Two Days to Forget
Translated by: Julie McDonough Dolmaya
Artwork by Philippe Amrouche
They are murderers, murderers, murd …
I awoke, my head afire, a nameless pain sweeping across my chest and these words pounding through my temples: they are murderers, murd, m.
The room is grey, the silence solidifies and engulfs me. Sleep, sleep … this same refrain for the past two days, the only companion to my distress.
For two days I have been shut up in this apartment … as if it were enough.
I lean back against the pillows. I light a cigarette.
The room pitches. At the foot of my bed is Back to Eden, the guide to herbal medicine by Jethro Kloss. I reach out, my hand trembles. I do not pick up the book, I will not pick it up.
In it is the sheet of blue paper, the letter I will not take out, that I do not want to read again, that I will not read again. More than one hundred times, I have read it, reread it. Line after line, I spelled out every word, every syllable. I did not understand. Like a terror-stricken blind woman, I searched, my heart delirious, in each line, each word, a sign, nothing.
I still do not understand.
I have drunk so many infusions that my head is as washed out as my insides, emptied.
For two days, orange blossoms, lemon balm and linden, my illness has no cure. Thank you Jethro, like a starving woman, I've devoured your book, without finding a potion to calm this storm in my belly, my abandoned and unhappy body.
Back to Eden. My room is an old boat, harbourless, I am adrift. Am I crying? No, it's the cigarette.
At the foot of the bed, the book watches me, slyly comes to life and approaches me. Here it is, I catch it, open it, slowly, like a door that is pushed softly, softly for fear that something, there … behind … “Page 347: Mint, camomile, vervain. Let steep. Calms stomach aches and nervousness.” And what about gut aches, I hear myself shout. Nothing, nothing at all.
The blue sheet of paper is there, page 347. And what if … one more time, one last time, just to see, to finally know. There must be a sentence, a line, a word forgotten or misread, some detail. In Aunt Célia's tight and nervous handwriting, surely there is something I must find, must read, to finally be able to understand … Right now, I must … No. Not now. Already too late. It's getting light out. Five o'clock in the morning, in one hour, I'll have to get dressed, rise from my tomb, wait at the corner for the bus with all those excessively well-behaved people, those strangers who will look at me, who will not see me, or rather who will pretend not to see me so as not to not give themselves away.
Because they know, of course, everyone knows, how could they not know Robert isn't there anymore? How could they not know that we were together down there just last summer? On the porch, twenty-six years strong, his rapadou1 torso offered to the sun. They know, of course, but they're afraid to say he was found dead on the porch, just like that, like nothing, like a rat, his body full of holes.
It was six in the morning, Mom was going to church, something was blocking the door, Mom pushed harder. Robert was there, behind this speechless door.
The neighbours came, consoled Mom, wiped away her tears, warmed her sweaty palms. Everyone was whispering. Adèle’s son, it seems, had also disappeared. And André's body had been found in the ravine. André was sixteen, and his guitar lit up the neighbourhood at night. André, dead with his dreams, in the ravine, his little poet's body covered with white stones. The mouths whispered, anger howled.
I get my body out of bed. I took refuge here two days ago, trying to bury my despair.
My boss was generous. “Two days to forget,” he had said, smiling and pushing me by the shoulders to the exit. “Two days' vacation, my beautiful Élise, to get over it. No one dies before their time.” The boss had spoken, the matter was closed, life was moving on. Two days to forget Robert's laugh, the sounds of our childhood, the memories, their scents, the letter from Aunt Célia. Two days to forget Mom, her profound grief, her grey hair and her trembling hands.
Never before their time? I don't understand. Unsteadily, I get dressed, drunk with my impotence. The memories jostle one another inside me, I am so sick.
Quick, now, go right away, on the metro and the bus, talk to them, and say, “Listen, listen to me, you don't know what's over there, you don't know anything. There was Robert and summer every day. There was life, friends, colours, laughter and music that assailed our bodies. All that is over. The island is vomiting spells. The island is wailing, no one hears it. The future is under siege, there are only corpses. They kill every day, everybody, all the time. They kill us like nothing, like rats. Three years ago it was Dad, then the neighbour, the one who had a nice-looking beard and laughed too loudly. And then, one night, it was Maribelle, who loved life but didn’t like the general. On the general's order, they cut off her breasts. The day before yesterday, it was those farmers who loved their lands too much, and yesterday, it was Robert, but Robert was my brother.” My gut unleashes a mad cry: Robert was my brother … he loved life so much, he clung to the land of that country with all his might. When Dad disappeared, I left. But Robert said, “Wait a little and you'll see, those bastards will soon go to hell.” Those bastards haven't yet gone to hell, but I am going crazy.
No one dies before their time? The boss lied. Hurry, I have to go down there to tell him, to tell them, in the metro tunnels, where the echo is strongest, to cry out that over there, we're all dying before our time, just like that, in broad daylight, like rats. We’re all dying at any time, in any place. On porches, like Robert, throats slit in a field like Gasner, shot in a cemetery like Milou and Marcel under the shocked gaze of schoolchildren brought in for the show, of starvation and torture … or slowly, like Mom and Aunt Célia and Uncle Max and the others, of rage, despair and useless hatred like me.
I go out in the icy morning. The letter in my pocket. I will take it out soon. I will read it. And like a wave crashing against a reef, I will howl: they are murderers, murderers, murd …
1. Unrefined sugar.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Marie-Célie Agnant has lived in Québec since 1970. She has written novels, poetry, short stories and books for children and young adults. Her short story collection Le Silence comme le sang was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Awards in Canada, while her first novel, La Dot de Sara, was a finalist for the prix littéraire Desjardins. Agnant's works, which reflect the author's personal commitments, centre around the themes of exclusion, racism, exile and the status of women. They have been translated into English, Spanish, Italian and Dutch.
Julie McDonough Dolmaya teaches translation at York University's Glendon Campus in Toronto. She has a doctorate in Translation Studies and is currently engaged in a research project that focuses on translation, politics and oral history. Her English translation of Marie-Célie Agnant's short story "Un regard assassin" was recently published in Tusaaji: A Translation Review. She blogs about her teaching and research at www.mcdonough-dolmaya.ca.