Chapter Five: Debbie

John dragged himself into class late Monday morning but he escaped with only a dirty look from the teacher. He had a note from the team trainer implying John had needed an icing because of bruises suffered during the game. Indeed, John had gone to the trainer for ice that morning but most of it had melted on his forehead. He was suffering from a terrible hangover. The spoils of war go to the victors, and John had split a bottle of Bacardi rum with Scott, resulting in a fascinating discovery: While white rum inflicted only minimal casualties on John’s brain cells, the spiced variety leaned towards prolonged trench warfare.

Pain I feel mucho pain, John thought as his temples throbbed, and his side ached from a late hit in the game, but oh God thank you that the cheap motherfucker who had thrown that elbow hadn’t connected just a few inches lower. The teacher droned on.
“Marlowe is a `decent’ man at the start of his journey into the Belgian Congo and remains barely so, yet he is deeply affected by the evil that surrounds him. He alone realizes Kurtz was a great man with divine intentions before being corrupted by his surroundings. Or perhaps he was corrupted by some inherent flaw in his character, some over-reaching wish for greatness whatever the cost. Marlowe raises questions that no one can fully answer. Is evil exterior to Man or an indivisible part of a person’s soul…”

John tuned out the teacher. He had read the novella already and seen the movie twice. The latter had freaked him out, like it had freaked out so many of his male peers. The question of good and evil hovered in the back of his mind, blurred by the residue of toxin from last night. Despite the poor choice of poison it had been healthy for John to binge because it had allowed him to drop some of his mental defences and bare some of his soul to Scott in a caring and sensitive manner.
“I’m in love,” he moaned to his friend.
“So what are you telling me for? Hey, you gonna pass her around after you done your business? C’mon, share and share alike,” Scott said.
“Nah, nah, I’m serious, don’t make fun of me.”
Scott’s face took on a serious solemn look. “Are you two official? I mean, are you hanging together?”
“No, but…”
“Den you know the rules, m’good man. Girlfriends are off-limits, but everything else is fair game for discussion.”
“Hey,” shouted one of the linemen, “Has John got himself a bitch?”
“Shaddup, mother,” hissed John to Scott.
“You gotta tell me everything about her or I spill the beans.”
“Okay, okay.” Scott answered the lineman. “Thassa a big negative Sammy-man, we were just talking about your sister.”
A few people laughed and Sammy gave Scott the finger.
“Okay John,” Scott whispered, “tell me everything about her. Does she have big hooters? Pass the bottle.”
“She’s a fine, fine, rich lady who lives in West Van. Her daddy’s a rich man who hires the people that boss around our fathers. You dig? In the class system of this marvellous democracy, she’s at the top and we’re at the shit-heap bottom.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“What?”
“Her hooters, how big are they?” John had reflected then that Scott had a way of cutting directly to the heart of the matter.

A nudge on his rib cage dragged him back to the present. He had a headache, and his side throbbed. There was another nudge on his ribs, it was somebody trying to pass him a note. John took it and opened it up. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE HURT BADLY, BIG TIGER. ARE YOU GONNA MAKE IT? He looked behind his seat and Debbie sitting three seats over winked at him. John smiled back and wrote a reply. I NEED SOMEONE TO NURSE ME, HELP ME THROUGH THE NIGHT. He passed it back and waited for a reply. The teacher droned on. Debbie read the note and put it in her pocket. She stared intently at the teacher, as if she was interested in the travails of Marlowe. John sighed and began to draft another note. PLEASE DON’T IGNORE ME BABY. I WANT YOU. I WANT YOU TO HAVE MY BABY. I WANT TO LICK YOUR…

“John Polshaw, what are you writing? May I see that note?” the teacher asked, turning away from the blackboard.
Doomed, John was doomed to humilation in front of the entire class of English 302, Laurentian high school.
“John, please rise from your chair, walk over to my desk, and deposit the note in your hand onto my table, if you don’t mind.”
John quickly shoved the paper into his mouth and chewed furiously. Debbie couldn’t help but laugh along with the rest of the class. John took the news of his detention with stoic calm.

Arnold Holstein had taught English in high school for over twenty-five years while dabbling in theatre as an amateur thespian. Perhaps “dabbled” is the wrong word to use as it implied a lack of commitment. Holstein loved the theatre and regretted that as a young man, he had shied away from the sacrifices that would have necessary to make it a full-time career in the performing arts. A mid-life crisis five years ago had laid his ambition to rest, but he had no desire to see his mistakes repeated, or talent wasted, by members of a younger generation. The detention lasted for forty-five minutes after last class. John sat near the front, eyes staight ahead, face blank. Holstein busied himself marking papers for a little while, and when he had finished, walked around to sit on the top of his desk.

He stared at John with a fatherly expression on his face. “So John, what do you want to do with your life? Have you ever thought about that?” Holstein asked.
“I dunno,” John replied. “I guess I would like to see what sort of jobs are out there. Maybe travel.”
“You don’t want to build a career perhaps?”
“I never really thought about it sir. I like to take one thing at a time.” This is fabulous, John thought. I have to keep one eye out for Rob, the other for that freaking psycho football coach Robinson, and now Holstein has decided to dog my ass and ask deep insightful questions.
“John, these are the best years of your life.”
Why did I know you were going to say that? John thought. He could not keep back the bitterness. “How do you figure… sir?”
Hostein did nothing but stare back for a moment. “Forgive me, Poleshaw. I forgot momentarily that a captive audience does not necessarily make for an eager one. Quite the opposite.”
He turned away and walked towards the window.
“You may go.”
John felt the blood rush to his face and left without a sound. For a brief moment he had had the urge to protest, to ask why he felt such a heavy burden on his shoulders. But the moment passed.

Korea, 1950. After dealing with John, Holstein walked back to his desk and sat down heavily. Old eyes on a young face. The thousand mile stare of refugees streaming south fleeing the Chinese communists. Or am I just getting old he thought to himself, premature senility perhaps? Stupid nonsense that a Canadian boy in 1987 would remind of Korea, 1950. But there had been one solid blessing to come out of his decision to join the Princess Patricia’s regiment over 35 years ago. When the orders had come to join the conflict overseas they had left via Vancouver, and when he had suffered a duty-ending leg wound they had shipped him back to port to rehabilitate. He had fallen in love with the city in the space of two weeks, and never returned to the Prairies, except to visit relatives long since dead. And the war ended and was soon forgotten, mercifully so.

Vancouver had been a city of hope in the days when he had been a young man. Trees as thick as a man’s average height had been commonplace within city limits, or so he remembered. He stared out of the window at the skyline now dotted by imposing skyscrapers. A flash of wonder, of insight crossed his features in his nostalgic reverie. I saw dead rotting bodies when I was twenty, and faced the prospect of never walking again when I was twenty-one but I had hope for the future, he thought. Why is there no hope in that boy’s eyes? That question nagged away at him for the rest of the evening, but no answer came.

When John walked out into the hallway he espied Debbie waiting for him down by his locker. He ambled over taking care to meet her stare but checking out the rest of her all the same, as he had done without thinking many times before. She was wearing a long ankle-length skirt today and that suited her well. She carried a few too many pounds to look really good in tight jeans. Her red hair fell down to her shoulders and freckles dotted her face. No, she wasn’t beautiful but she had the classic girl next door look. And she was a nice girl, which counted for a lot.
“You got me in trouble today,” was the first thing he said to her.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Johnsie, wohnsie,” she replied. “Can you ever forgive me?”
John laughed for the first time that day, and it made his head hurt. “You know, it’s been a shitty day so far, are you going to improve it somehow?”
“Dinner at my place? Mom’s with her boyfriend uptown, and I got the place all to myself, excluding my little brother of course.”
Man oh man, this could turn out to be a real nice day, John thought to himself. The other alternative had been to go home and fish something out of the icebox. John’s parents were never home Monday evening, and he was a lousy cook.
“Sounds great, and of course you haven’t forgotten about business?”
She frowned at him, and told him to wait.

On the walk home, she asked him if he could drop into the liquor store to pick up some booze for her. He agreed to do so, but declined the offer to share, as his belly groaned in protest at the thought, She lived within walking distance of the school, and the store was on the way. Debbie lived with her mother and younger brother in a social housing complex in downtown eastside. “Look over there,” she told John as they walked, and pointed to a back-alley. “Don’t ever take that side street as a short-cut. One of my kid brother’s friends was playing in there and he stepped on a needle.”
“Crap! Thanks for telling me.”
“Just thought you should know. It’s called Condom Alley ‘cause the hookers use it a lot too. Farther west, near the sugar refinery, it’s a lot worse.”
“How’s the kid who got stabbed?” “He wasn’t stabbed too badly, but he has to go in for blood tests in a couple of months. It was a dirty needle.”

They kept silent the rest of the way to Debbie’s place. It looked relatively decent, as far as housing complexes went, but like most of its kind, the walls separating each flat were paper-thin. Walking down the hallways, John could hear various radios and TVs playing, as well as human conversation, and even the flush of a toilet.
“You should be here Saturday night after welfare week. What a fucking zoo,” Debbie said, as she opened the door to the two-bedroom apartment.
Her brother Sebastian was waiting for her, begging for dinner in the way small boys do. He looked about seven years old. He stopped whining as soon as he saw John, and ran away to hide, half in shyness, half in embarrassment.
“Sebastian, come back here. This is John, and he is a friend of ours.”
Sebastian peeped his head around the corner. John smiled at him and put out his hand. “Put ‘er there, big guy.”
He spent the next half-hour playing with Sebastian while Debbie prepared dinner. During the meal, John and Sebastian amused themselves by trying to gross out each other. Sebastian squealed in delight when John opened his mouth, stuffed full of hamburger helper.
“John, stop that dammit. He’s bad enough without encouragement,” Debbie yelled, and she slapped him on the shoulder.

After dinner she made coffee for the two of them and shooed Sebastian off to watch TV in the next room. She took a plastic baggie from the drawer and placed it on the table in front of John. He opened it up. There were four Thai marijuana sticks. He took out two twenties out of his wallet and gave them to her.
“Thanks Deb, I got a buddy who really appreciates this. Says he wants to impress some girl with it.”
She shrugged. “Must be doing alright with money if he’s willing to pay twice the street price.” “Oh yeah, his family does alright with money. I need to know something though, Debbie, does this come from Rob’s cache?”
She smiled. “No, Rob ain’t the only source in the city, you know.”
“No, I guess not.” She took him by the hand and led him into her bedroom and closed the door. John drew her near but she pushed him away.
“Don’t treat me like a slut. You’re a nicer guy than that.”
John hugged her and did nothing else for a long while.
“Do you want a back-rub? I heard a rumour you football guys like back-rubs.”
“You heard right, but be gentle on my right side.”John took off his shirt and fell face-down on the bed.
She sat on top of him and started on his shoulders.”
“John?’
“Mmmmmm, yeah?”
“How come there’s bad blood between you and Rob?”
He told her about breaking up the fight between Rob and Scott. “…but nothing has happened yet. Maybe Rob has forgotten about it.”
“Maybe he’s waiting for football season to end.”
“Shit, maybe you’re right.”
She felt his muscles tense under her hands. She massaged a little bit harder and dropped the subject. Ten minutes later, when felt completely relaxed under her hands, she asked if he had had enough. He groaned, took her hand, and rolled over onto his back to face her.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

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