Does he do this she wondered? Conjure up last night, the things we did, feel an after-shudder? Waiting to see Emmett Hayes, was . . . agony! Fiona couldn’t eat. Think straight. Gawd I hate this! Half an hour late. Again. She diddled her guitar, scanned a book, traipsed back and forth to the fridge, swinging wildly between anger and anxiety. Why doesn’t he call? That dink! She could have gone with Rita and Shannon. She could have spent her hard earned cash on something besides a new silk bra and panties. That bastard. Then, still cursing, Fiona heard his obnoxious Porsche engine out front and relief coursed through her limbs. She barely resisted the urge to run to the car.
“Sorry I’m late,” he mouthed, the Clash’s “I Fought the Law” blasting from his Blaupaunkts. “Did you hear? The Clash came out and played soccer with us!”
“Yeah! Who won?”
“They did, of course. My shins are covered in bruises.”
Emmett yarded on the gears pinball wizard style. Soon they were pelted with fat raindrops. He pulled over immediately to put the top up. They cruised the block repeatedly in search of the safest parking spot for his precious steed of steel. At last they entered the fading art-deco grandeur of the Commodore Ballroom, Emmett waving tickets at the doorman, breezing by security like a diplomat. Christ. He must have been left under a cabbage by mistake. Emmett surveyed the room, refusing Fiona’s hand.
“Fuck! Look at all the poseurs.”
Fiona spied Dennis across the room, stomach tilting at the reproach in his face. A young woman in a booth flanking the stage sat sneering.
“Emmett, who’s that girl glaring at us?”
He ignored the question, wandered off, Fiona following.
The Clash had an excellent DJ spinning a killer mix of ska, punk, reggae and dub. Fiona waved to Shannon and friends. The place was jammed with every die-hard in the city, slam dancing on its famous ballroom floor, originally designed to make any clodhopper hoof it like Fred Astaire. The Commodore had character all right and it was the perfect size. Fiona hated arena shows. The Dishrags opened. It was inspiring to watch fellow females wailing on guitar. They finished with a blazing rendition of “London’s Burning”. Next up, Bo Diddley. Emmett said the Clash brought the old guy along as a way to pay homage to one of rock and roll’s originators. Fiona shrugged.
“I’m too young for nostalgia.”
Unfortunately, the Powder Blues were his pickup band, old fart-guitar god wannabes and though playing with a legend, forced everyone to sit through a long, boring wank session.
“Fuck this. I wanna see the Clash!” Fiona was not alone in her sentiments.
Shannon walked over and pulled her aside. “See that girl? That’s Electra. One of Emmett’s girlfriends. He told her he was bringing her tonight.”
“Electra! Sounds like an Italian scooter.”
“She’s weird. Really mad, says she’s gonna beat the crap out of you.”
Laughing, they walked over to Emmett. He lowered his drink, deigned to look at them, insisting he hadn’t invited anyone but Fiona. Clouds of tension were gathering on the dance floor as well, burly security guards manning the barriers. Finally, the Clash emerged, a tidal wave of bodies surging forward, the band opening with “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.”, Emmett off the hook. For now.
Beer. You only rent it. Fiona ran to the bathroom between songs, in and out of a stall quickly. Electra appeared, strutted over and squinted up into Fiona’s face like a Pekinese.
“Hey bitch! Keep your paws off Emmett or I will kill you.”
Looking around, Fiona laughed. “Where’s the hidden camera? Hey, Eeeelectraaaa. I think you’d better stay away from Emmett.”
“Wanna fight about it?”
“Hah! I could squish you like a bug. Fuck off! This ain’t junior high, you know.”
What Electra lacked in size, she made up for in attitude, fueled by four-inch stilettos, garters, fishnets, black leather mini skirt, all of which had nothing to do with punk and everything to do with Emmett.
Electra spit at her. Missing her target—Fiona’s face—the gob splatted onto her clavicle. Fiona looked down. Nearly blind with fury, she handily hoisted Electra up by the lapels. Shannon barged in. Fiona slammed Electra into the wall, back of her head banging the paper towel dispenser. Electra yelped.
“You bitch. You fucking whore!”
Shannon grabbed Fiona by the arm. They walked out dogged by the undaunted Lilliputian. Fiona barreled over to Emmett.
“What were you thinking?”
“I told you! I didn’t ask her. She just assumed.”
Wee Electra was at the bar again, glowering.
“Get lost, you skanky broad!” Emmett hollered at her.
Snotty pose pierced like a balloon, Electra flumped away, people laughing in her wake.
“God Emmett you’re an asshole!”
“Hey, I brought you. What do you care?”
“I care because it’s the same way you treat me. Like shit!”
“Fuck this!” He walked away in a huff.
Fuck this all right! Fighting tears, determined to revel in this night to remember, Fiona formed two fists and shoved her way through the crowd, jabbing, elbowing, bashing. She glanced back. Emmett gone. Naturally. Though the faces on the floor were familiar, the horde formed one huge alien, reeking of stewed leather and body heat, Clash so loud they cloaked the clamor of thumping heart, roaring blood. Fiona was rammed. Hard. She heard the wind go out of her lungs, body boxed about as if by bulls. She slipped, nearly going down, floored by the vision of her fractured skull ground into the boards by dozens of tightly laced combat boots. I am too black in the heart to fall! She carved a line out of the crush to the foot of the stage, stared up at Simonon. He was perfect—angled cheekbones, mouth gaping open like a Lego-focused kid, long, lean muscles. An art student apparently, before hitching up with the Clash, couldn’t play a note till Mick Jones taught him. Like John Lennon. Must be a British thing, that link between art school and rock. So why did I let Trent talk me out of art school? Oh my God. Simonon! He’s looking right at me! Got a girlfriend, according to Shannon, some tart who writes for NME. Strummer strained against his Telly, snaking the mic stand with his body. Tossing his guitar onto his back, he leaned over the crowd, ranting, railing. Loose-kneed Mick Jones was running, leaping, boinging all over the stage, carving out notes with an axe, his golden Gibson Les Paul. Goofy booster Dennis vaulted onto the stage during “Career Opportunities”, ricocheting off amps and various Clash members, security goons giving Keystone Cops chase. Strummer even let Dennis commandeer the mic and bray out the chorus with him, Fiona feeling a twinge of envy.
Several encores later, Shannon and Rita caught up with her, the usual confusion about the party location ensuing. Fiona felt a tap on her shoulder, turned around to Emmett, eyes trained on the floor.
“Wanna go to the party?”
“Not with you.”
He threw his bead back, looked up at the ceiling. “Kee-rist! Get over it will you?”
“Where’s Eellectraaa?” Fiona couldn’t say it with a straight face. “Emmett and Electra. Electra and Emmett. Has a nice ring, don’t you think?”
“Look, are you coming or not?”
Rita couldn’t disguise her disdain.
Shannon watched as Emmett tried to open the car door. “You’re drunk,” she said.
“Hey, I’m the best drunk driver in the world. Just kidding! I’m not drunk.”
“I’ll be fine.” Fiona waved at Shannon and Rita. “I’ll see you at the party.”
Emmett handles his car the way he handles everybody she thought, knowing exactly when to switch gears, drop the hammer, brake. As in broken.
No stars. No moon. They stopped at a light, Fiona watching a man buy a bouquet of roses at a Chinese grocery. I wonder who they’re for? Lucky girl. Or guy.
“Hey, do you know where the word ‘anathema’ comes from?”
“No, but you’re gonna tell me, aren’t you?”
“Aren’t you interested?”
“No. But I am interested in history, theology, philosophy.”
“This is beyond theology. It’s goddess worship. God was a woman two thousand years ago.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
“I think you’ve been hanging out with that bull dyke drummer too much.”
“Hey! Rita’s my friend, you know.” Fiona turned to glare at him. “Anatha was the goddess the Canaanites worshipped, the fierce, bloodthirsty goddess of fertility. Of course Zeus banished her. Anathema’s the only sign she ever existed. Ever since, God has replaced the Goddess, and thousands of women have been accused of witchcraft, burned at the stake, etc.”
“According to who?”
“Whom. Forget it. You’ve never heard of them. All you read is porno magazines.”
“That’s not true!”
“Oh yeah. I forgot. Henry Miller. Misogynistic crap.”
Emmett clenched his fists round the steering wheel. “I read Nietzsche. Ellison. Phillip K. Dick. Kurt Vonnegut. William Burroughs.”
“Oh yeah. The junkie that murdered his wife in Mexico.”
“It was an accident.”
“Like their marriage? Playing William Tell with pistols. Brilliant.”
“You’re such a bitch.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
Emmett set his jaw.
Fiona sighed. “As far as I’m concerned any woman worth her salt has to be a bitch sometimes. What’s the corresponding male term for bitch anyway? Guess what? There isn’t one! The closest might be asshole, which is a perfectly acceptable thing for a man to be. It means he’s self-assured, determined. A man can bitch all he wants. A woman asserts an opinion and she’s an evil hag. Not a nice girl.”
He accelerated. “You have me confused with someone who gives a shit.”
Engine roaring, Emmett pulled out to pass a little green MG, Fiona’s head jerking back, hands flying to the dash. The MG sped up. “Now that’s an asshole,” muttered Emmett, overtaking the car.
“Yeah, Emmett. Why should you care? You’re in the driver’s seat.”
“And you’re not. That’s no accident.”
“You can’t stand that I have a brain! That I might wanna do more with my life than suck your cock.”
Emmett slammed on the brakes. “You think you’re gonna bust my balls!”
Crash-test-dummy flung forward, Fiona’s head met the windshield with a loud *THUD*. She saw stars. The moon. The sun.
“Talk about assholes!” A warm, sluggish rivulet of blood trickled toward her eye.
Emmett sat dumbfounded, mouth open, loose as a cornhole. Fiona heaved herself up and out of the Porsche.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” she screamed, guts churning. “I’ll kill you!”
She delivered a mighty boot to the car door instead, turned and bolted, blundering along a row of cars, blindly seeking the sidewalk, cold air whirling around the base of her spine.
Emmett pulled up. “Get in.”
“I don’t think so!”
