So I'm throwing a few more kids at her, just so she doesn't tear through them all before I'm ready for the big climax.
Epilogue: John and the Master Plan
Chris woke slowly to the hand shaking his shoulder. This was not a world he wanted to be in. His neck was sore, from leaning, his head, from hitting the cab’s doorframe, his right shoulder, from Charlotte’s head crooked into it for the last whoever knew how long, his legs from being crammed down into too little space for four long days. And his Mom was dead. He’d dreamed that she wasn’t. But she was. Still.
The shaking went on. It wouldn’t stop, Chris decided, until he found out what the cabbie wanted. Chris opened his eyes a crack. The strange light of these American streetlights, intense and white, stabbed his eyes and he closed his gummy eyelids again, feeling the pebbly pain of the gook in the corner of his eyes, the exact way the words seemed to scroll across Chris’s mind. He grimaced and forced his eyes open. He couldn’t see anything, but he deserved it.
“You’re awake,” the cabbie whispered. He was a big man, with a shaven head like Telly Savalas on Kojak. His elbow was across the seatrest. Chris vaguely noticed the letters “ER” tattooed on his wrist, exposed by his weird pullover. People sure dressed funny in the States, not like on TV at all.
“Yeah,” Chris answered.
“Shh. Your sister’s still sleeping.”
“Are you sure you got the address right, kid? I’m gonna go back to that mall and back into the sub-division. You look round and see if you recognise the turns.”
Chris panicked. They only had ten bucks American. Would that be enough if some big city taxidriver pulled a fast one on them? Mom had a taxi driver friend who joked about doing that some rich American draft dodger. “What about the fare?”
The driver smiled. One of his teeth was strangely metallic in the low light. “When I pick up kids like you two at the bus station, I turn off the meter, myself. Wish someone done that the day I rolled into town. I wouldn’t a learned some of the stuff I learned the hard way, like this address here.”
“It’s no good,” Chris said. “We’ve never visited our uncle. Never even knew he existed ‘till Mom told us we’d be staying with him.”
“The address?” The cabbie prompted.
Chris thrust the crumpled paper at the cabbie again. “I didn’t write this down. It was the lady that came for us when Mom died.” It seemed strange to refer to her as a lady when she was probably all of 20 at best. People said it was hard to tell how old Chinese girls were, but Chris had a good handle on that, and, besides, the big, blond man who had hovered silently over her still had a faint spray of acne on his forehead.
“Is there anyone back home we could call and confirm?” The cabbie asked, irrelevantly holding up a thin, flat wallet thing, so sharply creased that it looked like it was made of black glass instead of leather.
“There’s no-one. We stayed with Mom ‘till she died. No-one came but the lady who drove us down to the bus station and paid our tickets.” Not even Dad, Chris thought, not that Chris was expecting him. “We didn’t-, we couldn’t-, there was nowhere to go back to, even. Gram’s dead. Mr. Vezina dropped our bags at the hospital after the park super padlocked our trailer.” That seemed a bit much, Chris thought. They weren’t that poor. “Mom missed two month’s rent ‘cuz she was in hospital,” he explained. Or apologised.
“Shame,” the cabbie said. “Some ways makes me wish the address was right. Guy who lives here’s an asshole, but not the kind’d lock kids out of their house over two months’ rent.”
Chris pulled his lips thin and grim over his teeth. He wasn’t going to explain about Mom’s friends. He just wasn’t. And he wasn’t going to blame it on being half-Chinese, either. You swallowed that up and went on. He’d learned that. “Yeah.”
“So the address is right.” It was phrased like a question, but it wasn’t. “Damn. Look, I’d love to help you guys up to the door, but I just can’t. But I’m not going to ditch you here, neither. I’ll stop around the corner and wait five minutes, or you can call me . . .” He rattled off a phone number, with the area code even, so fast Chris couldn’t keep track, not that he cared, because what were the odds that they’d find a phone and be able to call the taxi’s car phone in five minutes?
