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The girl who was saturda.., p.12
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       The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.12

           Heather O'Neill
 

  “Well, those days are over, aren’t they?” Nicolas said.

  Nicolas wasn’t giving me a chance to respond to anything our father said. Étienne was quiet and looked awkward for a moment. Then he raised up his can of beer into the air.

  “My beautiful, beautiful children. Today is the luckiest of days, isn’t it? Today I had two children instead of one. Nineteen years ago today.”

  “We’re twenty years old,” Nicolas said. “Twenty!”

  “Of course, I’m just feeling flustered today because I’m full of ideas. I’m excited. I get inaccurate when I’m excited.”

  “What are you excited about?” Nicolas asked. He narrowed his gaze, suddenly suspicious.

  “There’s a very tasteful reporter named Hugo who wants to do a segment on us all. He’s doing a special on all the old rowdy gang. Where they are now.”

  “What the hell?” said Nicolas. “Who in the hell is Hugo? You know how I feel about Hugos.”

  “You don’t even know where this conversation is going, my boy. Hugo has some interesting ideas. I’ve been looking for a venue to express some of the ideas that I’ve been developing. I think it would be a good vehicle for me to launch my album. It’ll be a concept album. Part song, part memoir. Between my songs I’m going to read bits of my life story. This documentary will be broadcast nationally. I want to have a scene of myself standing on the bridge in Parc La Fontaine, reciting the lyrics to ‘Pamplemousse vert.’ It will be lovely, no?”

  “Putrid would more likely be the word I was looking for,” Nicolas said. “What do you need us for?”

  “He’s pitched the whole family. You’re not going to leave your own father high and dry, are you? I thought that they could just film us doing something normal. We can be shown eating sandwiches. You two can be roller-skating in the park. You’ll look so cute, n’est-ce pas? We can take a paddleboat around the pond with the swans in it.”

  What a lovely portrait he was painting for a seven-year-old Nicolas and Nouschka. He hadn’t been clueless. Some parents didn’t know how the hell to act, but Étienne had just proven that he knew exactly how a happy family would spend an afternoon. We had never actually done anything like that together.

  Nicolas looked over at me and saw the stricken look that I must have had on my face. He motioned to me quickly that he was going to take care of this. As he stood up, Nicolas’s chair fell over behind him. Étienne stood up at the same time. They looked so much alike. Étienne’s skin was darker and his black hair was thinning, but other than that, the resemblance was uncanny.

  “Are you out of your mind!” Nicolas said. “And why are you bringing this up on our birthday? This is supposed to be a private celebration, not a business meeting.”

  “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do certain things for you, Nico. I’ve never been sure what it was that you wanted from me.”

  “Advice! Why don’t you give us advice! Why don’t you take an interest and try to guide us once in a while. You know? Guide us through these troubled times.”

  “I can do that. Let me give it a shot.”

  Étienne looked like giving us advice was completely out of his depth. I think he would have preferred something a little more concise—like picking up our laundry or mailing some letters for us. But he decided to go before he revealed by virtue of his sitting there that he had no guidance whatsoever at the tip of his tongue.

  “So no documentary then?” Étienne said as he was getting his coat.

  “I don’t think you realize it,” Nicolas said, “but I dream of slicing the throats of these types of idiots. I would relish stabbing them in their hearts with a salad fork.”

  “My dear boy, you have always had a startling inclination toward hyperbole. It’s truly remarkable. It would even be remarked upon in the courts of Louis XIV.”

  “Why don’t you ask Noëlle if she wants to be in the documentary?”

  “Who?” Étienne said.

  Étienne looked to me for help. I was always the one who was able to talk Nicolas into performing when we were kids. I decided to take Nicolas’s side. Étienne didn’t even know who Nicolas was talking about when he mentioned our mother. I didn’t want to pretend that we were a loving and close-knit family. There was something horrific about it. It shone a light on something I wanted kept in the dark.

  “Nouschka, fais-moi un sourire.”

  “No,” I said quietly.

