Carson couldn’t stand being at parties with Nikki. Nikki flirted. But Carson stuck through it.
When Carson was a kid, his brother and he played Alice in Wonderland. One of them had to wear their sister’s communion dress and tap shoes to play Alice the whole way through. Carson hated being Alice.
Not because of the itchy ruffle dress or the tight patent leather squeaky shoes but because of the time that Carson knew would always come, when his eye would fall onto a cake.
They’d put the Alice record on and it all began. Down the hole Carson went, into the hall of doors, and the very uncomfortable shrinking process started and Carson cried for the forgotten key, and then, keeping true to what the tenor of the English narrator told him to do, Carson’s “eye fell on a little glass box” with a cake inside that begged, “EAT ME.”
That’s when Carson would throw up. Because what Carson pictured was his eye popping right out of his head and landing, slippery in a pool of his own blood, onto cold hard glass.
Metaphor was lost on him. Except for when it came to Nikki.
With his head in the toilet and tears in his eyes while the party went on outside, Carson laughed between dry heaves as if he had got the joke.
Nikki’s eye always fell on a man begging to be eaten, then Carson would excuse himself to the washroom.
Carson thought about tonight’s tempting taste. Salvatore was a fat sweaty man who resembled tiramisu: soft brown and slightly shiny. But as much as Nikki longed for him with her eyes and as much as Salvatore begged to be eaten, Carson was sure Nikki would never take a bite.
Nikki had been anorexic as a teenager. Nikki’s father had left early and Nikki’s mother was hard and cold to her so that, as Nikki’s mother had confessed from her deathbed, Nikki would grow up strong. But instead it made Nikki sick.
At 12, Nikki was tired of being the funny fat girl “just a friend” or “hot girl sidekick” and she desperately wanted someone to see her—to see her for the horny, five-times-a-day masturbating sex machine she was on the inside.
So she starved. And she starved. And she starved. Until she fit the mould of what she wanted to be. Then the hating began.
She hated anyone who wanted her. She thought, “He must be stupid if he can’t see who I really am,” which to her was a lonely little fat girl and not the wraith-like cold and hard model girl popular in the ’90s that she had become.
And so she practiced abstinence, rejection, and cruelty. If a man wanted her, she would flirt with him but only under certain circumstances and those circumstances were hers to set. Did she want a condo overlooking the bay? Yes. And that is what she got from Cain. Did she want to fly to Paris on some weekends and then to Buenos Aires the next? Yes. And Richard gave her that. And all—all—she had to do was ask. That and belittle and ignore them for liking her. They really got off on a thing like that!
When Carson flew to Vancouver for work and met Nikki, things were different. She devoured him.
Carson was staying with friends. Nikki was there. And she stared, hard, at Carson.
Under her glare, Carson’s palms became sweaty. He couldn’t get comfortable on the couch and just when he didn’t think he could take the churning in his stomach anymore and he thought, “Who is this strange elongated girl staring at me on a couch?” Nikki did something she hadn’t done for a very long time: she told a joke. “Which lesson in school is the fruitiest?” Carson was sure it was a dirty joke about queers. “It must be a gym-class joke,” he thought. But in the end, he had to admit, “I don’t know. Which?” and Nikki threw up her hands in excitement and shouted, “History! It’s the one with all the dates.”
Now it was Carson’s turn to stare at Nikki. “That is a really bad joke.” But he still laughed. Nikki looked down and away. “I know. But it’s all I’ve got.”
Carson studied her profile. He examined her small nose and her pale skin. He looked so long and so hard that he swore he knew her from somewhere…sometime. She was so familiar. “In fact, I’m sure that…” And before Carson could finish his thought, Nikki ripped open her top and leapt on Carson to motorboat his face.
After that—the motorboating, the oral, the anal, and the repeated explicit sex on their friends’ couch—nothing was the same for Nikki, or for Carson. They were happy.
They walked hand in hand everywhere they went. Carson loved to look into Nikki’s clear blue eyes. They took walks on the beach and pointed out every interesting thing they saw.
