When I lean my head against the window of the school bus, I feel the vibrations buzzing my nostrils. The ultimate test is to resist rubbing my nose. No one has my self-control. Tickle me and I won’t even flinch. I’m a force of nature.
At school, I always hang out with the same six girls at recess. Sometimes, Carolanne joins us since she’s friends with a girl in our group. Whenever Carolanne butts in, the group opens up to give her plenty of room. She’s the Messiah parting the sea. I don’t move an inch. I’m stagnant water.
Carolanne is with us today. She speaks and everyone listens like it’s the word of God. I barely listen. I daydream about Luc while nodding to pretend I’m following along.
“Pads or tampons, girls? What’s your preference?”
“Pads for sure. They’re way more comfortable. Tampons cramp my style.”
“Same here. I take dance, and I can move more freely with pads.”
“Yeah, though it depends on how you’re built. Like my sister, she feels freer when she uses tampons.”
“I’m lucky. I barely bleed. Just a drop at most.”
My head nods while Carolanne brags about her light flow. I hope she starts hemorrhaging. I hope she’s a hemophiliac, bleeds out in front of us, and ruins her white dress. I hope she loses her dad and never gets over it.
“Did you know you can now get reusable pads? Like diapers.”
“That’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
My periods are my own business. Still, I nod yes to everything, praying nobody asks me a question. Yes to tampons. Yes to pads. Yes, it’s gross.
Anyway, I’m invisible now that the cast is off my leg. I go totally unnoticed. I’m not really one of them. I’m not part of any clique.
A few boys saunter over, looking mischievous. Luc is one of them. He radiates light. He’s the heart of the group, the surprise inside, the cherry in the Cherry Blossom. He’s a single flower whose beauty shines among the quackgrass and the nettle.
One of the boys, the quackgrass, asks the girls to stand side by side along a brick wall. Another boy, the nettle, adds, “With this chalk, we’re gonna rate you from one to ten.”
The girls get all offended, or at least pretend to. Carolanne kicks up a fuss, but I sense how confident she is. She’ll win and she knows it. To score a perfect ten, she plays the damsel in distress. Finally, she gives in. Another girl caves too. The other five refuse to take part in this crazy degrading contest. I stand off to the side, keep my mouth shut. In solidarity, all the girls end up backing out.
The boys shrug and head back to their corner. As they’re talking, I clearly hear Luc say, “Anyway, Carolanne’s the prettiest.”
His verdict doesn’t upset me. It’s a no-brainer. I stare at Carolanne, try to figure this girl out. What does she have that I don’t have? That the others don’t have? I bat my eyes and pretend they’re throwing darts. I’m ruthless in my attack. I imagine Carolanne’s face pierced with darts. I imagine her screaming in pain, baffled over where all the darts in her cheeks, forehead, nose, chin, and eyes have come from. I picture myself rushing over, removing the darts gently, maternally.
“Don’t move, I’ve had first-aid training. Carolanne, it’s Javotte here. Everything’s gonna be okay. You’ll live, Carolanne. Maybe you won’t be a ten anymore, that’s possible, but I guarantee you’ll live, or my name’s not Javotte Tremaine.”
For a long time, I imagine myself pulling out the darts that have disfigured Carolanne for life. She’s now blind in one eye, whereas I have superhero eyes that can throw darts at will.
The only time I smile during recess is when I picture Carolanne’s face poked full of holes, like I’ve used it as a dartboard.
Without my imagination, I’d be nothing.
I go with my mom and my sister to the mall in St. Bruno. Our mom heads into a health-food store while Anastasia and I rummage through a record store. I get a Lou Reed and an Eric Clapton. I also get a Nina Simone, but just to look cool. I wow the salesclerk with my unusual tastes, for a girl my age. Anastasia buys the new Nelly Furtado and wows nobody.
In a window near the record store, I spot a funny T-shirt that says, COFFEE, TEA OR ME? I smile. I dip into my nose-job money and buy it. Maybe I’ll get a laugh out of Luc.
Back at home, I slip on my T-shirt, then wander the streets of St. Rémi. Anastasia tags along. Her career as my loyal dog is still at its peak. I stride ahead and invent a career for myself as an obituary writer. I point out different spots and make up stories.
