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Authors: George Fetherling

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Canada, #Social Science, #Travel, #Western Provinces, #Biography & Autobiography, #Archaeology

Jericho (5 page)

BOOK: Jericho
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One day a blonde woman wanting to make an appointment stuck her head in my door. She had square shoulders.

“Excuse me, are you Theresa?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

She told me her name and her story. Beth was born in Alberta. Her sister and she were raised by their mother. They had different fathers, the one deceased and the other having deserted Beth and the mother. She had never met this father but knew from her mother that he was reported alive among the Vancouver homeless not many years ago. She possessed a photograph of him taken by the mother when Beth was an infant. She had been working for a funeral director (!) but left when it got “too spooky” and had now returned to selling craft jewellery, much of which she made herself. She appeared to be wearing some: a little silvery Celtic symbol on a slender black cord fell just at the top of her breasts, like a bead of metallic perspiration, and seemed to move closer and farther away as her respiratory function went in and out, in an effect not dissimilar to 3-D. She had very fine, straight hair, like a waterfall of silk threads. I wanted to begin brushing it immediately with long slow strokes. Her hips were fecund-looking, which I always find attractive, and her eyes were blue in colour.

She informed me which of our funding partners had referred her to me and asked if I could help locate her father. I, of course, replied negatively. That isn’t what we do. I was not familiar with who, if anyone, might be operational in this area of service.

“Have you considered retaining a private investigator?”

“That never occurred to me.”

“It’s expensive, I understand.”

She bit her bottom lip and made an expression of hopelessness with her eyebrows.

We conversed with each other a bit further.

“Please leave it with me. I’ll confer with some of the others and perhaps we can formulate some ideas or some leads or so forth.”

She thanked me profoundly, as people often do. I looked at my desk diary and we found another time when we would both be free. I scheduled it for 11:45 so I could then ask whether she was free for lunch. I could tell she was one of those small-breasted women with big nipples. There’s a line in a blues song by Bessie Smith: “I got nipples on my titties as big as your thumb.” My ex-husband got all the tapes and old albums, but I digress, as is always the danger whenever one becomes excessively involved.

Bishop lied about his age. I’m pretty sure he even lied about his height. Lies were a natural part of the way he expressed himself. He seemed to have this endless ribbon of talk he could use to terrify you or caress you. He’d say things he knew that you knew couldn’t possibly be true. Then you’d discover some truth that he’d somehow—deliberately?—forgotten to mention during all the conversations. This happened after I finally got tired of him hitting on me but didn’t want to stop seeing him just yet and so finally gave in and had sex with him once (old story). On the outside of his left arm above the elbow he had three marks. They weren’t tattoos and they weren’t brands exactly but scar tissue forming three letters. What looked to me like Russian or something. They went like this: M↑R.

“You can ask me any question you want if I can ask you one too, okay?” I said.

“Okay.”

“I’ll go first. What do those scars mean?”

“I’m proud of them.”

“What do they mean?”

He rubbed his finger along the bumps. “You read the ideograms right to left. They say Journey—Warrior—Self.” He pointed to each one as he said its name, like he had done this many times before, maybe rehearsing in front of the mirror.

“Where did you get them?”

“That’s question number three and you’re only allowed one. That’s the deal.”

“Okay, your turn.”

He didn’t hesitate a second. “What does it feel like when you come?”

I was a little taken aback. I thought he was being pretty forward. I guess that sounds old-fashioned. The question really pissed me off, actually, but I didn’t want to start an argument and so I began trying to think of all sorts of funny replies. Finally, I just told him the truth. “It feels like a warm red light going on and off.”

“You mean like the cops closing in?”

“No, not like that at all.” He was being really stupid, but I wasn’t going to let it get to me. I thought I could maybe come to like him a whole lot. When you like someone, the other things don’t really matter.

Anyway, he wasn’t like that normally. Usually when we were together we just walked the city. He would say outrageous things about stuff I’d never heard of before, and I didn’t want to give him a big head by acting like I was impressed. On the other hand I didn’t want these things he came up with to be lost once the sound of the words was
gone. I trained myself to remember them until I got home, though sometimes I went to the nearest ladies’ toilet and wrote them down while I was in the stall, wrote them on little scraps of paper, cards from my wallet, whatever I had with me. That way, piece by piece, I preserve the true story as told by a liar. For example, once we passed a pair of hookers on Richards and he said to me, “All theatre has its origin in prostitution.” We walked a few more steps. “In the same way that all choral singing can be traced back to screams.” You can see why I thought this stuff was worth writing down. Later he said, “Father Death and Mother Time. A vaudeville sensation.” After I’d written these out I would think about them sometimes, trying to figure out when he was being serious and what he meant when he wasn’t.

Sometimes we’d go to his place. He had what I would call a very seventies one-bedroom suite. The little kitchen was painted with industrial enamel, bright yellow. He had a few pieces of second-hand furniture and a broken
Vancouver Sun
street box that he kept his baked goods in. There were books and dirt everywhere, artifacts, objects, a rat living under the old-fashioned bathtub, a picture of Jimi Hendrix on the wall in the bedroom. The Hendrix picture bothered me because I didn’t think Bishop was all that very much older than me, but then it was hard to tell. His body didn’t give that much of a clue; whatever age it was, it looked worn out, that’s all. Later he often did or said things to make me think the difference in our ages was even bigger than I was supposed to think it was—that’s how it seemed, anyway. “You’re Generation Z,” he would say. “The last one.” Another time I was “OG—Omega Generation.” Sometimes he would chant—like a cheerleader at a football game—“Postmod,
posthuman, postconsciousness, post everything.” I never knew if he meant himself or me or both of us or everybody.

