Written in the Flesh


August 19, 2011

I'm back from the mountains, where I was practicing at being a man's man and a writer's writer. Now I need to retake my home library from the dust bunnies and clutter and throw a fresh coat of paint up before the semester starts. Enjoy this brief creative nonfiction piece by contributor Katya Cummins (her book reviews are here, here, here, and here), and have a good start to the teaching year. --Churm



by Katya Cummins

The waiter paid for my beers and said I could write as long as I wanted. I glanced at the clock above the register. The last bus left for Windsor and Galen in fifteen minutes. I eat at odd times when I eat at all, and there was only one other customer in the restaurant. The waiter checked for his manager before perching on a barstool beside me.

“Listen,” he said, leaning forearms on the damp bar he’d just wiped down, “since the drinks were on me, could I take you out sometime?”

I closed the notebook and considered him. His presence felt off because it was easy to see that a different person lived beneath his faked confidence and outgoing personality. His facial features reminded me, not unfavorably, of a ferret, narrow but soft and open in a disarming way. His hair was in a loose ponytail, and under the required company t-shirt he wore long sleeves to hide the tattoos.

“What are they?” I said, nodding.

He hesitated before pushing up a sleeve and showing me. “This one's a guitar now dead.” It was an elongated Fender Stratocaster with bones for frets and a skull for the headstock. The fingerboard was encircled by snakes.

“You’re a musician?”

“I play everything,” he said, the mask falling suddenly. “I’m actually part of a band. I write the music for all the instruments. I write all the lyrics, too—that’s my favorite part...I actually have a notebook exactly like yours—and distribute the sheet music to everyone and help them learn them. I went to Parkland for two years but I dropped. I figured, why waste money and time when I already know what I want to do, you know? We play around the bars downtown, Cowboy Monkey and such, but I want to do bigger gigs eventually. You should come.”

“Do you guys have a Facebook page?”

“Nah, I don’t do the whole computer thing. I can’t sit still at one for more than a few minutes.”


He stared at me. “Yeah, I was on medication for it for a while.”

I looked at the tattoo again and followed the image up his forearm to where it stopped just below the elbow. The skin above the veins was bruised purple and green. I winced. 

He noticed and stuffed the sleeve down again. “I’m trying to quit for a few years now,” he said, lowering his voice so the other guy at the bar wouldn’t hear.

“What? Heroin?” I said, half-joking, unsure if the bruises were even tracks.

“Yeah. I’m a heroin addict.” He looked uncomfortable. “Do you always do that?”

His straightforwardness unnerved me. “I’m sorry, do what?”

“Musician. ADHD. Heroin. It’s like you’re hitting the crucial points of my life and we’ve only just met. It’s strange, though, I feel like I could tell you anything. That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? You must get that all the time.”

I wasn’t sure how to tell him that strangers do have a tendency to tell me about what’s hurting them most, so I answered his first question. “No, you’ve just been forthcoming with details. Anyone could come up with those conclusions. Where would you get heroin in this town?”

He gave me a significant look, and I grinned. “Oh, don’t tell me Carle Park.”

Carle Park is the oldest half-truth in town, the supposedly tough place where mostly high-school kids smoke cigarettes. Besides, if he was trying to pick me up, why not hide the drug addiction by saying he had a bad experience getting his blood drawn? He wouldn’t be the first to appeal to my vanity, the way Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice appeals to Lizzie’s pridefulnes in her ability to read people, to be a great judge of character.

“You know the scene?” he said.

“I knew someone who knew the scene once upon a time but nothing close to heroin. It was all benign.” I said. “And he got out.”

“Oh, well, if you’ve lost your contact I could fix you up,” he said.

I glanced at the clock behind him. “I don’t do drugs. For that matter, I don’t drink much either and I really have to run. The bus leaves soon.”

“So, that’s a no,” he said.

“I’m afraid it is. Thanks for the drinks.”

He looked confused. “It was a pleasure to meet you—you never said what your name was....”

“How about that?” I said, grinning. ”It’s Nick, right? I saw the name on the bill. Listen, Nick–can I call you Nick?—I don’t know anything about you but I think you should keep up with that band of yours. Maybe I’ll see you guys at Cowboy Monkey sometime.”

“I’d like that.”

I nodded. “Catch you later.”

It’s funny, but as the bus trundled past the graveyard, I thought of Nick’s passion for music and writing lyrics, of how he had a notebook exactly like mine, and it left me feeling unbelievably sad.


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