bye to her son, sealed with a kiss upon his reddened cheek. She disappeared into the thunder. Luc slept.

Chapter Four

The City of Calgary looms on the borderland between prairie and foothill like a grey, industrial cloud. Skyscrapers pierce the underbelly of blue sky above, square symbols of commerce strangle the steeples with their awesome, awesome black power. Though the city is straddled by two rivers, it is not contained by them. Suburban dwellings sprawl across the surrounding prairies and foothills: nature defiled and tamed by the calculated savagery of expansion. The city’s recent rise to prominence amongst Canada’s major cities centers was unlikely. Lacking the cultural diversity of Vancouver or Toronto, devoid of the culture of Montreal or Quebec City, Calgary started off as a hitchin’ post, a gateway to the Wild West.

Every year, Calgarians commemorate their western roots by holding what they refer to as, ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’. The celebration lasts for ten days in early July when the sun shines most brilliant on visitors from around the world, mostly the Southern United States. Calgary’s drunken carnival generates more business than the rest of the year combined. Business meetings are held over tables supported by old-style, wooden kegs, covered with beer, bacon and beans. Free pancakes are flipped every morning: hungry, hung-over mouths wait in line for their syrupy sacrament.

Luc was ambivalent to the event. He loved the idea of carnival. He loved the taste of corndogs, the mini-doughnuts and, of course, the copious amounts of Big Rock Beer. However, Luc hated, with an unreserved and intense hatred, what he saw as the corporate world’s perversion of the fair. Many businessmen in the fake skin of cowboy preyed on unsuspecting Stampede patrons. Once one paid entrance fee to the fair, he was assaulted with unending, exponential mark-ups. Luc often demonstrated this greed by comparing the cost of making a corn dog to the amount of money the vendor’s charged for one. Luc’s friends laughed as he seethed.

Faux-cowboy style angered Luc, as did what he considered to be a complete misrepresentation of First Nations Peoples at the fair. White boys in red-face and braids ran around their teepees by the river, making obscene, cartoon-like noises. Drunken businessmen cowboys challenged these “savages” to reenact the childhood cowboy and Indian games: blood was spilled on the Elbow’s silt banks.

Luc’s return from the desert coincided with the fair; his car, a veritable greenhouse on wheels, was filled with the most precious, seed-grown plants. He pulled into town just in time to get stuck in the parade’s deadlock. For all Luc’s disappointment about his bad timing he was rowdy, drunk on the feeling home-coming creates in the hearts of men. He and his friends partied and then he was dragged, against his will, to the fair.

Upon turnstile entry, Luc immediately went to the beer gardens. He poured liberally from a flask he had concealed in his sock, giving his watered-down Molson Canadian an added gravity, and sweat profusely in the midway’s 30 degree heat.

Luc surveyed the gardens— fake tattoos, cowboy hat whistles, the debaucherous slur of the uninitiated, all working in unison to provoke his rage. Young women were felt up by suitors and strangers alike as security stood idly by nodding in approval. From time to time, hoses released their noxious fumes into the wild air, effectively turning the swarm into a wet t-shirt contest. Luc got more and more drunk and ornery.

He left the beer gardens in search of his friends and his anger was spurred when a carnie referred to him as a “frog”. His rage increased upon seeing the price of bottled water to quench his thirst, for there were no water fountains on the grounds. He stumbled through the carbon pollution of the midway like a wild beast, in search of a free glass of water to quiet his dehydrated brain’s blinding thump; his search was in vain. Black rage pumped through blue vein. He wanted to burn it all.

Upon seeing a tent surrounded by hay bales, Luc dug desperately through his pockets for his Zippo lighter, but alas, it had fallen from his pocket in the van. He was forced to find an alternate relief hole for his mounting rage; he wandered a bit further.

The midway swirled around Luc. Women carried huge, assembly-line dolls in the fashion of the latest cartoons as their men groped them with exaggerated license. A carny called Luc a “frog”, as if challenging him to grab the cheap-bead, impossible-prize from the midway booth the toothless man was responsible for. Luc punched the carnie out and descended once again into the midway’s sweaty din, braiding the necklaces as he walked. By the time Luc got to the Dream Home ticket booth, his makeshift whip exceeded an inch in diameter.

The Dream Home Raffle has long been the Calgary Stampede’s most refined choice of gambling ventures. Even the most Evangelical of housewives, the ones who call it a sin to buy a scratch and win, annually invest absurd amounts of money to add their names to the Dream Home’s ever-churning wheel of possibility. They walk through the house, and even in its temporary, undesirable location amidst the heat and panic of the Calgary Stampede, they find a much longed for comfort in its artificial hearth, nudging reluctant husbands, who would much rather be at a concession or at the Chuck-Wagon Races, dreaming aloud: “can you imagine?” An old woman named Ethel was working the kiosk that afternoon and shuddered at the angry moustache coming at her.

Luc flipped over the plywood table, sending raffle ticket stubs and dollar bills flying. He slipped into his strange linguistic hybrid: “You fuckin’ cunt! Do you have any idea how much money my mother wastes on this bull-shit every year? You’re a miserable old fuck! Tabernac!” Ethel ran from Luc’s make-shift whip, which reflected sunlight in a thousand different directions, blinding everyone who came near.

Luc left the dream home kiosk, and moved on to the Casino. His stomach churned as soon as he walked through the doors and heard the sounds of miserable slot machines- aside from that, the casino was ominously silent: silent, weary eyes searching lifelessly for hope and cherries. He immediately noticed the hypnotic quality of the place. Roulette tables spun to the same timing as his head. Frigid oxygen was pumped through the smoke stained ceiling. Initially, he was relieved to be out of the sun and into a new and cooler environment. His relief, however, was short-lived.

Luc threw the roulette table off its ball-bearing-axis. The dice table soon followed. Calgary’s law enforcement was on high-alert at this, the centennial year of the Stampede. Casino security guards are never rookies; a minimum of five years of experience is required to even be considered for the job, which many vied for as the casino is the cool, jeweled center of Stampede insanity. The security guards working that day caught wind of the mayhem and ran towards the chaos near the roulette table. They were equipped with walky-talkies and responded very quickly, but were unable to apprehend the man responsible. No trace of Luc’s angry figure even showed up on the cameras which, like omniscient narrators of all of the Casino’s otherwise predictable events, documented the goings on in the Casino.

Luc’s outburst was also invisible to the public eye. The events were kept under wraps by the City of Calgary, which couldn’t afford to have their lone crown jewel to be tarnished. Calgary’s newspapers, The Sun and the Herald were both bribed: apart from a handful of eye-witnesses, nobody ever knew about the scourge. Luc’s friends rescued him that afternoon. They, the lone rememberers of the event, were terrified by their friend’s irrational, destructive zeal.

“What the fuck was that all about, Luc?” He laughed now, perfectly calm in the back of his friend’s van. “Seriously, you coulda got us all arrested with that shit: they’d have thrown you in the drunk tank, y’ know.”

“You think the fuckin’ tank scares me? I was once thrown in there for three days! I was puked on, spat on, pissed off, beaten up, shook down and still, I walked out of there undefeated! It’s happened to me before, and I’m sure it’ll happen again- I don’t fuckin’ care.” Luc had a look in his eyes as he spoke which both mesmerized and terrorized his best friends. He was on a mission, and they were scared to ask him who had assigned it.

Chapter Five

On his afternoons off, Luc could often be found in a devout posture in front of an altar at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. He rarely attended Sunday Mass anymore, since he disagreed with many of the Church’s formal doctrines. Furthermore, the superficial formality of the Church infuriated him: “If Christ were to come down here again, I bet he’d only go into the Church if he had to take a fuckin’ shit. He’d lay down a three coiler in there— y’ know, a big ol’ Church door stopper—and then he’d be gone”.

Luc had quit attending Sunday Mass soon after the death of his best friend. Still, the sensual, candle-lit sanctuary called to him and he answered. He loved the smell of the incense there. He loved the feel of the old woodgrain altar he prayed at as often as he could do so. He loved the way the stained glass held the sunlight; fell at his bended knee.

Luc never visited the confessional: even the sight of it angered him. He referred to it as a ‘spiritual outhouse, full o’ bullshit and all’. He wasn’t fond of the mediators who took up residence there either as he wanted the un-refracted light of God to shine on his face instead of the “perverse eyes of a fuckin’ child molester behind a dark, metallic screen”. Still, Luc’s visits to the Church happened frequently enough for him to recognize the faces of all the priests. Luc caught one of the priests’ eyes, too. And no, there was no perversion in his stare; Father Fournel was happily abstinent. A quick study, he asked around about Luc. While those who were questioned hesitated before describing the nature of Luc’s miracles, they did convey that Luc was, in fact, endowed with a supernatural power.

One day, as Luc entered the Church, subconsciously crossing himself, Fournel decided that he needed to talk him. He waited patiently in the front pew as Luc prayed an anguished prayer. When Luc finished and walked toward the front door of the Cathedral, Father Fournel came from behind him with quick strides and tapped Luc on his right shoulder. Startled, Luc turned around like a threatened animal. He was disappointed by the sight of the priest and his white clerical collar. “What?” he demanded.

“You are Luc Louis, right?”

“Yeah, and who the fuck are you?”

“That doesn’t matter. I’ve been watching you for a long time Luc. I have heard that you have certain gifts bestowed upon you. I am very interested as to what they are.

“Whoawhoawhoa—what the fuck are you talking about?”

“Luc, please watch your language in the house of the Lord.” Fournel was surprised by his bravery in the face of moustache. Luc was too.

“Ok, what’ve you heard?” Luc countered, almost meekly.

“What do you think I’ve heard?”

Luc’s calm shattered instantly: “Look, fucker! I don’t have time for your fucking attempt at Socratic fuckin’ dialogue. Tell me what the fuck you’re talking about or I won’t hesitate to knock your fucking golden teeth out of your fucking mouth!”

“Please watch your language in the house of God—I won’t ask you again. I just don’t understand. You are vulgar, coarse and disrespectful but it seems that you may be a heaven sent child of God. And the miracles! Are you a gift from God? A curse from Satan? Or Both?” Fournel was thinking out loud.

Luc looked at Fournel intently. “Have you ever smoked pot, Father?”

“…”

“They should make it mandatory for you collared fucks to do it. How do you expect to see God’s glory without a bowl or two? You’re all too fuckin’ sober and somber: you look through e fuckin’ mirror dimly. This world is a magnificent place, you know. You should try to see it through fresh eyes. Try some of this”. Luc slipped the priest the joint he had rolled at the altar. It was his habit to roll a joint or two after prayer. It numbed his nerves, which were excited by the Cathedral.

“This isn’t possible.” Father Fournel was disgusted. “I ask you if you were sent by God and you respond by giving me this cheap form of hippy debauchery. The Priest’s voice, now rising, echoed in the Cathedral; he threw the joint on the marble floor. “This is truly not possible. Get out! Drugs? This is the house of God you seek to fill with your vile, perverse plant. I will not stand for it. Leave! Don’t come back.”

Luc smiled at the angered Priest. In his youth, Luc had often managed to raise the ire of nuns, but Priests, generally, kept their cool. He repeated his first argument. “How do you expect to see God with those world-weary eyes of yours, Father? There is no joy in you; have you ever held it? Why settle for an old, dreary vision when I offer you, for free, the key to the new one? You’re stubborn! Platonic, Augustinian logic is for the birds—no, even they would spit it up! Feel, Father, feel! Whatever happened to your St. Francis? What have you done to your million Christ’s who have, undoubtedly, showed themselves to you in your darkest hour? I come in here to pray almost every day. I weep for you and those you mislead with your distorted fuckin’ view of Truth! Father, unless you embrace the flesh’s chaos and wonder, you will never truly live! And Jesus, I have learned, is The Life! Be gone, yer rationalistic fuckin’ sensibility! Be gone your silly seriousness! Come live with me! Dwell in your dirty skin for Christ’s sake!

Luc was surprised by the words roaring out of his mouth. He was used to passionate argument concerning music or women, but passion concerning the passion was strange to him. Though he had grown up in the Church and attended Catholic schools for much of his childhood, but he had never really considered his theological position until now; he didn’t realize that he even had one. His speech reminded him of those he hated, though he knew that its content was dangerously different. Strangely, it wasn’t even his words he was saying. He was talking in tongues: English was far from effortless.

“You’re uncomfortable in your own skin, Father, I can tell! Leave the ministry; it chokes you like that white fuckin’ collar around your neck. I can’t tell whether it clings to you, or you to it. Come see the world again with new eyes! Don’t be surprised by what I say! You’ve gotta see how fuckin’ beautiful it all is! God made it, you know. It’s Holy! Everything is Holy! That pot you kicked around is holy! You are holy! I am holy! Our fuckin’ ass-holes are holy! Enter in, enter in!” Luc was red in his face; his eyes rained heavily, heavenly.

“Seriously though, how do you expect to ever see heaven in you have no idea of what’s going on down here on earth? You’re out of touch! Who cuts your hair? Fire the bitch! Feel! It’s easy, if you try! Go West, if that’s what it takes. See the uninhibited natural world. Watch life grow, impossibly, from rock and cement. It’s bursting out of the vents with life, with God himself! Forget your fuckin’ absurd rules and inhibitions! Throw down your collar and, with it, this invisible leash of purity! Get dirty- get bloody, get down! Trust yourself. Sing yourself! Sweat, fuck, fight… FISH. FEEL!” Luc’s speech quickened with every word.

Father Fournel had never been challenged so persuasively. Since joining the Church, he had been challenged to attain an impossible purity: he had risen to that challenge. Collars, much like wedding bands, attract a lot of attention, a lot of temptation too. Fournel, however, had remained loyal to God. He’d allowed himself to endure the full brunt of temptation. He’d seen tits, read eloquent love letters, and never taken the bait, preferring instead to masturbate into his dirty, urine-stained toilet. Now especially, he felt guilty for that too. “This cannot be true”, he repeated, more to himself than to Luc, and yet he knew it was.

“Let’s put it this way”, Luc continued, exhausted. “Let’s say you’re born in heaven– raised by St. Peter himself, but you want more. You wanna see where all these crazy souls lived for the past lil’ while. You ‘debase’ yourself and walk amongst us the fuckin’ earthlings. Why not see what’s here? Why not wander around, touch and taste? Why wouldn’t you taste the whip if it was offered to you by some sexy blonde? It calls for you, Father! And to me, you see? I think you spend too much of your fuckin’ time condemning the world and not enough time actually participating in it. You’re too busy biting the hand that feeds to lick it! Lick it! Lick!”

“This is not possible”.

“My parents say that you always talk about God’s transcendence in your sermons. You speak of his transcendence at the expense of his sacred bloody heart: you ignore his immanence. Where do you think Christ would be if he came down to this city, between these claustrophobic walls? Fuck no! He’d be fishin’ the Bow! Have you ever been to the Cecil? He’d probably eat lunch at their on the way to backyard beer with buddies! He’d tell all you self-righteous fucks to go fuck yourself! Who was Christ really angry with in the end? The fuckin’ whores? Fuck no, he loved the whores! Have you ever seen a prostitute? He did, but I doubt you have, and yet, you claim to ‘follow him’? You’re what, 37? You probably went into seminary straight out of High School cuz you were too afraid to have a little fun and get your dick wet. You went to a seminary in your home town, which is, I’m guessing… Calgary, so you could stay with mommy and daddy while you were there. This big ol’ world scares you don’t it? Have you ever seen a chick naked on all fours?”

“Yes! I have”: Fournel let it slip and quickly crossed himself.

Luc smiled. “Let’s go then, father!”

“I cant.”

“Well, I’m getting the fuck out of here!”

“No, wa…” Luc slammed the door behind him. Fournel fought his own instincts before calmly looking up at a stained glass portrait of Saint Paul.

Chapter Six

Luc went straight to the Cecil to calm his nerves. It was his favourite pub. He loved to watch people, and the place was an unofficial gathering place for Calgary’s most colourful characters. Drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes: these were Luc’s people. He ordered a beer and sat at the bar alone.

By the time Luc had ordered his third beer, a group of people had gathered around him to hear him speak. His speech was increasingly loud with every beer he consumed. Those gathered around him were entranced as Luc told tales: “So, my first cat Freddy—loved the fuck out of ‘im—got real sick. I took him to the vet, you know, get ‘im checked out. Fucker said Freddy had somethin’ wrong with his liver, woulda cost a thousand fuckin’ dollars for surgery. I don’t have a thousand bucks, so I decided to put the poor little guy down. I asked the vet how much that would cost and he says to me it would be two hundred fuckin’ dollars—fuck that shit, man. Took Freddy home. He was sick as fuck.”

“Get home, and take him out to the back yard. I was crying pretty hard by then—loved that fuckin’ cat to death, but I had to do it. I sat out there petting ‘im for about half an hour. Freddy and I had a lil’ tradition too. Every morning, when I would go for my morning puff, he would follow me out there and sit beside me, nuzzle up, ya know? He would look up at me and push his face right up to mine when I exhaled… fuckin’ loved the buzz he got from it! Every fuckin’ morning we did this! So anyways, there we were, sittin’ in the back yard. We smoked one last joint and he fell asleep. I grabbed a rock… fuck, I cried.”

“So, just as I raised the rock, my brother comes into the back yard. He sees all of this shit happening and comes runnin’ up, thinkin’ I’m fuckin’ crazy… fucker starts screamin’ at me, ‘Luc what the… STOP’, but I’d already committed to the kill. Rock comes down on the little guy’s head. Blood everywhere… poor little eyeballs knocked out of their fuckin’ sockets… Christ: died instantly, though… for free. Fuckin’ vets. Anyways, so then I had to explain it all to my brother… still thinks I’m fuckin’ nuts. Ha!” And so Luc rambled, entertaining everyone in the bar.

In the middle of such story, Luc squinted, looking hard at a man who had just pulled up to the bar. “Wait a minute, Neil? Is that you?”

The man looked at Luc, “Luc, how are you?” Luc instantly recognized Neil’s sadness. He was filled with compassion.

Neil had attended St. Mary’s Church along with Luc many years prior. They were in the same Sunday School class throughout their teens and both of them were outsiders. Luc’s problem was that he asked too many questions. His Sunday School teachers marveled at the young boy, who spoke with tremendous authority. He was seen as a trouble maker. Neil was usually silent in Sunday School, trying to hide his tremendous burden.

Neil always knew he was gay. His speech, clothing and mannerisms all betrayed the reality he was made to feel guilty about for his entire life. Neil’s parents, his father, particularly, were embarrassed by their son. His Sunday School teachers were suspicious, but never confronted him about his sexuality, choosing to give lessons about the evils of the homosexual lifestyle instead. After graduating High School, Neil stopped attending the Church as did Luc.

The men caught up over beers. Neil told Luc that he hadn’t been well for some time. He showed Luc disturbing bruises on his arms. He also had them on his face. Neil’s eyes filled with tears as he told him that the illness was starting to affect his work. He was one of Calgary’s most successful defense attorneys and, on more than one occasion, trials were postponed due to never ending nose bleeds which constantly afflicted Neil. As Neil spoke, Luc was overcome with compassion.

Despite his homophobia, Luc always liked Neil. He identified with him as a fellow outsider and ex-pat from the Catholic Church. It was obvious, during their conversation, that Neil missed the Church. He felt alone, and craved a supportive community to help him, but never had felt welcome at St. Mary’s.

Luc reached out to Neil and touched him on the shoulder. “Neil, look me in the eyes. I want you to know that you are loved. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Tomorrow you will be well.” He then rose, and left the Cecil without paying his bill. Neil sat there for some time before going home.

The next day, Neil awoke feeling more refreshed and energetic than he had in some time. He showered and noticed that the spots that had covered him for the past six months had disappeared. He couldn’t believe it. He thought back to Luc’s parting words. “Oh my God.”

Chapter Six

Luc’s powers of perception developed at a frightening pace. In contrast to most who indulge in copious amounts of marijuana, Luc’s senses were heightened when he was blitzed. He could hear, taste and feel things invisible to most. Senses were disturbed. He heard textures in sound and saw music in smell. He tasted things with his tobacco-stained fingers and his lengthy, captivating synaesthetic monologues drew many a listening ear. He often got carried away, especially in the morning when drinking coffee. He spoke with hands, which were usually drenched with scalding, strong swill.

Luc’s proclamations were usually offensive. Throughout his time at the Butcher Shop, most of which he spent in the smoker’s staff room, many people, women particularly, were mortified by what Luc said.

Luc was standing next to the water cooler, one day, when Nicole, a twenty four year old meat wrapper, who was purportedly dating the youngest of the meat cutters on staff, walked past. He looked her up and down, focusing on her face in particular. Nicole had hated Luc from the moment they met two years prior. She looked right through him. “You’re fuckin’ pregnant, aren’t ya?”

Nicole immediately went white; her face matched starched smock. She stopped, and turned on her black boot-heel with tears in her eyes. She grabbed Luc by his blood drenched smock. “Fuck you Luc!” Her face changed quickly from white to red. Everybody in the staff-room left in an awkward, solemn silence.

“Pour me a cup of water, would ya? Let’s talk.” Nicole was, by then, reduced to a fountain of tears. She already had a reputation in the store. Many of the guys there saw her as an easy lay. Brian in Produce, Tom and Pete from the front end and Mike from the Deli had all claimed to have fucked her on a number of occasions. Mike’s alleged romance had supposedly occurred in the deli cooler. She was well aware of her reputation but, up until now, pretended that it didn’t bother her. She was in love with Ryan, they worked a lot of night shifts together and he was able to look past her reputation. Ryan was non-committal, however, and would probably leave her if he found out. She had taken two pregnancy tests, both of which turned out positive; she was scared.

“Pour your own fucking water, Luc. Why would you want a whore like me to touch yer cup anyway?”

Luc switched to his caring, fatherly voice, “Come and talk to Luc-y”.

She relented, not having the strength to fight anymore. “What are you gonna tell me, Luc, that everything’s gonna be alright? That Ryan’ll do the right thing and settle down with me and help raise a fuckin’ family? We’ll have our wedding in Aisle 7 and all will be well? Bull-shit, Luc.”

“It’s not Ryan’s baby, Nicole, stop lying to yourself.”

“How…? What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Look, I’ve been working with Ryan for three years now and I know that fucker’s shrewd when it comes to contraceptives. I’ll bet he double bags it most of the time. I’m willing to put money on the fact that its Mikey’s fuckin’ baby. I was at the Christmas party too—I saw you talkin’ to him and dancin’ with him as soon as Ryan left”.

Nicole once again collapsed into blubbering snot and tears. “Fuck you, Luc—what are you, some sort of fuckin’ psychic?”

Luc smiled.

“There’s a solution to all of this, Nicole. I know a guy who knows a guy. I could give you his number tomorrow—you workin’ tomorrow, by the way?”

“Yeah, late.”

“Well, tomorrow, then. Seriously, I know you fuckin’ love Ryan and if there’s one way to loose the guy, its by tellin’ him you’re pregnant. Trust me.”

“I cant get a fuckin’ abortion, Luc.”

“Why not? What will it matter in a thousand years, or even a hundred, for that matter, when the states have blown everything to shit a thousand times over. Life can’t be stopped if it is meant to be. I don’t think this fuckin’ baby is meant to be.”

“I don’t know”.

“Seriously though, Luc, how did you know I’m pregnant?”

“You’re lookin’ a lil’ pale’s all. I’m no fuckin’ idiot, I can put three and three together, it’s fuckin’ sev… six! Ha!” He laughed heartily at his own joke.

“What the fuck are you doin’ in this shit hole, Luc? You should be a fuckin’ doctor or a religious leader or some fuckin’ thing.”

“Yeah, I always dreamed of bein’ a fuckin’ gynecologist- ‘Ok, sweetheart, come on in hear and take those dirty panties off and spread your legs…”

“Ok, Luc shut the fuck up.”

Luc put his arm around her as they walked out of the staff room.

Chapter Seven

Nobody ever saw Luc eat a meal at work. He smoked cigarettes constantly; some estimated four packs a day, but nobody ever saw him eat. One day, a fellow butcher named Ramil grabbed his Tupperware container full of greasy, succulent duck meat from the cooler. “Luc! You wanna come for lunch with me? The wife gave me way too many left-overs. You should have some!”

“Yeah, maybe, but lets go for a smoke on the fuckin’ dock first!”

The two men walked out of the cooler onto the Butcher Shop’s loading dock. It was one of Luc’s favourite ‘secret, quick-smoke’ spots. He had been caught smoking there and reprimanded by various managers for it many times. Butts littered the pavement below like a white, fiberglass carpet. “One more fuckin’ late shift, Ramil and I swear t’ Christ I’m gonna kill Rick: fuckin’ cock-sucker. Fuckin’ piece of shit– look at that fuckin’ ‘hog’ of his over there, he probably polishes it as much as he polishes his fuckin’ cock! You think I can hit it from here with a loog?” Luc summoned a lung full of green phlegm from his throat with a repulsive gurgle. “Phhhtphhh.”

The logy took flight into the sunlight of the cool afternoon. It transformed into an infinite number of shapes before splattering across the windshield of the motorcycle like a doomed fly.

“Fuckin’ eh! I’d say that one went about ten fuckin’ feet! And look at the size of the fucker! You coulda gave that one a fuckin’ name!” Luc was very impressed with himself.

Ramil finished his cigarette and threw the remnant onto the pavement below. “I’m fuckin’ starving, Luc. Well, I was until I saw that shit. You’re fuckin’ sick. You want some duck? My wife makes the best duck you’ll ever eat!”

“Naw, I’m good. I’ll meet ya back there in a bit for a smoke though.”

“C’mon, Luc! I’ve been workin’ with ya for almost a year now and I’ve never seen ya eat”.

“What? You want me to get down on one of Peter’s hot-dogs? What a sick fucker. I live off of my own loogies—I’d bet I produce about a pound of lung butter a day, seriously. Guess what I use to grease the pan for my morning eggs?” Repulsive gurgle again.

“Yer fuckin’ sick, Luc. I’ll see ya back there in a bit.”

Luc considered the crows as he lit another cigarette.

“OOOOOOmmmmmAAAAAAAAggggggggoooooooMMMMMMaaaaaaaa,” he cried out to the largest of the pack.

“AAAAhhhhh” the bird replied.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” He laughed. He dutifully went back into the cooler and retrieved the birds bone barrel brunch. It was a good one; an order of Pink Salmon had come in the previous day and it was full of heads and tails. He dragged the heavy barrel through the big steel door and laid it to rest on the dock.

“AAAAHHH, AAAAHHHH, AHHHH!” He screamed- the bird was out of site. “AAAAHHH, AAAAHHHH, AHHHH!” he repeated; soon, the birds black claws landed upon the rubber rim of the makeshift trough.

Soon, the belly of the bird was full of fish; he was polite, and gave a loud “AAAAHhhh, Eeeh!” in Luc’s direction before flying into big, Alberta sky.

“Good-bye, brother crow.”

Luc went into the smoke room and Ramil finishing his lunch. “Hey fucker!”

“Luc! Where the hell have you been? You’ll have to re-heat this shit!”

“Naw, I’m good. Thanks though!”

“…”

“Fucking Bryan. Six fuckin’ nights; and that fuckin’ clock on the wall is standing still! I swear t’ Christ, I’m goin’ back down to 32 hours/week in the fall.”

“Ahhh, he’s not that bad. There’s a lot worse out there. Go over to number eight, I dare ya: you’ve gotta wear a fuckin’ parka there its so fuckin cold in the cutting room. I almost froze my balls off! Rick’s a fucker, but Vic is a mother-fucker!”

“They’re all a bunch of fucks, Ramil. When Rick’s off and its just Peter, Gerry, you, me—the boys, you know—everything’s fuckin’ perfect! The counter’s in by 7:30—before the customers are even awake, the counter’s in! Even that fuckin’ bitch that lines up at the front doors every fuckin’ mornin’; I bet she’s even sleeping, Ramil! Managers, they just…they just get in the fuckin’ way, y’ know?”

“You should be our union rep., Luc. Seriously, I’d give you half of my paycheck every month to get these fuckers off my back and their paperwork out of my face!”

“That’s a good fuckin’ idea, Ramil; you’ll be my fuckin’ right-hand-man!”

“I thought I would be your right hand man?” another employee listening in on the conversation piped up.

“Yeah, you’d both be; you’d be my fuckin’ right hand men—Ramil could go get me a descent fuckin’ cup of coffee from the Second Cup and you could roll my fuckin’ joints!” Laughter as they all lit another cigarette.

The next day, Luc put in a transfer to number eight. Two weeks later, he shouldered the icy burden of his new store’s cutting room fans. He was well-received there; his reputation preceded him. The heads of the store were especially happy to see him “smock up” in the Deep South West. Pierre approached Luc on his first coffee break. “Man, I hear you have some crazy shit that will fuck you up!”

“Whoa, whoa, who, I don’t know who the fuck you are but fuck you!” Luc said with a wide grin underneath large moustache: “Talk to me at lunch” whispering now.

At lunch, Pierre sought Luc out. Instantly, Pierre confessed: “Man, my ma’s got the cancer pretty bad. She’s been doin’ Chemo for months now and pukes up her breakfast every morning. She’s lost her hair and about fifty fuckin’ pounds; she’s filled with pain. The doctors have given her some T3s, which do jackshit. You gotta help me out and hook me up.”

“K. Well, before you give any of this shit to your mom, I suggest you try it out for yourself. It will make you see things you’ll never believe. I just smoked a big gagger before I got to work which I sprinkled with the crystals from my bud-buster. I was scared to drive here; fuckin’ Sarcee, man! Now, here’s a joint. You go home and share it with yer old lady, do some fuckin’ fuckin’ and lemme know tomorrow. I’d be happy to help your ma, but she’ll be fuckin’ trippin’ balls if she’s never smoked before—her nerves’ll be shot.”

“Naw, she’s an old head. She’ll be fine! “ Luc passed the joint to Pierre; on his way home, Pierre smoked the whole thing and was happy to make it into his own garage.

Everything happened too-quickly and too slowly all at once as Pierre rolled into his driveway. The walk from his car took hours. He felt as though everyone on his block was watching him as he tried to find the key to his back door. He felt like a handi-cap and all he wanted to do was to retreat to his bedroom, hide under the covers and sort out his insane thoughts and visions. “Daddy, why do you look like Casper?”

“Daddy feels a little sick today, honey.”

“Daddy, have you been smoking again? I can smell smoke.”

