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Montreal Café

Sitting in the middle of a tufted velvet green couch is a man with salt and pepper hair.

He sits beside a middle aged woman. She has a look I am usually drawn to; a long face and toothy with eyes closely set. She wears a turtleneck, her long wavy hair sits on her shoulders.

And in the way that Montreal women seem to pull off, her look is funky-disheveled rather than bedraggled.

Winter paraphernalia surrounds them on the couch.

He is looking at her intently over his chunky black frame glasses, and is slowly rubbing her forearm. His air is slow, focused and therapeutic rather than romantic.

He pauses and mimes the motion of typing, his hands hovering over the white cardboard coffee cups that sit empty on the table in front of them.

I am paying too much attention.

The man is a middle-aged duplicate of a man I knew in my twenties; olive skin, Slavic good looks.

Totally present.

I muse on this memory, a boy with more open heart than I could technically deal with.

At the time I would have pointed to pages of his illegible handwriting as the reason for the demise of our romance.

He wouldn’t talk to me afterwards, and I was angry.

Am still.

But sitting here, twenty and more years later, the wisdom of protecting your heart seems, in retrospect, wise.

Don’t be judgmental, I recently nudged teenage son who found himself in a similar predicament.


The music in the café stops suddenly. The absence of students with their laptops and power cords is abruptly felt.

With his feet spread wide, the man emerges from his trance. He turns to the barrista at the counter, smiles and claps his hands together loudly, just once, and says something jocular in French which I missed.

The sudden silence signals that his work is done. He stands.

The woman stalls a moment, and then with some resignation rises to her feet.

As she turns to pick up her phone from the couch she looks over at me, indifferent. She zips her sleeping bag coat and her face seems a little sad.

He leaves the café first, holding the door behind him without looking. His day stretches before him, his face preoccupied.

Through the window the woman adjusts her knitted hat and I watch them exchange a quick farewell.

She pulls a pack of cigarettes from her coat pocket. Looking at her hands, she removes the clear wrapper. Beside her is a tall green plastic trash bin and she lifts the lid.

Then the lighter, exhale. Relief.

He heads downhill and I watch her step out off the salty curb, heading uphill towards Mount Royal, with its cross lit with the white lights on this grey dull morning, winter boots heavy.

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