Tessa

Prairie Fire - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - CHRIS­TINE MIS­CIONE

“I WILL AL­WAYS BE­LONG TO YOU ,” she said two hours af­ter we first met. We met via blind date—she knew a friend who knew a friend I knew; these three friends were ap­par­ently sleep­ing to­gether ca­su­ally and found it tit­il­lat­ing to play post-coitus match­maker. My friend of the three, this guy from my pre­vi­ous job, knew I had been laid off the week be­fore and said he wanted to help me out. He sent me a text telling me to meet a hot girl at a café down­town on James Street North. The only other info: Tessa, 28, blonde/blue/130 lbs/5’9/TEETH.

On Jan­uary 6th at 7:34 pm, I spot­ted her sit­ting pretty at a cor­ner ta­ble. She was smil­ing aim­lessly and toothily, a mas­sive equine smile di­rected at thin air, at the pos­si­bil­ity of me ar­riv­ing—or so I thought at the time. I walked over.

“Tessa,” she said, ex­tend­ing her arm.

“Ge­orge,” I said, or must’ve said. I must’ve shaken her hand too, but I was too struck by her to re­mem­ber. Teeth yes, but beau­ti­ful.

“Oh, why don’t we just get the hugs over with too!” she said, get­ting up, squeez­ing me un­ex­pect­edly.

She in­sisted we or­der the same thing: Dar­jeel­ing fraps with soymilk; whipped cream yes, cin­na­mon sugar too. Whipped cream gives me gas, but I went with it.

“So, have you been on these sorts of dates be­fore?” I of­fered. “Oh, let’s cut through the bull­shit,” she said, still smil­ing broadly, “let’s not be one of those cou­ples who meet for the first time and are all meta about it.”

From across the ta­ble, she took my hands into hers and, with a smear of cin­na­mon sugar across her right ca­nine, be­gan con­fess­ing things to me. Pro­found things.

“You know, I used to fight win­ter. But I’ve made peace with the sea­sons now, the way time moves,” she said.

“I guess we have no choice, right?”

“Well, it first hap­pened when I got pneu­mo­nia. I was prob­a­bly eigh­teen. My pe­riod would al­ways come with the full moon back then. Wolfess, friends called me, be­cause I’d bleed and howl, bleed and howl, month af­ter month. Well, I got pneu­mo­nia and it threw my whole body off, right down to the very last cell of me. I bled for nine days straight mid-cy­cle, then my real pe­riod came two weeks late and never aligned it­self with the full moon again. I’m no longer trapped by it.”

“By what?”

“The full moon. It let me go. It en­er­gizes me now.”

“I see.”

“And, there was a time when my mind was all over the place, scat­tered like leaves in au­tumn. It was so scat­tered that once I was drink­ing from a glass and didn’t no­tice un­til af­ter I’d fin­ished that it was cracked straight through, al­most like hoar frost, and there were tiny shards all over. I drank glass that day with­out even know­ing it! I sur­vived, but vowed never to be so care­less again. I was seven years old at the time.”

“Oh. I see.”

“So what do you do, Ge­orge?”

“I, uh, well, I’m an ac­coun­tant. But I’m… I’m be­tween jobs right now ac­tu­ally. Try­ing to find a bet­ter firm, one with more room for growth. What about you?”

“I’m fin­ish­ing my PhD. Noth­ing that ex­cit­ing. You know, Ge­orge, I truly be­lieve we are all in­de­fin­able. What we do dur­ing the day, it doesn’t make up who we are. The fact that you’re laid off, that’s okay.”

“What makes you think I’m laid off?”

“Here, I’ll tell you a se­cret. I’m pur­su­ing a PhD—this is a fact— but all I’ve ever wanted to do is bear young. How silly is that?” “That’s not silly.”

“I don’t nor­mally tell any­one that, Ge­orge. I must re­ally trust you.”

Through­out the whole blind-date con­fes­sional, Tessa smiled that volup­tuously tooth­some smile, never stop­ping, even when she told me she was abused by her mother as a teenager. Her mother would kick her up the stairs and pinch her stom­ach to the point of bleed­ing. Tessa’s smile was un­wa­ver­ing.

“You know, Ge­orge,” she said, right be­fore we left, “I have a good feel­ing about us.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I think I will al­ways be­long to you.”

The next few weeks were fun and breezy. We watched funny YouTube videos and Dis­ney movies. We snuck into Dun­durn Cas­tle and ate cook­ies. She put a lit­tle kid’s bowtie on me and we took pho­tos in a photo booth at Jack­son Square, af­ter which she mas­ter­fully pointed out, “I’m struck by how ge­net­i­cally dis­sim­i­lar we are. I mean, we don’t have one thing pheno-typ­i­cally in com­mon!”

Dur­ing those weeks Tessa was a vo­ra­cious lover. She was in and out and all over, came at me like a trop­i­cal storm, left like a sweet mar­garita. I thought her mas­sive teeth might be cum­ber­some, might gnaw or at least ob­struct, but I very quickly dis­cov­ered there are ma­noeu­vres only they can do.

“Ge­orge?”

“Yes…”

“Just let me put them on there—you’ll see, it’ll feel re­ally good.” “But they’re sharp—c’mon Tessa, I don’t think—no, no, wait, I—”

“See?”

One day, the third of Fe­bru­ary, Tessa and I were cel­e­brat­ing her birth­day—all she asked me to get her was or­thotics. I don’t know a thing about or­thotics, so I elicited the help of the phar­ma­cist at Shop­pers Drug­mart. “Well, does she mean stan­dard in­soles, or pro­fes­sion­ally made or­thotics?” he asked. I had no idea. I got her five dif­fer­ent kinds of Dr. Scholl’s—arch sup­port, gelly heel sup­port, spe­cial high heel mini-in­serts (did she wear high heels? I had no clue.) She loved them all. Just as she was about to blow out her twenty-nine can­dles (each one forcibly stuck in the cen­tre of the cake, to the ex­tent that the cake, which she baked and can­dled her­self, be­gan to sink in the mid­dle and I wor­ried it would all ig­nite) and I was sing­ing, piti­fully, “Happy Birth­day,” Tessa turned to me, smil­ing, and said, “You know, Ge­orge, we’ve been to­gether for one men­strual cy­cle now.”

She looked strangely “un-Tessa” in that mo­ment, the blaze of twenty-nine minia­ture can­dles cast­ing strange shad­ows across her face, mak­ing her pro­trud­ing muz­zle look es­pe­cially threat­en­ing and ape-like.

“Well,” she con­tin­ued, “don’t you think it’s about time we move in to­gether?”

On Valen­tine’s Day, Tessa and I united be­long­ings in a one-bed­room apart­ment down on Strath­cona Av­enue. Sev­eral times through­out the mad­ness of mov­ing day, I’d catch Tessa look­ing at me, her smile glis­ten­ing in the white, mid-Fe­bru­ary sun­light. Later, af­ter cin­na­mon hearts and christening the kitchen floor, she whis­pered to me, “Ge­orge, there were many times to­day that I felt the in­tense need to tell you I love you. They were brief, maybe a mi­crosec­ond, and a few min­utes later I was ex­tremely re­lieved I didn’t say it. I think this means I may be fall­ing in love with you.”

I drew her close to my chest and ca­ressed her chin. No one had al­most said they loved me be­fore.

Tessa was the first woman I’d ever se­ri­ously dated or lived with; ev­ery­thing was new. I didn’t know that fe­male mas­tur­ba­tion can lead to carpal tun­nel syn­drome. This is why, Tessa said, she never mas­tur­bated as a child and re­fused to let me get her off with my hands. I also quickly dis­cov­ered that some women, in­deed, Do Not Fart. I’d find her at the kitchen ta­ble, some­times sweaty, red-faced, try­ing with mighty force to push gas out. “Ge­orge, I push and push but it still won’t come!” As soon as I’d show any af­fec­tion, which would sug­gest ac­knowl­edge­ment and un­der­stand­ing of her plight, she’d burst at the seams with tears, many tears, her ti­tanic teeth weep­ing too. One time I made the mis­take of say­ing some­thing along the lines of, “Don’t worry, you’ll get it out even­tu­ally. It’ll come, I prom­ise.” Tessa’s be­hav­iour er­rat­i­cally shifted. Her cry­ing ceased, and she looked me square in the eyes. “Ac­tu­ally, it will never come. I’m a proper woman, Ge­orge, and proper women simply do not fart. What kind of ex­am­ple would I be set­ting?”

Af­ter liv­ing to­gether for ap­prox­i­mately three weeks, “Ge­orgie-poo” be­gan. It be­gan be­cause Tessa wanted to tell me she loved me for the first time in a rhyming cou­plet. Ge­orgie-poo/I love you. It was sadly also the advent of “Mar­ilu”—what Tessa de­manded be her nick­name. “Why not some­thing like ‘Tessa-noo,’ so it’d at least re­sem­ble your real name?” I asked. But she re­fused. There­after in all mo­ments of af­fec­tion—sex es­pe­cially—I was forced to call her Mar­ilu.

“Oh, Tess—”

“Ge­orgie-poo, that’s not my name.”

“But, Tessa, it’s weird.”

“Oh, were you talk­ing to me? Be­cause I don’t know who Tessa is. Tessa has left the build­ing.”

My beard grew bushy and my hair was get­ting longer, al­most shoul­der length. I looked like a bona fide woods­man. The way Tessa would grab onto it in bed, I was con­vinced she dug it. One day, though, she came at me with scis­sors and said, “Ge­orgie-poo, time to chop chop.” She had a vi­sion, ap­par­ently, and it in­volved our stain­less steel pop­corn bowl placed di­rectly on top of my head, then her snip­ping in a clean lin­ear fash­ion—my hair only, leav­ing the beard.

“You want me Amish?” I asked.

“Well, you know Ge­orgie-poo, the great­est para­dox known to mankind is that the Amish aren’t al­lowed to have style, and yet there’s an un­equiv­o­cal Amish Style.”

“So, you want me Amish,” I laughed. “I se­ri­ously look like a lit­tle Amish kid with a beard!”

“Well, there is some­thing so adorable about all that as­ceti­cism and un­flinch­ing sto­icism,” Tessa said, kiss­ing my neck.

