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The girl who was saturda.., p.26
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       The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.26

           Heather O'Neill
 

  “You talk about what good am I for? What good am I for? How dare you ask! What good are you for?”

  We were hysterical. We couldn’t figure out who was leaving who.

  “How dare you threaten to leave me?” I screamed.

  “I don’t know what the fuck you’re accusing me of accusing you of.”

  “All I know is that you’re leaving this morning and you have no intention of coming back and you can’t say it to my face.”

  “You’re the one who’s leaving.”

  “That’s right. That’s right. Just watch me leave first, and then have the nerve to say that I left you. You know that I could never leave you in this lifetime.”

  “Then what are you doing?”

  “I’m leaving!”

  “So leave.”

  “You would let me leave!”

  Then we just started really going at each other. We were frustrated because neither of us was ready to be an adult and we didn’t know how to be married. Because we were both terrified of the baby that was on the way. And we both knew that Raphaël was going to run away from it because he could. And I knew that I couldn’t run away from the baby. I could run to the opposite ends of the earth, but wherever I went, I was still going to have the baby. I would fall madly in love with it, with a love that was enormous and unshakable, with a love that was six feet deep and would be buried with me in the grave, with a love that transcended our names and our beginnings and our ends.

  He threw the armchair at me. I ducked. It hit the wall and made a hole in it. As I tried to get up, Raphaël came over and held me down on the floor. He held my hands in his hands, and his knees were on the sides of me. I don’t even know what on earth I was screaming.

  He let go of my hands for a second and I started slapping him wildly in the face. As he leaned back, I got up. He jumped up too and pushed me up against the wall. He grabbed a kitchen knife and held it against my throat.

  “If I killed you, then I wouldn’t have any more problems. Would I? I have to have my head examined for having gotten involved with a crazy family like yours.”

  “What? You haven’t had your head examined enough already? You’re not worried about what this is costing the taxpayers?”

  “You’re pushing me over the edge, Nouschka.”

  “Whatever. Just hurry up and do it then, because I don’t have time for this kind of shit. I’ve got things to do. Besides, I want to go get a new husband. If I get to Montréal early enough, the lineup at the food bank will have started. There’s always a few lookers in it.”

  “Sure, sure. I’ll go see if there aren’t any girls being let out of jail for soliciting cops last night. Maybe they’ll be hungry. I’ll buy them breakfast.”

  “Why not? Dip into your savings.”

  We started laughing at this. He let go of me. We both collapsed on the bed. We lay there next to each other, breathing heavily.

  “I wanted you to feel happy with me. But I’ve only made you feel the opposite. I’ve tried to be good enough for you. I can’t do it anymore.”

  I didn’t say anything. I did want him to leave. I wanted to get on with life. Being married to Raphaël would be like being married to a hurricane. I would have to be putting up storm windows and climbing up trees to rescue the dog. It was wonderful in a way to be so marvellously distracted, but it didn’t leave you any time or boredom for being a person.

  Maybe there was nothing out there. But I felt too young to give up on the world yet. I loved Raphaël, but I loved my life more. I loved Montréal more. And Raphaël would be back. Men always came back. Men always come back. When you least want them back, that’s when they come back.

  “Look, I’m going out to Saint-Raymond to see a guy who might want to go into business with me and I’ll be back in two days.”

  “Okay.”

  “Okay.”

  I left a note on the table for Raphaël, saying that I was back at our old place.

  I hitchhiked to the bus station and caught a night bus back to Montréal. I looked out the bus window. The stars in the sky were like candles on the birthday cake of a one-thousand-year-old man. Somewhere in the night there were bears and raccoons with jars stuck on their heads. Like astronauts lost in space.

  Someone on the bus had a portable radio that they turned on. The chief negotiator for the separatist movement, Lucien Bouchard, was talking. Everyone on the bus quieted down to hear him. He was magical. He had gone into the hospital months before with a flesh-eating disease. Everyone thought that he was going to die, but he had his leg amputated and was walking in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste parade a month later. He had been spared from death so that he could lead us to having our own country. It had been so long since there had been miracles in Québec.

