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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 26 page 20

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I went back to the same place and strode up to the counter again. The bartender regarded me with a curious expression.

“Can I get a bag?” I asked him.

He shook his head. “No.”

“I can’t get a bag?”

“A bag? No.”

“I can’t buy it loose?”

He reached beneath the counter and held up a little semi-transparent green bag.

“Like this?” he said.

I nodded. “Yes. But no tobacco.”

“Ah. Okay.”

He slid open a wide shallow drawer beneath the cash register. Inside were seven or eight rows of different varieties, each on its own metal tray.

“You want a body buzz or head?” he asked.

I thought about it for a second.

“Head. Something strong.”

“Strong? Okay.”

He lifted out one of the trays and held it under my nose. The smell was rich and pungent. I nodded.

“One gram?” he asked.

“Um, maybe two.”

“Fourteen euros a gram.”

“Okay.”

I heard the floorboards creaking behind me and glanced back to find two young men had appeared from out of the shadows and were watching the transaction curiously. Another man had come around on my left side and was leaning on the bar very close to me. He was in his early twenties, with a scraggly orange beard and greasy hair. He didn’t make eye contact with me, but just kept staring down at the dried green buds in a little fragrant furrow on the tray. It felt like they were allies of the bartender, around to discourage anyone who might be inclined to leave without paying. They made me uneasy.

The bartender dropped a portion onto an electronic scale, then swept it into the bag. He sealed the top and tossed it onto the counter in front of me.

“Twenty-four euros,” he said.

I felt self-conscious pulling out my wallet with these strangers crowding me. I did it quickly, plucking out two bills and sinking it back into my pocket as I slid the money across the bar. I collected my change and scooped up my purchase. The men behind me parted enough to let me pass. The bartender called after me.

“Papers?”

“Oh right,” I said.

“What kind?” he asked.

I studied the different brands stacked on the shelf behind him like tiny little volumes lying on their sides.

“ZigZags?”

He frowned. “ZigZag?”

“No? Then just give me the popular brand.”

“Gold,” he said, and threw the little book of papers on the bar in front of me. I fumbled in my pocket for some change but he shook his head and waved it off.

I walked back through the darkened streets to my lodgings. The lock on the house door was tricky and I fumbled with it before making the key turn. The stuff I had smoked earlier had given me an appetite, if nothing else. I had a craving for a snack. The landlady with prescient consideration had left a large glass jar on the table in the hallway and filled it with candies and chocolates and nuts and figs and apricots. I lifted off the lid and took a giant handful of whatever fell into my grasp and slipped into my room.

My fingers crumbled the buds and carefully extracted all the seeds and stems. I unfolded one of the rolling papers from the booklet and dropped a generous pile along the crease. After a few false starts, I managed to wind it up in a tight little tube.

Tall apartment buildings stood across the street that ran behind the house. Rows of balconies overlooked the back patio — some dark and deserted, others with people sitting and standing, in groups or in pairs or alone. The night was warm and a light breeze blew. Music and voices drifted down. A flagstone path began at the rear door and branched off onto three separate tracks that wound around trees and bushes and led to little clearings, each one furnished with a table and chairs. I went to a corner of the grounds hemmed in by a low stone wall. There was a tin ashtray on the table. I sat down and dragged it in front of me and stuffed one end of my bloated joint between my lips. In the fading light I looked back at the way I had come, taking note of exactly how to return to my room, making sure I understood every turn, every shape and silhouette along the path. I slapped a hand down on my front pocket, feeling the key against my leg, taking care to register where it was. My other pocket was bulging with candies and fruit. I took out my lighter and spun the spark wheel and scratched the ferrocerium. I brought the flame to the tip like I was lighting a fuse and took a few cautious puffs.

A purplish sky was still glowing, refusing to go black. A large orange cat walked beneath the table and rubbed against my leg. I tried to stroke it, but it moved just out of reach and sat in the grass staring at me curiously. One of the lower balconies held a young woman with long dark hair who was leaning on the railing looking down with an amused expression. I couldn’t be sure she was looking at me precisely but I ventured a wave and her smile broadened and she waved back. It did not seem unreasonable that I could float up out of my chair and into her arms without even trying.