by Monique Proulx
from Sans cœur et sans reproche
The room was almost back to its familiar shape; a couple of objects still jumped and shapeshifted when observed too closely, but that was all. Ti-Cass was sitting on the edge of the bed, teeth chattering, hands over his ears, in the early stages of a panic attack. Max, meanwhile, stood upright in the centre of the room yelling like a maniac, deaf to anything other than his personal nightmare. For a moment, Benoît didn’t know what to do for the best. His efforts of persuasion and his calls for calm were an utter failure. Turning in hopeless circles like a dog on a lead, his eyes fell on the kitchen window through which the opposite balcony was visible. The old man in the vest was still there, just where he had been from time immemorial. It was getting light now, the dawn pale and chill. The old man had some sort of musical instrument in his mouth, which he must have been working silently, since no sound was reaching Benoît. The old man held up the instrument with a knowing look. (Later, Benoît would swear on his mother’s life that this episode – the old man and the balcony – was just another hallucination; that it wasn’t, that it couldn’t be real…)
So it was that Benoît, without really knowing why or how, took hold of the big flute that belonged to Luc and began to play. The sounds it made were like the cries of a sparrowhawk and the rustling of leaves. He played for a long time until eventually Max and Ti-Cass fell asleep, their faces blank, their muscles limp. And the smoky shadow of madness drifting above them finally thinned and disappeared like mist.
When they went back down onto rue Saint-Jean, still shaking off the last remnants of the drug, they had no idea that two whole days had passed – and that Ti-Cass’ father had called the police to search for them. It was a warm and fragrant evening, a final rosy burst of Indian summer, before they’d be shivering once more under the reign of eternal winter. Max, Ti-Cass and Benoît strode along the pavement, three abreast, shoulder to shoulder, bumping shamelessly into anyone who didn’t get out of their way. The hilarity from the beginning had returned – and something more, a brotherly kind of solidarity – and they elbowed each other hard in the ribs, for the simple joy of physical contact. The countless pedestrians pointed at things in the shop windows, trailing from one to the next “like a herd of cows on their way to the Cross,” Max pointed out eloquently, and they revelled in how different they were from everyone else, in their superiority over the poor crowds of dimwits who knew only banality. Was life even worth living without knowledge of the magical side of things, being always content with the miserable first degree of perception? The answer was no. At that very moment, the houses breathed out a perfume of musk and Canada goose, the wind was the colour of heather, the setting sun sang a triumphant oratorio that they heard through their toes, everything had a meaning and an incredible beauty, and no one knew it but them.
As they passed the window of Bar Chantauteuil, they spotted Luc sitting at a table with a group of his friends – old guys in their thirties, clutching their beers and caught up in a conversation of mysterious importance. Benoît stopped for a moment, and Max and Ti-Cass stopped too – not an insignificant detail, and one which brought to Benoît’s attention the new status of leader which had just been conferred on him.
“We’ll meet back here,” he decided on an impulse. “Same day, same time, ten years from now. Ten. Cross your heart, hope to die. Agreed?”
The other two nodded gravely. They were just kidding around, of course, they would never actually meet back there, the future was so incredibly far off – and Max would never reach thirty, not even twenty – but how could they have known that then? The evening was so beautiful, their happiness was so real, that Benoît started to dance right there in the street, to applause and hoots of laughter from the others.
Translation by Frances Pope