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The girl who was saturda.., p.21
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       The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.21

           Heather O'Neill
 

  “Oh no, that’s not a good idea.”

  “Come on, Nouschka. We can’t just leave it the way we left it.”

  “No way, Nicolas.”

  “You’re afraid of your own mother?”

  “First of all, she’s not really our mother; Loulou is. And I’m not afraid of her. She expressed that it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to go and see her, and I’m not.”

  “Fuck that. Why does she get to have the final say? This time I’m going to show up at dinnertime and I’m going to scream my motherfucking head off until she comes out and falls on her hands and knees and weeps. What do you think about that?”

  “I think you should calm down, Nicolas.”

  “I am going to show up on the lawn and I am going to masturbate right in front of all the children. After I have gone back to the city, an army of ugly, dirty boys that nobody will want will sprout out of the ground.”

  He tapped his index finger against my chest.

  “We have to go back there, Nouschka.”

  A woman passing by looked at him. He pointed his finger at the woman and she immediately jerked her head away.

  I thought about telling him the story about the floating cello. My idea of who Noëlle was had changed now that I knew she was a storyteller. I had always thought that Étienne’s attraction to her was one hundred percent based on her being young. But maybe she whispered something into his ear that had made her seem completely unique and different from all the other girls crammed into that house in the country. Maybe she told him that he looked like a pirate who had lost his treasure map.

  Somehow I liked that idea. I think that all kids—no matter how acrimonious their parents’ relationship is—want to believe that at the point of their conception, their parents had been in love.

  But this sort of wistful thinking wouldn’t cut it for Nicolas. What he was looking for was something real. He wanted change. He wanted confrontation. He seemed to be offering me a choice, or a dare, rather. I could either go with him to see our mother, or he was going to stay at the lovely Pâtisserie Gourmande and continue orchestrating his mad Children’s War.

  “Everyone is always telling me about what a shitty parent I am. But why do my parents get away with bloody murder? Why do I have to come up with three thousand dollars? Why do I have to prove myself? She’s a terrible parent. She completely abandoned us, so why don’t they take her kids away? Will you explain that to me? Why does she get to have Little Fishstick and Dumont or whatever the fuck their names are?”

  “Did you just call her kids Fishstick and Dumont?” I started laughing.

  “I don’t know what their names are. I’m just guessing.”

  We started laughing hysterically at these two strangers out in the world, who we could think of in a hundred ways but never as siblings.

  “But that’s what they looked like in the photographs, no? Didn’t they look like a Fishstick and a Dumont?”

  We laughed so hard that we cried.

  “That doesn’t even make any sense,” I said. “You’ve completely lost your noodle.”

  “My bananas have fallen completely out of my banana tree.”

  Nicolas was wearing a Oui button on his pea jacket. I pointed to it. He took it off and put it on my jacket. We were still fighting on the same side of that war. But I wasn’t ready for Lily. Maybe once I had lost everything like Nicolas had, then I would be able to face her again.

  CHAPTER 38

  Love Me under the Dirty Moon

  ALL I SEEMED TO HAVE THAT NIGHT WAS Raphaël. We hadn’t made love since he told me about what had happened to him as a little boy. When we were first married, he would come home and start kissing me and trying to put his hands up my shirt before he had even taken his coat off. I would scream bloody murder because his hands were so cold.

  But the worst of it now was that he was obsessed with me having an affair. He wasn’t in the mood to talk to me.

  I was standing naked at the bathroom sink, feeling at a loss as to what I was going to do if we broke up. I took my black sweater and a red leather skirt off the hooks on the back of the bathroom door and put them on. I put some makeup on. I had promised to go to the bingo hall with Loulou. I picked up my boots from beside the front door, sat on a kitchen chair and pulled them on.

  Raphaël walked into the kitchen. He was drinking instant coffee out of a teacup. He leaned against the counter and watched me.

  “Where are you going?” he asked.

  “The bingo hall.”

  “Bullshit. Look at you. No one dresses up like that to go to the bingo hall.”

  “What are you trying to say?”

  Raphaël had started asking me all these detailed questions. He was trying to sink my battleship.

  He sat down and lit up a homemade bong he’d fabricated out of a 7UP bottle. The smoke swirled inside it, looking like a mermaid trapped in an aquarium, banging on the walls. After he exhaled, he pulled a pair of yellow underwear out of his pocket and held them up.

  “Where the fuck did these come from?”

  I blushed because I had taken them out of somebody else’s laundry bin. He took my blush as confirmation that I had received them as a gift. He went into my closet. He ripped all the pretty dresses off the coat hangers, shoving them into a huge garbage bag. He tossed the bag right out the window. I sat on the side of the mattress, speechless.

  I knew that we were one fight away from splitting up. So I just let him act crazy, like I was watching a television show.

  The next morning, as I was waiting for the bus to go to work, I looked back up at the window and saw Raphaël standing in it, watching me. When I finished my shift, I saw him sitting in the restaurant across the street from the magazine store.

