The blind date was orchestrated by Leanne, the accountant at Bill’s work who was curious but not nosy and talkative but not aggravating and lovely but not available. She said it like she really meant it when she said she couldn’t believe Bill didn’t have a girlfriend. Then, two days later, in the lunchroom, her microwave-warmed pasta primavera steaming in her Pyrex, Leanne told Bill about her friend Merry – “Merry like merry Christmas” – who was also single. “She plays the banjo.”
“She’s in a band?”
“No. She just plays the banjo. You should totally meet her. You never know.”
Bill didn’t know what to say so he said what Leanne said. “You never know.”
“So you’ll do it?”
“Okay, you know the Nickels on Atwater?”
The waitress directed Bill to a booth near the back of the restaurant where Merry was already seated. Slivers of ice floated in the diluted remains of a Coke in the bottom of a glass with a plastic straw in it. “I hope you haven’t been waiting long,” Bill offered.
“I just got here,” Merry said. And ordered another Coke.
“So. It’s Merry like merry Christmas, right?”
“Pretty weird, eh?”
“Not weird. Interesting.”
“Interesting is polite for weird.”
“No, it’s careful for cool. I think it’s cool.”
Merry looked at her chicken brochette. She dabbed at her rice with her fork. Bill watched her and waited for her to say something. He thought she might be smiling. He waited nearly thirty seconds and then he cleared his throat.
His Adam and the Ants records clinched it. Merry said she didn’t believe him. Bill thought she was pretending not to believe him. Either way, there was a pleasant quiver in Bill’s belly. Merry said she would not believe him until he actually proved he owned two Adam and the Ants records. Just like that she was coming over to his apartment. Right after she finished her coffee and her slice of Rolo Cake. He could barely touch his Chocolate Eruption.
When they got to Bill’s apartment Merry hovered near the door and looked at the floor and yawned twice in quick succession. Bill undid his jacket but Merry kept hers buttoned. Bill sensed her unease. He didn’t know where it came from. So suddenly. He felt guilty of a thing he had not done and would never even consider doing. In awkward solidarity, he zipped his jacket back up. “I’ll go get the albums,” he said. And left her standing there.
Around the corner, in his living room, Bill pulled Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming from one of his milk crates of records. Adam Ant on the covers, the makeup, the clothes, the splendour. It wasn’t funny anymore. He brought the records to Merry and showed them to her. She barely cracked a smile.
“Can I. Can I get you anything? A beer? I think I have 7Up?”
“Nothing. Thank you. Thank you but I better go.”
“At least let me walk you to the metro. It’s late.”
On the walk they were quiet and then Bill cleared his throat. “I’m curious. What’s the deal with Merry like merry Christmas anyway?”
“My mother told me she spelled it that way because she wanted me to be happy.”
“Did it work?”
“I’ve been happy at times.”
Bill offered to walk Merry all the way down to the metro platform. “It’s nothing. I have a pass.”
From the escalator, they saw a train leaving the station, going Merry’s way. “It’ll take forever for another one,” she said. “You don’t have to wait.”
“I don’t mind. And it won’t take forever. But I could leave. If you want.”
“No. Stay. If you want.”
The station was nearly empty. They had their choice of seats. Merry sat first. Bill sat half in the seat next to Merry’s and half in the next one over. “Which metro do you live at?”
Bill held a fist in front of his mouth like he was holding a microphone and spoke in a robotic female voice. “Prochaine station: Côte-Vertu. Terminus.”
Merry looked at the floor and laughed.
“You have a nice laugh, Merry. Merry du Terminus.”
He rode with her up the orange line of the metro. She told him a story about a man who lived in the suburb where she grew up, a man who was blind. “I have no idea what his name was. We called him The Blind Man.” She told Bill of the time her older brother and two of his friends mooned The Blind Man, dropped their pants and bent over on the sidewalk in front of his house when he came outside. The Blind Man had heard their giggles and had said, simply, Hello, boys. This incited Merry’s brother and his friends to run and, later, to doubt the authenticity of The Blind Man’s blindness. “They started planning ways to test him, to see if he was really blind.”
Over the intercom in the metro, Côte-Vertu was announced as the next stop. Terminus.
Merry looked at her watch. “You’re going to have to hurry. The metro’s closing.”
“I should be able to make it,” Bill said.
When the metro pulled into the Côte-Vertu station, another train was already on the track opposite theirs. It filled all the windows in their car. Merry looked at her watch again. “That’s the last one for sure. You’re going to have to run.”
Bill stood up and positioned himself in front of the doors, holding the railing installed in the wall. He turned around to face Merry. “Thank you for a fun night.” Bill staggered slightly as the metro braked. “Maybe we can do it again some time?” The train came to a stop and the doors slid open.
“Go!” Merry said. She waved her hands in front of her chest like she was shooing mosquitoes. “Go, quick!”
Bill ran from the train and down the platform and up the stairs. The other train was chiming, signalling imminent departure. Bill ran across the corridor to the opposite stairs and flew down them. The doors closed and the train slowly began to move, gradually picking up speed, leaving Bill on the platform. Across the tracks, Merry looked at him with one hand held over her mouth.
“So what happened with The Blind Man?”
“You didn’t get to finish your story. What ever happened with The Blind Man?”
“When my brother and his friends came around again, he told them if they didn’t want their parents to hear about what shapely asses they had they’d better stay away from his property.”
“So he wasn’t blind?”
“Of course he was blind.”
“Then how did he know they’d mooned him?”
“He had neighbours who looked out for him.”
Bill shook his head and laughed. He turned and made his way up the stairs again.
When they got to the triplex where Merry lived she invited Bill up. “Taxis run all night,” he quipped, “so why not?”
Inside it was dark and it smelled faintly of chicken noodle soup. Merry flipped on a light switch near the front door. From where they stood Bill could see into the kitchen. There were empty 2-litre Coke bottles lined up on the counter, a half-dozen at least. There was a pile of dishes in the sink and another beside it. The cupboard doors beneath the sink were open, revealing an overflowing garbage can, onion peels and wet coffee grinds at the top. There were mugs and teacups and glasses in various places. There was a topless, empty can of baked beans on the counter next to the stove. All four burners held a pot or a pan; one held a pot in a pan. The floor was littered with toast crumbs, dust balls, and some grains of rice.
Merry led Bill past the kitchen and into the living room. There were more empty Coke bottles in there, on the floor and on the coffee table and under it. There was a flattened Ruffles All Dressed potato chip bag. Empty pizza boxes and a few styrofoam takeout containers. An unruly stack of papers teetered on top of the television. Clothes, unfolded, sticking to each other, lay strewn all over the couch. Bill felt something brush against his leg and he stiffened. He looked down. A black and white cat meowed up at him. Bill looked at Merry. Merry looked at Bill. She stood there, frozen, her eyes squinted and her teeth clenched. Like she had just dropped something and was too scared to look at it to see if it had broken.
Bill turned away from Merry and stepped forward, mindful of the cat. He made his way to the couch and sat down on it, on top of the clothes. He put his feet up on the coffee table, on top of a pizza box. He folded his arms and turned his head in Merry’s direction. “So. Leanne tells me you play the banjo?”