In the Name of Me

by JR Enriquez Amparado

JR Enriquez Amparado grew up in Scarborough, ON. He is a Philosophy and Creative Writing major at York University. This is his first published work.

In “In the Name of Me,” one slowly becomes aware of various planes that reveal an existence of perpetual schisms. The writer portrays many dualities: nature’s estrangement from the urban, the complex relationships between men and women, and a father-in-law whose existentialist denial leads to sightings of UFOs. The sense of alienation progresses gradually to reveal a father’s tragic abandonment of his family, the silent devastation and resilient existence of a single mother, and the latent anger of a fatherless child. The narrative voice is singular in its stream of consciousness and prolific in its awareness of the multiplicities of the exterior, and, I might add, contemporary and Canadian in its geography, conflicting loyalties, unremitting transitory identity, openness and self-restraint.
—Rawi Hage, Thomas Morton Memorial Prize Judge, 2016

 

‘Sorry to hear about your old man,’ Henry says, pausing, trying to remember my name, ‘Anna told us he passed.’ I ask him where the river goes. Not that it’s an important detail, or that I’m really all that interested, it’s just the kind of question that serves as a beacon, or proof of life, so that neither of us are gonna turn around and find the other keeled over and half-submerged in the stream. Though it’d be something to know, to tell people over in Flemo who would never set foot around here, or ever give a damn about fishing, who instead know only the miles upon miles of concrete which lead to brick and mortar and how the two look fused against the hue of the streetlights as if plated in gold, and how to live and die in Flemingdon Park. ‘Muskoka river spills into—’ Henry says, his voice trailing as if it was being carried by the current, ‘Georgian Bay. Sounds about right.’ I nod, but by now he’s no longer looking at me. We’re standing far enough away from each other that talking in-between what are sometimes long stretches of silence turns into something like a crescendo, with each passing exchange louder than the one before it until we’re just below shouting at each other. I think I’ve cast my line close to fifty times since we got here, long enough that the sound of the moving water has begun to drone into a kind of silence. I imagine this to be what going deaf is like, or all that you can hear while drowning as you feel your pulse beat against the tympans in your ears. ‘What’s that?’ Henry asks, turning to me. Maybe I missed something he said. ‘You didn’t say—?’ I shake my head. He gives me a thumbs up with his free hand.

From far enough away the river path looks smooth, like it’d been contoured with a knife, reflecting a crest of maple and pine trees along the edges of the calmer water in the wide distance from the meander, and that algae smell blowing from the west like rained earth and fresh cut grass mixed with the almost-imperceptible smell of coniferous from a third of the surrounding green. It’s a quiet that I’m just not used to, a quiet that is itself a kind of noise to me, having spent all of my summers stuck somewhere within the self-contained heat of the city, and I wouldn’t trade being here for anything right now, despite the mid-afternoon sun beating unobstructed onto my face and arms, and despite not being able to stop thinking about how Anna1 could be fucking some other guy while I’m here with her dad, demoted to Dad’s fishing friend which is only second-to-last from Dad in her barometer for sexual desirability. On top of that, my traps are still sore from maxing out the reps of my dumbbell shrugs this past Thursday, and my throat’s been sore since waking up yesterday that I wonder whether I’m coming down with a summer cold, or experiencing the ancillary effects of over-training. Since I started working at Chi Chi’s, I’ve had to minimize lifting days from four to two days a week, with cardio scattered throughout the week whenever I can spare it. My routine for the past month has been as follows: Variation 1 consists of upper body exercises; 3 x 10 bench inclines, 2 x 15 dumbbell flys, 3 x 10 bench-flats (no incline), 2 x 10 shoulder presses, 2 x 8 bicep curls, 2 x 25 dips, ending with bench presses again until failure. Variation 2 lifts are mostly lower body, consisting of 3 x 10 squats (ass to grass, always), 3 x 10 high raises, 3 x 8 deadlifts, 4 circuits of walking lunges, finishing with 3 x 8 straight leg deadlifts. I’m not the sous chef to a five-star restaurant yet, but Chi Chi’s beats bouncing the clubs downtown.