“Come on, Fiona!” His voice strained containing fury. “I’m sorry. I’m not even gonna get out and look at the damage.”
“No! You’re not sorry. Any kindness from you is just a fluke, as random as all the cruelty and bullshit. We are not going anywhere!”
Lips curdling, Emmett shouted, “Fine!” gunned it and sped off.
Boy, I really know how to pick ‘em. Where the fuck am I? Broadway and Main. Mt Pleasant. Yeah, right. Shit! Fiona couldn’t remember the address of the party. She wiped her eyes, slinging tears to the rain. Who can I call? Stumbling along Main St, Fiona trained her eyes on the North Shore Mountains, deep blue even at night. Nothing open. Fucking hick town! She spied a head full of pink foam curlers in a picture window, in an apartment above a shoe store, wondering what it must be like to live above a shoe store. A woman on a couch. Maybe some guy stood her up. Fiona sighed. If only. She saw lights on in a restaurant across the street. Yes! A Ukrainian restaurant. Hah! She peeked in to see the staff sitting at a table. Face smeared with blood and mascara, Fiona entered. She hated to ask.
“May I use your phone please?”
A hulking, meaty fellow and the cook, a large seasoned woman, frowned. His mother? She reminded Fiona of Grandma Koretchuck. They must think I’m crazy. I must look crazy.
The cook shot Junior a No through narrowed eyes. They argued in Ukrainian. He grunted, rose and led Fiona to a red phone on the bar.
They sat in their white uniforms staring as she dialed home. Yeah, better watch out. I might steal something or run you through with a butcher knife. No answer. Everybody’s at the party! Having fun. With the Clash! She considered calling Rory. Forget it. She goes to bed with the chickens. God, this place stinks. Trying to make it look fancy but what’s fancy about peasant food? Fiona recalled Grandma Koretchuk, always miffed that her daughter-in-law, the French Mick Jeanette, cooked better cabbage rolls than she did. Of course, her mother’s were weird. They weren’t bland, greasy little green turds stuffed with sticky rice. Jeanette improvised, using an entire cabbage leaf for a single roll, roasting them under a pork rind with tomato sauce. Yum. God, I’m starving!
“What do you put in your perogies?”
The old woman stared blankly. Fiona felt like saying, take your precious perogies and your precious red phone and stuff ‘em up your big bohunk ass, lady. Bohunk. Jeanette loved calling her father a “bohunk.” And he called her “frog” or “pea souper.” What a pair! Nice family. No wonder I’m so fucked up.
She walked out and down the street, passing a derelict dance studio, a deli with checkerboard tiles beneath a shiny, paper machè bull’s head, snout painted on. Oh well, it’s closed too. She stopped at a crosswalk. What a fucked up neighborhood. No one around. What am I gonna do? Fiona found a one-dollar bill in the pocket of her jeans and a diner open. Relieved, she sat at the counter and tried to figure out her next move, ordered coffee. A pockmarked, mocha skinned man with a black eye sat fondling a young woman. Dying for a cigarette, Fiona moved over into his smoke. The man grinned and offered her one, flashing rings on nearly every finger.
“What’s your name young lady?”
“Fiona.” Shit. I should have lied.
“Hello. Perry Kashkouli.” Perry was Persian, neglected to introduce his girlfriend, who was gone anyhow, swaying, nodding off, lit cigarette in one hand, pretending to read the menu.
“So what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“Are you serious?” Fiona realized he was as serious as the audaciously wide lapels and gold medallions gracing his furry chest. “How’d you get the shiner?”
Perry brightened. “Why, defending the honor of a damsel in distress.”
“That one?” Fiona pointed to the girl about to fall off her stool.
“Oh, she’s just taking a break. She’s a good girl. So what’s the lovely maiden doing out all by herself?”
“Oh, just taking a stroll.” Fiona leaned over an ashtray and wrung the rain out of her hair. The matronly waitress came over and topped her up. “Where’s Victoria Ave from here?” asked Fiona.
“East. About 20 blocks.”
“Can I walk it?”
“I don’t know.” The waitress sighed and set the coffee pot down. “Can you?”
“Hey. We’re leaving,” said Perry, rising, smiling. “We can drop you.”
“Ah, no thanks. I’m fine.”
“No, really. It’s no trouble at all. I insist.”
“Leave her alone, Perry,” said the waitress sternly.
He smiled and bowed, handing Fiona a business card. Shangri-La Escorts. The waitress snatched his bill off the counter and motioned him to the till.
“Call me anytime,” said Perry. “I’m always hiring.” He gathered up his mohair coat, the girl.
“Here,” said the waitress, grabbing a handful of change out of the tip jar. “Go over there across the street, catch a 25 to Kingsway, then transfer to the 20 Victoria.”
Fiona read her nametag. “Thanks Joyce!”
“I’ve got a daughter your age. At home, where she belongs.”
Fiona paced for twenty minutes, happy not to be in a car with that pimp and his junkie whore. And thank God for weary old waitresses. She was relieved finding everyone out when she finally arrived at the house, cold and black as a cave. Icing her bump, Fiona huddled in a blanket in front of the TV wondering why she took shit from anyone anymore.