The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.5Heather O'Neill
Here was the result of all that education, lying on my bed with a white shirt unbuttoned, his arms opened in some sort of posture that was halfway between benevolence and unconsciousness.
“Get out, Adam,” I said as soon as I walked into my bedroom.
Although he had a noble way to describe it, Adam was slumming. He got a social assistance cheque at the beginning of the month, but he would spend it in a single day. He’d sit on a bench and drink a thirty-dollar bottle of wine while reading Romain Gary’s Les Mangeurs d’étoiles. It aggravated me that I was attracted to him.
“Why can’t you just love me, baby?” he said.
“Because you’re ridiculous. And you get on my nerves.”
“I think we should get married.”
“I saw you in the car as Miss Montréal and it turned me on.”
“That’s hardly a reason for two people to be together.”
“Can I at least sleep over?”
I flopped down on the bed, kicked off my running shoes and lay next to him. The black cat Johann was purring like it had engine trouble. His tail kept reaching round like an arm scooping up all the poker chips off the table.
“You drive me crazy, Nouschka. Why can’t we just spend the rest of our lives together? Do you know how cool we’ll look in the history books?”
“What is this novel that you’re working on?” he asked, pointing to my school notebook that was lying on the floor next to my bed.
“It’s not a novel. It’s a brief history of the fur trade. It’s called ‘Raccoon Hats and Cabin Fever.’”
“Write about our great love affair. How there was never anything like it in all the history of Montréal.”
“No, that’s not true. We haven’t even got a relationship. Now you’re making me unhappy.”
“You’re mistaking happiness for unhappiness. That’s why the French are so melancholic. Everything beautiful makes them cry. They invented existentialism as an excuse not to love their wives.”
“I thought it was because one of them was upset about not making the soccer team.”
Adam threw back his head and laughed.
“Why won’t you marry me?” he cried.
“I can’t marry someone English.”
“I never feel like myself when I’m speaking French.”
“Who do you feel like?”
“Jean-Paul Belmondo. I feel like I’m in a French film, which means that you are unfaithful!”
“It’s not possible for me to be unfaithful. I can’t be. I told you, we’re not in a relationship.”
“It’s a shame. You’ll only learn to love me when I’m gunned down by the Parisian police.”
He climbed over me off the bed and stumbled over to the closet. He dragged out a toy piano and sat down on the floor in front of it. Adam was always trying to get in our family act, always composing scores for Étienne to consider for a comeback album. This time he started playing a tiny twinkly Mozart tune on it. I don’t remember what it was called. He was just tickling the keys. It sounded like change being put in the peep show booth. Like belt buckles unbuckling. His ridiculous production was turning me on. Adam always succeeded in seducing me.
“What’s that called?” I asked.
“‘The Mouse with a Broken Heart Finally Has Its Day in
“What? The tune or the title?”
“You are. You’re beautiful.”
“Just give me one single kiss and I’ll go away.”
“I don’t think so.”
“One fucking kiss and then I’ll leave you alone. It’s because I haven’t been kissed in a while. There is scientific documentation that proves the body needs kisses. I just need one. Then I’ll go find a high school slut to have sex with.”
We kissed for a long time. I couldn’t stop once I’d started.
“You give the greatest kisses on the planet,” I said. “They should hire you at the palace to kiss the princesses.”
He kissed me again. He put his hands underneath my dress, grabbed my hips and pulled them toward his own.
“Tu m’aimes?” he asked.
“I’m mad about you. I’ve never been as crazy about anybody as I am about you. Touch me. I feel so pretty when you touch me.”
I couldn’t believe how stupid I was being. I wished that I could eat my words as they were coming out of my mouth. It wasn’t the sex that I was going to regret in the morning. It was going to be all these ridiculous words.
He squashed into the single bed with me. We were finished making love by the time Nicolas came into the room. He crawled into his own bed. Adam was the only guy Nicolas didn’t toss out on his ear.
There were a million and one things that I liked about Adam. The way he smelled like black licorice. The way we curled up together. We were always so peaceful when we just lay together. He still had his suit jacket on. His pants were around one ankle he hadn’t been able to kick his shoe off of.
Nobody was as fetching as Adam when he was sleeping. He slept in his clothes in odd positions, sometimes halfway off the bed, as if he had been shot to death in a duel. No one sleeps like young sociopaths meditating on the wonders of being themselves.
We all passed out in the same room; odd as that might sound, it seemed natural. Nicolas pushed the pile of clothes half off the other unused twin bed and crashed in it, the way he always did when Adam slept over.
Adam’s suitcase was next to the bed. He clearly needed a place to stay. I never trusted love as a motivation for someone wanting to sleep with me. The cat’s purring made the sound of a motorboat’s engine, taking us off into the deep, deep waters of sleep. While the cockroaches put on their minuscule armoured plates and helmets and ventured out on the counter, looking for cookie crumbs.
My flight instinct got crazy the next day. I kept trying to kick Adam out all morning, but he wouldn’t go. I threatened to call 911 because he was taking so long putting on his shoes. Nobody else minded that he was there. He declared that he was going to make eggs florentine. You never knew when he was going to decide to whip up a plate of eggs florentine. It could be at five in the afternoon. I found it irritating, but Nicolas and Loulou clapped in delight.
I was about to tell Adam to get out again, but he turned on the old record player and put on Jacques Laframboise, a popular Québécois crooner who had walked in front of a train one night. The song was about his wife, Madeleine, who cheats on him all the time. We all started singing along to it no matter what else we were doing.
“This is a formidable record collection. You should have your own radio show called The Loulou Tremblay Hour! You’re an archivist! In a hundred years this apartment is going to be a museum. They won’t move a thing.”
Loulou beamed because he was proud of his trash. Adam looked at me and winked. I smiled back. I found his arrogance attractive despite myself. Rarely had such confidence been seen on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. He had imported it from Westmount, all sparkling and glorious, like Marco Polo returning from the East with the first plate of spaghetti and meatballs that anyone had ever seen.
I liked that he was full of possibilities. I wanted to be full of possibilities too. I wanted to travel the world and be an intellectual too. I liked what he was throwing away. Most of all, I wanted an education. I was envious that he had one. As the music blared, I realized that it was time to go to work at the magazine store.
I didn’t know why my temper was so short with them all these days. I calmed down as soon as I was out of the apartment and in the lobby. I stopped for a minute to breathe and then went outside, feeling that I had escaped the noisy Tremblays.
Growing Up Naked
I STEPPED OUT OF MY BUILDING AND SAW A CREW of film people standing next to a beat-up van. One of the crew members had a camera on his shoulder, and a girl was holding a clipboard. A
“Who the hell are you guys?” I instinctively put a hand out in front of my face.
“My name’s Hugo Vaillancourt. I’m a filmmaker. I was to do a brand new Tremblay family documentary. Sort of in the spirit of the one that Claude Jutra made a dozen years ago. You know the one! La famille Tremblay dans l’hiver.”
“Nobody cares about that documentary anymore.”
“You’re kidding. That documentary was like … I don’t know the word … classic … genius. I watched it every year when they played it at Christmas. It’s like eggnog to me. Do you know what I mean?”
“I don’t, but you’re making me very uncomfortable.”
“The way your family interacted. There was so much warmth. And funny! You guys were hysterical. You were like everything that’s unique about being Québécois.”
They never realized that hundreds of people before them had said just the same thing. People who came up in the supermarket while you were looking at the rows of canned soup would say what giant fans they were of Étienne Tremblay and how some of their fondest memories were of watching us on television at Christmastime.
I started walking down the street. He started following after me, waving his crew along. He had known that Nicolas and I would never co-operate if he asked us in advance. That was why he was outside our door with all the cameras.
“I’ve been pitching it as an idea for Le Téléjournal,” Hugo said. He was kind of breathless from having to talk while running after me. “They’re looking for a topical hook. But I saw the photo of you on the cover of the newspaper and I thought, the time is now. And if I don’t start on this right away, well somebody else will. That would kill me. I’ve had this idea in my head for years, since film school. It belongs to me.”
Someone from the crew hurried in front of us, to film while we were walking. Another girl stuck a boom mic between us from behind.
“What photo are you talking about? Actually, never mind. I don’t want to hear about it. I really can’t be standing here talking. I’ve got to get to work.”
“Can we film you at work?”
“Can I see if Nicolas wants to talk?”
“Are you insane? You can’t talk to him. You know this. You must know this!”
“Yeah, I guess I’m a little intimidated by him. Do you think that’s crazy?”
I looked at Hugo. He seemed like a nice enough guy. Judging from his pudgy belly, he had never missed a meal in his life. His kind mannerisms implied that he had had a perfectly normal, happy middle-class upbringing. This led me to believe that he couldn’t actually handle the Tremblays. He had only seen the Tremblays on television and had no idea what he was getting into. He had never encountered narcissism quite like that embodied by my father. And he certainly had had no prior experience of the sort of hysterical fits that my brother was capable of.
He was after a fairy tale, but there was only tragedy, chaos and squalor behind the doors that he was knocking on.
Every time I said anything, Hugo held a large microphone up to my face. The other members of his crew were following us down the street. It was drawing attention. And despite the fact that I had been recently riding in a convertible and waving wildly at everybody passing by, I suddenly felt a deep, deep need for anonymity.
“Nobody cares about the Tremblays. Everything that there is to say has already been said.”
The neighbour was beating her Indian carpet violently with a broom. One of the birds burst off the pattern and flew into the air. It circled around my head and went down the street toward the river. I followed after it and the crew went sadly back to their van.
The first thing you saw when walking into the magazine store where I worked were all the piles of newspapers by the door. I was on the front page of one of them with my robe and sceptre. The headline read, “NOUSCHKA LEADS SAINT-JEAN-BAPTISTE CELEBRATION.”
