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Pawn shop blues - Page 3 

I stop in the living room to press play on the cd player. There's a Tom Waits cd in there I've been listening to nonstop. As his dusty voice mingles with the sunlight and the coffee smell, I start to feel a bit human. It's not a bad feeling. I'm just getting dressed when the phone rings.

"What fresh hell," I wonder aloud. "Hello?" Naturally, there is no answering voice. This has become tiresome, though still unsettling.

"Listen," I say. "I'm pretty sick of your shit. I've got a lot on my mind just now, you know. I've got a spooky cat, a shitty job and a best friend I'm considering falling in love with, plus I'm trying to make my fortune writing a harlequin romance. To tell you the truth, the last thing I need right now is this fucking phone intrigue. so how about giving it a rest, alright?"

"Stellah?"

Shit. "Hey, mom. Sorry about the f-word. I just keep getting this joker who calls up and says nothing. Doesn't even have the decency to do a little heavy breathing. Heh heh."

"Is everything okay dear?"

"Oh, sure, sure. You know, except for that stuff I mentioned earlier. What's up with you?"

"Not much dear. Just thought I'd call and invite you for dinner on the weekend. Bring Peat if you want."

My mother is among those who believe Peat is my boyfriend, despite my repeated claims to the contrary. But moms generally see what they want to see, mine especially.

"Sure mom. I'll be there for sure. I'll have to get back to you about Peat."

"But everything's okay?" she asks again.

"Couldn't be better," I lie. "Gotta go, okay? I'll see you in a few days."

I've never really been in the habit of confiding in my parents. I don't know why. I just never have. It's not like I consider them the enemy, or think they wouldn't understand me or my life. They probably would. It's just not something I've ever done. And I'm not about to start now.

In the living room, Tom Waits is singing "I hope that I don't fall in love with you." And so am I. I suspect that if I listened less to pop music and more to jazz or classical, my lovelife and perhaps my life in general would be on firmer ground. But maybe I'm making excuses. The coffee is calling me quite urgently from the kitchen. I am powerless to resist. I have set today aside to work on my cursed harlequin, a task that seems all the more ironically useless in the face of last night's debacle with Peat. Well, maybe I can use that energy, mine it for further poetic advantage. Not that there's anything remotely poetic about the harlequin. Maybe that's the problem. So I get myself a cup of coffee, turn on the computer and start staring out the window. Spadina is awash in transit buses and careless drivers and pedestrians burdened with shopping bags. Right across the street a couple, about my age, stand close together, talking intensely. They're little and cute, and though I'm far away from them, I can sense fond and friendly energy between them. Or maybe I'm projecting. But they remind me of Peat and I. So they're chatting away, and then they move closer together to kiss. His hand is on the back of her head, half buried in her hair, and she has snaked her arms around his waist, under his jacket. I feel a funny twinge, right in the spot where the bird buried its beak. And when they break apart and turn to go their separate ways, they hold hands, stretching their arms out until the very last minute, until the forces of physics break their connection.

Shit.

I turn off the computer and grab the phone.

I pace around the apartment, waiting for Peat and feeling nervous. I have a sense that this is real life, but I'm not sure whose real life. It seems to me that what is about to happen is particularly important, but thinking that way just freaks me out. And pacing is not necessarily good for my mental well-being. So I perch on the edge of the bathtub and using the soapdish as an ashtray, I chain smoke until I hear someone running up the stairs, and then a key in the lock. The door bangs open and I leap up.

"Stellah?" Peat calls.

I stand silent for a moment wringing my hands, struck with the absurdity of the situation.

"Hey, where are you?"

"In here. I'm in here, Peat."

He appears at the door of the bathroom and stands there puzzled. We look at each other wordlessly for a beat or two. I don't know what is required of me at this instant. And so I burst into tears, and sit back down on the rim of the tub.

Peat's face is a storm. His golden green eyes widen in confusion, and he moves toward me, arms extended. I wave him away. "I'll be okay," I say. "Just give me a sec. Why don't you go in the other room. I'll be right in." But the ridiculous tears continue to roll down my face. Peat backs away slowly, a look of puzzlement and dismay creasing his features. "You sure?" he asks. His face that breaks my heart, all big gentle eyes and soft worry lines. I nod and put my hand over my eyes. "OK," he says, uncertainly. "I'll wait out here for you." In a while I manage to get a grip. I get up, splash some cold water on my face, and look at myself in the mirror. "Just shake it off, buddy," I tell my reflection. "Shake it off."

I get coffee for Peat and I and go looking for him. He is in my room, lying on my bed, arms straight at his sides. He is staring at the ceiling, looking doleful.

"Jesus," I say, putting the steaming mugs down on the desk. "What a pair we are. Isn't this supposed to be a joyful time?"

Peat squints at me, and I realize he is totally out of the loop. I have asked him over here to talk. He probably thinks, what with my shameless display in the bathroom, that I'm about to tell him we can't even be friends anymore, let alone lovers. I flop down beside him on the bed.

"I've been thinking," I say.

"Oh," says Peat, "you're always thinking."

"Shut up," I tell him. "I've been thinking about last night. Peat, you're my best friend in the whole world. I've never had a friend like you before. I can't imagine my life without you—actually, that's not true. I can imagine it and frankly, I don't like it. Of all the people I know, you're the one that understands. You're the one that speaks my language. You always have. Remember that first day we met, in your kitchen? I knew then I wanted to know you for a long time."

Peat raises himself up on one arm and looks at me. "Is this going where I hope it's going?" he asks.

"I think so," I say. "But let me finish."

"No," he says. "Shh," he says. He looks into my eyes for a moment, and then he lowers his mouth to mine. This kiss is bigger than last night's. Longer, deeper. Unbelievably more frightening. And yet I kiss him back, because it seems to me I don't have a choice. There is no decision to be made here. There is an inevitability about it. I am melting into the kiss, and into Peat. He moves his hand onto my breast and across, until he is lingering in the spot where the bird's beak was. I break away from him and sit bolt upright.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I'm sorry."

Peat sits up too, wild-eyed.

"What, Stellah? What is it?"

I shake my head mutely. Peat runs his hands through his hair and over his eyes. Energy bristles around him.

"I'm not Dug, you know. I'm not. I'm not Ashwin, either. And I'm not that freak you went out with—what was his name? The one with the razor blade problem. It's me, Stellah, Peat." He takes my chin in his hand and gently steers my head around until he can see my face. "Hello," he says. "Peat here. Your best friend. The one who loves you? Who would do anything for you? Remember?"

