In the winter, Gastown is in its element. Golden streetlights and twinkling Christmas lights glitter everywhere, reflected in a hundred shining surfaces. Lattes in hand, shoppers clatter and splash down the cobblestone sidewalks, peering in at displays of expensive soaps and functional cashmere. Nearly invisible, men and women huddle in damp doorways and over vents, camouflaged under sheets of cardboard or ragged grey-brown coats.
Michael is taking a quick coffee break when he spots the display of ornaments. He sees it at once in the second row. A delicate glass teardrop, deep blue. It’s identical to the one he broke when he was four. He remembers the whole event vividly—the smooth feel of the glass in his small hand, the care with which he unhooked it from the tree and tucked it under his pillow, the horror of finding it shattered in the morning. He remembers the look of the pieces, their silver innards exposed, and the way the insides of the curves had clung to his thumb. He remembers his mother carefully sweeping up the pieces, and trying not to show that she was sad.
And here it is again, intact—but she is not. How he would have liked to buy it for her, more than 50 years after breaking it, and to hang it carefully back on the tree.
He has just decided to go into the shop when a sudden voice jolts him from his reverie. “Excuse me, sir, can I ask you a polite question?”
The woman is short and slight. Perhaps 35, she looks prematurely old, her skinny arms shaking slightly. Her startlingly blue eyes peer up out of deep, hollow sockets. He thinks at first that she is going to ask for directions, or that she has recognized him from somewhere. But when she launches into a somewhat disorganized monologue about how she just needs $25 to buy her bus ticket back to Montreal, where her family is expecting her, he remembers that he has heard parts of this story before, different versions. She is one of the regular crew of women who haunt the area around Cordova and Carrall. He even remembers her name: Maribelle. Clearly, she does not remember him at all.
He mumbles something apologetic about not having any cash on him and slips into the refuge of the shop. The interior is dim and smells of incense. The elderly proprietor is dressed in a rather absurd velvet robe and hat, and Michael wonders fleetingly if he has delusions of being a wizard. The ornament costs $25 plus tax. Michael is reaching for his wallet when he hears a screech of brakes outside, and a cry.
He knows before he looks who has slipped underneath the tires. He has the heavy feeling that if it wasn’t a car, it would have been something else. Disease, hypothermia, Fentanyl. But someone will miss those piercing eyes. Half a block away, a small choir has begun singing Christmas carols, and a group of friends is toasting a recent engagement at a sleek mahogany bar. On Water Street, the twinkling bulbs are reflected in the pools of black water in the gutters. The splash of tires sends them cascading upward in a million tiny crystals of light.