Jennifer L by forrests

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									It is the summer of 2011. World War III has just ended. North America remains the last stronghold of democracy and Canada is facing an autumn referendum on whether or not to join the United States…

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THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER April 14, 2011 NATIONAL REFERENDUM TO JOIN U.S. TO BE HELD IN NOVEMBER The Conservative government, headed by Prime Minister Richard Dowe, announced Tuesday that there will be a national referendum on whether or not Canada should join the United States. "The economic systems of both countries are similar enough to make a union not only feasible, but practical," said Prime Minister Dowe at a press conference in Ottawa yesterday. "North America has become the last bastion of democracy and it is necessary that we empower ourselves through union rather than division." In a press release from the government it has been revealed that this is not the first time a union with the United States has been discussed. During World War III, there was talk of the two countries joining as a war-time measure to ensure a more streamlined military strategy. Five months ago, immediately following the end of the war, the then U.S. President, Glen Howmehn, approached the Canadian government with a proposed unification plan. A committee was established to examine the feasibility of the idea. Finally, it was decided to let the Canadian people choose whether or not they wanted unification. Outside the Parliament buildings yesterday, anti-American rallies were held where American flags were burned and the Canadian anthem and The Maple Leaf Forever were played at a high decibel on a makeshift amplification system. "I'm not American," declared one Ottawa protester, "and I never will be. I was born a Canadian and I'll die a Canadian." When the Prime Minister was asked if he was concerned about the backlash to the announcement, Mr. Dowe said that he expected some opposition, but believed that it would be "restricted to a few radicals." The majority of Canadians, he felt, would vote positively because of the security and economic benefits such a consolidation would bring. "Our government sees politics in terms of dollars and cents," said Steve Maclean, head of the People's Resistance Movement, a newly founded organization that vows to resist the union and uphold Canadian traditions. "But politics are about people too, and their nationalistic traditions. Canadians have kept their national pride hidden, but look out Mr. Dowe, because you are going to see some kick-butt Canadian pride coming to the surface 2

in the next few months." The national referendum is set for November 1st and there is concern that the country will be torn apart over the summer months as people lobby their viewpoints. The Conservatives and Liberals are unified in their desire to have a national referendum, but many politicians fear a massive shift of support to the left and to the New Democrats who favour an independent socialist Canada. "People are going to become NDP's not because they believe in the tenants of socialism," said one Liberal cabinet minister, "but because it's unAmerican. If anything, we would be better off to adopt a more democratic, capitalist system and remain independent of the U.S. than to turn socialist to spite our southern neighbours." Many Canadians feel that Americans would not appreciate the addition to their country and would only strip her of her resources without giving anything in return. Some protesters do not even feel that America wants Canada in the first place. "We supposedly want to join them and they don't really care one way or the other what we do," said one protestor from Toronto. Not true, according to PM Dowe. "America welcomes us with open arms," he said. "In fact, they initiated the process of forming a union." "We're just a novelty item to them," said a protestor from West Heights. "We'll be another Alaska." Maintaining a Canadian culture is an issue on the mind of most protestors. "The American philosophy and culture is so strong. There's no way we won't be overwhelmed by it," said an Ottawa man. "If Canadians don't vote no, it'll be the end of Canada as we know it." MORE/ A12-A16 /Economic Effects /Cultural Effects B1, B4-B5 D1

3

EXCERPT

FROM

Channel
April 20, 2011

CanCom

--

the

24-hour

Canadian

Comedy

11:30 pm -- Two comedians, Mark and Elaine, are in a bedroom setting, both sitting in front of the large mirror over their dresser. A picture of a young Marine cadet is on Mark's side of the mirror. A picture of a blond, curly-haired cheerleader with her face propped on her hand is on Elaine's side of the mirror. Elaine: Mark: Elaine: (looking at a hair dye box) bleach my hair? Do you think I have time to

(looking at watch) Well, we've allotted two hours for this. How long do you think it will take? (reading package) It says an hour, but then I still have to curl it. And I have to allow at least half an hour for make-up, and I still have to get dressed... Go for it. In honour of our new country, we really want to look American tonight. Do you think all American men have such short haircuts? Honey, if I can bleach, curl, and cause irreparable damage to my hair, you can shave yours off. At least a buzz cut doesn't cause split ends. (She is lathering her head with a yellowy goo.) This isn't going to be easy. What isn't going to be easy is that after I dye and curl my hair, I have to do my face. Look at this girl. (She points to the picture.) She has on everything -foundation, powder, blush, a fake mole, mascara, eye liner, lip liner, lipstick, nail polish, a nail decal. I don't even know if I bought any nail decals. How much did all of this cost? Shopper's Drug Mart had an American Face and Body Beauty Sale. But how much did it cost? Oh, about the same as our income taxes last year. (Trying to change the subject, picks up the haircolouring box.) You know, they really should print news 4

Mark:

Elaine:

Mark: Elaine:

Mark: Elaine: Mark: Elaine:

clips, or something, on the backs of these. I mean, are you just supposed to sit and stare at yourself for an hour? Maybe they could start running a series of the great classics. Mark: Elaine: Mark: Elaine: Mark: Who in America reads...on a Saturday night? That reminds me, weren't we supposed to say something? Well actually, we were supposed to yell something. You know we don't yell. Well maybe I can just get away with saying it cheerfully and full of enthusiasm. Like this (he puts on a big smile) Live from New York! ... It's Saturday Night! (hissing) Wrong show, sweetie! (Pulls out a script from his pocket.) You're right! (He checks his watch.) OK, here we go...(he puts on his big smile) Taped from Toronto!...It's Tuesday afternoon but you're seeing this Saturday Night!

Elaine: Mark:

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CHAPTER ONE
June 29, 2011 A single ray of sunlight penetrated the white organdy curtain like a flash of insight and hit 18 year-old Rennae Oakland in the eye. She groaned and pulled a sheet over her face. It was no use. The sun was rising like Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, the birds were perched on their respective tree branches chirping the morning gossip, and nature demanded that all beings must arise and begin the day whether they wanted to or not. Rennae rolled over on her back and stared at the pastel green ceiling. She found it so difficult to get up in the summer because there was no incentive and even climbing out of bed just to take a shower seemed like an ordeal. If she could've, she would've lived July and August in bed but she didn't want her parents to realize how lazy she was. Maybe Alain had sent her an e-mail. Alain was her boyfriend that she had met on a ski trip to Quebec last winter break. Although his battle fatigues had been mixed with a ski sweater, he had still carried with him all the glamour of a war overseas. His stories of battling "ze fascist peegs", as he called them, told with his seductive French accent, were ten times more electrifying than any of the war-time movies she had seen. The thought of a letter full of "mon amour" and ending with "Je pense à toi. Tu fais partie de toutes mes nuits." galvanized her out of her bedroom and downstairs to check the morning's messages on her father's computer. Rien. Maybe Alain would send something today. Maybe he was still composing a letter. Maybe he was too busy with his summer marketing classes to write. Rennae sighed, poured herself a coffee, and stuck two pieces of bread in the toaster. Catching her reflection in the toaster, she was momentarily startled. She had forgotten that she had dyed her golden brown bob black last night. Really though, she thought examining herself, she looked so much more dramatic. The Latino black accentuated her pale skin and she could hardly wait to put on some blazing red Passion on Fire lipstick. Her parents hadn't seen her new hair yet. No doubt they were out on one of their many long country walks, as advised by the self-help marriage manuals on building stronger life-time bonds. Jessie, her 22 year-old brother, was probably still sleeping. He had no shame. The Oaklands spent every summer at their cottage in Eastmount, one of the few remaining friendly, unpretentious towns in the northern portion of southern Ontario that hadn’t been absorbed by Metropolitan Toronto. Rennae's father worked for a consulting firm in Ottawa and could dispatch most of his work via 6

computer during July and August. The pink gingham curtains in the breakfast nook were still drawn. Rennae pulled them back and opened the window to reveal the green splendour of a country landscape as indolent lush hills indulged in the first rays of golden sunlight eager to illuminate a fertile earth. Puffy white clouds floated across an azure sky. A gentle breeze drifted in carrying all the sweetness of summer. It was a perfect day. Rennae was disappointed. She had been hoping for rain. A month ago she had managed to buy the last of a line of Laura Ashley umbrellas at Holt Renfrew and since then it hadn't even sprinkled. She consoled herself by deciding that if it didn't rain by the time she died, she'd make arrangements to have the umbrella prominently displayed at her funeral. Perhaps she could even be buried with it, like a soldier with his sword. It was a dramatic picture. Rennae Oakland, stretched out in her casket, head-to-toe in flowing black with her bright floral umbrella at her side to support her into the next life. Rennae sighed and turned away from the window. With her luck it would rain before she died. Her toast had popped up and she took out the dry pieces, cut them diagonally, and arranged them on a plate so that all the triangles were facing the same way. She was on her second segment when she heard a gasp from behind her. Her mother had appeared at the screen door of the kitchen. "You've dyed your hair!" Her dad, coming through the door behind his wife, just stared. Her family never took things in stride. The situation may have become confrontational except that the phone rang and Mrs. Oakland picked it up. "Really? Where? Two again? Naked? Are you sure? Well, we were just out there and we didn't see anything... Dangerous? Well, I don't know... Your shotgun?!" Mr. Oakland grabbed the phone, forcing Mrs. Oakland to step back in order not to be strangled by the cord. They had managed to find an old-fashioned black rotary-dial telephone for their country home. "The best thing to do, Miss Dorpleminer, is to just hide in your cellar until they go away. You see, these crazed maniacs want attention and you'll only be gratifying their sense of importance if you shoot them." He slammed the phone down. "Crazy woman!" "What's happening?" Rennae asked eagerly. "Miss Dorpleminer's spotted two naked men in the forest beside her house again." Her father poured himself a coffee and took a seat in the breakfast nook. "The woman is a hallucinating sex maniac." "She's concerned they might be armed and dangerous this time," said Mrs. Oakland, pulling out a jar of 100% kiwi fruit jam from the fridge. 7

Mr. Oakland groaned. "Last time she thought they were spies parachuted here from Europe. What I don't understand is why she calls us." "What I don't understand is why she doesn't sit back and enjoy the show," said Rennae starting on her fourth segment of toast. "Rennae!" "Sorry." "She should call the police," said Mr. Oakland. "Not us." "What police? I didn't know Eastmount had a police force." "I think they have an old police chief who retired here." Mr. Oakland looked to his wife for affirmation. "He handles most of the problems." "What kind of problems?" "So what are you going to do today?" Mr. Oakland asked changing the subject. Abrupt topic changes were common with him. He got bored with anything that wasn't business-related. Think about Alain, she thought. "I don't know," she said. "Why don't you go for a walk," said Mrs. Oakland. "It's beautiful outside today." "If there's a chance that I'll see any naked men, that's a good idea." Her parents sighed. Walking through the forest thinking about Alain seemed as good a way as any to pass the time. She went back to her room, threw on a pair of jean shorts and a fashionably old t-shirt and ventured out into the blinding sunlight. Too intense. Back inside to get sunglasses, and while she was in her room she put on some Passion on Fire lipstick. Now she was ready for some serious contemplative walking. Alain. Alain with his wavy brown bob and coffee-coloured eyes. Alain wearing his ski sweater and army fatigues with that je-ne-sais-quoi style that only Quebécois men can manifest so consistently. Alain helping her up after her many falls on the slopes, not that she was a lousy skier having skied since she was ten, but he was so good and she found herself recklessly following him sometimes around, sometimes over, the moguls of the advanced hills. She was only about half a mile into the cave-like serenity of the woods when she began to feel as if she were not alone. It was ridiculous, of course, because who would possibly be in the woods this time of day? She continued along the pine-needle floor, annoyed at her paranoia. "Ah, the peaceful sound of a forest in the morning," she said out loud, to prove to herself that there was nothing to fear. At that moment there came a loud Tarzan screech from one of the trees overhead, followed by a naked man swinging from a rope that had been tied to one of the branches. Rennae didn't even bother to scream. She just turned around 8

and ran as fast as she could. She continued to run when a second naked man came flying out of a tree clinging onto a piece of rope and narrowly missing her by centimetres. She didn't stop running until she made it back to her house where her parents were in the kitchen drinking coffee with the newspaper spread out on the table. "What's that going to mean for us?" her mother was saying. "Oh, I don't know," said her dad. "I'd imagine it's just business as usual." "45% of Canadians say they want to." "Call that police chief!" She crashed through the screen door. "I have a report to make! I saw the two naked men!" "Really?" Her mother was horrified. "There've already been rallies in Vancouver, Regina, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and St. John," her father said, still preoccupied with the paper. "And there's an underground movement in Toronto that's apparently been strong for almost a year now that was started when Dowe first announced he was seeking stronger ties with the U.S..." "Rennae saw the naked men," said her mother, shaking his blue and red plaid shoulder. "What?" He looked up at her as if what she had announced was as preposterous as wanting to have cosmetic surgery on her middle toe. "I'll call the police chief myself,” said Rennae angrily picking up the phone. Ex-Police Chief Craig came over to the Oaklands. "Lunatics," he said when they had settled him down on the couch in the living room with a cup of Salada tea and a plate of assorted Peak Frean cream biscuits. "Plain and simple. Nothing to worry about ma'am." His comments were all directed to Mrs. Oakland even though it was Rennae's complaint. "I'm sure they're harmless." Rennae wondered if she should tell him that she had distinctly smelt Brut aftershave on the man that had nearly knocked her over. Ex-Police Chief Craig left after asking Mr. Oakland about business life in Ottawa and reassuring Mrs. Oakland he would try to patrol the woods now and then. The morning was too warm and inviting for Sky and Will O'Briaen, 17 years-old and 13 years-old respectively, to stay inside and watch television. They were skinny-dipping, their favourite past-time next to trying to catch small animals (not to hurt, but just because they were so fun to chase and try to pick up without being bitten and scratched to death). Unbeknown to everyone else in Eastmount, they thought anyhow, they had discovered a large watering-hole in the forest behind their grandparent's property. "I say," Will called out from the middle of the small pond. 9

"We could be anywhere, you know." "Why anywhere?" replied Sky who was floating on his back and staring at the top of the trees. "Why not somewhere?" Will considered this for a moment. "I say," he repeated. He had been watching a lot of PBS British sitcoms lately and had been picking up some of the more frequently used expressions. "We could even be in England, old chap." "You should be glad we're not in England. More likely we're in America," said Sky. "You know, like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. I'm sure they had places like this." "You don't say!" His brother found this news enlightening. "Don't we have anything like that in Canada?" "Well, we've got this one," Sky pointed out. "But I don't know of any others." "Dash it all, old thing. Have you ever considered going to America?" "We went to Florida last winter break," Sky reminded him. "No, I mean America." "Well not just for the watering-holes, that's for sure. They probably only have one or two, and there's no guarantee they'd tell you where they are. Like they wouldn't exactly print this place in a tourist book." Sky turned over and started lazily breast-stroking towards the shore. "I think I want to be a cowboy in Texas," said Will dreamily, treading water. "They're a dying breed," said Sky. "You'd be better off going into accounting or fast food." "I'm hungry." Although Will hadn't said, speaking of food, the relationship was implied. "Let's go fishing." "There're no fish in this water," replied his older brother, who had reached the shore and was climbing out of the water. "And if there were, we would have scared them away a long time ago. And if we hadn't scared them away and there were fish in the first place, it wouldn't matter because we don't have fishing rods." "I hate it when you're so logical," said Will. Stretching out on the grass, Sky called out, “Let's pick berries instead. I'm sure I saw a clump of bushes when we were going through the forest the other day." "What kind of berries?" asked Will suspiciously. "I dunno. Does it matter?" Will considered this. "Guess not. What kind of berries do cowboys eat?" "Milkberries." "You're pulling my leg. I've never heard of milkberries." "Neither have I. But I have this gut feeling that cowboys eat milkberries." Will rarely let a point go by without debating it fully. "Where do you find milkberries?" 10

"From that clump of bushes that I saw the other day." "But you said that you didn't know what kind of berries they were." "Yes, I must agree that I did not know what kind of berries they were," replied Sky smoothly. "However, as I am familiar with every type of berry except milkberries, I can only assume that the berries I saw were milkberries." If Will had ever heard the word touché used in a British show he would have used it. Since he hadn't, he merely replied, "Then by all means, old bean, lead me to them." Since they'd had a mini soccer game before their swim using their clothes as the ball, the boys left the pile of mud-saturated garments by a tree and disappeared into the forest.

