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The girl who was saturda.., p.15
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       The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.15

           Heather O'Neill
 
“I’m here to walk my daughter down the aisle!” he cried out.

  Étienne burst into his wedding song. The band started playing it.

  I bought you a mille feuille

  I took you to the downtown movies

  I brought you dancing at the Saint-Petit ballroom

  I spent twenty-five cents on polish for my shoes and three dollars on drinks

  Now I am broke and can’t court you anymore

  So come on and marry me, goddamn it

  Come on and marry me

  Nobody better is coming

  Come on, marry me, goddamn it

  Just spend your life with me.

  I wondered what the minister would make of this song. I looked and he was tapping his feet, seemingly not able to believe that he was seeing Étienne Tremblay up close and singing. Everyone in the apartment joined in. Everyone forgot their problems. Except for Nicolas, whose face had fallen. He couldn’t believe that all the evidence that Étienne was a loser had just been swept under the table. He was the only person on earth who was angry with Étienne anymore. Étienne took me by the elbow and walked me down the hallway into the living room, right past Nicolas.

  The room was so small that almost everyone had someone on their lap. If you were sitting on a couch, it would be rude not to have someone on your lap. There were kids standing on the coffee table. The minister asked Raphaël if he’d like to say his vows.

  I wondered whether or not Raphaël would say anything in public. He was always so quiet.

  “I used to watch a lot of old black-and-white movies because I couldn’t sleep. And there were all these idiots dancing on rooftops and I wondered what on earth they were on about. But now I know. They were trying to show how it felt to be in love.”

  He put his arms out and did a lovely tap-dancing jig. He had had tons of dancing lessons as a kid in order to improve his figure skating.

  I put my hands over my face. What could I say that would equal a tap-dancing vow. Luckily he had met his match. I was good at public speaking. And it just so happened that I was as in love with him as he was with me.

  I took a folded up piece of paper out of my shoe. I always felt a thrill when I was about to read out loud what I had written.

  “In the Bible, it says that God invented the universe in seven days,” I started. “But there was actually an eighth day, and on this day God created all the strange things that have no purpose other than making life more awesome.”

  I knew that this wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that you should feel comfortable saying around a minister. But he already knew Raphaël and me, so he must have known what he was getting into when he agreed to participate in our wedding. And since he didn’t interrupt me, I went right on.

  “On the eighth day God invented the sound of rain and electricity. He invented roses and tattoos of roses. He invented city beaches and goldfish. He invented spots on cheetahs and made the legs on women longer than they needed to be. He invented trumpet players and haikus. He invented tiny old men that serve espresso, and wild flowers in abandoned lots. He invented constellations and neon lights. He invented being ticklish and exaggerating. He invented snowflakes and dinosaur bones for us to dig up. And, most importantly, he invented a little boy on Boulevard Saint-Laurent who would be the greatest figure skater and the greatest kisser the world had ever seen, and he named him Raphaël Lemieux.”

  I stuck the piece of paper into a nearby vase. I kissed both my hands and then blew the kisses at him. Then he grabbed me by the waist and pulled me to him.

  “You may kiss the bride,” the minister said, even though we were already doing just that.

  Nicolas caught the bouquet out of reflex, because it came right at his head, and he immediately looked disgusted with himself. It was a bouquet of carnations. I was looking forward to him making a toast. He had made good ones since we were little. He would stand on the chair in the kitchen and make a toast with his orange juice. Our food would get cold because we’d be waiting for Nicolas to finish. Everyone quieted down as he held a glass of champagne over his head.

  “May you both live five hundred years!”

  There was absolute silence in the room, as people waited to see if Nicolas had anything to add.

  But then I was relieved that he didn’t say anything else. He could have gone ahead and told the truth. He could have said how this was the end of Nicolas and Nouschka. I didn’t even know how I would have reacted to that. I might have wanted to call the whole wedding off right then and there. I would have flushed my wedding ring down the toilet and pretended that none of this had ever happened, and we would go back to sleeping on our little mattress by the window for the rest of our lives.

