The Loner Outside Carnegie “Cigarettes? Want bud?” Hastings and Main, southwest corner. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. A steady stream of activity swirls and flows. “I have to fast for a colon cancer check tomorrow. I have to live on fuckin’ Jello!” Overhead wires, criss-crossing transit bus trails. Rain spatters my jacket, dots my sweatpants like a bingo blotter. “Morphine?—Who’s got morphine?” The deep sigh of air brakes. Beneath frizzy clown hair, his gaunt cheekbones hide. Eight-storey Empress Hotel. An awkward R.B.C. Owl Drugs, a convenient store for dealing. “Jellies?—Any jellies around?” Pants patched together like a quilt, odd hair defying all combs. “Beeuu! Beeuu! Beeuu!” —The crosswalk signal’s sharp tweet. I shyly toe the unfamiliar pavement. A boy on a first date with wet feet. The guy with long black eyelashes and a lisp: “Eight bucksth for a bike and three hatsth.” The pink-boxed birthday cake hurries by, ready to party. I am alone,
outside Carnegie Community Centre. Things envelop me, then carry on, like the river around a rock. The black man laughs, palms-up: “Hey!—What d’ya know? It’s rainin’! Like, ‘throw some water down on the col’d, man!’ Ha ha!” Canucks jersey, blue, green, white, like yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The toothpick man, held up by a shaking cane. “How much?—Ten. Ten? That should cost three: I’ll give you six. —No.” He pretends to go, then stop. Then go then stop, infuriating the driver, wanting to turn onto Hastings. Two joggers show off lycra leggings. “Methadone? Valium?” The Mercedes-Benz honks at J-walkers. The pulse, steady, thumps against my eyes, my ears. The heart of life beats faster, louder, here.