By Heather Lowe
This is the fifth of many excerpts from Heather Lowe’s novella titled Catharine.It explores her love affair with downtown St. Catharines through a series of shamelessly exaggerated vignettes.
The end of the summer was filled with billowing dust clouds as the city streets were noisily demolished, returned to their dirt beginnings and resized. Sidewalks disappeared daily and local business owners grumbled under their collective breath about the mess, loss of clientele and general inconvenience. The construction seemed to be unending, the downtown became a gravel jungle gym and there was little hope in keeping any storefront window or automobile clean for long. Just as the summer ended the two-way traffic was nearly completed and the dust began to settle temporarily.
The cold that rolled in happened abruptly, like an unplanned landing due to bad weather. The leaves began to change and the city became desolate and dark. The air outside began to gain a sharp bite and the downtown crowds soon became unrecognizable. Known friends were carded and dismissed at local haunts, skirts seemed to shrink in spite of the biting air and many locals quickly dispersed to strategically disappear and hibernate for the winter months. The change in the air and the impromptu evacuation of familiar faces could mean only one thing: The Scholars are ba-ack.
The local university sits high over our garden city on a rigid and perilous hill like the Addams Family Mansion. The top of the tower stares down at the downtown core with a threat of the weekend. Every Friday night, like some ominous repeated ritual the numerous scholars from atop the hill bleed down toward the downtown strip. They flood the royal intersection and withdraw their dwindling student loans only to freeze in nightclub lineups, annihilate their livers and stain the sidewalks with saucy chicken pitas and tall-cans they snuck onto our seemingly oblivious transit system. The poor bartenders of downtown sense the scholars returning presence, the small hairs on the backs of their necks lift slightly, they shudder collectively and brace themselves for the waves that are inevitably advancing. They quickly ensure that there is enough lemon-lime coolers, east coast “IPAs” and Mcgilli-something liqueurs to last through the night; to run out would only anger the crowds. A half filled pint of ale shakes and pulsates on the wooden bar of the pub as if somewhere someone let loose a Tyrannosaurus rex. We hear the Scholars as they pour down the hill screaming, “wooing” and foaming at the mouth from the drinking game induced dehydration.