Ste-Catherine Street is loud and in motion with people shopping and chattering, as per usual. Frigid November winds blow down it, making the people shiver and bury their faces in their coats, as per usual. There is something slightly different, though – the people rush by just a bit busier, the store windows and displays are just a bit brighter. Christmas is coming, and everyone is in a shopping frenzy.
A figure stands still on a street corner, leaning back against a building whose upper-floor windows flash with neon signs advertising “XXX Massages”. To them, this hustle and bustle seems less like a collaborative, celebratory activity, and more like a war between the stores and the people. They’ve heard mothers shouting at employees about how little Ruth’s holiday will be ruined if she doesn’t have the new BarbieTM PetshopTM motor trike, so what do you mean it’s out of stock, go double-check and triple-check the back room! They’ve seen clothing store employees hassling teenagers, battling empty wallets with fake smiles and promises of irresistible deals and the hottest fashions, all so some big man at a corporate headquarters can count a few more bills. Under all the colourful wrappings and glowing lights, there’s an anxious undercurrent to the whole ordeal.
They do, of course, consider that they might be overreacting. Besides, who are they to understand how people work? They don’t have those very human experiences of gender, or excitement, or a job, or anything else that seems to be common sense and mandatory for the crowd around them.
Glancing into a shop window, their reflection is neither masculine nor feminine, doesn’t look happy or really all that sad. Most people would feel something, something aside from disdain. Even if you hate the holidays, you would be expected to feel some sort of righteous anger, right? Have a riot, work to end capitalism, and failing all that, have a nice long cry. But they don’t feel like crying, or being angry.
I’m a simulacrum. I’m not a person, but an imitation of one.
A person would cry. A person would deal with this weariness by trying to make a change, instead of standing on a street corner and watching the world go. What are they doing there, anyways?
A ringing phone answers that question. The imitation fumbles through a satchel bag and brings the phone to their face.
“Casey! Jesus, where the hell are you? You haven’t answered your texts. You’re like, an hour late already!” Oh shit. It’s Benny, and old friend – an old friend they had made plans to visit.
“I… shit, I’m sorry, I lost track of time. I’m on my way now, I’m right by the metro.”
“Are you okay? You sound stressed – ”
“Yeah, I’m okay, no need to worry about me. I’ll – ”
“Listen, Case, if you don’t wanna come, you don’t have to.”
Casey hesitates, briefly considering it. It’s not that they don’t want to go over, but being an hour late is embarrassing. But they haven’t seen Benny in so long, and besides, how does that expression go? Better late than never?
“No, it’s fine. I’m fine. Bye.”
Casey remembered now: they’d gone downtown to buy Benny a present. It’s his birthday this weekend, and they were supposed to meet for lunch. It’s already two p.m. – there’s nothing to be done but bolt to the metro, and buy something tomorrow, so long as they don’t get distracted again.
Benny’s apartment is warm and smells nice, like fresh spices and kindness. It’s a well-located rental, not too far from the Atwater metro station. Casey stares out the window, down at the street, which looks remarkably like the ant farms the two of them used to play with as kids. Dots hurrying about, somewhere to be, something to do. Casey idly wonders if the process of rushing to a designated task is as automatic for humans as it is for ants.
“Hey Benny, d’you think those people think about what they’re doing?”
Benny steps out of the kitchen, holding two mugs of coffee, and walks over to Casey. “What do you mean?”
“Bugs… we don’t really know if they have emotions, or free will, and maybe they just act ‘cause their leader told them to. Maybe they just act to survive.”
Benny smirks as he places the mugs on the polished, brightly-coloured plastic coffee table, and slips into the adjacent “retro” leather chair. “I’m pretty sure Christmas shopping isn’t on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”
“Neither is going to business school to start a company you don’t care about.” Casey’s voice is cold, colder than they intend it to be. Hearing their own words, they flinch, and recoil back into their seat.
“Hey, don’t be that way.” Benny says, reaching his hand out across the table. “I’m sure you’ll get back on your feet soon.” He’s still smiling, but it’s a concerned smile, full of pity. The type of face you make when trying to pretend everything’s okay when it’s not. The type of pity you extend to an injured animal.
“I get on my feet and then they slip out from under me. You told me that I’d get back on them at my first delay, when I dropped out, and before my last attempt.”
Silence. The two old friends stay quiet for a while; Benny knows he’s struck a nerve. Casey knows they’ve prodded him. Both of them look at the walls, lined with IKEA art pieces and framed certificates that feel unearned. Beneath the modern decor is thinly painted concrete, cheap cut corners disguised as chic and sophisticated. Though, it’s just concrete – cold and dry.
Casey looks back up at Benny, who seems a bit embarrassed. They don’t know why they resent him, as he’s always been nice. Better than nice – he had helped Casey transition, and stood by their unconventional presentation and pronouns. Even before that, he had befriended them, despite Casey being the kid that others whispered about: The kid who missed class once a week for appointments and who preferred to sit under the desk instead of in front of it, who didn’t play well with others, who led to parents describing them with strange words like savant, troubled, special, and occasionally a particularly nasty one that started with the letter R.
Despite all this, Benny stood by them. He’d offered them a job at his startup when CEGEP fell through, though at the time it was just a side-project. Casey had refused, but Benny would still bring it up every now and then. Casey didn’t want the job, but they were grateful for the opportunity. Some people just won’t let you fall. They glance at him fondly.
Suddenly, they remember. “Oh, Benny.”
He looks up, an apology in his brown watery eyes, but Casey isn’t looking as they search through their bag.
“It’s not much, I kinda just grabbed it on the way here, but, it’s something, I hope.” They hand a Starbucks gift card across the table, alongside a slightly squished teddy bear, the cheap kind they sell in corner stores with the big eyes. “It’s not much but, uh, I know you like coffee.”
Benny takes the present hesitantly. “Case… you didn’t have to do that, you know.”
“But it’s your birthday, and it’s almost Christmas, and besides… I wanted to repay you.”
He laughs, and the tension seems to disappear from the room. “Repay me? For what?”
“For being… around. For inviting me here even though you’re so busy. For treating me like, like a person, I guess.” There are tears in Casey’s eyes, but they aren’t quite crying.
Hands wrap around Casey’s back, and they feel their head pressed against a firm, warm chest. The tears start falling as they reach their arms around Benny, letting themselves be held. A torrent of emotions hits, fast and full as the wind.
“Oh Casey,” he says, his voice soft, that of a familiar old friend, that of home. “I think you’re more human than the rest of us.”
Rory Jay is a non-binary CEGEP student who writes poems, science-fiction, and contemporary fiction, often drawing on their experiences with gender, autism spectrum disorder, and mental illness. They love literature and storytelling of all kinds, from books, to television, to video games, to musicals, to anime. They are passionate about exploring new ideas, analyzing the world, and sharing their experiences.
Copyright © 2018 by Rory Jay. All rights reserved.