Excerpt from “The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo” by Vincent Ternida5 min read

6 September, 2018 0 comment

The starchy taste of the Glico curry wasn’t too new for me. I didn’t mind the texture of the halibut, but if I were to do it differently, it wouldn’t hurt to go for a bigger piece.

In between bites, Tamara started off the dreaded Vancouver conversation.

“I like dinner parties, it’s nice and intimate and gets people comfortable whereas everyone in the city just engages in small talk.”

“I know!” Filbinder interjected. “I don’t do small talk, I do big talk, Harry would know.”

I resisted the urge to eyeroll.

“I don’t know,” Shelley Anne said. “I grew up here and one thing’s for sure is people are a little guarded. Maybe it’s because everyone’s coming from the interior or across the ocean and just trying to be nice.”

“I’d say,” Tamara said. “But in all seriousness, if we can’t get past the obvious like how great the weather is or if it rains the whole time and talk about things that matter, how can we as a city grow up?”

Awkward silence.

“So Shelley Anne, what do you do?” asked Filbinder, already comfortable with the crowd.

“I’m a waitress at the moment and I’m hoping to do my MFA soon.”

“Mark, you seem quiet,” Filbinder continued.

“I’m doing alright,” Mark said. The tall, serious-looking man sat back and listened to everyone. “Just donated blood.”

“Oh how generous!” Tamara interjected.

“Not everyone can though,” Shelley Anne said. “My boyfriend’s hemophiliac.”

Three words, all dagger-shaped. Blurted out in passing, real casual, words that would never really hurt anyone. My oxytocin shield shattered. My serotonin levels depleted. The rice tasted like plaster of paris and the curry masticated into sticky dried-up glue. Tunnel vision descended, there was ringing in my ears, and a mild jolt of norephedrine with mixed messages. I felt nailed onto the chair wishing that if I could go back in time, I would tell myself to treat Guy Maddin the respect he deserved. That way, Shelley Anne Locke would have never entered my life.

I grew up here and one thing’s for sure is people are a little guarded. Maybe it’s because everyone’s coming from the interior or across the ocean and just trying to be nice.

Almost on cue, Killarney hopped onto my lap.

“Meow,” Killarney said.

“Kitty!” Shelley Anne said. “You didn’t tell me you owned a cat!”

“It’s mine but Harry thinks it’s his,” Filbinder said.

The rest of the afternoon flew by, Killarney entertained everyone. We ate dessert and they had drinks. And it was time to leave. Filbinder left to browse luggage for his trip. Tamara drove Mark home, which left Shelley Anne and me at the dinner table. Killarney was still on Shelley Anne’s lap as I cleaned up. Though she was a few centimeters away, the real distance was measured in light years.

“Coffee?” I asked.

“Just coffee, right?” Shelley Anne said.

“Yeah.”

“Anything more would be inappropriate.”

“Yeah, I know.”

More silence.

“Today was nice, you’re a sweet guy.”

“I’m glad you liked it.”

“I did. I’m happy.”

Shelley Anne followed me to the kitchen. I broke out my pour over kit and got some of my precious Bows and Arrows stash. She studied my collection of unused coffee makers.

“You must really like coffee.”

“Yeah.”

“We can always go out for a movie, you know, just as friends.”

“That’d be nice.”

I handed her a cup.

“I got some cream in the fridge.”

“I take mine black. No sugar.”

“Only way to drink it.”

“Yeah.”

We clinked our cups, and shortly after she left.

But in all seriousness, if we can’t get past the obvious like how great the weather is or if it rains the whole time and talk about things that matter, how can we as a city grow up?

Empty dishes and dirty pots and pans. Then came a sudden crash of serotonin. In my case, my personal fantasy got crushed underneath the heel of reality. It really wasn’t much. I stared at the dripping faucet slowly ebbing away at the caked sauce on the plate. It would probably take 10,000 years for the drops to wash away that grime, most likely the same time for my feelings to ever reach Shelley Anne.

Killarney hopped on the kitchen counter and meowed. He was clawing for his meal. I snapped out of the cortisol trance and reached for a Friskies can. Feeding Killarney proved to be quite a pleasing distraction at that moment. I watched the moustachioed tuxedo cat polish off the wet food.

I took a Leonard Cohen single from my shelf and played it on my vinyl player. Angie left it one day and didn’t bother to pick it up. Listening to it over the years gave me a sense of clarity and melancholy. You touched her perfect body with your mind, Lenny sang.

The once-chatty Keurig was watching and judging me. Months after picking her up from my parents, the voice I longed for hadn’t returned. Silence filled the vacuum.

I perched Killarney onto my shoulder. My oxytocin and serotonin levels started to balance. Or was that the subtle work of Toxoplasma Gondii? Once Filbinder decided to move out, he’d take Killarney to his mother’s place. Killarney would eventually forget me and given an indoor cat’s lifespan, I’d prefer him to think of someone more suitable for his cat charms than a broke, heartbroken chump like myself.

“Meow.”


Vincent Ternida’s debut novel, The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo, launches at the LiterASIAN 2018 festival in Vancouver. View the full list of events here! Other guest speakers are Evelyn Lau, Kevin Chong, Cheuk Kwan, Jovanni Sy, Carrianne Leung, Alice Poon, Katherine Luo, Michael Kaan, Michelle Kim, and last but not least, Madeleine Thien. Interview conducted by Ricepaper and LiterASIAN.

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