A Short Story by Tom Walmsley
We took a cab from the airport because I knew she'd never forgive me if I put her on a bus. The heat surrounded us like fog. She said that she hadn't expected this kind of weather and I told her that it was unusual, but these days what's usual? All the weather in the world now rotates democratically so that everyone gets a taste of everywhere else. This city was no more built for heat than it was for cold.
The hotel was just off Cromwell Road, the whole area inundated with tourists. Old people with baggy skin and humped backs circulated, if that's the word, in their horrible bright colors, parting the seas of strapping American teenagers. I had no idea of the… enormity of the hordes that descended on London in the summer. I don't believe I've been anywhere except in the off-season, and this ruined my theory that since everyone traveled in the off-months the summers must be devoid of people. Not so.
I'm only being half-serious, of course.
There were no eyes batted at the desk when I introduced them to Eilidh and told them to bill me the extra breakfast. She acted as deadpan and incurious as ever - it must have killed her to ask me about the weather. Two blond louts in the lobby looked her over and I smiled at them as in, don't you just wish. Eilidh didn't give them a glance. She never does.
You'd know me to see me. I'm not as recognizable as, God help us, John Vernon or, God rest him, Lorne Greene, but you'd know me. I don't think I'm being immodest to suggest that they knew me in London as well, but they didn't know that they knew. The odd double-take, some furtive spying across a room, that sort of thing. They have our shows over there. Watch them, too.
In fact, why do I presume that you'd know me at all? You don't watch the shows, any of them, and I can damned near state that as a fact. You don't trundle out in the dreary and biting winter months to shell out your hard-earned dollars to watch me tread the boards, mouthing unlikely dialogue in untested plays. I don't blame you. Well, I do actually, but I like to say what's the point in complaining - who'd listen?
You know me as the Box Lunch man. I got the contract, exclusive, not long after that modest chain of fast food-like substances opened. They thought I looked like Pinsent. No one actually said it, but I do resemble Gordon and there have been times it's worked to my advantage and times it's worked against me. I would have to classify the Box Lunch experience as belonging to the first group. Could I, after all, ever have afforded London, London for two at the height of the season if I'd never shilled for the indigestible Box Lunch? Need I answer?
The two in the lobby didn't know me. They looked German.
So far I hadn't touched her, not even a peck at Gatwick, and I kept my distance, as best I could, on the tiny elevator. She was ravishing, although she'd done everything possible to displease me: heavy make-up on the eyes, a too-red mouth, baggy jeans and a sweatshirt. I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of making any comment whatever, and I didn't want to touch her until we were completely alone. When I touched her, I wanted to touch her all at once.
She made no comment on the room, nothing about the bed, a double. We'd never had one before, not for the night. She just sat on it and looked at me. I put down her bag and busied myself in the little fridge they provide stocked with tiny bottles of exorbitantly priced liquor. You heard me - I put down her bag, one bag and her first time overseas. She was expecting me to buy her a wealth of nice things while she was there and why shouldn't she? I found a couple of midget scotches and a small, not tiny, bottle of red wine.
Are we going to stay here all the time?
I asked her if she meant the hotel, the room or London itself. I don't know, she said and started to say something else. Call me Rick, I told her. My name is Rick.
Rick, and it gave me a strange thrill to hear her say it, Rick will we see London or what? I said that we'd see London. I poured her a water glass of wine although I wasn't sure whether or not she drank. Now? She said and I said no, not just now. We'd see London later.
You said you wanted a letter. I like London okay except the heat. We have gone to 1. Trafalgar Square 2. The Tower 3. Harrod's. A lot of places too many for a list. You were here when? I forget. Is this where you met Michael? I hope that is not a painful question. I'm glad you came home for your pain. It is good to have you around. I didn't really want to come here but I never thought of it until it was too late. I like it okay. We go shopping but I don't feel in the mood for it. He says I'm depressed over the breakup but I don't feel depressed i.e. sad. How did you feel when it happened to you I mean Mom and your dad? I forgot to ask you at home and you have your problems anyway. I'm sure Michael was very nice. I wish I had known him. I wish I could have visited with you. Great clothes here but I don't feel like getting anything yet. I have 2 more weeks here. I'll probably buy a lot of things before I leave. I'll get you something. I am enormous and fat from the food. They give us breakfast here bacon, eggs, etc. I never eat in the morning except here I do. I can't think of anything else.
