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Cassiopeia C BLACK AND BLUE, Tam sat a lonesome figure on the fire escape stairs, cupping a can of beer, gazing out indeterminately at the imperial fringes of a late summer sky. Inside the evening was already approaching full throat and would carry on for hours yet. He had plenty of time to join the fun, but for now had as much company as he wanted in a sixpack and twilight’s first sign of stars. –There you are! Tuesday had her head of hair poked through the bathroom window. She climbed out like a shadow and stood on the landing two steps above Tam. She looked very happy to see him. –I been looking all over. –Here I am. She took back the last of her beer and covered her mouth to swallow. Tam purchased a can free of its plastic and asked if she’d like another. Suffering a series of dainty belches she nodded yes. A big smile spread all over her face as she excused herself. Tam, holding the beer out for her, noticed the shirt she was wearing was a tighter fit than usual and did much to accentuate her small but shapely breasts and slender waist. She got down to her knees to accept the beer. To save himself the indiscretion of lingering on her sexy hips and the button of her jeans he said she looked good. –You think? He said that he did by the expression on his face. She thanked him by commenting that the night was nice. –I’m counting my lucky stars. –Oh yeah. How many you got so far? He looked away from her, chuckled, looked back. –You don’t have to, he said. –Oh no? She dropped her head to one side, smiled. –And what if I want to? –Hands up to that, he gave in and turned away again. It’s a free world. –Well move it over then, you big lug. She squished in beside him on the narrow stair and cracked her beer open. –Cheers. –Cheers.

They clunked cans and drank. He asked her how her day was. She said that it was good now that she was here. They sipped their beers. It sounded as though everything inside was going pretty good so they talked a little about the people that were there and who might end up with who. He told her Sonny was on the prowl again. –That’s Sonny for ya. No tears for the wicked. Tam patted Tuesday on the inside of her knee. –He’s a good guy, your brother. –Must make it hard for you tho? Things fell silent. They looked through the grating at the ground below. The light over the back entry hi-lighted the difference in the sizes of their shoes. She wore small tied-into-bows trainers, he huge steel-toes that were obviously just slipped on to come outside. –I know I’ve said this before, but those really are the biggest feet I’ve ever seen. Tam laughed and brought out a pack of smokes. He took one and offered Tuesday the pack. They lit up. –You really don’t have to stay out here. I mean—I mean, I don’t want you to go, but you don’t have to stay on my account. –Would you rather be alone? –Course not. She took a drag and looked him square to see if he meant it. –Are you sure? –You kidding? I love it when you’re around. Her look softened and she let her forehead fall against his shoulder. He drained his beer, put his smoke in his mouth, crushed the can, tossed it over the side. They both listened to it land below. He plucked himself another beer, took the smoke from his mouth, snapped the can open, brought his arm around her shoulders, clunked his can against hers. –Thanx. –For what? –For being here. They drank to that then smoked to it. Tuesday settled into Tam’s warmth. She could hear his heart. –Tell me about her. Tam flicked his cigarette and keeping Tuesday close hutched up against the railing. –There’s really not much to tell. It is how it is, you know? His voice reverberated through his chest. –What do you feel?

–Don’t know. Not sad tho, if that’s what you mean. It’s sorta weird, like the filling in of an emptiness. –Is that a good thing? –It’s not a bad thing. –Do you miss her? –Sure. But not like you might think. –What do you think I might think? –I don’t know. What do you think? She rolled her head and gathered in the stars that were blinking awake above. –I think we should get up the hill and look for Cassiopeia. His heart leapt. She said she was sorry. –For what? She didn’t know how to say why she felt sorry so she said she was sorry for what she said. –There you are. Both of you. Cigarette in mouth, taking a piss, Sonny, bathroom window. –I was wondering—eeeurrrup—where you’d gone off to. Shit. Everyone’s here. It’s fucken crazy. Who knew? Thought it’d just be us guys and few brew. Thank fucking god, iffin you know what I mean. Urpppaaah ooooo. We’re thinkina gettin the geeetars goin ina bit, T, case you wanna join in. Christ. I think I’m fucken smashed. O, Crystal’s been looking for ya, Tues. And whatserpick—ah, fuck…you know, the one I don mine the sight of? Tuesday snuffled and took her head off Tam’s breast. –Dawn. –Right. Dawn’s early fucken light. You’d think I could member that. Flushed and zipped up, can in hands on the window ledge, Sonny looked up at the stars and shook his spirited head. –Not a bad fucken night, eh. –Beautiful, Tam said, his hands now together cupping his beer. We’re gonna go and see if we can’t find Cassiopeia. Tam laid on his back, knees up, feet flat on unmown grass, Tuesday’s bag a burlap pillow. A plane scored its way across his little patch of cloudless sky. Jumbo 747. He’d identified three already: 2 737s and an L10-11, although he knew that was probably wrong. Thousands of undersided leaves hung above him like lilypads on a still pond. And though there was no water for miles around, Tam let his lids close to better recall languid cabin days at the lake. Sputtering motorboats,