  When it was clear that he wasn’t going to say anything more, everyone put their arms up in the air and cheered. My heart tried to jump out of my chest like a startled bird. Good times are always so much more wonderful than you can imagine. And bad times are always much worse.

  The band started playing music. A young girl was doing some sort of drunken dance with her eyes closed. An old man was dancing next to her. He had a jet black toupée that didn’t match the white hair on the sides of his head. He leaned back as he danced, as if he was about to go under a limbo stick. Loulou made the music of a tuba and marched side to side.

  The kids were crammed onto the chesterfield, drinking red wine from plastic cups and eating sandwiches made from white bread cut into triangles. Their patent-leather shoes were jutting in front of them. A thirteen-year-old boy with a faint moustache made the effort to stand up. He walked a few steps to the window. Smiling, and with his eyes closed, he peed out the window.

  There were transparent balloons with teensy white stars on them, which had floated up to the ceiling. The dogs were yanking at their ribbons.

  It would have been nice if Lily Sainte-Marie was there. She didn’t even know that I was getting married. I wondered what would have happened if I had sent her an invitation. For a second I fantasized about her standing there with tears in her eyes.

  Raphaël was sitting on a chair, drinking a beer. Once he started drinking, he could drink for days. He just smiled at me. I went and sat on his lap. Someone came and took our picture.

  “Are you happy?” he asked.

  “Yes.”

  “You don’t sound so convinced.”

  Raphaël put his arms around my waist and interlaced his fingers. It looked strange to see his wedding ring. His right ring finger had a tattoo of a clover on it. I kept looking at the ring to remind me that we were married. The stone on my wedding ring was like a drop of dew on a leaf.

  From the couch, Nicolas asked Raphaël if he could have his porno magazines now that he was married. Raphaël ignored him.

  Nicolas had put one of the carnations from the bouquet in his hair. I could tell that he was feeling unloved. He was crossing and uncrossing his legs. He kept getting up to leave and then coming back.

  I was listening to one of Raphaël’s relatives tell me about a hotel that they had stayed in in Cuba. I saw Étienne walk over to Nicolas. I stepped away from Raphaël’s relative to try and get to Nicolas before our father did. Surely Étienne would be careful not to upset Nicolas. Surely he would have the sensitivity to know that Nicolas was feeling lousy.

  “You think that you have lost your child,” Étienne said, putting his hand on Nicolas’s shoulder.

  He had decided to bring up Pierrot! Maybe Étienne was right. Maybe Pierrot was on Nicolas’s mind more than I was. Nicolas and I were both waiting to hear what he had to say. Given the speaker, it was going to be either brilliant or horrific.

  “But really, children don’t really belong to us. We all disappoint our children. But you know that. You know that better than any of us. That’s why people loved you so much when you were a kid. You had convictions even when you were a boy. You were the voice of the people’s discontent. You were a cynic. You know that everything is bullshit. It’s a hard burden to carry.”

  Nicolas looke
d up at Étienne. He actually looked sort of moved. All the vodka that he’d mixed with his orange soda had weakened his defences.

  “I haven’t seen my son in months,” Nicolas said sadly. “This is something that matters to me. I don’t care if he hates me. I just don’t want him to say, ‘I never saw my father growing up.’ I don’t even know where Saskia is. She’s so crazy. She could be anywhere.”

  “We’re in the same boat, my boy.”

  Nicolas looked shocked. He stood up, shrugging Étienne’s hand off his shoulder violently.

  “Are you insane?” he exclaimed. “We’re not in the same boat. You walked out on your kids. Mine was stolen from me. Do you get the fundamental difference?

  “Where’s the documentary crew? You were obviously expecting them. You probably got the day wrong. Or maybe your last performances on the street corners weren’t worth the film that they were recorded on.”

  Nicolas had a sort of genius for recognizing ulterior motives. It was the sort of quality that you would probably want to live without. It was probably better to go around the world being duped by everyone’s shit.

