Knights of Griffintown
"Griffintown is old and quiet and dark and it should have knights."
Photo illustration by Marc Rimmer. Armour by Anna Minzhulina. See more photos of Sir Sean Michaels in Griffintown.
"There should be knights in Griffintown," Anders said. "Bear with me. Think about this. I don't just mean because of the name. Even though the name makes me think that there should be knights. Griffin town. Town of griffins. Yeah, there should be knights. But not just because of that. Also the wide streets. It's dark at night. Quiet. The sound of hoof-falls would suit it. The sound of galloping. We could chase the ne'er-do-wells from the streets."
"Wait," said John. "'We'?"
"The knights," said Anders.
"Are we going to be the knights?"
"I'm just thinking out loud," said Anders. "Don't you think Griffintown should have knights? The rest of Montreal can have police, neighbourhood watch or, uh, gangs. But Griffintown? No, Griffintown is old and quiet and dark and it should have knights."
"What would the knights wear?" asked Francie.
"Armour. Makeshift armour. Make it out of old vinyl records. Old dishes. Hockey helmets. Broomhandle lances."
"And they'd ride horses?"
"Okay, they wouldn't have to ride horses. They could just walk. Or ride skateboards."
"Or bikes," said Richard. He had a little shot glass and he was pouring himself shot after shot of root beer. He drank a shot and poured another. There had been sixteen glasses so far.
"You and your bikes," said Anders. "You and your root beer and your bikes. Bikes are great but if you are on a bike you are not paying attention to the lay of the land. You're thinking big picture, not small. You're not being knightly."
"Bikes are like horses," said Richard.
"No, bikes are like, uh, trains. Like horses and carriages. They're for going places, not for patrolling."
"There are police who patrol on bikes."
"There are police who patrol in helicopters too but they are not knights. Listen, we can use a bike if we're going a long distance but otherwise it's on foot or on skateboard."
"You're using 'we' again," John said.
"You said 'we'. Like 'we' are the knights."
"It would be fun," said Anders.
"The truth comes out," said Richard.
Next Thursday, Francie and John and Caroline came back over to watch the game. John and Caroline arrived late.
"Where's Anders?" said Caroline.
"He's in his room constructing armour," said Richard.
"What, seriously?" said John.
"Yeah," said Francie.
"Hi Anders!" Caroline called.
"Hi Caroline!" he answered from behind his closed door.
He came out a little later to check the score. "Well?" Anders said, his hands on his hips.
"2-1," said Francie.
"For the good guys," said Francie.
Anders nodded. "Good." After a few moments he left the room.
"Is he okay?" said John.
"He's okay," said Richard. "Just don't mention Emma."
Anders came out again mid-way through the third period and sat down on the couch beside John.
"So?" said Caroline.
"It's not going well," said Anders. "It looked stupid so I disassembled it."
"What's it made of?" asked John.
"An old sweater, cardboard, some records."
"Woody Allen records. I never listen to them."
"A knight in Woody Allen records," said John.
"Yeah," said Anders.
On Sunday evening, Anders invited everyone to come over for a barbecue and to look at his finished armour. He waited until everyone was sitting in the kitchen with the windows open, eating burgers and hotdogs and little baked falafel things that Francie had found at the PA grocery store. He went away for a few minutes and then came in wearing the knight outfit.
"Wow," said Francie.
"Holy shit," said John, "it actually looks pretty awesome."
"I know," said Anders.
They were all pretty quiet.
Caroline said: "Wow. Seriously."
"Did you sew that part?" said John.
"It came like that. It was the buckle of a boot."
"Wow," said Caroline.
"You look..." said Richard, "...valiant."
They watched from the upstairs window as Anders went out in his armour. Rue des Quilles was like any of Griffintown's streets: commercial buildings, low warehouses, occasional doorways, bicycles locked to wrought iron poles. There weren't many birds.
"What's he going to do?" asked John.
"Rescue princesses," said Caroline. "Vanquish enemies."
Anders just walked down rue des Quilles. He walked straight down the middle of the sidewalk. The pieces of record glinted like dragon scale in the streetlights. There were little cardboard wings sticking out from the heels of his sneakers.
"Now what?" said John.
