by Noémie D. Leclerc
Québec Amérique, 2018
She chooses Normandin without really choosing it at all. It’s the only restaurant close to Montmorency that makes French toast all day long, morning, noon and night. It seems destined, which is even better because Darlène hates making decisions. She leaves that kind of thing up to others, and when others want nothing to do with it, she leaves it to chance, and when chance wants nothing to do with it, she always finds a way to force its hand. Her grandfather’s brother died when she was ten. His name was Jean-Pierre. She knew he existed, could put a face to his name, with his Fort Lauderdale tan, a gold band on his ring finger and a head of white hair, but she couldn’t tell you if he liked strawberries or which side of the bed he slept on. One ordinary evening while she was walking home from school, her mother told her, Uncle Jean-Pierre died. Standing in the doorway, her lunchbox in one hand and her math homework in the other, she thought, if I can balance on one leg for ten seconds, I won’t cry. If I fall, I’ll cry. She fell. She kept her eyes open to dry them out until the tears spilled out all by themselves. Her mother, who was finding out just how much of a softie she was at the same time as her, comforted Darlène with a kiss, some soothing words and Lipton soup with buttered soda crackers. Uncle Jean-Pierre died of lung cancer at 58. He didn’t even smoke.
Seated in a booth by the window, she thinks, it would be nice to live at night and eat breakfast while watching the sunrise. She counts the cars as they pass, imagining each driver’s destination. Is anyone wondering about hers? Probably travel agents in their ad campaigns and her mother, of course. The latter far more than the former. After three minutes, 16 cars, two bikes and a bus, a waitress in her late forties named Diane—much prettier than her name would have you think—greets Darlène with a melodious hello, miss, and a few swipes of her hands over her black skirt, dirty with crumbs, gravy and marmalade. Armed with a coffee pot and a short fuse, Diane hands Darlène a menu and some coffee.
If she says yes, this will be the first third coffee of my life, but she decides that today is a big day, and this is cause for celebration. She says yes and Diane pours the coffee. The worst that can happen is a heart attack.
Diane refills another customer’s cup, a man in his mid-fifties who could be named Mario. Letting the hot coffee flow from the pot, Diane imagines herself with blonde hair cut halfway down her neck and a bit of eyeliner to highlight her dark brown eyes. Oh, shit, her daydream overflows onto Mario’s pants. I’m sorry, sir, poor thing. Diane sponges up her mistake as best as she can. Without protesting, Mario stares at her, his eyes darting between her hands, her eyes and her chest.
“I’m gonna need your phone number.”
“Do you want me to pay to have it dry-cleaned?”
“A beer down the road with you a little later, that’ll do the trick.”
Diane blushes beneath her already-flushed cheeks and disappears into the kitchen. She returns without her phone number, with a plate of hot chicken that she sets down in front of a visibly disappointed Mario, sorry again, which she says for the umpteenth time before going to serve pizza and Diet Pepsi to the next table, thinking, how weird, eating hot chicken with coffee.
Darlène stares meditatively at the neck, chignon and earrings of an old woman sitting alone. Being old is sad, but old with earrings, that’s cool. The fake diamonds dangle in the air like love letters on their way to their intended, like an unanswered greeting to a stranger. Darlène kicks off her shoes at these deep thoughts, crosses her legs Indian style and carries on inventing lives for those around her, lives much less sad and less ordinary.
Up until today, Darlène has lived the most insignificant of lives, so she isn’t really one to talk. She went to a normal primary school, with three Camilles in the same class and teachers with teacher names, like Brigitte and Marie-Hélène. Darlène never played sports for fun; she preferred to make up dances or talk about boys. They celebrated the end of sixth grade on a boat called the Louis-Joliette. She was the only girl wearing pants. She was also the only girl with a date. On the way home, Félix Fréchette held her hand on the bus. When she was 12, Darlène felt for the first time what it was like not to like someone who likes you. After that summer, Félix Fréchette went off to stay with a new family. Darlène started high school at the same time her mother gave up on her well-manicured nails. On her first day, Annick asked her to wear a tie and comb out her hair. She was proud to see her daughter in uniform. Darlène was quickly labeled a weirdo because of the tie, so for the first two years, she accepted this rejection and ate in the girls’ locker room, reading Twilight during her breaks and chatting with her only two friends. Kelly did acrobatics and Ariane drew manga. The summer between sec 2 and sec 3, she decided to dye her hair blonde and after that, everything changed dramatically. Now she could sit with the popular girls. She was an option for the guys on the football team and she learned the secrets of padded bras and concealer. She drank Mojo at basement parties and, most importantly of all, she made her entry into the fabulous world of penises and sex.
Translation by Ghislaine LeFranc