Thursday, 3 April 2014


"It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience."  - Julius Ceasar

He had maybe two hours of sleep, a power nap. When he got up he was feeling fine, maybe more anxious than tired.  Marty shrugged it off as he brushed his teeth and got ready to go in the shower. The cockroach on his shower curtain made him shudder, but he ignored it and hopped in, every few seconds looking over to make sure it was in it's place.

After, as Marty got out of the water he noticed how dirty the bathroom floor was. There were little brown spots everywhere and a nasty-looking gunk running down some of the walls. He opened up one of the mirror drawers and noticed a tiny dead roach lying on its back. He shut the drawer in disgust, reminding himself to never store anything in there. His toothbrush would remain in his room when not in use.

The streetcar ride to work was pleasant at least. Marty enjoyed looking out the window at the passing neighbourhoods and shops. These were new places to him, nicer than the big box stores of North York and rows of identical homes that stretched on for miles.
Here in the city there were restaurants, bars, coffee shops, stores and places that were combinations of places. Each house looked unique, some with flags in their windows, others with gardens, ornaments, customized decks. Here people were not afraid to be unique.


Richard Brewer sat in front of his tiny laptop, unsure of what to write next. His story took place about one hundred years from 2014, on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons; the one that some astronomers and biologists theorize could possibly support life. This moon is covered in an ice sheet and full of water beneath it.  The human characters in the story were in a gigantic undersea station that had been built with an enormous power-drill in orbit. The characters were a group of elite astronauts from various countries that were living on this multi-deck station. They had been there for about three years, although the journey from Earth took five years, and the character's were clashing, over both character differences and Earth politics. There was heavy mistrust and the recent murder on one of the lower decks didn't help things.

Richard had been writing this story for nearly half a year and was on page 347. His plan was to reach at least 600, possibly 700 pages. When one of his main characters, a British biologist, was sent down to investigate the murder, that was when Richard had paused. He wasn't quite sure how to write the next bit. It had been two weeks since he left off. He sat down many times to write it, but the words never came. Richard realized that he had to come up with a reason why the CCTV cameras posted on the lower decks had not recorded the murder. He hadn't thought that far ahead. It was a plot device he had to come up with.

"Okay, so we already know the ending," he theorized. "So, the final act can't come for another few hundred pages unless I cut out more in the first few chapters. I don't want to go back to editing.  It never helps."

He sighed, still nothing coming to mind.

"Writer's block strikes again," he muttered to his room. He leaned back. The sun was beaming in brightly through the window. Summer was nearly over. The thought made him feel sluggish.

Richard looked about his room, sometimes taking in his surroundings helped him feel inspired. The room was tiny, longer than it was wide, shaped like a trailer, which made his rent $450 instead of the $500 that most rooms went for. Above his computer was a poster of a desert landscape, the words Frank Herbert: Dune above it; his favourite work of science fiction. Nothing, for him, came close to it. To his right was a map of Toronto, and beside that a map of London, England, his home town. Next to that he had a mirror to give the room the illusion of space. Beside that was a little drawer by the door. On the other side of the room was a collage of photographs placed in a single frame; a picture of Private Richard Brewer in uniform, one of him with the rest of his regiment during their tour of the Falkland Islands, another of himself at the UK Labour Party national convention of 1986, one of him in the hills of the Scottish Highlands, one of himself in front of a mural on Cable Street that depicts and commemorates the historical Battle of Cable Street in East London, a clash between fascists and socialists, and finally, the last picture, of his ex-wife.

He sighed again, looking over to her pic. She was very beautiful in this picture, back in the early 1990's. It was shortly after that when they were married. That was his second year in Canada. In the photograph she had dark hair with bangs and those glasses with the thick, outdated frames. Behind her was Lake Ontario. Richard and her were in the observation deck of the CN Tower then, the first time he'd been up there. That was when his new life had started.

Richard had moved to Toronto from London and married Laura Danforth. They had met in London some years before where she was attending university in her post-grad years. Their first meeting took place at an event put on by a number of anti-war organizations and student groups. Both of them had met through a mutual friend after the talk and like a true Englishman Richard invited her to join him at the post-event pub meeting. Something clicked that first time and it seemed like less than a month had passed when his life was smelted into hers. Those first few years were golden, even better memories than University. When Richard moved in with her in Toronto they lived first with her parents in Forest Hill, and then moved into a big apartment in Queen Street West, not far from Trinity-Bellwoods Park.

Lauara was from money, her parents were very well off. Richard saw that she rebelled that through her activism.  Her siblings rebelled in other ways.