  Everybody wished that he would take one of his suits and cut it up with a pair of scissors so that we could carry a tiny bit of it in our pockets. Give us a relic.

  The Canadian politicians said that we were all going to lose our jobs. We were all going to lose our homes. We were going to lose our trading partners. Our economy would totally fall apart and we would never recover. But Lucien Bouchard said very calmly that it was okay. Just vote Oui. Then we would be our own people. We could control our own finances and culture. We wouldn’t have to go to Ottawa for anything. We would have a partnership with Canada. Not to worry.

  He had turned the referendum around. Oui was climbing in the polls. And listening to Bouchard, I thought, okay, okay, okay. All that I had was five dollars in my pocket and two hearts beating inside of me. That was enough. I would have faith that Québec would make its own successful country. It seemed natural to vote Oui, because since we were little, Nicolas and I had been taught by Étienne that Québec should be its own country. It was our family’s religion.

  I took out my notebook and started working on my speech for Étienne. Writing always took my mind off things. I wanted to think about anything other than Raphaël right at this moment.

  As soon as the bus drove into the city, I started to notice that the signs and slogans had already been put up. People who wanted Québec to separate had tied great big signs saying OUI to their balconies. People who didn’t want separation put big signs that said NON on their lawns and in their windows. The telephone poles each had signs that said OUI and NON right on top of each other.

  The first thing I did when I got off the bus was go and see Nicolas.

  I climbed in through our window. The whole house smelled different. It smelled kind of rotten, the way a house smells when a girl hasn’t been in it for a while.

  The trees on the wallpaper had grown taller and many, many more blossoms had opened up on their branches. The drummer boy on the sheets had grown up. He was a tall, handsome teenager with a bayonet in his hand. The birds in the painting had migrated. They were now in the bathroom on the windowsill.

  Nicolas was sleeping on top of the covers. He was wearing a puffy pink sweater and white briefs. I turned the small lamp on. Nicolas opened his eyes. He acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world that I had come back to him. He put his arms out. I fell into them.

  Nicolas marvelled over my belly, which had gotten much bigger.

  “You look like a fucking whale, but in a good way. I knew you were going to come back. I was just about to go look for you. I was trying to round up some people. I was looking to borrow a car. We were going to drive right out to Val-des-Loups and get you back. But you know how I feel about leaving the island. Once I cross the bridge I lose all my magical powers. So I just decided to think about you really, really hard and I knew you would come back.”

  “I’m exhausted; you can tell me about everything in the morning.”

  It felt good to smell his breath and his skin again. I wondered how it was that I had ever been able to be apart from him. He smelled like winter and tobacco and leather. He always smelled like fireworks had just gone off. I could feel Nicolas’s breath falling and rising. My heartbeat slowed down to his heartbeat.
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  There I was, back in my room with Nicolas, just like nothing had happened at all. Except there was another teeny-tiny heartbeat in the room, and it was beating as rapidly as that of a little bird.

  CHAPTER 51

  Nouschka Tremblay Strikes Again

  WHEN I CAME BACK TO LOULOU’S APARTMENT from the grocery store the next morning, Hugo was there with his camera crew.

  “I’m just going to set up here. You can come out and talk to us when you’re ready.”

  “How did you know that I was back?”

  “I gave the upstairs neighbour five dollars to give me a call if you came back to town. Everybody’s very excited about your pregnancy.”

  “Ridiculous. You guys are going to have the most boring documentary on earth,” I said and stormed inside.

  “Could you walk in the building again, but slower and don’t slam the door,” Hugo called after me.

  When I got to the bedroom, Nicolas was wearing pinstriped pants, an old T-shirt of mine with strawberries on it and one of Loulou’s old fedoras. His outfit was so mismatched that he seemed like an exquisite corpse drawing.

