It was the sound of waves on Lake of the Woods that woke me. The rhythm of the swells hitting the shore made the suggestion of wind. When it was calm, I’d awaken to birdsong and water lightly lapping at the beach. Today it was the chatter of gulls and the lake’s violent cadence that greeted me.
The moment I stirred, Menu was on me, a staccato burst of meows piercing my hangover like a baby’s cry. Washed out November light exacerbated the heavy throb behind my eyes. Through a slit in the curtained window, I glimpsed the chill morose morning, another in a long line of the same. Would the sun never appear again? Jesus. This was my state of mind, and the first snows hadn’t even flown yet.
Liquor had become a close friend since my relationship with Cheri Coke turned nasty. In truth, the problems had begun even before, during our parties. I’d started coming to in the mornings with my brain feeling as if it had been split with an axe. I would remember nothing. Yet, if that proved the only symptom, and there were no other issues besides what I’d dropped on my liver, it was all right. Others would tell me later what I had done. If I felt no anxiety, then I could have done nothing too terrible. Short-lived amnesia is not the worst affliction, if one has a flair for the sauce.
Since Cheri Coke left, however, I had been encountering new phenomena, and they were curious. Did drink have me chasing for the root of the wound? My dreams were now as reasonable as my memory, or my memory was as untrustworthy as my dreams. In either event, I could not tell them apart. It was an atrocious state. I would wake up in pure confusion over what I might or might not have done. It was like entering a labyrinth of caves. Somewhere along the way, the fine long thread that was supposed to lead me back had been broken. Now at each turn it was impossible to be certain if I had come this way, or equally, if I had never been this way before.
It’s baffling, when I examine the drugs deemed illicit, that liquor is legal. Oh, I know the results of ill-thought prohibition—too much money into the coffers of various crime families. This said, it should be noted heroin has nothing on the scourge of booze. Both leave physical addiction, and those with the experience tell tales from detox centers of those kicking smack having to assist those kicking liquor with something as simple as taking a sip of water, as the alcoholics are shaking so badly that they cannot even hold the glass.
I closed my eyes. Summer memories played, weaving in out of the strange half-world between dreams and consciousness. It would be one for the books, the summer of ’86, with its humid nights and hot parties. After a damp spring, it had rained very little, the barbecue-scented afternoons and bikini beaches rolling into sexy sunset evenings. Cheri Coke’s face cut the boozy haze in my mind with a dream from the past: a quick road trip into Winnipeg during a lull in frenzied August, the wind in her blonde hair, heart-shaped sunglasses, and the prairie sky so enormous it left me blinking after the confines of the Canadian Shield. Or how about Cheri Coke lakeside, her tanned curves barely held by a stringy two-piece? She blew me a kiss with perfect petulant lips. Yeah, she’d been known to throw a party or two. Had I seen her last night? It felt as if I’d encountered her at some point. Or was the thought—more accurately, the sensation—merely an introspective fragment of wishful thinking? I tried to dredge the evening from the depths of my rum-splashed memory. I knew it had started at the Lake View. I could recall walking a kilometer of lonely streets, nursing my self-pity, with the destination in mind. I’d already had more than a few drinks, but apparently, I’d been wise enough to leave the car at home.
The Lake View Lodge—named with a keen grasp of the obvious and very little imagination. Designed in an oh-so-northern log-cabin motif, it was an upscale joint with a smattering of classy rooms, but the main attraction was its panoramic views. The restaurant, with its lounge on the other end, sported big picture windows overlooking the water. The northern vistas were perfect for holiday yuppies out for a smack of excitement in Kenora’s ‘wilds.’ But at this time of year, the dining room would be quiet, populated by a handful of local silver-haired Wasps out for dinner, all studiously avoiding the bar, all home by eight.
The evening had started alone; of at least that I was certain. It wasn’t unusual for the lounge to be deserted, not in November. My only company had been a bored barmaid who eyed me with suspicion, though I’d never said anything more provocative than “Another rum and coke, please.” But I’d worked a bar or two in my time, and I respected her fear. Solitary drinkers never bothered you—until they did.
James C. Stewart began his career as a journalist working at newspapers in Northern Ontario. He currently resides in North Bay, Ontario.