Monday, 28 October 2013


NOIR QUEBECOIS

 
Montreal, Mon Amour

 
The dead maple leaves scrinched and scraped against the back alley pavement, propelled by the cold north wind as night fell like a bent fighter. Symbolism the premier of Quebec might actually embrace each autumn. The most wonderful time of her year, I reflected bitterly, staring down through the steam rising from the sewer grate. Ann Fatale was scrunched into her black coat, her can of beer on the lid of the dumpster. She smoked and peered up past the gargoyles and fire escapes at the great shimmering harvest moon. My gaze swept up from the ground to study the pretty profile that had caused governments to fall, hearts to break and my own to be possessed. The smoke around her bobbed blonde ‘do swirled like blue fog.

 
I turned my collar up against the chill. I lit another cigarette. I fished another Export ale out of the pocket of my overcoat and opened it. So many beers, so many back alleys and parking lots in so many places I’ve been and even stayed for a time but never grew attached to, and now, after a quarter century spent trekking down a thousand miles of bad road, I was back in my hometown. Everything was just as broken and corrupt as it was back then except older, but I wasn’t here for a confab with the mobs, the gangs and the dirty cops. And anyway, this place is so rotten through and through even I couldn’t make much of a difference during a week’s stay. Sure, I could drown a couple made rats in the river, but to what end? Even a fixer like me needs some down time. The name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. If you ever have the misfortune to meet a man like me, you’ve got serious troubles and you deserve some pity. Two fingers’ worth in a shot glass, maybe.

 
‘Baby,’ breathed Ann Fatale, ‘how’s it feel to be home?’

 
I cracked wise, ‘The cigarettes and beer are almost free. And if you don’t believe God is dead and you’re the least bit charitable, you’ll pay extra for them at a church rummage sale.’

 
‘You’re a cynic, baby,’ she whispered.

 
‘A realist,’ I grunted.

 
This town was my town. I once walked its streets like an acclaimed democratic king and the future was unwritten but this immense dirty world sucker punches you in the gut pretty quick and your dreams go OOF! only to vanish like spooked hares, silent ghosts in a grey, misty dawn.

 
But I wasn’t the only one sent reeling by life’s underhanded hard knocks. In the city’s west end there were too many vacant storefronts with A LOUER signs in their grimy windows, uncollected flyers and newspapers piling up in the darkened doorways. The jazz clubs had been shuttered and the neon peeler palaces seemed somehow more discreet. The Blue Angel was gone, not just the bar with its banquette seating and small stage but the entire building. All the old taverns had closed and the souls I’d known at the tables in the back, the freelancers and edge men, had since moved on to die alone or be incarcerated – maybe in the joint or beneath a newly poured sidewalk. The streets themselves were cracked and full of holes, heaved and hoed by the endless cycle of summer swelter and winter ice, spiked with traffic cone stubble and decorated with orange RUE BARRE signs. The city had fallen from a great height since that heady decade bookended by Expo ’67 and the ’76 Summer Olympics. The baseball team went south too.

 
I crushed out my cigarette and then chucked my empty beer can into the dumpster. ‘Let’s walk,’ I said to Ann Fatale.

 
'Where to?’ she asked. ‘It’s nearly midnight.’

 
‘Nowhere special,’ I grunted, ‘just like this town.’ I shrugged a shoulder to point at the street and our way out of the alley. ‘I could use another drink,’ I said. ‘And a broad as beautiful as you deserves to have her booze served up in a glass from time to time. And maybe seated on a comfortable stool.’

 
‘Baby,’ she said, ‘you’re so good to me.’

 
I kissed her as if the world was ending and we were the last ones left alive. After I caught my breath I said, ‘With a dame like you and gams like yours, it’s an easy thing to do.’

 
I took her arm and together we walked back into the streets of my old hometown. The soles of my shoes were two feet off the ground. It wasn’t the shabby old city that made me feel that way, no, it was my girl. She shone amidst the decrepit wreckage, my soul source of elation in the wasteland of my youth and adult despair. She put her arm around my waist and leaned her head against me. The streetlight cast our shadows half a block. The wind picked up and the fringes of our scarves began to flap in fits. Snow flew; crystals and diamonds swirling, whirling and whipping our faces. I held my hand out to clutch a fistful of grace but my palm just got wet and felt as cold as the world.

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