We, Jane (excerpts)

We, Jane

(excerpts)

Aimee Wall

Aimee Wall is the translator of the novels Testament and Drama Queens by Vickie Gendreau (Book*hug, 2016 and 2019) and Sports and Pastimes by Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard (Book*hug, 2017), as well as Prague by Maude Veilleux, which she co-translated with Aleshia Jensen (QC Fiction, 2019). Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Maisonneuve and Lemon Hound. Originally from Newfoundland, she currently lives in Montreal.


Jane was driving east.

Jane was driving east with a big, vague plan. They were drinking gas station coffee, eating pistachio nuts. They were talking grandiose.

We, Jane, they thought. We, Jane, they started a sentence. We, Jane, they spoke manifesto. They, Jane, were still aspiring to the name, one that slips and slides, one from which, the idea was, they would do the work.

 

But the thing was that, even then, even by the time they had made it onto the road, Marthe was still thinking of her companion as Jane, and herself as just herself, always still scrabbling her way into that We, into that Jane, believing that to be distinct from the part of her that just wanted to crawl inside the other woman, into she Jane. But Jane was not just her, Jane was to be them. Jane a great, shifting, multitudinous thing.

Jane’s mantra: We, Jane, are only just getting started. We, Jane, are just a matter of time.

 

This is how they imagined it would go:

Is Jane there, can I speak to Jane?

And Jane’s back. Jane’s a baygirl who’s been up in the big world and come home out of it. Jane’s got less to lose than ever. Jane had wanted to be a cyborg, she’d wanted to be above the body, but here we are.

So. Is Jane there, can I speak to Jane?

Jane burning into the parking lot. Jane with a pickup truck and the knowledge and the tools. Jane’s number scrawled on the walls of every virtual bathroom stall.

The first Jane had packed up shop. Jane’s work, one thought, was done. But really, Jane was always still just lying in wait. Coiled, ready. Like a fist you don’t realize you’ve made.

 

*

 

Jane had told Marthe all her other ideas were no good. Too didactic. Marthe had been thinking herself an artist and this is so much raw material. Jane told her she was never going to make anything good if she was trying to convince people of something. Marthe thought of all the ideas she’d been happily convinced of. How upfront were those agendas? She of course misremembered; she wasn’t really sure.

But what if it’s funny, Marthe asked. Then maybe, Jane said. But is that really your strong suit?

It was only when Marthe decided to write the Great Canadian Abortion Novel that she’d started having bad dreams. She had been imagining herself diligently researching, spending long days in the library surrounded by stacks of books. She had been imagining the novel as a great moment, a breakthrough, even as she wasn’t entirely sure of the revolutionary nature of what she had to say on the matter. She was focused on the saying part. But she got bogged down in the research phase.

Then she thought about comedy. She could do stand-up! This was the greatest untapped source of jokes she’d ever encountered. Why would nobody joke about it with her? They all shifted uncomfortably as they made laughing sounds. Marthe just wanted to joke about it. Take the piss out of the whole thing. And she did, she really did. She had examined her own urges the way a woman who’s been to a handful of therapy sessions would, just to make sure, but it really did all mostly strike her as absurd and strange. And funny! She probably couldn’t get away with actual stand-up but maybe it could be, like, performance art stand-up, Marthe thought. Funny in a painful, awkward way.

Google search: art projects about abortion

Google search: aborted pregnancy art

Google search: abortion art

Don’t look at the image results.

A woman named Angie who live-tweeted her abortion.

A woman named Emily who filmed hers.

A YouTube clip in which Tracey Emin sucks and gnaws on lychee berries and says about learning more from her first abortion than any fucking art college or lecture.

A woman named Aliza who told Yale University that she had potentially deliberately miscarried in a serial fashion. The shit had hit the fan. How dare she bleed out of her own womb, her own pussy, what may or may not have been cells that could have become a baby. It is a piece that exists only in its telling. Her senior project. Are you sorry for what you did to Yale? they asked.

And then, Jane.

She wasn’t Jane yet, but Marthe’s backward gaze was Jane-tinted now. Jane the sharpest eye in the room. Jane a thatch of eyebrows meeting in the middle. She was itching and anxious till Jane.

Jane catching her eye. Jane really seeing. Jane inviting her along. Jane’s long vowels sounding like home.

A sudden fit of vague, familiar longing. Knife-sharp and then duller, aching. This is how they’d do it then. This is how they’d do something, this is how they’d go home.

 

*

 

One night before Jane, in the early fall days after Karl’s departure, after their break-up really, though he had somehow managed to skip the part where he actually had to break up with her by simply informing her that he had bought a one-way ticket home to his country and would not be returning, Marthe had gone to an outdoor film screening in Cabot Square. She’d gone alone, joining a crowd of mostly women sitting on blankets and little folding chairs at one end of the park, its usual occupants crowded out down into the other end.

The film was a documentary about a Dutch doctor who travelled by boat to countries where abortion was illegal, picking up women and administering the abortion pill to them on board, back out in international waters. They went to Ecuador and unfurled a banner off La Virgen de El Panecillo with a number to a hotline that would give instructions on inducing a miscarriage. It was all more spectacle than practical, really. It was media attention, the ship a galvanizing force for frenzied activists on both sides. But they were doing something. Marthe had heard about the ship before but hadn’t known they were using the pill. She had imagined a kind of mini surgical theatre on board which turned out to be something the size of a crab boat. Really, the doctor was there to monitor women who took a pill, illegal in their countries, that made them bleed. Adjust the blanket around their shoulders. All that fuss for what?

Partway through the film, Marthe noticed a man standing just to the side of the screen, facing the wrong way. He had dark circles under his eyes, an otherwise pasty white face, a shaved head. Camo pants and a scruffy black backpack. One hand on the handlebars of a beater bicycle. He was surveying the crowd. Marthe drew her knees tighter to her chest. The pigeons flustered around his feet and he was motionless, scowling. She tried to return her attention to the film, where a mob of similarly twisted white male faces were spitting mad screaming at the little crab boat as it tried to dock in Poland. But the man remained at his station, just to the left of her peripheral vision. During a crescendo in the film, as the women on board tried to dock the boat, tried to find some way through the angry mass on shore, the man suddenly wrenched the backpack off his back and threw it to the ground and Marthe flinched, ducked her head. But nothing happened. He put one foot on the bag and kept scowling theatrically and the woman next to Marthe thrust her chin in the man’s direction and then shook her head, and Marthe relaxed slightly, smiled at her. Shook her own head at herself. They were in Montreal. It was not likely.

When the film ended, a woman got up with a microphone to introduce someone connected with the boat doctor, and the crowd thinned quickly. Those remaining, Marthe among them, slid a little closer.

There was a dampening Q and A, a lot of fired-up audience members wondering how they could join up, as if it were a navy fleet, and the guest speaker smiled, shrugging that there was no real way to join up or help out this particular group, apart from giving them money and attention. It wasn’t a fleet. Marthe wished that, at the very least, they aspired to a fleet. Something. The crowd stirred and mumbled. It was starting to turn. Marthe was itching again. The women felt like she did, maybe. It had been two years but Marthe was still angry at the indignity of it all, at the insistence of the physical body. She wanted there to be a fight about it. She wanted to join up but there was nothing to join.

 

*

 

But now, Jane.

Jane said there was someone she wanted Marthe to meet. Back in Newfoundland.

The original Jane, so to speak, Jane said. I’ll tell you the story sometime. Jane was still on this. She kept teasing the story, making Marthe wait for the right setting, the right moment.

Jane said how she’d been thinking about the space there, on the island, the potential. Then she lit a cigarette, she wondered if they should run for another bottle before the dep closed. Marthe said about maybe catching the metro actually. She made a move toward her bag and Jane said I was going to tell you about Jane, about where it all comes from.

There was a regal, petulant edge in her voice, like now she wanted Marthe to ask for it.

 

Jane the First was called Trish before she was Jane.

Trish lived in a small cove on the island, hours from town, where Jane had grown up. Trish was where Jane went at twenty-five, her marriage over, the band done. She called Trish and Trish said why don’t you come live with me for a while. A saltbox, she’d done some work on herself. Dogs. She said why don’t you come live with me for a while, take some time, I’ll put you to work here.

Trish was a midwife, the odd woman. She was the only game in town, along that whole part of the shore really. She taught Jane, she wanted to pass it on, she wanted to ensure a lineage. Midwifery had never really come back into vogue in rural Newfoundland, except in a few pockets where there was an established person and the young hippie types overlapped with people who hadn’t gotten out of the habit. There had been some quiet years, but Trish owned her place outright, her mother’s house, and she did this and that, homecare for older folks, and she had her garden, and she could make her little life easily enough.

 

What I want to tell you though, Jane said to Marthe. We would perform the procedure.

Marthe stared, uncomprehending.

She taught me that too, Jane said.

 

Trish’s mother had been the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. You know, Jane said. She had the touch. A healer. Trish the sixth daughter, who should have been the seventh but for a sister who died at birth. But Trish stayed on when the others left home, she learned at least the manual skills. To be able to take over from her mother, continue the work. So she was the midwife and she was the only place you could go.

I guess I just thought they were all so Catholic, Marthe said.

Honest to god though, how does anyone think it wasn’t going on, really.

 

So Trish did both, Jane said. At first, Jane had just slept. Shell-shocked still. She slept and she went out with the dogs and she used the side door to avoid any women dropping by with the glow on them. Trish was a good midwife. She was tall and strong and sexy in a soft butch way. The women would never have put it that way to themselves back then, of course, but they felt it. They were wary, socially, Trish was not invited to dinner or the baby shower, but they liked being close to her even if they didn’t admit it. You could just see it, Jane said. Trish had these hands, an intuition.

The women who came for the procedure usually came to the side door too, at odd hours. Trish would make it so they wouldn’t have to run into the basking big ladies, even though she privately said it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to face up to, the bellies rounding where yours will not. She felt they could handle it, she wanted to give them credit. Those women would sometimes sleep over, if they could manage it. Jane had thought it was a lover she was hearing creeping to the bathroom at night.

In those first weeks, Trish would drink with her at night after everyone had come and gone. She was a prodigious, hearty drinker, waking up fresh every morning; she could put it away, Jane said, and never miss a beat the next day.

Trish gave Jane a month, and then said okay, enough now, time to get up. Even then Trish was alert to the possibility that all her work would be for naught. It was the mid-eighties, Roe v Wade had passed in the States, Morgentaler was opening clinics on the mainland and getting raided and arrested on a regular basis. On the island, you would have to jump through a series of impossible hoops to have a shot at getting in with the one doctor in St. John’s on the one morning a week he’d deign to perform two or three abortions. But even if Morgentaler was ever going to make his way down, if Newfoundland was to get a clinic, it would still be in town and not everybody could get into town and anyway more structure and rules and regulation and official blessings were never what Trish had been after. She wanted a living matriarchal line of knowledge, to be handed down and down and down, over and over and over. To pass down the control but never hand it over. She wanted us to own it, Jane said. Trish was for the long game. There was always going to be someone with no ride into town, no money.

Trish never had much truck with the women’s groups and the activists. They were in town and up on the mainland; they wanted to articulate clear goals, work from within the system. They talked about incremental change.

But Trish wanted to burn it all down, Marthe said. I like this, she said, her voice quickening.

No, Jane said.

I did, Jane said. I would try to rile her up, get her going, but Trish just wanted a side road. She was focused on the there and then. The town. A practical woman. Pragmatic. Romantic too, though, her whole matriarchal tradition thing is totally romantic of course. Jane’s voice, indulgent.

Did she ever get caught, Marthe said.

No, there was no catching about it, Jane said. She was known. She was the odd woman, you know. That was still. Back then. She had the herb garden, she had all these salves and charms and tinctures her mother had taught her. She was a bit different. Those bay midwives were always these sturdy no bullshit ladies, no mystical moon goddess shit. And I suppose they knew she was gay though nobody ever dared say it. They just gave her a wide berth.

Jane stayed for three years.

I feel a little bit in love with her, Marthe said. Or it’s an allure. Were you?

Trish was never going to have a wife, Jane said.

Jane said what Trish believes and what I believe is important is that we have that knowledge in our hands. That we don’t let it pass away from us. She said god only knows what whim will have what man dismantles, the system and the laws as they stand now, or okay what about those pills, what if it becomes all about the pills and then one day, no more pills. I mean they’ve got about a week on the island before the fresh food runs out the day the boats can’t get in. We need to have the skill. We need to have some control over it.

Jane’s voice was rounding richly now, Jane indulging in great oration, Marthe always suddenly remembering once again that Jane had lived in front of a mic for years.

What I’m talking about, Jane said, is heirs, apprentices. I’m talking about you having that in your hands now too. I fucked it up, back then. I took off. I’ll admit it. I can tell a tale on myself, I fucked off, but we can go back now. It’s time. We can be Jane.

When Jane talked like this, Marthe felt she was being given a gift of a kind of permission, to make grand statements, to set out on a mission, to talk about inheritance and purpose and not feel sheepish. To shuck off the skeptical irony her outside life was steeped in and let her earnest believer self out. She would be Jane too. This is what she would do. She didn’t press Jane on the vague details, the gaps in the story. She took the story as it was offered, she was eager, she did not cringe. Here was a place to join up.

*

Sometimes Jane would drop Marthe back home and then call her an hour later. Marthe always picked up. She was consumed, she was going with it. On the phone then, in the evening, Jane would say again about the house. Sturdy, vulnerable.

She would say it was important that there was a kind of hearth to the whole thing, that they would work there.

Like a clinic, Marthe would say.

Like a clinic, Jane would say, but also not.

Right.

But seriously, Jane would say.

Seriously, Marthe would say.

So we would be in the house. But we could also go to people.

Can we have a pick-up truck, Marthe would say.

We will have a pick-up truck, Jane would say. And a little boat.

A little boat!

A little boat.

It was a storytime in which Marthe was the child slightly too young to be knowingly tolerant of a parent’s favorite story but doing so anyway with that curious feeling of something else in the world making sense, another little piece clicking into place. Oh. Like that. Okay.

Marthe said her lines happily, asking questions as if she didn’t know the answer.

And what would our days be like.

Our days, oh my girl, Jane would say, winding up.

We’d get up early, obscenely early. Walk the dogs, breakfast.

We have dogs?

We have dogs. Maybe even a whole pack.

A dog team!

We walk the dogs and take a little breakfast. A light one.

We are very ascetic, Marthe would say, solemn.

Yes. Keeps the mind clear.

Then we begin, Jane would go on.

Maybe it’s a day someone is coming to us. Maybe it’s a day we are out on the road.

We do house calls, Marthe would say.

Oh yes. We cover the whole peninsula, Jane would say. And imagine in winter.

Snowsuits, Marthe would say.

Long johns. A thermos of tea.

The truck is freezing.

If we can even drive it!

And if we can’t drive it.

We take the dogs!

The dogs!

A team of dogs!

Does anyone actually have dog teams anymore? Is there even enough snow?

O ye of little faith.

Go on then.

Well the thing is, it’s not like we’re the country doctor on a house call.

Doctor Quinn, medicine woman.

No. We’re like the midwife coming by. The neighbor who takes a turn sitting at a bedside.

Or it’s like one of those co-ops where you learn to fix your own bike.

Jane would sharpen when Marthe was the wrong kind of flippant.

Well.

But like a witchy godmother bike co-op.

Okay now.

Marthe would go back on script, the part she liked best.

And what would they call us?

They’d call us Jane.

 

*

 

Marthe had finally heard the rest of the story.

Her Jane told it this way: There had been an American girl in town one summer. This was the early seventies, years before Jane had come home to Trish. A college girl, niece of a draft dodger’s wife, staying with them for the summer. Trish said you could take one look at her face and know she’d been sent away from something. She would go into the store and she was always at the cuffs of her shirt sleeves, fretting them down over her hands. A little black beret pulled down cockeyed over brown cowlicks, a slash of red lipstick. Serious little thing. She was always wandering down around the beach, smoking rollies, skipping rocks, dragging around a book, the boys thought she was stuck up. The aunt was a nurse, or she’d been a nurse. She was a rare one who was easy with Trish, she was an outsider too, she’d be a come from away for the rest of her life, and they didn’t have children, American draft dodgers with no children, the women were a little cool. The aunt took the girl over to Trish’s the first week and said we’ve got a bit of a situation here and I was wondering if you could… a chat, maybe, or even.

The girl was voluble, suddenly, alone with Trish. She said she’d known for a few weeks, she said down in Chicago, at school, a girl had told her there was a number she could call, Jane somebody or other who could help. But before the girl, Jenny was her name, before Jenny could get her hands on the number it was in all the papers. Jane wasn’t one woman with a connection, Jane was a whole crowd of women and they did the thing themselves, they were busted with a full waiting room and a handful of them spent the night in jail. There went that. Jenny was crushed. She took the blade out of her professor’s razor. Trish didn’t ask why she was handy to the professor’s shaving kit.

I was so disappointed, Jenny said to her. She said I also just loved the idea of this big multitudinous Jane.

I like that idea too, Trish said. I can be a little Jane here for you now though, if you like.


Pour citer cette page

Aimee Wall, « We, Jane (excerpts) », MuseMedusa, no 7, 2019, <https://archives.musemedusa.com:443/dossier_7/wall/> (Page consultée le 07 December 2022).


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