Joyland

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Food I Ate With Frank

by Catherine Owen

edited by Carleigh Baker

1. Fried kielbasa slathered with brie

 

Frank’s mother never keeps such food in the fridge. You can tell by the way he hefts the sausage in two hands, like a little boy his first time up to bat, how he unwraps the cheese as if it is a silver-coated gift—“Space Truckin’ ” he jazzes out while rummaging for a knife to chop the whole thing up.

 

Alex, the acid man, is at the computer, scrolling down his list of MP3s.

“Danzig or Marianne Faithful, girl?”

“Don’t you have any CDs, real ones?”

“What do you mean, girl, that’s the past, this is the totally new wave. How come Alex knows this and he is just poor Russian immigrant?” he jokes, grating his r’s into sharp flecks of sound.

“Ok, you pick then, Mr. Knarfusion.”

Frank is slicing sausage like he’s conducting Sibelius, mashing the snow of cheese on each chunk and tossing them over his shoulder into the splatting pan.

“Mother… tell your children not to walk my way, tell your children not to hear my words, what they mean, what they say, Mother.”

His voice is low with a ghost of a lisp in it, but when Alex clicks the Danzig track, Frank sings rowdier, yelping the O in mother, air guitar shredding on the butcher’s knife.

“Whoa guy, whoa, whoa,” Alex jumps up from his swivel chair and snatches the knife from Frank, “maybe I better do the dinner thing, dude, what’s she gonna think, trying to sleep, eh.”

Alex’s mother is always trying to sleep. She gets headaches. When she is awake though, sitting on the crumbedup couch, smoking and pale, she often laughs out loud, a black seam plowing through her tired gold hair, and says, “Always young and beautiful, us Russians, no Alexei?”

Frank’s arms hang down and he has stopped singing.

The oil celebrates with little sparklers.

Alex tosses some napkins and an Easy Squeeze bottle of ketchup on the table.

Turns to me, waving his precise hands—“Gogol would approve… hey, you wanna show your titties to the web cam before dinner?”

 

2. Pizza, two mediums with extra meat and a side of poutine

 

Frank takes me to meet his mother. She is working as a live-in helper for a ninety-seven-year-old lady in Two Mountains.

“At least she’ll be dressed this way,” he assures me, striding over the train tracks that divide the industrial zone from the ’burbs. He is wearing the same suit he always wears lately, a navy blue number with shoulder pads and a polka-dotted tie. The end of it is coated in dried Shish Taouk sauce. Frank likes his suit.

“Eh qu’est qui arrive, les chums?” he says a lot when he is wearing it, the cut of the pants making him swagger. 

His mother is looking pretty sharp too. Her hair glazed like an Easter ham and not even an apron over her crocus-coloured dress though she must have been changing the old lady’s diapers all day or whatever helpers do.

“Where’s the grub?” Frank barks out, pushing past her and her two nippy terriers, busting through the glassed-in swinging door.

Smells of grease, curdled things slither out.

“Francis, you get back in here right now and stop acting like all those bummy friends of yours! I tell you,” she wags her finger at me, “he’s just like his father.”

Munching sounds come from the kitchen. Then the door sails back and Frank leans out, a pizza crust jabbed between his lips like a freshly cut cigar.

“Hey, you lookin’ at me? Ah say, you lookin’ at me?”

Maybe he thought he was The Godfather trying out for Taxi Driver.

It’s always hard to say with Frank.

 

3. A sizeable pyramid of fortune cookies

 

Soupe et Nouilles on St. Catherine’s is where we always eat when we visit Ken.

Ken is on methadone. “Makes me want noodles,” he says so we pick him up Styrofoam coffins full with sometimes a clump of sweet ’n’ sour pork on the side if he’s moved enough weed that week.

Most of his customers are paras or quads, rehab buddies of Evan’s, his roommate who’d been paralyzed in a bike accident right after grad. Ken has to turn him so he won’t get bedsores and read him Last Exit to Brooklyn over and over again. On Fridays, his twin sister Lucy comes over and does lap dances for Evan, bobbing her new silicone breasts up and down—“Saved up for them, didn’t I?” she tells us. “That’s tricks, fellas.”

“Wanna somma ma shtuff?” Ken, mouth crammed, gestures to the slithery mess in front of him. I glance at Evan’s Husky dogs snuffling at the hoisin sauce. Hitler heils and heils on TV.

“That endless fucking history channel!” Evan calls out from the bed. “No wonder you’re a goddamn junkie, Ken!”