The article beneath the photo was about the referendum that would be held in the next year for Québec to separate. I hoped people would concentrate on that and never mind me. I stared at the photograph. There was my face right next to all the Québécois cinema stars screaming at me from the covers of magazines. Those guys had so many problems. They had been molested by their managers. They had been forced to sing Christmas carols so often that they couldn’t enjoy the holiday. They had had to pass themselves off as twelve for six years in a row. They had been addicted to cherry bombs. They were wonderful. I wished I hadn’t been a minor celebrity, so that I could enjoy this world like everybody else.
I went behind the cash to await the customers. There were lucky dollar bills Scotch-taped to the wall, alongside some old Polaroids of shoplifters from twenty years before. The owner had stuck photographs of babies under the glass of the counter. There was a photograph of the owner’s four-year-old son dressed in a suit for a wedding. He looked like a Mafia don.
I had worked there since I dropped out at sixteen. Nicolas would come into the store all the time and sit on the other side of the cash, reading Le Soleil newspaper. It was one of those newspapers that have articles about alien landings and women who gave birth to dogs. We had read those since we were little kids.
Porno magazines were a big seller. At first I would get shy when people asked for them, but eventually I got used to it. I met millions of people while working there. The men who stopped by would hit on me and say that I was wasting my time behind the counter and that I should go to Hollywood and become a movie star. It made me think that there was a paperback bestseller that they had all read called something like 1001 Compliments.
One guy kept pulling quarters out of my ears. He pulled out about four dollars before I told him to knock it off. He was going to pay for his magazine and milk that way.
Today they were bothering me more than usual, buying the newspaper and asking me to autograph the front page.
“Little Nouschka Tremblay! Montréal’s sweetheart! What the hell are you doing working in this hellhole? I can’t believe it. It’s like Brigitte Bardot working the cash at the Supermarché Quatre Frères!”
“Yeah, it’s just like that,” I answered.
“Shouldn’t you be married to a millionaire?”
“The minute one walks in and asks me, I’ll say yes.”
“Ha, ha, ha. You’re funny.”
People figured that when you were in the public eye they could walk up to you and say anything that they pleased and you would have to listen and smile, which is what you pretty much ended up doing.
Raphaël walked in without looking at me. I felt like someone had just pulled a fire alarm. My heart started beating like crazy and there was almost a ringing in my head. He was chewing on a toothbrush while flipping through magazines in the rock and roll guitar section. He had a half-smoked cigarette butt behind his ear and a Remembrance Day poppy in his jacket lapel even though it was five months away or seven months ago—I wasn’t sure which. Two dogs were on the sidewalk waiting for him. One of the dogs was a good-looking German shepherd. The other was a hound dog that looked like a man who had lost a lot of weight but hadn’t had time to buy himself a new wardrobe.
He picked up the newspaper with me on the front cover. He held it up for me to see.
A police officer passing by outside spotted Raphaël and came in. The officer asked Raphaël if he could search him. When Raphaël consented, the officer patted him down and confiscated a doorknob that he was carrying in his pocket for some mysterious reason.
“What is this, a weapon?”
“Actually, it’s for opening doors.”
I was about to go after him down the street when the telephone rang. The phone was covered in stickers advertising restaurants that no longer existed. I w
“Channel ten, motherfucker!”
I hung up the phone and climbed up onto the counter in order to turn on the television that was balanced on a thin metal shelf. A little black cat with white paws fell off the counter and whined. It looked like a boy at a funeral whose suit was too small for him. I glanced down at it for a second until it righted itself and then I flicked on the television.
The news was showing footage of me in the parade. Then it cut away to old footage of us on television talk shows, a “best of” reel. I put my hand over my mouth. We’d been out of the spotlight for a long time and now look what I’d done. There we were, up on the television screen, seven years old and singing for our supper, trying to distract the city from how we had come into this world. I suddenly remembered the film crew and how enraged Nicolas would be if he knew of it.
Our father never cared about anything other than his career. The only time he had any use for Nicolas and me was when we added to his TV performances. Étienne bought me a little black beret to wear and gave me a daisy to hold in my hand. He was going for the look of Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. Étienne was a master of image manipulation. It was a gift. Or maybe it was a side effect of being one of the most shallow men to walk the face of this earth.
Étienne would get me to read a poem that I had written. The audience would ooh and aah, and sometimes they would laugh their heads off. Delightful, how delightful, talent certainly runs in the family.
But Nicolas often refused to go on. He was unpredictable. Once he styled his hair with Crisco at the last minute and nobody could get it out. Once he went on wearing a T-shirt that he had custom-made himself, with lightning bolts on it. Once he said he would only go if he could demonstrate his karate moves and be given six Milky Way bars. Étienne could tell right away that Nicolas was too difficult to work with and stopped having him on after a while.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes