f i c t i o n t r a c y r o b i n s o n
There was a short, lean, bald son of a whore, born in a trailer near a dirt road in Sooke. Son of a welder whom his mother said was the WBA Welterweight Champion of the world.
Through public school he showed alacrity, above-average intelligence, mild dyslexia, and a type of AD/HD, only the teachers gossiped that he was a snoopy, fidgety, slow little bastard who might fell trees if there were any left and if he didn’t wind up dead of some foolish stunt, or in jail. After school, a gang of boys would wait. Kick him hard and curse his mother’s name. Once, the Dune brothers pinned him down. A crowd of boys taunted, spat on his face, the tallest, son of a plumber, unzipped his pants and pissed on him, called him a faggot—son of a squaw. The boy saw, heard, and felt, the necessity of these people, to peg him. He understood their reasons, their hypocrisies. He in turn felt their actions cruel and despicable, but he figured every place needs Jesus to quell Truth—better Jesus than unspeakable Truth.
At night his mother rubbed men in their small one bedroom trailer, while the boy slept on the couch, dreaming of a faceless fighter and a tall, quiet woman painting heroes and saints.
When he was twelve, he fatigued his teachers. “Truth, where is Truth huh where is It?” It was clear to him: Truth should pop like a balloon, dash like a fox, slide on ice, harness the river, raise the dead, and strike him, better than any bully could. Truth, be luminous, like a light of a star where the star had been. At the very least, It should fall on him.
By the time he was fourteen, Truth didn’t come, as desired. Truth didn’t, like a brick, fall on him. Under the sleeping bag, rolled up in a ball, memories flashed by/out of him, as ink bled on paper, of the teachers’ sighs, of the daily taunts, shower of piss, of the dull, passionless cries, male grunts, the sound change makes when it hits the floor, and told himself how much he hated living there. One day he stole cash from inside his mother’s mattress, wrote I OWE U, and left, roaming like a tomcat, for Victoria. Could afford a bus ticket, but hurry? Hitch, now? What’s now?
“Rain’s hard”, said a Pacheedaht woman, her battered car parked on the side of the road, behind where he was drenched and shivering. “Lots of room in the back.” He got in her car and she started driving.
“Take this. Get undressed. Oh. I’m not like that. I ain’t lookin’. Put this on. Blanket’s somewhere in the back. My aunt ah up in Nanaimo beaded it the color red, darn if I can tell now, so faded, eagle feathers almost gone. Where’re you from?”
“Government says a reserve near Bear Creek Valley. But my people are from the whole west coast of the island, including Sombrio.”
“Got Indian in me.”
“Oh, Red,” she said, “Indian’s a name Christopher Columbus called us when he came here and thought he’d discovered India.”
“The New World.”
“Sure,” she smiled.
“I’m Red, though.”
“Sure. Red mixed with white and corn yellow,” still smiling. “These days eh? who can tell red from white and white from George W. Bush?”
“He don’t know kiss from a fist of charm, and a lot of other shit. Change the subject. Where is Truth?”
“Where’s Truth at?”
“You one card short of a full deck you outta here, okay Red?” She looked at him through the rear view mirror, her eyes steady, voice even, “Put that blanket over ya. Hurry, the guards might peek-a-boo and see a stolen Mexican kid in the back.”
“Okanagan/Shushwap and one-half white man. Course I never been there, in the O Valley.”
“Make like they’re doin’ their job, huh, could fix me some time, back there.” The boy coiled in the back seat, but no way would ferry guards stop them. Mom still doesn’t know I’m gone. Guards could flag down this car though. Chipped red door, roof, nail, shoe, are provocations, more than a polished, fresh, new, red Mustang.
“They’re aching to punch their time stub.”
“Close your eyes,” she said gently, looking at the rear view mirror, “Cover half your face with the blanket and the other half with your hand and snore not that I don’t know what they think, that you’re my horny mooch, trailer trash.”
“Hey, who’re you callin’ trash?”
