"Change is Horror, Virtue Is Really Stubbornness" by David Yourdon

David Yourdon

David Yourdon

David Yourdon is a writer based in Canada. His stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, HAD, Atlas and Alice, and elsewhere.

Change is Horror, Virtue Is Really Stubbornness

Harriet suggested we go to a tea house that Bruce liked in the banking district (I said, BRUCE CAN’T COME, since I’m “mad” at him (how dare he marry my sister? etc.) & she said, Bruce is working), knowing that scones are a lure for me, I gave her zero hugs when we met, although it did feel like ages since we’d seen each other and it wouldn’t have felt too bad to hug. But first! goodness, she had gotten a haircut, some exotic style I won’t condescend to describe, but I hardly recognized her on the street. I mean I recognize-recognized her, she is my sister after all, & yet I didn’t entirely believe it was her. She had turned into her own Double. Her hair was dyed, auburn highlights, straightened, defrizzed. Good for me for getting used to it by the end of the day. I did, admittedly, yell at her for a minute re: the hair, but it was unavoidable, she understood that. All this talk of the Body, respect the Body; then you take someone to task for a haircut and remark how they’ve fundamentally changed & your Diagnosis gets pinned to you like a preschooler!

But so the street was slick, the buildings tall, finance was in the air. & then before long, Harriet was taking photos of everything so she could post them with larky quotes in order to gin up responses. She said, It’s vital to have a social media presence in my job. I said, You mean as a professor of 19th C literature? She said, Yes. I said, I doubt that. She said, For freelancing, Virgil, but also if I hope to get my monograph published. I said, On armpit sniffing? She said, Sure, go ahead and laugh about Whitman, but for job interviews too. I had an interview right before we flew to Toronto, didn’t you know? Evidently tenure didn’t satisfy her, she craved more.

We were, by then, at tea, and I said, Babe what’s wrong you’ve hardly touched your cress sandwich, & she said, That’s not how you deploy that meme, I feel like you know that — (I don’t like the taste of cress, she said) — and don’t call me babe. She ordered a 2nd pot (Darjeeling, the rain coming down) and said, It’s strange, you’re 26, and somehow you don’t get this stuff. I said, Sister, we’re both millennials, you’re only 37. She said, Don’t say memes out loud. Fruit salad arrived, there were rotten brown banana bits, I flicked them away, Harriet took them and balled them up in a napkin and buried them in her purse. She said, How are you doing? I said, Fine, I’ve made some friends here in Toronto; you probably thought since this is my first international trip, I would be catatonic but no! I’ve tried bubble tea, too, have you ever tried it? Harriet arched an eyebrow and said, You act like you’re 62. And I said, Quoth the spinster? She said, I’m not a spinster, I’m marrying Bruce.

This was all getting rather too fraternal, and so I threw a finger sandwich onto the floor — one of those “why did Virgil do that?” moments — and Harriet said, in a whisper, We’re okay, Virgil, everything’s okay. I took a wonderful breath & stared out the window at this petit sliver of Toronto, which in my estimation was too American-feeling today, this downtown corridor, the high-rises and the severe glass.

And then we were off to the aquarium! We were close enough that we could walk. Some financiers had dog walkers on the job, even on these busy downtown streets. I engaged a couple dogs as they trotted by, and Harriet said, Look at your buddies! I told her, You want me to like dogs more than I do, which isn’t to say I don’t like them, but I don’t like them *that* much. She grimaced. I said, What, have I semantically exhausted you? How do you keep pace w/ your 19th century boys? At this point, she was thinking, I imagine, how I merited some hideous Diagnosis, but I was calm, I walked purposefully, left right left right.



Once inside the aquarium, after a couple laps, it turned out I wanted to see only the jellyfish, & it would have been nice to kill the lights and play ambient music, alas one is rarely in command of aquariums. I sat there watching the jellyfish drift, I put on my personal headphones, and allowed myself to escape the din. Then truly I’d had ENOUGH. In the space of a second, I was ALL done, I said, Harriet, let’s go! And she replied, in the manner of Typical People, Sure, let me just see the stingrays; as if by “let’s go,” I’d meant “let’s remain here an indeterminate amount of time.” She said, We’ve only been here ten minutes. I said, You mean, we’ve been here *only* ten minutes, and she said, Is everything you say designed to make me crazy?

Anyway! the rain had picked up, we jellyfished open our clear umbrellas and stood on the curb and I thought since we were near financier fiance Bruce’s apartment, we should order Chinese food there and wait out the storm. Harriet said, Are you okay? The tea house was too much, you were shouting there, and now the aquarium, which, I grant you, was loud — but are you okay, Virgil? Is this trip to Toronto too overwhelming? Should we go back to New York? I said, Don’t call it shouting! (The exclamation point means I shouted it.) With more humor in her marrow, Harriet might have laughed.