He wants to know why I'm writing a letter to Lucy when I don't even know her and I said I do know her. Lucy is my sister. She lives with us now.
Why didn't you tell me before? Really surprised.
I don't say anything. He can't catch his breath when he gets excited. The sound is disgusting. I mean excited any way at all. When he finds out Lucy's at home he can't catch his breath. What do you talk about?
I don't say anything. For about a minute. Her boyfriend died, I said. We talk about that. He sits down on the edge of the bed and he looks very concerned. The first time I've seen him like this since I got here. There is a Box Lunch commercial where he talks about the recession and he has the same look on his face. If you eat at Box Lunch you don't have to worry about recession. How did he die?
She was having sex with another guy and Michael saw them and he died.
Jesus Christ, she told you that?
She told Mom. Don't let the recession get you down.
He looked confused and I didn't want to give him time to get it. I heard them talking about it. She thinks the devil killed him or maybe God to punish her.
Lucy is very ill. Even when she was 11 years old. It's no good thinking of Lucy as a grown-up.
I don't think of her as a grown-up, I said. Which was true.
I don't know why I didn't just say I don't want to go. I didn't think of it. The house was like a mental hospital. I didn't even think about him until I saw him. That time I was going for my ski lesson and the car spun in a complete circle on the road and then fell in the ditch, I was so calm I could have said out loud what was happening. I am a very calm person. I think I would be a good reporter somewhere like Beirut. I don't get scared.
You know how people say they got scared after? I don't. What happens with me, I forget to get mad. I get so mad in my room and I'm so quiet that sometimes it feels like my neck will break. That mad. It grabs me right across the back of the neck. But at the time the thing that makes me mad later doesn't do anything at all. Now I even know what's going to do it later. I know when it happens. But I'm calm then. Like the car falling in the ditch. I'm a calm person.
The first thing anyone says who knows the both of us is that I don't take after my mother. They don't mean because she is tall and beautiful. It's because she isn't calm in the least. She talks so fast that if you don't know her sometimes it sounds like a foreign language. Someone who just met her told me that. I have friends who make fun of her. If they have a class with her especially. But they only make fun of the way she talks. Everyone says how beautiful she is and it's true. I am tall as well.
We don't have to stay here, he said. Paris is a hop skip and a jump.
London is okay. He touched me when I said it. What he could do is take me to Paris to Rome to Casablanca. He could take away the world one city at a time. He touched and poked. There are questions he asks when he touches me and I never answer them. I think he gets excited just asking.
My mother never hits me now. The very first time I remember being smacked right in the face was at the cottage. I was lying in the sun listening to the radio. She came up and hit me and said don't flirt. I read a story about it. When a woman is my mother's age and the man is younger she gets jealous really easily. He is five years younger than her. He isn't young. A couple of times she smacked me but she stopped. She is too smart to keep on acting like that.
When I was really little he would put me on his knee and slide his hand down the back of my pants so I was sitting on his hand. I don't sit on his knee anymore but it's still his favorite. One of them.
My best friend Jessica is as tall as I am but a lot thinner. She's the best looking girl in school. If I went to Paris I'd go with her.
I was being punished for something and, naturally, I'm supposed to divine the nature of my transgression as well as the appropriate penance. No mystery where she got that from. I can hardly hold her responsible for that particular piece of loathsome strategy. They learn from role models, they imitate. Does anyone understand this? How many wretched generations will it take, how many more wars, how much suffering? Do you really think that the state of the world is some accident, some freak of good intentions gone awry? Alice is a crazy-quilt of warring instincts, a traffic jam of neurotic longings, an oversexed, oversensitive, over-the-top nightmare of control and hyper-responsibility. I don't claim to be unbiased but look at the result.
I'm smarter than you think. You are thinking, so look who's talking. You are thinking this is all my fault, that poor confused Eilidh is the way she is because of me, aren't you? Naturally. Womankind being the noble, nurturing, angelic species that we are to believe it is, how could any blame be laid at the feet of the mother?