He sighed again, remembering the times they spent in Trinity-Bellwoods Park nearby her parent's place. In the Spring or Summer, the days that were clear and sky blue, they would go there. Those were good days, like none Richard had ever had, much better than the foggy days in London, the time before Laura.

Richard grunted, looking outside in front of him to see the same street he'd seen for six months, this end of a street by the railroad, a literal dead end. Across the street was a big garbage bin. A flock of seagulls sped by overhead, no doubt coming from the Stockyards across the way from the railroad where open parking lots meant lots of garbage to keep them fed. Toronto wasn't so pretty up here. 


The following day wasn't too rough for Marty. He had seen Erin again. They spoke at the front again earlier in the day. He had asked her how her day was and she told him about idiot customers at the restaurant. He had started telling her about the stuff he put up with at his job when the boss came back to the lobby. She left and Marty went quiet.

"My mouth is cursed," he thought, grabbing his notepad and pretending to write something down.

Marty saw Mr. Franco later on. The older man gave him a look as he passed by. Marty took in the cocky swagger in his walk. He wore today a mustard yellow blazer and beige golf pants. Later on when Marty went to grab a coffee at Tim's across the street he noticed a bright red convertible sports car speed by on Bay Street. Mr. Franco's black-brown mop of hair was unmistakable as it blew like seaweed blowing in the current.

"That's got to be fake," Marty said under his breath as he took his double-double back to the lobby.

"At least I got three days off now," he said as he buzzed down to the house at the end of his day. He decided not to think about Erin or Harvey Franco.

He felt good, knowing that another paycheck was a few days away. He would have to take $250 out from that, as he typically got two paychecks per month. "This ain't so bad, living alone."  

He looked about the neighbrouhood, noting the ugly big garbage bin with seagulls hovering above it across the street from him as he stepped onto his driveway. His landlord's grey pickup truck was the only thing parked there. Marty recalled seeing a black SUV parked behind it in the morning.

He opened the house's front door, stepping onto the dirty little staircase. As he entered the kitchen he saw the British bald guy at the sink. "Hey," Marty greeted.

Richard nodded back with a slight smile. Marty went to his room, got out of his uniform and into some comfortable track pants, and then went to the washroom. After sitting for a few seconds, contemplating the day that passed and what he was planning to do in his time off, he found himself staring where the wall met the floor.

From some unseen space a cockroach leaped out. Marty got up from the toilet, started kicking at the thing. It vanished almost instantly, so fast it looked like it just disappeared, but Marty figured that it had squeezed itself back under the wall, somehow contorting it's body into an unseen space. "Fucking cockroaches!" he stammered, quickly washing his hands and leaving, thinking of what a sad fact it was that he preferred using the washroom at his work over the one at his home.

Richard sat at the table with a steaming bowl of soup in front of him. "Saw another one in there, have you?"

Marty nodded. "Yes, this has got to be the tenth one I've seen in two days! That or I am seeing the same ones over and over again."

Richard raised a hand, making a space of about two inches with his thumb and index finger. "I saw one this big the other night."

Marty, still freaked out, pulled out the chair across from Richard and sat down. "Is Ivan doing anything about it?"

Richard shook his head. "Nothing's being done. He hasn't done anything since I've been here and there were roaches then too. The only thing he can really do is get an exterminator."

"So why doesn't he?"

"Because he's too cheap."


"Yes," said Richard, taking a sip of his soup. "Do you want some? It's leek soup."

"No thanks, I already ate some early dinner on the way home, just a bagel," said Marty, patting his belly. "I was going to make some space in my stomach right now but I'm not going in there with a cockroach right there in the wall."

"Yeah, they're in the walls."

"Does Ivan know we have roaches?"

"Yep, he knows," Richard replied. "I asked him about it a month ago. He just raised an eyebrow and said 'Cockroaches?' like he didn't know." When Richard quoted Ivan he did a slight Russian accent, vaguely imitating the deep-toned landlord. "He won't do shit about it."

"Don't we just have to maybe, I don't know, keep the place neater? I guess just clean up after ourselves?"

"Yeah, don't eat food in your room, or at least make sure you eat on a plate and wash the plate right after. I used to be really neat, now I don't really care. You get used to them."

"Used to them? There are cockroaches in our goddamn fridge!"

Richard shrugged. "It's the landlord's responsibility, but he won't do anything, trust me."

Marty shook his head. "I don't believe it. He can't be that irresponsible."

"He's cheap!"

