Copyright is held by the author.
WE WERE going to a party up in the North End — somebody’s basement, probably. First we had to swing by Ed’s house. He’s the one who called Barney with the plan in the first place. Before that, I think we had planned to get some grape pop and barbeque chips and play video games, but then Ed called.
“Epic party tonight,” he said. “Swing by and we’ll catch the bus together.”
So we swung by. Ed was still getting ready, so we sat and chatted with his mom in the living room. I could smell the soapy humidity from his recent shower and the copious amounts of CK One he had sprayed on his person from my seat on the couch. He was humming to himself, which was adorable. There was also a low background noise of sports on TV coming from the basement.
“So,” said Ed’s mom. “Do you boys have any classes with Edward?”
I shrugged and Barney went ahead with a long explanation of the many fascinating subjects and inspiring educators for whom both he and her son shared a scholarly affection. Barney was better with parents, although not as good as Ed. I looked around the living room and tried to imagine someone choosing this furniture at a store and paying money for the right to have it in their home.
What was fun about this? Mrs. Lipski and her sad Saturday night. Mr. Lipski hiding downstairs with a beer in one hand and the remote in the other. Kids and responsibilities and this god awful furniture to pay for. Five long, cruel workday grinds a gunk in their psyche they can’t shake loose. Yet the onward momentum of time is constantly dragging everybody into this early end called adulthood, like some dark hood that covers over your head, shrouding your ears, pulling tight in the front and obscuring all features as it cinches closed around most of your face and you can’t even tell who a person is anymore.
Then Ed came down. He looked good. He smelled of body wash and way too much cologne and his hair wasn’t completely dry, which put a constriction on my chest right around my rib cage like a belt that went one hole too far. His smile was optimism and enthusiasm and confidence. And if he knew I had these feelings for him, he’d probably never speak to me again.
“You guys ready?” he said.
“Yes,” I said and stood up.
Ed got his boots and coat on and said goodbye to his mom and led us out the front door, down the steps and around the path to the back of the house where he had two green bottles hidden under a bush in the snow. There were two big, grape-y stickers with the words “White/Blanc” in a curling script.
“Very fancy, monsieur,” said Barney. He took one from Ed before he could put it in his backpack. “The U-brew special. Won’t your dad miss these prize vintages from his collection?”
“The vintage is last Tuesday,” said Ed. “And he’s got cases of the stuff in the basement.”
“Well, it’s very chilled,” said Barney. “How long has it been out here?”
“Ever since my dad went to Canadian Tire this afternoon and my mom took a shower.”
“A proud tradition for any Canadian,” said Barney. He passed the bottle back to Ed to put in the backpack with the other. Ed slung one strap over his right shoulder and we walked single file back along the path and through his driveway to the street. Once we were on the bus, Ed told us how it would be.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “This party will be so epic.”
“Tell us, Obi-wan,” said Barney.
“I’ve heard there will be six kegs. It’s going to be sick. And the place will be just crawling with pussy.”
I laughed at a mental image of multiple felines.
“I’m serious,” said Ed. “If you can’t get laid at this party, you’re not really trying.”
“Right on,” said Barney.
I looked at the huge smiles on both their faces as they high-fived and the two wine bottles clinked from within the backpack. We all laughed and I imagined the boners they were sporting inside their jeans and wished them luck, I guess. I half listened to their banter on the rest of the journey as the bus doors opened and closed, first a ding for the stop and then a hiss.
The party was lame. It was in somebody’s basement, as I had thought it would be, and there was exactly zero kegs. The guy’s mom had bought all new furniture, so nobody was allowed in the living room. The rumours of a large feline contingent were comically incorrect. One guy had brought his girlfriend and she looked understandably uncomfortable around the entirely canine group of drunk, horny guys. They left early and this one guy took acid so somebody put on some trippy Pink Floyd music. Woopdie fucking woop.
The white wine was both acidic and sweet. We drank it straight from the bottle in order to make the sad basement seem more entertaining. It was crowded with old furniture — probably the set that got bumped by Mrs. Whatever’s new stuff upstairs. I couldn’t help thinking that the grape pop and the Doritos with the video games would have been more fun. The three of us like to keep up a trash-talking commentary about our avatars in the game world. Now, that shit is fun.
The party fizzled, and then collapsed in on itself. Someone put on a grainy porno for a while, which caused stretches of silence but for the phony moaning coming from the old television set, alternating with loud cat calls and whooping bravado in that room full of mostly drunk virgins. The sound (and smell) of someone puking reached us from the downstairs bathroom. People started leaving in ones and twos. It was getting close to midnight and the last bus.
We walked out into the cold night air in this strange neighbourhood in North London and tried to lurch and stumble our way back along the roads we’d come in on, laughing loudly at nothing.
“We didn’t go this way,” said Barney.
Ed laughed and pushed him in the shoulder. “It’s a shortcut.”
“You don’t know,” said Barney, which made me giggle.
As we passed one side street I could see a school in the distance and a large group of boys coming through the gate of the schoolyard towards us. A couple of them had baseball bats, but it was pretty late to be playing ball, I thought to myself, and then I was sober.
“Guys,” I said. “We need to get to that bus stop expeditiously.”
Ed turned and looked at me with a lazy smile, but when he looked where I inclined my head and saw what I had seen, he was right away alert, too. The group of boys was about 100 yards away from us, but picked up speed perceptibly when they rounded the corner of the side street and came our way.
“Hey, guys,” someone shouted. “Wait up.” Laughter.
“Okay,” said Ed to us. “Walk fast but don’t run.”
“Yes,” I said to him. “But to where are we walking fast? I really don’t remember coming this way.”
