The Daily To-Do List
Translated by: Dorothy Charbonneau
Artwork by Alfons Anders
Elisabeth was methodical, a creature of habit. That’s what first attracted him to her; later on it would be what pushed him away. When they first met, a lifetime ago, she already possessed all the little quirks that initially endeared her to him. He, in turn, was already the chaotic creature whose predisposition for disorderliness would eventually disgust her.
The morning after their first night together in his small student residence room on campus, an indication of their basic lack of compatibility had been served up like breakfast in bed on a silver platter. When he awoke, he discovered his poor lovebird puffy-eyed and paler than usual; the visible result of a sleepless night brought on by his smelly socks, rolled up and left nonchalantly on the floor, like a grenade tossed over enemy lines.
To Elisabeth, who since adolescence had been folding her dirty laundry before putting it into the hamper, the idea of sleeping in a room that was not in perfect order was enough to open a bottomless pit of torment and anguish which made a descent into Pandemonium seem like a walk in the park.
Despite this obvious difference in their personalities, or maybe because of it, the two lovebirds quickly made it official and became a “couple”. This appeared all the more natural, all the more inevitable to Elisabeth as she could never conceive of “giving herself” to a man without his automatically becoming her boyfriend, where he, on the other hand …
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
After dating and a proper engagement, the wedding was held—naturally—in the suburb where Elisabeth was born. And, for a change, the bride-to-be asked her fiancé to help her draw up the wedding gift registry. The marriage was celebrated in a church, before God and man, because anything else would have been quite simply inconceivable to her. And, despite his anticlericalism, her husband let himself be talked into it since even then, when he truly loved her, he understood that peace came at a price.
That was also when he became aware of her obsession with lists. His sweetheart was attached to this ritual in part to compensate for a faulty memory, so every morning, as soon as she got out of bed, she would need to put a detailed list of her daily activities up on the bulletin board, in addition to the weekly master list she drew up every Sunday before mass.
Let’s be clear on this point, these lists bore no resemblance to notes hastily scribbled into an organizer, they were a comprehensive register covering every single activity of every single day, no matter how trivial. Invariably, this daily agenda included numerous sub-headings and started with get out of bed and ended with go to bed. In between, there was a detailed schedule ranging from activities as mundane as brush teeth, listed after every meal, to take anti-anxiety medication, and included call Mom to see how she is doing, have a thirty-three minute nap and even check daily list.
In short, Elisabeth was one of those people who live their lives in strict accordance with a predetermined idea of what life is supposed to be, with no room whatsoever for spontaneity, spur-of-the-moment activities or the unexpected, while he, on the other hand …
In the beginning, he enjoyed teasing his Beth about her lists, the detail of which both astonished and amused him. She never got too upset about his ribbing, probably because at its height, love is much like a drug that masks every problem. However, as the months and years dulled their passion, his gibes became more cutting and his wife’s fuse grew shorter. She had never been quick-tempered per se, but her patience was wearing thin. Especially since he once asked her sardonically whether she pre-planned the moves she made during their rare and passionless sex where her panting and listless sighs were meant to express unbridled passion.
He finally admitted to himself that at least her lists did have one definite advantage: access to her detailed schedule on the bulletin board made planning his own activities that much easier.
Whether it was a Board meeting in Ottawa, a business dinner in Quebec City, a weekend convention in Chicago, or a fishing expedition up north, all Elisabeth would do was add to her list the little things she had to prepare for her husband before he left. Apparently, she had no clue of the real reasons for his absences or of the identity of the “colleagues” or “friends” he was travelling with.
But sometimes appearances are just appearances, and about as trustworthy as a politician’s promises on the campaign trail. Even though there were no outward indications, Elisabeth had learned to see through the lies. Especially since she had found the credit card receipts in the inside pocket of one of his jackets for a stay for two in a charming New England inn, when he was supposedly off hunting in the Laurentians.
So, one Sunday when he announced that he was going out to his good buddy Lacaille’s outfitting operation with some potential clients “bigwigs from across the Pond that were making a special trip over here”, Beth didn’t bat an eye; she just added a few errands to her list to help out her man.
That Thursday, he woke up at dawn as usual and was a bit surprised not to find her beside him in bed. After noticing the aroma of fresh coffee wafting upstairs from the kitchen, he concluded that his ever-loving wife had gone down early to help with last-minute preparations.
He was smiling as he put on his bathrobe and headed downstairs.
As always, he took a look at Elisabeth’s daily to-do list. Right under the entry for coffee and croissants, there was an inventory of the household tasks scheduled for the day, one of which was quite unusual: oil the shotgun.
“Honey, are you downstairs?”
Puzzled, he continued to run his finger down the list. It was after reading wash kitchen walls and in the instant before he was transfixed by call police to report husband’s death that he heard the click of the trigger.
Né à Port-au-Prince, Stanley Péan a grandi à Jonquière, au Québec. Après avoir tâté du théâtre, il entreprend des études en littérature à l'Université Laval et commence à publier ses premières nouvelles. Dans les dernières années, il a notamment publié Zombi Blues (1996), La Nuit démasque (2000), Le Cabinet du Docteur K (2001), et Autochtones de la nuit (2007). Ce texte est tiré de Autochtones de la nuit, publié par Les Éditions Courte Échelle en 2007, et réimprimé avec l’autorisation de l’éditeur.
Dorothy Charbonneau is a conference interpreter by day and an actor whenever possible. She has long been attracted to literary translation as another way to express her creativity. This is her first published literary translation.