My Montréal

Translated by Duggan Cayer

Montréal, my sweet little slut, how many times have you felt my high heels walk down your back, when I would get all dolled up to find true love, you would let me go on my way with my soul jutting out from my head like my lipstick and my tongue from my mouth, you would watch me, tits on parade, out and proud in bars and in the alleyways of Outremont, blouse open to the world, fingers clenching fence posts, seconds away from taking a load of love, eyes closed to indistinguishable faces, and despite their different shapes and scents, one overwhelming odour: that of the night in sweat-drenched hair, Montréal, my poisonous slut, you never tried to stop me from being swallowed up by my stories straight out of One Thousand and One Nights, from smashing my Cinderella dreams in the embers of sex, from having my Little Red Riding Hood dreams gobbled up by the big bad wolves of the big mean streets. No, you didn’t protect me, but much to the contrary—and true to the madam you are—you prodded me to spread my legs in hundreds of hotel rooms with your lights embroidering my skin, dancing on my exposed shoulders like little anorexic ballerinas, especially after downing drink after drink, brandy, cognac, beer, red wine, a sensual cocktail to spill all over the first lost soul who crossed my path. I travelled down your arteries: Saint-Denis, Sainte-Catherine, Saint-Laurent, my only companions the clicking of my heels on summer night pavement, wrapped in a veil of heat, Montréal, my hooker, my pimp, you’ve watched me gawk at abdomens, necks, eyes, shooting off my pheromones for miles and miles like a gypsy moth, my breasts swelling against delicate fabric to beckon hands and play out my repetitive neurosis in the arms of so many boys,

Credit: Rohan Quinby

Credit: Rohan Quinby

Montréal, my childhood photo album, Dorion Street, 2020 at my grandmother’s, 2037 at my mother’s, just above Ontario, next to the towering Sainte Marie Church where I would sneak away when my stepfather wanted to give me a good hiding, me, his little birdbrain, who accidentally ripped off his Pontiac’s rear-view mirror, or pulled out the pad under the new grey carpet that was about to be installed in the living room. My parents together in summer, before fall came and my mother flew off her rocking chair to cuss out all the kitchen furniture, before my family was cast in a horror film, before my stepfather drowned his sorrows in drugs: hash, pot, and coke, before he lost his job as the Royal Victoria Hospital laundry room manager and before my mother gave up on her pills and her personality. But still, the summer on Dorion, the dampness in the shed and the dampness of my girlfriends’ panties, my first porno queen urges, Queen of Dorion Street, tiny shithouse tyrant with hair so thin the sun shone through it no problem, her body so scrawny it was almost unreal and her big, forlorn cocker spaniel eyes, so skittish, who commanded the backyard and the street in front of the house in true army general style. My roller skates, doing backflips for my mother and the neighbourhood girls who would look on in admiration, below lampposts, summer nights, I was good, I was alright, I was almost happy, I would have liked it to stay that way forever, I had my mother, mine, all mine thanks to my roller skates and my backflips, I’d shooed away the demons that lived in her head for a summer, but I invited others into my own, you can’t please your mother like that, with impunity, forgo her shortcomings, it scars, changes those neuron pathways, you develop all kinds of addictions, to alcohol, drugs or to people, my first run-ins with boys, my first French kiss with Réal Ruelle that went horribly wrong, I frenched him all the way to his tonsils, I frenched his root canal work, Réal Ruelle would laugh at me for a long long time after that, just one kiss and I turn into a slimy toad in other people’s mouths, a stringy-haired toad on Dorion Street,

