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Authors: George Fetherling

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

Jericho (6 page)

BOOK: Jericho
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When I was a kid I’d stand on the riverbank and try to puzzle out where it was exactly the rum-runners used to tie up. I’d stare across at the Deetroit skyline, so much taller than ours, wondering why I wasn’t looking at Babylon. Deetroit comes from the word
detritus
, meaning the garbage thrown out the window into the vacant lot or the bit of money that gets lost during the getaway. Even the foremost authorities cannot agree with each other on that. Babylon,
now that was something else entirely. Babylon, Ur, all those places, they were a trip. In those days I was heavily into drugs and Mesopotamia. I could practically visualize some of the earliest hustlers, working their magical powers at the corner of Tigris and Euphrates, being cool. Eventually my studies led me elsewhere, all the way to the true birthplace of Civ. I was drawn west, to Judea, Palestine, the West Bank, whatever you want to call it. I’ve always been drawn west. That’s what I’m doing here, how I got into a mess like this. The sun going down in the west puts some kind of force into play and certain people can’t get free of it any more than a piece of scrap metal can get out of the way of a magnet. It’s like the alleyways were paved with gold. Also, nobody was looking for me out here on the Coast.

My colleague Mo had just started maternity leave and we had no budget to secure a third person even temporarily and so Jane and I were keeping the office open on our own. In practice, this meant we had each taken over some of Mo’s responsibilities in addition to our normal positions. The jobs tended to blend together rather than stay distinct. Jane was doing both financial counselling and classic social work, and I had taken on lay therapy (which is my main interest anyway). For example, Jane returned from seeing a woman who worked at Cult Video, the local rental place on Main. “It was very weird,” she said. “She lives with a large male transsexual. There were all these women walking in and out of the apartment, and the one with the biggest breasts turned out to have once been a man.” Conversely, one day I had to go to St. Paul’s Hospital to talk with a member of the psychiatric staff, and there was a guy in the elevator who
definitely was not part of the team. I pushed one of the buttons, he pushed a higher one. Then he said, “There’s a lot of floors here I’ve been on: two, three, six, nine, eleven, twelve …” (There aren’t that many floors.) I told him he should try some of the others. I informed him: “I understand some of them are quite exotic.” But of course he was closed to my ironic rejoinder.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for Bishop when, once Beth and I had become friends, she first introduced me to him. One constituent factor was his appearance. He had shoulder-length hair, but it was from transplants, and I can imagine how he got the money for that: haggling in the washroom with people in need. He looked like an abuser himself. It was immediately apparent that he was what I call a histrio, an emotionally overcharged person. I don’t know what the situational expectation was when she told me about him—I don’t think I’m a jealous person—but when I met him I quickly realized he was borderline.

What do we mean by this? The borderline personality is one who, because of echoes of past traumas, expends most of his or her energy merely trying to remain within the boundaries set by functional society. (Of course, some rogue authorities in the field have argued that functional society is tyrannical and that these people are heroes of a kind, but I put no faith in that position, which seems to me faddish old seventies nonsense.) The classic borderline personality is a jejune American or is of that type. Over thirty years or so, these profiles were developed by American clinical figures such as Otto Kernberg, James Masterson, Gunderson (the first name is unable to be recollected by me) and, here in Canada, Daniel Silvers. In Britain and Europe, borderline
personalities are called sociopaths. But then, if the nosology differs, so does the reality it names.

Bishop is also borderline in a lay sense. I mean he is borderline mediocre. Beth, who has much to learn in these matters, thinks he is an intellectual. I think he is someone who has picked up a lot of interesting-sounding babble somewhere (interesting-sounding to him) and continues to replay it out loud, in no particular or logical order, to impress people or anger them or maybe (he no doubt feels) amuse them. Personally, I am neither angry nor amused and certainly not impressed by him. He is the kind of male I might have been interested in when I was about sixteen, and that was when I was in the full throes of heteroism. Some may accuse me of not being neutral in the matter, but Bishop (I detest the way he won’t use his first name) is the one with the conflict of interest. That is how disreputable he is. He is one of the people who has tried to create a fad for his own existence. And Beth, with her abnormally bright eyes, was such a trusting person, you know. Perhaps this is what they saw in each other: a trusting person is simply an inverted paranoiac.

From the moment I met him I was of the opinion that Bishop was moving towards crime as towards a goal of some sort. At least that was the conclusion I instantly found myself approaching. He appeared to me to be experiencing the sensation that violent crime was some variety of right and that it was the light awaiting him in the darkness; he was progressing towards crime as though is was a destination to be sought. Such a case deserves watching for it is study-worthy, I thought. I could get a book out of him. If not that, then a conference paper. Certainly an article for a juried journal.

