The Skinny Pig. $143CAD/night, rated amongst top 5 Downtown Montreal Bed & Breakfast on TripAdvisor.com. The building stands unassuming among the sparkling downtown menagerie: tall, narrow, old brick, painted a sloppy off-eggshell, a black mansard roof, and hazy latticed windows with board-and-batten shutters. You’d never notice this place unless you were looking for it, but once you saw it, it sat a blight in the corner of your vision.
My companion and I shuffle toward our weekend abode, exhausted from a day of travel and poorly-chosen airport potato salad. Recently, we’d both gone through a breakup. While the experiences were apathetic on our end, our cell phones blew up with bothersome texts and melodramatic voicemails from quarrelsome ex-lovers. In pursuit of silence, with no desire to engage, we hopped on the cheapest flight to the opposite end of the country.
“You must be the Marcelles,” an uninspired voice chimes. In our approach, two figures appear in the doorway atop a derelict flight of stairs. Gaunt, middle-aged, and neither handsome nor homely, the pair could easily be siblings.
“I’m Adelynn Marcelle.” I scale the staircase. These look like friendly people, not supervillains at all. My companion reaches her hand to greet the woman.
“I’m also Adelynn, but not Marcelle. We just have the same first name.” The woman makes no motion to receive her, but her nostrils flare in acknowledgement.
“Welcome. I am Élodie, and this is my partner Edgard. Please, permit him to take your luggage.” Élodie’s face barely moves when she speaks. Her Quebecois accent glides across perfectly uniform teeth, which are grey in colour. Edgard is silent but grins emphatically. He whisks the luggage from our hands. He smells of wintergreen; it lingers like a breadcrumb path as he rushes up the stairs and disappears into the house. Élodie bids we follow. Her wrist is delicate, sinewy, and there is grime beneath her fingernails.
The din of the outside world vanishes with the closing door. Every wall is papered a different colour: pastel pink, baby blue, and damask-patterned chartreuse dazzles the entry room. Ceiling-to-floor is crowded with kitschy wall-hangings of ceramic cats, papier-mâché chickens, painted doll-heads, and dozens of rainbow broomsticks. Edgard had already ascended the steep staircase before us. The dining room is to our immediate right; to the left is a private office, gloriously bedecked in strings of keys, trunk-locks and travel-tags. My nose drifts in that direction— I’m a bit like a crow and I like how the garlands glisten. Élodie, though, is quick to shut the door to that room and usher us upstairs.
Our room is an explosion of Valentine: lush rose carpet, glistening white baseboards, and fuschia walls flourished with heart-shaped graphics. Shelves are jammed with teddy bears and stuffed rabbits. The room has but one window: small, square, inoffensive, offering a fantastic view of an adjacent building’s brick wall. The oversized bed is plush with a lace duvet embroidered with curlicued hearts. It hadn’t occurred to me that B&B’s targeted couples and newlyweds; having recently left our respective former lovers, Adelynn and I simply liked the idea of strangers cooking us breakfast.
“Wifi and tourist documents are over there, breakfast is à huit heures. The bathroom is next door.” Élodie started to leave, but paused, “I trust you have no dietary restrictions? Allergies?”
“Actually, we’re both vegetarians.”
“Vege— what? What is this word?”
“Vegetarian. Um, les végétariennes? We don’t eat meat.” How could she not know this word? Élodie wrinkles her nose, nostrils still flared.
“I see. But butter and ham-fat, is okay?”
“Butter, yes. Ham, no. No flesh.” Is this so foreign a concept?
“No flesh. Okay.” And she was gone. Adelynn climbs onto the bed and rifles through a tourist brochure. She taps the toes of her plaid-green slippers: I love those slippers. They came out whenever things were getting cozy. She bought matching pairs for each of us during our last trip to Salem. She told me not to lose them as I lose most things. I did eventually, but hers were as much a part of her as the frizzy red mop on top of her head. She and I silently agree to take a quick nap and rise to do some exploration, but we both fall into a coma that carries us well into the next morning.
“Good morning.” Adelynn and I shuffle downstairs for breakfast in unintentional unison. We have a knack for unison. The dining room is as distastefully decorated as the rest of the house: country-kitsch knickknacks spout silly idioms such as “This Kitchen is Seasoned with Love,” and “Never Trust a Skinny Cook.” We plop into place at the farmhouse dining table. There are no other place-settings.
“Bonjour medames.” Edgard emerges from the kitchen, our view of which is obscured by a white saloon-style partition. He wiggles around the crowded room with the grace of a seven-legged spider. The air of wintergreen curls. He smiles wide and sets down a crowded silver tray. He has the same perfectly aligned, bluish-grey teeth as his wife. Calculated, he says, “I hope that you are hungry.” His scaly tongue squirms with every practiced syllable.
“Yes, very.” Spindly fingers set down various coffee implements. We waste no time in saturating our mugs with cream and sugar. Edgard fusses, and Adelynn, always the cultured one, wonders aloud if there are any decent galleries in the neighborhood. She directs her bottle-green eyes at our host – probably wondering about the band-aids on his neck. “Do you know of any? Museums or MoMAs?”
Edgard hums a jaunty tune, bent over the tray of breakfast goodies. Edgard?”
