Wednesday, July 8, 2009

When Life Costs A Quarter

It's only a piece of paper.

It's a piece of orange paper with a phone number on it. It might not even be him. It could be anyone, right?

Clutching my quarter, I left the white brick apartment building and walked down the worn grey sidewalk. I turned the idea around in my head, my heart thudding in my chest.

What are the chances? One picture. Some guy saw one picture in a cheesy florescent-lit dispatcher's office at some lousy money pit of a taxi company. How could a stranger know? Looking at an old picture of a kid that doesn't even look like me anymore? It's practically impossible.

Maybe possible. Maybe I look really distinguishable. It could be him, right? Thousands of things like this happen every day.

Wait a minute. Why am I getting my hopes up so high? I've been waiting fifteen years for this day, and it's my luck that its the wrong number. How could anyone now from a picture anyway??

Struggling with my own feelings, I brought the quarter up to my face. It was a nineteen-eighty-five quarter. I could smell the tangy metal smell. The antlers on the caribou were worn off. I turned it over in my hand and rubbed the raised head of Queen Elizabeth the Second herself with my thumb. The quarter was dirty. I put it back in my pocket.

I stopped halfway down the street and leaned on a big maple tree. The August air was thick and humid. Maybe it will rain soon. It was supposed to rain four days ago but I'm glad that it didn't. It was a beautiful day for the drive to Toronto and the trek through the CNE. I'd even picked up a cool pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I'd lost the year before. The drive back was nice too. Clear and sunny. There was a beautiful sunset when we stopped at that Italian place for dinner and, of course, it was topped off with a cake and fifteen candles. One more year until Sweet Sixteen.

I examined my shoes and chewed on my lower lip. Should I bother? Could everything SHE said be true?

I kicked at the raised edge of the sidewalk. I wonder if you could sue the city if you tripped over these things. It could be dangerous. You could break a toe or something. I broke my baby toe once. My babysitter put my shoes on the wrong feet. I also broke my collarbone once, falling off a Fisher-Price slide.

My palms began to sweat in the heat. I looked down and saw that the number on that orange piece of paper had transferred itself to my hand. If this doesn't turn out the way that I'm hoping, it will be my tattoo of rejection.

I bent down to tie my shoelaces. Stupid laces. Tie them in double knots and they still come undone. I wish Velcro shoes were fashionable. Well, maybe I do.

I turned and walked further up the road, and came to the corner of East Main Street and Lyons. I can see the phone booth from here. My fingers began to tremble and there were butterflies in my stomach. I wish I was calmer.

I looked up at the sky. It was darkening as clouds shifted to block out the sun. There are lots of cars on East Main Street today. Sunday's aren't usually this busy. I guess people wanted to enjoy what had been a beautiful day. Waiting for the light to turn green, I thought everyone back at the apartment were probably wondering what is taking me so long.

The light turned, I crossed.

The phone booth is about ten steps away now. It's right in front of the corner store. I am not ready. I need some chocolate. Do you ever notice that when you're stressed out you make a bee-line for sugary courage? I sauntered down the aisles and took in the sights. Peanut butter cups, sour candies, corn chips ... OH! Swedish Berries! I used to eat those when I was a kid. Get a hundred for a dollar. I purchased some rosebuds and I left. Two steps from the phone booth and counting.

While the sweet happiness melted on my tongue, I took the warm, dirty, worn quarter from my pocket and pondered one last time. When it slid into the slot with a satisfying click, the first heavy drops of rain fell from the sky. With a quivering hand I punched in the phone number.

"Hello?" I said. "This? Is your daughter."

That was the end of the the beginning of my life.

DAG (circa 1998)

No comments: