The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.9Heather O'Neill
I looked at Nicolas. He usually slouched and crossed and uncrossed his legs when he was in a chair, but now he was sitting perfectly straight. He had beads of sweat on his brow, and his eyes looked almost black because his pupils were dilated. I don’t think that I had ever seen him look that ill at ease.
Lily had been a nanny. She had given cookies to kids who weren’t even hers. She ran around playgrounds putting Band-Aids on all the knees of all the children in the world. She was essentially sweet to every kid except us. This was going too far. I felt like picking up the kitchen table and throwing it across the room. Just so that she would know that I was a real person. Just to make it clear to her that Nicolas and I experienced unhappiness too.
Everyone thought that we had it better. Even when we were being dragged up to the guillotine, they would be envying our velvet jackets that we had picked up at the Salvation Army. They wouldn’t think very much about the part about us getting our heads cut off. Imagine if she saw our living room? What would she think of it?
Lily, or whatever her name was, was starting to cry. But people cry for all sorts of reasons. They cry when they are startled. They cry when they are afraid. They cry to get out of things. People cried crummy alligator tears over their drinks. We were very, very suspicious of tears, having grown up on Boulevard Saint-Laurent.
She would never be our mother. We wanted to go back in time and tell her about nightmares, and about socks that were itchy, and about how spelling tests were unjust, and about how canned soup was creepy, and about how we felt scared first thing in the morning. We would never get that.
“Can you remember anything about us?” Nicolas asked.
His voice was very low and choked up and didn’t sound like his at all. He was asking for a story about us before we could remember. We wanted something more than Loulou’s absurd mythology. Most of his stories of us involved times when we were constipated and he had to give us castor oil. I don’t know what Nicolas was thinking, though, as she had spent next to no time at all with us.
“Do you want to know which one of you was born first?” she asked.
“No!” we both said at the same time.
We didn’t want that. We didn’t want there to be any sort of difference between us. We didn’t want one to be older or to have any advantage over the other. It was absolutely necessary that we be in exactly the same boat.
I realized that it was time to go. There was no need to drag out this painful meeting any longer. As soon as Nicolas saw me starting to stand up, he followed. He practically knocked the chair over, he was so eager to leave with me.
Noëlle walked us to the door. We stepped outside it and stood there, looking at her. We weren’t sure what we were supposed to do. It was customary to kiss twice upon parting in Montréal. Sometimes when I left a bar, I would go around kissing people I hadn’t even spoken to or been introduced to during the night. What was a kiss other than a promise that the two of you would meet again and again?
She stayed inside the house. We waited, but she did not make a gesture; she didn’t move at all. Her not kissing us meant that she definitely did not want us to come back. We nodded and turned and went on our way.
We sat in the car outside her house. A family got out of their car across the street. They unloaded their grocery bags and carried them into the house. The whole family was pitching in.
“How do people live like that?” Nicolas said. He lit a cigarette.
It took me a few minutes to be able to say something. I knew that I was going to get crazy. I wanted to enjoy the blank numbness as long as I could. But then it came bursting out.
“You brought me out here without any warning just to set me off. You wanted to get me hysterical. You wanted me to get as hysterical as you do.”
“Well, you never get worked up about it because you know that I’m going to be doing all the working up for the two of us. I mean, that isn’t exactly fair either, is it?”
“You’re being selfish. You just force me to go along with your stupid, stupid plans. What was the point of coming out here?”
“We had to get it over with, I guess. But I don’t know, Nouschka. It was like I thought that maybe, possibly, something magical would happen. Sometimes I’ve thought about how I would tell her about all the lousy things that happened to us and about how lonely and unhappy she made me. And then she would just crumple up and die. Instead she just sort of made me feel shitty. Did she make you feel shitty?”
I didn’t say anything. We were quiet on the ride back. This was almost impossible for the two of us to do. Talking to each other was like breathing. By talking we were able to keep track of every one of the other’s thoughts. For once I didn’t know what to say. I felt ashamed. The silence was terrible. We looked ahead.
“How did you know how to find her?” I asked.
“Adam gave me this address.”
“Adam? Are you serious? How would Adam know?”
Nicolas pulled the car over. He turned toward me, preparing me.
“It’s funny but I’d been thinking for a long time about hiring a detective to find her. But I didn’t know whether detectives actually existed or whether they were just fictional, like in TV shows. But then a year or so ago I was talking to Laurence and he said that his cousin was a private detective.”
“How much did he charge you?”
“I don’t know. I never got around to paying him. He smelled like an old ashtray. He’s friends with a lawyer who was able to pull our adoption papers. Or something. He gave me this old address where Noëlle used to work. I went and knocked on the door. Adam answered. That’s how I met Adam. She’d looked after him. Anyways, Adam didn’t know. I just told him later that I had been knocking on his door with the intention of robbing his house, which of course impressed him. You know how Adam is.”
“She’s the nanny he was telling us about? They watched us on TV together!”
