canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Muffin Loves Pink Pistol

by Zoe Whittall

I make a fort of out my packed boxes, sit in the middle with a mason jar of coloured bills and sweaty change. I empty my purse out onto the floor. I'm waiting for my sister Emily show up, swearing her head off at all the one-ways in my neighbourhood. She's taking me back to Toronto. Toronto the good for nothing, I used to say. Now Toronto felt like a hammock, a mirage of water that was really water. My name is Ruby. When my mother dreamt me into being "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was her favourite song. She used to play a game with me as a child to entertain her friends. She'd ask, "Where were you born, Ruby?" and I'd put down my plastic blocks or finger-paints to say, "A crossfire hurricane!" and they'd laugh and laugh. Of course I'm Ruby Tuesday. I tell no one my middle name. On my last birthday I visited her in Toronto and she pulled the yellow ukulele out of the cupboard and played me my song. Muffin joined in and thought the whole thing was fabulous. His parents would never just sing for the sake of singing. He called my mom real. You're mom is so real, Ruby. I had been trying to leave my mother out of my terribly predictable identity crisis, but finally at my wits end, with my forehead pressed to the sweaty phone booth plastic at 2:00am when Muffin had forgotten to meet me at the bar, she said "He is a narcissist, Ruby. They make great poets, amazing rock stars, stinky lousy boyfriends." My mother was incapable of seeing our relationship as more complicated than this reduction. Muffin was a "Type of Man" my mother easily identifies, as though all men could be pinned to a tray and labelled like butterflies. I punched the phone-booth glass, my new ring digging into my finger; this symbol bruising me. My mother had said, "It's a good idea for you to come home for a while. I'll call your sister. She's got some free time, she can come pick you up. Go home and pack your things. Do something positive." I hung up the phone and put my greasy hands to my face.

I packed it all up, found a sublet-er, and now here I am in this fortress of my belongings emptying my handbag onto the floor. The purse is red, hot, I press my tongue to the leather expecting cinnamon. What am I doing? I look around self-consciously. But my roommate is still sleeping. Mario would wake up soon but I was alone with my objects, no one to see me unravelling.

I alphabetize my purse's contents splayed like toys on my floor. A — Agenda book, (Slingshot, anarchist day-timer) B — Bus transfers, Book (Things Fall Apart), Bike chain bracelet, C — Cinnamon sticks in a plastic bag, E — Eyeliner, three shades, all stubs, G — Gun, fake, hollow pink and plastic, shoots water, I — Inhaler, K — Keys, L — Lip-gloss, lipstick and lip moisturizer, R) rock from beach last summer, P — Pens, six, all fine point, four in working order, S — Safety pins in a bundle, Sketchbook, T — Ticket stubs from three afternoon Tank Girl matinees, W — Wallet, Hello Kitty plastic, ripped, containing photo-booth snapshots of Muffin I cannot part with, Z — 'Zines, one badly written fanzine for a band called Girl Bassist, and a personal 'zine by a girl in Tampa Bay trying to solve the mystery of who she is. I'm going to write her a letter. She's living my life only she wears a bikini instead of a long johns under baggy army pants, pink tank tops, sandals instead of combat boots.

Looking at the tiny piles, I stand up, shake out my sleeping leg and check the phone for a dial tone. I wonder what's keeping Emily. Maybe she still drives the speed limit or just under. Maybe she still makes sure to keep just below the surface, where she can anticipate and act accordingly, should anything bad occur. Every minute I wait for her arrival is a minute I might back out.


