She got out of bed, went downstairs and poured herself a cup of coffee from the automatic coffee maker. Every night Bodine set the timer and almost every morning by the time he got up she'd drunk it all, yet he never complained. The guy was a saint, more like a martyr. Mattie dressed in warm tights and a sweater, pulled on a down jacket, stepped into fleece lined winter boots, grabbed her second mug of coffee leaving her sleeping companion the dregs and stepped out into the dark winter morning.
The shift at the needle exchange started at 8 a.m. It was a half hour drive to get there in rush hour traffic. Mattie had remembered the old man saying Lou volunteered at the needle exchange. She called there to see what shifts Louise Saunders was on, but they wouldn't give out any information, wouldn't even say whether someone by that name volunteered there. A couple of days later she'd tried a different approach.
"Hi, can I leave a message for Lou with you guys?"
"Hold for a second." There was chatter in the background. "This month she's working the morning shift out of the mobile unit. She might not get it for a few days."
"I'll see her on the street by then," Mattie said. She disconnected.
On the Lookout Emergency Shelter website it said the mobile unit was dispatched from that location at 8 a.m. Mattie's plan was to be there when the van left and follow it hoping to get a look at her mother. Why? Just curiosity she told herself.
Mattie was fourteen the last time she'd seen Louise. She'd had been living with her grandfather for two years and one day he got a call from the emergency ward at Vancouver General. Louise was recovering after being found beaten unconscious in a skid row hotel room. She was asking to be discharged into her father's care.
"Why did you did you bring her back?" Mattie remembered yelling at her grandfather. Mattie left early for school and stayed late after class to avoid contact with Louise. Her mother didn't seem to want to renew the relationship either. After a couple of weeks during which her grandfather drove his daughter to the pharmacy for her daily dose of methadone, Louise started to have dinner with them. Her bruises and cuts were almost healed, she showered and shampooed her hair, wore clean clothes and the maintenance therapy almost made her seem normal.
"How was school today?" she'd say. "Tell me about your friends?"
Despite herself, Mattie began to let her guard down.
Then one day she came home from school and Louise was gone. That had been eight years ago. She hadn't even come to her own father's funeral.
There was no way Louise was getting back into Mattie's life. No way. She was just curious in the same way that people went to high school reunions - you really didn't want to connect with these people, you were just curious to see how they'd made out. Curious, that was all.
She arrived across from the needle exchange clinic with ten minutes to spare. She parked where she would be able to see the mobile van pull out of the underground parking lot and turned off the ignition. She settled into the Land Rover's heated front seats, took the coffee from its cup holder, had a sip and waited.
The van pulled out right on time and headed where Mattie knew it would, the Surrey strip just a few blocks away. Mattie stopped half block behind it and watched as Louise, now wearing a safety vest over her yellow slicker and a toque pulled down over her ears, got out of the van and began walking up to the makeshift dwellings carrying a canvas shoulder bag.
She must be cold, Mattie thought. It was minus nine and frost coated the windshields of parked cars and rimmed anything metal. The rain slicker held no warmth and her hands were bare. Gradually people emerged; crawling out from makeshift structures of used pallets and plywood, unwrapping themselves from construction tarps, pushing away flattened cardboard that covered them. They staggered and lurched toward Louise like zombies, and why not, they were the living dead.
Louise dispensed needles and bars of some sort, perhaps chocolate or granola. She took a moment to speak to every person that approached. Mattie notice she also touched them; on the hand, the shoulder, the arm; sometimes even a hug. She touched every one of them.
Mattie followed the van to three different locations. Each time it was the same; the street people came to Louise like lepers to Jesus.
Mattie's cell phone was ringing. She dug it out of her coat pocket.
"I woke up and you were gone." Bodine sounded sleepy.
"I thought you were going to lock yourself away in the studio today?"
"I was, I am. Just wondering what's up?"
"Nothing, I'll be home in an hour."
"I'm making French Toast."
"I'll be home in a half an hour."
Mattie disconnected. She was done here. Time to go home and consider what she'd witnessed and what she should do about it, if anything.
Someone was tapping on the fogged up passenger window. Mattie pushed a button and the window opened.
"Hello, Mattie," her mother said.
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