I Never Talk About It

Geist - - Findings - VÉRONIQUE CÔTÉ & STEVE GAGNON

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.

Fuck!

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.

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