Spacing Montreal is pleased to present this column exploring Montreal’s literary landscape, written by Gregory McCormick, Director of English Programming for the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.
Montreal writer Terri Vlassipoulos’ lovely short story collection Bats or Swallows contains stories set in cities and countries all over the world, but mainly in eastern Canada. In “The Occult,” we hear about Hannah, recently transplanted from Toronto to Montreal, suffering from a late night need that many of us can relate to:
Hannah is surprised but not surprised that she can’t find a pregnancy test at the dep around the corner from her apartment. She has relied on this store for so many essentials: cheap wine, toilet paper, the occasional onion fished out from the dirty bin by the cash register. A pregnancy test is probably pushing it. It’s mid-March and it’s snowing outside, the millionth snowstorm of her first Montreal winter, and she reluctantly heads towards the nearest pharmacy four blocks away. She plucks a test from the harshly lit aisles and returns home, cold and wet and shivery.
Ah, the dep, that Montreal mainstay where neighborhoods converge. Whereas in the past, we nodded to our neighbors hanging laundry on their back stairs or chatted them up playing checkers on the front stoop, the best venue in 2011 for interacting with those who live in our immediate vicinity is the lowly dep, that sometimes seedy often grimy tucked away hovel which gets no respect. We nod to the lady who lives under us and feeds the neighbourhood stray cats. We smile at the hottie we occasionally see watering the hydrangeas across the street. We scoff at the wine selection (though willingly partake when the SAQ is suddenly on strike), speculate if the guy behind the counter is Chinese or Korean, thank our lucky stars that we aren’t in Ontario where “convenience stores” (such a WASPy thing to call them) don’t even sell hooch (poor Ontario). We keep mental lists of what is and isn’t available at the deps within a three block radius for those 2am emergencies: milk? No problem. Breakfast cereal? Usually one can locate a stale dusty box on a lowly shelf somewhere. Dog food? Perhaps but likely to poison poor Remus. Advil? Not in the dep near my corner (which is called Pierre’s though it’s usually staffed by a skinny Chinese guy who watches French TV dramas religiously, as if looking, waiting for someone he knows to suddenly appear on screen).
And the homeless guy on the corner, always smiling, juggling his two hats for the throngs passing on their way home from work and the metro, holding the door of the dep open for us, ushering in the cold or out the evening, collecting his day in bits and scraps, quarters and the occasional loonie, another survivor of the streets.