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The girl who was saturda.., p.7
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       The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.7

           Heather O'Neill

  I skipped out on my education

  I was too smart for school

  I skipped out on my bill payments

  I was too cheap for those

  I skipped out on my landlord

  There were roaches in the sink

  I skipped out on my court date

  I have no time for prison

  I skipped out on my woman

  But she came and dragged me back

  It’s been one year, two years, three years …

  Adam reached over me to the back seat and grabbed a bullhorn from off the seat. I couldn’t even imagine where they had got it. But Nicolas and Adam were the type of boys that made friends easily and they were both thieves, so just about anything could appear in the back of the car or out of their pockets.

  “Time to disseminate some knowledge,” Adam said matter-of-factly.

  We opened the sunroof. Adam stood on the seat with his bullhorn.

  “Your teacher cannot search your locker without a warrant. Your teachers are part of a systematized, codified attempt to lower your self-esteem.”

  I was amazed that he could get these statements out without cracking up. We would never have been able to do that in a million years. Nicolas used to start laughing while ordering a loaf of pumpernickel bread because the woman who worked there had a picture of the pope on her kerchief.

  “You are sheep. Your brains are being fattened for the slaughter! They are teaching you lies! Lies!”

  The children all started gathering at the fence like fish trapped in a net. Their buttons were in the wrong holes and the backs of their skirts were tucked into their underwear. Children their age were in awe of teenagers. We inhabited a brief period of time during which we mocked all authority and we could get away with anything. We were screaming and yelling as we gave birth to a new generation. They hung on to the gates, staring up at us, utterly transfixed. I stood up, stepping onto Nicolas’s bent leg like it was a footstool.

  “My dick, Nouschka! My dick!” he yelled.

  Adam handed me the bullhorn.

  “Only prisoners are forced to line up,” I cried. “You have been imprisoned without due process of a trial. You have committed no crime.”

  “Do not fear your hallway monitor,” Adam yelled. “He doesn’t actually exist. Just like the boogeyman. If you stop believing in him, he will disappear.”

  The children started screaming and yelling. Finally, finally there was some chaos in their lives. We had showed up like summertime. Their applause sounded like a forest fire.

  “You are not alone in your struggle. All over the city, children are rising up to plan a revolt. Arm yourself. You have a constitutional right to bear arms.”

  Nicolas stood up and squeezed in next to Adam. He took the bullhorn from him and held it to his own mouth.

  “Bring us the principal! I want Mr. Edery!” Nicolas yelled.

  The principal was obviously on holiday, but the summer camp monitors came running toward us. They looked terrified, as if we were rabid dogs. They were waving their arms around in the air. One was blowing his whistle like it had some sort of supernatural power. An overweight counsellor with greying hair came outside the schoolyard and lumbered toward us as if he had just attached his legs.

  Adam and Nicolas dropped back into their seats. We jolted back and forth a bit while Nicolas screamed hysterically, trying to figure out the stick shift, and then we sped away. Adam put his arm around me. It made me happy and I was in love with him. Or I was having such a good time that I mistook this good time for love. When you’re nineteen, almost every day is a day of wine and roses.

  “Do you think they called the police?” I asked.

  “Who gives a shit?” Nicolas said. “I have dirt on all those teachers. At least eight of them molested me.”

  “No, they did not!” I screamed in laughter.

  The sun was going down. The pink clouds in the sky were delicates soaking in the sink. We were parked on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, crammed in the front seat, eating Vietnamese takeout, romantic poets having a rest after a good day of making asses out of ourselves.

  Adam turned on the radio. It was the same interview from the morning. They played the news on a loop unless something new happened during the day, and apparently nothing had.

  “I can’t believe it!” Nicolas exclaimed.

  The interview came to an end. They put on one of Étienne’s recordings where he just talks while his musicians play behind him.

  “Do you ever think about how weird it is that this guy is your dad?”