That’s how Carson discovered that Nikki saw a lot of things. A lot of things Carson thought weren’t there before.
When they went to the beach to watch the sunset, Nikki cuddled up to Carson and pointed at the sunset. “If someone were here to take a picture of us, with all the orange and the single point of extreme light reflecting in our glasses, well, it looks like we’re lovingly watching…an ATOMIC BLAST.” Nikki laughed.
Carson didn’t want to picture burning people and screaming children and cancer and indelible death shadows imprinted on the ground—not when he was having a nice time. Nikki nudged him. “Don’t get freaked. I’m just being silly.”
Silly? She had taken an otherwise loving moment and made it creepy. That wasn’t very cool in Carson’s books.
But then, Nikki did great things too, brave things, that Carson could never imagine doing out loud.
On his last night in Vancouver, his last night with Nikki, he asked her to talk dirty to him while he was fucking her from behind and she wrapped her fingers into his and said, “We fit together just like a space Lego man’s feet do the surface to the Lego-ey moon.” And just like that, she had done something to him.
Carson felt like he was worth it. Worth someone—worth someone as good as Nikki.
More than that, Carson, who may have at one time written a poem as allegorically complex as
could now see things he hadn’t before.
When Nikki came to visit Carson, they went for a walk around U of T.
Instead of ivy on the old buildings, Nikki saw barbed-wire made to keep all the ideas penned, and when Carson finally saw what she saw, his hands and face went cold and clammy. Then she imagined that the trees were swollen infected emphysemic lungs. And Carson envisioned the same and started to sweat all over.
But when, on his own, Carson noticed some bike-lock stands that were something other than bike-lock stands, he was overwhelmed. What Carson saw first were stands that looked like upturned coat hangers. And his head swam. But upturned hangers were not all he saw. He saw mechanical keys like you find in the backs of dolls, only “when you turn these keys,” he thought, “the cobblestones come to life. And the cobbles rattle and rumble and wiggle, clicking all about…and they come to you, for you, shaking everything beneath you as they come!” Carson needed to sit down. He put his head between his legs. Nikki sat beside him and held his hand. She whispered something in his ear. Carson smiled. He looked up. Everything was better again. When Nikki left to go home, Carson was lost. He stood staring at the wall in his living room for hours. Sometimes he would leave the kettle on and it would scream at him for minute after minute after minute until its bottom burned. He was busy thinking. He imagined that he stood at a crossroads.
A dirt path led to Vancouver—to Nikki. The other, was the wellgroomed, well-paved Toronto road of his already-life.
Both directions were mad. A new life—starting all over—in Vancouver made no sense and a life without Nikki—4,000 km away from Nikki—was just plain crazy! Nikki sent Carson a text. It was a picture of her smiling face.
Carson sold his bed and his TV and his books on craigslist and stuffed all his hopes and his doubts tightly into one small bag and went the new way, the way of happy—Carson went to Nikki.
Only, when Carson got there, it was like Nikki didn’t like Carson in Vancouver. And Carson didn’t like Carson in Vancouver.
But anytime he asked what had changed, Nikki said, “Nothing.”
In the battle between doubt and hope in Carson’s backpack, doubt had won out—Nikki and Carson, things—they just weren’t that sure anymore.
It was all so confusing for Carson. There were parties that Carson didn’t understand. No one made any sense or was who they said they were or had the jobs they said they had. And they made jokes about Jersey Shore and The View that made Carson want to throw up. But he tried. He kept trying for Nikki.
He made altogether the wrong kinds of jokes. He’d meet someone who was “Just kinda, you know, trying to find my way on this blue planet we call home,” and make a joke like “But that’s like a fish swimming around without any porpoise!” HAHAHAHA…HA…ha. Apparently, punny was not funny with Nikki’s friends.
Carson looked to Nikki to throw him a laugh lifeline (she was the queen of bad jokes!) but she just left him adrift.
