Bondrée is a place where shadows defeat the harshest light, an enclave whose lush vegetation recalls the virgin forests that covered the North American continent three or four centuries ago. Its name derives from a deformation of the word “boundary,” or frontier. No borderline, however, is there to suggest that this place belongs to any country other than the temperate forests stretching from Maine, in the United States, to the southwest of the Beauce, in Quebec. Boundary is a stateless domain, a no-man’s-land harbouring a lake, Boundary Pond, and a mountain the hunters came to call Moose Trap, after observing that the moose venturing onto the lake’s western shore were swiftly tripped up on the steep slope of this rocky mass that with the same dispassion engulfs the setting suns. Bondrée also includes several hectares of forest called Peter’s Woods, named after Pierre Landry, a Canuck trapper who settled in the region in the early 1940s to evade the war, to flee death while himself inflicting it. It’s in this Eden that ten or so years later a few city-dwellers seeking peace and quiet chose to build cottages, forcing Landry to take refuge deep in the woods, until the beauty of a woman called Maggie Harrison drove him to return and roam around the lake, setting in motion the gears that would transform his paradise into hell.
The children had long been in bed when Zaza Mulligan, on Friday 21 July, stepped onto the path leading to her parents’ cottage, humming “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” flung out, in the bedazzlement of that summer of ’67, by Procol Harum, along with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” She’d drunk too much, but she didn’t care. She loved seeing objects dancing about her and trees swaying in the night. She loved the languor of alcohol, the odd gradients of the unstable ground, forcing her to lift her arms as a bird unfolds its wings to ride the ascending winds. Bird, bird, sweet bird, she sang to a senseless melody, a drunken young girl’s air, her long arms miming the wings of the albatross and those birds of foreign skies that wheel over rolling seas. Everything around her was in motion, all charged with indolent life, right up to the lock on the front door into which she couldn’t quite manage to insert her key. Never mind, because she didn’t really want to go in. The night was too lovely, the stars so luminous. And so she retraced her steps, crossed back over the cedar-lined path, and walked with no other goal than to revel in her own giddiness.
A few dozen feet from the campground she entered Otter Trail, the path where she’d kissed Mark Meyer at the start of summer before going to tell Sissy Morgan, her friend since always and for evermore, for life and ’til death do us part, for now and forever, that Meyer frenched like a snail. The slack memory of that limp tongue wriggling around and seeking her own brought a taste of acid bile to her throat, which she fought off by spitting, barely missing the toes of her new sandals. Venturing a few awkward steps that made her burst out laughing, she moved deeper into the woods. They were calm, with no sound to disturb the peace in that place, not even that of her footsteps on the spongy earth. Then a light breath of wind brushed past her knees, and she heard something crack behind her. The wind, she said to herself, wind on my knees, wind in the trees, paying no heed to the source of this noise in the midst of silence. Her heart jumped all the same when a fox bolted in front of her, and she started laughing again, a bit nervously, thinking that the night gave rise to fear because the night loves to see fear in the eyes of children. Doesn’t it, Sis, she murmured, remembering the distant days when she tried with Sissy to rouse the ghosts peopling the forest, that of Pete Landry, that of Tanager, the woman whose red dresses had bewitched Landry, and that of Sugar Baby, whose yapping you could hear from the top of Moose Trap. All those ghosts had now vanished from Zaza’s mind, but the sky’s moonless darkness revived the memory of the red dress flitting through the trees.
She was starting to turn off onto a path that intersected with Otter Trail when there was another crack behind her, louder than the first. The fox, she said to herself, fox in the trees, refusing to let the darkness spoil her pleasure by unearthing stupid childhood terrors. She was alive, she was drunk, and the forest could crumble around her if it wished, she would not shrink from the night nor the barking of a dog that had been dead and buried for ages. She began to hum “A Whiter Shade of Pale” among the swaying trees, imagining herself in the strong arms of someone unknown, their dance slow and amorous, when she stopped short, almost tripping over a twisted root.
The cracking came closer, and fear, this time, began to steal across her damp skin. Who’s there, she asked, but silence had fallen upon the forest. Who’s there, she cried, then a shadow crossed the path and Zaza Mulligan began to retreat.
Excerpted from BOUNDARY. Copyright © Andrée A. Michaud, 2014
Translation copyright © Donald Winkler, 2017. Published by Biblioasis International Translation Series. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.