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The Comedian

Nina’s Saturday has begun just like the past three weeks. In the kitchen, she makes herself a bowl of Cheerios. It’s a weekend, so she treats herself to a jar of blueberry yogurt. She twists the lid off and licks the smear.

It’s 3:00. Chloe is picking her up soon. It’s darkening outside. There’s a rumble in the distance. Thunder spoils milk, her Granny would say. Having lived in Canada for half a century, she never forgot German sayings. Nina empties the rest of the milk into a glass and drinks it up.

* * *

They’ve arrived at the Bavarian Forest Restaurant in Kitchener. The pink neon sign, of which only the “Forest” part remains, buzzes feebly.

This is their fourth gig at the Bavarian Forest as dancers. A singer and a comedian are also part of the team. Today, instead of Dave, there’s a new comedian. But they aren’t surprised. Comedians come, comedians go. Singers come, singers go. Backstage, Chloe and Nina put on their Rio-the-Carnival costumes. Nina puts a tiara on her head. A slight headache has already begun.

The air in the restaurant is stagnant, like that of the Amazon rainforest. Offstage Nina sees Linda humming, pearls of perspiration on her forehead. Nina and Chloe come onstage from either side, eyeing each other with pasted-on smiles. The rhythm doubles. Samba. The scent of Chloe’s coconut oil lingers in the air, and Nina thinks of her piña colada at the Copacabana. The red-cheeked old men behind the beer steins catapult their arms into the air, iPhones in their hands.

That’s okay. People staring at Nina know that she is a dancer. She is, not she wants to be. Just like she is a woman, is 25, is Canadian. She is, even though she isn’t on Broadway, in Kitchener.

That’s why she doesn’t have a day job. Because she is a dancer. For Granny it wasn’t an occupation. Every day since she’d left college, Granny put a yellow Post-it on the door of her room: “What are you going to do with your life?” When she was about to go on a Contiki tour through South America—unlike most of her friends who took grand European tours—the note read: “You want to die before you live?”

* * *

In the hall, Nina finds Chloe sitting on a young man’s lap, still in her Rio dress. A large, rugged hand is petting her belly.

“Oh, hey,” she says, looking at Nina, labouring to smile.

Yes, Nina knows this. If only this wasn’t two hours away from home, she’d let her go with him. But she can’t. She wants to go back home. “Er—I’m ready to go.”

“Sure, yeah.”

“Hey,” a calm, deep voice pops up from behind Nina. She turns around. There stands the comedian. She sees him better now that he’s without his makeup. Well into his thirties, his hair a straight dark blond, his eyes green, his lips thin. “If you need a ride, I could take you.”

What other options does she have?

* * *

His Focus heads back to Toronto on the 401. It’s begun to rain. Neither of them talks. All she hears is the shush of the tires. Suddenly he asks, “Where do you live?”

“Runnymede.”

He doesn’t answer. He looks into the rear-view mirror, squinting at the high-beams from behind.

He turns on the radio. A female, country pop-star is playing.

“Bitch,” he mumbles. “I teamed up with her in Ottawa a long time ago.” He glances sideways at Nina for a second. “Just for one night. She slept with the manager of the club and the next day we all got let go. She got her happy-solo-gig-ever-after.”

Silence falls. Ooh, Nina says, in an almost inaudible voice.

“What are you up to tomorrow?” he asks.

She thinks about Sundays. Are they different in any way from Saturdays? She sleeps in, pours the rest of Cheerios into her mouth directly out of the box, eats chocolate bars. Mumbles to herself, gets drunk in the early afternoon, and watches random video clips on YouTube for hours. Oh, sometimes she smashes the Rio costume against the wall; what she doesn’t do on Saturdays.

“Nothing special,” she says. “You?”

“Me?” he says. “I’ll cry.”

“Cry?” She turns to him. “But… you’re a comedian.”

“So?” He shifts to the left lane and passes a car. “Crying is healthy.”

She doesn’t know what to say.

“You wanna join me sometime?” he asks.

“Join what, crying?” Here you go. She squirms in her seat. She searches for the right words, just like when she brushes off someone at the bar counter after getting a free drink from him.

A green sign comes into sight, a heads-up for the junction ahead. “I live in Oakville, actually,” he says.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she says, relieved on the changed topic. “I feel bad. Oh. You’re going all the way to—”

“Not a big deal.”

“It’s a pretty little town, isn’t it? Oakville.”

“Yes, it is.”

She wants to say something more about it, but actually she doesn’t really know Oakville. “The lake—”

“You know what it’s like at the end of Trafalgar?” he speaks over her. “Trafalgar’s like Yonge Street to you guys, the busiest street in town. You drive down south on Trafalgar and pass Lakeshore, and it dwindles and dwindles until it gets to the lake, and there,” he says, going back to the right lane, “is a bench. Just a tiny little bench at the end of Trafalgar, looking down at the lake.”

“And there you cry.”

“Sometimes,” he says. “Toronto’s skyline makes me cry.”

“How come?”

He muses for a while. “I guess I just want someone to take me out for a drink.”

* * *

In front of her apartment, she half-turns to him, his face lit orange by the streetlights. “Thank you,” she says.

He gives a small nod.

“Maybe I’ll join you sometime.” She opens the door of the passenger seat. “One of these Sundays.”

Yoko Morgenstern

black and white photo of a womanYoko Morgenstern is originally from Tokyo. She became fascinated by English literature while she was living in Ontario, Canada, and started writing fiction herself. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Montreal Review, The Great Lakes Review, Untethered, and The Globe and Mail, among others. She is also a regular contributor to Newsweek Japan.

She is the author of Double Exile (Red Giant Books, Cleveland) and Eigo no Zatsudanryoku (Gento Sha, Tokyo). Her Japanese translation of the Canadian novelist Katherine Govier’s The Ghost Brush was nominated for the Japan Translation Award in 2015.

Currently she lives in Nuremberg, Germany.

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