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GiveLife.ca

    
The Outsiders
Winter: 4

Intro
Summer Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Autumn Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Winter Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Full Photo GalleryBehind the Story

By Margaret Philp with photographs by Patti Gower

The gnawing winter cold has trumped Terra and Kurt.

With the drifts of snow and plunging temperature, they have moved indoors. Most nights, they sleep on the basement floor at the Council Fire shelter, the bottom rung of hostels in the city but a place that allows men and women to sleep in the same room.

During the day, they cling to their stake on the Rosedale Valley corner.

A man in a car idling at the red light hops out, snaps open his trunk and hurls brand-new air mattresses and duvets still wrapped in plastic onto the snow by the side of the road. He nods and races away with the traffic.

Rather than the raw ingredients for survival as intended, this stash of mint-condition merchandise is as good as cold cash to Terra and Kurt. They know it, without a word spoken between them.

Terra wastes no time bundling the bulky air mattresses and duvets into a garbage bag that Kurt slings over his shoulder like Santa's sack. They head to a seedy doughnut shop where all manner of goods are hocked.

Scattered in the snow around the corner are deposits of pennies and nickels, the bit change that Kurt flings on the ground in disgust after someone hands it out their car window. Fred marches by here on his way downtown to the Good Shepherd, stopping to scoop up the coins.

"I picked up 48 cents last week," he says incredulously. "They throw money away. They throw money away. People should make something of themselves when they're young."

From the corner where he pockets stray coins, Fred can see through the bare tree branches the tomb in the Toronto Necropolis where his grandfather, a turn-of-the-century city alderman named John Dunn, is buried with other Dunn relatives.

Fred's father chose instead to be buried at Prospect Cemetery, in the city's west end, in a plot shared with Fred's mother. He had promised Fred that there would be room for him one day, but years later when he went to visit his parents' grave, Fred discovered the spot reserved for him was occupied by the remains of a man he never knew.

He was crushed. He still is. They were never together in life, but for years he had held out hope that his family would lie together in eternity. After all the years, still an outcast.

All are outcasts, these solitary people living a crude existence in the ravines of Toronto, estranged from the metropolis that pulses around them. If they weary of the death-defying feat of living outdoors, they are drawn by the freedom of solitude even more. Some are caught in the grip of mental illness or the bottle. Others are eccentrics casting between a hermit-like craving for isolation and an idealistic fixation to change the world. All fear life in the ravine far less than the prospect of life outside it.

And so, as the sunshine grows warmer days before the break of spring, they stay. Kurt mutters about leaving Terra and the ravine, but is glued to his lucrative perch on the corner. Pauline waits for Adam, despairing the few dozen hits to her Web site. Jerry wants to scatter Harriet's ashes in Lake Ontario before abandoning the bridge. Peter hides from sanity, sleeping in filth. And Fred runs barefoot in the snow, composing poetry and pondering life.

Fred thinks about death often, sitting in the hushed chapel of the Necropolis on blustery winter days for a warm interlude before resuming the trudge downtown.

But he is too busy to die. There is still too much to do: world peace to achieve, the Goodwill Athletic Club to start after all these decades. His latest idea is to launch a campaign to stop retailers such as Loblaw from stocking cigarettes. These things take time. These things take time, he says.

Among the trees and up the path, an old discarded tent that Fred discovered in the woods has been erected beneath an elaborate structure of old rusted metal designed to bear the weight of the snow. For the first time in years, he has moved his bed under cover.

At the track, Fred peels off two layers of wool socks and rolls up his trouser legs. His toes are bent, his nails cracked and yellow. His feet look raw as he walks to the starting line. He puffs out clouds of steam from his mouth, then bursts into a run.

He has knocked a few ticks from his best time in the snow, clocking 12.43 seconds according to his stopwatch.

Swaggering back from the starting line, cocky and grinning with pride, he sings tunelessly: "It's a happy, happy, happy day."

Intro
Summer Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Autumn Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Winter Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Full Photo GalleryBehind the Story


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