By: J. Donnait
It took three weeks for Josh to ask Thierry out for coffee, and when he finally mustered up the courage, it started the happiest period of his life.
Thierry had moved to Toronto from Marseille, France on a student visa. He enrolled in a Gen-Ed program at George Brown, like most other teens who had no idea what do to next when they were forced with the parental ultimatum of ‘go to school or get out’. Thierry called his parents’ bluff and decided to do both. Josh’s mother and father had given him no such choice. He had come out to them on the hottest day of that summer, and rather than embrace their son’s sexuality, they pushed him out the door and into the blistering heat of reality and rejection.
Josh wasn’t fazed, though. He’d caught his punches in the gym change room throughout high school; even the teachers snickered behind closed doors about the fag. The gym teacher had anything but a hard-on for Josh, but that didn’t stop him from humiliating the sissy in front of the rest of the class. If Josh had learned anything, it was that people were intolerant, often confused, and terrified of things they couldn’t understand. He didn’t think his parents would fall under those categories, but he’d prepared for it anyway. It made doing the involuntary walk of shame from their home easier to stomach.
He wandered from couch to couch for a couple of months until he saved up enough for first and last on a bachelor apartment in North York, across from a Filipino bakery, which was of course next to a karaoke bar. He took out a loan and enrolled in the same program as Thierry, determined to flip his parents the bird in the form of a degree and a career that he’d earned regardless of his sexual orientation. He often daydreamed about a six-figure salary that would afford him the honour of knocking on his parents’ front door, showing his dad a T4, and inviting him to kiss Josh’s ass. In the more raunchy illusions, he’d tell his dad to suck him off and then say goodbye with a kick to the balls, spitting out as his father fell to his knees, “How’s that for intolerance?!” Blood relation didn’t matter. An asshole was an asshole.
When Josh saw Thierry on orientation day, his gaydar exploded. Josh hoped it wasn’t a malfunction, because he’d made that mistake before. As if ordained by the governing body of love, the two shared a couple of classes. Anxious about being friend-zoned once again, Josh spent entire classes trying to find a way to initiate a conversation. He’d tried to make eye contact, but that was difficult when you were sitting in front, beside, or behind someone in a lecture hall. He’d approach Thierry from behind, his arm extended to tap him on the shoulder, and before he knew what was happening, he was racing away in the opposite direction, hurrying to the next class that didn’t start for another hour.
With a week left before exams, and subsequently the end of school for the summer, Josh lunged up the stairs at the commencement of the day’s lecture and finally made contact with Thierry’s shoulder. Thierry turned around, pulled an earbud from his right ear, and said, “Oui?”
We, Josh thought. You’re damn right.
Thierry cupped his hand over his mouth and let out a giggle that sounded like a dry heave. “Sorry, sometime I speak French wissout tinking.”
Bilingual, Josh thought. Although at first the word appeared in his head as ‘bisexual’.
Josh cleared his throat and held out his hand. Speaking in a monotonous tone and out of breath, he said, “Hey… I’m Josh. I was wondering… if you’d like to study for… the exam after we have a cup of café.” He meant it as a question, but it came out as a statement of hesitant fact. They were going to study and they were going to sip some coffee. Jesus, he thought. Did I really just use a French word? Josh felt flush on his neck and in his armpits. He hadn’t fumbled on his words; he came out with them like an automated voice messaging system, which was worse.
Thierry smiled, his dimples sinking into his cheek. “Sound good. I’m Thierry.” He took Josh’s hand, which was still hanging between them, and shook it. Thierry gave Josh his number, and they met up the next day for a coffee. They managed to get absolutely no studying done.
That was over two years ago. Josh was no closer to living out his six-figure fantasy than he was when he first dreamt it, but his degree did get him a foot in the door at an independent book publisher. He and Thierry started dating a week after Josh introduced himself, and they were still going strong.
Josh was standing outside the Starbucks at the corner of Yonge and College waiting to meet Thierry for a short walk before they shot some pool a little further south at Gerrard. It was a cool October night, and the ground was dusted with a light coat of snow from a freak fall flurry the night before. He saw Thierry standing on the opposite corner, smiled and waved to him, and then pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Smoking was a nervous tick of Josh’s, and seeing Thierry still gave him butterflies. Thierry didn’t mind that Josh smoked. He wasn’t a fan of the taste of his tongue when they made out or the stale smell of his fingertips when Josh played with his hair. One of the fine qualities of Thierry’s personality was that he never tried to assert control over any aspects of the relationship. That’s not to say he was submissive; he just understood his role as a partner, which meant not acting like a boss. He also knew that some people had bad habits for certain reasons, and smoking wasn’t a habit worth trifling over.
When Thierry finished crossing the street to Josh’s corner, they hugged and kissed each other once on each cheek. Thierry had taught Josh that the double-peck was the European way of saying hello, whether you were intimate with that person or not. Josh thought he felt a looser embrace than normal, more of a friendly hug than an I-missed-you kind. It was colder than normal, so at first Josh chalked it up to that. Waiting in line inside the café shop, Josh thought that colder weather equalled tighter embraces, not distant ones. Meh. He shrugged it off. They ordered a couple to go and walked south on Yonge to a little park between two buildings that had a single bench and a single flowerbed. Parkettes planted in the middle of city structures amid the bustle of businesses and residential towers were one of the many reasons Thierry had decided to stay in Toronto. The view from his apartment showed nothing but the tops of trees that stood out like the heads of broccoli planted neatly in a large concrete garden.