lapping stones, loons crooning, bulrush reeds, crackling bonfires, popped beercans, a reel’s cast, home-sweet-home latrines…. Tuesday stirred, rustled, voiced a yawn. She sat up, blinked, shielded her eyes from the light of day, yawned again. Cupping the yawn, she enthusiastically excused herself and rather fluidly stretched her arms up high to victorious fists, holding them there for a second or two before letting them fall by her sides where she shook the rubber out of them with enough vigor to excite her crazed cedar hair as well as waking the heaviness of her bosom from nesting in the oversized obscurity of Tam’s blue and black coat of lumber checks. Next she pulled a sorry looking cigarette from the heart pocket—stopping to give the coat a half-hearted wipe down—and dug into her jeans for matches. Having lit the cigarette, she plucked it from her lips and reached toward Tam to place it between his. He didn’t flinch or open his eyes. She held it there for him to take a drag. –Hold it in, she said as she removed the cigarette from his mouth. She slid closer, lowered her head sideways over his. –Don’t open your eyes, she instructed watching him with promiscuous scrutiny. She let her hair fall and swept it over his lightly peppered face. He smiled. –You like that? He raised his brow. –Keep em closed. His face was reddening. She circled the tip of his nose with hers and ran her cheek across his bristles. –How you doin there? His mouth opened. Tuesday quickly brought a finger to his lips and told him to sssh. –Just a sec, she said as she pulled her hair back, repositioning herself so that her mouth was just over his. –Okay. Let it go. After catching his smoke and resuscitating him with a deep and long kiss, Tuesday sat up against the tree and finished the cigarette while chasing hungover daydreams of lastnite’s tumble into morning across the big blue sky. –I wouldn’t’ve thought it possible, she said as she dropped the butt into a crushed beercan and heard it sizzle. If someone asked me yesterday, ‘Do you think it’s possible?’ I would’ve laughed and probably said something like, ‘We’re not that way inclined.’ I never really thought about it before. You and me, I mean. Tam and Tuesday. Gotta nice ring that. Tam n Tuesday, Tuesday n Tam. Certainly didn’t expect it. Did you? Crissy n Dawn ‘ll get a

kick outta this. Dawn in particular. She has a bit of a thing for you, y’know. Can’t wait to see the look on your face girl. Tuesday rasped on. Once she spoke the names of her two friends it was like they were right there sitting beside her waiting to hear the latest and she was perfectly willing to give it up. Tam just lay there drifting away. He heard oars dip into sun-silked water, crickets purring in the moonlight, and that late howl of distant coyotes shiver wildly through a cabin’s open summer windows. Chel used to duck under the blanket and snuggle up against him when the coyotes cried. She got awful sick with fear, like the dogs of the night would actually come crashing on in at any moment and rip them to fleshy threads. Tam didn’t mind. He’d sing her their version of You Ain’t Going Nowhere and feel her fear subside. Sleep came to her swiftly, and the deep warmth of her peaceful body made him feel like a man—strong, conscientious, alert. They were so close for so long. Any chance they got they ran out to the cabin. It was like home. For Tam it was an escape from home. Especially since his mom took off. It was hell seeing his dad selfdestruct. He just laid around all day and looked at the tv and listened to the radio and lost interest in everything, even his old buddy the bottle. It was Chel showed Tam the posting for camp coordinator. She thought it a good idea for him to get away, take his mind off things. It’d only be a couple months. She’d enrolled in the summer sessions at school anyway. Ah, Chel. She’d be Mrs Michelle Winter now. That’d take some getting used to. How that all happened he couldn’t begin to fathom. She couldn’t wait, he guessed. She never did do too well by her lonesome. It was Chad told him. Of all the people: Chad. He didn’t see that one coming. He didn’t see anything coming. That was just it. He figured something was up when he couldn’t seem to get a hold of Chel and she wasn’t sending any more postcards. She wrote him everyday for the first few weeks. Postcards, so everyone in the camp could read for themselves that he was spoken for. Sometimes all she wrote was x’s and o’s. Everyone told him how lucky he was. The kids razzed him. They were mostly under 12 and made yucky faces when he told them that x’s and o’s meant hugs and kisses. It was near the end of the last of the summer camps when Chad finally got in touch with him. It was an accident he said. He said he was sorry. Tam didn’t know what to say. He was stunned, shocked, surprised, stupefied. What was he do? Tam woke to a start. The sky fell blue bright disorienting. Tuesday was swirling her finger around his bellybutton. –Hey there, sleepyhead. Whatcha dreamin about? He ran a hand over his eyes and propped himself up on his elbows. She teased her finger along the waistband of his boxers, looking for his reaction

the while. His belly bowled in sensation. His head cocked to one side and his eyes closed. Tuesday slowly teased her hand down his pants. Holding hands, they made their way down the hill toward town. Very touchy-feely Tuesday cozied up to his arm. –What do you think Sonny’ll say? Tam caught sight of the college grounds. Something about the trees and the buildings and the open spaces giddied him up. He’d been accepted for the upcoming semester and only now, at the mention of Sonny’s name, did it hit him how much had happened in the last year. Sonny had everything to do with Tam being where he was. They’d gotten on pretty well as camp coordinators and the night of Chad’s call they sat by the fire drinking a few beers, shooting shit. Sonny played guitar some and by campfire light and ceremony passed it over to Tam. The only song he knew by heart was You Ain’t Going Nowhere. He sang the Dylan verses and was happy to hear Sonny join him on the choruses. Tam said it felt good to get that off his chest. Sonny said he thought he knew what Tam meant. After they’d sat for awhile watching the fire dance, Sonny asked where Tam was headed once camp was over. Tam said he wasn’t sure. Sonny asked why he didn’t come and stay with him. Tam opened a beer and nodded his empty head. All thanks to Sonny Tam had a place to go and when he got there a place to stay. Sonny’s dad, Pops, liking the firmness of his handshake, offered Tam a job his first night in town. Pops ran a warehouse on the highway south of town and said he could use a pair of strong shoulders. The pay wun’t so good to start but once Pops saw what a fast learn he was, and how he never shied from the heavy stuff, Tam soon had enough to get his feet and in no time he and Sonny took an apartment close to the college. Pops often said it was like having Sonny back. Tam sensed a certain degree of animosity between father and son over Sonny’s decision to have a go at the books. It was never spoken about directly, but the way Pops took such a liking to Tam seemed to reflect a private disappointment. For his part, Sonny simply had grander aspirations than staying in his hometown and taking up the reigns his father would eventually hand him. Sonny’s determination to foster his own fate made an impression on Tam. The texts Sonny left around that were at first picked up and facetiously commented on for their weight were soon skimmed and scanned and later referred to in earnest to settle a dispute that arose in the discussions that were becoming a nightly occurrence. Their apartment became a sort of repository for those introduced to and wishing to explore a world beyond the ken of hand to mouth. Horizons were

broadening. Conjecture and inquiry and the inspired pursuit of creative expression were part of most every day, and the revolving door of new faces did much to facilitate a domicile wherein any novel disclosure was both expected and encouraged. Music and poetry and philosophical repartee were entered into with eagerness and will. Tam relished the pseudo-intellectual atmosphere of home. He still worked hard but felt his interests being pulled toward the contemplation of just about everything ologistic and ismly. There was so much to entertain the notion of, not least of which was where he stood on matters amorous. He’d been with Chel, his first and only, for forever it seemed. Growing up neighbors they did everything together. When he went to the cabin with his folks she came along. The hi-lights of their young lives seemed always to happen in concert and usually at the cabin. Truth or dare, it was at the cabin they first took off their clothes and laid on their sides facing one another under the bunk bed. They were eight, lying on their stomachs, arms hanging off the edge of the swimming pier, water running through their hands, when she first told him he was her boyfriend and that someday they’d get married. She got her first period at the cabin, and while his ma took care of her, his dad took him out on the lake, stopped the motor to tell him how things worked. After hearing the Nelson boys tell them their stories about the wonders of whacking off, it was by Chel’s hand, in the bushes off the campground, he got his first orgasm. They were twelve when he first entered her for real, a clumsy painful ordeal that kept them at heavy petting until the weekend before grade nine when a few glasses of shitmix let them go all the way. In high school, when everyone else seemed to change, they managed to stay together. Then, for three more years they stuck it out, riding their past like no time had elapsed since they were kids. Not until last night, relating the story to Tuesday, did Tam realize how unusual it was, him and Chel. Tuesday, attentive, persistent, asked all the right questions. It sounded almost wrong when his life rose off his tongue, came out in words. It was like he was making them up. But he wasn’t. He couldn’t believe she wanted to hear it, and more that she continued to listen as the long line carried on through the night. It was Tuesday suggested that maybe Chel had done him a favor, whether she knew it or not. He thought that was about as good a way as there was to put it. And only now, with Tuesday on his arm and the lay of the land and a whole beautiful Sunday ahead, did it occur to him how fortunate he was to have met Sonny. In what seemed like an instant everything had changed. He laughed at…at, well, he didn’t know what. Michelle. Sonny. Cassiopeia. Tuesday. –Well?

–Well, if he had something to say I think he’d’ve said it last night. And you know what else I think? –What? He broke free of her. –C’mon, he said and skipped downhill, flapping his arms. –Ooo wee, fly me high, tomorrow’s the day my ride’s gonna come. 2003

Cassiopeia C  

Short Story