10. Waiting for the customer

Jesse shook his head, and watched the kid as he wheeled out of sight, doing 70 at a bare minimum. 

He’d never seriously taken up the hobby, growing up 50 kilometres from the nearest skate park and 8 kilometres from the nearest paved road. He’d cadged an old beater of a board from a school friend, during that magical period when his mother was too fucked up to home-school and Rhonda refused to do all that and do all the exterior work, plus chickens, plus goats, plus riding, feeding, doctoring, mucking out and training horses. 

Working furiously on his chores so he could steal a few minutes away, he’d tried to set up a few minis. He worked his way up to a half-pipe, with Raven hammering nails alongside him with glee.

His mother, on one of her rare, and thus infuriating, forays out of the house and past the yard, had found boards missing and torched his two tiny ramps. He remembered Raven had shown more anger. Jesse knew it was safer for her to let it out, and he didn’t mind. 

All the parts that cared were going to die, anyway, or so he thought at the time; it’s easy when you’re twelve and your mother hates you (and every other man living), and your sister and co-mom are too intimidated by her cruelty, rage and spite to protect you. Nor had he grown ten centimetres and put on fifty pounds and lost all his wiry boyishness, and Ma sure as shit had not enjoyed him morphing into his father in front of her. Thinking of that made him smile, but it was not a happy one.

From his adult perspective, on a street a thousand metres above sea level, death was neither convenient nor romantic. He was lucky to be alive. He was lucky to be looking across Vancouver, ‘that breath-taking panorama of never-ending beauty and charm’, at least according to the most recent listing for the client’s house, which George had looked up on his phone.  “Oooh,” he had said, like a kid finding a double sawbuck in the upholstery. “A Zen garden. And there’s a hot tub.”

“I really don’t think I’ll get to soak in it after we load the truck,” Jesse had replied. “Isn’t calling it a Zen garden bigoted, unless it’s located where people are practicing Zen? Otherwise it’s a Japanese-style garden, but I guess the word Zen is worth money or it wouldn’t have been in the ad.”

The client sounded difficult, suspicious, fragile and frightened; Jesse had wanted to bail within seconds of hearing George’s description. Then he recognized his error.  If they were helping people leave abusive landlords, lovers and family, the only means test was, “Can you raise a thousand dollars cash?”

She was rich, and had not been in Canada long enough to get used to it. Her toddler had been born here, but citizenship didn’t mean much to the global super-rich. She’d lived a previous life as a magnate’s daughter in China  — another fact gleaned by George from the internet — but those were not reasons to turn down the job.  Rich women get knocked around by their husbands, and sometimes by their wives. She could be rich, and yet so isolated that hiring two gwai lo rounders had been her only option, when she needed to bug out.

George, with the prescience that Jesse was starting to find far too coincidental, had doubled their fee over the phone. She was to give him another thousand on completion.

The customer still had not called or texted. 

There was time to think. It was easy to frame the lesson he had taken from those crushing years before Raven rescued him.

In this culture you could not be a man until every soft feeling in you was dead and every hard feeling was yoked to the success of capitalism. 

Raven said, “Harsh!” but he didn’t hear an argument.

After they applied to become emancipated minors and fled to Vancouver, Raven said it wasn’t right to confuse his mother with capitalism; Jesse told her it made perfect sense. “Why not use second wave feminists to reinforce strict gender roles? Isn’t that what capitalism wants them to do, if it can’t shut them up or kill them? When they get older they are just as angry but way more tired, and they have all the prejudices of the generation, and hate it when you point it out.”

Around the last time his mother had gotten really sick, he’d told Raven he wanted to die.  Not to commit suicide, which still seemed foreign and messy, somehow. Just to disappear, never to awaken.

The kid on the skateboard was long since out of sight.

“If he comes off, he’s gonna have a really bad time,” Jesse said.

They waited in silence for George’s phone to ring.