By Attila Zønn
Erronius Warner swims in the profundity of the meaning of life and before going to bed every night wonders Why are we here?
“Why are we here?” he says to the screen of his bedroom window.
Outside, the August night hangs thick and humid. Inside his second floor bedroom there’s a faint reprieve from an oscillating fan. The whir soothes him. The air against his skin cools him. His pillows are puffed and primed for a blustery sleep.
It is the age of central air conditioning but Dad and Mum won’t have it for their house because it’s unnatural.
He hears Dad in the bathroom, gargling and spitting. Mum hums as she brushes her hair. It’s the Warner bedtime routine, on cue and assures him that all is well.
Mum speaks to Dad. “Goodnight, dear.”
Erronius imagines a peck on the lips will follow, then silence.
It’s time for Erronius to stop typing.
He grabs the magazine he purchased that day and flops onto his back on the bed. He examines the cover — a scene from the surface of a far off planet, a planet with no atmosphere, with smaller planets close, with stars as the sky, so many stars. A small disk-shaped metallic craft hovers above the rocky surface, projecting a searchlight while two figures in silver space suits, carrying laser rifles, walk behind the light. They hunt the purple creature with six limbs that lurks behind a boulder, ready to pounce.
The setting is familiar. In a previous life Erronius had lived on such a planet. In a previous life he had been a knight in medieval times—he had slain a dragon. In a previous life he had been Blackbeard and Billy the Kid.
In a previous life.
A poster of Mr. Spock with a raised brow is pinned to the wall at the foot of the bed. The Vulcan’s expression questions Erronius’s life. A model of the Starship Enterprise NCC 1701 hangs by a string from the ceiling above his typewriter on the world map desk.
He sighs and casts aside the magazine because she has crept into his thoughts again — the girl he met last winter, or did he meet her? Was she a mirage, a conjuring like the many wishful thinking’s that have seasoned his bland life? Did he create her to keep him warm and occupied as he waited for the bus in that cold shelter? Her red hair and orange finger nails. He hasn’t seen her since that morning.
“It’s time to carry your weight,” Dad told him. “If you want spending money, you need a job.”
Erronius saw an ad in the Sun: No experience necessary. A go-getter. Must speak English well and have a pleasant manner. Perfect. Erronius could do that. Wages commensurate with productivity. He didn’t understand what that meant but it didn’t matter. Wages was what he wanted. He called and an interview was set up with Dave the next day, a Sunday and the day of the snow storm. The wind made his eyes water and the snow stung his face when he walked to the bus shelter that morning. He tried to stamp some heat into his cold feet while yearning to spot the bus lights in the distance. He pulled a paperback from his inside coat pocket and examined the cover. In that instant he realized there was someone at the other end of the shelter. A girl in a beige parka smiled at him. Where had she come from? He was certain the shelter was empty when he got to the bus stop but there she was.
Smiling girls made Erronius uneasy. All the girls that had ever smiled at him were making fun of him.
He looked away, back onto the cover of the paperback — Beyond Earth. He opened the book and read how a toothless old man in the Yucatan had been zapped by a beam of light from a UFO and had grown a full set of teeth.
Erronius smelled lilac — the girl now stood beside him.
A hand came out of her fur cuff sleeve and with an orange fingernail digit she pointed at the cover. “UFO’s are real,” she said. “They’ve been visiting for thousands of years.”
Erronius didn’t know what to say.
“You live at 52 Wilmot,” she said. “I’ve seen you cutting the grass and shoveling snow, and I’ve seen you at night at your window with your typewriter. Usually boys and typewriters don’t go together. What are you writing up there?”
“Just stuff,” he said. “What ever comes to mind. Good or bad, I put it down on paper. I like seeing typed words on a page.”
“I’m sure everything you write is excellent,” she said. “You do look like a person who loves words.”
Erronius would never put it that way, but he could forgive her because she was a girl and girls tended to exaggerate simplicity. At that moment he thought he would write a story about meeting a strange girl in a bus shelter during a snow storm.
He needed to garner a good perspective so he could describe her in his writing: She was pretty, with red hair evident inside the furry hood of her parka. Her eyes were turquoise. She stood just above his shoulder. She wore blue jeans with orange stitching and calf length tan suede boots with a hint of sheep’s wool creeping over their tops.
“How do I look?” she said.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve never seen you before. I didn’t mean to gawk.”
She laughed. “That’s okay. You’re a writer so you have to be observant. What’s your name? I’m Des.”
“Err—Eros,” he said. “Like the Greek god of love.”
She smiled. “Are you Greek?”
“Eros wasn’t the Greek god of love though. Aphrodite was the god of love. Eros was her son and the keeper of sexual passions.”
Erronius looked away.
“I like shy boys,” she said. “They’re always respectful.”
Erronius didn’t think he was all that shy a person.
“Des?” he said. “Is that short for Desiree?”
