Messages in Bottles

delusions of grandeur

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I was high, and went to lay down, and there was something like a wild metronome in my mind, moving left to right, buzzing in a way that kept me teetering simultaneously in both the physical and immaterial.

I was aware of my limbs twitching uncontrollably, but I told myself to use the convulsing as a kind of anchor.  My body was a ship, this vessel both submerged in and floating above an ocean that remained but the one half of a two-part reality.

I was having another lucid dream.

I’d only ever had one other lucid dream before then.  It happened after I’d spent hours researching how to have them on the internet.  (In truth, I was tired of using my hands and wanted something new.)  Oddly, after following the instructions, when I’d relaxed enough to feel my fingers without having to move them, I began to fill the purgatory in my mind with the contents of a desire that could birth an entire world.  How real it was.

I was at this shopping mall I hadn’t been to in years.  There were people walking around everywhere.  A woman with short brown hair, a blue tube top, and white shorts walked by me, but as she passed, I wrapped my hand around her wrist to stop her from leaving, felt my fingers curl around it, led her down a long, poorly lit hallway, down to the janitor’s closet, where I began to undo my zipper.  I didn’t recognize her face as she willingly got on her knees, but she seemed familiar in another way, which was precisely what I wanted.

I felt my pulse quicken as I melted into myself, and into her mouth.  The unmistakable friction of flesh against flesh rippled through my being until I felt it in every place I existed.

That moment of blazing glory, of succeeding in what I had set out to do, it was too much ecstasy for a first-time astral projector.  I woke up, hard and throbbing, and the dream, like me, remained unfulfilled, and unfinished.

Ever since then I’ve been trying to fuck that girl.  I would look for her everywhere, hoping to bump into her, to find another opportunity to become exactly who I wanted to be.

Somehow it made sense that I found her again by accident.  As I said, I was high and went to lay on my bed, and inside of my mind was this buzzing, like a wild metronome.  I knew exactly what to do that time.

I populated the space with the same scene I had during the last and only other lucid dream I’d experienced.  It was the same mall, possibly even the same strangers, but they didn’t matter, because the same short-haired brunette walked by, complete with white shorts and blue tube top, and the same thing happened that had when it last happened.

But then I did something I didn’t plan to.

After locking the door to the janitor’s closet, I tried to figure out who she was.

In that moment of exhilaration, as I felt my heart pounding in my chest, she morphed into the girl I loved back in high school.  I touched the side of her face, kissed along the ridge of her neck, ran my teeth down the curve of her shoulder blade, and made a firm fist in her dark hair.  When I pulled away to look at her, she had become another woman that I also yearned for, but for some reason couldn’t be with at the time.

By the end of the experience, the short-haired brunette had taken the face of my married best friend as well, and because I didn’t realize I was actually stroking myself the entire time, there was cum on the inside of my boxers when I ended what I hesitate to call a dream.

It was the best thing that ever happened because it meant an end to every emptiness, even if imagined, despite being transitory.


The last time I walked through these gates, I was supporting one of the corners of my father’s coffin.  That was two years ago if we’re counting in days, though the passing of time, like distance traveled, can be measured in other intervals.  Hours, for example, are to our moments of mourning, as the metric system is to the imperial.

Although my father died in the spring, the winter lingered beyond its allotted squares on the calendar, trickling into late April, delaying the growth of all things green.  I remember the towering oak in the middle of the graveyard that forked into two great trunks was barren, if only because we more easily identify with what we recognize of ourselves.

Today is colder than the morning we laid my father into the earth, but the trees have leaves, and in those leaves are the kind of birds that sing before nightfall.

At the foot of my father’s headstone grows a small white flower.  Where it ceases, my sight begins to pull it up by its petals, past the nerve endings in my eyes, until it’s near enough for my brain to interpret beauty.  To simultaneously see the flower, and to feel it in a place that I can’t point to, it makes me think my father is somewhere else, even while underneath me.

the best man

At least this whole thing saved me the trouble of delivering Carter’s best man speech.  Man, I was so nervous.  I spent two weeks writing it, another three memorizing.  Sometimes I still think about it.  For no reason at all, I’ll remember: a paragraph, a sentence, a clever turn of phrase, or where I might have paused for dramatic effect.

I dunno if mom ever told you this, but Carter got this new bike back in sixth grade.  She said she’d go half in on it if Carter could pitch the rest.  That whole summer he begged me to let him do my chores.  Mom caught on and put an end to it pretty quickly, but between mowing lawns and his paper routes, when that last week of August rolled around, come those precious final days of break, Carter had enough for the model he wanted from The Bay.  True to her word, mom put up what she promised.  He was never happier until he met Mae.

I would have said something like that in his speech.

I would have left out what happened later, even if it might have explained more.

Two days after he bought it, some of the older kids from the local middle school — an unfortunate few, with uncles who bought them booze, and then beat them for drinking it — decided it would be a good idea to ghost ride Carter’s new bike into an oncoming semi.

You learn in a hurry what your priorities are when you’re willing to eat or throw a punch for someone else.  Violence is as natural a response as we have, so when Carter’s fists started flying, as soon as he decked that pimple-faced, pug-nosed hooligan with a right-cross I’d taught him how to throw, I did the only thing I could think of and tackled his friend with the thick eyebrows into pump number two of the Peterson’s gas place.

