This happened at least four years ago. I’ve tried to forget it.
We were heading back to Halifax for our usual summer visit. The same routine - stay with in-laws, be infantilized, do nothing in our home town, eat a lot. Except this time my best friend was living nearby. I’d known this guy since the fifth grade. We’ve always been tight. Since I only saw him once every few years at best, we always had to do everything in one night: see each other, drink several years worth of booze, talk as much as possible about everything. Whenever I saw this guy, whom I’ll call Ricky, I had to plan on being bedridden the next day.
I told my wife that Friday night was my time with Ricky, and she agreed. I met him near the train station and took him out for Indian food at the Taj Mahal restaurant. Then it was off to drink at the Midtown on Grafton street. The Midtown has always been cheap and a good place to start a drunken night. With hindsight, starting the night with beer is stupid, because you’ll be bloated when you graduate to spirits. Then the night goes south, as it did with us.
We talked for hours at the Midtown, then we went to the Economy Shoe Shop, which for years has been the ferny yuppie hangout on Argyle. We had at least eight rounds of rum and cokes, which is the maritime drink of choice. How do you order coke with two ounces of dark rum? ‘I’ll have a double dark’n’dirty, if you please!’ By this point we were making grand declarations of love and outrageous promises. I dimly recall Ricky promising to help murder an acquaintance or relative who’d been plaguing me, and he said so with drunken and pedantic honesty.
After I had paid the waitress and tipped some unknown amount that she had suggested, we headed to The Liquor Dome. It had a Cabaret License, which allowed to stay open until three in the morning. That building had always been known as the Last Chance for Romance, because if you hadn’t gotten lucky anywhere else, you could always go to to the Dome, which had two floors and bars everywhere like adult diaper stations. Ricky was buying even more drinks and shoving them at me. I was having trouble standing. I finally persuaded Ricky that we should head home.
We walked along Barrington Street where it was quiet. All the lights were dazzling and the air was whooshing in and out of my lungs, which is what happens when I am extremely drunk. I think we may have gone into an all-night store and inexplicably bought a litre of strawberry soymilk.
We arrived at the corner of Barrington and Inglis, the beginning of the good part of town.
“Sometimes,” slurred Ricky. “There are people along here. Right about here. At night.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. If had been sober I would have figured it out right away.
There was a woman on the corner, standing by herself.
“You guys out drinkin?” she called.
“Yup,” answered Ricky. “And we’re not done yet!”
She was very nice and walked with us for half a block. “I got tequila at my place,” roared Ricky. “Let me buy some mix and we’ll meet back up with ya!” The thought of more liquor made me almost faint.
She sort of faded away, back to the corner where we had found her, and I waited outside a convenience store while Ricky bought the sort of mix that’s whitish green and comes in a long bottle. The stuff you always pass over in a store because it looks poisonous. Ricky took a long time, an oddly long time, because he’d bought something else instead of tequila mix.
When he came out, there was a middle-aged black woman with him. She wore a halter top, booty shorts, and walked with a herky-jerky strut. “She’s gonna do us both for eighty bucks!” said Ricky.
“What,” I said. He’d found her in the gas-station convenience store?
“You come along with me, honey,” she said. She took my hand and led us off as I looked over my shoulder for the nice lady I’d met down on the corner. Where had she gone? I’d wanted to talk to her.
The area near the bottom of Inglis where it meets Barrington is odd. You’re just below mansions, endless green lawns, wrought-iron fences. There’s a heritage bus tour that goes through it, for Christ’s sake! It shouldn’t be next to several blocks of rooming houses, drug dealers, and a student ghetto for a university that requires a 60% average out of high school for admission. But this is how it’s always been.
She took us into one of those places. Up some stairs, past rows of doors. She opened one door into a room with a floor covered in trash, beer cans, and a diagonal mattress. A hinky-looking man lay on the mattress smoking something out of a glass pipe. “I need the room,” she said to him, and he just said, “Okay,” and got up and walked out. “How’s it going?” he said to us as he walked by.
She took us in. I was still very drunk, and regarding everything with clinical and numb amusement. She got down on her hands and knees, and took off her shorts as she bent over in our faces. Ricky knelt down and grabbed a cheek. “Take a look at that,” he said. “Not bad at all, eh?” For a crack addict she had reasonably good ass, I had to concede.
My gaze wandered over to the mantlepiece, where there were a few pictures leaning against the mirror. “Whazzat?” I said, pointing.
Her face lit up. “Picture of my babies!” she said. “Wanna see?”
“Sure,” I replied.
“NO!” said Ricky. “No, we don’t want to see!”
But she had already stood up, gotten down a picture, and showed me. Three girls. They looked to be about fourteen, seventeen, and twenty. Freckles, hoodies, tight curled hair. And that was it for me.
“I’m going outside,” I said. “Rick, I’ll see you in a bit.”
She took me by the hand and led me out to hall and to the foot of the stairs. Still buck naked, she gave me a big hug and went back into her room where Ricky was waiting.
I went down to the corner. The first woman was there. “Did you come back to look for me?” she said.
We went to her rooming house and sat together on the porch. “My buddy’s up there with that other woman,” I said.
“Her?” she said. “But she got no teeth.”
“Oh,” I said.
“You wanna go upstairs to my room?”
“Nah. But if you want to leave me here and head back out to your corner, I won’t mind. I know you gotta make some money.”
“No, I’ll talk with you.”
Her name was Liz. She was Hamilton originally. She had blonde curly hair and little sharp teeth. She had three daughters too, and she smoked rock.
Another girl joined us, a heavy, pale girl who wore a shapeless black hoodie that pooled around her head and made her look a little like Bergman’s spectre of death.
“Do you do dates?” she asked me.
“Nah,” I said. “You could have talked to my friend, but he’s up there with another girl.”
“Her?” said the girl with the hoodie. “But she got no teeth. He know that?”
Ricky came down a moment later. “Right after you left, she took out her friggin dentures and said, ‘let’s get started.’ I got outta there quick.”
The four of us settled down and got to talking. Once or twice the hinky-looking man wandered by and said hello. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I do remember Ricky handing Liz a twenty and holding open her shirt. Liz talked about how she kissed her clients and how that made her special. It was around 4:30 in the morning when I decided that I needed to head back to my in-laws where my wife and kids were sleeping.
Ricky and Liz joined me. We walked along Young Avenue, the site of the heritage bus tours, past the mansions, the gardens. Less than two hundred feet from my in-law’s house I gave both Ricky and Liz a massive hug and bid them goodnight. I found out later that Ricky went back to her room and bought himself a good time.
The punch line to this story should be that a crackwhore accompanied me along the nicest streets of my hometown. But I knew Liz as a mother, someone who spent time with me freely, and I really hope that she turned out alright. She was over forty when I met her, with three kids somewhere in Ontario, and a crack addiction.
The next morning we drove to the middle of nowhere to visit my grandmother. I barely survived. Ricky called me the next day and suggested we keep this particular story to ourselved. Which is why all names are changed.