Montréal, my midwife, you felt me create lying close to your heart, on the corner of Sanguinet and Ontario, amidst the poverty of the Jeanne-Mance projects, impoverished, but a head bursting with ideas and veins awash in red wine, a forced homecoming due to malnutrition, my mother, my little hardcore granny and the cockroaches, a minuscule bedroom overlooking anguish that I left all too often to party with boys in crack houses, but a little bedroom all the same where I could lock myself away to write and write my first short stories, about girls who fuck until it bleeds just to be loved, it was me, but I didn’t know it then, I hit the streets with my disorders on the back burner, I didn’t know it yet, it would take one shrink after another to contain the monsters living in my head, like my mother’s, I would have to write about almost nonexistent men who didn’t belong in my world, emasculated men whose parts I didn’t have I dismembered and then couldn’t fly away, poor little broken winged angels, I’m the one who got to torture in my blank pages. I don’t deny it, I write to purge the violence in me, to flush out the poverty in me, the poverty of the Jeanne-Mance projects, fake two-story houses creaky as old seafaring ships, you let that grow on your skin, oh yes Montréal, not far from your heart, like poisonous mushrooms, but why, for your clean conscience of course, even though they’re penniless, almost homeless, these money exiles, at least they’ll have culture, they’ll be surrounded by thousands of festivals: comedy, Francophonie, jazz, a gladsome ghetto that gives the impression it’s rich, I wrote my first short stories in that ghetto, first published my work at 24, that I celebrated like a big girl who’s 24 at Le Pèlerin: “Breakfast for one please, ma’am, and how happy I am, oh yes ma’am,” eggs have never tasted as good as they did that day when I started coming into existence,

Montréal, my religious mistress, I climbed the four hundred steps leading to your oratory to cry out the pain in my heart before the tomb of André the Holy, I cast my tears over the hundreds of crutches nailed to the walls, burnt votive candles to cauterize the wounds that tore through my psyche, but my prayers were never answered, and I never became anyone else, just this young girl who dreamt of orgies in churches, shagging on the altar of the Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montréal, surrounded by the same church candles that had seen the greats marry and perish, fondling atop the bell tower of Bonsecours Chapel with bonus views of the Old Port, the waters of the Saint Lawrence and the possibility of a different life, of a better place, if you could just take a raft over its rapids. Fellatio and penetration in Sacré Coeur, at Ontario and Plessis, where I was baptized with the poisonous name of a make-believe little saint, Marie-Sissi, fellatio and penetration to never myself conceive a little me who could herself be given a poisonous name and a cup of water over her head, oh the way you love, Montréal of a thousand steeples that echoed between the walls of the family home of my first love Nicolas, Plessis Street, near the Radio-Canada tower, him on top, me on top, playing with our nascent forms behind his parents’ backs, knowing in the back of our 15-year-old minds that what we were doing was forbidden, while you rang your bells just as loudly as you could to remind us of our Christian guilt, to remind us that we’d never escape it,

Montréal, my psych patient, how many times have I walked down the hallways of Notre Dame Hospital that reeked of bleached sickness and death, parting green walls to see my mother in treatment, my little mama who would stare into the nothingness of the floorboards as if the movie of her life were being projected onto it, and who rocked back and forth, back and forth, on her imaginary rocking chair, and my grandmother who forced me to put on my little smiling clown face to make my straight-jacket mama believe that I was perfectly happy with my life, that my day-to-day was heaven on Earth, that my life was as good as a really awesome hit of heroin, so that she wouldn’t worry herself into becoming even crazier than before, my little mama, Montréal, stark raving mad, on Papineau Street, the pitiful 4 1/2 right next to the bridge, third floor, with an unbearable view of happy families taking the Jacques Cartier bridge, running off to the Eastern Townships for the weekend, while my mother was running away from her family by stuffing heaps of pills down her throat, the cries of my mother leaving Earth for her very own Old Orchard, the shouts of the EMT’s and police who would invade our house, stretcher, siren, and my silence before the unfolding drama stuck in my throat, in the icy winter night, with nothing more than socks and my little yellow John Lennon shirt, and my little breasts sprouting out of my chest just to make things more complicated, my mother disappeared, swallowed up by the ambulance and I stayed behind, with my little 3-year-old sister and her big eyes who would never really understand why she was being abandoned, in front of the Jacques Cartier bridge, my little sister and me, her big 11-year-old saviour, who got her to retaliate by throwing snowballs at the cars filled with happy families heading full speed ahead to the Eastern Townships,

Montréal, my sunshiny spliff, with your frites stands stinking that comforting oily smell and your posters with ice cream cones dripping with flavour, your cyclists cleaving the air in their paths and your happy-go-lucky rollerbladers doing backflips to catch the eye of Old Montréal onlookers, Montréal, on your promenade near the Old Port, between noon and three in summer, I walked my little dysfunctional mama who was so pleased that I took her out, happy to finally see something other than the sickly off-white walls of her 4 1/2, her mouth moistened by the grape juice she just drank, a purplish milk moustache, looking at me through her coke bottle glasses as if she lived in a fishbowl, she got away with everything, no matter how horrible it was, my mother, and me at the height of my patience when she talked to me about the witches who would visit her on a daily basis, or when she told me that I had hidden my grandmother’s eye in a jewellery box, my happiness in small doses because for thirty seconds every hour she was in paradise with me, her big girl, my mother and I eating al fresco, at Georgio, on SaintLaurent and De La Commune, my mother’s mouth wet with grape juice and tomato sauce, asking me again and again: “You’re sure that I can smoke here? You’re 100% sure? They won’t lock me up for it?”, it was my season of reassurance, just before that I’d had to comfort her, tell her that it was safe to walk on the footbridge in the Old Port, that at five feet away from the wrought iron fence there wasn’t a chance that she could fall into the desperately brown waters of the Saint Lawrence River, between the moored boats and the decomposing trash, too bad I couldn’t find the right words to make her sail all the way to Saint Helen’s Island on the riverboat, my mother is chemically bound to you, Montréal,

Montréal, my gangster, your Hell’s Angels bunkers that permeated my childhood, in the East End of your body, Ontario and Dorion, I threw my first punches in these ruins, I tested out my violent roots in this neighbourhood of reinforced concrete, the first time I ran away, seven years old, running off with my cousins the twins, we girls spent an afternoon at Le Caméo, a little cinema amidst the destitution in the east of your skin, where people, around the end of each month, looked almost like the living dead, all three of us watching scary movies, screaming out all of our nightmares piled up since the beginning of time in unison while our parents screamed our names out into the bitter cold Sunday that rainy autumn, back at their apartment the twins’ arms and cheeks were reddened by blows, while I would sit there stone-faced from my mother’s stories straight out of Allô Police, little girls getting chopped up into pieces by crazy people with scalpels, Montréal, temptress of little girls who lack everything, you made me steal what I couldn’t have: bathing suits, books, earrings, I would only have to hold out my hand, until a mall cop at Place Versailles, a huge suburban mall on Sherbrooke Street, set his sights on my toobigtobereal décolleté, and I had Youth Protection on my back because I was poor, my mother got depressed and eight months in a psych ward because her daughter was a thief and we were still poor, grey hair would invade my grandmother’s head and mouth because we were ludicrously poor, my little sister would be sent to the hospital to have all her baby teeth pulled out on a drip because they were growing in black, and all because we were almost extravagantly, exotically, sensationally poor, but before I ran away from home again to make things worse, before vandalizing metro benches and private property on Saint-Paul, a posh part of town where rich pedestrians would shuffle along in the summertime, women wrapped up in their Hermès shawls and men in their banknotes, I wanted to have a taste of this wealth too, that’s why at fifteen, I only had to pull off one last heist for some cash, a load of ski boots from one of the trains that laid dormant in the Old Port at night, and then my escape, lying low for a few days at friend’s house on Wurtell, the gloomy street where I was conceived, and my alley cat homecoming, the kind that didn’t want to be touched, but just wanted to fall asleep not too far from a radiator, then I would bury the 23 chromosomes from my bank-robbing father for good and I would become a little angel,

