I live alone. I’m alone because I’m fat, I’m ugly, I drink too much and I fucked off on my wife and two sons. My sons are almost in their thirties now and they haven’t talked to me in ten years because I’m a right dishonourable asshole. I’ve gotten what I deserve in life because it’s what I’ve worked for, which is nothing. So I’m alone. It's apparent to everyone that I’m alone because I am always out here on my second-story balcony atop the stairs to my apartment, sitting by myself either reading or staring at the street.
Turns out, that’s what I’m doing right now, sitting out here at 2 in the morning because my drinking habit is keeping me up. I’m just sitting here above it all, looking down on the neighbourhood. It's asleep for the most parts but has its occasional pass-bys of life and noise, animation and the bon viveur. 2 am is always a good time for observing the world. You learn so much about people when they don’t know they’re being observed. I hide in my little shadowy duckblind of a balcony where the ambient light doesn’t reach but for some weak reflection. I like not being seen. It makes me feel like I have an advantage, like a leopard in a tree. Sometimes I might take this notion a little too far after some drinking has been involved and I have done so.
Really, I have.
Yeah, so on a lark, I’ve hidden in the darkness watching for a group of teenagers to go by late at night, waiting until they are just at the house when I scream and yell at them like I’m going to kill them, well, actually saying things like “I’m gonna kill you! I’ve got you now! Your soul is mine!”, or else I would just effect some underworld kind of language that's a cross between the hounds of Hades and baritone vomiting. Their reactions are comic gold. Teenage girls especially will emote about anything and their screams are downright explosive, while the boys in their group will shriek but immediately try to compensate and look tough when in truth they’ve actually shat their low-hanging pants. It’s funny as hell. Of course, I have now become a lightning rod for vandalism in the neighbourhood. Especially in late October when devotees of the cult of Hallowe’en will come for me with their eggs and tomatoes and rocks. The more violent of them will come at me with home invasions after the tricker treaters have ebbed, where I’ve had to fend some off with a hockey stick that I now keep by the front door. Since then I’ve stopped and so have they. Now I am nothing more than a wise, grizzled old owl here, sitting on my perch with my swivelling head and saucer-like eyes, seeing all yet letting all pass by unaware.
I hear my ringtone and I look down at my cracked cellphone screaming blue at me through its broken mirror image. It’s Girvan calling me again. Fucking Christ. I know he’s most likely wasted at the Concorde looking for a ride home now that the buses aren’t running. I can’t help him because my beast of a car is persona non gratis until I can scrape enough money for a new alternator, but he’s still going to harangue me for a favour.
Old Girvan. I know him well enough because he’s one of those like me, who does his patriotic duty and camps out in the Timmies parking lot with a lawn chair and a paper cup in hand. It’s part of our Vanier ensemble. Girvan will always be there in the morning until the Concorde opens at 11. He’s never home, basically because he is always behind on some bill or another, so it’s better to loiter where business enterprise always keeps the lights on and the water running.
"Home is where you hang yourself,” he likes to say.
So Girvan, unfortunately for me, I’ve always felt sorry for. He’s a vicious wreck. He’s the lifelong victim of a never-ending avalanche of drugs and alcohol. You know him when you see him; his watery, baggy eyes, his long stringy greasy hair and beard, missing teeth, a complexion that looks like he’s been tanned in urine, carrying a persistent odour like a brine of sweat, tobacco and vinegar. T’boot, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing him without his trucker’s hat, you’d have seen a deep ridge set into his hairless skull like the Mariana Trench. When he sees you reacting to it, he’s proud to tell the story of how he once slipped on sidewalk ice while his hands were stuck in his pockets one night back in the Ice Age.
“Luckily, my head broke my fall,” has always been the punchline of this story, which he always punctuated with his wheezy cough of a laugh. And Girvan, he doesn’t work but isn’t above panhandling on street corners, which is a popular thing here in Vanier; an outstretched hand on every traffic island, but Girvan, he’ll always tell you he can’t do it long due to his bad back and flare-ups of gout. So I help him just once in a while when he’s in a pickle, though he’s always pickled. Unfortunately for me, it means he is always trying to worm out a favour from me, the fucking leech. So here he is again, lighting up my phone like an amber alert at stupid o’clock in the morning. This must be the 20th time he’s called tonight. I know he’ll keep calling over and over again until either he passes out or I answer and since he hasn’t passed out, I swipe my touchscreen to the right.
“Hagan, you fuggin’ asshole,” he says. “where the fug you been? I need a ride home.”
“Nah, Girvan, I’m too drunk now and my car is fucked, I can’t.”
“Well, fuck what good are you ta me?” he shouts into the receiver.
He goes into a long rant on how he’s out of money and the buses aren’t running and the hospital got wise to his taxi chit scam after faking seizures there one too many times.
“Sorry to hear that,” I say, “but I still can’t help because I’m still drunk and my car still won’t start.”
“Well fuck, I can’t fuckin’ well walk! What the fuck am I gonna do?”
This is when I decide that I’m going to make him regret calling me. It’s what you do. You piss them off so they’ll leave you alone. Negative reinforcement, like.
“Well maybe you should’ve gotten drunk at home instead, like me, you fucking wino.”
“Fuck you,” he says. “You can’t tell me where I can or can’t drink. What are you, my wife? My dad? Fuck, my pastor? My MP? Fuck you all, if you are. Fuck alla yuz.”