Carson felt like his feet were detached from the planet—like the Lego man let go. It didn’t feel very good.
And, also, there was Nikki. She’d mill—mill about nibbling on this or that, never finishing anything she started. She’d talk. Talk to Grant and Chris and Chad. Smiling, staring, giggling, outright laughing at their crap jokes. And touching. A touch on the shoulder here. Another little nibble of a chip there. Here a touch, there a touch…
“Don’t be jealous. I don’t like jealous.”
Carson didn’t think he was being jealous. He thought he was being lonely.
And to his “How come you never hold my hand or touch me?”
She said, “I like to keep private things private.” She shrugged. “It works for me.”
And to his “Can we at least talk about it?”
“You should just know how I feel” came out of her hard beautiful face.
This made Carson very sad.
Nikki wasn’t who she had been and, how did she feel about him if she wouldn’t touch him anymore?
So Carson did what he had learned to do. He thought hard. And eventually imagined an answer.
It wasn’t that Nikki didn’t love him anymore. It was like a test—he just had to love her through this. And she must love him, he thought: “She can’t even eat around those other guys.” She ate around Carson—whole things—like burgers and steaks and waffles and never did around them. And that small difference in Nikki’s behaviour was all he had to hang his hopes on. And, he did.
When Carson finally came out of the washroom and saw Nikki push the last piece of her pastry away while she stared longingly, starvingly at Salvatore, Carson thought everything was okay and he wasn’t queasy anymore. “What a laugh that fat man is,” Carson thought.
But the joke was on him.
Carson was at a meteorology conference in Hull and Nikki called him to chat before bed. “Thank you!” he said. “I was about to die from boredom and it is so cold here, you wouldn’t believe how cold it is. Like minus 20.” She laughed at him, “Oh yeah. Well, it’s really nice here. And I got up early and went for coffee and took a stroll along the seawall.” He loved to hear her happy again. “Not fair, Nikki,” he teased. “I could even garden. And Drea stopped by with some new espresso from Switzerland. After she left, just the usual,” she said.
She said, “We watched the Dexter finale last night.” “We? I thought Drea hated Dexter.” Nikki snorted. “I guess I should tell you. Sal came over.” Carson held his breath—It couldn’t be.
“He fell asleep on my chest.”
Carson faded away. He stared at the wall and pictured the blood from the show spreading out all around her and Sal… Sal? When had Salvatore earned Sal?
“I mean, it was nothing. We just made mini pizzas and…” But her voice was like screaming electric currents over him.
Carson’s legs buckled and he went down against the wall. He desperately wanted to disappear from it all. Shrink away. Change it all. Change him. His insides cringed. His body seized. Carson wished: Anything else but this.
A giant dark vacuum hole opened in the bathroom floor and it sucked Carson down, while everything else around him went flying up. Terracotta hotel bathroom tiles sped upward past him and turned to bits of mini-pizzas in the distance and itty-bitty bites of nacho chips dashed past his head. He saw the underside of the hotel sink fading, far away—a pinprick of white.
Carson’s stomach turned. One thought consumed him: Slimy Salvatore. Slimy Salvatore collapsing as a gelatinous oozing bulb on Nikki’s cold hard chest—them lying in a pool of television blood.
Carson waited for the bottom.
When he landed, the rocks on shore vibrated lightly under Carson’s feet and then gracefully shushed their stone song. He felt the cool breeze on his arms. Everything was very big where Carson had landed. A big clear lake. A big beautiful sky. He heard the rushing waters of a big-big waterfall and he looked at the very big trees. Carson put up his hand to block out the light of the big harsh sun and he saw that he, was very small. Very very small. But instead of being sad, or sick, or hurt, Carson was calm.
He looked out to the lake. To the giant trees and the colossal mountains. He thought of Nikki. He pictured fat little Nikki standing beside little confused Carson, and he held her hand.
Carson took a smooth stone from his pocket and threw it out to the lake. Carson and Nikki whispered as the stone skipped, “One.” “Two.” “Three.”
And everything changed.