Montréal, my friendship, Bernard in his yard on Rouen, near De Parthenais, a safe haven, the oasis of my repentance ever since I was 17, where I would watch his plants and tomatoes grow when things weren’t right in my head and he would put me back together again, his house covered in stained glass through which I would watch the Jacques Cartier bridge, through a rainbow at sunrise, and then we would drink a cup of coffee, my oldest and truest friend Bernard who had Mother Teresa tattooed on his forehead and me, his adopted little girl who set up her bedroom in his living room, Montréal, my discovery of friendship, my little pussycat Caroline whose teeth were too white to be real, who smiled and cried about her shortcomings just like me, Montréal and Caroline, my little blonde pussycat, my little sister by choice, who traipsed along with me through a place full of clowns, at the Lion d’Or shouting at a thousand decibels, corner of Ontario and Papineau, in the same place my bankrobbing father used to hang out two decades before, Caroline didn’t know her father either and that’s why we became friends, friends ‘til the end, but most of all for the laughs, on her birthday at her house, her semibasement apartment in the hole of a building near Saint-Hubert and its thousands of bridal shops and 10-foot-tall hooker boots, that night, she told me: “You dazzle, my friend ‘til the end,” Montréal and Hélène, the girl I admire above all others, my model, the woman I dreamt of being, my second and rarely dysfunctional mother, who wore little army boots and striped tights like the Wicked Witch of the West, Hélène who took me out to eat, at L’Express or Le Continental, on Saint-Denis an evening in fall, and who parked wherever she wanted in the Plateau, a hip neighbourhood straight out of the lifestyle section, fuck parking tickets! Hélène who lives her life at a hundred thousand miles per hour, who reads, teaches, publishes, travels, gardens with friends and most of all, she loves how everyone should love, Hélène who shot me up full of confidence with: “Look, in Montréal and all over the world, there are people who love you,”

Montréal, my leather couch, sitting on concrete, facing an unfinished condo tower on René-Lévesque, near City Hall, smoking butt after butt trying my best to look towards the ground when people would walk by, “Saint-Luc Centre for Mental Health” written just above my head, but I wasn’t crazy, I hadn’t seen bugs or Judas at dinner, I always drove myself mad trying to convince everyone that I wasn’t, ever since the first psych tests they gave me because I was a nervous little girl who lived through perpetual drama, my shrink knows it and she can prove it with a clean bill of health, Montréal, my concrete couch, in front of the building under construction where I would brood over how I’d too cross the nuthouse threshold, the same one my mother crossed every month when they’d would give her pills to stabilize her soul, like all the other crazies who made strange noises in the waiting room when they weren’t violently dancing the Saint Vitus because the doctor was running late or simply because they were so alone in the world, and they didn’t want to return to their den of solitude. That’s why I preferred to stay out on the concrete and wait for my turn, for my shrink to bring me up to office number 408 so I could discharge my vitriol for humanity, but mostly for myself, before I would leave and walk along René-Lévesque Boulevard, two blocks to the west, and end up in Chinatown, the neighbourhood that’s watched over by varnished dragons and ducks with their questionable emanations, where I would eat brown rice made of lost cats, when stories that I had just told my medical stepmother would run through my head and I’d tell myself, “In another culture, madness goes almost unnoticed, that’s better than nothing,”

Montréal, my culture whore, you master the art of making me feel guilty when I don’t attend the latest play that’s à la mode or the most recent must-see show, the one that if you don’t see, you’re passé, you’re nothing, if you’re not au courant, you’ll have nothing to say to the next person who asks you the time in the street, yes, you have these tendencies, Montréal, my fucking lady who lunches, you know just how to make me feel guilty, guilty for choosing to stay at home watching television, teleculture, rather than losing myself in a crowd full of people who run themselves into the ground just to stay trendy, no, I haven’t seen the last Jean Leloup show, no, I didn’t see the Rolling Stones when they came to town, and no, I won’t be going to your boring-ass comedy special, insipid humour simply to please you. Nevertheless, I can’t help myself from going to the movies during a heat wave, right around the time when you want to just marry the fan, going to the movies in the winter when you turn, Montréal, into an nothingness-flavoured popsicle, especially that one time, during the holiday season, with my little mama who loved the silver screen, we were at cinema Le Parisien on Sainte-Catherine, near the shops that my mother was so fond of, even though she could hardly afford a thing with her welfare check, so my mother and I at Le Parisien, before the movie started, Christmas songs playing in the theater, my mother knew them and sang along, a wrinkly little girl humming Jingle Bells, it made my heart ache, how my mother loved culture, she loved it like a bit of Nutella on toast that I would feed her from my hand, that’s what I could tell, after seeing Les Boys, and when we left the cinema, wings sprouted from my mother’s back and she was off to the moon,

