How can you tell me I’m all right?


Jane Silcott reflects on the boundaries between her and a homeless man @ Geist.
The man on the street was wear ing a Hawaiian shirt: white back ground, red flow ers. He was yelling at a man and woman who were pass ing in front of the door I’d just stepped out of. The cou ple looked sleek and clean. They wore dark tai lored coats, and the woman’s hair swung as she turned quickly to look back at the man and then for ward again at her mate, who was hur ry ing along beside her. I couldn’t catch what they were say ing. I had just stepped into the street myself, so their pass ing was more of an impres sion than a scene. The yelling man’s words were clear: “Fucking yup pies,” he yelled. “Fucking fuck.” He turned and walked in the direc tion I had to go, mut ter ing to him self. He was far enough ahead that if I walked slowly I might not catch up to him, but if I stayed on that street, I knew that meet ing him would be inevitable — as if there were a string, long and slightly elas tic, pulling me into his orbit. I had just come out of the Shebeen, a tiny pub in Gastown, where I had attended a friend’s lit er ary book launch. (Elegant words, friendly com pany. Add alco hol and stir.) I’d given a lit tle speech at the launch, which had made me exces sively ner vous, so I’d gulped at my beer after ward as if it were oint ment that could set tle inflamed thoughts, cre ate ease, turn me into a per son I will never be. It didn’t work exactly, but there on the street, even though it was Vancouver’s infa mous Downtown Eastside, and it was night, and many peo ple I knew thought of it as a place of such dark ness that once one entered, one might never get out again, I felt com fort able. I’d had the beer, and I’d spent enough time there in day light to know that the dan gers, if any, were more inside me than out, and that these were more likely to threaten me in other set tings. Still, it was night. I’m a woman. The street was dark, and my mind was full of its usual more