He kept a box of Smarties in his freezer in case he ever got lonesome for the taste of Halloween on the prairies. He never did, his imagination for nostalgia was entirely self-sufficient, but he wanted to be prepared.
Tonight, at least, the nostalgia would not be self-indulgent. A party in the West End. The birthday of an old friend. An annual trip to the part of the city that the city thinks of when it thinks about itself.
A searching and fearless sartorial inventory. A look at himself as he anticipated others would see him.
Shoes. White. He always bought white sneakers and always regretted it.
Pants. Name-brand. Bought in a mall without trying them on. Fit is okay, but they’re too long over his short legs. The rolled cuffs don’t create a lengthening effect.
Shirt. Brown and white checkered. Quilted western cut. Turmeric stain where the gut puffs out just a touch.
Blazer. Brown corduroy. Faded elbows. Buttoned-up to hide multiple effects of curry at his desk.
Beard. Overgrown. Graying. Moustache trimmed recently enough to keep it out of the mouth.
Eyes. Blue. Red. Blue. Shortsighted.
Hair. Overgrown. Graying. Leaving him very slowly, like a character in a Richard Brautigan novel.
He had no business at a West End show business party, he told himself. But that was the point, wasn’t it? The Actor was a friend. They’d found writing together, chased it down together, and eventually abandoned it--if not together, around the same time.
The last time the Detective had gone trick or treating was with the Actor. They were 13-years-old and dressed up as teenaged hoodlums. Though they ran with as tough and wild a crowd Saskatoon had to offer in 1990, they were both still basically good kids who enjoyed the thrill of being chased more than acts of vandalism they were being chased for that night.
Eggs exploded in the just below freezing night against windshields and front doors. Toilet paper rolls were tossed like the morning papers the same group of boys would deliver to the same houses the next morning. The young Detective didn’t have a paper route. “Unregulated child labour,” his union strong father called it, shutting down the Detective’s adolescent ambitions. “Pure exploitation.”
Having no paper route money with which to buy a carton of eggs at the Main Street 7-11, the Detective was mostly just along for the ride. But Peter Hamilton called into question the Detective’s loyalty. “How do we know Little Miss Clean Hands over here won’t tattle on us?”
“I’m not a tattle-tale.”
“Throw something at that house over there.”
“I don’t have any eggs, I don’t have any toilet paper.”
“Then throw a rock.”
The Detective looked over at the Actor for help. The Actor had two paper routes, so he’d had the privilege of paying for Peter’s eggs. But all of the Actor’s throws had missed their mark. Landed in the bushes or splattered with a thud against the not-yet frozen lawns.
The Actor shrugged sympathetically. Peter handed the Detective a rock and gave his shoulder a shove. “Aim for a window.”
The Detective studied his target, a two-story with a glassed-in veranda against a small front yard. Two large, darkened windows on the top floor. The windows were covered in orange and black paper decorations: witches, vampires, bats. The rock grew heavier in his hand as crossed the street in the middle of the block. He took a pitcher’s stance and held his breath.
The whole veranda rattled at the blow, but the pane struck held up. A light went on in one of the top floor windows. A silhouette of a man filled the frame. The Detective looked over his shoulder and saw he was alone on the street. He ran.
A fist caught him in the gut as he rounded the corner. “You throw like a little bitch.” The Detective sucked in an icy breath that felt worse than no breath at all and retched on Peter’s black British Knights hightops. Sauerkraut, sausage, and perogies. Peter started kicking him. Some of the other boys joined in. One of the kicks rolled the Detective over onto his back and he saw another silhouette, blacked out by the streetlamp above. The Detective knew it was the Actor, standing behind the rest. Even as he curled up to absorb the next kick, the Detective wished he could see the look on the Actor’s face.
Self-indulgent nostalgia, the Detective thought, as he headed out to catch a bus.
The 16, right? No, the 14? The Detective should have written it down. For the first time since the Detective had moved to the west coast, it had been a full year since he’d last seen the Actor. At the Actor’s last birthday party, the Detective had still been a Writer. They’d drank until the sun came up and vowed to do it more often.
Over the summer, as the Detective found himself transformed, he got invitations from the Actor to barbecues on the beach via email and text message. In the fall, there had been an actual voicemail invitation to a housewarming party--the Actor was moving in with his girlfriend Shannon, a producer. But the Detective always had prior commitments.
A producer of what? He thought, leaning out over the curb to watch for a bus. I never ask the right questions. And I never remember the right answers.
The Detective reached into his inside pocket for his notebook. Flipped it open. The Actor’s address. His new address. APT. # 34 129 COMOX. As west as it gets. Not exactly the edge of the earth, but close enough for poetry.
The #16 pulled up and the Detective got on. What was that, Arbutus? That can’t be right.
The Detective leaned his head against the cool glass of the window and fished around his pockets. Left pocket: a box of wooden matches; a CPR mask folded in a pouch on a key ring (no keys attached); large Moleskine notebook (only to be used for GOOD ideas, unlike the general purpose pocket-sized reporter’s style notebook in the inside chest pocket; in other words, it was completely untouched). Right pocket: two pens, one blue ballpoint from a pack of 12 the Detective had bought a few months ago, the other a black ballpoint he’d picked up in the lobby of a downtown hotel where he’d followed a subject six weeks ago; a worn paperback edition of Ackroyd by Jules Feiffer.
The Detective pulled the book out and opened it to a midpoint marked with a bus transfer. The Detective did most of his reading on public transit--most of his thinking, too--and had long ago began the custom of using his most recent bus transfer as a bookmark whenever he started a new book. Then he would know exactly how long he had it had been since he started reading a particular book.
It was one of his few systems, and it was as good as any other.
He could sense the energy of downtown Vancouver outside the bus and was glad to be passing through it, glad to be tucked away in this weird book from the 70s.
He thought about the seven years he’d spent in and around the darkened alleys of the Downtown Eastside. He’d faced down debt-collecting dealers, knife-wielding tweakers and landlords and middle management. None of that scared him anymore. But he started to sweat at the sight of a group of three beefy 21-year-old dudes in Canucks jerseys on their way to a Granville nightclub.
He turned back to Ackroyd. When he looked up again, he was on a bridge. Arbutus, right. How stupid can I be? Arbutus. I should have my license revoked. Arbutus. I should get a paper route in Moose Jaw. Arbutus. Geez.
The Detective pulled the cord and the NEXT STOP light came on. The bus pulled into a barely lit stop at the south end of the Granville Street bridge and he got off. Across the street was another bus stop, just as poorly lit.
Arbutus. I know where Arbutus. What was I thinking? The Detective decided he should get a smartphone. I think I’m so smart but I get on the Arbutus bus to go to the West End. Some detective. I should be digging fence posts outside of Estevan.
There was not at a lot of traffic, but enough to discourage the Detective from jaywalking. He walked south a block to the nearest pedestrian crossing. Arbutus. I’ve been down in my little East Van bubble, thinking I’m so smart, thinking I’m such a man of the world. I get lost going in a straight line. I’m too dumb for this city. I’m too dumb for this planet.
An hour later, Shannon buzzed the Detective into the vaguely Art Deco building a stone’s throw from the Sylvia Hotel. She met him in the lobby. She led him through a series of stairwells and hallways until they exited the building, walked through a garden path that seemed to circle back to the same building, where through a patio window, the Detective could see the Actor holding court, gesturing broadly to the delight of a small well-dressed and well-groomed crowd.
“He’ll be so glad you could make it,” Shannon said, taking the Detective by the elbow. “He didn’t think you were coming.”
Shannon climbed over a hip-level cement wall onto the sunken patio, then held out her hand to help the Detective over. “Come through here. Don’t worry about your shoes.”
They walked into the living just as the Actor reached the climax of his story.
“And then Aesop gets up, dusts himself off, wipes the puke and blood from his mouth, and looks Peter right in the face and just holds the stare. I’m halfway down the block by now, cuz I know I’m next. At first Peter’s all, ‘what’re you gonna do?’, but Ace, he just stares. I tell you, I’ve seen a lot of beatdowns, I went to Catholic school, but Ace, he could take them like...”
Shannon waved to the Actor, pointed at the Detective and gave a thumbs up.
“Aesop! Come over here, I was just telling them about that time, that Halloween where you broke Peter Hamilton’s nose. Oh, shit, spoiler alert!”