And if there is blame to be distributed, if any of Mommy's actions have contributed to the unhappiness and malfunction of her dear little daughter, then doubtless there is some rogue male lurking in Mom's background as well. Oh yes, I'm well versed. I know that I fight a losing battle. And in a day and age where Abuse has replaced Demon Possession as an answer to everything from chronic tardiness to cancer, when Abuse means anything your opponent wants it to mean, I would say that I'm up against a stacked deck. I make no excuses. I am simply and unflinchingly giving the facts.
Can you, even for a moment, suspend judgment and consider that I may be talking about love? The Pharaohs had offspring and there is no evidence that they created a race of cretins. Quite the contrary. Their daughters and sisters bore them children.
Eilidh needed me and I was there for her. My desire was not unrequited. I suffered the anguish of the damned, not that I expect even a shred of sympathy or understanding, until I finally had to face the truth and not be afraid of it: it was love. It is love. When a father smacks his child for running across a busy street don't we accept that as a lesson given out of love and concern? No longer: Abuse. I shared and I share a love with Eilidh, I took the woman out of the child, we had love where it was in precious little supply. We have it now. Cultural bias is everything and don't ever confuse it with morality.
She has her mother's body and my face. I mean that in only the most general way, it is more my face than Alice's. Eilidh doesn't look like a boy.
I had purchased a plaid skirt, while blouse and penny loafers before she'd even arrived. Plain white underwear. I didn't expect her to wear it anywhere but the room and it certainly wasn't any guideline as to how she should shop. Eilidh loves buying clothes. I paraded her through Knightsbridge and then Kensington High Street: Harrod's, Eye Scream, Hyper Hyper. She knew it would hurt me if she bought nothing and she was correct. Just as Alice has always known the precise spot to plunge in the sword. And to remain silent, forcing me to guess what could be the matter. It's a school principal's trick, a policeman's standby: don't you have something to tell us? No. No I do not.
She perhaps has something to tell me but it seems that I'll have to wait. That's fine, she's entitled to her moods just like the rest of us. It probably has nothing to do with me at all. Difficult age she's at. Has a fight with her best friend and who gets punished? It could it just might be trouble at home although I know you'll think I'm predisposed to think that way. Lucy and her mother? Please.
Two things she likes about London: the Tower and the British Museum. How many girls her age could you say that about? She may like to shop, but make no mistake, Eilidh is not a frivolous child. That quality does not come from her mother.
He goes how do you know that I'm your father? It's because I said Dad not Rick. It isn't the first time he's ever brought it up but that's why this time. I don't say anything because there is really nothing to say. He said he was. My Mom said so. That's how anybody knows. I have an ugly nose and he does too. It isn't even worth discussing.
Your mother was a wild girl in her day. Maybe I made an honest woman out of her. Gave her child a name.
This is the kind of thing I mean. I already know that later in the dark my neck will want to break. Right now it's okay. Maybe I'm adopted. I thought that a lot but I never said it before. Rick my Dad stopped shaving when I said it. He shaves with one of those old razors with a straight shiny blade. He sharpens it on a strop which is like a short belt. I've read about kids getting hit with them but he's never done that.
Why would you say that why hurt me? You are not adopted.
Okay. I'm somebody else's. You are not my Dad.
I didn't say that I said how do you know? That's all. He tells me that I have my Mom's sense of humor which means I don't have one. That's what he means but she does have a sense of humor. If you don't think someone is funny they say you have no sense of humor. No matter how stupid they're being. He kept on shaving.
He has gray hair on his chest. I don't think a man should let the hair on his chest turn gray. On his head it looks alright. He stays in good shape for his age. What he says is that he has the body of an 18 year old which isn't true. My mother thinks it's true because she would say it as well. Maybe neither one of them have seen someone 18 with their shirt off except when they were that age. My Mom doesn't talk about his body now but he does. He keeps his hair dark but it gets gray on his chest. Sometimes I look at him like when he's shaving and I wonder what he looks like and how I would describe him. I'm telling the truth about his body but I can't really see it or his face or who he is. Maybe everyone has a problem like that with their father. It is even more impossible on TV even though it seems like it should be easier.
Except the commercials. He says they picked him because he looks like a real Dad a TV Dad a man anyone would trust. But he doesn't. He looks like an actor who is getting old and you can't remember their name like you sometimes see on commercials. He looks like Rick my father. He looks like the Box Lunch Man.
