I cut through the small park. Come out the other side. As soon as I do I feel eyes on me. I look up from the sidewalk. He's standing down the block and on the other side of the busy cross street. In front of the dep [i]. Where I'm headed.
The way he stands looks familiar. And in a few steps I know I've seen him around. He's always in the halls of the building I live in. knocking on the door of someone down the corridor. Never staying very long.Tearing off in a beat up hatchback.
I look both ways at the corner. Cross the street towards him. His face is contorting. Or maybe I'm really stoned. But one thing is clear. He ain't got a clue who I am. So I nod. Ask him how he's doing.
'Yo man, you look just like Kurt Cobain.'
In my head I groan. Certain he's just confused by all my faded denim. Shaggy hair. Unshaven face. I step up on the curb. And as I pass him. In a voice that resembles a waved hand I say, 'yeah right baby, if only.'
The bell of the dep door jingles as I walk through. I go into the cooler. Grab a can of cheap beer. One dollar twenty-five. As I wait in line to pay I think about my response. And in a way it sounded like I wished I was dead.
The sign in the window says we've moved. I stand there staring passed my reflection. At the piles of swept up debris. Crumpled boxes. Wires hanging from the ceiling. This is how I like the look of things.
From behind I hear a sound of disgust. Something like bleeeck. Throaty and wet. Which really gets me wondering. So I turn around. And across the street. In front of the auto parts store is a woman.
I walk over to her. Take it in. She has on sandals. Yellow and gnarled toenails come close to scraping the pavement. A fair sized gut hanging over sweatpant shorts. Wispy thin hair on her head. A scowl on her face. One large tooth sticks out from her frown. It reminds me of her toenails.
Our eyes meet. She throws the tall can of beer in her hand to the ground. It makes a clanging sound the same time as she goes bleeeck. Total revulsion. Bleeeck bleeeck bleeck. She puts her whole body into it. Her hunched back hunches even more with every convulsion.
Which is enough for me. So I keep on moving. I hear her behind me. Scratching along the sidewalk in the opposite direction. Her bleecks getting fainter and fainter. My wave of nausea rolls out again.
I have to hustle down the platform. I want to get to the front of the train. The cars there are always less crowded. And I can hear the metro rolling down the dark tunnel already. By the time it stops I'm in good position. But a little out of breathe.
First car. My guess was right. Less people. I'm all alone at the very front of the train. A thin door between the driver and me. When we pull out of the station I open the can of beer I bought at the dep. It foams over just enough to make me smell like a drunk.
The next stop is a large transfer station. The doors slide open. No one gets off. But a man gets on. Mentally deranged for sure. His right hand is held up at a right angle. His fist sits atop it. Above his head. Like the end of a scepter. I can feel the hate rippling out from it. Creating waves in the air.
He comes towards me. But then. In the snap of a finger he changes his mind. Turns around and walks in the other direction. I like to think it's because of me. The way I look. My face. He goes to the other end.
Before he sits down. With the hand not raised. He punches the window between the two cars. Growling at the guy on the other side. Who pretends not to notice. When the lunatic sits down he keeps his right arm in the air. For the rest of the ride I can feel his eyes on me like an invitation.
I get off at Berri-Uquam. On the main level I get confused. Don't see the sign for the street exit I'm looking for. I start down one of the tunnels but turn back. Choosing instead a staircase I've never noticed before.
When I come to ground level. And push through the heavy door I know exactly where I am. So I jaywalk across four lanes of traffic. And two bike lanes. Into the park across the street. And as I walk through it I remember how it used to be. Free of festivals. Full of drug users. That night I spent here.
I get a text from Emily. She says they're already there. I send one back. I ask her to give me five. Rue Saint Catherine is blocked to cars from here up to Rue Papineau I think. So I walk down the middle of it. Thousands of pink balls strung across the street. From post to post above my head. It feels like a ceiling between the night and me.
I walk up. Emily and Gary are sitting in the window. Backs to me. My first instinct is to sneak in. Jump through the door and scare them. But Emily must sense my presence. She turns around before I have a chance to put some fear in them.
They both smile as I come in. I lean down. Towards Emily. Give her a kiss. Gary stands up. We hug. Exchange pleasantries. Gary and Emily have been at an electronic music festival all day. They tell me how it was. How they both took mdma and mushrooms. I laugh about what Emily said to me earlier. And how fishy I thought it sounded.
'I thought you told me you were sober?' I ask Emily.
'Well, it's not like we were drinking,' she says with a straight face.
We order beer and food. They tell me about their day. I take a look around. Survey my surroundings. Other than the people working. The only other humans are two drag queens down at the other end of the bar. And if you ask me. They scarf french fries and hotdogs just like any one else.
After we eat. And finish our beer. Gary suggests we go to a leather bar for another drink. Emily and I don’t have anywhere to be. So Gary quickly finds directions to L'aigle noir. It's only a few blocks away.
We walk down the middle of the street. It's packed with people. People out partying. People out begging. People out wandering the streets with dumb smiles on their faces because they have nowhere else to go.
And I guess it's because we're talking and laughing. Or all the lights and the sounds and people. But we walk right by the bar. Right to the end of the pedestrian friendly road closure. We turn around. Head back the way we came.
On the corner of a side street. Sitting in a dark van. A man calls to me. So I walk right over. Never once thinking what a man in a van on a side street might want from me. In this part of the city. Call it small town gullibility.
