Aerosol Kings by Denis Coupal

            Cargo pants, hoodies, sneakers and spray cans, the boys move in a herd, five of them, two texting on their cell phones, three jabbering together, deciding which way to drive in this bright night. They know the general route but not their destination. That needs to be scouted out, and, by habit, by ritual, because it’s after midnight, because the fall sky has no rain, because they’re teenagers, they must venture out, as simple as that, challenging the rules, doing what good boys won’t, the suburb’s cold breeze from the open windows brushing across their faces, unshaven, as they zoom by other cars, fast, just enough to feel purposeful. This night isn’t for the skittish, the innocent, or the timid. This night, all these nights, and there have been many along these hormone-scented streets, flooded by neon and sodium lights, girls smiled to and waved on, gulps of beer split between chums, desires echoing in whoops and belches, high-time for the slick, the brave, the artistic, the genuine. Privilege and freedom sweats from their pores alongside a peppering of acne, hidden below swished-down hair, on this manic ride, on their way to reap, to trespass, to impose their mark on the structures that lie beyond the limits of the familiar, cruising to their night’s glory. They aren’t princes waiting to rule, held back from greatness, but empowered, raging-forward conquerors, over-zealous kings, driven by coming-of-age madness, in allegiance only to each other’s impressionability and fears, capable of everything, of nothing.

            They appraise their mammoth, dust-skinned prey, rising from the ground, a massive undercarriage holding arteries of the city-beast, elusive and wild to these kids, as they hustle from the parked, shadowed car, with their tools, their cans of pressurized colour, stuffed in every pocket, black, white, red, blue, yellow and green. The boys are in mission-mode, a garrison on reconnaissance in a strange land, reminiscent of the virtual worlds in video games they play, nothing like their comfortable suburb. Creative juices fuel every step, across the fences, through holes, two of them gashing their fingers on rusted metal, but no matter. It’s one a.m. and where the sightline from the heavens to the creative pack is clear, the ancient moon-orb smiles, recognizing their mischief, so well inspired. The boys move over rail ties, mud patches, gravel, a path where there is no path, culminating at a monumental canvas of concrete.

            A fury comes from their hands, in black gloves cut at the fingers, reaching up, shooting white outlines atop chalky efflorescence, forming bulbous letters, that once in-filled will call out their tags, compressions of who they are. Each of the five boys has his brand, his icon, their force of identity and reason to breathe. Adrenaline kicks them from behind as they sketch. The will for authenticity, boldness, holds them steady as rock. They own the world, ever more real and vibrant at that instant, a fresh fruit in their hands to bite into, its taste exquisite, letting its sugar-ink drip off their mouths. Nothing compares, because they created it, the art, the moment, for all to behold when dawn illuminates.

            The rebellion ends when the cans are empty. The boys stroll back, talking of the girls at college, as one of them trips, spray cans tumbling. They break up laughing, tightening down their baseball caps, backwards. They’re exhilarated and spent. Their feet touch the ground only so softly, gravity not strong enough to hold their spirits. One last beer is snapped from a pocket. It gets shared, downed and tossed away. The tunes in their earphones gush out intoxicating rhythms, capturing them. Sirens of youthful defiance encircle the pack, floating like ghosts, forming an envelope, muffling all other sounds, bringing down their judgment and sentence, profoundly, in one instant. 

            A train comes and crushes three of the boys. Two fall aside, safe, but hurt to their souls beyond imagination, the horror too large, colossal. Rail ties, dark steel and blood haunting their spirits, deep inside, forever. The screaming of metal on metal never stops, though five worlds have abruptly crashed with fate, fragmenting to the brittle core. It’s three a.m.      


            Morning comes, brutal. Tears flood through neighbourhoods that spawned these beautiful boys, now gone. The surviving two, tackling pain, anger and shame, are huddled by close friends and family, cherished for their return. Media heads talk of responsibility, of boundaries, parenting, education and proper behaviour, but the boys remain dead, their creative rebellion, if that’s what it was, continues in silence and emptiness. Regret rips through the places the victims called home, school and work. One boy was a dishwasher at a deli. His coworkers are stunned. It’s all too tragic to be true. Social media accounts of the incident vibrate in every palm and pocket. Aghast cries are tweeted, mournful prayers are facebooked. Shock is shared along the networks, a train of sorts, moving slowly and heavily, filled with a cargo of hurt, building momentum. Questions pour in, the fuel in the engine. The subject line – three boys dead – doesn’t satisfy. How can it be? Dylan was at work the other night. Mitch and Ricardo were at the school, laughing it up.     

            Some facts bleed through. VIA Rail commuter train 668, delayed out of Toronto on Sunday morning, October 31, 2010, coming through Montreal’s Turcot Yards at 105 kilometres per hour, riding silent, its main head light dimmed, crashes into three young lives. After contact, one of the two engineers applies the brake. It takes one-half kilometre for the train to stop. The accident is signaled-in. Of five boys, two fall aside, uninjured, two are instantly killed, one survives but dies later in hospital.

            Police find their car, parked on a side street, more spray cans in the trunk. 

            The parents get a call in the night offering unimaginable pain, pushing them to their knees, sucking all oxygen from their lungs. Their hearts are gouged, but they get dressed anyhow and start doing what they must. The police are waiting. Their child has been harmed, worse, annihilated. But they just saw him today, and kissed him. All was well. My boy was a good boy, he loved his friends, he was an artist at heart, he had dreams. And there are many such rationalizations. Reality is rejected. The blame lies with no one and everyone. They were just being themselves, ordinary young boys. They were far from angels. Nobody can raise an angel.

            Friends and family gather at multiple wakes, vigils and funerals in the days that follow. The young express their deep loss through makeshift memorials. A cross, made of skateboard decks, signed by friends, pays honour at a ceremony, symbol of love, of the incredible energy of kids, of the spunk that drives them to take on alter-egos like Jays, Aber and Rico, that inspires them to climb shaky fences and precarious rooftops, to tattoo their curvy insignias on crumbling surfaces, to emblazon the cityscape with who they are, sons of our community.

            If they weren’t angels in life, then they are angel-painters now, winged and free, brightening walls at the boundaries of other realms, splashing their tags, through the mists, up high.


2 thoughts on “Aerosol Kings by Denis Coupal

  1. Julie de Belle says:

    Exhilerating piece. Won.

  2. Jim Duff says:

    Some great brush strokes here on poorly prepared canvas.
    Headline: Train kills trespassing taggers
    Dig, research and try again.

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