  Nicolas pulled out a briefcase from under the bed. It was filled with four or five guns. I had no idea what you would call those types of guns, but they were bigger than the one Raphaël had. I did not want to see what I was seeing. He took out a gun and held it out straight and spun around the room with it, as if he was the arm in a compass looking for north. He was right in front of the open window.

  “Put that away!” I yelled. I ran and closed the blinds. “Where did you get these guns? Are they for real? They look like movie props.”

  “I bought them from an Armenian, who got them from a Polish guy, who got them from a Moroccan, who got them from these Senegalese dudes that I sure as hell don’t fuck with personally.” I stood there with such a look of shock on my face. “Did you think that I just sat here waiting for you to come back? No, sir, I was very productive. What’s your husband doing out there?”

  “Breeding dogs.”

  “There’s no money in that. I could have told him.”

  A preadolescent boy wearing a T-shirt with horseshoes on it and enormous running shoes climbed through the window. He looked like a criminal that had been shrunk in a dryer.

  “This is my accountant,” Nicolas said. He put his gun away and slid the briefcase back under the bed. “I promoted him last week.”

  “He’s, like, eleven years old.”

  “I’m thirteen and a half,” the boy said.

  “He’s a mathlete. Which is all the more remarkable because he was raised in a single-mother household. How much dough do we have saved up, Julien?”

  “Fifteen hundred dollars.”

  “Brilliant. Fantastic.”

  “Open up the blinds again, Nouschka. It’s like a morgue in here.”

  “Morgues are actually well illuminated,” Julien said.

  “That’s why I have this kid around. I hate to mix my metaphors. I get the headache of a lifetime when I mix my metaphors.”

  “I can’t stay in this apartment. What would happen if the whole place was raided?”

  “Oh, no one’s going to question you. Everyone thinks of you as being as pure as the driven snow. Your popularity ratings are through the roof. You look fucking adorable pregnant. Oh, they are eating you up.”

  I hadn’t even unpacked my suitcase. I probably knew deep down all along that I couldn’t move back into my childhood apartment. That evening I went back to the apartment where Raphaël and I had lived. The cups and plates were still in the dish rack from the night before we left; we had been eating spaghetti together. His jacket was slung over the back of the chair. I sat down across from it. It was eerie that he was missing. Whether Raphaël came back or not, the pretty little apartment was still here waiting for the baby to be born. But for now, I was going to live alone for the very first time in my life.

  I thought that I was going to have trouble getting back into school. I’d missed so many classes without notifying them that I would be absent. I just pointed to my belly and shrugged. The director didn’t seem to have a problem with it since I had been doing so well.

  Pretending to be a good parent isn’t the same thing as being a good parent. This distinction seemed particularly important to me. Parenthood was something that the Tremblays ran from. They wrote you a love poem and put it under your pillow. They put on their black peacoats, slipped on their shiny shoes, flopped their hair back and ran out at midnight over the rooftops to freedom.

  I thought that going to school was somehow part of being a good parent. Someone had to go through a lot of screwdrivers and screws and instruction manuals before they were able to build a rocket ship to the moon. I had to do a lot of practical stuff so that my baby would be able to daydream worry-free for years.

  Later that night I started working on a history essay that was supposed to have been handed in the week before. It was on Henry Hudson. Henry was a brilliant seaman and explorer. He was obsessed with finding a Northwest Passage.

  Henry Hudson hired handsome, ne’er-do-well gentlemen instead of reliable mariners. He looked for men who woke up with prostitutes’ ringlets all over their pillow and who spent hours getting dressed in the morning. He looked for men who looked the way that men were supposed to look. He took on men who had lovely turns of phrase. He adored men who seemed as if they should be extremely talented at something or other, although no one could figure out what that was. He took on men who showed up at his door with glorious smiles and notes from aristocrats and their mothers recommending them.

