Tuesday, 1 October 2013


NOIR CANADIANA

 
A Town Called Hope

 
The colours of the dawn were as vivid and livid as a ripening bruise. I poured five fingers of Irish and lit a cigarette. I watched the smoke swirl away into nothingness, just like the dreams I once had as a younger man. From the cradle to the grave we wade through a seething abscess of corruption coupled with ineptitude. If you don’t believe that then maybe you’re a stakeholder in the putrid factory that churns out the rancid toxins which poison us all. If that’s the case, Ace, I reckon you best learn to look over your shoulder, sit with your back to the wall and sleep with one eye open because I’m gunning for you. I’m out there in the night shadows drawing a bead. You might call me a vigilante but my name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. Truth is I’m the last knight errant. And if my armour’s dented and tarnished, well, it’s just a reflection of these scabby times, most of us scrabbling for a modicum of dignity.

 
It had been a long night of dirty work. I had done some nasty things to an even nastier man. I had done the city, its cops and the Crown a huge favour with the help of a garden spade but I knew it would take a little time before they saw things my way. I’d scrubbed myself raw under a hot shower and changed my clothes but the scent of blood, metallic, ferrous, still clung to me like sweat. The smoke and whisky were thin disguises.

 
Ann Fatale, my blonde moll, massaged my neck. She thrust her pert nose into my ear, pushed her firm breasts against my shoulder blades and cooed, ‘Baby did a bad, bad thing.’

 
I grunted. ‘How do you feel about a little holiday right this minute?’ A floated question with only one correct answer.

 
‘You need to disappear until the heat cools down to a simmer?’

 
I grunted.

 
‘I’ve already packed for us both. On the lam with you, baby, there’s no place I’d rather be.’

 
So we got into Ann Fatale’s little sports car whose curves almost match hers and we drove west, racing the rising sun. I was dressed incognito: middle-aged, middle management, running shoes, jeans and a fleece under a billed cap stitched with some team’s logo. Ann Fatale had dialed her wardrobe back to merely glamourous. She looked better than good. If we got stopped she’d turn on the flirt and we’d be gone faster than most people’s savings in the 2008 crash - public risk for private profit which never struck me as righteous and fair. I gave some of those banker boys a bonus they never expected, the gift of life: Funny how money ceases to matter when you’re on your knees and sucking on the oily barrel of an automatic. We passed Hell’s Gate, a boundary I’d crossed too many times with dark results and then pulled into a town called Hope.

 
The City Centre Motel sign read NEWLY RENVATED. If they missed the big O up the pole beneath the neon, they surely missed some portions of the rens too. There were no bedbugs at least - they’d migrated to somewhere more upscale. I wondered about my eventual death, the day my grace must expire, will it be like this, forking out $70 for the night to bleed out alone on an already stained mattress with jittery hookers as neighbours? Rock bottom, yes, yet invisible too. If you ever have to go to ground, go as low as you can go. Trust me. I know a little bit about these things.

 
I lost my faith a long, long time ago. Life taught me lessons that hurt at the time and left scars, which I’ll take over open wounds any day. The priests and nuns used to tell us that despair is the greatest sin of all. It was just a word, a Vatican abstraction. Until now. This place Hope is walled in by mountains, clouds snagged on their peaks. The local social worker has a storefront operation with a charity thrift shop beside. There’s a payday loans operation and a dollar store. It’s raining. There’s a young woman standing in the civic pride park beneath the cedars all alone and screaming. There’s a sinister undercurrent of crystal meth and open secrets, taboos broken.

 
The Hope Motor Hotel must have been something in her day, back when the Trans-Canada had just been completed and our nation’s flag was fresh and full of promise. The hotel is just a shell of empty corridors and empty rooms but there’s still a working barber shop off what used to be the lobby. It’s closed. I could’ve used a haircut, shed some of this seal grey, changed my look on the lam. There’s a pub, Chums. And maybe that’s what the other drinkers were, food for the predators swimming and slithering through the infected circus we consider society.

 
Ann Fatale ordered us a couple of cold beers. We needed to rinse the road from our mouths and blunt the edginess we both felt. The joint’s walls were decorated with pictures of people some other people admire: The Beatles, Elvis, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and somebody else who was famous for something and is long dead too. In a town called Hope you may think these fancy pictures are some sort of tribute to heroes, but they’re not. They are the icons of the new religion of celebrity worship and subtle, even unconscious reminders that most of us are nobodies and we’re nowhere and we’re staying there, waist deep in the muck and filth. If I’d been born in Hope and baptized in despair I’d have been on the highway out of town the day I learned to walk.

 
‘Baby,’ Ann Fatale said, ‘this place is bleak. And a girl like me’s used to The Ritz or at least a Days Inn. Our motel room’s disgusting. I don’t even feel like making love even though you know you just have to give me that look to rev my motor.’

 
I grunted.

 
‘That too,’ she said. ‘Baby, maybe it’s time to think about another line of work.’

 
I thought about that. Maybe I could get a job at Home Depot as a sales associate. Be their garden spade expert. Crowbars, hammers and two-by-fours. But who would act, not merely speak, for those incapable of advocating for themselves? Nobody I never voted for.

 
‘There’s nothing here, is there, in Hope?’ I murmured.

 
‘No, baby,’ she cooed, ‘there isn’t.’

 
I grunted. I saw that look in her eyes she sometimes gets, melting, out of focus. ‘Let’s keep going west,’ I said. ‘I need to rinse these sins from my hands in the sea.’

 
‘They were all good sins, baby,’ she whispered. ‘Every damn one.’

 
‘I know,’ I replied. ‘You understand that I can’t change who I am. You know that, don’t you? But a clean slate, maybe that’s what I need for now. A moment to breathe. And then we’ll head back to Edmonton.’

 
‘What will you do there?’

 
‘Well, the heat will be off for one thing. I guess I’ll eventually get back to work,’ I said. ‘At my age, I don’t really know anything else. Anyway, I don’t believe knights errant qualify for unemployment insurance.’

 
‘Damn the Harper government,’ she said.

 
‘Here’s to that,’ I grunted. We clinked glasses.

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