In under twenty minutes Rick and Misty arrived at Memorial Park. Misty couldn’t wait to get out of the car and have a look around.
“Look Rick. The park looks beautiful in the winter.”
“I can see that. Today’s snowfall makes it look even better. I love how the branches of the trees look when they’re covered by snow and the amber street lights reflect off them. There is so much in nature that we just don’t appreciate,” Rick said.
“Let’s walk through the park and go over the Osborne Bridge,” Misty suggested.
“Sounds good to me. Let’s do it,” Rick answered.
As he held Misty’s hand they started to cross the bridge, Rick realized that this was the way he felt when he first met Sasha. This was definitely better than getting drunk or stoned. No feeling could compare to being in love.
The couple stopped walking when they were about half way across the bridge. Misty pointed out the beauty of the gnarled, snow covered branches of the trees on the river bank.
“This is a beautiful scene,” Rick agreed. If I had my sketch book with me, I would start drawing what is right before our eyes,” Rick said.
“You’re an artist, too?” Misty asked with surprise.
“Yes, actually I’m pretty good at it. I mostly draw pictures of cartoon characters from Looney Tunes. Some of the little kids on our block like them,” Rick said.
“That’s another thing that we have in common. I like to draw too, mostly pictures of animals. I especially like to draw pictures of horses,” Misty said.
“That’s great. We should arrange a time when we both have our sketch books and do some drawing together,” Rick suggested. “Look Misty, there’s a Salisbury House just across the bridge. Could I buy you a coffee or a hot chocolate?”
“You bet,” Misty answered.
As soon as they arrived Rick found them a booth at the Salisbury House. When they got their winter clothing off, an attractive young waitress asked them for their order. Misty wanted a hot chocolate with marshmallows and Rick asked for a coffee.
The lights always seemed bright at a Salisbury House restaurant. The couple didn’t really notice but the Osborne Sals started to fill up with customers. As a result, all the ongoing conversations greatly raised the noise level.
Rick said, “You will need to speak up a little bit. I have trouble hearing in crowded places.”
“Why is that?” Misty asked.
“When I was a little boy, I had a lot of ear infections. My doctor later told me that the infections probably reduced my ability to hear out of my left ear.”
“That’s too bad. I’ll speak more loudly for you.”
“I would appreciate that,” Rick said.
“Rick, did you hear the rumour going around that I was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward when I was living in California?”
“Yeah, I heard something about that,” Rick answered.
“Well, it’s true, but the story has been greatly exaggerated. I spent about two weeks in a psychiatric rehabilitation facility in San Francisco. I was there basically for observation so that the doctors could make a diagnosis,” Misty explained.
“So, what did the doctors come up with?” Rick asked.
“At that time they told me it was manic depression. My psychiatrist in Winnipeg changed the diagnosis to schizo-affective disorder.”
“Yeah, I remember you telling me about that. Do you need to take medication?’
“Yes, lithium. For a long time, I wasn’t really taking it. I just lied to my doctor and my parents telling them that I was taking the lithium regularly. I got busted when they eventually took a blood test. The test showed that there was no trace of lithium in my body.”
“Why didn’t you take your medication?”
“Because it made me feel worse. To be more precise I didn’t feel any emotions at all when I first started taking it. Plus, it was making me gain weight.”
“So, do you take lithium now?” Rick asked.
“No. My new psychiatrist in Winnipeg put me on chlorpromazine after he changed my diagnosis to schizo-affective disorder,” Misty answered.
The restaurant was starting to get very smoky. It appeared that most of the customers were puffing hard on their cigarettes while they sucked back the strong Salisbury House coffee. The smoke in the air was starting to make Rick’s eyes water.”
“Let’s go back to Memorial Park. It’s getting too smoky in here for me,” said Rick.
Rick and Misty started walking back across the Osborne bridge. Misty thought she saw the shadowing figure of a man trying to climb up on the railings of the bridge.
Rick said, “It looks like that guy is going to try to jump over the bridge.”
Both Rick and Misty started yelling, “Hey man, stop! What are you trying to do?”
“Leave me alone. I’m going to jump,” the man answered.
“Let’s talk a bit first,” Misty said.
“Talk about what?” the man asked.
“About anything. Misty and I have been looking for someone interesting to talk to.” Rick answered.
“I’m not an interesting person and anyway you’ve got each other to talk to,” the man said.
“Let me be the judge of that. How about the three of us go to the Sals and get a cup of coffee? It’s starting to get chilly out here.” Rick said.
“I don’t even have enough money for a coffee, man, and I just smoked my last cigarette,”
“What’s your name?” Misty asked.
“Norman or just Norm.”
“Hi, I’m Misty and this is my boyfriend, Rick.”
“Like I said, I haven’t got enough money to go to the Sals and I’m kind of busy here.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you what. You come down from the railing and I’ll pay for your coffee and anything else you want to eat. Don’t worry about cigarettes. I just opened a new pack. How about it?” Rick asked.
“Well, I guess I could have my last coffee and cigarette before I leave this world.” Norm answered.
“That’s great. I’ll give you a smoke right now,” Rick said.
When they got back the Salisbury House, Norm ordered a Big Nip, and an order of fries and a coffee.
“Thanks guys. I haven’t had anything to eat yet today. My dad kicked me out at around ten this morning,” Norm said.
“So what have you been doing all day to keep warm?” Misty asked.
“I’ve been riding the bus. My dad bought me a monthly bus pass before I got the boot,” Norm said. “I don’t know what to do or where to go. Two months ago my mom kicked me out of her place.”
“Don’t worry we’ll figure something out,” Misty said.
Norman Robinson was only nineteen years old, but he was already starting to take on the appearance of a homeless person. He was tall and very thin. Misty noticed that Norman had a missing front tooth. He had a large hole in the front of his navy blue parka that made it look like he had vomited on his coat. The hole was actually a result of Norman helping his dad remove a defective battery from his car. In the process of completing this task, Norman had gotten some battery acid on his jacket. The acid had burned the hole in it.
Misty turned to Rick and said, “Let’s take Norm over to my place. I think my dad might like to talk to Norman.”
“What makes you say that?” Rick asked, looking somewhat befuddled.
“My dad has changed a lot since the summer. I’ll tell you about it later, but he now has a job working at a homeless shelter,” Misty answered.
“Wow. Lloyd has a steady job now,” Rick said.
“Look you guys have done enough for me already. After I finish my coffee and smoke I’ll just walk back to the bridge,” Norman said.
“I don’t think that’s such a great idea,” Rick said. “You don’t have a place to go tonight, do you?”
“That settles it. You’re coming with us,” Rick said firmly.
Rick, Misty and their new friend walked back to Rick’s car that was parked on a street next to Memorial Park. When Rick tried to start his car, the engine wouldn’t turn over.
“Damn,” Rick said. “I just put a new battery in two weeks ago,”
“Open the hood Rick and let me have a look,” Norman said.
“In less than a minute Norman asked Rick to try starting the car again. This time the engine turned over immediately.
“How did you do that?” Rick asked.
“It was just a loose cable. I was training to be an auto technician so I knew what to check first.”
“Wow, thanks a lot man,” Rick said, feeling both surprised and grateful.