“Why’d we killer her?” he asked.
The answer seemed obvious, yet nobody could put it into words.
They drove. David took Ste Catherine Street heading east. Traffic crawled while radios blared out dance tunes. Through the car’s open windows came a cacophony of engines and horns and revelers shouting their vitality. Montreal’s night life swirled around the three friends. They looked upon it as if from a distance.
They contemplated the crowds heading for the clubs on Crescent Street. Well-dressed party-goers mixed with immigrant families taking in the sights and sounds of the big city. Girls in tight, designer skirts brushed past women in chadors and saris. Italian leather shoes trod the same sidewalks as worn leather sandals.
David drove Montreal’s familiar streets like he was roaming through the rooms of his own home. He always did the driving. Block by block, Ste. Catherine Street changed styles, languages, worlds. Peter spent much of his time gazing out the window at the beautiful women he’d never make love to. In the back seat, Jon talked relentlessly, about what he’d done at work, about how his kids had done in school, about whatever he’d just bought. And the three went as the flow of traffic took them.
It was well after midnight, but Peter wasn’t ready to call it a night. This was David’s fiftieth and they’d said they would do something special. The evening had already had its moments, but it still felt incomplete. There was something that kept him from going home to his wife Jane.
Peter wasn’t far behind David in age. Of late the passage of time had gnawed at him. He was no longer a young man with his whole life ahead of him. But looking back over the years served no purpose. He had done little that was truly memorable.
Recently the company of his old friends no longer brought him the joy it once did. Unspoken between the three was a sense that something was missing in their lives. David’s fiftieth birthday merely added urgency to this sensation. They needed something to shake them out of their torpor.
Peter’s life had not always been beset by this sense of ennui. By any standard he had achieved personal and professional success. The same could be said of Jon and, until his divorce, David. They had also managed to maintain their friendship for nearly thirty years.
Every couple of Fridays they got together, usually for dinner and a movie. It was their boys’ night out, a simple but pleasant ritual. It served to maintain a sense of balance and harmony in their lives. Sometimes, like tonight, they found themselves wandering aimlessly through the downtown core in David’s car, in no hurry to go home. At times like these they were still university students, dreaming of unbridled sex and expensive cars. Peter ran his fingertips along the soft leather seat beneath him. At least the expensive car part of the dream had come true . But they were a lifetime removed from their school days.
While David drove he hardly spoke. Occasionally he hummed under his breath. Since Sarah had walked out on him three years earlier he tended to be morose, his thoughts turned inwards. Only after a few drinks would he sometimes develop a boisterous bonhomie. His embarrassingly loud laughter would then stand in stark contrast to his usual reserve.
Once, months earlier, he had spoken in confidence to Peter about how bored he was with his life. He’d said that he wasn’t able to feel anything “big” anymore, although he was never able to explain what that meant. At the time Peter had not sought to question him further, but David’s vague complaints reflected his own growing disenchantment. They had never spoken about it again, but that feeling of malaise was often palpable in his car.
When they’d gotten together on this night Jon had said he had the perfect idea to celebrate David’s birthday. After dinner he guided them along the crowded downtown sidewalks until they ended up in front of a strip club. This was the surprise that was supposed to improve David’s mood.
It had been years since Peter had been to one of Montreal’s many strip clubs, although it hadn’t been as long as Jane believed. Jon held the door open magnanimously. The sound of “Brass in Pocket” blared down from the top of a long stairwell. David hesitated briefly in front of the door, then shrugged and smiled good-naturedly before entering. It occurred to Peter that his friend was doing them the favour. He realized that a divorced man might come to strip clubs more often than he admitted. That realization left him disappointed at not coming up with a better idea himself.
When they entered the club it was barely nine o’clock. Several dancers sat at a dimly-lit bar. They turned and looked the three men over. Peter saw that they were the only customers. The bouncer sat them next to the empty stage. A waitress quickly appeared to take their orders for beer.
They sat feeling exposed to the stares of the women. After a moment a skinny girl who looked twelve climbed onto the stage. She wore five-inch heels and gyrated in a desultory fashion. She had nobody to dance for except them and seemed unwilling to break a sweat before the club filled up. There was no place else for them to look except up into her most intimate parts. When she finished her set the three men clapped in appreciation and relief.
Eventually several dancers had slipped away from the bar and walked by their tables. The women cast what passed for lascivious smiles in their directions. After David finished his first beer they bought him a series of lap dances with a black girl whose buttocks defied gravity. He had only protested mildly.
Once David followed the dancer into the curtained-off back area Peter relaxed somewhat. Coming here might not have been a waste of time after-all. There was nothing for him or Jon to do except treat themselves to dances as well. Peter soon found himself in a small cubicle with an unnaturally busty blonde named Candy. Her hair smelled of cigarettes and she had a scar along her belly that was probably from a Caesarian. She let him squeeze her large breasts between his sweaty palms and she poked his eye with her nipple. Peter laughed with enjoyment. He reminded himself to find a men’s room to wash his hands after touching her.
Time passed and the club had filled up. They finally piled into David’s car three hours and several dancers later. They’d laughed quite a bit and teased each other about what they’d done. They swore David to secrecy from their wives.
But as much pleasure as they had fondling the naked women, the experience left them aroused and frustrated. Their adolescent fantasies had remained unfulfilled. They had enjoyed themselves, but the feeling of enjoyment quickly wore off.
