She says to me, I damn you. Bringing me some place like this. She wipes away some tears, breathes in deep through coughing, smiles with Her thin lips. A smile. Thank god. I am out of my depth with this chick.
A clove of white-people wearing cat-eye glasses bangs authentic handmade-djembe et al and chant, swelling just past a wide concrete staircase landing. I tow Her through the tottering waves o’ strangers. The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is supposed to be unlike any other before twelve-noon. After noon it’s too busy, afterward it’s bloated and smells of hangover and moist tourist. We’ve fucked up. Having smoked three social spliffs last night we’ve slept ‘til quarter past.
You’ve slept ’til quarter-past, She corrects me, that was you.
The whole seaside-wall of the building is a mass of tall, wide, and open windows. Halifax is full of them. I hate it. I don’t need to see water all day every day. She doesn’t give a shit one way or the other; She just wants some room to recharge Her bubble.
This morning we shambled to the Farmer’s Market, scanning the Superstore parking lot to ensure we hadn’t been ticketed for staying overnight. Didn’t look like it. Parking here’s a fucking nightmare.
We’ve come to Halifax so I can visit Thomas, a friend from high school; a gracious host I remember with thicker eyebrows, a louder laugh. I’ve come to do that, at least. Five-hour voyage so Thomas and I can move beyond the death of Bottlecap Scott, but condense it to fit in our lives, like a ship in a bottle, grief on a trig schedule.
Thomas doesn’t have parking. Street’s too tight. His bicycle cuddles his front closet, unused. Thomas is a taxi-guy, a thermal-headband-jogger-guy, a cognac aficionado and altogether too lanky for any regular bike; despite his too-big build, the bike sits there waiting, incompatible but eager.
I show him our films on my phone. He guffaws, I’m so glad you got up to art and shit. He blows ganj-porthole smoke-rings, laughs with a deeper voice, You, with the shaved head and the golf scholarship. Cannot believe that.
Thomas’ mattress has plain black silk sheets, but there is no bedframe, and there is no box spring. She sits at the edge of the mattress through all of this, plays with Thomas’ kitten, pulling skittish feet with painted claws to and fro; the kitten pleased with attention, but seasick from the commotion, yacking up a hairball. Thomas sighs, Bubbino, come on, brother, don’t do me like that.
I shower, take my time. I poach Thomas’ fancy conditioner, come out, stare into my deep-black pores, but not too long, for fear of existential doubt. Coming out the bathroom, a waft of steam haunting the foyer. I pull Thomas aside. I breach, how’s about we talk about Scott?
No dice. Thomas got too stoned in my absence. Twin Peaks routed from his laptop to a projector to his scuffed white wall; all curtains, all lobbies. He mumbles something, Paris and ulcers, Silencio and Lynch. Thomas stiffens, stands, gives me the apartment’s key, a Ziploc bag o’ jays, and disappears into the swollen belly of the night. I hang my towel on the shower-curtain’s pole. My heel catches something rough on the bedroom floor. I bend down and peel a perfect plastered roach from the floor, treasure amongst a spotless apartment; no dust bunnies, no clutter, just a laminate cindered-roach in 2D.
Insistent-She has only tagged along to Halifax to help shoot pillow shots for our next film. I didn’t want to drag Her down with the shit I expected to get into on vacation. I suggested, A weekend away from me isn’t the worst thing for you.
She thought I was trying to get rid of Her. She said to me, I’m not that easy.
It’s a miracle telefilm is funding genre-pieces these days, but this isn’t quite there. This is more an elegy. But She is twirling and giggling and having altogether too much fun for this. She wants to shoot a Western.
But here. Right now. At the farmers’ market, on the upper level, less people linger, so during a break in the drumming circle, we sail through them upstairs. A large veranda, thick black railing, Her hands knotted tight to it, and solid hardwood flooring, Her high-tops sunk deep, flat and full into it; She says they help with social anxiety. We breathe in lavender and tomato — a not entirely unpleasant combination. She assures me twice that She does not want crisp-thentic Italian-inspired ’za.
A mother holds her curly-headed chub-child in a headlock, free hand flipping through a phone book pulled apart atop a folding card table. Chub-kid brumes beet in struggle, but mother doesn’t relent.
A Romani punk — but not gypsy — duo insists they are what they claim to be, with squealing oboe and thundersome accordion; I do not tip or toss coin into felt top hat, because She does not tip or toss coin into felt top hat. I really do want to. I should’ve.
