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Go Figure

Go Figure

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Go Figure

312 pages
5 heures
Jun 15, 2016


Go Figure is the hauntingly beautiful tale of a Montreal couple alienated from each other after suffering the miscarriage of twin girls. Mammy, the wife of Rémi Vavasseur, has gone away. Not because she no longer loves him but because she no longer loves herself. She is criss-crossing Europe and Africa in the company of the dangerous and blonde Raïa, Rémi’s former mistress. Meanwhile, Rémi remodels a ramshackle house in rural Quebec, designed for Mammy, if she ever comes back, in flesh and bed.” The novel is the journal that he keeps during their parallel journeys.

Ducharme’s writing, which has contributed to the recasting of the literary canon of Quebec, is full of echoes, juxtapositions and double meanings. With the likes of Marie-Claire Blais, Jacques Godbout and Michel Tremblay, Réjean Ducharme is one of the select québécois fiction writers who have contributed to the transformation of québécois letters since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.
Jun 15, 2016

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Go Figure - Réjean Ducharme

Go Figure

Réjean Ducharme

Translated by

Will Browning


Translator’s Dedication

To Teresa for her courage,

To Renaud for his companionship,

To Anaïse for her curiosity, and

To Jacques Marin, whose absence inspired me to go figure it all out …

You said it, Mammy, there’s just no future in life, we’ve got to invest elsewhere. We knew it, but it didn’t sink in. The engine was racing; the gearwheels wouldn’t engage. We had our head in the clouds: it’s a state in which it makes no difference that we have no wings, we don’t feel the anvil of our own weight. We were hanging on by a thread. We won’t hang on to anything anymore—that’s a promise. Hunkered down in the hole that we hollowed out when we crashed, we’ve got it figured out. We have more talent for taking root. We risk nothing by sinking in a bit deeper while snuggling up closer to each other in the river bed. The waters may break, in a flash flood, in a debacle; we won’t let ourselves be duped; they won’t pull the wool over our eyes.

Hello, baby, what’s your name? Fan-nie! … She flew off again. In the beautiful serenity where she has spread her warbling, I knuckle down once again to the work that she comes to interrupt more and more often.

What’re you doing?

I’m picking up everything that’s lying around … Can’t say I didn’t warn you …

She wants to know why, all the time, with no rhyme or reason.


Mammy said not to leave anything lying around, and I don’t want her to give me a spanking …

The fact that I have a mammy, as grown up as I am, was hard for her to swallow, even with her wide-eyed stare. But she soon saw how to handle that anomaly: I am a child in my own way, and she need no longer hesitate to come play with me when she’s bored under her porch.

You had closed yourself off; I no longer knew how to reach you and hold you close. Then you said: It would be nice, perhaps, to have a little place in the country. Yes, any old shack, a fixher-upper with a bit of a garden in which to bed a young tomato seedling, a row of lettuce; to sow flowers, easy ones that feel like growing, that you don’t have to pull on for them to grow. I jumped at the idea. I patched up the van abandoned by the plumber. We spent the winter ferreting about the back roads up North. We found this ruin at the bottom of a small valley in a village, at the end of a poorly resurrected street where the water, rendered filthy by wartime prosperity, had driven off a Little Poland of summer cottages. Old Man Mosswater snatched up everything for a song, and quickly straightened up what was still standing to make the most of a new boom created by the superhighway. He had resold or rented out everything by the time we came along. With the exception of this ruin. He had kept it for himself, to enjoy the tall spruce trees and the lay of the land, which slopes down to the bend in the river. It served as a storage area for salvaged building materials, then as a veritable dumping ground for foul flotsam and jetsam that ended up overflowing, contaminating the vicinity, and even demoralizing him. The ripped-out doors piled high with the staved-in windows, the gutted wing chair where a radiator rusts and a lampshade molds, the toilet tanks, toilet bowls and ball cocks, the can of used motor oil, the old rolls of chicken wire crumpled up like accordions; we inherited the whole mess in all its splendor … That’s the word: it didn’t cost us a thing. Not a single penny came out of our pockets. I’d even say—just the opposite. The mortgage loan guaranteed by Uncle Albert, upon my estimate of the repairs, crammed our savings account full. We’re rich. In the thousands! It’s not really ours. It doesn’t really really belong to us. But that was no reason to go on a pilgrimage. The suppliers and the contractors are going to clean us out; it won’t be long in coming. They will have finished well before you come back. If you come back. If you don’t stray too far. If you don’t let yourself get carried away by Raïa. If she doesn’t make you go bonkers in Yonkers like the little rascal I know her to be.

