The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.24Heather O'Neill
I knew that my excuse wasn’t believable though. Raphaël called me out on it right away.
“Are you crazy? You don’t get headaches. You just want to have a chance to call Nicolas.”
“You’re always making me choose between you.”
“Our relationship always suffers when you start obsessing about him. You can’t be a wife. We have to have our very own little family. I get to be number one just for once.”
“I always make you number one.”
“Not really, Nouschka, my darling. Not really. You pretended that you chose to be with me at the wedding. And maybe you were, for just that night, but you’ve been slowly, bit by bit, trying to get back to Nicolas. But time moves forward and not back. And don’t you realize that all the successes in time travel are so that we can move forward?”
I sat looking at Raphaël, trying to grasp the gist of what he just said.
“If we were to go back in time, it would be disastrous to civilization. There would still be dinosaurs running around. And there would be no Beethoven or Sigmund Freud. All of our encyclopedias would be obsolete because they would be encyclopedias of the unknown.”
I shook my head at him in an uncomprehending way.
“You got married to me,” he said, putting his hands gently on my shoulders. “You can’t go back to the way things were before. Have some respect for the present.”
He was right. He was completely mad and even he could see that I couldn’t go running back to Nicolas.
A scrap-metal truck passed by. They were building spaceships out of fences and grocery carts. They wanted to be the first Québécois to plant a fleur-de-lys on the moon.
“Do you still love me?” I asked.
He paused and sighed. “Voyons donc, Nouschka.”
We left the city in the night. Nicolas and Loulou and Étienne were all on the island, having no idea that I was leaving. I felt in my purse. I had brought along the tin that was filled with money.
In the Land Where I Was Born
WE DROVE DOWN THE HIGHWAY, PAST ROWS OF farmhouses that looked like a line of lunch boxes on a bench at the back of the class. The radio was playing a late-night show. The DJ’s bosses were asleep. Otherwise, surely, he would be fired for playing music that was so profoundly sad. The notes from the piano were like raindrops falling on the lake.
We drove past the exits to towns named after saints. There was Sainte-Julie, who was conceived one Christmas night when her father swore he’d put a condom on. There was Saint-Jacob, who woke up after a night of heavy drinking to find that a tattoo of the Virgin Mary had miraculously appeared on his arm. And Saint-Martin, who got up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, and when he turned on the faucet, beer came out.
Nicolas and I were conceived in a small town like this. But I was tired of believing the Lily Sainte-Marie creation story. It made no sense to me. It was easier to believe that a cow was licking maple syrup off a stone for an hour until the stone began to cry and stretched out its little arms in the air. Or to believe that a wolf gave birth to Nicolas and me under the rotten floorboards of one of the rotten houses in Val-des-Loups.
The house was down a path in the woods. The headlights illuminated the woods, like a spotlight that shines on the stage before the circus begins.
It belonged to one of the Bleeding Sparrows. I expected it to be a dump. On the contrary, the house was made out of wood and was painted white and was really pretty. The rent was only three hundred dollars, because there was no work in the area. I had never been in a house that size. There was a green Indian carpet with salmon pink flowers. There was a couch with deer all over it, and framed needlepoints of deer on the wall. There were actual deer out in the forest. You could hear them making the sound of pulling off their boots.
The mattress let out a cry when I flopped onto it. Raphaël was burning sage and waving it all over the room to get the evil spirits out as I fell asleep.
Raphaël threw his clothes into the garbage bin behind the house. Why he did this, I have no idea. Maybe he thought they had bad karma. In a pair of jean shorts, he drove to the local dump and filled a paper bag with clothes. Someone had thrown out an entire wardrobe from the seventies. The collars on all the shirts were too long and the buttons on the jackets were gigantic. Raphaël came into the kitchen wearing a pair of bell-bottoms and a polyester undershirt with a red and brown tweed pattern on it. He was wearing a pair of flip-flops on his enormous feet. None of the shoes at the dump were big enough for him.
I liked his style. It was like we had gone back in time to before we were born. Raphaël had proven his thesis that you could indeed move backwards in time as well as forward.
“I need some sort of outdoor work,” Raphaël said.
“You don’t even know what that means.”
That evening, Raphaël asked me to pass him his red jacket as he pointed to a black one on the back of a chair. I passed him the jacket and he seemed happy with it. I guess he didn’t subscribe to the idea that words belonged exclusively to their definitions. That, or he was reading a different dictionary than the rest of us.
“I’ll be back in a couple hours,” he said.
“I’m going with you.”
“Suit yourself. But I’d rather you not interfere with my transactions.”
I had on a skirt and a turtleneck that was too big. My hands kept getting lost in the sleeves. I grabbed my boots and put them on.
“Are you going to be a drug dealer?”
“No. The guy who owns this house is doing two years in Kingston Penitentiary for that sort of thing. That’s why we get to stay here for so cheap.”
“It’s so lonely though.”
“I’m going to get a guard dog to help with that.”
Part of Raphaël’s probation conditions was that he wasn’t allowed to have a dog. It was worse than all the drugs. That he was getting a dog was a clear sign that he was going down the same old path he’d gone down before.
As we drove, we passed the one Chinese restaurant for fifty miles. Old women still wore their hair in beehives out here. The teenagers were always being killed hitchhiking home from heavy metal concerts in the city. Half the dogs were named Princesse.
“You can’t have a dog, you know,” I said.
“Don’t Daddy know it to be the bitter truth. But Daddy gonna take care of you, baby-child.”
On principle, I ignored guys when they chose to talk like forties pimps from Chicago. We drove down the highway. We passed all the black-eyed Susans weeping about how badly their boyfriends had treated them. But we had no time for them.
The Wild Roses of Québec
THERE WAS A WOODEN SIGN THAT HAD THE word GYPSIES painted on it on the side of the highway. We drove down the path that was next to it. It led to a clearing where a group of white houses stood at the end of the road. They could all have used a coat of paint, but they were actually kind of pretty. There were motorcycles everywhere, which ruined the effect of it being a kind of a nice little enclave.
We stopped the car in front of the biggest house. There were all sorts of chairs and an old couch on the porch. There were pots of plants all over the steps. There was a small statue of an angel, which had enormous pores from having survived countless winters.
There was a very young girl with a blond mullet and a Mitsou T-shirt, which she had knotted under her underdeveloped breasts, sitting on the couch next to a boy who was covered with stick-on tattoos. Children always ended up looking and acting like their parents. Which was a thought I didn’t want to be having right then.
We were going to see that biker named Rosalie, who lived here. He opened the front door and gestured that we should follow him. His hair was wet, as if he had just taken a shower, and he had on a leather vest. He walked us out behind the house to a cottage. He opened the door of the garage and there, unmistakably right in front of us, was a cage with a lion in it. He was telling Raphaël ho
“What’s its name?” Raphaël asked.
“Michelangelo,” Rosalie answered.
At which I rolled my eyes as violently as any human being could. Raphaël turned away from me, so that he didn’t laugh. He came and stood next to me as we looked at the lion.
The lion looked heavy. It looked like a sweater that you had pulled out of a bucket it was soaking in. His belly slouched toward the ground as he paced. The lion’s step was so quiet, however, as if it was walking on carpet in a suburban home. It had giant black gums and little brown spots all over its body. It had big amber eyes that were filled with so much innocence, it was terrifying. It was hard on some level to believe that the lion was dangerous, because it was hard to believe that it was real. It seemed like I was just imagining it. I jumped back when it raised one of its paws.
“I never imagined that a lion could have such big paws,” I said.
“Yeah, it takes a while to get used to. It’s better to sell them when they are cubs like this. Before people have fully grasped the idea that they’ve bought a lion.”
“Aren’t you worried that the lion will eat your children?”
“He’s totally tame. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. If someone came and slit my throat, he’d probably just sit there yawning. I got to get rid of it because my ex-wife says she’ll tell the lawyer and I’ll lose visitation rights.”
“That’ll do it.”
“She’ll say anything about me.”
While Raphaël was looking at the lion, I followed Rosalie back into his house. I was worried that Raphaël was going to buy that lion and try to fasten him into the back of the car with a seat belt. I didn’t want to be around when he made such a decision. At least later, while I was being ripped apart, I would know it wasn’t any of my doing. Rosalie sat in a leather easy chair and did a line of cocaine. Cocaine was popular in this neck of the woods. His cheeks were all flushed and he glowed, like a baby that was fat on breast milk and about to pass out. He started babbling.
He said that he came from a small town where all the women his age were named Charlotte, after a character on a television show that was popular that year. He said he had once cut his initials into a tree trunk and the tree died.
Three other Bleeding Sparrows walked into the house and came in the living room. A boy followed them. The boy, who was about four years old, was wearing nothing but diapers and a pair of red cowboy boots.
“Your husband is, like, the deepest dude that I ever met,” one of them said. “Once we smoked mescaline. We were in our underwear. And he taught me all these rules. He taught me about the physics of the universe.”
He was wearing a bright yellow tank top that was almost exactly the same colour as a dandelion. Because they wore sunglasses, it was hard to know how stoned they were.
“Oh that’s nice.”
They all seemed to have at least three tattoos of roses a piece. There was an entire rose garden sitting right there in front of me. He had never promised me a rose garden, but here it was.
“What kind of freaky weirdos buy lions anyways?” I asked.
“I’ll take him,” Raphaël said, walking in.
For a second I thought that he meant the lion, but I saw he had a huge German shepherd following behind him. I never thought I’d be relieved that we left there with a dog.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Nouschka Tremblay
AS WE WALKED BACK TO THE CAR, I TURNED AND waved to the bikers.
“I want you to ask yourself a serious question,” I said, once we were out of earshot. “I want you to ask yourself whether you think that what Québec needs is another biker?”
“I’m not a biker. I’m just visiting a few of my business associates.”