Mid-10s Celsius (never mind the Fahrenheit), drizzling now. I said, Not that you asked, but I want multiple dumpling types. And I went on, in a whisper, Bruce is at work, yes? Yes? And Harriet assured me he was. I continued, During our late lunch, we should talk about social media strategy, I fear you’re on the verge of getting canceled, what with that haircut.

Bruce’s Royal Bank of Canada residence was in a gleaming building, through whose lobby I had no compunction about trailing umbrella water, and as we went up in the elevator, I peered over Harriet’s shoulder & made sure she tapped the correct dumplings on her phone. The browser sputtered. She said, I hate planned obsolescence, and I said, Don’t talk about yourself that way. Maybe I didn’t say that one aloud, though.

At Bruce’s there were windows wide & tall in the living room, I doubt that he brings in enough revenue to deserve it, then again I don’t read the trades. There was a bedroom with a clean-sheeted bed and no pictures on the wall and two nightstands, one of which had Harriet’s obsolete literature and some jewelry she felt she didn’t deserve to wear in Canada. There was a full glass of water wrapped in an uxorious paper towel too.

Harriet crossed her legs, folded her hands on her lap. She said, Dumplings will be here in 15 minutes, which anyone would agree was too long. I said, You say social media is important to your career, let’s get serious. She said, You’re in no position to advise me. & then the dumplings arrived! We unpacked the contents on the coffee table, stared at the gray lake, the 13th largest in the world, per my almanac. The hot sauce was rather sweet. She said, I miss Bruce. I said, What if you kissed under the altar right now? But then, with markedly more earnestness in my always well-controlled manner, I said, You are trying to create a brand for yourself, and yet there is no market for your brand. Harriet slurped a soup dumpling, frowned, I carried on: Even that point doesn’t matter much. I do fear you are in danger of cultural evaporation. Flatly, she said, Huh.

I organized the dumplings in a crescent moon, and went on, It’s hard to explain. She said, You have a theory? I said, I do. Your personality is a brittle thing online, it can be shattered in a heartbeat, you’ve got to zig & zag to keep them guessing. Break your mind for your public! She said, Aha. I parceled out an almanac fact to get us started: The top exporter of tin — But Harriet interrupted! She said, Virgil, I’ve got over 6,500 followers. They don’t want to hear about tin. I said, 6,500 people is a minor city in Michigan. An average Michigander would be thrilled to hear about tin, certainly he doesn’t want to hear you crack wise on Song of Myself with that hairdo arrogating the picture frame. Harriet curled her legs under her bum, a teenager, dour / ever-pallid, and said, You’re not going to say anything nice to me today, are you? I thought we agreed you’d say three nice things every day to me. And so I named three things, I don’t have time to recapitulate them here, it’s bordering on 3:00 am, O Journal. Harriet said, Why don’t you tell those kids you met at the coffee shop how they should do their social media? I said, Which kids? Do you mean my new friends? Harriet laughed & said, Sure, *friends*. Her voice was positively dripping with derision & although my feelings weren’t truly, i.e. paroxysmally, hurt, since I’m in control of my faculties, society depends upon people acting as if slights genuinely hurt — so I said, They are my friends, I made friends, hush! Harriet said, I need you to slow down, I need you to be calm, today has been really hard, I know, so maybe, please, in the next month or so, when we’re back in New York — and now she turned, fixing me with a look that felt like her last full measure of devotion — let’s think about talking to another doctor. I said, Pardon? Canadian rain lacquered the windows. Tactfully I let loose a toot. Harriet said, When are you flying home, Virgil?



Eventually the dumplings were done and I coaxed Harriet into opening her computer and giving me a demonstration of what she planned to post, namely a picture of herself with a large pot of Darjeeling and a comment along the lines of “Darjeeling is my white whale,” which felt, to me, as a non-scholar, like what a non-scholar would write. & Harriet said it was just a draft, she was still ruminating. She had, by then, wheeled out a decanter, a junior one, let’s say, to be charitable, of wine, which is one of her tricks for justifying odd behavior. At some point, she excused herself to use the washroom, I saw my opportunity, I swiped her computer and ran out of the apartment! The tricky thing was: I didn’t know her password, so I couldn’t close the machine, I had to walk down the street with it half-open. The rain had abated by then. Leveraging my almanac, I typed: The top tin exporter in 2022 was (drum roll) Australia. Canadians walked by, admiring my posture.

Several people liked my post. Perhaps they were Australian & felt pride in their exports, national pride is a wonderful thing, apart from all the counterexamples. Harriet texted: Where did you go? Where’s my computer? I fired off another: Let’s give it up for the scent of these armpits! (A fact check tonight reveals that Whitman hyphenates arm-pits, a fact Harriet’s true believers surely stumbled over.) Once under the umbrella of free wifi from a cafe, I uploaded a photo of Harriet sipping tea with the caption: or, The Whale?