Henry gets a bite on his line and hangs back like he’s taking a piss. He brings his arms up so that his elbows are level with his chest while the rod jerks down, bending into a parabola as the line drags then splashes, zigzagging through the width of the river. The thrashing goes on for a while, maybe two minutes but no more than three.2 When Henry’s reeled it close enough, maybe eight feet away, I waddle over to him and hand him a small net that’s about the length of a badminton racket which I’ve kept wedged in the belt of my wader. He gently guides the now-docile fish inside, its freckled gills still opening and closing, its mouth silently doing the same, but otherwise unmoving, like a praying saint. I ask if that’s a bass, which besides salmon I don’t know of another fish by name that’s of comparable size, long and aerodynamic, about the length of my forearm. ‘This is a trout,’ Henry says, ‘bass look almost reptilian, pre-historic, taste like it too if ya ask me. They got bigger faces, wider mouths, more fins than they look like they need.’ He goes over to the grass and sets his fishing rod down, taking the trout with both hands pincered in-between his knees and severs its spinal cord by sliding two fingers underneath its gills and pulling up as a dull wet crack sounds followed by one last twitch from the fish like an electric charge through its body. He places it in a cooler filled with the three other trout that he’s caught on a bed of four or five bags of ice.

‘I wanted to ask you something,’ Henry says when he gets back, picking the fishing rod up and striking the same pose. ‘What do you think of UFOs?’ His eyes narrow as his forehead furrows into wrinkles. I tell him I don’t really know, I mean it’d be hard to tell a biplane from a fighter jet in the sky if I ever saw the two from the ground. Sure, a biplane’s a lot slower, but from far enough away the difference wouldn’t be so surprising. I’m in the middle of talking about the drifting lights at night, the lights that can still be seen from the ground of a light-polluted city, wondering if all they ever are satellites and 747s, but Henry interrupts, ‘No, no, no—look, what I’m about to tell you is different. It was just past noon and the skies were clear, not a cloud, not even a bird. Get this: I was—’ He was on his way back from his cousin’s wedding in Montreal and stopped along the side of the 401 to take a piss, and on his way back up the hill saw this pale-grey metallic thing in the shape of a cigar making perpendicular moves across the sky like it was a queen with full reign over a chessboard. He just stood there, in a daze until the thing just seemed to shrink out of sight, his fly still unzipped while a dozen or so cars honked at him, or it.

Henry gets a bite on his line and hangs back like he’s taking a piss.

He’s told this to me twice now, the first time was on the drive up here at a filling station to get ice. Anna tends to point out to Henry whenever he repeats himself, and I always felt bad when she did. He looks at you like a kid that’s just pissed himself, embarrassed not so much about the growing stain darkening the front of his jeans, rather it’s the sheer helplessness of being unable to curb it. Imagine being unable to use conjunctions at random intervals throughout your day, both in your speech and in writing, and at other times uncontrollably doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling the conjunctions so that you stutter sometimes when you speak, not knowing which variation has occurred until it’s too late, indicated by the twist to the other person’s face, which is sort of like a scowl but with only a third of the contempt.3 I can tell that Henry wants to make sense of his story, to parse it in a way that explains the phenomenon, that pulls it out from the ether of his memory that’s fast fading so that the math could be carved into stone. I ask him what it sounded like, how fast it was moving. ‘It didn’t make a sound, at least none that I heard. It moved fast but could stop at a moment’s notice and continue on in any direction,’ which makes me wonder what likely could have caused a dozen people to honk their horns: the sight of an extraterrestrial spacecraft moving silently across the sky at supersonic speed, or the sight of a young man behind the guardrail, hungover, gawking up at the sky with his fly open. ‘See what I mean?’ Henry says, casting his line, flicking up, ‘It’s hard to imagine, but just imagine seeing that.’

It was late August when Anna first invited me over. Henry and Andrea were spending the weekend at Niagara Falls for their wedding anniversary, so she had the house to herself. It was getting dark out and we were in her living room listening to Harvest Moon, sharing the recliner when she asked about meeting my parents.4  I told her Ma worked all the time and lied, saying my dad was already dead, which I felt incredibly bad about only because she got embarrassed for bringing it up, made worse because of her subsequent embrace and the plaintive tone she had for the rest of the night which alive or dead he didn’t deserve.

Her mom could have destroyed them for all Anna knew, for the same reasons that Tibetan monks destroy a mandala …

It wasn’t until five months later that I brought her over for dinner, where she saw my room and my twin-sized bed which I haven’t been able to lay straight in since I hit puberty, and the pile of clothes atop my closet shelf which I later found out she folded while I was in the kitchen talking to Ma, who was making nacatamales with rice and beans, and tres leches even though we rarely ever had dessert. She even ordered a large pepperoni pizza and hid it in the oven, just in case Anna didn’t like the food. ‘Mijo, ella puede ser alergica,’ Ma said, but really we were just worried she’d find it too difficult to deal with all this—where I lived, and the room I slept in, and the food which as the guest she’d doubtless feel obliged to eat. But Anna thought everything was wonderful. She had so much, and Ma loved her. I couldn’t believe it, really. All this anxiety—for nothing. I could have cried.

Of course, the inverse of this is when I first met Henry and Andrea at their house for Andrea’s fifty-eighth birthday party. When I met them for real, I mean, which would have already been the worst time I could’ve been formally introduced, if only because of the number of names I was tasked to remember, and the corresponding faces I had to associate these names with.5 If only. I was out in the backyard about an hour in, sitting in a chair off to the side by myself watching Anna’s nephew and five nieces play tag around the gazebo when Henry took the chair next to me and offered me a drink.6 He framed it as a question, but his tone conveyed the proposition as more of a demand in which the polite response in refusing the drink that could have made me seem responsible, while also projecting some postulate of dignity, would have been to say, No thanks, Henry, I have to drive, but since I didn’t drive and Henry knew I didn’t drive because he saw me looking at him as I got off the bus that stops conveniently in front of their double driveway, I was left with no choice but to accept a drink and risk in my newfound convivial demeanour throughout the span of the two or three hours that I was there,7 becoming sort of friends with Henry, not knowing that the impression of him which I initially had as the father of Anna had now been lost within some place in the mind that for the most part is inaccessible when I’ve had four or five generous pours of scotch whiskey—neat—within an hour and a half, but which shuts off completely after I’ve taken my seventh with him, losing all intuitive sense of time while also stifling the nervous twitch that has me constantly glancing down at my watch, as I just happened to blurt out that Anna, who in this moment is no longer known by me to be Henry’s daughter, has the most perfect-looking vagina except I didn’t say vagina, and my idiomatic delivery of it was loud enough that half the people in the room heard me say this clearly, the same half who seemed to confirm to the other half that might have been doubtful. The silence, like the nebulous tranquility immediately following a left cross to your chin, just before the braggadocios expletives, gave me what felt like a slowed-but-indefinite amount of time to live an alternate possibility, a state of affairs in which I instead remarked, I’m not too keen on the hard stuff, Henry. Would you happen to have an ’89 Merlot? with a shit-eating grin on my face which I don’t know I have because it doesn’t take a behavioural science major with a Jungian set of archetypes, fully conscious of the multitude of biases and arbitrary assumptions at any given moment, to deduce that there’s a small chance that 5’11”, 230lbs, mean-looking Enrico Cosetti drinks wine, much less a fucking Merlot of any distinguishable year. And what ends up happening is that he looks at me funny, unconsciously slouching his shoulders, saying, ‘I’ll see what we have, I think we got something like that a Christmas or two ago,’ and three minutes later I’m holding a wine glass with a neck the circumference of an HB2 pencil in-between the index and middle-finger of one hand, with my thumb resting against the lower-half of the bowl, just as you’d hold a baseball, while I pour this warm ice wine with the other, as Henry continues to give me this look,8 which for me is heightened by this notion that there’s no way for me to hold this wineglass without seeming bourgeois, and then, in my head, realizing that from this point on until forever, that there is no longer any way for me to hear the word bourgeois without picturing myself holding a wine glass with this really stupid look on my face, just as I’m about to drink a three-quarters-full goblet of overly-sweet Inniskillin, with flakes of sediment like blown-up red blood cells you’d seen as a kid on video about the functions of the body, that was shot a decade earlier as part of TDSB’s Phys Ed in-class curriculum, flakes that sink to the bottom of the glass as soon as I finish pouring, displacing a layer of dust on the shoulders of the bottle in the rough shape of my hand and transferring it onto my white golf shirt, the shirt which I’ll only realize is soiled when under the harsh fluorescent lighting of my building’s service elevator an hour and forty-eight minutes later—all because of a crippling fear of what I might say, and what this might say about me.

