Home // December.1.2017 // David Tacium

The Go-Between

When Tim emerged at noon from his French class to find Stephen chatting with a girl, something told him his idyll was over. That he ought to brace himself for a major announcement, an engagement—the triumph of the ordinary. She led the way to the cafeteria, looking back over her shoulder with a wide smile that established the pecking order.

“Tim, allow me to introduce Patricia,” Stephen said, dropping back. “Patricia, this is the new friend I've been telling you about, Tim Evans.”

Over lunch she asked Tim a horde of questions, not just about how he'd met Stephen but also about his own background. She fished into his neighborhood, his high school, his genealogy—information Stephen was receiving fresh. Where was her threat? Her style was comically flirtatious. You sensed a disregard for strict rules, a hint of something lewd, and altogether too much flair for a bride-to-be. Or even for a girlfriend. “Come off it, Stephen Seton,” she scolded, with the proprietary calm of a slightly older sibling. Either they had broken up amiably and remained friends or else they'd always only been friends.

She got up to fetch some ketchup. “Sister?” Stephen exclaimed in a hushed voice. “She's a sister, yes, but not mine. She's just someone I've always known. She's a lot like us, sort of finding her footing here.”

Little did Tim suspect he would soon be taking a shine to this exciting rosy-cheeked new girl with straight long blond hair, cheery almost to a flaw, a tad outspoken. She began turning up regularly at their library table, where she'd stretch her legs, or draw them up tight against her chest as if to hide her female attributes, her chin resting on her knee-caps. Three gradually seemed the right number, with Patricia in some sense squeezed in, slightly off to a side, never intruding, dropping hints that spoke in their favour. One day while Stephen was out wandering she confided her delight in how they were meshing. “No wonder you like Stephen. He's not out there trying to screw people around. He's not into money. Not too ambitious. Such a change from all those meanies out there just for themselves. Plus he's so graceful. So sweet. And he's got looks, that's for sure. Yeah, he's got all you'd want.”

There was light laughter in her eyes. Her sentiments were his too, yet somehow he could never have found the words. She had an inscrutable side that made him wonder what she confided to Stephen about him. And what lay in the back of her mind the day she organized their excursion to the bus depot which, as it happened, stood next-door to the downtown campus? On the concrete ramp, in the gloaming, high on diesel fumes and yeast, Tim understood why newspaper editorials often called for the place to be demolished. Shards of glass lay scattered over the concourse. Patricia led their way through the bustle of puffy-eyed passengers with duffle-bags slung over their shoulders, to the booth in an exiguous corner on the other side of the ticket counter. She sent Stephen in and pulled the pleated black curtain behind him. While they waited for the camera to do its work, she asked a query so point-blank that Tim could tell she'd surprised herself.

“Have you two gone all the way?”

“All the way where?” Tim wheezed.

The flashes had begun inside the booth. “What's so awful about experimenting?” she prodded, acting all casual.

Experimenting . He grumbled something unintelligible.

“Okay, I was just askin',” she relented. “Why get all uptight? Why do guys always get so uptight?”

Stephen came through the curtains. The photos slithered out the slot. Everyone scowled. Stephen remarked how they made him look like he belonged on the Most Wanted list. “Yeah, you wish,” Patricia quipped. Tim smiled awkwardly. Stephen was right. The photos didn't do him justice at all. His jaw looked swollen. His eyes were never so protuberant. He insisted on a second try.

As the five-second flashes irradiated the air, Patricia continued to egg Tim on. “Why don't you guys do one together? Go in. Side by side.”


“What's the problem? I've got rolls and rolls of me with Adele.”

“Yes, but you and Adele—I mean—Adele? No,” he gabbled, angry at being toyed with. “It's just, I can't ask him that.”

“If you're so allergic to him why do you hang out together?”

“Uh, er, why don't you suggest it to him?”

She raised a complicit finger. Tim wasn't keen, but he saw the chance to acquire a token, a thing to pull out of the wallet in his back pocket and look back on years hence. “Patty thought we should take pictures two at a time,” he told Stephen as they waited for the second set. Patricia silently nodded.

“What do we want pictures of ourselves for?”

“No, not you and me,” Patricia said with a snicker. “What use would that be? No, Tim means you and him. Here, I'll pay.” She placed a row of quarters in the sliding tray. “Go on, go on,” she prodded, whooshing them through the curtain with a calm and steady arm. “We haven't got all day.”

Inside, the mock wood walls pressed at their sides. Both made clumsy attempts to establish personal territory, turning, poking. The countdown had already begun, the camera eye seizing them just as they were, far from ready for the taking. One by one the cruel flashes struck. Tim gave up trying to align himself. He tried to look natural. He leaned into Stephen. They leaned into each other. They splayed their hands and joined them palm to palm, Tim noting how his fingers were thicker while the tips of Stephen's extended a few centimetres further.

They tumbled out of the fotomat one atop the other, characters out of a vaudeville script, but Patricia was no longer amused. She waited impassively for the machine to spit the photos out, whereupon she snatched them as if they belonged to her. Surreptitiously she glanced at them. At last, only after Stephen had insisted, she turned them over. The photos were embarrassing. They came off as misfits. If one directed an eye toward the camera, the other's head was turned so far one barely got a glimpse of cheek. One was always slightly ahead or behind or angled off. Perhaps Patricia could see how much effort they'd put into getting it right, even to the point of one almost straddling the other sitting somewhat ahead.

