On the first date, I took her up to the observation deck of the radio tower next to the tracks. From there, you can see the city in all its degenerate orange light. We sat, legs dangling off the edge like children in high chairs. We talked and oohed and ahhed at little things that become extraordinary when viewed from a great height. We saw trains roll past and headlights stream into and out of streets below us. We saw lives unfolding, the players unaware of their audience. We drank the whiskey I had brought in a novelty flask which read: “What wouldn’t Jesus do,” and for a moment, we understood the universe. It was laid out right in front of us, grids and swerves carrying light and thought and sound and all the fury of man. We watched and waited and swam in the ether of slowed time, removed from the constraints of rushed reality. We were in no hurry. We were rambling towards a platonic ideal of love. And then the cops came.
Over a loudspeaker, they told us to get down, and the climb seemed to take hours. I saw that her hands were shaking in the red and blue flashing lights, and I was scared that they would miss a rung. She looked scared as well. The closer we got to the ground, the slower she went.
“Are we going to jail?” she asked.
“Jail couldn’t hold the vastness of it,” I said, but with every foot we descended, the vastness shrank. It was a slow motion dive into reality.
“No, probably not. Just a ticket.”
They fined us for public inebriation and trespassing on government property. Policemen are not receptive to the concept of beauty as motivation. You can’t explain why it makes sense to break a law to witness the universe. It doesn’t make sense to them to break from a banal surface-life to experience something deeper, something larger, something within and without.
You just have to sit on the curb and wait for them to write up the ticket and unlock the cuffs. But by that time, the moment has passed and nature has been reduced back to crossing streets and old women smoking slim cigarettes at bus stops. We were fined and we were tethered to the world by that fine. The spirit of awe had been pierced and had deflated on that sidewalk, and the rest of the night hung limp around us when we walked away.
I thought flippantly for a moment that jumping off the tower would have been a beautiful way to end the night. No cops, no novelty flasks, no bus stops. Just the thrashing, unbridled universe stretching out into black.
I thought of these things as I walked her to the metro. She had never been arrested before, and she was shivering. As she crossed the turnstile, she looked back at me, thanked me and joked about being on COPS. I said that she was too pretty to be on COPS.
“Do they film every time they arrest someone?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Why would they?”
“To keep a record. To remember things better.”
“I think it would be funny to see it on tape. ”
I thought about this. “You can’t capture beauty like that on tape.”
She didn’t say anything. She frowned and played with her purse and handed me back my flask.
“I don’t get it,” she said flatly.
Her face was distant now, her expression gone.
“I don’t really get it anymore, either,” I admitted. “But it was nice while it lasted.”
“Are you drunk?” she asked quietly.
“I don’t think so. Maybe in shock.”
Pause and nod. Her eyes alternated between my shirt and the stairs.
“Well, feel better.”
She smiled awkwardly and gave an awkward goodnight before going down the stairs to the platform.
I sat in the station a while. I hoped she’d come out and look for me, but she didn’t. She got in the first train to arrive and didn’t wave or look up at me. There was nothing left of the time we had spent except for a rectangular piece of paper telling me I had to pay $295. There is no romance in $295.
I walked outside the metro and set the fine alight with a matchbook that I found in my coat pocket. They sent me another copy through the mail, which I paid, but that little rebellion kept me happy that night. I watched the flame burn and remembered quivering hands in red and blue lights. And tethers and fines and how much they really mean.
I called her back after a few days. “I’m too busy to date right now,” she said. I bumped into her on the bus a few times after that, but I never brought up the radio tower. It was mine now, an endless city full of flame and noise and bright lights that is grounded in the tedium of real life, but incredible, awesome from a great height.
Nicholas Mathewson is an absent father and full-time student of Journalism at Concordia. He was born and raised in Montreal, where he lives currently. He has been interested in literature since his father read him “The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway, after which the exploration of relationships with oneself and with others in stories gripped him. He likes to take long walks in Montreal. It is a beautiful city to get lost in.