  “Étienne’s a jackass,” said Nicolas. “He’s not really our dad. Who gives a shit about Étienne Tremblay? Why are they playing these shitty songs? I’m going to write one myself about a guy whose wife cheats on him with the Hydro guy. I can’t stand his average-Joe business.”

  My dad was drunk. He had just come home from a fight with the boss. He asked the boss for a raise, but the boss said no! So he came home and made love to my mother, Josephine.

  I was conceived on a Thursday night!

  I was born in a saucepan. My mother was cooking up a big frying pan of gravy. And she gave birth to me without turning away from the pan. I fell smack onto the kitchen floor. I lay there with the family dogs looking at me.

  Étienne had a deep and gravelly voice. I felt his breath against my face as his words got louder.

  Everyone expected me to pick up scrap metal like my dad. Or to go on welfare. We never had a book in the house, but I wanted to be a poet.

  The funny thing was that I forgot for a second that it was Étienne who was giving the speech and I got goosebumps all over my arms. I always liked his political ruminations. It made me happy just like everyone else who was listening to his ranting in their kitchens. Unlike Nicolas, I was able to enjoy Étienne Tremblay even if he’d completely neglected us as children.

  “Wonderful,” said Adam. “He’s wonderful and you guys are wonderful.”

  “What are you going to do once we separate, Adam?” Nicolas said. “You’ll be exiled, that’s for sure. An English lawyer—ridiculous. I can’t imagine why any English person would bother staying in Montréal. You’ll have to leave with the rest of the exodus.”

  That remark stung Adam. He wanted to be one of us, but there were just so many ways in which he was different.

  One of these wretched black cats that looked as if they’d been struck by lightning one night and were now perpetually crooked walked by. His thoughts were broken things. The cat was looking at the sunset. Who ever believed in such a pink? Such a pink was terrifying even for grown men to look up at. It was terrifying to have the responsibility of living in a world that was filled with so much wonder.


  All the Best-Looking Girls Are Crazy

  I HAD TO MEET SASKIA AND PICK UP PIERROT. I was the go-between for Nicolas and Saskia. They would lash out at one another for days after meeting. I didn’t like being in this position. She was the only person in the whole world who would dare to trash-talk Nicolas around me. She knew I had to sit and listen to it in order to get an afternoon with Pierrot.

  They were in the park. White round petals were all over the ground as if the polka dots had fallen off a woman’s dress. Saskia hadn’t even put enough clothes on Pierrot really. He was wearing an undershirt with characters from the children’s show Passe-Partout and jeans with butterflies on the knees and flip-flops. Saskia was wearing a T-shirt that had rows of moustaches on it and jean shorts. Her hair was gelled back so tightly that it seemed painted on. Her ponytail was made into ringlets that looked like telephone cords. She and Pierrot were eating chocolate ice cream cones.

  “I don’t know if Nicolas is the one. I ask myself that over and over again. I want all sorts of things. My mother didn’t give me anything. I’m not talking about she didn’t buy me cars or a fancy gold suit. She didn’t give me any manners. She never told me to stay in school. She never told me not to have sex. Look at me now.”

I think you’re beautiful.”

  “What do you see in that ugly Russian guy Misha? How could you suck his dick? I could understand if he was a millionaire and you do it for lots and lots of money. But he has nothing. His skin is bad, too.”

  Pierrot was kicking his legs back and forth, not really listening to us.

  “I’m not seeing Misha anymore,” I said. “But you know, he wrote poetry all the time. You could get him a pencil and a piece of paper and a blindfold and he would write you a poem. You could give him any subject.”

  “Even my mother never dated a guy that ugly.”

  “He played the French horn and I like music.”

  “I want to marry a millionaire. I want to take some fertility drugs so that I can have triplets with a millionaire.”

  “Nicolas will never be a millionaire.”

  Saskia glared at me. No matter what she said about Nicolas, she had apparently not quite given up on her illusion that he could make her filthy rich somehow.