If Patricia's mirth had dried up, her impish side was still alert. Pointing down at Stephen's head nestled on Tim's chest, she let out a hearty cocksure shriek. “Like you're listening for his heartbeat!” she whooped. “This one deserves one of those gold-frames they put around really old paintings.”

Stephen wanted to tear them up. Patricia thrust them into her pocket. She offered to pay for take two. This time they went more willingly behind the curtain. There was less duress in their grazing and bumping.

To the second batch Patricia claimed ownership, thrusting them into her pocket while Stephen objected they were actually inferior to the first lot. She seemed to possess an endless store of quarters. Se sent them in for a third try, the agreement being to destroy the first two lots if the third passed muster.

The pilot light no longer dazed and confused their eyes. Their bodies fell into more confident proximity, as if tamed and tethered together. They were stepping outside themselves, having fun at last. Yet Tim was still working, working hard, doing his damnedest just to look natural.

As they piled out from this final crack, Tim felt the satisfaction of a job well done, as if they were bank robbers who'd cracked the code and could now walk off with bags full of diamonds and rubies. Indeed, these last shots met everyone's approval. Each clipped one off for his respective wallet. Patricia, however, broke her end of the deal, refusing to dispose of the photos in her pocket. She said pratfalls weren't easy to get right. “Any gallery would take these,” she said. “You can have the last bunch. Too professional to my taste.”

For Patricia it had been no big deal. Leaving the depot she made a last remark: “I always say, if two friends won't have their pictures taken together, something's wrong. So now aren't you glad you have a record of yourselves?”

Tim nodded. Inwardly, he was fairly swaggering. They'd played. And now he had Stephen's picture in his back pocket. Having to feel like an oaf who needed to be bossed by a girl seemed a modest enough price to pay.


As a threesome they were never to enjoy themselves quite as much thereafter. Patricia was never the same. Her teasing took on edge. Her fuse shortened. Her fits of displeasure became routine. She would wrangle Stephen for anything. “Do you have to be so arch? Lighten up, would'ya? Or do you intend to go through life knocking people's socks off.” Stephen would stiffen as if he'd taken one to the jaw. “Wait—please—” Tim tried intervening. She wasn't exactly a bowl of cherries, he wanted to say. She threw the odd dart his way. One day she openly confronted him saying, “What do you mean you don't know what you want to do tomorrow? C'mon Tim, make up your mind why don't you?”

Soon they weren't even a threesome, for a fourth got added. Behind everyone's back Patricia went and cobbled together a double-date. Although he seemed none too keen, Stephen shrugged and went along, his one condition being that he choose the venue. Tim likewise saw little alternative. Old suspicions revived. Was Patricia using him as an inroad to Stephen? Did she expect Tim to open Stephen up so that she could swoop up the benefits? What did she seek from Stephen? Was she out for revenge?

Fools that they were, he and Stephen got spoofed up in their finest clothes. Talk in the car was disjointed, abstract, stilted—mostly speculations on good future careers, ideal family sizes. Tim had never been on a date before, let alone a double one. It was abundantly plain that Adele was Tim's. He tried to keep his eyes level with hers, not down on the shaking platform of her torso—she had the kind of body which was known in jock parlance as stacked, the kind that was supposed to make males lose their cool. She talked a red streak, mostly of family crises. Her younger sister had been led astray by an older cousin's boyfriend who drank. His mother had a still undiagnosed illness and the father had lost his job. His younger brother—Adele's uncle—blamed it on his wife's step-son. Stephen shrewdly led them all in prayer. “Oh Lord, do see Adele and all hers through their trials,” he said, brimming with compassion.

Stephen had decided they would go hear an evangelical speaker of international renown, in town to deliver a timely message on juvenile delinquency. Patricia, designated driver, maintained an uncharacteristic aloofness, both before and after the talk. So when she finally spoke up—“I could have myself more fun at a wake”—it shocked. They all pretended not to have heard. They all knew everyone had. Tim cleared his throat.

The fissure in their foursome was beyond mending. And yet they made one more go at it, one last forlorn attempt. This time there was no event, only an outing at a Greek diner. No sooner had they taken seats than something snide was said. “That's enough, Patricia!” Stephen said, his face livid and contorted as he threw down his napkin. “I've had it! No more!”

Tim didn't dare ask Patricia to repeat what she had said. “Acting like you want every old body to kiss you,” it sounded like. Tim could not discern whether she'd said buddy or body. In any case, she was busy attending to Adele, who had inexplicably burst into tears. Stephen, meanwhile, stood up and flounced out. Tim excused himself and dashed out on his heels. He found Stephen lingering just outside the entrance.

“Wha—what was that all about?”

“Man alive!” he huffed. “Oh, but don't worry. I just need to cool down.”

“I'll say. And her too. Never seen her so upset.”

“Yes, I knew it was a mistake. Oh, never mind. She'll want to start analyzing. Which is just what there's no point doing. She loves to attach importance where there is none. What does Patricia know? She's clueless, really.”

Tim agreed Patricia had crossed the line. “I think she flew off the handle. She sure knows how to spoil a good time.”

“Don't worry. It's not worth bothering over.”

They continued to the bus stop. Smoke trails registered how stealthily winter was coming on. The Farmer's Almanac was projecting record lows. This night the air was as dense as in a root cellar. A strain of flu with an ominous combination of letters and numbers was heading across from the Pacific. Perhaps the virus was already out there dancing, suspended in the congealed air.


Excerpted from the author's recently completed novel, whose tentative title is The Doll Falls to This.

Banner graphic source: photo (cropped) of contrails near Frankfurt, Germany, taken in 2012 by Wikimedia contributor Prashanta. Used here according to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

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