“Violet,” I call over to her. Her name is Violet. Crazy Violet, they called her in school. No one calls her that anymore. Not since the fire. It was in all the papers. I don’t read papers.
Adam’s walking ahead but turns when he hears her name. He walks back to where I’ve stopped. His hands are in the pockets of his tattered black bomber jacket, a smoke dangles from chapped lips.
“What’s she up to now?” he asks. “Not the damn corners again.”
“It’s not the corners, man,” I tell him, not for the first time. “It’s the break in the symmetry of the lines on the wall, caused by that corner. She can’t help herself.”
Adam looks up and down the street. Traffic inches along Yonge like thick snot from a congested nostril, slow and painful. Exhaust pipes exhale billowy blue clouds of shit into the atmosphere. It’s cold out and the sky is the colour of the sidewalk under our feet. Everything feels flat. Around us, shoppers and street people dance in and out of each other’s way, all moving in different directions. Adam takes a big drag from his smoke.
“So now what? It’s fucking freezing out here.”
“We wait. You can’t talk to her when she gets like this. Just give her a minute.”
“Fuck man, why are you putting up with this shit from a chick? She’s like a fucking anchor around your neck and she’s gonna pull us all down with her.” Adam’s agitated. He doesn’t like the cold. I don’t blame him, but we’re not leaving her.
“You go, man,” I tell him. “You know where Manny lives. Just ring the buzzer and he’ll buzz you up.”
“Manny doesn’t like me. He’s too paranoid about the cops and shit. He ain’t gonna let me up without you.”
“Then I guess you’re waiting with me.” I cut him a winning grin like I’ve just farted.
Adam shakes his head, clearly annoyed at what he thinks is a predicament. He has the patience of a five year old on Christmas morning.
“I’m hitting Timmy’s for a coffee,” he says, then turns and starts walking down Yonge Street again. I yell for him to grab me one and he responds with a middle finger without looking back. But I know he’ll grab one for me. He’s annoyed but he ain’t an asshole. Plus, if he wants to get high at Manny’s, he’d better look after me.
“Hey,” I yell a second time, “grab Violet something… an orange cruller.” He keeps walking as if he didn’t hear but I know he did and I know he’ll bring the cruller.
I walk over the Violet, making sure not to get too close to her, sorta the way you’d approach an injured bird.
“Wanna smoke,” I offer. She says nothing. I put the pack away and just stand there. I notice a few shoppers glancing over to us as they enter the mall doors.
Violet’s not my girlfriend, I should point out. It sorta seems like it sometimes, but she’s really more like a kid sister. Nuttier than the mad hatter with a head injury, mind you. Not always, though; and I suppose that’s why we’ve stuck together for so long. When she’s lucid and on her day, she’s great. She has this droll sense of humour that always breaks me up. She’s got a kind heart, too. Very generous. If she wasn’t such a crazy crackhead, she’d make a pretty solid girlfriend for some lucky guy. Those days are long over for her, though.
I jam my hands into the pockets of my corduroys and do my best two-step to keep warm. I can see my breath in the air. The light of day is fading fast as night approaches. In the distance a siren lights up, then dies back down. Not a cop, an ambulance. When you’ve been on the streets as long as we have, you can tell the difference with just a short squawk.
Violet finally turns her head to face me. Her body remains rigid in the corner. It’s sorta creepy how she does that. Her eyes spark. She blinks a couple of time.
“Where’s Adam?” she asks, one foot in the here and now, the other still off in la-la land.
“Gone to get you a cruller,” I say. “He’ll be back in a minute.”
“Oh.” She doesn’t say anything for a minute or so. We both stand there looking at each other.
“I’m sorry, Pete,” she finally says. “Just give me a moment longer, kay?”
“Sure, hon, take as long as ya need.” We stand some more. It’s getting colder. I notice she’s got no socks on, for chrissake. Foot traffic into the mall has lessened. It’s getting to closing time, I suppose.
Finally Violet comes over to me and wraps her arms around my neck. I pull her close and pat her back. I can feel the energy drain from her as we stand there. She starts to cry. I just hold her. That’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s what she needs, what she counts on.
We part and she takes my hand. In a small voice she tells me she loves me. I tell her I know, and that I love her back. She wipes away the tears from her pink cheeks and gives me a half smile.
“You know, I remember when I was a kid. At the end of our street there was this big white house with green shutters on the sides of the windows. They had a white picket fence and a dog. I remember thinking one day I’d have all that. A nice guy, kids, a life… you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” I reply. This isn’t the first time she’s told me this. “Sometimes stuff just doesn’t work out the way you hope. You gotta play the cards you were dealt, right?”
She nods and looks down at her feet. I see the tears start up again in her eyes. She sniffs and wipes her leaking nose. “Can we go somewhere warm? I’m freezing.”
We start walking down Yonge Street. Coming towards us – a cardboard tray with two coffees and a small paper bag that most certainly contains an orange cruller in hand – is Adam, wearing a shit-eating grin. With his free hand he flashes a peace sign. It’s going to be a good night after all.
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