from "ESCAPE NOTES: LONDON" (fiction)
The difference between Guinness warm and extra cold. That the taps still pour it. Guinness, what were they thinking. I am wearing a new shirt, that she picked up just before I knew. Bought out of habit. Before she finally left. It is raining for the first time since we've been. I am wearing a new brown shirt with a zipper at the pocket. The pub plays "New York Minute." Almost everyone in here smokes. I keep forgetting to look left or right or whatever it is, if it weren’t for the painted text on the road. The police with their machine guns in the park frighten me. All I can see now are beautiful women. It is becoming harder to think. I am becoming harder to think.
A bitter and the Sun. Jonathon makes a snide remark. I say, I'm not bitter, I'm tangy. An old joke but a good one. Jonathon has been swearing a lot since he moved here, much more than he ever did at home. Is that what happens when we leave? Do our behaviours count for less a sake of will than one of environment? What has his leaving done to him? After the last pub of the night, at the hotel bar we have to beg for last call, and end up with three more rounds. My hotel bar, become. The beautiful young Czech waitress serving us that Jonathon finds far more attractive than I do, although I consider her quite attractive. What do you have against short women? he asks. I just don’t understand you. The American couple at the next table to Ireland in the morning, off on their honeymoon. When I tell her that I'm writing a book, she says proudly, I haven’t read a book in twenty years! Why do I tell anyone that? I bite my tongue. I bit my tongue. Her husband is a nice enough fellow, the manager of a marshmallow company in Texas, but mentions repeatedly how he would punch anyone who said anything about his wife, any of these goddamned Brits. What exactly is he looking for? What, for that matter, am I?
All these pretty girls on cell phones; call these pretty, well dressed girls on cell phones. She has made me alone again; I want to call her but I know. I want to call her out of habit, on her cell phone but I know I can't, I shouldn’t. It would accomplish nothing.
The heart knows what it knows, and wants what it shouldn’t want. History wants and waits for nothing.
In Westminster Abbey, the pyx chamber, where the king once kept as private, six locks and a double door with no way out. The alter and the palpable taste of death so strong a smell, all I could think of were her thighs. All I could think of were her thighs. What was I thinking of.
In Westminster Abbey, a marker for James Wolfe, who fought heroically, it says, against Quebec. Other markers for Gladstone, Nepean, and names that bring me suddenly lonely for home. The battle of Abraham, they call it, on the Plains. My two pound pen from the gift shop, red with floating stained glass window; the kind of naked lady pen your father had, where the clothes fall off. You know what I mean. What everyone knows but few have ever seen. Has anyone? A pen from Westminster, with the stained glass either sunrise up, or slowly crashing down. I went to Westminster Abbey, home to the tombs of British royals a thousand years, and all I got this goddamned pen. Even the pigeons there were not impressed. And a courtyard across that looked too green, just short of unkempt, although every blade of grass the same length. As though they were trained that way; deliberate, and raw, to remind you just how much no human foot could stand.
Moments, I am continually made out of these unrelated moments. You have no sense of continuity, she said. You don’t know how anything interacts. You don’t know anything about women, she said. I am sitting in a pub called The Edward, finishing my sausage and mash. Jonathon is already on his second pint. Noon on a Saturday. How do any of us know anything? Two women talk about the current war the Americans have managed the British in. I haven’t yet met anyone here who agrees with the war, but for the American tourists. The further away from home, the closer you move to stereotype. I am hating myself for that. I am two steps above sunrise.
Ideas are a dime a dozen, Jonathon says. My mother used to have a Polaroid of the comedian Flip Wilson on the television. Someone here is smoking a cigar. I am beginning to lose my hold on everything.
I would like to know the number of bodies buried at Westminster Abbey. I would presume it in the thousands. Oliver Cromwell, Edward the Confessor, Mary, Queen of Scots.
At the tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots, quoting a Monty Python sketch, against myself. From one of the albums. Part two of the death of Mary, Queen of Scots…
The man in the pub last night says that's what the British share with the Canadians and not the Americans, the sense of humour; the difference between humour, I suppose, and humor. Vitreous humour, the stuff that gets in your eyes at night, that you wipe from your eyes and call it sleep.
It's that sense of the absurd. What else is lost, I wonder, with that long and long dropped "u."
I am listening to Kate Bush. It is a Wednesday afternoon in the hotel lobby, waiting again for Jonathon. I am in no hurry, reading a novel by Quebecois writer Nicole Brossard. I revel in her depictions of things. Is that even the correct phrase to use? I revel in her depictions, and her fierceness that comes across as knowing, even as she questions. I would like to have that knowing; I might never. I collect information and facts like little twigs I toss into a drawer, waiting to be organized. It might never be organized. What am I waiting for? I am afraid of losing out on that next bit of fact. I am afraid of losing track. Though by doing so, might never be able to keep it straight. I have a collection of lost and broken twigs. Someone wearing a gas mask goes by the window on a bicycle. They are the reminders of both that I have seen today.
History can be a comfort, but it can also overwhelm. I could imagine very easily being sick of history, surrounded by it, both blanket and weight. I am painstakingly modern, the 1960s British said. Thoroughly Modern Millie, a comic character from the period, in Mod style boots and mini, published by Stan Lee's own Marvel Comics in New York. Or the opening of the Tate Modern; how many years ago was that. In the 1960s, it was the Brits who led the way to all ways cultural and significant. The American Invasion. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Best, Herman's Hermits, David Hockney, Twiggy, James Bond.
Erina. I don't know why I keep looking. Three years younger, she breezed through grade ten when I was one ahead, and made us all feel small town, hicks. Why do I keep looking for her. The fiery redhead who gave me the tour of everywhere she'd had sex in public in Montreal. Wore me up and down the back streets around her sister's apartment. The sounds of squirrels chattering outside, and the goblets of tea we drank from.
I found her online a few years back, well after she had disappeared, from grade twelve further east. She was working in theatre somewhere in the London area. What it even London? I'd sent her an email and never heard back; the evidence of her online had vanished. What is she even doing now? What could she be doing? She was the only person I'd met before moving that could have possibly been doing anything.
Why do I always feel like I'm losing; why do I always feel like I'm leaving people behind, even as I'm the one standing still.
related notes: some previous fiction (in progress)