When they sat down, Josh felt the physical distance between them again. Where their hips were generally pressing against each other whenever they sat, Josh figured he could fit his fingers comfortably between them right now. Josh also realized that they hadn’t spoken a word since ordering their coffees.
Thierry was looking away and toward Yonge, his mind commanding that he turn and look at Josh and tell him what was on his mind. Tell him about the dream. Taxis zipped past, the exhaust from the mufflers floating in the air like tiny toxic clouds, the wheels ripping through the puddles of black slush. Passerby’s shuffled north. A drunken man dressed in layers of tattered clothing stumbled by, stopping to shout at someone who wasn’t there, and then marched on with a renewed sense of confidence, as if he’d won an argument with his tongue-tied and invisible counterpart.
“He looks like Santa, if Mr. Claus lost his job in the North Pole and fell back on the bottle as his unemployment insurance,” Josh said. It was a spot-on comparison. The homeless guy had a long white beard that was browned not with age or nicotine, but dirt, and matted in parts like plush toy.
Thierry smiled, which made Josh uncomfortable. He thought it was a pretty funny joke, and they’d spent countless hours people watching, Thierry always snickering, fighting to suppress full-out laughter to avoid confrontation. Why wasn’t he laughing now? Josh wasn’t a textbook over-thinker, but his anxieties sometimes tricked him into thinking something was askew when it wasn’t. Thierry wasn’t sitting further away, their jackets puffed out to create a fluffy barrier between them; he wasn’t upset, just distracted by the people and cars going by, lost in the pre-winter whimsy of an unexpected snowfall. Everything did look prettier covered in a fresh coat of snow. One could forget about the manufactured and noise pollution when it rained or snowed, or when the sun was setting and lit the sky pink. In those little moments, it was as if there was a unity between everything, man-made and organic.
Josh tried again to lure Thierry into some semblance of normal conversation. “It’s weird having snow on the ground without Christmas lights in the middle of Yonge.”
Thierry nodded, still fixed on the street.
Yonge Street during the holiday season was a beautiful sight. The ‘world’s longest street’ turned into the world’s longest ribbon, illuminated by tiny white lights draped over and around small trees planted in the islands that divided traffic, bulbs twirled around light posts, wrapping the city as one giant present to millions of people.
“What’s the craziest thing you can think of right now?” Josh asked. It was something they asked each other at random moments, or when the conversation hit a lull and needed to be thrust into a new phase.
Thierry said, almost a whisper, “I can’t right now. You tell me the craziest ting you can tink of.” What Thierry had been thinking about was more than crazy.
“Alright,” Josh said, hopeful that one final stab at trying to alleviate the pall over them would be this gem: “Could you imagine if Hugh Hefner turned out to be gay? He’d be the biggest closet fag in the history of homosexuality.” Josh watched Thierry, eager for his response.
Thierry chuckled. It was an extended chuckle, but not the roar Josh was expecting. Josh couldn’t deny the uneasy feeling anymore. Unfortunately, the dividing line between truth and fiction greyed whenever anxiety came out to play. Sarcasm was mistaken for malice; a joke became a covert truth; truth turned into hollow words. Sometimes you became certain of something that you weren’t sure about at all, and conversely, unsure of something you were convinced of. Anxiety, the great confuse-r, the coward, and the world’s biggest insecurity blanket, loved to prey on those in a moment of the slightest doubt.
“Is there something wrong?” Josh asked. Anxiety had won, as it always did.
“Non,” said Thierry. But there was. He dug his shoes repeatedly into the sheet of snow, creating a little powder wall at the toes of his footprint. Still staring at the street, he changed his mind. “Oui, but I don’t know ‘ow to explain.” He looked at Josh and gave him an appreciative smile, the kind you give in awkward situations where words fail.
Thierry looked at Josh while the dream replayed in his mind. During a nap he’d taken that afternoon, Josh died suddenly in his sleep. In the dream, he couldn’t see Josh’s face, but he knew it was Josh because he could hear Josh crying “Help” in a strained, almost guttural scream. It scared the shit out of Thierry, and he spent the time between waking up and leaving to meet Josh wrapped in his blanket and clutching a sweater Josh had worn and left at his place. He spent hours crying and smelling the smoky and cologne-minty shirt. Coming up the subway stairs to meet Josh, he made a mental note that he needed to wash the sweater before Josh wore it, or it would be dotted with the occasional dry patch of snot. Knowing Josh, Thierry reasoned in a flash of normal thought, he’d think I used the shirt as a cum-rag.
Josh smiled back with the same weak smile, wondering what was on Thierry’s mind. “Do you mean you can’t explain it linguistically, or you can’t dare to tell me?” Josh said ‘dare’ in an overacted, melodramatic gasp while pressing the back of his hand against his forehead. Sometimes Josh amazed himself with how well he handled shitty situations. Somehow, the clown routine had yet to come around and bite him in the ass.
Thierry laughed this time, and slapped Josh on the arm. “Shut up, jerk.” It was what Thierry said whenever Josh poked fun at his French accent or the mispronunciation of a word. Josh’s favourite was ‘develop’, which often came out ‘devil-op’.
