Tuesday, December 18, 2007

'The Man' Tales - Ani and Kim

I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while. We are at present in the process of losing a very beloved pet of 15 years - and it's hard to write when your heart is broken.

(an excerpt from The Wailings - my book in progress)

Kim had changed dramatically since the last time Ani saw her in the girl’s dormitory at Laurentian University. Her long dark hair had been bobbed and it curled softly around her ears, giving her a pixie-ish look that was very appealing. Although Kim was only 7 months older, Ani felt like a young country bumpkin next to her. Even sitting in a dark smelly barroom, Kim looked almost elegant in a filmy white muslin dress that reached her ankles. Her painted toenails peeked out of Indian leather sandals and matched her fingernails. Her wide mouth was coated with matching lipstick and her little white teeth glowed in the dark and, Ani noted, even the spaces in between those teeth managed to look cute on her friend. Kim’s heavily freckled face had the right amount of makeup on it and her brown eyes were enhanced with a soft peach color; the latest in fashion. Both girls had come directly from work, yet Ani felt underdressed and out of touch in her fashion sense. She tried to rationalize the differences between the two of them as they sipped their beer and chatted, but it only made her feel worse.

Kim had a job as a secretary at Biltmore Hats where she did some typing and fetched coffee for her boss. She lived with her parents who were slightly more upper middle class than lower middle class, and while they didn’t need the money, they charged her a token amount of rent to try and get her adjusted to real life.

Ani, on the other hand, had complete and total control over the branch of Black Furs that her parents had left her in charge of. It was her responsibility to sell enough fur coats to pay the rent on the store and her apartment, plus all the bills that went along with these locations. Food, clothing and makeup were extras that assumed their own level of priorities for Ani, and she hadn’t given much thought lately to the latter two. Sitting across from her friend, she briefly wished for a normal job with a paycheck, but it wasn’t what she had agreed to. As she raised her glass to her lips, she suddenly realized how Jerome had manipulated her into something that greatly benefited him. He had waited until she was vulnerable before giving her the ‘escape’ she craved without any regard to how she would have to struggle. Her desire to get away from her unhappiness had overshadowed Jerome’s offer and she hadn’t given it a lot of thought when she agreed to it. I’ll show him, she thought as she downed her beer and lit another cigarette.

As summer came to an end, Kim announced her decision to remain in the workforce and not return to university. The girls celebrated after work at their favorite drinking spot in their usual manner. Over a couple of cold ones, Kim informed Ani that she was also moving into a bed-sitter just a block away from the railway overpass. Not only would they now live closer to each other, but Ani would have to walk past her place on her way home. This changed everything for both of the girls. After work, Kim got off of the bus downtown and went to Black’s Furs. Here she waited until Ani closed the store at 6pm and together they would walk the two blocks to the King Edward Hotel where they stopped for a couple of drafts. From there, Ani walked Kim to her bed-sitter where she would stay and chat for a while before heading off home.

One night, near the end of October, two young men approached their table and asked them if they could buy them a drink. The girls were deep in a conversation about Kim’s work, and the appearance of the two guys momentarily left them speechless (and probably not too intelligent looking as well, Ani thought). After the awkward giggles were over and done with, the girls asked the guys to join them at their table and introductions were made all around. It was apparent from the beginning that Bob favored Kim and Terry seemed to like Ani. The laughter and flirting that ensued reminded Ani of the pub at the university and she found herself withdrawing slightly as the evening progressed. After too many drafts, Terry offered the girls a ride home and the four of them piled into an old beater that was parked near the side exit of the hotel. Something from the Beatles blared from the radio as Terry noted Ani’s address and headed off down Waterloo Avenue. Kim and Bob had their tongues down each other’s throat and were thrashing around in the backseat when Ani got out of the car in front of her apartment building. Mumbling a thankyou, she staggered to the front entrance and watched as the car swerved out of the parking lot and vanished.

The sun was coming in above the top of Ani’s bedroom curtains when she woke the next morning. Her tongue felt fuzzy where it was glued to the top of her mouth and her head pounded to the beat of her own heart. She felt hot and heavy against the sheets and she narrowed her eyes against the light as she watched the dustmotes floating in the sunbeams. By the time she got up the energy to get out of bed, she noted that it was almost noon, and she was grateful it was Sunday. She let the cold water stream over her flushed body and pound against her aching head in the hopes that it would wash away the morning’s hangover. The thought of eating made her stomach roil, and she decided a walk through the beauty of the fall trees was probably more up her alley.

