"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
The Junction was transformed.
The sides of the streets, where once one could see abandoned antique appliances and furniture sitting outside the houses, were all covered from sight. A glaze of ice in turn covered the snow like a thin shell. The streets themselves, though cleared of the snow by this point, were all covered in this glaze as well. Even the salt that city workers had sprayed over the roads had frozen over. It was surreal, like nothing Marty had ever seen, even in his childhood winters.
Richard had boots, but Marty had none. He managed to find some, likely Ivan's, stacked with a bunch of other shoes and boots in the basement storage area. Once outside the two of them were met with the awesome sight.
The trees, Marty pointed out to Richard as they passed by the old synagogue, were encased in ice. The trunks had a transparent shell going all the way up, and every branch stretching out was likewise encased. Once they reached Dundas they saw only a few cars on the sides of the roads frozen in place. The radio antennae of one looked like a clear popsicle.
“This is insane,” Richard stammered as they passed by it.
“I would say 'welcome to Canada', but I haven't seen anything like this either,” said Marty. “It looks like something out of science fiction.”
“Or maybe in Siberia.” At that comment they both looked at each other and went silent. Marty looked at Ivan's boots that Richard wore.
When they reached the supermarket on Pacific Avenue they parted ways, each with their own cart, and began filling up on groceries. For once the sky was the limit. Money was no object, only the amount that they could lift and take home. After they dropped off the groceries at the house they went out again, this time heading West to the LCBO near Runneymede. By the time they got home the second time they found Nicky getting ready to leave, bundling himself up in a bright purple scarf and yellow toque.
“Is it cold outside still?” he asked. “At least, I mean, as cold as it was the past few days?”
“It's freezing,” said Marty, placing his bags on the kitchen table and heading to the sink to run hot water over his red hands.
“Very cold,” Richard agreed, looking pleased instead of angry at the annoying kid. “And watch your step. The ice is everywhere.”
“This is bullshit!” Nicky cried. “I'm going down South for two months. My mom gave me a few thousand dollars so I'm going away.”
“Oh,” said Richard. “Really? Why not move out altogether then?”
Marty shot him a glare. “Are you trying to ruin our cash flow?” he thought, but kept his mouth shut.
“I'm still here. I love it here!” Nicky replied. “So, I guess I got to pay Ivan for the two months. Have you seen him around yet?”
Richard looked over to Marty. “He's still out,” he said. Marty nodded, looking at the boots that Richard still wore.
"Okay, well, this time I'll pay in advance,” said Nicky, pulling out a swathe of bills from his pant pocket. “So that's another nine hundred for the two months.”
“Oh yeah,” said Marty, pointing to Ivan's door with his free hand, his other hand, now warmed sufficiently from the water, grabbing a tall bottle of red wine out of the nearest bag. “Ivan told me he's increasing all of our rent because of the price of heating so it's going to be one thousand for you now.”
“Oh,” said Nicky, reaching deeper into his pant pocket.
“No, no,” said Richard, waving his hands. “That's not true. He went back on that. It's just nine hundred, Nicky.”
Marty glared back. An extra hundred dollars went a far way. Ivan was really going to raise the rents anyway, so Marty was not sure what Richard was doing this for, especially when Richard always complained about the kid before.
“Is it nine hundred or a thousand?” Nicky asked, heading over to the door. “I can do either.”
After a few seconds Marty sighed and answered: “Just nine bills.”
“Okay,” said Nicky, stuffing the money under the door to Ivan's, and then standing up and looking at his two seldom seen room-mates. “Tootle-ooh!” he said, waving with one hand. He left out the front, looking to brace himself for the ice storm aftermath.
Richard smiled. “Glad to have him gone,” he said, reaching for the next bottle of wine.
“What was that?” Marty asked as Richard pulled out the bottle from the bag.
“Hm? What, not charging him more?”
“Yes, in case you didn't notice we only have these drinks and all this food because of his money. Why not ask for more?”
“Because it's not ethical.”
Marty stopped himself from laughing out loud. “Oh yeah, ethical, right! Ethics! I forgot about those when I was handed a cinder block to throw on someone's face.”
“Hey, shush yourself, mate,” Richard snapped, looking about. “You know we got someone beneath us and he's blind, not deaf.”
Marty shook his head. “An extra hundred goes a long way. You don't even like that little shit.”
“It's not about who I like or not like, it's about not being greedy. Besides, what do you need the money for, rent? Are you going to go move somewhere and start paying rent again after this?”
“If I have to,” he replied. “Once the snow melts and at the first sign of anybody looking around. Point is, we're going to have to take what we got and split if we want to go on like this.”
“I'm not going to become as bad as the capitalists we're always cursing, mate,” Richard said, shaking his head, pulling out the next bottle of wine. “Ah yeah, from France, taste of the mainland, aye.”
Marty shrugged, unsure of how to respond to that (the part about 'not being as bad as capitalists', not the 'taste of the mainland' part). “I guess,” he said after a minute.
Richard handed him the bottle. “Let's just eat and drink. Be merry,” he said, raising the glass he had poured himself. Marty raised the bottle in return and gulped it's sweet contents.
