“The Sunday Papers: Five Quick Vignettes Before the End of the World” by Brian Michael Barbeito

One

It’s the old sound and feel of public transit. I find there are floods of memories. Knowledge of when it will get busy and when it will know some spaciousness. Different pairs cosmopolitan not provincial stand in front of me.

This is the way the world is.

These are the ways of the people of the world.

Astute and incredibly so. The copy you can get from the earth by sitting still, a wallflower or mouse on a subway train in a major metropolitan city.

Two talk about mortgages. They are male. Once can easily pay more on his mortgage than he does. This would pay it down at a faster rate. Then he can borrow against it again. Or, as he is currently doing, he can just pay less and have more cash in hand. They are about thirty but I’d say not over thirty five for some reason. At the lowest twenty eight. I get the number thirty three but it does not matter. They are the kids I always avoided. Nice. Well. Quietly ambitious. A fair representation of thousands if not millions.

They will be wildly successful.

It is in the cards, but you don’t need cards, because it is written all over them, on every inch.

Wildly successful.

Yes.

And wildly mediocre.

The second two, oddly enough, are actually book publishers. Two women. White. Late forties. Measurably stressed.

At least it is Friday afternoon late or early evening. These hanker for the glass of wine.

Also, one day, someday, (though it could happen at night), the sun will burn out and everything will be over.

When a project comes to their office, it is ‘up for grabs,’ and almost anyone can choose to work on it. This worked for a time, but is no longer going well. What the one wants, and the other agrees (they seem like the top brass), is for a writer to be immediately directed to a certain person, team, or department.

They pause.

This is the path we chose, says the air somehow and with a resigned dutiful candor, but it doesn’t feel too joyous.

They are on the pulse of the business side of things- writing and publishing. They are also honestly trying to take care of their writers as they say as much and the wallflower mouse has petal-ears that hear.

Women self-actualized and productive.

Curt clicking heals and strong leather bags.

Knowing all the right things that the city and beyond can offer.

Yet something is missing, and in a quick glance I see more crow’s feet and worry lines than they should have at their age.

An electronic voice calls out my stop.

My fragment self and my fragment sentences get up and leave.

The future is here.

In more ways than I can imagine.

Two

The place we are at is good enough on paper. This is the next stop for my old friend and confidant. A sparse apartment with four walls, a bathroom, a linen closet, kitchenette, and so forth. This is life, after all, not a mythic yogic dream.

But the area is worse than bad.

Low level vibrations.

Rigs or fits. Waste. Actual garbage strewn. Remnants of a fire the city or owners or both have not cleaned up.

Questionable souls.

Every interaction or approach a cause for concern and worse.

We have a problem. Well, what can be done? Soon the real evening arrives to compliment the vibratory dark. I stand in the middle to give the best blessing I can muster. He stands perhaps ten feet behind. I shall just need a minute, I say. I am going to be speaking inside my head, so you will know I am done when I turn around, when I tell you.

Okay. Thanks man.

No problem.

In the name of God and Jesus, I ask for the protection of Arch Angel Michael. I ask for him to come here with his sword and cut away all possible darkness from this room, from this place. I also ask for all available angels to come and protect this place and my friend here and during his journeys. This is not a good place I know and can see, but this is the path currently, so it is accepted but I ask that any force for light and goodness and that comes from the true one divine God, transform it as much as possible and help with the safest and best outcomes to all situations arising. Thank you.

Then I turn.

I am done. I said the best I could. I think I did alright. In any event, the intention was there.

Thanks. Thanks honestly.

Let’s get going.

Yup.

And we go and in a flash are on the top patio of the establishment down the way.

It is rain laden soon, and a foggy mist covers the city. At that moment there is the taste of beer and possibility. The woman that looks like a man but not in a transvestite way, keeps staring at us. One and then the other. Her masculine face is not ugly. She is reading and writing which does not fit. I don’t know whether it is pretentious or else honest to read and write in the poorly lit rainy patio smoking area.

I tell Lee to talk, see what she wants.

It’s all good but a bit of a bore. She is playing games. Some of them do that, but not all.

Inside Lee makes friends with the film students. Four males. A writer, an editor, a cameraman, and someone else. They have some of their equipment with them. They are in the middle twenties. Two whites, a Filipino fellow, and a black. They have never heard of one term I list from cinema verite to the Italian Neo Realist movement or anything else. One throws a decorated baggie small across the couches to the other and the other goes to the bathroom and throws something back at the first thrower.

