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Geist - - Contents - ERIC DUPONT

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.

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