By the time I get to the Eaton Center I’m just another creature in this massive aquarium. Stopping off at the counter in the Bay I fiddle with the latest samples that are promoting someone in marketing’s idea of the “Grunge” look. I debate picking up some heavy studio fix for my face as controlling my outside appearance is always easier than controlling my happiness.
As I approach the Have-A-Java the scent of Kings Blend wafts over the tables and I’m glad it’s not too busy so I don’t have to push my way to get into our tiny broom closet sized back room. Sandra is changing out of her uniform, and I am staring at the back of her grey sports bra.
“Sorry Sandra, I’m just putting my things away.” She turns towards me combing her thick, healthy brown hair in the magnetic mirror we have on the fridge.
“No worries. Are you just starting?”
“Yeah. I hope Tom isn’t going to come in tonight, he’s so annoying,” I mumble.
“Are you alright?” she tilts her head, “you seem sad Annie.”
Tying on my apron I put on a false smile to avoid my painful reality.
“Everything is great, seriously I better get out there.” Her puzzled expression doesn’t prompt me to continue. Once behind the counter I pour myself a large iced tea and try to round up Taylor and Jenny to share the events of the past two days.
“Okay guys you’re totally not going to believe this,” they stop moving finally focused in anticipation when a mall regular interrupts with somewhat of an exaggerated desperation to get something “that will give me the strength to face another five hours of retail hell” As I patiently wait for him to decide between a Beany-Freezie or Italian Soda I watch my captive audience disperse. When another customer pops up like a gopher in an arcade game Taylor’s attention is distracted in administering their caffeine fix. It seems like I never get to talk with Taylor and Jenny anymore. The days go by and all that’s exchanged between us are a few Georgina and Tom imitations and work-related comments. I chalk all this up to Tom telling us to quit socializing so much.
Then the strangest thing happens: the importance of having them know about my experience at Kendal’s fades. It then occurs to me that maybe they’d seen crazier things and didn’t need to share with me. I continued to do what we do on any regular day without even noticing that neither of them approached me to find out the rest of my story.
I call Hilary to see if she can meet up with me after work.
“Hello… hello?” Darlene’s voice echoes in their kitchen. I hang up immediately, avoiding chit chat with Hilary’s mom.
Calling back an hour later her dad answers.
“He-Hey Hello is Hilary around?” I stammer like Tom.
“Is this Annie?”
“Uh, yeah.” I hear him cover up the phone and tell Darlene it’s me looking for Hilary. She replies with something I can’t make out.
“Okay hold on.” By the tone of his voice I guess that they’ve been fighting or something. While my parents were happy being entirely out of my life, hers never knew when to back off.
“Hilary” I hear a loud thud from the other extension being hung up. “Hey can you come over tonight? Maybe bring a video or something?”
“Sure thing… is everything okay?” I ask her knowing it obviously is not.
“Yeah, everything is peachy. I hate my life and my parents want,” she pauses, “to lock me up… UNTIL I’M SIXTY!”
She yells the last part for emphasis and I hear Darlene shout, “You’ll be gone WAY before then!”
“I’ll be gone tonight!” Hilary barely covers the phone as she yells back. Her father picks up the other extension, “Over my dead body you’re going anywhere.” He hangs up.
“Hill! Hill!” I try to reel her back in,
“What? Oh, can you also bring me gum?” I really don’t like it when I have to bring her gum cause she eats it so fast there’s never time to ask for a piece. I reluctantly agree.
“Multi-colored ones, yeah that’s the ticket. Rainblow.”
“Fine, Rainblow. See you after work.” I turn to hang up.
“Hey wait…” she pauses.
“What?” I anticipate another candy request.
“Hey wait…I’ve got a new complaint!” she starts singing Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ imitating Kurt’s raspy voice to get me to sing along. “Heyyyyeee wait,” I sing a little, looking over my shoulder at the line up of customers, knowing I really have to hang up now. She pleads with me to stay on the line. Tom comes in and makes his way over to me.
“M-m-maybe y-you should cut your calls at work Annie,” he says without putting down anything he’s holding but making it apparent that I’m doing something really bad.
“Sorry Tom” I whisper into the phone, “wow thanks Hil,” knowing her laughter is from Tom’s voice and hearing the whole scene play out. We’ll laugh more about this later on, but right now I feel embarrassed. Only five more hours to go.
It’s finally my time out of work and swinging a Blockbuster bag with the video Showgirls and five packages of Rainblow gumballs I make my way up to Hilary’s house. She’s about a twenty minute walk up from my place but it always seems shorter when I’ve got my Walkman. Turning up Dinosaur Jr’s raunchy guitar riffs I increase my stride. The sound keeps cutting out cause there’s something wrong with the cord. Pinching the nick in the cord temporarily fixes it, but if I move my thumb slightly the sound goes off again. After 3 minutes of agitation I reach the breaking point and turn it off.
