The image on the cover is by Kevin Lanthier. See more of his work
From Marry, Bang, Kill. Published by Goose Lane in 2018. Andrew Battershill is the fiction editor of This magazine. His first novel, Pillow, was longlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2016 Sunburst Award, and shortlisted for the 2016 Kobo Emerging Writer Award. He splits his time between Vancouver and Quadra Island.
For Tommy, it was only possible to rob someone when they appeared to him a blurry, Caucasian shape rather than a living, 3-D teenage girl whose life was just as unique and special-feeling to her as his was to him.
His bad eyes were a big reason Tommy had gotten into mugging, as
opposed to any other kind of theft, since it was the kind that didn’t necessarily involve night vision. The kind where somebody with experience will tell you your first time: just close your eyes and do it. For Tommy, that was perfect, since he could stare people in the eye like a wild dog, and just be seeing what most people see when they relax their whole eyeballs.
Tommy wasn’t sure what the exact definition of legally blind was, but he felt confident it would be insensitive to call himself that. He’d had too many prescriptions to keep track of, and none had fixed his vision all the way. Most helped most of the way, got him seeing straight with his glasses on or his contacts in, getting by, driving a car. But he never got the perfect pair— his vision always stayed that little bit askew, tilting off into swirls and vagueness. So he was not, probably, legally blind. Just very, very shitty at seeing things within twenty feet.
He’d prepared for the girl to be a bit of a tough nut, thirteen years old, bright
blond hair and dark black eyebrows, leaving her crumbs on the table, shoving her way out the door and scowling into the welcoming brightness of the late afternoon. Already looking mean enough to teach middle school, let alone be in it. He reached her in perfect stride, at the perfect spot, and slid an arm over her shoulders, subtly twisting his body around to block her (and the fact that he was covering her mouth) from the street. She immediately bit his hand, and Tommy sucked in breath quickly, removing the knife from his pocket and directing her eyes towards it with his own.
“Okay, Bitch Face, give up the bag. Give it up. Give it up. I will stab you if you scream.”
He retracted the hand and wiped it on his shirt, only succeeding in spreading her thick spit further across his hand.
The girl didn’t look even a little scared, just grudging. She probably reacted the same way to movie theatre ads about turning off her cellphone. Her demeanour bluntly depressed Tommy. If he couldn’t even put a scare into a thirteen-year-old girl, it really was time to get out of the game. She sullenly dropped the bag to the ground, and Tommy scooped it up with one hand, replacing the knife in his pocket with the other.
“It’s not even my computer. You smell like onions.”
What a little shit, Tommy thought, everyone smells like onions—calling people out on it was breaking the agreement we all make with each other each day. He turned to go.
“And I know I have a bitch face. People don’t need to keep telling me.”
This stopped Tommy, and he turned back to her. “How many people have called you a bitch face? I was just doing a thing here.”
There are two personality traits required to stay in action as a street mugger for as long as Tommy had. The first is the one most people would think of: being careless or vicious or callous enough to threaten people with a knife and rob them. The second is just as important but more counterintuitive: being nice
and easygoing enough to make and keep friends who are willing to help sell what one steals, and not dime one out if they get pinched.
These two traits exist on a spectrum, and Tommy was about as far as one could functionally be to the likeable side. He would have absolutely no problem fencing this computer and having a pleasant, personally meaningful afternoon with Bill, his computer guy. He would also, it was starting to seem, have trouble leaving Bitch Face without feeling bad about himself.
She toed the ground and tossed a heavy, limp chunk of hair over her shoulder. “But it was the first thing you thought of, right? Like, randomly, it popped in your head. Everyone calls me a bitch face. Or says I have one.”
Tommy was spending much too long in the open here, but something about Bitch Face’s prematurely jaded manner tugged at him. He scanned the street, and finding it empty, he looked her in the face, a vague chinook of paternal warmth wafting weakly through him. “You’re young. Just… uh… it’s also a posture thing. Like, hold your shoulders differently, maybe.”
The Crow Commute. From Urban Wildlife by Kevin Lanthier. This ongoing photography project explores the experience of the wildlife living amongst us in our cities. Lanthier lives in Vancouver and at kevinlanthier.com.
Olympic Village Beavers. From Urban Wildlife by Kevin Lanthier.