“Daddy had lunch with his friends who smoke today, honey. You know daddy quit smoking last month.”

“I don’t believe you, you stink.” He giggled guilty. He was home, everything was alright.

Three days later, a debilitated 90 year old smoked her first joint in years. She was able to hold down her bacon and eggs for the first time in months and she dreamed strange dreams. She saw a man at the gallows whose eyes carried the weight of a nation. The man crossed himself and dropped with a horrible thud. The rope, now taught, sucked the life from his dirty neck like a hempen vampire. People cheered: he died alone.

And yet, he mumbled as he gurgled on death’s splintered bone. In her heightened state of awareness, she heard the man’s last words: “Keep fighting, my people. You children and your children’s children will endure torment and suffering that bring tears to my dying eyes. Make sure those fuckers apologize. You’re in paradise with me already. Realize this, and you will be free. Drink from the cup of life in front of you, drink deep. There will be prophets to come. Listen to their words. Walk as they walk. Follow them down, no matter how black the water is. Follow them up, no matter how terrifying the sky above. And you will be with me in paradise. Sticks were drawn for the man’s shoes; he died.

She awoke from her dream vision. “You ok ma?”

“Get me more. Finally, I live. I have much to tell you. Thank you, so much, my son. Pierre smiled as he rolled a joint of his own for the C-Train ride back home. He had prepared a mix tape full of songs he wanted to hear high. Salivating at the prospect, he walked out of the front doors of the hospice, confident, for the first time, that his mother was feeling comfortable. He heard the songs again, for the first time, while being whisked home in a public chariot.

Chapter Eight

Luc was, once again, becoming uncomfortable with the amount of attention he received. It had been quelled, a bit, by his Drumheller residency, but by two months after his return, it was as though he’d never left. His phone rang ceaselessly- people on the other line looked for pot, mostly, but after the miracles, which seemed to follow Luc everywhere he went, he also started to get requests for healings and, sometimes, exorcisms, which terrified him.

Luc had spent enough time in the Catholic environment to know that people with powers or strength were always mistrusted, especially if, like Luc, they were anti-authoritarian. Marcel and Marie were still very involved in the Church. Every Sunday, Marcel would count the weight of offering plate while Marie looked after the little babes in the Narthex. In recent years, Luc and his parents had grown apart. He respected them, however, and didn’t want to compromise their positions as long-standing, faithful, Church patrons.

After his healing, Neil returned to St. Mary’s Catholic Church. His healing led him to an honest realization. He left the closet and headed straight for the ornate doors of the Church. Though Luc, upon seeing Neil again, asked him not to mention his healing to anyone, Neil had already let it slip to two of his long-lost friends. Word spread like fire since both of these friends belonged to the Church’s senior’s prayer group. For this group, good news was few and far between: word of miraculous healing was always welcome and often repeated. Marcel and Marie found out about Luc’s miraculous, though, somehow, scandalous behavior. They reluctantly passed his home address on to a few of their trusted friends when it was requested.

In contrast to what one might expect from Luc’s outlandish, extroverted tendencies, he was an incredibly private person, especially since he’d lost Tony. Luc much preferred the company of his plants to the company of people; he figured he got his solitary cravings from his uncle Pierre. A knock on his door always came as a surprise, though he always opened it for whoever eagerly waited to see his face. His next visitor, however, sought him out for much different reasons than he had become used to.

The woman behind the door was Maria. She had moved to Canada from Monterey, Mexico in her early twenties. The shared experience of alienation, both cultural and linguistic, had cemented a close relationship between her and Luc’s parents soon after she started attending Mass at St. Mary’s. She saw them as her adoptive parents. She was beautiful in her youth, stunningly so, and attracted the attention of every man who crossed her path. But Maria was loyal to the memory of Javier, the boy she had left in Mexico long ago; the boy was, by now, a man.

Maria had always hoped Javier would come and join her in Canada. He promised to do so on several occasions, but never did. She suspected that he may have found a wife and made a family by now, though he continued to write intermittent, passionate letters to her promising they would, one day, be together again.

She loved Javier, but the thought of going back ‘home’ never once entered her mind- for her, it wasn’t home: it was that simple. For Louis, it was. At first, he thought that Maria’s fanciful immigration to Canada would be short-lived. He was angry and jealous, but expected that she would return as soon as she got over her silly romance with the Rocky Mountain snowfall. He was wrong.

Maria was smart. She learned English quickly and adapted to Canadian life well before she learned the language. She felt more at home away from “home”. Her parents were rich and she was beautiful: they thought their daughter was destined to be a model, or an actress. Her mother had invested a lot of time and money, expecting future reward. She had bought Maria the finest clothes, taught her how to walk sexy and to apply make-up correctly: “You don’t want to look like a prostitute, dear, just eventuate the beautiful features you got from my side of the family”. Maria, however, had always been infatuated with the gutter and those who lived inside it.

Maria’s fascination began at a young age. While other girls pined over Oscar de la Hoya, she loved an old, newspaper clipping of Federico Garcia Lorca she had found in her grandmother’s panty drawer a long time before. The friends Maria chose to surround herself with, both male and female didn’t attend classes at the walled fortress that was Maria’s school: she found them on the dirty streets of Monterey.

Maria’s parents were her primary motivation to leave Mexico. She had always felt defined and constricted in their presence. She yearned to escape their oppressive influence. She would never miss them. When her father took ill and passed away, she hesitated before she booked a flight back to Monterey for the funeral. Yet, she still loved him somehow. It was all very confusing for her.

And now, she stands at the door of an adoptive brother she had never met. She was surprised by Luc’s appearance. He stood in front of her, wearing only dirty, white briefs, seemingly unaffected by his beer gut which nicely draped over the top of the elastic, Hanes embossed waist band. His skin was pale, accentuating black, brooding, and sleepless eyes. He had the look of both predator and prey. She was, at once, attracted and repulsed by Luc. Her voice cracked a bit as she began to speak.

“Can I come ‘een’, Luc?”

“Ok, but first, who the fuck are you?”

“I’m Maria, I’m a good friend of your parents.”

“You’re Maria? Holy fuck! C’mon in! Wanna smoke a joint? I just rolled one up!”

“Yeah, I’m not really into that sort of thing, Luc.” Her tone was flirtaceous but warned him to back off. She was confused by her mixed feelings.

They sat down on the couch and Luc sparked his breakfast joint. “I put some coffee on, I hope you like it strong and hot!” “Fuck”, “Strong” and “Hot” were strung together on purpose by Luc; he was a word-smith. Despite his beer gut, he had been going to the gym regularly, and he certainly considered Maria to be “fuckin’ hot”. She was intelligent enough to pick up on his subtlety, and became wet instantly, but she tried to ignore his interest in her.

“I wanna ask you some questions, Luc.” Maria was more than capable of being curt, she’d been hit on all her life, and had developed a toughness of character common to all beautiful women.

“K. shoot.” He replied with a wheezy joint-puffin’ cough.

“What’s this shit I’ve heard about you healing faggots? God obviously wants them dead. He designed the disease to get rid of them. You have the nerve to get in his way?”

“Whoa… Simmer down, there lady.” Luc took a long pause before turning words into smoke again.

“You’re talkin’ about Neil, aren’t cha? Do you know him well?”

“I would never even talk to that disgusting Sodomite.”

“Ok, that’s the point.” He took another toke.

“I’ve been to your Church a couple of times”, Luc was now affectionately stroked his cat and Maria looked on enviously, “I grew up with Neil and I’ve gotta say that he reminds me more of Christ than most of the folk who live in those pews. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no fuckin’ cock-sucker, but I dare say that he’s a pretty good shit. He’s humble, and there’s purity in those pale blue eyes of his.

Maria was shocked. She never would have pegged him as a sympathizer to such a sickening lifestyle. Still, she remained turned on by the sexual tension between them. She detected Luc’s homophobia and zeroed in on it. “I don’t even know what to say, Luc. You have beautiful parents and you’ve abandoned them, essentially, for fuckin’ whores and faggots? What would you want to hang out with such shit? Why would you choose to heal them? There are good, holy people in the congregation right now who are suffering! Iris has lung cancer and it is invading her whole body. She’ll be dead in a month and she’s in incredible pain.”

“So, I’m responsible then? Me? I am the source of this incredible power that you usually ascribe to yer father who art in heaven? You’re not that fuckin’ stupid, Maria, c’mon! Did I heal him or did God heal him?” He took a self-satisfied toke as Maria struggled with her loss of words. She considered Luc and his beloved feline on the couch, surprised by the seemingly logical intelligence he had just spit forth. Again, she whet herself.

Hers was a mixture of lust and hatred, a deadly combination often mistaken for love. She imagined herself atop his cock, large breasts a bouncin’ and she came, for the third time, at the thought of it. Her feelings were intense and sexually charged. She was smitten, but hated him at the same time.

While Luc’s argument appeared to be humble, it stunk of vanity to Maria. Who was he to say that he was a conduit of God’s compassion? It was God, not me, he was really saying. She hated him intensely, yet wanted to fuck all the fat off his belly. She left, without even gracing her cup of steam with fleshy lip. When the door slammed, announcing her departure, Luc drank deeply of his own and jacked off, disturbed by his observant feline who looked on in horror as he drove himself mad with the thoughts of another. The cat jumped off of the couch quickly and went over to chew on her catnip plant in the corner of the room. Luc and Maria often met again in times of imaginative need: fingers, delicate and rough. She seethed- having developed a hatred for the man that was made even more severe by her impossible lust.

Chapter Nine

When Luc wasn’t at the Church on his days off, he loved nothing more than to drive into the Kananaskis Country with friends, some joints and a few beers. He and his friends were hardly athletic, cardiovascularily speaking, so the mountains he chose to hike weren’t much bigger than the foothills on the drive west. The important thing to Luc, however, was that he was able, on these occasions, to get away from the telephone and the people who incessantly bothered him. He was an introvert at heart. His reluctant, occasional extroversion completely drained him. He valued those trips to the mountains with his friends even more than he valued his puffs; sometimes, he would even go without pot when he was high atop a mountain range.

Luc’s favourite Kananaskis destination was Picklejar Lakes. It took about three hours to the beginning of the trail and the hike was, at times, quite treacherous, especially for Luc who coughed the whole way up. He and his friends loved the place, however, and went there many times in any given summer from early July, when the lakes opened for fishing, to mid-September, when the first snow flew. Others who took advantage of the lake’s seemingly endless supply of cutthroat trout (fishing the lake was like fishing a Pickle-Jar) noticed Luc’s posse’s incredible fish-harvesting luck and word spread throughout the community of outdoorsmen.

One August long weekend, Luc and his friends planned a grand excursion. It had been years since they had all been to the lakes. Some had families and they all had jobs, mostly in the service industry, where time off on long weekends is hard to come by. They spent months planning the trip; yet, they neglected to bring enough food. This often happens: one fills his pack with all the essentials, namely, beer, a couple t-shirts, waterproof matches and more beer. The weight of the bag increases quickly, until it reaches an unfathomable weight. Sacrifices must be made: one of those t-shirts is put back into the drawer- “They won’t mind if I fuckin’ stink- I’ll have my own tent, after all. Shit! Food! What’s light? Mmmm… couple of buns and some beef jerky’ll do. We’ll be catchin’ fish… Yeah! I’ll live off the land for a few days!” The pack ends up being comprised of 95% beer, 3% Shelter (tent) and 2% food. This is one reason many friendships end on camping trips.

And so, Luc and co.’s trip began. They piled into Chris’ flat bed Ford early Thursday afternoon, right after Luc finished his shift at the Butcher Shop. The cab of the truck was packed, so Luc volunteered to sit in the back of the truck “to keep shit from flying out”. The bags were too heavy to be at risk of being blown out of the box and there were a number of bungee cords for further insurance, but Luc always loved solitude; his friends respected that.

The posse reached the first of four lakes at dusk. The sun disappears quickly in the Rocky Mountains, so they hurried to set up camp. Arriving early, they were able to claim best site in the area. It was close to the first lake and also close to the creek, in which they fetched coffee water, cleaned dishes and bathed in (if, that is, one chose to brave the sub-zero temperature of the water. The group jokingly referred to one of creeks deep pools as “the hot tub”). Many city folk, including Marie, warned Luc about the possibility of contracting “beaver fever” from the waters of mountain streams, but he argued that he’d had a fever for beaver since puberty. The group set up their tents in the dying light of the western sun.

A huge drunken spectacle ensued. Beers were shot-gunned, joints were lit, conversations were had and explosions set off. By the end of the night, the group had gone through their vast reserves of insect repellent, mini-propane tanks and matches. If not for the late night storm, which finally forced them into their tents, a forest fire surely would have consumed them all. Despite the debauchery of the first night in the woods, all members of the crew woke with the sun’s re-arrival the next morning.

Six hours into fishing (well, most of the men fished—Luc, however, decided to walk slowly up the mountain bearing no weight, this time, aside from his copy of the Imitation of Christ and a canteen full of water) other campers started their descent into the valley of four lakes. Other campers were always unwelcome. Fisherman, by nature, is a solitary creature. Though Luc never claimed to be a fisherman, he condescendingly referred to other campers as ‘tender feet’ or ‘fuckin’ day hikers’. He cursed under his breath before hesitantly welcoming them to Picklejar Lakes. On that day in August, an unusually large number of campers set up tents by the lakeside.

Luc didn’t come down from his Rocky Mountain perch until the sun threatened, once again, to disappear. He enjoyed watching the stupid movements of his miniature friends from high above. He read The Imitation of Christ twice through on top of the rocks high above the campsite; it seemed to be a fitting place for him to read that book. He was, however, careful to conceal it from his friends since they would have laughed out loud had they seen evidence of his piety. He told them, instead, that he was reading Kerouac up there. He saw it as much the same thing, anyways.

Luc’s friends heard his descent before they saw him. The echoing sound of rock terrified them all. They often looked up at the rock’s looming shear face and considered their fates should the boulders decide to come loose. Luc’s descent created thousands of mini avalanches. Michael continued fishing as Luc skipped down the mountain.

Luc greeted his friends by the light of a familiar fire. He had a glow about him, an unnatural, supernatural glow, which reflected and refracted embers and flame alike. “D’ja see all the tender-feet that came down the mountain today, Luc?” Nathan asked. Luc smiled. He had stolen the phrase from his uncle Pierre long before, and Nathan, in turn, stole it from him.

“Naw, I was on the other side of the face reading Visions of Gerard again. Have you read that one yet?” Nathan stoked the fire silently, choosing not to reply.

Another party commenced much akin to the one the previous night, minus the explosives. They made lots of noise, but it died down when they retired to their respective tents. Luc had a bad case of “bearonoia”, a term coined by the group and often repeated by it. Luc loved bears, but he feared them tremendously.

The second morning was worse than the first. By now, the men were deprived of sugar; they were ornery and didn’t know why. The previous evening, Nathan burned Luc’s coffee-pot-holding-stick and Luc was pissed off. The two weren’t reconciled until Nathan offered Luc a fresh pack of DuMaurier’s; they were brothers again. Luc smoked by the fire with a contented grin upon his face. Hungry and tired, the men went to the banks of the misty lake in search of breakfast. Michael caught the first fish: no surprises there. It was a big one and he summoned Luc from his tent to kill and clean it for him. Luc chuckled as he did so: Michael was a tough woodsmen, but he was afraid of getting his hands dirty so Luc obliged his friend, throwing the guts from the kill into the lake with a splash.

By noon, the combined efforts of the crew had drained the lake of almost all of its cutthroat trout. Luc didn’t even cast his spoon in the water that day. Instead, he shouted insanities from the fire. “Michael, drag your line across the ground for thirty seconds before your next cast!”. Michael obeyed and caught a big ‘mother’ over one pound in ‘girth’ on his next cast.

“Nate, hock a loog’ on that big-ass fuckin’ spoon you got there and you’ll catch a big one, swear to Christ!” Nate soon reeled in a ‘beaut’. Luc crushed its head and threw its guts.

The other campers at the lake couldn’t help but notice the group’s success. Tails slapped the water’s surface and hoots and hollers echoed from the southeast corner of the first lake. Luc’s friends continued to follow his insane instructions and continued to catch fish. Other fishermen tried the techniques Luc screamed from the fire without the same results. They felt absurd and shook their heads in disgust. By noon, the other fisherman surrounded Luc at his fire.

“OK. What’s yer fuckin’ secret, fat ass?” The other campers demanded.

“I’m not a fuckin’ fisherman, ask my buddies over there.”

“Don’t fuckin’ lie to us, dude” one particularly ornery fisherman screamed, “We know that you friends are no experts. Most of ‘em are using twenty pound test, for fuck sakes.” The fishermen were outraged.

“Christ almighty” Luc mumbled under his tobacco-stained breath. He reached into the flame and grabbed his can of beans.

Nathaniel, worried, whispered into Luc’s ear. “Luc, we need to feed these fuckers. They’re starving and pissed off.” Luc took his friend’s words seriously; he too saw the looks of hatred being shot at them from all directions. Nathaniel and Luc took a look at their dwindling resources of food, which consisted of five small fish cooling in the stream, and a small loaf of bread. “Luc, we’re fucked. We’re never gonna feed these ravenous bastards; we’ve got nothing.”

“Go get those fish from the stream” Luc replied. Nathaniel dutifully went to the creek and retrieved the fish.

“Man, we’ve only got five here. I’ve got a couple pieces of bread, but fuck, look at all of these tenderfeet. What the fuck are we gonna do?” Luc smiled knowingly.

“Nathaniel, put the fish in that garbage bag over there by my tent.”

“Dude, there’s only five left.” Just do it, Nathaniel, trust me.” Nathaniel slowly walked over to the garbage bag; he was wearing flip-flops and stubbed his toe on the way. He came back to see Luc smiling in the center of a big, angry mob.

“K. Here is the last of the bread. Hand it out to all these fuckin’ day hikers and tell ‘em to leave us alone.”

“Luc, there’s not enough here to go around!”

“Trust me, Nathaniel!” And behold, there was enough food to go around; some of the fish Nathaniel was handing out from the magical garbage bag were in excess of five pounds, an unfathomable mass for the Picklejar fish. The mob took the gifts and were completely amazed. They were humbled that day, content to leave with fresh trout to fill their bellies with at their own campsites.

Luc knew well the hearts of his fellow fisherman. As soon as the crowd dispersed, he packed up his gear. “You fuckers can stay here if you want, but I’m fucking makin’ tracks. All these tender feet trottin’ around… they barely know how to take a shit in the woods, much less hang a fucking bear hang. I swear t’ Christ I heard a big ol’ grizzly bear sniffin’ ‘round m’ tent last night. I’m out of smokes anyways and I could really go for a fuckin’ can of Coke right about now. I’m gonna sleep on my big fuckin’ king size bed tonight after taking a long hot shower. Who else is in?” Luc’s proposition made sense to his posse, though they convinced him to wait a couple of hours so they could clean up the mess they had created in the few days they had been staying there. Michael wanted to fish a bit more too. Luc didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter, Chris had driven—Luc needed a vehicle to get home. The chances of hitching a ride back to Calgary, smelling and looking like Luc did were slim. He started walking early and his friends caught up to him a few hours later. They pulled into Calgary close to midnight, all exhausted and smelling of fish, BO and campfire.

Chapter Ten

Another favourite pastime for Luc, on his occasional days off between shifts, was to go to Calgary’s lone substantial body of water. The Glenmore reservoir, a man-made lake in the midst of Calgary’s most affluent neighborhoods, is the product of a strangled Elbow River. In the summer, Luc often rented a canoe and paddled to the center of the lake to escape. He sat in the center of the lake and read the Imitation of Christ while puffing on a joint. Nobody could find him there, or so he thought.

In the winter months, a think sheet of ice covered the lake’s surface. Prospective ice fisherman were warned that, due to the fluctuation of the lakes levels divined by the large concrete damn on the North East side of the lake, the ice was not to be trusted: even walking on the ice was incredibly dangerous. Luc ignored such warnings and, on cold nights, put on his headphones to go on midnight treks on top of the lake. He never told his mother about these solitary treks, of course.

In the winter of the same year of the massive feeding at Picklejar Lakes, Calgary was especially cold. While many Calgarians retired to warm houses, leaving them only out of necessity, Luc jumped into Sorrels and was seen, a lone wanderer, on the lonesome lake. His friends, impressed by his daring and not to be outdone, followed him out into the night. Sometimes, they would even go without him.

One day in late November, Michael and Nathaniel went on a long walk to the center of the lake. Nathaniel, as usual, was going through a crisis regarding this-or-that-woman. She left him. Nathaniel was devastated. Michael suggested that they take a walk on the lake to sort shit out. His only condition was that Nathaniel refrain from smoking pot. Unlike the rest of the group, which had formed around Luc, Michael didn’t like pot. He hated the effect the drug had on his friends, Nathaniel, particularly. Nate agreed to refrain, and they walked out into the early night.

About half an hour into their journey, Nathaniel broke down crying. Michael was not quite sure how to react, being more accustomed to quelling his friends rage than comforting his sadness. Luckily for Mike, their conversation was soon put on a permanent pause. Nathaniel’s tear rolled off his glove and hit the ice below his feet just as the dam opened and unleashed limitless amounts of ice-cold water into the north side of the Elbow River. The ice beneath their feet buckled and cracked; exposing the frigid, black water underneath them. They were terrified, but safe, for now, resting on a large chunk of ice.

Instinctively, Nathaniel and Michael got on their bellies as they frantically looked around them for a navigatable way to shore. The wind blew wildly from every direction, bringing terrified tears to the eyes of both men. Their eyes settled upon the same place at the same time; they were no longer alone.

A stocky figure skipped across the surface of the reservoir with surprisingly agility for a man of his stature. It was not so much a walk, but a dance, which brought him closer and closer with every step: choreographed, but spontaneous. It was mesmerizing sight to be seen. For a moment, the men forgot about their peril; they focused the figure, fearing for his safety.

A deep voice called out to them: “Hey fuckers! What the fuck are ya doin’ out here?” They knew immediately that it was Luc who danced upon the water.

“Luc, your gonna fuckin die! Get the fuck over here!” Luc continued his ice dance; he was almost out of breath.

“Ah, fuck off!” He puffed. “How long have you known me now? Have some fuckin faith! Trust me!” He punctuated his statement by jumping onto the large sheet of the ice his friends now shared with him.

“Luc, get down! Your gonna kill us all!” Michael screamed, insane with panic.

“We’re fine, trust me!” Luc panted.

Nate and Mike reluctantly and very carefully got off of their bellies and onto their feet, happy to see Luc’s face. They followed his lead, and soon walked the shoreline, where a group of people had assembled. They were unsure as to how they knew of them or their whereabouts, but it quickly became obvious that the crowd was there to see Luc. How they knew to look for him there, Luc knew not, but many in the crowd had also been at Picklejar Lakes that summer. Their eyes swelled with rage and hate filled their hearts.

Luc spoke to a couple of them directly. They were surprised that he remembered them from the mountain. “How was the fuckin’ fish?” They searched for an appropriate response.

“…Um, pretty good, actually. We want more! Tell us your secret!”

Luc chuckled. “You wouldn’t wanna eat anything out of here—mostly pike, more bone than meat and the fuckers are as slimy as a turned on cootch. Why would you wanna depend on me for your food anyway? I’ve been doin’ my best to avoid you tender feet. I’m surprised you found me here.” The crowd was unhappy.

“Give us more!” They screamed.

“Look, fuckers, if you wanna eat, there’s a fuckin’ McDonalds just over the hill. Order the fuckin’ Fillet, if ya wanna get nostalgic about it, but I’m not givin’ you anymore; go fuck yerselves!” The group was becoming increasingly angry at Luc’s disdain. They had braved the coldest night of the year in order to see him and they received nothing but his indignation. “Seriously though, I am offerin’ you a new vision and all you want is fuckin’ pike? You should all be bustin’ out of your fucking skins! Smile, fer Christ sakes! Wouldn’t cha like to see this big ol’ world afresh? Wouldn’t you like to see this lake as more than a source for supper? Look around you! Sure the weather’s the shits, but lets go walkin’ on the water! It’s miraculous! Aren’t you all in search of that? Don’t you wanna kiss the poisonous snake on her cheek? Don’t ya wanna see the fuckin’ burning bush? And no, I’m not talking about redheads, I’m talking about divinity! Don’t you wanna see the God in the thick of it all, or would you rather gorge yourselves on disgusting pike and perch?” Silence descended on the crowd.

“This is why I’m here! I wasn’t sent here to feed you stinky ass fish; I wish that I hadn’t had this ridiculous burden placed on my fuckin’ back in the first place; I would much rather be nothing less than a mustached face in the crowd! If you can’t see my fuckin’ face, if you can’t see the beauty in all of this, your all fucked; how do you expect to see the face of he who sent me?”

The group, Michael and Nathaniel included, were surprised and offended by Luc’s holy rant. What were these strange words he was saying? “Face of God?” What the fuck? It was arrogant at best, sacrilegious at worst. Disgusting! Outrageous! Profane! Nathaniel, particularly, was offended. He had, on several occasions, met Luc’s parents; he called Marie his ‘other mother’. Now, he looked on as her son was going off about being a special Son of God. He was angry, but also concerned about Luc’s mental health.

Luc didn’t stop there. “How many of your fathers or father’s fathers died in war? How many of you watched your mother draw her last breath? Now, how many of you looked on eagerly, as your grandparents or parents ate a fuckin’ pike?” Luc’s friends, Michael especially, sighed. He had often witnessed Luc’s irrational, almost insane argumentative approach—banter like this was a huge warning sign for Luc’s oncoming irrationality. Michael nervously kicked the snow below him with the tip of his big black boot. “They’re all fuckin’ dead—they’re not here no more and they all ate fuckin’ fish! Fuck fuckin’ fish! They’ll getcha nowhere! Tell me, in a hundred years from now, what will a fuckin’ jack fish mean to you? Jack shit! Believe me, I am offerin’ you the new vision! For the love of God! It’ll transform this fuckin’ wasteland of a city into something holy! It will make your friends divine! It is as it is intended to be! Believe me and sin no more with your sour, sickening faces! We are all sons and daughters of God himself! Believe! Walk with me! Walk with me onto the fuckin’ ice, walk this way!” Despite his rabid enthusiasm, Luc walked back onto the ice alone. Even his friends remained on the shoreline.

Chapter Eleven

After that November night at the Reservoir, Luc went into a kind of social hibernation. He went home, and immediately destroyed all of his plants, save his gigantic vine. It pained him incredibly to do so. He was reserved at work, but the only ones who noticed were the closest of his friends—the rest ignored him before giving him the opportunity to ignore them. His reputation grew again, even though he, himself, had stopped: it beat him to every door he eventually broke down.

Luc’s friendships also deteriorated. His friends were, at once, disgusted by and jealous of the mob that followed Luc around. Nathaniel, Luc’s closest friend, took him aside one day. “Luc, you’re saying some pretty crazy shit. You’re putting on Superman’s cape, so to speak (he always used Superman analogies, which, for Luc at least, fell on deaf ears). What are you doing in this fuckin’ piss-pot if you are, in fact, who you say you are?”

“Who do I say I am?”

“You know.” Nathaniel, as much as he loved his friend, also didn’t believe, or was too embarrassed and humbled to admit it.

“Well, you know, I’ve been thinking of going out west. Most of the time, Calgary disgusts me. If I see one more fucking monkey driving an SUV, I think I might fucking explode. But, I don’t think it’s time yet.” Nate dropped it, for now. The two men discussed the merits of the new Eagles of Death Metal CD instead.

Luc soon took up the previous conversation, saying illusively, “You should go though, Nathaniel. You’ve had a tough couple of months. Get out of here before it robs you of your soul.”

The next day, Nathaniel booked flights for he and Michael, to go to Vancouver for three days. Upon hearing of the plans, Luc also booked a flight, though he was sure that neither of his friends found out. Two weeks later, Luc boarded the same plane as his buddies; he dropped them off at the airport, quickly stowed his borrowed car in long-term parking and followed them, disguised as a bear. On the flight, he joked with the stewardess that she had probably heard about the Easter Bunny, but assuredly hadn’t heard about the bunny’s brother, the Christmas bear: the stewardess was confused, but laughed anyways as stewardesses tend to do.

Luc would soon found out that his reputation preceded him to the ends of the earth. Nathaniel and Michael were also surprised when people asked them if they had heard about this strange man from Calgary. They listened in on conversations at the Vancouver Airport, with Luc as primary subject: “I think he’s a delusional piece of shit!” some screamed. “Imagine the audacity of claiming to be the Son of God!”

“He’s never really said that” Others offered carefully.

“What ever he said, I think he’s dangerous, crazy…maybe both”

“I don’t know, what harm is he doing? Passing out good pot from our province? Helpin’ people with their shit? Even if he is nuts, he’s harmless. I think the guy’s great, I’d love to sit down with him over a beer. I hear he’s a great storyteller. Maybe that’s what all of this is, one big story.” Conversations like these were quiet ones, especially in conservative circles.

These were the circles Luc did his best to avoid. Instead, he went to Davie Street and gave a couple of milk-crate rants for anyone who would listen; word soon spread of the man amongst them wearing bear hat and talking like nobody had ever heard anybody speak. Luc was at the height of his loquaciousness. They asked him, “Man, what the fuck are you talking about? You’re not from here are you? Do you have any idea where you are? Don’t you understand? You’re ‘father’ hates people like us. He went as far to create a disease to destroy us all! We’ve all watched our friends die from this monster. If there is, indeed, a mastermind behind this shit, I’d be more likely to spit in his fuckin’ face than bow at his feet!”

Luc listened to the anger and frustration and said to them: “But this isn’t even me talkin’. I wish you could understand, but it’s true! Ask the crows for Christ sake! They know a fuck of a lot more than I do!”

“Obviously you weren’t sent from Heaven then, honey. This street belongs to Satan and trust me, I’d fuck him in his dark red ass-hole if I had the chance.”

“Ok, that’s fuckin’ sick. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but just shut up for a second…” In the middle of the argument, a couple Mormons, who had been sent to save “the gays”, approached and were quick to reproach the man dressed as a bear.

“If you are truly the Son of God, sir, why do you languish amongst the most feral of crowds?” They walked into it.

“Well, what the fuck are you doing here? Either you’re lookin’ to help or your lookin’ for one of these queens to asphyxiate ya with one of those fuckin’ ties you’re wearin’ around your Mormon necks! Go fuck yourselves!” Mormons had always annoyed Luc. While they were kind and sincere in their offers to save him from eternal damnation, he despised their arrogance and, of course, their suits, ties and undergarments.

