I like stories set in bars because I can smell them. I sit on the train pretending I’m going to work and I can smell the cheap lemon soap in the bathroom in some stupid story, and I don’t have to be where I’m going quite yet.
In this story, someone else is paying. I wanted to establish that, even though it’s a spoiler, because spoilers aren’t the worst thing that can happen to you. For example, no animals are hurt. If I consider what that sentence means, I start to feel uncomfortable, because I’m an animal who can’t be separated from her thoughts. Do you understand what I’m talking about?
I’m one of those people who gets up too close. There’s no way to consider bad form about personal distance an accomplishment. You’re not born full of bad habits; they’re chosen for you and they call the frame they stitch you into a culture, and that’s okay, babies have to be trained, right? I trained two babies; imagine, the trust total strangers put in you, to be able to do that without making a mess.
Then when your parents or guardians or however you want to call them finish with the training and you pass a bunch of surly unheralded tests of adulthood, and amid the bad choices your parents lovingly presented and less lovingly enforced, there’s beer, and strangers to bother in a bar. You have to stand outside to smoke, but if you have cigarettes there’s always someone willing to pass the time.
And that’s another great thing about bars, another story comes in, all the time, but when the money and smokes are gone, the stories leave too.
Cheap and greasy food. I love a bar for that. After you go out into the street into the evening and there’s street food.
Maybe a game of chance. A man who laughs at the right time. Maybe there isn’t concrete paved over the bones. Maybe the inert gases trapped in glass make us happy, as they smear onto the wet roads of memory. Look at all of those miserable critters, huh, but how they shine under the lights. They were someone else’s children. Let the coloured lights on the ground be tucked around them like a perfect, insubstantial shroud.
So in this story there’s a sad man who’s making no sense. He sits at the bar and says that all the words have been stolen from his mouth, all the ancestors have been stolen from their graves, all the land has been stolen from under his feet, and now the sky is sad.
It’s true. The sky hasn’t been the sky in weeks. There are three different problems; the volcano seventy-five kilometres away is rumbling out ash, there are wildfires in the Interior, and a freak cyclone threw a hundred million tons of mildly toxic Chinese agricultural soil into the air over the Pacific, and some of it is precipitating out over Vancouver right now.
My role in this disaster has never been hard to play. I am the nibbler of worlds. I broke off a chunk of coal and burned it to heat my house, and the sky, and I siphoned a tank of gas and burned it to move my car, and a little bit of the sky, and I split an atom or two to heat water for turbines, and a little bit of the sky, and I did it a little at a time, a little at a time. I drowned a thousand million trees for dams. I killed a million sharks for collagen and threw them back in the sea. Was that all me?
How much of it was you. But I can’t blame you. I only have shame for me; you were just doing what came naturally.
Natural selection only works when you have nature.
I don’t know what this is now.
Little drops of water
Will I ever know
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean,
How many litres of pure good water
And the splendid land.
I turned into sewage
And the little moments,
Will I ever know
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
How much carbon dioxide
I poisoned my mother with
I am one little person. I wanted garlic from China. Freesias from South Africa. Oranges from Florida. Almonds from California. Hearts of palm from Brazil. Balsa wood from Indonesia. I wanted dream catchers and boomerangs and coffee table books.
But I don’t know what my great grandchildren will be making paper from.
If they do.
I wish to make confession. It makes other people’s lives worse, but mine gets better, briefly.
Who will care?
I return my attention to the man on the stool. I have seven dollars from busking, enough for a beer and to make a claim on some bar snacks and leave a tip, because I have the pride of the poor and I don’t wish to hurt a working man. The bartender nods and the man on the barstool looks back at me with groggy disinterest.
I have been boiled in the shell of my class and now I’m waiting for a rich person to eat me. I ate a lot of poor people in my time. That little boy picking cacao who died, what was his name?
I have been roasted in the body of my womanhood and eaten by men, and the children they’ve put in me, all my life. It’s okay. It’s just my body. It’s my soul that’s important, after you’ve eaten me.
I have been pinned to a butterfly board by sad thoughts and anxiety; I am a pretty butterfly, dead the instant I think something new. You will steal my scales and turn me into sparkly makeup for another dead girl. We steal things from one coffin to put them in another and call it real life.
I am an exemplar of a dead species. I think I was a feminist. The sky is telling me I’m something different these days. The man clunks down his beer bottle and begins to sing. It is a mourning song, and the bartender tells him to shut up.