11

CHAPTER TWO
June 30, 2011 All four of the Oakland family played golf although Jessie was unquestionably the best. The Eastmount Golf & Country Club rested shrine-like in a shady grove of trees with a winding road leading up to the front entrance. Around the corner of the white Tudor-style building, to the right, you could see part of the teeing ground of the first hole. Jessie said he only came to the club to check out the women but before she met him, all Laurie O'Briaen remembered was that he was the British spy-looking young man usually wearing baggy walking shorts and pastel t-shirts that sat in the deserted lounge all day with a book. Being somewhat Narcissistic, preferring men with an abundance of wavy brown hair, Laurie barely noticed him except when she used the lounge as a short cut to the French windows that opened onto the patio by the first hole. "Hi." The pale, blond man who Laurie was accustomed to see reading a thick book had suddenly appeared behind her on the green of the 8th hole. She was about to come down on what felt like an exceedingly smooth shot. "Where did you come from?" Laurie jerked around. Her club accidently hit the ball and it dribbled down the fairway. "Oh, over there." He waved a vague hand in the direction of the club house. "Just out for a walk." "Oh." She turned back to the tee and pulled out another ball from the shredding burgundy leather golf bag that used to be her grandfather's before Laurie convinced him that he needed a new one. "Your elbow sticks out too much," he said as she resumed her position. "Considering how much I see you playing golf, I'll really take that comment into consideration," she said not changing her stance. He stood behind her, his book in one hand, letting his thumb ruffle the edge of the pages. "Oh, I've played golf. I just quit after my first hole-inone." Laurie adjusted her elbow slightly. "Better," he said. "Not perfect, but better." Once again, she let her club descend on the ball. Her shot was weak and the ball wobbled through the air. "You're making me nervous," Laurie said, glaring at him. "That's not healthy." He picked up her clubs and slung them over his shoulder. "You should be able to play no matter who's 12

watching." "Yeah, well, I never said I was a professional." They started walking. The Eastmount golf course was almost fey with its sheltering hills and secluded alcoves and rustic little benches set between rising oak trees. Even the driving range, shaded by willow trees, seemed charmed. Laurie had taken a walk across the range one early morning before the golf balls had been cleared from it -- hundreds of white and orange and neon pink balls all looking like they were part of a scene in a Lewis Carroll poem. She could imagine men in tuxedos and women in long, sequined gowns down on their knees playing pool with their golf clubs, trying to knock the balls into the divots. When they reached her ball Jessie pulled out a club for her. "I never use that one," she said. "You've got 14 clubs. How many do you use in an average game?" Laurie shrugged. "Oh, six or seven, I guess." Three actually. He handed her the club and said, "Well, try something new. What the hey?" The ball hurtled into a sandtrap. "I noticed your hips weren't angled properly. Next time we'll have to watch out for that." In the sandtrap he coached her as if they were training for the Olympics. "Your feet! Watch your feet! Straighten up a bit." He was crouched down like a mechanic examining the frame of a car. "I keep telling you, don't stick the elbow out that much. OK. OK. You look good. Give it a little more power for this one." Spraying sand all over the grass, she self-consciously sent the ball flying back onto the green. "Close Laurie! One more shot and you should be able to do it." "How did you know my name?" She turned to him. He shrugged. It was obvious he had no intention of telling her. "OK then," she said. "Who are you?" "My name's not Joe," he said solemnly holding out his hand for her to dubiously shake. "Call me Jessie for short," he added when she continued to stare at him. "OK, now that we've gotten that out of the way..." He waved her back to the game. Laurie was a fairly effective putter but it took her three strokes to get the ball into the hole. "You obviously didn't play mini-golf as a child,” Jessie said shaking his head. "If you had you could have got that in one shot easily." "Why don't you play the next one?" she asked as they walked through a shady alcove to get to the ninth hole. 13

"Sorry," he said. "I'm left-handed." "Haven't you noticed?" she said triumphantly, as if she were Hercule Poirot revealing her trump card to the killer. "So am I!" He laughed. "You got me," he said. She handed him a club that looked the most likely for the next hole. Jessie placed his tee on the ground and took his stance while she scrutinized every muscle indent for a weakness in his position. Nice body, actually, she thought. One of those ones where it was attractive for its lack of flaws -- no part you'd want to avert your eyes from. He swung back and came down on the ball in a motion as smooth as polished chrome. The ball soared. "Will you be my caddie?" he asked turning around after it landed, his lips expressionless but his blue eyes leaking victory. "Of course not." Jessie scored an eagle on that hole. "How come I never see you play?" she asked as they headed back to the club house. "I don't go out much." He shrugged. "It just seems like a waste of time. I only learned in case I want to play with a client someday." "Well don't win like that or everyone will hate you." "Do you hate me?" he asked, rearranging her golf bag on his shoulder. "No," Laurie said. "I'm a very forgiving person." "Come." He took her arm with his free hand. "Buy me a drink and you can tell me your wild life story." "Wildlife as in jungle? I hope I don't disappoint you." "Well if you do, I'll start buying you drinks until you say something wild." "So, where were you born?" he asked when they were comfortably settled in the lounge at a table by the wall. It was time for pre-dinner cocktails and the room was half full. "Toronto." "Happy childhood?" "More stable than most." "High school?" "Don't remember much of it." "Any drugs or deviant sex?" She smiled. "No." "University?" "York. Majored in English. How generic, eh?" He shrugged. "I did Business Ad. Can't get much more generic than that. What do you do now?" Jessie took a gulp of some unpronounceable neon-orange cocktail he had ordered. "Working on a cookbook." 14

"Why?" She shrugged. "What else is there but food?” “This is your post-war philosophy of life?” “Well, all during the war I felt guilty that people out there were getting killed and I was back here fiddling around with omelette fillers. I mean, all through university I assumed I’d do something important with my life even if I wasn’t sure what it was..." Graduating from university had been more traumatic than the war. Most of her university senior friends had gone a little neurotic that year. Society thought being a freshman with all the trials of leaving home was hard. Well try graduating and facing a New World Order. The war ending had been like losing your house and having to move into a basement apartment. Life went on, but without the same security and plans for the future. “…But food is one of the things that makes life worth living. I think death is the only security. We long for stability and it’s the one thing that doesn’t exist. Everything is changing and everything is temporary. I don’t feel sorry for the people who died in the war as much as I feel sorry for us! I feel sorry for me! I wonder sometimes what’s frustrating me so much and then I realize I’m frustrating me! I’m making myself crazy! I’m thinking about the bad things all the time! I think about how tenuous it all is instead of thinking about things that are solid.” “You’re one of the ones who got religious?” Jessie grinned. She shrugged again. “I’m human. Being human means being insecure. It wasn’t so bad when TV preachers were telling us that we were living in the prophetic end-times, but now even the scientists are preaching global catastrophe, a pending ice age and all that. Like WW III wasn’t enough…” “Don’t be defensive about it. I found God during the war, as much of a cliché as that is. Besides, I know what you mean,” said Jessie, leaning back in his seat. “It used to be that we all suffered privately. But now there’s not just a collective undefinable longing but an actual outright terror that can’t be comforted by platitudes. I think we want to go back to the days when there were simple answers. People like simple answers. Like Cato, the Roman doctor, who believed that the cure for every ailment was cabbage. Eat it to cure any disease, put hot cabbage on a wound or tumour, stick cooked cabbage in your ear to cure a hearing problem.” “It’s true. The world isn't the same anymore.” Laurie took a sip of her wine. “It didn't hit me until recently when I wondered why I feel so uneasy all the time and then I realized that the sense of security I'd grown up with was gone. It's, like, now I feel I need something solid to hold onto but I don't even know if something like that exists..." She sighed. "Plus, 15

of course, I'm totally not equipped to do anything. I'll probably end up living in a trailer and just die when the floods come." Jessie laughed. "I’m the type of person who would build an ark and stock up on canned foods. You should be completely old-fashioned and marry someone like me instead..." She blushed. "Why are you here?" he asked, grinning slightly at his ability to fluster her. "In Eastmount? Visiting my grandparents for the summer." "Do you have a boyfriend?" Jessie lowered his head and was watching her through his long-blond eyelashes. "Uh, not at the moment." "One of those war-time relationships that didn't work in peace-time?" She nodded. "Exactly. You too...?" "What's your middle name?" He asked abruptly. "Why?" "Because I collect middle names as a hobby. No, seriously, I just want to know." "Juliana." Jessie reached over and ran a finger across the back of her hand. "I'm going to call you Jul." She smiled, reached down for her glass, and tipped it over. White wine sprayed all over her lap and onto the burgundy carpet. The whole town was coming out to celebrate Canada Day and Laurie and her grandmother had volunteered to help with refreshments. Although July 1st used to be a holiday that most Canadians celebrated with a bottle of Labatt's in their own backyard, today, charged by patriotic fervour, there would be some pretty rowdy and sensational Canada Day's across the nation. But in Eastmount where all holidays were treated as community events, the agenda would be much the same as it had been every year. The festivities would begin at one o'clock with a parade down Main Street, mostly cars with important people like the Mayor and his wife, the captain of the Eastmount High hockey team escorted by the Trillium Queen in her long white dress, various politicians and businessmen all of whom no one really paid much attention to. Then on the front lawn of the Eastmount Public Library there would be games like throwing bean bags into hoops, Pick-theDuckie-with-the-Red-Dot-Underneath-It, a shooting gallery, Quarter Tossing, a fishing pond. All the proceeds would go to repairing Eastmount Middle School's track or some other equally noble cause. People would mix and mingle, drink lemonade and eat chocolate chip cookies donated by Hal's Grocery. Then at six, the humongous cake designed to look like a Canadian flag, paid for by the town council, would be cut and the pieces distributed. Until sunset 16

there would be fellowshipping and people would pull out guitars for sing-a-longs. Then, when it got dark, it would be time for the fireworks. Every year they seemed to get bigger and brighter. Each store was responsible for setting one off, and the most spectacular display would win the owner a free dinner at Shandy's. Afterwards sparklers were handed out to the kids and everyone walked home exhausted, but happy. They had to be at the library lawn at eleven-thirty to start making the gallons of lemonade. If Laurie had known that they used the hose behind the library as a water source, she wouldn't have enjoyed her lemonade as a child so much. When the parade started, they put the cookies on plates and started pouring lemonade into cups in preparation for the rush after the final car rounded the corner. "Who're you looking for?" her grandmother asked. "No one." Laurie straightened her feet. "You were standing on your toes and you've never been interested in the parade." "Oh, just someone," she said. Her grandmother smiled and nodded, her lips twisted to hide a smile. Laurie had asked too many questions about the Oaklands for her not to know. "They usually don't come," she said. "What?" "I've never seen them here." "Who?" "The Oaklands," her grandmother said cheerfully. "Grandma! Shhh!" Her grandmother continued to ineffectually hide her pleasure. But she was wrong because after the parade was over and the crowds had surged towards the refreshments like shoppers attacking Boxing Day sales, Laurie sighted Jessie and a girl with black hair wandering around, blatantly watching people and seeming to be amused by the whole occasion. "He has a girlfriend?” she demanded, not caring anymore that her grandmother knew. "That's his sister," said her grandmother. "The whole family comes every summer, you know." Laurie was slightly appeased by the information but not entirely satisfied. "Well, what's the matter with them? They act like they're above it all." "Well, they are..." "Ellen!" Mrs. Strattum, one of their neighbours called out as she pushed through the shifting crowd and grabbed her grandmother's arm. "I've been looking all over for you! I've got the coffee beans! John just got back from Quebec last night..." Why she couldn't have waited until tomorrow and brought them over to their house Laurie didn't know. The Strattums only lived two houses down from her grandparents. 17

"They're what, Grandma?" she hissed. But her grandmother was already so absorbed in her conversation about how to keep coffee grinds fresh that it was pointless. By standing on her toes again she could catch glimpses of Jessie with his streaked blond hair and the girl who was dressed in the latest fashion -- the early-90's look of chic grunge. "Blast!" She came down on her heels. "What do I care?" she muttered, reaching down to get more cookies for the rapidly diminishing plates. The phone rang that night and it was Jessie. "Hi," he said, allowing the word linger. "Hi," Laurie said, sounding too perky. "What are you up to?" he drawled. "Oh, you know..." "No, I don't know. That's why I called." Their only phone was in the living room and her grandfather was giving her strange looks from the sofa where he was reading the paper. She hadn't told him about meeting Jessie. "Well, I, uh, helped out at the parade today." "Really? I went to that." "Did you like it?" She could almost hear him shrugging. "It was OK." "I'm not really into the parade, or anything," she said. She hated how retarded she felt. "It's just, you know, a tradition around here." "Yeah, I know. I've spent a lot of time here too." "Laurie,” her grandfather spoke up. "You've been on the phone for two minutes. Time to get off." He was grinning. "What was that?" said Jessie. "Uh, my grandfather. I've got to get off the phone." It was a test her grandfather and her had come up with when she was a teenager and would spend the summers in Eastmount. If a guy called her up just to talk, her grandfather said it was a waste of time, and considering the guys who used to call her up, she agreed with him. "When you make it clear that you're not just going to talk on the phone for hours with them, if they're serious they'll ask you out. If they're not, they won't and you won't have any false hopes," he had said. "Really?" Jessie sounded incredulous. "Yeah," she said. "He's just like that. Doesn't like the phone being busy. No call waiting, believe it or not. I've got to go." "Well, hey. Do you want to go out sometime?" "Sure," she said giving her grandfather the thumbs-up signal. "OK, then. I'll pick you up tomorrow at ten." Laurie hung up the phone and wandered into the kitchen where Sky was telling their grandmother about the music group that he 18

was in. He was the drummer for a four-man neo-grunge group that went by the name of Hamburger Helper from El Paso. For their grandmother, who grew up in a time when singers had names like Bobby and Doris, Hamburger Helper from El Paso puzzled her. Drifting through the kitchen like a pre-Raphaelite model Laurie poured herself a coffee and voluptuously seated herself at the kitchen table beside her brother to resume mixing an experimental batch of hazelnut wafer cookies for her book. Her brother stared at her. She pouted at him. "You seem..." Her grandmother couldn't think of the right word. "She's in her I'm-so-sexy mode," explained her brother, recognizing the symptoms. "Usually the result of a positive encounter with a man deemed desirable by society's standards." "You're so cute," She said ruffling his summer-blond hair. "Live forever." He smiled indulgently, while she crossed her legs, and took a sip of coffee. How Jessie knew where she lived, she never asked. But at ten o'clock the next day he was at the front door of their small white home casually dressed in khaki shorts and a plaid shirt. It was hard to tell whether his outfit was a concession to the early-90's comeback or just the standard preppy uniform he had grown up in. His blond bob was also trendy but Jessie's whole manner seemed above current fads. "Quiet street," he said as she came out. "Most streets around here are," Laurie said as they walked down the faded tar driveway with its life-affirming weeds emerging through the sporadic cracks. "I bet you have a lake behind that house." Her grandparents lived on the fringes of Eastmount with a forest practically in their backyard. It was true that for people from Toronto and Ottawa, this was cottage country. "Yeah, there's a lake back there somewhere," she said. "A watering-hole, at least." "My sister had a strange experience...Well anyway, that's another story, but our summer home is on the other side of Eastmount, and we've still got the same woods behind us. It kind of circles this whole place..." He didn't seem quite as brash as their previous encounters, but it was her experience that mornings will do that to anybody. Since Jessie, however, had chosen the time, she figured he was up to it and just let him take the conversational lead. Jessie hadn't brought a car with him but everything in Eastmount was within a two-mile radius. Walking down the street, they could almost think that they were back in suburbia with the grey cement sidewalks perfect for inscribing hopscotch squares with chalk, the faded-green lawns that residents dragged Muskoka deck chairs out onto at dusk to sip 19

ice-tea and exchange gossip with neighbours, the mini-vans that were used to transport children to soccer games and library movie afternoons. Only the number of seasoned aluminum-siding cottagestyle homes, as opposed to subdivisions of pseudo-luxurious brick houses, gave it away that they were a far distance from the bus routes that connected the suburbs to a city. "I bet you're wondering where we're going," said Jessie. "Truthfully, no," Laurie said picking a piece of white lint off the left breast of her black t-shirt where it had strategically placed itself. When she wore white t-shirts, the world's lint supply suddenly turned black. "Why not?" She shrugged. "Just because I'm not." There was something about Jessie's subtle superior aura that he wore like cologne that made her want to be unpredictable. "Oh ye of great faith,” He shook his head. "It's just that I know everything there is to know about Eastmount and I don't think you could take me anywhere I haven't already been a thousand times." "How many summers have you spent here?" he asked, examining her as if she were a pink mouse in a Thai marketplace. "Every summer since I was seven." "I'm sorry." "I'm not." "Well, as it happens, I'm taking you some place you've probably never been to before." "Like what? Your house?" "No, my little tamed hornet, to the Country Club." She sighed. "To fill the silence," he said as they headed in the direction of Main Street which would take them to the side road that led to the Country Club. "I'm going to tell you a bit about myself. My name is Jessie James Oakland No joke, a whimsical break from tradition for my normally neo-conservative parents. My mother is a neo-Victorian in the purist sense. She sits around the country club with her neo-Victorian friends, drinking Darjeeling tea and eating lemon tarts while making rummy remarks about the weather and relishing the immorality of other people’s children. I've just finished a B.A. in Business Administration at Carleton and I want to be stinking rich when I grow up. Oops, I am grown up. Well, I want to be stinking rich when I retire. My favourite colour is navy blue, don't ask me why, it's just always been that way. My favourite drink is vodka, for the obvious reason that it looks and smells like water, very convenient qualities for a teenager who liked to have an occasional shot from the bar in the basement without his parents knowing. Let's see, what else? Music! I knew I was missing something. I hate anything retro. Am I the only one or is everyone else afraid to admit it? Everything else is OK." 20

He turned to her. "Your turn to talk." She laughed. "I don't want to talk about me. I know all there is to know about me." "That's debatable," he said. "Does anyone ever really know himself?" "Depends on how complicated you are." "New topic," he said. "Not that I don't find self-analysis a fascinating subject, but I really want to know how you feel about the whole referendum thing." "Are you into politics too?" "No, I just want to know what you think about Americans." "Well, Americans are people too from what I've heard." She snickered. "So if we join the U.S. I don't think it'll be as bad as what some people think. I mean, some people act like we'd be fusing ourselves with Nazi Germany. It's all so bureaucratic, I don't really care. I'm Canadian, but what does that mean, anyhow?" "I'm glad you feel that way," said Jessie. "Why?" "Because I'm American." Laurie had to admit that Jessie took her to a place she had never been -- the attic of the Country Club. There was an unobtrusive door that blended into the dark wood-panelling of the lounge that opened up to a narrow flight of unvarnished stairs and a treasure trove of abandoned golf equipment -- broken clubs, boxes of size small golf gloves, packaged fad items that didn't sell in the store due to a lack of consumer interest in monogrammed balls with names like Harvey and Lily. In one corner was a massive archaic mixer that must have been from the kitchen. Laurie tried to plot what table it was above in the lounge so she would never sit there in case it came crashing through the ceiling. There were also French windows that she never realized she had seen from outside until Jessie told her that they were located in the triangular pinnacle of the building. Sometimes he would sneak up to the attic during the day and watch the spectacular view of the golf course from a vantage point that allowed him to see what was going on simultaneously on four of the nine holes. From the way he described it, he really got off on things like that. The walls of the attic were painted baby blue which made the room feel like a nursery. "When the sun begins to go down it feels like some kind of beatnik retreat," said Jessie talking a seat on the floor. "You know, one of those places where people read poetry and drink coffee." "Do you have a name for it?" asked Laurie, sitting down 21

beside him. "This?" Jessie looked around. "No." "Let's call it the Blue Room." "How original," he said. It was almost a sneer. He was the only person she'd met who wore a sneer well. She laughed. "Yes, I do amaze myself sometimes." She took a deep breath and looked around the room. It was quite a find. She liked it. She turned to Jessie to see why he was being quiet. He was just watching her. "What?" she said slowly, biting her lip and smiling. "You," he said softly. She looked down at her hands. She was blushing again. "So, how come you didn't mention the war?" she asked. "The war?" He sounded as if he had forgotten that only eight months earlier the world had been slaughtering each other and that there hadn't been an armistice in sight. It was true that Canada had come out of the war relatively intact since North America's contribution had been more in arms and technology than men, but there wasn't a person who hadn't been affected by the post-war unease of being cut off from Europe. "Yeah. You left out the war when you told me about yourself." He shrugged. "Yeah, I was in the war, like everyone else." "Overseas?" The Canadians and Americans sent over had been stationed in Britain, as border guards more than as offensive soldiers. "Uh-huh." He sounded bored. "A soldier?" Jessie laughed. "I wasn't a spy, if that's what you mean. Yeah, I was a soldier. And nothing really happened. I'm not hiding some tragedy. My best friend didn't die in my arms, or anything." "Yeah," said Laurie. "It wasn't that kind of war, was it?" "I think North America's learned her lesson when it comes to European wars. It's just so typical of us that we'd get dragged into a war because we sent in some peace-keeping forces. I'm glad we held back and didn't commit ourselves completely." "You know, I think the hardest part is now," said Laurie looking down at her hands. "I mean, we're so alone." Jessie shrugged and reached for her hand. "We're always alone. Every single one of us is alone. No huddling together of the masses is going to change that." He was playing with her fingers and watching her intently. "I guess so." Laurie shrugged. "But I still like to be a part of something bigger than myself." 22

