Earle came awake feeling like shit as usual. Another lousy day of walking the streets, looking for work, panhandling for enough change for a bottle of rotgut, checking out the chicks … there was frost on the window again. Wasn’t winter supposed to be over? Christ. He lay there for a couple minutes, dragging himself through the usual litany: nothing’s any good, what’s the point of just surviving, would have been better if humans hadn’t evolved to screw everything up … he was just about to move on to the detailed roundup of all the things he should have done and all the things he shouldn’t, sins of commission and omission, betrayals, failures, acts of brutality, acts of cowardice, his slow descent into despair, drunkenness, and poverty, blackouts, and now creeping paranoia and delusions … no point in getting up, no point in staying in bed … then he remembered: today was the Big Day.
With a rush he recalled his plan, how it was going to change his life, get him out of this sewer of a neighbourhood … a smile crept over his wrecked face. He felt a kind of joyous optimism. Neither one felt familiar.
He lay there feeling suddenly light and calm. Relaxed. For the first time in as long as he could remember. Maybe ever. It was all over, the grubbing, the hunger and thirst, the cold, the heat. He’d put together a plan, and today was the day. The Big Day. He even thought of it with capitals.
Okay. Time to launch himself. Get the ball rolling. First order of business: spread the word. The good news. Go around to all his friends and acquaintances and tell them all how he’d finally gotten it together to leave this dog shit of a life behind. He was escaping, and it was all on account of a dream.
He’d read about this kind of thing happening to people, but it was like hearing about somebody winning the lottery. A classic version of The Kind Of Thing That Happens To Other People. Not him. And not to anybody he knew, for that matter. And okay, sure, somebody would win the lottery every week, but not him. Somebody else. And he knew enough about odds from his brief stint as a card sharp, a rounder, back in the day when he’d believed in luck. But luck was horseshit.
Luck was something you looked back on and gave a name to, either good or bad. A series of events that either went your way or didn’t, for absolutely no reason at all. Luck was something you either believed in, or you didn’t. Anybody who believed in luck would feel blessed when it was good, and damned when it was bad. More often than not, anybody who was ‘unlucky’ believed themselves to be cursed, and would usually blame somebody or something. Sometimes luck itself.
But it was an illusion. All of it: lucky numbers, lucky pennies, rabbits’ feet, knocking on wood, walking under ladders, having a black cat cross your path … when any of those things ‘worked’ they knew luck was either on their side of against them. When they didn’t work, it meant that something was wrong. The world was out of whack. They took it personally. Inevitably, they would believe that their luck would change, or hold, and that there were ways to control that. They never figured out that it only made sense in retrospect; you knew what had just happened, but not what was going to happen next. They believed there was a limit to how many times red could come up in a row, and the trick was to wait until that limit had been reached, and bet black. Morons.
Earle stared at the ceiling, trying to remember how he’d gotten onto the subject of luck. Oh, right. The dream. The dream that had turned his life around by giving him an option. He’d felt lucky when he woke up, or blessed or something, but on further reflection he knew there was no reason. It had just happened. But that was the thing: it had happened. And now he knew what to do.
Time to get a move on. Stop lying around doing philosophy, get his ass out on the street and start putting together his stash. His friends would help if they could, strangers would help if they felt like it, but one way or another he was giving this cesspool the slip. He was outa here, come hell or high water. Maybe even today. Would depend on his ‘luck’. He had to smile at that.
After performing his ablutions such as they were, he checked his fridge to make sure there was nothing in there. It wasn’t really a fridge, because it didn’t work, hadn’t worked in years, but he kept stuff in it because he didn’t have any cupboards. Canned goods, dried goods like spaghetti and so on, and the odd thing that didn’t need to be cold, like an apple. But today there was nothing in the fridge, as he was sure they wouldn’t be. But hell, who knew? He might have been wrong about that, like he’d been wrong about so many things. But this time he wasn’t wrong. One thing about being a pessimist: being wrong would have been a pleasant surprise.
Not only didn’t he have cupboards, but he didn’t even have a closet, which was unusual for a bedroom, which is what the room had been before it became his ‘apartment’. But he figured it was an old house, and a lot of the time they had those free standing closets called armories or something, which if there had been one here, wasn’t here now. But he had a few wire hangers, so he could hang his stuff on empty curtain rods or the nails sticking out of the walls, left over from when there were pictures hanging there.
So nothing to eat … and the peanut butter jar had two quarters and a nickel in it … not enough for a bag of chips. So, time to get down into the street and score some coin. And he knew who to hit up first.
