canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


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by Alexandra Leggat

I wake up at 3 AM drenched in sweat. The dream continues moving behind my eyes. One of large, rotting cruise ships in a decrepit, smoky harbor, overrun with faceless tourists and souvenir shops. A city I thought I knew but had no clue how to navigate. Each step weighed down by confusion and the oversized construction boots swallowing my feet. I swing my sticky legs over the edge of the bed, touch my toes upon the hardwood floor and wander to the bathroom with my hands held out to guide me.

I never used to shower at night but it brings me solace in the empty hours of a new day, and cleanses me from the purging my body and subconscious subject me to. I wrap myself in a terrycloth robe that used to belong to the man I loved and call Isabelle, a friend Iíve known since birth but never feel that close to. She rarely sleeps, so Iím not worried about the time.

"The last few nights Iíve been waking up drenched in sweat," I tell her.

"Itís hot out there," she says.

"Not that kind of sweat, itís more serious. Perhaps itís menopause, a menopause sweat," I tell her.

"No," she laughs. "Youíre too pretty to be going through menopause."

"Oh," I say.

She doesnít talk long, says she has too much to do. In the mirror I study my face. Itís not so pretty. I could easily be going through the change. One of many Iíve experienced since turning forty; wrinkles on my chest, under my chin, divots in my cheeks, fleshiness around my once taut midriff. I tap my real nails on the linoleum counter Iím thinking of refurbishing and consider the implications of menopause. Brittle bones, hot flashes, mood swings. My lips purse. Iím accustomed to those things. Iíve never drunk milk. I break bones. Iíve been moody since ten and the sweating, although itís excessive, hasnít caused me too much strife beyond the inconvenience of losing sleep and showering at 3 in the morning. The phone rings. Itís Isabelle.

"Iíve been online," she says. "You could be experiencing peri-menopause, a pre-menopause. I looked at a recent photo of the two of us and you have aged, you have, it could be time."

I tap my fingers on the jade leather recliner Iíve considered ditching for something more streamlined and modern.

"Donít tell me these things," I say.

"Youíre the one who called me at 3 AM to ask me why you think youíre sweating. So I help and this, this is the goddamn thanks I get?"

She doesnít hang up and I wish she would because I donít know what to say. I canít get the cruise ships out of my head, the bruised monsters, emitting purple smoke from rusted chimneys. The water they sit in is thick and brown and Iím swimming inches from the dock. I donít look happy. I have a too-tight perm, brassy highlights and appear to be struggling not to get that hair wet.

"I have to go," I say. "I appreciate the research youíve done."

I bite my real nails and wonder why I never cut her off, years ago, pre-pubescent, pre-menstrual, pre-historic. Our motherís were not close. I didnít continue the friendship to please her, or my older brother who fell for all my prettier and more endearing pals. I make coffee, although I never drink coffee. Fill it with cream so I can inundate my system with calcium by using the richest dairy product there is.

The streetlights remain dark. Iím cold. A good sign. I reach for a book, but Doris Lessing is the last thing I need and I only took one book out of the library this week for fear Iíd be charged late fees on the ones I was determined to read but wouldnít finish.

I despise email but find myself clicking on the computer to check it. I had spared it from my home computer until my employerís newly created work-share program required I do my job from home three days a week and email became a necessity. Averse to members of his department working out of his sight, his smell, his auricular barrier, my manager emails incessantly. He is everywhere. In the empty hours of morning, the shrill of the modem pierces my ears. A sound I find invasive, beyond my scheme of things. I am not titillated by technology.

Flanked by a red exclamation mark is an email from Isabelle. I tap my raw fingertips on the spacebar and contemplate deleting the message prior to reading it. It doesnít emit comfort, support or empathy but I am entering the hour of self-destruction. Iím exhausted, dizzy, shaky from the new caffeine. I reach over to my cabinet, grab a rock glass and the forty of Glenfiddich left by the same man who owned the robe. I fill the glass. I take a long slow sip and click on Isabelleís message.

It says, I told you that you should have had children before he left.

