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The Snarling Telephone

Episode 1

Translated from the French by
Donald Winkler

July 31, 1975

We were living north of Jean-Talon, just on the threshold of Ville Mont-Royal. I’d left the house running; I was in a hurry to meet Steffi, who lived in a duplex on Grosvenor Avenue with her German family. We didn’t go to the same school, but from the very first time we met, we were inseparable. We spent our days listening to Janis Joplin in her room with the blue ceiling we’d repainted together. At the very last minute I’d had the idea of letting some whiteness show through to reveal a crescent moon and a few stars. It was very pretty, and I was immoderately proud of it.

Arrived not long before from Senegal where she’d learned French, Steffi was funny, she had long silky hair, a beauty mark on the side of her nose, and I couldn’t even tell that I was a bit in love with her. I didn’t know it was possible.

Since the holidays began I’d had permission to go out alone, but still not to invite anyone back. I often ate at Steffi’s, though she’d never once set foot in our house. I don’t remember what we had that night, but I’m sure it must have included potatoes and mustard. The last bite swallowed, we got up, said we were going for a stroll, and took the bus on Queen Mary in the direction of Café Campus.  

“I’m suffocating… see if you can open the window a bit wider.”

Despite my struggling to slide the window back, it blocked at the end of its run and nothing budged. It was already open as far as it would go, but a feeble breath of weary air came to settle on my neck. My nape was hurting. The day before, my mother had shaken me violently for a reason I can’t quite remember: I’d forgotten to put the little spoons on the table, or taken the wrong pair of slippers into her bedroom.

Steffi pulled on the yellow cord: “Come on, Miss Lunatic.”

She called me that because my head was always in the clouds. Without watching where I was going I darted into the road, but a hand grabbed me by the shoulder and roughly yanked me back. The departing bus brushed by me, honking all the way.

I'd never noticed how huge their tires were
Text, computer graphics: Sophie Voillot

Without Steffi’s presence of mind, my life would have ended then and there. Short of breath, our hearts pounding, we stood frozen for a moment before crossing the street.

We got into the club easily despite the impertinence of our sixteen years. It wasn’t the first time. Anyway, the beer didn’t interest me as much as the music and the joints being passed around the tables. As soon as I’d smoked a little, I leaped onto the dance floor, buoyed by gusts of joy.

When I got too hot, I went to join my blond sprite sitting not far away with her mug. She always had a pack of Gitanes tucked into the pocket of the maxi coat she wore day in, day out. We ended up smoking four or five in silence.

We weren’t the kind to babble on without stopping, and in any case Jim Morrison was talking louder than we were.

I kept glancing around from one table to another. Still shaken by the encounter with the bus, I lowered my gaze for no particular reason. It came to rest on a twenty-dollar bill folded in two, astir under an empty chair. I dove for it and resurfacing, found myself face to face with a smile framed by freckles, to which I inquired:

“Is it yours?”

“No,” he answered, “but if you want some acid, I’m going to buy some, it’s five bucks each.”

He too had very long hair, and a playful gleam in his eyes. I didn’t hesitate. I was up for anything.

“Wait a minute, I’ll see if my friend wants some.”

“Not a chance,” cried Steffi. “Acid is corrosive, it makes holes in your stomach.”

Signing to the guy that I wanted only one, I furrowed my brow, not at all certain that what she said was true, but by then she’d got up to leave. Her tolerant, discreet parents still would be starting to worry. I’d told mine that I’d be sleeping over at her place. We argued under our breaths for a minute or two. Finally, I promised to be careful and not to let myself be abducted by horrible satyrs with bad intentions. We kissed and I turned back towards the smile, whose owner was named Jean-Louis.

He placed a tiny violet tablet in the palm of my hand.

“It’s micro purple, you know it?”

It was weightless.

I swallowed it just like that. I showed Jean-Louis my tongue to make sure that the acid had gone down, he stuck out his own tongue while nodding his head, we laughed. Then we went bopping about to some rock tunes while waiting for his buddy Normand.

There he was, tall and dark-haired. Jean-Louis took him aside. They looked at me, heads together, Normand popped his microdot, and we went out to find a taxi to go and trip at Jean-Louis’ place, he had good music, Normand guaranteed it.

We went down Côte-des Neiges, then Guy to Sainte-Catherine, and we turned east. Beyond the Latin Quarter, I was entering unknown territory. I may have been living in Montreal for more than six years, but I’d never gone farther than rue Saint-Denis.

I felt butterflies fluttering in my stomach.

Jean-Louis and I were making eyes at each other in the back seat, bumping our foreheads, rubbing our noses, while Normand, who still had a little time left before he started to get high, made conversation with the driver.

We got off at rue Joliette and climbed a staircase that rocked gently, to find ourselves in a little bedroom with a mattress on the floor. The walls were covered in psychedelic posters. I hadn’t yet heard of Echoes, Fragile or Selling England by the Pound. I wasn’t going to forget them. Handling his 33 rpms with respectful dexterity, Jean-Louis played them one after the other. As they’d seen all their shows, he and Normand knew the words by heart, which they declaimed for my benefit, enhancing them with theatrical mimicry. I lapped it up, just as everything began to shimmer.

Between Jean-Louis and me, the smiles got wider and wider. After the third LP the tall dark friend arose on the pretext of stretching his legs, and went off, leaving us alone. We remained on the bed, side by side.

Bit by bit the whole room began to breathe, and I started to talk. While the posters took on life, Jean-Louis listened without interrupting, and I was able to express all that I’d never said to anyone, not even to Steffi: I think I was afraid to scare her.

The threats. The screams. The cruelty. For example, when she wanted to punish me, my mother would pick up the phone and tell the school that I was sick again, yes, the poor child. Yes, her delicate health. After which I spent the day imprisoned in my room. Another instance: the day I found my thighs covered in bruises because of a napkin left on the tile floor. Or the sessions of humiliation, the mother and stepfather on the couch, my little sister and me trapped facing them, trembling, reduced to nothing. Just recently, I had this nightmare that haunted me still:

I open the closet near the front door. Inside is my little sister, dead, smeared with scarlet blood. My stepfather comes up from behind and gives me a smack on the head with all the contempt of which I know him capable. “You’re the one who did that, eh, you bitch!” But it’s not me, it’s him. I can see it in his eyes.
Here comes my mother, her face contorted with rage. Beside herself, she goes looking for something in the bathroom. It’s her bottle of sleeping pills. She pushes me against a wall, pries my mouth open, tries to make me swallow the whole container.

She wants to make me kill myself
Text, computer graphics: Sophie Voillot

Ah, but in Jean-Louis’ arms, I was very much alive. And though this was perhaps my first acid trip, I’d not been a virgin for some months now. Dorothée, my other friend, swiped pill samples from her gynecologist father that she passed on to me, contravening several laws at once. I’d already slept with a few university students in the afternoon, in rooms filled with books and light. But nothing had prepared me for this seismic current, for the surging life force which propelled us towards an ecstatic pleasure that swept away everything in its path.

bouilloire tarabiscotée
Art: Sophie Voillot

Dawn painted the night blue. Rocked by the birds’ crystalline chirping, we slid into sleep beneath sheets strewn with heavenly violets.

When we rose, tropical sunlight was flooding the kitchen. The LSD’s effect had dissipated. All that remained were iridescent reflections on the surfaces of objects, and the steam from the kettle describing mildly convoluted spirals. When I saw what time it was, I panicked.

“I have to call my mother! I was supposed to be back by ten.”

Except that out of the entire universe, one single object was challenging me with a snarl.

“The telephone… it’s going to bite me.”

“What will happen if you don’t call?” asked Jean-Louis as he was dropping bread into the toaster.

I replied without thinking.

“I’ll be killed when I get home.”

“And if you don’t go home? What you’re going through isn’t right, you know. It’s not normal.”

I hung there, suspended like a fish out of water, while the idea worked its way through my supercharged neurons. What did I have to lose, I who, the day before, had almost met my doom beneath the wheels of a bus?

The first advantage I saw was not to have to hold out my my hand to the angry telephone. The second was Jean-Louis’ look of complicity as he placed two cups of coffee on the table. The third, this immense space opening up before me with vertiginous ease. All I had to do was nothing… and that is what I did.

I never went back. Not that morning, nor the next day, nor any other.

fleurs de bouilloire

Text and images © Sophie Voillot 2021

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Anecdotes est un récit d'autofiction écrit et illustré par Sophie Voillot is the writer and illustrator of Anecdotes,
translated by Donald Winkler.
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