Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 1
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Poupée de cire, poupée de son1

4 May 2005
The ceiling buzzed with fluorescent firefly fury.2 Jean-Louis Katz was concerned there was an art to picking up a woman from the airport; his male ex-lovers never came to meet him, though he had often been dropped off. The only woman he had picked up regularly was his mother; Jean-Louis Katz sometimes greeted fellow analysts in town for conferences, some of whom were women, but they would talk his ear off and of course he wasn’t waiting for them like that.3

Sylphlike despite maleness, fifty years and 180 centimeters, Jean-Louis Katz was light on his feet—sneaker-clad, always—with a close-cropped, slowly frosting savannah of scalp and rimless spectacles floating on a slender nasal bridge. He was content to wait in Terminal 2F as long as necessary, rhythmically rocking back and forth on his heels.4

Nevertheless, with a moue of mock exhaustion, Claudia emerged quickly from the pack of tetchy IT consultants dragging unattractive suitcases and shell-shocked North Pole crossers. Fragrant with scalp oils and lemon, she embraced Jean-Louis Katz with appropriate pressure and accepted a tumble of bulbous peonies and prickly violets with restrained enthusiasm.

Marveling at Paris in the rainy morning light, Claudia sighed, It’s such a relief to be in a civilized country, and in horror each of the fine strands on Jean-Louis Katz’s neck became needles.

1 All annotations by Jean-Louis Katz.
2 At Charles de Gaulle, flights to and from Montréal normally went from Terminal 2E, which had collapsed just one year after its opening in 2003. Designed, almost singularly, by the prolific airport architect Paul Andreu, it was a temple to the void of travel. Jean-Louis Katz nevertheless preferred Terminal 2F, with its tight, ferocious mesh.
3 Not that he waited for his mother like that.
  4 Jean-Louis Katz understood that the third-person pronouncement of both his first and last name indicated a kind of narcissism, but it was inverse narcissism; he didn’t expect to be remembered.

28 June 1961
How he loved Guelph!

Jean-Louis Katz lived in a buttery colonial with a flower bed and vegetable garden in the backyard tended to with great care by his father—a cardiologist who let him play with the stethoscope—while Jean-Louis Katz basked in the soft, herby lawn with Hansel, the neighbors’ Alsatian,5 to whom he expressed his every thought and feeling. Sometimes the perfume of fur and grass and honeysuckle—the most beautiful he had ever known—lulled him to sleep.

Every month his father’s barber clipped his hair into a fine dandelion mesh. Once the teacher asked Maman if he had been sick because he looked bald. Jean-Louis Katz was the smallest boy in his class and the fastest runner. And, his teacher whispered, he was the smartest, too! He excitedly told Bobby Watson, who locked him in the cloakroom.

If these boons were not enough, Jean-Louis Katz had the prettiest mother of all the boys in grade one, if not the world; she wore beautiful dresses and ensured he was also the most French. Maman was his alone: Jean-Louis Katz’s father spoke only English.

For lunch sometimes she would give him leftover pâté and dry baguette, but once she gave him three tomatoes. And once cigarettes (by accident), confiscated by the teacher, so Jean-Louis Katz had only milk.6

Sometimes she took him to Toronto, where she was doing un peeaychdee.7 She would record their conversations.

Maman, s’il te plaît—

Vouvoyons au travail, Jean-Louis Katz. Je m’appelle Paulette.

Pardon. Excusez-moi. C’est ma faute. Je voudrais crayonner, s’il vous plaît.

Maman gave him the orange and red crayons only. She took out a smaller recording device and said, in slow, clear English, He has a strong affinity for wax.

He most enjoyed comics, but Maman would not read them aloud.8 She read him other things.

Jean-Louis Katz, qu’est-ce que ça veut dire, moderato cantabile?9

Modéré et chantant. Ça veut dire quoi, modéré?

En anglais, c’est mo-der-ate-ly.

Mais c’est quoi?

Rien de grave.

Otherwise she ignored him. He would try: Maman? Maman. Maman? Maman. Maman?

At Bobby Watson’s birthday party, he met a French boy, Henri, who had superb ideas for pranks. After they tied all the shoes together, Henri wanted another piece of cake. Henri’s mother was talking to Bobby’s mother, next to the sweet mountain, which lived already in a glass greenhouse.