“Desdemona,” she said. “My parents are English teachers. They love Shakespeare. I never could grasp that Old English. There’s nothing more boring than sitting across from two English teachers at dinner when they talk about their day. Excruciating tedium.”
He felt very comfortable with this girl.
“You live with your grandparents,” she said. “Don’t you have a mother and father?”
“They are my mother and father,” he said.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said and blushed. “There I go again — assuming. It’ll be my downfall.”
“That’s okay. Honest mistake. Happens all the time.”
The bus appeared out of the storm. It stopped, hissed and the front doors parted. Erronius stepped aside to let Des board first.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said.
Erronius frowned. “What?”
“Good luck today,” Des said and touched his arm. “Keep warm.”
“How about it?” the bus driver said.
Erronius boarded, showed his student pass then turned back towards Des.
“Good-bye Eros, Greek god,” she said.
“Where do you live?” he called out as the doors snapped shut. The bus revved. Her muffled voice came back, “On Enchanted Crescent.” And the bus was on its way.
Two elderly women sat by the front doors. They smiled at him.
Excited but perplexed, he hurried to the very back of the bus and looked out the rear window.
Des waved. He waved back as the storm obscured her until she disappeared.
He felt good. He felt buoyant.
Nothing like this had ever happened to him so it left more questions than he had answers. Good luck today? How did she know he needed luck today? Where had she come from? She had seen him cutting the grass? He had lived in this neighborhood all his life and had never seen her once. He would have noticed someone that looked like her. He assumed they were roughly the same age but hadn’t seen such a girl at school. Maybe she had gone to a different school.
The appointment was at 221B on Danforth, above a delicatessen. He ascended those stairs, opened the door and entered a large room. There was no one in the room, but a radio played somewhere on the premises. In the middle of the room there was a long table with six chairs along both sides and a chair at either end. In front of each chair, on the table, there was a telephone.
No. This wasn’t for him. Not a chance. He won’t be calling during someone’s dinner to sell them something they don’t need. He wasn’t a salesman. This wasn’t for him.
He didn’t bother seeking out Dave but closed the door, went down the stairs and out into the blizzard.
What a waste of a Sunday morning. Time he would never get back. But he didn’t feel disappointed. He had met Des and she liked him and now he could find her on Enchanted Crescent.
Dad wasn’t happy that Erronius hadn’t followed through with the interview.
“You should have heard the man out,” Dad said. “You assumed it was telemarketing but perhaps he had something else for you to do. You make too many assumptions, son. Don’t let that be your downfall.”
Dad never spoke directly at Erronius. Dad never made eye contact with anyone. When he spoke he would look past the shoulder, or the wall and sometimes the ceiling. Dad was odd but he was Dad. Mum was odd as well. In the summer every room in the house had a fan blowing air about so Mum wore a hairnet to keep her hair in place.
“You must always give a new job two weeks before you decide if it’s for you,” Dad said as he chopped carrots for their dinner — a stew that was still a few hours from being ready.
Mum sat in the TV room watching her show.
“I’ll do better next time,” Erronius said. That was his go to response whenever Dad’s expectations of him fell flat.
Dad didn’t respond.
Mum laughed in the TV room. “Come here, Philip,” she said. “You have to see this.”
Erronius put on his coat, pulled a toque onto his head, slipped into his boots and went out to shovel the driveway. After he was done he decided to find Enchanted Crescent.
As he walked he couldn’t recall ever seeing a street named Enchanted Crescent. There was a Moody Crescent, a Wyndcliff Crescent, a Sundial Crescent, an Anewen—there it was! Enchanted — no, not Enchanted Crescent but Enchanted Grove.
He kept walking but was puzzled because he had already passed two bus stops from the one he was in that morning. If Enchanted Crescent was still farther down, why would Des not have used the closest bus stop to her street? But then she wasn’t going anywhere was she? None of it made sense.
He didn’t find Enchanted Crescent so he went back to the only Enchanted he knew, Enchanted Grove. It was a cul-de-sac. Maybe Des had made a mistake. Maybe she had meant to say grove but said crescent instead. Or maybe he misheard.
The houses here were very nice. Nicer than Erronius’s house. These people were well to do. The driveways and sidewalk had been cleared and the snowplow had made a snow hill at the centre of the round.
He walked the circumference of the cul-de-sac once then walked around again. He stood by the snow hill. Already winter dusk was on him and the yellow lights from the windows grew in intensity. He felt stupid. What was he expecting would happen? That Des would be walking by a window, see him and come running out?
The next morning, ready for school, as he hurried from his home, the morning sun glinting off the fresh snow, the cold air tightening the skin on his face, he felt the promise of seeing Des at the bus shelter but there was no Des. And for days afterward he scoured the neighborhood in the hopes of running into her but there was no Des, and every time he boarded a bus or entered a store, he gleaned the faces of the people he saw.
No Des . . .
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2021