Anger is what you feel. No sympathy, no compassion, no understanding. You feel anger, and it taints your heart and mind with malice. You’ve felt this way since the assault happened, and you’re tired of doing nothing about it. The week prior, when Mr. Girard assaulted you, he was wearing a mask. You are told this by your girlfriend when you asked what he looked like. She tells you it was a hockey mask, and you imagine Jason Vorhees from Friday The 13th instead of hockey players. The image seems more fitting for a sociopath. But the fact you don’t know what the man looks like makes the search unbearable. Yet for whatever reason, you keep on looking, your eyes alert for the white, black and red plaid backpack that your girlfriend grabbed onto before Mr. Girard could escape after assaulting you. This backpack would be your only respite, at least until you found the man, you told yourself.
The weather had just started to turn. The rain that had come with winter was starting to turn into ice, small pelts that stung your face when you walked outside exposed. In your car, the sound the rain made on the windshield was loud and unnerving. You were listening to metal, a band whose name you can’t remember that you used to love, to get your blood pumping quicker. You were ready for a fight.
In Warm Zone, anything goes. The presence of the cops would not hinder the ounces of heroin and crack and cocaine and pills and weed that were passed between hands in coy maneuvers used exclusively for drug dealing. As you drive further down McKee you start wondering where the cops actually are. Their cars are littered across various areas of the street, yet their presence seems to be lost. Ten feet in front of a cop car, as you slowly creep along the road, you watch a woman tie off her arm and search around for a vein that hasn’t collapsed due to the abuse of time and pricks of a needle. Disgusting, you say aloud to yourself, and upon hearing your own voice utter that word, it ignites in you an entirely new feeling of rage, a feeling of your blood boiling in your veins that are young and healthy, veins that are constricting and tightening, pumping blood with the ferocity of an athlete, or the whirling mind of a scientist on the brink of discovery.
Far enough away from any cop cars you could see, you swerve to the left, down an alley where two homeless people just emerged from, and slow to a pace that barely reads 10km/h on your dashboard. There is a gathering of people ahead of you, huddled up together facing a dumpster. They move their hands and twitch their limbs in the same fashion Jason Schwartzman, Brittany Murphy before she died, and Mickey Rourke did in that film whose name always slips your mind. You think about the end of that film as you crawl down the alley, the ending that has always stuck with you because you imagine death by fire to be the most terrifying type of death, and you wish desperately to hand Mr. Girard that same fate. In fact, you’re so blinded by rage and revenge, you imagine torching the entire street, everyone on it, in some sort of psychotic daydream that makes you feel better for a few fleeting seconds.
None of the people gathered around the dumpster move out of your way. One man, in a dirty grey jacket, leans down and peeks into the passenger’s side window as you roll by. Another one fingers you. Scum, you yell, but all the windows are rolled up tight and you are only yelling the word to yourself. Your eyes, on the other hand, are on alert for the backpack, and when you don’t see it on the backs of any of those people, or on the ground, or on top of the dumpster, you feel a slight disappointment but don’t allow it to discourage you.
At the end of the alley, you take another left. Warm Zone is comprised of a few square blocks and you decided to circle around and cover more space. Mr. Girard, you tell yourself, is there somewhere, and you refuse to leave until your fists meet his face. The parallel street was much the same as McKee – cops lined the streets, addicts shot up in plain sight, dumpsters overflowed. The area makes you sick to your stomach but the thought of not defending your honor curdles your lunch in your bowels. All you can think about then is your girlfriend, who undoubtedly thinks less of you for not resorting to violence, and you listen to her voice in her mind call you a pussy, tell you how pathetic of a man you are, and then ask if you are going to cry, if your face hurt so bad that the tears need to flow down your cheeks. You’re foolish enough to think you need to prove something to this woman, whom you’ve been together with for a short seven months, and whom you suspect you love more than she loves you back, so you keep going, motivated by revenge and the desire to regain your honor, because you know, in this state of rage, that to be a man, you must inflict violence on those who hurt you first.
Off in the distance, you think you see the backpack you’ve been looking for. It’s attached to a man who is shuffling down the sidewalk without lifting his feet off the ground. He’s moving quick, so you floor the gas, which in turn jolts you back into your seat, your head whipping back and then forward, leaving a pang in your neck. Suddenly, you become indifferent to everything around you. Nothing exists in the world except that backpack, and the man who it is attached to. You pass a cop car without anyone inside it and swerve to the side of the street just ahead of the man.
