Chapter Sixteen: Gravity

The restaurant brought forth some of the finest food that John had ever tasted. Nothing but three and four-star eateries on this section of Robson Street in downtown Vancouver. Four-star prices too, but it would be worth every damn penny. John had a plate of blue clams swimming in some sort of white wine sauce for an appetizer. The bread must have been baked less than a hour ago, it was so fresh and soft. John spread a thick slab of butter on the last piece in the basket and took a hearty bite.
“Would you like some bread with your butter?” teased a voice from the other end of the table for two?

John lifted his eyes from the food and smiled back at Jennifer. She laughed and told him he looked like a boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar. Then she mock-scolded him for taking the last piece of bread and leaving her none. Almost by magic, a waiter passed by, took the empty basket, and returned with a full one. Jennifer laughed again.

She wore a black dress that went down to her knees, with black stockings. It went well with her hair. She was so pretty John thought his eyes would start to hurt any minute. The memory of a pretty woman can see a man through many a lonely time so instinctively, John sought to burn the vision of Jennifer before him into his memory.
“Was the food to your liking?” John asked.
“Never been better,” Jennifer said.
“Well darling, please don’t eat too much,” he said, casting his eyes downward.
“Why is that? Are you worried that I will spoil my figure?” Jennifer said, taking the bait.
John leaned forward, a sly, cunning look on his face. “Dump-and-run,” he hissed, “I hope those high heels don’t slow you down too much.”

Jennifer collapsed in a series of hysterical giggles, as she looked to see if anyone heard him. She put her hands in front of her mouth as if to hide her smile. For the first time that evening, John consciously realized that Jennifer was happy because of him. It made him even happier, this thought. Two tables away, a middle-aged couple sneaked glances at the young pair and then nodded to each other, yes, those two are in love. At a nearby table, a patron got up from his seat to use the washroom. He stepped off the carpet of the dining room onto the tile that formed a path to the back of the restaurant. Click, click, click, his shoes sounded on the tile.

Click, click, click, the sound reverberated in John’s head and took him back to his other life, to Laurentian High. The click of Rob’s cowboy boots as he walked away from Scott and John, after his declaration of war. Jennifer saw the smile disappear from John’s face, as he turned his head to look out the window. His eyes seemed focussed on nothing at all. She would give him a few seconds to be alone with his thoughts and then reach out with her hand to touch his. And he would apologize. But she understood in a hazy sort of way. She had seen that look before, on the face of her father, before they had moved from Montreal.

* * *
They walked on the path near the beach at Stanley park with the stars up above twinkling. They couldn’t see the mountains that jutted out from the north, but they were aware of them all the same. They cut Vancouver off from ever expanding north, from ever spreading the pollution of the city to the pristine wildness of the forest that lay beyond. Jennifer wrapped John’s arm ever more tightly around her shoulders because, she told him, it was a cold night.
“Hell, it’s a cold world,” John said, and laughed a bitter laugh.
“What a terrible thing to say cheri, even if it’s true.” she said.
“I’m sorry,” John said, “it was a rough week.”
“Then you should have gone to church and prayed to God for help, no?” she said in accented voice.
She was playing the part of a coy French kitten. John liked it very much.
“IIt helps when you hold me,” John said, “it keeps bad thoughts away.”
I have them too, Jennifer thought, but did not say aloud. She had learned a bit about Laurentian in the few months she had attended Sir Robert Borden. One, if you were a very bad student, they sent to Laurentian to learn a trade. Two, if you were a very bad person, they sent to Laurentian before sending you off to a reformatory school. Three, it was the easiest place to get drugs in all of Vancouver. She had weaned this much information out of Tim.

“Gees, how come you wanna know all this Jen?” Tim had said. “Whataminute, this thing with John is more than evening of passion, ain’t it?” He grinned in a all-knowing sort of way.
“Hey, none of your business. A gentleman doesn’t ask.”
“Owwww, I’m sssso sorry! Like I’m blind anyways. You remember what Susie told you?”
“Yeah, to be careful. So what’s your point?
Tim rolled his eyes. “God almighty, it’s true. Good girls want bad boys like Eve wanted the forbidden fruit.”
“Why do you think Susie puts up with you?” Jennifer said.
Tim grinned and slapped his edge of his hand against his knee.
“Down to here baby, you better believe it.”
Jennifer kicked in the shins.
“Ow, damn it that hurt!”
“It was suppose to, you dumb prick,” Jennifer said, and turned to walk away.
“Whataminute. Let’s get serious for just a second. John’s bad news.”
The declaration floored Jennifer.
“I thought he was your friend, you bastard!”
“He is. But he would agree with what I said. He keeps away from you, doesn’t he? Hasn’t met Mom and Dad yet? ll bet he never will. I see the way he looks at you in church when you’re not looking at him. Breaks my heart. Maybe he can’t stay away from you but he knows the time you spend together, its borrowed time.”
Jennifer walked up to him so that her face was only inches away from Tim. Don’t come between us or I swear I’ll make you pay.”
Tim wilted a bit, then recovered. “Yeah, I can guess what you’re thinking. One flip of those short little skirts you like to wear, and half of the football team will be working me over as a personal favour to you. But what I’m telling you is what John wants to tell you, but can’t. He’s into heavy shit, but I didn’t say that. He’s gotta watch his ass, and he’s got no time left over to watch yours.”
“I can look after myself,” she said.
“Here, in this world, yeah. But it’s a different world down there.”
“Said enough?”
“Said my piece.” Tim said.
“Good. Then stay out of my way from now on. And remember what I said.”