  That evening he came home early from work. He walked right past me and threw open the window and looked down the fire escape to see if someone was running down it. The cold air rushed in. It made me feel incredibly naked, even though I had my clothes on. I just decided to ignore him and continue reading. He sat next to me on the bed. He held up one of the pillows to his nose and inhaled. He kissed me really hard. Then he almost pushed me away and went to the kitchen to smoke a cigarette.

  He thought it was weird that I was wearing perfume. He thought that it was because I was trying to mask some other smell. He dumped my purse out on the kitchen table. He was perplexed because there were about twelve half-used tubes of lipstick. A girl who sold for Revlon had given me her samples.

  It was driving me batty that he kept trying to put two and two together. I got caught up in his madness, I suppose. I started going through his things too. I was trying to find out what he was up to.

  I found a notebook in his underwear drawer. I took it out and opened it. On the first page, he had written, “The End of Beginnings.” I had no idea what it was about lunatics that made them almost sound like geniuses. I sat on the edge of the bed to read what was inside. He had written down all my comings and goings. He had noted that there was somewhere that I snuck off to at 4:20 every day. I was frightened. I put the notebook back where I’d found it. I wished I had never seen it. His defence mechanisms were leading him down a dangerous path. He had made a mistake trusting someone once, and now he was examining me under a microscope. How could anybody withstand that kind of scrutiny?

  If you want to see yourself the way the devil sees you, then read your sweetheart’s diary.

  Nouschka was moving a strand of spaghetti into the shape of a heart.

  Nouschka was in the bathtub for an hour reading Anna Karenina.

  Nouschka bought a postcard of a boxer, although she had no intention of mailing it to anyone.

  Nouschka put her teacup on the windowsill. The cat jumped up and drank out of it, but Nouschka didn’t say anything.

  Nouschka was crying while reading the newspaper.

  Nouschka stopped outside the building and just stood there for a few minutes before coming upstairs.

  Nouschka put her hand out to see
whether or not it was raining, even though it clearly wasn’t.

  It almost seemed like I was reading about someone I had never met. It was the sketch of a Russian novel—except the author hadn’t yet come up with the tragedy that would befall the female protagonist. But even I could see that she was already dissatisfied.

  I decided to try harder to prove my love and to somehow get our relationship back to the way it was just a few months before. Later, I went into the bathroom while Raphaël was leaning into the mirror and shaving. All I had on was a pair of green woollen tights and a lavender bra, which must have been from the fifties, from the thrift store. It was the prettiest thing I owned. He made love to me every single time that I took my sweater off and was wearing it. I sat on the toilet with the lid down. It was a feat, because even though we had the heat pumped up, it was still always cold in the apartment. I was pouting my lips and tilting my head in a way that I hoped was attractive.

  “Raphaël?” I asked, as sweetly as I could. “Do you think about me when you’re riding the bus? Do you think maybe we’ll go on a holiday together by the seashore? We could bring some Polish sausage and beer. Do you find that half the characters in books remind you of me?”

  I was trying to get him to compliment me like he used to.

  “What I wonder sometimes is why a girl like you would go for me. Unless maybe someone put you up to it.”

  We were both quiet for a spell. We just stared, trying to figure one another out. We were wondering what the other’s game plan was.

  “I’m pregnant,” I said.

  And after that night, I was.

  CHAPTER 39

  Pin Your Heart on Your Jacket

  NICOLAS WAS OUTSIDE THE MÉTROPOLIS. HE was scalping tickets to music shows. He always did that on Friday nights.

  The thousands of light bulbs on the marquee were flickering on and off. Whenever a light in our kitchen would blow out, Loulou would tell us to take a ladder and go and get one of the bulbs from the Métropolis sign. It was a staple in his stand-up routine. He looked sort of picturesque under the marquee, looking off into space with a stern expression, his hair swept back. That’s why all the girls in high school had always been in love with him. He sort of looked like a tortured gangster from a sixties film noir. The crowd had all gone inside to see Les Colocs, and if he had any tickets left, they weren’t worth anything anymore.

  “What’s the news?” he said when he saw me walking up.

  “I’m pregnant.”

  “Ohhhh, why?” Nicolas yelled, throwing his arms up in the air. “We’re supposed to be trying to put this family out of its misery. We’re sluts, we have ADD and we’re separatists. We shouldn’t be procreating.”

  He was grinning though. We both started to laugh for no reason, or perhaps at the fact that we were inflicting more Tremblays onto this world.

  “I thought that wearing spandex all the time was supposed to render a man infertile,” Nicolas said. “Just please don’t let the little fucker figure skate. You know I hate that shit.”

  “I’m going to buy him one of those all-white outfits. The ones with fringes under the arms.”

  “You wouldn’t! Think of all the poor kids in China who are in sweatshops being forced to make sequins for those outfits.”

  We started cracking up. He was sort of happy that I was in the same boat as him. It was like when he had dropped out of school and I had done the same. He usually did stupid things first—like smoking and drinking and having sex—and then he felt all weird and guilty about them until I did the same. Then they just seemed normal. He always liked when I followed him down. If you think that that is an awful quality, well you are probably right, but you can’t have a very high opinion of love.