Henri tugged at her skirt. Maman?

She continued talking to Bobby’s mother. Henri said, Maman.

When she didn’t relent, Henri screeched, MAMAN!

Henri’s mother cut them a slice to share. Jean-Louis Katz and Henri inhaled it, mashing icing with their fingers.

That night Jean-Louis Katz couldn’t sleep. Maybe next time Maman would let him use all the crayons!

Jean-Louis Katz had left his sandwich at home. After school he was starving. Maman was back from New York in a cloud of sour and smoke. He coughed. The sandwich wasn’t in the refrigerator anymore. He went upstairs to the study.


He tried again: Maman.

Again: Maman.

And finally: Maman! MAMAN!

Maman grasped Jean-Louis Katz’s ear and dragged him to the washroom. She pried his mouth open and squeezed shampoo into his sore jaw. Jean-Louis Katz spat it out. She slapped him and massaged more of the bitter green soap into his tongue and gums.

Never disturb me when I work!

5 Paulette called her in-laws les bergers allemands.
6 Bagged milk was introduced in 1967, the year Jean-Louis Katz moved to France. Dismayed not to find it there, he attributes a five-centimeter height loss to lack of calcium.
7 Katz, Paulette Marie-Josephine Frances Leduc. Heidegger, le nazisme et l’église romane, 1964
  8 Paulette disapproved of Jean-Louis Katz’s comics habit, mostly from lifelong Belgophobia reinforced by the introduction of austerity measures under Eyskens’s government. She wrote passionately defending the strikes in Wallonia and denounced the handover of the Belgian Congo in the heteroglossic novel Tires for Leopold.
  9 Marguerite Duras’s 1958 novella Moderato Cantabile forbade Jean-Louis Katz piano lessons, a permanent loss he realized when he tried to take them up in adulthood.

4 May 2005
Thanks to Paulette, all he heard was sex sex sex blah blah blah. Jean-Louis Katz wanted the freedom not to enjoy intercourse, which was fundamentally undemocratic. To Žižekify Ivan Karamazov, with God, nothing was permitted: Jean-Louis Katz’s analysands, unable to shed their Abrahamic upbringings, overflowed with guilt at their fluidity; others mourned. Claudia was to him a similar hijacking. He never questioned being queer; it always was, though his liaisons were tepid: he gifted them with perfect freedom but grieved each one for years at a time when they fluttered away like hummingbirds.

Claudia was a viola carved from honeycomb, nearly his height. It vexed him to have fallen, at midlife, for a woman. He felt less like David Bowie or André Gide than a nullisexual fundamentalist guinea pig. During the act, Jean-Louis Katz kept his eyes closed, but found himself contemplating dunes in every shade and sharp bone cliffs and fine golden hay. From some contra–pleasure, she made an mmm sound, planting her face in his banana-yellow pillowcase.10

He asked, What shall we do today?

Croissants, she said.

What a coincidence—he had prepared them in advance! Jean-Louis Katz boiled water for the cafetière and tried to soften butter by placing it under the kettle. When the water was done he took the croissants and butter to the balcony, where Claudia, persimmon-robed, frowned at the houseplants. He owned a three-room flat in rue du Colonel Oudot, near the western end of the Promenade Plantée so that he could jog to and from his new office in Bastille, and at the edge of the Bois de Vincennes, where he jogged on weekends.

I was joking about the croissants, she said.

Sorry, he said. I started them yesterday.

Today we must see Claude Renaud.

The International Joyce-Lacan Symposium in Dublin is next month. He’s really counting down to Bloomsday.

And then your mother, of course, said Claudia.


There is no one like her.

She is full of pyrotechnics and hates everything. She writes about asbestos. Vietnam. Genetically modified cotton. Palestine. Sculpture. The new Togolese government. On the other hand, Alice Munro is a goddess. She is the queen of The Southern Ontario Gothic. Jean-Louis Katz slammed his demitasse to the table, spattering himself with coffee, and left the room to change.

