I hit Kristoff's pawnshop up on Broadway and even though he knew I was delivering him stolen goods, we had to go through the usual dance.
"It's from my dad's toolshed." I told him my usual lie, "Being he's gone, mom said I could keep selling them off to pick us up some extra cash."
Kristoff looked at the brand new multimeter and checked that all the attachments were there.
"You have the manual and warranty card?" he asked.
"No." I said, "He must have chucked them."
"I can give you twenty for it."
"It's almost brand new." I said, "Not sure he ever used it, and they sell for two-hundred."
"Maybe with the manual and the warranty card."
"Still." I said, "You can get a hundred for it easy."
"I'll go twenty-five." Kristoff said.
Kristoff slid it back to me across the counter.
"Okay." I said, "I'll take the twenty-five."
Kristoff picked it up and put it on a shelf behind the counter and opened the register, handing me two tens and a five.
"Thanks, Kristoff." I said and started to leave.
I turned back.
"When did you say your dad died?" he asked.
"This model just came out in the spring."
"Go on, Get out of here." he laughed.
Like I said, we just had to go through the usual dance.
I was trucking down Commercial to take my crescent wrench home then go buy some food and trying to figure out how to get Mark to pay up what he owed me. One thought I had was to break into his car and steal the Blaupunkt back and sell it to Kristoff and when Mark tracked me down I could tell him to call the cops to report that his stolen stereo got stolen. I knew he'd probably end up giving me a beating, but it would almost be worth it. But I'd never get close to the hundred and a half from Kristoff, so I let that fantasy drift away.
The morning was cold and damp which was made worse for me because the last thing I'd consumed was the beer I had the night before in the motel, and before that was a bag of chips I had for dinner. I huddled as deep into my jacket as I could and tucked my chin down and zipped it up to my throat. The crescent wrench stuffed down my pants felt like an icicle down there and was making my mood worse than it already was.
As I was walking, I had to sidestep out of the way of a kid pedalling up the sidewalk on an old Schwinn Sting-Ray with the ape-hanger bars and a patched banana seat. I got brought up short when I heard my named called like it was a question; "Jackie?"
I turned around and saw it was the kid on the Schwinn. Then I realized it wasn't a kid, it was a girl with her red hair in a rough tom-boy cut like maybe she did it herself.
"Yeah?" I asked her.
"You don't remember me?" she asked, a smirk tugging at one corner of her mouth.
I looked her over; she was skinny and small like me; wearing an old jean jacket with biker studs over the shoulders with more than a few missing from the design; a knit top that showed she had tiny breasts and no bra; bellbottoms that were frayed, with scuffed Keds on her feet. I had no idea who she was and searched my memory for any girl I'd known with red hair.
Someone pulled the chain in my head and the lightbulb went on.
"Yeah." and that smirk turned into a smile that lit up the street and I felt the fresh rush of it run through me.
I'd known her from a group home we were both in when I was thirteen and she was ten. I remembered her as this awkward little bucktoothed girl who got picked on a lot but gave back as best she could, even though she usually lost. She was a fierce little thing always ready for a scrap. I remembered pulling three girls off her once because she was already beaten down and they were laying the boots to her.
When I helped her up she had a bloody nose and was crying but got mad at me for helping her, saying she could take care of herself.
"Holy shit." I said, "You live around here?"
"Yeah." she said, "A foster over on Woodland by Clark Park. You?"
"I have my own place down off Victoria on Third." I said, "I aged-out last summer."
"Not really. It's a dump."
"But it's your dump."
Then we got to the awkward part. I had no idea what to say next and neither did she.
"I'm Angel now." she said after a bit.
"Yeah, I don't go by Angela anymore." she said, "Well, my foster parents and my social worker still use it, but my friends call me Angel."
"Angel. That's a cool name."
"You ever go by Jackson?" she said, sending another rush through me; she even remembered my real name.
"No. Everybody still calls me Jackie."
"You got a job?" she asked, her face lighting up a bit.
"No. I mostly hustle." I said, "A guy owes me a hundred and a half and I'm trying to figure out a way to get him to pay up. He's being a prick about it."
