Montreal Refraction

After the education program’s Lifestyle Break—just as collective bargaining workshops are beginning—you escape. Now you are no longer sitting in a conference room of Le Reine Élizabeth but standing in the concourse of the Gare Centrale, leaning against a low marble wall by the escalators. Using the wall as a desk, you find a blank page in your Moleskine notebook and record what you see. Seven couples on the Terrasse de L’artiste conversing in French. The foot-high black iron fence delineating the artistic space from the rest of the station. Charles Comfort’s Art Deco murals of Canadian life, one subtitled South, the others Nord and Est. You look for the West, but it isn’t there and you are determined to write only what you see. A sign for Trains de Banlieue. A wobbly hand-painted advertisement for Jus Frais. Trash cans with a big Merci and a small Thankyou in italic font on their flaps. A flashing number eleven, to which—like one of Luria’s psychiatric patients, like one of Vygotsky’s subjects, like one of Pavlov’s dogs—you respond automatically with two whispered words: Mes élèves! Finally, you watch as a girl stops walking, holds up a camera, and snaps a picture of the Arrivals and Departures board. And now you see—years in the future—the photo the girl has taken of the station, a man in a black hooded sweatshirt beneath the board, looking towards the camera, his pen paused in the air, the union conference nametag around his neck suggesting he is not where he should be but here, in the picture of the sign, an anonymous presence who will scarcely be noted and never receive mention, yet who will always be framed by this picture, this digital transcription of the landscape of the Gare Centrale.

Mark Crimmins teaches Contemporary Fiction at the University of Toronto. His fiction has been published in Happy, Confrontation, theNewerYork, White Rabbit, Columbia, Flash Frontier, Tampa Review Online, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and Pif Magazine.

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