Excerpt, A Killing at Easter Hill, a serialized novel by Alex Rose
We met Tal in journalism school and he was just the thing for it. Short, pugnacious, he was a revving engine of a man with a shock of blonde hair falling into his face.
Tal had gone to an elite prep school and was a close reader — devouring the books we loved but on a level deeper — and employing a convoluted academic theory to investigate construals of truth — actually his longing for a kind of innocence and transcendence beyond the profane world he claimed we live in.
He was a great talker, our Samuel Taylor. Tal knew every lyric of Astral Weeks, every Eliot Christian reference and — in our heaviest rotation — all smut and scandal of Larkin, Joyce and Ginsberg. On long rambles through the crunch of Vancouver’s leafy West Side we chortled at Pynchon’s world of paranoia, sex, conspiracies and shadowy government agencies so persuasive that, under Tal’s tutelage, we began to see such signs and signifiers everywhere.
Tal had written a paper on Lawrence and surprised us by saying the poems were better than the famous prose. Tal hammered home the Lawrence dictum that ours is essentially a tragic age — so we refuse to take it tragically.
But life intervenes. I introduced Tal to Florian and he was smitten instantly. He fell hard, his world turned aslant. Florian had inherited heaven’s graces and then some. Tall and handsome — a Byronic crown of curly black hair — all the girls and more than a few of the boys clamoured for the pleasure of his company; the mystery, the wit and inclusive humour that could turn cruel for no reason whatsoever. (Combing though a psychoanalytic dictionary, we chanced upon an entry that described Florian’s seductive personality — but were never able to find it again).
In Florian’s company Tal turned coquette and suitor — despite himself, despite his intellectual rigour. A man in love unknowing, he turned silly and fey — turning up at Florian’s flat at Alma and 2nd unannounced, every and all hours.
Flattered at first and amused by Tal’s exculpations, Florian soon enough began diluting the experience making Tal ever more determined in wounded pursuit.
One Saturday morning, I was witness to a humbling contumelious. I came up the stairs to hear Tal whining, begging for comfort, for Florian’s approbation. ‘I’m fat,’ he sobbed.
Florian had turned his back, a slim silhouette looking down into the street.
‘What can I do? Look at my fat,’ grabbing at a great loose gut spilling out over his belt. ‘Help me, Florian — please.’
‘You are fat. Too fucking fat. And a vexation to my spirit,” said Florian, holding the door.
‘Don’t you understand you’re not my problem.’
Some time later Tal and I worked the Monday night council beat at the New Westminster Columbian newspaper, a farm league for the big-city papers. Forty bucks a story.
It was a tawdry affair with bad flourecent lighting that helped hide the burned out lives hunched over cheap computer screens driven by a flickering orange curser. Hacks, liars and toadies toiled away while diminishing time before deadline became more and more valuable. Cursing, sarcasm and threats ruled the rim as the younger reporters — or those who still gave a shit about municipal politics — tried hard to believe they were professionals, not just scum.
I was updating a Port Moody sewerage story when Tal sidled up to my desk. Greying teeth, cascading dandruff, soiled gym socks and more than a whiff of failure.
‘What’s up? What’s your story?’ I asked.
‘Nada. No news from Surrey,’ Tal said.
‘Whoa. You got to come up with something, buddy. A feature on the farmer’s market, the wrestling champ from Queensborough — the bore who collects classic cars, anything. The editors expect it. The game, you know.’
‘No. Nothing. Not any more,’ Tal said, storming out.
After he was fired, Tal quit journalism and embraced his true calling — a kind of intellectual Christianity. And flacking for a non-demoninational charity he met and married a woman priest — an expert on Elaine Pagels — and moved to Foul Bay.