In your garden, you imagined a dog running, the type of big fool who makes a party out of everything, that you would call Dali … Hold on to your hat, I’ve got him. Spitting image. Black as a demon and lanky, with the muzzle of a collie and a tail like a little broomstick. A poor devil. A rover that my exasperated neighbor, fearful for her baby, would chase away with big kicks. I called him by his unlikely name and he recognized it. In any case, he came. And still does. He shows up right away, rushing hellbent for leather and screeching to a halt at my feet, entreating me to pardon the crimes that he figures he’s committed in order to deserve catching hell ever since … We know all about that. He doesn’t need to spell it out for us … Nor do I for him to see that the Chevy van is loaded up and that we’re off again, on our illicit mission. He’s already jumped on the hump between the two seats. Impatient, dying to get an eyeful, to let himself slam right into the windshield, he lengthens his famous whimper of anxious gratification for me, yawning … Corrugated roofing, urinated plumbing, skeletons made of springs exposed by fire in the stuffed furniture, and other abominations of desolation—we’re off to chuck them away, the all-seeing God knows where; one more batch of kitchen stuff that gave heartburn to my blazing inferno, which hasn’t lost its ardor all week, a week rendered illustrious by the finishing touch of the old tires, which covered me in glory while spreading soot all the way to the village … We don’t have any choice; the municipality has already done its annual collection of oversize items, and access to the town dump is strictly forbidden to private citizens. I snooped around abandoned barns, fire sites, junkyards. I finally laid my hands on the dumpster of my dreams near a mobile home park. So that it wouldn’t mar the view, they stuck it in a small wooded area, which facilitated my task. But it was too good to be true. They use it too, and it’s starting to overflow; I’m forced to do a slovenly job, shoving the junk into every nook and cranny I can find. I think of you, so scrupulous, who would pepper me with questions if you saw me. But I would see you if you saw me, and that would be well worth the lecture. I would touch you and that would touch you, as before. We’d drop everything, we’d go back to where we came from, to the basement where we were so happy, rocked by the humming of the washing machines … Yes, I’m bored already, but that’s all settled; you only write to me in case of need or unhappiness, which I don’t wish on you. So don’t worry, stay away as long as you like, and above all, don’t take on any obligations that would plunge you back into the sticky muck where you got stuck while floundering after me … No, I won’t talk this way again, this is the last time.

I’ve laid out my camp bed in the room that I’ll convert into our starting-over bedroom. Located in the back in relation to the street, it faces east, toward the bend in the river. I’ve plugged my lamp and my camp stove into a cable connected to the circuit breaker belonging to the girl next door. I could have blown everything sky-high, but I made a show of it, and with her little Jerrymie nestled on her neck, she wasn’t afraid to light my way all through the job with the flashlight. Seems like she’s seen worse, with her super-tight miniskirt bouncing on her butt, and the cash payment that she extorted from me, tossing into the negotiations the misfortunes of her boyfriend who’s in detention. She took advantage of my own expertise to ask me to repair her kitchen range, which has a burned-out element.

There’s a little pool table at the hotel where they play four-way eightball, in a kind of open tournament. The challengers pay for the table and the losers pay for the beer. You put your quarter on the cushion and you wait your turn. I didn’t have a partner. I got one right off the bat, and first-rate at that. Bony and tense, a whip as they say down at the docks, he turned out to be Vonvon, Fannie’s uncle, and he even recognized me, having seen me working my tail off in the yard.

Aha, I’ve got you pegged: you’re the fugitive from Montreal who heats his place with rubber! …

We weren’t ousted once all night. The more we won, the more we drank to our health, the more we zeroed in on the balls. And yet, I hadn’t played since Dézéry Street, with Eric, and I only break, being lousy at positioning myself. Once, I had the eightball at the edge of a pocket; the others had one ball left, only one, and I managed to get stuck behind it …

Bank it off both cushions and send ’er on home! … C’mon big boy, give it all you got, put ’er right in there! …

I made the shot with my eyes closed where Vonvon put his finger. And it did just what he’d said it would do: tapped head-on after two caroms, it went right into the pocket. It may not seem like much, but we bonded big-time. We parted telling each other the story all over again and agreeing that we weren’t done talking about it. He offered his gracious services in case of a snag. He’s a jack-off-all-trades and master of none. For his sister, a landscape horticulturist specializing in rock gardens, he built that big gallery she uses as a greenhouse, the polyethylene dragon that has totally ruined our mountain view … But the poor woman, she had to fend for herself. She can no longer count on her husband, a free-lance journalist and translator, who is recovering badly from a second brain operation. He has cancer. I lost my brother to cancer. You lost your mother to cancer. It’s a small world. And it’s mean. Like everything that’s small.