The bowl cut looked ridicu­lous, like a prac­ti­cal joke sit­ting on my head. But I went along with it with­out a sec­ond thought, and not only that, I was so over­whelmed with amorous­ness that I took Tessa to the bed­room af­ter­wards and made love to her in a fash­ion I can only call un-Amishly. “I love you, Mar­ilu,” I said. And I meant it. I had never felt what I felt for her be­fore.

A few weeks later, the hon­ey­moon was over. March thawed into April, into no­tice­ably longer days. Tessa be­gan get­ting in­ter­ested in yoga and med­i­ta­tion to help with “birthing” her PhD dis­ser­ta­tion. One af­ter­noon, with the blinds drawn, all the lights out, she was ap­par­ently deep into a spir­i­tual shavasana when two thugs broke into our apart­ment and stole all my clothes—ev­ery­thing right down to my belts and un­der­wear. Tessa says she may have heard a rus­tle, maybe even a tum­ble, but she was in the mode of “nonat­tach­ment,” which ap­par­ently means she hears ex­ter­nal noises but doesn’t phys­i­o­log­i­cally or emo­tively re­spond. “I don’t know how else to ex­plain it, Ge­orgie-poo—I was so far in, so at­ten­tive only to the rhythm of my breath­ing. I was in com­plete un­aware­ness of my sur­round­ings.”

“I un­der­stand that, but you were in shavasana on the bed­room floor—my clothes were in draw­ers right near where your head

would’ve been, my shoes were right here—” I said, point­ing at the empty shoe rack less than a foot away from where Tessa’s yoga mat was sprawled.

“I swear I heard noth­ing!” she yelled, smil­ing largely.

I asked her if she was jok­ing. If maybe the whole thing was a be­lated April Fools’.

“No! Why would I ever joke about some­thing like this?”

“I don’t know, Mar­ilu, from the look on your face, I thought maybe—”

“I’m smil­ing to avoid frown lines, Ge­orgie-poo. Haven’t you no­ticed I’m al­ways smil­ing?”

Her teeth flashed de­monic for a split-hair of a sec­ond. I thought about how if ev­ery smile re­places a frown, Tessa is frown­ing all the time. I felt a chill like maybe this changed ev­ery­thing, like maybe she wasn’t be­ing truth­ful, ly­ing through her teeth. No, no, that couldn’t be, I rea­soned. Tessa would never lie to me.

I shrugged off the Shavasana In­ci­dent. The world is stranger than fic­tion some­times, and be­sides, los­ing all my clothes gave me a chance to cre­ate a new wardrobe, all un­der the di­rec­tion of my sweet love Tessa. The new one con­sisted of Win­nie-the-Pooh T-shirts and cardi­gans and neon-striped socks. I looked like a moron wear­ing my Goofy-in-Won­der­land T-shirt, but it didn’t mat­ter. Tessa was with me and she loved me. My world was com­plete.

Soon I be­gan get­ting a lit­tle antsy. Spring fever, maybe? Tessa was home all day ham­mer­ing out her dis­ser­ta­tion. Some days she’d take eight hours to com­pose a sin­gle sen­tence. “The even­tual ad­di­tion of the def­i­nite ar­ti­cle pre­ced­ing ‘flu’ and ‘hospi­tal’ in North Amer­ica is in­dica­tive of re­verse wean­ing.” On oth­ers, she’d be typ­ing fu­ri­ously or read­ing her text­books out loud in a mono­tonic ro­botic voice—which, ac­tu­ally, I found kind of sexy. “One should al­ways re­main un­wa­ver­ing and un­bi­ased while read­ing any­thing, Ge­orgie-poo.”

When she wasn’t work­ing on her PhD, she was fuss­ing over me, try­ing to fix my but­tons, for in­stance, or wip­ing in­fin­i­tes­i­mal crumbs off my chin. She’d Ge­orgie-poo this, and Ge­orgie-poo that. I felt small.

It was around this time that I be­gan ap­ply­ing for jobs. I des­per­ately needed to feel pro­duc­tive again, be out­side of the house for a while, and show Tessa that I was worth some­thing. I told this to her, and she sighed, “Ge­orgie-poo, I think you’re great just the way you are. You don’t need a job. In fact, don’t bother look­ing, we’re fine fi­nan­cially.”

“I know, but I want to.”

“Some­times we don’t al­ways get what we want, Ge­orgie-poo.” Later that day, with­out Tessa’s bless­ing, I sent out eight re­sumés and cover let­ters, and crossed all fin­gers and all toes. Some­thing about the mere act of ap­ply­ing made me feel pro­duc­tive again, like a man. Only good could come of this.

Weeks passed and I heard noth­ing. Frus­trat­ing, but it of­ten takes firms a good deal of time to so­lid­ify de­ci­sions about ap­pli­cants. In the in­terim, I de­cided I should start tak­ing a daily walk. When I told Tessa this, she grunted, “A walk? Why?”

“Just to get out, get some fresh air. I feel cooped up in here.” “We can open a win­dow.”

She re­luc­tantly gave in, and made me prom­ise to wear my new Hamil­ton Tiger Cats base­ball cap. She said it was a way to pro­tect my nose from the sun and, more im­por­tantly, al­low me to bond with the com­mon Hamil­to­nian man.

“What do you mean by that? I hate the Tiger Cats. I don’t even know why we bought that hat.”