We can't go to the zoo. He says there is a zoo in Toronto and it is as good as any zoo anywhere. I won't learn anything about London by looking at animals in cages. I said then don't ask me what I want to do anymore because I told you and you won't let me. He goes I assumed you would understand enough to know how to answer the question. He always asks me why I don't talk.
About a month ago this guy Matthew came over to the house. He was there about an hour down in the basement. He said to me are you going to just lie there? He didn't say what he wanted me to do. I haven't talked to him but I remember the night quite a lot. He was okay.
I don't know what made me think of him.
My Dad and he is my Dad wants me to come up with another idea. I've never even been here before. There is a counselor - he always does things like okay you just registered at University now what? This is one of his smart questions. Ah ha. You made a mistake. What you just said is impossible. You have to go here do this then do that then return to something else. Thank you for showing me I'm stupid. I don't actually say that. I also thought I could say how do you get to Aunt Beth's? You don't know? What would you do if I wasn't here to tell you? Then I would shake my head over how pathetic he was. It's like someone teaching you how to drive. They act like you're already supposed to know everything about it.
What he wants me to say is the museum. There is tons of museums here. I always say the British Museum because 1. it is easy to remember and 2. I like the mummies. I don't feel like it right now. At the Tower of London they have some torture stuff sitting out so everyone can see it. There is a picture a drawing of someone who is really crunched up in a little hole in the wall. The hole looks like a window. His head is shoved way down and his knees are up to his face. I think his hands and feet are tied to something in the floor. The hole is called Little Ease. There are things I really hate to look at and I keep staring and staring at them. I thought about the picture and what it would be like all night then we went back again. There is a museum here that is just about torture but I told him to forget it.
EXT. ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL DAY
It is a hot, sunny day in London. RICK and EILIDH sit on the steps of the great cathedral eating, oh, ice cream cones. The kind they stick a piece of flake bar in the top. They are oblivious to the stream of tourists on either side of them, lost in their own conversation. More like lost in a world of their own. Yes!
Title: A WORLD OF THEIR OWN
RICK is in his … middle forties but looks at least ten years younger. He is tall and has the body of an eighteen year old. He is a thoughtful, contemplative man.
EILIDH appears to be about nineteen? Eighteen anyway. EILIDH is young, quite young but appears two or three years older. She is shockingly beautiful. Very attractive. RICK finds her beautiful. She is a sweet but intelligent the other way around. She is… Margaux Hemingway!
RICK: Our time here seems like a dream. Away from everyone surrounded by nothing but strangers. It is more perfect than I could have imagined.
EILIDH: Yes. No one to see us together and find your behavior gross and inappropriate, no one to call the police, the Children's Aid, no one to wonder…
Jesus Christ. I'll kill myself or both of us. A mercy killing. Do you know that in all the time I was married I never had a single affair? Call this what you like but it isn't an affair. It all sounds so pathetic. I want to say that it was only our little game but it sounds lifted from a courtroom drama. Or a cop show where I break down in the interrogation room. Somewhere in the mists of time I must have played the very scene. I know what I must sound like but there are things I'm not.
I am not an adulterer and yes, in this day and age and given the work I do I think that alone is worthy of a medal. You will never hear me use the F word unless it was called for in a script and I am never offered parts like that. I am a very clean person and a meticulous housekeeper. I cook I iron I sew. I have never had a homosexual experience in adult life. I don't lie except in one of those Nazis-at-the-door-Jews-in-the-cellar situations.
Now the Jews are at the door and the Nazi is in the cellar.
I believe that none of it would have happened had we stayed in town. One of the very few things my father told me that was worth heeding was get her away from her family. He meant the woman you marry and he was uncharacteristically spot on. What has always staggered me is that Alice actually lived in Toronto at the time we met. Unasked unforced of her own volition. Almost from the instant Eilidh breathed the light of day Alice began pining for Valentine.
