We lived on Macdonald Street from the time I was eleven or so. A dead-end street, over the fence was the steel foundry. Beyond that railroad tracks and beyond that the racetrack. Blue Bonnets. Almost every day in summer I’d walk down the dirt road past the foundry and tracks to the stables and wander around soaking up racetrack culture. What kid doesn’t love horses? I’d scratch their faces, pat them, talk to them, talk to the grooms and trainers, inhale that wonderful horsehit perfume. God, I loved that smell.
When I looked a little older I’d go to the track itself at night. I might have been thirteen. You had to be eighteen or nineteen, probably. But this was Quebec, where rules were meant to be challenged, not necessarily followed. There were ten races a night. After the seventh they dropped the gate fee and that’s when I went. I learned how to interpret the racing form and made a few bets. Two dollars on the favourite to show. You couldn’t bet safer than that. Over a few nights I won about six dollars. Then I lost. I quit there and then, never bet again.
One night I was woken up by the sound of Hell. Insane horse cries and screams, wailing sirens, pandemonium. I looked out my window and the sky was aflame. The radio said Blue Bonnets was on fire. I was terrified and thrilled. That sick thrill of of unimaginable horror. It went on for hours and I eventually fell asleep.
The next day I went to the stables. Half were devastated, smoking rubble, burnt-up horses with their bellies split open mixed up with the ashes and charred embers. It was the most awful death scene I’d ever witnessed and it sickened me to my soul.