“Guess what! Guess what!” Kitty, hanging up her phone, yells to her daughter Cecilia, who has just finished chopping up carrots and onions. “That was the principal; Gabriel’s not going to have to repeat grade eight. Oh yes, we’re celebrating tonight, celebrating with a big meal of, um, Cecilia, what are we eating?”
“Carrots and onions.”
Kitty frowns. “Ugh, at least make some rice, and maybe some protein. Cook the chicken fingers in the freezer.”
“Not everybody can live off boiled carrots and onions, okay? Anyway, Doug, the principal, said he faced a bitter set of teachers who wanted Gabriel to stay behind, but he managed to push the trauma argument enough to account for a second academic year.”
“A second year that was academically worse than the first.”
“Yes, but the point is he’s moving on to high school and in September he will go to class and do, um, do what Gabriel does.”
“—sit at his desk and stare at either a piece of nature crap or some object he picked off a shelf at a store and walked out with. He’ll sit there and ignore the teacher. He won’t make eye contact with any other kids. He’ll freak everyone out by staring continuously at whatever is in his hands.”
Kitty throws her hands up at Cecilia and turns away. “Ugh…”
“Dear God Kitty. Listen, I’m happy Gabriel is moving on; it’s great that you pushed the principal to push the teachers. My point is you’re not recognizing the real issues...are you listening to me? It’s no wonder Doug’s battle with the teachers was so bitter, you wouldn’t even listen to them on parent teacher night. You drag me along and who ends up keeping the discussions going, asking all the questions? All the while his teachers are trying to explain his absent mindedness to the mother of the child, not me, but you won’t even pay attention in those meetings. You’re not even paying attention to me—right now.”
Kitty, who has drifted over to the window that faces the front yard, says, “You know I’ve been watching these guys all afternoon. They’ve been our garden crew all summer, but I never really paid much attention to them until now. There’s only three in the crew, the old guy, the boss I gather, and two kids, one who I can’t get my eye off. He’s so mopey and slow, yet so good looking.”
“Dear God Kitty.”
“The other one is pretty quick on his feet. Right now he’s up a ladder, trimming the garden hedges, and when he first arrived he was up a tree pruning the branches off. Everything with some different gas powered machine. The mopey kid just cleans up after him. He follows him around with the rake and broom, piling stuff into garbage bags, and he’s always getting showered with twigs and right now cedar branches. The quick kid and the boss yell at him constantly. It’s no wonder he looks so depressed, his head hanging so low, dragging his feet. I really feel for this guy.”
“He sounds like the worst employee ever, they should fire him immediately.”
“He’s not a bad worker, he’s just demotivated, and what a surprise. His boss is doing absolutely nothing, just sitting in his truck, drinking coffee, reading a newspaper, and yelling at this poor kid. That’s all he’s done the entire morning, can you believe it? It’s just such an odd crew.”
Kitty walks over to the patio door just as the mopey kid is walking past. “Hey, I need you guys to take down that huge branch hanging over the driveway. Look at that thing, it has to be ten feet around where it sticks out from the tree, and where it curves up into that big canopy it must weigh a ton. Every time there’s a windstorm I think it’s going to crush the car.”
“I’d love to say yes, but I’m just a labourer here. You probably looked at me and saw I was about twenty, that I’ve been an adult for about two years now, and thought ‘hey, that guy must make important decisions.’ But no; I’m a complete failure in adulthood, so I’ll have to relay this question to my boss, or my co-worker, who has far more responsibility than me. They’ll give you an answer and I’ll get back to sweeping up the foliage left behind from the hedge trimming—which of course I’m not allowed to do.”
“Ha! Listen to you, what’s your name?”
“Dino, you don’t look like you’re feeling too well.”
He looks up at the sky and sighs long and depressingly. “It’s partly to do with my apartment. I live in squalor. There’s rats and cockroaches everywhere. I told my landlord to get me another room in the building. He said there was a vacant one I could take, but it was deeper than the one I currently have. I said how could it be deeper? My apartment does have a window but it faces a well sunken into a sidewalk on the Danforth that people always throw garbage into. He said the place wasn’t deeper, but the ceiling was lower. There’s no window, but there is a ventilation duct. I asked if the room had cockroaches. Not nearly as many, he said, but the ventilation duct has bats. I told him to take the apartment and shove it, I’m moving out. I said I’d rather be homeless than live there, but now I realize that’s exactly what I’m about to become. God my life is such a failure, it’s fallen apart before my eyes. I’ve failed adulthood for the rest of time.”
“Ha! what’s that supposed to mean? You’re just a kid.”