"It’s all made of small pieces of grooved beeceefer!" exclaimed Old Man Mosswater to impress us as he pointed out the interior wall boards, covered with dark varnish, as if thickened by the residue of the voices whose icy echo they revived. Even if I had heard B.C. fir, I wouldn’t have understood a thing. I got the scoop at the lumberyard. It’s the famous British Columbian pine, and this carpentry goes back to the interwar years: they don’t make it anymore, so I end up being the depository of a national treasure. Forced to rip everything out in order to shift the dividers and insert the insulation, I had planned to break it all up and throw it onto the fire; now I’m stuck dismantling it all, one small piece at a time, extracting one by one the small headless nails with small pliers. The world is even smaller than I thought.

I want to see the bees.

Fannie never gives any warning; she just bursts in. I’m startled every time. She’s Raïa reborn, my crime restored to innocence. She’s got her beauty from back when she was a doll. She has her silly hair, and an indefinable, elusive quality around the mouth, a singular irritation that reddens it. She has her off-kilter eyes—of a blue too soft, like chalk for a cue tip— where there floats a veil, a distance. You become a saint when she appears; she is the prayer that he recites and the grace granted. The first time she came over, she sat on the edge of the ditch, head down, a real sourpuss—her mind quite made up not to let herself get interested.

If you weren’t too much of a baby to go up the ladder, I’d show you something neat that would knock your socks off …

All the more stung because the rungs were far apart, and because I persisted in getting mixed up in protecting her, she climbed all the way up. I showed her the nest perching under the cornice, a balloon made of magical paper wound round an open belly button.

See, nobody home, they’re gone …

I know, it’s the bees, they’ll be back …

No matter how many times I assured her, no matter how much I swore up and down that they were wasps and that they’d been dislodged by a hornet that grew so fat guzzling down their provisions that it got caught in the hole while twisting around to get back out, she bought none of it, not a single word of my revealed secrets about the materials of those paper-makers: working at night from room to room, they collect the deposits left on the cheeks of the children who cried when someone turned off the light, by unsticking them and then stockpiling them in thin layers.

You’re just kidding—they’re bees, they make honey.

If we start calling a fly a bee, a toad a bee, where will it all end, how will we figure it all out? Let’s take your mother— what’s she called?

Bee! …

How I’ve chased after her! She’s as chased as can be … I have to drop everything to catch up with her, climb up behind her and not let her fall flat on her face at the expense of my insurers. It starts over every single day, and you’ve never explained it well enough for her to believe you why the bees aren’t back.

The hornet squirmed around as much as it could. When winter came, it couldn’t anymore.


Because it froze up solid in its big potbelly …

She’s amazed, flabbergasted. You’d think that this is it, that she can see it all as if she were there. Then she’s at it again.

They’ve just gone too far; they’ll be back tomorrow.

Too late: I’ll have taken down the ladder … I’ve got to put a stop to it. She gobbles up every other hour, she makes me completely gaga, and I love it; it can’t go on like this. All at once, pivoting on her rung, she sinks into my arms so I can carry her down. This is something new. Like a favor … I’ve never seen anything like it—she’s weightless. Light as a feather. Nothing but delight. Fragile.

Go on, my little magpie, my little parakeet. You’ll come back. Not too often …

I clasp her briefly in my arms before putting her down, to feel that connection established, then dissolved into the ethereal. She wants to play one more time with the dog. They’ve developed a protocol. They go round and round the house. He chases her, barking to beat the band. She flees him, feigning being scared out of her wits. When she runs out of breath or trips, and he catches up to her, sprawled out laughing, he gives her a real licking, right on her face. And it never ends, and I just stand there staring, getting nowhere fast.

With her head held high and a laid-back glow, her long legs rendered supple by work and tanned by the sun, she approaches, giving rhythm to the clinking of the ice cubes immersed in two rum and cokes. She sticks one of them into my hand. Without any fuss.