"it's just so weird, Peat. Don't you think it's weird?"

"No," he says. "I think it's nice. I think it's exciting. I think it's something I've wanted for a really long time."

This comes as something of a surprise to me. "Really? How long?"

Peat blushes and looks down. "Do I have to answer that?"

I laugh. "I guess you just did," I tell him. "It's just freaking me out a little—a lot—okay? So can we go a bit slower? This is uncharted territory type stuff here, my friend. This is not something I can throw myself into. I want to be with you, Peat. I sure do. I don't want you to be Dug or Ashwin or Razor Boy. But it means—it means I've got to be a different Stellah, I think. And I'm trying to find out how to do that."

"Should we go out on a date?" Peat asks, flopping down on the bed again.

"We could," I say. "I guess we should."

"Can we go out tonight?" he asks, which makes me smile.

"Are you asking me out?"

"Uh huh."

"I'd be delighted," I say.

"Can I sort of hang out here with you until it's time to go?"

"You're not what they call a fast learner, are you Peat?"

His hand in the centre of my back radiates warmth. I lie down beside him again, curling toward him, and rest my head on his chest. Beneath his flannel shirt, his heart beats a steady rhythm.

"You can stay for an hour," I say. "And then you have to go. I have a date tonight, with this guy I really like, and I have to get ready."

After Peat leaves, I continue to lie on the bed, curled into the warm hollow his body made. We agreed to meet at the Shanghai Palace at eight for dinner, which gives me four hours. I'm still not sure that starting something with him is in the best interest of either of us. However, Peat seems convinced, and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have a catalogue of worries regarding this situation, but for the time being, I am content to keep them to myself.

The traffic drones in its constant way beyond the window. Sunlight bounces from window to mirror and out into the living room. The days have begun to lengthen, and this comforts me. The threat of eternal winter has been delayed another year.

I feel a sort of aimlessness. If I was a different sort of girl, I'd spend the next four hours showering and moisturizing and getting rid of unwanted hair in preparation for my date with Peat. But such activities do not interest me. I am compelled to do something though. If I stay here in bed any longer, I will fall asleep and not make it to the restaurant on time, and Peat will think I have stood him up, and then where will we be?

I am just hauling myself off the futon when the phone rings. Throwing caution to the wind, I answer it. “Hey,” says Mona, “it’s me. Do you want to go out for coffee?” Although I have lately been berating myself for doing nothing more with my days than drinking coffee and bitching about how empty my life is, I find myself unable to resist such invitations.

Besides, Mona is not up to date on the situation at hand, so I agree to meet her at Donuts of the World. “I knew it,” she says, slurping her coffee. She has a fiendishly delighted look in her eye. “This is good, this is exciting.” “It isn’t anything just yet,” I say. She looks at me with pity. “So naive,” she coos. “No,” I say. “Really. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“Look, Stellah. You and Peat have everything in common. He knows you better than anyone, and he still likes you. You know he’d never do anything to hurt you—” “I’m not worried about that,” I tell her. “I know that for sure. What I don’t know, however, is that I won’t hurt him.” “Ah,” she says. “His mom’s really sick right now. She’s not going to last much longer. Peat’s vulnerable, and he thinks I’m a rock. But I’m going through my own stuff right now, too. I feel like I’m in full-crisis mode at all times. What if I run out of compassion for him?” “Do you really think you’re capable of running out of compassion?” I look at her. I can’t believe she has forgotten. “Don’t you remember what Dug said to me?” “Since when do you take Dug’s word for things? That’s not like you. You must be really freaked out.”

I stare into the black depths of my coffee and brood. When finally I told Dug that I couldn’t see him anymore, and not to call or come around, he accused me of being cold and unfeeling, selfish and lacking compassion and human kindness. At the time, I thought I had enough clarity to know that his response was indicative of all the reasons I’d felt it necessary to cut him loose in the first place. But his words have rankled me since, now and again. And I am impatient and edgy, and I often suspect Dug knows more—and knows more about me—than I gave him credit for. “And anyway,” Mona continued, “what’s the difference between being his friend or being his lover in terms of compassion? I mean, if you really think you’re lacking in all those ways Dug pointed out, what’s the use of even being anybody’s friend?”

“It’s just different,” I say stubbornly. “I can’t explain it.” “You can’t explain it because you don’t really believe it. You’re looking for some way out of what is a really good thing.” “Alright, look. I’m afraid I don’t know the first thing about loving somebody. I’m afraid I haven’t figured out yet how to be with someone without clinging to them. I’m afraid I’m going to lose myself in him, that I will stop being myself and turn into some jealous, possessive Rules-girlfriend. Actually, I’m afraid that’s who I really am, and being with Peat will bring it out into the open, and he, I and everyone else will be thoroughly horrified.” “Huh,” Mona says. “I’m gonna get a doughnut. Do you want one?” I nod dumbly, and she gets up, jangling a handful of change. She’s back a few minutes later, with a chocolate glazed for her and a dutchie for me.

“Why do they call it a dutchie,” she wonders aloud. “I have no idea,” I say. “Mona, did you hear any of what I said before?” She takes a delicate bite of her doughnut, licks the chocolate icing off her fingers, washes it all down with a sip of coffee. “Well,” she says. “I heard something, but since none of it made much sense to me, I decided I must have imagined it all.” “Come on, Mona, I really need your help here.”“You need help,” she replies, “that’s for sure, if you really believe all that trash that fell out of your mouth. Do you think anyone knows how to love anyone else? Do you really think you’ve been able, all these years, to conceal your true hideous nature from everyone, particularly from Peat? Get over it, Stellah. Peat is awesome, and he really likes you. And sometimes you just have to know when to grow up. Sometimes you just have to know when to say yes to things. There is no perfect time, no perfect frame of mind. You say you want someone who will get over whatever he has to in order to be with you, but all you do is construct obstacles to that happening.” We sit and look out the window, as people struggle by laden down with plastic bags of vegetables and spices and eggs. Bet their lives are simple, I think. Bet they’re happy. “I’m just scared, is all.” Mona sighs darkly. “Of course you are. If I were you, I’d be at my wits’ end. Are you going to let it stop you, though? Are you going to let it get the best of you?” “I don’t know,” I say quietly. “That’s an unsatisfactory reply,” Mona informs me. “I guess not,” I amend. “Atta girl,” says Mona. “Now finish your doughnut.”

