Winnipeg, Manitoba

The height of summer should have been a thing of glory. July sunshine slanted off the buildings of downtown Winnipeg, gilding them all in light, and countless tiny fragments of radiance glimmered along the surface of the Assiniboine River. Christopher saw none of it. Even tempered by the breeze off the river, the sun’s heat bore down upon his head, in league with his sour mood for all of its brilliance. His feet hurt in their old shoes after hours of walking the docks in the industrial district, and the bouzouki in its bag was pulling more heavily against his shoulders with every step he took. His belly was empty, but so were his pockets, and it didn’t seem likely he’d find a job any time soon. Some of the warehouse workers had been polite enough turning him away, but more than one of the boat crews had laughed him off, telling him they had no work for a “scrawny Newfie kid”.

That stung; it always did, when his accent left no doubt about where he came from, and some took it into their heads to let him know exactly what they thought of that. It happened far more than he liked, especially this far west from home. But he could take it.

Christopher wasn’t sure, though, how he was going to take being disowned by his own father.

Only now, five hours after the fact, was he beginning to realize exactly what had happened. How his Da’s voice, roughened by grief and drink, had screamed, and how his own, barely deepened past a boyish treble, had roared right back. They hadn’t come to blows, but only because Christopher was faster and stronger than his father, and had caught Malcolm’s fists in mid-flight.

Malcolm had looked at him then with shattered eyes, and what he’d said had hurt worse than any crack to his jaw.

Freak son of a freak mother! What do I care if you let your unholy magic kill you just like her? Get the hell out of my flat and don’t ever let me see your freak face again!

He’d wandered into a park, Christopher realized, somewhat away from the river. The sun was on the way down, which suited him just fine. Truth be told, he wasn’t sure he could walk another meter. His knees wobbled as he made a beeline for the first big oak tree he could find, and beneath its branches, he collapsed. He had just enough presence of mind to sling the bouzouki bag off his back before he hit the ground, and that reminded him he still had it. With a rough little groan, Christopher drew the instrument out of its bag, cradled it to him, and began to play.

Only then, with the instrument his mother had made for him in his hands, did he start to weep.