I Never Talk About It
From I Never Talk About It, translated from French by thirty-seven different translators, one for each short story in the collection. Published by QC Fiction in 2017. Véronique Côté is an actress, director and author, and her play Tout ce qui tombe was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award in 2013. Steve Gagnon is an actor, director and author, and his play La montagne rouge (SANG) was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award in 2011. TRACTOR Translated by Kathryn Gabinet-kroo
Itook my first trip to Europe five years ago. I was with my then-girlfriend; we started in Paris and followed almost the entire length of the coast, through Bordeaux, Biarritz and Arcachon until we reached the Pyrenees where we saw magnificent landscapes… haunted landscapes. Magnificent landscapes, but they were haunted and conspired against us.
We were camping and at first glance we looked pretty outdoorsy, but we were only camping because it was a whole lot cheaper, and it turned out to be more complicated than anything else and an even bigger pain in the ass since we had to schlep our tent around, and it was way too heavy, putting it up, taking it down, in short, we’ll never do that again, but in any case, we were camping.
One morning we got up, we’d planned to climb the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, so we got up early, really psyched for it, and the tent got disgustingly hot in the morning anyway, so we left.
When we got there, we found out it was a fairly touristy place, but once we got further away, we discovered gorgeous scenery, it felt like we were in a movie, like we were in Lord of the Rings (minus the whole medieval thing). We were on sort of a hill with a really adorable river at the bottom of it. The greenery and the grass were beautiful, there were sheep off in the distance,
everything was perfect. The only thing was that there was some kind of pony or whatever it was, but there was some kind of repulsive little horse and it had an erection and it kept walking around us. With an ERECTION! And another little detail, there was a big tractor doing who knows what, but it came to pick up some stuff not far from where we were, disappeared into the mountains and then came toward us to collect more stuff, disappeared again… like that, ad infinitum, like a ghost.
In fact, I think it was a ghost tractor that still haunts the Pyrenees to this day. But none of that kept us from lying down, my girlfriend and me, beside the river, from lying down more or less away from prying eyes, but in any case there weren’t too many eyes around to see us and we were carried away by some sort of magic, lightheartedness, calm adrenaline; we were carried away by some crazy romanticism, we were deliciously detached from “whether or not this is suitable behaviour” and we made love. We TRIED to make love. This story happened in two parts. In the first, we kissed, touched each other, took off some of our clothes, I tried to penetrate her, the tractor arrived, I pulled out, we both lay on our backs, side by side, platonically, so that the tractor would think that nothing more was going on other than two lovers stretching out in the grass, the tractor went away, we started again, we kissed a bit, I tried again to penetrate her… this
happened three or four times. That was the first part. In the second part, later, when I finally managed to stay inside her for a little longer, some kids, kids who came from I have absolutely no idea where, maybe they were children born of nature or the mountains, elves or angels, because I have no goddamn idea where they came from, but kids most definitely showed up. We didn’t know they were there at first, but we became aware of them pretty quickly since they were throwing rocks at us, rocks that were much too little to cause any sort of landslide—though they were still highly unpleasant when they landed on our faces and bums—so anyway, these kids came and threw rocks at us. I was in the Pyrenees with my girlfriend, I was magically penetrating her out in nature, it was good, there was a ghost tractor but we ignored it, and kids came and threw rocks at our asses and faces, I was in the Pyrenees, my shorts on the ground, half-erect and there
I was, running through the grass. I ran through nature with my underpants around my ankles, running after those fucking little brats, and I heard them laugh, and at that precise moment, I swear, it was at that very moment that the pollen gave me an unbearable allergy attack, I was helpless as a newborn babe and just as naked, I was out of breath and butt-naked, I must have looked even more ridiculous than the pony with his erection, even more vulgar than the pony with his erection, and the pollen chose that very moment to give me shit, nature suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me, pulled the damn rug right out from under me. I turned back toward my girlfriend, who was traumatized, she wasn’t angry or embarrassed, she didn’t think it was particularly funny, she was completely traumatized, her happy-go-luckiness had taken a beating, I went back to my girlfriend, red as a beet, ah-chooing non-stop,
we put our clothes back on, we left and returned to the tourist area, I had no desire to hike up the Pic du Midi de Bigorre but my girlfriend did, so we had a fight and finally went up in some kind of elevator, we felt ridiculous because it cost us 35 euros to go up the Pic du Midi de Bigorre in an ELEVATOR, and once we got to the top, we took about thirty pictures and then went back down.