“Is what they think, eh, I don’t.” The woman veered off the road slowly and eased on the platform, bought two adult economy class tickets, drove ahead, then stationed her car behind a RV and rolled a joint. The boy was still, like washed up driftwood, the Pacheedaht woman, lit a blend of Drum and pot, began smoking it, slightly raised the volume of her burned music CD, Turtle Dance. The RV in front of them advanced. Two guards smiled at her, and she smiled back, offering them a toke. They shook their heads, one guard looked away, the other waved the flag, and she turned the key on the ignition, looked slightly away and ahead. “The thing is”, she spoke quietly, “they got no dog in them if we play the part. Ain’t that right, Red?” The boy not faking it snored under the burgundy throw; the woman blew smoke through her nostrils. “Yeah”, she said, and embarked on the ferry for Vancouver.
The gusts howled and the rain fell—hard. The woman and the boy stayed inside the car on the cargo deck, Turtle Dance with low volume sound, the woman tapping her feet, working her beads, the boy occasionally succumbing to the rocking of the craft, managed to open the door and empty his stomach so quietly the woman hardly noticed. Ninety minutes of Turtle Dance. The ship docked.
And the woman revved the engine that sounded like a choked dog. Sure the cops would pull her over at some point, fine her for sure, missing headlight, too. But the mainland was mysteriously absent of bush tail cops. The stretch of highway, like a ghost strip, almost empty, strange, she thought, this time of season. Once in a while she checked her rear view mirror and saw the boy looking out the window, wasn’t sure what he saw, if he looked at all. Once he glanced at her through the mirror and she looked away.
“Fall out,” she said as they approached Commercial Drive. “Take care,” she said, handed him a twenty, but he refused, got out of her car. Turned around to thank her but she was gone. He blinked his eyes hard and opened them; there was no sign of her. He stood dumbfounded, like, what the hell was that, here and gone shit? I’m no nut. “Where’d you disappear to?”
He gave up wondering, got lucky, got lifts. Two times, pretty, young college girls, one politely asking him what part of Aboriginal Australia was he from, the other, nothing, just looks, offering generous portions of figs and nuts and beer, and muffins, all the way in.
In the city, he bought a Coke, looked for a cheap place to live and came upon a brothel. He knew it was an illegal bawdy house from the moment he saw it, knocked lightly, smiled naturally, stood knees slightly bent, feet grounded, positioned like a boxer, ready to fight, avoided eye contact with the occupants, his cute dimples won a little favour, his hands crossed over his chest, he mumbled a bit, then asked politely if there was a vacancy, for a month or two, cash up front, won’t even notice he’s there. . .
One of the occupants, a girl of premature aging, started arranging his collar and humming. He said, “No,” and she put her hand down. He looked at her and all of them and told them if they called Youth Protection, he would allege that they just lured him away from his bicycle by offering him Game Boy and a chocolate shake, and that they brought him here to a nest of vermin and stench, took turns fondling and sucking him, and now it burns every time he has to piss, and he can’t find his mommy.
The girl of premature aging reached for the door, but a woman of indeterminate age with ash blond and black streaks grabbed the door, kept her eyes glued to his. She stood, her feet anchored to the ground. “This here’s no good for a gentleman like yessef. You best find a room next street ovah.”
“Been there,” he said, wondering what state of America she was from. “The thing is; they seem awfully neat.”
“That a problem for you?”
“Sort of, I’m allergic to neatness,” he said. Girls in the back cried in unison, “Ahhh . . . Poor thing.” The woman started closing the door.
“Really, really, it’s the smell of cleaning products that produces toxic shock to my brain but the air of neatness does me in, really, I’m, I’m a—”
“You’s no good fool but all right, ONE night, twenny bucks, two hunnerd for cleaning me up. I provide the beauty products—100% organic, for sensitiff skin.”
“I won’t charge you for a back rub,” said the girl of premature aging.
“Tonya, shut up,” said the woman, her voice flat and cool.
The woman, the girl, and the other girls, stepped aside, formed a V, and the boy strutted in and shut the door.
