Second Hand Roses

by | Oct 11, 2022 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Nine

Early nineties, dumpster diving. The blackberry back alleys of Vancouver’s gay west village have the best loot. At first we climb up and lean in, poking around with a stick. After a few killer hauls, we wade in hip deep. We find anything and everything: cupcakes, diaries, artsy scarves, Hendrix cassettes, and porn galore. Margo and Marcelo take anything I don’t, hawk it in Watertown or at Stanley Park on an old blanket. They don’t wrestle me for whatever catches my eye, because I am choosey and leave most of the spoils to them. They are old hippies and show me the ropes, but other than that we go our own way.

Malcolm trails after us on occasion, but doesn’t partake of the spelunking. He is well dressed and prissy, wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less than Versace or Gucci. But he’s lonely and he finds us amusing. He needs friends willing to keep him company while he inhales cocaine. He likes poppers, too. Before the clubs open, he’s got nowhere to go.

He stands apart in his careful ensemble, loafers as shiny as his gorgeous brown visage in the stimulant afterglow. He calls us urban foragers. He wants to write a book about us one day.

We aren’t that interesting, I tell him.

One day I find a garish little cocktail clutch, a tropical fruit punch number, lime green and melon, Miu Miu or something. I give it to him. He is pleased, even though he makes a show of holding it at arm’s length until we find a clean bundle of plastic wrap a few bins over, to transport it to the dry cleaners.

Sometimes Garry comes along. Neither of us know it yet, but he’s the only friend I make here that I will keep forever. He is very shy. He teaches me about Leonard Cohen and e.e .cummings and Frank O’Hara. He is skinny and sweet and orange. He takes photos of the weirdest junk we find and of broken things along the way, then displays them in glossy steel frames in seafood bistros and espresso cafes along Davie Street. He is a decade past me, and has been to 21 countries with his camera. I think he is brave and beautiful. He has a toothy smile and hair the colour of cinnamon pancakes.

Eventually I get a job at a trendy pizza joint that is open late and plays Blackbox and Jamiroquai. The bestselling pie is piled high in feta cheese and black olives, but there is one that Garry and Malcolm both adore, vegetarian, a quilt of chillis with barbecue sauce and pineapples. When I finish my shift, we all walk down to English Bay and share a pizza and pass around a bottle, watching the ocean in perfect silence until Malcolm starts that high pitched giggle. He taps a mound of white powder onto his fist, puts it to his nose, then tosses his head back. We stand up, make our way to Numbers at the top of the hill. The synthetic beats of C and C Music Factory beckon.

We’re always the last stragglers, swept into the streets with the brooms. I like to wait until the flood of lights, nab tin foil packets and loose change from the sticky floor. Usually I’ll head back down the hill. I prefer sleeping on the beach to the floor of the pogey motel on Cambie, where I crash with the hippies and junkies. Some nights, Malcolm and Garry both join me at the water, watching the waves in an encore performance, until I am asleep.

Malcolm is the only one of us with someone waiting for him, and he doesn’t want to go there because the man is forty years older and does perverted things.

Garry is drunk and weepy tonight, reminiscing about his late boyfriend: AIDS. He hoists his camera, clicking to capture night revellers who look like Patti Smith. We are all scavengers, really. Garry’s lens, snapping condom wrappers floating in puddles, and gutters filled with cigarette butts after late night rain.

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