A gust of wind blows me forward. The storm follows me in through the door. The snow swirls at my feet. I laugh like a madman as I slip on the slick tiles. I see the cooks craning their necks to peer through a hole in the wall between kitchen and dining room.
It’s slow this time of day.
But never boring. Off to the side of the cash is a guy I often see around the quarter. And here in this little casse-crôute he’s dancing up a storm worse than the one I just walked in from. I stop in my tracks. He’s got rhythm. Timing. His movements are intoxicating.
I look away or run the risk of being lured in. A siren song of gyrating flesh. I hear my stomach grumble. My vision blurs. I turn my attention to a man at the counter. He stands unblinking. A robot. An automaton. I wave my hand in front of his eyes. Absolutely nothing.
I try my luck with my voice.
Je prend une double cheeseburger I say…toute garnée….frites… large s’il vous plait.
I’ll always have my manners.
The clerk writes my order on his greasy pad. The dancer hoots. He yelps. He draws out my words like he’s announcing a monster truck. A three ring circus. A wrestler. Doublllllllllle cheeeeesbuuurrrgeeeer. It boils my blood. The attention. It reminds me of when I was young and they all made their fun.
Since then I’ve learned to keep my cool.
He laughs. Eyes bright. Big grey teeth glistening like the horses’ my sister keeps back where I was raised. Where I ran away from. His braying is no different from their whinnies. Reminds me of a kick that nearly crippled my uncle. Suddenly faint I fumble. I find the edge of an arcade machine. It’s cold like a hospital bed.
I steady myself.
Regain my composure.
Revel in being present.
Huit et vingt-sept monsieur says the clerk. I envy his ability to ignore. I could learn a lot from him. Like how to block out all the things that ever made me blue. But instead of begging his wisdom I dig in my pockets. I count out the change. Tight budget.
It’s better to have time than money my old man would say sitting in a home I’ll never be able to afford. Two cars in his garage. It makes you wily. I believed even if he didn’t himself. I drop a few extra coins in the dish on the counter regardless of my financial state. I learned all on my own that it don’t hurt to be kind.
The clerk winks as it tinkles.
I wait at the window. The city is covered in an ugly snow. Not white. Not pretty like the holiday cards. Not like all the movies and television specials. They never show it like it really is. Art is an imitation of nothing but delusions.
The cold coming in through the window makes the breath on my neck hotter than it has to be. The dancer is swaying behind me when I turn. His heavy lidded eyes look into my soul. This happens all the time. I attract it. A face like a magnet. A face like a sucker.
You know what my grandad used to like…quand il était faim comme toi…him his pals…sur les plages…after a day of drinking…you know…leur favoris…ils attraperaient un chat…skin it right there on the beach…faire une barbeque…roast it as the sun set on the islands in the distance. Picturesque.
He stops. Lips aren’t moving. Feet no longer shuffling. His eyes. Now those are full of life. Roving all over me. It’s the first I’ve heard his story but I know what it is as soon as I do. A test. To see where I stand. How do I feel about gulping down cats. Beasts I’ve kept as pets but never eaten. How do I feel?
So I picture myself on a white sandy beach. A belly of dark rhum. The pains of hunger stabbing. No money in my pockets A different set of eyes.
A different set of morals no better or worse. Meat no different from the fish my old man would catch when I was a boy.
He never touched rhum but he killed all the same.
And I start dreaming of long ago days. My youth. The dancer has no clue I spent all of my time at the beach. And the village I come from had a one long and well known. Fine sand and shallow water juxtaposed with a deadly undertow.
My skin was always tan. My hair bleach blonde by the sun. People drove from all over to swim. I only walked a block. My old man said I was lucky to grow up so close.
He came from the city.
I didn’t understand until I left.
And in my head I see the desires of the dancer’s father. Him staring at the distance like I once did. Waters tinted with the colours of the setting sun. Him and his friends crouched and quiet. Nothing except for the sound of human tooth on feline bone. Fire crackling as the waves were rolling up on the shore.
We both must’ve been dreaming of a better life. I told myself that the further I got away from everything I knew it’d get better. That if I could get out of that village I could begin to dream. I’d be able to breathe. I’d find whatever I was after. But when I got to the city all it did was confirm I was nothing.
My father’s wife was right all along.
The dancer clears his throat. Looking for an answer to a question he didn’t come right out with. Taller than he I stare down at him. Look into his large hazel eyes. Eager. Dying to know what I think. His grandad munching on cats while stars shined faintly in the twilight.
I must be horrified.
My people are often quite scathing.
But I can’t forget my old man coming in off the lake. Cooler filled with his quota for the day. Great big lake salmon. Walleye. Skin glistening in the water. He’d drop the tailgate of his truck. Set up in the driveway like it was a butcher’s block. He showed me how to club them and where to
make the cuts. How to remove the head. And what it took to slice the meat from the skin like a surgeon.
Waste not want not will follow me to my grave.
Fresh fish or stray cat it’s all pink on the inside. The meat will fall from the bone when cooked to perfection over an open flame. And who am I to draw the line in the sand? I ran away from where I was raised for a shit ton of reasons.
None the least of those was judgment.
I smack my gums.
Sounds good to me…right on the beach…it’s been so awful long… lived in the city for so many years…and summer seems like a dream when you stare out the window…look at all that awful snow…I could sleep for a month…you know what I mean?
And when the dancer starts to smile I know my answer is just. He starts his routine all over. A shuffle. A shimmy. The shine in his eye is no longer a threat. Instead there’s a gleam of friendliness like I haven’t seen in ages.
I always knew in my heart that not everyone was bad.
Double cheeseburger…grandes frites the clerk calls out. I’m the only one waiting so I know it’s for me. I look over the dancer’s head. Behind him I see a paper bag. It’s dark with grease. I snatch it like a thief.
Bon appétit the dancer says as I open the door. When I look over my shoulder he’s smiling big like a moron. Doubllllllllle caaatbuuurrrgeeeeeer he yells so loud I hear him over the wind as it blows me out the door. The snow swirls at my feet.