My dreams, lately, have been fragmentary. At first, I thought I had stopped dreaming all together. But Peat and I were talking one day and I said, remember the other night when I broke the tip off the big knife? Remember yesterday when you found twenty dollars in your pocket? And he said: no, that never happened. You must have dreamt it.

So it seems my dreams have stopped trying to tell me whatever it was, and have left me to my own banality. Which means there's no point in looking to them to give me any answers about Peat and I.

Fatty is curled up at the end of the futon, licking her left leg. My head is on Peat's chest, and he's brushing the hair back from my face, tucking it behind my ear. This drives me wild, in a comforting sort of way. The progression of our relationship has been a strange one. We see each other just as much as we always have, but now we're "dating" instead of just "hanging out." We hold hands a lot. We have yet to actually "do it" and are instead spending a lot of time just lying on my bed together, talking or not talking.

"What's the worst thing that ever happened to you," Peat asks. He has been quiet all afternoon, and now this.

"Well," I say. "A bad thing happened to me when I was really little and I never told my parents about it—or anyone—for twenty years, so it kept on being the worst thing. Also, my little brother almost drowned when we were kids. That was pretty bad."

"Hmm," Peat says.

"Why?" I say. "What's the worst thing that ever happened to you?"

Peat is quiet and stops stroking my hair.

"It hasn't happened yet."

There are things I love so much about Peat it makes me lose my breath.

Peat likes vanilla. Faced with the world of thirty one flavours, he will always choose vanilla. He will spend some time humming and hawing because he feels he ought to, but vanilla is what he wants.

He works at a balloon factory. It was supposed to be just a summer job, but the whimsy of saying "I work in a balloon factory" really appeals to him. He does not feel strongly compelled to get a better job, because he firmly believes that when the time is right, the perfect job will land in his lap.

He's probably right.

He cries like a baby during sad and/or sappy movies, especially if they are on a father/son theme. When you catch him doing this, he will at first vehemently deny it, and then he will duck his head under a blanket if he's watching at home, or into his tee shirt if he's in a theatre.

Peat kisses the top of my head. I am trying hard not to cry, but this is becoming increasingly difficult in his presence. I am at a loss as to ways in which to fix him.

"Shall I make you some dinner?" he asks.

"Macaroni and cheese?" I ask.

He pinches my ear. "No," he says. "Real dinner."

"Can you do such a thing," I ask.

"Watch me," he says.

"I just might," I tell him.

He gives me a big squeeze. "I love you," he tells me.

"Me too," I reply. But after he goes to the kitchen, I lie there by myself worrying. The sunlight is dwindling, and my room bears the faint reflection of neon light at dusk. A streetcar clatters by on College street, and the squeaking of its metal wheels filters down to me in my room on Spadina, where I lie planning ways to avoid breaking my best friend's heart.

In a little while, I follow Peat into the kitchen. The smell of stirfried beef and peppers in black bean sauce is thick in the air, but it turns out to be coming from the restaurant below. Peat has found some filo paper in the freezer, and seems to be making grilled vegetables with feta cheese wrapped in filo, and risotto with porcini mushrooms on the side. The little stereo above the stove is playing Chet Baker songs, and Peat is singing along while he pops the filos in the oven. The sun is setting gloriously over the rooftops out the kitchen window. I feel a twinge of love and longing, but it's almost like a nostalgia for something that hasn't even passed yet.

"Pardon me for asking," I say. "But are you making an incredibly gourmet meal? And if you are, skinny white boy, how the hell did you learn the necessary skills?"

"I have been watching and learning," he says blithely, pouring white wine into the steaming pan on the stove. "Dinner will be served in about half an hour. Why don't you pour some wine and set the table?"

"This must be one of my better banal dreams," I say, reaching for the wine bottle.

"Just friends," Peat is singing as he stirs, "Lovers no more. Just friends, but not like before."

"I didn't know I had the ingredients for such a feed," I say. Peat is in a rare mood, but I am cautious and perplexed. Perhaps if I was a better person, I would just be glad to see him so delighted, but emotionally, Peat has been all over the place lately, and I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"When I turned 15," Peat says, peering into the skillet on the stove, "I had a birthday party. This was the year before I moved out on my own. The party was at my friend Charlie's apartment." He grinds black pepper into the risotto, and continues to stir steadily. "All my pals were there, and they all brought stuff for the party. I got a couple cases of beer, ten hits of acid, a bottle of Jack Daniels and two dime-bags of dope. There was this big mountain of intoxicants. A fifteen-year-old boy's wet dream, right?" Peat opens the fridge and disappears inside it for a moment, emerging with a block of romano cheese, which he begins to grate. "I looked around at all the stuff, and I thought: 'wow. No one got me anything. Nothing that I'll still have next week, or next year. No one even got me a card.' It was a pretty sobering moment." He adds the cheese to the risotto, stirs furiously.

"What did you do," I ask. "Did you leave your own party?"

He laughs and shakes his head. "Nope. I stayed and partied with the guys for two days. And when all the stuff was gone, I promised myself I'd never have another birthday like that, I'd never have so-called friends like that ever again." He looks up at me. "Things have been pretty good since then."

"You never told me that before," I say. I am sitting at the kitchen table, sipping my wine and watching him cook. The setting sun casts a melancholy light over the rooftops out the kitchen window, but the light on the stove throws a burnished aura around Peat's head. We look like a couple, I think. We look happy. I wonder if I will fall in love with Peat, if Peat will fall in love with me, or if maybe we already have, and this is what it's like.

"It's just about ready," Peat says. "Are you hungry?" He turns to look at me. "What," he asks.

"It smells great," I say. "I'm really impressed, Peat. I had no idea you even knew what risotto was."

"Is that what that look's all about, then?"

"What look," I ask.

"You're sitting there with a gormy look in your eyes," he says, grinning.

I can feel the tips of my ears warming as the blush spreads over my face. "Yes," I say. "I'm stunned by your culinary prowess. That's all it is. Can we eat now?"

Peat's grin takes on an element of embarrassed delight. I'm sure he has read my thoughts. "Culinary prowess," he repeats. "Yep, we can eat now."

Last night I dreamt about babies, all night long. I don't remember all the scenes, but I do know babies figured prominently in most. In the one I recall most clearly, I had been kidnapped by someone I knew, and was being forced to become a surrogate mother. While I wasn't opposed to the notion of becoming pregnant and giving birth, I remember thinking I wasn't ready to do so. I didn't feel capable. And I sure didn't trust the people who had kidnapped me to be kind to the baby once it was born. It was a bad dream. I woke up cradling my stomach.

