The train squealed to a stop at the midtown subway station. Maxine and Johnathon used the distraction of noise and the bustle of passengers exchanging train interior for platform and platform for train interior, to go over the railing blocking the narrow walkway at the end of the station. The walkway led into the subway tunnel, the direction the train had just arrived from. They skittered over the rusting steel railing leaving the brightly lit platform behind them, as they descended into the catacomb like darkness of the tunnel.
They moved quickly but carefully, avoiding the storied dangers of the third rail. Breathless, hopping over stagnant puddles of pooled water, avoiding the scurrying rats and the assorted detritus of urban life which had been sucked into the tunnel by the undulations of stopping trains. They could feel a lifelike electricity in the air as they made their way deeper into the damp enveloping blackness, it made the hair on their arms stand erect. Ears listening expectantly, they heard the train now pulling away in the opposite direction they furtively moved, continuing its southbound trajectory. The unnerving sound of metal rubbing against metal, slowly faded the further the train got away from the station. As the echoing of the squeaking wheels became distant, a surprising quietude washed over the dank surroundings. A peacefulness which made it feel as if they existed alone in a manmade subterranean cave, like blind mole rats running feral in an abandoned world.
As their eyes adjusted to the lack of light, they sought out an alcove they were familiar with from past excursions. They knew it was about sixty feet from the tunnel opening and off to the left side of the southbound tracks. Finding it, they knew themselves to now be safely out of the way of the next oncoming train, scheduled to arrive in about five minutes time. Though the Toronto subway schedule should only be treated as estimated time, it usually skewed wildly far from actual. In the darkness, with the glow from a dim emergency safety light, ten feet away, they could just make out a raised platform off to the side of the tracks. Johnathon being the taller of the two, was able to clamber up on his own, providing his hand to assist in helping Maxine up, once he was safely settled. After they were both up on the six foot by six foot wooden scaffold like dais, they caught their breath and started to shed the many layers of clothing they were wearing. All their jackets, snow pants, jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, laid around them like the comfortable, insides of a Bedouin tent. The cool air around them was moving, as it subtly whispered through the tunnel. They experienced a stillness, a calmness, a tranquility, one wouldn’t expect in the subway system. They felt alive together in their, now comfortable oasis, 50 metres beneath the mid-town, midday, late winter hustle, happening at street level.
To Max and John this winter had been long and had felt endless. The City had broken several one hundred year old weather records. They were homeless and living precariously since their Unemployment Insurance (EI) ran out and they had to go on Welfare (OW). This left them with barely enough money for food, hygiene items and clothing replacements, they didn’t qualify for a housing allowance. Mostly they got by on a little extra cash by panhandling for change. Johnathon could no longer busk on the street, in Kensington Market. His guitar had been trashed months ago, by the City.
The couple had been living in a tent, surrounded by discarded wooden pallets, under the Gardiner Expressway at Bay Street, back in October. The City had been bent on ridding commuters of the unsightly view of the encampment they were part of. Riot Police had violently cleared out the area early one morning, making multiple arrests. Johnathon had spent four nights at Max’s bedside in St. Mikes hospital. She had IV tubes putting fluids and antibiotics into her, a catheter flushing away her waste. The result of an abscess on her left arm combined with tetanus which happened when she was poked by a rusty wire from a metal fence. She had been out scrounging for empty beer cans to buy breakfast, at dawn one morning a week prior, when it happened. It’s very difficult to prevent infection when homeless and after a week the unhealed wound, was very angry, sore and appeared to be spreading up her arm. At 10 am the day she was discharged from hospital, they arrived back at their “home” to the sight of a line of yellow clad, bicycle cops, blocking off the area and a frontend loader dumping all their belongings, into the back of a dump truck. They lost everything they owned, winter clothes, sleeping bags, toiletries, guitar, tent, an album of family photos, books, letters, Max’s journal and Johnathon’s book of songs he had written. They watched it all get hauled away, feeling sick to their stomachs. It left them uncertain and afraid for their next night, homeless without any belongings. Some Streets to Homes workers offered them a shelter referral. Most places in the shelter system separated couples and neither of them felt safe in those dormitories without each other. All the spaces for couples were full. This left them no alternative than the streets, as they were economically locked out of the rental housing market and faced the near impossibility of finding employment without having a fixed address.
They had wandered, aimless that first night. At one point slipping into a subway station and riding a train from end to end, east to west, west to east, until service ended and the train parked itself for the night. They found themselves forced to exit the last train by a surly Toronto Transit employee in a suburb that they knew nothing about, in the East end of the city. That night as the employee stopped watching them exit to answer his cell phone, they slipped into the tunnel and sought out a safe place to crash. It was cold and damp and the occasional train being shuttled by disturbed their sleep, but they felt safe. Safe from predators, safe from cops, safe from transit workers, safe together.
Over the next few months, they explored the tunnels. Wearing dark clothing, always mindful of Transit Cops, TTC maintenance workers and the prying judgemental eyes of the general public. They found several spots that they could use for a few nights and occasionally met other tunnel dwellers that offered valuable information from a more experienced perspective. They got caught attempting to enter the tunnel at a couple of stations, threatened with fines but gratefully let off with only a warning each time, as they were walked to street level exits. They would X that station off their mental transit maps, for the time being. They were always careful to clean up after themselves. They would take any empty water bottles and food containers out with them. They took to defecating in grocery store plastic bags to easily rid the environment of evidence that they had been making a “home” in the underground. They would dump all the evidence in a public trash container on their way out of the station each day.
Today though, it was the middle of the day and they were looking for a place to feel human. To connect as a couple away from the dirty, harsh city streets. A little flesh touching flesh, arms around each other, physical contact, sex. They wanted each other, they needed each other, they missed the intimacy they used to have in a warm bed, under clean sheets, before their lives went sideways.
Johnathon lost his job a couple of months back. He had been with the same company for eight years. He was trained and worked as a tool and die maker, manufacturing parts for school buses. When the shop he worked for got outbid for a contract renewal by a company in Mexico, he became redundant and with only the Unemployment benefits, he had paid into, he was barely able to cover the rent. Then Maxine’s hours got cut as her employer figured out that his company didn’t have to pay benefits to part-time staff. So now between them they could pay the rent but nothing else. After a couple of months they got behind on the rent and got evicted from their rental housing. There was no safety net for them, their income no longer covered the rent, so there was no way to catch back up. Maxine had taken on a second part-time job, but it barely helped with food. Provincial rental subsidies only went to those who were already homeless. There was no program to help keep them housed. They both looked for work but couldn’t find anything that paid more than minimum wage. Minimum wage did not pay rent in what had become Canada’s most expensive city.