Something like a bullet flies through those words and I grab my raw chest. Itís a weak attempt at malice. She always wanted the men I had. Gradually, the apartment lights up with the coming of daylight. Through the dew-speckled window my past gazes back at me. Iím thinner, smoother, standing at the altar with the man I loved. Truth is we never married or intended to but I think that if Iíd insinuated a desire to bond for life he wouldnít have walked out on me in the end. It must be the flu, just the flu. Itís not too late to give birth, to strengthen my bones, have painless, moist sex.

I call work and tell my boss Iím ill, rundown, been up all night with a fever, hallucinations. Thereís a lot going around he says and there is, there always, always is. With this I rest assured that my symptoms are not leading to something permanent. My boss is uncharacteristically sympathetic. I donít get paid for sick days and I wish, I wish his sentiments had come from his heart not his budgetary limitations. He tells me not to worry, to take my time but if I get a chance to check my emails heíd appreciate it. Before he hangs up I ask if he thinks Iím doing a good job, in general, is he happy with my overall performance. Then I cry, because thereís nothing else to do at that point in our conversation. After the pause he tells me Iím a fine employee.

I lie down and gaze at the ornate bedroom ceiling Iím thinking of painting pale blue. My lower back aches and Iím hungry but I canít keep my eyes open. Iím warm but not perspiring. A tepid breeze blows through the open window knocking a photograph of the man I loved onto the pillow next to me. I fall asleep with my head on his lap. I dream Iím on a rickety bus driving through a barren, concrete town. The buildings have doors but no windows and it looks like Iíve bought a shack in the midst of them. Doors off hinges, cupboards, rooms full of antiquated furniture, thread-bare and dusty. The basement appears to have been an old grocery store. Rotted and moldy buns remain in bins by wilted celery and stinking eggs. All the same colour. I bolt upright in a burning sweat, my sheets soaking, hair stuck to my throbbing forehead. Why would I buy a house like that? The sun's retreating, Iíve slept away the day. Iím not ready for the darkness, the end of things. I head for the shower where I stand facing cracking drywall I need to tile.

I phone Isabelle and tell her I canít close my eyes for fear of the dreams. She laughs and says she only closes her eyes for the dreams.

"Letís meet for drinks," she says.

"I canít," I say. "I canít leave the apartment. I never want to leave this apartment."

"Itís just a dream," she says. "Iím sure a lot of women going through peri-menopause have crazy dreams."

I pace back and forth across the uncarpeted living room floor that I intend on polishing and out of desperation ask her to come over. I have no one else to turn to. She hums and haws and says itís Friday night. A night sheís been working all week for and she has no hope of picking up wealthy businessmen in my living room.

"You canít pick them up in bars either, Isabelle, so whatís the loss," I say, "whatís the loss?"

She guffaws, hangs up and arrives an hour later with flowers and a case of twelve beers tucked under each arm.

"Whatís the occasion?" I ask.

"Itís exciting," she says, "this new phase of your life. The man leaves, one door closes, another one opens and closes. Soon youíll be unable to bear children. Youíll resign yourself to your present situation, work harder at your job and being alone wonít matter so much anymore."

"Jesus," I say.

She opens a beer and downs it in two gulps, then she opens another and throws the cap across the kitchen.

"Fuck," she says. "Iím so down."

"Youíre so down?"

She puts her head in her hands and shakes it and shakes it. Then reaches her fists to the living room ceiling Iíve been meaning to wash for weeks. She shakes them at the cobwebs, beyond the cobwebs.

"Why?" she squeals, "Why?"

She grabs a beer, offers me one. I canít drink beer when Iím depressed. I drink it when Iím happy, angry, or at sporting events. My present state of mind calls for scotch, so I can achieve the calm one must feel before driving themselves into a brick wall, or off a cliff in a picturesque coastal town, like Big Sur. Isabelle piles beer after beer into the fridge. I donít want to tell her sheís aged, that sheís aged more than I. The fridge light illuminates the lines around her eyes, her mouth, the divots in the side of her cheeks, deeper and longer than mine. I donít remember her being so thin, so sharp. Her hair once shiny black hangs heavy and dull off her skull.

"Itís okay to be alone," I tell her.

