Salaa Hus­sein Dou­ble-jointed thumbs Je­sus pa­rade pho­tog­ra­phy Things not to do in prison Séan-tific Fem­i­nin­ity The rot­ting im­pact of read­ing Writ­ing with light De­con­struct­ing his­tory and more…

Geist - - Contents - CATHER­INE LEROUX

From The Party Wall trans­lated by Lazer Leder­hendler. Pub­lished by Bi­b­lioa­sis in 2016. Cather­ine Leroux is a writer and trans­la­tor. She lives in Mon­treal.

The twist­ing wind wraps it­self around Angie’s an­kles, a groundlevel wave that takes her by sur­prise. The wind, as a rule, does not linger at peo­ple’s feet. Ex­cept the strong, low wind pro­duced by a pass­ing train. As if to trip you up. She looks down to ex­am­ine her shins, her knock-knees. The children she knows are sim­ply thin, or else they are chubby, plump, fleshy. Angie is nine years old and as

gnarled as a crone. She re­sem­bles the pine trees grow­ing on moun­tain­tops. The shape of her fin­gers and toes is com­pli­cated, and her el­bows pro­trude from the mid­dle of her spindly arms, two black pearls mounted on taut wires. She dreads the day her breasts will ap­pear, con­vinced as she is that they will emerge, not like the pretty ap­ples flaunted by the girls in ju­nior high, but like two an­gu­lar bumps, two an­gry fists pound­ing their way through her chest.

In­side, Monette is still ne­go­ti­at­ing with her san­dals. Though per­fectly ca­pa­ble of putting them on, she takes an in­or­di­nate amount of time to fas­ten the straps be­cause even the slight­est mis­align­ment of the Vel­cro strips is in­tol­er­a­ble to her. She at­taches them, de­taches them, re­po­si­tions the hook side over the loop side with the con­cen­tra­tion

of a Ti­betan monk, in­spects her work, finds it want­ing, and starts over. Un­der the silky rays of the sun, Angie does not lose pa­tience. While wait­ing for her lit­tle sis­ter, she con­tem­plates the lan­guid sway­ing of the wil­low, their tree, the big­gest one on the street.

Mam told them, “It’s nice out. Go for a walk!” She will use the time to swab down the house, a house so old and mem­ory-laden that clean­ing it is well­nigh im­pos­si­ble. Still, come May, Mam scrubs every­thing, in­clud­ing the wooden floors made por­ous by the flood­wa­ters and the win­dows turned chalky from be­ing per­ma­nently fogged-up.

Monette fi­nally comes out into the bright day­light, blinks and wipes a tear from the cor­ner of her eye. Though daz­zled, she man­ages to find her sis­ter’s hand. As usual, she twitches at the touch of the cal­lused palm, which re­minds her of the rough side of Vel­cro, but the next instant her own skin nes­tles in it as if it were the com­fort­ing cloth of an old woollen blan­ket. To­gether, they walk down the four cracked con­crete steps. The crack in the sec­ond-to-last stair looks like a dragon. She avoids tread­ing on it. The pave­ment lead­ing to the side­walk is also bro­ken and has weeds sprout­ing in the gaps. Mam does not pull them out and has taught her daugh­ters to re­spect th­ese hum­ble shoots. “There’s no such thing as weeds. That’s just a name for some flow­ers thought up by racist gar­den­ers.” Monette ruf­fles their petals with a ca­ress.

As al­ways, the mo­ment they reach the street they in­stantly leave be­hind the world of home. Yet no fence sep­a­rates the front yard from the av­enue. There is, how­ever, an in­vis­i­ble bar­rier that makes it pos­si­ble to be com­pletely obliv­i­ous of what tran­spires on the other side and that hides the house from strangers, Angie hopes. Two boys go by drib­bling a bas­ket­ball. They wear loose-fit­ting t-shirts and their skin is coated with a fine mist. Their voices are loud and they spout ob­scen­i­ties. Angie cov­ers her younger sis­ter’s ears. Monette has heard far

worse, but Angie be­lieves in the ges­ture of cov­er­ing her ears, in the in­ten­tion be­hind it. Once they’ve let the teenagers pass, Angie mo­tions with her chin in the di­rec­tion they’re to walk: south. Be­fore start­ing out, Monette looks down, ex­am­ines her san­dals, hes­i­tat­ing mo­men­tar­ily. Then she sets off, her pudgy lit­tle hand welded to her sis­ter’s.

