Lost in Translation
Warnings (highlight to view): nothing to warn for
due South Flashfiction challenge: many tongues
“Fraser, what’s with the hair?”
Puzzled, Fraser reached a hand to his own head. The summer sun beat down on them both as they strolled down Boulevard Saint-Laurent in the heart of Montreal.
“Not your hair,” Ray explained, a faint exasperation in his tone. He jerked his head sideways. “That.”
Fraser peered in the direction of Ray’s motion, but could only see a half dozen people seated in patio chairs, enjoying lunch in a sidewalk café. As he watched, one willowy, smiling woman in a dark green minidress leaned close to her dinner partner and whispered in his ear.
Fraser shivered as the fantasy caught hold of him again. He and Ray were not attending an international policing conference, stealing a few moments of sunlight in between dull lectures and duller workshops. Instead, they were tourists in this beautiful city, enjoying the sights and sounds of the Festival de Jazz or the Francofolies, kissing in a secluded spot in the botanical gardens, holding hands in the dark as they watched the fireworks competition at the Vieux-Port. He’d seen in the brochure at the hotel that China was scheduled to compete this Saturday…
Fingers snapped in front of his face. “Earth to Fraser.”
“Yes, Ray,” Fraser sighed, returning to reality. “I’m listening.”
“The girl in the green dress,” Ray said, turning his back to her and speaking out of one side of his mouth like the hero in a bad spy film. “What’s with the hair?”
Fraser took another look at the woman; he hadn’t been paying particular attention to her hair. Now that he did, however, he immediately understood the source of Ray’s confusion. “Oh, that’s quite a common, ah, colour among Québecoises,” Fraser explained in his best pedantic manner.
“I noticed,” Ray said. “But how come? It’s pretty—uh, brassy,” he said.
“Well, technically, the colour to which you’re referring leans more toward an auburn or orange, whereas brass is—”
Ray spread his hands as they resumed their walk. “I dunno, I just expected Canadian women to be more—I dunno. Mousy.”
“Mousy,” Fraser repeated.
“You know, like quiet, reserved. Lacking in, ah, brass. Or auburn or orange or whatever the hell.”
Fraser set his jaw, trying to ignore the churning sensation in the pit of his stomach. Was that how Ray saw him? Boring, lifeless?
Aloud, he said tightly, “Well, Quebec society is considered distinct by many Canadians. You may take comfort in the knowledge that we’re not all as dull as we might appear at first glance.”
They walked along in silence from Ontario Street all the way to Rachel, and Fraser felt the weight of Ray’s gaze on him the entire time.
“Bienvenue, chère,” the pretty serveuse said to him with a wink. Fraser noticed absently that Ray shot her a pointed look as they walked away with their trays.
“Okay, tell me again why I’m going to drink something that smells like floor polish?”
Fraser settled himself on one of the stools arranged at the counter which faced the plate glass window of the small casse-croûte. Across the street, children played in the vacant lot which once housed a majestic old hotel, long torn down in the interests of progress but yet to be replaced by anything but emptiness. As he set down his plastic tray, he winced as it landed hard and bits of shredded cabbage flew from the top of his hot dogs steamés. He hadn’t slept well last night, and his coordination was off.
“Spruce beer, or bière épinette, is a traditional Quebec delicacy,” Fraser explained, aware he sounded as dry as the keynote speaker this morning. “There are very few places where it is still being made in the traditional manner. It’s an acquired taste, but really quite refreshing.”
Apparently mollified on the beverage front, Ray next eyed his French fries with suspicion. “I thought you were a health freak. How come you want me to eat fries with gunk on them?”
“Poutine is another classic Québecois culinary experience,” Fraser said with the arch of an eyebrow. “The combination of cheese curds and gravy is unique.”
“Yeah, distinct society, got it,” Ray said, one corner of his mouth quirking. “Okay, here goes.” Plunging his plastic fork into the gooey concoction, he lifted a bite to his mouth after twirling the trailing threads of melted cheese expertly around the mouthful. Fraser tried not to appear too obvious as he watched Ray purse his lips and blow on the hot food. Once he swallowed, he lifted the cup gingerly and took a small sip.
After a moment, Ray began nodding slowly.
“Good?” Fraser enquired.
Ray’s answer was to quickly spear another forkful of poutine, then wash it down with a long gulp of spruce beer. Fraser turned back toward the window and watched the children chase one another over the concrete blocks and through the tall, unmowed grass.
“Where the—Fraser, just tell me where the hell we’re going. Did you spot a criminal or something? ‘Cause if you did, I’m telling you, I am off duty, and I don’t talk the talk, so they wouldn’t even understand me.”
Fraser clutched the tickets so tightly in his fist that he was sure they’d be unrecognizable by the time they reached the venue. “We’re not chasing criminals, Ray,” Fraser told him. “We’re going to see Paul Piché.”
“What’s he when he’s home?”
“He’s a chansonnier in the tradition of Gilles Vigneault…”
Ray held up a hand. “Translation, sil voo play.”
“A singer and composer.”
“Oh, geez,” Ray huffed. “In French?”
“Ah…” Suddenly, Fraser’s impulsive idea for their last night in Montreal seemed completely foolish. “Yes.”
Ray’s gaze flickered over Fraser’s crestfallen face, then away into the crowd lining up outside the Spectrum. “Pretty popular guy, hunh?”
Fraser dared to relax slightly. “Yes.”
Ray scowled, and the other man tensed again. “None of that opera shit?”
“No,” Fraser answered. “Rock and roll.”
“French rock ‘n roll? Get out.” A tall man turned and fixed Ray with a pointed stare. Ray shifted from one foot to the other, then shrugged in a very Gallic manner.
“Okay,” he said finally. “Lead on, Pierre.”
By the third song, Ray was tapping his foot and swaying to the beat, but his expression was still twisted into a scowl.
“Ray,” Fraser shouted above the music, “we can go if you’re not—”
“Nah, I’m good, it’s good music, it’s just—” He threw up his hands. “I wish I wasn’t so dumb about languages, s’all.”
“I could—translate,” Fraser blurted. Beside them, a couple eyed them, and he subsided.
Ray smiled at them, then turned back to him. “You’d have to get pretty close,” he said, an oddly warm smile curving his mobile lips.
Fraser tried not to let the shock show on his face as his heart leapt in his chest. Was that an invitation? But no, Ray couldn’t mean—
“C’mere,” Ray instructed with a jerk of his head.
Gulping, Fraser shifted his chair closer. Leaning in, he strained to remain focused enough on Piché’s lyrics to translate effectively.
je te propose
chapeau de femme
Ray’s frown deepened, and he placed his lips to Fraser’s ear. “Some kinda metaphor, huh?”
Fraser nodded, so discombobulated by the sensation of Ray’s mouth against his ear that he missed the next few lines of the song. The next bit he managed to decipher was:
je te propose
un seul baiser
si tu veux bien
Oh, bloody hell. Obediently, he translated this for Ray, who tensed when he was finished. The refrain that followed was worse.
viens dans ma vie
viens seul ce soir
toi seule suffit
viens dans mon coeur
viens à l’abri
Ray shot up out of his seat as though he’d been fired from a cannon. “I’m goin’ to get a beer,” he shouted, pointing toward the long bar which took up one side of the auditorium. “You want something?”
Fraser shook his head, watching in consternation as Ray weaved his way between the densely packed tables with a dancer’s grace. After a moment of anguished indecision, he rose to follow him.
But Ray was nowhere near the bar when he reached it. A search of the bathroom revealed nothing, so Fraser played a hunch and left the club.
And found Ray standing outside, one foot propped against the side of the building while he took a long drag of a cigarette.
“Is something wrong?” he demanded, when Ray closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the brick.
Ray’s eyes remained closed. “Naw. ‘M just soaking up the culture. Lotta smokers in Quebec, you notice that? Nice lady passing by lent me a cigarette. She didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand her, but she musta been able to tell I needed one.” He paused, brought the cigarette to his lips again. Fraser watched his cheekbones jut from his face as he inhaled.
“She had orange hair, too,” Ray added, as an afterthought.
“Please tell me what I did wrong,” Fraser said, his voice wooden, “and I’ll—”
Ray’s dry chuckle cut him off. “That’s just it, Frase,” he said softly. His eyes opened to contemplate the portion of pinkish sky visible above this stretch of Rue Sainte-Catherine. “You do everything right.” He shook his head. “You do everything right, and you don’t even know it.”
Fraser’s mind whirled as he processed Ray’s words. He tried to make sense of them, but his brain refused to settle long enough for him to draw conclusions. Instead, it kept delivering brief, flashing impressions of vacant lots and whispered words and colour and sound and warmth.
And then, for the second time in five minutes, he played a hunch. Obviously, the city around him was a subversive influence, but he couldn’t be bothered to care.
He stepped in front of Ray, who stared at him, surprise and wariness warring in his beautiful features.
And then Fraser kissed him.
When he drew back, he watched the surprise dissolve, replaced by a dawning wonder.
He leaned forward and placed his lips next to Ray’s ear, and felt the other man shiver.
“Come on,” Fraser whispered. “Let’s go see the fireworks.”
Ray laughed. “You tired of translatin’ already?”
Fraser smiled against Ray’s temple. “We don’t need a translator any longer.”
“Yeah,” Ray agreed, his mouth seeking Fraser’s. “You understand just fine now.”
Note: You’re going to hate me, but I can’t bring myself to translate those lyrics. As the title suggests, there is something lost in that process. I find translations of Québec music do not do the original lyrics justice, so you’ll just have to muddle through for yourselves. Sorry. To listen to music by Paul Piché, visit this site.
send feedbackleave a comment on my livejournal
leave a comment on Dreamwidth
Back to due South fiction