I tell Henry that I’m going into the shade, that I need to rest my shoulders. I tell him twice because he didn’t hear everything the first time. I’m not catching any trout today. He chuckles as if he was just waiting for me to say the words. ‘Go on,’ he says, he’d take it from here. I head back closer into the thicket and sit down in a camp chair. I get out of the wader Henry lent me and put my boots on, not even bothering to tie or tighten the laces, just tucking them in above the muddy heels. I try to keep my eyes open, my head bobbing like a three-month-old baby until eventually black is all I see.

As you’re falling asleep, your eyelids begin to feel elasticized and once-complex thought processes suddenly tune down to the mundane and strange, like trying to remember what you had for lunch two days ago; little details, like if your Angus burger had pickles or relish, or maybe both, and if the bun had sesame seeds or if it was just plain, or sourdough, and whether the bun was toasted, maybe too much, so that you try to remember if you could taste the bitterness of the charr along the edge. You wonder whether you locked the door when you left, and if you feel that you didn’t, wonder if the two detectives in your room the afternoon following your murder might have a conversation about the lack of condiments in your fridge, all the while picking up and turning over pieces of your dismembered body and noticing that the cuts get progressively more coarse at the bone beyond your femur; the thickness and curvature of the hip, they think, must have dulled the axe or sword or whatever a person might use to cleave parts of another person’s body, because from the stomach up to the neck you’re about twelve ounces of provolone and a handful of black olives away from looking like your favourite pizza, until you doze off except you’ve already dozed off to be able to notice this and aren’t afraid of death or anything now, because you’re just too far in. You dream of green plains below a cloudless azure sky that simultaneously seems infinite and condensed, like two states of being flickering into and out of existence so fast that you doubt you’re really sensing this at all, that maybe you’ve gone mad and this newfound psychosis comes with its slew of visual and auditory hallucinations; the flickering being the most apparent though least detrimental to your mental faculties, the self-reflexive narration, though, probably being the most detrimental, blink once, and then you’re back in your room watching yourself from the ceiling, wondering if everyone looks this helpless when they’re asleep. And maybe sleep is a kind of equivalence to accepting death, because Anna had this old dog named Jago who died in her bed while she took a nap.

I tell Henry that sounds like a good idea.

He was still warm from being under the covers when she realized, and when Andrea came into her room she was just holding him, not even crying or anything, not even sad, because Anna was leaving for school in a week and I guess everyone knew he wouldn’t live until Thanksgiving break, and Jago must have had a sense of all this, the way animals and dogs especially seem to do, and with this cadence devoid of any self-pity which in a way is beyond us humans in our collective neuroses about ourselves and our legacies, like epitaphs written on bark only to be lost a moment later like swirling, fallen leaves.

‘You OK over there?’ Henry asks, close to shouting so he can hear himself over the water’s undulations as the wind whistles through the trees. He has the fishing rod propped into a rod stand that we dug into the ground. He walks towards me and stops just close enough that he comes out of the sun and into the shade, but far and maybe careful enough that he knows he’s not seeming overly sympathetic with his question. The leaves of the trees obscure us from the sun for the most part, but the denseness lets up as you get closer to the river. I tell him I’m fine, I’m just cooling off. He’s looking at me, nodding. He was just about to say something, but the rod jerked forward. ‘Gimme a minute with this one on my line, and we’ll have us a beer.’ I tell Henry that sounds like a good idea.

The reason I’ve been going to the gym all these years was because I figured one of these days I was gonna fight my dad.9 For years I’ve reenacted this scene in my head, where I catch each of his fists mid-swing and crush them with three-hundred pounds of force, like the bite of a starving dog, breaking the same hands that made Ma lie to her friends, that there were physical laws that allowed for a stationary can of corned beef to spontaneously produce enough velocity to knock itself off the pantry shelf and bruise her beautiful face, a face that still twists longingly for him whenever she doesn’t think anybody’s looking, like when she’d cry in her room sometimes, a room that never took in another lover—no surrogate I could overwrite his memory with—and when she cried upon the news of his death as if he had been with her this entire time. I wanted to strike him with blows that landed as if they were rehearsed; as precise as ballet but as devastating as terminal disease. I wanted to colour his face the yellow red and blue of the Venezuelan flag we used to have in the dining room, that almost translucent thing that hung listless below a woodcarving of the last supper and our family portrait, Ma’s face and mine smiling as if performing a trick, like two captive elephants painting this false self-portrait which is now propped up against the left-hand side of her bedroom vanity, yellowing and green from all the years facing a window.