The phone rings as I'm standing by the toaster, peering into it, watching my bagel turn brown. The toaster, like the coffee maker, is tempramental and a hand-me-down. It requires constant surveillance, but this I don't mind. Watching bread become toast is something I find very calming.

The phone rings and I scoop the receiver up without thinking. It's Peat.

"Good morning," I say.

"Hey," he replies.

"Last night was really fun," I tell him. It seems like a strange thing to say to my best friend. Before we entertained the notion of allowing a boy-girl dynamic to develop between us, I just assumed he knew I liked to hang out with him. I still figure he knows, but now I feel compelled to tell him. Weird.

"Yeh," he says.

"Everything all right, pal?" I ask him. I know as I say it that nothing is all right. His voice is crumbly. I picture him running his hands through his hair, distracted, and the hair standing up in tufts. Even though he has uttered only monosyllables, I can tell.

"What is it, Peat, what's going on?"

"My mom's in the hospital," he says quietly.

"Aw, Peat. When did this happen?"

"This morning," he says. "Real early. I guess she wasn't feeling well last night, but I wasn't here, and she decided it was nothing. But she was puking blood this morning—"

He sucks in a deep breath. I can hear him chewing on his lower lip.

"I'm coming over," I say. "Don't move. I'll be right there."

I throw on my overalls and a t-shirt and my rainslicker. It's pouring out, but I decide to take my bike. Peat's mom's house is way in the west end, and the subway will take too long.

As I fly along College street, through puddles and around parked cars, I repeat hold on peat hold on peat hold on like a mantra. I want him not to go to pieces. As long as I've known Peat, I've never really seen his strength tested. His mom only started getting sick about three months ago, and so far he's been pretty good about it. He hardly ever talks about it, even. But he hasn't seen his dad since he was a little kid, and he and his mom are really close. I try to imagine what he's doing right now, but all I can see is his teeth chewing his bottom lip. I put my head down and pedal faster.

By the time I wheel up to his mom's house—a sweet little cottagey place on Humbercrest—I'm in full panic mode. The sweat and rain mix as they pour down my face and into my eyes. I pound frantically on the front door, and it seems to take forever for Peat to answer it. I am twisting my hands and peering in the window, worried maybe Peat has gone to the hospital by himself. When he finally opens the door, we both blurt out at the same time "are you okay?" We stare at each other for a moment, and then Peat shakes his head, hard. His eyes are red and glassy.

He looks terrible, pale and messy. I put my arms out to him and he kind of falls into them, and I hold him against my soaking slicker. His head sags down on to my shoulder, and I run my hands furiously through the hair at the back of his neck and murmur it's okay, you're alright, you're okay.

I steer him back into the house and hold him up with one arm while I shake my way out of my rainjacket. I let it fall to the floor, thinking fleetingly I shouldn't leave it to stain the hardwood, but Peat's weight is heavy against me and infinitely more important.

I start to move over to the couch, but he stands his ground and says "no" with his mouth against my shoulder, so I stay put and wrap both arms around him and just hold him.

After a while, he loosens his grip on me and slides down to the floor. It is silent in the house except for the sound of rain against the window, and the light on the hardwood floor is weak and grey. Peat scooches across the floor until he bumps into the couch, and then he sits there, looking past me. I don't know how to help him, if I should talk or make him tea or hold his hand, so I sit down on the floor too and slide over to where he is and sit facing him. I lean over and kiss him softly on the forehead, the way my mother used to when I was sick or sad. He closes his eyes like he's receiving a blessing or the kiss of death. His face is drawn. I can feel the tears starting in my throat.

When he opens his eyes again he looks right at me, and the clouds in his golden green eyes make mine finally fill with water.

"Oh, Stellah," he says. His thumb pushes away a tear that has broken free of my eye and is travelling down my cheek. "Stellah, what am I going to do?"

He draws his knees up to his chest and rests his chin on them. I feel ridiculous crying when his eyes are dry, but it is the very fact of that dryness that breaks my heart. I rest my hands on his and wait. For a long time he is still, but then he slips one hand free and pats the floor beside him, so I slide over further, and snake one arm around him.

"Will you go with me," he asks.

"Of course," I say, and press my lips to the top of his head. "Do you want to go now?"

"No," he says. "Not yet."

And so we sit like that, not talking, and the rain comes down outside.

After we leave the hospital, Peat says he wants to go home and take a nap. I offer to go with him and just hang out while he sleeps, in case he wants someone around when he wakes up, but he says he wants to be alone. LIke Greta Garbo, I say, and laugh. He just looks at me, so I look out the car window for a while and try to come up with something better to say. I cannot accept that there is no way to jolly Peat—but then, it’s not my mother who’s dying, is it?

He finds a parking spot right in front of my apartment and pulls the car in. He puts the car in park, and then we just sit there for a minute with the engine humming and ticking. Peat stares at the steering wheel, and I stare at Peat.

Finally, I clear my throat. “Well,” I say. Peat glances at me. “Okay,” I say. “I guess I’ll leave you to your nap.”

Peat nods. His eyes look small and tired. It is all I can do to just leave it, not push the issue with him. I have to keep reminding myself I trust him enough to know what he needs for himself.

"Call me when you get up if you want to," I say as I step out of the car. Peat's face as he shifts into reverse is solemn and weary. He backs out onto Spadina without even shoulder checking. I watch him drive away in his mom's battered chevy nova, and I become conscious again of the lump in my throat like a skein of yarn from a sweater left unfinished. I can't even imagine how Peat is feeling, and that scares me.

I watch the road until I can no longer see the battleship grey of the car's roof in the sea of traffic. Then I turn towards my front door, fishing in my pocket for my keys. Head down, I rummage for my keychain through the empty gum wrappers and sundry trinkets I have accumulated. I have no real desire to go into my empty apartment, where I know I will just sit and brood about Peat. At the same time, I have no real desire to go anywhere else. I do think, however, that I could stand to sit in Donuts of the World for a little while, with a coffee and my notebook. And so I turn again toward the street and head into Kensington market.

Brendan is, as usual, behind the counter.

"Hey," he says as the door swings shut behind me.

"Hey," I answer, shaking my hair out of my eyes. "How's it going?"

He just nods. He's a man of very few words, which is one of the things I really like about Brendan.

"Coffee," he says.

"You know it," I tell him.