I suddenly hated the two of them. Neither had loved me. They had sat next to each other on the sofa, cherishing my little black beret.
“She raised Adam! Adam of all people! I find that infuriating. I find that so impossibly weird. I can’t even imagine it. I feel lousy about myself even picturing it. I can’t believe that she put muffins and juice boxes into paper bags and wrote his name on them and gave them to him to take to school for lunch. And she took him to the zoo. And she put bandages on his knees. And she read him storybooks and kissed him before he went to sleep. Disgusting,” I said. “I’m finished with Adam.”
“Why take it out on Adam?”
“I’m breaking up with him as soon as we get home.”
“I had nothing to do with it. Look, I gave up a very long time ago trying to get you to not fuck my friends. What was I supposed to say—don’t fuck him?”
“No, you were supposed to tell me who he was.”
“You got weird whenever I would bring up our mother. You would say, ‘Laisse faire, laisse faire, laisse faire. Don’t bother me with that.’ You never would have let me do this. I couldn’t tell you. Because you wouldn’t let me do it. I had to.”
“You’re a pimp.”
“Are you crazy? Did you hear what you just called me?”
“You’re a low-life. A degenerate.”
“Ah, stop taking this all out on me.”
“It’s because I want you to realize why what you did is so creepy.”
“I know. I know. But I couldn’t get enough of him. When he told us stories about our mother, it made my heart beat so crazily and it made the blood rush through my heart. And it made me feel like shit. Like I was being poisoned. It’s not my fault he fell in love with you.”
I stopped yelling at him. I realized he couldn’t help it. Our mother had been driving him mad our whole lives. He had had to find some way to get close to her. He could never let anything go once he got it into his head.
Now I understood the feeling that there was something that wasn’t quite right about me and Adam. I was revolted th
How to Woo a Degenerate
THEY SAY IN QUéBEC THAT IF YOU ARE CONCEIVED on a night when your parents are drinking, then you are going to be melancholic your whole life. If your parents conceived you the first time they ever had sex, then you will be lucky your whole life, and everyone you meet will fall madly in love with you. Nicolas and I found ourselves in this universe on an otherwise unmemorable night in Val-des-Loups.
Étienne left Montréal for the first time in 1973, to tour rural Québec. He despised it and was bored to death.
He was stuck in a motel room one night after a show. There was a movie playing on the television set. After ten o’clock, they played movies that were made in Québec. You would think that ninety-nine percent of the population were heroin addicts if you watched these movies. The vedettes wore winter coats the whole time and yelled at each other. These movies were so realistic that your own life kind of seemed fake and glamorous in comparison. If the movie had been better, he might have stayed in his hotel room that night.
Someone had given the drummer an address to a party. They decided to go check it out. Ordinarily Étienne would never have gone to a house party, but there was nothing else to do in these terrible, tiny small towns.
The party was in a white clapboard house. There was a field behind it without animals. There was a row of little undershirts on the clothesline. One was covered in strawberries, another with horses, and one had the teeniest bow at the neck. Étienne felt turned on by all the naked undershirts. They walked into the house without knocking.
The heavy metal was loud. You could do that in Val-des-Loups because there was nobody around for miles and miles and miles.
Almost the first person that Étienne noticed was a girl in a turtleneck sweater that looked like it would swallow her any minute. She had a plastic ring on her finger from a gumball machine. She was drinking a beer for the first time. She was fourteen years old. She may or may not have been beautiful.
She wore her black bangs down over her eyes. Étienne generally hated shy girls. They looked down at the ground when they talked to him. They were deathly boring because they were too afraid to say anything.
But then again, sometimes shy girls kissed you just so that they wouldn’t have to talk. They hoped that they were pretty enough to get away with not speaking. Some shy girls were too afraid to say no. Even though you’d just met, they were terrified that you wouldn’t like them. Once they let you feel their tits, they weren’t sure what to do. They thought that maybe they weren’t in the right to say no.
Étienne knew he could get this girl to sleep with him.
Étienne asked the girl if she wanted to go into a little bedroom at the back of the house to talk to him. She knew exactly who he was. The whole party did. Everyone was looking at him and pretending not to. She followed him to the bedroom. There was a forest on the wallpaper in the bedroom. The polyester bedspread was purple with gold roses. Ugly. They over-decorated their houses in small towns. Ugly.
Étienne liked young girls. They believed in his persona completely. What did he need with women who could see right through him? Lily Sainte-Marie looked like she was still afraid of the dark and spent her pocket change on candy. She looked like she still had to memorize the spelling of words at night.
She had little hands. She shrugged even though there was no reason to shrug. She just figured that she had to do something with her body. So she sat there shrugging and shrugging. He started taking off all her silly clothes. Her clothes didn’t match and every piece was a hand-me-down. Ugly.
She didn’t even really move during the actual act. She kept her eyes closed really tight and her mouth squeezed shut. She looked like she was holding her breath, as if she had just jumped off a diving board and her body was shooting straight down into the water.
