Kevin Chong is the Internationally published author of four books, most recently Beauty Plus Pity and a forthcoming memoir on horse racing. He lives in Vancouver British Columbia.
About his contribution below (excised from his just-published novel) Chong says:
Beauty Plus Pity is about the relationship that forms between Malcolm, a man in his twenties, and his newly discovered teenaged half-sister, Hadley. The book was written, on and off, over nearly a decade, and at one point there was a narrative motif in which the two half-siblings notice a dog that sat in a street corner in front of a bucket of change. He seems to be the kind of dog that street people keep as company, minus the street person. Anyhow, as I was rewriting, I decided this thread was perhaps a little too whimsical for the book’s eventual tone, so I had to cut it out.
We walked down to the corner store to buy some rechargeable batteries. By now it was the middle of the afternoon, and we dropped change into the panhandling dog’s bucket. By the time we came out of the store, the dog had gone. Hadley saw him turning into a side street.
“Let’s see where he goes,” she said. Already she was dragging me by the elbow in pursuit.
We made sure to follow from half a block behind. The dog ambled down the sidewalk with the wire handle of the bucket in his mouth, turning a couple blocks in until he reached a two-story stucco house with stubby ceramic pots leading up the steps to the front door. We sped up in time to find him passing into the backyard through an open gate door. As I followed Hadley along the side of the house, we heard someone speaking to the dog.
We saw a rusty-headed man with a castaway’s beard, in a floppy sun hat, mirrored sunglasses, and a pair of khakis. He was in a wheelchair and had a plastic bag filled with newspapers on his lap. Behind him was a door opened to his basement suite. “Just a minute now,” he was saying, “I was going to take out the recycling.”
“Hi, there,” said Hadley. “We followed the dog to your house.”
While the dog walked between us flinging his tail, the man looked us over, the expression on his face uncertain. “You mean, Spot.”
“We never got his name.”
“Never gave it,” he said, with a little smile. He took his wheelchair to the foot of the steps leading upstairs, where presumably someone else lived, and dropped his old newspaper into a blue recycling bin.
He edged back to his apartment entrance. “Now, listen, you guys aren’t cops?”
“Uh-uh,” I said.
“How long has he been working that corner?” Hadley asked.
“Two, three years—since my accident. I used to live outdoors, mostly in parks and empty lots. That’s when I first got Spot. We used to sit on street corners. Look at him”—he patted the dog on his head—“he knows it’s lunchtime.” He turned into the apartment, and we followed him inside to his tidy apartment. In one corner, a television played a newscast. Above a small balsa wood bookcase was a small cross. In a small kitchen with a Formica table. Spot’s owner scooped three cups of kibble from a bag propped beside the refrigerator and refilled his water dish. The dog started gobbling away. “You guys want anything to drink? I’ve got Coke, some lemonade.”
“I’ll have lemonade,” said Hadley. I took a glass of Coke, and we sat at his kitchen table.
“I was in an accident a couple years ago. It was the other car’s fault. Turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I got a settlement and monthly cheques now. At the hospital, I reconciled with my older sister, a churchgoer like me. She owns this house, lives above me. She found me a job working on my laptop. I’m a renter. Only trouble was this dog of mine, old Spot, he still had the wanderlust. Still hates sleeping inside. Every morning I’d wake up and he’d be sitting at the door. Can’t blame him, there’s a part of me that enjoys the freedom.”
“He’s a good dog,” I said.
“Suppose so. He comes back every day with more money than I ever made in a day. Not that I keep it. You know, it wouldn’t be right—I get a cheque and have money in the bank—so a little bit goes to the United Way, a little goes into the plate on Sundays. I can’t put it all in or people would be looking at me funny. Like, ‘how many liquor stores did that cripple rob?’” He laughed here, and we followed politely. “Of course I save a little money for him. He gets his treats.” We laughed again.
The man in the wheelchair brought cookies and began to describe his personal relationship with God. At this point, we finished our drinks and thanked him.
“I’m glad we solved that mystery,” I said to Hadley.