Thierry pulled Josh into him, nestling his chin in Josh’s neck. Josh twitched at the tickle of Thierry’s stubble, but once settled, he squeezed Thierry’s frame, bordering the line between intense affection and trying to snap his spine. Hugging was the only option left for Josh, because while Thierry had seemingly snapped out of his stupor, he hadn’t answered Josh’s question.
Nor would he. Not that night. Thierry tried to find a way to tell him, but the words couldn’t formulate into an audible sentence. He wished Josh could read his mind, because the explanation and warning were there, clear and crisp in concise description. Thierry couldn’t tell Josh that his dreams generally came true.
“Come, let’s go,” Josh said, accepting that the truth wasn’t going to come out this moment. “Let’s go to the pool hall. It’s fucking freezing.” They walked the block south to VIP Billiards and spent the night scratching and sinking the eight-ball before they were supposed to. They were horrible at pool.
Thierry sat on the edge of his bed in a t-shirt and boxers. He was rapidly thumping the heel of his foot on the ground and nibbling at fingernails that were chewed down almost to the point of drawing blood.
It had been a week since the dream about Josh. It had been a week since he’d seen Josh, who was on his way over to have some drinks, watch some TV, and maybe fool around.
Thierry was frustrated and scared. He was scared because it had been over fifteen years since he’d had a dream. He’d trained himself not to dream by focusing on the black of sleep before slipping under, and it seemed to work. The last dream he had was about his dog Patrice getting run over by a garbage truck. Two weeks later, Patrice snuck into the garbage bin, maybe after a bone or discarded piece of meat, and was dumped into the back of the truck and crushed when the driver started the compactor. He was frustrated because he knew it wasn’t fair to treat Josh like a dog you knew was sick and therefore didn’t want to get close to. It was a cowardly thing to do.
And what if it didn’t come true?
The dreams weren’t always one hundred percent accurate, even though the outcome was usually the same: death. There was only one time when the dream didn’t come true, and that was when he dreamt he was straight. That was a nightmare.
He decided that he wasn’t going to tell Josh, because he’d either think Thierry was crazy, or he’d work himself into an emotional frenzy and spend what time he had left alive worrying and waiting. Josh had told Thierry once that if he were to ever have a terminal disease, he wouldn’t want to know about it.
It made sense to Thierry. If the world was going to end, would he want to know that the asteroid was coming in advance, or wake up one morning to hear the roar of a large piece of space rock seconds before it obliterated humanity? He juggled the answer. On one hand, it would be nice to know that there was a finite amount of time left so he could do the things he always wanted to but had never done, and say peace to life somewhat on his own terms, even though the end of the world wasn’t really his choice. People procrastinated, and unless some sort of clock was winding down, they would rather put that thing off until later, because tomorrow always seemed better. On the other hand, he wasn’t really sure if he could handle the news of a pending Armageddon well, and if he couldn’t, then he’d spent the rest of his time in anxious wait until the bell tolled and he, along with a billion others, went poof. Not knowing about your date of death meant normalcy, routine, and nothing to fear.
And he knew all too well that fear was a selfish motherfucker.
A knock came from the door, which jerked Thierry out of his nervous trance. He didn’t bother putting on PJ’s—he told himself that tonight was all about returning to how things were before the dream.
Thierry opened the door. Josh stepped in, planting a kiss on each cheek and closing the door behind him. Thierry pushed him into the wall, barely missing the hallway mirror, and mauled him, ripping his jacket off and thrashing at his belt buckle, fumbling and struggling to loosen it. Josh could barely breathe, let alone protest or question the force with which he was being manhandled by. Thierry threw him on the bed, pulled his pants off, and moved his kisses from Josh’s mouth south to his chest, his stomach, and then his cock.
To say they made love wouldn’t be an accurate description. It wasn’t rape, because it was consensual. It wasn’t hard-core, because it wasn’t emotionless. They fucked like people madly in love that hadn’t seen each other for years because some external force had kept them from being together for all of that time.
When the fest simmered down, some three hours and multiple orgasms later, Josh and Thierry laid in bed panting and giggling. Thierry even let Josh have a smoke in bed, relaxing the no-smoking-inside rule for the night. They were lying on their sides, facing each other but avoiding eye contact. They both seemed to be searching each other’s body for something to say. Josh wanted to ask if everything was alright, considering they hadn’t seen each other since playing pool, and that night started off with a weird vibe. He also didn’t want to bring attention to it, because magic spells were spoiled by opposing incantations.
“This was amazing,” Josh said. “We haven’t torn into each other like that since we got drunk after Marco’s birthday party, what, over a year ago? I thought we were getting to the comfortable and complacent part of a relationship.” Josh kissed Thierry on the forehead.
Thierry twitched his head back as if a spider were dangling in front of his eyes. He propped himself up on his elbow. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, T. Last week was really weird. You barely said anything, and when you finally did, it was something you couldn’t tell me. Then we sent little text messages back and forth, no phone calls. Hey, how ya doin’? That’s not us.”
Thierry was starting to feel sick; the room started spinning and the contents of his stomach circled in the whirlpool of panic. He sat up and swung his legs off the bed, sitting with his back to Josh. He had buried the dream deep enough to allow him the best sex night of his life, but the mere mention of last week brought losing Josh to the forefront of his mind. The idea was unbearable.
Josh sat up, swung his legs off the edge of his side of the bed, and sat with his back to Thierry. Standing at the foot of the bed, they looked like two bookends on either end of an empty shelf.
Josh asked, “Are you falling out of love with me?”
Thierry said in a low voice, “Non.”
“Is it someone else?”
Thierry actually laughed. “Non, vous imbécile.”
Josh started getting dressed. He scavenged around the bedroom looking for the various articles of clothing that were whipped off of him by the fury of Thierry’s rare, and quite frankly long-overdue, passion. Thierry watched him as he put his shoes on and tied the laces.
“I think you need some time, T,” Josh said with a slight quiver in his voice.
Thierry reached out his hand to Josh, who looked at it and hesitated, then pushed it away. “Why would you say that, Josh?”
“I know something is on your mind.” His throat felt like it was bloated, and it suddenly became very hard to breathe. “This night was magical. It was like how it was before. But it also feels like it was a ‘last time’ gig, so if that’s what you’re thinking, just hurry the fuck up and say goodbye.”
Thierry’s lips trembled, but he fought the urge to cry. This was all just a huge mistake. He opened his mouth, and nothing came out but a strained whimper.
Josh pursed his lips and nodded. “Let’s give it a week. Think about what you need to think about, then say what you need to say. Before you do, though, you need to know that I love you so Goddamn much. That needs to factor into whatever you’re thinking.”
Josh walked to the door and left the apartment, never looking back. When the door closed, he locked it and slipped his key through the mail slot. The tinkle of it hitting Thierry’s floor echoed through the quiet hallway. Thierry jumped. It sounded like a wind chime in a dead calm, unnatural and haunting. When the moment passed, Thierry put on Josh’s sweater—the same one he’d wrapped himself in after he had the dream—and walked to the door. He picked up the key and put it in his key dish on the kitchen counter. He gathered a different key, this one silver, and studied it as if it held a magic power or unlocked a door that he couldn’t find, knowing that behind the lock was a world he could only dream of. It was the key to Josh’s place. He closed his hand on it and squeezed. When the jagged teeth of it started to bite into his fingers, he dropped the key back into the dish.
He went back to his bedroom and pulled out a notepad from the bedside table. He wrote, La rêve était juste un rêve, over and over again. The first dozen lines were in Thierry’s neat cursive, but by the time his wrists started to ache, after hundreds of lines, the pen started thrashing over and through the paper, digging sometimes three-sheets deep and in big block letters, penned not by Thierry but by some madman writing in a frustrated trance, hoping that each letter jotted would ward off the curse that plagued him.
Thierry wanted so badly for the dream to just be a dream.
Josh spent the week trying his best to stay busy, always on the go, even when there was nowhere left to wander. It was a lesson in coping with anxiety. Even though he knew trying to push away what was bothering him would only make it worse, it was the initial reaction of a mental defective prone to overthinking. Was he overthinking? Or was something doing the bulk of the nagging and wondering for him, then discarding the tons of excess onto him because it couldn’t handle the overload? Sometimes that’s what it felt like—Josh was Josh, and there was some other somewhere inside his head reaping havoc on his mental circuitry.
The little fucker in his brain was strong. Even on meds and after bi-weekly psychiatry appointments, it could and would find a way to circumvent the system. Conquered your OCD? Let’s shift over to your physical health. You believe the doctor when she says all the tests came back normal? Okay, let’s readjust and land on insomnia. Whatever it is that you think you’ve overcome, I’ll figure out another way to undo your progress. That was the little fucker’s credo, its sole purpose for being. It didn’t wake up in the morning with you, because it never slept. It was always working toward one thing: undoing you.
Josh tried not to think about Thierry, and in so doing, thought more about Thierry. He saw Thierry in the pub across the street from his place, sitting on an empty stool; at the Laundromat, folding a pile of invisible shirts and placing them into an empty hamper; the subway platform at Wilson Station, jumping in front of train that wasn’t there; in any word or number on any given sign in any given moment. Love Your Body wasn’t an ad for self-appreciation, it was a reminder that Thierry was his body, the two of them fused together the first night they made love, fumbling to figure out each other’s likes and dislikes in bed, hovering over boundaries and finding small pieces of a pattern that made each subsequent sexual encounter better than the last, until they had solved each other. Maximum 40 didn’t refer to the speed limit; it meant being alone until at least that age, which was a dozen years away. Fucked Up wasn’t a poor tag spray-painted by a kid who’d found a can in an alley; it was an exclamation point ending the sentence of Josh’s love life. He fucked up.
Did he, though? Even in conversation with friends, or busy at work looking over mock-ups for unpublished novels, or anytime he thought his mind was preoccupied, the question was always murmuring away deep in his mind: Did I fuck up?
He hadn’t, and Thierry told him as much when they met a week later. They had met up at the same corner downtown that they always did, ordered their coffees, and walked to the same park just south of College St.
Before he started explaining, Thierry asked Josh, “What’s de craziest ting you can tink of right now?”
Josh smiled, and Thierry wondered if it was forced. He knew Josh well enough to know that the last week couldn’t have been easy on him.
“How much money would it take for you to go down on a girl? I figured it would take at least a thousand bucks for me.”
