Montreal was quiet. Sunlight poured low and soft. Broken rays across the last few streets as I made my way back to the club. Two more lights, then a left, then over the hill...
Seemed like a lot of places were closed. Bars shut over windows and plexi-doors with heavy pad locks. Some things looked familiar, a rooftop, a statue, a falafel shack. But they seemed off, or I was off? Time's I'd like to have my phone.
I raced across a do not walk before a line of cars, 'I'm usually good about remembering my way,' I'm thinking as I turn behind a grocers into an alley where I came across a group of windows. A row of apartments tucked behind the store front.
And at the end, about a block down, I can see the sunlight again cutting over a patch of green.
'I've passed thru a park coming over,' I'm trying to assure myself, but there's this little ball of nervousness that I'm lost, 'Has to be the same one.'
I'm about to pick up my pace, when a sound caught me. A crack. Like the split of a tree branch. Something heavy bearing out splinters. I quickly saw in my mind pieces of a branch tearing apart. The crack bounced out over my head down the open air of the alley.
Then a scream.
A man. Deep voiced and French above my head. I looked around me. Empty. The alley was still. Until I saw an open window on the third floor behind me.
A black half-window curtain slipped in and out of the alley.
And the sound of cracking came back. Splintering.
I froze. The window and the curtain gently threw out his shouting. And then the worst sound. Two whacks and the screech of an animal. A high frightened cry of mortal fear. Of weakness and pain. A yelp. And another whack.
The yelp is nearly imperceptible under this yelling. There are some things that need no translation. Anger is one. Fear is another.
And I'm frozen in this alley. Listening. Phone-less. Useless. A cold witness. And something is desperate in my throat, but the only thing I can think, "Hey!"
"Hey!" I tried louder.
He appeared head first. Bald. Built like ugly, mustache-less version of Tom Hardy in Bronson. Massive and evil.
"F**k you want?!?" He called down, pointing out a large chunk of wood that looked like a table leg right at me.
"What's going on?" I answered.
"What?" He said something else I couldn't understand before cocking his head, "F**k off. F**k off right now..."
And we were still. In a deadlock.
And I just about ran out of ideas. I could see his anger grow, a nostril flared, a wider eye. And just before he could say anything, another window opened, and an older lady started yelling across the way in French.
Pointing at him. At me.
She was vicious. Blue hair. Translucent white skin. And vicious.
Bronson yelled back and the old lady held out a corded phone yelling even more. Then she pointed back at me, and asked something. Tone doesn't need translating either, it was a question. But I missed it.
"I dunno," I answered.
The old woman brushed me off and went back to yelling at the big guy.
"No, NO," the bald man yelled back to her, "No."
But by then another neighbor had come out, an older man in his forties put his hand on my shoulder. He was thin, olive skinned. He shook his head and pointed up to the bald man, whispering in French.
"I don't know man,"
"American?" he asked kindly.
"I've got to go," I said and threw my thumb back to the park.
Slowly walked away towards the end of the alley, and the falling sunset. As the thin man said something behind me. And I left the yelling of the old woman and the bald man. Left with this knot in my soul. But a feeling stayed. Emptiness is not a thing to easily shake. It stays. Like the sound of a crack. Like the sound of a terrified animal whimpering. Like the fear of being nothing but a curtain blowing out into the alley.
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