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Authors: Elisabeth de Mariaffi

How to Get Along with Women

BOOK: How to Get Along with Women
3.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Dancing on the Tether

Kiss Me Like I'm The Last Man On Earth

Accidental Ponds

Field Work

He Ate His French Fries in a Light–hearted Way

Ajaccio Belonged to the Genoese

Everything Under Your Feet

Super Carnicería

Jim and Nadine, Nadine and Jim

The Astonishing Abercrombie!

How to Get Along with Women

You Know How I Feel

This one is for Nora and for Desmond

Dancing on the Tether


Zelda comes up the laneway on her bicycle, going slow because it's dusty and because sometimes a pickup pulls out quick, the driver not expecting anyone to be walking or cycling way out here. She can see Tim about halfway down the drive working on the Ranger, his head down in the engine and she leans her bike against the fence and takes her schoolbag, which was hanging across her chest for the ride, and lifts it over her head and lets it hang from just one shoulder and walks up behind him.

I need to ask you a favour.

He doesn't look up. He says, Pass me that screwdriver there, babe.

Zelda hands him the screwdriver. Seriously. Tim.

He pulls his head and shoulders out from under the hood and turns, flips his chin at her.

Take your shirt off.

Tim. She steps toward him a little and rocks back and forth on her heels.


I need something.

So do I, baby.

I need you to do something for me.

He puts the screwdriver down, leans his head down too. Lifts up his eyes to look at Zelda. You know you're no fun.

He's squinting. There's a lot of cloud but it's bright cloud. Zelda doesn't answer right away and he picks up the screwdriver again and goes back to work on the V belt. There's some wind and the hood shakes a little, propped up there. Tim stays bent over. Zelda wonders if the wind were strong enough, could the hood fall down on his shoulders.

Tim lived with them, Zelda and Mary, for six whole months back in the winter and spring. He used to take Max for walks and he let Zelda tag along and showed her how to get Max to drop one stick before you throw another. He got up and made macaroni and cheese for breakfast when Mary was out working late the night before and once when he was rolling up a joint on the kitchen table, Zelda knocked over a glass of milk and soaked his rolling papers and he didn't even lose his shit.

Zelda says, I need you to drive me up north.

Fuck. Gimme that impact driver.

She finds it and gives it over.

I want to see where I was born.

Who knows where you were born, Tim says. He strips the belt out nice and clean, tosses it down, reaches back for the new one. Zelda picks it up and hands it to him. She doesn't say anything for a while. Tim's shoulders rock a little.


You know I'm not even fucking your mom anymore. Go ask someone else. Ask Ray.

Ray's a jackass, Zelda says. That makes Tim feel okay and he brings a greasy hand up to rub his beard and hide it.

Ray brings over these big cheap cowboy steaks and pretends like they're something good, Zelda says. Mary can't even stand him half the time. She just needs someone around to, I don't know.

I know, Tim says. I know what she needs him for.

They stand there a minute with Tim still leaning under the hood but he looks at her and his hand drops and he bounces the impact driver against his thigh a few times.

Mary says Thunder Bay.


Zelda gives it to him. His shoulders give a last hard shudder. He straightens up and stretches his neck to the side, reaches for the prop and lets the hood fall back into place.

What do you really want to go up to Thunder Bay for?

I'll fuck you, Tim. If you take me.

Tim throws his tools into the box and he latches it and turns around and points a finger at her. No you won't. You say you will but you won't.

I guess.

You guess.

You're just too old for me, Tim.

They walk around the back of the house and up onto the porch. He has a big wooden table up there under the overhang and he slides the toolbox under the bench and they sit down. He takes a booklet of Zig-Zag out of his shirt pocket and raps the end of it against the tabletop and Zelda opens up her bag and takes out her stuff.

So? Zelda says.

So what? You got any tobacco, or just that shit?

Take me driving, Tim, Zelda says. You love my shit.

She'd been down to Turkey Point with Lorna Gallant and some boys they know. This was a few weeks earlier. One of the boys had a sky blue Impala and they parked it at the bottom of Ferris Street and went and sat around on the shore and let the wind push at their shoulders. Mary closes the bar on Wednesday and Thursday nights, so she doesn't notice if Zelda comes home late. Even if the school calls to say Zelda never showed up, Mary doesn't answer the phone. She turns it off so she can get some sleep.

It was maybe the last really good day. The rocks were all hot to touch, but the air off the lake was sharp and getting colder. Lorna wanted her sweater from the car. Zelda lay back and let one of the boys pile pebbles into her belly button. They were talking about music. When she saw that Lorna had gone up to where they'd parked, she rolled over and stood up and followed her. For God's sake, she said, Don't just leave me there. These weren't even boys they particularly liked.

They came back down to the water together and took off their shoes and socks and stuck their feet in and played around, wringing their hands and making a lot of exaggerated talk about how icy it was. Their toes got blue, wading, and when they came out the sand was wet and caked onto their feet and they didn't have a towel to clean them with, so they had to wait before they could put their shoes back on and this made them even colder and they laughed louder than ever. One of the boys had brought some beer and they made a fire on the beach and pried off the bottle caps with a penknife. Zelda said she knew a girl who'd done the same thing using her mouth instead of a knife and broke her front tooth. The boy with the pebbles put his arm around Lorna and started singing a song he knew about being drunk in New York City, but he hadn't brought a guitar or anything. When the sun started to go down there was an argument about leaving.

In the car on the way home, Zelda pulled Lorna into the back seat so they could ride together, and they slung their legs over each other and took turns braiding each other's hair. The boys slouched up front and played with the radio and rolled cigarettes. There was a Perly's Ontario mapbook, dirty on the floor and after Lorna went to sleep, Zelda got herself busy looking at it.

