Bill, the Scotsman by Crad Kilodney
Don’t go rushing over to 1723 Dufferin St. with your camera unless you love derelict buildings or are a hard-core collector of “Kilodneyana.” This was the first building I lived in when I came to Canada in 1973. My apartment was the one on the ground floor facing the street. If you look through the front window, you can see what used to be my bedsitting room. If you go around to the side door, you can see into my old kitchen. The whole house has been gutted, and it’s still a mess inside. There’s no ‘For Sale’ sign, so it’s not on the market. The owner has simply paved over the front yard and rented it out for parking. I guess he doesn’t want to pay to have the house demolished, so it’ll just sit there. Want a souvenir? How about a rotten wooden door or decayed shingles? Believe me, there’s nothing tangible left that has anything to do with me, so just take some pictures and leave it at that.
Yes, this house, now abandoned and pathetic, was the gateway to my new life in Canada. For Bill, my neighbor, it was no doubt one of the last stations on the road to oblivion.
Bill lived upstairs in a flat, sharing a bathroom with two brothers from Newfoundland and a white girl who came from Peterborough. He was in his late thirties, a Scotsman, ex-British Army, and was working as a cattle slaughterer at Canada packers.
I was the only one with a car, except for the reclusive people on the ground floor rear apartment. Shortly after I was settled in and met the upstairs neighbors, Bill asked me to drive him to the liquor store on St. Clair. In those days, the liquor stores kept all booze out of sight. They had these display boards and pads for writing your order by stock number. Bill got a mickey of Canadian whiskey (rye to you Americans). When we drove back, he insisted on drinking with me in my kitchen. I’d never had a drink of whiskey in my life.
“Come on, let me pour you one.” And he poured some into a glass. “You can mix it with ginger ale if you want.”
I took a sip and put it down. Bill continued to drink and finished the bottle in about an hour. I don’t remember what we talked about, but as the child of an alcoholic parent, it was an uncomfortable hour to get through. When he got up to go, he could hardly stand.
“I can make it, don’t worry,” he assured me. “Just get me started on the stairs and I’ll get myself up.” So I guided him to the stairs, and he crawled up on all fours.
I was disgusted. But minus the booze, I thought Bill was probably a nice guy.
Bill took a real liking to me. He thought I was “a real normal, regular guy,” even if I didn’t drink. He invited me upstairs to his place, which was surprisingly neat. He didn’t own much. He had some old books, including a textbook on welding. He’d trained as a welder. He showed me photos illustrating a correct weld and an incorrect one. I didn’t stop to wonder why he was working in a slaughterhouse if he was trained as a welder. Then he talked about the British Army but only spoke in vague generalities about his service. He was more interested in talking about the Gurkhas. He admired them for their skill at killing people silently with a knife. He insisted on demonstrating their technique on me. Yes, the Gurkhas were so deadly everyone else in the world was afraid of them. And loyal? Why, bless my soul, they were as loyal as they were deadly.
Bill had no visitors. He socialized in bars. He had no women in his life. He was married once, but his wife turned out to be no good. This was the great tragedy of his life, to hear him talk about it. “She was a cheating bitch. She was a whore.”
“Did you catch her with somebody?”
“I didn’t have to catch her in the act. I had lots of evidence.”
“So what did you do?”
“I left her, what else? She deserved to die for what she did to me, but why go to jail over a whoring bitch, you know what I mean?”
“Sure,” I agreed. “Gee, it’s pretty sad.”
“Then a couple of years later I came to Canada. I like it here. I’m never going back.”
He got along fine with the Newfies, who lived on the same floor, but he didn’t like the white girl. He said she was out whoring all the time and had guys coming in. “I see the way she’s dressed when she goes out. She’s the type who’ll fuck anyone.” This took me by surprise because I thought she was just an average girl. I don’t remember her name. She was in her twenties, average looks, friendly personality, had a job. She said she had a boyfriend, but I never noticed anything the least bit unusual about her behavior.
