Je ne sais pas quoi faire. Je suis prise entre les deux!”

The speaker?

Une vieille madame—Bourgeois by name—slagged into the crotch of a green plastic chaisse at the Régie du logement.

A far cry, I’m afraid, from the rubicund landlady who’d served champagne with the lease, last May.

Oh yeah baby—in medias res.

How’d she get so mal prise? Who’re her Scylla and Charybdis? What’d they deux to her, câlisse?

Yes, you can bet your sweet asses that backs will be flashed.

I spent five years on the corner of Moffat and Verdun, waiting for my luck to kick in, or the building to give out. When I fell through the balcony, my roommate made the call.

“We’re gonna look at this place,” she smudged through Le Messager. “Jesus Christ! It’s perfection.”

A seven-and-a-half for $750? Washer and dryer? All the bills included?

I could not disagree.

But when the appointment rolled around, my momentum had curdled. No more splinters in my side—and I hadn’t actually hit the pavement.

“Dave, you can see our bathtub through the laundromat ceiling.”

I shook the ants from my shoes.

A quick jaunt down the Avenue and we had found our new place. The owner’s son—Richard—did the honours that day:

“We’ve been here forty years,” he explained. “Original fixtures… chandeliers… three closed bedrooms…”

“Balconies?” my roommate whispered.

“One in the front. One in the back. Both in very good repair. There’s a deck out there too.”

In Balconville this was currency.

“We just had the plumbing redone,” he continued, “but now mom wants a condo. You know how that is. We’re also ditching the canicherie .”

“Aw—no more doggies downstairs? Dave’s a big fan.”

“Don’t you worry then, David. We’ve got a buyer in mind. An excellent groomer. It’s the least we could do. Pour notre clientèle,” he smiled, “et, je suppose, pour vous.”

When we got home, she was manic.

“Where’re my tap dancing shoes?!”

I enjoyed the performance—but I couldn’t help wondering, who would take that third room?

We had a week to decide it, while the references went through. We came up with Carla: a West Island transplant, like me (although not a functionally bilingual one). A decent person on the whole—but kinda volatile too. That didn’t seem very pertinent, when I thought of our refuge.

If I had any doubts at all, they were quashed at the signing. Those Bourgeois were so accommodating.

“Will it be alright if I park my car in back of the store?” Carla wanted to know.

Mais certainement, ma chère!” the radiantly fat lady exploded, as her son poured the bubbly. “This is your new home. We want you to be as comfortable here as we have been, all these years.”

For a moment, I thought I spotted something lewd in the corner of Richard’s eye. But this was quickly forgotten—especially after Carla and our host struck common ground in the vicinity of Atlantis.

Mais c’est incroyable!” She went up a decibel as she danced toward a bookshelf. “Est-ce que vous connaissez Edgar Cayce?”

“Ah yes,” Carla winked. “Some pretty heady questions in those tomes.”

“The world is so beautifully mysterious,” Madame Bourgeois sighed.

Yes, I thought to myself, and mysteries are so much more beautiful when the plumbing works.

***

Everything worked.

We took decadently long showers (that were, in fact, almost certainly shorter than the medieval fumblings that took place under the spittle discharged by the nozzle at the old Moffat place). We washed our sheets twice a week. We plugged in three-pronged things, just because we could. We forgot how to use a plunger.

We had a dinner party.

And people actually came.

Then we met the new owner.

That “excellent groomer”—Rikka Martin.

Reader, I hated her.

We all did—and some of us weren’t very good at managing our hate.

Some of us were Carla.

Back in high school, Carla had bitten a few people. She had also rammed a ladder into a guy’s nuts. It doesn’t get much more cruel or unusual than that.

All of that was in the past. Carla underwent some major renovations during her late-teens. Ten years later, she appeared safe as houses. But the possibility of a relapse could not be discounted.

As you might have guessed, the trouble started in the parking lot—which now, quite suddenly, became Rikka’s backyard (she took up residence somewhere inside the store). One day, Carla drove off to some rendezvous and returned to find a complete patio set and some frolicking poodles in the Holy of Holies. Naturally, she complained—and a compromise was grudgingly established. The next time Carla took a ride, Rikka threw up a fence. Who could’ve predicted that the outraged driver would exact summary revenge—bulldozer style? The groomer responded with some shit of her own, forever tarnishing her reputation as a person who can be trusted with large amounts of dog excrement.

If you think matters ended there—or led to anything sensible, like a murder—you didn’t read the beginning of this story very carefully. This fucker’s goin’ to court. Along the way, Carla will purchase a supersonic dog whistle, Rikka will cut the heat to our magnificent apartment, and all sanity will be lost in the crossfire. Also, almost as an afterthought, they will begin to play up the linguistic dimensions of the fight.

When we could stand to be home at all, my old roommate and I pooled our blankets beneath the cold chandelier. It wasn’t so different from the Moffat days, in terms of pure discomfort, but the revolution of rising expectations had stolen the piss from our sails. Carla abandoned herself to the case and the whistle, rocking quite weirdly to the unheard strains of delusional revenge.

We now had a firm date with the judge—and the last vestiges of courtesy were crumbling. The landlady called our number incessantly, reveling in her power over our bodies: “Je prédis une fin de semaine frigide, les amis!” Carla took note of these incidents with glee. “You see this?” she stroked a burst duotang. “This is the end of Rikka.”

Mother of mercy!

Then she reached for that whistle like a suce.

But now you’re asking yourself—what of Bourgeois? She’s well out of it, no? In her Atlantean condo? I’m sure that’s what she thought. But even the Lost Continent’s within reach of the long arm of The Law.

The thing is: we needed her. Or, anyway, Carla did. To validate her claim re: the parking. It all hinged on that. Establish a verbal agreement and we had a pat hand. Even demolition derby would make synthetic sense. But would Bourgeois remember—or choose to forget?

Carla asked me to call her, since I spoke the best French. I patched into the hotline to the Troisième Age of Aquarius.

Her “Bonjour” was the apex of fuzzed out benevolence.

But the voice declined sharply when she said:

Je m’excuse David, mais je préfère ne pas m’exprimer sur ce sujet.”

“Bitch does not have a choice!” Carla whispered in my ear.

These contracts have undead lives of their own.

They subpoenaed Bourgeois in due course.

At the Régie, two months later, our old friend wore the mask of her stillborn Inner Child. Constant agitation—from both sides of the divide—had severed the Gordian Knot of her bliss. The last champagne bubble popped with it. The judge yawned his way through the testimony and ruled: “This is just normal landlord/tenant friction. Go home.” But Madame Bourgeois had sold her home.

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