Outside, the sun fades below the line of the horizon. The sky is still pale blue, but it lacks the lightness of the afternoon. It is darker. Fuller. It has more depth.
“The woman (her name is Lydia) stares out the window…Regular clients know her better. Probably regard her as less mysterious. (Albeit, with high cheekbones under matte skin, still incredibly attractive.) Sitting quietly at her table, reflecting on the signs of the epoch. Her hair is shiny. Her fingernails are red. She just feels like this because the air is so full of business (cette fois, in French)” (Scott Main Brides 31).
She tacks the quote on her wall. Not the virtual kind, but the smooth white one with the round corners. The sound of a kettle whistles in the kitchen. Outside, the rustle of a few trees. This is Montréal in the spring. It is the sound of being nine hundred and eighty kilometres west of the Atlantic Ocean.
She is trying to imagine Montréal; how to recreate the untransmittable, the undetectable aura of place. To think of place in the mythic sense, without having first to think of its readability; without guiding the mind to read place through languages’ idiosyncrasies. To see place transformed. To make the city readable, again. A personality that extends beyond its name. To give it its own signifier.
The balcony being too hot and the rain sworn-off, she is seated at a café on St. Viateur. She thinks of Gail Scott’s Mile End. The triplexes. The Main. Lydia. Watches the walkers, the bikers, the workers, the flâneurs as they all cross paths on St. V.
“A writer represents her city as she wishes it to be,” writes Scott in “My Montréal” (1).
She imagines herself a character in one of Scott’s novels. Desires a Lydia figure for her own. Realizes only the frame can hold the idea of Lydia. Waits for her to appear.
“Lydia’s chair is empty.
(Main Brides 160).
Outside, the neighbours are having dinner on their balcony. It is summer. The sight is tempting.
To write a simple story, a chronology of events, a few interesting characters. It all seemed so simple. And what of failure? She wonders. The cuts in the story. She has been seated for hours unable to finish a sentence. Her fingers too readily placed next to the delete key. It is unfair to interrupt the flow of a sentence before it has begun. One line destroys the other. Nothing happens. She writes that too.
Later, seated in a bar on the Main. Her friend predictably late. She takes out Scott’s article from her purse.
“I’m tempted to call it realism,” she reads (“My Montréal” 2). “It’s very possible the sound effects that trouble my narratives and even my syntax, and that have always underscored my writing are, among other things, a formal response to the question of how to represent my city. Its pulse, its tensions. Its ceaseless plethora of strong minority voices (one of my “heroines” says: in this town everyone’s a minority), constantly challenge any notion of authority” (“My Montréal” 2).
She looks around the room. The woman with the lace vest and the red lips stares back at her from across the bar. The lighting is sombre. The looks don’t last. It only takes a moment for the lonely to retaliate with their stares. She traces two fingers along the rim of her glass. Draws circles in the condensation. Waits for her friend to appear.
The woman in lace turns her attention to the dancers. They are huddled together, chicks, in the middle of the bar. There is a pool table next to them. Two men are trying to finish their game. The dancers. Their bodies are getting in the way. The woman with the vest takes one last drink from her glass. Walks out into the dense night air.
“Lydia stands up carefully (on her way to pee). Distributing lipstick, lighter, Kleenex on her table so no one else will grab it” (Main Brides 134).
Later, the front door still open, a light breeze barely flutters inside. The weather has been unpredictable lately. Sometimes a gust of wind tunnelling through the city sweeps the trash from one quartier to the next. Other times just clouds. The dep windows murky and full of shadows.
The man at the bar signals to the bartender that he’d like another drink. It’s a slow gesture of the hand. Cold molasses. Une 50. The bar man has an instinct for these kinds of signals. He knows by the reds in people’s eyes or cheeks or nose that they are on their last legs of the night. He knows the misery in the face of a man before he enters into the realm of oblivion. And maybe he had been watching the man finish his drink and had predicted the gesture even as soon as the man had ordered his first. Then again, maybe the man sitting at the bar was a regular, and the bartender knew how to keep pace. He slides the brew in front of the man who has already laid a ten-dollar bill on the counter in front of him.
Lydia. Perhaps he too is waiting for Lydia.
Suddenly, she is pulled back into the present frame. The one where she’s having a pint while waiting for her friend. The waitress wants to know if she wants another drink. Yes, another. A last golden lick before the night is done. The waitress disappears behind the dancers. The music roars from the jukebox. A transfiguration occurs. The images morph into other images and a measured vibration hums under her feet.
She looks around the bar, at the conversations going on without her.
It’s true she’s drunk too much.
“She (Lydia) stares out. The sun has set one more degree. The sky, still a pale Aztec blue, distant, but full of meaning” (Main Brides 60).
She, realizing that her friend will never show, swings her purse around her shoulder. Walks out. On Park Avenue, the sunset splits the North from the South.
This waiting. For Lydia. It might not work. The effects of being a tourist in her own story. A stranger. What’s the point? It brings only a strange mixture of excess and lack. She wonders if the idea of place is a ghost overshadowing the representable. An expenditure of language. Suddenly, the idea of place seems so simple. So useless.
Back on Esplanade, she zigzags up the iron staircase to the third floor. The entrance light is burnt out. She shakes her purse. Listens for the jingle of a few keys. The cold wind announces rain. She can smell the water in the air.
“Lydia watches, feeling headier and headier. Thinking: ‘a person, to be what she wants, just has to absorb selectively from context.’ Like a collector” (Main Brides 101).
Scott, Gail. Main Brides. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1993. Print.
—. “My Montréal: Notes from an Anglo-Québécois Writer,” Brick 59 Spring 1998: 4-9. Print.
Geneviève Robichaud is a PhD candidate at l’Université de Montréal as well as the Assistant and Reviews Editor for Lemon Hound. Her writing has recently appeared in Lemon Hound and the Capilano Review. Her writing and research practices focus on the poetics of translation in multilingual works.