Learning the lines

It’s too cold for them today. Only a few showed up in the park, their oversized parka hoods drooping down to eclipse their eyes. Just the mouths and nostrils show. Today I can’t tell who is who.

On the sidewalk, there are only three: huddled in a cluster in front of the convenience store, hands stuffed into ripped pockets. One is a wheelchair. He talks the most, his words puffing out a steady stream into the chill. Like the exhaust of the little red rusted car idling beside them, sputtering out smoke that lingers then dissipates. The other two say little. The tall, black-haired man pinches a cigarette between tattooed fingers. He nods and offers one-word agreement with everything the man in the wheelchair says. The other man looks anxiously at the ground and says, Well I don’t know, I don’t know.

Sometimes they recognize me. Not today.

Last week as I walked past the jewellery store the man in a white jacket called out to me, You walked down this street earlier. Then he showed me his chunky turquoise necklace. It’s a native design. But the string is fraying. His wide-open blue eyes looked at me purposefully, unblinking. See my forehead? I have no lines. I’m 58 and I have no lines. I looked and nodded. Then pulled back my fringe. I have lines. He said, That’s stress. You can’t have stress.

He’s not out on the sidewalk today. He’s probably in his room across the street. Three floors up with a view of the park. Smooth blue walls with a woven web in the window.

It’s starting to snow. Tomorrow will be warmer.

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