1. A conversation between Kyle and Megan in Kyle's low rent single occupancy hotel room in the rundown east side of Vancouver.
"What's the smell in the hallway, Kyle? It's like insecticide or mold or something."
"Um, I don't smell it myself. But I don't think they wash the carpet much."
"Are you sure it's safe here?"
"Oh yeah, Megan. I've never had any problems, anyway."
"Wow, is this your room? It's so small."
"Yes. I can stretch out full length on this bed, and as you can see, I have a view of the wall of the building next door. Ha. Ha."
"There's only a sink to wash up in. Where's the bathroom?"
"Down the hall. I share it with the other guys. This is a temporary living situation, until I can find a real job."
"Well, the Alberta Teacher's Hiring Fair is coming up. You do have a certificate to work in the schools there."
"I'll go if I can get enough cash for the plane. I'd like to find work at an alternative school, like the one you teach at. But I'll take any job right now. I get up at 5am every morning to work at casual labor."
"Kyle, I don't know if I can stay here tonight with you."
"Is it too messy?"
"Well, I can't relax in a place like this. It's cramped and dark and there's that musty smell, and who knows who's outside walking the halls."
"I know a lot of the people here, Megan. They're friendly. There's Badger, he's the old guy with the white raincoat we saw coming up the stairs. Roberto's the one in the cowboy hat you saw standing outside smoking Turkish cigarettes, and Cody, he plays great guitar, I hardly think that guy ever sleeps."
"I don't think I can relax in here, Kyle."
"Okay. It was a bit of a risk, showing you my place. But I want you to know who I really am. We'll be together on the camping trip anyway."
"I want you to know who I really am, too, Kyle."
Kyle nods. "That's a good thing. I'll walk you back to your car."
On the long weekend, Kyle and Megan set out on their three-day trip. Kyle's down to his last hundred dollars. He spends it all on himself and Megan. They swim in Harrison Lake, cold and clear. They hike down Chilliwack River Trail, and camp at the edge of the water. They roast hot dogs over the campfire, and make love in the tent, close to the sound of the rapids. On the way back to Vancouver, Megan says she needs to visit her mother in the suburb of Maple Ridge. "I haven't seen her for a couple of months. I'll drop you off near the highway."
When he hears this, tears fall down Kyle's face. He can't stop them. They fall and fall. He doesn't make a sound. Megan asks "What's the matter, why are you crying?"
Kyle answers "I don't know. It's very intense." He lifts up his T shirt and wipes off his face. "I'm sorry."
"Well, I haven't seen my Mom for a long time." Megan drives with both hands on the wheel.
"You can't take me with you?"
"Maybe next time." She brakes hard for a caution light. "We haven't known each other that long. We're friends with benefits."
"I was thinking more than that, Megan."
She pulls over to the side of the road for a moment, and faces him directly. "I like you, Kyle. But you're too sensitive. I only want some alone time with my Mom. If I see you on the road coming back, I'll give you a ride."
"Is being sensitive a bad thing?"
"That could be, Kyle. It could be a bad thing."
Megan drops Kyle off outside a convenience store. He doesn't feel like hitchhiking, so he walks along the edge of the road towards Vancouver, packsack on his back. It's evening, and the woods on each side appear golden in the setting sun. About four miles out, he notices what looks like a plum tree standing in a field on one side of the road. He jumps across a ditch, lopes over. Sure enough, dripping ripe blue plums, on the tree and scattered over the ground. He sits against the hard trunk, eats fruit and watches the sun go down behind the mountains. He clears a plum free space under the overhanging branches, making a pile to one side. He rolls out his sleeping bag and camps there, by the heap of plums.
2. At Megan's House a week later. A second conversation between Kyle and Megan
"I don't feel the same way about you, Kyle."
"What is it, Megan? Is it that I don't have a job?"
"That's part of it. But it was mostly that crying."
"I felt sad, I guess."
"I think there's something going on with you that I'd rather not get involved with."
"Well, you live in that sad little room, and you're so emotional. It's good when we touch, you know that it's good. But on the practical side, you don't seem to be taking charge of your life."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, I'm looking for someone who can lead. I'm not looking for someone to take care of. You seem very insecure."
"Why did you say you liked me so much before?"
"You were funny. You made me laugh. You took me to some fun places."
"I used all my money. And it was great. It was beautiful. The nights by the river were some of the best I've ever known."
"Yes. I will never forget them. But suddenly you became so serious."
"I wish I wasn't like that. It's something I have about beauty, about connection. It wasn't a sad thing."
"That's nice you're so sensitive. I still like you, Kyle. But not in that way. I mean, how could you ever be a teacher? The kids would eat you alive."
Kyle grinds his fist into his chin. "Maybe you're right," he whispers.
She looks at him in surprise. "Don't do that to yourself!" she says. "You're freaking me out!"
After Megan leaves, he looks at himself in the mirror. There's a big bruise growing where he pushed his fist against his jawbone. "There's something seriously wrong with me," he mutters to himself.
He hits his hand against his cheek again.
Kyle's lying motionless in his room when there's a knock at the door. It's Cody, the guitar player from next door.
"Hi, Kyle," Cody moves around a lot when he talks. In fact, he never seems to stop moving. "Say ," he says. " We've played a lot of music and hung out together. So, we know each other pretty well."
Kyle stares at the ceiling. "Yes, that's true."
"Well, I'm wondering if you could be of service."
"What sort of service do you mean?" Kyle asks.
Cody kicks his legs here and there, kind of dances in a small energetic circle. "Um, there's a marijuana grow operation that keeps a lot of cash on the premises."
"I've cased the joint. Done some investigations. I know when the owner's in."
Kyle sits up. "That means you know when he's not."
"You're a smart fellow. Strong, too. Didn't you say you trained in kung fu?" Cody makes a mock fist. "You could help me," Cody continues. "I need some muscle, just in case. Like, if the guy unexpectedly shows up. Don't think we'll have to do anything, but ... you can help me carry steaks for the guy's pit bulls." He laughs.
Kyle looks at Cody. He thinks about Megan.
"I don't know," he says. "That's very risky."
"It's worth half of what we find. There could be as much as three grand in cash on the premises."
A tear falls down Kyle's cheek.
"What's that?" says Cody
Kyle jumps up and pulls on his jacket. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
Cody steps closer. "We'll split the proceeds 50/50."
"I could use a grand or two," says Kyle.
Kyle lies back under the plum tree, in the comfort of his sleeping bag. His big backpack lies beside him. He watches the morning sun rise from across the new cut alfalfa field. There's dew soaking the top of his bag, but the moisture doesn't go through. Everything will dry soon, under the morning warmth. Kyle will stay and eat plums and read the books he carries with him until things in town settle, and it's time to go back into the world. He will not return to his single room occupancy hotel. A couple of people there know about Cody, and his investigations. Word will get around. Because he has to leave so suddenly, Kyle will never see Megan again. "It's better to make a clean break," he thinks.
On the bright side, he possesses fifteen hundred dollars cash. He will take an airplane tomorrow to the Alberta hiring fair. He's a trained and qualified teacher. There's no reason he should remain broke and live in tenements for the rest of his life. The only barriers that hold him back are feelings. He pushes his fists into his eyes and rubs hard. He stares up at the branches of the plum tree, and at the sky arching above. From now on, he will never let anyone walk all over him. He will not let the tears fall, ever again.
Article © Harrison Kim. All rights reserved.
Published on 2020-03-09
Image(s) are public domain.