Anders stopped on the street-corner. He didn't do anything; he just stood tall and still and noble.
"Is he waiting for something?" said Richard.
"I think he's just standing," Francie said. "I don't think he's waiting for anything at all."
A plastic shopping bag flew by and Anders cut it down with his sword. The sword was made from aluminium foil and one of Richard's old hockey sticks. The way he swung the sword and the way it caught the plastic bag reminded John of a heron taking a fish from the water.
When Anders came back in that night they were watching the end of an episode of Twin Peaks.
"So?" said Caroline.
"So," said Anders.
"How was it?" said Caroline.
"Good," said Anders.
"Did anyone give you any trouble?"
"No one did," he said.
Anders was standing outside their apartment when Richard came home from work the next day. He was wearing his armour.
"Hail, Sir Anders," said Richard.
"Hi," said Anders. "How was work?"
Richard told him about a redheaded girl at his office. He had been trying to seduce her for two or three weeks. Every day he bought her a fruit at lunchtime, a different fruit. "It's getting hard to find a fruit I haven't given her yet." Today the girl had come back from her own lunch break and had given him an eggplant.
Anders listened attentively. His sword was in a parchment-paper sheath at his side. His eyes flicked up and down the street.
Richard finished talking. A little Somali girl was watching them from across the street, hugging her arms to herself. Anders solemnly bowed to the little girl.
Eventually some young kids from Lasalle heard that there was a guy pretending to be a knight who spent all day patrolling around rue des Quilles. They laughed at him from the other side of the street, and threw little bits of gravel, and mimicked the way he stood with his hand on the shiny pommel of his sword. They yelled at him. "Hey!" they said. "T'es un robot? Un mec poubelle? Un itinérant médiéval?"
Anders' French wasn't very good but he understood what they were yelling. "Chevalier," he said.
They laughed at him. "Pourquoi?" they said.
A Chrysler zipped by and they all squinted in the dust it swirled up. In the swirl of dust, Anders looked very sage. He was growing his beard out and the hockey helmet framed his face and his eyes were pale blue. Finally he said: "Do you guys want to help me paint my coat of arms?"
They helped him until dinner time. They gathered up their paint sets and old cardboard boxes and on hands and knees painted coats of arms for Anders, a dozen different ones, with sparrows and cats and flour factories and mountains with crosses. There was a coat of arms with an ice cream cone and many with fleurs-de-lis. Anders explained what a griffin was, an animal that was half-eagle and half-lion, and the kids' eyes went big. They were imagining griffins. When they had all finished their coats of arms Anders looked at each one and told them each what was special about the coat of arms they had painted, and he chose two that he would wear—one on his back and one on his front—but he promised that the others would be worn as well, by the other knights of Griffintown, when they came.
"Can we be knights?" said the kids.
"You are not old enough," said Anders. "You can be squires."
On Sunday morning, Francie came over to Richard and Anders'.
"What are you doing here?" asked Richard.
"My piece-of-shit boyfriend," said Francie.
Francie's face was pinker than usual. She kept turning the lights on and off with her left hand. She looked angry.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," said Francie. "Where's Anders?"
"He's outside being a knight," said Richard. He said it a little apologetically. "I can call him and maybe we could all go for breakfast or something."
Francie flicked the lights off. "No," she said. She went over to the narrow window in the hall, the one that looked out onto rue des Quilles. "Is that him on the corner of Wellington?"
Richard peered. "Yes."
"He's not in the same place as before."
"He patrols a bit."
Francie watched Anders bow to a Volvo full of old women on their way to church.
"Do you have some cardboard?" said Francie. "Do you have some old records?"
Francie's armour wasn't as good as Anders' so he helped her fix it up. He sent one of his squires for some scissors. Another one banged on Richard's door. "Sir Anders says to ask you to get the old Kinks record from his room. And the aluminium foil."
"Sir Anders?" said Richard.
"The knight," said the squire, who was a little girl with a hundred freckles.
"I know who he is," said Richard. "He's going to cut up a perfectly good Kinks album?"
"He has the mp3, he said."
They fixed up Francie's armour and for a while they patrolled together but then they split up. Francie didn't look quite as knightly as Anders but she had a better glare. She saw a teenaged girl throw aside an empty bag of chips, and she glared at the girl and then the girl picked up the bag.