  Nicolas had only had a couple of serious girlfriends. The first was a girl named Maude, but she wanted everyone to call her Jessica. She always had these wonderfully perverted stories. She had a best friend who had had sex with a German shepherd. She had big black eyes, giant pouty lips and a faint dark moustache. Her head was too big for her skinny body. She wore boy’s undershirts with no bra. She drank beer and wore a navy blue pea jacket from a vintage store and cut her hair short and tucked it behind her ears. I thought she looked a bit like Mick Jagger and I had never seen anyone so beautiful.

  Then Nicolas met Saskia. We’d both known Saskia in high school. She had just immigrated from Czechoslovakia with her mother. Saskia wore a red acrylic sweater with patterns of white chess pieces on it to school every day. She always tied her scarf around her waist instead of her neck. Saskia’s face always reminded me of a boiled egg because it was so round and pale. It was a very Eastern European–looking face. If you found this look attractive, then she was drop-dead gorgeous. If you didn’t, then she wasn’t.

  Nicolas and I ran into her at the swimming pool one day. She had on a white bikini and we noticed at the same time that she had huge breasts and was a bona fide fox. It was a shame, I remembered thinking. I thought that if she had stayed in Czechoslovakia, she might have been a movie star. She would have married a high-ranking Communist. Instead she ended up in Montréal with a bath towel wrapped around her waist, making out with Nicolas up against a chain-link fence until the lifeguard blew the whistle at them.

  She sounded like a man when she sang. The first time I heard her singing along to the radio when she was over one day, I didn’t like it, but it grew on me. We liked the way Saskia sang Michael Jackson songs. Her accent made any rock and roll song that she sang seem like a strange ditty about the war. As if she was on the back of a truck with a goose on her lap and a machine gun hidden in a basket with loaves of bread. She worked as a checkout girl and housewives were terrified by her accent.

  Nicolas for some reason—maybe because she was the only girl who wasn’t wildly in love with him—was mad about Saskia. He got Saskia to go out with him by promising that he could get her a record deal through his dad’s contacts. She was an ambitious, clueless lunatic. They had broken up twelve times and got back together before she got pregnant. They named their son Pierrot because of how he looked in a little black cotton hat that someone had given them as a present.

  Pierrot was a typical kid of a single parent. He always seemed frazzled. He acted like he had just stepped off a school bus and realized that he’d left his lunch box on it.

  As I sat next to her, Saskia started doing her makeup on the bench. She drew black Cleopatra lines around her eyes. Pierrot looked straight ahead sadly. They had fallen out of love with Nicolas, but I never could.

  “Do you have my money? Jesus Christ.”

  I gave her every cent that Nicolas and I had, which unfortunately came to seventy-three dollars. He owed her about two thousand. I then asked her if she could actually give me back three dollars.

  “You guys are pathetic.”

  “I know. I know. But Nicolas really wants to see Pierrot. It’s driving him crazy.”

  “I’m going to take Nicolas to court for the back payments. Will you tell him this?”

  “Yes, of course. Of course.”

  “Life, it is not a joke.”

  After I handed over the money, Saskia let me take Pierrot off to see Nicolas. To make the afternoon special, Nicolas let Pierrot ride the mechanical deer that rocked back and forth outside the supermarket. Every time the deer gave any sign of letting up, Nicolas would drop in another quarter until all his change was gone. Pierrot ended up nauseated and sitting on the curb with his head between his legs.

  He’d slipped into one of his quagmires and there was nothing we could do to pull him out. He sat on the bench between us as we tried to cheer him up.

  “Would you like me to tell you a story about a lion who loses all his mane?” I asked Pierrot.

  “It is a book to help children cope with Papa losing his hair?” Nicolas said gloomily.

  “Don’t you remember that storybook?” I asked.

  “I’d rather kill myself than go bald.”

  “You’d look good with a toupée.”

  “Would you, Pierrot, would you like to hear the story about a lion?”

  “No, I don’t like lions. They scare me.” Pierrot shook his whole little body to show his disgust even with the idea of lions.