"Well," said Jessie, "As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to blame all the short-comings in my life on the war. If I'm not filthy rich by the time I'm thirty I'm just going to say to people the war interrupted my career." "Do you think life is just going to be the same?" "Sure, why not?" He was examining her hand now. "You have very nice fingers," he said. "Thank you." "You don't think things are just going to go on." It was a statement more than a question. "Well," she leaned forward. "We've just lived through World War III. I remember growing up..." "Me too," interrupted Jessie. She hit him with her free hand which he grabbed and also confiscated for inspection. "...and people talked like World War III would be Armageddon. That it would be a nuclear war to end all life..." "But it wasn't a nuclear war," said Jessie holding both her hands tightly. "So we got lucky." "Yeah, a second chance. But what are we going to do with it?" "You're so earnest." "Don't tell me you don't care..." "Why should I care?" he said watching her. "I'm sick of caring. I'm sick of issues. They never end. AIDS may have been cured but who would have predicted that a new strain of syphilis would have appeared immune to all treatment? It doesn't end, Jul. That's life. That's history. Wars, famine, pestilence. It goes on and on and on." "Yeah, I know." Laurie looked down at their intertwined hands. "I care and I don't. You open up the paper and as if it isn't bad enough that the world is recovering from a world war there just seems to be more and more reports of child molestation, and domestic violence, and rapes or attempted rapes, and people getting shot..." "And we read all of this and it affects how we view the world." "Yeah, it's frustrating." "You know..." Jessie's tone indicated he was going to redirect the subject. "I read in the paper that there's some extreme feminist organization made up of female scientists who claim that they've created a drug that suppresses a woman's desire for children. It's a tiny group but they're getting a lot of attention and their spokeswoman was even talking about communes being established in California and Oregon where the matriarchal system would be revived." Laurie laughed. "Of course it would be American." "What? You don't think Canadian women would try this stuff 23

out?"

"I dunno. I guess so.” There was a pause, while Jessie just watched her. "You know what I get sick of?" he asked suddenly. "What?" she asked. "Watching talk shows about thirteen year-olds who are pregnant. Thirteen? What am I saying? Eleven." "I know. It's so ridiculous..." "It's also boring. I mean, it's like everyone's only interested in it because they're kids. But if adults got up there and said they were having sex and wanted to have a baby everyone would say, who cares? But really, it would be a refreshing change from all these children." "Reclaim sex for adults?" said Laurie grinning. "Is that what you're saying?" "That's exactly what I'm saying. But even more than that..." Jessie was staring at the dim wall, sifting through his thoughts. "Forbidden fruit," he said finally. "That's what we don't have anymore. Sin is far more tantalizing when you don't commit it." He glanced at Laurie. "There's an excitement to living your life with an awareness of good versus evil rather than fun versus boring. To teeter on the brink of the abyss, to look down and contemplate the extent of the plunge into depravity, that is something that a child could never understand, nor for that matter, your average hedonistic party-goer. My sister, for example. Her decline is gradual. Mine, if it happens, will be sudden, an irreversible plummet into the dark chasm of evil." The wind ripped through the billowing white shirt making the man wearing it look like a virile toreador. Crouched on top of a hill, surveying the scene -- an informal soccer game being played by picnicking Italians -- Jessie gave the impression that he was deep in thought planning a strategy of invasion. It was one of those blasted poster moments, thought Laurie who was watching him and the game from lower down on a park bench. Jessie had the ability to obliviously strike a pose and then hold it long enough for Laurie to find him painfully attractive. Furthermore, she was coming to depend on him. With his indifferent confidence, he had become the solid force that protected her from the fear of the unknown future. There was a shout from one of the soccer players as he kicked the ball into the net. For a reason indiscernible to Laurie, the goal signified the end of the game and the players headed back towards the picnic tables to join their women. Jessie stood up, made a gesture to brush off any dirt that might have gotten on the back of his pants and skipped like a mountain goat down the small hill to join Laurie on the bench. "Good game, eh?" she said. He shrugged, took a deep breath, and surveyed the scene from this lower vantage point. 24

"It was OK. I'm not really into soccer." It hadn't prevented him from watching the twenty-five minute game from the top of the hill. "Want to go for coffee?" she asked standing up. "Watch it!" said Jessie pulling her head down with a quick hand. A softball flew by them. "Thanks," she said watching the ball as it smashed into a tree. "Sorry!" called out a man, trotting by them, still holding a bat. "Bad foul." "Sorry?" Jessie stood up and was angrily following the guy with glaring black eyes. "He could have killed us and all he says is sorry?" "It's OK," said Laurie standing up and taking his hand. "We're OK. Thanks! You saved my face." "Yeah," he said, reluctantly allowing himself to be steered away from a confrontation. "Anyhow, I'm definitely not going back." He was continuing the pre-soccer game conversation as if there had been no break. "What's the point of a Masters?" What was the point? She agreed. She had gone to university for four years, four interesting years, mind you, but the world was no better for her philosophical insight and an English major wasn't a particularly useful one in the real world. "It makes money," she said. "Yeah, but I want to make it on my own." They were walking around the outskirts of a cricket game -their last obstacle before making it to the street. "What bull it all is," said Jessie suddenly. "The only thing that sustains me is the thought that this..." Jessie waved his hand in the general direction of the cricket game. "...is not important. What's important is someplace else, not a physical place, but a place somewhere in the depths of my brain..." He glanced at Laurie and continued. "It's like I've discovered a door that enters into a tantalizing world intense with meaning that I know I'll never open in this lifetime. But believing it exists gives me a vague sense of importance." "Like Plato and his forms," said Laurie taking his hand. "This not being reality, I mean." She had spent hours discussing the question of reality in university, especially Plato's version in which he argued that they weren't really living in the real world. Reality was the forms that physical life was merely based on. Laurie thought it was a fairly convincing explanation for why the world she inhabited was so imperfect. "Yeah, I guess," said Jessie. "I'm starving." Laurie glanced at her watch. Three forty-five. It was that awkward part of the day when people got hungry, but it wasn't 25

quite time for dinner. The British were smart. They had their tea. "Shandy's?" she said. "Sure." Jessie was very anti-summer romance, he explained to Laurie over coffee and cake and a bottle of wine in Shandy's, Eastmount's only eating establishment. For one thing, spending too much time in the sun could lead to skin cancer. For another, he really didn't like swimming or rowing or camping, or any those summer things that people did together. "And the pitiful thing is," he said, "so many people take time off work, rent a cottage with some friends and come up here actually believing that they'll meet this amazing person and spend time doing all these summer things together, when in fact it's just the families and retired people in Eastmount doing what they do all year round except maybe they eat dinner in the backyard because the weather's nice." "Pretty sad," agreed Laurie sipping her wine, trying not to feel panicky in case their relationship was just a summer one. He had never even officially declared that they had a relationship and she wasn’t sure she could even call him her boyfriend. "So, when do I get to meet your family?" asked Jessie abruptly. Rennae was working on a letter to Alain. Since her father was on the computer, she had been forced to start composing her message the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. Although she had originally intended to then type and e-mail it, she had now decided that it would be romantic to actually mail it to him -like lovers in some historical novel. Sitting in the breakfast nook with a fresh pot of coffee, a piece of creamy white paper and a Waterman pen, she had reached her creative limit. Thus far she had written, Dear Alain, How's it going? Nothing much is happening here. Well, not exactly nothing. Two naked men attacked me in the woods behind my house when I was out for a walk. I managed to get away though. She wanted him to be concerned about her safety. Not that she expected him to drive up to Eastmount and guard her, she just wanted to bring out his protective instincts. Taking a sip of coffee she continued to think. On the other hand, his English wasn't so great. What if he misread the letter and thought that she had provoked the attack? It would be just like him to assume that this was her way of breaking off the relationship -- a note about how she was sleeping with two other men. Rennae crumpled up the piece of paper and started again. Dear Alain, How's it going? Nothing much is happening here. As a matter of fact, I am very bored. There. That might bring him up to rescue her from her 26

boredom. On the other hand, he might get mad at her for having so much free time if he was working too hard with his classes. Dear Alain, she tried again. How's it going. Things here are relaxing but busy. Now to try to think of some examples of her busy-ness. She had painted her nails that morning. Then a walk to the small grocery store to buy a pack of Trident. After that a friend of her mother's had stopped by with some photos of her husband's business trip to New Orleans. That had been thrilling, especially since the man hadn't seemed to have left his hotel. Well, that had been her day. She poured herself another cup of coffee. Rennae's philosophy of life was simple. When things got tough, ignore them. It was this philosophy that helped her to deal with difficult people, boring social situations, runs in pantyhose, tripping in public, car breakdowns, dyspepsia, and naked men jumping out of trees. But in the solitude of the countryside, Rennae had often found it difficult to ignore her situation. If her family had to spend every summer in the country, Rennae wished that they could do it in France, or England, or Italy, (she had forgotten about the war) or even the States, for a change. For some reason, the Oaklands liked their country home in Eastmount, Ontario. Rennae wouldn't have minded so much if Eastmount had had just one shopping mall or one movie theatre, but all it had was one tiny grocery store that would have counted as a Smoke & Gift shop in Ottawa. Ignoring Eastmount was a full-time occupation. Rennae crumpled up yet another piece of paper and decided to wait until Alain sent her a letter so that she'd at least have something to reply to. Taking Jessie home to dinner that night was kind of like bringing home a lion-tamer. Laurie didn't know how anyone would react. "Oh, you're an American, are you?" asked her grandfather jovially, standing up from the couch to shake his hand. "I met an American once. From Chicago. I don't suppose you'd know him?" One of her grandfather's biggest beefs was when he travelled to some place like Florida or Arizona for a vacation and people asked him if he knew their friends in Victoria. "Nice to meet you," called her grandmother from the kitchen, too preoccupied with stabbing the fish with a fork to make sure it was cooked to really pay attention, but Laurie knew she could count on her to observe him throughout dinner and give Laurie her impressions later. Sky and Will, on the couch in front of the TV (Virtual Reality hadn't made it to Eastmount), glanced up and barely murmured hi before their eyes shifted back down to three collegeaged women plotting a way to climb up to the second-story window 27

of a fraternity house. "Rubbish," said their grandfather still standing. "This is the kind of show where I go to the bathroom during it so I don't miss any of the commercials." "Fish is cooked!" called his wife. Sky's grandfather switched off the TV despite his howl. There was the awkward shuffling of established seats so that Laurie and Jessie could sit beside each other. Her grandparents took the end positions while Laurie and Jessie faced her wary brothers. "So, what do you do, Jessie?" asked her grandfather after they'd asked a blessing on the meal. "What do I do?" said Jessie. "You mean here or back in Ottawa?" Her grandfather shrugged as he passed a bowl of steaming mashed potatoes to Sky. "Anywhere. What are you doing with your life?" Jessie's tensed body relaxed. He smiled and leaned back in his chair. "On a purely secular level, I plan to be a CEO." "An average one or a good one?" asked her grandfather as scooped some carrots onto his plate. "A good one." Jessie smiled. "I'm not afraid of taking risks. I sense a certain futility to life so I have no delusions about any job I perform being the most important thing in the world." "You said, on a secular level," said her grandfather waving his fork. "What's your metaphysical philosophy of life?" This had been her fear. It was impossible to predict what kind of conversation would result if you mixed Jessie and her grandfather. "Fundamentally, I exist as a human being trapped in an experience I don't fully understand." Jessie seemed very comfortable. "My underdeveloped philosophy at this point is to play life hard and see how far I can go because it feels more like a game than something I should take seriously." He was calmly eating mashed potatoes. "Vanity of vanity," agreed her grandfather, "all is vanity." "Exactly," said Jessie. "Except that most people don't really grasp that concept because they put up so many barriers to prevent themselves from experiencing the total emptiness." Her brothers were staring at Jessie, mouths half-full, as if Rasputin had suddenly appeared across from them. "I think most people are afraid to look deep inside themselves because they're afraid that they will find fear, a terror that they wouldn't be able to deal with." Only their grandfather was up for a philosophical discussion. "What they may not realize is that fear is only a layer of a person's inner core. At the very centre though, is a void." "A space as black and as endless as the cosmos," agreed 28

Jessie. There was a long pause -- at least, long enough to make Laurie feel panicky. "Would anyone like some more carrots?" asked her grandmother. From therein out they talked about some of the latest movies that had come in at the Eastmount VideoConnection.

29

CHAPTER THREE
July 15, 2011 Now that he had met and approved of Jessie, her grandfather gave Laurie the OK to extend their phonecalls. "...I think blue's your colour," said Jessie. "Really?" she said. She had dragged the phone that normally sat in the middle of their living room to the stairs leading down to the basement. "Yeah. That sweater you were wearing today...it did something to me." "Really?" "Yeah. You don't know the fantasies I have about you." "Yeah?" She was breathless. "I can't stop thinking about you…” "I can't stop thinking about you either." "It's so weird just always wanting to be with someone." Jessie said. "It feels weird and normal at the same time." "You know," said Jessie. "I thought I'd be bored with this whole thing after, like, two dates. You know how there's always that phase where you get bored with something new?" "Yeah and you've gotta work through it, but things are never the same." "Exactly." "But it gets deeper after that," said Laurie. She didn't want their whole relationship to be discontinued should Jessie suddenly feel a moment of restlessness. "I think we should just skip the boring stage and go straight to deep," said Jessie. "Me too," she said. There was a pause. "So...what do you wanna do tomorrow?" asked Jessie, his tone still lazy and sensuous. He was not groping for a topic. "Ummmm. Walk in the woods?" "Sure. Actually I'd like to see those woods." "There's a watering hole in the middle of them we could check out. I know! I'll bring a picnic." "Sounds good." "Then maybe we can have coffee at Shandy's, or something." "OK. Well...thanks for calling," said Jessie. He had been the one to call. She laughed. "No problem." "Well..." "Well..." "OK, then..." "So..." 30

"OK, I guess I'll see you tomorrow..." "OK..." she said. "OK, then. Bye." "Bye." They hung up. She continued to sit on the stairs. The phone rang. "Hi," she said. "Hi," he said. There was a pause "I can't say bye to you," he said. "I know," she said. "Me too." "I'm going to dream about you tonight." "Sweet dreams." "Oh they will be." They said good-bye and hung up for the second time. "My brothers like it out here," said Laurie the next day, holding onto a large blanket as they walked through the woods. The sky was blue and clear and the sun was invading the normally shadowed woods -- an SPF 20 day for Jessie, a flush for Laurie who usually forgot to apply sunscreen. Laurie was breathing deeply. It felt like the sixth day of creation, just after the birth of woman and just before the appearance of the serpent. "I wouldn't be surprised if we run into them." "Yeah, I've got a theory about your brothers," said Jessie. He was gallantly carrying the heavy picnic basket to which he had contributed two bottles of white wine. "Really? Why? Have you met them?" "No, but I think they met my sister." "At the club?" "No. Out here." "Out here?" Laurie waited for an explanation. None came. "Do you hang out with your brothers?" asked Jessie. "They're a lot younger than me, so, not really." said Laurie, readjusting her grip on the blanket. "And I was very busy with school for four years so I'm kind of getting to know them all over again. Are you close to your sister?" "We're allies." Jessie shrugged. "I hate to say it, but we use each other. But then again, isn't every relationship about using the other person?" He glanced at her for a reaction. "Oh, so you don't believe that this is right up there with Romeo and Juliet?" Laurie was only partly joking. "You could say that." Jessie was smiling straight ahead. "I like to think of it as pragmatic." A squirrel, disturbed by the humans, dashed in front of them heading for a particularly thick tree. A soft breeze rolled a few leaves around on the forest floor. "For you or for me?" Laurie asked. She was watching him as they walked. 31

