Smother the Others

Christmas, 2005 / No. 15
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

The air conditioner in the living room window was a housewarming present from my new boyfriend. Doug had found it at the Goodwill on Richmond, and promised it would be a more effective cooling system after he tinkered with it a bit.

It had been his idea to place my new Ikea king-size bed in the living room. Often there were night dwellers congregating outside the bedroom window. No one would be disturbed by sounds of sex through the living room window, which faced a fenced-in courtyard.

The blankets were thrown off and I looked at his very manly feet and toes. I wondered if I would pay sometime down the road for making the first move on him. We had gone out for three months, and at the end of each evening he would shake my hand and say, “Good night, Marie.”

Finally, I said to him, “Doug, I’m attracted to you.”

“It’s happening all right,” he said.

Unlike my former boyfriend, Doug does not try to bewitch and bewilder with words. I put my arm around his shoulder and kissed him.

Doug mentioned that although he had changed his shirt that night, he was not a meticulous guy and needed to take a shower. Then he was released from four years of celibacy, kept in the hope his ex-wife would give him another chance.

Afterward he said, “Marie, we’re hot.”

I agreed. It seemed inappropriate for me to deliver a talk on sex and responsibility after having initiated the encounter.

We had spent every night together since. My apartment was larger than his room in south Rosedale. Doug sometimes talked in his sleep, and he also had revealing conversations with himself when he was in the shower.

That morning, while he slept in the dusty, hot room, Doug said, “Crossing guards dressed in black.” The disjointed words were spoken in a terrified, slurred voice. I touched his shoulder.

“Wake up, Doug. You’re having a nightmare.”

“Doug’s not here,” he said, in the same, almost automated voice. He wasn’t. Doug was asleep.

Doug’s Fender Jazz Bass stood on its stand in the one immaculate corner of the room. Dust bunnies had gathered under my wing chair and mahogany dresser, and I noticed a cobweb hanging from the ceiling. Cleaning and vacuuming were impossible on such a sweltering day.

The nightmare seemed to have passed, and though Doug was still asleep, he had an erection. The thoughts of dust left my mind when Doug woke up and said, “Sex.”

“God, it’s so sticky and humid, Doug. Wait and I’ll fill a bowl with ice and put it beside the bed.”

The phone rang while we made love, without the bowl of ice nearby. The audio call display read out in an electronic voice: “Warrender, Glynn.” With my new boyfriend lost in passion, I wondered how the telephone recognized my former lover’s name. Glynn would not appreciate a machine associating his name with his cellphone number.

I imagined Glynn was a third party sitting on the bed. Doug and I were dripping with sweat, and I imagined Glynn mocking our earthy, traditional lovemaking.

As I was coming, I remembered I had keyed Glynn’s number into the phone.

My twelve years with Glynn had been a maze of delicate, surprising deceits. Even when he’d lived with me, I felt like the other woman. With Doug, I intended to be the only woman of record.

Doug was driving his two kids to summer camp that day and needed to get on the road. He was a devoted separated dad.

“What are you up to today, Marie? ”

I rolled on my side, turned my back to him.

“I’m meeting Glynn for coffee. Remember, he’s the guy I was involved with for a long time.”

“But I’m the best boyfriend you’ve ever had, isn’t that right? ”

For some reason, I started to laugh. Doug was a steady guy but lacked a sense of humour.

“Glynn owes me some money and he just got an Ontario Arts Council grant.”

Doug picked his shorts up off the floor and got dressed for the day.

“Good for him. Money to sit around all day and do nothing. That’s what I want to do with my music. If I get back in time, you and I will have a night out.”

On the previous evening we had browsed at Home Depot, then went for fish and chips at Duckworth’s. My preference would have been dinner and a movie, but I was convinced that any man who spends Friday night at a huge hardware store had to be monogamous. Doug was also the kind of man who would get out of his car to argue with a driver who had cut him off. This tendency made me reluctant to get into his van.

