Friday, May 31, 2013

Hyperlocal CBC Finalist: Backyard Betrayal

Go to the Hyperlocal website, to check out other stories that map the experiences of our country's writers. The following story can be found at here

A decade 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.  

Today, most 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. 

It’s also 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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