Underside of Love

by Jean Marc Ah-Sen

Jean Marc Ah-Sen was born in East York, Ontario, in 1987. He is the author of Grand Menteur  and lives in Toronto with his wife and son. Find Ah-Sen on Facebook.

Author’s Note: The foremost qualities in Austin Clarke’s writing that have appealed to me are his experimentations with style, and his career-spanning resistance to the essentialization of Black experience, which he presented as multi-faceted, encompassing every possible degree between celebration and critique. When He Was Free And Young And He Used To Wear Silks was a revelation the first time I read it, so I gravitated toward “Give us This Day: And Forgive us” as a source of borrowed inspiration for my contribution to this issue of The Puritan: a romantic couple doomed to failure, an eviction (the psychological effects deriving therefrom), and a character uninterested in political activity and metamotivation because their basic needs have not been realized.

 

Now he was like a man out of his senses, going blind; the loss of love and the loss of pain which was pasted on the underside of love, and which had made that endurable…

– Austin Clarke

 

Roderick Borgloon was a boor, a fool, and a scrounger, but our separation all these years now didn’t make him any less my dependant than was humanly possible. When we were together, things were horrible for me on account of his sense of masculine remoteness, and his ability to reduce all the warmth of human contact into a wasted effort. The fact that Roddy knew this and still remained absent in my life in all the ways that mattered, crushed my faith in him and put a distance between us that I kept alive. He could be morose, entitled, thunderously opinionated to the point that you wanted out of his company and into a dark closet, but also thin-skinned and insecure (when I thought him at his best), nullifying my own expectations as a lover. He liked to complain about everything; the state of the world, the injustices that flung themselves onto the streets and into our paths unblessedly—what a world he painted in his mind, even if only half of it was true. Everything I was taught a man could aspire to, everything that a woman could expect in a romantic equal, found a cracked mirror in our domestic partnership (if I would dare call it that).

Part of my complaisance was due to how much I was being told that Roddy’s affections were all he could muster on another person’s behalf—unimaginable feat of compassion that it was—and that whatever shortcomings were derived from this paucity of feeling, they should not be measured against the virtues of a better person: Borgloon was Borgloon, but indeed he was mine. I would be reminded that it was something to have someone, someone to put up with, to coddle, to turn a blind eye to tomcatting, to endure his ridicule, and act as their only port of call for troubled odysseys.

Roddy wanted to be unhappy in life out of a pure ideal of wretchedness. I didn’t find this clarity until much later, when I could deliberate on the matter free from the annihilating influence of Roddy’s cynicism. I knew that he wasn’t interested in bettering himself; he wanted to have something to hold over you. He was poor, he was passed over, he was overeducated, and he never let anyone forget it. He loved to tell the story of how he compared pay stubs with a woman he was living with and asked her how in good conscience she could allow him to pay one red cent to live with her. Sane people push these antipathetic characters away, they maintain an undeluded distance. Over time Borgloon became my only kind of emotional sustenance. I experienced limerence over him, had sense abandon me and carve out hollow desire in its place (it was a sexual awakening for me). I absolutely needed the cheap emotions he could provide at the expense of my self-respect.


The first time I laid eyes on him, my legs nearly gave out—it was a low point, so sue me. I was never dragooned into feeling anything for him until much later. A Wrandam jacket brushing against a yellow tee shirt that read “Apex Novelties” gave the illusion of substance to his blushing boy’s body; ketchup-stained velvet flares flowed over a pair of jodhpurs whose soles were scrupulously fastened with staples, and a brown rollie usually dangled from his mouth. A vision if you were inclined to view it that way. His snub nose had the effect of rendering his face inert and risible. He had a nice enough set of teeth though, except for this one snaggletooth, which conveyed a heinous purpose that his conversation couldn’t honestly come by. A nose you couldn’t do anything about, that was just genetics, but hygiene told you everything you needed to know about a person.

When we discovered that both our families lived in Antananarivo, biology really took us by the reins. We Darwishes emigrated from Mauritius, the Rabinurs were Malagasy—Roddy took the name Borgloon after the city where he bedded his first white woman. It’s hard to describe the feeling of finding another islander when you’ve spent all this time feeling isolated and alone. When it’s a romantic attachment, it’s akin to jouissance, but cut with paranoia and an appalling need. In no time at all, I was rotated among a roster of other doe-eyed women in a cycle of anti-domesticity, non-entanglement, what have you. I was the only non-white woman. You couldn’t get Borgloon to commit to anything in his mind not worth committing to, but that was his way and the way of many young men who came before and after him.

