Queen West by Andrea Barrick

The rain poured down. It poured down on Lisa’s hair and face and drenched her clothing and ran in cold sluices all over her body. It poured down as Lisa stood on Queen Street West and watched the cars rushing by and the people dashing for shelter, and even when the downpour became a deluge, a torrent, a bombardment of millions of huge drops bouncing off the dark pavement in front of her with the riotous sound of endless applause, Lisa just stood on the sidewalk and squinted her eyes and allowed herself to become soaked to the bone. She felt the cold water on her thighs and pooling in her shoes but she didn’t move. She shivered as it ran down her back and wondered if tomorrow she would have a fever, pneumonia, but she didn’t care. She was soaking wet and she had a chill and the rain poured down and Lisa didn’t care.

She knew where she was. She stood on the sidewalk right in front of 1080 Queen Street West. She knew this because 1080 Queen Street West, apartment number 11, was where Gord lived and she had been inside with Gord in his shitty little apartment and now she was here, getting wet. She had left his apartment and walked down the stairwell, three flights of dimly lit wooden stairs, and had pushed open the glass door and it was already starting to rain when she had stepped out onto the sidewalk, though it had been a light rain, a thin, misty drizzle, and it didn’t register and she didn’t care. Now she stood on the sidewalk looking out at the street, standing near an orange metal newspaper box which stood next to a wooden telephone pole plastered with notices for cheap sublets and lost pets, her back to 1080 Queen Street West, the cars stopping and starting, flowing past haltingly, car after car after car.

She had left Gord’s apartment in something of a hurry, she had needed to leave, it had been an imperative, she hadn’t even looked out the window to see if it was raining or not, which would have been sensible since for the last two days the sky had been grey and overcast and it had been raining off and on. She had flung open Gord’s door and marched out and then down the stairs, quickly, efficiently, responding to a strong need to simply leave the space, the room, the building where Gord was, where Gord lived. She couldn’t look at him anymore, that was what it was, she couldn’t stand to look at him or be near him and she couldn’t look at any of the furniture in his apartment or listen to the words which came out of Gord’s mouth. She couldn’t be in the same place as these things which were manifestations of Gord and evidence of Gord being a real live human being, which at this moment she strongly wished was a fact that she had never become acquainted with, a fact she wished now she could erase from her reality. A fact she would erase from her reality, at the first possible opportunity.

Gord had started talking almost as soon as she had started getting dressed. She had started getting dressed mainly because she was hungry. She woke up, she was hungry and she knew Gord likely didn’t have anything good to eat in the apartment so she got dressed fast, hoping Gord would too and then they could go out and get one of those all-day breakfasts at a diner somewhere. She would order a mushroom omelette, home fries, toast and coffee, she had it all planned out in her head. But Gord didn’t cooperate, wasn’t hungry she guessed, didn’t start getting dressed, and instead sat up in bed and ran his hands through his hair and stretched and then started talking. And though she was polite and listened to him as she hooked up her bra and pulled her sweater down, the truth was that right from the start she didn’t like the sound of Gord’s voice and Gord’s words and in only a matter of seconds, in nothing more than the time it takes to light a cigarette and have that first hard drag on it, she wasn’t hungry anymore and instead there was a cold, tingling emptiness in her stomach and she just kept getting dressed and did her best not to look at Gord and not to listen to him either. Eventually Gord had started getting dressed too so that he was sitting on the edge of his bed with his underwear and one sock on while she stood there trying not to listen to him and that was what he was wearing when she left, one white sock and his boxer shorts, when she stood up, said fuck you, and left as quickly as she could.

The problem now was she was standing in the middle of the sidewalk and she was soaking wet and she was angry and she could feel a panic attack coiling up at the base of her brain, and she was staring through the rain which was pouring down steadily but not too hard now, at the Starbucks directly across the street, all shiny glass and bright and clean, the windows fogged up at the top and the place full of people tapping their fingers on their little computers, holding big white cups of coffee, or just looking out the window and waiting for the rain to stop, and the problem was Lisa knew as she stood on the sidewalk next to the orange metal newspaper box and the telephone pole that she really had no right to be angry at Gord because this was really her fault, her mistake, she had done it to herself and it wasn’t the first time.

The problem was she was easy. She knew it. More than once she had lain in her bed and stared up at the ceiling and talked out loud to herself about this problem. She had stared at her own reflection in the bathroom mirror and had counselled herself: Give him a kiss, let him put his arm around you, kiss him a little more, but that’s it. First date, Lisa. That’s it, that’s all. Don’t dance too close, don’t press up against him, don’t put your tongue in his mouth, don’t let him feel your breasts, don’t put your hand on his crotch, don’t agree to go home with him, don’t invite him up to your place, don’t let him feel you up in the back of the cab, don’t give him head in the back of the cab, don’t sleep with him. She knew these were bad things to do on a first date or within hours of meeting some cute guy in a bar where the music was so loud it was impossible to have any kind of meaningful conversation. She knew these were unwise things to do on any date unless there had developed some level of chemistry or shared intimacy. Which for some reason was a very rare thing in Lisa’s life. In fact it was something that Lisa sometimes felt unsure would ever happen and if she were to wait and wait for this kind of chemistry, this kind of bond, for everything to be just right before she slept with someone, she was afraid she might never feel a man’s muscular naked body next to hers ever again. She truly feared this. Feeling a man’s body next to hers was the only intimacy she could rely on. It was intimacy, it was passion, it was a sort of strange, distant glimpse at love, it was feeling alive and whole, even if just for a few hours, it was, in truth, though she could not admit this to herself, pretty much all she lived for. She lived for male attention because it was in fact the only thing she believed in. And while buried in her brain was the fear that she was a whore, a slut, a dirty girl who no self-respecting man would ever want to love and cherish for the rest of his life, she kept that fear at bay with countless rationalizations revolving around freedom and empowerment and genuineness and the virtue of putting all your cards on the table all the time.

Her cards were on the table. She was soaking wet. She hated Gord’s guts. And now she remembered that her cigarettes were on the chair next to Gord’s bed. “Fuck,” she said aloud. And she stepped off the curb and into the street.