Lance Blomgren’s captivating novella takes place entirely indoors, up the steel staircases and behind the brick walls of Montreal’s distinctive row-house apartments. Inside these rooms the people who call these spaces home are collectively beginning to sense that something is not quite right. Time is becoming noticeably slower, and things that were once unnoticeable or even invisible—are suddenly impossible to ignore.
Composed as series of documentaries depicting actual Montreal apartments, this book offers an intimate architectural tour of the city that is in turns humourous, erotic, and deeply unsettling. Walkups is a strikingly original work by a writer who the Montreal Review of Books has called “a human conveyer belt of ideas and images.”
Originally published in 2000, this new unexpurgated edition features numerous previously unpublished sections and an afterword by the author.
Excerpt © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
#2-383 rue Edouard-Charles
Seventy-three steps from one end to the other. What is called a “shotgun apartment” in New Orleans or “typical immigrant housing” by the city planning office. Indeed, one bullet, traveling straight down the long hallway, is really all it would take. He wanders from room to room, allowing his footsteps to add up. Are you taking your medication? Have you forgotten your keys? He stands absolutely still behind the front door as someone rings the buzzer six times before finally giving up. The cat is purring at his feet. On a nail in the back closet, the last tenant left a yellow baseball cap and there are long-distance calls to Rotterdam on the phone bill. Jetlag. Resting against the wall in the bedroom, his thick blue winter coat has taken on the shape of someone asleep in an airplane seat, huddled uncomfortably against the window. The kitchen spins on its axis. From his position on the hallway floor there’s no way he can see the TV, but he can hear it. Captain Picard is asking for all power to the deflector shields. The Enterprise is about to enter a wormhole.
5236 rue St. Urbain
The baby girl was a quick learner, having synthesized a full range of traits of both of her parents, the charming and the devious. Of all the toddlers in the neighbourhood, she was the first to learn to read and also the first to tear out the pages. Within months she mastered the grilling of the steaks and soon thereafter presented reasons to not grill the steaks. She was the first to promote a new visceral style of physical comedy as a means of reinvigorate the social potential of satire, and the first to declare the movement over. She appreciated the qualities of movement and speed, but also understood the necessity of slowness and leisure. She quickly learned the importance of ladders. She invented games with numerous chess-boards, matches and glasses of unfinished wine.
Her parents, being both responsible and duplicitous people, came up with a plan to protect themselves, their apartment and belongings, while also providing an environment to encourage the open development of their daughter’s obvious talents. They scheduled time off work, put on their pajamas and let the routines of the apartment go. They put their most cherished books right at her eye-level and gave her a chrome lighter. They blended the contents of the fridge and poured it into bowls they left on the floor. They took to napping in the living room, waking only to wipe their noses on the picture books and look blankly at the costumed characters on the TV shows. They made a fuss for their daughter’s attention and cried when she wandered off; they bit or punched each other when she out of the room, and accused the other when she came in, looking frustrated. They made a mess of their pants when she drank too much, and let her figure out the fire extinguisher when their cigarettes set the blankets smoldering. They made her laugh with cute songs and then put clothes pins on the cat’s tail.
Eventually things found their rhythm. More than once the three of them found their faces waxened with tears, unable to decide if they had been crying, laughing, or if it had all been a reflex, like drooling. They took turns in the bath. Parents and children—it is odd when you trigger instinctive behaviour in either of them—like survival, like nurture. It’s alright to test their capabilities, but they can hurt themselves if they go too far. It can be helpful to imagine them all gorging on their favourite food until their bellies ache. Fall came and the family went to school together.