Authors: Lesley Choyce
Copyright Â© Lesley Choyce, 2004
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.
Editor: Barry Jowett
Copy-Editor: Andrea Pruss
Design: Jennifer Scott
Printer: AGMV Marquis
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Choyce, Lesley, 1951â
Smoke and mirrors / Lesley Choyce.
PS8555.H668S56 2004Â Â Â Â jC813'.54Â Â Â Â C2004-904889-9
1Â Â Â 2Â Â Â 3Â Â Â 4Â Â Â 5Â Â Â 08Â Â Â 07Â Â Â 06Â Â Â 05Â Â Â 04
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This book is dedicated to the memory of
She first appeared in my History of Civilization class at 9:35 on a Thursday morning. Mr. Holman had long since given up on trying to entertain us. He had failed at being interesting and had retreated to the ageold teaching strategy of exerting as little energy as possible during class. Torpor, a kind of liquid dullness, had settled over the entire classroom like toxic haze as the teacher proceeded to simply read from the textbook.
We were lost in Babylon, on the Plain of Shinar to be specific. “The Plain of Shinar contained probably less than eight thousand miles of cultivable soil.” Mr. H. had stumbled over the word
, wondered if it was a legitimate word or not, and then asked for a show of hands from those who had heard anyone use the word before. Heavy eyelids and no raised hands throughout the room. “Hmm,” Mr. H. pondered out loud, then proceeded.
“The Plain of Shinar was roughly equal in size to New Jersey or Wales.” Hundreds of years passed as Mr. Holman continued to read. He himself yawned as he read of the early Sumerians on the Plain of Shinar. “Their settlements of low huts, at first of plaited reeds (wattle) and then of mud bricks, crept gradually northward, especially along the Euphrates, for the banks of the Tigris were too high for irrigation.”
Davis Conroy was absent that day. He was three days into a false flu he had been cultivating to keep him home from school so he could play an ultra-violent video game called
. Through the window I could see the sun was out. This meant my father was playing golf. He took days off from work to play golf when the weather was good. He invited his favoured clients with him, so he considered golf part of his job. If the sun came out on the weekend, he played golf with other clients and called that work too. Even if he had promised his son that they would drive to the coast to watch the surfers. If the sun came out, it was golf and to hell with the surfers. To hell with promises to his son.
So in the midst of pondering the sunshine and cultivating my own viral anger, I blinked, and then suddenly she was there. She was sitting in Davis Conroy's seat. She was looking directly at me.
I must have appeared puzzled, because she waved her hand in front of my face then leaned towards me.
“Agriculture and cattle breeding produced most of the wealth which formed the basis of Sumerian life,” she whispered.
“Agriculture and cattle breeding produced most of the wealth which formed the basis of Sumerian life,” Mr. Holman echoed.
She smiled and put a finger to her lips. Then she held up one hand and touched her fingers and silently did a countdown.
Five, four, three, two, one
. The bell rang, and the rest of the class roused itself into mobility as the students began to collect books, scrape chairs, and spill out of the room. With a well-practised air of defeat, Mr. Holman closed up his volume of ancient history and, without looking up, gathered together what was left of his sad educational career and left the room.
When everyone was gone she cleared her throat and said, “You're Simon Brace, right?”
“I am. But you're not Davis Conroy.”
“Davis Conroy is home with the flu. At least that's what he told his mother.”
“You must be new.”
“I could have sworn that you weren't even there at the beginning of class.”
“I knew it was going to be a very tedious class. So I missed the beginning of it.”
She was attractive, yes, but not my dream girl. Not a Tanya Webb. Whoever she was, she was really messing with my head. I was absolutely certain she had materialized out of the blue.
“Out of thin air,” she said, as if reading my thoughts.
“Oh crap,” I said. “You can't read my thoughts, can you?” Given the weird crap that went through my head in the course of a day, I had a secret fear I would someday meet someone who could look at my face and know what I was thinking.
“Not really. But I'm pretty good at estimating what a person is feeling, or if they are puzzled, I can quickly figure out what's puzzling them.”
“You got a name?”
“You're not from around here, are you?”
“Not exactly. I'm not enrolled here, if that's what you mean.”
I studied her face, and she didn't seem to mind. She was prettier than I'd first thought. But I also saw something sad about her. In her eyes.
“What do you see?”
“I see you.”
“Do you think I'm attractive?”
“I didn't at first but then, well, yeah, I noticed.”
“That's because I made you notice.”
“You're doing some weird thing to me, aren't you?”
“No. Not that weird. I just made you notice.”
“I'm thinking that I'm having some kind of mental episode. I've been reading a lot of books about metaphysical stuff. And I've been feeling stressed about a lot. My folks. This freaking school. My freaking life.”
“That's why I'm here,” she said. “Maybe I can help.”
I am the product of two very ambitious parents. My father sells corporate bonds and my mother sells real estate. It seems there is no end to these two commodities. The hustling of houses and bonds goes on into the evenings and weekends by this man and his wife who more or less abandoned me, their son, many years ago. Abandoned is perhaps a harsh word, since I have a roof over my head, a refrigerator full of food, and most of the comforts desired by a young man of sixteen going on seventeen.
Despite the fact we all live in the same house, I think I've grieved over the loss of my parents for six or seven years now. I am an only child, and it's a good thing that my folks did not decide to bring another child into the world to be ignored by them.
I tried getting adolescent revenge on my parents in
several ways â poor grades, petty crimes, and household vandalism â but no matter how desperately I tried to bomb test after test, I'd end up with a C or C+. I could steal things from stores â CDs, gum, shoelaces, and running shoes even â and not get caught. I broke things around the house on purpose and they would be replaced without question.
Now my parents are hardly ever around to get mad at me. And they feel some guilt over not being around, so they buy me things. “If you have a problem, throw money at it until it goes away.” My father said this about car trouble and problems with the furnace and the flying ant infestation. And I'm sure he applied the same solution to me. More money could always be made selling bonds to greedy investors on manicured putting greens.
My mother's favourite word in the English language is
on the Ferguson house today,” she'd say in early morning glee at the breakfast table. “I bet I'll be
on that condo by the end of the week.” And so forth.
Ozzie Coleman had been my good friend since the third grade. In those days we were making evil-smelling concoctions we called fart bombs. I forget exactly what the famous combination was, but it
was deep science to us, very serious business: filling plastic bags with our mix, leaving them in unlikely places where they would eventually be stepped on or ripped when a drawer opened, or sometimes just throwing them into crowds of unaware victims. No harm was done except for the stench, but the results were most gratifying.
Of course we went on to bigger and better adventures, and Ozzie was such a good friend that I never really cultivated any other friends.
Right after my accident Ozzie moved. His father moved him and his family because of some kind of corporate restructuring, I think. And I was left high and dry. We wrote letters to each other and talked on the phone, but it wasn't the same.
I became a loner after that. I had few social skills, and my parents tried to find a way to throw money at that problem, too. They couldn't buy me those skills, although they tried (and failed miserably) by enrolling me in kung fu classes, gymnastic programs, and even golf lessons. I told them I really wanted to learn to surf, but they laughed and said the ocean was two hours away. They weren't going to spend their Saturdays driving me to the beach. Besides, I might drown. It looked dangerous.
I trained myself at self-hypnosis by reading a book on the subject, and that helped some. I read about astral
projection, and I found that pretty entertaining. And I began accumulating a great library of books (some stolen, some bought) on anything metaphysical.
I cut out clippings from newspapers and magazines about anything relating to the paranormal or anything that seemed inexplicable to the experts â survivors of freak accidents, weird weather phenomena, and UFO sightings, of course.