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Tatouine by Jean-Christophe Réhel: An excerpt

By Jean-Christophe Réhel.
Translated by Katherine Hastings & Peter McCambridge.

Jean-Christophe Réhel, Tatouine,translated by Katherine Hastings & Peter McCambridge (QC Fiction, September, 2020)

My bed takes on the shape of my body. When I walk, I take on the shape of the sidewalk. When I speak, I take on the shape of all the garbage I spout. I run through my list of meds. There are so many, all of them keeping me alive. Good job, meds. But today I’ve run out of some. I call the lab at the drugstore. The pharmacist knows me well. She always opens with, “What can I do for you, love?” I reel off my list like it’s a grocery order. Colistin bananas, Advair Diskus with lettuce, and a syringe loaf. Yes, thank you, that’s very kind. I go up to the kitchen. It doesn’t look like Norm is home. I peer out the window, take a look to see if there are any birds around, think of Return of the Jedi. I go read up about Jedi knights online. There are all kinds of books and parallel stories set before, during, and after the movies. I explore the hundreds and hundreds of made-up planets, species, spaceships, weapons, and types of food. I’d like to eat Lamta. I could be brushing up on socialism in postwar Germany or reading the philosophical works of Kierkegaard, but instead I’d rather know that the Jedi High Council sits on the planet Coruscant. I make myself two slices of toast with Norm’s Cheez Whiz. I don’t think of his teeth. I promise myself I’ll go buy some groceries and drop by the pharmacy. I have another look for birds. There’s got to be at least one. I don’t see any. There are breadcrumbs around my plate. I perform a voodoo ritual. A voodoo ritual involving Cheez Whiz. I think about Tatooine: a sand planet where everyone is poor. I’d like to have a Gaderffii stick with a poisoned blade. I’d like to wear a breathing apparatus and live in a tent made from Bantha hide. I should invent the ideal planet, just for me. I’d call it Tatouine, almost the same as the real one, but just different enough. There, I’d be an out-of-work sandman, but I’d still be super rich; all my problems would disappear and life would be good. It crosses my mind that every fall I manage to miss absolutely every single book launch in Montreal. My thoughts turn to Darth Maul. I imagine a battle between Darth Vader and Darth Maul. By my calculations, Darth Maul would be in deep shit, that’s for sure. I imagine Darth Maul tumbling off the deck. I imagine Darth Maul, his body cut in two on Rue Richelieu. I wish I had a little speeder so that I could go to all the book launches in Montreal. I wish people would tell me, “Your speeder’s really cool!” I wash my plate, get dressed, put on my coat. I don’t have a key yet. I leave a note in the kitchen to remind Norm. I don’t want him to be annoyed that I left the door unlocked. It’s freezing outside. The temperature has plummeted. There’s frost on my car windows. I can’t help but think of the Nelligan poem. I don’t even like that poem. I wonder what Nelligan’s writing would have been like if he’d had a car. I wonder if you can see blond skies disappearing from a beat-up, old Mazda. I wait until the heater has melted the frost away. I notice that my winter coat is losing its feathers. A small, white feather drifts above my parking brake. There are blond birds over my parking brake, Nelligan! Nelligan! Do you hear me, Nelligan? Dumbass.

 

