It was supposed to be the crowning achievement in our “parade of homes” extravaganza that was more circus than parade. We were the carnies slithering through the crowds marking the idiots for exploitation while copping quick feels on their nubile teenage daughters. At least that’s what I imagined.
We could only travel in groups of two, even though there were more of us. Two was a manageable number, a couple. I was with Terry, who I think cooked P in an old railroad car he had gutted and hauled up a hill somewhere. But maybe not. He sure acted like he cooked P, and he had this wheezing laugh that reminded me of squeezing the wooden bellows when I was a child.
We entered the home already fried on a potent mixture of prescription drugs. I had lost track two home tours ago and could only distinguish the pills from their different shapes and colours as Terry exited the bathrooms and piled them in my palms. He had a knack for sniffing the shit out--he might have been one of the founders of our group.
We could both still feel our faces, so the game was not over.
The man who came to greet us, our guide to domestic bliss, was muscular with a solid jaw and a chin that seemed to stab at me as he shook my hand. We exchanged pleasantries. I focused all energy on the numb carcass of my tongue to lift it and explain that we were partners looking for a quiet, private place. The man nodded sympathetically—he could empathize with our situation. Terry just smiled and giggled once, which drew the chin’s attention away from me.
“What do you do for a living?” I asked to break him away from Terry’s giggle. I already knew the answer--we profiled the homes before we booked the tours. It was part of the rules of the game.
“I’m a cop…in the city.”
“A hero,” I said.
“I just want to be closer to the station. To cut down on the commute.”
“Barney,” Terry giggled. “Barney Fife.”
We both looked at him and I realized he was raising the stakes. It wasn’t enough that we were in a cop’s home to eat his prescription drugs. Terry wanted him to know it.
I couldn’t think of the right words, the drugs were playing with my social instincts. I punched Terry’s shoulder playfully but it came out rough, almost knocking him over.
“Take a look around,” the chin said after ten seconds or five minutes. “If you have questions, just shout.”
“Like this?” Terry asked as he released a horrible wolf-howl that dug its claws deep into my stupor.
“That will work,” the man said. Then he left us in the foyer.
We looked at each other knowingly, old pros by now, and climbed the stairs to the master bedroom. There was a king-size bed covered in a floral-print duvet that could have been peeled from the matching wallpaper. A small pile of clothes was pushed in the corner of the room, the only indication that we weren’t on some type of daytime television set. Terry entered the master bathroom as I sat on the bed. The room was too large and didn’t have enough furniture to fill it. I wondered if the chin slept on the same side of the bed each night out of habit.
Terry swam through my wavering vision and I heard his voice underneath a single-pitch ringing.
“What the fuck is Cytoxan?” he asked.
I ran through my list in my head, but the letters were all jumbled and it was hard to visualize. Cyanoco…balamin…cyclinessa…clinessa…cyclinex. Then I saw it in the textbook, next to the picture of the bulbous, purple tumour.
“It’s chemo. A cancer drug.”
Terry put two in my palm and I watched as he swallowed three. The bed I was sitting on was too big, like one of the yachts by the Viaduct that made me dizzy just by looking at them. But it was the drugs that made me dizzy. I was on the fucking Titanic.
“I can’t feel my face,” I lied.
“Then you lose, pussy,” Terry said as he took the pills from my palm and swallowed them.
The chin was waiting for us when we walked downstairs. I wondered if he noticed that we had to feel each step before putting our weight down, like we were walking in complete darkness. He just patiently waited and then opened the door for us to exit.
“Beautiful home,” I managed to say. “We’ll be in touch.”
“Good luck with the cancer,” Terry said and then we both shot down the sidewalk, our feet slapping the pavement as our legs swung out and then forward.
We only made it two blocks before we were out of breath--Terry straining like each breath was on a string he had to yank from the pit of his stomach.
“Why didn’t he come after us?” Terry asked.
I made a mental note to avoid picking Terry as my partner from that point on, but the note was lost in the swirl of the air and the pull of my lungs.
“You’re such a sore loser,” Terry said after a moment of silence. Then he left me on the sidewalk, hands on my knees, his wheezing laughter cresting over my head.