Here I sit upon a rock, staring out at the sea. It sounds vaguely romantic, but it’s not really. When you live by the ocean it happens with mundane frequency, just the same as one might sit in a field of grass, or upon a bench in a garden, or dangle oneself from a tree. But with not a field, nor a garden, nor a tree in sight, all I have is this rock, and the sea.
But I think to myself that it should be romantic, that somehow the organic swaying of the seas should inspire my mind to some redemptive conclusions; some grand thought that will make everything which has happened, and which is happening, worthwhile. But the longer I sit here, staring, the more sluggish my thoughts become, and the colder the ocean breeze blows. My thoughts seem to skip aimlessly atop the waves, twisting back and forth like the froth upon the distant waters, building in one direction and then collapsing in a sheen of foam without going anywhere. And all the time the icy edge of the wind bites the ends of my consciousness more and more, irritating me, loosening my focus on the thoughts I’m trying to sort out and make sense of.
I think it is hopeless, and I should return to the car where at least I will be warm. But a stubborn, frustrated pride keeps me glued to this rock. I may not reach any grand insights on this cold and clear evening by the sea, but at least I will not let the icy spring wind drive me away. I came here, I sat here, and here I will stay, staring at the sea, so long as I decide I must in order to put my stamp upon this spot.
With the wind blowing the edges of my dress and whipping it up about my knees, I lift my legs upon the rock and wrap my arms about them. The thin matter of the dress is rough and comforting to my fingers; I knead my hands in it, grasping at my shoulders, tugging myself together only in part to keep out the cold. Part of me enjoys the simple feel of my flesh beneath the rough material, despite the cold, the angst, the spray whipping itself into my surf-tangled hair. In flesh lies a pleasure so simple it seems to transcend all the complexities we build into our lives; so simple that it does not judge, or lead us to hate, as do so many other things; so simple that I yearn for it as I yearn for the things I have most come to miss in this life.
My mind wanders back to October, to the night I first met Melvin smoking in the upstairs bar. He was drinking an India Beer; I was tired, it had been a long night and customers were beginning to straggle out of my club, one by one. I didn’t want to deal with him, because I was tired; all I wanted to do was go home. But I would have to tell him to go home, that this wasn’t the sort of bar where you could just sit around and hang out, that it was too late to begin a scenario or hook up with anybody anyway, and he would have to go home and give a big long think as to whether this was something he was into.
Earlier in the night I might have been more delicate, more seductive, more compelled to convince him to wander down the stairs and give a fetish or two a try; at this hour I just wanted to take off my three-inch spiked heels and wrap my arms around a pillow and go to sleep.
He saw me coming and stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray.
“You’re probably closing up soon,” he said with a self-conscious, half-embarrassed grin.
I smiled, swung myself onto the bar stool opposite him, swivelled to face him with my elbows on the table and my chin in my hands.
“That’s right,” I replied, matter-of-factly. “Guess you weren’t in the mood for anything tonight?”
He looked down, with that self-consciousness I would probably find sort of cute if I wasn’t so tired. “Yeah,” he replied. “Sorry about that…I just wasn’t in the mood.”
“I haven’t seen you here before, have I?” I pressed on. He shook his head. “Where’d you hear about us?”
“Well, a couple of friends of mine come here now and then. I mean, they’re a couple – two guys – they come here as subs and spoke really highly of the place. I was just…wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for tonight so I figured I’d come down and see if the mood for something struck me. Sorry if I’m a bit out of it.”
He stood up abruptly, picking his jacket off the stool behind him and fumbling to put it on, moving around toward my side. I swivelled about in the chair, extending my elbows backward onto the table behind me, spreading my legs and wrapping my spider-web-stockings about the legs of the stool. Customers often found this pose unsettling for some reason, and it was pure instinct for me to move in on the feeling when a customer was unsettled; explore it like a therapist exploring some deep mental block within a patient. But my exploration was purely physical; probing questions and declamatory statements implicit in the movements of my body. This was the language I enjoyed, expressing itself in motion about the bar stool and table on which I was propped.
“Apologies accepted,” I replied wryly. “Just make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s a fetish club, not the Sundance.” A wink? No, that would take it over the top.
“Um…” he fumbled, zipping his jacket and pulling a pair of leather gloves from out of one pocket. “My name is Melvin, by the way. It was good to meet you.”
I thought to myself what an odd thing that was for somebody to say, before you had introduced your own self.
