One day, while I was taking a quick break from threatening the neighbours, I decided to live out my childhood dream and finally locate the shrivelled balloons of Montreal, or as they call them there, les ballons ratatinés. Most of the literature of my youth contained references to them - "hanging from barren trees in autumnal clusters like perverse wrinkly fruit" was one such memorable description (A.G. Morgan, The Skraeling Time) - but I had been of the mind that these were nothing but myths used to frighten children.
No more. I took a plane to Montreal.
Two hours into the flight I grew fascinated with the engine depending from the wing.
When the attendants explained that I could not open the emergency exit to stand on the wing and snap a few 'pix,' I lost interest in not screaming at them until they fed me free gin-and-tonics.
We landed in the afternoon. The streets of Montreal blended together into a seamless nightmare of monotony, a grey smokey quilt of claustrophobic winter hell. Hatchback after hatchback threw up the same plume of granular brown slush. I thought I was going to die.
Buildings, once vibrant centres of business and recreation, had been overtaken by a fibrous grey lichen.
Shadowy figures inspected me from grimy windows with a weary hostility venting into the cold vacuum of apathy.
Somewhere along the way I got confused and started to to do my job. I set up a few lights in someone's house.
Finally, with only twenty-four hours to go before my flight back home, I spotted les ballons ratatinés in a parking lot off Rue Moreau, looking exactly as they had in all those steel-point engravings.
I reminded myself that the many imprecations against approaching them were no more than bedside stories my father had told me, so I walked over to get a better look.
Man, they were all shrivelled.
What benighted creature? What capricious creator?
I mean, I've taken international flights to look at shrivelled things before, but this made me feel sad and unpleasant.
I flew home the next afternoon and fed my pig, who had grown hungry in my absence. He was as young as the day we had left him, but we had grown tired and old.