Left only with the background sound of cars whizzing past my thoughts turn to summer memories of Hilary and I crashing parties. We may have set a record for showing up and destroying bathrooms. I remember the time where we shaving cream assaulted everything from the inside of the medicine cabinet to the guest towels. The last thing I saw before we were asked to leave whats-his-face’s party was his cat plastered in red lipstick kiss prints rendering him somewhat wounded. Maybe what we needed to lift our spirits was another club outing where we could destroy a public bathroom.
The air gets colder and I notice how some of the houses have their Halloween decorations up already. I walk through the chain link walk-way through to the enormous terra cotta and beige brick homes that line the street of her neighborhood. If I grew up with parents who could afford seasonal vacations to Whistler and Miami I’d never complain, I muse. The kids who grew up on Meadowvale lane got that and more – from overnight camp to anything in the mall they’re the ones I envy. If they wanted piano, dance, art, and singing lessons they got driven there and picked up after. These teenagers had crazy house parties and got their own car at sixteen without even touching their Bar-Mitzvah savings. Nice life. Leering at two girls my age with plaid coats and pom-pom toques getting into a white Side-Kick jeep. I imagined them driving to the mall to pick up the latest Sonic Youth album to say they had street cred. What I lacked in money I at least made up for in vintage know-how and alternative club night passes, I rationalize as I watch them drive away.
Approaching Hilary’s house I see the apricot colored balloon curtains in the living room window. Hilary’s house is just as impressive as the others on the block with an immaculately designed front garden her mother designed. If keeping up appearances are so important to Darlene, I wonder why she doesn’t even care if the neighbors hear them yelling at each other all the time. The ruckus travels through to the yard from their heavy oak front door.
“I just asked you if you know where it is. I’m not asking you to find it!” Hilary shouts. The midget scarecrow her mother festively decorated the porch with stares up to me with defeated button eyes. Fixing its straw arm from looking askew I hear Darlene yell at her to stop leaving her things lying around everywhere; a common theme in their argument repertoire.
“Hilary!” Darlene’s voice carries from upstairs.
“What?” she shouts back.
“I’m not going to move your things for the one hundredth time. Not now and really not when Vicky comes to clean. You haven’t even been here in the last three days, so don’t start yelling when your stuff gets moved, cause that’s exactly what’s going to happen.” I pause, this was news to me. I didn’t know that Hilary had been gone from home at all, but it made sense as I hadn’t really spoken to her much in the past three days.
Hilary greets me at the front wearing her comforter around her like a shawl. She rolls her eyes at me and I know how to enter quietly.
“I just don’t care.” She pushes textbooks off the bench in the front so I can sit to take off my boots. In situations like these I don’t really want to encourage her defiance, as I know most of it really is an act – from both of them. Untying my Docs I say hi to her mom. She holds a carrot in one hand and frantically gesticulates with it the same way Hilary would.
“Hello Annie, how are you? I see that Hilary called you over to help in the search and clean up crew. I hope there’s a math textbook in that bag and not another video on Jim Morrison.” Darlene stands five feet five wearing her pink fleece vest zipped up over a long sleeve basic from the Gap. Her short dirty blonde hair is cut in one of those wash and go mom styles that always looks good tousled. Striking eyes like Hilary’s, she reminds me of the mother in the T.V. show “My So Called Life.” Nothing really gets by Darlene whose had her stamina tested more then once as a Toronto high school teacher. She lives up to the super-mom stereotype keeping a Kosher kitchen and still looking attractive after preparing a five-course Shabbat meal. One would get the impression of her doing it because she has to live up to some standard, but I believe she actually enjoys it. The smell of roast chicken awakens my appetite as I get a whiff of her cooking. If my mother was as on top of things as Darlene, I would never be as unhappy as Hilary, I think.
“Annie, maybe you can get her to wash the clothes she’s wearing. Look at her, she’s becoming a female Pig Pen.”
Hilary did look as if she was coming back from Woodstock, with multi-coloured paisley skirt over red long-johns and stringy hair held back with a blue bandanna.
“Ma!” she whined, “enough! I just want to be loved!” leaping over to Darlene Hilary throws off her comforter revealing a soup stained t-shirt. Hugging her mother, I watch Darlene’s arms stay limp at her side as if to show Hilary she didn’t believe this was a sincere move. I decide to start the distraction.
“Hey Hill, how about we play the ‘clean up your act’ game before watching the movie?” picking up her blanket and throwing it over my shoulder I nearly fall back. Darlene starts to untangle from Hilary.
We clamber up the huge winding staircase passing her dad’s framed black and white portrait enlargements of The Beatles and Rolling Stones. Keith and Mick’s never aging smiles greet me.
“Aaaaghh Sid I look like a hippy!” I yell up at her in my best Nancy Spungeon imitation from the film Sid and Nancy.