The day that precipitated my decision to leave was only three days ago. I was at the Pheonix café on St. Laurent. I waited for Muffin. I was tired of watching people through the second floor window walking up and down the street, depressed by the tombstone factory and the ice cream stand too cold to enjoy. Three black coffees. Several dozen muscle spasms. Concerted frown. Muffin is always late because time is meaningless. It wasn't a surprise, just a pain in the ass. That even people who are told all their lives that they're smart can keep falling down on the same banana peel. Cue the tired laugh track. The same Pixies album kept playing on repeat and it held me close and together. I ordered soup. Here Comes Your Man, sang Black Francis, except he never came. Same worn in frets, same box car waiting. When my bowl arrived I was relieved to note it contained brown soup, black bean with flecks of red pepper. I hadn't asked what it was, just wanted warm and earth toned. The cook, Jonny, came over and kissed my cheek. His dirty apron smeared veggie mush on my bare shoulder, but I didn't say anything. He said, "Still waiting?"

"Always," I offered, simply. I transformed from girl to joke. Joke to girl. He smiled knowingly. He is Muffin's roommate. Lights a cigarette before retreating back into the kitchen. He's a junkie too but the kind that can function, pay the phone bill, feed the cat. His habit isn't an excuse to love in dramatic spurts, to pick and choose the parts of life you want to live in each day, avoiding the drudgery. The last time my mother visited me, I took her to the Pheonix. She loved it. "It's all run by collective? Fantastic!" She kept asking all the servers about their co-operative ethics. They loved her. She drank as much as they did, maybe even more. This is when Muffin was a cook, before he stopped showing up. In the light by the window, I noticed the lines around my mother's eyes were more pronounced than ever, and her once wheat-blonde hair that escaped her head in who-cares tangled wisps is now a uniform gray. She only seemed to get more energetic with age, more anti-establishment, more riled up.

I put my essential things back into my purse. I finger the ring on my left hand, thinking about my mother. She doesn't know I'm engaged. She never married, as love is no matter for the government, she says. She's always been committed to her ideals, her daughters and most of the time, her home business — selling organic herbs and herb products, rosemary soaps, lavender shampoo. She would be wary of my planning to marry, in general. Ultimately, she'd be wary of my choice of life partner. She'd been patiently hoping Muffin would be a phase she could archive with other butterfly boyfriends from my past.

I clutch in my hand the mason jar filled with change and bills. A few months ago, I'd ripped off a thin strip of stubborn yellowed masking tape and wrote "Getaway Money", smoothing it across the jar's middle. At the end of each night I emptied all the tips I didn't spend on cabs, beer, take-out, the assorted basics. It was the first day I'd wanted out from under the umbrella of Muffin and Ruby. No matter where I went, to the corner to mail letters, to the grocery store, the café, always, if we weren't together, someone would ask Hey Ruby, where's Muffin? Not how are you, Ruby? Like he was my left kidney or my right eye.

Something happened around the same night I designated my getaway jar the key to future safety nets and autonomy. At work that night, I looked across the dance-floor and saw him nodding out on the barstool. It wasn't so glamorous. I served drinks all night while he took naps, occasionally looking up to sip his beer. He embodies this city, the jewel-encrusted street signs; he spit rubies of blood on the sidewalk he imagined feathered and soft. But up close Montreal is a rotting heart. Smoke-soaked dresses. Always graying, yellowing tobacco love. That slight cough? Always present. The dampness that invades even your warmest dreams? Omnipresent. At first I loved the decline. I fell in love with having no ambition. Compared to Toronto, Montreal was like a party you'd waited all your life to be invited to. But now I am done. Done. My bag's are packed, I sing the song my mother used to put me to sleep with.


In grade nine, I remember thinking it would be really cool to go to rehab. Movie of the week material. Blame the book Go Ask Alice which was supposed to scare teenagers away from drugs but just made us all want to keep diaries after doing drugs. My mother and I smoked weed together at Christmas after I turned 15 and we decided to acknowledge my mother's incense smell. We kept my older sister out of the loop, who's allegiance to red meat and family values confounded us both. I was my mother's ally, a mirror to reflect back to her that she'd tried her best at the mother thing. But my drug use remained organic, and I lost interest in getting high once I graduated from high school. Burn-outs bored me. Harder drugs didn't do it for me. I believed that I lived a life completely unaffected by addiction. I didn't realize that until it showed up at my door, the weirdness of substance abuse. When you look into dead eyes, and realise everyone's a cliché 70s Lou Reed song.


