We walked to the restaurant in a stupor. It was almost surreal, having stayed in the airport hotel. Our evening was spent watching Captain American which cost forty-five bucks to rent through the hotel TV. We hadn’t spoken much, Sadie and I, yet I couldn’t seem to peel my eyes from the clock. The time ticked by and I wondered what was happening with James.
I imagined him when he realized the truck was parked in the driveway, “she went for a walk.” He must have thought.
I imagined him when the time grew later and there was no supper, “how far did she go?”
I imagined when he found my broken phone and note. That’s when my imagination stopped and I had no idea what was happening.
The morning was quiet in the restaurant, or maybe I was so anxious that I tuned everyone else out. Sadie had a strange smile on her face, as if she had printed a photo of herself and taped the smile to her face. It wasn’t real, it was there for my reassurance. She was here to support me, or maybe to ensure that I wasn’t running away to kill myself. I never asked what the full conversation with her father had been. That was her business but I did know she wanted to see him almost immediately when we arrived on Vancouver Island. That was still hours away.
I sat in the restaurant, in the corner booth as I had requested to the hostess. The urge to cover my back was real. Faces seemed to watch me from the crowds, as if James had put a hit out on me. My nerves kept me high wired, I was aware of every noise. The tray that got dumped, the glass that shattered, the catch of oxygen in my throat. Vomit was inching up from my stomach.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I began to get up from the booth.
“Mom, you just went,” Sadie sighed, exasperated with my behavior. She knew all too well my over excited bladder problems. Nothing felt real, the leather of the seat under me felt slippery as if I were going to slide into nonexistence any moment. The wood of the table felt hollow as if I put my elbows on it too heavy, it would shatter and everyone would know where I was.
I was scared, “yeah, I know. I just, I have to…” I stuttered and felt a sweat break out on my palms.
“Mom, it’s okay.”
“What can I get you ladies?” The waitress interrupted my panic cycle and Sadie pushed the menu into my hands. The pictures caught my attention, Eggs Benedict, my brain screamed. My bladder screamed panic and my stomach said yes, food.
We ordered and I remained seated. Sadie grasped my hands and didn’t flinch at the dampness of them.
“Why are your hands wet?” I heard James’ voice, saw the disgust in his face as he would pull his own hands away. There was no sensuality in damp hands, James face would purse at me.
“Mom,” James’ face melted into the soft face of my daughter, “what will you do with all this free time?” She smiled and the sweat dried from my nerves, everything was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.
“I want to write, I want to sit on a beach and write my novel,” and not worry about where my husband is or when he will be home or was he lying about where he had been. I didn’t say the last part, I didn’t want Sadie to think James was cheating on me. He wasn’t, or at least I didn’t think he was. If he had been, it probably was with his job. He would have sex with his career if it was a tangible thing.
“Good,” she responds and we sit in silence. The quiet only inched faces closer to seeing James. Did he go to work today? Did he call the police to say I was missing, he could possibly have worried all night. Or been relieved.
A burden lifted from his shoulders. Sex had began to falter, communication staggered, and weekends were spent in different rooms. I had seen it in his eyes, those cool blue handsome eyes, when I had changed into the ‘naggy wife.’ I had become someone to check in with, someone to make excuses to, to hide stories from.
The wife that he would blame for not being able to go out with ‘the boys’ on a Friday night. The wife that never attended the family BBQ’s at his work (since he never told me about them.) A dislike had grown in his eyes, a dark line encircling the mystical blue that was once enchanting to me. I wanted to be married and live happily ever after, I never gave up trying and this is not me giving up. Since this is not me. The dislike. It came from James.
“What are we going to do today?” Sadie broke my downward spiral of self depreciation. One that I did not need to go down. A dark lonely tunnel, one I had ended up at the bottom many times. I needed this break. A break from the same conversation opening with James, “what are we doing today?” Quickly it would escalate to, “fuck it, I’ll just do something by myself.” When he wouldn’t like the ideas I had and I wouldn’t jump at the ideas he had. As our communication failed faster, we stopped talking sooner.
