The power knocked out midway through my stupid all-day, all-night Thursday shift and it got really cold inside my little boutiquette. Something popped behind the wall of L’Homme rapaillé inside of Ogilvy’s department store and then came this profound stink—like Old Faithful was belching out skunks who died from eating rotten eggs—which ruined everything. A trickle of brown water started to snake along the tiles and we started hauling suits and talking fast, trying to hustle the old men out of there in a hurry. Monsieur, Monsieur, Monsieur, sʼil vous plaît! That’s my drama voice, part of an emphatic effort to head towards post-monochromatic speech. The sales associates, Marie-Audrey and Marie-Christine, had to broken-wrist-model-walk the men downstairs like border collies herding sheep.
Good collies. You know, smart, groomed. Nice dogs. Iʼm not trying to say theyʼre bitches. I called the security booth. Hello, Number 14, please pick up. Mario, the old security booth guy, thought I was just a whiny shop kid but then a couple things happened. First: the jazz music they piped in went silent. Second: the lights. Then Mario believed me. And then Mario had to go and then I hung up. Inside a blacked-out Ogilvyʼs, the racks of clothes and carpeting dark and silent as a forest underneath a bed of snow.
When I was eleven, I was hanging behind a pharmacy in Westmount. I wasnʼt doing anything wrong. I thought of myself as a spiritual kind of kid, and I just liked watching the snow, you know. And when it started to snow I told myself: Remember Being Here. I would recite that phrase to myself like it was my own O Captain! My Captain! And time slowed to the pace of snowflakes moulting from the white sky, feathering into the parking lot, silencing even Sherbrooke Street. This is my snow reference point.
An alarm started to bleat from somewhere by the elevators down the hall. I got my stuff to go and clanged down the escalators. On the ground floor parquet, bouquet ladies in perfume shrieked a little bit and then shrieked some more when they heard themselves panic. While the clack-a-clack of their slingback kitten heels made haste, I was all hunching my shoulders in boredom in the half-light of the emergency lights, waiting around in line to go out the employee side door, and I saw this forty-something party girl from the Guerlain counter pocket a bottle of Shalimar on her way out. They never checked our pockets, just our bags. I had a tie down my pants so I wasn’t gonna bust anyone on anything. I got my routine purse investigation and lazy pat-down and walked past the department store’s famous mechanical Christmas display, which was frozen in mid-action. Little bunnies teetering buckets over lodges, froggies gone a-fishin’, monkeys working a flour mill—all at a standstill. The sky was bleak and its bleakness leaked into streets overrun with grey slush. Chunks of ice floated on roads shifted into sudden, sewer-spitting estuaries. Tanks had somehow appeared on the street corner since the time I’d started my shift. Whoa. Holy army going on.
People poured out of their extinguished buildings. The metro was shut down. A mass four o’clock exodus on foot. You never saw so many people in Montreal—it looked like a Philip Glass-orchestrated cityscape of New York. But maybe not even. Overweight buses stirred heavily past each stop, gainless and bulky as overdue pregnancies. All over downtown, lines lengthened, grew, strung out and around the sidewalks. The bus queues looked like an advertisement for affordable winter wear. They needed a soundtrack. They needed to spruce up. They needed new coats.
Ha. Sometimes I act all judgemental like that, like I don’t need new duds all the time. It’s bull. I just think Iʼm funny, even when Iʼm not. Someoneʼs mom told me that once.
Funny or not, I was too poor to cab it, so it took me an hour and a half, walking cautiously over the icy sidewalks, to get from downtown to the cluster of low-rent buildings near the milk factory where I lived.
Whenever anyone asked where I lived, I told them it was right by the giant cow head and they knew what I meant and they had a story about how they used to give out ice cream there before. No one actually remembers eating it—it’s always someone’s friend’s roommate’s best friend’s mother.
Melissa Bull is a writer and editor, as well as a French-to-English translator of fiction, essays, and plays. Melissa is the editor of Maisonneuve magazine’s “Writing from Quebec” column. Her fiction, nonfiction, interviews, translations, and poetry have also appeared in such publications as Event, Nouveau Projet, Joyland, NewPoetry, SubTerrain, Lemon Hound, Urbania, The Puritan, and Prism International. She is the author of a collection of poetry, Rue (2015), and a collection of fiction, The Knockoff Eclipse (2018). Melissa is the translator of Pascale Rafie’s play, The Baklawa Recipe (2018), Nelly Arcan’s collection Burqa of Skin (2014), and her translation of Marie-Sissi Labrèche’s novel, Borderline, is forthcoming (2019). Melissa lives in Montreal. https://www.melissabull.site/