Where the stars go at night
Light cuts sharply through two giant Canadian maples. A patch of sunflowers grows in the warm sunbeam; some butterflies dance around, their colours orange and pale purple. A silent creek whispers through the rocks, ending in a shallow basin of clear water. In the water are green stones of all sizes, and the strangest mummified sofa with tattered mockingbird fabric and swelling red mahogany relaxes neatly at the bottom of the little pond. Fallen ancient trees hide under overgrown grass, and crickets hop from the stems—a quiet humming of insects in the warm July heat. The cracking of twigs in the deep of the park from small animals. In the middle of the clearing, on a rock shaped like a chair, is where Glen sits, a happy, lonely sanctuary in the Brook Works park just outside Toronto.
Glen's eyes are composed of different hues of blue as if his eyes were two giant tangles of old and discarded knitting fabrics. His body, mere flesh and skeleton now, is contorted like a bow as he scribbles words on coffee-stained sheets of paper. He gazes around occasionally, locking eyes with a few red-bellied birds perched on thin branches near the giant flowers. He smiles, the wrinkles on his face are deep. He wears an actual patchwork suit, all different colours. On his feet are two sandals, one more worn than the other, a red one, a brown one. His feet are also swollen today, more than most others. However, his toes and skin are clean. Washing in the secluded river here every morning. His finger and toenails are all ground down and short. His teeth very yellow, but still, they all were there, and he took great pride in that. Smiling most of the time at the trees around him and the frogs, and if the fog was just right some mornings and he didn't spook them, he flashed his pearly yellows at the deer too.
Glen squints his eyes as he looks up, tossing different words around in his head. His whole face contorting in thought, the red diffuse lighting shining through his closed eyelids, and he smiles. Finally, those evasive pesky words for his poem come to him. So he writes them down as quickly as he can before they run away again, dots his I's and crosses all his T's. Reaching into his chest pocket of the shirt below his plaid one, and from there, he pulls out a large folded and wrinkled envelope. Taking a second to read over the pages of scribbles he has written, he puts the poems in the envelope and licks the seal shut, although it doesn't stay shut anymore. Carefully he folds the envelope, then tucks it back into his shirt pocket. For a few moments, he listens to the sound of it all. The whole nature of the world and his small place in it.
Glen grunts as he places his aching feet on the ground. They are purple from the knees down, swollen with turquoise veins. Bending over, he rubs them, and it feels good. Staring at this strange plum colour reminds him of his daughter's dress. He remembers now, that same day, he let his daughter paint his nails purple. His daughter promised him they would match; she assured him they were the same colour, purple. But when she revealed the nails to him, they were the furthest thing from plum he could have seen. He stares now at his fingernails. At all the lines and cracks that run up and down them and the little white spots too. Clenching his lips, he brushes his clean hands down the length of his pants until the images in his head disappear.
Turning around, he collects all his belongings, including one reusable Tim Hortons cup with no lid. One Sharpie marker with the label wiped away. His pockets filled with nothing but four toonies. And one thing he doesn't take with him a buried jar below the stone chair.
So Glen, with all his worldly possessions, turns around and heads away from this hidden oasis, pushing a thick bush away from his face. Then shrubs and spider webs, and as he steps closer towards the path, he hears the hammers and the horns of the Don Valley. The jabbering of humans and the smell of industry and poison. Emerging out of the trees and onto the limestone pathway, stumbling into a young couple who walk the path. They both speed their steps and make sure not to glance in Glen's direction. Glen starts his long morning walk here towards the Eaton Centre. With nothing but his cup and marker, the orchestra of human life and the growing presence of his ghost to accompany him.
Glen flips open a large GFL trash bin, the vibrant green metal now all rough and rusted. The covers bang and echo in the damp alley between two old buildings. He props himself up and balances himself over the opening on his belly. Reaching deep inside for a sturdy-looking piece of cardboard. Pushing over torn bags, empty beer bottles, some crushed Coke and Pepsi cans, and dirty toilet paper. Finally, his eyes find a thick solid piece of cardboard; he steals it from the bin, falls back down to his feet, and holds it in his hands. Smelling it, and it smells good. Not bad enough that it will disturb him all day long, and it's not so stained that it will ruin what he wants to write on it. So he kind of stumbles backward, his swollen shins pulsing below his rags and slowly rides along the wall down to his ass, and he sits. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out his marker and stares at the blank canvas for a while.
