Chapter II : Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics
I didn't catch gas of Rafe all afternoon, though I did catch someone's gas. Cafeteria poutine really did a number on the plumbing innards like that. I thought it was ironic that I'd spent all morning contemplating the lack of violence in life and upon deciding to hire Rafe, he attempted to strangle me. Probably I shouldn't have pinched his cheek. Probably he didn't like that. Probably I didn't care. I chalked the incident up to 'testing the merchandise'; at least I knew that he wasn't all rumours. There seemed to be a lot of rage trapped behind that Irish chimney sweeper's face. Once Rafe tapped into it, Conner McGregor would be mashed up falafel.
After school ended for the day, I decide that it would be a wise idea for Rafe to know my phone number and locker number. That way we could work out the logistics of injuring a ruffian most rank. I was excited for the gouda to get rolling; I'd never paid anyone to extract justice for me before. Rafe was an elusive character around school but his locker certainly wasn't. It was a hot spot reminiscent of the dark room where people went for quickies. Five geeky band students and a couple of passing by Gap adverts all informed me that Rafe's locker was 311 and that he dealt 'the good stuff.'
This explained a lot.
I headed to the third floor. I wasn't about to waste a whole piece of paper writing numbers to Rafe, so I dug around a garbage can and found some crumpled loose-leaf stuffed in a Doritos bag. It smelled cheesy and had 'I Love Wayne Fung' written a billion times on one side but I didn't think Rafe would mind. This was recycling afterall. The other side of the paper was covered in French Revolution notes. I jotted down my numbers with some brown eyeliner I found on the ground once.
I jammed the note inside Rafe's locker and jumped a year when my name was screeched out, accompanied with a, "Get the fuck away from my boyfriend's locker!"
Katrina Edwards stuck her beautiful, furious face right up in mine. I did some shrieking of my own and tripped over my feet. Katrina Edwards scared me like my average dropping down to ninety-seven percent scared me. Plus I hated when people got mad at me, it made me feel stinky-pants.
"The whole school saw you mackin' it up with Rafe down the Quad third period!" Katrina's spinach green eyes were spitting. "You after my man or what cunt-eyes?"
"I j-just wanted some weed," I lied pitifully, cowering against the lockers. Katrina and I had virtually no contact these days; I was in honours everything and she was in honours nothing. The last thing I needed in my final year of high school was her nastiness. "I didn't know how to get any but I really need it 'cause I'm stressed out with university applications and the war in Iraq and the anniversary of my dad's death."
Katrina softened and smoothed down her little blue tank top uncomfortably. I'd learned early on that talking about my parents' death was a good way to make people uneasy and leave me alone. "God I'm such a bitch today. Sorry Jane – I'm trying to quit smoking you know." She tinkled out a little laugh and tossed her glossy auburn hair over her shoulder. "I don't know what I was thinking, getting all up in your grill like that. Like you'd ever steal my boyfriend! That Lakeesha ho was just talking out her fat ass, going on about you and Rafe. Whatever. She's gotta be trying to steal him away from me."
I resumed breathing normally, now that I was no longer in the danger zone. "Fur on animals not on humans."
"Girl, you always crack me up!" She glanced around furtively. "I'll talk to Rafe and he'll hook you up. How much you want, a gram?"
I shuffled my feet. "Um...well I'm still debating. Pot's bad for your pores you know."
Katrina's eyes widened. "Where'd you hear that at?"
"This month's Cosmopolitician," I replied, nodding in confidence. "Latest study from the labs of, um...Teynampet, Chennai."
She frowned. "I just read the latest Cosmo and I didn't see that article."
"Broccoli is as kumquats do." I shrugged in a hey-shit-happens sort of manner. "Well gotta catch my bus now, chowder!"
I ran down the nearest stairs, ploughing through a kegger of grunting jocks and hoped that Rafe would be able to keep his girlfriend away from me. She was too much cool-cruel for a wimpy moron like me to handle.
I caught my bus and went straight to Suril's house. It wasn't too much of a detour since he lived across the street from me. The front door was open and as I stepped inside, the warm, familiar smells of exotic spices and fragrant Indian cooking ruffled my nose. As usual, Suril's mom could be found in the kitchen. She was a grade four schoolteacher and the minute she got home, she hit the stove.
"Hi Ma," I said, dumping my schoolbag at the kitchen table. One of the best moments in my life was the day Mrs. Shah ordered me to call her 'ma'. She said if I didn't she would beat me brown with her slipper. "What's cooking?"
