Joyland

Montreal |

The Parable of Bryan Dong

by Jon Paul Fiorentino

edited by David McGimpsey

This is the parable of Bryan Dong. It is somewhat parabolic. Back in the day, in a very specific suburb of Winnipeg, specifically Transcona, when Leslie Mackie was an elementary school student, from the age of six, he used to go to Bryan Dong’s house every weekday for lunch. Leslie was a latchkey kid. Bryan was the greatest person in the world. Leslie was perfectly aware that he sometimes annoyed Bryan. It was hard not to be somewhat overenthusiastic in Bryan’s presence. Leslie felt a real sense of dedication to his best friend. Not only was Bryan one of the most popular and physically attractive boys at Harold Hatcher, but his parents, Roy and Deandra, were the Block Parents of Allenby Crescent. Every livable street in Winnipeg had a house that was designated the Block Parent home. If a child were to be in danger of any kind, they could find safety and solace in the arms of a Block Parent. Leslie felt especially lucky that his mom had brokered the lunchtime deal with Mrs. Dong. Not only did it result in what Leslie was sure would be a deep lifelong friendship, it was also the best possible scenario in terms of safety. Leslie worried about the black vans with tinted windows, the leather-jacketed, mustachioed loners that seemed to linger around the school at recess and after 3:30 p.m. Leslie had an acute sense of security about the whole thing. And Leslie had an even more acute affection for Bryan Dong. Bryan played hockey. Bryan was popular. Bryan dragged Leslie into the basement to make him bang on pots and pans to Boney M and Queen songs. Leslie would always keep a sloppy yet faithful beat as Bryan crooned “Another One Bites the Dust” or “Rivers of Babylon.” Leslie once told Bryan that he considered him to be his best friend and that sometimes he would lie in bed at night and close his eyes and imagine the next time they would play together. Bryan said nothing, just sat there cross-legged and brushed neon orange Doritos seasoning from the crotch of his jeans. Bryan was stoic. At lunch, Leslie would cross his legs, attempting the same pose that Bryan had perfected, and eat macaroni and cheese and watch Spiderman cartoons. When Spiderman was over, they would watch the first 20 or so minutes of a 30 minute kids’ show called Uncle Archy and Neil and Bob. This particular show was hosted by an older gentleman, Uncle Archy, who was accompanied by his two puppets, Neil and Bob, who provided Winnipeg-specific commentary about the The Winnipeg Jets, The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Rotary Club and the Shriners. Leslie would do his best to linger as the lunch hour ended because he had a particular affection for Uncle Archy; he hung on every slurry word. Leslie would always linger until the end of the show, when Uncle Archy would hold up a prop hand held mirror with candy-red trim and an empty space where the mirror should be and peer through it. Then he would call out the names all the special boys and girls he could see out there in their living rooms. Leslie would concentrate as hard as he could on Uncle Archy's wrinkled face, his nicotine-stained teeth, his bloodshot eyes. Leslie would try to make eye contact with Uncle Archy, desperate to be named. Bryan was named at least once a week. For Leslie, it only happened once: He was slowly repacking his GoBots backpack, stalling, as was his wont. Archy lifted the hollow mirror to his face and gazed directly at Leslie. Bryan had already made his way to the front entrance where he was velcroing his shoes. “I see so many wonderful children out there, all of my special friends: I see Jeffery, Bradley, John, Matthew, Brittany, Leslie and Bryan! And I see you too, special friend.” Leslie gasped and felt a jolt of something he had never felt before. Some sort of swelling. A swelling of something. “Bryan! Did you here that? Uncle Archy saw us! Both of us! And he said our names together!” “Big deal!” Bryan said, “He always sees me.” “It is a big deal to me!” “Whatever.” The next morning, before school, Leslie’s mother pulled him aside. “Leslie, today you will be having lunch at Vance Sawatsky’s house.” “What? Vance Sawatsky is the worst. The absolute worst kid in school, Mom. He is so much the worst that his nickname is “The Worst!” Bryan is my lunch buddy. He is my one and only lunch buddy!” “Not anymore, dear. Now shut up, and off you go.” Leslie sighed and rolled his eyes. He was at a loss. He trudged to school at a slower-than-usual pace. The air was crisp and asthmatic and the leaves were changing. Leslie booted little gravel stones and choked on the dust they kicked up. What had happened? Why was he being torn away from the one person who mattered? As he entered Harold Hatcher Elementary School, he knew that he had to see Bryan as soon as possible and tell him. Bryan would be so disappointed. The cloakroom was empty except for Bryan and Leslie. Leslie reached out to touch Bryan’s hand. Bryan recoiled. “So, before we go play, I need to tell you something. My big dumb mother won’t let me come to your place for lunch. What the heck, hey?” “Yeah, Leslie. I think that’s a good thing.” “I don’t … I don’t understand.” “Leslie. You are a good guy and stuff, but I feel that we should move on.” “Move on?” “I don’t want to be your friend.” “But you’re my best and only friend! Why are you doing this?” “Leslie. I’m just going to say this once. You are emotionally needy. Like, way too needy. It’s too much for me to take.” “What does that mean? We’re only ten years old, Bryan. Those are grown-up words.” “Well, I guess I’m just a grown-up then.” With that, Bryan Dong left Leslie alone in the cloakroom. Leslie slumped to the ground, buried his face in his backpack, and wept. As the days became shorter and the fall grew colder, Leslie was more and more withdrawn. He went for long walks after school, exploring the ditches and abandoned lots and cars of Transcona. He felt no need to report to dinner on time, to adhere to any familial imperatives. He was searching for something. Something about himself. He needed to find a way to be less needy. To be more likable. One late afternoon, he was rummaging through the sticky backseat of a 1980 Dodge Dart in the southwest corner of a small field swathed in prairie tall grass, when he saw a black van with tinted windows slowly making its way down Redonda Street. He sat, hunched over, motionless, hoping to not be noticed. But the black van kept swinging back around, creeping up and down the street. Leslie clenched his fists; he saw his breath in short puffs. He decided he had to head home. But he told himself to be casual. To walk swiftly, but not to look panicked. He began to march through the tall grass and toward his home. He made it to the back lane of Allenby Crescent. The black van turned off of Redonda and down the back lane, still crawling along, but gaining on Leslie. He quickened his pace to a brisk jog. The van adjusted its speed accordingly. Leslie was now in front of the Dong home. Block Parent! Block Parent! He zigged toward the safe house. And almost as quickly, he zagged back to the back lane. Emotionally needy! Emotionally needy! He would rather be chopped into a thousand pieces and have those pieces then sold to perverts from around the world through some kind of intricate black market mail-order type system, than be seen as emotionally needy in the eyes of the Dongs once more! He quickened to a sprint as the van’s high beams enveloped him. He bolted toward home as fast as his underdeveloped legs could take him and he almost made it, too.