They all leave for a while.

There are others, many others.

The Moosehead rep that Lee goes and talks to. Dark, gracious, lithe, dimpled, denim, fast sure movments.

What did you tell her?

I told her that you are madly in love with her but that it cannot be for various reasons.

But I never said anything like that at all.

I know, but she’s got to know.

Got to know what?

She’s just got to know.

The Cinema 101 class comes back. All are red and pie eyed and now drinking again. The writer one talks a bit of sense, though he is much narcotized. He talks about Borges, and then asks to do a pitch. What he calls an elevator pitch. I say go ahead.

A woman has an affair with a younger man and they run away together. There is the murder of the woman’s husband and some kind of inheritance or something monetary is involved. And it works out, but only for a while. In the end circumstances and each other catch up to both and they both and up dying.

I listen and just sit quietly. I feel nothing for this either way but am glad for some reason that they both died. I wonder at that. Someone got theirs. Good. I sit hoping I don’t have to talk.

I look at him. His eyes are red and he is waiting for an answer.

Luckily the conversation gets broken up by one of his cohorts and the place is busy. They go outside. Lee and I go along streets paved with rain but there is some grime you just can’t get off.

The globalists have painted the city in electronic billboards that show many bright arrays. There is a woman in a private sort of jet or train and she wears fancy patterned black pantyhose and a short autumnal hued skirt of some sort. Her legs face the audience which is the city at night. She is vaguely eastern European or possibly Greek or Italian. She is writing in a journal but looking up. The hair is wispy and just so. I hate to admit that they created quite a scene. It’s sluttish and gorgeous at once. Rich and full but you can’t tell why. I wonder at how many shots they had to take.

And her eyes are all sex.

And it’s not a projection.

And she is forty feet tall.

She wants you.

And she wants me.

But she stays there forever above the dirt and grime and false hopes of the city at night. She wants but does not need the city.

She has a place with the angels though she is possibly and probably an agent of darkness.

What eyes though.

And under the skirt, well, as is sometimes said, forget about it.

Three

Streets varied and some sour and some sweet. Early Christmas and Christmas-like lights. I go to here or there wandering just a bit. Grime windows. Neon. Outskirts of bars. Pizzerias. Crack heads. A lady comes up from across the street in a B-line.

Lee, I say, she is coming to your back left. You talk to her. I am tired.

No. You do it.

I turn around and look. She is big and she is about our age but looks older and wears a black coat and she is not involved in sex and not a big user or if she is her eyes are clear and she is wiser somehow through culture or experience than your average street involved person who can and is usually very wise in their own way indeed but I am getting tired and don’t want to play games so am firm and quick enough and I instead tell her what she wants and she responds in the affirmative though I don’t know what she was originally going to say but she saw something in me she could not identify and was cautious which is a safety protection and it kicks in automatically and comes from millennia of existence simply in the galaxy even at the lowest levels of interactions.

You want a cigarette?

Yes.

And I keep walking after dolling.

Then I sense something.

You also want a light.

Ya.

There.

I walk.

Hey.

Ya. (but I say it in a statement instead of a question.)

Are you guys okay?

And I know exactly what she means. Ya. We are fine. (and I turn and walk).

Cause I am holding the primo, primo, right now.

We are good. Thanks anyway.

And she leaves it at that and we go and go. We are supposed to call it a night, and so we head towards the front steps from the street but mostly on my decision we loop back a couple of buildings- one building actually, about fifty yards if that, for a last nightcap. We have stayed away from these types of establishments and it hasn’t been a problem. I pass three guys out front, and pause…

The door slams open against the dirty white brick stucco at that second (I swear on my true and one grave) and they carry out a patron in a headlock (they do not use cpi- nonviolent crisis intervention technique) on that street corner, and carrying this guy while striking with fists and when out completely they strike him more and more and more also for making fun of a disabled person.

