“And then I couldn’t stop laughing.”
Reg loves the Habs more than he loves his wife and she loves listening to him grunt and shout at the players more than she loves his kiss.
Years of smoking du Maurier lights have scratched out his voice. I sometimes imagine a little man in his throat opening and folding up a beer can like an accordion when he speaks to me. When I met his five-year-old daughter, substantial and saucy, I wondered what Reg’s voice sounded like reading from books about the three little pigs or the seven dwarfs.
Reg is bilingual in the way only Montreal can make you. His relaxed French is flawless and weaves in and out of joual, but francophones can always detect that he speaks both. He never stumbles in English, but sometimes reaches for French words: vers, franchement, insupportable.
I knew only one other man like Reg.
My grade-three French teacher, Monsieur Thibault, had taken a hockey puck to his throat guarding nets for a semi-professional league for over-forties. The blow crushed his vocal chords, filling his French and English with wind.
Passing Reg at the doorway to the storeroom, I realize that I still remember how Monsieur Thibault smelled. His smell was a mystery to me. And all my little heart wanted was to get to the bottom of it. I was sure he smoked. At nine, I didn’t even know what cigarette smoke smelled like. But then, I also didn’t know what a man smelled like.
I selected a sidekick, Tatiana Poplovski, and brought a spiral notebook to school with the sharpied title, “Monsieur Thibault: Smoking Case.” That morning, Tatiana and I became detectives. We observed and meticulously noted the yellowness of his teeth, the condition of his nails, the frequency of his breaks. We gave up because our data was inconclusive, but I still couldn’t get his smell out of my nose.
When Monsieur Thibault found the book, he called me to his desk. I had never been so close to his smell. I didn’t rat Tatiana out – that smell was all mine. He asked me why I had spied on him, without ever denying the allegations the book implied, and I couldn’t even answer I was so nervous. I thought about asking him how he smelled that way if he didn’t smoke.
Reg is dusting the bottles behind the bar and I’m standing, ass tight in Gap black pants, tits belted into a fuchsia bra. I didn’t eat before coming here – squeezing through the itty bitty spaces between chairs is embarrassing enough without my bloated belly skimming across a diner’s upper back.
I hate this restaurant, and I hate this job, everyone who works here, and everyone who eats here. Fuck, I even hate the delivery guys and the night cleaner.
But I can’t hate Reg yet. He reminds me too much of Monsieur Thibault. I can’t believe how much he smokes. How good he smells.
I think about the staff meal I’ll get halfway through. I can’t stomach the veggie burger they throw together from whatever’s lying around the kitchen. It sticks like a brick. There is nothing in it but oil and fennel and the whole thing starts to taste like that dirty black liquorice jelly bean that some nasty child convinces you will taste of grape; and you think: “yeah yeah, maybe just this once this black jelly bean or candy or whatever will taste sweetly of grape.” But sure enough, there’s dirty black liquorice juice swishing all around your mouth, and you feel like spitting the black saliva all over that nasty child who tricked you. It’s only unfortunate that I can’t spit the fennel-burger back on the chef.
They fired me in hot pants.
It’s the mid-afternoon lull, and the restaurant is dead quiet. Reg is behind the bar playing dirty hip hop loud on our sound system, and cracking me up by singing along. In his raspy voice, he raps, “Took the panties off and the pussy was stankin’. Pulled off the drawers and I started to begin. Now the pussy’s wet so my dick slides in.” I hate how much I like him, how I can only smell him up close. I can’t help but freeze when he hands me clean teacups to put away or lights my cigarette.
People flood in around seven, and I hardly see Reg the whole night. We only get to talk when I order martinis for my tables from him. If Reg had his way, he’d strike all the fruity liquor off of our drink menu.
“Mrs. Botox wants some vodka with her syrup, eh?” He leans over the bar. “Why doesn’t anyone ever order a cold fucking beer?”
Ten tables and 80 tip dollars later, Reg is entertaining me and four other male staff: a busboy, a waiter, the dishwasher, and the bigger boss, Carl. We’re smoking outside, in the front where passers-by can overhear everything they say. They light up while debating the best Father’s Day activity; an Alouettes football game, smoked meat, and a massage parlour are suggested in turn. Mention of the massage parlour starts Reg reminiscing about a pre-marriage gift. His brother bought him a surprise happy-endings massage or something equally banal. After Reg sat through the entire massage, the masseuse, then topless, asked him to turn over on his back to finish him off with a hand job.
I’m trying to listen with restrained feminine interest, but my head is spinning. If I butt out and head back inside, I’m a prude, and if I’m too interested, I’m a slutty horndog, or perhaps better: a lesbian.
“I burst out laughing. And then, I couldn’t stop laughing. She was sloshing her tits up there and her nipples were fucking big.”
I think about my nipples. I’m the only one who’s got some that are bigger than Canadian quarters.
“That whore’s huge nipples took up about a third of her tits. And those were pretty fucking huge to begin with.” Reg and the other three laugh and laugh and I hope my smile is enough.
Reg looks at me. I know I should shrink away and go polish something. I know he’s wondering if my un-laughing smile means that my nipples are huge like the masseuse’s.
I meet his eyes for a while, appalled and confounded by the knowledge that we are both appraising my nipples. I think about Monsieur Thibault, and I wonder if I even knew I had any then.
We catch each other’s eye for a second and I hear it out loud before it crosses my mind.
“And I take it your wife’s are so small and so perfect they look like itty bitty mosquito bites?”
No one laughs. Their glares make it clear that Reg’s wife has nothing to do with the masseuse story. But once I brought her up, it’s not fun anymore to laugh about saucer-sized nipples. So we all go back inside.
I busy myself by folding napkins, shining glasses, and refilling the peanuts behind the bar. Carl, who has been trying to can my blonde ass ever since I started, approaches Reg, seeing the hatred in his eyes, and asks him how my shift went.
“I never want to see her face again.”
Carl doesn’t ask any questions and even offers me a cigarette before he fires me by the dumpster out back in hot pants.