Read Following the Summer Online
Authors: Lise Bissonnette
Translated from the French
by Sheila Fischman
Copyright Â© Les
ditions du Bor
al, Canada 1992
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This edition published in 2013 by House of Anansi Press Inc.
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801, Toronto, ON, M5V 2K4
First published in French as
Marie Suivait l'
ditions du Bor
Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
[Marie suivait l'
Following the summer
Translation of: Marie suivait l'
I. Title.Â Â Â II. title: Marie suivait l'
.Â Â Â English.
PS8553.I88M313 1993Â Â Â C843'.54Â Â Â C93-093590-X
Cover design: Brant Cowie/ ArtPlus Limited
We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.
for Godefroy-M. Cardinal
A jet black dog, part basset, drags its round and tired
body to the edge of the park. A thirsty day. Surge of men
under scrawny trees. During another such July sulphur
and wind paced out the area around the lake where a
town would rise. With the first convoys that followed in
the wake of gold or fraud.
No man's land.
borders a scorching yellow sun. Now the only hunters are
singed dogs and children from the same brood. Above the
anthills, invisible mists of Sunday.
ARIE IS TWENTY YEARS OLD AND SHE
is knitting, white yarn against a green bench. Click of needles, rustle of birds. Of birds she never hears, in this park that is suspended in dust. Birds pass in the distance, on the other side of the lake, as if they were tracing the exhalation of the mine. Breathing that reverberates close by, three streets in back of her, where a veil settles over the trees, invisible, but she sees it as grey. It's peaceful here, the leaves motionless, for the wind veers off at the first path, at the first dwarf trees, arrested in mid-growth as though someone has pruned them.
Behind the low wall the rumbling cars are silent now. It must be four o'clock because a shadow has stirred on the wide pool of moss, what is left of the spring. Green. She imagines herself as a young woman knitting and watching over a child in a park, in France, where urban roses bloom around rented chairs. Knowledge borrowed from books. As usual, it is the scent she cannot quite grasp, the sweetness to go with the ashes of this place.
At five she will go home, take back inside herself this nowhere city, this sultry day. A bag for her knitting, a leash for the dog, the hideous dog. Who for the moment has disappeared. Somewhere beyond the paved path, towards the trails, earth and bush, where curiosity used to draw her in the days when it still existed.
To the north, one branch of the path has been erased. As if no one wanders any more to the fences that protect the guest houses, the mine's castle-houses, now uninhabited for the most part. Though with their German casements and their French roofs they look as if they should be filled with servants: Their lawns slope down gently and stop at foliage that hides a glaucous beach lapped by the bile green of freshwater weeds. Poison.
The other path still follows the shore, gritty with sand and bald stone. This place was witness to her adolescent rage. Amidst the drought of trampled grass, the grime of furrowed earth, the acid ochre of rocks seared by the chemistry of the mine. Bright red beside the water, dusky rose between stunted blueberries sterile at the root, and littered cellophane, cigarette butts, torn pages of yellowed newspaper.
On another scorching afternoon a magic ceremony was held. Marie's glasses were used, with a sliver of
sun, to set fire to the grass; she had entered the water beside the flat stone to immerse Isis, a cloth goddess. (Her terror, legs caught in the solid, acrid lake. “And if I fall?” â “Then you will decompose. â Rust.” â “Shall I be reunited with gold?”) It had taken an hour before Isis was dry, before she burned. “May those who stop us from leaving here be drowned or consumed,” said Rita, her black hair the proper colour for casting spells.
Blurred ceremonies, and now only the colours remain. With nothing to do during this lull, Marie goes to look for her dog. She is near-beautiful and annoyed by a trickle of sweat on her face, by the sand that sneaks into her brand-new sandals.
She gropes for a place to step, her mind is blank, she is only impatient at being here, under this harsh sun, calling an animal. A clank of bicycles not far away, behind a knoll, punctuates the children's shouts. Husky voices, already coarse. The path disappears into higher grass near the top. She is exasperated.
A thin streak of half-dry clay, a square of shadow. Marie falls but it's nothing, only the sharp edge of a stone that makes blood flow at the ankle's hinge. A soiled dress, and now irritation because she must wait for the oozing to stop, beside water too dirty to use. No pain. Just a sense of absurdity, a spark of rage.
No, summers in this natural garbage dump brought neither rituals nor sorcery, neither revelations nor evil spells. Only the summer, as dull as this one, divided between cycling and forbidden dancing, between brief rainfalls and drought, between weekday boredom and Saturdays when you counted the weddings. In the distance she hears the latest one, the blaring horns of rented Cadillacs, to be returned as soon as the wedding party has alighted at the hotel.
The dog has come back, has stopped moving. The animal has legs of unequal length, its eyes are reminiscent of ancestors we would like to disown, in photos where workers are dressed up like members of the bourgeoisie. Into dark suits and taffeta dresses with ruching are tucked the hardworking leanness of one, the fat of the other. Their hands give them away, as do the fixed stares of the children in their one pair of white stockings, eyes bulging at an everyday magic. The dog is panting like one of them, like the grandfather who every morning carted logs from his house to the workshop where he sharpened other people's saws and knives.
She is there to absorb it, along “with the day's humidity, the dog's gaze. Nothing happens here, only scratches. A prison-land that drags its rocks like a ball-and-chain. Meagre shoots that lap up blood through the dust.
Go home now. The sun still harsh and high. Bicycles have delivered the children's cries to the rim of the park, to the little thicket of aspens, noon-hour stopping place during excursions, where they bite into thin bread, into ham grey with butter and light. Marie makes a final attempt to stem the oozing, now a paler pink. Behind her flits a brief shadow, scarcely more than a rustle on the sand-polished stone. Something like mockery in the voice. “Hurt yourself?”