Mrs. Shah was a small woman with golden skin and dainty features. Her shoulder-length hair was thick and shiny, her eyes almond-shaped and black. She wore a small diamond stud in her nose that Mr. Shah had given her on their first anniversary and always smelled like jasmine. She was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my entire life.
She kissed my cheek and soothed my tangled hair out of my eyes. "Onion and potato pakoras."
I swallowed back a mouthful of drool. Pakoras are all-time my favourite Indian snack. You cut up onions and potatoes into a spicy chick pea flour batter and fried it all up. Then you ate them with this awesome coriander chutney or just ketchup. They were also Suril's favourite and I knew that was why Mrs. Shah was making them; she'd been making all this favourites foods ever since he'd limped home Saturday night, bruised and bleeding.
I took off my sweater and got to helping Mrs. Shah with the frying. "You don't have to worry anymore Ma 'cause today I took karma into my own hands."
Mrs. Shah arched one long, thin brow at me. "Is this so?"
"I hired an Italian guy at school to beat up that Conner McGregor."
"Italian boy eh?" She was pleased, as I'd known she'd be. "Like on that 'The Sopranos'?"
"Yeah," I said, gently sliding the pakoras around in the hot oil. If there was an Italian-Irish lad on the show then Rafe was just like him, sure. "Once buddy knocked out four other guys with a plank of wood while he hadda broken leg."
"So you got his resume then. Smart girl." Mrs. Shah grew nostalgic. "Oh how we used to beat the rascals in India. We had this one washerman when I was girl who would constantly steal my knickers. Daddy thrashed him soundly. Never did he again attempt such vulgar deeds. Then when I was first married, there was a post master in Surat who would read our letters and steal our packages. I got so fed up with that scoundrel that one day I took the champaal off my foot and beat him until he gave me one thousand Rupees."
I sniggered as I began taking out the first batch of pakoras from the oil.
"Sometimes a beating is the only thing that will work, take my word for it," Mrs. Shah passionately went on. "Once we were having over for supper some very important guests and the hen would not lay any eggs...and what is goat curry without boiled eggs I ask...so I gave the hen a good thump and what do you think popped but an indu!" 1.)
I did some on-the-spot hip hop moves and blew out a cascade of steam as a scorching hot onion pakora blistered my tongue. Mrs. Shah whipped out some raitha, a cold yoghurt and cucumber side dish, to sooth my burning mouth.
"Okay Jane dhikra?" she asked, calling me 'child' in Gujarati. "Is there enough salt?"
"Yeah, these are awesome," I replied, spooning raitha into my face. "Just hot. You know me Ma, I never learn."
She ruffled my messy hair affectionately. "So this Italian, what is his flat rate?"
"I told him I have fifty bucks." Which was true. "I guess Suril tutors him and he was outraged. We didn't get to talk too much 'cause he had to get to class but he said he'd definitely do it."
"Good." Mrs. Shah was satisfied. Half unconscious after the bashing, Suril had accidentally let Conner's name slip and since then both Mr. and Mrs. Shah have been clamouring for a public beheading. "Keep your money, I will give you the fifty dollars."
"Ma don't worry about it," I protested guiltily, since Rafe Moretti didn't exactly want money. "I got it covered."
"Pomp and nonsense," Mrs. Shah scoffed, cutting up more potato into the batter. "Suril is my son no? I tell you, if I was not a respectable schoolteacher, I would go and teach this Conner scallywag such a lesson that his forefathers will feel the pain! Loutish racist rogue. I would cut off his balls with the hedge trimmer and mail them third-class to his mother. Let her die of shame then!"
Have I mentioned that Mrs. Shah is the shits?
We finished frying and I took a big platter of pakoras and two cans of Coke up to Suril's room. Suril was laying on his bed, reading a university level textbook entitled 'Advanced Engineering Mathematics'. It was an okay read though neither of us found it very advanced. Certainly it was nothing like 'Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics', which Suril and I both agreed could be pursued again and again.
Suril was five foot ten, rail-skinny and attractive. He had inherited his golden skin and sloe eyes from his mother and his wavy hair and long nose from his father. He had recently grown a scruffy goatee to piss his Dad off, (he thought it made Suril look Muslim, heaven forbid) and it actually looked good on him.