You have seen Valentine. You are let's say spiritually acquainted with it. Our writers would have you believe we are all from there. That's correct: Valentine is Home. Not quaintly positioned in the maritimes nor unprotected in the middle of the prairies but twill serve. A river running past the edge of town. A farm or two. A laughable imitation of a mall stealing business from downtown where all the stores appear to be six feet high. You know the rest - colorful religious fanatics, men with huge forearms moodily ingesting massive quantities of draft beer, teen virgins, aging thugs who would be eaten alive in the big city but are living legends in this fir-studded outreach of civilization. The whole soup, the breathtaking diversity of our rich and fascinating culture - it's all there! Don't even think about leaving! We have beloved psychotic priests who instill the Real Values by using everything but the knout. Can you find this in the Big City? Home cooking bad coffee gossip lies backstabbing and the entire gamut of insane rumors: tiny Italian restaurants run by the Mafia, the immortal Chinese establishment closed by the Board of Health upon the discovery of dead cats in the kitchen, the same poor adolescent girls in Emergency for the removal of candles, bananas, etc.
Let's all pause for a wry chuckle: hasn't changed since I was a kid!
I lived in Valentine for over seven years. Do I sound bitter? Let me be fair. I didn't go insane living there. I must have already been insane when I consented to move. In theory of course it had its advantages not the least of which was that we could actually afford to buy a house. Alice could teach there as well as anywhere and she has good connections. To say the very least. An actor's life being what it is I do not work all the time. None of us do. I could alternate between Valentine and Toronto. It meant time away from home, yes, there were sacrifices to make and please note that I am not dwelling on four hours commuting time.
What I hadn't counted on were the summers. The dog days when my options were excruciating sex farces at Stage West or languishing at the cottage that has been in Alice's family since the invention of nails. The sweltering and bug-fraught days when I actually began giving acting lessons at the Valentine Community Centre. Don't even ask. I hadn't counted on Alice attending weddings showers christenings picnics dinners the miserable entirety of hayseed social life. I hadn't counted on Eilidh.
I perhaps sound light-hearted. A defense against the tenor of the times. Will she see a therapist or worse yet join a twelve-step group? Will she confront me tell Alice take me to court? I would be finished not only here but anywhere. Do I deserve what amounts to a death sentence because of my - because of this… involvement? Let me make one thing absolutely clear: Eilidh never said no.
We were sitting on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral eating ice cream cones in perfect silence. Just as silently we got to our feet and went inside.
I thought I should pray. I don't know what else is supposed to happen in a church. It is so big it almost scared me. I think it's a mistake making a church that big.
Him and my Mom broke up in the winter. I'm not used to having him right there every minute. Usually I stay at my cousin's sometimes at Jessica's. I didn't think about that part coming over here. I talked to a guy and his girlfriend on the plane they just finished school. They are traveling in Europe for the summer before university. She was tall and skinny and her skin was perfect. I kept wanting to look at her because she was so beautiful. A nose like a button.
Maybe he does scare me. I never really thought about it like that. When he stood up on the steps I had a feeling something terrible was just going to happen. I don't know if you'd really call that being scared. I don't know what to call it.
At the carnival it's free just to walk in and look around. You pay if you want to do something. Same at St. Paul's. He bought two tickets. We stood underneath the dome and looked up. It is so big it seems crazy. You don't need a ticket to do that. I could see somebody a long ways up looking over a railing and down at me. I didn't know what to pray about. There was a lot of people in the place sitting down and walking around but I couldn't see anybody praying.
I was too old when I was sitting on his knee. I shouldn't have done it. I don't think I knew all this would happen but maybe. Also that two-piece I wore at the cottage. There are a lot of things I could have done instead of what I did. He was around too much in the summer. Both of us. I don't think you can start doing something and then stop just because you feel like it. He said that once. It's true. She said I was a flirt. Probably I was even if I didn't know it and maybe I did. I'm sorry they broke up. Last summer I shouted and screamed on the front lawn and I know that made a lot of trouble. I didn't hear any fighting but he didn't visit me in the basement again. Both of them I think were mad at me but they didn't say anything. It was the winter. I thought it happened in summer because it's summer now. Maybe because most of it always happened in the summer. I had my ski coat on so it was winter.
The carnival is on Valentine's Day because it's our birthday. The town's. Maybe I was already thinking about it when we walked in the church. The tickets were for us to go up to where I saw somebody looking over a railing. You go through a door and walk up a ramp that is like a spiral staircase. Quite steep made out of wood. People were coming down at the same time but it's a wide ramp. Some of it is actually stairs but I remember the ramp the most because it is something like walking in a dream. He was breathing heavier all the time right beside me while we were going up in circles. Everything else is made out of stone.
