Sun, Nov
16
2003

The Night Girl - Conversations With Mother

Sun, Nov 16, 2003

Night Girl

I’ve been talking politics a lot because of all the interesting political things that have been happening in Canada, for once, but I also feel that my fiction writing has stalled out, a bit. I guess that’s to be expected given all of the time I’ve spent on the road and the scramble at my work, but I still miss it. I hope some time comes soon when I can get back to some serious writing.

I have done some editing, however. The Young City has had about a thousand words chopped out of it and is starting to come together as a cleaned-up draft (still needs work, however), and I’m just off looking over the beginnings of the second chapter of The Night Girl. This part doesn’t sustain the weirdness of the first chapter, but I think it has its moments.

If you haven’t read The Night Girl so far, the opening is here, with a continuation here (in both cases, Perpetua Viktoria Collins bears her original name of Viktoria [or Viqtoria]). The section, with Perpetua’s name settled, follows directly on from chapter 1…

Perpetua lived in a one room apartment with a very small attached bathroom. Battered furniture lined the walls; a futon couch bed, a small bookcase of science fiction novels and mounds of laundry. The linoleum floor around the kitchen counter and refrigerator was stained, but swept clean. A pile of dishes rested in the sink.

The one window faced east, and that was the last thing Perpetua wanted to see this early in the day. Black drapes were hooked over the curtain rods, letting only thin beams of sunlight to cast shafts over the swirling dust. Perpetua slept beneath them in a long t-shirt, her blankets twisted around her, her pillow clutched to her chest.

The muffled roar of traffic sidled in through the walls. In the laneway below, somebody clattered into a set of garbage cans and ran off. Inside, a scrawny grey cat stopped playing with a toilet roll and launched itself over her bed and hooked its claws on the drapes. They slipped off and fell on Perpetua with a thump.

She gave a muffled groan. “Pixel!” She clawed at the drapes, like a swimmer seeking the surface. She pulled herself into open air and sat up, straight into the beam of sunlight.

She covered her eyes and yelled.

She tossed the cat and the drapes to the floor. “Stupid cat.” She flopped back into bed and buried her face in the pillow.

The minutes ticked on. Outside, the city rumbled. The steam pipes clicked. The cat crunched its food and lapped at its water.

Then, in the Chinese restaurant the floor below, the steel drum wok band started to practice.

Perpetua moaned and planted the pillow over her head. “Can it get any worse?”

The phone rang.

Pixel shot up onto Perpetua’s back. She swatted at him. The cat dodged and yowled. Perpetua sat up to fling the pillow, and leaned into sunlight. She clutched her eyes and yelled.

The phone rang again, and the answering machine picked up.

Perpetua’s recorded voice answered. “Hi. You missed me. You know what to do.”

“Perpetua Viktoria Collins,” shouted the shrill voice on the machine. “I left you sixteen messages on your answering machine. Sixteen! I counted!”

Perpetua lifted her pillow an inch and peered at her clock radio. It was ten in the morning. Much too early to deal with Mother.

“After all this time you still haven’t called me back. Maybe in the big city people forget about their family responsibilities, but is it really too much to ask that you can take a few minutes out of your busy day to call your mother?”

Perpetua pulled the pillow down, hard. She didn’t care if she suffocated. At least, then, she’d be asleep.

Her mother’s voice rattled on. “Isn’t it typical, kids these days, out at all hours, never home, never responsible, never happy to talk to their mothers, getting into trouble even though I told you so. You’re not even there, are you? You’re just letting the answering machine pick up these messages and ignore me while you go gallavanting around town, too busy to give your mother the time of day—”

Perpetua threw the pillow aside and grabbed the phone. “Mother, I’m here!”

“Why aren’t you at work?”

Perpetua’s knuckles whitened. “Look, I’m sorry, mother, but I was busy.” She flinched as her mother squawked. “Yes, I can be busy evenings— No, mother, I wasn’t at some club, not that it’s any of your business. Mother, I’m nineteen, I’m old enough to drink if I want to— No, mother, I wasn’t out drinking!” She took a deep breath. “Mother. Mother. Mother.” She gathered herself and pushed past her mother’s barrage of words. “Mother, look, I was out that evening because I had a job interview.”

Her mother’s barrage ebbed, but took on a suspicious tone.

“Yes, mother, people have can job interviews at night. After all, it’s for a night job.” She pinched her nose. “No, mother, I’m a secretary. I work from 8 at night to 4 in the morning.” Another squawk. “I’m a secretary. I’m a real secretary. I make coffee, write letters, everything. I’m, like, a night girl.”

She grit her teeth. “No, mom, that’s not a euphamism for a prostitute!”

Mom’s squawks intensified.

Perpetua closed her eyes. She took a deep breath. Then another. Then another. Then, spotting a discarded newspaper, she picked it up and started crumpling up a sheet. “Mother? Mother, I’m sorry, but you’re breaking up. You must be passing under a bridge. You’re at home? Then I must be passing under a bridge. Sorry. I don’t know how much longer this connection will—” She hung up. After a moment’s pause, she unhooked the phone.

Below her, there was a crash and a sizzle. Somebody cried out and started swearing.

Perpetua looked around her cramped apartment and its grubby walls. She took a deep breath. Then she blinked, feeling strangely elated. Here she was, the girl from Grand Bend, standing in the middle of her one room apartment, overtop the noisiest kitchen in all of East Chinatown, just off the phone with her mother, and she didn’t feel trapped. Why was that? Of course: it was the job. A job working for a crazy man, but with a weekly paycheque of $880. Or $3520 per month. $2700 after taxes.

She thought about what sort of place $2700 a month could pay for. A second room, at least. Possibly something over a convenience store instead of a restaurant. Possibly in the West Annex instead of East Chinatown. Possibly even a decent bath, cable TV, and maybe a phone that blocks messages from your mother.

Her mouth quirked up a little, and she slipped into the bathroom for a shower.

Now was as good a time as any to start the day.


Perpetua wandered the streets of Toronto, rucksack over her shoulder, ignoring the sun’s heat on her black, swishy cloth dress. If the heat got too much for her, she knew where she could find air conditioning. The complex of malls beneath the streets of Toronto’s financial district was cold enough to hang meat in summertime. She should enjoy the heat while it lasted.

She hopped off the streetcar amid a sea of cars and a river of pedestrians. She slipped through the powersuits and dodged the swinging briefcases, past a hot dog vendor selling veggie dogs to passers by. Nobody took him up on the offer. She made for the glass doors of the Bank of Montreal building, and stopped as the light turned against her.

The square with the bull fountain stood kitty-corner to her. She found herself staring at the statue. The early afternoon sun gleamed off the wet bronze and the spray raised a faint rainbow. It stood as still as statues should, frozen fish bathing its armpits in jets of water. Wave after wave of pedestrians passed her, strobing the fountain square with passing bodies.

In one flash, she thought she saw the bull half-turn, glance at her, but another blink showed it sitting as it was.

The light turned green. Perpetua shouldered through the crowds and stumbled into the building.


With Angel’s Lineage, the series clicks back into high gear. The episode was well executed and had a good script and good acting. The robotic ninjas looked cool, and the whole thing kept me guessing to the end.

Be warned that spoilers follow in the next few paragraphs.

There was also a great movement in the whole season with this episode. Hints that the Watchers’ Council are rebuilding brings up the events of the last season of Buffy and reminds us that the world is now full of unwatched, full-fledged Slayers. Is the rebuilding Watcher’s Council the reason why Buffy is in Europe? And, if the Watcher’s Council isn’t out to get Angel and Wolfram & Hart, who is? Those robot ninjas were, by their previous assaults, working on the side of light, so to speak. Finally, we’re again reminded of the part that Angel has to play in the coming apocalypse, and hints that we might actually have to deal with this before the series ends.

But the highlight of this episode was the relationship between Wesley and his father. The father was well cast and the two actors had the perfect estranged father-son chemistry throughout. The great shock at the climax of the episode ranks as one of the best moments in the series’ history, perfectly executed by Alexis Denisof. Wesley’s “father” didn’t even get to finish his sentence, for heaven’s sake: he just swings his gun towards Fred and then “BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!”, followed by his complete reaction of horror afterward. I can see why Dan thought for a moment that Wesley would jump from the building afterward.

This episode was a definite success, raising a lot of questions for the rest of the season to handle. They slumped slightly with the last two episodes, so I’m hoping that Lineage is the start of a trend.


On This Day

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