“You fuckers need to get this through your thick fuckin’ skulls—I’d rather not be here! I’d much rather be at Stanley Park with one of the many fine, hand-blown pipes this City has to offer and some bud to pack it with. Do you really think I’m doin’ this for kicks? Do you think I’d be on this fuckin’ street if I had the choice? Do you think that I’d choose to be amongst them who’d fuck me and those who would kill me alike? Fuck that and fuck you! My blessing is also my burden motherfuckers! He sent me here to grab your ears to, don’t fucking kid yourselves! I’d much rather smoke a fuckin’ bowl and forget about all this shit, forget about the fags! But He can’t forget about the fuckin’ queers and queens—obviously, whoever is running your fuckin’ organization can’t either! I was sent to grab the ears of the fuckin’ queers!” The crowd, for the first time, erupted in jubilation, they understood: the Mormons seethed. Still, they didn’t dare to lay a finger on the man with the bear hat.

On his last day in Vancouver, Luc was particularly buoyant and more comfortable in his surroundings: “Look, fuckers, if you wanna suck cock, suck cock. If you wanna swallow, swallow; but, be honest about it but, be honest about it from now on. Don’t fool yourselves, don’t try to fool your parents or brothers or sisters or friends; honesty will set you free! It’ll suck at first, but so do you! Bad joke. Anyways, in the long run, you’ll be better off, trust me!” The crowd was awe-struck; they didn’t know whether they should love Luc or hate him; generally, this was the case. Miraculously, they didn’t lay a hand on Luc that day; his time was yet to come. Even the Mormons had never heard anyone speak with such eloquence or authority; nor had the homosexuals, for that matter.

Michael and Nathaniel were surprised to find Luc on a soapbox on Davie Street. They pulled him down, and the three of them boarded a bus to Granville Island for a round of beers. After a few rounds, they made plans for their third and final day in British Columbia. The trip required a ferry and ten dollars apiece.

Before boarding the ferry, the three men switched their departing flights from Vancouver to Victoria. BC’s capital city was different than Vancouver in every conceivable way. It was Luc’s first time on the Island, but he was enamored with it place even before he set his feet upon its rocky ground.

The ferry ride from Tsawassen to Sidney, a hated reality for commuters, allowed Luc to escape from the only continent he would ever know. At once foreign and familiar, bridled by buildings and completely wild and uncontained, Victoria represented many of the contradictions Luc learned to love in his life; he contained them and yet, they ran wild. For the few short hours Luc spent in the town, he truly felt at home. When he left, he was saddened.

One of the things Luc especially appreciated about Victoria was its large homeless population. One of the few homeless people Luc talked to was Richard Leman, who had been a sad and familiar face on the streets of Victoria for many years. Nobody knew where he had come from; everyone would know where he would be every weekday—in front of the Church on Douglas Street, wailing, in a broken voice, for help, between the hours of 8:00 and 4:30: “Spare any change?” He’d cry, he’d shriek. The harsh reality of a life in his paradise haunted people on their way to and from work every day.

Richard did quite well for himself. He was more desperate than the speechless girl in black down the street; she had her youth, after all, and her eyesight. He did better than the man in Cook Street Village, who was so paralyzed by sadness that he simply sat on a cardboard mat, staring down at the ground for hours, not even acknowledging the sound of clinking change when someone threw it in his hat as they passed by. Richard made more money that all of Victoria’s despondent and yet he still barely managed to pay his bill at the hostel every night. His cry was not at all exaggerated.

Luc heard Richard’s cry and took pity on him. Luc ran across the street, narrowly avoiding being hit by a double-decker bus. He smiled and waved as the bus passed by. He then tenderly touched Richard’s arm, to let him know he was there and that his presence was a friendly one. “Can you hear me, Richard?”

“Yeah, do I know you?”

“Not really, but I know you… you want your sight back Richard?”

Richard erupted in laughter, “Oh, go fuck yourself! Maybe drop some money in the toque instead!” Luc joined Richard in his laughter- the man spoke his language; his heart filled with love and compassion.

“I’m serious”

“Oh, I bet you are…spare any change?!” He almost deafened Luc with his wild wail.

Luc stepped back, partially to avoid Richard’s scream, and partially to think up a way to convince Richard that his offer was sincere. Nathaniel and Michael were waiting for Luc on the corner: he had to act quickly. He reached deep into his jean pockets and pulled out a chunk of hash he had bought the previous day. Again, Luc approached Richard: “Here, I’ve got somethin’ for ya”. Luc slipped the chunk of hash into Richard’s hand.

“What’s this?”

“It’s the best fuckin’ hash in the world, is what it is”

“Fuck you man! Y’ think that just ‘cause I’m homeless, I’ve got a fuckin’ habit? I’m blind fer Christ sakes! Go fuck yourself!” He threw the chunk of hash onto the street and Luc was again almost hit by a bus as he went to retrieve it.

“Man, I don’t mean anything by it. Take this shit over to the coffee shop over there across the street,” he slipped the saran-sealed hash into Richard’s hand again, “Buy yourself an Americano—here’s two bucks—dip your fingers in the coffee after you’ve added some cream and sugar, mix a couple of drops with this shit and rub it on yer eyelids. Trust me. I’m gone.” Luc ran to catch up to his buddies, who had were now walking south toward Beacon Hill Park.

Richard didn’t go to the coffee shop immediately. Two dollars was a lot of money to him at the time. It brought him a bit closer to a night in a hostel. Luckily, that day, people were incredibly generous. Richard received double his average amount. On his way back to the hostel, he stopped in at a small coffee house on Herald Street. It was out of the way, but he was told that the girls there were the prettiest. Even though Richard was without his sight, he enjoyed being in the midst of beauty; the coffee was great too. He ordered a coffee and followed Luc’s prescription.

Richard was in the men’s washroom when he rubbed the hash in his eyes. He heard, from many people, that the place was always awash with cops and he didn’t want to get busted for possession; he got a presumably pretty barista to show him the way and she was happy to oblige him. He then closed the door, found his way to the unusually large porcelain sink without turning on the light. He followed Luc’s orders and soon, darkness turned into a lighter darkness as sunlight came through the bottom of the door; it was the first time Richard had ever seen light—even though it was insubstantial, he squinted. After several minutes had passed and he got accustomed to the light from beneath the door, he flicked the light switch behind him. He was blinded once again.

Richard took his time in the washroom to get his bearings. It took more than ten minutes to accustom himself to the light. He touched everything, first with his eyes open and then with eyes closed; he found it difficult to reconcile the two similar, yet wholly different sensations. He wept the tears of the overwhelmed and the disappointed, he was both. On his way out, his eyes were conquered by visual three-dimensional space. He saw faces and all of them appeared beautiful to him; no distinction, yet, between beautiful baristas and homely patrons. He was overwhelmed with joy, but nobody noticed.

When Richard checked himself into a familiar hostel, people did take notice. He twirled his white cane on coffee stained fingers as he asked for a room with a view. He tipped liberally, doing a little dance as he did so. The man behind the counter, who had become relatively close to Richard over the past number of years, was utterly speechless at the sight of the patron with sight. His speechlessness was finally overcome at about the same time that Luc’s plane touched down in Calgary. Word spread, in Victoria now.

Chapter Twelve

Upon his return from the West Coast, Luc began to speak more and more in metaphor. For those who knew Luc well, the elaborately constructed stories had familiar themes. Luc had always been obsessed with the nether-regions of the female anatomy and anything that happened to be in frequent contact with it. Panties were a frequent topic of conversation. Luc saw Hanes Her Way as a potential canvas. He could be overheard in intense conversations with shocked coworkers: “Ya see, what I’m gonna do is take a pair of June’s panties, ya know? The ones she never fuckin’ changes and that are always tied in a fuckin’ knot. I’m gonna take those fuckin’ panties, untie the knot and stretch them out like a big ol’ fuckin’ canvass. You’ve got your yellows, your browns, just a touch of fuckin’ red here and there, it’s fuckin’ perfect. Then, I’m gonna take the canvas up to the fuckin’ art college and tell all those pretentious fucks that my piece is called ‘Colours of Fall’, ya know? Double fuckin’ entendre—‘Fall’ as in, “The Fall”, and all that shit. I could talk their fuckin’ ears off. I can bullshit like nobody else. I’m gonna do it, swear t’ Christ!”

Luc was much like a painter; his palette was made of words with cuss words used deliberately, for texture. One of his favourite sketches was a humble, yet much used, bicycle seat: “I don’t know what you think of all this reincarnation bull-shit, Gerry, I really don’t, but if I were to be reincarnated, I don’t wanna be a fuckin’ King, or anything like that: I don’t even wanna be a fuckin’ human being. I wanna be a woman’s fuckin’ bicycle seat—maybe June’s. I’d like to be there when she sits that big ol’ fuckin’ bum of hers down. I’d like to be underneath as she works up a big ol’ sweat. I’d like to tickle her bum-hairs with my invisible hands as they drip garlicky sweat and I’d like to be there when she ‘get’s off’!” Luc erupted in laughter at his own witticism. He usually coughed up phlegm. While Luc entertained himself, he revolted and offended many around him. His stories would climax as his audience stopped listening; it was always this way.

Most of the time, those listening to Luc couldn’t see through his coarse subject matter. He was talking about transformation, but those listening couldn’t get passed the sweaty bum-hairs and linens. Whether or not he was conscious of it, Luc was the very incarnation of transformation. He offered those he spoke to a chance at true change: they were too repulsed by him, however, to accept his offer. Most of the time, despite Luc’s booming baritone and entrancing form of speech, those listening ignored him. He said, on a number of occasions, “I’m a fuckin’ bicycle seat”. Many laughed, but Luc was quite serious.

Chapter Thirteen

All of Luc’s prior miracles were a mere pretext for his next. Once again, Maria entered Luc’s life, this time, in a much different, less confrontational way. This time, she knocked on Luc’s door, not with the angry thud of the hunter but magical desperation. The tone of such knocks always caught Luc’s interest and, in this case, it also made his dick rise. He knew it was her behind the door before he even opened it.

Maria had four brothers, the youngest of which followed Maria to Canada: like his sister, the noisy streets of Monterey never felt like home to Lazaro. He had recently taken ill with an STD he had contracted in Mexico City when he lost his cherry to an experienced, disease-ridden prostitute named Esperenza. Initially, he was unable to work, and more recently, he was unable to walk. His body couldn’t fight the illness. It wasn’t until he was admitted to the hospital that he reached out to his older sister. Upon receiving the call, she went to Luc’s house immediately.

Luc was enamored with Maria, but he also respected her as he would a sister. He liked her from the start, and he respected her enough not to use his power to get into her pants. He often dropped her Mexican name in conversation, and the word ‘sister’ was never far behind. It was a testament to his undying respect; still, he wanted her.

He opened the door, half expecting to see her downcast face. “Luc, my brother’s ‘seek’!”

“I know he is, Maria.”

“Well, what the fuuuucccckkkk, Luc?” He had never met Maria’s biological brother and yet, he loved him.

“I know, Maria”; and then, unexpectedly, Luc closed the door to his sister’s tears.

Luc knew, before Maria did, that her brother would soon die. He also knew that Lazaro lived in Victoria, which was still abuzz in the wake of his recent healing. He had expected to bump into Lazaro on his trip: it hadn’t happened, but Luc knew that one day, he would meet Maria’s brother. Luc’s friends were well aware that Victoria’s reaction was mixed. When Luc when he told them he was going back, they were very concerned. As Nathaniel drove his friend to the airport, he feared that he would never see his friend again.

“Luc, do you have any idea as to what kinda shit you’ve stirred up over there? Do you have any conception, Luc, as to what kind of shit you’ve stirred up on that entire fuckin’ Island? You’ve done what many people have wanted to do for years! You’ve righted a wrong. You’ve done justice there and nothing, NOTHING, is more threatening than that! Everyone wants it and yet it confounds everyone! Don’t go, man, they’ll fucking string you up! They will crucify you if you set foot into their precious little town! Please don’t go!”

“I have to.” Nathaniel knew better than to argue with Luc when his mind was made up. They sat in silence for the remainder of the trip. Nathaniel gave Luc a hug before he walked through the sliding doors of the airport. Luc flew by night, arriving in Victoria at 9:30. He took a cab to the closest hostel.

That night was a dark night of the soul for Luc. He phoned Nathaniel from a pay phone outside the hostel. “Look, man. The reason I came out here is because Maria’s brother is sleepin’ and I’ve gotta wake him up.” Nathaniel was already sleeping when Luc phoned and was groggy as he spoke to Luc. Luc’s excited speech made Nathaniel suspect that his friend had been drinking coffee again. He often received impassioned, highly caffeinated phone calls like this from Luc.

“Man, I’ve gotta work tomorrow mornin’.”

“Don’t you fuckin’ see Mike!? He’s fuckin’ dead right now! I am gonna go to the grave yard and make the fucker live! Have you ever met Maria?”

“Is she hot?”

“Fuck yeah…wait, fuck you Nate… that’s not even the fuckin’ point… are you even listening to what I’m saying to you?”

“Man, I’m fuckin’ beat. Phone me back tomorrow, and Luc…”

“Yeah?” “Take care of yourself, ok?”

“For sure”

“Bye”

“Bye”.

Luc struggled with sleep that night, his mind raced. He gave up and walked the town’s rainy streets and the silence impressed him greatly. Nobody hassled him. He was free and happy in his newfound anonymity. He went to an all-night diner and ordered some fries. He then went to the beach to smoke a bowl. The waves crashed; he loved the sound they made as they crashed against breakwater stone. The rain smashed against his forehead, his arms, his face, and he welcomed it. He welcomed its rage and sheltered his cigarette. He walked back to his hostel at 3:00. The small town comatose, he slept.

Chapter Fourteen

The next day, Luc attended Lazaro’s funeral; Maria was there with the rest of her family. Luc disguised himself at the service, however. He watched Maria fill the fibers of her black dress with salty tears, trying unsuccessfully to tame his hard on as she walked past, surrounded by her Mexican family. She was gorgeous, Catholic and holy. Lazaro, like his sister, remained devoutly Catholic even after moving to Canada. He was involved in the Church community and many of his friends there were Celtic Christians; the funeral turned into a party despite the overwhelming sadness of the family and friends gathered.

After the service, Maria, upon seeing Luc, ran up to him saying, “Luuuucc! If only you had known, if you had been here you could have saved him! He was too young for this; he is my baby and now he’s gone!” She collapsed into Luc. His suit jacket became moist with spicy tears; he tried, again, unsuccessfully to hide his attraction, but his pants swelled.

“He’ll be fine, Maria, don’t worry.”

“He’s fucking dead, Luc. Don’t fuckin’ talk that shit to me—don’t be like everyone else who says what they’re supposed to say, you’re fucking better than that. Grieve with me! Don’t fuckin’ lie to me and blow smoke up my asshole!” Again, she buried her head in his chest.

“He’ll be fine, Maria.” Luc insisted; he rubbed her back.

“What the Hell do you mean by that Luc? That I will see him in Heaven? I don’t want to see him there, I wanna see him here! I didn’t even make it to the fucking hospital before he died! What the fuck kind of sister am I?” He held her in his arms, reassuring her with his touch.

The evening ended drunkenly, at Lazaro’s favourite pub. He had been buried earlier in the day; Luc waited solemnly for a day. The next day, Luc phoned Maria at her hotel. “Maria, meet me tomorrow at the Flying Beagle.”

“What the fuck is a flying beagle?”

“The Flying Beagle. It’s on Cook and Oxford… meet me at 3:00. Let’s go put some roses on your brother’s grave before we go back home.”

“K. 3:20?”

“Yep, I’ll see ya then.” He hung up before she did.

Maria walked into the pub 10 minutes late; she was chronically late. She sat down at the table and Luc pulled red roses from his back-pack. “Hope you brought your fuckin’ rain boots, Maria. Does it ever stop raining here?” He looked at her feet, only to discover that she was wearing absurd, black pumps– fashionably impractical in her choice of apparel. When Luc finished his pint, they walked to the cemetery. Luc guided her to Lazaro’s soil; she graced the manicured mud with a kiss and began to cry.

“Dig, Lazaro, dig!” Luc shouted loudly, scaring Maria, who lay prostrate above her brother. Lazaro was reluctant, but diligent as he struggled to escape complete, claustrophobic darkness. He scratched on the casket’s ceiling mere inches in front of his nose. Suddenly, the casket shattered and the mud above him pliant for frantic, half decomposed fingernails. He pissed out all of the cyanide in his system and was inexplicably strengthened. He dug, upwards, toward sky, and toward sister. The ground beneath Maria’s quaking lips stirred; she jumped. Soon, Luc grasped his long lost brother’s shrunken hand tightly in his own, pulling him from the manicured muck.

Lazaro was the complete opposite from his sister. Dirty and emaciated, he took his first breaths of salty sea air for the second time. The difference between brother and sister was striking. Maria, beautiful, elegant, sensual and world-ready, looked at her brother in horror, amazed by how hard death had worked on him. Already mostly decomposed, he was weak, gaunt and grave. Luc looked deep into his eyes and saw a bit of himself; he wept.

Chapter Fifteen

Despite Luc’s plea for Maria and Lazaro to keep quiet about the events that had transpired in Victoria, word spread quickly through the town’s tiny social network. In a town where one can’t fart in James Bay without all of Fairfield hearing a detailed account of its potency, and level of acoustical force, you had better believe people are going to find out about resurrections in the old graveyard.

Lazaro soon sympathized with Luc’s infamy. Friends he hadn’t seen in years phoned him, wanting a chance to see a live dead man. Such requests were hardly flattering- he felt more like a circus performer than a human being. Even women, who, initially, were attracted to the immortal man in their midst, feared going so far as kissing Lazaro’s once-dead lips. He decided to leave- it was impossible to get a decent job on the island, anyways. Four weeks after his death, Lazaro’s plane touched down in Calgary where his sister was waiting for him.

Even though Calgary was much bigger than Victoria, Lazaro still felt it difficult to meet people who were unaware of his temporary death. He met most would-be friends through Maria and was forced to construct an elaborate, multi-faceted lie to throw people of his death scent. People knew that Maria’s brother from Victoria had died; they had seen her tears flow when she heard the news. Lazaro lied, saying that he was from Mexico. He was not a good liar, however, and his fluent English betrayed him. Dying is hard work. Coming back, even harder.

Maria had a difficult time dealing with her feelings regarding Luc. She was devout and she saw Luc’s lifestyle, language and look to be completely reprehensible. But the miracles! He had saved her brother from death, for Christ sake! She owed him. She often wondered aloud if Luc is really that which he appears to be.

It was a question that was tossed around quite a bit at St. Mary’s. Father Fournel had condemned Luc’s soul to hell long ago, though he put it much more delicately when Marcel and Marie were within ear-shot. They never condoned Luc’s substance abuse, but they didn’t seem to mind his prolific use of cuss words. They too used profanity extravagantly and creatively; they had taught the son to swear with infinite grace. They tried to ignore all the hoopla surrounding his miracles and chuckled when questioned about it, saying simply, “Well, I don’t know anything about that—he’s a hell of a fisherman though. Always has been”.

Luc threatened St. Mary’s Church. He was part of the Church, in a way, and yet completely detached from it. He was without reverence, respect or morals—his only connection to the Church was his love for its inherent sensuality: the building and the incense. When faced with the question of how to deal with the supernatural meat cutter, the Church was ambivalent. The members were excited by the excitement surrounding a miraculous, unofficial member of their congregation. But Luc refused to identify himself as a member.

Father Fournel’s reaction was the strongest and most insistent. He was St. Mary’s most respected and longstanding priest. His name had recently been suggested for Bishop. Since his emotional argument discussion with Luc, he had become even more conservative. No longer did he jack off into his dirty toilet—he was repressed in every possible way and it manifested itself in anger. Luc’s insistence on freedom and enjoyment of carnal things infuriated him; he knew how dangerous Luc’s message really was. He resented the attention Luc received; the suggestion that Luc was Holy, or even special, seemed like a slap in the face. Father Fournel resolved that Luc should be excommunicated from the Church, and if possible, he should leave the City of Calgary altogether.

Christmas was fast approaching and, as usual, it promised to bring in previous regulars, many of whom had heard of Luc’s miracles. They wondered if the strange man would make an appearance at the annual Christmas Mass. Tales of Luc’s magic circulated and were often exaggerated. If someone asked Father Fournel who this man from the East was, he would simply and calmly say, “He is a fraud, probably sent here by Satan to distract the Lord’s Faithful during the Christmas season”. Fournel’s condemnation did nothing to detract interest in Luc Louis, however. If anything, his condemnation provoked people to talk even more excitedly about the miracle man in their midst.

Luc was fully aware of the mixed bag of wonder and anger he provoked. Marcel and Marie suggested that he stop attending their Church and while he traditionally attended midnight mass with his family, he was noticeably absent that year. Maria skipped the service too, making it her mission to look past the bong resin and cuss words that followed Luc wherever he went. She wanted to see his sacred heart and begged him to come to her house on Christmas Eve- even telling him that he could bring some pot as long as he smoked on the balcony. She wanted her best friend to meet the man she had been talking about for the past year.

The evening started out awkwardly. Luc chose, for the beginning of the evening, at least, to remain sober. He worked the late shift that day and though the store closed early for the holiday, he was tired. He cut a lot of meat that day, mostly turkeys, which are horribly cold and time consuming. He lacked his usual wit and buoyancy- they’d been replaced by anger, the usual companion to his sobriety. Upon entering Maria’s apartment, he drank a beer, very quickly, and immediately requested another. It took the edge off a bit.

Maria’s friend Mericia, was surprised by the sight of Luc. All she could see was a fat Frenchman with an inordinately large moustache. She found him friendly enough, but dull and grotesque, progressively so as the evening went on and more beer was consumed. She looked on in horror as her friend ogled the man; a sentiment that turned to rage when, upon Luc’s offer, Maria joined him on the balcony to smoke.

Maria had never smoked prior to that evening and Mericia knew it. When they invited her to join them on the balcony, she was adamant in her reply: “No, I don’t do drugs.” Soon, the pair opened the frost covered sliding door and came into the living room a-gigglin’. While Mericia was upset at her friend for abandoning her Christian values to appease a second rate, fat-assed Frenchman, she noticed a sea change in Luc as soon as he stepped in from the cold. All of a sudden, he was hilarious. After a couple glasses of wine, Mericia let down her guard a bit, even dropping a few f-bombs herself. She became almost as enraptured by Luc’s lengthy monologues as her friend was.

All night long, Luc complained about the injury he had sustained the previous week while receiving a large order of frozen turkeys at the butcher shop. “So, I’m halfway through the fuckin’ cleanup. Nick fucked off somewhere. He was probably talkin’ to that sweet lil’ blonde from the deli I’m pretty sure he’s fuckin’ and ‘Beeehhh’, fuckin’ back door buzzer rings. Keep in mind, I’m fuckin’ drenched—I take my clean-ups real fuckin’ serious, y’ know—I use sanitizer, a couple bottles of it, as well as this fuckin’ concentrated orange cleanser I found on the shelf a couple weeks ago. This shit costs about $20 for a 250 ml. bottle and on the fuckin’ label it recommends diluting the shit with about 20 gallons of water per spoonful. I use four fuckin’ bottles of the shit every night I work. Don’t cost me nothin’; I grab it off of the fuckin’ shelf—smells like oranges too—beautiful stuff. Anyways, I go to the back door and ol’ Liza’s standin’ there with a thousand-piece order on the back of her big ol’ semi. No room in the fuckin’ cooler—full of turkeys, the power jack is fuckin’ dead and the loading dock is covered in about an inch of ice: I’m fucked. I know this.” Luc was spilling his beer all over Maria’s already stained Berber rug; she paid no mind.

“So I start haulin’ the fuckin’ turkeys in. Keep in mind, these fuckin’ pallets are stacked above my fuckin’ head—200 fuckin’ Turkeys per skid—most of ‘em weigh 20 lbs or more—do the fuckin’ math, Maria, I cant“.

“4000 lbs“, she answered quickly.

“Yeah, some fuckin’ thing like that—anyways, one of the fuckers gets away on me—pushed me into the fuckin’ wall—I’m lucky Nick came back when he did—he’s a good shit, horny little fucker! Then, the next day, I’ve gotta price these things, which aggravated everything. I’m telling ya, that fuckin’ fridge is gonna kill me!”

“Well, Luc, you know that I give massages for a living and I often work for trade. You gave me some of that green shit you smoke all day and a few beers too—I think I owe you one! “ Luc smiled. He knew that Maria had magic fingers though he never let on that he did. He was not presumptuous; choosing his trees carefully before pissing or barking.

“Well then, you got one of those fuckin fold out tables?”

“Yip”.

Maria crawled atop Luc’s back. He stripped down to his underwear as did she, under the guise that she didn’t want to ruin her clothes with the expensive oils she had poured liberally on his back. He became hard as soon as he felt the mound of her crotch dig into the small of his back; oil mingled with her vaginal fluid in the creases of her finest panties—she rubbed.

What Luc and Maria engaged in that night was far more intimate than sex. Senses were piqued and quickly denied. Not a word was spoken between the two. Instead, they listed to music drip from her cheap transistor radio. It absorbed them, summoned them and dared them to taste its invisible challenge; both of them refused. Luc was as overwhelmed by the strength of Maria’s fingers as he was by the planet of sound they visited in the early morning hours of Christmas day. By then, Mericia had passed out on the couch, an obvious invitation for the two to consummate their mutual attraction. They didn’t, inexplicably, for they both wanted to. Luc walked home instead, clad in clothes and fine massage oil.

Chapter Sixteen

Luc continued to avoid the Church until spring. While he saw the Christmas season as a farce, Easter was still somewhat untouched by consumerism. He had always loved Easter, he loved the spring and the smell of Lilies. It seemed unnatural, even sacrilegious, for him to consider missing the services during Holy Week. Unbeknownst to Luc, there were a number of people who were waiting for him to make another appearance at the Church.

In February, Father Fournel had been promoted to Bishop; most of the people silently rejoiced. He was much more suited to an administrative position; he wasn’t much of a people person, and never had been. He had really awful hair, reminiscent of Jack Van Impe, a televangelist who prophesied the apocalypse on late night TV. Fournel’s sermons were always devoid of humanity as was his smile, which was permanently plastered upon his placid, boring face.

Jim Baker, Fournel’s successor, was the complete opposite from the Bishop. He was bald, and very human. He jogged every day and did his best to identify with his parishioners. He had heard many rumors about Luc and was curious about him. Fournel instructed Jim to stay away, but these warnings only fueled Baker’s curiosity: he asked Marcel and Marie about their son’s recent activity.

“I don’t know, really. He’s been working a shit load of hours.”

“Where does he work?”

“He works for Calgary Co-op in the butcher shop.”

“Which one?”

“I’m not sure, exactly, he’s always transferring. Last time he phoned he was working at the one on Richmond Road. You shouldn’t go in there though, he fuckin’ hates it when people visit him at work, especially if he is in ‘the Zone’, as he calls it. He’ll probably be back for Easter Sunday, though now that Fournel’s gone, he always seemed to have it out for Luc.”

“Easter eh?” Baker’s mouth moved as if chewing gum, as it always did when he was deep in thought.

“Well, I’m not totally sure—the store’s open on Easter Sunday. Can you believe that? It’s sick! He’ll probably phone in sick though… well, I don’t know.”

“How about Palm Sunday?”

“Doubt it, regular hours that day”, he said.

“Lets plan for him to show. I want to welcome him back!”

“Why?”

“Your son’s something special, or so I hear.”

“Yeah, well, maybe.”

Father Baker was excited. He told all of those attending the Church the week before Palm Sunday that they would welcome a special guest to next Sunday’s service. When he mentioned Luc’s name, the congregation split down the middle. Pro-Luc-ers were headed by the flamboyantly gay Neil, who, quite literally, owed his life to Luc. Others, mostly those whose nerves were upset by the gay man, were not as thrilled by the prospect of the return of St. Mary’s prodigal son. They used conservative theology to justify their disdain. “Shouldn’t we focus on Jesus instead of some heathen butcher who only shows up when he feels like it?”

“Everyone should feel at home in the House of God”, Baker replied.

“But you’re right, we should be focused on Christ and I think that Luc might have a unique perspective on Jesus! Talk about salt of the Earth! This guy is the essence of saltiness; I think he’s even been charged with assault on a couple occasions!” Baker had a penchant for pun. “Let’s throw him a party on Palm Sunday! Let’s welcome all of the outcasts to the Church!” With that, it was decided.

Baker woke up early Palm Sunday. He read his Bible, he said his prayers, and he lit some incense and ate his breakfast. Then, he prepared for the arrival Luc Louis. He had purchased several sheets of green construction paper at Shopper’s Drug Mart the previous evening, knowing well Luc’s penchant for weed. He made a unique addition to his template. The palm leaf template Baker made resembled Pot leaves, ever so slightly. You’d have to look for it to see the difference. His design was subtle as was his bait.

As Baker began to cut the template for the first leaf of many, something odd began to happen. Microscopic crystals began to form on the surface of the paper: to Baker, the crystals looked like salt. He tried to scrape them off the construction paper with his thumbnail, but they clung to the green cardboard. The more contact his hands made with the crystals, the more exultant Baker felt. “This is gonna be the best God-Damned Easter ever!” he cried aloud, quickly crossing himself to counter his profanity, though it excited him.

Baker got to the Church, giddy the service. The people who had volunteered to help with the cutting of new leaves didn’t notice their Priest’s take on the sacred palm; none of them had seen a pot plant before. He felt a bit guilty as he observed arthritic fingers negotiate teeth bordering the leaves, but thanked them as he collected the fruits of their labor. They were happy to help out as they were all quite smitten with the new Priest.

The service began. Father Baker distributed the makeshift, cardboard palm leaves to the eager hands of the participants, mostly women and children, who showed up for the dramatic component of the service that day. The people started waving the green banners to nobody in particular, though they secretly and frantically searched for the man they heard would come.

They all expected a freckled Adonis. They thought Luc would be wearing robes, glistening and white, though disheveled and obviously slept in. They expected long, flowing Samsonian locks of hair and a trim, athletic physique. The expected a bit of stubble, wild and manicured. They expected him to ride in on a Harley, or a Hummer, at least, something that made a lot of noise, and burned a lot of gasoline. They waited.