"For both of us." He took her arm. "We both come here every summer," continued Jessie. "It gets a little dry. This makes things interesting." "So this is just a summer thing?" Laurie felt her good mood fading. "This is not just a summer thing, obviously," said Jessie glancing at her. "It just happens to be happening in the summer. The point is, it's working for both of us." "I wonder why it didn't happen sooner." Though Laurie was heartened by his assurance it was too late. Her early morning lightness had evaporated. Jessie shrugged. "It's not like I didn't see you before this year. You were always crashing through the lounge with your golf clubs." Laurie forced a laugh. "It's just that you didn't make an impression on me and this year you did." Technically Laurie couldn't feel bad. "Actually," she said, "it was pretty much the same for me. I guess I always knew you were there, I just never thought about you." Though her answer was the truth it served as retaliation. "I think this is a good spot," said Jessie. Where he was pointing looked like every other spot in the woods. "Fine by me." Jessie put down the picnic basket and took the blanket from Laurie so that he could spread it on the ground. Once they were seated, Laurie laid out the stick of French bread, the sliced turkey, the Swiss cheese, and the strawberries while Jessie poured the wine. "I feel like we're in a movie," said Laurie, taking her glass from Jessie's hand. "One of those Europe in the 1800's ones -you know, they're always having picnics in the woods." "Too much Masterpiece Theatre," said Jessie, ripping off a piece of the crusty bread. "Merchant & Ivory, actually," said Laurie. "They're running the E.M. Forster movies all this week on TV. Last night it was A Room With A View. You know, the scene in the woods...?" "The skinny-dipping scene?" Jessie sat up. Laurie thought he was going to suggest they try it after lunch but he took a different tack. "Did your brothers watch it?" "Oh no. They've seen it a hundred times. My grand-parents own the movie." Jessie nodded like it made perfect sense. "Ummm." Laurie leaned towards him. "Is there something I should know?" Jessie shook his head and smiled. He picked up a slice of cheese before stretching out on his back to stare at the sky while Laurie poured herself another glass of wine and pulled out a small old-fashioned, battery-run radio from the bottom of the picnic 32

basket. Despite extensive fiddling with the dial the only station that came in clear was Eastmount's own, Hits of the Twentieth Century. Today they were playing the Grease soundtrack all the way through. Laurie reached for the cigarette between Jessie's fingers. Most of the soldiers had smoked while they were in England and the habit was making a comeback in North America. "Tell me something you've never told anyone before," she said. Jessie sat up, lit himself another cigarette and thought for a few minutes. "I’m a Christian," he said suddenly. Laurie looked up at him, his face upside down from her vantage point. "Oh," she said. He didn't look like he wanted her to pursue it so she didn't say anything. "You?" he asked. "Well," she said slowly. "Lots of things, I guess. Like, I secretly like elevator music, but something important...Let's see...I guess that would have to be that when I was ten I killed our pet goldfish." "How?" "Rat poisoning. Just poured it in the water. I never told anyone, of course. Sky was devastated when those fish died." "Did you do it to bother him?" "Oh no! If I'd known it was going to hurt him I wouldn't have. I just didn't like the fish." There was a pause. "Oh, and another thing I haven't told anyone..." "Uh-huh?" "I'm gay." "Cool," said Jessie grinning and flicking some ashes into the grass. "Just kidding." "No you weren't." "Yes I was." "Hey, you said it. You must have meant it at some level." "I just read somewhere that some men find lesbian tendencies attractive." "Yeah, but you know I find you attractive so you didn't have to say it." She sat up, put out her cigarette and undertook -- rather ineffectively -- to wrestle him to the ground. Her success was only due to his desire to be overthrown onto his back with her body pressed against his. "So..." said Laurie, as a victor making her demands. "When do I get to meet your mother?" "Sure," said Jessie. "Like I'm going to take you home to meet my mother.” Her fingers wrapped around his throat. 33

"Don't worry," Jessie assured her, not in the slightest disturbed by this intimation of death. "Eventually I’ll let you meet my mother." She got off of him. "Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful..." Jessie said looking up at the sky. "I'm going to lie here all day." "I don't understand why you're not more motivated," Jessie said, pushing open the French windows of the Blue Room to examine the first stars flickering like SOS signals. He looked as if he was wondering if anyone out there was trying to get his attention. Laurie took a deep breath and spoke slowly. "I don't know why either. I guess I don't have your energy." She leaned forward on the box she was sitting on. "I've thought about just getting on a plane and going somewhere, but I don't have the courage." "Why not?" "I dunno." Laurie thought about it for a minute while Jessie, now seated on the windowsill, continued to watch the stars. "It's not the thought of leaving that scares me. You know what scares me the most?" "What?" "The thought of getting off the plane, all by myself, and having to find a place to stay for the night." "Well obviously you wouldn't travel alone and you'd probably have it planned out..." "No. That's the whole thing. I'm not talking about a vacation. I'm talking about a new life. When my grandmother was eighteen she got on a boat and came to Canada. She didn't know anyone here, she just wanted a new start. I don't have that kind of courage." Well, what's the point of going anywhere, anyhow?" said Jessie pushing the window open further so that he could survey the scene. "I mean, wherever you end up you just spend the whole time looking for a decent cup of coffee." Laurie laughed. "Yeah, I know, and a clean bathroom. But there's still something inside of me. Something big. An affirmation of life. But I don't want to just run around looking for something that may not even exist. Maybe what I want is right here..." "No way, Jul." He turned from the window to stare at her with cool eyes. "Don't look at me. I'm not ready to lay down my life. It'd be easy to just say it, but I wouldn't be able to carry it through. OK?" He had missed her point completely and although he wasn't being cruel, just honest, she was suddenly deflated. She hadn't been hinting for a commitment but she felt as humiliated as if she had and consequently handled it as if she had been hurt. "Yeah, sure," she said dully. There was a tense pause that Laurie had no desire to rectify. 34

“I apologize for leading you on. I should have said something sooner but the truth is, I’m enjoying myself.” Jessie was staring out the window as he spoke. “If it was up to selfish me, I’d probably go on with this thing for awhile before breaking it up. I don’t get the sense we’re heading in the same direction with our lives…” Another long pause followed his words. "Would you take a spaceship to the moon if there were only a 50 percent chance of making it back?" Jessie recommenced his star-gazing. He was only pretending to be oblivious to what he had just done. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah, I would." She stood up and joined him by the window. "Can you see the moon already?" she asked. It was taking great effort to talk normally. He pointed. "Too bad you can't see the sunset from here." "You still get the colours though," said Jessie. "Because it sets just around the corner." He leaned out the window as if he were trying to get a glimpse of the consummated sunset. Laurie could only watch him. Suddenly he pulled himself back into the room and caught her staring at him. “All love is like the Garden of Eden at first,” he said. “A chance to recreate Paradise, to feel what it would have been like to choose Life. And then knowledge has to sneak in and destroy the innocence.” Essentially it was that moment in the Blue Room that Laurie realized she was intensely in love with a man who had a complete disdain for the world around him and a blastedly sensuous profile in the shadows of the fallen sun. When he arrived home, a Macleans tucked under his arm that he had bought at the gift shop in the country club, Jessie could hear his sister in the kitchen talking to someone. "Oh drat," Jessie muttered as he realized it was Rennae's only female friend in Eastmount, an insurrectionist-looking girl named Tabby who had never been told that not all women look good with tattoos on their flesh and safety pins on their clothing. Rennae only brought her home when their parents went out for dinner. "Hey dweeb," his sister greeted him. Tabby just looked at him like he was a convicted rapist on parole, despite that they had already been introduced several times. "Hey, nerd," he replied, putting down his magazine as he went over to the coffee-maker, reached for a mug that had dried on the rubber dishrack and poured himself a cup. "This is Jessie," said Rennae. She always seemed to forget that they had already been introduced. "Just thought you'd be interested in knowing that Jupiter 35

orbits the moon tonight," said Jessie, grabbing his coffee mug and hurrying out. "Whatever," he heard Tabby say behind him. As he was drifting up the stairs he remembered that he had left his Macleans on the kitchen counter. No chance of going back for it. Too bad. There was a particularly interesting article in there about how to pick up fascist women. Tabby would love that. As he entered his room, switched on the stereo and slouched down in his black leather lounge chair, he wondered whether Tabby had always been so hostile towards anyone of the male gender or whether she had just had a series of bad relationships with men. It was always the same. Women wanted understanding and men had a habit of offering bottom-line solutions to their problems when they had just wanted someone to listen to them. Certainly that was the reason his mother had had an affair with a university English professor three years ago. Jessie had talked to the man on several occasions and knew that he didn't understand his mother any better than his father had. But the English professor knew how to bluff it and that's all his mother wanted. Women measured love in strange ways. As he sipped his coffee, Macleans-deficient, he critically analyzed his room, trying to see it through objective eyes. His furniture was primarily black or grey and he realized that although he had originally selected it to look cool, now it seemed merely sleekly conservative -- like a prefabricated bedroom ensemble you could buy for one easy downpayment and 12 monthly instalments. His stereo, displayed on the black bookcase, was too techno, he decided. It would have been more hip to have a vintage 70's system -- the kind with the huge coloured-mesh speakers attached by wires to the body of the stereo. Suddenly Jessie wished his room was old and shabby and that his bookcase was filled with battered classics instead of CD's and useless gadgets, like the silver chrome replica of a Mustang that was a pencil-sharpener if you turned it over. I mean, who used pencils anymore? The last time he had used a pencil was in grade four. By now, Rennae and Tabby should have moved down into the basement where they would, no doubt, spend the evening drinking Diet Coke and watching MuchMusic while critically discussing the guys in Eastmount. As he was coming down the stairs, he could still hear their voices in the kitchen. "Shoot," he muttered and was about to turn and go back up when Tabby's voice came drifting out. "I really think you're in love with him. I mean, you know you're totally in love with someone if you find every little detail about him fascinating -- you know, like it's interesting that his third cousin, twice-removed, is a plumber." "Yeah, but I think you're right about love being a bunch of crap," said his sister. 36

"Well..." Jessie could imagine Tabby shrugging. "It happens occasionally, but not for everyone." "Hey!" Jessie jogged down the stair and burst into the kitchen, startling Rennae into choking on her gulp of Diet Coke. "I agree!" Tabby didn't look particularly flattered. "Why is it," he continued, "that we think this one-true-love thing is bull, but we still keep believing in it?" "We have a philosopher in our midst," said Tabby sarcastically. "Were you out there listening to us," demanded Rennae, having recovered enough from her coughing fit to speak. "No," said Jessie, continuing. "Why is it that in the twenty-first century we still uphold the tradition of marriage? The world has been peopled and yet we continue to mate and procreate. We're always told to strip away our preconceived ideas, but I'm wondering why we don't strip away our preconceived desires? Is it because we can't? We take our feelings so seriously! Even more seriously than our ideas, I think." "So what are you saying?" asked his sister. "I just want to know why the human spirit continues to believe in love even though we prove to it time and time again that finding and keeping love is difficult, if not impossible?" Tabby looked like she could not have possibly cared less. It passed Jessie's mind that she could be concealing a secret crush on him. What else would explain her hostility? "It's because now and then we experience it," announced Jessie. "Maybe even if it's only for five minutes. And then once we've tasted it, we're hooked for the rest of our lives." He picked up his Macleans and walked out of the kitchen. "Your brother's weird," he heard Tabby saying. "Excuse me." A lady in a long baggy patterned dress and over-sized black coat grabbed Jessie's arm. He and Laurie were on their way into Shandy's. It was a Tuesday, Jessie's favourite night to go out. He believed that Saturday night was a proletarian concept invented by factory workers who needed a reason to live. "Sorry, I don't have any change," said Jessie automatically. "I don't want money," the lady said, her grip on Jessie's arm making it impossible for him to continue walking unless he pushed her away. With her other hand she handed him a thin book. Jessie took it, raised his eyebrows and held it up for Laurie to see. Journeying to Other Planets. "No thanks," said Jessie attempting to hand the book back to her. She had removed her hand from his arm now that she had completed her mission. "Don't you want to visit other planets?" she asked, not taking back the book. "Of course," said Jessie. "I'd love to visit other planets. 37

I'm bored out of my mind on this one. But what the hell am I supposed to do if I'm Christian? I mean, I can't just denounce my entire faith in order to have an out-of-body experience." "Read the book," the lady insisted. "Think about it." Jessie sighed and stuck the book in his pocket. "I'll read the book," he said. "I just can't guarantee I'll do anything." He took a few steps away. The woman kept talking. A few people passing by were showing interest in the exchange. "But why close yourself off...?" Jessie turned around. "I'm not exactly ready to give up the faith I’m sure of for…" "Faith must be questioned in order to be effective." "Look," said Jessie. "If I want to be dogmatic that's my privilege." Two older men sitting on a bench were taking it all in. "I sense you have doubts." "What kind of doubts?" Jessie challenged her. "Doubts about your belief," said the woman bravely. "Of course I have doubts," said Jessie sounding pleased with himself. "I enjoy having doubts. The point is I also have faith." "Why have doubts when you can have certainties?" The lady clearly felt she had a case. "The certainty of inter-planetary travel?" sneered Jessie. "Yes and other..." "Look," said Jessie crossing his arms in front of his chest. "I'll be honest. When I was sitting around in England thinking any day that I might have to give up my life for my country..." (He was exaggerating. There had never been a point when actual combat had been a threat.) "...the furthest thing on my mind was giving up my faith, especially when the alternative was to live without it. Some people find the Judeo-Christian God inadequate. I don't. Have you ever read C.S. Lewis? He's very convincing. I read his entire works in England." "You say you believe in your God. Well, why did he allow the war? Why did he allow all those people to die?" the lady demanded. She clearly thought this would get him. "Why does God allow suffering is so old," said Jessie, rolling his eyes. The two older men on the bench moved forward slightly so as not to miss anything. It was unnecessary. Jessie's voice was rising. "We’re the ones who choose to sin, not him.” “I would rather have a God I can understand…” “What makes people think they should be able to understand God? We don't have a choice. We can't just deny him if he exists. We have to accept him on his terms, not ours." "You must be more open-minded," said the lady desperately. "Why should I be? Somebody's got to keep the faith. It's not like you would be telling someone to be open-minded once they 38

became a whatever-you-are..." The lady turned and walked away. "You handled that very nicely," said Laurie taking Jessie's arm as they went inside. She wasn’t exactly sure why she was still getting together with him. Desperation? Self-hatred? "Thank you," he said. "What makes anyone think they're entitled to understanding the meaning of life? Jessie demanded when they sat down. "Or even better, what makes people think they're entitled to happiness?" He signalled to a waiter for two beers and two shooters, the Shandy's speciality. "When have people in history even been happy?" continued Jessie. "If somebody thinks that's the meaning of life, they're missing the point. Bloody American dream!" Jessie practically spit. "Bloody pursuit of happiness! I will say one thing, Americans did the world a great disfavour when they introduced the concept of the pursuit of happiness into Western thought. Life sucks. Deal with it." "It's funny how Americans used to be so willing to go to war over an issue like democracy and now look at the world," said Laurie. "I think some people are just fascists at heart." "You know, it seems a little strange that we fought a war to preserve our way of life because I for one hate my life. It's going absolutely nowhere." Jessie finished off his freshlyarrived shooter in one quick gulp. "I speak metaphysically, of course." "Jessie, you're smart. You'll do great things with your life." Jessie sighed and took a gulp of beer. "Why? What's the point? It's all vanity. You know, Jul, knowledge is a strange thing. My head could be filled with brilliant analyses of the world and why it is the way it is, but when it comes to talking to people, they just want to talk about themselves. You know, introduce a topic like the causes that lead to and the ramifications of racism in a society and all they want to do is tell you about the time some black kid was beaten up back in middle school." "So, that's people" said Laurie sipping her beer. "You don't have to be dragged down by them. You can think. Do something about it!" "Yeah, I can think. I can think enough to know how much I don't know. I can think enough to know that knowledge isn't the answer. It's a game. Intellect is vanity. Scholars acquire facts the way the middle class acquire new appliances, the way a millionaire acquires stocks." "But knowledge is more noble than appliances or stocks." "Oh, Jul," said Jessie as if it was too hard to explain. He looked down at his beer. "Sometimes I just want to move to Oklahoma, get a job in a factory and live in a trailer park." "Oh come on!" 39

"No, really. White trash stuff appeals to me. Who's to say that caviar, filet mignon, and consommé are better than ravioli, brown beans, and chunky beef soup? I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content." "Walt Whitman," said Laurie. "The apostle Paul." "No, I mean, this free spirit, I am all men, sort of thing." Jessie shrugged. "Maybe I do just want a chance to sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world, or maybe it's just like T.S. Eliot said, This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper. So what the hell does anything matter?" "Oh, don't go all futile on me," said Laurie, almost desperately. "I'm not going all futile. You're completely missing the point. It's just that I know that nothing is going to make me really happy." "Life isn't about happiness." Laurie leaned forward. She had completely forgotten her beer. "You just said that. I think it is about meaning. You have to find the meaning, then happiness sort of weaves its way through your life. You know, not always there, but showing up enough times to make it worthwhile." "Jul, I'm not asking for advice. I don't need direction." "Well, what I mean is, have you ever seen the movie Sarah Plain and Tall?" Laurie persisted in trying to make a point. "Can't say that I have." "Well, there's this mail-order bride and she comes out to Kansas..." "Please don't tell me the whole plot," interrupted Jessie. "She didn't come to find happiness," continued Laurie. "But to make a life for herself. And in the process of getting to know this man she had written to, and his children, and learning about the farm, well, she grew to love them, and there was her happiness." "Ah, isn't that sweet?" said Jessie sarcastically. "There was a sequel. Skylark. It's two years later and their love has grown." "What's the point?" "The point is self-gratification isn't satisfying. Their love grew," she said leaning forward. "It took time and sacrifice. Lots of sacrifice. She gave up her home in Maine. But anyway, in the second part, there's a drought in Kansas and she and the children have to go live in Maine while her husband stays on the farm waiting for the rain." "And why, pray do tell, does he stay?" "Because he loves the land. He believes in it. Like it said in the movie, his name was written on the land." "What are you saying?" "I'm saying, write your name on something, Jessie." "Jul, I think what you're failing to see is that I am not 40

asking you for guidance." Laurie just stared at him. Jessie sighed. "So what happened to them?" he asked. "To who?" This whole conversation had gotten out of hand and she was now numb. "To the people. The farmer..." "Oh," said Laurie listlessly. "Well, it rained. And he came out to Maine. And then they all went back to Kansas." "When on earth did you see these movies?" "When I was a kid. My mother rented them." "Either you're telling the truth," said Jessie leaning back in his seat and swallowing a large portion of his beer. "In which case, I believe you. Or you're not. In which case, I don't." He waved for another bottle. "And all this unification crap..." Jessie snorted suddenly. He had a way of making it sound like he was just continuing with the conversation. "I mean, does it really have to make sense? We all grew up wherever we did. That's all there is to it. Does a national identity have to be discussed until we're blue in the face?" "It seems like a big thing to have to face so soon after the war," agreed Laurie taking a sip of her beer. Maybe the conversation was salvageable. "We need time to heal," said Jessie. "Time to get used to peace again. You know..." He took a gulp of his freshly arrived beer. "I never felt old enough to be fighting a war. Thank God it wasn't actually combat. I mean that. I honestly don't think I could have handled it. I mean, fighting is for kids and grownups. Though, it would have been cool to have done something. I'm a little jealous of the real soldiers..." War had felt like summer camp for Jessie. He even had a shoebox full of memories -- letters from his mother, Rennae and his extremely casual girlfriend at the time, a postcard of London's Big Ben, the cork from the champagne bottle the night peace had been declared. But there had been no last-minute marriage, no passionate long-distance writing affair, not even a local romance in Brighton where he had been posted. The English girls had had their own boys to worry about and he was hardly in a position to woo anyone and bring her back with him to live with his parents. "Listen, I feel like walking," said Jessie pulling out his wallet suddenly. "Sure," said Laurie. She was only halfway through her bottle of beer but she let Jessie take care of the bill and they went out into the fresh night air. The woman with the mission was on the other side of the road harassing some extremely reluctant potential converts. The dark sky stretched out, brightened with stars, the soul's of Pharaohs. 41