In exchange for their silence, he would fix, at no labour cost, the exterior, so it looked like a brothel, just like the one in Woody Allen’s flick, Shadows and Fog, not a pseudo-luxurious prefab-deluxe dive. The woman (who was also the landlord) sucked at her cigarette, blew smoke in his face. “Woody who?” Grey, terse eyes struck him. So the boy went out and bought the movie from a video store and held a house meeting. He wanted to rent the film, but renting anything would require of him a trail of documents, no thank you, and cash only.
The boy set things up. The landlord and the tenants sat teasing him as he fast-forwarded to the scene, John Cusack and his pals stumbling in and being given such nice hospitality by Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates, and others. The boy pointed to the decor of the house, the curtains, the sofas, the satin lapels. “The feathers”, he said, and that was all he winked, baby. The landlord’s eyes lit up. She had supplies and tools trucked in, even bought the renters some wigs, tassels and wine, brought in decorators, to redo the interior. Liquidation sale Persian carpets, foot baths, plush cushions, English chests and French mirrors not in the movie, and red, but the landlord grew a smile, by the hour. Leased the boy half the basement and told him never to enter the other half. In exchange, said the boy, she and the renters had to leave him alone. Done deal, well respected, after a while of teasing.
He worked the night shift mopping floors and toilets at a Vietnamese restaurant, was paid cash. Half the first pay went to his mother. He received no reply, and didn’t write, or call, even though he missed her and hoped that she was off the trick. As soon as he could afford it he took private lessons in Karate, then boxing. He impressed, and defeated, his instructors, in three years.
That takes you to 1993, his winning lottery ticket—fifty thousand dollars. Was going to send it to his mother, but hesitated. Smartly invested two-thirds of it, with the rest he bought a lemon. Lemon is the type of car you buy when you either intend to or don’t intentionally run it to the ground in two years, for him a year, it makes no difference. Shit engine, bright, high squeals.
His investments were medium to high risk. He managed his portfolio, waited for fish. Fish are busy, easily distractible though formally educated people eager to reel something in—something big.
In six months, he guessed the stock would plummet. Before it spiralled like a shot-down plane, at the highest value ever he dumped the stock, opened a low-interest savings account and bought mutual funds from companies with reasonably transparent and legal bookkeeping. He sold his lemon to the wrecker and bought a good used Toyota. Drove to Montreal, still with innocence, balding prematurely, clinging to his first taste of cunt until the object of his tastes, young, deft, spry, left him for a hay feverish divorced cardiac surgeon with lots of hair.
She was out with the doctor when he saw them kissing like sugar daddy with defiled ditz.
The next day, one of his mother’s friends called to say that she was murdered, by whom, he didn’t say. The young man asked the caller to repeat what happened, more slowly. The caller started recounting the final moments of his mother’s life. Suddenly, the caller’s voice drifted away, as in a dream. The young man recalled his first taste, of woman.
He was about three. Led Zeppelin from inside the kitchen radio spilled outside. The sky was cobalt, the clouds like black devil’s tea hiding the sun. Cool metallic air. Lightning flashed. Thunder reminded him of the men his mom brought in, the pitch they’d make, as they were leaving. Rain fell like ocherous broken beads, then stones.
His mother was quickly removing damp sheets from the clothesline. A neighbour’s barking mutt chased him around the yard, but the boy was swift and agile. He came between his mother’s thin, brown legs and felt a prickle of black hair rubbing against his cheek, and the wetness, the rainwater. He braced his arms around her and kicked the dog, sending it wailing on its back. “Little man,” said his mother in a calm, low voice, “don’t be afraid.” The boy turned his head inside and felt a trickle of water on his lips. He licked the spot, again and again. Finally, his mother looked down, and asked him to carry the clothes pegs into the house.
No sound, then—
“Hello? Hello? What’d you say about my mom?” — Dead air.
Who’s there? How’d you get my number?
