Translated from the French by
In fond memory of Marc-Olivier Rainville, the original Marco,
who passed away abruptly on May 11, 2021.
Steffi had just left with her guy Julius, he preceding her down the stairs, she just behind, one hand resting on his shoulder as if she were blind or limp. We cleared off the dishes, and while Marco was dealing with them alongside Chantal in the kitchen, I found myself alone at the table with the famous Varan, who had not finished his glass of wine.
“So, you like acid?”
“Yes, not you?”
“I don’t mind it. You want some tonight? I know a guy who’s got good stuff.”
“Thing is, I don’t really have any money…”
“Ah… listen, it’s not a big deal, I’m in the mood, I’ll buy two, and you’ll owe me for next time.”
I thought fast. There wasn’t much likelihood that we’d see each other again. All of a sudden I felt hemmed in by these four walls that were all I’d laid eyes on for days. And this business of the meatballs had left me with a sour aftertaste, never mind the spectacle of Steffi being charmed by that frivolous ninny. It seemed like a mild night outside. And clearly, Marco wouldn’t mind finding himself alone with the tall brunette. So I sighed:
“What the heck, why not?”
“All right. You want to ride with me? I didn’t bring my other helmet, but I know Marco has one, just a second.”
A few words in the kitchen, a cupboard opening and closing, some goodbyes and goodnights, and we’re on the road… the helmet was tree green and glittery, a bit too large but if I tightened the buckle under my chin, it held pretty well.
“Anyway, you’ll see, I’m very cautious, very careful.”
I’d never climbed onto a motorcycle in my life. I expected a thunderous noise, but no, the engine purred softly and we edged gently away from the sidewalk. First stop: an anonymous apartment block near the Laurier subway station, into which Varan vanished after entrusting me with his black helmet and the night it mirrored. Fascinating. My gaze got lost in it for what seemed an eternity. Four and a half minutes later, Varan came back with the tiny pills that we swallowed with matching gestures.
Then my baptism on two wheels continued.
The previous year, I’d been invited to spend a spring night with another friend, Marie-Laure. Her parents had gone off to open their cottage I don’t know where. No doubt calculating that there was safety in numbers when it came to our doing something foolish, they had also authorized their older son to invite a friend. The brother and sister, normally at each other’s throats, had called a truce in order to organize a basement party that would go down in history.
The next afternoon, once we’d cleaned things up, we were listening to Cat Stevens in Marie-Laure’s bedroom while grooving on his curly hair, when the big brother, who had just got his driver’s license, knocked on the door and invited us for a ride along with his guest. We innocently climbed into the rear seat of their mother’s little Chrysler. The two boys got in the front, the doors slammed, and we hit the ground running. For what seemed to me to be endless hours, the car sailed through the small streets criss-crossing Mount Royal, the tires squealing. And they zigzagged to the max so we too would squeal, terrified, while the two sadists in front chortled away.
But nothing like that now. The acid had begun to rise up in us as we rose too, to the top of the mountain, where we stopped for a moment to contemplate the city stretched out before us in its suit of light. But I had got used to the sensation of rolling along in the open air, so we headed back into it, dancing in its arms for a while longer. I learned how to lean from one side to the other on the turns, and it was fun.
I remember that we stopped for gas. The engine went quiet, I set my feet down on the ground with a springy stride, and as I distanced myself a little from the machine, I clearly saw it smiling back at me with a friendly wink, a stout and friendly animal. Run through with iridescent reflections, it floated peacefully close to the ground, its kindly girth breathing in and out.
Then I see myself in the middle of a little park, facing a central structure ringed with stones, perhaps a column, perhaps a fountain. Something insistent was stirring inside me, I began to give it voice to disrupt the silence of the trees. Janis, Janis, Janis, poured forth from this body of mine, but there was always more streaming into the mild night. Varan was there on the periphery, monitoring with half an ear. I saw him as a discreet protector, we didn’t really click, but it wasn’t a problem.
The magical sky was looking down on all and everyone.
At last, when I went silent, he paid me a small compliment along with some restrained, but sincere applause. Then I suggested that he bring me back to Marco’s. The moment had come, I felt, for me to return to my den like the little animals that were surely curled up asleep all around us.
The apartment was slumbering peacefully, plunged into darkness. We sank down onto my couch. Varan went in search of an ashtray and two glasses of water. While I waited, the room came alive with bold respirations and a shifting grid of multicoloured stripes. The sepia photographs took on all kinds of delicate hues. When he returned, I exclaimed:
“It’s crazy, you know, I see rainbows everywhere, but the purple looks more vivid than it really is, I don’t know what that means. The greens are also stronger, deeper, as if everything was more alive, or intense, or…”
He cut me off:
“Yes, but talking about stronger, lower the volume a bit, don’t forget that you’re… when we’re stoned like that, we sometimes forget.”
All at once I felt very awkward, guilty, suddenly aware that it was late, that Marco was doubtless asleep on the other side of the kitchen, itself a dark presence at the limit of my field of vision, which a minute earlier did not extend that far. And I was overwhelmed by fatigue. I felt the weight of all I’d lived through since the first of August. The dizzying transformation of my life since that day went to my head, and I took advantage of Varan’s going to the bathroom to stretch out, one arm over my eyes, shielding them from the harsh illumination of the ceiling light. How good that felt.
Ultimately, all I required was this couch, this room, this house.
My eyelids lowered, I let myself go, imagining what my life might be like if Marco allowed me to stay awhile. I could offer to contribute, strumming my guitar down in the street, or in the park…
When I opened them, Varan was seated beside me lifting up my blouse. I saw him as at the end of a long tunnel. He lifted my Indian skirt with one hand, while undoing his belt with the other. I don’t think he even took off his pants. He brought his fingers to his lips, moistened them with his tongue, and buried them between my legs. Removed them. And slid in to where they had been.
My head was spinning. The hedgehog curled up in my throat kept me mute. I no longer knew how to move. My field of vision shifted in sync with his faster and faster pounding of the belly. It was so ridiculous, so stupefying, that it had nothing to do with me. As if to protect me, thousands of white sparks wrapped me round. If I aimed my eyes in one direction, there were so many of them that my sight was all befogged. On the wall, pictures were being splintered by the jolts. All that remained of them were muddled jumbles that made no sense.
He pulled out just before coming, jism spurted everywhere over my stomach and between my breasts. It was viscous. It was gluey. It ran between my legs and stuck to me everywhere. My ears rang as if a bomb had gone off inside me.
In the resulting crater, all that was left was profound silence.
“You see. I’m very cautious, very careful.”
Varan went back to the bathroom, then he picked up his helmet and his leather jacket.
“Well, I’ll be off.”
I focussed my eyes on him, dumbfounded. He gave me a little ersatz smile and peered at his watch… he was checking the time! That’s when I understood. I leapt to my feet.
“You…you’re not stoned!”
“Wow, right on. You’re pretty darn good. Yeah, you took it and I just… pretended.”
With that, he shot me a mischievous look, with a mocking little smile. He was proud of his feat, that was clear.
The sparks mushroomed before my eyes, silence engulfed everything else, and when it was over he was no longer there, nor, barely, was I. I was motionless for a long time. I think I was waiting for the David Hamilton photographs to pull themselves together. In any case, it’s when I made out the young girls with their bare legs that I came to myself. Their innocence betrayed, the perversity of the photographer’s adult gaze, I only understood them now. Shaken as I was, I began to feel again. To breathe through the bitter rent in my disconsolate lungs.
I managed to get myself up. My hand trembling, I turned off the ceiling light. Since that day I cannot bear them. The first thing I do when I move in somewhere new is to install a rheostat so they can never again blind me.
The bathroom was next to Marco’s bedroom. I didn’t want to make any noise, but I still had to negotiate the hallway to reach my clean clothes. How lucky. Then I rinsed myself off as best I could in the basin of the bathroom leading off the dining room. I rolled up my soiled skirt and stuffed it into my bag with the rest of my belongings on top. I pulled on my jeans, fished my second sandal out from under the couch and for a moment, under the ceiling light, contemplated that space I was preparing to leave forever. Marco was going to wonder what had got into me.
I knew that it was a venomous lizard.
I set my foot down on the solid ground of rue Prince-Arthur. Not a soul in sight. Only greasy papers, beer cans, empty cigarette packages. I got my bearings, just enough to distinguish north from south, then headed down rue de Bullion toward my only refuge in this world: Place Jacques Cartier.
I’d only gone a few blocks when the birds began to chirp. The sky was coming on blue. My knees were shaking. At the corner of Sherbrooke Street I let myself slump onto a stone wall. I felt nothing. I barely breathed. I was still stunned. And it lurked still inside me, that curious silence with its high-pitched, unreal stridulation.
But the blue was paling; on my left, I saw a few toothed leaves coming out of the darkness, a frail stem surmounted by a bristling head of stars. A dandelion.
A dandelion from out of nowhere, a small living thing, amazingly growing between the sidewalk’s asphalt and the stone wall. It was plotting a path toward the sun, it had flowered and formed seeds primed to fly off to the four corners of the world. A golden mane that was shaking itself off in the light.
Something welled up in me. I who have a crooked incisor, who was born under the sign of the lion. Dent de lion, dandelion, tooth of the lion. It would be my nom de guerre, my secret totem. A prolonged tremor took hold of me and I decided… no. I knew. That I would live on. Flourish. Perhaps even cast my seeds to the wind.
I stood up. I strapped my backpack to my shoulders. And roaring, I leapt toward the south.
Text and illustrations © Sophie Voillot 2021