Cheap cotton tank top stuck under my armpits, the summer heat was making us light extra candles and pray for extra $5 donations. I was cheap and stuck at Saint Joseph Oratory under Mary’s smile and she gazed at her feet and I felt her son didn’t really save me. You had sad eyes and your hair was the best thing in the heat.
There were mouth exercises mimicking a song from 5000 years ago and I felt you had heard it before as you took out your paper and drew a whole religion in charcoal. The steps were crowded with ice cream children and tired parents wishing for more animals to hold on rubber leashes. I never saw your eyes leave out a single detail and your hands were covered in black dust that you wiped on your denim pockets and I felt inferior, my left armpit grew less hair than my right armpit, it was a feeling of cheap inadequacy so I left an extra $5 in the church box for sickness.
A broken bicycle was caged next to the neighbourhood depanneur for years before it became my neighbourhood. I wondered about who abandoned it and why, when I bought a cherry fudgesicle at the depanneur. It belonged to someone and maybe they died over capitalist money bags or under a public bus on their way home from Bank Of Montreal, it was also my bank and I almost died there once. You had moved in for a quarter of summer and were living next to the first floor stairs where you were drawing workers and suicides in flesh tones and oil pastels. Your eyes were red and sad and I wanted to touch your hair and tell you no one really lives without microwavable mac and cheese.
When you said hi and your name, your eyes remained sad and I wasn’t sure if you knew how to smile. I pointed to my apartment and said I was going to make mac and cheese as an irony but with cashew milk from the farmer’s market and you said you can’t have black pepper because it makes you cry as I opened the door, nothing seemed truer in that moment. I messed up the mac and cheese, slightly burning it, so ordered pizza. I gave you all my toppings so I could eat the dough, bare and without fuss. I told you how my face gets bloated from wheat and then showed you in real time. You were surprised but didn’t show it, your eyes were sad and I wanted to ask why. The red water was symmetrical under both of your eyes and I didn’t know how to swim without orange balloons on arms so I didn’t ask. You showed me cross legged commuters and over spent prayers under dim lights and I could hear muffled fatigues reaching out from the paper. I touched your fingers lightly and you got up and said you just remembered you had something important left to feel. I wrapped up the leftover pizza in plastic wrap for you and gave you my unopened carton of cashew milk for being a good neighbour.
I was wrapping chicken legs in almond meal, dusting on aluminium and thinking about how my feet were so cold despite the 98 degrees outside. My genes had taken the coldness from my mother and deposited in solid blocks into my limbs, my facial hair was from my father and my aunt, who was 6 feet tall and once hit her head on a rolling steel gate of an Applebee’s. My face was still bloated and my armpit hair uneven, I put on another tank top and saw you were still sad and covered in charcoal. We talked about pizza and blackbean noodles that your mom makes. I asked if you felt like going to the Irish bar down the street or an American bar somewhere else and you said going to bars makes you sad about your alcoholic father. I offered to go inside and we ordered a bottle of soju from a Korean website with your credit card and you showed me a picture of your dad and told me how he’s a gentle alcoholic who rubs his family’s faces with his hands when they’re asleep but only after he warms them up nice under the pillows. You told me your sister is 7 years old and has never cried in her life, you told me how sad that makes you. I wondered if I should offer to pay you half the price of the soju bottle.
It was already Korean independence day when I saw you on the stairs of our building with a plastic cup and a bottle of soju. I hadn’t paid you back my half for that bottle so I just said hi and you didn’t offer me a cup. Your eyes had gotten sadder and the red was dripping in intervals on your cheeks. You said your sister had cried this morning for the first time in her life and I gave you a quick hug. You were smiling and I saw that it made it harder for me to forget your face. I said I had made some unburnt mac and cheese earlier and asked if you wanted to have some, you did so we walked. I heated it up in the microwave and didn’t put any black pepper. You left me a half empty bottle of soju and one uneaten bowl of mac and cheese.
It was night, you were standing on the stairs of our building, wearing dark blue boots from Little Burgundy. I was holding an apple cider candle in red and I gave it to you, it matched your eyes then and even today. You were waiting for the 747 bus shuttle to Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport and your hair was avoiding every ill moisture of the dark sky. I gave you a goodbye hug and you smelled like steak and musky nutmeg. You smiled to my face and I silently wished for your sad eyes to return and play against your smile. I never noticed your young arms and hoped you didn’t notice mine. I could hear the bus in the distance and I asked if you will miss this, here, us? You said it was an opportunity to draw sad people and money. You said you had both of these things in your country so you hoped to find a different sadness somewhere else, until then you will keep trying sadness in charcoal and quietly dead saplings. I said remember me if you can without sounding desperate and you said you’d try but didn’t think you would. I thought about asking for your email in exchange for purging soft words but your eyes were staring at the 747 and I knew it wouldn’t make a difference. Often enough, I would stare at the empty bottle of soju in my fridge and I’d wonder if your sadness somewhere allows you to be maybe pissed at me for not paying you back my half.
Cover image courtesy of Michael of RhineSideGallery via Flickr