“It’s to pro­tect you from thugs, Ge­orgie-poo! Just lis­ten to Mar­ilu, won’t you?”

There was no use re­sist­ing, Tessa was al­ways right. So I did as I was told. I put on the god­damn hat and went on my merry way.

On my walks I be­gan to dis­cover our neigh­bour­hood, for ex­am­ple the gnome house, which boasted an as­sort­ment of weath­ered gar­den gnomes with mas­sive and al­most men­ac­ing smiles do­ing var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties like BBQ-ing and burst­ing out of Easter eggs; and the Christ­mas house, which for­got to take its mass of Christ­mas lights down four months ago; and the house right by where the new speed bump went in a few weeks back, with the lady who chain-smokes stand­ing in her drive­way while her seven kids tear up the lawn. It felt good to get out­side.

Out of the blue, late-April, Tessa came to me cry­ing. Was it one of those pesky trapped farts again? No. Did she still feel bad about the Shavasana In­ci­dent? No. I probed more. Was it the fact that my cute Amish­ness is fad­ing now that my hair is grow­ing out? No. Have I not been call­ing her Mar­ilu enough? No. Then what was it?

“Well, Ge­orgie-poo,” she said, cry­ing but smil­ing, or try­ing to force a smile through the cry­ing, which—how do I draw a com­par­i­son

for how de­mented it looked?—looked like a happy rub­ber ducky be­ing forced through a meat pro­ces­sor.

“Ge­orgie-poo, I’ve made a blun­der.”

“Okay…” I had no idea what to ex­pect.

“Ge­orgie-poo, back in Fe­bru­ary, I got preg­nant with our love child.”

Love child?

“I got re­ally scared. You just weren’t ready to be a fa­ther, Ge­orgiepoo, so I got an abor­tion se­cretly. I was fine with the whole thing and car­ried on. But now that spring is com­ing and flow­ers are blos­som­ing, I’ve be­gun feel­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily sad. So I went to a ther­a­pist last week. She as­sessed me. And I went back again to­day, and she gave me a strat­egy to get over this once and for all. And, Ge­orgie-poo, I think I need to do it.”

There was no “okay” in my arse­nal of how to re­spond. How to re­spond? No re­sponse. She dodged a bul­let that to me may’ve been a but­ter­fly. She didn’t ask me first—she de­ceived me. I was dev­as­tat­ingly jaw-dropped, but only for a brief sec­ond, be­cause then, see­ing her cry, teeth over­whelm­ing her face and her head sink­ing back into that flac­cid blonde pony­tail of hers, I thought, poor Tessa.

“Tessa, I—” the words were hard to choke out, “I mean, Mar­ilu, I’m, I’m so sorry for your loss—our loss. I know that must’ve been such a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion for you. Come here, let me hug you.”

And so we hugged. For a long time. After­ward, I as­sured her that no, she didn’t ac­cu­mu­late any frown lines from the ex­change, “you were smil­ing the whole time.”

I’m not ex­actly sure what ther­a­pist in their right mind would sug­gest that a heart­bro­ken woman, who has just lost a child, put 365 Post-its on her bed­room wall in the shape of a fe­tus—“one for each day of the year, Ge­orgie-poo. I am sup­posed to take one off ev­ery morn­ing, and ev­ery one I take off will mean a bit less sad­ness for me un­til the whole thing is gone from the wall and my heart”—but there they were, a rain­bow of Post-its formed as a lop­sided sea­horse to greet me each morn­ing be­fore I’d set out on my walks.

“Are you sure this is nec­es­sary? I mean, it could be painful be­ing re­minded of this each day.”

“Ge­orge—you lis­ten here. This is what the ther­a­pist said would help me. I am ready and will­ing to try any­thing.”

“Okay, fine,” I said, putting my run­ning shoes on, about to leave. “Don’t for­get to wear your base­ball cap!”

More weeks passed. I still hadn’t heard from any of the firms I ap­plied to. Tessa con­tin­ued to peel off her Post-its one by one and birth her PhD, some­times do­ing breath­ing ex­er­cises she de­scribed as La­mazey in or­der to ease it out. My walks started to triple. I’d walk morn­ing, noon and night. I no­ticed the Christ­mas house still turned on its lights ev­ery night in the hazy April dusk. What for­get­ful peo­ple, right?— un­til I saw a minia­ture Christ­mas tree sud­denly ap­pear one day lit up in their front win­dow. It was the be­gin­ning of May and the first time in my life that Christ­mas decorations felt creepy. I pulled my Tiger Cats base­ball cap fur­ther down on my head, al­most cov­er­ing my eye­brows, and kept walk­ing. Later that week, mus­ing about the many pos­si­ble ad­ven­tures of Tessa’s teeth, I no­ticed the gnome house was sud­denly, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, de­nuded. In the place of the smi­ley, ex­u­ber­ant gnomes, a typed let­ter was tacked to a tree trunk:

To the Idiot(s) that Took Our Gnomes,

We wanted to bring joy to our street with our gar­den gnomes. Our daugh­ters and we put our pre­cious gnomes on our lawn in good faith, believing that we live among re­spect­ful peo­ple. Un­for­tu­nately now we have to re­con­sider this. Please bring back our gar­den gnomes—our five-year-old cries when­ever she comes home from school be­cause the gnomes are gone and she’s re­minded of what a nasty world we live in.

