Second and Last Part
Translated from the French by
Now it was just the two of us on the threadbare couch, stoned together for the first time. The sun had just set, but I had the feeling that your enormous eyes were lighting up the entire room. Then, slowly, you focussed them on me:
“Can you hear it?”
I turned off the radio and pricked up my ears, I thought you were talking about the wind. But all was calm.
“He’s on the prowl, he’s just waiting to catch up to us, then… he never lets us go.”
“Will you tell me what you’re talking about?”
“Not what, who.”
You lowered your voice.
It was my turn to open my eyes wide. My mouth, too. I didn’t know what to say. The only believer I knew was my grandmother, so thin, so rigid, and so Catholic, always so proper and aloof, never one word louder than the other. She was constantly going into churches and lighting candles for the Holy Virgin.
I would have dearly loved to have one on hand to drive away the darkness and your fear.
“He wants our souls, you understand… what he wants is to win. To triumph. You have to be very, very careful. He’s the most cunning of all. Much more cunning than any of us.”
The night was bearing down on the window pane. I could almost hear the menacing maelstrom in your ears. I began to see white sparks everywhere. Ever since a certain night, that’s what was happening to me whenever things got tense.
Mustering all my courage, I tried summoning the light on the ceiling, but its brutal illumination was of no help. You just stayed there, frozen like a deer blinded by implacable headlights. I shut it off, and seeking a distraction, I turned on the radio.
An electric guitar began to play, backed by an unbelievably gentle organ. A man’s voice started to talk about a small isolated town where there appeared a stranger bringing joy, after the passage of the prince of darkness… and the return of the Messiah, who was sure to arrive. I came to myself with a jolt.
“Listen to this! Just listen, instead of shaking like a leaf! Your Messiah, he’s going to return, you’ll see, everything will be all right…”
The guitar wailed with sorrow and with hope. I tried to hug you, but you drove me off with your terrible stare.
“Leave me alone, dammit. I didn’t grow up in a chic neighbourhood, I don’t know English.”
Throwing up my hands in despair, I climbed to the mezannine to seek refuge, to calm myself, to try to restore what was left of my buzz. I longed to recapture some of the euphoria from earlier on, but I had a knot in my throat.
I must have fallen sleep. At night’s end, I felt you stretching yourself out beside me. I heard you sighing, but I didn’t dare move into you.
You were still sleeping when I went out the next day, tired of turning in circles without making any noise that might wake you. When I returned you were pacing up and down, lighting one cigarette after another. The metal lid that served as an ashtray was full. I had barely set down my guitar case weighed down with coins, when you attacked:
“Okay, Josée, things are going to change.”
“Planting trees is hard, but picking fruit, that I like. It’s pear season in the Okanagan Valley. I think I’m going to go there.”
I had a bad feeling, but I forced myself to speak.
“Okay, I’ll go with you.”
“No, I’m going alone.”
And it’s then that you spoke those unbelievable words.
“Anyway, every time I said ‘I love you,’ it was always in quotation marks.”
“In quotation marks! If you’d really listened, you would have heard them.”
Either I was going mad, or you were. I didn’t hesitate for long. I took a deep breath.
I climbed the ladder one last time. My poor backpack was moping all alone in a corner, along with the hedgehog. The one swallowed up my belongings, while the other returned to curl itself up in my throat. I came back down with a pillow under my arm and I grabbed my guitar after picking up the ounce of pot along the way and stuffing it into the flowered pillow case.
At the top of the stairs, I turned around. Now it was you with the open mouth and the bulging eyes, your eyes that I would never see again. A few years later, I would doubtless have told you to go fuck yourself, but as I was still soft-hearted, I said Farewell.
If memory serves, I did, all the same, slam the door.
Sylvio’s was a long way off, but my feet knew the way. When he opened the door, I saw on his face that he understood everything. While he cracked open a bottle, Michel offered me a meagre little joint. So I pulled the baggie from the pillowcase, and they let out cries of joy. That cheered me a bit, but I didn’t linger. I took my beer and went to throw my broken heart down onto the sofa. Even though I dug myself in with all my strength, I couldn’t find your smell among the cushions.
A few days later, arriving at Place Jacques-Cartier as usual, I found it empty, even for a Tuesday. After having ordered my hot-dog at the deserted counter, I asked the guy what was going on, and he stared down on me:
“Yesterday was Labour Day. Where do you live?”
I was starting to ask myself the same question. Sylvio was not hiding his eagerness to see me spread my wings, or in other words to fly the coop. Every time I went out, I took my bag with me so as to disturb him as little as possible. Now I set it down on my favourite bench, where I had taken so many naps. Lying there was a torn copy of Mainmise for the month of August, meaning a century earlier. Its blue cover proclaimed COMIX! As I had nothing better to do, I sat down and opened it.
On page 9, there was a comic called The Return of the Messiah. My heart started to pound in my chest as I began to read it, turning the pages with a trembling hand. Then I came on the classified ads and read:
My blue house is open. Those who would like to leave will leave, those who want to stay will stay. Merlin, 9th Avenue, Ferme-Neuve.
Blue cover, blue house… Avenue 9, page 9. Fine.
Message received. I shut the magazine, and I walked to the Voyageur bus station, where I made inquiries: the bus for the Laurentians went as far as Ferme-Neuve and no farther, I had the feeling that it was made just for me. It would leave in three hours.
I counted the little change I had left. I was quite a bit short. So I went back out, stationed myself at the corner of the street, and I reeled off all the songs I knew until I had enough money to get on board. I also called Sylvio. To thank him.
I found the blue house. The door was ajar. Merlin was an old bearded hippie who had lived for a long time in San Francisco. He was full of stories. I moved in. I wept for three days, sitting at the window playing Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust over and over, with her unwashed phenomenon, the original vagabond, who strayed into her arms, temporarily lost at sea…
That autumn, Merlin taught me to meditate, to make a fire in the wood stove, to cook whole rice. At night I slept on the sofa, nothing new under the moon. He opened his bedroom to all the pretty boys in Mont-Laurier. I knew that song.
It’s also there that I discovered the I Ching, that ancient Chinese text, both an oracle and a source of wisdom. Reading the preface written by Carl Jung (another discovery), I was able to give a name to what had happened with the number nine in Mainmise: a synchronicity. A coincidence whose only meaning was subjective, for my eyes alone. In that moment full of import, time and space began to pulse together around my new couch, a vibration echoed outside by the trees’ red leaves in the wind. I, who so dearly needed to orient myself in this world where I felt myself plummeting down in free fall, I had found my Ariadne’s thread.
In the middle of October, Merlin suggested hitchhiking to Montreal, just for fun. We prepared our knapsacks. Into his, he slipped a bottle of Caribou that kept us warm along the icy road swept by autumn winds. But the sky stayed blue all day long, and come the night, we arrived in Old Montreal. Place Jacques-Cartier recognized me immediately. It was as if I’d never left.
I turned around. Michel and Sylvio were waving their arms in my direction. I flew into their arms. I was happy to see them, but they seemed strange.
They looked at each other without saying anything. Then they drew me aside as Merlin kept the Caribou company.
“It’s Denis… something’s happened to him.”
They poured it all out pell-mell. That the previous summer, it was not from the West Coast that you were returning, but from prison. For armed robbery. Because you were hooked on heroin. That you had to undergo treatment for your addiction. That it wasn’t unemployment insurance you were receiving, but welfare. That you were too proud to admit it. That harvesting pears was just a pretext to flee your demons. That once you arrived in Vancouver, you stole a car to continue on to California. That you were caught. That you were locked up.
And that ten days ago you were found hanged in your cell.
I’m missing large swaths of the days that followed. I know I stayed in the city while Merlin returned up north. That I was still welcome. But, as if lifted up by a wave and set down elsewhere, I never went back.
I still ache for you when I hear Roy Buchanan’s song. You must know that he hanged himself in prison too, twelve years after you. I hope he found him. His Messiah. When I found out, I came close to losing my way once again. Who can say what terrible premonition loomed up before you that night? What black hole yawned beneath your beautiful feet? Into what mad dash you threw yourself so as not to fall into it? Without success…
In my most mawkish moments, I go so far as to imagine that if you fled, it was so as not to drag me with you into the void. And the strangest thing is that this song is still a comfort. Unlike some voices whose poignancy no longer speaks to me, yours is still part of my life. And that weeping guitar is filled with so much compassion that to lament along with it does me good.
Text and illustrations © Sophie Voillot 2021