“Do you know what business associates do? They wear suits and have briefcases, and you meet them in boardrooms and you give presentations. They don’t walk around in black tank tops and have designated tables at strip clubs. They don’t start their meeting by bragging about their oral sex skills.”
“How would you feel about changing our names?”
“I don’t like that. What are you going to change them to?”
“I always feel fantastic with a new name. It’s like a brand-new suit. I feel like a new man. How about Marguerite? Arnaud Marguerite.”
“I don’t think I’m one hundred percent in love with that stupid name, to be honest.”
“You’re not being open-minded.”
“I think I’ve been reasonably open-minded enough for one day. I’m out here in Saint-Maurice-Fucked-Ma-Blonde, looking at lions!”
“If we stay out here for a year, then we will maybe make fifty thousand dollars breeding this guy, and then we can go back to the city and get back on our feet. We can buy a lot of fancy things.”
“Now we’re going to breed the dog?”
“Sure, why not? He’s a champion.”
“A champion how?”
“Would you like a brand-new fur coat?”
“What about leopard-skin seat covers for the car?”
“What about gold teeth? We should get matching gold teeth.”
“Be serious, Nouschka. We can have our own house.”
That’s the problem with marrying young, isn’t it? It’s almost like one of you has to sacrifice your dream for the other. It was true that Raphaël’s dream was a little bit more lucrative at the moment. But it was just money that was going to run out and then leave us off exactly where we were before. If I had a degree, it would lead me to all sorts of promising futures. But here I was in the woods, a thousand miles from school.
We climbed in the car with Champion the German shepherd. The dog was clearly ecstatic that we were taking it home with us. It kept toppling around in the back seat as we drove off. It finally squeezed its head behind Raphaël’s seat and stuck its head out the window.
We stopped outside a grocery store. There were about a million signs on the front of the store window. The prices were written in big fluorescent numbers on white pieces of paper. There was a sign that was making a big, big deal about the price of milk. Raphaël went inside.
The dog kept looking anxiously out the window to see if Raphaël had come out of the store yet. Perhaps it thought that Raphaël might sneak out a back exit and run away from us all. The dog was trying to suppress a whine. I could tell that it was almost painful for it not to cry out. I wondered who had fallen in love with Raphaël quicker: me or the dog.
I watched the people walking out. They all looked Québécois. No one out here understood a word of English. Knowing how to speak English was a Montréal thing. There was a man with a handlebar moustache. Everything else about him was ordinary—everything except that moustache.
A woman with a brown trench coat that almost went down to the ground came out of the store. She was smoking a cigarette. Her children were all following behind her, each carrying a plastic bag with the word Merci written on it in blue. They walked in a row behind her, like a row of pretty little ducks.
“Look at that woman,” I said out loud. “She doesn’t even know when to stop. Soon she’ll need a school bus just to take her kids to school.”
I could spend the rest of my life in this car, waiting for Raphaël to come out of the grocery store. There would be three kids crammed into the back seat, wearing different T-shirts and reading comic books and praying that their father would bring them out a bag of Cheetos. Their running shoes would kick the back of my seat, like a heartbeat.
The dog did a circle of joy when he saw Raphaël come out of the store, pushing a cart with a huge bag of dog food and other groceries in it. He loaded everything into the trunk of the car.
“I always sort of saw myself as some sort of intellectual,” I said as I watched Raphaël through
As Raphaël got in the car, he handed me a plastic bottle of spruce beer. There was a lumberjack on the label with a tiny red toque on his head. We Québécois were always drinking spruce beer. Every time I drank it, I thought that this time I might like it, and every time I drank it, I liked it even less. I almost gagged after having a sip. I’d never felt as contrary as I did that day.
“I should have just stayed stranded on the island with Nicolas. I should have. We would have been happy with the pelicans and the swans. I should have just married the walrus. What was so wrong? Things were less complicated. All that Nicolas and I ever did was bitch about our lives. But maybe it wasn’t so bad. Because everything off the island is worse.”
“Are you talking to your mother?” Raphaël asked. “You talk to her all the time. Ever since I started seeing you, you were always talking to your mother. Maybe every time that you talk to her, she’s probably somewhere—wherever she is—answering your questions. Did you ever think about that?”
I looked at Raphaël. Sometimes mad people could say such wonderfully astute things. They could wrap their minds around lovely possibilities that the rest of us couldn’t.
“Let’s not fight,” Raphaël said with kindness. “Let’s just see where this adventure takes us, shall we?”
“How long are we going to be out here?”
“I just can’t be on the island right now. You know that we had a difficult history. They’re all sorts of ways for places to be bugged, you know. I saw a documentary on the Cold War. Since Communism fell, they sold all their equipment cheap. There are warehouses full of wiretaps and headphones.”
But then, of course, they ruined it by saying something like that.
He was wearing a giant gold watch. It didn’t seem to tell the right time, but he didn’t seem to mind. Maybe his broken watch told the right time in a parallel universe. He clicked on the ignition. Someone screamed out from the radio. The dog put its paws on the back of the seats and leaned its head forward between us like a little kid that was excited about wherever we were going.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes