Community Man (short story)
6 minute read
By Larissa Thomas, © 2019
Chadwick Pick - known to some as Chaddy boy, known to others as “Ew, mom look at him!” - was a real community man. If you encountered Chadwick, you’d notice the constant lip-licking and misting of spittle when he talked. The distinct scent of Irish Springs soap competing with garlicky butt sweat. You might also notice that his lazy eye - or was it his good eye? - seemed to drift to the nearest breast. Or did it? Regardless, folks smiled and waved when they saw him. He was local, after all.
People living between Little India and the Beach Triangle thought of Chadwick as eccentric. Some claimed that he added an air of authenticity to an embarrassingly gentrified neighbourhood. The people who felt that way were usually white and middle-class and often made a show of taking part in the neighbourhood’s annual Festival of South Asia. They were also the same crowd that humoured Laurie the crosswalk crackwhore. Laurie had taken it upon herself to act as Gerrard and Coxwell’s crossing guard, even though she wasn’t qualified and had caused seventeen accidents to date.
It was a drizzly April Sunday and Chadwick was on a mission to spring clean his grease-spotted, fly-paper festooned apartment. His plan was to gift his not-so-gently used items to his favourite neighbourhood hotspots. He wanted to drum up some good will. “Share and share alike,” Chadwick enjoyed saying and spraying, as he donned his galoshes and hauled a canvas bag of old books to drop off at his local parish.
En route, he passed his favourite Little Free Library, a decked-out birdhouse designed to borrow books from. It looked a little lonely, so Chadwick placed two dog-eared V.C. Andrews’ incest thrillers he was sure someone else would enjoy (Lord knows, he did) between some Judy Blumes. The women at the church would have to make do with his Danielle Steele’s and leftover copies of his self-published time travel sex trilogy.
Chadwick made it inside the humble house of worship, greeted by Gladys, a hunched over neighbourhood fixture. She was shilling her signature knock-off Barbie toilet paper cozies for twenty-five dollars. Chadwick loudly lamented to Gladys that whoops, he’d left his wallet at home. He always had the worst luck . Regardless, Gladys happily took his tattered novels, her milky gaze lingering on several curious stains. She cleared out her lungs and thrust a container of cooked, breaded chicken into Chadwick’s hands as thanks. She patted him on the shoulder and told him not to starve.
Chadwick trotted home and devoured the re-homed meat with a swig of orange juice. A bit gamey, he thought but nothing a gratuitous helping of sriracha couldn’t take care of. He tossed the tupperware in his overflowing sink and set out with a bag of men’s sweaters for Frugal Fashionistas, the used clothing store.
He knew that the profits from his donation lined the pockets of the corporate swine at Walmart, but he chose to believe it’s what helped keep their prices so low. He was part of the fabric of the Canadian economy, even if he was just giving back the items he had stolen from them earlier in the year.
Sally-Anne, the Frugal Fashionistas steam ambassador, scratched at a goatee of toothpaste drool as she stared out at the streets, longing for freedom. Chadwick disrupted her reverie with his garbage bag of clothing. Sally-Anne took his mite-eaten cardigans and pullovers and waited for him to leave so that she could toss them out, sight unseen. But he waited for her to unpack every garment, smiling from hairy mole to hairy mole.
“Anything else?” Sally-Anne wearily asked. He shook his head and rested his chin on braided fingers, watching her. She made a show of pumping the steamer, hoping he’d go away. It spurted lukewarm liquid all over the wall, then wheezed. She muttered to herself and unloaded Chadwick’s last season’s wardrobe.
“Fascinating process,” he murmured.
Sally-Anne exhaled a deep, minty sigh. After giving Chadwick’s clothes a once over and a not-so-subtle sniff, she put them on hangers to go out. Sally-Anne didn’t deal well with crisis situations.
Chadwick tipped his blood-stained Bluejays cap to her and skipped home to retrieve a pile of decorative pillows for the last stop on his feel-good tour. The pillows were for the café down the street which featured well-worn couches, red walls with mustard crown moulding, local artists’ impasto impressions of sunflowers, and Picasso-styled portraits of Frida Kahlo.
The Purple Palomino was full of people sipping from quirky pottery that wasn’t actually safe to drink out of. The cafe sold fresh coffee and sort-of fresh muffins and croissants out in the open - even during flu season. It was cute, Chadwick thought, smiling and coughing over the various offerings.
“Brought you some pillows,” Chadwick smiled, his lip catching on a piece of poultry that had been wedged up in his gums for the past hour.
The barista grinned and shook her head excitedly, knocking loose lint from her beanie into the ice bucket.
An older gentleman, napping on a loveseat, gratefully accepted one of Chadwick’s faux fur pillows and commented on how stiff his back was. A woman cradling her bichon like a baby reluctantly accepted Chadwick’s sweat-stained gift. After watching her adjust the dog around her imposing bosom to make room for the pillow, Chadwick asked if she was nursing.
The woman didn’t like that so much and reached for her scalding hot chai latte. Chaddy darted for the door to avoid getting parboiled, and tossed the remaining knit and velvet pillows at a twenty-something couple disagreeing over whether or not it was ok to call yourself African American if you recently discovered you’re 2% Congolese on Ancestry.com.
Chadwick mentally patted himself on the back for his heroic acts of charity and walked back to his apartment, smiling at Laurie the crosswalk crackwhore as she punted the neighborhood drunk little person into traffic.
Chadwick’s digs overlooked a daycare, and as he sauntered up the street, he observed a blonde creature pressing her nostrils against the window. She blew so hard it sent her tumbling backward. As Chadwick looked at the mucus wad on the glass, he wondered if the daycare could use any blankets.
Chadwick did one last spring clean recon for blankets and emerged from his apartment carrying a pile of old bedding. Just as he stepped into the street, the exterminator got out of a rusty truck with his equipment. The man, annoyed, relayed to Chadwick that all fabrics needed to be heat-treated, bagged and sealed in order to prevent spread of his bed bug infestation. Chadwick nodded and let him know that anything he intended to keep had been laundered and bagged up. And anything else, well, that had beengotten rid of. He winked at the pest control worker and tossed him his spare pair of keys.
The man watched Chadwick weave through oncoming traffic with his untreated, uncovered linens. He shook his head in disbelief but was appreciative that he’d likely have more work in ten days and made a mental note to put up a flyer outside of the daycare.
Once Chadwick had made it across the street, he doubled over on the sidewalk. Gladys’ breaded meat was having unexpected effects on his stomach. He blew chunks all over the pavement and blankets in front of the toddler grotto. Several children peered at him in disgusted enchantment. He paid them no mind, his thoughts elsewhere.
He groaned at the realization that the old bitty, Gladys, had given him food poisoning. And as he emptied his guts of rancid flesh and orange Tang, he wondered if she did it on purpose or was just a fucking idiot.