I stand up, checking to make sure my doorbell is working. I open the door at the same time the elevator clunks to a stop of my floor. Emily emerges with a forced-polite smile.

"Hey Em. Thanks for doing this."

"Nice, uh, interesting place," she says snidely, touching the giant poster of The Cramps we had hung in the entranceway. She was not happy about having to transport her wayward sister anywhere further than the corner store at Christmas.

Emily stands awkwardly in my hallway as I gather up my things. She always looked like she was surrounded by poison ivy whenever she visited me, which wasn't very often. My roommate Mario emerges in a see-through silver dressing gown that showed off his muscular lean torso. He adjusts his wig as he leaps towards me like a young deer with no control over its legs. "I love you my favourite. See you in the fall!" My sister pales. I hand her the last of the boxes and usher her out the door.

She says, "Your roommate sure is a strange one."

"Yup," I agree, not wanting to start anything.

On the last run to the car my nose filling with the damp, earthy smell that emanated from an unknown source in this condemned building, I run my hand along the cold banister. This should be a moment. An envelope sealing my year. I wanted ceremony. I expected speeches from the trees or scrambled but romantic poetics in the fast moving cloud coverage. Familiar faces with coffee cups walk their dogs beside the car as I get in. Smiles of recognition, but no serenades. I wait impatiently for Emily to lean over the passenger seat to unlock my door. Once inside, I feel the weight of my decision to leave. I begin to worry I might actually flip out and jump from the car as it moves in a sudden moment of regret.

As we drive down St. Urbain, we pass new graffiti on the side of the tall wall surrounding the Hotel Dieu hospital. Muffin Loves Pink Pistol in red letters with a pink crown above it. It took me a second to register that I am the pink weapon in question and this is the way that my potential fiancé or ex-boyfriend is saying goodbye to me today. Muffin can't do things like keep an apartment or eat three meals in one day, but scaling a wall to spray-paint his devotion — this is an easy task for him, one with a beginning, an end, and purpose.

"So much graffiti in this city…so ugly," my sister notes, clicking on the windshield wipers to catch a patient rain. It stops and starts slowly. It doesn't stay very long.

Muffin's real name is Martin Christopher Walker. I used to stalk him, in an allusive poet way, when he worked at MMMmuffins. You know, those ugly yellow and orange signed franchises that sell muffins and coffee. There's one on St. Denis around the corner from the bus station. I would sit at a certain table and read, watching him scowl at the paying customers and give free coffee to the homeless kids. I called him the Muffin Boy. He called me Pink Pistol because I used to make stickers that were hot pink squares featuring an illustrated handgun. It said Don't Fuck with the Ladies in black typewriter font. I stuck them everywhere in his café.

I was 19. New in town. I believed in one true love. I believed that lyrical messages in mixed tapes were a valid form of honest communication. I thought adulthood could be postponed. I was still a friendly waitress. I really wanted to know anyone. Sadly, I wasn't so interesting. Displaced Toronto girls were a dime a dozen and I never wanted to go out with the girls from my high school. I followed strangers. That's how I met Muffin. That was our beginning. Our honeymoon period consisted of backs scratched, meals missed, fake sick days, love songs, pledging undying devotion, careless expression of emotion. He started publishing a 'zine called Pistol Love, first person narratives about our everyday. People who read it wrote him letters from all over the world. I felt punk rock famous as a result.

The stoplight in front of the graffiti seems extra slow. An old lady with a walker crosses on a red; an exaggerated snail. I try to deduce from his pink spray-painted scrawl how he is doing. Are the letters solid? Was his hand shaking? Should I get out of the car and run towards his house, sobbing, enlightened? Can I be won so easily? "I mean, why be a criminal? You can at least go to art school or something. Seriously Ruby, the whole family breathed a sigh of relief when you finally decided to go to school. I mean, how many times can we bail you out of jail?" She always brings this up. I've been arrested twice. Both times at demonstrations. Released in a few hours. Minimal scars. A high-five from my mother. A combination of white privilege and a face that strangers guess to be 14 years old had me treated exceptionally well by the police. But it's Emily's favourite story to tell so that that she can separate her, good, from me, bad. Black and white.

