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Daydreams of angels, p.24
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       Daydreams of Angels, p.24

           Heather O'Neill
 
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  But then at twenty-three, Pierre-Loup was apprehended running out of a supermarket with an armful of raw hamburger meat, as a pack of wolves lay waiting in the parking lot.

  “Unhand me, varmints,” cursed Pierre as the wolves scrambled over parked cars on their way back to the woods.

  In the hours that followed, the world learned of Pierre-Loup’s history. Sociologists and linguists rushed to meet him in the hotel where he was sequestered, to learn how a feral child could have grown up to speak so well.

  Pierre-Loup told them he had learned English by overhearing as he rooted through garbage cans behind people’s houses and reading the labels on beef jerky wrappers.

  “I’ve always been a fast learner,” he said. “The only one in our pack who could peel an orange.”

  The authorities made an attempt to contact his parents, but as it turned out, the grief over his childhood disappearance had driven them both to despair, and five years earlier, after coming home from an evening out with friends, they had sealed up the windows, laid themselves down in bed and turned on the gas.

  And so Pierre-Loup was left without a human soul in the world.

  * * *

  Pierre was unexpectedly charming, not at all what you would expect from a feral child, and people couldn’t get enough of him. He did the talk-show circuit, regaling interviewers with stories about his wolf family.

  “I had one cousin who was always trying to pass himself off as some sort of ‘lone wolf,’ but then around mealtime, he’d always creep back, pretending to have forgotten something.”

  When asked if he’d always felt like an outsider among the wolves, he sneered, “Why would I? I am a wolf.”

  And he did vaguely resemble one. His mouth was huge like Mick Jagger’s and his face almost seemed to split in two when he smiled. Although he was only twenty-three, his messy black hair was going prematurely grey, and from out of it, his huge ears stuck out, accentuating how narrow his face was.

  “Didn’t you ever feel there was something different about you while growing up?” Barbara Walters asked.

  “Well, my mother did lavish an inordinate amount of attention on me,” he said. “I did mention the red boots I was given, did I not?”

  You could see Barbara Walters looking a little flustered. Seeing that he had missed her point, she continued.

  “You must miss your dead parents terribly.” She said this with her trademark empathetic squint—the look that cues her producers to zoom in for the guest’s tears. But Pierre-Loup was nonplussed.

  “My wolf family is my only family,” he said resolutely, and rather than cry, he pulled out some beef jerky from his pocket and sucked on it contentedly.

  * * *

  Pierre-Loup continued to perplex and surprise many more hosts on many more TV shows. When it was time to walk on stage for The Oprah Winfrey Show, he was so excited that he ran out on all fours and collided into the couch, knocking over most of the set and scaring Oprah very badly. To make matters worse, during the commercial break, he relieved himself in a rubber tree plant beside his armchair. And then, back from the break, he pulled out a goldfish from a Ziploc bag and poured it into his bottle of beer. He called it his “protein shake.”

  He then spent the remainder of the interview talking about his dislike of “Pitou,” the hairdresser’s lapdog, which he’d met backstage.

  “That little jerk would stab you in the back! A real vainglorious runt. He couldn’t take down a rabbit with a broken leg, so why is he so full of himself?”

  In spite of his shenanigans, Pierre-Loup was TV magic. He was recruited by a touring agency that booked him on a speaking tour of Europe, where he became as beloved a North American export as Jerry Lewis and Twinkies.

  He was a particular hit with the French intelligentsia, who wrote essays about him, holding him up as a symbol of our primordial spirit and all that we have lost. Also, they loved when he performed La Marseillaise and begged him to howl it every chance they got.

  Pierre-Loup became notorious for being thrown out of a hotel for swimming naked in the pool, peeing off a balcony, eating tropical fish out of an aquarium and murdering a guest’s Pekingese. He befriended a stray German shepherd from the pound who had a missing eye and broken tail, and together they toured around France, the two of them riding first class and drinking champagne. The French media began to call him a poète maudit.

  These were very good times for Pierre-Loup. He enjoyed seeing the world and seemed to thrive on all the attention. Because of his popularity, feral children became all the rage in Europe, and so, to draw even bigger crowds, the tour organizers decided to pair Pierre-Loup with George LeCurieu. While on an Indian safari with his parents, George had fallen from a jeep and, subsequently, had been raised by macaque monkeys.

  A new poster was hastily prepared in which George was shown laughing, with a banana peel on his head, as Pierre-Loup stood beside him scowling, with a dead rabbit in his mouth.

  From the very first moment that Pierre met him, he hated George LeCurieu’s guts. The two feral children were complete opposites. Whereas Pierre was aloof and imposing, George was always trying to put everyone he met at ease. In fact, when they first met, George was riding a tricycle around and around in circles. He handed Pierre a red balloon, which Pierre quickly popped on his thumbnail.

  George had been mentored by a showbiz chimpanzee who had done a lot of film work. He had instructed George in what he believed impressed humans the most. George could barely even talk, but being so desperate for love, he would roll his lips under his gums, puff his cigar and smilingly wait to be applauded, and when he was, he would tip his pink-andpurple party hat.

