It was a most usual night, the evening Luc called. I had spread a coat of disinfectant across the textured cement floor of Westhills Safeway’s recently renovated butcher shop. Thick white foam bubbled and popped at my feet as I waited the prescribed twenty minutes for it to set. 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 as attempts to waste precious 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 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 we drove, Luc said he and his wife were going to Vancouver for a while and then backtrack to Saskatoon, where they would take up a life of solitude in a cheap prairie palace.
Luc’s telephone greeting, identical to the one he would bestow upon me whenever I walked through the soundproof doors of the butcher shop, 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.
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 so distilled, it burned my ears. 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 ready for 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; his was not the comfortable resignation of a 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.
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 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 slammed the phone against what I assumed to have been a pay phone. When he finally relented and I brought 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.
I’ve searched for Luc Louis ever since that evening. 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, not with a bang, but with a whimper.