Don't Ask, Don't Tell
by Tracy Evans
A regular hood and small-time hustler, Dijon got his chops picking pockets in the theatre district after shows ended. He plays "the distraction," the same as he always had growing up. The comments on his report card read like echoes of each other, each year the same, "Dijon is a bright boy with lots of potential, but must avoid distractions and the tendency to distract others." Bit by bit, the positive comments fell off the reports, dropping one by one until Dijon dropped school altogether.
Dijon's role outside the theatre is simple—create a distraction. The distraction he finds works best is to shout at the top of his lungs that the show that just let out sucked (or some variation on the theme) and theatre goers, thick and slow with the molasses and honey of booze and four hours of sitting, all turn and stare at him like he sprouted a second head. Then, ever so gently, his partners in crime walk through the crowd, gently brushing up against women, wobbly in spike heels, and men with keys and loose cash in their pockets, none of them bothered by the sensation of another human brushing past in the post-theatre crush for the doors for fresh air and cigarettes, depending on their proclivity. They split the bounty three ways.
As of today, Dijon is moving "onward and upward," as Under Dog always used to say. Or was it the Flintstones? More of an idea man, Dijon is unconcerned by his inability to recall fine details.
This afternoon he wears a red CCCP T-shirt (a hold-over from the famous hockey game he is too young to remember watching on television) and a red and yellow ball cap. His arm thrown over the back of the red, vinyl-covered booth, he imagines he looks real cool waiting for the waitress to bring his burger. The burger he will never tell Cherie he ordered because he is supposed to be on a diet, but that she will know about anyway because of the small drop of ketchup that will fall on the corner of his shirt and leave a stain. It's one of the many secrets between them that aren't really secret—merely un-spoken. They have been deeply in love since their third meeting, when Cherie carefully orchestrated their running into each other again. This is another one of their unspoken secrets. Cherie never told him a mutual friend arranged their third meeting, at her request. The friend did tell Dijon she set it up, and Dijon was flattered to hear it. He has never told her he knows the secret, and so it remains just that—a secret.
They are unmarried but bound together by love and a new baby. A baby she wanted but he wasn't ready for, so she forgot to take her birth control pills because she was so sure he would love the baby enough when it arrived to make up for its ill-timing. A secret that he already knows about because the pharmacy phoned when she didn't return to pick up the refill, but he will never tell her that he already knows, because she was right—he does love baby Emma enough to make up for her ill-timing.
This afternoon, Dijon's life will change, as will the lives of the two loves of his life, if he has his way. Since Emma's arrival he finds that he's not so good in front of the theatre. Fear has made him cautious, and a cautious thief, who hesitates a second too long, is a thief who can plan on the next five to seven in medium security. That would make Emma five to seven by the time he saw her again. A friend of a friend arranged this casual meeting that is the interview that will lead to his employment as the booking agent at this venue—a bar that seats no more than 200 patrons. His plan is to parlay this job into work as a talent scout and, ultimately, his own record label. The man across the table is living the life Dijon wants.
He barrels through a tale of drunken tailgating and is suddenly afraid he's blown it with too much information when the owner only smiles gently and nods. He is relieved to hear, "Your pay is a portion of the take. If that's okay, the job is yours." He accepts with a smile and a handshake and dials Cherie on his cell the moment he exits the bar.
"Fantastic," she coos is a sleepy voice.
"I woke you up," he says, apologizing with his tone of voice.
"It's okay. Emma just went down for a nap, so I thought I'd catch up." Returning home, he enters the dim quiet of the house and gently sets his keys on the front table, only to find that Cherie has fallen asleep on the couch again with Emma resting on her breast. He wakes her with a kiss and she smiles in greeting.
That night they celebrate the new job the way they celebrate everything now that the baby is here. He lifts a glass of wine and she a glass of sparkling fruit juice. A circle of candlelight illuminates the white tablecloth (a rare treat, reserved for after Emma has gone to sleep for the night—or their new version of night—sleep stolen in three hour intervals). Dijon's first Friday is his first party. Nervous, he chain smokes in a corner of the bar, drinking Evian and lemon one after the other. Later, he will switch to vodka and 7, but for now he wants a clear head. The band on stage plays song after song that sound mostly the same, until they reach the song that has had local radio play, and the young crowd leaps to their feet and rushes the stage. He crushes out the cigarette and bobs his head, lost in the rhythm of the music.
The bartender smiles at him, her long, brown hair tied up in a hasty bun at the back of her head. She quickly averts her gaze back to the line up of customers awaiting service, resting their elbows on the sticky bar and waiting their turn to order a drink and flirt with her when Dijon looks her way. Customer after customer, she drops change into a glass on the bar reserved for just such a task wrapped with an unimaginative paper sign reading, "your tips are appreciated." She could have posted something more clever, but with this crowd she didn't want to risk going over their heads—better to be blunt and get the tip than clever and miss the extra coin.