The Robert­sons

I shiv­ered, pulled my base­ball cap fur­ther down, now com­pletely cov­er­ing my eye­brows, and car­ried on my way.

Soon af­ter, I fi­nally re­ceived an email from one of the firms I ap­plied to. Ear­lier that par­tic­u­lar week, wor­ried, I sent a fol­low-up email ask­ing if they’d con­sid­ered my ap­pli­ca­tion. The email they sent in re­turn said some­thing along the lines of, Please do not con­tact us again. If you do, we will have to take le­gal ac­tion. What the fuck? I called them im­me­di­ately to tell them they’d made a mis­take. The re­cep­tion­ist told me if I ever called there again, they would have no choice but to call the po­lice. “And, the last pack­age you sent us,” she said snark­ily, “the one with the wind-up carousel and that card you wrote in baby’s writ­ing—that was like, all just so twisted.” The line went dead. I tried call­ing back fif­teen times, all to no avail.

I didn’t want to let Tessa see me up­set, but I was so shaken, so deeply rat­tled, what else could I do but crawl to her, cry­ing?

“There, there, Ge­orgie-poo. These things hap­pen. The right job will come along, I prom­ise.”

“How do you know I’m cry­ing over a job?”

“Oh, I over­heard your phone con­ver­sa­tion, Ge­orgie-poo. Don’t worry, you’ll find work soon. There’s no rush.”

My phone con­ver­sa­tion? I barely got a word in edge­wise with that bitch re­cep­tion­ist—what could Tessa pos­si­bly hear? Any­way, no use quar­relling with her, I thought. She’s al­ways right and she prob­a­bly did un­in­ten­tion­ally over­hear. I slunk deeper into her soft, warm breasts and let my­self go.

My walks con­tin­ued. I’d see the mother of seven smok­ing cig­a­rettes con­tin­u­ously, her kids ter­ror­iz­ing an anthill. I’d see the empty gnome house, then the Christ­mas house, with a wreath newly added, and af­ter, an in­flat­able Santa. I’d muse about Tessa’s teeth rav­aged by malaria on a sa­fari in the Serengeti; Tessa’s teeth bit­ing too hard on a chalk­board and shat­ter­ing; Tessa’s teeth knocked out by an aborted fe­tus leav­ing only a sin­gle front tooth as a buoy wad­ing in the blood and gums; Tessa’s teeth plucked one by one by a fa­natic girl in love: he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not—when a few days later, walk­ing by a strip of bushes, I spot­ted a sin­gle porce­lain smile cracked out of its face, the face miss­ing, the smile dan­gling there, im­paled by a branch. A smile I rec­og­nized as be­long­ing to none other than the Easter egg gnome.

“Ge­orgie-poo, look at the progress I’ve made with our fe­tus! What would’ve been his mouth is al­ready gone. A few more days and the place where his dim­ples would’ve been will be miss­ing too!”

His?

“Ge­orgie-poo, once all the Post-its are gone, we should cel­e­brate. What do you say?”

“That’s kind of far off. It would be this time next year?”

“I know, but it’s ex­tra­or­di­nary to think about! We can make it a kind of birth­day party for him—in­vite friends, make funny bal­loon an­i­mals and blow out can­dles. A cel­e­bra­tion of life.”

Some­times it was dif­fi­cult to fathom a univer­sity pay­ing Tessa to pro­duce any­thing cere­bral.

On all my sub­se­quent walks I avoided the strip of bush where the de­faced mouth hung. I shiv­ered passed the bar­ren gnome house, the

Christ­mas lights in May. I saw the chain-smok­ing mother of seven spank three of her chil­dren si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Life felt odd. Then Tessa said she had to visit her mother, who was dy­ing in Saska­toon. She’d be gone for nine days. Did she want me to come with her? No. Why not? “You don’t know my mother; she’d kill you.”

Tessa charged me with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of de-Post-it-ing the fe­tus. She made me sign a hand­made con­tract. She said, “Don’t for­get, Ge­orgie-poo, only one each day.” Then she left.

The next morn­ing, ap­prox­i­mately 330 Post-its stood be­fore me; they glowed on the wall, al­most tech­ni­colour in the morn­ing sun. Would Tessa no­tice if I didn’t take any off? Of course she would. Okay, but would she no­tice if I took them off all at once, one fell swoop of Post-it fe­tus, to get the whole damn nasty thing over with? How could she ever know?

Dear G-Poo,

Thank you for be­ing you. If you’re read­ing this, I bet you’ve al­ready taken off your first Post-it! Con­grat­u­la­tions! Don’t for­get ONE (1) each morn­ing.