This was last year's blow-out at Christmas: all of us sitting uncomfortably at my great-aunt Esther's house in North York. My mother drunk, my sister trying to impress everyone with her home-made chestnut stuffing, Muffin getting high in the bathroom, before I knew he was so chronic. I'd yelled "Is there any other story you can tell about me? What about the time I won an award for community activist in the 8th grade? Huh? How about something nice about your sister, since family is so freaking important to you and everything?" and she'd glared at me, trying to decide whether or not to abandon her hard-earned decorum and affinity towards the proper, clean household my great-aunt embodied, or let it loose and pull my hair like she'd have done in my mother's yoga room where we ate our family dinners from bowls carved out of melons.

Emily was interrupted by the reigning voice of Auntie Esther announcing, "Enough is enough! It's Christmas! We should honour the prince of peace with civility and love." My mother snorted. Auntie Esther said "Beverly, come now."

Muffin appeared, eyes like triple cherries in a slot machine. The room was silent.

"Hey, what's going on?" He tripped over an ornate basket of tea and jam Emily had brought for Auntie Esther, and clocked his chin on the counter. I ran over and pressed a tea towel from the sink into the small cut. He was grinning. That's when I knew it, really understood what was going on. I didn't like it. My mother kept trying to give him gingko biloba to brighten up his brain function for the rest of the trip.


Back in the car, the lackluster 401 lulling me to sleep, I stare at Emily, her soft twenty-nine year old hands gripping the wheel. She is wearing light jeans fashionable in the early 80s, tight around her waist, a white t-shirt from the Gap that actually says "The Gap" across the front in case you needed to be sure. There is a bumper sticker on her car that says, "What would Jesus do?" It's a miracle if we make it to Cornwall still speaking pleasantly.

Emily decided at the age of 12 to pursue God and normalcy with a fierce devotion. My mother accepted this and tried to take her to the Unitarian church we went to on occasion. This was not God enough for Emily, who demanded to go to Catholic school. My mother had no idea what on earth to do, so in the name of Emily's self-determination, she allowed it.

I don't tell her anything important, like Muffin or why I'm moving to Toronto all of a sudden. I'm not a great talker anyway. I can go on about music and politics, but Emily avoids both. I divulge minor details. It seems silly to small talk with someone who shares your blood. As we approach Kingston, I fall asleep to avoid the awkwardness. Seatbelt line welts emerge on my face, and my hands curl underneath my thighs. The blandness of the 401 continues to depress me, the top 40 radio gnaws into my frontal lobe. I wake up when Emily shoves a Tim Hortons double-double in my face, two D's scratched in white marker on the brown plastic lid.

"I stopped eating sugar two years ago." Emily will always think I'm a double-double, an obsessive Smiths fan, a criminal, permanently 16. She will always tell me I'm too fat, even though my stomach is now concave from worry, my hips dissolved from lack of hunger. The coffee tastes like ice cream. I drink it all. I feel crazy from the sugar. She stares at me. She won't stop. She's not starting the car. Not drinking her coffee, just staring at me. "Is there anything you want to tell me, Ruby?"

"No." I place the cup in the cup-holder, bite my lower lip.She takes off her wedding ring, slowly, waving it in my face, coughing, eyes open.

"Oh, this," I say, faking surprise, pointing to the band around my ring finger. "This is an engagement ring, sort of."

"How can it be sort of an engagement ring? Either it is or it isn't."

"Well, let's say that it was, and continues to be, a symbol of some potential ritual in the future, if things work out."

"This is the guy with the weird name Mom says is no good?"


"How did he ask you?"

