I Speak English...
I let my fingertips brush against the fabric of each item on the rack. It's a habit of mine that I can't remember ever technically beginning. I like my clothes soft - preferably 100% cotton, or angora when available. I value feel over fit.
From the corner of my eye I notice a red blazer; its color is jarring against the sea of neutrals this season seems to be obsessed with. The mannequin wearing it shows me that its lining is a contrasting, white pin-stripe. I expect polyester, as we are in a mid-range department store, or cheap wool, maybe - scratchy - but when my hand grazes against the pocket, I am surprisingly met with knit-fleece.
"A sweatshirt blazer!?" I think to myself, and immediately start looking for my size.
We have been in Montreal for just shy of a week now. Crossing the border eight hours from our home, without ever even needing to leave the state. I never quite comprehend just how large New York is.
Renting a third-floor walk up, we've been immersing ourselves in the city: Atwater Market, Mount Royal Park, The Biodôme, and the small grocery over on Rue de la Montagne, where we buy cheese, and wine - always wine. I walk the streets holding a bottle of red, and a bag of groceries - a baguette peaks out over its edge. I haven't been to Europe yet, so, for now, Canada will have to make do.
This is the first family vacation where the entire family is not together. Three out of four brothers have been left behind, two with their respective wives, and I've brought a friend along for the trip. It's nice, pretending to be nuclear.
To save money we aren't eating out much. Mom makes lentils for dinner, and we pack sandwiches before heading out each day. When we arrive at Atwater Market, we stock up on fresh, local produce, and find ourselves lost among the stands. Butchers, grocers, florists, all shouting their sales:
"Deux pour le prix d'un!"
"Un acheté, un gratuit!"
My parents and I all took french in high school - I the most recent student, my mom the highest scoring of us all, and my father, the failure, by the standards of romance languages - yet all three of us are lost. The language is quick and each peddler's pitch muddles with the one besides them; we walk along through a thick, french, din.
Over the week we've been attempting to utilize our regents skills.
My mother and I are impressed by our own recall, each of us silently disappointed at how few opportunities we've had to use the conjugation and vocabulary we've been storing for all these years.
She seems to materialize from nothing. One moment I am alone, in awe at a blazer being this soft, and the next second my mother is over my shoulder, telling me that she thinks it looks cute.
"You have to feel it!"
"You have to buy it," she retorts. Together we gather our items, and head towards the next room.
Before long we are lost. A labyrinth of clothing racks, and faceless mannequins modeling their wares - in my head I implore my mind to recall the word for register.
"There has to be a sign, right?"
I don't ask for help well. I tend to just wander aimlessly, walking in circles if necessary, until I happen upon what I need. My mother, however, doesn't see the benefit in this.
"Excusez-moi," she states proudly, motioning towards a shop clerk. The young teenager steps over.
"Où est le..."
The conversation started in hubris has quickly turned.
"Je suis... uhmm... je veux... non, non... une minute s'il vous plait." My mom is flustered now, trying desperately to recall a word from school-days long gone. Her cheeks have reddened in concentration and embarsassement. The shop-clerk stands respectively, allowing her time to gather her words.
"Je veux payer pour les..."
"Les... uhm, ugh, how do you say it!?" Pour les vêtements?" The sentence ends with high-pitched inflection - an unintended question. You can see her thinking:
"That is the word for clothes, right?"
A few seconds pass and now she is sure she got it right. The classroom memory surfacing, as her face beams with pride.
The shop clerk smiles sweetly, no doubt confused from the Franglish that has just been hurled at her. My mom must appear to be finally finished with her attempt, for in one swift motion the shop-clerk's mouth opens to respond:
"I speak English... the registers are just through that archway to your left."