darkest before dawn

On nights, the phone rings between 25 and 80 times. It’s housekeepers clearing or progressing the beds they’ve been assigned, or saying they’ve delivered soap to the nurses’ station; it’s angry ward clerks wondering if the spilled bodily fluids on 2E are ever going to be wiped up; it’s people from hospitals my employer no longer serves who have to be given the toll free of their new service provider; it’s a fitful stream of people needing clean up after human misery, discomfort, life – in the Labour rooms and death – pretty much everywhere.

The door locks, and I’m happy about that. Twice a shift the security guard rattles the handle to ensure that I have locked it.  I leave it open until about 11:45 because otherwise I’m leaping up to let in housekeepers who are signing in or grabbing a new swipe card/pager/ID/piece of paperwork. After that the only people who want ingress are the lead hands.

Folks are pretty nice. I’ve been living in a rather isolated little world and so it’s good to be hearing people talk about work and their lives again.  There’s the usual backbiting, and the inevitable comments about how one housekeeper or another is the laziest sod who ever lived – or the hardest working.  People’s opinions on these matters (unless you’re the poor sod involved) are consistent. Sometimes I say nothing when they give me a long explanation of why they can’t do a bed, and at the end I say, fine, I’ll page it to the supervisor, and fifteen minutes later they tell me to progress the bed.  Snicker. I have that white lady voice, that scornful voice, and it has its gruelling effect.

The housekeepers are from every quadrant of the earth; East Africa, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, the Dominican, Chile, and of course there are a few women who look like me. Some of them even walk like I used to; I can’t tell you how happy I am that I found the exercise for pubic symphisis pain and actually DO it, standing up and lying down.  My gait is much bouncier, and I’m walking faster without really thinking about it.  I’m a Daily Breader now, I’d be missed if I didn’t go to work. And since I’m not running around my house barefoot all day I’m wearing my orthotics much more and holy crap my back feels better.  In fact, everything feels better now that I’m working. I’m sleeping better, which is not credible, but there you are.  I slept from 8:30 – 11:30, swithered for an hour, got up, stayed up for about four hours, and crashed again until 9:30.

I may get a swipe card for the side door.  It would make getting to work on time, since my connections are so very tight, much easier; I wouldn’t have to run up the stairs to the main entrance and stooge about for five minutes while attempting to get the attention of the security guard so I can get to the HCC elevators.

Sad to relate, the gal whose car accident has given me many more hours than I might have reasonably expected after my training has chosen not to return to work until after Christmas.  I will work what shifts I’m assigned without complaint but ten bucks says I’ll be working at least one and probably two stats. Overtime is calculated in an absolutely insane way but that’s somebody else’s problem.  The timekeeper is somebody who used to work on the food service side of the company and I spent a lot of time buying food from her when I worked up on SFU hill in Discovery Park.

Sad to further relate, I’m going to be doing a lot of day shifts over the next two weeks, and they are exhausting and very very busy and I kinda prefer the sheltered workshop that is nights.

I need time off to write, but I only get one day off this week and only two days off for the weeks after that. I’m writing this at work, but it doesn’t matter if the phone rings.  For the writing, I much prefer my laptop and my little writing nook.


84. It’s time to light the light

The final offloading for the ceremony brought George to the point of collapse many times. He remained courteous throughout even when he thought he was going to fold up. 

Michel and Kima were too busy finalizing the photons to assist, and they’d already done the bulk of the work setting up the awnings, screeching at other in Greek through the trees while Michel tried to entertain Kima by finding novel ways to scale and exit the trees, mostly Douglas firs and cedars, as he found attachment points. George was afraid of missing something or messing up, and the worry chewed through his normal list-making and list-completing prowess.

There had been no-one to delegate sound to, so he had that running in the background, whether or not he was conscious, and strangely, a week before the ceremony his hair took a special interest in it, poking about and being opinionated. “Whenever your morning is,” George finally thought hard at it, anger, jealousy and stupefaction being tamped down into a beggar’s plea, “Why don’t you take over the sound effects and music and leave me alone except to barf a report into my good ear once a day.

“Take over sound, report once a day.”

His hair rarely repeated back instructions/requisitions/earnest pleas/grovelling. It was impossible to tell whether it was taunting him or being helpful and compliant, the better to seize the chance to make earthquake noises. Michel, who was as close as the phone he mostly refused to answer, would have made a good speech on why not both? George, staggering under a tangled and burdensome cognitive load, was happy to delegate something. Within seconds he felt more energetic. In fact, he felt springy. It was always dangerous, that springy feeling.  It made things more tangled by the time it faded away into his normal state of bureaucratized terror.

Have fun, my good, strange hair! George thought at it.

No reply was required. The hair was variably moody and capricious, difficult and tremulous, but George had long since come to believe that everything non-compliant about his hair was as a direct consequence of George being such an ineffectual person. Yelling at his hair would be as useful as yelling into a mirror. And yet, sometimes, when people are alone, they do yell into a mirror.

The music might be disastrous. It was a chance he felt he had to take.

It was going to be at night, and the weather, in human terms, was somewhere between ‘you gotta be shitting me’ and ‘ass-freezing cold’. No precipitation was expected, but on the coast that was possibly one of the funniest things you could say without swearing.  When Jesse had learned of the date he said, “The only good thing about it is that it won’t be mosquito season. But the first week of fucking April man, at night, are you nuts?”

“I am not a man, please stop saying that even as a joke, it’s racist. We’re trying to have the ceremony when there aren’t flotillas of summer sailors in pleasure craft motoring up and down the inlet. As for your tender heinies, there will be seating and braziers and places where people can congregate and stay warm while experiencing the Sixer part of the ceremony.”

“Do humans get speaking parts? I thought you only wanted me as a mule,” Jesse said.

“I’m thinking perhaps it should be recorded,” George said, as if he hadn’t heard him.

For a second Jesse was offended, and then Paddy’s face swam into his memory. “Oh, I can think of the perfect person, a former client, she would love the opportunity,” Jesse said. A heftier punishment for bewitching him and then turning out to be a complete goddamned phoney he could not imagine.

“Really,” George said.

“Yes, she’s a documentarian. She loved the idea of Midnite Moving Co. so much she said she’d do a free mini-documentary and we could use as stealth promo.”

“You never said anything about this.”

“I guess it was a mis-communication on my part,” Jesse said.

“Jesse must not tell lies,” George third-personned him, deadpan. With more emphasis, “Did she annoy you? You know you smell different when you lie.”

This brought out the toddler smile, his eyes almost closed, his mouth compressed. “It’s like having god in your pocket, a friend you can’t fool,” Jesse said.  There were things about George that were uncanny and inconvenient, but not being obliged to lie to him always felt good.

“For me to be able to tell that you’re lying I have to both know you and share your space; God is apparently not disadvantaged that way,” George said.

George diverted himself from his reverie. It was taking a very long time to unload the passengers.  The Sixers had worked like oxen at a mill, trying to get all the shelter and firemaking apparatus offloaded and set up the day before, while Sparrow rode at anchor just offshore. Michel and Kima had bickered all the way through the work in a fashion that would have heartened him if he’d had a thought to spare.

83. Well that’s real close, but that’s not why

“I’m going to need you to help offload the boat on the day,” George said.

“Sparrow’s piloting?”

“Yes, but he refuses to come ashore,” George said. The annoyance was obvious.


“He says the ceremony held previously between myself and Kima and his people was everything he needed and he’d be happy to do logistics. Participation was not advised as it was not consistent with the independence of his people.”

There was a long pause while Jesse ran this new fact through the accumulation of prejudices he called his brain. “Credit where credit’s due, the time to ask for favours is while your friends still like you,” he finally said.

