august 1974

“I'm gonna get his room now. I'm gonna get George's fuckn room.”

She struts around the park calling it out, cigarette in one hand. A leather-beaded purse hangs off her shoulder, swivelling round as she walks. She gestures. Points the smoke at someone she knows. High as a kite. Looks like Susan Dey as Laurie Partridge—long brown hair straight, flat on top of her head, parted perfectly in the centre. Brown eyes. But eyes fiercer than Susan Dey. Jeans tight at her hips. Tan clogs. Checked shirt knotted over her belly. Glimmer of white flesh. A slutty version of Laurie Partridge.

“I'm gonna get his room now. I'm gonna get George's fuckn room. I'm done sharing a room with my brat sister. Gonna get George's room now. What's left of it.”

Guy to my left stands among six or seven teenagers. Long black hair. Platform shoes. Tight T-shirt. Keep on Truckin'. Calls out to her, “That mean we can screw inside now? Instead ah here in the park?” He grabs his crotch. Tongue lolls out. Laughter all around him.

She's unbothered. Euphoric. Not embarrassed that her business is public.

Calls back, “You got that right, Brian. You got that fuckn right. You tell all your twat friends too. ‘Cause I'm gonna get his room now. I'm gonna get that little fucker's room.”

She points her smoke at the sky. Arm rigid. Victory salute.

* * *

Sirens. Sirens brought us. A distant whirring got stronger and stronger. Cops? Ambulance? Someone said they saw smoke. They were over on Dundurn coming back from Mac's Milk, saw smoke way down the street, past the Brewers Retail even.

All the boys assembled. Roger Wills chaired.

“There's a fire. Way down Dundurn. As far as Main. Somebody's place burnin' up. Let's go. Together.”

My older brother was there. I looked up at him. He glanced back at our house. “Get on your bike.”

I was the only one who rode, only way to keep up with the older boys.

* * *

Houses smaller down here. Past Melbourne Avenue. Hill Street. Over the railway bridge. To where Canada Street butts up against Dundurn. I'd never gone as far on my bike before, at least not in this direction. Not north. A different world, north. Kids swear and holler in the streets. Kids run around with no shoes. Dirty hands, dirty faces. No one cares. No one gets blasted for looking grubby, for swearing. Kids younger than me crossing Dundurn on their own. Shouting at cars to fuck off. Fuck this. Fuckn faggot that. Shitlicker. One I'd never heard before.

I'm cautious. Scared but don't want my brother to know. Cross over the railway bridge with him, Roger, John Marcetelli, Dominic Delello, Ed and Walter Zshavski, Johnny White, various Coogans.

I look down from the railway bridge. Oily tracks. Ties leech creosote. Paper Dominion grocery bags wet and frayed, coming apart. Pitched bottles smashed. Rusty nails, broken glass. Overturned grocery store cart. Dilapidated beer cases.

A guy lies back drinking. Looks up at me. Right at the instant I spot him. Not that old, really—probably forty. But to me he looks ancient, an old man. Dirty hair. Grubby clothes. Creased, brown skin. Yellow eyes. And pissed off. He looks absolutely pissed off at everything, including me, especially me. Like I'm everything he hates. Like if he could, he'd reach up from under the bridge, grab my skinny ankles, pull me off my bike and drag me down into his stink—teach me a lesson, keep me there till I stunk too. He holds my gaze till I look away.

* * *

Stink of alcohol, cigarettes, body odour. Blinds drawn. Halo of sunlight against nicotine-yellowed material. Light trying to penetrate. Glint of orange. Darkness puts up a fight.

“Where you hidin'? Come on out, Georgie boy.”


All the time he says it. All the time she hears it. All the time she ignores it.


“Quit yer blubbering. You got it comin'. Little fucker.”

Girls out of the house. Out slutting around somewheres. Just momma, daddy and George at home.

“Get those bitches outa my site.” First thing he said when he stepped through the door.

Feet shuffle heavy on the green painted hardwood. Wallpaper stained, peeling away. Mirror cracked. Tiger-Cats pennant hangs limp off the mirror frame, a remnant of the 72 Cup. Some junk looted from school piled on the dresser—school supplies, shit ripped off other kids. Stuff to sell for smokes. Stuff to burn that will not sell.


“Don't put up a fuss now, Georgie boy.”

Daddy stops, exhales a plume of alcohol. Listens.


Was straight to the tavern after work at three. Beer and whisky. Payday. Round after round. Liquid supper. Liquor supper. Home pissed on the Barton bus, then Main West, scuttled out at Dundurn. Seven o'clock back to the squat house on Canada Street .

