“What’s your favourite colour?” he asked my daughter.
“Blue,” she said.
He came back with a blue paper butterfly magnet.
“Can you say thank you?” I said.
“Now don’t mess it up by breaking anything,” I joked. I was glad the store owner laughed. I figured he would get that I was joking, but I didn’t know how nervous he was having a three year-old walking freely in his store. It was a fairly relaxed environment, considering the pricey merchandise. He and his partner (business, at least, but I assume life partner as well) allowed their two dogs to roam in between the antique furniture. But it was still not a great place to bring kids since an indiscriminate move by my daughter could mean a month’s rent.
I wanted to visit the store to look at Chinese furniture with hidden drawers. It’s for a scene in the novel I’ve been working on for six years (I’ve literally written a page). I thought I’d risk bringing the kids in. The boy’s strapped in a stroller, but my daughter roams free. She’s very well behaved, but I didn’t know how the store owners would react. One seemed thrilled to have us there and even showed me some of the pieces.
“We have some better examples coming in April. You can get the idea with this cabinet.” He opened the door and pointed to the floor inside. “Originally this would have had a trap door, but someone just added drawers to the outside. The idea was that the owner could hide something of value in there in case of a break in. But everyone would have known to look for the hidden drawers anyway so I don’t know how effective they would be.”
I thanked them for their help and we walked out of the store. The Chinese furniture store is, appropriately, in Chinatown, though it’s run by two white men. Chinatown officially starts south of Hastings and west of Jackson, but neighbourhoods are rarely so defined. As we walked north on Columbia toward Hastings I was shaken out of the fine surroundings of the antique store by an alley full of people each taking up their own little space. One woman seemed to be pulling her pants up for reasons I can only imagine. My best guess is that she was looking for a vein that hadn’t collapsed yet.
I remember walking down that alley several years ago when getting a tour of the area. Needles littered the ground along with little blue plastic container that used to have sterile water for mixing with heroin (I think).
Not everyone chooses alleys to use. Some shoot up in their homes, others don’t seem to mind being on the sidewalk of a busy street, and others use the first safe injection site in North America. But this particular alley had the most concentrated drug use I’d seen since moving here two months ago. Strange that even though those who chose to use there didn’t really bother to hide themselves. The alley’s kind of like a hidden drawer everyone knows is there.
I kept walking, hoping my daughter wouldn’t ask “what’s that lady doing?”—something she asks several times a day. As we crossed Hastings, a woman yelled at me, “You shouldn’t bring kids down here!”