Camille Deslauriers’ stories range from distilled flash fiction to longer pieces like those in Eaux troubles, her collection of linked short stories about a group of students at a Montreal private high school. Deslauriers’ work often focuses on adolescence, that fragile, fumbling period when, in her words, “we are tightrope walkers. Anything can tip us over. Or make us to discover that we have wings.” ≈
by Camille Deslauriers
≈ translated by Susan Lemprière
IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
It’s like lying way out in space.
To her left, the Millennium Falcon;
to her right, the Death Star.
She’s laughing ‒ she can’t believe it: the pale blue sheets on Nathan’s bed, they have Star Wars on them, he’s fifteen!
She’s not laughing now ‒ her Hello Kitty panties yanked off and already he’s coming, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick… grunting. It’s like she just did it with Chewbacca!
“Did you come?”
Above all, lie ‒ say yes, look starry eyed.
Afraid she must be frigid, feeling like she’s got nothing but sandpaper between her legs.
Losing her virginity in a galaxy far, far away, with no condom or foreplay, between Social Studies and Biology, at lunch time when Nathan’s parents are out.
Then being blamed for staining the sheets.
No, Mademoiselle Sénéchal her art teacher is wrong. Moema’s not off in the clouds again. In fact, she’s right down here on earth, inventing a plant existence for herself. She’s deep in the jungle of “if I was a…” If I was a lichen, if I was a liana, if I was a lily…
Moema just can’t get into painting still lifes in the style of Cézanne or Chardin. Two strokes of the paintbrush and she’s off, flying miles away from her skinny body, coffee-coloured skin and mop of kinky hair. She’s off living her life in shades of green: apple, olive, pistachio, lime, almond, avocado, algae.
No, Moema’s not off in the clouds. She’s vegetating, in the poetic sense of the word.
It took a reprimand from her French teacher Monsieur Gauthier to finally put a real word, a beautiful unique word, a word as colourful and luminous as an emerald, on what everybody else calls her attention deficit. Deficit. Such an ugly word! A word evoking economics, mathematics. Imbalance, impasse. Visits to the neuropsychologist.
Mademoiselle Moema, stop vegetating and get to work! “Vegetate”: Moema instantly loved that word. She looked it up in her dictionary. From there got: vegetative cellulose collodion, polymer thallophyte bacteria. Parasites. Suddenly all the kids in her class had head lice.
When Moema opens her dictionary, she jumps right in with both feet like a child in a puddle of muddy water and gleefully splashes away reality. Suddenly no more French class. No more imperative mode. No more pronouns irregular verbs agreement. No more Monsieur Gauthier even. A few more jumps and she doesn’t even bother reading the definitions anymore. She just pronounces the words in her head, repeats them, pulls them apart, weaves them back together. It’s like a sound puzzle, and she laughs and laughs and laughs. Ends up getting sent to the principal’s office just like she always does.
Even though Moema can’t stand Monsieur Gauthier’s nasal voice, she still likes him better than all her other teachers. With his insect stare and those tufts of hair sticking up like antennae, she’s sure he can sense things that other teachers can’t. Like her love of words and the parallel lives she leads far from grammar lessons and literary analysis.
≈ ≈ ≈
Another French course without Monsieur Gauthier.
No, she’s not off in the clouds.
That substitute teacher with the glasses who’s been after them all week to write poetry, she never should have read Moema’s text out loud in front of the whole class. If I was a plant, I’d be a columbine.
Now, every day at school is a petal falling.
Some kid behind her just called her that hideous name again. Chia head. And given her a slap on the neck too. All those stupid white kids laughing, they think they’re so superior with their pale skin and their blonde red brown hair that’s so soft so thin so smooth.
Chia head. All because of a metaphor, If I was a plant. They could have laughed at anything else ‒ her almond-shaped eyes, her plum-sized breasts, her cinnamon-coloured lips, her arms like spindly branches. But no, they had to laugh at her hair, her kinky chia hair.
Moema takes refuge in her dictionary like she always does. She jumps from word to word, splashing away the row of idiots sitting behind her. Their pale skin, their blonde red brown hair, their smooth heads: covered in dirty water, tar, oil, grease. She can’t stop laughing.
≈ ≈ ≈
Audrey, the school psychologist, is so much cooler that Mr. Shentam, the neuropsychologist. In her office Moema is free to invent a plant existence for herself out loud. She can become a liana. Today Audrey tells her to pretend it’s real, to describe exactly what she’s feeling. So Moema unfurls, rhizome by rhizome. She feels the long stem of her long brown body mulatto body sending out branches. She feels the branches growing longer and longer and longer. With her adventitious roots, she grabs onto the crevices in the school’s walls. She stretches, expands, spreads like a weed, invading the whole wall until she’s covered all the graffiti written in big black letters on the dirty bricks: Chia head ugly as sin.
≈ ≈ ≈
If I was a plant, I’d be a flytrap, I’d be a sundew, I’d be a carnivore. Moema imagines. Exactly like she does in Audrey’s office. She unfurls. Leaf by leaf, rosette by rosette. She imagines the long stem of her mulatto body growing longer and longer and longer. She reaches out her tentacles and encircles the head of the impostor French teacher who is again asking her if she is off in the clouds.
Snatch that substitute teacher with the glasses. Cover her in sticky mucous, squeeze her until she’s numb. Crush her. Hear the loud cracking of bones in her skull.
Moema concentrates very hard and the whole class wonders why the substitute is gasping for air like that.
≈ ≈ ≈
Moema stands naked and dripping wet in front of the bathroom mirror. She’s just made an irrevocable decision.
Now all she needs is a pair of scissors.
Her kinky hair: petals falling. All those tight black curls. If I was a columbine in the wind. Moema imagines. Pink white blue petals fill up the sink, spill over the counter and onto the floor.
Her father’s shaving brush, lots of shaving cream, a new blade: her head completely shaved.
No more chia head.
Moema looks at herself in the mirror. Not Black or White. Instead: joyous, verdant green on the inside. I look so much prettier like this, she thinks. Plump lips, long lashes. Even her new bald brown head brings out the almond shape of her eyes.
Moema floats out the door like pollen on the wind, high over the heads of her fuming parents. ≈