“That’s what everybody says, but it’s not true. Eighteen is when you become an adult. It’s when you have to take your life and show that it can become something of value. That’s why I moved to the city, to find the opportunity to prove myself. Two years later and all I’ve found is my cockroach infested basement apartment and this crappy labour job. I’ve completely failed as an adult, and I know the future is bleak, because this is the time that decides it.”
“Listen to you, that’s quite the theory, but I think you have at least a few more chances left in life. Go tell your creepy boss in the truck I want to talk to him.”
Kitty closes the door.
Cecilia says, “What a weird character that guy is. He’s obviously going nowhere in life.”
“Ugh…you know, it really makes me upset to hear you talk about someone like that. You weren’t even listening to him. He doesn’t want to go nowhere in life, but he hasn’t been given a chance. You don’t see that he’s been stigmatized as a labourer, you just see a labourer, but I see someone who could do something really successful in the world, if only he were given a chance. I also see a kid who’s pretty good looking, and that deserves a little faith.”
Cecilia roles her eyes, “Blind faith at best. Kitty, this is the same philosophy you follow when you think of Gabriel, isn’t it? You think that ultimately it doesn’t matter what happens in school. You think that as long as people are nice to him he’ll become something special. Well I have news for you, that labourer out there will always be a labourer, because he’s clearly waiting for some chance that hasn’t come yet, rather than training himself in a formal way. If you don’t want Gabriel to become the same you better get out of this delusion.”
“I think this is where you and I are completely different. I believe people’s particular personalities, no matter what the nature of them are, can facilitate their lives.”
“You’re wrong. There are only certain personalities that do well in this world: organized people, adaptive people, social people…”
“Social? Cecilia you haven’t had a friend in years.”
“That’s because the kids at my school are idiots, and anyway, I do well enough faking a personality that gets me through the days, which is exactly my point. It doesn’t matter what kind of personality you have, what matters is how good you are at faking a personality that survives all the idiots in life.”
“Ugh…that sounds so horrible. People should be themselves, you know why? Because it shows the best and most important kind of bravery. That’s what I hear when you tell me this Cecilia, a complete lack of bravery, a fear of whatever the consequences are of people at school seeing your true self.”
“Well what you call a lack of bravery I call skill.”
“Oh, here comes the boss of these two guys.” Kitty goes to the door. The man stands there with a coffee in one hand, and a folded newspaper in the other. “Well hey, did your labourer tell you I want that tree branch down? I think it’s obvious which one I’m talking about.” The man nodds. Kitty waits for him to say more, but he simply takes a sip from his coffee. “So good, because I keep thinking that thing could crush my car any day. And with these storms the less danger we have around here the better.” Kitty pauses again. The man glances at his newspaper, takes a sip of coffee, looks at the tree, then at Kitty. “Right, so, when can you get this done?”
“Next week,” he says in the most nasally voice Kitty has ever heard.
“Nghhhhhhh,” answers the man.
Kitty looks back at the kitchen, raising her eyebrows, as if asking Cecilia if what she’s hearing is real.
She looks back, “Okay good, and listen, I want that kid Dino to go up the tree and do the…whatever…the cut, the hard part.” This puts the man into pause as he’s sipping from his coffee, and leaves him staring at Kitty, the cup to his lips. “The kid needs a chance, and it’s important for labourers to do some skilled work once in a while. So get ‘em up there.”
“Kidd,” says the man.
“KIDDnghhhhhhh,” he screams behind him at the other worker. He approaches the door, shutting off a line trimmer as he does, and the man whispers something into his ear before he walks off. The worker sticks out his hand. “Hi, I’m Kidd.” Kitty shakes tentatively. “I’m the one that does the cuts in the tree. See that truck over there? That’s my truck, I own it, even though I work for Tess, and in there I’ve got five different kinds of chainsaws. The hedge trimmers and the line trimmers are Tess’s, but I don’t care about those, I only care about my truck and my chainsaws. Cutting down branches and trees is my life.”
“That’s great, your truck is impressive, as I’m sure your chainsaws are, but I’m sick of watching this guy do nothing but the most basic tasks out there. I want him to have a chance to do some of the skilled work I see you doing. He’s only twenty, he could probably learn to do anything.”
“I’m not sure you know everything you need to know about Dino. He gets hurt anytime he’s near something with a blade. I mean look at him, his head’s so low he hardly knows what’s going on around him. You think that’s safe for this kind of work? It’s not, that’s why we have to yell at him all the time. He’s just depressed and there’s nothing sending him up a tree is going to do about that.”
“Sure it will. It will show him that someone believes in him, it will help him out of his funk…okay? A good looking kid like that shouldn’t be depressed.”
Kidd looks back at Dino, then says, “If you say so,” to Kitty.