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Tome On The Range

Short Fiction By: Guillaume Morissette
Karl Smith , December 7th, 2014 18:23

This week's new writing comes via Montreal in the form of an excerpt from Guillaume Morissette’s novel, New Tab, published earlier this year by Vehicule Press.


It was three am and Romy, Shannon and I were walking up a deserted street, looking for an after-party. Instead of making conversation, I was worrying about my hair, hoping to look good for Romy, who had been giving me mixed signals. “It’s here,” said Shannon, stopping in front of a white building made of concrete. We went down to the basement and saw a sign near the door that said “Five dollars to get in.” We were stamped in and looked around and saw that the space was only a quarter full and not particularly interesting. The venue looked like an abandoned laundromat. “I guess it’s still early for this,” said Shannon. “The bars are going to close soon. It’ll fill up after that. We should try again later.” We purchased a beer each and decided to go back outside to kill time. We looked around for a quiet place to hang out and found an alley overseen by tall, hyperventilating industrial buildings. We sat on the ground, drank our beers.
        Romy and I swallowed a pill of MDMA each.
        “I’ve never actually done MDMA,” said Romy.
        “Usually, all that happens is that I am more enthusiastic about things and feel good about everyone,” I said. “Like, if I am talking to someone, I’ll be really into it, even it’s someone I wouldn’t normally find interesting.”
        “Have you ever had MDMA dreams?” said Shannon.
        “What do you mean?” I said.
        “There’s a bunch of times where I did MDMA and had these crazy dreams with shapes and bright colours flashing,” said Shannon, “like a rave or a Japanese cartoon.”
        “I don’t think I’ve had those,” I said. “Maybe tonight,” said Shannon.
          Glancing at Romy, I noticed that she seemed a little bored. Shannon took control of the conversation, mostly talking about herself. I paid half-attention to what Shannon was saying, imagining in my head a Japanese cartoon about giant robots going to raves and feeling trapped by their lifestyles. I tuned back in just as Shannon started talking about an essay by Camille Roy she had read recently. Paraphrasing the essay, she said it argued that most mainstream novels observed their characters from a medium distance and treated them as coherent human beings elevated by conflict as opposed to destroyed by it. I thought, “Coherent human being,” and couldn’t think of anyone I knew who fit this description.