Thunder Bay is about the farthest you can go without leaving the province. You drive all the way up the number six to Tobermory, then you hop a boat to Manitoulin. The boat is called the Chi Chi Maun. On the other side of the island there's no boat, just a road that cuts over bits and pieces of water until you hit real land and all that big space between towns. The towns called Spanish, Blind River, Marathon, Wild Goose.

Tim gets up and takes the bag of pot from Zelda. My fee, he says. He goes inside for a minute. When he comes back out he's wearing a plaid shirt and carrying a pack of Djarum Black.

Cloves'll punch a hole in your lung, he tells her. Lighting up her smoke.

Zelda thinks about that and pulls hard on the clove. The buzz comes up through her nose like something sharp, horseradish, and she shakes her head and sniffs and feels the smoke settle into her chest.

She roasted a rabbit once, the week before, and was surprised by the range of organs left by the butcher, tidily laid out in the cavity. The lungs had been something spongy, only light. Like mousse, Zelda thinks. Or meringue, before you bake it.


Mary reckons up. There was the incident with Max. That, and whether or not they could now be expected to recover. After she got Zelda calm and in bed, Mary tried to talk to Ray about it. He was down in the dark, watching some sitcom rerun and drinking from a bottle of scotch. He set the bottle on the floor next to his armchair and Mary sat in the chair opposite, half-watching the show, half-thinking how to say something without getting to Ray, getting his hackles up. Ray talked to her but looked at the screen and reached down for the bottle, unscrewed the cap, poured and replaced the cap, all without moving his eyes.

You always make it so I look bad, Ray said. You always make me the bad guy.

That's not true, Ray. Mary's voice slow and even. Kind, but not too kind: a mix of tenderness and remorse. Important that nothing sound like confrontation.

What I said was the opposite of that. That he's just a dog and it's my fault, you know, because I didn't train him, but there you go. He chews shit and you can rub his nose in it, but it won't pay you in the end, to get Zelda so upset, do you see that? She had a blue and white pack of cigarettes down in her lap and she opened and closed the lid without looking.

It was after two. The whole ordeal had gone on for an hour, with Zelda near hysterics and Mary holding onto her and then the dog whimpering in the kitchen for nearly another hour after that. They'd come in from the car, Ray already in a black mood—Zelda after Mary's attention all night at the arena—and they found the mess and Ray took off his belt. A lot, a lot just to hold Zelda back, and Mary's whole body cold with it. Not crying, just cold and sick. And then Zelda finally asleep and Mary wanting only to lie down on the kitchen floor herself with the dog, or to bring Max with her to Zelda's room and curl up in bed, curve her body against Zelda's with the dog down at their feet.

If they hadn't come home, if Ray had been working; if she'd been working. Ray had his own place still. If she'd held his hand back and not Zelda's.

Mary looked at Ray and thought about whether or not she could go upstairs. Was he likely to follow her up or just keep drinking here until he passed out. The key is to get the nod. Something between forgiveness and permission. You don't feel safe until you get that.

Is Ray gone, Zelda wants to know in the morning.

No. He's here. He's sleeping.

After Zelda leaves for school, late on her bicycle, Mary cleans the kitchen: every piece of cutlery, the burnt-milk saucepan, the bowls hardened with yesterday's cereal and Lipton noodles. Ray gets up and she can see he's still drunk. His eyes haven't changed. He might just as well be sitting in the dark basement again. She hears him get up and pee and then she hears the buzz of the electric razor and he stands in the bathroom and shaves his head clean. When he comes out to the kitchen he says, Hey Max. Hey boy, we're pals, right, and the dog flattens his ears and lies down and rolls on the floor at his feet. Ray looks up at Mary with his dead eyes and says nothing.

Then: Don't look at me like that. He jams his feet down into his boots and pushes hard enough at the screen that he may as well snap it. The house stinks. She walks around opening up the windows and drags the vacuum upstairs so she can get rid of Ray's black hair lying in a spray all over the bathroom floor, but she doesn't plug it in. She goes into Zelda's room and pulls a red hoodie out of the drawer and puts on her jeans and drums her hands against her thighs and calls out so the dog will come. She wants to see how he's walking. She closes up all the windows again.

For a week she and Zelda were on their own, Ray up in Walkerton nailing shingles. They got down to making dinner together, Zelda laying a rabbit out in the roasting pan and Mary carving potatoes into little balls and rolling them in parsley. At least with Tim there weren't fights. A pothead and a partier, but he held his job and liked to cook pancakes on Saturday mornings. They didn't have much to say to each other. He liked the dog. He sat and watched Mary read the paper with the sunlight warming her feet on the white couch.

Max comes over now and Mary leashes him up and then she locks the door and they start down the street. When they come to the corner she stops a moment and looks over at the market. There's a few people huddled outside, drinking coffee from styrofoam cups with their collars wrapped high around their necks, and they're smoking cigarettes and she remembers how sometimes on a cold day smoking can make you feel better.

Mary! one of them yells, a guy she serves at the bar. He doesn't have a name. His name is jack-and-coke.

Her hands are in her pockets already, keeping warm, so she knows she doesn't have any money for coffee or for cigarettes, and instead of crossing the street she turns Max left and they walk off down Powell and toward the river. It's a long walk. When they get to where the trail opens up she takes Max into the woods and they go through where it's muddy, following tire tracks left by a few mountain bikes earlier in the day. The sky is grey and bright and heavy. Max pulls on his lead. There's a slap down along the water and Mary looks up and sees the ass end of a beaver disappear under the surface and Max whines and she realizes he must have been watching it for some time.

BOOK: How to Get Along with Women
3.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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