Translated from the French by
The luxury car mounted the curves of Ridgewood Avenue, unique in Montreal. Carved into a hillside on the mountain, it’s lined with apartment blocks whose monetary status is pegged to their elevation. They don’t even have to be attractive. In front of me, on the right, was my papa, who I was drinking in, wide-eyed, and on the left, Patrice, his friend’s brother, who pissed me off from the get go. It may have had something to do with the fact that he’d found nothing better to say to me than to call me Scruffy, doubtless because I was dressed like a bum.
Having no venom to spare for so little, I’d not bothered informing him that I’d found my duds in the 25-cent pile at a church bazaar, and was very grateful to have done so. He wouldn’t have known what I was talking about.
No kidding, he lived close to the top. With a flourish he rolled up the garage door wielding an infrared remote and we plunged into a basement packed with late model machines, one more eye-catching than the other. Trunk, baggage, elevator, corridor: and here we were in his home-sweet-home, on the highest floor, of course.
“So how do you like my view?” Patrice exclaimed, while my father sank onto the couch, rubbing his eyes.
I sat beside him, still a bit incredulous. Indeed, through the big bay window you saw the entire Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood, as far as Jean-Talon. With binoculars, I could have picked out the house I fled from.
Little brother must have enjoyed Olympic-calibre sunsets.
“Lisa will be here any minute” he announced, opening up a vintage writing desk that concealed a mini-bar. “Do you still like scotch?”
“Still do,” confirmed my father, before tilting his head toward me.
“Ah yes, and you, Scruffy, what do you want, a Perrier, some apple juice?”
“A beer,” I replied.
A bit taken aback, he turned to my father, his mouth agape. My father nodded yes, and he popped me open a Carlsberg.
“So,” said my father, “Here’s to our reunion!”
I clinked my green bottle against his wine glass as if we were all alone in the world, and we both drank. I hadn’t waited this long to have our moment spoiled by a jackass. In any case, a key had turned in the lock and Patrice went to meet Lisa in the entryway, leaving us alone with one another.
“My darling! After all this time, can you believe it?”
We smiled at each other like two happy idiots.
“You must be hungry, no?” exclaimed Patrice, coming back into the living room along with a pretty dark-haired lady with a luminous gaze. “Lisa’s brought us some really good food from a nearby take-out, it’s good, you’ll see, you’d think you were in France. Just stay put, we’re taking care of everything.”
And the meal proceeded amid memories of youth, high school pranks, holiday trips… as if I weren’t there. It didn’t matter. I drank it all in like a thirsty desert. The tiniest drop made me sprout green shoots And Lisa’s smiles compensated for the arrogance of her… fiancé, as I learned. But what on earth did she see in this buffoon?
It was getting late. Lisa prepared the guest room for my papa, exhausted from the trip and the time lag. I was sent home in a taxi with several dollar bills in my pocket, a lengthy Harmonium track on the radio and on my lips, a hint of cream from a chocolate éclair, something I hadn’t tasted for ages.
It was him knocking down below, at least I hoped so! If I’d only known, in fabricating this little sign, that two weeks later he’d be reading it…
“Come in, come in! You’re all right, you didn’t have any trouble getting here?”
“Not at all, you explained it very well. But this is quite a climb! It’s true, your house seems very old… it’s older than the Ritz, in any case. Quite a difference.”
“I’m very happy here. Come, I’ll show you my room. Give me your coat… would you like a coffee?”
“Yes, that would be nice. Oh, look at that, there really are squirrels at your window! I have to confess that reading your letter, I thought it was a poetical fancy on your part.”
“You’ll see, in France… I think it goes back to the war. You know, everything was scarce. Anyway, they would never survive like that, in the middle of the city. There is always a little rascal with a slingshot.”
“Oh, how sad!”
“That’s not going to change your mind, I hope.”
How to get through to him how happy I was that he’d crossed the ocean to come and get me? In my gratitude I would have given up much more than my little room with its wavy floor, its wobbly chairs, its faded wallpaper. The refuge that I’d loved so much with all its flaws… my heart was full of contradictory emotions. I would have liked to smoke a little joint, but there was no sense now even considering it. I’d have to say farewell to that too, at least for a while.
I had no idea how to find pot there, if it was as simple a matter as in Quebec.
“Knock knock, can I come in?”
“Yes, do! Papa, this is Gaby, I told you about him yesterday.”
“So you’re the guardian angel! I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for my daughter, really.”
With a kind of beguiled tenderness I noted the rather high-flown style my father adopted when he became emotional. The evening before, he’d declared himself “very moved to set his foot down on Canadian soil,” and “overwhelmed to at last hold me in his arms.” To which I replied Yes, yes, yes, me too, me too.
In any case, Gaby was pleased.
“I’m very happy, sir. But let’s not exaggerate! The room came free at just the right time… they say that coincidences are only a means for God to remain anonymous,” he added, bobbing his head, as if to excuse himself for talking about religion.
“Yes, that’s one way of looking at things, “my atheist papa replied, a smile at the corner of his mouth, as if to apologize for not being a believer.
I was happy to see them so quickly getting along.
“Josée, I wanted to tell you that I’ve had news from the synagogue: the police have found the thieves, they’d got in through a half-open window. We’re going to recover some of the instruments, they didn’t have time to unload them.”
“Oh, that’s great, so you’re going to be able to go on playing?”
“Yes, but we’ll miss our singer!”
“Oh, you’ve also lost your singer?” said my father, astonished.
“It’s me, papa. I’d just begun when they stole all our equipment.”
“What a shame. And this happened in a synagogue?”
“Yes, but the thieves aren’t Jewish,” Gaby explained. “They live just nearby, that’s how they saw the open window.”
“So Sam was right,” I exclaimed, then turned to my father: “You see, he said it was impossible for us to have done it because the robbery took place on a Saturday night!”
An amused nodding of the head from my begetter, who rose and moved toward the door:
“Gaby, can you show me where the bathroom is?”
Pricking up my ears, I seemed to hear some softly spoken words in the hallway, but it was perhaps just Benjamin’s radio on the other side of the wall.
“Good,” he exclaimed on his return. “Should we have a bite? I’d love to try the burgers at that deli you talked to me about, on Sainte-Catherine Street. Is it far?”
“Not at all, we’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Face to face with my papa on that bench, facing the enormous menu and the correspondingly ample servings… time folded itself into space. I was a bit dizzy. That didn’t stop me from devouring my cheeseburger, nor from bursting out laughing, seeing the grimace on my father’s face when he bit heartily into a pickle.
“How awful… is it sweetened?”
“Ha ha, I don’t like it either, but I find it full of vinegar, no?”
“Yes, but what is this vinegar? It’s not at all like the little cornichons with tarragon…”
“You miss French cuisine already?”
We removed the tops of the rolls that were as large as our hands, we took out the slices of pickle and we piled them on the rims of our plates, laughing like a couple of long-time conspirators.
When we emerged, a gentle white snowfall was stippling this early December and our new-found calm. His Parisian ankle boots slipped about on the shiny sidewalk. He passed an arm through mine to profit from my stability, due entirely to the non-skid soles of my super laced-up boots, and we strolled along Sainte-Catherine Street, gazing into the lighted windows, like two ordinary tourists.
Text and illustrations © Sophie Voillot 2021
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