|Skid Row Obituary
In the photograph he’s standing by the kitchen counter smiling as he lifts the beer to his
mouth. It’s the kind of picture you take at any holiday, the kind where you smile for the
photographer and not the photograph.
This is the only photograph she has, the photograph she uses. He never did anyone harm, she
writes on the notice. She makes 50 free copies on the Church photocopier, and the lady who
shows her how to use it is very nice. The photocopy wears away the soft edges, chisels it all
down to light and dark. Nobody says anything as she stands over the photocopier, crying. The
machine makes a steady motion under her fingers, like rocking, and when the 50 are through,
it shudders to a standstill.
The tape she bought at the dollar store is no good. Each time she tries to pull off a piece one
layer sticks to the other until all she is doing is just digging to get the next piece, digging with
her fingers ruining everything and still she can't find the end of it. It’s three rolls for a dollar
and that’s a dollar wasted. At the Church they tape it to the door for her, and in the
Laundromat she tacks it over a notice for a rooming house. She wanders up and down Hastings
and Main, sometimes handing them out, sometimes leaving them any place where her grief
will hold, 50 places to put these over-exposed pictures of her first-born son.
I’m waiting at the bus stop in front of the church when I see the flyer, when I pick it up off the
ground. The young man in the picture looks like he’s just returned home from far away. In four
more days, this young man would have been twenty-five. The details spelled out in printed
capitals. HE NEVER DID ANYONE HARM. Except by breaking his mother’s heart, I think.
Except by dying. It’s windy and rain is coming down Hastings Street over the top of the narrow
hotels and I want to hold this moment and that life in my memory, to make it mean something
just through this act of witness, this image in my hand. But instead I am distracted by the
beginning of rain, and the memories of other deaths, and the movement of birds overhead, the
way they dip their wings into the wind, caught in currents of air. And when the bus comes I
leave this paper-thin memory of his face behind, hoping that for the next person it will mean
all this, and maybe something even more.