For the past five years, I’ve had horrible allergies that start in May and only stop in September, I take Aerius every day, four months a year, I’m 22 and I’ve already taken 600 Aerius tablets in my lifetime and I hold the bratty little imps 100% responsible for this, I hold those kids wholly responsible for my allergies and also for the fact that sex with my girlfriend was never the same again. As if… I don’t know. I don’t know if you could call it a trauma, that’s probably an overstatement, but I never again felt her completely let herself go when we made love.
ORANGE Translated by Dmitri Nasrallah
Every summer, you could say I have something like a crisis of faith, I feel down, I feel guilty. Every summer I get my act together and tell myself that I’m a grown-up, someone who’s self-aware, like the ones I see every week at the market. I find it deeply ennobling to go there, I feel it’s even more deeply ennobling to buy my fruits and vegetables from their stands and to go there all the time, to the market, hunting for fresh produce, grown here. I find it’s a very inspiring place, in the end I find that food-radio personality Francis Reddy has a point: it’s true that it makes us feel healthier, makes us feel closer to real life’s truths. At the start of every summer, I tell myself that this will be good for me, going to the market, that it’s right at the corner anyways, but finally, out of habit, I go only once or twice and that’s it.
Except for this year.
It’s only May, it’s not even theoretically summer, but I’ve already gone a dozen times.
Because. Because there’s a shop girl at the fruit kiosk by the entrance.
The fruit “toucher” at the entrance. The shop girl whom I asked the other day, “Is orange season coming up soon?” And who answered me with a smile, “No, orange season is in the winter.” I said, “Too bad.” She replied, “Yes, it’s too bad.” And I said, eyeing those oranges that were just under her breasts, right before her navel, “Does that mean that these ones here are no good?” I could have said something else. I could have said something more intelligent instead of lobbing a dumb question posturing as an unfunny joke.
Being around her makes me want to eat all her fruit. The whole lot. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as eating too much fruit, but in any case, in my case, for the past month I’ve really been eating too much, I’ve been eating some every day and there are days when I throw some away because I stop by the market every two or three days and I haven’t even come close to eating all the fruit I buy.
I don’t know how to talk to girls. It was obvious before. Now it’s crystal clear. All told, I’m pretty astonished by my inability to say anything intelligent or worthwhile to the pretty fruit vendor.
She looks like someone sculpted her from marzipan. I can’t say that to her.
She looks like someone who smiles a lot and who’s generally in a good mood most mornings. Maybe she even wakes up that way because she’s been laughing in her dreams, maybe her waking up every morning is the result of an uncontrollable burst of dreamlaughter. That’s not something I can seriously ask her either. “Do you laugh in your sleep?” After a month of small talk about seasonal fruits, she finds me pretty strange.
I can’t ask her if she has a boyfriend either. I don’t get the impression that she does. In any case, I don’t really care. I think if she does have a boyfriend, then she’s not with the right guy.
I don’t know where to begin. What’s between, “Hello, how much are the tomatoes?” and “Hello, I think you’re beautiful. I think you’re as beautiful as Île d’orléans. I think your beauty is… as unbridled as a river flowing in springtime”?
I don’t know what I could say to her. And I’m pressuring myself more and more, because now she thinks I’m really into fruit. It’s beginning to feel like there’s no way out. And then, on top of that, another thing to keep in mind is that I’m worried she’s beginning to think I’m gay because, realistically, even if it must be cute, it’s not exactly virile for a twenty-five-yearold guy to stop in and talk raspberries and tomatoes almost every day, and to buy something every time under the pretext that I cook a lot, that I make the best turnovers, the best jams, the best tomato and parmesan tarts, that I can’t wait for the small cucumbers to be in season so I can make my own dill pickles. None of which is true, for the record. I make no jam, I wouldn’t know where to begin with jams, much less a tomato tart. I mean, dill pickles? Come on!