Luc phoned in sick for work that morning. While he could have had the time off with no questions asked had he made a formal declaration of his status as Catholic Métis, he was never fond of formal pronouncements of faith. He tried to reason with his manager, who, characteristically by-the-book, gave Luc an application for special religious status which Luc later used to make filters for joints. He phoned in sick instead.

Luc was driving his friend’s Nissan Micra. The car was an abysmal shade of red and it burned oil, but it was great on gas and reliable on the coldest of winter’s days. The car was equipped with an amazing stereo, probably worth as much as the car itself. Luc pulled up to the Church with music flowing from all four windows; he rode in smiling, almost triumphant.

He was surprised by the reception he received. Friends and strangers alike waved their leaves at his borrowed car, which responded by belching a cloud of smoke in their general direction. The handicapped stall close to the large Oak door of the Church tempted Luc, but he settled for an open stall in the far corner of the lot. He arrived just in time; the car stalled as he pulled into the center of the yellow lines. Before getting out of the car, Luc shook his head, wondering if he had imagined the uncanny resemblance the palm leaves had to marijuana. Luc usually stayed sober for Mass, but he indulged before breakfast that morning. His head was buzzing as he pulled the delicate latch on the side of the thin door of his friend’s vehicle.

The event was ignored by Calgary’s major newspapers and TV new shows. The event never happened, according to the national news. But to those whose lives were touched by Luc, it was important day. It gave Luc confidence, to be welcomed by those who had once despised him. Tears flooded his glassy eyes as people formally shook his big right hand. He actually felt at home and sat with his parents in their regular pew. He was blessed by Father Baker’s eloquent and disarmingly liberal sermon. Everyone welcomed Luc to the service that day, some were genuine in their welcome and others were not.

After the service, Luc went to his parents’ house for lunch. Marie was thrilled. From Luc’s infancy, it had been her dream to sit down to a succulent venison roast after a Church. On this day, her dream was realized. She eagerly looked on as her son devoured the feast she had prepared. She was so distracted that she hardly touched the food on the plate before her.

“So Luc, what did you think of Baker’s sermon? He’s a lot ‘cooler’ than Fournel, eh?” Whenever possible, Marie tried to use slang phrases she heard on TV. Luc rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, he seems like a pretty good shit- what’s his take on Neil?” Luc scraped his spoon across plate for any remaining morsels of potato or gravy he may have missed.

“He’s been very supportive. He said he’s willing to pay Neil’s way to a seminar in the Kanaskis called ‘Homosexuality: A Catholic Perspective’”. Once again, Luc rolled his eyes.

“I don’t know ma, I’ve always said, ‘Once a Fag, Always a Fag’—I don’t fuckin’ understand it, but that’s the way it is.”

“I’m still under the distinct fuckin’ impression that some of the fuckers there want to drive me out.”

“Aww, Luc, you’re just being paranoid. We were there. You so us wavin’ at you with those palm leaves, which were designed by Father Baker, by the way! Everyone shook your hand after the service! You wouldn’t believe how many times your father and I have been asked about you! They love you there!”

“Yeah, like they love Neil? They wanna change me into something I’m not! Fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em all! They can all suck my fuckin’ cock!”

“Luc.”

Marcel’s sole syllable made his son’s eyes descend back down to his plate. Not another word was spoken until desert, which was Marie’s special: apple pie.

“Luc, Father Baker has spoken to your father and I personally. He thinks you’re special in some way and he wants you to come back to the Church. You should think about it. I know you’ve had a rough time there in the past, but I think things are really starting to change. Plus, Maria seems to be talking about you quite a bit lately. Imagine how nice that would be. We’d have the world’s cutest grandchildren!” Marie quickly slipped into her baby-talk coo. Luc groaned, but was turned on by the prospect of creating such a child with Maria.

Marcel slipped into a meditative silence. He thought about Angel Dean’s words that night long ago. While he often dismissed the events that night as a dream, the by-product of sausage indigestion, many strange occurrences had surrounded the short life of his youngest son. The fish, of course, but also the moustache, the birth and the bird talk. And now, a Priest speaks about Luc with an heir of reverence? While Marcel pretended not to notice, he knew that his son participated regularly in a number of questionable activities. He knew that Luc had, at a very young age, cultivated a huge pot habit.

Marcel had a mentality that prized hard work above all else. He had worked hard to provide for his family. He’d worked hard at his marriage. Marcel had also worked hard for his beloved Church, from cleaning toilets to counting the weekly offering. Now, after many years of absence, Luc returned to the Church and was welcomed with open arms. The only times Father Baker spoke to Marcel it was regarding Luc: he never once thanked Marcel for his hard work and dedication to St. Mary’s Luc stole his father’s thunder at Church just as he had always done at the dinner table. Luc consumed half of Marie’s pie, which immediately added to Marcel’s frustration. Luc then left promptly upon finishing his desert, undoubtedly, to go smoke a joint.

Chapter Seventeen

Luc considered the invitation that had been extended to him by his mother on behalf of the Church. His first instinct was to violently slap away the Church’s outreached hand and spit on the cheek of the She who, for as long as Luc could remember, had rejected him. It would have been the easiest thing to do, but Luc never liked to do things the easy way. It would have been easier for Luc to produce pumpkin pot, it was of a higher quality than the plants he grew from seed, but he loved the process of light and water and time. It would have been easier to have fucked Maria the night she brought relief to his aching back and he obviously wanted to, but he went home and jacked off instead.

Easter Sunday was a week away. Father Fournel, now Bishop Fournel, had agreed to visit St. Mary’s on Easter Sunday. Father Baker wanted to speak at the Church’s most important service of the year. He had been preparing a sermon for months and wanted to prove himself to both the people of his congregation and the new Bishop. His request was denied, however. Of course Fournel would speak; he was the Bishop, after all. His former congregation should be honoured to hear what he had to say. Father Baker was disappointed, but swallowed his pride. He gave a warm welcome to Bishop Fournel and shook his hand before giving the pulpit to his new boss.

Bishop Fournel worked hard on the words he spoke that Sunday. He knew the congregation well having been on staff at the Church for over twenty years prior to his promotion. He knew who would embrace his words and he knew who would ignore them. He had no problem speaking to a divided crowd, his words, in fact, were designed to widen the gap.

Half of the congregation was comprised of those Bishop Fournel affectionately referred to as ‘the old guard’, These people, mostly over the age of fifty, saw the Church as a beacon of light in the world– a light that emphatically, shouldn’t be sullied by the darkness, so visible in this filthy world. Fags, lesbians, whores, the disabled; all of these groups posed a threat to the purity of the Church. In recent days, members of such groups had been invading the Church: sometimes, they even had the nerve to share the same pew as the faithful. Even worse, the new Priest sympathized with them.

Neil was most outspoken member of the Church’s group of outsiders. A recent return-ee to the congregation, Neil established himself quickly as the leader of “Outsiders Within”, a prayer group of homosexuals, homeless, and other social minorities who attended the Church in spite of its obvious disdain for them. The group was very socially active, often serving food at the Mustard Seed. It was their belief that everyone is a child of God and that the Church’s mission is to help such people. The group gained momentum, much to the disdain of the old guard.

During his time at St. Mary’s, Father Fournel did an excellent job in navigating safely between the two groups. He gave grey answers to black and white questions. Upon being asked, over a chaperoned coffee with Neil, if it was possible for a homosexual to enter the gates of Heaven, Fournel paused and after a few sips of his latte said, simply, “I don’t know.” His response disappointed Neil, but it didn’t anger him. It was better than what he had become used to as a homosexual Catholic and much left of the Roman Catholic Church’s ‘official position’ on the matter. Neil wanted more though. Every night he prayed that God would bring a different breed of Priest to the Church. In Father Baker, his prayers were answered.

Father Baker entered St. Mary’s with a splash. His ‘trial sermon’, one that he had given a hundred times or more, cut the congregation in half. It was as eloquent as it was informative. The man was obviously well read, but he wasn’t bookish, per se. Not surprisingly, half the congregation loved him and half didn’t. While Fournel argued passionately, in private meetings, that Father Baker would inevitably be dangerous to St. Mary’s unity, he lost and Baker was made Priest. Two weeks later, Father Baker gave his first sermon as Priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

The sermon was based entirely on the life of Christ. Father Baker invited his listeners to imagine that Christ had waited in Heaven for a while, choosing to arrive in Calgary instead of Bethlehem. He asked his parishioners where Christ would hang out. Excited, Neil screamed out, at the top of his lungs “Detours”- most of the congregation had no idea what Detours was and those who did pretended not to. Father Baker, at the time, didn’t know that Detours was the most notorious of Calgary’s gay bars, but he said

“OK, sure, he’d probably be at Detours… anyways, the point is, we’ve got to get out into the world…” Nervous laughter turned into shock. Neil wept; his savior had come.

Before arriving at the Easter Sunday Service, Luc thought about the two leaders of the Church. Luc still wasn’t sure what to make of Father Baker. Everything he had heard about him sounded good, but he feared that Baker wanted to make a project of him, to sanctify him in Holy Fire. Conversely, Luc knew exactly where he stood with Bishop Fournel. As Fournel took the pulpit that morning, he shot a look at Luc that made his blood run cold. Luc’s presence that morning got to Fournel. He stumbled on his words throughout the service, every time he did, he shook his head and glanced at Luc, who sat between his parents in the third pew from the front. After Bishop Fournel gave his closing prayer, Luc rose and gave a rousing applause. He stuck his blood stained fingers in his mouth and let out a whistle, too. Fournel gripped the Pulpit in front of him tightly, his knuckles white.

Neil was the next to rise. His eyes met Fournel’s eyes. Neil’s actions were a silent command fir the rest of the congregation’s outsiders to do the same. They stood with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Fournel stammered: “Please, this is the house of the Lord, not some Burlesque show. Stop your clapping immediately!” But the outsiders in front of him were beyond his command. His cheeks went scarlet, contrasting his paper white knuckles and white robe. “This is not possible” he mumbled under his breath. He left the Church in haste.

The outsiders’ ironic applause was a testament to their defiance of their former shepherd. Those who supported Fournel, Marcel included, sat still and grave. Those who opposed him clapped violently, seemingly unawares that the whole entire sermon was meant to put them in the crosshairs of Roman Catholic Church. Their applause was violent, Luc’s especially: his hands called down the thunder.

A cloud of night-black crows descended upon the domed roof of the Church, blocking incoming stained glass light. St. Peter’s image disappeared, replaced by the dark cry of feral crow. It was a small victory for the outcastes; human and animal alike. As Fournel walked to his car, he was shat upon by the warm sticky goo of crow shit. He cursed the birds as he tried to wipe their orange-red paste from his collar.

After the service, Luc gave a sermon of his own in the garden behind the Church; he sweat profusely as he spoke. “I just don’t understand all this shit I heard this morning about rules. Seems to me that when Christ was down here, it was the people like the Bishop, obsessed with rules that wound up killing him! I’m pretty fuckin’ sure that if he were to come back down here, the Catholic Church would probably off him before the Jews had a chance. The way I see it, Jesus’ only message was love! The rest is fuckin’ bullshit! Yes, theology can be fun. Yes, these rules might make a good crutch, but I think we’ve become obsessed with trivial, unimportant things like how many people we choose to fuck or how often we make it to Church in a month. What happened to love? They were on to something in the Sixties! Instead of jumping on board with the youth who had some fucking ideals, we wrote them off as heathens! The Church has a sickening tendency to draw big fucking lines between ‘us’ and the rest of the world—Catholic/Non-Catholic, Straight/Gay, Virgins/Whores—fuck that shit man, I’m not doing it anymore. I’d prefer to be fuckin’ crucified than to write off the entire fuckin’ world as corrupt and impure! Look around! It is beautiful here! Look at the sky! Look West at those big ol’ fuckin’ mountains! Look at the crows! Look at each other, not simply in non-judgment, but with Love! It was his only command and it is being ignored daily by cock-suckers–no offense, Neil–in pews everywhere! Love! For Christ sake, Love people.” With that, Luc rode off in his borrowed Micra. Blue smoke choked the small group who were left speechless by his words. What he had said made sense. What he said was dangerous.

Chapter Eighteen

After Luc’s left people began to think out loud about what they had heard. The people who chose to gather in the garden that day were on the liberal side of the Church’s divide, but even their response was mixed. Neil was among those who were adamantly in favor of all Luc said. He was, in fact, was completely devoted to Luc. Certainly, he detected Luc’s homophobia, but he noticed that Luc’s fear was neutralized by his overwhelming love and compassion for all outsiders, homosexuals included. Only a few would shared Neil’s unwavering support.

Most of those assembled were more dismayed by Luc’s words than encouraged. Luc spoke the Gospel but he did so at the expense of the Church. Many writhed at Luc’s comparison of modern day Catholics to Pharisees of long ago. They valued the Church—they had grown up in it, and though they eventually had grown apart from it, eventually, they had found their way back home. They enjoyed being outsiders. Following Luc would definitely threaten their status as Roman Catholics.

Father Baker was also in the garden after the service that day: he was incredibly discouraged by Luc’s impromptu sermon. He’d initially wanted to welcome Luc into the fold. Marcel and Marie, who were noticeably absent at their son’s speech, were among the Church’s long-standing faithful. They were quite conservative in their theology, though they were interested in Father Baker’s liberal thought. He had hoped that Luc would share his parents’ investment in the Church but it was obvious that he didn’t. Luc’s words were flammable.

Father Baker, a recent convert to Catholicism, cherished the tradition Luc dismissed; he had given his life to the Church. But the potential Luc had! Before Bishop Fournel left, he told Father Baker two things about Luc. First, he told him that Luc was dangerous. Second, he told him that Luc was strangely pious. The seeming contradiction didn’t surprise Baker. In his youth, he had developed a fascination with Thomas Merton, going as far as to have the monk’s image drawn in permanent ink on the shoulder of his right arm. Baker saw a bit of Merton in Luc—it was the primary reason for his initial attraction to him. Merton remained a member of the the Church right up until his death in 1969. His loyalty distinguished him from Luc. Baker, didn’t write Luc off entirely though. He saw Luc as a diamond in the rough, he just needed some polishing was all.

Father Baker was perceptive enough, however, to understand that Luc would see polishing as more futile and degrading than helpful. He knew that Luc liked being different. He had probably fought it as a child, but now, more confident, valued it above all else—including the Catholic tradition which valued the health of community more than the individual. Luc was more Whitman than Merton. He sung the song of himself, while basking in the odor of his own perspiration. Anything else, to Luc, seemed uncivilized.

Even after Luc’s message, Father Baker continued to hope that, one day, Luc would snap out of his prideful immaturity and embrace the Church. In the afternoon of Easter Sunday, Baker phoned Luc and left a rather lengthy, unrehearsed message on Luc’s answering machine: “Luc, this is Father Baker! I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your enthusiasm for the heart of Christ this afternoon! I think you, in the future, will be an important part of the life of this Church! There are a few things you said that I would like to talk with you more about—give me a shout, my number is… BEEP” Luc heard the message as it was being recorded; he neglected to answer the call because he was busy rolling a joint in the living room couch, his cat purring beside him.

While hesitant to admit it, Luc wanted a friendship with Baker. He liked the man’s style and was flattered by the attention Baker bestowed upon him. Luc had been chastised for his liberal theological ponderings as a child, but Baker seemed to nurture, rather than judge, Luc’s theology. Upon hearing the message, Luc quickly dialed the number Baker left on his answering tape; the men arranged a coffee date for that afternoon.

Chapter Nineteen

Luc’s recent re-introduction to the Church terrified him. He felt much more comfortable criticizing the Church than attending it. His instincts told him to run. He was scared to drink, once again, from the Church’s old communal cup of Catholicism; and yet he was extremely drawn to Baker. He was excited about their meeting.

Luc and Father Baker met at the Second Cup in Westhills, a development had always struck Luc as absurd. He remembered a time when the land, now used for consumerist addiction, was, exclusively, the territory of cattle. The songs of cows had been stolen from the windblown Alberta soil. Luc liked Second Cup Coffee, however, and he loved the beautiful, young, nubile baristas who served it to him. But he hated the surrounding pavement and the people who walked on it. He could see the mountains from there though and if he looked hard enough, he could see right down to the bottom of PickleJar Lake.

By the time Father Baker pulled into the parking lot, Luc had consumed eight cups of coffee and almost a whole pack of cigarettes. He basked in the sun like a cat. He wore black sunglasses, which made people watching more discreet. Luc enjoyed nothing more than creating stories around everyone who came across his field of vision, though he was often disappointed by the boring lives of those who spent their afternoons driving Mustangs and SUVs in search of money-made, impossible happiness. These people never changed, though their hair-color often did. The men talked business, shoes and suits and the women talked about the stars. Luc struggled to find something redeemable about those that surrounded him. He thought such thoughts as Baker slapped him on the right shoulder.

“Luc! How ya doin’? Can I buy y’ a coffee?”

“Sure! Just tell ‘em it’s for me—I get my ninth, tenth and eleventh for free!”

“Cool! Whatcha drinkin’?”

“Americanoes, mostly—four creams and six sugars! Thanks, man!” Baker carefully crafted his words before he set Luc’s coffee on the metal table. Luc was too busy analyzing some blonde in front of him to even notice his friend had returned.

“… I’m still thinking about what you were saying at Church today, Luc! That was great, brother! I could tell that you were speaking from the heart—it’s something that I try to do, but it’s hard to turn on and off, y’ know?” Luc was annoyed by Baker’s predictable intro but he smiled anyways.

“Yeah, I don’t even remember what I said—hope I didn’t piss anyone off—I tend to do that, its part of my fuckin’ personality.”

“Well, you said some pretty controversial stuff, Luc.”

“What’d I say?”

“Well, you said some pretty heavy stuff, Luc. You pretty much said that the Church is going to Hell and you weren’t exactly preaching to the choir, ya know?”

“I said that? God.” He chuckled mischievously.

“Do you really believe that Luc?”

“Agghh, I don’t know, do you?”

Baker chuckled nervously and ignored the question: “I just don’t understand what you would choose to attend a Church that you consider to be damned and if anybody’s damned it’s the people sitting in those fuckin’ pews every Sunday.” Baker bit his tongue and took a big sip from his coffee to compensate for his silence.

“I think that you’ve been called to our Church, Luc. I think you could bring a unique and startling message to many who attend.”

“I think they’re more likely to string me up than actually listen to anything I have to say, Father. I think I’ve had enough of those fuckers; I know more about them just by looking at them than they’ll ever know about me, or the Gospel, for that matter. Fuck ’em; pearls to swine like the man said.”

“Well, aren’t you compromising yourself then? You said that these people are lost and you’re just gonna give up on them?”

“They gave up on me first! Aside from Maria and Neil, my parents, y’ know; they all want me outta there!”

“There are others, Luc, who like what you have to say.”

“Wait a fuckin’ second, here; did you like what I said?”

“Kind of… most of it, I liked.”

“Well, I refuse to speak anything other than my fuckin’ mind, so fuck this fucking bullshit about self-editing. I can’t do that. I won’t”

“Luc, if you want to be in the Church, you can’t run it down like you’ve been doing—you probably know what our Lord said about a kingdom divided against itself: it doesn’t work, it will not stand.”

“Well, fuck it then. I’m not askin’ for any authoritative position there, anyways. I rarely go to Mass. I just like the fuckin’ candles and the incense; fuck the fuckin’ people. They can all suck my big fuckin’ cock!”

“You realize that by saying that you are disobeying your call.”

“What fucking call? How do you think those fuckers would respond to me saying I was sent by God to tell them that they got their shit back asswards? You think they’ll listen to me? Fuck that, man. They’re tryin’ to run me out and I’m not even really in. They’re a waste of my fuckin’ time—you can’t polish a fuckin’ piece of shit; you, of all people, should know that. You’re the next to go, you know.” Again, Baker took a large sip of his bitter coffee; Luc had, by then, finished his.

“Ok. Let’s ‘fergetaboutit’ as you say. How are things going with you? I never asked.” Baker realized that Luc was finished with the subject at hand. He took his time before answering.

“Well, y’ know, same ol’ shit. I’ve been workin’ 50-60 hours a week—I can get all the overtime I want over there. I love cuttin’ meat, but the rest of it is bull-shit. The managers are a bunch of stupid fucks. I think they want me out of there too; I’m not just being paranoid or dramatic either—I’ve been written up a dozen times in the past few months, even suspended, yet, I’m savin’ all their asses every time I take an extra shift. It’s fuckin’ bullshit man. I’m droppin’ down to thirty two this summer—swear t’ Christ.” Baker pretended to listen; he was fascinated by the limitless passion bestowed upon Luc, by God, no doubt. He spoke about his profession with the same passion and devotion he did with the Christ. Baker only wanted to speak about Luc’s future in the Church, but he had, momentarily, conceded.

“How ‘bout you? We’re kinda the same, you know; handin’ out blood to the masses. I jus’ swear more, is all.” Luc was giddy in the afternoon sunlight. His hands quaked with excitement and excess amount of caffeine and nicotine in his system.

“Glad you asked, Luc” Baker replied, seeing his opportunity to bring the conversation back to the Church, “I’m really excited about this congregation. There is an openness at St. Mary’s that I’ve never felt anywhere else. They’re really hungry.” Luc noticed the Priest’s slip into cliché; both men discretely rolled their eyes.

“I don’t know,” Baker recovered while surveying the concrete, “I guess I love the same place you hate.” Luc was silent.

“Luc, I think you are an important factor in the future of this Church; I wanna tell you that. You say things that I am not able to say; that I want to say, but I simply can’t, you understand? They need to be said.”

“So, what, you want me to be your fuckin’ shield? You want me to be a puppet that takes all the shit? Fuck you. Grow some fuckin’ balls. What do I have to gain by going to Church every fuckin’ week just to get shit on?”

“Money.” The word slipped out of Baker’s mouth; he regretted it as soon as he said it. Luc shut down the moment the word was said, spilling Baker’s coffee on the steel table. Both men scrambled to clean up the mess.

“OK, Father, you can go fuck yourself,” Luc was enraged, “You mean to say that you’re fucking bribing me to do the dirty work you’re too fuckin’ chicken shit to do? Fuck off. Leave. Go back to your fuckin’ hole and do your thing. I don’t wanna see it. Go.” Baker got up quickly and walked to his car. Luc remained there until his familiar barista asked for his chair. Then, he went home to smoke a joint.

Chapter Twenty

After the conversation with Father Baker, Luc went into a silent remission. He phoned in sick for work for the entire week. He had a doctor that was more than happy to give him a note. Instead of cutting meat, Luc tended to his household plants, full-time. It was spring, after all.

Over the years, Luc had amassed a plethora of plant life, all grown from seed. His prized plants were not the pot plants that he kept in his modest closet under high intensity light. Rather, it was the vine he had been growing for years, which sought to consume everything and everyone who ventured into his modest apartment. Sometimes, when he fell asleep, the vine wrapped itself around Luc’s arms. It took over the apartment with green, delicate ease. Luc would often speak to her tender leaves with low, loving tones, further provoking her growth.

The plant informed Luc’s thinking tremendously. He thought of the miracle of life often with his plants as an over-riding reference point. He thought about British Columbia a lot, too. The will to life in face of the wind. Life burst from the cement there, while, in Alberta, it tended to wither in the most tended-to of gardens. Luc wanted to leave, to move to Victoria, but was compelled, by a force much greater, to stay. For the next week, tended to his garden. He pruned, trimmed, watered, watched and loved his plants. He learned much and spoke little. Energy reserves, for this introverted soul, were nourished. He finally gained enough energy to return to the old oak pew of St. Mary’s Church.

Luc was surprised, upon his first visit to the Church one Tuesday afternoon, to find many people waiting there for him. He eased into his familiar altar and, for two hours, he prayed. He wept that day, for his own irreverence. He had been, quite consciously, forsaking the true root of his own being. He felt arrogant, and crossed himself for his own piety. He knelt and cried ambiguous tears.

As Luc walked down the front steps of the Church, he was greeted by a number of the Church’s new members, most of whom had been recruited by Neil who was also amongst the crowd. “Hey, Fuckers!” Luc addressed them jubilantly, hiding his recent outpour emotion. “You’re back!” Neil screamed, unable to contain himself any longer, “Where have you been?” “Well… the Garden of Eden, I guess”. None of the people in the crowd had ever been to Luc’s home; many, in fact, assumed that he didn’t have one, so his words appeared to be much more cryptic than they really were. They loved Luc, without even knowing him, and they embraced his words reverently. “Ya know, you can more about theology from plants than books. Wanna hear it, hear it goes…”.

Luc hadn’t planned on speaking that day, but the crows feeding at the dumpster across the street inspired him. Unbeknownst to Luc, or anyone else at the Church, one of the crows translated Luc’s words to the other black birds: “For too long, theology has been the hand-maiden of Philosophy. The fuckers ‘ve drained all the life and vitality from God’s marrow. I think it is the Apostle Paul’s fault, but let’s not get into that fuckin’ debate. The other day, I asked my self a question, I said, ‘Self, how does God choose to reveal himself to the world?’ Seems to me that it’s mostly through nature. What better illustration is there of God’s transcendence than the infinite nature of overarching stars; we are, quite fuckin’ literally, specks of stardust, floating around in some galaxy in a strange, cold universe. What better testament to God’s immanence than the panicked chaos of sub-atomic shit. These lil’ fuckin’ electrons can be in two fuckin’ places at the same fuckin’ time, y’ know. How’s that for some fucked up shit? What did Jesus have to say about it? He described God as a fuckin’ plant! Now why the fuck doesn’t the Church look to the plants in search of God? Why do they get all fuckin’ abstract in theological discussion? Lemme tell ya why. It’s because by doing that, they remove God from the world! They can fuckin’ do away with it, destroy it and roll their fuckin’ eyes at the world and everyone in it. It just don’t make any fuckin’ sense to me that they’ve given up on the world which is so fuckin’ filled with God himself. Sure, he’s is here at this Church, but he’s sure as fuck in Glenmore Park too and you’d better believe he’s at the Cecil and yes, Neil, he’s at Detours as well; maybe even more so than any of the other places. So fuck the dehumanizing philosophical bullshit! Jesus was a fuckin’ story teller and that’s what I’m gonna be too! That’s all I want to be. To me, God’s more like a plant than ‘immutable’ whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. So go to Church if you want, you might even find God there, but you’re more likely to find him in a blade of grass, or a crop of lil’ mushrooms growing on a big ol’ piece of shit somewhere in Bowness Park; trust me. Come here if you want to, but I sure as fuck don’t see myself in these fuckin’ pews every Sunday; I don’t even see myself in this fuckin’ city for too much longer. I don’t see it as a big loss to you, since most of you don’t know me, so don’t start to get all emotional on me now. Plus, I have a feeling that there will be a new member amongst you soon who will be much more of a blessing to you than I have been. I’m pretty fuckin’ unreliable and I can only be in one place at a time, but she, she’s gonna blow your fuckin’ minds!” Luc summoned some phlegm to the back of his throat and projected it half way across the street toward the crows. A few flew over to inspect it, mistaking it, at first, for an edible gift. Luc left. Those who remained were speechless again, by his words.

Chapter Twenty One

It wasn’t until the blue smoke from Luc’s Micra had lifted, that those left standing at the Church began to speak amongst themselves as to what they had heard. “What the fuck is he talking about? Neil, do you have any idea?” Neil was also stumped.

“I don’t really know. I wish we could have recorded it somehow. He speaks too quickly for me to get most of what he’s saying. Today it was plants and atoms—what the fuck? I really don’t know.”

“Is he leaving, Neil?”

“I hope not. We need to convince him to stay, but he tends to get claustrophobic with too many people around. I will try to talk to him.” They left the Church in silence.

By the time the people Luc spoke to that day returned home, Luc was at Weaslehead Park with his closest friends and Father Baker. Luc had cooled down since the Second Cup encounter and wanted Baker to meet some of his brothers; he thought it would give the priest some context for his ideas and values. When Luc introduced his friends to Father Baker they smiled in his direction and shook his hand, but instinctively didn’t trust him. Neil also showed up that evening; Luc had left a message on his answering machine giving him instructions. Luc’s friends were surprised that he had invited a gay man, but they were much more comfortable with him than they were with the priest. They all sat near the banks of the Elbow.

The group built a fire and had settled into the evening when, suddenly, an unexpected guest arrived. Luc, Father Baker and Neil were the only ones to recognize the face of Fournel illuminated by the campfire. He was not alone. A few weeks prior, he had been contacted by the Canadian ambassador of the Roman Catholic Church in regards to Luc Louis. He was told that he must excommunicate Luc from the Church and he was more than happy to do so. He had left a message on Baker’s machine the very day Baker had coffee with Luc. Baker told him where Luc would be that evening.

Upon Bishop Fournel’s arrival, Father Baker excused himself from the fire. When he came back, he had four police officers at his side, all of whom were carrying flashlights. They were eager to blind those settled around the campfire with their 2000 candle power lamps. They brought dogs too, which terrified Luc’s friends, most of whom had possession of various illegal drugs.

Luc was the first to speak. “What the fuck is this all about?”

“We are looking for Luc Louis” the High Priests and police officers spoke with voices united, stumbling over the alliteration of Luc’s name.

“Well, I’m right fuckin’ here—turn off the flashlights for fuck’s sake!” Father Baker sidled up to Luc, pretending that he had nothing to do with anything. He sat beside Luc silently. Tears filled his eyes as Luc rose to meet the authorities.

“I am Luc”

“Well then, you are in luck, we are lookin’ for you” said one police officer. Prior to the incident, the authorities had devised a plan of attack, which gave the High Priests the first crack at Luc. “Luc Marc Louis, you are officially excommunicated from the Holy Roman Catholic Church. You are no longer welcome at St. Mary’s, or at any other Church for mass or private prayer.” Luc, obviously shaken, hung his head in shame without curse or speech. Upon witnessing this, Neil rose and struck the High Priest with a stone he had pulled from the hearth. Luc quickly pushed him aside and gave the fallen Priest a toke from the joint he was smoking. The Priest, too shaken up and confused to refuse Luc’s offer, breathed deeply and rose from the ground. The bruise on his face disappeared instantly and he felt strangely at ease.

The Police stepped then stepped in. “Luc Marc Louis, you have the right to remain silent…”. His wrists were bound by platinum bracelets and he was led away from the hearth. His friends, high and paranoid, ran from the scene. Having just lost their friend, they were shaken, but not surprised. For as long as they had known Luc, he had been on a collision course with the law.

Only Neil remained by the fire. One of the officers approached “How do you know this man?”

“Um, I don’t really. I just saw the fire and they gave me a beer… I wasn’t smoking any pot though…” It was the first of three lies, the first of three curses.

Chapter Twenty Two

Luc was taken to Central Police Station in downtown Calgary. The police had been on the look-out for him for many years. A number of dealers caught selling pot had pointed to Luc as their supplier. Up until Father Baker had approached the police about the illegal fire, Luc had managed to evade them. Many police officers visited to holding cell to catch a glimpse of Luc Louis.

Back at Weaslehead Park, a few of Luc’s friends had re-congregated around the dying embers of the fire. Nathaniel, Michael and Neil sat, in complete silence, trying to comprehend the events that had just taken place. It was four AM when Neil finally broke their stoic silence. “We’ve gotta go down to the station and see if we can bail him out, guys.”

“Agreed.”

The men rose simultaneously from their earthen seats and walked quickly to Neil’s car on top of the hill. They pulled up to the Glamorgan police station ten minutes later to discover the station was not yet open to the public, so they shared a cigarette outside the front doors and waited.

Chapter Twenty Three

At 6:00 AM, Isabel Douglas finished her fifth straight graveyard shift. She was relieved of her duties by Claire, who arrived, predictably, half an hour late for work. In their seven years of working together, the two never go along. Isabel didn’t even say good morning when Claire arrived hurriedly and apologetically. Isabel was tired and cranky that morning. She looked forward to going home, closing the blinds and cuddling with her cat before sleeping through the morning. She opened the front door to find Nathan, Michael and Neil fighting sleep, leaning against the wall.

Upon hearing the door to the station creak open, Neil jumped to his feet. “Hey! Can you help us out? Our buddy was arrested last night and we were hoping to bail him out. Do you know if he’s in there?” His words weren’t received kindly by Isabel for a number of reasons. First, he spoke with a very prominent lisp and Isabel had always hated ‘faggots’. She was tired too and had no desire to “talk shop” with a homo–her shift was over.

“Look honey” Isabel replied condescendingly, “I’m done and I’m tired. Are you a member of the offender’s family?”

“No”

“Well, are you his ‘significant other’”

“No! Certainly not!” Neil laughed at the very thought of it. This would have been on of the few occasions that his sexual persuasion would have been an asset; he should have lied.

“Well, there’s nothing I can do for you then, honey.” She didn’t allow him to reply, turned her back, and walked toward her Jeep Liberty. Neil stood in front of the cop shop completely devastated.

Meanwhile, at the downtown station, Luc sat by himself in a small holding cell trying to sober up for his inevitable questioning. He chewed his gum voraciously, hoping it would over power the pot on his breath. He wished he had picked up some Fisherman’s Friends on the way to the fire the night before; the lozenges had always been the most effective way of ridding his mouth of the skunky smell of pot smoke. Every once in a while, a guard passed by his cell and taunt him. “Hey you, stupid bastard, I hope you realize you’re fucked.” Luc ignored the taunting, chewing his gum with even more gusto: his jaw muscles, by now, were on fire. It was a sleepless night.

The arresting officers wrote their statements. They emphasized that not only was Luc high when he was arrested, but also that he was in possession of a large bag of pot, which they assumed was for the purposes of trafficking; the bag had been seized. A request was made for a warrant to search Luc’s apartment. It went through very quickly and soon a drug investigation team forced open the door to Luc’s apartment in Bankview. They seized seven adult plants, all female and all gargantuan, as well as one hundred clones. Miraculously, the plants were completely odorless until the police began to destroy them. As soon as the plants were pulled from their fertilized soil, they released an aroma as strong as a frightened skunk. All of Bankview and most of Mount Royal, breathed deeply the sleeping spirit of green crystal. Inhabitants of the neighborhood saw things that had happened long before and that would continue to echo throughout eternity. The officers on the scene were especially affected. They went home, and dreamed dreams of death and rebirth.

Luc overcame his own high as all of Bankview succumb to theirs. The Crown Prosecutor got to the police station at 9:00 sharp and met with Luc and his lawyer at 10:30 after reading the THC induced accounts of the officers who had made the seizure at Luc’s home. Luc was accompanied by his attorney, Neil, the obvious choice for legal council at Luc’s hearing. Still exhausted from camping out at the Glamorgan Police Station the previous night, Neil guzzled coffee for clarity. Luc also drank deeply as the Crown Prosecutor read out the pronouncement.

“Luc Marc Louis, a squad has seized over one thousand pounds of marijuana from your home at 06:00 this morning. The drugs have a street value of over $500 000. You are faced with the charge of growing marijuana with the intent of trafficking. The prosecution will propose a 10 year sentence. Bail will be set at $100 000. Do you or your attorney have anything to say at this moment?” Luc wasn’t at all surprised at the hearing; Neil was—every muscle in his body tightened.

“Your honour, I must say that I am surprised by the formal charge brought against my client. I was under the impression that he, my client, was facing charges of illegal fire and maybe a minor charge for possession. I was unawares of the grow-op and I will have to reconsider my current position as his attorney. I will notify you immediately upon reaching my decision.” As soon as Neil gave his formal statement, which was dictated by a faithful scribe, chaos broke out: someone had pulled a fire alarm at the police station.

Luc was hand-cuffed and led out of the building. Neil followed and disappeared into the crowd. This was the third time he had betrayed his friend. He was embarrassed and guilty of a crime much greater than that of his client. He was free, however, and he fled.

Calgary’s lone busker was the first on the scene. Before the news reporters were informed of the events on – street, Chet was there with his guitar, harmonica and kick-drum; he played lonesome songs to those who had evacuated the Police Station and casting his spell over the crowd with a song called “1 000 Lb. Eyelids”. Everyone who heard Chet sing immediately fell into a deep dark sleep. Luckily for Luc, who had lost much of his hearing at a young age courtesy of a high-fi and a decent pair of head phones, Chet’s song fell on deaf ears. He smiled as his captor dozed. Luc walked away from the scene a free man, once again.

Luc took the 112 bus to Maria’s apartment. She had awoken early that day and saw the news coverage of the chaos downtown. She heard of an escaped prisoner and the description matched that of Luc. Maria expected that she would never see him again and fainted upon seeing his face. Several minutes later, she was awakened by the smell of strong coffee: it reminded her of pre-faint memory. Luc was no longer there, however. There was a cup of coffee on the table beside her. She drank it quickly, burning her lips and mouth as she ran out the door to bus stop.

Marie also rode the bus in search of her son. Maria saw her waiting at a stop just a few blocks from Luc’s apartment and helped her up the stairs of the bus. They didn’t speak much; they both knew. Soon, they arrived at Luc’s residence. The women walked hand-in-hand down the hallway, which still smelled of pot. They saw police tape on his doorframe, evidence of those who had come in the early morning hours. They were surprised to see that the door was open: a beam of light shone through. The women were afraid to enter until they heard the lonely croon of Luc’s cat in the living room.

The cat’s cry, combined with the overwhelming scent of the seized pot intoxicated the women. The cat’s purr seemed to spoke to them in a distant language, unclear: “Be not so fearful: come, take rest on the couch. Luc is fine.” The women entered the living room trembling. Both of them removed their shoes: Maria, her pumps and Marie, her Birkenstocks. They surveyed the raped and ravaged confines of Luc’s living room garden. Only the vine remained; dirt and nitrogen covered the shag carpet.

Maria and Marie sat on the sofa. The cat addressed both of them. By now, they were weeping: Maria, especially. She had just met Luc and he had bestowed upon her the strength to endure. He was one of the few men she had ever met, who wanted more than to get into her pants. He got into her head, instead. Even in her weeping Maria consoled Marie. The women trembled; the cat cleaned her face.

“What the fuck are you crazy bitches crying about?” the cat asked. The mournful were shocked by the cat’s coarse tongue.

“Are you fucking kidding me, man?” Maria screamed “How the fuck do you plan to eat without Luc here to feed you, you little… SLUT!” Maria’s secret jealousy towards the feline was exposed. The cat stretched leisurely before replying.

“And why do you think you’ll find him here?” The cat asked, now cleaning her belly. “Both of you knew Luc well enough to know that he never really felt at home here. He’s gone—left about an hour ago. You might find him if you follow your instincts. Also, he mentioned something about a bear and a tattoo parlor on 33rd avenue, but I’d say he’s probably left town by now. You’re right though, Maria, I do need to be fed. He left some food under the sink. Will you take me home and care for me? He assured me that you would.” Maria, suddenly realizing that she was speaking to a cat, fainted, this time, into the arms of Marie.

The women then saw an apparition of he who they had been seeking. He was unrecognizable as he stood in front of them. “Women, why do you weep?” Maria was amazed by the stupidity of his question.

“Why do we weep?’ Look at what those fuckin’ pigs did to this place. It’s fuckin’ destroyed—and he’s gone! It will be years before he gets out of jail and for what? For growing a few fuckin’ plants? What are they going to criminalize next, cat nip? This is fucking bull-shit. And who the fuck are you? A detective? Where is Luc? Tell me, for Christ sake!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, settle down there, little lady!” It was him, Maria and Marie both realized. Once again, Maria fainted.

Marie shrieked: “My boy! You are out! How did you escape? Her tears of joy fell upon Maria’s face and she came to: “Luc, you’re ok!”

“Yeah, the fuckers will never hold me. I’ve gotta go though. Tell dad I’m alright and that I might be back some day, but for now, I’m fuckin’ gone!” Luc walked quickly towards the door. Marie and Maria tried to intercept him.

“No, no, no” Luc demanded “Maria, I can’t think of huggin’ ya without getting a fuckin’ woody and my ma’s here—it’s a fuckin’ conflict of interest” With that, he vanished into thin air. The women stood silently with mixed feelings of happiness, surprise, relief and sadness. They knew that Luc would be gone for a long time.

Chapter Twenty Four

After the invasion of the campfire at Weaslehead, Luc’s friends went their separate ways to collect their thoughts and to try to move on. They were sure that Luc’s charge had been increased from a mere fire charge to a drug trafficking charge; they, of course, were right. Mike decided to have all the boys over for beers to discuss how they might be able to help their friend. Though music blared through the windows of the apartment, the mood was somber that evening. Luc’s absence was very noticeable.

“Fuckin’ pigs, man. Why the hell are they so concerned with a little fire in the woods anyways? Chicks get beat up every fuckin’ night in this City—homeless people killed just ‘cause they’re homeless. Yet, the fuckin’ swine are too busy bustin’ up campfires and putting people in jail for a little bag of weed to do anything about it. Fuck that shit, man. Has anyone heard from him at all?”

“Naw, I phoned his ma the other day, but didn’t get an answer. I guess Marcel’s refusing to pick up the phone too and they don’t have an answering machine.”

“What’s all that shit about what happened down at the Central station the other morning?”

“Yeah man, I heard about that too; guess someone pulled the fire alarm or somethin’. The Police are keeping pretty tight-lipped about it.” Nachos were pulled from the oven and the group was silent.

When the nachos had all been eaten, the men retired to the balcony for cigarettes. Their chatter continued, never straying from their missing friend. Nathaniel opened the balcony sliding door and saw a dark figure picking through the remnants of olives and onions and cheese on the baking sheet on the table. “Who the fuck are you?” Nathaniel demanded, a little scared.

“I give up: who the fuck are you?” the figure echoed. Nathaniel knew immediately who the man was.

“Luc! Wh..H.. what the hell? What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Cleanin’ up the scraps. You guys left a lot of good shit on this tray here!” Luc had always been a scavenger, shamelessly so, sometimes going so far as to eat abandoned food from adjacent tables when they went to the pub on Wednesday nights; Luc hated waste.

The exchange between Nathaniel and Luc brought the other men off the porch; Luc was once again surrounded by his best friends. After cleaning the tray sufficiently, Luc let out a massive belch, releasing a large white cloud into the room. His friends stared at him and were intoxicated by the white smoke. Dale stepped toward Luc: “Who are you?”

“You know who I am, Dale”

“Impossible: I saw you arrested, you’re a fuckin’ imposter!” Luc wiped his fingers with a piece of paper towel and rolled up his sleeves. He held his wrists out to show all of his friends, they were still crimson and sore from the handcuffs.

“It’s me, fuckers, swear t’ Christ.”

Dale, who had always been tactile, reached out to Luc’s wrists and ran his fingers across red-groove. Luc, who was usually apprehensive about touching other men, struggled against his instinct: his arms remained outstretched. “Believe me now, fucker?” He said with a wide grin.

“It is you” Dale confessed before receding back into the crowd of friends.

“This is probably gonna be the last time you fuckers see me. Now, I’ve spent most of my time here with you and I want you to remember me. I want you to tell the rest of the fuckin’ City what I told you. Life is to short to waste yer time lookin’ at the concrete and artificial lights instead of the mountains. Be woodsmen. Make this purgatory your heaven and see it for the paradise it is.”

“What the fuck are you gonna do Luc?”

“Well, I’m thinking I might go back to my paradise for a while” he looked intently at Nathaniel and Michael and they knew. “But first, I’m gonna get a tattoo of a big ol’ Grizzly Bear on my arm. Then, I’m gonna get a fuckin’ cat; they’ve always been a good emotional barometer for me. They lemme know if I’m getting a bit too nuts. Then, West! You guys gotta promise not to look for me though. Those fuckin’ pigs are probably tryin’ to track me down right fuckin’ now. You’ll all probably be watched so don’t do anything stupid for a while.” Luc’s friends all looked at their toes.

Chapter Twenty Five

Neil, who had only known Luc’s friends casually, was forced to deal with the loss of his friend, healer and mentor all by himself. He felt guilty for modify his interpretation of his association with Luc and went to the banks of the Bow River to think about things. He brought his fly fishing rod along with him. It had been years since he had last used it, but it seemed to be the right thing to do. The rhythmic movement his cast calmed him. He was surprised to discover that he cast well, without much effort, but two hours went by without a single bite.

Neil was negotiating with the fly he had caught on a protruding log when a figure approached him from downstream. Neil was so focused on retrieving his barbed hook from the bark of birch that he didn’t even notice the man. Neil was tempted to give his line a sharp tug and hope for the best, but it was his last caddis fly and the spawn had just begun. He forgot his waders at home, so the fly was out of reach. The stranger stepped on a stick, finally getting Neil’s attention. Neil gave a dismissive nod; he wanted to be alone.

“Pull down sharply on the line,” the stranger said, “that log’ll come loose, trust me.”

“I’ll manage, thanks though” Neil replied, trying to mask his lisp. The stranger’s presence frightened him.

“For fuck sake Neil, just do it.” Startled by the fact that the stranger called him by name, Neil gave a half-hearted downward tug on the line. Immediately, the hidden, underwater portion of the log rose to the surface of the river, setting off an elaborate chain reaction.

A frog had firmly attached itself to the submerged portion of the log. The frog flinched, as his resting spot rose to the surface, attracting the attention of a sturgeon passing by. Such prehistoric fish are not official members of the Bow River. While they are known to inhabit Edmonton’s South Saskatchewan River, there had been no prior documentation of the prehistoric, alligator-like fish in Calgary’s largest river. It was a truly unprecedented occurrence.

The frog’s sudden panic forced the sturgeon from its usual state of calm and it opened its mouth zealously, biting into the frog’s left leg. The sturgeon’s jaw locked on the log like a vice and the frog escaped leaving only its left back leg for its predator. The frog swims in circles eternally. Meanwhile, the fish writhed, trying to free itself from the log. Neil struggled to hold onto the cork-grip of his rod, expecting the line to snap at any moment: the line was ten pound test and it was old, damaged from ten years of sun exposure in Neil’s garage. The line stretched under the weight of wood, sturgeon and left frog leg, but it didn’t snap. Neil struggled to stay on his feet on the shore, leaning away from the strong river current in front of him. He started to reel in his prey and the man behind him chuckled manically.

It took over half an hour for Neil to bring the fish to shore. His forearms bulged and burned; sweat dripped from his nose and his jaw was clenched. By the time he got his prey close enough to grab, he had forgotten about the man standing behind him, whose word had caused the chaos. The man leapt into action as soon the beast’s head was visible. He dove upon the log and grabbed the fish by the gills, detaching it from the log with powerful hands. Once the fish was free, she fought with every ounce of strength she had gathered over the past hundred years. The figure got on his feet quickly. Water filled his shoes as he leaned back onto the shoreline. A tremendous battle ensued.

The fish had the advantage of many years of stubbornness, but the disadvantage of quickly depleting oxygen levels. The man’s strong fingers squeezed potential breath from the gills of the monster, whose eyes were becoming cloudy and dry. The war between man and beast was one of attrition. Oxygen or lack thereof, won the war for the burly figure who had fought with tremendous gusto. It took about fifteen minutes to drag the entire body of the beast to shore. She was over six feet long and weighed 200 pounds. Neil, who lay on the shore two meters from his fallen prey, finally summoned the energy to retrieve his prized caddis fly from the log. It was then that he identified the stranger: “Luc, it is you!”

It was Luc’s third revelation and it would be his last. The men lit a small fire on the river bank. They feared attracting the wrong kind of attention again. Luc then carved the fleshy cheeks from his defeated, armored foe. Butter bubbled in the pan next to the small flame. Neil was too shocked to speak until the first buttery morsel hit his lips. “You’re leavin’, aren’t ya Luc?”

“Yip.” “Guess you don’t have much of a choice—how’d you escape anyways? I’ve been watching the news and I haven’t heard anything. Yeah, fuckers are probably embarrassed; they literally fell asleep on the job— HA! Dumb cunts.”

“Where are you going, Luc?”

“I’m going to a place where you cannot follow.”

“What should I do?”

“You’re doing great by the looks of things. Keep on keeping on, watch the river flow, tend to those lost fuckers at the Church.”

“I can’t go back there.” “

You must go back there.”

Luc was adamant.

Silence again, save for the chewing of fish and the spitting of small bones. The fire was reduced to smoke, hidden by the descending darkness. Luc disappeared. Neil restoked the fire, and kept it burning until morning.

Part Four

And so, I’d written it— some profane ode to Luc and to Christ and to Riel and, to, mostly, myself. No longer faithful to any story of the four stories, I had composed something new. I am not sure, however, if I composed anything good. The response I would receive over the following months would suggest otherwise.

I had also managed, through writing the life of Christ, in a bastardized way, albeit, to gain some perspective on my own. As I sat down at the pub every day, I laid out the beer stained remnants of my own manuscript, but I also laid out the old King James Version of the New Testament, Christ’s words in red, that my grandmother had given to me only months before she passed. I read the book of John just as devoutly as the most devoted monk. And I learned.

I learned that the man who was written about over two thousand years ago, was much more than what followed. I learned that in the heat and confusion of all that had transpired since he himself scrawled his own mysterious words in the sand so long ago, only to disappear immediately into oblivion, that something had been lost. If only I had found it.

I found anger instead. The rage I so liberally injected into Luc’s black ink veins was passed on to me as well: he became easier and easier to write as I became more and more like him. And I was becoming him. I had developed a sizeable belly, by that point, a physical testament to the absurd amounts of beer I had poured into my gaping mouth over the months of the story’s composition. I grew a moustache as well, just for the hell of it. I was a terrifying person to be around.

Not stopping at becoming Luc physically, I also became him in terms of personality. After sitting at the bar for upwards of eight hours, flying high on having written some tremendous amount of words, which I would count meticulously after finishing up, I would often search for a table to drop in on. I sought out friends and, if I didn’t find any, had no problem engaging acquaintances or even strangers, scalding them all with my righteous indignation.

I ranted about Margo. I ranted about George and the police. No subject or person under the sun was blank from my scorn. I thought myself to be impressive: the words which flowed from my mouth in manic streams were indeed some profane poetic, but I was only entertaining myself. Others would move to different tables or make as if they had to be somewhere. I offered to buy them another beer to try to make them stay and if that didn’t work, I moved to the next table, cursing those who had left me behind at the table previous.

By the time I got home on those nights, I was simmering to a boil and Margo got to deal with me, as always. I would boil a pot of hot water for my habitual Ichiban and without bothering to ask her how her day was, or what was going on in her life, would launch into some rant about the lecherous fucks I had been watching at the bar. I would eat my noodles, often burning my tongue on the bowl’s steam, and pass out, exchanging my drunken rant for a drunken snore. I would often awake in the middle of the night alone, she forced to sleep on the couch, away from my thunderous snoring.

I would wake up the next morning, take a Tylenol and boil some thick coffee in our copper pots, get through the day at work (at this time, I was working at a farm just outside of town shoveling shit) with only the promise of the bar and the words I hoped to write to get me through. And I wrote.

I think I came close to freeing Christ from the sanctimonious skin he had been sentenced to almost immediately upon giving up the ghost. I’d created a palimpsest, of the most ignobal variety, drawn into the condensation of ever present beer mug. And I went with it.

Suddenly, I felt inspired to write. I beckoned for yon waitress to fetch me a blank bill and a pen from the cup beside the computer at their communal station and wrote the acknowledgements for future book. They read as follows:

Acknowledgements (Now Ironic)

First of all, I want to thank the wonderful staff at the Beagle Pub, for being so kind and welcoming to me as I borrowed their electricity and beer for the duration of this project (and I only say I ‘borrowed their beer (for I most certainly paid for the stuff) as, before leaving, I would often return it to them, albeit in a transformed state, via their urinal aquaducts in the men’s room. You are all wonderful; I would most certainly call you by name, if I were able to remember them. To the Beagle waitresses, you are muses every one. Without you, I certainly would not have completed this novel nor left the pub every night with a hard on.

Secondly, I want to thank the Church, for giving me more than enough material to rail against in this novel. Fuck you all, I choose Christ instead!

And lastly, I would like to thank Margo. Margo, you put up with me for much longer than most would… we almost made it! If you are reading this, the first few pages of the published form of this novel, you will undoubtedly regret leaving me, but don’t bother trying to get a hold of me: I am now gone.

I had, by then, lost my mind, you see.

It took me a long time to regain any sense of perspective. Having, in my mind at least, completed the novel, I quickly launched into a long campaign of self promotion. I started a blog, on which I syndicated ‘new chapters’ of the novel weekly. The blog was ‘promoted’ by a communication company, also of my own creation: Frog Communications, I called it. Frog Communications quickly set to work, building a Facebook Site, a Twitter Site and even a You Tube Channel (on which the ‘reclusive writer’ read portions of the novel by candle light from his comfortable arm chair in his living room). I became an expert at self promotion, much to the chagrin of all those within my ever-extending reach.

The culmination of all of this effort came on a cold night in February, when I organized a huge party in my own honour to celebrate my acquisition of a top-notch editor from the University of Victoria. I had no money to pay her, so I threw a massive party, where I gathered some of the Island’s best musicians, poets and writers to open the evening for me. The party actually went fairly well.

Our house was much too small to host the event, which had grown to a guest list of well over one hundred people, excluding those performing. Luckily a good friend, then residing in a massive, multi level abode in James Bay, offered her place to us and so, we set forth: guitars, bottles and harmonicas filled the house with squeels, clinks and hums, respectively.

I had already sent out the manuscript to a long list of people whom it would be most offensive to. At the top of this list was a former professor of mine from Bible College. The man was my mind hero, the most well read human being I had ever known: he still is.

I thought that Dave would appreciate the book’s Christ narrative, to the point of being able to ignore the vulgarity maintained throughout. I hounded him every day, asking if he had finished reading, to no reply at all. I assumed he was too busy phoning every literary agent he knew, telling them that he had found a prodigy: a blank writer who, at the tender age of twenty eight, possessed a full command of the English Language. The day before the party, I finally received his response to the novel’s first draft. It strayed from my expectations, slightly.

The letter read something like this:

Nick

I finished reading the revised edition of Milk & Honey on Friday morning. Since then I have been mulling the book over in my mind. I resolved not to damn you with faint praise or palliate you with faint criticism. Here is my response.

I did not enjoy reading the book at all.

If I am reading a book merely as escape literature, (like a Baldachi novel,) I did not find it entertaining. If I am reading a book that develops a serious motif in a fictional form, (like the Cameron movie Avatar) I was not sure what that theme or themes might be in Milk & Honey. If I am reading a book that offers religious insight or critique in novelic form, (like “The Shack” or like Camus’ “The Plague”) I could not tell what your message was.

I am also puzzled by the question, “Who is audience you had in mind when your wrote this?”.

– Teens? – who may be cynical of anything the older generation thinks important, and this book was their voice, which says, you are not alone? It did remind me of John Stewart in the Daily Show who loves to offend the ears of the more staid news watcher and cast ridicule on all.

– Those churched adults who feel trapped inside institutionalized Christianity and want a more relational version of life? (Why the RC church and not the evangelical churches you know more about and are as often corrupted in their own way?)

– The straight-laced “Pharisees” who would be gratuitously offended on every page, who would not read far, but whom you had stuck in the eye with a sharp stick in passing?

– Yourself? Had you been pregnant with a “clever” idea (taking the life & significance of Jesus, and writing a parody of it by creating a messiah-figure that would be as controversial to Canadians as Jesus had been to the religious community of his day.) This book then brings to birth a book for your own fulfillment, whether it would ever be published or not. (I am writing a book right now that is for me to bring pregnancy of a decade to conclusion, and after it is finished will decide whether its for my eyes only, or for wider dissemination. The obits of J. D. Salinger of “Catcher in the Rye” fame speak of an author who for the past 40 years has written continuously, but only for himself not for us!)

When you first began (two years ago when I read the first few chapters) I thought you were going to write an “AntiChrist Novel” who, according to apocalyptic devotees, would imitate the actions of Jesus to seduce the world in following him instead of God. So as your recent version developed, I thought you were going to tell us how Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming with its “rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ slouches towards Bethlehem to be born” would appear. I saw similarities in your book to some of the content of his poem.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre (Your crows)

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; (The anarchy of your central character)

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; (your constant use of profanity and vulgarity)

The best lack all conviction, while the worst ( corrupt clergy)

Are full of passionate intensity. (Your central character in almost every scene)

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand. (A new messiah has come to Canada)

But your figure was not a very convicting “evil person” or a “good person” just a very adolescent person who at every stage of his “development” remained immature. I began to suspect that this was not an anti-Christ book after all (thank goodness!). So I stayed puzzled.

It seemed like a story without a plot. It was a collage of mini-stories, with each piece having its internal meaning, but it was difficult for me to sense the coherence of the whole. When I began the reading of the 2010 edition I began correcting the text for style, punctuation & spelling etc. Then I realized that the difficulty was in the whole, not in its parts. Perhaps the style was in imitation of the way some speak in the down town core of an urban world. So I began to read more rapidly and in bigger chunks to get the “feel of the whole”. I thought perhaps that the confusion I felt was like that which I experienced in reading John Irvin’s “A prayer of Owen Meaney.” His conclusion, in what I think is the very best last chapter of any book I had ever read, made sense of every other part of the book, just as Sherlock Holmes makes things finally clear to dull Dr. Watson. Alas, your last chapter did not illuminate the whole or give coherence to the previous parts.

So were there any redeeming features? I do not think so. (No faint praise intended!)

You raised curiosity about your strange mustachioed protagonist, and that’s a good thing. But I missed the significance of the mustache and the book’s title, and other details, and my curiosity remained under-satisfied. You raised hopes and then dashed them.

Your book was never boring (Dorothy L Sayers does say that heretics are never boring: one of their few virtues!) so kept me hooked, particularly since I am a well versed student of the gospel story who could read the biblical allusions quickly.

So in conclusion: Are we still friends? The Book of Proverbs reads, “Better the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy!”

Dave

(Break)

My hands began to tremble upon reading the first line and became only progressively incapacitated as I read the letter through several times. I almost cried upon the realization that in only one day, I would be hosting a party in honour of a complete and total piece of shit. I went outside the coffee shop from which I borrowed wi-fi in order to read Dave’s email and chain smoked an entire pack of cigarettes. I then walked home.

For five years, I had endured suffering and torment unparalleled. I had drank myself into toxic shock, I had starved myself, I had put my relationship in jeopardy compulsively. The only thing I cared about was the novel’s well being. I had created an identity around the novel and, especially upon moving to Victoria, I had built my life around the words therein— playing the role of the tortured artist, becoming a method actor in the process. And all was for not.

I hoped that maybe Dave had suffered some kind of intellectual stroke and, unable to see the truth I had bestowed upon him, and anyone else who was lucky enough to read the impossibly unpublished manuscript I had given to him. I took solace in the fact that many other pairs of eyes were undoubtedly going over the manuscript as I was thinking these thoughts and perhaps those eyes would be able to see what I was trying to say. I gained confidence with such thoughts.

So, with the strength of those thoughts as well as many a beer, I managed to get up to the microphone at the party held in honour of the ‘now-tarnished-novel’ in James Bay on that February night. I tried to use Dave’s momentum to my own benefit, reading his letter, in its entirety, to the party that had assembled before me. I was further encouraged as his words were met with a chorus of boos and hisses that more resembled a football game than any reading I had ever been to. And with that encouragement, I began to read the chapter that will end this novel: and the people applauded, giving me a rousing standing ovation. I wept, this time, tears of joy. I had discovered the novel’s audience.

The excitement was short lived, however, as after the party I received more and more disdain for words I had so eagerly sent out upon ‘finishing’. I have compiled several into one, for your pleasure:

Dear Nick,

Since Dave Ashton has already rained on your parade, I will step into the critic’s shoes while they’re still a little dry.

I can’t offer you the kind of insightful and knowledgeable critique that Dave presented you. I’m simply not well read enough – nor brilliant enough. What I can tell you is how I liked the book and the reasons for my response.

I am, I’m afraid, like Dave in that “I did not enjoy reading the book at all.” It was not easy to read. It was not easy for ME to read.

I’m been thinking over the weekend about WHY I didn’t like it. I read, not as much as many, but quite a lot and from a pretty wide variety. I read what I do for basically three reasons: for the message, for the pleasure (of plot and wordsmithing), or to learn something/be inspired. Milk and Honey did none of those things for me.

1. The plot, while promising at times, got too thin at many other times and did not compel enough to make me care about the characters or, in the end, the story. They were interesting characters at times, especially at the beginning, but they turned out to be people I didn’t really care very much about. I couldn’t find who they really were. Nor could I find a message. As I read I kept thinking, ‘What is Nick trying to say with this novel?’ At the end I really couldn’t say what you were even trying to address. Sometimes when I read things, there is a hook or an aftertaste for me when I can’t really put my finger on what the author was trying to say, but it nevertheless nags at my thoughts. Even if I didn’t like what I read, it stays with me and that is a form of success for the writer. This didn’t happen with Milk and Honey. You had an opportunity to grab my thoughts but it didn’t really work.