I was only 25 at the time — too young to know how to size up people. Despite my college education, I didn’t know squat about human nature. Seventeen years on the street selling my own books would change that. No amount of schooling can teach you about people what you learn from raw experience in the real world. But don’t let me digress.
One evening I came home and was putting my key in the door. Bill appeared at the top of the stairs. “Louie! Come up here a minute!” He sounded agitated.
“What is it?”
“I have to show you something!”
I walked up the stairs. “What?”
“Here. Look at what I found in the bathroom this morning.” He handed me a small scrap of paper, which was torn. It was about the size of an unfolded matchbook. “Read what it says.”
One edge was torn through a word. “I can’t make out the first word…Something ‘doesn’t work.‘”
“It’s ‘butcher‘…’Butcher doesn’t work.‘”
I looked again. “I can read ‘doesn’t work,‘ but the first word is partly torn off.”
He pointed impatiently at the ambiguous script. “Can’t you see it’s ‘butcher‘?”
“No,” I confessed. “It doesn’t look like it to me. Anyway, what would that mean?”
“It’s me. I’m the butcher because I work in the slaughterhouse.”
“But you’re not a butcher. You slaughter animals. There’s a difference.”
“Yes, I know, but that’s what they’re referring to.”
“Whoever left the note.”
“Wait a minute….” I collected my wits as best I could. “You found this scrap of paper on the floor of the bathroom.”
“Right, when I got up to go to work.”
“Where was it exactly?”
“Beside the toilet.”
“Maybe somebody tore up the original piece of paper and flushed it, but this little piece landed on the floor.”
“And you think one of the neighbors left it?”
“No, it wasn’t them. The girl said she called the landlords to fix something in the bathroom. Yesterday was Sunday, and I was out all day, so that must have been when someone came in.”
“Okay, so there’s your explanation!” I said happily. “Someone came to do a repair. That’s why the note says that something doesn’t work. It was a memo.”
“No, no, no!” Bill insisted. “It’s about me. Someone’s spreading lies that I don’t work!”
“What? No, you’re wrong.”
“No, I’m not wrong! It says ‘butcher,‘ and that could only mean me. So, you know what? This morning when I went to work, I took the note to my shop steward. I told him, ‘You gotta protect me! I’m a working man! I ain’t no unemployed bum! You gotta back me up! You’re my shop steward! The union has to protect me if someone’s trying to destroy my reputation!'”
“And what did he say?”
“He said don’t worry about a thing.”
“Uh, huh….Well, then there’s nothing to worry about.”
“I still want to know who it was who left the note.”
“Well…I really think you should try to forget about it. I really don’t think it’s what you think it is.”
“It is, believe me,” he persisted. “I’m telling you, Louie, this thing has got me upset.”
I’d just about run out of ideas. “Tell you what. If nothing else happens for a whole week, it means…uh, it means everything’s okay. Nothing’s going to happen.”
Bill considered this for a moment. “Okay….I’ll take your advice….Thanks….Say, you want to come in for a drink?”
“Not tonight, I have a bit of an upset stomach. Another time.”
“Okay, see you around.”
I went down to my apartment totally mystified by this incredible conversation. I’d never met a full-blown paranoid before, so how could I recognize one? And such a perfect specimen, too. Alcoholism and paranoia go together like ham and Swiss. I speak as an authority on human nature.
Bill’s army service? Probably got booted out. The welding job? Probably drank himself out of that one, and even a union couldn’t have saved his ass, considering the safety issues involved. His ex-wife? She never cheated on him. She couldn’t stand his drinking and his insane accusations, so she left him. The girl upstairs? Innocent, of course.
I only lived at 1723 Dufferin St. about nine months before moving to avoid a rent increase. I never saw Bill again, never went back to visit. But so many years later, knowing what I know now, I can tell you what happened to him. He went to that Limbo of Damaged Souls not marked on any map, a place to which many roads lead but from which none leads out. At night he would dream of the slaughterhouse — a long line of cattle, each with the same face, ready to be murdered….Die, you bitch!…Die, you whore!
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