The colder night air of early fall had touched the leaves along the avenue and tinted them with breathtaking colors. Seams of red and ochre etched their way along the veins of the maples, sometimes leaving smears on the flesh of the leaves. The willows were turning into strands of silver while the oak leaves flushed a burnt sienna against the sky of dodgerblue. Ani wandered down the avenue entranced by the colors and letting the smell of the slowly decaying flowers ease away her self-inflicted pain. She recognized Terry’s car as she approached Kim’s bed-sitter, and she stopped for a moment as she tried to figure out what it was doing there. Muffled laughter seeped around the edges of the door as she approached and she flinched inwardly at the noise her knuckles made as they rapped against the wood. A momentary silence followed her knocking, and then Kim’s voice could be heard above the frantic rustling that followed.

“It’s just me Kim,” Ani said as she looked over her shoulder at the clear light of the early afternoon. When the door opened, Ani caught a glimpse of Terry’s bare back before he pulled on the sweater that he had been wearing the night before while Bob lay stretched out on Kim’s pull-out couch, a lazy and satisfied grin on his stubbled face. Kim was tying a sash around her housecoat and wouldn’t look her in the eye as she headed for her small kitchen, leaving Ani standing awkwardly in the open doorway.
“I was just going for a walk and wondered what you were up to,” Ani said as she watched Kim making coffee. The small snicker that came from one of the guys added to the awkwardness of the moment and spurred Ani on. “I’m heading down to the store to do some work that I’ve been putting off. Give me a call later when you’re not busy.” Turning on her heel, she closed the door softly and headed down the walkway, the sound of muffled laughter hurrying her along.

Walking under the railway overpass, she trudged up Norfolk Street till she reached the top of the hill. On her left, an enormous stairway stretched upwards until it culminated at the Church of our Lady. It sat on the highest point in Guelph and Ani had read somewhere that no building was allowed to be taller than the twin spires of the church. From the bottom of the stairway she could see that the doors to the church were propped open and a few worshippers were illuminated in the sunlight before they disappeared inside. On an impulse, Ani turned left and ascended the stairs, studying the Gothic architecture as she drew closer to it. None of the churches she had been to were this magnificent or had as much history as this one did. When she reached the top she stared at the gargoyles that perched on the spires and thought of the men who had died stretching this edifice into the sky. With slow steps she passed through the open doors and stood blinking against the dim light that filled the interior. Feeling like a tourist, she gawked at the stain glass windows that surrounded the vaulted ceiling, then lowered her gaze and took in the high altar. Her Baptist upbringing recoiled slightly at the sight of the innumerable saints and figures of a slain Christ that stood in the shadowed alcoves or hung on the walls. The ornately carved confessional booths fascinated her and she cautiously opened a door and peered inside one of them before turning her attention to the gigantic pipe organ. She tried to imagine how Margaret would feel if she was allowed to play this magnificent instrument, and couldn’t. Mindful of the worshippers, she walked slowly and silently around the interior of the church before finding herself in a walkway that curved around behind the high altar. Here she watched a woman light a candle in front of a carved saint before writing on a scrap of paper and inserting it into a wooden box, and then kneeling in prayer. She flushed a bright red when a priest passed her in his flowing black gown and she stammered a quiet ‘hello’ before hastening towards the front doors and freedom. As she emerged into the sunlight she felt like a huge weight had lifted off of her shoulders and she turned and studied the buildings that housed the priests and nuns. Everything was massive and ornate, and the little plain building that housed the Baptist Church she had attended would have fit in a corner of this structure.

As the days grew cooler, the riotous colors of the flowers took wing and nestled in the trees and the whole countryside was ablaze. Kim and Bob were in the throes of lust which left Ani with more time on her hands. When the two came up for air, Kim would invite Ani and Bob would invite Terry, and the four would have a drink at the King Edward Hotel. Nothing was ever said about the morning Ani had come upon the three, but Ani thought you could cut the tension in the air with a dull knife whenever she was around. As time went on, everyone relaxed and Ani discovered why Kim was so infatuated with her new beau. Bob’s fun-loving personality was the exact opposite of Terry’s sober demeanor but the two had been friends all of their lives and were inseparable. Ani felt a little sorry for Terry as he watched Bob follow Kim around like a butterfly in heat knowing he felt like a dog without its master.

It all came to an end one cold rainy night in November. Ani got the story inbetween Kim’s sobs when her friend woke her at 3:30 in the morning.
“Bob’s dead!” Kim screamed into her ear.
“What are you talking about?” Ani mumbled as she struggled with the blankets while searching for the lamp on the nightstand.
“Terry just called me from the hospital. He was driving down King Street and took the corner too fast and hit a patch of wet leaves – he lost control and hit that guardrail there and Bob went through the windshield and into a tree. He’s dead Ani.” Kim’s sobbing wrenched at Ani’s shocked brain.
“I’m on my way over Kim.”

