It’s late. Everyone on this traincar is tired, half-dozing against the windows or with their head buried deep in the cellphone sand. Across from me, a tanned and timeworn longboarder sits searching through his iPod for the perfect track for this dying summer evening. I have aching feet and I’m staring down a long night of rewrites fueled by bad coffee and dire necessity.
But that’s all window dressing; the real show is about to start when Mike and Ike step onto the train. Mike is taller and burlier, wears a white shirt and sways like a sailing ship on choppy (alcoholic) waters. Ike is a little more clear-headed, wears a black tank top and sneakers two sizes too large, bounding around Mike like an overexcited puppy. In hand, without even brown paper bags to make an attempt at concealment, are the cheapest biggest beers one can possibly find at the government liquor depot.
Things don’t heat up for awhile; Mike and Ike are busy slugging back their drinks and trading stories about a girl they both know, but soon the bottles are rolling on the floor, completely spent, and Mike is pacing the train car like a bull ten seconds before the rodeo begins. His rhetoric is spiking, his aim veering from the girl he was speaking about to her acquaintances, whom he’ll only refer to with the most carefully-chosen racial epithets. Ike does his best to keep him in line, keeping the conversation veering back as closely as he can to safer topics, but he can’t keep Mike in line forever.
I glance up from the book I’m reading to see Mike, now shirtless, standing in front of the zoned-out longboarder across from me. Longboard doesn’t look too impressed. Mike taps his chest in several places.
“D’you see these? Huh?”
“You know what this is? You know what this means?” Mike taps his chest again, on tattoos I’m thankful not to be seeing.
“Sorry, I don’t…”
“Russian, man. Means I’m Russian. Russian.”
“Okay, that’s great–”
“And what’re you?”
Mike’s question hangs in the air, not to be brushed aside by the Skytrain’s ever-so-calm voice announcing the next station. Ike is immediately on Mike, trying to steer him back to the safety of the deserted side of the car. But Mike isn’t having it.
“Okay buddy, let’s go–”
“I’m just asking him, man, I’m just asking–”
“He wasn’t asking you anything.”
“Hey! Who stepped to who, huh? Who stepped first?”
Others in the traincar are taking notice. Students pull off their headphones, glance up from tablets. Mike’s voice is still rising, volume cranking up to be heard over his partner’s objections. Not to be dissuaded, he turns his attention back to Longboard.
“So what’re you, huh?”
Longboard smiles, engages head-on.
“Well, I’m a mix. I’m a little bit Irish–”
“Irish!” Mike cuts in, “I fucking love the Irish!”
“…and a little English.”
“Great stuff, man. Great stuff.”
“And my father is French Canadian.”
Mike stops smiling, going from seventy to zero in seconds flat.
“I’m not too big on the French.”
The tone lurches faster than the train car as things speed up. Mike’s rhetoric rears up on it’s hind legs, Ike steps in to intervene, Longboard sits stone-still. Mike insists on continuing his inquisition, stating to Ike “Who stepped to who first, huh? Who stepped to who?”
“Sit the fuck down,” Ike replied tersely, “I can’t have this, I got court in a week. And you got Suzanne.”
The mention of Suzanne deflates Mike in seconds flat. He takes a stumbling step back from Longboard, his eyes going someplace else. Maybe Suzanne is a mother, a sister, maybe even a daughter. Maybe things just get heated when you’ve had a few and monsters bubble up to the surface, and a heady blend of misguided pride and dusty ideals make you get tattoos you regret a decade later once your head’s clear of cobwebs and coke.
Mike turned his gaze to me next, half-heartedly swinging for someone else, anyone else.
“What about this guy? What are you?”