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Tony laughs like thunder when I call one of his neighbours le journal. I came up with it after he stomped in here complaining the toilet at the rooming house was clogged again. 

Fucking Crackhead Gary, Tony roared, he’s so god damn cheap he wipes his ass with newspapers…you can’t flush that shit.

Tony’s in better spirits today. He leans on a yellow pine bar. With hip cocked jauntily he carelessly brushes away spilled food and dead ants. He wears a winter coat with deep holes cut in the lining to conceal what he takes. It’s warm today. There’s sweat on his brow. 

A sour stink fills the air. 

I sit across from the Boss’ cluttered desk. My skin crawls looking at the mess of work orders so I focus on cutting up weed. The trimmings fall in an empty ice cream container between my thighs. The Boss rolls a joint in front of his computer. Tony pulls a beer from his pocket. It fizzes when he cracks the top.

It’s Monday morning coming down. 

With glazed-over eyes Tony makes overtures from the side of his mouth. He’s recounting the time he helped The Boss recover some drills Crackhead Gary stole off the loading dock. 

It’s hard to forget. Tony mentions it often.

C’mon…you know how much work that was Tony says chopping the dusty air with his hands…how many people I had to see…I got ‘em back quick quick…now all I need is a little help. 

Interrupting Tony I ask The Boss for a rolling paper. He passes me a pack of king size slims without looking up. I use a piece of cut-up catalogue cover to make a filter. I place it in the end of the fold. 

As I sprinkle weed in the crease Tony quiets himself. Oooh…look at the concentration he teases, can you thread a needle?

I roll my half-open eyes and mutter get lost with a smile.

Tony laughs and says he loves me.

We talk like old friends because he reminds me of someone. Same mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. A way I thought was unique to one person. But in the face of time and experience I see I was fooled. My best friend was mostly cocaine. 

So I have a soft spot for Tony. Though I know I’ll regret it. He’s been partying longer than I’ve been alive. Some ruts are too deep. I’ve seen it before. He was never meant to fit in. 

Neither was I. I’ve always had trouble finding my way. In the beginning it was school. Then it was finding a job. When I stumbled into something I was good at I put my head down. But it was never for me. I had different dreams. 

I read books.They gave me ideas. And none of them were reflected in the lives I knew. I resented everyone. I filled myself with hate for everything I saw no matter how beautiful. I escaped to the city first chance I got. I didn’t care what I found as long as it was different. 

Now here I am. I’m definitely not the outlaw or artist I thought I’d become. I sigh. I think about Tony. He kicks against a cage I silently sit in. He reminds me of my dullness. 

And I lose myself in a fantasy where I tell The Boss I’ve had enough. Shrug off the life of nine to five to tag along with Tony and learn his trade. I feel light during this revery. Life is bright. I’m not out of lessons to learn.

And Tony’s the right age to teach. 

He must know his days are numbered. Now is the time to pass down his knowledge before it’s lost in a jail cell, or beyond the reaches of death. He’s a master of deception. A magician, except I respect him. All I have to do is ask him to teach me his tricks.

As I’m sitting on the cusp of bliss Tony pipes up impatiently. He groans like he’s wounded. Though it’s nothing but an itch he can’t ignore. I tell him to take coffee in place of white powder. He scoffs and waves me off like a Frenchman in favour of laying a mooch on The Boss. 

Tony whines like a brat as he begs c’mon c’mon…just a little start-up money…enough to get to work…I’ll bring you something nice.

He thinks what he does is a job.

What are you smiling at boy he quips, mistaking the smirk on my face for something it’s not. You couldn’t handle what I do…you don’t have what it takes Tony rages.  

He stomps his foot. The floor rattles. He pounds his chest and his cough is wet. I’m sure I hear his lungs collapse. I run my tongue along the glue of my rolling paper as he slaps his heavy palm upon the bar. The sound makes me wince. Marijuana falls on the floor. 

But for him it’s like sorcery. He recovers in an instant. So I tell him get out of here…you’re not thinking straight… you don’t have what it takes to go clean. 

His shoulders slump. I hurt his feelings.

So I keep my eyes on Tony same as I would a wounded animal. He’s old and slow. But it’s best to be wary. He’s been through the ringer more than me. Bar fights and prison and nights spent with nowhere to sleep. Nowhere to turn for help. 

Or too proud to bother.

Tony raises his hand. It’s old and rough and swollen purple with drink. He winds up. I lean back. But instead of a slap he gives me a smile like an uncle. Like him and I are the only ones who know that life is all a big joke.

For Tony it is. 

He wakes every morning without a dollar to his name. But he’s quick with his hands and has nothing to lose except freedom. At night he goes to bed in a room full of roaches under threadbare blankets thick with cigarette smoke, but he sleeps having gorged like a king. 

He lives fatter than anyone I know.

Chair legs scrape as the Boss pushes up from his desk. He pulls a bankroll from his pocket. He peels off two twenties. Tony’s eyes light up and his tongue wets his lips. I do the same.

And with a tenderness I reserve for women and rolling joints I seal the glue as Tony snatches the money from The Boss’ hand like a child.

I stand. I walk to the fire escape. I look out across the rooftops. The leaves are budding. Soon the branches will be green. Two catholic spires rise to the sky. I wonder how I got here. All the choices I made. What was I thinking? 

Tony sneaks up behind me and slaps my shoulder. I jump as he declares you’re nothing but a fucking pussy. I open my mouth to ask if he’ll take me under his wing, but the words won’t come today. 

Instead I growl fuck you.