Sunday, October 15, 2000

Short Story: My Life as a Teenage Runaway

It was cold that night. Too cold to be hitching to Montreal I told Jenn, but she said if we didn't go now we'd be too chicken tomorrow. So we walked up to the 17 and stuck out our thumbs. A Dodge Ram with a guy in a baseball cap stopped for us first. He must've thought we were older because he tried to make a pass at us. Jennifer kept laughing. I told him we were going to our boyfriend's place, football players, and put my knapsack on my lap so he couldn't put his hand on my leg.

He dropped us off outside Ottawa and then it was real. We were just as far from Montreal as home. We could've called my dad in Gloucester, but he'd've thrown a fit.

The next ride was from this pair of Sixties rejects in an old van. They actually offered us a toke on this skinny little joint, but me and Jennifer don't do any drugs except booze if you count that and we only like Southern Comfort. Anyway we said no thanks very politely because they were nice enough to give us a ride. Jennifer asked if they had any cigarettes. And they go, we don't smoke, like it's some big deal. I'm being polite so I didn't say the only difference between cigarettes and joints is that joints make you stupid and they're illegal.

In Montreal, Jennifer had a number for this guy, Mike, but there was just this message, il n'y a pas de service au numero... We both tried it a couple of times. Good thing we kept getting the quarter back. Jenn wanted to keep trying, but I was like, give up already. She didn't even know his last name so we couldn't look it up or call 4-1-1. So we went downtown. We had twenty-six bucks, not enough for a hotel. Tomorrow we'll look for Mike and if we can't find him maybe try the Y, I said.

We took a booth at the back of a donut shop. Jennifer got a hot chocolate and I got a coffee. Since I got the coffee, I told Jenn she should try to sleep first while I kept a lookout. But neither of us could sleep so we just stayed awake talking for a couple of hours. Mike was in this band and lived somewhere downtown. He worked in a paint store, Jenn said, on Sherbrooke Street. We really hit it off when I talked to him after the Thanksgiving dance, Jenn said, and he definitely told me to look him up if I ever came to Montreal.

Guys who want you to look them up don't usually give you disconnected numbers, I thought, but why be negative.

The guy at the counter gave us dirty looks a few times and finally at five in the morning he told us we'd have to buy something if we were going to stay longer. I ordered two more coffees and tried to strike up a conversation. I asked if he knew of any paint stores on Sherbrooke. He said there were a couple, did we mean like house painting or art painting. I glanced over at Jenn and noticed she'd fallen asleep. House painting, I said fast. I didn't want the guy to notice and wake her up.

I asked the guy if he knew Mike's band, the Running Dogs, but he didn't. They're really great, I told him. They write their own songs and everything. Maybe I was trying too hard to keep the guy distracted, but he turned around and saw that Jenn was flaked out. Look, he said, I can't let you guys sleep here.

Oh, come on, man, I said. And I told him Jenn hadn't had any sleep for three days cause of like her domestic situation with her mom and her mom's boyfriend.

You mean like violence? said the guy, she should call the police or somebody. Yeah, right, I said, the police are fucking useless. I felt a little bad about that because the only time I'd had anything to do with the O.P.P. was when one of them gave me a drive home when I was ten and I was on my bike when it started raining really hard. But Jenn figured if she got out her mom and Alain could be happy or miserable together and everybody would be better off. Which is pretty much the reason I left too, except without anyone smacking me around.

What about you, the guy asked me, are you also fleeing abuse? I was starting to like the guy so I basically told him the truth.

Not really, I said. It's just my mom. She says we can't afford anything, and like if I drink two glasses of milk it's do you know how much that costs and she has all these insane rules like having to be home by ten o'clock on Fridays and Saturdays and no week nights out and she's constantly telling me I'm stupid and not as good as my sister. So I figure I'll leave her with my sister who doesn't mind the rules and gets straight A's and she won't have to spend any money on me so they can both be happy together.

Look, said the guy, if you two need a place to stay you can crash at my place for a couple of days, my roommates'll be cool about it.

