met Ray, as he sometimes called himself, about two months
ago. Since then I have slowly disappeared. I never thought
of myself as particularly visible, but other than a ghostly
image in a security camera an hour ago, I don't exist in any
real way anymore. I am the smear of grease a glacier will
make of a body, the ice cloudy and discoloured where once
were bones and consciousness.
I am completely gone, and perhaps this is merely vanity, I
want to prove to a world no longer cognisant of my presence
that I have been. This last record of my journey then is a
logbook, like those of Captain Cook or Joshua Slocum, only
text left to prove they'd sailed away. Unlike Ray, the total
obscurity of my new life scares me, and I guess by this letter
I hope to stave off its more menacing implications. Do
any of us exist beyond a few lines in the public record?
We have meaning in the memory of our friends, but other than
those snow-filled tracks blown in by the wind, the mark of
our passage is surprisingly light. My body has occupied space
for thirty years now and often to me it felt ponderous, but
likewise I'm sure, an ant's interminable voyage may, on a
minuscule scale, seem overwhelming. Somewhere a birth date
and name is recorded for me, and soon I will supplement that
with a death certificate.
Ray's advice, I gradually liquidated, in as normal a fashion
as possible, my assets, those more solid representations of
my life. I drained my bank account by small withdrawals, attracting
less attention even though I was charged outrageous service
fees. My spending patterns were meant to be as standard as
possible. I even went on one last trip like a regular tourist,
partially to feel that normality again. I went to a resort
in Cancun with a younger woman I barely knew. We were still
in the air when she told me she would rather spend the vacation
alone. I suppose this was her careful plan, and she'd chosen
that moment so her trip was still paid for and she could avoid
the almost inevitable scene. I'd brought her with me for mercenary
reasons as well, so I could hardly object. For me, she was
my alibi, and the excuse for much of my money going missing
while I was on holiday. Although my motivations were at least
as suspect as hers, I was still hurt I'd been used, and those
feelings helped me to be more convincing when I acted broken-hearted.
We parted ways at the airport, and as she went off excitedly
to enjoy the resort, tropical birds flew from the rooftops
arrived at the resort I sat infuriated on the beach surrounded
by paper tourists and impoverished staff. I tipped lavishly,
and although I was a darling and thought to be very rich,
more than once I caught curious glances in my direction. Strolling
on a nearby beach outside the resort, I saw people living
in strange tents or huts, swathed in blankets, but when I
approached them, inspired by an interaction with the real,
they gently turned away. Like the Barbary apes I had tried
to photograph in Gibraltar, they were wise to the ways of
tourists and shy of flashing cameras.
to Canada, I was eager to disappear immediately, but I restrained
myself. I still had much to do before I donned my new costume.
weeks later I took from my closet an old suit coat and pair
of jeans, as well as a sweatshirt, boots and some change,
and began my life on the street. The only concession I made
to the world was this paper, which is now in your hands, and
a pen. I wonder where you are. Are you reclining on a well-made
bed in an immaculate apartment, or at work, the intemperate
shuffle of your shoes under the desk your only rebellion?
Or are you like me, for Ray tells me there are others I'll
never meet, scraping your boots along the sidewalk, imitating
the more desperate derelict, trying to blend?
time I saw Ray he was in a wheelchair and when I expressed
my surprise, he winked solemnly, and I realised he'd embarked
on another adventure. How much I have to learn.
a warm corner near the doughnut shop where I can ask for change
if I wish. I'm out of the wind for a moment and enjoying the
morning sun. I was cold last night, and my resolve wavered,
but this warmth is nice, and I can catch up on my letter.
me to tell no one where I was going, but I'm sure this letter
doesn't count. In any event, I haven't seen him in a few days,
and by the time I'm done writing I'll be dead.
sure how to put my decision in perspective. It would be much
easier if Ray had that Charley Manson or Hitler type of charisma,
then I might be excused for wishing to dawdle on his path,
but it's not that simple. I was more struck by his seeming
bland normality. Our first meeting was at one of those torturous
dinner parties. I was tottering near the food tray, trying
not to stare at the women in their gowns and party dresses
and cursing the bland moronity of it all. One woman in particular
had caught my attention and I watched subtly, waiting for
her rather large breasts to tumble out of her low cut dress.
because I was so occupied, I didn't socialise as much as I
typically would. I gradually became ostracised and found myself
near a doorway watching Ray circulate. Otherwise I might never
have noticed him.
average looking. No, that's not true either. He actually looked
a bit strange. He had slightly greasy brown hair, but not
excessively so, and a pockmarked face. His brown eyes were
glancing about comfortably and his eager left hand gave the
impression that if he were alone it would shake his right.
He was at that indeterminate age, somewhere over thirty and
under fifty-five. Even though his looks were mildly unusual,
now that I peered more closely, Ray passed amongst these puffy
men and gaunt women as though he belonged. I was struck by
the contrast between his apparent comfort and obvious unfamiliarity.
similar enough to pass, with a suitcoat that was slightly
shiny at the elbows and cuffs, and tan dress pants, although
his running shoes didn't go with the rest of his outfit. He
mingled, addressing the men first, as you must at these functions,
and then including the women in a conversation ostensibly
for everyone, but really was a more showy version of latter-day
chest beating. People responded well, but with a puzzled air,
as if they were trying to figure out how he fit into their
social network. A few vigorous handshakes later and they were
in close conversation with this apparent stranger.
in to hear what they were saying only to have Ray shift to
another group. He claimed it was time to "top up," and I was
the only one who noticed he was scarcely drinking. At that
moment the big-breasted woman cut in front of me and slurred
hello. Whiskey, perfume and her acrid sweat blew towards me
as her praying mantis arms fumbled a greeting. Her breasts
sagged with her dress and portions of her pallid midriff were
sliced by the juvenile cut of its fabric. She wobbled uncertainly.
