When I was fifteen, my mother bought a house in the Turcot Village, in Saint Henri, right on the tracks. She likes to tell the story of how when she took me to visit the house for the first time I went upstairs to the room that would be mine, took in the sloping ceilings, the gabled window shrouded in orange polyester, the burnt linoleum, and said, “This is the prettiest room I’ve ever had!” And it was, once we uncovered the wide pine planks of the floor and painted them egg-yolk yellow.
The west end of Saint Henri, in the mid-1990s, was uneasy. The rows of Hells Angels bunkers and bars along Notre Dame held regular bonfires in their yards. There was shouting and shooting in the middle of the night. The lithe woman who lived on the corner of our street was murdered, and an oblong bloodstain marked the cracked cement of her yard until it finally rained. There were weekly house fires, and the charred lots that remained, and hot dog joints instead of grocery stores.
But there was also unkempt wildness. Saint Henri was overgrown with abandoned lots, terrains vagues, where in the warmer months, wildflowers burst sunny and redolent over the stink of tar and exhaust from the spaghetti highways that laced the landscape past the railroads. I would wade through these lots with scissors in hand and carry home cumbersome bouquets.
Or I’d skip school and carry a pile of books to my spot on the north bank of the Lachine Canal, where I’d lie belly to the ground, shivering in the shadow of the Canada Malting silos, which stood much the way they do now, in elegant dilapidation, tattooed all over with graffiti. I’d read The Shining or Tristan and Isolde or books about how to live on a sailboat, or how to survive in an Alaskan lean-to.
The bike path, then, didn’t fully extend the way it does now, it broke off right at the Malting site, which meant there was little daytime traffic, and it was lonely in a way I liked.
Mostly I read, or looked at the water, or the sky, or imagined who squatted the silos, and who would live in the shack that peaked out at the very top of the grand and rusty house of cards--a strange little shed that jutted out impossibly from the disproportionate cylinders. It’s where I’d want to camp out. For the precarious view.
I live around the corner from my mother’s railroad cottage, now, and I just got a flyer in my mailbox announcing they’re tearing down the Malting silos to build, what else, condos.
I can’t imagine Saint Henri without the silos.
I wonder if we’ll finally get a grocery store.
Here is what our jury had to say about the story:
Ian Hanomansing: "There's something about this story that makes me think about the small town I grew up in. The story and images are quite different so it must be the reflective tone. I liked reading and re-reading it and then thinking about my hometown."
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Melissa Bull is the editor of Maisonneuve's "Writing from Quebec" column. Her poetry manuscript, "Rue", was shortlisted for the 2013 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Event, Lemon Hound, and Matrix magazine. Melissa lives in Montreal.
Jeremy Mendes: "This is an excellent and enigmatic story that evokes death, decay and renewal."
Lisa Moore: "I loved the photograph with the subtle blush of red on the concrete in the foreground and the three other touches of red, a flag and two plastic garbage barrels, a composition that leads the eye all over the image. There's a kind of decaying industrial grandeur in it. And I thought the written piece captured a unique childhood, made rich with imagination, full of wonder and danger. Every detail vivid. An evocative voice."