Wed, 26 Jun 2002
I was walking north along Meewasin trail, on the east side of the river, where it runs by the university campus. It was a little after midnight. I’d been walking for an hour or so. I’d left my car parked near the greenhouses and walked in a big loop; over the river via the train bridge, through downtown, and back over the river again via the Broadway Bridge. Now I was getting tired.
As I walked through a shady, overgrown part of the path, I saw a large man sitting on a bench up ahead. He was covered entirely in a heavy black cloak. His head, too, was cloaked. He was about nine feet tall. As he heard me approaching, he turned his head toward me. “How do you do,” he said.
“‘Lo,” I mumbled, and continued to walk by.
“Fine evening,” he said. His voice was low and mellifluous. He had a slightly antique-sounding middle-American accent, like a bit player in an old Frank Capra movie.
“Mmm, yes,” I said, slowing down.
“Come sit with me,” he said, sweeping the folds of his cloak away from a section of the bench. I slowed down still further. I was almost past him.
“I…” I said.
“Come, come,” he said, patting the bench beside him. There was no way to refuse without seeming rude. I smiled at him and sat down on the bench beside him. My head came up almost to his shoulder.
As I sat I looked at his face for the first time. It was as flat and broad as a stop sign. His skin was perfectly white, and perfectly smooth, and almost featureless, except for the abrupt black slash of his mouth, which was apparently toothless, and which, when he opened it, seemed not to lead down into his stomach, but rather into empty space. He had no eyeballs, only sockets, which at first I took to be empty, but as I sat down I noticed that his empty sockets weren’t empty at all; his left eye socket contained a giant bullfrog, waiting patiently for a tasty bug to fly by, and his right eye socket contained a troupe of pea-sized tragedians acting out the death scene from Hamlet.
“Thank you,” I said, settling comfortably onto the bench. I was tired from my walk.
“How do you do,” he said, extending a cool, white hand as large as a tennis racket. I wrapped my whole hand around two of his fingers and shook them. “Now, young man, what shall I call you?” he asked.
“My name’s Michael,” I said.
“And I am Esperzak,” he said. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“I was just sitting here enjoying the view,” he said, gesturing toward the tangled mass of weeds and trees that lay just across the path from us. A few moths and night-bugs fluttered faintly in what little moonlight filtered through. It was cool and comfortable.
“I was walking,” I said.
“Would you like some tea?” he said. I saw that he was delicately holding a tiny teacup between the thumb and index finger of his left hand.
“That would be lovely,” I said.
“Excuse me,” he said, and placed his teacup on the bench between us. Then he reached down to the ground and lifted his heavy black cloak up above his waist. I saw that his legs, too, were white and smooth, and tapered down to little pink hooves, like pig’s feet. He continued lifting his cloak, and I saw that he had a spigot where his genitals would be. Holding his cloak up with his left hand, he reached down between his legs with his right, and turned the spigot. A stream of steaming black tea poured out.
“Hurry, catch it,” he said. “It’ll stain my cloak.”
“I didn’t bring a cup,” I said.
“Use your hands.”
So I cupped my hands and held them under the spigot. The tea was piping hot, but somehow it didn’t burn my hands. When my cupped hands were full to the brim, he turned off the spigot and let his cloak fall over his legs again. “Would you like milk and sugar?” he asked.
He removed several packets of non-dairy creamer and Nutri-sweet from a pocket of his cloak, and emptied them into my cupped hands. When he’d stirred my tea using his pinky finger, I took a sip, awkwardly, spilling a great deal down my chin. It was alright. A little sweet for my taste.
He took up his teacup again, and we sat in silence for a few moments, watching the night-bugs, sipping our tea. I noticed that he swished the tea around in his mouth after each sip, and swallowed with great relish. I tried to sip quietly, but it was difficult to drink from my cupped hands, and I’m afraid I slurped a great deal.
“Fine evening,” he said, after a while.
“Yes, isn’t it.”
“Do you mind, Michael, if I ask what you do?”
“Not at all, Esperzak,” I replied. “The truth is, I’m unemployed.”
“Really? That seems a shame. A well-dressed, polite young man like you.”
“I’m not really cut out for the working world.”
“No? No, neither am I, I’m afraid.” He turned toward me and I saw the planet Uranus in his right eye socket, spinning on its horizontal axis. In his left socket, I saw the building of the Great Pyramid; a thousand slaves straining to raise a stone block into position, while the Pharaoh lounged on a sedan chair suckling the adolescent breasts of a favourite niece. Esperzak leaned back on the bench and stretched out his legs. “I used to be in advertising,” he said.
“I did that one with the Toyota, with the family, driving down the highway, with the dog? Remember that one? I did that one.”
“Yes, I was big in the advertising field. At one time, mind you. At one time.” He sighed. A few seconds passed.
“I’m afraid I haven’t had that kind of success,” I finally said.
“I’m sure you will, Michael. I’m sure you will.”
I had slurped down the last of my tea, and was busily licking my palms clean. Esperzak now swallowed what little was remaining in his teacup. After swishing it around in his mouth and noisily swallowing, he popped the teacup into his mouth. “Well, that’s that,” he said. For an instant as he spoke, I could see the teacup in his open mouth, receding into the endless void. I resisted a strong and inexplicable urge to reach into his open mouth and try to retrieve the teacup before it fell away forever. But I’m glad I didn’t try.
Now Esperzak was sitting with his hands upon his knees, as if he were about to rise up and leave me. I thought maybe he was waiting for me to get up first. “Well…” I said, and began to rise.
“Michael,” he said, turning upon me with eyes of cream of mushroom soup and Picasso’s “Guernica”, respectively. “Michael, I just wanted to thank you for stopping to have tea with me.”
“It was my pleasure,” I replied sincerely.
“I know you’re a busy man,” he said.
I am no such thing, and I think he knew it, too. “Well,” I said.
“No, no. It was kind of you to sit and have tea with me. Who else would?”
“Many people. Many people would.”
“Ah,” he said, dismissively. “Are you headed home right now?”
“As soon as I walk to my car,” I said.
“Do you think you could possibly give me a lift?”
“Of course. Anywhere you’d like to go.”
“Anywhere you’re going is fine,” he said, and with that stepped neatly into the breast pocket of my shirt. I sat on the bench a few moments longer to collect myself, then got to my feet and walked to my car, which was just around the next bend. There was an enormous black iguana perched on the hood of my car, but I didn’t pay it any mind. I flew directly home.