I thought I could disabuse the city of Roddy’s exaltedness one rut at a time.

Borgloon and I had been engaged in this open arrangement for about eight or nine months when I found out I was with his child. I knew that I wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible. Having a baby here would take the decision of going back to Pereybere out of my hands, and I was far too young to become a mother. I assumed that I would be ploughing a lonely furrow. Roddy did not give me an opportunity to discuss the future before he broke all contact with me like the coward I, by this time, suspected him to be (double-dyed-in-the-wool, podgy little brute who dashed off when life got hard). I don’t care how he found out about this little detail. I wouldn’t have to look very hard because I could count on my hands the people I told in strictest confidence the nature of my predicament—Barbara, Harriet, Sveta; that is, the other women who dabbled in Roddy’s affections with me.

I lost the child naturally. I had something called a tubal pregnancy, which saved me the trouble of paying out of pocket for an operation. I don’t know that I would have been able to get the time off work without getting fired in any event, so this was fortunate for me (in the broad sense). This was not the sticking point. It was the way Roddy went about it that had me at the end of my tether; that for all his high talk about the absence of rectitude among the taskmasters of society, when push came to shove, he was just like every other motherfucker in the world without any kind of class. It’s silly how this became the sore spot, more than his pusillanimity. I should probably explain what I mean about Roddy’s two-facedness a bit better. I will try.

I would run into his associates asking after Roddy all the time; everywhere I went I couldn’t avoid someone who knew us formerly as a couple. There was this one dullard named Studholme who I slept with to get back at Roddy. He used to always jingle around with loose change in his pockets so people might think how hard up he was. “Where’s Borgloon? I’m weary-sick, he’s got the cure for what ails me.” “Oh, go hang,” I’d say. This was how we sort of first hit it off; I thought I could disabuse the city of Roddy’s exaltedness one rut at a time.

Studholme asked me why things ended with Roddy—I became very well-versed in this exercise. People would be dismayed to hear their patron saint of hypocrite scholastics impugned, even after I told them what he did to me. They would go on polishing his pedestal like a mea culpa was a slate-cleaner—how altruistic Roddy was, on the beam and working more righteously than anyone else to redress all manner of social ills. If they weren’t sleeping with him, they were waiting for his benediction. One night Studholme was giving it to me a little rougher than usual. He collapsed on top of me and asked if I could recall the last thing Roddy was reading.

Roddy didn’t care that much that Studholme and other maundering, pseudo-thinkers looked to what he represented in the way of validation to their respective causes as a way to stiffen their resolve. Roddy was no academic, but he wasn’t what I’d call a novitiate either; well-read in his own way, coming at a lot of information second-hand. I had no problem with organizing, but it was hard not to laugh at how low the bar was being set among this group. Flag-burning, Maoist calisthenics, people’s war in the Golden Horseshoe. The Rosedale-Marxists were learning how to crawl (to and from their Stutz Blackhawks, I suppose).

The least deluded person in the room still partakes in the grand delusion.

For every reason Borgloon gave you to despise him, he also reminded you how brilliant he could be. I would oscillate between opposing poles of feeling. I sometimes experienced his comrades’ incredulity at hearing Borgloon and I hailed from Africa, followed by their disappointment in not much more than a look that seemed to say, “Ah, I wish we knew some real Africans.” Borgloon made an excellent point about how if we weren’t being fetishized for the currency our lives could give their theories, we were being decried by these deputies taking offence in our honour for losing our roots in the unnavigable canyons of the white world. It was but a handsel of Borgloon’s insight, and I fell a little in love with him after he expressed this. Suddenly, we were too white for their liking, this vanguard often composed of white men and women themselves. The only thing worse was when they worshipped the ground we walked on. What’s left is altogether benign and mundane, I’ll be the first to admit, but since when did Borgloon and I care if something was du rigueur or not to be to our liking?

