Tina felt the bedsheet peel away from her skin as she sat up. She was covered in a sheen of sweat from head to toe. Her hair was damp and matted. Even at midnight with all the windows open and no clothing but panties, Tina could not seem to beat the heat. It was making sleep more and more difficult all the time.
For days, the city had been caught in a heatwave. The temperature had cracked thirty degrees Celsius on each of those days. To make things worse, the humidity had been high for the past three days, pushing the humidex into the forties. And there were a few more steamy days to come according to the forecast.
“Fuck this weather,” Tina cursed.
Slipping off her panties, she went to her tiny bathroom and took a cool shower. Perhaps getting rid of the sweat and cooling her skin might ease things a bit.
Of course, having air conditioning would help even more. Tina’s current financial and employment situation made that unlikely. A paroled convict holding down low-paying, casual jobs didn’t get much choice of housing. Tina had looked into renting a cheap, air-conditioned motel room for a night or two just to get some relief and sleep. However, even that would stretch her limited resources further than she was comfortable.
After a quick towel off, Tina put on fresh panties and a tank top, then went to the kitchen. She poured a glass of water from a jug she kept cool in the fridge. Gazing out the window, Tina was surprised by the number of people still out and about on the street or sitting out on balconies. They were probably others who were struggling with the heat.
“Maybe getting outside would help,” Tina thought, feeling a bit of a breeze blowing in.
She finished her drink, then put on shorts and sneakers to go with her tank top. Knowing that downtown Eversham was not the safest of places, Tina slipped a switchblade into her pocket. She could be in serious trouble if found with the weapon. It was illegal and a parole violation. However, a youth spent on the streets and in prison had taught her that being able to defend yourself mattered.
Outside, it did feel a bit better. At least Tina could feel the breeze more than in her apartment. She wandered East along the street, planning to do a circuit of the neighbourhood. The walk would probably wake her up more, but it was not like she was going to fall asleep easily at this point.
Just before Tina turned a corner, a man drew up beside her in his car. She slipped her hand into her pocket and fingered the knife.
“How much for a bj and a fuck, babe?” he sang out, “I got a nice room.”
Tina glared at him, but did not pull out her weapon. That could wait until he made a wrong move.
“Sorry, bud, the hookers are over on Moss and Angel.”
She cringed a little as she remembered her time as one of the girls on Moss Street.
The creep winked at her, which irritated Tina even more.
“Ah, come on,” he mockingly pleaded, “You look like a good time, baby. Bet you could use a bit of cash, too, eh.”
Fact was, Tina could use the cash. And she had certainly turned a few tricks in her time. But prostitution was part of the past she was trying to leave behind.
“Nope. I’m fine, thanks. Now fuck off and go find someone actually interested in screwing your tiny prick.”
The man’s face turned angry. Tina took a grip on the knife, ready to pull it out. However, the john finally drove off, yelling obscenities as he left. Tina relaxed and continued on.
“Piece of shit,” she muttered.
At least one other guy looked like he was going to try the same thing as she wandered up Broadview Avenue. He was smart and kept his mouth shut after Tina shot him a warning look. She probably should have worn a bra or put a t-shirt over the tank. It was too fucking hot for more clothing, though. Tina was not interested in being modest just to keep shit like them off her case. If worse came to worst, the knife would be an effective deterrent.
Another block on, Tina’s gaze fell on a scene that made her tense up. An older man with a walker, maybe around seventy, was standing face to face with a haggard-looking young guy in denim. The younger man looked angry. He was yelling something that Tina could not quite hear. Suspecting trouble, she headed their way. Neither seemed to notice her.
“Just give me your fucking money,” the kid was yelling, “I know you got some.”
“I don’t. A friend paid for that cab.”
“Yeah, tell you what, you old fucker. You must live here. Take me to your place and then you can give me your fucking money.”
“Not a fucking chance,” the old man growled.
“What you gonna do, old shit? Fight me?”
Tina reached them, moving up beside the old man.
“Lay off, shithead,” she said, giving the robber the same glare she had given the john.
“Who are you, bitch? His fucking bodyguard? You gonna poke me with a finger or something?” the young guy snarled, turning his attention to her. There was amusement in his expression.
Tina pulled the knife and thumbed the switch. The blade shot out. A memory of painful cries and blood on her hands flashed through Tina’s mind.
“I could poke you with this, motherfucker. I’ve done time for assault and attempted murder. What’s on your fucking rap sheet, punk?”
The kid, clearly not as street smart and tough as he tried to project, turned a bit white.
“Well, what have you got?” Tina taunted, “Or are disabled seniors the only thing you can handle?”