Today, a slushy early March day they were hoping to put reality on hold for an hour or so. Having stripped down to underwear they kissed slowly, holding on to one another, passion rising like the steam coming off their exposed body parts. Their kisses becoming harder, their tongues more probing, the body grasping firmer. The space between them disappeared.
The level of the platform they were on was about five feet above the rails, the same level as the bottom of the subway window. They were off to the side after a small blind. This meant the subway conductor wouldn’t see them from his front window seat as he readily approached the station. The lack of light would prevent the train passengers from seeing them in the darkness which hugged them, like a black blanket. Because the subway cars are lit on the inside, Max and John could see very clearly into them.
After several trains has passed and the sexual tension had built up between them. Maxine pulled her panties down to her thighs and got on all fours facing towards the southbound train tracks. Johnathon pulled out his swollen cock and firmly yet, slowly entered her warm pussy from behind. Holding her hips tightly with his strong hands, he started gently thrusting himself in and out of her. Their hunger for each other was rising as they listened for another approaching train. He actively picked up his pace as they started to hear the distant rumble of a train approaching. As it got closer and louder he got faster, louder, faster, louder, louder, faster, louder, faster, faster, louder, faster, louder, louder, louder, louder. At the first flash of light from the passing train they both reached orgasm. As the interior light of the lit up windows flashed past, it made them squint from the sudden brightness and the juxtaposed scene of Johnathon still hard and inside Maxine while the passengers, in perfect view to them, stood fully dressed, oblivious and staring into the void, looking directly at them in their passionate act, without actually seeing them. They screamed themselves hoarse, gasping for breath and collapsing onto the platform. The sound merging with the squealing of the slowing train, once the conductor’s car entered the station and the last windowed passengers, passed them by.
They felt unified in the shared experience, both satiated in the way only sexual communion can achieve. Hearts beating hard in their chests. Two sets of lungs panting for air. After the train fully stopped in the nearby station they lay on their backs in the quieter darkness, Max’s head on John’s chest, his left arm draped around her shoulder, his hand rising and falling with the up and down movement of her breasts. The two of them now lost in the quiet revery of the moment. Happy to have each other, happy to have found a way to share this time together. Happy.
They had a joke between them about these moments underground. As neither of them had ever been on a plane and were doubtful they ever would, the idea of joining the Mile High Club, seemed very unlikely. So they coined themselves members of the Quarter Mile Underground Club and kept their membership as active as they could, given their current circumstances.
Chaz was so angry at his parents. They refused to help him with his student loan debt. They had told him he was on his own, after he decided not to finish his Computer Game Programming course, at the private college, whose campus was in an industrial unit in the eastern suburbs. On the one hand he understood their perspective, but on the other he thought they should now help him out after winning $400,000 in the 6/49 lottery.
Seething with rage he took a can of black spray paint and tagged the building. He did it just to the right of the spot where, that fucking punk Zarasa had tagged it a few weeks back. See had been pissed off at Chaz for not returning his Play Station 4 version of Call of Duty, so to make a point he tagged the building. Chaz’s dad had asked him to remove the tag and Chaz had done a half-assed job of it before giving up and going back inside to play Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas. GTA San Andreas was his favourite game in the GTA series. He liked to drive around, crash into random cars, drag motherfuckers out of the crashed cars and cap their sorry asses. He knew it wasn’t part of the missions but he liked going rogue and doing it anyway. He could spend a couple of hours at it and it still got a laugh out of him, every single time. If anything made him laugh, it was randomly capping motherfuckers in his video game.
He took his can of spray paint, made a variation on his “illish” tag and then as an afterthought added a decent looking five point star underneath it. He really liked the way the star came out, half there, half not, real casual. He figured that he would always use the star when he tagged going forward and fuck his dad anyway, for not helping him with his student loans. Just because his parents let him live for free in the coach house above the garage, they acted like they were still the boss of him. He felt so disrespected as he was now a thirty year old, grown ass man.
James lay on the ground, his lips blue, skin ashen, not breathing. He appeared peaceful, serene, surrounded by an island of his belongings, a black Nike backpack, 2 cheap on the verge of tearing Dollarama plastic disposable bags and a couple of green reusable grocery bags made from recycled plastic bottles and a glass bowl pipe laying near his right hand, fogged with the burnt residue of recent use.
Jody had just gotten off a 12 hour, 8pm to 8am shift, working security in a Downtown office building that from the best of her estimation didn’t actually need overnight guarding. In her head she was making calculations about the $180 she had just earned and to which pile of debt, it would end up being applied to. Turning the corner at the Tim Hortons she saw James laying there.
Jody and James had spoken on a couple occasions as she always stopped into the coffee shop for an extra large, no sugar, 1 milk, on her way to the empty building she was assigned to sit and struggle to stay awake in. The coffee cost $2.19 plus tax which added up to $2.47 rounded to $2.50, ever since Canada eliminated the penny back in 2013. Jody always kept a $1 and a $2 coin in her pocket, so that she could use them to purchase her coffee. James was often sitting outside the front door entrance to the Tim’s and Jody would always give him the 2 quarters she received as change, on her way out. On days when he wasn’t outside Jody’s anxiety would kick in and she would become worried by having to hang on to the 50 cents, so much so that she would often leave it on the bench in the bus shelter, 10 feet away, figuring that as she had seen James staying dry in there during a few rain storms, that maybe it would get to him that way.
Jody had always found Toronto, the biggest city in Canada to actually have a weird small town vibe going on, as despite its large population and ever changing landscape, you would often run into people you knew from other parts of the city or that you met in completely different places. Talking to James, she had discovered that they were both from Timmins and even went to the same high school, though a decade apart. So there he lay to the east of the bus shelter, looking like a Friday night drunk asleep on a Timmins snowbank. Appearing like a ghost of his normal self.