He talked a lot about the mythical land called Snaketown that he said was where he was from. “Snaketown was one of those places where everybody is left-handed,” he would say. (I’m relying here on my bathroom notes as well as my memory.) “Snaketown was one of those places where sometimes everybody seemed to be named Smith. Like a Mexican clinic. It was a ten-cents-on-the-dollar kind of place. One of my earliest memories is the night someone was lightly murdered outside the Steamfitters’ Hall. We didn’t see the body, but the cops were still there, collecting evidence, taking down statements—probably exclamations too. I wasn’t much more than a toddler.” He used words like
toddler.
His face went dark. “I am in possession of certain documents which, if made public, would prove incomprehensible.” Then he cackled, the way he did. “In evolutionary terms, I am an embarrassing afterthought.”

One day we were on the Granville Mall where a Charlie Manson look-alike was doing a rap that both foretold the coming of the end of the world and protested against the GST. Bishop went up and for no reason hit him in the face, and then we ran away. When we finally stopped, in some lane, he broke out in an incredibly big smile, like a dog with its head stuck out the window of a moving car. I was angry with him, and terrified of his violence, but I have to admit I was excited too. Later, that evening, Bishop said, “I once made the mistake of going up and speaking to someone who looked lost. He turned out to be an evangelist.” More hooting at how clever he was.

I could go on, but I think I’ll stop now.

Almost everyone in Vancouver who isn’t lesbian or gay is bi but won’t necessarily admit it. This helps feed the polarization scenario, with gays in the West End close to the best beaches and lesbians on the East Side surrounded by ancient industrial working-class despair. As usual, the women are the losers. However, both sides have budgeted token lip service to the idea that they are part of a great alliance, as though it were all of us against the heteros, undecideds and abstainers. What a façade of lies. Gays hate lesbians because they believe we are not well enough dressed, lesbians hate gays back but we’re too polite to do so openly. This is only one of the reasons other lesbians make me ashamed to be one.

I cannot disengage from their smugness or belief in their own perfection. Of all the groups in the world today that actually do have sex (I say this to eliminate the Mormons), Vancouver lesbians are the straightest people on earth. Here I do not reference the Lotus Hotel paraphrase of sexiness. Bike-dykes with tattooed biceps and pierced parts attached to other parts that make them look like an old man in a bus terminal with a chain running from his wallet to the belt that holds up his pants—they do nothing for me but make me weary. In any case, I try very hard to keep my professional life separate. I’m referencing the ones who, for all the kick they get in life, might as well be married to men. Off Commercial you see them walking everywhere together like the old-fashioned nuns my mother had such nostalgia for. But they’re spread out in all parts of the city. They wear expensive fleece jackets from Mountain Equipment Co-op and one of them always has some type of British accent. You see them renting videos and walking
along the Seawall (never touching though). You can’t turn into the next aisle at Capers, the one in Kits, without running into them personally inspecting each individual eggplant for the right degree of purpleness. They go on holidays together to places where they fit right in, and they are thinking about finally taking that trip up the Inside Passage to look at the whales approvingly (and at the other lesbians looking at the whales). They read the news with earnestness and go to films, also with earnestness. Season tickets to something not too strenuous are undoubtedly possessed by them. They study swatches and colour charts. You can tell by a glance they don’t pound and suck but cuddle insatiably. They grow old together one glass of Merlot, one book club meeting, one magazine subscription at a time. All that Boston marriage stuff, they idealize it as a tradition that they believe has viability. I can’t take it seriously; how could anyone? They despise me and I have given up on wanting to know them. There is simply no one more Protestant than a Vancouver lesbian in her thirties, living in some tasteful condo with her lover and her houseplants, close to the amenities. (They don’t call it the
Georgia Straight
for nothing.)

It is wrong therefore to assume that animals prowling for their prey do not discriminate and judge. Animals aren’t men, after all. We, people who have come to my level of understanding, are resigned to outsourcing pleasure. Resigned but invigorated by it too. My idea of a package is a straight girl, bigger than me but not
big
as in BBW, who may or may not be white but if white is of some other ethnicity, not looking to experiment exactly but able to get that buzz in the femoral arteries when the thought first enters her
mind, is put there by me in fact. I was working on Beth but I don’t think she knew it. I would not categorize her as naive, but you wouldn’t classify her as sublunary and carnal either. She was not a flake you’d run into at Banyen Books. She was not a nutter personality in any way whatsoever—I want to emphasize that, because I was doing my best to keep my personal life separate, and if she simply happened to wander into my professional world, then the blame cannot be put upon me.

People always tell me I’m so sensitive; I could intuit that she had been feeling wounded for a long time beneath her good nature, the kind of even disposition that makes people like that prisoners of the way others always like them. I have studied this in the field; I know. The official Vancouver lesbians wouldn’t like her. She was far too much of a butter tart for the razor crowd with the steel-toed boots and not mid enough for the whale-watchers who’d bled themselves, sitting by the fire, into a kind of premature and perpetual death. Like me, she was outside of the known systems of taxonomy, and to be at my frankest, I was intending to get inside her. This was not an end result that could be achieved at a fast rate of speed.

BOOK: Jericho
3.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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