The ride home was wet and humid and all I wanted to do was see Anna and allude to my love without saying it.

I look more like him every day, people say. Our hooked noses, and high cheekbones. We’d look like two first nations if it wasn’t for our light skin and curly hair. In the mirror I look at myself naked, my limp dick leaning to the right and looking strange and out of place in-between the symmetry of the rest of my body, like a daisy hanging out of a rifle barrel, or the song Boris by the Melvins playing loud out of a red Alpha Romeo Spider, newly waxed. I wonder what he looked like, hanging from the pipe, if he had a look of relief or if it was painful all the way through till his entire body jerked in its final attempt at a breath, his jowl overlapping the fastened line.

We took a GO Train to Mississauga yesterday to see if there was anything we wanted to keep from his apartment, since by law Ma still had his surname, but there were no physical characteristics that would distinguish his apartment from that of some stranger, nothing that would have made anyone who knew him well, go Chava definitivamente vivió aquí, just a dull beige round table you’d find in a shitty motel room that’s right across the street from a filling station somewhere deep in the boonies, and an olive couch that looked like it was the only thing purchased brand-new, with a nineteen-inch GE television chipped at one of the top corners with a foldable TV tray right beside it, and a double bed in the only bedroom with a closet half-full of the same clothes he left us in, and yet the place had this weight to it as if you were going to hear him shout at you at any moment, or hear things break in rooms adjacent. The superintendent gave us his condolences while we took the elevator with him down eight floors to the lobby, said Salvador was a good tenant, which made Ma cry, which then negated what amount of sympathy for him I might’ve developed in the interim since his passing. I still wanted to put his face through a fucking wall, let whoever found him make meaning of it. This reminds me of when Jackson, this Trini kid, gave me his condolences a few days after Kurt Cobain shot himself.10 I found it strange how oblivious he was of the separation, as if Kurt and I were old friends and I didn’t just take to this kind of music mostly because it was louder and infinitely more jarring to my senses than Nas, or Das EFX which played bass-less and tinny out of the small speaker plugged into his yellow walkman, all because I told him one night that I was on my way to see Nirvana play at the Maple Leaf Gardens a month or so before. You’re as likely to hear a song like Territorial Pissings bumping out of a rear-heavy hooptie in the parking lot of a government housing complex as you are to seeing a basshead doing laps around the block for leisure. The ride home was wet and humid and all I wanted to do was see Anna and allude to my love without saying it. Instead I dropped Ma home and ran in the rain, from Don Mills to Lawrence, to VP and then Eglinton. I thought I heard her voice from beyond my periphery, thought I saw her profile obscured by the cascading rain on the side windows of a southbound 24 bus.

Henry wipes his hands up and down the front of his shirt and sits in the chair to my left. I take two bottles of Labatt Blue out of the second cooler and uncap them. There isn’t much said, just banal observations on the weather, canned phrases you normally just say in your head that are on some level comforting because despite the myriad of differences between Henry and I, we easily agree on just how damn hot it is despite being in the shade, but also a bit disconcerting, if this is about as deep as our conversations can get, always coasting along the membrane, nudging the walls for an exit. I close my eyes again and try not to breathe, feel my stomach tighten, faintly hear my pulse. Eventually I hear him burp following the hollow thud of his bottle against the earth; I hear the cooler lid creek open and snap close, followed by a short hiss of escaped carbonation. I hear the weight of the nylon chair that he’s in shift to the right as he asks me for a third time if I’ve ever seen a UFO. I ask him if what he’s asking is whether I believe they’re real, even though I know that’s what he meant. ‘Yeah, I’ve been wanting to ask you. It’s been rolling around a lot in my head lately, you know? Can’t seem to shake it. You think they could’ve been monitoring us this whole time?’ I tell him I’m not sure what I think, because from that high up I couldn’t tell the difference between a biplane and something like a jet, and before Henry can interrupt me with his story again, I go on and say that I’ve been wondering lately too whether all those drifting lights in the night sky are just us and not something that was descendant of an aircraft that was found in the New Mexico desert and reverse-engineered at Area 51. But even if they are just man-made, it still doesn’t rule out the possibility that a sentient alien species several orders of magnitude more technologically advanced than humans don’t exist, somewhere in the vastness of space.11  But what I’m sure of, I say to him, is that we are separated, walled within our consciousnesses and stuck inside of our own subjectivity, which I guess is to say that our lives are largely—if not completely determined by our mindset, which itself is pre-determined by causal processes in the brain at a scale we aren’t even aware of, processes that have been instilled in us on both a genetic and environmental level, neither of which we ever had any conscious control of. You weren’t given a choice in having been born, or a choice in the subset of two people you’d be the genetic split of—the two people who at some point, planned or not, had once made love or maybe just fucked and then had you, give or take nine months later—without selection or predilection to sickness and other health issues you’d inherit, crying into the world. As a kid, you had no choice in who your parents were, or where you’d live, like they never had much of a choice in who their neighbours were gonna be, or the people they’d stand adjacent to in the supermarket on a Friday evening, turning over produce, trying to pick the exemplar pomegranate.

