Translated by Jane Gatensby
This translation is of an excerpt from the Quebec French novel Une vie inutile by Simon Paquet.

On the first episode of Dallas’ tenth season, it was revealed that the entire ninth season was all just a dream dreamt by one of its characters.
Phone calls flooded in from viewers, furious at the show’s writers for wasting their time. They had watched the whole season for nothing.

It’s strange, how the notion of pointlessness varies so much from person to person.
The writers on Dallas weren’t responsible for the emptiness of their viewers’ lives. No one is responsible for anyone else.

It’s up to each of us to give life a lack of meaning.


The roofing truck is still parked outside my window when I get back from the plant. The smell of tar emanating from it has now soaked through everything in my apartment.

At least I don’t have rats. They say they always flee a catastrophe.

The apartment―it’s barely a room, really―used to store lawnmowers and weed whackers. Gas fumes still waft around inside it, even though they promised me the place would be sterilized and de-ratted before I moved in. So the delicious aroma of gas and tar caresses my nostrils from the time I wake up.

I’m right next to the building’s laundry room. Tenants stomp past my door as they come down with their dirty loads. Behind the cheap pressboard wall they wait for the cycle to finish, with the whole family sometimes, chatting gaily as I make pathetic attempts to fall asleep after a night at the poison factory.

The municipal daycare is right above my head. It holds some fifty children and their hundreds of toys, each one heavier than the last.

Waking up is the worst part of my day. Once, I was roused from a heavy sleep by a noise so loud I thought there’d been an explosion. Frantic, I ran out onto the street in my bathrobe, thereby putting myself on the daycare’s watch list.

by Rohan Quinby

by Rohan Quinby


They say that whatever you try in life, you have to fail many times before you can succeed.
My success will surely be extraordinary.

Orson Welles was only twenty-four when he starred in Citizen Kane, the ultimate masterpiece of cinema, which he also wrote and directed.
I’m nearly twice that age, and here I am, chasing after a garbage truck as plastic bags rip open in my hands.


Who could possibly need so much cyanide that they often wake me in the middle of the night to go down and work at the place that makes it?
Whenever I get the feeling my boss is going to call me in a panic at 2 a.m., I stay awake all night, just in case.
But the phone doesn’t ring.
At least not until the next day, at dawn, after about two hours of sleep.

I make my way to the plant, already exhausted. It’s an enormous building, yellow brick with greenish smoke trailing from its chimneys. No one lives anywhere nearby, thank God.

It looks as if it was built in the same era and with the same stuff as my apartment building. Sometimes I find it difficult to tell the difference between the two. Of course, the hours I spend here don’t do much to change that perception.
It’s a strange place to make a living, but somebody’s got to do it.
Somebody, yeah.
It should go without saying that I didn’t dream of this as a child. At school, my guidance counselor told me I should become a seal clubber or a proctologist. He made other suggestions too, but those are the ones that left an impression.

I enter the factory a zombie. The soft purr of the turbines massages my eardrums.
The ritual here is almost always the same. Wash the crates, wash the drums, fill the trucks, clean up, pack the product.
The word routine was invented in this place.

Why am I writing about all this?
I have no idea.
Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables.
I am Le Misérable.


Oddly, I was always a precocious child. I once took apart my family’s transistor radio, on a sunny afternoon when I was eight. But I couldn’t put it back together again, and I received a monumental spanking as a result.
I kept that radio, and years later I fixed it. The memory of that afternoon still comes to me every time I turn its dial.
I haven’t got a television, so the radio will have to do for now.
I’d love to be able to watch, though. Gorge on it, lose myself in its blare and its absurdity.
I bought a new TV set not so long ago. A pretty good one, too: fifteen-inch screen, headphone jack, remote control, two-year payment plan.
But it slipped from my hands on the Metro stairs as I was bringing it home. The warranty didn’t cover clumsiness, or idiocy.
I’m still paying for it.

My radio seems to be unbreakable, though. There’s just one problem: no matter which station I tune it to, there’s always an undesirable frequency in the background. A heavy metal station, American probably, imbuing every news bulletin, talk show and jazz concert I listen to with the nonstop buzz of electric guitars.


