‘I mean I haven’t seen my brother in years, you know,’ Jess’s friend says. ‘Not since he finally got off drugs and went with his girlfriend to live in Newfoundland. I wanted them to stay with my parents so that I could have my space and I could visit them but then I could also come home to escape.’
She takes a strong pull from her lager and she continues her story. I am sitting across from her and Jess is beside me and another of her old friends is across from her. I am drinking a Smithwicks, which is a dark, strong English beer. It is very cold and very full tasting and I am enjoying it very much because it is what I used to drink at the Crown and Anchor in New Orleans and also it is a lot better than anything I have had lately.
‘But, fine, I said I’d have him and his girlfriend stay with me and so I went to meet them at the airport. But, you know, as soon as I see them come out of the baggage claim, I am totally regretting this. Before they even reach me, I can tell from his expressions that he is the same lunatic as before!’
She is vivid and very alive as she speaks and she has a bright face that compliments her mannerisms. We hang on her words and we listen without realizing that we smile because she is a great storyteller. I look at Jess and I see that she is smiling and I think that she is pleased to be here for a time with these two old friends. I take another pull from my Smithwicks and I feel it go down coldly and fully to my stomach.
‘We’re not even at the subway yet and he is complaining so loudly about each one of the people around him. He speaks so fast, and he’s impossible to follow because his brain is so scattershot. And he’s rude – especially to his girlfriend. He is so rude to her! I mean, it’s overwhelming to be around. And it’s infuriating too. I want to shake him and say, “Calm the fuck down!”’
I am smiling because I am very amused and I reach for my Smithwicks to take another good pull. Before I do, a feeling stops my hand halfway to my mouth and I put the pint glass back on the table. Then I feel that my stomach goes hollow and then it begins to turn over. A bending happens in my gut and my senses all change as though my whole body is focused only on what is happening there. It might just pass, I think, but I know this signal well enough even if I am not yet ready to accept it. I look around the table and I see them very engaged in the story and they are laughing at something that I have not heard. I smile to play along and I try to focus on the words but I feel the table growing wider between us.
‘Love, are you feeling OK?’ Jess says.
She has looked to me during the story and she has noticed my complexion change. She is concerned and her face looks very lovely that way.
‘No,’ I say. ‘I am bad.’
‘Will you be OK?’
‘Let’s wait and see what happens,’ I say.
When the waitress comes I do not order but I ask her to refill my water.
‘Will you want to have some bread or something from my dinner?’ Jess asks.
‘Not if I continue to feel like this,’ I say.
In a few minutes, beads of sweat have sprouted on my nose and my hairline is damp. My stomach turns over on itself and now I know for certain what will happen. I have only to wait for it. When it comes, I excuse myself to the restroom. In the stall, I do not wait long and, when it comes, it is quite easy at first. When it passes I feel better but I am not relieved the way I hope to be, so I know I am not finished with it. At the sink, I wash the foul taste from my mouth and I scrub my face clean with the hand soap. When I return to the table the conversation is stopped and they look at me very sympathetically.
‘Are you OK, love?’ Jess says.
‘I am sick,’ I say.
‘Oh no,’ she says. ‘Did you?’
‘Yes I did.’
‘Do you think it was the sushi from lunch?’
‘Yes,’ I say.
‘Then it was probably the tuna,’ she says, ‘because that’s the only one that we didn’t share.’
‘Probably,’ I say.
‘But you were fine all evening at the CN Tower.’
‘Yes. It was not until I had a few sips of beer,’ I say.
‘It must have set something off,’ she says.
‘Should we go?’ she says.
‘No,’ I say, ‘this is your last chance to visit and, besides, it's not over yet.’
‘OK,’ she says, ‘but you’ll tell me when?’
‘Yes,' I say. 'I’ll tell you when.'
Jess’s friends look sympathetically at me and I smile as best I can. I remember how I was frequently sick for months after Hurricane Katrina. I had thought it was a virus until the pattern emerged that it was from the stress of the hours and the work pressure. I remember that I had hating always being sick but even more I had hated being seen as the one who is always sick. Jess’s friends dote on me and their sympathy reminds me of that, and then the one who sits across from me resumes her story.
Damn bad luck! I think as I sip water and try to follow the conversation over the revulsions of my stomach. It is a few months since I have taken to eating sushi. We have gone several times to the restaurant at the Mamba Point Hotel and each time I have enjoyed the new experience and my stomach has been fine. Now we have come home to where food is delivered fresh and there are actual quality standards and this is when I get sick. Probably I will appreciate the irony later, I think.
In a few minutes the meals arrive. The girls begin to eat and Jess asks if it would help to have some bread.
‘No,’ I say. ‘Water is even too much.’
‘I feel so bad to be eating,’ the other of Jess’s friends who is not the storyteller says.
‘Don’t feel bad,’ I say.
The girls eat and the one of Jess’s friends who is the storyteller continues to speak. It has become an epic but it is still engaging, though I have lost the thread and can only sip water. I was fine all evening after the sushi until I had this drink of beer. Bad luck, I think. I mean, all evening I was fine at the CN Tower.
We had gone after the sushi and I was fine waiting in line to take the elevator to the lookout at top. Then at the top, we stood beside the thick windows and we saw the scattered lights across the city and the dark emptiness where you are seeing Lake Ontario. Jess took a few pictures with the view behind me and then we took the elevator to the Sky Pod and she took a few more. Then we did not know what else to do so we joined another line in order to take the elevator back down. At the bottom there was only the gift shop so put on our hats and our gloves and went out into the cold.
‘It was a lot of waiting in lines,’ I had said when we were outside again.
‘Yes, love,’ Jess had agreed. ‘That’s all I remember.’
After a few minutes the signal has returned and I excuse myself again. This time there are two people in the restroom and one occupies the stall. I delay at the sink until the one at the urinal leaves and then I pace. In another minute, the one in the stall finishes and then he leaves. I enter the stall and I can feel my stomach turning heavily over. Then I hear the door swing open and footsteps approach the urinal. I feel the sickness rising and I spit into the bowl because maybe it will buy me some time. In another moment the one at the stall finishes and then I am alone.
It comes quickly now and it takes half of everything I have. When it has taken the half and there is a break, I hear the door open again and another one goes to the stall. I flush because it seems like the right thing to do. I have half left to give and the stopping and the holding on is making me feel even worse. Then the one at the stall finishes. There is a flush and then the water from the tap and finally I am alone again.
The sickness comes again and it takes the half that is left. When it is done I am sweating and tearing and my bones feel hollow. As I clean myself, another one comes in and goes to the stall but I do not notice him. When I am washed and I have mostly dried off, I return to the table.
‘Oh, love, you look awful!’ Jess says.
‘I have experienced a lot,’ I say.
‘Yes, love, you look very "experienced",’ she says.
‘This last was a bad one and I was interrupted because people came in.’
‘Let’s go then,’ she says.
‘No, I will hold out a little longer.’
The story has ended now and they are talking about something else but I can pay no attention. In a little while, some friends of Jess’s friend who is not the storyteller come, and then another of Jess’s friend comes a while after that. The friend who comes last is the one who I have been told hopes to open a tattoo parlor. Also, I am told that she has made a very good canvas of her body, but I have forgotten all about that.
I look around and I see that the group is very large and I watch the waitress replace the empty glasses with full ones.
‘I’m all used up,’ I say to Jess after I think she has had enough time to spend with the friend whose body is a canvas.
‘OK, we’re going,’ she says. ‘You have been very strong!’
‘Yes, I have,’ I agree, ‘but I’m all used up now.’
‘Come on, we’ll take a cab home.’
‘No,’ I say, ‘a cab will be expensive. I’ll be ok on the subway.’
‘Of course not!’ she says. ‘You’re sick and you’re being silly.’