by Melissa Bull


It was a beautiful night. The sky was so starry, so clear was the sky. There's a particular shape to the québécois accent on the east side of the Plateau Mont-Royal. It ducks into international French vowels, but the warmth of rural slang pushes out again in exclamations, belying region over education. It was a beautiful night, a night that we may only know when we are very young.

- Bonjour. - Ça va bien? - Ouais, vous autres? Un croissant? Un panini? - Un panini! T'ambitionnes.

They are used to meeting at the same place and at the same hour. The man with the under-ambitious appetite carries a tall umbrella, closed. Charcoal suit. Wire glasses. Vapid face. Likely a lawyer. The permed blond with him is decked out in a polka-dotted, fish-tailed dress and too much makeup. Neither are young. The waitress, pigeon-toed, thickening at the waist, asks about the woman's aunt.

-      C'est un changement dans sa vie. Elle a toujours vécu avec sa sœur. Est pas consciente d'où elle est. Moi comment j'm'appelle? 'E m'a dit, "J'ai une nièce qui s'appelle Lise mais c'est pas vous parce qu'elle elle a pas de lunettes."

The man moves his seat to be next to the woman rather than across. He rests the back of his hand against the table and she takes it briefly. Sips her coffee. He's stretched out, legs splayed out in front of him. She's proper. Calves crossed neatly at the ankles, the way the nuns taught her generation. Permanently poised for a photograph.


Viktor thought for a second then took the seat beside me rather than across. The sky was so starry, so clear was the sky. I put my bag on the brick window-ledge. He drank vodka; I ordered brandy. Our waitress was about fifty, she was tired, she made signs for us to eat. We nodded our heads, nyet.


- Qui vit dans l'édifice? - Le Docteur Clown. - L'architecte, aussi. - L'association des lesbiennes. - Ah, oui, l'architecte. - Lui il reste. - Les lesbiennes partent.


A little distance away from the restaurant. Viktor went to a convenience store to buy some cigarettes and a bottle of water. The lineup was long and the shop was cramped so I waited outside. An old babushka gesticulated with both her canes at my shoes, smiling in gummy encouragement. I'd seen another like her the day before, dead on the sidewalk with a plastic bag barely covering her face, her hair the colour of nicotine stains, bushy and animated in the wind. A police officer stood watching traffic. Pedestrians milled around her like ants around a sandwich.

Viktor came out and we crossed the street. We walked a little distance away from Nevsky. The air clogged up with sewage and dill. We rambled along the embankment, leaned against the guard-rails, staring absorbedly at the murky canal waters. What we need is another boat ride, he said.

We wandered up and down the streets. Through a courtyard turned basketball court where a man walked a Rottweiler. I glanced over my shoulder at Viktor as I balanced along a slim portion of sidewalk not taken up by scaffolding. His hand on my shoulder steering me under the scaffolding. So clear was the sky, that, looking at it, you could not help asking yourself: how can all sorts of cross and crotchety people live beneath a sky like this? A blue tarpaulin. The network of metal. My hat beside a puddle in the rectangle of the scaffolding's entry. That's a very youthful question, too.


Chaotic mass at the Cathedral, whose carillons shook out clanging time, ringing, discordant cowbells. A dozen riders galloped through traffic on miniature horses. I wandered up and down the streets in deep dejection, quite unable to understand what was the matter with me. I went to Nevsky Prospekt and I rambled along the embankment, and wherever I went I missed seeing the people I was used to meeting at the same place and at the same hour. I missed you by about an hour, I think.


A place punctuating fragmented sense structures. A bruise, a tongue curling under it. Any number of words better left unwritten.

Citations: Dostoyevsky, F. White Nights.

Melissa Bull has a BA in Creative Writing form Concordia University and is an alumnus of the Summer Literary Series in St. Petersburg, Russia. She lives in Montreal.