by David Bouchet
translated by Claire Holden Rothman
Véhicule Press (Esplanade Books), 2017
I’ve heard it said that troubles don’t arrive alone. One trouble leads to the next, and often the second one is worse than the first. Pa once told me that the Japanese have an expression for this: A wasp stings the crying face.
While I’m heading home along Masson Street, a real ambulance passes me, followed by a police car, lights flashing and siren blaring. They turn onto 5th Avenue, my street and Charlotte’s. This must be serious. Denise doesn’t usually send for an ambulance and the police together. It’s just one more siren for Charlotte. She’s always getting hit by surprises. Her life is like a movie in which all these impossible things happen when you least expect them. But Charlotte always expects the unexpected, because things keep happening to her, whether she expects them or not.
I turn onto 5th Avenue and bump into Charlotte, who’s retraced her steps and is looking at me strangely. And everything’s strange because the ambulance isn’t in its usual spot on the street. And there are two police cars lighting up everything like a film set. I realize that this chaos of light and noise isn’t for Charlotte’s mother. It’s in front of my house, in front of my family’s apartment, and there’s even neon yellow tape stretched across the sidewalk stopping us from going inside. A policewoman asks us to cross to the other side.
Charlotte says that I live there, but the policewoman won’t listen and won’t allow us in. So we cross the street, and Charlotte looks at me and I know she’s scared. She doesn’t want to stay because she can deal with trouble when it comes her way, but not when it comes to somebody else. She doesn’t want to wait around on the sidewalk. She gives me a helpless stare and I don’t know what to say. For some strange reason, I smile at her. She turns around and goes home, where for once it’s peaceful, which she wasn’t expecting. I understand. I’d like to follow right after her and hide in her bedroom, make myself small and slip under her bed, because fear is filling me now, too.
I end up alone on the sidewalk, standing stiff as a hydro pole, all cut up and flayed. I can’t go home—it’s blocked by tape. I don’t even know if I want to go home. I’m paralyzed. Everything’s silent. But the stillness is broken by the whirling lights that blind me and make me shut my eyes. The paramedics and the police are walking back and forth. One of them is talking into his car radio, and it’s so much like tv that honestly, I can’t help wondering who’s died.
But all of a sudden what I see isn’t a corpse being brought out on a stretcher. I see Pa, wrapped in a sheet like a ghost, attached at the wrists and legs to this weird-looking chair. Head nodding, his body completely still, he’s carried by two paramedics and a police officer. Pa isn’t even black anymore. He’s grey from so much time in the basement. Or maybe this new skin colour is due to fear. The three men carry him out of the house. I don’t know why he’s tied down and wrapped up, but afterwards, Mère will tell me that Pa turned violent and the police officers shot him with a Taser gun, an electric pistol that discharges 50,000 volts, temporarily robbing people of muscle control.
They load Pa into the ambulance and behind them I see Mère in tears and my little sister Lila crying too. And Mère, who notices me on the other side of the street, stands there gaping with Lila in her arms, shielding Lila’s eyes because she’s terrified of all the lights and the people.
From behind her window, Charlotte is watching the scene. She doesn’t understand everything, but she must know now that I’ve lied to her, that I’ve kept things from her all this time, especially since she’d already noticed that Pa never went out anymore.
The ambulance doors slam shut.
For fear, you can use the word “fear.” For pain, you can use the word “pain.” For shame, the word “shame,” for distress, “distress.” But right now, for all these feelings erupting at once in Mère’s eyes, in my sister’s tears and in the pit of my heart, I don’t know what word to use. I’m not sure this has a name.
And Bibi, who’s playing hockey with his friends, isn’t even here. I wish I were wherever he is. Oh, how I’d like to be my big brother right now—easygoing, worry-free, running and jumping, laughing and feeling nothing.
Because I can’t bear what I’m seeing, because this nameless feeling is so heavy that I start to run just to avoid collapsing and being crushed. I run hard, following the ambulance that just pulled away, because I don’t want Pa to leave like this, because he’s okay, he’s okay and I haven’t even said goodbye.
“Paaaa! Paaaa! Paaaa!”
On the street, people stop and stare, startled, trying to figure out what the little black kid is doing chasing after a yellow ambulance, yelling at the top of his lungs. This isn’t a nightmare. It’s real life. And when my lungs burn so badly it feels like a volcano is erupting in my chest, when I reach Saint-Joseph Boulevard only to see the ambulance already far off in the distance, when my breath can’t keep up with my feet any longer and my feet can’t take another step, I stop. I look at the ground.
A big hole is opening under me, a bottomless black chasm, and I want to throw myself in, I want to stop living, because it’s hard to live in a nightmare.
Translation by Claire Holden Rothman
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