Montréal, my rock chick, my voice has drawled on the stages of your dive bars, in front of motley crowds stoned off their asses, my notes must have pierced a few hearts, because people stood in line to touch the black getups, hair and throat of this little blonde soprano, a little relic, me, the little blonde rock chick surrounded by her guitarists who would create walls of sound just for the hell of it, so no one could get too close to me and scratch my thin, defenseless skin, they formed a semicircle around me, my electric guitarists, my bassist and my drummer, a veil of long hair all around me on stage at Foufounes Électriques, yes, those were the good old days inside the gates of that legendary locale on Sainte-Catherine Street, the place where all the teenagers, when they were finally old enough to get in, would drag their daddish prof who agreed to come along to show that they were cool, for me, it was my grandmother who came, yeah, my little granny, 91 years old, she was in that giant bar full of punks just to come and hear me sing, immensely proud of her granddaughter, even though she could hardly hear a thing, she was about as deaf as Beethoven when he composed his Moonlight Sonata, his ear pressed up against the piano frame. I remember that the first time I found myself on stage, I crouched down to touch the floor that Kurt Cobain had once trodden upon, we have the idols we can, me, I’ve always loved guys with dirty hair and torn up clothes, because I too, at the time, sported shredded clothing and hair that wasn’t always so clean, poverty was tearing away at me, just like misfortune which always came ‘round knocking at my door, I was so poor I lost twenty pounds, I didn’t eat anymore, I lived only for music and writing, music and writing, and for a long-haired guitarist named Jess, too nice and too thin to be real, Jess, my genuine broken-winged angel, not a penny in our pockets, but our heads brimming with notes,

Montréal, my little lush, how many times have you seen me retch on the grass of your parks, Lafontaine, Laurier, Émilie-Gamelin, the pain that I had washed down with brandy, beer, red wine, at night on all fours in the grass between the shrubbery, in front of boys who would have surely preferred to lie down beside me in bed rather than watch me vomit up my soul like a wild woman. Those were my younger years, those of a little girl who wanted to be a writer so bad, Charles Bukowski was my spiritual father and Mistral my blood brother, the same impulses as them in my veins, just like Kerouac, I too had that fatal phrase of “what’s the point” burnt into my neurons, and just like him I would call my mother granny, my symbolic mother, my grandmother, my granny who wiped my youthful indiscretions off the kitchen or living room floor when I would come home just as drunk as my idols. Actually, when I really think about it, those weren’t idols for a well-behaved young lady, my memoirs were not exactly going to be a picnic, but I can tell you anyway, Montréal, my lush, that I have an imperishable memory of those bar crawls that ended in blackouts, crazy words I’d spoken to boys drunk sitting on park benches, promises of marriage below lamp posts, of eternal love in Parc Lafontaine at the foot of the statue of Félix Leclerc or before the fountain that shot out coloured water: green, blue, yellow and red, at night when the ducks were asleep, yes, all of that in Parc Lafontaine that I know like the back of my hand, that I’ve seen change throughout the ages, me all my 5 1/2 years in the whale at the Jardin de merveilles. Back then your park smelt like pigs, horses and seals too, the little seals that swam just as fast as they could when I came close to the pool, and my mother would say “look, all the little seals in Montréal love you, they swim up to you when you come to see them, baby.” Yes, all the little seals and all the little boys loved me, except for a big one who one day tried to drown me in the kiddie pool at Parc Lafontaine because I didn’t want him to put his hands down my bathing suit covered with a thousand little fleurs-de-lys, and that’s probably why, later on, I’d been known to vomit on all fours in front of boys rather than letting them play out their dramas in my little panties at Parc Lafontaine,

That’s kind of what I do, my mother and my grandmother die in my pages so that I can finally be born

