The characters are leading me astray ... but that's okay ...
November 6, 2009
Day 6 of Nanowrimo
6,999/50,000 words so far.
The First Montreal Research Trip
That man has no concept of old age. Or of having to live within your means. He arrived in the middle of the night bellowing like a bloody calf caught in a roll of barbed wire. "Good lord, woman, you spent an entire day in Montreal and you accomplished nothing."
I pointed out that that I left home at 7:30 in the morning and didn't arrive in Montreal till almost noon; that I couldn't get to his work until after my appointment at 1:30.
Then the barrage started. Why hadn't I taken taxis instead of walking for miles on end lugging a heavy briefcase?
"You looked like an idiot switching it from one hand to the other all afternoon."
"No one walks from Mansfield and Dorchester to Amherst ... "
" ... and then back to the Main and up past Sherbrooke, past Moishe's, past god knows what else ... and then backtracks back to Sherbrooke, past McGill, to Mansfield and down to Dorchester again. What were you thinking?"
"It's Rene Levesque .."
"Why in hell would they give a perfectly good street a peas soup name?
I started to explain, but he cut me off. "No bloody wonder you were tired. You walked about ten miles going nowhere."
"And what in the name of god were you doing with that old man and the dogs?"
I tried to push him away but my hand encountered cold air. I snuggled back in under the duvet.
"Well?" came the relentless voice.
"I walked," I said evenly, " because I see more when I am on foot. And I had time to kill before the appointment."
"But, coming b..."
I broke in, "I don't have money for taxis, Grandpa. And I knew I wanted to stop on St. Laurent to see what was left of the tenderloin. I wanted to see Cleopatra's."
"You wasted about ten minutes with that filthy old man and those smelly creatures," he retorted.
"I stopped to give him some money to help feed them. You wouldn't get that either, I guess. He has seven dogs and a cat living with him. And they are all healthy. He's begging for money to keep them that way."
"I noticed that you didn't look any too clean yourself on the train going home. It was probably because you kept touching that yellow cur. I was embarrasssed to be seen with you."
" No one saw you," I said through teeth clenched so hard my jaw ached almost as much as my knees.
"Why didn't you ask to go into the Cleopatra? You were so damned close to finding some answers and you were too stupid to realize it."
If I'd been sitting up, I'd have hung my head. He was right. One of the aging "girls" was right there talking to the door man. I asked them how long the Cleopatra had been there and learned that it had started in 1975; that it replaced a whole series of clubs dating back to the late nineteenth century. They were friendly, especially the woman, and more than willing to talk to me.
But I didn't ask to go inside. And I didn't ask any personal questions. I shied away from the hard parts. Fine detective I was revealing myself to be.
"I know," I said. "I'm sorry about that. Really I am."
Instead of giving me any slack, the old man kept on badgering me.
Why had I turned back before I got to the fashion district, the Chez Paree, the art museum? Any one of those might have given me some leads, some insights into his life in Montreal.
Why, for god's sakes had I eaten at the station and taken an earlier train home?
"I was fucking tired, that's why," I yelled. Kenya stood up and came over to the bed on sleepy legs. I stroked her head. "And I was hungry and my knee was aching." I was beginning to whine.
"When are you going back?" he asked coldly.
When was I? Was I? If there was a next time, I'd plan it better than this trip. Bill was going to Montreal in a few weeks. Maybe he could do some of my research. He'd have fun doing the Cleopatra part. And it was the part I couldn't imagine doing myself. I'd ask him and provide him with the questions I wanted answers to. Bill always wanted to be a reporter. Here was his chance.
Grandpa must have been satisfied by my decision because he disappeared, allowing me to sleep.
In the morning, I emptied the briefcase I'd carted around all day on the bed. Its contents spilled over the duvet: a novel, a pencil case, an art magazine I'd bought but not opened, a hair brush that was just as unused, a camera, a calendar, a case containing documents, more documents, a brown envelope, and two black journals, one enormous and heavy, the other small and likely the only one I should have brought. Last to tumble out was the only colourful offering, a splash of yellows and orange — an almost finished pair of socks for a big footed grandson. i hadn't touched it all day.