Jody’s security training kicked in as she flung off her work issued backpack and pulled out the Naloxone kit she was issued, in case of an overdose on the corporate property. She quickly unzipped the kit and pulled the nasal opioid reversal drug out of its sealed plastic packaging, tossed the packaging to the ground and stuck the tapered shaft into his left nostril, pushed the red plunger, releasing it into his mucus membrane, where it would quickly cross the blood brain barrier to sit on his opioid receptors. She called out to a passing woman of about 25, who was looking over as she casually strolling past the scene. Jody yelled for her to call 911, to which the woman looked away and kept on walking. “Fucking Cunt”, Jody thought as a man of about 60 walked over with his phone to his ear saying that he was calling 911.
Jody ripped open James’s worn and torn winter coat and started to give him chest compressions, exactly as she had been trained to do. She could feel James sternum give way to her force and heard a muffled cracking sound. With sweat pouring from her forehead, her arms and shoulders in pain she continued pumping blood and oxygen through James body. All her effort seemed to be paying off as James started to make small movements and then suddenly opened his eyes and attempted to raise his head.
Jody stopped pumping James chest and sat back on her haunches feeling both exhausted and elated at the same time. After a few minutes, an ambulance arrived. She told them about her intervention and quickly drifted into the background of sidewalk gawkers and curious people passing by.
It had been a long day. Actually it had been a long day and night and day, but with enough coke in him, he never really tracked time or felt tired. He had stopped into Mom’s Deli on Parliament Street for a quick pint to get his head straight. Mom’s was a dirty floored watering hole masquerading as a deli and the pint was 12 ounces, pretending to be 16. He didn’t care though, he was used to things not being quite as advertised. William had spent a lot of time, running a lot of different scams in Cabbagetown over the years and when he was in the neighbourhood he always stopped in to Mom’s to see if his old friend George was behind the broken down counter, slinging make believe glasses of beer. Today he wasn’t there though, only George Senior and George Junior. He often wondered why, since the Greeks invented language, why did they kept repeating the same names. But as with a lot of the coked up thoughts that entered his head, he didn’t really give it too much thought. He paid for the two $5.50 beers by dropping a $20 on the counter and asking the Georges to let George know that William, “Says Hi”.
He then walked north on Parliament, dodging a couple having a full throated fight in the middle of the sidewalk and at least three motherfuckers not looking where they are going, as their faces were buried in their phones. He also had to dodge the same amount of oversized folks driving four wheeled scooters down the middle of the sidewalk. He crossed at the lights at Carlton and continued up Parliament. He stopped into the Growers Shoppe, one of the many, too many weed shops in the small neighbourhood. He grabbed a couple of 1 gram Sativa pre-rolls for the walk and a half-quarter of the Grapefruit Hybrid by a grower in Smith Falls, for when he got home later tonight. Pocketing the weed, after putting one of the pre-rolls behind his ear he exited the shop and once out the door turned left to continue in the direction he had been going and then turned left again on to Aberdeen, which was a quaint narrow one way street that ended at Ontario St, which was his destination. Once clear of the bustle on Parliament he pulled the joint from behind his ear, lit it with his mini-torch and Bogarted it until the quiet street ended at an even quieter one. To his left he could see his destination.
Guy and Martan, had become full patch members of The Flaming Skulls, (Crânes Enflammés) in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil, back in the late 1990’s. Over time they had made many enemies in the larger Montreal underworld, but through a bit of luck, a heavy hand and good business acumen they had managed to launder and bank a good pile of cash while staying alive, a difficult task during the 90’s biker wars in Quebec. Though after a couple of near misses, they were smart enough to know that they had better split town for good. They didn’t have enough to retire to the islands so they invested in a little building that was a former church, Tabarnak!, and figured that it would be a good low key place to ply their trade from. Their trade being, whatever they could get away with while earning money. In the meantime they would wait to cash out the real estate in the popular east side neighbourhood. In order to be a little more discrete in Toronto they sold their Harleys and bought matching 2021 Cameros before leaving Montreal.
William stopped just before the stop sign at Ontario, tossed the filtered roach from his joint and looked across the street and down the block. He liked to be early and get his bearings before a meet. He saw there were two yellow bricked Victorian houses across the street, then a fair sized parkette with an apartment building behind it, then the little church where he was to meet the former bikers. He found a discrete spot in the deserted parkette and waited for the sun to go down, watching for anyone coming or going at the former Christian Church. As darkness set in he was feeling a bit tired, but thoughts of his plan and periodic bumps from an ample baggie of blow, kept him on point.
Hunched over an antique oak desk, scuffed and scarred from many years of use, Guy was watching the screen that monitored the area around the church. He saw the hooded figure fade into the back of the park next door and figured it was either the guy they were waiting for or his back up. Martan, had just come in the back door from Neutral Lane and hadn’t seen or been seen by the person watching the building. Guy and Martan had done so much together over the years that they thought similar ways, like an old married couple, which was what their bickering looked like to outsiders. As they watched the monitor they wondered what his play would be.
As night creeped in, the chill in the air, got into his bones. While the temperature had started to rise a bit as the city braced itself for a threatened snow storm, it still was a January night. He shuffled his feet and put up the hood of his long parka. In five minutes it would be eight o’clock and that was the arranged time. They had been connected through mutual business acquaintances and had spoken over an encrypted video software a couple of times, arranging for tonight’s meeting. At 7:59 William had one last nostril full of coke, stomped his large feet and moved slowly to the front door of the building, feeling confident and a sense of excitement that his plan would come to fruition and he would be able to take an extended vacation from the cold gritty city streets.
At exactly 8 o’clock, Martan responded to the ringing of the doorbell. William entered and in one swift motion unzipped his parka and pulled back his fur lined hood. He then looked the Frenchman in the eye, lifted the bottom of his lime green hoodie, showing the butt of his nine millimetre automatic. Martan reached over and pulled the piece out of William’s waist band popped out the magazine released the round in the chamber, which skittered across the wood floor like a cockroach when the lights are turned on. He then slid the Nine back into the waist band of man standing in front of him.
Playing with the magazine like a lighter in the hand of a smoker waiting for an intermission at a boring play, Martan walked William deeper into the building, up a short set of stairs to the back office where Guy was sitting behind the oversized desk. Open and sitting in the middle of the desk was a Cohiba Cigar box with a cellophane wrapped cube of compressed white powder. In the centre of the brick an FS was embossed on its surface.
Guy motioned to the box and said, “ There’s your Kilo, you got the 100?”
