Montreal-based publishing entity Metatron is guest editing Everyday Genius this month. We'll be featuring excerpts from our new fall catalog as well as Canadian writers we like. Today's author is boy genius Gavin Tomson.
I overheard an Australian man use that expression today at a Best Buy in Montreal - where I bought a blank CD and Mars Bar. A few nights ago, I finally finished editing my first EP, Pull, which I’d recorded while dating my – what should I call him now, my ex-boyfriend? My ex-partner? My ex-lov-ah? And after uploading the songs to my iTunes, I transferred them to a CD and promptly threw it into my mother’s fireplace.
From what I gathered, the Australian had just been hired by an oil research organization in Norway. He’d used that expression, “Temporal horizon,” to refer to the day his contract would expire. Kneeling beside the man and feigning interest in a product outside my price range - a home cinema with “Built-In Massage Chairs” - I imagined him piercing through the sky as though through a colossal blue jellyfish and emerging in a dark abyss like the one Kierkegaard imagines in The Concept of Anxiety. Oh, Kierkegaard! I wrote my thesis on The Concept of Anxiety but I never knew until recently that a depressed mind moves too slowly to generate images of the future, that imagery of abysses and nothingness may be generated by brain-chemicals.
Anyway, I should mention that, a few days before destroying my EP, Montreal was hit by a record heat wave and my ex, a writer named Jordan Lin, left me for someone else. The Other Man is also a writer, or a grad student, or an artist. I didn’t listen to that part. I arrived home to a note on my pillow that read: “Call me. We need to talk.” Economical and to the point. I guess he knew I’d like that.
I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. The truth is that I don’t know how I should feel, so I don’t know how I sound. Although I tried to suppress the anger, I had secretly hoped for a while that Jordan and I would break up. Our relationship had reached what traffic monitors call “a standstill" - for most of our ride together, we cruised along winding, freshly paved roads like a couple in a Mazda commercial, watching the land pass by, feeling the wind in our hair, listening to the soundtrack of Drive. But the further we drove, the straighter the road became, until one day, we got so bored, we stopped. I wanted to ask Jordan, “Wait, where are we driving to?” And, “Why did we even get in this car?” But the words were too heavy. They were a medicine ball in my stomach. Jordan and I had driven so far already, these questions were too anticlimactic to ask.
But back to events. A few days before Jordan left the note on my pillow – a few days before the “Why won’t you see mess?” and the “How could you?” and the “But you know mess!”— we made plans to see Clay People in 3D.
Also, I bought a bottle of Pernod, to sneak into the theatre. Pernod was Jordan's favorite and I was trying to like it too. From what I gathered, Clay People is coincidentally about a heat wave. All the weather experts say the heat will soon subside, so draw the shades and drink plenty of water. But the weather experts are all idiots, or liars, because the heat keeps rising, and after sweaty, grunting, prelinguistic masculine heroics, everybody, or almost everybody, dies. I say “almost everybody” because – and this is the twist of the plot – it turns out that for hundreds of years a colony of human-like creatures has been living beneath the city. They’re a bit like the Ninja Turtles, just earthier, more organic. They don’t eat pizza, for one thing, and they live in an underground civilization made of clay. “The Clay People,” they call themselves. After the heat wave subsides, The Clay People climb out of the ground to find an abandoned city, a world ready to be rebuilt and reimagined, and that’s when, well, that’s what I’d wanted to find out.
I phoned around to see if anyone else would go to the movie with me. Zoe, a friend of mine since undergrad, now a PhD student in Shakespeare Studies, happily obliged. Her boyfriend, the second guy named Dick she’d been with - a man I thus called Richard the Second - had been hanging around her too much, becoming too domestic. So it would be “a good idea” to get away from him and spend some time with popcorn, Pernod and maybe even me! But when she arrived at my apartment, she sat on the living room floor and we remained there to talk.
“So, how are you?” she asked eventually, after rambling about Solange, Cruel Optimism, and the benefits of vitamin D. I pretended not to hear. Then she asked again.
“Wow,” she said. “That must have been painful.”
“Yes,” I said. “It was.”
Then she said, “You know, I thought they were just friends, maybe from undergrad, friends who’d known each other for a while.”
“The two of them.”
“What? No, he’s a curator, and his name’s Danny, Daniel Mayfield.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Are you angry at me?”
“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to my last Brady Brunch.”
“I was just snooping around,” Zoe was saying, “I was curious. There’s even a picture of them on Facebook. They’re smiling, very happy, very couply.”
“Did you know that my mother’s started bird watching?”
Zoe stared at me like I’d admitted to mounting the heads of housecats. “Wait,” she said, “you mean you really didn’t know?”
“Oh wow,” Zoe said. “I guess if you press your face too close to the page, you can no longer read the words.”
“Or maybe I’m just reading too much into things, like usual. I mean, maybe what I’m saying isn’t even all that true. I think it's Touchstone, the jester in As You Like It, who says, ‘We that are true lovers run into strange capers; but as all is mortal…”
I nodded along, but stopped listening at “mortal". Instead I introspected on the state of my inner self.
In 14th century Germany, there were a group of monks who believed they’d transformed their inner selves into passageways through which God passed continuously. “Hey Zoe,” I said, taking a sip of Pernod straight from the bottle because what the hell, I could like it if I wanted to, “maybe I should become a monk or something.”