"That's a dumb costume," the girl said, annoyed that the glare had worked.
"Shut up," said Francie. "Don't litter again in Griffintown."
On Monday there was another knight, a guy called Eric.
"Who's that?" asked Caroline. They were in the apartment, waiting for John to arrive. They were looking out through the window.
"His name is Eric," said Richard. "He's a friend of Rachel's."
"What's he doing here?"
"Being a knight," said Richard. "I don't know how he heard about it but here he is."
Francie had her skateboard now. She glided up and down and through the blocks where they lived. Sometimes there were squires following her. They wore sheriff stars. Anders had made the stars at the kitchen table one night, cutting the shapes out of old lighting gels and attaching them with bobby-pins. When he distributed them to the kids their faces flashed and rippled like pennants.
People started to talk about the knights of Griffintown. There were only three of them but they felt like more. Someone took photos and put them on a website, and someone else wrote about them, just casually, the way you would talk about a raccoon you saw on rue Ste. Catherine one night. But people saw and read and from other parts of the city, people began to come. Most of them watched, or laughed, or hung out for a while with Sir Anders, Sir Francie or Sir Eric. But a handful came back the next day wearing their own suits of armour. The squires got down on hands and knees and painted coats of arms.
The knights patrolled. They stood, they watched. They carried groceries, held doors, helped people to parallel park. They glared at litterers, deterred bike thieves, played catch, and kept Mr. Fogel company at the bus stop. They cut down plastic bags with slices of silvery swords.
"Is it fun?" Caroline asked Francie, the day the journalist came.
"Fun isn't the right word," said Francie. She bent down to tie her shoelace.
"I always wondered what the word 'gallant' really meant," Francie said. "This weird kind of courage. A cross between courage and responsibility."
"The courage to wander around in a knight costume," said Caroline. "The responsibility to provide lost people with directions."
"It just feels good to give a shit," said Francie.
Caroline watched Francie tie her other shoe. She looked at the patterns of gravel on the road. When you're standing out here, Caroline thought, the passing cars must blur together into a stretch of white and silver. You must hear the wind between the buildings. Francie got up. She stood straighter than she used to. The top of her nose was sunburned. She had stopped wearing rings.
"And so you started wearing your armour a few weeks after ending a relationship with Emily Moody, is that right?"
"My ex-girlfriend. Her name is Emma. Not Emily. Emma Moody."
"Ah. Sorry. Yes, Emma."
"So," said Anders.
"So is it true that you started wearing your armour a few weeks after ending a relationship with Emma Moody?"
"I didn't end the relationship with Emma."
"So Emma Moody broke up with you?"
"Wait—I'm sorry, how is this relevant?"
"I'm just trying to get the full picture, Mr. Larsson."
"Emma's not part of the full picture of the Knights of Griffintown."
"Maybe she is."
"But she's not."
"Maybe she is."
"I guess maybe you want to tell this story like it's a story of Anders Larsson getting his heart broken and then deciding to become a knight. Post-traumatic stress disorder. But that is not what happened here."
"What happened here?"
"Griffintown. Town of griffins. Like I said. It just felt right."
"Is there a number you can give me for Emma?"
Anders was at the table reading the newspaper story. Francie and Richard were leaning against the cabinets. They all had shot glasses of root beer.
"What's the damage?" asked Richard.
"Emma wouldn't give them a quote," said Anders.
"But they talk about her?"
"Larsson began the project after breaking up with Emma Moody, his girlfriend of five years. Moody, 27, works as a librarian."
"That's it?" said Richard.
"One friend, who asked to remain anonymous, said, 'Anders worshipped her. He was devastated when she dumped him. This knight stuff all spiralled through that.'"
"What friend?" asked Francie.
"It sure as hell wasn't me," said Richard. "'Spiralled through'? Who says 'spiralled through'? The expression is 'spiralled out.' Things spiral out from other things."
"Yes," Anders said.
"Who says 'spiral through'?" repeated Richard. "I'm going to call John and Caroline."
"You okay?" Francie asked Anders.
"I'm fine." He tossed the newspaper into the recycling bin.
"At least they got a good photo of the squires."
"Let's go out on patrol," he said.
