ON THE VERGE
I have to stay on the verge of sleep. Just on the verge. Can’t let my body slip over the threshold. Too damn scary.
My long-held conviction—that the homeless are a stationary lot, staking out territory on a corner, steadfast until some third party herds them along—is gone. Vanquished my first night on the street when fear goaded me into motion. Since then, I meander at night, all night, seeking the security of daybreak.
This night, however, is different. Hungover and exhausted, I am motionless, lying on the sidewalk, my very marrow impregnated with cold despite the heating vent beside me. On the verge of sleep. Trying to convince myself that the concrete is a pillow-top mattress, that Sarah is sleeping next to me, and that our Bobby is down the hall, dreaming of Dory and Nemo . . .
“Hey, you! What do you think you’re doing?”
My body jumps and my eyes pop open. Some guy in a puffy, white jacket hovers over me. A marshmallow. A goddam talking marshmallow. My heart pounds. The watch. Do I still have it? I grab for my wrist. Yes. Still there. Relief gushes, and I yank at my sleeve until the watch is hidden. It’s safe, my gift from Sarah, safe. My heart rate slows, but not much; the marshmallow lingers.
I squint to shield my eyes from the streetlight. “I’m trying to sleep. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Not here, bud. There are shelters, you know.”
Great. Another Good Samaritan determined to clean up Vancouver streets. Damn city’s going all out to prevent Olympic tourists from tripping over the homeless. I glare at this latest do-gooder and stifle a comeback. Then I drop my gaze to the pigeons strutting the sidewalk. Huh. The little bastards have red feet. Never noticed that before. The way they dart around, seems they’d get crushed by all these people. Yep. The beautiful people are here, scurrying to the office or the Skytrain, or the bus stop. I take a deep breath so I can suck in the Starbucks. Love the smell of Starbucks. The beautiful people all carry Starbucks.
Wind rushes my face as a city bus passes. The bus engine grumbles, preparing to halt at the next stop. Whooosssssh. Air brakes.
Damn. The city is awake.
Won’t be long before the bolts on the door of the shoe boutique behind me twist open. Three bolts. Every morning. Like clockwork. Click. Click. Click. Pretty soon, the whole fleet of designer shops flanking Robson Street will reel in the first cash of the day.
Might as well move. No point in arguing with the marshmallow. Sighing, I scramble to my feet and linger over the heating vent, my heating vent that was hard to find, harder to claim.
“Way to go, bud,” says Marshmallow Man. “Do you need any help?”
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