Thierry choked on this and coughed. “It would take only five dollars for me. Dat’s deux café pour moi!” Josh laughed a hearty full-belly laugh.
Thierry warmed by the heat of Josh’s happiness. He cleared his throat, signalling the serious talk ahead. “I was going tru a moment of uncertainty,” he said to Josh.
Thierry also spent the previous week in mental exhaustion. He wrote the same line in French, as he had the night Josh left, filling up notebooks and pads of lined paper. He wrote it so much that he started to believe it. He called in sick to work and ordered food in. He hadn’t felt fresh air on his face until he left to meet Josh.
He spent the week consulting the Internet, asking the e-world about dreams that come true. All sorts of answers came back instantly, as if the various e-people were sitting in wait with their e-answers for this exact e-question.
It’s a cognitive superpower, said E-Person One.
It’s a load of shit, said E-Person Two.
It’s unknown, and almost impossible to study scientifically; however, hypotheses suggest that dreams come true through the power of suggestion; that is, if you believe in the dream, it is more likely to come true than if you left it at simply being a dream, said E-Doctor One-And-Only. Thierry liked this explanation, because it uncovered a truth unknown to him: did he not worry, a little too much, about the dream he had about his dog? It was so vivid; yet rather than shake it off as a nightmare, he obsessed about it. He was only a kid, of course, but most kids tell their parents about the bad dream, and the father says, ‘Don’t be silly’ or the mother says, ‘It was only a dream’. Thierry kept it inside, but didn’t bury it.
E-Doctor One-And-Only went on to say, While there is significant oral history to satisfy the fore-mentioned hypotheses, most of my colleagues in the scientific community, whether neurologists or psychiatrists, generally agree that the theory of the power of suggestion regarding dreams, or any sort of pre-cognitive/mind control abilities therein, are not provable, and therefore can only be treated as mere coincidence.
There was now a logical explanation about the other dream he had, a couple of years after the one about his dog. The plane crashed, killing all one hundred and seventy-three people on board. He didn’t know why he knew the number; he woke up with it ringing in his ear, saw it sprawled across his bedroom wall in big block letter. 173. There was a kid wearing a little red shoe, though Thierry was never on the plane in the dream. The picture was grey, but he could hear screams, a deafening rush of wind, and then an explosion. That’s when the image cleared, and Thierry stood in front of the charred ruins of an aircraft. At his feet was a red sneaker fit for a toddler. The nightmare kept Thierry up for days. It was all he thought about.
Two weeks later, Flight 173 fell out of the sky and met its fate in a farmer’s field between Marseille and Bordeaux. Experts cited mechanical failure in both engines, and it was found, following an extensive investigation, that the airline had failed to conduct the mandatory mechanical safety tests for five years straight. It’s not often that planes crash, but they do. They often carry over a hundred people. He refused to watch any more news coverage, because he didn’t want to know about any remains or items of clothing found. Naturally, since he was two for two in the dreams-coming-real department, he was scared to death. Since he wouldn’t go to a doctor or any living soul about his ‘condition’, he purchased a book about dreaming, and learned a method of hypnosis that prevents dreaming. The book helped Thierry have imageless sleep up until the one about Josh. Dr. One-And-Only had helped Thierry decide that it was all coincidence. To play it safe, Thierry decided that if he were to have another dream, he wouldn’t think about it. He didn’t know how rare the gift of thought-blocking was.
Josh grabbed Thierry’s hand. “Are you alright?”
Thierry smiled. “Oui, sorry. I was just tinking. Where was I?”
“You were going ‘tru’ a moment of uncertainty…”
Thierry laughed. “Shut up, jerk! I was going through a moment of uncertainty. I did a lot of research online, trying to figure out why I was feeling the way dat I was, and ‘ow to express it, and I came across an article dat said it is very normal for a couple to ‘it a snag around de two-year mark. For some reason, twenty-four monts spark a time when de ‘oly proverb from de Book of Love, 21:12, which state Shit or get off de pot comes screaming at you like a religious fanatic at de corner of Yonge and Dundas. ‘BELIEVE’, it said, ‘For de choice of now or never is upon ye. Defecate or remove dyself from dy container’. More often dan not, one of de partners will ‘ave a sudden realization about de seriousness of de relationship, and dat will cause dem to panic and act distant. Dat is what my issue was, Josh.” Thierry offered him a sympathetic smile.
Josh returned it. “You know what your issue is, Thierry?” He sounded a little too serious, almost defensive. Thierry moved back a little without thinking and tilted his head to the side, curious and cautious. “It is your inability to properly pronounce the th of a word. It’s one of the many reasons I love you and would never want to lose you, my fob.”
Thierry laughed. “Mondieur! I’m sorry about de last couple of weeks. Let’s pretend like none of it ever happen.”
“Happened. Past tense, Frenchy.” They hugged each other, kissed (to the disgust of the tattooed ‘gangster’ walking by who felt the need to scoff and call them faggots), and decided that instead of going out for a night on the town, they were going to and spend some quality time in the bedroom.
It was over four months later when Thierry thought about the dream. He didn’t panic. It didn’t sting him in his chest or twist his stomach into knots; it came and went; a brief relapse in thought, entering with an inhale and gone with an exhale.
