Best Girl

Fall, 2001 / No. 6
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

On the afternoon of the move to the studio, Claire Atherton tripped over a packing box and spilled tea onto a plan for a set she had just completed. She tried to catch the splash of tea as it arched out of her white mug and landed with an audible splat on her desk, but her jerky movement only slopped more tea across her hand and onto the floor. She wanted to blame the movers, but couldn’t because she had just placed the box, which contained her fabric and paint samples, in the middle of the floor.

Claire checked her white blouse and black skirt for any tea stains in the small mirror by the refrigerator. There was, she noticed, a single spot of tea on the lens of her narrow, black eyeglasses, which she removed with a careful dab of paper towel. She’d hated the cramped office on lower Spadina Avenue for the two months she had worked there. There wasn’t even a proper kitchen, just a slop sink and wooden table, and homeless people sometimes used the filthy washroom down the hall.

Luckily, the damage to the plan was minimal. The palm-sized puddle of tea sat near the top right corner of the plan, where a street-facing wall with a bay window met a bedroom wall and a doorway leading off-set. The plan was for the living room of David’s new boyfriend, who is introduced in Episode 3; it was important, but not yet urgent. Claire also checked to see if her colleague, Joanne, the third assistant art director, had witnessed her mistake before covering the greyish spill with the paper towel, grateful that the tea hadn’t been steeping long when it had hit the plan.

The resulting stain was faint, leaving only the smallest outline at the edges of the spill. None of her measurements and lines were affected and in the dull fluorescent light of the studio the stain probably wouldn’t be noticed. And Claire didn’t have the half day required to complete another copy. It was the Wednesday before the Monday of principal photography and the next day would be lost in arranging her new office.

When the plan had dried somewhat Claire rolled it and stood holding the wet paper towel. Her wastepaper basket was missing. “They’re gone already,” Joanne said from behind her terminal. “They were one of the first things they moved this morning.”

“What were? ” Claire asked.

“The garbage cans,” Joanne said, standing up. She had on pink hot pants, a man’s blue dress shirt, and a phony, maroon-lipped smile that Claire hated. “I’ve been using that garbage bag on the floor there.”

Claire reached the garbage bag as the art director, Nadine Leduc, returned from the studio. Nadine was a thin blond woman, so tall that she looked down curiously at Claire and the garbage bag as she passed her second assistant on the way to her own desk. Nadine wore a dusty yellow suit; summer colours, Claire observed, in April. Watched by her colleagues, Claire dropped the paper towel into the bag.

“Albert needs the boyfriend’s living room,” Nadine said wearily in a thick French accent as she sat at her desk. “The carpenters will start it this weekend.”

“But it’s for Episode 3,” Claire protested.

“It can’t wait. We have to build the restaurant for Episode 4 also.”

“Oh, it’s done,” Claire said, waving the plan aloft. “Albert will have it tomorrow.”

Nadine was a Montrealer working on her first English production and Joanne had, apparently, set decorating experience and a college diploma in desktop publishing. Nadine had made a favourite of the girl and frequently sent her home early while expecting twelve- and thirteen-hour days of Claire. Claire also wondered if Nadine had a problem with English. Claire spoke French well, though not Nadine’s indecipherable Gaspé Québécois. She was developing a different plan for her summer, one that didn’t involve Nadine Leduc or missing her annual family gathering in Nova Scotia.

It would be the first job Claire had quit in her three years in the film business. She had designed pop videos, commercials, and children’s television, but had never felt so overworked and underappreciated. Claire knew she worked hard: she had done a stage design program at a college in Bristol and before that a theatre arts degree in Montreal. She had felt qualified for the art director position, but had accepted the role of second assistant because she had wanted the experience of a series. Homeboys was an openly homosexual sitcom and anything this high profile would certainly distinguish her reel and resumé later. Now, it might have been a mistake.

In the next hour, Claire completed packing and took her usual afternoon call from her mother. The movers came and went; one of them, a fellow in a red flannel jacket and two-tone track pants, one leg navy, the other forest green, left a sweaty odour in the room. Except for Joanne’s questions to Nadine about a greased beefcake image for a prop gay beer, the office was quiet.

Soon, the sound of rush hour traffic on Spadina swelled through the old, thickly-paned warehouse windows. Claire had plans to meet her boyfriend, Tim, for dinner at eight, but first looked over Joanne’s beer labels. The blond boy in his torn police uniform on the bottle of Brewer’s Pride appeared sufficiently gay, and the colour and clarity of the image was excellent. Joanne had also created three other labels: a firefighter, a lumberjack, and a construction worker. Claire approved; these were the details that got their department, or at least the production designer, noticed at awards time.

At a little after seven, Claire checked herself in the mirror again. Her dark brown hair was in a tight ponytail that brushed the tops of her shoulders and, except for her eyes, which were a striking, watery blue-grey, her features were pale. In two months she would be twenty-nine. Thinking she could use a little makeup, Claire moved from the mirror to the back of the office door to retrieve her black raincoat. Nadine said, “You’re leaving now? ”

“Everything’s packed,” Claire replied quickly. As she slid her left arm into her coat, the office door swung open, hitting Claire in the shoulder and forcing her two feet to the right. The man in the two-tone track pants strode confidently into the room.

“Would you watch what you’re doing? ” Claire shouted. The door had also clipped the baby toe of her left foot, which now throbbed with a wet heat. It was all she could do to keep from hopping. “This fucking office!”

“Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t see you there,” the man said. He quickly picked up a box.

“Next time think, O.K.? Or try knocking!”

“Claire, it was a mistake,” Nadine said. “The man has apologized.”

Claire ignored her boss and walked down the dusty stairway of the warehouse rather than wait for the rickety lift. Outside, a slowly descending fog obscured the lights of the cars jammed along Spadina. Claire walked towards a northbound streetcar stop and would have been lost to sight, a creature all in black, were it not for the sheen of her raincoat. She waited, testing pressure on her sore toe, in the midst of a group of Asian women from a nearby garment factory—a head taller than all of them.

The streetcar that arrived was already full and the air within it heavy with the scent of damp clothing. Claire stood near the centre doors and opened a fogged window. She watched Chinatown, where Tim had his apartment, pass in a soft blur of electric colour, blues and greens and reds reflecting up off the wet street. It hurt her toe to stand and she wondered why she hadn’t sprung for a cab.

The rain fell in earnest as she walked along College Street to the Neapolitan Bar. Tim was at a table, instead of his usual spot at the bar, his tightly-curled dark head buried in a notebook and a Variety magazine. The long, narrow bar was empty save for a few early diners. It was midway between the time of the afternoon and the evening regulars. For Tim, Claire knew, those lines sometimes blurred.

“So, my agent called today,” Tim said as Claire slipped into the seat opposite him. “She’s got an indie film she wants me to direct, something called The Pickup Gang. But she wants me to do some commercials to keep my name fresh. I tell her, if I’m gonna direct films, why should I waste my time on fucking commercials? ”

Claire nodded. “Don’t do it if it’s not going to get you anywhere.” She had met Tim three months earlier on a promotion she designed and he directed for some fruit-flavoured milk at a children’s television station. They started dating a month ago, around the time Tim said his contract with the kid’s station ended. They were sleeping together, but weren’t yet the kind of couple who fawn over each other in public.

“Precisely. So how was your day? ”

“Terrible. One of the movers hit me with the door and Nadine was out all morning.”

“That’s bullshit,” Tim said. “So you’re doing your job and hers as well? ” He finished his drink—gin probably, Claire knew—and motioned for the waitress to come over. Claire asked for a glass of Merlot and a menu and watched how Tim’s eyes never actually met those belonging to the waitress.

“Did they get the casting done yet? ” Tim asked. “My friend Chris got two callbacks but hasn’t heard anything in a week. And he’s a fucking hottie.”