  “Fine then. I will ask them to leave. For all I know, they might be recording this unpleasantness right now.”

  We were suddenly confused. There was a jarring inconsistency between what Étienne was saying and reality. He was talking about the documentary film crew as if they were here in the room, when clearly they were not. Nicolas grasped the situation before I did and said, “Where are they?”

  “They’re out in the hallway.”

  Nicolas went and threw open the door, and sure enough, there was the documentary crew. They were standing with their equipment, crammed together in the hallway. They weren’t even really ashamed.

  “Should we leave?” Hugo asked.

  Étienne was immediately in character. He would know how to salvage this moment. He probably felt protected now that the camera was on—the only thing that truly adored him and never let him down. Everyone in the crew positioned themselves quickly and started taping.

  “Well, my darlings,” Étienne said, turning to bid us adieu, “who can believe that another birthday is here? Celebrate your youth, my darlings. Blow out your candles and make sure that you wish for immortality.”

  The cat slipped out the door after Étienne.

  Nicolas slammed the door behind them. But we could still hear them as they departed.

  Étienne began to sing an old song about an elephant that gets a peanut stuck up its nose. I hadn’t thought about that song in a long time. I always assumed the song had a deeper meaning, although I had no idea what it could be. Now as an adult, I still didn’t know. How could you not love someone who came up with songs like that? That was the trouble with people with talent. That was the reason that they got away with murder.

  “I am done with that man,” Nicolas said for the millionth time in his life.

  I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it. Yes, he was here again trying to use us. It somehow never prevented me from enjoying the show. I never took Étienne seriously or got outraged at him. Nicolas was the only person who made me livid, and he could do that pretty easily these days.

  Later that night I found an undershirt with anchors on it stuck between the mattress and the wall. The tag said LACOSTE. It was obviously Adam’s. I inhaled the shirt deeply. It still smelled like him. I went into the bathroom with it. I took off all my clothes except my underwear and put the undershirt on. I stood in front of the mirror and watched myself put on some lipstick.

  “I’m finished with you,” I told myself as I puckered my lips. “I’ve lost all respect for you. Look, we had a good run. I just think that it was a mistake.”

  I put a towel on the floor and lay down on it. We could never masturbate in our own bed because the other one was there. I imagined that Adam was going down on me. I imagined Hugo was filming me through the window, encouraging me to come. God knows who we became when we masturbated. It was like our desire was a spirit that possessed us and took over.

  Nicolas started banging on the door. I couldn’t even find a place in this apartment to have a sexual fantasy without Nicolas barging in. I stood up and put my dress back on over the undershirt and flushed the toilet.

  I flung open the door.

  “Niaiseux!” I yelled, with my hands flying open toward his face, like a startled dove.

  “Osti de conne!” he yelled back.

  I moved to my right to get around him, but he moved to his left. And then when I went to my left, he went to his right. And so on and so on. There was no way that we could imagine how either of us could ever possibly find our way out of that apartment. We were just going to spend the rest
of our lives running away from each other and bumping into each other. The tiny apartment was a labyrinth and Nicolas was the Minotaur in every closet and every room.

  CHAPTER 22

  The Owl and the Pussycat

  WHEN LOULOU WALKED INTO THE APARTMENT, I noticed that he had confetti in his hair. I looked out the window. The street was blocked off and people were heading down toward Boulevard René-Lévesque. It was L’Assomption de Marie. It was always at the very end of summer. Everybody went to every kind of festival in Montréal in the summertime. We were always in party mode, having been temporarily granted clemency by the winter.

  “I forgot the fair was today,” I said.

  “Yeah, it’s right outside the door.”

  “Do you want to go back with me?”

  “It’s all that Catholic crap. You know I don’t go for that shit.”

  Loulou had had enough with Catholicism when he was little. When he was a kid, everybody attributed everything to God. You couldn’t ride a bicycle unless you said a brief prayer. They couldn’t suck a lollipop in public until 1960. He had to comb his hair to the side and have a visible part until 1966. It was the way that God wanted it.

