Our Secrets issue launched October 21 and is in stores now. Here on the web, we've got one last secretive story for you.
You're Fine Where You Are
by Shaun Robinson
“Isn't this yours?” Dylan says. He's dug a brown leather belt out of the pile of clothes spilling from a Rubbermaid container. His possessions sprawl across the porch and lawn of his house, his paintings and books and furniture. His wardrobe and the contents of the kitchen drawers are mixed together in boxes and containers of various sizes. The belts are mixed in with USB cables, extension cords, and scarves—Dylan's method is to sort things by shape rather than function. His house is along a bike path, and at the moment half a dozen different guys who all look like slightly more employed versions of Dylan—long hair, stubble, flannel—are looking skeptically through the piles. On the posters he made he called it a “relationship liquidation sale.”
“I gave that to you for your birthday,” I say.
“Did you? I never really wore it. Fiona would always steal it. Do you want it back?”
“Not really.” I don't mention that she always stole my belts when we dated, as well. We're friends, and Fiona is part of that, but we don't compare notes.
He looks at the belt like it's failed him in some way. “I don't know what to do with it then.”
“Neither do I.”
He tosses it back into the bin. We sit down on the couch on his porch and he hands me a beer from the half-empty case of PBR on the railing. He cups his hands around his mouth and calls out halfheartedly to a cluster of passing cyclists. “Liquidation sale! Everything must go! Come pick through my broken heart!”
I broke up with Fiona seven years ago, and Dylan is the third guy she's dated since me. I'm friends with all of them. Some people think it's strange to befriend your ex's new lovers, but to me, it makes sense—we have at least one significant thing in common.
“So what's this job in Calgary?” I say.
“My friend owns a gallery, he said he has something for me.”
“How does it pay?”
“It's not really a paid position. But he said I can crash on his couch.”
Fiona is already gone. They got engaged a year ago, and the wedding was supposed to happen this summer. The closer it got to the date, though, the less they talked about it, and a few months ago Fiona announced that she'd been accepted at a grad school in California, and she was going to go. At first, the plan was for Dylan to follow, but a week after arriving she broke up with him over the phone.
“Do you want that painting?” Dylan says. He points to an unframed canvas sitting in an armchair. The painting is cobalt blue with the word “Tums” written awkwardly across it in white. It was his final project for art school. At the graduation show, he didn't hang it, just carried it around under his arm and showed it to people, asking them if they liked it.
“I don't know where I'd put it.”
“Just prop it up on top of your toilet tank.”
“Maybe you should keep some of your art.”
He shrugs. He stands up and points at one of the lookalikes, the oldest and most graphic-designery among them. “Do you want that painting? Five bucks. But you have to prop it up on top of your toilet tank. That's the intention of the piece.”
The graphic designer pretends not to hear him, turning to give serious consideration to a blender. After a moment, he picks up his bike from where it's leaning against a fence, and leaves.
So far Dylan has made $28.
Dylan doesn't want to give up on the sale for a few more hours, but he says he'll meet me at the bar when we're done, so I go to the coffee shop across the street from the bar and try to write a poem.
The poem I'm trying to write is for an artist friend who's asked me to read at her opening next week. She says she wants either a poem that engages with a work of art, or a poem about inappropriate intimacy. For example, she's written letters to Craigslist apartments where she tells them that she “can't wait to be inside them.” I honestly intend to do this, but instead, for some reason, I end up reading Wikipedia articles on my phone about the 1972 Summit Series. I learn that the Soviets' star forward, who died in a car crash in his prime, was the exact same height and weight as me, knowledge that becomes the start of a poem that has nothing to do with intimacy:
Like Valeri Kharlamov, “a national poet of the game,”
I'm am 5'8”, 165 lbs, though Kharlamov died
at the age of 33 and I was at least
half alive that year.
Another thing I want to put in the poem: before the 2010 Olympic men's hockey gold medal game, Obama and Stephen Harper bet a case of beer over the outcome. The Canadians won, so Obama donated a case of Yuengling, which ended up, because Harper doesn't drink, in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. That case of beer is a work of art, it seems to me. Or maybe drinking it would be the art.
Three young men come in. They sit at the table beside me and toast one another with their pour-overs, which seems gauche. I have a friend who will force you to look him in the eye when you tap glasses, and he'd probably say these three were hexing themselves in some way. After awhile it becomes clear that they've been traveling together. All they talk about is how great the coffee is, how great the coffee shop is, how great the trip has been. Their conversation trails off.
“What one person would you add to this trip to make it perfect?” one says. He's just trying to spur a discussion, but the other two turn on him.
“What do you mean, make it perfect?”
He tries to explain, but they soon grow awkward. They leave without finishing their coffee.
The Brighton is our favourite bar. It's dark and quiet, and though it could be cheaper, there are seats at the window where you can have a conversation without having to stare at one another. There's a social housing unit next door, and all evening the dealers on the sidewalk walk back and forth to the alley with identically-dressed college guys. The wardrobe this year seems to be sneakers, ball caps and button-down shirts. They all look like they come from the first page of a Google image search, though I'm not sure what you'd have to be looking for to find them.
