At a time so close at hand, God was everywhere and no one could murder Him.
It was spring but winter was hanging on. The roads were slippery. It was snowing, it was raining. It was bleeding, the car had hit a moose. The animal’s blood was freezing on the windshield.
I came into the world amid my father’s blasphemies on a country road. It was the first day of spring but winter hadn’t said its last word. My mother was howling and breaking in two. My mother was giving birth in a Pontiac that had just killed a great creature of fur and antlers.
I made a hole in the newborn day. I did not know that questions existed. I opened my mouth to eat the time that was falling onto me.
One week later, snowdrops and tufts of dandelions were braving the sky above Rivière-du-Chagrin, ‘River of Sorrow’, where I, a bundle riddled with cries, made a hole in the world.
My father told me that he plunged me into the steaming body of the moose to warm me. And my mother, listening to him that day, smiled in her self-conscious silence. I asked why the river where I was born had a name filled with tears. And my mother told me that in the last century a young girl named Béatrice had hurled herself into it. People could hear the sobs of her stillborn child rise to the surface of the water. Ever since, the Rivière-du-Chagrin has been swollen with sorrow.
As for me, I was consumed by happiness at being a brand-new baby balanced on the world in his mother’s arms.
Yes, I showed up before the spring thaw, on a road obstructed by the carcass of a moose.
I was baptized Joseph Ariel. Little by little I began to resemble my name. In starched white shirts, I memorized the commandments. Secretly I drank coffee to grow faster. I looked out from the living-room window at the cars becoming bigger. Their headlights read the fog.
I learned, head bowed, how to write, to count, to pray. I watched through the classroom window as the blue sky faded.
On the day I turned seven, my father gave me a watch, fastened it around my wrist.
Little by little I began to resemble my face. I knew the imperfect. I loved words, I put an ‘s’ on them when they were numerous, I made verbs agree when they quarrelled. I dreamed of dictionaries. I crammed myself with liquorice, honeymoons, caramels. My baby teeth crumbled like sugar cubes. A dentist pulled seven at once, I counted my blood clots, I learned detachment.
I liked storms, the smell of earthworms, the terrifying forest. I fought with my friends, I liked to see their blood on the sidewalk. The sky over Rivière-du-Chagrin slipped into the gutters and weather fell onto my astonished eyelashes.