This all took place, as I said, while editing Pull, my first EP. All I had left to do was put the tracks through a slight compressor. My intention behind the EP, if it matters, had been to capture something fundamental about Jordan. Jordan had not been perfect, obviously. But something glowed inside him. It was an inner light, fueled by anxiety, and since I myself felt something similar, this light made me trust him. It pulled me, he pulled me, towards him, and it was as though I had always been pulled towards him, even before I met him, when I felt I was pulled toward other people, it had been him, always him.
Before I met Jordan, I hadn’t even considered making an EP; music was a secret desire I pursued when drunk or overly emotional. After meeting him, though – and I know this is kind of clichéd but whatever – the songs just started coming out of me, one by one, as though I myself were an instrument, like a woodwind, like an oboe, and Jordan was playing me. I didn’t tell anyone about the EP, not even Jordan. The EP was going to surprise everyone. It was going to prove, against expectations, that I was an Artist. It was going to prove that I Felt A Lot. Sir Feelz-A-Lot.
I was opening my MacBook to compress the tracks when my mother called. My mother, as I said, recently started bird watching, and she was often calling to say yellow bellied this, ruby-throated that and I didn't expect much.
“Hello mother,” I said
“Hello son,” said mother. “You’re drinking plenty of water, I hope?”
“By the gallon.”
“The radio man said that tomorrow it’s going to reach a record. He said we haven’t seen a day like this since August ’72.”
“All the lights are turned off,” I lied, “and the windows are open. I’m just spread out on my bed, conserving energy, like a dehydrated starfish.”
“Good for you. So listen, something’s come up. I need you to take care of Kernel tomorrow.”
“You didn’t hire a sitter?”
“Something to do with the wind and the sea. I don't want to jinx it. The birds will be titillated. It's the avian equivalent of an aurealis borealis. Lenticular clouds. Snow donuts. Just let me know if it’s all right.”
“Seems I don’t really have a choice. “
“Jordan won’t mind?”
“Jordan’s visiting his parents in Scarborough," I lied again.
“OK. Well, thank you.”
My mother is so mysterious, so elusive. She dangles secrets above me, like she’s a fisherwoman, and I a curious fish, mouth agape. Actually, I think she's a mystic. Years before she picked up bird watching, when I was but a wee lad, she led me to “a special place” in the British Columbian forest, where a circle of trees surrounded an ancient stump. She lifted me onto the stump and told me to close my eyes and drop my arms and breath in deeply. Then she told me to wait until “nature’s pull” happened. She said it had happened to her, once, some time ago, and that she wanted to share it with me now. “The trees,” she said, “will pull your arms up for you, if you let them. Just close your eyes, breathe in deeply, and wait."
The next morning, I bussed to mother’s apartment in Westmount, and took Kernel Mustard II for a W.A.L.K. When I got too sweaty for public, Kernel and I stopped at a café and sat like good boys on the patio. I ordered water for him and an Americano for me. A pleasure of mine that may appear masochistic and maybe is, I don’t know, is to drink hot black coffee under the sun on the hottest summer days. First my skin feels pinched by clothespins, and for a moment I feel nauseous, but then the sweat stars pouring and my thoughts get vague and disjointed, and I think of all sorts of strange, otherworldly-type things.
Anyway, because I don’t believe in suspense, or at least because engaging in it feels grimey, I’ll say, right off, that while sweating spiritually with Kernel Mustard II below the table, I saw someone whom I thought was Jordan, but turned out to be an uglier doppelgänger. Uglier Jordan walked passed the café and crossed the street and Kernel and I followed. We followed Uglier Jordan (whom I still thought was Jordan) all the way to the nearest metro stop. I’d never taken the metro with a dog before. People stared at the dog instead of me, which was nice. I stared at the back of Uglier Jordan’s head. I felt flushed, possibly dehydrated. Uglier Jordan seemed far away from me, and not just physically. Also, he seemed to glow a new inner light, which I didn’t trust, and which made me feel threatened, small. I felt the little self that was me shrink into a tiny slimy nugget, like a snail who’s lost its shell. (Is the shell my ego? Probably?)
Soon enough, though, Uglier Jordan stood up to exit the train, and I saw that he was not Jordan. Uglier Jordan had a bigger nose, fatter thighs, thinner hair. I watched Uglier Jordan eclipse the actual Jordan like a freakish, imposter moon eclipsing the actual moon, or something like that, but I stayed on the metro anyway. I’m not sure why. Maybe to prove a point I wasn’t aware of. Maybe to wait until something important happened to me. I felt like something more was destined to happen, a sense of closure, maybe, maybe to see the actual Jordan, maybe for Uglier Jordan to get back on the train and apologize for not being my ex. I expected something dramatic to happen. I expected some type of proof that my breakup was not some regular occurrence, but a Major Event, a Really Big Deal.
I just kept waiting, though, on the screeching, stop-and-go metro. And all around me, underground, it was dark.
Gavin Tomson is a writer living in Toronto. His fiction has appeared in The Dalhousie Review and Joyland and his non-fiction has appeared in Maisonneuve, Full Stop, and The Awl. He's the winner of The Dalhousie Review's inaugural short story contest and a Copy Editor for The Puritan.