follow us:

YOU can tell a quarter is silver because of the sound it makes. Barney taught me how to drop a quarter edge-down against the counter near the cash register. A normal quarter clatters, but a silver one rings with a sweet, clear voice. The first time Barney showed me this trick, I spent half my shift playing with quarters.

Canadian mints stopped putting silver in their quarters after 1968, which makes them a rarity. With practice, I’ve learned how to identify a silver quarter on sight. They look different. Faded, almost, like someone tried to breath life into the caribou or the Queen, and left a mist of condensation. When I crack open a roll to refill change before the night shift, I can pick out any silver quarters at a glance.

If Barney wants to buy a silver quarter out of his till, he tells me. Then he opens the drawer and holds out a normal quarter in the palm of his hand. He takes out the silver quarter, and puts it next to the normal one. Then he takes the normal quarter, and puts it in the register. Trading places. Like exchanging hostages. When I’m going to buy a quarter, I tell Barney, but I’m not nearly as deliberate as he is when it comes time for the exchange. He doesn’t seem to mind.

I like Barney, probably because the other people who work at the gas station don’t like him, and I don’t like them. Everyone else here is either in high school or middle-aged. Barney has gone through middle age and out the other side. Most of his hair is gone on the top and what’s left is white. His breath is bad and he wears the same sweatpants every shift. When things are slow we talk about music or India.

Barney says that India is the real birthplace of civilization. He says that when you go there you can feel like you’re in the presence of something ancient. I tell Barney that’s how I feel when I work afternoon shifts with him. He laughs like I’ve insulted someone else, and not him.

Then he tells me how there is pot growing everywhere in India, all along the sides of the roads, but it’s not worth the trouble smoking it because it’s not that good. Barney tells me about the holy men in India, how they paint their faces and sit around smoking hash all day and people give them money. Barney visits India almost every year, usually for a couple months. He says that one day he’s going to go and not come back. Gone to join the holy men.

Julie likes Barney a lot. One day she came into the station during her break at the coffee shop, and I introduced them. Barney made a really bad old person joke about her freckles, and she laughed. Julie’s laugh is almost silent. When she laughs she fixes her eyes on the person who is amusing her, like they’re her favourite person in the world. She smiles and opens her mouth a little and her eyes crinkle at the corners. Then she makes these quiet sounds and little movements, like she’s already been laughing for hours and is running out of breath. There are a few times, though, when I’ve made her laugh really hard, and she sort of shrieked and hit me on the shoulder. I hope I’m the only one who makes her laugh like that.

Julie says she wishes she got to work with people like Barney, because the only people who work at the coffee shop are bitchy girls who gossip all the time. I go to the coffee shop after work sometimes and for a while I had a crush on one of those bitchy girls. Her name was Sara. She had dreadlocks and a septum piercing and, at the time, I thought she was the coolest girl ever. We’d had a good talk about music one day when she was cleaning up and getting ready to close early, and discovered that we shared tastes to a certain degree.

So a week later I went by the shop again with a mix CD in my pocket, planning to give it to her in the hopes that doing so would lead to a date. But Sara wasn’t working. The door rang as I opened it and walked in, and Julie came out from the back.

I ordered my coffee and hovered around the cream and sugar station for a few minutes, building up the courage to ask Julie where Sara was.

“She’s in Tofino with her boyfriend for a couple weeks,” Julie said. “Do you want me to give her a message?”

I wasn’t happy to hear this but I think I hid it well. I told her that, no, there was no message. I thanked her and was headed out the door when I had a second thought.

“Hey,” I said. “Do you want a mix CD?”

I swear that I wasn’t trying to hit on Julie. On the edge of my mind I realized she was charming and smart and, by my own standards, physically attractive. But this sense was drowned out by my disappointment at the loss of Sara.

Julie asked why I had a mix CD, and understanding crossed her face before I could finish explaining. She laughed, but with an expression of pity.

“Sara is a pretty girl,” she said. “I can see why you’d like her.”

“Maybe I should have gotten to know her better first,” I said. “Before I wasted a CD.”

“Well enough at least to know she has a boyfriend,” Julie said. “And it’s not a waste. Give me the CD, I’ll put it on.”

So I stayed for a while, and we listened to the CD. Most of the songs were newer, folksy stuff. Navel-gazing, introverted. Calculated to reveal my sensitive side. Me and Julie talked about our jobs, and where we’d gone to school. That’s when we realized that we’d gone to the same high school, and graduated the same year. She didn’t recognize me, though, and while something in her face seemed familiar, I didn’t recognize her either. She said it was strange, that you’d think we would have had a class together, or at least passed each other in the halls once or twice.

It was getting late, though, so I said I would see her again, probably, and she said she would keep the CD in regular rotation unless her boss told her not to. And then I left.

That’s how me and Julie became friends. On the few occasions in the past when I’d manned up enough to get a girl’s number, I’d felt a sense of accomplishment, and there was none of that the day I met Julie. And when I’d first met girls on whom I had designs, I’d felt a giddy headrush, the sense of doors opening. But Julie was something else. An ally. To attract someone, you need to be aloof, have a mystique about you that makes you desirable. Julie had seen me vulnerable, had seen me fail, and accepted my friendship regardless. That made what we had different.

It’s good to have a friend, because most of the people I knew in school are gone now, at college or moved to a province with more lucrative opportunities. The guy who is probably my best friend, Shawn, moved to Vancouver a year ago so he could see what life was like in the city. From what I’ve heard, he’s working shitty jobs, just like me, but at least he’s somewhere else, away from his parents and from where he grew up. Me and Shawn used to play music together. He’s a good singer and bassist, and I’m not bad at guitar. We used to jam at my place, because with my room above the garage, the noise didn’t bother my parents. We even wrote a few songs, sort of psychedelic country-punk numbers. But we didn’t get to practice them much before he left.

My job was turning me comatose until I met Julie. It still sucks and I hate it, but she comes around a couple times a week and sometimes we hang out on the weekend, and that makes it better. In the mornings when I get up to leave for work it’s still dark outside, and there is frost on the roads, shining silver under the low moon. I can see my breath in the car as I wait for it to warm up. Worse than waking up in darkness, worse than feeling the cold in my bones, is the familiarity. Fall is here, and last fall was when I began this job. One year. It’s amazing how a year can slip by.

When I go over to Julie’s place it’s like she’s the only one who lives there. Her parents are split up and her Mom works up north. One of her brothers is in the Navy and the other one is teaching ESL in South Korea.

Julie wants to act. She says that Drama was the only class she liked in school, and her teacher said she was good, so lately she’s been practicing monologues for auditions. She has to do one normal piece and one Shakespeare, and even though I’ve never really liked Shakespeare, I think she does a good job. She also does a Lady Macbeth monologue sometimes, which I like. I tell her she should use it as an audition piece, but she says no one uses Lady Macbeth to audition because it’s “too heavy.” She recites the piece once in a while for me, though. The way her eyes light up is scary.

Julie has a chocolate-coloured pitbull named Thor. When the weather is nice we take him into the backyard and run around for a while. She says Thor is still “just a puppy,” even though he’s not puppy-sized. He’s got a head like a shovel and jaws that look like they could snap a femur. When Julie tells Thor to sit, he usually does.

Once we were throwing around a tennis ball. Thor is good at fetching, but not returning. We took turns wrestling the slime-covered ball from his mouth. At one point, I yanked the ball from between Thor’s teeth and he got annoyed. He growled deep in his muscley, pitbull chest and snapped at me, just barely missing my fingers.

Julie was fast. She went up to Thor and swung her arm in an upward arc, catching him under the chin and clicking his teeth together. Thor yelped and sat down with his tail between his legs. Julie grabbed the scruff around his neck with both hands and leaned over, almost nose-to-nose with him, making eye contact.

“No! Bad, Thor. Bad!” She growled as deep and menacing as the dog had a moment ago, and shook him hard. “You don’t bite!” She clamped her hand around his muzzle and held it there until Thor whimpered. Then she pushed him away, hard. He ran to the back porch and lay down on his belly with his head between his paws.

“Did he get you?” she asked me.

I made a show of counting my fingers. “Ten. You know, he was just playing. I don’t think he was really trying to hurt me.”

“It doesn’t matter. He needs to be disciplined. Otherwise problems start.” She frowned and looked at the dog. “That’s why so many pitties get put down or sent to shelters. People don’t know how to control them. You can’t let them push you around.”

After that, I was more careful around Thor. I was worried I’d have to discipline him, like Julie did, and that when I tried, he wouldn’t take me seriously.

One afternoon me and Julie were in her living room, going over lines, when I met her Dad. He came out of his bedroom on the way to the kitchen. He was wearing slippers and a bathrobe.

Julie said good morning to him and he yawned and said good morning back. Then he said, “What are you kids up to?”

“Plays,” said Julie. “Andy is prompting me with lines.”

“Andy,” said her dad, and looked at me like he was trying to remember something. “Did we meet last year?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so. I work at the Shell station. Near Julie’s work?”

“I guess not,” he said. “Nice to meet you.” Then he went into the kitchen and made coffee.

“What does your Dad do?” I said to Julie, once he’d made coffee and returned to his room.

“I don’t know, different stuff,” she said. “He invests in things. Right now he’s helping register a patent for this guy who makes solar powered security cameras.”

“That sounds… lucrative.”

Julie smiled like someone who’s in on the joke. “My mom says he throws his money away. I think that’s why they separated. She’s rich, though, so he never has to worry about running out.”