Finally, he hung up, picked up the phone, called a police station to trace the whereabouts of his mother’s body. The cop asked for her name, put him on hold, came back, said nothing, put him on hold, said he’d look into the matter and call back. Four days later, still no call, so the boy tried again. Another cop feigning uncertainty of the last call put the boy on hold, then told him that he would call back very soon, they were flooded with calls. That much shit in Sooke at this very second, sure pig. Five days later, a cop showed up at his doorstep, saying they’d found a body sure was hers but would he come to the morgue to identify it, a formality, since there were no dental records, nobody the police had spoken to could assist, at the present time, with their very thorough and very serious crime investigation, but the body, they were quite certain who it belonged to. Sure, like they knew she was a red eye hole.
He cooperated with the police, identified his mother, went to the bank, and withdrew a sum to buy a Catholic funeral, ordered in flowers, the works. A social worker whose husband his mother had screwed on a regular basis came to the funeral, also two women he didn’t know.
He passed these days sleepless and numb, gave her trailer to a single mom after she chatted him up at the supermarket about Lazy-Eyed-Susans. “How I love their color but no place to grow them.” Front yard, he thought, after removal of the tires and metal scrap. Good wood stove in there, furniture. Need bars for the windows, locks for the door—bolts of lead. He brought his mom’s things, even her photographs of him, to a thrift store. Told the new owner of the trailer she would need to bolt up that door at night, and get herself a dog that wouldn’t take kindly to night roamers . . . and day roamers. She grinned, “First thing on my list of things to buy,” adding, “Found this—my little man found it inside the bedroom closet.”
The woman lifted his hand and put a small photo of his mother in his hand. He thanked her, put the photo in his wallet and then looked at his watch.
“I. . .”
“Next ferry leaves in twenty minutes.”
“Thanks.” He turned around and got in his car and drove away, the sun at his back.
On the mainland, rain, he strode into a slick hair salon and politely told an androgynous person to shave his head. A very pretty man hissed at the androgynous person, “Impossible, you’re booked.” But the androgynous person said, “Excuse me,” whispered to the young man, “How close a shave?”
Then, again, luck was what he called it, but then he called it providence. The young man got hired as a fitness trainer for the Y between the laundromat and the art school. Quit his awful job. Worked extra hard at the Y, trimmed down, built definition, strength, endurance, wore Lakers, oversize shirts, baseball cap, runners and shades. At night, he wore casual black, no cap, no shades. A series of brief encounters with girls of different ethnicities turned him lustful and struck by a feeling that they, with the exception of bag whores, could be beautiful and sweet, but at their very core was a soft, needy, vacuous pit and in that was nothing.
I don’t know what makes a young man lose his innocence. Is it Truth? Providence? Must be luck, too much of a good kind.
Now he’s a short, lean, bald son of a dead whore. Thirty-seven years old, no offspring he knows of, no wife, didn’t spend his entire savings on the funeral. Runs a Saint Bernard, runs a gym next to a tavern on Darling Street, uses the main floor and basement for training boxers. Don’t know what the second floor is for. I don’t ask and he doesn’t say.
When I see him spar or work the big bag, his back to me, his shirt says Freeman. His birth certificate says Tobias Two Crows Freeman. The name Freeman gets teased a bit, on a Native, in the ring. Everyone here calls him Toby, except me, I call him Red.
In a game fight, I would be his cut man or blood-stopper, not his opponent. But I’m his woman. Even if one day they said yes, Red would first be smiling, in my eyes.
He trains boxers, and anyone who is interested in boxing, a hard chasing dream. He drives a pimp car, talks big to the boys and all sweetness to me. The back of his head sticks out like deformed fruit, or alien skull. Skin the color of cinnamon, muscles smooth and tight, and teeth, colour of coffee-stained dentures only he doesn’t drink coffee, or tea, a bit of a reader, writer, cartoonist by day, stalker by night. Stalker? Well, if you bind hustling to the mind of a boxer, to pay the rent of the gym and buy pussy, fine. That is the man I fell in love with: quiet voice, light step, small hands, false nonchalance, remote, full thoughts he thinks are inaccessible . . . eyes of paradise.
Each time I look in his eyes, I see Truth, and God.
