A Billion Little Pieces

Illustration by Clayton Hanmer It was one of those days that fill you with hope and a sense of tristesse. They come often to this part of Provence, where our …

Clayton Hanmer
Illustration by Clayton Hanmer

It was one of those days that fill you with hope and a sense of tristesse. They come often to this part of Provence, where our family summered during the years that my father was — Ow! Christ! You won’t believe what just happened. My sister, who is actually a half-sister and who is genuinely nuts but won’t see a therapist because she says it will interfere with her creativity even though her creativity is pretty much limited to finding new things to mix with vodka, just threw her half-empty vodka glass at my head. She missed my head, luckily, but it hit me in the shoulder. That sound you hear in the background is her slamming every single door in the house. She is exceptionally mature for thirty-eight.

Anyway, it was late August and my father and I walked along a country road beneath the dappled leaves of the plane trees. We were going to visit an abattoir, he said, because it would give me an idea of how life worked and why we…oh, now what? You should hear the screaming coming from outside. I’d better check. You’re not going to believe this. My stepmother is on the gardener’s John Deere lawnmower and she’s chasing my half-brother Batifole — from Dad’s third marriage, which was annulled after twenty-five minutes — around the courtyard. They have issues. The main one, I suppose, is that it isn’t such a hot idea, though entirely legal it turns out, to sleep with your stepson. He broke it off and is now having an affair with one of the other stepmothers at the tennis club. I can’t believe she knows how to drive a lawnmower.

But back to Provence. As my father and I walked, a pleasant Provençal breeze in our faces, his hand ruffling my hair, it seemed that…oh god, this can’t be good. Batifole is in my stepmother’s Jaguar. He’s yelling something. He just put it to the mat, laying rubber for twenty metres. He’s shot through the hedge and…now the Jag is in the pool. There isn’t any water in the pool because Filippo, the pool boy, was too busy having an affair with my crazy sister to fill it, though the last time anyone swam in the pool was maybe 1978. It looks like the air bags all went off on impact.

But we were talking about my father. I was happy to be going to an abattoir with him on this beautiful summer day. In his company, I felt…man, speaking of Dad, that’s his limo pulling into the courtyard. He wasn’t supposed to be released until 2008. Maybe he got out for good behaviour, although that seems unlikely. Prescott is opening the door and Dad is stepping out. He looks pretty good for eighty-four.

Uh-oh. My sister has just come out of the stable with the custom-made shotgun that cost maybe twenty grand and was made by some shotgun guru in England, and she’s aiming it at Dad. I’ll say this much for her: she may be nuttier than a fruitcake, but she’s not a bad shot. Of course, since it’s already 10 a.m., she’s pretty loaded. She just squeezed one off. Prescott went down kind of hard. It’s only birdshot, so he’ll be okay. It certainly got my father’s attention though.
Speaking of which. The smell of the abattoir was something I will never forget. It was thick and visceral. The floor was slick with blood and there was a terrible bellowing from the pigs and cows and rabbits. At that moment, I realized that despite summering in Provence for thirty years, my father didn’t speak a word of French. He didn’t actually know what the word abattoir meant. Clearly, he thought it meant something else. He fainted, collapsing onto the slippery floor. It was one of those moments when a boy realizes that his father…

Well, the police just arrived. I’d better go and make a statement. They’ll want to know what really happened.

Don Gillmor
Don Gillmor’s book To the River  won the Governor General’s Award for nonfiction.