Don’t fucking move, you yell, stepping out of your car. But the man keeps moving. He either doesn’t hear you, or ignores you. You chase after him and grab onto his backpack with your calloused hands and pull it backwards with such force it sends the man tumbling to the ground. He is in some sort of daze, the kind often associated with dissociative drugs, the kind that makes the world around you a bearable place for a short period of time. From the ground, the man is looking up at you, and you ask him his name. He doesn’t say anything so you demand it again. You scream at him, Are you Girard or not? And he continues looking right through you, as if you are another grey cloud in the sky, another unreachable point on earth, another illusion. Do you remember me? You yell at him. Do you remember sucker punching me like some little bitch? The man finally looks at you as if he has just noticed you, and he says, I’ve never seen you before in my life.
You feel your guts knot. You know this isn’t the man, you knew it when you threw him to the ground, but you want justice so bad you are willing to believe anything.
Where did you get that backpack? you ask him.
I found it.
Over there, he says, pointing down an alley.
You help the man up. His hands are cold in yours and it disgusts you to imagine what has been in them. Do you know Girard, you ask the man. He has a look of trepidation on his face and it finally occurs to you that this man has nothing to lose, that he could tell you anything without repercussions.
I don’t know him personally, he tells you. Someone around here might.
You tell the man he is going to go ask around until he finds out where Girard is or you’ll break his wrists. He looks at you with a blank stare, as if his wrists, his arms, his entire body is already broken and he can’t be fixed.
I’ll be right here, you tell the man, standing beside your car. Come back and tell me where Girard is when you find out.
The man shuffles away in worse condition than before you approached him. You watch as he crosses the street and asks a couple on the corner a few questions. They shake their heads and he points to you. The woman keeps talking but the man stares at you for an uncomfortable amount of time. I should go over there, you think to yourself. But the couple walks off down the street and the man you thought was Girard goes down the alley, out of sight.
You think, that fucker is going to try to pull a fast one on me. So instead of waiting, you jump in your car, turn the ignition, and speed over to the alley, where you turn slowly, discreetly, your car’s engine humming loudly from between two buildings. There, you can see the man with the backpack shuffling towards a few people gathered around a dumpster. You watch as they all turn towards him, watching him speak, and shake their heads. He stands there a little longer, talking about who knows what, until he catches wind of your car approaching. It appears to spook him, or agitate him, and he quickly turns away from the people and continues to the end of the alley.
As you drive by the gathering of people, they glare at you with pock marked faces, scabs littered across their arms, and eyes sunken so deep into their heads they are almost unrecognizable. From inside your warm car, you glare back at them, thinking, what a pathetic life these people live. It feels as if their eyes are still watching you long after you pass them, turn onto the street, locate the man with the backpack, and follow a distance behind him as he asks around for Mr. Girard.
Once you’ve made a full circle once again, just as you turn back onto McKee Street, you see sirens in your rear-view mirror. The sound frightens you, catching you off guard, and you pull off to the side of the street. As you wait for the officer to approach, you concoct a lie with a direct appeal to an emotion everybody can relate to: love. You think of it so quick and meticulous that you cannot wait until the officer comes up to the window so you can tell it out loud.
License and registration in hand, you wait. The officer knocks on your window and you roll it down and hand her the papers. As she checks over them, she asks what it is you’re doing.
I’m looking for my girlfriend, you tell her. I suspect she is using again. Her mother died last week and I’m worried she’s going to go back to her old life.
The officer looks at you with uncertainty.
You continue, She wasn’t in bed with me this morning, and, you continue saying, faking a sob, I don’t want to see her go through this all again.
The officer asks your girlfriend’s name and you tell her.
This isn’t a safe area, she says. As you clearly know there is a lot of drug activity. We’ll keep an eye out for her.
A few more words are exchanged and the officer hands you your license and registration back. Go home, she tells you. Thank you, you respond.
But you don’t. Instead, now that you’ve lost sight of the man with the backpack, you have to race around looking for him. At the next light, you take a turn to avoid being in sight of the cop. You drive to the end of that street, slowing down before every alley, looking frantically for the men you seek. In a sudden turn of luck, you see the man with the backpack at the next light. He is waving at you like some demented half-wit and you floor the gas pedal to reach him.
As you pull onto the side of the street, put your car in park, and get out to talk to the man, he informs you of Mr. Girard’s whereabouts.
Follow me, he tells you.
Against your better judgment, you obey. He shuffles in front of you, urgently, as if time is of the utmost importance. You are in your mind, thinking of the beating you are going to hand Mr. Girard, the blood that will spill from his face, the bones that will crack in your hands, the teeth that will fall to the street. You are deep in thought when the man with the backpack turns down an alley and you turn too, only to be met with a fist straight to the nose. You feel a crack and your vision distorts, blurring everything around you. Your feet stumble, and you waver around for a moment before you begin to feel your head slowly descend toward the ground.
Luke Kokoszka is a writer and musician living in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. He can be found eating bánh mì and exploring the vast roads of Canada. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming from The Fanzine, carte blanche, Cheap Pop, Potluck Magazine, and elsewhere.