by Kirk Mason

Kirk Mason lives in Toronto where he reads and writes and ties his own shoelaces.


It’s cold. My feet are cold. There’s a draft on my ankles from I don’t know where and I’m waking up to a pain in my bladder. The film in my mouth tastes like I’ve been drinking paint. I part my eyes a crack and soft, purple light filters in. I’m breathing in fresh laundry. This is not my bed. This can’t be my bed. I don’t sleep on my back and my sheets aren’t so clean. There is smoke in my sheets.

With my foot, I try to push the sheet towards my toes. Jimmy’s sheet. It can only be Jimmy’s lilac sheet and this can only be Jimmy’s house because I’m waking now and I do remember being with him last night, celebrating. But now I feel sick. I swear there’s paint in my mouth, coating my gums and my tongue and I decide to not speak, to not utter another word. Ever.

I can’t bear to explain myself.

My bladder is heavy like a bag of sand. I think sand but picture a bag of sugar. Brown sugar. Sweet and heavy and moist.

I roll from the couch and walk, hunched, to Jimmy’s bathroom. While peeing, I count his toothbrushes and I’m envious. Inside my mouth, the paint is turning to moss.

Back in the living area now, I’m seeing the sun make its way into Jimmy’s living space through the buildings some distance away. I have never seen the sun in Jimmy’s space. We don’t hang out at this time of the day.

Memories. Things remembered. I need to sit and not throw up.

On the table next to me, a folding card table laden with CDs. On the corner of the table, wrapped in silver foil paper, a massive burrito. Things remembered. Bits coming back. Jimmy bought food. Last night, this morning, at the end of it all. On my way out, as I was checking out, Jimmy bought food.

“I don’t want to do this anymore.” I remember saying it last night, sitting on this couch. But I couldn’t tell you what I was referring to; couldn’t tell you what “this” means or why it’s more than “that.”

I will eat. I’m sure this body needs it. I need it.

I limp over to Jimmy’s oven, set a safe heat and place the burrito, in its foil, near the mouth of the oven, just inside the door. I will wait now.

It’s Sunday. That means work tomorrow. Another week of work and I can’t bear another. Not like this last one.

And I would tell them that I no longer care. I refuse to do this anymore. And beneath lies a more crushing and simple truth.

There is silence here, in Jimmy’s space. If I sit still I hear only my own heart between my ears and the rhythm is slow enough to make me sleep again. Jimmy will be sleeping for a while. For now, it’s just me.

Memories. Things remembered. There are bits coming back. I think I said his name. I’m sure of it. We must have drank a lot then.

What a week! All I wanted was some respite from my responsibilities, a pass from my past. This week was hell. I’m sure now that I’ve made it worse. And what could my weak heart say but … “Please. I don’t want to do this anymore.” I’m alone now in Jimmy’s space, but if I had an audience they’d say, “Be bold! Speak!” And I would tell them that I no longer care. I refuse to do this anymore. And beneath lies a more crushing and simple truth. But first:

Walk with me for seven days.

The week begins in a blaze, or rather, with a blaze. My car, old as it is, broken as it is, failing as it is, catches fire and leaves me stranded. It burns out on the highway. An act of protest. An allegory. I carry the scent of it with me.

Tired already from last week’s 12-hour days, I say no to work the next morning and enjoy sleep for the first time in too long. I stretch. And turn. And sleep on my other side. I don’t sleep on my back. I’m enveloped in my blue comforter; insulated from the responsibilities of outside.

In the night, I test drive two cars on an empty stomach and regret not eating. When the salesman starts with the “so what can I do for you?” and the “can you do something today?” and the “what’s stopping you?” I want to tell him that it must be the will of God stopping me from getting up and walking out. 400 dollars a month! For six years! No sir, thank you. I need to go home and look at my budget. I like it, it’s true, especially in blue, but I need to look at my finances. Six years is a long time, sir, and I have things that I might want to do sometime in the next 72 months.

But back to now, back to Sunday, and my head hurts. I blink slowly and listen to my stomach signal that it’s ready for food. I tell myself that getting up is the best thing for me and do it, get up, and walk over to the oven. I open the door, tap the tin-foiled mass and roll it over quickly. Shut the door. Walk back. Sit.

The sugar. It must be the sugar in the rum that has my head like this; heavy, like a bag of sand. Maybe I’m developing an allergy to sugar. Adult-onset. It didn’t used to be like this. I used to drink lots of rum. Lots and lots of rum.

On my way to work I see towers going up; each day a little closer to the sun. They stand tall and imposing over us, down here. I see them from the bus. I look at the construction cranes and try to work out just how much money is being assembled into shape before me. People are building homes, taking trips, buying rings, driving cars. At this moment my car is exhausted and burnt out.

400 a month for a car means no retirement, no rest. No way.

Mid-week my jaw hurts. I’m not sleeping well. I’m stressed in my sleep.

