[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]
Thursdays in Jonathan’s neighbourhood were relatively quiet. It was a residential area with a bit of park space in between the brick apartments and the townhouse rows. The people that lived in the neighbourhood came from all walks of life. There were young professionals like Jonathan, as well as Somali refugees, Quebecois retirees, university students and the occasional homeless person. It had a bit of a reputation for being a rougher part of the city, but that didn’t seem to bother Jonathan, who liked to joke with his co workers that it just helped build up his street cred as a writer.
-Little Mogadishu is a fantastic place to live for that.
In reality he lived in what he affectionately described as a state of champagne squalor. His friends, like Michel, and he were living the lifestyles of young professionals, with LCD televisions, video game systems, leather couches, and original artwork on their walls. They drank imported beers and ate at restaurants whenever they felt like it. Their living was paycheque to paycheque, but they did it because they could. In reality they were all broke, but not broke like the homeless guys on the street. They could honestly tell the beggars they had no money on them, and then walk in to the liquor store and purchase six packs of their favourite Belgians. It was this lifestyle that was holding Jonathan back from fully embracing his writing as his way of life. Other people probably couldn’t appreciate how hard it’s to willingly walk away from a guaranteed salary with health and dental benefits and a comfortable pension. For all his wanting to, Jonathan couldn’t fully commit to doing that. Not when his first book sold fewer copies than he gave away. For all the kind words he heard, kind words don’t buy cases of imported beer.
That was the challenge for Jonathan. He sat at his workstation all day, comfortably doing work that he didn’t mind, working with people he enjoyed, and getting paid a reasonable wage. What incentive was there to stop? When he wrote, it was a mad fervour of energy that would explode on his computer screen. He would love it at first; it might be the best thing he felt he has ever written at first glance. And then, Jonathan would be dismayed. It could be shit. It might be the worst thing that he has ever written. It might be the worst thing ever written in the history of Western civilization. He hated writing. It was frustrating. It was as frustrating as bad sex. Jonathan figured it was as frustrating as no sex. But goddamn if it was not cathartic. Putting words to paper was more freeing than anything he had ever felt. He played sports and enjoyed the physicality of throwing his body around. It was regulated violence. But nothing was as cathartic as being able to express thoughts and ideas without anyone else’s control. He could throw verbal punches against everything that was oppressing him. Words were powerful. They could also be weak and delicate. Sometimes that was what he wanted. He wanted his full range of emotion to flow out of him. It was not polite in real life to let loose and scream when you are angry or cry when you are sad. People look at you strangely on the bus. Sometimes they ask you to get off. No, what was freeing, to Jonathan, was that there were no rules imposed on him. Even grammar, structure and spelling change over time. Who knew what Bill Shakespeare would think of the twenty first century? He’d probably have his own blog, that’s for sure. He’d rant and rave about how no one is going to see his plays. No, let’s be honest, he’d probably not write stage plays. It’s a cute medium but it’s not the one for the masses that his work in the Elizabethan era was aimed at. He’d write screenplays for blockbuster movies. They would have explosions and sex and include some really awful crude lines, and the occasional philosophical joke thrown out as a cue to the smarter members of the audience that he knows exactly what he is doing. Shakespeare would be a sell out.
Jonathan didn’t want to sell out. He didn’t want billions of dollars and a direct line to Michael Bay. He was quite comfortable living in his life of champagne squalor. Then he checked his email. Greeting him there was a notification that he’d received a royalty payment for his first novel. It was for $11.32. It was going to be an uphill battle to even think about having to turn down calls from Michael Bay wanting to turn his ensemble drama in to an action buddy comedy with car chases. The really sad part about his royalty payment was that it covered the past six months. Six months. In six months he had made $11.32 selling his writing. He made twice that every hour he showed up for work. The danger of becoming a best selling author was really not on the horizon. On the bright side he could afford one six pack of Belgian beer with that payment, one beer for every month. Jonathan began to think about whether he wanted to get Leffe Brun or Blonde. It was always a toss up.
Outside his window, yelling interrupted Jonathan’s thoughts. There was the occasional disturbance in the neighbourhood, but it was usually just a couple yelling at each other as they passed by. It only served to underscore Jonathan’s loneliness. This was not the case as the yelling persisted and it was only coming from one source. There was the crazy guy in the basement; it could have been him. Jonathan found him a bit off, and every time he had to go down to do his laundry he had the fear that he would run in to him.
One time when he was loading his clothes in to the washer, Jonathan saw the crazy guy roll in to the laundry room on an office chair. The man rolled up to the vending machine and purchased a can of pop. When he reached in to pick up the can from the slot at the bottom of the machine, he let out a horrible yelp. Jonathan looked up expecting to see that the man had got his limb jammed in the slot and desperate for help. Instead he saw the door to the laundry room close shut and the sound of the wheels on the office chair squeak down the hall.