“They need one more lead. I think he’s coming from L.A.”

“Of course they are! Canadians just aren’t fucking good enough. Fucking Americans. Sometimes I wonder if we’re making television or car seats for them.”

“It’s because of the accents,” Claire replied civilly. This was the second time Tim had slammed Americans. “Canadians don’t sound like they’re from Illinois or Iowa.”

Tim got red-faced when drunk, which accentuated a fresh scar running out of his left eyebrow. He had explained that a poorly hung lamp had dropped on his head on the set of a rock video he directed before Christmas, which Claire had chosen to believe. She was relieved he was drinking. He wouldn’t care so much when she announced, as she would soon, that she was going home alone. He’d had problems in bed on his less than sober nights and Claire wasn’t putting up with that again. So home wouldn’t be long in coming, after a salad and a glass of wine.

Tim was still talking about Americans. “They published the first publicity schedule this week,” Claire said as she lit a cigarette. “The usual magazines and entertainment shows. But I thought I would get them to approach some design magazines.”

“That’s good thinking,” Tim said. “Get your name in there. I called Playback myself once and they did a two-page story. You wouldn’t believe the jobs I got after that.”

Tim’s problem was that despite his sometimes overwhelming sweetness he was just too selfish. And none of his grand schemes to direct were materializing. Claire didn’t know what he did for money or what had really happened with the children’s television contact, one that he would have been stupid to lose.

“After dinner I thought we could go over to the Sonic Gallery,” Tim said after the waitress had set down their drinks. “There’s this band there from New York you’d like, the Jam Pandas. They’re kind of experimental.”

“I don’t think I can,” Claire said before sipping her wine. “I have to be in early tomorrow. I’m moving offices, remember? ”

What surprised Claire, as she stepped through the padded studio door, was the quiet. She hadn’t noticed the red light flashing over the studio door and wondered, despite Nadine’s assurances that the crew was on lunch, if they were still rolling on set. She wrinkled her nose in the dry, uncirculated air of the studio, which smelled of paint and sawdust. Peering through a window of the set nearest her, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the gloomy light of the overhead fluorescents. Eventually, she recognized the set as the lesbian’s bedroom, though it was shrouded in a darkness deeper than any television night.

Claire set off into the warren of passageways that ran between the crammed sets. She hadn’t been through the studio in a week and with the carpenters working whenever the crew was on location, the floor plan of the studio was constantly changing. She stumbled once over the false floor of a gym locker room, catching herself against one of the many wall jacks jutting dangerously across her path. What she wanted was the bedroom set of the lead’s new boyfriend, on which shooting was scheduled to start that day, to take some photographs for her portfolio. Last week it was going up beside the diner set, which had somehow disappeared. She should have brought the flashlight from her kit and expected, at any moment, for her head to bounce off a wall.

Down two more short passages and behind the teenager’s bedroom set from the flashbacks in Episode 2, and Claire found herself back at the lesbian’s bedroom. Undaunted, she was off in the opposite direction of the locker room and found the pub set. Empty beer bottles, martini glasses, and baskets of popcorn and peanuts were still dressed-in on some tables. Bold shadows from stools placed atop other tables and along the bar criss-crossed the painted hardwood floor. From deeper in, toward the darkened stage, Claire heard the sound of heavy breathing. She could just see the outline of a human figure sprawled across the couch adjacent to the pool table.

On the far side of the pub, against what she assumed was the outside wall of the studio, Claire found the advertising agency office set of one of the two leads. The couch there was occupied by another sleeping crew member. The next set she encountered was the living room and kitchen of the mother of one of the leads. At last hearing voices, she stepped through the set carefully, avoiding the two people sprawled on the couch and the La-Z-Boy. Outside the back door off the kitchen she found the multicoloured diner set.

