Free Infrared by Nancy Huston

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Authors: Nancy Huston
radical ideas he gleaned from Leary’s books (Start Your Own Religion, The Politics of Ecstasy, Your Brain is God, and so forth), and was hypnotised by his endlessly repeated order to ‘Question authority’. As a result, the minute someone forbids him to do something, he feels compelled to do it—apparently not noticing that this implies unquestioning submission to the authority of Timothy Leary.
    The forbidden door opens onto a fire escape, and Simon promptly sits down on it. ‘Isn’t this terrific?’ he says proudly. ‘It’s almost as good as a balcony.’
    The young man in the garden looks up and glowers at them. ‘Proprietà privata,’ he says in his booming voice.
    ‘Scusi, signor,’ says Rena.
    She drags her father back inside—gently but firmly, as if he were one of her sons—and shuts the door.
    What Simon neglected to explain to me that day, she goes on, mentally addressing Subra, was that there were in fact two ways of being Jewish in Montreal— on the mountain and behind the mountain (to say nothing of the many nuances in between). Our own family was emphatically on the mountain—the affluent, secular neighbourhood of Westmount, inhabited mostly by male Jewish professionals who had married Goys and chosen, among their people’s motley and contradictory traditions, to perpetuate only scintillating intelligence and self-irony. Outremont, behind the mountain, was another kettle of fish, and the Saturday morning I first went there with my mother was a real shock to me. I must have been twelve or thirteen, and when I saw the frowning, hard-featured, bearded men striding down the street dressed in black coats and tall, stiff, often sable-trimmed black hats, long ringlets dangling from their temples…and the bewigged women with no make-up, thick black stockings, shapeless skirts hanging to mid-calf, my eyes popped out of my head.
    ‘Who are they?’ I asked my mother. ‘They’re Hasidim,’ Lisa answered absent-mindedly, which didn’t enlighten me much. ‘Hasidim means the very-pious,’ she added. ‘They’re Lubavitches. Orthodox Jews.’ Now she’d lost me completely. ‘Jews? You mean like Daddy?’ ‘Yes, but not like him. Daddy’s a Jew too, but not an Orthodox Jew.’ ‘What kind of a Jew is he, then?’ ‘Well, you see, largegroups of people tend to split up into smaller groups, each with its own customs, its own ways of eating and dressing and celebrating feast days…’ ‘So what are our customs?’ ‘Oh…nothing special.’ ‘Why do those men look so angry?’ ‘They’re not angry—they’re just not supposed to look at us, that’s all.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because we’re women.’ ‘So what?’ ‘So nothing. So they want to concentrate.’ ‘On what?’ ‘How should I know? On what they consider important. The Torah, for example. Especially today, because Saturday’s the sacred day they call the Sabbath.’ ‘What about us? Have we got a Sabbath?’ ‘No. Yes. Well, not exactly. We rest up a bit on Sunday, which is the Christian Sabbath, but only if we feel like it. Sometimes we work Sundays, too, whereas Orthodox Jews never work Saturdays; they have to obey a whole slew of rules from sunup to sundown. I thought Simon explained it to you.’ ‘Yeah, he did, a bit, but…but I didn’t know what they looked like.’
    Impressed by the sullen, scowling faces of the Lubavitches, I conceived the plan of forcing one of them to desire me.
    Forbidden? Let’s do it, Subra chuckles. Red light? Go for it. Barrier? Plough right through.
    I’m not blind, Rena nods. I can see I’m caught in the same double bind as Simon. Not easy to challenge the authority of someone who has ordered you to challenge authority. The more I rebel against my father, the more I resemble him.
    Since my parents paid scant attention to my comings and goings, it was no problem for me to jump on my bike the following Saturday and pedal all the way to Outremont. I hid behind a tree on Durocher Street to

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