BY JODY GUCH
Copyright is held by the author.
JACK WAS always just good enough. Until he wasn’t. He’d had a good job at one time and lost it and his family to someone’s whim. He missed his little girl the most, but there was no way he would ever see her again. Jack had wandered around stopping once in a while to try and ease into normal life. But it never really worked out.
Spring turned into summer, with hot pavements and stale, slightly on the edge food. Jack, like most on the streets, had trouble finding clean water and safe places. His buddies slowly faded out, some heading into the cooler parks, some just gone. With the tourists in the city he might have some luck scrounging a bit more of a living, at least he hoped so. Instead, Jack became invisible and diminished. He didn’t give up, so much as gave out. One day, Jack just couldn’t be bothered to raise the energy to stand. People passed on by, until one set of shoes stood still. He heard the ping of a phone and some words he couldn’t understand. A quiet voice squatted beside him and told him help was coming.
Now a few months later Jack had gained some weight but not hope. He was bothered by the routine and rules of the shelter. It seemed like it was more what not to do, than what he could do. There were more people here than he was comfortable with. Jack didn’t hang out much with the others. In the yard he liked to hang by himself and try to keep out of the way. The other guys usually just ignored him. Loneliness seemed to dog his shadow, no one ever really looked at him.
Every weekend he and the other guys and gals were loaded into a van and taken up to the trail head north of the city for a half day out. It was a nice reprieve to be able to walk the trails and leave the stink of the home behind.
Susie, at eight years, old radiated cute. She had parents who worked often. Susie’s older brothers either teased her or ditched her for their friends. When she was four Susie had fallen from her bike and hit her head. Everything healed okay except she didn’t speak much now. The kids at school and even her brothers tried to get her to talk, and sometimes the trying looked an awful lot like bullying.
Once a month, the family made time to go to her favourite place. Mom packed lunch and the boys took their mitts and ball. Susie placed her blanket and her teddy Max in her wee packsack. She looked forward to the forest and the quiet. Susie just hoped her brothers and their friends left her alone.
Today, though the weather played happy, Jack was unsure, something itched between his shoulders. The crowd took off, running back to the van. Jack stood. He could hear something on the very edge of his senses. There it was, a little high pitched scream. The others in his group were calling him back to the van. But, he couldn’t go back, he had to follow that wail. Now he could hear other raised voices. He felt himself pulled forward and started to run.
He rounded the bend to the picnic area. Over on the far side parents were setting up food, talking and ignoring the scene in the middle of the grass play area. A young girl raced back and forth between bigger boys. She was crying and screaming at them to give back her stuffed toy. No matter how hard she tried they always threw it before she could grab it.
“Come on, Susie say please!”
“Just say something, you dumb little twerp.”
“Hey, cat got your tongue?”
Jack lost it. He sprinted over and grabbed the toy in midair and turned to Susie. Jack looked into Susie’s eyes and it was love at first blink. He gave her cheek a careful kiss and turned to the boys. He knew he was going to break every rule that the Shelter drilled into him. Little as he was Jack stood his ground and challenged the first kid to step forward. He could feel his whole body ready itself for a fight. Susie leaned against Jack and yelled, “Leave us alone, you jerks.”
Now there were big people there as well. Jack backed up, scared but not willing to let the girl out of his sight. The girl looked over and Jack knew nothing good could come of it. He started to turn away but, Susie threw her arms around him.
“Susie step away from him. He could be dangerous.”
“No Dad. The boys were being mean and this little guy helped me. I think we should take him with us.”
The man and his woman looked stunned. Their little girl was talking and standing up for herself.
“Dad, let’s take him home.”
Susie’s Mom knelt down on the ground and held out her hand, “Come here, boy. You look like a terrier. We’ll call you Jack.”