Staggering down the stairs, bad knees, bad hips, bad feet … bad stairs … bad, bad, bad … he eventually made it to the door and lurched out onto the blazing hot sidewalk, instantly blinded by the screeching sunlight. For a minute he stood there blinking like an idiot, then headed north on South Street.
Too many people out on a scorching day like this, wasn’t even noon yet, had to get up to Sonny’s before the fucker went for lunch and never came back until the next day. He never ate at his own place, he knew what was in those hamburger patties. Still, Earle didn’t have a lot of choice. Maybe he could cadge a burger. With fries. But he’d forego the fries if he thought that would clinch the deal … Sonny had money [ha ha] but he was a cheap bastard, always belly-aching about business being lousy, drove his wife’s car to work because it was a battered corolla, rotten with rust, so everybody would think he was skint. Asshole left her the Escalade with instructions not to go within ten feet of it. Made her take a taxi to the No Frills, Christ.
Sure enough, by the time he attained Sonny’s, the prick was gone, probably down to the Shamrock for their Thursday special, half-price ribs or what-the fuck-ever, nobody at the counter but Santos, the spic who pretended he couldn’t speak English … so down to the Shamrock, which was closer than his next default stop, Top Dog Collision, and a better bet because maybe Sonny would stand him to a couple of fries in addition to the bus fare to his brother’s place.
On the way he tried to bum some ‘spare change’ but his heart wasn’t in it. Even though he needed the bus fare more than he needed food. His brother lived a long way away, up north near Geraldton somewhere, and the bus was going to cost him an arm and a leg, and possibly his left nut, but the dream had been clear, and he was going. Earle didn’t actually know why his brother had summoned him, but who cared? He was heading out, getting shot of this decaying burgh if it was the last thing he did.
Sonny wasn’t at the Shamrock either, but while Earle was standing there in the foyer trying to decide where to try next, Lucy came in for her afternoon shift, and he managed to pry ten bucks out of her, which would at least get him breakfast somewhere. She liked him for some reason, and he sure as hell liked her … shiny black straight shoulder length hair, pretty face even though she overdid the makeup most of the time, but the body was a Cadillac, no argument. Not that he had designs on her; she was married to a big black guy with several scars on his face who bounced at the Boar’s Nest, but still, she was okay with a smile. And a tenner.
‘Thanks, darlin’ … big day t’day. Puttin’ together a stash, headin’ up north to visit my brother Lloyd. Haven’t been outside this bone yard in nigh on twenty years. He might even have a job for me or something.’ She smiled.
‘Cool. Bon appetite.’
‘Bon voyage, Earle.’
He shoved the tenner in his pocket, and it slid down his leg because that pocket was ripped, so he stomped his foot to shake it down, then put it in the other pocket, and stumbled across the street to Haggarty’s where he could get a beer and some bangers and mash, and who was there but Sonny, all by himself at a table by the window, tucking into a plate of shepherd’s pie. Not a fucking fry in sight. Sonny looked up as Earle eased his way over, and sort of scowled.
‘I’m leaving town.’
‘No shit. When?’
‘Soon as I can put together the scratch for a bus ticket to the tree line.’
‘Goddamn, and here I thought you’d come by to pay me back the forty clams you extorted off me last week.’
‘Oh yeah, well, when I get to where I’m going I’ll be in clover, and I’ll make good on that, but in the meantime I need two bills to get me there, so you being one of my most faithful benefactors—’
‘You think I got two hundred bucks in my pocket? Mind you, it’d be worth it to get rid of you once and for all. Is this a permanent move?’
‘Permanent as death.’
Sonny thought about this for a moment or two, then reached into his pocket.
‘I’m gonna be famous as the guy who sent your sorry ass far enough away that you couldn’t afford to come home. Where ya goin?’
‘My brother sent for me. Up north someplace. Pickle Lake or some goddamn place.’
Earle knew that wasn’t the place, but he’d temporarily forgotten the exact location. And he knew Sonny didn’t give a rat’s ass, so it didn’t matter, it was far, far away. He watched Sonny pull a wad out of his pocket, and thumb off a hundred bucks. Having done that, he looked up at Earle under heavy black eyebrows and dared him to ask for more. Earle let his face sag with disappointment.
‘Okay, lissen, I see your ugly mug anywhere within a thousand mile radius of this town ever again, I’ll squeeze this outa you with my bare hands.’
Incredibly, Sonny peeled off another five twenties and added them to what he was already holding. Earle eyed the stash, but knew better than to reach for it.