“Pleased to meet you, Melvin,” I replied. “Have a good evening, Melvin.”
And with that he turned and hastily walked out the door.
When I am out here, with the wind stinging my face and the countless sounds of living things emanating from trees and shrubs and grass and pond and bog all about me, what do I feel?
I miss the sting of the whip, sharper and more delicate than this brutish wind. I would welcome it, offer my bare skin to it…ever so light, ever so sharp, briefer by far than the sting of wind on flesh but deeper, so deep that it buries itself within me and even now I can feel it.
I miss the pull of leather and latex on my skin. Miss the tightening, stretching sensation as I move, miss how it melds about me and directs my movements, miss the thrilling fear of it ripping which alternates with the pulse of terror as I realize it will not, cannot; that I am trapped within it and it will allow me to move only to the most minuscule degree of its own senseless desire.
I miss the fog of smoke enveloping me, miss the half-seen stares – hungry stares, thirsty stares, frightened stares, incredulous stares. The smoke and the strobelights melt the stares and the faces into a haze, allowing me to refashion them according to my own wishes.
The smoke clears from my mind. Back at the edge of the pond, I crouch down by the water’s edge, letting my hands flow over the tops of the furry weeds obscuring the edge of the water. Ironic, I think to myself, that I’ve lived here for most of my twenty-five years, and yet can hardly name a single flower or plant or even the trees which I drive past on the highway. I slowly clench my fist around a plant, a weed: something with a strong green branch and tiny bristling spikes up its sides and along its leaves. It culminates in a round, spiky purple bulb. I had a boyfriend once, a few years ago, who could name every weed and flower and tree that we walked by. I admired the knowledge, but he had the attitude that any Newfoundlander should be able to do the same, and I thought that was stupid and told him so. He had a lot of attitudes about Newfoundlanders that were stupid. I once told him that anybody who said Newfoundlanders have consistent characteristics that define them in opposition to non-Newfoundlanders, was dumb, and a bore. I just hate stereotypes. He got offended but I didn’t care, because he had offended me first. After a while all the things I liked about him – his knowledge of the outdoor world, his singing, his ability with any musical instrument you handed him, even his sense of humour – began offending me, because to him they constituted a Newfoundland humour, a Newfoundland talent, a Newfoundland knowledge. If you can’t separate your abilities and desires from some weird stereotyped image that cheap Newfoundland pop culture writers try and ingrain in their cheap songs and poems and books, then grow up and fuck off, I told him once. And he got in a huff and did just that.
“Which is your favourite flower?”
I looked up. A little girl was staring down at me, her arm around a big dog which was also staring down at me. I say little, but she was probably around ten years old, I guess. She was pretty, with blonde curly locks flowing out from under a Hello Kitty toque and outfitted in blue denim jeans and jacket. She stared down at me with a placid, expressionless look; the dog by contrast tilted its head and worked its mouth repeatedly, its tongue flopping to one side and its eyes wide with unabashed curiosity.
I pinched off the flower I was holding and held it up to the girl. “This one,” I said. She shook her head.
“I don’t like those,” she said. “They have little spikes and they sting you.”
“I like the sting,” I said to her, baring my teeth in a half grin. “Sometimes you need a sting to remind you of your place in the world.”
The girl continued to stare, expressionlessly. Then she pointed at a small, stunted red rose peering out from the side of a bush. “I like roses,” she said.
“Roses have stingers too,” I replied.
“Only if you get too close,” said the girl. “I also like buttercups. Do you like buttercups?”
“More than anything else in the world,” I replied.
The girl’s mouth twitched, ever so slightly, in what might have been a near-grin. I turned back to contemplate my purple weed, and the gentle swells of the water beyond it.
“Do you want to come walk my dog with me?” the girl asked. “There’s a trail around the pond. We can go slow if you want to look for flowers.”
I turned around momentarily on my haunches, and then straightened up. I brushed my hands off my black vinyl pants, staining them with specks of golden dust.
“I’m done with flowers,” I replied. “What’s your name?”
“Alice,” answered the girl. “I live just over the bridge, with my mom and Spot. Spot’s the dog. I wanted to call him Aloysius after my grandfather, but he actually belonged to our neighbours before they moved away, and they named him Spot. I don’t think he likes the name Aloysius.”
“What a shame,” I replied.
“What’s your name?” asked Alice.
“What if it’s a secret?” I answered her. “Can you keep a secret?”