I opened the enormous journal, the one fom my sketchbooking class. In it I had recorded two horoscopes from two different papers, some advice for writers from a CBC interview with Arthur Black I'd heard enroute to the station (carry a glue pen), a couple of ragged clippings including 2 photos, one of a sad hairless bear in a German zoo, the other of John Crosbie with Prince Charles and Camilla ... Crosbie making a political statement by wearing a sealskin coat. I made a mental note to carry a glue stick in my pencil case from now on. Most of the news in both the Globe and the Citizen focused on the dismantling of the gun registry and H1N1. I've decided not to bother. Get the shot that is ... I hate guns.
My itinerary was neatly printed on the right hand side of the page. The rest was an untidy hodge podge of notes and sketches. My sketchbooking teacher would not have been impressed.
The next page was more pleasing to the eye ... and about half of it related to the train trip ... a house with peeling paint where we stopped on a siding ... a graveyard ... graffiti ... the city skyscape on the north side of the tracks ... notes about the cluttered neighbourhoods on the other side. The rest dealt with Montreal on foot ... the smells of cigarette smoke and chocolate ... the statue of Mary wearing a crown of Christmas lights that looked as if they were as prickly as thorns ... the old man and his passel of mixed breed dogs ... the rounded statue of hugs at the corner of Amherst and Rene Levesque ... lunch at the pudding cafe on Amherst ... a map of my circuitous and torturous route ... and complaints about my weariness as I ate supper at the Planet Deli. The last time I ate there, my daughter was with me ... it was years and years ago.
And then there was the phrase: Collins Funeral Home 1975. Irrelevant. Misplaced. An orphan.
That's where my mother's funeral was held. My husband and two daughters. A handful of people I didn't know. A closed coffin. Johnny, her second husband, seeming lost. Grant, the 25 year old half brother I didn't know, being charming and competent. Not much of a send-off.
And you, my dear grandfather, the one who is now so determined to impose on family, where were you all her life? You didn't even live with her mother ... and her mother passed on the responsibility of giving your daughter a home to your parents.
"No one could have lived with that woman," he said. I hadn't realized till I heard his voice that he was in the room.
"She was older than I was, and more experienced. She tricked me into marriage by getting pregnant and going to my parents. They insisted that I marry her."
"What did you want to do?" I asked. "Have her get a back alley abortion?"
There was no answer.
I continued. "Is that what you did with all your floozies when you impregnated them?
"Of course. They knew what to do. And I was generous."
"Just think," I mused, "I could have had all kinds of aunts and uncles. Instead of sodden masses of dead fetuses."
"Don't be disgusting."
"You're disgusting," I said. "How many of those women died as a result, or do you know?"
"One died. One became infertile." His voice was unusually subdued.
"How fortunate for you," I sneered. "Why didn't my grandmother have an abortion?"
"She said she wanted a child."
"But she never looked after my mother. And she couldn't stand me."
"She tricked me. And my parents. She was a bitch. I told you."
"I think you two deserved each other."
"Maybe we did, maybe we did ..." His voice, suddenly tired, floated away, and I was left alone looking at the messy clutter on the bed.
The next page in the journal was all text. My final notes on the trip. Everything on the street except for the Cleopatra is abandoned, boarded up, being prepared for gentrification. Grandpa's right. I don't have much time before they will have cleaned up all the remnants of the ghosts who used to play on this street. There are some notes on the people I talked to. He had a hacking smoker's cough. She smoked too but she kept her face made up, looked hardened, but not unhealthy. Of course, make-up gives the illusion of healthy colour. Then there were some figures. The whole trip cost me $139 even without taking taxis.
But I am glad I saw the outside of the Cleopatra, and that I had even a brief conversation with the people who work there.
Funny that Grandpa couldn't understand my spending a few minutes having a real conversation with a destitute old man and his dogs, but he spent most of his adult life with people society has always labeled as trash.
I'm ticked off with myself for not really talking to them the way I talked to the old man, for feeling shy about intruding by having a real conversation about what matters to them. Surely to god my own morals are not getting in the way ... or are they?
Who decides whether a nurse who tricks a man into marriage and then abandons her child is better or worse morally than a whore who risks her life having an abortion to prevent the birth of an unwanted child?
Would my mother have been any unhappier if she'd been born to someone like the warm woman I just spoke to?
Would I have been if I had been descended from such a woman?
One thing is sure, though. I am here because my mother was not aborted. If my grandfather had had his way he'd have nobody to bug about getting revenge for his murder.
It is almost 10 and I have eaten breakfast, fed Kenya, greeted Peter, and logged almost 2000 more words ... and now I am going to take a shower and get dressed.