The street is di­vided in such a lop­sided way that it seems about to keel over, like a boat in which the pas­sen­gers have all gath­ered on the same side. The houses on the east­ern side are nar­row and di­lap­i­dated, and the paint on most of them is peel­ing off in del­i­cate white plumes; across the street, they are mas­sive, stately, adorned with a com­plex ar­range­ment of bal­conies and bay win­dows. Mam claims the rail­road is the rea­son the east side of the block has such modest dwellings. No one well-off wants to move there, right be­side the tracks. But surely, Angie says to her­self, the res­i­dents across the way must also hear the whis­tle and the in­hu­man squeal­ing of the train.

As usual, Monette pulls Angie by the hand to cross the road and walk past the lux­u­ri­ous homes, but her sis­ter rarely gives in. The small houses re­mind Angie of her own; she seems to know them by name, and their win­dows, though cracked, watch the girls benev­o­lently as they go by. By stay­ing on this side, Angie feels she is restor­ing bal­ance and keep­ing the neigh­bour­hood from cap­siz­ing.

At the fifth in­ter­sec­tion, the row of posh-look­ing res­i­dences tum­bles over a wide cross street and gets dis­persed in a mid­dle-class district. The area, ac­cord­ing to Mam, was de­vel­oped years ago in the hope of at­tract­ing pros­per­ous Black fam­i­lies. To­day it’s al­most de­serted. Monette and Angie con­tinue along a sparsely pop­u­lated stretch of road rid­dled with va­cant lots where the grasses reach dizzy­ing heights and hide the crouch­ing cats and opos­sums gnaw­ing at their mea­gre prey.

They walk past a wreck­ing yard; rec­og­niz­ing the place, Monette starts to hop up and down and sets the heavy braids Angie had plaited that very morn­ing danc­ing around her head. They come to a shack painted pink that ex­udes a warm odour of ma­nure. Monette’s hand grows damp with ex­cite­ment; she gives her sis­ter a plead­ing look that is an­swered with an ap­prov­ing nod, at which she loosens her grip. Monette dashes ahead.

The en­clo­sure looks empty, and Angie is afraid the child will throw a fit, but for now she shows no signs of dis­cour­age­ment. Monette res­o­lutely tears lit­tle fist­fuls of grass and dan­de­lions out of the ditch and comes back to jig­gle them be­tween the slats in the fence while emit­ting sharp, amaz­ingly pre­cise sounds through her clumsy lips. A shape stirs in the shad­ows, and Angie’s heart in­con­spic­u­ously leaps into her mouth. The sway­back pony obe­di­ently steps for­ward. As al­ways, Angie is over­come by a strange sen­sa­tion at the sight of this horse, per­pet­u­ally small, yet so old, so weary.

The an­i­mal chews tamely on the prof­fered snack, then Angie lifts up Monette so she can stroke—ever so lightly—its peeled muz­zle, its scrawny croup, its ragged coat. From the back of the pink shed, a man wear­ing a flaw­less mous­tache ap­pears and, beam­ing with pride, greets them. Old Craig is fond of his filly.

“What’s the horse’s name?”

“She’s not a horse, she’s a pony. Her name is Belle,” Craig replies pa­tiently. “How old is she?”

“Thirty-nine years old.”

Monette solemnly nods her head and stores the in­for­ma­tion in a place where it can slum­ber un­til some­thing can make bet­ter sense of it. The old man en­ters the pad­dock and, pulling on the hal­ter, leads the an­i­mal back to­ward the shed.

“She has to rest now. She’s work­ing this af­ter­noon,” Craig says, point­ing to the junk wagon that he has been driv­ing through the streets of Sa­van­nah for decades.

The lit­tle girl re­luc­tantly lets the an­i­mal move away and re­turns to the side­walk, where she once again takes her older sis­ter’s cal­lused hand. Angie and Belle re­sem­ble each other, but Monette does not un­der­stand why. Over­head, a mil­i­tary jet cuts through the sky and the dron­ing of the ci­cadas. Hav­ing taken off from the nearby base, it streaks to­ward an un­in­tel­li­gi­ble coun­try where death is not con­tent merely to lurk in the tall grass of va­cant lots.

From Rit­ual by Vin­cenzo Pi­etropaolo. Pub­lished by Black Dog Pub­lish­ing in 2016. Rit­ual doc­u­ments the an­nual Good Fri­day pro­ces­sion in Toronto’s Ital­ian com­mu­nity be­tween 1969 and 2016. Pi­etropaolo has pub­lished eight books of pho­tog­ra­phy, in­clud­ing Har­vest

Pil­grims: Mex­i­can and Car­ib­bean Mi­grant Farm Work­ers in Canada, and his work has been ex­hib­ited in Canada and abroad. He lives in Toronto.

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