She felt anxious. The americano she was sipping wasn’t helping. She wasn’t sure why she’d been drinking espresso the last few days. It made her sweaty and anxious. Her body just couldn’t handle it very well, especially if it wasn’t already late in the day and she needed the energy. But despite knowing this, she ignored it and acted tougher than she was. Looking down, she held her palm out in front of her. Yup, she was shaking. Stupid body, betraying her again.
Taking a deep breath intending to calm her, she looked up to see Noam heading towards her. Her breath’s calming affects were replaced with another pang of anxiety. Fighting the feeling, she replaced it with a somewhat strained smile that became somewhat real as Noam got closer. He was wearing a wool hat that she really liked, and when he was close enough she quickly broke the ice by asking him where he got it.
He seemed startled by her smile, and question, but recovered quickly by grabbing the hat off of his head and placing it onto hers. He relayed to her that he had purchased the toque in Montreal. There were two things she didn’t quite understand about what he said. Why he called the hat a toque and where Montreal was. She started with the first question.
“Well, a toque is really just the Canadian way of saying knitted winter hat. It’s a Quebecois word. I’m from Toronto but my family spent a lot of time in the Laurentians and around Mt. Tremblant… Not that THAT matters. Every Canadian calls it a toque whether they visit Quebec or not. I got this one on St. Laurent, as a matter of fact. Have you been to Montreal before?” Noam finished his culture lesson by grabbing the toque from her hands and placing it back on his head, covering up the messy, unwashed hair beneath.
As they walked together towards the exit, she debated in her head if she wanted to tell him the truth. As she stepped through the lobby’s doors she noticed an odd ochre owl sitting over the door frame, watching everyone who left and entered the hotel with its weird plastic eyes. “This is my first time outside America,” she admitted as they stepped out into the grey Vancouver day. Changing the subject she asked, “So, what’s the plan, Noam?” Stella held her coffee cup in both hands, warming them. The air had an unexpected chill to it.
“I thought we’d walk over to East Hastings and on the way, see if there’s anyone we think we should talk to. My thought is that we need to tell as many people as possible, and when we find Chris, we tell him this — that we’ve been telling everyone the truth. If we’re really good in talking to the right people, he might hear what we’re up to before we reach him.”
She nodded with agreement. It was a decent plan.
As they crossed the bridge that connected them with the isle that was downtown Vancouver, Stella could see the Belt Lady in the distance. It looked like she was talking with a group of pigeons that were sitting near the Skytrain station. As she drew closer to her she could see she was wearing a massively oversized jean jacket that was, on her, a duster jacket, and beneath it a moth-hole-filled but lovely emerald green sweater. Her trusty belt was thrown over her shoulder and was fastened, making a perfect O around her shoulder. She seemed particularly engaged by one pigeon in particular, who was fluorescent pink, and enormously fat.
A silent minute later Noam and Stella reached the Belt Lady was still fascinated with her pink pigeon. With a loudish “Hey there!” Stella tried to engage her. Without looking up, the Belt Lady began screaming, in complete terror. It’s seemed Stella had somehow scared the shit out of her. Throwing a bewildered look at Noam, who had stayed back, outside the pack of pigeons, Stella considered how to calm this woman down. The pigeons seemed completely unafraid of her and seemed to part like the sea when she stepped into their pack and closer to the Belt Lady. Just as suddenly as she began, the Belt Lady stopped screaming and returned to speaking with the pink pigeon, never acknowledging that Stella had addressed her. Focused on getting this woman’s attention, Stella stooped down low so that her face floated above that of the pink pigeon’s. Looking up at the Belt Lady, she was now undeniably in her sight line, but instead of speaking again she remained quiet, staring up at her and waiting for her to acknowledge her presence.
Nothing happened. The Belt Lady stared through her, and Stella did what she could to stay in her eye line, following the erratic walking path of the pink pigeon. Disgusted at herself for what she was about to do, Stella picked up the pink pigeon and held it in front of her face. The Belt Lady’s gaze rose with the pigeon’s movement, and when Stella felt the time was right, she moved the pigeon, and stared purposefully into the Belt Lady’s eyes.
The Belt Lady smiled at her, finally seeing her. “That’s exactly how Delilah likes to be held.” She approved.
Good. Looking over at Noam, considering what to do next, she saw that he was now even further away from the pigeon pack, leaning against a lamppost and looking mildly impressed at what she’d just done. Turning back to the Belt Lady, she figured she may as well go for it while she had her attention, “Do you know who the Rewriter is?”
