Go away dog, you can’t have my baby

The great big dog came down the meadow
Wagged his tail and shook the meadow
Go away dog, go away dog
You can’t have my baby

I have just arrived at the library for the handoff from my wife. There are two programs on Thursdays at the Strathcona branch, one for my three year old daughter followed by one for babies (my son is 10 months old). My daughter is doing the same motions for her doll as the mothers are doing for their babies. Our 9 year-old neighbour, M, is there, too. She’s homeschooled and something fell through so she came with my kids to the library.

I’m sure most of the parents are from Strathcona, which is an entirely gentrified neighbourhood just a couple blocks from our house, south of Hastings Street. There is apparently a stigma that goes with those living north of Hastings. I wonder if I am the only one taken aback by the lyrics of the lullaby we had just learned. I generally like edgier stories and I love that my daughter’s three favourite things right now seem to be dragons, gargoyles, and Wild Things. The other parents also seem to like the song.

On the other hand, I doubt the other parents have walks home like me. After my wife leaves, we finish the story time and get ready for our walk. M walks with my daughter and I pushed my son in the stroller. As soon as we cross Hastings we hear shouting. An old woman yells, “Who do you think you are?! Don’t mess with me!”

We have the option of going straight or turning toward the commotion along Hastings so of course we walk straight to Cordova street. The woman makes some sort of motion toward us and I tried my best to ignore it.

As we walk I imagined what I might do if she makes any moves toward my kids. I actually wonder what might happen if I hit her for coming near them. She seemed frail from illness or drugs or both, but I feel I just needed the excuse. I am a pacifist by ideology, but I don’t think I could keep myself from pummelling someone for approaching my children even if there were a better way of solving the situation.

We continue walking down the street and come closer to our house, but it also means going by a street corner regularly occupied by working prostitutes. A taxi slows down and a skimpily dressed girl hops in the front seat. The taxi doesn’t move until we pass–the woman perhaps negotiating with the cab driver. I wonder to myself who is the patron and who is the client in that situation. I still don’t know.

We walk by a group home for at-risk, chronically homeless women. Because of its harm reduction philosophy, it could also be considered a legal brothel. We have witnessed many men walk in with the residents and the idea is that at least the women are in their home and not the home or car of the john, where they would be more vulnerable. I assume that the woman who got into the taxi is a resident and wonder how often women perform a trick away from their rooms.

“Her eyes are so blue!” One of the residents of the group home is sitting on the stairs with a man. She is talking about my daughter, whose eyes appear royal blue in the sunlight. I have only seen bluer eyes in touched-up photos in magazines. My eyes are brown.

“Does your wife have blue eyes?” the man asks.

“Yes, she does.” I smile back. I have no reason not to be friendly to these people. I know their lives are complicated and it would go against my own ideology not to treat them with dignity and respect. But I am aware of M and don’t know how comfortable she feels talking to them. We keep walking and cross the street towards our house.

As we approach the path to our front door a man passes by speaking very loudly to himself: ” ‘I can’t go to the lake, it costs money,’ she says. Well how much do you cost?’ I should ask her.”

I think of the movie “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” which was filmed not too far from here, but 40 years ago. McCabe speaks to himself, too, saying, “If just one time you could be sweet without money to it… I got poetry in me!”

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About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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