Saturday, July 16, 2011
The Smell of Fire - Part Two
See Part One here
Yeah, he was lonely. Yeah, there was no sex in his marriage. His only child, Courtney, was in an impossible childless marriage to a cocaine dealer. All of this rang with the familiarity of the old angelus bells at noon. His oddly hesitant honesty blurting out nuggets in the midst of his life's biography. He'd had a superb private education courtesy of his anonymous father. He'd been a fearful child, sensitive to the jibes and jeers of his schoolmates who learned of his unusual status in an era when “unmarried mother” was pronounced “whore”.
He wanted to get into the work force and quickly to avoid further stigmatization, so he dropped out of university and became a fire fighter at 19. He didn't like it, not one bit. He should have been an academic, he said, but the money was good and he met Rose, the cousin of one of his workmates, at the annual ball, she was a bit older and very serious. Just what he needed as he was a bit of a dreamer. Her dad had been a contractor when the vast swathes of the suburbs of Toronto were being built and died at sixty leaving his four daughters to share in a million dollars. Enough to pay off all their houses.
Trouble was, and here he was hesitant and his cheeks coloured in that strangely attractive way, his wife and her sisters went four times a year to Las Vegas and spent. And spent. So it wasn't like he was living the life of Riley in a mortgage-free house. They still did not have quite enough, even with the nephew's repayment (thanks to you, he said huskily) for him to retire. Even though he could buy himself out now and have a pension as he had just turned 50.
Way back, his daughter had been in high school then, he'd fallen for one of her teachers. Much like me. He'd gone for coffee with her and said to her what he was about to say to me. And that was his only attempt at having a special friendship until he met me.
He wasn't in it for sex, he had to make that clear, but he always had difficulty with friendships due to his childhood status. He never got in the practice of it then. And it became an even bigger challenge at the fire station. Friendships, that took poker and baseball and golf, didn't it? Whereas he just always wanted to be friends with women and talk books and ideas and theatre. And that was impossible, working where he was. And then Rose, how could she understand him hanging around with other women without her. She consumed Harlequin romances like candy. One a day. Though he wasn't critical of people's reading. Don't take him wrong. Reading was good no matter the content. But his field of private interest was medieval history, he loved the middle ages. And its music too. This made him an object of some amusement to his wife and her sisters and friends. And even to his own daughter. A strange bird, they called him. See? He never quite fit in anywhere.
That was easy to see considering his parentage. Old fashioned now, of course. Nowadays, one wouldn't bat an eye at a single mother or speculate on an absent father. But then, it was another story. His mother would never tell him or anyone who this ghostly Other was. Up to this day. And then he blurted out:
“You'll have to meet her!”
Now that got my attention. I snorfled into my cappucino and looked at him, licking the foam off my lips. Had I heard him right?
His face lit up. He became alive. I saw the boy he must have been, excited, proud, his hands coming into play (those lovely hands) as he described his mother's photography business. Her awards, her attention to detail, to unusual locations. Martha Carbery. Who hadn't heard of Martha Carbery? I had seen her exhibits, seen fabulous lake shots in local newspapers, seen her series on the old Toronto docklands.
“I'll ask her to shoot you,” he said excitedly, “Oh, she will love you!”
Ahem, said I, once his hands and voice went still and he sipped his coffee, his delighted eyes never leaving my face, what about Rose?
He looked surprised. Startled almost.
“Oh”, and there was an odd sort of relief in him, rippling slowly through his long, rangy body, “Oh Rose and Martha can't stand each other!”