Memories. Things remembered. The bits that are coming back are hard, hard bits and they hurt and they poke and stab. You were out of control. This is what you say, my love. You tell me this two days ago, November first, as I’m lying on your couch wanting to disappear.

You were beyond high. It was the sugar, the sweetness in that rum. It went to my head.

I work 12 hours most days this week and when Thursday comes I tell you we are going out for Halloween. I haven’t been out in a while. I deserve it. We’re going to have a good time.

I go to the liquor store and buy a rum, a special rum. I make sure we have Coke. And we go.

I get up from Jimmy’s couch to check the burrito in the oven. I’ll let it stay. The heat is low. I want to warm, not burn.

You were beyond high. You didn’t mean it. I don’t use drugs. Just sugar, distilled and fermented. But you were not lying, love. I was in a great mood. It was Halloween. We were going out; first to my co-worker’s new house, then to meet your friends at a party. I was in high spirits.

I walked to their house so high that I held your hand without shame.

We get to the house and it’s small and stressful and I can tell you want to leave. But I’ve come to celebrate. So I present the rum and they open it and my co-worker passes me a drink and touches my arm. I want to tell her, “you shouldn’t touch me like that because my love will see and think hot thoughts, incendiary thoughts, and burn you in her mind.”

When my first drink is finished, I leave you to chat with my co-worker and limp into the kitchen to fix another. There are Cokes here and I didn’t need to travel with my own. I make small talk with the men and learn how much it costs to buy a home in this neighbourhood. That won’t be happening for me. Not now. Not yet.

This week was hell with the 12-hour days, but standing here listening, a passive participant, I remember a conversation from mid-week:

“Why work half a day at something you hate? Why waste half a life?”

I nodded.

And they asked, “How can someone as bright as you go to work and surround himself with conversations about purses? And golf clubs. That’s for people who live in Oakville. Not people as bright as you.”

I’m thinking of my car, burst into flame.

This week was hell. Yet in the middle of it all, a sage.

I take the burrito from the oven and unwrap the foil on the card table. Some CDs fall and I worry that I’ll wake Jimmy.

Looking into last night’s burrito, just out of the oven, I’m wondering, when did I fall? And I did fall too, that night on the Island. We celebrated my granny as we put her in the ground. And he was there. And I know I fell ’cause I awoke with marks on my body and blood on my shirt and no explanation but “you got crazy, cousin!”

We leave and head to the party to meet your friends. I’m in a great mood. It’s Halloween. I wear a smile for a disguise.

We get to the party and I order more rum. You take nothing, not even water. I’m having so much fun now. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun. I’m invincible. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much rum.

I had stopped drinking rum ’cause bad things would happen.

I think of it now and touch my face. I imagine myself emptying my lungs of their stale air, their stale, foul, dead air; gasping and shrieking and feeling new.

Here there are no memories; no things remembered; no bits at all. What I know I know from you. I’m stamping my feet and shrieking, bellowing at the top of my lungs. You were yelling so loudly your cheeks were shaking. This is what you tell me later. I think of it now and touch my face. I imagine myself emptying my lungs of their stale air, their stale, foul, dead air; gasping and shrieking and feeling new.

You tell me that in another language, nearly in tongues, and with the full thrust of my lungs, I announced my name and my occupation to everyone in your party; a soldier announcing his defection.

The rest I can’t bear to imagine. But I hear your voice, low and hurt, your vocal chords tense. You, who’s so private … and I finish your thought now, sitting before my burrito, two days later on Jimmy’s couch. Me, who’s so private, handling and mishandling my love for all to see. Groping it violently; putting it on display.

There are strings in my burrito. It must be spaghetti. It can’t be cheese. I don’t eat cheese. I’ll give up lactose for Lent.

I only work half the day Friday. I’m riding in on the bus from your house, looking at the towers and from the window I see my cousin. Another cousin. Not him.

But this one is pushing a trolley and wearing a hard hat and I remember that he was always more hard-working than his brother. I’m proud of him and I’m not sure if it’s the image of this cousin working hard building towers or the residual alcohol—the sugar and rum—but I begin to feel tears coming.

I had stopped drinking rum because bad things would happen. When I was young, “bad things” meant rage. But now, older, I can’t control my tears.

It was the sugar, for sure. The sweetness in that rum went to my head.

I remember now the first time I touched rum after the break. I had given it up. But that night, surrounded by family and mourning a loss, mourning my granny, I went back. I went home. And he was with me. We were laughing and I was invincible.

We celebrated her, my father’s mother. And for my granny’s sake it was the first time since never that we enjoyed each other; all of her grandchildren, there on the Island. And he was there.

Walk with me for seven years.

Seven years ago he was a boy and I lived in his parents’ house, with him and my granny. He was a boy, too young to drink. So he didn’t drink rum when we did.

I get off the bus and limp into work. This week has been hell with the 12-hour days and the no sleep and my limp is bad again. It’s a shame, really. I’m limping to work because of an injury I never bothered to treat. It’s been one year. And it’s gotten worse.

