The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.20Heather O'Neill
There were passed-out children everywhere. They were lying under tables. They were lying in amongst the piles of coats. Like moths with folded wings.
The waitresses started passing out toy hats. Everyone was putting on plastic top hats, or yellow paper crowns, or red cones with ribbons cascading from the top in ringlets. They were blowing little plastic gold bazookas that were shaped like tiny trumpets. I put on a gold crown. People were giving one another New Year’s kisses. A girl with a red dress came up and kissed me. A man dressed in a light blue suit came up and kissed me.
We were obsessed with kissing in Montréal on ordinary days, but on New Year’s, we took it to a whole other level.
Raphaël was drinking at the bar. He knocked back another Scotch. Each Scotch weakened his immune system and lit him up like a light bulb. Girls kept planting their kisses on him like he had just rescued their village from a giant. I looked over at him and laughed. He looked sort of annoyed. I mean, some truly filthy and beautiful things came out of his mouth in bed, but out of it he sometimes was oddly puritanical.
It was so pretty. Before I was married, all those many months ago, I would have probably ended up going home with someone there. I missed the feeling of being able to go home with just anybody. I missed the feeling of not knowing who you would end up with by the end of the evening. I missed having fried eggs on a cracked plate with a pattern of a peacock on it with a stranger that I’d had sex with the night before. It was impossible to be married so young at the end of the century.
“I can’t stand it here. Let’s go.”
“Oh for God’s sake, Raphaël. It’s New Year’s Eve. Live a little bit, will ya?”
Everyone at the bar was talking about the referendum. It was becoming more and more likely that it was going to be called. We had been looking forward to this since we were children. A lot of us had been raised by separatists. Other countries had declarations of independence written by men with white wigs and tailcoats and buckled shoes. Ours was written by men with bell-bottoms and sideburns and tinted sunglasses and enormous butterfly collars.
The Canadian government was telling us that we couldn’t use their money anymore if we separated. Why did they think we cared? We would have dollar bills with roses on them. We could have René Lévesque, his comb-over slicked on top of his bulging forehead, with a cigarette in his mouth, on the five-dollar bill. And Gilles Vigneault with his navy blue sailor hat, white sideburns and big nose on the twenty.
It was a bit of a shock, especially given the context of the conversation, to see Adam standing there. I didn’t understand why my English ex-boyfriend would be in my part of the city. He knew that I spent every New Year’s Eve at the Ukrainian Ballroom. There wasn’t much point to being there if you weren’t in love with me. Here he was, dressed in a tuxedo, the bow tie undone. He was looking at me intently, waiting for me to notice him.
I touched Raphaël gently to indicate that I was leaving him for a second. I made eye contact with Adam as I walked to the bathroom. I passed a bulletin board that had crudely coloured butterflies held down by push-pins. I went to the upstairs bathrooms. I knew that no one would come up here, because most people didn’t know about the bathrooms. They were the children’s bathrooms for the daycare in the building. There was no secret corridor in this neighbourhood that Nicolas and I did not know about.
The echo of someone singing a Patricia Kaas song was coming down the hall after me. It was like she had fallen down to the bottom of a well and was continuing to sing nonetheless. She was becoming smaller and smaller. I was hoping that Adam was following me.
I looked at the tiny sinks and the little toilets and the doorknobs that were close to the ground. The change in perspective seemed to really throw me. It gave me the feeling of being in a funhouse. I had been coming here for years. When I was very small, I had never noticed that there was anything different about this bathroom. I had fit perfectly. Adam walked in behind me.
There was something absurd about his outfit. It was almost as over the top as the paper crown I had on my head.
“I didn’t want to just come up to you because I heard that your boyfriend might be a little bit mad and somewhat irrational.”
“Did Nicolas tell you that?”
“Might have been.”
He smiled. We were wary of each other. Every time I had been with Adam, it had the breezy lightness of a one-night stand. It had never felt as if there could possibly be a heaviness between us. And here it was. I had been feeling so brash and confident and wild and glamorous out in the hall. And now I felt like a schoolgirl who had been caught cheating on her homework. I was shaking the same way that I had when we visited Lily. He was filled with stories and knowledge about my mother that had the possibility to floor me.
“It’s strange what happened, isn’t it?” I said.
“Yeah, I thought that it would stop feeling odd, but it didn’t. I feel sort of like we’re brother and sister, but then I don’t. I mean, that isn’t quite it. Then I realize that I don’t have any siblings myself, so I would actually have no idea what that felt like.”
I went and sat on the wooden board over the radiator. I hoped that it would warm me up. Adam followed and sat next to me.
“But I sort of felt that by staying away I was keeping something from you. That I had something that you wanted. Nicolas used to ask me all these questions about Noëlle, but how did I know that she was your mother? I just answered off the top of my head. The thing is that I was at a family dinner back home and I started thinking about you. There was stuff that I should have told you about her when we were breaking up.”
