“Duff, got a five-dollar bill on you?” It was Wib. I hadn’t seen him in ages; last I heard, he was working in Ottawa. He never talked about his work. We often ran into each other at parties, near the baked cheese.
“Oh, you mean that bill you can use to score one Oscar-de- la-Renta-mocharino-with-Smarties-and-skim-Double-Devon at Fasbux?” Trusting soul that I am, I pulled one out and he took it.
Wib held it up. “Check out those kids.”
I was nervous; he was holding it just out of reach, but I squinted at it anyway.
“Kids playing hockey. So what?”
“They’re playing shinny hockey, right? Canadian as a cruller. As Canadian as rock salt on the driveway. You can’t improve on the concept, right?” He twirled some melted cheese around a bread stick and popped it in his mouth.
I wanted the five back safe in my wallet, but I toughed it out.
“But look at their heads. See the helmets . . . csa-certified, right?”
“That’s what it looked like to me. I remember the days when hockey players went maskless and toothless and cupless too. Blood on the ice—that’s what we used to be about. Not a nation of infant car seats.
“Well, we had those helmets added to the original photo,” said Wib. He sounded half-proud, half-wistful. So that was what Wib was up to in the nation’s capital—airbrushing our currency! Censoring the proud, damp foreheads of our youths. I swabbed a triangle of warm pita through the baba ghanouj and tried to quash my dismay.
“You mean someone in the government ordered those helmets photoshopped onto the heads, to make everybody look all safe and Canucky?”
“Not just someone.” He sniffed a stalk of raw broccoli then put it back on the platter.
“Wib . . . so that’s why you didn’t come to the reunion! This can’t be true, can it?” “I swear.” Wib held up his right hand. Baked cheese dripped from it. He whipped a ten out of his own wallet and held it up. He still had my five, so it was hard to concentrate. I studied the ten from a distance. I could make out a slightly crooked figure in a beret.
“Look at that old vet on the back,” said Wib. “When we first saw the drawing, he was bent over double like some Miami snowbird trolling for quarters along Pompano Beach. Then we unbent him a little, so you could see that he was a vet. See? The beret’s kind of a giveaway.”
I could contain myself no longer: “Wib, Wib, you were meant for better things than tweaking the art on our cash. . .”
“I’m not through.” He pointed to another figure on the bill. “Look at that peacekeeping, flat-chested lady soldier with the binocs: she started out as a guy. We added that bun on the back of his head to make him a she.” He was right; it was a guy with a bun.
“They should have gone with a ponytail. Nobody wears a bun anymore.”
“It was a last-minute thing—we needed more women.”
“Even if the woman has a profile like Willie Nelson’s?” I muttered.
A young waitress came by with phyllo-wrapped shrimp, and Wib followed in her wake. I reeled from what I had just learned: Canada had become the first nation in the planet’s history to place the transgendered at the centre of a high-circulation currency note. What next? Would the loonie be withdrawn as a slight to the mentally frail?
I took out my wallet and extracted my last bill—a twenty. I was happy to see that the Queen’s face had not been botoxed and that her dear old eyebrows had not been waxed. It was the Queen we know—the person who looks so much like Helen Mirren. Then I turned it over and studied the beautiful Haida image of a canoe full of animals, a raven, an eagle, and humans, all paddling like mad. I called to my friend.
“Wib, look at this—no life preservers! The guy is standing up in a watercraft. Plus look at how low that boat is riding in the water—they’re way over the legal limit.”
He gazed at the bill with dimming eyes. A muscle jumped in his jaw.
“Wib, Wib,” called the hostess from across the room. “Where are you going? We haven’t even talked, you naughty boy!”
But Wib was already heading for the door. There was dangerous Canadian money out there, and he was going to put a stop to it.