Vanessa bent down in front of her brother Tommy’s grave and placed the three red carnations with a care she had not displayed the year previous. Her feeling of guilt was palpable. She ran her index finger in the groove of his name as if she were writing it on the dark gray stone for the first time.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come,” she said, “but it wasn’t like I forgot you. How can I forget you, you selfish bastard?”
She stifled a laugh at the last part as it reminded her of why she did not show up to visit Tommy a year ago, as she had done every year since he took his young life.
“What a selfish bastard,” Bon said. “Like, I know he was – ”
“Is,” Vanessa said.
Bon paused. “Yes, sorry, is your brother, but suicide? That’s selfish.”
It wasn’t how Vanessa anticipated starting their date. She didn’t like talking about Tommy as he was the last bright thing in her life, though he had not been an active part of it for nine years at that point. Plus, talk of suicide generally brings the tone of conversations down.
She eyed the street signs that hung to her left behind Bon’s head. Yonge and Queen is where they had met earlier that day when Bon was almost killed exiting the Queen streetcar and Vanessa, the veteran rider, pushed him out of the way of a car that ignored the well-known edict of stopping behind the open doors. His bruised forearm and very mild case of whiplash beat out possible pins in his legs, and reconstructive surgery of everywhere he had said when he thanked her. He then asked if he could repay her efforts with dinner, or drinks, at the very least. When she opened her mouth to rebuff him, she found herself instead accepting the offer from the tall and ash-blonde, New York accented stranger.
The southwest corner of Yonge and Queen is where they met, and it would now be the same corner where they parted ways, because Tommy being a selfish jerk somehow made its way into their conversation.
“How did he do it?”
“Pills,” she said, with her eyes now firmly affixed to the traditional Christmas windows that lined the south side of Queen Street on the north side of the Hudson’s Bay building.
“I’m going to stop myself there and here,” he turned to focus on her as her attention was still fixed on the window display. “I have no idea how hard it must be with him gone and clearly it is a large part of your life still, and understandably so. But what if just tonight, we put our focus onto something else?”
Vanessa turned her head toward him and was captured by his aqua-blue eyes. She wanted more than anything to focus on everything but Tommy and her disastrous parents.
“What do you suggest?” she said.
“It’s Christmas season, right?”
“It’s December first, but yes, it basically is.”
“Well, I owe you a night out, and I have no idea what this Toronto place is like during Christmas because my damn job has kept me tied to the damn hotel and office. So – ”
“So, show me Toronto at Christmas. Preferably with a stop at some places where people go to forget it’s Christmas so we can warm up. Also, because you won’t stop talking about suicide, I need a drink,” he said and let the words hang before a smirk crossed his lips.
“Deal, but I’ve never actually done any Toronto Christmas things. We only ended up here by fluke of you almost dying,” Vanessa said and pointed at the windows.
Bon eyed her for a moment and then walked toward the first window and stopped just in front of it. He considered it for a moment before turning his head and looking at Vanessa. He then moved and took in the next four, all the while giving Vanessa a quick glance in between each. He then joined her near the curb.
“What the hell was that?” she said.
“Well, these windows are clearly Christmasy and enough people are also here looking at them so they have to be something special. Plus, I made sure you were there the whole time so, thus – ”
“Thus? Seriously? Thank shit you’re cute.”
“Same to you. And yes, thus, you also experienced them with me. So check it off the list, and let’s go get a drink because between sob stories and missing out on Christmas, I just can’t listen without a decent three finger base,” he said offering his elbow for her to take with his face now bright with a comically large smile.
“If you are going to keep saying words like thus, I don’t – ”
“Just take the damn arm Vanessa,” he said, still smiling.
She looped her arm through his and smiled at the ground before taking the first step.
“No sex though,” she said as they started walking.
“Even with myself?” he said.
“With your smile like that? Definitely not.”
“I know what you’re thinking. This guy sounds like an ass. You never thought anyone I dated or saw even just once was worth anything. Maybe that was great and that would have helped if it kept up, but then you did yourself and…”
She didn’t blame Tommy for not really dating. She blamed herself for letting what he did affect her for so long. She knew that she would never totally get over her brother dying but she had to get over its effect on her. It had just been with her for so long she didn’t know a life without the dull pain.
“I’ll give him credit. He helped me more in one night and the days after, than anyone in the nine years since you left,” Vanessa said.
She now stood in front of the stone, hands in pockets with her face mostly obscured by her large knit scarf. She wasn’t trying to hide her words from anyone, it was late evening and the graveyard was bare. It was the wind that was cold on her face.
Tommy needed to hear this, or she needed to say it, she could not figure which one was more the truth.
“Christmas started becoming something more than just about you.”
“You’re a nurse, so if I did get mangled by that car you could have put me back together?” Bon said, sipping from his healthy glass of Jameson neat and then adjusting his bar stool.
