“Of all the ways to lose a person, death is the kindest.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
1. The last time I saw Andy, he had his hands out, as usual. This time he was sitting on a milk crate at Bloor and St. George, not on my sofa with the cats. It had been years since I'd seen him, but I couldn't pretend I hadn't and keep on walking. Andy tried to look off in the opposite direction instead of looking up at me from the pavement, but there we were. I'm sorry to see you this way, I said, finally, unable to come up with anything else. It was the truth. I'd never told him anything but.
2. No one really knew who Andy was. He looked ten years older, but came off at least as much more juvenile. He wore a nondescript tan fisherman's hat and grubby khakis. His t-shirts were phone company freebies with wrestlers, and he never changed his socks. He watched more television game shows and B movies than anyone I'd ever met, but was still familiar with the range of poets and philosophers that came up in the conversations in our circles. I found him at a call centre, where I was for about nine weeks miserably employed. Andy smoked a joint and four cigarettes on every break. He cracked jokes all afternoon with the upset clients, who gave his service five stars and made him the top Customer Care Agent of the week, week after week. Andy made my brief imprisonment there immeasurably more pleasurable. You win some, and you use some. Andy, I lost.
3. One thing I always knew about Andy was that he was a lot smarter than he let on. I had no idea why he’d want to hide it. He was among friends, many of formidable wit and intelligence. But there was something calculated about it, and I figured he had his reasons.
4. The last time I saw Andy, the time before the last time, he was coming home after his lies had come to light. It jolted my life into disarray to discover that the landlord hadn't received any rent for three months. Everyone had this roommate, at least once, if they had roommates- the one who orchestrated the strings and made off with everyone else’s money. That I had been so trusting was problematic because my name was on the lease, and ultimately, rectifying the situation fell to me. There were other, smaller catastrophes- bizarre things like how I found dozens of pieces of my mail under Andy's mattress, months worth of bills and letters, unopened. They were carefully bundled with ribbons in pale yellow pillowcases, hidden away. I had been in tears with Canada Post multiple times, thinking I was losing my mind when they said, over and over, that the mailman had delivered my post that morning. The box was always empty. There was no explanation for why anyone would do this- there was nothing of value to Andy, and he hadn't even opened them. When I confronted him with all these things, he just shook his head and said, "I don't really even know, girl."
5. The rent was easier to understand. I gave Andy a generous choice. I told him, "Andy, if you are planning to pay me back, even if it's ten dollars a week, then we'll work that out, and we'll talk about all this later. But if you're not planning to do that, you will leave, and I never want see you again." I couldn’t, any longer, have friends I couldn’t trust. Andy looked at me for a long time with an expression I couldn’t read. Then he picked up his shitty little TV and a box of everyday sundry and walked off without a word. He didn’t even look back.
6. There were signs if I had looked for them, but I didn't. For years, money had gone missing here and there, and there was always some odd and insignificant things that disappeared inexplicably. It usually happened to somebody else, at a potluck or a party, when Andy was there but so were many others.
In other ways, he was the most loyal and trustworthy friend. He could be counted on for anything, like babysitting my little brother or taking a cat to the vet or coming running to console a soul during darkness. There were times the target party even accused him, and I was a fool, deflecting or explaining in his defence. There were sketchier people at these gatherings, there were more obvious explanations, but they weren't the guilty parties when it all came crashing down. One time I stashed some money in a book and couldn't find it. Privately, I was convinced it was him, but months later I found the right book and thought I had been wrong about all the times I'd suspected him. To this day I don't know if I had just misplaced those three twenty dollar bills or if he had replaced them later so that I would find them and he would be spared.
7. Way up north was Shallow Lake, where Andy was from. Population 317. I was from a small town too, of twenty thousand. If anyone asked after Andy's family or friends, there didn't seem to be any. Every now and again when I came home, Andy would be talking on the phone. He would motion to me that he was talking with his mother. All I knew of her was that she had married again in late middle age. Andy had never met his step dad but said he was a mean drunk and that he worried about her. He wasn't close to his one brother, who still lived in buttfuck Ontario; his Dad had disappeared into the Northwest Territories for mining work before Andy had gone to auto-mechanic college. I never saw Andy drive or even fix an element on the stove or the toilet when it was running. I never actually answered the phone when his mother called. But I never connected those dots. No one did.
8. When Marko died, Andy took my hand and didn't let it go. He carried me. He answered the door and the phone, he called in sick so I wouldn't be alone. We spent days, decades really, on the back roof porch. He dutifully emptied the tin tub ashtrays, he made runs to the liquor store or Tim Hortons as needed. When I picked up the phone and asked for an eight ball, he quietly put a stop to the proceedings and suggested Haagen Daas and pink wine instead. At the funeral, when my mother pulled in with a pick-up truck wagon full of tomatoes, he tirelessly carried the crates from her farm garden up to the third floor, and sent everyone home after with bushels worth of the August harvest. My mother was a more masterful manipulator than Andy would ever be, but sometimes her coarse observations were insightful and astute. Andy, she said to him, after we buried my husband. You are a good friend, like a faithful dog.
9. Once when Andy lived upstairs with my then-lover, sleeping behind an Asian style room divider in lacquer black with red poppies, I knocked on his makeshift barrier at two in the morning and handed him a big bag of blow. Andy, I said, take this and don't touch it, but don't give it back to me even if I call and wake you up. I had to work in a few hours. Andy had to work in the morning, too, at the Buy and Sell newspaper, selling classified ads over the telephone. He didn't flinch, didn't scold, stuck the whole affair into his grimy pillowcase and humoured my bad manners. Later, when Bobby was sick and crazy from the meth, Andy would sit awake with me in the dark, talk me through my weeping. When Bobby needed twenty dollars to buy a violin from a crackhead off the street, two strings, no bow, Andy jogged out to Regent Park with a green note and still let Bobby say it was from him.
10. Andy had the occasional girlfriend, and told us about his lesbian friend at work who wanted a donor for a child for her and her girlfriend. Andy said he had tried. I never heard follow up about the outcome, but admired his open generosity. He had a beautiful but annoying redhead for a year, and they would giggle behind closed doors and watch wrestling matches late into the night. I was happy for him. But nothing eclipsed for him the love he held for a mutual friend, a blonde Amazonian woman whose six feet of vavavoom curves could crush a county. Avery was a million miles out his league, but a little detail like that wouldn’t stop his worship. If Andy was always there for me, he was an actual servant of hers, in a religious sense of the word. To bring her Lays Ketchup crisps from across the city when the mood struck at midnight, to wash her dishes and post parcels to her fiance in Edinburgh became his vocation. One morning he came in flushed and misty, eyes elated and grinning wide. It finally happened, he told me and Bobby. He had finally had his darling girl. He was giddy with triumph and disbelief, hardly able to recount the record of events. They’d been cutting rails and watching Twin Peaks, and then she wanted him to take some pictures of her in her wardrobe of ivory peignoirs and satiny nighties. He’d been excited at the darkening of her nipple under the silk, just made a move for it.
11. It had never happened, I found out later, jousting with Avery some years later over crudites at a respectable soiree. We were remembering Andy, juggling the past to fit it into our lives. I was saying that I’d loved him, but still wanted back the few grand he owed me, the pivot of why I trusted no one in that sum. Avery looked pinched and sympathetic, so I leaned in to unruffle those feathers. Of course, I said, I don’t feel what you do. I’m not the one who slept with him. In a flicker of dark blood in her eyes, I knew that this thing I’d always known was not true. He had made it up. Of course he had. He had never had her.
12. The Facebook message informing me of his death at 46 from cancer was from someone I didn’t know. He told me you were his closest family, the stranger wrote. He asked me to be sure you knew he was gone, and that he sent you all his love.
13. There was a part of me that thought this was one of Andy’s strange tricks. I Googled for an obituary. A charity had posted a notice at a remote, basic funeral home. The site’s format encouraged loved ones to leave memories of the deceased. There were no comments.
14. In those old days, when I was trying to cough up everybody’s rent, the landlord came by with a bunch of files from Shallow Lake. It was before he was stabbed to death on the Danforth, jumped at a café on the way home by a rabid jihadi scoring another random infidel. It was before the papers showed his round face moist under a fishing hat, before anyone knew he would be dead, too. I did some digging, he said, pushing a heap of records my way. From Shallow Lake. There was this kid when I was growing up, younger than us, he disappeared. Dom couldn’t have been sure, he wasn’t sure now, but this thing had happened in that small town. And he’d had to call ask some buddies about it. A boy named Andy, in that town of Shallow Lake, population 300, so many years ago. That boy had gone home from school, found the place empty. The mother and her boyfriend and the baby, absconded. No one was home. They said that little boy had stood under the stars on that porch for nearly a week before he disappeared. Child services eventually came around for him, but he was gone, and no one ever heard from any of them again. I don’t know for sure that this was the same Andy, Dom told me again. But we knew it couldn’t be anyone else. We stood in the backyard, solemn, blowing smoke at the bowing tulips. Wondering about a woman’s cruelty. Wondering about how a boy who would be a man could just fall like that through the cracks.
15. Everyone else from the little white house is gone. Bobby, from suicide or overdose, we aren’t sure. Zoe, slumped against the winter coats in the closet. Dom, of hate. Andy, cancer. We moved there to be clean from death, but it kept finding us.
16. The story is open ended. I don’t know how to close it. It is part of my fabric, one layer of love and loss in the roots of me. I found an old photo in an old book this morning. Andy in purple, Andy in a tie. He’s all cleaned up and his arms are around me. We are comfortable, we are old friends already but the photo is just a few months into our small story. I search around in my mind for a reason Andy would be wearing a tie, and realize it was the day of my wedding. Andy is one of my bridesmaids. Another lifetime.
17. On New Years Day, 2020, almost twenty years after the photo, a few years after his death, the day after ringing in the year with Avery and her baby daughter, I see Andy at the cinema. He is in a Mexican wrestler t-shirt and his Raptors sweats. It’s not him, but maybe it is. He is a prototype, a ghost, an ordinary guy. He is there but not there. For the first time in the long enigma of Andy, I can see right through him.
Lorette C. Luzajic
"Shallow Lake," a creative nonfiction piece/prose poem/story, first appeared in Pretty Time Machine, by Lorette C. Luzajic (Mixed Up Media Books, 2020). Read a review by TER contributor Bill Arnott at League of Canadian Poets, here.
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