by Geneviève Pettersen
translated by Neil Smith
Esplanade Books, 2016
When we moved into the condo, I never dreamed Melanie Belley would be at the same bus stop as me every morning. She lived in the public housing near our new place, and whenever we drove by the building my mom would sigh and ask what the hell a housing project was doing in the Swallows. It was a fairly new practice for the city to build public housing outside the shittier neighborhoods.
Since the night of the fight, my school mornings always started out the same way: Melanie would plant herself at the bus stop and scowl at me till the bus came. As we got on, she’d shove me hard and then go sit at the back with two other girls, who’d also give me the evil eye. I remember I was scared shitless whenever I’d run into Melanie, especially since she’d told everybody at school she’d kick my teeth in if she ever caught me at the mall again.
Well, I went back to the mall the next Thursday, and the bitch was standing right outside Ardene. She yelled my name. At first, I thought she meant another Catherine, but she was looking right at me, so I had no choice but to face her, even though I wasn’t in the mood for another split lip. Melanie was with the same two girls in pigtails as on the bus, two puck bunnies in jean jackets.
She spoke so loud that shoppers all around turned to look. We were cool, she said. She wanted a truce. I didn’t understand, so I asked her what the deal was. She came over to me and when she saw my face up close, she said with a laugh that she’d gone a bit overboard. Maybe she wasn’t such an asshole after all. She invited me to go to McDonald’s with her and her friends. I wanted to go, but I hesitated. Was it some trick to lure me there and then beat the crap out of me? Melanie said to chill. A girl at school had told her I was pretty nice, and a friend of Pascal’s thought I was cute and asked her to lay off me. In that case, I’d go to McDonald’s with them, I said.
When we got there, we ordered two fries and a Coke for four, but the lady behind the counter told us we couldn’t loiter, that it said so on the sign outside. If we wanted to stay, we all needed to buy something. The pigtail chicks asked for Happy Meals with the toy for girls. Excellent choice, I thought. The lady practically threw our food at us. We went and sat at the back of the restaurant, and Melanie told us she was thinking about breaking up with Pascal because on the weekend she’d met a new guy named Simon who was way cuter. He had a dirt bike and played the drums. We all agreed that if a guy played the drums in a punk band, you went out with him. I decided if Melanie dumped Pascal, I’d go up and talk to him at the mall.
The girls got up and asked if I’d go with them to the restroom. I said yeah, so we went and locked ourselves in the handicapped stall because it was way roomier there. I’d heard at school that Melanie snorted mescaline and I felt like trying it. She took a baggie out of her purse, and I knew what it was because I’d once seen a girl snort mesc. Melanie emptied the baggie on top of the toilet tank and made lines with her student card. Then she rolled up a five-dollar bill, and I inhaled two lines. I’d read about snorting in Christiane F., so I pretended I was an expert. Afterward, I didn’t feel much, except my nostrils burned. Still, I faked being stoned.
The next morning at school, everybody was staring at me as I arrived at my locker. Melanie and her friends were sitting on a bench just opposite. I unlocked my lock and hung up my jacket. I had math first period and had to get a move on because the teacher hated us coming in late. His name was Mr. Martel, and he was a complete psycho. I gathered my books, locked my locker, and went up to the girls to walk with them. One of the pigtail chicks called me a fucking idiot. Melanie had tricked me into snorting baking soda mixed with crushed Tic Tacs.
Translation by Neil Smith
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