Translated by: Mélanie Aubert
Artwork by Cayo
“You started up again!”
It took Eliane a minute to realize that someone was talking to her. She stopped in her tracks, nearly causing a pedestrian pile-up of those walking behind her. The guy yelling at her from the top of a set of stairs looked familiar, but where had she seen him before? Then it came to her, and at the very same moment she realized what start-up-again he was referring to. Smiling, she waved, brandishing her half-smoked cigarette.
The man shook his head in dismay as he came down the stairs.
“And to think you worked for us.”
“What can I say, I really needed the job! So I stopped smoking a week before the interview. And I started up again when I left to become a paintball referee.”
And she was laughing while she said it, too. What a pity.
“Don’t you find it a bit…hypocritical? I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.”
“And I don’t remember yours. It’s Eliane. Hypocritical? Pff … ! If you say so. But I had bills to pay and I had to find a few decent things to wear, Mr … ?”
Of course she remembered his name: you always saw him on TV. His organization was almost as well-known as the Non-Smoker’s Rights Association.
Another character, either important or persuaded of his own importance, hurtled down the stairs, dressed to the nines.
“Have a good night, Pierre.”
“Bye, Christopher. See you tomorrow!”
With her hand acting as a visor against the setting sun, Eliane looked up.
“So the office moved here?”
“Yes. Ever since we started getting the recognition we deserve, the State is finally giving the foundation its fair share of subsidies. We’ve been able to set ourselves up, let’s say, slightly less precariously.”
She whistled while inspecting the building of brand-spanking new offices, all in glass, that the man had just left. The words Foundation Against Health Risks of Tobacco (FAHRT) appeared in big white letters, emblazoned across the entire left side of the building’s third floor.
“But it’s still not much,” he added quickly, “compared to what those highly paid lawyers are getting from the multinational tobacco companies.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
She was playing dumb, but she knew exactly what was coming. The health risks of smoking, yada yada yada. The funniest part was that he didn’t even raise an eyebrow at the sight of her bare feet, her high heels dangling in her hand. Walking barefoot along the sidewalks of a big city, even for only five minutes, was just as risky as having a smoke; but Miville-Champagne was, in a word, determined.
“I wonder how you plan to counter this poison that is putting your life at risk. You’re just making a huge consortium richer; but I think you already know that.”
Oh, didn’t she know it! She’d photocopied enough of it, in all those communications on the health risks of smoking! As for the people whose wallets she was fattening, they were living somewhere on a native reserve, but it was useless to try and open that can of worms.
“Aren’t you scared you might breathe in some of my second-hand smoke by standing so close?”
But the irony was lost on the brave militant.
“Eliane, Eliane,” he said, shaking his head. “There are over 1.3 billion smokers in the world, half of whom will die due to smoking. It’s so obvious: you have a one in two chance of living. Do you really want to die?”
“With that thing between your fingers, you’re signing up for certain death.”
“Listen: I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, my coffee intake is low. I use my vibrator in moderation. I’m not even addicted to sinus decongestants. I only have one vice: this one,” she replied, pointing her cigarette at him.
“But that vice is lethal, Eliane! Come on, don’t you want to live?”
“Live? But I … oh, you know what? I’ve had enough of your sermons. I know them all by heart. Good night.”
And with a determined step, she went to cross the street. But the man wouldn’t accept defeat, and followed, hot on her heels.
“You see? You don’t have any excuse. It’s alright for those who our campaign hasn’t reached. But you, you know that smoking kills; that a cigarette brings death!”
Determined in his mission, the man did not notice the mack truck hurtling down the street, unable to brake, alas, in such a short distance. Eliane, crimson with rage, did not see it either. It was too late when the horn rang out.
“It’s time to face the facts, Eliane! If you don’t quit, you will die. You will d …”
The man was run over with a dreadful muted crunch.
Less than a metre away from the carnage, Eliane stood on the sidewalk, pale, eyes bulging, unable to move, until a police officer who had rushed to the scene gently touched her elbow.
“Are you alright, ma’am? There’s a lot of broken glass, because of the accident. You should put your shoes on,” she advised.
Eliane complied mechanically. A couple of officers managed to get a statement out of her even though she was a bit scattered. Despite their strong recommendation, she declined seeing the psychological help unit. She insisted she’d manage on her own. During her recovery, riddled with disturbing nightmares, she often thought about death, but kept smoking nonetheless.
Encensé par le milieu de la science-fiction québécoise dans les années 1980, Marc Provencher fut nommé finaliste pour le Prix Boréal pour la nouvelle « Aplatir le temps » (1985). En 2007, il brisa un long silence littéraire avec Treize contes rassurants, son premier recueil de nouvelles, comprenant les contes « Vers le lave-auto » et « Une mort inévitable ». Ce texte est tiré de Treize contes rassurants publié par Leméac en 2008 et réimprimé avec l’autorisation de l’éditeur.
This story marked Melanie Aubert’s first venture into literary translation. Originally from Toronto, she has lived in Montreal, France, Spain, and Argentina and is currently working as a translator in Ottawa.