"Um, over dinner, in a nice vegan restaurant." Total lie. I'm not even vegan anymore, but it bothered her so much to make tofurkey last Christmas that I like to keep up the ruse. Truth is Muffin asked me at first in the hospital when he thought he was going to die. He had the most disgusting complexion and desperate look in his eyes. My response to him was, "No, are you kidding? Shut up and concentrate on not dying, asshole." On a good day, pallor-perfect, he asked me again, with a bundle of tulips and a bottle of champagne, under my window and the full moon. That would've been romantic if he hadn't almost been hit by a car right after he finished his serenade. A big jock guy got out of the red pick up truck and starting yelling, "Get out of the street, you faggot!"

"Wow, Ruby, you're really growing up. So, when will he be moving to Toronto?"

"Oh, he's not. He's gone tree planting for the summer. We haven't picked a date."

Tree planting, junk bender. Tomato, Tomahto.

I didn't put the ring on till the next day, when I was watching him sleep and he looked like a beautiful puppy in human form. I haven't taken it off, but I haven't actually said yes, either.

Emily starts the car. By the time we get to Belleville, I crash from the sugar. We've done our bonding for the year. Finally in Toronto, Emily wakes me up to get directions. They have half-melted on my hand where they are scrawled in red pen. She sighs and gives me a look of exasperation. When we finally negotiate the one-ways, we wind up outside my new summer home on Niagara Street. We unload the truck into the freight elevator. "Mom wants you to come for breakfast tomorrow. Don't forget, Ruby," Emily says, opening the driver's side door and turning back to give me a motherly look. I pretend I don't hear her, sliding the wooden bars of the elevator door to the ground with a dirty white rope. She always tells me not to forget things. Like I'm just going to wander off into traffic and forget that I have a mother. Before I press the up button, I say, "Bye, Em! Thanks for the lift! Drive safe."


Toronto is my hammock. Like an old soft shirt I misplaced and found again, wrapping the tall concrete landscape around me in an awkward hug. Even though my mother had hoped I'd take up shelter in her guest room (my old room: yoga space, Emily's old room: greenhouse), I'd run into an old high school friend on the way home from the café. It was a sign. She was in town visiting, had a place to rent in Toronto while she was tree-planting, a high-ceiling loft in the meat-packing district.

The to-do list of the summer was written in purple crayon on a napkin from the diner underneath my new apartment. Framed under cheap dollar store glass. The first thing I would nail to my new wall.

- make money

- decide yes or no re: the viability of marriage (in general) and marriage to Muffin

Two almost-tangible goals.

Making money has never been easy to me. My mother grew up wealthy. But she left it all for art and ideals, at the expense of the finer things. Both her and her brothers never tried to keep up with the Joneses and their parents lived a lot longer than expected, leaving little to be inherited. Raising us with both her wealthy sense that everything will work out, filling us with entitlement and a taste for quality, but absolutely no skills or drive to be successful. Now the generations have switched and I find myself with no financial safety net, and a mother who's content to live on the profits of her soap business in a house that was paid off years ago by my grandfather. So I've opened a savings account. So far my balance is $37. 69. Moving to the most expensive city in Canada was perhaps not the greatest plan. Two women who have sublet-ed me their loft for the summer left a scrawled note for me on the apartment door with important numbers and instructions. I am thankful for a thick silence I haven't experienced in months. I discover via a post-it note on the door reading YOUR ROOM that my room is square, white-walled, huge and welcoming. It contains an oak desk and futon mattress from the last roommate. Her things are packed neatly in boxes in one corner, her bookshelves empty and inviting. There is nothing quite as satisfying as setting down a perfect array of books. Ah, order. Neatness, order, quiet. My favourite things. I unpack a box of important things: seed packages for lettuce, radishes and kale, tattered copies of my favourite fanzines, the last mixed tape Muffin made me that contained 27 songs with the word devotion in the title, Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker, my favourite book, and a manuscript of vegan recipes we were putting together to try to get published. It was going to be a love story with recipes. We found a lot of uses for quinoa.

