He hadn’t seen his childhood best friend, Denny, in over five years. They’d had an argument over a woman, which should have seemed crazy at the time, and was incomprehensible now. They both wanted this particular woman named Donna, whose qualities Dominic could not remember, and the boys took it upon themselves to decide who would win her, as if her opinion on the matter was irrelevant. Funny.
Then Dominic’s parents had the accident, and while the argument was forgotten, he’d had no time to rekindle the friendship.
So now he tracked down good old Denny to a residential hotel. The place was grim on the outside: dirty, needing repair, windows with cardboard-patched holes, and limp curtains hanging from detached rods.
Denny’s room, however, was surprisingly clean and bright, all things considered. It smelled of Pine Sol, and was tidy and uncluttered, with freshly washed dishes in a rack by the sink, and a vacuum cleaner propped up in the corner as if in a place of honour. Denny himself was a little thinner, a little hairier, with a wispy beard growing in and raggedy sideburns.
They caught up on old times. “Donna?” asked Dominic.
“Dumped me,” said Denny. “It must have been you all along.” They laughed.
“When did you decide to grow a beard?” Dominic asked.
“Three years ago,” said Denny, and they laughed again, then Denny asked, “Your parents?”
“Dad gone. Mom at home with me,” said Dominic.
“Rough,” said Denny.
“Sometimes,” said Dominic. He was a bit thirsty, and wondered if there was beer in the lightly stained, but obviously scrubbed, refrigerator. “Drugs?” he asked.
“Don’t mind if I do,” said Denny with a smile. “Oh, you mean do I do them now? Yeah, for awhile, trying to get clean again. For the second time. This place, the methadone, the social worker, even my last haircut— all courtesy of you and the rest of the hardworking, tax-paying public. Thanks, by the way.”
“No problem,” said Dominic. “You can pay be back.”
“Sure! I’ll give you access to my bank account.”
“I need about two hundred dollars,” said Dominic. “Like in a couple of days.”
“Urgent? Like the fries we wanted that day?”
“Exactly like that,” said Dominic. “That’s why I came to you.”
Denny was the best friend who never laughed at him, always took him seriously, was game for foolish adventure, and kept the shared, stupid, embarrassing secrets to himself; yet his moral compass was so fragile that he rarely tried to actually protect his friend.
“We could have had fries for weeks,” said Denny, “if you hadn’t jammed out.”
“I’m not jamming out today,” said Dominic. “I won’t knock on doors asking for quarters, but I’ll do what it takes.”
“Have you thought of giving blood?”
“I give blood every six months, since the accident, you know.”
“Oh.” Denny went to the fridge and took out two cans of Five Alive. Without asking, he opened them both and handed one to Dominic.
“Rob a bank?”
The Five Alive was barely cool, and only just drinkable. “I considered it,” said Dominic. “But I’d get caught, and who would look after my mother?”
“Ok,” said Denny. He went to the sink and poured the rest of the can down the drain. “Fucking shit,” he said. “I can’t even have a beer.”
“Sorry, must be hard. But good on you for trying.” It was such false sympathy, and the compliment so shallow, that when Denny laughed, Dominic joined in.
“I know someone,” said Denny. “Not a friend or anything, but I trust him, and he is always looking for, um, fresh new people like you.”
“No criminal record,” said Denny. “I’m just assuming…”
“Compensation is good, risk is high, but for a first offender the consequences aren’t that fierce.” Denny then washed his hands in the sink. “I’ll call him and set something up,” he said as he dried his hands. “Now— sorry man, but I have an appointment with a government official, much as I would like to talk about old times and all that.”
Another blatantly insincere sentiment expressed, but this time neither of them laughed.
They shook hands, and Dominic left, wondering if Denny even had an appointment, or simply was bored or irritated and not interested in spending time with the kid from his past. Denny tolerated this clean, inexperienced, clueless, sheltered, privileged young man whom he had once loved, but whom he thought, Dominic was certain, knew nothing about needing money, being afraid, or being desperate.
Denny was right of course. The need for two hundred dollars now, to spend on his mother, seemed petty, insignificant, selfish, indulgent, blindly naive, and foolish.
But he would get the money anyway.
- Image: The Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, one of the worst residential hotels in the city and accused of taking advantage of the poor, the homeless, and the physically- and mentally-challenged. Promises to enforce standards and take landlords to task have gone unfulfilled for years.