2. Nor was it a pleasure for me to read. Talk about feeling poked in the eye with a stick. Language is an instrument that skillful wordsmiths use to evoke understanding and emotion. Your wordsmithing provoked frustration in me. At times, you write beautifully, capturing and using the language like starlight. There were moments when I stopped and thought, “Whoa, that was a beautiful sentence.” But more often than not, it was the stick in the eye. I don’t think I’m especially offended by an abundant use of obscenity. At least not for a born-and-raised church girl. But there is a point when obscenity (in speech or writing) becomes nothing but empty calories. Words just filling a conversation or a page because the speaker is too lazy or ignorant or angry to come up with anything better. I felt that way in Milk and Honey, barraged by page after page of conversation that could not find anything more insightful to say than ‘fuck’. I felt frustrated as I read – not just about the plot or the characters but about Nick’s failure to come up with more creative character conversations. You take shot after shot at many golden calves but for what reason? Poked in the eye with a stick but never told why. I finished with ‘sore eyes’ … and I don’t know why! At times it was just painful: like watching someone kicking a cat over and over just for fun.

3. So if I didn’t get a message and I didn’t enjoy the reading, did I learn anything or get inspired? What I learned from reading Milk and Honey is that Nick has talent and passion for the writing craft – and I think Nick has something to say. But I don’t think Nick has figured out what that something is yet. Milk and Honey reminds me of “angry art” – a venting of passion done with a bit of skill but in the end inconsequential to anyone but the artist. Like spitting in the wind. I really do think you have something to say. Maybe even something important to say. But Milk and Honey is like a person passing you on the street and saying “fuck you” and then moving on. It startles, it offends, it may even hurt. But it doesn’t get beyond that. If you really want to say something, then craft it in a way that goes beyond simply making YOU feel better. Craft it so that we – at least some of us – can get what you’re trying to say about and to us. Or are you trying to say anything? I don’t know. And that’s the point.

My experience of reading Milk and Honey reminded me of my reactions to Kerouac. I would not go so far as to say you’ve accomplished the kind of wordsmithing skill of Kerouac yet! Nevertheless, I know that you probably take that as a compliment. J But you may remember I really really didn’t like Kerouac’s writing. I found it self-indulgent, narcissistic and nihilist. But that said, my understanding of the impact of, for example, On The Road, is that it captured the deep spiritual search of Kerouac’s generation (which WAS self-indulgent, narcissistic, and nihilist). For me, his writing reflects the personality of an adolescent drug dealer pushing a fractured reality on the world to appease and pleasure his own inner demons. You may be raging against something in your Milk and Honey, but I don’t think you’ve captured what ‘it’ is. And so it fails as an expression of any kind of authentic search or portrayal of a searcher and comes across more like an adolescent meltdown.

You said in your Friday blog “Why read…? Why struggle..? Isn’t reading supposed to be pleasurable?” For me, Milk and Honey was not worth struggling for. And it certainly was not pleasurable. By the end I just didn’t care anymore. Nor did I find the simple pleasure that comes from witnessing superb wordsmithing. You said “Are we not called to something higher than name dropping incessantly through a scarf?” When reading your stuff, I sometimes feel you are, if not namedropping, then trying too hard to be Wolfe or Kerouac and not hard enough to be Nick Lyons. Drop the scarf.

There. That is the deluge. I’m sorry. I’m sorry because I know you are passionate about writing and this, your first big project completed, has elicited a thumb down from at least two of your readers. And how does one so ruthlessly criticize a writer’s work without wounding the writer? So I’m sorry for the wounds.

But let me end my musings this way. You do have talent, Nick. And passion. Like any artist, you need to hone that talent and direct that passion. The line between truly great art and truly great meaninglessness is very, very thin. Writing is more than exhaustingly scribbling out stream-of-consciousness pages. Being a real writer is much more than taking on the lifestyle of a bohemian with a diet of pot and whisky in pursuit of some illusive inner revelation. It is finding a voice that communicates something. It is finding your true voice to communicate your true soul. And doing it effectively enough that people listen. So I guess the most important thing I can say to you at this point is: “What are you trying to say? And to whom are you trying to say it? And are you committed to the craft enough to really work at it?”

Brutal, brutal, brutal. Again, I’m sorry. Pain – I guess a necessary ingredient of any true artist.

But then again…what do I know? Really.

Thanks for the compliment in asking for my opinion. I hope in the end my response will have some worthwhile result. If not… chaff. It’s all chaff.

m

And still, I hoped for the best. I turned to my mentor, a former professor from my secular school days, for encouragement in the face of this barrage of negativity. Her reply was as insightful as it was concise: “Nick, you have written your goodbye letter to the Church and all of those within its walls with this novel and yet, you seem surprised that, upon receiving your ‘letter’ they are angry. Keep going, keep writing and get over it, Nick.” Again, briefly encouraged, I promoted the novel, continuing to faithfully send out, week by week, a chapter into the unknown and vast expanse of the internets. I was fishing blindly, until one day, I caught my trophy.

(Break)

One day, before work, I opened up my email to discover that someone had commented upon the third chapter of my novel. I didn’t recognize the name, an encouraging change from the regular comments by friends of mine, which were, sometimes, overly positive responses and other times, incredibly offensive and vulgar comments just to see if I, or anyone else reading the thing, would notice. It was the first taste of a readership outside of my circle of friends.

The comment began hesitantly: it’s author, obviously, did not know my name (I had somehow forgotten to provide such basic information online):

Dear Mam/Sir,

I have been following your blog for three weeks now. As soon as I read the twelfth chapter, the first I had the occasion to read, I immediately scrolled back to the first because the character you write reminds me so much of a person I once knew. He was a boy then, but had all of the earmarks you have described so well in the first chapter of your online novel. I realize this all must sound completely crazy.

But I must ask of you, a few questions. Feel free to ignore them, if that is your wish, or even delete them, should you feel compelled to do so. But I must ask you, is the character you have created here inspired by one Marc Chassie? I knew Marc all too briefly. He was my son’s dearest and only childhood friend. Though he was kind, he had a veneer about him, an all too thick veneer of brutality and rage, but my son saw through that and so showed me to do the same.

There are many parallels between your character and the boy I knew so long ago. For one, both are from Ontario, originally, and claim the French language as their mother tongue. Secondly, I met your Marcel and Marie (my blank and blank) on several occasions and I cannot begin to describe your characters’ similarities to the people I met and have since, upon the departure of my only son, drifted away from. It is almost disturbing to read their dialogue as it is identical to the blank and blank’s speech I once thought to be unique to only two human beings who have trod this part of our earth.

I am rambling now, please forgive me; but, please also, tell me. Is the man you write about, if it is, in actuality, based upon one man: is his name Marc Chassie. Tell me he is, or tell me he isn’t, but I need to know. I wait eagerly at my computer every week to learn more, to gather clues and often times you are late in blogging, if you do it at all. Please tell me. Again, I realize this must sound crazy.

Best Regards,

Blank Blank

As shocked as I was, I had to go to work. It was a most unproductive day.

(Break)

Again, I was faced with the fact that the man I had ‘created’, the man I had put on the page for the past three years, had a life independent from what, in oft drunken exhaltation, I had divulged. My first instinct was a selfish one. I feared that any information blank might divulge to me would be contrary to the character I so desperately tried to (re)create in my writing. The fear was misguided, of course. Upon further reflection, I realized that the only reason this woman had found me in the dark confines of the rabbit hole that is our modern day, internet realty, was because my character vaguely, if not explicitly, resembled her own. We were both searching for the same man and neither of us had known him for years.

We were in the same capsizing boat: trying to reconcile our own stories with a life still living, still dynamic, free from the comparatively stagnant waters of memory and literature alike. She wanted my help and, though reluctant at first, I knew I needed hers: I had finally reached the realization that Luc whoever he was or, indeed, is, hadn’t yet been captured by my cheap pen. And so, I wrote my response.

Dear Blank,

Thank you, first of all, for not only reading my blog, but doing so regularly. When I “throw it out there” every week or so, I do so with an imagined resignation to the fact that I am doing a more recent version of an old tradition, that I am throwing a noted bottle out into the ocean, allowing the sea to do what she must to the thing—undoubtedly destined for angry rock which will, at once, shatter the container and kill that which resides in glass belly. I had no idea, prior to receiving your well written letter, that anyone, aside from my ‘nearest and dearest’ had the time or the care to read, what I am more and more, coming to realize is a dead project. So thank you.

Secondly, with an elated heart, I can say that I believe we have a mutual friend. I worked with Marc, for ten years. If your letter is any indication, he left as big an impression with you as he did with me. I am very curious about your experience with the boy who would grow into the man I knew so well and, inconceivably, decided to write a novel about. I must warn you, that I have long since abandoned the thing. The initial response to what I once believed to be a ‘novel’, has been overwhelmingly negative, to the point of, quite literally, damning. I have given up.

But you, as the sole ‘fan’ of my work, might ‘benefit’ from my own pitiful resignation. I will give it to you, all at once, in its entirety. You will no longer wait, week by week, for my next shattered transmission. You can gorge yourself on its profane ugliness. You can drink the whole thing in with one massive gulp, undoubtedly to be followed by a cruel and unruly belch, with an aftertaste betraying the thing’s (for I have long given up on calling the thing a novel) lack of substance.

So, if you send me an email address, I will send you the ‘manuscript’, in exchange for a story or two about Marc in his youth. As you will see, I, the ‘creator’ of his life, have absolutely no idea as to who this person is anymore. You can be my guide.

I hope this letter finds you well,

N. Oswald Lyons

(Break)

I waited several days for a reply and received none. I went to the beach, with our dog, in hopes of distraction and found none. I starved myself, both literally and figuratively, and became depressed.

That letter was the truest thing I had ever written: it would only be read by one and, perhaps, her failure to respond was a testament to the fact that the letter was a hoax to begin with. Maybe one of my more literate friends had planned an elaborate prank to push me a bit further toward the edge in hopes that Frog Communications would cease and desist with its unrelenting promotion of its founder and president. I began to wonder.

By the time I received a reply to my truth, I had pushed the letter from my mind entirely. When I saw her name, once again, in my ‘inbox’, I scratched my head, wondering who this woman could be, until slowly, the ice of my unconscious repression melted. My heart quickened as I clicked on her message.

Dear Nick,

It is with incredible sadness that I reply to your response to my initial inquiry. I do not know what kind of criticism you have received thus far, but I beg you to ignore it all. I have read everything that you have blogged thusfar and have been encouraged by it. Though I am fiscally and professionally ‘successful’ I have, with the exception of your novel, been deprived of reading about characters who I am interested in. I could give a fuck about Jay Gatsby: I will never live in the 1920’s, nor will I ever inhabit the same social realm as he. I detest Dean Moriarty and for this, I am sorry, as it is obvious, if your writing is any indication, that you are quite infatuated with Jack Kerouac. But I don’t get it, never have: he told the Peter Pan story all over again, with his characters replacing flight with fast cars. Blah, fucking blah: and the man was a chauvinist to boot.

But with your novel, for the first time, I have encountered people whom I have, both literally and metaphorically speaking, actually encountered, sometimes reluctantly, but I have actually met them. Do you know how important that is? It is something that the Academy and critics alike seem to forget, that we read to meet people who we already know, a little bit, but want to know more. You are infected with a peculiar type skill, to feel not only sympathetic toward, but to actually be able to celebrate the, for lack of a better phrase, “rough-around-the-edges” characters you create so effortlessly. And for that, I thank you.

And I also want to beg you: please don’t give up on Luc/Marc. I knew him and though I never had the courage to put into writing, his character, my son did. I would often find Tony up late at night, writing. And though I didn’t know it at the time, and probably never would have guessed, he wrote, almost exclusively about Marc/Luc and music, exclusively. Upon reading my son’s first and sadly, last attempts at the trade of writing; I realize that, for Tony, Luc/Marc and music were much the same thing. And, if I can be bold, I would say that you see Luc/Marc in much the same way, for the first chapters of your novel, at the risk of flattering a defeated man, are musical, Nick. They really are.

And, so, if it means saving the novel you have already begun (and must complete), I regret to say that I must withhold your desired vital information. I will not tell you mine, much less, Tony’s side of Luc/Marc’s story. Please don’t take this as an insult, rather, a compliment and a hope, that you will do your duty and finish the story. Please, Nick, finish his story.

I would love to read the rest of the novel, but refuse to do so until it is put on the page by a printer, professional. And so, I withhold. I take your word. If you choose to tell me that you will continue, I can help. If you choose, however, to abandon the work, for whatever might stand in its place, I will disappear. Though you know my name, I can disappear as easily as I have appeared. The internets, are a quicksand, all shall soon see. Even if you have roots in the town in which I currently reside, I can disappear, Nick. And this is no veiled threat; it is a threat, most real. Trust me, as your characters often say.

Regards,

Blank

(Break)

Reading blank’s letter, at once, encouraged and completely defeated me. I had my first and, quite possibly, only, fan. She cared about and, amazingly, managed to love, what I had written during the best and worst time of my life.

Without her, my decision would have been an easy one: don’t throw good money/time after bad. I was lucky, to have escaped the writing of the novel with a girlfriend and, even, a group of friends, who despite my proclivity toward the self indulgent and self promotion, which ran completely concurrent to the since abandoned project. I had managed to work myself out of that headspace, which had almost destroyed me, and she invited me back in, most eloquently.

And so, after laying in bed for an incredibly long time, reading a printed version of her letter, I once again entertained the thought of welcoming Luc Louis back into my life. Surprisingly, to me at least, the idea was welcomed by all who I, months after giving up Luc’s ghost in favor of an actual interaction with the living, had regained the capacity to love again, encouraged me in my pursuit. They had seen me in the mania of my obsession and the depression of the vacuum created by its removal: and they recognized me in my ecstasy. So, I replied to the serpent. It went like this.

(Break)

Dear Blank,

I have read your letter over and over and over again. It has cast a dark shadow upon previous criticism and I find myself, once again, excited, rather than dismayed by the project at hand. And there has been copious amounts of criticism, that would attempt to mute your lone, anarchistic voice in the choir of readers I have managed to accumulate, both forcefully and not. And I thank you.

I had given up on Luc/Marc. I thought him to be an impossible character, for I underestimated readers abroad. I have an English Degree, and have subscribed to the pervasive idea, that reading was reserved for a select few, who, against all odds, have managed to put a blanket over their television and blinders over their world-weary eyes, effectively blocking out all the gross abuse of a once distinguished language in favor of a Shakespeare or an Eliot, who has murmured sacred whispers to an ever-listening ear of things that were, in fact, real! This was the dream to which I fell prey and you have awakened me from this dream: and yet I am reluctant to get out of this warm bed.

But you have shaken me. My friends invite me to shake off the dream of the academy to which I have resigned myself over the past several years though, undeniably had removed myself from, reluctantly and adamantly, one and the same. So, I find myself, virtual face to virtual face with someone who actually gets it. And so, if I write the remainder of Luc’s story to you alone, I will do it. If even you abandon this obsession and if I loose all in pursuit of what has, for the duration of three years, remained invisible to all but me, so be it! But I will finish! So tell me your tale. I beg of you! Tell me your tale, Blank!

Ever Sincerely,

N. Oswald Lyons

(Break- End of Part (?))

Seven days after I received a brief message from blank requesting my mailing address, I got a sizeable envelope in the mail; there was no return address, but I knew who had sent it. I eagerly, yet carefully opened the package to find about five hundred or so sheets of photocopied materials, neatly organized and bound into a large book.

The photocopied pages contained everything from fullscap, lined pages, napkins and other pulp products. The only real continuity I was able to initially detect was that all of the writing contained in this book was written by the same hand. I was too disctracted to even think of walking to the couch in order to read this strange collection of words and by the time I came to, realizing that I was standing, I had read about half way through. The words were all written by Tony.

Someone (I correctly assumed to be blank) had gone to great pains to organize the collection in chronological order: the thing vaguely resembled a narrative, probably only interesting to two or three people on earth. I, being the most staunch member of this select group. Most of the writing was about Luc and the rest was about music: both subjects, close to my heart, I sat on the couch and finished it in about three hours (I struggled to read Tony’s messy scrawl). By the time I finished reading the thing, I had no doubt that I had to finish writing Luc’s story.

When I finally managed to tear myself away from my equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls and log on to my email account, I found another brief message from blank, asking me if I had got the package. I replied immediately, telling her that I had already read what she had sent and asked if she had any more. Exhausted, I turned of the computer and fell into a deep, long slumber.

She waited a few days to reply: I took up a new habit of chewing my nails and must have smoked an entire carton of cigarettes. I re read the ‘manuscript’ as I began to call it several times over, basking in the light so freely given to me by a complete stranger. I came to know and to love Tony and I also began to question my attachment to Luc.

It was obvious that Tony loved Luc just as much, if not more than I did and that, like me, he was often confused as to why he loved Luc so much. He regularly had to endure Luc’s torment. He suffered the wrath Luc would often deal out to all who surrounded him indiscriminately and yet he remained; he remained, that is, until he took his own life.

This part of the story came as a complete surprise to me. She had chosen not to reveal the fact that her only son, her only child, had killed himself at a very young age. The final page of her boy’s manuscript was, in fact, a suicide note. The photocopied edition of the note was spattered in a black, digitally rendered blood: in some places, entire words were blocked out by the violence of the pox.

Finally, she replied. Another all too brief message, telling me that she was happy to hear that I had read Tony’s story and that I was the first person, aside from her, who had ever seen those words. She also asked how the novel was going, a question emphasized, strangely, with a : ). Upon reading her reply, I immediately set to work on what would become this novel’s last part.

(Break: End Part (for sure, this time))

And how does one set about incorporating the words of a long-dead, complete unknown into an existing manuscript? His pages, restored as they were by digitization, were so completely fragile. They seemed to groan under the weight of my unrelenting eyes as I read them: every letter, space and comma crying out for mercy, a subtext, so wrought with pain that I found it more and more difficult to read them as time progressed.

Fortunately, the Luc Tony knew was virtually the same as the pseudo-Luc I had, by then, created. Their stories overlapped in more ways than one, or two, for that matter. The pieces fit, but I long struggled with how to put them together.

At first, I wanted to re-read and re-read again, until Tony’s story became my own. Seeking to graft those pages into my mortal soul, I set to work demarcating particular phrases into chapter and verse, kinda like the Bible, which had become my ultimate point of reference. My goal, which I abandoned, eventually, was to be able to recite, word for word any selected phrase in the blank page manuscript. Even if it failed to make me a ‘writer’, it would definitely be an impressive party trick. To this day, I can recite the first ten pages of Tony’s book by heart, swear t’ Christ.

After realizing the futility of my intentions, I figured I would ask Blank for her permission to use her son’s dying words in my novel: improper grammar and all. This idea would at once satisfy my need to impress this woman I had never met as well as my own laziness: after transcribing the thing, I would merely copy and paste onto the blank, last page of the never ending project and, with that, be done with the whole thing forever after sending it off to my editor (for, finally, I had an editor!).

Eventually, I settled on a compromise of both ideas. I continued to add a Biblical flourish to Tony’s words, while doing my best to maintain the integrity of what Tony had to say. The result of all of this work, became an annotated rendition of abandoned and, for over thirty years, lost words, which I now would like to share with you all. I hope you enjoy them half as much as I did, so long ago now.

The Gospel of Tony: Fully Annotated and Restored

I can’t possibly express how happy I was to have found Luc Louis. I’ve always been shy. I hated it; I wanted nothing more than to speak in public with ease and authority like so many of my classmates. Still, it seemed like the most expressive ones were also the biggest assholes, so it was a decent trade off, I guess. I had one good friend in grade six, but he went to Massey and I went to Cross. We hung out for the summer, but we lost touch as soon as school started. I listened to music alone after that, until Luc showed up.

Luc and I hit it off as soon as we met. The school year was almost finished and for the remainder of the spring and the entirety of the summer, we were inseparable: joined at the hip, like my ma always said. We took refuge from Calgary’s dry, unrelenting heat in my dad’s basement. It had always been a basement made of music, my one safe place in the world. My mom always tried to get me outside, to ‘enjoy the sun’ and play soccer or baseball like all the other boys, but I was more than happy jn that basement. Dad was an avid collector, records lined the walls, and the combined weight of wax threatened to crack the wooden shelves cradling the cardboard shrouded vinyl.

Luc told me that he had always loved music too. He often said that his earliest memories ‘danced with the complex concertos of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart’. I always liked the way that sounded, though I was never really into Classical. For the past couple years, Luc’s access to his love had been inhibited. The needle of that old record player his parents had broke when he was four and though he pleaded with Marcel and Marie to replace it, they never had enough money to buy one for him. He was forced to make do with the family’s old transistor radio.

The reception on that old thing was awful. That is part of the reason we always hung out at my parent’s place. The only station that came in consistently was the CBC, a frequency that Luc detested. There was too much talk on there for his liking. Luc would always tell me about really cold nights back in Ontario when their family radio was able to grab American signals: some came from places as far away as Detroit. On these evenings, my friend rejoiced. Mad sounds quickened his pulse; the same mad sounds I was listening to, probably at the very same instant, thousands of miles away. Little Richard, the Big Bopper, and Chuck Berry- these were prominent in our adopted pantheon. We worshiped at the altar of these Gods. Luc was a bit more serious about his idolatry than me! He told me that he even burned the old yellow incense he had received as an infant and watched the smoke rise while he listened.

In my dad’s cool basement, I reintroduced Luc to many of the artists he vaguely remembered from the Detroit radio station. Records were his scripture. He was always careful to hold the discs by the edges as he pulled them from their protective sleeves. If the records were Luc’s Torah, I was his Rabbi: “Man, if your like Chuck Berry, you are gonna love Little Richard! I’ve got this live album he made in 1967[Md2] –his between-song-banter is just as good as the music!”

With the help of me and Little Richard, Luc’s English improved a bunch over the next few months. Luc picked up my thick Italian slur. Little Richard encouraged Luc’s exuberance of speech, his unapologetic ego, and love for black slang. Luc’s English was a mutt; a strange breed of Italian, African American, and of course, French Canadian accents. His was truly a uniquely Canadian form of the language; he left England to the English. Some who listened to him speak took him for an Italian or Spanish speaker– others simply thought he was crazy.

Luc’s summertime routine was more regimented than his school-time schedule. He awoke at 7:00 every morning and ate a massive breakfast with his parents. Breakfast was Luc’s favorite meal. He ate a dozen eggs every morning, chased with his dad’s hot, strong ‘swill’, as he called it. I tried that stuff once when I was over there for a sleep over, and I have no idea he got that shit down without gagging; it was like thick mud. By 9:00 AM, Luc’s body shook with caffeine tremens. He then walked manically to 7-11 and read the current issue Rolling Stone Magazine, with a fair amount of difficulty due to quaking fingers and underdeveloped reading skills. Sometimes the clerk reminded him that the franchise wasn’t a library, but the woman who worked in the mornings usually didn’t bother him. At 10:00, he would board the first of a series of buses that eventually took him to my place. He banged loudly on the front door, since I was often still lost in dreams. When my ma opened the door, Luc ran down to the basement, where I, eventually, joined him.

I took Luc’s musical education very seriously. Before we met, he listened to the contemporary bands he read about in the Rolling Stone, and heard on the radio. I was careful to provide Luc with the proper historical context for all those bands. I took myself pretty seriously back then: “Now Luc, you will never understand Jimi if you aren’t well versed in those who came before. Did you listen to the Robert Johnson album I lent to you last night? Good. Do you know that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil?” I could ramble on for hours– it was usually well past noon by the time we started listening to the first record.

We would continue listening to records well into the night, often forgetting to eat until ma called from upstairs. She joked with us, saying that she had always wanted another son, and now, at last, she had one. I was secretly jealous of her affection for Luc and he was secretly thrilled, I’m sure. Sometimes, he referred to my ma as the ‘mother of his soul’, though he was careful not to do so in front of Marie.

Sometimes, dad joined us in the basement. When he did, I was the student again: dad never gave me room to speak. He seemed to know everything about music. He had seen most of Luc’s pantheon live at some point. He often disappeared upstairs and retrieved duplicate, signed copies of all those old albums: I salivated upon seeing them. We never found dad’s hidden stash, though we certainly looked for them.

Dad played lead guitar in a band before he married ma. They put out an album in the late fifties, but he refused to play it for me since he thought the album was an ‘embarrassing piece of shit’: “We were all drunk in the studio- I can’t believe they even released it.” The highlight of dad’s musical career was when his band opened for The Guess Who at a small show at the University of Calgary. Eugene bragged that Randy Bachman tried to pick up ma, but she decided to go back to his place instead. When we asked her about the story over a grilled cheese sandwich, she didn’t deny it and smiled a mischievous smile I’d never seen before.

I always outlasted Luc at the record playing marathons. By 1:00 AM, my energy peaked, just as Luc’s was fading. “Man, if you liked that song, you’re gonna love this one. Listen to the guitar part hear. It reminds me of what Chuck did on his first album, but he puts a shit-load of fuzz on it. These guys are gonna be big, I’m telling ya!” Luc yawned.

“Man, I’m fuckin beat, I’m going home.”

“One more song, come on Luc!” One song always turned into seven and Luc was forced to walk all the way home since the buses had stopped running by the time he left. I listened, alone, well into the next morning—then, repeat.

I imagine that Luc walked home in early morning hours, fueled by the music and a rhythm that had entered his blood stream over the course of the day. It probably occurred to him that he really knew nothing about me- we only spoke about music. Luc always said he owed me: it made me feel embarrassed, and I changed the subject. I guess he was right. I was responsible for teaching Luc to speak English. Plus, I shared the treasure of my dad’s record collection with Luc: very few people ever gain access to that kind of treasure trove. Sometimes, Luc told me that he found himself in tears as he slipped underneath his covers: I told him to ‘shut the fuck up and changed the subject. He was steadfast, however, saying ‘he had come to Calgary, a stranger in a strange land but, in me and my family, he found a home’. I secretly loved it when he said that.

By the time leaves began to fall and the school bells where ringing, we had moved on to Bob Dylan. I LOVE Bob Dylan: he had always been a universe for me. Luc, on the other hand, was never able to get past his ever-changing voice. “I am about to play for you, Luc Louis, the most important album of the sixties.” I spoke with the tone of reverence I reserve for Dylan alone, “We are going to listen to Bringing it All Back Home this morning. It will be the only album we will listen to all day. I want you to know it inside and out, y here?” I was completely serious.

“Oh, fuck off Tony. Why are you always forcing that guy on me. I fuckin’ hate him, he’s a fuckin’ has-been! Did you see the review his last album got? ‘What is this shit?’”

He had me there, but I managed to deflect: “Dylan’s very important, Luc, trust me.”

The needle soon dropped on Maggie’s Farm. In spite of his stubbornness, I could tell that Luc was actually half impressed. Finally, I had broken through that thick fuckin’ skull of his! He told me that it wasn’t as bad as the earlier stuff I’d showed him in June, but not as good as “Like a Rolling Stone”, which he had heard on the FM radio. By the time the needle returned to its cradle, Luc was tired of Bob; I, however, was in the linguistic Heaven that only Bob Dylan can weave. “So, what do you think?”

“It’s alright, I guess. I just don’t see what the big fuckin’ deal is, Tony, I really don’t. He’s doin’ some bluesy stuff there, but you can tell he doesn’t really have an understanding of the blues at all- he is pretending Tony.”

“Exactly!” I was encouraged by his observation, and fully agreed with it. “That’s Dylan’s genius, he pretends! He’s still pretending with that piece of shit he just put out!”

“You’ve heard that album?”

“Yeah, my dad bought it last week. I listened to it after you left last night.”

“Can we listen to it now, I’m curious.”

“No, Luc. You have to remember context! Besides, the second side of Bringing it all Back Home is probably the most poetic of any side of any album ever made”.

“…”

“Hmmm, I also have a little treat that might make you appreciate it even more.”

“Fuckin eh, man! Did you find some more of your Dad’s Jamaican Rum?”

“No, not exactly.”

I pulled from my front pocket, what Luc probably thought to be, a hand rolled cigarette. I smiled, and placed it into Luc’s open palm. “You can do the honors, Luc.” He brought the cigarette to his nose; I noticed that it scraped up against the stubble of his upper lip. He pulled back: it didn’t smell like a cigarette at all. Over the past couple weeks, during my attempts at lectures on jazz (I never really got into that music, either, though I always had a soft-spot for Monk), I’d made passing references to pot. The references were deliberately scarce— I didn’t elaborate even though Luc was curious: “We’ll get there eventually”, I said, always with a smile. Now, he held the strange cigarette between the middle and index fingers of his right hand. He knew, I’m sure of it.

“Should we smoke it in here?” he asked me.

“Don’t worry, mom’s visiting aunt Val and dad’s workin’ late- light her up!” He lit the match and soon coughed ferociously. He told me, between gags, that it reminded him of his first cigarette, which he smoked with me on that afternoon many months ago. God he coughed; he hogged that joint too, lemme tell ya!

The distance between me and Luc widened significantly with every pull we took. We lost all sense of space and time. Miraculously, the needle dropped on the “Gates of Eden”. We were lost in a underworld planet of sound. We could hear every single strummed string on Dylan’s lonesome acoustic guitar. The song complimented our glorious state: devoid of the narrative structure that many of Dylan’s previous songs had, fleeting images passed through our severed, grey brains. Hours, no, eternities, passed before the needle lifted again.

Not a single word was exchanged between us for the rest of the evening, we were both content simply to listen. Records were played in their entirety. I provided the soundtrack for Luc’s first trip. After Bringing it All back Home, I grabbed Highway 61, which was eventually followed by Blonde on Blonde. Sensing that Luc was tiring of Bob, I placated him by putting on Mono versions of Rubber Soul, Revolver and Magical Mystery Tour, back to back. Before playing Sgt. Pepper, I put on At Her Satanic Majesties Request, as an inside joke that Luc, obviously didn’t get: I chuckled throughout. “Ok Luc, this is the last album we will listen to today.” His introduction to Sergeant Pepper was in Mono; I was a purist. By the time “A Day in the Life” came to its crashing finale, Luc was forever changed.

