Please, won the KM Hunter Award for Best Emerging Artist and Canada’s ReLit Award for Best Novel.
In short, sharp episodes, the story chronicles the life of a young man who drifts through a hallucinatory urban world filled with celebrity wannabes, addictive relationships and jobs that demand he become someone else. The only thing he cares about is finding his ex-wife, who seems to exist only in his memories now. This terse, savage debut fuses the quiet desperation of Raymond Carver with the absurdity and media-savvy irony of Quentin Tarantino. At the same time, Please has a compassionate heart: It’s a moving portrait of one man’s attempt to embrace something real in his life. Here’s an X-ray of our times from a writer of extraordinary restraint, skill and wit.
I WALKED EVERYWHERE in those days. I had a car but I couldn’t always afford gas. Sometimes, at night, I went up to the windows of houses and looked inside. In the dark, you can stand right on the other side of the glass, and no one ever knows you’re there. From the street, these places always seem like the kind of homes you see in magazine ads, all red walls and leather furniture. Close up, though, it’s mostly just people watching television or doing the dishes. Although once I saw a woman feeding soup to a man with two broken legs. There was nothing wrong with his arms but she fed him soup anyway, kneeling beside him on the couch and carefully lifting the spoon to his lips.
Another time I saw a man putting on eyeliner. I was standing deep in a driveway between houses and looking into a bedroom. I could see him through the cracks between the blinds. He was sitting at a vanity with lights around the mirror. When he was done with the eyeliner he put on eye shadow and lipstick. Then he cleaned his face with a tissue and blew himself a kiss. After that, he walked out of the room and didn’t come back. I wondered whose makeup it was. His wife’s? His roommate’s?
And once I came across another man doing the same thing as me. I started down a driveway and saw him kneeling on the ground at the other end, his face shining from the light of the basement window in front of him. He never looked away from it, not even when I went back up the driveway. I don’t think he ever knew I was there. I never went back to that house again.
I was twenty-three or twenty-four at the time, I can’t really remember anymore. I hadn’t worked in months. My wife had left me. Sometimes I woke up with shooting pains in my stomach, like someone had stabbed me while I slept. The doctors said there was nothing wrong with me.
ON ONE OF THESE walks I met a blind man. It was around five or six in the evening. I could tell he was blind by the fact that he wore those dark glasses and he was tapping around the base of a telephone pole with a long, white cane. When I tried to walk around him, he swung the cane into my legs. It bent like it was made of rubber. I had to stop because he kept the cane in front of me. I couldn’t move without jumping over it.
“I’m a little lost,” he said, as if I’d asked him how he was. “There’s not a newspaper box around here, is there?”
“No, there’s nothing but the telephone pole,” I told him.
“There’s supposed to be a newspaper box,” he said, “but I guess my counting got thrown off somewhere.”
“Yes, that’s most likely it,” I agreed, even though I didn’t really know what he was talking about. I waited for him to move the cane but he didn’t.
“I was walking to the school,” he went on. “But I should have come across it by now. You don’t see a school anywhere, do you?”
I looked around. We were standing in front of an old Victorian house with vines growing up the front of it. A young girl in white pajamas stood in the front window, watching us. There weren’t any lights on behind her. She was just a white silhouette against the darkness. I wondered where her parents were.
“No,” I said, “there’s nothing but houses around here.”
“Wow,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m really messed up.”
The girl didn’t move at all, didn’t even seem to blink. She looked like a ghost, and for some reason, that thought reminded me of the last night I ever saw my wife.
“I could really use some help here,” the blind man said.
THE BLIND MAN KEPT his free hand on my arm while we walked, as if he was afraid I would run away if he didn’t. All the way down the street, he tapped the ground in front of us with his cane and counted under his breath. Now that I was taking him back the way he had come, he seemed to know exactly where we were at all times. Every intersection we took, he guided me in a different direction. Soon I was the one who was lost.
“I have it all memorized,” he told me as we went along. “I go for the same walk, to the school and back, every night. Turn left out the door, two hundred and twenty steps to the first right, four hundred and ten from there…” He went on like that for some time and then ended with, “And that box has always been there before, a hundred steps from the intersection, give or take, after the second left turn. Always. I don’t understand it.”
“How do you know when you’re actually at the school?” I wanted to know. “I mean, even if you take the proper amount of steps, how do you know it’s the school and not something else, like a bank or a high-rise?” I pictured him tapping his way around a building, trying to figure out what it was just by its size and shape. Maybe counting taps like he did steps.
“I can hear the kids,” he told me. “There are always kids in the playground, even in the middle of the night. It’s like they don’t know where else to go.”
Later, he said, “You’re probably wondering why I go to the school every day.” “No, not really.”
“I’m not after any Lolitas, if you know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t.”