All told, what would’ve been much more virile would be to go, tomorrow, to see my lovely little gardener and to tell her, once and for all, that I’ve fallen for her, I think. But without the “I think” because that wouldn’t sound too convincing and it would mute the overall desired effect. Is it possible to love someone in life if all they’ve ever done is smile and sell you fruit? Someone who just answers all your producerelated questions, who has only taken the time to laugh at every single one of your flat jokes, who has just chosen the best-looking strawberries for you? The answer is yes. I am proof that you can say whatever you want to someone for a disproportionate span of time, just so you don’t have to say, “I love you.” I am proof that we can jabber on endlessly about matters out of our reach just to keep from kissing the girl who gives you back your change. Being in love is overrated. When you think about it and you’re not in love, it’s not hard to feel like it will solve all your problems, that you’ll at last find a way to live, a path to follow, that you’ll have some control over your life and fate, that once you love, everything will make sense, fall into place, but no, it’s more difficult than that. That’s what Francis Reddy should talk about on his radio show, not all the different flavours of peppers. Because it doesn’t help anyone to talk about peppers, about maple syrup or zucchinis or precocious
strawberries. Fuck. Next time I go to the market, I won’t buy any fruit, and I’ll tell her I love her. I think.
SNOT Translated by Jessica Moore
Ieat my snot. Because—well, just because. Because it’s salty. And I like that. Salty things. Because I like the texture. Because it’s free and I like free stuff. Because I’m high-strung and it channels my stress. Because I kinda like having a bit on my fingers.
Because I can’t help it. When I feel a booger inside my nose, I can’t think about anything else.
Because yeah, okay, you might call it a mental illness, but that’s just how it is and anyway it’s not that big of a deal.
Because in any case, there are worse things out there. I mean—there are people who rape children because they can’t help it.
My thing doesn’t hurt anyone. Because it’s natural. Every other animal does it and it doesn’t hurt them.
Because, and I’d be willing to spend hours arguing this point, I’m convinced it’s full of vitamins.
Because if it isn’t full of vitamins, it must at least be full of minerals.
Because my body is my body and I’m not grossed out by it. (I might not go so far as to eat my turds, but whatever. That’s not the same thing anyways.)
I’d never eat someone else’s snot, though.
Because it doesn’t make you gain a single pound. I may eat my snot but there are people out there who have seriously fat asses. I’d rather eat my snot than be obese.
Because I’m sure that 76% of the population does it but won’t admit it.
Because it doesn’t make me any more of a chump than the 1.5 million people in the world who watch Deal or No Deal.
Because in my opinion it’s damn fine proof that we live in a free country.
Because some people scarf down speed, sperm, scotch, Mcdonald’s, or kiss their cats, dogs, or ferrets on the mouth.
Damnit, because I see people in public washrooms who shit and then leave without washing their hands.
I eat my snot unconsciously, it’s a vice, I know, and I could make an effort to correct it, but then I tell myself that if some people have such an anger problem they beat their wives or children and if some people are so cheap they slip sandwiches into their purses at a season opening at the Trident theatre, if some people are such liars they make everyone believe for thirty years that they’ve written a book and it’s coming out soon, if some people are so selfish they let their parents die in old age homes, and if there are so many alcoholics, compulsive gamblers and junkie prostitutes who wreck their own lives and the lives of others, then I don’t see why I’m the one who has to worry about the fact that I eat my snot! Yeah, ok, I eat my snot, but for fuck’s sake I’m not the only one who should have to make an effort to be civilized and try and seem like I’m sane and well-adjusted. I’m not the only one who should have to make an effort to seem normal. Christ. We’re up to our ears in mental cases who don’t have a clue how to live and I’m the one who gets stared at when I eat my snot.
I may eat my snot, but at least I’m not in the army.
I don’t have a big-ass truck spewing pollution just for fun.
I don’t have kids by accident.
I don’t give other people AIDS just because I don’t give a shit.
I don’t drive drunk.
I don’t tell everyone to fuck off when I’m drunk.
I don’t knife anyone in the doorway of the bar.
I don’t do illegal deals.
I never put pills into anyone’s glass of beer.
All I do is sit sometimes on a park bench or at home quietly in front of the TV—I just sit down quietly now and then and eat my snot.
Seriously. Does that really bother anyone?!
A modern version of the Tale of Genji in snow scenes. By Toyokuni Utagawa, 1853. From the Library of Congress’s collection of more than 2,500 woodcut prints. Many of the prints are of a style called “Ukiyo-e,” or “pictures of the floating (or sorrowful) world,” from the Edo period (1600–1868), and were made in the city of Edo, now known as Tokyo.