The arrangement was that William would bring his phone and once satisfied with the product he would transfer the equivalent of $100,000 Canadian in Bitcoin from his electronic wallet to theirs. A simple transaction that could be confirmed immediately, didn’t require a briefcase full of cash or having to even count the cash. They would agree on the exchange rate at the meeting and then William would initiate the transfer. At the current rate he would transfer close to 2 Bitcoins. Once the digital currency was in the former bikers’ Bitcoin wallet, William would walk out with a kilo of pure fentanyl. If mixed up and sold right, he could easily and quickly turn it into half a million dollars, which would still leave the next level of dealers able to make good profits themselves.
William motioned that he was reaching into his back pocket for his phone. Guy nodded and William slowly reached but then quickly pulled out a 16 inch hunting knife from a hidden sheath that ran down the back inside of his pant leg, he leaned forward and with all his might aimed his swinging arm towards Guy’s veiny tribal tattooed neck. William had grown up in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan and had learned how to hunt and survive in the woods by his Métis uncle, Francois. He knew how to stop a charging moose or bear with nothing but a buck knife. Guy however was fast from years of playing racket ball while doing drug deals with members of the Montreal Mafia and very quickly leaned back just as the sharp metal blade of the knife flashed from left to right making the smallest of scratches on the tip of his Adam’s apple. Martan who had been a semi-pro frisbee golf player before getting sidetracked by a blown out knee and dropping out of Collège Ellis – Campus in Longueuil, whipped the Nine’s magazine he was still playing with and hit William in the side of the head, right in his temple. A small drop of blood appeared as William’s knees buckled, his eyes went wide, vacant and distant and as he fell, to his left, piss stained his light blue jeans a darker shade at the crotch and down his right pant leg.
Guy now standing yelled, “You stupid fucking tête carré, come into my place and fuck around, mon calisse!”
Martan walked over and putting two fingers on the fallen man’s jugular said, “ Fucker’ still alive, should I finish him?”
Guy replied, “Put him in the trunk of your car, let’s just get rid of him this piece of merde”.
Martan brought his Camero around the back of the building and they carried the limp but breathing body down the stairs and tossed him into the trunk.
Putting on their seat belts and following all the traffic laws, they drove west past Sherbourne, past Jarvis, turning left onto Mutual St. Martan backed the car up to the loading dock of a now abandoned distribution centre. They popped the trunk, each grabbed a different end of the still breathing man and tossed him over the railing onto the corrugated rusted metal surface. As his back landed, they heard a loud smack of the large man’s head hitting the metal base. Turning and looking back as he approached the passenger door of the car, Guy could see a small pool of crimson forming around the man’s head.
As they drove away, thick flakes of snow fluttered to the ground in the headlights of the matte black muscle car. That certainly hadn’t gone as planned, they both thought in the silence of a red light at Gerrard and Jarvis, as they watched a tall blond trans woman in a short leather skirt crossing in front of the stopped car. As the light turned green and Martan accelerated he punched the dashboard in frustration of the 50K in profit they were missing out on. They drove back to the former church in the hope that it wasn’t a mistake coming to this fucking English city, as they watched it get blanketed in what was starting to look like a Montreal snowstorm.
It was now February 2022 and a real winter had came to Toronto for the first time in recent memory. It had arrived over the course of two days during the last week of January. The snow had been piled high everywhere. There was no street parking available and the kids got not one, but two snow days as the city was so unprepared to plow it all away, that it really wasn’t very safe to travel. It was a lot like a real winter, similar to those I remember from my youth. This one had shown it was still possible in this era of warmer and warmer winters due to climate change. Then surprisingly as the usually coldest month showed itself, the temperature turned above zero, the sun shone shrinking the mountains and then for a few hours over a few days drizzle fell from the sky, helping the large snow banks get even smaller while uncovering the detritus that had been shovelled and eventually plowed into the now dirty piles.
Dyanne had been working the stroll off Gerrard near Jarvis on and off for a couple of years now. Not right out in front of “Hooker Harvey’s” but up the block of side streets off Mutual St. This used to be a good drag to ply her trade but the area had changed a lot over the years. The best dance floor in the area, at The Barn had shut down so many years ago. For a queer bar it had certainly brought a lot of straight boys and did they like the treat Dyanne had under her short leather skirt and for the most part were willing to pay for it with cash, though sometimes drugs or drinks was all it took. She would park her self on a stool on main floor bar, at The Stables on a Friday night, maybe do an E, a couple of lines of Charlie or at minimum a few tequilas with orange juice and like flies to honey, the boys would be drooling for her long legs and what she had between them. One summer she was in such demand that a few parking lot fights broke out over who got to blow her. Suburban gym rats looking in the open for the thing they were ashamed of. All that was in the past and now she was lucky to turn a couple of quick tricks over the course of a long dark February night.
The thirty something guy rode up on a mountain bike, in the snow. She thought it might be one of the newer ones that were electric, but couldn’t be sure as they don’t make any noise. Since you can’t do business on the back of the seat of a bike, she had him leave his giant Uber Eats bag on the back of it and led the overweight slovenly dressed guy over to the loading dock. It was late and secluded and she knew the spot would be discreet enough for what he wanted.
Taking the two twenties from him she lightly pushed him into the corner around the far side of the loading dock. Several years ago trucks would have been coming and going from this spot all night, when the place was a distribution point for a janitorial company. The company had been forced to relocate, as the beeping trucks were disturbing the peace of the new residents of the condos that had been springing up in the increasingly gentrified downtown core. It was deserted now as she positioned them between the metal ledge and the wall. She folded the cash and in a quick motion, slipped it into her bra. She had learned long ago to never let a trick see where you put the cash. No buyers remorse or refunds allowed in street business.
Simultaneous to pulling down the zipper on his green plaid pants, she lowered her self into a squat with bent knees and fished his warm, sweaty, half erect cock out, while gently squeezing the shaft. She expertly popped a cola flavoured condom into her mouth before sliding his now fully erect member into it. With one hand pressed firmly against his chest, the other cupping his exposed balls she moved her head forward and back, when suddenly he started violently bucking while a long, loud guttural groan sounded in her ears, raising her eyes and looking up she could see his eyes wide in terror and fixed to the right, looking towards the loading dock.
