You just never know when you’re going to start believing in magic again. For example, today I went to the Calgary Stampede, where I was struck by hailstorm lightning at the top of a ride called the Donkey Death Kerjigger and woke up underground where I met an ancient Oracle who told me my future and the meaning of life.
Have you ever been struck by lightning? It hurts, but it’s also a relief when you’ve been stranded forty feet in the air on a rusty amusement park ride for ten minutes in a tank top and shorts being pummeled by hail. It was miserable, like being bitten by an army of freezing cold ants and then peed on. When the lightning struck, it came into my body through my feet and my hands, which were clutching the safety bars of the cage I was in. Imagine your entire body being covered with a thick layer of butter, wrapped in tin foil, and microwaved. It burns, the current zapping through your bones and meat, and you can actually feel yourself cooking a little, but at least it’s not cold.
A couple of weeks ago, I went on an internet date. Actually, there were two dates within a few days of each other. The first one was with a man I would like to call The Cabin Builder, because he wanted to talk a lot about the cabin he was building. The second was with a man I will call Mister Pretty, because he was pretty and he wanted to remind me of that.
The Cabin Builder and I arranged to meet in Bastion Square by the abandoned Maritime Museum. If he was my second soul-mate, meeting in front of an abandoned museum would be very appropriate I thought.
In his pictures, The Cabin Builder looked strapping and subtly tortured. He had the furrowed torturebrows, just how I like ’em, with a big old black beard, unruly hair and sunburnt arms. He was even holding an axe in one pic, which meant he had just been chopping wood , which meant he loved to build fires, which meant he was strong, sensitive and could be my guide through the wilderness of forests and life. He also looked like he might be able to stare into a wolf’s eyes and speak to the wolf telepathically.
We had written back and forth for a couple of weeks, and I found it romantic when he said he had to climb up a very high hill to be able to get adequate data reception on his phone to write me. He was building a cabin, you see, a cabin. A cabin in the middle of nowhere, because that is what tortured men do when they’re all out of luck and just need to find the right broad to get their blood running hot enough to return to the din and buzz of the real world. He had a son, he said, and his son liked collecting car magazines and socializing with friends, which he found confusing and unrelatable, since he was more into reading, building his cabin, solitude ,and cabin building. He liked Raymond Carver and Kurt Vonnegut and Joanna Newsome. I was so excited and nervous to meet him that my panties were actually soaking through my skirt onto the bench I was sitting on as I waited for him to arrive.
He was late. About ten minutes late. It was busy downtown, and I could tell that everyone who walked past me knew I was waiting to meet someone from the internet. My phone was dead, so I stayed busy by texting an imaginary friend on the black screen. In fact, I was texting Kris, so the black screen was perfect.
Hello, Kris, hello! Yes, it is I, Chelsea. Yes yes, still incarcerated here on earth, and in fact I am texting to you from the escarpment of an internet date which I set up in order to redirect my neurosis from one point of focus to another. I am wearing your favourite lipstick LOL. Write back.
When The Cabin Builder walked up, the setting sun was behind him, and his silhouette appeared very pleasant. But then he got closer, and I recognized him, but barely. It was like the opposite of the way you vaguely recognize your grandparents in younger pictures of themselves. I could tell he had once been the strapping wolf whisperer from his pictures, but something had happened to him since then. Something terrible, sad and soul-sucking. He looked like he had just unplugged himself from a special machine that sucks out your soul. I have never seen a sadder, more frightened looking man. He reached his hand out for a shake, and I took it, and it was dry, limp, devoid of energy. We did the hello, hello, how are you, good good, good good. And then he said, in monotone, “So what do you want to do.”
I suggested we find somewhere to get a coffee.
“I thought we would walk around first and talk,” he said.
I said okay.
We walked around. I asked him what was big in his life.
“Well, I’m mostly just building my cabin,” he said.
I asked about the cabin.
“I’m building it myself,” he said. I’m a big boy. I’m building a big boy cabin.
We walked around in silence for several minutes.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“We’re walking around,” he said. Then he tried a smile. It almost broke his face, and looked painful.
“Let’s go in there,” I said. We went in there.
