The Party

6pm

Your phone rings. It’s Monica. You used to be roommates in college, now she only calls when there’s a party and they need to fill it up. She sounds stressed out. Someone is yelling at her in the background, probably her boyfriend. After a week spent sitting on the couch, you decide to go. There will be music, alcohol, weed, coke, LSD. Some of your high school friends will be there. Maybe you’ll even meet someone new. Besides, you can’t think of anything better to do tonight. Worst case, you write a short story. You carefully pick out an outfit and a happy face. You go for the “I don’t care” look (even though you do).

7pm

The party is close to a major subway stop, kind of. Not bad. You google the directions and wince at all the complicated steps. Three bus rides, one subway line, a half hour walk. Getting there and back will cost you two hours of work at the café. Your parents try to convince you to just stay home and watch a romantic comedy with them instead. They offer you chocolate and homemade wine. Something about their gaze makes you want to leave sooner. You tell them not to worry, your friends will be there. Your father tells you to be safe, don’t do anything dumb. He’s been there before. He looks upset.

8pm

It takes a sobering hour to arrive. Bobbing around uncomfortably on three separate bus lines must be worth it, you think. You smell people chain smoking cigarettes on the front porch before you see them standing outside the house. They wave hello, you wave back. You’ve memorized the steps to get inside: drop off coat, walk through the hallway, enter the kitchen, get a drink, exhale. The mood has already been set. The script was written before you had your first sip:

Hey, what up?

-Not much.

Wanna shot?

-Sure.

8:30pm

You enter the kitchen. A glittery “squad” appears. They huddle over empty shot glasses to bump cheap cocaine. Everyone has a drink in their hand except you. You fill half a red solo cup with clear liquor. The host tells you there’s more soda in the fridge. You notice a table full of comfort food and your mouth begins to water. BBQ chips, cheese puffs, holiday cookies, two-bite brownies, and a stack of eight giant white boxes leaning against the wall. They reveal pizza cut up in small squares. You instinctively grab two pieces at once and lean against the wall as well. The familiar combination of white bread, plain tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese fills your stomach.

8:45pm

As you step into the living room, you notice the lighting shift from boring yellow to neon pink. You see tiny electric blue lights dance across the ceiling. There is a desperate need to make sense of it all. We’ve agreed on a reality that lacks depth. The DJ sets up cartoonish speakers in the corner. Charcoal black with a bright yellow shell. Everyone remains congregated in the kitchen. No one dares to make the first step. The incessant chatting tunes into the loud refrigerator hum. A smaller speaker blares metal music downstairs while the DJ blasts pop songs from the millennium. The opposing sounds compete for the crowd’s attention. Our vibrations meld into one distorted beat.

9:30pm

Your thoughts bounce along to the repetitive rhythm. Where’s Chelsea? Is she still dating Greg? What are they doing now? Should I look for them? How come they never come look for me? Whenever you think of anything outside of these walls, it feels like you’re getting a migraine. It’s better to just stay here. Get used to it. Give in. Your options are to stand still, walk around and be tempted by the food, eavesdrop on conversation topics you are not really interested in, or go smoke outside. You walk straight to the pizza and devour a third piece. Your stomach feels stuffed, but you don’t mind. You’re used to being uncomfortable. The sour keys you swallowed earlier make you puke a little bit in your mouth.

10pm

A beer pong table is set up downstairs. Here, teams compete to chug as much beer as possible. Bystanders watch from the sidelines, occasionally tossing back the ping pong balls, and every now and then, a shallow laugh as well. We are distracted from our thoughts for the duration of the game. A terrorized cat sits directly beneath, unable to escape. You contemplate her strategy. Why is she so desperate for human attention? Why won’t she just leave? You freeze. Is it because there is no escape? The party girls stumble down the stairs in their studded heels. Giggles replace speech. One of them kneels down as she tries to get the cat to lick her hand. They reek of bile and sweet wine. If their hair was naturally straight, it’s curled. If it was naturally curly, it’s straight. The belly button piercings that they got in high school have now fused into their flesh. They wear chunky earrings that cost half their rent. They smile with fake eyelashes that they had to glue on. The males wear bands shirts and jeans.

11pm

They move in packs. Chuckling, squealing, pissing, passing looks to their friends. Their personalities condensed into sushi socks and memes. Occasionally, someone repeats an “edgy” message that popped up on their newsfeed. Usually, it’s the one with catalogue tattoos, eyebrow piercings, or cotton candy streaks in their hair who speaks up. Their message lacks both commitment and style. They stand out in a predictable way. You realize you are them. They are you. We are animals. We socialize because we can’t fend for ourselves. We copy the trends that make us blend in. We pretend to be interesting to stand out. Society magnified on the living room couch. We’re all just trying to survive. So, now what?

Midnight

You realize that you are observing far too much. Aren’t parties supposed to get you to stop thinking every once in a while? Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. They haven’t wiped off their smiles yet. So why did you smear yours off as soon as you entered this house? It doesn’t seem like anyone else is experiencing an existential crisis. Their lifestyle doesn’t bother them. If only you could just fully let go. Relax. Dance. Release. Gorge. Fuck. Give in. Forget about all the little details that add up to nothing. Be alive. Maybe these glass bottles aren’t poison after all, but magical potion. Maybe its not that bad. You try to join a conversation, but people leave before its your turn to talk. Otherwise, they stand alone and slouch with their phones in their hands. They constantly update their social media profiles to show off their “lit” night.

12:30am

You give up on human interaction and play video games. There are still some Cheetos left.

1am

During your last sesh on the front porch, you overhear someone talking about how their brother got sent to the ER after overdosing on LSD, cough medicine, PCP, alcohol, and cocaine. You’re entranced by his misery, you can’t look away. Apparently, his heart gave up. The nurses had to use a defibrillator and CPR to reset his heartbeat. Miraculously, he survived. He laughed uncontrollably when he saw everyone’s serious faces staring down. Now his family is desperately trying to get him to go to rehab, but he claims he’s fine. He just beat death; he’s a superstar.

1:03am

A sudden round of hugs marks the end of the first stage of festivities. Your friends have to go to bed. Everyone says they had a good time, they’re glad they came. Tomorrow morning, they have to wake up early to go to work so that they can repeat this night again. Someone knocks their head against the sharp corner of the railing of the stairs. He laughs. He doesn’t realize he’s bleeding. He won’t bother to check if it’s a concussion. Someone else nearly collapses outside. You help her find a bathroom, her friends have already left. She pukes on the carpet. You offer the couch you had reserved to sleep on and she passes out. You head back upstairs.

4am

You feel trapped in a microcosm of human destruction.

5:45am

All the lights are still on. They stab your bloodshot eyes. While exploring every possible means of escape, the cat has gone missing. Her panicked owner gets a couple of coke heads to search outside. Downstairs, a rapper slurs about raping bitches and getting too fucked up. You want to complain, but remember from the last party that the easiest way to piss off someone on coke is to talk shit about coke. You lie back on the living room couch and hope they turn it down soon like they promised. The music rocks you to sleep like an alcoholic’s lullaby.

6:30am

The birds begin to chirp frantically. They’re used to being fed at a certain time. You desperately want to sleep, but the quiet only comes in unpredictable bursts. You sway in and out of dreams. This time it’s a nightmare about being a cricket trapped in a paper bag. Your sister picked you up, opened the bag and tossed you into her iguana’s cage. All the crickets were desperately trying to escape. You’re awake. It’s difficult to readjust to this reality. The kitchen light switches off and on. Every time you turn it off, a ghost turns it back on. You nearly fall back asleep when suddenly you hear lovers arguing into the morning light. Her desperate cries pierce the night.

Noon

A strip of sunshine settles across your eyelids. It’s too hot. You smell fried bacon and hear someone cracking eggs. Your stomach growls. You’re hungry again. But first, you must find a bathroom sink. Your mouth is caked with drool, your eyes are crusty. A tired stare pops onto the mirror. You’ve been here before and you feel guilty for coming back. For making the same mistakes. This is the part of the script where you talk about last night, whoever is there gets spared from the gossip. You can leave whenever you want, but you don’t. It’s cold outside.

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The Supermarket

I

My mother asks me to go to the supermarket to buy apples, walnuts, and butter for the pie. She doesn’t usually bake, but today is a special occasion. My father is too busy working overtime at the office to fix our second car, so I walk. In the suburbs, the sidewalks are more symbolic than functional. They represent families strolling outside in the sun. Members of the community going on their daily sunset walk. In reality, they only exist on one side of the street and occasionally disappear in chunks.

 This is my parents’ American dream.

II

It takes 20 minutes to walk to the main street. Every house follows the same discount blueprint. Slight deviations in the brick walls set them apart. Even the occasional brightly colored double garage doors are the same shade of gooey mint green. As I step out of the residential neighbourhood, I realize I have not seen a single person walk outside of their driveway. As if toxic gas from their SUV leaks into the outside breeze. Someone looks at me from the second floor behind a veiled window. I wave, they look away.

The walk could have been pleasant, if not for the streams of cars zooming by to my right. The drivers’ expressions reveal that they would rather be anywhere else. The superstore is up ahead. I must cross a busy intersection. First, I make eye contact with the distracted driver turning left. They eventually slow down. It’s impossible to predict their movements.

III

A black and white parking lot stretches out in front of a wide grey structure. Luxury-Mart is spelled out in electric blue letters. I quickly cross the parking lot on a diagonal. Drivers are not used to pedestrians sharing the road and I absolutely must not get hit by a car. There is simply no time to take in my surroundings, to cherish the moment, to simply be.

Before I can turn back and delay this masochistic experience, the automatic doors slurp me inside the heated store. Holiday jingles immediately infiltrate my thoughts. Red, green, white, and gold decorations distract my gaze. Christmas celebrations had begun right after Halloween. I’m still not accustomed to the psychological assault. At least now it is the end of December, and everything is on sale. Artificial trees fill every empty space. Products compete with their new holiday stands. There are over a hundred varieties of sugar, fat, and nostalgia that take up entire walls in the store.  

IV

I notice adolescent workers bursting in and out of secret doors, as if hiding from an evil force. They seem busy, rushed. Avoiding customer interactions at every turn. How do they remember where everything goes?

I scan the shelf immediately to my right: quail eggs, sour cream, half and half, kefir. I pick up a package of the quail eggs and imagine frying a tiny egg. I look up, and I suddenly forget why I am here. I’d rather have cheesy appetizers melting in my mouth. First on the sides of my tongue, then slowly down my throat. I suddenly regret having only brought a ten-dollar bill and some loose change. I continue to walk the periphery of the store

V

I reach another facet of consumerism when a rectangle full of moving objects catches my eye. It is a tank of overcrowded fish stuck swimming in space. Their mouths open and close on repeat. Automatic air currents imitate the motions of the sea from which they had been kidnapped. Precious life up for sale. I wonder if the grey fish had ever known freedom, if they even have the mental ability to care. If not, at least then maybe they would suffer less. A nasal voice informs me that its rude to stare.

A group of frustrated lobsters hobble around in the tank directly below the fish. Their claws are taped shut as if they were violent thugs. They seem to care, but what can I do? Choose one lucky soul to die in my tub while I google how to keep a lobster alive? And then what, move him to a bigger cage? Anyways, my life seems more immediate, more pressing, more relevant than his. I’m hungry, and that’s what matters. I take a picture of the normalized suffering, and I leave.

VI

I spot slabs of salmon. Their flesh reminds me of sliced mango. The texture resembles cut open grapefruit. Their fate, no different from the rest. As a human, I choose what goes in my salad for lunch.

The produce section is across the store to make sure I consider buying as much as possible before checking out. There, each worker is given a small section to maintain. They take turns wheeling out boxes of exotic fruits or vegetables to put on display. They dutifully stack oranges that come from places they will never visit with their minimum wage.

My mother had not specified what kind, nor what amount, of apples to buy. I walk towards a long section of shiny multicolored apples. Yellow, pink, green, brown, red. Every type has a unique price and name. Overwhelmed by the massive selection, I choose three of the cheapest yellow-pink apples and place them in a thin plastic bag. I take a picture of the “rustic” pears sealed in plastic faux-wooden baskets. Of the cloves of garlic, pre-peeled and individually wrapped. I note the prepackaged salads that’s been triple washed. The chopped zucchini resting on styrofoam, sealed in saran wrap. I notice that only certain employees can carry box-cutters. Otherwise, perhaps, the exhausted workers’ knife might slip.

VII

I remember that the butter for my mother’s pie is on the opposite side of the supermarket. On my way over, I look down at the cracks in the linoleum floor and I imagine what this place might have looked like before it was an all-inclusive mega store. Was it more like an empty warehouse, or an abandoned construction site?

Each aisle has its own category, its own theme. And yet, the organization is more complicated than the dewy decimal system at the library. The companies that offer the stores the most place their products at eye level for their valued consumers. The no-name brands are close to the ground. Chopped walnuts must be somewhere along the way. I scan the shelves in the baking aisle, and find them beside hazelnuts renamed as “filberts”. I take a picture of that too.

I choose the cheapest bar of butter and head towards the exit.

VIII

A toddler has a complete meltdown in one of the middle aisles. He cannot properly express himself, but I understand why he is upset. He can’t accept that so many colors, shapes, animal faces, and temptations all exist but cannot be touched. He wants to take everything home and play. I can’t blame him for his devilish cries. I am overwhelmed as well.

His mother immediately tosses him her iPhone so that he shuts up.

IX

Only one lane is open and there are already ten people waiting to checkout. It sounds like someone is getting verbally abused. The cashier has to scan fifteen items in under a minute, or else they have a little meeting with their manager. A short middle-aged woman with crimson hair walks around with a stick to remind them to smile. They are competing to be the employee of the month. If they win, they will have their named pinned on the board for all to see. There is no other prize.

I choose the self-checkout instead. A high-pitched automated voice guides me through the process. Although this alternative lacks human contact, there’s someone nearby to supervise all the steps. I drop the gala apples too quickly on the scale, and the screen flashes angrily. There is a tear on the walnut bag, and someone quickly goes to replace it. The butter scans at a different price than that listed on the shelf. I wait for someone from the dairy department to get paged. I find out I picked up butter that was misplaced by another customer, it turns out it was never on sale. I remember that I only have $10.75 in change. I need assistance, and a human instantly appears. The machines are not quite independent yet.

Being Here

I tried Improv for the first time in my high school drama class. My sweaty palms and blushing face made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t like being put on the spot. Intimidated by my classmates’ effortless laughs, I never went back. So, when I first discovered the “FUNdamentals” improv workshop at The Staircase Theater in Hamilton, I scoffed. It felt like a personal attack. After putting it off for a few weeks, I decided to finally push myself up the wooden stairs and through the grey door tagged with a white Uber sign, and I’m glad that I did. The class was not humiliating. It was enchanting. Our Improv guide enthusiastically led us through warmup games such as: “cross the circle” and “pass the clap”. These exercises were about deeply connecting with each other and not just memorizing names. We were asked to focus on our shared present moment. These child-like activities helped bring us out of our over-analyzing grown-up heads. Little by little, we built a magical universe through our clay-like bodies. Over the course of the 2-hour workshop, we practiced the basics of storytelling. One by one, we spat out responses to: Where? Who? What? Wind it up! Wrap it up. In other words, we chose a setting, a couple of characters, the action, we propelled the action, and found a resolution. This form of active storytelling relies heavily on teamwork and living in the moment, antidotes to social anxiety and fear.

It’s like a never-ending trust fall – you know you’ll always be caught!

What’s the main difference between stand-up comedy and Improv? Teamwork. The amount of bodies meant to share the stage. Stand-up is the act of playing the fool, while Improv is the art of re-inventing the script. Jokes become sandcastle mandalas that cannot expire because they are constantly being washed away, and rebuilt. In Improv, everything that comes out of our mouths is an “offer”. This means that whatever idea we propose is like an extended hand for the rest of the team to grab, and pull into a new idea. Our teammates are encouraged to not only enthusiastically accept our offer, but to add to it as well. No one has the final image of life’s puzzle, but together we can each add a little piece. Many exercises in “FUNdamentals” emphasize this golden pillar of Improv through games like “yes, and…”. Rather than perform a one-man-show, we find our voice by supporting our partners’ voice and adding to it. Eventually we can sense when the story is lacking something, and we catch our teammates when they fall. We take turns jumping in and adding to our undercover picnic in the north pole with the president and the walrus. Most importantly, we play like children creating a wacky world with the magic of pretend. We embrace looking silly, because we realize that the more we commit to our new world, the funnier it will be. Eventually, we leave our heads to participate in something that requires a much wider perspective. Our egos dissolve like castles in the sand and we are free to create once again.

Statements>questions

Overthinking can make us take ourselves too seriously. We forget to focus on what is happening RIGHT NOW, and the delicate beauty of life passes us by. Improv encourages us not to think, but to play with and respond to what is going on. In one word, comedy is resilience: laughing in spite of it all! Studies in laughter suggest that when we are with other people, humor makes us feel connected and safe. Our cortisol decreases and we feel a lift in our overall sense of well-being. “Trying” to be funny comes off as stale and rehearsed. That’s when we can expect about three polite ha-ha-has from the audience. Instead, if we react to the scene fully and honestly, the humor will come out on its own. The harder you try to capture honesty, the slipperier it gets. There is comedy in finding the truth. If we stick to the natural flow of the story, rather than reach for laughter, then that wonderful silliness will eventually pop out in the best way possible: by accident. The main lesson in comedy is to commit. Be 200% invested. Make a choice, and DO IT. Comedy also involves character building. The basics of a character include: body motion (physical), speech (auditory), creating an emotion-driven goal (psychological), and of course the commitment to the specific character we already chose. The audience is following your lead, if you are passionate about preparing for a first date with a vampire, then they are too. If you are disinterested or unsure, then they will feel confused and uncomfortable as well. Improv comedy does not have stale jokes because it is built in the moment, without props and scripts. After all, performance art is an exchange with the crowd, and not an exhibition of our talents.

Its therapeutic, but its not therapy.

Emotions are the magical glue that hold together a scene. We respond to our partners on an emotional level to share a deeper connection. An easy way to enter a scene, is to simply mirror our partner’s emotions. If Andrew is angry at his lawnmower for not starting, then Karen can come on stage even more furious. The “bus exercise” was a great way to practice this mirroring as a group. We had four chairs on stage and alternated seats that included taking turns being the bus driver. The new person waiting for a lift would spread their emotion to the rest of the bus hoppers. Once they were picked up, a range of emotions and characters would spread across the stage. “Going on a ride” opened the scene to adventure and silliness. One of the workshops at the Staircase’s “Wildcard Wednesdays” focused primarily on emotional commitment. We practiced amplifying sadness, anger, happiness, and fear from a “1” (minimal commitment) to a “10” (maximal commitment). We learned the importance of building up so that our emotions had room to grow along with the scene. Since Improv is still all about teamwork, we also practiced listening to each other to make connections to the main story. There are no mistakes in Improv. We learned not to stop listening to “fix” a mistake. One by one, we would make the story bigger, and BIGGER, until it reached its natural resolution. Seasoned Improvers included aspects of mannerisms, voice, and setting, to make the story more interesting on different levels. With practice, we learn to play within the story. We realize we do not need to add more to the story, but to simply explore what is already there.

A smile is the closest distance between two people.

Improv can end up feeling quite Zen. We practice mindfulness and being here. “Clap focus” is an activity that reminds us to be present. We must be ready to receive the clap at any moment, and to synchronize with each other’s movements. Being present allows us to connect events, people, and ideas, basically all the elements required to build an engaging story. Another mindful activity that we may begin the class with is simply introducing ourselves and adding good news that happened to us recently. This promotes personal gratitude, but also provides helpful insight into our life for others to better empathise and offer emotional support. As much as I may hate to admit it, we are social beings. We need to be around other humans, in a positive atmosphere, to grow as individuals. Another aspect of mindfulness that we can find in Improv is breathing techniques. If we feel “stuck” during a scene, we can practice these basic breathing exercises. These include: 4 square breathing (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds) and dynamic breathing (push feet or fists in and out along with breaths). We can also practice briefly distracting ourselves to regain our focus. For example, we might hold our tongue in between the roof and the bottom of our mouths. This requires a mild amount of concentration that easily distracts us from what is throwing us off. These self-calming strategies can be used while miming, right in the middle of a scene, or in our everyday activities. They allow us to take a break to better serve the scene. Luckily, we are not alone on stage, our partners can continue the story while we re-calibrate. Miming is a great way to take this break since we act out a simple repetitive task. We remember to be clear with our actions, to make our intention obvious, to exaggerate, to play with the environment, and to keep moving. For example, we can brush our teeth, chop vegetables, text, warm our hands, wipe tables, or shave our armpits. We remember that we are not slaves to our circumstances, that we simply need to slow down and wait for the mental fog to pass.

Whether you want to improve your mental agility, uncover hidden creativity, reunite with your inner child, gain confidence in public speaking, meet some members of Hamilton’s underground art community, try a new activity, explore silly ideas, practice the essential elements of acting, or just spend two hours laughing your ass off, come by The Staircase Theater next Monday from 7-9pm. A final message from one socially anxious human to another: Improv will set you free!

Improv activities mentioned in this article can be found here:
http://improvencyclopedia.org/references/index.html

More information about Improv workshops and events at the Staircase Theater:
https://staircase.org/

He buys sour cream in bulk, because it’s cheaper that way.

Daddy wakes up

before the Sun,

its the part when he’ll

have the most fun.

He used to make

breakfast, then

tickle me and sissy.

Melted cheese omelettes

and creamy coffee.

My father sees mornings

as a special treat.

Faithful servant to

our freckled tastes,

he needs to solve problems,

doesn’t have time to waste.

Terrified to let his two baby birds fly,

he’d rather drop food in their mouths

for the rest of their lives.

The Nook

It snowed again this morning. Your legs feel stiff and your skin is dry. Around noon, you push yourself out the front door. The sun is shinning, kind of. These Canadian extremes make you suddenly crave the fresh winter air. You decide to go for a stroll. At the end of Bold St, right before turning on James St South, you notice The Nook nestled to your left. You realize its a tiny café, tucked in between the neighbouring housing complexes. A radiating warmth draws you towards the front door. Its cozy inside, like a big sister’s new apartment. As you walk towards the brave yellow walls, you see artwork decorating every curious glance.

Someone is leaning over the counter, you hear him teasing the owner for forgetting his usual order. An elderly couple is sitting by the window, avidly sketching the birds perched on the table outside. They sip Turkish coffee from tiny mugs and take turns nibbling on a vegan brownie. The aroma from the freshly ground coffee beans waft around the small space. A child bursts through the door followed by her patient guardian. Suddenly, it’s your turn to order. You forgot to choose something while you were waiting in line, inhaling in the bubbly surroundings instead. Suad patiently waits for you to scan the simple drink menu.

While she prepares a shot of espresso, she informs you that this is Hamilton’s only zero-waste café. She explains how everything inside is 100% recyclable. She says that every effort is made to minimize garbage and re-purpose trash. They even weigh the bin in the bathroom every night to track their monthly waste. The man who came in with the child plops a travel mug on the counter and orders his regular coffee. He saves a quarter, and Suad is thrilled to spare a paper cup. His americano is ready by the time he taps his debit card. Your thoughts begin to slow down as they sync with the steady flow of cafe-goers.

You sit in the cushioned nook carved out of the wall. Your mouth waters as you anticipate the sharp taste of coffee. Suad carries over a wooden tray with the shot of espresso and a slice of lemon tart. You let out a grin as you accept the afternoon treat. At home, you find it difficult to enjoy these moments. Sometimes you devour leftover cake straight from the fridge, or you swallow the leftover coffee without really tasting it. This time, it’s sacred. You let the coffee cool as you lift the little fork to choose your first bite. The tart melts in your mouth. You savour the fresh ingredients as they slowly dissolve. You notice how the bitter espresso perfectly complements the sweet taste in your mouth. Every sip reminds you of those lazy summer afternoons spent with your mother, where solutions to seemingly impossible problems magically appeared by her side.

You finish the dessert with a small glass of water. Ideas from earlier this morning pop back into your calmed mind, and you’re ready to make them happen. One by one, the pieces click and you masterfully plan the rest of your day. Your dreams don’t seem so impossible now. You unhurriedly slip on every layer of clothing, enjoying the final moments inside. You thank Suad as you bring back the tray, she responds with a toothy smile. You glance at the artists’ business cards on your way out. You feel inspired, refreshed. You remember it’s not about what you do, but how you do it. The meditative mood carries over to the rest of the day

The Teacher Or, Lesson in Self-Respect

I

I met Jean-Bernard on my second day as a language assistant at a middle-school in Corsica. Every Tuesday, from ten ‘til noon, I dispensed language activities to jaded pre-teens, while he policed their responses. The English teacher’s breath reeked of cigarettes and coffee. Slow suicide and grey teeth. His thin hair was blonde ash. His eyes, a pair of voids staring back. I liked him with a thick beard.

Le gendarme liked to casually sit on the backrest of a plastic blue chair. The room would fill with odorless smoke from his e-cigarette in between classes. During the lessons, the jittery boss would interrupt me to throw his whiteboard marker at a disobedient child. He would then ask them to throw it back so he could continue to note the irregular verbs. He was educating them with sarcastic remarks and desk-slams. I was impressed by the millennials’ combined indifference and dexterity. One of them had mastered the art of spearing pens into a ceiling tile while the teacher wrote on the board. There were already seven attached.

II

A couple of weeks before the Christmas break, he asked me if I was planning on staying on the Island, or voyaging home. He gave me his phone number, just in case. Out of the six teachers I assisted he was the only one who’d ever offered their company outside of class. On the fifth day of the Christmas break, I caved. I asked him if he’d like to join me for a walk. He replied that he was busy, but insisted on taking me out for lunch the next day -I would have preferred a walk.

We sat outside a vibrant yellow-green-pink restaurant and ate matching fried cheese assortments with guacamole, white bread, and chopped tomatoes. Passerbys interrupted him constantly to say hi. The owner offered us his freshly made limoncello. It was my first time living in a small town and I craved anonymity. The white sun glared into our eyes. I was too full to finish the soggy toast. In between leftover crumbs and coffee we discovered a mutual interest.

III

That night, I followed his directions down the rocky hills that led to the sea. The journey was quicker than I had expected. He buzzed me in. A cloud poured out of a mysterious corridor into the apartment’s hallway. I rang the doorbell and his face appeared. We exchanged nervous smiles. He had lit a small candle on top of the fireplace. There was a shrivelled tree in the corner surrounded by a child’s hasty sketches in red and green marker.

Generic orange-blue boat paintings were carefully nailed in the walls. A collection of Guinness beer coasters was stacked obediently on the table. Before my eyes could continue to explore, his index finger redirected my gaze to a Galaxy cell-phone box with rolling papers, a grinder, tobacco, and a little bag of weed. My attention was split between small-talk and rolling a joint.

IV

As I lit the giant spliff, the room filled with fog. The wooden floor felt unstable. I could no longer walk. I sat on a wobbly antique wooden chair and focused on his green placemats with Celtic patterns. The windows had to be kept shut because of the neighbours. My mouth was dry, my palms were wet, I wanted to be horizontal. He grabbed the ashtray and we moved to the couch.

He babbled about growing up in Bastia, doing a year abroad in Ohio, working for Air France in Paris, working for his sister’s travel company back home, marrying the secretary, struggling to pass his teaching exam, making a child, hating supply teaching, and getting divorced “because he was never home”. He said that now he is doing much better. He is a full-time teacher, he finally finished the renovations, and his son feels at home. He interrupted the peaceful silence that followed to kiss my cheek. Our dull interaction offended my soul, however an overwhelming emptiness pulled me closer to the edge. A hypnotic urge to fill our bleak exchanges with meaning.

V

I watched him consume my lips from the other side of the couch. My eyes whispered: yes.  He immediately responded with his tongue in my mouth. Déjà-vu kisses led me to a boundless valley of delicate pink flowers blooming like seashells in misty Spring. Then the horny old man slipped a black furry blanket under my ass. His awkward thrusts filled another hole I forgot I had. A few minutes later he was out of breath and we had to stop.

He fried cheesy omelettes while I listened to the blues in another room. We drank leftover holiday wine and ate. He gulped his portion and stared at the greasy spills dribbling down my chin. I looked somewhere else. He wanted me to sleepover, but I declined. The best part of the night is always the breeze on the walk back.

VI

About a week later, I asked him if I could borrow his grinder. He told me to come by whenever. This time, a tiny blast of energy bolted to the front door. His dad forced it to kiss my cheek before running back into the stuffy apartment. He had his friend over as well.

I pushed my chair back as soon as I finished the tea. Before I left, the dad motioned to his friend to take the kid to the TV room while he nudged me into his bedroom. He grabbed my ass and smothered my mouth. I felt his erection between my legs. I pulled myself away. We were burning red. That time I walked extra slowly down each step to get to the main door. It was heavy.

VII

Another time, I invited him for a walk to an abandoned Muslim convent I had recently discovered. He said he had passed the towering building many times in his childhood but had never stepped inside. We admired the decaying walls bursting with green life and kissed once we got to the top. On the walk back, we decided to go to my place for lunch. He bought olive oil, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese from the grocery store nearby. He used half the bottle of olive oil to fry the garlic. I stepped outside and inhaled the Mediterranean sun. We ate awkwardly on my small patio. Later he said he would have preferred eating at the table inside. The meal was oily and bland.

Since our stomachs were satisfied, we moved to a different desire. First, we explored our mouths with my legs wrapped tightly around his hips. Then, we made a mad dash to my bed, I did a quick condom hunt, we shared a few minutes of rhythmic thrusts, I exhaled some encouraging moans, he produced a milky squirt, and it was done. His heart calmed and he left.

VIII

Homemade vegetarian pizzas, roasted potatoes with gooey raquelette, topless massages, fried couscous with beans, candlelit baths, lazy sleepovers, wine bottles, whisky-beer “experiment” crepes, loose leaf teas, hot coffee pots, cigarettes after sex, butter croissants, used condoms, mint tea joints, olive oil pasta, weed infused oatmeal-chocolate-chunk-cookies, citrus fruits, caramel ice-cream, leftover holiday treats, new scones recipes with butter and jam. We devoured it all.

And I was starving.

IX

Even though he had a car and I was hitchhiking every weekend, our only excursion during those few months was just a half-hour drive away. He picked me up, we bought three croissants, and he sped into the coastline. He sang along to a Michael Jackson song. I forget which one.

We took a short trail to arrive at an abandoned village. The golden sun was bold and carefree. After exploring the ruined houses, we found a patch of grass sprinkled with yellow flowers, and we smoked joints with our heads tilted back. I surprised him with a condom and mounted his hips. With every thrust, my knee smashed against a stubborn rock. I liked poking the tender spot. On the way back, we stopped by his family’s cottage. We ripped lemons off the branches and tore sage from the bush. Before leaving, we sat on chopped wood and spoke to the sparsely grown trees.

X

I was on my period the last time we made love. It happened in the eating room. We rotated between standing up, leaning over, the chair, his son’s placemat. We were going to continue until one of us came, but my menstruation grossed him out. We took a quick break. Soon he was fingering me once again. He leaned over me, leaving red fingerprints climbing up my chest. We sighed as we pulled ourselves apart. I enjoyed a fleeting hot shower before I left.

Our final rendez-vous was during the school’s 10am break at a café across from where we both worked. He told me not to bother coming in that day. He used his professional voice. Polite, artificial. He had already paid for our espressos and was standing up when I swallowed the last sip.

The Puppy Dog

My abandoned pet has not 
grown up just yet. He dances 
‘round strangers who walk 
through the door, rejection
taught him to appreciate more.
His eyes dart around with the
subtlest look, self-imposed pain 
is his favourite book. Yellow
moods soften our fluorescent lights,
he’d rather we cuddle than fight. 
Simple distractions help him feel better, 
sometimes suffering is too much to remember.