"It's just brewing," he says.

I smile and head to my favourite red stool by the window to wait.

In Kensington market, the sun is going down. The vegetable sellers are pulling in their barrows. The purveyors of second-hand jeans and bowling shirts are reorganizing their racks prior to dragging them indoors.

Some last-minute shoppers hustle into the market and try to snatch up apples and vintage prom dresses and half-price batteries before they are tucked in for the night. Donuts of the World is empty except for me and the punk rock couple. The punk rock couple are always at Donuts of the World. They like each other fifty per cent of the time. The other fifty percent they spend calling each other terrible names at the tops of their lungs, crying and screaming at each other in public. This they do without ever seeming to notice that they are in public. They have no compunction about stating loudly and unequivocably in plain English exactly what it is that makes the other a complete and utter asshole. I both admire and deplore this behaviour at once.

Today, however, they are each convinced of the other's extensive and incontrovertible virtues and are huddled together deep in punk rock love. It is almost enough to warm the heart.

Brendan brings my coffee, which goes even further towards warming that cold vessel of mine. I wrap my hands around the mug and breathe in the coffee-scented steam, hunkering down over it for comfort.

I wait for it to cool down enough to sip and let my eyes go out of focus. This is one of my best tricks. It allows me to meditate without having to go through all the prescribed mind-clearing and mantra-chanting that is so off-putting. This I have done for as long as I can remember. I am eerily proficient at it. It has caused many a person to wave their hand in front of my eyes in a really irritating way—as if I have dozed off without noticing, rather than being completely in control of my faculties and merely resting them. However, it is this proficiency which allows Dug to sneak up and slide onto the red stool next to mine.

"Hey there," he says, jauntily.

Abruptly, my eyes snap back into focus. "Hi," I say shortly. I lower my head to my mug and slurp up some coffee, and I don't turn to look at Dug.

"Haven't seen you in a while," Dug says.

"Why do you think that is, Dug?" I ask him. He doesn't seem to hear my question, or the rude tone in my voice. But then, hearing other people is not one of Dug's strong suits.

"I was surprised when you called me that time," he blunders on. "I mean, Peat and I haven't had the same phone number in ages."

"Hmm," I say. "I don't know what I was thinking."

"I was thinking maybe you wanted to get back together with me," Dug says. I look at him, astonished. He ducks his head and looks back at me with a sideways glance.

"Are you high?" I ask him.

"Really, Stellah. What else am I supposed to think? You call me up late at night when you've obviously been drinking. And you had lipstick in your voice. I remember what you're like when you're wearing lipstick."

I can feel my cheeks burning. I lift my coffee to my mouth and guzzle quickly, ignoring the fact that it's still too hot to do so. I cannot believe Dug has the nerve to sit there and say those things, even though they're practically true, and even though I know that of all the things Dug lacks, nerve is definitely not one of them. I cannot think of a single thing to say, not one single cutting thing. And Dug knows it.

"I'd be lying if I said I never thought about it, Stellah. If I said I never thought about you. But it was just never going to work out with you and I. I thought you knew that. And anyway, I'm with Tanisha now. So even if I wanted to, I couldn't, you know?"

"Right, right," I say, nodding. Perhaps my best course of action is merely to agree with Dug. "Of course. I understand."

"I'm glad," he says. "I'd like us to be friends."

"I'm sure you would," I tell him. He’s so pompous, so sure of his place in my heart—a place he doesn’t really hold anymore, even though he still haunts my head. And suddenly I realise I’m done agreeing with Dug. Forever. "But I don't think that's going to be possible, Dug."

"Oh come on, Stellah. Don't be like that. Can't we just be friends?"

"Well, no," I say. "We can't."

"Why not?"

"Well for the main reason, Dug, we never really were friends. Even when we were going out. I don't like you Dug. I never really did. And I wasn't going to tell you that, but you made me do it. And you know what?"

I get up from my stool and wrap my scarf around my neck, readying myself to leave. Dug looks shocked, and even a little sad. I am about to tell him I'm glad I've said the things I have, but it turns out I don't have the heart after all.

"I wish you well, Dug," I say instead. "I wish you well."

It surprises me, how warm the water is and how cleanly I am able to slip beneath its surface. The rolling waves of green plant life that blanket the surface are soft like velvet and only slightly slimy. I flip neatly once I am under the water, folding my body in like hands clasped in prayer and then, head pointed toward the bottom, arms out in front, I push down, propel myself into the darkness.

But again, I am surprised. For several metres the sunlight continues to penetrate the depths. And the further down I go, the further down the darkness seems to be. I keep expecting to finally reach the spot where all the sunlight is blotted out, but it never happens. The quality of the light changes, becomes more diffuse, gentler, but still, it is light.

Wrapping my hands around the stalk of an underwater vine, I descend, hand over hand. The vine’s fronds wave gently, beckoning me further. I arrive at a coralled slope, dotted by brilliant blue sea urchins, their spiny bodies radiating out like cerulean stars. Vibrant orange fish, so thin and tall, dart along the coral, occasionally plucking at urchin spines and carrying them away. Garibaldi, whispers a voice, carressing the word, drawing out the syllables. I swim closer to the silky, fiery fish and tread water as gently as I can. It is difficult to stay in place, but I want to be close, as close as I can be. The garibaldi turns its slender body to face me, or so it seems. When it turns sideways it resembles nothing so much as a sparkling gold thread, with two grubby knots for eyes. I am compelled to pat the fish, but manage to restrain myself. For his part, the garibaldi fixes me with one fishy eye, then swishes away, a brilliant urchin clasped in his mouth.

I wait a while for the garibaldi to return, but it doesn't, and soon I find myself pushing off to other parts of the ocean floor, a floor dotted by creatures so simple, so prehistoric, so beautifully ugly, sometimes.

And other times, just plain beautiful. Star fish move langorously, like soft yarn carpets with thousands of fuzzy legs. I cannot fathom how beings who live so far beneath the surface of the water are clothed in colours more vibrant than many who dwell on land. It seems somehow to defy my puny logic, but then, most things do. And so I let my wondering drift away with the very next current.

I remember reading once about spanish mackerel, little blue fish that dart with one mind in huge schools beneath the water.

These tiny ocean-dwellers have some sort of sensory organ on the side of their bodies that acts as a kind of transmitter, allowing the entire school to turn, effortlessly, almost as one body. No sooner has this remembered bit of trivia shallied across my mind than a school of that very fish surrounds me and begins its delicate synchronized dance. I try just to hang in the water without treading so as not to disturb their mysterious performance. They wave like branches in the wind, moving from side to side, not really getting anywhere, it seems. Not that I can think of anywhere but here they should be. As I hang there, face turned up toward the light that still permeates the depths, I find myself buoyed, needing less and less to churn my arms and legs to stay afloat. Almost without noticing, I have begun to turn as they turn, to swim a few inches one way and then flip gracefully and swim back the other. It seems to me there is a very good reason for this, one which will become as clear as the blue tinted light that surrounds me, in time. I swim like that, back and forth, happily driven by the whispers in the waves, thinking no longer of the legs and arms that used to plague me.

When I wake, I think only of Peat. This is par for the course, these days. It has been two days since I spoke to him. I've spoken plenty to his answering machine, and have called the hospital twice a day since we went to see his mother. She's fine, they tell me. No change, they say. This, of course, tells me nothing about how Peat is. I think about those small fish, those little spanish mackerel, and how they know, instinctively, which way to turn.

I turn in my bed with none of the grace I had underwater. The light that falters in through my filthy, streetside window lacks the brilliance of the dream. In fact, nothing in these few waking moments measures up.

I wonder if Peat would still be acting this way if I wasn't suddenly his so-called girlfriend. I question again the wisdom of becoming such a thing. It's not too late to back out, I know, and maybe Peat's just not ready for this relationship. Or maybe I'm not. Or maybe he just needs to be alone. Or maybe, just maybe, I have no idea what's going on, and maybe I can let that be knowledge enough, for once.

I decide not to loaf any longer, not to lose my day in wondering. I sit up in bed, stretch hugely, feeling the blood flow to every limb and digit.

And then I'm out of bed, in the kitchen, making coffee with Fatty winding herself around my legs. I stoop to scratch her head, which she tilts up toward me, like a sunflower following the light. I have grown to love Fatty, objectionable though she is, and I will miss her if her owner ever comes to claim her.

I call Peat while the coffee brews, gurgling and burping. The answering machine picks up after three rings, and I leave my now-customary message.

"Hey Peat. It's Stellah. It's Tuesday. Just calling to see how you're doing. I'm thinking about you man, and I hope you're feeling alright. Call me if you want to. If not, that's okay too. Love you. Bye."

I am not surprised that I have once again gotten no closer to Peat than his mother's answering machine. Disappointed and worried, certainly, but not surprised. I know he'll call me when he needs me, but I hope it's not too late, then. I want to be with him through this, and the fact that he doesn't want me there is killing me. But then, that just seems selfish, so I try to push it away.

In light of this early-morning serving of guilt and self-chastisement, I am glad when the coffee maker announces the completion of another successful round of brewing. I pour myself a steaming mug, sit down at the kitchen table, which I rarely do, with my journal and a ball point pen and try to figure out what to do with myself while I wait for Peat to come to.

Having dreamed so extensively a sub-marine life for myself, it seems only right that I head down to the lake. Not that I think the water that borders this city harbours the kind of life I swam amongst last night, but still, something compels me to at least look at the waves even if it taxes my imagination to not see the pollution.

As I sit with my coffee, I open my journal and embark on another list. This is something I have begun to find very comforting lately, this making of lists. In fact, it would be safe to say I have become obsessed with this most mundane of tasks. Certainly, many of my lists include such items as "get haircut" and "buy catfood," but I have also found myself making lists of what would make me happy, things I like about my neighbourhood and things of which Peat's eyes remind me. These topics seem to me some kind of warning of impending mental collapse, or else like the sort of lists a kindly but overworked therapist in a government-run institution might have me make if I was an in-patient there. So far, this has not alarmed me enough to stop my list-making. And so, Some Things About The City

When I was twelve, I announced to my parents that as soon as I was able, I would be ditching their suburban haven for the bright lights of downtown. I have been fascinated by the city since the first time my folks took me to the Eaton Centre to see Santa. The Eaton's Santa was, of course, the real deal. The others were elves or pretenders. This was common knowledge then. Nowadays, I'm not sure, having fallen out of the whole Santa loop somewhat.

When I have time, I like to travel by streetcar. This method of transportation can take up to triple the amount of time a subway trip can take, but I prefer it, because you get to watch the city go by.

Another drawback, however, is that more crazy people—the kind that recognize me as someone who will listen to them pour out their life’s story—travel by streetcar than by bus or subway. This may be because of the time thing. Perhaps it is the meandering, who-knows? pace of the streetcars that appeals to both me and to them. It’s hard to say, really. I once found a human ear in a pool of blood on my street. The less said about this the better. I will, however, note that when I passed by the pool of blood later, the ear was gone and bloody pawprints were all around it, so presumably, the neighbourhood had grown to include a dog with a taste for human flesh. Although the city grinds me down almost every day in some way, it also winds me up, and this is why I stay here.

Outside, the wind is intense. It picks up my hair and makes it wave to everyone who goes by. Chinatown is full of plastic applause, as the wind races over the barrows full of cheap consumer goods, rattling colanders against serving spoons. Me, I’m thinking nothing. This seems to me the best defence.

It takes forever to get down to the lake, and it’s not the best walk a girl could take in this town. Access is like an afterthought, and there’s little concession given to those on foot. I have again the feeling I often have in this city — the feeling of being a survivor, of having endured incredible odds to get to where I am. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem worth it, since often, where I am is at International Donuts, or, today, at the lake shore.

In my mind, the lake is huge, important, mythical. It’s beautiful, too, in my mind. It lurked through my ch ildhood, this vast greyish entity to the south, a thing that roiled and bubbled; a subconcious for the city. And now? Now it’s a polluted, unswimmable mess, a creature that froths and foams, forgotten, outside the city wall. Here there are no anemones, no Spanish mackerel, no garibaldis. Here there are used condoms, floating in the water, bottles and cardboard boxes, tampon applicators. There’s nothing of the mythical heart of darkness I ascribed this place — still do, or else why was I compelled down here? — and only actual darkness. Still, hands jammed in pockets, I stand on the rocks and look. I’m crazy for looking, can’t get enough of it usually. There’s not much to look at here, but that doesn’t bother me. I’ll look at anything, or nothing. The ferry chugs out slowly, toward Centre Island, and I remember there was a time Centre Island was the height of vacation fun. Things’ll never be that simple again, I think, and then chide myself for standing on the rocks beside Lake Ontario, gazing out at the world of my childhood and thinking such ridiculously obvious thoughts.