Luc rose from the couch: “Tony, thank you so much for everything. I love you.” That night, Luc left early enough to take the bus home that. He told me the next day that he missed his intended stop more than once that night, but he didn’t care, just giggled.

Chapter Seven

The impact marijuana had on Luc could not possibly be overstated; he’d, quite simply, fallen in love. I didn’t like how it affected my mind: I felt stupid when I was high. But for Luc, everything made more sense after a puff or two. It was obvious that he felt he felt a marked increase in both clarity and comfort when he was high. He asked me if I could give him some more, but I was hesitant. Frustrated with my reluctance, he was compelled to search for this mysterious plant at school.

After asking around a bit and coming to several dead ends, he was, once again, pointed in Dylan’s direction. It took Luc several days to work up the courage to approach him. Dylan, after all, had been the first of many to pick on Luc when he first transferred to Cross: fucking assholes they all were. A lot had changed since then, however. Luc was becoming more fluent in English. Some of the kids still made fun of the strange breed of language Luc spoke, but he was now more than able to express himself. He was, in fact, much more loquacious than many of our classmates for whom English was a mother tongue.

Luc approached Dylan in the hallway after school. He skipped all formality: “Dylan, I heard that you can get a hold of some weed for me.” Dylan, quickly and forcibly, grabbed Luc by the arm and directed him into the boy’s bathroom, inspecting the room to make sure it was vacant.

“What the fuck is your problem Luc? You trying to get me busted? Fuck!” Luc was naïve about the unwritten rules of procuring pot. He apologized profusely.

Luc learned the complexity of the drug trade very quickly. I’d always known that Dylan was a mere extension of his brother, Dustin, who had graduated from Cross the year before. Dylan bought the pot from his brother and sold it to his fellow Junior High students, with a ten percent charge attached for his services. Dustin was fine with this since his brother’s business comprised about 30 % of his own. For the next week, Luc didn’t eat lunch. Instead, he put his lunch money in a piggy bank which he had re-christened as his ‘pot-bellied pig’.

By Wednesday of the following week, Luc had saved enough money to buy an eighth of an ounce. He was uneasy about walking around at school all day with ten dollar bills in his pocket; it was a small fortune for him. Marcel and Marie had always been poor, especially so since moving to Calgary. Finally, at 3:00, the school bell rang and Luc ran to the appointed alleyway like a man possessed. Dylan was late; “I’m waiting for the Man” played in Luc’s stereo-mind; his heart raced.

Dylan finally showed up and the deal went down. The circumstances were less than ideal for Luc, however. One of Dylan’s informal policies was to smoke a joint with the buyer so Luc had to include Dylan in his first taste of his sacred herb. Dylan had already rolled a joint and took the liberty of lighting it as Luc handed him the money. Luc reluctantly took the joint and breathed it in. He had planned on holding off until he was almost home, sparking a little bowl in the alley and retreating to his bedroom headphones and the most recent mix tape I’d given him. Instead, he found himself completely fucked in an alleyway far from home, with the boy he had always despised. It was a much different trip than his first.

Everything got uglier, Dylan especially. Luc lost all sense of time. The alleyway which, pre-joint, seemed harmless and unassuming, started to shrink around them. He felt trapped and paranoid, sure that authorities, of some kind, had witnessed the deal. Every barking dog terrified him. It seemed to take forever for Dylan to finally kill the roach. Luc was slowly loosing his mind, imagining horrible things were happening all around him. He shook Dylan’s hand and ran from the scene of the crime. He didn’t feel safe until he was in his own bedroom with the door closed.

At the dinner table that night, Luc was out of sorts, for obvious reasons. He sat down in front of his food and looked around at his family’s expectant eyes, very conscious of his dry, mute tongue. Marie asked him if he was alright. He mumbled something about not feeling well and went back to his room as soon as he finished his potatoes. Lying on his bed, he put on his headphones and got lost in the bluesy swagger of Let it Bleed. He was asleep by nine o’clock.

Marcel and Marie were obviously concerned about Luc’s frequent ‘illnesses’ over the next few months. A few times Marie cornered me and asked me if I knew what was going on. I was tempted to tell her the truth, but I covered for him. His parents were probably encouraged by the marked improvement in his grades, however. Not only was Luc now passing his classes, he was the top student in many of them. His English had improved tremendously, and many of his teachers even suggested he move up a grade. Everyone was astonished by Luc’s sudden academic transformation.

By Christmas break, Luc was “ill” every weekend. He only left his bedroom to go on long, solitary walks. By then, he had made a pact with himself to only smoke on the weekends. Initially, he used pot as a reward for a hard week of study. The contrast between weekday Luc and weekend Luc was like night and day. On weekdays, Luc would entertain his family with profane, hilarious tales both real and imagined. His stories, by this time were finely crafted and fueled by the lyrical inspiration of the music we listened to incessantly. On the weekend, however, Luc was a ghost: silent and white. Marcel and Marie assumed he was studying in his locked bedroom. In reality, he was high in heaven.

Much to my chagrin, Luc became obsessed with one album in particular. From October, right through to Christmas, only one album graced the rubber of his record player. The diamond almost wore the wax down to nothing. He had to buy a new copy by November. He discovered this record on his own as it was well outside of my jurisdiction. Pink Floyd had recently achieved phenomenal international success: I must admit that I still love Dark Sid of the Moon. Luc, however, preferred their early stuff, which was unknown to most people who loved Dark Side of the Moon. Syd Barrett, the man who lulled Luc to sleep every night with his insane ramblings, was rumored to have been committed to an asylum; his previous band mates kept making music, however. Wish You Were Here was like a premature eulogy to him (I always liked that one too). Luc couldn’t care less about the new incarnation of the band. He preferred the incoherency of the first singer. As the record spun, Luc was hypnotized by a strange delight.

Luc’s favourite album was a constant source of tension between him and I. I always thought that the band’s early stuff was complete shit. Clearly, the band was much better off without Barrett. I could appreciate their newer stuff, but “The Dawn of the Piper” was garbage. We argued incessantly. Luc claimed that even John Lennon went mad with envy when he heard the band recording the album in question at Abbey Road studios. He pointed out that, despite the massive financial and critical success of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, an album I always cherished, Lennon felt that the Beatles had been bested.

In hindsight, the musical rift between Luc and I was a superficial symbol of a much deeper problem. I was growing more and more disgusted by Luc’s habit, but was uncomfortable confronting him about it (I’ve always avoided conflict). Also, for the past year, Luc and I had limited our discussions almost solely to music– we were not comfortable discussing anything personal. Any other subject seemed superficial to us. Accordingly, I took out my frustration with Luc on that beloved album of his, invoking the goddess of drought, without saying her name.

“Whatcha listenin’ to these days Luc?”

“Well, you know… It’s a fucking masterpiece Tony; you need to give it another chance.”

“Are you fucking serious? Anyone could make a ‘masterpiece’ so long as those who listen to it are completely fucked.” I did my exaggerated impression of stoned Luc to make my point: “Whoa man, did you hear that guitar effect? I’m totally tripping out!”

“Fuck off, Tony. I think it is pretty ironic that Dylan’s biggest fan is attacking pot heads. What the fuck is a ‘mercury mouth’? I’ll tell you what it is. Fuckin’ meth-talk, that’s what.”

“Don’t even compare those stupid, British fucks with Dylan, Luc, you might as well burn a crucifix while you’re at it!” And so it continued: a cold war raged between us.

By Easter, we were verging on explosion. We spent less and less time together. When we did get together to listen to music, Luc would be high and, hypersensitive to long stretches of silence. He constantly asked me if something was wrong; I lied and said no. When we did talk, I was forced to do most of the talking. By the end of the evening, I was usually frustrated with Luc’s withdrawal into his own thoughts. It was as if I was speaking to a brick wall.

My frustration continued to grow. I was angry with Luc, and upset that the limitations of our friendship prevented me from talking about my feelings. My parents had split up right after Christmas; mom finally had enough of her dad’s drinking, which, at that point, was completely out of control. On the surface, dad was a successful lawyer and a devoted husband and father. Nobody outside our house, Luc included, knew the severity of dad’s drinking. His clients loved him and fellow lawyers, even judges, respected him very much. Home was a different story. He was both emotionally and physical abusive to me and mom. When Luc or any other guest was in the house, he was a kinder, gentler man even if he was in his cups. Behind closed doors, he was a monster. I don’t even want to begin describing the hell he put us through.

I never found out what finally made ma leave the bastard. Perhaps it just took her that many years to work up the courage. I didn’t really want to know anyway. All I knew for sure was that ma chose the coldest day of the year to do it. I came home from school and found a note instructing me to go to grandma’s house. I knocked on her door about an hour later and found ma crying loudly on grandma’s old chesterfield. She told me that she had left my father and that we would never go back; I was happy about that.

I was completely blown away by the lack of emotion with which Luc received the news of my parents’ split. Ma had practically adopted Luc into our family. She treated him like her own son, sometimes even better. I was hesitant to tell Luc the news about my folks, but I finally relented and phoned him. Marie picked up and called for Luc to come and get the phone. When he answered, I recognized the distance in his voice: Luc was obviously high. I didn’t tell Luc the reason for my call, disgusted by the predictable indifference of his best friend; I started to weep uncontrollably. Luc had never heard me cry before. It must have really bothered him. I could tell he wasn’t sure how to respond; he was silent and he struggled to find reassuring words to tell me. He listened to me cry pathetically for over a minute before I hung up.

A few years after all this happened, Luc told me he went to my dad’s place that night. He knocked loudly on the front door; a stranger in the skin of my father soon opened it. He was drunk and pissed off. “What the fuck do you want?” When Luc stammered my name, the door was slammed in his face and curses were hurled at the other side of the door. Luc guessed what happened. He was pretty sure where he might find me and my ma, but he felt too guilty to search for us with his glassy eyes. Instead, he sparked the little roach he kept in the film canister in his front pocket and began his long journey home. By the time he got back home he was freezing. He had a quick shower to warm up and dropped the needle on his favourite album. He didn’t see me until Monday and he pretended that nothing had happened: predictable.

A few weeks later, my ma and I moved into our new Bankview apartment. She decided on the neighborhood in hopes that I would be consoled by the fact that the split from dad brought me closer to my best friend. Marie made a big batch of her famous venison stew and sent it over to our new home with Luc as a housewarming gift. We talked about the new Aerosmith album for a while and ignored the tension between us. Our silence on the matter continued until spring.

Chapter Eight Luc

Easter’s always been my favorite holiday. Spring’s always been my favorite season. Long before Luc had taken up his most recent habit, the Easter’s combination of incense and lilies and crucifixions and resurrections announced the transcendent in the most sensual of ways. For Lent that year, Luc gave up his puffs and with the exception of one isolated incident, he was successful, exchanging reefer for the sanctity of burning palm.

School closed for the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Luc and I both attended the various services of Holy Week and spent the rest of the time at my mom’s place, which was about the same size as the basement we had inhabited all summer long. Our new place was much different, however. The most obvious difference was that the new place was completely devoid of records. I had always relied on my father’s music collection, and lost it all in the divorce. I missed the vinyl more than I missed dad. Ma had taken up baking since the divorce. I think it was therapeutic for her. Our apartment was uncomfortably warm, even in April.

Luc and I were both going through withdrawal symptoms. I craved mulling through, and listening to, the assortment of albums from my father’s musical library. The urge would strike with the buzz of my alarm clock. Sometimes, I forgot, for a second or two, that I was now living in Bankview: I would jump out of bed and realize that our basement, with all its music, was no longer there. I sought other outlets to relieve my craving; none of them worked. I bought a cheap radio/cassette player stereo from a pawn shop on 17th Avenue, filled it full of D Cells and turned the dial in search of some good sounds. Invariably, I was disappointed. Calgary radio stations, in my opinion, are all shit. Still, I didn’t even consider making the trip to my father’s collection: to me, dad was dead.

Luc’s withdrawal was just as bad as mine. For months, he had been ‘getting to know a side of himself that could only be unlocked with the help of weed’. I must admit that it was a calmer, more meditative side. Luc told me that, for as long as he could remember, he bore the tremendous burden of unrelenting languanage and thought and that he questioned, at times, whether it was he who controlled his tongue or his tongue that controlled him. When he was a little high, however, Luc took command. He often surveyed the dips and peaks of unspoken thought. If he wanted, he could release the flow of his sacred thought, but only if he wanted. Luc told me of a guy named Father Baudrillard, or something like that, who spoke about the contemplative Trappist monastic tradition; it was a tradition of silence. With the help of a hoot or two, Luc was able to be an unacknowledged member of the Trappists. Weird.

Luc was obviously surprised by how deeply he felt the effect of his Lenten abstinence. He had felt rage before. It was usually brought on by a specific incident and could be placated by an elaborate act of destruction. The kind of anger his withdrawal had brought upon him was much different. He told me that it awoke with him in the morning, kept him company all day, and tucked him into his restless bed at night. He did everything he could think of to dispense his unwelcome guest. He smoked more cigarettes, snuck into his father’s liquor cabinet and he even broke some of his classmate’s windows with smooth stones: nothing worked. He was permanently on edge.

Both of us were addicted to the rituals of our respective passions. Luc missed taking just the right amount of pot from a small Ziploc baggy, busting it up, spilling it upon the pure white sheet of Zigzag rolling paper– getting a tiny taste of green as he moistened the adhesive yellow with the tip of his tongue. He salivated voraciously while rolling the joint and then sparking it, breathing in the thick, lung gagging smoke.

I missed carefully coercing a black vinyl disc from its pure white sleeve– inspecting the selected side for dust and removing it, ever so lightly with a brush, if necessary. I missed delicately dropping the vinyl on the rubber base of the record player and setting it a-spinnin’, slowly, at first, and then faster and faster and faster; I could tell, by eyeballing it, when the record had reached its 33.3, or 45 rpms. I missed the sound the needle made as it finally fell upon the wax: soft thud, crackle, crackle, pop–the scratchy sounds of the outer rim. And of course, I missed, ever so much, the sound of the music, which followed the preceding ceremony: an eternal reward for my labour of love.

As devout Catholics, we both got our fill of ritual during Holy Week. We crossed ourselves countless times, said a thousand Hail Mary’s, and drank from the chalice of forgiveness. None of it, however, came anywhere close to satiating our respective thirsts. We sat side-by-side at mass: devout, and wild-eyed. I think we reached our breaking points at about the same time.

It was Maundy Thursday. We were in my bedroom, listening to the recordings Luc had made of a Zappa record from my father’s collection prior to the split. To me, the recordings Luc chose were inferior selections. The nerve he had, for example, to record “Let it Bleed” instead of “Beggar’s Banquet”. I think we were subconsciously trying to recreate the time we once shared in dad’s basement almost a year prior: we failed miserably.

After “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” faded into oblivion that day, Luc dug deep into his back pack. “Man, I’ve got a treat for you! You are gonna love this shit”.

I was skeptical, of course, but forced some enthusiasm: “Nice, let’s hear it!” Luc put the cassette tape into the deck; I winced at the cheapness of the new ritual; no delicacy, He was as rough with the hard plastic as he had always been with dad’s vinyl. My annoyance turned to rage as the familiar beginning notes of Luc’s favorite album started to seep through the small speakers of my cheap little stereo.

“What th’ fuck is your problem, Luc? I’ve told you a thousand times that I hate this shit, so why do you keep forcing it on me? Go over and fuckin’ turn it off now, or I’ll throw the tape out the fucking window”. Luc giggled, my anger obviously pleased him.

“No Tony, the time has come for you to listen to this album with fresh ears. I think you’ll like it if you give it a chance”.

“I don’t want to listen to that shitty pot-head music, Luc. You understand what I’m saying or is your brain too crippled from Dylan’s weed?”

Luc looked at me. It was the first time I brought up my issue with him directly: I’d always been uncomfortable with conflict, as I’ve said before. I stared at my own hands, avoiding Luc’s dark eyes, which attempted to pierce me like a sword. “You fuckin’ know I haven’t smoked in two weeks, Tony”.

“Yeah, but I’ll put $20 on you sparking a joint at 12:01 Sunday night. Why don’t you just admit you’re a fiend? I don’t even fucking know you anymore. My parents split up and you haven’t said shit about it. Talking to you is like talking to a fuckin’ retard! I just don’t see the point in hanging out anymore”. My voice trailed off; it quaked. Tears burned my cheeks: I had always found it impossible to be angry without also being heartbroken. I hurt Luc that day: I wanted to.

Luc ambled up to my stereo and grabbed the cassette out of the player, taking the door of the machine with it. He spat at me before slamming the door to my room. A few seconds later, the door to our apartment also slammed shut. I sat on my bed alone, staring at my new Aerosmith poster.

I must admit that I was surprised by my lack of emotion surrounding my encounter with Luc; in fact, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my chest. The past summer, Luc and I had been best friends. I thought of Luc as a soul mate, of sorts. For the first time in my life, I had met someone who loved music as I did. While we never talked about personal matters, I was more than content in engaging in such extensive, enlightened, musical banter. For the past eight months, however, such conversations had simply disappeared. Sure, both of us were busy with school, but on weekends, our only chance to talk and to listen, Luc was a fuckin’ zombie.

I also felt the guilt of having been the one who had introduced Luc to the drug. Still, even with the confrontation, I had nothing to lose. Even if Luc decided to extricate me from his life, we weren’t really friends anymore anyways.

These feelings faded, however, when I saw Luc the next day at the Good Friday service. I pretended not to care, but found it impossible to keep my eyes off Luc as we walked the Stations of the Cross. Luc, conversely, had no problem ignoring me. I knew that he was endowed with the gift of making people feel invisible if he wanted to, he had always bragged about it: I disappeared completely, after confronting him with his problem. When on good terms with Luc, I felt as though the very light of God shone upon me. Now, I felt the withdrawal of the light: I felt remarkably cold.

By the end of the service, I was convinced that Luc hated me and that we would never speak again. I looked into his eyes, in search of my best friend, but I only saw a void; I saw, for the first time, his madness– eyes averted, framed by dark circles. Thunder rolled outside of the Church; cloud-bellies scraped over the western foothills. Tears came to my eyes. Many, including my own mother, looked at me in awe of my devotion to the Passion, but all I thought about was Luc. I mourned for the brother I now had lost.

Luc felt guilty that day, though he was sure not to let anyone know, especially me. While initially he had been angry and hurt, he now appreciated my concern. In me, Luc had found a best friend, a mentor and a teacher: he felt much closer to me than he had ever felt toward his brother. And where had Luc been when my world went to shit? He didn’t have the capacity to really be there for me: I needed him so much.

Since the fight, I’m sure that Luc wanted nothing more than to smoke a bowl and forget about it all- to become numb once again. He told me later that he went so far as to roll a big gagger, but he couldn’t bring himself to light up thinking it to be a further betrayal of our friendship. Instead, he thought of ways he could earn my forgiveness. He didn’t sleep on Thursday night: by Friday, his mind was completely fixated. At the Good Friday Service, he couldn’t bring himself to look at me, feeling much akin to Peter at the third rooster’s crow.

Luc’s meditations continued through Friday night, which was also sleepless. On Saturday morning, he heard the first birds mocking him from their budding bows. Sitting down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, Marcel and Marie noticed his sadness. “Luc, why didn’t you sit with Tony at Church yesterday like you usually do?” Marie asked.

“I don’t wanna talk about it, ma”.

After breakfast, Luc went to his room and put on a record. For the first time since September, he had no desire to listen to the Pipers at the Gates of Dawn. Also for the first time, Luc understood the inherent loneliness of music. He felt numb, unable to absorb the sound surrounding him. He thought only of me, as he told me later. He surveyed his room in search of a peace offering, but nothing seemed substantial enough. He had no money and nothing that would mean anything to anyone but himself. There were many plants he had grown from seed, many drawings he had been working on, none of them good. His eyes finally rested on the source of all the sound which had him surrounded.

Luc loved his record player; I know that better than anyone else. He saw it as the conduit of the divine as it brought the numinous to his young ears. Marcel and Marie had always referred to the machine as “Luc’s record player”, even when it sat in the family room of their Ontarian home. When the family moved to Alberta, Luc moved it into his bedroom. He bought a new needle for it with the money he saved during the Lenten season. When Luc asked his parents where the record player came from, they were always ambiguous. Luc’s modest collection of records were stacked beside the record player: he too, had relied on my father.

By Saturday evening, Luc decided to give the record player to me. The mere prospect of the sacrifice hurt him. It was the most valuable of all of his possessions. It wept in front of him as he considered its fate.

Before breakfast on Easter Sunday morning, Luc disconnected the record player’s red and white cables from the amplifier. He carefully wrapped the cables in a coil and bound them with a rubber band. He racked his mind, trying to think of any possible alternative to this sacrifice, but he knew what must be done. Marcel opened the trunk of the car and Luc lowered the record player into the darkness. He almost cried.

Before the service began, Luc searched for me, but he didn’t see me or my ma anywhere. My aunt was in town and my ma had lots of work to do. Once again, Luc sat with his parents. During the service, he surveyed the congregation in search of me. The Church was more crowded than usual, typical for an Easter Sunday, making Luc’s search even more of a challenge. I was nowhere to be seen.

For the entirety of the service, Luc searched for me. Unable to focus on anything, he moved his lips to the Latin liturgy, using muscle memory alone. His eyes were temporarily arrested by a couple boys who vaguely resembled me, but he quickly realized that they were mere decoys and moved on; the service continued. It seemed to last for days.

When the service was finally over, Luc asked his parents to take him to my house. They dropped him off on their way home to the leg of lamb Marie had placed in the oven before leaving the house. Luc retrieved the record player from the dark trunk of the family Oldsmobile and rang unit 217. He ascended the stairs and upon knocking on the door, he was welcomed in by my ma.

She noticed the panic in Luc’s eyes: “What’s the matter Luc?”

“Why weren’t you in Church today? I looked everywhere for you. Is Tony ok?”

“He’s fine, Luc, relax! I thought he would have told you, my sister is coming into town tonight and I’m making a big ham. You are welcome to join us too—I haven’t seen you in days! Do you want a cinnamon bun?” Luc searched his mind for any warning Tony may have given him–her story was familiar yet unreal to him, like a memory long forgotten.

“Can I see him?”

“Of course! He is in his room. He has been expecting you. Go ahead and leave that burden of a thing with me”: Luc had almost forgotten that he was holding the sacrifice in his arms.

He walked down the hallway of the apartment, excited to see the face of his friend again. He wasn’t sure how he would be received and his heart pounded. He walked into the room and light streamed through the south facing window of Tony’s bedroom. His friend seemed to have been transformed. The last time Luc had seen Tony, he had the look of one betrayed. This was the face that Luc remembered, but when Luc’s stocky frame entered the room, Tony’s face broke out into a wide grin. Looking at his friend, Luc broke down. “I am so sorry, Tony”.

Tony told his friend to “shut the fuck up” and welcomed him into his room with open arms.

Chapter Nine

Luc and Tony’s friendship was an enduring one. The two graduated from the same High School and though Tony graduated a year ahead of Luc, they remained inseparable. Music continued to be the binding tie in their friendship. While Luc gave up his beloved phonograph, he listened to it even more after it changed hands than he did when it was his own. Luc kept all of his records at Tony’s apartment. They planned their purchases together, teaming up against the world of music they sought to explore.

A significant boost to their shared library came on Luc’s 16th birthday. He had dropped many hints to his parents about which records he wanted that year. While they pretended to ignore Luc’s hints, they purchased the first four records of Aerosmith’s discography for their son, leaving them on the kitchen table, where he was sure to see them upon his arrival home from school. When Luc came home, tears came to his eyes as he discovered the records on the kitchen table. He ran to his parents’ room to thank them; the door was closed.

After almost 25 years of marriage and three children, Marcel and Marie managed to maintain an incredibly healthy sex-life. They experimented with various positions into the twilight of their marriage and their lives. On Luc’s birthday, which happened to be their own anniversary, they had developed a tradition. Marcel would put on his old hunting clothes and Marie wore same pair of panties she had worn on the night of Luc’s birth; they were still stained with Luc’s birth fluid. Marcel claimed to be able to smell his wife’s old water if his nose got close enough to the linens, which were quickly thrown onto the brown shag carpet.

Luc burst into the room and caught his parents mid-coitus: his excitement quickly turned to disgust; having no idea, previously, how flexible his mother was. Marcel turned toward the open door: “Luc! What the… Get the fuck out of here!” Luc dropped his records next to his mother’s old pair of linens. He screamed, quickly collected his records, carefully avoiding his mother’s cotton panties and slammed the door behind him, running now, instinctively towards Tony’s house where he chose to spend the night. He vomited upon arriving. Tony remarked that Luc looked as though he had seen a ghost, or a soul of some sort. Nothing was said of the incident when Luc returned home the next day.

Beginning of Tony’s Ma’s Story

The developing dynamic between Luc and Tony was a strange one— a balancing act, really: manic depression, if you will. Luc was manic and Tony, depressed. The depression had only recently surfaced in Tony’s life. He had always possessed a limitless source of energy, but his parents’ divorce had taken its toll. He listened to Nick Drake a lot. Luc couldn’t stand it. He, on the other pole, was into Zappa. The two, once again struggled to bridge an impossible gap between their musical tastes, having one record player between the two of them. They promised that music would never again separate them and they managed.

Once Luc graduated High School, he and Tony moved in together. It was an obvious, natural move since they’d essentially been cohabitating since they met. Luc especially forced the move since he wanted to be closer to the collection of vinyl he had amassed over the past few years. They found a house for rent in Killarney. By then, Tony was working two jobs to pay the bills. Luc had been hired on at the Calgary Tower as a prep chef right after graduation. His tips alone covered his share of the rent. They moved into their new place on August first.

One never really knows someone else until they have lived together. Luc knew that Tony was prone to sadness well before the move but he didn’t know the extent to which his friend’s sadness debilitated him until he witnessed Tony phone in sick for both of his jobs day, for weeks in a row. Tony stopped bathing during this time. A stale, greasy scent always followed him around the house as he moped. He said he didn’t see the point: “I just get dirty again”.

Tony also started to drink more, often by himself. Though he tried to hide the evidence, Luc found empty bottles of whisky in the garbage bags he took out to the alleyway. He confronted Tony about his drinking on a number of occasions, but in spite of the insight Tony claimed to receive from such confrontations, nothing changed.

The bottles Luc found were just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the plastic and glass were stashed under the veil of Tony’s bed skirt behind his locked bedroom door. Tony sipped his poison while listening to “Four Leaves” blowing through his thick black headphones. The ritual started as soon as he pressed play on the portable cassette player beside his bed. Tony no longer cared about sound quality or his once beloved musical rituals. He preferred the ease of playing cassette tapes to nobody but himself in his bedroom. He then took a small sip from the bottle, then another and another; he stared at the wall. He knew that he was cursed by his father’s DNA. He knew that every sip he took brought him a step closer to becoming the man he hated most. It was his destiny, however, and he chose not to fight it.

Tony’s father’s involvement in his only son’s life was exclusively monetary. He offered to send Tony to Europe, hoping it would pull him out of his funk; Tony declined. He offered to take his son to LaChaille on the Bow to lift his spirits: Tony declined. Money was the only thing he offered and Tony rejected his money just as he had rejected his son long ago. Tony had his father over to the Killarney house only twice. Their conversations were brief and awkward. Money was offered and quickly declined. Father left his son’s home without a hug or even a handshake.

After these visits, Tony had an adequate excuse to drink even more heavily than usual. “Fuck, I hate that guy”, he said between thirsty sips.

Luc drank Coca Cola, refusing his friends outstretched bottle every time it was offered. Tony’s inebriation was much different after his father’s visits. He came out of his indifference—angry and frustrated with both himself and his dad. Tony came to life on these nights and it excited Luc to see his friend passionate again. Tony had life in him on these occasions, bitter life though it was. Luc attempted to transform his best friend’s negative energy into a momentum toward life. Tony was still a virgin and on the nights his father provoke Tony to care about something, Luc took him out to try to get him laid. Tony, however, was incompliant. He shut down as soon as they entered the bar, drinking heavily and said obnoxious things to the women Luc brought over for him to meet. Tony went home, slept well into the morning without concern for missed shifts.

Luc usually came home from his shifts at the Calgary Tower happy full of stories. He told Tony tales the miraculous ability of potato salad to strip the yellow nicotine stains off his fingers. Luc’s nicotine remover explained the Tower’s devoted clientele who, for reasons unbeknownst to them, would, every week, take an elevator to the spinning top of the tower to quell their mysterious craving for the potato salad. They begged for it and tipped well. Luc bragged about the extravagant tips he received, saying, “Man, this town’s made of money, y’ jus’ gotta find your thing and you’re fuckin’ golden!”

Tony sat silently, not even pretending to care. Luc didn’t mind. He talked incessantly on his way out the door in search of women at a friend’s party. He begged his friend to join him, but Tony usually stayed home saying that nobody wanted him there anyways.

Luc returned home early on a Saturday night in December, having sacrificed a sure thing with a hot blonde. About half way through the party, he became concerned for his friend—even more so than usual. A new side effect of the sadness had recently surfaced. Tony hadn’t eaten in days. On his way home, Luc stopped at the pizza shop and ordered a couple Hawaiian pizzas. It had always been Tony’s favourite. He got some Coke too, hoping to dissuade Tony from drinking that night.

When Luc stepped into the house, he immediately knew something was wrong. He wanted to suspect that the house had been robbed. Break-ins were common in the neighborhood. He looked around, closely inspecting the stereo and the records—nothing was missing. “Wish You Were Here” still sat on the player’s rubber plate.

Luc shivered as a darkness swept past him. He was panicked. His back stiffened and his jaw clenched; he tried to yell Tony’s name, but the name became a whisper by the time it left his lips: the great orator had lost his voice.

Luc rushed into Tony’s bedroom. It was locked, but he broke it down easily. What he saw disturbed him but it didn’t surprise him. Empty bottles of various kinds littered the desk, chair and floor. The ashtray overflowed, butts spilling into half empty bottles of warm, stale beer. There was a picture of Tony’s mother on the bedside table, which must have been taken before she got married. Her skin was smooth and clear and she winked at the photographer. Luc was aroused by the portrait and was surprised that Tony had chosen such a seductive picture to place beside his bed.

Luc left Tony’s bedroom, neglecting to turn off the light behind him. He went into the kitchen, which teemed with take-out boxes, pornos and flies. It stunk of stagnant water and rotting food, causing Luc’s stomach to churn. He was no longer looking for Tony. He would have been surprised to find his friend amongst the kitchen’s garbage and light. He opened the back door of the house and stepped into the night.

