She descended into my life like a great swirling cloud—swerving figure eights
in and out of the Poulet Frites Kentucky lot across Avenue du Parc. It was about three am and from my second floor apartment I could’ve sworn I heard her laughing
in that old green Corvair, blowing bubbles of cherry
red gum. In the dark, my beard bristled and I shivered. That was in the spring.
The next time I saw her was in July. I
was lounging on the stoop outside, watching traffic: packed up cars and moving
vans down the avenue, beeping at each other in hot frustration. She pulled up
in the bus lane, and her hair was different. Not that I’d really seen it
before, but from the first glance I would’ve guessed it a short, messy crop. In
fact, it was long, deep red, and wavy. A silk scarf wrapped around her neck.
She looked at me from under enormous sunglasses, gleaming black bug eyes that
covered half of her face. Her skin was sleek, and highly polished.
“Look at you, all cool on a stoop with your drink,” she said.
“You just look relaxed is all, while us suckers are stuck in traffic.”
“That’s right,” I said, smiling and nodding, taking a sip of tepid beer.
“What’s your name?”
“Like the island nation?”
“No, Sordidia. Like sordid. You’re thinking of Sardinia. A lot of people make that mistake.”
“Oh,” I said, scratching my head.
A bus honked behind her and she skidded away.
One cool night at the end of August, when the sky was still a bluish-purple, I
saw her flip-flopping down the avenue. Bottle blond hair piled up high and
messy, her bright red nails holding a glass bottle of Coke. I had taken to
sitting on the stoop that summer. I wasn’t hoping for her to pass again, so
much as people watching. She still wore enormous sunglasses. That’s how I
knew it was her.
“What’s the good word?” I asked her as she passed. She wore those shorts
with the writing on the bum. Juicy. Sordidia shuffled and turned to me, looking over her
sunglasses and holding her pop with two-fingered disdain. A pink patent leather
handbag dangled in the crook of her arm.
“Hi,” she said, a little perplexed.
“Um…no, not really.”
“Moving Day? You said, ‘You look so cool’?”
“It sounds like something I might say,” she said, shifting her weight
and sticking out a hip. The letter J so beautiful in its
distortion. She turned to leave. The hair on my toes prickled.
“Wait!” I said as she started to lurch forward.
She turned back.
“My name’s Henry.”
“Oh, “ she said, shifting her weight to the other
side. “Nice to meet you. Bye, Henry.”
I sighed. She said my name.
Suddenly, I didn’t just see her in Mile End, I felt her all over Montreal. The wheels of her car screeched past the basement
window of my parents’ home in Ahuntsic. Under the
bright bulbs of Oscar Wilde’s in the Village, a flash of light would reflect
off enormous sunglasses passing through the darkness. At work--the Call Center--delirious laughter, bubble gum popping.
I was infected with her for the entire winter.
In March, the excruciating . Gray ice melts down
to puddles exposing bits of garbage that had been encased in clean, January
snow. Orange peels, dog shit, cigarette butts. The garbage at the
surface, the slush refreezes and melts throughout the month. April isn’t cruel
here-- by April merciful delerium sets in.
And that’s when she rang my doorbell, her car parked
at the now boarded up PFK, a baby ferret sitting in her pink handbag.
“Hi,” she said, crossing the threshold. “Mind if I come in?” She sat on the
metal chair by the picture window, lit a cigarette, and crossed her legs. She
wore a straight, dark bob, and held a long cigarette holder between her
“Sure,” I said, slowly scratching the back of my head.
“Do you like…bagels?” she asked, leaning forward.
“Yes?” I shrugged.
She leaned back, puffed smoke.
“Me too.” She looked at the window dreamily, almost
forlorn. “It’s not what it used to be,” she sighed.
She gestured toward the window. Sighed again.
“Montreal will always have bagels,” I said, wanting to pat her
on the shoulder. The ferret cocked its head and stared me down.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “Yeah.”
stayed for almost two days. We talked about city politics, anthropology, cars,
and the weather—she had a keen interest in meteorology. We ate Kraft dinner by
candlelight and the ferret curled up between the cushions of my gray, tattered
sofa. Took long walks and could smell flowers ready to burst from the naked
trees. On the thirty-sixth hour she kissed me and left, ferret and all.
disappeared again for months. I thought of her lips turned purple by blue Slurpies. I picked out the bits of hair the ferret had shed
on the futon and placed them in a neat pile on an empty bookshelf. Began my
stoop vigil as the city warmed.
September arrived and no Sordidia. Every sticky day, I thought she’d drive up, and
say those words. “You look so cool. You’ve always looked so cool.” But she
eluded me. One night in October a woman in a black sequined floor-length
evening gown knocked on my door. She held a pair of enormous sunglasses in her
She did not answer, but smiled her sly
smile. We walked north, toward an industrial section of the neighborhood, wet
orange and yellow leaves carpeting the way. We sat by the train tracks in the
grass and talked about the purported death of irony.
On the other side of the tracks I
noticed a rusting green Corvair.
“I like decay,” she said. She leaned
back, resting on her elbows. “I look forward to a post-apocalyptic world.”
I kissed her there, on the mulch, as a
freight train clanged its heft through the city’s scars. I fell in love, and
she moved in on a Thursday.
By Friday it began. She was gaining
weight rapidly. More to love, I shrugged. Her skin maintained the high sheen of
enamel that I so adored. A lovely laquer.
