Authors: Nancy Huston
His shoulders heave, and tears come trickling through his fingers. We put a hand on his head and, sobbing, he buries his face between our dark breasts.
“I’m out of sorts ‘cause I went home over the weekend . . . hitchhiked all the way there . . . Thought everybody’d be glad to see me . . . but they didn’t give a fuck . . . Didn’t pay me any attention . . . I’m used to Marie-Thérèse being nasty, but this time it was especially . . . my da. He lit into me, called me weak and spineless . . . Said I had no gumption, no political convictions, nothin’. Said I was wasting my days on earth. How can a da talk that way to his son, Nita? I’ll never talk that way to my son, I can tell you that . . . He called me
, Nita! My own da called me
Gradually his sobs space themselves out and, with his head still weighing heavily on our chest, he begins to snore.
An X-ray image of Awinita’s spine, perfectly straight and normal. But suddenly her vertebrae turn into red balloons. They swell and expand until they literally
her, and the rest of her body is awkwardly curled up inside the colored, bobbing balls.
Awinita’s apartment on a Friday morning; Liz is staring at her.
“. . . You pregnant again, Nita?”
“. . .”
“Hey, Nita, don’t tell me you’re pregnant again. Don’t tell me.”
“Sweetheart, that’s bad news. You know that?”
“You want me to give you the address of somebody who . . .”
“Nah, it’s a’right . . . I like de guy.”
“You’re not supporting him, I hope.”
“Nah . . . Well, a bit. Just till he finds work. I don’t give him much.”
“Listen, Nita. If I were you, I’d get rid of that baby before it’s too late. Your credit’s running out. If you’re not careful, you’re gonna find yourself in the street. And a pregnant Indian whore in the street, I don’t need to tell you that spells trouble. Sweetheart, you wanna get married, settle down and have seventeen kids like those rabbity French Canadians, go right ahead! It’s no skin off my back, just so long as you pay me back what you owe me. I got plenty of hot young babes just itchin’ to take your place. You met Alison yet, by the way?”
“Moved into your room yesterday. She’ll be sleepin’ in Cheryl’s bed, seein’ as how Cheryl found herself a cushier job out at Trois-Rivières.”
“I tought dat was just a weekend gig.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t do part-time, Nita. You’re either with me or you’re without me. Is that clear?”
“Then toe the line, I’m warning you.”
CUT to the girls’ bedroom.
Alison is a thin, fragile-looking Haitian girl, clearly a novice. Lorraine and Deena giggle as they teach her the ropes.
“It’s nothin’, man,” says Lorraine. “Don’t worry. I mean, what’s a dick, right? To them it may be the be-all and end-all, but to you? Nothin’ at all!”
“Yeah,” Deena chimes in. “Dicks come and go, you know what I mean?”
The two of them cackle wildly.
“Dat ain’t true,” says Awinita from where she’s standing in the doorway.
“Huh?” says Deena.
Awinita looks at them impassively, not moving. Speaks simply.
“I tought it was notin’,” she says, “but it ain’t. You take deir dick, deir pain comes along wid it. Dey leave de pain behind. Dey go off, and de pain stays behind wit you.”
FADE TO GRAY.
Amidst moving shadows, a monster shakes in evil, soundless laughter. Other shapes surge and swarm before our eyes, shivering darkly. There is a shooting star.
Maybe that shooting star is you, Milo darling? Maybe it’s your soul suddenly entering your body? Awinita has just passed the critical three-month point of her pregnancy.
• • • • •
6. cream . . . chrism
Powerful nostalgia or lack. The term is virtually untranslatable.
to think about what we want to keep in and keep out from now on, Milo, baby. As it stands, we’ve got something like, uh, ballpark estimate . . . seven hours of film. Sure, there are a coupla precedents in the history of the medium—sublime trilogies such as Satyajit Ray’s
or Fritz Lang’s
. . . But still, we have to be careful. Wouldn’t want the audience’s attention to wander, now, would we? Especially in this next sequence, which deals with the most chaotic period in your whole life . . .