They were automatically heading toward the Country Club. Even though the building would be closed, the golf course would be accessible. There was supposed to be a security guard with a maneating German shepherd guarding the grounds but he spent the evening in his utility shed watching TV while the dog slept. "There's something so, I don't know, authentic about you," said Laurie. The hostility in the restaurant could be forgiven. Something was bothering him and she had failed to grasp it. The walk would help sort it out. "What do you mean?" asked Jessie. "I mean, you are who you are. It's hard to explain. You're real." Jessie laughed. "That's funny because I'm always acting." "What do you mean you're acting?" She was puzzled. "Haven't you noticed?" He glanced at her, surprised. "I thought you would have picked up on it by now." "What do you mean?" Laurie was staring up at his undisturbed face. Jessie shrugged. "You think you know me, but you don't." "Of course I know you. You can't spend time with someone and not know them..." "Jul, you wouldn't recognize me if you saw me at home or at work or at school. The way I am with you is the way you want me to be." "What?" Laurie removed her hand from his arm. "I can be anything to anyone." Jessie shrugged. "Don't act so surprised. You act too. Everyone changes according to their circumstances." "But you aren't the way I want!" She was astounded by this idea that he might think he was playing a role to suit her fantasies. "How can you say you act the way I want you to?" "I can," said Jessie, "because if you really think about it, you'll realize I do. I'd be very different with someone else." "So you're saying you're a fake with me? Is that what you're saying...?" "Jul," said Jessie patiently. "The only authentic people in life are acting. Why? Because God is a script-writer. Logos. The Word. He speaks and it exists. We're here because he spoke and we've got to speak our lines to stay here." "You believe that?" They were walking down a quiet dark street. It should have been a time for affection and instead they were having a disturbing conversation that seemed to be undermining the whole authenticity of their relationship. "Even if it's not true, so what? The point is, nobody is what they seem. And the person who is what they seem is undeveloped." "Well then, who are you?" demanded Laurie. 42

"It doesn't matter who I am," said Jessie. He was walking along, staring into the distance, almost indifferent. "That's not the point. "Well then, what is the point?" "It should matter who you are." She was struggling valiantly to get a grip on this conversation. "But it's you I want to know! That's what a relationship is all about! You're supposed to tell me what I need to know...!" She was looking up at him, his blue eyes so open and clear. "Jul, Jul, Jul," Jessie shook his head as he took her hand and they continued walking. Laurie sighed. The world was crumbling and she had turned to Jessie for security. She had sold her soul to the devil to keep the demons away.

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CHAPTER FOUR
July 25, 2011 It was not a typical day in Ottawa. The city had seemed tense ever since the announcement of the referendum a few months ago and in some areas, the word American was equivalent to profanity. The former allies had become the enemy. There were vendors and headshops selling t-shirts that advocated Canadian pride, some in less polite terms than others. In some places you could buy an American flag-burning set complete with a cheap cloth rendition of the stars and stripes, a wood pole to set it up on, a tiny bottle of kerosene, and a package of matches with the red maple leaf on it. In that sense Canada had learned from her American neighbours to make money off of any cultural shift. Canadian maps were selling like crazy for fear that should the worst happen, patriots would have a memento of the way things were. Maps of the United States as the 11th province were also popular. But in the government and the financial districts of Ottawa, there was tolerance, even respect for the U.S. If there was a reason why Prime Minister Dowe was confident that his plan would go through, the men and women in the conservative grey or navy blue suits were it. These areas had to be patrolled by policemen for fear that the rowdier Ottawans congregating on Sparks Street would stray over and do a little Yankee-supporter bashing. Older Ottawans lamented the division of their city. Men discussed the decline of the city over a Molson Canadian on the front porch of their well-established suburban homes while the ladies talked over a cup of Salada tea in the kitchen. They didn't like the violence, but they couldn't exactly condemn it, they shrugged. Those unruly young ones were just trying to save the country.

44

CHAPTER FIVE
August 1, 2011 She hadn't expected that Jessie would pick her up at the Ottawa bus station, so when Laurie saw him coming towards her through the crowd she froze. His walk was as determined and as ruthless as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. She had never seen this stride in Eastmount where there was never a reason to arrive anywhere at any particular time. But now he was possessively walking the length of the bus station. "Jul." He spoke first, a small smile twisting his pale smooth lips. She had forgotten how beautiful he was. "Jessie." They hugged. Then he held her at arms length to inspect her with his cool blue eyes. Laurie took the opportunity to examine her friend. His paleness intrigued her because he was not fragile -- he was strong, broad-shouldered, and filled out. His white skin was deceptively innocent; an all around cool exterior but with an ability to project warmth when he wanted to. His hair was deliberately tousled but unlike most guys with their hair long on top, he never ran his fingers through it, as if he knew it was a sign of insecurity and he didn't want to give any indication of weakness. She had thought a lot about him after he had left Eastmount --his calm eyes, an unusual trait in an anxious world. His insecurities were deeply hidden underneath layers of condescension for the rest of humanity. Even his doubts about life came across as superior insight. "How's business?" she asked as he picked up her suitcase which seemed shabby next to his expensive navy-blue suit. A week ago Jessie had gotten a letter from the company he was going to start working for in September saying that they wanted him to begin right away. Jessie and Rennae had returned to Ottawa without their parents. "Never better." They had passed from the platform and were striding through the bus station, then outside to where the car was parked -- a dark green Oldsmobile that she recognized from the parking lot of the Golf & Country club. "How's Rennae?" Laurie asked, for lack of anything else to say. "Practically engaged." "What?" She was climbing into the front seat of the car as Jessie stuck her suitcase in the trunk and then climbed into the driver's seat. "Yeah." Jessie started the engine, adjusted his side mirror 45

and pulled out of the parking lot. "Some French guy, studies marketing. He seems OK. He goes to school here so they're together all the time." "What do your parent's think?" He shrugged. "They'd rather he was pre-med or pre-law." The topic, she sensed, was only mildly interesting to him. They were swinging around an entrance ramp onto the highway that would take them to the suburbs. With a quick glance into his side mirror, Jessie merged into the traffic. "I'm terrified of merging," said Laurie. "When I'm driving, I mean." "Why?" Jessie sounded incredulous. "I don't know. Once I get into the lane I'm supposed to be in, I have this tremendous sense of relief, like, now I can relax." "What if you have to merge a couple of times?" "Then I don't enjoy the drive." "You need to drive more." "You're probably right. I mean, I just need to get used to merging. I'd probably even end up liking it and then start merging just for the fun of it, not because I had to. You know, it's like a roller coaster. The first time on one is the scariest and it takes about a thousand people convincing you before you do it. Then when you do, you get addicted and just want to go on every other roller coaster in the place. All those other whirling and spinning rides are for the people who haven't worked up their courage to go on a roller coaster." "You sound like one of those stand-up comedians," said Jessie dismissing the topic as he made another lane change, this time without his flicker. Laurie took a deep breath and searched her brain for something else to talk about "So, tell me more about this company you're with." He seemed to sit up straighter. "I love it. I've got my own accounts that I take care of and I have my own office. I doubt if I'll stay with them for more than a couple of years until I get enough money to start my own business, but I'm glad I'm finally doing something." "Do you think you'll go back to school at all?" He shrugged as they stopped at a light. "Why bother? I can do just as well by working. Did I tell you that this company has suppliers overseas?" The light changed and the car glided ahead. "That could be helpful for me." Laurie let Jessie discuss his options of either trying to work his way up the corporate ladder or venture out on his own while she stared out the window. They were reaching the outer limits of downtown Ottawa and it was just a matter of minutes before they entered the tree-lined suburbs. They pulled into a shady driveway of a pleasantly large red 46

brick house. The lawn was as refreshingly green as the Eastmount golf course and there were hibiscus bushes lining the front of the residence. On their way through the white framed archway of the immaculate porch, Jessie stooped down to pick up the newspaper before unlocking the discreet mahogany door. "Welcome to the humble home," said Jessie absently as he examined the front page of the paper. They were in the marble-tiled waiting area which was big enough to hold a grand piano plus some extra room for an audience. "That's the living room," said Jessie waving to some gold French doors which opened into a chaste room of creams and roses and didn't in any way remind her of the relaxed earth-tones of the O'Briaen's living room in Toronto. "Family room that way," said Jessie pointing to a closed wood door on the left. "Or more accurately, TV room." "Upstairs, naturally," he said pointing to the spiral staircase, "and this way to the kitchen," he said walking straight ahead with Laurie following behind. The kitchen looked familiar, either she'd seen it in Architectural Digest, or else in a movie about a family rich enough to have a chef, two maids, and a butler. It was immense, with polished wood counters and a variety of appliances and accessories scattered around more for effect than any practical purpose, she would realize later when she saw inside the freezer which was packed with frozen dinners. "Hungry?" asked Jessie pulling a package of bagels and some Swiss cheese out of the fridge and starting the coffee-maker. As they sat at the counter on muted red bar stools, eating microwaved bagels and cheese and drinking coffee, Jessie spread the paper out in front of them. "More American-sponsored Mid-East peace talks," he said. "That's not going to make a lot of Canadians happy." He took a bite out of his bagel and continued to talk. "They'll say, why are they worrying about mid-east peace when we're in the middle of the biggest decision of our lives? Besides, America's already been through this. We should know better." Before she had the chance to reply, Jessie glanced at the clock on the stove and jumped up. "I've got to get back!" He leaned over the table and kissed her on the nose. "I'll see you tonight. Make lasagna for dinner. That's my favourite." "Oh, and by the way," he called back from the hallway. "Your bedroom is the second door on the left upstairs." She heard the front door shut behind him. "How was your day?" Laurie asked as Jessie came into the kitchen and caught her sampling the garlic bread. "The kind where even Phoebus gets caught in a flash flood," 47

he replied, stripping off his suit jacket and throwing it over one of the bar stools. He came over to examine her culinary labours. How domestic we are, she thought. She had found some lasagna in the freezer and stuck it in the oven. Further poking around in the freezer had resulted in a stick of garlic bread, and she had even made a salad with some lettuce that looked as if it had been there before the Oaklands left for Eastmount, but still had some green pieces near the core. Something had prevented her from venturing out to find a grocery store, buying some fresh ingredients, and making one of her own creations for Jessie. Even in Eastmount she had never invited him over for a dinner she had made. He would have been too honest in his assessment of her abilities. "It smells good in here," said Jessie. "Hey, I would have taken you out tonight. I was just kidding about you making lasagna." "No you weren't," she said, pulling the lasagna out of the oven with an oven mitt decorated as a smiling chicken. He gave her a smirk. "Will Rennae be eating with us tonight?" Laurie asked. Laurie hadn't seen her all afternoon, although she had heard an old Smashing Pumpkins CD being played behind one of the closed doors upstairs. "Rennae? I don't think she eats. She'll probably go out with Alain anyhow." "Economists are predicting a bleak turn in the slight improvement of the recession." The radio in the kitchen had been playing but now a bored DJ was reading the required 60-second newsbreak. "Turn that off," said Jessie reaching over to the radio and switching it off. "I hate hearing about how bad the economy is." The world could fall apart and the O'Briaens would discuss it over coffee, thought Laurie. "So, what did you do today?" she asked, taking her seat, feeling like a dutifully attentive wife. “Stared out of my window for most of it,” said Jessie, his mouth already full of lasagne. “It was a really slow day. At least I’ve got a good view. Eighteenth floor. I can see most of Ottawa.” He continued to eat without asking her about her day and Laurie, though it felt uncomfortable, kept quiet. She couldn’t think of anything to say. “Let’s go out tonight,” said Jessie when he was done. “I like to go to the night things at the church.” Laurie wasn’t even aware that he went to a church. “Church?” she said, picking up their plates and taking them over to the sink to rinse before putting them in the dishwasher. “Yeah, church,” said Jessie, standing up. “Doesn’t your family ever do the church thing?” “Not usually, and certainly never on a weeknight.” 48

“Well c’mon then. Live dangerously.” She sighed and followed him. He was already out the door and heading for the car. She barely had time to grab her purse. The car ride was only about ten minutes. The church was small, white aluminium siding and unobtrusive. But the basement sounded as if a party was going on – a pulsating rhythm, lots of voices, people out on the grass and lots more heading into a side door. Jessie and Laurie went through the door and down a flight of stairs. The noise got louder. The room itself was neutral, almost bare. White walls and lots of stackable metal chairs that nobody was sitting on. But it was the music that gave the room its ambience. On a small stage was an all male band with two guitarists, a drummer and an intense lead singer. They were dressed casually, with very little concession to current trends but with a definite sense that each outfit reflected the wearer. The lead singer was wearing black jeans and a white t-shirt, one of the guitarists had on a navy blue long-sleeved shirt and jeans, the other guitarist a denim shirt and khaki pants, while the drummer was wearing an oversized white dress shirt over a t-shirt and black pants. The beat was strong, the tune achingly beautiful, and the lyrics sounded like a love song. The whole audience seemed to know the words and was singing along. And the room was alive. Everyone knew each other. People laughed and swayed. Some were dancing with an abandon that Laurie had never seen before, not even in night clubs when people’s inhibitions dropped with the alcohol. But in a nightclub people were in their own little worlds, disconnected but self-conscious. This get-together was more like the gods and goddesses had come to life and were having a romp in the woods completely oblivious that they were being watched. Bacchus was clearly the lead singer on the stage because although he wasn’t dispensing wine, he seemed to be the ringleader of the whole revelry. Her first impression was that he was goodlooking, but when she looked at him carefully, he was average, just brown hair and a plain face. From the minute they had entered the room, Jessie had changed. The cool indifference he normally wore had changed to eager expectation. He didn’t hesitate to move to the front of the crowd and join in the singing and the general movement. Laurie continued to look around, to take it all in. It was disconcerting how comfortable Jessie was here. It was even stranger how this was a church. Weren’t churches supposed to sing hymns like “Amazing Grace”? The band up front was belting out another love song, kind of bizarre for everybody to get so worked up over…until she realized that the song was about Jesus! The people were singing to Jesus as if he was actually present and that they were intensely in love with him. Too weird! Surely Jessie didn’t go for this… 49

But he did! He was singing and smiling at the girl beside him, like they were old friends. She wasn’t an attractive girl but she had such a carefree spirit about her that she was captivating. Laurie had never known a moment of being truly carefree and yet this girl was laughing and conversing with Jessie with seemingly no desire to possess him in any way. They shared something in common and it was clear that nothing could break that. Laurie felt sick. How could she even begin to compete with these wild girls? And these beautiful boys…it was Jessie among the gods. The young men here were just as passionate and just as reckless. Even if he had no blood brother, Jessie would put any of these men ahead of her because they understood him in a way she couldn’t. This was where he belonged. Jessie, the god, had come home to Mount Olympus and she, a mere mortal, was mortified at her humanity. "Sorry it took me so long to get ready," said Rennae airily that evening, as she came down the spiral staircase of the Oakland's home to greet Alain who was standing in the lobby blatantly running his fingers through his hair and adjusting his face in the gold trimmed mirror, that along with an umbrella rack, decorated the waiting area. "It took me forever to find a song I liked on the radio." "No problem," Alain said absently. He was usually fifteen minutes late for everything and Rennae always matched him, so he was used to disregarding time. Jessie had said that if Rennae and Alain ever had a child, Rennae would be late for her labour and Alain would arrive in time for the christening. "Where are we going?" she asked as she adjusted the hem of her little black dress. Tonight she had gone for the Chanel look, borrowing as many strands of pearls from her mother's jewellery box that she could find and hoping they were her costume pieces instead of the real things. "Little blues place in Hull," murmured Alain opening the door for her. As she got in the car she thought about how lucky she was to be dating such a man -- perfect dark wavy hair, sexy accent, and he dressed so well! Tonight he was looking amazing in a black turtleneck, ripped jeans, and black cowboy boots. Alain got into the driver's seat and slipped a jazz CD into the player. They didn't talk much though and the lack of conversation bothered her slightly because she had read somewhere that communication was the foundation of a healthy relationship. But really! What were they supposed to talk about? She certainly had nothing to say and if he wanted to talk, she assumed he would. When they had crossed over the bridge to Quebec and arrived in the vicinity of the club, Alain found a half-empty lot to park 50

in.