"Do you think thatís my problem?"

"I donít know."

She shoves a bottle of beer into my hand and paces up and down the living room. I flip through my CDís. Search desperately for the Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, Son Volt, the Cocteau Twins, anything that might sedate her, cause her to recline in my distressed leather couch that I bought at an estate sale for less than a chair.

"Sit down," I say, "youíre making me nervous."

"Iím pregnant."

ĎYou are not."

"I am."

"Youíre drinking."

"Iím going to abort."

"What?"

She crumples onto the couch, almost in tears. I canít imagine her pregnant, even the thought of it. Not only because sheís never had a serious relationship, sleeps around, hops from job to job but she lacks empathy, kindness, maternal instinct. She had no hope of ever amounting to anything, especially a mother. She never shows up in my dreams, never, in all the years Iíve known her, sheís never been there, only when she needs me.

"Why are you in your pajamas?" she asks.

I canít believe she asked me why Iím wearing my pajamas. I asked her over to keep me company in my time of need. Iím in my pajamas because Iím ill. Iíve hit the wall. Iím drowning in my own sweat. My regrets are seeping into my dreams and taking me into worlds I can only assume are waiting for me on the other side. Gray rotting ships, thrumming driverless traffic, streets that donít lead to other streets, bridgeless waterways and circular train tracks that I always get stuck at when Iím in a hurry, decrepit homes and the bad hair and the shoes, always somebody elseís fucking shoes on my disfigured feet. I donít want to remind her that I had asked her over because I needed someone to talk to. To determine why I canít get out of bed, canít work. That Iím sweating through everything, going under. Sheís beat me to the punch. I donít know if itís intentional, coincidental. Must be a bit of everything. Some women are like that.

"Iím getting fat," she says.

"At some point in our lives we all get fat," I say. "Iím thinking of getting fat myself."

"Why on earth do you want to get fat?"

"So I donít have to do anything. My work-share partner is so fat that her thin, middle-aged neighbour cuts her grass, rakes her leaves, cleans her eaves trough. I see her in Tim Hortons eating Tim Bits and bagels. Heís raking and cutting as she eats and eats and eats. She has a fine job, a nice house, good car and she eats and eats and eats and eats and eats and eats while someone else does her dirty work."

"Maybe she has a thyroid problem."

"This is the future, Isabelle, people are fat because they are immobile and eat too much of the wrong shit. People are fat because they want to be."

She leaps to the floor and walks back and forth pounding her stomach with her fourth beer bottle. Sheís not glowing like other women in her condition and she is not fat, or close to it. Sheís thinner than Iíve ever seen her and Iíve heard of pregnant women who donít want their babies starving for two. Isabelle doesnít stop pacing, she doesnít stop and I canít imagine what kind of a mother sheíll make. It doesnít make sense to me. I thought sheíd be seedless, not the type of woman who should or could reproduce. But something in this satisfies me because Iím drinking the beer.

"Why donít you ask me who it is?" she asks

"Who?"

"The father."

"The father or the man who got you pregnant?"

She grabs her purse and walks toward the door. I want to tell her I didnít go to work today because Iíll never experience everything I wanted that she got without trying. I want more than a well-organized pantry, a flawless apartment. Iím tired of redecorating and spending hours labeling and re-organizing my spices by colours so that they coordinate on the shelf. The garden Iíve erected on the balcony is over cared for and I transplanted perennials from one pot to another for the first time this year in order to have even more plant babies to nurture. It was a risk, I know and too early but everythingís early these days, the tulips, the hostas, daylight savings time and the change in me.

"Itís your ex," says Isabelle and slams the door.

Iím so hot I open the freezer and stick my head in it. It freezes my conscience. My heart lurches. I remove my head, close the freezer door and run to my computer. My boss has sent me five emails. I stare at the flashing cursor. I think of Isabelle, of the one thing she has and will always have over me and I donít have the heart to tell her that the man I loved, my ex, is impotent.

Alexandra Leggat writes, instructs and edits other people's work.†She currently†resides in†Brooklyn, New York where she's completing new things.

 

 

 

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TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

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ISSN 1494-6114. 

 

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