“I can’t say for sure. I would have at least tried to make sure you didn’t die. You know with my whole issues surrounding death of course,” she said welcoming his laugh.
They had made their way arm-in-arm west on Queen Street. Bon had explained that she had whispered Tommy’s name when they were standing on the corner by the windows as Vanessa really couldn’t recall how it all came up. It was then he asked what she did, which followed to his explanation of “I make money for people” when she asked after his job. Conversation was interrupted when she stopped to read the bar-board outside The Horseshoe. It was a Christmas show for charity and so she thought why not knock-off a Toronto icon and a Christmas one as well.
“What’s the worst thing that has ever happened at work?” he said.
“Oh shit. Like to me or just in general?” she said.
“Worst thing to ever happen at my work was one of the little guys blew cider up his ass and croaked! I mean the process works, but you’re an elf damnit, don’t take a full sized shot,” said the portly, snow-bearded man sitting next to Vanessa. She had her back to the him when they first sat down, but now they both took a glance at him.
“Thanks Santa, but we are just going to keep things going between us here,” Bon said.
Vanessa leaned closer to Bon.
“He does look like Santa though,” she said.
“I am for Christmassakes,” he said, downing his own glass of woody liquor in one go. “Barkeep? Another?”
“Anyway, top of your head, what’s next? And rules are, no death, no sex with each other, maybe more booze, and something involving roasting chestnuts,” Bon said.
“Ah. When do you leave again?” she said.
“After tonight? Two days.”
Vanessa held up her glass and Bon followed suit.
“Sláinte,” she said and they finished things up in a similar fashion to the Santa impersonator.
“Can you promise that if I fall and crack every bone you won’t judge?” Bon said.
They sat on a bench tying up the skates they had just rented from the attendant at Nathan Phillips Square.
“Cracking every bone is actually impossible unless you intend on setting a land speed record, but you wouldn’t want me to try to heal you?”
She finished lacing her skates and watched him fumble with his.
“Have you never done this before?” she said.
“Worry about breaking every bone? All the time.”
“I meant tie skates, but now you have to explain.”
“I typically spend my vacations doing adventure travel. Climbing mountains and facing death,” he said.
“So skating on your ankles is nothing then,” she said, as he finally finished with his laces.
“No, I’m terrified. This has been fun so far and I didn’t die climbing Kilimanjaro or zip-lining over the Amazon, so if I somehow manage to lose it on this skating pad while with a beautiful person such as yourself, that would be embarrassing and I would understand if you judged me.”
“Yup. Losing your respect would suck. Fuck death,” he said.
Bon stood up and wobbled on his too loose skates but stabilized himself on her shoulder. He held out his hand for Vanessa and she took it before standing steady next to him. Exactly, she thought, fuck death, and they took their first step toward the ice.
“Well Tommy, unlike yourself, he didn’t die. He fell a bunch and we laughed it off, because he didn’t care and nor did I. It just made the rest of those days even better. We got chased by cops as we set an impromptu fire in Bellwoods park in an attempt to roast some chestnuts. We went to see Ross Petty’s annual crazy Christmas play and then performed our own version of the Nutcracker when we left the theatre. We went to the Distillery market and tried to free the terrified reindeer, narrowly avoiding another confrontation with Toronto’s finest. We had all of the sex and then he left the next day. We didn’t die, because fuck death.”
“I guess really what I realized was that for all those years, I was putting you and what you did and how it affected Mom and Dad, ahead of anything and anyone including myself. I was putting death in front of life.”
“So, fuck you for taking those pills, but thank you for not being able to reply to any of this, because I know you would argue with me and you would have argued with me about many things over those lost years, some of it for good, some of it because I am your sister and that’s what siblings do, and some of it just to be a dick. But all of it, I know, would have come with love. But fuck you, and fuck me, and fuck everyone in this place for getting to hang out with you every day for ten years instead of me. I’m just glad they are dead because that’s what your selfishness deserves. To hang out with corpses for the rest of your death. I do and will always love you, and miss you, and hate you, but I can’t come back here for a while, or maybe ever again. Good bye Tom Tom.”
She bent down, traced his name once more, and then placed her hand on the top of the stone. “Love you,” she said and walked toward the car.
“Still dead, eh?” Bon said as she got back into the car and clicked her seat belt in place.
“Ya. Doesn’t look like he’s coming back either,” she said, eyes forward and obscured by her shoulder length hair. She was surprised she felt the hint of a tear.
“We can stay here as long as you want.”
“With these stiffs? They’re dead and it’s time to live.” She looked at him with a stone cold glare.
He returned it and said, “That was probably the cheesiest thing anyone has ever said in the history of people sitting in cars after visiting their long dead brothers and before going home for naked chip eating and Christmas Vacation watching.”
“I’m glad you almost died last year,” she said.
“Me too,” he said as he turned the key in the ignition.