I’m in the little waiting room at the pharmacy. I think Qui-Gon Jinn’s my favourite Jedi. A guy the same age as me is holding a baby in his arms; it’s screaming blue murder. It reminds me a little of Elliott Smith. I pull a face at the baby behind the father’s back. I like pulling faces at babies behind people’s backs. Weird, I know, but it is what it is. I watch the baby’s eyes widen in surprise, which makes me laugh. It stops crying, forgets why it was sad. It stares at me. I pull another face. It can’t believe it. I wish it worked for me, too. I wish people would pull faces at me on every block. I rummage around in my pockets. I’ve got fistfuls of Monopoly money from McDonald’s. Maybe enough for a free cheeseburger. I’m happy and more than a little pleased with myself for saving up all those McDonald’s coupons since the promotion started. The pharmacist calls me over to the counter. She gives me my bag of meds. She doesn’t pull a face. It costs me $84.06. I don’t have private insurance, just the public plan. I have to pay part of my meds, which works out to around a hundred bucks a month. The money my parents left me is long gone. It was enough to buy a car, some furniture, a few semesters at school, and two years’ worth of meds. Now all I have left is McDonald’s Monopoly money and a little something Cammy gave me. The girl at the cash asks if I want to round it up to $85 and donate to a kids’ charity. “No.” Fuck the kids. I decide to go to McDonald’s and eat my burger. The place is empty. I take out my phone and write myself a note: “Every Monopoly coupon from McDonald’s is an Émile Nelligan poem/Every moment of sadness is a dog that lives in Boston.” Three businessmen dressed in suits and ties are talking loudly beside me. “Buy this, sell that, hurry!” All I can buy is two bedside tables from Structube. I’m tempted to ask if they can help me sell the bedside table in my closet, but I don’t. I decide to eat the rest of my burger in my car. I get an email from my publisher inviting me to the book fair in Montreal. I don’t like the book fair; it makes me feel like a performing monkey. A ghostly, thirty-one-year-old monkey that no one can see. I pretend I didn’t read the invite. I’m an invisible monkey in an old Mazda. I decide to go buy some groceries. I buy frozen veggies, potatoes, a big box of rice, bread, milk, meat sauce, spaghetti, and tomatoes. I feel like getting drunk tonight. The girl at the cash gives me a big smile, asks if I’d like a bag. “You just saved my life.” She thinks I’m funny. I think I’m ugly. A notice behind her reads, “We’re Hiring.” I’m up for it. I’ll bring my resumé tomorrow. I buy a bottle of Chemineaud from the liquor store across the street and don’t look the cashier in the eye. It’s already dark outside and the wind is ice-cold. I’ve only got one thing on my mind, and that’s drinking. All I can think about is my little room and the bottle I’m holding. As I walk back to my car, I feel excited. I want to take a swig right away, but I fight the urge. I’ll have to make myself supper first. Yep, I’ll cook my pasta, warm the sauce, eat my spaghetti, chat to Norm, go hide in my room, listen to the soundtrack from There Will Be Blood with my headphones on, then drink Chemineaud. That’s the reason I exist right now; I know that for a fact. That’s the reason I am on this earth. As plans go, it seems huge, it seems dull, it makes me feel proud. I am Qui-Gon Jinn and I have a bottle of Chemineaud. There was a line from Agnès Varda that really struck a chord with me when I was young: “If we opened people up, we’d find landscapes. If we opened me up, we’d find beaches.” I start the car, turn up the heat. If someone opened me up, they’d find bottles of Chemineaud and lightsabers. No trees, no mountains, no nothing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jean-Christophe Réhel’s début novel Ce qu’on respire sur Tatouine won Quebec’s prestigious Prix littéraire des collégiens. It is his only novel to be translated into English so far; he is busy writing a second. Réhel is also the author of five poetry collections. He lives in Montreal.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS

Originally from Ireland, Peter McCambridge holds a BA in modern languages from Cambridge University, England, and has lived in Quebec City since 2003. He runs Québec Reads and now QC Fiction. His translation of Eric Dupont’s La Fiancée américaineSongs for the Cold of Heart, was shortlisted for both the 2018 Giller Prize and the 2018 Governor General’s Award for Translation. It has now been published worldwide, outside of Canada, by HarperCollins.

After immigrating to Canada from the U.K., Katherine Hastings spent ten years in Ontario before moving to Montreal, where she completed a degree in modern languages at McGill University. She has worked as a Quebec-based translator and copyeditor since 1995. Her previous literary translations, The Unknown Huntsman and The Electric Baths, were both by Jean-Michel Fortier.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020.