 “Was, man, dammit, was.” Ken slapping Evan’s stuck-there body with a noodle, brown drips flying to the wall and staying there.

Frank shakes the white baggie in his hand. “Got our own hits right here, my good sirs, little injections of the future.”

There are at least twenty-eight cookies in there. I’d watched him reach behind the till and load up. Later on we lie on his mattress in St. Henri and he cracks each taupe shell open.

One swift snap and the slip of paper.

He doesn’t even read them but there they are. All those possible outcomes in his lap, falling.

 

4. Cheap steaks with mushrooms and international flavours, hazelnut

 

Frank picks me up from Dorval at 3 pm.

“I did a bad thing,” he says as we wait for my bag to spin towards us on the black carousel.

“What?”

His hair sticks up in the shape of the spaces between his fingers. He punches his arm out towards me, shoving his sleeve to the elbow.

“Jesus H.”

My bag vanishes behind the rubber strips, too fast to grab. Frank’s arm is swollen to the size of a blood sausage, the skin greens and yellows around the lips of a recent puncture.

His pupils the diameters of the ends of sentences.

“We have to get you to the hospital. Now.”

“Ok, ok, but swing me one of those Shastas first, will ya?”

Dollar pop in his other hand, Frank leads the way to the taxi station.

I suppose I’ll be swinging this one too.

ф

Hours later, we are climbing the stairs to his three and a half.

I ditch my bag on his couch and dump the two loads from Safeway in the kitchen.

“Nice,” I say to no one in particular, gazing around.

There is no toilet paper in the bathroom, no sheet on the bed and only a view of the back alley from his foot-wide balcony.

Frank has a bandage slathered around his arm.

“J’ai, ah, injecté le coke et c’etait infecté, je pense,” he’d explained to the nurse in his butchered French.

On the way back, he had wanted groceries.

“I’ll make dinner.”

“You better,” I say, watching him now with some anticipation, the coins of meat darkening in the pan surrounded by curves of mushrooms.

Frank brews instant coffee, glups in cream.

“Should try it. The best, man.”

I’d spent five hours on the plane from Vancouver, three in the hospital and one in Safeway. I’m not about to pour my own coffee and Frank isn’t going to take the hint.

Etiquette is, he often says, for the clones.

We play Hangman while dinner simmers, circles and lines dying all over the paper.

In the alley, gulls yelp, white bodies hunkering over a torn loaf.

“Ope, it’s ready.” Frank jumps up and with one arm slides the whole pan’s worth onto one plate, pulls out a saucer for an ashtray and sits down again, poking his fork into the tough meat, gnawing a ring of fat off the steaming edge. He doesn’t look over at me, my empty place, once.

I nearly cry then, so serviceable I am and invisible, too transparent for hunger.

 

5. Hot pot

We take the train to his father’s from the station just below the psych ward.

“Don’t talk about drugs or gangsters. Don’t talk about my small penis,” Frank cautions me as we knock at the apartment door. 

His father’s hair is thin. He has lots of golf trophies.

“Nobody makes hot pot like I do,” he brags the instant he’s whisked us into the plush environs of his condo on Nun’s Island and introduced us to his “belle lady, Yvonne,” a woman of bones and haute couture.

There is so much we can’t speak of.

Frank’s father chops, dices, slivers in the galley kitchen and we don’t talk about his ex-wife, his twenty years in jail, his son’s seventeenth admission to the psych ward.

No one asks about the record label Frank is trying to start or the movie he wants to shoot.

I am in town to give a reading at The Yellow Door, I venture, stories from a skinny volume called Mainlining.

“Stories, eh,” Frank’s father pipes out. “Used to read those myself, back a ways, liked those, what d’ya call them, detective books.”

“O he did,” Yvonne perks up, sleeking her skirt over her thighs and gleaming her brash teeth at us, “read them so fast, he did, like you wouldn’t even believe.”

“Can’t sit still long enough anymore” he laughs. “Action’s where it’s at now, eh boy?”

Frank is fiddling with the magazines Yvonne has laid out, opening and slamming the front covers of Chatelaine, Marie Claire, Scientific American. “Yup.”

A pot, spitting with oil, is being carried over our heads and placed on the overly long table.

“Now sit down, sit down will ya, and let me show you kids the ropes.”

Ominously jovial, he instructs us in the art of spearing shrimp, dipping their coral curves in the vat, scooping gaudy hunks of peppers onto our plates, hefty rolls. Then over and over again, thrusting the shrimp into that hot little bath. 