The Belt Lady looked disappointed in the question, and in her. Reaching forward, she removed Delilah from Stella’s hands. “We already talked about this on March 8 from 9:48 am to 9:56 am. I told you then that I knew him.” She spoke definitely and coherently and she seemed uninterested in continuing the conversation. Stella could hear Noam chuckle from the lamppost. Who would have guessed that this woman would have such a great memory? Last time they spoke the woman seemed barely coherent.
“I’m sorry. Of course we did. I know you know him. It was silly of me to ask.”
“Do you know what the Rewriter does?”
“Can you tell me what he does?”
“What does he do?”
“He gives people a new life.”
“What kind of new life?”
“A different one.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“If they want to change their life, he makes that happen.”
“What does he change exactly?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. They want it, not me.”
“Did you know that he turns the people who want his help into his slaves? He brainwashes them into constant doing, so they live like lifeless zombies, never feeling, only working.”
“They don’t know who they are anymore, they have no spirit. He takes their identity away!” Stella could feel her emotions rising. How could the Belt Lady be so uninterested in what she was saying?
“He did it to us! We didn’t ask for it and he did it anyway. That’s not right, is it?” Stella implored her to agree.
“You did ask for it. That’s why you were there. You look okay anyway. I don’t see what the problem is.”
“That’s because we got away! Other people haven’t been so lucky. Don’t you care about the people in your community?”
“Don’t try THAT with me, missy.”
Stella could feel the sting of “missy”. Missy was a demeaning word for a woman to call another woman. She didn’t like it. “Try WHAT excatly?” Stella knew she sounded confrontational.
“Shaming me. Don’t try it. I’m not biting.”
“That’s not what I was doing…” The Belt Lady waved her hand at Stella, signaling she’d heard enough of her rebuttal.
“My community, the people who choose to live here, and who choose to use the Rewriter’s services, they know what they are doing. It’s their choice how they want to live their life. And they certainly don’t need yet another person like you telling them they should be choosing another way.” The conversation was agitating the Belt Lady and she began to swing her belt, scattering the pigeons. As they ran and jumped to avoid the movement of the belt, Stella did too, and the previous force field of pigeons that had surrounded them dissipated.
“I’m sorry I have upset you.” She meant it. “I just want people to know the truth of what they get when they ask the Rewriter for help.”
“IS–THAT—RIGHT?–IS—THAT–WHAT—YOU–WANT?” Her words were now spoken to the beat of the belt.
It sounded like a rhetorical question but Stella answered earnestly. “Yes. Absolutely. People have a right to know.”
Was that a question, again? “He’s trying to erase people’s identities and make them into who he wants them to be. He’s making them his sheep. He’s using them. It’s horrible. He’s a monster and he needs to be stopped. He did it to us! He made us his sheep. He needs to be stopped.” Did she get carried away?
What did that mean? Did she not understand what this guy really did? How cracked out was this lady? “He made me a zombie-sheep-worker-bee-bullshit-drone! He can make people do a lot of things.”
Stella couldn’t help but send ol’ Belty a disgusted look. She didn’t like what she was saying one bit. It made her skin kinda itch. This lady was clearly wrong about the Rewriter. The guy needed to be stopped. Feeling annoyed her thanks may have sounded more snide than she intended it to be. Heading away from the dirty pigeon pack, STella walked with purpose towards her original destination, East Hastings. Who cares what some crackhead thinks anyway? She WAS dancing with a belt.
Noam caught up with her at some point and by that point her resolve was even stronger that they needed to stop the Rewriter. She felt energized by the challenge before her. She walked, lost in thought and didn’t remember speaking to Noam until they reached the alley where she’d escaped from, and they’d last seen Chris in.
Chris wasn’t there. The alley was totally empty. She couldn’t even find evidence of the door she KNEW she’d escaped from. She was sure to touch and inspect every wall. There weren’t even cracks in the bricks or mortar. It was solid walls in all three directions, and this pissed her off. “Where the hell is the door?!” Her tone was completely, and totally, exasperated.
Noam placed a hand on her shoulder. Spinning around to face him, he said nothing but looked into her eyes and breathed. For a second the contact angered her but then something calmed in her as she found herself matching his breath. He stood silently with her for a minute or more before he suggested that they “check the park.” That’s where he’d first met Chris. Suddenly happy to exit the connection they were sharing, she nodded and began heading out of the alley.