From Chalk, winner of the 38th Annual International 3-Day Novel Contest. Published by Anvil Press in 2016. Diaczuk is a writer and journalist. He lives in Thunder Bay.
You spend your nights driving around the city, parking in front of homeless shelters and soup kitchens, smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk and offering ones to the men and women who ask politely. You hang around men’s rooms at bus stations and watch fifteen-minute segments of TV shows on the coin-fed sets attached to armrests. You leave messages for L in chalk on sidewalks and on buildings. You tell her to go home and that her mother misses her. You tell her that you’re all right and that the best thing that ever could have happened to you has finally happened. You brush the dust from your hands on your pants and think that she’s probably not even in the city anymore, and every time you think it your heart breaks a little. You never really knew what your intentions were and why you wanted to leave. It might have been the same reason that L gave her foster parents, maybe you’re just bored. Or maybe, just like L, you’re searching for something, something that doesn’t even exist.
You try to imagine what you would look like as a woman and how it would feel not knowing who you are. Do you even know now? In a bar, you follow a woman into the bathroom and she screams and tells you to get the hell out.
Can you do me a favour? you ask.
I said get out of here, you creep.
She storms past you, smacking your arm with her handbag, and you can hear her shouting on the other side of the door. You look at yourself in the mirror, at your eyes, trying not to blink, and they look like they have been buried under ice for hundreds of years. Another woman enters and freezes by the door. She wears bright-red lipstick and her hair is tied back in a high ponytail. She sees that you are crying.
Is everything okay? she asks.
Can you help me?
She moves closer to you, like a wild animal approaching an outstretched hand.
With what? she asks. You point at the mirror and ask her to kiss the glass.
I want to see what I would look like as a woman. The woman catches your arm as you fall over. She helps you back up and you brace yourself against the counter. She takes out a tube of red lipstick and applies a fresh coat to her lips. She leans over the sink and presses her lips to the glass and holds them there for a long time, then pulls away. You take her place in front of the mirror, the red kiss she just left there now covering your lips. You look at yourself in the mirror, your giant red lips unsmiling, and your icy eyes above.
Well? she asks.
I can’t see a difference.
You look very beautiful, she says, and then reaches for your face and starts to apply the lipstick to your actual lips. You can smell the vodka on her breath and she wears too much eye makeup. She finishes only the top lip when the first woman bursts through the door again, with a staff member following her. He pulls you away from the woman and she twists the tube of lipstick and places it back into her purse. She adjusts her hair in the mirror, the lips she left on the glass hovering just over her collarbone, and she turns her head to the side as though admiring the way her own lips look on her skin. She turns back to you and says, bye darling, and you thank her before being dragged out of the women’s bathroom.
The rental car runs out of gas on the other side of the city. You get out, leave the keys on the front seat, and get your suitcase out of the trunk. You wander through the city, pulling your suitcase with the red piece of yarn tied to the handle, and the pail of chalk bouncing against the side of your leg. During the day you sleep on park benches or in hotel lobbies until you are asked to leave. It’s surprising how much you can get away with when you are pulling a suitcase around with you. No one knows that you are not supposed to be somewhere. You are the living embodiment of transition, either coming or going, and no one cares enough to ask or wonder which one it is as you wheel past them on the street. You look at your reflection in the window of a restaurant. Your eyes are sinking further into your skull and you wonder if you’re already buried under the ice. You order strawberries and take a bite of one and run the open berry over your reflection in the window. You are asked to leave, so you take a handful of berries and run out of the restaurant, dropping most of them on your way out, and stuff the rest into your mouth. You get on a bus and find a man wearing tattered clothes lying in the middle of the aisle on his side, his face hidden under his arm. Passengers step around and on him to find their seats and one kid puts his feet up on the man’s hip and turns the page of his book.
What is wrong with you people? you scream. You see the eyes of the bus driver glance backward in the little mirror above the window, and the other passengers shift uncomfortably in their seats. Do you not see that man lying there? He’s right there. There, right there, you gesture wildly with your pail of chalk. You place it on an empty seat and you roll the man over and try to pull him up. He opens his eyes, which are grey, almost lifeless, and he becomes startled. He starts to thrash around and his long fingernails scratch your cheek. You try to calm him, but he forms a fist and punches you in the face. Now you’re lying in the aisle of the bus, too, blood mixing with dried strawberry juice on your lips. The bus comes to a stop and the driver marches to the back and throws you and the man in tattered clothes through the rear exit. You continue to fight and roll around on the sidewalk, the man screaming words you’ve never heard before, and you can’t look away from those grey eyes. The rear engine of the bus roars to life and you yell for it to stop. The tattered man kicks you in the stomach and you whimper and keel over on the sidewalk. You nearly bump into a woman wearing running shoes who bounds over your collapsing body. The tattered man approaches again, but you fend him off by kicking your feet in the air. You catch him in the groin and he falls back against the wall and you scramble to your feet and take off after the bus. You run as fast as the growing pain in your stomach will allow until you have to stop and throw up on the sidewalk. The bus stops a block ahead, so you keep going, running in staggered strides after the bus, getting a little closer every time it stops. You finally catch up to it and jump in through the open rear doors. You search around frantically and find the pail of chalk on the seat where you left it. The driver gets up again and shouts that he told you to get the hell off the bus. You jump out through the open rear doors, cradling the pail of chalk in your arms, and take off running back down the street. You look at the clothes you are wearing: a green plaid shirt now stained with blood on the front and sidewalk dirt on the back, and an old pair of jeans with a tear in the left knee. They are the last clothes you own, aside from the oversized blue shirt hanging next to the lavender shirt in your closet. Everything else is in your suitcase, which is on the bus that has just turned a corner and disappeared.