Small town gothic

Photo by Analyn Cuarto

Photo by Analyn Cuarto

The place where everyone knows your name…

By Rebecca Peterson, Humour Editor


You have never lived in a small town, ever. Not even close. So you simply had no true understanding of the phrases “one-horse town” or “a town with one traffic light” until you came here.

Does a single street constitute a town? You have no idea. You aren’t sure if you want to know. All you do know is that when you first arrived and asked your friend about a shop at the other end of this three-block street, they said “I don’t get downtown too often.” You laughed, then.

Today, you find yourself telling that same friend that you’re heading “into town,” referring to a shop three minutes away from where you’re staying. One block over. “I’m heading into town.” What have you become?

The people here all seem to know you—not only that, they know why you’re here and what you do without you ever having told them. There’s only one contract job offered here during the summer. The population size of this place is small enough that one can connect the dots: New face, summertime, must be on contract with the local theatre company. They know intimate details about your work and who you are as a person before ever knowing your name.

That’s another thing, a cultural hurdle you have yet to clear. Where you come from, you indicate respect for fellow human beings with polite disinterest. “Hello, how are you?” is not a question, it’s a pleasantry, meant to be asked with only the slightest touch of eye contact, and responded to with “Alright, you?” “Fine.” It’s an exchange you’ve had many times over, a series of nothing words you recite in your sleep.

Here, the answer to “how are you” changes with every passing day, introducing a horrifically random element. You find out the lady at the sushi place just had her nails done, the woman working in the chocolate shop is attending a local college with one of your coworkers, the man who lives in a small shack in the forest speaks to rocks and has a gift for landscaping.

By the second week in this town, the baristas know your coffee order by heart. You’re not sure you even know your coffee order as well as they do.

You always assumed the “small town where no one locks their doors” was some kind of metaphor, until you experienced it for yourself. You could walk into any house in town; no one locks their doors. You’re not prone to kleptomania or a fan of trespassing, but the fact that you could do this is starting to conflate dangerously with wanting to do this.

In one of your first weeks here, a coworker said their car was broken into. You thought, “Of course it was, because no one locks their damn doors.”

Before you could voice this thought, they explained that their car was broken into by a bear.

You are not bear aware. You can’t remember if you’re supposed to play dead, or act large and aggressive, or both. A false move in either direction could result in your untimely demise. It’s concerning.

Your final day in this small town arrives. You find yourself dropping by the sushi place to admire the lady’s new nails, exchanging jokes and pleasantries with the barista who knows your coffee order by heart, saying a fond farewell to the cat that sits on the lawn by the library, dropping in to the chocolate shop to wish the woman behind the counter luck on her studies. This town has two thrift stores, two liquor stores, one drug store, one grocery store, one café, one Subway, one chocolate shop, one kitchen shop, one sushi restaurant, one Thai food restaurant. Three, four bars, including the one in the hotel. A crepe restaurant you’ve never been to. A post office, a library. One street, three blocks.

You think, I never did go downtown much. It doesn’t even occur to you that your standards for what constitutes a “downtown” have drastically shifted.

It’s definitely time to go home.

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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