For this month’s online fiction we’re pleased to deliver Ceilidh Michelle, who writes about creative kids plus a lot of drugs.
For any writers out there, today is the last day to submit fiction for Broken Pencil’s standard publishing for online and print. Starting tomorrow, our submission portal will be exclusively taking Indie Writer’s Deathmatch submissions – the online literary tournament where the winner gets a sit-down with an agent, book publisher, and writer to learn all the ins and outs of canlit. In the meantime, enjoy Rocket Man about the young and hip of Montreal.
We’re being blown clean off the sidewalk, Neil and me, both of us clinging to the railing going up the ramp to the skyscraper where Emily Lamb lives.
It was a winter hurricane. Later on, they’d say it was one of the worst storms of the century. It ripped up almost all the trees in the park. We were bent completely over with our faces at our knees, trying not to think of the mercilessness of nature, how it could blow us away and bash our bodies on the concrete and keep on going without an apology.
We’ve got a pocket full of mushrooms, the same mushrooms from last night, last night being my 21st or 22nd birthday, hard to recall now, looking back at the blur of years. Mushrooms at the ballet, Romeo and Juliette. Red pants and yellow plaid shirts, pink shoes. Everyone else in dark grey suits and translucent scarves, tailored waists, tailored faces.
We were laughing before the lights went down. We took off at intermission when it dawned on us how the ballet would end, in too good a place to deal with suicide.
Walking outside witnessing the detailed crazy perfection of quiet snow falling, we didn’t know that the rest of the night would explode into fatiguing fuck-ups. Running through the apartment halls shirtless, he had his pants half-undone with his pubes all hanging out for the Chinese man in the elevator to see, up and down, pressing the glowing buttons and yelling about driving to California, only to leave the car parked crooked in front of the apartment building.
Eventually, we just drove to some house party and watched Alice in Wonderland, lying on the carpet like little kids before dinner.
That was last night.
Now we’re fighting the wind to get inside Emily Lamb’s apartment to do the same mad mushrooms with her. Once we make it, we listen to the intensity of the storm as it makes the 30-story building sway back and forth.
Emily Lamb is a pasty metal-head vegan with shaved off hair, listens to Naked City and chain-smokes, watches a lot of David Lynch films, had a Siamese cat that died of breast cancer.
The mushrooms get her high, but we sit around picking lint off her futon. The lights are dim and yellow. She starts ranting frantically about her art school projects and things become heavy. Her face gets dusty green and she starts saying maybe her art isn’t worth anything, maybe nobody’s art is worth anything and isn’t art school an oxymoron anyway? She starts pacing the floor while our stomach’s worm around and our minds make it there halfway and then slime back.
Everything inside is anchored down, heavier and weightier, matter grey and black and shadowed like ashes. Neil’s quiet beside me, he’s not saying anything. The corners of the room go dark and I realize it: Death.
Had I never thought about death before? Had I never thought of death inside me, taking me over, making my body go back to dust? Did I always think it would forget about me? But I realize it now. The people I know, the small things I do, the unimportant routines that sew my days up together, I see all of it and I also see the absence of all of it, what my life would be with the life stripped away.
I’m mortal. How long do I have? A couple decades? I see the triviality of me and examine my small white hands, look over at Neil and think about not being around the familiarity of the small impression I’ve made. I feel gone for the first time. I begin to miss myself, if what I know of this life is my self.
Tears come out of my eyes but it’s not me crying. The body I’m in is doing things on its own now. I feel grief, and also incomprehensibly helpless. I say nothing to the people around me.
Later, some kid named Jasper shows up and we’re all paranoid so we hide in the hallway and when he comes in he just shakes his head and puts on some music. We smoke joints and throw around yellow balloons and sort of dance.
Montreal had always been the destination.
Teenaged and displaced, sleeping on my coked-out painter aunt’s couch, she’d tell me I had to go to Montreal, and I could see it then, a visualized oasis, a promise that would come for me and take all the bullshit away. It hovered in front of me for a few years until Neil and his friend Tim wrangled up some bus tickets. We chucked our shit in a moving van and finally made the mission.