"You will like the..." He searched for the English word as they walked through the dark quiet street to the brightly lit door of the club -- a lighthouse for beings in search of soul. "The emotive," he stressed the word, "effect that this man has." "What does he play?" she asked. "He sings." They took an empty table by the wall of the dark room decorated with decrepit travel posters for destinations that Rennae had barely heard of. The tables were small squares of wood decorated with bulb-shaped frosted-glass candles and the chairs were eclectic, ranging from old classroom chairs to the metaltrimmed, vinyl chairs that you find in a drop-in clinic's waiting room. "Why would anyone want to go to Afghanistan?" she whispered to Alain who hadn't even sat down yet but was already too absorbed in the pale man singing intensely into the microphone to hear her. It took her a few minutes to settle into her seat, tuck her purse safely under her chair where she could still feel it with her foot and order her drink before she could focus on the young man in the middle of the stage. "What's he singing?" she whispered, poking Alain. "Love songs, in French," he answered. "They are really..." He paused to think. "Exaggerated. They are very simple. Like, my baby left me and I am very sad. He does it for effect." What effect? Rennae wondered. Oh well. He was very nicelooking whoever he was. "Je suis triste. Je suis triste!" The man's voice soared. He looked very French with his dark hair and Rennae was almost certain that when he had opened his dark eyes from his mournful wail that he had looked at her. "Alain! Alain!" A young man with long blond hair hanging in his eyes slipped into the seat on the other side of Alain. "Paul!" Alain slapped his friend on the back. "Comment ça va? Qu'est-ce que tu fais içi?" "Paul goes to McGill," he explained to Rennae before turning back to Paul and completely forgetting that she was there. The explanation meant nothing to Rennae since Alain went to Carleton. Rennae sighed and sipped her Blue that she had been able to order since 18 was the legal drinking age in Quebec. She had no idea what Paul and Alain were talking about since she had paid very little attention to French class in middle school. All she remembered was la chat et le chien and she was sure that they were not talking about cats and dogs. Yes, she was definitely sure that the singer was looking at her. In fact, he was singing to her. "Je t'aime. Je t'aime," he was saying and she didn't need Alain to tell her what it meant. "Je t'adore. Je te veux." He dropped his voice to indicate that that was the end of the song. 51

The audience applauded. "Merci! Merci!" he said in a thick accent. "Mais, it ees not over. Please stay in your seats for zee show coming up." Rennae's stomach was starting to ache. She had been in her anorexic mode for the last few days, just drinking coffee and eating butterless popcorn, and the beer was not soothing her empty stomach. Rennae suddenly noticed that they were seated beside a swinging doorway as a glass clinked in the hallway where the servers were transporting dishes to the kitchen. The French singer had come through the doorway from the hallway and had taken a seat at the table next to them. Rennae's heart jumped and for a minute she forgot her stomach. He glanced over at her and she wondered if Alain would notice. Alain and Paul were giggling about something like two school girls at recess. Just then some sort of comedy routine started up, in French. Why the heck had Alain taken her here when he knew perfectly well she wouldn't understand anything? Although she had opted to return to Ottawa with Jessie to be with Alain, thinking about him was often more enjoyable than going out with him. She tried to move her eyeballs without moving her head to see how the singer was responding to this new act. When he would let out a small laugh, she would smile and when he outright snickered, she tried to laugh so that he would think that they had the same sense of humour. Yes, sure enough, he was looking at her and not even trying to hide it. But it was obvious he was not going to make a move with Alain and Paul there. Should she get up and go to the bathroom in the hope that he would follow her? Did she want him? She wanted to go home to her bed, she decided. Her stomach had more gas in it than a PetroCanada pump. She scrunched down in her chair in an effort to ease the pain. At last, practically falling off her seat, she found a comfortable position. Then her stomach started mooing like a cow and the only way to stop it was to straighten up. "Alain. Alain." She leaned forward to get his attention. "Oui? Yeah?" He turned to look at her. "I need to go home. I feel sick." "Oh." He was at a loss for what to do. He obviously wanted to stay with Paul. "I'll take a cab." She stood up. "Well, I could..." He looked like he was contemplating standing up. "Good night. Nice meeting you," she said to Paul even though she really hadn't officially met him." "I'll call you," Alain yelled after her. Outside on the quiet street she realized that finding a cab was not going to be easy. She didn't even know where the nearest main street was to walk to. Furthermore, she didn't feel like she could walk. All she wanted to do was collapse on the ground until 52

the pain in her stomach passed. "Excuse me. You need a ride?" It was the singer who had followed her out and was speaking with absolutely no accent except maybe a born Ottawan. "I thought you were French," she managed to say through gritted teeth. "Italian, actually, but I grew up in Ottawa. Hey! You OK?" She had slid down the wall of the club and was now seated on the pavement. I hope I'm not crushing the back of this, she thought wondering about the effect the rough sidewalk was having on her velvet dress. "No. I feel awful," she said. She was too embarrassed to let him know she had gas. Let him think she had appendicitis, a liver explosion, cramps, anything. "Here," he said, helping her up. "I'll take you home." "Like hell you will," she said, "I don't even know you." "No," he said, "but I know your boyfriend, or whatever you call him. Alain." "Really?" In her pain, this bit of trivia was interesting. "Yeah, he comes to the club a lot and we've talked." "Great, but that still doesn't mean you're not a pervert." Was she out of her mind? Here she was in agony, the man of her dreams was offering to drive her home and she was treating him like some stranger in a car trying to entice her with candy. All of her mother's lectures about not trusting anyone must have had an impact on her. "Listen," he said. "You're sick. I just want to take you home." "Oh, OK." She felt too awful at this point to really care one way or the other what happened. He helped her to his car and let her stretch out in the backseat. Before she drifted to sleep she managed to mumble her address. When she awoke at the Oakland home, the young singer helped a groggy Rennae to the door, opened the door for her with the key she managed to produce from her purse. He was already halfway to his car when she turned to thank him. Despite her pain, she paused to watch him back out of the driveway. Managing to make it up the stairs, she collapsed on her bed, stomach acidating as though a bottle of toxic tonic water had replaced her gastric juices. She knew she was in love, but she had no idea with whom. That night, when they got back, Jessie made a fire in the fireplace in what felt like an attempt to create some romance in the tense environment. But Laurie felt like she was curling up with a stranger. "Ah, come on," said Jessie twirling a strand of her particularly tangled hair. “It’s just a world you’re not familiar with. You’ll get used to it.” “Maybe I don’t want to get used to it,” said Laurie wanting 53

to push him away and hold onto him at the same time. “Maybe I don’t want to stand around singing love songs to somebody I can’t see. Maybe I’d rather have a real flesh-and-blood relationship…!” She stopped talking. She didn’t want to hear Jessie tell her again how he couldn’t do the relationship thing with her. There was a long pause before Jessie finally spoke. "So, tell me about your first boyfriend," said Jessie conversationally. "You really want to know?" She was incredulous. "Sure I want to know. I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know." "OK, OK. Jim was the captain of our high school volleyball team and he was the type of guy that if we had cheerleaders, he would have probably gone out with one of them." "Why do people say `our high school'?" Jessie interrupted. "There's no one else in the room who went to your school. You can just say `my high school.'" She stared at him. "Thank you for that grammar lesson, Jessie." "No problem. Go on." "I don't want to." "Oh, come on," he said, rubbing her shoulder. "When did you break-up?" "End of grade ten. It took me my entire grade eleven year to get over him since I had to keep on seeing him everyday." "You wasted a whole year getting over him?! I wouldn't spend more than a week thinking about someone if I broke up with her. A day preferably." "I can't believe your coldness!" Laurie pushed his arm off her shoulder, stood up and walked towards the French doors. "You know what your problem is?" Jessie called out. "You take yourself too seriously! You think you're so important! Like things should matter just because you care about them! You don't realize how expendable you really are." Standing in the doorway, Laurie gripped the gold handle of one of the French doors. "People matter, Jessie," she was surprised at the evenness of her voice, not passionate, just certain. "Of course people matter," he said slipping his hands into the pockets of his chinos and looking straight ahead at her. "But people are just symbols. A nation is comprised of a certain number of people. A school is comprised of a certain number of people. When it comes down to individuals, a mother is just a symbol and the person herself doesn't really matter. It's the same for a father, a sister, a friend..." She turned and walked out. Could someone so cold even have a heart? She was so mad she barely noticed the girl with the dark hair who had just reached the top of the stairs and was turning into 54

one of the bedrooms. What ticked off Laurie the most was he didn't even try to stop her. While she marched up to her room and packed, he stayed down in the living room. "I'm leaving now," she said coming down the stairs with her bag. He stood up from the couch and came out into the hallway. "Where do you plan to go?" "I'm going to a hotel." "Can I call you a cab?" He wasn't even going to talk her out of it! Either he was going to call her bluff or he didn't care. "Thank you," she said coldly. He picked up the phonebook, selected a cab company, and picked up the phone. When he had made his request he put the phone back down and looked at her. "So this is it," Laurie said. "This is it," agreed Jessie. "How could you be so..." she burst out. He raised an eyebrow at her and just stared. "...so indifferent!" she finished. "I’m not indifferent. You just resent that I will always love my Saviour more than I love you," he said, casually running a finger across the telephone table as if checking for dust. "How could you not care?" she demanded. “I do care. I just care about things you don’t understand.” He shrugged, a gesture which made her regret this last minute outburst. She should have just left with her dignity. "What do you want me to do?" he asked, unruffled. "Throw myself at your feet? Ask you to marry me?" He was watching her as he spoke. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? Don't think I couldn't. I could. But you know why I'm not going to?" He was watching her. "Because it would be too easy. That would be my life, all planned out for me right there. A good job, a wife, a nice little life..." She just stared at him. "Of course I care for you," he continued. I wouldn't have spent this much time with you if I didn't. But the world doesn't revolve around how we feel about each other. I’ve let the relationship go this long in the hope that you would start to see things my way." She had to look down, his eyes were too intense. "So because I won’t convert to your religion, I guess it's over," Laurie said staring at her suitcase. She felt sick as she said it. "I guess it is," agreed Jessie. There was a honk outside. Jessie went to the front door and opened it. "That was quick," he said. "There must have been a car in the neighbourhood already." He turned back to her. "Here, let me 55

help you." He picked up her bag and she followed him out to the cab. Opening up the back door he placed her bag carefully on the far side of the seat, leaving her room to get in. "Where do you want to go?" he asked. "I told you," she said staring straight ahead. "A hotel. I don't really care." "The Château Laurier,” Jessie said to the cab driver. "You'll like it there," he said to Laurie. He shut the passenger door and the cab pulled away from the curb. They hadn't even said good-bye. Pride prevented Laurie from looking back but as soon as she was sure that they were out of sight she burst into tears. Jessie was right. Laurie did like the Château Laurier even if she knew she'd freak when her VISA bill came. Of course, any appreciation was passing in her suicidal state. She managed to stay in control long enough to make it up to the privacy of her room. Then she collapsed on the bed and cried until she felt sick. Then she actually was sick and was grateful for the pristine, freshly-cleaned bathroom. All she'd wanted was to be Mrs. Jessie Oakland. Mrs. Jessie James Oakland. That's all she'd wanted, she thought as she sat on the bathroom floor holding her head. She’d endured humiliation in the hope that just by hanging in there he would decide she was the one for him. Although he had never offered her anything more than friendship, she had come to Ottawa to visit him and stay in his life. The world was scary and he was strong. She didn't care whether being with him would have made her happy. She would have been happy being miserable. But now it was hopeless. The dream had been demolished in a single evening. Suddenly and irreversibly. She would have given anything to have skipped the last hour of her life. She should have just listened and not said anything. And most certainly she should not have gone upstairs and packed her bag. Why hadn't she seen that she was not going to win? And why had she felt the need to be hostile to his faith when it would have been in her best interest to just concentrate on their relationship? Her head was spinning. Once again she started choking and the tears started falling. She was going to be sick again. Finally, when it was over, she wearily got to her feet and made it to her bed. Stretching out, she stared at the white ceiling. Her nausea had passed but her heart was in agony. She had no will to live. She had absolutely no will to live. When the phone rang the next morning, Rennae dove for it. Bad sign. She had hoped that a night's sleep would restore her heart to Alain, but here she was, pouncing for the phone hoping 56

that by some brilliant bit of detective work the man had gotten her number. "Eh, Rennae?" It was Alain. "Oh, hi." Her mind went blank to combat the disappointment. "Feeling good?" "Uh-huh." "Get home OK?" Was now the time to use Alain as a natural source of information? "Yeah." She paused and tried to speak casually. "A guy gave me a drive home `cos he said he knew you. He was the singer guy..." "Oh, Daniel!" Alain sounded slightly annoyed. "You got a drive with Daniel? I was wondering where he went to. I wanted to talk to him." "Yeah, well..." She was trying to think how she could discreetly ask, Daniel Who? And where did he live, and what type of girls did he go out with, and did she have a chance? "Uh, what was the name of the club we went to last night?" she asked. It was very typical of her not to notice these things. "Rogers," replied Alain. "Did you like it? I thought you left because you didn't like it." Rennae sighed. Alain was easy on the eyes but not always easy to communicate with. "I was sick, remember? I told you my stomach hurt." "Oh, right," said Alain too quickly to allow time for recollection. "Look, I'm going away for a week. I just wanted to tell you. My brother's place in Oshawa." "Sure," she said absent-mindedly. "Call me when you get back." That night she would go to Rogers. When Laurie woke up the light on the phone was flashing. She reached over, picked up the receiver, and pressed the message button, expecting to hear a computer voice tell her that a continental breakfast was complimentary until ten o'clock and that check-out was at eleven. "Hi, it's me." Jessie's cool voice mocked all of the intensity of the last evening. "I hope we can talk at least one more time. Stop by my office at about five with a bottle of something if you want to kiss and make-up." "Oh, hell." Laurie hung up the phone and rolled over onto her back. All emotion had been gutted out of her. Would she do it? Would she meet him? Of course she would. She sighed. It was like dying and being given a second chance at life. Heaven may have held some better possibilities but earth was still her home. The only question was how to kill the day until five. She had hit every café on 57 Sparks Street, tried every

specialty coffee, read every fashion magazine and still had an hour to go. The day had been so long that Laurie'd even bought a pack of cigarettes to destroy a little more time. "Is there a liquor store around here?" she asked as she paid for what she had decided was going to be her last coffee of the day since she was jittery to the point of existential angst. "Next street over, turn left," said the waiter pointing. "Thanks." Picking out the right bottle would keep her busy for awhile. Brandy. It had taken her 10 seconds to decide. She couldn't imagine bringing back anything else. Jessie wasn't a whisky man, she didn't want to get something that needed to be mixed, wine seemed too tame. Laurie took her bottle up to the counter. It was expensive but she'd make Jessie pay her back. Now she had forty-five minutes to walk to Jessie's office which was only four blocks away. It was the tallest building in Ottawa -- the Canadian headquarters of an American company. The fact that the corporation's name was simply Americana had caused it to be a target for anti-American protests which so far had been nonviolent. Jessie seemed to enjoy the contention his company generated but Laurie was hoping that today was not a protest day. It wasn't. She arrived half an hour early and was able to walk straight up the stairs to the front doors without any hindrance. Jessie hadn't told her where they should meet so she took a seat on one of the leather couches in the lobby and tried to think of something to think about. Finally she just gave up -- the whole day had been spent not thinking, why start now? She needed a cigarette. Glancing around the lobby she made eye contact with the security guard who looked like he would love to enforce the "It is an illegal offense to smoke in a public building" sign. There was always the washroom but the laws were the same there and there were always people coming and going. She glanced at her watch. Only ten more minutes. He said he worked on the eighteenth floor. Maybe she should go up and meet him. Except that you had to register with the security guard and that seemed like a pain. What would she say when Jessie came out? Would she forgive him right away? More likely, he would forgive her and consider the matter settled. Well, what the hell. So what if he did? She loved him for no rational reason so their relationship didn't have to be rational. Shifting in her seat, readjusting her heavy purse that contained the bottle of brandy, she looked at her watch again. It would be good to see him. It would be really good to see him. Last night, the thought of never seeing him again had terrified her... She had to go to the bathroom. Four minutes. Three minutes and thirty seconds. Two minutes and forty-five seconds. 58

Two minutes. One minute and twenty seconds. One minute. Fifty seconds. Thirty seconds. Twenty seconds. Fourteen seconds. Seven seconds. Five, four, three, two, one. He was late. She shifted in her seat again. Damn! She really needed a cigarette. It had been months since she'd smoked a whole pack. She'd forgotten how addictive it was. Sitting still, trying not to think of her craving, fifteen minutes passed. This was ridiculous. Laurie went through her purse for the piece of paper that Jessie had written his cell phone number on. Finding it, she did some more groping for her own phone. No answer. She really needed a cigarette and more importantly, to go to the bathroom. She also really needed a swig of brandy. The security guard had lost interest in her and was absorbed in his computer screen. Ever since her arrival there had been a steady flow of office workers going home. So she just sat on the couch and watched the people until she couldn't stand it anymore. She glanced at her watch. It was 5:50! He was almost an hour late! There was only one thing to do. Find a bathroom. Standing, she surveyed the area. There was a small hallway that held promise. People occasionally came out of it and you didn’t have to go by the security guard to access it. She got up and headed towards it, but discovered it just had an exit and a door marked Stairs. But a woman came out of the door and held it open for her. She plunged forward, noting that the door required that one swipe a security card to get through. The second floor was quiet. She found a bathroom and used it, intending to quickly get back down to the lobby to wait for Jessie. Wait for Jessie! How much of an idiot was she?! He was nearly an hour late and she was rushing back to wait for him like a pathetic puppy dog. She was walking down a grey hallway with wooden doors on either side. The doors were closed. The hall was wide enough to indicate that at one time secretaries might have sat outside their boss's door. On impulse, she decided to try a door. The first two grey wood doors were looked. The third opened for her and she was inside a small room with a desk, a computer, and a phone. The only decoration was a painting of a sad clown on the muted blue wall. It was depressingly minimal. Even Laurie remembered when offices had had a lot of papers and filing cabinets and photocopiers. The clutter had been comfortable. Only the government had gone back to printing out many of their files on paper and then deleting the original in order to prevent computer hackers from accessing them. She sat on the desk, pulled out her cigarettes and lit one. What did Jessie think he was doing anyway? He was probably down in the lobby right now, pissed off that she wasn't waiting for him. It was so unfair. She opened the 59

bottle of brandy and took a couple of swigs. Why? Why does love have to be so awful? Tears came to her eyes and before she could stop them, started falling down her face. She had waited all day for him. All day. And then he had to be late. Business, no doubt. It was a given that business would come before her. Everything came before her. Even Jesus. Didn’t Jesus say you were supposed to love everyone? Why wasn’t Jessie more loving?! She took another gulp of brandy producing an almost instant buzz. Well she hated his religion and his business! His business was probably conducted in a stupid office just like this one. She looked around the tiny room. It was hellish. And he chose this over her. This little pit! She smashed the brandy bottle over the computer and started crying harder. I wish he would just burn in hell! Her head was spinning and she thought she was going to throw up again. "I wish he would just burn in hell!" She threw her cigarette down, not intending for it to land on the puddle of brandy. WHHOOSH! The instantaneous flame blew up in front of her. Laurie leaped off of the desk. "Oh God! What have I done?" The horror had a sobering effect on her. She frantically looked around for something to throw on the fire. There was nothing. A water cooler! Maybe there was a water cooler in the hallway! She rushed out of the office. By this time the flames had covered the desk and were spreading to the carpet. There was no water cooler. She had to get out of there. Remembering only that you were supposed to take the stairs in case of fire, Laurie ran down the hallway, crashed through the door and flew down the stairs. The first floor offered her the option of exiting into the lobby or exiting directly outside to the parking lot. She took the parking lot exit. Standing outside in the fresh air, she took a deep breath. Stay calm, she told herself. Pretend this did not happen. She headed briskly for the parking lot to see if she could find Jessie's car. "When I was eight I had my first boyfriend. When I was thirteen, I fell in love. At fourteen I had a marriage proposal which I said yes to and I won't even tell you where that guy ended up today. At fifteen I met my one great passion -- the bestlooking man in the world. But at sixteen I met a man who could 60