Frank sits at the far head of the table like a misplaced patriarch, sporting that suit and a shiny look in his eyes I want to think is the afterglow from the sex we’d had yesterday on his last hospital pass. An hour for twenty bucks in a hotel room on St. Laurent and most of that time he’d spent unlacing my twenty-hole Demonias, intent on pulling each lace out individually, his passion for the specificities, the boundaries, of process.

 

6. Rhubarb pie with Miracle Whip

 

Olga runs the reading series from the basement of a community centre in the McGill ghetto.

Each performer is introduced with the same flat Romanian irony. For a small donation, you can nibble on crackers, cookies, sip lukewarm Red Rose in a paper cup.

Frank shows up late.

I have just started to read my story, “Berube at Club Chaos,” when he clomps down the stairs and crashes his way into the front row. Frank is wearing his duffle coat and a twill cap like Holden Caulfield. Olga glints disapprovingly at him over her glasses.

I finish my tale of a piano-playing punk and sit downbeside him amid a light fall of applause. Frank leans over tome, whispers in my ear.

He can be cruel. I never know what he is going to say to me, what he will do.

“You’re gorgeous” is what he says.

He can be very cruel. I am prepared for tragedy, I think, disaster, even common rudeness, but not this little perfect moment, this generous rupture.

Afterwards, we walk to Café Etranger. I feed him scarlet fruit pie with cream on top in a swirl white as martyrdom. “Vive le Frank libre!” he crows with his bad teeth, a glorying full of half-chewed dessert.

Love is a too-tight seed in my heart then and it will burst and grow a tree and he will chop it down.

 

7. Kraft dinner with a scoop of margarine on top

 

“You know when I knew I was white trash?”

We are crashed on the mattress in St. Henri, scabs of tobacco clinging to our skins.

I am staring at the yellow condom on the floor, his seed knotted inside it, a teaspoon of white.

“Michelle and I were cooking KD at her place.”

“Michelle?”

“Went out with her in high school, my Michellelelelelelele,” Frank whoops out.

“O.”

“… and we were using a wooden spoon for the marg… hey that reminds me, when you were at Alex’s last weekend, this girl picked me up in Le Biftek and she asked me to spoon… you know how fucked up I am I thought she meant drugs not… you know… so the marg was sliding down the noodles… you ever let a chick suck your tits, hippie Hesus? I let a guy blow me once. It was ok. You’re too straight aren’t you, geek girl, nerdy wordy, hoe the row, you’re one in a million, yeah, that’s what you awawa, you’re one in a million babe, you’re a shooting stawawa.”

Frank likes singing Guns N’ Roses but will never do the Axel Rose dance, not even drunk on thirty Rickards, not even if I beg him to.

 

8. Perogies and onions in tomato sauce

 

Frank rode the Greyhound to Vancouver once, ten months before he died. Three-and-a-half days of sleeping in the aisles and eating fries with squishy packets of mayo. 

The last time he’d tried to get to the Coast had been in a $400 Chevy Impala that had broken down on the 401.

He had had nothing to drink and so he lay down in the middle of the highway and waited to be run over. Now he has steel bars in his legs. They give him a pirate limp that would have gone good with the suit but it had been cut off him after the accident.

While I dump thawed perogies into a pan, toss strands of onions on top and douse the pale entanglements with a thick sauce, Frank yanks out his guitar and starts playing his latest song, “Hello Dear Friend, Dear Lover.”

It isn’t about me.

The song ends.

I hear a chair bashing against the wall as Frank lunges forward to kiss me, the head of his guitar hitting my shoulder, his new hospital-grown beard piercing my cheek.

“That song’s not about you,” he says, his kisses puncturing me, the perogies barely surfacing beneath their dark pond of sauce.

“I already knew that,” I say.

 

9. Soup

 

Frank’s best friend, Ricardo, has a mother called Maria. She likes to cook soup, he says, I shouldn’t worry about it. There is snow everywhere in Two Mountains.

March 1st he had jumped.

At the funeral there are only inhospitable broccoli spears, throat-raking Triscuits.

Maria likes to make soup, says it will cure everything, even the sight of this: the doll-bodied Frank stuck into an old man’s suit and my tears over him.

She serves it on a tray. It is perfect. Slow steam from the bowl. Sprigs of parsley. Delicate sheets of bread. Of course, I just look at it. And, at some point, it grows cold.

 

10. A bag of scones

 

“My father made them,” Frank tells me. Nothing in his fridge but mustard, milk, rolls of film and a plastic bag of miniature scones, scrunched tight as socks.

He’ll never eat them, I think.

This way, they stay a gift.