by W.P. Kinsella
Afterall brought to mind the scariest moments of my life. I had brought my 3-year-old grandson home for a visit on a chilly March day. We lived in a slummy townhouse complex in Calgary in those days. He immediately went to the playground swings. Five minutes later, I checked on him and he had vanished. I immediately called the police, then walked the complex while my wife waited by the phone. Half an hour later a woman phoned to say he was at No16. I ran there, the farthest corner of the complex, and my heart dropped as I found the unit vacant. Shortly after, the police delivered him to our door. My wife had misheard 60 as 16. Twenty-five years later the terror of that half-hour still haunts me, which is why the behavior of Beth, the main character in this novella, strikes me as preposterous. Beth is 36, single, steadily employed, a Vancouver home-owner with tenants-supposedly, a responsible person. At a dinner party for upscale, mainly vegan liberals, who think they have a social conscience, Beth impulsively announces that she will spend a night on the street as a homeless person. Her host's 9-year-old son volunteers to come along, and his parents agree. They take sleeping bags, Evian water, snacks, toothbrushes, pajamas-most of the things homeless people would not have. In preparation, they go out for a huge meal, and they pick a safe park area to sleep in, far from skid row. Beth wakes in the night to find the boy gone. Instead of contacting the police, she wanders aimlessly about West End Vancouver until she passes a bistro where some of her friends are partying. She joins them, doesn't mention that she has just lost a child, and three or so hours pass, during which she drinks, parties, and meets a plastic surgeon with a pocketful of cocaine. So much for being responsible. The boy turns up safe. Ironically, he has been looked after by a homeless person. But Beth's complete stupidity and absolute irresponsibility is unforgivable. She deserves some terrible retaliatory act of fate, but nothing happens to her, and she never even realizes how criminally negligent she has been.