Currently, Suril sported a nasty black eye and a fat lip. He also had a sprained ankle and bruised ribs. I felt upset and depressed just looking at him. I mean, how could someone attack Suril for being who he was? Why was it that good, pure-hearted people were always the ones hurt? How could people continue to bring kids into the world when it was so craptastic? Suril hadn't hurt anyone, he hadn't been doing anything wrong.
What fucking right did Conner have to touch him?
Saturday night was supposed to be a magical, unforgettable night for Suril. It had been his first gay date ever. The guy was this Brazilian bouncer named Paulo who worked out at Suril's gym and who Suril had been lusting after for the past few months. Conner and his cousin, some idiot frat boy who was in university, had caught sight of Suril and Paulo making out in front of Paulo's building, waited until Suril was alone and then ganged up on him.
"Come on Jane, stop looking at me like that," Suril chided, putting away his book. "Gimme some food I'm starving."
I set the Cokes down on his desk, stuck the platter on his lap and crawled onto his bed. Angry tears slipped out of my eyes and pooled around my nose.
"Oh shitbricks." Suril dunked a pakora into some ketchup and shoved it into my mouth. "We've already been over this kiddo – I'm fine. You know I am."
Maybe he was fine...he was handling the whole bashing really well in any case...but I couldn't help it. Seeing him bruised hurt my heart. It felt like I was having heartburn. "I don't like when bad things happen to my only friend." More tears dripped off my chin. "You volunteer for fuck sakes!"
He smiled and mopped up my tears with his sleeve. "It could be way worse though, couldn't it? Imagine if Dad saw me with Paulo...I'd be stuffed in an urn then."
Needless to say, Suril hadn't come out to his parents and had no current plans to. Insofar as they knew, he'd been attacked by a racist schoolmate and that was that. "You shouldn't have to hide who you are," I mumbled, snuffling as I skated a pakora around in the ketchup bowl. "That's why I hate the planet Earth. All we do is hate each other and be bad and it's not fair."
"Neither is my stupid nose but I've got to live with it." Suril popped open his Coke and took a swig. "I'm taking an optimistic outlook on things. What's the point in sitting around and being depressed? I can't change what happened but I can learn from it. I'm Hindu, I believe in karma. Conner'll get his, watch. And anyway, the actual date was fucking awesome. Paulo is a fantastic kisser and God is he ever hung."
Which reminded me...I mopped my face on Suril's comforter, cheering up. Conner would get his, I was making sure of that. "I've got gifts for you!" I booked it down to the kitchen, grabbed my schoolbag, tasted a spoonful of daal soup Mrs. Shah was making and booked it back up.
Suril was interested. "Tell me you've got homework, I'm going stir crazy here. There's only so many times a guy can redo last month's assignments."
"Well I got that too." I dumped his homework onto the bed and then handed him a brown paper bag. "This should make the time go by faster."
Suril opened up the bag and pulled out three magazines. "Porn!" He burst out laughing. "You're the best Jane!"
"I thought this fellow cut quite the dash." I gestured to one cover which featured a blond beefcake whose little jean cut-offs were in grave danger of falling off. "He seems to be sporting quite the package."
"Who let you buy these anyway? You're underage!"
"Grandma picked them up for me. She was super excited. You should've seen how long she spent in that store."
Suril was still laughing as he flipped through Raging Rods. "How awesome is Grandma?"
"Pretty awesome." My Grandma was antics galore and I loved her like I loved differential equations.
Suril showed me a page that revolved around a muscular hunk getting to know himself. I figured if you had a body that good, you'd be too hot to trot for yourself too. "This is kinda what Paulo looks like. Tell me he's not worth it."
"Yeah he's buff the stuff" I agreed, taking a closer look. "I'll bet he hadda wax that chest though...he looks like he'd normally be the hairy type."
"When you have a tool that big who cares if you're hairy?"
That was a fair point. It was certainly the biggest willy I ever saw. "I got another present for you but it's more of a long term investment."
Suril didn't look up from his magazine. Mount faux-Paulo was now erupting. "Yeah?"
"I've decided to take karma into my own hands." I paused theatrically. "That's why I hired Rafe Moretti to break Conner's legs so that he can't play in the big game next week."
Suril sprayed Coke all over the spraying faux-Paulo.
"Well it's not like I could do it, I'm a cocktail wiener. I think I'm also something of a non-pacifist. I mean I'm a vegetarian right?"
"He came highly recommended to me." I was proud of the stupendous shock on Suril's face; this was a real humdinger of a gift afterall. "Even if he does look like an Irish immigrant. Did you know he ran over some Lebanese guy in his shitty car?"
"But Rafe Moretti...he actually...you just..."
"Went up and asked him yeah. He was smoking weed in the parking lot with some black dude." I popped an onion pakora into my mouth. I was feeling a lot better; porn and plotting brutality were powerful brightening agents. "He said that you're decent and Conner's a dick. I hadda tell him that you were gay though because he didn't buy the whole racist thing – I guess Conner's dating some Chinese chick."
Suril froze. "And he didn't care?"
"Nah. He doesn't give a shit what you like."
"Well then." He raked a hand through his hair, overwhelmed. It wasn't everyday that he was given the gift of Justice. "I can't believe you went through all this trouble for me."
"Of course I did, you're my best friend!" I huffed. "If Katrina Edwards smacked me black and blue wouldn't you hire someone to smack her back?"
Suril grinned at me and tapped my nose. "Of course I would...but it wouldn't be Rafe, that's her boyfriend."
"I thought she was gonna kill me when she saw me putting my number in Rafe's locker." I shuddered at the memory of her livid face. "She started shrieking and I got scared so I told her I wanted some weed and she said she'd get Rafe to hook me up with the good stuff."
"Everyone goes to Rafe for the good stuff." Suril licked ketchup off his fingers. "So how much did he ask you for?"
"Well that's the real pelvis-punter. I told him that I had fifty bucks and he said to keep it 'cause he wanted me instead. What do you suppose that means?"
Suril's gaze flickered to his magazine where one strapping young man was attempting to pass his orals, as it were. Suril smirked. "Maybe Katrina isn't putting out."
"I don't think I can do that," I said, examining the magazine dubiously. "I never even kissed a boy before. Probably he just wants me to do his homework so he can get into a good university and sell drugs there."
"That's boring ass. I'll bet he wants to make you his love slave. Christ if he was straight...mmm."
I scrunched up my nose. "You don't think he'd make me wear those funny kinds of see-through pants do you?"
Suril rolled his eyes. "He doesn't live in Persia idiot."
"Well I just hope he has some connections to the mob." I wiped my oily fingers on my cords. "What if he has a great street name like Two By Four Moretti because that's his weapon of choice? And imagine if he has a body in his freezer? I'd be so scared, I'd puke."
"He doesn't live Chicago either, dumbo."
"That's boring ass," I mimicked and thought that Rafe would make the best kind of Hit Man because honestly, who would take him seriously? Especially if he hadda kill a lady, she'd never see it coming. She'd be too busy babying him.
Suril and I spent the rest of the afternoon discussing the plan in great detail, verbally abusing Conner and Katrina and doing our Physics homework together. Suril was still in a state of awed disbelief; he couldn't believe that Rafe agreed to mess with one of the most popular guys at school. But mostly he couldn't believe that Rafe didn't want money but wanted me instead. It was pretty sketchy. I figured I'd make a wigwam when I came to that clearing. Both of us were happy that Conner was going to get his and we were even happier that we weren't the ones giving it to him.
I left Suril's house at suppertime. Mrs. Shah forced a doggie bag of dry chickpea curry, lemon cashew rice, daal soup and pakoras on me, not that I was an unwilling recipient. Mostly I left to check up on Grandma...she was known to get up to shenanigans once left to her own devices.
I found her sitting in the kitchen, pouring over the freaky, bondage magazine she'd gotten for herself from that porno shop. "I'm flipping through this to get some inspiration for my tattoo," she told me. "See the bloody old heart this fellow in chains has? Now imagine a tarantula making a web on it. If I got that, it'd scare the pants off that Dr. Polanski next time he decides I need a bowel exam."
I didn't ask Grandma where she wanted the tattoo. I sat down beside her. "That one's pretty racy," I said, pointing out a masked guy who had a naked woman all sprawled out and pouting etched on his back. "Check out the rack."
"Ain't that a chestnut? I'd get some man parts put on her instead though – that way there'd be something for everyone to look at."
My Grandmother's name is Muriel Zeggil and she's my mom's mother. She's a sixty-three year old, scrawny loudmouth who curses like she's a gangster thug, hustles college boys at the pool hall on campus and has all of her own teeth to boot. If she saw Rafe Moretti, she wouldn't've pinched his cheek, she would've bought a gram off him and skinned up right then and there. And she would've slashed Katrina Edwards tires.
Grandma's got that quintessential curly 'do that every old lady on the planet has, with the exception that her 'do is a soft, light purple colour. This wasn't because of a dye mishap, she just got it coloured that way. She thinks it's fun. She likes to wear frosted plum lipstick and opaque lilac eyeshadow to match it. I say why not? She's the one who taught me that life's too short to live by society's rules. She's a firm believer in making her own rules, which is why she's done time and paid fines for various misdemeanours. Once in the eighties, she took a dump on the local Alderman's Cadillac because he wasn't fixing the pot holes down on Chadwick Street quick enough. She still cackles her head off at the mere memory.
Fighting authority has been Grandma's lifelong mission.
"Ma set over food," I remarked, removing a bunch of Tupperware containers from the plastic bag. "Chickpea curry, rice, daal soup and pakoras."
"Well that's a good haul seeing as how I never started cooking yet." She gestured to a bunch of veggies sitting on the chopping board. "I got sidetracked by this tattoo business. 'Course when you were born, I wanted to get one that said 'Grammy 4 Life or Bust' but your Mother wouldn't hear tell of it, God rest her soul."
My Mom died of Multiple Sclerosis when I was four so Grandma moved in with Dad to help out. Dad, who'd been a criminal lawyer, had thrown himself into his work to get over Mom's death and had no time for me. Grandma was the one who raised me, which might explain a lot. When I was nine, Dad died in a car crash on the 101. He got caught in the middle of a blinding snowstorm and veered into the path of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler. Grandma told me it was better that Dad was with Mom because he had missed her so much that it had torn him up and made him empty.
I liked to think that they were both together and happy and had a good laugh watching me and Grandma bumble our way through life.
Grandma put together some salad while I heated up the food. Then we sat down to eat and she began her daily ritual of questioning me about my school day.
"You do any drugs today?"
"Skip any classes?"
"Kiss any boys?"
"Father fucking Time." Grandma shook her head in disgust. "I don't know where I went wrong with you."
"Well I did hire an Italian guy to beat up Suril's basher but that wasn't on your list of options."
Grandma's face lit up like a circuit board. "Well it's about damn time you did something interesting Janie!"
I gave her the scoop. She said she was never so proud of me in all her life and offered to kick Katrina in the teeth. She's been making this offer for some years now. I thought it was lucky that the two of them had never crossed paths because Katrina would've killed me after Grandma was done with her.
After a dessert of Hoof Prints ice cream, Grandma invited Edith Duggin, our next-door-neighbour over for tea. Both of us hated Edith Duggin; she was a nasty old pessimist with a beak like an eagle and a moustache like a Greek. She was the type of neat freak who couldn't stand a mess and whenever she was over, our kitchen just happened to be a mess. The sight of unwashed dishes and cluttered counters were too much for her and so she always got to it. We thought it was a good deal; Grandma could smoke her cigars in Edith's face, catch up on all the daily gossip since Edith was a big blab and when Edith left, we made fun of her moustache in our nice, clean kitchen.
I was quick to flee to the safety of my room when Edith arrived. She never had anything good to say about anyone and every time she caught sight of me, it was all 'Don't wear socks on your hands' and 'Stop chewing your hair' and 'You better be wearing a bra'. I wanted to ask her why I ought to conform myself to fit her image of what I should be but I was too spineless to. Her cats had a mysterious habit of disappearing every time she cooked venison for supper.
I spent the rest of the night going over university applications and reading 'Applied Vector Analysis' for shits and giggles. Suril would be jealous that I'd gotten through it first. Around midnight Grandma and I played a few rounds of night Frisbee-Baseball with old Mr. Yakama, Grandma's on-again-off-again boyfriend and Ivan Shestov, a weird Russian kid who barely spoke any English and was prone to wandering around in the dark in his galoshes.
Mr. Yakama and I lost when I dove for third base (a skinny Hemlock tree) and ended up in Mrs. Weagle's garbage instead. I was embarrassed because Mr. Weagle had to pull a rusty paint can off my foot and he's the local Weather Man.
1.) This is actually a true story. When my dad was a little boy in India, some fancy big city relatives came over for supper. My grandma wanted to serve eggs but the hen wouldn't lay any so my dad thumped the hen a good one and out popped an egg! How hilarious is that?