The desperate nature of the situation called for alacrity
rather than originality and I said, "I've got to top up" and
followed Ray into the kitchen.
talking to one of the caterers and had his back to me, but
I got the distinct impression he knew I was there. That was
when I first noticed there was more about Ray than met the
eye. On the surface he was witty and had the wry cynicism
that suited these events, but some other Ray hovered just
below his deliberately bland facade.
ago, I was fishing with my father, which meant looking desultorily
over the side of the boat until he either tired of fishing
or my petulance and would go home. On one occasion, and it
only happened once, I looked into the muddy water and saw
a sudden flicker below the cloudy surface. I stared more intently-
a tweedy looking youth going into the doughnut shop offered
me a coin. A dollar. My first money from this life and I wasn't
even asking. I can do this.
into the water, my reflection wavering on the brown surface,
and saw again, just beyond the limits of my vision, a gleam
and then it was gone. Seeing my interest, my father crossed
to my side of the boat, but whatever it was vanished. He began
to tell me about the green flash of the descending sun through
the clear tropical water, as if the sun wasn't still high
in the sky. He told me that giant schools of tuna had reflected
the sun in such a way that commercial airliners had turned
from their path to search for survivors wielding a mirror
only to crash thousands of kilometres from shore.
tuna are on grocery store shelves now," my father said slowly,
as though he were teaching me something. "Or they're caught
in planet-sized drift nets, rotting a kilometre down, waiting
for the winch that will force them into tiny tins with dolphins
on the side."
over the side but the flash never came again. I invented stories
about what I'd seen, for Loch Ness and Yeti were an everyday
part of my childhood, but the mysterious truth was subtle
and more troubling. I'd forgotten that sensation, that magic
of discovery, and it was only in the kitchen listening to
Ray that I remembered.
do you get paid anyway?"
Oh, I work for the caterers. They give me a flat rate for
of annoying work. Bunch of rich people. Didn't even notice
you come into the room."
I know. But what're you gonna do?"
have any more of those olive things? Whatever they're called."
Do you have any more hors d'oeuvres?"
some here. You like'm?"
Really? So you could open your own catering business?"
something I've thought about. It'd beat making ten an hour
at this gig."
conversation dwindled and finally stopped, and the woman looked
dejectedly back toward the party as a blue suit came through
the door, his tie stuffed into his shirt pocket.
go. See ya."
just stay here and eat these hors d'oeuvres," and Ray saluted
as though the stuffed olive were a glass of champagne.
stumbled out to follow her and Ray turned his regard to me.
The kitchen felt small, and somehow hotter.
"Hi," and extended my hand.
eager left hand took the snack and he shook with his right.
party." I didn't know quite what to say.
back on the counter and rolled the olive around with his fingers.
"Yeah. Although you missed your chance back there."
she wasn't all that interested," I said. He must have known
she'd approached me.
asked me if I worked in a bank, I told him I was a salesman.
those logos on people's jackets and hats? Well my company,
Logotech, runs a factory where we generate the graphics, and
use computer driven sewing machines to embroider them onto
the fabric." Amazingly, Ray's eyes hadn't wandered while I
explained. I knew from experience to keep the description
short; I'd lost potential customers from long-windedness.
do the sales for them?" Ray prompted.
There's a bunch of us. I mainly deal with truck stops and
of the city is your turf?"
never a comfortable question for a salesman. We're generally
very secretive about our routes and favourite customers. It's
a cutthroat business. But by asking the question, Ray exposed
how little he knew and that put me at ease. "I cover the entire
east end. All the way from 142nd and the train tracks to Hastings
and Route One."
You're a busy guy."
I asked Ray what he did, he cut in, "I've thought about sales.
Interesting what you do: that logo thing. Such a small thing
but I never thought about where logos come from."
people don't even notice them. They just go along until they
need a logo on a shirt, and then they call us. We're invisible,
all the more necessary because we don't make a big splash."
came in claiming I was hiding, which I guess I was. I wasn't
really in the mood, but Ray was already drifting toward the
door opposite the one she'd entered and he made a gesture
like a goodbye.
at my shirt in a playful attempt to get my attention, but
in her drunken clumsiness she pinched skin. How drunk was
I that I'd been attracted to her? I brushed away her
contrite apology, perhaps a little roughly, and followed Ray.
He'd left the party and since I'd lost my patience for those
insipid people, I disentangled myself. I made leaving noises,
trying not to interrupt their childish parlour game. Feeling
the ominous presence of Breasty at my back, I followed Ray,
hoping the Vancouver drizzle would sober me.
guy entering the doughnut shop just yelled at me to get a
job. Shows what he knows. For all he knows I could be a writer,
and sitting here in the grungy street I'm getting a feel for
my subject. We never know what is going on with another person.
I learned that from Ray.
with relief when I traded the hot apartment for the rain on
my face. I fumbled with my car keys. The streets were nearly
empty; it must have been well past midnight. A couple of guys
took it upon themselves to tell me I shouldn't drive. I ignored
them and went along 12th Ave from Kitsilano to my apartment
in the east end. 12th should have less cops. I was nearly
to Renfrew when a flashing from a following car at first startled
and then angered me. I was sober, so the joke was on them.
When I pulled to the curb they passed, having received another
call and wishing me out of their way. I continued at a safe
forty kilometres an hour through the sodden streets.
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