‘So why’d your brother send for you, anyway? He lost his last marble?’
‘He didn’t say. But he’s got his own business, so you never know. Might have something for me.’
Actually, Lloyd hadn’t said much of anything in the dream, just kind of gestured for him to come along as he walked away, grinning like a dog eating cat crap. But the feeling was one of optimism and promise. Good times ahead. No details, just an invitation.
‘Brother’s that stupid. is he?’ Earle wanted to say something shitty back, but Sonny had the edge. So he gave him the stink-eye instead. But Sonny either didn’t notice or thought it was funny. Finally, Sonny handed over the bills so he could continue eating his lunch. Earle had the urge to say ‘thanks’ but thought better of it when he saw how eagerly Sonny attacked his shepherd’s pie. What the hell, he’d come for the money, he had the money—Hallelujah!—what was there left to do or say? Not like he was ever coming back. This was a bridge he could afford to burn without a single qualm. And he had lots of experience burning bridges, sometimes even before he came to them ha ha.
One thing for sure, he wasn’t gonna eat breakfast in that dive. He’d head on down to the Chinaman for a quick special. On his way out the door, Earle pondered the possibility of drumming up a few more dollars, seeing as how the Toronto bus prob’ly wasn’t even scheduled to leave until around two or three. And then there was the transfer to Geraldton or wherever. Which was a pig when you considered the trip would take eight or nine hours and get him into Geraldton [if that’s where he was actually supposed to go] by ten at the earliest, and then he’d have to get a taxi to Lloyd’s place [if he could find out where he actually lived] and probably not much before eleven, but that was a small price to pay, unlike the ticket, which would sure as shit be a king’s fucking ransom.
There was nothing special about the special at Danny Chows, but it filled the hole. He’d shoved it in too fast, gave himself a slight gut ache, but he had to keep moving while there was till daylight. He was feeling so pumped he even left a tip.
It occurred to him, standing on the flaming sidewalk sucking up the exhaust fumes, that he should make an effort to find out exactly where Lloyd lived before he left, so he wouldn’t end up driving around the north woods for hours, looking for God knows what, racking up a huge cab fare that he wouldn’t be able to pay, but what was the guy gonna do, drive him back to the bus station? And Lloyd probably had some loose change lying around, even if he wasn’t home. Earle’d done some time for helping himself to other peoples’ goods, and he knew how to jimmy a window. Lloyd wouldn’t mind anyway
Looking around for an idea, he noticed the library across the street, and it struck him that this was the answer to his dilemma, because they had information. And computers with Google. He knew something about Google, at least that you could find out stuff with it, and somebody in there would be able to show him how to use it, surely to Christ.
The façade looked a little forbidding, all that brick and glass, but he was no stranger to wading into the murky unknown, especially when there was little danger of severe physical harm involved. He crossed the street and approached the big sliding door, and while hesitating briefly, observed that the door was sliding open without his even touching it. Another sign. This was meant to happen. He slouched inside, and approached the main counter with as much poise as he could manage under the circumstances. The lady behind the counter, dowdy but not unfriendly, asked if she could help him.
‘I’m looking for my brother.’
‘Well, you can have a look around if you want. There’s a second floor, just take those stairs.’ Earle was momentarily disoriented, and the woman gave him an inquisitive look, like what was he up to?
‘Um, no … I mean I’m looking for his address so I can go there to stay with him. I thought you might have some kind of, um, service for that.’
‘Well … we have telephone books. Do you know where your brother lives?’
This question had so many ramifications, Earle was momentarily flummoxed. Did Lloyd live in a city? And if so was it Geraldton or Hurst or Pickle Lake or some place he’d never heard of? Not too generous with information, that Lloyd. Never had been. And anyway, would knowing the city nearest to where he lived be of any use in his search? Was there some other way to pinpoint someone’s location without resorting to a city? If he took a stab and said ‘maybe somewhere near Geraldton’ would that help at all? How much area did a phone book cover? And was he even sure that was correct? He seemed to recall that once upon a time Lloyd had moved there to participate in some sort of project to do with mining. Gold, he thought it was. Gold that wasn’t there anymore. Eventually he said, ‘Geraldton?’ And the dowdy but not entirely unattractive smiled tentatively and asked for his brother’s name.
‘And his last name?’
‘I don’t think he changed his name. It’s always been Lloyd.’
‘Yes, but … his surname. Lloyd what.’
‘Oh, sure, I gotcha. Same as mine. Higgs. Lloyd Higgs. Sorry, I haven’t eaten today.’
