I’ve dropped three of the four pieces of litter in a construction dumpster. I’m on my way to a reading at Loft 112 in the East Village in Calgary, an area in transition. New, new, new, springing up around the over-crowded refuges and their clientele.
I’m doing this because our mayor, Naheed Nenshi told me to. No, no. He didn’t tell me to go to the reading, although if he’d personally invited me I would have been there half an hour early. If I’m lucky I’ll arrive before the break and in time for wine. If I’m lucky, before I get there I’ll also dispose of litter #4, an envelope I’ve wrapped in several layers of crumpled tissue and stuffed into the deep pocket of my raincoat.
No, the challenge our mayor issued to the good citizens of Calgary was to keep our city clean, to pick up litter wherever we see it. My husband claims the mayor specified “four pieces of litter each” but I’m sure the mayor said that one in four litter picker-upper citizens could make the difference. I don’t pick up my neighbours’ litter when I’m out for a stroll. That’s their responsibility. But here, when I crossed the garbage strewn vacant lot, I pulled myself up short when my first reaction was that someone should do something about this mess. Ah, Conscience, you have such messy priorities. And so – four pieces.
Why keep the envelope? I can feel it in my pocket while I’m schmoozing, sipping wine with my fellow writers. Because many a good story has begun with the arrival of an unexpected letter? In this case, the envelope bears only a printed TO: Nicholas in the upper right corner. But I know there is more. I gingerly lifted the flap and saw the single folded sheet of ruled paper ripped from a coil pad.
Back on the street, I pull the envelope from the swathing of tissue and as gingerly as I picked it up an hour ago, use my fingertips to remove, unfold the lined message.
Nicky me and Katie miss you Mum’s not doing so good. I seen Deeno the other day and he says your still around and he thinks maybe at that homeless place at night. I hope this gets to you cause you have to come home. Love your brother Kevin.
This is an old story. A sad one I’m not even tempted to steal. But tomorrow, Monday morning, I am going to hand deliver this letter to Mayor Nenshi’s office, with a note telling him that litter is no big deal. Homelessness and sad kids are The Big Deal. And I am issuing him the challenge of finding Nicholas and making sure this city gets things right and picks up the Nickys and Katies and Kevins and their mums who are lying at the side of the road.
Betty Jane Hegerat is a Calgary writer, occasional teacher, for whom one of the greatest benefits of writing has been her membership in a huge community of writers. Betty Jane is the author of two novels, a collection of short stories, and a work of creative non-fiction that is a hybrid of fiction, memoir and investigative journalism. Her short fiction and essays have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her newest work, a novel for teens, will be published by Oolichan Books in Februrary 2016. At the 2015 Alberta Book Awards, Betty Jane was the recipient of the Golden Pen Award for Lifetime Achievement in Writing. She was deeply honoured and humbled by this recognition.
She can be found at http://bettyjanehegerat.com