10 Layers of red polyblend were his favorite childhood memory, and they lent the effect of sleeping in a beautiful tomato; the coarse, bleached métis preferred by Paulette was another miserable consequence of moving to France.

20 December 1967
Paulette Leduc’s first novel, Tourtière, was about a young Outaouaise academic named Ginette. Like Paulette, Ginette was the only daughter of a policeman and had one Inuit11 grandmother. Like Paulette, Ginette finished a degree in philosophy, in English, at eighteen. Like Paulette, Ginette broke her wrist drunkenly punching a brick wall when a bartender refused to serve her and in the hospital met a doctor from Guelph twenty years her senior; they married a few weeks later and had a son within the year. Like Paulette, Ginette had consorts, and would often fictionalize conferences as alibis, often in Paris, where they—at once familiar and exotic—were imbibed greedily in a desperate winter. Jean-Louis Katz thought Paulette’s book sounded incredibly dull and refused to read it. This would become his greatest regret.

Lately Paulette had been spending whole weeks away. Jean-Louis Katz was old enough to stay home with his father. They enjoyed fishing and skiing and long drives and looking at patients’ files for cardiac anomalies.

After his biology test, Jean-Louis Katz would be free to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah12 with Grandpa (Jewish) and Grammy (Christian) Katz. Normally Jean-Louis Katz walked home, but today Paulette picked him up—in a car he didn’t recognize—because it was Christmas, and because it was cold.

But today they ended up on the 401. Where are we going? asked Jean-Louis Katz.

I have to get something from the university, said Paulette, taking the airport exit.

Why are we going to the airport? asked Jean-Louis Katz.

I have to get something from the airport, said Paulette.

Jean-Louis Katz gasped. At Aeroquay One Paulette stopped the car and motioned to a porter, who helped her remove four suitcases from the boot. She handed him the car keys and kissed both his cheeks.

I borrowed his car, said Paulette.

Jean-Louis Katz sputtered, What are you doing?

We’re having Christmas in Paris.

Are Grammy and Grandpa Katz coming?


They boarded the plane. Having already finished Hardy Boys 41: The Clue of the Screeching Owl, as well as a heavy meal of smoked salmon and chicken,13 he couldn’t sleep until he drank Paulette’s cognac. He was groggy when the sun shook him awake. Paulette told the customs officer, He doesn’t speak a word of French!

It turned out Paulette—of whom he saw little after she gave him a key to the flat shared with Marc, a cinematographer who put Jean-Louis Katz off movies for years14—was not entirely wrong; he could understand only Paulette and radio news. Most unbearably, Paris was full of forbidden green spaces; even when he trespassed, the grass was flat and lacked bounce. Finally, while he was still the smallest and most optimistic of the boys in his class, that was about it.

11 Paulette’s maternal grandmother Marie was from Kuujjuarapik, Québec; her great-grandfather, Jacques-Émile Hebert, was a missionary oblate to Nunavut. After nearly being overrun by a black bear, he kidnapped, married, and named Marie, the strongest woman in the village.
12 Which that year, gloriously, began on Boxing Day and continued through the third day of 1968. They never included his mother’s side of the family, which Paulette claimed was too large.
13 Poulet sauté Beaulieu was a dish of Mediterranean elements, including olives, tomatoes, and lemons. Despite the sprightly combination of ingredients, it was at best repulsive.
  14 Including Astérix et Cléopâtre, for which Jean-Louis Katz had been waiting for months but did not see until late 2012, on the internet.

4 May 2005
On the Promenade Plantée, Claudia asked him to show her the police station near the Viaduc des Arts, adorned with twelve enormous copies of Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave. Jean-Louis Katz tried to relate the figures to Pauladia’s The Four Books on Architecture.

Completely wrong. They held the railing and peered around the building.

Later Claudia and Jean-Louis Katz went to the Louvre. There was an exhibition of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian drawings called Comme le rêve le dessin much praised by Jean-Louis Katz’s pompous peer group of psychoanalysts, who crowed over the parallel debut of the exhibition at Beaubourg and the Louvre at every meeting. He had been avoiding it. Claudia, Italian on both sides and an architect in her early twenties, led him through Barocci, Cigoli, Fra Bartolomeo.

Afterwards a window caught her eye. Jean-Louis Katz spent several hours on a sofa except when Claudia called him in to show off fiery, plummy diaphanes. She chose an incarnadine-washed silk faille skirt and a black wool suit, the body of which was a V-seamed dress that gestured at her sex and the fine points of her spine. She signed a credit card slip in the amount of a small Fiat.

Renaud15 was a professor of literature who had been stationed in Belfast during World War II. His flat—a dusty, crumpled hovel not far from Paulette’s—induced a sneezing fit in Jean-Louis Katz. He had a spectacular gray beard that reached his sternum.

Jean-Louis Katz sat, like a tennis umpire, between the tweedy octogenarian scholar and the preening empress.

Peacock. Owl. Peacock. Owl. Peacock. Owl. Peacock? Peacock! 15–Love.

Peacock. Owl. Peacock. Owl. Peacock. Owl. Peacock. Owl? Fault! 30–Love.

Owl! 30–15.

Katz! Renaud bellowed. (30–30)


Could you please tell Madame that I will not discuss the jouissance16 of Molly Bloom?

Excuse me, Claudia, said Jean-Louis Katz. Renaud will not discuss the jouissance of Molly Bloom.

That’s not what I said! (30–40)

Molly Bloom is jouissance, said Claudia. (Deuce)

Molly Bloom c’est moi! said Renaud. (Advantage Owl!)

You know nothing about her!17 shouted Claudia.

What about you, Katz? said Renaud, leafing through a book of annotations. What the hell are you working on?

I might write fiction, he said.

Maybe you could just annotate fiction, said Claudia.

Hmm, said Jean-Louis Katz.

15 Renaud was born on February 2, 1922, the day Joyce’s Ulysses was published, and on which the groundhog saw his shadow.
  16 An explanation to the reader of jouissance, most literally translated from French to English as enjoyment, but which more frequently refers to a kind of ecstatic or orgasmic or joyous state (intellectual, physical, or emotional), is inessential to the story.
  17 This dialogue concerning Molly Bloom did not take place. A less rudimentary topic was discussed, but Jean-Louis Katz could not remember it.

18 October 1981
Jean-Louis Katz attended his father’s wedding to Mrs. Ingraham,18 his grade seven biology teacher, who asked, Where did you go after the test?

France, said Jean-Louis Katz.

What does she do in France?

Supposedly Paulette had been researching a novel in Tahiti.19 The following Tuesday, she met him at the airport because their flights had arrived the same day. Jean-Louis Katz’s flight arrived at 10:30. Paulette’s flight, via Los Angeles, would arrive at 17:00. He would have left his luggage at home, but worried she was hiding in his flat.20

Although Paulette thought Jean-Louis Katz inexperienced in life and emotionally stunted by the limits of medical education, she often solicited his advice on men, because she believed—wrongly—that even in his youth he understood what it was to desire and be desired by them.

His father, officially retired but working occasionally for pleasure, was loved by many. But despite Paulette’s stable of friends, lovers, and an almost-new Danish husband—Jens, an economist whose sunny manner evoked Hansel—Paulette had only Jean-Louis Katz. She called almost daily from Copenhagen.

At the newsstand he read, in separate publications, Paulette’s endorsement of the end to capital punishment in France—surely it was her choice—and an irrelevant obituary of Jacques Lacan. When she arrived, they greeted each other mildly and took a taxi in silence.

Paulette unpacked flimsy cotton caftans and straw sandals. Once in suits and hats and gloves and stockings, Paulette now favored woolly Danish shrouds. She stabbed and twisted several chinchillas into her head with pins.

Paulette asked, How’s your father?

Happy, I suppose.

As in lucky?

Contentment and inner peace with elements of exuberance and the acceptance of luck, he shrugged.

You think so hard to avoid living, groaned Paulette.

How’s Jens?

He stopped over on the way to Sydney. We noticed you never mention your lovers.

Can I leave my suitcase here? asked Jean-Louis Katz.

Why didn’t you stop home? said Paulette, clicking shut silver bangles on either wrist.

Too far. It’s not even on the way to Australia.

You’re so afraid of everything.

Like an iron lung.

No, you would be forced to live under such confinement. Not living in Paris—that is for you.

