Confluence (2000)

Bottoms Up

Gail Scott

MONTREAL, QUEBEC: I return to the site of an old novel. This will not always be a street of failure, even if still playing the former glamour of the seedy. French-language covers of country music are playing on the radio. Men (sit) alone at tables. One with haggard bearded face. His lower jaw (is) toothless. Teeth in dreams = sex. The low façades opposite parading peeling tin cornices. An air of stagnation possibly verging on cliché. I take some verbs out; then put them in again.

It is the hottest summer ever. Meteorologists are, with divine hindsight, admitting global warming. To escape the heat, I go to a dark afternoon theatre. Where a sassy high school troupe’s performing Büchner’s Wojeck. The adolescents’ sweet singing juxtaposed on the gloom and violence under, somehow dissolving earlier-decade interpretations foregrounding worn-out existential despair. Crossing a parking lot behind a smoked meat shop, I am thinking a story, to avoid eternally returning (to keep it moving), might be structured thus: an “older” woman writer circulates at a “fringe” theatre festival of young artists. She has lost her love. Feels discombobulated. Nothing. She skirts the crowd asking several 20-year-olds: anything good? She will then string a humiliated (but raunchy) love tale together, interlaying bits of youthful sweetness and anger, representing to her in her present state of emptiness, a more contemporaneously rapid conflation of beginnings and endings. A word about narrative:

At another table, a man shakes his purple-shirted shoulders in the hot bar air. To “I Caught You With Your Pants Down.” Drinking straight tequila. The same table where X and I sat. Discussing why our favorite writers of contemporaneous fiction are not rich and famous. “Too abject” we saying. In a bag at our feet, some cheaply extravagant dollhouse boudoir furniture purchased for her little son. From the store with the saggy awning opposite. Leaving, we forget it. Outside another man passing. With several teeth missing. Teeth = action. But why the narrator (the woman) endlessly remarking. Such toothless ghosts of subjects. Among dozens of better-furbished faces. Is her “local” constructed out of some kind of distancing or bias?* Or “mere” projection of love’s losses? I am thinking not abject the subject. Unless negatively framed. At point of crossing space of (non)-reception between the word and the world. When site (interior)’s signed minor (inadequate). While exterior=dominant. Yet, intrinsic and extrinsic syntax are not separate; rapidly they mate. Should I be happy the lover having sex with no one. If having only virtual sex with me? I take some verbs out. And put them in again. A word about the waitress:

Dominatrix in clinging leopard-spotted polyester. Small breasts. Ponytail. Fortyish. Saying (in québécois): UN verre de vin-maison ne te fera pas de mal, one glass of house wine will not ruin the stomach. I.e. it’s terrible. For 75 cents more you can have a quarter liter. Adding: you look en forme, terrific. WE tell each other--in guise of complimenting--we haven’t changed in years. I opting for the smallest quantity of red vinegar. Now young woman passing by window. Huge breasts encased in tight halter top. Some little cap over short hair. And--UPPER incisors gone. Like the meteorologist, I (the woman) admitting only to coincidence of circumstances. Projecting accumulated lack on unsuspecting bodies. (Waitress bringing unasked for quarter-liter). Which bodies, in being thus selected, already frozen in past gesture or alias. While environment drifting elsewhere. As in that restless white river the lover (much later) wanting to attack with kayak. Drifting endlessly toward full-color horizons. With silver flashes indicating minor notes of salmon struggling upstream. And I (watching, close beside her) extravagently declaring such projecting from bottom. Battered by tergiversation of context. Likely less-suspect contemporaneous posture for narrator. Than riding atop current “naturally” progressing. Toward preconceived synthesis. Just as lover putting hand under skirt cut on the bias to flare out attractively. And saying she still wanting something with “us.” A story is something--you can get your teeth into:

But what might happen here? With (soon) a closed sign across the window. Two blocks down. A polished glass and marble multi-story, multi-venue, multi-media repertory theatre. Having replaced the crushed blue façade of the smoky coy café-cinéma where we used to see old or experimental European French movies. Built by québécois Soft Image inventor Daniel Langlois. We’re like that: always oscillating between the ultra-modern and the crumbling. The sound system’s so efficient, one feels, listening to the Buena Vista Social Club, as if in some club in crumbling Havana. Wenders’ documentary built on the presumption that art and life are one. Though the marvelous octogenarian musicians having mostly ceased playing on their little blockaded island. Because “nowhere” to go. Until American Ry Cooder choreographing their (global) return. I am thinking of when Quebec liberationists claiming solidarity with Cuba. Which solidarity contemporaneously updated to meaning “corporate opportunity.” At last, the Cubans playing Carnegie Hall. I am wondering how “art” fronted, marketed, perceived by appreciative citizens in trend-setting (blockading) country. Affected when site of creation troped, extrinsically, as exotically remote, a remoteness that must (paradoxically) scale global walls or languish. I am thinking of woman’s eye growing humid, sentimental. Desperately wanting lover there beside her. When, in the movie, the white moustached guitarist lustily declaring: “There is nothing like a night of love.” I am thinking of sweetness and anger. I take some verbs out and put them in again. A word about identity:

Now the waitress in her leopardskin is leaning over the purple shirt. Who’s reading a sexy men’s magazine. Pausing, he pulls a huge fluorescent flashlight still wrapped in hard plastic cover from a bag. She points out (still speaking [naturellement], French): it’s no good without batteries. Laughing. I can smell him. The conversation segueing to European-French actress Catherine Deneuve. The waitress, assertively declaring in an accent Europeans look down on, Deneuve “plate,” boring: “Always the same tone.” Outside a friend passing by window. Looking for a date. Very strong shoulders. Her long red hair streaming out behind. I know she has rubber gloves in her bag. Walking naturally, she “vogues.” Causing her to get thrown out of women’s washrooms. For being “wrong” gender. I am thinking how certain minor or unusual demeanors, if flaunted, getting read extrinsically as unappealing or threatening. (In Canada, “Quebecois” often = flamboyant or risqué; coincidentally, same thing for “queer”). This can be devastating. Or interesting. Friend passing again, very feminine in her wrap-around skirt, curly red hair. Yet walking as if faking it. I am wondering how narrator (other). IF not knowing how friend herself-self-perceiving, able to “represent” her. I.e. to create a relationship (narration) with reader leaving space for multiple possible gender (ethnic, class) permutations and combinations. A word about form:

[It has never occurred to me to be a poet. The poet, even when “absent,” looms large behind her work. Imbricated into total façade of language. While reader happily at play. In her in sandbox of spaces. Lacking spontaneity, I am drawn to the violence of animation. Experienced by a subject. Drifting towards object. Across the placement of the verb. Recently, even altering grammar to even out weight. At each end of sentence. Thus hopefully flattening subject into simulated object. Which explicit decloseting of speaker seeming . . . progressive, egalitarian. E.g. weakening verbs. Into participles. So phrase somehow simultaneously looking backward and forward. Thus obliging woman (narrator) to cease obsession with beginnings (causes) and endings (conclusions). I am thinking I learned this trick from certain literary feminists. Who using devices copped from poetry. To construct porous or unbounded subject. Capable of merging ecologically with context. I am thinking of salmon bounding upstream. There may be no animal boundary-just the stream and the pleasure that lies in it, teasing the poet. I am thinking about the portentousness of sentencing. Alternately (defensively?), I am thinking that a sentence in a community of sentences (paragraphs) at least leaving impression of consciously reaching out to other(s). Notwithstanding characteristic narrative flick of head back over shoulder. At the point of the period. For purpose of getting . . . bearings. This I finding . . . touching. A word about the geography of the bar]:

Many empty tables. Two beefs in dark corner. Chairs fading outward. Towards sunwashed waitress, purple shirt and harsh light of street. Waitress, flashlight and me. A sign above our heads: “Les crevettes de MATANE arrivées!!! Fraîches. MATANE shrimp in!!!! Fresh. The drawn-out québécois fraîîîches savorously feminine and plural. The waitress and purple shirt still complaining Deneuve lacking edge. Offering as alternative, raunchy québécoise country music star. Recently coming out with fabulous CD. Unfortunately “star” still having to work nightly in bars. “Very tough. If you’re pregnant.” A young nomad in artfully torn outfit and $50-dollar-haircut. Asking for change in anglicized French. They come here from the English suburbs. To feel not guilty. In this huge dark room with stuffed animals on walls, I am thinking of violence to identity. In this diminishing French-speaking city. Where everyone considering themselves minority; where many also faking it. I am thinking of simulation. Of consequence for prose narrative, so often straining toward the “natural,” when continental popular culture in perpetual transmigration from Germanic to Latinate. Of Mickey Mouse, Patsy Klein, Sylvester Stone, moving lips in English. While saying something else entirely. I am thinking we living as if on a Renaissance Ponte Vecchio: not a bridge between, but a site where shops and streets and faces are a Babel of echoes. I am thinking this happening everywhere A word about hybridity.

Two blocks up. Little stages. Blue-and-white fleur-de-lys flags for the fête nationale. The Argentinean tango I missed. Somehow having erased Québec “patron” Saint-Jean Baptiste’s little lamb. Featured in earlier decades’ national feast-day celebrations. Bleeding and miserable. Fête progressing north. Group doing samba. Stilted fireeater from Nicaragua. Greek dance. Block production of Molière farce. Free good food. Whole family having dragged mahogany dining table out on sidewalk. Now eating supper. Men and women everywhere in tight tops, gold or silver chains. Perfumed hair. Later, I, sleepless, listening to thunderclaps on John Cage piece. To compensate for dryness. Leopardskin waitress offering another glass of vinegar. Muscled guy in tight sleeveless t-shirt and gleaming chain with cross. I take some verbs out and put them in again. There is no difference between life and death. John Cage is singing. I am thinking of the lover. Taking so long in coming. I am thinking of sweetness and anger. Viva Che! on wall. Now I must go before another cigarette. Buy food. Take messages. If any. The disease is not under control. Police car outside.