  Everyone in the wedding party stopped whatever it was that they were doing and stared at Nicolas. They were waiting to hear what Nicolas had to say next. Nicolas didn’t say anything though. He kicked over a table with plates of sandwiches and stormed out the door. Raphaël held me tightly so that I couldn’t jump up and run after him. Struggling, I finally got out of his clutches and bolted out the door.

  When I got outside, a bunch of kids who had left the wedding party had surrounded Nicolas. He was on the verge of doing something stupid and inappropriate. Children can always sense that and they go mad for it. A beige cat came down the stairs like caramel seeping out of a Caramilk bar. Hugo and the film crew were out there filming quietly.

  Raphaël came out of the building behind me. I knew he was there before I saw him.

  “What’s the matter, Nicolas?” Raphaël said. “You can’t let anybody have a life?”

  “You’re trying to take her away. You don’t give a shit that any of us were here before. I knew from the second I saw you that you were bullshit. You have this weird idea that Nouschka belongs to you.”

  “She does belong to me. I don’t give a fuck that you met her earlier.”

  “When we met earlier? Like when we didn’t have brains? When we were just heartbeats with thumbs? Do you have any idea what that means?”

  “It means nothing. Because shit changes faster than anybody can imagine. All of a sudden, every day, people wake up and have completely different lives. Get used to it.”

  “I don’t like you,” Nicolas yelled back. “I don’t like you and your false prophesying.”

  Nicolas tried stomping on a balloon. It kept jumping away from him. He yanked the carnation out of his buttonhole and threw it into the middle of the street. He picked up a newspaper and wildly tore it into pieces. There was a moment when it almost seemed like he was going to rearrange the sheet of paper into a great bird that would take flight, beating its huge wings, into the sky. The children gathered around to see if he was going to pull it off. But there wasn’t going to be any magic that day.

  This kind of fighting had always served Nicolas well when he was in elementary school. It had terrified the other children. He was a bit like a moth working up its courage to touch a light bulb. I got distracted just watching him.

  Nicolas took a piece of cake out of a kid’s hand and smashed it in Raphaël’s face. The boy started crying at the top of his lungs. Nicolas picked up a glass and tossed the contents of it after the cake.

  Then Raphaël smacked Nicolas in the face. It happened so fast that I thought I’d imagined it. Nicolas spun around and fell. I ran toward Nicolas as if I could catch him. When he hit the pavement, his nose was bleeding. I felt like I was the one who’d been hit. Humiliated, weak, Nicolas stood up without me. He shook himself a little bit to make his clothes go straight and to knock the experience off.

  “Nouschka, I’m fine,” Nicolas said shakily. “I’m fine. I’m feeling fine.”

  He turned and walked down the street. I called him back. He kept fixing his hair. Nothing in the entire universe could cause him to turn and look back at that moment. He was miles away from where anyone could hear him. Off he went, defying every law of physics that I knew. Raphaël had separated us somehow. I didn’t know exactly who I was. I was terrified.

  “Oh, something like this is bound to happen at every wedding,” a woman who had come out behind me said. “At mine, my cousin was trying to get everyone to quiet down for a toast, so he set off the fire alarm with a lighter. Then he couldn’t turn it off. Ruined the cake.”

  When I stepped out onto the stage as a kid, I used to feel tiny, tiny. I couldn’t see the audience and everyone would hush. Their voices were suddenly blown out like birthday candles. And there I was, the Little Prince all alone on a tiny planet somewhere in space.

  Raphaël wiped his face off with a napkin and then tossed it in the trash. He put his arm around me and walked me down the sidewalk. We just headed down the street, like nobody else mattered.

  Hugo’s van pulled up just as the fight was over. Étienne came out of the front door and went with his arms opened toward Hugo and the crew as if nothing had happened, and to welcome them to the celebration. I waved goodbye to Étienne and he nodded, obviously preoccupied at the moment.

  A lot of the wedding guests had left the apartment and gone to sit in the laundromat across the street. There were some on the terrace of the legion hall. You could see members of our families for blocks away, farther and fewer apart, like marathon runners who had fallen behind in the race.

