by Attila Zønn
I turned to the woman.
“Nuno?” she said.
“Is your last name Garrett?”
I hesitated then nodded.
“Did you go to Secord Avenue Public School?”
“Oh, my God,” she said and covered her mouth.
I squinted at her.
“Don’t you remember me?” she said.
Her name tag read Sherry W.
I didn’t know who she was. I had known no Sherries.
“It’s Darlene,” she said.
The past came rushing at me then—yellow school buses, bullies, teachers with bad breath leaning over me, pedagogue sadists corrupting malleable minds, and Darlene Coogan
I smiled. “How are you? Geez. Small world, eh?”
“It is a small world,” she said.
We stood with smiles on our faces and expressions of amazement at how life had brought us back to the same space. I pointed at her name tag.
“Sherry W?” I said.
“Oh, that’s who I am now. Sherry Wild. New life, new name.”
Darlene looked good. She was a blonde now. I remembered her with a mushroom cut, dark brown hair and green eyes. Her eyes were still green, but they didn’t pop as much with the blonde hair.
“So, do I call you Sherry or Darlene?”
She laughed. “Darlene. You’re part of the past so it’d be silly to ask you to call me Sherry. So,”—she gave me a nudge on the arm—”how’ve you been?”
“Good. Still alive.”
She nodded and kept nodding.
We stood in the hall of a highschool, taking a break from a writers’ workshop.
“How do you like the workshop?” she said.
“You want to write Romance?”
“No, I just saw the ad in the paper and wanted to see what a workshop was all about.”
“It pretty much expresses what I already knew.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty much all the same. If I had the credentials, I’d probably run one. You make more money teaching how to write than you do writing. This is my tenth one. It promises you great things, but in the end, you end up discovering how it is on your own. It’s all about…forging ahead.”
“So you’re a writer.”
“No—but I like words. And I like being around people who like words. I don’t know if I’m really a storyteller.” She shook her head. “That’s too much work for what it’s worth. I like being surrounded by creativity though. It helps with my songwriting. You know, the creative vibes? They’re catchy.”
“You’re a musician?”
“No—but I’m becoming one.”
Darlene, now Sherry Wild: this hearkened me back to grade three. She was my first girlfriend. I didn’t know she was my girlfriend until we went on a field trip to Old MacDonald’s Farm. I was sitting on the bus with my best friend Stanley. She came down the aisle, grabbed his arm, yanked him from beside me onto the floor and took his place.
“Why’d you do that?” I said.
“Because you’re my boyfriend, and boyfriends and girlfriends always sit together.” Stanley stood up and wanted to wallop her, but the teacher was coming down the aisle counting heads.
Old MacDonald’s Farm—that’s what the teacher called it, but I knew she was lying because when the bus drove up the gravel road towards the silo, I saw the mailbox and the name on it was The Smythe’s. This was really Old Smythe’s Farm. But Farmer Smythe wasn’t old.
His wife came out to greet us. She cradled a baby girl, and there was a snotty nosed blond boy holding onto her dress.
Farmer Smythe didn’t wear a farmer’s straw hat. He had on a Toronto Maple Leafs baseball cap and wore fluorescent orange rubber boots.
An icy wind blew that morning, and everything was wet. We saw some pigs and chickens, then the cows in the barn, and when a cow shit a big cake, all the girls went, “Ewe!”
Farmer Smythe’s snotty nosed son followed us around, laughing. He acted like he’d never seen kids before. I felt sorry for him. It must have been lonely living on a big farm with only animals and your parents to talk to.
At the end of the excursion, the teacher—I can’t remember if it was Miss Arrow or Miss Roberts; the teachers all blend together from back then—wanted us to go into Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Darlene ee-i-ee-i–o-ed with the other kids but I wasn’t interested. I felt silly singing this silly song in front of the farmer who looked like he couldn’t wait for us to leave. As Darlene sang, she kept wanting to hold my hand.
Farmer Smythe’s wife had baked some bread, and before we left, we all got a slice of fresh bread with fresh butter. It was so good I devoured the slice in three bites. Darlene nibbled at it, turning the square slice into a circle and all the way back to school the circle got smaller—it annoyed me. When it got down to nickel size, she put it on the tip of her finger and offered it to me.
“I left the best part for you,” she said.
“I don’t want it,” I said. She sat back in a huff and put on a pout, and held her finger in the air with that piece of bread on it.