I respected Roddy’s zeal but I had no patience for causes célèbres that were becoming fashionable (they smacked of undiscerning clubism). To me, arriving at the right conclusion was for nought if you did not come about it legitimately, through a pertinacious individualism. Everybody had to take a stand for some thing or other, God forbid you be ignorant on these matters! Didn’t rub someone’s nose in on their absorption in a tyrannized life. The problem with cultural ascendency is that all the bozos start getting on the train. A lot of Roddy’s associates were holding what I called “slummocking contests:” who could sink into squalor the fastest, who could ape the working class more convincingly, secure the job that sapped the most physical labour out of them. Studholme left a job in high finance to become a longshoreman! I had never seen anything like it (he used to crawl into bed next to me smelling to high heaven of fish) and I had to break his heart over it.

My point being that though Borgloon was better than most pietists, this was a small consolation to someone like me. The least deluded person in the room still partakes in the grand delusion. With any luck, I will have explained my frame of mind during this turbulent time with some degree of preciseness, if not detachment.


I put two years—not so long a time as one would think—between the pregnancy and seeing Roddy again, years when I desperately tried not to think about his rack and ruin wherever I was that reminded me of him. It was nearly impossible, but I forced him out like any other thing worth doing—sort of like a bad way you’d been doing fractions. I’d been Borgloon-free for a long time when I was huddled in the corner of a St. Clair dance club one evening, I guess it would be about 1970, 1971. I just remember that Bill C-150 had just passed, so old wounds were starting to open again. I was cramped on one end of a counter that curved around a diamond-shaped bar. I saw that across from me Roddy was nursing a bottle of Zundert.

I was unfazed by the coincidence. After a few years living here, you become completely familiarized with the lengths to which the city will tinker with you – it’s still too tiny even with its corners stretching far and wide like a choked balloon. I think it was my ability to focus a lapseless conviction that placed me on the royal road to kissing my emotional arrears goodbye. I just knew that I had to talk to him. I wasn’t planning on anything beyond a verbal confrontation. I pushed my way through the crowd to his side and without turning to look, I remember how in a practiced, incurious way between sips he greeted me with, “What it is, what it is.”

I steadied my hand on his wrist. “Look at me, Roddy.”

He tittered behind the bottle at the mention of his name, which he brought across his face as one would defend themselves from a doust across the chin. “Roddy, listen to me. I came over because I know the least you could do is stand me some drinks.” He agreed before recognizing me, like this was a common occurrence with women approaching him in strange bars. He was chuckling while sifting through the receipts in his wallet. “You still drinking the same?”

It turned out I was Roddy’s first visitor since the accident. Pathetic could not begin to describe the affair.

When the drink came, I knocked it over with my elbow. This really tickled Roddy. “I’ll have another,” I said. Roddy took up the glove because I appealed to his competitive nature. I knocked over the next Nick & Nora glass too. Roddy continued to foot the bill, and was still not pressing the matter. I was within an ace of a slap in the face though, I can tell you that much. The barkeep made a motion with his hand to chastise me when he gathered up the shattered glass, but Roddy took him by the scruff of his neck and shoved him into the people sitting on the barstools next to us.

The third drink I actually tasted, and I could tell that Roddy was both prepared to finish this absurd game of hawk-dove as the winner, but also relieved that he would not waste an entire packet of wages on a matter of personal pride. This rigmarole continued for a few minutes more, but I had moved on to taking sips of my drink, and then emptying its contents into Roddy’s beverages, spoiling them for him. “That’s enough, Cheree! When I get back, we’re going to stop this foolishness. You looking for a handout for your kid, I don’t blame you.”

Roddy hot-headedly navigated the way to the toilet. When he was gone, I told a few people, the barkeep included, that I wanted to buy them all a round of their pleasure to make up for the disturbance. This was mostly received with nervous approval, barkeep’s face in particular turning to sour mush. I sat there for a few moments, waited for when he ducked down to fetch some glasses, and then swiftly exited the Maple Leaf Ballroom, where I put the entire episode—minus the priceless look on Roddy’s sozzled face I would have to imagine to see—behind me.

