“Knives,” a short story
by Véronique Côté and Steve Gagnon
from I Never Talk About It
QC Fiction, 2017
translated by Guillaume Morissette
I am trying to pretend this isn’t happening to me, but it’s not easy. It’s like being in a fugue state, except I know that it’s completely useless, like making a parachute out of bed sheets to escape a house on fire. I feel ridiculous, yet I am still doing it. I can’t think of anything better.
Observing nature, a colour or a light, I try not to tell myself, “This might be the last time you see this, so save it, save it somewhere inside yourself so that you can return to it later.” I am trying not to create a cemetery inside myself for everything I find beautiful, for everything I’ve ever found beautiful, except the closer I get to my time being up, the more I discover new things I find beautiful. I feel like I am drunk on beauty, though not happy-drunk, just sad-drunk, just really fucking sad-drunk on beauty.
I haven’t told anyone. When I think about… Spending my summers at the lake. The water in the morning shining like a mirror and covered by a fine mist that makes you think, “My God, the birth of the universe must have looked like this.” Pink and frozen in time. The gorgeous morning pink, my pink fingers at dawn, with trees that look like they’re actually breathing. The sun rising. It was all so magnificent that it often made me feel like I hadn’t seen nearly enough sunrises in my life. What had I been so busy doing instead of watching the sun rise every day?
When I think about that, or my garden, the heads of lettuce growing, how discreetly pretty a head of lettuce growing is, except no one notices its beautiful shades of green, the little flowers that pop up, or the raspberries, the spicy red of a raspberry sweltering in the sun, when I think about the river, in the winter, the ice, the geese on the river banks, when I think about all of Charlevoix, I just freak out. The road. L’Isle-aux-Coudres. The tip of the island. The water and the mud, the clay, its rich gray colour, and the great blue herons standing in the middle of all of this, standing in a kind of peace that you can’t find anywhere else, standing in the soft atmosphere that peace creates.
I was very happy there. I was happy often in my life. The paintings of Jean Paul Lemieux. The paintings of Riopelle. The sea. The fires by the shore. The sky. My daughter’s face. My God! My daughter’s eyes. I can’t drive anymore. There’s nowhere for me to escape. Soon, I won’t be able to read anymore. I remember, when I learned how to read, I experienced a rare type of joy, one I had difficulty finding anywhere else after. I was a lonely child. I still remember telling myself, “I’ll never be alone again.” And here I am now, alone again.
None of this is for me anymore. I can’t get it through my head, that none of this is for me anymore, not for me anymore. Museums, nature, faces, all the things that cheered me up when I felt bad about human stupidity. Forests. Books. None of this is for me anymore.
Smiles. I am going blind.
I don’t know how to do this. How to quit. This. I’ve ordered two Faka throwing knives. Instead of spending whatever time I have left being able to see and obsessing over a beauty that’s driving me crazy, a beauty that’s tearing me apart because I know that one day it’ll end, I have decided to focus on a target. I have decided to teach myself how to throw knives so that I can offer my soul and make it stronger by sacrificing it to the cruel wolves of existence. I am going blind, which seems so unfair when you consider how much joy I get simply from looking at people, from looking at the light. I don’t want to go crazy. I am going to throw knives. In the dark if I have to. That’s what’s going to keep me alive. Throwing knives so that the dark doesn’t turn on me and swallow me whole.
I am going to throw knives and maybe once I am blind, I’ll be better able to see all the secrets hidden in the beauty around me.
Nervously translated by Guillaume Morissette
About the translator
Guillaume Morissette is the author of New Tab (Véhicule Press, 2014), which was a finalist for the 2015 Amazon.ca First Novel Award. His work has appeared in Maisonneuve Magazine, Little Brother Magazine, Vice, Electric Literature, The Quietus, and many other publications. He lives in Montreal.
The translator’s approach
“I grew up in Jonquière, Québec. French is my mother tongue, but I write and function primarily in English these days, so my life always feels to me like some sort of ongoing creative translation project like this one. My strategy to translate the piece I was assigned involved writing two drafts. My first draft was an almost word-for-word translation that felt sort of mechanical and emotionally hollow to me, like a plastic Christmas tree. I wrote the second draft a few weeks later by going over my translation and modifying the sentences simply to make them feel right to me, without allowing myself to look at the original story in French. The story I worked on features a protagonist who’s going blind, and so translating in this way, without looking at the original after my first draft, felt like a kind of blindness, which seemed appropriate for this piece.”
Guillaume Morisette is one of 37 different translators for I Never Talk About It, one for each story. (At the end of each story, translators reveal themselves to the reader and explain their approach.)