Melanie Janisse-Barlow is a poet, artist, and writer who splits her time between a rum-runners era house in Windsor’s Old Walkerville and a houseboat docked beside Ontario Place. For the next twelve weeks, we’ll be posting one chapter a week from Janisse-Barlow’s new memoir, Kalinka. Candid, raw, and full of references to our beloved city, Kalinka is a collection of stories about a woman, a man, and how life on Kalinka, their houseboat, has shaped their journey. We’re excited to share Janisse-Barlow’s writing with you and also delighted to pair with local illustrator Emily May Rose. Read previous installments here.
Andrew uses his Get Smart pass to open the gate in the parking garage on Queens Quay and negotiates the over-packed car into a spot on the second floor near the elevator. I hate parking garages. They are the opposite of stars. They are dank and full of secrets and urine in the corners. They promise nothing but creepy men and loneliness.
A long time ago, there was a parking garage in Detroit where we used to go to drink beer. It was built in the middle of on old theatre and it wasn’t until you were at the top, and you could see the domed plaster ceilings, that you understood that the whole damn thing was built in the ruin of something else. If you looked over the edge, you could see the stage framed still by its crumbling velvet curtains.
Andrew kills the ignition and looks over at me.
“Ok. Phase two: The wind corridor. You ready?”
“What is the wind corridor?”
“Oh, just the walk to the ferry, lined with death.”
“Nope. Never ready for that.”
He laughs and undoes his seatbelt. I awkwardly pull on my boots and wrestle with my puffy coat. I am enthusiastic. I feel tough. I puff up my resolve to match my coat.
I played tough when you took me into the old train station in Southwest Detroit, but I was afraid. I was afraid to slice my foot open on the towers of twisting metal or to slip on the uneven ground. I was afraid to be afraid, because I didn’t want you to think that I was too soft. You had a neat stack of marble that you had taken from there in the corner of your studio. You had plans for it, you said, as we listened to records. As I knelt in front of your feet the fire had already started climbing in the rafters, even though we didn’t know it yet. It was much later, when we were cleaning up, that it struck me: on our first date we were surrounded by flames.
We open the car doors and I meet my feet for the first time in hours. They are able to prop me up in the concrete parking garage, pins and needles tucked into my clunky boots. I acclimatize to standing.
Andrew takes out the cart. The cart had become a bit of a joke between us over the past months. There is no islander without a cart of some kind. They are an extension of each islander. Some are small and cloth; others are wagons and wood. Some attach to bikes and some are bikes. Each cart is vital to the transport of all things from the mainland to the island and back again, and they have in their very structure the lessons learned and the time spent getting things where they need to go.
Once Andrew got wise to the essential nature of the cart, he spent weeks shopping for the right one. It needed to be sturdy, large and sport hearty wheels. There were many evenings spent trolling the internet looking for a cart that would hold up, hold amplifiers, guitars, lunch groceries, soldering irons, long johns. He came home one afternoon triumphant, having found the perfect one at Home Depot, on sale for twelve dollars. It was royal navy blue and folded out into a large rectangle of netting.
The cart had been through a lot already in the first few weeks of Andrew’s island life. It was worn. The wheels were nicked quite a bit and some of the netting had been torn and mended with a sailing needle and some strong thread. Andrew wrestles it out of the trunk, creaking the hinges open. He pauses, scanning the remaining contents of the trunk to assess what should go into the cart first. In the meanwhile, I begin to haul out my luggage on wheels and assemble a balancing act of small bags on top.
“Operation fill the cart is underway.”
“Operation balance the stuff is complete.”
“Ready? We have nine minutes until the ferry.”
He looks up from placing the last and the lightest bag on the top of the cart, his backpack slung over one shoulder.
“Nope, still not ready, husband friend. But it’s time to face the wind corridor, isn’t it?”
We look at each other nervously and laugh and begin towards the elevator. It takes a few minutes, but the elevator finally arrives with a thug-thunk and opens its slow, heavy doors – the jaws of an old beast. When we emerge from its painfully slow descent, we are down to seven minutes and some change to get to the ferry on time.
You ate Red River cereal every morning and made tidy drawings with rulers. You were infinite patience as I unstrung myself and disappeared into a mysterious corner of the Cass Corridor, where the pheasants could be seen plainly from a wide porch, where everyone sat nursing something. Where there was ache and song and long afternoons waiting for shift. Where I went to wait with others, who were aching and incapable of routine, for something to open.
I immediately resent the configuration of my luggage, which, back in Windsor, felt like a tidy, been-commuting-to-an-island-for-years set up. The curbs stick out everywhere, with dips in all of the wrong spots. Before we even leave the entryway to the building, it has already tipped over twice, sending the bags balanced on top to the ground. I re-pile them up, twice, feeling the lean of a mean wind against me, as we emerge onto Queens Quay.
Once on Queens Quay, everything is impossible. My temper is creeping up from under me, threatening my balance. I am becoming my bags. I want to throw all of my items around the street, just to help them on their way, as the wind is determined to carry them away anyhow. Each time the gusts topple my bags, I re-pile them with overdone, purposeful gestures laced with outrage.
Andrew is slightly ahead, composed, intact, while I explode every four or five steps. His long, thin body, nestled in his old VIA Rail winter parka is curled over slightly, sheltering his face from the wind, allowing him to reach the handle of his cart. He slices it through the wind, gracefully, occasionally looking back at me, trying not to laugh, but slightly irritated too. He and his cart are managing this walk with a degree of dignity.
I remember you. I remember you. You were tall in your trench coat. Thin. You were a crow and a prince, your gold signet ring fixed onto your pinkie. It made a dent where it hit your guitar. The guitar that was custom-made for you by a man who spent his life working on the line in Detroit. It sits in the corner of our living room, beaconing. I remember you, high on acid, smoking elegantly in a booth listening to Luxury Christ. But I also remember you from before this.