The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.3Heather O'Neill
There were streamers on the ceiling. And all the balloons were lying on the floor. They moved from our shoes to make room for us.
I walked up to the bar. Everyone yelled out and clapped, happy to see me. I had a black purse with tiny mother-of-pearl beads that were always falling off that I flopped onto the bar. I decided to try gin. I was always looking for a drink that wouldn’t make me feel completely plastered after one glass, but I never succeeded. Patrick, the bartender, poured me a shot. The stools on either side of me were immediately filled up.
They laughed at everything that I said. Nicolas and I were always trying to make every single person we met fall in love with us. What a job. It was a bad habit that we had picked up as child stars. But maybe it’s the same for everybody.
I drank my gin as I listened to the ridiculous guys trying to charm me.
A man named Gaston had a box of Turkish delight. He opened the box and offered me one. Another guy whose date had stood him up pinned a corsage on my dress. A boy named Luc gave me a lucky rabbit’s foot that was dyed bright green. I didn’t know that people still believed in lucky rabbit’s feet.
I noticed a man my age, who was wearing a black toque over a mop of blond hair, staring at me. He was missing a front tooth. He still managed to be the sexiest guy in the bar. He was so young and handsome that the missing tooth seemed like a charming novelty. He came over and sat on my lap. He pulled a gold necklace with a rose pendant hanging from it out of his pocket. He’d probably stolen it from his mother.
“Would you like to have dinner with me? I know a little place where they set the cheese on fire.”
I pushed him off my lap while laughing. I was considering his offer. I was so bored and I wanted to be with someone.
I looked up at the ballroom ceiling and it seemed as if the whole lot of us had been swallowed by a whale. As if we were all in here as a punishment for running from our calling.
Misha came in at that moment, carrying a paper bag filled with groceries. He was wearing a long navy blue trench coat over his suit. His hair was long and grey and went to his shoulders. His face was wet from the rain. His lips were jutting out in concentration as he looked around the hall.
Misha was so fat, he made a lot of noise just breathing. He had something wrong with his tear ducts, so they wept all the time. He always had handkerchiefs in his pockets. He took one out that was made of polyester and had tiny cowboys and horses on it. I had worn a very similar one on my head when I was a baby.
The tears made his eyes seem sparkly. His eyelashes were dark and glistening—like the kind that kids draw on their dolls with ballpoint pen.
I could tell Misha had just come from work. He worked as a salesman selling toilet paper. He mostly sat behind a desk doing inventory all the time. He never really even got close to the toilet paper. According to Marxism, this was very damaging for his psyche. He should have been allowed to drive the toilet paper in the trunk of his car up to people’s houses and sell it to them and watch them wipe their asses with it.
The guy in the stool next to me spotted a pretty redhead and bounced off. Misha sat down. He swirled around a glass of brandy that had a fever in it. I’d slept with him before. He was the oldest person I’d ever dated, but I liked that about him. It made him seem unique.
“My father was a ventriloquist,” Misha began. He didn’t want to waste any time. He knew that he was in competition with all the other guys at the bar and he knew that I could never resist his stories. “His puppet was so mean. One night the puppet killed him during a performance. The police didn’t know whether to call it a suicide or a homicide.”
I laughed. All of a sudden I felt like the prettiest person in the world. Then I blushed because I wasn’t sure whether or not he knew I was feeling that way.
I liked that he was Russian. My favourite book at the time was Crime and Punishment. Étienne had left it behind after a visit. I never actually finished it, but I got the gist of it. I thought Raskolnikov was sexy.
“Tell me about Vladimir,” I said.
“Oh, don’t be so fucking ridiculous, Nouschka.”
“I like that story.”
“Because you are perverted.”
“No! It’s so, so sweet. I love Vladimir. I love him so much, I think about marrying him.” I was already drunk on my gin.
“You should be thrown in the insane asylum.”
When Misha was fifteen in Moscow he used to have a friend named Vladimir. He was a thin boy with long chestnut hair that he wore behind his ears. He would wear a red shirt that went above his belly button and he had a necklace with a pendant of a heart hanging from it. Every day after school he would stop by Vladimir’s building. Vladimir lived in an apartment on the sixth floor. He would stand at the top of the stairs calling down encouragingly, so that Misha didn’t change his mind about coming up. Vladimir would give him blow jobs. Misha would close his eyes and pretend that Vladimir was a girl.
“Tell me about the time he wore a bra.”
That was my favourite part. Vladimir put on a bra one night and put a different-coloured gym sock in each cup. Misha got a hard-on right away when he saw Vladimir in that little white bra. He never saw anything so lovely. And he squeezed the socks and whispered, “Sweetheart,” into Vladimir’s ear.
“The cold was different there,” he said, instead of telling me the tale. “It made you crazy.”
He took my hand and I hopped off the bar stool. We walked to the centre of the dance floor together. Misha was fun to dance with because he was so big. I loved his dancing style, too. He would stand in one place and move his hands around and clap them in different spots. He would snap his hands to his side and kick a foot behind him in some sort of a flamenco move. I don’t know where he learned that move. Any other kind of dancing was capable of giving him a heart attack, I suppose. I liked to dance slow dances with him. I hugged him and clung to him tightly as we danced. I hung off his neck like a tragic little monkey.
“Oh, don’t ever leave me. You smell so good. You’re so fat and lovely. Like a baby. Let’s get married and teach our children to tap dance. They’ll be a sensation. Can we get a wee dog and name him Gazou? We can feed him sherbet and apple pie. Let’s never make our children learn the alphabet. The alphabet is for cowards!”
“Nouschka, you can never handle your drink.”
“Don’t say that, my darling.”
Right in the middle of my wild declaration of love, I noticed Raphaël Lemieux walking into the club. He had grown up across the street from us and had been the greatest figure skater anyone on Boulevard Saint-Laurent had ever seen. We all thought he was going to the Olympics. But he lost his marbles and jumped off the Jacques Cartier Bridge. He became perhaps as famous for surviving the incredible fall as for his skating. It was in all the papers.
He had been in the Pinel Institute for the criminally insane and had only recently been released. Everybody in the club was quiet for a minute. He actually got the opposite reaction that I did when I walked in. People needed a second to see what kind of mood Raphaël was in. If he was in a bad crazy mood, then he was liable to pick a fight with anybody who made eye contact with him. He’d get into fights just as an excuse to pull out a gun that everybody said didn’t actually work but was frightened of nonetheless.
He had picked up some weird activities while in the psych ward. The old ladies were rather alarmed when Raphaël showed up at a knitting circle in the church basement. He’d learned to knit while on the inside to calm down. He was working on a scarf that was about eight feet long. He did tai chi in the park with a group of senior citizens. It was something they did in the common room at Pinel. It looked like a ship had sunk and these were the passengers, slowly sinking to their grave at the bottom of the ocean. It was impossible to figure Raphaël out. Many had tried and none had succeeded. Don’t try now!
Raphaël walked straight up to the bar. He was wearing a suit that was made out of blue, shiny, old-man material. His pants were hang
A cat hurried out from the backroom behind the counter. Everyone knew this one and called out, “Monsieur Moustache!” The cat leapt up onto the stool next to Raphaël. It leapt as if it had a wire on its back and it was in a play where it had to fly. Raphaël held the cat up and kissed it all over its face. He leaned forward and ordered from the bartender. Patrick brought him a brandy Alexander.
I was sober all of a sudden and my heart was beating in a strange place in my chest. I liked the idea that Raphaël had gotten released from the mental institution. It was mythic. He was the first person my age to have been committed, so it seemed to confer some sort of status. He was a handsome raving lunatic. For some reason Raphaël was the only person in the place who I felt I couldn’t go up and talk to.
Misha asked if I was ready to go. I nodded quickly. I left holding Misha’s hand. I told myself not to turn back and look at Raphaël. I would murder myself if I turned back. But I did anyways and at that moment, abruptly, he turned and looked at me. Our eyes met. Misha pulled me out the door.
Trying to get Misha to have a hard-on was a circus-like enterprise. It was like a scene from one of those crazy foreign films that they played after midnight. He undid his belt as if he was sitting down for a big steak dinner. The lining of his coat was black with blue butterflies stitched into it. You could only see them when the light was shining on the lining at a certain angle.
Misha was smoking a cigar. He exhaled little girls in pyjamas who ran as fast as they could and crawled behind the couch and under the lampshade, playing hide-and-seek.
I always gave him a hard time. He liked that.
“Take off your bra.”
“Take it off, baby.”
“No. I can’t. It’s impossible.”
“Why not? Just for a second. I need to see your tits.”
“I’m really afraid that I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can.”
“You won’t think of me in the same way.”
“Yes, I will. I’ll always think you are just the sweetest thing that ever lived.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true. Now take off your bra.”
“Do you love me?”
“You know I do.”
“Do you love me more than any other girl? Even more than the girls on television?”
“I don’t give a shit about those girls.”
I unclipped my bra from behind. I took the straps off one by one. He moved his chair closer to the table.
“Now what are you going to do with me?” I asked.
“I just want to eat you up. You’re a little piece of cake. There’s no one I’ve ever wanted to fuck the way that I want to fuck you.”
“What about when I get old and ugly. What will you do with me then?”
“I won’t be around then.”
He grabbed both my legs and pulled me off the table and I landed in his lap. The grey of his suit pants was the colour of stones made smooth by the river. I always felt like a small child with him.
“Come over here, my darling. Come and sit on Daddy’s lap. What would you do if you didn’t have my kisses? Would you be so, so sad? Would you be able to get out of bed in the morning?”
“Yes, I guess I would. I could find someone else to kiss me easily.”
“Who told you to be so, so pretty? You’re going to send me to my grave early.”
“You’re going to have to beg.”
“Kiss me, please, please.”