  18 Mrs. Ingraham’s name was Ginette.
  19 Paulette was having an affair with Jean-Louis Katz’s father’s cousin Jack—on the lam from the air force because he not only provided a member of the French army with sketches and plans of a fake de Havilland fighter plane, but lied about his eyesight—that would last for many years. While in exile, Jack became a competitive rower of the outrigger canoe, or Va’a, according to Paulette’s 1984 colonialist allegory Sable Noir.
  20 He lived in a Beaugrenelle block he hoped Paulette might avoid, but instead she often visited to research her fifteenth book, Nous sommes tous bloqués (1983, available only in French), which praised the evolution of brutalism and its effects on the French national character.

4 May 2005
Jean-Louis Katz left his wristwatch—a spunky Swatch from the early 1990s called Beau—in the washroom. Lightly, he pressed the door. Claudia was singing a medley of Verdi arias in the shower, taking on both the male and female roles. She hadn’t opened the window and the room was filled with flat rosewater death.

He went to the sitting room and phoned Paulette. I’ll bring wine, he said. What will you cook?

Don’t bring anything. I’m busy.

How about tomorrow?

Even worse. I don’t have time for your friends.

We can go out, Paulette. Don’t strain yourself.

I don’t have time for that. Just get here.

23 June 1992
Despite convictions held during his early psychoanalytic training, Jean-Louis Katz was now a hideously well-known Lacanian analyst.

1. In 1982, Jean-Louis Katz read Maud Mannoni’s The Backward Child and His Mother: A Psychoanalytic Study (1973) and was inspired by her views on the separation of the child’s voice and personality from his or her mother’s.

2. Mannoni aligned with R.D. Laing in opposition to psychiatry. At the time, Jean-Louis Katz was enjoying his work as a psychiatrist; it was true that he was making biological recommendations based on patient testimony, but was glad to remove the dead weight of physical pain. He began to train at the École lacanienne de psychanalyse, where he was analyzed by [REDACTED].

3. Near the end of his analysis, Jean-Louis Katz published his first book, Twenty-four Words for Snow:21 Lacanian Counterdepressants in the Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (Karnac, 1989). He practiced psychiatry in the emergency room at Pitié-Salpêtrière, and had sixteen analysands, most of whom he saw three times weekly.

4. Initially Twenty-four Words for Snow received marginal attention and lukewarm–positive reviews in Lacanian circles. Then, at the start of 1990, he received a small but damning blurb in a London daily newspaper from Jens’s literary critic brother Per Østergård, who said that, as Paulette Leduc’s son, he would know a thing or two about (a) very cold weather and (b) very cold mothers. By the end of May, the book sold fifty thousand copies.

5. In June 1990, Paulette, who had divorced Jens the previous year, was interviewed on France Culture about her new book, Voyage au bout de la nuit: la tragédie du tunnel de la Manche and was asked whether bilingualism had contributed to her views. Paulette snapped, The psychoanalyst is my son, Jean-Louis Katz. By July, Twenty-four Words for Snow had sold three hundred thousand copies.

6. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing. He hired Nadine—the most ornery receptionist he could find—to alienate journalists. He was always asked about his relationship with Paulette and declined all interview requests.

7. Jean-Louis Katz’s patients complained of a radio advertisement for his practice, a gift from his friend Alain Desrosiers—a pop philosopher with an even newer book, Radiothérapie, catalyzed by numerous voluntary X-rays of his broken leg. After that, Jean-Louis Katz ignored his sales figures.

8. At four o’clock in the morning—just half an hour before the alarm (he was training for the New York City marathon)—Jean-Louis Katz awoke to a call from Paulette. She had been to the doctor earlier that day and learned her inguinal lymph nodes were unusually large. A biopsy demanded further investigation. Jean-Louis Katz walked several blocks before finding a taxi.

9. He rang the bell several times before supposing Paulette had fallen asleep and let himself in. He found his mother in the kitchen. The kettle was screaming. Paulette sat at the table, staring blankly at the clock. Jean-Louis Katz kissed her head, turned off the stove, and put verbena leaves in a pot.