My slanted wood floors could use another coat of varnish, exposed pipes trail along the ceiling. There is a giant double window with a sill big enough to perch on that opens up onto a balcony that hangs over the fifth floor like wings. It isn't sturdy and "balcony" is certainly a euphemism for a fire escape but it's adjacent to my bedroom window and is therefore, mine. I feel like it's my tent on the side of a mountain. A sanctuary of rusted metal. The stairs are rotted to strings by the third floor and it's more perilous than smoke or fire. But it's the perfect edge, a cage of my making.

I unpack every box the first night. I only brought 8, but it still feels like an accomplishment. If I can't feel unpacked in every sense, at least I'll know where all of my objects are, and the objects will anchor me. I place the engagement ring on the shelf above my bed beside my jewellery case. It's the first time I've taken it off. I notice for the first time it is engraved with the worlds Stella-Marie you're my star. He either forgot to tell me, or wanted me to be surprised later. This is something PJ Harvey screams in our song, Stella-Marie. Even if he did rip the ring off, he had the decency to engrave it himself.

Muffin does not have this number. I have made a clean break. But every third thought is still of him and when the phone rings my heart jumps, snaps and pops. It wouldn't be that hard to find me, but effort has never been Muffin's strong suit. His proposal was totally out of character. He'd been ignoring me for weeks, choosing instead to be high. When he did appear he was impossibly cranky, intolerable. I pad softly to the bathroom. A fine powder of dust and dirt line my skin. I turn the hot and cold taps open on the claw foot tub filling the basin slowly. Slipping through the boxes produced fine papers cuts on my shins and thighs — I peel off layers of black Montreal cotton and let the stink rise in steam. I steal small handfuls of lavender sea salt from a box under the sink. I try to meditate, never my forte, but my mother insisted we try from an early age. I guess some people raised religious might pray during hard times, as a default reaction. I picture a ball of light on my chest, what's weighing me down, I lift up the imaginary light. Is the ball of light Muffin's addiction, or my identity subsumed in his addiction? I breath. I wait to see if I feel better. I don't. My fingers are pruney. The hot water runs out. Do I not want to get married because I don't want to get married, or is it the drugs? Do they serve some function I'm unaware of?


The next day I do three things. I return to a favourite vendor at Queen and Spadina to buy a tofu dog cart. I walk to Kensington market and purchase a low rider BMX from a shed behind the discount store. It has a banana seat. I paint the frame in a cherry red gloss I find in my mother's garage. The third thing I do is have tea with my mother, legs covered in red paint, white tank top ripped and faded. Catch up. She says I look tired. I am struck by the lines on her face. How she seems to have gone from middle-aged mom to older in just two years. I look at her while she speaks. The lines in her lips in particular, her knuckles. It is calming to see her, but I struggle for conversation. "You're happy, Ruby?" She inquires. I know she wants to ask something more specific, but doesn't quite know how.

"Yes," I say. "Sure."

I never know how to answer that question, it's at once too vague and too specific.

I help her program her VCR and eat homemade dairy-free wheat-free muffins that taste surprisingly like regular muffins. I sink into the couch.

"I don't understand why you won't just live here for the summer."

"And sleep where? On the couch?"

"It pulls out. You could save so much money."

"I'll stop by a lot." I make a mental note to make sure that actually happens and go outside to check on the status of my bike. I slide the double screen door ajar, she follows me standing with one sturdy leg on either side, holding her mug of tea.

"Your sister said you have big news."

"Oh yeah? She did, eh?"


"Well, I don't know. I'll let you know as soon as I do."

I wasn't in the mood for a lecture on marriage being inherently misogynist. "Yes, you do that." She didn't push. I could tell she was dying to.


I get on my bike with the paint still a little wet, bike down Bathurst, the wind kissing my face. I stumble over the streetcar tracks, no longer used to their potential danger. My calves are red and scarred with paint.

I settle into my decision. As June starts its sparkling first act, I exist mostly in an insubstantial white cotton nightgown. It makes me feel like a breezy girl from a shampoo commercial. As if I were not living in an industrial warehouse neighbourhood, but a field of wheat with a pitcher of lemonade waiting near by.

