To this day, I have trouble getting all the way through Seasons in the Sun. It started in 1974, and although I am pretty sure Terry Jacks was singing of cancer or suicide or something like that, his song enjoyed a perversely high rotation at our classroom parties, probably because it was so perfect for rocking back and forth slowly and hanging onto a girl as tightly as you dared, amazed at the heat two bodies could generate, and telling her so, saying anything that came into your head, just to draw attention from this strange thing you were doing.
These weren’t the parties we’d had in Grade Six. Something new had taken over, pulled close the curtains, and turned out the lights. There was music, but no one dared dance, and so the girls at the record player would conspire to set up the most unlikely couples in what they called a “snowball.” They’d announce the names, and I’d have to slow-dance with Karen Carstairs for an excruciating three minutes and twenty-four seconds, then Beth Parker, and finally Brenda Duffy, except the joke’s on them because Brenda was probably the only girl in class at all interested in me.
Behind you, a stranger waits in the shadows. Not with a knife in hand, not with oiled whispers, nor with a trenchcoat lined with knockoff watches and a tale of woe. A quiet stranger, a stranger like you but unlike, with a left side like your right and vice versa. A stranger who kneels beneath your chair and leans her forehead against the wall, who licks at its white leaded paint and tastes the white as darkness, and dark as light. She hopes you’ll play a record soon. The sound of all that silence in the room just deafens her.
My young friend Carrie’s favourite Christmas song is Rudolph. I can’t blame her. She’s grown up in an era of ardent anti-bullying messaging, and is a really nice person to boot. But here’s the thing, Carrie: Exactly when in history has a member of a visible minority group reviled by dominant society and excluded from joining in any children’s games suddenly been hailed with shouts of glee for saving the day? “Then all the reindeer loved him”? Not bloody likely. Odds are they kicked poor Rudolph to death with sharp little hooves the minute Santa went for the gin bottle.
She shuffles through High Park everyday. The homeless lady in the long, mustard-coloured coat carries a green pop bottle and puffs on cigarettes, drawing rapidly the way a child would. Profoundly phlegmmy, she death-rattles into reams of toilet paper, leaving streamers in her wake or piled upon a bench.
These soggy wads are canine quesadillas: white-soft on the outside, chewy and salty inside. It drives me crazy, but just imagine the one-sided conversation I would have, perhaps catching her on my way back to my warm, safe home: “Excuse me . . . my dogs eat your tissues, and it really, really bothers me . . . ”
“Heureuse-année, grand nez!” Admittedly a gambit, I said this to the young guy at our local cheese shop. I hear him speaking French all the time.
Holding a wedge of Applewood, he hairied an eyeball. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
I persevered. “You know . . . it’s New Years, I say ‘heureuse-année grand nez!’ and you respond, ‘Pareillement, grande dent!’”
“What language is that?’ “Fren-ch.”
He asked where I was from, but others had entered the shop, and now I was just the crazy lady monopolizing the cheese-guy’s time.
“Tecumseh.” My last attempt.
“Oh.” He smiled, wondering where the hell was Tecumseh.
For years, I’ve quoted from Lord of the Flies without ever having read it. Last Sunday I finally finished this classic, in all its exquisitely nasty detail and immediately pondered a scenario where girls rather than boys were marooned on that island to fend for themselves. Well, forget hunting and pigs’ heads on spikes. The beast would just have to be mollified with coconuts and flowers. And everyone would be cleaner with braids. But if my memory of the mean girl Petri dish that was St. Gregory’s serves, there would still be a Piggy, and she’d end up dead anyway.