"You don't like him? I mean, save for this roach bullshit, he seems like a nice guy still," Marty said, trying to not get angry at Ivan. The first time he had met him he seemed like a nice man. Marty wanted to give him a chance.

"Heh, seems being the key word there," said Richard. "He does the very minimal amount of anything."

"I'll talk to him about it," Marty said, wanting to believe he hadn't made a terrible mistake by moving in. "He has to listen, we're paying enough as it is."

"You can try," Richard said, taking another sip of his soup.

Marty decided to make conversation. "So, where are you from? England?"

Richard smiled. "How'd you guess?"

"I figured it was pretty obvious. What city?"


"Ah, I was there once, years ago, back before university."

"Where'd you go for school?"

"York University."

"Oh right, way up in the north of the city?"

"Yep, ever been there?"

"Once, my wife, my ex-wife rather, had a conference there once. It's a pretty campus."

"It's nice, but the surrounding area is boring. I've been living there all my life, glad to get down here. I like this area. How long you've been here?"

"Maybe about six months now," said Richard, looking like he was counting in his head. "I can't stand this place."

"Really? I like it."

"It's ugly, this area, crumbling brick buildings, pigeon shit everywhere."

"That's more right at Keele and Dundas," said Marty. "I like it though, I mean, it's got character. Trust me, everything north of Eglinton, or maybe Lawrence, is all sterile. Man, I'd rather live in a ghetto area downtown any day; Parkdale, or parts of Kensington Market, or the Annex than live in a richer area in North York or Etobicoke, except maybe, like Yonge and Lawrence or Bayview area, wouldn't mind living there, but still. Here is exciting for me."

Richard smiled slightly, then sighed. "Well, maybe for me it's the context of living here."

"Ah yeah?" Marty asked, getting up to go to the fridge. Suddenly he wanted an apple. He ignored the dead cockroach in the door shelf and got out the Tupperware container that he had put all his fruits in and placed it on the table. "You want one?"

"Yeah, sure," said Richard, taking an apple from the bin and placing it beside his bowl. "Some dessert. So what do you do?"

"I'm a security guard at a condo down on Bay Street," Marty replied, taking an apple and placing the lid back on the container. "What about you?"

He sighed again. "I'm unemployed right now, or at least, I guess under-employed. I am at call at a telemarketing place but the season is dead so I haven't gone in a month. Jordan got me the job there."

"Him?" Marty pointed to the closed door beside his own.

"Yeah," said Richard.

"How is he? Nice guy?"

Richard nodded. "Yeah, he's a good guy. He's looking to move out of here soon. Godspeed to him."

As Marty placed the container back in the fridge he heard the turn of a door handle. He expected Jordan to come out of his room. Instead the door right across, the one beside Richard's room, opened up instead. A young man, maybe in his late teens or very early twenties, stepped out. He was skinny, maybe weighing one hundred and twenty pounds, half of Marty's weight, with a thin baby face and slight lining around his eyes. He had dark hair with what looked like blue and purple streaks. He looked to be mixed race, probably white and Asian.

Richard turned his head to look at him, but then just as quickly turned his attention back at Marty. Marty gave a wave to the young man. He slightly smiled back, and then he disappeared down the stairs to the door to outside.

"Who is he?" Marty asked when he heard the front door close.

"Nick," Richard muttered unenthusiastically.

"He looks fresh out of high school," he noted, then thought of the slight eyeliner and colourful streaks of hair. "Is he...?"

He didn't need to say it, Richard understood what he was asking. "Yeah."

"Not that I have anything against that!"

"Oh yeah, of course. Same here."

"I mean, it's not really my bushiness anyway. I don't know, just asking. It's all good. I never had a problem with gays, went to Pride once with a friend of mine, had loads of fun."

"I don't know if I would ever do that, but I don't care if someone's gay or straight or whatever."

Marty, happy to hear it, reached out to shake Richard's hand. "Cool, cool. Much respect. I can't stand homophobia."

"Don't say that around Ivan then," said Richard, semi-laughing again. "I mean, I don't think he realizes he is gay." He pointed to Nick's door. "I don't think he knows much of what's going on period."

Marty laughed. "Really, eh? I don't know, he seems okay to me still."

Richard shrugged. "Well, I guess you'll see someday. First chance I get, when I get a normal job, after the first two, maybe three paychecks, I'm getting the hell out of this place. You should too. No one would want to stay here."

It was Marty's turn to shrug. "I guess I'll just have to see. I'm just so happy to finally be on my own."

Richard nodded. "Just see how it turns out, I guess. Just don't expect much."

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