The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.13Heather O'Neill
We rented a motel room.
“Take your clothes off for me,” he said as soon as he shut the door.
I felt as if my dress must have weighed hundreds of pounds, because I suddenly felt so much lighter. I was wearing these polka-dot underwear. I hadn’t expected to have sex that night. They had been pretty once, but they had a tear and the lace trimming had come loose. When I took them off, I was so naked that I felt transparent. I don’t think that I had ever felt so naked. I had on one single blue sock that was clinging to my foot for dear life. This was the first time that sex meant anything.
He took off his shirt and pants. He was really handsome. I don’t know what on earth other girls would make of him, but I just found him so handsome. I would not change a single thing about his appearance. He was all skinny and fit still from having been a figure skater all those years. He didn’t have any chest hair. He just had a black line going down from his belly button into his pants. I even thought that his ridiculously bad tattoos were so sexy. They were sort of beautiful to me. And whereas most people would liken them to drawings in ballpoint pen on the walls of a public bathroom, I would liken them to Renaissance paintings of serious girls holding ermines.
When he took off his underwear he reached out his arms and pulled me close to him. We made love on the pink flowers of the bed cover.
After I climaxed, Raphaël pulled out and took his condom off and came all over my tits. It was wonderful. He stepped into his pants and went into the bathroom. His pants were half down, below his ass, and he was walking on his pant cuffs. He came out with a cigarette in his mouth and a hand towel with orange roses and he wiped me off with it. I don’t know why, but it was so tender.
The curtains at the motel were covered in little pineapples. The trucks kept passing by outside, creating an infinity of sunrises and sunsets. It seemed like the world was orbiting really quickly. Shadows like black panthers crept in the window every time a car passed. This was what it must have been like to hang out in a motel room after robbing a bank, when you had no idea whether or not the police and detectives were surrounding the place or whether it was simply the night outside, which was filled only with crickets and lost keys.
The mini-bar was filled with tiny bottles of booze, like the ones that Alice in Wonderland found. They could either make your heart enormous or tiny. He turned on the light next to the bed so that he could set the alarm on his wristwatch. He turned the lamp off, but his body seemed to continue to emanate light as if he was incandescent.
Raphaël put his fists to his mouth and made a perfect mournful trumpet sound. When he closed his eyes, he looked like he just received a guilty verdict. Then he fell asleep. And like that, we were madly in love. They say that Jesus loves you, but will he come down and say that he loves you the most?
All Perverts Great and Small
I WAS GETTING DRESSED FOR OUR DATE. I’D TOLD Raphaël that I would meet him on the corner, but he said he’d knock on my door. Why he thought he had to come and knock on my door was beyond me. Our family had always considered manners to be sort of on the phony side.
It made me nervous, because Nicolas had been insulting Raphaël ever since I went off with him at the fair.
Nicolas came in the room. He took off his sweater and lay down to rest in his undershirt. He had had that same undershirt with Papa Smurf on it since he was ten years old. He lay there with his boots still on. He lit up a cigarette and watched me while I buttoned up the back of my dress.
One of our own cats walked into the room at that second, to see what was happening. It was Johann, a black cat with perpetual bed-head. He looked like a splotch of ink that was appearing through a pocket in a shirt. Nicolas looked at the cat for a second as if he was going to pick a fight with it, and then he turned back to me.
“Man, what a low-life,” Nicolas said. “I mean low class. You might try and meet somebody who has a real job.”
“You don’t work at all.”
“He has to punch a clock or he goes back to jail. Wow! He’s a Fortune 500 man. A most eligible bachelor.”
“You might like him if you got to know him.”
“Frankly, I can’t stand the motherfucker. I mean, who does he think he is walking around like that. I’ll tolerate that kind of shit from those exiled Vietnam vets but nobody else. Did you know that the U.S. government cheaped out and gave the vets Edgar Cayce and I’m OK—You’re OK books on tape instead of proper psychiatric treatment?”
“Where did you hear about this?” I asked.
“A library card is no cure for mental illness, that’s for sure. When vets come back, they should not have library privileges. If I have to stand in the line for the bus and have a Vietnam vet behind me talking about Tolstoy, I’m just going to go move to the Northwest Territories. It’s why I don’t take public transportation.”
“Why would you, when you can drive in style on your bicycle?”
“How do you know Raphaël hasn’t been lobotomized? People with lobotomies don’t know they’ve been lobotomized.”
“So what if he has?”
“I should have known! You’ll go with anybody!”
I tied a ribbon in my hair and wagged my head back and forth in the mirror to see if it would stay on.
“How do I look?” I asked.
“Really, in all honesty, he’s a dick. I told you in Grade One and I’m telling you now.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
Nicolas would develop irrational hatred for people when he was a little boy and he would not let it go. It was very important for Nicolas to always be infuriated by someone. It allowed him to externalize some of the hatred that he felt toward himself.
“Why do I feel like your relationship with Raphaël is just to spite me?”