Then he kissed one of those kisses that makes everything in the world seem okay.
There are things that are permissible in sex that aren’t permissible elsewhere. You can smack each other and tie one another up and pee on them and strangle them. That’s when love shows its face. When love takes off its clothes and has a drink. It sometimes takes the most appalling forms. It made the night seem like it was going to last forever.
In movies, sex was always a lot cleaner than it was in real life. No one ever found a receipt stuck to the back of their leg. No one ever still had brown sneakers on. They never asked for a glass of water from the kitchen. They never felt guilty afterwards and wept.
Misha gave me a bath. His bathtub had enormous feet. A magic spell had been cast on it. It used to be a lion. The light green tiles on the walls had pink roses in the middle.
He said I was filthy and didn’t know how to bathe properly. He scrubbed my hair with shampoo. I had lit a cigarette and he poured a glass of water on me, extinguishing it. He wrapped me up in a towel that had all the different sharks in North America on it.
Sometimes you don’t realize that love is love. You think it must be nobler. You think it must involve someone better-looking. Especially since all the time when you’re watching television, you are just watching good-looking people hooking up.
I thought he was ugly. I liked to stand next to him in the bathroom in front of the mirror. I liked how different we looked from each other. No matter how many times you were kissed, or someone bought you drinks or swore you were the one, or you spent your last five dollars on new lipstick, you couldn’t be sure that God found you pretty.
He reminded me of a dancing bear that Gypsies had dressed. He lay in bed with his shirt off. His stomach was so enormous that it seemed like something out of a fairy tale. If you cut his stomach open, little children would crawl out.
Just as Misha was dozing off, I decided it was time to get home. I started to get dressed quietly so that he wouldn’t notice. I put on my coat.
“Why don’t you stay for the weekend?” Misha said, opening one of his eyes. “I’ve had a hard week. I would love it if you spent the weekend with me. I wouldn’t give a damn about any other crappy thing that ever happened to me for the rest of my life if you just stayed for the weekend.”
I didn’t answer. I just started tying my shoes.
“Just pretend to be this fat old man’s girlfriend for one weekend. There’s a bakery by the river that I discovered has magnificent cakes. You should come with me and I’ll buy you some.”
“I have to make an early start of it tomorrow.”
“No, you don’t. Sometimes you stay until dawn, but you never spend the night with me. You and your brother can’t spend the night apart from one another. It’s ridiculous. You aren’t children anymore.”
“It isn’t that. It doesn’t have to do with Nicolas.”
“When you were little you tied each other’s shoes and held hands on the bus. And when you were feeling down, the other one would say, ‘Chin up, little guy.’ I know all this. But that was because your parents weren’t there. But the world won’t fall apart if you spend the night away from each other. You are old enough to have a real boyfriend.”
“Don’t tell me what I’m thinking. If I say I have an important thing to do in the morning, then I have an important thing to do in the morning. Jesus!”
I was suddenly annoyed at Misha. It seemed as if everyone had told me to stay away from Nicolas that day. Even myself.
“The boyfriend doesn’t even have to be me,” he continued. “I’m too old and ugly for you. It isn’t even only my hair that has gone grey, but it is also my skin that has gone grey too. I look in the mirror and I think, well, how does it feel to be the ugliest man in the world, my friend.”
I kissed his fat cheek as I buttoned up my jacket.
“I, for one, find you insanely sexy.”
I didn’t really get the point of moving out. I loved our cozy room. I always felt happy there. I had no idea why everybody was so eager for me to be as miserable as all the other lonely adults going around.
My Brother Is Always in Jail
He had a little boy named Pierrot, who he wasn’t able to pay child support for. Pierrot was the result of a relationship Nicolas had with a girl named Saskia when they were fifteen years old. He started a life of crime soon after the baby was born, in an attempt to be responsible, I suppose.
It wasn’t that extraordinary that Nicolas had chosen this path. Being a criminal was an obvious job option for someone during the recession. It paid about as much as working the cash register at a bakery, but you got to work your own hours.
All the proper thieves in Montréal came from the east end. They were trained by uncles and fathers who were in the trade. They were organized and had proper capers. They controlled the drug trade and robbed banks and made good money.
Nicolas was the kind of thief who ended up on the cover of the Allo Police newspaper. Like the pimp who had gotten beaten up by his prostitute and was now pressing charges. Or the teenager who had invented a new kind of hallucinogenic, called Grandpappi’s Penis because you couldn’t get an erection while you were using it.
Sometimes Nicolas would put on a ski mask and rob a gas station. It was easy in winter because it was nothing to break into a place wearing a ski mask and then to leave and blend in with all the other people wearing ski masks as they went down the street.
Nobody had more than thirty dollars in the cash register. But that was enough for Nicolas. He would do a holdup, stick the gun in the back waistband of his pants and then go to Guy La Patate and order a souvlaki and a Coke. Then he might use the rest of the money to see a movie and come back home and climb into bed as broke as the day he was born.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes