After a quick pit stop at the first Tim’s and a chatty disputation amongst the local nighthawks concerning the exact latitude and longitude of my pilgrim’s grail, I discovered the institution from which my wedded one was to be sprung. Not only do I not care to describe the volatile mixture of anxiety, exuberance, curiosity and vindication that enervated the drive over, but I very much doubt that I could, such was the elusive magic of my torment. It was a trip, as we used to say in the old days. I dug myself deep into the expected shame and walked in, wondering whether a march would be more suitable than a saunter.
Some relatively subdued masculine type discourse with a desk sergeant soon to be off shift in a lobby that allowed for a full expression of my bourgeois embarrassment; some shuffling of forms and signing of signatures; a motioning to sit and wait. In seconds, anonymously scored for guilt, piano and strings, my immortal beloved appears before me, the full measure of her anger as gratuitous as gravity.
She’s talking lawyers and serious litigation as soon as we’re out the door, and already I’m wishing I’d left her there to rot. God I’m tired of raging women. But there’s no time for elaborate send-them-into-exile fantasies as I soon hear the whole sordid story. A quiet evening at home had been sullied by the unexpected visit of several Halton police officers waving a search warrant. Like the sniffing dogs they’d come without, they soon uncovered a sizable hydroponic pot operation in the basement. Drill sergeant Sandra screamed her outraged innocence all the way to the cop shop, where a strip search rendered her tirade redundant, and the ensuing dust-up delivered her promptly to the cell of her choice.
We returned, like hopeless cliches, to the scene of the crime, Sandra and Bill’s cedar hideaway in the woods. What looked like a second trimester female officer was stretching yellow tape between trees as she chatted on her cell. We were months from snow, but I still thought of that movie Fargo. Gerry had the horse sense, surprisingly enough, to seek her permission for retrieving her possessions. A small suitcase that I’d never seen before, and a briefcase that I had, were quickly searched for contraband. Her blue Accord received the same cursory treatment. She was fully intent on visiting Bill, who lived with his girlfriend in, believe it or not, Burlington.
The last refuge of the white man I chuckled.
Fuck you, asshole was the curt rejoinder.
Well, I wasn’t expecting a peck on the cheek, and the virulence of her snarl made me snug in my certainty that she would not be asking me for couch space tonight. Perhaps she’d bed down at her mother’s, also in Burlington, a prospect that quite filled me with glee. I drove home listening to late night jazz from Buffalo and running the juice of her bile around my mouth, gathering the moist bulk for what promised to be a millennial spit.
Bed: I’d had a number of new attitudes to that good old standby in times of trouble recently so relief seemed altogether charmed in its reassurance. I pulled the sheets over me, smiling to the oblivious darkness.
About four-thirty I surfaced dry and thirsty, a survivor quite without the identity of memory. Storyless I stumbled to the bathroom for water. My, the house was quiet. I felt blessed, and stopped to savour the rare moment. The bedroom, though Gerry designed and implemented, had always calmed me, but tonight it knew me and let me share in that knowing. Nothing seemed to matter. Society, family, money, time: all these slowly vaporized into some big, shiny, empty moment, punctuated only by slivers of yawns.
All that excitement of motion and voices that makes our days so desirable, collapsed in on itself and became dense and heavy, as if a small block of bliss had been chopped off the old block and aimed carefully at my lap. I sat there, looking at it, foolish and cheered.
A few more hours of no-dream decadence and I was ready for work. Like some regular guy kicking glass from his driveway into the gutter. The convincing semblance of the working stiff: I faked it all day and loved it. No one knew I was a complete wingnut with a lesbian felon for a wife and a gang of newage chumps who claimed to share my lunacy. What was it that Eric said, the best hallucinations are the shared ones? Or was it me at some party a generation ago?
I phoned mother at lunch, pretty sure she’d be sober and civil. Around one was usually a safe bet. I lied about nearly everything and she seemed plump with pride. She’d already given up on the grandchildren thing, happy enough with my sister’s three, and just wanted to hear how careers were being carved and status maintained.
