From down on the street, I could see directly into my apartment: the shelves stacked with books and guitar pedals, the art hanging and all the artifacts of my life exposed in plain sight. The wall of the building was completely gone. As I shivered in the December cold, my mind reeling, I knew one thing: that my initiation into the city of Montreal had, at last, become official.
A few months earlier I’d landed at Montréal–Trudeau airport with two suitcases and my cat, Mr. B—named after one of my favourite authors, Roberto Bolaño. I came from Vancouver with my partner at the time, A. When we signed the lease for the second-floor apartment near Marché Jean-Talon, we failed to notice the abandoned duplex we shared a wall with. It was only after we moved in that we spotted the dust-covered façade, the yellowing letters piling up in its mailbox, the paper over the windows.
It sat empty for months after we moved in, until early one morning a group of construction workers showed up and began to demolish the place like it was a plate of barbeque chicken after a HIIT workout. They were noisy, boisterous and smoked constantly. Every morning they returned to resume chaotically gutting the building, until finally only a giant pit remained, looking like the earth itself had swallowed the building whole. An excavator dug deeper still, my apartment shaking from the impact, making Mr. B slink fearfully into the closet.
One night, we heard a strange noise coming from the wall that faced the demolition site. It sounded like crumbling. I noticed a huge crack in the corner and a one-inch gap between the wall and the ceiling. I could feel cold air coming in. I texted my landlord and he left me on read. Surely I was just being anxious; I pushed intrusive thoughts of the building collapsing out of my mind and went to bed. “I hope we have a wall when we wake up,” A. joked, both of us laughing at how far-fetched that would be.
When I woke up, I found massive cracks on the wall that stretched around the doorframes and reached up over the ceiling. A. left for school while I called the landlord, panicked. A handyman and the contractor from next door came by, both of whom assured me nothing was wrong. But other tenants in the building spotted cracks as well, so my neighbour called the fire department. Their truck arrived outside, sirens blaring.
Not processing what was going on, I stepped into the cold in a hoodie and jeans, with nothing but my wallet and phone. A fireman told me to move to the other side of the street. “What about Mr. B?” I asked. “You’re not going inside,” he said. “The building could collapse at any moment.” I begged, but they wouldn’t budge; when I tried to sneak across the street they stopped me dead in my tracks, angry at having to tell me twice.
The Red Cross bus arrived, and my neighbours and I went inside to warm up. Nobody was able to tell us what was next. Hours later, we received a call from the landlord: the wall was falling. We ran out and watched as the bricks fell into the empty pit next door. I can count on one hand how many times I have been genuinely scared, and that was one of them.
A few days after, I convinced an engineer to go in and rescue Mr. B. He found him cowering behind the hot water tank, cold and scared but alright. Eventually we found a new home in Parc-Ex; its walls were reassuringly solid. For all the fear and stress, at least I got a good story out of it. The funny thing is, whenever I recount this tale to a Montrealer, no matter who it is, their reaction is more or less the same: “Welcome to Montreal.” ⁂
Luke Kokoszka is a writer and musician living in Montreal.He is working on his first novel and can be found online at @lukekokoszka or at lukekokoszka.com.