Claire clutched her Minolta protectively to her. With little on-set experience she was on unfamiliar territory here. The few people clustered outside the back door of the diner—grips, focus pullers, hairdressers, whatever they were—were speaking quietly and easily amongst themselves. Claire avoided looking their way as she made her way between the back of the diner and another outside studio wall.

Against this wall Claire found long trestle tables of plates of congealing diner food: hamburgers, clubhouse sandwiches with fries, scrambled eggs, and toast. Disturbed flies buzzed over the plastic wrap covering the plates. This was why she didn’t work on set. She rounded the last corner of the diner set and finally reached the boyfriend’s bedroom. The decorators were still working there and Claire said hello to Shannon, the lead dresser, a woman about her own age. Claire wondered what had gone wrong if, only three weeks into the shoot, the decorators were already this far behind.

Avoiding two men struggling to slide an already over-filled bookcase along a wall, Claire paced the room slowly, counting the steps it took her to cross it. She marvelled again at how her drawing had become something tangible. For this set—for all of them—she hadn’t been given a lot of floor space to work with and thought she had made great use of it. She noticed two books on the top of the shelf being moved wobble sideways and fall to the floor. Claire tried to catch them, but they bounced from her open hand and slid across the floor to Shannon’s feet. Neither woman said anything as Claire knelt to pick the books up.

What Claire didn’t like were the colours Nadine had chosen, the too-friendly pastels the woman favoured and her tendency to overuse the rainbow motif, like she had with the duvet now being thrown over the bed. The furniture was too obviously Swedish department store and Claire questioned what the boyfriend, a male stripper, would be doing with so many books about architecture. But these weren’t her concerns. “When do you think I can take some photos? ” Claire asked Shannon.

Shannon set the large potted fern she was carrying by the bay window. “For what? ”

“My portfolio. Would tomorrow be better? ”

“Definitely,” Shannon said sharply. “We’re working here, Claire, and I’m going to ask you to step off this set until we’re finished.”

Claire was about to reply appropriately when a booming male voice announced: “We’re back!” Claire assumed the man meant from lunch. She left Shannon standing defiantly in the half-dressed set and returned to the diner. She wouldn’t say anything to the production designer, or even Nadine, about their rude decorator. Shannon was obviously under a lot of pressure and Claire could forget this one time.

The diner set, now painfully bright under the studio lamps, was slowly swirling in increased activity. Once again, it was decorated with too many rainbows. Crew members emerged from various corners of the set, yawning and strapping walkie-talkies and headsets to themselves. A young female intern was setting cutlery on the tables and Claire spotted Anthony, the pudgy, bespectacled props assistant who had made a clumsy pass at her at the launch party, bringing out the plastic-wrapped plates of food.

Then Claire spotted Raine Masters, the tall, dark, and slender American lead who was anything but gay. He was talking to a short, hairy man in a Hawaiian shirt whom Claire didn’t recognize. Claire had also met Raine at the launch party, though the business card she had given him hadn’t resulted in a call.

Claire approached the two men across the floor of the diner, which was rapidly filling with more people. Raine wore a beautiful, light olive suit and a black silk shirt open to the middle of his skinny chest. Claire paused to look her own dark grey suit over, brushing away dust she must have accumulated on the trip through the studio.

“Raine, hi,” Claire said loudly to the actor’s back.

There was a half-moment’s confusion in Raine’s eyes as he turned and opened his arms to pull her into a hug. “Hey, nice to see you again,” he said.

“So, how’s it going? ” Claire asked, aware that other members of the crew, hair and makeup women she didn’t recognize, were turning towards her booming voice.

“Well, good,” Raine replied. Claire had forgotten that he had a slight Southern drawl. “Everything is coming together fine. Hey, I’m sorry if I haven’t had a chance to call you. We’ve been busy here on set and I’m still trying to find my way around town.”

“That’s where I can help. Anything you want to see, let me know.” Behind Raine, the first assistant director, a grim-looking balding man in his late thirties named Greg, was talking to the hairy man in the Hawaiian shirt; the director, Claire now realized. If Nadine allowed her to attend production meetings, Claire would know these things.

Before Raine could reply, Greg poked his ferret face between them. “Claire, the director and Raine were working out some paces for this shot. Can you excuse us? ”

“Sure,” Claire said. Raine followed Greg with a mischievous smile and a roll of his eyes. He would remember to call now; all he’d needed was a reminder. But she wanted to meet the director, if that’s who he was.

Anthony would know. The props assistant was now dressing-in steaming cups of coffee and glasses of pink and orange soft drinks to the empty tables. He smiled and wiped his sweaty brow when he saw her approaching. “Claire,” he said. “This is a first.”

“Oh, I’m in here every day, just to keep an eye on you. What’s for lunch? ”

“Egg-white omelettes for the boys—no cholesterol for them—and the usual diner fare for the extras. My boss sprung for a food stylist today, who’s cooking up the omelettes as we speak. So what brings you out here? ”

“Oh, some of the other sets,” Claire replied. She followed behind Anthony as he returned to his prep table off set. “Can I ask a question? ”

“Anything,” Anthony said as he scooped up two plates. “But you’ll have to follow me.”

Claire pressed her hand lightly against his chest. “Oh, it’ll just take a second. Who’s the man in the Hawaiian shirt? That’s the director, right? ”

“C’mon, Claire,” Anthony said. “That’s Steve Szabo, the guy who did that cross-dressing gangsters thing. He’s nice, but, between you and me, he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing. Too much coverage, like he’s always compensating.”

“Do you think I can meet him? ”

“All you have to do is say hi. I’d introduce you, but I’ve got this set to dress. I wouldn’t bother him now, though. You should have done it at lunch.”

“So maybe tomorrow at lunch would be better? ”

“Sure. Or some moment when he’s free.” Anthony took up the two plates again. “I gotta work now. So call me, like I said, we could hang out some Saturday or Sunday.”

“For sure I will,” Claire said to his wide, retreating back. She set off between the exterior wall and the plywood shell of the diner set, glad to leave the tables of smelly food behind her, to find the director. Instead, she met the production designer, Warren Yates, a late-middle-aged man with a pot-belly and long streaks of grey in his beard, reading some rolled plans in a work light. He had done films for the CBC, but Claire didn’t know them; he was another person Nadine only allowed Claire minimal access to.

“Ah, Claire, I was told you were on set,” Warren said. He rolled the plan up and peered at her over his reading glasses. He wore dark-brown professorial cords and a photographer’s vest filled with notebooks and cigarettes and always had a smile for Claire. “Would you mind having a word with me? ”

“I wanted to speak to the director quickly,” Claire said. “Can you wait half a minute? ”

“No. This won’t wait,” Warren said. He began to walk towards an Exit sign Claire hadn’t seen before. “And leave the director and the actors alone when they’re on set. What you do doesn’t affect them now.”

Claire followed, surprised at his pace and tone. Outside the door was a loading dock and beyond it the studio parking lot. She blinked in the bright, blue afternoon, pleased she finally understood the layout of the studio complex. Warren lit a cigarette and said, “Claire, I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go.”

Claire didn’t think she heard him correctly. “You’re what? ”

“There’ve been too many mistakes,” Warren said as he unrolled the plan of the boyfriend’s bedroom to where Claire had slopped the tea. “Albert couldn’t read this and the guess he made was wrong. The walls didn’t meet in this corner and I had to pay the overtime for three carpenters and two painters to work all last night to get it ready for today. And Albert tells me this wasn’t the first time.”

Cold pricks of sweat started at Claire’s neck and shoulders. “But Nadine signs off on them,” she said. “She thought they were fine.” She had wanted a way off the show, but not like this. It had to be on her terms.

Warren rolled the plan back up. “This was my decision. Nadine wanted to keep you on under closer supervision, but she’s spread thin enough as it is. Claire, I simply can’t afford mistakes on this show. There’s no room. I think you’ve got potential, but you’re too inexperienced for this show. I hope you can understand that.”