Karin [he’d noticed her name tag] nodded sympathetically, and sucked on her upper lip for a moment.
‘I’ll try to find that for you … unless you want a telephone book, or to wait for a computer?’
Earle couldn’t imagine anything better than having her find it for him, and he told her so. She smiled thinly, nodded, moved a step to her left, and turned her attention to her keyboard. After a minute or so, a frown crept across her plain but not entirely off-putting countenance.
‘I don’t see any Lloyd Higgs listed in the Geraldton and area listings. Is there any other contact he might be listed under?’
This question caused the floor to drop away under Earle’s feet. He suddenly grasped that this was not to be a straightforward process. Especially since his information was at least two decades old. With a ripple of uneasiness he realised that he had virtually no information to offer. Lloyd had not given any indication where he might be, and Earle was being forced to resort to information that was so out of date as to be almost historical. His face reddened visibly.
In fact, he now realised, he had received very little indication from Lloyd as to where, what, why, or how he was to make this trek. What had seemed clear and promising at the outset now appeared hazy and dubious, and it occurred to him that he had made some assumptions based on very little input from his brother, from whom he had—now that he thought about it—been estranged for several years. Many years, actually. Most of his life, now that he thought about it. Which begged the question, why would he be sending for him now? Maybe to make amends for whatever he thought he’d done to Earle, that had doomed him to a life of penury and woe? Punched him in the head often enough that his brain was handicapped. He probably didn’t give a shit, but in the dream he’d been smiling broadly. People change, they have abrupt [or gradual] changes of heart, attacks of remorse … God knows it could be anything, but why reflect on it now? He had a bus to catch.
But to where? That was the nagging question. How could he locate the sonofabitch? Who could possibly— … wait. Loraine! She might know. Her and Lloyd were close at one time. Not like her and Earle. Christ, she wouldn’t give him the time of day after he tried to—well, that was water under the dyke. She was his only hope. And to the best of his knowledge, he didn’t know exactly how to get ahold of her either, but he had reason to belief [or no reason to disbelieve] that she still lived around here somewhere. Maybe in the old house, after she got done taking care of the old lady, maybe she just stayed in the house, which after all was all she had after that asshole Larry Finn took off on her and left her with the kid, what was his name? Or was it a girl.
Anyway, as his sister she had a moral responsibility to help them both out, given that Lloyd wanted him to come as much as he wanted to go. He wouldn’t be able to tell her about the dream though, she’d throw him out on his ear. So how was he going to explain how he knew Lloyd had sent for him? She’d never believe it. Fuck it, he’d just say he wanted to go and patch things up with Lloyd because of a dream he’d had. That wasn’t too weird. Not as weird as what really happened. No shit, truth was stranger than bullshit.
So how to find Loraine. Hang on, she and that Diane over at the post office used to hang out a lot a few years back, maybe they still did. Thank Christ he still remembered where the post office was. Unless they moved it. He looked over at the corner where the post office had been, and wouldn’t you know it, there it was. Jesus. Ten bucks, then two hundred, and now the post office was till where it had always been. Talk about good luck, which he didn’t believe in, but what the hell else was he going to call it? He started toward the stately old building, hoping to Christ it was open. And that Diane still worked there. And that she’d kept in touch with Loraine. Christ, Earle, shut the hell up and walk!
He got there without forgetting where he was going, and stumbled inside. He was really hungry now, that miserable Sonny. But food could wait. He needed some info, ASPCA.
He collided with the counter and leaned on it, catching his breath, and looked around. He didn’t see Diane anywhere, but then maybe he’d forgotten what she looked like, so he signalled to a kid behind the counter who was trying to ignore him.
‘Hey, young fella.’ The kid ignored him even harder.
‘Hey you, young man, can I ask you a question?’ The kid looked up and sighed, giving Earle the once-over without even considering trying to hide it.
‘Is Diane around?’
‘Diane who.’ Earle felt the blood [what there was of it] rising up his ruined frame to his scrawny neck and up into his blotched and craggy unshaven face. ‘How many freakin’ Dianes you got workin here, ya—’ He caught himself just before he managed to spit out the nasty epithet he had on the tip of his furry tongue. ‘ —ya handsome devil? C’mon son, I got a tenner for ya!
Earle dug into his bottomless pocket and hoped he hadn’t put the stash from Sonny in it, then tried the other pocket and sure as hell it was there. He pulled the cash out so the little prick could get a glimpse of it, peeled of a ten, and waved it seductively toward the twerp, who had an abrupt change of attitude and came over with some sort of look on his face that could have been a smile.