It’s 4:30 in the morning. A jackhammer pounds somewhere in my room. After a few seconds I realize it’s just my horrible pager, forgotten on the bedside-dining-work table / ironing board.
The cold room guy has the flu. I have forty minutes to get over there, or I lose my spot on the call list. I decide to go back to sleep, where it’s warm, and concentrate on forgetting that I exist.

Can’t sleep. Without thinking, I get up, call a cab and go to work.
Too late. Alain got there on time.
I go home again, in another taxi because the busses aren’t running yet, sixty dollars poorer, exhausted but unable to sleep, livid, dejected, at the bottom of the list.

Note to self: contemplate buying a hook for the ceiling. And a chair.


There were always a lot of books around when I was growing up. We lived next door to a library, and my dad would go there from time to time to bring home the ones they were getting rid of.
He used the books to put up shelves, or as fuel for the fire. But I could usually manage to get my hands on one or two before they ended up under a table leg.
“They’re great, you just turn the pages to get ‘em to the right height,” he’d say. “Then you cut off the rest and throw it out.”
I can still hear him doling out his lessons.
“A big classic, you know, some endless brick, that’s what you need for a major adjustment. Don Quixote was perfect for the TV stand in the living room, it used to slant real bad. But if you’ve got a chair that’s just a little wobbly, all you need is a first novel by some unknown writer.”
In this way I discovered a fair number of authors.
Not that it did me any good. All that literature just wore me down, even further than I was worn down to begin with. And my father’s tables still wobble.
It also brought me some of the debt I still carry, as it steered me toward higher education, bitterly obtained. Just a little certificate… but it was enough to plunge me into a sea of debt that the piece of paper was never able to soak up.
At university I was one of the hardest workers. I had a bit of a reputation among my classmates for my essays, one of which was entitled “The Interminable Amount of Time It Takes to Write a University Paper.” It remains unfinished.

For a long time, I dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But my dad wanted me to be a boxer. I’ve never worn lawyer’s robes, nor slipped my hands into a pair of boxing gloves.
My career has been a failure no matter who you ask.


“Will you need me tomorrow?”
I’m in my foreman’s office.
“It’s just that it would be nice to have some idea of what I’m going to be doing with my time. In case I want to make plans.”
“I don’t know yet,” he says. “I won’t know until tonight, when we get the shipment in. If it’s big, we’ll call for reinforcements.”
“But… couldn’t you find out how big it’ll be ahead of time?”
“The trucking guys don’t like cell phones. They say their walkie-talkies are good enough.”
“All right then… just figured I’d ask…”

He told me to stay by the phone, because I would definitely be getting a call, but then again maybe I wouldn’t.
I haven’t got anything to make plans for, to be honest.
Sometimes I get a flash, an idea for something to do that’s interesting or urgent, but usually I forget to write it down, and it disappears into the dregs of my forgetfulness.
Maybe I should make a list of things to do, to accomplish. Personal commandments, even.
And put it up somewhere where I’ll see it often, to raise my spirits.

I’ll be my own Moses, my own Chosen People…
Best to keep all that to myself, though. I feel like it’s the sort of thing that gets you put away somewhere.


People always think they’ll have their whole lives to go off and see things like the Taj Majal and the Mojave Desert and the Great Wall of China.
I’m pretty sure now I won’t see any of them.
I’ve resigned myself to it.
Even if someone does, say, go on that classic road trip across the United States, it’ll likely be the only time they do it, and they’ll have to make the absolute most of it. So if by unhappy circumstance it ends up raining on the day they’re supposed to visit the Grand Canyon, well, that’s too bad, the ticket’s non-refundable, get back on the bus, sit down, be quiet.
Nothing ever turns out as planned. Not in my experience, anyway.
Whenever I try to start something, I suddenly lose all motivation or get really hungry.
So I eat. Then feel tired, so I go to bed.
After that I’m hungry again.

How did Michelangelo manage to get so much done?

Simon Paquet lives in Montreal and writes novels, short stories, essays, blogs, web series, aphorisms and stand-up comedy.
Jane Gatensby is a translator and writer based in Montreal. Her work  has appeared in The Link Newspaper, Casino Magazine and This translation was completed during an internship with the Literary Translators' Association of Canada.