So at seven o'clock I woke up Jennifer and we walked about half a mile to this guy's place on the top floor of this brown stone building. Lots of wood and high ceilings, but it was a fucking mess. You don't have cockroaches, do you? asked Jennifer.

The guy laughed, our cat gets them first. So Jenn found the cat and was all happy petting it until it gave a hiss and scratched her arm. Hey, said Jenn.

Sorry, said the guy, forgot to mention she doesn't like having her tail touched.

He gave us some orange juice and made scrambled eggs. I pushed the burned parts to the side of my plate. The rest of it tasted okay. We had to be quiet because one of his roommates was still in bed. The other one had gone to Toronto to see his girlfriend so he said if we wanted we could share that guy's bed. Unless you want to sleep with me, he whispered when Jenn went into the bathroom.

I'd let him put his arm around me while we were going up the stairs and he wasn't so bad, but I really just wanted to sleep. I'm having my period, I told him, and I should keep Jenn company. Which at least was true. She gets nightmares a lot.

He took it okay and a little while later Jenn and I crawled into this guy's futon, the guy who went to Toronto. Jenn laughed. I've never been on a futon before. It's hard.

Just don't steal the fucking blankets, I said. You don't steal the blankets, she said back to me. Shut up and go to sleep, I said.

I was so tired I couldn't see straight, but it still took a long time to fall asleep. I don't think the guy in Toronto had washed his sheets for a long time, they smelled bad. Around nine, I heard the other roommate get up. He turned on the TV and started watching Good Morning America. Regis and Cathy Lee's voices must've put me to sleep cause the next thing I know it's the afternoon and Jenn's screaming and grabbing at me and there's this guy yelling.

Who the hell are you? What are you doing in my room? in my bed? He banged on the door of the donut shop guy and finally calmed down when the guy explained we were friends of his. It turned out that the guy had broken up with his girlfriend in Toronto and come home early. So he was already pissed off.

Who are they? he asked. I'm Amber and this is Jenn, I told him, we just got into town last night and couldn't reach our friend we were going to stay with. Your roommate was nice enough to let us crash here.

You mean you don't even know these chicks? he asked his friend. Excuse me, said Jenn, we do not appreciate being called chicks. Fuck off, he said, if any of my stuff is missing you're in deep shit. Hey, I said, we're not thieves, we're just a couple of girls from Renfrew who needed a place to stay.

Renfrew? He said. Renfrew? Do you know who these little bitches are? He asked his friend. They're all over the fucking news. Amber and Jennifer, right? Your parents are going apeshit. They think you've been kidnapped or something. Do you have any idea how old these girls are? Guess.

I don't know, sixteen? said the donut shop guy. Try thirteen, said Mr. Toronto. Do you have any idea how much trouble we'll be in if the cops find them here?

Hey, man, chill out, said the donut shop guy, but his friend didn't listen. No way, he said, get them out of here.

So we put our coats and stuff back on and the donut shop guy took us up to Sherbrooke Street. He was pretty nice about it really. Even helped us look up paint stores in the yellow pages. There were a couple on Sherbrooke Street and he pointed us in the right direction before he went to work.

We didn't realize Sherbrooke Street was so long. It was like a mile to the first one. Excuse me, said Jenn to this lady at the counter, is there a guy working here named Mike who plays in a band, the Running Dogs?

Pardon? said the woman in French. So I tried to ask in French. Est-ce qu'il y a un jeune homme qui travaille ici qui s'appele Mike qui joue dans un band qui s'appelle the Running Dogs? No, said the lady, there's no Mike here. So she could speak English after all.

Not here now, or not here never? I asked.

No Mikes work here, she said, he's in a band? maybe you should try a music store, or what are they called? The Running Dogs? try a pet store, or the pound, yeah, the pound.

Ha ha, said Jenn, you're too funny, hope you get employee-of-the-month for your great rapport with customers.

But it was only a block to the next store and when we walked in, Jenn went, Mike! and ran back to this guy at the back putting a can on the shaking machine. It's me, Jennifer, she said, and my friend, Amber. He gave her this blank look. We met in October, the Thanksgiving Dance?

Renfrew High?