… as I just happened to blurt out that Anna, who in this moment is no longer known by me to be Henry’s daughter, has the most perfect-looking vagina …

I think about dad again. Against insurmountable external factors he succumbed to the wave of his own troubles, none of which I’ll ever know for sure. I think about the life we ended up living, this family that we became, that maybe it was always in the cards for us. At least in this way we all could have gone on with our lives. You never blame the clouds for the rain. I don’t say this to Henry, though I realize now that he’s most lucid in his silence. He’s looking up at the leaves of the trees, listening for me, waiting for me to come back to the surface. I guess whatever desire I had to fight my dad was just a half-notion that I could go beyond these walls, or thinking that there were even walls at all in a tangible sense, as if they could be broken down and then I’d be amidst some other place without boundaries or ends, looking at a world through eyes lodged in something that isn’t a skull, that I could pummel all my anger into him and from his battered body would come forgiveness, as if it was something like a soul.

Picking up where Henry and I left off, I ask him if he’s ever seen a UFO, if this is why he asked me about them. He tells me the same story, the story itself not really changing, but less strained in its grasp for words, it’s just that he’s oblivious. I ask him when this all happened. ‘I want to say sixty-eight,’ Henry says after an unsure pause, then whispering to himself, ‘summer of sixty-eight … eight, sixty, eight … Just past noon. Sixty-eight. Clear blue skies … Eight.’ He says, ‘Tell you what, when we get back to the van I’ll show you where it happened. I‘ve had it marked on the map.’ He raises his beer to me with a big smile on his face and I’m thinking, Jesus, I’ve never seen this many of his teeth before. ‘We could take a drive over there one of these days, bring the girls along.’ Sure Hank, I say, toasting him. I’m never gonna see him again.

I wonder what he’s gonna say when Anna eventually gives him the news,12  and how many times over the months and maybe even years that she’ll have to repeat this to him till he stops wondering altogether whether he ever got to mention that I should be calling him Hank from now on, and if he’s told me yet about the UFO he saw back in the sixties before his only child was born, until I’m just that guy who was at what’s-your-mother’s-name’s party, until he’s just a stone-face with this thousand-yard stare, looking like all the trout I never caught.

 

 

