Grant slowed the car to a crawl and they both gawked at what turned out to be a deflated beach ball on the gravel shoulder of the road.
They had been driving around for an hour, the GPS system all but useless as they looked for a turn-off marked by a balloon and a sign.
“Okay, let me check the invite again?” Katie said, pulling a card out of her brown leather shoulder bag. “Ten miles west of the wrecking yard on highway 31, look for the balloon and the sign, park in the clearing?”
Grant was sure they were on the correct road, but there had been no balloon anywhere. They were in the middle of nowhere, they hadn’t even seen another car in over half an hour.
The trees rose up green and lush on both sides of the highway, deep gutters were full of young bulrushes not yet at the fluffy catkin stage, and the sun beat down bright and hot on the black asphalt ribbon in front of them. They had passed road kill in various states of decay, a murder of crows prancing down the centre yellow lines, and a rusty, abandoned shopping cart, but there was absolutely no sign of the entrance to the restaurant where they had a coveted reservation for dinner.
“We’ve gone more than ten miles, maybe we should double back,” Grant said, squinting through the windshield, the waves of heat dancing up from the road distorting his vision and making him doubt his own mind.
Debra rounded the side of the school just as the skies opened up. She shifted boxes of snacks as she struggled with her umbrella and rushed over to the visiting team’s bench.
She was only ten minutes late but this part of the city confounded her with its labyrinth of tiny narrow streets. She hoped Melanie would forgive her. She made a big deal of waving frantically when her daughter looked up and noticed her as she settled into a spot on the bleachers with the other parents from the visiting school.
They were a conservative-looking bunch under their umbrellas and hooded jackets; polo shirts and khakis for the very occasional dad, with the mothers dolled up in their upper middle-class soccer mom finery of cropped pants, ballet flats and pretty cashmere sweaters. Debra cheered enthusiastically when Melanie’s team got control of the ball.
On the next set of bleachers, the home team parents were a rougher-looking bunch.
“Goodness, it’s all very ‘urban’, isn’t it?” asked Ginny Wilson, the goalie’s mother, as the home team parents erupted in a raucous cheer when one of theirs scored a goal.
Debra tried to ignore the racist insinuation in Ginny’s comment. They came from a very white suburb and this was obviously a very mixed community; kids and parents were clearly from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, represented by everything from blue dreadlocks and tattoos to hijabs, turbans and door-knocker earrings.
“It’s good for the kids to meet new and different people,” she replied, trying to sound open-minded without triggering a debate. Debra liked the folks in her community well enough but found some of them excessively narrow in their views on other cultures. She hated debating with them, and made a point of avoiding discussions on anything resembling differences. It wasn’t that she agreed with Ginny but she’d rather not have to defend her point of view.
Ginny sniffed with disdain. “I guess, but there are some people I’d rather my kids not interact with, you know?”
At that moment the home team scored another goal and a bunch of parents stood up to cheer. One women in particular was louder than the others, her distinctive voice echoing across the field.
“That’s it Katy, kick ’em in the bleedin’ arse!!”
The visiting parents uttered a collective gasp at the swear word, loud enough to be heard, and the woman turned to look at them with a wide grin on her face as she twirled her umbrella. “Oi, you bunch of pearl-clutchers! Get over yourselves!”
It was then that Debra paired the woman’s distinctive voice with her wild, curly hair, big eyes and sarcastic smile. Patty Smash. THE Patty Smash. At her daughter’s soccer game.
Val glanced up at the clock above the bar as she finished filling carafes of water. Twenty five past nine. Through the large front windows she could already see a line forming; a grizzled older couple, Lonny and Margie, who had been regulars here since the days when it had been a dive bar; a group of four millennials and three, no, four sets of parents with strollers. Fuck Sunday brunch, she though to herself vehemently as one of the parents knocked loudly on the window and then gestured to his wrist.
“It’s freezing out there, you know,” he said with a snarky tone as Val unlocked the door and everyone filed in.
“We open at 9:30,” Val replied, making a note to herself to replace his coffee with decaf.
First we would smoke a big joint, purchased from the dealer who hung out at the Quoc Thé, the basement Vietnamese karaoke bar up the street with the dirty glassware and the overwhelming incense. Then, in search of munchies, we would head north to the 7-11, the only place in Kensington Market open after dark, other than the Portuguese billiards hall where I, a young woman of the Goth persuasion, was most definitely not welcome.
On nights when we didn’t load up with every form of chocolate then return to the flat to eat and pass out, we would walk around the city for hours. We walked because we were skint most of the time, or would rather save our money to buy drugs than pay for transit, but also because everything was within walking distance. Sort of. We thought nothing of leaving a club at 2am and walking three or four miles home, even in the freezing cold. Most stuff was closer. But on those nights when we intentionally went for a walk, we would just wander for hours. Sometimes it was down into the empty financial district, other times up to the posh enclaves of old mansions in the Annex or Yorkville where we peered curiously into windows to see people’s fancy decor.
We would come home after these walks, or any night we were out clubbing, staggering into the Market past the nausea-inducing stink of trucks full of live chickens parked and awaiting slaughter in the morning, to be greeted by a small black cat that sat at the end of the alleyway we traversed to get to our door. It would always run away before we got close to it, and over the months it never seemed to get any larger. But it was there every night, regardless of the weather, seemingly waiting for us.
Shannon walked out of Nuts and Bolts just before last call expecting the air outside to be cool, or at least cooler than the soup of humidity that hung over the dance floor. But the early-August night offered no respite; no breeze with the heady scent of summer blooms, no drop in temperature from the sweltering heat of the daytime. It was hard to breathe, but she shrugged her leather jacket back on, the collection of buttons and badges of her favourite punk and industrial bands carefully arranged on the lapels clinking together as the heavy garment settled on her shoulders.
Her white t-shirt was soaked with sweat, and she hadn’t worn a bra. Usually it didn’t matter but this old shirt with The Smiths on the front had been worn so often it was getting faded and thin and while it hadn’t bothered her in the darkness of the club, on the street she felt self-conscious about the sheerness of the fabric.
Between the exertion of dancing and the temperature inside the club, what little make-up she had bothered to wear had mostly melted off her face, leaving her with only a messy smudge of black eyeliner under each eye.
Alison gave the exclusive restaurant’s private dining room a final once over. Everything had to be perfect this evening. She adjusted the forks at two place settings on her family’s side of the table, stopping to refold a napkin at the spot where her father would be seated.
The room was as elegant as she could want. A long cherry-stained table with cream-coloured velvet seats filled the centre of the space. Three walls of the room were exposed brick, with the fourth being glass that allowed the diners to view the restaurant’s extensive wine cellar. The menu was mostly local ingredients prepared with classic French and Italian techniques, but without the piety of those nose-to-table places that told diners the name of the chicken they’d be eating. It had taken weeks to narrow down their choice to something that would suit everyone, and even now Alison feared that someone in her party this evening would have something to complain about.
She smoothed the skirt of her silk dress, admiring the sapphire colour, knowing that it made her eyes look even more blue. “I hope everyone can find the place,” she said, turning to Percy, her fiance, who was sorting the selection of wines arranged on a sideboard for their meal.
He sniffed as he replaced a bottle and turned to her. “It will be fine, Ali. Don’t get so stressed. There’s enough wine here to make your parents and my parents the best of friends.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she replied, admiring his stoicism. “Or that there’s enough wine to make everyone come to blows.”
I’ve been writing (and hoarding) short fiction over the pandemic so I thought I’d actually let some of it see the light of day. This piece is based on an encounter I watched some years ago at a local restaurant.
The restaurant was not what she had expected. Described by her co-workers, and the online rating website, as one of the city’s best seafood dining experiences, Malia expected The Oyster House to be a white tablecloth affair. Instead, the long narrow room was decorated in something akin to “upscale sea shanty”. The walls were bead board on the lower half, the raw wood treated to look weathered from exposure to the elements. The upper walls were painted light blue and were adorned with old signs with corny jokes as well as advertisements for crab shacks and oyster po’boys. Shelves above each table included huge dried starfish, glass balls attached to bits of fish netting, and knickknacks made out of lobster shells which Malia found oddly disturbing.
She had tried to get out of coming, but her workmates had insisted. A month into this new job and she still felt out of her element, but Darlene, her deskmate, would not take no for an answer.
“The whole department all go out together for lunch on the last Friday of each month,” the older woman explained. “Since there’s so few of us, we treat it as a team-building exercise. And management pays for half of our food bill.”
“Oh, it’s THAT day of the year again,” Willis opined to Gerald as they settled into a double seat on the streetcar. “Careful the seat isn’t already covered in glitter and who knows what else.
“I mean, really, what must their parents think? This… lifestyle. SUCH an embarrassment. I can’t imagine. How horrible it must be for them. To have your children grow up to be like… this…” Willis gestured widely at the streetcar’s interior, indicating twenty or so people dressed in sparkly clothing, feather boas, and rainbow-themed shirts, his voice full of disdain and intentionally loud enough to be heard.
People turned away, annoyed and disgusted, intent on ignoring Willis and his speechifying.
Stumbling into the darkened bedroom she shared with her younger sister, Beth turned on a table lamp and gasped in shock. It was one of the ‘beauties’. Right there in her sister Alice’s bed. Not just one of them, in fact, but ‘her’ beauty, the girl Beth had been fascinated with for months, ever since the young woman had started showing up at Rumours, the town’s only gay bar, where Beth worked the door.
“What the fuck?!” Beth muttered, leaning in to get a closer look at the girl’s long eyelashes resting on her alabaster cheek.