The driver's window is down. I look passed him. And in the passenger seat is a sleepy looking woman. Nestled up against the door. He asks me if I know where any good clubs are. 'You know…for dancing?'
First off I wonder why he chose me. Nothing about my look says dance club. But I get the impression he ain't too quick. Dramatically I take a step back. Look up and down Rue Saint Catherine. It's pretty much all clubs and bars and places to have fun.
I tell him as much. And he seems pretty excited. But I feel like we're not on the same page. So I lean in a little closer. And ask him if he knows what neighbourhood he's in. When I tell him exactly what goes on here he lowers his eyes. 'No, I didn't,' he mumbles through the disappointment.
Then like a sign from the gods. Just over my shoulder. In high heels wigs and sequence gowns two men drunkenly stumble. Laughing. Holding each other up. I wink at the driver. Then hustle to catch up with Emily and Gary.
At L'aigle noir we wait at the bar. Gary buys Emily a drink. I wave away the same offer by telling him I work for living. Order myself a beer. The barman asks 'le gros?' I ask myself if there is any other choice. But out loud I only say, 'bien sur mon ami, bien sur.'
We stand off to the side of the bar. Wait for our drinks. An older man with a hunched back. Greasy hair. Glasses. He bumps into me. Gets himself a handful. Nothing shy about him. That's a fact. Just a little sample. I roll my eyes and laugh. Tell Emily about it three days later.
The L'aigle noir looks like I thought it would. It's painted black and red. Mildly hellish. There's a black iron staircase to my left. Which leads up to some kind of metal wire gangplank. A hairy tanned man tears around like a maniac.
I'll be more comfortable upstairs. I need to act. So I suggest as much. Gary and Emily are all for it. I'm not sure who goes first. I'm a little overwhelmed. The music is loud. And there's some kind of projection being screened two floors high that keeps stealing my attention.
At the top of the stairs. Across the gangplank. And even though he doesn't even fucking live in this city. This province. Gary recognizes someone. Calls out to him. I look at Emily. She rolls her eyes with a smile. And no surprise.
We go over. Gary introduces us around. I sit on an oil drum painted white. A thin kid from Toronto starts chatting with me. I sip my beer. Answer his questions automatically. Conversation in bars not my strong suit.
I'd rather listen to Gary's friend. With the soft British accent. He's telling one about this time he was out eating. And across the restaurant was the beautiful wife of an aging rock star. How he paid the waiter for her meal. The kind thank you he received. And how her husband was dead two weeks later.
I sit there listening. Half oblivious. Emily leans in. Her drink already done. 'Any time you're ready. You just let me know.' She leans back. Attempts to wink. But her whole face goes with it. Our joke.
I look at the large beer in my hand. It ain't empty but it ain't full. And it'll be done real soon. I raise it up to my lips. It starts to feel lighter already. I do my best to follow the conversation in front of me.
But that's not easy. Like I said. Lots of flashing lights. Loud music. And this god damned projection. It's right in front of me now. I'm being pulled in like some lower life form. I gulp down the rest of my beer. I break its hold.
'Emily, let's get the hell out of here,' I whisper in her ear. Her eyes are all the answer I need. She makes the announcement. Says we have to be moving along. Gary's going to. We walk out together. Say our goodbyes at the metro. Different trains. Different directions.
Just ahead of us. On the escalator going up. A man standing a few steps above a woman. They come across as strangers. The way he talks to her. I want to step in. But as they get to the top. They walk away together. Nothing I can do.
We see them again. Outside the metro. He's clearly drunk. Stumbling with a white plastic bag in his hand. The shape of a wine bottle clearly outlined. He searches through his pockets. No luck. He stops. And asks us if we have a light.
'Sorry pal,' I say even though I'm not.
'Hey, it's ok, hehehehe,' he throws his empty hand into the air. His legs doing their best impression of a jesters dance.
I take a good look at the both of them. The guy looks greasy. Dirty. Wrinkled clothes. I'm not close enough. But if I was. I bet he smells like a laundry hamper. Her on the other hand is a different story altogether. Clean. Well kept. A flowery scent wafting from her. Some class.
He yells 'take a left' to her at the corner. And she tells him she doesn't know where she is. 'This is Saint-Henri baby' he proclaims to her joyously. Throwing both arms up this time. The drunken fool again.
'Well,' she says in a voice refined and elegant and hurt, 'I don't walk around. I take taxis. Ride in cars.' His only answer is he can't afford that. She won.
We cross the street. Climb a small muddy hill. Follow the train tracks home. Emily asks me if the woman was a prostitute. And when I think about it. It's the only thing that makes sense. So I say 'sure thing, baby.' And put my arm around her shoulder.
I unlock the door to our apartment. Swing it open. All the lights are on. Emily looks up at me and says my name. Half scolding. All I can do is shrug my shoulders. Step out of the way so she can get in out of the hallway.
We undress in front of the couch. Throw our things on the floor. Our bed is in a loft. And I climb up the rickety ladder when Emily gets to the top. On every rung I tell myself it's a miracle I'm not dead. Drunk and broken on the floor.
Emily is in bed. One arm behind her head. Her chestnut hair falling over her shoulders. i drop down on the matress. Slide under the blanket beside her. Put my arm around her waist. She purrs. And we'll both be exhausted by the time sleep comes our way.
[i] Depanneur or dep, which for you boorish Americans, is French Canadian for corner store.