  1.  Who’s self-conscious of a small, hazel-coloured mole on the left-side of her neck near the collarbone, that I would kiss and run my tongue over like it was a nipple. She’d even let out identical sighs.
  2. Without outright counting, it’s difficult to tell how much time has passed from the beginning of a sequence of events to its end in the same way that watching the long-hand of a clock round twelve three times will always seem slow throughout. When I was a kid, I used to time the arguments my parents had, measured by the amount of shouting and cursing, and later including when I’d heard things break. Fastest argument was something like three minutes, and the longest was just three seconds shy of twelve—or seven-hundred-and-seventeen seconds. I stopped when Ma came into my room a half-hour after my dad had left for work, sucking blood from her swollen lower-lip as a bruise began to form just above her chin like a wet stain beneath a sheet of paper towel, her eyes red from crying probably not so much from a physical pain, but something she had learned to repress for the most part, letting only the very least amount of it out so that it didn’t kill her. ‘Como te fue en la escuela hoy mijo?’ she said, and would say.
  3. Refer to footnote 8 as the worst-case scenario.
  4. I had only met Henry and Andrea once before, so briefly that I doubt that either of them gave much thought to me. I remember stepping inside their house for the first time, after Anna and I smoked a joint in her backyard. From what I soon learned was a gazebo, the house looked gigantic, but seemed to shrink once we got in – there was just so much furniture. For a moment I thought I’d walked into a house in the midst of moving, or a warehouse in liquidation, until Anna apologized for what she thought was a mess and said that her mom took old wooden furniture she’d come across at yard sales and restored them. Re-sanded, properly levelled, a coat of oil, maybe a darker stain to hide chips in the wood or to cover an uneven tone. I asked her what her mom did with them afterwards, but she wasn’t sure. It’s strange to me that she didn’t know, that there was this hole in her narrative of Andrea that she just lived with, every day. Her mom could have destroyed them for all Anna knew, for the same reasons that Tibetan monks destroy a mandala, as there are no tables which are permanent. In the hallway towards the kitchen there was a framed picture of the three of them outside in front of a really old-looking house that was hung alongside three or four other portraits of the same size. Henry had a baby Anna cradled under his left arm, and had his right hand around Andrea’s waist. They were both smiling, both kinda young, though given Anna’s age they must have had her later than usual. Maybe it was the colour of the sky, a deep-red and orange hue that made the expanse above the horizon past the trees look like milk chocolate melting in the late afternoon, or maybe I was just really, really high and on the come down, but all fear of Henry crashing through the windows of his own home and lifting me off the ground by my neck while Andrea held her daughter back, disappeared. It wasn’t a fading like age, or the sight of something slowly being absorbed into the dominant colours in the distance, but like flicking a light switch, or the piercing sound of something loud, like a gun going off without the echo. I realized that I was in an empty house, just me and the most beautiful girl.
  5. Jean Carlo is Henry’s cousin, looks like a slightly less weaselly Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Harriet is Andrea’s best friend who either winked at you from across the room, or was having a stroke. James is a pastor, forget what parish, has a hairy mole below his left eye, et cetera, etc.
  6. Henry, who’s wearing a khaki bucket hat and Bob Dylan Ray Ban’s. Henry, whose exposed neck and forearms are just a few shades shy of flamingo pink, who insisted that you call him Hank from now on during the drive towards this outdoor excursion, which happens to be exactly three weeks since his daughter broke up with you—a truth of which he still has no idea—deep in the woodlands along the Muskoka river. Hank, who you still can’t help but refer to as Henry in your head. Henry, who sometimes forgets your name, things he’s done and said.
  7. Or four, since you’d want to help clean up. But after that it’s another hour spent talking, two-thirds of which are spent telling them about yourself: An only child, raised by your mom who worked two jobs and nights every other Saturday to keep you fed with a new pair of shoes from Footlocker at the start of every September.

    Your other clothes were hand-me-downs from your cousins, mostly, but from the ankles down you could’ve been Latin royalty. You’ll ask about them, and how they met, how Anna was like as a child, and you’ll laugh when Andrea, who’s relegated Henry to mere facial expressions and periodic shifts in one of her newly lacquered chairs, tells you when Anna once asked her grandmother why her skin no longer fit her face like in the black and white photo framed next to the oak or walnut side table in the living room. Five hours, in that order.

