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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Fiction about belonging

Driving Home
Bonnie Nish

The taxi driver didn’t understand where I wanted him to go.
"It’s on the east side. An old brown building with a high fence where my mother got impregnated." That was all I could tell him. That was all I was ever told about my conception and my mother’s subsequent fall from grace with her middle class pretentious family.

"Look," the driver turned his head before we started to move. "I can drive around all day with this meter running and charging you and I could become a millionaire but it just ain’t right to stiff you like that. I need to know something more."

I felt for him. He must have had a million losers like me by this time of the day. But I knew where I wanted to go and I wasn’t going to give up. I had only this one chance to see the place I had heard about so often as my mother dragged me from one rooming house to another to avoid bill collectors. That was how we ended up on the East Coast. Just one gradual escape job right across the country. But I was here now in Vancouver and I was damned if I was going to lose the opportunity.

"Ok. Let’s see. She said it was on the east side."
"That takes up a lot of territory."
We weren’t getting any closer.
"Look," he said. "I’ll start driving and you start talking and maybe somewhere in-between something will come up that takes us where we want to go. But if after an hour you haven’t figured it out I have to let you out. It ain’t right after that."
"Fair enough." I told him grateful that I had lucked out with this guy. But now I had the dilemma of where to actually start with my story. I had just expected to get in a cab and be driven to that miraculous spot. Ok, not really, but one hopes.
"What do you want to know?" I thought maybe he would have a clue.
"So what brings you to our great city, besides looking for the spot your mother got laid likely for the first time?"
"I’m on a book tour."
I hated telling people that. It sounded so..I don’t know pretentious like the relatives I had never met.
"What’s it about?"He actually sounded interested.
"Oh you know, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy turns gay. Boy’s mother ends up in detox and boy becomes rich to save her only to find she doesn’t want a queer son near her."
"Ok so your mother was an alchy. What was she doing on the east side of town? Did she live here."
"She was seventeen and had a boyfriend her parents hated. He was from the east side. She lived on the west side of town. They met at a party and fell in love, only when she got pregnant he decided it wasn’t love and her parents decided she wasn’t theirs. So we ended up on the east side. For a while anyway. When she couldn’t keep it going with me we moved to Calgary."
"That where you grew up?"
"That and Edmonton and Regina and Toronto and Federicton. Toronto’s home though now. I’ve been there for a while. I even have a house I bought a few years ago"
" And your mom. Still alive?"
"She died last year. Liver gave out. Slowly at first and then bang gone."
"Sorry man." He sounded sad. "I lost my old lady a year ago. It’s hard."
He was right.
"So that is it? You are a writer who lost his alcholic mom?"
"I guess."
"So what happened to the girl?"
"The girl? Sorry what girl?"
"Come on there always has to be a girl."

I looked out the window to realize that we had driven down this street five minutes ago. I was beginning to wonder if maybe he wasn’t stiffing me anyway.
"The girl was named Bessy and that is no lie. She was sweet. We lived together for two years. Then one day she just couldn’t do it any more. I was too inside my head I guess. I got up and she was gone."
" Is that how it happened in the book?"
"No. In the book it is more interesting and topical. I lead a boring life."
"Now come on anyone who drives around like you are is not boring. So are you?"
"What? Am I what?" I wasn’t sure what he was asking.
"Gay? Trying to come out? Like the guy in the book."
" Oh no. Although sometimes I think it would be easier."
"So why this fascination with the east side and finding where your mom was knocked up. You going to write about it someday?" He was beginning to change his tone. Not sounding so rough around the edges and I found it harder to concentrate on my task at hand as I was beginning to become more interested in him.
"No I just need to get this out of my system. Let it go. She never could so one of us has to. Otherwise how can I go on to anything else?"
"So what was it like moving all those times kid?"
"Oh you know, when you are a kid it doesn’t really hit you until you are older and you realize that other people don’t move around the same way you do."
" How old were you when you and your mom finally settled down?"
"We didn’t."

He looked surprised. I continued." No we just kept moving. Sometimes she would change our names so that the collectors couldn’t find us. I thought that was so cool. I would go to school as Matt one day and then the next I would be at a new school in a new town and I would be Doug. By the time I was ten I had so many names that sometimes I couldn’t remember who I was. Then it wasn’t cool anymore."
"And your mom? Did she change her name? "
"As often as she changed the colour of her hair." I laughed remembering how she would come into the living room, hair up in a towel every Friday night, a sign that when I woke up the next morning she would have an ever so slight change of colour. When it was drastic like blond to brown or pink, it was a bad sign and I knew to expect to have to pack up and leave.

We were at a red light and I couldn’t help myself but to look at the picture on the back of the seat to try and get a better look at his guy. His name according to the taxi company anyway, was Joseph Bretch. Somehow I didn’t believe it. I had learnt never to trust what people say their names are especially to institutes. Even. I use an alias when I write. We started moving again and talking.
"So how did your mom support you?"
"You know odd jobs, She was only seventeen when she had me so she hadn’t even finished high school. She waitressed mainly. A lot of bars. That’s how the drinking started I guess. I was home alone a lot at night, especially on the weekends. She took day shifts during the week to be home with me but the weekends were the big tippers and she couldn’t turn those down. Not that it mattered much. We could never pay all the bills anyway."
" But you managed ok to get through it. How’d you do that?"
"I have a great imagination. I imagined I was with a great big family. Lots of brothers and sisters to bug me. I was a loner though. Stayed away from most people. That way I didn’t have to worry about them finding out who we really were or how we really lived. It kept me out of trouble for the most part. Didn’t get into bad stuff and I read a lot and started writing. It kept me company when she was gone."
"When did her drinking get really bad? Lots of men friends?"
"No she wasn’t like that. She really cared about what happened to me. Just never could quite get it together to make ends meet and I guess didn’t really know how to change things. I think she started dinking more gradually over the years to try to escape the fact that she felt like a failure."
" And your old man? What happened to him?"
"I don’t know. But sometimes I got the feeling he was around. Just a sixth sense kind of thing."

Suddenly it caught my eye like the streak of shooting star. If you aren’t fast enough it will be gone forever. "Hey man, stop." I yelled almost right into his ear. He stopped at the curb and I jumped out. There it was just as I always imagined. An old brown building with a tall fence. I just knew this had to be the place.
"Hey man, what’s going on?" He followed me to the curb.
"This is it. I know it. I can feel it."
"I don’t know man. There are a lot of buildings around town like this one. It could be anywhere."
"But this one has a date on the front. She said it had a date at the top. ‘Built 1906.’ See right there like she said. It is just like it was in the photograph in my mind."

I pulled the disposal camera from my pocket and started shooting pictures. The cab driver, Joe as I had begun to call him to myself, watched as though I was nuts.
"Would you take a picture of me in front of it?"
He looked at me like I was losing it.
"Ok. Sure." He took the camera from me slowly like he might be afraid I could grab him and start to hit him.
I hadn’t felt this good in years. I could have kissed him on the check right then and there when he handed me back the camera but thought better of it. He looked a bit like a cleaned up Hell’s Angel and I didn’t want to find out how cleaned up he was.
"Hey the meters still running. What now."

What now? That was a good question. What now. I had heard about this place all my life. The place where my mother fell in love, lost her virginity and had me, the one thing that she said that kept her going. She told me that I was her reminder everyday that life was worth the struggle. However she could never get over the fact that it was just a bit too much of a struggle and her guilt that it couldn’t be better, drove her further inside herself until it eventually killed her. But she did keep going and she never lost me. Despite our nomadic life and her gradual decline into the bottle, she always managed to keep it going enough for me. And I loved her for it. What next? I pulled out my wallet.
"Here," I said handing Joe a hundred dollar bill.
He looked stunned." Keep the change," I told him. "I’m going to walk."

He smiled and I nodded as he pulled away. I sat on the curb across the street to take it all in, knowing it didn’t really matter if this was the exact building or not. This is where it all began. Where my mother fell in love and never fully recovered from it. Where I was conceived in love. Where for the first time in my life I felt at home and finally I knew I could move on.
© Bonnie Nish April 2004

Bonnie is a Vancouver Writer and Poet

A Poetic Nightmare

San Francisco 1906

Dreamscapes Fiction Library


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