by Laurence Leduc-Primeau
translated by Natalia Hero
QC Fiction, 2019
I’ve been staring at you for a week, Betty. Betty the stain. Dirty and alone. I didn’t think I’d give you a name when I first got here. A brown stain, on a yellowed wall, in a dirty room. Doesn’t deserve a proper noun. But you’ve started moving. You almost move more than I do. You need a sharp eye to notice; I watch you all day long. You must be alive. I’ve decided to call you Betty. Traced you with a felt marker, outlined in black, cast in a mold. Now you’ll stop moving. You’ll stay close to me.
I see you, you know. Don’t act all innocent. None of that “innocent until proven guilty” business, that’s over now. Done. Understand?
The bed is lumpy. The mattress eroded by its springs. When I stretch out, I can touch all four walls at once. Filthy. There’s nothing else I can say about this room. Even if I take a closer look.
Okay, nothing to say, that’s not true. There’s always something left to say. The ceiling is warped over the foot of the bed. That’s something. Warped by humidity. Warped by pus. Warped by mold. It’ll collapse tonight. That’s what ceilings do.
A fly as big as a butterfly. It bumps into everything. Makes a noise like a radiator on its last legs. Hits the wall, the ceiling, the other wall, brushes against my left ear, gains altitude, lands on the old worn mirror—then changes its mind. Buzzes this way and that, never still, turns around, back and forth. Then disappears from my field of vision.
Silence. It seems to have stopped, finally.
The noise comes back, the bug flies a hair’s breadth away from my nose, charges at full speed toward the light and starts turning around it in concentric circles. Doesn’t go anywhere near the window, not even for a second.
You poor little idiot, you can’t get out of here.
My room looks like a birdhouse, perched on a balcony. Perfect for birds that’ve lost their wings.
I get everything mixed up. The sounds become muddled, they’re all the same. Emilio on the phone. How do I know it’s really him? I don’t even know how many of them are out there. I land in this country, I almost collapse in his arms. It’s ridiculous, he doesn’t know where to stand. Chloé? He stiffens. Um, luggage? I have the address in my hand. That’s all I have, a crumpled-up piece of paper with 34 B written on it.
Still timid, he points to the back of the courtyard, lets me pass. Marble on the ground, something that was pretty once. He waits for me to go up, keeps his distance. My feet are tired, the steps are tired. I climb, one foot in front of the other, for what feels like an eternity. Here, he says in English, to the left.
The key he hands me weighs four tons. An old-timey key like in the movies, made for opening treasure chests. I go in. He looks at the state of my clothes and lends me a T-shirt. In it, I’m fifteen.
My bags couldn’t bear to follow me any longer. They’ve fled. Sucked up by conveyor belts toward unknown baggage holds. I should have known this was in store for me. I lay out what I have left on the bed. Nothing.
My things scattered, probably for sale in a market in Beijing. They don’t belong with all the other stuff on sale, but who cares? A Chinese lady walks by, picks up my favourite skirt. She doesn’t notice the hem that’s coming undone. She won’t be lazy like me, she’ll get it fixed. But she’ll get sick of the skirt. Way too fast. For her, it’ll be a skirt like any other. She’ll never know how much it meant to me.
How did you get here, Betty? Have you noticed there’s no view from the window?
My God it’s humid. How can you stand it? And that noise. It never stops. Enough to drive you insane. The vacuum, the dinners, the babies, the radio, the TV, someone yelling on the phone, the people who use their windows as ashtrays. The cars, the trucks, the buses, the taxis, the horns. This constant vibration that gets inside my skull, penetrates my bones, and never leaves. No wonder they say this town is the therapy capital of the world.
Everyone’s crazy here. That’s why I came.