“We’ll go straight ahead to the stop sign and I think we’ll see Wonderland to our left.”
Barney looked back over his shoulder and gulped audibly. Perhaps it was a nervous belch. We kept up our pace and I, too, took a look back over my shoulder. They had gained ground on us. Probably 70 yards away and laughing in a cruel way and making inaudible comments to each other.
“Hey, fags,” somebody yelled from behind us. “We’re talking to you. Where are you lover boys off to?”
What the fuck? How’d we go there all of a sudden?
“Just keep walking,” said Ed.
The stop sign was about 20 paces away. It was a T-intersection and it didn’t look familiar to me. The gang behind us was about 50 yards away now and closing fast, shouting epithets relating to cowardice, homosexuality, intellectual simplicity and other projected shortcomings. As we came to the end of the street, I could see down to the left. There was a stop sign in the distance and to the right, the road simply curved away out of sight.
“Now what?” I said.
“Left,” said Ed, and it was then that the mob began to run after us, so we ran across the lawn of the house on the corner. They were howling and cat-calling like a pack of wild dogs. I could feel my heart muscle gearing me up for fight or flight. I followed Ed at a full run, up a driveway and onto the front porch of the house.
“What are we doing?” I said.
“Where is this?” said Barney, who had joined us on the porch and turned around to keep an eye on the pack behind us. I turned, half expecting them to be scaling the steps at our heels, but they had subsided around the front of the lawn and were taunting us from the edge of the driveway. I heard Ed ring the doorbell. The white wine was like a lake of fire in me. The porch light came on and the door opened.
A lady in a big purple sweater and polyester-looking tan pants was standing there looking out at us. She looked sleepy and confused. Our saviour! Her marmalade tabby cat put her front paws up on the screen door window and peered out at us.
“Good evening, ma’am,” said Ed. “Thank-you so much for opening the door. You see, my friends and I are in a bit of a situation. We’re not from this neighbourhood and we got lost on our way to the bus and attracted the attention of this group of boys who seem to want to do us harm.”
The lady clicked the lock on her screen door. “Well, you can’t come in here,” she said.
“No, no,” said Ed. “I wouldn’t even ask you that favour. But I was wondering if you could call us a cab. We’ll just wait here on your porch and then be out of your hair.”
Barney and I both turned to see what her response would be. She looked at Ed, then me, then Barney, then out at the crowd of boys at the end of her driveway. “Tommy McIntyre,” she said under her breath. At least, that’s what I heard. “Just a second.” She shooed the cat out of the way and then closed and locked her front door.
We all turned to look at the mob. They sneered and jeered at us. Barney, whose full name was James Robert Irving Barnett, was breathing so hard it started to sound more like a wheeze or a whimper.
“I’d like to see just one of these guys come at me and offer up a fair fight,” I said. “They’re really brave when they outnumber us 10 to one.”
“That’s the whole point,” said Ed.
“What, that they’re a bunch of pussies?”
“Shh,” said Ed.
The door clicked and then opened behind us and we turned around to face the cat lady.
“A cab is on its way,” she said.
“Thank-you so much, ma’am,” said Ed. “We really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. “I can’t believe this gang of punks is out at this hour giving you trouble. This used to be such a nice neighbourhood. Tch.”
I thought of the dormant game systems sitting in my basement, the grape pop chilling in the fridge, the barbeque chips and the perfect freshness seal of the foil bag, the peanut M&Ms that might have rewarded the winners of each game. Why had it been necessary to come out into this? In search of what? It felt like a punishment of some sort.
Ed and Barney and I had been friends since grade school. Our houses formed a triangle surrounding the public school we used to go to, all within a stone’s throw of one of the gates to the schoolyard. We hung out on the climbers or around the batting cage or just out on the tarmac till after dark on countless nights. The question, “What are you doing this weekend?” didn’t even need to be asked. We would be getting together. That was automatic. Someone would come up with something — usually Ed — and we’d do it. Compadres, or amigos, was what we were.
It wasn’t often we questioned each other, but Barney and I had been out of our element at that party and Ed wasn’t. It was like a foreknowledge of a coming tectonic plate shift. It wasn’t a question of “if,” it was a question of “when?” The resulting shake up would be irrevocable. Ed and his beautiful jawline and cowlick hair were bound for a different social scene. A different strata. Barney and I were grape pop and Ed was white wine. Or some other fermented product, stimulant, bullshit, bravado, popularity in a pill.
And even there, the sex thing was a fault line in the whole strata for me — a kind of diastrophism, which would essentially separate me from my friends. There would never be a party at which Ed and I would have too many drinks and spend too much time talking and then he would be kind of looking at me in a certain way and then take my face in his hands and kiss me. It wasn’t going to happen, as much as I might want or hope for it. I knew it, just like I knew Barney and I would stay video game friends forever and I would listen to his thoughts on girlfriends and school dances and who he liked but why she would never like him. For some reason, the pain of these realizations in that moment was worse than the fear and adrenaline I was feeling due to our shitty situation.
I watched Ed talking to the cat lady through the screen door and looked back at Barney, who was chewing his cuticles, and then out at the group of idiots still waiting for us at the end of the driveway. What was the point of it all? There was no high score or level up waiting at the end of this night for anyone.
A cab pulled up to the stop sign at the T-intersection, and then turned into the driveway. The sea of boys parted to let it through, beginning to renew their laughing and jeering. We were fags and losers and we could go fuck ourselves. On some level — deep inside their lizard brains — they probably thought they were defending their turf. The cab flashed its lights at us and we thanked the cat lady and went home.