I really expected this to be the last of Roddy’s hide and hair in my life. I am not a vindictive person by nature (turnabout is fair play). I dispelled the possibility of future engagements with my former lover-leman. If we were walking on the same street, why I would just cross over to the other side and look away. That’s how big I was prepared to be about it. I knew that he would never step through the club again even if you crossed his palm with all the silver in the world. What had transpired between us hadn’t been notable enough for me to rationalize avoiding going there though. It was one of those insignificant episodes that dotted my life, not to say I was prone to retributions. I found myself at the Ballroom again for a work function a few months later. It was Lotte’s bachelorette party if I’m remembering correctly, one of the other girls in my boss’s typing pool. It wasn’t worth the recognition of knowing that we were in the exact same place where Roddy had received his comeuppance—I had come to enjoy myself.

I barely got inside and ordered a drink when a man strode purposefully toward me and grabbed my arm so abruptly that he cracked a bone. He dragged me along with him like he was being pursued by dogs of war. I was about to cry foul when I caught the profile of his face and recognized him for the bartender Roddy had manhandled. I expected he was going to have choice words. I was prepared to take it in stride, but then I was seized by a panicked notion that Roddy had caused a more sensational scene than I originally gave him credit for. We stopped in a dining alcove by a framed Konupek print that helped steady my wandering eye as barkeep began to twaddle away. I wasn’t really listening when he put some money into the payphone, pulled out a card from his wallet, and dialled a number on it. He handed me the phone and blocked my way with his arm. I stared at his heaving chest as the dial tone gave way to a voice that spoke too closely to the receiver.

An hour later I was picked up by 13 Division. They wanted to know anything I could tell them about Roddy. I was there to fill in the blanks, so I had them return the favour. Someone in the bar had seen Roddy plonking down cash hand over fist, first for my drinks, then for Mr. Nervig’s (the barkeep) double shots of Seagram’s, and five other patrons. Roddy seemed unperturbed by the expenditure. On his way out, Roddy had been followed and felled a few blocks east of the bar around Oakwood Ave. He was knocked unconscious with a brick. The officers wanted to know what I could tell them and if I thought there was a pre-existing relationship with his attacker or with Nervig. “Double neg-a-tive.”

I am not an unfeeling person you have to understand; I would have been moved by far less cruelty. Through some first-rate sleuthing (the investigating officer told me), I was able to find the hospital Roddy was checked into, and was met with disapproval by the hospital staff. One nurse upbraided me with having taken so long to visit Roddy. “What do you mean?” I asked. It turned out I was Roddy’s first visitor since the accident. Pathetic could not begin to describe the affair, even if most of Roddy’s family, excepting his mother, weren’t even on the continent.

Religion hadn’t been in my life long enough to knock that much sense out of me.

Roddy remained in a coma for several weeks after my visit, and awoke to permanent damage to his left eye, impairing his vision, some clotting in the brain, and neurological difficulties the effects of which would not reveal themselves until more tests were scheduled and time passed. I was told that I should be incredibly patient with Roddy, and expect a long, unpredictable way ahead. They assumed that I was his legal guardian—I didn’t argue the point.

Fate intervening like this often chastens your attitude, making its intercessions known forcefully; this wasn’t the case with me. I felt no compulsion to feel guilt over lightening the money in Roddy’s pocket. I wasn’t going to accept ownership of that. Religion hadn’t been in my life long enough to knock that much sense out of me.

All the same, I took Roddy into my home because as far as I could tell, he had nowhere else to go. He said he couldn’t let his mother see him in this state. He didn’t have any of the same friends as when I knew him (shocking). They either tired of his grandstanding or were excommunicated as quislings from his inner circle. It was supposed to be only for a few days anyway, or until he got back on his feet—whichever came sooner.

What happened when we went to his home address was that his landlady said she’d deposited all his things on the curb weeks ago and had leased the apartment to another tenant on account of Roddy being out of contact and not paying his rent. She assumed he had abandoned the unit. I told her the unvarnished truth and she said she regretted what had happened, but that there was nothing she could do; in the eyes of the law, she was in the right. She advised that if we didn’t want all our dirty immigration secrets coming out, we’d do well enough to stay away. I was unsurprised by the nature of the insinuation—I’d looked for apartments before. It was an easy thing to steal her welcoming mat and throw it a block away in some bushes.

So while I wasn’t overwrought with emotion about my hand in Roddy’s injury, now faced with his imminent homelessness, well I was not prepared to have that on my conscience just yet, even if I suspected a few nights living with me gave Roddy no near end of satisfaction. This surely tipped the score back in his favour. Everything happened so quickly, I couldn’t really find the time to think of an excuse.