MAYBE START OFF
with news footage from the spring of 1970, during which the Front de Liberation du Québec sets off one bomb after another, killing six people and inflicting considerable material damage on symbols of English domination in the province. Windsor Station in Montreal (through which Neil dragged little Milo the day they first met), monument to Queen Victoria, Dominion Bank, Queen’s Printing Press, Loyola College, private mailboxes in the cushy Anglo suburb of Westmount, Bank of Nova Scotia, Royal Air Force . . . Milo can be seen gleaning these
events, sometimes on TV as he chats and laughs with prostitutes in sleazy bars, more often over the transistor that keeps him company as he shoots up in the men’s room of the Voyageur bus station, wanders through the dark back streets of Old Montreal, and sleeps out under bridges.
A summer’s night. High on heroin, Milo sinks onto his back in the grass, looks up at the night sky and sees a shooting star. (Right, Milo,
the shooting star. Yeah, I get the joke, you’re the star of the film and you’re shooting up. Great, very good, very funny.) Segue from the shooting star into the whiteness of his heroin heaven at age eighteen. Not a bland, colorless, boring white—no, a divine, milky, creamy white; a frothy, nourishing, tepid white, sweet as fresh cow’s milk—not buttery, not fatty and stomach-turning, no, the milk and honey of the River Jordan! The drug picks him up in its soft white arms and gives him the sublime, melting, liquid sensation of being held and rocked and soothed and sung to, comforted and cuddled and kissed forever and ever, amen.
Yes, Astuto, I know how much you loved heroin.
One day in May, the whiteness in Milo’s brain turns into that of a flock of Canadian geese that fills the entire sky. Pan to the young man staring up at them. Clinging to his arm is a pert and pretty, dark-haired girl by the name of Viviane, also looking up. Their mouths are open in amazement. Milo recites a few lines from “The Wild Swans at Coole.”
De trees are in deir autumn beauty,
De woodland paths are dry,
Under de October twilight de water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon de brimming water among de stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
Viviane looks at him adoringly.
“Sounds beautiful!” she says. “Who’s it by?”
“Never heard of him.”
“A great Irish poet from the beginning of the century. Good friend of my grandfather’s.”
“Boy, that grandfather of yours sure made a big impression on you. You talk about him all the time. You gonna introduce me to your folks one of these days?”
Milo grins broadly . . . and, to keep her from asking more questions, plants a fierce kiss on her mouth. Just then, in a deafening beating of wings, the wild geese alight in the field next to them and the couple bursts apart. It’s as if they had caused the event—as if a thousand large white birds had landed just to watch them kiss. They contemplate this living, threshing sea of whiteness at close range.
CUT to a red Chevy convertible, Viviane at the wheel, her dark hair tied back in a ponytail, speeding through the state of Nevada. As the sun beats down on his face, Milo leans back in the passenger seat with his feet on the dashboard.
CUT to the two of them making torrid love in a small hotel room in Reno, Viviane on top.
CUT to a private home in L.A., a couple of deck chairs by a swimming pool. Dressed in a skimpy bikini, Viviane is sipping a gin and tonic through a straw and letting a tall, dark, handsome stranger talk her up. Milo and their host are playing chess at a table under a pergola a few yards away. From time to time, Milo glances over to check out the scene next to the swimming pool, and the host watches him watching. When Viviane and the stranger rise and glide toward the house hand in hand, Milo moves his queen.
“Well, well,” the host says. “I wonder where that lovely girlfriend of yours has wandered off to.”
“Checkmate,” says Milo.
CUT to Milo running alone on the beach as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. A long, searingly beautiful shot.
He and Viviane hug each other good-bye. She puts her suitcase into the trunk of a white Chrysler convertible and the handsome stranger drives her away.
Milo and his host at midnight, next to a campfire on the beach. After dropping a couple of tabs of psilocybin, they make sublime love in the sand. The camera politely turns upward to film more shooting stars overhead, but we gather from the sound track that Milo’s sex pushing warmly into him is making the host so happy that he weeps. Milo shouts when he comes—a gorgeous shout.