As soon as we rolled into the city, we found The Place. A cavernous old wood chip factory-turned-loft with a big stage thrown downstairs, speakers and sound gear and a huge projector playing watery old films on the brick wall. Some nomad from Vermont named Sparrow took the place over with a couple of friends, built a bar, and suddenly people were running up the spiral staircases with industrial-chain-welded banisters to do lines of blow. There were snakes and cats and dogs and some island lady named Em slinging drinks.
The first night there, this kid named William got on stage. He was a poet from Ohio. He used to be a schoolteacher in Virginia before taking off on some exodus to Montreal to paint every night the visions he had while sleepless, in lyrical insomniac acid trips. That night he was dressed like a tree, a costume made out of a cardboard box with real branches poked into it. He took the stage and said he was going to share some poetry he wrote from his most recent acid trip, then started playing these cassette tapes backwards, hollering into the microphone.
When Neil got on stage to play Captain Kennedy, he grabbed the microphone and asked William if he knew where to get some acid. People in the crowd laughed but from somewhere a cardboard box yelled back, “Yes.”
The rest of the night sprawled on into madness, all of us slouched at the bar with Sparrow, drinking beer and shouting about where to go and where we’d been.
The next night, William came over.
Our place was a crumbling dive in the guts of Point St. Charles. The family below us, a rowdy Irish mini-mob, ran a misfit roofing company and sold drugs beneath that. The dad, Richie, had only a handful of teeth left and a rolling lazy eye. His wife Sandra was this brick shit-house of a lady who used to work at the roofing company too until she found out she was dying of cancer and then started smoking weed so strong it knocked you flat on your ass into paranoid brain fuzz. They had a whole mess of redheaded sons and one young rebel black-eyelinered daughter. Neil started doing roofing with them and then I’d go downstairs and smoke fat joints with Sandra and we’d watch day-time T.V., which was depressing. One night, the whole family invited us over for dinner. Neil and I went, but were tripping so hard on acid we couldn’t eat and didn’t say why. They kept bellowing at us that we were too skinny.
So William came over and we put on Edith Piaf and sat on the back balcony overlooking the courtyard, concrete slabs and clotheslines, cobwebs and dead leaves.
Eventually, he decided to run to the grocery store and Neil went with him. I went to the front balcony overlooking the narrow street lined with trees.
They were gone a long time.
I stared at the house-fronts and watched the way they grew eyes and blinked, the overhanging trees and veins in the leaves, the hot evening wind, the sun hanging low and staining the sky, the house eyes, sidewalk sparkling, veins in my hand like the veins in the leaves, the house eyes, the eyes on the house, the windows full of eyes, painted eyes, closing up, the eyes…
Finally William came back. Neil wasn’t with him.
“I lost him!” He yelled, pulling at his hair, face all red, eyes black with pupil.
We waited for a bit and then Neil finally came staggering down the street, missing his shirt and shoes and making these strained faces like everything inside him was about to burst out of his eye sockets.
“You wanna get outta here?” William asked. I said yes. Everything was closing in.
As we were about to walk out the door, Tim showed up and asked to tag along.
“Don’t tell him we did acid,” Neil hissed, all cross-eyed.
Tim kept bunnies in cages all over the living room and listened to blaring No-Wave music at nine in the morning. He wore two florescent baseball hats at the same time and sweatshirts with wolves on them. He liked acid-wash jeans and Velcro shoes. He was what the kids would come to call Hipster, only he was doing it before it was cool. Therefore, we didn’t approve.
A struggling parade began, through the park to William’s place in Notre-Dame-de-Grace. On the way, we stopped in a square and William scowled at Tim as he bashed away on his little kids’ keyboard.
“Can you please stop making that infernal racket?” he hollered.
Tim decided to go back home.
Somehow, we made it to the apartment. The place was condemned and full of spiders. We hiked up the crooked steps buried beneath vines and went inside. There was no furniture anywhere, so we sat on the hardwood floors and spent the rest of the night painting just to watch the lines dance, blasting crackly radio tuned between two French stations. Neil kept interpreting all the words to mean that he should leave me alone.
Life sometimes gets more and more real. Maybe it was this astounding as a kid, and you could take it in a pure dose. But you came in clean. And now you’re dirty and confused.
When we burst out of the woods smeared in paint and tripping balls, we startle the cyclists biking up the trails and they almost go careening off the bike path.
Neil takes me over to a bench on the side of the path and tries to get me to sit down, but I just see this big package with paper and ribbon coming untied. All I can stutter is, “You’re trying to unravel my person, man.” I can see it happening. My ego, my personality, it shreds and begins to unwind up there in the woods on the mountain.
A photographer from Australia started doing a photo-shoot with us as we painted our skin and came on hard and then a little girl came over and wanted me to paint her face.
I raised the brush to her cheek and started painting a yellow sun. But when I looked into her eyes, I saw that she was so scared she was almost crying. For some reason, this made me afraid too, a cold metallic fear, and I had no idea what to say to comfort her or make her laugh.
As soon as I was done, she fled and that’s when we went to the woods.
From The Place we met Luc, a tanned transient who spent the winters on the beaches in Mexico, hitching around with his acoustic guitar. He told us about quinoa, which had the same amount of protein as a steak and he took us to The Co-op. Luc and his roommates lived beside it. The whole building was a big white place full of lofts. You could smell the Co-op from a block away. It reeked like lentils, hemp clothes and sweat.
With old Rasta men and overzealous environmentalists, I smoked myself stupid until a bearded man in white linen came and sat on a pillow beside me. He told me his name was Edweirdo. “I’ve descended from a star community to help people through the transition of 2012.”
“Oh boy,” I said.
Up on the royal mountain again.
One of Tim’s white rabbits runs through the grass and my albino rat with blood-colored eyes hides on my neck while kids wearing top hats, they said they’re from Paris, sit down beside us. We eat chocolate hearts stuffed full of mushrooms and watch the leaves and grass fall backwards through the orange sky. We are having an Alice in Wonderland Tea Party.
Neil wears children’s Cheshire cat pajamas and I wear red psychedelic snow pants from the 60’s, Queen of Hearts cards strung around my neck. Also in attendance is a kid who calls himself Lester. He’s all greasy and nasal with a ratty moustache, wears a green striped sweater. He says he’s the caterpillar but feels more like a worm.
Edweirdo comes dressed as a king but he’s not in costume and brings an Asian lady from Los Angeles with him. “Montreal is so small and quaint,” she says and until I walk through the hot, sprawling trash of Hollywood, I won’t know what she means. I give her some yellow butterfly wings and she and Edweirdo go off to dance at the drum circle for a while. Then I have to pee, so me and the L.A. Lady run into the men’s bathroom (because all the ladies in their bathroom are squawking away in front of the mirror like painted birds with mean eyes). We’re barefoot over piss-covered floor and the men are yelling like animals. I’m on my period and suddenly everything seems disgusting. The men are only a footstep away, hidden from me by a thin metal partition.
I can’t get away from bodies and the behaviors of them.
Fucking mushroom blues.
Later on, Edweirdo says he brought Lester home to give him a place to crash and Lester lost it, screaming and biting him until bruises came, big black ones.
The drums rap like animal rain and we sit under the trees while the white rabbit runs around, Lester waving his arms like water snakes. Then Neil, Lester and I go running into the woods. The crowd is watching us. They whistle at our costumes and stare. Too many people. All watching.
It’s quieter in the trees, once you get past the junkies shooting up on stumps and hustlers trying to push their shwag weed. The flowers look like lace, sunlight coming through blotted like green ink. We spin in circles, falling into the long grass, branches against our bones and dirt on our back. We stare at what we can see of the sky, pieces through the trees. It spins up there but it’s quiet and far.
“I can see God,” Lester whispers in awe as the sun comes down. There’s a small breath of summer afternoon wind.
Later on, it’s the mushroom sadness and taking the metro with Tim and his white rabbit, the feeling of flying fast through a tunnel of dark thrills. We go to William’s place. Him and his room-mates were going to come to the Alice in Wonderland Tea Party and even started making elaborate costumes, but they did too much acid and anyway Lester went off to go be mad, but lying in the grass then we didn’t know it.
Ceilidh Michelle is a writer and musician based in Montreal. She is working on novels, short stories, and poetry, and she has had stuff published a few times, too.