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Another Night at the Circus  

border, image for storyRose Hunter


Earlier that evening I had been on a Greyhound from Seattle back to Vancouver, when I was stopped at the border. My Canadian visa had expired, it turned out. Through my leftover coke haze I gaped with disbelief at the evidence. The guys at the border made it known that they had some disbelief too, as to how a person could have overlooked this.
       “There’s a lot of things in the world,” I pointed out. “To keep track of.”
       I mentioned something about balls in the air, and juggling.
       It got worse. One of the guys, the one with red hair and a face sprinkled with elevated moles, jabbed his index finger at the computer screen. The other guy nodded and made a noise between his upper teeth and lower lip. They had a record showing that I had been found working at an illegal brothel in Vancouver, an incident I’d forgotten about because it wasn’t supposed to have been written up; the police had only come in because of an assault that had taken place in the adjacent building.
       These border guys seemed to know a lot about that brothel, but I didn’t comment. They could have deported me, but it became clear that the paperwork and procedures required were not appreciated at the end of the long weekend. By this stage it was evident they didn’t think much of Australians either. Some guy from Melbourne who’d been caught trying to bring guns across the night before, the mole guy was saying. My countrymen and women were always doing things wrong in this area, apparently.
       “What is it with you people,” he continued. “You must think you’re above the law. You think it doesn’t apply to you.” He kept haranguing me. I started crying because he reminded me of my mother, telling me what a terrible person I was. I just wanted him to leave me alone.
       They put me in a white room. There was a grey bench and a small high window. It felt like hours later when the mole guy reappeared and escorted me to a car. I didn’t ask where we were going, which, as it turned out, wasn’t far. He drove back over to the U.S. side of the border, pulled over, and motioned at the door with a tilt of his head.
       “I’m supposed to get out here?”
       He nodded and focused on the steering wheel, as if merely glancing at me could expose him to some moral contagion. It flitted through my head that I’d met him before. But his embittered mug could have belonged to a lot of guys I’d met, who were bored with their jobs, wives, kids, double garages.
       After he drove off, I looked around. I was near the freeway; cars were swooshing past. It was drizzling and foggy and I wasn’t really sure which way I should be walking. I took my umbrella out of my backpack and picked a direction. The car headlights flickered over the side of the road where I squelched along in the slushy gravel. Eventually a sign in the distance turned out to be a Denny’s. I stepped into the warm foyer and phoned Steve, who pointed out there wasn’t much he could do about the situation, and seemed annoyed about the collect call. Then I tried Cindy, who I had been staying with in Seattle. She didn’t sound so sympathetic either.
       “Just come back here,” she shouted, over throbbing music.
       “How?” I screamed. “I’ve got no money.”
       “—Or maybe Ted could drive up and get your ass,” she added quickly. “His car’s on the fritz though. But—I’ll definitely see what I can do.”
       Cindy had just found out she was pregnant, and was now busy trying to forget this fact by getting loaded every night, an activity in which I’d enthusiastically participated, although in my case there was nothing specific I was trying to forget.
       I considered my options.
       I had just landed an apartment in Vancouver that was actually bearable to live in, and I was eager to get back to it. I had six hundred dollars in a yoghurt container in my fridge for rent. Going back to Seattle was no kind of answer. I had to get to Vancouver. I suddenly felt an attachment to all my stuff, such as it was. I’d just bought a new red coat for fall. I also wanted to dump Steve for being so uncaring, and then proceed to run into him all the time, so he could see what he was missing out on.
       I made for the highway again. The first guy who stopped had the shellacked appearance of an overworked kindergarten teacher. He pulled into another greasy spoon and, after listening to my tearful story—minus the brothel part—he put my backpack in the trunk. He knew a quieter border crossing, he told me. “They just wave you straight past. But just in case,” he said, “don’t even tell me your name. I don’t want to know. If they stop us, I just picked you up hitchhiking. I don’t know anything, see?”
       I nodded, and he told me to wash my face and get cleaned up. I had been bawling for an hour probably, at Denny’s, where I had also blurted out what was the matter to a guy who owned boats, and who had offered to ferry me back to Canada if I could wait three days. Naturally I could stay with him in the meantime he said, getting creepy pretty quick, but I took his number anyway and told him that if none of my other ideas led to anything, I’d call.
       I came out of the bathroom and the guy, whatever his name was, Bob, let’s call him, was holding a paper cup of steaming French fries. He looked at me and smiled, for the first time I think.
       “Much better. Here,” he said, foisting the fries on me. “Eat these. And try to look relaxed.”
       When we got to the border I was worried about my eyes being red. I didn’t want the guard thinking I was stoned, so when he peered from his booth into the car I avoided his gaze by opening the glove box and rummaging through it as though I was looking for my ID. There was a bunch of crap in there: candy wrappers, dust-encrusted sunglasses, parking tickets, and a furry, antique-looking cell phone.
       After the guard waved us through and we drove off, Bob turned and stared at me. “What in hell’s name were you doing? All you had to do was sit there.”
       “I thought it might be better if I was occupied with something.”
       “That’s why I got you the French fries.” He sounded really pissed. To appease him I pulled one out of the cup now. It was soggy and it took some effort to dislodge it from its neighbours. The whole thing was like a mass grave. I really wasn’t a fan of fries, especially if there wasn’t any ketchup to go with them. I didn’t figure this would be a useful thing to comment on however.
       And then I felt a tide of relief as the car bounced up and down the straight but hilly road. At some point Bob slowed and then turned. I’d been thinking about my apartment, my shower, brushing my teeth. I couldn’t wait to be back there having a drink. And a Demerol. . . . So it took a few moments to register that we were now crunching along on a gravel road flanked by thick trees, and then Bob stopped the car and got out while I glanced around thinking what’s this then? What now?
       I looked up and saw the moon squeezed into the narrow slice of open window, and how it seemed to be dilating and constricting within this space. An incident that had occurred a year or so earlier when I had been living in Toronto flickered through my mind. On that night I had been in a car with Denise, going up Jarvis Street. Stavros, a huge guy who had just started as a driver at the agency, was pulling over to pick up another girl, Diamond, I think was her name. There were a few of us on the roster, with the names of precious and semi-precious stones and the like.
       In any case, as soon as Diamond hopped into the car a siren went off and we saw the red flashing lights behind us.