Convincing-She assures me, They weren’t that good. Couldn’t dance to it.
We cannot go back downstairs, as a half-skipping mostly-stumbling handholding circle of sorts oscillates tight, impenetrable around the landing now — about in time with the disjunct-drumming circle. I take solace in an avocado fudge treat rendered with coconut oil. She shoots footage of the drumming circle, smiling simply, safe behind Her scratched Bolex lens.
She leans into me, head resting on my breast, I still damn you for all of this. So sweet.
We find an elevator, escape the ebb of produce and we ease along the waterfront, loose arms in damp sweaters striking one another here and there. Spontaneous-She wants to take up drinking, so I take Her on a brewery tour.
Two boats tap, they meet and there’s sparks, and then there’s heaps of death. December 6, 1917, Halifax burns, but this brewery is shielded from the blast by Citadel Hill somehow — thank God. Thank God, cheer all but the rankled Richmond district.
A clean-cut boy from the brewery tour plays an Apprentice. Apprentice can’t harmonize too well with spontaneous songs mid-tour, but Apprentice is bonny beyond his shortcomings. His grandfather, he says, breaking the fourth wall — to his bearded colleague’s beady glaring disapproval — was found with a single fish, grandpa and fish both blown onto the wrong end of town; they ate that fish for dinner that night. The grandfather’s ears and folding-fan, old-man neck were stained blue until he died.
Apprentice elaborates, like a stubborn gritty bruise, but assures us, it wasn’t bad to touch the grandfather’s neck, He couldn’t feel much in there after the blast.
Unsure-She asks me, Why the blue?
Apprentice answers for clueless-me, from the munitions’ India ink. Black to blue with time. Back to his relative script, Apprentice asks, Must have been days, coming here by buggy? And all the way from Fredericton!
I nod, thinking only of his thawed blue eyes; were they brewed black at birth? A beautiful boy. Transparent-She eyes my wandering own worriedly. I ensure my eyes don’t wander again the rest of the tour.
Biggest pre-atomic blast, the bearded beady-eyed man yields, pretty awful. He breathes hot into his brass-framed glasses, Big for sure, and the barmaid belts another tune while She and the rest of tourists top up their sampled ales. Beardy smoothes the steam and grease from his lenses with the loose corner of his un-tucked shirt.
A flung naval dirk, Beardy beady continues, his hand cutting a swell-like wave, arched high over the city. Slew my great gram’s Labrador. Hangs bloody above my own fireplace. The dirk, that is, not the dog.
I admit, I couldn’t even tell you the names of my grandparents on both sides.
He smiles surprised, unsure how to gauge sloppy ancestry me.
I slurp lemonade, enjoying the disclosure, the presence of the present on brewery tour, but Barmaid pinches Apprentice’s trap to a yip, Here’s a tip, stick to the script. 1867 hops prevail against 1917 munitions; it is a refined history, there are no deaths on tour to this date. My colleague is determined to disprove this though, slopping dark ale on my favourite raw denim jacket; destroyed, for sure. I lament the smell, the stick.
We float back to Thomas’ to grab me some socks, a different jacket and some better gloves too. She is warm and well. The key does not work in the front door, and I cannot figure out a way to sneak in the patio door. Through the patio door’s all-encompassing window, Bubbino gazes at me from the kitchen counter, orange and black tail swinging like loose mast, and he licks his fucking lips. Stranded away from home, outside, sockless and gloveless. I look to Her, embarrassed, but all She does is wave at the kitty, stick Her own tongue out in some strange sense of salutation.
I pull out a Jay from our speedily slimming Ziploc joint-cache, exhale fog across the window, offer Her a toke, but She isn’t down. When the smoke clears, Bubbino is nowhere to be found. I can’t breathe the whole way in now, lungs a little tight now.
We hit the waterfront again; I get over my shiver, but cannot for the life of me get my butt to warm up. I want to see Theodore Tugboat, but She tells me it’s nowhere near. Typically, I trust Her navigation, but I’m wary of Her drunken disposition. She squawks at some gulls, and pulls the camera from Her bag real quick to capture them in flight.
I direct: you’re moving it too much. Keep the frame still. She pirouettes, sings some wispy cartoon-tune I don’t recognize; She doesn’t acknowledge my request. I chase Her through the empty parking lot, flustered and barely escaping the trip-trap of parking blocks, of smooshed fries and glaring cliques of too-cool gulls. I cough, get dizzy, feel right-fucked stoned now. Now I’m too cold, and She’s easing away into some structure. I walk slow, but seem to make ground without trouble.