He ordered a beer, I got water.
“So you like Joanna Newsome?”
“Some of it.”
“Oh. What’s your favourite album?”
“Well, I’m building my cabin right now and I don’t have a lot of time to listen to music. I can’t remember her right now, I would have to go on YouTube.”
“Oh, don’t you have a CD player or a radio at your cabin?”
“No. There’s no electricity. It’s very remote where I’m building my cabin.”
He was building his cabin in Deadman Falls. I’m not making that up. He told me all about how he bought a new truck and then had to take it back to the dealership to get a longer bed so that he could transport more materials. That was a good five minute monologue with many other details about wood stuff that you buy for building cabins, roads with potholes, and trim levels in trucks.
I asked him what he did when he was back in Victoria.
“Not much. I’m unemployed right now. But I make sculptures.”
“Oh! Cool, what kind of sculptures?”
“You have to see them to understand.”
“Oh, okay. So, like, abstract?”
“No. They’re concrete.”
“Oh, made of concrete you mean?”
“They’re made of wood.”
“Ah. Like your cabin.”
“Maybe you can come over after this and I’ll show them to you.”
I said oh, yeah, that’d be great, it’s just that I only have a babysitter for another half hour. Darn it anyway.
He gave me a ride home in his truck. He had a CD of Rod Stewart doing jazz standards, put it in, turned it up. I was so confused.
I got home, thanked him for the ride.
“Can I text you?” he asked.
“For sure!” I said.
I paid the babysitter. Then I wrote an email to a friend that said, “I just went on the best date with the most handsome, interesting, wonderful man. There really are plenty of fish! I can’t wait to experience all the wonderful surprises life has in store for me!” and then I cried until my nose was so full of snot that I couldn’t breathe, which I found so ridiculous that I began to laugh and spray it everywhere. I went to the bathroom and examined my face, my red nose, my puffy eyes, all the new wrinkles that have drawn themselves on since Kris died. There was mascara running down my cheeks. I put more dots of mascara under my eyes and rubbed them with water for added tragic effect.Kris told me once that he had a fetish for girls crying with mascara running down their faces.
“How do you like that?” I asked him.
Sexy as fuck, you crazy bitch, he said.
Sexy as fuck.
One thing about getting struck by lightning that nobody will ever tell you is that you usually pass out, and when you wake up you are usually in a magical underground tunnel. The floor of the tunnel is made of dirt, but the sides are sparkly silver, and if you touch them they undulate like a waterbed. There is also music down there, but not the kind of music you would think, because who would think it would be Rod Stewart performing I Wish You Love?
I wish you love
And in July a lemonade
To cool you in some leafy glade
I wish you health
But more than wealth
I wish you love
My breaking heart and I agree
That you and I could never be
So with my best
My very best
I set you free
I knew I was meant to crawl through the tunnel because there were arrows spray painted on the floor like in running races. I followed the arrows. There were a few twists and turns, but the sparkly walls provided enough light to navigate forward, though I was frightened at one point that I might round a corner to find a giant, sentient spider in a web, and that this spider might recite passages from The Hobbit while it spinning me round and round in its evil silk. My head was pounding from the lightning strike and I was beginning to get a bit annoyed at the way this afternoon had turned out so far.
The song ended and Blue Moon began to play.
“What the fuck,” I whispered, “why Rod Stewart?”
“Shhhhhhhhhh,” said a voice, “shhhhhhhh, you must not speak yet.”
I nearly fainted when I peered around the corner and saw a large blue spider the size of my own head looking back at me. Its body was fuzzy, its eyes onyx. It was wearing a cowboy hat with Calgary Stampede emblazoned in gold across the front. Each eye had long eyelashes, each foot a cowboy boot. I realized I had seen my daughter win an exact likeness of this spider earlier that day, but was a stuffy, and it didn’t talk.