Montréal, my grand midwife, in an apartment in the Plateau, on Rachel and Cartier, between two electric guitar riffs, I began to write about my past filled with cockroaches, bottles flying through the air and a broken home, I went into treatment with my shrink and an old-school MAC, which are the same thing when you think about it, to let everything out, peel off the layers of pain that paralyzed my personality, I marched joyously ahead into the depths of hell, while my broken-winged angel of sex held my hand, tended to my every need, I shone so brightly in his universe, while I Cloroxed my own, then moving out, and then writing Borderline full-time, in a 4 1/2 in a thousand-floor-high building in the Gay Village near Sainte-Catherine and Sainte-Rose, a blue wall behind me to project my imagination, ahead of me my birth, fingers tied to the keyboard typing from morning ‘til night, until generalized tendonitis set it, my right wrist as fat as a watermelon so that I wouldn’t reveal what was left unsaid in my nuthouse of a family, like that man with his arm bent towards his torso who killed his entire family after a physical therapist set it straight. That’s kind of what I do, my mother and my grandmother die in my pages so that I can finally be born, and next the end, getting published, my photo in newspapers and magazines, my mug on TV, my voice on the radio, me who wrote in the blood of my family to become what I am, that will never be easy for me, but at least I succeeded in escaping the poisonous bubble of my childhood, the cover of my first story is proof, menstrual red, I gave birth to myself in the Gay Village, I am my mother, I am my father, roses are red, violets are blue, I’m schizophrenic and so am I,

Montréal, my Himalaya, I’ve scaled the rocky faces of Mount Royal in the center of your island, I’ve climbed them at 12, 13, 14 and 15 like the female French Spider-Man in sandals, your steep flanks with delinquent friends even though it was forbidden, people would fall and they were carried away on orange stretchers, but us, we didn’t give a damn, your summit was all that mattered, and each time we reached it, our little pleasure was to eat mushroom soup at your restaurant and dip our feet in your Beaver Lake teeming with catfish the colour of dirty alleys, Montréal, my love Hiroshima, one night, in the sparse forests on Mount Royal, I ended up having sex with a boy named after a brand, we didn’t have anywhere else to go, no place to call home, no bed to touch each other on, so at least we could lean against your trees, they didn’t protect us, but he trusted me when I said, “touch me, don’t worry, I’m with you, c’mon, touch me, don’t worry, I’m with you,” meanwhile a crowd of shadows began to gather above our bodies lost in the underbrush,

Montréal, my ice queen, with each passing year you must have had a good laugh into your sleeve, every time you saw me trudge through your hiver de force, your cold breaking my skin, slicing my lips, stinging my eyes, when I was fourteen, on Parthenais and Ontario, in front of Pierre-Dupuy Tech, my school full of nutjobs, I would wait for the Papineau bus, heading back home for lunch at full throttle, my too-thin jacket and my second-hand boots pierced by the icy wind and little bits of snow, the cold in my boots and at home when I finally got there, my mother, if she wasn’t in the psych ward, was in her world full of monsters and witches, she would x-ray me with her eyes as blue as a husky’s while I tried to eat and ignore her presence, she, my mother who could never come play in the snow with me, who was never there with me in winter, cyclothymic, schizophrenic, psychotic every waking hour. Luckily there was already so much music in my head then, like there would be later, my bandmates’ schizophrenic walls of sound when, crowded together in a little studio on Viau Street, we recorded an album, the three of us, from morning ‘til night eating Viau Ville souvlakis, we were greasy after a month of this diet of ours, and when we finished recording, I ran like a demented woman up the hill on Saint-Hubert, between Sherbrooke and Ontario, so happy to finally be free, so content with the cold of winter, with the snow that I could roll around in, freedom, a few years later, I would run again, past the boy with the brand name, who tried as best he could to follow through snowflakes, cursing me, “fucking resiliency.” Yes, I admit it, sometimes I loved your winters, my blanche Montréal, sometimes I was even happy in winter, including Christmas with my ex-husband who spent his time drawing my face in comic strips and getting paint all over our walls, fridge and wardrobe doors, and I, all the while, would drink Black Label with the honest impression that I was on my way to making it, two crazy youths together in a little 4 1/2 without a dollar, but with Christmas lights all over the apartment on Cartier Street, the onramp to the Jacques Cartier Bridge, Christmas lights laced around our bed of big round log cabin wood, that made us think that we were above poverty, that she couldn’t pull us back down, that bitch, that we were above our future quarrels, that we would be together ‘til the end, above everything, sitting on Dubuffet sketches, so very, very naïve,

