She felt terrible. And embarrassed. She tenderly sipped on her americano for support as she waited for him to arrive.
She finished her americano fifteen minutes later and he still hadn’t showed. She wasn’t feeling so nervous anymore—it had been replaced with annoyance. Was he seriously standing her up?
Another fifteen minutes and a delectable pain au chocolate later, Stella was done waiting. She knew where he was, and she was going to find him.
There was something calming about this area of the city. It was chaotic and wild but it seemed to have its own order. She felt like she should be scared, yet she wasn’t. She found the whole place utterly fascinating.
The lady with the belt. Over there. She looked like she was in ecstasy. Just her and her belt and the music in her head. It seemed sad but then the woman looked genuinely happy. Happier than many people she knew who didn’t happen to spend their mornings dancing in the street with a belt. How was it really crazier to be doing this than to be doing something more respectable that makes you unhappy? Neither seemed better or worse. But this lady definitely looked like she was having more fun.
She continued to study the woman, falling in love with the quiet smile on her face and the way she rocked back and forth with the brown leather belt, drawing a circle of eight with it. Her eyes were closed and it seemed like she was moving with a grace to what Stella assumed was beautiful music in her mind.
Without warning, the woman opens her eyes and stares directly at Stella, still moving with her belt. Feeling self-conscious, Stella averts her eyes but quickly reconnects with the woman’s when it occurs to her that an opportunity has been presented to her.
“Hi, I’m Stella,” she starts with. “I was enjoying your dancing and the joy on your face. It’s lovely.” She stepped towards the woman, prepared to shake her hand or offer her another greeting.
“H—I.” The woman spoke the two letters slowly, stretching the word out to match with her dance movements.
“Can I ask you something?”
“S—U–R—E.” The words flowed smoothly as the belt whipped gently back and forth and around her.
“Do you know a guy known as the Rewriter? He lives in the community.”
“Y–E—S.” She drawls. Stella keeps a healthy distance from the belt moving very close to her face.
“Can I ask you some questions about him?” she continues.
“Y–E—S.” The sounds and movement look almost identical to the previous.
“Great. Thanks.” She pauses before posing, “What does he do?”
“H–E—C–H—A–N—G–E—S–T—H–I—N–G—S.” Her belt floats with the movement of the words.
“How?” She figures keeping it simple was to her benefit.
“H–E—M–A—K–E—S–Y—O–U—D–I—F–F–E—R–E—N–T.” She flows with her belt and body.
“Y—O–U—B–E—L–I—E–V—E–S—O–M—E–T—H–I—N–G—E–L—S–E.” Floating and flowing leather.
“And?” Dead simple.
“Y—O–U—B–E—C–O—M–E—S–O—M–E—O–N—E–E—L–S—E.” The words float with the beating of the belt, back and forth.
She didn’t really understand. “How?”
“Okay.” Stella paused to process what this meant. She wasn’t really sure. This conversation was not so helpful. What did it mean to get a new story? Like a storybook? Or was she talking about something bigger than that? Like our life story. Maybe that’s what she meant. Life story. He gives them a new life story. But even then, what does that mean? How can he erase someone’s past? The questions seemed too big for Stella while she stood watching a crackhead dance with a dirty torn belt in the worse neighbourhood of Vancouver. What she really needed to do was find Noam. This Rewriter guy wasn’t even the point anyway. The point was showing Noam that she could keep up with him.
“Thanks for your help,” Stella appreciated that she’d been open to talking to her in the first place. She waved goodbye but the woman was no longer conscious of her and so she continued her journey towards the Loners Social Club.
Despite it not making sense, she was thinking about what the belt lady said. Was it really possible for a story, or a person like the Rewriter, to change who you are? Can stories be that powerful? It seemed far too fantastical and far out. She felt silly even contemplating what the Belt Lady had said. There were so many things that made a person who they were, one story, one guy, could not change that. We are more than the stories we believe, aren’t we? I mean just because I like the Giving Tree, does that shape who I am? Stella’s mind was moving a mile a minute and she relished the nimbleness and stimulation these questions brought her. She found herself so lost in them that she walked past the Club entrance and needed to double back.
Up the stairs she climbed until she reached the long, long hallway once again filled with sketchy looking dudes sitting and standing at various places throughout the hallway. They didn’t look like they were actually doing anything and Stella noticed there were actually no other doors in this long-ass hallway. Perhaps they just never move from the hallway?
Keeping her eyes focused in front of her, Stella eventually reached the red door at the end of the hallway. Unlike the day before when Noam rushed in unannounced, she took a different approach and knocked firmly on the door, confident it would open to her.
She kept her back to the men in the hallway as she waited for something to happen behind the door. She waited a minute, maybe more without moving a muscle before she knocked again, more firmly this time. After another minute of motionless waiting (and perhaps breath holding) she pressed her ear to the door. She swore she could hear scuffling coming from within. Someone was in there. And ignoring her. She didn’t like that.