Alas, portaging the computer in this fashion didn’t agree with my elbows, I had to pause often & buy pastries, bumbling up Spadina Avenue, an eye toward Kensington Market. Perhaps someone in Harriet’s circles informed on me, because she texted: Virgil, what are you doing? Are you posting as me? Admittedly I giggled at the thought of her, straight-haired, fearing that her monograph was on the chopping block. There was more coffee to be had along the way, and I had it, and I posted a mere smiley face, captioned: of mere being. It educed ten likes and two comments, although I didn’t read them; as an alert on my phone told me that Harriet was on the move! There’s a tracking app we share, so that she can know where in New York I am & I can know where she is, for our mutual benefit (in theorem) and I could see her oblong head with its formerly frizzy hair wrapped in a gray shawl, from a photo of our last vacation together in the Catskills, rampaging through the map of Toronto, rather fast, but not as fast as if she were in a car, perhaps she was on a streetcar. She texted: Please stop, Virgil, this is my livelihood!!! Which one could very well argue is histrionic given that she has a tenured salary, and tenure, we know, is an impregnable fortress.

I carried her computer onto a sidestreet to elude her. Nevertheless, she was coming up on me, though she couldn’t have been on a streetcar now, this was a sidestreet, maybe Bruce had her on piggyback & was sprinting! I found an alley and watched her go by on a bicycle, steely-eyed, eminently serious. Surely I would be deemed to have Gone Too Far, but any anger on Harriet’s part would pass, I wasn’t worried, she would unload on Bruce about a Diagnosis, & time apart would be needed, that’s all. Honestly Harriet’s judgments had started to feel meaningless, So I put the computer down in the alley, and because the phone had the tracking app, I put the phone down too. Maybe a younger part of my mind was feeling scared and required a song, because I found myself whistling “And Your Bird Can Sing.” Only for a moment! & then I hushed myself and retreated to a minuscule parking spot, from which I could see her approach on the bicycle. She slipped the computer into her bag, looked around with annoyance, put my phone in her pocket, and pedaled away. & the rain returned with a wallop. Lacking my clear umbrella, I felt my shirt and pants getting sticky, my wallet and my Canadian money, I shivered as I sprinted north, on the lookout for hot tea to help me get to the lodging, where, upon finally arriving, I took off my clothes, toweled off, and enjoyed a nap.



Who knew it would be dark when I awoke? A raccoon was scratching on the window. I got out of bed, naked, and danced in full view of the raccoon; I sang our favorite songs to calm myself. Surely there would be a message from Harriet on my computer, chiding / apologizing / lamenting / being herself. But there was too little time tonight, indeed in this sweet life, to worry about it, it was ice cream o’clock! And yet human relations are inescapable, for taped to the front door of the lodging was a handwritten note, saying: I need a break from being your sister. But! Truly what I thought about as I ambled, now clothѐd, down the street to vanilla ice cream with sprinkles, was you, O Journal — how you allow me to take my nicest thoughts and deposit them for safekeeping. How unlucky some people, e.g. Harriet, are; those who lack an outlet, who fight with themselves in real-time without infrastructure to fall back on. (Extra sprinkles, I said to the nineteen-year-old boy serving me.) I do not think, O Journal, if I may continue to address you directly, that you are here to let me put *myself* to paper. As if there were only one of me! You exist to witness my manifolds. It is useless to be scared & confined. It is *critical* to be untethered.

Perhaps, despite the goldening sky, it’s not too late to relate the three nice things I said to Harriet: (1) You’d follow me to the ends of the earth. (2) You have smooth skin. (3) Before I read your monograph, I didn’t like Leaves of Grass. Now I tolerate it.

Anyhow after the ice cream, I stopped by an English style pub with a knight in a coat of arms inside the foyer. I ordered, for me, a warm ale and, for the dowager on the stool beside me, an even warmer ale. She appeared neither glad nor distressed to have an ale bought for her, and no doubt when I floated away, she felt equivalently neutral. It will be my birthday in a week, as you know, & the idea of throwing myself a party came to me in the pub like a cattle prod, and I gave it a fighting chance, it = a party in Toronto, by, once more, considering you, Journal. It seemed like if I could tell you about it later, it would be a reasonable thing to have done. But were you at the pub? No! Therefore my mind began to escape its orbit, and possibly I knew that was its trajectory all along, and had sought out a pub for that very reason, either way, I began to sing Happy Birthday aloud, very loud, & it being a pub, most people didn’t mind, indeed many patrons joined in. Some last bastion of logic in me cried out, halfway through, that it wasn’t my birthday today, and if I’d had a good almanac or phone, I might have uncovered someone whose birthday it *was* and then redirected the celebration. But the celebration was snowballing now, and that was fine, I walked out after the song was done, beer stein in hand, fearing no retaliation from anyone, this being Canada, I looked at the bright colors of the clouds swished by the city lights and tried to make myself go blank until I could come back to this legal pad, i.e. to you, and make myself manifold.