The motion activated light clicked on, illuminating more bottles and butts on the porch table. On even the coldest winter nights, Tony smoked his last cigarette outside. If the sky was clear enough, he would stare at the stars. His father had taught him the constellations when he was young and he never forgot any of their names. Tonight, Luc was entranced by the stars. He wished he had listen to his friend’s lectures about the stars and the stories they inspired of love and war. He lit a cigarette, sat down on a plastic patio chair and wished he had stayed home that night. He lit his second cigarette with the cherry of his first. He didn’t want to go back into the house. He lit the third cigarette in the same fashion as the second. His heart raced; adrenaline and nicotine. His neck became sore from looking up at the sky.

The basement of the house was the last place Luc went in search of Tony. It was unfinished and rarely used by Luc or Tony. Primarily used as a storage space, one was forced to crouch down in order to walk down there. The house was very old. Its basement was more dugout than basement. It smelled like dirt and Luc alternately referred to it as the hole or the dungeon. It was full of spiders and darkness, both of which scared Tony. He always asked Luc to retrieve things from there if he needed them; Luc chuckled, but complied.

When Luc went back into the house, he noticed that the door to the cellar was open a crack. A stream of dull light from the cellar’s solitary light-bulb spilled upon the kitchen floor. The open door confirmed the ominous feeling that had overtaken Luc. The sight of the open door was completely foreign to Luc. Tony was adamant that the door remain firmly closed at all times.

Luc finished his pack of cigarettes before working up the courage to go into the basement. The cigarettes burned his fingers before he noticed that he needed another. It was well past three by the time smoke from Luc’s last cigarette was exhaled into the nighttime air. Once again, opened the screen door and his eyes were drawn to the basement. The light, by then, had burnt out and the doorway was dark. The knob sent a chill through his entire body as he pulled it open.

An infinity of spiders had spun their webs in the doorway. There was no flashlight in the house. Luc resorted to his Zippo lighter to illuminate the stairway in front of him. His was full with sticky silk. He carefully stepped down the first stair, breaking through the first web’s elaborate design. It hung from his face as he took another step down. The rest of the web was consumed by the Zippo’s flickering flame; it smelled like burning hair and threatened to extinguish Luc’s light. He paused and then continued his descent.

More webs and more smoke. Luc’s flesh stung with bites of the frantic spiders that crawled about his flesh. He didn’t brush them off. Each step added momentum. He hit his head and cursed the low ceiling at the bottom step.

Luc wasn’t surprised by what his Zippo lighter revealed to him in the darkness that night. He was surprised by the violence of it all and would never forget the smell of the scattered remnants of skull, hair and brain that, still warm, spread out upon the cold cement floor: death’s carpet. The lighter was running out of fuel, prompting Luc to climb through the wall of newly formed webs, back into kitchen light.

Luc’s eyes were free of tears until, once again, they rested upon the image of Tony’s mother. He held the frame on his lap and squeezed it with enough force to break the glass under his thumbs. He bled profusely as he wailed. “Tony’s done a bad thing”

“…”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Stomach and chest heaved and ached. Blood ran through the cracks of the glass and stained the face of Tony’s mother. The image blurred and disappeared. He continued to speak to her through the night, and into the early morning.

“I have never met anyone as fuckin beautiful as Tony.”

‘I have been carrying an enormous weight around my neck for a long time now.’

“Jesus motherfucking Christ! What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck?”

‘Some people will say this was an act of desperation, of selfishness. But if they only knew what it is like, they would understand why I did this. I have been dead now for weeks, this just makes it official.’

“Before I met Tony, I felt alone in this world, in this God-forsaken City.”

‘I hate myself for the pain that I might cause by doing this, but…’

“Jesus-fuck. God!”

‘Mom, please remember me. But not like you found me. You will no longer have to endure long, uncomfortable silences…

“God. God. God. Christ. God. God.”

‘You will no longer have to look at me, or the shadow of former self that I have recently become…’

Tony’s mother’s post-script:

Son, given the right occasion, I would put myself up for sale to post the necessary bail that would free you from this kingdom. But tonight, is not your night, no, it’s not your night.

(Afterward)

Evelina fingers a tarnished, too small ring as she sits upon the old oak organ seat of her brother’s church. The man who had given her this ring, along with a promise, a couple of months ago has disappeared into New York City’s dirty streets; he conquers her mind. She raises the ring to her nose in search of some familiar fragrance his finger-tips might have left, but she receives no such gift. She dives into her own memory searching for his face, his brooding eyes, and his visions. Feeling numb, she plays the first strains of Handel’s Messiah, but she cannot continue. She closes the organ key cover, blows out all of the candles save the one she lit for him and leaves the church.

Once in the street, Evelina looks blindly at the window of the post office. The lights now off and the shades drawn, she reassures herself that she wouldn’t have gone in again anyway. She has been twice today already—no letter, not a word. Yesterday was the same, and Monday the same as that. “I should have listened to Memere, ” she whispers to herself, “she said that you can tell anything you need to know about a man from his eyes. She told me that when she looked into Louis’ eyes, she saw a void, she saw madness. Strangely, it was those very eyes that drew me in. I was at the organ as my brother led the Mass and this man walked down the centre of the church as if out of a dream. He was out of place in our small church—he seemed to be more suited to receiving praise than giving it. His eyes met mine and I fell in. ”

“I should have listened to Memere. Louis was a tramp, essentially, moving from parishioner’s house to parishioner’s house—staying just long enough so as not to wear out his welcome. He told me that he was from Manitoba, but that he now considered this to be his home since he’d found me here. I believed. He told me of his visions a few times when we first met and they didn’t seem to fit with his supposed longing to start a family with me. I miss him. I wish he would write again. He will, I’m sure, as soon as he finds the time—maybe he’s found a job. I secretly hope he hasn’t, though. That would mean we’ll have to move out there and the big city scares me. Whitman lives there though, doesn’t he? I like his book—he must be getting old now. Memere says that Whitman is a pagan and a heathen: “Imagine, writing a whole poem about yourself!” I’ve tried to tell her that it is about much more than that, but she can’t get past the first line. ”

Before entering her brother’s house, Evelina walks into the out-house and closes the door behind her. She fumbles for a match to light the lamp on the shelf to her left, and breathes the sulphurous birth of its flame. She guides the match to meet the oily wick of the lamp; the light pleases her. Evelina lifts the lid first and then lifts her skirt. She sits down upon the smooth wooden seat. Muscles now relax and she hears the sound of her own stream melting into the soil beneath her. Before standing up, she is careful to place her fingers between her legs to check for blood. These days she waits for blood as anxiously as she waits for his letters. As she brings her fingers to her nose she pulls back her fingertips to expose pungent fingernail. She draws heavily, as he used to draw on his cigarettes. She does not smell any remnant of iron; only earthy piss. She exhales a sigh. “I should have listened to Memere. ”

“This has happened before, though. One time I didn’t bleed for four months, and then only a few drops. I’ve been tense, waiting for letters that never come and the longer I go without bleeding, the more I worry about that too. I just moved out of Memere’s house and I hear that can sometimes mess things up; my rhythm is just a bit off. It was only one night, and he came on my belly and we wiped it off quickly. I wanted him to come inside of me, but he insisted and now I’m glad that he did. I think we were safe enough. Still, no blood. What has it been now, three months? Yes. Well, I’ll wait another week and then I might start to really worry. For now, supper. ”

Three weeks go by; no letters and no blood. She is nervous. The thought and the smell of eggs in the morning make her ill. She drinks cool water, chews ginger and fights off the nausea. Panic is now her home. The muscles in her back have tightened and she has trouble concentrating. At mass last Sunday, she played the wrong song and hit more than a few off key notes. She looked at the congregation’s confusion in her round mirror and nearly broke down crying. She left the church that Sunday without saying a word to even those who were closest to her, who probably would not have mentioned her mistake. Her clothes shrink; her breasts ache. She knows.

And still no letter from Louis. She has considered writing to him, but it is his turn. She has written three letters since his last. She fears his response should he ever find out. She imagines the dark look in his eyes intensifying and the prospect terrifies her though he has never spoken a harsh word to her. She wonders if she will ever hear from him again. While he spoke of their marriage as if it was inevitable, while he spoke of settling down, of having a farm and catching rainbow trout, such dreams collide with his visions of leading his people out of exile. David never settled down, he killed giants instead. She is jealous, not of New York City women, but of the entire nation of people who need him just as much as he needs them. And she disgraced, and she swollen, and she crying into the space beside her that he once occupied. A spirit moves within her and all she wants to do is slaughter the spirit, to choke it before it summons up the courage to cry in its own defense. She wants the spirit dead, along with the memories that keep it company. She weeps.

The following morning on her way to Mass, Evelina passes the unkempt, sprawling yard of a house that has, in recent days, become a magnet to her feet. The flowers in the garden are not defended from weeds that climb up and hide their pink faces from the sun. Many of the windows of the house are broken—one might even mistake the house for an old, abandoned relic were it not for the plethora of stories that surround the woman who lives there. The woman brings an abandoned house to life, though the kind of life she brings is monstrous, weird even.

Her name is Joy. She had lived in the house with her husband until the Civil War stole him from her. After his death was confirmed, she stopped attending Mass. She thanklessly accepted the various burnt offerings of food brought to her door by various women from the church until they stopped bringing them. She never returned the pots the food was given to her in and the women seethed at their loss.

Over the years, Joy’s withdrawal from the community has fueled a fire of mythology. Some say that she lost her mind when she lost her husband. These people swear that they hear laughter flowing from the woman’s house on cold nights when the air lends itself to the convection of such noises. Some say that she has gone to the dark side. When cats disappear from barns, as they often do, the natural suspect is Joy; it is said that these cats are sacrificed on a satanic altar in her basement. Others, more sympathetic, perhaps, simply claim that her heart died with her husband. She had a history of long and debilitating bouts of sadness before his death and his passing was simply more than she could bear. While Evelina has always been disposed to believing the latter of these stories, another story now fascinates her.

Evelina has heard of various girls, some of whom she went to school with, who went to Joy in order to be cured of disgrace. While Evelina knows none of these girls well enough to be sure of the accuracy of the tales, she watches them closely to see if there are any signs of disgrace about them. She studies their complexions, searching for a lack of colour. She studies their hips to detect any sign of stiffness or pain. She studies their voices for whispers of cracks or croaks that may betray past trauma. The girls, however, are now seemingly untouched by darkness or light. Angels are indifferent to these women.

Still, the sight of the house makes Evelina ill. She has an over-active imagination that takes advantage of the peoples mythology swirling around in the dust, and impregnates it with her own horrific speculation. She looks towards the house and smells deeply but the only things her nose finds have already been discovered by her eyes. She smells the decay of brown leaves that lay scattered about the dirt. She smells the death of rose hips. Her pace quickens until she arrives at her brother’s church, but she brings the house, with all its broken windows, its peeled paint and its dandelions with her. She walks through the door and then up to the front of the church and she sits upon the old oak organ bench. The spirit within her screams.

Evelina hoped that the Latin liturgy would distract her from the sounds of the screaming spirit. The incense comes close to absolving her of her burden, but eventually just mingles with the dead leaves her nose desperately clings to. People look at her strangely, shake her hand all too formally and their conversations are brief though she craves the sounds of their voices. She realizes when she gets home that she has forgotten her sheet music on the altar. She immediately retraces her steps back to the Church and this time, she stops in front of the house. Somehow, it no longer terrifies her. Birds sing songs in and of trees. The claws of squirrels navigate the salty texture of peanut shell. The house itself glistens in the sun as if it has recently been painted. She thinks to herself that the house might even be mistaken for a church by those ignorant of its storied occupant. The house stands in front of her like white music.

In spite of the seeming change in the appearance of the house, its guts remain lifeless. Evelina searches in vain for even a glimpse of the widow, but curtains laugh in her face. Suddenly, she is aware that she is standing in front of a notorious house with a look of longing in her eyes; she quickly looks away. She looks around to see if anyone is watching her; she blushes, and walks quickly towards the church, though by now she has forgotten the reason for her return. She crosses herself and walks back towards her brother’s house, careful to avoid glancing at the seductive white home she has been carrying around with her all morning long. She makes it to her brother’s house without thinking much at all.

Another sleepless night, not out of desire but out of necessity. Sleep promises dreams and dreams give birth to the monstrous child within her who threatens to devour her. Her back, sore and strained, is not at all comforted by the soft matt reserved for her in the corner. She sits at her table, lights a lamp and reads Louis letters again though she has memorized them all by now. His bold ink is now faded from being ravaged over and over by her desperate pupils. She puts the letters aside and licks the rag they used to clean up her belly on that night long ago. When moistened, the rag comes back to life. The thick smell of the thing drenches her nostrils and she feels as though she is drowning. She pulls it away and throws it back in the box that holds the rag like a corpse and she weeps. She fears she might wake her brother, who treasures his sleep, and buries her face in a pillow: soon it is drenched with salty tears. Crying pulls her towards sleep, but she resists. She slaps her face until her cheeks, already red from her tears, become crimson and splotchy. She is scared to make coffee as it might wake her brother who snores from the room next to the kitchen, so she smuggles dark beans into her room and sucks on them as if to avoid death. Her teeth now yellowed, she reads the book of Job by candle-light.

Strange thoughts go through one’s mind in the small hours of a sleepless night. The morning’s most cheerful birds seem to mock us with their songs. Songs of joy become songs of lament to the sleepless. Evelina hates the birds’ songs almost as much as she hates the sounds her brother makes as he crawls out of his slumber. She hastens to her bed and pretends to sleep though he rarely checks on her. It is an awful thing to pretend to do the things we are not able to do. Usually she waits an hour before mimicking the exaggerated expressions of rising, but this morning she is quick to extend her arms in a stretch and bellow out a yawn. Soon after, she joins her brother in the kitchen. She enters and she breathes heavily the smell of the liquid coffee she has been craving all night. The smell distracts her from formal early morning chatter with her brother. She is never talkative in the morning so she does not fear being suspicious to her brother, but he looks at her with daggers anyway.

Eggs and toast, as usual. Evelina prods her food disinterestedly, drawing yellow patterns on her plate with runny yolk. She uses the toast as a sponge to draw thicker lines and to shade in the fine outline of fork tine template. “People in the congregation are beginning to talk about you, Evelina.” Brother’s voice startles Evelina out of her exhaustion. Heartbeats. “What do you mean?” “What do you think I mean?” Silence, save for the ever-intensifying scrape of brother’s cutlery on plate. Nothing else is said. Nothing else needs to be said. Brother cleans up his own dishes and leaves for morning mass. She sits alone.

Time stops. Evelina remains sitting at the table in a trance as she considers her brother’s words. For the past few months, she has seen herself as a victim, struggling under the ruthless tyranny of the life inside her. Her universe has been whittled down to three people: her, the victim. It, the monster. And he, who exists only in ink. Other people in the town, her brother included, have started to wonder. People are talking. Evelina sympathizes with Joy.

Evelina now knows that it is too late for the white house. In a daze, she walks over to the medicine cupboard and is mildly comforted by the music of clinking bottles as she looks for her cure. Many months ago, her brother had one of his migraine attacks. His doctor prescribed laudanum for the pain, but her brother did not like how he felt when he took the stuff and decided to suffer instead. The bottle is almost full. Evelina walks to the gramophone and drops the needle on Brahms’ black document. She moves to the table, sits down and takes a big swig. Her stomach is on fire. She coughs and once again finds herself fighting off nausea. She takes an even bigger swig, and then another; the bottle is now empty and sits next to the Bible on the table. She sits and waits, surprised by the absence of her tears. She opens the Bible, and across the blackness that comes over her eyes, she sees the flickering light of these words: “Verily I say unto thee, today thou shall be with me in Paradise.”

II

Did I mention that Luc taught me the language of Crow? My preliminary inchoate squawk, over the five years I worked with Luc, was eventually transformed into an almost completely blank black tongue. I cannot begin to describe how valuable Luc’s training has been over the past several years. I have learned of things nobody else has even a fleeting knowledge of: I have seen the world from above: the crows are, indeed, earth’s omniscient narrators. We just haven’t been able, mostly, to understand them. But Luc did and thankfully, so can I.

After writing the first chapter (now the last), I was met with mixed emotions of excitement and disappointment. I was excited, at first, to have found a potential matriarchal line heretofore ignored by history. But, within the same narrative, I discovered that this line, which almost came to life, was tragically cut short before Louis’ bastard lineage came to life. And yet, I believed, convinced that there might be a missing piece to a story so beautiful that it must be true! I took my dilemma to the murder of crows that hung out in the parking lot of the coffee shop I then frequented.

Upon telling the crows of my newfound, secret knowledge, they laughed: “You’re on to something here, boy. We’re impressed, for it is rare that creatures of your kind have this kind of insight. You are on the right path and it just so happens that your muse figures prominently into crow mythology. The chapter of his life you have discovered, however, is not the first, but the second. Would you like to hear how it all begins?”

“Ahh, yeah, you know?”

“Of course we know, you think just anyone knows the language of the crow? Luc is special. Thanks for picking up on that. We’ve been hearing you speak to others about Luc and we are happy to know that his story might be told. It is an important one; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

And so, they started to speak. Again, I’ve done my best to preserve the translation. Again, I will go with a sentimental translation rather than a literal one.

(Break)—Should this be a post-script

The bones of death, the covering day, the sinews shrunk and dried,

Reviving shake, Inspiring move, breathing! Awakening!

—William Blake, America: A Prophecy

Chapter 46

On the belly of the American plains, unscarred by asphalt highway, still untouched by insecticides, and not yet ripping at the seams from fertilizer or steroids, the crows gather around a deer carcass. Some, already bloated from the gut-pile of yesterday’s kill, are confident in their chatter. Others, newly hatched, stand aside and wait for the older ones to eat before meekly hopping over to dig for their own meals with black beak. Bugs also come to this feast. The stomach of the beast, now punctured, turns as if it is still alive. Resurrected by an entire multitude of worms, ants, aphids, flies, bees and other varieties of insect, the deer’s dead guts writhe and churn excitedly.

Many people in the town of Keeseville do not give the pile a second look, but a few find the remnants of death’s decay a poignant sight so close to the graveyard. Some find the scene too morose and hasten to reschedule their weekly ancestry pilgrimages. Instead, they wait for death to, once again, become invisible.

By nightfall, the heap is reduced to a pile of fur, shit, half-digested grass and white bone, including a hollow skull. The moon transforms the bones into phosphorescence. Night sounds echo in the abandoned skull. . The grass still abounds with green sunlight, becomes cool and begins to harden. Insects search the pile for any meat or marrow that may have been missed by larger scavengers. Tiny eyes probe every cavity; tiny jaws roll and process food. Nature whispers to the villagers on this night, but they strain even to hear her scream.

In a month’s time, nothing remains to the casual observer. People have resumed their visits to the cemetery. Children, bored of hearing stories about people they never knew, delight in running around the hillside to discover bone fragments left by the crows. They speculate as to what kinds of bones these are. They tell terrifying stories of murder and sacrifice.

Some of the children take pieces of bone home like a treasure. The children bury their loot under the mattress, knowing that their parents will force them to discard the dirty things should they ever find them. Bones are painted. Bones are banged against one another to announce the morning. Bones used as whistles. Bones used as swords. Bones for paperweights.

The children’s clumsy treasure hunts have unraveled the semi-hardened heap of half-digested grass that once lay inside the deer’s belly. The wind scatters most of the blades about the hillside. Only the heavier, though microscopic, seeds of tree, grass and grain remain. Digestive enzymes of the once-live deer worked on some of the seeds’ hard exteriors. Life swells and soon explodes from the seeds’ broken vents.

New life is fragile. It is often cut short by the shoes of a wayfaring stranger and is quick to wither in the shade of nearby oak tree. Some life flourishes and takes root in the juicy womb of soft soil. But most life silently disappears without having been seen by any eye. Life abounds in the belly of death, and death is overcome.

One soul refuses to die in the Keeseville cemetery. One soul grows tired of pine-box claustrophobia. Soul crawls out of pine, wades through six feet of dirt, root and earthworm, in search of a peculiar death in which to plant its life. Strange, that Soul must search for death in a cemetery, but the kind of death that resides here is as fixed as the plaques that commemorate it. While many people of the town say and sing that death has been overcome, they hold on to it with a death grip. The people of Keeseville plant death in rows like corn, but without the expectation of food in September. Soul must move on.

Soul looks to yonder oak-tree hill and finds green mound. Soul jumps into punctured seed and takes rest in her bosom. Soul now inhabits a wheat seed, and though his new room is infinitely smaller than pine box, it is much more comfortable. The wind helps circulate spring’s flowery breath, an aroma and a feel most pleasing to an unborn soul in search of new conception. The next morning, the seed is eaten by a Canada goose on her way back home. The fleshy lining of the goose-belly takes its time with the seed as it guides it through perfect digestion. Unborn Soul flies over Canada’s massive stony shield, but is soon dropped, along with the warm sticky goo of goose shit, onto a farmer’s field in Northern Ontario.

Everything comes home, eventually. The wheat seed displaced and digested, falls in the company of distant relatives. While the seed’s relatives differ from New York wheat, in both shade and texture, farmers’ eyes are often weary and indiscriminate. The seed, now twice digested and filled with life, flourishes in the warm summer sunshine of farmer’s field.

By June, the seed, and the Soul within, have grown over two feet tall, an inch above most of her Canadian cousins. As the farmer sharpens his blades in September, the seed has developed plump grain; Soul is ready to feed the masses. Separated from the chaff, the tanned grain, along with some of her fair cousins, moves hastily toward the inevitable oven. Soul is on a journey.

So far, Soul has inhabited mother’s belly, pine-box, wheat seed, goose-belly, goose shit and golden grain, but a domestic and homely oven now warms Soul to a new birth and different incarnation. Soul is now bread. But the oven affects Soul much differently. Whereas ovens force Soul’s fair cousins to rise and become bloated, Soul-bread remains flat no matter how hot his oven gets. We might expect Soul to be disappointed by his flat and homely state, there are some perks involved[YUN3] .

Unlike bloated bread, Soul-bread is eaten with reverence. It is held up and it is blessed; it is also said that flat bread, when mixed with the sugars of yellow wine, transforms into God himself. Soul likes this idea. One Sunday morning, Soul sits in a golden tray, waiting its turn and listening attentively to the voice of a baroquely clad man. Foreign, yet instantly familiar languages bless Soul. He breathes heavily the white smoke that begins to rise; he thinks to himself that this is the smell of God. A Parishioner now approaches and an old woman nudges Soul, only to opt for his larger cousin. Then, some pipe-tobacco hands glide past Soul towards yet another cousin another and another: only Soul remains.

Finally, a woman grabs Soul. She is about thirty-four years old, and despite her dark complexion she looks much like the pin-up girl in blue whose image dominates the building’s plaster.

Crooked-grey-tooth! Mary’s mouth caresses Soul until, quite suddenly, a tidal wave of white wine washes over Him— every one of his pores become a vessel in which to hold the Sacramental fluid. Soul feels drunk, but he feels something else too.

He has company in the mouth of his strange host. Drunken and chewed-up, he sees bearded man standing in the middle of a river of yellow, sugary wine.

The man beside him is instantly baptised in wine. It pours over his head like golden honey. ‘Behold’, a voice from of the heavens declares, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’

Baby Jesus in the manger, Jesus transfigured, Jesus in the Wilderness, Jesus at the temple, Jesus on the Cross, Jesus in the tomb, Jesus in Hell, Jesus on earth, Jesus in Heaven: heavenly hosts of Jesus all here now.

Oops, swallowed. Pink tongue, tonsils, esophagus and, finally, familiar stomach; Soul is back at home alone in the fluids his own digestion. Soon, tiring of this place, Soul skips gleefully a once familiar egg, still small as it clings to a fleshy wall below. He had been in a similar place before, but his stay was cut short: this time, Soul decides to stick around for a while.

Nine months later, a baby is born. Proud parents, Gilles and Anne-Marie show off their little Marcel to visiting relatives. Marcel/Soul enjoys being caressed, burped, and looked after. He loves breast-food, quickly becoming a milk-fiend. So long as long as Anne Marie brews milk in bulbous breast, Marcel sucks it back. But Soul battles with Marcel’s body; it isn’t big enough.

Even when the baby moves on to crushed carrots and pureed peas, even when he enters a world of meat and potatoes, Soul is unimpressed by Marcel’s rate of growth, for the child has a high metabolic rate and food, no matter how much, falls short of Soul’s insatiable demand; he remains frustrated.

By the time Marcel hits puberty, Soul has given up. He resigns himself to a comparatively shrunken state again on the off chance that he might become larger one day. Fortunately for Soul, Marcel begins to produce microscopic tad-poles by the millions. The region these tad-poles reside in is anything but ideal. The strong smell of piss permeates everything and, occasionally, millions of tad-poles are mercilessly ejected into sock, blanket or folded palm. But Soul decides to take a leap of faith. He transforms into the very smallest of specimens. Once again, Soul is one of the masses.

So, Soul waits patiently for his chance at life. He has studied the rhythms and false starts of masturbation, an exercise in futility that usually takes longer to initiate than the ‘real thing’. Young tadpoles are eager to burst through the gates, like soldiers off to some pointless war, but Soul simply sits back and waits for his beginning.

At twenty years old, Soul has grown strong. His tail, weighing in at twice the mass of some of his friends’ entire bodies, is nothing short of monstrous. He swims in circles for twenty-five minutes a day in order to maintain the tremendously powerful, yet elegant stride of his swim. He waits for almost twenty years until, one evening, he sees his chance. Soul knows it is the tenth anniversary of Marcel and Marie.

The evening begins right after Marcel finishes work, and ends late. Marcel, drunk on a huge feast chased with plenty of wine is as horny as hell. The night dawns and lovers go to bed: there is lots of foreplay for the Marie’s sake though Marcel is drunk and tired.

In the meantime, Soul easily pushes the rest of his pack away from his seminal gate. He waits to be shot out of his fleshy cannon. And, finally: KABOOM! Then moan, then snore. For the third time, Soul finds himself in pink canal. His huge tail furiously flaps as he advances three millimeters beyond even the strongest of his competition.

And, finally an egg appears on his distant horizon: a microscopic, gravitational Jupiter and Soul, a small moon to this massive planet. He dives through her thin, nourishing atmosphere at the perfect angle. He digs and digs and digs until finally, his monstrous tail is shed.

Winter comes. Marie is preparing a late dinner for her husband, Marcel, who is in ‘the sticks’, hunting for game. She puts the lid on the pot of stew, removes her apron and checks on their children, who are sleeping in the next room. She hears the gate slam and the hard soles of her husband’s boots trudging up the front step. Marcel opens the door and leans his 30/30 against the entrance wall; he has blood on his hands.

Marie’s eyes light up: “Wadja get, hun?”

He mumbles while unlacing his left boot: “Oh, just a little buck about a mile east. Problem is I don’t know how I’m gonna get him home. If we had some snow on the ground it’d be no problem, but it’s tough to drag it over the grass.”

She purses her lips: “Why didn’t y’ get Andre to help you out?”

“Yeah, I went over there and the fucker’s already passed out. Mary said that he started drinking at three today.”

“Well I’ll help you then.”

“Yer pregnant, Marie.”

“Fuck off, us Lapierre women are tough, Marcel, you know that. I’m not like your sisters who lie in their beds whining for months on end. I’m gonna go get the fuckin’ thing; you can come and help, if you want.”

In Marie, Marcel had found the only woman in his village more stubborn than himself. So, after a quick meal, the couple’s shadows glide across the valley in search of their fallen prey. Marcel builds a fire to warm his hands before he starts pulling out the still-warm guts from his prey.

Marcel and his wife soon start to drag the animal’s stiff carcass over the dead grass and fragile leaves. As the couple reaches the road leading to their house, she stops. “Oh shit.”

“What?”

“My water just broke.”

“Are you fuckin’ serious?”

“Look at my pants if you don’t believe me.”

Marcel guides the lamp to his wife’s crotch. Her pants steam with broken birth fluid.

“Motherfucker!”

Marie sits down on the hindquarter of the deer. “Could you build a fire? I’m cold.”

Marcel dutifully gathers tinder and soon has a roaring fire going.

“Do you think you can make it home, babe?”

Marie chokes on the freezing air: “I think he’s coming now, Marcel. Get more wood!”

Marcel has had no formal training as a midwife. His sisters had helped Marie the first two times she gave birth; he went fishing.

“Could you help me off with my pants?”

Usually, Marcel is happy to oblige such a request, but he now cringes at the prospect, delicately removing her woolen pantaloons, while building the courage to do the same with the drenched linens.

“Tabernac! It looks like you’ve been fucked by a horse!”

Before Marie has a chance to tell Marcel how much she hates him at this moment, she screams and pushes out the tiny, hairy head of their screaming son. Marcel pukes into his own agape mouth, and then he almost faints, before he delicately holds the head of the infant son in his calloused hand.

“You’re doing a great job Marie!”

“Shut the fuck up motherfucker!”

The baby, almost two months premature, is very small and so the birth ends quickly.

Marie is soon closes again as Marcel struggles to cut their thick umbilical cord with an old, dull hunting knife covered in fur. He uses his extensive knowledge of various fishing knots to take care of his son’s portion of the cord; the child, who would be christened as Luc Marc Louis, is a fishing knot outy.

As soon as the cord is tied, Marcel shelters his son from the cold winter wind and checks on Marie, who still sits on the hindquarters of deer, shaking uncontrollably. He helps with her now-frozen linens and her pants: “Are you gonna be able to make it home, babe?”

“Actually, I feel strangely fine, just really cold.”

“Ok, let’s get going then.”

“Wait, what about the deer?”

“I’ll come grab it in the morning.”

“Fuck off, Marcel, we’ve dragged it this far—might as well finish the job.”

“You can’t be serious.”

She is.

“Well how are we gonna drag this fucker and carry the little guy?”

She smiles knowingly.

Everything comes home, eventually. Soul now finds himself at home in Lucs young flesh. Luc is now plucked from the warm jacket of his father, and is transplanted into the even warmer empty cavity of the deer belly. He exercises his smile muscles for the first time as he, along with the deer, is dragged home. He delights in the smells of blood and bone. Finally, Soul takes rest in the small frame of Luc Marc Louis; his long journey is over.

The End

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