Rude Awakening

My earliest artistic dream was to write a novel, and I’ve decided to finally make it happen in 2022. The novel is a queer horror story about homelessness, gentrification, and legacies of white violence. As part of the development of that, as well as to stretch all my prose-writing muscles after years of mostly writing for theatre, I’m writing scenes set in the world of the novel that probably won’t end up in the final story. And I thought what the hell, why not share them with whoever might be interested.

Byron tugged the bottom of his toque and tried to tuck it under his ears against the icy air creeping up and around his face. The tuck didn’t work. It never did. He grimaced and sped up his walk. He passed the abandoned motel and slipped into the alley between it and the empty car dealership. At the back of the lots, he saw an RCMP SUV parked at an angle across the alley and a little flicker of anger poked at the inside of his belly. He reached the vehicle and saw two uniformed cops standing casually and talking to a woman who looked to be about forty-five. The woman wore three pairs of pants, all of which were visible under the outside and largest – a pair of jeans not quite being held up by a length of rope. On the ground behind her was a small tent, and through its open door Byron could see another woman about the same age sleeping. The woman’s voice was loud, but not aggressive. Not that Byron trusted two cops to make that distinction. He stopped walking and watched. After a few moments, the woman’s glance flicked to him over the cops’ shoulders and Byron smiled, reassuringly he hoped. 

“She’s not high! She’s not using! She’s just tired.”

“Why is she so tired in the middle of the day?” The male cop, broad and brown-haired and much taller than the woman or the other cop, with gym bro muscles making his sleeves strain to keep his arms contained.

“It’s really hard to sleep at night in the freezing cold, ok!” The male cop started to talk again, but his female partner spoke, somehow managing to talk gently while also clearly leaving no air for him to interrupt: 

“Is there no room at any of the shelters?”

“I’ve been banned from all the shelters.” The male cop snort laughed,

“Banned for what, I wonder.” His partner shot him a dirty look while the woman’s panic bulged her eyes out of her face slightly, then dropped them to the ground. 

“You just can’t stay here, is all.” The partner again. “We got a call from the property owner—

“The property owner isn’t here. It’s them.” He jerked his head toward the apartment building looming over the whole block, taller by at least 5 floors than everything else in sight. “Those fuckers don’t like us being here ruining their fucking view.” The male cop’s hand moved to rest on his gun.

“Mind your language.” He said, his voice clipped. The woman’s voice cracked and Byron could see tears starting to fill her eyes.

“I’m sorry. Please, I’m really sorry. I just woke up, I’m a little….”

“It’s fine.” Said the partner, glaring at Officer Chad. The two of them had a brief conversation of facial expressions, and finally Chad took his hand off his gun, shaking his head slightly. His partner spoke again: “I’m sorry, but regardless of who made the call, you are trespassing on private property, so you’re going to have to leave.” 

“But there’s no one here! This place has been empty for years! I promise we’re not bothering anybody. We’re just trying to—“

“You heard her! Time to go. Now.”

“Go where.”

“Not here.” 

Chad and the woman stared at each other for a few seconds. Byron saw an angry light flash behind her eyes.

“Fuck.” He said to himself, but the light faded and the woman turned and crawled back into the tent, waking the other. The two of them started packing their stuff into grocery bags and a small backpack.

“We’ll be back to make sure you’re gone.” said Officer Chad. He and his partner turned to go back to their vehicle and finally saw Byron. The female nodded and threw him a friendly smile. He stared back, deadpan. They got into the SUV and Byron took a few steps back so they could drive out of the alley. Chad locked slightly narrowed eyes with him as they drove past, and Byron kept the deadpan expression and held eye contact until Chad was too far past and had to turn away. Byron crossed the alley and approached the tent.

“Hi there.” They both paused for a moment and gave him almost identical appraising looks, their eyes quickly running up and down all 6 feet of him, from the blonde curls perched on top of his head down his long tan designer knockoff coat to the snow boots on his feet. They both looked skeptical and guarded, but returned to their packing.

“Hey.” The first woman said. 

“I’m Byron. Wilson’s husband?” Relief on her face, thank god. The other woman was harder to read. “Do you want a hand with the tent?” Byron asked. The first woman looked to the second, who shrugged. Byron waited a moment, but they just continued silently packing. He slowly took the last few steps to the tent, and seeing no sign of objection from either of them, started pulling the poles out of their hooks. 

“Do you know where you’re going to go?” he asked, staying focused on the tent instead of directing the question at either of them in particular.

“No.” The second woman grunted.

“Have you been at The Prairie? Just the bottom of the hill here?”

“We know where it is!” She snapped.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to… sorry.” Byron said. She looked at him again with that skeptical look, but it seemed to melt off her face after a moment, leaving a hardness behind in the set of her mouth and the lines on her forehead. When she spoke again, he could hear her bone-deep exhaustion and mentally congratulated himself for getting even that much trust.

“City’s been giving that place shit.” She said. 

“Yeah. I know.” Byron replied, “we’ve been working on a court challenge for their injunction so they’ll leave the place alone.”

“Really?” The first woman asked, stopping and looking at Byron directly with a brightness in her face and voice.

“Yeah. The injunction was based on them saying that there’s enough shelter space and housing, so we’re trying to prove that’s not true.”

“Bren?” She turned to her partner, who also stopped, looking back at forth at both of them. Byron held his open hands up in front of chest.

“Whatever you want to do. I know there are a few people over at Crabapple Park too, in the little forested area, if you want to be near anyone. Or not.”

“If the city steals our stuff again,” she glared at Byron.

“If they steal your stuff, I will personally replace it, I promise.” Byron told her. Bren’s eyes flickered between Byron and the other woman again.

“Fine.” 

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