  He went to great pains each time he went out on a voyage to assemble the crew that was most likely to mutiny against him. Of course they ended up mutinying. But the thought of setting out into the unknown with these men filled his heart with such a surge of blood that it made him weak with terror. It made him feel as if he was plunging to his death from a window. This is an incredibly unpleasant feeling, but you get addicted to it just the same.

  CHAPTER 52

  They Shoot Poets, Don’t They?

  I WENT TO PICK UP MY LEAVE CHEQUE FROM THE post office downtown. The city was getting out of control. The rest of Canada had thought that the separatist movement was a fringe element. Now polls were showing that there was a very definite possibility that we had every intention of leaving Canada.

  The streets were suddenly filled with people from other provinces. Since we obviously weren’t going to listen to reason, they were trying another tactic. They were going to come and get down on their hands and knees and pray for us to stay. The airplane companies had reduced prices of flights to Montréal by ninety percent to encourage everyone to go to Montréal to convince us to vote Non.

  A family walked past me waving paper Canadian flags over their heads. A man was holding a placard saying QUEBEC WE LOVE YOU! DON’T LEAVE US! They might have thought to write it in French, but what can you do?

  They were having a giant rally that day that was going to outdo any of the ones that we had had. Well, that’s what the English had going for them, wasn’t it? They had numbers. They were actually proving to me, at least, what I had always known: that we were a minority that was in danger of being overwhelmed. Our culture could disappear and all that would be left of it would be little French-Canadian bobble-head dolls dressed in lumberjack shirts next to the polar bear clocks in the tourist shops.

  I walked in the other direction. Nobody recognized me. There had been an article in the paper that morning saying that Étienne Tremblay had no right to be participating in the rally since he had been in prison and had been living a dissolute lifestyle. No one from outside of Québec had ever heard of Étienne Tremblay. If that didn’t prove we were a distinct society, I didn’t know what did.

  That night I couldn’t sleep. It was strange to lie in bed all alone. I woke up with a chill no matter what the temperature was. The baby was squirming around so much. It was tossing and turning all night. It kicked like the neighb
our banging for us to keep down the music. But it only made me feel lonelier.

  I hadn’t heard anything from Raphaël. I really didn’t know anyone who could vanish into thin air like Raphaël. I always heard girls bragging about how their ex-boyfriends were stalking them and wouldn’t leave them alone. And about all the terrible fights that they would have when their husbands showed up. I was sort of envious. Anything was better than this silence.

  I knew that I was as responsible for the breakup as Raphaël was, but I felt abandoned. And I wanted to feel sorry for myself. I sat on the kitchen floor and wept like a fifties housewife whose husband had run off with his secretary. Then I got bored and lonely. I couldn’t exactly go out dancing, could I?

  It was almost midnight, and I knew that Étienne would likely be found at a twenty-four-hour diner called Madame Lucie. Hugo told me that Étienne had been eating at this diner all week. They had put a huge OUI sign in the window. Étienne thought that it was bold and that he should support the establishment. Hugo had filmed him from the outside, with the OUI poster in view. He had showed me the footage and asked if I thought it looked at all like the famous painting Nighthawks. I had just shrugged. I didn’t like being asked whether or not my father was a work of art.

  It only took me ten minutes to walk there. I saw him through the front window, illuminated by the restaurant’s fluorescent glow. I slid into the booth, across from Étienne, as gracefully as I could given the enormity of my belly. There was a jukebox at that table that only had songs from the seventies. It had all of his songs on it, which was one of the reasons Étienne was such a strong supporter of the institution. There was one song about a turtle that was so slow, it took him eight years to go from Montréal to Chicoutimi. There was another song about a man who had twenty-five kids. Étienne sang their names really, really fast. Everyone would try to remember and sing the names in the right order when the song played on the radio. Sometimes Loulou would sing this song while mopping the floors: “Rita! Marie! André! Mario! Sebastien! Eloïse! Louise! Louise! J’ai déjà dit Louise.”

 
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