Bookmark #24 Montréal, Québec

The Heart Laid Bare by Michel Tremblay


I didn’t feel like crossing the dance floor or walking around the bystanders to join him, so I decided just to let things develop, then we’d see. I even moved discreetly towards the big window that looked out on Saint-Laurent.

I stood for a while leaning against the window of the bar, looking out at the few passers-by who were strolling down the street. Most of them turned onto Prince Arthur, looking for a reasonably-priced restaurant. In the end I forgot about the guy who’d been observing me earlier, and once I’d downed my beer I made my way to the door. He had moved towards the bar so he’d be able to see the whole establishment. Now he was deep in conversation with a guy his own age who seemed to be very interested in him, but he still kept looking in my direction, as if he hadn’t taken his eyes off me all this time. I was very flattered, so flattered in fact that I decided to hang around a little longer.

— from THE HEART LAID BARE by Michel Tremblay reissued in English translation by Talonbooks. Bookmarked in Montréal on May 25, 2019.


Author Michel Tremblay and Project Bookmark Canada President, Hughena Matheson.

Author Michel Tremblay and Project Bookmark Canada President, Hughena Matheson.

20190525_145257.jpg
 

Michel Tremblay is a Québec novelist and playwright whose work has long enjoyed remarkable international popularity. Project Bookmark Canada commemorates the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality with the passage of Bill C-150, on May 14, 1969,  with a scene from Tremblay’s novel, The Heart Laid Bare, set in Montréal, Québec.
 
Project Bookmark Canada brings fiction and poetry into place, with a national series of monuments that locate Canada’s stories in the landscape where they are set. This Bookmark is one in a series marking a nationally significant anniversary in Canadian history on the CanLit Trail.


About Michel Tremblay and The Heart Laid Bare

TheHeartLaidBare.jpg

From Confederation in 1867 until 1969, homosexuality was considered a crime in Canada, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. In 1969, after heated debate, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968–69 (commonly known as Bill C-150) passed by a wide margin. It decriminalized homosexuality and set the stage for a generation of rapid social change. Then Justice Minister, Pierre Trudeau, famously defended the bill by telling reporters that “there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Today, gays and lesbians in Canada can legally marry and adopt children.

Michel Tremblay is a Québec novelist and playwright. His dramatic, literary, and autobiographical works have long enjoyed remarkable international popularity; his plays have been adapted and translated into dozens of languages and have achieved huge success throughout Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East.

The 50th anniversary of the Parliament of Canada's passing of Bill C-150 on May 14, 1969, which included the decriminalization of homosexuality, is commemorated with an excerpt from Michel Tremblay's novel, Le cœur découvert (Leméac, 1986), for this scene set in Montréal, Québec. First published in English translation by Sheila Fischman under the title The Heart Laid Bare (McClelland & Stewart, 1989), the book was reissued by Talonbooks, in 2002.


The Passage

It was as I was watching the movements of a dancer who was very inspired and surprisingly oblivious to what was going on around him that I first noticed the dark eyes staring at me from the other side of the floor with near-comical solemnity. A former student? No, he seemed much too young and I was sure I didn’t recognize him. A very good-looking guy actually, his features fine without being feminine, like a local model sure of his effect but not ostentatious about it. Of course it happened just when I’d decided to stop cruising.

I didn’t feel like crossing the dance floor or walking around the bystanders to join him, so I decided just to let things develop, then we’d see. I even moved discreetly towards the big window that looked out on Saint-Laurent.

I stood for a while leaning against the window of the bar, looking out at the few passers-by who were strolling down the street. Most of them turned onto Prince Arthur, looking for a reasonably-priced restaurant. In the end I forgot about the guy who’d been observing me earlier, and once I’d downed my beer I made my way to the door. He had moved towards the bar so he’d be able to see the whole establishment. Now he was deep in conversation with a guy his own age who seemed to be very interested in him, but he still kept looking in my direction, as if he hadn’t taken his eyes off me all this time. I was very flattered, so flattered in fact that I decided to hang around a little longer. When he saw me hesitate at the door, he gave me a tentative little smile. The other fellow who was talking to him noticed and with an inane look that spelled out eloquently his I.Q., slipped away discreetly, probably claiming he had to pee.

Should I move in now? No, I decided to leave the decisions to him, all the way. I went back to the dance floor, now livelier than ever. He followed. But he didn’t approach me. He was still staring, but seemed too shy to speak. Only his eyes, piercing, almost feverish, were impudent.

It kills me to come up with the opening remark. I exhausted them ages ago, at least all the ones that aren’t embarrassingly dumb, and the ones that occurred to me that evening were so trite they made me blush.

He had a Université de Montréal sweatshirt knotted around his neck. The pretext wasn’t the most original but I had to start somewhere, since he obviously wasn’t going to.

“You’re at the university?” He seemed surprised.

“No … Why do you ask?”

“Your sweatshirt … ”

“Oh, that! … It’s a guy … a friend lent it to me … I put it on because of the air-conditioning.”

He raised an eyebrow at my own sweatshirt.

“I won’t ask if you went to the University of Wisconsin …”

And then I remembered the big yellow letters emblazoned across my chest.

 
 
wordmark_C-250-with-margin.png
 

Banner photo credit: Laurie Murphy.