He took me to the carnival. I usually go with friends and I don't remember how it happened. There was just the two of us. I didn't feel like the rides and he didn't say anything about it. We kept walking like we had somewhere to go. I remember it was a hot day and he was wearing a black t-shirt. That was maybe at the cottage. It was winter and it was cold. It was Valentine's Day. We walked through the people until we got to the end and then we walked all the way back. I didn't have any candy floss. I don't remember talking. When we got to the car I jumped in the back seat. I had never done that before and I just felt like it. The whole day was ugly. He said to get in the front and I didn't. He said it louder like the problem was that I was deaf. He slammed the door and drove exactly the opposite way from home. It didn't feel like that time the car fell in the ditch but I don't know if I'd call it scared. Finally he stopped the car and just yanked me right into the front seat.
I started screaming on the front lawn. That was after we got home. My Mom was walking up the driveway and I ran away from the car and on the lawn. It was covered in snow. I started yelling you don't know what he does to me. It was like the only thing I could think of. They both stood in the driveway looking at me. She just looked.
If you go to the very top you are actually on the outside of the dome and can see the whole city. We didn't do that. We were still inside but very high up. I can't tell you how high this thing is right in the middle of a church. There isn't a building in Valentine that is this tall. What I was thinking was that this must be the place we were trying to get to. I just thought it. Everything the same except I ate an ice cream. He couldn't catch his breath but he was trying to hide it. Right next to me and he couldn't breathe. We were a thousand feet in the air closed in by rock. There was a railing all the way round as big as the school track. I started walking away.
Some people sat on benches and some of them were standing with their faces to the wall. Somebody started laughing. You have to kind of step up to look over the railing and I didn't do it. When I turned around he was in the same place his chest going up and down. He didn't have to move. If I kept on walking I would come right back to him. There was already a long curve between us. He pointed across the way and I walked until I came right around and he was across from me but a long ways away. It looks big up there but it's still bigger than it looks.
He kept pointing throwing his hand out at me. A woman got up off a bench and told me to lean against the wall and listen. She was American. I said what for and she said just listen. His voice spoke right out of the wall out of solid stone like he was right there. It was low like he was talking in the dark. I turned around fast and he was still there over on the other side his back to me. Goose bumps came up on my arms. He turned around and saw me and pointed. I leaned against the wall again. Nobody I told this to was ever going to believe it. I wanted to go back to the hotel right then and write Lucy a letter. A wall like a telephone. I never even heard anything about it.
The American woman was smiling at me so I knew she couldn't hear what he was saying. He didn't expect me to answer him. I never do.
I said to her take a picture it'll last longer. She looked confused then angry then hurt. He was grinning at me from the other side of the dome. There was no point standing there all day. The woman still looked like she wanted to say something but she didn't. I grabbed the railing and pulled myself up then leaned over and looked straight down. There was a design on the floor a mile away and some small faces looking up. I thought for a second that I might see myself looking up at myself looking down and it made me feel sick to my stomach. There was someone down there who could have been me but it wasn't. I looked over at him and he wasn't grinning. Don't let the recession get you down.
I didn't feel like jumping.
Pretty Woman was playing in Leicester Square. Even for London it had to be old news. Not to say that I'd actually turn down work but I do think I'd find it a bit thick living here and having to contend with a cultural lag that pronounced. What are they watching in the Middle East - Midnight Cowboy? Having said that I'll admit I hadn't seen the film. The important thing is that I'd had the option. Eilidh had seen it but insisted that we go. That is to say I asked her if she wanted to go to the movies and she pointed to that one.
So, naturally, we went. I'm aware of her actual age even if you don't think so. It can't be all monuments, museums and churches. She'd tried to scare me at the Whispering Gallery and I think it was largely out of boredom. I suppose the things my generation finds fascinating are a poor substitute for Nintendo. Really, why am I surprised? The girl was raised in Valentine. We cross the Atlantic to watch a film not even classified as a new release in our local video store.
If you haven't gone to see a film in London, don't. It is overpriced even by our standards and a full half hour of commercials precedes the event. On the other hand, there was a bar in the theatre itself. I found that a mitigating factor. Eilidh said little but I sensed she was pleased.