We were talking in the bathroom because we were aware that what we were doing was somehow illegal. We were somehow intuitively ashamed. What would Raphaël think if someone whispered to him that Adam and I were alone in the bathroom together? He would surely imagine that we were fooling around or fucking or flirting or having some sort of conversation that was the equivalent of sex. But it wasn’t true. We were doing something that made us feel even dirtier. We were talking about my mother.
“What do you want to tell me about?”
“Like about how she would lie in bed with me and tell me stories.”
“What kinds of stories?”
“Stories about twins.”
“She told you stories about twins?”
Without even thinking about it, I put my hands up and pointed to my chest, as if to ask, “Stories about me?”
“Yes, there was a boy and a girl.”
“What did they look like?”
“What do you think? They had wild black hair and they were so lovely that people would slam on their brakes to get a better look at them.”
“Did you add that, or did she?”
“Were they personable? Were they charming?”
“Sure, sure, sure. They were very funny and very adorable.”
We had begged Loulou to tell us stories. He would lie on the bed and try to read us a picture book. But Loulou had only gone to Grade Three and the effort would put him into a deep, deep sleep. He would take up all the space in the bed, so that we were scrunched up against the wall. Then we would spend ten minutes trying to push him off the bed. He would inhale so deeply that he would suck all the oxygen out of the room and then let out these brief sorts of snores. We had always had to tell each other stories. Which we would find unsatisfactory. Then we would get into squabbles.
Those were our stories Adam heard. We were meant to be the ones who heard those stories.
“Tell me one of her stories.”
“My favourite one was the story where the twins get lost at sea.”
I perched anxiously on the edge of the radiator, waiting to hear it.
“They were on a big ocean liner. They were on their way to the World’s Fair in Paris. But on the way, there was a ferocious storm.”
“The ship sank.”
“Exactly. It didn’t stand a chance.”
“Were the twins okay?”
“There was a cello case. They climbed up onto the instrument. They floated on it for weeks.”
The conversation itself was just like a cello on the water, and it was going in whatever direction the current took it and was drifting out farther and farther into a strange ocean.
“All alone? How did they have anything to eat?”
I kept asking him these questions to egg him on. I did not want him to stop.
“They made good friends with a pelican that would bring them fish. There was a hundred-year-old turtle that taught them their school work so that they wouldn’t fall behind.”
“There was a walrus that was always trying to get the girl to marry him.”
“Did she return his affections?”
“No. But she would make daisy chains to go around his neck.”
“Were they happy?”
“I mean, they were affected by melancholia the way that anyone who is stuck on a deserted cello island would be. They missed going to school and riding the city bus and having tea parties with their friends, stuff like that.”
“Was there any hope of rescue?”
“They put letters in bottles and tossed them out to sea. Then the bottles washed up on the shores of France. They were published in a collection that won the Prix Goncourt!”
“Oh mon dieu! Quelle histoire!”
I clapped my hands because it was a marvel of a tale. I had tears in my eyes. My heart had slowed and I had stopped shaking. Adam and I had always wanted to swap our memories, as if we were kids trading cards at the back of a school bus. He had wanted to have a memory of being famous. And I had wanted a memory of feeling secure.
I think he realized that he didn’t actually want my memories. They were the type that mocked you as you grew older. They were like ex-lovers who had dumped you. Adam’s, on the other hand, got better with age. They were memories that you could blow on gently, like a dying ember, and they would light and make you feel warm and wonderful.
And now he had managed to bring us even the voice of our mother and spread it out at my feet like a fantastical tapestry from another land.
Adam put his arm around me because I was crying. He wasn’t doing it in a romantic sort of way. I realized that I had actually stopped being attracted to every boy I met. I had just thought it was a myth that people might only ever be attracted to one person.
“So you’re living at home again now?” I asked when I was able to wipe the tears from my eyes.
“Yes, for now. I’ve returned to the rest of the world but I just can’t seem to fit in. It was a lovely place, your make-believe kingdom.”
I looked at the clock on the wall. It was indeed almost midnight.
“Oh, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to make it back. If I don’t get back and kiss my husband by New Year’s, then we’ll have bad luck in bed all year.”
“I’m going to go out the back way. I don’t want to risk running into Raphaël. He’s a hair-breadth from going over to the dark side.”
Suddenly the blaring music that was coming from down the hall stopped. There was a woman’s voice on the loudspeaker telling everyone to get ready because midnight was about to be here. Her voice cracked and she sounded like she was a hundred years old. Everyone started whistling and cheering. I hurried down the corridor, my boots making fantastic noises, like a herd of wildebeests.
Then a drum roll sounded and everyone yelled, “Dix!” I could see the giant open doors to the ballroom. I could see all the people with their sparkly top hats. “Neuf!” they were shouting at the top of their lungs. By “Huit!” I was halfway across the ballroom. “Sept!” I was almost up to Raphaël. At “Six!” I flung my arms around him. He was happy to see me and held me in his arms. I yelled out the rest of the numbers with everyone in the room.
