“One day… you’ll cease to care anymore about whom you please or what anybody says about you. That’s when you’ll do your best work.” – - J.D. Salinger.
I went from Antigonish, past Pictou [oldest Scottish settlement in NS,] and took the the Caribou-Wood Island Ferry to PEI, and from the terminal I made the 60K to Charlottetown in two and a half windless hours. PEI is nice and flat, and very pleasant with good roads and farms. I recognized the route from my trip in 2006, especially the place where the river flows under the road to the ocean at Pinette. It was Friday night and the island was drunk. I rode across the bridge from Strafford and slept that night in the bushes by a Timmy’s near the big Hollywood style Charlottetown letters.
In the morning I rode around for a bit and sent emails from a Starbucks. At an outfitter I found a light one-man tent for a hundred bucks and hit up Wal-Mart for a can of brown spray paint to tone down the yellow highlighting. As I came out from the bike shop where I’d restocked on tubes [I'd done all of Cape Breton to here on no spare tubes] I saw a grey stucko house, slightly run down, that I would recognize later. I’d set up at the campground in Strafford, but the twilight found me at Starbucks again, and it was one of tho se nights when you want to know someone in the town. It was pouring rain, but the town was trembling and waiting for dark, and somewhere violins and guitars were being tuned and people would be at home and pre-drinking with dinner.
Food was a toss-up between fish and chips and Mediteranean, and the Med place was a dark looking, branched-in kind of place with the rain to help remind me of a restaurant in Van, and I went to it.
There was one other customer inside, and old man in a corner, and he left after I came. The waitress was a redhead – had the kind of thick curls that redheads have – but her hair was dyed brown and we met in the middle of the empty tables and I said the place was empty and she rolled her eyes and said,
“I kinda noticed.”
A middle-aged brown guy in the kitchen looked up with eyebrows curious but disapproving, and his look made it seem that the girl was always this way.
The redhead and I talked, and she didn’t sit but returned often. She was slim, but had the hips of a girl who will pear-out in her late twenty’s or thirties, and I was glad I could see her now, not then. The nachos had lettuce on them, and I said exactly that when she came to take the plate and asked how it was. I was thinking about that quote from The Virginian – “when you call me that, smile” – but I didn’t mention it.
You can talk nachos forever, like beers or hitchhiking, if you can pretend your way around knowing something about it, and the other person pretends as well. Almost as good a conversation starter as the pink glasses pushed up on my head.
“I ate shark nachos in Cyprus,” I lied. It had been sword fish, and not with nachos. I had eaten alone at a sea-side table with linen after walking along the new marina in Paphos. Looking out over the harbor I could see the piled stones from the ancient Geek break-water still sticking above the water. The girl reciprocated with something smart and when she had gone I sat watching the bouncing rain drops and drinking J&B’s in a short glass. Later I asked about music and we decided she would show me around later. It was time for me to vanish, and I left, amazed that I didn’t do something dumb at the last minute, like pushing against a door with a ‘pull’ sign. There was a liquor store on the next block, and later a shower, and at nine-thirty I was waiting when she came walking. The place had closed at nine, and she had gone for a shower and looked different but the same, the way girls can change themselves. Her hair was the same, but damp.
“I’m Sara,” she said, and we hugged and our arms linked and we walked on the sidewalk, across grass by a church, until we met cobblestones in the shadows on the other side. Charlottetown wends its way and is a place of shortcuts and cross-able grass and old municipal buildings. The streets are straight, but end strangely in some places, and in the summer night the arms that stretch from downtown were crisscrossed by music and bar-light and outdoor patios. We sipped the Palm Breeze, and then the Golden Wedding, and to wait for later we ended up on the roof of a high parking garage, and could see the lights of the town and the black ocean while we talked.
She’d grown up on a goat farm, travelled in India, and had lived with Hare-Krishnas. Once she’d had her Neon T-boned and there was nice little scar on her mouth that I could barely see. There was an ex-boyfriend who still thought she was his, but she wasn’t, she said. It was so damn warm out and we flung the first empty bottle way down to the concrete, then sat on the ledge so it would’ve been easy to push each other off and all we had was trust. I spun some words about dew sizzling on machine gun barrels and she looked quietly at the tags on my neck and asked me things, and then told me about talking to a homeless man in Toronto, and about her little brother who was musical and a wimp. She was someone who understood things, even things she hadn’t seen – she seemed to imagine a place and people very well, and this made me like her.
We had come down from the edge and were standing there.
“Yeah,” she said, in context with the thoughts we didn’t speak of. She spoke in a voice that was coming down after being excited and laughing from joking and talking. A voice that progressed towards sadness and then remembered where it was and bounced back. “Tonight’s tonight and tomorrow’s whatever…” she said, and I leaned against the waist high concrete and looked at Charlottetown, thinking about memories, and then answered quietly.
We went to some different bars and sat in back alleys. At one place the bouncer she knew wouldn’t let us in. Cirque du Soleil was in town, and some quirky-looking dudes and gals with piercings were moving amps and equipment from a truck to the back-doors of a building. I yelled at them in French but they laughed and wouldn’t say who they were. Later we were sitting on a concrete jersey barrier by some empty recycling bins – the kind of place you just end up without knowing how. Sara had scraped up her knees from running and falling. I was probably the same. Tomorrow it would be evidence.
“When do you leave?” she asked, when we were talking about the trip.
“Tomorrow.” I said. “Early.”
We sat quietly looking at each other. “That’s quick.” A breeze came running between brick walls and brushed my t-shirt sleeves. Her hair was done up loosely behind her and in the shadow made murky and yellow from the nearby streetlamp her tiny lip scar was a pencil stroke that some artist forgot about. “Why is that so alluring?” she asked.
And we both knew why, but I looked deeply into her eyes and said I didn’t.
Later we danced.