Along the wide, empty street out of town, away from the railroad station, the red storefront gleams. It’s a welcome sight among the plate glass and faded displays of canned beans, motor oil, tools, or decades old sewing patterns, depending on the store. It is also a welcome sight beneath the infinite sky, beside the bay that is just the gateway to Hudson’s Bay, to the real Arctic.
You might as well go into the restaurant where you find darkness, warmth, low ceilings, red and gold wallpaper embossed with dragons, all that is missing at the Gateway to the Arctic. You speak to Gordon the waiter with his Canadian accent.
White, unchipped bowls and plates stand at each place setting beneath the astrological placemats. You are relieved to see that your birth year is still the year of the dragon. The water tastes strange, so Gordon recommends an icy can of Coke or a bottle of Molson’s. But you can still drink the same black tea that made your mouth pucker in Central Square in Cambridge. You can still drink it for free just as you did at Larry’s Restaurant.
You might eat the same hot and sour soup and the same greasy egg rolls, dipping them in thin orange sauce or bright yellow mustard. The egg rolls will still shatter as you bite into them. You might eat the same Ma Po tofu that you ate in Worcester, carefully picking out the cubes of pork and piling them on an extra saucer. But Gordon says that everyone loves the beef and broccoli with pork fried rice. The broccoli is Bird’s Eye, better than the brand you’d get back home.
You are so far from home.
But perhaps this restaurant is a mirage meant for you the way that McDonald’s or a fancier burger joint, one with ferns and mixed drinks, would be meant for next week’s couple once they step off the train and walk away from James Bay. The bay no one swims in. The bay that hurts your eyes when you look at it and think about how far you are from home, how far you are from Hudson’s Bay, the real Arctic.