"Are you hungry?" Mattie said.
"No, thanks. Carla brought home pizza for the boys and I snagged a couple of pieces." Liz walked into the kitchen, put her huge leather bag on the table and took out a black bundle. She unrolled it to reveal three different scissors, a couple of combs, half a dozen giant clips and an electric hair clipper.
"This equipment looks expensive."
"Lee got it for me. Some guy owed him money." She tossed her leather jacket on another chair."
Liz paused, then shrugged. "I never asked. Probably a drug debt."
Mattie was stunned. Liz had just admitted her boyfriend was a drug dealer. Actually she'd admitted he was a drug dealer, but not her boyfriend.
"Were you in a relationship with him?"
"Not at the beginning." Liz pulled out a chair. "Sit down, let's get started."
Mattie sat but she didn't shut up. "What do you mean not at the beginning?"
Liz shook out the black bundle, draped the nylon hairdressing gown around Mattie and did up the clasps on her neck.
"It was a bad time, I was living on the strip. Lee knew me and sort of took me in."
"You mean that place we visited the other day? You were actually living there? With those people?"
"You should hear yourself, Mattie. Who are you to judge "those people"? What do you know about them or why they're there?"
Enough, Mattie thought, I know enough. "Sorry." This wasn't working. Mattie needed the entire story delivered in a cohesive manner not snippets of vague information without context. Someone had to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It had to be her.
"I had coffee with two RCMP drug squad officers this morning. They want me to inform on you."
"Really?" Liz picked up her scissors and comb. "What do you think about the messy look? It's short, fashionable and easy to manage." She began cutting without waiting for an answer.
"They said Lee is a drug trafficker and you're one of his low level dealers."
"I'm going to tighten up the back and add texture with some point cutting."
"They think you have drugs in the van and you've parked it on my property for safekeeping. They think you're using me."
Liz stopped cutting. "What do you think, Mattie?"
"I don't know what to think."
Liz put down the comb and scissors. "I need a smoke." She got a package of cigarettes out of her bag and went out the back door. Mattie followed, gown swishing, hair sloughing off onto the floor.
The back veranda looked out onto the blackness of the neighbouring farm's blueberry fields. Off in the distance tower lights guided passenger jets on their approach to YVR.
The end of the cigarette had an angry glow as Liz inhaled deep.
"After I left home I was on the strip for about a year."
"Why'd you leave home?"
"I told you. Amiel, Carla's boyfriend, he tried to rape me, twice."
"You did tell me, I'm sorry."
"Anyhow, you can only crash with friends for so long and before you know it you're living on the street, doing what street people do."
"It must have been tough."
"I lost fourteen friends in one year. Well, they weren't actually friends, but I knew them, got high with them."
"The only reason I survived was because I can't stand needles. It's gotten a lot worse now with carfentanyl on the street, it's a hundred times more potent than fentanyl, just a couple of milligrams will kill you. Everything's cut with it now - coke, party drugs, not just heroin."
Liz took another drag. "So one day Lee shows up on the strip. I know him from The Reptile Refuge where I volunteered in high school and he sees that I'm a crack head and sick with Hep C and takes me back to his place."
"You lived with him?"
"It was way better than sleeping on the street on a wet mattress beneath a construction tarp."
"I owe Lee my life. He's the one that got me straight, and helped me get healthy."
"He got you into detox?"
"No. He kept me stoned on grass for like three weeks, then gradually he tapered it off."
"But he's a drug dealer, Liz."
"What's the difference between Lee and a doctor prescribing Prozac or Valium? One drug's legal the other's not. Not too long ago cannabis was illegal, soon you'll be able to buy it at the liquor store. And what about alcohol? How many lives does it wreck while the government rakes in millions in taxes. It's all so fucking hypocritical it makes me sick."
They were silent. Mattie became aware of the cold wind gusting in from the ocean.
"I'm sorry about your friends," she said.
"Now they're providing naloxone kits and safe injection sites, but it won't make a difference. When you live that way for a long time death seems like a way out. It's such a fucking struggle every day and you just can't imagine it ever getting better. Then someone who hardly knows you..." Liz flicked her butt into the dark. "He might not be Prince Charming on a white horse, but I owe him."
"Do you know where he is?"
"Hey, let's go finish your haircut. I'll make it short on top so you can either wear it back spikey or forward smooth."
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