“I think the Musqueam have figured out the shitstorm that’s coming, but are too proud not to support us in some way.”

“Do you think I’m gonna die?” Jesse asked in an overly placid voice.

“You’re far too entertaining,” George said. “Somebody will spare you to prevent a child from crying.”

“I’m childish enough, god knows, according to my sister,” Jesse said.

“About that,” George said. His skin stiffened and his hair started to rock from side to side.

Jesse frowned. “Everything okay? You look fucked up.”

George’s voice matched his body. “I am. I’ve been lying to you.”

Jesse’s expression went from worry to broad, drunken mischief. “Only question is, you wonderful critter, whether it’s something I know about already or not.”

“It’s about your sister.”

All the mirth vanished. “No.”

“I met her without telling her I know you.”

This time the silence went on for a long time.

“What do I need to know,” Jesse said tonelessly.

“I’ve been spying on her and I’m very infatuated.”

“Holy fuck.” The emotion came back.

“You’re taking it very well.”

“You’ve got a crush on my sister? Does she know you’re an alien yet?”

“No. But by one of those stupefying coincidences that living in The World’s Biggest Small Town encourages, she’s the former lover of the scientist and academic whom I have chosen to carry the Sixer’s research water.”

“Brendan,” Jesse said.

“You know him.”

“He was my sister’s boyfriend while I was living with her, so, yeah, I knew him. I really liked him, a lot and all that bullshit about her choosing to quit UBC after some fucker reported the affair to the university really grated on me. I’ve kinda hated on him ever since, but at the time I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever met, and we smoked a lot of dope together.”

George looked at him pityingly.

“What? what?  I was seventeen!” Jesse said. “What the fuck had you accomplished by the time you were seventeen?”

“I’d gone through three morphs already,” George said.

Jesse splayed his hands. “I have no idea what that means.  You and Michel talk about morphs but you never stop to explain.”

“Imagine going through puberty and completely changing your shape and the way you think and process information three times in seventeen years when you have a lifespan of four to five hundred years.”

Jesse considered it. George let him do it.

“No, I really can’t,” Jesse said.

“While being forced to watch horror movies and getting yelled at by angry relatives and you lose control of your bowels and bladder and you lose social contact with everybody you know because you go from being sentient to non-sentient.”

“What the hell?” Jesse said.

“Welcome to my childhood,” George said.

“Having a bad childhood is not a contest,” Jesse said, almost as a reflex. “We experience these bad things as individuals, and share them in words. Does the person with the best words win?”

“Not in my experience,” George said. He was thinking of the language of light, and of course that was not what Jesse had meant.  There are a million avenues, he thought, for miscommunication.

Jesse pressed on. “No, because success in dealing with your past doesn’t come from talking about it, it comes from knowing yourself and making meaning from the life and energy you have left.”

“Very wise.”

“I had a therapist,” Jesse said. “He was amazing. I wanted the benefit of the life experience of someone who wasn’t a sexist asshole and who wasn’t a woman, nothing wrong with that,” Jesse said. “He taught me lots of things, like not to talk about the abuse without clear ongoing evidence that I was in a safe space first, which has turned out to be really good advice, because every time I ignored it, I paid for it. He told me not to let loneliness and alcohol loosen my tongue. He told me there are lots of people who take advantage of the damaged ones, and I’d have to learn to see it coming.”

One could argue that I’m one of the advantage seekers, George thought. “You didn’t see me coming.”

Jesse kept it light. “No surprise there — since you are invisible.”

“I’m hardly ever invisible,” George said, offended.

“No, not like Michel, who seems to think that a day without invisibility is a crime against Sixer-kind.”

George smiled.  “He sleeps invisible, which is traditional, and I don’t. Took me almost twenty years to learn how to keep my human appearance while asleep; when I was living with humans before, I had to sleep all kinds of crazy places to prevent them from tripping over me in the morning.”

“When was that?”

Always so keen on the details. “Back in Europa, in the gay mad revolutionary times before the Great War,” George said. When I was living with a sex worker and her asshole revolutionary wannabe boyfriend.

“And when else have you lived with humans?”

“You’ll find out during the ceremony.”

“Which is when,” Jesse said, his head sagging.

“I don’t know for sure, except at night, to suit you, my photophobic chum, and not for at least a couple of weeks since we don’t have all the bits and bobbles rented yet. I’ll be asking you to help with that, too,” George said.

“Sure, whatever you need. Can I sleep on the sofa tonight?” Jesse’s face split in a yawn.

“Yes. You snore, you know.”

“I’m sure you can ignore it, and so can your hair.” Jesse thought about giving George’s hair a condescending little pat, but knowing it could rip his hand off without effort killed the urge.

82 A moist thought glistens, or this might be that moment’s notice. From TimeSensitiveMaterials

“So it has context, content and closure,” George said.

“Same diff,” Jesse said dismissively.  “You just say it prettier.”

George heaved a great sigh.  His deft representation of eyes, large, liquid, brown and guileless, gazed with reproach upon Jesse. 

He would never have laid the burden of being his human conscience on anyone; Jesse was the person who came closest to taking on the role voluntarily. The man with the rolodex had been correct when he said George’d have to work, at a job, with human beings, before he could understand them well enough to trust them. Figuring out how to hawk artifacts for various kinds of money, and then working through proxies, would only get him so far.

His new friend had been the emblem of hospitable calm. He’d taken George into his home. Normally this wasn’t a problem, but if his hair said it was a problem, there’d be mayhem and possibly injury, and loath as he was to admit it, possibly even the death of a someone like his new friend here — until his hair said it was all clear and went back to sleep like a great unsnoring hedgehog who lived on your head.

He had to live with the terror that it would happen. It hadn’t happened yet. Most of the time he had to yell at it for fifteen minutes on an internal, private channel, before it would even wake enough to shudder and acknowledge its own existence.

Every once in a while, like on the night Jesse first got a gun shoved in his face, it would quietly partner up and help! and keep a perimeter — and keep an eye on Jesse. Being so useful and welcome and wonderful that he felt awestruck and happy and filled with the certainty that everything would be fine.

It was the way he felt when he embodied mania. It was a run of emotion and sensation that made the normal barriers between himself and others dissolve; he felt in that crystalline state of perception that no problem was insoluble, or behaviour unacceptable, because wasn’t he required by history? Who needed him more, humans or the planet most of them squatted on like a plastic turd? He rarely got that honest with his human friends; the man with the rolodex died, four days after he met him. The grief he felt was not assuaged at all by the gift of the connections on that whirling piece of paper and plastic; he threw the grief into investigating every one of the connections he’d been left with; there’d been cryptic and hilarious annotations, so he knew where to start.

And Kima had said, “It’s a loss. A profound loss. You wanted his oversight.”

It was terse, but so kindly meant that he came close to locking up every time he thought about it.  At the time, he had approached her and awkwardly started to pet her the way he imagined Michel did it.

“You hate being underwater so much,” she chided. “It breaks your ability to concentrate.”

He admitted to himself that she had gotten much better at criticizing him.

“I know it has to be on land,” she said with one of her diaphragms. He pulled away from the link. The language of light and the Greek were completely at odds with each other.

Nothing like the way his new friend had accepted his story with calm, his true appearance with a sincere, “Wow, do you ever look cool!” and his request for assistance with consideration.

In four days he’d done more to help George than any of his Sixer friends and, as he liked to think, allies.

It’s their planet, they can help pay for defence, he thought, and it was under that operating principle that he first started co-opting humans.