Love, Mar­ilu

No Post-its came down un­der my watch for the first three days of Tessa’s trip. Blas­phe­mous? Un­boyfriendly? I just couldn’t bring my­self to do it, even for Tessa. On the fourth morn­ing, I closed my eyes and shak­ily pulled not one but nine Post-its hap­haz­ardly off my bed­room wall. Imag­ine it: a grown man pulling off an ar­ray of rain­bow Post-its so that what was once vaguely fe­tus-like could sud­denly look like a de­formed noth­ing stuck there. Fuck this. I threw them in the trash. Went for my walk. Was walk­ing my reg­u­lar walk—the reg­u­lar land­marks—when hor­ror struck. Scat­tered like dead bodies across a bat­tle­field, each and ev­ery smile once be­long­ing to a gnome, each smile ex­tracted reck­lessly from its porce­lain skull, jagged lines, teeth miss­ing, were strewn across the gnome house’s front lawn. Blue-lipped smiles. Troll-green smiles. Mas­sive equine smiles. What the hell? I con­sid­ered knock­ing on the gnome house’s door. I con­sid­ered call­ing the po­lice. I did nei­ther— pulled my base­ball cap lower on my head, al­most touch­ing my eye­lids. I walked away.

Back at my apart­ment, I felt rat­tled. I threw my hat on the bed­room floor, slunk into my bed and went back to sleep. Hours must’ve passed,

syrupy dreams of Tessa strad­dled on top of me fuck­ing me. Tessa throw­ing her head back in heinous laugh­ter. Tessa sit­ting at the café where we first met, star­ing into obliv­ion but also sud­denly mor­ph­ing into a mas­sive pur­ple gnome smile—throb­bing—each throb like a strobe light: Tessa, gnome smile, Tessa, gnome smile…

A few hours later, I awoke. Shook off sleep. Was it all a dream? I went to the kitchen. Soymilk on gluten-free Chee­rios is dis­gust­ing, but that was all I had left in the apart­ment. I opened the fridge to get the car­ton, earnestly stuck my hand in­side, thought noth­ing of it un­til I saw, on the top shelf—with­out ex­pla­na­tion—my Tiger Cats base­ball cap.

Dear G-Poo,

All is well in Saska­toon. Did you take off the Post-its all at once, or are you do­ing it one by one, like I asked? I sin­cerely hope the lat­ter.

I miss you. Love, Mar­ilu

I am not stupid. I knew some­thing was fishy. I knew that I had thrown my hat on the bed­room floor and slept deeply. I didn’t hear any­one come into the house, but who would come into the house just to move my hat, any­way?

Tessa?

When one lives with some­one else, and one thinks one loves this some­one else, and one re­al­izes that this some­one else may be slightly off his/her rocker, may have suf­fered one too many head trau­mas as a young child, but one trusts this some­one else, and this some­one else is off vis­it­ing his/her dy­ing mother in Saska­toon, a place one has al­ways thought sounded like a be­nign wind in­stru­ment, a place of snow and far­away and se­cre­tively dy­ing mothers, when all of the above is all of the above, one simply can­not imag­ine this some­one else any­where but belly deep in snow and sad­ness.

Tessa?

Then it was a Thurs­day, it was the tenth of June. The day be­fore Tessa was com­ing home. I awoke with a start, rubbed sleep from my eyes, and had these thoughts: Maybe liv­ing with Tessa isn’t so bad af­ter all? Yes, she makes me do things like wear a stupid Tiger Cats hat ev­ery day and eat whipped cream even though my bow­els don’t ap­prove and call her Mar­ilu even in the heat of pas­sion. Yes, her teeth re­call wind-up snap­ping gums and the dis­pro­por­tion of her skull cap-to-

muz­zle un­fleshed and un­earthed in an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig. But she’s beau­ti­ful; she makes me feel im­por­tant. No one has ever be­longed to me be­fore. No one has ever told me they loved me.

I missed her.

I rolled a bit in bed, imag­ined Tessa ly­ing be­side me, me wrap­ping my arms and legs around her rak­ish frame. Her soft skin. Her full breasts. It was a bliss­ful mo­ment, un­til I turned care­lessly to­wards the Post-it wall, that fuck­ing Post-it wall, be­cause there, in front of me, tacked above the di­lap­i­dated head of the Post-it fe­tus, was my fuck­ing Tiger Cats cap im­paled by a meat cleaver.

What the hell?

I felt sick. I pulled it down. Walk, I needed a walk ASAP, so I scram­bled to get dressed, put on the fuck­ing base­ball cap, walked to­wards the liv­ing room, to­wards the front door. Breath­ing in, breath­ing out, un­til the over­whelm­ing need to vomit struck—all the liv­ing room fur­ni­ture, the TV, the couch, the cof­fee ta­ble, had been re­ar­ranged; the TV faced the wall on the op­po­site side of the room, the cof­fee ta­ble had traded places with the couch, the couch was up­side down. Was I go­ing crazy? I shook it off—just sleepy still, that was all—pulled my cap down fur­ther on my head and, de­ter­mined, walked out­side.

In a daze, I walked my usual route but in re­verse. Saw the chainsmok­ing mom teach­ing her el­dest how to roll cig­a­rettes. Saw that some­one had punc­tured the Christ­mas house’s in­flat­able Santa; it was ripped open and strewn across the lawn. Fuck Christ­mas in June! I kept walk­ing un­til I reached the gnome house, nearly vom­ited all over my­self, saw Post-its, hun­dred of Post-its flit­ter­ing in the wind, hun­dreds of rain­bow-coloured Post-its strewn across the lawn like ca­su­al­ties across a war zone. Did I knock on the door? Did I tell them it was all my fault—the gnomes, the Post-its—that it was all be­cause of me?