"Oh." and the light went out of her face.
"Come on, Angel. You looked disappointed when I said I didn't have a job."
"I was going to ask if you had a couple bucks is all." she said.
I'm a sucker for an old foster-sister, so I dug into my pocket and pulled out the money I got from Kristoff and handed her the five.
"No, you probably need it." she said, but I could tell she wanted it.
"Take it, Angel." I said, pushing it closer to her, "I can make more."
"You sure?" she asked looking up at me and I remembered those green eyes and the dusting of freckles across her cheeks.
"Yeah." I said, "You're good for it, right?"
"For sure." she said, taking it and stuffing it into her jeans pocket, "Tell me your address so I can get it back to you."
I told her.
"'Kay. Thank you." she said and it got awkward again.
"I gotta meet some friends." she said, "Maybe we can catch-up later?"
"I'd like that." I said, and realized I really meant it.
"Okay." and she smiled and I saw her face had grown around her buckteeth so she only had a cute overbite now, "I'd like that too. See you, Jackie."
"See you soon, Angel."
I watched her pedal away up toward Broadway and just before she disappeared around the corner, she looked back at me and smiled, and that smile sent pleasant tingles across my scalp, stirring the roots of my long hair.
I felt a little better as I walked back home and hoped she meant it when she said she'd come pay me back; not so much for the five bucks - I really wanted to see her again now that she wasn't that scrawny little angry kid I knew from the group home. I remembered the butt of her jeans used to be baggy, and I couldn't help but notice that though she was still narrow in the hips, her bum had filled out nicely.
Angel. The name made me feel warm inside.
Bill was asleep when I got home and I set my hotplate on the floor and turned it on to get some heat in my apartment. I could hear him snoring upstairs, and man, that guy snored something fierce, so much he'd wake me up at night. The worst part was when he'd suddenly stop and I'd lay there wondering if he'd just died, then he'd let rip with an even louder snore as he gasped for air in his sleep.
While my hotplate took the chill off my small place, I sat on the floor under my sink and turned off the water and dismantled my old tap set. The fittings were tight, making it a bugger to get loose, so by the time I had them off and installed the new set I was almost sweating. I turned on the water and the new taps worked and didn't leak so I was pretty pleased with myself.
I put my wrench in a drawer and threw my jacket back on and headed out to get something to eat after I turned off my hotplate. I wanted to leave it on so my place would be toasty when I got back, but I was afraid of burning the place down and killing Bill, not to mention that would leave me homeless again.
There was a little corner store with crazy crowded shelves over on Commercial run by a guy named Chang that sold basic groceries and had hot dogs that rotated on the rollers of a machine sitting on the counter that were two for a buck, so I bought a couple tins of baked beans and sprung for two hot dogs and two Cokes. I stuffed the beans and one of the cokes in my jacket pockets.
I made it a point of never shoplifting from that store because if I got caught and banned I'd have to walk all the way up to the Safeway on Broadway to buy my groceries.
It was never a good idea to shit where you eat.
I piled the hot dogs with onions, ketchup, and mustard to load them up and make them a bigger meal. "I should charge you extra." Chang threatened like he always did when I loaded up on condiments, so I thanked him and headed out.
I ate both hot dogs standing on the corner, taking a break from running my mind through hustles I could run to make more quick cash.
It made me sad sometimes that my life was just a series of hustles that barely kept me alive day-in and day-out. I never got a day off like guys who have real jobs, because I was always chasing small scores, and no matter how many small scores I made, they never added up to anything. I sometimes felt like a character in one of those old cartoons that were always walking in the centre of the screen, but the background was the same loop played over and over. They really weren't going anywhere, but they looked stupid enough to think they were.
Once in a while I'd muster up some determination and go out looking for a job, but it never payed off for me. I didn't finish high school so I wasn't able to score any job that required diploma smarts, and I wasn't strong enough to get a day labour job, and they always asked for experience for the jobs in the middle and I didn't have any. It was like the world conspired against kids like me; I didn't have experience, but how the fuck could I get experience if no one would hire me in the first place.
