Read 21 Days in October Online

Authors: Magali Favre

21 Days in October

Magali Favre

21 Days in October

Translated by Arielle Aaronson

Originally published as
21 JOURS EN OCTOBRE
© 2010 Les Éditions du Boréal
Publié avec l'autorisation des Éditions du BoréalTranslation © Baraka Books 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
ISBN 978-1-926824-92-5 pbk; 978-1-926824-98-7 epub; 978-1-926824-99-4 pdf; 978-1-77186-000-0 mobi/kindle
Cover, illustration and design, Lise Rose
Dessin de prison Parthenais
, 1970
www.liserose.com
Book design and epub by Folio Infographie
Translated by Arielle Aaronson
Legal Deposit, 4th quarter 2013
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec
Library and Archives Canada
Published by Baraka Books of Montreal
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Printed and bound in Quebec
Baraka Books acknowledges the generous support of its publishing program from the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles du Québec (SODEC) and the Canada Council for the Arts.
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To Madeleine

Quand on demande à la liberté de montrer ses papiers
à cinq heures du matin
Quand on fait trébucher la Justice
dans les maisons pas chauffées
à cinq heures du matin
Quand la raison d'État se met en marche
à cinq heures du matin

Gérald Godin (1938-1994),
Libertés surveillées
,1975

(Free translation:
When they say YOUR PAPERS to Freedom
at five o'clock in the morning […]
When Justice gets beaten up
in cold unheated houses
at five o'clock in the morning,
When reasons of state are on the march
at five o'clock in the morning […])

1
Daybreak

T
he machines make an awful racket. Wet, fluffy dust clogs his lungs. He coughs and tastes blood in the back of his throat. The pounding of the spinner rings in his head. A warm dampness sticks to his skin.

Finally, the siren sounds. His first week of work is finished. He is replaced by a boy barely older than himself, who expertly checks to see that the threads are taut enough and the barrels of wool are well stocked. The enormous spinner keeps on going, indifferent.

Gaétan crosses the huge room that shakes to the rhythm of fifty machines. He joins the throng of factory workers in the stairwell, their lunchboxes hanging empty off their arms. He goes down three flights and winds up in a line in front of the exit.

He takes his card and slips it into the slot on the time clock. It is 7 a.m. on October 16, 1970. He walks out and the drumming of the machines finally leaves his ears.

The sun is not yet up and the city is bathed in a bluish light. The boy likes this part of the day when everything is still new, when everything still seems possible. He trudges towards Notre-Dame Street, gulping in the fresh dawn air. He exhales, watching his breath condense in the cold air as he waits for the bus. A light frost covers the cars. The last leaves fall from the trees.

The bus is packed, like every morning. The factories along the canal all keep the same shifts, and the old brown buses that heave themselves through the streets struggle to hold the hundreds of workers returning home. Gaétan manages to slip in just before the doors close. He'll be jostled and shoved for nearly an hour, until the corner of Wolfe, where he lives in the
Faubourg à m'lasse
near the port.

He gets drowsy as he leans upright against a pole. His eyelids are heavy; he drifts off. Jerked awake as the bus lurches forward, he sees the steeple of the Notre Dame Basilica through half-opened eyes. Finally, almost there. He can't wait to dive into his bed. But first, he wants to drop by Luc's.

He gets off the bus and walks the length of the giant vacant lot where the new Radio-Canada tower grows bigger each day. He thinks about the endless hockey games he played there with his friends. This part of the neighbourhood that gave way to the wrecking ball has become a vast playground over time. All the boys would meet up there after school; teams were divided by school, always Plessis versus Garneau.

Today fences are blocking the entrance and cranes are already in full swing. Gaétan doesn't have time to hang around anyway, either in the lot or in the lanes. Gone are the days when he'd see his mother up on the balcony hollering that dinner was ready.

Gaétan walks along the never-ending fence. Every day, signs boast new graffiti messages:
FLQ vaincra! “
That was definitely done overnight,“ the boy says to himself, shrugging his shoulders, before turning onto Rue de la Visitation, where his friend lives. Several years his senior, Luc also works at Dominion—he has been there two years. It's thanks to Luc that Gaétan found the job, though he had to lie about his age.

Two young boys rush past him, schoolbags in hand, and bump into the postman, who continues his rounds as if nothing has happened.

“Let's go, move it along guys! School's begun!” Gaétan shouts at them, laughing.