‘You mean Diane Simmons?’
‘Think so, I’m a little fuzzy. What’s the other one’s name?’
‘What other one.’
‘The other one that works here, wouldn’t it be?’
‘Oh. You never said she worked here.’ Earle narrowed his eyes in what he hoped was a cut-the-crap kind of way. ‘Does this Diane Simmons work here … dude?’
‘Any other Dianes workin’ here?’
‘Is that particular Diane here somewhere?’
‘Prob’ly out back, somewhere.’ This was taking an absurdly long time, and Earle was having a challenge keeping his cool, but he was too close to his goal now to take any chances by reaching across the counter and ripping the kid’s breather out, even if he’d had the strength to do so.
‘Okayyyy, how do I get out back?’
Earle felt himself beginning to snap which wasn’t a good thing, but then had a brainwave. He shrugged and tucked the stash back into his pocket, said, ‘Well, I guess we’re both outa luck, sport.’ and turned to go. The kid perked up.
‘I could go back and tell her you’re here to see her. Who should I say wants to speak with her?’ Earle thought about this for a time, then got another brainwave.
‘Tell her a guy with money.’ He pulled out the stash and peeled off two tens, but didn’t hand them over, and waited for the dweeb to figure out this was his only option. Trust, man … an endangered species. But then he got his third and final brainwave, and handed over the bills. ‘I guess we wouldn’t want her to see this transaction and get the idea you were takin bribes.’ He tried for a wink, but wasn’t sure he’d succeeded. The kid snatched the bills, ands tucked them into his pocket with a nod [he nearly saluted] and disappeared into ‘the back room somewhere’.
After a couple minutes of unintelligible squalling back there, a woman emerged in a frumpy grey suit and untidy red hair, looking pissed off. When she saw Earle, she stopped dead and swore. ‘You!’ she spluttered, making no further attempt to approach him. ‘I thought I’d seen the last of you!’
‘Hey, Diane, good to see you too. You’ll see the last of me if I can get some co-operation. I need to find Loraine.’
‘The hell you do. You leave her alone, you hear me?’
‘I just need some information, Jesus, Diane. This is a big day for me! Does she have a phone?’
‘It’s unlisted, mainly on accounta trash like you.’
‘You know what it is?’
‘Maybe. But you’re not getting it.”
‘Okay, well, you call her up and I’ll just talk to her for three minutes, one question, one answer, and then you will have seen the last of me as my ass disappears out that door.’ She gave him a deeply suspicious look, and jammed her beefy hands onto her beefy hips.
‘What question.’ Early briefly considered telling her it was none of her damn business, but the sun had risen and would soon be sinking and he didn’t have time for any recalcitrance from this bitch. He sagged theatrically against the counter to express his displeasure with her repulsively un-willing attitude.
‘I need to find Lloyd. He’s looking for me. He’s got something lined up for me that’s gonna change everything for me, and if I don’t find him I’ll be stuck here for the rest of my sorryass pathetic life.’
‘Well, we wouldn’t want that, would we. He’s lookin for you?‘
‘Didn’ I just say that?’ He successfully resisted adding ‘ya stupid cow’.
‘So go wait out on the curb so he can find you.’
‘He’s up north somewhere!’
‘So go find a curb up north to sit on. I’ll give you Loraine’s number when hell boils over.’ Earle had forgotten her irritating habit of butchering stock phrases, but thought better of commenting on the fact.
‘For Christ’s sake, woman, you dial the number and I’ll do the talking, and you can stand right there and listen to every word, okay? That suit ya?’
Diane stood there stubbornly, obviously trying to think of a reason why this might not suit her, but finally came up with ‘We’re not supposed to use the office phones for personal business. Besides, it’s long distance. She’ll have to accept the charges.’
‘Long distance?! Where in the name of Christ is she now?! She move ‘again? ‘
‘Couple years ago. I gather you guys don’t keep in touch.’ It was beginning to feel to Earle like the good luck he’d had up to know had left town. Not that he believed in luck. But what the hell else are you gonna call it?
‘Okay, so where’d she move to?’
‘What’s it to you?’
‘I told ya! Jesus! You want shot of me or not? I’m gonna stand here and bellow until you either tell me where she lives or call her up. Your call [ya cantankerous twat, he didn’t actually say].’ Diane, not used to ultimatums, gritted her teeth. ‘Well I’m sure as hell not sending you up there. Besides you couldn’t afford the cab fare.’
