The city used to be one of the major transport and shipping hubs of the state thanks to what was a revolutionary spaceport.
When a much more efficient method of launching ships was developed the spaceport wasn’t so revolutionary. It struggled for a decade after the new facilities in Toronto opened.
If the port had been allowed to fail the city would have been so much better off. Being 300 miles away from the new space hub for the whole of North America gives a lot of opportunity. Instead of focusing investments on the industry that would flourish the Mayor piled it into shoring up the unsustainable spaceport that was haemorrhaging money. After 10 years the port went bankrupt and closed. Montreal was left with a lot of debt and it wasn’t in a good position to recover.
The result was that overnight the centre of the city lost its major employer. It fell into decay. The outskirts had begun to recover with tourism as a driving industry.
In practical terms it formed an unconventional ‘ring’ city, the central Laval Island had been the industrial hub, high population density and little else in the way of businesses. The area had become slum-like and taken over by a number of gangs as criminals settled into the too-common theme of profiteering from people’s misery and hardship.
Surrounding it were what Beth referred to as Downtown. It was what you would normally expect Downtown at any mid-sized city: restaurants, cinemas, and shops. In reality they were mostly grouped round three malls. We had gone North of the Island to Highgate in Saint Therese. Springfield was to the west at Vaudreuil Dorion and the Alameda to the South on Montreal Island. The suburbs reached out from the ring like any other city’s centre and that’s where the more affluent lived.
As the car travelled further out from the city the flats became houses, the houses got gardens and the gardens got bigger.
We ended up on a clean street with rows of simple, identical looking detached homes that seemed kind of new. They each had a garden, a garage and a stretch of drive to park another car on. Beth’s mom pulled into one and turned off the engine.
I followed them into the house and Beth led me to her room. Everything was so clean; it made me ashamed of my flat.
Her room was tidy, she had a wardrobe and draws for her clothes – I just shoved mine in a pile for clean-ish and a pile for dirty. She had little trinkets by her bed and photos in frames.
She had a bed. I’d always slept on a sofa.
It was far too warm so I took my jumper off. I was still too hot so I took my t-shirt off leaving just a vest-top. They must have central heating.
I hope she never asked to come stay at my house. Even if I could keep her away from my mom, I had no illusions that she would like me if she knew where I lived.
We sat on the bed and Beth switched on the TV in the corner. There was some crime drama on and we half watched it half watched each other. It was a little awkward. After a while though I relaxed, watching TV was kind of novel for me.
* * *
I must have drifted off because I woke with my head on Beth’s shoulder as her Mom opened the door and said something to her.
“Mom, don’t just barge in here, why don’t you ever knock?” She gently let my head down onto the bed as she got up – I didn’t feel much like moving so I kept my eyes closed. Beth followed her mom outside. I could still ear them through the door.
“Is she asleep? How long has she been like that?” her Mom asked.
“An hour or so.” Had it really been that long?
“Is she ok? She seems a little… Do you think she should go home?” Her mom sounded worried.
“I don’t think home is a good place for her, Mom.”
“Oh… What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I just get the impression it’s not good.” She said. “Anyway I’d like to see her eat something at least, she hardly eats anything at school, have you seen how thin she looks?”
“I know, I had noticed. Ok, I’ll trust you. If she wants to go tell me though, I can give her a lift anytime.”
It was a few minutes before Beth came back in she’d probably gone to the toilet or something. I sat up. It had gotten dark while I’d been asleep.
“Hey, I’m sorry for falling asleep.” I said, “I don’t want to be any trouble.” I didn’t want her to know I’d overheard her talking to her mom.
“Don’t worry about it I don’t mind it’s not like we were doing anything.” She stood by the door. “Do you want to come down for dinner?”
“Ok.” I was kind of hungry. My last meal was at school and I hadn’t had all that much. I stood, stretched my arms and followed her downstairs.
The kitchen seemed small, but I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. The smell was amazing. I wondered what it was, I hoped they hadn’t made anything especially for me coming over I didn’t want to be any trouble. Beth’s mom, Kim, had already paid 60 dollars for me to see a film I didn’t want to impose any more.
What could I say though?
I sat at the small table with Beth as her mom served up some rice in a bowl and then poured what looked like a pale green curry on top.
“What is it?” I said, letting my curiosity overtake my manners.
“Thai green curry, moms half Thai. Gran used to make it didn’t she Mom?” Beth said.
“Yep, it’s a family recipe. We make the curry sauce every month and freeze it, this is the last batch. It’s really easy to whip up a meal when you have half of it already made.” She said. “Go ahead, try it!”
I did. It tasted as good as the amazing smell. She sat down opposite us and we all demolished our servings.
I was starving and it was so nice so I ate as much as I possibly could. I got far too full to eat any more long before I finished the bowl though, and long before Beth or her Mom put down their forks.
“Are you not going to eat any more?” She asked, I think she was a bit hurt.
“Oh, I’d love to but I’m really full. If I eat anymore I always get ill…” I was a bit self-conscious about my eating. I’d gotten used to a single meal a day if I dared go to lunch at school. The worry of school tended to ruin my appetite anyway. At weekends I had nothing but the odd can of soup I could steal from the corner shop. When food was available my stomach just wasn’t big enough to hold much.
“You can take some home with you if you want? Can’t she Mom.” Beth said the last bit quite firmly and gave her mom a stern look.
“Of course.” Her mom matched her tone and the look. She stood up. “I’ll get you something to put it in. We can’t keep it because it’s already been frozen once. You might as well take it home with you. I’ll put it in the fridge.”