And what a pleasant surprise it turned out to be! I knew the story line, of course, having read the sniping in everything from the New Yorker to the Sun. What they had failed to mention in their heavy-handed judgments was the utter charm of the characters, the bittersweetness of the romance, the wonderful supporting cast. It is a film about love, about the conspiracy of love changing lives overnight. It is a film about transformation and redemption. It is a film that tells us that love is essentially subversive. I am not a fool. I am well aware that I was not in the presence of High Art but there is a reason that the public doesn't flock to High Art and the reason is not because they're stupid. Call it a piece of Hollywood fluff but it was the hit that is was because it was about the issues, the realities that I've named. Critics have long ago stopped living in the dream a film gives you but the rest of us haven't. High Art is always out to destroy the dream and therefore is a favorite of critics and best practiced by European pseudo-intellectuals. Do they really think we don't know it's a dream? Only a constipated German academic could delude himself into believing that we need liberating from the only thing that keeps most of us alive. Or vain enough to believe himself to be the liberator.
Pretty Woman is wonderful, heartbreaking, joyful. There was a lump in my throat as the credits rolled but a warmth in my breast. I looked at Eilidh to share the moment but her eyes stayed fixed on the screen. I had been too harsh. Ancient stone buildings housing moldy artifacts weren't enough for anyone. She doesn't actually own a Nintendo game.
Oh I know you'll have heard it from a hundred other actors, but I would have been perfect for the Richard Gere role. He's no spring chicken himself. But of course they are not going to hire me living, as I do, in the land of the tundra and I am not referring to Valentine. So why not make our own Pretty Woman? Are there no millionaires in Canada, no prostitutes? I'll tell you why: it isn't real. There is a preposterous theory widely held by our home-grown artists and I use the term loosely indeed that Canadians love reality when in fact we hate it as much as everyone else. Can you imagine the grim, bitter end-of-the-road picture that would have been shot even if they'd begun with the same script? Ruthless high-roller uses and discards misguided young hooker who sells her soul for money. Do you know where your soul is tonight?
I began talking about this very issue with Eilidh as we walked away from the theatre and I suppose it turned into a bit of a rant. I should only watch mediocre films. I don't get as angry afterward. It was a beautiful evening, a bit cooler than it had been. I was warm enough in my t-shirt. I hoped that the film would inspire her to go shopping.
It wasn't as hot in the room. I don't think they've invented air-conditioning here yet. Or else he's trying to save money on a cheap place which is weird because he really wants me to spend it. It doesn't matter. The curtains were moving from a breeze.
Not all the time but sometimes for the rest of the day it was like I was leaning over that railing looking down at me and him. Not as high up as that but as high as the ceiling. It wasn't new but I'd never done it all day long. I watched the movie and watched us watch it.
He had bought me pajamas with little bears on them and I just refused. That doesn't happen very often but he's a lot more careful after the carnival. They were still wrapped in plastic in a dresser drawer. I sleep in the white underwear he bought me.
I watched us from the ceiling and I watched him fall asleep. He started drinking before the movie and then back here downstairs. It seemed like it only took a second before he was snoring. I started to sweat even with the breeze and I got out of bed. I wanted to just see out of my own eyes again. The whole thing was starting to worry me. Sometimes the more you think about a thing the more it won't go away. In the summer especially I notice that with those little specks and bubbles you can see float by in your own eyes. If I think about them they ruin everything I look at. When I do something else I don't even see them but they must still be there.
I went to the little table and turned on the lamp. I had Mirabella, Allure and The Blue Guide to London. He'd bought Vanity Fair and People. I read books but I didn't bring one with me. I'll tell you the truth I daydream too much for books. It drives them crazy at school because I'm smart but I daydream. I forget about what I'm reading.
My heart suddenly started pounding and I could feel it through my whole body. The room seemed as small as a closet. I couldn't breathe like him climbing all the way up. Maybe this is what he feels like. I curled up on the floor trying to breathe. It felt like for sure I would start crying. It felt like the first dip on the roller coaster when everything inside you moves up and your scalp gets cold. I tried to grab hold of the carpet. His snoring was like some kind of insane background music. My heart was banging my whole body. I knew I was going to scream and I tried to take a breath to do it when everything started to slow down.
My heart still shook me but I could hear it go slower. It was loud and slow. It started getting more quiet and I stretched out my legs. Right away I was watching myself stretched out on the floor in white underwear. Maybe it only just happened again or maybe I just hadn't noticed when I was curled up. But there I was.