An unknown amount of time later, we got up, headed back in. Walking, Romy lost her balance a few times, but didn’t fall down. Entering the space, I saw that the venue was now about half full. I examined the crowd to see if anyone I knew was there, but then lost track of Shannon. The MDMA pill I had ingested didn’t seem to be having any effect, while the beers I had drunk only seemed to be having a little effect. Looking back at Romy, I noticed that she had difficulty standing still and was now smiling a sort of dumb smile.
        “Is Lev here?” said Romy.
        “Probably not,” I said. “Isn’t he in New York?”
        “Lev looks like a Viking,” said Romy.
        “He would be easy to spot, then,” I said.
        “If there’s anything, I’ll be Lev,” said Romy.
        “What do you mean?” I said.
        “I can’t,” said Romy. “So I am never both been the same.”
        I wasn’t sure what she was trying to tell me. I looked directly at her and saw that she looked out of it a little. I said, “Are you okay?” and she replied, “I am fine, but never is.” I began to feel concerned. I asked if she was okay again, but she was having trouble putting together complete sentences. She said, “Lev,” and, “I can’t,” aloud to herself a few times. “I’ve been more decided,” she said. “The point is, I am more decided.” She was making less and less sense, as if a lingual module in her brain was toggling back and forth between Canadian English and Malaysian, like a keyboard.
        I thought, “What happened, she was fine in the alley, I think, when did she get this drunk, I am pretty sure I drank more than her, how is she drunker than me?”
        I felt jealous a little.
        Romy moved towards me and then managed to put a sentence together. “I don’t want to be here anymore,” she said. “Can we go to bed?” I thought about the bed as a happy place and said yes.
        I grabbed her hand, didn’t bother tracking down Shannon to say goodbye, led us to the exit. Outside, Romy seemed unable to walk by herself. I was still puzzled by how she had gotten to this state. She seemed to be getting worse and worse, as if going through a night of serious drinking on fast-forward. I knew it would be easier to signal for a cab on St-Laurent, so I grabbed her purse and lifted her and then carried her in my arms. I noticed that she wasn’t saying anything anymore, just babbling experimental noises, like a one-year-old. She wasn’t particularly heavy, but I had to stop twice to allow my arms to recuperate. I thought, “This is why people work out, I see the value of working out now.” I kept readjusting her position in my arms, as if hoping to find on her body a grip or a handle of some sort.
        I didn’t find one.
        Romy threw up on me a little.
        Near St-Laurent, I placed Romy on the ground and waved at cabs. I looked back in her direction and saw that she was now semi-conscious, her eyes half-open and pointing upwards, as if her eyeballs were trying to perform some sort of retinal backflip. I wasn’t sure what to do, but for some reason wasn’t panicking too much. A cab stopped on the side of the road. The driver asked me if Romy was okay. I didn’t respond and instead, reached for my phone, called an ambulance. Other passersby saw Romy on the ground and then surrounded her and patted her head and tried giving her water. The right strap of Romy’s tank top kept falling down, exposing her boob and then not exposing it and then exposing it again. Some people shouted contradictory advice at one another. One person tried to dissuade me from calling an ambulance, because ambulances were costly and Romy would be mad at me later for requesting one. Someone else said that she was clenching her jaw and then asked me if she had done heroin and I replied, “No.”
        About ten minutes later, an ambulance arrived. While his colleague examined Romy, the driver interrogated me.
        “What happened here?” said the driver.
        “I don’t know,” I said. “She started acting strange, then she just fainted.”
        “Did she fall down?” said the driver. “Did she knock her head?”
        “No, I was the one who placed her on the ground,” I said.
        “I am guessing she was drinking,” said the driver. “Has she taken anything else?”
        “Not that I know of, but I wasn’t with her the entire time,” I said. I was lying.
        I answered a few more questions, but then became aware that the MDMA pill I had taken earlier was finally kicking in a little. I felt, all at once, drug-happy and concerned for Romy and very tired. I avoided telling the driver about our drug use and kept a straight face, but could hear myself inside my head giggling from a safe distance.
        The MDMA was making me very interested in my conversation with the driver.
        “Are you coming with us?” the driver’s colleague asked me a few minutes later. I replied, “Yes,” loudly and enthusiastically.
        “Calm down,” I thought. “You’re enjoying this too much.”
        “Drugs,” I thought.
        “We’re leaving now,” said the driver’s colleague. “Get in.”
        I opened the passenger door of the ambulance and climbed in. On the way to the hospital, I decided to avoid talking altogether, for fear of appearing suspicious. Instead, I focused on the movements of the rear lights of the car ahead of us, thought thoughts in silence.
        In the parking lot, the driver and the driver’s colleague wheeled Romy towards the entrance. I thought about how I was already starting to feel the MDMA less and less. Exiting an elevator, we stopped at a station. A nurse asked me for Romy’s ID card and medicare card. I had her purse with me, so I browsed through it at random and found lip balm and then a pamphlet about stress titled, “What Do You Know About Stress?”
        I felt stressed a little, staring at the pamphlet about stress.
        I located her wallet and then, inside it, her driver’s license. Staring at the license, I saw that her full name was Rosemary and not Romy and that her middle name was Louise. I made a face. The nurse asked me if Romy had an emergency contact number and I said, “I don’t know,” and she said, “But you’re her boyfriend.” I paused. I felt like I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss my relationship with Romy with the nurse, maybe ask her for guidance or life advice, but instead said, “Yeah,” in a tone that lacked confidence.

While the nurse was processing the driver’s license, Romy regained consciousness. She opened her eyes and mouth and made a face as if getting ready to make a dramatic gasp for air, the way actors in movies emerge from comas, but then didn’t. She babbled nonsense for a few minutes and began putting together sentences and thoughts. In a calm voice, I explained to her what had happened, though I wasn’t sure she understood what I was telling her. She looked disoriented and seemed to be having short-term memory issues. She asked me several times, “Are you staying with me? Don’t go,” and I said, “I am staying, don’t worry,” each time. She requested Lev again.