Eventually I come to understand that Julie’s mom and dad are still legally married, but not living together. Julie says she thinks they’ll get divorced once she knows what she wants to do and moves out. She says she secretly hopes that her Mom will feel guilty and give her extra money for acting school. I tell her that’s really conniving of her, but laugh when I say it.

Fall hardens and grows colder and turns into winter. My boss moves me up to full-time at the gas station. I go from 35 hours a week to 42, and it feels like a huge increase. I’m more tired, now, when my week ends.

I’m getting anxious. I haven’t had a relationship like the one with Julie. I’m more open with her than I ever was with any of the girls I dated during high school or after, more open than I’ve ever been with any of my guy friends. For the most part, it’s little things. The sadness I feel working at the gas station. The pregnant woman who comes in every day for a pack of Craven A’s. The frustration I feel having to answer to my parents, of never having had a taste of life away from home.

She returns in kind. Tells me about how high school was like hell from her. About her douchebag boyfriends, wars between cliques. Hearing her talk, Julie was more popular than I was in school. She had a wide network of friends, got invited to the sorts of parties I never heard about (not that I went to many parties anyway). None of this makes me jealous, though. Something about the regret I read on her face as she talks about her teenage years, and her eagerness to move on and become an adult. I can sympathize with that.

She also tells me how she worries about her dad. How he keeps irregular hours, disappears for hours at a time. She tells me about finding him in the living room one morning drinking coffee with a blond woman she didn’t recognize, someone younger than him who Julie described as “looking like a stripper.” And even though she tries to behave like her mom and dad splitting up didn’t bother her, I hear hints of anxiety in her voice when she tells me about their slow drift apart, the unraveling of her home life as her brothers left and her mom spent less and less time around the house. Glimpses of familial dysfunction that I save up like treasure. It’s reassuring to know that she can be weak, this person who is growing to hold more and more power over me.

In a jam jar on my dresser, I save the silver quarters I buy from work. The jar is almost half full now. Some days I’ll find three or four of them, often in the change of a pensioner or a welfare mom scraping together enough cash to pay for gas. Eventually it occurs to me that no more silver quarters are being made, or will be made, ever. That means there’s a limited number in circulation, a mobile hoard of silver changing hands every day. Whenever I pocket a quarter I imagine shaving a little off that hoard, stealing a little treasure. The more I keep, the more rare they become.

In December, two things happen. I hear from Shawn, who is still living in Vancouver and still playing music. And I tell Julie a secret.

I get the email one night after I’ve finished wrapping Christmas gifts. I don’t have many to do. One is a set of carving knives for my dad, who’s been getting into cabinetry. Another is a watercolour painting for my mom by an artist from Coombs that she likes. The last one is for Julie, and has two parts. One is a big book of one-act plays by young Canadian playwrights. The other is a CD with four songs I recorded, just voice and guitar. The thought of giving it to her makes my insides shake a little.

Shawn’s email goes like this:

sup broskie!!!11!

i was super high and trying to write a dub song on bass when i remembered how we used to chill at your place above the garage and we played king tubby. are you still living there? still at the gas station? sorry i didn’t talk to you before, ive been super busy washing dishes at two places and practicing with a band i’m in called Crystal Carnage, There like electrofunk and one of the guys plays gnarly synth, its been really good. listen if your still deciding whether to move to vancouver or go to school or what i have and answer for you. come here! one of my roomeis is moving in feb. and we’ll have a spot free, we live in east van and rent is only 400 a month incl. utils, plus we have a practice space down the street under a food store, its sick, sometimes we do little shows and sell beer. seriously dude you should consider it, i feel really bad about not keeping in touch but we totally have musical chemistry, we shoudl work on that project we started before i left with the hank willliams fugazi brian jonestown vibe. anyway hit me up and if youre in van sometime soon we can get shmammered and you can see the digs. feb is the deadline, so you should def check out the place soon, even though i know you’l LUVVVV it. anyway i got to go to my other job now so peace.


Shawn is one of those people who can be very kind and insightful in person, but whose writing gives me a headache. The email gets me excited. I’ve known vaguely up to this point that I have the option to go to Vancouver, hang out with my friend and maybe get into the music scene there. But Shawn’s offer makes it concrete. I can picture in my head an old house in East Van with a living room full of amps and instruments; Shawn’s turntable with the large and eclectic record collection I’d always envied; sweaty shows in basements and hole-in-the-wall clubs. Drinking, smoking, leading a semi-nocturnal life in the city.

I look at the present I’ve just wrapped for Julie, a rectangle in gold paper with a silver bow. I remember the evening before, when we watched the movie 300 on mute and did our own dialogue, how hard she laughed when I made King Xerxes sound like Fat Albert, and the London Fogs she made us with her dad’s espresso machine. I remember the songs I recorded, how the only person who’d ever heard me sing was Shawn. He said I sounded like an adolescent Nick Drake. I wonder what she’ll say.

