December 28, 2009


Wallace just turned 11. Five days ago, to be exact.

For his birthday he got a black and silver iPod Shuffle that lets you switch songs by pressing a button on the headphones. It has four gigabytes – that's room for like 777 songs. He loves AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Elvis Presley but he also appreciates Eminem and Three Days Grace.

For Christmas he got even more stuff. You always get double the presents when your birthday is this close to Christmas. Video games – and oh! his cousin Mikey got him a hollow mask like the one on the Japanese anime show Bleach that their older cousin Jacob got them turned on to (but he won't get the mask until Mikey comes to visit from Penticton). Hey, look, he needs to get his puffy black gloves stitched up. There's a hole in almost every finger and he can stick his thumb in the middle one and twirl the whole empty hand around, like he's doing now. And see what his teacher got him? An electric blue Krazy Karpet! Actually it's a Wacky Karpet because it's extra long, longer than a regular Krazy Karpet. It says so on the sticker. He could take it for a slide down Suicide Hill – you know, that hill with the crazy jump over by Twin Lakes? Yeah, that one. But, he already did that – just lately.

He could go see what's going on at the youth centre, but there are too many teenagers there. They always play their music so loud and it's really annoying. His mom says he'll do that too when he gets older. Just wait. But, maybe not. Anyway, he'd rather hang out here – there's a vacant computer with a high speed Internet connection perfect for re-watching the final fight scene of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on YouTube and Google searching for images of those huge Egyptian beetles – scarabs, yeah!

Plus, he hasn't come around in almost two weeks.

He finally takes a breath and plunks himself down in a rolling office chair, pulling off his tuque and neckwarmer and jacket and unzipping his overall-style snowpants. He frowns. He thought he was wearing his new favourite shirt with the skull on it today. But he forgot and put another one on instead. He's so disappointed. That's not why.

It's because his mom promised him if he got a B+ or higher on his science test that for Christmas she'd get him a PSPI – it's like a PlayStation but it's better because you can play it anywhere and there are tons of new games. But he only got a C+. That's why he's disappointed today. He had to miss a couple days of class because his mom needed him to help clean the house – you know, mop the floor and stuff – and of course he had to deal with his room. No way it could've waited till the weekend or even till after school. It was just too dirty. So, he missed a couple of lessons, got a C+ on the test and, to be honest, is still unsure how the circulatory system works.

We watch about five minutes of Bleach so he can show me how cool the hollow mask looks, even though it turns that other guy's face totally hollow and creepy. He lists off all the food he ate at Christmas dinner, even though he usually eats two or three pieces of fudge cake and this year he didn't touch it at all. Just didn't feel like it.

An hour and a half later, we've abandoned unfruitful searches for recipes for pumpkin juice that he drank once – the same kind in one scene of Harry Potter – that tastes delicious on the first gulp but horrible every time after that but he still likes it because his mom says it will make him strong. We've replayed his favourite parts of Bleach episodes while he tries to explain the subtle differences between bad guys – there's a creature that's kind of like a vampire but instead of blood he sucks out souls. We've swapped winter stories – he reiterated his tale of being stuck in a blizzard while walking home from school in Cambridge Bay when the snowdrifts were up to his waist. It was the coldest he's ever been.

I glance at the clock. It's getting late.

"Sorry, Wallace, but I gotta take off."

"That's OK," he says. He's having pizza for supper tonight!

"Oh, good. I love pizza! So how about I come over?"

"Sorry, but, no," he smiles, in on the joke.

As I lock up, I watch him heading opposite of home, trailing his electric blue Wacky Karpet over the metal grill sidewalk, pulling it along with one ripped glove.

The keys nearly freeze between my fingers.

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