“Yes,” the dark-haired young woman volunteered. “What do you want in your coffee?”
“No, not coffee, but a cold can of grapefruit juice.”
I gave her fifty cents and she was soon back with a smile. She was very attractive no one could deny and I followed how she made her way back to her seat. Martin was always admonishing his colleagues: “It is not wise to pollute the wells that sustain one.” Not to piss into the pail you drink from, I paraphrased his words one day, and he winced. My vulgarity sometimes upset him. After all, he had attended University Collegiate in Victoria and the proper responses had been drilled into him.
Brenda and her friend Dawn – they introduced themselves to me when everyone was shuffling out to go home – stayed around after class.
“We usually go off to the pub, if there’s been a good discussion we would like to continue. Would you like to join us?”
And join them I did. We stayed in our vinyl high-backed seats until lights out past midnight. Then we walked into the February air, brisk and kissed by innumerable snowflakes that seemed to flare and expire on their way down.
“Where do you both live?”
Dawn answered, “On Jeanne-Mance.”
Brenda said, “Ste- Famille near Pins.”
“That’s not too far, so I’ll walk you both home.”
“It’s too bright to go to sleep,” Brenda said and asked me in ten minutes later, her friend safely out of the way. She began speaking of her former husband, an economist.
“You married young,” I interjected. Too young, I thought.
“We wanted to sleep together so it was easier to have one fixed address, one car, and two sets of parents happy and satisfied.” She was right, it was easier.
“But what happened?”
“Well, he wanted to move out West where he found a good job – and I didn’t want to leave. I love Montreal on the weekends, and I’ve got all my friends here. But now I’m free of him. He’s off in Vancouver and I’m back in school.”
“And what do you do now he’s away?” somehow escaped my lips.
“Oh, you mean boyfriends? I take what I can get,” she laughed. “He wasn’t too good in bed either,” she blurted out, turned a bit red and then regained her composure.
“Well, it is late; I better get going. I’ve got an early class tomorrow and a committee meeting.”
“Would you like to attend the commerce program’s annual revue?” she asked.
“Next Saturday evening.”
“How shall we meet?”
“Why don’t you come over at six for dinner? I’m going to have my friends, Elizabeth and Ron, here for dinner. We’ll all go together. They’re a nice couple.”
I was back on Ste- Famille – the snow was falling more lightly now as if the storm had abated. I could hear the crunch of my boots as I headed north towards Fletcher’s Field. A policecar passed; the front seat companion peered at me for a moment, noticed my briefcase, and lost interest. I hopped down onto the field beside the pavement on Park – the ice was veined and wrinkled from a recent washing and surfacing of an impromptu skating ring. And then I stepped back on the pavement, noting a small plough that was approaching to clear the freshly-fallen snow off the cement.
“Ron, this is David. David, Ron.”
We shook hands. Ron worked in some local government office: Immigration, I believe. His wife Elizabeth emerged from the washroom. She was shorter than he was, and wore a tasteful plaid skirt, matching blouse, and corduroy jacket. We had met before, in fact. She had been married previously to an acquaintance, Jack, who had a record store in downtown Ottawa.
“Hi, Elizabeth. You do look lovely.”
“Haven’t seen you for ages Where have you been hiding?”
“Well, I moved here a year and a half ago from Ottawa. And I stay away most weekends, and, of course, during the summers. Montreal is too intense – for true Ottawans.”
We settled down to gossip, chatter, and quiche.
“You’ll have to eat up,” our hostess goaded us, “or we’ll be late for the revue.” Before we could have our coffee, we were bundling up. When we entered the college hall I could not help noticing a face from one of my regular classes. Oh, oh, I’m in for it now, I thought. The rumour mills will be churning away tonight in the Blue Room. But I sat down nonetheless. The skits followed one another, laughter rose and fell; I was distracted. Martin’s blasted admonishments were in my ear again. I had never done this before, dating a student. “Exogamy,” I once joke with him, “exogamy, that’s your religion.”
