Close Call by Colette Vidal

A Saturday evening in June… warm… In white flare pants, flower print
t-shirt, jeans jacket and sandals, the light breeze in my hair, I’m on
my way to meet my new boyfriend at the Boiler Room, a popular
student haunt on Crescent street. I live with a roommate in
a cheap apartment on Davidson Street in east end Montreal,
too far from the centre for my taste, but can’t afford
better. I’m a new Immigrant.

The bus left seconds before I got to my stop, and I’m late for
my date. I could hitch a ride. After all, I thumbed across
Canada all the way from Vancouver some eight months before…
just in time for the October crisis.A large pale-blue Pontiac stops.
Two young guys invite me in.
“Going downtown?” I ask.
“Yep, get in.” I hesitate. Two of them, and a two-door car. You can
get stuck in these. But, in the city… people everywhere. Should
be OK. The driver gets out. He’s tall and slim, with long, dirty
blond hair and piercing blue eyes. He wears bell bottom jeans and
a loose tie-dyed T-shirt. He pulls his seat forward, I get in
the back, and we drive westward along Sherbrooke Street. There’s
still some light, but the red blurry line stretching across the
western sky is already turning grey. The two of them are chatting,
ignoring me, which is fine.
The driver must be in his early twenties; the other, barely twenty,
has dark, longish straight hair, a narrow face, and hooked nose.
He wears jeans and a yellow T-shirt with a large black peace sign
printed on the back.When we get to Papineau Street, they turn left,
taking us off course.
“Hey,” I say, “this is not the way to downtown”.
“We’re taking a short cut,” the driver says. I don’t like the
laughter in his voice. Minutes later, we’re on the Jacques Cartier Bridge
heading toward highway 132. And it’s getting dark. Butterflies in my stomach.
My heart’s thumping so loud, I hear it.
Breathe… breathe… stay cool, there must be a way out of this.
I’m stuck in a trap on wheels. I flouted my own rules: Never get
in a car with two guys, and certainly not a car with only two doors.
They’re silent. We’re off the bridge, the car veers onto a small road that
soon becomes a gravel lane. A thin moon hangs in the sky, but there’s
no light, no houses in sight. We come to a dead end. In the sweep of
the car beams, I see open country, and the dark mass of trees. Woods.
The car stops. Darkness all around. They both get out of the car. The
younger one sits on the hood his back turned to me. The driver pushes
his front seat down but my exit is blocked. He leans over and says,
“Take off your clothes,” his tone as if asking for a glass of water.
My body stiffens. There’s a dead weight on my chest. l can’t breathe.
My hands are cold,sweat drips from my armpits. I sit there frozen.
The driver sits awkwardly on the pushed down seat, waiting. I can’t
see his eyes, just the sharp features of his face in profile, a very
straight nose and high forehead. Then he leans over again,
and presses a metal object, a knife, against my chest just below the
rib cage.
“Take them off,” he repeats in the same matter-of-fact tone.
He removes his weapon.
This isn’t Peace and Love, this is serious shit. Can’t fight, can’t run.
Nowhere to run anyway. His partner is off somewhere. Waiting for it to
be over? Don’t know…
I unzip my jean jacket and slowly take it off. My hands are trembling.
Stay cool, don’t bawl. Would only make it worse.
The driver has pulled his seat back up so he can be comfortable,
l guess, but he’s pushed the passenger seat down. Ready for action…
Not looking at me directly, but watching and waiting. I pull my T-shirt
over my head and drape it across my chest… I can feel the backseat
vinyl sticking to my bare skin.
I manage to control the trembling that has taken over my whole body,
and say, in as calm a voice as I can muster,
“Why… why are you doing this?”
Silence.
“I mean… you’re young, you’re not ugly you know… you don’t need
to do this.”
Silence. My words seem to hang in the dim light of the moon.
Somewhere in the woods, a bird’s cry pierces the night.
Maybe if I keep talking, just maybe… He’s looking away, perfectly still.
“There’s no reason for you to act like this. You know… we could get
together the usual way, like… like two human beings…”
“Stop. OK”, he finally says, pulling the passenger seat up.
“Put your shirt on. Come out of there.”
I can’t think. I pull my T-shirt back on, grab my jacket, and
step out of the car. He takes a cigarette pack from his pocket,
hands me a cigarette, and takes one for himself. He lights both,
looks away, and says,
“I’m sorry, I was stoned… I went crazy… Come in the front, I’ll
drive you back.”
The other guy’s sauntering a few yards away from the car. He’s looking
at the ground, hands in his pockets. The driver gestures to him, and
in no time, I’m ensconced in the large seat between the two of them,
sharing the right side with the younger guy who’s holding his skinny
body as far away as he can from me. He’s biting his nails and looking
out of the window.
At that point, I know in my bones that I’m safe, and just like that,
I dissolve in tears. Idiot! The driver grabs a box of Kleenex and hands
it to me. His friend looks away. I feel stupid and grateful, blow my
nose, and calm down after a while.
Soon, we’re over the bridge, and I can see the lights of the city
beckoning ahead of us. Back on Sherbrooke Street, with the traffic,
people strolling in the cool night, the whole episode feels like a bad
dream. The rules, I think — never break the rules.
At the corner of St Hubert and Sherbrooke, the younger guy asks the
driver to stop.
“Do you want me to drop you off at your house?” the driver asks him.
“No, thanks, I’ll walk.” He quickly gets out of the car and disappears
around the corner. I get the idea he doesn’t want me to see where he lives.
As soon as we’re alone, the driver says,
“My name’s Peter. What’s yours?”
“Corinne,” I lie.
“Will you give me your phone number? I’d like to make it up to you.”
Yeah, right…
He pulls a small writing pad out of the glove compartment, and I
scribble a number on it. Before he puts it back, I notice a thin
metal comb with a sharp-pointed handle lying in there.

I have a BA (honours English) from the University of Calgary, and an MA in English from the University of Toronto. I’ve had poetry and essays published in many literary magazines and newspapers. I maintain a semi-parodic blog translating Marcus Aurelieus’s Meditations into “housewife”. A member of the Writer’s Guild of Canada since 2002, I’ve also written for film and TV. I live with my husband and sons in Hudson, Quebec.

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