And so they wandered the streets, heedless of the passage of time. Peter could feel the nervous energy in the car. Jon spoke too loudly and made bawdy jokes. David laughed out of habit, but Peter didn’t respond. He found himself looking with more intensity than usual at the women they passed on the street. His mind buzzed from the lingering effects of alcohol and naked flesh. The car wove its way shark-like through the traffic. Peter felt he was a predator, stalking the streets.
David continued east. They left the high-end clubs and boutiques behind. They passed the hookers and the homeless who gathered near St. Lawrence Boulevard. When they drove through the Gay Village, Jon made a half-hearted homophobic jest, then remained quiet for the longest while. David tried to hum a show-tune while tapping on the steering wheel. He finally gave up, unable to fake the casual good humour that was necessary.
Their actions were the same as always. Their thoughts were elsewhere.
“We should tie her down with something.”
He looked around him for a large stone, anything with a substantial weight to it.
“Do you have a rope in your trunk?”
“What? No. Of course not. I didn’t exactly plan ahead, did I?”
Further east on Ste. Catherine Street, they entered what they thought of as the French part of town. There were fewer clubs or restaurants here. Mostly low-rent apartments and the occasional seedy-looking tavern.
There were fewer cars and pedestrians. The emptier streets grated on Peter’s nerves. He expected that eventually David would get bored out here. Then he’d turn toward the highway that would bring them back to their West Island homes. But David never made a move to get them off the road they were on. It was getting late for the two married men, but the frustration enveloping the trio buried all thoughts of going home.
Each one was looking for something, although none of them would express this longing out loud. For Peter it wasn’t sex, even if the need was almost sexual in its intensity. He allowed himself a small smile of self-awareness. Among his friends he was reputed to have a single-minded pre-occupation with women, especially the ones who were not his wife.
But tonight was different. Even fantasizing about the buxom Candy had quickly gotten boring. And if he’d somehow managed to bed the dancer the itch inside him would still have been there.
It occurred to him that the sexual fantasies which got him through his daily routine were now part of that same routine. The thought of actually fulfilling one of them seemed somehow clichéd. He didn’t want to be a stereo-typical suburban husband who stepped out on his wife with a hooker or a stripper, while maintaining a façade of normalcy. He’d known a few guys like that at work. They’d hinted at, or even bragged about, their illicit conquests, before returning to their offices with a wink and a smile. He had no illusions about being better than any of them. He just needed to be different.
“We can’t keep going like this,” he finally said.
He rinsed his hands in the cold water, wondering briefly how much bacteria there was in the St. Lawrence River. He straightened and rubbed his hands along the seat of his pants, looking at the man facing him. By the light of the moon he could see a red scratch along his friend’s right cheek. Instinctively he reached out and touched it with a fingertip. He’d rarely had occasion to touch his friend’s face in the three decades they’d known each other.
“You’ll have to think of something to tell her.”
From the direction of the street they heard a nervous voice.
“Hey! You guys done yet?”
The street had been empty for several blocks. They were stopped at a red light and there was a Valentine’s hot dog shop to their left. It was the only place in the area that was still open. Peter could see three or four customers inside.
Outside, leaning against the side wall of the restaurant, was a thin woman. In the dim light Peter could make out her dyed red hair. It hung long and scraggly over her face. He thought she must be a junkie, or maybe she was just drunk. The way she stood there, her shoulder and the side of her head up against the dirty brick, she could have been asleep on her feet.
From the back seat Jon suggested that they keep driving. He stuttered slightly as he spoke.
Peter turned his eyes toward David. He waited expectantly for his friend to speak.
“No. This’ll be fine,” David said softly.
The three friends looked at each other. The glare of the street-light shining into the car turned their faces ghostly pale. They all had nervous smiles frozen on their lips. Peter thought they looked like corpses.
The traffic-light changed to green and David slowly pulled past the Valentine’s, driving the short block and then turning right at the next corner, heading south. Neither of his friends asked him where he was going.
At the end of the block he turned right, then drove to the next corner and turned right again. Soon they were back facing Ste. Catherine Street, the Valentine’s in front of them now. As they turned once more the car’s headlights swept across the woman. She hadn’t moved from her spot.
David drove a bit past the restaurant and then pulled over. He put the car into park, but kept the engine running.
The three sat quietly, each wondering who was going break the silence.
The two men clambered up the rocky slope until they reached the car where their friend sat behind the wheel, tapping his fingers nervously. The first one up walked to the driver’s side window and leaned his head down.
“So, was this it?”
“What?” The driver almost shouted in reply. Barely-contained panic had crept into his voice.
“Was this the something big?” He walked around the car and got into the front passenger seat without waiting for an answer. He said nothing until the third man climbed into the car’s back seat. Then he looked at his watch.
“God, it’s late. I gotta get home.”
They sat in David’s car for almost ten minutes. During that time one couple had walked up the sidewalk, past the woman leaning on the wall, and entered the restaurant.
None of the three friends spoke. The sounds of their breathing and David’s occasional tapping on the steering wheel filled the inside of the car. Peter fidgeted, then turned around to speak to Jon. Jon was staring at the back of David’s head, his face betraying a dawning awareness. Peter kept silent and turned back in his seat. He wiped a thin film of sweat that had formed above his lip.
In a whisper, David spoke:
“Maybe we can buy her a hot dog.”
© Copyright 2016 Gabriel Boutros. All rights reserved.