Marie Cardinal's La Clé Sur La Porte
English Summary - Sixth Section


Through trying to understand her children better, Marie had better discovered herself. Ten years ago she felt like an animal trapped in a cage. She is not afraid to talk about it, rather seeing this as part of her 'evolution'. She used to get into bad moods because she had not made any money, she used to get her kicks from hosting a successful dinner party, she could tell a Puyfocat hat from others and would look upon the owner favourably.

The loss of her material things had been the first step in her liberation. After two years without her possessions she had to start to work to live. She discovered that she could do all the 'amazing' things that previously the servant used to do like the washing and polishing the floors. She had opted for an unorthadox, non-bourgeoise life spurred on by her children and the leftist movement. She rejected her traditional ideologies of religion, selfishness and possession but only after serious thought. She wanted to be at ease with herself but without alienating herself from her birth-class and her mother.

Marie believes that children are sensitive to change in mood, especially in their parents. When she was happy, her children were happy and vice versa when she was in a bad mood. She had to strike a balance in being as happy as possible in accordance with herself, her mother and them.

Les Mots d'Ordre

The only thing Marie felt there was between her and her mother was the rules of the family that she obeyed because she loved her.

Never go out without your gloves
Don't look over your shoulder in the road
Don't cross your legs
Never mention the price of things
Take this money to the poor
Finish what you have on your plate, (think of those who have nothing to eat.)
Don't judge your parents
Be polite with the servants
Did you pray before going to bed?
Wash your hands before each meal and brush your teeth after
Don't speak at the table
Say 'sir' and 'madam' when addressing people, they are not dogs
Don't reply to a stranger who speaks to you and never speak to a stranger
When was the last time you went to confession?
Have you placed you soul in Gods hands before starting your day?
Be economical, money doesn't grow on trees and this family worked hard for it.
Don't look at yourself in the mirror, it's not what is on the outside that counts
Wherever you dine, don't lean on the back of your chair, it is slovenly
Remember your posture
Your parents are more experienced than you
Don't handle money, it is very dirty and anyone could have touched it. Put it in a bank or money box...

For every moment of the day and every gesture there would be a rule to make her a 'happy' and 'well brought up' child.

Souvenirs De La Narratrice

After having these rules drilled into her, Marie used to charm visitors and people in the street with her manners. She had no difficulty in complying with all these rules and it was true that doing this facilitated her life amongst the bourgeoise. It was through these rules that she could learn to adapt her behavoir to whoever she was with. She felt as though she was a part of the bourgeoise and because of that felt loyal to her mother.

After having thought long and hard about this cruel and absolute brainwashing, she reflected that some of the rules were consistant with her own current ideology such as to be courteous, to try for an education and to eat with manners. As a result she passes them on.

La Narratrice au Canada

The final stage of her change was the fire in Montréal which had put all her old beliefs that she still held onto in their place.

In the summer they went over to Jean-Pierre's who was a director in Montréal. He is a modest man, neither especially warm nor cold who does not like small talk. He would eat out of a sardine tin or straight from the bottle, the signs of a loner. He likes meditation and does not like the letters after his name. Marie and he came from the same background and were married young. They had been happy to have their three children. They had been all over the world from one post to another. He likes his current post in Montréal but there was no question that the children should go to a religous school and in Quebec at that time there was no religous schools. So was set up an unusual family life. The school year in France and the holidays in Canada. She remarks that life between her and Jean-Pierre could make for a whole pile of other books, it being outside of her life with her children.

The summer of 1970 they left for New York as there were few charter flights to Montréal. They had got used to this annual visit to the American city, each noting the progress of the pollution and violence in the capital of capitalism. Jean-Pierre liked New York where he went often at the week ends. He knew the Village and the underground theater of Broadway. After each visit he would send her vivid letters. He was fascinated with the exploitation of sex. He described at length the triangular, face-high, box 'viewers'. For fifty cents it lets you watch for a few seconds a slow moving film of a naked woman sat cross-legged. She is ugly sad and bored looking. For a few moments you get to see her change posistion, revealing all, then the money runs out. He wrote to her about lots of other American money-spinning creations and the terrible sadness borne from extreme puritanism. As for Marie she was enraged by the corrution of Harlem. It's your moral duty to fix it Jean-Pierre mocked but Marie let him say that because he was not entirely wrong.

The journey between Maontréal and New York was by Greyhound or in a hired car. Vermont, which they crossed each time is very beautiful. That year she thought that Jean-Pierre was a bit different, he seemed to regard the family as though he was a bit of an outsider. He especially talked about the appartment that he had got in old Montréal. There was a large twenty by thirty metres room in a building first constructed by the pioneers. It was originally constructed by the river but you cannot see it any more although you can smell the harbour. The rest of the building was taken up with a restaurant and a warehouse. Beyond the first room there was a kitchen, a hall and a bathroom. It was angled like the roads below and on two walls was a grid of about fifteen rounded windows. There were supports in the room of trunks of rough wood like in a marquee. The walls were made of old bricks patterned in tones of pink. His workroom had mellow coloured carpets, multicoloured cushions and intertwined hammocks. In the corner sat a bed with curtains surrounding it and a poster about that showing a couple making love in the fog. Everything was there that made up an appartment for the fashionable 'free' intellectual: the folding screen with necklaces of shellfish hung over it, oriental rocks, chinese lanterns, whispy Indian Scarves. Several telephones dot the appartment at strategic places a booklet besides each labelled 'telephone'. A rustic American kitchen a small bathroom but with a hot tub and assorted toilet paper. After receiving a luke-warm reaction from Marie, Jean-Pierre suggested that she was jealous, Marie said that she was not and that rather she felt suffocated.