Jennifer led John off the asphalt path towards one of the many logs strewn about on the beach. They sat down on the sand with their backs against weathered wood gone gray with age. Conversation dwindled as the whispering of the surf worked its magic again, hinting of eternity. Jennifer put her head on the soft cushion of muscle that connected John’s shoulder to his rib cage. She worked her hand underneath his shirt so that she could feel the beating of his heart against the palm of her hand.

The gentle rumble of waves on sand beat back the dark thoughts at the outside borders of John’s consciousness. He could see into the future no more. He could not be even be certain of living long enough to see the sun rise again. He thought of Captain Vancouver walking along these very same shores hundreds of years before, with only the stars to tell him where he was. Captain Vancouver sailing uncharted waters before landing in this new world, uncertain and afraid.
“What’s wrong baby?” said Jennifer, moving her head slightly to catch his eyes.
“Nothing Jen, nothing.”
She caressed one corner of his mouth with her hand, and traced a finger up to the bridge of his nose.
“Lines. Wrinkles.”
John put his face into the nape of her neck. He could feel the overwhelming urge to unburden himself. But he couldn’t. Not to the one thing in his life that was pure and good and true. Not to the only person who was uncorrupted by his touch.
“I love you. But don’t say those words to me.” John said.

In that moment Jennifer despised her father, her family that put so many nice things on her plate but kept locked up away from the world. She despised the Mercedes-Benz on the driveway, the Persian rug in the living room, the housekeeper, and the swimming pool out back. The designer clothes in her closets. Waking up each morning in such a soft comfortable bed. She felt entombed in the womb.
“No. Please, I love you too. Don’t deny me that.”
Nirvana. They clutched one another as if they were drowning in tandem. A wave drew itself up and broke over both of them, blotting out thoughts of the future.

* * *

Blood spilled out of the rare beef tenderloin as the blade of the electric knife made it’s first cut. John watched and his mouth watered for the second time that weekend. A fine Sunday dinner, like so many before it. His mother could cook, no doubt about. Gravy, horseradish sauce, mashed potatoes, squash with brown sugar melted on top, corn, and fresh rolls straight out of the oven. A bottle of Okanagan red stood not too far from his father’s elbow. Bottled in September, a very good month for wine. But only a snob could hate this meal, or a vegetarian.
“So John, how does it feel to be a football hero?” Rachel was sitting opposite him, looking at him with those laughing eyes.
No boyfriend tonight, good. More roast beef for him. She liked her men tall and wide, with big hearty laughs and bigger appetites. She had a rare three-day stop-over in Vancouver, miracle of miracles. Mom was positively beaming with the whole clan gathered at the table.
“Dunno sis, you’ll have to find one and ask him.”
“Hah! Such modesty,” Rachel laughed, and clapped her hands together.
That mannerism could charm a whole room full of people, as well as their parents time and time again. Mr. Poleshaw had a grin on his face from ear to ear.
“Hey Dad, can you keep carving please? The football hero is starving.”

Once everybody had their plates in front of them, the conversation died except for an occasional request of the condiments. John ate with the appetite of a typical seventeen-year-old boy. He was still growing, putting on ten pounds in the last six months. With his growth spurt over, he now stood just over six feet. The gawkiness of adolescence had all but disappeared. He carried himself with an athlete’s grace; there was a glide to his walk and his hand movements were always quick and sure, that is, unless his system was corrupted with caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. Coke did not seem to bother him physically, except that it gave him a sort of physical self-confidence which John knew was false. The rush gave one clarity of thought but through rose-coloured glasses, a feeling of limits easily exceeded. John intuitively avoided coke, except for special occasions which became more frequent as time went by.

After the roast was sufficiently demolished, the table was cleared for the strawberry-and-rhubarb pie with ice cream. Halfway into the pie, John stomach’s finally signalled that it was full, but he finished the slice before his belly could make the eating experience unpleasant. John felt so relaxed that he was sleepy. He let the conversation of the table wash over him. Rachel was talking about the temple of Thailand. They had to be seen in person only, as the government would not allow pictures to be taken. It seems they were worried about desecration. John felt a pang of envy. So much in the world, and he was stuck at Laurentian High, seeing the same goddamn faces every day and doing the same shit. He thought of New Orleans again, and the guitarman. Thailand could wait. He wouldn’t mind walking the roads and highways of North America. He wouldn’t mind just wandering. The phone rang. Mother got up from her chair with a groan and answered.
“It’s for you, John,” she said, and handed the phone to her son.
John picked up the receiver and listened for a few seconds. He put his hand over the speaker.
“Hey, mind if I take this downstairs? Can you hang it up for me?” he said.
Rachel got up from her chair and laughed. “Some pretty girl asking for my little brother?” she asked.
John grinned in an aw-shucks sort of way. “Nah, nah, just a bud. Can I be excused? Thanks. Great dinner Mum, I’m stuffed.”
John walked down the stairs and after a few seconds he called up “okay.”Rachel hung up the phone and went back to the dinner table.

* * *

“You crossed the line with this phone call. No one calls me at home, business or social,” John said into the receiver.
He heard a soft chuckle through the wires, but he didn’t think to analyze it, to size up his opponent.
“I shoulda taken you in the weightroom, all of you instead of just your balls.”
“You sound pissed,” Rob said in a half-whispering tone. “Upset. Like you been under a lot of stress lately.”
John resisted the tug of the gutter, the urge to scream filth into the telephone. He tried to remember that it was a new game now. Dickie was dead, maybe killed by friends of Rob, maybe not. Rob maybe knew about Dickie’s death, and trying to bluff for all its worth. The fog of it all. John was either dealing from a position of strength or weakness, he did not know.
“Look here, a little man is trying to get my attention. I’m sorry little man, I forgot my manners. So how much stuff do you need?” John said.
He heard a low growl, and laughed, knowing he had scored.
“Your connections are gone, Poleshaw,” Rob snarled.
Debbie must have gone over to the other side. Shit. Well, it was useful to know that, John thought.
“OOOOhhhh, I get it. Somebody is trying for a comeback,” John said.
He felt loose and confidant now. The entire school could go over to Rob, but he still had a suitcase full of coke that he could sell cheaper than Rob. Time was on his side too. You couldn’t stay young forever, and Rob was an old man in high school.
“Im back, you’re just too stupid to know it.” Rob said.
John answered back. The pull of the gutter was too strong now, and he happily fell into the filth.
“I’ll wipe your ass off the face of fucking Laurentian, and I won’t even get near you. Remember football practice? Remember getting one of your boys to blindside me? Destruction by fucking remote-control. I won’t even give you the respect of a face-to-face. The lowest man on my totem pole will have the job of fucking you up the ass.”

Rob laughed, a true laugh, like John had fallen into a trap that Rob had worked so hard to construct.
“Who’s your low-man? Maybe I got him right here.” Rob’s voice moved away from the telephone.
“Bring him over him. Drag him.”
John heard a few muffled grunts. Someone hissed “Shaddup!” and there was a thud.
“Shit Robbie, I didn’t tell him shit.” said a feeble voice.
It sounded familiar.
“Frankie, Frankie,” Rob answered, “Now don’t start lying to me again. You know how it PISSES me off. ”
There was a slap of something hard on flash and a cry of pain.
“You still there Poleshaw?” Rob said into the phone.
“Can you smell his fear John? Ooee, you should see his eyes, they’re all white. It’s sorta exciting.”
“What do I care? He ain’t one ‘of mine.”
“He turned. Nothing but a weasel. Part of the rat family, the weasel. And you know what ya do with rats.” Rob said.
“This is bullshit, Gates. You can’t win. Even if you do, what about next year?” John said.
“So you wanna parlay?”
Not really, John thought, I just wish you would go away.
“On the football field. I’ll come from the south side. Tuesday, at six.”
I’ll come from the north.”Rob said
“Allright, let the turkey go,”John said.
“No, no, no, that wasn’t part of the deal Poleshaw,” Rob said with a note of surprise in his voice.
“What did you want to do to me? Fuck me up the ass? Sounds interesting. Don’t it sound interesting Frankie? Here Frankie, talk to Johnie for awhile.”
“Jesus John, tell them I didn’t say shit to you!” Frank cried into the phone.
Little flips flopped up from John’ss groin into his stomach.
“Hey John, you still listening?” Rob said, voice away from the phone. Someone was laughing, cold and hard.
“Oh God, no…” Frankie said.
John heard a growl, and Frank screamed into the phone like a pig going to slaughter. John hung up.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

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