That friend was gone, and now, as if humans would continue to mindlessly and mechanically make offerings to him, it was Jesse, Jesse with his sly, self-deprecating humour, his almost unquestioning acceptance of the consequences of his friendship with George, his delicious-smelling sister, (and sooner or later he’d have to make his confession about that), and his thoughtful attitude toward work, and kindness, and complete and utter laziness when he wasn’t working, or working out, which made him seem more like a Sixer than virtually any human he knew, it was Jesse who sat in front of him, a man fondly smiling at a hurricane for being so awesome.

“I hope,” George said sadly, “That you will bring a somewhat more serious frame of mind to the ceremony.”

“You haven’t told me what I’m s’posed to do yet,” Jesse said, scratching himself in a way he wouldn’t have done with more people present.

“Refrain from scratching your ass, for starters,” George said.

“I can behave myself in public,” Jesse protested, “And this won’t be public.”

“Fine. We’re going to gather together, say why we’re helping each other, pledge to keep doing it, and then go eat,” George said.

“With effects storyboarded by Michael Bay,” Jesse said.

“Who’s Michael Bay?” George asked, to annoy Jesse. Then, cutting him some slack, he said, “He’d be taking notes from us if he was attending.”

“So in the middle, explosions?”

“I asked Kima to go easy on replicating the surface of the sun. It’s amazing how much light she can make when she’s linked to Michel.”

“The sun?”

“There’s a brief bit where the attendees cruise around the solar system and fall into the sun,” George said.

“Show me, don’t tell me,” Jesse said, annoyed.

“You’ll see,” George said placidly. Jesse’s knuckles itched.

81 No dress rehearsal, this is our life

“Are you practicing for the cameras on O-day?” Jesse said. “Something about you doesn’t feel right.”

George was gloomy. “You haven’t asked what Kima sees in me. I don’t know why Kima’s chosen me.  It’s as if she’s compelled to, even though it was against her best interest.”

That’s weird. “Was. As in used to be?”

“It was tempestuous. We’d spend time together and then she’d, as you put it, bugger off.”

“Is that a gendered slur?”

George delivered his opinion with his usual urbanity. “I can’t tell; human rules about sexual activity in and around the anus appear to me an immense pile of self-contradictory dogma, with the Don’t Do It Party ahead in the polls over the Gosh It’s Nice Done Right Federation.  My views may of course have been affected by watching humans enjoy it on video.”

The beer spoke. “I can die happy now, I’ve discussed porn with an alien. Although I suppose I should say something to make it a conversation. Did you enjoy it?” Jesse said, giggling.

The tone became quelling.  “It was research, damn you! I don’t want you to die, happy or not; I’d prefer you hung around for the thrilling dénouement. Of course, you know you’re as free as you can make yourself,” George said. Jesse shook his finger at him. These days George was always checking if Jesse was in the LARP voluntarily.

George took up the thread, narrating his fruitless love life. “She quit squirming when she decided she wanted to live in the Salish Sea, and that she would try to have children with me. Then I asked her if she felt like thinking about some of my problems if she had energy to spare and she did, and I benefited.

“I turned that benefit into technology to assist her in learning various subjects.”

Jesse started moving puzzle pieces around in his mind. “Which include wireless engineering, if Avtar’s to be believed.”

“Yes. She did all of this on a cell phone, by the way. She tears through things, when she wants to learn, with a heated concentration. Literally! — she runs hotter, a couple of times I thought she might be dying and burning from the inside out, and poor Michel got a scare once when she put her thinking cap on. Once she said she already knew how to do all of it but she had to be presented with the problems to understand that she could solve them.”

“That’s creepy.”

George shrugged.  Calling Kima’s behaviour creepy wasn’t useful. Untoward, unusual, eccentric.  All that applied. “Especially math she said her experience feels like she’s remembering it and learning it at the same time. When I tell you she’s bigger on the inside, I mean it.”

There was a little pause.

“If you two love humans, do you s’pose your kids will learn to be that way too?” Jesse asked. “Will you teach them that?” He tried to imagine what the kids would be like, and his heart gave a little premonitory thud.

“I won’t teach them long; I’m not planning on hanging around this planet longer than it takes to put the resources together to leave it. Kima will; and I imagine any child Kima gives birth to will get Michel’s rough and ready support, once they’re old enough.”

Jesse gave his shock immediate voice. “Once they’re old enough? What? I thought you looked after your kids, you talked about your mother helping you hunt and teaching you to take the trail over the mountains to the Mediterranean!” Jesse said.

George shrugged, seemingly embarrassed. “Kima’s a water morph. Babies go in the ocean, to fend for themselves using nothing but their inbuilt survival instincts until they put on enough mass to grow a brain.”

“Are you telling me that you’re probably not going to meet any of your kids?” Jesse asked, distressed. Never having met his father was one of his on-going trials. It hadn’t occurred to him that George was going to enact this vacuum of grief on any kids he might have. They’d have Kima, but maternal was not the first thing that popped into his head as a descriptor for her.

George shook his head. “Not likely, no. Let’s talk about the ceremony.”

“Your human buddies go to the beach for a light show put on by Michel and Kima and we all get a participation trophy, the end,” Jesse said obediently.

George popped his eyes, but Jesse had braced for it. “Crap,” he replied. “I hadn’t thought about a swag bag.  Well, it’s not like this is costing me a lot of money. I suppose I could put together something. And I’m getting help from a Unitarian lay chaplain,” George said.

“George, you’re an atheist,” Jesse said, tenderly, as if telling him for the first time after he’d had a stroke and forgotten.

“Well, yeah,” George said with annoyance.  “I am. But I’ve been going to church in North Van, for various reasons.”

“What. The. Fuck,” Jesse said.

“It’s all part of the intersectional, international, interplanetary wackiness that is my life. The Catholics may be more catholic, but Unitarians have integrated atheists into how they do things, so I thought they’d be okay helping me with our little show, and there were quite a few on the contact list so I had a range to choose from.”

“So you go to church.” He felt like his poor little human brain was just a bony meat bucket for reality to sink its axe into.

“I told them I wouldn’t join. They’re used to that. I like the music,” George said. “It’s one of the many ways I differ from other Sixers. To return to our little stray logistical sheep, ceremony is different things to different people. For Sixers it’s novel. For humans it’s ordinary. I needed human help to shape it into something acceptable.”

“So it has a beginning, middle and end?” Jesse said.

80. I don’t want to use the word love for both you and Cheez Whiz

“Oh, I know perzackly how messed up my memory is, I have PTSD,” Jesse said. “I dunno about anybody else, but I realized that a lot of what humans call memory is just what sticks in your mind from whatever it is that bullies yell the loudest.”

“I have no response to that,” George said. Jesse was three beers in, and getting a slight shine to him. It was good that he’d eaten something more substantial than the nachos. Most Sixers wouldn’t even be in the same room as an adult male human who’d been drinking, if they’d even managed to power through their distrust of indoors while managing sociability. Disgust and fear create a powerful barrier. There was that steady buzz of danger, danger, that flowed from Jesse with every vaporous exhalation. Sixer lore firmly held that drunken humans were the only kind of human you needed to fear. Sober humans, given a demonstration of Sixer capabilities, usually went yipe yipe yipe over the hill; drunks could be hard to predict, and on that basis alone were the most successful at killing Sixers. There were not often smart enough to avoid killing themselves in the process. But it had been done, or so George had been told, and he held it to be true.

There were always plenty of drunks with hunting experience; if the last Gianni killed himself while taking you out, his kid or nephew would pop up like one of those mole heads in a carnival game, seemingly made of chipped enamel and concentrated loathing.

So he sat with Jesse and watched him drink, and was pleased that he felt safe while he did it.  Jesse would never deliberately or voluntarily hurt him, and he wouldn’t give up on him either. The idea of having an attachment point in his life more important than his illnesses and family history had proved too seductive to Jesse. In one way it was a relief. In every other way, it seemed like the warmup for a spectacular betrayal.

It’ll be years before I go into space, George thought. Plenty of time to warn people about what could happen after I leave.

Jesse wasn’t upset at the comment; from what he knew of George it was more likely confusion than some variant of politeness that had made him say that.  He shot out his lower lip. “It’s what I experience.  A response isn’t really necessary.  I have always felt very isolated because nobody experiences the world the way I do, and they show they don’t experience it like I do in the words they use to describe it.”

“Some English words seem to guarantee the dopiness of the user,” George said. It was classic George derailment, but he went with it.

“Let’s pretend I know what they are,” Jesse said.

George made a small, non-committal noise.

“Shouldn’t be too hard, right? And let’s pretend that you won’t point them out to me when I use them.”

“I’m teasing. Words rise and fall out of fashion,” George said.

“I have a question,” Jesse said after a while.

“Really? A question.”

“I’d like you to answer something now, and you know it’s not just one question, it’s more gathering information toward a deep conversation on issues of substance.”

“I suppose, having taught you to be even vaguer than you already were, I can’t shudder when I get the same treatment. Ask away, young human.”

“Did your species have love before you came to Earth?”

“We had sexual predation and lifelong friendship. Not exactly a one for one mapping of how humans manage things.”

“I’ve heard you say that you love Kima,” Jesse said diffidently.

“No doubt you’ve heard Michel ask why’d he’d try to lean his feelings up against a word so small. ‘I love Cheez Whiz’, he’d say, ‘and I love Kima. They don’t belong in the same thought let alone the same language’.”

“He did say that, although I really don’t think he likes All-Purpose Industrial Paste.  I was asking about you.”

“A man I know whom you haven’t been introduced to said that I was the Apollonian lover, and Michel the Dionysian one.”

“Except that doesn’t really take anything about Sixer sexuality or gender expression into account,” Jesse said, and redeeming himself for his tiresome question. “It’s the kind of things humans say when they’re trying to dodge the responsibility for seeing Sixers as they are… mind you it doesn’t help that you assume a human appearance all the time.”

“What do you think?” George asked bluntly.

“I think I don’t know Sixers well enough to know. I do know that you’re closer to each other, somehow, than humans manage to be, even when you’re not in agreement. I think it has something to do with the language of light, and something to do with how matter-of-fact Sixers are, mostly, about their own abilities and sex lives.”

“I don’t disagree,” George said.

There was an uncomfortable pause. Jesse persisted. “If you do love Kima, why do you love her?”

“I can’t give a true answer to that in a human language.”

“That sounds kinda ominous,” Jesse said slowly.

“She’s a predator with her brain as well as her body,” George said. “She’s smart, fast, deadly and though she’s got an ego, it’s small and easily stroked.”

Jesse heard this as, She’s useful and easy to manage.

“The physical attraction, given your differences, is hard to understand.”

“Humans should be able to have sympathy for Sixers about attraction; it’s always a matter of surprise to all but the participants who bangs who if all are free to make their own choices, without regard to the wide human range of strictures, taboos, relative fecundity, laws and religious hangups. If I say a lover smells good and likes me, that should be more than ample reason for me to feel an attraction, and to subject my love to a media ‘means test’ of her attractiveness would make me puke, were I capable of puking.”

George was rarely so animated.  It felt wrong, odd.

79. It is the shared space of suspended disbelief (from Virtualis)

Then he waited for a more intimate intimation of the role he was to play in this ceremony. He had perhaps half a dozen meet-ups with George before the subject arose, and the ceremony came up because it was now March, and his face and throat were clogged with pollen, so it was spring, and there was still no sign of a date. They were sitting on George’s balcony. Jesse had asked for a date, again, and George had again fobbed him off.

“Are we waiting for a special tree to bloom?” Jesse asked in annoyance. Water had wick’d into the ass of his chinos from his chair and he was cold from lack of sleep.

“There are tides to be considered. We need a relatively flat location with no oversight by humans, and Michel’s come up empty so far.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want it to happen.”

“You don’t know him as well as you think. The chance to partner with Kima in the production of a light show designed to blow the minds of everyone watching is quite an inducement. They’re working their asses off, or would do if they had same,” George said.

“A light show.”

“We’re Sixers.  Michel and Kima and I have shown you a fraction of what we can do when we wish to play with light and colour.”

“I figured you could do pretty much anything inside whatever your personal light bubble is.”

“Is that what you call it?” George said.

Jesse shrugged. “You can make light stop in its tracks and run in circles. I can only visualize this by thinking of the works being inside a bubble, maybe not a perfect circle but as close to one as the ground lets you be.”

George nodded slowly. “We can make the bubble larger by coordinating and linking.  Under some circumstances, one Sixer can ‘manage’ another’s light bubble, and in the process widen the scope of the display to almost terrifying lengths.”

“That actually sounds kinda cool.”

“I’m warning you. I was terrified, personally terrified, when they did the earthquake segment. I’m having trouble imagining how most humans would perceive it.  I’m afraid many people would think it was really happening and blow an aneurysm.”

“They put on a light show that scared you,” Jesse said, finding this unwelcome and thought-provoking news.

“My hair woke up and stilt-legged me into Indian Arm, and me with my chubby legs hanging in the breeze. How it thought that running us into the ocean during a violent earthquake was the embodiment of ‘Safety First’ my imagination and rhetoric cannot unravel.”

“What were you expecting?”

“For it to stay asleep, as it mostly does.”

“So it woke up in a panic and fell over backward when it thought the earth was opening up and swallowing it?” Jesse permitted himself a giggle as he tried to picture it.

“It came up with a somewhat more elegant solution than dragging me along the ground like a tiresome afterthought, as it has done several times in the past when it perceived a threat,” George said mildly.

“Go go George’s hair,” Jesse said.

“It isn’t funny. My hair could ruin everything,” George said. “I keep trying to maneuver us into a situation of mutual assistance and trust. I fail. I hope that a solution can be found.  I don’t know what to believe.”

“How is it, with all of your smarts, that you keep filing Pep Talks under Suicide Notes,” Jesse said.

“So I can hear you chide me about my mental health problems,” George said.

“Ayoille!” Jesse said, performing a creditable Michel, and then returning to his normal tone. “You have to tell me when I’m in friend mode, otherwise I just ignore you until you issue a direct order,” Jesse said. “It’s the Canadian way.”

“I’m having a little trouble with —“ but Jesse was inexorable.

“And I’ll tell you something else for free – Canadians never work harder than when it’s at something they weren’t actually supposed to be doing.”

“That is supported by my observation, so I’ll let the impudence pass.”

Jesse found himself silent, eyebrows raised, mouth pursed.

“Ah, you’ve gone all quiet,” George said in condolence. “Jesse, I don’t know when the ceremony’s going to be. I’m not dismissing your right to ask. I find humans are crazy for calendars, and it’s not really the way Sixers work, or not the way we’ve worked for the past few millennia. Who knows what our true state is? — we came into being a long way from here. Our attitude is: We get there when we get there.  It’s the first thing that gets beaten out of conquered peoples, their language and their ways of dealing with time; humans are going to have trouble beating it out of Sixers, because you won’t be able to conquer us.”

“You sleep in four hour blocks,” Jesse said, looking skeptical. “I’d say you’re fully invested in how we manage time on Earth.”

“There’s a difference between a daily practicality and the great mass of time,” George said. “Especially when you’re juggling nested rings of variables muddled with flaming torches of egotism and bathtubs full of the lime green Jell-o of special interest.”

Jesse continued to be politely disbelieving. “You’re juggling bathtubs full of lime-green Jell-o.”

“I was told it’s a science fiction fandom reference which will please the discerning.”

“It would, if you weren’t missing the most important part,” Jesse said.  Raven, of course, had told him the story.

“The naked underaged redheaded twins, yes, I understand that. I thought it would be implied once I mentioned the bathtub and the Jell-o, which would allow me to not have to say anything about the redheaded twins.”

“I s’pose that’s most of the fun of being a hipster. Saying something douchey that only your friends will understand,” Jesse said.  He drained the beer he’d had the self-care to bring, and finished the bag of nachos.

“I forgot to tell you,” George said. “I got real food.”

“What?  WAWWWWWT?” Jesse bellowed.

“Mind the neighbours!” He said something in Greek that sounded like what Michel had translated once as ‘you great ox’. “There’s beef and broccoli and garlic prawns in the fridge.”

“You’re fucking kidding me!” Jesse cried in joyful tones.

“Shh! No! There are chopsticks too,” George said, smiling.

“Did you put a bag in the kitchen trash?” Jesse asked in a more subdued tone.

“I knew I forgot something else,” George said. “I’ll use the bag the food came in.”

“That’s the ticket,” Jesse said sliding open the balcony door as fast as was safe.

“How is it that you forget anything, when your memory is so good?” Jesse said, as he stood by the microwave. He stayed inside to eat; the wind was too rude to be a dining companion.

“The memory is still there in a sequence, but sometimes I can’t find my way back to the memory I want. Sometimes it feels like something in my thought processes is actively blocking me.”

“Must be weird not to be able to trust your memories.”

“Must be weird for you not to understand how fragile human memory is and therefore be able to produce such a beautiful assumption without irony.”

78. I is a tense in which we are embodied (from Virtualis)

Jesse got up one afternoon in early January, 2014, and found an email from George waiting in his LARP inbox. It appeared to be a mass email, but there were no other addresses visible.

Hi folks,

It’s about getting away. I don’t know how it can be about anything else. I wish to seal, with wax and lyric poetry, with ceremony and gratitude, the story; to give it to you plain and without missing anything important.

I know I don’t belong on Earth. I doubt anyone who feels that way could love Earth as much as I do. Sixers had to come to Earth to learn to feel love of place (or any kind of love that doesn’t align with personal convenience and self-will, come to speak of it.)

The feeling of not belonging on Earth is not connected to this love. It is in resolving my love for Earth, and my being forced away from Earth by an instinct so strong it sometimes knocks me out, that I have perceived my exit from the impasse.

I can help Earth and leave it at the same time, and I’m asking you to continue to help make it possible. Already everyone who’s ever helped me is at a disadvantage; I only told four people, two human and two Sixers, what I wanted to do from the outset, and the rest of you joined my crew without informed consent.

I’ve had to learn about informed consent. It isn’t really possible for my species, while so much happens when we aren’t truly conscious — while so much happens in the background of our consciousness, where footling dragons from millennia past burn holes in our mental maps. One could argue, given the nature of human consciousness, that informed consent is a social chimera, an imaginary beast with real world significance. I understand the argument, but I give it no purchase.

I’m no longer worried about how bad I’ve been at obtaining informed consent; most humans are terrible at it. I’ve made my attempts, and whether I’ll forgive myself for past lapses and future errors remains to be seen.

I’ve learned so many things. I never used to consider myself as a moral being.  When you’re already perfect, you never have to get better. I’ve been mocked for assuming the appearance of a healthy, well-educated white man,  with all the privilege that comes with it, but for a moment, please consider how my conspecifics and relatives have reacted to my lengthy impersonation.  I’ve fallen a long way out of my clade; from my unnaturally perfect ancestors, through my own sadly deformed and malleable body, into pretending to be something that lives 80 years among bones housed with droopy, papery skin.

In my attempt to deal with humans honestly, I’ve learned how empty of ceremony Sixers are. We have our memories and our ways of sharing them — but we use them more for entertainment than other purposes; as we reach through each other’s memories, there are always favourites we return to over and over.

But that isn’t ceremony. Ceremony is public; it’s held in front of everybody it concerns. But it’s also private; if it doesn’t concern you, you’re not invited. Watching an ancestor’s memory, perhaps of an event that only you have ever watched in many lifetimes of Sixers, is not ceremony; it’s riffling through picture books on a rainy afternoon.

To enact a meaningful ceremony, one that would make it possible to move through the world as one for all those present, is a real challenge when you’re mixing up Sixers and humans. Generally humans have lots of people to call on, in planning and executing something this ambitious, and it’s just me, Michel and Kima. I don’t want any other Sixers here, to be candid, and even if there were more I loudly doubt they’d help me.

They don’t buy my reasoning. I’m exposing Sixers to publicity which may result in their extermination, according to them. It’s a foregone conclusion to them that humans will never rest until we’re all dead. That’s the flapping, painted backdrop of my story. Humans understand that I’m trying to deal with an existential threat in hunting asteroids; Sixers think I’m actively seeking one out on their behalf by exposing them.

None wish to come to Vancouver to help me. Only an insane person would do that. An insane person… like you.

Humans are doing what my people, with two notable exceptions, won’t. All of you are. I can no longer put aside how important it is, that I pause and give thanks. And say sorry. And ask for more help.

I want to say all that – to enact it – in a ceremony. It will take place somewhere in the Lower Mainland accessible by boat, sometime in the spring, and as ghastly as this sounds, it will involve rehearsals.

Do you want to be part of it?

Jesse took a long slug of his coffee, and typed, “Hells yeah.”

77. Our melancholia is just plush and uncivic (from Virtualis)

“There’s no challenge to it,” Jesse said, looking at Colin sadly.

“You’d hate it if I teased you,” Colin said, irritated.

“But you’d hate it worse when I didn’t respond the way you wanted me to,” Jesse said. “I vote we shut up like manly men and put a real push on here.”

“I thought Abbie was s’posed to help you,” Cary said, looking around slowly.

Colin and Jesse glanced at each other, and turned up the speed. The last of the boxes were on the truck half an hour later, and the furniture was done an hour after that. 

The whole time Abbie sat in the cab and cried, and the wind and the rain never ceased.

Colin had paused and spoken to her a couple of times.

“I feel like such a bad person for abandoning him,” she said during one such conversation.

“Maybe this will force him to get the help he needs,” Colin said.  He felt awkward, but he normally did, so the awkwardness held no lessons.

“I think he’ll kill himself,” Abbie sobbed.

Jesse had once joked that Colin only did emotions on alternate Thursdays by appointment, and Colin was thinking about that as he spoke.

“As much as we can love other people it’s damned hard to predict what they’ll do. Does he have any other friends and family who can bang on his door or call him and check up on him?”

“Not me,” Abbie said. She stopped crying, but looked like she could start up again at any time.

“I’m thinking, no, not you,” Colin said.

“Well there’s his mother, but she can’t do the stairs anymore.”

“Is there a social worker or public health nurse or something?”

“I’m done. I’m not going to arrange it.  I’m hanging by a thread here!” Abbie said.

“I understand,” Colin said.  He got down from the cab and grabbed a furniture blanket from the back. He brought it to the cab and tucked Abbie in, commenting that she must be freezing.

“You guys have been wonderful.” Colin took out his hanky, which was folded, clean, and warm from his pocket. He probably wasn’t getting it back, but he’d just found his grandmother’s stash of them in the basement in North Van, package after unopened package, like a display in a retail store, carefully sealed in a storage tote against the depredations of time. He didn’t imagine that his grandmother would grudge this one.

“We’ll be done soon,” he assured her.

Jesse meantime was being followed around by Cary.