But there are sounds and sights both, and it is not what you would want to hear or see, and I sometimes have walked upon these things the first time as a kid outside of Chesswood Arena and it was over a woman then and alcohol really does thin the blood, blood that then and now and in places at night and sometimes even in the day is all around the world on the curb and on long sidewalks that couch are troubled ways and even let us travel to it. Bright thin red and we have learned nothing and we are nothing. The paradigm shift and the rest of it can have themselves I think then, because they are not real- only make-believe hoop la- and we have lost and were not a good idea all you have to do is look and see the blood that does not belong on the outside of the body or on city streets but is there. Look, I tell Lee, this is ominous either way. I can handle this, but I would rather not. Let’s just go. And we swing on foot around and go away to the room where there is a white candle and the fan blows the air out and a man keeps coming every hour to call up to someone but nobody answers.

Lee talks about a woman I used to know and how she said he could drive her home because he could just go along Finch Avenue. But he had wanted to take the highway and could not say no. He knew her before me and she wore a red coat, a coat that was or that looked like a pea coat. Who wears a coat like that? Lee asked, unless she is from Montreal? And she had long hair and she had short hair and she is a woman now but will always remain seventeen as we talk about her. Strong mind. Determined. Snow is falling in the past- Lee is talking in the present, and I am fading out, remembering the girl. There are posters in her closet, things cut out from magazines, and there are bowls somewhere, and red fruit juice, which is funny, because I used to drink red fruit juice in Pompano Beach not a hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean blue and chiming in the universe the calmest sounds in the morning long before high tide and dangerous undertows. Man. I click in. He is talking still. What were we talking about I think? Oh. The girl. Yes. What of her? What do you mean?, I say. Did you remember the coat? No, I say, and it is the truth. I don’t remember a coat like that, and I knew her well. There is a pause. Nothing else much is said but there is almost a damned fire because the candle drips a flame onto newspaper.

But I loved her, I say. (He is fiddling with the candle, trying to see if he can stave off the fire but still keep the candle burning.) Long pause. And I don’t think I ever told her.

Really…, he says.

Yes. Really. And once I love someone, I love them forever, cause that’s just the way it is.

Poof. He was unsuccessful and with a strong almost vexatious gesture shoots air from his mouth and extinguishes the candle.

I dream of trying to fix a broken chair. It is looking like I shall be able to do it, but then it does not work out. There is an integral part, under the cushion as I lean over it, that I didn’t think had to be cut. I had cut the plastic packaging parts only and thought I was careful yet useful. But someone beside me, an unnamed voice, says- You have to cut those parts also. And I see that they look like parts of the actual chair, but I do have to cut them. I cut them then. Yes I cut them. It is damaged too much and falls apart in my hands near the end. There is nowhere to sit. It looks like I shall be standing. The world is out there, and I can sense it and even hear just a little bit of it in the dream, but I am not in it and I am not in the chair. I stand and wait and wait and stand.

Four

In the morning the sun comes as if only out of some tired habit and presents as a hazy and lazy half forgotten sort of thing and glows only shallowly on a now polluted city of actual physical pollution and also of difficult psychic discordance that has settled like a willfully troubled populous declaring squatter’s rights.

I notice also that it is strangely quiet and not even the sound of traffic is present. For a moment it’s like waking up at a cottage or lake, but this cannot even be a real moment. Maybe a third of a moment. There is a sinister buzz coming from somewhere, and life, if it could be called that, is about to start again.

We are walking and I buy breakfast. We sit in a place where the window is for some reason round like a big ship’s window. I was once on the actual Love Boat, and watched Gorillas in the Mist and Tucker and listened to the Doors on my earphones.

This is not the Love Boat.

A woman walks past outside twitching. Beyond the street there is a building with no door and different men keep carrying things out of it. Yet, just in front of them a woman appears with a scarf and boots, with an attaché case and well washed finely tuned blonde hair. The middle class is absent. There keep appearing only the marginal or else the ones ‘with.’

We walk past the Moss Park Armory and Arena and I remember that I used to play there in the summers as I practiced with the second team. The first girl to ever play hockey in a boys league became my defense partner. I know the smells of the rink, and I know that summer and what it stood for, for me anyways. I knew that they kept playing the song- Black Cars Look Better in the Shade, and also for some reason Prince’s Raspberry Beret. When the song said:… she wasn’t too bright but I could tell by the way she kissed that she knew how to get her kicks, I thought of a girl like that named Natalie, from far away, from another summer altogether. For now I secretly thanked my mother for driving me to practice at such a hell hole.

Period.

Eventually we make our way briefly to an army surplus store with a high energy OCD manager that does not realize it but is basically pushing people out of the store with his over-zealousness. A while later we are in front of the Eaton Centre. I made it, and I am alive. Through the couple days and nights.

And through a twenty year span. I am thirty nine in actuality even if a Windsor journalist that introduced herself to us earlier guessed forty five.

I tell Lee we have to go to The World’s Biggest Bookstore. We walk a block to Edward Street. It’s just like it always was. We take a few pictures.

Tourists in our own lives.

Lee and I part ways. Our journey through the city is done for now. Urban Exploration he calls it. I caution him remain as safe as possible. I go back in the store and browse for one hour. I always thought a secret to life and death must be hiding in those pages somewhere so found it hard to leave. It was like telling a person that the winning lottery ticket is in the pages of one of the books. Watch the enthusiasm then.

Going.

Mirrors and funny lights outside.

I find myself in Indigo. The courts and the trucks that take people to courts and the grey day and buildings are outside. Across. I find the juxtaposition frightening and almost unbearable. There is something wrong, and nobody sees it but me, so I keep quiet about it.

This is not the way the world was meant to be.

I see that Brad Park is talking at the top of the stairs and I listen to him for a while. He was a defenseman with the Boston Bruins, a left shot like me, who grew up in Toronto or Scarborough and played for the Marlies. I remember seeing him play on College Street against the Leafs. Those were the days. Before Indigo Bookstores, pop and bubble gum digital connections, cell phone towers, and a hundred other questionable things.

I leave. I am light headed. Vertigo of the body and spirit. I order a Big Mac and sit with the people. I see much. Everything happens at once. Beside me I ask a girl the time only because I do need the time and she opens her bag and shows me the time on her phone kindly but without saying anything. I get the impression she does not actually speak and there is some evidence that this might be so. She has her name and some other information taped to a water bottle or something. But make no mistake, she is well dressed and carries boutique bags. She also has prayer beads wrapped around her wrist, and is reading Leaves of Grass but she is underlining it which is not right. I don’t say a word. She is I notice then actually beautiful, mulatto. I finish and leave and head home. There is nothing worth saying really.

The world has moved on. It gobbles everything up, or else clears the table with time and someone else comes for a meal. We are always leaving whether we know it or not. Some just can’t see the door yet so they think the dinner hour will last forever.

But it’s only a dinner hour.

And we are being escorted out into the hands of the future.

Each on their own path in time.

Five

The Northbound train comes like controlled wind through the tunnel. I go and sit and the time is getting later. It will be the end of dusk when I come out of the tunnel at the other end, having traded the urban day for the suburban night.

I feel a whirling of memories in my brain and my head starts to hurt. Nothing that I have seen is so great, but in the going I was able to check on myself and my progress in time. I worry about my friend, but have to release him to his own destiny and the certain amount of darkness that is around him through circumstance and a karmic destiny I know nothing about- not its origins or current progress really and certainly not its conclusion. He has a strong if quiet light inside and I hope this will sustain him. Like many others, he is a sensitive person caught in what is often a chaotic and nonsensical world.

After Lawrence Station and on the way towards Shepherd Station the fog and vibratory level of the downtown corridor physically actually really and most certainly lift and dissolve. For this I am grateful. I think that the best the world has to offer is yet to come.

I hope inwardly that this is most absolutely and unequivocally so.

I have some information from the ‘inside’ but can’t know for sure.

Following the bus route at the end of the line, above where the train kisses the last wall of the last station and then gets ready to leave again, I listen to the announcements of the streets. My birth mother the one time I met her mentioned that the streets there were named for horses because that was all a large acreage where they kept such. That was about all she said. That and one question was asked.

Were you raised on a farm?

No.

They told me you were being taken to a farm. And that you would grow up around horses…

I walk along there in the new dark. It’s gotten mild and if you just look quickly it could feel for a second like an early spring night. But the leaves then tumble and it’s not spring and you can’t fool yourself or time or anything at all really. The streetlights blink on. My real mother, which is the one that raised me, used to say, – When the streetlights are on, you should be home…

I am almost at my truck now, and will hop into it and drive another forty minutes out of the old suburbs to the new suburbs.

There is a horse that lives at the end of our neighborhood.

Go figure.

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