She was gambling that the kid would back off when faced with a real challenge. A fight would likely go her way. Tina was sure of that. But it could also land her ass back in prison on a raft of charges. Still, she was not about to let some soft little punk intimidate her or harm a senior.
To her surprise and delight, the would-be robber turned and fled. Tina lowered her knife, but she did not close it yet. There was always a chance the punk would be back with friends.
“You okay?” she asked the man.
He looked a bit shaken, but smiled at her.
“I am. Thank you. Do you really have a record?”
Tina sighed and nodded.
“There’s robbery and solicitation on there, too. Assault and attempted murder seemed more intimidating.”
The man smiled.
“You don’t seem so bad,” he said.
“I’m mellowing with age, I guess. Just wish I could shake my fucking record. Look, do you live near here?”
“That building over there. I got my ride to drop me off early. Ironically, I did not entirely trust him.”
“Out of the pot and into the fire, eh. I’ll escort you. If the kid comes back, make for your place as quickly as you can. I’ll deal with him.”
They began to walk towards the building the old man had indicated.
“So why are you out so late?” he asked Tina.
“Can’t sleep because of the heat, so I went for a walk. You?”
“Playing cards at a buddy’s place. His woman wouldn’t let me stay.”
Tina chuckled. She had still not closed the knife. Her eyes kept scanning, especially in the direction that the robber had disappeared.
“I have blood on my hands, too,” the man said softly, “Probably more than you.”
“Soldier?” she guessed.
“Yep. Two tours in Vietnam. Years ago, I’d have kicked that punk’s ass all the way to the river.”
“So you’re American? How’d you end up in Canada?”
“Actually, I was born in Toronto but moved South in my teens. I came back to Canada because of a job offer after I mustered out. Decided I liked it better here.”
“You know, I thought I had been through a lot. But I’ll bet you’ve been through shit that makes prison look like a fucking party.”
The man shrugged, but also nodded.
“I survived. Not all of us did. I left some friends behind.”
Tina felt a wave of sadness wash over her.
“I lost someone, too. She got on the wrong side of the wrong people. But, yeah, I survived.”
She did not sound too sure of it, though. They reached the front door of the building.
“There you go,” Tina said, “You’ll be safe once you’re past the security door.”
“But you won’t be.”
“I’ll survive. I always have. You learn how to take care of yourself in prison.”
“Take care, then, fellow survivor. Hope to see you again someday.”
“I don’t live far from here. Maybe it will happen.”
The man went inside while Tina stood watch. Once he was past the security door, and beyond the reach of anyone outside, she retracted the blade and returned the knife to her pocket. After one last glance through the front door, Tina started to retrace her route back home.
Tina was almost there when she spotted the failed robber. He was leaning against a wall in the mouth of an alley. As she quietly watched, he lit a cigarette. His face looked more despondent than angry now. She guessed he was probably still in his teens; twenty tops. Tina slipped her hand in her pocket and held the knife. Then she walked towards him.
“Hey, kid,” she said.
The youth looked up. His expression turned wary and his eyes darted down to the hand in her pocket.
“You come to fucking finish me off?”
Tina laughed and pulled her hand out empty.
“No, I’m not. I was just defending that old man. Pick your targets better, next time. Or find a better way to get money.”
The kid nodded and looked away.
“I was fucking desperate,” he explained, “Got no money, no job, not even a home right now. My bitch mom kicked me out ‘cause I decked her new fuck boy.”
“You know what? I’ve been there. How the fuck do you think I ended up in prison?”
The young man sighed. He tossed his butt to the ground and stomped it out.
“Shit, you must think I’m a stupid motherfucker.”
Tina moved closer and softened her tone.
“What you did was stupid, yes. But you’re trying to survive. It’s not like I’ve always done the right thing.”
The young guy nodded, looking close to tears.
“I just don’t know what to do anymore. My whole life is fucked up.”
“I know a thing or two about surviving the streets. And I am working on how to turn surviving into living. Maybe I can help you.”
“Help me? After what I did? How?”
“Why don’t you come home with me for starters? Would beat sleeping on the street.”
“Sure. Us survivors should stick together. And if you try anything funny, I’ve still got the fucking knife.”
Tina winked at him.
“Okay. It’s not like I got anyplace else to go.”
“This way,” Tina said, nodding towards the low-rise where she lived, “Oh, by the way, I’ve only got one bed so we’re sharing. And I sleep naked these days.”
The young man stared at Tina for a moment, looking unsure. She grinned back and winked again.
“What the fuck, this sounds fun in a crazy sort of way,” he finally said.
“Just you wait and see, kid. I had a pretty good rep with the johns when I was doing it for cash.”
Tina grabbed the youth’s hand and pulled him towards her building. A light breeze cooled the air and a shower began to fall.