Ron and Elizabeth had to get away since she had an early engagement Sunday morning. Early to bed – I thought I heard her murmur, as they left – early to bed. I wanted to finish the rhymes out loud but thought better of it.
“They can’t leave Ottawa behind,” I commented to Brenda. “It brings out the geriatric in every young soul. Where to?” I then asked as if I didn’t know.
“Let’s go back to my place. We never got to the cake.” If I was going to be taken, let it be with icing, I thought.
I was expecting the predictable, and there I was on her sofa listening to music while she went off to the back of her one bedroom apartment. “What’s that?”
“Oh, my album. I wanted to show you my wedding pictures. I get a perverse kind of thrill looking at them from time to time.” And as she sat down, a photo slipped from the pages and fell. I went to pick it up, got it, and turned it over for an instant. “Oh,” she giggled, “that one is not for your eyes!”
And look I did. It was Brenda all right – bottomless, her legs opened to the light of the flashbulb.
“Young lady,” I feigned an avuncular voice, “you owe me an explanation.”
“Oh, it was a trip I took with my last boyfriend, Guy. To Toronto. He’s a camera buff – too much scotch on the train – “
“And lechery in the sleeping car,” I added mockingly.
She blushed again and moved closer. What am I getting myself into?, I wondered as her arms went around my neck. Who knows where this will get me – the front cover of Midnight or Allô Police?
“Brenda,” I wrenched myself free, “Brenda – I’ve got to go to the can – all that coffee–”
Whew, the shelter of a washroom. What’s that on the hook? I noticed. Her panties? She must have removed them when she went to fetch her album, I reasoned. Well, how do you get out of this one, Mr. Teacher?
“Brenda, I forgot. My mother’s calling long distance from Florida tonight. And if I’m not home, she’ll have a conniption. After all, who else does she have in her life?”
She helped me on with my down coat and pecked me on the lips. “Oh, am I still going to the concert with you next Saturday?”
“Yes, yes,” I mumbled. “Let’s meet earlier and have a bite at the Chrysanthemum.”
“The Chrysanthemum? Wonderful. I love their paper chicken and beef in oyster sauce.”
“Good night –” and I was off into the blistering cold night. Every gust swirling at my legs felt like the pricks of dozens of tiny razors. Suffer, in the flesh, you hesitant and hesitating fool, I heard myself murmur.
Who can leave well enough alone? I called her twice during the week. I became obsessed with her - her high-pitched voice and the promise of her long legs –Ilonged for her, but still remained cautious. Something fateful may happen and it would spoil all that I had intended to do at Cartier College – to put on my best false face before my colleagues who were set in their quiet niches. Or so I thought.
Martin was back from his lecture tour, bringing back a bit of a prairie flu from his last stop in Saskatoon.
“How did the class go?” he inquired when we met in the coffee room.
“Fine. You’ve got a lively lot there. I handed out the assignment you prepared – you should have heard the collective groan. And right before the winter break –”
“They call it study break,” he piped in, smiling.
“All the students? They have other ideas about how to spend the week. And the young ladies,” I added.
“Yes, they’re on the ball and bright.”
“On the ball – you betcha” Martin looked at me with incomprehension and went off to his next appointment. He never does get it right, I thought. How does he put it all together in his books and articles?
I phoned Friday night after supper and waited. At the sixth or seventh ring when I had all but given up, she answered.
“Brenda, how are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m busy now. Can I phone you back tomorrow?”
“We’re going out tomorrow, aren’t we?”
“Yes, but let me phone you early tomorrow.”
I couldn’t leave well enough alone. So I phoned her again ten minutes later and a male voice answered.
“Ron?” I exclaimed, “I thought...”
“Stupid of me, but I didn’t expect to hear your voice at the other end. What are you doing ... there?”
“We’re kind of busy now. Brenda says she will phone you tomorrow.”
I was taken aback and could only mumble a few gratuitous words. “Good night,” I heard myself mutter after he had already put down the receiver.
The next evening I tried to keep my composure. And Brenda acted as if nothing had happened. We returned to her apartment after the concert and she opened a bottle of white Alsatian wine.
“Brenda, what’s going on?”
“Yes, you and Ron?”
“Ron? Oh, nothing much. From time to time he comes over and we talk a lot.”
“Well, now at least.”
“You mean – !”
“We used to sleep together but it became more difficult for him. But forget about Ron. You have me now.”
“Tomorrow, too, if you stay for breakfast.”
I don’t remember how we made it into her small bedroom or how we proceeded past the preliminaries. But she didn’t let go. Whatever she may have promised, she offered. Her big lips left nothing untouched. I was giddy with pleasure though a hint of anxiety kept me from completing losing myself. Even between her long legs. And there was a curious distance, I recall, a detachment in her even as she strained her facial muscles during an orgasm.
“Aren’t you going to stay for breakfast?” she asked as I got up and began dressing.
“My mother ... tomorrow’s Sunday and she’ll be calling,” I offered as an excuse and broke out into the very early morning. The streets were hushed with snow banks and the silence of the hour added an ascetic resolve to my anxiety. Why had I not stayed the full night? What was it that me bolt and leave her languorous and comfortable embraces?
I didn’t phone for days. But finally the need to have her drove me to call.
“How are you?”
“What’s going on”
“Oh, I’m kind of busy...a lot of school work.”
“What are you doing this Saturday?”
“I’m going out.”
“Oh, with whom?”
“Yes, we’re going out.”
“On a train?” I added as maliciously as I could.
“No ... but I can’t speak to you now. Speak to you later. Bye.”
Click. I was holding the phone again, but I couldn’t put it down. Once bitten I couldn’t leave well enough alone. By the following week, her phone had been disconnected. I couldn’t ask Martin outright but I mentioned something about the students I had gone out with the night I had stood in for him. Perhaps he knew. But no, he didn’t have a class list with addresses, he told me as he looked at me with hint of annoyance.
“I think you are getting into some kind of difficulty,” he interjected.
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, I’ve heard from my friend Guy that you’ve been phoning his girlfriend and you even cried on the phone telling him to get lost.”
“Now, Martin, would I do such a thing? Don’t you think I have more self-discipline than that? And how do you know Guy anyway?”
“Well, he is not really a friend. But he came to the first class party I held to introduce the students to one another,” he replied with no hint of a wink in his eyes. “In any case, don’t – ”
“Don’t piss into the well you drink from?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it that way. But that’s another way of putting it, you know.”
With Mimi, for example, it had been different. We never did get past the preliminaries. I met her when I was doing graduate work at McGill. Thin but simply voluptuous. Her dark Mediterranean features stayed in mind hours after we had met for a date. But she wouldn’t give in.
Two years later, I heard she had returned from a year in Paris to marry a childhood chum, Sammy. Before she left the French capital, she boasted she had slept with all of her four lovers in one afternoon and evening. But me, the English-speaking arts student she had refused. We used to sit in her car and hold hands and talk. After a few dates, I never saw her again. She slipped into family life. Sammy had a string of clothing stores. First he went into jeans and then into more high-fashion clothes. He was a no nonsense guy who had once told her -it was rumoured - it’s about time we slept together. I’ve spent three thousand dollars already taking you out, he recounted. And somehow that convinced her though she confessed his crudeness often displeased her . I met her on the first of her many rebounds from him.
But back to him she went. Farewell to the poets and eccentrics of Milton Street. Good-bye to the discreet slim lovers of the Cité Universitaire. She disappeared into an overpriced split-level mansion and left it all behind.
Maurice Gotlieb is Recently retired from a late career in business. He writes the occasional story. His fiction has been published in various Canadian literary venues. He is drawn to humour in the service of the serious.
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