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” Nicolas yelled. “We’re not in Africa. When are you going to meet up with a lion?”

  “I saw them at the zoo. They were eating bloody meat.”

  “Well, that is fucking disgusting, granted.”

  “Do you want to hear a story about a wee mouse who hangs around with Benjamin Franklin and discovers electricity?”

  “I remember that movie. Le Journal de Montréal gave it one star.”

  “Pierrot, sweetheart, would you like to hear the story of a car named Herbie that could talk?”

  “Don’t even get me started on Herbie. He couldn’t talk. He honked his horn. My friend has a horn that beeps when he doesn’t push it. I don’t see anyone making a movie about his car.”

  “Are you finished?”

  “I’m just saying, you can only go so far, psychologically speaking, when you’re dealing with a car.”

  “How about the story of Benji? Tell him a story about Benji saving the day.”

  “Stop polluting his head with that American shit. Benji never fucking saved the day. What are you talking about?”

  “Didn’t he prevent the Russians from developing the atom bomb first?”

  “Are you drunk?”

  “Benji saves the day. That’s the point.”

  “Tell him the adventures of Snap, Crackle and Pop. Tell him how they saved the day. Making some noise in a bowl of cereal.”

  “Don’t be stupid. What about the three little kittens who lose their mittens?”

  “Sounds riveting. I’m surprised they haven’t turned that into an opera. What happens to them after they lose their mittens?”

  “Their mother gets upset.”

  “Oh fuck, Nouschka, you had to go and mention his mother. We’re trying to get off that subject.” Nicolas glared at me. Sure enough, Pierrot sat with a huge frown on his face and tears streaming down his cheeks. He always wanted to go back to his mother’s house, where everything was done in the way he liked it. I could tell that Nicolas felt utterly rejected by his son.

  I held Pierrot’s hand as I walked him home. He kept looking in the opposite direction, as if he had no idea that anyone was holding his hand. He ran into his apartment without even saying goodbye. Sweet Pierrot Tremblay, the saddest boy in all the world, was not buying what we were selling. We still lived at home, in a tiny kingdom that we had spent years building. But it was so poorly defended that these days a four-year-old could take it down with a wooden sword.


>   Pour Iodine on My Knees and Call Me Sweetheart

  YOU COULD ONLY TAKE ONE HOT BATH A DAY IN our apartment because it took twenty-four hours for the tank to fill up again. I was in the bath Saturday morning about a month after the parade. My nylons were hanging from the shower rod by their tippytoes. Adam came in and started taking off his clothes.

  “What are you doing?” I asked.

  “I’m going to be a great philosopher one day, Little Nouschka Tremblay.”

  “There’s a very fine line between being a person who changes the way that his contemporaries think and being an idiot with bad hair and an unpublished manifesto.”

  “That’s funny! And you shall be famous too!”

  He climbed in with me. We were sitting in the bathtub with our knees pressing against one another.

  “Just because you’re in the bathtub with me, don’t get any funny ideas. It doesn’t mean that I’m your girlfriend or anything like that.”

  “Did you and Nicolas used to take baths together?”

  “We didn’t have a mother, okay?”

  “Neither did I, really. I spent most of my time with my nanny.”

  “Still, you had one. Mine was just Val-des-Loups trash.”

  “That’s terrible. Your mother was Lily Sainte-Marie! I like that song.”

  We both started singing it.

  I bought her a drink and she threw up on my shoes

  I took her out dancing, but she was too young to get into the club

  I bought her a book of poetry, but she didn’t like to read

  Lily Sainte-Marie!

  Her hands were always dirty

  Lily Sainte-Marie, the first pretty girl born in Val-des-Loups since 1883.

  Adam got out of the bath, tied a towel around his waist and started combing his hair straight up. He considered his blond hair to be one of the natural wonders of the world. When he was done, he looked like someone who would give bad advice to the dauphin at the French court. I drained the bath and was sitting on the toilet lid in my underclothes, painting my toenails.

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