Full Moon in Leo

Jack’s flight from reality had come to a bizarre and unfortunate end. Or rather, depending on the nature of the plumbing in the cramped and ramshackle gas station washroom, and the proximity of a qualified plumber, an intermission, a pause, a waylay. Whatever you called it, it was a most welcome time to stop, and consider. Jack knew all too well that the elasticity of his life – now fully extended beyond the breaking point, was catapulting him back.

Jack’s frazzled escape from his own life originated some three hundred and twenty-two kilometres due south at the foot of Yonge Street in Toronto, Ontario. Why Jack had set the odometer, he couldn’t say; perhaps he sought some quantifiable measure of the escape that was taking him through darkened towns sleeping away a bitter winter’s night. Every rattle and hum of Jack’s rusty blue 1986 Honda Accord was amplified by the emptiness of the streets -- all of which seemed to be Yonge Street. Jack was reluctant to waver from the first street he had taken north out of the city; any deviation could turn him facing homeward. He must maintain escape velocity and break the gravitational bonds with home. If Yonge Street was the longest street in the world, it should take him far enough.

Jack’s flight ended at 67,025 Yonge Street – somewhere just north of the boonies but not quite as far as the Algoma nickel belt or beyond the arched back of Lake Superior and nowhere near as far as a Tom Thompson painting, where gas was 68.5 cents a litre and the attendants wore snowmobile suits and didn’t care if you paid up front for your fill-up.

Jack’s escape had begun four radio stations ago. It had started with the familiar drone of Billy Billows, nighttime disc jockey on CNOW 760. For an hour, light rock and ageless a.m. classics played monotonously through his driver side door speaker. When that signal began to share bandwidth with a light oldies station featuring a Barry Manilow retrospective, Jack found the scan button and settled on the closing innings of a Detroit Tigers’ game blooping north into Canada like a cracked-bat midfield single. And when Wade Boggs put the Tigers down by four runs in the top of the ninth with a three-run homer, Dr. Laura Schlesinger muscled her way onto the frequency and belted out a few winning soundbites while setting lives in order.

If Jack had had a cellular phone, he would probably have taken it out on the passenger seat and tried to memorize the phone number with the intention of calling Dr. Laura. He doubted very much that he would have called in. His troubles seemed too numerous, too shiftingly amorphous for Dr. Laura. When Jack started to read his own troubles into every call that Dr. Schlesinger handled with such confidence and aplomb, he poked at the scan button once more and settled on a station from Peterborough that was trying desperately to satisfy an eclectic 90’s audience. Jack turned the radio off by the Big Chief Sideroad in Medonto Township, when he first heard the fearsome and sobering sound of his back tires rubbing against the accumulated ice in his rear wheelwells. With each disturbing rasping sound, Jack worried that one of his diminutive 15” diameter tires would wear thin, explode and unravel in rubber coils, sending him careening over the edge of a steep icy ditch or headlong into a wall of ice and Great Canadian Shield. He moderated his speed on the slowly curving stretches of highway.

The last straw? He’d had a bale full. Carol’s confession that she had been visiting his mother every weekday for the last month. His bosses’ advice that he take his holidays now, rather than lose them irrevocably at the end of March. His father’s offer to buy him a new car. That turn onto the Gardiner from Spadina, where the limosines and cabbies darted illegally in from the left lane, and his own unwillingness to drive his Accord straight into their stretched side panels. The last pay cheque – down again because of some benefits surtax that was added to allow employees to receive chiropractic or other alternative medicine services twice a year not to exceed $200 dollars with some exceedingly prohibitive deductible. What the hell was that? And how many hours had the business office devoted to that company perk?

No, that wasn’t it. He was spineless and his back was up. His horoscope – he was effeminately a Virgo – that day had read “If there was a prize for worrying, Virgoans would win it nine times out of ten – then worry why they did not win it 10 times out of 10. The recent Full Moon in Leo may have damaged your confidence, but it’s time you snapped out of it. You’re getting just a little self-indulgent.” The whole glib and senseless snippet had bothered him – the awkward way that the ‘o’ and ‘a’ clashed in ‘Virgoans’, the smarmy attitude of the writer cum astrologist. Who wrote those things anyhow? Jack was bothered by the truth in the horoscope’s absurd contention that a Full Moon in Leo, wherever that was, was puncturing his self-confidence. It bothered him enough that he’d carefully cut the horoscope from the paper and had put it in his wallet to show Carol.

Come to think of it, Carol was a Leo. So was his mother. Perhaps they were the culprits, emasculating him with their intimate plot -- over the course of a month never you mind -- to set him right. His boss was a Cancer. Maybe it was that small hard lump on his buttock. Carol said it could be a boil. His mother liked to remind Carol that he was prone to boils as a child and regale her with fond memories of Jack’s quiet fortitude displayed when she would lance them.

Why Jack was in retreat from his life didn’t matter. A myriad of reasons had become a solid lump of discontent before Jack left the lights of Barrie behind him. And just to show them that he meant it, he resisted the strong temptation to grab a drive-through coffee at the roadside McDonald’s. And imagine Jack’s resolve when he took a nervous glance at his fuel gauge and hazarded that his fuel efficient Japanese import would get him to the next gas station alley near Orillia!

Jack did not stray from his retreat at the Alliston turnoff at 89, where he could search out new Canadian-made Hondas. Nor did he veer from his path when the ‘Park and Drive’ sign alerted him of the proximity of the Rama Casino (which certainly would be open at this time of the morning). No – Jack would be stoic and show them all. He threw caution to the wind when he by-passed the next two gas stations and put his faith in the Accord to get him to the next flootlit splash of a gas station somewhere in the darkness beyond. In a way, it was exciting. Jack had been north of 169 only once in his life – as a pimply teen en route to Vancouver Island in the back of a camper.

Somewhere under a Full Moon, where Leo and Orion’s Belt poked through fleeting clouds. Where and when few were listening to the tune that put Conway Twitty on the road to Nashville. On a street that was still Yonge Street, but very different from the Yonge Street at Front or the Yonge Street at Bloor or even the Yonge Street south of Aurora. Some time after Jack had held back his urgent need to urinate, and much after the point where Jack had been tempted to stop or at least drive-through for a coffee and banquet burger and fries with malt vinegar and shortly after Jack’s frequent shifting in his seat made him painfully aware of the cancerous tumour on his bottom rubbing against his ergonomic Accuform Back Saver and after Jack regretted having bought it before the new benefits package had been instituted. Somewhere inexplicably beyond Dr. Laura’s help and out of Wade Bogg’s range. Sometime after a pothole in the road had dislodged the steel hard icy accretion from one of his Accord’s wheelwell. Only then.

The inelasticity of Jack’s bladder, and the lack of gas in Jack’s tank conspired against him. His flight was over, and he was forced to continue on foot. Jack later recognised the significance of his choice of direction – southward, to the restaurant and gas bar he’d recently passed. Later, Jack would be bolstered by the fact that he'd walked the six kilometres in his double breasted blue blazer. Luckily, he’d worn his winter boots that day.

With the silk lining of Jack’s blazer pocket in tatters, Jack reached back and slipped his keys into pants pocket, making sure that it was on the non-cancerous side of his bottom. Jack couldn’t wait to pee, so he went on the one remaining back wheel, relieving himself while relieving his Honda of its icy stalagmite. And in relieving himself, Jack realized that he was need of a toilet for more.

With the stern, icy embrace of a northerly, originating, Jack thought, from the Algoma nickel belt, Jack’s resolve to escape weakened. It gathered some strength when Jack found the Gas Bar to be manned by an middle aged woman throwing snowballs angrily at the outline of the gentleman on the men’s washroom door. Judging by the clod of wet snow matted to the man’s midsection, she was a good shot.

“Excuse me. Could I have the key for the washroom? I’ve run out of gas just north of here. I have a credit card. Could I have lend of a tank of gas.”

“Yup,” she said, dropping the snowball she had wound up to throw. “Not a problem.”

Jack thought he smelled liquor on the woman’s breath, a sweet mediciny trace. Jack took the key in his cold fingers. He fumbled his way into the washroom. All the while, the attendant simply stood there, watching him. It made him uncomfortable to squat down on the cold rim of the toilet with her eyes boring down on the door. As Jack stood to pull his trousers up, the door of the washroom, not eight inches from Jack’s nose, exploded. Jack who was already unnerved, lost his balance and fell backward onto the toilet tank. His car keys rattled off the rim of the toilet and somehow – for he kept about ten keys on his ring -- followed the flush of water down the drain. Right here – in a frigid and cramped washroom in what was technically still Southern Ontario, Jack’s flight ended, and the familiarity of Jack’s complex but normally safe and complacent existence reasserted itself. Jack pulled his elasticized briefs up around his hips and pulled on his pants. He straightened his shirt and fastened the button on his blazer. Jack sat back down to plan his return flight home.

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