“Why?” she replied. “Are you hiding from somebody?”
“No,” I responded, sighing and looking about. “I just like secrets, is all. But I’m sure we can find a better secret to keep, between the two of us. My name is Violet.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Alice asked.
“Not sure,” I replied. “Do you?”
Alice shook her head firmly. “I don’t like boys.”
“I heartily approve,” I replied, swinging a glance her way and smiling. “Maybe you’d prefer a girlfriend.”
Alice shook her head. “I think boyfriends are cooler.”
“How come? I always found girlfriends easier to deal with than boyfriends.”
“I don’t know. They’re always cool on TV, and in the movies. I just don’t know any boys that I like.”
“Well, there’s probably not a lot of boys around here,” I replied. “Or girls.” She nodded, slowly, as though she hadn’t considered this point before. “When you grow up and leave here, there’ll be plenty of boyfriends and girlfriends for you to choose from.”
“Why aren’t you sure if you have a boyfriend?” she asked. I sighed, stretching out my arm to allow it to ruffle through the waist-high weeds along the side of the path.
“Well, I think he wants to be a boyfriend,” I replied. “I’m just not sure if I like him, really. I mean, I like him, I’m just not sure if I think I want him for a boyfriend. He’s kind of…boring.”
“Yeah,” Alice replied, tugging at the leash as Spot insistently circled a random clump of grass. “The boys I know are boring too. I wouldn’t want them for a boyfriend.”
“Thing is,” I continued, “he’s kind of fun too. He keeps phoning me and wanting to hang out. And I do enjoy hanging out with him. He’s just…not into the kind of stuff that my boyfriends are usually into. Or my girlfriends, for that matter.”
“What kind of stuff is that?” she asked, looking up at me with some interest.
“Sexual stuff,” I replied. “It’s just that we come from such different backgrounds, and if you heard somebody describe us, we’d sound like such completely different people. Every time I think of him in the sense of, like, a boyfriend, it seems to me like it’d be impossible, because we’re just so different in every way. But then when we hang out together, somehow it just works really well, and we have so much fun together. It just kind of happens that way. It’s the thinking about it, that’s difficult, because it seems like it should be so difficult. You know?”
“Yeah,” replied Alice, doubtfully.
“Thing is, it’s hard to pin down what that special thing is, which separates a cool friendship from a real relationship, you know? You think of somebody as a friend…but what makes the difference between that person, and somebody you can be in a relationship with? It’s that weird invisible line that always gets in the way…for better or for worse.”
“I think I’m glad I don’t have a boyfriend right now,” said Alice. “It sounds pretty complicated.”
I laughed. “Yeah, it is. Plus, I’m thinking of moving away. That doesn’t make things any easier.”
“Where would you go?” asked Alice, looking up at me with a perplexed stare. “Everybody always goes away, even though they never seem to really want to.”
I cast her an approving glance. “That’s pretty insightful, my pretty darling. If you left here, what would you miss the most?”
She paused, staring thoughtfully into the bushes as the dog sniffed insistently at a treetrunk.
“My dog. And my mom, and my room,” she replied. “And I think I’d miss the buttercups. I love the way their petals turn, and I love that they blow golden dust out into the wind, and I love to stand in a field and be surrounded by the buttercups and their golden dust. I wouldn’t ever want to leave that.”
We walked some more then, in silence, occasionally murmuring about nothing of importance. And when the sun began to grow faint on the far horizon, we sat down side-by-side with our backs against a tree, and we watched the buttercups blow breaths of golden dust into the wind.
Now I stare over the waters, and as I do, I feel a strange strength within me. Just being here, just sitting here, makes me feel a power within me; the knowledge that it is I who determines what I do, and where I go. I take strength and pleasure from the feel of my flesh, from the wind which wraps it more tightly and more fully and more completely than this flimsy dress ever could. From the hair which wraps around my head; I hate its dissembled state but I love that it is flying about me and that it is a part of me; that it plays with the wind just as the wind plays with me, that the surf paints my arms and my neck and my cheeks, that my breasts stare into the wind as though daring it to turn about, that I am embraced by all of this world about me and that it is my choice that it be so.