“Why isn’t she taking everything?” he groused. “I don’t want to get stuck taking care of her shit.” He aimed a half-hearted kick at a red and orange sofa.

‘Taking care’ was not the phrase Jesse would have used to describe Cary’s interactions with physical reality, but he didn’t speak to that.

“Abbie’s leaving everything your mother gave you when she downsized her house, which she’s told you at least once because I was in the room when she said it,” he said gently. “She’s not going to steal it from you.”

“It’s not stealing, I don’t want it,” Cary said. “You have to take it with you.”

“She doesn’t want it and she’s the one paying for the move, which she organized overnight for your convenience, or have you forgotten that part?” Jesse said. “She’s leaving the tv in your room, and she paid for that.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Cary said, aggrieved, “I can’t afford to pay for cable. I can’t afford to pay for this house either without Abbie so all this shit will be sitting in the rain soon enough when I’m evicted.”

“I’m sure it all seems very overwhelming,” Jesse said.

“Don’t patronize me, you musclebound punk,” Cary said, shifting from tonelessness to stilted crankiness.

It wasn’t the worst he’d been called. “Fine, stop talking at me and complaining non-stop,” Jesse responded.

“I’m suffering from depression,” Cary said.

Jesse lost it. “So’s everyone around you, ya jackass.  I’ve got two chronic medical conditions, one mental, one physical. I just turned twenty-four, and you know what? I take care of business. I work, I have friends, I have a love life, I eat properly, I wash my fucking dishes. That’s what adults do. If you can’t manage it then you need to get someone to look after you until you can, and if you can’t ask for help I don’t know what to say. If you’re actively suicidal —“

“Is that what Abbie says?”

“She said she’s afraid you’ll kill yourself, yeah.”

“Does she sound like it would make her sad?”

“Of course the man she’s loved for five years and lived with for two years is somebody whose suicide would make her break out in three cheers, what the hell kind of question is that? Nobody wants you to kill yourself. Shut up and quit whining, sure, but not kill yourself.”

“Now you’re being hateful,” Cary said.

“I’m not a professional, and you’re needling me. What do you want?” Jesse asked flatly.

“Take all my mother’s crap with you.”

“Not unless Abbie agrees,” Jesse said.

“She’ll say no to make me suffer,” Cary said.

“What about her suffering?”

“Her? She acts like an angel when someone else is watching.”

Mentally making the Neil deGrasse Tyson jazz hands gesture, Jesse made no response and continued moving trash bags full of blankets and clothing. Colin came back inside, looking pinched.

“You’re going to ignore me. It’s like I don’t exist.”

“You’re too inconvenient to be non-existent,” Colin said, pushing a wave of cold, damp air into the room. “So cheer up, you still exist,” he added.

“My depression is not something I have for your entertainment,” Cary said doggedly.

Good, because it’s not very entertaining, Jesse and Colin thought at the same time.

“Nobody asks to be depressed,” Colin said, trying to sound less like a jerk.

“Adults take charge of their mental health problems and work toward better quality of life,” Jesse said.

“You think I should cure myself,” Cary said, staring at both of them with his dead, pouched eyes.

“Do you need help?” Jesse asked.

“Not according to you!”

“Right. Twist what I say so it fits your world-view, externalize responsibility, demand assistance, show no insight,” Jesse said.

“Now you sound like the world’s worst psychiatrist,” Colin said, looking at Jesse in alarm.

“What do you know about psychiatrists?” Cary asked. That creepy smile was back.

Colin took a breath, and Jesse put an advisory hand on his arm. They returned to their duties.

“Quit talking to me, how adult,” Cary said.

Colin took another breath, and this time Jesse forestalled him. “Colin, we’re both making things worse.” Speaking directly to Cary, and using every bit of his twenty centimetre height advantage, he said, “We’ll be leaving in about ten minutes. Please go back to your room in the meantime.”

“You’re in my residence without my permission,” Cary said.  “I’m calling the cops.”

“You’re not on the lease,” Colin said.

Jesse got his wallet out and produced the business card of a senior RCMP officer. It had been stolen for him by Michel, but he wasn’t going to say that. He held it in front of Cary long enough that he could read it.

“Our firm,” Jesse said, “Is informally recommended by local law enforcement for moves impacted by mental illness or domestic violence. Go ahead and call the cops, but I suspect your hospitality options are going to be a hard jail cell for uttering threats or a soft observation room in the local psych emergency for uttering threats. I’ll send you to the nearest ER in a cab if you’re in crisis.”

“I didn’t utter any threats,” Cary muttered.

“Who do you think the cops are going to believe, especially after they check the history at this address?” Jesse said blandly.

Colin was appalled. “I’m not lying to the cops for you, or anyone else,” he said, brows meeting.

“You self-satisfied goon,” Cary said to Jesse.

“Go back to your room,” Jesse said.

“Dude, please,” Colin said.

Muttering all the way, Cary made his slow, troubled return to his lair.

“I’m never helping you on a move again,” Colin said.

“Blow off a chance to work with Michel? I don’t think so,” Jesse said. They did a last walk-around to ensure they hadn’t left anything, and then to be sure they called in Abbie.

“Yeah, everything’s on the truck.”

Jesse and Colin bundled her out of the house as soon as they heard Cary’s voice calling for her.

They unloaded the truck into her step-dad’s garage in Whalley. He came out at three in the morning to greet them, and to assist.

“Craziest thing I ever heard, moving in the middle of the night like this,” he said to Abbie, after a long hug. “I’m glad you scraped that duffer off your shoe, though, girl.”

The offload went like clockwork. The wind and rain died down.

Jesse let Colin drive. When they got to the normal spot to park the truck, half a block from Jesse’s apartment, Colin said, “Can I crash at your place? Don’t feel like moving anything anymore, not even a gas pedal.”

Jesse said, “Sure.”

“Was I really that much of an asshole tonight?” he asked after a minute.

“Truth. I just don’t have the energy to bitch you out about it,” Colin said. Jesse pulled out the sofa bed and tossed him bedding.

“Now for that shower,” Colin said.

“Nope. How privileged you are! Landlord won’t let me shower between 11 pm and 5 am. Whore’s bath for you.”

“So I have to get into grandad’s car and go all the way back to North Van if I want a shower.”

“You coulda had one in the rain if you’d brought soap,” Jesse pointed out.

“I’m officially so tired I don’t care,” Colin said. He stretched out the bottom sheet, snapping it on the corners, and threw himself down. The sofa bed made eerie noises of protest, including a long, low, ‘ga-wunga-wung’.

Jesse went to bed.

When he woke up there was a text from Abbie asking if she could friend him and Colin on Facebook.

Glad you can’t see my face, sister.

He texted: Can’t speak for Colin, don’t have Facebook.

Can u ask him?

If you only knew he spells everything out when he texts, and would maybe even shudder if he saw that ‘u’. Good thing I have a backstop.

If you didn’t get his phone number, that’s on you. I’m not giving out a coworker’s number. If he didn’t ask for your number, that’s on him, and probably means

    He tapped enter.

he thinks grinding on a woman who sat in a cold truck and cried for hours is super bad manners.

Find your breakup toy at the library, sister, Jesse thought.

Guys like Colin are hard to find.

Jesse burst out laughing, one of the advantages of text over shared space.

I concur, but not for the same reasons.

He considered his response.

Your story has touched me deeply.  I will consult with him.

He texted Colin.

Abbie wants your phone number.

He was glad Abbie couldn’t perceive Colin’s response.

Good God, what for?

Took a shine to you.

It was not mutual. I was trying to provide respectful support to a client. Is this how desperate women are to be treated like human beings?

Maybe you look like breakup sex to her, what do I know. I don’t specialize in grieving women. You could always friend her on Facebook and leave it at that.

I can do that. We’ve met, we’d recognize each other in the street. I’m not ashamed to know her.

Jesse cracked up again. Cool Mr. Smooth, he thought.

My work here’s done.  

Fuck you, came Colin’s cheerful response.

Two hours later there was a ping on his phone, a single word text from Abbie: Thanks.

He immediately texted Colin. You chump, did you start messaging her on Facebook? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

You’re an asshole.

Nope, I’m only *part* asshole, just like errybody else. Set good boundaries! Carry lube and condoms! You can talk to me anytime!

See previous communiqué, peace out.


76 to lie most effectively tell the truth in such a way it won’t be believed

He was quoting George. Colin recognized the quote; he’d heard his grandad mention it.

“But you can’t bring people used to thinking of themselves as superior to a different understanding of that superiority without making them mad, and so a good chunk of feminism is press rather than activism, although you need both to get anywhere.” He paused as they slid the bookcases along. “And the whole getting mad thing accounts for all the bullshit things white men who identify as feminists say to various individuals who are minority women when They call HIM on his narrowly constructed and self-serving and dismissive, condescending and slur-filled take on contemporary politics.

“There’s information to correct the misinformation, but in the same way a Jesuit priest can get a PhD in astrophysics and believe in the Trinity, a white Canadian guy can dismiss a rational argument from a Nigerian black woman simply because he doesn’t believe she could be well educated enough to argue with him, and thus does not actually pay attention to what she’s saying, and can continue to abuse her over the internet because in his mind she’s inflexibly stupid and needing to be yelled at.  That’s what racism is.  He is allowed to believe that he need not improve himself for something worse is his to abuse.”

“And you think I’m like that,” Colin said coldly, stacking rickety diner-style metal tube chairs.

“When’s the last time you abused a woman of colour on the internet?”

“I corrected all the spelling and grammar in her post, found her email address and sent it to her and she immediately replied that I was never to communicate with her again, which seemed easy enough to do.”

“You at least make an effort not to stalk.”

“Oh, I do stalk. It’s not good.”

“I stalked Lark for a while,” Jesse said.

“That must have been awful for you,” Colin said. It wasn’t possible to tell from his tone of voice whether he understood his self-reproach or was being a complete fucking prick. Colin had surprised him many times; he was mostly soft-hearted, but prickly, and fuck George and his gendered slurs.

“You’re doing a lot of talking and not much moving,” Cary said, appearing out of the gloom.

Colin said, “You’re doing a lot of talking and not much paying,” and Jesse sucked his breath in and held it, trying to aim calm at these two mismatched souls.

“I’m going to tell Abbie,” Cary said.

Neither mover spoke, and both started moving toward the back bedroom, which was strictly off limits to Cary. 

“You’re just hiding back there, you’re not moving anything. What were you talking about?” Cary asked. Jesse turned. He thought he might have compassion for Cary, when he wasn’t thinking of what Michel might do to him, so he answered with what he hoped was a face of shining honesty.  It was hopeless to think his face could shine, though; he’d never been in a house so dimly lit. The house of his childhood seemed like a Diwali celebration compared to this dump.

“Women, sex, LARPing, manners, feminism and him somehow thinking meeting my sister is a good idea.”

Cary followed the most recent words. “You don’t want him to meet your sister.”

“Socially he’s way way above us,”

“Hey!” Colin said.

“Although there are now mitigating factors which er, have to do with the LARP, and are boring past belief to the novice, like there’s an eight hour orientation and if you skip it or miss it you NEVER get to play no matter how you beg, and there’s like two hours of on-line reading which is a snap of course, but the hard part, I mean the really holy shit is this how it’s going to be from now on part, is just how mentally ill everybody who plays the game is.

“How mentally ill?” Cary said, with professional interest.

“You have to commit to behaving as if something you know isn’t true is true, and be prepared to die defending the lie,” Jesse said. 

“That’s just being a spy in wartime,” Cary said, dismissive. “Not mental illness, it’s strategy.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Colin said. “The game makes ever-expanding demands on time and energy — though most of the cost is being subsidized by a rich crazy person.”

“Must be nice,” Cary said, although his voice never left its monotonic rut.

Jesse adopted his gently chiding voice, which made Colin want to dent him in the shins, a sordid feeling to have while blue and purple marks remained on Jesse’s face. “Colin, crazy is a pejorative word. It’s not useful in describing real world situations, it’s not respectful, and it isn’t helpful.”

“What it is is terse,” Colin said.

“Oh, now you’re manly,” Jesse said. “Let’s move furniture then. Cary, wanna help?”

“You’d have to pay me,” and he smirked. For a moment he looked like an artist’s rendering of the first Vampire-Sloth hybrid. Jesse wanted the smirk to go away,

“You’ll have to pay us if you want to watch.  We could get affectionate if you pay extra.”


75. Pent up contention beasts

Note: chapter title stolen sideways from Virtualis

The two movers had to pass repeatedly in front of Cary’s open door. Colin, fastidious and judgey as he was, went straight to it in a series of likely audible whispers.

Jesse said, “Whispering shit that’s rude just lets people know you’re rude, but it’s okay if you’re of limited capacity or a child,” and smiled, because his mimicry of Colin was full-bodied and he was proud of it.

“Fuck you, and you say I’m judgemental,” Colin replied. “You’re seven years younger than me and you treat me like a child.”

“I could go on and on about why that’s so, and for a fair bit about how you let me, and yet I don’t. Seriously, dude, you’re going to have to stop treating your posture as an afterthought.”

“God, you sound like my grandmother, when she was still talking.”

Jesse turned from teasing at the mention of his dying relative — as Colin no doubt knew he would. “Maybe she’ll speak at the end. Humans often do, they are wired for it, if it’s a reasonably natural death.”

“What?” Colin said.

“It’s something George said, and Michel agreed when I mentioned it.”

“You spend a lot of time checking what one says versus another.”

“You know about the wiki. If we don’t stick in everything we know that we’ll be able to rapidly vet and share with the appropriate people come O-day we’ll end up spending hours and hours in interrogation rooms.”

“I don’t like thinking about that.”

“George is striking a deal with the cops and other interested parties so we’ll have special status under the new regime as experienced Sixer wranglers.”

“I hate that term, it makes the Sixers sound like brute animals,” Colin said.

“What are you guys talking about?” Cary said from his room.

“A LARP,” Jesse and Colin called back in sync. “It’s a kind of game,” Colin said officiously.

“I know what it is,” Cary said. They left the house with two boxes apiece and fucked with the ramp by bouncing on it as they walked up it, which combined with the wind and rain made a noise that was rhythmic, unnerving and rather catchy. It also made the two of them howl with laughter, which echoed in the carport. The regular truck didn’t have a ramp, but the regular truck was in the shop after a possum-related incident which had involved smoke and flames.

“I didn’t know possums lived in Vancouver,” Colin said, when Jesse told him. “They aren’t common,” Jesse said, “Which is good because I think they’re creepy as fuck. I know they’re one of god’s critters but, brrr.”

“You know Cary’s gonna try to engage us in conversation and require our cooperation,” Colin said. They stopped outside the door, to continue the conversation.

“Yup. I started carrying cuff-straps as part of my kit last month.” Colin made a noise that could have been disbelief or approval. “They’ll probably get used against me, given my shit luck, but the point is that if I need to fasten him to something I have the power. I know he’s physically sick right now and it’s hurting his brain, which is making him really yucky to be around.”

“When I get home I can shower and remove the stench of total loser, which is the thought that’s keeping the harsh off my wallies,” Colin said.