Two boats smooch and blowout. Dogs are above physical romance, they’re just loving. Ralph, The Dog, survives steamship Imo’s collision with Mont-Blanc, survives Mont-Blanc’s brisance, survives the burning and the bodies blown into bits all about just as brewery survives behind Citadel Hill somehow. After all that ruin, Ralph, The Dog, is shot by soldiers boarding the sinking ship, shoot Ralph dead as they enter his master’s cabin to gather loot. This tragedy is collared by an anecdote about animal loyalty over homo-sapien savagery amid tragedy.
Ralph’s canine collar is found here, in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, within a small display full of other unfortunate animal paraphernalia. Dead dogs and other critters bestowed with anecdotes posthumously on dull puce place-markers.
Fond of our far-gone furry-friends, She wells with mascara-dye near burst, pooling purple particulate oscillating in a fever, breaching, running lambent down Her pale shallow cheek and blue-veined throat, finally breaking form to nestle in Her bust then streaking as She absentmindedly smothers it with blouse sleeve. She belches once briefly, and my nostrils waggle at the dark beer’s heavy bouquet. She moves to the sextants display with an anchored dragging step.
I wander on my own now, unclear on if I should comfort Her, or I should keep distance like a new driver; one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand.
I read an interactive display’s placard, about buttons and illumination. The way a ship becomes a non-ship — or a wreck, if you prefer to eschew academic Atlantic political correctness — is as follows:
The sinking, initial salvage, wreck weakens, collapse (fastenings and last of structures disappear), sedimentation, disturbance (fishing, construction, divers stripping treasure or scrap metal).
The sinking: first button plunged, it lights up an arcade red, and a diorama becomes clear to my eyes. Complete cannons slumber in loose order, like a half-full cigar carton, or my dwindling Ziploc joint cache.
I submerge the second button, but it does not light the neighbouring display case; the button does not revise itself to reliable red. The case looks like it has something to do with Atlantis, but I cannot tell between the black depths and glass case glare for sure. A rodent scuttles from the corner to press its face against the glass, eyeing me: the King of Ratlantis, a gracious host. His eyes are big and glassy, reminiscent of Scott, big and glassy and smart-looking. My own eyes well now but do not loose. I am self-conscious of self-consciousness.
Initial salvage: To ground myself I settle for a sit in the comfort of the small theatre, watch a distorted turquoise television where salvage-divers hand-talk in sync with mono-narration. I doze. When I awake a voice rings over the intercom: Half an hour ’til close, patrons. Again, bathrooms and exhibits both close in thirty minutes. Don’t get caught not having visited the poop deck … One one-thousand, two one-thousand —
Wreck weakens: I meander mono now, to my own interests. I note all the fouled anchors in the tattoo display. A fouled anchor is an anchor wrapped in its own rope. I know I am fond of romanticizing the most tragic tidbits of the past. Does She see this the same way? A neophyte photographer hauls camera bolted atop tripod, takes nice photos of glass glare across the entire floor of the exhibit. All glare. I admire his attempts at art, but it feels like bailing out a small boat with a hole the size of a cannonball; wasted effort.
You’re a wreck, She says, spooking me from behind. You need to enjoy this while we’re here. She sniffs the kind of sniff that assures me She’s brewing a head-cold. It’s just boats, nothing worth belly-achin’ over.
Photographer catches my eye and crosses the aisles. He asks to take our photo, but She and I are quick to point out in unison, We aren’t a couple. He insists anyhow. She and I pose beside the Cthulian sculpture overlooking the museum’s bottom floor’s Titanic display; my hand flush in the small of Her back like the wind in the belly of a sail.
I acquire his email, so he can share the photo with me once he’s done his thing with it, editing or something along those lines. I say it sounds bogus, but She has faith.
Collapse. On the floor of the museum where people groan the most, there is a ship’s hull cross and playhouse hybrid, recorded gulls bellowing here and there from the well-hidden stereo-system. She enters with her camera. She sways within this false ship in sync with the sounds.
