Wake up. There’s a noise my body’s making, not exactly the harbinger of doom; still, I have to wonder about the uncontrolled emissions as I, Trent Lewin, become a potent source of greenhouse gas – but I figure as I crawl downstairs and make coffee that the planet’s got it coming. Saucy bitch, what has she ever done for me?
First sip. Shit. Second sip. Shittier. And that’s how it goes. Coffee never gets better, only worse. It’s the perfect first sip drink, but the rest is garbage. So that’s where I put it and as I get through the door and slap some gel in my hair, it’s mission critical that we as human beings find a better quality of coffee this morning.
End of the street, and there’s Mr. Robles diving into the road to stop me. I want to poke his eyes. Punch his penis.
“Mr. Lewin, have you heard? The refugees are coming!”
“Fuck off, Robles,” I tell him, but politely.
“Will you join the effort of the street in sponsoring a family?”
“Why, are they bringing me coffee?” I ask.
“You heard me.” Yeah, you did. You all heard me. Here, I’m going to throw you a bone; it’s called a semi-colon, and some of us still use them. I want to hit Robles with one, make him swallow it until it slices him open from the inside. But no, he just stands there and leers, asks for money for some godforsaken family from whoknowswhere. I hit the gas; he holds on. Around the corner I go, Robles losing his bathrobe in the cool cool Canadian jelly that is our winter.
“Fuck off Robles!”
“Never! Help us sponsor the immigrants!”
“Foreigners suck!” I tell him, and that’s like a thunderclap, the type of sentiment that brings out all the neighbors at once, as though they just heard something that’s unconscionable. They’re at the edge of their driveways, staring at me, either that or at Robles’ stringy ass. But there they are, a million zombie winterized Canadians pointing at me like I’m the criminal, just because it’s early and I’m a little tired and the coffee this morning tasted like the aged guts of a septic tank, and because of that I happened to spit out the sentiment everyone’s thinking anyway.
I push Robles off the car and screech around the corner. Life ages five minutes before I get to the coffee shop. I’m sweating. I’m disgusting. I’m Trent Lewin, esquire, lord of the rocky edge, prince of the thin line, and I’m here in the queue waving my money, asking for relief – relief from this cold, this weight, this interminable isolation that makes me feel alone in a coffee shop full of people.
“Venti. Bold. No room.”
“Sorry, sir, we’re out of coffee.”
I always wanted to marry a barista. Some tall Israeli with black hair, fresh out of college and trying to find her way in the world. Used to be that I’d walk into these shops on the off chance that she’d be there, behind the counter, oh so receptive to my North American vibration, like I’m some kind of string that she could pluck with European sensibilities until our music made a legion of mixed race automatons that would ultimately homogenize the world into a single colour – the shade of off-brown, or very murky white. The colour of coffee.
“What do you mean?” I ask the short plump balding white thing behind the counter.
“Haven’t you heard?” she asks with a big smile. “We donated all our coffee to help the Syrian refugees.”
“No, it’s true,” she says. “All gone, to help welcome them to the country. However, I can certainly offer you a tea or other beverage based on filling a cup with hot water.”
And this is the time we live in. This is it – the season of the Trent – the diminishing period of time in which I have a moment to myself, the indulgent phase where I sip a hot drink containing a legalized drug, on the off chance that invaders from a faraway country will not interrupt my routine. That’s the stuff of it – routine. A glorious, curvy word that I’d sleep with if only I could, the type of word that I will caress if only she lets me, that I would join to me if only she weren’t inanimate. But in the meantime, all I can do is push the sugary confections on the coffee shop counter to the floor, and overturn a few chairs on the way out.
At work, the phone rings. “Trenty! It is I, Umba from Strasbourg! Congratulations!”
“The refugees, Trenty! You Canadians have been most generous for taking so many! This is really very humanitarian, and so I offer my gracious thanks.”
“Why, are you Syrian?”
Nervous laugh. “No Trenty, but we are all human, correct?”
“They took my coffee, Umba. My coffee.”
“Surely a small price to pay?”
I tell him it’s not the size of the price that’s the issue. If we pay enough for things, however small that price, the bill only mounts up. It only mounts up! I’m on my desk, two feet from the ceiling, screaming about the dangers inherent to uncontrolled mounting. I want coffee. I want something. I want. I do want, and I do need, and my thickening creamy wellspring of soul is getting plugged there at the bottom – in that deep dark hole – with the inevitable viscosity that comes with this gunk, this unholy shit that springs from obligations other people are making for me. I hate them, I tell Umba. Hate that they’re here. That they exist. That they were born. That they’re intruding. That they’re taking away – subtracting. Doing math on my pleasantries, on my comforts. That beyond that, they’re taking away my ability to complain about anything, because in the face of a raft ride across a godforsaken stretch of salt water (no food, no liquids, no security, no harmony, no music – and no coffee), what in the face of that is the great malady that afflicts the esteemed Trent Lewin, in this the season of his great comfort? Name it. Name one. Name two. Name more. Make a list. Scribble it in the skin of your arm, with the sharpest thing you own, and maybe that will remind you of what is actually important.
Or this. These words. “I hate these immigrants.”
