This is the twelfth chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.
“I came crashing through the leaves,” Janet says. “The same way you did, I presume.”
“I guess. I was a little disoriented. I might have lost consciousness for a moment or two.”
They’re walking down a street, a different street, perpendicular to the other one. What is the name. He never looks at the signs! It’s a nice enough neighbourhood, feels central, old buildings, restaurants, stores, cabarets, trees in the boulevard. More places are closed now, but the night life continues. No one will hear the two of them talking, not because there’s no one around but because other people bring enough noise with them to drown them out. There’s not a lot of sobriety to go around.
“I found myself in a forest of words with a stack of books and a wad of money,” she says.
“Lucky you!” he says. “I was in sock feet with empty pockets.”
“And empty hands?”
He holds his palms up wide.
“I was the manager of a bookstore,” she says. “A big one. I was last one in the store, closing up, Christmas shopping season. I had the cash deposits in my pocket and I was just putting some books back.”
He nods. He expects her to elaborate. She doesn’t. “…What kind of books?” A stupid question, but he needs to keep the talk going.
“Art. And math.”
“Oh.” The bars.
“I had thirty grand in my pocket. I had no idea where I was. I walked into town and found a place to live and started buying and selling art. It’s worked out pretty well for me. Now I do art, bars…”
“No. Too much trouble. I like people who can behave themselves. Mostly.”
A couple brush past in a hurry to get somewhere, a guy in a polo shirt and a young woman in a red dress. He looks at them as they go. “How many people got here like we did? Through the forest?”
“No idea. Can’t be everyone, I’ll tell you that. Just a few, I think. Sometimes I meet them, sometimes I don’t. Some I meet once or twice and not again.”
“They find their way home?”
She shrugs. They’re passing a shop window: APOTHECARY. My, my, it’s that kind of neighbourhood. —OPATHY.
“Don’t you want to go —?” he says.
“Go?” She looks at him for a moment. “What, leave all this? I’ve done well for myself here. And somewhere there’s a store that thinks I took thirty thousand dollars and disappeared. Which, technically, I did.”
They get to the corner of a park and start to angle through it on a path. Many of the benches have round bundles of fabric and paper on them, evidently with a human inside. “Well, I’m as —less as these people who sleep in the park.”
“As less?” She blinks a couple of times. “Oh, you mean you don’t have a place to live?” Synonym! Thank you!
“Yes, sorry, homeless. I was gapping.”
“Oh. Lexical dislocation, was it you said?”
One of the park dwellers is vigilant and ambulatory. He approaches them: “Hey, you got any money?”
Our man whose name is not really Frank is not sure what to do. He looks to Janet for a cue and it strikes him that she’s not carrying a purse or bag of any kind. He hadn’t thought about it.
“Any idea of what time it is?” she says to the guy.
“Uh…” The guy looks at his wrist, but it’s empty. “One something?”
“Won something?” Janet says. “Well, if you won something, then it must be in your pocket, and you have money.”
The guy pulls a WTF face. Janet looks at his right pocket, nods up. He reaches in and pulls out a wad of money. Then he looks very confused. Then he walks away.
Not-Frank looks with measured amazement at Janet. She shrugs and keeps walking.
“You ran a bookstore.”
“Yeah. It’s better here.”
She looks forward as she walks. She draws her head back a bit, purses her lips. Glances over her shoulder. Reaches into her left pocket and pulls out a piece of thick paper and starts to unfold it. It looks like a page taken from an art book.
Ahead of them, three men step onto the path. They look unshowered, unmended, unapologetically unsober. The one in front of the triangle says “You got money.”
“You gave that guy money.”
“No, he won it. It was his.”
“No he didn’t.” The front guy steps closer. “Give us money.”
She holds up the page with her left hand, facing her. It’s a reproduction of Alex Colville’s painting Inherent Danger. There’s a gun on a table. With her right hand, Janet takes the gun off the table and points it at the men. A real gun, three-dimensional. “Go away.”
You’ve never seen three drunk guys disappear so quickly in all directions.
She puts the gun back on the table and folds the page up again.
UnFrank is looking at her like she’s a celestial being holding a fiery sword.
She puts the page back in her pocket, looks at him, shrugs. “Come on. We’re almost home.” She starts to walk. He follows, out of words.