  8. Like the face you’d make if you opened a door and saw me fingering what looks to be shit stained to the grout between the tiles of the bathroom floor because of Andrea’s tuna casserole mixed with eight shots of Johnny Walker’s scotch whiskey, green label, and a third of a beer to give it substance, a concoction that ruptured something in my lower intestines causing me to expel what looks like the amount of fluid left in a fifteen meter hose after shutting the valve, just a meter and two bunny hops away from the toilet bowl, and five crucial seconds too late to lay a bed of toilet paper to ease the splash.
  9. I’d held on to this idea, that it was something which was gonna happen eventually, but it wouldn’t end in a stalemate. It wouldn’t begin by trading blows like we were in a movie directed by Kurosawa, the sound effects when a punch lands like a bundle of branches swung down against a tiled floor, with missed strikes muted in favour of the pouring rain, until I get angry as hell and just start unloading on him from different angles, parrying every desperate haymaker of his until it sounds like a stampede of geta. A quick shot of his bloodied face, a look of terror told primarily through his incredulous eyes, and after, I’d help him up and he sort of laughs through the spurts of blood coming out from his mouth and a slow cascade from his right nostril, as if it was therapy for him, and maybe by proxy it’d be like that for me, that we’d learned a lesson about something though it’s never explicitly shown because the camera hasn’t moved from its landscape position since cutting from the close up of his face, and which is never explicitly said because there aren’t any lines left of dialogue in the script for either of us as we walk into the distance of some phony horizon, with nothing but a large incandescent bulb slowly being reeled into a makeshift cone to mimic the sun falling into the skyline as the credits begin to roll in, very slowly, fading to black just as our two figures are about to merge. A film scholar who did a minor in theoretical physics decades later will liken the moment to a naked singularity in his or her thesis paper, titled something like, “The Infinite Genius of Kurosawa: Observed.” No, it’d be a quick fight. It’d be a quick fight and afterwards he would fear me more than anything he had ever feared, and I would never need to fight again.
  10. For months after moving here he‘d called me Boricua, until I saw him with his parents at Burger King and his mom scolded him over the head with her free hand as she waved. I met him on the elevator a few weeks later and found out he lived three floors above me, and had a half-sister who bought him the BMX bike he was on. ‘You look like Eduardo, that’s why—Boricua,’ he said, springing his hands open in front of his face like he was trying to sell me on the name, ‘that’s what people called him.’ Eduardo was a few years younger and used to live along St. Dennis Drive in one of the high-rises across from us. He was stabbed three times in the chest and neck along the Don River just past Taylor-Massey Creek, left to die cold and alone about a year before Ma and I came along. ‘But you only look like him face-wise. No way you’d fit his clothes.’ He looked me up and down, and then said I was too big, that no one would ever try me the way Eduardo was. ‘You’d def get shot instead.’
  11. For one, logistics alone make any kind of contact with these aliens entirely subject to chance. Say today, right now, an advanced civilization some twelve million or so light years away spots the Earth by the abundance of water in our atmosphere. But that’s light from twelve or so million years ago. They’re observing the light of an Earth which just formed its first savannahs containing some long-extinct ancestral elephant. It’ll be another seven million years before the first hominins, and another 6.75 million years before the first anatomically modern humans. An advanced alien civilization living for tens of millions of years, possibly up to a hundred million or so years on a massive spaceship the size of Pluto, en route to Earth. But travel time is relative to the speed at which the spaceship travels. Even if they are somehow capable of accelerating at a max velocity of 0.999 the speed of light, time would dilate relative to the passing time on Earth. One year travelling at just below the speed of light would dilate time to the equivalent of 2.3 years, which amounts to 27,556,599 years passing here on Earth compared to the 12,012,467 years that will pass on their giant ship, until this extragalactic civilization finally arrives here.                                                                                 But say in addition to finding our planet, they find a hundred other planetary systems with planets similar to Earth in its capacity to harbour complex life at a point in time when its sun is still relatively young. That’s a probability of zero in their choosing our Earth over others like it, made even less likely since factors like relative distance and size would have to be taken into account. And what if there were thousands of Earth-like planet detections—or hundreds of thousands, even millions, or hundreds of millions—billions that are closer, more fertile?                                                                                                                                                                   Now even if Earth is the closest and the most fertile planet out of a billion, say 2000 light years away instead of 12 million. After intercepting a SETI signal which was originally sent out into space in the year 2025, they might only see the ruins of our civilization, us humans already long gone. Through real-time heat maps of rubbled concrete and rusted steel, they’ll make out the skeletons of the buildings that once made up a metropolis, toppled and consumed by dense forestry, undisturbed, just vast nature on a scale that we’ve never known. The last two-dozen skyscrapers that were once part of the Toronto skyline will have fallen, all of them crooked with their beams jutting from more than four-and-a-half thousand years of dilapidation and natural disaster, with vines grown up the entire lengths of them, pocked and hollow monoliths that let out a terrifying bellow whenever the wind blows through their intersecting caverns, never fully taken in by the earth; too foreign for the geology to consume completely, and the surrounding landscape too alien and far-removed from a planet which they had at one point in their forgotten species’ histories called home, that this fails to even rap at the doors of their nostalgia.
  12. She got really mad when I said the only reason why she’s stayed with me this long was because I came from a broken home and wasn’t just another middle-class white boyfriend who was living a life that was comparable to her own, but I was shouting when I said this and only realized it when she began to cry, because I never learned how to bare anything about myself without simultaneously wanting to destroy it.

JR Enriquez Amparado grew up in Scarborough, ON. He is a Philosophy and Creative Writing major at York University. This is his first published work.

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