They went back into the living room. They commenced to staging more awkward objects, things and appurtenances, having among their number floor lamps, hutches, rather too many flimsy bookcases which would likely not withstand the rigours of being reassembled, corner cabinets, an antique spinning wheel, seven wheelie bins of craft supplies (all very well organized and labelled, but daunting in their scale) “I mean look at these fuckers,” Jesse said as soon as they went back outside. “Stick hats on ‘em and leave ‘em in an alley and even Michel would run the other way.”

“You know you have the most amazing rural BC accent and yet you speak like you got a university education.”

“You didn’t live with Raven when she was going to school,” Jesse said.

“When will I meet her? She sounds intriguing,” Colin said.

“Why would I do that to you?” Jesse said. “She’d bite your dick off, spit it in your face, and then argue that you were better off.”

“You’d say that about your own sister,” Colin said in disgust.

“Yeah,” Jesse said, “But only to hear her delightful laugh. I mean once she got to know you she’d have no interest in you — I certainly know her well enough that you wouldn’t be her cup of tea.”

“And you’re going to tell me why,” Colin said.

“Oh no,” Jesse said. “You wanted to meet her, you’ll get your wish.”

“But I’ll wish I hadn’t.”

“No, no,” Jesse said, sounding just like George for a second, “If you decide to be in friendly puppy-dog mode you’ll survive first contact with nothing worse than a light glaring.”

“You’re having me on.”

“Do you have a sister?”


“Damn, I knew that. But if you had a sister, would you let me date her?”

“This. Is a trick. Question,” Colin said.

“Totally,” Jesse said, waggling his eyebrows. “But can you articulate how?”

“It’ll have something to do with feminism,” Colin said grimly.

“Which is a philosophy devoted to digging up the roots of inequality between men and women, and replanting life with practical and humane solutions to that inequality.”

“You make it sound so reasonable,” Colin said.

“English can make anything sound reasonable,” Jesse said.

Birthday thoughts

I got 8 and a half hours of sleep today; woke up to Jeff saying it’s good you’re awake Paul and Keith are taking you to dinner! so I rolled out of bed and we went to the Union Jack and had Stuffed Yorkies. I did have a raspberry mojito, but they were on special, and after I had a Shirley Temple, which is different from place to place and the current reigning champeen is served at Brown’s.

Starting to get a routine; come home, stay away until about 9:30 catching up with Jeff and watching PVR stuff, then to bed in two shifts – or one, like today. Up no later than 10, take my vitamins brush my teeth, fix my lunch and out the door I go.  Catch the bus at 10:30 and stroll into work right on time. Coming home the buses hook up so well I’m home in literally half an hour.

I drink tea at night. I’m not drinking coffee unless I’m on days.  I’ve pretty much had to stop drinking beer since starting to work full time so you can just imagine how in-trim my liver’s going to be by Friday, when Mike’s taking me to a gastropub for dinner.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be going to Keith and Paul’s for breakfast and to pick up my glasses which (fingers crossed) Keith will have been able to fix.

Then home for sleepiebyes and one more shift for the week and then it all starts over again on Sunday at 11 pm.

I have to work 4 day shifts at the beginning of December and days in this job are proof that god hates you so yuck, but it’s all money and there are supervisors to consult when things **** up, so yay.

I got almost FIFTY BIRTHDAY WISHES on facebook and five private email wishes for birthday joy, so don’t let anybody tell you I have no friends, which would include me saying it.

My day card was Justice; my ‘year ahead’ tarot reading was wonderful and involves shitpiles of work, coordination and consolidation.


YES I am still writing, but my regular part time hours will be less of a kick in the goolies, and that won’t happen until well after the beginning of December, so I guess my deadline of December 12 is now officially toast.  I do understand a) how I’m going to finish it and b) that it is probably going to be at least 15K words shorter than I was expecting, but I won’t really know until it’s done.


74. A penchant for causal nostaglia (per DJD)

Most humans involved with Sixers would have argued, with passionate elaboration, that they knew what they were doing, what they were getting into, and what the risks were.

Jesse was more simple-minded about it. There was no way in hell he could know what the risks were. Whatever happened, it was still better than living with his mother. He chose not to claim a higher purpose; in his experience, that shit never works out. Instead, he took the position that he was being loyal to a person – George – and an idea – that sentient (language-using) creatures are created equal. He figured that no matter how smart anyone sent to argue with him was, he could defend those choices. He knew he was taking any notion of a reward for loyalty on faith; George had promised that he’d never spend a day in jail, and yet he’d publicly repudiated Jesse when he’d been called on it.

Jesse still believed. He didn’t tell anyone about it, and when conversation slid, as it always did, toward the miraculous post-coming-out party, he always took the darkest view. “Act like you’re already dead. Humans are crazy and violent when they’re afraid, and never more crazy and violent than after they’ve calmed down from being afraid. Maybe the Yanks’ll nuke Vancouver from orbit, or send in the drones.”

Everyone in earshot would groan and roll their eyes. 

He also thought he could argue that the coming of the Sixers was a nail in the coffin of the nation state, but that contention was going to be tougher to prove, and he’d need to do more research, and the business was, well, busy.  He thought November would be the slowest month ever but they did ten moves, every last one of them in the rain.

A couple of days after Halloween, he and Colin, subbing for the unavailable Michel, did their saddest move thus far.  The woman was moving out for cause because her male partner had taken to his bed. They literally had to move around him.

The plan had been to send him to his mother’s place, the last place bar the doctor’s office and the ER you could still get him to go, and then move overnight so it would all be over when he came home in the morning. 

Their client, Abbie, got the worst of both worlds.  Her soon to be ex was in the house, not helping, and she had to move in the middle of the night.

His name was Cary, and he was so depressed that his expression never changed and he moved with extreme sluggishness.  Michel was right to have skipped this one, Jesse couldn’t imagine what kind of hostile mischief he’d play on a poor guy like Cary. Colin, waspish as always, had volunteered.  “God,” he’d said, “It’ll be good to do something with you that doesn’t involve drinking,” to which Jesse concurred.

“Pro-social, too,” Jesse said. He was trying to stay upbeat. Lark had finally called back. As he’d suspected, he was now too holy to have sex with. Or something. None of it had been welcome, and even less of it had been coherent.

He tried to reframe it. All of his problems were ordinary problems. Trouble with boss, trouble with coworkers, trouble with health, trouble with family, trouble with friends and lovers.

He had to admit that since they’d moved to Vancouver  Raven had been everything she promised and then some. There was some family not worth complaining about. His mother still walked next to him through almost everything he did. He counted as part of the memorableness of any event her departure from his thoughts.

The problems were ordinary. Their contexts were not. Sometimes he experienced it with a kind of spastic grandeur, thinking that he was moving boxes as part of a criminal conspiracy with the potential to both yield and destroy trillions of dollars of assets across the global economy.  Then he’d think of Kima whispering in his ear, and he’d shiver, and say to himself, ‘I thought she asked me to volunteer to carry her, and so I did.’

Though capable of figurative speech, George had said once, it’s quite an effort for her.

Jesse had taken her literally — the horror on everyone’s face but the Sixers had been worth the risk of asking to pick her up and learning he was taking liberties. He thought afterward that he was lucky George had been telling the truth about her comment when she’d seen his picture.  

He had watched her with her two lovers — George, who did everything he could to not physically touch people, and Michel, who never met a boundary he could respect, and determined that for whatever reason it was the handsy (tentacle-y?) Michel that seemed to have her true affection.

For that whisper in his ear, that personal connection, for her cold and slithering form, miraculously dry, held briefly in his arms, it had all been worth it. 

After that, he thought Kima would come and get him, if George didn’t.  It might take a while and she’d be brusque about it, but she’d do it. Let the others mock him for being so gauche.