You must be my daughter’s new flirt …

"You must be Bee … Don’t try to figure it out, it came along at the right time in the conversation."

I banter with her, with no rhyme or reason, in the lingo of my Sunday best. She ripostes with her own, any rough edges rounded by the hint of a lovely, lilting accent that I take to be Irish. She has eyes that laugh, so clear, so green, and a mass of hair on fire.

Don’t fall for her pretty airs—she’s a little demon, she’ll have you wound round her little finger … I’m curious: are you crazy? Why are you getting involved in this mess? I’ve always had my eye on the lot, but I’m at war with Old Man Mosswater. Let’s make a deal: you destroy everything, spic and span, and I’ll buy it from you as a friend, cheap … You live with your mammy?

Even worse: I sleep with her …

I show her my ring. She has a good laugh and shows me hers. Two identical 14-carats, worn down identically. Our tumblers clink together, and neither one of us can ever again pull the wool over the other’s eyes.

Call me by my first name. Mary! May for short …

Rémi Vavasseur! Mammy calls me Émi.

Like Amy? … Doesn’t that sound a bit feminine?

Not as much as you, but to each her own due; I’m a great fence-mender with the feminine gender …

It’s a bit the worse for wear, but it gives you a clever air, plus I don’t give a damn, which doesn’t hurt. I give her a guided tour of the property. Clinging to her neck is Fannie, who is being lugged around with the authority of the tamer on her lion, doing her best to ignore me … I reveal my plan to her. I’m going to remove all the partitions from the heart of the house, which I’ll convert into a living room heated with wood, with the kitchen opening on to it and big windows running parallel all the way across. With the front exposure to the sun of Little Poland, we’ll nestle among the tall spruce trees to the north and the arm of the river as it curves back on itself. The view is sensational on all sides, except, with all due respect, on the polyethylene side, where I’ll block up the window and install a multi-purpose utility closet with water heater and washing machine, and even house a guest, who will have a separate shower and other necessities, of which I have none so far.

How do you manage?

I wash up down by the riverside, in the furan and the coliform bacteria.

You took a dip in that? … Holy moly!

Even with good health, you only live once. Might as well mutate …

As mentalities go, she doesn’t like that one. She gives me a little kick, in the fleshy part of the leg. She has an unaffected spontaneity, and she doesn’t keep it to herself. Lucky thing, I have none to spare.

Listen, we have everything you need in the basement, and it’s always open. Come on in and spruce yourself up. Or I won’t speak to you again!

I don’t know where she gets her magic touch, the same touch I’ve known before, rather. I take advantage of her looking me straight in the eye to sound her out, to see whether I might not put my finger on it, which in turn makes her wonder what’s the matter with me. It’s a question of age. After thirty, new faces have more and more of what has already affected us and whose effect is all that we recognize.

Where is she, your mammy?

Fannie is scolded and called sassy. Then her question, in the same tone of voice, with the same note of false innocence, is repeated by the scolder. Then they find it highly amusing to have made me feel ill at ease, to see me cornered; they’re at it again together, in a round, until I think it’s funny too, and everybody’s laughing.