This isn’t helping Pete, I know. It isn’t even helping me.

I trudge away from the lake and all its complications, and pick up the streetcar at the foot of Spadina. The rattle of it, the pitch and roll is what I want now, another romantic childhood association, and one of the last ones left to me, untarnished, in this city. It’s virtually empty, so I’ve my pick of seats. I drop into a single on the left hand side of the car, and watch the addresses tick by. I need something, and I wish I knew what it was.

*****

I can feel the paper squares glowing in my bag. I hurry back to the apartment with them, wondering if everyone else can see them, too. In the kitchen, I put the coffee maker through its paces, then spread my purchases out on the kitchen table. The squares are the best ones yet. There’s a shiny gold paper that makes me think of pasteboard jewellery, the kind of stuff I’ve never seen, but read about in enough books when I was a kid to make me think it was pretty much the most exotic, beautiful, desirable stuff on the go. Funny, the way that works. I’m also taken with a brilliant blue paper that has a bit of a sheen. The colour is deep and transfixing, and it reminds me of that underwater dream, of swimming with the Spanish mackerel. I fan the squares out, blue, gold, violet, green, and kind of let my eyes go out of focus a bit. I could sit here all day, in a colour drenched trance.

Except that the coffee maker is its usual unsubtle self, and it grinds and burbles to a halt as my nose fills with the slightly burnt smell. I pour myself a cup and return to the table. I have serious business ahead.

It’s the precision involved in folding the boxes that appeals to me today. I make each angle as straight as a hair, as crisp as an apple. I fold slowly, methodically — it’s completely out of character for me, but perhaps that’s why it appeals so deeply. Before too long I’ve constructed a little set of nesting boxes, all different colours, and nestled them within each other. I make little lids for them too, and am delighted when they actually fit and stay on. The boxes are so deceiving, so well formed, so seemingly sturdy, and yet, and yet, made just of flimsy coloured paper. Still, they are boxes, they have a job to do. They’ll hold tiny treasures, a penny or two, small stones, paper clips. Safety pins. Whatever. Besides, beautiful and necessary are so often the same thing.

I wander through the apartment, looking for just the right small items to store in these new vessels. In the bathroom is a fragment of shell I gathered in South Carolina. It’s a pitted, chalky white, like a bit of bleached bone, rough on the outside, with a polished pearly inside. It wants protecting, I think. In the bedroom on the bureau are small buttons whose garments are long gone or forgotten. Clear plastic, a red one, a couple of black ones, they look too delicate to be spares for anything I own.

It’s funny, this detritus, these things that wash up on my shores. I wonder where they come from, how they get here, what I’m supposed to think of them, or do with them. For now, they’ll rest in crisply folded paper boxes. I gather them up and head back to the kitchen, where the boxes await their assignments.

He’s at the table when I return, sitting in the chair I left vacant. His hair is wooly where he’s been pulling at it — a gesture so familiar, I do it myself now, clench my hands in my hair at the back of my head, grabbing a handful of hair with each and then pulling slowly away. It’s like a self-administered reprimand, and, for Pete, his only styling technique. His green eyes are big, bursting, and they shine in the sunlight that speckles the kitchen. Beneath his holey jeans, he’s wearing my pink longjohns.

He stands up when I say his name, and for a second we just look at each other. I want to rush over to him, wrap my arms around him and just squeeze. But I don’t. Instead, I put the buttons and the shell fragment down carefully and wipe my hands on my overalls.

“Hey,” I say, as if he’s just someone I’m passing on the street.

“Hey yourself,” he says. There’s a table between us.

“Do you want some coffee,” I ask him, gesturing to the pot over by the window.

“OK,” he nods. “Yeah, sure.” He sits down again, stretches out his legs, waits.

I take a mug down from the cupboard, fill it, search the fridge. “There’s no milk,” I say. “Sorry. You’ll have to drink it black.”

“It’s OK,” he says. I pilot the cup over to him, sloshing just a little out on the way. My hands, so steady for box folding, are shaking now, but I get there, I put it down solidly in front of him, and then I’m just standing there, looking down, but not at him.

He hooks his fingers in my front pockets, stands up. “I missed you,” he says.

“Me too,” I say, “I left you messages, but I guess you didn’t get them.”

“Sorry,” he says. How is she, I start to ask, but he puts a hand to the back of my head, pulls me toward him, kisses me. It shocks me a little, to be so near him again after being so very far away. But the kiss is good, he tastes like vanilla, and I just want more.

Him, too. He fiddles with the clasps on my overalls a bit until I put my hand over his and say, “not here.” Still holding his hand I turn and go to the bedroom. The afternoon light slants through the window, the dust motes flutter and swoop. I kick aside the piles of clothes and books and magazines, push a stack of Harlequins off the bed and pull him down after me. We kiss so much I start to think it’s all I’ve ever done, all I know how to do. He finally works the hooks on my overalls and the straps fall off to the sides.

“You’re so beautiful,” he breathes, and it’s such a funny thing to hear him say, but I manage not to laugh.

Later we lie in a rosy heap. Pete is tucking my hair behind my ear in a way that drives me wild, and I rest my head on his chest and think about how different things were not very long ago, how quickly things change. One moment, the world is one way, and the next it’s another way altogether. I think about how I thought I knew what there was to know of Pete — the outlines of it, anyhow — and yet how much there is still to find out. How an hour ago, he was one way, and now, with the sun starting to set he is altogether another way. I am just about to share this revelation with him when he whispers something into my hair, three words’ worth.

“What,” I say, “what?” I can’t believe what he’s just said. “Say that again, Pete?”

He moves his lips away from my hair, draws a deep breath, opens his mouth to speak. I scramble up off his chest, I need to see his face when he tells me.

“She died today,” he says. A curtain falls.

I hold Pete so fiercely and for so long I think my arms will forget how to do anything else. He just lies there and takes it. He’s not crying—at least, I don’t thin k he is. He just lies still, with my knees tucked up under his, my forehead tipped down onto his neck, my tears wetting the hair that grows there. “It’s OK,” I murmur into the back of his head, “you’re alright. You’re OK.” But he doesn’t seem to be the one who needs to hear it.