During this residency at my Pelham Park apartment, Roddy and I actually became close for the first time. We talked without reservation about our families (he could not stop asking questions about my father, the Derwish), our long term plans (whether we would be staying or going back to Antananarivo/Pereybere), the sort of childhoods we’d had, and in turn, what sort of child we would have theoretically raised had things shook out differently. I found that we shared several things in common and this made having him in my house easier to bear (the nine months we spent together previously weren’t spent talking). I helped Roddy with his disability applications; but he had made enough money as a warehouse foreman before his injury that he was rejected. I made sure we kept all his medical appointments in a logbook, and I prepared all his meals for him. The real downside to this living arrangement was that it really helped me to understand the maximalist type of politics Roddy espoused.

Just because one person was a prat didn’t damn his whole tribe to foolishness.

Like a lot of immigrants, he had not been treated well. Lump of labour, slurs, beatings, he’d seen it all. He believed all the whites had an axe to grind against us, that there was something in their blood that made them want to bring the whole world to heel. It wasn’t that I hadn’t experienced the same thing, but I just knew that you couldn’t lump people together like that, that you had to be very careful with how you phrased certain things if you wanted to be taken seriously or not fall into the trap of the crimes of the accused. Anything that explained too much in the way of analysis probably wasn’t worth the paper it was written on anyway. Roddy’s handle on how racialization occurred was inconsistent and gestational, constantly resetting and coming-into-being. This made for poor listening. I preferred to let people put their feet in their mouths before I judged them too harshly. Then again, it wasn’t as if I was prepared to let them wear the mark of Cain for an eternity. Just because one person was a prat didn’t damn his whole tribe to foolishness.

I would say something I thought was fairly innocuous by way of counterpoint—say that where we came from didn’t make what we had to say more valuable, what others had to say less so, at least not as a hard and fast rule, unless we wanted to get nowhere fast. This kind of provocation would make him erupt like a man possessed with the spirit of the devil himself. He would storm and rage and heap his accusations together in the crucible of his trauma-nudged brain and then send them out half formed into the world. “You know what you are, Cheree, you-you think you’re a tall poppy and that if you have enough grit with your oats, you’ll make something of yourself. And you might, but you’ll always be the song, not the singer!”

I only had to contradict him to be shut out completely. I came to believe that his nominal values had nothing to do with the kind of person he was. His temperament was one that thrived on conflict. It forced him to see what he was made of. I had never met someone so insecure about who they were, who needed constant validation for their understanding of personhood, while simultaneously doing self-violence to that conception.

On the subject of sleeping with white women: “They’re just looking for some slum gully to pick out their teeth later. Lord help me if we don’t all go hungry once they develop a liking for the taste.”

On the subject of white plenitude: “The whites have never had their status positioned as relational, fungible with lesser others. Potato famine, Holodomor, these are what I call minor oblations to God. Look how these so-called afflicted peoples come back to wreak vengeance on the coloured world. They can’t even die like regular people.”

On the subject of white liberalism: “I’m not here so you can take a hazard-free picture with me to shave a few points off your white-guilt card. Enlightenment isn’t a fucking beauty pageant among yourselves. It’s a cudgel I wield to bludgeon your face with!”

On the subject of white essentialism: “White consciousness is what I call a ravenous monism. If you are not careful, it will devour you and before you know it, you’ll be picking wild mushrooms and citing the Bavarian Purity Law at supper time.”

The hostilities grew between us until I could no longer tolerate being called on the carpet in my own home, subject to Roddy’s legendary tirades. He wasn’t just a bad guest, he was impeding my ability to have company (he would pick a fight with everyone that did venture to come). I knew things could not stand as they did for much longer. Enduring the feeling that I was beneath his contempt because we did not observe the same political pieties was out of the question. I felt like I was reliving our relationship again.

Then one day a woman claiming to be Roddy’s mother showed up at my door (she looked the part). Roddy left without so much as a belated “thank you” for putting him up and feeding him for three months. Strangely, I began to miss his presence, as I had never had anyone waiting for me in the apartment after I returned from work, and Roddy was the first man I ever laid with. I quickly overcame this outpouring of sentimentalism though. I got on with my life and privately swore that I would not see another Malagasy man again socially, and cursed Roddy for turning me into one of his essentializing acolytes, a thing I vowed would never happen.