Of course, as a self-proclaimed child of the sixties, she’d deny all charges, but I knew what she really wanted: the myth of Woodstock smoothly mixed into a cocktail and served by someone who used to be slinky and was still well connected. Dad just wanted the tail at the end of his cock, and, at seventy, was still pretty ingenious at achieving his aim. If there was one horny senior at a barbecue, he’d find her. He once had sex with a stranger in a walk-in closet with my mother passed out on the couch. I should know: I found them there while hunting down clean towels for a shower.
How could folk that age continue to party so hearty? Dad wasn’t even an old hippy like mum. He came of age in the fifties and thought Sinatra was a god. He even had a teeshirt that said That’s Why The Lady Is A Tramp. Mum was more the semolina-pilchards-climbing-up-the-Eiffel-Tower type and just laughed at what she called his humbug. I think she’d had so much sex in the sixties she just didn’t care any more, whereas dad had always thought you had to chase it to catch it and couldn’t give up no matter what. I’d passed being amazed about five years before. Gerry’s mother could barely walk down the street unaided or participate in conversation, such was her deafness and arthritis. Gerry could rant and rave for hours and Margaret would make her tea and complain about the price of rye bread now.
Would Gerry go there tonight? I didn’t want to know and I didn’t want to care. Sandra had dipped Gerry in the shit before now, and Gerry’d come up smilin’ every time, spouting excuses and stories of a world full of assholes. She moved on the fringes of a boozy horsey set, where horse trading didn’t just refer to something that sleekly cantered. That her ex Bill had gone hydroponic was no surprise. I didn’t call him saucer eyes for nothing. They’d always seemed a bit wealthier than you could quickly account for. Mind you, the feeling was mutual. Gerry said he called me the houseproud townmouse, apparently after some rock song that he liked.
Paperwork kept me moving till five and then I was mobile for the show. You’re always an actor in this line and tonight I was really in the mood. My Korean couple went big time for the Lorne Park bungalow, which wasn’t nearly as good as the street it was on, but would keep them happy till the girls were teenagers and maybe longer. Though their deposit was double what their background suggested, their credit was strong, and frankly I didn’t care what they did in Seoul as long as they didn’t continue it here. Racist and jingoist to the max, but I was in the mood.
Some Markham Chinese, on the move, I suspected, from something warmer than sunshine, glanced nervously and cheerfully at a vintage Clarkson homestead, fully renoed and beautifully landscaped with its own little brook, nestled inconspicuously behind fence and bush both summer and winter. Price, I could see, would be no object, and the owner would likely be a numbered company, traceable as far as the Cayman Islands and no farther. I waited to see if he would offer me cash in one of several garden sheds, but alas, it was not to be. Shame, I was in the mood for some let’s-make-deal whispering. Mr. Lee, did, however, give me his cell number, asking me to call him in the morning, and to please not give it out to anyone.
We parted buddies, and I hoped he’d live till the morning, as he was going for the asking price and my commission would be, well, chubby. I’d been on a roll for a bit now, but was too blase to bless the fates, as I would have in the old days. The other stuff was just too overwhelming.
I stopped for a coffee and thought about phoning Clea. Hell, I was just down the street from her place. My wiser self said it was a lousy idea and I would live to regret it, but something else, a few steps farther down the ladder, was prone to growl, and seemed to be looking for a meow in response. Perhaps she’d pull me to her bosom and give me shelter from the storm. It was an attractive proposition, even though I’d pitched it to myself. Maybe she’d like to join me for supper.
Yup, she was expecting me to call, and yeah, she was ready to eat. I was to give her fifteen minutes. I bought some gas and chuckled at the very idea of a car wash. Her son Adam was home, and we shook hands politely, but his interest was cornered by some kind of gay soap opera. It seemed a little early for the kind of frankness I was seeing, but as we were driving away Clea pointed out that she’d taped it herself the previous evening, long after the young lad was abed. She wanted him to explore his sexuality, not run from it, and as he was sixteen this seemed a good way to start.
We ate in some Port Credit seafood joint that I’d never noticed before. Clea chatted away, doing a very good impersonation of a woman on a first date. It was as if she sensed my need for normalcy. I heard about her career flop, her failed marriage, and her loyalty to spirit, which was the greatest teacher of all. I’d heard that line before somewhere, and it wasn’t in a Baptist church.
