Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New Short Fiction: Minimalist Canada

The sweat in his body smelled richly like cigarette smoke, but his dazed disposition didn't allow him to take that bit of information into his brain. Neuron receptors were effectively blocked from receiving signals like smells, touches, the whole bit. He drove though, endlessly north, he'd been on US Rt 89 for what felt like a week, through it'd been only about two hours.

He felt that if he could share this with anyone, he'd share it with her. The pills he swallowed, two every forty-five minutes – just when the affects would be starting to unhinge and he could feel again – did allow him to take in the rich fall colors that were spreading across the Vermont landscape like the wildfires in California. The switch backs he found himself driving on, narrowly going over a guard rail, displayed god's grace readily. God's grace or a rogue glacier. His brain was too fried to really differentiate between the two ideas.

He chuckled to himself then, the idea of going off the edge of a switch back in northern Vermont seemed to get through the Klonopin and tickle the funny nerve in his brain. He sucked on his Camel and pressed the gas pedal down a little harder, down shifted, and passed a slow moving Honda CRV on the right.

Brian Vicks was twenty-eight, college educated, graduated with a degree in sociology from a decent, but not ivy league, New England school. For the five or so years he was out of school he worked in a variety of different jobs: Court Houses, out-patient clinics, metal shops, printing shops, and two years ago he took a thirteen-dollar-an-hour gig at his local bank branch working at the counter. He didn't think he'd stay more than the usual six months, which was par for Vicks. He was never happy with the idea of working, and he never stayed around long enough to actually feel like he was in a career. He often thought about going back to school for maybe something in law or something that he could actually put to use, other than a degree in sociology, which he only took because it was a pretty easy major and left him a lot of room to bullshit in papers for classes.

But then Brian Vicks got into a horrible car accident, and had to undergo surgery to repair a snapped femur, and a set of shattered ribs. He spent a year out of work going through rehabilitation and developing a hidden, if not crippling, addiction to different flavors of pain killers.

When he returned to work at the bank he learned that two of the senior tellers had retired and quit respectively. Instantly the branch manager elevated Vicks to a senior teller position which had less to do with dealing with the public and more to do with the goings-on behind the scenes with people's money. That lasted about two months when a loan officer's position opened and Brian went in and interviewed for it.

He didn't think he'd have a shot, but much to his surprise about a week later, the branch manager called him at home on his day off and told him if he wanted the loan officer job he could have it. Vicks, who had just taken on a fresh load moments before barely answering his phone, croaked that he'd be thrilled.

He was now making between forty and forty-two thousand dollars a year, and granted his own loan to buy a house on the outskirts of town. He also granted his own loan to buy a new truck, which he was currently driving towards Montreal.

He had asked for about two weeks off after working tirelessly for the last fourteen months. That morning he took two bottles of pills, each with two hundred count of his favorite pain killers, packed a light bag with a change of clothes, passport, money, a paperback book, digital camera and an extra prescription pad that he'd stolen from a doctor's office a few months ago when he went in for a check up. That's how he got his pills you see. He'd been "weaned" off from prescription pain killers over a year ago, but his addiction ran too deep. He tried at first to drown it with booze, but it wasn't the same feeling. He hated feeling weighed down by the alcohol; that boot on top of his head slowly pushing him down into the earth. With pills he had the same slowed responsiveness and floaty feeling, without the hangovers. With the pills, the anxiety of life would just fizzle away and slowly seep back into the picture. And when it did, he just swallowed another handful of the white chalky pills and returned to a blissful existence where the lens had a careful smudge of Vaseline around the outside edge.

He'd never been to Montreal and so that was the draw. His friends told him that it was a fun time, the girls were hot and flirty, the food was good, and people generally treated Americans like retarded school children: condescendingly nice. He just wanted to get away from his existence in a way the pills couldn't do it for him. He needed to see new scenery and different people. The faces of the people he saw every day were enough to drive him to blow his brains out in the back of his new home.