My first Friday back in town, the afternoon is hot and hazey. By 3:00pm, I crawl out onto the balcony, phone in hand. Calling up high school friends who might want to meet tonight for drinks. Two of them are now married, living in condos or Mississauga. I lay the phone against the grates. Survey the street. Everyone walking underneath me looks a little ragged with their second cups of iced coffee in hand. Kids with orange and pink popsicle-spit faces dragging towels from a pool.

With my legs tucked under me, knees scraping against the metal flooring of the balcony, I let the sun hit me. My shoulders back, chest forward, like a 50's pin-up girl. I stay still while the light sticks to my skin lining me in reds and pink against the white cotton straps of my nightgown. I start to hurt. More and more. I am interested in pushing limits. Making myself available to pain. It's summer in the meat packing district and the smell fills me with awareness around my own mortality. I feel like a gargoyle surveying the city on the side of the building. Sweat turning to stone on my thighs.

I've abandoned my sturdy black combat boots for a string of platform sandals. A sisterly family tree of pink and reds adorn my closet. They make me stumble. Gravity isn't reliable. Instead I depend on the faint sound of my heart that scrapes against the wires of my bra like radio static. It keeps up Up and Down down.


The weekend before I left, Muffin met me in the park with a couple of 40s in paper bags. We held each other against a tall tree. I brought him a bag of oranges and he brought some junk. I decided to try a different approach that day, trading in my moralistic after-school special face for authentic curiosity. I'd snorted coke once in high school, so the method was familiar. But there's something about the word heroin, I had to be ready at that moment to die. It was a possibility. I let go and snorted up the bitter powder while Muffin looked at me with affection, like yeah, maybe she'll stop whining.


I did not mind puking behind the tree, hands against the bark. The seasick feeling was just fine. Stars and dripping fingers. For a little while, I understood. The next day Mario woke me up with french-toast and café-au-soya-milk. He said, "Your lunatic boyfriend stole the TV and I'm going to punch his fucking face out if he ever comes back here." The TV was a piece of shit with a handmade antenna that only got French CBC anyway. I don't know why he was so pissed off. He left the CD player and our bikes, after-all. As soon as I had this thought I realized the perspective shift, the tolerance I probably shouldn't have.

Mario put the getaway money jar on the table in front of me. The smell of metal and sweat made me gag. "Once you are no longer a teenager, it is not advisable to date such a cliché. Unless he is famous and he will never be famous, darling. Not anywhere off the Main anyway." Muffin was famous in a small city way. I thought the search for cool would be abandoned after high school but it seemed to only get worse. Everyone wanted to be his friend or his lover. He sang in a band called Babies and Robots, made jewellery out of scraps of garbage and brooded in public. People wrote poems about him, stuck their bloody palms to his apartment door, named their dogs after him. He sometimes went to L.A. to help friends with their albums. When indie rock bands came to town, they stayed with him. He was always backstage. Because of Muffin I was able to meet my teen idol boyfriend Thurston Moore. He was tall. I said "Hi. Great show!" and walked away humiliated.


Mario was full of shit. As soon as Muffin came over, Mario would hang around the kitchen playing his demo tape too loudly, wearing his most indie-rock t-shirt and flexing his muscles, trying to flirt. Muffin is the kind of guy who'll get drunk and get blow jobs from boys if they're eager, because he wants to be progressive and open-minded and he'll indulge his curiosity. Mario could sense it, the bendable-enough straight boy.


My third day in Toronto, I get a waitress job at a diner on Richmond street. I feel far away from the slow head-nodders, the perfect looks of vague disdain. The practiced disinterest. I wear whatever I want to the corner store, fuck that Montreal fashion show. The routine of motion makes me calm and exhausted. I'm moving my body too much to get complacent, or to decide anything serious. I am tired like the frayed wire that keeps the freight elevator just almost committed to keeping us alive. On my breaks, I smoke and write poetry and to-do lists. I make a conscious decision to have a lot of sex with a lot of different people. As soon as I make that decision, everyone turns ugly.