Against the sun the lengthy silhouette becomes stocky, divided between the black slacks and the orange blouse. She's built like the grocer's wife, Marie thinks, straightening up. Her cheek brushes the slight curve of the other woman's hip. An ordinary woman, with sheep's eyes (like her own) and hair burnt by a cheap black dye-job.
A salesgirl, or rather a waitress in the beer parlour. When the town was finally populated there were twenty-nine taverns and ten hotels that children weren't even allowed to go near. The obverse of night, lights that turn the snow on sidewalks green, and ventilating fans that send out rancid odours, and in summer the sugary smell of beer. Whenever they walked under the awning of the Union Hotel (
Verres stÃ©rÃ©lisÃ©s, Bienvenue)
they laughed at the misspelled word. It was their way of showing contempt for the drunken midafternoon laughter that came through the swinging door. Laughter of people like this woman. You envisage them with sheets always rumpled, with unmade beds flanked by grubby night tables, with companions noisy and malodorous.
Her face is clean, her eyelashes thick. What is she doing here, on the other side of the lake? Does she not know the difference? Firmly, she grasps Marie's arm and shifts her to a higher position, leaning against a still-scorching rock. “You should be careful, it's dirty here.” Takes a blue handkerchief from Marie (the kind you put in hope chests, that bring laughter from girls like her). “Could be dangerous, better clean it up right away.”
A worn-out voice, one that's been hung up in many places. They have to be like that at night, mercenary, tolerant of alcohol and of jokes repeated a thousand times. Marie believes she can recognize them. Last year, on a day like this, she had tried to help to her feet a woman moaning softly in an alley, whom the police had taken to the station instead of the hospital. “Nothing wrong with her, she's dead drunk, she's always falling down, and when she starts chasing other customers away, the owner of the Royal kicks her out.” As Marie signed the deposition, the human wreck stirred slightly, a howl of pain. The youngest officer had picked up the pale body covered with scrapes and tossed it into the station's only cell. Obscenities poured out in waves, as if the woman wanted their contempt. There was something enjoyable about being carried away by pity, about sniffing out the drama that had brought her here â desertion, or incest. No one could choose such abjection. Such dereliction, said the priest, who liked verbal precision. Marie was unmoved by dereliction, was only curious about the hoarse voice, so suited to curses.
The voice of this woman bending over her wound resembles the other, save for its oily slowness. She talks about rusty scissors, about scars that close over invisible infections, about abscesses and accidents that happen to children. Before Marie can even think about making her getaway, the woman spits gently into the handkerchief, turning it mauve, and wipes the wound, probing deep inside. Firmly, as if using a grater, she exposes the pink, she presses once again, and blood wells up, clean. Again. Marie's disgust is idiotic now, she knows that. Under the handkerchief tied as a tourniquet, the stickiness soaks into the cloth.
Go home now, quickly. Thank her.
The orange top exposes a plump elbow, rounder than her own. Like the arm that tucks you in on nights when you have a fever, tenderly, absently, already busy putting clothes away or turning off unnecessary lamps. “Thank you,” says Marie, the routine words turning ridiculous. The dog shakes himself, stirs up the silence a little, but the woman does not move away. She walks with Marie to the edge of the park, supports her on the irregular stones (“I'm fine now, really, it's nothing”), and lavishes advice â Mercurochrome and cold water.
On the moss a man with tattooed arms has just stretched out. He pulls himself up on his elbows just long enough for the shadow of the two women to pass across his pale shirt. An orange blouse against a beige dress, dowdy now with its sober flowers, its (genuine) patent leather belt which matches the sandals exactly. Marie is a catalogue image with her carefully waved hair, her discreet earrings. Her gait becomes awkward. The other woman does not even see the man feigning sleep.
A crease of jealousy. Marie sees again Eleni, daughter of the Greek restaurant-owner who had the same confident sway when she brushed against the troops of boys in the narrow aisles at the arena.
“Love me tender,”
Elvis crooned, amidst the fine hail thrown up by their skates. Even in the depths of winter, when coats deform you and sweaters stiffen your silhouette, she still excited them. She had married the only West Indian in town and showed him off every night, dragging him down the main street, and there was no mistake. No possibility of mistake. She degraded every form of affection. And now a man stretched out in the park was using the same standard to judge Marie. Who didn't protest. Even regretted her innocent appearance under his shamelessly greedy gaze, regretted not wearing some violent colour that would drive up the bidding. A colour meant to be followed, to be summoned, as far as the rows of houses up there, that will protect you from consenting, from appearing to consent.
Neither the hour nor any shadow offers deliverance from the heat, the radiance. “I'm Corrine,” says the other woman, her manner familiar. They slow down. Marie falls in with her heavy pace, the better to be filled with her odour of musk and sweat, which she should find repugnant. And which should enable her to keep her distance, exasperated, detached. Above all, not to be seen.
But none of this shows on the surface. The woman is thirty, at the very least. Her skin is dull. From the side, only her plump arms are visible, but her neck, observed just then, was somewhat crepey, her cheek chapped by the sun. Corrine is blind to Marie's disgust. She hears herself talking about three willow trees, the only ones in this town, with every passing season their bare roots more eaten away by the acids in the lake, trees that should be cut down. She talks about rot, about danger. Says on that score she knows what she's talking about, and laughs. An urgent generosity in her voice.
Marie sits on the grass that will crease her dress again. From her subservience it is obvious that she is pleading with the other woman to stay.