  “My Christ of a coffee machine is broken, tabernacle of the chalice,” Loulou yelled out from the kitchen. Even after the decline of the Catholic Church, the Québécois loved to use religious words in vain in almost miraculous ways.

  I went down the stairs as a neighbour’s cat climbed up them in the opposite direction. It was wearing a teeny bell around its neck that played a Bartók tune. I stepped out into the bright light and walked down toward the fair by myself. There were wires criss-crossing the street with light bulbs suspended from them. At that moment, a little parade passed in front of me. A group of men in suits was carrying a float with a ten-foot Virgin Mary on their shoulders. I looked up at the Virgin Mary. Her cheeks were painted blue. There was a metal halo of gold stars around her head. Her fingers were pointed up as if she was trying to do a math problem in her head. She always looked calm. Everybody loved her. She was as secure as a sixty-year-old woman whose husband had never cheated on her.

  A group of ten-year-old boys with white nylon wings on their backs followed the float while playing the trumpet. A parade of young girls who had just been confirmed walked by in lace dresses. They had been up all night collecting moths in a jar to make those dresses.

  I walked around a bit. I wasn’t surprised to see Nicolas. Wherever there was a crowd, Nicolas was bound to be hanging around. He was sitting next to a pretty seventeen-year-old girl in a miniskirt, trying to talk her out of crying.

  I went to buy a candy apple. I couldn’t help but buy a candy apple for Nicolas too. I wasn’t angry toward him that day. That was the nature of love, wasn’t it? True love just shrugged its shoulders no matter what sort of obnoxious action the other party pulled. When I got back to Nicolas, the girl looked up angrily at me. Whenever a girl was mad at Nicolas, she took it out on me. She jumped up onto her feet and stormed off. Nicolas shrugged as I sat down, and he put his hand out for the candy apple. We ate them as we took in the scene.

  There were some rides in the parking lot. There were those cheap rides that they drive in on trucks from one day-long fair to the other. The Ferris wheel looked like it had been set up by an eighty-year-old janitor.

  The sun started going down. The red and yellow light bulbs on the sides of the rides turned on. All of a sudden, everyone looked like they had black eyes. The calliope blared. The bingo machine sounded like an army of horses was coming. The angels were arriving to judge us all.

  They were moving the Virgin Mary. She was teetering, on the verge of toppling, when I saw Raphaël. Good lord, I thought, what did you have to do in Québec to be kept in jail for more than a week and a half?

  He was leaning against a car and was drinking from a giant can of beer. I loved those cans. You felt like a little kid when you held a can that big. You felt the same way as you did when your legs were hanging off the edge of an oversized chair.

  Raphaël had on a pair of alligator shoes that made his enormous feet look even bigger. The laces seemed too thick for the dress shoes, as if he’d pulled them out of running shoes. He was wearing a white dress shirt that was unbuttoned. You could see that he had a tattoo of Jesus on his chest. There wasn’t much scarier than a tattoo of Jesus. It meant that you were spiritually inclined. And if you were spiritually inclined around here, it probably wasn’t Sunday school that got you that way. Rather, it was a combination of hard drugs and deep injustice to yourself. It was the last resort.

  Raphaël’s hair was already shot with grey, even though he was only twenty, and he was smoking a menthol cigarette. When he exhaled, the cigarette smoke looked like a girl doing rhythmic gymnastics with a ribbon. If you smoked menthol cigarettes, people wouldn’t bum them off of you. He knew all the tricks for being alone.

  Once, years before, I had run into him and he had the biggest hickey on his neck that I had ever seen. But I never knew him to have a girlfriend. Now he was just staring right at me.

  And I smiled back: a smile that I knew he couldn’t resist. You should beware of motherless children. They will eat you alive. You will never be loved by anyone the way that you will be loved by a motherless child.

  Nicolas noticed me smiling at Raphaël.