Clea could not contain her discomfort at my skepticism. I must say, she picked up on it pretty fast. She told me she could almost smell it, it was so strong, and warned it would do me no good: I should accept my gifts, acknowledge them. Suppressing them would only make me ill. I parodied glum with a protruding lower lip and at least got a laugh.
She insisted on being taken seriously though, and in the car talked of guides and meditations. I told her Eric had felt I was already being guided, that my travels were orchestrated by those very definitely in the know.
For what purpose? she asked, slinking out of the car on charm cruise control.
For a book the maestro says. I’ve already got lots of notes, and Eric says he’s always wanted to be on Oprah.
She smiled, indulgently I thought, which suited me, as I was still far from taking the project seriously. Bad enough to be bonkers by most folks’ standards, but to broadcast it shamelessly? Madness heaped on madness surely. We stood on the flagstone path, a pause in the conversation. I admired the grace of the fleeting seconds and how they curved around us. Clea sighed, seeming to gaze at the night sky. I’ve always wanted a man with a mission.
I chuckled. And it looks like I’ve got one whether I want it or not.
Oh you want it alright, you just don’t want to admit you want it.
Being coy am I ? I looked into her enquiring eyes: they were green. No, they were grey. She gestured to the door. Come, my boy’s upstairs in bed by now.
We negotiated the door like pros, and were settled in the tv room as if dinner had been nothing but a tiny pleasing interlude. Somebody had left some scotch the year before, Clea offered. Would I be offended if she poured us one ? I smiled and said I’d swallow one down, but just to be sociable. She returned with about two inches of Singleton, and I repressed a rather masculine cheer.
We supped out of small turquoise brandy snifters, and there’s nothing pleases a gentleman with a whisky more than a lady who knows how to sit and sip single malt. I expressed my pleasure in the time honoured fashion and coyly asked what was up next.
Clea wanted to know about my wife. Why did I never speak of her ? Because I didn’t wish to speak ill of the dead ? No, I make joke. There’s really nothing to say: a contentious, fractious marriage made all the more unmanageable by sexual dysfunction and infertility.
Sounds as if you’re writing a book already.
No, I laughed, I just like to keep Websters open on the bedside table.
For late night snacking?
I grinned and sipped, looking at her salt and pepper hair hanging down to her shoulders.
No, I have no shame, and no need of fashion slavery.
My doubtless quizzical look called forth her I could see you thinking it. I could feel you thinking it. I told you, I’m clairsentient.
Why does she let her hair go grey?
Ah that. So you’re a witch then?
No, I’m psychically attuned. Just as you’re astrally attuned. I don’t wake up in the morning full of the dead and their doings, I go around every day trying not to listen in on everyone’s secrets.
Wouldn’t that be kind of fun once in a while?
Not nearly as much as you might think. And there’s a lot of crap comes with the territory. Unconscious cravings, self-indulgent fantasy, damage and damage control, – she waved her snifter dismissively – your basic everyday witchcraft without the craft.
Guns fired in resentment, wounds taken in shame type of thing? You didn’t need a degree in psychology, I went on.
She nodded, Just a lot of experience in sales.
She had me there. I asked if she’d ever done sales herself. Yeah, plenty, more than she’d care to remember. Ladies wear, lingerie, crafty gifts, education.
Selling English to immigrants? You bet. ESL was all about sales: you could see the dollar bills in their eyes. Forget about reading Shakespeare in the original, they wanted to read blueprints and flow charts, see how success was spelt in a democracy. Where they came from it was spelt in fear, cunning, cheating and bribes. Here all they needed was two jobs and a basement apartment. In five years the family’s here and in ten they’ve all got houses, nice ones too.
I should know that, me of all people. Maybe I wanted to play dumb; I was quite good at it years back. It seemed to make girls more comfortable. Must’ve been the seventies, when feminism had us all convinced they were smarter. I think I just found it easier to admit defeat than fight.
I remember a lot of guys fighting that, despite all the encouragement to go with the flow, and I remembered it right then, because Clea chuckled, and when queried, said she could feel my discomfort with women. I tried to set the record straight, but the post-sixties story of male-female relations curves many a ball, and Clea’s grin seemed to ripen with each passing second, until she finally intimated that her breasts were really big and she knew just how to use them.
