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Olympia and I

Olympia and I

In 1995, on a day far too warm for a long black coat, I walk along Queen Street West inhaling exhaust fumes from backed up traffic and cigarette smoke from the woman walking in front of me on the crowded sidewalk. Unlike Bill Clinton, I have never smoked, but often inhaled. I stand in front of a shop window looking covetously at outrageously expensive Goth clothing.

I am not a Goth — I like sunlight and do not care for graveyards — I like the clothing because it is black and my mother says black makes me look slimmer. Then I notice a man standing looking up at me. He is not particularly small, but I had grown to six feet two by the age of fifteen and ever since have been looking down on people.

“I bet you could do some damage to me, couldn’t you, Miss?” He bites his lip apprehensively.

I assume he is being sarcastic and tell him I will indeed do him some damage if he continues to annoy me. This is when he begins to breathe heavily and pulls out his wallet. Later I think I must be mad to go alone to a strange man’s apartment, but then, I am bigger than him, and he wants to be hurt, not to hurt me.

The apartment is one of those expensive places down at Harbourfront, the kind with a doorman who likes to tell people he is a concierge. I use a wooden spoon from the man’s kitchen drawer because that is what he requests. Afterwards I ask him, “why did you think I’d be up for this?” His cheeks are pink. He looks like he’s just been rescued from a plane disaster or removed from a wrecked car by the Jaws of Life, relieved, grateful. “You look dangerous,” he said, “so big, dressed all in black.”

“I wear black to try to look slimmer,” I tell him.

“Don’t,” he whispers.

I take a taxi back to Queen Street West where I buy the black and red satin dress I was aching for when he approached me. That night I wear the dress to Talullah’s Cabaret and meet Olympia for the first time.

Noisy, dark, smelling of beer and women, I love Tallulah’s. Men go there too but I ignore them. Before leaving the house, I spend a good hour admiring my red and black reflection in the mirror and every time I smooth the satin down over my full hips or look down at my eight inch cleavage, I think about the man’s hairy backside turning slowly redder and redder as I whacked it with the wooden spoon.

Olympia walks right up to me and presses her face into my breasts. I look down at her and laugh. She laughs back, like a pixie, like a child. She is a foot shorter than me and very thin. When she tells me her name I am confused. With a name like Olympia you’d expect her to be ready to run a marathon or leap the pole vault. I find out later she has difficulty climbing a flight of stairs or walking around the block without becoming winded. I want to know why her parents called her Olympia. She smiles and says, “they had great hopes for me.”

We dance and buy each other drinks all evening. She says she loves my dress and the way it fits like shrink wrap over my curves, smoothing them out, holding them in. She says she loves how tall I am and I feel like a queen moving on the dance floor among lesser people, cleaving a path for my little woman, keeping her from being trodden on. I go to the bar because no one notices her standing there or she’s asked for ID even though she is twenty seven. I have not been carded since the age of fifteen.

Afterwards we go to Fran’s Restaurant on College Street and she eats two cheese burgers, an enormous plate of fries and a chocolate milkshake. I marvel at her. Big as I am, a grilled cheese with fries is plenty for me after all the beer I’d consumed, and several times during the meal I have to stop eating just to look at her with her blond hair like a child’s, all wispy, the colour of morning sunshine, her skin, which appears translucent and slightly blue, like skim milk, now I see her in full light. She grins at me when she grabs my plate and stuffs down the cold, limp fries I have lost interest in. All I can do is smile. I am falling in love.

On the way to her apartment, in the warm, humid, night air, Olympia leans over a garbage can by the streetcar stop and vomits profusely. I wipe her mouth tenderly with the hem of my new dress and pull her head to my bosom while she pants, getting her breath back. “You drank too much, sweetheart,” I comfort her. She apologizes, shaking and unsteady, and we make our slow progress to her apartment where I fall the rest of the way in love with her.

“Will you look after me forever, will you be my queen?” she asks me. I assure her over and over while she drifts off to sleep, curled in my arms, her head between my breasts, “I’ll do and be anything you want me to, Olympia, anything at all.”

Olympia is still well enough to work when we move into the apartment in Cabbagetown. It is winter and the streets of the old Victorian neighbourhood look like they belong on an old English Christmas card. Like something from Dickens. Olympia and I walk through the neighbourhood the first night, her arm around my waist, my arm around her shoulders, pulling her into my side to keep her warm. We look around us at the snow falling softly, at the amber lights in the windows, at each other, amazed at our good fortune.

I never met Olympia’s parents, but mine come to visit us on Christmas Eve and look suspiciously at Olympia and the spacious apartment with its high ceilings and crown mouldings.

“This looks expensive. You are still at George Brown College, aren’t you?” my mother asks me. I laugh and say, “of course.” She asks, “you are still planning to be a social worker?” When she looks at Olympia I am afraid the look will hurt her, physically hurt her. My mother tells her, defensively, “she’s always been a very caring girl, my daughter.”

Curled up in the big leather chair, lost among the cushions, Olympia tells her she knows and looks at the sandwiches. She will no longer eat in front of anyone but me.

“I don’t like that girl, who is she?” my father demands in a whispery voice when I see them to the car. “She’s not getting you into anything bad, is she?”

“Olympia’s a graphic designer, she went to Ryerson University.”

“Olympia!” he huffs.

I tell myself all the time I am not ashamed of my work. In a way I am a social worker, helping men with their problems. My mother should see the relief and gratitude on their faces after I have subdued them. I cannot tell my parents I have not returned for my second year at George Brown, that instead, I have taken a full time job at the Dungeon Club on King Street which is very expensive and has no sign over the door. I cannot tell them I was highly recommended to the owner by the wooden spoon man.