Montreal Grey — prompt exercise

Yesterday’s prompt: write about a character who’s just received really good or really bad news looking out a window. Describe what the characters sees, feels, and thinks WITHOUT giving away the substance of the news.

Prompt-responses are raw and a recently written prompt even more so. I say that, not to ask for kid glove responses, but to help myself take a deep breath and GO. Even though this is prose and not cloth, Jude has laid out a path for me – in the way she openly shares her creative ventures long before she knows what they’re about. Thank you Jude. And to Grace too, who just lays it down. And to K.O. and the Amherst Writing Method, where everything is treated as fiction. And P.S. — typing his up I see lots of places to edit, so I’m a little torn about this.

I include a written version and a recorded one. The video is almost six minutes.


If Benjamin Moore doesn’t yet have a chip labeled ‘Montreal Grey’ they ought to. The sky is dull. The tops of buildings visible out our 20th floor window are grey. Even though it’s May, it looks as though it might snow any minute. Visits in November and visits in May – hardly distinguishable.

Pebbles on the rooves below, charcoal, ladders hooking up and over the edge, shiny aluminum. One tall building – a construction site across the way – is wrapped in blue. The tarps billow in the wind coming up the St. Lawrence – or does the wind go down the river, shooting off the Laurentians, hurrying toward the Atlantic? I don’t know.

Traffic below is small, offering chips of light – red, white – inconsequential dots of luminescence in the grey city canyons.

Our room has a balcony, a boxy utilitarian space closed in on two sides, making it seem more a place for a furnace or stacks of orange cones than an aerie for out of town guests. Sliders, presumably locked. The husband asleep. A breakfast buffet waiting – tired scrambled eggs, decent bacon (but only because, truly, it’s difficult to ruin bacon), and the serviceable pyramids of four ounce yogurt containers.

I’m not hungry. I wish I was still asleep, not ruminating on last night’s bombshell revelations. How stupid have I been, exactly? How distracted? At what point does reliance on another’s well-being morph into neglect?

I’m gonna be 100% certain about one thing for the rest of our visit – these sliders will stay shut. No hand of mine will tug the glass to the side, no foot step out onto the fake grass flooring, no ribs will lean against the cement railing (can anything solid and cement really be called ‘a railing’), no head of mine – after all, it’s the only one I’ve got, will lean out and look down, making some calculus of despair.

Pajamas and blood splatted below would hardly be visible for 20 floors up.

And the problem, of course, is not the calculus, but the impulse.

From where I lean against the cool glass of the snuggly closed door, I can see three tall yellow cranes, looming in stillness, poised for work like predatory beings so efficient at killing and consumption, they need no musculature. Every year, it’s this way. Every year, crossing over the Ile de Soeur, we start up the count of cranes. It’s always been a good way to counter the near constant annoyance of driving down University Ave. At every intersection:  polite drivers! Polite pedestrians! Rule following motorists, conditioned to deferral, and not, as one from Boston is, to aggression, politely wait for all the rule-following pedestrians to cross. It means waiting for one pass of the light after another – an eternity for four cars to make a right turn.

“Oh look!” I might say in lieu of a frothy stream of curses, “another hotel restoration. Didn’t that used to be called ‘The Delta’?”

Soon the cranes will start their swiveling industry. The cars and pedestrians will thicken – getting to work, getting to school. Soon husband will wake and we’ll choose between eggs and grapefruit wedges, yogurt and oatmeal. Bacon is pretty much a given.

Dinner had started off well enough. A Scotch egg ordered, the pub atmosphere offering a humming embrace, the bar warmly lit, French being spoken, men with top knots mixing cocktails, the anticipation of a really good meal, having been there before.

Champagne might have been mentioned and then kiboshed. Where is Tavern on the Green relative to the grid of grey below? I’m pretty sure due west, but I’m not reliable when it comes to directions.

One direction is clear: a body tipped up and over a cement railing 20 stories up means DOWN.

What do the desperate do when they rue their choice ten stories into their flailing descent? It must happen all the time.

The glass is cool against my forehead. Husband stirs. His disappointment will meet mine but not amplify it. He’s wonderful that way. Grounded. Reliable.

I won’t amplify either, I swear silently, even though I often speak for the two of us, sometimes for the entire small group that is our family. How did a refugee from a tribe of high-volume argument makers end up with so much silence at the dinner table? Such a biological disinclination to verbalize!

(Good thing I can play Scrabble against the computer now on a back lit screen! To suggest a round in our house is to see three guys run for cover).

I will not amplify. I will experiment, instead, with a quietude that is as a-characteristic as it is, well, quiet.

Besides, there’s a lot to do in the next 48 hours, bombshell or no bombshell.

Turning away, I click on the news, deeming it nearly time for breakfast anyhow. For fun, I land on a Quebec station, thinking perhaps I’d understand a phrase or two. I’ve done this before and nothing has happened in the interim that might dictate a different result. I’ll catch a number here or there – that’s about it.

Outside, a big gust of wind makes the blue building wrapper puff and fwop like a giant bird struggling to take off. It, and not the drone of French, wakes Mark up.

“What was that?” he asks.

“Tarps,” I say. One word. A single syllable, no less. Does my response telegraph despair? I’m guessing so, in which case experimenting with non-verbal responses may be trickier than I think. So I say, “Come on buster. Get in the shower. I’m hungry.”

I’m not hungry, but the familiar patter soothes and food never hurts. Canadian bacon is a thing, you know.

8 thoughts on “Montreal Grey — prompt exercise

  1. Mo Crow

    had to laugh when I read “decent bacon (but only because, truly, it’s difficult to ruin bacon)” I am very good at turning a perfectly good piece of bacon into inedible pieces of blackened rubber!

    1. deemallon Post author

      Funny! I’ve been known to burn bacon to inedible strips, setting off smoke alarm in process. Perhaps I should’ve said it’s one of the more reliable offerings in hotels (compared to the eggs — yuck!).

  2. Michelle in NYC

    Mission accomplished–What Happened last night? This reader wants to know. I won’t bother listing every phrase that delighted me…but may I venture one suggestion…read slower next time please, Meanwhile, what images. What a lot of images worth seeing. So much exposition in such a short amount of time.

    1. deemallon Post author

      It’s meant to be a mystery (and it’s fiction as you, fellow Amherst Writing Method scriber, well-know) but in the interests of friendship and privacy, both, I’ll email you.

  3. Nancy

    I am really enjoying your writing style Dee! And reading style as well. 🙂
    This audio was a bit quieter, so harder for me to hear. I tried to read along with your reading, but as Michelle mentioned, it was a tad fast. Anyway, I really like how you ask questions in your writing and how you sometimes answer “I don’t know”.
    All I can say is “More please!”


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