He routinely turned the same people down for loans from the bank. That was his job, that's why he got picked to be the new loan officer. The same sorry sack of shit would walk into his office, sit down across from his impressive oak desk, hat in hand and plead for help. It was always the same story, just with different components involved.

"Gee sir," they'd start nervously, already knowing what the outcome of this charade would be in the parking lot, sitting in their rusted out fifteen year old car that wouldn't pass it's next inspection. "We could really use about five thousand dollars to fix up our place. You see, we need a new roof, the one we have now leaks like a sumabitch – excuse me – and the furnace don't always kick on, and winter's comin' and the kids – " and they always paraded the kids in front of him. They always came with pictures of grubby faced, dirty-shirt-wearing children sitting in a dirt pile playing with trucks. They'd mostly be shoeless but gleeful. Vicks always thought that if it weren't for the pills, he'd probably have quit the position by now.

Because it was always no, that was the answer. He'd go through the motions, even if it was the same people every week. He'd dig into their credit history, he'd go through their work history, he'd even look into how much they spent on groceries every week and the answer was always no. It was too risky for the bank, and he even had his own rejection speech memorized by rote to tell these people. He sounded like a broken record, like a denial-bot set on automatic.

"The bank can't give you the loan Mr/Mrs whoever, because we just feel that it's too risky of an investment for us. We need to make money on the interest you're paying us back, and we feel, based on your finances, you wouldn't be able to make the minimum loan payments," and he'd stare through them, at some point in the wall behind them, passed their broken hearts and crushed egos.

Yes he sometimes got death threats in the mail, on his office voice mail, and it was always readily identifiable. He'd just dealt with the people and likely they were calling from the road or even the parking lot on pre-paid track phones, telling him he'd "regret it" or they'd "see" him "soon." He went through the usual motions and reported the threats to the police, who would or wouldn't take action. All he knew was what his boss, the branch manager told him when he first took the position.

"It's tough work Brian, you're gonna say no to some really hard-up people, and they're not always going to want to take no for an answer…" and then Vicks faded out from the conversation. The pills working their magic like always, whisking him away from a harsh scene that was his reality. He giggled at the thought of "harsh scene" like he was some hippie.

He was about ten minutes from the boarder, where I-89 became Canadian 133. He finished his cigarette and took a quick glance in his rearview mirror to make sure he didn't look too stoned out of his mind to not pass customs. The last thing he wanted some was Nazi boarder agent with a sense of self-entitlement to go rummaging through his shit, killing his buzz, making him sweat more than he had to.

He was fine, at least so he thought. With the pills in his system it was hard to keep track of thoughts. It made him feel stupid but he'd soon forget that too. He fiddled for a rock station on the radio, tired of his cds he burned for the trip and came across 97.7 the "CHOM" or something to that affect, Montreal's Classic Rock Station, the radio said at him. He thought for a second that he should invest in one of those fancy satellite radio rigs so he wouldn't have to fiddle with radio knobs, but then forgot about it too.

He crested a small hill and came upon a very official looking structure that seemed to sprout from no where in the wilderness. He took his foot off the gas pedal and the truck, a rather large truck, seemed to slow with it's own weight. He sweated a little and loosened up the collar on his shirt, pushing his sleeves up to the middle of his forearms. One of the nasty side effects of the pills, that over time he'd gotten used to, was his bladder would become so full it'd be painful. And it'd be at very inopportune times that he'd need to empty it. But with being hooked for over a year, he'd develop an early warning system, a little tick that would let the rest of him know he was about five minutes away from pissing himself.

He'd had one nasty accident during a loan meeting where he wet himself from behind his desk. He didn't see it coming and right during a prospective borrower's speech he let loose in his trousers. He tried to not notice the smell of his own urine in a puddle under him, but the pills had just worn off at the same time he let go, and the stank dry smell for something so wet filled his office. The man across from him stopped not in mid sentence, but in mid word and looked at Vicks. Vicks just smiled slowly and didn't even bother to get up, the man let himself out with his hand over his mouth.

