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From Songs for the Cold Heart. Published by QC Fiction in 2018. Eric Dupont has published four novels. He is a past winner of Radio-canada’s “Combat des livres,” a finalist for the Prix littéraire France-québec and the Prix des cinq continents and a winner of the Prix des libraires and the Prix littéraire des collégiens. He lives in Montreal.
In the family portrait taken by Marmen the photographer in June 1968, Louis Lamontagne and his wife are sitting on a loveseat upholstered in a magenta floral print on a chestnut background. Irene is dressed in black, and is wearing the look of someone who has lost something important and is wondering wherever it might have gone. Between husband and wife, an
empty space, large enough for a child to sit in. Standing behind them, their two oldest children. First Marc, an attractive, austere young man, looking every bit like he’d just stepped out of a Botticelli self-portrait: the same fleshy lips, the same hungry and languorous eyes, his hand on the frail shoulder of his big sister Madeleine, who’s standing tall and proud as befits a Lamontagne, although everyone knows, without being able to explain exactly how or why, that her mind is occupied with some complex mental arithmetic, as is a Caron’s wont. She’s wearing a palecoloured dress. A necklace. Her hair nicely done. Of course she’s pretty! Doesn’t she look like Mireille Mathieu with her hair cut in a bob like that? The Lamontagne parents, sitting on their love seat, are looking their age. Irene especially. Dark rings, crow’s feet, practically ostrich feet. Papa Louis now has a round belly, greying temples, weary eyes. But he’s still the best looking of the bunch, closely followed by his son Marc, a dangerous rival.
But where has little Luc gone? The dreamy child who needed his meat chopped up for him?
It must have happened shortly after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Luc, then nine, was playing with a Caron cousin, a boy a little younger than himself. Still in the imaginative world they had created for themselves, no one else was allowed into their childish games. Papa Louis had strictly forbidden them from running around the caskets in the basement and from getting too close to the room where he embalmed the bodies. Fear of Luc’s father had kept them away, but curiosity had drawn them back. And that’s how, during a game of hide-and-seek, Luc had slipped inside a huge oak casket. He’d had a hard time opening it, but it had closed over him in no time at all. The cousin counted to one hundred upstairs. Marc was looking on, having been vaguely told to keep an eye on the boys that afternoon. Papa Louis had business in town; Irene was out running errands. The cousin began to look for Luc in the upstairs bedrooms, a decision that, many would later say, played a part in the tragedy. Not finding him upstairs, he made his way down to the basement. Nothing. Alarmed, the cousin reported Luc’s disappearance to Marc, who helped him look everywhere a second time. It was only when Madeleine came back from Solange’s house that light was shed—literally—on the mystery. Generally more observant than her brothers, Madeleine had long since noticed the youngest child’s interest in what went on in the basement and, paying no heed to Papa Louis’ warning, Madeleine, with Marc’s help, opened the lids of the four caskets that took up half the basement. She found young Luc suffocated in the smallest casket of all, his skin blue, his face scratched. He had ripped his hair out. It was this detail that would haunt Madeleine in her dreams. In the room beside them, a dead body was waiting for Papa Louis to return so that his wake could begin. Madeleine’s first reflex was to go get Solange, who could do nothing more than call for help. Soon the shouts of the cousin, traumatized for life, began to alert the neighbours on Rue
Saint-françois-xavier, then the rest of the parish. News of Luc’s accidental death flowed across Rivière-du-loup like lava spreading from above the church of Saint-françois-xavier, running down Côte Saint-pierre and Rue Lafontaine and passing by the convent, emptying it of its nuns within seconds. The news spread from house to house, making its way in through upstairs windows and out through basement window wells. No one was spared, not even Louis as he sipped his gin at the Château Grandville, not even Irene as she tried to decide between two ties at Ernest & Paul. The further the news made its way down the hill, the more it got distorted. Still in its purest form when it reached the convent (“Little Luc Lamontagne has been found suffocated to death inside a casket”), by the time it was halfway down the hill it had become “Marc Lamontagne shut his little brother Luc inside a casket and he died, suffocated to death.” And when it reached the bottom, the news had been completely distorted. Now barely recognizable, it travelled all the more quickly. Now it was “Marc Lamontagne strangled his little brother Luc with his bare hands and tried to hide the body in a casket” and “Marc Lamontagne is coming down Rue Lafontaine armed with an axe—hide your children!” The news finally spilled into the waters of the St. Lawrence, a stretch of the river that forever after would retain a greenish hue, the colour of slander.
Irene arrived on the scene a little before Louis. People still maintain to this day that she raced into the house with a full head of red hair and came back out completely white, like Marie Antoinette on the scaffold. Papa Louis had to push his way through the crowd that had gathered outside his house. A handful of the Sisters of the Child Jesus were praying out loud, hands in the air, as though warding off ill fortune. Outside on her porch, Mrs. Bérubé was staring at the ground. “A defenceless child,” she sighed. Little Luc was buried in the casket that killed him. His wake lasted only a few hours, the time it took for half the town to file through Papa Louis’ parlour. The religious service, sung by Father Rossignol, who sobbed and spluttered his way through it, stayed with those fortunate enough to attend, not only due to the horror and gravity of the event, but also because they were witnessing on that cursed Sunday
the beginning of Louis “The Horse” Lamontagne’s decline. The organist, thinking he was doing the right thing, decided to play a solemn, serious piece at the beginning of the funeral service. The Lamontagnes, sitting in the front row and looking the worse for wear, didn’t pay the music the slightest bit of attention, except when Papa Louis stood up, strode from one end of the church to the other, walked up to the jube, and interrupted the musician.
“I want you to play ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.’”
The organist, a small, spindly man, as dogmatic as he was effeminate, sat dumbfounded for an instant.
“I… no. It’s not appropriate. It’s not for funerals, Mr. Lamontagne.”
The congregation craned their necks toward the jube. Louis’ voice rang out, sounding unmistakably like he had more than a few drinks in him. “Play Bach, I’m tellin’ ya!”
The organist stood, and in a scholarly, didactic tone committed the worst mistake of his existence.
“I know you’re upset, Mr. Lamontagne, but that piece you’re so fond of is simply not played at funerals. It’s for Christmas or Easter, not for funerals.”
Everyone held their breath. Was Louis on the verge of taking a man’s life at the very place where his own had begun? His huge frame swayed back and forth, his arm slowly took the impertinent fellow by the throat, and the shouts—
“You little bespectacled apostle. You’re gonna play what I want or God help me…”
Mother Mary of the Great Power, who had immediately foreseen Louis’ intentions, raced up to the organist to prevent the worst. By the time her hand came down on Louis’ arm, the poor man’s feet had already been thrashing in the air for interminable seconds.
“Louis, for the love of God,” she murmured.
The giant’s hand opened and the organist fell to the ground like a sack of corn. Down below, people sighed with relief. Louis went back to his seat only when he realized that Mother Mary of the Great Power was going to play “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” herself. He sat back down beside Irene, who was paralyzed by grief and hadn’t even noticed the commotion. Madeleine was sobbing noisily, accompanied by Marc. The cousin just sat
there, stunned. His eyes never left the casket. Truth be told, he was desperately hoping this game of hideand-seek would be over very soon. It had gone on long enough. As the congregation looked on in horror, he stood up, walked over to the casket that was much too big for a child, and knocked on it three times. There’s no way of knowing just how many people in the church hoped or thought they might see a repeat of Old Ma Madeleine’s miraculous resurrection in 1933. But this particular casket remained unmoved. It was Marc who got up to lead his cousin back by the hand, his eyes lost in a far-off world. The music of Bach cast the scene in an unreal light that was both unlikely and magnificent.