Late that afternoon, about forty people showed up wanting to be knights. Nearly half had come down on their bikes from Mile End, but another dozen had taken the subway from NDG or even the West Island. Some of them wore armour modelled on Anders' in the Gazette photographs. One had real chainmail, probably from role-playing on the mountain. Most were just in t-shirts and shorts.
"Keep your bike helmets on," Anders suggested. "And maybe we can have an armour-making party this weekend."
The squires were really excited. Anders assigned one to each knight and told the kids to show the knights the ropes. Then he went upstairs and made popcorn for everyone. He split the popcorn into sandwich bags so that everyone would have provisions.
"Go forth," he said to the knights, "and do good deeds."
There was an armour-making party on Saturday night. In his email, Anders asked people to Please keep it on the low-down because I don't want the squires to be hurt that they are not invited. Anders bought boxes of records at the St. Vincent de Paul, and lots of duct tape, and construction paper and markers and styrofoam and two-fours of Boréale. It started slow but by midnight the apartment was stuffed with knights and non-knights, people spilling beers and heating glue-guns and tying knots. People carving cardboard shields with exacto knives. Eric brought the ingredients to make mead, someone dressed a cat in a dragon costume, and a brawl broke out in the kitchen, knights slashing each other with swords made of paper towel rolls.
Late in the night, Francie and Anders sat side by side in the living room. Aluminium foil lay in gleaming scraps on the carpet. She leaned her head on his shoulder and she closed her eyes and Anders tried to keep his shoulders still as he breathed.
When Francie woke up he was gone. She wandered into the kitchen. One of her eyes was hidden behind a lock of hair. On the other side of the window it was blue, and birds were speaking.
Richard was sitting at the table with a knight Francie didn't know, a girl in a Canadiens jersey and a helmet made from an ice-cream tub. Between them lay a fresh fig.
"Have you seen Anders?" Francie asked them.
"He went into his room."
"With a girl," said the knight in the hockey jersey.
"A girl?" said Francie.
The redhead made a sympathetic face.
Richard snorted. "Are you kidding?"
Francie didn't make a sound as she slipped into her sneakers and opened the door and went into the dawn.
They met by a streetlamp two days later.
Anders bowed to her. "Hi," he said.
"Hi," said Francie. She had arrived on her skateboard.
"How's it going in your part of Griffintown?"
She scratched her cheek. "Did you hear about the knights up on St. Viateur?"
"What, up north?"
"Two guys and a girl, in armour, patrolling near St. Viateur and St. Laurent. Irene told me."
"Who are they?"
"Maybe they were at your party."
Anders adjusted his t-shirt under his breastplate. "Maybe Jamie? Or Petra?"
He shook his head.
"What?" said Francie. "Your idea is spreading."
"My idea? My idea was that Griffintown should have knights," Anders said. "Not that everywhere should have knights. Just Griffintown. Griffin-town. I didn't mean it as an ironic hipster role-playing superhero trend."
Francie smiled. "No?" she said gently.
He didn't answer.
"Sorry," she said.
"Never mind," he said.
"I didn't mean it that way. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, it's fine," he said.
The wind turned their armour into sounds; made it click. He glanced at her face. "So how're you and Matt these days?"
She said, "We broke up, Anders."
"Oh," he said. He looked at the pavement. "When?"
"Almost a month ago."
"A month ago," he said.
He dragged his shoe over some grit. "Is that why you joined the knights, then? To get over him?"
"I don't know," Francie said hotly. "Is that why you started them? To get over Emma?"
"I don't know," he said.
The streetlamp over Anders' and Francie's heads suddenly turned on. They looked at it. It was brighter than anything. They couldn't see each other any more.
"Anders?" said Francie.
"Francie?" said Anders.
One of the squires, a boy named Mohammed Mohammed, had written a story for school. "The Tale of the Knights," it was called. It was the story of Sir Anders and Sir Francie and a knight called Sir Ahmed, who Mohammed Mohammed had made up. The three knights went into a forest to find the Gold Dragon and they found the Gold Dragon and combining their abilities they slew the Gold Dragon. Blood lay on their swords, Mohammed Mohammed wrote. The End.
And in their shining armour, two friends stood squinting.