Too sunny on the belt buckles, blinding my brown eyes. Hooking them down to the sidewalk, I take control of my hazy head, walking quick with the crowds, watching for loose wallets. I’m skinny, so I slip between pants. It’s a familiar circuit on rainy days too, under the umbrellas and inside the handbags. Hey! There’s the known mullet cut! Yes, over by the plate glass doors. That’s Ed up there, jostling just up the Hastings sidewalk, debating with Miss Jehovah Witness, holding her pamphlets.
“Christians. They pop up everywhere.” That’s what he utters her way, from the deepness of his voice. He likes to eat. I ate the last of my peanut butter sandwich yesterday, but a hippie woman gave me an orange. I was sitting there with my fingers in the jar, and she walked up and gave me an orange.
“It’ll go down better,” she said.
Thank you, go down better. I thank everything, especially Woodwards, and Woodwards waits. The last of the department stores, rising faded red over Hastings Street, five grand stories above the war memorial park where the speed freaks play with their veins. Sometimes at night I go and sit up on the memorial and read the patriot names and watch the old rubbies wrapped up in dirty blankets, snoring, and Woodwards looming dark above, dark and the neon “W” on the roof revolving round and round. Yes, the great neon “W.” Spangly and candy-cane lit, sugar pouring into sunlight, that’s what I see. And then I imagine the mannequins inside, eyes blue and plastic like my tiny radio. It plays CKVN twenty-four hours a day. The announcer sits on the fifth floor, above the skywalk, banters me awake, reveals great bargains.
“Roll the music” is all I want to say.
Could I get a job? Sure, but then they’d steal my cow radio patents again. The government stole my patents for peaceful sounding milking machines and the dairy capitalists are screwing me good. I grew up on a farm hauling hay and herding cows and the capitalists slurped up all the milk and years later all I’m getting the sun in my eyes, here on sweaty Hastings. Most of the time, I work on these animal calming radio patents. But today Ed is here.
“Hey, Ed. Let’s go eat, Ed!” I must look right into his face to see him, but it’s him, the crazy blank head. He sees me too, after a while, my twenty-eight-year-old laugh lines, the gaps between my teeth.
“Oh, Fuzzy,” Ed twitches. “Come join us in the afterlife.”
The Jehovah Witness girl grins, “ear to ear,” as the pirates say. I notice her tongue, all red and flappy behind her mouth. Ed drops her pamphlets, and we walk into Woodwards. Jehovah lady can get down on her knees, she can pick them up, she can take it.
Ed and I know where to go. Downstairs. Downstairs, where the café counters sparkle so splendid and polished, so much food to order. Too many smells here, like sausages and fresh white bread. We sit together on two cafeteria stools and salivate. Service approaches.
“Hey, Ed. What to order?”
“Ten fried, Fuzzy. Sunny side up. Lots of buttered toast.”
Our waitress frowns, tapping pen against paper. Across from me, a middle-aged fatty bends over, sucking on a salmon sandwich. She shimmers under the electric lights. I blink. I see my left hand shaking. It’s a long way from my eyes…. to my hands. What to order? I notice my hands again… so far away.
The waitress’s name is Darla. She has it spelled out on a label, pinned, mashed on her breast pocket. I have a premonition.
“Five burgers, two with cheese, three without. A violently whipped vanilla milkshake and five strong coffees.”
My head is feathery light. I remember helium balloons at the farmer’s fair.
Ed nods his approval of my food requests.
“Yes, yes, a truly nutritious meal.”
He looks like a blocky android with his side-shaved mullet cut. Darla laughs. She’s got a suntan on her face. I tell Ed about my first awareness of sin. I giggle a lot in the telling. I was nine, and Rosetta was ten. She got to sleep in the attic with my four-year-old brother Sammy when she stayed at our place.
“How come Rosetta can sleep in the attic with Sammy and I can’t?” I asked Mom.
“You’re too old,” she said.
“Actually,” I explain to Ed, “I wasn’t really sexually attracted to Rosetta. She had a great voice and used to sing Sammy to sleep with “Down In The Valley” and other big hits. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to sleep with her voice.”
“Voice,” echoes Ed.
He girlfriend broke up with him not long ago. He’s hungry. We watch a corpse shovel soup down its shirt. It’s replaced the middle-aged woman across from us.
“Must have left the grave this morning,” I remark. “It’s still quite un-co-ordinated.”
“My, my,” Ed smiles to himself. “Work harder, corpse, work harder.”
That’s his favorite saying. I look at the menu cover. It’s illustrated with a gigantic roast chicken dinner, all in fancy colours. I laugh at my face, distorted, reflected in a round mirror on the wall above Ed’s head.
“Here come the goodies.”
I see fried eggs and hamburgers floating in Darla’s arms, thin Darla with the stained yellow pant suit. I’m so hungry that if I met Darla in a cabaret and she came home with me and took off her pants, the first thing I’d do would be to put the pants in a saucepan full of water and boil the stains out for soup.