       “Fuck,” Stavros said. “What.”
       “Why’d you pick her up here!” Denise shrieked. “This is right in the middle of the strip. You can’t pick a girl up here.”
       “You’re telling me this now?”
       Denise and I were badly stoned I guess, or one of us would have said something. For my part I was also still vomiting in my head over the client I had just come from who stank and writhed all over the place like a fish, and wheezed so heavily that I was afraid he’d conk out, in flagrante delicto, forcing me to call 911. He oversaw the assembling and dismantling of portapotties for various events. I didn’t want to see him anymore but since I was the only girl he liked, I was stuck with him. I tried telling my boss that he had a sexually transmitted disease, but he was wise to that angle. At that point I hadn’t been in the business very long and I took a lot of crap that I didn’t need to.
        “Motherfucker. Oh shit. Oh motherfucking shit,” Denise started up. “I’m on parole. This cannot be happening. Oh motherfucking shit.”
       Denise, who Stavros called “The Crackerjack,” was a tiny bundle of nerve and bone who wore clothes with a lot of sharp edges: boots that converged to a point like a fireplace poker, a studded jacket, and jewellery with various projecting fortifications. She teased her hair into an enormous mass around her narrow face, and piled on so much makeup that it was impossible to work out what she really looked like.
       “Why didn’t someone tell me?”
       Stavros was still on this. He was clearly one of those people who, when faced with a stressful event, went over all the reasons it shouldn’t have happened in the first place rather than moving on to what to do about it now that it had.
       “I didn’t think you were serious,” Denise shrieked. “Oh shit. Oh motherfucking cocksucking shit.”
       “Will you take a chill—” he’d seemed about to say “pill.”
       “For fuck’s sake,” he said instead, “just calm down. Act normal,” he added, looking completely freaked out. He rolled his window down before having finished the sentence. The first thing the officer would have heard, peering into the car behind the beam of his flashlight, was the word “normal.”
       “Would you please step out of your vehicle,” he said.
       He led Stavros over to the squad car, and they stood talking. Stavros was shrugging a lot, and pulling out the pockets of his cargo pants while crunching up his shoulders. Denise was still carrying on.
       “Can it,” Diamond told her. “We weren’t doing anything wrong. Nothing’s going to happen.”
       “Nothing’s going to happen? You can’t pick up a girl here.”
       “Why not? I don’t get it.”
       “Does Stavros even know any of our real names?”
       “So the cops are going to think he’s getting three hookers?” Diamond said. “In this piece of shit?” She was referring to the car, which was all right actually, but having become accustomed to the previous driver’s Lexus, she took Stavros’s Hyundai personally.
       “They won’t have to think anything. It’s not their job to think.”
       Denise was shoving her drugs under the seat. After observing this impassively for a few seconds, Diamond did the same with hers. Then she started off-loading her rubbers too. It was clear that the ship—the ship being Stavros’s Hyundai—was sinking, and two of the passengers at least had made the decision to bail out with as little as possible. I had drugs too, in my bra, but I seemed unable to move. I may have thought that I was off-loading as well come to think of it—I had a picture in my head of me doing this—but in fact I wasn’t doing anything.
       The beam from one of the officer’s flashlights bounced off Diamond’s hands and the butt of it knocked on the window. The officers scooped up her pot, along with Denise’s more substantial stash, rolling their eyes at the rubbers. They gave us each a quick pat-down, and one of them waited in the squad car with Denise, Diamond and me, for another car to take us to the station. They hadn’t asked for our IDs, or anything like that yet.
       The one in the car with us, a fresh-faced kid with a chinstrap beard, kept turning around and staring at Diamond, who was sitting in the middle, and happened to be wearing practically nothing under her thick coat, which she had let slip off her shoulders and away from one leg. She told him her name was Birgit, and asked him how his night had been going.
       It was then that The Crackerjack threw herself on him, grabbed his nightstick, and rammed it against the side window. It sounded like a beer bottle being dropped on the road from a short distance: Clonk. Clonk. Then she started to make headway—all swearing and flailing limbs—before the other officer managed to drag her out of the car. I wiped something away from my cheek that was evidently blood, and Diamond had little red polka dots as well, spattered over her white sequined halter-top and bare midriff. We looked at each other as if to say huh? Where had this come from?
       “Oh my babies!” Denise was screaming. “Who’s going to take care of my babies?”
       Then Diamond joined the fray, leaning over me and pounding on the door, shrieking.
       We got out of the car and Denise was lying on the footpath having some kind of fit now, her head going like castanets against the concrete. The chinstrap beard looked stricken, staring from the hysterical Diamond/Birgit, to Denise, to a flabbergasted Stavros—I mean, he clearly couldn’t cope with it all. Both officers were young, and going by their confusion, probably relatively new to the job.
       I thought of the coke in my bra, which would be found, undoubtedly, at the station. That was when I looked up at the moon, and was hit with a peculiar feeling, in that it was very calm. I felt like I was facing the reality of something that was truly the worst thing that could happen: jail time. Given that, what could be done? I didn’t exactly see my chance, but I took it anyway.
       I was well into my sprint before I heard any shouts. It might have just been the group of trannies, who had wandered over to check out the commotion, cheering me on. I ducked around a corner and into an alley and then vaulted over a backyard fence, praying for no big dogs. I was pretty scared of big dogs. From there I went to the front of the house, across that street, and into another alley. . . . At some point it occurred to me that if I kept running in this confused state I might end up doing a circle back to the squad car, so I holed up in a shed, sucking in the musty petrol smell that was emanating from a lawn mower stored for the winter.
       I stayed there a lot longer than I needed to probably since I never heard anyone looking for me. Possibly they had written me off immediately. When I emerged I found my way to a subway station. I went back to my week-by-week and packed a few things, threw the rest in a dumpster. Out of courtesy I left a message in the landlord’s mailbox telling him I had left. He could rent the space twice; there was no shortage of people trying to get into one of these tiny, badly heated, overpriced rooms. Throughout, the calm I had felt earlier continued. No one at work knew where I lived. No one at work even knew my real name. . . .  I was thinking all these things.
       I started thinking also—and this was the primary motivation behind continuing my flight, even after I was home safe—how before I came to this city, I had not been this type of person at all. I had not been a person who worked at escort agencies, or was fucked by portapotty guys who smelt like fish, or a person who ran from the police. It occurred to me that if there were other people I had been before then there were also other people I still could be now.

