October 1970


MY NAME IS MARCEL DUQUET and I am going to die in about five minutes. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, the crows look like nuns’ veils blown open by the wind, and I like the rumbling sound the tractor makes, the way it fills my ears as another row of hay falls before the harvester. I am forty-two years old, I have a round bald spot on the top of my head, which is so hot I feel like a prisoner who’s been scalped by Indians and hung by my feet over a bed of coals until my brain starts boiling. The red scarf tied around my tonsure is brighter than the paint on the Massey-Ferguson; it must be a visible splash against the maples and the blue sky when I make the turn at the bottom of the field.
Now that I’m on the uphill run, I can see him walking toward me through the cut hay. It’s Coco. And it’s like my heart stops beating. Then it starts again: thoughts, the saliva in my mouth, the family of crows. In a way, I already know what he wants. I look around, nothing but the field bordered by the split-rail fence, the aspens and pines, the sugar bush, above them the thick blue arc of sky, the invisible river at the end of the land. And here, Coco Cardinal trudging across the field, face completely red, glistening with sweat, fat, hunched over, hands paddling the air, winded.
I get down from the tractor, leaving the motor running, and walk toward Cardinal, who has stopped a short distance from me. He’s waiting until I reach him. Squinting into the sun, the light too harsh. As I close the distance, I wipe rivulets of burning sweat from my eyelids and forehead. I stop three feet from where he’s standing. I swallow. I manage a smile.
“Hey, Coco. Been a while . . .”
He shrugs. He’s sweating like a pig, his summer shirt completely unbuttoned and soaked under the armpits. His upper lip glistens, as though his lungs were trying to get out through his nose. His ant-red eyes want to unglue themselves from his face. Before he opens his mouth to speak, a black fist grips my insides.
“Well, if it ain’t Marcel. They let you out of prison, eh? I hope they rammed a broomstick up your ass first.”
He finds this funny. He giggles. I take another look around, the standing hay is stronger than I am. No one else in sight. My heart pounds in my chest but I hardly hear it. I can barely move. But, as I said, I manage to smile.
“I survived, as you see . . .”
He sneezes once, twice, again and again, his face twitching uncontrollably. Still doing coke, I see. As he sneezes he also seems to be thinking. I wonder if I should take advantage of it, get the jump on him, grab him by the throat and finish him off some way or other. But I let the opportunity pass.
“There’s people say you talk too much. That since you got out you turned into a real chatterbox . . .”
I try to swallow; nothing. He spits on the ground.
“A goddamned stool pigeon!”
He’s not using his normal voice. I try to gesture in protest, but my arm feels like it weighs a ton. With him it’s the opposite: he moves his arm with the lightning speed of a cobra and suddenly there’s a gun at the end of it. I feel the metal rim against my forehead, sucking everything out. My brain melts like a block of ice, useless, nothing else.
“And the other thing, you asshole, is that you stole my wife . . .”
I try to say no, but all I can do is shake my head, not so much because of the cold metal against my skin, although it’s still there. Everything happening to me seems very far away, far from my head, which keeps falling, gently spreading out into the round darkness that pushes back at me harder and deeper, at the centre of my forehead, on my skin beaten by the sun. There’s excitement in his heavy, menacing voice.
“On your knees, Duquet! Now! On your knees in front of me! I’m not gonna say it again . . .”
I let myself fall and it’s like an act of deliverance, I start to say I’m sorry, I want to say it, my eyes raised through a valley of tears, to the muzzle that bores its hole into the silence, this blind full stop in the field, this pitch of forgotten light, of sun, earth, hot. The standing hay and the hay cut down by the reaper. Bewilderment.