  “Oh my God,” Nicolas said. “Don’t talk to Raphaël. He believes in aliens and shit. I’m not even kidding. In high school he was voted most likely to become an axe murderer and stab his innocent wife in the fucking shower. No no no, he was voted most likely to end up with duct tape all over his mouth in the trunk of a car.”

  “I don’t know. He seems kind of interesting.”

  “He doesn’t believe in dinosaurs. For me that’s a deal breaker. What? You don’t believe in dinosaurs? Get the fuck out of here. That’s just me. If you’re going to fuck a guy who doesn’t believe in dinosaurs, that’s your own business. But it reflects poorly on me, being your twin brother.”

  “He does have a nice car though, no?”

  “He just doesn’t strike me as an upstanding guy, Nouschka. All joking aside.”

  Then Nicolas got up and walked away, like he just couldn’t take it all of a sudden. There was something about Raphaël that caused me and Nicolas to separate. It was what elementary school teachers had been trying to do for a hundred years. Raphaël put his hands in his pockets and walked over and stopped right in front of me. We stood smiling at one another.

  “What’s with your brother?” Raphaël asked.

  “Nothing.”

  “Did you see the horses earlier?”

  “No. When did they have horses?” I asked, genuinely disappointed. “Show horses?”

  “I was looking for you anyways. I saw your brother; I thought you might be around.”

  “Oh.”

  “Are you still banging that old guy? No. Well, that shit never works out. Kind of strange. You’re an odd bird, Nouschka. I always liked you. Did you know that?”

  “No.”

  “Did you get my Valentine’s Day card?”

  “When was that?”

  “Grade Three, I guess. I didn’t sign it. I just wanted you to guess it was from me.”

  “How am I supposed to remember something like that?”

  “What was he, like, Russian mafia? I figured that he must be to go out with a girl like you. Did he buy you lots of stuff? Like clothes. Whatever it is that girls like?”

  “No.”

  “Did you, like, win a beauty pageant or something? I thought I heard that. Like you were Miss Montréal or something. Then I thought, now she’ll never go out with a guy like me.”

  “Are you confusing me with somebody else?”

  “I doubt that very much.”

  “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I like dancing. I like movies. I like that band playing right now. I’m no different from anybody else.”

  “So are you going to live on this block the rest of you
r life?”

  “Are you?”

  “I try to leave, but every time I do I get thrown in jail. I didn’t realize it was illegal.” He tossed his finished cigarette butt over my shoulder. “How many kisses do you think it takes to make a girl fall in love with you?”

  “I never counted.”

  “Fifty?”

  “Not that many.”

  “Thirty-five?”

  “Don’t be silly.”

  “Then how many?”

  I raised up my index finger to indicate just one. He smiled. And then he pulled my face to his and we kissed.

  It was all too late after that kiss. I already knew what his breath smelled like. I already knew what he looked like in his pyjamas. I already knew what he sounded like when he spoke in his sleep. I was already his girlfriend by the end of the kiss.

  We went to get Raphaël’s car. He drove a beat-up green Cadillac. A steer’s skull was airbrushed onto the hood. It was a really shitty car, but the skull really distracted you. You didn’t know what to think about the car coming down the street. It defied all your preconceived notions. The back seat was filled with paperback books. He had a suit hanging from a wire coat hanger so that it wouldn’t get too creased. There were some dog toys and a box filled with dog biscuits.

  When you hear that there’s been an apparition of the Virgin Mary, you don’t care where it is. You don’t worry that it’s in a bad neighbourhood. Or that in order to see it you have to go into a living room with shag carpeting or televisions piled on top of each other and busted-up couches and neglected babies crying in their cribs. The Virgin Mary trumps all that. You make your pilgrimage. It’s the same thing with true love, which is just as rare.

  As we were driving he put his hand on my knee. I liked that. It was like we were already lovers. It was as if we had been lovers for a very long time already. It felt like we were a married couple. He ran out of the car and into a corner store to buy condoms. The door had so many bells that clanged together as he opened the door that it seemed to be waking up the entire neighbourhood. I liked that. They never rang the church bells in this city for anything exciting anymore.

 
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