make a handshake a sexual experience and at seventeen I had my first serious boyfriend. My eighteenth year, I fell in love three times, the third being my second serious boyfriend and also the first man that marriage with seemed feasible. `My freshmen year in college I had two crushes and one boyfriend. Sophomore year I had an obsession with an ex-lifeguard and the summer before my junior year, I fell in love, talked marriage, and was dumped. `At twenty-one I finally realized I had no idea what I wanted, never mind needed, and decided that relationships were for forty-year olds." Lisa took a sip of her gin-and-tonic and looked Rennae straight in the eye. It was three in the morning and Rennae was meeting Lisa Marconi, University of Ottawa senior and Daniel's sister. Slim, with long dark hair the colour of her brother's, crimson lips, dressed in a black t-shirt and faded jeans, Lisa was intimidating. They were at the Marconi's home in Ottawa where the family had moved after their mother, of Upper Canadian descent, had divorced their father, an Italian construction worker but who Daniel sometimes told people was a direct descendent of the coureurs de bois who had first explored the land. "That's when I say I'm Daniel Levoie," he explained. When Daniel had introduced Rennae to his sister, and casually said, "Tell her a bit about yourself, Lis," Lisa had launched into her life history. Rennae wondered whether Lisa had a habit of staying up all night drinking in the living room and whether she should take Lisa's conclusion about relationships as a personal insult against Rennae since she must have been able to tell she was only eighteen. Daniel answered her question. "Lisa speaks for herself," he said grinning. "The rest of us don't want to wait until we're forty." "C'mon," said Lisa, getting up from her chair and taking Rennae's arm. "I'll make you a wonderful cup of instant coffee, since that's all that we have now that Daniel has broken our coffee-maker." She glared at him. "In an effort to make an alcoholic beverage my brother tried brewing something that looked like whole wheat and has ended up clogging the entire apparatus which is now at the hardware store being detoxified." Reluctantly Rennae allowed herself to be led into the kitchen. Daniel had already offered her a gin-and-tonic which she took hesitantly since she had been reading up on stomach disorders from the Oakland's Family Medical Book that had come with their Encyclopedia Britannica set and alcohol was always listed as an instant aggravator. Coffee wasn't so great either. Lisa made Rennae nervous and she had a feeling it was an anxiety that would not go away with time and that she would just have to learn to be comfortably nervous. The gin-and-tonic was producing a rising tension in Rennae's 61

stomach and she turned to Daniel who had followed them into the kitchen. "Can we just sit down?" she asked Daniel. "I'm a little tired." "Sure thing, beaucoup de sucre," replied Daniel assuming his fake French accent. "Le living room est dans this way." Rennae carefully put her half-empty gin-and-tonic on the dull, grainy counter. Her stomach now felt as if she were pregnant with a Chef Haciendo 12-piece deluxe knife set, yours for the low price of only $39.95. She collapsed on the tan leather couch and was relieved when Daniel plunked himself down in a brown tweed Easy-Boy chair and flicked on the television. "Uh!" exclaimed Daniel. "I don't believe this!" The television had been left on a channel that was showing a panel of five Canadians, each with their different opinions about joining the U.S. "Why debate it? I can't believe that some people are actually for this!" The knives started stabbing viciously at the lining of her stomach. She had never told him that she was an American and he had obviously assumed that living in Ottawa, she was a Canadian. "Why Daniel?" she asked from the corner of the couch, trying to sound natural. "I mean, what makes the U.S. so bad?" "It's not that the U.S. is so bad," he said, his eyes still on the screen. "It's just that I'm Canadian. It goes against biology to just suddenly change my nationality." Thankfully he seemed more interested in the television than her opinion on the matter. She pulled her legs up onto the couch and drifted into sleep.

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THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER August 3, 2011 AMERICANA SET ON FIRE BY UNKNOWN ARSONIST If it had not been for an unfortunate decision to have the fire alarms in the Americana Corporation examined to see if they were still working, the Ottawa skyscraper might have still been standing today. But after the fire alarms repeatedly went off all last week for no apparent reason, Don Major, Executive Manager of Americana's Canadian headquarters, ordered them turned off while being repaired. When the Americana Corporation was set on fire yesterday by an unknown arsonist, police are speculating that the fire alarms may have been tampered with to go off frequently so that when the real fire was set, it would be treated as another false alarm. The fire started in an office on the second floor. It immediately spread into the adjoining hallway that was decorated with wood panelling. Lilly Parker, 23, a computer programmer who occupied an office on the third floor above the one where the fire started, was found nearly dead of smoke inhalation when fire fighters eventually arrived. She is recovering in an Ottawa hospital. A security guard on the first floor smelled smoke, went up to the second floor to investigate and immediately phoned the fire department. The fire department was slow in coming. Fire Chief Donald O'Glaughn told reporters, "We've spent the entire last week answering calls to that place. We figured if it finally burned down, it was divine will." Mr. O'Glaughn's remark is being criticized, particularly by those in favour of Canada joining the U.S. and there is speculation he may have to resign. All other employees made it out of the building without injury as most offices are near an accessible stairway. Donna Chalowski, 45, a computer programmer with an office on the third floor, had to jump from her window and was taken to an Ottawa hospital with a broken leg. Police are searching for suspects. MORE ON THE FIRE/ A3-A4 LILLY PARKER'S STORY/ C8

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CHAPTER SIX
August 2, 2011, evening When it was obvious that Jessie's car was not in the parking lot, Laurie had ended up taking a cab to the Oakland place where she had found Jessie in the kitchen making a chicken dinner. "Where were you?" he asked, casually. "Where were you?" she said, throwing her purse down on the counter. Shaken by the fire, she sounded panicky, like a child lost at the circus. "I waited in my office until a quarter to six and then I left." "I was waiting in the lobby..." "No you weren't," Jessie informed her. "I passed through the lobby and you weren't there." "That must have been when I went to the bathroom," said Laurie. Already a story was working out in her head. She had simply left the lobby briefly to go to the bathroom. Hopefully no one would ask her what bathroom she had used since once you started having to lie about things it became more likely that you’d slip up and make a mistake. "We just missed each other then,” said Jessie tossing some green beans into a pot of boiling water. "Why didn't you come up to my office?" "Why didn't you tell me what office you were in? You didn’t expect me to wander around the whole eighteenth floor looking for you, did you?" Jessie sighed. "All you had to do was check the directory at the security desk, call my extension, and I would have told you." "Oh." He won that one. But the only thing on her mind was making sure that she did not give anything away about the fire. A calm had taken over her brain. No longer was Jessie her focus. The fire had purged her. The most important thing was not to be caught. Even though she was dying to know if the fire had been put out, Laurie decided it would be out of character to suggest they turn on the news. Above all, she must act normal. "Can I set the table?" she asked. "I don't know. Can you?" Jessie was being his typical obnoxious self. "Yes, I think I can." She smiled. “Did you pick up anything?" he asked suddenly. "Pick up anything?" She paused with the plates. "Wine?" he asked. "Anything? I asked you to pick up something." "Oh!" she said as if she had just gotten it. "No, I forgot. 64

Sorry!" Jessie sighed. "I'll find something. Don't worry." He opened one of the many cupboard doors and started going through the bottles. "Here." He pulled out a bottle of French white. "I don't think my parents will miss this one. I've got some brandy for later." Laurie tried to smile appreciatively. It would be impossible to stay here for much longer. The sooner she got out of Ottawa, the better. For the first twenty-four hours back in Eastmount, Laurie resorted to such New-Age fixes as listening to electronic music that transported her to places like Jamaican Oblivion and Symbian Dreamscape and drinking Raspberry Escape herbal tea in order not to think about what she had done. Terrified that she would accidently confess that yes, it was she who committed this nefarious deed, she rushed back to her room after they had all watched the CBC news -- that seemed obsessed with the story of Americana being burned -- and stuck yet another CD into the player. It was hard for Laurie to sleep that night, worrying that at any minute the police might have picked up her trail and were dispatching a squadron of Ontario Provincial Police cars to cautiously approach and then surround her grandparents' house. They would use a bullhorn to bellow at them to come out with their hands up -- Laurie wearing only an over-sized grey faded camp tshirt, her grandfather in his white under-shirt and pajama bottoms, her grandmother in her pink cotton nightgown and fuzzy white slippers, Sky in his boxer shorts, and Will in his blue and green striped pajamas. She drifted off to sleep trying to create an alibi. The paperboy passed their house on his faded-white 10-speed at about six forty-five. Laurie was up and waiting with a pot of Viennese coffee. The first thing she read on the front page of the Eastmount Enquirer was "There are no leads in the Americana burning, but police speculate that due to the efficient nature of the act, it was probably perpetrated by an anti-American fringe group..." She was relieved until she remembered that the Eastmount Enquirer was always behind in its information and that this news could have been from early yesterday afternoon. She switched on the television in the living room for the seven o'clock news and keeping the volume low, crouched down, her face centimetres from the screen. "A note was received by the police early this morning," a newscaster was dispassionately informing her viewers. In the corner of the screen was a picture of a building in flames and "Americana Arson" captioned underneath. 65

"It read `We will never be American. Remember the White House. Signed, the Revolutionaries.' Police strongly suspect the message came from the group who burned down the Americana Corporation in Ottawa two days ago because of the reference to the White House. In 1814, when America was battling against Britain, Canadian soldiers snuck down to Washington and burned down the original White House. The White House was restored and reopened in 1817." "Oh thank you God!" Laurie sank to her knees. "And thank you wonderful Revolutionaries, whoever you are!" "Police will begin an investigation into the Revolutionaries," the newscaster continued. "And they will also continue to follow the leads from before receiving the note." "What's happening?" Sky came into the living-room, wearing only a pair of cut-off jean shorts, to find his sister kneeling in front of the television. "Just praying," said Laurie quickly. "Television, after all, is the god of this age, so I was trying to attain some sort of higher-level of consciousness by directing all my deep desires to it. Maybe I'll even begin to understand why soap opera characters can die off and then reappear a year later in the same series." Sky looked at her strangely as she stood up. "So what's up, doc?" Laurie asked him. "Heaven," he said. "As depicted by television of course with people walking around on fluffy clouds wearing white robes. Benji's there, and the entire cast of Happy Days and somewhere in the distance you hear a familiar voice saying, "You're the next contestant on the Price is Right!" Her brother had been watching an entire summer of golden oldie reruns on Eastmount's community station. "Hey," she said. "I think you're onto something. The people in heaven are probably sending us messages via television waves to tell us what it's like up there. This could be a whole new religion!" "My sister's gone insane! My sister's gone insane," Sky sang as he wandered into the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. "So what are you going to do today?" she asked following him and sitting down on one of the cream-coloured vinyl chairs. "At eight o'clock I'm going to watch The Partridge Family, this really groovy 70's show about some family that has a band. At nine o'clock I'm watching The Brady Bunch, also about a big family. All the girls belong to the mother and all the guys belong the father and they get married and the kids have problems and the parents always solve them for them. And then the Movie for a Mid-Week Morning comes on. And then I'll have lunch. In the afternoon there's reruns of some old game show called Jeopardy." "I remember that show," Laurie said, making herself another coffee, this time mixing in a few spoonfuls of hot chocolate powder. 66

"Yeah, and after that's the Movie for a Mid-week Afternoon. I think today it's something called Blade Runner. And after the movie there's this really great old show called Beverly Hills 90210 about a bunch of teens in California." "No way," Laurie said. "I vaguely remember that show too." "And let me think," Sky looked up at the dull white acrylic ceiling. "I think that's it. Then I'll probably go for a bikeride with Will, or maybe goof around in the woods until dinner." He looked out the window above the sink. "Unless it rains." The sky was overcast. A storm was making its way from the north -- not a day for golf. "That sounds like a really good day," Laurie said sincerely. "Just what I need." "The couch is big enough for two," said Sky putting his arm around her. Their grandmother wandered out of the bedroom in the middle of The Brady Bunch and asked them if they wanted anything to eat. Sky said that would be wonderful while Laurie declined since she was already devouring a plastic container of low-fat blueberry yoghurt. A few minutes later their grandmother came in carrying a plate of scrambled eggs with cheese chunks and hot buttered rye toast for Sky and joined them on the couch with her bowl of summer fruit for the Movie for a Mid-week Morning which turned out to be vintage early 80's -- a bunch of skateboarders in southern California getting together to save their skate park from being turned into a parking lot. A news brief came on after the movie. "Police have new evidence about the Americana arsonist," said the same bored newscaster. "Stay turned for the noon news." Sky flicked the television off with the remote control. "Wait," Laurie said grabbing it from him. "I want to see." "What do you care?" "I was in Ottawa when it happened. I'm just curious." "Me too," said her grandmother, taking a bite out of a plum. "What kind of awful person would burn down a building?" "Well, I'm having lunch." Sky exited the room and they heard pots and pans banging around in the kitchen. The CBC mid-day news's signature music filled the living room bringing her grandfather out of the bedroom to join them. After a brief rundown of some of the upcoming stories the newscaster launched into the top headlines. "Police have raided the headquarters of a group calling themselves the Revolutionaries," said the newscaster. "The group had sent a note to the police claiming responsibility for the burning of the Americana Corporation two days ago in Ottawa, however, no evidence of their claim could be confirmed. Although the group is committed to thwarting the unification of Canada and the United States, everyone involved with the organization had an alibi for the day of the fire. The spokesperson for the group 67

said that they had merely sent the note to police to accentuate the impact of the incident, but pointed out that the note did not confess to responsibility for the fire. Police will continue searching for suspects." "And I hope they find them," said her grandfather. "This really gives Canadians a bad name." "I'm going to see if Sky needs help making lunch," Laurie said handing the remote to her grandmother. Sky was in the kitchen standing over the stove-top simultaneously stirring tomato soup and frying bologna while a Campbell's soup can lay on its side on the counter dripping its last few drops of thick tomato sauce onto a greasy plastic bologna package. "Newfie steak sandwiches," he said grinning at her. The smell of cooking bologna roused Will out of bed and into the kitchen wearing a Stewart plaid bathrobe over his pajamas. Sky was setting mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise -- the necessary accoutrements for a fried-bologna sandwich -- on the table. "Peanut butter?" asked Will going to the refrigerator and holding the jar up questioningly. "Yeah," said Sky enthusiastically. "Why didn't I think of that? I found this great TV show the other day called Sesame Street and there's this monster in a garbage can called Oscar the Grouch and he eats gross things like peanut butter and purple jello mixed with radishes on a bun. Let's see? What else...?" He started going through the fridge. "Carrots," he said holding up the bag. "Oh look! Avocado!" Their grandparents came into the kitchen after the news and examined Sky's lunch. "There's some bologna left in the frying pan," said Sky his mouth full of peanut butter. "That's OK, dear," said his grandmother opening up the cupboard and pulling out some noodles and tomato sauce. "So you never told us what happened with what's-his-name," said Sky, adding a spoonful of tomato soup to the mixture in his mouth. "Why'd you come home early?" Laurie had told her grandmother that she and Jessie had discussed their life goals and realized that they didn't have a future together. No argument. No reason why she should burn down a building. "We just realized we weren't compatible," Laurie said. Sky gave her a look of mock shock. "You mean you're not madly in love with a guy who talks as if he should conduct business success seminars for kamikaze pilots?" Laurie grabbed a Flowers of Ontario tea-towel from the fridge door and threw it at him. "I can't believe it!" Sky jumped up and ripped open the freezer door to seize a carton of Georgian Pecan and Butterscotch ice-cream. "I'm missing Jeopardy!" He flew out of the kitchen pausing only to snatch a soup spoon from one of the many wooden68

panelled drawers beneath the counter. "I have a pain in my chest," said Will to no one in particular. "I think I'm going to have a heart attack." "Better stop drinking coffee," said their grandfather from behind the slim Eastmount Enquirer. "It says here that the latest cultural anxiety is Image-Overdose. Basically..." Laurie could see her grandfather's eyes skimming the column. "...that's when you feel overly-saturated with trendy greeting cards, cool, is the word they use, photos from magazines, and posters with appealing pictures. This is a big problem for high school and college students who want to put these pictures up but have no more room on their walls." "What does that have to do with coffee?" asked Will. "It doesn't. I changed topics. How's the heart?" "Better. The tremor-like pain's have passed." That afternoon, rather than spending it in front of the television with its periodical newsflashes about how they were closing in on the Americana Arsonist, Laurie went to the Golf Club and played a game with her grandfather and Will, despite the pending storm. The nice thing about going with their grandfather was that his membership fees included a golf cart and she and Will got to take turns at the wheel maxing-out to get to the next green before the rain. Passing through the lounge, it was hard not to think of Jessie and feel sick with loss. She considered sneaking up to the Blue Room to pay some sort of homage to the brief happy moments spent there but it wasn't something she could just excuse herself to do. The fragrance of baked chicken greeted them when they got back. Sky had been commissioned to set the table and was creatively seeing if he could give them all a different-patterned plate, cutlery, and cup. Laurie had a souvenir drinking glass of Niagara Falls, Will had a mug that said My nephew went to Wisconsin and all he brought me back was this lousy mug, their grandfather had a pink plastic frosted cup from the patio-ware collection, and their grandmother had a delicate teacup with pale yellow roses and matching saucer. For himself Sky had saved his favourite, a tall, slim grey glass shaped like the CN Tower. "Table's set, Gran!" he called out after he had found five different coloured cloth napkins in the linen drawer. They settled down to a dinner of chicken, steamed carrots, roasted potatoes, white rolls, and peach pie for dessert. After dinner, their grandparents switched on the evening news. It was encouraging that progress on the Americana burning case did not make the top headlines for the evening, but a brief blurb occurred just before the commercial break that preceded the weather. "Police have turned the hunt for the Americana Arsonist over to the CIA," said the newscaster. "Canadian forces will continue to assist and cooperate with the American agency but have 69

announced that they will no longer be directly involved with the investigation." "That's interesting," said their grandfather, his standard remark after every summary. "Hello?" Laurie, who happened to be passing by the ringing phone, picked it up. "Jul," Jessie drawled. "So good to hear your voice." "Jessie!" Laurie turned her back on the living room where her brothers were watching television. "So what do you think about my building burning down?" "Weird, eh?" said Laurie trying to sound normal. Come to think of it, she should have called him the minute she had officially heard about the fire. That would have been normal. "Really weird," agreed Jessie. "I figure that we may have actually been in the building when the fire started..." "No way!" She tried to sound shocked. "Yes." "Well," she paused. "Have you talked to anyone? You know, told anyone..." "You mean the police?" "Yeah, I guess. I mean..." "Yeah, they asked me a few questions." "Oh." There was a pause. "Well," said Laurie. "Do they have any suspects?" "They don't exactly keep us posted on their investigation. I've heard rumours it's an outside job." For a second this news was reassuring to Laurie until she realized that she'd be classified as an outside job. "So, why question the employees then?" she asked. "Well," said Jessie. "What they're trying to establish right now is who was actually in the building at the time of the fire. No, that's not correct. They know who was in the building at the time of the fire since everybody came out once the fire started. What I think they're working on is who was in the building just before the fire started." "Oh," said Laurie trying to sound as if this was all vaguely incomprehensible to her. "That category is particularly interesting," continued Jessie, "because it includes us." "OH!" said Laurie as if she suddenly understood. "I see." "They wanted to know why I worked late that night." “So you told them?” “Well, I pretty much had to. I just said I was waiting for a friend who was late. Naturally they asked me for your name.” “Well, naturally,” she said, trying to sound as if it didn’t bother her in the slightest if the police knew her name. “Have they talked to you?” he asked. 70

“No,” she said. “I’m not surprised. There were thousands of people in and out of that building.” "How do you know all this?" asked Laurie. She could hear him shrugging on the end of the line. "Alot of us work from home now. I mean, Americana has to keep going until the building is repaired. Anyhow, there's alot of speculation on the local net. Some of it's probably true." "Oh," said Laurie. "There's one particularly interesting rumour on the net," said Jessie. His voice had brightened. "Do tell," said Laurie. She'd be happy when this call was over. "They think the fire may have started with a bottle of booze and a cigarette."