So if you’re wondering whether, after all this time, I regret taking that beer bottle to Mae’s ex-husband for cracking a pool cue over Carter’s head a week before their wedding, the answer is still no.  I only regret that he chose my brother.

And that this joint doesn’t have more channels.


The other volunteers at the addiction center called her Sleeves on the account of her always wearing them.  Even on the stickiest of summer afternoons, dense with all the moisture in the city of Vancouver, she remained cocooned in some variation of a sweater, suffering, smiling.  She was fine as long as her forearms, like the root of her phobia, remained hidden.

What worried her was the possibility of the sun against her shoulders, and how easily the breeze could be upon them again.  The wind and the warmth would take it in turns, she knew, stiffening the fine hairs on her arms before melting them into fluid again, seducing her the way light seduces an eye, with fleeting promise and a pleasure insubstantial.

She could do it.  She was capable of shedding the cotton coffins that had become second skins to her.  She could fight past the lack of fabric around her elbow triggering the memory of his huge hands around her tiny throat, skinny and pale, more like a weak wrist than the neck of a person.  She didn’t have to wear her sweaters the way someone regrets a tattoo, the way a beach wears a rain cloud, but she also knew that if someone were to glimpse past the pimples on her shoulders, to reach beyond the surface, all the way down to the flimsy tendons that held together the straw house of her well-being, they might see her as a marionette again, simply manipulated, easily sent into free fall.

There was a time when the blood sang in her veins, like piano chords being struck.  There is a reason she double-knots her laces.

burnt toast

Her face formed edges I’d never seen before.  In that moment, that unguarded moment, crystallized by a pain undiluted, as I cradled her shattering mind to my chest, held it with all the force of the earth forming diamonds, she was so much herself, so very much herself that I could barely recognize her: my favourite poem on crumpled paper.

It happened so fast that it felt like a memory.

I was scratching the dog on his stomach, and she was pouring our coffee when they called to say her sister had been killed in an accident.


I bring a flashlight with me, but I don’t turn it on.  Each step taken away from the campfire makes the stars brighter, makes them more plentiful, and makes me thankful that we’re far enough away from the city for it to make a difference.  Ryan and Steve — the only two still conscious from our night of heavy drinking — stay around the flame, talking seriously about something that matters to both of them.  Before long their voices are inseparable from the breeze, from the lake lapping at the shore, from the silence between crickets chirping.  They are percussionists in a midnight symphony, two cymbals in a concert that is greater than the sum of its parts.  There is this stillness inside of me begging to be named, like Eden.

I lift three amber beer bottles from the water, as though they’ve been planted.  I take my time.  And then I take my time returning.


I walked alone through the vacant parking lot, the unoccupied white lines like whale bones, cleared of any scraps by the grinding passage of time.  Although it was one in the afternoon, the movie theater where I worked as a teenager was still closed.  It was strange to be back, to walk the same streets, to take the same turns, and to see the unlit signs of old stores made unfamiliar by the boarded windows underneath them.

I hadn’t intended to return.  Many of us look back on the cradles of our youth like we would our favourite fairytales, with a smile inseparable from a shake of the head, and the amused fondness of having outgrown them.  All those memories—of recesses at school, of first kisses, of pacts made between best friends at the time—all of that history is reduced and compartmentalized to a corner of the mind coinhabited by the hopes and dreams we’ve given up on.  I had little left to connect me to Mississauga, but to see the city in such a state of disrepair wounded me as though it were my failure.

second wind

I fell backwards, through the crack in the ice.  My first reaction as I felt the frigid water was to gasp for air.  My second was to shout the command for my sled dogs to stop running, but my voice was feeble from the collapse of my lungs, and my best attempts were muffled by the lake as it swallowed me faster than I could sip it.  I kicked violently against a tireless enemy.  I flailed my arms like the wings of a flightless bird.  I clawed my way up the ladder of liquid needles and, with the last of my strength, lifted myself over the broken surface.

Choking on the air, I coughed and spluttered, and when I had returned to the lake all that I had tried to take with me, I splayed out on my back, and shivered involuntarily.  My body was unresponsive.  I could no longer command it.  I laid twitching, like a dying fish.

Above me, the sky was lava, orange sunset flowing into obsidian twilight.  I thought of Edna waiting for us at home, with hot soup and a healthy fire, and strips of dried salmon for the dogs.  Where the trees were stunted, we managed to flourish.  Our marriage was rooted in the soil of a shared solitude, witnessed by the walls of our small wooden shack, and by a dozen keen pairs of eyes that we had come to love as much as we loved one another.

Determination coursed through me, flowed down into my fingers and toes, radiated to the frozen tips of my hair, and silenced the chattering of my teeth.  I gathered myself to rise, to endure, but as I summoned my will, I was overcome by the most delicious warmth.  I felt myself melting into the ice, though the water beneath had somehow become sky.  The stars around me should have been countless, but I no longer felt the need to blink.


Affected by insomnia, endowed with the moonlight through the bedroom window, I knelt on the floor, at her side while she slept, and wondered: what is the pulsing in her neck worth?  Could it be the pebble that brings down the mountainside, that topples the natural fortifications surrounding my involuntary solitude?  Is it a sac of baby spiders waiting to explode the next time I incubate with one of my kisses?  Or is it maybe something more worthwhile, as life resolving to peck through the shell — the reaffirmation of her meaningful existence, independent of my futile attempts at figuring these things out.


smouldering skin
  someplace —
sunlight secured :