For the first time, he didn't go back to school this year. At fifteen, he figured that the time had come to push out into the real world. And anyway, his parents need the money that he brings home. In fact, today he got his first pay. Gaétan kicks the ground, sending a big pile of dead leaves flying.

“Now I'm in the big leagues!” he thinks to himself proudly.

He heads down the lane and quickly scrambles up the spiral staircase that leads to the third floor. Pushing through the door, he finds himself in the kitchen, face-to-face with Luc, who still looks half asleep.

“Sorry! I'm too early?”

“S'ok. I have a union meeting before work anyway. So, your first week?”

“It's pretty tough, nights. The noise, the heat… I'm beat.”

“No more jerking around at school, eh? Hey, I'll take you for a beer down at the tavern.”

“At nine in the morning? If my ma finds out…”

“Relax! It comes with the job. If you can work, you can drink!”

Luc goes back to his room to get dressed. Gaétan admires this determined young man who doesn't take crap from anyone. Luc landed himself a job in shipping at Dominion. He has an easier time of it than the guys in production, even if he has to move boxes all day long. He's not the son of a longshoreman for nothing. He knows the job. “The hardest part,” Luc explains, “is dealing with the foreman who's always barking orders in English.”

Suddenly, there is a loud pounding at the door.

“Go see who it is!” Luc calls from his room. “I'm coming!”

Gaétan glances through the window of the small sitting room. Two men wearing hats and grey overcoats are standing straight as fence posts on the other side of the door.

“I don't know them, but they sure don't look very happy!”

Before Luc has time to answer, there is a crash of broken glass in the kitchen. Two policemen burst their way through the window and go to open the door for the men still waiting at the front door.

“Luc Maheu?” asks one of them.

“The very one. What are you doing in my house? Is there a problem?”

“We're making the early morning rounds, as you see.”

A policeman is already emptying drawers and rifling through closets.

“Do you have a warrant?” asks a stunned Luc, quickly buttoning his shirt.

“My man, I'll have you know that since four this morning we can do what we want. Our honourable members of parliament have been working overtime. Does the War Measures Act mean anything to you? We don't need a warrant now.”

“What? But that's not possible!” Gaétan spits furiously.

“You! What's your name?”

The boy lets it go.

“We takin' him too, boss?” asks one of the policemen to the plainclothes cop.

“No! The brats can wait.”

Then, turning disdainfully to Gaétan, he says:

“Go back to your parents, or we'll take you with us.”

To Luc, he adds:

“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that you're under arrest.”

“But I didn't do anything!”

“We'll see about that.”

The other plainclothes officer takes a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and snaps them on Luc, who is speechless. He pushes Luc towards the door. Gaétan has the presence of mind to hand him a jacket. His friend shoots back:

“Let my ma know, ok? It can't be long, anyway. I haven't done anything. If you can, tell Paul, too. We'll grab that beer next Friday, promise.”

Luc is taken down the stairs flanked by the four men and disappears into the police car, like a criminal.

Left alone in the middle of the empty kitchen, Gaétan can't believe what has just happened.

2
Friday, October 16

T
he boy looks forlornly around the kitchen, now in a shambles. He reaches instinctively for the dustpan and broom, sweeping up the broken glass as best as he can.

“Have to fix the window as soon as possible, or everything will freeze,” he thinks to himself. “As it is anyone can get in.”

But he knows full well there isn't much to steal here. He dutifully turns off the oil furnace and goes into the bedroom to put the covers back on the bed, above which Luc has tacked a large poster of Robert Charlebois. He closes the drawers, shoving the clothes inside any which way. Then he takes the
Patriote
flag that one of the policemen has torn down and replaces it as it was, hanging it over the window like a curtain.

He has to get out of there, but he's famished and wants to grab a bite to eat from his house before informing anybody. He goes out through the front door that leads right onto Sainte-Rose Street.

Gaétan shivers. Although the sun is up, it is hiding, doing little to warm the air. Mid-October is the in-between season—it's no longer warm, but not very cold either. Too early to bring out the tuques and mittens, but the chill can gnaw right through you.

His red brick house is built right up to the sidewalk. He tugs on the metal lever that causes the bell behind the door to ring sharply. He always wonders how his mother can hear it from all the way back in the kitchen. From the top of the stairs, she pulls the rope that lifts the latch. In a few seconds the door opens. She calls out a tired hello as he climbs up to meet her.

“It's about time! Do you want breakfast or lunch? At this point, you can take your pick. They're already making you do overtime?”

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