My favourite customer is a clearly gay minister named Charles. He is soft spoken and he comes in every morning for poached eggs, rye toast and tea. He usually reads the Toronto Star, then by the time I've refilled his tea pot with new water, he's onto books with names like Why God Matters. I'm fascinated by him, how quiet and alone he seems. This must be his time to ponder and have minister-like thoughts. I want to be his friend.

I buy a Polaroid camera and black and white film. I take photos of people like Charles, and the cutlery dispenser at work, photos of the view from my balcony. Photos of my lips line the walls. Close ups on exhaling. I have one photo of Muffin, a snap shot Polaroid where he's dancing in a long red coat, his blue dreadlocks springing up in the air. I bring the camera to work and take a photo of Charles' breakfast before bringing it out to him. It's so orderly, and always the same. I pin it up above my bed.

The space inside the loft never feels mine. I know it's just three months and more like a ship at sea then a chance for settling down but for some reason, I feel settled. In the tool room I discover a door to the roof-top that I can get to if I climb up on the windowsill. I take to lying on my back doing summer snow angels on strips of cardboard. Dangle my legs over the edge of the building watching the Gardiner or the fireworks. Tiptoe around the broken glass and tar strips. I could see everyone but no one seemed to see me. My urban beach of hard materials softening in the hot sun. From this high up on the balcony I survey the season where nothing is sturdy and I never get all the dirt out from under my nails.


One afternoon, I wake up from a dream about being dismembered to find that someone has risked their life by climbing up the precarious fire escape to the fifth floor. He is peaking in the window —  about 7 or 8 I guess. A white kid with a brown hair all messy in a bright yellow t-shirt. His nose is pressed up against the glass. I imagine him to be an angel.

When he sees me waking, he scrambles away, almost frightened. Yelling to another kid on the street as he starts his descent. "She's, like, totally completely naked!" he hollers.

I hadn't noticed until just then. The blanket at my feet. The cold air from the air conditioner against my thighs. Pulling my nightgown over my head, I run to the window ledge and climb up, pushing a pile of books and papers onto to the floor with a plunking sound. By the time I open the window and crawl out, the kids are specs at the end of the block, circling each other on bikes.

I throw on a red soft-cotton dress and hippy sandals I'd be too embarrassed to wear in Montreal, make my way to the restaurant for an afternoon shift. I find solace in the monotony of washing glasses, wiping down the counters. I'm surprised to find Charles at the counter nursing a beer. Ministers drink? It seemed odd. He wasn't reading, just watching a baseball game above my head. We smiled. We'd never said more than hello. I think he sensed I was a little too eager. I'm sure they have a feeling about that, people who need guidance, it must radiate like a light-bulb on our foreheads.

"Let me ask you something," I start. Charles lowers his eyes from the TV screen and smiled. "Go ahead." The silver cross around his neck was the only thing that separated him from the other dozen men his age who order pancakes and eggs semi-daily. Why did I suddenly trust him, raised to believe God was as real as any fictional character? I'm becoming the cliché of the Girl Raised Without a Father. Next thing you know I'll be joining some cult. I finger the ring I'd put on again last night.

"How do you know when you should get married?" What a dumb question, this guy is obviously gay, right? What does he know? But I suppose he married a lot of people. He can probably recognize a good thing. "Let me tell you, half the people in my congregation come to me and tell me they're depressed because they aren't married. The other half say they're depressed because they are." Charles laughed, taking the last sip of his beer, "There's no easy answer."

"But I need one," I smile weakly.

Charles shrugs. I get the feeling I'm asking a stock-broker for investment advice on his off-time. I run my hand over my shoulder where I have the word 'Passion' tattooed in typewriter font. I rinse another glass, look out at the street. Breathe deep and slow.

Zoe Whittall's blog is She has published poetry books with Snare and McGilligan. In 2007, her first novel Bottle Rocket Hearts will be published by Cormorant.







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