“Follow me,” said the spider. It turned around and crawled ahead. I followed. I followed and followed for what seemed like hours, afraid to speak lest the spider eat me, and I could tell by the slope of the dirt that we were headed deeper and deeper below the earth. Finally, we came to a place where the tunnel ended, a ledge that hung out over a small lake, under which a little rowboat was waiting. The spider became very still and spoke again:
“Get into the boat. Row ten times backwards and ten times forwards. Once you have done that, close your eyes and say ‘Boot scootin’ boogie’ eleven times, ‘Garsh Dammit’ twelve times and don’t forget the r in garsh, ‘Calamity Jane’ fourteen times, and then sing the first line from your favourite childhood sitcom. You have but one chance to complete this task and if you fail, you will be returned to the place above and never have the opportunity to consult the Oracle again.”
I nodded. The spider tipped his hat, turned around and scurried away.
I did my best to follow the instructions. I lowered myself carefully into the boat and took hold of the oars. Ten rows forward, ten rows back. Boot scootin’ boogie, Garsh Dammit, Calamity Jane… makin’ your way in the world today takes-
Suddenly the roof of the underground lake became transparent, and I was looking up at the stampede grounds from one hundred feet below, though the people hustling and bumping into each other up there didn’t seem aware that they were walking on glass.
I was pretty fucking confused.
I sat in the boat forever, looking around, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be learning from all of this. Paddling with one oar in circles, looking up at the sky.
Then I smelled a burning. Cigarettes.
“Who’s smoking?” I said.
“Oh, it’s me, the Oracle,” said the Oracle, who was suddenly sitting cross legged on the shore of the lake, naked as a jaybird. I rowed over, got out of the boat and stood in front of her.
“I’m here to see you. I just got struck by lightning,” I said.
“I know,” she said, “take off your clothes and sit with me, let’s have a smoke.”
I did. I stripped naked and spread my skirt out on the sand, sat down.
“Here,” she said, handing me a smoke and a lighter.
“Thanks,” I said.
I asked her why she brought me here.
“Now look,” she said, pointing her smoke at me, “I didn’t bring anyone anywhere. You got yourself here for whatever reason and that’s your business. All I do is sit here working my shift waiting for one of you idiots to show up, understand?”
“But I thought you were an Oracle,” I said.
“Sure I am, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about anything, except for the things I do know. I’m just doing my job, okay? First of all, there’s a lot more behind-the-scenes administrational-type work than you know about. Second of all, I only know what I learned in training, and that was a long time ago. Anyways, go ahead, ask me your stuff.”
She lifted one of her enormous breasts to her mouth and sucked, looking at me intensely. I’m fine with nursing, but I was pretty uncomfortable for some reason. She tried to hand me the other breast for a suck. I shook my head – “Not thirsty”, I lied.
“Oh, it’s not milk,” she said, “it’s mustard and it’s fucking delicious, but suit yourself.”
“Okay, thanks for offering. And I do have some questions for you. Like what am I supposed to do now? And will I ever find love and happiness again? And what is the meaning of all this?”
The Oracle drew a deep drag and blew the smoke in rings.
“Look,” she said, “I’m going to be straight with you, because that’s what I do- it’s my job, like I said, so I’m going to do my job. And I’m going to be honest and tell you that there’s not a lot left for you here. Sorry.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“What’s to understand? There’s nothing complicated about it. You don’t have much to look forward to, okay? That’s all I’m saying. I mean you’ll live, for a while, and then you’ll kick the can like the rest of us. It’s not a bad thing.”
I looked at her searchingly to see if she was kidding.
“I’m not kidding,” she said.
“Maybe I’ll have a suck of that mustard after all,” I said.
The second internet date I went on happened about a week following The Cabin Builder. This time we met at Brown’s Social Club by Walmart – his suggestion for an elegant evening out. He arrived drenched in cologne, so much cologne that I wondered if he had just unscrewed the cap and dumped the whole bottle down his chest.
There’s really not much to say about this guy, except that he was handsome. He was very, very handsome, and though he was slightly elfin, he pulled it off in that Santa Bangs a Hot Straight Daddy kind of way.
He ordered one beer for himself and one for me, without asking, which was great since I always do truly appreciate not having to think or make choices.
