In Translation

Peut-être jamais

by Maxime Collins

Les Éditions de l’interdit, 2014

The last words I utter through my clenched teeth are crystal clear. I’m bisexual. And nothing’s going to change that. On the other end of the line, my mother is up in arms, but I’ve already hung up.

I run out of the apartment to the car that’s waiting for me. A screeching of tires, just like in the movies, and all of this will be just a distant memory, one without consequence.

We spend our lives running away from something. Or from each other. It’s inevitable. We’re living proof of that. Here. Now. I want to think about something else, but I just can’t shake this sense of unease. We’re already somewhere else, far from conflict. And we’re acting as if nothing is wrong.

Heading toward Quebec City, the New Beetle speeds along Highway 40 and the spruce trees blur together into one long, monotonous landscape. Snowflakes are softly falling, in stark contrast to the silent tension that surrounds us. Hands on the wheel, Sarah stares at the horizon. Sébastien is silent, perched on the middle of the back seat like an attentive schoolboy. I can see the reflection of his smile in the mirror of my sun visor and I don’t need to ask him why he’s so happy. Running away always makes you happy. In the beginning.

It’s a simple story. Sarah refuses to go back to Laval to confront Romain, Sébastien’s trying to avoid Christophe because he’s too annoyingly “French,” and I’m free, finally free of a secret I’d been keeping deep down inside of me to hold the family together and keep up the illusion of being the perfect son. A new-found freedom just as terrifying as jumping off a bridge without a rope. Apprehension. Dizziness. Palpitations. Freefall. When I ask myself what I’m doing here, the only thing clear is my answer: I am here for myself. To learn about my ambivalence.

I met Sarah by chance. Well, she always says that’s not true. Tells me that life brought me to her, that everything is predestined, but I’m adamant and stand my ground. I wasn’t supposed to work at that branch of the bank on that particular morning. Last-minute transfer.

She came up to my counter on the verge of tears. I could barely understand what she was sniffling on about, but her green eyes did all the talking. Raw emotion. A story like so many others. A seemingly insignificant discovery that reveals a hidden truth. Her man, with another woman. Surely prettier, smarter, and better in bed. A blocked joint account. Penniless, overnight.

There’s nothing like reading someone’s bank statement to get an instant insight into their life. Everything is right there: debts, purchases, withdrawals, stores, websites, credit cards, you name it. If she’d paid attention to her bank statements, she’d have seen that her beloved Romain was helping himself to a bit on the side.

“Want to stop somewhere?”

“Sure, whatever.”

“Help me out a little. What do you want to eat?”

I let them talk it over. I prefer to listen to them. It’s like they’re humming a tune just for me. They have to shout to make themselves heard, but they know I’ll throw a tantrum like a toddler if Sarah dares to touch the volume on the radio. The Manic Street Preachers fill our entire space with The Everlasting. It’s a thing of mine. The road is for music, not conversation. I hate people who insist on “talking things over” in the car. They ruin this precious time we have to think and drift off into infinity.

Sébastien loses patience and reaches forward to turn the music down. I clench my teeth, and let it slide. Only because this is a time to be happy. The New Year is on its way. It should erase the pain caused by the last one. If only it were so easy.

Moving away from the radio, his hand finds a better place, fingers running through my hair. His delicate touch gives me goose bumps and I feel like shivering, but my face remains stoic. He asks me what I want to eat, and I reply, point blank, “Your dick!”

Right away that hits a nerve for Sarah. She grips the wheel.

Sébastien lays it on even thicker. “That’s right! Why don’t you come join me in the back? You don’t like to talk when we’re on the road, but I know you like to have something to suck on!”

We laugh while Sarah tries to keep her cool. Just a fingertip on her shoulder is all it would take to send her over the edge. She’s approaching thirty, and Sébastien’s already close to thirty-four. If I wonder about their motives, all I see are two slightly wayward souls searching for some kind of happiness that slipped away too quickly, escaping as the years stack up. A couple of teenagers, really. More mature, of course, but these are two adults who have lived through the most painful of break-ups. Hedonistic to the point of self-harm, blowing hundreds of dollars on alcohol before vomiting their excesses a few hours later. Extreme examples. Landmarks to show me I’m still alive, even though I’m only twenty-one.

I met Sébastien through Christophe, a student ten years my senior, who didn’t stick around for long in the literature class, preferring to dive headfirst into communications instead. More action. Not as scary as having to read all those books. Not as much loneliness. From that point on, everything went off the rails. Christophe started hanging out with new friends. A younger crowd, way hotter than Sébastien. And while he was away, I was the one taking his place in the bed they used to share.

My new guy is nothing like my last one. Jean-François, the one I looked up to, my idol, the friend who filled me with joy as soon as he undressed before me. Three years of secrets. Three years of desire, 4 a.m. porno flicks, and blow jobs in the woods. Entire days in the student lounge with our girlfriends, sitting face to face, holding their hands while we played footsie under the table. The summer I turned eighteen was the best. Then came the fall. His big fingers, hardened by all the boxing and weight training, curled around the back of my neck one last time to admit the worst. A girl. A girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. The blueprint for all those he used to look at distractedly online while I turned all my attention to getting him to loosen up. That girl stole my life. Without even knowing it. Because no one was supposed to know. What would his family have said? His sparring partners and coworkers? He didn’t even want his dog to be in the same room as us.

This has got to stop. That was all he was able to pay me in lip service, but I understood exactly what he meant.

Are we going to be able to see each other again?