(Important decision that summer: you take advantage of the hospitality and kindness of this wealthy Californian to shake your drug habit. Even in the ideal conditions your host provides for you, your withdrawal—like your mother’s twenty years earlier—lasts a full month and is undiluted hell . . . but you wade through it, Astuto wonder, and come out on the other side. I love you for that, though I admit I haven’t got the slightest idea how to film it.)
At summer’s end, Milo drives Viviane’s red car back east through Canada. Stops in Saskatchewan to pick up a female hitchhiker with carrot-colored hair. The girl is wearing blue jean cutoffs, a bright pink shirt knotted above her midriff, dirty old sandals and a black Stetson, pulled down past her eyebrows so the wind won’t blow it off. Milo chats with her as country-western music blares from the radio (Patsy Cline? yeah, let’s say Patsy Cline). The girl laughs a lot, crinkling her eyes at his jokes. Her name is Roxanne.
Milo and Roxanne make love in a cheap motel room. Close-up on the bedside table: we recognize a packet of birth control pills. Times have changed.
Milo moves his things into Roxanne’s dark little apartment in East Toronto.
CUT to an interview with the dean at the University of Toronto.
“Yes, Mr. Noirlac, I’ve grasped the fact that your girlfriend is registered in the nursing program here, but I’m afraid that does not qualify you ipso facto for our theater program. We absolutely must have access to your school record, at least some sort of proof that you graduated high school.”
“I understand, sir, but alas, my school it is in ze rural Quebec, and it burn down in ze spring.”
“I see. Well, it’s probably just as well you left; all hell’s breaking loose up in La Belle Province, as they call it. Large numbers of Quebeckers will be leaving soon, if you want my opinion. Large numbers of anglophones, especially, taking their money with them. An independent Quebec won’t have an economic leg to stand on. Be that as it may, if you wish to attend this institution, you’ll need to take entrance examinations.”
“No problem, sir.”
CUT to the dean warmly shaking Milo’s hand as he winds up a short speech on Opening Day.
“Not only did Milo Noirlac pass those exams with flying colors, ladies and gentlemen, but I’m proud to announce that the university has awarded him a scholarship to cover his tuition for the next two years.”
The audience applauds.
Voice-over (actually I’m not sure of this, but we can put it in now and take it out later): beyond the drone of Opening Day speeches
at this institution formerly known as King’s College, maybe we could hear Neil’s thoughts during his commencement ceremony at Trinity half a century earlier:
Do they not know? Is it
they do not know that Irish babies are dying of hunger a mere stone’s throw from here? That hundreds of our country’s best men are rotting in the jails of Britain for having dared to defend our dream of independence? That their world is about to go up in flames?
Yes, Trinity College in Dublin and King’s College in Toronto—founded some two and a half centuries apart but both under the auspices of a friggin’ British monarch, eh? . . .
IN RAPID ALTERNATION
between English and French: scenes from the year 1970–71, the Toronto scenes shot in studio, the Quebec scenes taken from press archives. Sound track: excerpts from the FLQ Manifesto, maybe mixed with rock music from the time (Charlebois or Joplin) . . . and always, faintly, in the background, the capoeira beat.
Milo sitting up late into the night, working with gusto at the kitchen table, smiling as he writes . . .
Like more and more Quebeckers, we are fed up with paying taxes that Ottawa’s envoy to Quebec wants to hand over to anglophone bosses to “incite” them, if you please, to speak French and negotiate in French. Repeat after me: main-d’oeuvre à bon marché means cheap labor;
British diplomat James Richard Cross and Labour Minister Pierre Laporte are kidnapped by the Front de Libération du Québec.
Ta, ta-da DA, ta, ta-da DA . . .
Milo and Roxanne walking in Toronto Island on a Sunday afternoon—cottages, gardens, paths, sunlight trickling through red leaves and dappling the sidewalks . . .
fed up with our obsequious government, bending over backward to seduce American millionaires, begging them to come and invest in Quebec, that Beautiful Province in which thousands of square miles of forests full of game and lakes
full of fish are the exclusive property of these all-powerful lords of the twentieth century . . .
Pierre Elliott Trudeau announces the implementation of the War Measures Act. Mounted police gallop madly through the streets of Montreal . . .