The meal was epic. It tasted like Christmas. They had purchased a whole garlic-roasted chicken, four potatoes, a small veggie pizza with goat cheese, a bag of steamed broccoli, a partridge, and a bunch of pears, and three cobs of corn. They ate it all in that one meal, at the same time going through three bottles of red wine.
“That was like Thanksgiving,” said Marty. “Mmm, wish we bought dessert. I can make space.”
“Wine's enough,” Richard said, leaning his chair back against the sink counter. “I'm ready to sleep.”
“Not yet,” said Marty. “We got to roll something up.”
“Okay, sure, for old time's sake,” said Richard weakly. He preferred not to. Weed had lately made him paranoid.
Marty got up. “Let me just go back, buddy. I got one rolled up already, just need to get that and a lighter, then we can go outside.”
“Outside?” Richard laughed. “Why? Who's going to care?”
Marty paused in his tracks, his hand on his room's door, his back to Richard.
“Shouldn't have said that,” the old Brit thought, closing his eyes, hearing the door-knob turn.
They had the joint in the kitchen, and then had the rest of the wine. Marty belched, folding his arms over the table, resting the side of his head against them. He closed his eyes and saw black with swirls of purple and red in his eyelids.
“Good drinks eh,” he muttered into his sleeve.
“Yeah,” agreed Richard. “Although I'm feeling more like shit now, probably because of the weed. It's a waste of time drug.”
“Not a drug, Richard. Marigana is a herb, dawg.”
“Okay, well, cocaine is a plant, alcohol is sugar and fermentation, or wheat for beer, or whatever. But as a drug, as a high, it's useless. It's not a high, it's a low.”
Marty looked up, gazing drunkenly across the table. The room spun around him, but he managed to focus on Richard, who stood upright on his chair like he was totally stiff. Richard was the one thing in his vision not moving.
“But, who cares? I mean, it makes you think, doesn't it? Smoking weed. Combine that with alcohol and you have a bouncing mind and a loose tongue, right? Everything's loose and rigid at once. What we're dealing with here, Marty, is a human life.”
“Oh shit!” Marty yelled, raising both hands, feeling a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Shush, remember your tone.”
“Remember my tone?” Marty gasped, short of breath, suddenly wanting to yell at Richard for bringing it up. “Why's he doing this? Asshole!”
“Marty wait, catch your breath,” said Richard, getting up, accidentally knocking over an empty wine bottle, which rolled down the table toward Marty. Richard reached forward and managed to catch it before it smashed onto the floor.
Richard flung himself up from the table completely, looking to almost loose his balance as he hoisted himself to his feet. “Whoa, vertigo, fuck,” he stammered, grabbing his neck with one hand. “Ah, man, Marty, are you okay?” he asked as he put the wine bottle right-side up in front of Marty.
Marty tried to back off from Richard as he came in to grab him around the shoulders and bring himself over to him. “Are you okay, Marty?”
Marty raised a fist, wanting for a second to strike him. He slammed it against the table instead. “Fuck, fuck,” he got out. He felt the tears coming to his eyes, not even trying to stop it, the drink taking over completely. As his vision fogged up he looked down at the plates and empty wine glasses in front of him, feeling disgusted.
Richard shut his eyes and breathed in sharply. “What are we going to do?” he asked, letting go of Marty.
“I know what I've got to do,” said Marty, taking in a single deep breath. A few minutes passed before he caught his breath again.
He sat before his computer that following morning beside a steaming mug of black coffee. The day was a bit sunnier than the last few. Those ice storm clouds had gone inland and disappeared over Chicago.
Richard sat in front of a blinking prompter on a white screen, still unable to write in the next paragraph. Even the sight of the glistening, crystal-like cover of the snowfield driveway failed to inspire him to conjure, in his mind, the great ocean floors of an alien planet.
“What did Marty mean that he knew what he was going to do?” he asked himself.
A train went by, shaking the room as usual. A black SUV came to the edge of the road, the ice under it heaving and cracking as it slowed down and then stopped.
“Just write,” his mind told him. The promise of continuing his novel was the only thing that kept his mind busy. Now that he no longer had to work, he had to concentrate fully on his passion.
Writing stopped him from worrying. “Come on mate, you got to write something. What happens next?”
The black car started backing up before turning around fully and heading back down to Maria street.
Richard groaned. He minimized the word processing file, getting onto a browser to go to his e-mail. There was nothing new in his inbox. He sighed.
“What did I do when I had writer's block before, eh? When I first wrote this bloody thing?” he asked himself.
He knew the answer to that, even if it took him another few minutes to admit it to himself. He thought of the money. The extra hundred dollars would have been nice. Richard still had half of the money though, he and Marty had negotiated that when they fist came up with the arrangement with Nicky.
Richard laughed, thinking about his earlier argument he had had with Marty over ethics. “Who am I to argue ethics when I am taking any money?” he thought, shaking his head. “Ah well, I know what I need to write and there's no reason not to get it now.”
He went through his contacts in his e-mail. He was still there. Richard sent him a message.