It became known at that point that Brian Vicks had a problem with incontinence.

If you asked his co-workers or even his boss, no one would suspect that Vicks was addicted to pills. They just thought he was a little eccentric or forgetful. One or two of the newer tellers, young girls fresh out of college were hip to the idea that he was probably on something, but never narc-ed him out to any of the other bank employees. And besides, they both would occasionally hang out with him if they had days off together, and all get high at his place.

At the boarder there's toll booths, but you have to stop about five meters from the actual booth while the person manning the booth takes your photograph. This for some reason made Vicks nervous, and he could feel his bladder at it's straining point. He waited with his foot pressed into the brake pedal, his other leg twisted against himself, trying to trap the end of his dick between his thighs, as if to physically pinch it off. The guard in the booth then motioned with her hand for him to drive up.

He slowly approached, feeling the sweat trickle down into his eyes. He removed his Ray-Ban sunglasses and put on his best professional smile. He glanced at the clock on his radio and saw it read two in the afternoon. Licking his lips he said,

"Good morning," the boarder agent didn't miss a beat.

"Good morning to you too sir," her accent was heavy Canadian and she had only a slight pleasantness about her. Vicks took a shallow breath through his mouth and wondered to himself what was taking her so long. He figured that as soon as he got clear of customs he was going to pull over and piss all over this hunk of the Great White North. "What brings you to Canada today?"

"Just on vacation," he answered. The sound of his own voice was as if he was yelling across a lake and only able to hear the faint echo. The boarder agent didn't seem all that affected.

"And how long will you be staying?"

"About a day or so," he said, the sweat feeling like it was being applied with a hose. She punched a few things into her computer and then asked to see his ID, and he dug into his bag and produced his passport. He took a look at it, and then at him, and punched a few more things into her computer. She handed it back and told him to enjoy himself. He thanked her and sped off down the road.

About a twenty second mile later, he pulled over to the side of the road, threw the door open and ran into the woods, ripping his jeans open. He reached down into his boxers, produced his dick and sprayed a long yellow jet of piss all over the ground in front of him, sighing out in a near orgasm as he leaned forward on a pine tree. Every muscle in his body seemed to relax and constrict at the same time, and a wave of nausea hit him and while he was pissing he managed to puke all over the place too.

He changed his clothes outside of the truck, throwing his soiled clothing into the woods, dousing off with a bottle of water he'd been sipping on.

He immediately popped two new pills and drove off up 133 North towards Iberville and Montreal.

He knew a girl in Montreal, her name was Marie and they met on the internet. They'd become close and she kept hinting that she'd like to meet him in real life. He always kinda kept her at arms length, unsure of himself that he would really want her to see him as the person he really was, which in his own mind registered as a pill addicted bed wetter who was a stone faced loan officer for a local bank in his own town. But with the idea of getting away from it all, he thought that why not surprise her. Why not see if she's who she really is. The last thought he had before his world went back to the cotton candy version of things was that she probably had her faults too. We're all human beings, and if anyone could see past anyone else's faults, it was Brian Vicks.

About two miles outside of Iberville, twenty miles south of Montreal, he pulled over at some roadside diner and dialed her phone. He let it ring through until a female voice in French told him that he should leave a message after the tone.

He closed his phone and went inside the diner and sat at the booth towards the back. A hard-faced lesbian of a waitress came up to him and asked him what he wanted in French. He plucked a menu up and tried to read it, but it too was all in French. He set it down and looked up at the waitress who looked impatient and asked for a cheeseburger and fries and a coke. She nodded, not bothering to write anything down. He sat looking out the window, and noticed how much grain they grew out in this part of the world. It looked like the American mid west, with the grain silos dotting the horizon, endless fields of gold at a hundred and 180 degrees. He tried her number again, and still got no answer. This time it didn't even ring, it just went right to voicemail.