Little Luc’s death was treated as a tragedy that had befallen the entire community. For the longest time, the Lamontagnes had been the butt of gossip and idle speculation, although they were also admired by their peers. Now they were martyrs, bejewelled with the permanence of tragedy. When mass ended, the casket was carried out by the drama’s survivors: Louis, Marc, and Madeleine on one side; Irene, Solange, and Siegfried Zucker on the other (Zucker had happened to be in Rivière-duloup on the day Luc died). Their gaze was steady and proud, bordering on presumptuousness, betraying no sign of any effort whatsoever, as they carried the casket out of the church, slow and steady, just like Papa Louis had showed them, like American G.I.S. We are devastated, but we are strong. That was the message the funeral march conveyed to the music of Bach. “Joy of man’s desiring.” That’s what the Sisters of the Child Jesus muttered to themselves under their breath. All had insisted on attending Luc’s funeral, even Sister Saint Alphonse, who was spotted shedding a tear or two as the casket passed by. Outside, fine earlywinter snow twirled its way through the air, as though to cover the ground in a white blanket evoking the purity of the soul God had called back. That, at least, is what Father Rossignol maintained once the family had gathered around the grave. One week after the funeral, when the poor boy’s body had scarcely begun to decay in the casket that was too big for it, the very same Father Rossignol paid the Lamontagne family a visit. He insisted on speaking alone with Papa Louis and Irene, then alone with Irene. His intentions were clear, and he didn’t back down at Irene’s incredulous expression. She would have to have another child.
“But, Father. I’ve just buried one. I mean, how can I put this…?”
“All the more reason to proceed as quickly as possible. Your family is on the decline. Time to restock!”
“I’m thirty-five, Father.”
“All the more reason to be quick about it, Irene. Plenty of women give birth at your age. Only yesterday we baptized Louisa Desjardins’ eighth child. And she’s the same age as you.” “Yes, but I have two already and—” “Mrs. Lamontagne,” the parish priest interrupted curtly. “You aren’t standing in the way of the family, are you? Has the television filled your head with such notions? All I can do is express my joy at the prospect of baptizing another Lamontagne next summer, or perhaps he’s already on his way? Little Luc was nine years old, after all… I do wonder what you’re waiting for. Think of the consequences.”
Irene fell silent. The priest left the living room and bade goodbye to Louis one last time, who was busy nursing a gin toddy in the kitchen. Irene no more felt like bringing another child into the world than she did drinking a bottle of bleach. Without a word to her husband, she helped him finish off what remained of the gin. That’s what they’d done best together for the past few months: hit the gin. Papa Louis lit a cigarette and smoked in silence.
Three months later, when Irene’s belly remained obstinately flat, Father Rossignol made good with his threats. In front of a packed church, he refused Irene communion. She didn’t understand and tried to take the host, thinking it must be some kind of joke as the priest pushed her back. Irene returned to her seat, overcome with shame. A murmur ran up from the nave to the jube and back. The Sunday sermon dwelt on the dangers that new media posed to right-thinking French Canadian families. Irene was dumbfounded. Humiliation slowly worked its way through the rock of her piety like a powerful solvent, leaving behind scars, opening cracks in places once presumed impenetrable. The silence was the final touch to the destruction started by Father Rossignol: Irene could now imagine Sundays without communion. Would she die of hunger? Would she perish, struck by lightning or crushed by a falling block of ice? For the first time, she was tempted to find the answer to such questions. What would be would be. Shame dogged her; people turned their backs on her for months. At last they knew: she was the end of the world. Priests have a knack for making things clear.
And so there was no little Luc in the photograph of June 1968. Five years after he left this world, he still seemed to be everywhere: in the wrinkles that lined Irene’s face, in Papa Louis’ white whiskers, in his brother Marc’s stunned gaze, and on his sister Madeleine’s tormented forehead.
Photos from No Sleep, a series of photographs of a city bench in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, from Tom Burrows, curated by Scott Watson and Ian Wallace. Published by Figure 1 in 2018. Tom Burrows’s work has appeared in solo exhibits, and private, public and corporate collections in Europe, Asia and the Americas. He has been a leading figure in Vancouver’s art scene since the 1960s. In 2015, the exhibition at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery was the first major survey of Burrows’s work. Scott Watson is the director of the
Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery and the head of the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. Ian Wallace has taught art history at the University of British Columbia and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. He received the Governor General’s Award for the Visual Arts in 2004 and was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 2013.
From Weegee: Serial Photographer by Max de Radiguès and Wauter Mannaert. Published by Conundrum Press in 2018. Max de Radiguès is a comic strip writer and publisher at L'employé du Moi located in Brussels. His latest book, Bâtard, was awarded
the Prix de Lycée du Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’angoulême. Wauter Mannaert is a comic artist, illustrator and cartoonist.