They spent that time as they had before the hiccup, busy with their own lives and spending as much time as they could together, though they’d both be lying if either said they hadn’t put more into the relationship since their short break. Like someone who has suffered a stroke and quit smoking, or when somebody wakes up from a coma with a newfound appreciation for mobility, sound, sight, and life—smiling with, and thankful for, each new morning, whereas they used to slide out of bed and complain about how tired they felt—Thierry and Josh shared a silent, improved appreciation for each other. They texted a little more often and spoke on the phone for a little while longer. They spoke of the future now, planning their wedding, discussing floral arrangements and colour schemes the way young boys talk about Dragon Ball Z and skateboarding, half-serious and semi-flippant, honest and airy.
Josh was sitting next to Thierry when he called his parents in France and told them he was gay and that he had been dating Josh for over two years. Rather than hang up the phone or call their son every homophobic slur under the sun, they gave Thierry shit for not telling them sooner. They joked with him about how they had always known, and wondered if the day would ever come that the truth would come out. A couple of tears trickled down Thierry’s face as his parents told him how proud they were of their son, and how happy they were that he’d found someone special enough to share a moment, and hopefully the rest of his life, with.
Josh mouthed, “Is everything okay?” as he wiped the watery beads from Thierry’s cheek.
“More than. I love you,” Thierry mouthed back.
His parents spoke to Josh and told him that they would love to meet him, and sooner rather than later. There was no interview, no screening process, no twenty-one questions. There was only a gentle disclaimer from his father: If you break my son’s heart, you won’t be welcome anywhere in France. They laughed and said talk soon, take care.
Thierry and Josh went for a walk afterward, breathing in the bounty of life after the surreal moment they shared with Thierry’s parents. What a time to be alive, they both thought. Josh didn’t think about his parents. Why spoil the party? They walked for over an hour until they got to Yonge Street.
As the Blue Line late-night bus was pulling up, Josh kissed Thierry and flicked his nose on the tip of Thierry’s. “I love you, Frenchy,” he said.
“I love you, smokestack.”
Josh barked and then shook his head. He got on the bus, and as it left Thierry behind, he kept waving until he was out of sight.
Of the few dozen beautiful instances in his life, Thierry put this one up at the top.
That night, Thierry had another dreamless sleep, focusing on his breath and the thick curtain behind his eyes. He cleared his mind of passing thoughts and listened to the tiny whistle of air passing through his nostrils.
When he woke up the next morning, he grabbed his phone and texted Josh. Good morning, sexy, it said. He followed it up with a kissy-face emoticon and a giant, pulsing heart.
Thierry took a shower, singing along to Bowie’s “Golden Years” as he washed, spending extra time on cleaning the places where the sun didn’t shine. He’d be meeting Josh in the east end in a few hours, once Josh was finished work. After he dried off, he boogied to his bedroom as Bowie cried that fame isn’t your brain, it’s just the flame that burns your change to keep you insane.
He checked his phone. No response. Odd, Thierry thought. Even at work, Josh had his cell at his side, at the ready. Thierry figured he was in a meeting. He got dressed, brushed his teeth, and went back to his phone. Still nothing. He dialled Josh’s number, and after six rings, got his voicemail. Thierry left him a message to call him back when he got the chance.
After breakfast, Thierry checked his phone again. There was a message from Kris, their friend. She was asking Thierry for advice about a guy who apparently hadn’t messaged her in over three days, and was she supposed to reach out to him or keep waiting? Thierry frowned, shook his head, and closed the message. He called Josh again with the same result as before. He scrolled through the contacts on his phone and hit the one labelled ‘Josh—Work’.
“Easy-Reads Books, this is Sandra speaking. How may I help you?”
“’Ey Sandra, it’s Thierry.” He didn’t like that he sounded a little worried. “Is Josh in? I can’t seem to get a hold of ‘im on ‘is cell.” He cleared his throat and struggled through a swallow. Why had his mouth gone dry?
“Oh, I thought you were calling to tell me he wasn’t coming in today. We figured he was laid up in bed, sick. He didn’t show up.”
“Oh,” Thierry said. He was biting on his bottom lip without knowing and stopped as soon as he realized. “Dat’s news to me. Tanks, Sandra. Take care.” She started to say something else, but he slammed his thumb on the red ‘End’ in the centre of his phone’s screen. He called Josh again. It wasn’t Josh’s voice apologizing for not being able to make it to the phone just now; it was an automated woman, an e-woman, Thierry thought briefly, telling him that the voicemail he was trying to reach was full, and to call back again later.
“Fuck you,” he told her. She didn’t seem to care, because the line went dead without protest from her.
“C’est des conneries!” he said, starting to pace. He was right; it was bullshit. If Josh was playing hooky, why wasn’t Thierry in on it? But it was Sandra who had suggested Josh was in bed with a bug, and she clearly didn’t know that as gospel. It was a hunch or a scenario that made sense: boyfriend of the ill calls in for Mr. Sick to say he isn’t coming to work. Boss now knows whereabouts of missing employee, and can tear up the written warning they’d prepared for abandoning a shift.
He pulled on the first pieces of clothing he could find, grabbed Josh’s key from the key dish, and organized an Uber as he raced down the stairs. Waiting for the car to pull up, he wondered why he was trembling and felt off balance. Josh was most likely under the covers with a fever and a few too many Tylenols in his system. He could be out shopping. He could be coming over to Thierry’s to surprise him. Hell, he could be in bed with another guy. Or even worse; a girl. Why was Thierry acting as if something had happened to him?
Thinking about the absurdity of acting irrationally calmed Thierry down. There were a million things that would explain Josh’s absence, and something wrong wasn’t one of them.
The Uber drove up, and Thierry made idle chit-chat with the driver as they headed North to Josh’s apartment. Thierry was relieved that the Russian man behind the wheel didn’t ask him if everything was all right, because it meant that he was acting normal. He was a little weirded out by the driver’s insistence that Trump would be a fresh, positive change for the ‘almost-too-black’ America, and when they drove up to Josh’s building, Thierry probably exited the car with a little too much jump. He made a mental note that he would give a bad rating to the racist, retarded driver. Just as soon as he was inside with Josh.
Thierry pressed the buzzer for Josh’s apartment and jumped when the door clicked, unlocking. He hadn’t realized that he’d pressed the wrong number, and that somebody else in the wrong apartment had let him in.
He smiled, drizzles of sweat dampening the back of his t-shirt underneath his coat. He was shaking his head, thinking about the overreaction, the panic, when Josh was home the whole time, of course he was, just resting his sick body, or maybe waiting for Thierry to throw the whole thing into overdrive, racing over to his place expecting the worst, only to find Josh in bed biting on a single rose and wearing only a red leather thong. Thierry would have the last laugh, he decided, because even if Josh were in such a seductive position, Thierry would give him a bad case of blue-balls for getting him all worked up.
He bolted up the stairs to Josh’s apartment, too impatient to wait for the rickety, half-working elevator. He didn’t like the confines of small spaces at the best of times, and this elevator cried like it was in pain and bound to fall apart from years of abuse.
He got to Josh’s door, took a deep breath, and turned the doorknob. It was locked. Of course, he thought. Going for the grand spectacle. He slid his key into the lock and opened the door.
“’Ello?” He could hear the TV in Josh’s room. “Josh?” he called, louder. No reply. He walked through the hallway to the kitchen. He peaked in and saw a heap of dirty dishes in the sink and an open box of cereal on the counter. A pack of smokes sat open next to the ashtray overflowing with mashed butts. Thierry scoffed at the pigsty and thought that if the two of them were ever going to share an apartment or house, Josh was going to have to get a lesson in cleanliness.
He continued down the hall, which forked at the end: left to the bedroom, right to the washroom. He went right, half-hoping to catch Josh in the middle of a bowel movement, when he’d be least sexy and more vulnerable to the reaming he was about to get. Thierry opened the door, turned on the lights, and looked around the empty, yet surprisingly clean bathroom.
He turned around and headed down the hall. Josh’s bedroom door was ajar, and the alternating shadows cast by the TV, from light to dark, dark to light, made Thierry feel like he was going to walk in on Josh in the middle of some demonic sacrifice, the furniture thrown about because of a post-ritual struggle. He took a step forward and then stopped when the sound cut suddenly.
“Josh?” he called out again. The silence sent a tingle fluttering through his shoulders and down his arms. He could hear the faint droning of the fridge. He was breathing in half-intakes, trying to be quieter than the quiet he found himself in.
He got to the door and pushed it open a couple of inches. Thierry started breathing normally when he saw the TV. It had gone mute because Josh hadn’t touched the remote long enough for Netflix to politely ask if he was still watching, as if it was mildly offended by his inattentiveness. Josh had been watching Lost, which meant he had to have gone through eight hour-long episodes before Netflix got sassy and asked him to press play or piss off. Josh had pre-set Netflix to leave him alone until the eight hours of continuous play was over. Thierry rolled his eyes, picturing Josh watching the stupid show for the hundredth time, wondering how someone could give so much to a show that started off amazingly with the first two seasons and quickly fucked itself over with the confusing plot and Sopranos-like open-ended bullshit. Thierry thought it should have been buried in a grave big enough to hold all of its narrative holes.
He took another step in and saw that Josh’s bed was empty. The covers were pulled off and hanging to the left of the bed, revealing a mattress with no sheet, another faux pas that Thierry would have to educate him on.
“Josh, dis is not funny anymore.” Was it ever a joke? There were an abundance of silly fancies popping into Thierry’s mind over the last hour, but the seriousness, the reality of something gone amiss hadn’t exactly disappeared as a possibility for Josh’s absence. He continued to the foot of the bed, walked to the other side, and found a clump of blanket on the floor.
He pulled the blanket at his feet, slowly, waiting for Josh to pop up and scare the living shit out of him, but also hesitant at what might be underneath. A tug and he saw Josh’s hair. Two more tugs and he saw Josh’s eyes, bulging and centred. No blinking. No slow look to the right to gauge Thierry’s reaction. He whipped the rest of it from Josh.
Thierry made a sound, not quite a groan, not quite a cry. It was a scream caught in his throat, because the sight of Josh sent Thierry’s breakfast hurtling up from his stomach and into Josh’s closet.
Josh looked like a cat left outside in a snowstorm and found several hours later. His hands were held up in front of him, arched at the elbows, as if he was ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey. His mouth was unhinged, more open than his eyes, and his tongue lolled from the side of his mouth. A trickle of dry blood spotted his left nostril.
