(EXCERPT from Tales from the Bottom of My Sole)

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The Limit to Your Love

Early in February, I was getting take-out at Big Fat Burrito when my old acquaintance Marwa walked in carrying a shopping bag full of posters. She was dressed in a fitted white pea coat, a white Russian hat with dangling pompoms and matching fur-lined boots. When I commented on her outfit, she spun coyly and struck a pose. “Zo you like zees, comrade?” she said in her best Soviet era accent. “I win ushanka in vodka-drinking contest.”

“In Siberian prison,” I said.

“Against toothless babushka,” Marwa said, “of Mongolian warlord.”

Marwa explained she was helping to promote a Valentine’s Day burlesque show at the Revival Bar. Her catering company, Cherry Bomb Bakery, was hosting a booth at the event. As it turned out, my ex-boyfriend Marcus Wittenbrink Jr. was scheduled to make a guest appearance. “Marcus,” Marwa said, stapling a poster to the wall, “he’s like a surprise celebrity performer.”

“What? Is he going to jump of out of a giant frosted cupcake or something?”


Marwa giggled. “I offered to bake him one, but he turned me down. Truth is, I don’t know what he’s planning. He says he’s choreographing something special. It’s all very secret. He won’t even let me see. He insisted his name stay off the bill. Don’t tell him I told you. Daniel, you and your boyfriend should come. David, right? It’ll be fabulous.”

“And delicious?”

Marwa pinched my cheek. “And delicious.”

A boy with neon-blue hair called out my number, and I retrieved my big fat burrito wrapped in foil. “It sounds fun, Marwa but to be honest, I’m not really sure it’s my thing.”


“It should be your thing,” Marwa said. “Burlesque is all about playfulness and subversion and feminist empowerment.”

“Maybe you should be performing.”

“Me? I’m just a reformed goth girl from Burlington, remember? I channel my inner goddess into baking. It’s Skin Tight Outta Sight teaming up with Boylesque.”

“Boylesque? There are boys in this show?”

“Marcus eez boy, isn’t he? But yes, comrade, are boys in zees show. Aha ...” She stroked my burrito with a pom- pom. “Now, Mr. Garneau, I haf your attention. Now you must come zee fabulous Valentine’s cabaret. I bake special cupcake just for you.”

Marwa’s Russian accent was awful. I laughed, despite myself. “I’ll think about it.”

“Here.” She handed me a glossy, heart-shaped post- card. “Take this. Promise you’ll think about it?”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Good boy.”

Later when I mentioned it to David, he was more than enthusiastic. “Of course, we should go,” he said, running the hot water, clutching a towel around his waist. “I’ve always wanted to see burlesque. It’ll be fun.”

“You just want to see twirling pasties.”

“Yeah, and?”

Before moving into David’s Kensington Market loft,I’d never lived with a boyfriend. David was messy and played his music too loud. But I loved that he collected old LPs and Scott Pilgrim books, and had over two dozen spices in his spice rack (all of which he actually used). It was cramped for two (especially with my giant palm taking up half the living room area), but somehow we made it work. This evening we were sharing a bubble bath. Back in the fall, David had come across a vintage claw-foot bathtub abandoned in an alleyway. It took a week for him and Rick the building manager to find the parts to install it properly in our bathroom. When they were done, we went into Chinatown and adopted two rubber duckies we named Sam and Dean and popped a bottle of Asti Spumante.

“Did you know Marwa’s hired a second part-time assistant to help with her company?” I said. “She’s doing really well for herself.”

David leaned back into me, lighting half a joint. “Good for her, she deserves it. She works really hard. Maybe Cherry Bomb Bakery could team up with Kyle’s Kandy Factory.”

“I could introduce them.”

“It’s all about who you know, networking, strength in numbers. Teamwork.”

“Marcus is helping out with Boylesque. Marwa says he used to date one of the performers.”



“The Joseph who was in that threesome?”

“With Marcus and Fang, yeah.”

“Didn’t we bump into them at Inside Out last year?” “Yeah, we did.”

David reached out and carefully ashed his joint in a Pop Shoppe bottle. “That didn’t last too long. But it’s good they can still stay friends.”