Still, the screaming persisted outside his window and Jonathan knew that it was not coming from the basement. He looked out to see with astonishment four police squad cars lined in the street. Up against the trunk of one of the cars was a large man who was letting loose a torrent of verbal abuse on the officers. Jonathan was relieved to see that the handcuffed man’s face was not familiar. He had no idea who this man was or what he was doing outside his apartment. Jonathan could only hear the unintelligible screams of the man as he fired bulleted words at his captors. Jonathan tried to count the number of police officers and settled on four, possibly five. It might have been only four if each officer rode alone in their squad car. Evidently this man was either an extremely dangerous criminal or these officers had nothing else to do on this otherwise quiet Thursday night. Jonathan hoped that it was the latter and not the former.
With the captive screamer quietly placed in the back of the squad car and the four officers laughing and joking about it outside, Jonathan safely assumed that there really was nothing too serious going on. He returned to his computer and tried to continue writing his story.
Jonathan’s forehead pounded with increasing frequency. Thump, thump thump, thump thump thump, thump thump thump thump, thud. He was out.
He awoke with the glaze of the sun beaming in his window and onto his face. Its warmth was welcome and Jonathan sighed contently. He loved mornings like these, when there was nowhere in particular to be, no one in particular to see, nothing in particular to do. Sunday mornings were a blessing, as intended for a day of rest. Nothing could motivate Jonathan to move or start his day any sooner. Ha, what was there to start? He smiled knowing that he didn’t have to move until Monday.
An agitated doorbell rang repeatedly; impatiently waiting to be answered it was joined by a thunderous knock knock knock knock. Jon would have to leave Shangri La after all. Opening the door in his bare feet, plaid pyjama bottoms and t-shirt Jonathan was greeted by the familiarly irritated face of his slumlord.
The majority of the little university town was divided among only a handful of inattentive landlords, each with their own flaws. There were sex perverts, drug addicts and misers. Jonathan’s landlord happened to be a miserly drug addict. Any sexual deviancy was well hidden, if applicable. The circumstances, however, of how he came in to possession of over one hundred rental units in such a small town was unknown, but the fact that he was able to maintain ownership despite his largest vice was remarkable. He was a horrible old soot on his own but made all the worse by the stimulants he inhaled.
“Why is there a couch in the garbage?”
“In the garbage. The bin. There is a couch in the garbage. Why?”
Jonathan knew exactly why, but was not going to say a thing. The old bastard ought to be happy it was in the garbage and nowhere else.
“There is a couch in the garbage?”
“Well, I should say there is what was a couch in the garbage.”
“So, there is not a couch in the garbage?”
“No it’s there. But it’s no longer there.”
“I don’t understand. How can it be there and not be there?”
“There was a couch and now it’s in the garbage.”
“What’s in the garbage?”
“Oh, so there is a couch in the garbage?”
“Yes. And no.”
“So what’s in the garbage?”
“Well, if there is a couch in the garbage why are you at my door?”
“This is my door.”
“Then why am I on the inside?”
“I rent this to you.”
“So it’s mine, for now.”
“But the couch ”
“Is in the garbage.”
“But it’s not in the garbage.”
“No, it’s in the garbage but it’s no more.”
“You mean no longer. In English we properly say no longer rather than no more.”
“It’s still there.”
“Then you are mistaken. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”
Jonathan went to close the door on the old man.
“Wait, I ask you about the couch.”
“I thought we agreed it’s in the garbage.”
“And it’s no more.”
“Yes it’s still there, but it’s no more, the couch.”
“The couch is no longer.”
“It’s still there!”
“Then what are you asking me about?”
“Why is it there? And why is it no more?”
“Rene, do you realise you are asking me two different questions?”
“Why is the couch there?”
“The couch in the garbage.”
“I thought it was no longer there.”
“It’s there. It’s no more.”
Jonathan tried to hide his pleasure with this encounter. He felt some pangs of guilt for messing around with the sponge brain of an elderly cokehead, but knowing that in all likelihood his monthly rent went towards the jerk’s habit balanced the experience out.
“Well which is it?”
“It’s there and it’s no more.”
“That’s not a choice.”
“What do you know about the couch?”
“Only what you have told me. It was in the garbage but now it’s no longer.”
“Wrong, I said it’s in the garbage and it’s no more.”
“Why are you asking me about this?”
“I believe this is your couch.”
“No, my couch is in my living room. See, look.”
A couch sat within view of the door. Rene eyed it suspiciously as if it might have been responsible for the couch in the garbage that was no more.
“You have another couch.”
“No, it’s actually more of a futon. A bit awkward to sit on, we keep a bed sheet on it in case of spills, you know how roommates can be. You don’t have roommates do you? You know I have three. You leased this place to us. Anyways, the futon acts like a couch most of the time, it’s good at role-play, but occasionally we ask it to be a bed. It swings both ways, Rene, you understand? It’s great for guests.”
“You have another couch.”