Wearing a white Goodyear baseball cap that read “#1 IN RACING,” a pair of shorts, and a T-shirt from the dollar store, Doug approached the apartment door. I felt a twinge of guilt. I had just told my first lie to my new boyfriend. Glynn no longer owed me a penny, but I hoped he would give me some money.

“So, have you mentioned to your ex-wife that you’re seeing me? ”

“No. It’s so busy with the boys when I see her. We never have an adult conversation. Don’t worry about it.”

I would not rest until the former Mrs. Doug Ferguson knew that the father of her two sons was in love with me. There were more daunting dustballs in the hallway. I drank coffee while lying on the bed, took a shower, and considered how I would approach Glynn. For a year after we had broken up, he had given me half of anything he made, even though sometimes it was only fifty bucks.

During our last six months together I had supported him. He is a poet, worthy of not working. Neither he nor I kept a record of our financial exchanges. After Glynn moved out last summer to be with his waitress/occasional actor, we made a game of the repayment plan. Glynn would pretend he was paying me for sex. The last payment had been made a month before I first went out with Doug.

It was time to make the call. This time I would need to ask for money on the dubious basis of my word.

“Glynn, I considered telling you my tooth is about to abscess. I know you’re a sucker for a girl in pain. I’m broke, and I’m afraid my telephone will be cut off. I hate to ask, but can you lend me, say, five hundred dollars until payday.”

“What about your guy? Can’t he lend you money? ”

“I’m more comfortable asking you.”

“I bet you are. No problem, Marie, I’m flush”

“I’ll pay you back.”

“Sure you will,” he said.

We agreed to meet at his bank, on Broadview, south of the Danforth. I considered riding my bicycle out to meet him. Glynn wondered why anyone would ride a bicycle in the city. I recalled the summer before when, on a Sunday afternoon, I rode along the bike path to the Beach. It had been as busy as driving in rush hour on the Don Valley Parkway. Later, Glynn told me the waitress he was seeing had also ridden her bike on the same path that day. At the time I had felt violated, knowing I had shared the path with someone Glynn was sleeping with. The association had tainted my relationship with my blue Specialized bike.

Instead, I walked from my apartment, on Spruce Street, to meet him. Along the way I drank three bottles of water and took a break at Riverdale Farm. The horses looked miserable standing in their corral. I felt a sense of failure because I could not afford to live in a place with central air or to rescue a horse from the heat.

Glynn was already at the teller. I thought of his balls, his unusually large testicles pressing against the inside seam of his ripped black jeans. Doug did not wear underwear either.

The heavy, scuffed Doc Marten boots he had on were soon destined for the garbage. He had bought them while he was seeing the waitress, who had influenced his style. The shoes had lasted longer than her in his life.

He kissed me lightly on the lips.

“I hate to ask you for this money.”

“A few months ago I would have given you five grand. Five hundred is a deal.”

“God, you look so hot. How can you stand the heat wearing black jeans? Do yourself a favour and buy a pair of shorts.”

I ran my tongue over my upper teeth to create saliva.

“I need to get my hair cut. You want me to look like a mook? Why not suggest I wear a baseball cap, too? ”

“My life is a sea of baseball caps, Glynn. Oh my God, it’s fucking freezing in here.”

“Would you please shut up about the air conditioning? Do you have any underwear on? ”

“Never during a heat wave.”

“That’s my girl.”

I decided to let the comment slide and took the five hundred dollars he handed me.

“Look, I don’t want to be a prick about this. You’ll have to pay me back,” he said.

“What if I show you my ass? Just joking.”

At forty-two, fifteen pounds overweight, it was wonderful to act as though he might take me seriously.

“How much time do you have? ”

I marvelled at the freedom of not being afraid of his response.

“Don’t get all weird and shit. I don’t know why you would. You’ve got a boyfriend. A woman I haven’t seen for twenty years tracked me down. I’m meeting her after we have lunch.”