I used to drive out the TCH to lose myself. I’m from the generation that grew up in town, that spent more summers on the mainland or the US than hunting or fishing or doing the stuff they said my grandparents used to do around here. To me, the world beyond St. John’s was a mystery, but sort of an irrelevant one, since it seemed to be fading away anyway. I had friends from out of town, of course, but they spent all their time trying to get into town, and certainly didn’t leave me with a favourable impression of their hometowns when they spoke of them. In fact I was convinced I would die of boredom if I had to grow up in a place without a theatre or a library or even a fast food outlet to hang out at on the weekend. Those were the things important to me at that age. And even now, the attraction of outport Newfoundland has failed to impress me any more than it did then. But the one thing that did attract me was the anonymity of it. Not a soul there would know me, chances are, and I didn’t know what town I’d end up at if I drove along this road for a couple of hours. They were dead-ends, all of them; and all identical, with their gravelly roads and vinyl-sided shops and ugly little houses strewn about haphazardly on hills overlooking the one road. The only thing they had in any abundance were run-down churches, the majority of them closed for business these days. Yes, the world outside the overpass seemed a great mystery – not one I cared about, but one I could lose myself in if I felt I needed to. And so rural Newfoundland has a function, even for me, even now.
Isn’t it strange how sometimes you dive into relationships without thinking about it, only to regret it later when your thinking self catches up to you; and then at other times the smallest detail will make you hesitate.
It was the thought of leaving that made me hesitate, or at least I think that’s what it was. Who’s grown up here and hasn’t been torn by that thought, at some time or another? It never seems to wrack my friends on the mainland in the same way. I guess it’s because it’s such an ordeal to leave here – as expensive as flying halfway across the world, and so you know that when you leave, chances are you won’t be returning any time soon. And why even bother beginning something here, when you’re just going to leave it?
Still, when he phoned me up and invited me to the wine show, I couldn’t find the will within me to say no.
The night began pleasantly and raced past in a haze of laughter. Before we knew it the three hours were up, the lights were coming on, and the doorways beginning to fill with small knots of friends trying to decide whether to carry on downtown or call it a night. Not wanting the pleasant flow of the evening to subside, I wrapped an arm around Melvin. It seemed easy: not too close, not too chummy; it just seemed the right thing to do.
“Want to get out of here?” he asked. I nodded, stabbing a slice of cheese as we passed by the table.
“My place is close,” I said. I didn’t feel like walking, at least not far, although I wanted very much to be outside, and to leave the stifling sweaty air for the crisp chill of an autumn moon.
Mel nodded in acquiescence. We went outside, arms still around each other. A faint part of my mind was wondering what this meant; I don’t usually put my arms around people, not as buddies, nor as lovers; especially not people I’m barely beginning to know and haven’t found a category to put them in. But somehow our arms just seemed to fit. Oh well, I thought to myself. Somehow easier to walk this way.
We made the mistake of purchasing three bottles each on our way out, and as we trudged up the hill behind the Delta, our pace slowed and our breaths laboured in the misty night. Breathing out, my breath formed a small trail of steam, but despite this the night felt warm, unnaturally warm for late October. My dress felt comfortable, and even the cool midnight breeze on my legs was more pleasant than chilly.
“Hey!” I yelled up toward him; he was almost at the peak of the hill where it turned right toward my own street. “How did we manage to get six bottles of wine for $40?”
“I think two of them were free,” he answered, pausing and turning around, panting slightly. His shirt was damp and his own breath flowed like mist about him.
“That’s what I thought!” I replied. “Score!”
“They had some kind of deal on; free bottle when you make a purchase or something,” he continued.
“Whatever. We totally scored!” I yelled back. He laughed.
I pulled myself the rest of the way up the hill. The road diverged in two here; our own path lay to the left, a tall chain-link fence running along the side where it fell precipitously off above the Stadium. Between the road and the fence was a wide expanse of green field, the grass misty with the midnight dew.
“Time for a smoke?” I looked up at him inquiringly, and then, giggling, dropped my bags onto the grass and rolled onto my back. He laughed and joined me. Side by side, we lay there silently for several moments, staring up at the cloudy night sky. We couldn’t see the stars, but now and then the moon would burn through the mist, and trails of wispy cloud would race across its surface. My breath returned to normal, but my heart continued to beat fairly rapidly. I reached into my purse and felt about for a cigarette pack, eyes still rooted on the sky, thoughts idly flowing with the clouds, touching on this thought and that: the wine, the warm night breeze, the strange fellow lying panting beside me.
I removed a joint from the pack and stuck it in my mouth, lighting it without moving from my far too comfortable position on the grass. Breathing in the smoke, while the moonlight bathed my face and the breeze tugged the edges of my dress around my thighs, felt absolutely glorious.
