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ago, my back alley was dotted with shelled sentries: rusted Buicks and sheds shrunken
by fire. Fence posts leaned like wind-swept trees; the pavement cracks were
filled with the deflated balloons of last night’s tricks.
of the cars have been towed and sheds replaced with modest garages. Despite the
upgrades, it is an alley where people still put out old furniture knowing it’ll
be gone the next day, but the furniture is different now. Lamps with silk
shades and recently removed bathroom vanities have replaced stained mattresses hosting
bloated bugs. Bottles now sit separate from the trash- put out in a friendly
way, almost like a tithe. Thankfully, it's an alley that still has grace for my
overflowing compost pile and wild gardens: I like to think my cheery red garage
door makes the stinking heap of veggies appear quaint and shabby chic.
It is in
this alley where my Italian neighbour introduced me to arugula and showed me the
right way to mate a pumpkin flower (with another pumpkin flower, of course). Neighbours
bond over gripes about city potholes and the growing army of tomcats. It’s still
an alley where strangers can become friends.
a place, I realized too late, where friends can become strangers. The sky was
darkly preparing to deliver a mid-afternoon thunderstorm and I hurried to strap
the kids into their seats for a quick errand before the torrent. I was rounding
the van to the driver’s side when I saw him. The veins in his long, skinny arms
popped out. Stretched like earthworms struggling for breath, they ended in balled
fists that gripped black bags of bottles. His gait was slow, broken, cautious. His
eyes were the vacant moons of a cheap high. He didn’t appear aware of me and I looked
down to appear unaware of him. But I was hyper-aware of him. I knew him. I knew
him from a place 600 kilometers away, from twenty years ago. Flashing behind my
downcast eyes, I remembered another alley behind our elementary school. I was the
new kid, but he stood out: the only boy with braids. We acknowledged each
other tentatively then. We would grow to know and like each other. We would finish
school and go separate ways until this one day, in the middle of the big city
behind my grown-up home, we would pass each other without visible pause. My
heart beat with discomfort in this alley where dust rises from bumping cars and
is trampled back down by the feet of bottle pickers and school children. All along the road, the fences are being rebuilt.
Just now, they are all a little higher and a little tighter than they were before.
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