Home » Fiction & Literature » John Woolfrey » East of the Big Q

February 22 , 2009

East of the Big Q


The title refers to the huge letter Q on the office tower of Hydro-Québec, the province-owned electricity company, on the eastern edge of downtown Montreal. In 1974, nineteen-year-old James wakes up after the first night with his new, separatist boyfriend: 

"The kittens had awakened me. As Sébastien slept, I raised myself to peer outside his bedroom window. Big, fluffy flakes of snow were still gently falling. The twin rows of kitchen window sills and decrepit wooden balconies flanking the view were covered with the dim, night-time white of the snow that had fallen. Through the scrim of the falling snow I could make out the fuzzy outline of the big letter Q with its lightning-bolt tail on the Hydro-Québec building. That’s when I knew for sure I was in the east side of Montreal. The French-speaking east side, where my mother told me never to go, with its winding outdoor staircases, rich-tasting coffee, the smell of natural gas—maybe even a harpsichord or viola da gamba—and black-haired men who know how to make love with their bodies and souls. 

"It was still snowing the next morning as I left his flat and trudged though the snow. Halfway along I stopped to look around. Everything was so quiet, the air smelled so clean, the snow on the curving staircases and rusting mansard roofs so white and fresh, my footsteps the only tracks. The lovemaking that had reached so deep within my soul the night before glowed right to my skin and I’m sure from my eyes. Transported emotionally as well as physically, I knew I was coming back. 

The first three stories are from the narrator’s somewhat bizarre and hopefully humourous coming of age. Sixteen years later he joins other gays who settle the new Village Gai, as does the inevitable AIDS. These stories are about the men he and his buddy Michael meet: hot French boys from Montreal and small Quebec towns; anglos from Montreal and English-Canadian towns and cities; boys who live with AIDS and HIV every day. These stories move through the seasons from joyful, lustful spring and summer and into the cold yet romantic seasons, when all Montrealers act out their balletic lives against the backdrop of eternal snows. 

I think these stories will appeal to everyone, straight or gay, English Canadian or Québécois, and to any one curious about Montreal. Like the window through which James spots the big Q, and like the window where red geraniums hide a story, this collection offers a window for story hounds to look through into the secrets of mysterious Montréal. 

Special thanks to Judyth Mermelstein, consulting editor, Julia Braga for cover design, Kent and Fran for getting me started, and all the readers for their constructive criticism. 

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