Excerpt In Translation

The Keeper’s Daughter

by Jean-François Caron

translated by W. Donald Wilson

Talonbooks, 2015


I’m Rose, aged twelve, tracing aerial links over the open water between the islands, connecting them.

At the top of the steps: I’m twelve, it’s all new; so is my view of the landscape. I’d like to build a bridge between the islands, I’d cross it often, I’d go to the other side.

I’d go across, running as fast as my little feet of a girl not yet a woman could carry me, I’d reach the island opposite without getting wet, so I could see everything differently. To see that my island, my own island, is tiny. To see that my house is even tinier. And that when I’m on my island, in my house, I too am tiny. That my insignificant misfortunes as a girl almost a woman, my trifling misfortunes as a girl with no mother to show her the way, my own trivial misfortunes, don’t matter to the world.

If there was a bridge between the house and Hare Island, I’d cross it, to see the world differently. So that I could realize that everything is just the same from the other side. That a bridge between two islands always means a return trip, just a gap between two shores. Between two beaches, two samenesses.

It would help me realize that differences don’t exist all that much.

If there was a bridge between the house and Hare Island, it would be a steel one, like the one in Quebec City. It would be green too. I can’t imagine it any other way. And it would be dotted with rivets – including a gold one, for the legend. And it would have collapsed twice during the construction. A heap of twisted metal. And bodies. The bodies of fathers. Of uncles, brothers, cousins. The bodies of Native Americans with no fear of heights.

It too would have collapsed twice, my bridge. Carrying my fathers, uncles, brothers, and cousins down with it. Native Americans with no fear of heights. The bridge between my islands. The bridge I’d be able to build.

If there was a bridge between the house and Hare Island, there would have been men to cross it. Men jingling coins in their pockets as they went across. For a long time I’d have watched them coming, hoping it was young Bourgeois, the delivery boy. The one I watch from behind the hazel bush near the balustrade when he goes along the boardwalk carrying Papa’s order. I watch him, a dream in my eyes and in my belly, like the sun. […]

I’m an elderly Rose in an apparently stable world. And everything there is.

They’re busy around me, dealing with the luggage. There are so many people. A man and a woman, looking like lovers, whispering together but never touching. A young black woman who’s willing to take my arm. A photographer turned in my direction. And another man, in overalls and a long-sleeved white sweater, with a thick moustache under his nose, clutching his beret in his fist to say goodbye. He’s casting off his yellow boat, ready to leave. The photographer takes the opportunity to snap a few pictures of him standing in front of his boat.

I’m an old woman. They want to help me go in. Below, there’s no hazel bush. No Bourgeois boy to walk to here.

I’m the twelve-year-old Rose, with the stories in her head. Lots of people too.

If there was a bridge between the house and Hare Island, there’d be lots of people to cross it. Visitors. Native Americans with a bevy of kids. Maybe a train. Trucks. Like the ones sitting around in the villages. Cars too. With fathers, uncles, brothers, and cousins in them. Family I have, but don’t know.

All the family I have. Who don’t know me.

As if the bridge I built between the islands had collapsed one day and dragged them all down into the gap. Leaving me without any ancestors. Without any descendants.

I’m Rose who’s never had a child except herself, and who finds a shred of meaning somewhere in the links between the islands.

If there’d been a bridge between the house and the islands, maybe I’d never have left. But there’s never been a bridge between the islands. Since forever, and more than ever, they’re disconnected. They float apart. Helpless vessels. Wrecks. Aground. With birds flocking around them. Eider ducks acting dumb. Terns diving. Beating down greedily on the shoals of fish.

The islands are dropped words, outstripping thought. Like splattered chapters. Heading in every direction.

If there was a bridge between the islands, my memories would be linked. For I’ve got all these islands inside my head. I can’t invent bridges between them anymore. I need to sit down. Dorothée’s still there; she’s real. She can support me, help me inside. In one corner of the house, standing at attention in front of us, a sentinel, silent in spite of itself.

The gramophone from back then. It’s still in the same place, ruddy, massive, upright, with rounded corners. Dorothée opens the lid. A thick record is placed on the turntable. As if it had never budged from its spot. If the spring in its mechanism had survived the years it could play again at last.

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