A male nurse, Michel, introduced himself to us. Romy said, “What’s up?” to him, as if wanting to be his friend a little. The male nurse had long golden floppy hair, like a cocker spaniel. He wheeled Romy to a different room and then transferred her into a bed. He started removing her clothes to change her into a gown, which made Romy anxious and uncomfortable. She made a face. She looked scared and lost and clutched my arm like a robot grip crushing a beer can, and then panicked a little and shouted, “Don’t let them put things in my vagina.” I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll bodyguard your vagina.”
        This seemed to make her less anxious.
        Since there was nowhere to sit, I stood beside Romy’s bed. Around us were multiple beds, though only one was occupied, by an old woman who looked horrified in her sleep. The male nurse checked Romy’s heart rate and then informed us that a doctor would be coming to see her, though this might take several hours. We waited. For about an hour, Romy tried resting, but couldn’t fall asleep. She said, “I am fucked,” two or three times. She asked for more details about what had happened and I said that we were at a sketchy after-party and that she had had a bad reaction to drugs. Looking out the window, I became aware that the sun was about to rise. Another hour passed. Romy seemed to be doing better, didn’t have memory issues anymore. We both felt alienated from the hospital itself and wanted to leave, but couldn’t. The male nurse wheeled in a new patient, a man in maybe his late forties wearing a shirt with an eagle on it and a cowboy hat made from what appeared to be snakeskin. Another man, wearing an orange shirt, was accompanying him.
        “Let me get your hat for you, Roger,” said the man in the orange shirt in French. He seemed either emotionally invested in his friend or emotionally invested in the hat.
        “Do you think they’re lovers?” said Romy.
        “I don’t know,” I said. “The other guy could be pretending. He could be into it just for the hat.”
        “You’re right,” said Romy. “It’s a beautiful hat. A snake died to make that hat.”
        “I want to be turned into a hat when I die,” I said. “There has to be a box somewhere I can check for that, like organ donor.”
        “There should be,” said Romy. “My dad told us that he wanted to be cremated after he dies, and then for one of us to toss his ashes into the wind, so that he becomes the wind. He thinks it’s romantic. I think his ashes will probably just end up killing seagulls.”
        “Have you ever been to Texas with your dad?” I said.
        “Wait,” said Romy. “Are you okay?”
        “I am fine,” I said. “It’s just, there’s nowhere for me to sit, so my legs are getting cramped.”
        “Climb in,” said Romy.
        “Are you sure?” I said. “It’s a tiny hospital bed.”
        “It’ll be funny,” said Romy. “Come on.”
        She tapped on the mattress with her hand. I said, “Okay,” took off my shoes, climbed in the bed. She shifted to her right and we got into position. The bed was clearly too small to accommodate both our bodies, but we shared the space and began conversing inches away from one another’s face while laughing.
        “I’ve been to Texas a couple of times,” said Romy. “My grandma, my dad’s mom, is ninety-four, but she’s still sharp and witty. She kept dissing my dad when we were there. It was great.”
        “Did you get along with her?” I said.
        “I liked her,” said Romy. “The last time I was there, she kept telling me about all her old boyfriends. It was strange. If she didn’t forget anyone, my boyfriend graveyard is the same size as hers. She was really nice to me. I think she just likes me because my middle name is her name.”
        “Louise,” I said.
        “Yeah,” said Romy. “How do you know that?”
        “Your real name is Rosemary,” I said. “I didn’t even know that. The nurse asked me for your ID, so I looked through your purse and found your driver’s license. I just looked at it and it was like, ‘Who the fuck is Rosemary?’ ”
        “A very special person,” said Romy.
        “The nurse asked me if we were together,” I said.
        “Do you mean married?” said Romy.
        “No, I just meant, like, dating,” I said.
        “What did you say?” said Romy.
        “I said yes just because it was simpler,” I said.
        “You should have told her we were married,” said Romy, “and that the sketchy after-party was our ten-year wedding anniversary.”
        “Shit,” I said. “Next time.”
        “Our babies would be so white,” said Romy. She laughed nervously.
        “Our babies would get emails from me all the time telling them how I feel,” I said. “They would block me after a while.”
        “Probably,” said Romy.
        She laughed. We stared at each other for a few seconds, but didn’t say anything. We kissed, then stopped and stared at each other again for several seconds. I heard someone walking in the room. I looked and saw a man in a lab coat heading in our direction. I got up.
        “Hello,” said the man. He looked about forty, had a trimmed moustache, round glasses. He glanced at his clipboard. “Romy. Hi.”
        The man, Dr. Carpentier, introduced himself and asked Romy various questions about her current physical and mental condition. As she answered, he nodded in agreement, seemed satisfied with her progress.
        “So,” said the doctor. “We found an unknown substance in your blood. Do you have any idea where it came from? Anything you might have taken?”
        “I don’t remember,” said Romy.
        “Do you?” said the doctor to me.
        “I wasn’t with her the entire time,” I said. “Not to my knowledge, but someone could have put something in her drink.”
        The doctor didn’t seem convinced by my lie. He cautioned us against being reckless and partying. While he was lecturing us, I thought about having lied to him just now and kind of wanted to rewind back in time a little, like in a video game, tell him we had purchased MDMA pills from a polite drug dealer and ingested them in an alley, see how he reacts, if that really changes anything.

Guillaume Morissette is the author of the novel New Tab (Vehicule Press, 2014), which was shortlisted for the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. His work has appeared in Maisonneuve Magazine, Little Brother Magazine and many other publications. He lives in Montreal and was described as “Canada’s Alt Lit poster boy” by Dazed & Confused.