She leaned back on her heels, as she rose, while he quickly bent his torso forward, pulled up his pants, squeezed around her in a surprisingly quick motion and ran screaming away towards his parked bike. His screams echoing against the two walls of the loading dock corner as she watched him hop on the bike and pedal out of sight. Dyanne, herself now wide eyed and completely spooked from the trick’s response looked towards the snow topped loading dock and saw four dirty fingers of a large male hand, crooked, bloated and bruised sticking out from the tightening of the semi melted snow. They appeared to be reaching towards her, spectrally. The wall mounted high pressure sodium light above to her left, cast a yellowy and creepy luminousness over the scene. Looking beyond the fingers, she saw a scraped knee, a bloody chin and what appeared to be a clump of peroxided hair also sticking through the snow. Had she floated above the scene, she would have seen the outline of a person, frozen in a full body grimace, slowly revealing itself as the snow melted away.
Dyanne looked away and slowly backed herself from the gory scene, as if it was a movie monster ready to pounce from a melting glacier. Turning swiftly she got as far away as quickly as she could, without actually running. She made her way south and still shaking, stopped at the ESSO gas station at Church and Dundas. There on a corner of the lot, she stood in front of the pay phone unsure if she should call it in. It was an open outdoor phone, face and receiver covered in tags, E3 in silver marker being the most prominent. After a few moments she picked up the receiver of the filthy looking phone. Tapping her right foot she dialled 911, the only number available without inserting coins.
The voice of the bored sounding operator turned to annoyed when she declined to provide her name. Though she did sound genuinely concerned when Dyanne explained the reason for her call. All the while she was focusing on her breath as she had learned to do at a 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat she went to last summer. This helped to prevent her from hyperventilating and having a panic attack. Hanging up, she wandered south to the 24 hour Rabba, just past Shuter St. She was in some kind of dissociative state, when she bought herself an Orange Crush. As the sickly sweet flavour always reminded her of happy times at Wasaga beach as a child during many summers past, it helped bring her back to the present. She now felt calm as she walked back up Church St., to the bachelor apartment she shared, with another girl that worked days at a rub and tug spa on Yonge Street. They had become close, living in the tight quarters and took shifts on the double bed when the other was at work. Unlocking the apartment door Dyanne was looking forward to a long bath and getting into the warmed and empty bed once Yolanda woke up in an hour for work.
Donna ran into the bathroom screaming, “You fucking Bitch, who the fuck do you think you are” and smacked the woman sitting on the toilet across the face.
Gwen, was shaking, a turd still half inside of her and half outside of her as she jumped up in an attempt to flee from the unexpected intrusion. There was no exit with the other woman in front of her. In a movement that defied reason, but was her only option, she swung her torso towards the bathtub and tripped as her pants were tangling her legs. The sound of her face hitting the porcelain, made Donna grimace but did nothing to curb her appetite for violence or the anger that was coursing through her.
Holsten point the converter towards the TV while pressing the volume up button to drown out the yelling from the bathroom. In the darkness of the room, he was bathed in the flickering light of the badly acted action movie bouncing into the din from the large flatscreen attached to the wall opposite where he slumped low on the beige couch. He was wearing boxer shorts and a torn stained sleeveless Metallica, Master of Puppets t-shirt. He knew better than to get involved in “woman business” and simply reached to the side table for his half empty can of warm Labatt Blue, while dropping his cigarette butt, burnt to the filter into the empty can of Blue beside the one he was drinking from.
“You stupid fucking twat, thinking you can blow my man for a couple of rocks”, Donna hissed as she reached forward and grabbed a handful of the crying woman’s hair.
Gwen went limp, tears streaking from her eyes overly caked with mascara , running like an oil spill down her ruddy cheeks. She had managed to kick off her pants. She wasn’t wearing any underwear, hadn’t in several years due to a cyst near her anus that she was far too afraid to go to the doctor to find out what it was all about. Her white crop top, with a large CK, in black ink in the centre of her chest was the only thing now covering her emaciated body.
Donna was pulling the unresisting woman out of the tub, her greasy hair, rope like in Donna’s hand, the younger woman’s feet flipping against the slippery porcelain like a cartoon character trying to get a grip on a sheet of ice.
Donna was a hard woman, 15 years on the pipe, she finally got clean of it by switching to IV meth use. She didn’t give a shit about too many people, including the fat fuck in the other room, though he did have his uses, the occasional fuck with his beer can sized cock and he was at least good to make the rent, by the first of every month. She was so tired of being disrespected by these street creatures that showed up when she was out boosting clothes and jewelry from the Eaton Centre, so that she could pay for her need for speed. Holsten sat around all day waiting for the trash to show up to buy 10 pieces. He then put most of the profits and then some in a glass stem and toked until he was just barely even, the stupid fuck. All these street bitches knew Donna was with him, but that never stopped them from knocking on the door and pointing their pale toothless cocksuckers at him and since he was a man, she really didn’t expect much different from him anyways.
As she pulled the cowering girl out of the tub, she sort of laughed and muttered to herself, but at the same time started feeling bad for her. Not necessarily enough to stop abusing her but enough to feel for her a little bit. She too had done some terrible things over the years for drugs, for money, for a place to crash, she had been in her shoes, she had been naked and desperate, hated, beaten, abused in all sorts of ways.
Donna let go of the girl’s hair and slumped down against the closed bathroom door. She was exhausted from a 72 hour run and the blood dripping from Gwen’s nose made her want to puke.
“Put your pants on and go”, she said in a low defeated voice, almost a whisper, almost a plea, as she lowered her head and started to weep. Big throbbing sobs tore through her no longer youthful body, ravaged by so many years of every kind of abuse. She hated herself so much, she hated being stuck in this god forsaken city, knowing these horrible people, living with the fucking cowardly man in the next room.
Gwen wasn’t sure what to do after wiping both her ass and her face and then pulling up her pants, as Donna was blocking the only exit. She asked in a soft voice, “you okay, hon?”. Donna lost for a moment in her grief, looked up at the now dressed girl and didn’t know what to say. She tilted her head and while fishing her right hand in her purse that lay open on the floor asked, “you wanna smoke a joint”. Gwen nodded and slid her back down the wall, tucking her feet towards her ass, knees in the air and also exhausted she rested the side of her face against her left leg and looking at the older woman said “I’m Gwen, what’s your name?”
The night was warm for the beginning of March and the crew were dressed head to toe in black clothing, hoods up, no visible logos and black cloth masks covering their faces. They all had black oversized backpacks slung over themselves, bulging at their seems, packed with the tools of their creativity. They snuck around on the east side of the yard, knowing that there was an imperceptible hole in the fence. Malik had cased the perimeter on three different nights last week. Each time making a couple of snips in the fence and covering it up by bending some wire he brought along, so that it would appear that nothing was amiss. He had done these stealth forays after midnight and made note of where the cameras were, as well as the timing of the security patrols. Having grown up dirt poor in Darfur in western Sudan, Malik had learned how to survive by occasionally raiding government and NGO storage facilities to feed both his family and his friends while earning a little on the side to buy some extras on the black market. When he was eleven his family immigrated to Canada as refugees, to escape the ongoing genocide.
Here in Toronto, he no longer needed to break into warehouses in order to survive, but the skills he honed doing so were paying off now, providing him with some serious street cred and props from the crew that he now ran with. They were known as the East End Elevators, EEE or simply E3, which was the most common tag they used. The name was an inside joke as they had all met, coming of age in a decaying Toronto Community Housing building in Scarborough, known locally by its address, 400 McCowan Rd., or simply 400. One of the things they got up to and bonded over was climbing through the trapdoor of an elevator and riding on top of it for hours, often dangerously jumping from one car going up to another car going down, getting greasy from the cables and having a very dangerous blast. The reason they started tagging was simply because they would steal black spray paint from a nearby hardware store in order to black out the elevator cameras and started doing little tags around the building.
Now that they were in their late teens, they had shifted from elevator riding to being an All City Graffiti Crew and left their tag from Neilson Rd in Scarborough to Dixon Rd. in Etobicoke. They had both friendly and hostile rivalries with other Crews across the city. Some of which could get them beaten or killed, if they fucked around tagging in the wrong neighbourhood. In order to show their prowess and get the props they felt they deserved, they needed to do something epic. So they decided to break into a TTC subway yard and do a couple of throw ups on the trains in the layup.
At 1am, they gathered in a snow covered but melting parkette on the north end of the yard. Four of them had made it out, tonight. Nina, who tagged as 9a was the only female on the crew, she continuously tagged twice as much as the guys because it was really difficult to get any props in a scene dominated by boys. She held her own painting and was never found without her skateboard, a few cans of premium paint and a pride worthy selection of clean caps. She came down on the blue night bus with 2tone, who listened to ska and only used black and white paint, but with it he could make the most incredible Wildstyle pieces that tripped out even old skool, local artists like Spud, Poser and REN. Also along for tonight’s raid were Sidecar (Scar) and Forehead (FRHD), both quality writers and crazy enough to seek out dangerous heaven spots on the regular and they were dying to go tonight and rep the crew. The rest of the crew couldn’t make it, Paycheck had to be at work tomorrow morning, JohnnyJohnny (jJ) was stuck at home with his two year old son because his girlfriend July had finally gotten into rehab and Books got picked up for racking Montana Gold cans from the Curry’s Art Store on Queen Street West a couple of days ago. So the crew was only four strong, tonight.
After smoking a blunt in the Parkette, the four of them made their way over to where Malik had set up their fence entrance and took turns sliding through the chain link. Once they were on the inside Mal did a quick seal of the fence using extra wire he brought, so they could easily bust through if needing to make a hasty exit, but if a guard walked by they most likely wouldn’t notice that anything was amiss.
The plan was to pick a couple of midsections of a few trains and bomb them with quality pieces, hoping that they would roll through a few stations before getting noticed, though the likelihood of them getting that far was slim. Toronto did not like graffiti on their subway card and would pull a train out of service if any pieces were seen. This made it kind of pointless to bomb trains as the risk of getting caught was high and the duration of the pieces survival was short. That said, social media and cell phones are two tools that now made it worthwhile, because even if no one saw the live piece, it would still be available indefinitely online and would show the world E3’s supremacy in the Toronto graffiti scene.
It was decided that two of the crew would work on the throw ups while the other two acted as look outs. Then they would switch off until they ran out of paint, got chased off or the sun came up, whichever came first.
Malik and Nina got right to work. They both laid down outlines across the entire length of a car, sweeping letters and the symbols they had been painting for years, pot leafs, crowns, lightning bolts, AK47’s and of course the CN tower and shadows above water that represented the Scarborough bluffs. After about an hour they traded off giving Forehead and Sidecar an opportunity to get their names and symbols in the mix, while filling out what was already laid down.
At about 4 am Nina saw some movement down the track and made a low pitch slapping sound that they were all familiar with as it was used by the crew when they used to sling dime bags of weed at the front of 400. The building itself was only 10 stories high but it was shaped like a squared off lightning bolt that did 90 degree turns in the middle, where the elevators were, making like two buildings connected at that midpoint. It sat at the end of a really long U shaped driveway. Cars would pull into the drive way stop at the end by the building, a runner would ask what they wanted and leave, then two more would approach, the first one taking the cash and the second one dropping the desired amount of dime bags in the car occupant’s hand. With the driveway so long, it was easy to see if “Babylon” was coming. The first to spot them would make this particular sound by slapping their thigh with a cupped hand. It took a bit of practice to get it right and loud enough, but once you had it down, it was simple and the sound it made wasn’t replicated by anything else, though it also didn’t sound out of place in most environments.
Once Nina made the sound, she ducked under a train car and very quickly the other three did too. In the silence they could hear a guard wandering through the yard, having a phone argument with his girlfriend or wife.
“Fuck you Jackie, I had to take this shift to pay for the damage you did to the car”. He huffed into the phone. “I told you you had too many glasses of Rose, you’re fuckin’ lucky the cops didn’t give you a breathalyzer, last time I let you drive my fuckin’ Camero”.
He then turned on his heels and headed back to the guard house.
Once they heard the creak of the cold metal door open and close, they all crawled out from under the trains and spent another 45 minutes finishing up. It was now about 6:30 in the morning, the day shift would start showing up at the yard in half an hour or so and the sun was starting to creep out. After repacking their backpacks they pulled out their phones and started taking pictures and walking around videoing their masterpieces. In total they had painted six cars over four different trains, leaving the windows free of paint, so Byatt to not be too obvious. hoping that at least a couple of cars would make it out into public before the day was done.