A soft voice came from beside Chris. “Why don’t we just call Dad?”
“Because we don’t have his number. Duh.” As soon as it was out of his mouth, Chris regretted saying that.
“Liar! He was going to come for us. He would have come for us if that Chin-”
His sister put her hand to her mouth. This whole mouth-running-away-from-you thing was catching today. “I’m sorry, Chris.”
“Char, Mom was in the hospital for two months. We were with her four days at the end. That’s all the time in the world for Dad to show up.” Chris didn’t say any more, not about the ghost car that had been sitting across from the entrance to the trailer park for two weeks, hard up beside the dyke and with a glimpse of their front porch, or about the big, male nurse with the impossibly short haircut that had been hanging around the nurse’s station every time Chris went by. The heat was on Dad again, and he wasn’t going to show, but Chris wasn’t going to be the one to explain that to Charlotte.
But, then, who would? “Thanks, man. Here’s the money.”
The cabbie held the ten in his hands, like it wasn’t enough, and also that he had expected it. Then he handed it back. “You shoulda bought food along the way, boy. I’m sure your uncle’s good for the fare.”
“Should we bring it around to you?” Charlotte asked.
“No. I know he’s good for it. One way or another.”
And with that, Chris and Charlotte got out of the strange, sleekly curved taxi cab, a make that Chris couldn’t recognise, and which definitely didn’t look like anything on TV. The night was unexpectedly cold, and raw and damp in a way that felt very different from back home. Which it should, being a whole continent away from Butthole, British Columbia. This was Philadelphia, a town that Chris only knew from the Liberty Bell they had in comics sometimes, like when Benedict Arnold’s sword stuck through the crack in that Kid Eternity story.
Funny that comics didn’t show leafy streets, with houses like the nicest parts of Hope, but far more closely packed together, and all three stories high. Chris stepped up on the sidewalk, his big grip banging against his leg. He looked over at his sister. She was struggling with her two bags, but Chris new better than to offer Charlotte help until it was time.
He looked at the crumpled address in his hand, matching it again to the big , barnlike house in front of them, with a single window in the slanting roof facing them, and a blue door lit by warm yellow light from above. That was it, though. Windows, doors, stark to the street, with a formal garden, not even a driveway to the garage that wasn’t there. Chris knew from driving around Penticton once with an older friend who was always trying to talk Chris into doing B&Es for him what kind of house spelled money. His uncle was rich, but door aside, he didn’t live in a very homey place. Still, Chris hoped there was food there. He could hardly stop thinking about it since the cabbie mentioned it.
There was a bag lying on the doorstep, with an oversized umbrella leaned against it. “Wouldn’t it be cool if that was a sword umbrella?” Chris asked.
“You’re such a drip, Chris,” Charlotte answered. “Do you think there’s a corner store open around here somewhere?”
Then the door opened, and Chris was staring at an auburn-haired, blue-skinned girl in a black shirt buttoned up to her neck, jeans, and, boots, who looked almost as tired as Charlotte.
“Who are you?” The blue girl blurted.
“Christopher,” he answered, shocked.
“Christopher Wong. And this is my sister, Charlotte.”
“Cute.” The blue girl stuck her head in the door and yelled, “Mr. Wong!”
The door opened a little further, and a blonde girl in blue pullover sweats and pants, her hair pulled behind her in a pony tail, stepped out. “Chris, Charlotte! Your uncle wasn’t expecting you for another day.”
“Our bus,” Chris said, his memory pulling back to things that he should remember, but hardly did, because he was so tired after four days on the coach, “Jenny said the Fairview made the trip fast, and we caught the last day’s coach.” Chris had no idea what that meant, except that the old Cadillac the lady drove was special some way, and said it like the explanation might matter to someone else.
“Wait,” the blue-skinned girl said. “These are Uncle Kwan’s kids?”