10. Tea is for dead English people, she said. He said he knew many good oncologists. She had been bleeding for weeks, Paulette said, but added, Nothing that could be understood was fatal. When he began to cry she asked him, softly, to go home.

  21 The Inuktitut-speaking Nunavik—speakers of Inuinnaqtun—were said to have over fifty-three terms for snow and ice, not including compounds like savuujaqtuqtuq (ᓴᕘᔭᖅᑐᖅᑐᖅ), or serrating igloo snow blocks; salittutaq (ᓴᓕᑦᑐᑕᖅ), or snow thinned by warm wind; and aujaqsuittuq (ᐊᐅᔭᖅᓱᐃᑦᑐᖅ), or eternal snow, snow that cannot melt.
  22 Unavailable outside France, Voyage denounced the Chunnel for the deaths of ten construction workers, high taxes, ease of travel for the English, and lost income for wine proprietors in Calais.

4 May 2005
Cowering from the rain, Jean-Louis Katz let himself into the building but knocked at the apartment door. When his mother didn’t answer, Jean-Louis Katz unlocked the door and led Claudia through the narrow hallway to the sitting room. Paulette had never updated the flat, a low-ceilinged labyrinth of crevice and creaking plank on rue de Latran. The furnishings were a gueule de bois from 1980s Copenhagen, blond and gray, lined with books, built for an absent sea. Line drawings hung from the wall. Obsidian pottery scattered about the room. Today everything smelled, singularly, of garlic.

Paulette emerged from the hallway, clean and barefoot. Her scalp was turbaned in a purple cotton scarf from Morocco. She wore a dark gray sweater and tailored trousers. She crossed her arms hello.

Paulette, this is Claudia.

Hello, said Claudia, leaning in to kiss her cheek.

Please excuse me, recoiled Paulette. I’m not feeling well. Your dress is beautiful.

Thank you.

Perhaps you weren’t informed our meal would be so simple.

I was.

I’m told you’re an analyst.

That’s how we met.

You were his patient!

Jean-Louis Katz frowned. Alain introduced us.

I went to a few Lacanian meetings in the seventies. They’re like Almodóvar.

Claudia frowned, too.

It’s not a bad thing, Paulette continued. Can I offer you a drink? We’ll just be a minute.

No. Thank you.

I anyway only keep a bit of vodka in the medicine cabinet. For infections.

Jean-Louis Katz followed her into the kitchen. For dinner Paulette made a vat of aligot, unfeasible in smaller quantities. She placed it at the center of the dining table, covered in books and papers.

Do you have salad? asked Jean-Louis Katz.


This is an intimidating quantity of cheese.

Paulette shrugged. Get some water. There’s a jug somewhere in the cabinet.

Jean-Louis Katz went to the living room to check on Claudia, primly perched at the edge of the charcoal sofa. She spoke to her son on the telephone and limply turned the pages of a book on Finnish landscape photography. Suddenly he remembered Claudia despised potatoes.

He returned with the jug. Paulette had put out three cereal bowls and three American-style coffee mugs in different shapes and colors, three different spoons, and three different forks. Trembling and clammy, she grasped the back of a dining chair.

What’s wrong? asked Jean-Louis Katz.


What have you been taking?

Heaps of things. Thirty pills a day. Little grenades.

Sit down for a minute, said Jean-Louis Katz, pulling back the chair. Her gait was feeble; Paulette shrieked, kicking the chair before slumping down. She poured herself a glass of water and took angry, sweaty gulps.

Open your eyes, said Jean-Louis Katz, reaching to turn on the chandelier. Her eyes were slashed saffron and there were small, white welts on her lips.

I’m going to find a pharmacy, said Jean-Louis Katz.

What’s wrong? demanded Paulette.

It’s nothing to worry about, but we should do some tests tomorrow. Call Lambert.23

Three sophisms don’t make a truth.

How long has this been happening?

Christ, anyone but Lambert, she said.

We’ll talk when I return, said Jean-Louis Katz.

Why can’t your friend treat me Even she knows more than Lambert.

Claudia entered the dining room. I can hear you from everywhere but cannot find you.

Claudia, said Jean-Louis Katz, could you please wait here? I need to go to the chemist.

I’ll come with you. Paulette must have things to do.

Paulette tittered narrowly. Yes, I do, she said, before adding, in French, Do they make them all like this in the nuthouse, or were you just lucky? She still had a smile like radium.

You’re being hysterical, said Jean-Louis Katz. I will be back in twenty minutes.

I didn’t know your father’s fictional German maladies were hereditary.

Stop! he said in English. It’s raining very hard, Claudia. I’ll be back soon.

Claudia followed him into the hallway. I would like to leave.

No, he said. This is what you want. Jean-Louis Katz put on his trench coat, thundered down the stairwell, and, presumably, disappeared into the fog.

  23 In the previous week, Paulette struck her primary oncologist, Richard Lambert, when he declared her amateur medical research worthless and a travesty for a woman of her intelligence, who should know, by now, how to grieve.

9 July 2003
His newest analysand was an extravagantly good-looking twenty-five-year-old American garagiste named Neal, who paid fourteen euros a session—when he did—and spoke a bit like he was in Last Year at Marienbad, or the 1980s Calvin Klein commercial it inspired (oh the smell of it). Today, finally, he surrendered to his native tongue. You sound so much less intelligent in English. If you have a Lacanian analysis in Paris, you don’t want to be seen by someone from, like, Ontario.

Guelph’s an hour from Lake Ontario.


You are accusing me of possessing a set of qualities from which you want to dissociate.

Neal, of Indian ancestry, arced his neck upwards at Jean-Louis Katz in what one might call a yogic position, if feeling racist. We should speak English. But I had expectations. He made an airy gesture.

Like what?

What you’d say about my mother, I guess.

You seem to have forgiven her since she passed away.

No, I said gone. You expected her to be dead. She’s in prison.

What happened?

She said the rest of us were responsible; she enacted our wishes.

Jean-Louis Katz waited for him to explain, but Neal was diligently examining his fingernails for evidence of the moon. What do you make of that?

What if I get extradited?

That night, at Desrosiers’s house, he met Claudia, who, when he walked in, was addressing a spontaneous, besotted audience on the oceanic flight of her industrialist family from Trieste to Argentina in the 1930s. Her dress was a waterfall slashed down the breastbone, slightly rosier than her bronzed arms.

So he piped up: Is Trieste near Treviso?

Desrosiers’s friends usually trampled over his speech, but Claudia said, It’s the closest airport.

Treviso is the sister city to Guelph, Ontario. My hometown.

Near Toronto? asked Desrosiers, who would normally have cut him off, especially in public.

We laugh at them, smirked Jean-Louis Katz. You know, big city folk.

4 May 2005
Paulette wrote in a notebook. At sixty-seven, she still had tidy Catholic-school handwriting. She had switched off the chandelier and lit three candles. One smelled of verbena. Would you like some aligot? She offered, without pausing her hand.

Claudia lifted the tureen lid. Is it Inuit?

They don’t have cheese or potatoes in the Arctic, Paulette said. Excuse me, Claudia. I can’t really talk and write at once. I’m on deadline.

I’ll help myself to tea.

Just relax till he gets back.

Claudia had studied ballet at the Teatro Colón in the mid–1970s, and sometimes slipped out at night to meet a young sculptor who zipped her around the city on his motorcycle. He gave her Tourtière, plying her with comparisons to the rebellious Ginette. Still jet-lagged, she sprinkled black leaves in a mug. The stove, spattered and encrusted in purée and tome fraîche, didn’t match the narrow kitchen, scrubbed bare not only of soil but of its surfaces: paint, varnish, metal, rust. When the ancient kettle cried bloody murder she shut off the gas and poured the water, watching brown ink buckle in the white bowl.

Oh good, said Paulette, entering the room with the aligot vat and a polite smile. You found tea.

What are you writing this evening? Claudia asked.

Paulette cackled luminously. About my recovery. The drugs destroy DNA, inhibit proteins, convert glands into firearms. It’s a military occupation.

You must feel invaded, said Claudia.

No, it’s my invasion, said Paulette. But I also take acupuncture and green tea.

Good, said Claudia.

He’s been planning this for weeks, said Paulette, returning to the dining room. Claudia, somehow, followed.

He very much wanted me to meet you, she said.