I had known Darlene until the end of grade five. Then we moved to Don Mills, and I didn’t see her again till a few months later, just before Christmas, when we were back in the neighbourhood to visit my aunt. I went for a stroll, back to the schoolyard, and I saw her walking up the street. I called her name. She looked over her shoulder at me and kept walking. I didn’t know it then, but all the women in my life would look over their shoulder and walk away.
After the workshop, we planned to go to a Tim Horton’s on the corner. It didn’t cross my mind that this reconnecting might lead to more than a few “remember when’s” and ending with “nice to see you again”. We laughed as we reminisced about old teachers and old classmates.
I drove her to her place.
Her apartment was a tight abode on Victoria Pk. She liked nick knacks, I assumed—porcelain, crystalline, wooden—strewn about the place on shelves and end tables, but curiously she had an illuminated curio cabinet with nothing in it. There was an acoustic guitar on a stand in a corner.
“Do you play?” I said, pointing to the guitar.
“I’m learning. I know enough to accompany my singing.”
We sat on the couch and updated each other on our lives since grade five. I told her of that day in December when I saw her on the sidewalk by the school and called her name. She didn’t remember it.
I told her I’d been married for about six years, but now it was over. She listened and looked genuinely interested, which made me feel good.
“Yeah,” she said. “We’re brainwashed into believing that marriage is more than it really is. Kudos to those people who can stick it out, but I don’t think humans evolved to be with just one person all their lives. It’s a social construct.”
I didn’t agree with that, but it was her turn to talk.
She had been married until last year. Her husband had been a good guy. “A good guy, but he wasn’t…exciting!” she said. “He felt boring sometimes—too predictable, too reliable, too responsible.”
“That’s what you want in a husband, isn’t it?” I said.
“That’s what I wanted once, but now I want something else. One day I was sorting out some old boxes, and I came across a picture, and that changed me.”
“Of an old boyfriend.”
I nodded but wondered how a picture of an old boyfriend could change anything.
“Yeah, it made me think of how my life used to be, ten years ago, when I was really happy. I mean, you’re never really happy, not all the time, but the days seemed sunny and carefree back then and seeing that picture made me pine. I got so depressed. I realized I didn’t want this life with my husband. I wanted to be with Michael again.”
Michael, oh, Michael—how she missed him. She couldn’t understand why she wanted to be with him again after all these years. He had always been “unreliable”, “selfish”, “condescending”, but God how she wanted to see him again. “If only to relight the flame.”
“Michael could make the cows come to the fence,” she said. “Once, we were driving back from Wasaga. We stopped by a pasture and he called the cows over. That’s what was in the picture I found—Michael standing by the fence, and cows at the fence and Michael doing a ta-dah!”
He always made her laugh, but he also gave her anguish.
“Sometimes he scolded me like I was a child. Kind of like my dad used to do when I was a kid. And when he complimented me on something he’d say, ‘Wow, sometimes you’re really smart aren’t you?’ But his most favourite saying of all, when he’d lost an argument was, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ ”
With a wry smile, she said, “That meant he’d been defeated.”
I sensed she felt some pride in defeating him. But I thought if the relationship was strife with conflict, why was she pining for it?
“And you know what? I didn’t mind,” she said. “Isn’t that sick? What’s wrong with me? I married a great guy who called me his ‘baby’ when we made love, but now I’m desirous of a guy who treated me like shit and called me a slut when he fucked me.”
She looked at me, perplexed.
“It always had to be his way,” she said. “There were times when I couldn’t reach him for weeks, and then he’d show up, out of the blue, and be the tenderest most caring person in the world, and then we’d fuck, for days.
“For days—I couldn’t get him off me. I’d get so sore. But if I ever said no, I don’t feel like it, he’d pout and ignore me, and then he’d be talking to me like I wasn’t as smart as him, and then he’d be gone for weeks, and then he’d pop up, and it started all over again. He was so…aggravating.
“I once made the mistake of calling him Mike. It was like a cloud came over his face, and he walked right up to me and said, ‘My name’s not Mike. Mike’s my old man’s name, and I hate his fuckin’ guts.’
“I tried finding him. I went to Wasaga—walked up and down and every time I heard a motorcycle I’d look to see if it was him.”
“You don’t expect him to be the same person after all these years?”
