VanCity Blues by Lory French

     I swatted his hand away when he pointed at the woman’s purple bra. I didn’t mean to hurt him but I forgot, in my haste, that I had a pen in my hand.
     “Fuck!” Dave screamed loudly. “That stabbed me right between my fingers! What the fuck, Olivia?”
     Several shocked Canadian heads swiveled toward us, expressions varying from confusion to disapproval. Among them was the curly blonde lady with the purple bra peeking over her sweater’s neckline. She colored, definitely noticing us now, and tugged her shoulders to fully cover her cleavage.
     “I’m sorry,” I hissed, “but you were pointing!”
     “That really hurt, Olivia.”
     “I said I was sorry. But you were being really rude. Here. They don’t even know what to do with that. And now they KNOW we’re Americans. We were blending before.”
     It was true, as far as I was concerned.  We were head-to-toe in Eddie Bauer summer outfits, with sensible street hikers. Dave was wearing a knitted hat with a garish red maple leaf on it, which I had eyed with doubt and tried to veto. As it turned out it was just like five others I’d seen today. We were camped out on a blanket waiting for Bard on the Beach to begin, with me writing poetry in the brilliant West Coast summer sunshine.  We tried to blend whenever we traveled, but it was harder for Dave in some places.  This was a “my turn” trip, full of cityscapes and arts stuff, which he could only sort of tolerate. He’d gone along with it thinking he’d get some hockey out of it, but it’s off season in August.  You’d think that would be obvious, but it wasn’t to Dave, and I really wanted to go to VanCity in the sunshine. Our kids were with my Mom, who was keeping them for the first time since my father had died, seven months ago.  It had been a brutal year, and this trip was supposed to be a gesture from Dave to me, a true gift of his time.  But so far it had been weird snacks, Canadian beer and endless commentary on the local women. “Why are you smirking?” Dave demanded, cracking open another Molson’s.
     Annoyed by his drinking and his wandering eye, I opted for the truth. “You thought we’d see hockey.” I giggled.
     Dave was actually shocked into a gape. “Dude. Really?”
     “Come on. It’s summer. That’s an ice sport, right?”
     “They have motherfucking rinks!”  Some more heads turned.
     “Shut up, Dave.” I hissed.
     “What’s your problem, Olivia?”
     “I don’t know, Dave! Your drinking yourself into oblivion before a Shakespeare play…” I ignored his vigorous head bobbing, “or the fact you’re pointing at strange women’s breasts in public and shouting about it.”
     “Correction, I shouted because you stabbed me.” Dave attempted to stare me down like a wise old owl, but succeeded only in looking like a cross-eyed gander.
     “The first time.”
     “What? There’s going to be a second time? Shit, Ollie.”
     “No, dumbass, you shouted the first time because I stabbed you, but the other…Never mind.”
     Dave clumsily folded himself back onto the blanket, spilling some beer in the process. “When I sober up, I’m going straight back to the Clipper,” he muttered, taking a long draw.
     I just stared at him while the audience around us started clapping as the actors came onstage, fondling my pen. I folded my legs up and crossed my arms around them, trying to make myself as compact as possible, maybe even like I wasn’t there with him.  We were on the same blanket, but I could hope. Dave, however, was not feeling the need for compression. He stretched his hairy legs out in a languid sprawl, occupying the space I’d given up. “What are they doing?” he drawled, focusing on the stage. I swallowed hard, trying to change gears, to take the olive branch.  If he was going to ask about The Winter’s Tale, I was not going to shut that down.
     “Those guys are lifelong friends. The one dude and his wife are trying to get his childhood buddy to stay longer. But as soon as his wife gets the buddy to stay, the dude starts getting psycho about whether she cheated on him.” I was watching the stage so I didn’t notice when Dave pulled himself up level with me.  I turned to explain more about Hermione’s friendship with Paulina and drew back with a start from Dave’s gimlet eye.
     “You think you’re funny?”
     “What?” I said, partially because he had gotten really quiet and partially because I had no idea what he was talking about. “No, it’s not funny, I mean, not in this act. It gets lighter at the end, when…” I stopped talking when he stood up abruptly, staggering a bit before finding a wobbly balance with his legs, not unlike a boxer’s dance. “Dude, sit down.”
     “God, Olivia, are you never going to get over it?” he shouted, his volume seeming to propel him backwards like jet exhaust.
     “Sit down, Dave, Jesus.” The Canadians were getting pissed, and a smattering of “shh” started to populate our region of the audience. I turned back to the stage, holding my back as straight as possible against this new humiliation. Dave held out his arms to keep steady as he sought a shusher to retaliate against, but seemed to recover himself when no one challenged him further.  He thudded back onto the blanket and sidled back over to hiss at me.
