With my girlfriend away for the week I had gotten back into some bad habits. I’d consumed nearly a case of beer and three bags of good coke while watching Wrestlemania 3 and half of Wrestlemania 4. Feeling lonely, I considered calling my dad, who had recently moved in next door. A man in his late 60s moving in next to his son might sound like a nice choice, but it wasn’t so much a choice. When my mom died he hit the bottle pretty hard. And he’d been hitting it like it was a heavy bag for most of his life. He moved to downtown Toronto, was hospitalized several times, ended up in the drunk-tank even more times than that, and had finally, through some ill-gotten grace, ended up in the halfway house next door to my cheap, bed-bug ridden apartment in Scarborough. You couldn’t plan it that way.
The doctors warned that drinking would soon kill him. That suited him fine. He had one cassette tape that he played over and over. It was a Townes Van Zandt compilation. The only song he cared about was that one, “Waitin’ round to Die.” His looming death was acceptable to all, but his liver and organs were so badly shot that now he started slurring and stumbling after one or two drinks, and this was the real affront to society. He generally aimed to have between 20 and 30 drinks, so he became one of those stumbling, ground-lying, pants-pissing messes you often see. It’s a shame when you see your old man in this state. When I saw him in the park like this I just passed him by often as not. It was a hell of a time dragging his piss-stinking old bones back to the halfway house.
But as mentioned I was into my own bad habits and wanted some company. I called the one phone that served his entire floor and he happened to pick it up. If he was incoherent I was going to hang up, but I caught him in a rare moment of lucidity.
“Hey dad, I just got a cheque for that work we did this summer, what do you say we go to a bar for a beer?” That was the last work he had been able to do, and he wouldn’t be getting any cheque for it. The foreman had fired him when the drive mechanism got stuck on his brand new chainsaw. I was nearly maimed. It wasn’t my dad’s fault, but when you’re a drunk no one is looking to cut you a break when an accident happens.
“Well, hell son, I just got my welfare cheque myself. And I’ve been sober all day. Was feeling pretty bad this morning, but I’m just about recovered I’d say.”
“Let’s go to the damn strip club,” I said.
I’d spent about $4000 in that godforsaken place in the past six months. It had some of the finest women in all of Scarborough. None of those old pros with their rock-hard silicone, just pretty young things with nice natural bodies. Back when my dad was still a respectable guy I’d have never wanted to be in this den of iniquity with him, but he was at a point where a little female companionship might do him some good. I figured he wasn’t going to get many more chances.
At the table beside us, a guy talked incessantly about how if he won the lottery he’d give the money away, send kids to high school (but he must have meant university), and that all he needed was money for food and beer, and repeat. After nearly five minutes of this drivel my dad said loudly, “If I won the lottery I’d buy that guy a muzzle.” It was the first funny thing he’d said in some time. He used to say funny things quite often.
To my surprise a pretty, heavy-set girl came over and hugged me. I’d enjoyed maybe five lap-dances with her on my previous visit. Her name was Sarah. I was surprised to remember that. She had a wild gleam in her eyes. Last time she had seemed so innocent and insecure that it felt more like the high school dance than the iniquity den. Now it looked like she’d gotten into the coke. I couldn’t blame her. After Sarah, I’d gotten a dance from a greedy bitch who had the good fortune to look like Sasha Grey; she had said, “Why do you keep wasting your money on that fat cow?” As we’d gotten up to leave I noticed Sarah in the lap-dance booth beside us. She must have heard this slander against her.
“I’m going to buy you a martini,” Sarah said now. She had a pretty smile.
Not a big martini drinker, I didn’t know what kind to ask for. “Do they make banana martinis?”
“I can go see.”
My father, mistaking her for a waitress said, “I’ll have a double-vodka, no ice.”
“Please dad, this is my friend.”
“That’s okay,” she said, “I’ll get them both—I’m having a good night.”
She brought the drinks over, but then she was called to the stage. I watched her e-cup breasts closely. She skillfully avoided positions that would put them at the wrong angles. She knew all the right angles. My dad’s eyes were already flittering shut and his head starting to nod.
I went to the bathroom where the DJ was doing coke in a stall. “Hey man, can I give you $10 for a line?”
“Get the fuck out of here,” he said, “I sell it by the 8-ball.”
When I got back to the table my dad was gone. I hoped he was upstairs for a lap-dance and not lying on the floor somewhere.
A bouncer approached from behind and pinched a nerve in my trapezius muscle. I rose up. “What the hell you doing that for?”
“You know what you did. And I remember what you did last time. You’re out of here.”
It had to be a case of mistaken identity. My coke interest wasn’t enough to get kicked out over. The bouncers sold it themselves. “You got the wrong guy.”
He didn’t want to hear it. He bent my wrist and moved me towards the door. “Alright but my dad’s here and without me you’re going to have some trouble getting him out of here. He’s an old man.”
“If he’s a piece of shit like you I don’t see how it will be much trouble.”
Sarah had just gotten off stage and ran to my aid. “What’s going on?”
“This asshole thinks he can slap around girls upstairs.”
“I didn’t do that.”
“He wouldn’t do that.”
“Well you can talk all you want, but he’s gone. He’s lucky we don’t call the cop.” The bar dealt with just one cop. They kept him satisfied with girls and free drinks so he tended to side with them.
I was heaved out the door and Sarah followed, even though she was wearing nothing but a boustier and panties. “I know you wouldn’t do that,” she said, “Oh, I hate this place. Let’s get the hell out of here.” She took my arm.
My dad came out for a cigarette. Sarah ran back in to put on a pair of jeans, t-shirt, and coat.
“Dad, I’m leaving with this girl here. You think you can make it home alive?”
“Why the hell wouldn’t I?” he asked, and though standing perfectly still, nearly lost his balance.