The four of them headed out through the fence the same way they came in, sharing a couple thick grape flavoured blunts. Tired, hands covered in paint and jubilant that they had pulled this off without having to run from either guards or cops. They walked north on Greenwood but as they approached Danforth Avenue they saw a couple of guys they recognized from the KPD (Konstantly Painting Danforth) crew. These guys were tough and they had been having beef with them for a few years. If they tagged an E3 anywhere between if Park and Broadview, it would only take a couple of days before it was X’d out (dissed) and had KPD written above it. These guys guarded their turf with both spray cans and fists. Turning on to Danforth the crew heard, “Motherfuckers we’re gonna kill you” accompanied by the sound of feet hitting pavement. The four of them bolted across Danforth and ran with all their might along the avenue making a sharp left at Lindsmore. Fifty feet away was the entrance to the subway, they ran through the open doors, Nina kicked the wooden wedge as she ran by and the heavy door closed as they vaulted the turnstiles and slid down the handrail of the escalator, dodging left and down another set of stairs. They could hear a train pulling into the station and prayed it was the Eastbound one.
As the Eastbound train pulled in they continued to run to the far end of the platform, the doors opened and a few people got off while the ones waiting got on. They made it to the last car. Forehead was in front and held the closing door for the other three, who shouldered themselves in. They could see the two KPD guys just hitting the platform as the train started to pull out of the station. Eight middle fingers were against the train window as it passed the red puffy faces of the guys on the platform.
The eastbound train took them to Kennedy Station, which was definitely home turf for the crew. Then a short trip on one of the many buses that travel east on Eglinton to McCowan. With July still in rehab they knocked on JJ’s door. He had just returned from dropping his three year old daughter, Kyana, off at her grandmother’s on the eighth floor of the building when the crew showed up. They showed him the photos and videos of their train raid and started editing and updating their social media accounts on his computer, because nothing is real until it’s on your instagram.
Hiding in plain sight, was often a great strategy, an under-utilized one actually. So when he rented the empty paper clip factory he felt safe, knowing that the occasional plume of smoke out the tall chimney and the constant removal of green weed odour wouldn’t draw any unwanted attention.
He had been doing this type of work for a long time. Find a space, tap into the hydro, use the chimney to exhaust the smell and in 4 months the crop will be ready for harvest. He estimated he would get 2,000 plants in the space. A good yield would give him 4 ounces per plant which would work out to 500 pounds. At $1,500 a pound he would gross, $750,000. Half of that would go to the triad that bankrolled him and provided the distribution. In the end after expenses he would net about $300 grand. Not bad for 4 months work, which would allow him to put his growing equipment back into storage and spend the rest of the year on a beach in the Caribbean.
The only thing left to do today was to shovel all that snow off his car, so he could go to Homedepot and buy some new tubing for the hydroponic setup as well as a couple more exhaust fans. He sparked up a preroll he picked up from one of the government licensed dispensaries and contemplated the task ahead of him, as the smoke from his joint curled towards the open door of the incinerator.
He Loves Her
He has always been attracted to her. Ever since seeing her for the first time in a long wool winter coat at the bottom of the back stairs in high school, which acted as the Rockers/Stoners, unofficial smoking area. Besides being gorgeous and sexy as hell, she was good people and really no crazier than him, actually less crazy than him at that time.
They have been through so much, both together and apart over the past 36 years. Learned so much, grew so much, gave so much. The daughter they share is a unique manifestation of the best parts of each of them.
Sometimes he wondered what things would have been like without all the drugs and alcohol and their triggered trauma responses. Where would they be now, without having to heal themselves over and over again, new therapists, new traumas, new rips, new repairs, new perspectives, new directions all buffered by a strong friendship and an old love, that seemed older than them both.
“We’re old souls in a new life, baby
They gave us a new life to live and learn”*
The fact that they have kept working at it, is miraculous, but then what is love between two wounded people but miraculous? And what makes people keep trying and not simply running away and moving on to the next perceived easy thing? Maybe the stubbornness of two Taurus’, two years less a day apart, has kept them moving towards.
The love he feels towards her, is with him every morning when he wakes up, every time he breaths in her carbon monoxide, every time their hearts beat together when in embrace, while her hair is tickling his nose and every time he thinks of her when she is not there.
For someone who has spent much of his life keeping people out, he is happy and grateful that he let her in and that she has loved him back.
*Old Souls. Sung by Jessica Parker- Phantom of the Paradise OST.
A Room With No View
He woke and looking around, everything was were it should be. He felt safe when everything was where it should be. The concrete floor was still cold, still hard, the paint cans still stacked, the gas cylinder exactly where it was supposed to be. All this familiarity made him feel safe, made this storage closet feel safe. It had been several weeks since he turned the random door knob and found the room open. He made sure to take all of his things when he left for the day, leaving a quarter in the door jamb, in such a way that the door wouldn’t appear unlocked by a casual turn or pull.
Mohammad mostly moved through the city invisibly. On one hand he stood out, with his disheveled clothes, worn out, duct taped shoes shuffling along. Often draped in his dirty sleeping bag. His hair and beard were matted and natty from too long without a brush or a comb or even hot water. Who could not notice him crossing against red lights, weaving in and out of traffic. But in many ways he felt he was invisible, when he asked for change and was ignored, when he saw people cross the street to avoid him, when random people seemed to look right through him.
One could often find him gesticulating and making small talk to his reflection in the windows of businesses up and down Yonge St. The conversations were generally civil though on occasion he would take umbrage by something he said and appear aggressive to those passing by.
Every now and then he would show up at St.Mikes, ED and tell them he was planning to kill himself. He had a long convoluted story that involved rope and the Bloor viaduct. This would usually get him on a 72 hour Form 1 and provide him with a few decent meals, a shave, a haircut, clothing and a new pair of donated shoes.
For now he had a place to call home so he would avoid St.Mikes. He enjoyed locking the door and bedding down on the floor, knowing that everything would be in its place when he woke up. He felt safe.
This was the view Brenda had after regaining consciousness. Laying on the cold sidewalk, eyes blurry and unable to focus. She could feel a pulling on her right side and through her half closed right eye, she could see a shadowy figure, kneeling beside her and realized that someone was rummaging through her jacket pocket. With all the strength she could muster, she heaved her body away but could tell the effect was little more than a muscle flex.
“What the fuck is happening”, she thought. She could hear a siren, but it felt like it was a thousand miles away, off in a distant country or barreling towards another world, maybe better, maybe worse.
The warmth exuding from her forehead, must be blood, but her arms were still not working, she wasn’t able to test it with the fingers on her hand. The figure by her side was gone now, leaving her feeling suddenly alone and vulnerable.