As ever with her nephews, Claire heard them before she saw them. Their voices, strong and clear in the broad morning stillness, approached from behind the cottage. Soon they clambered onto the front deck, where Claire was finishing her coffee, carrying orange life preservers. Matthew was nine and Devon just six. Their mother, Claire’s eldest sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Ronald, were enjoying a childless week-long tour of Prince Edward Island. In the year since Claire had seen them, the boys had done a lot of growing at their home in sunny California.

The boys were the first people Claire had seen since rising. She caught Devon, who was in danger of tripping over the preserver’s trailing white sash cords, as he flew by her. “Careful where you’re stepping, O.K.? ” The boy simply nodded and seemed to only vaguely remember her. Claire released him to race after his brother.

Claire’s parents called it a cottage, but the two-storey, five-bedroom affair on Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia was the largest house in the area. It had been built in the late nineteen-eighties when both her parents were teaching at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The family summered there every year and Claire was expected to do the same; it was the only time of year all the Athertons—Claire, her two sisters, and her parents—got together. It was a perfect vacation property on a beautifully secluded bay, but Claire’s real home, if she could claim one, was Halifax.

Her father, never very far from the boys, soon appeared on the deck with his fishing rod. Audwin Atherton was sixty-eight years old and had been a professor of geography who preceded his wife into retirement by two years. He was originally from Wisconsin, an outdoors type who now lived for summers with his family. Most of all he loved to spend time, after forty years in a household of women, with his two grandsons.

“Good morning, Claire,” he said, letting a hand fall on her head. “Still my girl? ”

“Good morning, Daddy,” Claire kissed the side of his bent head. His face was wrinkled but was free of the stress that had crossed it when she was a teenager. Most of his white hair remained, which he wore swept straight back off his forehead.

“Your mother tells me we have a lot to talk about,” Audwin said. Claire had only seen her father briefly when she had arrived in Halifax from London with her middle sister, Diane, late the night before. “Why don’t you come out on the boat with me and the boys? We can talk before your mother gets home.”

“Where did Mom go? ” Claire asked.

“She and Diane went over to Bridgewater for groceries. They decided to let you sleep. I’m surprised the boys didn’t wake you.”

“I was pretty wiped out,” Claire said, thinking of the late nights in London before she and Diane cleared out. And of the much-delayed flight to Montreal, the three hours it took to backtrack to Halifax, and then the taxi to the cottage.

Claire remained at the wooden picnic table with the remains of her breakfast after her father had left. She was comfortable again, suddenly, after an anxious summer. There was raspberry jam on her fingers, and the clothes she wore, a frayed pair of denim cut-offs and a dark green Saint Mary’s University sweatshirt, smelled of the cedar chest she had pulled them from. She couldn’t remember having owned the sweatshirt; it must have belonged to one her sisters or was left behind by one of their boyfriends.

Practicality suggested she check her E-mail before her mother returned from town and spent the afternoon on-line. Claire hadn’t logged on since arriving in London the previous week. There had been a cute message from the fellow she had met before leaving for Italy and France at the beginning of June, Serge, a guitarist in a jazz band along College Street. It was the first musician Claire had dated and that he was still interested, a month and a half after their two short evenings together, was encouraging.

She took her plates through the sliding glass doors and left them in the kitchen sink at one end of the cavernous, open-concept main floor. The room was too big for Claire and too cold when visited in the spring and autumn months. She found her cigarettes, lovely English Silk Cuts, and went outside to light up. She would have to sneak her smokes for the three weeks she would be at the cottage, having arrived in London to find that Diane had quit six months earlier. It wouldn’t be the same alone.

