THE NEXT WAVE
They might think that our gym obsession is about exercise, a healthy lifestyle, a swimsuit body, but we know better. We say nothing as we steadily climb conveyor belt staircases, row immobile boats, raise our shaking arms to music no one else can hear. We show up daily, we sweat and groan, we collapse on sour-smelling mats. We don’t make eye contact, not even in the weight room mirrors. But we know. There are certain gestures. When the next wave of protests begin, we will be ready. The city’s forces will try to run us down and corral us like last time. First they will use regulations. Then chemicals and brute force and fear. They will have their handcuffs and their vans ready to take us away. But this time, we won’t be taken! Our jacked arms will smash their riot shields, our toned cores will repel their batons, our svelte legs will speed us away from their acrid gas. We will take to the streets in mounting waves. Our asses will look great. We will shout SOLIDARITY and charge. Until we overthrow them. For now, of course, we must be content with knowing. Though in fact, we can’t be totally sure that the others are not here out of mere vanity. We had to stop communicating entirely because of the surveillance. The only signal is no signal. The only sound besides our panting is the whir of the machines. The lonely sound of revolution.
The letters are spray-painted huge on the sun soaked wall across from the famous monument: IF IT’S CALLED TOURIST SEASON, WHY CAN’T WE SHOOT THEM? We laugh, take selfies with it and Instagram them with appropriately woke hashtags. We’re smug with our anarchist politics, the number of times we’ve read The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the fact that we’ve learned several phrases in the regional language. We buy beers at a bar that we deem Local Not Touristy, and drink to our own health, forgetting to tip.
We’ve rented an Airbnb—a company we’re against, yes, but none of the squats we emailed wrote us back. The courtyard is lined with lemon trees. The plump fruit swells and drops, heavy like footfalls in the night. On the third day, we return to the flat to find our laundry draped on the laden branches, almost like the wind has done it, but not quite. The next morning, we wake to discover that all the cutlery is gone. We go for groceries to clear our heads, paranoid now in our acidic clothes; but as we walk down each narrow street, the trundling of shutters precedes us, all the shops seeming to close right before we arrive.
We talk of moving to a hotel in a different neighbourhood, yes, tomorrow we will do it. But already it’s too late. Now the footfalls are sounding, now the lemon trees are parting, now the shutters are rattling open, the neighbours craning to see the first casualties of the season.
One freezing winter, all my closest friends decide, without preamble, to start dating each other in various bewildering formations.
At first this is exciting. Surely our newfound openness to dating or fucking any other person in our close social circle will lead us to queer freedom, a shedding of the heteronormative dating rules of society. We will, I am told, ascend to a higher plane of human closeness, physical and otherwise. Even I, the conservative one, feel hopeful. If all my friends can appreciate and succumb to each others’ beauty and charm with such unbounded trust, then why should I be a spoilsport? I am ready to change. We plunge in bravely, armed only with desire, latex gloves, and a willingness to engage in endless “processing” conversations that may spring up at any moment and last for hours, or days. Polyamory, we trill. Radical intimacy! We bask in it.
After only some months have passed, however, the new alliances begin to chafe, to tangle with each other in unsexy ways. March arrives, with its bleak gusts and sordid grey sidewalks, and our elation gutters. Betrayal is now the word coating our tongues. Everyone stops hanging out because every possible combination of people would lead to some awkward or even painful situation for at least one, if not all of the involved parties. I will begin a group chat, inviting the crew to the bar or a dinner party, only to remember that C and L are no longer speaking, that L and K are now dating even though K is also dating W who hates L and has recently broken the heart of C, who used to get friend support from H but is no longer talking to them because H has expressed sympathy for K and is now also dating W. I too have dated W. They aren’t speaking to me.
I retreat into guilt. I should have stuck with my initial reticence, I lament. I should have spoken up before it was too late—delivered a stronger warning. The others tell me to shut up. I reach out to my long-lost straight friends, pleading for sympathy, and also seeking to get back onto their cocktail party invitation lists, because what else am I to do? But I have turned my back on them for too long and they only respond with puzzlement, at best, and cold superiority that gives way to aggression in the worst cases. Summer arrives while I stay in my apartment and listen to the fridge hum. Now and again, I send out a text to some of the old friends, whose entanglements I have ceased to follow. I never receive a response.
Image Credit: Leonora Carrington “Big Wavehorse” (1941)
Helen Chau Bradley is a queer writer, musician, and arts administrator living in Tiohtià:ke / Montreal. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, carte blanche, and the Montreal Review of Books. She plays in the band Heathers, hosts the Strange Futures book club at the Drawn + Quarterly bookstore, and posts book reviews and recommendations as @notesofacrocodile on Instagram.