She loosened up after losing her virginity. She was so excited sitting on the side of the bed that she wasn’t even getting dressed. And she looked so young, like a kid that was expecting her mother to dress her. She climbed onto his lap while he was trying to tie his shoelaces.
She wanted to know if he would call her. She told him that if her father answered the telephone, then he should just hang up immediately. Lily Sainte-Marie told him that her father would kill him if he found out that she had had sex. She said that her father was strict and wouldn’t even let her go to school dances. She wanted to know if she could come to visit him in Montréal.
She whispered that she loved him.
Étienne suddenly didn’t know why he hadn’t worn a condom. She had trapped him. She had caught him. He knew. He knew. He knew she was pregnant. He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew.
He didn’t want to throw down an anchor in this strange small town in the middle of nowhere. Where their symphony orchestra was a sixty-five-year-old man named Benoit, who could play Peter and the Wolf on his clarinet.
Domestic life took down people quicker than the bubonic plague. Étienne had struggled his whole life not to be a member of any class. A man without children doesn’t belong to any class. He is a free man.
Étienne wanted to walk right back to Montréal. He climbed out the window and went back to the motel. He hoped to never see her again.
Anyways, all of this sounded better as a song. Our whole lives, from our conception onward, had been a romantic take on a narcissist’s asshole behaviour. Our lives were a fiction. I had swallowed it all. I had believed it more than anyone.
Goodbye, Prince Hal!
IT WAS GHASTLY. HORRIBLE. THE WORDS THEMSELVES were meaningless; I was just saying the requisite number of them so that I could get to the end of the conversation. And when I somehow got to the end of the conversation, then Adam would be out of my life. He knew that too, so after everything was said, he still kept talking nonsense rather than leave.
“I was raised by the mother of Little Nicolas and Little Nouschka. It’s amazing in a way. I don’t think that it’s creepy at all. On the contrary, it means that we were fated together.”
“Give it time,” I said. “When it occurs to you just how weird this is, you’ll never want to touch me again, that’s for sure.”
Nicolas came in and was eating an apple. Adam was packing in slow motion. He acted as if his sweater was made of cement as he dragged it off the floor and put it in his suitcase. He flung it in violently.
“This isn’t fair. I’ve done nothing but worship the ground that you walk on. That’s where I went wrong. I should have been mean to you. I should have just yawned when you were talking. That’s what the ladies like. Do you know how many girls are out there, lining up to go out with me? There will be riots on the streets.”
I looked over at Nicolas, who rolled his eyes to register his disbelief that there would be any riots.
“I’m the one who leaves girls. They aren’t the ones who leave me. You think you can do better than me. You can’t. God damn you, I’m special.”
At this, Nicolas got up and walked out again, embarrassed for Adam, I suppose. Luckily Loulou had the television on. He was incapable of hearing anything while the television was on. A marching band could pass right outside the window and he would miss it entirely.
Maybe the saddest thing about Adam leaving was that I wasn’t going to miss him. How did I know for sure this wasn’t love? Feeling oddly pissed off at someone for reasons that you couldn’t put your finger on was surely somebody’s definition of love.
But no sooner than I started feeling sorry for him, I would think about what had happened and then find that I was enraged. I had never been envious of Adam. I had loved his magical stories from the faraway kingdom of Being Rich. I had never wanted his grand houses or private school education. But this was too much. He could not have our mother’s love because that was something that right
He was pulling out paperback philosophy books from under the bed. He had located odd little spots in the cluttered room where he could find his own space for his things.
“Will you give me five and a half seconds, Nouschka? Can we sit down for a cup of coffee? I know this is really fucking weird. In a way. But in another way, it’s not that completely crazy.”
He didn’t really sound convinced of his own words. He was trying to get his head around the news himself.
“It isn’t actually a reason for us to break up.”
“I think it’s enough of a reason actually. I don’t want to think about you, or Lily Sainte-Marie. Noëlle, whatever her name is. I don’t even want to think about Nicolas right now.”
“You can’t get away from him. You’re two parts of a whole.”
I suddenly wanted to murder him for saying it. I was glad again that I was throwing him out.
“Why would you say that? We’re not the same person, you know.”
“But now Nicolas isn’t going to hang out with me either.”
“What, are you breaking up with Nicolas or are you breaking up with me?”
“You’re both breaking up with me. You’re both rejecting me.”
His coddled upbringing had ironically made him susceptible to the ragged glamour that surrounded us. I needed someone who could see through all that. He didn’t realize that it was preventing us from doing anything with our lives. Adam would never be able to get me away from Nicolas.
Nicolas shook hands with Adam at the door. Nicolas too just wanted him to go. His escapade involving Adam had come to fruition and was over. More importantly, we just needed to be alone. After Adam left, Nicolas stood there, not saying anything.
“Why are you so calm?” I asked.
“Honestly, Nouschka, I think that I’m in shock.”
I looked at him. He probably was. After he had broken his arm when he was five, he kept walking around in a circle, telling everyone to relax and stay calm.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes