We Will Exist, That's All
Translated by: Nicole Powell
Artwork by Jacques Hurtubise
Always painful seeing a loved one here. But I’m coming, my love. Be patient. I have to line up in front of the information desk. And wait. It’s long. But there is a consolation: we’re all on equal footing here; we have to wait. And not just in the well-named waiting rooms, well-furnished with their back-killing chairs, clamorous children, and dubious odours. No, we linger in offices, we veg out in corridors, we take root in beds. We wait, then we wait some more... A visit, a result, an operation, death. And you, you wait for me.
The front desk attendant, a guy as friendly as a brick wall, points in the direction of the psychiatric wing without even looking at me.
I cross the lobby, then turn left. The corridor seems to stretch to infinity. Along the wall, under the harsh fluorescent lights, some old people reeking of piss rot in wheeled beds. They’re rather pitiful, parked there—one of them looks like your grandfather. Yeah, they’re pitiful, but would I be of any help? Not really. I hurry along, feeling as though I’m running in place, like in those nightmares where you’re struggling in vain to escape some invisible threat.
I finally reach the end of the corridor, and press the button. The elevator opens its jaws, swallows me up and spits me out three floors up. To get to you, I have to make it through doors that slam open and close like prison gates, then I have to ring, knock and wait for a nurse to come and open up to let me into the "observation centre."
We spring together and kiss deeply, savouring the moment, unembarrassed, in front of the nurses and crazies—who all seem strangely normal. Then, you show me to your… room? Really? This tiny (box?) cube? Yeah, it’s basically a cell… God, it's stifling! And these old-orange walls—that awful colour! And how the window overlooks a playground... "Everything’s fine, it's going to be fine..." Ok, fine, I won’t say another word. After all, it is silence that gives voice to what is really important, that allows space for the right words. Come here. You know, right here, right now, I’d tear off this baby-blue hospital gown and take you, just like that, on the table screwed to the floor. “No, not here,” your lips would murmur as you push me away, though your eyes would say otherwise. Ok, I see this isn’t the place for that type of foolishness. The door doesn’t even lock… Don’t be afraid. Come rest your head against my shoulder. Shhh. Everything is fine. Everything is like before, you see. Well, maybe. Almost.
* * *
Our blissful minutes melt away too fast, like the first snow in October. A nurse comes to tell us the visit is over. She’s the kind of (nasty?) evil bitch whose only enjoyment is spoiling that of others. "You have to leave, sir. You know the rules." There’s no point in trying to argue: a tree stump has more emotions than this woman. Your body tenses and, when we intertwine ourselves, we can’t let go; they have to separate us by force.
Reluctantly, I start walking back, but not without taking a last look over my shoulder. A tear glistens in the corner of your weary eye.
Knowing you, what’s next won’t be pretty: your revolt, what they call a “fit,” the ordeal of bringing you under control. Unthinking, unhesitating, you fling out fists like bullets: the guy in the smock gets a nosebleed and calls two giants for back-up. They take you away, strap you to your bed, inject you with a strong dose of tranquillizers. But you won’t have nightmares. No, you won’t even dream. Your sleep will be opaque.
* * *
At the other end of town, our apartment seems big, too big for my loneliness.
I’ve just butted out the last cigarette in a (brimming?) filled-up ashtray, and gnawed away the last bits skin around my nails. Looks like there’s no stopping the anxiety from devouring me inside-out.
Lying on the kitchen floor, I cry silently, tears sliding into my ears while in my head I turn and return a thousand times over the idea of madness, until exhaustion sets in. Until I go mad myself.
After a visit to the museum—remember?—we envied the statues’ impassiveness, dreamed of turning into them, the two of us frozen in a last kiss. Because the statues just exist, that’s all, they don’t have anything to prove. You see some in the middle of public parks, and you can tell that nothing bothers them. Stoically, they endure it all: rocks, insults, bad weather, bird shit. For us, it’s quite simple and very different. Life shits on us, we lose it; we have to act quickly, so we do things that are crazy. This week’s blockbuster’s a bust? Instead of nicely tiptoeing out of the theatre, we charge into the screen, heads lowered, without considering that behind the curtain there’s a wall. More than once we wiped out and then got up, a little stunned but none the wiser. Today they’re showing the flop of the century: watch close as I (tear?) split open the screen once and for all.
I’ll plow into a pharmacy to swallow every pill I can get my hands on. Stark naked in a mall, I’ll “ooo” and “eee” like a big monkey, snap the thongs of the young ladies lacking in love, shove the security guards. Or even better: I'll break into parliament, piss in the lobby and burn the red carpets. When the cops show up, I'll bite until they bleed. Overwhelmed, barely able to control the chaos that’s driving me, they'll call the paramedics.
What a spectacular entrance I’ll make through the emergency room door: well-secured to a stretcher, blue with bruises and red with rage! They’ll stick me in solitary confinement inside a padded polar room, where a teeny horror of a camera will fix its big frog eye on me. Maybe I’ll even be entitled to a special straitjacket. When I calm down, they’ll let me out of my cage. They’ll examine me, interrogate me, make me sign forms. I’ll refrain from laughing in their faces.
Then: our grand reunion! A secret party, just for you and me. We’ll invent new colours by watching the static on the common room TV. We’ll set up houses of cards for the sole pleasure of blowing them down. We’ll rediscover the true meaning of the word together.
After they’ve sifted our heads through their analysis grids, they’ll stick a label or two on our foreheads. It's their job, after all. But we won’t let them get away with that; we’ll slip through their diagnoses. Because, you know what? The only place we’ve ever been (sick?) crazy is in their heads.
Remember how we liked to dress up when we were kids? The trunk in the attic had hundreds of costumes and, with them, we’d (be a different character?) change characters every day. We’d walk down the street, banging pans, and now, history will repeat itself: we’ll disturb the whole neighbourhood. Of course, the spies will spy on us, and, to thwart them, we will spy on them, beat them at their own game. When we stir up so much shit that we fly too high over the cuckoo’s nest, that they even doubt their own sanity, then, to get us off their asses, they’ll take the easy way out: strong drugs for you and me, legal and free and, if you please, intravenously. Temporarily freed from having to think, we won’t expect anything of anything. We will exist, that's all.
That's quite enough already.
* * *
But it's a safe bet that it won’t happen that way. I'll visit you every day, you’ll be successful in therapy; you’ll get out of there. We’ll be reasonable. We’ll resign ourselves to it all, like our parents, who gave up LSD to come back down to earth, to solid ground. Without a parachute. The shock is hard on the knees—careful. We’ll finish school. At first, starting afresh will be hard for us, you and me with our battered neurons. But a bit of hard work and there’ll be diplomas to frame. Oh yes! We’ll end up making big money. Every morning I’ll strangle myself with my tie, and scale the hierarchical levels of an insurance company. As for you, no doubt you’ll go to university for (film studies?) cinema. To become a filmmaker. Okay, so your art films will be too deep for the average Quebecer, but you will often be invited to foreign festivals, a nice compensation for all those hours filling out grant applications, and auditioning actors who wouldn’t even be able to play the part of a potato.
In our free time, we’ll bird-watch and, on Sundays, go bowling; despite my best efforts and many years of practice, I’ll remain King of the Gutters. My hopelessness will make you laugh so hard that I’ll even play badly on purpose.
You’ll collect coasters. I’ll collect beer caps to buy a wheelchair for a handicapped man. For the good of the cause, I will have an extra here and there, and my belly will swell from year to year.
* * *
Then, one of these days, we’ll be sitting on the porch of an ancestral home that we renovated ourselves and whose mortgage is finally paid off. A large, silent house. No children or grandchildren; for a long time, we’ll have believed we’d have a family. Two miscarriages and a lot of sleepless nights will finally have convinced us otherwise. We won’t really love each other anymore, but we won’t really hate each other either. But we won’t talk about that. In fact, we won’t really talk about anything anymore. Like two old friends who know how to decipher their silences. You will have had lovers; I will know and won’t hold it against you, since I will also have sought warmth in other arms.
You in a rocking chair, me in a wheelchair, side by side, eyes half-closed, we will watch the sun rip its belly open on the church steeple and bleed to death over the roofs of the city. We will let the twilight envelop us. We won’t expect anything of anything.
We will exist, that's all.
Danny Émond is a Québécois writer who has published one collection of short stories, Le repaire des solitudes(2015), through Quebec’s most prominent publisher, les Éditions du Boréal. This book has already been making waves among French Quebec, being featured on such websites as those of Montreal’s La Presse and Radio-Canada, to name a few.
Nicole Powell is a recent graduate of the University of Ottawa, from their Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Translation program. She was born and raised in Waterloo, Ontario. While Nicole reads a variety of fiction and poetry, she especially enjoys John Steinbeck, Chuck Palahniuk and Edith Wharton.