     “They’re very nice,” he said.
     “Nicer than some people.”
     “Oh, my God,” I said, starting to rise to the bait, but then revised my strategy. “Have some more beer, you look thirsty.”
     “Maybe I will,” he said, not falling for the redirection, but willing to get shitfaced to spite me for whatever it was he thought I’d done this time.
     The play continued on, as they do.  I tried to pay attention to the actors, but found myself counting beers instead.  He’d gone through another three before intermission. As the other audience members rifled through their picnic baskets, I risked a glance over at my recalcitrant husband. He was splay-legged again, with one arm resting on his belly and the other covering his eyes.  I let out a sigh of relief and lay back myself, feeling the tension escape from me.  “I thought you were past this. It’s been so long.”
     I was so drained at this point that his voice didn’t startle me, even though I had thought he’d passed out. I turned my head to look into his face. I thought I’d see drunken belligerence, but he looked genuinely pained. “Cheating is a common theme, Dave.  If you’d actually read any of Shakespeare when we were in college, you’d not take it so personally.“ I turned my eyes back to the blue, endless sky above us. “It’s simply not about me anymore. And I am past it. I am so completely, utterly over it.”
     “Then why did you bring me here?”
     “It’s Shakespeare in the park. Normal people appreciate this kind of thing. Or pretend they do if they’re also pretending to give their wife a nice trip. Remember that? How you were giving me a vacation because our year had sucked because my dad, you know, died, and now all I have left is you?” I heard his hand drop to the blanket and I looked back over at him. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair.”
     “Damn. Well. It wasn’t nice, but it might be fair. I am all you have left, me and the kids. I don’t mean to be this way.”
     Tears started leaking down the side of his face, and my gut twisted in disgust. “Well, you are this way. And now this trip gets to be about your shit fit in the park.  You do know I don’t have some magic wand to program all these plays, right? That I didn’t write the damn things. I didn’t even choose this particular play. It’s all that was left by the time you decided to pull the trigger on coming up here. Your defining event in life is going to have to be something other than cheating on your pregnant wife. Get a new shtick.“
     “I’m sorry, Ollie, come here.” He reached for me limply, still lying down and flailing as if his arms were weighted down with steel.
     “Oh, fuck that noise. I think not.”
     “You’re making a scene, Olivia.” Dave managed to smirk through his oncoming stupor.
     “Did you do this on purpose, you asshole?” I was rising to my own anger now. “You don’t get to do this shit and then just pass out. Oh, hell, no.”
     He smiled sleepily and covered his eyes again with his arm. “I tried to make up. I did.” He slurred groggily.
     I stared at him in impotent rage. I knew him well enough to know he was not going to wake back up until after the play was finished. “Bastard,” I muttered. I looked around at the couples surrounding us, smiling, laughing, and feeding each other. The old ones, three blankets over, sitting in folding chairs so they didn’t have to get stiff from the hard ground. The really young ones, four blankets back, who couldn’t see or hear anything but their shared embrace.  My own tears sprouted, but mine were hot and angry. I glared back at my own spouse, completely passed out under the gentle, Canadian summer sun. I reached into our picnic basket and I grabbed out his nasty All Dressed chips. I sprinkled them lovingly all over his body, like flower petals. When the bag was empty I grabbed out the pickles. I drained the juice onto the grass then arranged all the spears around his head like a laurel wreath. I pulled out the baguette and decided to crumble it all over him, like snow. To get this right, I had to stand up. I ripped it in half violently and beat it together to grind off bits to flake down on his sleeping form.
     Satisfied, I took in my art. I glanced up and caught the eye of the woman behind me for the split second it took her to become fascinated with her wineglass. I thought I heard her mutter “Americans.” I smiled broadly and then knelt to my next task. I dragged out my purse from the bottom of the basket and fished out Dave’s Clipper ticket. I put it in his pants pocket, really shoved it in there to make sure it stayed. Then I stood back up and walked off. I left him to enjoy his afternoon in the park with his true loves, beer and junk food. I’d go ahead and enjoy myself in Vancouver, then sail on back home to the States.  Dave, he could figure it out.

Lory French is a displaced Southerner living the dream in the promised land of the Pacific Northwest—well, as near as a sandwich-generation, middle-aged, urban homesteader can get. Nestled in to her West Tacoma home with her husband, three-plus children and a host of animals, Lory educates young minds and sometimes gets up to writing. She’s been published in Creative Colloquy Volume 1 and Volume 2 but just didn’t listen to her editors when told to submit for Volume 3.