She smiled. “Trust me, I know him. A guy like that doesn’t change. That’s why I want to see him again. He’s like a capsule in time.”
“You want to relive a younger time?”
“It seems like that, doesn’t it? Though I’m happy with who I am now. I am.”
“Why would you want someone like that? At this time in your life?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just…want to see him again, that’s all, and if I don’t like it, I’ll let him go and carry on. I want to be excited. I want to be on the back of his motorcycle again.” She laughed. “He terrified me when he popped wheelies. He was good. He could make his big Harley pop a wheely. One time I almost fell off. He laughed and said I was a typical woman—light on the brains and full of emotion.”
“Great guy,” I said.
“Sounds stupid,” she said. “Anybody else would have left him, but it invigorated me. And him calling me stupid sometimes, brought us closer together. Know what I mean?”
I didn’t. “How?” I said.
“It’s like two buddies calling each other asshole or moron, and they laugh it off, ’cause they’re so close words don’t hurt.”
“You like bad boys.”
“No, I liked that bad boy,” she said. “I met him when I was nineteen. He was twenty-five.”
“So now he’d be thirty-five?”
“No, now he’d be closer to forty. I was with him for a few years.” She paused. “I think…that’s funny, isn’t it? Life. All these moments seem like big chunks of life, but really if you break it down, it might have been a year or two, in a whole lifetime, but they stay with you forever.”
“Yeah,” I said.
I looked at my watch. “I should go.” I stood.
She grabbed my arm and said, “Tell you what. You read me your stories, and I’ll play you my songs. We can critique each other.”
I’ve never been good at critiquing. I’m too kind. And if the work doesn’t interest me, my mind wanders, but I said, “Okay.”
“Let’s start now,” she said and got the guitar. I sat down.
“Some people have told me I sound like Joan Baez,” she said.
She made a dry run of some chords then began:
If you were my lover, you could never be my friend.
If I let you love me, that would be the end.
Love turns into boredom, and then we must pretend.
That love is what we live for.
Love is what we give for.
Love is what we die for.
If you were my lover, you could never be my friend.
Her hesitant chord changes were excruciating and her voice—there was neither a Joan nor a Baez in her voice. Instead, it made me think of a lonely cat yowling in the night.
As she sang, she looked at her chording hand. It wasn’t helping. And the strum was a monotonous down-stroke: down—down—down.
“B7 is a hard one for me right now,” she said. “But eventually I’ll get it. What’d you think?”
“Really?” That seemed to please her. “Yeah, I’ve got my own sound. It’s a little rough because I don’t want to come off polished.”
There were no worries about that.
“Woody Guthrie wasn’t a great singer, neither is Dylan,” she said. “They had the voice of the people, the everyday guy, telling life like it is. “
Behold! Guthrie. Dylan. And now—Sherry Wild!
“How do you spell Wild?” I said.
“You should add an E.”
“No, I don’t want any artsy fartsy connotations. I want it to be WILD! Like WILD animal because that’s how I feel about myself. WILDE is too polished and poetic. I want to be rough and rustic, a creature of the earth, free spirit, running free against the wind of responsibility. You know?”
“Well, you’re on your way,” I said.
“I am. I feel it.” The guitar slid to the floor. I reached to grab it.
And that’s when she grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me towards her and clamped her mouth onto mine, and that confused the shit right out of me, and then she had a hand on my crotch.
She backed off violently, curled up against the corner of the couch and looked back at me with wide eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so confused.”
I was about to say that it was alright, I understood, when she was on me again, breathing heavy and trying to rip the lips off my face. Her tongue came at me.
She untucked herself, took my right hand and slid it up her blouse. I held her breast in my hand.
“Caress it. Squeeze it. Suck on it. Do whatever you want,” she said.
I was willing, I was there, but I never had a woman throw herself at me. I needed a moment to catch my breath. I took my hand from inside her blouse and adjusted myself on the couch when she stopped pulling on my lips and sat back. “What’s the matter? Don’t you like me? If you don’t like me just say so.”
I was on a ride, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity evaporate.
I fucked her on the couch.
She moaned. “Call me a slut.”
I did, but I wasn’t convincing. Insults during sex isn’t my strength.
“Fuck me like you hate me,” she said.
I tried, with my best hateful thrusts, and during the ecstasy and the moaning… she called me Michael.
And that was it—my dick melted out of her…
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018