We held our plastic flutes of champagne up in the air. Heaps of confetti blew all around our heads. I was buoyed up by my new memory. For a little while, it was going to feel as if this memory were really mine. The same way as when you snort a line of coke, for a few moments you believe that you are experiencing real happiness.
Raphaël put his arms around me and lifted me off the ground. As he spun me around, I raised my arms up in the air to catch all the silver and gold squares of confetti falling from the ceiling. The music was booming. Raphaël had one of his big smiles on his face. He rarely smiled, but when he did, it was beautiful and enormous.
We could have our own memories. How hard could it be? Wasn’t our wedding a good memory? Even with Raphaël’s fight with Nicolas. Even if it had cost about three hundred dollars and everybody had pitched in for it, and there were plastic forks.
This night was another happy memory too! Happy memories were easy to come by.
I was sitting on the toilet seat, singing a song and staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. I was feeling confident. I was glowing like a girl with a lovely childhood. I was feeling very pretty. I couldn’t wait to open the bathroom door for Raphaël to see just how lovely I was. How lovely was I? When I crossed the street, people would slam on their brakes just to get a better look at me. I knew that he wouldn’t be able to resist me tonight.
I tiptoed out of the bathroom on my stockinged tippytoes. I started getting undressed in an extremely suggestive way. My shoe hit the window. It rattled. I paused for a second to make sure that I hadn’t broken it. I flung my bra across the room. It ended up hanging from a nail on the wall. It was perhaps a tad dangerous to be performing a strip show while I was this drunk.
But when I climbed into bed he just wrapped his arms around me and closed his eyes. I felt really, really exposed and awkward after my performance. But what was a little humiliation if one day we could have sex again? The snow was falling outside. I wondered if, when Noëlle told that tale to Adam, she had imagined Nicolas and me squished up with them on the bed too. We would all fall asleep together on that tiny cello as it rocked up and down and back and forth on the waves.
Nicolas Tremblay Plays by His Own Rules
NICOLAS HADN’T SEEN PIERROT IN MONTHS AND he had stopped bringing him up. Nicolas’s spirits seemed to have risen, though. Or in any case, Nicolas started to act as if his spirits had risen. Whenever something was really bothering Nicolas, he got this weird version of happy, which was more like hyperactivity.
I put on my coat and hat and boots and stomped off through the snow to find Nicolas on a windy winter day. I couldn’t hear myself think because the wind was so loud. It took forever just to get to the corner store because my boots kept getting stuck in the piles of snow that I was trudging through.
By the time I found Nicolas at the Portuguese bakery, my eyelashes were frozen and I couldn’t feel the tips of my fingers, even though I had gloves on. My tights were covered in slush right up to my knees. I pushed open the glass door and hurried inside. The tiles on the wall were all blue. They served pastries that were as hard as rocks, and teeny tiny cups of espresso that could make you completely insane.
Nicolas was sitting at a table. His big overcoat was slung over the back of his chair. There were some young guys sitting with him at his table, listening to him avidly. One waved his hands around madly whenever Nicolas made an interesting point. The other boy had a fine moustache and a cast on his wrist, which he had drawn little ships all over. I guess that if his childhood had been better, he might have become a sailor. There was a big puddle underneath them from the snow that had melted off their boots.
Nicolas’s head was lowered as he talked to them. He had a piece of paper with a diagram drawn on it. As I approached the table, he quickly folded up his paper and stuck it into his pocket. He smiled at me as if he wasn’t doing anything at all.
“Hello, sweetheart,” Nicolas said. “Here she is, ladies and gentlemen: my marvellous sister. We once had a fabulous show together. Unparalleled.”
Nicolas stood up and
It was a routine that we’d performed on the talk show Midi plus. We had these routines stuck in us like refrains from songs that we couldn’t stop singing, or nervous tics. Anyways, this time it was fun to do one of our old shticks together.
Nicolas brought me over to a table in the corner where we could talk alone.
“You’re miserable. That’s why you came looking for me, isn’t it? You can move back home if you want.”
“No. Raphaël and I are doing fine.”
“I saw your husband reading the newspaper in his pyjamas at the Polish breakfast place. He was making one of the waitresses nervous as hell. And you’re going to tell me that your marriage is okay?”
“Things are really good between us; just the other day I said that it was like we were still on a honeymoon.”
“God, how tacky.”
I didn’t want to let Nicolas think that it had been a mistake to leave home. I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I wanted to keep moving forward, even though it might be awful and strange and difficult.
“Why are you lying to me?” Nicolas asked. “You think that I’m going to judge you? You think that I’m going to give you a hard time about your relationship not working out? There hasn’t been a relationship that worked out on this street since 1973.”
“Do you want to do something together?” I asked. “We could go see a movie or a show?”
“No, no, no. I’m through with that Everyman shit.”
“So what does that mean? You want to go read philosophy or jump out of airplanes?”
“No. What I think we should do is pay our mother another visit.”
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes