Voice over, p.1

Voice-Over, page 1



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  Copyright © 1992 Carole Corbeil

  This edition copyright © 2013 Cormorant Books Inc.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system

  or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent

  of the publisher or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency

  (Access Copyright). For an Access Copyright licence,

  visit www.accesscopyright.ca or call toll free 1.800.893.5777.

  The publisher gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the

  Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for its publishing program. We acknowledge

  the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book

  Fund (CBF) for our publishing activities, and the Government of Ontario through

  the Ontario Media Development Corporation, an agency of the Ontario Ministry

  of Culture, and the Ontario Book Publishing Tax Credit Program.


  Corbeil, Carole (Carole Cecile)

  Voice-over / Carole Corbeil.

  Issued also in electronic formats.

  ISBN 978-1-77086-006-3

  ISBN 978-1-77086-115-2 (mobi)

  ISBN 978-1-77086-114-5 (epub)

  i. Title.

  PS8555.O5935V6 2012 C813’.54 C2013-906541-2

  Cover photo and design: Angel Guerra/Archetype

  Interior text design: Tannice Goddard, Soul Oasis Networking

  eBook development: WildElement.ca

  Printer: Trigraphik LBF

  Printed and bound in Canada.

  The interior of this book is printed on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper.


  390 Steelcase Road East, Markham, Ontario, L3R 1G2


  For my mother and my daughter



  CLAUDINE, June 1984

  LIGHTS, 1950


  HARNESSES, 1950s

  JANINE, July


  ASCENSION, 1950s

  TANGO, July


  ODETTE, July, Jamaica

  JANINE, July


  CHRISTMAS, 1960s

  ODETTE, July

  CLAUDINE, August

  ODETTE, August

  JANINE, August

  CLAUDINE, August

  AUGUST 1962

  ODETTE, August

  CLAUDINE, August




  June 1984

  I t is lunch time. The waiting room smells of cabbage and institutional disinfectant. In her steno pad Claudine writes, Everything gouged and scarred and worn but spic and span. You can still feel the huge grey mop that has gone over everything, wiping out cigarette ashes and grief.

  Claudine is waiting for Cindy, a “young offender.” She has given offence, has been taken out of the group home where she was living and put away in a correctional institute until the courts decide what to do with her.

  Most of the young women here, Claudine has noticed on many visits, have had themselves pierced or tattooed. They are like a tribe with roses, hearts, lizards, snakes, devils and spiders on their limbs. Words, sometimes men’s names, are laced into the designs.

  Cindy stands out from the tribe. No tattoos, no make-up, she looks lost and unprotected. When Claudine saw her working in the kitchen garden of the institute, foot pushing down on a spade, digging a hole for a tiny tomato plant, she thought of her sister, Janine. Cindy had that faint air of having given up a long time ago. In the garden, she was doing what she was supposed to be doing, but she wasn’t really there; the air around her was soft and syrupy. She had freckles on her shoulders, her hand left a print of sweat on the wooden handle of the spade.

  Most of the footage Claudine had shot for her documentary was of women in maximum security, and she’d come to the correctional institute looking for something else. Following the women around the penitentiary in Kingston was like trying to decipher a code. They lied, they exaggerated, they wanted to shock. Claudine figured she needed something else, something softer. She needed a Cindy.

  Cindy is to come to the visiting room after lunch. Claudine has already set up the lights and the tripod for the videocam. She will warm Cindy up for fifteen minutes, and then Anne, who does all the camera work for her documentaries, will show up with the camera.

  Claudine writes, Don’t fucking blow it, then scratches it out. My god. She’s started to say fucking this and fucking that about everything. Last night, when Colin said you’re disappearing into them, she wanted to say it’s not true. She thought, it’s his way of getting off the hook as usual. But there’s truth in what he said. She is disappearing, becoming what she’s watching. She’s got to be careful. It’s starting to make her sick.

  “YEAH, SOMETIMES,” CINDY SAYS. “Sometimes I remember her.” She’s wearing a grey T-shirt that covers her big breasts and jeans.

  “What do you remember about her?”

  “I don’t care.”

  “Did she hurt you?”

  “She wasn’t there, how could she hurt me?”

  “I thought she was there for a while. I thought she left when you were six.”

  “Fuck. My mother didn’t leave. I told you she died. She up and died. Get it?”

  “Your father?”

  “He kept me for a while. It wasn’t his fault, eh. I was lots of trouble. Sometimes he said I was like her, kind of born crazy.”

  “What do you think?”

  “I’m trouble. I’m dumb, eh. Kind of thick. Cindy’s thick. Can I have a cigarette?”

  Cindy pushes the bangs from her green eyes and starts to bite her fingernails.

  “Here.” Claudine hands her a cigarette.

  “Next time can you bring me some chocolate. I’ll talk for the camera, but bring me some chocolate, and what do you call those things, those licorice things with colours, you know, in layers?”

  “Licorice allsorts?”

  “Yeah. I like those. I really like those.”

  Claudine lights Cindy’s cigarette with her Bic lighter. She can’t stop staring at Cindy’s nails. She hasn’t seen nails bitten to the quick like that since grade school. Who did she know with nails like that?

  “I can’t help it,” Cindy says.


  “Biting my nails. You bite your nails, too, but not so they show.”

  Claudine laughs. It’s true. Not so they show. She stands up, smoothes her short skirt and walks over to the window. Where’s Anne? She’s supposed to be here by now. Things are about to turn. Claudine can feel it, just like an animal feels when a storm’s about to come. That’s what you want the camera to catch, when the subject’s about to unwind with such force that they turn the camera into the thing that hemmed them in.

  “This place,” Claudine says, “reminds me of Catholic schools I went to. It has the same smell.”

  “You have a funny name. How do you say that?”

  “It’s French.”

  “I know that.”

  “Beaulieu. It means beautiful place. I’m from Montreal. I grew up in French.”

  “You don’t sound French.”

  Claudine wants to say when I drink a lot I sound F

  Cindy flicks ash into the little aluminum plate that serves as an ashtray. “He said my mother was French. Her name was Lucille. One time I said I was gonna go look for her. That’s when he said she was dead. Do you think she’s dead?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Do you think he’s dead?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Do you know why I’m here?”

  “No.” It’s a lie. Claudine knows why. She just doesn’t want to get into anything tricky without Anne on the camera. People don’t give themselves away twice.

  Watching the back of Cindy’s head, her wavy brown hair, her rounded shoulders, Claudine realizes that she wants to be in Cindy’s place. She wants someone to ask her questions.

  “Say it.” Cindy turns in her chair and faces Claudine at the window. “Come on, big shot, say why I’m here. Big shot with the miniskirt. You think Cindy’s thick, too, don’t ya? Well say it, say why I’m here.”

  “I don’t know, Cindy.”

  “I don’t know, Cindy.”

  The mockery is perfect. Claudine looks at the blue sky through the opened window. They’re in the middle of an industrial park, but this building is made of old, pink granite from some Ontario quarry, an imposing old building with a drive lined with poplars. Claudine can’t move. Her body is trying to hold on to the moment until Anne gets here with the camera. She’s got to hold on now, a little while longer.

  “Cindy, I don’t think you’re thick,” she says. “Don’t say that about yourself.” Then she sees a Citytv van driving into the parking lot. No wonder Anne’s late, she’s been chasing ambulances again.

  “French, eh? What you doing here?” Cindy says.

  “I don’t know.”

  She can feel Cindy getting angry because she keeps saying I don’t know. But she doesn’t know. It happened, that’s all, she moved here with Janine in the seventies, and sometimes wakes up in the morning and thinks, I want to go home.

  “I hate the name Franco-Ontarian,” Cindy says.

  “Yeah, I know what you mean. It sounds like canned food.”

  “That’s what I’d be, eh. Franco-Ontarian. On my mum’s side, anyway.”

  The door behind them opens, and Anne comes in, apologizing. There was an accident on Islington. A transport truck and a mini. “It’s going to be all over the Sun,” she says. “I don’t want to know what happened. I had to take a few pictures for City. They’d kill me if they knew I was in the area and I didn’t do anything. Never mind. Hi, Cindy.”

  She’s all out of breath. Her short hair looks wet and slick as if she’s just stepped out of the shower, but you can smell the gel, something just a cut above Dippity-Do. So efficient and brisk, she is, with a vest full of mikes and wires. Anne always wears vests, or something sleeveless to show off her slender, muscular arms. She pumps iron every day.

  Claudine sits down in front of Cindy.

  “Claudine, give me a voice check,” Anne says, all husky, smiling with that big gap between her front teeth.

  Claudine goes into her automatic voice. “Citytv, Everywhere. Citytv, Everywhere. Testing. Testing one, two, three. What a slogan. So comforting. It’s like saying Idiots, Everywhere.”

  “No,” Anne says, and moves behind Claudine. “It’s like saying Pretty Idiots Who Blow the Boss, Everywhere.”

  Claudine turns. “An-nie.”

  “Ooops, sorry. Can you say something, Cindy? Are you okay? Are you comfortable? Pardon my language. I’m very crude. That’s why I’m crew. The crew’s always crude. Makes the boss feel refined.”

  Claudine laughs. Anne starts adjusting the lights around them.

  They are quiet now, watching Anne work. Cindy, who’s sitting across from her, looks fascinated by Anne.

  Anne flicks a switch and the visiting room is suddenly flooded with bright white light. Cindy’s hair takes on an auburn lustre, her eyes are shiny. Anne nods, the camera’s on.

  “Cindy, I’m sorry I lied,” Claudine says. “I know why you’re here. Can you look at me. That’s it.”

  “If you know,” Cindy says, “don’t ask me.” She’s petulant now. She thought it was going to be different.

  “But I don’t know why you did what you did.”

  “You know that, too. Everybody knows about Cindy, but they pretend they don’t, so they can feel good about askin’.”

  They stare at each other in the blazing lights. Cindy’s mouth is set in a straight line, her cheeks are flushed in the heat of the lights. There is something beautiful about her that she won’t allow. It’s like looking at a lovely view through a smudged windowpane.



  “We don’t have to talk about it right away, if you don’t want to.”

  “I didn’t know what else to do.”

  “You could have told.”

  “He was like my dad, eh. He said I was pretty, the prettiest.”


  “All the time I’m screaming it out of my forehead.” Cindy’s got her chewed-up index finger on her forehead, and she’s jabbing at it. “In here, I’m screaming, I’m screaming.” Her teeth are clamped, she is breathing heavily, still jabbing her forehead. “Do you see it?” she says.

  “What do you see?”

  “I can’t tell. I’m gonna die if I tell.” She’s yelling now. “She doesn’t do nothin’ for me.”


  “Fuck you. I don’t want you. I don’t want any of you.” She brings her face back down on the table, cradles it in her hands.

  Claudine looks at Anne, who seems to be in a trance behind the viewfinder. The light bounces off Cindy’s hair, bathes her lightly tanned arms with radiance.

  “I don’t want you,” Cindy mumbles. She looks up, face wet, a strand of hair stuck to her cheek, and then crumples back on the table. “I don’t want you.”

  Claudine finds a kleenex in her bag, touches Cindy’s hand. After a while Cindy looks up, takes the kleenex, blows her nose.

  “Fuck you,” she says in a feeble voice. “Fuck you all.”

  Claudine gets up, smoothes her black miniskirt and kills the lights.

  “Bring me those licorice things,” Cindy says. “Next time.”

  CLAUDINE IS SHIVERING, EVEN though it’s hot in the van. The sun-dappled green of trees whizzes by. Clusters of sumachs by the roadside fan out to tall maples and locusts that almost meet in a green arch in the blue sky over Rosedale Valley Road. The van windows are open. Claudine sticks her head out, and almost loses her breath. The heat is so sudden this year, the season’s moved from light lacy green to full bloom in a couple of weeks.

  “We can do it in voice-over,” she says.

  Anne gives her a quick look. “Sure.”

  “You were late. It threw me off.”

  “I told you what happened. It wasn’t my fault.”

  “I didn’t say it was your fault.”

  Anne flips the radio on, pushes the buttons to find a station. Aggressive static, then Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” comes on.

  “I love this road,” Claudine says. “It’s the greatest road in Toronto.”

  Anne sings along to the radio, going into high gear with “Some son of a bitch would die.”

  Claudine looks at Anne’s profile. She looks so fresh in her short, cropped hair, her face is like a kid’s.

  Claudine thinks, I used to like what I did. Or maybe she just liked it that other people liked what she did. Critics called her work tough, unsentimental, uncondescending. Over the last four years, she’s done a documentary on prostitutes, a documentary on drug abusers, and for the last year and a half she’s been working on this women in prison thing.

  When she started she wanted to push people’s eyes into what they didn’t want to see. She wanted them to s
ee the damage, to see where the damage ended up. But seeing is not believing. The response she got was admiration for her form, for the pitfalls she avoided, for what she — and the she part was important at that point — was able to take. It was men who praised her. How did you get that stuff, they’d say, shaking their heads, how do you do it? Most of the women didn’t like her detachment. They wanted her to go soft in the middle and slap on a moral at the end. Maybe she just imagined that. Maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe those voices were closer to home. Her sister wanted to know when she was going to do something nice for a change. And her mother, when they talked, once every two years or so, well, Claudine could feel that Odette was proud of her, but that she seemed ashamed as well. As if what Claudine did had ever had anything to do with her. In spite of, she wanted to say, in spite of you, I am making something of myself.

  “So,” Anne says, “what did she do?”



  “She set fire to this guy’s room. The guy who was supervising the group home she’s in. She poured kerosene around his bed and set a match to it. He was sleeping. He got second-degree burns.”


  “The guy almost died.”

  Anne stares ahead at the road, then gives Claudine a quick look.

  “And then she took some pills. The usual.” Claudine swallows. She’s heard worse. There’s just something about Cindy that gets to her, the way she bites her nails, the way she sucks the tips of her hair when she’s crying.

  “You’re having a bad day. That’s all.”

  “A bad day? I’m having a bad day? Citytv is Everywhere, no doubt about it.”

  Anne’s laughing. They’re both laughing now, hysterically.

  “You’re used to gruesome,” Anne says. “We’re the gruesome ghouls, the girl-ghouls, remember?” That’s what they called themselves back when they worked as editors in local news. Before they went freelance and Claudine started to win prizes.

  Claudine is suddenly all choked up, and she doesn’t want Anne to see. Anne will poke and get her unravelling, then give her some cheery advice. Claudine looks at her legs, and wonders if she should shave them for the summer. “I’ll take the tape, okay?” she says. “I’ll check the sound out. See if there’s something I can use. See if there’s something I need.”

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