Ed laughs when I tell him that. He almost chokes on laughter, shaking and rocking back and forth in his green coveralls.
“Weirdo,” he coughs. “Male chauvinist pig.”
His girlfriend kicked him out and told him to go starve for all she cared, so he didn’t eat for quite some time.
“I took her literally,” he said.
Darla leans forward with four of Ed’s ten fried and most of my burgers. I’m in love with my burgers.
“Yummy,” Ed checks his drool flow with a finger.
What a weird guy he is, six feet two, thirty years gone since manufactured in Ireland.
“You sure are a weird guy, Ed,” I say. “You could find a four leafed clover in Pharaoh’s cabaret.”
But he’s already sucking the yolks out of his sunny-side ups, down with his mouth on the yolks, sucking them up. I crunch into my burgers. They melt juices down my taste buds, filling my mouth with meaty goodness. So greasy and tasty, so hormone filled and crunchy! The milk shake goes down in two burps. We shovel for fifteen minutes before the coffees. When we drink, the liquid flow drains into us with good cheer and happy times.
“Caffeine,” I whisper. “Caffeine for kidney sanitation. Burgers for hormonal development.”
Ed looks up long enough to grin.
“The myth is false. For bladder stones only is that coffee, Fuzzy.”
“I am stoned,” I tell him. “I need nothing more.”
Darla leans over the once-crumbled ruins of my once-mighty burgers. She is making out the bill.
“It’s Saint Patrick’s Day today,” I blurt. “Saint Patrick scared the snakes out of Ireland.”
Darla sounds interested. “Did you wear green?”
She’s trying to humour me. It’s August 4th.
“No,” I say, “but there’s a leprechaun under the table.”
“Passed out, eh?”
“Passing through,” I continue, “he’ll leave you some gold if you’re nice.”
Ed intervenes. “Work harder, Darla.”
She has beautiful green mascara over her eyelids. The lizard in the basement.
“God, it’s for nothing I work easy!” She sounds irritated.
I offer my tip.
“I invented radios for cows, Darla.” She is about to turn away, but that catches her. “Back in high school I perfected the radio milking system. You see, it’s a known fact that cows give more milk listening to rock and roll….”
But she’s too busy, and I watch her clogs pass away, clogs versus her spinal cord.
“The government stole my patent!” I want to shout, but I just sit back and toothpick the food out of my teeth.
Ed stretches. What a Frankenstein! Arm reach, seven feet at least. I’m getting nervous, now that I’m full.
“Thinking about walking out?” I ask
“No-one else will pay,” he grins.
“Surprise events, Fuzzy boy,” Ed stands up, raises his blank, bony face to the cafeteria light.
We roll our café stools outward, ready to break. I laugh and stumble. Ed looks white; I hope the fried eggs will hold. We begin to march. Yes, march, like at a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Past the rows of munching hungries, by the full uppers passing conversation, around the waiting empties dreaming of toasted cheese sandwiches. The Woodwards is alive with moving arms and legs, faces bobbing over counters and the pinging of cash register transactions. I feel the noise and the tension build. I feel every piece of tile pressed under my decaying sandals. I push on up the steps towards the open doors of the outside. My fingers seem to extend and grow longer, advancing towards the clean air. I mount the last step and a fat man shoves in front, slamming me against the yellow wall. The pig. I feel his ankle press mine.
“Sorry,” he mouths, but he knows as my foot lifts and pushes him over. I feel myself grin when he trips, spinning towards the stairs. But I don’t want him to hit Ed… is that Ed, breathing hard right behind me?
It’s the cut as I turn, the sharp cut yell of a security guard. Is it closed circuit T. V., or what? How did they know? Pounding feet behind as I tear through the exit, allowing just one more glance to rip my head aside. Ed is faltering, holding up the fat man on the stairway.
“Fuzzy, go!” he screams. “Catch you on the street.”
My burgers remain stolen in my guts, the loner stretching legs down Hastings Street into the crowd of dailies shopping and jostling about in green August’s sunny days. I am glad to be one of them, glad to be filled up. My radio is safe in my baggy pants.
I think I’ll walk down to the war memorial park tonight and watch the bats. That Park is full of bats. They swarm in clouds above the trees at the south end by the bus shelter. Where they hang in the daytime I have no knowledge, maybe in the drains and messy places under the streets and behind the back alleys. I swear there’s thousands that gather on a hot summer night, and it’ll be hot tonight. Black bats. I’ll lie there on the litter-covered grass and look up at the trees and watch my friends.
Maybe I’ll think of Ed, and how he held the fat man. I’ll muse about Darla, working counters for tips. Tomorrow, I’ll make another lawyer appointment with respect to my series of radio patents for calming animals. You see, I have every right to grab my share of the goodies.
Image: Jennie Faber from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons