A short story by Marc Villard translated from the French by Brad Spurgeon
Sometimes it just hits her like that - life is always the same. Today, she decided she’d go out on the town, alone, for the first time. At night. It scares her a bit, but at fifteen, she wants to break out of the darkness. Her name’s Cynthia. They say she’s cute, with her tanned legs shooting out of that slightly too short skin-tight elastic dress. She lives in the projects, the part they built when Renault started re-hiring. Her old man works on an assembly line with a jerk of a boss on his ass all bloody day. To anyone who cares to ask, she’ll say her dad’s great, but in fact she basically despises him. And she can see right through her mother. She’s nice, but she’s transparent. The twins sleep in the room across from hers. They turn on their flashlights at midnight and bury themselves into old Batman comics, first editions that they pay a fortune for in collectors’ shops. She thinks they’re dealing hash in the basement of the building - the A5 - but she no longer has the time to worry about the morality of street smart kids of almost 12. She wants to go crazy, as the kids say at school - that place she drops in to from time to time to make sure the teachers are in good health, to see a few friends and meet the writers who are sometimes invited as special guests. English class makes her vomit, but she loves writers. Especially that modest look they put on when they try to pretend they’re just ordinary people, that they too went to high school once, or better, were also rotten students. Sometimes she’ll ask an intelligent question in a weak voice. Her questions always have to do with the techniques of writing, how you approach it, the basic tricks. Because, in fact, at night she dreams about the idea of writing stories herself. To compensate for it she likes to communicate with people who have published. It makes her feel like she belongs to an exclusive club - while others laugh behind her back. The only other people who hang around afterwards are a couple of Africans, who are also invited guests. All their questions seem to have to do with class struggle, racism and the liberation of the African peoples. They have an impeccable classical education, and look down on writers of mysteries, science fiction or comic books.
At the moment she’s lying to her father, tied up in this tall tale designed to get permission to go out. Janice, who lives on the fifth floor of building D3, is her cover. But Cynthia won’t come back until the early hours of the morning, she’ll play the game her way. The machine operator, dead tired, nods his okay noncommittally to the kid’s story. She quickly slips on a sweatshirt over her tight dress, dabs her lips with a bit of red lipstick and flinging her bag over her shoulder, she leaps down the stairs to catch the bus that will take her into downtown Colville.
The feeling of breaking the rules make the night’s lights seem brighter to her than usual. The least little jerk who shuffles by looks cute, worth noticing. Without even having to spend a single cent she takes everything in, records every little detail, sticking all these symbols of real life into her memory like a computer. She’s out in the world where you bop till you drop, not like the life of her building where old men of 30 are dying all over the place, fizzling out between the Late Show and a mattress without the slightest spark of sensuality.
She walks through the streets of Colville on a phosphorescent cloud. The night will come and get you, little one. She read that line somewhere. They come to her in gusts, these images of a future perfect. Let the nighttime come, she’s ready.
Others are waiting for it too. Like Sonia. An old bitch from school who’s showing off between two beardless machos on the terrace of the Balto.
“Hey kid, shouldn’t you be in bed at this time of night?”
“Shut your trap, fat face,” Cynthia spits.
A barrage of insults flows over the surprised lover boys. The Bloody Marys fly. Blood in the neon. Cynthia takes off, skipping away unselfconsciously. Before you can write, you have to live. She’ll put that in a book sometime. She’s not going to dish out any Françoise Sagan, but more like a gore version of Philippe Djian. That’ll blow ‘em away.
Then she sees the fairgrounds. They don’t have a roller coaster, but a couple of bumper car rides, around which are gathered the gangs from the neighboring burbs. She approaches the bumper car ride, eyes wide, arms folded tightly across her chest. On the other side of the platform, opposite her, a young guy wearing jeans and a white T-shirt and close-cropped hair signals to her, indicating a red car parked by the edge. She bites her lip. Suddenly it’s all going too quickly. It happens much more slowly in books, where it takes weeks to make the moves. But tonight she’s a bit crazy. She nods yes and smiles and they jump into the red contraption.
“I’m Anthony...but everyone just calls me Tony. And you?”
“You from Colville?”
“Yeah, I live in the second block of the development.”
“I’ve got a friend over there. Duret, know him?”
“Can’t picture him...”
“How old are you?”
Tony likes that one. He knows. She laughs too, a little timidly, while a group of idiots from a biker gang savagely bash into them in a corner of the platform. They spin, roll around, and Cynthia closes her eyes. Real life. Go baby go. The buzzer sounds, and the ride freezes up.
“You want a Coke?”
“Uh...well, okay. Sure.”
The young man takes her by the hand and leads her to an outdoor soft drink dispenser. He pays for two drinks. They shuffle along the length of the fair, not really noticing the raffle booths, the sharpshooters and the waffle-and-ice-cream addicts. Tony stops abruptly in front of the haunted house.
“You won’t scream if we go in, will you?”
“I’m not in kindergarten, you know.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
The screams that come out of that place... She can’t believe it, the haunted house.
A little before the ride ends, he presses his lips hard to hers. She doesn’t know how to do it with the tongue. No rush. On leaving the ride, he places his hand protectively around her shoulder.
The sky is pure, the streets dark. They talk easy.
“So what do you want to do after high school?” Tony asks seriously.
“You’ll make fun of me...”
“Oh come on...”
“Yeah, well, I want to be a writer. I just love these people who make up these amazing stories. Sometimes, they do signings at the mall, and I go and ask questions like how to do it, you know, technical stuff and all that...”
They walk along, pressed one against the other. She tells him the tales of her building, he talks about the workshop. A slight breeze makes him shiver.
“Is it ever great to walk like this, huh?”
She nods, lowers her eyes. When she lifts them again, she sees three Harleys stopped ahead side-by-side about 50 feet away. The biggest of the bikers approaches them; the others don’t budge, keeping watch.
The biker plants himself in front of Tony:
“She’s mine; get the hell out of here.”
“Come and get her, asshole.”
The two guys fight, roll on the ground, heads hit the pavement. The sudden, brutal violence suffocates her. She opens her mouth and lets out a strangled scream. Tony doesn’t move anymore, lying sprawled across the ground. His head a bloody mass. The biker starts to get up, heavily, and she thinks fast: the skull. She whips her hand into her bag, grabs the blade, and from behind, pierces the scumbag’s heart. At the other end of the alley, the others start to move for her. She tugs the blade out, throws it in her bag and turns in the direction of a brightly lit street beyond. The Harley engines chug, her heart beats like an Elvin Jones drum roll. She runs, Cynthia does - her first night out, her first lover, her first murder. “I’ll be a great writer.” The words tumble off her grinding teeth. She’ll get there, she’ll show them. The last bus back to her building is only a hundred feet off. You’ll get there, Cynthia, you’ll get away with it, go on girl, he sees you in his rearview mirror. You’ll get there.