The children loved it. They found found the best places to put their sleeping bags whilst Marie was feeling the effects of jetlag. She dozed for a while until seven o'clock when friends of Jean-Pierre's started to arrive, like they did every evening it seemed. About thirty came in total, all of the same demographic it seemed: thirty years old, with luxurious clothes. The was lots of wine stored in the kitchen. Marie did not know anyone. Sometimes Jean-Pierre would introduce her to some man or a woman who would lean over and embrace her like they did. They children who were also jetlagged had fallen asleep in the corner. The guests put on their records and grabbed bongos and tamborines and other instruments lying around and tapped out their own rhythm. Thye drank a lot and passed around joints inhaling deeply and breathing out eyes closed.

It lasted until six o'clock in the morning. The people were sad to leave tapping out the same repetative rythms without adding anything new. The drugs and alcohol alone allowed them to bear this boredom for so long. The only thing seeming to relieve them of this was the provocative dancers. Seeing this for the first time, Marie thought that it was going to change the party into some kind of orgie but most looked on with real or faked indifference. The dancers moved naked rapping on the bongos and tambourines themselves although no-one came near those expressing this 'art'.

Marie thinks it unbeleiveable remembering the day when she dressed him head to toe when he was to ask her mother officially for her approval of their marriage. She was ashamed of herself and tricking her mother like this. She remembers the looks he gave to the flannel trousers, the tweed jacket and english shoes. She thought he looked handsome, she thinks he looks handsome, even this evening with his white robes acting like grand high priest. As soon as she had had enough sleep she told him what she thought of this masquerade saying that this sort of thing leads nowhere. It did not stick with him.

That evening Marie sat out on the balcony where there was a barbeque. It had rained. Marie likes the summer rain. She watched the massive American cars move slowly along the road like cockroaches returning from an attack on a huge pile of refuse. Jean-Pierre came out onto the balcony laughing and saying that everything Marie had said about the party did not mean a thing to him. What was important was communication. Marie felt as though this simple phrase had been worked through intonation into a poisoned arrow. What communication?! she thought. She came back with her most profound response which was to laugh. She had nothing to say to him.

The celebrations of the night before had been supressed and instead only a few friends came around for dinner and to chat. It was pleasant. Jean-Pierre said that such parties were made difficult by their prescence and it was unhealthy for the children to stay up so late.

About two days since their arrival had drifted by, yet their interest in North American life had not faded. Everything was different. Wha surprised them the most was that they mixed the delapidated with the ultra-modern. There were dusty bric-a-brac shops and succulent looking fruit that turned out to be inedible. They went on expiditions into the eastern Jewish, Portugese and Greek districts where they found real fruit, bread and meat. It all had a kind of harrassing warmth. Sunset comes very late in Montréal


One evening Jean-Pierre returned from work covered in sweat as it was hot that day. He had a shower and only wore a pair of red briefs from then on. Marie was going to cook soem lamb on the barbeque but they could not find any petrol to light it. Jean-Pierre went to get some. Dorothée was in the kitchen making a huge jug of Cool-Aid (something Marie never wanted to see in Paris,) along with Marie who was making a tomato sauce when they heard Jean-Pierre shout Marie. They heard it again but a really hoarse cry. She hurried through to see Jean-Pierre with a can of burning petrol in his hand dripping on the floor making a path of flames. The record player and records were already burning. She went to find a rug to smother the flames. She was just crouching down when she heard Jean-Pierre cursing loudly, he had dropped the can and spilled it all over the floor. It quickly covered the main room and hall as a single huge flame, then errupted up like a beautiful but blinding geyser. Marie spotted the children by the fire ladder. Although she had not seen her leave the kitchen, she knew that Dorothée was safe and with the others. She shouted at them to go down and call the fire brigade. Jean-Pierre was thrashing about on fire. Her shouts fell on deaf ears and her gestures useless. He was trying to save his appartment.

He was badly burned when he left, showing Marie a large patch of skin that had come off of his leg. He did not realise just how badly burnt he was. The firemen surrounded him and took him to the ambulance.

The children were on the pavement outside and Maire noticed now she still had the knife and tomato in her hand for making the sauce. She also had nothing on her feet. She felt better in the fact that she had thought of her family first before any of the money, papers or even the old and very pretty family jewel.

Inside the ambulance Jean-Pierre kept on repeating Why did I set it alight! why did I burn it? Maire told him to just let it go and allow the appartment to burn.