“Were you involved? ”

“Briefly, but I was attached at the time. She’s an honest woman.”

“To have an honest thing with you, she’d have to be a detective. You’ll fuck her,” I said.

“I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, you know. But who knows? I am single.”

He ran his hands through his thick hair and blew on his bangs.

Without discussing where we were going for lunch, we walked toward the Omonia restaurant. For a long time some things had been predictable with Glynn and me. I suspected he was waiting for me to suggest an air-conditioned establishment and silently acquiesced to sitting at an outdoor patio.

The waiter recognized us and I wondered if he remembered the last time we had been there. The memory of Glynn’s anger after I’d rummaged through his knapsack while he was in the washroom and found the poems he had written to the waitress put a damper on the day.

While I was mulling over our last dismal chicken souvlaki meal together, Glynn reached into his pocket and took out a fountain pen.

“This is for you. I thought you’d like it.”

“A Waterman. Thanks. It’s beautiful. It’s blue just like my bike. You must be pissed off at the person who gave it to you. But I’ll keep it. I can’t believe it—a present from Glynn.”

“I’ve given you lots of presents,” he said. “How’s it going with your new man? Have you met his kids? What about his ex-wife.”

I reached into my water glass and took out a couple of ice cubes. I sucked on them, hoping to avoid the question. I knew Glynn would interpret Doug’s reluctance to introduce me to his family as keeping me under wraps.

“Listen, I think my sister might have met your new boyfriend,” he said. “He played bass for the Hogtown Hell-Hounds, right? ”

“Things used to get pretty incestuous with us, knowing people from the same circles and all. So shut up.”

“It was years ago. And she’s my sister.”

“Well, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had met. The artistic community is so small in Toronto. But Doug hasn’t supported himself as a musician for about ten years. He renovates houses. He wants to stay in town to spend time with his kids.”

“The artistic community. Aren’t you the pretentious little twit now that you had a letter published in Now? ”

“How do you mean ‘met’? ”

“You know my sister used to be a stripper. She was working at a bar in Kitchener. The Hogtown Hell-Hounds played there. Who named that band? It’s terrible. The guy she met was married. She said he talked about his wife a lot. She was some sort of pilot.”

“The mother of his kids was a bush pilot. About a hundred years ago. He’s been divorced for a few years. It could be him. But I doubt it. What are the chances? ”

“That’s it. A bush pilot,” he said.

I reached into Glynn’s water glass and took out a few ice cubes, wrapped them in a serviette, and rubbed my forehead.

“Doug sees a lot of his ex-wife because they do a lot together with their kids. Of course, I’ve met all of them.”

“Went to Wonderland with the family, did you? You’re lucky you aren’t my girlfriend anymore. How can you do that in public? Wash your face in the bathroom if you have to.”

“I’m trying to cool off. Glynn, we had sex once in an alley at noon beside a building at Avenue Road and Bloor and this embarrasses you? Give me a break.”

He laughed.

I took the fountain pen from the table, took the cap off, and drew a heart on Glynn’s forearm.

“Hey, stop. Are you trying to brand me? ”

“My relationship with Doug has a proper name. He’s my boyfriend. We are becoming a couple. With you there was never really a word to describe what we had.”

“Where the fuck is our food? I have to scramble.”

I reminded Glynn that the last time we were at the Omonia I had to pick up the cheque. I told him I had taken his dinner home and eaten it the next night.

“A gentleman would pay today, is that what you’re saying? ”

“Hold out your arm, Glynn.” I was surprised when he didn’t protest. Inside the heart I wrote, “SMOTHER THE OTHERS.”

Our lunch arrived, with some extra pieces of garlic toast.

“Marie, I have to get out of here. My hair appointment is in half an hour. Eat in haste.”

“I’m sorry about the crack I made about presents.”

“That’s all right. Do you still wear the diamond earrings I gave you? I kept the book on Aleister Crowley that you gave me.”

