North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Short fiction – One night in the peterpatch

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First in an irregular series.

The light streams through the door like a prism, leaving a rainbow-like pattern across the wall and in my eyes as I get out of bed. Taking stock of my surroundings, it takes a second or two to remember where I am, how I got here.

It’s Peterborough; I’m staying at Dominic’s house. This is his basement, a little room off to one end. Remember? That steady noise, that’s the furnace. He went over this last night.

I groan and roll over, the futon shifting under my weight. Grabbing my glasses, fumbling around for the light switch. I hate it when I oversleep.

Yesterday, the ride in was eventful. Driving along the 115, he pointed out all kinds of landmarks, both real and imagined. There is a radio tower, the first sign of Peterbourgh poking out in the distance. Here is the bridge, after which the Toronto stations begin to cut out.

Up a bit is the death field, a flat section of farmland where snow blows across the highway, making it impossible to see in front of you.

Just over the crest of that hill is the target of an OPP radar gun, which tags us going 85 in a 50 zone.

“I just got off the highway,” said Dominic as he tried to look away from the officer. “I didn’t realize it was 50.”

The officer shakes his head as he walks back to his cruiser to write the ticket.

“Maybe you should have said I was pregnant,” I joke.

We don’t really talk until we pull away after we get the ticket. “I don’t know why I’m letting you off,” he said to Dominic as he handed him a small fine. Dominic doesn’t know either.

“I guess it worked,” he says without explanation.

“What did?”

“They say if you tell them you just got off the highway or if you act sorry, they give you a break.”

“They do?”

“Yeah. Also if you have to use the bathroom, apparently that works too.”

Not wanting to really push this subject, I lean back in my seat.

“Whatever you say, Dom.”

I stumble up the stairs to the kitchen, where Dominic’s parents are reading the Sunday paper. The Star, I think. The same one they give out at the school.

“Good morning sunshine,” his mom jokes. The clock says it past noon already and they look like they’ve been up longer then I slept.

“Is the coffee on?” I ask, not sure if I’m mumbling or not.

“Give me a few,” she answers, as she turns around and starts fiddling with a coffee maker.

His mom is a nice lady, maybe fifty years old, and I’ve already forgotten her name. They both told me yesterday when I came in, but I was distracted, I guess. I’m easy like that, always forgetting names. They say it’s easier if you say their name as you shake their hand, looking them in the eye. But who has time for that? Not to mention how it’s cold and flu season, too.

Anyway, in the kitchen she’s making the coffee as I sit down and pick up the sports section.

“You’re a Leafs fan, aren’t you?”

I look up, Dominic’s dad is looking me in the eyes.

“I can always tell, Leaf fans. They’ve got these bags under their eyes, probably from all those years of failure.”

“That means a lot coming from a Detroit fan,” I reply, trying not to roll my eyes. I saw his Red Wings hat in the closet, the bright red mug he’s drinking from. If there’s anything I hate, it’s a bandwagon fan, cheering only because they’re winning.

Which is the only thing Detroit seems to produce these days.

“He’s been a fan since way back,” says Dominic’s mom from the coffee maker. “Since before Dominic was even born.”

Still, I have a hard time taking any fan of Detroit sports seriously, especially one who lives so far away from their teams. I’m still thinking about this as he continues to speak.

“Just you watch, you’ll get so close to the playoffs again, too close for a good draft pick.”

I shoot him a grin, trying to will the coffee to brew, not taking up his challenge, just smiling.

We’re speeding down hills, around sharp corners and down one-way streets now, the sun setting off to one side, through his stomping grounds.

“Over there, that’s Trent’s radio station. And that building there, that’s an off-campus residence,” explains Dominic as we whistle past brick houses.

We pull into an open-concept parking garage, the kind where everybody’s car is exposed to the elements.

The one thing I notice right away about the downtown is the coffee shops. He tells me that there’s only four or five, but they all look to be no more then 40 feet away from each other. We pop into a favourite of his, some place I don’t catch the name of.

It’s dark inside, a small stage at one end. As we walk to the counter, I pass these three boys, each using their laptops, looking at comics.

“I used to come here all the time,” says Dominic as he orders a cookie.

“Anything for you?” asks the man behind the counter. I get a small coffee, decaf, black.

We sit down, right below a series of photographs of a foggy street.

“That’s Trent,” explains Dominic. He points to each one and explains what it was taken of, where it was taken and any other details he can think of. The coffee is pretty good and before I know it, we’re talking about nothing at all for half an hour.

“I like this place,” I tell Dominic, right as the man behind the counter elbows a mug onto the floor, shattering it.

“It’s charming.”

Back in the kitchen, I grasp a mug that’s fully formed and full of hot coffee, black and most certainly not decaf.

“Yeah I’m a Leafs fan, but I barely watch the sport anymore. I did catch the end of the Wings game though, they lost to Vancouver.”

“Ehhh,” mutters Dominic’s dad. “We’re injury plagued is all. Just you wait.”

He told me yesterday about his job at the factory downtown, where they make cereal. He’s on the production line for cereal, where they pump it into bags, and has been for 25 years.

He’s starting to lose his hearing, maybe because of his age, but most likely because of his job. For years he never had to wear anything over his ears and now he’s paying the price, he said.

“But my hearing aids? They’re going to pay for those.”
I sip my coffee as I rummage through the sports section. Mats Sundin is staying put. The Leafs won, too, but that’s buried back somewhat.

We ate dinner in this little thai place off the main street. Karma Café, I think. Maybe it was Korma Café.

“I’ve never really eaten thai before,” I said as we walked in. We made idle chat about mall food, a book I had bought a little before and life in general before we ordered. He had phad thai, I had something that had chicken and peanuts on it.

He motioned across the street to a small building.

“That’s where they have rainbow dances. They usually have them once a month or so.”

“How would you know? Do you still go to them, Dom?”

“Well, I used to, back in high school, and I still do usually, in the summer.”

“Aren’t you a little old for all that? You’re in your second year of university.”

“So? People of all ages come to them. There’s kids that are 15 off to one side, and they’re men who’re in their 30s.”

“But isn’t that a little, you know,” I said, slightly hesitating, “creepy? Awkward?”

“No, not really. It’s not like they go around hitting on kids or anything.”

“Of course”

“Really, it’s quite nice.” He paused, looking over. “It doesn’t look like anything is going on there, otherwise we’d stop by.”

We continued to eat.

Later on that morning, I was sitting cross-legged on the futon, absorbed in a Don Delllo novel when Dominic came in. We chatted casually about nothing in particular, music mostly, when I asked what time we were leaving.

“What? You want to leave already?”

“You already showed me the town and its already afternoon.”

“Come on, let’s at least check out the university.”

So we did, driving some five minutes to an empty campus.

“See those buildings”, lectured Dominic as we walked around. “Those rooms up on top are where the students live. Down underneath, that’s where they have their classes.”

Across the river, he pointed out a large yellow, oddly shaped building.

“That’s the Gzowski building. I call it the cheese building.”

He motioned to the river.

“Sometimes, in the summer, people jump right off this, into the river.”

I look down; the water can’t be more then 10 feet deep, by the looks of things.

“And how do you know all this?”

Looking slightly hurt, Dominic turned to face me.

“Sometimes I come here in the summer.”

We’re speeding away from Peterborough now, past the death field, past that bridge where the Toronto stations cut out. Driving along, not talking about anything much.

As we go up some hill, Dominic casually mentions that the car was dying.

“What do you mean, dying, Dominic?”

The car rolled to a stop in a gully almost as soon as he wheeled it off the road. Shit.

Dominic tried to start it again and the engine, wheezing, refuses to turn over. Double shit.

He tries once more and the car makes some horrific, grating sound and dies. It doesn’t start again when turns the key. I’m trying not to panic.

“It’s cool,” said Dominic, looking anything but.

“I have roadside assistance.”

Famous last words.

The one thing that really stands out, at least to me, about Peterborough is how thoroughly both youth and age dominate its population. Everybody seems to be either under 30 or over 60.

Dominic said himself it’s basically a retirement town, so I suppose I’ll go with that.

And as the median age goes up, the speed of the city seems to slow down. The streets move at maybe 40 an hour, the lines at restaurants move slowly, almost leisurely. Even the coffee shops seem to take their time making drinks, working at their pace.

And it’s an attitude that rubs off on its offspring, like on Dominic.

He moves slowly, he eats slowly, he writes slowly and he drinks slowly, nursing his cocktail (as does everybody else in Peterborough).

But he drives fast. When he gets out the city, he gets out as fast as he can, gunning his engine right to the red.

Maybe that speaks to a sense of wanderlust: he has to leave as fast as he can. Maybe he’s just reckless, testing his own boundaries. Perhaps he just likes the speed, the feeling that he gets from controlling a rocketing sedan, throwing itself forward at more then 16.6 meters a second.

Or maybe he just relishes the chance to finally get to move at his own pace.

So we wait there, in his car, on the side of the road, in a gully for what seemed like a lifetime. The radio remains on for a time, but is turned off. I absorb myself in Solomon Gursky Was Here, and Dominic… well, he keeps pacing around trying to find someplace to get his reception to work.

And the cars kept speeding by, not a single one stopping.

Scratch that, one car did stop. In a driveway on the other side of the street, where it’s driver exited and went inside.

Jockeying two phones, Dominic finally gets through, some hour after the car died.

It wasn’t until almost sundown that the tow truck came and got us.

“Go wait inside,” he said, “I’ll winch the truck up myself.”

The driver, a guy not much older then either of us, handles the machines himself, loading the car onto the truck with ease.

As he gets back into the cab, he shoots us a smile and takes us on our way.

Five, maybe ten minutes later we arrived at a Canadian Tire, where Dominic dealt with a mechanic or a clerk or whomever – I didn’t bother asking questions who was whom. He exchanged bills, then phone numbers.

“It won’t be ready until at least tomorrow.”

We ate dinner across the street, fried chicken, and got a ride back with a mutual friend.

“Thanks for coming,” he said as I exited the car. “We should do it again sometime, Kate.”

I smiled. “Sure, Dominic. That’d be great.”


Written by M.

March 15, 2008 at 5:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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