The girls sat at the back of the same church Ani had visited just six weeks earlier and listened to the funeral service. An expanse of heads filled the church pews in front of them, and Ani could barely see Terry’s battered face as he sat in the front row next to Bob’s family. Kim’s black hat shrouded most of her pale face, and Ani held her hand tightly as the priest went through the Catholic rituals. Kim’s father waited outside to drive them to the cemetery, and at the end of the service they joined the long line of cars that wound out of the city and to the cemetery on Highway 7. The girls found a spot among the gravestones as the huge crowd gathered beside the family and surrounded the open grave. A sudden gust of cold wind blew Kim’s hat back and she grabbed at it as a light rain began to fall. In the gray afternoon light, Terry’s eyes were huge and blank. He flinched visibly when the first piece of dirt hit the casket and stared wildly into the gaping hole at his feet. Ani steadied Kim as she hung like a limp ragdoll on her arm while she kept her eyes on Terry and Bob’s family. The pain that reflected on all their faces burnt a hole in her heart and she had to turn away when the ceremony was over. Kim sagged against her, and as she helped her into her father’s car, she noticed that Terry still stood frozen beside his friend’s grave, unable to tear himself away.

As time passed, Kim slowly came back to life. She came to the store again after she got off the bus in the square and waited for Ani. With Christmas fast approaching, the fur store was busy and she often helped her friend when there were more customers than Ani could handle. Ani watched her friend’s face slowly lose its pale haunted look and begin to show a spark of interest in life outside of her broken heart. She also noticed the interest Kim showed in consuming as much alcohol as possible on their nightly journey home. Immediately following Bob’s death Ani matched Kim’s consumption glass for glass. But as time passed, she realized she was not doing herself any favors and waved away the extra glasses that were deposited on their table. Nightly she watched Kim inhale the amber fluid until she got to the point where she was ready to pass out on the table. She would then have to wrestle her friend to her feet and physically support her out of the hotel and under the overpass to her bed-sitter. Empathy for Kim’s loss and unhappiness slowly waned into impatience and boredom; she had her own devils to deal with.

After seeing Kim home at night, Ani would head down the avenue a short distance before turning onto Glasgow Street. Crossing the railway tracks she would walk to the corner of Durham and Glasgow, always remaining on the east side of the street. Here she found that a stately old oak provided protection from the weather and something to lean against as she watched a war-time house on the west side of the quiet street. The drawn curtains hid whatever activity went on inside of the small house where Bob had lived with his parents and sister, but that didn’t deter Ani from her nightly vigil. If someone had come along and asked her what she was doing there, she would have been unable to come up with an answer. That never happened and Ani’s fascination with how Bob’s family was dealing with his death continued unabated for three months. Her hours of trying to envisage them continuing on with their daily lives while the spectre of Bob haunted their every move culminated in nothing. The curtains remained drawn and Ani was left with her own imagination and the question as to why she was so fascinated in the first place. She felt a slight twinge the first time she by-passed Glasglow Street and continued on down the avenue, but it faded, much like the flowers that had been left at Bob’s grave.

8 comments:

laurie said...

oh no, oh no, oh no, i'm so sorry.
i've lived through this too with my wonderful toby. i'm so sorry.

aims said...

Thank you Laurie - I can hardly deal with the every day life when one so precious is losing theirs.

laurie said...

yes, i know. i remember. how surreal everything was, and how it went on and on, and how afterward i was sick to my stomach, literally, for a week.

it's the horrible price we pay for loving our creatures; they do not outlive us.

it will get bearable again, i promise.

I Beatrice said...

Feeling so sad for you Aims, as you grieve for your lost pet. I know that gut-wrenching feeling very well, and our own poor old cat grows perilously old, I fear...(But then so do I! It's one of the occupational hazards of being alive, I guess.)

The story progresses wonderfully though. I turn to it for consolation, in my own currently wordless state....

I was intrigued, btw, to see that you appear to distinguish between classes almost as closely, in Canada, as we do here. I was a New Zealander in my early life, and though we practised such distinctions, we would never have admitted to them - and certainly never gave them a name!

Am just off to take g/daughter to school - the last school-run before Christmas.... Do you have seasonal snow at the big blue barn I wonder...........?

Potty Mummy said...

So sorry to hear about the pet Aims.

Debra in France said...

Hi Aims, I am so sorry to hear about your pet. It is difficult to do anything at times like this. It never gets any easier, but time is a great healer. Thniking of you x

Lane said...

So sorry to hear this. It's so painful I know. Our last dog was ill for a very long time. We just couldn't make the awful decision.
Thinking of you...
(and enjoying the story)

aims said...

Dearest B - the snow is pretty scarce here - although it is very cold. I am hoping for more - that blanket that covers everything - that soothing look of large flakes slowly drifting down....

Potty Mummy - Debra - Lane and B...Thank you for your warm thoughts. The vet is trying to give him a little more time and I cling desperately to those words....