I hear everything that I should hear inside of the false ship on the outside too. The birds. The coo of water washing against its tired body. It is not real, but I am tired and I want it to be. I want this husk alive, but my chest feels tight, so I decide to catch my breath before I enter it. I pull out my phone, dial a number. Two rings. Voicemail. You’ve reached Bot Cap Scott, but you haven’t; duh! Leave a jingle jangle after the beep boop. It beep boops. I don’t jingle jangle. I just breathe, in through the nose, out through the nose. Twenty seconds dead silence, and my mouth pursed to speak, but nothing.
I remember that child from this morning, at the farmers’ market; the purple-red face, the kid in his mother’s headlock, her authoritative, flipping through the phone book; did she have better luck with reaching someone than me? I enter the ship, and for a minute I buy it, but a speaker is tucked beneath a small white bench, below and behind, a red light ebbing harsh then soft, breathing real slow from it.
I settle on the ship’s bench, stretch my stiff left calf. She settles the lens on me, then Her thighs and Her puffy lips. She asks quietly, aspirates hot air into my ear, so how’s the Scott mess going? I pull my head away and swallow, but sincere-She grabs my jaw real-strong, Sorry, then smooches me quick and sloppy. I let my hands trace belt-loops, looking for a sailor’s hitch. We sway into each other’s movements. Hot breath, light teeth. My fuck. One one-thousand. Two one-thousand —
The intercom cuts into our fouling, The museum will be closing in five minutes. Get out.
We are at a loss for dinner, and I consider filming gliding gulls, but while their lungs are full, my camcorder’s battery’s low. I am so fucking tired. I have a hard time tracking those damn birds.
She is unparalleled in selflessness. She yields when I cannot afford the fancy seafood joint behind the Radisson, and we choose instead the warehouse building with the old-school marquee advertising.
She is unforgivably selfish. She takes the closest squat, the first side of seat in the booth we’re led to, the one I need, being a south-paw and all. I pull my toque down low over my burning ears, shrug my plaid jacket off as I enter the far corner, half-stomp my feet, but She does not notice.
Our server mentions explicitly to me the fifty-percent off breaded fish, but She is sure he didn’t mean nothing by it.
A rat bobs down our section as She sucks the last of the mussel meat from its shells in her assorted-seafood thermidor. I toss the rat breaded-cod, and it raises its nose in contempt to me; I whisper sweetly, Ratlantis’ King must’ve joined us for dinner.
She giggles, I’ve never seen a rat before, not in real life and all. The businessmen in the booth across the way look up at this remark, glowering faces washed gray quick. They call for their cheque quicker.
It’s darker out now, but the waterfront is lit well-enough to shoot. I tell Her to film the brick, the sagging scaffolding and the barnacle crust creeping up the docks. I tell Her to stop filming me, I tell Her, this is bigger than us.
I stutter on us.
I tell Her to catch the gulls again, especially if She can get the dock and water in the shot. She shoots the skyscrapers instead. We need to keep this stuff on a leash, we need to cut as little as possible. Pack the frame with meaning. Make it fit. Stuff it in there. For fuck’s sake turn that thing anywhere but on me.
I expend the last of my camcorder’s battery shooting segments of boats bruising the mirror of Maritime bay. I shout. I spit. She doesn’t acknowledge this at all. I’m taking on water.
She says, these downtown buildings look like milk cartons.
I say, I’m not feeling good about any of this.
She nods, nose running, snot bright, despite the night, catching some unseen light.
We try the key to Thomas’ place again, and are greeted with luck. I find Thomas showering in swim trunks, bathroom door open wide. His eyes dilated wide like loose-noose knot, shampooing a limp Bubbino.
Gonna bounce. Thanks for letting us crash.
Any time. He steps out, hugs me, suds and all. Wet and quick like a rat, Bubbino scuttles out between our legs to say goodbye to Her. Thom sniffs strong, and concerned, he says, You smell like booze. You’re not drinking again are you?
Long story. I break our embrace, don’t meet his gaze. I came here to see you. I’m sort of bummed you weren’t here for me. I look at him now, his eyes large and sunken and Elvis-some, like dark glass drink-coasters.
He changes now, a sharp and mean look on his face, like an owl, Better than OD-ing on a cruise-ship while your boyfriend’s licking his fingers at the buffet of geriatric queers and —
He softens, his pupils unsure about their relationships to one another now, one wide aperture, the other dialed right down, buffoonish, lazy and kind.
Left the key on the counter.
Before I can go he pierces my flannel-steeled biceps with his cool damp grip, looks to Her too, where’d y’all meet? I love a cute-meet.
She snorts out the answer before I can deflect, gay bar, her fingers in quotation position like butcher’s hooks.