“You know that if you don’t take your medication regularly, you’re going to—”
“Climb the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Holler to drivers to hoop loonies down my shirt?”
“Well, it did happen a month ago.”
“I was hungry, hadn’t seen Montreal from that perspective at night, got three nights of supper at Reuben’s. Anyway, Fathers 4 Justice do it once in a while, so do the whale huggers and desperados. Plain panhandling is for the dry drunks and street kids.
“Have you told Red about your . . . situation?”
“Why must you call it that, situation?”
“I dislike the DSM-IV name. It’s labelling.”
“Red’s preparing for his certification, to go pro. These days, he’s passing medical tests and training himself to exhaustion. He has to stay focused. He’s got the monkey look. Soon he’ll go ape, like Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston, in the one-round rematch of ‘65. There’s never the right moment to tell Red, besides I have it under control now, right?”
“No bad effects from the new dosage?”
“You know, I only take that shit you call meds when I find people’s thoughts intrusive, or silly. You got my situation all wrong. Who knows? Maybe I don’t read people’s minds. Maybe I’m not clairvoyant either. Maybe I’m a charlatan that nobody believes; that would be one less client for you, Doctor Mind.”
“I’m very sorry. Our time is up. I have another—”
“—prescription to fill?”
“Take care of yourself, Dawn.”
“You do that Doctor Mind.”
A visit with Doctor Mind you know nothing about. It’s over. It’s the day after.
Like a baby in the secure comforts of a mother’s breast, you sleep in my arms, your breath like a boxer’s, a boxer that knows how to breathe. There is a splash of light coming through the window, colors the wall a hue, a halo for my angelical Red, the moment of day you are divine, the scent of your body, like grass, our dog, and cinnamon hearts.
You’re dreaming a bout. No foul, no rabbit punches. But the feint, fire in your eyes, jab-jab-hook-hook-JAB! Young Commonwealth pup—you show he’s no match for you, old boy. Now you’re dreaming our wedding bells, the big cake. When you wake up, I may mention the pup—he’s dead—you won’t remember—you’ll scratch your head, squint on your way to the bathroom, stub your toe, swear, pee, and leave the toilet seat up, come to bed, run your fingers through my hair, kiss me, say “Mmmm.”
I know what you are going to ask me after “Mmmm.” I wish I didn’t know. A girl like me longs for surprises. Your mama never told you never to ask a woman that in bed half dead tired and hung-over without a ring?
I bend down slightly, my hair falls in cascades, gently caressing your face, you don’t flinch. I hush to you, so softly as not to be heard. “Open your eyes . . . Open your eyes . . .” You do as I said you would.
Now, you’re in bed again.
No, no. Don’t say it!
You popped the question anyway.
You believe me surprised, and I love you for that.
I say, “No yes or no until you give me the rock. . . ,” you cheap son of a—
You see, Red, when you read minds, there are no surprises. When you read futures, you transcend histories. When you read minds, you can easily become paranoid, soft, weakened by the weight of human conscience, or lack of. When you read minds, it is easy to work things for your advantage or demise, become terrified or depressed by the inability to stop it. When you read minds, be careful what you interpret, and when, then stories like this one—Red—will not be read as if they were memoirs, or bad fiction, or prissy girly jabs at clinching mental illness as uppercuts, as red, unstoppable hooks are blocked, in power and speed.
Maybe I have a mental illness and cannot come to grips with the fact. It is hard to know Truth, from a Jesus-matter-of-fact. Been years I’m the weaver. Anyway, if I told you what Doctor Mind thinks I got, you’d chuckle, say, “All those years of university and pill learning to get paid a whammy, calling you a nut,” and that wouldn’t change a thing between us, so forget it.
Tomorrow at the Superfight, you watch, Red. I’ll block the voices around me, and yours, under the lights, off of the opening bell I’ll blush. Spar a good knockout. My fish will fry; they’ll call her “Palooka,” “Tomato Can,” “Bull,” whatever, she’ll go down.
And you will be amazed.
Tracy Robinson’s story “What War Is” appeared in Archipelago, Vol. 6, No. 2 .