I stopped, startled. There was some strange truth in what he said, but I didn’t want to explore it. Nicolas seemed to think that my relationship with Raphaël was a punishment for his having lied about Adam and dragged me to see Lily with no preparation. He couldn’t believe that it didn’t have anything to do with him. I also had a hard time believing that this relationship had nothing to do with Nicolas.
Everyone had always given Nicolas and me a hard time about sleeping in the same bed together and changing around each other. There was never anything about it that gave me a feeling of indecency or self-consciousness. But the idea that Nicolas had orchestrated my sex life creeped me out. Maybe it was about time that I wanted privacy. Even though Le Journal de Montréal, La Presse and Le Devoir had all described us as precocious, Nicolas and I were late bloomers, emotionally speaking.
The doorbell rang. Nicolas sprang up out of bed and ran down the hall to the front door. The cat looked at its paws and frantically back at its body, as if it had just been transformed into a cat and couldn’t accept it. I ran after him, but it was too late, Nicolas had swung open the door and was leaning out of it. Raphaël was standing there, expressionless, in sunglasses.
“Yes, can I help you?” Nicolas asked. “Are you here to convert us to Jehovah’s Witnesses? You guys should put a little more something something into those magazines. Like maybe you should have a comics page. And some horoscopes. I’m just saying, if you’re looking to attract more converts. Or have a telethon. Everyone loves a good telethon.”
“Whatcha guys gonna do tonight? Drink some Kool-Aid with Jim Jones?”
“I’m here for Nouschka. Tell her I’m here.”
“Were you here last night? On no, that was another guy.”
“What’s with you? Still sticking up fourteen-year-olds in the metro?”
“I’m going to let that go. But let the record state that I resent it.”
I pushed Nicolas out of the way. He seemed resigned to being shoved aside. I trotted down the steps next to Raphaël. I liked the way Raphaël was dressed all in black except for a pair of brown running shoes with red laces. I don’t think I’d ever seen him in
Suddenly we heard Nicolas call out, “I’m looking right at you!”
We looked up and he was on the roof. It was sort of startling that he’d gotten up there so fast.
“Just because my sister’s stupid enough to date you, it doesn’t mean anything. I’m going to come and kill you one of these days.”
“You talk pretty tough for an asshole all the way up on a rooftop,” Raphaël called back.
“Just because you’re fucking Nouschka doesn’t mean you’re fucking me.”
“Doesn’t he care what the neighbours think?” Raphaël asked me, actually looking shocked.
“They’ve heard everything,” I said.
“He’s disrespecting you, you know.”
“I don’t know how you can like me if you hate Nicolas. We’re like the same person.”
“No, you’re not.”
“We were having conversations before we were even born.”
“You guys aren’t alike at all. You’re opposites.”
“You love everybody and he hates everybody. Sometimes I don’t even know which is worse, because I feel like both of you might want to show a little bit of decorum and equilibrium.”
We spent the evening in a motel. I threw my peacoat on over my underwear and went out onto the street and stuck my thumb out as if I was a hitchhiker. The minuscule twinkles were all over the sidewalk, reflecting moonlight. Raphaël got into his car and drove around the block. He was going to pretend to pick me up and then drive me to the outskirts of the city and rape me, or something like that.
A police car came around the block before Raphaël’s car. The police officer got out and started asking all sorts of questions. He wanted to arrest me. The officer assumed that I was a prostitute because I had no clothes on under my pea jacket. Raphaël got out of his car and managed to convince the officer that we were just perverts. The police officer told us to keep it to the bedroom.
We went to a tiny underground restaurant that had mirrors on all the walls. It was one of those end-of-the-world Chinese restaurants. If you were a respectable citizen, you would never even notice that it was there. There were small bowls of water with rhododendrons floating in them on the tables. None of the menus had the right prices. They had the prices from 1975 on them.
I looked over at Raphaël. He had a pack of cigarettes in each of his pockets. It was a bring-your-own-wine joint. Raphaël unscrewed the lid and took a long drink right from the bottle.
“Disgusting!” he yelled.
We ate salt and pepper squid with chopsticks. The place was filled with actual prostitutes. One girl, who looked twelve, was wearing a fur hat and a T-shirt. She was so stoned that she couldn’t tell whether she was hot or cold.
There was another girl with a turtleneck sweater and tiny shiny pants. She had ordered a plate of dumplings but couldn’t eat them. She was biting her fingernails and looking out the window. She had a terrible cough, the way that pretty fifteen-year-olds who smoked in the wintertime and had sex with grown-up men did. The bottom of her face was all red around her mouth as if someone had been kissing her violently. A pimp was with her. He looked about eighteen years old. He had on a black sweater and sweatpants and poofy light blue sneakers.
There were horses on one of the girls’ T-shirts. If you put your ear up against her chest, you could hear them galloping. It was here on Rue Sainte-Catherine that the most beautiful kisses in the world were grown.
Raphaël had stopped taking his medication. He told me that the drugs screwed up his perception of time. One particular Wednesday had lasted for a year. And once, three days went by in five minutes. He said he was looking out a window and saw a rose bloom and wilt right in front of him. And the drugs messed with his erections.
We both had this strange intensity when we were making love. As if we hadn’t quite figured out what it was for. As if we pinned too much of our hopes and dreams on it. I was thinking that sex could cure all sorts of things. But the girls here knew exactly what sex was worth. They knew that sex cost forty dollars and could be bartered down. If you took one of the girls up to a hotel room, and she drank a glass of water while sitting on the ledge of the bathroom sink in yellow polyester underwear, did it look much different than true love?
I wanted to tell Raphaël about my mother. I thought it was that time of the relationship where I could bring up serious things instead of just flirt and have sex. And I wanted to hear what he had to say about it. In his own way, he could be quite brilliant at summing things up.
“Do you know that Nicolas and I met our mother for the first time last month?”
“Really? How the hell did that go?”
“She didn’t even want us there. There was this look on her face like we could destroy her life. We were, like, the worst things that had ever happened to her. She would have opened up her pocketbook and given us all the money in it, just to get rid of us. She looked like we were going to blackmail her.”
“That’s got to make you feel low-grade lousy all the time.”
“It sort of makes me feel like I’m kind of creepy? Do you know that feeling that I’m talking about? It’s hard sometimes to put it into words.”
“You feel as if everybody has been given an instruction manual to how to be likable,” Raphaël said, “but you didn’t get it. And they are all sold out now. And if you are what you eat, then you must have surely spent the last few years of your life eating dog food and cat shit. Because when you look in the mirror, it is all that you see.”
I wouldn’t have used those metaphors exactly, but he had actually sort of captured that icky feeling. That’s what it felt like when the little tank that contained your self-esteem was running on empty and you needed to somehow fill it up.
And that was what all the girls sitting in this restaurant were also feeling. They were very, very pretty, but they felt so ugly. They looked into their bathroom mirrors in the middle of the night because they had to pee for the twelfth time because of a bladder infection, and they saw ghouls and hideous things.
I didn’t know what sort of memories had driven Raphaël to such insights. I was about to ask, but he had already stood up and swung his jacket on in a way that somehow implied that the subject was closed. He had no intention of delving into his own psyche that night.
“But you don’t have to worry about how the rest of the world sees you. You just have to think about how it is that I think about you.”
It’s Always Raining under an Umbrella
RAPHAËL AND I STARTED SPENDING ALL OUR nights at the motel. We couldn’t go to his parents’ apartment or mine if we wanted to be alone. We were blowing the little money that we had, but we didn’t care. The belt slid from the loops of his pants like a snake through the grass. We lay facing each other with our foreheads and knees touching. We lay in the shape of a heart. I started to have the first inkling of why it might feel good to leave home and be part of a different family.
We left the motel one afternoon and went for a walk in the park. The clouds were like a group of sheep that was gathering to be shorn. There was a scent called Five Minutes Before It Rains. If you put it on your neck, whoever kissed you would cry.
All the people in the street had to rush up stairs and more stairs to close all their windows before the rain flew in. The laundry was being pulled in so violently that it screamed.
“Everyone to the lifeboats! Everyone to the lifeboats!” a boy was yelling.
Children who just wanted a few more minutes were still outside playing. Their mothers’ voices calling them in were like pieces of paper. The wind crunched them up and threw them away before they could get to the children’s ears.
Raphaël stood at the side of the pond and began throwing bits of bread into the water for the swans. They all started heading toward him. They looked like they were on their way to devour him. One stepped o
We started to feel a few drops of rain. We ran and climbed onto the merry-go-round just to keep out of the rain. We sat on a chariot that was being pulled by two zebras. Raphaël pulled a tiny box out of his pocket inside his jacket. It was a little brown cardboard box that had a drawing of a mourning dove on it.
“Let’s get married,” he said.
I felt a rush flood through my heart. I didn’t know whether the feeling was love or whether it was the excitement you feel when you are doing something that you know is stupid but you are doing it anyways.
He put the ring on my finger. It was a mood ring. It was turning green and yellow. It was turning every colour in the rainbow. Sometimes I was so afraid of love. It gave you the feeling you had when you were shoplifting and you were walking out of the store with something concealed under your jacket.
There was a drug dealer who sold a kind of acid called Happily Ever After. That was the only time I had ever heard that term applied to anything in real life. Everything I knew about marriage pointed to it being a horrible, hateful endeavour. And if there were any two people who would be incapable of a stable marriage, it had to be Raphaël and me.
It felt like I was doing something terrible when I said oui. But God help me, I wanted to see what was on the other side of that word.
The rain started coming by in gusts, like groups of frightened deer. We sat on the horses, holding each other’s hands, and looked out at the world. It rained all day. Later it was reported that the rain had taken down a whole fleet of newspaper ships in the pond.
An Angel in the Process of Becoming a Businessman
I WAS DOING WELL IN SCHOOL. IT WAS MAKING ME feel like I had a future opening up before me. I was tired of working at the newspaper stand. I was tired of every Tom, Dick and Harry coming in and telling me who I was and acting as if I was their very best pal. And maybe I didn’t need every man with a grocery bag telling me his theories of time travel.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes