After fourteen years in prison, serving a sentence for manslaughter, Louis goes back home to his old town to start again. But can he readapt to life on the outside?
Written by Gregory Patrick Travers
Watching Louis walk out those penitentiary gates was a fucking trip. If it wasn’t for those gleaming blue eyes beaming back at me, I swear I wouldn’t have even known it was him. He was practically unrecognizable. Maybe it was the lack of smile that did it. Though he had been gone for fourteen years, I still remembered that famous Louis smile between his chubby, red cheeks. But that was all gone now; the smile, the cheeks—all of it. He had become a man in that place. Those piercing blue eyes remained fixed on me as he slowly cruised towards my red civic. His stare was cold, calm, and, I have to say…a little fucking frightening.
When Louis went away all those years ago, it was the biggest news our small town had ever seen. I don’t think I had ever seen a reporter in Streetsville in my entire life before that day. But when Louis stabbed Joey, it brought out all of those media types. The reporters came with their vans and fat camera men, which brought out the nosy old neighbors, and before you knew it, the whole fucking town was on their front porches, gossiping about the stabbing. I wasn’t there to see it, though I wish I was. Maybe I could have done something to stop it. But I was at a park on the other side of town with my hand up Stacey Webster’s shirt. How the fuck was I supposed to know?
“Long time,” said Louis. He reached out and shook my hand. They were rough and callus…but that grip. Geeze. It was clear by his physique; he had made good use of his time in the yard.
I gave him a good smack in the arm. “Too long, buddy…”
“So, listen,” I said. I signaled right and took the highway on ramp back towards Streetsville. “I figured since you went away at fourteen, there’s a few things we never got to do together. Like, drink our first beer together. Unfortunately, I can’t share that experience with you. I’m drunk pretty much every day. But I can still share your first beer with you. I mean, that is something you have yet to do, right? They don’t have beer in prison, do they?”
Louis’ head remained staring out the window, as it had been the entire drive. He nodded. “I’ve never had a beer. That is correct.”
I laughed at the thought of it. “Well, we’re about to change that tonight, my friend!” I gave the steering wheel a little drum roll, to see if I could get a smile out of him. But no. Louis just kept watching the sound barriers whiz by. In another attempt to draw him into conversation, I turned on the radio.
“Shit, yeah,” I said. “Tonight’s going to be a good night. Have some brews, have some laughs…shit! We might even get you laid!…That would be another first for you, right? Or did you meet a nice fella up in the pen?”
Louis head slowly turned in my direction and looked me dead in the eyes. It spooked me a little and I put my eyes back on the road. “I’m sorry, man.” I said. “That wasn’t cool.”
His head turned back to the window. “No,” he said. “I’ve never been with a girl.”
I turned up the volume on the radio, trying to drown out the tension. Poets, by the Tragically Hip was playing. I turned it up a little more.
“Hey, did you hear Gord Downie died?” I asked, a desperate attempt to reroute our conversation.
Louis nodded. “I heard the C.O.’s talking about it. Cancer, right?”
I shook my head. “Fucking cancer, man.”
We sat at the wood inside Panda’s Billiards, sharing a pitcher and watching the Leafs-Canadians game. One of the new bartenders was working. I didn’t know him so well, but he had been there long enough to know I was always in the fucking place, so he treated me pretty well. I don’t know why I liked going to Panda’s so much. It was a dive bar, and I didn’t play pool. But more often than not, I would run into some of the old crew and we would have some beers and reminisce about the old days…maybe do a few lines in the bathroom.
“Holy shit!” I cried, grabbing on to my toque, eyes fixed on the television. I gave Louis a shove. “Did you see that goal?”
He was spinning his coaster on top of the bar, not even watching the game. I don’t think he was even watching the coaster. He just had that same glazed over look of funk that he had in the civic.
I sat down in my seat and slouched. “What the hell, man? This original six hockey, here!”
Louis let out a sigh. “Sorry, man…just not really into it.” He raised his glass and an eyebrow. “The beer’s good.”
I smiled. At least I got some sign of life from him.
It was at that point that the short Asian girl sitting a couple seats down from Louis, leaned in to him and said quietly, “I don’t blame you. I tried to get him to put on the new Trailer Park Boys episode, but he said only sports.” And then she rolled her eyes and waved her hands around dramatically. I could see the bartender, I forget his name, look up from cutting limes and shoot her a dirty glare. But besides pissing off the guy who was pouring her drinks, she also managed to, believe it or not, force a small smile onto Louis face. Thank god. I was starting to think I might never see that smile again.
The girl was cute; I’ll give him that. Thin strands of hair fell in and out of her eye line, forcing her to keep brushing at her little button nose to push the hair behind her ear, while she swiveled back and forth in her bar seat. She was a little too Plain Jane for me. Where were the heels? The bracelets? The hair-do? A girls got to accessorize. But poor Louis had been locked away for more than a decade, so I could forgive him for his lack of standards.
“I guess I’m just more the ‘read a book’ type,” said Louis. He finally let go of the coaster, sat back in his seat, and placed his hands down on his thighs.
With a flick of the wrist, she sent the curtain of black hair on the side of her face behind her shoulder and leaned in, pointing her skinny finger in Louis’ face. “What’s the last book you read?” She squinted and looked Louis in the eyes, questionably.
Louis didn’t flinch. “I just finished Oliver Twist. Why do you ask?”
She dropped her pointed finger and returned back to the short glass of what looked to be a gin and seven with lime. She leaned over and took a quick sip from the straw. Then she sat back in her seat and shrugged. “A lot of people brag about how much they read. So they sound like they’re smart. But really, they’re full of shit.”
“Do you read?” Louis asked.
She shook her head proudly. “Nope! But I don’t go around telling people I do. I don’t even know what an Oliver Twist is!”
“Well, I’m not too sure who the Trailer Park Boys are, so we’re even. How’s that?” replied Louis.
She laughed and went in for another sip from her straw. Then she bounced up off her seat and skipped off towards the bathroom. As soon as she was out of earshot, I turned to Louis and said, “This is it, man! This is the one! You’re going home with her tonight and you’re going to fuck her brains out!
He took a sip from his beer, savored it for a moment before he swallowed, and then turned and looked me in the eye. “Danny, I’ve never even kissed a girl.”
I darted back in my seat, alarmed by what I was being told. “Never?” I asked. “Not even with Anita?”
He shook his head. “She wouldn’t let me.”
“That fucking prude,” I muttered, shaking my head. Then I was hit with a thought and darted up in my seat. “Hey, this is just like that Tragically Hip song. But that guy was thirty-eight. You’re twenty-eight. Still…sad story.”
Just then our new Asian friend returned from the lavatory, but this time, instead of sitting in her original seat, she grabbed her short glass and took the seat next to Louis. I decided right then and there that I was going to play wing-man and get Louis laid, even if he didn’t know how to get it done for himself. All I needed was a good icebreaker. Then it hit me.
“Hey,” I said to her. “Did you know this guy just got out of prison today?”
Her eyes shifted to Louis, whose eyes shifted to me. I knew it wasn’t something he wanted to talk about. I knew that even before the sharp glare came my way. But hey, everyone is a sucker for a good prison story.
“You did? For how long?” she asked.
He watched the bubbles in his beer slowly rise to the foamy surface. “Fourteen years,” he said after a moment.
She leaned back. “Wow…well…I mean…You look good though. Healthy.”
There was silence. Everyone took a sip of their drink, looked around, and checked the score of the game on the TV.
“So…what did you do?” the girl asked, finally.
“I stabbed a boy,” he said. He didn’t sound proud of it, or ashamed. It just came out matter-of-factually. “It was self-defense. He had come with his friends to jump me. But he died from the wound. I was sentenced to fourteen years.”
“That’s so long,” she said, almost to herself, in a whisper. Then she looked up at Louis and asked him, “Don’t you feel like your life has been stolen from you?”
Louis seemed amused at the question. “Stolen? No. That boy’s life was stolen. A father and their mother had their son stolen. I did what I did because I was forced. Given the same circumstances, I can’t say that I would have done anything differently. But I had to answer for it. I had to serve my time. My life wasn’t stolen. Gord Downie was stolen. Look at all the good he had done. That’s not fair. That’s stolen.”
She nodded and returned to her straw. “Truth, yo.”
I had been gazing around, not paying much attention, since no one was talking to me, when I saw something I wish I hadn’t. Coming through the front entrance in her oversized sunglasses, and some ridiculous feathered coat, was Anita Townsly and her super dick of a fiancé, Barry Levi, the big shot banker. What that blonde diva and her perfect mating specimen were doing in a place like Panda’s was beyond me. They were much more the type to be eating steak and lobster specials at the Keg. But then it hit me. I had made a Facebook post that said I was coming there with Louis. I had Anita on Facebook. It was hard to forget with how many selfies she posted. She must have come to see Louis. She was his first, and only, girlfriend.
By the time this had all clicked together in my head like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle, Anita and Barry had already made their way over to the wood. She click-clacked over in her six-inch heels, looking like a fucking penguin with its little arm flaps waving up and down. She gave Louis a big hug and choked him with her feathers. He smiled at first, I’m guessing from her jacket tickling his face, but when he saw who it was with their arms around him, his smile dropped on a button.
“Danny said you’d be here, but I didn’t believe it. I had to see it for myself,” said Anita. She stumbled back a few steps but Barry put her back on balance. I wish he had let her fall. I could have choked her for saying that. And by the look on Louis face, right then he was thinking the same thing about me.
“It’s been a while,” said Louis, turning his head from me to her. “How’ve you been?”
“I’ve been good,” she said. And then she laughed. “Compared to you, I’ve been great.” She pointed to the blue-shirted, white collared grease ball beside her and tugged on his tie just a bit. “This is my fiancé, Barry,” she said. “He’s a financial advisor.”
Did he tell you to buy that coat made of crows? I thought.
Barry looked Louis up and down with that sideways smirk of his. With all the fake tanning the guy did, I was pretty sure that was as far as his pumpkin face could open. “He doesn’t look like a murderer,” he said back to her.
“He’s harmless,” she said, smacking Louis in the shoulder. Louis just stared up at the television. Suddenly he was very interested in the hockey game. “That Joey deserved what he got…fucking goon,” continued Anita. “Anyway, we have a little party to get to at the Keg, so bye. It was so nice seeing you again, Louis…even if you are hanging out with bar trash like Danny.”
“Go fuck yourself,” I said, taking the last swig of my pint, while signaling what’s-his-face for another.
“Watch your mouth, perv,” Barry warned, stepping forward. “Anita told me all about your little crush on her in high school.”
I let out a loud, Ha! “Crush? I wouldn’t go that far, buddy. I jerked off to her yearbook photo a couple times, I’ll admit that. But back then, she had some rocking titties.”
Anita rolled her eyes and teased her blonde mop. “You sure know how to make a girl feel special, don’t you, Danny?”
“Hey,” I replied. “I said back then. You peaked a long time ago, babe. Now all that’s left is to grow old with…that fucking dude.” I chuckled a bit. “What boring sex you must have.”
That’s when Anita’s face lit up about as red as her boyfriends.
“Okay, guys,” said the Asian from her seat, playing referee, with her skinny arms out between us. “We were actually just trying to have a conversation, if that’s okay.”
Anita kissed her teeth. “Excuse me?” she said.
“Yeah, who brought Pocahontas to the party?” laughed Barry. “Don’t they have reservations for you people to drink on?”
The Asian’s back arched up while her eyebrows arched downwards. “I’m Filipino, you dumb dumb!”
“Yeah, there’s only one redskin here, Barry. And it’s you,” I added.
“Fuck you, and this fucking house maid,” Barry shot back.
That’s when Louis stepped off his stool and took a step closer to Barry. “I think you should watch how you talk to the lady,” he said. His voice was calm and even toned.
Barry’s shit eating grin returned. “Lady? She looks like she’s fifteen years old!”
Louis took another step towards Barry. “I said, watch it,” he repeated.
“Or what?” said Barry. “Fuck off, ya goof!”
Louis froze and his fists clenched. I had never been to prison myself, but I knew that goof was not an insult that went over well with convicts. And just like that, Louis’ right fist came up, swung, and plowed through Barry’s perfect jawline. Barry dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes…but Louis wasn’t done. Something in him just snapped. He pounced on top of Barry’s stomach and started lacing him, one punch after another, until Barry’s nose exploded like a paintball bullet. Anita screamed, the bartender ran for the phone, and me and the Asian just stood there, stunned. I ran over and pulled Louis off Barry, who was murmuring inaudible words as his head rolled back and forth on the floor.
Anita ran over to her fiancé and knelt down beside him. She looked up at Louis, in tears, screaming, “You’re fucking insane! You’re a fucking animal!”
It didn’t take too long before red and blue lights came flashing in the front windows from the parking lot. The front door swung open and three uniformed police rushed into the pool hall with their guns drawn. Louis stood still and slowly put his hands behind his head.
“It was him!” yelled Anita, pointing to Louis. “He’s a convict! He’s fucking crazy!”
Two of the officers held their pistols on him while the third took Louis’ hands and clicked on handcuffs. The whole bar stood silent and watched as they escorted Louis out into the parking lot.
“What’s going to happen to him?” asked the Asian girl, looking up at me.
I shrugged. “Assault is a breach of his parole…his ass is going back to prison.”
She gasped softly.
“It’s a shame, too,” I said. “Poor bastard never even kissed a girl.”
Her head spun around back to me. “What did you say?”
“What did you expect?” I answered. “He’s been in jail since he was fourteen. He’s never kissed a girl before.”
Her eyes drifted to the right and then to the floor. That’s when she turned around, almost running into Anita nursing her fiancé back to life, and raced out into the parking lot. I wasn’t about to just stand there with my thumb up my butt, so I followed her outside.
As I got out into the smoking pit, followed by a large crowd of people who were just as curious as I was, I watched her march across the parking lot over to Louis, who leaned on the back of the patrol car, still in handcuffs. Even the cops watched with open mouths, while she went right up to Louis, grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head, pulled him close and, standing on her toes, pressed her lips hard against his. The two cops in the front seat looked at each other, each one waiting for the other to say something, but they both just kept watching. I swear, with the way she was kissing my boy, the red and blue lights flashing on top of the patrol car might as well have been laser lights in a downtown club on a Saturday night, or the fireworks by the bay on New Year’s Eve. Then, when she was finally done and dropped back on her heels, she said something to him. I was too far away to hear it, but damn, whatever it was, did it ever bring back that famous Louis smile. I swear man; it was god damn poetic…
**Dedicated to the memory of Gord Downie**