I really broke wind with that one, and a ridicule as light as summer rain refreshed us both. She asked if I approved of the way she held her single malt. She knew that was important to a man like me. I thought to suggest that it might settle comfortably between her ample bosoms but fell to saying a slight tilt towards her chin would suffice. I should’ve known it wouldn’t work, nothing could be a secret from Clea. She moved the snifter slightly towards and then slightly away, settling on the tilt and smirking.
Suddenly I came over all manly and made a major advance on her trembling lips. What was I expecting, a shrinking violet? No such luck: she lapped me up like warm milk, and her eyes, when opened, said yes. And this was before I said Do you want me? Her answer surprised me: I want to serve your gift. And what gift was that, I asked. Surely not that gift of the gab that greases the wheels of my career. No, she wanted to serve my gift of the spirit. She didn’t mean all that mucking about in the other world did she? Yes, that was it. It was a mission to humanity to let them know that life never stopped…and neither did the bullshit I added, but she waved me off. No, she knew this was important and she wanted to help out any way she could. I needed looking after, and not just cocoa and cookies at bedtime either. I needed a psychic watchdog to keep malign influences at bay. And she could do that? Oh yes, that was her specialty. Elementals and little astral nasties. She was a whiz.
And how did she come by her talents, I quizzed. Well, of course, she used to play the left hand path herself, last time around, and who knows, maybe a couple before that. Oh yes, a bad tempered little witch in Wales, so she was, all manner of tawdry spells and enchantments issued from her lips that time, and now she was cleaning up the wreckage as it floated by. I presumed she meant making amends. Yes, I presumed right. She kissed me back. I went from boy to man and back to boy again. A giddiness born of personal chemistry perhaps, and the bodies merged with a minimum of fuss, right there on the couch with our old friends Conny Lingus and Phil Atio.
Later Clea cried: small aching sobs that seemed quite out of place with our previous humid hum. But I was not to be concerned, she said, she was crying over a friend, a recent graduate from chemotherapy college. No breasts, no hair, not much more than skin and bone, Peggy was a saint of suffering, sure to have a smile for any visitor. Her daughter was at Queens finishing up her B.A. Clea was driving down Sunday to visit. I could come if I wished. I thought why not, but I had a hunch it wasn’t going to happen, and said as much. Clea agreed: things were speeding up for me. Driving to Kingston would be a waste.
Sidetracking herself seemed to work: her weepy gloom had passed. I’d only had to lick tears for a few seconds, something I hadn’t done in over a decade, and the animal comforts it afforded greatly pleased me. I dunno, foxes in their den, or something primal and nurturing. We shared some more kisses and secrets, as lovers are supposed to do, and then thought it best to part. At least Clea did, as she had to be up at seven smiling. We dressed quietly and did the goodbye thing with languorous style under the summer stars. Clea was sure I’d be busy for a while, and she’d not be bothering me, but I was to know that she was always there if needed. If Eric couldn’t answer something, she could. I kissed her hand and thanked her. This was not to be a one night stand. She smiled and said I know. I felt like a hero.
Home was waiting like a sleeping cat. It unwound itself as I entered and wanted nourishment. I called Hello! And watered the plants. Houses are sentient beings, Clea had insisted some hours back, and you should treat them as such. Well, at least she couldn’t accuse me of not paying attention, a lapse that’s previously had me before the central committee of the politburo on numerous occasions.
That dreaded flashing red on the phone. Mr. Lee with some last minute instructions? I wondered. No, it was a grim sounding Gerry with some late breaking developments. Sandra’s house had been torched and Bill had completely disappeared. She was at her mother’s still if I wanted to talk. Well, no thanks little wifey, I’ll stick to my own little soap thanks. For no particular reason it crossed my mind that Bill had been plopped into Hamilton harbour with something heavy in his pockets and would not be testifying at any trial anywhere and the fire was a warning shot to Sandra. Was I psychic then, as Clea claimed, or just street smart? I wanted to phone and field queries, but the hour was late and that devil may care dream world awaited.