He cursed, rubbing his numb face with the flat of his hand, pinching his nose, hearing the clatter of the kitchen, the voice in French. He wondered if they'd spit in his food, but that thought was chased away by the flood of endorphin releasing chemicals. He dug for a cigarette and found a fresh camel, then his lighter and lit up, blowing the smoke roofward.

A moment later the waitress returned and set his food down in front of him. The burger looked raw and the fries were soggy. Distastefully she said something to him which he couldn't quite make out, but when she pointed across the way to a sign that was slightly different than the no smoking signs in America but got the idea across just the same. Vicks plaintively looked for a place to put out his smoke, and found none, so the waitress just plucked it from his fingers and walked out the front door to the porch and smoked it herself.

"Fucking bitch," Vicks cursed under his breath as he lifted the bun off the top of his burger and inspected it for signs of expectorate. He glanced back up at the no smoking sign and marveled at how different it was than the ones in America. But that was the case throughout Canada, things were slightly off kilter. They were almost minimalist in a sense, strangle and unfamiliar. There wasn't a red circle with the line through it, in the middle a cartoon cigarette, what he'd be used to in the US, but instead a picture of a cigarette with a red X over it. No circle, and even the lines that made up the X were inoffensively thin, the cigarette was basically just a white stick with a black scribble for smoke coming out of an end.

Minimalist Canada. And he couldn't even blame the pills this time.

He bit into his burger after putting some ketchup on the meat and replacing the bun. He watched the hard edge waitress finish his camel and pitch the butt into the dirt drive way by his truck. The door jingled when she came back in and she shot him a look that dared him to ask for something else. He'd never so much felt like a stranger in a strange land before, and for that he blamed the drugs. He inspected his coke next, found it to be what he could consider spit-free and sipped from the edge, because there was no straw. He wondered what was going to happen when he paid in American currency.

He finished, leaving a twenty on the table without asking for a bill and got the hell out of there. He was wondering if he was going through a bad trip or not. He had them from time to time, usually when he chased too many pills too close together. The puking in the woods was a good sign that he had too much of the synthetic dopamine and now he was running a cold sweat. He got into his truck and continued north towards the city.

Twice more he tried her number and got nothing. He was developing the shakes and had to pull over anyway to get gas. The sun was starting to set and he thought to himself it might be a good idea to deal with the rural Canadian hicks while he could still see them clearly.

The gas station, again, was something out of a stereotypical American mid-western scene. Only two pumps, dirt driveway, big trucks rumbling by on the road. He pumped forty dollars worth of gas, noticing how it was in litres and not gallons. An older model van packed with middle aged women wearing designer knock-off clothing pulled in behind his truck and he gave them a once over. The driver got out and struggled with getting the hood open. Vicks went inside to pay.

Once inside he picked up a fresh bottle of water and went to the counter to pay. Ahead of him was another French woman, maybe from the van, buying lottery scratch tickets and carrying on with a loose conversation with the 14 year old girl wearing a cheap Guess shirt behind the counter. When he finally got up to the cashier, he told her about the gas and she rung him up for the water too. He thanked her with a heavy American "mercy" and not the stylized sounding Canadian "Merci."

The woman was still struggling with the hood and his pills were wearing off. He cleared his throat behind her and she turned and saw him standing. He motioned towards and hood and silently she stepped aside. He glanced and saw the little yellow button that would release the hood and jiggled it. The hood came free and the woman expressed her pleasure with several "mercies." Vicks smiled and shrugged it off, opening his water and getting back into his truck.

By now, night had fallen and she still hadn't answered her phone. He popped two more pills and sat in his truck on a hill top looking down on the city that was once built to be a fortress. The lights shined so bright because unlike every other American city, this one was purely surrounded by blackness, wilderness, god's unknown country of untamable mystery. His eyes narrowed down as he slipped into a Klonopin sleep, his mouth dry but hanging open.

He had no place to go, but he was in no hurry to get there.

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