An Excerpt from Guyana by Élise Turcotte, translated by Rhonda Mullins

I needed to save my energy for the after-dinner chess game, but I couldn’t get Kimi’s smiling face out of my mind. I poured myself a drink, hiding it from Philippe’s view. If I could have, I would have locked myself in the bathroom to drink it. Having a glass of wine, then two, and then three… I had come to the conclusion that children see this as an act of weakness. The simple truth is that I have a witness to everything I do. Sometimes I resent Philippe for it. 

I had to think some more. A hole had just opened up in my everyday life, and I couldn’t help but look through it, even though doing so was dangerous. The implausibility of Kimi’s act made continuing on with my day and its series of activities seem almost unbearable. I couldn’t believe it was suicide. Kimi’s apparent happiness was what we had hung our future on. I hoped someone would call to explain what had really happened. Perhaps I had imagined it all, my conversation with Harriet and all the rest. I had to focus, and I was afraid that Philippe would start talking. There was a fog around me, and I didn’t want him to make it any denser – or to lift it, truth be told.

I picked up the phone and dialled the number for the salon. One day, someone would have to penetrate the four greying walls again and answer me. I knew it was an absurd thought. All the same, I had to dial the number and then hang up, like when in a moment of insanity one night you call the person who dumped you. It offers a semblance of proof of existence. And proofs of existence are important. Sometimes they are the only thing that will calm you.

In fact, I was finding proofs of Kimi’s existence pretty flimsy now that she was gone. Even the adjective ‘dead’ seemed unreal alongside her name.

I looked through the papers to see whether they said anything about her. Nothing, anywhere. And nothing in the obituaries, of course. The investigation wasn’t over, and the body had to be kept on ice in such cases. So Kimi’s body was resting in a morgue, and maybe no one was interested in that body except me. I was exaggerating my own importance, because she did have a fiancé. But I wasn’t ready yet for that thought, which led straight to other theories.

The day was still warm, and I went out on the deck to drink my glass of wine. Philippe joined me.
‘It’s summer,’ I said, turning my glass on the table.
‘Not yet, gawd!’
He sat across from me.
‘You’re not cutting any lilacs?’
‘Yes, in a minute.’
‘Why not now?’
‘Tonight, Philippe.’
‘Tonight we’re playing chess.’
‘I can do both.’
‘You won’t though.’
‘You’re right, I never keep my promises!’
I pushed a stray strand of his hair back into place. I would have liked to stroke his head until his eyes closed.
‘Maybe Kimi’s dead.’
‘Not everyone dies, Philippe.’
‘Of course everyone dies! What are you talking about?’ His blue eyes were lit by a small weak flame. ‘Except you,’ he added mischievously.
‘That’s right. Everyone dies except me.’
Rudi had the right to die. I even told him to go at the end, but it wouldn’t happen that way for me. I had to survive everything. It was oppressive.
But I had picked up the pieces pretty well, I thought.
I poured another drink.

I made dinner, pretending to be cheerful. We ate. Then we shuffled our pieces around the chess board, not exactly prodigies. I was the one making things seem gloomy; I wasn’t playing well. My mind was somewhere else. I lost the game, but Philippe took no pride in winning. I was ashamed. So for once, we went out for a bike ride under the stars. It was a good idea. Philippe relaxed, prattling on about the night. Whether he slept or not, he would win the tournament tomorrow. His will was stronger than anything. And I could predict the future, although I didn’t say so.

I prepared for the next day, where there was no room for Kimi. This was how I had been getting through the past year, one day at a time. The death of the tiny hairdresser – that’s what I had always affectionately called her – changed nothing. At least, that’s what I thought that night. Everything had to be visible; I had to see our lives in the rustling of the leaves in the trees; sometimes I had to freeze the frame, a self-awareness strong enough to see Philippe and me back to the present.


Élise Turcotte is a novelist and award-winning poet who has twice received the Prix Émile-Nelligan. Her novel The Alien House was shortlisted for the 2004 Governor General's Literary Award for Translation. Turcotte lives in Montreal, where she teaches at the CEGEP de Vieux-Montreal.

Rhonda Mullins is a translator, writer and editor. She translated Jocelyne Saucier’s Jeanne’s Road and And the Birds Rained Down, for which she was shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation, her second such nomination. Mullins lives in Montreal.

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