I write Shawn four lines telling him that I’m probably not ready to move out to Vancouver quite yet, but I’ll let him know if I change my mind.

The next thing that happens in December: My parents are at a Christmas party, gone for the night. Julie is up north, visiting her mom. I am alone and drunk.

I didn’t mean for it happen. I’m not a big drinker anyway, and I’ve been drinking less since I started hanging out with Julie. She says she hasn’t touched alcohol since her grad night, and is trying to keep it that way. But I’m watching Mad Men on Netflix, and Don Draper keeps sipping Canadian rye and smoking filterless cigarettes and looking like the baddest motherfucker on the planet. I go the liquor cabinet, where my Dad has a forty of Crown Royal open. There are two others, another forty and a fifth, lined up behind it. My dad hardly drinks, but his clients always get him Crown for Christmas.

With a glass full of ice and the half-empty bottle of rye, I sit down in the living room and resume watching. Maybe I have weak taste buds, maybe I’m just a badass, but the taste and the burn of hard alcohol have never bothered me. When I was a kid I used to love drinking Buckleys. So I make it through the first few glasses of whiskey in no time.

Two episodes later, I stand up to go take a piss and the room leans. I bend with it. Then I start laughing to myself, because I realize I have no idea how much of this whiskey I’ve had, but I feel great. Greater than usual. I think about my job, and how I have to go to work the next day, and I don’t give a fuck. I think about how I live with my parents, and how my mom will scold me for drinking alone and my dad will tell me I owe him half a bottle of whiskey, and I don’t give a fuck. Then I think of Julie.

“I love Julie,” I say to the air. It comes out easily, and it’s true. “I love Julie,” I say again, on the way to the bathroom. While I urinate I think about how I don’t know whether Julie even loves me, though, if I had to judge be her eyes, I’d say she did. I think how hard it is to know anything about anyone. “Fuuuuck,” I sigh, and lean forward with my hand against the wall. This piss is lasting an eternity.

When I call Julie, she’s reading. I ask her what she’s reading.

Grapes of Wrath,” she says. “It’s really depressing.”

“Fuckin’ Steinbeck,” I say. “More like... Whine-beck. Am I right?”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m pretty drunk right now.”

Julie laughs, and says “Oh no,” and I see in my head the way her eyebrows turn up when she feels something like pity for me. “Why? Were you out partying?”

“I was in partying, baby,” I say. I’m not sure why I call her baby. “Woo-hoo.”

I end up describing to Julie the course of events that evening, with Don Draper and the forty of Crown Royal and Netflix. While I’m talking on the phone, I go into the living room and get the whiskey and drink some more straight from the bottle. It’s tasting good. I tell Julie a theory I have about how Don Draper is a lizard man in disguise and how this will be revealed in the final season of Mad Men. She talks about how she went hiking with her mom and they saw cougar tracks, and how someone was killed nearby just two years ago by a cougar. She sounds more excited than afraid. We talk some more, about things I won’t remember clearly the next day.

The next part I remember though. There’s a lull in our conversation, where we’ve both laughed hard at something one or the other of us has said, and we’ve gone quiet, almost resting. Silences with Julie are never awkward.

“Julie,” I say. “I’ve got to tell you some stuff that I don’t tell people. And I hope it doesn’t freak you out.”

“Okay,” she says, sounding worried. “Why do you have to tell me?”

This throws me for a loop. I have to think for a moment. “Well, we talk about a lot of stuff,” I say. “And I feel good talking to you. Like I’m not afraid you’re going to be a dick about what I say, even if it’s weird. I mean you’re a dick sometimes, but in a funny way.” She laughs a little. “And I want to tell you because I think we’re really good friends, like maybe you’re my best friend.”

At this point she agrees that we are best friends, that she feels the same way. I know I should feel good about this, but it doesn’t really register. I’m thinking too much about what I’m going to say next.

I tell her the reason she doesn’t remember me from graduation. How, when I was seventeen, the eyes of strangers developed a strange quality, a sharpness that cut through me and chilled my guts. Any time I was in public, in danger of being perceived by other people, I began to shake. Not a light shiver, not tremors brought on by nerves; a rattling that enveloped my body, made my movements jerky and sweat run down my sides. Walking across a room in a straight, even line became almost impossible. Adding to my anxieties was the fear that others could see my shaking. It became a feedback loop: Fear of judgement lead to the shaking; the shaking increased my fear of judgement. A life ruled by stage fright.

Tentatively, I began cutting myself. It started with a few nicks on my knuckles with a disposable razor. The opening of skin brought a rush of warmth, a hollow comfort that, for a while, drowned out the cold twisting inside. After my parents asked me how I hurt my hand, I got smarter and moved up my arm. The cuts got bigger, closely-spaced groupings of parallel lines. Like an oxidized-red I Ching. Never too deep. The blue Bic razor wouldn’t allow it, and I didn’t want to bleed too much. The trickle and creep of blood was a secondary pleasure. And stained wads of Kleenex, red on white, were just more evidence that needed to be concealed.

