Peggy – Part One

Peggy – Part One

Here’s the first part ‘Peggy’, new columnist John Spychka’s short story.

Part One

I lie in the field on my back, cannon balls swooshing over my head, exploding nearby. Through my eyelids, I struggle to see faint, coloured circles: red, white, blue. I succumb to the spinning. Darkness overtakes me.

The morning sun burns light into my eyes. Quelle night, I think somehow perching myself up on my elbows. I look around at the bodies and debris strewn over the Plains of Abraham. I hear the moans of misery echo off the metre-thick stone walls of the Citadel. Once again, those historic walls have defended the city from the enemy.

Neither Wolfe nor Montcalm would have been proud of their troops who were no match for the Unibroue trio of Maudite, Eau Bénite, and Fin du Monde. My head feels like the end of the world. What happened last night? I vaguely remember the fireworks on the battlefield, as loud as canons but somehow colourful with a serene beauty. Charlebois’ famous song, Winter’s Tomorrow, still echoes in my head.

What a way to celebrate four hundred years, I say to myself, grinning inside.

Hangover or not, I have to get going. I have someone important to meet in less than an hour, and I have to grab breakfast first.

I stagger—still getting my bearings from the night before—up the hill toward the Citadel. I work there as a tour guide, which is ironic considering I am American. It is just a summer job and my studies in Canadian history at Laval University have helped. Most tourists are impressed with the star-shaped garrison built atop Cape Diamond, the highest point in Quebec City, overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the Plains of Abraham, and the Old City below.

I walk down through St. Louis Gate and, once inside the walls, take a left down steep Auteuil Street to St. John Street, the most famous street within the fortified Old Town.

St. John Street in the morning gives a different feeling than the festive atmosphere from the night before. The romance is still there. But now, looking at the three-story stone buildings, you can feel the history here. The narrow side streets, crepe restaurants, and small cafés mix with the fashion clothing stores, fast-food joints, and souvenir shops. An absurd dichotomy reigns. In spite of the modern businesses, the Old Town’s history abides.

Within five minutes, I veer down Couillard Street and enter Chez Temporel—or just Chez Temp for the regulars—a quaint café on a narrow cobblestone street. The building must be at least 250 years old and the décor in the café is typical: a wooden bench lines one wall behind about six tables for two. The dark wood panelling has faded and is witness to years of neglect. The hardwood floor needs a good varnish and has a five degree slant to it. Behind the counter, in the centre of the room, sits a bistro-style espresso machine. Its Italian design of intricate nozzles, levers, and pressure dials blends beautifully with the shiny brass and copper finish. An eight-inch rooster statue crowns the cylindrical object.

I grab the daily newspaper from the counter and sit at a small table at one of the two bay windows at street level. The waiter asks me what I want. He looks like he spent the night on the Plains too: he has dark bags under his eyes, his hair is tied back in a pony tail, and he is wearing baggy jeans with sandals and an old, once black Metallica t-shirt with a hole in the side. I order toasted baguette with jam and cheese, and an alongé.

The waiter leaves and I get up to go to the washroom. The cold water I splash on my face wakes me up. As I look into the old, scratched mirror above the sink, I see in the lower left corner—or at least I think I see—a man wearing a black tricorn hat with white trim. I shake my head and look behind me and into the mirror again. The man disappears. I splash more water on my face and remind myself to drink a little less beer.

When I return to my table, I notice that my paper is opened to page seventeen. I could have sworn that it was folded closed on my table when I left for the washroom.  No one else is in the restaurant besides a young woman sitting at the counter reading Le devoir. I presume she is the waiter’s girlfriend. When the waiter brings me my alongé, I ask him if he opened my paper. He just walks away. I dump a healthy dose of the fresh cream into my espresso and take a sip. Delicious. I read in the paper that the Queen Mary II will be docking at Quebec City late this afternoon in honour of the 400th birthday. Tonight, they have planned fireworks from the ship and from Yankee Magic. I make a mental note to check that out.

On the same page, in the lower left hand corner, I notice a short article:

Unidentified Ship Sighted

Rimouski, Quebec

Yesterday morning, at about six a.m., several people claim to have spotted a ship just off Rimouski, near St. Barnabe Island. Witnesses say that despite the early morning mist the outline of a boat could be seen. Some say it resembled the Empress of Ireland, the transatlantic oceanliner that sank in 1912 after colliding with the Storstad near Pointe-au-Père.

The Port Authority reports that no boats were scheduled to go past Rimouski at that time.

That is strange. I remember reading about the Empress of Ireland in one of my history courses. It is the worst Canadian maritime tragedy to date, over one thousand people perished. But that ship is long gone. How could anyone have seen it? My Canadian history professor summers in Rimouski. Maybe I’ll give him a call to find out more.

But now, I had better get down to the Old Port. I have a ship to meet. I gobble down my breakfast, finish off my coffee, and head toward Mountain Street.

To be continued… 

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

John Spychka

John Spychka has dabbled in writing since the early ’90s. His closest claim to fame came around 2006 when his work, “The Slava Ladies League Christmas Pyrogy Fiasco,” was shortlisted for the annual Writers’ Union of Canada’s Short Prose Competition. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in English Literature at the University of Calgary and also has a Master’s in English Literature from Université Laval. He has travelled extensively, having lived in Japan and France. John is a manager in a multi-national software company and dreams to one day be able to live off his writing. He lives in Quebec City with his wife and two children.