At first I thought you were going to analyze me. Everyone wants that. I’m glad he’s developing new friendships, said Paulette. He isolates himself—his work, hobbies, everything.

He may follow me to Montréal.

He hates cold weather.

Claudia shrugged. A second city suits him. But you know how he is. He’s fifty and has never so much as lived with anyone.

Oh my, said Paulette. So you’re lovers. The woman’s face took on a dark cast: the brows furrowed and the eyes narrowed and her lips pursed as if to spit. Then the jaw slackened and she smiled like Jean-Louis Katz—a small smile, then a contraction, then an even bigger smile followed by another contraction until she produced an opaque-toothed grin. She howled bells for a full ten seconds.

In a manner of speaking, yes, said Claudia. She was a head taller than Paulette and appreciated the opportunity to dwarf her.

The only manner possible!

That’s not true. We’ve even discussed marriage.

Paulette caught her breath. I’m shocked, really. He needs to be picked up and dropped in someone’s pocket. Most women aren’t willing to waste their time. I can see why he might let himself be absorbed by you. But what are you doing with him? Do you really think a man like this is suitable for marriage?

You don’t recognize your son’s energy or maturity. There is nothing cynical or cruel about him.

Or porridge.

He is powerful and respected in his vocation.

Avocation, if you’ll forgive me.

I will not.

I can’t imagine the sex being very enjoyable. You see other men, don’t you?

No, said Claudia. But I try not to visualize my son in that way.

Paulette bit her lip and stood up. She went to the china cabinet behind her and took out a small pouch of tobacco leaves and some rolling papers. Maybe you enjoy his money. He’s finally hit his stride, as they say.

Claudia scoffed. It’s more likely the other way around.

What, were your grandparents poor? Do you think Belgium didn’t enjoy the Congo’s money? That China doesn’t enjoy Africa’s?

I won’t let you smoke, said Claudia.

Even I can’t imagine telling anyone such a thing.

It’s not a moral interest.

Claudia, she said, you are my son’s friend. He invited you here. I understand why a marriage between you two will probably work. But you’re being a fool. She closed the notebook and blew out the candles. I trust you’ll see yourself out.

Of course.

Paulette stood back. I did a bit of work with him when he was little. He was unusually afraid of fire. He would avoid the fireplace, like it was going to eat him, so I began calling him my little wax doll. Not to his face, she added. Normally. She touched the wick, sucking in her teeth and rubbing the warm substance on her forehead.

Claudia watched Paulette arrange the table, imagining her as Ginette, spitting in the abattoir, striking the bartender and missing, wearing suits each day to her doctoral studies, denying she was at all Ginette.

Buonanotte, said Paulette. Right?

Good night.

4 May 2005
Jean-Louis Katz found Claudia dozing on the sitting room sofa in a neat wool pupa. He found his way in the narrow black to his mother’s bedroom door and knocked. When there was no answer, he opened the door and saw Paulette lying on the hardwood floor, hugging her knees.

My yoga, she explained.

I brought a few things, said Jean-Louis Katz. This should last till tomorrow.

Why do I need three new medications to make it to the morning?

Jean-Louis Katz sat in the ornate gilded armchair at the foot of her bed. Did you enjoy speaking with Claudia?

Of course I’m not happy to hear about your life together. She’s manipulative, said Paulette, stretching her legs upwards. Blond hair, with the black roots.

That’s deliberate, she told me.

Like Hansel. You loved him.

Yes, said Jean-Louis Katz. The pharmacist wrote everything out for you.

Claudia’s beautiful, but what has that to do with you? And so much younger.

She’s forty-seven.

I thought she was under forty. Good genes. And stem cells. Paulette hated stem cells.

OK, said Jean-Louis Katz. We should leave. I’ll take you for tests tomorrow. Claudia can amuse herself.

Paulette sat up. No, I’ll fax you the results. But I have to warn you about something, Jean-Louis Katz.

She untied the headscarf to reveal a fine rust of dried blood and dabbed her head with the purple cotton before draping it over her head and around her shoulders, as she often did when traveling abroad, checked herself in the mirror across the room, and sat at the edge of the bed to meet her son’s level. She held his knee and said nothing.  

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