In front of a sidewalk:
“A woman died here back in 1970. Eva Cyr was her name. She was a pharmacist. She was bringing prescriptions to an old lady when she got hit by a car. She died right here. The driver was drunk. He was listening to “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed—ironically, Eva the pharmacist’s favourite song. At least she died listening to something good. When the car ran over Eva’s head, it made the cracking sound you hear when you step on a bottle of pills.”
In front of Dubois Park:
“A little boy broke his neck here in 1991. Six-year-old Benjamin Dupaul lost his footing at the top of the slide while smiling up at a seagull. His shoelace was undone. His mother, Florence Dupaul, a housewife, was always after him to tie his laces. He died thinking of the fun he would’ve had sliding down that slide. When he landed headfirst in the sand, his neck made the cracking sound you hear when you rip the head off a bird.”
In front of a house on Potvin-Lazure Street:
“Monica Boyer, an Avon lady, killed her husband here in the middle of the night last year. Richard Boyer was his name. A week before, she’d caught him in bed with Carmen, another Avon lady. Monica spent a week pondering her revenge. Finally, she decided just to cut Richard’s head off with a carving knife while he slept. Thwack! She rinsed his bloody head under the tap, then applied makeup to it from an Avon starter kit. She wrote PENCIL DICK on one of his cheeks in eyeliner. Richard’s last dream was of Carmen giving him a blowjob. He was in love with his mistress.”
“Javotte, how do ya know all this?”
“I just know.”
“Are you like God?”
“No, I’m like the Devil.”
After we get back home, Anastasia checks the web, then hurries to my room. “You liar!” she cries. “The song ‘Perfect Day’ wasn’t even out in 1970.”
I give her a good long look and say all actressy, “I feel so sorry for you.”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
Shall I turn the cruelty up a notch? Why not?
“Anastasia, I have something important to tell you: Mom loves me more than you.”
She suddenly looks like a puppy. “Why are you so mean?”
“There’s something inside me, I guess. Something in me that makes me mean. Like a demon seed…”
I give her the weirdest smile I can.
I remember I tried to kill Anastasia when I was about eight years old. I shoved her in front of a car, but the driver braked in time. My sister got a good scare, but I was even more spooked than her. Had I really pushed her? Yes, I had. Reflexively, spontaneously. An innate desire to destroy.
The demon in me.
“Are you nuts? You threw yourself in front of my car. I could’ve killed ya!”
“It wasn’t me!”
I felt really horrible. I’d tried to bump off my sister, and now a stranger was bawling her out.
The man finally noticed me, cowering on the sidewalk. “So was it her?” he said.
“No way. She’s my big sister.”
I laughed, though I was doing the opposite inside. How could she trust me like that, read me so wrong? Couldn’t she tell that under my little sundress was the skin of a demon?
My laugh was a soldier’s camouflage: it hid my guilt.
“Yeah, I’m her sister. I’d never do something like that.”
I turned all mysterious, swallowed my laugh. “I think I felt an invisible presence. Yes, an invisible presence that pushed my sister.”
Anastasia agreed, relieved.
I continued in the same pseudo-mystical vein: “It must’ve been an angel.”
My sister felt compelled to correct me. “No, the opposite of an angel,” she said.
“Yes, the opposite. A demon.”
Later, our mom laid into my sister. “What were you thinking?” she cried. “You wanna kill yourself? Is that it?”
“No, a demon did it! Tell her, Javotte, that it was an invisible demon.”
I wimped out and changed tack. “Mom, it’s not her fault,” I said. “Anastasia is colour-blind. The car looked as grey as the street.”
Simon Boulerice is among the most prolific writers of his generation, as well as an actor and theatre director. His novels include Javotte, L’enfant mascara, and Jeanne Moreau a le sourire à l’envers. He’s also written children’s books and plays. He was the winner of the Combat aux mots in 2017. He lives in Montreal. (Author photo by Camille Tellier)
Montreal-born Neil Smith is a writer and literary translator. His novel Boo won the Hugh MacLennan Prize, and his story collection Bang Crunch won the QWF First Book Prize. He’s also been nominated for a Governor General’s Award for Translation. He’s now working on a new novel titled Jones Town. (Author photo by Julie Artacho)