Stories

The Small Sign Above the Door says ‘Sortie’ – Daniel Ross

Artists hate the suburbs because the streets have no names. No living, puking, breathing, fucking idea of what they are. The streets in Surrey are just symbols and straight lines–a series of hashtags burned into the landscape. It used to be all farmland and marsh. Now it’s junkies falling out of cabs, bloody-handed babygangsters kicking cleavers down the street. There are powerlines that buzz like hornets trapped in beer cans. I’m glad she doesn’t have to see what this place has become. I’m glad she doesn’t see my face the way it twists into a smirk when I listen to drunks tell me their life story.

There is a light dusting of cocaine on the bar. Maybe a dollar’s worth. Maybe more. I don’t think I’ve done the drug outside of a cigarette I bought off a Vietnamese kid with no front teeth in the hospital. He was on his way to rehab, and I wished him luck when the stim crossed the blood-brain barrier. Also, there was this batch of X I took that made me grind my teeth during a math test in highschool.

“I’m a pilot,” the drunk man says with a wink. “I fly private cargo.”

People are always winking at me in these shithole bars. She felt uncomfortable being left alone when I went to piss because the local alcoholic boomer lotharios would surround her to talk about their car engines or some shit. Fuck ’em.

The band plays old people rock. I’m glad she’s not here to see it. A few saggy necked boomers fumbling with their instruments trying to play something that resembles “Free Bird.”

She wasn’t mine. Not that anyone can ever belong to someone else, but she was especially not mine.

We were both too fucked up most of the time. Like two skittish deer trying to sniff each other out while also dodging parents, counsellors, psychiatrists and the weird patrolling youth workers who would chase us down the street after bailing on class.

When the bartender walks down to me, across the bar I look into her eyes slowly and part of me thinks I can draw the girl I used to know out of her. If I look long and hard enough and try to remember and pray she’ll unfurl from the bartender and emerge from the void her soundless chuckling, intense dancing self I haven’t seen in a decade. If I get drunk enough sometimes I hear her voice and I’ve never been able to stop myself from turning to look.

There’s a shadow ten feet tall looming over the bar.

“Is this your seat?”

The shadow says nothing.

If she were here with me at the back of the bar she’d get a view of the shadow handing the drunk pilot a baggie.

I almost feel her next to me, drinking away two pay checks basking in the radiation from the screens.

Cathode ray tube light absorbed by our skin. We both hated sports but we sat side by side and lusted for a city that wasn’t here.

Our first conversation she said, “I remember everything.”

Every argument she proved it.

It seemed, looking directly at her, the sun was always in my eyes. The memory of her face is all lens flare, and I never earned the taste of cherry chapstick on her lips.

We drank and danced in the kitchen of a house party, but she was entranced by the depth of silence looking out that second floor window in the dark living room. I was too dumb to be worried, then.
She disappeared after that party, and my gut was full of Plasticine. Her dad must have found the pictures. Motive.

Her dad and brother were degenerates who liked rooting through her purse.

She always told her father she was at her friend’s house. He didn’t know that friend was me.

The bartender comes over to take my empty glass for the nth time. I’m my father now, stumbling through the door at midnight a living disappointment. At seventeen, I was ready for real fistfights. It’s sad how slow he was at fifty. Sluggish. Sloppy.

On MSN chat she told me he stole her purse and emptied it. It was always full of fifties, and it clued him in. He probably felt sick seeing pictures of her exposed on a computer screen–like I did. She showed me the bruises on her arms and the place where the lamp broke and left a scar on her scalp. It was his attempt to crack her open, and keep her subservient to an ideal that she wanted no part of.

Give me freedom or give me–yeah that’s how the saying goes.

You could have tried I keep telling myself. Then, I’d follow her to the end of the earth. Now I know that’s where we both grew up.

The bartender smiles and sticks the tip of her tongue between her teeth when I pay my bill. It was something I remember the girl doing when I passed her a bottle of Wisers on my roof one night.

Stars marked her future, but I was the darkness between them.

Outside, the city smells like rotting fish and stale gasoline. The streets flicker, and my tongue is drying up with her name in my mouth.