“What diamond earrings? You gave me a book about Philip K. Dick, a pair of gloves, and a teapot. When I unpacked at my new place, I noticed the bride and groom figurines on the teapot. If you and I had gotten married, I would’ve worn a tea cup on my head. With sugar cubes and a teaspoon attached to the saucer,” I said.

“I spent a fortune at Northbound Leather, too. What happened to all that stuff? ” he asked.

“I kept the corset. Everything else I sold at Doc’s Leather, on Queen. I didn’t get much, but it helped with closure.”

“How can I get this off my arm, you clever little thing? Diamond earrings are my stock present. Some guys give flowers, I give diamond earrings. I can’t believe I didn’t give them to you,” he said.

“Not even when we were in the diamond district.”

“We were in New York on your nickel and you told me you hated diamonds. Look, I’m going to be late for Susan. I want to get a haircut before I meet her. Haven’t been able to afford one.”

“Who’s Susan? Right, your old friend who tracked you down. Not an easy task finding you. Who did you buy earrings for? ” I asked.

“Anyone of record.” he said.

“The dancer, the waitress, and your two ex-wives? ”

“Yes.” Glynn smiled with one side of his mouth.

“You’re joking, right? ”

“I just gave you five hundred bucks and a second ago I paid for lunch.”

We left the restaurant and Glynn stood at the curb, waiting to hail a cab.

“Glynn, I don’t care if you’re late. I have a fucking right to a pair of diamond earrings.”

“Now you’re with a guy with a big, working-class dick. Let him buy you earrings.”

“Did your sister tell you that? ”

“Don’t be cruel, Marie. She said he was a little arrogant. But that was a long time ago.”

“It wasn’t him she met,” I said. “We don’t have a lot of time. There’s a little jewellery store just east of here. Chop-chop.”

“Can’t this wait? ”

An empty cab was driving west on the Danforth. Glynn raised his arm.

“O.K. You’re right. But just not now.”

“Absolutely not. It should have happened years ago. You bought fucking Angie earrings. Tomorrow you’ll be out shopping for the woman you’re meeting tonight.”

“You said Angie’s name. You didn’t call her ‘the waitress.’”

Glynn put down his arm and I linked mine in his, hoping we would walk past an establishment that sold diamond earrings.

“How far is this store? ” he asked.

With every confidence that, in spite of gentrification, the values of the Greek neighbourhood would translate into many jewellery stores within two blocks, I said, “I haven’t met Glynn’s kids or his ex-wife, but I will when the time is right.”

“Thought he was a sheep but he’s a wolf. If this place is beyond Pape I’m fucking off,” he said.

Just before Gough Avenue I noticed a small store that looked as though it had been there since the nineteenth century.

“I bet you thought I was taking you on a wild goose chase. But here it is: the Limeneria Jewellery Store.”

The sales clerk was a woman who appeared to be in her seventies. She was dressed in black, the way a widow might dress. Most items under the glass had a red tag attached. I told her I was allergic to cheap metals. I opted to be guided by price and chose a tiny pair of not-on-sale diamond earrings with eighteen-karat-gold stems. They cost five hundred dollars.

The woman was eager and approached us as though she thought we were in love.

While Glynn paid for the earrings, I said, “You don’t need to wrap them. I’m going to wear them.”

I put the earrings on, held my hair back, looked in the mirror on the counter, and said, “Thanks, Glynn. You didn’t have to do this.”

“Fuck you,” he said. “I have to go.”

The woman’s smile disappeared. We had ruined her day.

Glynn hailed a cab.

“Kiss me quick,” Glynn said.

With one hand on the cab door, he reached around my waist and put his other hand on my ass and squeezed.

Kathleen Whelan lives in the Church-Wellesley Village. Her fiction has appeared in subTerrain, Blood and Aphorisms, Other Voices, Broken Pencil, and Front & Centre, as well as in publications in California, Ireland, and New Zealand. Last updated Christmas, 2005.