So she tried the door handle and with some surprise found it unlocked and easy to turn. She flung the door open with more flare than she had ever done previous (perhaps she’d been inspired by her door opening the night previous), and found Noam, staring surprised at her. He had been bent over the Rewriter, who seemed to be in a similar stupor to the one they had found him in the day previous.
Noam was the first to speak. “Hi,” was all he said as he turned back to peering at the Rewriter.
“Hi,” she returned with irritation. Was that the only thing he had to say to her? Now that she’d found him she didn’t know what to do and that irritated her more. She stood heavy with energy in the small room.
Noam didn’t speak and continued to look at the Rewriter. He began poking him all over.
She stayed quiet but angry. The fire was burning inside her and she was getting worried. She would not cry. She would not be hurt. Her throat burned in the way it did and she hated it. Hated her weakness. She couldn’t take the quiet, how he wasn’t acknowledging her. It was making IT worse. She needed recognition or she would cry.
She managed to say “Is he catatonic like yesterday?” without sounding not normal. All she needed was a response.
“Yeah.” Noam responded flatly. “He seems to be.”
Should she ask him about this morning? She didn’t want to be the weak one. “I spoke to another homeless person who confirmed this guy’s legend. She says that he can change people by changing their minds. She said he tells them a new story. Or maybe they forget their old one? Either way, she confirmed what Luke said. This guy is definitely up to something in Hastings, but god knows what. The lady I was talking to, she was dancing with a belt.” Stella continued to speak so that she felt connected to him.
“You don’t say.”
Reacting to his tone and brevity, and the fact that he had no interest in looking her in the eyes, or really addressing her presence much at all, she continued again, “I thought this thing was stupid and pointless but now I at least think this guy is doing something in this neighbourhood. I mean two random people saying it’s true isn’t a coincidence. I wonder what he really does in this shitty old place? Maybe he’s got some really good drugs that fry your brains and make you forget who you are. Thus the whole new story thing we keep hearing. I bet that’s it.”
“I’m glad you no longer think I’m wasting your time entirely.” It was dry. Very dry. He was so fucking cool over there waving his hands and poking a bloated hippy. What an ass. God, she hated him right now.
So she laughed. In a way she knew had power. Especially over men.
She saw immediately that he wasn’t amused by her laugh, glaring at her. And so she kept laughing.
His face became flushed almost immediately. She could only see it in his ears and a bit of his cheeks since he continued to poke and prod the Rewriter. His head whipped around when she was about to stop and give up, a half-second or so later.
“What’s so funny?” He almost scratched it out, it was so catty.
His ferocity scared her a bit and so she let her mind do what it did best and she came up with an excuse that would salve the situation. “I’m sorry,” she mustered real sincerity. She was an actress. “Each time I see this guy I think of this old movie I saw recently called Weekend at Bernie’s. Do you know it? Two guys wind up with a corpse that they carry it around like he’s alive for a beach weekend. It’s amazingly bad.”
Noam smiled. He knew the movie. How badly good it was. She’d done it. She’d diffused the situation. She was confused by the turn of events and how she felt about them, but at least her stomach was calming down. So was her throat; she’d lost the ache a million words before. His smile actually looked real too. And nice on his face. She wondered if she’d seen it before? He’d been a sourpuss since the moment she’d met him so she figured not.
“That movie is so amazingly bad, you’re right. I haven’t thought of it in decades.” He shook his head. “Thank you for reminding me.”
“Thanks.” What? Why did she say that?
“So I look as ridiculous as I feel, I guess?”
“Uh-huh.” She’d lost her words or something.
“I don’t know what to do with this Bernie. I can’t keep poking him forever. Whether he’s in a coma or not, he’s damn good at being in it. I can’t seem to wake him.”
“Have you tried another approach?” Stella tried, her words returning. Her stomach felt good. “Perhaps he needs something different to wake up? You know the saying, ‘You tell people how to treat you’? Perhaps he’s saying this approach isn’t working for him by not waking up for you.”
“Interesting theory, Stella. What do you suggest I try instead?” Noam did not stop poking.
“Well, how’d you like to be greeted? Let’s start there. The first time you meet someone, how do you like to be introduced?”
“You mean, if I was the Rewriter and I was meeting me for the first time, how would I want to meet me?”
“Sure. Right. Exactly.”
Noam stopped poking the Rewriter for a moment and paused, thinking. “What if I do a do-over and meet him for the first time again? Can I do that, have a do-over?” Noam seemed to be getting excited by his flight of fancy.
“I don’t see why not,” Stella encouraged. “I’d better join you too since I burst into this guy’s life in the same way you did.”
“Alright, so let’s undo today and redo yesterday.”
“Okay?” Stella had no idea how they were actually going to do-over what they had done.
“Follow me as I… eciffo eht tuo sdrawkcab klaw.” And backwards out the office door he went.