Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Story - Freedom's Wings

Saskatchewan's division of the Canadian Mental Health Association runs a literary magazine (Transition) based on mental health issues. They were calling for submissions in the Manitoba Writers' Guild newsletter asking for stories that dealt with that illness. I had ignored the ad the first time I saw it, because I didn't think that it pertained. After all, I was a terribly sane, terribly serious writer. What did mental illness have to do with me? But when the ad appeared a second time, a week later, I decided on a whim to give my list of stories a quick perusal...and was surprised at what I found. More than a few of my characters were exhibiting symptoms that in no way could be described as healthy.

Freedom's Wings is a story that I had always considered as my first foray into humour, although I'm not so sure if that's true. Others before it - The Rat Chancellor included - could make the same claim. But the thing about this story is that I felt a connection and thought that it deserved recognition. Therefore it was all the more gratifying when it actually got it.

                          Freedom’s Wings

Freedom is infinity of choice.
I mention this because now Jennifer has decided to end things with me, beaucoup possibilities stretch out to the far distant horizon.
Way c-o-o-o-o-l!
She said, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
“That sounds cliché,” I tell her.
She replies, “You’re right, it’s not me, it’s you.”
She said, “Well, for one thing, you’re too argumentative.”
“Me? Argumentative?”
“There you go again,” she sighs.
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are.”
“Fine, have it your way.”
“It’s not my way. It’s just how it is.”
“I hate when you do that.”
“Do what?”
“When you say ‘fine’ like that.”
“I’m just agreeing.” I point out – childishly, I suppose.
“That’s bullshit and you know it.” She doesn’t seem geared for a fight. She sounds tired, but she keeps doggedly on. “You’re being passive-aggressive. You’ll never let anyone tell you anything.”
“Whatever,” I reply in my most agreeable tone, which, when you get right down to it, isn’t all that agreeable.
But really, who can blame me? All this talk about leaving is getting me down. Worse than that, this is her apartment, so if anyone’s going to leave, it’s going to have to be me…and it’s raining outside – one of those miserable cold, drizzling days that never seem to end. What kind of a person would kick someone out into something like that?
 There was no denying this was the Mother of all Bummers, and must be dealt with accordingly.
“Okay, so I’m argumentative,” I acknowledge the possibility while making a beeline to my stash. I don’t know about you, but when I’m faced with the Mother of all Bummers, the only sure answer is the Mother of all Spliffs. “So okay, I can accept that maybe I might have to work on a few things. I’m cool with that – so unbelievably cool I don’t think you understand how cool that is. I’m willing to work on myself. Like, I’m willing to expand my personality, to become a better person and all that stuff. So how cool is that?”
I think it is pretty cool.
“It’s too late.”
“Waddaya mean ‘too late’?” I ask, snipping a bud into tiny green flakes. I should probably be paying more attention to her, but a well constructed joint requires some serious attention in its own right. “I’m here. You’re here. So let’s talk. I mean, we can talk, can’t we? We’re two intelligent beings, aren’t we? So how come we can’t put our heads together and have a meeting of the minds? I mean, like, c’mon already!”
I cut up the bud and regard the little pile of shavings with a critical eye before deciding the Mother of all Spliffs requires further grandeur. I reach into the bag for another bud, and find there is only one left. This is indeed a bummer! I will have to give my guy a call. In the meantime, I recognize there are some serious issues needing resolution. I am okay with that. I mean, my mind is open and everything. I begin to cut up the second bud into tiny little snips.
Meanwhile, there is some hesitation at Jennifer’s end - serious hesitation.
“I didn’t want to get drawn into this,” she said.
Man, she sounds tired.
“Drawn into what?” I ask, snipping carefully.
“Into this,” she said with definite despair, “Into another argument! I just wanted to tell you we’re through, that’s all. I can’t take another argument. It’s all we do, and I just can’t take it anymore.”
Man, she’s really in a bad place, all right. She sounds so forlorn I think of putting my arms around her, you know, to comfort her, but my hands are presently occupied.
“Hey, I don’t want to argue, either,” snip, snip. “Don’t think it’s me who wants to argue.” Snip, snip, snip, “I just want us to talk, I mean really talk. We can do that, can’t we?”
“Sure we can. There isn’t anything we can’t solve if we work at it, is there? Relationships take work, don’t they? I remember hearing that somewhere.”
“I said that last night.”
“Oh yeah? Well, that was good. I’ll admit it. That really was a good one, babe, you know…deep. No spoken words were ever more true. You laid it down and I picked it up like….like it was e.s.p. or something. It just goes to show I’m tuned in, doesn’t it?”
I scrape the clippings together and take out two papers – licking the glue on one before fastening it to the other. La Bomba, baby.
“You believe what you like,” she said, ever so weary, “but the fact is you don’t listen. You always want for us to talk, but you never listen.”
“Sure I do.” Rolling a double-paper spliff requires a great deal of concentration. Too much pressure and the seam will split. Not enough and you’ll be left with something that looks baggy, and totally unprofessional. Maybe that sort of thing doesn’t matter to some people, but it does to me. I mean, no question, you gotta take pride in your work.
“Oh have it your way,” she shrugs irritably, “it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Just a second. Just…one…more…second…almost there. I bring Gargantu-Joint to my mouth and lick the glued edge, smoothing it down. I regard the finished product with immense satisfaction. Few things are so rewarding.
“Aw c’mon, babe. Don’t say that. It has to matter. I mean, look at all the time we’ve spent together. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
“You only moved in two weeks ago.”
“Whoa! Really?” I light the joint, inhaling deeply, being careful to keep air flowing on the outside as well as inside to make the coal burn brighter. I suck the smoke down into my lungs and keep it there. Then I hold the reefer out for her.
She hesitates, regarding my creation almost as though she doesn’t trust it. My thoughts are that this is very strange. There are few things in this world I trust more than the weed. The weed is my friend. He will never let me down. He will always listen with respect. He will never bust my balls when things get weird.
In the end, she accepts it. She takes a short, girly drag and hands it back. It is a ceremony, like smoking a peace pipe.
I let the smoke out of my lungs. It billows and clouds between us. I hack and cough and cough and hack. My guy sells me some really primo shit. He is a good guy. In fact, he is one of the most truly superlative guys on the face of the planet.
“So, two weeks,” I manage before I am spluttering and coughing again. “I mean, I guess I realized that, it’s just we seemed to…you know…fit so well it seems longer.”
I take another long and lovely pull on Mr. Super-Spliff. I must have been tense, because already I can feel myself relaxing. It is no good feeling overly stressed in this day and age. I have heard somewhere that heart disease is the number one killer in the nation.
“You had nowhere else to go,” she said, once more accepting the joint, “so I took you in. I felt sorry for you.”
I kind of remember that. Tracey had just kicked me out. That had been after two whole months together – which was something of a record. I mean, we could have been in love, or something. That almost made it tragic, didn’t it?
“You were all alone, like a lost puppy, so I took you in.”
“Hey yeah, thanks.” I am beginning to feel very fine. There is too much reality in the world. I, for one, will have none of it. “That was really good of you – really humane. You could have left me standing out in the rain, but you took me in. I owe you, big time.”
“I felt sorry for you,” she repeated, “you know, after what happened to your brother and all. Even though it’s been over a year, you seem to be having trouble dealing with it. I thought I could help, but I was wrong.”
Fu-u-u-u-u-ck! Low blow or what! Why’d she have to suddenly go and bring Eddie into all this?
I suck in another massive toke. Getting over this bummer is going to require some very real dedication on my part. Throwing my brother’s memory in my face – you know, just out of the blue like that - was serious shit indeed! I mean, what was that all about?
I continue toking on the spliff. There is nothing I feel like saying so I just keep on pulling, watching with an appreciative eye while the coal burns brighter and brighter.
I guess she caught my vibe because after a while she said, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned that.”
Man, that coal was bright. Already it has burned down half the length of the joint, which is really something when you consider how moist I keep the weed. It’s probably not a good idea to be wasting it like this, but I can’t seem to be able to bring myself to stop. I just keep pulling and pulling until I’m full of the smoke, like…like I’m a hot air balloon, or something!
Then I think, ‘Hey, wouldn’t that be far out – to be a hot air balloon?’
 And suddenly, like a miracle, it happens; I am a balloon, bobbing gently in the warm summer air. I am one of dozens of brilliant colours on a huge green field of blossoming ganja. All of us are tugging on ropes binding us to the earth, each of us eager to take to the friendly skies. I can feel the sun on my face, and feel the heat inside that insists on propelling me upward. We all want that – to break free – to escape. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? I trust that heat like I trust the weed. We are one…we are brothers.
Then, for one last time, I’m back in her apartment.
“Know what?” I said, “You’re right. We’ve given it our best shot, but I can see it’s a no-go. I’ll just get my stuff and leave, okay? No hard feelings?”
“I’m sorry,” she repeats, but she is right about this also. It is too late.
I go through her drawers, shoving my stuff into two garbage bags. I’m not sure, but maybe in my haste, I shove a pair of her panties in there as well. The bags are the same ones I’d used when moving in, can you believe that? There must have been some sort of inner voice at work when I’d unpacked to make me toss them in the closet instead of throwing them out like a normal person.
I accept the gift of a third bag to pull over my guitar – it’s still raining – and I’m ready. I’ve become something of a legend over how quickly I can be gone from a former place of residence.
Eyes brimming, she waits for me at the door.
“I wish…” her voice trembles. Apparently, she is expecting one of those teary goodbyes.
“It’s okay,” I put the bags down and give her a feather-light embrace. “Everything’ll turn out so amazingly alright you won’t even believe it, just wait and see.”
She starts to snuffle. That’s my cue. I pick up my stuff and leave.
Freedom is infinity of choice.
As I set off down the street, misty rain plastering hair to skull, my mind is a split screen. One half is brooding on the day when Eddie chose Crystal Meth over me. The other is a severing of bonds over green fields, and a cascade of every colour in the rainbow rushing joyfully toward the sun – toward heaven itself, if we can get there.
My brother was free – none freer.
I hope that, somewhere out there, he still is.

                                        The End

                                                                        CW Lovatt – 02/03/09

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