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Alix Ohlin poses for a photo on the red carpet at The 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize awards night in Toronto on October 30, 2012.

Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail

Inside by Alix Ohlin

On a gloomy Thursday morning he met Thomasie Reeves outside the hospital where his mother lay in a coma. They had arranged this over the phone, the boy's voice slow and stilted, as if it were coming from another continent. He seemed to think that Mitch could convince the doctors of what he couldn't, and that everything would change once Mitch had seen his mother for himself. As he approached that morning, sidling up the street in the same sideways, loping stride Mitch had noted from his office window, the smell of marijuana was almost overwhelming. Thomasie seemed bathed in it, his eyes red, his expression muted, his whole personality turned down a notch. Mitch's heart went out to him; if this were his mother, he would've wanted to numb himself too.

He reached out his hand and Thomasie stared at it for a second, in confusion or fascination, before shaking it; then they went inside. The nurses walking past smelled the pot, and one of them grimaced in disapproval. Mitch shot her a look, and she rolled her eyes. In the waiting room, a father sat cradling a sick girl maybe two or three years old; his face was impassive, the child's cheeks flushed a dark, unhealthy red. Opposite them, an old woman had fallen asleep with her round face dropped against her chest.

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Thomasie, his face intent, led Mitch down a dim linoleum hallway without saying anything. He was wearing the same windbreaker, over which he'd slung a blue backpack. Beneath the pot was another, gamy odour, and his hair hung limp and thin. Mitch wondered if anyone was taking care of him – telling him to bathe, making sure he got something to eat. Every time Mitch had seen him there were dark circles under his eyes.

Thomasie stopped at a closed door, then opened it. Inside there were two beds, one of them empty, and the woman in the other had to be the boy's mother. According to the newspaper, Gloria Reeves was only 39, but she looked much older, her face mottled and creased. Mitch glanced at Thomasie, who had wanted so desperately to come; he was standing uncertainly at the foot of the bed.

Copyright © 2012 by Alix Ohlin. Reprinted with permission of House of Anansi Press.

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