We lived on Cheetohs
and Kraft, May West and soymilk. I assumed she was independently wealthy. She
apparently didn’t have a job, yet she bought groceries and contributed to the
rent. This was handy when work was spotty. So I never questioned it.
“Hello, love,” she’d say when I returned
home from work. I kissed her on her earlobe and we curled up on the futon. Watched the weather forecast on each channel, English and French.
She especially enjoyed channel 35’s forecast.
“No hyperbole,” she said. “Just straight weather. I like that.” I squinted at her out
of the corner of my eye, wondering aloud where she came from.
“Sherbrooke,” she said. “I come from Shebrooke.”
“I thought you grew up in the WestIsland.”
“Sherbrooke, via the West Island.”
“Oh,” I said.
We cuddled up for the winter and by March she was triple the size of when I
first met her. I began to worry, just a wee bit. I feared saying anything that
would trigger her departure. But she’s so arbitrary, I reasoned. She could
leave anytime, whether I said anything or not. In my half-dreams this fear
erupted. I would turn to her, and clutch her shoulders.
“Don’t!” I would say.
Her reply was always muffled and
I got home one afternoon and saw her
moored on the bed, ensconced in a gray jogging suit. She took up most of the
bed, sprawled spread eagle, her pet curled up on her stomach, rising and
“Hullo,” I said.
“Go for a jog?”
“Uh, no?” She
“Care to join me for one?”
“Since when do you exercise, skinny
boy?” She propped herself up on her elbows and grinned. I thought how good and strong her teeth looked.
“I don’t,” I said, sitting on the edge
of the bed and opening a bag of Doritos. The ferret looked up and skittered
away to some dark corner of the apartment. We dined on Cool Ranch and pop.
“It’s just---I’m a little worried,” I
said later, crumpling the bag and licking orange dust off my fingers.
“Well, you. Do you have any, uh, thyroid
“It’s just that—well, you know--”
“That what? I’ve become morbidly obese?”
“I’m aware of the change. Does it bother
“Me? No, no, not me. But, aren’t you a
little concerned? Shouldn’t you see a doctor or something?” She looked at me
with dull eyes and rolled to her side, facing away.
“Don’t you worry your pretty little
head,” she replied.
I shrugged and later we fell asleep
spooning. I basked in her warmth.
She continued to grow. Soon there was no
room for me in the bed and I slept on the sofa. She no longer left the
apartment. Indeed, she could not. I thought about all those talk shows and
headlines with the very same subject. “Woman Dies Trying to Climb Stairs.”
“Woman Airlifted from Apartment.” “Man Crushed by Obese Girlfriend In Freak Airlifting Accident.”
The air inside began to grow stale, as
if she consumed it with a great voracity and left nothing behind for me but
carbon dioxide. No amount of leaving the window open
helped. She began to emit smells. Strange smells that I couldn’t quite put my
finger on. I wanted to ask her if she bathed herself in kerosene, but didn’t
want to sound like a lunatic. I looked forward to being assaulted by icy
air every time I left the building. And I started to go on lots of long walks.
I felt bad about it, because I really did love her, I just didn’t know what to
do. The thought cycles were the same on every walk: love ‘er,
dunno what to do. Talk to her tomorrow: tomorrow,
The smells only got worse.
One night the screen that separated the
bedroom from the living room toppled over. I was sleeping on the couch, as in
the past few weeks. Sordidia wheezed. Before my eyes,
I saw her growing. Physically, she was growing, and I, Henry, was witnessing
this phenomenon. She wheezed again, like an accordion. Then she groaned. My heart
beat rapidly. The streetlights glinted off her expanding skin, the high polish
giving way to faint sparkles. Her voice deepened.
“Henry,” she said.
“Yes, Sordidia?” I suddenly felt very small. The bed
collapsed. Her belly almost reached the ceiling. She took up half of the
apartment. I feared I would be pressed against the wall, and smothered. I
wanted to gag. “I’ll—I’ll get help,” I finally said. I ran out into the street,
but didn’t know where to go. I began running, I wasn’t sure where. I stopped at
a payphone and called 911, said there was an altercation at my address. And
then I didn’t go back. I feared the worst. Sordidia
was surely dead.
For a while, I stayed with my parents in
Ahuntsic. I told them the rent to my apartment had
become exorbitant and I began to look elsewhere. My lease would be up soon, so
I paid the remainder of the rent and hoped the landlord would not contact me. I
worked at the Call Center more regularly, kept busy trying to stave off thoughts of her. Once, I
heard her laughter there again—maniacal giggles punctuated with popping bubble
gum. But when I looked outside my cubicle, it was not she. I sighed, and dialed
In the late spring I moved to St. Henri.
I packed up my few possessions from my parents’ house and took them on the
metro. I stuck them in the new apartment and sat out on the stoop. Cars veering
around the corner gave me goosebumps—little frissons
of hope, and simultaneously, dread and guilt, that she
would be in that green convertible looking for me, demanding an apology for
abandonment. I had betrayed her, left her for dead.
“Coward,” she might call me.
“Freak,” I might say.
And then she might curl a lip and look
at me over her sunglasses perched on her nose. And I would apologize profusely
and take her hand, and we’d explore my new neighborhood, Sordidia
Previously published in Ramble Underground
Anca Szilagyi has a BA in English literature and archaeology
from McGill University. She is a former editor of Scrivener Creative Review
and her work has appeared in Stationaery, Southern Ocean Review, Fire With Water,
Montage, Scrivener, Hotel, and Tangmonkey.com. She currently teaches English as
a second language in New York City.
Email: Anca Szilagyi
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