Michael Christie worked in a homeless shelter in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and provided Outreach to the severely mentally ill.
This is a collection of nine interrelated stories. The characters include a Bank Manager, web designer, drug addict,retired Samaritan to car thief. The mentally-ill human beings who have fallen between the cracks can be found in any large city. They are searching for shelter, drugs, love and forgiveness. Loneliness and a lack of affection is what they miss the most in their lives.
The first of the nine stories is titled EMERGENCY CONTACT. Maya is a social person. She's had guyfriends, but never called them "boyfriends", because she is not a "pedophile." She likes MEN.
She called 911 several times that month. The last time the paramedics came, one of the paramedics stood out. He was kind and took the time to listen to what she had to say. Maya has him on her mind. She has a plan. She is looking for LOVE. Maya calls 911 hoping to see the same "kind" paramedic. She is not feeling too well either, but she cannot take her mind off that "kind" man. The paramedics arrive and Maya saw that the "kind" one wasn't one of them. There is an older paramedic, who Maya feels needs a paramedic himself. She refuses to go to the hospital and so she must sign a paper of refusal. As the paramedics begin to leave, she has a change of heart. She remembers that the "kind" paramedic is on duty that night, so she tells the paramedics that she wants to take her life. When they ask her how she plans on doing this, she says, "by forcing myself to stop breathing." That does it and off she goes to the Emergency. She throws some clothes and a greeting card , that she bought earlier at the 1$ store, in a bag to take with her. Maya arrives at the hospital. She sees a doctor in the examining room and after questioning her, he tells her that someone will come to take her to the Psychiatric Unit. The intake nurse arrives and asks Maya, "who can the hospital notify in case something transpires?" Maya was thinking hard - the truth is she has nobody. She then asks, "can mine be 911?'
She is left alone for a few minutes and she sneaks out in search of the "kind" paramedic. Finally, she spots him and wants to give him the card she wrote especially for him. The card she chose says "Love is in the air." On the front of the card is a picture of two teddy bears riding in a biplane with hearts on its wings. On the inside, she wrote:
You saved my life! (just kidding) But I just want to say you are the best and most caring paramedic on the force. (Are you a force?) I appreciate everything you did for me. I'm very interested to get to know you better. Coffee? Airplane ride? (more kidding)
She didn't write her phone number because she didn't want to sound pushy. The paramedic refused to take the card.
As she heads back to the examining room, Tragedy Strikes! This is a bittersweet and funny story.
Michael Christie does a fine job of illustrating the lives of those imprisoned by mental illness.This book is written with heart and respect for those lost souls and he is never judgmental.
I loved this book with its humour and reality. You will not be able to put this book down, because it is all that good and more.
This book merits my highest recommendation of FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS.
P.S. The Beggar's Garden won the City of Vancouver Book Award and was longlisted for the Giller Prize.
It was longlisted for the Frank O'Conner International Short Story Award to name a few.