This basement pub, with its low ceilings and hanging lights, made everyone seem deformatively tall. Bodies here assumed disproportionate demeanour. As though caught again by sudden spurs of growth, none knew what posture to assume; or, worse yet, how to manage their arms that now hung low at the sides. The air was stuffed with everyone’s body odour and perfumes, warm with their breath, humid with perspiration, laden with dust and spores hemorrhaging from the mildew behind the walls. Everyone wore grave expressions on their faces. Whether this was simply the type of characters that shady poetry readings allured, or whether it was a trick of the sparse lighting in the room, I never could decide. One thing was for certain, there was percolation of sweat to be seen on skin to an extent that one could distinctly hear it drop on the floor. There it pooled, hydrating the sticky filth that clung noisily to the shoe. I pulled my collar to check if I had not by mistake slipped it on the wrong way around, for I felt it desired my strangulation.
From my stool at the bar, I was granted a view upon a small window near the ceiling. Outside it was night. The dim yellow street light shone just enough to bring a thin curtain of smoke to view that rose and danced inside the room. My eyes caught sight of this opening to the outside world and clung to it against the oppressiveness of the atmosphere here below. It was to me fresh air and sanity. When a wandering person would make me lose sight of it, my collar made its presence known again and my mouth would become terribly dry; my eyes would water and I would feel lost for a moment. I struggled internally.
The presentation was set to begin and the feedback from the microphone tests made everyone find a seat. Thus my little island of light across the room was granted me anew. Thank goodness for our school-children ways. To my relief, the poet, a good friend of mine, settled to the side, and so I was accorded a permanent view on my peace of mind. It so happened that the bar was in slight recess of the speakers, and I was only to hear muffled throat sounds from the entire reading. Whether or not this actually enhanced the meagre performance, is an open debate. The prospect of changing places did not even enter my mind as I could not bear the thought of losing sight of my faithful window of hope. Of course, I would congratulate my friend all the same. I would allude to his oratory skills, and would surely buy his book and probably read it to make up for what I had missed during the evening. As these escape-through-the-back-door thoughts were being mulled over in my mind so as to craft a potential appropriate behaviour, I came to witness something that just barely caught my attention outside. A couple approached something that was, for me, out of sight, took off their coats, gloves and hats and threw them at this out of view recipient. Subconsciously, I closed the loop and declared it to be a car. It was clear that they had opened the trunk of their vehicle, had thrown their belongings inside and left. This only struck me a peculiar in the respect that it was now late fall. The weather called to dress up, not to dress down.
The reading went on. I caught words here and there, trying to gather some vague meaning. If only to help my future empty compliments. ”Women…” Now that was a juicy word! I could use that later. My eyes drifted from the window to the reader with the frequency of one attentively following a tennis ball in a tournament match. It is during one of these back and forths that a woman came into view outside. How odd it would be for her to repeat the actions of the previous couple, I thought. Surely enough, as if I was being played for a fool in a very intricate manner, she took her heavy faux-fur coat off and, along with her gloves and hat, threw it out of sight. Did she know the previous couple? Maybe they shared the vehicle. The world is not nearly organised enough for individuals to perform coordinated odd acts independently and at a whim. Out there, the world behaves in an utterly ordinary, orderly, boring and rational fashion. Although, for her actions to meet my fancy was quite exciting and pleasing, I must admit. Exciting indeed. In fact, from then on, I completely ignored the anyway unintelligible reading until the next person came into view through the narrow window some minutes later. A woman again. Instantly, I projected my will for there to be a truly strange calling that instilled itself in every passer by, onto her. My heart stopped. What was out there? Was the oxygen in this place rare enough to make my mind’s fancies come to life before my very eyes? The woman was now undressed as the others before her, and, having rid herself of coat, gloves and hat, she proceeded to walk away.
Was this a charity event? Were they shooting a movie out there? Scarcely had she left that two men walked by, and, with haste this time, tore off their coats, gloves and hats, threw them away and paced out of view. This repeated itself many times and with increasing speed. Too many times for it not to be a fabrication of my crazed mind. Nearly enough times for me to rudely step between the standing and sitting attendees, the chairs and the tables, risking the spill of many beverages and the insulting of my friend the poet. What temptation it was! The reading came to an end with a deliberate lingering on words. By this time the people outside had ceased rushing in and out of view. They had ceased taking off their coats, gloves and hat, and had all gone. My mind was in such a thirst to close the the loop and understand, that I seized the first appropriate opportunity, fell off my stool, wrestled the still applauding crowd and ran out the creaking door.
The street was empty. By the dim yellow light, my eyes came to see what, surely, was the only possible outcome of the bizarre happenings I had previously witnessed. Although my mind was at a loss to accept it, before me stood a sizable mountain of coats, gloves and hats. My mind and mouth were gaping. Was anyone else seeing this? The poet was still talking inside the pub, and the whole town seemed to have come and subsequently fled the scene. I felt the seams of my mind were about to burst. What had driven this inexplicable occurrence? I had to know. So I ran towards the coats, gloves and hats and started digging at the base of the heap towards that which had initiated this behaviour. What had the first couple aimed to accomplish that everyone else felt so compelled to imitate? I tore through the clothing, my mind helplessly trying to get a hold of itself.
What I found failed to enlighten me in the least. Buried deep beneath the mountain of discarded coats, gloves and hats; beneath the first two coats, the first four gloves and the first two hats; there lay dead homeless child.