The next time Roddy came crashing through my life—yes, he did come back—was a little under a year after he vacated my apartment. He was waiting on my stoop as I returned from buying groceries, and asked if I could put him up again for a few nights. His latest housing situation had fallen through. I was circumspect about letting him into my home again, so asked instead how his health was doing. “I don’t trust doctors to go nosing around where they shouldn’t be, and then charge me medicine money for the pleasure. What a hup-ho world we live in.”

He appealed to my growing insecurities and flattered my sense of worthlessness living in a city that seemed to compound my difficulties as a single woman advancing beyond her “prime” (that and it seemed like he was in desperate need of a bath). I was starting to exhibit some of the world-weariness he displayed a year before. Perhaps on account of this symmetry, my growing loneliness, I agreed to his staying, on the condition that he would not reside with me longer than a week.

As he finished on my stomach, he mumbled into my ear, “You are my bitch of infinite resignation?”

I found Borgloon to be very withdrawn this time; totally expressionless at times. I began to ask myself if something drastic had occurred to him. This could have been made more prominent because of the contrast in his personality and how he behaved previously. We did not discuss where he was living before, as I was mostly occupied with work (I left the typing pool and was now employed at a busy government office). This time he provided for himself in the way of food and drink. I threw out the newspapers in the house so that nothing could incite a diatribe, and made sure never to be inside when the nightly news came on. These precautions proved unnecessary, however—Roddy was a model guest. We did not discuss politics at all. I assumed he finally learned some manners and decided not to provoke his host needlessly. He helped with the washing up, the cleaning, and was quiet when I retired to bed while he stayed awake drinking tisane, watching Al Waxman on King of Kensington or Front Page Challenge.

On what was to be the agreed-upon final night of his stay, he warily came into my bedroom. He waited at the door until I stirred, and asked me if he could come in. “What’s the matter?” I demanded. He made no reply, approached me, and sat at the foot of the bed. He began massaging my feet. I found this gesture disarming, at the same time pleasurable. I was moved by how companionable he was being, and we ended up almost going to bed together. At the last minute, something came over me, maybe a remembrance of our earlier indiscretion. I pushed his hands away gently and declined his advances. He stopped, then continued to caress my belly while he lay beside me. We fell asleep together in the bed for what seemed the briefest of moments, and then sexual contact resumed, though in an abbreviated, less stimulating fashion that made it impossible for a second offense. As he finished on my stomach, he mumbled into my ear, “You are my bitch of infinite resignation?” The following morning, Roddy left the apartment to do God knows what. All that was missing from the apartment were a few loaves of bread and some cold cuts from the fridge.

Between this and the final time Roddy came to visit me, I thought of him often and more fondly than I had been accustomed. I was preoccupied with being able to quieten his beliefs, or at least moderate their expression through marriage. I was scared that I was going to die alone and unloved in a country that passed me over for being unversed in its ways, undesirable in its conceptions of beauty. I had worked contract after contract in different offices doing secretarial work, and it just seemed as if I would never be on the same playing field as the whites. It’s not that I began to wonder if there was a ring of truth to some of Roddy’s ideas, it’s that I was worried that if I didn’t advance in society, I would turn into him and be eaten from the inside by the violent emotions that stirred.

But then I met Ousmane, who couldn’t be more different from Roddy if he tried, and I realized what a mistake it would have been if Roddy and I had somehow stayed together. I’m not saying that this kind of relationship is what Roddy was missing in his life to be content, but this was definitely true in my case. I was living with Ousmane for a little over a year, and we were expecting the birth of our first daughter, Nora, when we heard a knock on the door. No one was more surprised than I that Roddy had returned. I took the first time for a one-off sort of situation primarily about getting even, and the second for an apathetic attempt at reconciliation. He looked ghastly. Undernourished, unkempt, and smelly. The most noticeable feature though were the gummas that deformed his face. I had never seen anything like it at the time. I didn’t understand what they were, I just knew that they were horrid and made looking at Roddy in the face a murderous task.

‘You can only use your cock as a divining rod for so long before it catches up with you.’