When I was a child I had funny ideas about these things—well, funny ideas about most things, really, but especially about death. I thought the risen body of Jesus lived in our laundry room, and that was pretty creepy, but worse than that was my grandmother’s post-humous residence in my mother’s walk-in closet. Though in life Noni hadn’t scared me for a second, unless she caught me up to no good, a rare occasion for such a suck-up as I was, in death, she haunted me. I would race past the laundry room at the foot of the staircase, taking the steps two at a time, heart pounding from that exertion and also from the fear, then bolt past the door of my parents’ room at the top of the stairs, lest the ghost of my grandmother reach out a bony claw for me. Not sure how she got to be a bony ghost; she’d been the consummate fat Italian grandmother for as long as I’d known her and much longer. And now I think, I wish she hung out in the walk-in closet, there’s lots I’d like to ask her. But back then, when I was eight? No.

“I should go,” Pete mutters darkly, finally stirring in my arms. “There are things I’m supposed to be doing.”

“What things?” I ask. “Let me help you do them.”

He shakes his head a little on the pillow. “You don’t have to,” he says. “It’s stuff I’ve gotta do.”

“I know that,” I say, “but I’m with you. I want to help. And besides, what can you do now, anyhow? It’s past six-thirty.” This is such a banal thing to have said I almost can’t believe I’ve said it, but Peat doesn’t seem to notice. He sits up, swinging his legs off the bed like a man of action. Then he stops. Puts his hands on either side of his head and tugs the hair below his ears away, out to the side like fins. He looks at me for a sec, then away. I start to touch him, but somehow it’s inconceivable, and so I stop, my hand between us, humming in the tiny chasm between us.

There are a million things I’d ask him, all swirling in my head. Things like are you ok? Did you see her before she died? Was it fast? Did she feel it? Where do you think she is now? Who else is in your family? Do you love me? Are you going to let me love you? But even the simplest of those questions seems ridiculous, unaskable, and so I stay quiet.

Peat sits on the edge of the bed, his two feet flat on the floor, poised for further movement. The sun is going down over Spadina and the Chinese restaurant’s neon arrow flashes spasmodically against the window. The air is thick with the usual Spadina sounds of horns and sirens, the steady unbroken stream of walkers and drivers and riders. Things have changed, I want to scream at them, don’t you know? Can’t you tell? But I know what goes on. What has to go on.

In a little while I sit up, too, and kiss Peat lightly between his shoulder blades. “Huh?” he says, and then he falls silent again and continues to sit while the arrow flashes incessantly. I go into the kitchen and grate ginger into vegetable stock. I put the pot on the stove and turn the heat to medium, squirt some chili garlic sauce in the pot and put a lid on it. I wait for that to boil and I boil a kettle as well, methodically laying out things for tea. I heat the teapot and put it by, take the box of Red Rose down from the cupboard, pour milk into a pitcher, stick a spoon in the sugar bowl. When the water boils, I make the tea, and while it steeps, I chop green onions for the soup, and a tomato as well. I’d been promising Peat I’d make him this soup, and then I never got around to it, and then he dropped out of sight for awhile, but now he’s back, so I root around in the fridge for a lime and some bean sprouts, and some of the latter have gone manky in the bag, but there are enough left for my purposes. I pour the now-steeped tea into a mug that says “Food is the best defence.” I add milk and sugar and stir it up, and then I take it to Peat.

In my bedroom, the light is burning and Peat is standing in front of the mirror, scissors in his hand.

“What’s up,” I ask, setting the cup down on the dresser. Peat looks at himself a second longer, then at the tea, then at me.

“I need a haircut,” he says, “for the funeral.”

I size him up. He’s a bit overgrown. “That’s probably true,” I tell him. “You should drink this tea, though,” I say. “I’m making that soup, too. We’ll eat that, and then we’ll see about your hair.”

“No time,” he says hoarsely. “Too much to do.”

“Lots to do,” I agree, “but we’ll do it together, and then it won’t seem like so much. How about you drink this,” I pick up the cup and put it in his hand, take the scissors from his other hand. “And then we’ll see where we are.”

His fingers curl around the cup handle and he looks down at it, then up at me. His eyes look normal for a beat, and we both know, in that tiny space, that this measured conversation, this just shy of wheedling tone, this bargain-making, is what’s necessary right now. This is the new deal, and we’ll both adhere to it, for now at least. Until we figure out the lay of this new land. And then the beat passes, and I steer him to the livingroom and guide him to the couch.

“Have a seat,” I say, “put your feet up here.” He does just as I say, settling himself on the brown velvet sofa, resting his feet in their combat boots on a stack of New Yorkers on the gold-leafed coffee table. “And drink your tea.”

“Tea,” he says. “Yes.”

Later, I can’t sleep. Peat has either succumbed or is faking it. The light from the flashing arrow illuminates his face. There’s a line in his forehead. His lips are parted slightly. His hair is stil wild. “We’ll deal with it tomorrow,” I murmur, my lips against his skin. I don’t want to get up; I don’t want him to wake up alone. But each time I drift into unconciousness, I dream myself awake again. That dream with no pictures or sound. The one where you’re just falling, falling, falling, and then you land. Hard.

What I want is to see the ladybugs again, or to swim with the Spanish mackerel. I want that peace, that stillness, that light. I roll over, nestle into Peat. He stirs a little, whimpers in his sleep. Says out loud, “you can’t HAVE my autograph. I don’t WANT to talk about FOOTBALL.” Scowls, rolls away from me. I try not to take it personally. I lie awake and wait for dawn.

As the coffeemaker chews through another filterful of grounds, I spread newspaper across the kitchen floor and lay out my tools on the table.

“You coming?” I call.

“Yeah, be right there,” he yells back.

“What’s taking him so long,” I ask Fatty, but she turns her attention to her food bowl, probably can’t even hear me over the crunching. I sit down to wait for Peat. And then I see him. Dug. There in the pages of the alternative weekly newspaper spread out below my chair, looking as smug as ever. He’s posing with Tanisha Trollope, the two of them looking unbearably arty. He’s even wearing a beret, for god’s sake. Who does he think he’s kidding?

I don’t realise I’ve said it out loud till Peat calls back, “are you talking to me?”

“Oh,” I say. “I guess so. Come on out here, dude. Let me do this thing for you.” As I’m shouting across the apartment, Peat finally appears in the kitchen doorway. His hair is lopsided and short, shorn close to his head beside his ears, patchier in the back and on top.

“Um,” I say.

Peat halfway grins.

“I, um, Peat. What the fuck?”

“I cut it,” he says, gesturing to his head.

“I see that,” I say, “or, at least, I see that something happened to it. Like you dipped your head in the blender or something.”

Read more on Page 4

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