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Canadian Small Town On The New York Border
by Rose DeShaw

My husband and I sat on a downtown corner a while back, enjoying the weather. This particular location teems with bottom-feeder entrepreneurs. Two guys barely concealing five finger discounts are headed down to the park where they can sort out their loot. Clothing tags sometimes litter the ground as heavily as cigarette butts there.

Across the street is this great church. In winter it supplies parking and utilities for The Soup Truck, a mobile help station for those on the street. It also throws them regular dinners.

My husband pulls out the pipe that has been his companion for going on fifty years. Immediately a man who has had his teeth rearranged for him by some accommodating fist comes over and asks for a light. He is close enough to smell that Macbaren’s Scottish Blend is wafting from the pipe bowl rather than what he obviously hoped.

I take out my sketchbook to attempt a drawing of the picturesque old church with the running-shoe clad feet settled comfortably in the corners of its two doorways.

“What time is the parade coming by?” an older man asks. This is not someone asking the fat lady what time the balloon goes up? He can see no other reason for our presence on the corner, facing the street.

My husband tells him there is no parade, just us sitting. The inquirer remarks about pipe smoke reminding him of his grandfather and goes off smiling.

Pipes seem to remind everyone of their grandfathers, my husband says, annoyed.

Two young women in running clothes, emerge from Tim Horton’s with coffees and head our way.

“So he says, ‘I can’t make you no promises’…” the blond one says, her pony tail still wet from a shower, “and I say, ‘well then…” She and her dark-haired friend are too intent on this saga of the perfidy of men to give us any notice.

Suddenly the man with the rearranged teeth slugs a guy in cargo shorts across the street. A happy crowd emerges from nowhere to egg them on and lay bets.

“GET DOWN!” someone yells behind us. I turned to see two frightened New York tourists cowering behind the mailbox. In their urban experience, this is when the guns come out and bullets fly. As they’re in a small town in Canada, nothing like that goes on. And nobody calls the cops.

One of the guys from the park takes advantage of the distraction to come over with his share of the loot. He wants us with our old honest faces, to take it back to the store where he lifted it and procure a refund, which we can then split, fifty-fifty.

“I used to work in the prison!” my husband growls and the man hastily sticks it back in his jacket and slinks away.

Mostly in our very touristy town, for a short time the capital city of Canada when the country began, it is the architecture being described, set on the magnificent waterfront with Canada’s only military college for officer training looking regal with flags flying, across the causeway. They tend to omit any reference to the eight federal penitentiaries in our vicinity, one smack dab in the downtown.

“Prisons? What prisons?”

And so I write of the people here and what they’re up to today.