I worked at Nick's Spaghetti House for a month in the summer as a dishwasher to cover off his regular guy who cut his hand really bad on a broken plate, but he came back after he healed and I was out the door. Most of the staff there didn't even bother to remember my name - they just called me 'Kid'. After that gig I could write down 'dishwasher' on applications, but that didn't seem to impress anyone enough to even give me an interview. I knew lots of guys my age who had pretty good paying jobs, but they always worked for their dads or uncles or friends of their families. Foster kids rarely enjoyed that luxury.
The sky had a high ceiling of thin grey clouds making it still cold as hell, so I headed over to the public library to get warm and read. It was one of my favourite places to go when I needed to kill some time and relax. Everyone there kept to themselves; the librarians were polite unless you made noise; and you never got jumped by a local hood in a library.
I couldn't get a library card though because I didn't have a driver's license or a piece of mail with my home address on it, so I had to do my reading in the library. The upside was that it was air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter and my place was neither.
Someone had checked out the novel I'd been reading, which bummed me out because it was a pretty good book about a guy blowing up a bridge in a Spanish war. I'd just have to wait until they returned it to find out how it ends. I settled for a book on space that had a lot of photos and three chapters on the Nasa missions, starting with the test pilots at Edwards Airforce base and ending with the moon landings, the last one being Apollo 17 two years ago. I think they stopped going because people stopped caring about them.
I remember being in grade seven when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and they called the place they landed 'Tranquility base'. We had an assembly right after lunch that day and the teachers had televisions set up in the gym and we all sat cross-legged on the floor and watched shitty black and white images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon. But I honestly couldn't remember Apollo 17 and I bet no one else could either. Moon missions had become as ordinary as the Stanley Cup Playoffs without the fistfights. I wondered if the last of those astronauts got depressed because no one gave a shit about what they did. But seriously, of the billions of people in the world, only twelve people walked on the moon. That had to count for something.
After I got warm and learned about the solar system and Nasa, I put the book back and walked to the payphone on the corner. I was still anxious about trying to score enough money to pay the rest of my rent, so I used my paper clip to make a few calls to Lucky and guys like him, but no one had any jobs going on that night so I went home. Lucky had said he might have something for me in a few days and told me to call him back on Monday.
On my way home I passed a few telephone poles and even a storefront that had bad photocopies of a picture of a girl with the words; 'Have You Seen Me?' on the top and a contact number on the bottom. I thought bitterly about putting up posters of my own face with the words; 'Do You See Me?', but I'd be afraid that no one would call my contact number even if I had one.
Even though it was my own place and I had a new bed, nightstand, and chair, I hated being there. It reminded me I had nothing, and the dreams I had as a foster kid hadn't come true and felt like they never would. I used to lay awake at night in whatever foster home or group home I'd happen to be in and imagine being adopted by a real family and having a future, or aging out and getting a job and a car and a girlfriend and having a life. Having those dreams kept me going all those years in care, but now they felt like the fantasies of a child, like Santa Claus, or wishing on a Turkey wishbone and having it come true. Dreams don't come true; they never have and never will, and wishes were nothing more than self-torture.
I thought about killing myself more than once, but I lacked that courage. People say that suicide is the coward's way out, but it isn't; I think it's the bravest thing a person can do. I think the people who say it's the cowards way out haven't ever thought about doing it, and would never understand the torment of not wanting to live anymore but being terrified of dying.
I ate my tin of beans out of the dented pot I warmed them up in, washed it and my spoon, and went to bed to hide from cold that wormed its thin fingers through the gaps under my door and around the frame of my window.
I cried as I hugged my pillow and stared into the darkness, thinking about Angel smiling at me that day and how wonderful it would be if she was there beside me. I wondered if she was thinking of me and if she ached to feel my arms around her as much as I ached to do that small and intimate thing. It wasn't about sex, although she was cute and all, it was about the fact that she saw me and remembered me.
Angel saw me.
Copyright © 2018 Aaron D McClelland
Summerland, British Columbia
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