The drinks are on Dylan tonight. He managed to sell what was left of his stuff to a production designer who's working on a reality show set in an art school.
“I know it's my fault,” Dylan says. “But that doesn't make it my fault. It's just as much her fault that it's my fault.” He is drinking out of his coffee mug with a picture of the pope on it. He says it's the only thing he wants to keep. The staff here know Dylan, they don't mind him drinking from whatever. “But what about you?” he says. I've been single for six months now, and I can tell he wants to hear news of the strange country he's entered.
“I don't know,” I say. “It's hard. I go on dates. I fall in love every time. By the end of the date I'm thinking, I can't wait to spend the next two years arguing with you about where to go for dinner.”
“You stay friends with everyone, though.”
“It gets sad after awhile. It gets sad to make something and then take it apart and pretend it didn't happen.”
“I guess I'll probably stay single for awhile, too.”
“What I wish is that I were attracted to wood. Attracted to and emotionally fulfilled by elegantly carved pieces of wood.”
While he's in the bathroom I write my name on a bar napkin and try to make an anagram of it. I don't come up with anything. I've tried before and never managed. I don't think it can be done. My pessimistic take on this is that I'm irrevocably who I am, I can't be rearranged. The optimistic take is that it's a miracle the things I'm made of managed to find the only way to fit together that makes any sense.
The bar is beginning to fill up. There's a strange energy for a Wednesday evening. A storm is supposed to hit tonight, the biggest one we've had all summer. Even from inside, I can feel the dead calm of the street. The light looks flat and dull, like it's saving its energy.
Dylan comes back and I leave to use the bathroom. The bathroom of the Brixton is down a hallway, shared with a hairdresser and a bakery, and the door to the hallway has a bathroom symbol and a Post-it note attached that says “through door.” I love this note for its redundancy, because it could equally well be attached to every door that's ever existed.
When I get back I tell Dylan about the case of Yuengling in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I tell him about the note on the bathroom door. He seems to get what I'm saying.
“What I want to know is, where's the door with the note that says, 'Don't go through this door.'”
“'You're fine where you are,'” I add.
It's begun to rain, a few drops tapping at the glass.
There's a bus waiting at my stop, but something is wrong. An ambulance and a pair of police cars have pulled up beside it. The criss-cross patterns of lights on the wet stone are somehow both hectic and melancholy. The wind is starting to rise, whipping branches around and plucking eerie, twanging notes from the trolley lines. I stand on the corner of Hastings and Main and try to wave down taxis. None stop. They cruise by with the lights on. Two men on the corner are arguing. They're both wearing Blue Jays caps but everything underneath the cap is irreconcilably different.
“Leave me alone,” the younger one, who's wearing a UBC sweater, is saying. “You're just a crackhead.”
“I'm not a crackhead,” the other says. “I'm trying to help.”
The guy in the sweater catches my eye. He lunges at me like he's being washed down a river and I'm an embankment.
“I'm trying to get home,” he says. “Which way do I need to go?” He tells me his address, which is so far away it might as well be in a different city.
I wave my arm in the direction he needs to go, trying to indicate by the force of my gesture just how difficult it's going to be. “I'm not sure the buses will even take you there anymore,” I say.
“I know that,” he says, earnest. “I just want to know where to catch a taxi.”
I notice that one has pulled up across the street. It's facing the right direction for him, but not for me, so I point it out. He stumbles across the intersection, but the other man stays.
“That guy's right,” he says to me. “I am a crackhead. But I am trying to help.”
I'm not sure how to answer. Across the street, the student has the taxi door half open, but he hasn't gotten in. It looks like he's arguing with the driver. After a moment the taxi pulls away. Undeterred, he moves to the curb and starts waving at a yellow Honda.
“Someone's got to help him,” the crackhead says. When the light changes, he crosses the street.
After awhile I give up on taxis and start to walk home. Midway through the half-hour walk the storm hits in earnest. I hide under the awning of a pizza place during the worst of the rain. It smells like dust and the rain makes a hushing sound, like a vast washing machine. I feel peaceful. When it lets up I keep going.
I wonder about the college student, if I should have tried to help him. While I'm walking, I imagine that he's walking too, that he keeps walking until dawn, and when he finally gets to his door, long after I'm asleep, there's a little paper note attached. It says, “Don't come through this door. You're fine where you are.”
Shaun Robinson was born in 100 Mile House, British Columbia and now lives in Vancouver. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry is Dead, Prairie Fire, The Malahat Review, and the anthology The City Series: Vancouver. He is the poetry editor of Prism International. His first chapbook will be released by Frog Hollow Press in the spring of 2017.
Jacquie Duruisseau is a multidisciplinary artist and illustrator based out of Vancouver, BC. Her work explores themes such as nostalgia, relationships, trauma and comfort vs. discomfort. You can find more of her work on instragram @jacquieduruisseau or on her website at http://jacquieduruisseau.tumblr.com.