I shiv­ered, pulled my hat lower, so low that its rim grabbed hold of my eye­lids and tugged them up­wards and open. I couldn’t blink, but I could run. I ran straight home. Straight in­side the apart­ment, threw off my cap on the liv­ing room floor, ran into my room to sleep so as to slough off the fuck­ing mad­ness. But be­fore I could es­cape, the most sick­en­ing sight of all—the only time I wouldn’t just feel like puk­ing but would ac­tu­ally puke. Be­cause the wall, which once bore hun­dreds of Post-its, was sud­denly, mys­te­ri­ously naked. Naked, but

not com­pletely empty. In the place of the Post-its, it had off-white specks of var­i­ous sizes and shapes ar­ranged in the out­line of a fe­tus. What the hell? I walked closer to see what it was, with each step my stom­ach heav­ing, got right up in front of it and I swear to God I saw each and ev­ery one of Tessa’s thirty-two horse teeth stuck to the wall, eye­teeth, mo­lars, the whole fuck­ing set stuck in the shape of a fe­tus. The fe­tus had eyes, the fe­tus’s eyes winked at me. The fe­tus had a gi­gan­tic mouth, it smirked at me. I vom­ited all over the floor in front of the wall, threw my­self on my bed, closed my own eyes and slept.

And slept.

I slept for what must’ve been an en­tire twenty-four hours. I slept un­til the eleventh of June. I slept un­til I awoke to the sound of hum­ming, soft hum­ming, siz­zling too, like some­thing in a fry­ing pan. And I awoke to a ghastly, al­most mur­der­ous smell. There was the smell of fry­ing oil, per­haps eggs? But pig­gy­back­ing that, a smell I had never be­fore smelled.

I walked gin­gerly to­wards the hum­ming, to­wards the reek­ing kitchen, not know­ing what hour it was, what day, not think­ing that it was the next day, that Tessa would’ve al­ready ar­rived, but there she was with her back to me in the kitchen, naked ex­cept for a frilly pink apron, sur­rounded by siz­zles and uten­sils and stench. I im­me­di­ately no­ticed there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about her—she had her hair tied tightly back in a pony­tail like she of­ten did, but it was as if her hair was some­how ir­ra­tionally longer, very long, right down to be­low her but­tocks, and some­how less limp than usual. Was she wear­ing a hair­piece? And then sud­denly the stench grew stronger, more heinous, and she be­gan gen­tly whip­ping her pony­tail back and forth, back and forth.

I called to her, “Tessa!” but she kept whip­ping her hair and beat­ing to­gether some kind of grey­ish-yel­low bat­ter. “Tessa? What’s that smell?” Still noth­ing. She turned to­wards the stove and flipped what looked like eggs doused in sea foam and straw. “Tessa!” I yelled.

She fi­nally lifted her head to­wards me so I could see her straighton. Smiles like hers are the kind you bring home to meet your folks— the kind you make love to, not fuck. And there it was, that smile smil­ing at me, pro­tected by thick gummy lip folds, doused in saliva, and sit­u­ated at the end of a very long pro­trud­ing muz­zle, maybe thirty cen­time­tres in length, with two large nos­tril holes on ei­ther side.

“What the—” I be­gan.

“Re­ally, Ge­orge?” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “Af­ter we’ve been apart for al­most ten days, and you’re go­ing to call me Tessa like you don’t even love me?”

“Oh. Sorry, uh, I mean Mar­ilu.”

“That’s bet­ter,” she said with a stern face, then sud­denly burst to­ward me, “Ge­orgie-poo! It’s been so long!”

“I know, uh, it’s so nice to see you,” I choked out. “But, Tess—I mean, Mar­ilu, what is that smell?”

“What are you talk­ing about? The eggs?”

“No, it’s like the smell of death or some­thing.”

“I don’t know what you’re talk­ing about, Ge­orgie-poo, but mmmm I’ve missed you so much!” She be­gan kiss­ing and slob­ber­ing all over my neck.

“Tessa—Mar­ilu—I can hardly breathe in here. We need to leave the kitchen, I’m go­ing to be sick!”

“You’re silly,” she said, but com­plied silently.

We es­caped to the liv­ing room where all the fur­ni­ture had been re­ar­ranged back to nor­mal. The smell fol­lowed us. We went to the bed­room where the Post-it fe­tus had been restuck and not a sin­gle tooth was in sight, ex­cept for the ones lodged in Tessa’s rub­bery gums. The smell still fol­lowed.

“That smell! I just can’t—it’s in­escapable! I have to go for a walk!” “But we haven’t seen each other for so long! Ge­orgie-poo, kiss me!” Just as I was about to look for my base­ball cap, I heard a slight whoosh sound com­ing from Tessa’s di­rec­tion, the sound of blow­ing air through your teeth, and she be­gan whip­ping her pony­tail again.

“Tessa, what was that noise?”

“What noise?”

It hap­pened again, the whoosh.

“That noise. What was that?”

“What are talk­ing about?”

“How could you not hear that? It’s like air pass­ing through… Tessa, did you fart?”

“No! How dare you ac­cuse me of that!” she yelled, putting her hands on her hips again.

“I’m not ac­cus­ing, I’m just ask­ing a ques­tion.”