It is important to be able to leave, to check out, like our life was the old Dempster Fireproof Hotel back in Snaketown. Knowledge of the art of disappearance is a kind of insurance. “Always X-ray the dice before the game begins,” as Lonnie used to say. That’s why I live in this dump with the rat squeaking under the bathtub at night. It’s not an apartment, it’s a camp. Fixed fortifications are always susceptible to infiltration and you can grow attached to em, to the investment and the permanence. This can sometimes keep you from abandoning em when they should be abandoned.

I have these dreams. Hell, I’m a catalogue of bad dreams. Someone in the room. A man, close by. Armed, I’m pretty sure. I wake up with a defensive start. The doctor’s nurse phones to tell me that the tests are in and there’s a problem. I’ve contracted the notice of the cops. She suggests counselling, as is standard in these cases.

Or this one: My mother is dying but she looks younger than when I knew her, with high colour. I see Lonnie in myself when I assume a position behind his own eyes. Growing up in Snaketown or Babylon with others of a type whose names don’t come to mind, one of whom is now a dealer in those Lost Articles that restaurants always have signs saying they’re not responsible for. We’re all in the Devil’s Rolodex now. Which of us is going to be the first to break the law in an entirely new way? After a certain point it becomes a tactical trophy. Life as a death game, to see how long you last. Easy does it. Overdose. Over does it.

In my dreams, there is that famous dead local celebrity Boots. He speaks with an RCMP accent. He tells me there’s too much shredded paper mixed with the fuel, it won’t light.
We’re at some sort of initiation ceremony. Beth’s there too but at first she refuses to participate, but then she finally comes around. Typical. This is possibly in Snaketown down by the tracks where the old glass factory was. The Mayor’s bald head, I realize later, is part of the crowd. Everything’s unhurried, no tension. Beth’s face all friendly and mellow. First night back at my place. Read-to-death books everywhere. A big red poster of a rat, somewhat deco. Boots calls. He’s cutting throats at the other end of the line, then suddenly he’s there in the room with me, as if he’s travelled through the phone wire. At that point I wake up.

Or even this one time, it’s truly weird. The wizened old barber where Lonnie used to take me to get my hair cut down in Snaketown—one of Snaketown’s few legitimate businesses, though I think the barber made a little book on the side. “Hey Lonnie,” he says, mistaking me for my grandfather. But it’s no mistake. I am Lonnie. The place still has its battered old tongue-and-groove floor, but the space is now transformed into a kind of Snaketown boutique, selling sin collectibles and dispensing old-fashioned aromas from around the world. The barber’s wife has predeceased him and I realize that my mother has predeceased me as well, that is, if I’m not dead. I see the middle-aged man I knew hiding deep inside the old fellow standing before me. I feel like the last survivor of an age, which, when I wake up, it turns out that’s what I am. And later Lonnie and I go into Mother’s room (I’ve never been there before) to collect her effects. The bed where she died, one of two built-in cots, still unmade. A little metal shelf of her things screwed into the wall. I go through her wallet—my wallet, in fact—checking ID. A small drab cubicle, and outside the window, far down below,
a city that’s all pewter grey. It’s that fifties city again, at its peak or close to it, with the old-fashioned newsstand and the busy Dempster Fireproof Hotel. But now everyone is deaf. Applause. The day after dreaming this I realize that the room was in fact a cell.

Last dream: I am visiting this social-worker type, Theresa, in the lobby of where she works. She is her usual condescending self. I don’t have to wait long for that first elongated
nooooo
in that corrective tone that always drives me crazy. But she is decent this time all the same. She talks about the past and tells me to wait by the tree in her back garden, where she brings me some food. It’s like I am some sort of laboratory animal in a controlled experiment. Without any warning, we are in Montreal for a type of overheated sex show, but Boots is there with his goons and he translates—though as far I know he didn’t know French unless it was maybe Hell’s Angels French. Pimps and heavies.

Sometimes I invited Beth to come over to the women’s health club where I enjoy a membership, signing her in as my guest. She had to sign in too, which is how I came to know that Beth in her case isn’t a whole name or short for Elizabeth but instead is short for Bethany, a name I don’t believe I’d ever seen before. We would have a good workout, side by side on the stationary bikes, or take an aerobics class together or sit in the sauna and go out for a quick lunch afterwards. I am on the board. On the membership and finance committees as well.

BOOK: Jericho
6.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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