Trying to sit up, proved to be impossible and she was still unable to roll onto her back or even her side. So she lay there and cursed the sky, the slowly refocusing building above her.
Laying there she cursed the city that had abandoned her to the streets three years ago, when her landlord had her evicted so he could pretend to renovate and double the rent. She cursed those that had called her crazy, when she felt good and went off her meds, she cursed the hospital staff that refused her treatment because they assumed she just wanted in from the cold, she cursed the cops that woke her up and made her move along when she grabbed a nap at Union Station or in the underground PATH. She cursed the driver of the car that rolled through the stop sign at Mutual and Gerrard, hitting her and sending her eight feet sprawling her across the wide sidewalk.
But she smiled when the ambulance pulled up and the two EMS jumped out and seemed to actually care as they assessed her wounds and treated her with respect.
The sign said “Mom’s Deli”, which suggested an old school cheese and meat shoppe, maybe old world comfort foods, but Mom was my grandfather George and his place didn’t serve much comfort. The place consisted of a couple of wobbly tables with mismatched chairs. It also had a low lunch counter that seconded as a bar and “mood lighting”, which really just meant, dim low lights.
My great-grand parents came to Canada in 1941, in the middle of World War Two, to escape the creeping tyranny they saw happening around them in Thessoloniki, north Greece. Like Italy the intelligencia were enraptured by the fascists, though the peasants knew better and my great-grandfather George, knew that the illegal schemes he was caught up in would get him shot, sooner rather than later. So he gathered all the drachmas he could and secured himself and his pregnant wife Athena passage abroad on a steamer by bribing a galley worker from his village. The ship, filled with olive oil, took two months to cross the ocean allowing them to get the hell out, slowly and safely. They only knew they were headed to North America and nothing about Canada.
Shortly after arriving in Canada George had our last name changed from Papadopoulas to Phillips to get rid of the Greekness after hearing about the 1918 anti-Greek riots in Toronto, where Greek owned businesses on Yonge street were trashed by xenophobic mobs over three days. Never mind his thick accent, my great grandparents were Canadians now.
After the riots the bulk of newly arrived Greeks, set themselves up on Danforth Avenue, George and Athena moved into a small rooming house on Sumach Street in what was then the Irish Ghetto of Cabbagetown. George had a couple of old world hustles that he used to build up a small nest egg, over the next several years. Though prohibition had ended in Ontario in 1927, the puritanical laws around access to alcohol still meant there was a viable business selling booze late at night and on Sundays. Since bootlegging brought George into contact with all kinds of people he inevitably started fencing the stolen goods people showed up with to trade for a late night snort.
By the time my grandfather, George was in his twenties, his father George, bankrolled him to set up a restaurant on Parliament street. This allowed George Sr., to sell booze out the backdoor, while giving his son an honest direction in life. George Jr., my father, started running the place in 1980, forcing me to help out there after school and on weekends.
While the sign said “deli”, there wasn’t much in the way of food. Some cooked sticks of chicken and pork, some rice, some potatoes. George would open a couple of cans of soup in the morning and leave them to warm on low all day, calling it his homemade special. The real business was beer. He would serve up trays of half-pints, 24 for $20 or $1 each, of foamy, room temperature draughts that the neighborhood couldn’t get enough of.
I remember one day after school I was unpacking a box of beer glasses that had arrived directly from Germany. I asked my baba why he would buy beer glasses directly from Germany, when there were plenty of restaurant supply stores around the city.
“Take a good look at the glasses son”, he said with a mischievous grin.
“They look just like the ones we already have”, I replied, puzzled.
“Okay now fill one of the old ones with water and pour into a new one”, he told me.
I did as he asked and was surprised when the new one overflowed.
“What’s going on?”, I asked incredulously.
“The new ones are 6 ounces and the old ones are 8. However they are the same size, shape and weight, so no one will know the difference. From now on for every $1 glass of beer I serve I will make an extra 25 cents, fuck those bums coming here and getting mouthy with my waitresses”. He said with the pride of a politician who figured out how to game the system, to their benefit.
CKLN was 88.1 in Toronto, college radio at its finest.
Turned me on to some great Punk, Jazz, Industrial, Techno and Hip Hop. Always ahead of the game.
“I can’t come over now”, Sarah said with resignation sounding in her voice as she left a voice message on Veronica’s phone. She was desperate to see Veronica again but unable to leave her apartment.
It had been 2 weeks since they met in the back room of the Church Street bar. Making out on the sweaty dance floor, had been liberating after two years of involuntary celibacy. She had been looking forward to this follow up date, after all the back and forth texts between them since that memorable Saturday night.
The problem was the snow. It snowed so much overnight that the entire City had come to a standstill, closed highways, public transit a mess, but those weren’t the reasons for canceling.
While it was helpful to know that she wasn’t the only one, her diagnosis of chionophobia, gave her the knowledge that she couldn’t be the only person afraid of the snow, since there was a term for it.
I stood there.
I just fucking stood there, not sure if I was headed in the right direction. Gripped by something from deep inside of me. I felt paralyzed, incompetent and afraid nebulous feelings that I couldn’t control.
Having spent so many years in therapy, I knew it was simply a response to my early life trauma. I knew I was in a dissociative fugue of one sort or another. Fight, flight or freeze were the trio of options my limbic system was providing, even though a part of me knew what was happening, I was still stuck in freeze, as usual.
My brain was shutting down, my hearing had become muffled, vision blurry. People were jostling around me with their shopping bags and over sized purses. Bumping and bashing into me, though not enough to make me move. I could hear the torrent of abuse coming at me,
“get the fuck out of the way”,
“Hey asshole you’re blocking my way”.
But there I stood, looking up, tears in my eyes, like my 7 year old self, looking for his Mother at Fairview Mall, that fall day long ago when I got lost in the Simpsons store.
My trance was finally broken by the scent of a familiar perfume, that was both comforting and repulsive at the same time. I heard the question, “Are you okay?” and saw the kind expression on an elderly Asian woman’s face, her clear dark eyes brought me back to ground.
She was walking around me to get on the escalator, our eyes locked as she appeared to magically move up and away from me without the assistance of human propulsion.
I was back and as I smiled towards her diminishing figure, I thought, “ What the fuck am I doing at the Eaton Centre, anyway”.