  Pierre-Loup was sickened by George’s complete lack of dignity. When George clumsily tap-danced to “Tea for Two,” Pierre would bite his knuckle until it bled.

  “I refuse to tour with that imbecile,” said Pierre-Loup to the tour manager.

  “We can filter that aggression back into the act,” the manager assured him. “Maybe start each show with a fake sword fight. Monkey versus wolf!”

  Pierre-Loup wanted to quit on the spot, but the truth was that he had developed quite a taste for expensive wine and fine clothing. In fact, when asked by reporters if he still felt the call of the wild, he said, “Not really. It’s just too bloody difficult being hungry all the time.”

  * * *

  For Pierre-Loup, the bottom finally fell out at the now-infamous lecture that he and George gave at École normale supérieure, during the question and answer period. It seemed that some of the professors wished to challenge Pierre’s assertion that he was in fact a wolf.

  “You don’t have a tail, monsieur!” Professor Monpetit exclaimed.

  “How dare you!” Pierre-Loup retorted. “My brother had his tail cut off in a mink trap. Does that make him any less of a wolf? If a man loses a leg in the war, is he not still a man? You cannot reduce my essence to a body part!”

  “But you can speak several languages, monsieur!” Professor Delinelle yelled.

  “Wolf is my mother tongue, and even you, sir, will concede that it is superior to English.”

  All the French philosophers chuckled at this one, but still they were not deterred.

  “What wolf would wear Yves Saint Laurent suits and a diamond pinky ring?”

  Calmly and rather menacingly, Pierre-Loup explained that, despite appearances, a wolf could never be domesticated. Because, he argued, if you offered a wolf a milk bone, the wolf would bite off the entire hand. The milk bone, he said, would just be the cherry on the cake.

  The audience looked skeptical. George LeCurieu twisted nervously on his tricycle seat.

  “I am a wolf,” Pierre-Loup said, pounding the lectern. But still, a trace of uncertainty had crept into his voice. Just the same, he continued: “I am an outlaw—a metaphor for death and destruction. You humans are programmed to be instinctively terrified of me. There can never be any true love between our species.”

  With these final wor
ds, he walked past the podium over to the edge of the stage and glared into the audience. Everyone felt the hairs on the backs of their necks stand up. With shaky hands, the philosophers lit up their Gauloises. There were no further questions.

  In the silence that ensued, George LeCurieu grew uneasy, and so to diffuse the tension, he began to pull on the suspenders attached to his diaper. As he did so, he blew into a slide whistle.

  Pierre-Loup focused his rage on the poor monkey-boy.

  “You are not an animal,” Pierre-Loup yelled at George. “If you were a real monkey, you would be throwing your feces at this crowd! You’d be pounding your chest and making war cries. You are a man imitating a monkey imitating a man.”

  The philosophers liked that line a great deal. Some of them even jotted it down in their notebooks for use as a possible title for a later treatise on postmodernity.

  No longer able to bear the spectacle of it all, Pierre-Loup leapt at George and almost bit off the ear of the security guard who tried in vain to pull him off.

  * * *

  After that event, Pierre-Loup was judged uninsurable. He returned to Canada, depressed, lonely and detoxing from expensive French champagne. He continued to search for his wolf family in the north and finally discovered, to his dismay, that the lot of them had been captured and put in a Montreal zoo. He went there every day, gripping the bars of their cage and swearing to get them out as soon as possible—he just needed to find a big enough apartment for them all to live in. He described how beautiful St. Denis Street was and he assured them that they would all be strutting down it soon.

  It was there at the zoo that I first saw Pierre-Loup, squatting beside the wolf cage. There was something about the way he was whispering so tenderly between the bars, the way the wolves were all gathered around him, that attracted me right away. I was never the love-at-first-sight type, and yet what I experienced that day was unlike anything I’d ever felt for a man I’d only just met.

  “They’d better be treating you guys well,” he said, “or they’ll be hearing from me.”

  It was an incredibly odd thing to be saying to wolves, but I lived in a Bohemian neighbourhood and so I figured he must be a poet.

  When he turned and saw me staring at him he smiled, and I recognized that smile from countless newspaper articles and TV appearances. He bared all his teeth and tilted his face downwards while looking at me. He kept this expression frozen on his face as he made his way over.

  “Yes, I am the infamous Pierre-Loup,” he said. “And you are an absolute vision in that little red coat of yours. The moment I saw you I said, ‘Why, that girl’s so cute, I could eat her up.’”

  He threw his head back and laughed.

  That first night we spent together, there was a full moon out. He said he couldn’t stay in on a night when the moon was full. We went to the social club down the street from my apartment and danced all night. It seemed that no one had ever taken poor Pierre dancing. He rolled around on the dance floor in delight, overturning chairs and tables until finally we were thrown out.

  At the end of the night, he carried me up the stairs of my apartment building and onto the roof. He tried to get me to howl at the moon with him, but when I tried I only ended up giggling, and once my giggles had faded to silence, very slowly, he leaned in and we kissed. It was Pierre-Loup’s first kiss ever and it was so sweet—so small and yet filled with so much promise. It was the kind of kiss that little boys make when they kiss their mirrors alone late at night and dream of being men one day.

  THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS

  The whole lot of us are at the rental board: my mom and my dad and my three brothers. We are all dressed up. I have on a black sweater dress that is too hot. There is a big hole in the butt of my underwear, but no one can tell. We all sit in the blue plastic chairs while the landlord’s lawyer explains why we deserve to be evicted. We have been going to the rental board for as long as I can remember. The landlord is always trying to get us OUT. We are always so nervous, but the judges always give us another chance no matter what we do, because nobody likes to put a family out on the street. If we are evicted, then other landlords don’t have to rent to us, and they for sure never will. And then if we are homeless, child protection will put my brothers and me in foster homes. And we will all be separated. We will be doomed!

  The landlord’s lawyer keeps listing all the things we have done this time. In the tiny courtroom, the landlord makes a lot of accusations against us. He says that my brothers and dad pee out of the window. This is true, because it is hard in the morning for everyone to wait their turn to get into the bathroom.

  The landlord says that we destroy mail from the mailroom. This is true too. Once we took all the circulars and made them into paper crowns. That had been such a fun afternoon. All the other kids came around, and they all wanted to be able to make themselves paper crowns as well. We had all been kings.

  He says my dad set some fireworks off behind the building. There were only actually five fireworks. He had made a big deal about buying them too. There was a Native who was selling them out of the trunk of his car. The rockets made soft popping noises, just like a bird being shot in the heart with an arrow. And then all this silver fell. It was so pretty. I put my hands out in case the silver would come all the way down to the yard. I would have pools of silver in my hands, like Jesus, kind of.

  The landlord complains about my brother’s snow woman. He made her with really big breasts and then used buttons as nipples. Plus he used a pinecone as pubic hair. And he put an old wig that he found in the basement on its head. It caused a car accident when someone slowed down to look at it. It was a work of art.

  The landlord says that we played racquetball against the building wall, making everyone who lived in the apartments annoyed. We don’t remember this ever happening. Another tenant comes to testify that we poured pink food colouring on their white cat. Which, actually, we had done, but I regret it to this day.

  From the other side of his big white desk, the judge tells us that he has had enough.

  He says that he has been looking through our files and that he has decided that we have been warned plenty of times. That it just isn’t fair to the landlord and the other tenants around us. And that the next time we are brought in for disturbing the general peace of the building, he will evict us.

  As we ride the subway home, we vow to ourselves that we will change the way we act.

  “Turtledove,” my dad says to me. “It’s your job to keep an eye on all of us.”

  We get on our knees on the seats to look out the window. We almost never go anywhere, so the ride is like a vacation and we are carefree. My dad puts his arm around my mom.

  * * *

  My mom has a scrapbook filled with some newspaper articles about when my three brothers and I were all born at the same time. On that major day, my dad told a doctor that he was out of work and he didn’t know how he was going to afford all these kids that had shown up on his doorstep, so to speak. The doctor had been really nice about it and suggested that we call a local newspaper. The newspaper set up a hotline so that people could send money and stuff to help us out.

  My dad had always wanted to live in one of the project buildings. But he couldn’t until we were born. When we came into his life all at once, he moved right to the top of the list. He climbed up that list exactly like when you land on a ladder in that board game.

  We still have too many stuffed animals left over from when we were first born and people sent us gifts after reading the paper. They are always piled up on all our beds and I have to tunnel under them to go to sleep. They are so dorky. There is an alligator that wears a tuxedo, for instance. I don’t know why we didn’t throw them away, but we never really throw anything away. There is even a broken television on top of our fridge.

  We love our small apartment because it is on the ground floor and we don’t have to climb stairs, and we’re lazy in that department. There is always this sound of rumbling from
inside the walls. We are not sure what it is. My dad says that he thinks it is actually the sound of the boiler in the basement that we are hearing. We can’t complain about it because the landlord will tell us, well then, go on and move. The landlord hates us because we are on welfare and are doing nothing about it. Also, once my dad was drunk and told him that he was a blood-sucking slumlord and threw a beer can at his head, which for some reason he took to heart.

  My dad said that he stays on welfare because he gets more money with four kids than he would if he still worked for the sales company that he used to work for before my mom got pregnant. He said that looking after us is a full-time job. He also said that he has Type 2 diabetes. He doesn’t want to have a diabetes attack, so he can’t do anything too strenuous, like putting on shoes at seven in the morning.

  * * *

  We always say that I am the baby, even though we have no idea who the baby is. When you are a girl, you are always going to be littler than boys. Sometimes it is annoying to have so many brothers. Like, let me tell you this: I like to wear lollipop rings. They always grab my hand to suck on the ring, which is gross and nasty and against my rights.

  It’s Friday after school, and my mom pushes us all in a grocery cart at the same time. But we get into a fight because nobody wants to carry the piece of ham on their lap. Then the manager comes to complain to my mother about it and to say we can’t all be in the damn basket at once. Maybe it’s a fire hazard, because almost everything good in life is a fire hazard. Anyway, we climb out, one by one.

 
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