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The Jacksons

“It was just one of the 2×6 studs in the exterior wall,” said Andrew. “Those studs shrink in the cold, just like everything else does. Every so often the cold will actually make one of them split or crack and that’s what that big bang was. Bernie Belfour says when it gets this cold, living in his timber frame house is like living in the OK Corral.”

“I don’t believe that,” said Rose. “In my opinion, that bang was the sound of absolute zero. It was the sound of the molecules in the air getting so cold they actually stopped moving. That’s why scientists call it a cold snap. Because when it gets cold enough you can actually hear it snap.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Andrew. “But also strangely convincing.”

When he pulled up outside the café in town an hour later, the temperature display on Andrew’s dashboard read -29°, and the weather report on the radio put the wind chill at -52. Uncomfortable, according to the weatherman.

“Cold enough for ya?” said Grant Toews as Andrew took his usual chair at the usual table by the window.

“Meh,” said Andrew. “Just another day in paradise.”

“You think this is cold?” said Andre Bouchard who was in the chair across from Andrew, next to Carl Johnson who had the window chair. “You don’t know from cold, not until you have been in the coldest city in the world.”

Grant gave Andre a disbelieving look. “Let me guess,” he said. “Montreal?”

“Exactement,” said Andre.

“Oh come on,” said Grant. “It’s only 25 below in Montreal this morning. With no wind chill.”

“Ah yes,” said Andre. “But this cold we have here on the Prairie, it’s a dry cold.” He picked up his coffee cup and took a long sip. “In Montreal,” he said setting his cup down on the table, “it’s always humid. It makes everything worse. In summer it’s boiling, but in the winter, mon dieux, the temperature, she goes down down down, like the Canadian dollar in a bad recession. And the humidity in the air, it soaks up all of that cold and it waits for you outside the door and when you step outside, every time it’s like the polar bear dip. You feel like you’re Lady Godiva and you just jumped into the Arctic Ocean. No matter how you dress, if you’re outside for more than 15 minutes, hypothermia starts to set in and you find yourself reciting Robert Service poetry and looking for a place to lie down. I swear you can learn the entire poem of The Cremation of Sam Mcgee just by listening to the poor half-frozen Quebecois who are waiting at the bus stop on Boulevard Henri Bourassa. And you know they’re at least half-frozen when they start reciting English poetry.” He paused then leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “I’m telling you, if we let the separatists take Quebec out of Canada, the whole country will warm up by 10°.”

There was a long silence while the others considered this.

“I will say this for you Andre,” said Grant, “you have a serious knack for hyperbole.”

Andre gave Grant a questioning look. “Hyperbole?” he said.

“Otherwise known as BS,” said Grant.

“It’s not BS if it’s true,” said Andre. “I am offended by your insinuation.”

“My apologies,” said Grant. “I have no wish to cast aspersions on your character. How about we just agree that your childhood memories may have become somewhat exaggerated over the years?”

“Never,” said Andre, “will I agree to such a thing.”

Grant looked around the café. “Anybody here been to Montreal recently?” he said. Everyone in the café turned to look at Grant.

“I was in Montreal last week,” said Carl.

“Ah, good,” said Grant. “Maybe you can convince Andre here, that he’s full of it.”

Carl shivered noticeably. He stared at Andre for a moment, then opened his mouth to speak.

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun, by the men who moil for gold, (he said).

And the Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold…” Carl’s voice trailed off, and there was a moment of silence.

“How cold was it in Montreal last week?” Andrew asked.

“Thirty below,” said Carl, still shivering. “I feel as though I will never be warm again.”

Grant looked at Carl, then at Andre. “My apologies,” he said raising his coffee cup. “Here’s to dry cold.”

“Amen,” said Andrew.

“Brrr,” said Carl.

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