Ta, ta-da DA, ta, ta-da DA . . .
Canadian army helicopters whir overhead.
Milo and Roxanne making love . . .
fed up with hypocrites like Bourassa, who use the armored cars of Brink’s, that perfect symbol of foreign occupation of Quebec, to maintain the province’s poor “natives” in the terror of poverty and unemployment to which they are so well accustomed . . .
Sirens, flashing lights, police searches . . .
Ta, ta-da DA, ta, ta-da DA . . .
Posted on every street corner in downtown Montreal, thousands of helmeted, camouflage-uniformed soldiers hold their machine guns at the ready . . .
Milo and Roxanne quarreling in the kitchen—Roxanne throws a cup at Milo; it grazes his forehead and smashes against the wall; he leaves the house.
Fed up with promises of employment and prosperity, whereas we’ll always be the eager servants and bootlickers of the big shots . . .
Civil liberties are suspended. Huge demonstrations are held.
Ta, ta-da DA, ta, ta-da DA . . .
People are beaten, kicked and dragged by the police; blood runs down their faces. Five hundred well-known artists, writers, organizers and militants are arrested and thrown in jail.
Milo watching TV, a six-pack of Molson and a carton of Player’s at his side . . .
As long as there are Westmounts, Mount Royals, Hampsteads and Outremonts, those impregnable fortresses of Saint Jacques Street and Wall Street high finance, we Quebeckers will resort to any means necessary, including dynamite and guns, to kick out the big bosses of economy and politics, knowing they will stop at nothing to screw us over . . .
Pierre Laporte’s dead body is found in the trunk of a car, a chain around its neck.
Ta, ta-da DA, ta, ta-da DA . . .
Milo in bed. The Black Hole has got him.
Roxanne (wearing different clothes, to show that days are passing) bends over him solicitously: “What’s the matter, my love?” . . .
“Are you going to get up today?” . . . “You haven’t left the house in more than a week.” . . . “What’s the matter, my love?” . . . “Did something happen?” . . . “Did something happen, Milo? Are you depressed?” . . . “Do you want me to call a doctor?”
Turning away from her, Milo pulls the blankets up over his head and feigns sleep. Sleep is still and always a problem for him. (Even today, my love, even today . . .)
The telephone rings. He sits bolt upright in bed and yells.
Roxanne rushes into the bedroom: “What’s the matter? Jesus Christ . . . You scared the shit out of me.”
She bursts into tears. Milo holds out his arms to her in hopes that she will comfort him.
“It’s okay,” they whisper to each other. “We’ll be all right.”
“I just made some tea,” says Roxanne. “Do you want a cup?”
Milo nods. Slowly gets out of bed and hobbles into the kitchen. Can’t look at Roxanne. Sits down at the table. Pours salt instead of sugar into his tea.
They look at each other . . . then avert their eyes, each embarrassed to see the other knows they know that it is not okay. They will not be all right. No, not at all . . .
I’VE SEEN YOU
that way, Astuto. I’ve seen you sink into lots of black holes over the years and lose lots of stuff in their depths—and when I say stuff, I mean fairly important stuff. Language. Your name . . . your profession . . . your age . . . your wallet . . . your computer . . . track of time. Yeah, I’ve seen you vanish, man. Turn into a void before my fuckin’ eyes—and a
at that! No way anyone can kiss you then. Nothing anyone can do but let you stare at the wall for as long as it takes you to snap out of it. It’s pretty impressive. You succumb utterly to your malaise. Surrender all arms. Relinquish language and revert to pure, animal survival. Say nothing, see no one, stay home, stare at the wall. A triumph of inertia. A splendor of blackness. All your energy condensed into an invisible point in the depths of you, one that takes up no space but freezes everything around it.
It feels like turning to ice,
I remember your telling me once. Yeah, like Glacier—the white giant of Indian legend who invaded the northern lands in prehistory, shaping hills, polishing stones, slowly displacing millions of tons of rocks and gravel, covering all, paralyzing all for thousands of years.
But ice is nice,
Can’t do much wit water. Ice, you can sculpt.