After a bout with the razor, the cuts would prickle and sting for a couple of days. I savoured the secrecy of it. Thinking about the wounds under my sleeves could make my shaking stop for a while. They didn’t help in the long term, though.

The first attack came during history class, as we took turns doing ten-minute presentations in front of everyone. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. Every time I dozed off, I was woken with a jerk of fear, like I was riding in a car and the driver slammed on the brakes. I’d spent hours going over my cue cards, agonizing over every word, trying to memorize it well enough to chase away my fear of the coming ordeal.

As each classmate went through their presentation, my turn to perform came closer, and my body shook more violently. I imagined everyone in the class watching me. Something in my chest was twisting and constricting, trying to choke me from the inside.

Before I had a chance to stand up and take my turn, I was on the floor. I don’t remember much of what happened. My eyes exploded with silver stars, and I could feel my knees pressed up to my chest.

The words come easily, speaking to Julie on the phone. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to look her in the face, or maybe it’s because I’m drunk. Probably both. I pause for a moment, to plan my words, and Julie asks, “What was wrong with you?”

“Social anxiety,” I say. “The therapist said that was the best diagnosis they could come up with.”

“You went to a therapist?”

“And a psychiatrist. For medication. They gave me Atavan at first. I’d put one under my tongue any time I felt a panic attack coming on. Those things knock you out.”

The attacks lessened after I dropped out of school, I continue to tell her. This was half way through twelfth grade. I told my friends I had a bad case of mono.

Because of the attacks, I wasn’t allowed to drive. My parents were in charge of my transportation. My time was split between lying in bed and going to therapy sessions. I watched all six seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer over the course of two weeks. I used the Atavan for sleep vacations. Two of them could keep me under for fourteen hours. Respite, from the monotony of life as a shut-in, and from endless introspection about what might be wrong with me.

I finished school through correspondence while cycling through medications, trying to find one that would blot out my crippling fear of daily life activities without incapacitating me with side effects. It would be almost a year before I found a mix of pills that allowed me to more or less function. That, and cognitive reprogramming with the aid of the therapist. Turning my thoughts from “Everyone is looking” and “I’m going to have a panic attack” to “Nobody cares” and “You’re fine.”

When I’m done, Julie says, “Are you all better now?”

“More or less.”

“I’m glad.” Her voice, awash in phone static, feels warm in my ear. “And I’m glad you told me.”

“I trust you.”


I feel like there’s something else I want to say, but I can’t think of it. The room spins when I move my head. The bottle of whiskey in my hand is far emptier than I remember it being when I sat down. My stomach spasms.

I tell Julie I have to go, because I’m going to puke. She laughs, and now I hear pity in her voice. “Don’t miss the toilet,” she says.

I almost do.

Julie says she loves her Christmas present, that it’s the best gift she got. She gives me a bear claw necklace she bought up north, from a Native guy, and an old Player’s Navy Cut tin converted into a piggy bank. For my silver quarters, she says. The day after Christmas, I start thinking of things I could do with the coins. A way to make them presentable, as a gift or a pledge. Drill holes, and turn them into a necklace? Melt them down and cast them into something? When the tin is full, I want Julie to have the contents.

I work the morning of January 1. No New Year’s Eve party for me. It is a bright, clear winter. In the mornings, now, my red Toyota is white with frost. Customers in the gas station are always saying how the weather is beautiful and it makes up for the bad summer we had.

On an afternoon a few weeks into the month, Julie has just come by during her break and delivered a London Fog. She’s on the way out the door when someone I recognize walks in. He is wearing a black flat-brimmed cap and he turns to look over his shoulder as he passes Julie. Tanner, I remember. Tanner Morris.

“Twenty on pump five,” he says, throwing his Visa card on the counter. He looks at me for a moment before recognition crosses his face. “Hey, your name’s Andy, right?”

“Yes,” I say. “Tanner? Didn’t we have French 12 together?”

“Yeah bro, sick,” he says, and offers his fist. I bump it. “How’s it going?”

“Living the dream.” I ring through his order and print the receipt.

Tanner laughs. “Sick, sick. Man, it’s been a long time. Yo, you know that chick?”


“The one that just left. I thought I saw you talking to her.”

“Yeah, Julie,” I say. I pass him his receipt and a pen. “She works nearby.”

“Oh yeah, eh?” Tanner has a grin on his face that makes me remember why I never liked him. He scribbles on the receipt, and as he slides it my way, leans over. “You tapping that, bro?”

“No,” I say, and put the receipt in the box with the other receipts. “Your pump should be good to go.”

