Lori Hahnel's Love Minus Zero

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

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    Calgary’s Langevin Bridge, as it once was. This week,  city councillors renamed  this historic river crossing the Reconciliation Bridge.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library  Postcards from the the Past )

Calgary’s Langevin Bridge, as it once was. This week, city councillors renamed this historic river crossing the Reconciliation Bridge. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the the Past)

Kate’s old high school friend, Maggie is in town from Seattle. They meet at the Unicorn to catch up. It’s been fifteen years since they hung out together in Calgary's seedy National Hotel. Since then, both women have built new lives, and Maggie’s is swerving sideways. Her business partner has cheated her and there are dark shadows in her past. The two friends leave the Unicorn and find Maggie’s red Lexus rental. As Maggie screeches through downtown, little does Kate know that Maggie has decided to end her life on the Langevin bridge.

 

I dug my fingernails into the black leather seat, tried to find something to hold on to, as Maggie floored it and steered hard to the left. Suddenly we seemed to move in slow motion, and the car ripped surprisingly easily through the guardrail with a sickening grinding of metal against metal. Then we were airborne, sailing like a hang-glider over the Bow River.

In a strange moment of calm, fear left me. I realized I’d been over this bridge maybe a thousand times before, but never noticed the view until now, late afternoon sun sparkling on the surface of the green river. I also realized that this was big. This would be in the papers the next morning and on TV that very night. A-Channel was probably somewhere down there with a camera already. No doubt they’d interview the group of homeless men who enjoyed the weather on the grassy south side of the river, oblivious to the strange sight above them. Then the solid ground of the north riverbank rushed up toward the car and fear gripped my drunken heart once more. Oh, to be able to speak, to be able to articulate the terror, the now almost certain knowledge that the last taste ever tasted in my mouth would be beer. Only it wasn’t the taste of National Hotel draft, that sweet taste I’d never know again on this earth.

 

Lori Hahnel, Love Minus Zero (Oberon Press, 2008)


Lori Hahnel's "Good Friday, at the Westward"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

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    The Westward Inn at 119-12th Ave SW, in its previous incarnation as the New Noble Motor Hotel, circa 1950s. As the Westward, the bar  was a hot-spot for touring bands  like The Tragically Hip and Nirvana in the 1980s and early 1990s. These days as Hotel Arts, the place attracts a chic but no less hip clientele. (Photo: Glenbow Museum)

The Westward Inn at 119-12th Ave SW, in its previous incarnation as the New Noble Motor Hotel, circa 1950s. As the Westward, the bar was a hot-spot for touring bands like The Tragically Hip and Nirvana in the 1980s and early 1990s. These days as Hotel Arts, the place attracts a chic but no less hip clientele. (Photo: Glenbow Museum)

Cheryl and her friends start the night out with magic mushrooms in a dingy bar at the Westward Inn, their usual weekend hangout. Cheryl is anxious ­– “Mushrooms. A bar. On Good Friday.” Catholic guilt nags at the back of her mind. The bar at the Westward is dead. Her friend Will suggests they head over to the Bowness Hotel to see his friend’s band. Cheryl’s anxious about that, too. Vancouver has changed Will. Longer hair, a sparse beard he strokes obsessively, “a snob all of a sudden. If he didn’t still make my heart beat faster, I’d be mad at him.”

 

Before I know what’s happening we’re crammed in a cab, got a ticket for our destination, and the anxiety creeps back up again. This isn’t what we’d planned at all. We’d planned to take the mushrooms at Tess’ and my place, walk a few blocks to the Westward and see some bands. Now we’re on our way to the Bowness Hotel. It’s far away. And I’ve never been there before. Isn’t it scary, creepy, run-down, full of bikers and career drinkers? But the others seem calm, unworried. Of course, that’s not unusual for Will. Nothing ever ruffles him. He’s stubborn in his refusal to worry, or maybe that’s how he wants to come off. Sometimes I think he does it just to aggravate me. But. No point in being upset now. The Bowness Hotel it is. Big, wet snowflakes swirl out of a dull purple sky and I take a deep breath as we pull into the parking lot.

 

Lori Hahnel, “Good Friday, at the Westward,” The Prairie Journal (Fall 2012)

 


Lori Hahnel's Love Minus Zero

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

The National Hotel, 1042 - 10th Ave, SE (Photo: Alberta Culture)

The National Hotel, 1042 - 10th Ave, SE (Photo: Alberta Culture)

Kate Brandt is forty-something, divorced and working part-time at the Mount Royal College library. A lifetime ago, she haunted Calgary’s punk rock scene, playing guitar in an all-girl band called Misclairol. The seedy downtown bars of the early 1980s where she performed are history. The National Hotel is shuttered; the Calgarian Hotel has burned down; and the Long Bar on Eighth Avenue is long gone. At a friend’s wedding, Kate reconnects with her old flame and fellow punk rocker, Niall. When they dance, she feels the familiar heat. They take their drinks outside the Hillhurst-Sunnyside community hall and catch up on the years. Niall, a lawyer's kid who grew up in the posh part of town, is still drifting.  As the sun goes down, Kate tells him that, after a lifetime in Calgary, she’s decided to move on.

I used to defend Calgary when people would put it down. But a few years ago, I don’t know if it’s the city or me or what, I realized I couldn’t stand it anymore… It’s all about the money. It’s about driving your SUV for an hour from your half-million dollar 5000-square foot house in the suburbs to pay $25 to park downtown every day. People are stressed, rushed, grim. The place is like Toronto but without the arts scene. So why would an old lefty punk rocker stay here?

Lori Hahnel, Love Minus Zero (Oberon Press, 2008)