“You are a bad boy, Ge­orge, ac­cus­ing me of pass­ing wind af­ter you know my chal­lenges,” she screamed, still smil­ing, still whip­ping her pony­tail like it was swat­ting away flies, then mut­tered to her­self, “we re­ally do give them the weapons to de­stroy us.”

The noise hap­pened again.

“Look, I’m not try­ing to ac­cuse you, I’m just ask­ing you: did you fart? Yes or no.”

“Ge­orge, you are crazy. I think you need help.”

I re­al­ize she needed to call me crazy in or­der to cover up the months of lu­nacy. Tessa, the de­crepit mare of a woman, the equine psy­chopath I’ve been sleep­ing be­side—of course she’s go­ing to ra­tio­nal­ize ev­ery­thing and say it’s me and claim that the sounds be­gin­ning to vi­brate from her nos­trils and bucked-teeth weren’t neigh­ing, were ac­tu­ally cry­ing. But Tessa, you have no fuck­ing tears. You can’t cry drily and smile the whole time.

“I leave for nine days and come home to an in­sane boyfriend?” she wailed be­tween fe­ro­cious neighs. “I lost my only child. My mother is dead. And now my boyfriend is fuck­ing nuts?”

“Don’t be such a spoil­sport.” It was all I could think to say be­cause she shouldn’t have been name-call­ing and whin­ing like that. Strangely, when I said it, she looked over at me with her ears tall and perky and a flash of those hun­gry, lusty eyes I know very well.

“This is not the time for mak­ing love. You’re sick, you need help,” I said.

“What! If you think I want you to so much as—”

“Look, I’m try­ing to be the strong one here,” I de­clared. “We can­not have sex, pe­riod.”

She threw her hands up in what seemed like de­feat and sex­ual frus­tra­tion, then be­gan fum­bling through her draw­ers, toss­ing un­der­wear and tank tops and sun­dries into a heap on the bed­room floor.

“I’m leav­ing,” she said.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come?” I of­fered. “I can help you take care of your mom.”

“My mother is dead, you prick. Didn’t you hear me?”

“I know, but why wouldn’t I bring her into this? It’s her time of in­tense need.”

“What? You make no sense.”

“Let’s fly out there right now to­gether. It’ll be fun.”

“Okay, that’s it. I’m leav­ing you, Ge­orge. I’m done.”

Yes, of course she was leav­ing, but they’d never let her on the plane look­ing like she stepped out of some Farmer Joe’s pet­ting farm, neigh­ing and whip­ping, and emit­ting such a stench that it was all I could do to stay there plead­ing with her to get some se­ri­ous coun­selling.

“You need help, Mar­ilu. We can get you the help you need.”

“Why are you call­ing me Mar­ilu?”

“Be­cause—”

“Who’s Mar­ilu, huh? Con­fus­ing me with some other girl?”

She threw her pile of things into what seemed like one end­less Tup­per­ware bin. “Ge­orge, you’re re­ally fucked up.”

That’s what all the lu­natics say. They try to twist it on its fee­ble lit­tle head so that it’s you who is sup­pos­edly crazy, not them. Well, Mar­ilu, sweet­heart, I’m not go­ing to fall for it! It’s the old­est trick in the book.

“Don’t worry, Mar­ilu, it’ll all be al­right.” I said this as re­as­sur­ingly as I could. I even grabbed hold of her wrists tightly, mak­ing her hands go limp from the pres­sure of my love. “You’re com­ing with me. We’re call­ing the doc­tor. ”

“Let go of me, you ass­hole! Don’t you ever touch me again!” she said, then neighed loudly. She wig­gled out of my grasp, whip­ping me with her horse-tail, and some­how my Tiger Cats base­ball cap ap­peared on the floor by the dresser, so she put it on her head.

“You’re men­tal, Ge­orge. I hope you find peace some­how in your sad pa­thetic fucked-up life. I’m out of here.”

“You’re the one who is fucked up!” I found my­self scream­ing, all the blood rush­ing to my head. I don’t think she heard, though, be­cause time seemed to di­late just then and I could al­ready hear the click-clack of her hooves gal­lop­ing across the pave­ment out­side the apart­ment.

I don’t know how it hap­pened, but she’s been away for one week and has some­how taken ev­ery­thing, even the fur­ni­ture, even the god­damn Post-it fe­tus, who I was start­ing to fi­nally be­friend. One morn­ing I woke up and the very bed I was sleep­ing in, our bed, was miss­ing.

What she didn’t take with her is that smell. It shrouds our cozy apart­ment with a mus­tard-haze. It wafts up on my chest while I’m sleep­ing on the floor. It ex­plodes from the pipes when I shower. I gag and miss her and slay my­self over and over again for let­ting her go with­out me; for not hav­ing the man­hood nec­es­sary to rope her and drive her to where she could get proper help; for giv­ing in to her delu­sions and let­ting her leave me with a stripped apart­ment. I sit on empty soymilk crates wait­ing. I stare out the win­dow wait­ing. I can’t even go for my walks be­cause she left wear­ing my Tiger Cats hat and I don’t want to sun­burn my nose or have her catch me on a walk

with­out it; she’d have a hissy fit. I am think­ing that when she re­turns, I’ll make love to her so she can have that baby she al­ways wanted and I’ll tell her I’m sorry for ev­ery­thing, even though I don’t think I did any­thing wrong.

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