“What do you want to do?” I respond with since that is the reason of us sitting here isn’t it. I watched her contemplate the question for a solid minute. We had been to Vancouver numerous times. We knew our way around the airport, even with the size being that of five times Fort St John airport. There had been many flights back and forth but also that one day that we missed our morning flight home. WestJet kindly offered us on the next flight at no extra cost but it left us stranded for twelve hours in the airport.
We had spent a hundred dollars at the candy store, two hundred dollars at the hair salon and hours at old style look out points. The kind that you would put pennies into to look through. Pennies are gone and so is the luxury of wasting twelve hours at an airport.
Today however, I feel we have nothing but time stretch in front of us.
I have no job to have to return to, no bills to concern myself with. I have successfully shucked any responsibility and yet, all I can do is scan the crowd for James.
“I want to visit my Dad,” Sadie replied after a long pause or at least what I thought was a long pause. It may have been just a second since I was once again lost in thought. I knew she wanted to see him, I knew that yesterday. A thousand miles away, I knew that.
“Then let’s do it.”
The sky-train stops right in Vancouver Airport but then you need to travel to the other end of the track, plus a transit bus ride and then the ferry. An hour and a half over the Strait of Georgia, just to reach Vancouver Island.
We finish breakfast and fall into the crowd of foot traffic, it seems if people were not headed outside, it was to the sky-train terminal.
We purchased our tickets and I recall when I lived in Edmonton and went to under ground raves. They weren’t actually underground, just night clubs that didn’t open until midnight. Heat stroked by the time you walked out and crawling your way to the Light Rail Transit, under ground at some stations. I wasn’t sure Sadie even had smoked marijuana yet, she tells me she hasn’t. She tells me she wants to try it with me, I wonder what happened to our youth of today. She will hide the fact that girls are cutting themselves at school but freely ask to smoke weed with her mom?
As sheep, we follow the herd onto the train. Sadie insists on standing in the front car, we push through toward the front car. Claustrophobia was nothing until I stood crammed in the front of a Vancouver sky-train. The talk seemed to grow louder around me as I can feel the sway of the train take off. The bodies sweat and grow hot. The vomit lump remained in the base of my throat but now has food in front of it.
The sky-train police seem to be watching us push our way toward the first of three train cars. As if my husband had set them out to find me. I know it’s unlikely but my over anxious mind keeps telling me it is.
There is a guy at the far front window of the sky-train when we arrive. Sadie seemed contented enough to stand by the side and watch. The train travels at 45 km/h on a railway built above the city’s streets. I stand just behind Sadie and watch as the buildings rush by the window, privileged to skip over the traffic backed up below and still get to see the scenery. The buildings shift easily from brand new, clean grey walls of concrete, fancy signs calling shoppers, to worn down stores. Bars on the windows and doors, people sleeping on the front curb and walls covered with graffiti.
The shoppers of just two blocks over pay no attention to the people of pigeon park, starving and selling their socks for a cup of coffee. My daughter turns to look at me with concern as we pass over head. I have no words for her, I can only hope she makes better choices in her life. This is part of the plan, to show her something other than upper middle class white people living in a red neck town. Life is not all easy, it is not all steak dinners watching rodeos.
A woman across the isle bumped me and scowled as if I had bumped her. The seats fill up quickly, the train stops every seven minutes and announces over head with the name of the stop. The man in front of us, still blocking half the glass dome window, doesn’t budge.
Our luggage is piled onto the seat to my right, my briefcase clung to my chest like a new born babe. It causes paranoid thoughts, having this much cash on me. All the faces of strangers seem to x-ray vision my briefcase and know I’m cash fat or they are spies sent by James. I have to focus on my breathing as the train grows tighter.
I am acting like a criminal, as if I had committed a crime. Am I actually afraid of James finding me? He won’t be coming to look for me anyways, he is surely glad to be rid of a nagging wife. For a little while anyways. I can only hope he doesn’t think I ran away with another man.