He smiles. Thomas knows the ghost of me, dives at these depths plenty often. It’s good to try new things.
Wreck weakens: We flee. We have miraculously avoided Superstore parking tickets as well. We get to Moncton before I have to pee. She is dry and thirsting. The road signs are deceptive, and we rabble past upper and lower mountain road before seeing any gas or food facilities. I light a jay, blow the smoke out the window. We crawl slower once I see signs for city limits.
She recognizes Her father’s house, and Her grandmother’s mobile. I offer to pull over, but She bleats, Meh. Continues: Drunk. Dick.
The bathroom in the gas station smells just like it should, and an older blimpy sort of man uses the changing table to sort through a small ratchet set, tethered reading glasses hanging perilously low on his swollen rose nose. Post-Gabriel Genesis gives me a lucid groove and Blimpman gives me a nod. His glasses are so big. I catch curious visions through his lenses, trick mirrors and concave windows, rows and rows of the same goods, all these visions warped, askew and tight.
Big goggles. Thick glass. Heavy corner-distortion. Near-bottlecap.
I sit in the stall, feet flush to the door, back tight against the toilet tank. I breathe in the nose, out the nose, in the nose, out the nose.
Disturbance: Back in the car I sip soda, I insist, Sure you don’t want to at least call your Grammy? She shakes her head, munches potato chips, messily. I push again, We really should stop by. Nope. With the exception of the crunch of chips and the fizz and slurp of soda pop, we sit silent in the parking lot. This lot is empty, but for the big thundering trucks, the ones with immaculate grills and bulldog hood-ornaments. Slow and large land animals that give me a sense of comfort. We do not have to dance around the lot like in Halifax, we can just settle and sit. There are no tickets here, or there, so I hypothesize we are beyond that, we are too serious to be chastised.
We watch others come and go, and I judge. Families with matching visors. A young man with tattooed hands comes out to his car with a case of mountain dew and a packet of tissues. Are you sure we can’t stop by your Gram’s? She doesn’t even acknowledge me this time, just chomps chips.
Key. Gas. Anchored momentum; we drive into the wind.
She must still be grouchy about the spliff incident. It was an accident on the night we arrived. I told Her twice already, I’m arthritic, and a roach so small is precocious, and She is definitely not the first to have a joint slip from Lover’s grip and settle on sweatered sweltering-belly and we were snug in bed; I was not telling Her to be cool or prove a peer-pressure sort of point and to be quite honest it would’ve been rude to turn down our gracious host’s smoke-up offering.
I slept well, though. Is She really upset I slept in? She soaks sun.
I slip my hand between Her legs; squeeze Her left thigh tight. She threads Her fingers between mine, squeezing. The pinch of Her skeletal-digits defers my focus from the endless freckled-rain, from the wavering high beams throbbing against it. Road’s right-empty, being Monday and all.
The sinking: She stares through the window with forehead pressed tight against it, looking at nothing particular inside the dark roaring by and behind us.
I pan my thumb across the back of Hers like rudder, assuring the both of us, I’ll get us home before we drown. It feels like the right words for the script, but they slosh funny in my mouth.
Her eyes saturated in the dark. I cannot see what she sees.
A gurgle from the cup holder. I break our knot to grab my cellphone.
She mumbles, eyes on the road.
Eyes on the wet, to the glare and the shrugging soft shoulders of the road. Then to the sharp white light of the phone.
An email. No subject. No signature. A photo from the photographer. Her and I in the museum.
Cthulhu’s arms slopping ’round the both of us. Super-sharp-She, smirking. Beyond the foreground, out the open face of the museum’s wall o’ windows, past the docks and the green barnacle grime, two ships pass without striking, gulls coast above with fowl grace, and I hold my breath, waiting for the tocsin blast anyhow.
BENJAMIN C. DUGDALE is a 20-something poet-person/experimental-filmmaker living in Atlantic Canada. Benjamin’s writing has been featured in or is forthcoming in various publications including CRITpaper, filling Station, FreeFall, Numero Cinq, The Steel Chisel and Sulphur. Some of Benjamin’s film work can be found online at Prick Of The Spindle, and his photography will appear in the forthcoming issues of Sad Dog Zine & Viator. Benjamin’s most recent prize is the 1st place entry in the 2016 Geist Short Long-Distance Writing Contest, for the short story, “Pekoe.” You can learn more on his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/bnnyby/.