Melissa A. Thompson

"Abitibi-Témiscamingue: where nature and adventure coincide."
–Tourisme Québec

I want to eat in the kind of Chinese food restaurant you find in small northern Ontario towns. Restaurants with names like "Lucky Moon" or "Sun Palace" or whatever. I want the red sauce on chicken balls and a fork, no option of chopsticks, that kind of place. Even if it is not Chinese food, I want to eat in the kind of restaurant where you get pre-packaged moist towelettes, not just one, but a whole little white rectangular dish of them, lined up and free for the taking, no limits. I want Jason to feel terrible and Jared to feel less terrible but terrible nonetheless. I want them to see that I have left our once beautiful and now totally ruined Mile-end apartment, and upon realizing this, I want them to throw their hands up into the air and say "How can we be such assholes, she's our sister!" I want them to then launch into long, weepy and indiscernible sentences weighed down with serious words like "Family" and "Blood." I also want a pair of great fucking leotards, thick and cable-knit like when you are five, but extra long for maximum leg movement. I have had enough of polyester and the saggy-crotch feeling of insufficient leg length. I have had enough of everything.

I don't know where I'm going but I know that I'm traveling at two distinct speeds. My body is stuck on this lumbering bus, heading to another bus, heading to Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and my mind is going everywhere else simultaneously, wrapping back around itself several times, and igniting in flame. I have been trying to focus on one spot in the upholstery pattern of the seat, bore myself into some kind of hypnotic state and even out, but I cannot for the life of me stop switching my legs around. I am overwhelmed by the desire to pull the stuffing out of the seat ahead and then reinsert it carefully in such a way as to round out the top edge and thus prevent the overhang of hair from the woman in front of me. Her stupid mouse-brown ponytail keeps coming over and catching in the bristle of the dirty head rest. I have bought a horse on the internet from a man who lives outside of a town called Amos, and I have paid for it on my brother's credit card. I don't know what I am going to do exactly, but I do know that I am not going to panic. It is not a thoroughbred and things could be worse.

I don't do drugs and I don't eat hot dogs or Kentucky Fried Chicken. These are my standards. They are the result of the power of documentary film. This is not the full truth. The main reason I do not do drugs is my brothers. I mean, here I am working hard every damn day to learn the bass guitar and develop a signature style, and they are just off, splayed on some crusted-up couch all the time, smoking weed and trying to grow ironic mustaches. We did not start out this way and I'm disappointed. Disappointed in a more profound sense than our parents, even. Jared came to visit us in Montreal for a weekend and ended up never leaving or finishing school. Jared has not technically graduated from high school—he's missing those last bits about calculus and Margaret Laurence and everything, and for what? Lattés and ganja at the Social Club, not to mention the influence of some really bad women.

The last time the bus stopped it was at a St. Hubert Resto-Express in the middle of nowhere, three hours north of Montreal. I was smoking a cigarette in the parking lot and these three young guys from the back of the bus were jumping around in their t-shirts, paw fighting like faux hooligans. You've got to understand that it is both February and 3 o'clock in the morning as this is going on. It's about 25 degrees below zero and these three guys are out in the parking lot, smoking up or taking ecstasy or whatever, and wrestling. One of them kept stretching out his t-shirt with one arm, I believe for the purpose of revealing a bit of his pubic hair to me. It fanned out over the edge of his very low-strung teenager snowpants. It was not as erotic as intended.

"Quez tu fait ma fille?" he asked me.

"Paaar-don?" I said in my lazy French.

"Anglophone!" another one said, laughing, "You should sit wit us."

"No thanks," I said and smashed my cigarette into the frozen pavement for effect.


This is what I understand. Monsieur Gagnon lives outside of Amos and Amos is a small town in the region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and Abitibi-Témiscamingue is a northwestern edge of Quebec somewhere between Ontario and the Arctic. I will take two buses for a total of 8 hours, catch a lift to the parking lot of the Ukrainian Church in the center of the town, and Monsieur Gagnon will meet me there. I have three hours and a sunrise left to figure out what it is I am going to do with the horse. Her name is Celeste and she is a gorgeous palomino half quarter filly. I don't know what that means except for $800, not $25,000 like Sameera Sunphire - Desperado V/ El paso granddaughter. I am angry but I am not a bitch.

I feel like everyone is moving too slow around me. The last thing I needed was for Jason to bring that girl into things and slow it all down even more. Abby is a bartender and the kind of person who seriously wears Daisy Duke-styled jean shorts and lectures about what is organic and what is, like, really not. I don't understand. One minute we have this great band with a lot of potential and the next, Jason is locked in his room all the time, shagging or passed out or eating 6 dollar dragonfruit. It's terrible. We spend evenings just sitting around listening to Abby going on about how she will never do Botox but when she is really old, "like thirty-five or something" she will get some ethically extracted snake venom injected into areas that "need refreshing."

"Abby," I said, "Why don't you just go to the zoo and get a snake to bite your face."

Jared didn't even crack a smile. I realize now how screwed up things were by this point.

"You are really a high-strung person, Bea. You should try yoga or getting laid," Abby said, pulling a leg warmer up to the fringe of her stupid miniature pants. "See you guys later, somebody's got to work around here." She stuck her tongue down my brother's throat for a moment and left.

Someone in our apartment complex has given up on exercise. Two weeks ago an old Stairmaster got dumped in the alleyway with a piece of notepaper taped around its neck. "FREE" it said in severe handwriting. I wanted Jason to help me move it up to the porch but he kept procrastinating, endlessly. "Listen," he said finally "I meant to tell you this, but Abby is having some roommate issues and is going to crash here for a while. I told her she could put her stuff in there."

I don't understand where these people are going. They are all inches above sleep and seemingly depressed, hooked-up and muted-out by their own technological devices. There is somebody about five seats back with some really cheap headphones on and all I can hear is the tinny static of some almost recognizable pop song on repeat and people breathing their wet breath in and out in the dark. I tap my chin on my kneecap before switching that leg down again, my foot tangled in the strap of my Dad's old camera. I tap at my tooth with a fingernail and lean my head closer to the window where I am more likely to breathe just my own breath and not the breath of other people.

It was a Tuesday morning and Jason had called me from the diner to say that he had had a great night that was not yet over and that I should come join him, he was eating bacon with this Finnish band, these REAL PEOPLE from Finland. And also could I bring the camera. And also could I bring the striped sweater on the back of the couch and fifteen or twenty dollars.

"Come on Bea, they have a manager and he is like the tallest guy I have ever seen in my life."

For a very great and brief moment, I thought we were getting back to the good times. I pulled on some boots and brushed my teeth, stuffing everything into a plastic shopping bag, and I ran. The air was sharp and clean and white as ice fire within me. Two blocks down the street I realized that I had to go back and wake Jared up for this. He is just a kid in a lot of ways, I thought to myself, but he deserves to be eating bacon with Finnish people and helping to plot our next move.

I sprinted back and arrived breathless, sweating into the neck of my jacket. When I got home there was some vaguely AC/DC-like band blaring from the stereo, the shower was on, and my brother was in it. I could hear Abby in there with him, causing major psychoanalytical damage to me, her whore-y thong underwear contaminating the tiles of our bathroom floor.

I kicked my legs around on the Stairmaster in the alley until Jason finally ambled home to see what was taking me so long. I told him.

"You're a liar," he said after a long moment, "and you try to ruin everything."

I want Monsieur Gagnon to be quiet and kind-hearted, a hard-working loner with a heart of gold. I want him to see me waiting there in the parking lot of the Ukrainian church, pacing in my dress and insufficient leotards and think to himself, damn, this girl is on the verge of something very great, I can feel it. I want him to take me by the hand and lead me to the door of the trailer.

"Here you go," I want him to say. "She's all yours."

I want Celeste to look me in the eyes and to love me immediately, shaking her mane around a bit in the frosty air. I want her to step down eloquently from the trailer and for Monsieur Gagnon to weave his fingers together into a step.

"Up you go," he will say.

I want to get on the horse and I want to run.

Melissa A. Thompson is a Montreal-based artist and writer. Her first novel, Dreadful Paris, was shortlisted for the McAuslan First Book Award.