It was a string of numbers that looked like they could belong to someone I know or something I was expecting––maybe I’d finally won that all expenses paid cruise. Either way, I didn’t answer and I watched the phone until it stopped vibrating in the same way people suffocating the bedridden with pillows watch the limbs flail until they mercifully fall limp. In the Online message boards dedicated to strange and unknown numbers I found that this one had been vibrating the phones of many others. A few said that these phantom digits belonged to a mouth breather who hung up only after their heady silence had reached peak creepiness. Even more said that the person on the other end claimed to be from Scotia Bank, CIBC or RBC and were conducting surveys that asked personal financial questions but hung up when asked if they could identify themselves. Impostors was the consensus .
I thought about fakes and phonies––the teenager from Florida who posed as an OB/GYN for a month without hospital staff knowing; those knock-off Gucci leather gloves a friend had bought in Chinatown and then lost without a care; how I pretend to be up to date on world’s happenings by simply watching The Daily Show––my phone began to shake. Those same eleven numbers. I whispered “fuck off” into the pillow as I watched the legs kick.
The woods seemed to shift and move from the shadows of the near hundreds of people who were drinking, laughing and celebrating in the humid summer night. I’d never heard of someone renting out an entire campground, but they had; and as the first fire pit broke out into flames and everyone around began to dance it was clear it was a good idea. As I made my way back from nature’s urinal I was given a Roman candle by a man who was handing the colourful explosive out like food stamps. I appreciated the gesture but was in no state to operate something that could potentially remove a digit.
Then you slid out from the dark of the trees and I passed it off to you. Your eyes grew wide with childlike worry and wonder and you asked sincerely: “Should I?” It was then that a disco ball was turned on in the back of a pick-up and the perimeter of conifers were blanketed in flashing blues and greens. I remembered the handful of mushrooms we’d eaten earlier as your saucered pupils waited for an answer. “Nah, you shouldn’t.” I said and took the firework back and we walked towards the lights.
You, the large man in the tutu, started it is what I’d heard. Apparently you’d been sloppily hitting on the man with the horses head’s girlfriend and then pushed the much smaller equine when confronted. After a brief tussle you were broken up and we all continued dancing. I asked my friend how we ended up here and he shrugged. Early 90’s house music filled every open space of the room. A projector beaming a looped video of an outdoor dance music festival was flashing up on stage, interrupted only by the DJ’s shadowed, herky-jerky movements around his equipment.
Then the unfortunately recognizable sound of bone colliding with bone. The crack followed by a thud. The thud being you hitting the floor. Synthesizers kept playing and people kept dancing, only a handful of concerned ravers asking what happened and if your supine body if it was alright. The horseman trotted slowly backwards towards the exit. The blood that trickled from your mouth matched your tutu.
Portrait by James Knight for #POBEshow 2014
One by one we held the fragrant slips of paper to our faces. When it was my turn I brought it under my nose and swirled it around. With one movement of her brow the woman behind the counter let me know she thought I was an idiot. The paper smelt like junior high. The memory made saliva pool in my mouth as a warning. To hide from my homeroom teacher that I had shared a mickey of vodka with a friend at recess, I’d once put my lips to a highly coveted bottle of Calvin Klein cologne and sprayed. Spinning around in the bathroom stall, trying my best not to vomit, I wished I’d just risked getting a suspension like my friend had and would eventually receive, instead of having my mouth coated with what I now imagine Martin Shkreli’s spunk would taste like.
“What did he say?” One more time I said the exorbitantly priced bottle of Burberry cologne reminded me of junior high and one more time the woman behind the counter looked at me with disgust as she turned back to my friend.
“We do have a smaller bottle, it’s only sixty-dollars, but the bigger bottle is almost double the size and only twenty-dollars more. You have a man’s more logical brain, so you know this is the better deal.”
The one of us in our group with a vagina looked surprised at the revelation that all of her actions and decisions up to that point in her life had been made under the watch of an illogical female brain. The woman behind the counter smiled, perhaps unaware due to her apparently crippling lifelong logic deficiency that she’d just thrown her own gender under the bus in an attempt woo a customer.
“What does that mean, you’ll be back?” she yelled after us.
When I first found you hanging on the wall at the second-hand store I knew we would work. Your smooth, black leather was devoid of loud patterns and the slim, dull brass buckle that held your ends together did its job without drawing attention to the delicate region directly above my crotch. But now, after years of abuse and repair our run is nearing its end. And unfortunately it is you, not me. Your holes have stretched too long and are no longer snug with the prong. I went to collect my clothes from the Laundromat and only discovered you hanging open and lazy against my thighs as I left. The couple who run the place have been uncomfortably friendly with me ever since.
But your untimely swan song was the afternoon I started the new volunteer job. A job that involves working with children. Children. Thankfully I caught your last act of negligence seconds before entering the building and immediately having the police called on me. Just consider this a necessary retirement. You’ve supported me for so long, let me support you in old age. I can use you to hold that one broken chair together or something.
Portrait by Andrea Taylor for #POBEshow 2014