“Sure, bro, sure. Did you know that chick in high school? Man, everybody nailed that.” He laughs. “I heard she sucked Mr. Lordson’s cock just so he would pass her in Math.”

“Wow, nasty,” I say, and try to smile. I feel my insides clenching, but my hands are steady. “Listen, dude, my boss is in the back watching the camera right now. He’s going to come out and give me shit in a second.”

“No worries, bro, no worries,” says Tanner, slapping the counter like we’ve just reached an agreement on an important matter. On the way out the door, he holds up two fingers and hollers “Peace.”

As another customer enters and I go through the steps of selling him gasoline, I think to myself that Tanner’s mom should have had an abortion. That the doctor should have strangled him. I wish I could go back to the day he was born and punch his soft little skull till it was mush. I hope he drives over the Malahat highway today, and goes over the edge, down into the ocean. And spends a long time drowning. My mind fixes on these thoughts for the rest of the day.

The clenching in my stomach doesn’t go away. The next morning, I wake up and think it’s gone. Then I remember the reason it was there in the first place, and it starts again. I take my pills with breakfast. “There’s no reason to worry,” I say, in my head. I keep saying it as the day goes on. At work that day, I find three silver quarters. I take them without paying.

As the week goes on, my mind returns to torture fantasies, starring Tanner. Or it repeats one of my therapy mantras. As long as I focus on one of those, I won’t think about Julie getting fucked by guys in high school. The images still pop up once and a while. Julie, on her back, moaning exaggerated porn noises while one of Tanner’s well-muscled peers plows into her. Julie, taking it from behind in the boys’ washroom. Julie, at the center of a circle jerk. The images get worse.

“Do you remember Mr. Lordson?” I say to Julie that Friday. We’re at her place, on the couch, eating popcorn and watching Antiques Roadshow.

“Was he a math teacher?” Julie says. “The Swedish one?”

“I think he was Swiss.”

“And bald?


“I guess. I think I had him in Grade 10. Why?”

“I saw him at the gas station the other day. He looks older than he used to.”

While Julie watches the show, I watch her out of the corner of my eye. Do I know her well enough that I can tell when she’s lying? I wonder if she’s lied in the past. Everyone lies a little. I just did, when I said I’d seen Mr. Lordson at the store. That was a conscious lie, though. Our lives are filled with little white lies, with smoothed-over lumps of truth. If I couldn’t recognize Julie’s little lies, how could I spot the big ones? Were her lies rarer than her truths? Or was it the other way around? What sort of treasure was I digging for?

“What’s wrong?” Julie says. “You’re quiet.”

“It’s been a long week,” I say. “My brain isn’t working well.”

She gives me a sort of side-hug, and for a moment, her head rests on my shoulder. The tension that has been building in my stomach since Monday disappears.

By the time I leave Julie’s house, it has returned.

I begin to notice things Julie does or says, and mentally pick them apart. One day she tells me that my singing voice reminds her of a guy in high school who used to play guitar in the hallways during lunch. I try to remember all the people who played guitar in hallways when I was in high school. There were lots of them. Which one did she sleep with? Was this a guy she dated, or just a fling? Maybe she didn’t sleep with him at all. Maybe she just thought about it. Or maybe she didn’t think about it. Or what if the guy was actually someone she dated after high school, but she doesn’t want to say because that would make me jealous.

Wait, does she know that would make me jealous?

Another day I’m at London Drugs with Julie, helping her find a present for her Dad’s birthday. We run into a tall guy, looks like he’s in his early twenties. Not especially attractive—kind of a string bean. Long curly hair.

Julie hugs him, and when she’s done, I shake his hand. She introduces him as her “old friend” Jake. When we leave the store I ask her how she knows Jake, and she says they worked together at Superstore one summer. I turn this matter over in my head for the rest of the day. On the way to drop me off at my place, she asks me why I’m so quiet. I say something about a headache.

I start carrying a silver quarter in my pocket. When the pressure builds, and my chest starts to feel tight, I squeeze the quarter so hard my hand shakes, so hard it leaves a red mark, like a cut, in my palm. The pain helps.

On the second to last day of the month, I drive down to Victoria to pick up Julie. She took the evening commuter bus to get there, because her car is having issues. She is in Victoria for an audition. Her first “real” audition, she says. It’s a series of one-acts being put on by a young theatre company. Mostly grads from UVic’s acting program. I pick her up from an old dance studio on Pandora St. We drive back over the Malahat in the dark with the heat blasting. I’ve got an iPod adapter for the tape deck, and we listen to Neil Young the whole way.

Silence stretches between us as we drive. I ask Julie how she thinks she did. She says her modern piece went well, but she screwed up one of the lines from Shakespeare. She says that there were a lot of older people at the audition, folks she wouldn’t expect to take an interest in acting, as well as a group of theatre students who gave her the cold shoulder when she tried to start a conversation with them.