  “You must be hungry,” he said. “I was hungry all the time when Saskia was pregnant. Also, I had morning sickness, because I vomited when she told me.”

  “What else can you tell me about being pregnant?”

  “You’ll want an ice cream sundae.”

  We went around the corner to a café that served sundaes year round. It was a tiny, cozy place that we’d liked since we were kids. The walls were painted pink and there were paintings of blue skies with clouds. There were plants in the petite jars on the shelves; their roots were swimming around in the water, like some nineteenth-century etching. The chalkboard had a dozen different names for ice cream and specialty coffee; the bottom halves of the words were all smudged.

  He took a wad of cash that he had made that evening out of his pocket. There were an awful lot of red two-dollar bills padding out that roll. He peeled a couple off the top and handed them to the waitress.

  “Two sundaes.”

  The waitress had an afro, the back of which was white with chalk powder from leaning on the menu board. She put scoops of vanilla ice cream into the bowls and then poured hot caramel onto them. The sauce melted the ice cream immediately. We waited for a moment to see whether or not the hot caramel might have the power to melt away all of winter.

  “When I get the three grand together,” Nicolas said, “I’ll be able to see Pierrot and we can let the kids play together.”

  I wasn’t going to try and argue that getting three thousand dollars didn’t necessarily mean he would see Pierrot again. We were just going to sort of celebrate the possibility of being good parents. Getting pregnant while we were young and unprepared meant we were old school. I had written a paper on family life in Québec before the Quiet Revolution in the sixties. During La Grande Noirceur, when the Catholic Church controlled the province, Québec was famous for its birth rate. Girls everywhere got pregnant too young. You would see them skipping rope with their pregnant bellies. You would see them in the children’s section of the library, using their huge bellies to prop up their books. There were seven or eight carriages parked outside every store. The sound of all the rattles shaking at once could drive you mad. Every house smelled like pissy and shitty diapers. You had to wear rubber boots because of all the porridge spilled on the floor.

  There were babies in baskets in all the doorways. Once, a woman came home with a baby wrapped in newspaper, sure that it was a little piece of ham that she had bought. Babies were always crying. Mothers could do nothing to make them hush, because all the lullabies were written in English.

  As we looked out the window, Étienne and the camera crew passed by. He had cut out a heart from a piece of red construction paper and safety-pinned it to the lapel of his jacket. I don’t know what he was trying to say. He was getting experimental.

  Étienne was holding up his hand as if to claim that he was the one who had come up with the idea of having snow this year. And maybe it was. Maybe Étienne hadn’t just invented Nicolas and me, but maybe he had created the whole world.

  I guess, since he was my father, it would make sense for me to go out there and say hello and tell him that I was pregnant. He had other things on his mind right now though. Clearly. To go up and talk to him would be like interrupting a performer in the middle of a play. How lovely to be in a production of your life instead of being in your life itself.

  CHAPTER 40

  The Children’s Brigade

  THE WINTER WIND WENT AWAY LITTLE BY little. I put away my coat with the big buttons with the faces of grizzly bears on them. Children started coming out of hibernation. They seemed dangerous to me now that I was pregnant.

  A child wrote its name on the wall with a black crayon. The child wrote that it was in love with someone named Roger. Every day there was something new written by this child on the wall. What could you do? You would have to put out a trap with a candy in it to catch the child and break its neck.

  A kid made mud pies in aluminum dishes with tiny stones on top to decorate them. They were all over the back stairs.

  I opened the mailbox and marbles poured out. There were orange plastic soldiers hanging by strings from the bush. There was Monopoly money under the windshield wiper of the car. There was an egg carton filled with bean sprouts on t
he windowsill in the stairwell.

  The circulars had all been turned into diminutive ships and were sailing off on the sea in the pond in the park. It was an armada that had snuck up on us during the night.

  Soon they would win. One day, with their plastic swords, their cork guns, their snowballs. They were amassing an army and stockpiling weapons. We just weren’t paying attention.

  On the way home from work, Raphaël and I found ourselves stopping to stare at children when we were walking down the street. It was as if each child might be ours and we were trying to recognize it.

  I noticed someone taking a photo of us across the street. They had begun taking photographs of our family no matter what the hell we were doing. There were photographs of us eating sandwiches in the park. I ignored the man and kept walking with Raphaël, staring at babies.

  We had no idea what the connection was between the baby that was inside of me and the kids who were running around. We weren’t really convinced that because I was pregnant, it followed that I was going to have one of these odd little creatures.

  Anyways, the baby was so teeny at this point that I didn’t even know where it was most of the time. It was like Pluto. We knew that it was way, way out in the universe, because somebody told us that it was. And we took them at their word. We really had no empirical proof of that ridiculously small planet ourselves.

  “When I was little, there was an old man who worked at the corner store,” Raphaël said. “And he had tattoos of butterflies on each hand. I thought that he had been born with those tattoos.”

  It made me happy when he said that. He remembered something beautiful about being a child. Raphaël seemed to be much better since he had found out that I was going to have a baby.

  We lay in bed talking.

  “What are we going to name it?” I asked.

  “I hope it’s a girl. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for bringing another man into the world.”

 
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