translated by Melissa Bull

MONOLOGUE 12 – Autumn 1974

Spotlight on Nadia.
A black rotary phone.


I was buying pistachios for those baklawas
with the aunt’s stuffing recipe
and then I don’t know what happened
the bag ripped
they fell out of my hands
they spread
out all around me
on the floor at Steinberg’s
everything stopped Rita.
I saw the pistachios rolling
under the grocery cart wheels
under heels
no one moved.
There was Mrs. Hayat
Mrs. Lutfi
Mrs. Khoury
in a black mink coat
very nice
it was looking at me.
Everything in the grocery store just froze.
The butcher held his knife
over the meat

the pastry chef’s cake
six inches over the box
even the cashier in the front
her fingers in mid-air
over her cash register.

And then
everything happened very fast.
The butcher looked straight at me
with his crossed eyes
he laid me down on the floor
he cut me into little pieces
he yelled:
“No, it’s not your birthday!”

And then the baker
the one from the Gascogne
I asked myself
what was she even doing there
the one with the port-wine stain on the left side of the face
you know how she is always so disagreeable
always it seems that she’s gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.
She smiled at me
with her nasty stain
and her gold tooth
she has a gold tooth you know.
And then
the cake
rose up and up towards the ceiling’s neon lights
it stretched
it began to cry
like a little baby the cake
a big baby boy
he cried and cried
and then
A beautiful cake
a buttercream cake with butter icing
and pink and yes even blue flowers
on top.

(She sings softly.)
Happy Birthday Nadia.

What happened then,
Rita, ya oukhti, my sister,
The Earth did it stop turning?
Rita are you there?
What is happening to me?
Rita you’re not listening to me.
Rita where are you?
You swore you would always be there for me.
Remember in the plane
the two sister-in-laws who were going to marry two brothers
in Montreal.
A city I didn’t even know existed
do you realize.
I was 16 years old
it was my birthday
a stewardess put a candle
on a little cake
Do you remember?
You said
it’s the beginning of a new life
you swore you would be like a big sister to me
you should never have left the duplex.
She is always at my back I can’t stand it.
And my sisters
will never come you know.
The aunt will never agree
to pay for their plane fare
even though she promised:
one year Lamia
then Saouda.
“Your brother he will figure it out!”
Only Lamia came.
And the worst
I only got one letter
just a single letter from my mother
do you realize?
And the telephone we won’t talk about it
the long-distance calls are forbidden
in this house.
Why did she give me
to these shoe salesmen
my mother.
Ya Rita tell me.

Are you there?

Dial tone.


Melissa Bull is a writer, editor and translator based in Montreal. Her writing has been featured in Event, Matrix, Lemon Hound, Broken Pencil, The Montreal Review of Books, Playboy andMaisonneuve. She has translated such authors as Kim Thuy, Évelyne de la Chenlière, Raymond Bock, Alexandre Soublière and Maude Smith Gagnon for various publications, including Maisonneuve, where she is the editor of the “Writing from Quebec” column. Melissa has a BA in creative writing from Concordia University and has taken writing workshops with Summer Literary Seminars Saint Petersburg and Montreal as well as with the Toronto New School. She is currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Her collection of poetry, Rue, and her translation of Nelly Arcan’s collection of essays and fiction, Burqa de chair, are forthcoming.

Formée à l’École nationale de théâtre du Canada en Écriture dramatique, Pascale Rafie est également détentrice d’une maîtrise en théâtre de l’École supérieure de théâtre de l’Uqam. Elle se consacre depuis de longues années à la création théâtrale. On lui doit plusieurs textes pour jeune public dont le classique Charlotte Sicotte et plus récemment Carton rouge sur carré vert. Elle est aussi de l’équipe de création de Cabaret Neiges Noires. Récemment, sa pièce, Les filles Lafaille, a été produite en 2012 à Rouyn Noranda. La recette de baklawas a été présentée au mois d’août 2013 en lecture publique dans le cadre de Dramaturgies en dialogue, une production du Centre des auteurs dramatiques (CEAD), au Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui, à Montréal. Pascale Rafie enseigne actuellement le théâtre au niveau collégial.