Claire followed her father’s voice off the deck and across the fifty yards of scrubby, rocky ground between the house and the shore. She sat above the beach in the grass and let the mid-morning sun, already quite hot, warm her legs. The bay was a cloudy, muddy green in colour and quite calm. Her father and the boys were out a hundred yards from shore in the yellow dinghy and drifting slowly west, the single rod in the water. Well beyond the mouth of the bay, a massive rust-red tanker lay low in the water, moving northeast up the coast towards Halifax. Her father was pointing it out to the boys.

Claire sensed, more than heard, her mother approach her from behind. Stubbing out the cigarette would have been useless; she had already been caught. She hadn’t seen her mother in almost a year either, when her parents had stopped briefly in Toronto on their way back to Indiana. Nor had Claire seen her last night; Lillian Atherton went to bed very early.

“Well,” her mother said. “Look who’s up. Did your father wake you like I asked him to? ”

“No,” Claire replied. Turning to meet her mother’s voice forced her to squint into the morning sun. She shaded her eyes with her cigarette hand. “I got up on my own.”

“Still at your bad habits, I see.”

“Yes. I know Diane quit. I will too, only not right now.”

“Your father and I will be much happier when you do,” Lillian said. She smoothed her long denim skirt and sat beside Claire on a big rock. She had grown stout in recent years, but still had a girlish freshness about her face, which was framed with messy grey-blond curls. Another permanent—probably the work of her sister Elizabeth the week before—Claire saw, had gone horribly frizzy in the damp, salt air. “I can understand losing the job was difficult for you. But your father and I are both glad you’re not there anymore. He didn’t really approve of the subject matter anyway.”

“You’re not going into this now, are you? ” Claire asked. She stubbed her cigarette out on a rock. “I just arrived. Can’t this wait until tomorrow or this afternoon? ”

“It’s just something we want you to think about. Coming to live with us here when I’m finished at Purdue, I mean. We don’t know why you’re even living in Toronto anymore since it’s been over with Richard for a year and now even this Tim is gone. Claire, we’re not going to have the money to keep helping you when I retire. You’re twenty-nine; it’s time you took on some responsibility for yourself.”

“I can’t believe this,” Claire said. “Do I ask you for money? I can’t live in Halifax because I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I want there. It’s that simple, Mom!”

“But is it the right work for you? I mean, you’ve tried hard, but maybe this layoff was a blessing in disguise.”

“Do you know what would help? ” Claire said, trembling as she stood. Her voice was raised but her father and nephews, having drifted even further west, hadn’t heard her. “Not having to come here every summer. It’s hard to keep momentum going on a career if you have to derail it every August. And losing jobs is a natural part of the business. There would be something wrong if I hadn’t been let go at some point.”

“We’re not saying you’re not talented. You can do anything. Only that you should get down to something soon because I don’t know how long we can keep helping you out. You had a nice time with your friends in France, now it’s time to get to work.”

“Mom, if I wanted to live in Halifax, I would never have left.” Feeling tears start, Claire walked away from her mother, east along the bank above the shore. The red tanker had passed across the mouth of the bay; had Claire wanted to she could have looked right across the Atlantic to France. Where she could live and work, she thought. Claire already had the language and would need only her British passport, which her sister Diane had secured easily for herself, courtesy of an English grandfather, two years before. Or she could live in London like Diane, maybe even move into the flat in South Kensington with her sister until she got herself established. It could be the move she needed, away from her basement one-bedroom in the Annex, or the dusty commercial studios around Toronto where she’d worked for the past few years. That summer’s trip had made her realize how much she had missed Europe.

And London would be well beyond the reach of her parents. As she picked her way down the bank to the shore, Claire was aware that it was late in her life to be having these rebellious thoughts about her parents. And she had only three weeks to consider her next move, or else she would get wrapped up in something in Toronto again. She decided to head back for the dock, hoping her father would see her there and pick her up. After the run-in with her mother, it would be nice to just drift along with the boys until lunchtime.

Andrew Daley works in the film industry. His second novel, Resort, was published in 2017. He was Taddle Creek’s associate editor from 2004 to 2009 and has contributed to the magazine since 1997. Last updated summer, 2020.