“Sex is sex in the end.” Jane Campion
I was living upstairs from this hairstylist named Henri, a short, hairy guy, mid-forties, big moustache. Despite his size, he had a lot of women. They were always showing up at our front door, either drunk or in a state of high anxiety. Some pressed my buzzer by mistake. “Let me in,” they’d scream, and I’d do it just to shut them up. They’d stand in the foyer, banging on Henri’s door, or they’d come right up the stairs to my apartment. I’d have to call Henri to come and get them.
There’d be yelling and sobbing, usually because Henri had another woman downstairs. I expected at least one of them to go storming off, but none of them did. That was a thing about Henri. They stayed and, the next morning, I’d see both women walking out the door, arm in arm, heels going click, click, click down the sidewalk.
This was going on all the time. If it wasn’t Tina, it was Suzanne or Claudia or Sophie. After a while, it hardly mattered which was which. Tina sounded like Claudia, Sophie sounded like Suzanne. Physically, they looked the same, too. They were all attractive—beautiful, in fact—but they had that look. There was tragedy galore in those eyes.
“How do you get so many women?” I’d ask Henri.
“You wouldn’t want them, my friend,” he’d say. “They’re all nuts. Especially Tina. She works at my salon. I have to get rid of her. She’s always drunk.”
“Why does she drink so much?”
“She’s Corsican. I’ll fire her next week. I’m more interested in Suzanne, anyway. She’s crazy, too, but she doesn’t drink like Tina.”
Tina reminded me of the girl in Last Tango in Paris. The hair, the eyes, the legs. No wonder Brando’s character never left the apartment. All you needed was a woman like her — unless she was crazy, and Tina was definitely crazy. Even after Henri fired her, she kept coming around, ringing his buzzer, then mine if he didn’t answer.
The brownstone where we lived was in a good part of Montreal. All the brownstones were owned by people with money. They paid a lot of taxes. They didn’t need drunks or high anxiety. They’d call Henri and tell him to shut those women up, and do it quick before they called the police.
Tina wasn’t so easy to shut up — neither was Claudia or Sophie. Suzanne kept her screaming to the bedroom, which was right below my bedroom. Suzanne didn’t scream the way Tina screamed during sex. Tina sounded like she was going to leave your corpse on the floor.
Suzanne made it fun like, any minute, her voice would crack, and she’d start laughing. She didn’t care if anyone was listening. It made her sexy as hell. Sometimes I had to get out of my apartment just to keep my sanity. She was craven in the best sense of the word. She was also a former ballet dancer. I would have killed for a ballet dancer—especially one who laughs in bed.
Eventually, I found someone, a layout artist at work, named Gabrielle. She was nuts, too, only it wasn’t from drinking or anxiety. She wanted romance all the time. She’d drag me into doorways and say, “Kiss me.” You can only kiss someone so much when you’re thinking about a ballet dancer.
I wanted to make noise like Henri and Suzanne. Funnily enough, when Gabrielle heard them downstairs, she decided she wanted to make noise, too. “I want to scream like that,” she’d say, pulling me down on the couch. First, though, she had to be kissed, long kisses, dreamy-eyed looks. I couldn’t imagine Suzanne wanting that. She didn’t care about romance or dreamy looks. She liked to scream and laugh at all hours of the day and night.
“Suzanne’s killing me,” Henri would say. “I keep telling her I need sleep. She’s an insomniac. She figures sex will cure it. I’m going to be found dead on my bed one day. Mark my words, I’ll be dead with a giant erection.”
The more I thought about love and romance, the more I wanted to be killed by rabid sex or at least something with laughter involved. I decided to break it off with Gabrielle.
“What about love?” she cried, then started kicking me.
Meanwhile, Suzanne would be out in the garden, wearing a leopard bikini. Tomatoes grew along the wooden fence. When they ripened, she’d throw Frisbees at them. A Vietnamese family lived next door. They were wartime refugees, a skittish bunch. As soon as that Frisbee hit the fence, they’re run for the back door.
Suzanne was all a man could want, but she drifted off. Henri started dating again. Soon the buzzer was going at all hours. I’d see different women getting out of cabs, beautiful women, crazy as ever. A few still rang my buzzer by mistake. I’d open my window and they’d scream at me.
One day, I met Tina on the street. It was raining and she had her purse over her head. Hair was streaming down her face. “Buy me a drink,” she said. We had two drinks, then she grabbed my arm. “I want to go back to your place,” she said. I hadn’t finished my drink. “Now,” she said.
We took a cab back to my apartment. Henri was downstairs with a new woman. Tina banged on his door and yelled, “You pig!” She ran down the steps, hailing a cab. When it stopped, she sat on the curb. She got out her compact. “You want this cab or not?” the cabbie yelled out.
Tina threw her compact at the cab window. The cabbie swore and took off. Henri finally came outside and helped her up. She ran past him up the front steps and into his place. There were the usual screaming and crying, then things would go quiet. I worried more about the quiet than the screaming.
The next morning, Tina would come out arm in arm with Henri’s new woman. They’d walk down the street, arms linked, high heels going click, click, click. At the corner, they’d stop, kiss, then hail separate cabs.
Usually, I’d find Henri standing at his door in bare feet with a dustpan. He’d be cleaning up broken glass. Inside, a lamp would be lying on the floor.
“They’re out of their minds,” he’d say, his shirt open, his hairy chest sticking out. “I’m running out of glasses.”
“You need to slow down, Henri.”
“Maybe I need someone to love.”
Trouble was, it was too hard to love Henri’s women. Give them a drink or a good reason, and they’d end up outside in their bikinis, throwing Frisbees at the tomato plants. Even Gabrielle, with all her romantic ideas, was just as crazy as Tina, Claudia, and Sophia. She’d show up, ringing Henri’s bell, telling him we’d made up, we were back in love. Henri would let her in. He’d tell her he needed love, too. “Love is everywhere,” she’d say, and go upstairs, waiting for me to come home so she could start kicking me again.
I had to tell Henri to stop letting her in.
We decided to lock our doors, promising each other we wouldn’t let them inside anymore. “Fuck the buzzers,” Henri said, threatening to pull out the wires. Things got quiet for a few days, then the buzzing started again. They’d bang on the door, neighbours would call, Henri would have to let the women in. Next morning, I’d find Henri putting out the trash, his shirt open. “They’re all crazy,” he’d say. Maybe I should move to Morocco.”
Morocco isn’t such a bad idea, especially with Tina showing up at the salon, threatening him with his own scissors. “I might need a restraining order,” he says, figuring it’s only a matter of time before Claudia and Sophia show up with the same idea. Then there’s Monique, the new one, a client. She’s crazier than Tina, if that’s even possible. She brings baskets of food, tins of caviar, then throws them out the window.
Henri’s thinking of selling the salon, opening a barbershop in Notre-Dame-de-Grace. Customers come in, get a haircut, leave a tip. Why go back to trashing things? It isn’t love. None of it is love, even if Gabrielle says it is. She calls in the middle of the night. “What about love?” she screams. I disconnect the phone, but Henri doesn’t. She calls Henri, telling him love is everywhere, and he almost believes her, until she yells at him, too, saying she hates us both for ruining romance and love and dreamy-eyed looks.
“You can’t trust them,” Henri says, not with love, or whatever it is. “Love is a very difficult thing,” he says, and it is. From his perspective, it’s impossible. So we ignore the buzzers, and whatever it is these women want. It’s all we can do these days. We need a break from love. We need a break from the impossible.