He ignores us. A lovely view of the top of his shiny head. There’s a purple-denim witch hat pinned to the wall behind him. “No parl-lay voo anglay?” He chuckles, pointing finger-guns at Adelynn. I’m fixed on the rust-coloured grime under his fingernails.
“Oui, ne parles pas.”
Two identical plates are placed before us: piping hot omelettes whose pale yellow perfectly matches the paisley-patterned wallpaper. They smell delicious but are dotted with pinkish fleshy cubes. Adelynn pokes at the cubes. “Is this meat?”
The heartbreaking dilemma of an animal lover that loves to eat: how to refuse? Is it morally reprehensible to throw it away? After a moment of deliberation, my companion resigns to tuck in—she hates to be rude. I sip at my coffee, thoughtfully, “I’m not fucking
We barge through the front door at a reasonable-ish hour for a Saturday night. We’d discovered that, in Quebec, one may buy wine at gas stations. It’s rowdy out on the street, but when we shut the door, we’re punched in the face by darkness. Drenched in liquid confidence, I give a hard tug on the door to the private office. As an avid collector of junk, I want another look at the collection inside. Were the garlands I’d glimpsed sourced from antiques and thrift shops, or relics of previous guests? The door was locked. I jiggle the handle. Drunken desperation. Adelynn pulls my hands away with a disciplinary shush. Oh well. We suppress our giggles and “quietly” clamber up the stairs. Midway, a light flickers on and Élodie emerges from the office.
“Will you girls be up in time for breakfast?” She appears unfazed by my snoop attempt. Adelynn has a slightly better handle of her intoxicated self, and nods solemnly. I can only wish for such tact. “Tell à Edgard that ne nous mange pas le meat!”
The next morning a dull throb behind my eyes reminds me why I don’t often drink (most especially from a gas-station). I’m parched for water and carbohydrates. A dermis like sand. My hair and teeth and nails hurt. Guts gurgle. Adelynn is in the dining room by the time I shamble down the stairs, and she greets me with purple-ringed eyes that don’t quite fixate on me. Flush cheeks beam in my general direction but float off into the space behind my head. “Bonjour Adelynn. I hope you’re hungry,” she says.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” The sunlit-yellow wallpaper spites my brain.
Before she can answer, Edgard bursts through the partition. He hums the same jaunty tune and Adelynn joins in. I can’t take this level of perkiness on a Sunday morning. His weird spidery limbs maneuver about, coating me in wintergreen. He sets the breakfast tray on the table: coffee, butter, and a stack of shapeless, pinkish-white meat, lightly fried. Nothing more. He pauses in wait for me to look up at him, and his eyes are ringed with purple too. “Mange,” he says. There is forcefulness in the order despite the perky tone. Adelynn had done away with her utensils and grips the steak with her fingers, gnawing away. There’s something funny about her teeth; they are too defined, each tooth too outlined, too obvious, like a bad cartoon. But I’m too hung over to deal. I’m hungry. I eat my breakfast.
Our touring that day is minimal. Adelynn has too much energy but I too little, so we return shortly after sundown. She sits on the bed, humming, plaiting her hair, playing on her phone, and tapping the toes of her plaid-green slippers. I excuse myself to puke in the toilet. I rinse my mouth at the bathroom sink and my eyes are sunken in shadow. I look for mouthwash to gargle away the taste of meat and acid. Behind the mirror, there are countless shades of bottled foundation, half a dozen toothbrushes, four retainers, two pairs of glasses, and one travel-sized bottle of Listerine.
The next morning, the day we’re due to check-out, I feel much better. My energy levels are up. Adelynn had again woken before me and is not in the room. I’m not prepared to fly back home and deal with the breakup drama we’d blissfully abandoned, but at least I had fresh coffee to look forward to. I take my time to dress and meander down the stairs, listening carefully for Edgard’s lively tunes. I hear nothing. The dining room is dark. All is quiet, and there is no movement beyond the white partition save for a slow curl of white steam. The only thing to break the dead air is my own unconscious hum of a senseless jaunty tune. “Adelynn?” Silence. I knock on the office door across the hall, then try the knob. To my surprise, the door swings open without a squeak. Stacks of suitcases clutter the corners and the garlands of keys and tags sparkle in the dim morning light. I make out various names in countless hands scrawled across the tags, but I don’t care to look closer. My brain is on breakfast, and this room is deserted. Nothing, nobody, nowhere.
I hear a rising scream, inhuman in its pitch. It’s a pained squeal that upsets both the tranquility of the study and the affability of my mood. It leads me back to the dining room and up to the partition of the empty kitchen: it was a kettle bubbling on the stove. Idiot. I’m such a spaz. I push through the swinging door and move the kettle off the gas range, but the handle is hot, and I instinctively let it clatter to the floor. My right hand sizzles, and I run the tap for cold water to tend to the burn. There, in the sink, is a sopping-wet pair of plaid-green slippers.
The kettle-water on the floor creeps into my socks and my toes go numb. The air wafts with wintergreen. “I hope that you are hungry,” an uninspired voice chimes. I jerk from my thoughts, clutching my pulsating right hand with my left. I shift away from the slippers in the sink. Two tall, gaunt silhouettes stand in the doorway and start towards me. Their smiles, grey.