“You’ll have to get your fill of this, before you go,” he said. Clearly the thought had been on his mind, too. I leaned over on my side, propping myself up by an elbow. I inhaled deeply once more, and passed the joint over to him. The sudden shift in position didn’t work, so I rolled over onto my back again.
“Absolutely,” I replied, taking in the night sky in all its fullness. “I wonder if this kind of perfection exists in other places, too.”
“I’m sure it does,” he said, coughing slightly as he inhaled. “Besides, you’ll be having quite the adventure!”
I found it hard to read his tone. Was he honestly excited for me? Was he trying to hide a disappointment at my impending departure? What made things more complicated was the fact that I didn’t even know how it was that I wanted him to feel.
“Thanks for inviting me out tonight,” I said. Truthfully, I hadn’t had such a fun night, nor felt so simply content, in a long time.
“No problem,” he replied, passing me back the joint. “I hope we’ll have the chance to do it again sometime.”
“Hey,” I said, driven by a sudden spontaneity which I could neither stop nor make sense of. “When I’m away in Nova Scotia, or Toronto, will you come visit?”
“Absolutely,” he replied, without so much as pausing. “Anytime. You just let me know when.”
“Promise?” I asked, inhaling deeply and then rolling back over on my side. He held up his little finger.
“Pinky swear,” he offered. I giggled and took his proferred finger in my own.
“You know that’s serious,” I replied, raising my eyebrows in what I thought was a look of maximum sincerity.
“Dead serious,” he answered. I rolled back over, but our fingers remained entwined. Now the clouds were thinning, and I could see the faint pinpricks of stars beginning to shine through. One moment the sky is empty, and the next it’s full of holes of light. Almost without realizing it, I’d moved beyond his finger, and taken his hand in my own. Silently we watched the stars, one by one, tear through the black clouds. My fingers stroked the outside of his hand, then played along his fingers, eventually probing their way into the thick of his warm and pulsing palm. His own hand caressed the outside of mine, and I thought to myself that the touch of hand on hand could be so much more intimate than a kiss, or a hug.
When did the idea of kissing him pop into my mind, I wondered suddenly. Turning my head ever so slightly, I glanced over at him. He lay on his back, eyes glued to the night sky. I turned my head again. I enjoyed the play of our hands for several more moments, the street silent beside us, the stars singing overhead.
“We’d better get moving,” I murmured.
“Yeah,” he agreed. But neither of us moved. We lay there until every last star had made its appearance. Then, at my suggestion, he used his cellphone to call a cab, and dropped me off on his way home.
There is a loneliness in the wind, and sometimes I wonder whether I am the only one who hears it. I hear it as I sit on the edge of the cliff, as it cries its way through the bushes and the trees behind me, as it swings about me and beyond me and over the waters’ spray. I hear it wherever I am alone, and when I am alone the sound has a distinct quality, one which only appears at these times as though to say ‘I too am lonely’. Is the wind lonely? I ponder this as I sit here, staring down at the foamy waves below. The sea is restless, and impatient, and it makes me impatient as well. The crashing and twisting sets my nerves on edge, and it is only through an effort of will that I make myself stay here, sitting and staring it down.
I find myself thinking of Alice, the little girl I met one day as I walked in a nameless town by the sea. I wish she were here.
‘Why haven’t you left?’ she would ask, and her dog would shake its head in echo.
‘I’ve got an important job here, and I can’t leave it now,’ I would reply. Or maybe, ‘I decided the buttercups were too pretty to leave them all alone.’ Or maybe just, ‘I wimped out.’
‘Your boyfriend must be happy,’ she would say.
And I would remember Melvin, and how he had taken me out to dinner the weekend after the wine show, and told me that he’d taken a job in Vancouver. The news didn’t surprise me, nor did the lack of anything I felt inside. The sense of loss is something natural for us here, as those we care about all leave us, one by one. And those of us who stay feel only the loss, not the sense of new, or of adventure, or of a strange world without. The sense of loss builds within us all, and it’s such a part of us that we forget it, adding to it year after year, a dull throbbing ache as we realize nothing is permanent, nothing stays, nothing seems to have purpose when our own permanence in this place leaves us empty and alone.
But I still have the wind, and this rock, and the spray of the water on my face. And all about me, here in some unknown outport village, whose name I never want to know, the buttercups blow in the wind, as their golden dust flies away across the sea.