Split Ends. By a mile.
International Intrigue – Martha
Yes, her name was Martha. No, she was not 90.
Starbucks in Canada are identical to Starbucks in America. They even order in ounces despite being on the metric system, and they gladly took my money in a very American way.
“I can’t give you the exchange rate,” the disinterested barista said. Even in Canada, baristas believe they are way too cool for their idiot clientele.
I sat at a table in the corner, pulled out my laptop and started Word. It opened just as slowly in Canada. Staring at the blank page, I prayed words would magically appear.
I’d come to Canada to get inspired. Inspiration had yet to strike. I was certain the more I stared at the screen, prose the likes the world had never seen would begin to flow from my fingers. While I waiting, I tapped The William Tell Overture across the ASDF keys. The first sip of coffee scorched my teeth, forcing me to do Fahrenheit to Celsius conversions in my head.
“You’re an American,” a woman’s voice said, snapping me from my reverie.
Coffee spilled from my lip burning me again and I coughed as I raised my head, staring into deep green eyes and a coy smile that would have stunned me even if I had been prepared for her. She was average height, fit without being thin, and wore her strawberry blond hair with style. I could have stared at her for longer, but I think it would have made us both uncomfortable, though I’m sure she was used to catching glances.
“Excuse me?” I croaked, wiping my chin with the palm of my hand. Mr. Smooth.
“You. You’re an American,” she said again.
“Is it that obvious?”
“You paid with American money.”
“Right. Yeah. That.” Boy, I sure knew how to form complex sentences.
“You know she ripped you off.” She said it in such a way that it was clear it wasn’t a question.
“Yeah, Starbucks is overpriced wherever you go.”
“That too. But she ripped you off on your change.”
“I haven’t had a chance to get to an exchange kiosk this morning. How much did she take me for?”
“Not much. Probably a dollar. An American one, so a bit more Canadian.”
I nodded, not sure what else to say.
“How long have you been here?” she asked.
“Got in last night,” I said.
“So are you going to ask me to join you?”
I believe I’ve mentioned that I’m Mr. Smooth.
“Sorry, yes, please. Will you sit with me?”
She sat across from me, legs crossed, swaying her leg to some unheard rhythm. She told me her name was Martha. I introduced myself. We shared small talk. She asked what I was doing in Canada. I explained it as best I could without sounding pretentious. I left out the part about my being under investigation for murder, as this seems to be a roadblock when meeting women. She said she too wanted to be a writer. I keep getting mixed up with writers, who are just about as fucked in the head as I am, yet that doesn’t seem to stop me from falling in love within the first twenty minutes of meeting them. Martha did not seem fucked in the head, but it was early yet, and there was still time for her to break into song in the middle of coffee.
“I recently graduated from university,” she said, her accent distinctly Canadian English.
“Interesting,” I said.
“What? That I graduated from university? Doesn’t seem all that interesting.”
“Well, interesting enough that you’d mention it to me. But I meant the way you say it.”
“That you ‘graduated from university.’ In the States, we say ‘graduated from college.’ It’s interesting that we’re neighbors, we share the same language, but we use it differently.”
“Well, we’re still a bit British in our diction.”
“I admit, I don’t know a lot about Canada, other than Jim Carrey and that the Queen of Canada lives in England.”
“Well most Canadians don’t even know we have a queen. They did a poll where only five percent of Canadians could answer that she was the head of state. Everyone thinks Prime Minister Harper and the Governor General are in charge.”
“Sounds like drama.”
“No, not at all. In fact, no one really cares. Every few years, some Parliamentary showoff will try to raise the Republic flag, but after a few beers, they typically forget about it and move on.”
It had been nearly twenty minutes, and I was beginning to fall in love with this woman.
“So how long are you in town?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I was hoping two weeks, but I don’t know if my money will last that long.”
“Where are you staying?”
“At a hostel on King Street.”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“I’ve lived here my whole life. Things don’t change quickly in Canada. It snows from early October until May. Not much to do in the meantime but drink and watch television. No one builds, so once you learn the sites, you know they’ll pretty much always be the same.”
I swirled my coffee and glanced over at my blank screen.
“I’ve kept you,” she said.
“It’s okay. I wasn’t writing anyway. That’s the same word count I had before I left.”
“Well, let’s go site seeing,” she said, suddenly standing. “Let’s see if we can find something to inspire you.”
We left, opening the door and attacking Toronto together.