When I got out of the car I couldn’t hear my feet on the gravel, but I could hear, see, smell everything else. I was keened: a tensile material, ready to react.
       Then Bob closed the trunk, and I saw that all he was doing was holding out my backpack. He got red somewhere around his collar, and the hue spread up into his face. While sifting through some gravel with his toe he mumbled something about a quick roll around, in return for the safe passage. I turned him down apologetically, taking care not to damage his ego and provoke attack, while thinking how idiotic. Of course I’m going to say no now.
       He restarted the car, and we returned to the highway.
       After a few minutes of silent driving it was Bob’s turn to become tearful. He had a beautiful wife and daughter, he said. Did I want to see a picture? They really were beautiful. He would not normally behave in that way. “I don’t know what got into me.”
       I told him not to sweat it. It wasn’t a big deal.
       After that he was eager to get rid of me. It took me four more rides to get back to my apartment, by six in the morning. People kept stopping and saying they were going where I was going but then, as it turned out, they weren’t, exactly.

Author Bio

Rose Hunter has had fiction and poetry in various publications including On Spec, Geist, Wet Ink (Australia), and Contemporary Verse 2, and has poems forthcoming in Word Riot and nthposition. This story is the first (and title) story of a book of linked stories she recently completed (as yet unpublished). She lives in Toronto and is currently working on a novel.  
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