Montréal, my cover page, I hung around your thousands of downtown hotels; The Vogue, The Transcontinental, Du Parc, Delta, Rooms 707, 303, 909, to interview the meek and mighty stars alike who landed on your skin for a quick jaunt, a short escapade with journalists, Adam, the son of an idol who brought your two solitudes together for a few songs: Democracy, Take this Waltz, Suzanne, in French and in English, their hearts beating in unison, Adam who wanted me to stay with him and his metal hip that gave him the gait of a robot and who told me “Turn off the mic and get naked in bed with me, we’ll drink tequila and I’ll recite you obscene poems until your eyes turn into little wet slits.” It’s not that I didn’t want to, but, that other clown of a journalist with his multicoloured ties who didn’t want to let me go, who would have harassed me with phone interviews until the wee hours of the morning, who only wanted one thing, to put his hands on the front page of my skin, to make love to my prose, Montréal, my pervert, I wandered your seedy underbelly for top-selling rags, with my secret agent pseudonym and my press pass tucked away under my clothing, I saw that which dares not be seen, swingers who trade with anyone and everyone in kind at Bar L’Orage, chic euro swingers at a bar on Saint-Laurent, an old bank with a vault where you can lie down and lay your hands on other people’s jewels, orgies under black lights at Les Libertins on Saint-Hubert, a little bar with barred windows that opens at eleven in the morning, “Eggs and bacon in exchange for my wife, thanks.” Yes, I saw all that as a journalist, among other things, like the miles of latex at Cream Bar on Saint-Laurent and Bernard, bourgeoisie-adjacent, pretty blondes leaning against walls, legs spread, whipping their asses under hypnotic strobes, while the less pretty ones had laundry pins pinched onto their huge breasts shaped like sad suns for love, depression theater, yes, Montréal, how perverse you can be, wicked stepmother, especially for a daughter who spent long summers alone on a stoop of burning concrete, under the hot sun on Dorion Street, waiting for her stepfather who had promised to take her camping in Terrebonne,

Montréal, so headstrong, that’s me, in the poor neighbourhood of my childhood where I returned to live as an adult, Ontario and Papineau, in a loft about as big as a closet, my roots that I can’t seem to sever for good, my origins that rivet me to reinforced concrete, that I trampled on thousands of times when I couldn’t cross the road without holding an adult’s hand, as an adult, it was I who held my lover’s hand when they would come to my questionable neighbourhood, I was their protector, she who could read the signs that cried out danger, and I held their hand again when, come morning, the maniac that lived in my yard screamed “I’m schizo, fuck!” But my lovers were not the only ones to look down on the area, my girlfriends didn’t particularly care for my end of Papineau, if they could have, they would have parked their cars in my apartment to avoid getting attacked when they left, though I was known to go out late at night and no one had ever jumped me, maybe because they sensed that I was of the same blood, a certain stamina was required to live in my neighbourhood, it was a bit like the Bronx or the Mexican countryside, especially in the black of night, when sinister-looking individuals lurk the area for girls covered in track marks, ready and willing, anything for the next fix. Me, during that time, I focused all of my attention on my keyboard, where I felt safe, where I could write, be myself, a little authoress writing literary rock in her tiny loft looking over a nuthouse and the chimneys of Notre Dame Hospital, where my mother had lived for so long during my childhood, and where blackish smoke billowed into a sky as blue as a child’s drawing, making it look like they were incinerating the dead and the sheets that had once served them, unless they were burning the schizos themselves,