Ousmane had seen enough of these symptoms in Djibouti to take a pre-emptive position about the whole thing. He stepped in front of me and ordered Roddy to leave at once. Roddy became agitated and emotional. Ousmane, not really knowing what to do, took the coat rack by the door and flung it in Roddy’s direction. Roddy lurched forward with his torso, not really threateningly, but Ousmane put his whole back into getting Roddy to clear the entrance of our apartment. Then my husband slammed the door in Borgloon’s face and fastened the lock. We looked through the peephole to see Borgloon emerge from the cocoon of our coats he’d become tangled with. He screamed into the door for several minutes before leaving, taking all the welcome mats from the other units with him.

I asked if Ousmane was sure about what was wrong with Borgloon, he said of course that he wasn’t, but that I should get checked if Borgloon was who he suspected. “You can only use your cock as a divining rod for so long before it catches up with you.” I had never heard my husband speak so coarsely before. I tried to tell Ousmane that I was fine: the first prenatal visit would have alerted us to anything, and unless it could be transmitted by the shaking of hands, the last time I was with Roddy wouldn’t amount to anything. Ousmane, who was known for a clinical disposition in all matters facing his private life, was ready to go around the bend, so I did what I was told and came back with the paper to prove it.


This incident with Ousmane was the very first time that I ever felt shame in my dealings with Borgloon. I believed I had turned my back on someone who needed my help, which would have cost me almost nothing. The last thing he needed from someone he trusted was a childish repugnance. I kept telling myself that Nora was my priority, and that I would have to do whatever it took to mentally and physically prepare for bringing her into the world. This meant Borgloon falling by the wayside, constituting a distraction. And like with most things that did not immediately pertain to my advancement or happiness, I did not give much thought to Roderick “Borgloon” Rabinur in my later stages of life—nineteen year’s worth of not caring, an onerous legacy to stare in the face.

Other events outstripped the traces of Borgloon’s impression, and I looked upon all the calamity and cause for celebration that I had wrought—a marriage, a divorce, the death of my father, two fully grown daughters, one of diminished standing in our family because of choices I could not approve of, a blossoming and bloomed career in the civil service, a life-defining friendship with my friend Rhonda—with the admiration that comes with knowing there was not one thing that gathered about my life which wasn’t of my own making.

Everyone’s an asshole deep down inside, being better at hiding it doesn’t mark you out for a prize.

Despite these regrets, a part of me still feels as though I don’t have to justify the tack I took with Borgloon. Nineteen years on and I still think his politics are shit. I don’t disagree with them but I feel the conclusions they led him to bear the distinct marks of laziness. The Borgloon I remembered believed that to be whole, someone else had to be incomplete, and he had been living with a lack so large that you could hide fifty broken consciousnesses inside it. It was someone else’s turn to chomp at the bit. Conformity was the mark of a weak intellect, assimilation was a subterfuge. Never back down. Never double back. Disappear beyond the even tenor of life, forward into an irrefragable tomorrow. These tenets align well enough with my own, but Borgloon used it as a pretext to treat people shoddily. I know that I had done the same thing to him through other motivations, but at least I knew I could be an asshole—Borgloon pretended he wasn’t familiar with the term. I suspect that being on the right side of history doesn’t count for much if you act like a tosser half the time. Borgloon’s ideas, or better to say those which influenced him and he borrowed, gained traction over the years, and all these bloody contrarians fancying them Davids to society’s Goliaths started coming out of the woodwork. This only further aggravated my feelings on the subject. Everyone’s an asshole deep down inside, being better at hiding it doesn’t mark you out for a prize.

As I have said before, it’s possible that on some level I resented Borgloon for his worldview more than for any one act he committed against me; that for the purpose of denying there being some inherent quality that governed us and conferred honorific this-ness and that-ness, I put up an impenetrable wall around myself. I never let anyone else define who I was or could be, even if it would serve my interests in the long run. That kind of political conniving will blot out the sun before it lays its hands on me. So maybe I didn’t reject a sick and afflicted Borgloon… I sent him to damnation because I didn’t like the colours on his mast. This gives me a queasy feeling inside. It makes me feel petty and unresourceful. It tells me that I stood for nothing except that I stood apart from Borgloon—a negative philosophy whose adoption is not a particularly hard thing to do. I made nothing of myself in its stead, and in the dark of creation, I let a man who no one cared about sink into the rot and despair of destitution. Yet what I still mostly remember is what a heel he was. We’re all only human I suppose.