At that, I hang up my phone and the world goes all nice and black and quiet and now I can think, or not think which is more preferable. Still, my brain goes against my better wishes and conjures up the image of old pisstank Girvan on a concrete streetcorner, walking on his gouty foot hobbled by his ruined back, cursing my name and cursing his life. The image kind of sits on my wounds and has me thinking not too highly of myself. My next thought is about my bike and the bike trailer I’ve been using lately to cart groceries in lieu of a motorized vehicle. It was originally some baby transport that some dipshit in New Edinburgh dumped on the curb one night. Feeling thrifty, I dragged it home and upgraded it with a new axle to deal with a payload heavier than some pudgy little bourgeois piglet. So now I descend the steps off my balcony and take a look in the shed and wonder if it will work. I don’t know if it could carry his weight. My phone lights up blue again and of course it was old pisstank Girvan.
“Hagan, you gogzucker! Come pick me up, I’m at the Concorde!” he says. Obviously he’s forgotten our conversation from before, reassessed the situation and unconsciously doubled back to his only option.
“Hang tight,” I say. “I’ll come around, you dick.”
When I arrive with my rig, he staggers at the sight of it, the act of comprehension upsetting his balance while thoughts slosh around in his head.
“Well what the fug, am I z’posed to ride home in that?”
“You got other options? Get in, you fucking gimp.”
I have to help him physically position his body in line with my trailer, which is a job and a half, given none of his limbs seem to listen to his brain anymore and when I say ‘okay’ he falls back like a downed tree and almost trashes the whole thing. He cusses and grumbles, trying to find a comfortable position which he never really finds so he just surrenders to whatever position gravity has given him in that moment. I look at the wheels of the trailer and I can tell it doesn’t look confident with him as a load, though it’s holding shape as well as it can. I shrug and push off homeward.
Straight off, he’s complaining left and right about where I am going, the bumps in the road that I’m deliberately riding through, the fact that I’d taken so long to come and pick him up, cursing that he’d ever chosen a mean-assed prick like me as a friend.
“Fuck, will you slow down,” he hollers at me. “I’m draggin' my heels on the pavement!”
“Lift your fucking feet then, you dick!”
He tries to keep his feet aloft, but all for naught, his muscles all soggy with liquor as they are. Pickled dick, he is. I stop and try to make him cross his legs, but his ass is so far forward on the trailer that he can’t get his heels over the lip and he’s too flaccid to lift himself in any helpful way. I’m forced to give up and surge on.
His griping and cussing carries on and as it does, I’m finding that my buzz has now left me and I’m doing this sober. I try to fixate on the reward of more drink when this ordeal is over, but now the fatigue of riding a weighed-down bicycle with a cantankerous cargo at 3 in the morning is starting to hinder me.
“Fucking bellend, fucking spare parts,” Girvan gurgles from the cradle behind me. “Fucking mudvucker waste of space, ah! Fuckshitgoddamnpissmeoffmothervuck- ugh! Shit!”
Another few minutes of that and I have to turn around and react.
“Y’know what? Why don’t you just shut the fuck up before I yank the pin and leave you here, ya pissy cripple you! I don’t need to be out here downwind of your diaper rash, you fucking skunk-assed lamer!”
That was when he really put his foot down, literally, digging his heels into the street and struggling to get up but only succeeding in grinding us to a halt and nearly having me topple over the handlebars.
That was it, and I said so.
I turn round to reach for the pin that connects the trailer to my bike only to find that he has enough gross motor control to swing his arm and have the knuckled end connect with my cheekbone. I reel back, then grab his jacket on both sides of the zipper, yank him out and drop him like a sack of wet dirt on the concrete curb. I stand back and watch him as he struggles to get up and once he does, I sucker him right square in the temple before he's ready to swing at me again. The impact makes his head whip to the side on account of his loose drunken neck and he crumples to the ground and doesn't move again after that. Total knockout.
So anyways, in my begrudged sobriety, I come to the cruel realization that I can’t leave him lying there in the middle of Brant St., even though he’s probably spent many a night in one gutter or another before me. Growling in frustration, I hoist him back into the trailer and lift his unconscious ass back enough to give him a lotus position which sends a whiff of something like rot and ammonia up to my nostrils. Jesus Fuck, he’s pissed himself. I’m going to have to finish a bottle when I get home. I lug his dead weight the rest of the way to his ground floor apartment. At the front steps, I resolve that I'm not slogging him through the door to fix him nice in his bed like he’s some cute little baby boy. Instead, I lay him in his lawn chair, which rips when I drop his swampy ass in. He doesn’t wake to any of this. He's okay. Dumb fucker.
When I’m home, I pour a tall glass and settle in on my dear balcony. A few sips in, raindrops alight on my forehead. I choose to ignore it until it starts coming down with more intent, chased with a cold wind close behind. Sitting there on the edge of regaining my buzz, I think of old blacked-out Girvan out there in a monsoon getting soaked like a lost mitten.
I shoot an angry ‘fuck!’ at the sky.
Back in Girvan’s patio, I find the chair I dumped him in has toppled over as if he’d struggled to extract himself from it. Curious, I enter through his backdoor into the uncomfortably warm air of the living room and find him prostrate in the couch cushions, soaked wet with his pissy clothes starting to ripen in the warmth and his body heat. I can see that his face is off the brow of the cushions so if he pukes he won't pull an Apology Girl on me. I consider him for a moment, but the heat and smell is too much. I guess I can leave now. I'm glad he's okay. I’m glad he’s off my conscience. Poor helpless asshole.
The next afternoon, I wake up feeling jet-lagged from the wonky hours I put in trying to get my buzz back, but thankfully hangover-free and hungry. I set upon making myself some ham and eggs and while I’m at that, my phone buzzes again. It's Girvan. It looks like he’s survived the night.
“Did you come into my apartment last night?” he asks me in his gruff voice.
“Motherfucker, the only time I will ever let anyone come into my apartment is when the neighbour can’t stand the smell anymore. You got that?”
“Okay, yeah, Jesus.”
He hangs up and so do I.