  “Change is good,” Raphaël said.

  “I don’t like it. I think that everyone should eat off the same plates their whole life. And you shouldn’t ever change your kitchen chairs. I don’t like when people talk about moving to new cities. Everybody should stay exactly where they were born.”

  “What are you worried about, Nouschka? You shouldn’t be worried, baby.”

  Who are we other than our roles? I had gone directly from being Nicolas’s twin sister to Raphaël’s wife. For that one second earlier I was alone. And it was atrocious. It was unfathomable. Just being one’s self, utterly abandoned, with no man wrapping his arms around me like a straitjacket.

  A photographer in a car drove up next to us. He took a couple photos. I didn’t think anything of it.

  I was happy now, I guess. Who can tell what certain emotions are. Happiness, terror, joy, hatred—they’re all so incredibly alike. We walked for a couple more blocks to a building that Raphaël had signed the lease for. He had put all the money that he had on the first month’s rent. I was glad that he had done it on his own. I never would have had the courage to sign a lease without Nicolas. We walked slowly up the stairs to the new apartment. The moon came down low over the buildings. A housewife came out on her fire escape and pushed it back up into the sky with a broom handle, and bats flew by.

  Raphaël was too drunk to have an erection. I sat on his face while he was still dressed in his wedding suit, a white carnation in his lapel. And that is how a marriage is consummated on Boulevard Saint-Laurent.

  CHAPTER 28

  Days of Beer and Dandelions

  THE PHOTOGRAPH THAT THE MAN TOOK ENDED UP on the cover of a tabloid. What with the attention from the documentary and a wedding, how could I not have expected to land in the magazines? It really was a lovely photo. I even bought myself a copy. The problem was, of course, that the tabloids were in our life; they were impossible to shake. They were waiting for an arc in the story. They were ecstatic that we were married. But now the only thing that could make them happier was if we divorced. The trick to outwitting the tabloids is to lead a well-adjusted, serene life, which I hoped to do.

  I was moving out that day. I was in the kitchen, wrapping up my favourite teacup in newspaper. Loulou was wearing a yellow toque with the logo for the Boston Bruins o
n it. Sometimes he liked to wear it to be controversial. Younger men would scream obscenities out their car window at him. He was having trouble opening a can of peaches, quite possibly because his can opener was at least twenty-five years old. I flung my arms around his neck.

  “Oh, for crying out loud, Nouschka. You’re moving around the block. You’re too emotional. You’ll be an alcoholic by the time you’re forty.”

  I walked into my room. I was surprised to see Nicolas there. He was wearing the same outfit from the wedding. Nicolas gave me a look that indicated that he knew I wasn’t expecting to see him there.

  “You can run but you can’t hide. What’s the deal? Are we, like, mortal enemies now? Are you going to cross the street and duck into a store when you see me from now on?”

  “How could you even ask me that?”

  “Well, we were getting creepy close anyways, right? I think that you were cramping my style. When people see us together they always expect us to start tap dancing or something. I’ve got to go out on my own.”

  He had come ahead of me so that he could already start packing. He wanted it to be clear that he was leaving me and not the other way around. He had a gym bag that was filled with clothes and sunglasses.

  I started putting dresses into my flowered vinyl suitcase. Everything else there belonged to children. We couldn’t really bring the plastic horses on the windowsill or the mobile of birds that we had cut out of the pages of a children’s magazine, or the shoebox full of Hot Wheels cars.

  I suddenly felt full of incredible doubts. The entire city had told us over and over again that we were lovable and special. Why didn’t I just remain a child like they had wanted!

  “Actually, do I have a tie anywhere among my things?” Nicolas said. “I might actually need that. I don’t know. I don’t want to just get married and settle down right away like some people. I need to make my first million before I do that.”

  It suddenly felt as if we had been at war for a hundred years. I wanted to surrender, to throw in the towel and just let Nicolas have his way, whatever his way was. But that wasn’t even an option now.

 
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