Thierry fell to his knees. He cried and begged Josh to wake up, to stop fucking around. He pleaded with him, grabbing his ankles and shaking him, to breathe. He didn’t check for a pulse. He didn’t put his hand over Josh’s mouth to feel for air. The touch of Josh’s cold skin was answer enough to the obvious question: he was dead.
Thierry knelt over Josh for what must have been over two hours, talking to him and rubbing his shins. He told Josh that they were supposed to go and see his parents; they were supposed to get married; they were supposed to grow old together and die at the same time. He told Josh that his dream wasn’t supposed to become real, that Josh was supposed to be the one dream that stayed in the realm of sleep, safe from the curse of Thierry’s mind.
An ambulance drove by, its siren interrupting the casual conversation between the dead and the living. Thierry looked to the window, open even in the winter, and watched the curtains dance to the breeze, pushing out toward Thierry as if telling him that he had overstayed his welcome and that it was time to leave.
He took the cue and stood up. Pulled out his phone and called 911. The cops arrived first, followed by the ambulance and then the fire department.
Standing in the hallway, answering questions the police had, he overheard the paramedic say, “He’s been dead for at least eight hours. Estimated time of death is between two- and -six AM.”
“No shit,” Thierry said without thinking.
“Excuse me?” asked the officer.
Thierry pulled his look from over the officer’s shoulder and returned it to the cop’s gaze. “Sorry, I got distracted.”
The cop nodded his head slowly, as if to say Uh-huh. “Can you explain why your puke is next to the deceased’s body?”
Thierry narrowed his eyes, giving the officer the Clint Eastwood scowl. “Great question. ‘Ow about… ‘Ow about because I found my boyfriend lying dead on ‘is bedroom floor? ‘Ow about…” He almost said How about I dreamed that this would happen, and my dreams are never wrong, so I came over today to face the fucking music and confront the inevitable, stupid prophecy I had.
The officer scribbled into his notepad and then told Thierry to wait there. He went into the bedroom and came out a minute later, followed by the paramedic. As if their little conference needed to be within earshot of Thierry, like they were subtly rubbing in the gruesome details of Josh’s death, punishing Thierry for not being here six hours ago, the paramedic told the officer that the cause of death was massive myocardial infarction, and that he most likely died instantly.
How comforting, Thierry thought. Then: I could have told you that. Because that was how it happened in the dream. Only in the dream, Lost wasn’t the last show Josh had watched; in the dream, Thierry could hear the jingle from The Office (American version) from the hallway, and before he discovered Josh in the exact same position he had found him in real life, Michael Scott was talking about Cupid’s Sparrow, who was a crazy little bird that got the job done.
The cop patted the paramedic on the back, Good job fucking with the kid, doc, he seemed to say, and then turned toward Thierry. “You’re clear to go. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Merci,” said Thierry through gritted teeth.
He headed for the door, spotting the pack of cigarettes and taking it with him. When he got outside, he lit one up, took a deep drag and coughed his lungs clean. His phone went ding. He swiped the screen and read the email. It was Uber asking to rate the Russian racist. Thierry whipped his phone at the concrete, shattering it to pieces, and screamed. This all had to be a dream.
A week had passed since Josh’s death. There was no funeral, because Josh’s parents gave two-shits about it. When Thierry called them, Josh’s father spat into the phone, “I hope he rots in Hell! Boy was probably riddled with AIDS, too!” Before Thierry could impart some wisdom to the vagrant on the other end of the line, Josh’s dad had hung up.
Three weeks later the Province of Ontario paid for the burial because nobody had come to claim him. Thierry attended the wake with the small circle of friends they had in common, though he wished he could have been left alone. Josh was buried in North York Cemetery, and Thierry used his credit card to pay for the headstone that listed Josh’s life’s credentials, as well as the epitaph, “Forever Young,” Josh’s favourite song.
The months following Josh’s death were a dizzying blur for Thierry. His parents had offered to come and see him, or to get him a ticket to come back to France, but Thierry politely declined and said he just wanted some time to process things. His parents asked that he call them every day to make sure he was alright, but Thierry knew that was just a passive way of making sure he didn’t do something stupid like kill himself.
One sleepless night, Thierry popped open his laptop and Googled “Flight 731 crash.” There were millions of hits, some of them truthers discussing conspiracy theories about the French government’s involvement in the crash, the Wikipedia entry, and various news articles. Thierry clicked on the first result, which opened a link to Le Monde, a French newspaper. The article was titled “Plane Crashes in Plain View of Thousands.” Apparently the crash happened close to a stadium where there was a soccer match being played. Thierry scrolled down and read through the first few paragraphs, recounting gory details he’d forgotten since his first obsession with the accident. He stopped halfway when he came across a large image. The picture was of a single red child’s sneaker.
Thierry smiled when he saw the toddler’s shoe, not because he was glad a kid had died, but because it confirmed everything he’d tried to deny. He dreamt of the red sneaker; he dreamt of his dog; he dreamt of Josh. His dreams always came true.
Thierry had two dreams the night before. The second was of him and Josh. They were sitting at the end of a long dock, the lake and evergreens sprawled out before them and almost black in the shadow of the setting sun. Their legs were swinging to and fro, the tips of their toes brushing the surface of the cool water. Thierry asked Josh what the craziest thing on his mind was, and Josh said, “That we’re going to spend forever together, right here.”