I stroked David’s shoulders and limbs. “Marcus stays friends with all his exes. He never said anything to you about this show he’s doing?”

“Nope. He hasn’t mentioned anything on Facebook either.”

I rested my chin on top of David’s head. “Don’t you think it’s weird?”


“Us going to see him perform in a show he hasn’t told anyone about?”

“Daniel, he’s just making a guest appearance, right? He’s probably only going to be on stage like five minutes.”


“So I doubt it’s any big deal at all.”

“Karen says he’s a narcissist.”

David butted out his roach. “Marcus? He’s a theatre artist. Hell, he’s a three-ring circus. It’s how he makes his living. He’s allowed to be a narcissist.”

“You just want to see him do a striptease.”

“Of course, I do. And so do you.” David craned his neck to look back up at me. “Are we okay with that?”

“Yes, we are okay with that.”

“Spiderman kiss.”

I kissed him, open-mouthed. After that, David reached for his wineglass. “And I also want to see twirling pasties.”


“Apparently there’ll be a lot of boys in the show.”


“Very inclusive. Very avant-garde. Now I’m definitely getting excited.”

“Are you?” I reached forward under the bubbles and palpated. “Uh-oh. Young man, it does feel swollen. Is there any tenderness?”

“Oh, yes, sir, there is. I think it needs medical attention.” “Or maybe just a little TLC.”


“Like this?”

David bit his lower lip. “Mmm.”

I took his glass and set it aside. “Or like this.” I pinned him against me with one arm across his chest. Water sloshed onto the bathroom floor. He gripped the edges of the tub. I ran my mouth over his jaw and neck, careful not to break the skin. Sam and Dean bobbed up and down with surprised expressions. After a while, I could tell he was getting close. David’s hips arched. Then I kissed him hard just as his toes clenched and a muffled groan escaped his lips. It was always easy with David. Afterwards, he sank back into me. We ran more scalding water and took our time finishing the wine.

“So,” I said, “should I tell Marcus we’re coming?”

“No, why should we?” David said drowsily. “It’s our date night, not his.”

“Well, we’ll just surprise him then.”


* * * 

One week before Valentine’s Day, David and I went shopping for outfits. I was never a fan of shopping (de- spite Parker Kapoor’s best efforts) but David insisted. The Saturday afternoon was brisk and sun-drenched, with sparkling flecks of snow blowing off the rooftops. We strolled down Queen Street West, coffees in hand. Past MuchMusic and the Black Bull Tavern, we hugged the big colourful tree stump on the north side. I was ready to look into The Gap, but David made a face and the sign of the cross and hurried us past. He knew exactly where we were going and I eventually followed him down a short flight of stairs into a store called Borderline Plus.

“Welcome,” he said, holding the door open for me, “to Toronto’s gothic and alternative retail boutique.”

I’d never seen so much lace, leather and rubber in one place. The store was narrow and long, with red-painted walls. A Chinese woman hunched behind the counter hand-stitching ostrich plumes into a top hat. David led me into the back, which was crowded with ornate dresses and luxurious, Victorian-tailored jackets. The aesthetic inspired but my jaw dropped when I checked a price tag.

“I fucking love this place,” David said, holding up a crushed velvet frock coat. “How decadent is this? Just feel it.”

I closed my mouth. “No thanks.”


“C’mon. Touch it.”

“Okay. Very nice.”

“But do you like it? I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Rocambolesco! That’s what Ma would always say.”

Life was rocambolesco for David’s ma. I’d never met a more passionate or opinionated person. The few times I’d actually been in her presence, she never failed to terrify me.

I rolled my eyes. “Rocambolesco.”

“Ooh, look at this, way too steampunk.”

I followed David around as he admired one item after another—this was no Fabricville. Black boots of all shapes and sizes lined one section of wall. Tacky accessories featured skulls and pentagrams but there were also beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces. Others just confused me. David held up what looked like a flak jacket constructed from vacuum hoses and industrial-grade Saran Wrap.

“Now you would look hot in this,” he said.

“Are you kidding me?”

