Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 26-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
I have watched Seth laugh and flirt at literary events for years. Women gravitate to him—I gravitate to him, and when I’m laughing and flirting with him I don’t feel like I’m those other women, but I do wonder if somewhere in the room other women are watching me laughing and flirting with Seth thinking the same thing. Seth laughs at what women say, and women get funnier when men laugh. Seth, a publisher of ribald male-generated literature, is attending in a professional capacity. One of his authors is reading tonight. He’s standing under a spotlight, holding a book, talking with three women wearing sundresses. I’m leaning on the bar—one foot on the brass foot rail—sipping tap water. I’m sure the conversation is very funny and witty. Seth is charming. I wait until one of the women drifts away and the other two are talking to each other. I walk over to Seth and set my glass on his table.
“Jean, thank god you’re here. How do you handle these things without a drink?”
“It gets easier. I’ve been watching you. You’re doing great.”
“I’m sweating like a wiener, and I’m having heart palpitations. I’m not doing great. I’m having a conniption fit.”
“Conniption fit—I haven’t heard that expression for years,” I say, giggling.
“It’s much like having a bird or a big hairy,” Seth says. He is sexy in a weird way—very deep voice for a short guy.
“Here,” I say, sliding my water glass across the table. “Have some water.”
“Things have gone from bad to worse since I last saw you. I’m not allowed to drink on doctor’s orders, and my wife has left me.”
“A single and sober Seth,” I say. “How very interesting.”
“God Jean, sometimes you can be so … ”
“So what?” I ask, laughing.
“Yes, you’re right—so what indeed. It doesn’t matter.” Seth takes a swig of water. “Actually, maybe you’re just the person.”
“Maybe I am. Maybe you’re right about that,” I say, in a flirty way.
“Let’s hang out sometime. Catch a movie or something. Do something non-drinkers do. What do non-drinkers do anyway?”
“We sit alone in our rooms and write novels.”
“And where are you at with it?”
“Basically it’s finished.”
“Are you going to show me?”
“If you want to see it—sure.”
“Do you have a publisher?”
“You should submit it to us to publish,” he says. “Let’s meet tomorrow after work. Can you bring the manuscript?”
Seth is already at the coffee shop on Main Street. He looks unhappier than the night before, and smaller. He has a fancy bottle of fizzy fruit drink and a half-eaten bran muffin in front of him—lots of crumbs. An inordinate amount of bran muffin crumbs—on the plate and all over the table.
“The doctor says I have to get more fibre,” he says.
“Are you basically OK, Seth?” I ask, sitting down and hanging my bag with the manuscript over the back of my chair. I brush away some of the crumbs.
“Basically no. Basically I’m all fucked-up. This is a nightmare. Basically.”
“This being what? The not drinking or your wife leaving?”
Seth takes off his glasses, sets them gently on the table and rubs his eyes. He looks up and says, “Can we start again? I promised myself I wasn’t going to whine to you.”
“Sure,” I say laughing. “Shall I go back out and come back in?”
“You know I think you’re swell Jean. I don’t want to blow this by suggesting anything before I’m ready, but I’ve always really liked you—you know that, right?”
“Yes and you’ve always been extremely married and now you’re extremely fucked up and you’re right, now isn’t the time to be thinking about starting anything with anyone.”
Seth reaches across the table and takes both my hands in his. “Gosh you’re good looking.”
“Thanks, but maybe you should have your glasses on when you deliver that line.”
Seth laughs and lets go of my hands. He rubs his eyes again. “OK, you’re right. I have to slow down. Let’s change the subject—tell me about the novel.”
“It’s about my experiences online dating,” I say, reaching behind me to pull out the manuscript.
“Great, so I’m going to have to read about you having sex with a million guys when you won’t go out with me?”
“Yes, I’m afraid you are. More like two million guys, but who’s counting?”
* * *
I’ve suggested, somewhat timidly over the two months we’ve been seeing each other, that things escalate sexually. I’m attempting to be sensitive to his anxious nature. It feels like we’ve been a couple for years—not in a good way. He acts as though we are together—involved. I’m wondering if we really should be planning to go away together for the weekend. I keep feeling like I should break up with him.
Seth phones from his car to ask, “Do you have anything other than water to drink?”
“OK. I’ll pick something up. Something fizzy.”
“Great. See you soon.”
He arrives an hour later. The sun is down. I have changed out of the black dress with the plunging neckline into jeans and a T-shirt. I open the door and ask, “Did you walk from downtown?”
“Oh. Did I take a long time?”
“You phoned from your car an hour ago. It’s a 15-minute drive.”
“I had to go to Safeway and I phoned my daughter. Sorry.”
Sitting on the deck after the sun has gone down, a seagull flies over us. “Strange to see a bird flying at night,” Seth says.
“Do you like birds?” I ask.
“I do. Before I was separated, we used to watch a lot of documentaries on the nature channel. My favourite bird is the sparrow. We used to climb trees and look in their nests. Unfortunately, I had to kill a few of the babies to see how they worked.”
“My mother inadvertently taught me the names of all the local plants and birds,” I say. The night air is cool on my bare arms. The mountains are purplish-black silhouettes like half a Rorschach ink blot. “Did you just say separated? Are going get back together?” I say, sitting up in my chair.
“I don’t foresee getting back together with her,” Seth says calmly, savouring my agitation. “There haven’t been any moves toward reconciliation, but I still have a place in my heart for her.”
In bed, after a long bath and no sex, I close my eyes, ready for sleep.
Seth says, “You look like a baby sparrow.”
My mind returns from pre-sleep drifting to Seth’s comment about sparrows. Sparrow, baby sparrow, kill it to see how it works.