“No, that’s it. Nick, I think, has a futon in his room, too. You remember Nick? He was the tall, broad one from Nova Scotia. He does not use it for guests, but I suppose he could easily convert it for that purpose. It’s practically the same as the one in our living room. Futons are futons, by all accounts.”
“What about the couch in the garbage?”
“I thought you said it was in the garbage but it’s no longer.”
“It’s no more.”
“Right. We agreed on that bit, Rene.”
“I think that couch in the garbage is yours.”
“Well what colour is it?”
“It does not have a colour.”
“That’s a bit ridiculous, everything has a colour.”
“It used to have a colour.”
“Well what colour did it used to have?”
“I don’t know.”
“How can you say that a couch that has no colour, that used to have an unknown colour, that’s in the garbage but it is no longer could possibly be mine?”
“I think it is.”
“Look over there, there is my couch. It’s brown. I can see that. You can see that. That, over there, is my couch.”
“I believe you had another couch and you put it in the garbage last night.”
“If I put it in the garbage last night, why would it no longer be there?”
“It is no more.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“It’s in the garbage.”
“I thought it was no longer.”
“It is no more.”
“You keep repeating yourself, Rene. I don’t know if this is a language barrier between us, but if it helps I will go get Gio to translate.”
With that suggestion Jon went upstairs and found Gio, filled him in on the situation and brought him down to the door to speak to Rene. The patience of the old man at this point was shot and he let out a tirade of abuse at Gio, waving his arms back and forth, pointing at Jon and then the dumpster behind their building. Finally after what seemed like five minutes he paused and let Gio relay the message.
“He says somebody burned a couch in the lot last night and threw the charred remains in the dumpster.”
Jonathan was deeply amused by all of this.
“Oh, so that’s what you meant, Rene. I get it. It’s no more. Really interesting stuff. The thing is, though, that it wasn’t us and that’s not our couch. As you can see our living room is pretty full right now with a couch and a futon as it is. There wouldn’t be any room for another.”
“So that was not your couch.”
“No, you can have my word, that couch was not mine.”
“Okay, well give me a call if you find out anything more.”
“I will give you a call, Rene, the moment any new information comes to light on this.”
The old junkie stumbled down the stairs and got in his pickup truck, spreading gravel in all directions as he quickly drove away.
“That was close, Jon.”
“That was hilarious, Gio.”
The night before had been one of catharsis and end of summer revelry. At their new apartment, the boys had hosted some of their friends from first year in residence. It had been a long summer since they had seen many of them and moving off campus had brought with it a feeling of freedom. It had also created an opportunity to try new things and to test new boundaries. What was acceptable had been rewritten. Under the archaic restrictions of the university housing czar perfectly normal rites of passage had been forbidden. Out on the new frontiers of college, living in a privately rented accommodation, it was the Wild West. Gio was Billy the Kid and Jon was Jesse James. Their antics were befitting of a night pounding moonshine whiskey and playing cards outside the OK Corral. Instead of moonshine whiskey it was cheap domestic lager and instead of playing cards it was setting fire to a couch after it had been tossed off a balcony. There was no reason to riot, but goddamn those kids did. No one claimed ownership of the couch. It didn’t belong to any of the four of them; Jon, Gio, Nick or Drew. This was an outsider and it needed to get the fuck out. The previous tenants had left it behind and had no interest in returning for it. They had moved out four months ago, and to everyone’s knowledge had likely all graduated. They didn’t have any need for an ugly old couch that had probably seen a lifetime’s worth of blood, semen, vomit and urine. Jon couldn’t remember who suggested it, to throw the damn thing out, but when he came back from grabbing a beer from the fridge, the place he had been sitting was hanging off the edge of the balcony. Nick and Drew were holding onto the ends while they could hear Gio and some others giving instruction. Jon put down his beer and ran outside to watch it fall. It hit the ground with a loud snapping sound, followed by the cheers of a dozen drunk and high boys and the gasps of the few girls in the crowd. Without instruction the guys starting attacking the couch, beating their enemy with whatever tools they could fashion. At first it started with some of them kicking at the frame, but once they had cracked loose parts, those became tools to inflict pain upon the body from where they once came. Then, just as their violence could only climax, flames burst up from the corpse of the unwanted sofa. Jon held the lighter in his hand and emitted a perverse laugh. Not wanting to be a part of what was surely a fineable offence, the majority of the crowd retreated back in to the apartment, leaving Jon, Nick and Gio to watch the couch die alone. Jon suggested they lift it up while they still could and the three boys hoisted it in to the dumpster. Parts of the couch were still lit and slowly charred away at the rest.
“Fuck, that got out of hand really quick.”
“Yeah, but it felt great.”
“Yup. It really did.”
“Do you think anyone is going to have a problem with this?”
“I can think of several.”
The boys went back inside and rejoined their own party. The Bacchanalian atmosphere was infectious and everyone danced into themselves, forgetting temporarily the stupidity pyre outside. They were young and foolish, drunk on life, living without limits, and it suited them just fine in that moment.