“I know!” she says ripping into the gumballs. “I just couldn’t find anything clean, or really anything that I felt like wearing.”
Her bedroom was in complete chaos. It was ten times worse than what normally would be considered messy by her mother. How could her room turn this insane? I try to push past the piles of clothes. There were mounds of shirts, pants and dresses everywhere. Maybe under one of those piles would be an extra pair of earphones I thought, making my way to the center of her room. My foot stepped on a fork sticking out from under a clothes pile. Looking down at her cream colored broadloom I could see hot chocolate stains resembling blood after a crime scene. The wicker shelf that held her art supplies in a somewhat organized manner now lay on its side like in the movies after a robbery. Jars of drying paints, crusty brushes from decoupage glue, molding clay and wires were scattered around it. On the other side of the room her bed had been stripped of all sheets exposing a mattress covered in a spilled bottle of green glitter. Glitter seemed to appear on every surface from her pillow to her nightstand. The bed skirt slowly unstitched itself from the top all the way down, sagging in a way that looked like a woman’s dress after an attack. One entire wall of her room was made into a huge mirrored closet which Hilary hated so much she began to decoupage wallpaper flowers on it. I wanted to at least open the window for air but the bamboo blinds looked as if they would split away from the rod if I adjusted them. She had woven in pieces of wire with clay angels and somehow didn’t predict how that weight would pull the blinds down. The clay started to crumble making their cherubic cheeks look skeletal.
God bless this mess. I push aside a handful of Juicy Fruit wrappers and crumpled up Archie comics with my foot. Torn pages of comic books were balled up protecting discarded wads of gum.
“Yes Hilary. I’d say this is enchanting. You really have outdone yourself.”
“I know, Vicky would have to be on some serious crank to want to clean this shit up,” she said while rooting around in one of the piles on the floor. Vicky has to be the most dedicated Pilipino housekeeper in the world to work for her family, I thought. Picturing her with a vacuum in this mess made me laugh. We started imitating Vicky reactions unaware of Darlene coming up the stairs.
“Oh my God. Do you know what that smell is?” she pops her head in the French doors staring at me sniffing at the air. Pulling over her fleece vest over her mouth she enters the room like a chemical war zone. Hilary starts, “smell? What? I totally don’t smell anything. Look Darlene, I just want to be alone with Annie.” Her mother now having tracked the invasive scent bravely lifts up an overturned wicker basket pulling a Druxy’s paper bag out of her tapestry purse. As she unrolled the top down, Hilary jumped up for her purse in a way that told me there’s more to discover then a moldy old tuna lunch.
“Okay, hey now, do you mind?”
“Howzabout that? Tuna. Nice Hilary.” Darlene gesticulates with the bag in the same manner she used her carrot earlier making me realize utilizing intimate objects for emphasis to punctuate your point works very effectively.
“I’m sorry, I’ll Lysol or something okay?” Hilary reaches for her Secret deodorant spray pushing the nozzle. Darlene and I start coughing. Plucking a red turtleneck and pretending to fold it I try to not laugh. Darlene stayed calm, “You’re going to have to get things straightened out before your father comes home.”
“That’s fine. We’ll do it, okay? Just go,” she glared at her mom.
“You’re unbelievable.” Her mother told her shaking her head. Worried that they’d start fighting more, I picked things up as fast as I could move. Pulling out a thick Guatemalan style cardigan I dislodged a half empty smaller glass mickey. Sometimes we’d buy a smaller one to go with our bigger one if we thought we’d need extra vodka. Watching it slide down the clothing pile like a kid on a toboggan it thumped down beside my left foot. Looking back up I watched to see if Darlene had seen. My left foot shot out to bring it closer to me so I could conceal it behind the pile.
“Don’t worry Darlene. We can do it in thirty minutes. Piece of cake,” I convincingly give her the thumbs up. Darlene backed out yelling something about garbage bags. Hilary grabbed an eyelet throw pillow and whipped it at the door. I let out a sigh.
“Honestly Hill, I didn’t think I could get away with hiding this mickey but she didn’t seem to notice.” I picked it up and tossed it to her.
“Thanks.” She fake fumbles the perfect catch. “Funny, I forgot about that one.” She still has her tapestry purse clutched under her arm. Coming to the bed she opens it and started rummaging around.
“What’s going on with Kendal? Is that where you were hanging in the past few days?” I knew to ask her now before her mom came back. Taking some clothes over to the bed I sit down beside her. There’s nothing to say now, as she presents a clear plastic bag in her purse holding several needles with orange caps. She looks at me and widens her eyes. “I’m so lucky. I would be fucked if she found these.” She spits out a wad of gum and looks for a piece of comic book to put it in. The sad thing about Rainblow is the gumballs begin as beautiful bright balloon hues of perfect colour, but when all mixed together inevitably turn gray.