by Michèle Nicole Provencher
La Mèche, 2018
When I was around five years old, not long after my parents separated, I went to live with my mum and her new boyfriend in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Meanwhile, my dad was starting a new life in Trois-Rivières with a woman who went to the hairdresser a lot and didn’t have any kids. My dad got two rabbits and a new job and spent more and more of his time playing golf.
Travelling back and forth between the two towns seemed to take forever and I quickly got bored of playing “I Spy” in the car, probably because I was too good at it. Fortunately I only made the journey once a month.
Over in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, we lived much like any other reconstituted family. My stepdad had just bought himself a convertible and my two pimply stepbrothers spent most of their time fighting over the videogame console.
Lucie had maintained a close bond with the Boivin family and their raspberry plants and she often sent me to spend a few days in Donnacona during the school vacation. It was a nice little holiday for me and I grew attached enough to the Boivins to start calling them “auntie and uncle.”
The Boivins’ younger daughter, Sonia, had just finished high school and spent her time hanging out in the basement with her friends. When I went down she’d sometimes tell me to go check outside by the pool to see if she was there. I wasn’t that gullible, but I knew she wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box so I didn’t take her too seriously. Once or twice I even went, just to please her. It got on my nerves when Sonia tried to trick me, but on the other hand, she’d sometimes take me out for ice cream – and ice cream was my most favouritest thing ever.
I don’t know how my mum found out that she was sick. Did they tell her on the phone, or call her into the doctor’s office? I’ve no idea how it works; no one else I know has had that happen to them. All I know is that by the time she found out, she didn’t have long left. At least, not long enough to travel the world, to learn German, or to make me a little sister so I wouldn’t end up all alone.
It only took her a few days to decide that I should go and live in Donnacona. At the time, she was going through a rough patch with her partner and she quickly had to find someone to look after me. The woman my dad had decided to start a new life with was not exactly my biggest fan, and I don’t think my parents got along too well. She probably arrived at the Boivins by process of elimination.
The Boivins adored my mum, and she thought it was that simple, bless her. I know because I can sometimes be just as naïve as she was.
I’ve heard more stories about my mum’s decision than I can remember. But there’s one thing I know for sure: it was her decision, and it wasn’t up for debate.
I was at summer camp when she breathed her last. Just before I left for the week, we all knew she only had a few days left to live and everyone, my mother included, agreed that sending me off to the woods was for the best. I’m pretty sure she just wanted to get me out of seeing her die. Smart cookie.
When I got back from my trip, my dad was at a conference in the Eastern Townships with his girlfriend Sylvie.
The Boivins brought me back to Donnacona to tell me that my mum was dead. I remember that I was drinking a glass of tomato juice when they told me, and that there was nothing else to be said.
I unpacked my bag and I asked them if I could go and join my dad at his conference, because he’d told me that their hotel was really awesome and had the biggest swimming pool you’d ever seen in your life. I liked the idea of a break from the Boivin household and its oppressive atmosphere: no one said a word to each other, Monique and Réal just sat and watched TV reports about Félix Leclerc, who had upstaged my mum by dying three days before her. Plus, I reckoned that, given the circumstances, I deserved to do what I wanted.
Monique didn’t want me bothering my dad and his girlfriend. It was much too far to drive me all the way to the Eastern Townships, and Sylvie wouldn’t want to come and get me. I didn’t know where the Eastern Townships were, I assumed they were in the US because the name of the town she’d mentioned sounded English, and since I’d never left Canada, that seemed incredibly far.
So in the end, I had to wait a few days for them to come back to Trois-Rivières before I could go and join them. Not only did I miss out on swimming, Sylvie was super mad when she found out the Boivins had stopped me from calling.
“I stayed cooped up in that hotel room every day, waiting for you to call us to come and pick you up!”
“But that’s not my fault.”
“I know that, but still, I told them…”
“I dunno, they just said they didn’t want me to bother you.”
There are three things my dad despises above all else: waiting in line, kiwi fruit, and confrontation; so he gestured at Sylvie to be quiet, and we never spoke of it again.
Translated by Frances Pope