I don’t know what roads Roderick ended up at exactly, what laid in store for him. He probably died like a dog in the streets, his head swollen and distorted beyond recognition. I do know that for a time he lived in a tent in Queen’s Park with the johns and hustlers and cocksuckers for company. He had a companion in the end, a woman covered in chancres who was devoted enough to live outside in the Canadian winter with him begging for change, and who he, for a reason no one has been able to determine yet, half-strangled to death one morning until she was able to fight him off and flee. She sought nearby shelter at the Women’s College Hospital a few blocks from where they were camped out. It took nineteen years for this tinkering coincidence to find me, for Sveta to call me on the phone one day making no sense whatsoever about how she had come into work and witnessed a frantic woman in tears screaming, “Borgloon trynna kill me!” at the top of her lungs. The blood drained right out of Sveta’s face because that was not a name she had heard in almost a decade. She thought of me afterwards and found my number through Barbara, who Ousmane had taken as his second wife after he had used her to desecrate the memory of his first.

Sveta was as unreliable as they come, but she never lied about Borgloon when we were “all pointillists in the Borgloon picture,” as she used to put it. Sex made her walk and talk the straight and narrow unlike most people. When she said that Borgloon made his way into the hospital after chasing his partner across Grosvenor St. looking like a ghoul advancing through a lazar house and wearing a tee shirt for a bandana that read “Apex Novelties,” I knew for sure it was him.

All so suddenly it became incidental if Borgloon was right about the causes of his afflictions and trials.

I was working on the third floor of Whitney Block at this time—I had come a long way. It was no effort at all to come running down to meet Sveta and see him with my own eyes. The security staff of the hospital were being very patient with Borgloon, mainly keeping him at a safe distance from Shanna, the woman he came to retrieve and who stoutly believed he’d come to finish the job he started. Borgloon was just pacing around menacingly. Sveta was huddled in a corner while I was mesmerized by the flood of memories I saw dancing in my head: his stapled jodhpurs, being alone at my first prenatal visit, knocking over his drinks at the Maple Leaf Ballroom, his convalescence at my apartment, stealing the Pelham Park welcoming mats. My reminiscences ended when I heard Borgloon muttering to himself something about “There’s no way Le Rallic is dead, because Shanna is French and she doesn’t do the dishes.” I unravelled when I heard this gibberish.

I almost traversed the invisible boundary separating the onlookers and guards from Borgloon, but my feet were fastened to the floor. He was practically a Swiss watch when I kicked him out of my apartment compared to the pig’s breakfast of a man he’d become. All so suddenly it became incidental if Borgloon was right about the causes of his afflictions and trials. Perhaps it wasn’t even important if my own ideas about how Borgloon got to where he got to were correct—what exactly led him there, be it disease, injury, or societal indifference. In the end, the fact that he was slogging the pathways of a park in the dead of winter living in a jerry-rigged tent was all that should have mattered.

With more deliberating than I care to admit, I decided that I would bring along with me a thermos of soup and some poisson sale in a container the next day for Borgloon. I packed these away in my purse with care, rode the subway to work, and sat with apprehension thinking on the many ways the meeting could go. I left my home earlier than usual, so that approaching Borgloon would not affect my work schedule. I gave it an hour. I disembarked, walked out of the station, and crossed over to the Legislative Assembly building and passed Wellesley. I went tromping through Queen’s Park, checking all the benches, above and behind Austrian pines, and beneath the monuments for a sign of Borgloon’s existence. I found nothing.

I didn’t have the strength to go combing through hospital registers on my lunch hour every day. I made a half-hearted call to Rhonda and asked her if she had ever met someone matching Borgloon’s description at St. Albans, the homeless shelter she worked at. She said that if my life ever depended on giving a description of a stalker that was terrorizing me, they would have made a movie about him and sold his letters online before they dug up my remains. Then she hung up the phone. I have not seen him again to this day, and I don’t expect to tomorrow.

 


Jean Marc Ah-Sen was born in East York, Ontario, in 1987. He is the author of Grand Menteur  and lives in Toronto with his wife and son. Find Ah-Sen on Facebook.

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