“I know, a little more apocalypso than rocambolescoI get it. Oooh, wow, check this out. For your friends Charles and Megan?”

“What are they?”

“Matching corsets, his and hers.”

“David, we can’t afford any of this stuff.”

“Daniel, people dress up for these burlesque events. I’ve still got that money from Luke. Let’s have some fun here. I’m paying.” He peered at me through a pair of aviator goggles. “Whatever we pick out, it’ll be our Valentine’s gift to the both of us.”

“Shouldn’t you be saving that money?”

“For what? Our kid’s college fund? We still got time for that. C’mon, show me something you like.”

Reluctantly, I let myself stray through the aisles as David tried on half-a-dozen items. While I waited for him, two big girls in Hello Kitty fanny packs walked into the store. David drew back the change room curtain and stepped out wearing a dark brown cotton kilt trimmed in leather.

“So,” he said, “what do you think? I’m not sure about all these chains and pockets here. Is it too much?”

He was holding up his T-shirt, exposing half his torso. I’d never looked twice at a man in a kilt before, but on this occasion, I couldn’t help but stare. The truth was, it was sexy as hell.


David grinned at me. “You think?”


“That works on you,” one of the girls said, peering down the aisle. She pointed with a lollipop she was sucking. “Except you’re wearing it backwards.”

“Oh shit.” David laughed. “Oops.”

“Here, can I help you with that?” Lollipop Girl got down on one knee and expertly rearranged the kilt over his hips, loosening and cinching buckles and straps.

“Your boots rock,” David said. “They look like the Full Metal Alchemist boots.”

“Oh, thanks man. That’s awesome.” She got up and stood back. “There, how does that feel?”

“Great,” David said.

She nodded in approval, arms folded, and waved her Chupa Chup at me like it was some sugar fairy wand. “Now you try one on.”

“Oh.” I backed away. “No thanks.” “Not everyone can pull off a kilt.”


“I think,” she said, “you two boys would look awesome in kilts.”

“What are you, some kind of fashion designer?”

Lollipop Girl glanced at her companion who was talking to Top Hat Lady up at the front counter, then adjusted the thick glasses on her snub nose. “Mm-hm. We are.” She pulled two kilts off a rack, examined them both, and held one out for me. “Here. Try this one. Go on, it won’t bite.”

“C’mon, Daniel,” David said, massaging my shoulders (and keeping me from escaping). “Resistance is futile.”

Resistance was futile. While I was in the change room trying to remember which way was front, David poked his head through the curtains. “Remember, no underwear.”


“You can’t wear underwear with a kilt.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Daniel, c’mon, it’s tradition. You can’t mess with tradition.”

“Tradition? These aren’t even real Highland kilts. No way, man.”

“Trust me, you’ll be way more comfortable.”

“Are you,” I asked, “wearing your underwear?”


David shook his head. “Nope.”


“Dude, when in Rome.”

“Fine.” I pulled down my underwear. “Happy?”


David’s eyebrows rose. “Very.”

I pulled up my underwear. “Seriously, I’m not going without my underwear. It’s unhygienic.”


“Aw, Daniel, c’mon.”

Lollipop Girl stuck her head through the curtain.


“Excuse me,” I blurted, clutching my kilt. “I’m changing here.”

“Your boyfriend’s right,” she said. “It really is a lot more comfortable if you go regimental.”


“She means,” David said, “going without your underwear.”

“I’m not,” I said, “going regimental.”

“It frees your base chakra.”


Lollipop Girl thrust out her Chupa Chup, waving it in little circles. I stepped back, unsure if she was channelling Glinda from Oz or more Bellatrix Lestrange. “It allows for more flow down there.”

“Definitely.” David nodded. “More flow.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so,” Lollipop Girl said, “your aura could use a little more flow.”

I was being double-teamed here and my back was against the wall. This was not a contest I intended to lose. I’d show them flow. “Look, do you want me to wear the stupid kilt or not?”

David folded his arms. “Daniel, it’s not stupid. It’s rocambolesco. It’s for Valentine’s Day. You and I, we’ll be the hottest couple there. And,” he said, rocking forward on the balls of his feet, “it’ll make Marcus jealous.”

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