by Carolyn Marie Souaid
Baraka Books, 2017
For the rest of the night, they hardly took their eyes off each other. Yasmeen kept finding excuses not to leave quite yet. First she had to take down the decorations, then she had to sweep up and take the garbage bags out. The to-do list kept growing. She had to make the rounds to be sure that no one was hiding in the bathrooms, even though most of the villagers, including Paulussie, had already gone home. Meanwhile Joanasi dismantled the stage, wrapping extension cords around his arm, helping the musicians pack up their instruments. When it was time to lock up he offered to walk her home and she said, “Okay, I won’t say no.”
A dusting of snow had fallen over the village and a green curtain of electric light rippled across the sky. For no reason – or perhaps because of the northern lights – she broke into the operatic portion of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” forgetting most of the words but stumbling through. They both laughed at how bad it sounded. She wished he would put his arm around her but he just kept walking alongside, careful not to touch her. They played ‘Fortunately, Unfortunately.’
“Fortunately, it’s the weekend,” she began.
“Unfortunately, I have to work tomorrow,” he continued.
“Fortunately, there might be a storm.”
“Unfortunately, I’ll be stranded at your place.” He grinned and lobbed a snowball at her.
“Meanie!” she shrieked. She removed her hat and swatted him playfully.
By the time they got to her place their eyelashes were coated in ice. Wet snow was sliding off his boots. She shook the crystals of snow from their hats and parkas and laid them to dry over the furnace.
“Iik kiii, it’s freezing out there,” she said.
He followed her into the living room, fiddling with the loose change in his pockets. “You have less stuff than I thought you would.”
“I don’t need much,” she said. “My books, my music. Clothes, of course.”
He jiggled the knobs on her boom box and bent the antenna the opposite way. He walked to the bookcase Tommy had savaged and fingered the tattered spines of her books, randomly reading off their titles. “Did you really read all these?”
He pulled out her copy of The Little Prince. Not the banged up one that had endured all her childhood abuse but the one her father had wrapped up and given her as a high school graduation gift.
“Cute,” he said. “A kid’s book.” He flipped it open to the handwritten inscription on the inside cover. “For my little princess—The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” He wrinkled his nose. “Huh?”
“It’s T.S. Eliot,” she said, “a poet. For years, I thought my dad had written it. Do you want a coffee or something?”
He slapped the book shut and lifted his eyebrows. She insisted she’d be just a minute but he followed her into the kitchen anyway. He slid out a chair and sat. She felt his eyes on her. In her haste to prepare the cups, she accidentally spilled sugar all over the counter. “I hope you don’t mind coffee reheated in the microwave,” she said, trying not to reveal how flustered she was.
“Fine, no problem, anything hot is good,” he said.
She tried to think of other things to talk about while the coffee was getting zapped. “By the way, I forgot to thank you for letting the class interview you,” she said. “They super loved it.”
“It was fun.”
“Yeah. Tonight was fun, too.”
“I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but you’re a better teacher than a dancer,” he said. They carried their mugs into the living room and sat facing each other, cross-legged, on the couch. She was relieved that he had finally said something.
“So, which one are you?” he asked. He blew over his coffee to cool it.
“Which of the three M’s are you?” He was half joking, half serious.
“Sorry, I don’t get what you mean.”
He looked away and said, “I don’t quite know how to put this.” He glanced up again sheepishly. “You know, the three kinds of white people who come to the North.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I still don’t get it.”
“You really don’t know? Well, there’s the Mother Teresas, the misfits, and…”
“And the motherfuckers.” He blushed. “So which are you?”
Yasmeen’s eyes flared, though she sensed he was only playing with her. “Wow, what a way to ruin the moment.” She set down her coffee cup and whacked him with her book of crosswords.
Joanasi ducked, using his hands to defend himself. “Ouch, ouch! Down, girl!” he hollered while she continued bonking him over the head.
A small part of her wondered whether he actually believed the thing he had said. The rest of her sort of enjoyed the flirting. She brushed casually against him. He bumped back, a little harder. She didn’t mind that his fingers were yellow with nicotine.
“Okay, okay, I know you’re teasing. But I’ll bite,” she said. “Who are the motherfuckers?”
“Oh,” he said. “I thought you would know that.” He pushed a strand of hair out of her face. “The motherfuckers are the construction guys. They make their money, fuck our girls and then they hit the road, Jack.” He held her in his dark gaze, straight-faced.
It unsettled her. She stared down at her fingernails, wondering how to respond. His expression changed suddenly. “I’m kidding,” he reassured her. “I know you’re none of those.”
“You definitely had me going, there.”
“How about some music?”
She was glad for the opportunity to lighten the mood. He flipped quickly through her shoebox of cassettes until he found something that suited the moment. “Yeah, this.” He held out his selection for her approval.
“Let It Be. Excellent choice.”
They listened to the album straight through, slurping their coffee, belting out their favourite lines. They consumed an entire box of Whippets, though it was mostly him. She wondered what would come next, after the record ended, whether they would continue to stall or if he would make his move. It was like being on her first-ever date. At the first bars of “The Long and Winding Road,” she laid down her mug and pulled her knees into her chest. “Lennon or McCartney?” she asked, expressionless.
“You’re kidding, right?”
Joanasi tipped the last drop of coffee into his mouth and set the mug down by his feet.
Yasmeen noticed a twitch in his right eye, made worse by his refusal to pursue the discussion. He seemed easily offended. She rushed to fill the silence. “Come on, everyone knows that John was the brains behind the Beatles. I’ll take ‘Revolution’ and ‘Across the Universe’ over ‘Hey Jude’ anytime.”
He shrugged, non-committal. “Well, maybe. Could be. Who knows.” He took her hand into his lap and leaned forward to kiss her hair.
She asked him what he was doing even though she knew darn well what he was up to. She gazed longingly into his eyes. The room was spinning.
“What am I doing?” he said. “You’re a smart girl, figure it out.”
“It’s just that, I didn’t think, um, well, I mean I’m…”
“Shh,” he said. He brushed a circle around her mouth with the tip of his tongue.
She could hardly believe what was happening to them, what was happening to her. She cupped her hands on his shoulders and moved toward him. The room disappeared and it was only the two of them and the sound of their breathing.