Oh, said Mike, right, Renfrew High, up past Ottawa, yeah. He turned on the machine.

You told Jennifer to look you up if she was ever in Montreal, I had to shout over the noise of the shaking machine.

Right, Jennifer, and Amber? Mike moved us away from the machine. So what brings you to Montreal?

Just stuff, I said, it was time for us to get away.

You guys didn't run away, did you? said Mike. Kinda, Jenn said, except mostly we hitched.

Shit, you're the two in the news, aren't you, said Mike. The news? I said.

Hey, Michael, yelled this fat guy who must have been the owner or the manager or something, what have I said about personal conversations?

Look, said Mike, I can't talk now. I'm off in an hour. Why don't you meet me on the corner at the Harvey's?

Okay, I said. And in a louder voice, thanks for that advice on whether to use oil or latex.

So we're sitting in the Harvey's. With the coffees and the hot chocolates the night before and a pack of du Mauriers earlier that afternoon, we're down to eighteen dollars. Jenn's actually got a Harvey's coupon so we get a burger and fries for only $3.24. Hey our luck's starting to change. He didn't remember me, said Jenn. Not at first, I said. He didn't seem very friendly, she said. I used a plastic fork to cut the burger in half. He'll warm up once he talks to you a bit and gets to know you again.

Maybe, she said. You want the pickle? I shrugged. Go ahead, but maybe I should call the Y and see how much they cost and stuff.

She gave me a quarter and I went to the phone at the back. I couldn't find the number in the book. It went from Yllo to Ymke. So I called 4-1-1. The operator told me the number was at the front of the Y's because it was initials. She was a little snotty about it, but at least she spoke English.

Then I got this guy at the Y. I asked how much for one night. Thirty-eight forty-nine, he said. Thirty-eight dollars for one person? I said, what if you haven't got that much? You could speak to one of our counsellors, he said. Thanks, I said and hung up.

I told Jenn the bad news. Okay, so tomorrow we get jobs, I said. That's the first thing. Mike's not coming, she said. I looked at my watch. Half hour past when Mike should have come. We walked back to the paint store but it was all locked up. We pounded on the window, but there was no one inside.

I said we should go back to the donut shop. The guy helped us last night, maybe he'll help us again.

We got there around nine. Our friend gave us free coffee, but he said, I can't let you stay here all night again, I'll get fired. Like, we don't want to stay here all night, I said, you can let us stay for a couple hours at least, can't you? Yeah, he said, maybe we'll think of something.

So that's where we were an hour later when these two cops came in. I thought it was funny at first because we'd spent a total of about eight hours in this donut shop and they were the first cops we'd seen. It wasn't so funny when they came up to us. Amber Maxwell and Jennifer Jodoin?

I'm sorry? Jennifer made like she didn't know who he was talking about. Listen girls, said the other cop, your parents are really worried about you, and you're way too young to be in this city on your own. We are not, I said. The cop smiled. How much money you got left? None of your business, I said. I'll bet it's not much, he said, what are you going to do when it runs out? Get jobs as brain surgeons? Come on and we'll buy you both a sandwich.

Chris, the donut shop guy, came to say goodbye just before we walked out. Are you really thirteen? he asked me. Yeah, I said. Maybe we could get together in a few years, he said. Fat chance, I said, I don't go out with stoolies. He looked hurt, but he didn't deny he'd ratted us out. Even if he hadn't ratted us out though, he didn't stand up to his roommate, so I'd never've gone out with him anyway.

We waited at the police station until my dad got there. He was fucking mad. Aren't you glad to see me, I asked. Just wait till you get home, he said, you wait till we get home. So, that's why I'm in Ottawa now living with Dad, they want to keep me away from Jennifer. Like it was her fault. At least she doesn't have to worry about Alain, her mom's boyfriend, any more. He split, something about child support he owed in New Brunswick. For me, a ten o'clock curfew looks really good now. I'm grounded for life and every night I have to write letters apologizing to people who helped look for me when I was missing. Like they even care. After all, they were just doing their jobs.

Copyright 1997 by David Scrimshaw

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