‘Fine, call ‘er up then, let’s get this the hell over with, can we?’ She gave up and dialed.
The phone rang and rang and rang [Loraine obviously had no answering machine] but Diane wasn’t about to hang up, thereby putting herself in the position of having to give Earle directions to her place. Or worse, the cab fare. Easily fifty bucks one way. After eleven or twelve rings, the receiver finally got picked up, then clattered to the floor in a cloud of curses. Some fumbling, more curses, then ‘What! This better be important!’ Diane scowled her meanest scowl yet.
‘You have a collect call from the Kingston Public Libr’y. Do you accept the call?’
‘Loraine, it’s me. I’m at the libr’y . Man here says it’s important.’
‘What man!’ Diane glanced over at Earle, not even remotely prepared to tell her his name. Then she too got a brainwave. ‘Man with money.’
Dead silence on the other end. She could hear breathing, raspy, like a file on cement. ‘C’mon Loraine, I’m on the office phone, just talk to the bas—… guy, will ya?’ Another brainwave. ‘Otherwise I gotta send him out there.’
‘The HELL you will!’ Pause. Puff. Wheeze. ‘Okay, put’im on, but this better be good or your ass is glass!’
Earle could hear her bellowing; he winced. Glass? Christ, now they were both doing it. Diane held the phone out like it was a dead stinking catfish, and Earle grabbed it without so much as a by-yer-leave.
‘Loraine, honey, it’s yer long lost brother Earle. Where’s Lloyd at?’ Dead silence. ‘Don’t hang up, just gimme his address, and you’ll never see from me—hear from me, rather—forever and ever aw-little green-men.’ Another silence. Earle could feel the sweat breaking out all over his chicken bone body, especially his scalp. ‘Look, don’t make me have to come up there. I don’t wanna see you any more’n you wanna see me.’
There was a long pause. Earle stared to get panicky.
‘This dead air is costing you money, y’know.’
‘Lloyd’s dead. Been dead seventeen years. Was living up in Kenora with that scrag whatshername.’
Earl stood speechless, starting to sway on his feet, the colour draining from his face like somebody flushing a toilet. Loraine blundered on.
‘Killed them both drivin’ home from the Four Aces, drunk as a muskrat. Hit a fucking tree head on. I didn’t even go to the funeral … except there wasn’t one … but I would’na gone to it anyway. Any other questions, dipshit?’
‘Yer … yer … lyin’. YER FUCKIN LYING!’ Standing behind him, Diane jerked like she’d just sat on a snake.
‘Hey! Whoa! Watch yer damn language, Earle. This is a government institution!’ Earle turned his blanched face toward her, eyes like cue balls.
‘She’s sayin he’s dead! Lloyd’s dead?! No goddamn way!’ Back into the phone: ‘No way, bitch! I seen him! He came to me in a dream! Tell me where he is or I’ll come up there an—…’ Diane clapped her hand over her mouth. Earle noticed this.
‘Oh shit, that’s right! I forgot. Car accident. Killed himself and that tart he was living with up in … wherethehelleveritwas.’ Loraine came back at him.
‘A dream? You woke me up out of a dead sleep! I mighta had a sweet dream that you got hit by a bus.’ Earle was far beyond being offended by anything Loraine said to him, especially now that he was reeling from this catastrophic disclosure.
‘Kenora …where’n the hell is that?’ Earle stammered. Diane grabbed the phone, saying ‘Gimme that!’ and clamped it to the side of her head. ‘It was Geraldton, Rainy … what’re you drinkin these days, lighter fluid? [a beat] Ya, well same to you!’
She cradled the phone violently, stared at Earle with an evil twinkle in her eye. Earle was long past being aware of her, though …started wading toward the door like a sick moose through swamp water. Diane deposited the phone back on her desk.
‘Have a nice day, Earle!’
Outside, Earle turned east toward the edge of town and sleep-walked his way down to the bridge. Water was fast under there, big rocks down there, shopping carts and bed frames and wrecked bicycles and baby strollers, snagged on the sharp edges or rocks or caught in the gaps. He stared down at the dismal wreckage. So familiar. So disheartening. And there was Lloyd again, only just his voice this time.
‘Big fuckin’ day … c’mon down to hell, Earle … we can have us a few laughs … it’s nice an’ warm down here … place is jam-packed with people know how to have a good time … so c’mon down, I’ll be waitin’ on ya … you know the way, right?’
Earle walked stolidly on towards the bridge. He knew the way.
Retired professional actor and playwright, now turning to writing short stories.