“Then I’ll see you later.”
“Boy,” he said, then seemed to drift out of it.
“What is it?”
“Be careful out there—there’s some badness that’s always waiting. People falling and breaking their teeth. There’s a lingering evil. I see it all the time.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
She came out, looking like a pretty college freshman. We went to the parking lot. “Let’s go to another strip club,” she said, “I’d like to sit and watch for once.”
“Here’s my ride,” she said. It was a four-wheel all-terrain-vehicle. I didn’t think it was legal to drive an ATV on the streets of Scarborough. There was a locked case on the back and she removed two helmets complete with a high-tech radio system.
“Jump on,” she said.
She peeled it on down the road. The closest strip club didn’t seem to be there anymore, which was a real mystery. We drove around lost for a half hour. I kept looking for a cop but I didn’t see a single car on the streets, and it was only 1am.
We were near Highland Creek. I could smell the fresh breeze off the bubbling streams. This was Scarborough’s hidden secret. Among the smoggy, commuter clogged streets hid this magic forest. It was like returning to the 19th century before everything got paved over and ruined for good.
“Hey, we got the right wheels for it, why don’t we go tear around the creek bed a little bit.”
We did and it was a fine time. The night air coming off the water sobered me up and I felt alive. I wrapped my arms around Sarah’s bulky torso.
I started singing the traditional Reverend Gary Davis song “Cocaine” the way Townes Van Zandt did it, “Cocaine cocaine, all around my brain. I woke up this morning, had a hunger pang, all I wanted for breakfast was my good cocaine.”
“That was nice singing,” she said.
We came to a bridge barely wide enough for the ATV. Before I could issue a warning she was careening across it, even doing little wheelies. The guard-rail was only a few feet high. First the front tires grabbed it, and then we were almost totally over. Through some good fortune the safety bar wedged tightly between the rear wheels and wheel well. We were dangling twenty feet above the rocky creek bed.
I gripped the ATV’s body with my legs and held her with my arms to keep her from falling. She didn’t even have a good grip on the handlebars, which wouldn’t have helped her anyway. I carefully maneuvered down the seat. I let go of her. She clung to the seat which made the wheels start to grind against the guardrail. I finally got my hands locked around the front wheel, lowered myself slowly and let myself drop. It was only a 12-foot drop by then and I landed on my feet in the centre of a big flat rock. I didn’t even get wet. Any other landing would have busted my ankles. She simply slid forward and landed hard on top of me. I broke her fall like I’d seen so many WWE wrestlers do it. The ATV came flipping down, barely missing us, and landed, with the tires spinning wildly, facing the sky.
A group of serious-looking fishermen were laughing at her. She limped over, looking wet and sexy, spat on the ground, and said, “It’s only a motorcycle.” This was ludicrous because it was a four-wheeler. We got out of there quick.
She said her friend’s place was close by and we could walk. She non-sequitered into a lengthy description of a website that sold sex toys and homosexual party supplies like poppers, a slang term for alkyl nitrites, which, she said, “make butt sex less painful.”
Not knowing why she was telling me this, I said, “Finally a website to fill all my homosexual shopping needs more discretely.”
She laughed. “You’re good with syntax.” Maybe by her standards I was.
To be her friend would be nice, I thought. She would be soft and comfortable like a warm bed. It would be nice to lie up against her while watching a movie, maybe sniffing a few poppers if that’s what she was into.
She mentioned that her friend’s house would be a little dirty, and that there would be popcorn but some of it was always unpopped. It was worse than I expected. There was a dirty desperation about the place. The only carpet was a warped old sheet of wallpaper that had fallen to the floor. A scrawny white guy with some acne and jail tattoos sat on the middle of the couch. Sarah sat on one side of him. I sat on the other.
We didn’t say much. The hockey game was on so I asked who he was rooting for. “Not sure,” he said.
She looked at me as if something violent was going to happen. “I’m looking for a replacement for my boyfriend. He doesn’t even like me. He’s been looking for my replacement for years. But as you can see he doesn’t get out looking all that hard because he’s not that kind of guy.”
He seemed to snap out of it, to defend his honour. “We’re going on two tours you know.”
“Oh ya, where to?”
“One is in Mississauga, they’ve got this big telescope that lets you look at the moon and the planets. The other is in Richmond Hill.” These were both just suburbs of Toronto and not very impressive.
I excused myself to go look in the mirror. As I’d begun to expect, it wasn’t my face. There was a beard, some scars…I didn’t have any of those things. I saw a popper vial. I took a hit. I walked out of the bathroom and Sarah was gone. The guy was still there, but some sweaty leather party had broken out. I wanted to get out of there, but I couldn’t just leave.
“We got your gay party supplies here boy,” said a nasty guy in a motorcycle vest, laughing a terrible, tired old laugh. These men were nothing so innocent as even your meth-loving bathhouse type, this was the legion of prison bitches—their hate was visceral, charging the air around us. I said, “Look fellas I think I might have left a burner on the stove…”
Someone hit me from behind. I woke up shivering in the drunk-tank with the bloody asshole blues, or at least the big asshole blues. Or maybe I just felt like a big asshole. My dad was there.
“Son. It saddens me to see you in here. Try to stay out of these places.”
“Damn dad, that’s the second piece of good advice you’ve given me today.”
BIO: A graduate of Ryerson Journalism, Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, The Toronto International Film Festival Group, Exclaim Magazine and other publications. His fiction has appeared online in Rivets Literary Magazine, Forge Journal, Candlelight Stories, Straitjackets Magazine, Eastown Fiction, the humour journal Feathertale and elsewhere. Upcoming stories will appear in print in Palimpsest, Infinity’s Kitchen and Kitty Snacks.