It’s Friday and the work has eased up enough that I can manage in my state. In the late afternoon, I pick up a message from Jimmy that he wants to go out Saturday to celebrate a surprise. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be in the mood. But tonight I need rest.

I get in from work and call you. You don’t answer.

I fall asleep on top of my sheets, cocooned in my powder blue comforter, hands pressed to cheek, terrified of everything outside. In my sheets I smell smoke; the smoke of my burnt out car.

In my dream I walk into a men’s washroom. There are other men, older men, there. I lean into a corner tiled in white ceramic and begin to pee. I look up and realize that Jimmy is standing next to me. He’s saying something. I nod and look back. I’m pissing in my trousers—into the underwear, actually, which is sitting neatly in the pants as if I’ve stepped out of them with incredible care. Jimmy tells me his news. He is going to marry you. You have bought a house with Jimmy. And I’m pissing into my trousers.

I look at the door of Jimmy’s room now and realize how ridiculous that idea is. You don’t like Jimmy. And Jimmy has never mentioned you. And Jimmy is engaged to Melissa. He and I celebrated last night.

I’m finished with the burrito. I can’t eat anymore in the shape that I’m in. I can hear my heartbeat. I want to sleep.

Saturday night, last night, I meet Jimmy here, at his place. The sun is not shining through the buildings. It is night time. He is dressed and wearing cologne and he lends me one of his, a different one, so that we don’t smell the same. I can smell it now along with the sheets on the sofa and the smoke in my mind.

We go out. Jimmy tells me that he will propose to Melissa. They have discussed it. I am happy for them both. I tell him this.

We must celebrate now. I think of the money in my account and I’m glad I didn’t buy a car because already I’d be four hundred dollars short for my celebration. Jimmy pours us both rum, a special rum, from his cabinet. We cheers and celebrate.

At the bar, we drink more—rum and beer too—and I’m so happy that I approach girls I don’t know and tell them Jimmy’s good news.

Memories. Things remembered. And bits I can’t recall. I’m waiting in a cab and I see Jimmy in line for burritos. I see him through the window of the shop, blending in with the other trendy revellers. I’m less happy now. I want to be home.

The triggers are all the same—the triggers are all the shame.

Something happens that I can’t remember. The driver is banging the wheel and I’m shouting with the full force of my lungs. We leave one taxi for another. I’m near tears now and I don’t know why. An hour ago I was so happy. I was almost invincible. But now I want to cry. I want my powder blue comforter and I want rest. But my mind is still fighting.

The triggers are all the same—the triggers are all the shame. But the past is silly and it’s a shame to not move past it. For him especially. How many years does it take? How many years must pass?

Memories. Things remembered. Bits are flying out of me. I’m sitting on Jimmy’s couch, this very couch, and I’ve lost control and he has to hold my hand. Jimmy and I cry together and I can’t remember much of why. But I’m sure I said his name. I tell Jimmy that I get frustrated with life too, but that I couldn’t do what he did.

I wonder about my cousin. Did he hesitate? My cousin, 20 years old, was bigger than my dad, who is bigger than me. My cousin, 20 years old, was better than that.

When my father told me, I wanted to cry but couldn’t and sought a carnal release instead—with you.

I broke down eventually in the shower. In past lives, I’ve mishandled love. And I cried for my cousin like I cried for those girls; under hot water, in my tiled shower.

I stare into my burrito, half-eaten on the table. It must be spaghetti. I won’t eat cheese.

I want to leave. Jimmy is still asleep but I can slip out and he won’t mind. I pee again, then look at myself in the bathroom mirror. I must renounce my heritage. I can no longer drink rum. My body detests its frequency. Its amplitude overwhelms me; its highs and its lows.

I return to Jimmy’s living space. I wrap up the ends of my burrito and look for the garbage in the kitchen. The bag is full so I leave my half-eaten package on the counter, wrapped in tin foil paper. From Jimmy’s fridge I take a can of beer for my ride home.

It’s November third and the air is crisp. I wish I had gloves, especially with this cold can in my pocket. I check my phone. There is nothing from you. We have not spoken since Friday. In the subway there are people moving to and from church. I notice them now. I don’t ride the subway on Sundays. I had a car to take me places.

I remember now the last two times I drank rum. With my cousin, on the Island, as we put my granny into the ground. And months later again, for him, my cousin.

Sitting on the subway, my lip brushes a hair stuck to my can of beer. I look and it reminds me of you; it’s long and straight like one of yours. I remember that you were with me the night my cousin passed, and I understand that now I’ve lost you both.

After the subway, I will need a bus. And after the bus, I will go home and wash my sheets and my powder blue comforter and get into my bed and rest.

The train eases forward, gaining speed now. And I’m moving with it, heading home.


Kirk Mason lives in Toronto where he reads and writes and ties his own shoelaces.