Will write poems for cash. That's what it says on the sign. So Glen pockets his marker, grabs his cup and cardboard, and heads out to the intersection outside the alleyway, Dundas and Bay St. At the corner is where he sits, right against the bank wall. He crosses his legs and fishes some papers out of another pocket in his layers of clothes. The paper is all wrinkled and smells a bit like fish. Glen thinks about this story as he stares at all these crumpled papers, about how Picasso made a drawing on a nose-blown napkin and asked tens of thousands of dollars for it. Glen imagines himself a little like that, all the skill, without the eyes of the world to see him. He stiffens his heart and rests the sign against his crossed legs. He shakes his cup, and almost like a word he has forgotten but now remembered, he fishes in his pocket and pulls out those four toonies. Tosses them in the cup, and now he shakes it, and the coins make a familiar noise.
All Glen can see from down here are women's knees in pencil skirts. The hemmed business pants of men walking in and out of the bank. The occasional teenager with plaid pyjamas and slippers. Glen never looks up anymore; the world is just a concoction of legs, pantyhose, heels, different types of shoes, Gucci flip-flops, and running shoes. After all these years down here, no one really held his gaze anymore, and each person who did hold his gaze and walked by took a part of him with them, and every time that he watched that part of him leave, he felt a ghost grow inside of him. Glen shakes his cup and mutters to himself down here. Mutters about being alive and still dead. He looks across the street, sees another man, and shakes his cup toward him. The other guy shakes his cup back, and Glen thinks that's the language of the dead.
Glen feels a coin flick off his shirt and fall between his knees. The coin dings twice and then falls flat. Glen picks it up, and it's a quarter. Glen calls out, staring only at the person's hemmed slacks and socks with Eminem's face and brown shoes that appeared recently waxed. "You wanna poem?"
The feet respond with only clicks and clacks, and a horn blares as it passes quickly.
Glen rips a small three-inch by three-inch section from the stack of fishy-smelling paper. Then, with his marker, he writes on it. He writes:
You are the water flowing between fish/ I am a splintering of wood/ I am the shell, and you are the turtle/and all the other types of love I can give you still.
Glen folds the paper into an origami star and puts it in his pocket. Then puts the quarter in his cup, which rattles a little brighter, and he tips his head towards the man who is now long gone and flashes his pearly yellow teeth. Glen continues to watch the legs as they pass. Wondering how many people even see him.
Glen's head teeters up and down, his mind folding in and out of dreams, jolting awake every now and then when finally he feels someone kick his sign.
"You can't sit here, bum. How many times do I gotta fucking tell you."
Glen doesn't look up, scared of losing the remaining pieces he has left of himself, so he responds, "I ain't botherin' no one; you wan a poem, I'll make ya nice one?" Rubbing the sadness from his eyes as he speaks.
The feet kick the sign again, Glen looks at them, and they seem important. These shoes are earned when someone makes no mistakes, a perfect life. Glen can see himself in the reflection of them.
"No, I don't want your stupid poem; look here," and the legs drift around him to the right. "Can you not read, you stupid, homeless loser? It says no loitering; this here's a bank, and it's where smart people with homes, wives, and kids go to arrange their wealth, something you obviously know nothing of; it's pathetic; you here every day, socialists. This is what the socialists want."
Glen tightens his grip around the cup. "I ain't done nothing wrong; I'm offering a service."
"From what I see up here, you've only ever done wrong, don't worry, chief, I'll get you out of here" The legs kick the sign again, and this time the sign folds in half, and the legs walk powerfully away from Glen and around the corner. Other legs that were watching slowly start to move again, and soon the traffic continues.
Glen studies the sign; through the middle, it is all torn and destroyed, and the words are illegible. Soon these little tiny legs, with pink shoes that have all this magical dusting and sparkles, come walking up to him, and these legs delicately drop a five-dollar bill into the cup.
"Here you go, mister; I hope your legs feel better soon."
Glen watches these pink shoes and hears the voice, and it is the voice; he is so sure; it sounds just like his daughter. So he looks up for the first time in a long time. Watching this little girl walk away, her hair is all curly, brown, and long. Those pink shoes he could have sworn he had seen his daughter in those same exact shoes before, he watched her leave; Glen could feel the ghost inside him grow. This time so large that it has to leave his body and sit beside him on the ground. Glen gives the ghost a hug, but all he feels is cold.
Glen winces, rubbing at his disfiguring shins with his left hand, and he rips another piece of smelly paper from his stack with his right hand. Glen thinks, and he thinks, and all he can feel is the freezing touch of this ghost. He sees his daughter in the back seat of the van. Wearing those pink shoes. He can smell his own breath, like rubbing alcohol, and he watches his daughter in the back seat through the rear view mirror with smoke rising from his lips. He makes a silly face at her in the back seat, and she laughs. Eventually, in frustration, he writes:
Too many I drink/life of cigarette smoke/your mother was always right.
Red and blue lights stop his writing. These four black boots pull up into his view. Eight inches and filled with concrete. Thick soles are meant for kicking teeth and doors. Blue tactical pants and around the hip a knife. Up a little higher, a pistol with a finger on the trigger.
"Glen, you can't sell shit here without a permit. These guys inside keep complaining. You can't come here anymore."
The other boots circle around Glen, but they don't say anything.
"I'm just writing poems."
"You don't have a permit, you can't sell shit without a permit, you're loitering, you need to move, we've asked you a few times now, man."
"But this is all I have."
The other pair of boots that are moving back and forth, almost posturing, kind of laugh and the laugh feels like a knife cutting into Glen's ribs. Then, finally, the boots stop dead in front of him. The finger is itching on the trigger.
Glen starts folding the little piece of paper into an origami star. "I'll leave. Just let me pack my stuff up. Please, I won't return."
The boots with the itchy fingers say, "No get out of here."
"I will just let me finish folding this paper."
"Are you deaf" and these legs fold down to the knees, and there, crouching right in front of Glen is this police officer. The cop is all muscle and Moustache. With big arms and tattoos, and if it wasn't for the uniform, this guy would look like a biker in a seedy bar somewhere up town.
Glen averts his eyes, just folding his piece of paper.
"Are you resisting"
"I'm just folding my paper."
"Okay, stand up," the cop says as he stands back up, and that's when he kicks the cup over.
The other boots say, "Why did you do that, partner? Just let him get his stuff, and he'll leave."
"This is a waste of our time to keep coming here every other day for this scab."
The coins all scatter over the sidewalk. Then the five-dollar bill rolls out, swoops into the sky with a gentle wind, and drifts down the street. Glen falls over, reaching for it.
"She gave me that money!" Glen's spine curls with rage, his fingers turn pale, and his eyes swell with tears.
The cops look at each other, and Moustache laughs. "I'd cuff you now, but judging by your legs, I bet you're doing this all for a speedy fix at the hospital, not on my watch. So work for food and wait in line at a hospital like every hard-working Canadian around here."
The other boots walk over to Glen and help him to his feet.
With tears falling down his cheeks, Glen grabs his cup, the toonies, and the half-folded paper. Stuffing it all inside his cup. He hurries away, his legs swelling with every step, and as he looks through the bank window, he can see a row of people in fancy suits just watching him leave. Some people smirk, and others have their hands over their hearts and mouths; Glen walks away from the cops and the bank down the street, and now the sun plunges, and the sky turns peach and red.
Glen stumbles back through the bush off the path. His legs are like a balloon around the bone, all yellow and purple. His pain is audible now, and every step in the dark is a sharp, cutting stab of pain that slices him right up his stomach, through his guts to his neck, leaving his body in a high-pitched screech. Then, finally, he falls over in his little oasis. Looking now from his stomach at the stone chair where he left it. In the middle of the little circle of soft grass, and as usual, the moon's light hits it directly, so it's as if it's sitting under its very own lamp.
Glen crawls through the long grass, and the crickets make these sharp chirping noises. Then, somewhere in the woods, a tree cracks, and the sound of flowing water soothes his pain a little. Glen crawls all the way to the chair, and when he is there, he reaches under the stone into a hole he has dug, pulling out this jar. The jar is filled with hundreds of Origami stars and has a taped-on piece of paper that reads, a collection for my daughter in the stars by Glen O'Neil. Glen opens the lid and drops the two poems inside it. He reaches into his chest pocket, pulls out that envelope, and stuffs that in there too. Closing the lid, he rolls over and holds the jar up towards the entire universe, waving the hundreds of little origami stars back and forth across the night sky like shooting stars, making a wish, and slowly everything turns to moonlight.
About the Creator
Aspiring novelist. Writer of realist dystopian fiction. Trying to capture our existential reality and all the beauty surrounding it. Also write a lot of casual free verse poems.