You understand—nobody gives a damn. You understand: high five, made in the shade. We come up with these cockamamy ideas. Instead of the wound we had, so tender, we have a scar, where the skin has thickened, where we’ve become the most leathery. That’s tough, but it’s the law, you’ll tell me, and we won’t be able to tough it out if we aren’t tougher than what toughens us. If it’s too tough, start feeling sorry for yourself, you’ll tell me—it’ll soften your heart … I’ve already gotten into a routine. After toast and coffee, I go up to the post office with Dali. That makes him a happy camper. He’s got yappers to scoff at, females to sniff at whose scent makes him sneeze, a rathole to slog away at under the bridge, pelting it with his back paws in order to shove more and more of his muzzle inside; then he comes lickety-split to catch up with me and wag his tail wildly, utterly amazed at his own speed. The cars climb the steep and suddenly curving hill with such momentum that he almost got run over again. But you’ve got to dance what you are, and he’s such a joyous dancer that I couldn’t stand to keep him on a leash … The little postal clerk for general delivery has got my number; she and I already understand each other at a single nod. Along the way, I stop at the grocery store, where I fill up again on beer. We also often have business at the hardware store, where I got all my frustrations out by spending a fortune on a wheelbarrow, getting a real kick out of the pneumatic rumble between its shafts of walnut. Well-lubricated, it purrs. But the decisive factor was its high basin, with smooth fastenings, ideal for mixing cement … I took your heart in my hands and made up my mind. I engulfed myself, between the monster’s deformed feet, under its massive structure. I slithered through the mud with my propane flamethrower and flushed out the feeder pipe from amidst the detritus. I found where it was punctured, I sawed it off, dried it, sanded it down, I pulled out all the stops, then I pulled out all the cocks, I went to hell and back soldering the stopcock, the tin was dripping onto my fingers, it didn’t matter, I felt so pinned down, I couldn’t feel a thing anymore, my skull was within an inch of the whole thing cracking and caving in and crushing me in the juice it was molding in … It works. I screwed on the narrow hosepipe, opened the stem, and it came: I have running water. I’ll no longer have to go fetch it, like Jack and Jill, from bouncy-butt next door, who’s always finagling some odd job for me to patch up. I’m proud of how I pulled it off. I’ve sweated over it, drooled over it, been scared shitless over it. Lucky that I had you, that you sustained me. As if for one last time, I thought of Raïa, who instead would have just stained me. You’ll tell her about it; she’ll laugh … Seated on the edge of the ditch, I’m wiling away the evening, smoking and hypnotizing this debris, which next must be lifted up in order to lodge the foundation where I intend to set it all back down. Even with ten beams instead of the two that Old Man Mosswater suggested, set next to each other exactly plumb at right angles to the prevailing force, I won’t make if, it’ll give way, it’ll come apart in the play of the jacks, it’ll be knocked completely out of whack. But nothing will stop me. We’ll strip the roof of its old asphalt shingles, just to lighten it up a bit; then we’ll keep going, as we began, making progress …

My famous seal leaks. The pulverized nozzle was hissing like a cat on a hot tin roof that appeared to me in my sleep, integrated into a far more entertaining nightmare. I complain to the hardware dealer, who supplied me with the whole mess in the first place. He sees what’s wrong: an air bubble that seeped in and burst. And what’s more, it’s my fault: I cleaned up poorly, put the amalgam on wrong, and didn’t follow his advice, which was clearly detailed in the directions. No one dares to talk back; he has a knack for deflating the swelled-headed fugitives from Montreal. It’s a profession, you can’t just take it up one fine day the way you take the subway. With your feet … Fannie’s in a huff with me. Once again it’s my fault. I told her that someone had run off with my ladder, which I’d stashed away in a jiffy. She hunted for it, spotted it in the wayfaring trees, and let fly an arrow at me as she left, a scathing glance that would have pierced any slacker’s heart.

Practice makes plumber. I baked once more in the sludge and the sweat, took all the handles off, started over from square one. I went through each motion like a dunce, one baby step at a time, my nose in the illustrated leaflet. It holds. It looks good. Right away, with no rhyme or reason, I kicked up my heels, I sprayed some all over myself—I even caught a little rainbow in the icy haze where I could have quivered forever. I went back up with my hammer to rip off the roofing, climbing up the ash tree that escaped from the woods and hugs one corner of the house, a caper designed to lead Fannie not into temptation, but deliver her from ladders, without adding insult to injury. You’re perched in the full glory of the sun, the soggy jeans your second skin, you go all out, you’re on a roll, you’re in the groove … And all at once it hits you: you’re on top of the world. And nothing can stop you from reveling in it, prolonging the pleasure by slowing it down, freezing it in time by fixing it on Mary, through the misted-up domes where she’s busy repotting zinnias, begonias, and petunias in all their fragmented states. She is indeed a bee; she plays in their flower beds, just as absorbed, just as quick. She comes out for a moment, trotting, fishing for a tool at the back of her little truck, ripping open a package, shoveling some peat and some compost into her wheelbarrow. She can’t see me. Nor does she seem to see Hubert, her old man, dozing in his chaise lounge in the cool shade of the tall spruce tree planted at the same time as ours, with the same idea, to which the trees have been true. We’re no dumber than anybody else, we’ll plant trees for ourselves, too—there’s a future in trees, they don’t forget you in their prayers.

She didn’t put anything on under her shorts, not so tight after all. At the slightest gap, they gape open and the fluffy stuff peeps out. You’ve got to have nerves of steel … She was out for a walk with Jerrymie, stroller with stroller. She parked in the dead end, where, clinging to the railing to do it up right, she admired the riverside. I got the picture; she was getting herself into position to come over and bug me. Having made a U-turn, she stopped once more to light up and offer me one. She

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