He seemed to have thought I was always with another man, questioned my every move. Doubted my intention even when it was meant for him. It grew so far into me that I even felt guilty if I smiled to another man.
“Nice bag,” the man half blocking the view has turned and taken knowledge of me. I hadn’t realized how close the growing crowd of passengers had pushed me to him. The scent of Patchouli washed over me, I closed my eyes for a moment. The scent brought me back to my childhood, to the San Francisco stores that burnt incense and sold comic book printed T-shirts. The scent is woodsy and sweet at the same time, like sliced BBQ cantaloupe.
The warmth of the scent fades and I am back in reality, he is still looking at me. I had removed my wedding ring and am open to flirtations. A deep ripple of social anxiety grips me. I feel naked without my wedding ring, it had become my barricade against such interactions. So I would not feel guilty.
He must have noticed my withdrawal, “it’s just a compliment.”
“Oh,” I laughed to ease my demeanor, but I can feel the sweat pool between my palms and the leather case, “yes, I know. And thank you, it’s just. I just, oh I’m so bad with small talk. It threw me off, I have a lot on my mind right now. I’m sorry, now I’m ranting.”
“Mom, holy crap. Are you okay?” Sadie punched my shoulder to jostle me from my awkwardness. “The man’s not flirting with you, he’s just trying to get your attention since you keep hitting him in the back with your bag!” Sadie pointed out what I had failed to see. My face glowed red, he’s an attractive man. Not professionally dressed, a Saturday afternoon type of shirt and nice jeans. His hair fell below his jaw line but it was dirty blonde and brushed neat, punky but clean. He did not appear to be heading to a meeting.
“I’m so sorry” I stammer as Sadie roared with laughter. The man laughed, his smile forgiving. I imagined James glared.
“Your daughter is like your body double.”
“Yes, I know,” the atmosphere is slowly lightened, Sadie inched her way more into the front window. Casually pushing the man away from his previously perched position.
“I’m Eric,” he offered his hand but with the closeness the fellow passengers commanded, he more like just put his hand into mine.
“Becca. This is Sadie.”
“You from here?”
“No, well yes. Not really.” Why do I suck so bad at social interaction? I shake my head at myself, some people have a knack for this. Not me.
“We lived down here before but moved up north. Now we are back visiting.”
“That’s cool,” he had such an easy temperament, his hair tucked behind his ear as if not a thing in the world would affect him.
“How about you?” I don’t really care, I actually wish this was suddenly his stop and he was gone. I rubbed my bare wedding ring finger, the grove was deep and the tan line apparent. I have to do this on my own now, tell people, ‘thanks but I’m not interested.’ Why do I even assume every person that talks to me wanted to get with me? What a stupid assumption, mighty vain of me.
“Oh, I’m from Mississauga, Ontario.”
“My friend is from there!” I’m interested again, “I haven’t seen her in years, oh I’ve always wanted to go to Ontario.” I made a mental note to go, I could do anything, I could go anywhere. “On-terrible,” I joke.
“Yeah, yeah,” his face sunk, I felt guilty for seemingly insulting him. So now I am the one pursuing the conversation.
“What brings you here then?”
“Excuse me?” The train stopped at another terminal, now I hope this is not his stop. I glanced at the map, how many terminals until our stop? I had stopped paying attention. I need more information. He pulled out the McDonald’s ‘game board’ (a single laminated piece of paper that had the Monopoly game printed on it.) There are numerous ‘game board pieces’ (stickers with even the color bands on top) stuck to the board already, a multitude of colors. The duplicated stickers were stacked on top of each other, created a thick game board in some places, thin in other places.
“That’s the most I’ve ever seen!” I exclaim, Sadie glanced back too. We had played Monopoly many times, the real Monopoly, not the McDonald’s game. I tried to stay away from eating the fast food too often but the kids enjoyed the treat on occasion. It was fun peeling the game board ‘pieces’ off the side of a pop, I had to admit. It was like gambling for children.
“Man, you must eat a lot of McDonald’s!” Sadie joked, her back to us once more.
“Ha-ha, kids,” once again, I wish it were our stop. “Not to ask the obvious, but why? What do you mean? You came all the way to BC just to play Monopoly? You shooting for the million bucks?”
“Well,” he crinkled his brows as he spoke, as he formed the calculations he had apparently predetermined. “The odds of getting Boardwalk and Park Place are one in a million, I might as well be playing the lottery. But for some of the smaller prizes, like these three green pieces,” he points to where the North Carolina, Pacific Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue would be. Instead they are named after Canadian towns. Two spaces are layered with stickers, one remains bare. “I could win two snowmobiles and five-grand!” His grin is so genuine I can’t help but laugh.
“They would never disperse all three in one province, the game is called Coast to Coast.”
I realize he must be highly educated, the way he spoke screamed money and class.
“You trying for a second SuperSize Me?” My eyes inadvertently travel down his body, there is not even the slight bump of a fast food tummy.
“I give the burgers to the homeless,” he shrugs, “of course I indulge too but mostly, give to others.”
I wish I were bold enough to ask how he has enough money for this, surely if he had all that money he could just buy the snow mobiles and still have more than five-grand. I try for the silent nudge to Sadie, she’s young and innocent; she could get away with asking such a question. The robotic voice over head announced another stop and Eric began to move.
“This is my stop,” he had no bags, he folded the laminated paper and stuffed it back into his relaxed blue jeans. Squeezed between us to exit the sky train.
“Well, good luck!” I call to him. The sky-train still too full for my comfort but my cheeks glow from the chance conversation.
“Thanks,” he turned back and smiles as if I were his old friend, “hey, if you happen to find Mackenzie River game piece. That’s the one I need!”
“But how….” the hell would I get it to him if I ever got that piece? I put my arm around my daughter, “want McDonald’s for lunch?”
Dumped off at the last stop, we had to navigate the city bus route to get to the ferry. With no cell phone to use Google Maps, I had to rely on printed maps and bus drivers instructions. I catch myself glancing in my purse far too often, drawn to check for an instant message, an instant gratification that someone cares for me.
I am left with the warm after glow of the spontaneous conversation Eric. I dare not imagine how James would have thrown a fit, claiming I had wanted to sleep with Eric.
It has been over twenty four hours since I checked Facebook, received a text message or called a friend. I paint photos in my mind without the need to save on my phone, or add a filter. I kiss Sadie’s forehead and tell her she’s beautiful rather than ‘like’ her photo. I removed all the fake Mr Potato head smiles that were forced onto me and I am creating my own happiness now.
Outside the sky-train station, I examined the god like sized city map encased in plastic and affixed to a black painted metal pole. One doted line jutted to the left of the map toward Stanley Park. James and I had walked the Sea Wall numerous times, it had been a beautiful walk and all too often, half way through the walk an argument would ensue.
It’s been thirty two hours since my husband knew where I was.
“Can we call a cab?” Sadie inquired as I traced my finger the distance we still had to travel.
“No, we’re on a budget.”
“I thought that was part of the reason for us running away? To not worry about money.”
“Yes,” I laughed, “but we still need to eat for the next year.”
“Are we going to McDonald’s still?”
Of course, Sadie wouldn’t let me forget that. The first bus we need will take us to Bridgeport Terminal, the second to the ferry. We have until 10 pm to arrive before the last ferry departs and in reality we have no reason to hurry.
There is always a McDonald’s close by.
The bus is packed, I should have known it would be. This is Vancouver, everything is packed. Fascinating too, cobble stone paths, sculptures in front of every second building. Nothing even remotely close to this in Fort St John, the clouds are large and low up north but the buildings are the ones touching the sky here.
The sun reflected rainbows off window panes, sending dancing light fixtures into all crevasses of the city. The sun is bright and the atmosphere rushed. It is April 5th, just after Easter long weekend, 11:30am-ish and I have no where I have to be. The feeling is amazing, the freedom is refreshing. I want to put headphones on and pound music in my ears and walk down the sidewalk. But then I have no cell phone. I decide to put that on my list of things to do, track down a Discman. I still have an abundance of luggage to deal with. I need to find somewhere a little more permanent to plant my belongings, and my daughter.
“There!” Sadie rattled my arm and pulled me back into the bus. Before I can even react, she smacked the red stop button and bolted to the front. “There’s a McDonald’s!”
Sadie left me flustered to pick up all the luggage. One bag on this shoulder, two in my hand, I had to reshuffle myself once or twice while the whole bus full of people glared at my flounderings.
“Sorry,” I waved to the bus driver as I finally step off the bus. His angered face tells me he would never give most people that much time to unload. And when did the pull string turn to buttons? Had it been that long since I had taken a bus? When did the world change so quickly around me that I lost track, when did my thirty-fifth birthday inch closer than comfort allowed?
“Didn’t you have more bags than that?” Sadie looked to me, then to my hands, I am about to open my mouth to yell at her. She left me to carry everything, she jumped off the bus at such an inconvenient time and I looked a fool.
The exhaust from the bus leaving the curb made my mind spin a different route. I dropped the luggage I had piled off with for a quick inventory. My over sized purse, lipstick red suitcase, Sadie’s black suitcase and she held her knapsack. I was missing my briefcase.
My heart smacked against my chest, it bubbled stomach acid up my throat as I watched the bus turn the corner with just over $29,000 aboard.
Every muscle in my body spasm, a tightness just before the ‘fight or flight’ response. One that freezes you in place and makes you want to wet yourself. I am reverberated by a deep rooted fear that I just lost my year of freedom.
I hit the panic button and my feet are off, leaving Sadie to concern about the luggage all over the sidewalk now. Muscle memory from years of the second fastest track and field sprinter put me off and running.
Within a second, I am around the corner and hardly staying ahead of my legs. One wrong movement and I would tumble and break my nose. Panic lightens my weight and fear pushes it forward, I can’t lose this chance I have. And that chance is on the bus.
The novel I had been typing for three years. The scrap of paper with just a few phone numbers on it. The money.
I scream at people that are in my way, I ran down the middle of the street, arms thrashing through the air. The blood drained from my face, from my heart and soul as I see the bus pull further from me. Near a block and a half in front of me now, and all hope is dwindling.
“Stop!” I sob and the foot crowds on the sidewalks stop to stare. “Please!” Tears from my cries stream down my face as my chest tightens and tells me I can run no more. The bus had pulled over at a marked stop two blocks ahead, I could hardly make out the outline as the doors closed once more and it turned yet another corner.
The oxygen escaped my lungs and my knees slammed into the concrete. I knelt, cried and bleed, broke in downtown Vancouver. I imagined James shaking his head at my failed attempt to have a break. The way he would laugh when I told him I was struggling in life, “you used to be strong.” “Not so good anymore,” he would say about me not running fast enough. “Not the sharpest tool in the shed,” he would say about me losing my bag.
“Miss,” a shadow grew in front of me. My head down, I hadn’t noticed the old man walk up to me until he was blocking the sunlight. Suddenly the screaming of horns filled my ears, I could hear yelling and I looked to see a store security guard running towards me. It all faded when I looked to the old man. His face a triangle of wrinkles and his frame hardly large enough to hold the wobbly head but his eyes were gentle and his arms were full.
“It’s only two more stops until my own,” his glasses were thick. The weight of them pulled down his brows so he looked like a Muppet.
“Thank you,” I sobbed and stood, near a foot taller than the old man. He pushed the briefcase into my arms and I intertwined my hands into his. He didn’t seem to mind the gravel bits stuck to my emotion soaked hands. I was shaking and crying, I wanted to hug the man, I wanted to kiss the man but felt he was too gentle and I might break him.
“It’s only the right thing to do,” he smiled and his comment marked my soul. A stain that wouldn’t be wiped off.