14 War stories

By the end of the summer of 2013 George liked and trusted Jesse as much as he could remember trusting anyone.  He had tried to like Ágnes’ special friend, back in the day in Budapest, but there had been a quiet accumulation of insults from Mátyás and he hadn’t the temperament to pretend to be his friend.  It was as an act of penance for ever being that much of a poltroon that he maintained his waxen civility, able at any time to cool into a pleasing shape or disperse in heat and light, and smoke, for George saw much of himself in Mátyás. In the way he clung to Agnes, and moaned about her sex work, he reminded George of his badtempered pleading with his own mother. 

He had pretensions to being a revolutionary too, and George had distinct notions of what the order of operations would have to be to take down the current régime, while Mátyás was full of pamphlets and empty of practical notions like how to keep the proletariat fed properly and transportation and power production running while the grim legal stuff like a new constitution was worked out.  He liked demonstrations, and George loathed them. “By all means, Mátyás, let’s put all the state’s enemies into one cozy pile in the middle of a lovely broad intersection across which troops can have a spiffing field of fire and when you’re done with that carnage you can watch the previously injured randomly be crushed by men on horseback or stand up to flee merely to be pounced on at the first choke point and hauled off in wagons. Foolishness. Absolute foolishness.”   

Family lore said large gatherings of anything were a criminally bad idea.  He had said that offhandedly to Jesse once.

Jesse said, “I’m going to have to start keeping track of your family lore.  Tell me again about the not driving.”

“We don’t drive ourselves; we hire vehicles,” George said.  

“While living in rural Romania, nay, even Transylvania.” Jesse briefly considered imitating Bela Lugosi but decided against it.

“I can’t help where I was born,” George said tartly.

“Or how,” Jesse said. “I’m getting a mental image of your mother riding on horseback to the delivery room like a boss.”

“You’re not getting that mental image from me; she was never on a horse in her life. I was born at home, as is proper. Being born in a dirty, badly-lit hotel full of strangers with ghastly infections is no way to start life,” George said.

“Were you guys Roma?” Jesse said, believing he’d at last figured it out.

“No,” George said. “If I was Roma I’d still be there. They are not often given a chance to emigrate.”

He changed the subject. “You haven’t told me much about your family, except Raven, who seems to be a species of angel.”

“The name-taking, ass-kicking kind,” Jesse said amiably.  He’d started to study how George could dodge a direct question, and with some downtime, now was as good a time as any to practice.

They were waiting for the all-clear from the client. There was some kind of three way slap-fight going on up there, and if the police weren’t called, one of the combatants would eventually stomp off and he and George could finally get in. At one point, from the café across the street, where the harassed manager had allowed them to sit on the patio after closing, as long as they put the chairs away, they’d heard something wooden crash, with a spatter of exploding crockery, like a cabinetful of Royal Doulton getting knocked down some stairs.

“You don’t talk about your mother,” George said.

Jesse scowled.  “You know she abused me; I told you that, and you never forget anything.”

“I’m very fortunate to have an excellent memory for the spoken word. How were you abused?” George asked, and got another scowl.  George said in a flat voice, “It’s hard for me to say how my mother abused me, because not everyone who witnessed it thought it was abuse, and a child needs to be believed before the abuse is real. Before anyone believes you, it’s just how things are, at least as far as the child’s concerned. I had something wrong with me, health problems I’ve since more or less grown out of.”

Jesse said, “She bullied you because you were weak.” George certainly despised weakness now, even as he took steps to protect it with that unselfconscious superiority of his.

“Almost to death,” George said. “It wasn’t what she did, it’s what she let others do.”

Much of the time Jesse thought he wouldn’t be able to tell if George was lying; he had no tells. Now he was convinced that George was being truthful, although he knew he had no way of confirming anything he said.

“My mother was not physically abusive, but she didn’t have to be,” Jesse said. “She terrorized all of us, but I got it worst because my mother hates men, and I was a little man and going to be a big one, just like my useless sperm donor father, and no matter how she tried to make me a good man, I was still a man. And then of course her sister got pregnant by the same guy three months before she did and when Rhonda told them, he took off without learning that he’d also knocked my mother up. She was a little tetched even then.”

“And yet you’ve managed to be a feminist. I’ve observed you very closely,” George said.

Feminism doesn’t stop being necessary just because my mother never got a diagnosis, Jesse thought. Aloud he said, “She didn’t hit me. But I wasn’t really a human being to her. Rhonda did what she could. When she was twelve, Raven decided to run away from home with me, and when we were fourteen, she made it happen.”

“Running away from home can be dangerous.”

“The exact opposite. We went to school.  It was fucking amazing. We got a year and a half in the regular system in the Interior when HellMom took to her bed and didn’t homeschool us anymore, so we managed to get caught up to our grade levels. It wasn’t too hard, academically, anyway, getting from where we were to an alternative high school in New Westminster, and it was on the Skytrain line, and we lived in a fucking dump of a one bedroom apartment and went to school 24/7. Raven got a scholarship and went to UBC.” Jesse closed his mouth and compressed his lips. There had been another crash from across the street, and one of the voices had risen to a shriek.

Published by


Born when atmospheric carbon was 316 PPM. Settled on MST country since 1997. Parent, grandparent.

Leave a Reply