After the show, the club's owner calls him into the office and offers Dijon a cigar to replace the cigarette pressed between his lips. He counts off several bills and sticks them in Dijon's shirt pocket with a pat and a smile. "Good show," he says.
"I thought so too," Dijon replies.
Dijon and the bartenders (one downstairs and two up) split the tips and share a game of 8-ball and a Mickey. Hours later they walk into the parking lot, where the sun has already cracked the horizon and dim light leaks into the sky. Dijon's heart thrills as he shuts the car door behind him, effectively putting a period at the end of the story of his first professional show, or rather, an exclamation point.
The house is dark when he enters. His daughter sleeps in her crib, her hands balled into fists and a bubble of spit on her lip quietly growing and shrinking as she exhales and inhales. Cherie too, sleeps, this time in the comfort of their shared bed, the first purchase they made with shared money.
Groggy, but eager to hear about the show, she opens her eyes and listens as he settles down beside her, one hand on her hip, and tells her the story from first note to breaking the stage. She gently extricates herself to look in on the baby, who is just beginning to fuss, as Dijon's breathing deepens and turns to gentle snoring.
The smell of breakfast wakes him before the sounds of the table being set. Cherie, still dressed in her robe, sips coffee at the breakfast bar and enjoys the quiet sound of bacon sizzling under a covered lid and Emma cooing contentedly, quietly amused in her playpen. She melts into Dijon's arms as he kisses her neck, slips a hand inside her robe, and they quietly return to bed.
"A necklace," she tells her friend over the phone weeks later while Emma bounces contentedly on her lap, mesmerized by the sparkle of the new bauble hanging around her neck. "At least three carats," she elaborates. Her prize for the long nights spent alone tending to the child they pledged to raise together. He bought her the necklace after a trip to the mall where he stopped at the window of the jewelry shop and pointed out several items to her: a ring, earrings, and the necklace she wears now. He reminds himself that he was just testing the waters when he pointed out three items, quietly hoping she might choose the ring. She chose the necklace over the ring, and he is slightly disappointed, but relieved at the same time—if it ain't broke, don't fix it. He presented her the necklace over supper, one of their stolen private moments together.
Cherie's days are filled with Emma and all things Emma related. She longs for a solid night's sleep and a lazy morning, but contents herself with decaf coffee and afternoons in the park. She longs for the weight of a ring on her left hand. When Dijon stopped her in front of the jewelry store her eyes lit upon the ring, all sparkling diamond and platinum setting, but then he pointed out two other items and she decided she couldn't be had that easily. If he wants to marry her, she reasons, he has to decide that for himself. She is growing tired of blueprinting their relationship.
Friday after Friday he attends show after show, each one better attended than the one before as the club gains a rep through carefully considered word of mouth. Of course, friends talk to friends, but Dijon also makes a point of visiting web rings and commenting on blogs. The early summer allows them to open the patio so that the bar that only seats 200 makes room for 400. They add another bartender and another show each week.
"I want you to take another club," the owner tells Dijon, rather than asking if he'll consider it.
The brunette bartender lets her hair down at the end of every show, and her 8-ball game has gotten progressively worse, until she asks Dijon for help making a bank shot she could easily have sunk a few weeks ago. She leans into him, soft and smiling, and lets him wrap his arms around her and guide them in making the shot. She leans on the cue, one hip cocked as she watches him sink his shot; clean and smooth, the ball drops in the corner pocket.
"Your wife play?" she asks, chalking the cue.
"We're not married," he answers and moves around the table without taking his eyes off the lay, setting up for the next shot.
"I thought you had a baby."
He steals a glance up from the table and catches her smiling at him. "Emma," he answers. "We're just not married."
He pulls the cue back and hits the cue ball off-centre; it nicks the ball he was aiming at and rolls into the side pocket. She raises an eyebrow and pulls the cue ball out of the pocket. "Just curious," she says.
Sitting on the couch, he reflects on the night's show while she pours a drink then saunters over with a glass in each hand and plops down beside him so her hips brush against his. She hands him his glass and sips from her own. Her sweet smell, a combination of shampoo, moisturizer and powder, overwhelm his senses, and he finds himself drawn to the hair that cascades over her shoulders. They make love in the office on a stack of posters that will be plastered all over the city in the morning.
"This can never happen again," he says, as she pulls her skirt back down.
"Right," she says with a wink.
He returns to the house, still quiet in the early morning, and slips into bed beside Cherie, breathing deeply, exhausted and sleeping after a night of colic, with the baby sleeping quietly beside her. He watches them both sleep and decides never to mention tonight to Cherie; but he need not mention it, because she will discover it on her own. It's hard to keep a secret from a woman who can read his eyes. His shirt, carelessly tossed in the laundry hamper before hopping in the shower, carries a foreign perfume mingled with the scent of cigarettes and stale beer. He will never tell his secret and she will never tell that she already knows it.