She’s anxious about the way the audition went, doesn’t think she stands much of a chance. I tell her that, as long as she acted as well as she did when I was helping her with her lines, she did a great job. I say she should have flirted with the director, because that would have improved her chances. She laughs, but a part of me doesn’t want her to.

I haven’t eaten all day. No appetite. I tell Julie, and she suggests we stop at Tim Horton’s once we’re over the Malahat. We each get a large double-double, plus forty Timbits to share. Sugar binge. Julie says it’ll go right to my thighs. We banter a little, in the store. There are a few regulars—retirees—sitting at the tables, plus some high school kids in the corner making too much noise. I wonder if anyone thinks me and Julie are a couple. I think of how awkward it would be if someone suggested we were. I say we should get the coffees and Timbits to go.

“I don’t want to go home yet,” Julie says. “Do you have work tomorrow?”

“No, I’m off until Sunday.”

“Let’s go to the quarry. It’s really clear out. We can look at the stars.”

Julie gives me directions. Despite living for a long time in the valley, I’ve never been to the quarry. A lot of people go swimming there in the summer. On the way, Julie tells me how her Dad told her that the quarry used to be active. But the people who ran it dug too deep, or didn’t survey the land properly, and the quarry started to fill with water. Everybody escaped alive, but there was no time to evacuate the excavators and the trucks and other machines designed to eat the earth. So they’re still sitting down there, huge rusted skeletons, dead or sleeping.

We turn down a couple of roads I don’t recognize, and then we’re driving over gravel, surrounded by forest. I ask Julie if this is private property, and she says it probably is but it doesn’t matter, nobody cares if we drive there. She’s been here before, she says.

The gravel peters out into grass and scrub. I stop the car and turn off the engine. To our right is a low rise, and to the left is forest. We get out of the car. The air is crisp. There are no clouds to keep heat trapped, and it feels like the earth is drenched in deep space chill. We walk up the little hill, and for the first time, I see the quarry.

It wraps all around, filling our field of vision. Steep granite cliffs, machine-carved, plunge more than a hundred feet down into still black water. Far to the right, I can see a spit of gravel leading down into the water, which is probably where people go to swim. There’s no fence here, no boundaries. At the bottom of our hill, the ground is level for maybe twenty feet before ending abruptly.

The stars double in the quarry’s water, so I can look up and see Orion’s belt above me, and see its twin in the pool below. I imagine leaping off the edge and falling forever into a backwards sky. I think of how cold the accidental lake must be, and the dark machines it has swallowed.

“They’re so bright,” Julie says, looking up. She’s standing next to me, with her arms wrapped around her. Our heavy winter jackets don’t keep us completely warm. “They look so close you could touch them.”

I look at her, then up at the stars. “They are close,” I say. “They’ll be there for the rest of our lives.”

“That’s scary to think about.”

“Not comforting?”

“Kind of. Doesn’t looking at the stars make you feel small, though?”

“I guess. But that’s not a bad feeling, sometimes.”

Julie looks at me. She smiles. I look at her, and also smile. I can see her breath as tiny puffs of white fog in the night. I keep looking at Julie. She keeps looking at me. I lean forward and kiss her.

For two seconds, maybe three, she kisses me back. Then she pulls away, and holds her hand up in front of me.

We look at each other. Neither of us speaks.

Julie smiles a small, amused smile. “I’ve been meaning to talk with you about this.”

“Oh yeah?” is all I can manage.

“Let’s go back to the car.”

The car is still warm. We sit side by side in the dark. My throat is dry. I have a sip of lukewarm coffee.

“Andy, you’re my best friend, and I love you,” she starts.

Five minutes ago, hearing those last three words would have made my life better. Now it feels like they’re ordering my execution. I barely process the rest of what she has to say.

Julie tells me about the day she first met me, in the coffee shop. She says that from the moment we met she wanted to know me better. She tells me how, over the past months, she has come to care more and more about me, how I’m “different from other guys.” She’s never had as much fun with anyone else as she has had with me just doing little things, like playing with Thor or practicing lines or narrating 300. She tells me how lonely she’s felt since finishing school, how frustrating it can be working a minimum wage job with no ultimate goal in sight.

Julie tells me how much she appreciates the fact that I’m willing to share my problems—even my secrets—with her. That she understands how difficult it can be to open up like that. She likes me a lot. She wants me to be a part of her life.

The whole time she speaks, I can only look sideways at her.

“I don’t want to lose that,” she says. “I don’t want to lose you. If we started dating, and then broke up, we might never talk to each other again. And I need to talk to you, Andy. I told you, I love you.”

“What about all those guys in high school?” I say. “Did you love them?”

“What do you mean, all those guys in high school?

I turn to face her. She’s not smiling.

“I ran into Tanner Morris the other day. Do you know him? He went to the same school as us.”

“I remember Tanner.”

