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Creative Non-Fiction: 'Mauve/d'

Written by Ceri Morgan

La ville. Le fleuve. 

          Dreaming water. Water dreams. Swimming like an eel. A sheen on skin. Sleeping in a cabin as the world tips to grey. We hold on to our plates in the dining room, dance on deck in the dark, bathe in a pool on a ship bound for Québec. One morning, we pass a pod of dolphins: twenty minutes of gliding through drizzle, sea thick with the slick regularity of intently arching bodies. 

          I’m always moving in my memories: a young woman cutting across her favourite city. I long for Montreal during months of immobility. Memory walks/marches de mémoire. I reach for them in my mind. But they are always just out of view: hiding around the corner, sliding beneath the horizon-line, slippery underfoot.

          Passport control: ‘I’m a student, I’m a lecturer, I work on Québécois fiction. Quels auteurs? Anne Hébert, Michel Tremblay, Dany Laferrière, Nicole Brossard’. A hundred others. My favourite novel: French Kiss [1]. 

          Regularity. Routine. Distractions as the days drag on. Lessons to prepare, dishes to wash, hair to cut at the tiny salon near the museum or in front of the bathroom mirror with an unsure hand. I thumb through the layers of my past. 

          In 2007, I decided to have one last stay in Montreal. I was so tired when I got on the plane, I fell asleep before take-off. As we approached the city, my neighbour and I looked down at the Saint Lawrence: ash-violet, ice-threaded, the River pulsed through the snow. Leaving the airport, I hesitated a moment before stepping into the clasping cold. In an overheated taxi, I looked at the skyline, thought of a summer’s evening before one of my returns home. After a night at a salsa club, a friend-of-a-friend had driven the two of us back to the condo on Bloomfield where we were both staying. Our mutual friend was moving in with his partner, we were helping pack up the place. I would return from the library, the friend-of-a friend from the school where he worked, and we would fill a few boxes before practising our turns in the emptying living room. We had no music – just the sound of evening as he spun me again and again, bare feet on sprung wooden floor and balcony door stretched wide. Heading up boulevard Saint-Laurent at the end of that week, I’d tried to memorise everything: road-signs, the gloom of streetlamps, a man walking in front of a deserted garage, cigarette in hand.

          My Bloomfield friend is no longer in this world. 

          In Nicole Brossard’s French Kiss, the body and city join in a celebration of Montreal, with the author making play after play across French and English, the majority languages of her native city. The extended kiss between anglophone Lucy and francophone Camomille offers a coming together of the two sides of what Sherry Simon describes as the ‘divided’ city [2]. In Montreal for the first time in 1997, I spent the first weeks of my six-month stay in a state of hyper-sensitivity concerning my ethnic identity which, in that city at that time, mainly meant my linguistic identity. Eighteen months after the second referendum on Québec independence, tensions remained high. My sovereigntist landlady regularly made unflattering comments about English Quebecers, English Canadians and, by implication, the English in general. I tried to insist on my Welshness, but I knew deep down I was attempting to wriggle out of something.     

          Insomnia the night before a presentation. Muddled dreams in which French spins in my head. A reviewer critiques ‘the vague sense of time’ in my stories. Cela ne me touche pas trop. I don’t believe in chronology. Chronicity, circularity, flares and fades, the suspended time of maybe, moments, flashes, perhaps. Eating ice cream in Little Italy, whilst the waiter looks at my best friend, a smile at the corners of his mouth. Tears in Mirabel airport, the smattering of passengers scattering amongst carousels. Walking around a lake with a not-yet love. A stroll in the mist. A second date at a chain pub where I apologise for British imperialism. Middle-aged smooching at a train station.

          ‘When you write a psychogeographic piece, try to make the past bleed into the present’, I told my students before a field trip to a former ceramics factory in Stoke. The presence of the workers was still strong, stencils scattered across the floor, filing cabinets stuffed with papers, health and safety signs sounding the necessity of ear protection when tapping ware.

          sore throat joint pain body aches burning lungs heart palps itchy toes tinnitus insomnia weakness anxiety tingling fingers sore tongue coughing sleeping breathlessness nausea

skin rashes salt cravings UTI sleeping low appetite breathlessness heart palps coughing      poor taste husky voice no smell cold sweats dizziness coughing weakness arthritic limp memory loss sleeping sleeping sleeping sleeping fourteen, sixteen hours a day

          In Danielle Roger’s Le Manteau de la femme de l’est, the narrator-protagonist lives in a studio apartment near Montreal’s parc La Fontaine following a break-up which leaves her impoverished [3]. She sleeps more and more at weekends to pass the time, nights extending into her days. I watch episodes of Spiral in between naps, sip lime cordial, stare at the blue square on the wall painted by a previous occupant contemplating a life-change. I think of Paris and the hotel in le Marais with its tiled floors and breakfast rolls, coffee, unsalted butter, apricot conserve.

          According to Brossard, ‘the body writes in the present if it is happy, in the past if it has too much memory in mind’ [4]. Sa langue dans ma bouche. I refuse to forget. An ex-lover used to say I was torn between my desire to be free and my desire to have a child: ‘Every time we’re together, you want to leave. As soon as we split up, you ask to come back’. Too restless, I struggle to stay in one place. A year on, I was alone again. But walking downtown in my downcoat in the evening, looking at the lights of the office buildings, listening to Arcade Fire, I believed in the possibility of hope. 

          I turn the page.  

          Wake at dawn to walk in parc La Fontaine. Try not to slip on the last traces of ice. Put in my earbuds and dance alone in my studio on Mentana. Miss my former love. Dream. 

[1] Nicole Brossard, French kiss ([Montreal]: Éditions du Jour, 1974).

[2] Sherry Simon, Translating Montreal: Episodes in the Life of a Divided City (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006).

[3] Danielle Roger, Le Manteau de la femme de l’Est (Montreal: Les Herbes rouges, 1998).

[4] ‘Le corps dicte au présent s’il est heureux, au passé s’il en a trop sur la mémoire’. Nicole Brossard, ‘Le corps du personnage’, Tessera. Bodies, Vesture, Ornament/Corps, vêtements, parures, 19 (hiver 1995), p.69, my translation into English.

About the Author

Ceri Morgan is Professor of Place-writing and Geohumanities at Keele University. A researcher-practitioner, she works on literary geographies in Québec fiction, prose-poetry, creative nonfiction, critical-creative writing and participatory methods. Considering creativity an everyday practice, Ceri plays with its potential to reimagine spaces and places in ways that are hopefully inclusive. 

Twitter: @walkmorg_ceri

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