The Whole Fandango

Translated by Michael Varga
The story originally appeared in French as “Tout un cinoche!” in Pascal Millet’s collection Animal, (Les Éditions XYZ, Montreal, 2010).

Here we go again: she’s putting on her flamboyant act—feather boa, garter belt, the lot. Hard to believe, but since she stopped entertaining at home, she only seems interested in the small screen. And she’s at it all night long—pupils dilated, eyes bloodshot—from dusk to dawn. As soon as the TV’s turned on, she starts flicking through the channels, lurches into action, mimics along to the most god-awful series. I’m watching her from my sofa, and I have to say it hurts to see her go down this way. It’s like watching a bad movie: a sultry, half-smothered line à la Dietrich, a worn-out Marilyn. Happy Birthday, Mr. President. I really want to play along—but a cocksure president?— I just couldn’t pull it off. I do worry about her. True enough, I’ve seen her reel before, stagger in her high heels, so drunk she could barely stand up straight, but she never used to be alone. I remember the early days. The day I arrived for her thirtieth birthday. She had fantastic breasts then, and a springy little bum that she flaunted all day long. With colour dabbed onto her lips, she’d strike a pose and kiss the posters, making out with the images of Ugo Tognazzi and Marlon Brando. It was an age of dreams and possibilities to be in a black and white Kurosawa film. It was also the Hitchcock era, the Fellini craze…and Robert Redford’s smile was plastered all over the apartment, especially on the fridge door, which all-too-often she forgot to open. And the characters that used to prance around the apartment, knock back scotch, gin or vodka, even plunge their noses into cocaine! Every once in a while, when the party was beginning to fizzle out, she’d turf me out of the bedroom so they could moan on the mattress undisturbed. I took the kicks in the ass again and again, hoping all the while I’d get to recover my place and snuggle down too.

Time moved on, but Kurosawa never called. And so the enchantress fell back on mediocre scripts—movies packed with action and blow-ups—hopeful her riper years would recast her as a crestfallen beauty. But sadly the onset of crow’s feet and her distinctive laughter lines didn’t change a thing—too young one moment and too old the next—never once in the right frame. Even so, she still got around and met people; men for the most part, the sort with greying temples, potbelly and age-spotted but aristocratic hands. As for me, I always risked getting a kick in the balls, would wind up out on the balcony, or worse, shut up in the bathroom, the door double-locked.

But now—and don’t I know it—the show’s over. I’m the only company she’s got. Well, me and the TV. And even though she still forgets about me every now and then, whenever a late-night classic comes on, I don’t really give a damn. I have to say I’m no longer into bounding down the street, sniffing my way along the ground or lifting my leg up against a wall. I’ve even gotten used to the sheets of newspaper: the movie listings and the latest reviews help get my urine flowing. And whenever she’s in a really bad way, I lay my big head on her knees and wait for a cuddle or a gooey kiss… or the magic candy drop. She has one or two every night. They don’t taste very good. Beneath their thin film of sugar, they’re just bitter—really awful in fact. It’s beyond me how she can down so many of them just as soon as the movie’s over. But then again, popping them like that, one at a time, with gulps of liquor to wash them down, must be part of the glorious world of make-believe, the spectacular finale, when the leading actress, all alone and in despair, dies of grief.

And I can feel it in my water, you know: the curtain may be coming down, but the real song and dance is only just beginning.

A dual French/Canadian national, Pascal Millet has published collections of short stories, novels and young adult fiction on both sides of the Atlantic since 1990. Several of his short stories have appeared in English and Spanish translations. In between books, Pascal leads writing workshops in schools and in prisons.

Michael Varga is a Montreal translator and writer currently researching the forces at work in mutually productive translational exchanges in intercultural contact zones. Michael’s English translation of “Scénario pour une métisse,” another short story in Pascal Millet’s collection Animal, appeared as “Métisse” in The Nashwaak Review Summer/Fall 2012 issue.