“He remembers you, too. He remembers that everyone used to know how much you slept around. You were famous for it, apparently.”

“Oh my God.” She looks away, out the front window. “Oh my God. I told you. I told you how much trouble I had in high school. How much I hated it.”

“From what he said, you had a good time. I guess all those guys weren’t as good at being your friend as I am.”

“You’re being an asshole,” she says, looking at me. Her jaw is set. Her eyes are hard. I’ve never seen this expression from her before. This isn’t the Julie I thought I loved. She’s defiant. And I’m angry.

“Slut,” I say.

The first blow is open-handed, to the side of my head. I bring up my arms in front of my face as she swings again, this time with a fist. She connects with my right cheek, under the eye, right on the nerve. My upper teeth go numb. I curse.

The car is cramped, but that doesn’t slow her down. Julie twists in her seat and tries slapping me a couple more times, but I keep my arms up and lean away from her. She’s shouting at me.

“Fucker!” she screams. I think she’s crying but it’s hard to tell. “You little shit! I knew it! You fucking liar!”

She grabs my shirt, tries to pull me closer, gives up. Silence. I keep my head ducked, expecting to be hit again. Nothing happens. I look up, and Julie is leaning against the car door, her hands over her face. I hear sobbing.

“Julie,” I say.

“Drive me home,” she says.

Silence. My whole body is shaking. On the way home, I look at the telephone poles passing us on each side. I imagine turning and slamming the gas pedal. The pole riding up through the hood of the car, the dashboard caving in and crushing us. The shriek of tearing steel, shards of glass filling the air. I wonder if it will be enough to kill us both.

When I stop at the end of Julie’s driveway, she gets out without saying anything and slams the car door. I idle there for a second, watching her speed-walk out of the reach of the car’s light. She doesn’t look back.

At home, I stick two Atavan under my tongue. As they dissolve, I write a brief email, and send it to Shawn.

I wake up around two in the afternoon. Even though it’s a weekend, I go to the gas station. Barney is working. I ask him if the boss is in, and he says he’s in his office.

The best I can offer him is one week’s notice, I tell my boss. He says not to bother. Short notice like that, it doesn’t make a difference. He seems to be angry, but hiding it. Says I’ll get my last cheque in the mail.

Winter feels like it is finally really beginning. The sky is pewter, and the air bitterly cold. Smell of snow on the wind. I go to the bank, and check my balance. Then I take out two hundred dollars cash. When I get home, I check my email. Shawn has written back.

I root around in the garage for the rest of the afternoon, and manage to find a large suitcase with wheels, as well as my guitar case. That evening, when both my parents come home, I sit down and talk with them. They’re concerned. Do I have everything I need? If I stayed for an extra week, we could shop for things. Get some new socks, some bathroom stuff. I tell them it’s fine. My mom is teary-eyed. My dad looks pleased.

That night, I tell my parents I’m going to go out and say goodbye to a couple of friends. They tell me not to drink. I say I wasn’t planning on it. Don’t stay out too late, they say. You’ve got an early ferry tomorrow.

I stop my car at the end of Julie’s driveway, and look up at her house. The lights are on, and all the curtains are drawn. Her dad’s car is parked in front of the garage. Her car is next to it, up on blocks. I turn off the engine and sit silently in the dark, thinking. Feeling claustrophobic, I open the driver’s side window. I stay there like that, seatbelt still on, until I can see my breath in the air. Then I start the car, and leave.

The quarry looks different without stars above. Its pool is a hole in the night. Somehow, it seems smaller now. I stand a few steps from the edge. At one point, I get closer, and peek over. My head spins, and I step back. There is a wind picking up, and I think I see a few tiny snowflakes curl by my face.

I take off my jacket. I don’t want its bulk getting in the way. The cold hurts my bare arms, but I like the sting of it. On the grass next to me, there’s a plastic shopping bag. I reach in and pull out the tobacco tin piggybank Julie gave me for Christmas. It’s heavy.

I’ve left my car’s headlights on, so I can see where the edge of the quarry is. I pop the lid off the tin. Inside, the quarters pick up the light from the car and glow. I shake the tin a little, side-to-side, listen to the smooth kiss of metal on metal. Ringing, singing. That’s how you tell the difference.

I back up, toward the top of the hill, and crank my arm back. I take three long steps forward, building up momentum. Then, as hard as I can, I throw the tin full of silver quarters out over the black pool. The lid comes off. The quarters spread out in the night air, hanging over the quarry. They shine for a moment. Cold, sharp, clean.


Bryce Warnes is a BFA Creative Writing student at the University of British Columbia. His work has appeared in Fugue and The Ubyssey.

MORE: Twitter | Website

LF #020 © Bryce Warnes. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, July 2012.


download | SHARE:SilverQuarters_files/Silver%20Quarters.epubshapeimage_9_link_0
silver quarters

by bryce warnes