“You can’t say that, Trenty!” barks Umba, as though all Strasbourg needs to hear it.
“Since when? Racism is okay now, Umba. It’s been brought back. We took it around the circle, out of the fifties and into the mainstream. It’s okay again. It really is.”
“Cannot be, Trenty. Cannot be.”
“Just look around, Umba. Look high and look low. And make sure you look behind you too. Just turn your head and see who’s there. It might not be the person you expect. So you have to be careful. We have to be careful. We have to protect ourselves.”
“What are you going to do, Trenty?”
“What’s necessary. What’s right.”
And I’m in the car. At the hardware store. The co-op. A mega-store. A mini-mart. In drive-throughs. And stores that provide shoes. It’s all so easy. So exact and precise, the ticking of items off the list. In a parking lot, I take off my clothes and light a fire made of genuine bamboo wicker baskets; they go up like a sun, and suddenly there’s heat on my freezing skin as I dance around the fire, pumping my hands in the air while mixing things into the aluminum pot set over the flames. I’m a witch – I’m the witch of winter, a haggard aching crone made of wrinkles and craft beer detritus that fizzes over my skin.
“For Jesus!” I scream, because that seems appropriate. “Praise be Jesus!” And then some other words, and the singing, the chanting. And the pot boils, like it’s alive, as though I’m making a living organism. It’s lava, baby. Bubbling, oozing crude essence of the earth that I, Trent Lewin, cap with a heavy lid and throw into the back of the car.
The church is at the end of a tall hill. Praise be Jesus! This is a Christian place, a place for me, Trent Lewin, who has never actually been here before but knows he belongs because he was born into this right, and more importantly, into this country. Naked, carrying my pot, I climb the stairs as though I’m ascending – as though this is an early trip to Heaven, just to check the place out, to meet the neighbors, to figure out what colour to paint the mansion. The doors burst open to admit me, and four hundred eyes turn to stare, these dark eyes, these invariant orbs of duplicity and threat.
And this is what I see: the families, the children, the older people, the destitute, the starving, the unhomed, the unearthed, the inhumane-d, the sacrileged, the plain simple otherworldly because that is the truth, they are from somewhere else too far to understand or even to consider. But that is not what I see. I see an inconvenience, possibly a threat, and thus I see the recipients of my pot, which I put in the middle of the church and crimp tight. Then I light it up, and get ready to run.
“Son, what are you doing?” asks a priest.
“I’m not your fucking son!”
“Are you here to help these people?” he says.
“Are they here to help me? Well, are they?”
“What help do you need?”
“Coffee. I need coffee.”
The church is quiet. But that’s not what I hear. I hear my heart murmuring, like it’s had enough, like it’s fed up with me for some reason. People are looking at me, naked and shining in the candle light. Someone hands me a cup, and before I think about it, I bring it to my lips and drink. The coffee within shines black but tastes like glory. I take another sip and it’s better still. I channel it down my throat, feeling the inkiness of the stuff as it guts me. “More,” I say, and the cup is full again, and then it’s drained. Full again. Drained. That’s me, that’s just me – drained and then full again, all the time, every moment it seems. And here I am, naked in the church as my pot sits between the pews and bubbles.
“What did you bring us, my son?” asks the priest.
Praise Jesus! “It’s a bomb. I was going to get rid of these people.”
The Priest shakes his head. “No you weren’t.”
“I hate them, these foreigners.” He shakes his head again. “Okay, well, I don’t want them here. They’re making my life difficult.”
The Priest leans down and samples a bit of the liquid bubbling around the lid of the pot. “It’s kawag, Syrian food. You made a stew.”
“No I didn’t. I didn’t.”
“Yes you did,” he says, opening the lid and beckoning people over to eat my bomb. And that’s what they do – they eat the explosive device I created to kill them all. And they like it. Some come over and hug me, glowing and naked though I might be.
“This isn’t happening. It’s a dream,” I tell the priest. “All I wanted was coffee.”
“And you received it.”
“I often ingest it anally.”
This doesn’t surprise him. He calls over an older Syrian guy whose only word is “pie”, and for the next hour he sets up an apparatus made of tubes and rubber perched off the edge of a pew and stabilized on a stack of bibles. They cool the coffee first. They let it be calm. Quiescent. Then that old Syrian guy says “pie” and lets the liquid slip into a funnel, where it floods the plastic tubing like blood in reverse. This is the stuff we’re made of, we who are big bags of chemicals and in desperate need of more. He helps me hang upside down as the coffee finally reaches me.
“Squeeze,” I tell him, making a hand gesture.
“Squeeze?” he asks, then understands. He squeezes a rubber bladder, injecting pressure into the line, and suddenly I get it: the holiness of this place, the big deal, why it’s important to be a church-going fellow.
“Squeeze,” says the Syrian. “Pie.”
“Squeeze,” I tell him. “And pie. And thanks buddy.”
“And pie,” he says, and when he smiles, there aren’t many teeth back there to see, and what teeth there are have rotted down to nothing; but he pats my bottom anyway, and as the choir starts a song for the refugees, my mind shoots through the heavens, in this, the season of the Trent.