He spoke with a lisp, which is obviously adorable on anyone. And he was nice, he was really nice. He was funny, and intelligent, and thoughtful in his questions, and insightful in his comments. But half an hour in, I wanted out. I wanted to put on my purse, plunk down my beer money and run. There was not a single cell of me that wanted to be there for a moment longer, and I was trying to pay attention to the content of his speech while scolding myself for dragging him out on a date that I didn’t even want and only set up because I was lonely, bored and heartbroken.
“I alwayth thay – don’t make me the project manager behind-the-theenes guy, make me the prethentation guy, right? I mean, I’m pretty, right?”
I wanted to say, look guy, I’m so sorry for wasting your time, but I’m in love with someone else and I made a mistake coming here. And I don’t want to be friends, and I don’t want to sit here and pretend that I care about anything you’re saying because I’m not actually an especially kind person sometimes, and I don’t want you knowing anything about me, and I don’t even ever want to see you again because I would be embarrassed that my low self-worth in a time of total misery has wasted somebody who is clearly a lovely person’s time.
Instead, I agreed that if he was hungry, he should definitely order a pizza, and I sat there and listened to three or four more stories about how he is too pretty to be doing the administrative work that is the main part of his job.
“Can I walk you to your car?”
He went in for the hug and I stiffly obliged.
“I’m not going to kiss you,” he said, “not this time anyway. Next time? Can there be a next time?”
“Um. I’m going to Calgary next week, so…”
When I got home, he had already messaged me. I deleted it.
You are a terrible, terrible person for trying to use a human being as a Band-Aid, said my mother as I fell asleep that night, Shame on you!
I was disappointed in the Oracle. Her mustard was delicious, but my tummy was getting full and I wasn’t entirely sure she had been truthful with me.
She was laying on her back with her eyes closed, smoking away, sighing with each exhale.
I pinched and twisted the nipple of the breast I was holding. She yowled and bolted upright, sprang to her feet and kicked me in the skin. I yelped, pounced on her and bit her ankle like a cat. We beat the hell out of each other then, and it was a good fight, but she won, eventually pinning me down with her foot on my neck.
“Now listen,” she hissed, “you think you can bully me into giving you all the answers? Fine, here they are. You are a cowardly, spoiled woman who believes she is entitled to love and happiness because you’ve had a little loss here and there. Well let me tell you loud and clear that NOBODY is entitled to a goddamn thing. Not me, not Cowboy Spider, not any of those thousands of poor sods up there trying to capture some spark and meaning from that disgraceful celebration of heteronormativity and colonialism, understand? So you can fuck right off with your Why Me, Why Me, I Just Want to Know If I’ll Be Happy wah wah wah nonsense! Fuck right off with it!”
I started to cry. Which was crappy because her foot was still pressed against my throat. She let up, took her foot away, stood over me with her hands on her hips and looked down. She took another long drag, ashing on my naked belly.
“You’re a bitch,” I said.
“I know,” she said, sighing. Her eyes softened. She reached her hand down and helped me up.
“I think the questions I asked you are the same questions anyone would ask,” I said, “I don’t think I’m special. You think I think I’m special, but I don’t. I actually really don’t.”
We were still holding hands. She squeezed mine.
“Listen,” she said, “this is a tough job. I get compassion fatigue sometimes. Sit down and I’ll answer your questions. And after I do, I’m going to give you one last, hard suck on my left breast, and you will close your eyes and drink until you realize there is no more nipple in your mouth, and you will evaporate out of this place and into a beautiful dream of lakes and stardust and happy ghosts, and then you will wake up back in your bed, the smell of cigarettes and mustard in your hair, and a renewed belief in magic in your heart.
And she did.
What am I supposed to do now?
You’re supposed to do exactly what everyone else is doing. Fucking up, getting hurt, maybe hurting other people unintentionally, and looking for meaning in the nooks and crannies of the world and your heart. And one day, you will find that beautiful black hole to jump into, and it might be one day soon, and it might involve a ditch behind a movie theatre playing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One.
And will I ever find love and happiness again?
I don’t know about happiness because I have no idea what that means or is. You don’t even know what that is, so why are you asking. And love again? Don’t even try bullshit me on that one. You know the answer to that, so fuck off with the revisionist nonsense.
And what is the meaning of all this?
The meaning is in the mustard. Now drink.