Gab…

I pulled away angrily. Channelling my pain into rage. Wishing him dead before my eyes.

He walked away, hunched over, probably because he realized he was turning his back on the best blow jobs of his life. I screamed that everyone would know. That revenge was worth the loss. He stopped for a moment, as if he wanted to tell me that it was time for him to go out with a girl now, that he had nothing to lose anymore. All the same, a hundred metres away, there he was, heading home to pack his bags and leave the family home for good.

“OK, I’ll take the next exit. There’s a Mickey D’s or a St. Hubert. What do you want?”

I pull a face; I don’t feel like anything, other than getting to Quebec City as quickly as possible. First time away from the family at Christmas. Had to break with tradition sooner or later. The easy excuse. Mom, I’m going up to Sarah’s parents’ in Sept-Îles. She knew her well, my beautiful Sarah, the girl who’d saved her son from his dirty impulses. My dear mother had dared to suggest out loud that my sexual deviations were “just a phase.” One day, she walked in on Jean-François and me in my room, since she always came in without knocking. I’d just kneeled down on the floor, ready to unzip my best friend’s jeans to uncover his teenage excitement, already standing to attention. The door closed again just as quickly and not a word had been spoken about the incident since—until this afternoon.

Hesitation, uncertainty, then came the big question. Are you gay? Are you done experimenting? The same old misconception of masculine love, the impression that it would pass, as if it were an impossible road because it didn’t unite a man and a woman.

My mother had “adopted” Sarah in a heartbeat. She preferred to imagine herself surrounded by grandkids rather than panic at the thought of ending up with a son-in-law. Finally I understood what a united family meant—somewhere you could love someone in the open, without the secrecy and the things that go unsaid. A pure love that exists like the air we breathe and forget about. Even my father, a man of few words, had opened up to her easily. Sarah was normal. She enjoyed nice meals and wanted to take classes at the restaurant and hotel tourism training institute in a few months’ time. Her beautiful green eyes had taken care of the rest. I wonder what would’ve happened if Sébastien had been there in her place. I’m not sure all that happiness and those dinners when the wine just kept on flowing would have put so many stars in my parents’ eyes. But right now, that’s not important anymore. The car stops in a typical rest stop parking lot. The doors clunk shut and I feel the tiniest snowflakes melt into my face. Right away, Sébastien takes Sarah’s hand in his. I let them do their thing. I like it when they act like this in public. It’s like I’m witnessing the love I have for them. No St. Hubert or Mickey D’s in the end. Sébastien leads us into a “real” snack bar, a kind of mini-house painted white that you might have thought was abandoned if there weren’t so many people walking toward the same place.

I let them sit down in the old-fashioned leather booth before I do. A little ritual that means I won’t miss any of their show. Sarah’s auburn hair shines under the soft fading light of the day. The menus are already on the table and I lean in so I can read what the pictures don’t convey.

“It feels so good to get out of Montreal!” I say. They both agree, then look at me, waiting for my reaction. I remind myself of my father, discreet and silent. It’s like I’m watching a life unfold before my eyes, a life where I’m living in the shadow of a “normal” couple.

Sébastien slips his arm around Sarah, then his other hand grabs my thigh under the table. I think about those childish games I used to play with Jean-François and can’t help but smile. This trip is well earned. With work in the daytime and literary studies in the evening, I get the impression I’m just a number, a servant to society. That said, I’m sure many would kill for half of what I possess right now. Possession. That’s the right word for it. When I possess Sarah, I forget everything. She’s mine, she belongs to me. When I’m inside her, she swallows me and yields to the rhythm of my movements. But if Sébastien possesses me, I forget my identity. I am nothing more than an object between two male hands. I have often tried to understand why I like to dominate a woman, but submit myself to a man. It’s like an animal instinct. And while my friends get drunk or get high at student parties, I abandon myself to pleasure. To each his own addiction.

A waitress who reminds me of my grandma comes over to ask what we’re having. We order wine. Obviously. Wine never makes me feel sad. It puts colour in my cheeks and a glassy look in my eyes that makes Sarah go weak at the knees. She always tells me the same thing. You’re always more honest with a glass of red in your blood. I wasn’t lying, though. If I’d wanted to lie, Sébastien wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t be allowed to touch me in front of her. He wouldn’t be allowed to caress her in front of me. When I introduced them, I knew right away I’d have to live with this precarious balance between sharing and possession. I hadn’t planned any of it. Life takes care of these surprises.

The first night happened at Sébastien’s place. Christophe was away, staying with friends in northern France. The bottles of wine had racked up fast, as had the cigarettes. We were like three shipwrecks on the couch, but our hands were already wandering like earthworms searching for a crack in the ground after the rain.

They’ve never needed my approval. Simply knowing I had slept with them both separately was reassuring to them. It didn’t take much more for Sébastien to touch his lips to mine. With Sarah’s eyes fixated on mine, I kneeled down on the floor, fingers trembling. I had to unzip this guy’s pants while I kept my left hand close to this girl’s heart. Like my body was split in two, attracted in one direction and the other. Mind and thoughts scattered. Dancing to the beat of a record named Londinium. A few drops of wine spilled on the floor. My mouth open to theirs. A plea smothered by desire. Help me. Help me forget about Jean-François.

Everything is always slower, softer, and more risqué with a woman. Man to man, nothing is an issue. I wondered when Sarah was going to put an end to things and say stop, it’s too much.

 

PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32Translation by David Warriner
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