I was afraid to relax in case it came back again but it was hard not to. The back of my neck felt like rubber. I didn't have a bone in my body. I only had one thing anything like this before and it was a long time ago. I had a dream that I was on fire and I couldn't get out of the dream all day. My heart kept speeding up but not like this. Also it didn't go away like this. I could have almost laughed the way I felt now.
I got up and went in the bathroom and used the cold water. It felt okay but I looked like I was faking it. I took his razor off the glass shelf over the sink and I came back into the room. His snoring had slowed down just like my heart. He sleeps with nothing on. I got on the bed and leaned over him.
I cut right to the bone. I could feel it. You would think it would hurt more than anything but there was no screaming at all. Not even a groan. His snoring had stopped and for a second I thought maybe he'd died of a heart attack which would be just my luck. There was an amazing amount of blood. It was on my hand and on his face. He lay there breathing but I was getting his attention.
I went back to the little table and sat down and watched him. His eyes opened and he started to sit up blinking. He wiped his hand across his face and looked at the blood on it at the same time as he looked at me. I don't think he really believed he was awake. Then he started screaming.
He got out of the bed and screamed his way over to me. He was going what have you done what have you done you've ruined me.
I thought he was going to hit me but he didn't.
It was a nightmare in progress. I would have given five years of my life to have been able to CUT TO: INT. HOSPITAL NIGHT but life is the horrible mess between dramatic moments. I grabbed the towels from the bathroom and saw the smear of blood across my face which I promptly washed off. It would only confound everyone. I soaked one of the towels while I was at it but I had no idea if hot or cold water was needed.
She was still sitting in a pool of yellow light from the table lamp. Blood ran the length of her body from the hideous curling wound on her face. I took the razor from her hand and pressed the wet towel against her cheek. It must have been shock that kept her so quiet. I called the desk and told them an ambulance was needed immediately for my daughter. Once I'd said it I couldn't take it back.
I pulled her out of the chair and lead her to the bed where I covered her up. It seemed to me I'd heard that about shock victims. Of course there was no tea or anything to give her and I thought alcohol might be a bad idea. I realized that I was naked and remedied the situation.
If she died and she looked bad enough to do just that, I would be delivering handbills door-to-door in a suburb of Winnipeg. She might tell them that I had done it which I would have an impossible time disproving. I've never been more frightened. They would certainly unleash the shrinks on her and God alone knew what might come out. I could have killed her. Fortunately it all helped to make me begin crying as I've never cried before.
I was beside myself by the time they arrived and by their reaction to Eilidh I'd say it was a good thing that I was.
By the time the police arrived at the hospital I was making a brave show of it through the pain. A stunned, saddened and confused father. I could only tell them the truth: I had no idea what the hell had happened. You think me cold but self-preservation is always one's first thought and you've probably felt guilty because of it more than once in your life. Guilt was a luxury I couldn't afford. I'd been a fool not to rent us separate rooms no not at all. Eilidh is fourteen years old still a little girl. One role I would have a hard time playing would be that of a monster.
Her mother and I separated earlier in the year. She'd been despondent since. I thought that London might cheer her up but it wasn't to be. Withdrawn silent unenthusiastic. Somehow you blame yourself even if you've done everything humanly possible. You'd never break up at all if you knew what it would do to the children. Drugs? Certainly not while she's been under my care.
I did hope to God that Eilidh was alright - please understand that. But nothing on this earth was about to convince me that I was responsible simply by dint of owning a straight razor. You could put every bigoted self-righteous aunt, every deer-shooting uncle, every niece nephew and deranged cousin on trial for this, to say nothing of the entire burg of Valentine itself. I did not hold a razor to my daughter's face. I've never even raised my hand against her in anger.
There was nothing left to do but call Alice.
Tom Walmsley has written several award-winning plays and film scripts, along with four novels. He won the second International Three-Day Novel Writing Contest in 1979 for the infamous Doctor Tin, published by Pulp Press. Arsenal Pulp Press later published a sequel, Shades: The Whole Story of Doctor Tin, which was followed by Kid Stuff. His most recent novel, Dog Eat Rat, was published by Mansfield Press in November 2009. He lives in Toronto.