Montréal, how wet you are, me, a little girl in the summer rain, afternoons when, under a Mickey Mouse umbrella, in my dilapidated pseudo-yard at 1270 Dorion, almost under the Jacques Cartier bridge, I wanted time to stop, disappear with the raindrops, flow into the ocean, far away from madness, far from being short on money, away from the tranquilizers they stuffed down my throat to dull my senses, a long way away from my stepfather who I would see crying in a few weeks, an evening in autumn, when my mother made off with her two little girls and the pills in her bags, my stepfather who would wait for her crying into the night sitting on the stoop on Dorion Street, my stepfather who I watched lose everything: his job, his baby my sister, me his adopted daughter, and his wife and her sanity. I think that he also cried that day when we moved, Montréal, my deafening thunderstorm, twelve years old on my two-speed in a tunnel somewhere in Old Port, trying to avoid getting struck by lightning, with a boy by my side who was too busy showing off for me to notice him, but the rain was falling so hard in front of us, the sound of it so reassuring, the prettiest sound in the world, forming a veil around me, yes, the rain, the storm was so majestic that I couldn’t help but kiss that awkward boy, Montréal, rain showers and the droplets on my windowpane when it strikes me today to stare into nothingness and finally forget everything, Montréal, all lubed up, the tempest that renders me all the more sensual, that wholly expresses everything within me, the backlash of my thoughts, the storm that bellows inside me when I’m in a man’s bed, the drops that drum their way into our ribs because they want to get in so badly, until they finally come together, futile struggle, and the rain in my eyes and his eyes, because our worlds are too different, haven’t much in common, too many religious imprecations and fragile crystals separate us, but all the same the rain in his eyes and my eyes that was maybe our only chance to flow together until we disappeared, disappeared into the ocean,

Montréal, my bliss, lying on my back in Viger Square, summer after dark, fifteen years old, breathing in the night and the perfume of the stars and telling myself “I have to remember this sky for the rest of my life, it’s important,” I never found out why, but I still remember it, Montréal, so joyful, me coming home from trips: Europe, the United States, Central America, at night and finally seeing all your skyscrapers appear in the distance and your pollution too, me at Zinc Bar on Mount Royal Avenue drinking a shandy with the man who created me, who ignited my prose, who, in part, made me the woman I have become, me with him again in the movie theater, side by side with the man that I loved, not touching, watching Romance, the origin of the world, the ground zero of our relationship, a breakup story that weeps for lack of love, me and this completely married man in a restaurant when he let me know that he loved me more than I could ever know, me in another restaurant with him where we forgot, both of us, what was keeping us apart, we abandoned some months’ worth of writing on the wooden table at Le Pèlerin, to seduce his knowing glance, me again in another restaurant in Old Montréal with this man who tells me that it has to stop, that married love can’t fill the holes in my stomach and those in my soul, my heartbreak. And happiness returns with that young singer in Old Montréal, before midnight, a night in springtime, he courted me with his song, his guitar and his trashy lyrics, then my friend the clown and I, a clown with a Labatt Blue drinker’s red nose, who told me things that made me feel so much better: “I’m happy you met me, a bit of light-heartedness will do you good,” and crazier words like “I’ll lick you calmly and kiss you tenderly,” I would have married him on the spot, that King of Symfolium, if he hadn’t loved the whole world. And my other joys, in bookstores and in the hearts of certain people, like that boy, on Ontario Street, who stopped me when I was heading home, my head hanging low, to tell me “Thanks for writing like you do, it’s good for us,” a smile took over my mouth and my soul for weeks and weeks, finally for the first time in my life I felt something like my own version of happiness, my very first apartment on my own, getting cable after my little TV, freedom in my mind, books for my role in society, finally, ever since I was able to build a cathedral of Montréal in my mind.

Marie-Sissi Labrèche has been very present on the Quebec literature scene since she released her award-winning Borderline (Boréal) in 2000. A film and five books have followed. Before that, Marie-Sissi led the Montreal-based band Sylph. Her rock star roots and love for Montreal pervades “Mon Montréal à moi," an ode to her very own version of the city that was published in Amour et autres violences (Boréal) in 2012.

Duggan Cayer was born and raised in Massachusetts. In 2012 he earned a graduate degree in French-to-English translation at Concordia University. After an internship with the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada, Duggan now works with a major Quebec media company translating magazines and advertising.