Only so many places George can hide in a room seven feet by eight. Small, single bed, mattress drooping, up against one wall. A few lonely shirts, trousers hang in the closet. Old chair, dirty underwear and socks on the floor. Couple Mad magazines. Hockey cards. Empty cigarette packs—Export A. Same brand as daddy, same brand as momma, same brand as his two sisters. Packs of matches. Lots of packs of matches. Stolen from Becker's.

George plays with matches. Lights things on fire in the park. In the small backyard—twenty feet wide by maybe fifteen deep, broken chain-link fence at the back slopes down to the railway tracks. George burns newspapers. Dominion bags. School books. Old cigarette packs. Rags. Rags soaked in oil. Throws them down on the tracks. Burns piles of leaves. Any junk by the tracks. Any junk he can get his hands on that'll burn. Wants to set a train on fire. George dreams of burning trains. Trains that jump the tracks, fly through the air, plough into his house and destroy it in a blazing fireball—his entire family incinerated in minutes.

“Georgie, it's Thursday. Payday. Come and get some.”

Daddy always waits till a train goes by, the roar of the diesel drowns out his son's cries. Then he'll pounce. Fuckn trains never pass when you need them, he thinks.


Room swims and spins round daddy. Bit of filtered sunlight blinds him when he turns. Thinks he heard something from the closet. Daddy feels nauseous. Smells sulphur. Scritch scritch of matches striking. Maybe Georgie lighting up a fag? A burst of flame. A muffled, “What? Fuck?!” Then down goes daddy, felled, right into the drooped mattress. Piss drunk. Passed out. Burnt out. Ker-plunk. Before the train. Before he could pounce.

Oily rags stuffed into the mattress. Sunlight trickling through. Scritch scritch go the matches. Bits of orange sunlight. More light. Yellow licks of flame.

Momma comes up the tattered stairs. No tears. Eyes all dried up. She cries for no one. Tears beat out of her a long time ago. She grabs the doorknob; holds it closed. Ignores George's pounding. Ignores the smoke coming out from under the door. Ignores George's wailing, failing voice like she's done so many times before. Thinks only of breaking the circle.

She reeks of alcohol, cigarettes and body odour. Now, too, of smoke—white-knuckled grasp on the doorknob. Blood of her family invisible on her hands. She pries off her wedding band. Tosses it. Hopes it melts in the fire. Last gasp from George, then she darts for the street.

* * *

I dream of trains. There's a switching yard a few blocks from my house, over by the Westinghouse plant. All through the night trains crash, coupling together. In my dreams the trains are like in a children's book—smiling faces on the front of the engine, toys and treats for good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain. I dream about smiling, friendly trains, peppermint drops as big as basketballs, lollypops as big as trees. Idiot grinning clowns like friendly giants. Where I live, nothing burns. No one dreams of burning trains, of incinerated families or the joy of scorched brothers.

* * *

I know George. He was in my grade four class last year. Seems ages ago now. Summer of slow burn.

* * *

Papers come out with details. Papers I don't read. Everyone gets The Spec on the block. Story trickles down. Details spilled, passed along, up the block. Roger told John, who told my brother. I was there. By the curb. Hands in pockets.

“Father diddled him.”

I look around. Their voices hushed. A word I don't know.

“Father smoked. They all smoked. George. Both sisters. The mother. The father.”

George? He was the same age as me.

“George burned the bed. He couldn't get out. Torched himself too. The father was a drunk.”

A word I know.

“Passed out on the bed. Burned his old man. Killed him. Old man diddled him night after night.”

That word again.

Eyebrows up. Heads nod. Hands in pockets. They know.

* * *

“I'm gonna get his room now. I'm gonna get George's fuckn room.”

She's still calling it for all to hear. Fire trucks have come and gone. Ambulance gone. Police hang around. Cops'll want to talk to her at some point.

“I'm gonna get his room now. I'm gonna get George's fuckn room.”

The guys by the butt end of the street look over at her. One says, “Old man's gone. We can all go over and fuck that slut. You know, take turns. Like the old man probably done with his buddies and that kid.” More laughter.

I look at my brother, confused.

“On your bike. Excitement's over.”

I grab my two-wheeler. Peddle like mad away. School starts in a week. No George this year. In my class or any other. I'm nine years old. Ten in October.



Matthew Firth keeps it realler than most.

Photo Info: From Point, Point, POINT and Shoot.
Photo Credit: Emily Horne

Published On: 03/01/2007
Permanent Location:

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march 1, 2007

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