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Pissing in your cage.

I live in the shittiest neighborhood of Montreal.

I’ve been here for thirteen years, but this year is my last. We’re moving come next July. No matter how much furniture I have to dump/sell/burn in order to cram this family into a four and a half downtown, I’m leaving this dump. This cesspool of misery. And I apologize to cesspools; they don’t deserve that comparison.

Our balcony is condemned because of the ridiculously overwhelming pigeon population. I swear, there are more flying rats here than at the Piazza San Marco. It’s because of the dirty streets and sidewalks. The pavement is covered with all sorts of crap the gritty birds can feast on. Fries. Candy bar wrappers. Paper cups. I can’t walk two steps without gagging. Spit puddles. Burning cigarettes. Used rubbers. And that’s just on Mondays. On Tuesdays, well, you’d have to see it to believe it. Tuesdays is garbage day’s eve. People here don’t believe in garbage bags. Things–toilet bowls, overflowing baby diapers, glass, cat litter-are left on the curb like rotting carcasses for the city guys to pick up the next morning. The guys pick up what’s in their job description to pick up (I don’t blame them) and leave the rest for the scavengers.

The commercial artery is a testament to the saying “location location location”: stores open and close every few months, leaving vacant spaces all around the strip. The only businesses who can make it on the slim pickins here are pawn shops, fast food stands, thrift shops, and the occasional electronics store. You wanna buy a three dollar pair of shoes, then this is the place to come.

Day and night, sirens blare. There’s always some kind of drama/fire/fight going on. Sometimes it’s an old run down building going up in flames because the landlord just doesn’t give a shit about safety codes, but most of the times, it’s just some edgy, unemployment and very desperate man blowing a fuse. People cuss each other out on the street. This is teenage mom land. Hustler land. Dead beat land.

I live here because I was of them when I first moved to this part of town. Penniless. Jobless. A single mom. I too stood at the bank every first of the month, welfare check burning my fingers.

I was so broke, I once made a diaper out of a sanitary pad.

Thirteen years later, things are different. I got my life back on track. Some of it at least. And I’m angry with this neighborhood, the same way a brother gets angry with his sister.

Every time I pass a pile of junk on the sidewalk, every time I see a girl pushing a stroller, cigarette hanging off the lip, her drunk ass boyfriend two steps behind, I shrink back into myself and look the other way. I’m tired of floating around.

I wanna swim.

I’m not passing judgement on poverty. I’m passing judgement on complacency. And I know that the change has to come from within. You can throw social programs at this neighborhood all you want, you can preach about healthy eating habits in its schools, you can give out grands for the embellishment of its streets, but it won’t stick.

There’s a disease here. A very contagious one.

And I know what it is. I understand it. I’m not immune to it. I might even be a little infected by it. People here spit on the sidewalk or toss their shit over their shoulders, into the gutter, because the goddamn garbage bins are overflowing. People are pissed off and they feel powerless in the face of city council’s blatant lack of interest in our well-being. So, with time, the feeling of entrapment turns to suffocation and we all begin to circle our cage. We want to bust out, but who ever holds the key never shows his face.

After a while, the cage becomes our home. Except, no one likes to sleep where they shit. Excuse the foul words.

We are the animal defecating in his cell out of spite. But herein lies the irony: in the end, the only beast living with the stench is he.

Poverty is not a symptom, or a consequence of bad choices. It is only a lack of choices.

And I have a choice. It took a long time for me to create them for myself, but I do have options now.

None of which include this cage.

How did I find the key? I didn’t.

It just took me thirteen years to realize that the damn cage was never locked…

Piazza San Marco

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About Mel

Montreal queer fiction writer.

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