71

THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER August 14, 2011 DECISION TO BACK OUT OF AMERICANA ARSONIST HUNT The Ottawa police force's decision to turn the search for the Americana Corporation Arsonist over to the Central Intelligence Agency is seen by some as being a patriotic gesture. In this time of political upheaval, there is speculation that police feel uncomfortable hunting down an individual who boldly committed an act that may mirror the feelings of the nation. "Heck, I'd have burned it down if I could have," said Ottawa cab-driver Gordon Crane. "I didn't of course, but I sure do admire the person who did." The Prime Minister's office declined to comment on the conjectures that there is national sympathy for the arsonist. When asked where he thinks Canada stands right now, PM Dowe replied somewhat wearily, "Oh, somewhere between dictatorship and anarchy." Analysts feel the comment reflects the strain on the Prime Minister of trying to move the country towards unification with the U.S. An informal poll was conducted of Enquirer readers and 37% say they hope the Americana Arsonist does not get caught, 42% say they don't care, and only 31% feel that justice should be meeted out to the individual or group who started the August 2nd Americana Corporation fire. /for letters to the editor about the Americana Arsonist see page A12

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CHAPTER SEVEN
August 20, 2011 Pushing a hand through her tangled hair, Laurie took a sip of black Irish Cream coffee. Back in Toronto, she and her best-friend, Lina Huxley, were seated in a small, wood-panelled café on Bloor Street, just west of Yonge, where they had every coffee flavour imaginable ranging from Pecan Cream to Banana Coconut Delight. Lina, who had medieval peasant good-looks with her long, straight, bulletinboard brown hair, had ordered the daily special -- Angel's Ecstasy, a mixture of Vanilla Orange and Kaluha Hazelnut. Toronto was the New York, New York of Canada -- if you could make it there, you could make it anywhere in the country. The price of a condo in the city could buy you ten acres and a threestory house in Saskatchewan. If Canada joined the U.S., Toronto would still be Toronto, not oblivious to the change, but just intent on business as usual. There were too many movies to see, new restaurants to try, rooms to redecorate, recommended books to read, boot-legged French wines to taste, boutiques to shop in, concerts to go to, to worry about much else. There had been some romantic, revolutionary students meeting in the cafés who had plotted coups and other such dramatic resistances to America should the “yes” vote win, but no one really wanted to shed blood over it. "I'm in love," Lina announced to Laurie. Lina unconsciously acted out her life which was probably why she wanted to get into movie-making and was majoring in Film at York University. "So it's a month and a half ago, I go to this party, one of those kind where you don’t even know the people who are having it, and I meet this amazing man who turns out to be a computer programmer! And I know what you're thinking, so what? Right? But Laurie, he's a hacker and, get this..." Lina lowered her voice and leaned across the table. "He's connected to Europe!" After the war Europe had broken off their Internet connection with North America. It was illegal in Europe to have a connection with anybody in North America and they had the technology to monitor it. "No way," said Laurie. "I was already totally in lust," continued Lina. "He was very good-looking. So we left the party and took a practically empty subway car downtown because of course, it's the middle of the night, and everyone else is going back to the suburbs. He had to use his computer security-pass to get into the building and I felt like I was with someone from the CIA, or something." Laurie shuddered internally. "Well, we walk along this long, deathly quiet hallway, lit 73

only by the generator-lights, or whatever, until we come to his office. And guess what Laurie? He has his own office! Not one of those little partitioned-off stalls. So we go into his office and he switches on his computer and suddenly there's all this beeping and humming and a blue screen appears and Danny logs in. Did I tell you his name is Danny? He's Irish. Well, he's Canadian, but his parents are Irish. Anyhow, then he shows me this amazing new program he’s just invented. I mean, he just invented it, Laurie! I don't know much about computer programmers but I think Danny must be a genius or something because the way he just handled that keyboard with such marvellous control, it was an art to watch. And to make a long story absolutely short, we're going out and that's what I've been doing with the summer." She took an urbane sip of coffee. Great, just great, thought Laurie. I will spend the rest of my life running from the law and may never fall in love again. "Wow," she said. "It sounds a lot more relaxing than mine." Lina looked at her incredulously. "In Eastmount?" "Just kidding," Laurie said. Part of her strategy was going to be not mentioning to anyone that she had been in Ottawa. Coffee always made Lina hyper and her head was swivelling around like a reporter expecting the arrival of the Prime Minister at any moment. "Phineas has been acting weird," she said. "He wants to start a revolution. It's that damn war that's got him started..." "What kind of revolution?" "Something to do with the government. He keeps saying that the only secular issue that confronts mankind is how we should govern ourselves." "So what does he think?" "Don't tell anyone..." Lina lowered her voice again. "But I think he's a fascist." Laurie laughed. "That's just the type of thing to appeal to Phineas, to beat 'em and then join 'em." "He thinks we're not made for freedom." Lina yawned. "How old do you start to get varicose veins?" she asked, her mouth still gaping. "Depends," said Laurie. "I think you can get them young. I've heard that if you cross your legs a lot they're worse." "That's what I was afraid of." Lina glanced down at her legs. "I think I'm starting to get them. I'm supposed to be in my prime and I'm getting varicose veins." "I've got them too," said Laurie. "Small, but it's a start." "The whole thing is so ridiculous." Rennae was a believer in post-modern superstition. She looked for omens as if they were signposts all around her left behind by the Druids or the Nordic gods or the great Eastern 74

mystics that would direct her along the path of life. Such an example would be if you're just about to say "yes" to your boyfriend's marriage proposal when an ex-boyfriend walks into the restaurant and you say "no" because you think it may be a sign that you're supposed to get back together with him, which is exactly what Rennae did. Daniel was mad, furieux may have described it better, but at least he didn't notice Dwayne's signal from across the restaurant to try to arrange a rendez-vous with her. "It just wouldn't work," she tried to explain to Daniel, helpless to appraise the weaknesses of the relationship. "I don't think we're compatible." Dwayne, sitting at the bar with a Molson Canadian, appeared to have come alone, an unnatural state for him. But he kept looking her way, eyeing her through his Vancouver fringe of blond hair. It seemed like a definite sign. "What will we do now?" she asked Daniel. Daniel shrugged. "Does it matter?" he asked scraping his chair loudly against the floor as he stood up. "Don't even think about being friends." He walked out of the restaurant. Rennae sighed almost peacefully and took a sip of her coffee. It was just a matter of seconds before Dwayne joined her. It had been a year since they had dated in high school, until Dwayne had moved to Vancouver. He was now back and a freshman at University of Ottawa studying Accounting. "Why, er, accounting?" asked Rennae. "Why not?" Dwayne shrugged in between mouthfuls of the pretzels he had brought from the bar. "It makes everyone happy." "Does it make you happy?" "Yeah, 'cos it'll make money." There was a pause. Terrified by the awkwardness of the moment, Rennae threw out a topic of discussion. "So, uh, what do you think of the whole Canada joining the U.S. thing?" She couldn't remember whether Dwayne knew she was American. "I don't know," he shrugged. "It almost doesn't matter." He thought about it some more. "No. I think it does matter. Let me see. There are about 50 states, right?" "Yeah." "OK. So would we be the 51st state or would each province be a state?" "Um, I think I heard there'd be at least ten new states." There had been some mention of this on the hourly news update of CMIX 1O3.2. "Yeah, but like, that's only 10 crummy states out of 60 when we used to be an entire country. I don't like that idea. I mean, so everything we do is American now. But at least we have our own 75

country." Dwayne had convinced himself. "What do you think?" he asked as an afterthought. She was about to open her mouth and say whatever the lifeforce moved her to say when a waitress dropped a plate of halfeaten eggplant two tables over from them, thoroughly securing Dwayne's attention.

76

CHAPTER EIGHT
August 23, 2011 The gang's hang-out was Hunan's, a tiny Chinese restaurant on Yonge Street where they had their own booth and could spend hours drinking oolong tea and opening up and reading fortune cookies (they had long since sickened of the taste). It was there that Laurie and Lina and a few remnants of their high school senior class had formed KAVRE, Kids Against Virtual Reality Entertainment (kind of like Kids Against Drugs, or Kids against Drunk Driving), as a backlash to people who vicariously lived their lives, sex scenes and all, through Virtual Reality movies and wondered why real life was so unglossy. Enjoying real life was the unstated motto of KAVRE and it wasn't unusual for them to get together on a Saturday night with a 12-pack and finger-paints to decorate the empty beer cans which could then be displayed in their respective homes as vases, nickel-holders, or just modern art. All of them, except Lina, were either looking for jobs or sporadically temping so lately they had gotten into the habit of meeting during the day rather than waiting until night to go out. Laurie rolled out of bed, showered, threw on a pair of her oldest jeans, and headed downtown. Arriving at the restaurant, she spotted Phineas, wearing a sweater the colour of puréed yams and mustard, mixed tastefully with brown cords, sitting at their usual plastic booth crammed away in the corner. "So, what’s new?" asked Phineas when she sat down, as if it had only been a couple of days since he had last seen her. Slim, with dark hair and an energy cloaked in effete laziness, Phineas had made it clear to his friends that if Canada should vote yes in the referendum, it was his goal to be black-listed by the American government within six months of the union. "Eastmount." "How was it?" "The usual," she lied. "Anything exciting happen around here?" Phineas shrugged. "Depends on how you define excitement." "Excitement," she said. "Something out of the ordinary that causes one's adrenalin to start rushing in a pleasurable way. How about that?" "Oh that definition of excitement," said Phineas shifting his position. "No, nothing like that." "You got your hair cut," said Laurie. "Yeah." Phineas ran his fingers through his short dark hair. "Military look is in. Pending Apocalypse, Armageddon, end of the world, that sort of thing. Maybe to make up for that disappointing war. What do you think of The Toebabies's latest CD?" 77

She shrugged. "It's OK, but I prefer their first album. It had more technology." Phineas was impressed. "And I thought all you ever listened to was your parents archaic Moody Blues CDs." "I endeavour to have eclectic tastes, Phineas," Laurie said reaching for a Wall Street Journal on an empty neighbouring table, flipping it open and pretending to absorb herself in an article about Nabisco's fiscal reports, knowing the gesture would impress Phineas. "May I see the paper?" asked Phineas. "I'd like to check my stocks." "Just a sec." Laurie forced her eyes to carefully peruse the rest of the page before folding it to its original creases and handing it to him. "Are the others coming?" Phineas glanced at his real Rolex that he tried to pass off as fake. "They should be here soon." "Aaaah, here they come." Laurie had spotted Lina and John. "Hello, one and all," Lina pulled up a vinyl chair from one of the nearby tables and sank into it. "Sorry we were late but we were in the stereo store and a Duran Duran song came on and I had to listen to it. I always feel obligated to stay with a song right to the end even when I get tired of it halfway through." "Hi," said John as he slid into the booth beside Phineas. His smile was directed towards Laurie. "Welcome back!" A young Chinese girl came and took their orders. Four oolong teas. In high school the little group had only come together as a result of their shared interest in having a clique to hang-out with. Laurie and Lina had been best friends since they were six when they had met in grade one. Time and shared experiences bonded them more than any kindred spirit. In high school Phineas had begun to hang around them for a change from the rich preppies he had gotten bored with. Lina and Laurie had welcomed him for his parent's BMW. "OK, so I wouldn't be caught dead owning a BMW," Lina had said. "But it sure beats taking the bus everywhere." Phineas, when realizing the hopelessness of ever being a romantic interest to either of them had started going out with Raquel who occasionally came along with them. With her long dark red hair and pale skin, she had assimilated well into the group simply by being quiet. The final member of the group was John, a dusty-blond, green-eyed honour student who had gone out with Lina for awhile and was too easy-going not to keep as a friend. "What if dog were spelled c-a-t?" Phineas threw this out for thought. "Wouldn't that revolutionize thinking?" "Not really," replied John. "Dogs and cats can't spell. 78

Phineas gave him a threatening look. "I was just showing how disturbing life could become if the basic facts we had come to depend on suddenly turned out to be wrong." "Is this getting back to yesterday's discussion on whether one plus one really equals two?" asked Lina. "Exactly," said Phineas. "In essence, I'm asking you what do you really know?" Phineas’s father was a television writer who had developed the popular war-time show Pink Gin. The KAVREs suspected, however, that it was Phineas who had done most of the writing since the show's characters featured a cast of friends not unlike themselves. Lina, of course, was insanely jealous of Phineas. "What do you think, Laurie?" Lina asked as she pulled out a pack of sugar-free Dentyne, fiddled with a red and white wrapper and popped a piece of cinnamon gum into her mouth without offering a piece to anyone else. No one was offended. Sharing gum with everyone could result in the depletion of a five-stick package, so they all had a nonverbal agreement to just chew from their own supply. Laurie paused to consider. "I dunno." She yawned. "I feel like my brain is a filing cabinet full of folders without any labels." That seemed to settle the issue. "Let's play good gossip," said Lina. "What do you think of that woman's baby blue leather jacket over there?" she asked Laurie. "Marvellous proportions. I would have gotten it in purple, but for her exquisite blonde feature, it looks fabulous," Laurie emphasized her words but her heart wasn't in it. She had thought that returning to Toronto and playing the KAVRE games would get her mind off Jessie, but it hadn't. In her mind he was as much a part of the gathering as Phineas and John. It didn't help that Dusty Springfield's "Losing You" was playing in the background. "If I were her I would have gotten it in dark green," said John. "But that's not to criticize her taste." "I admire that women's daring to step out and try a new colour," said Lina. "And I must say, she's got the flare to pull it off. I'd get it in basic black, even if the whole world owns one" "I own three," said Phineas absently. "You have to say something positive about her," Lina reminded him. Phineas glanced over at the object of discussion. "Yummy boots." "More tea," Laurie said waving to the waitress. She had to say something to cover the fact that the song was getting to her. Everyone except John had their cups refilled. John was still acquiring a taste for Chinese tea after much coaxing on the part of Lina. 79

"I've been thinking," said Phineas. No one interrupted with a sarcastic comment. It would have been hard to come up with something original. "Why did we fight that war?" "To preserve democracy," said Lina. She was lighting the match that would flame Phineas's discussion. "But what's the big deal about democracy? I mean, do we even adhere to its tenants? If you ask me, we're all fascists, we just don't know it." "So, what you're saying is...?" Lina grinned at Laurie as she waved her hand for him to continue. The downside of Phineas expressing himself to his friends was that they were unshockable. They humoured him, let him say what he wanted, and responded mostly with sarcasm or indifference. Sometimes they even agreed which really took all the fun out of it. "Fascism isn't as bad as people think." Phineas leaned forward. "It's certainly not democratic but a lot of people think it's also racist and anti-Semitic. But those are tenant of Nazism, not fascism. The key to fascism is a good leader. It's an incredible idea for a government to allow itself the luxury, as Mussolini put it, of being aristocratic and democratic, reactionary and revolutionary, legalistic and illegalistic, according to the circumstances of place, time and environment. Talk about the ends justifying the means! But with the right leader, that type of flexibility is brilliant. OK, so it's only pitfall is that it doesn't really take into consideration eternal laws but the whole point of fascism is that the state comes first, not the individual. Well how is that different from any government? Service and sacrifice is expected from everybody in this country too. We're just not so vocal about it." Phineas sat back. "But we don't have a dictator," said John. "They don't consider it a dictatorship," said Phineas. "It's a leader with absolute rule. They'd rather have that than anarchy. And let's face it, we'd rather have bureaucratic crap than anarchy. What's the difference between one leader with absolute rule or a so-called democratic government with way more control than we realize? And it'll be worse if we join the U.S." "But with fascism the government can intervene in business and the economy and all that..." "Lina, what planet are you on? So does our government!" "Yeah, but at least we don't have to stay home at night watching the TV and listening to our leader addressing us. Do you know what these revolutions do for culture?" said Lina sounding personally offended. "They kill it. All the newspapers are censored by the government. It's a real drag." "Well, what you don't know can't hurt you," said Phineas taking a gulp of tea. "What do you mean?" "Lina, they censor our papers here too." 80

"No they don't." "How would you know. It's not exactly something they would tell us." "They can't. It's in the constitution. Freedom of the press. Well, the American constitution anyhow. Same thing." "It is not the same thing, Lina!" Phineas was getting flushed. "Why do you think that so many politicians are opposed to joining the U.S.? It's because we'd have to assume their constitution! We'd have to become more democratic! Our politicians like things just the way they are!" "But it's the politicians who want us to join the U.S.!" said Lina. "It's Prime Minister Dowe who..." "Where are you getting your information?" interrupted Phineas. "From the newspaper..." Lina realized too late where this would take her. "See!" Phineas practically yelled. "That's my point! There's really no way of knowing! The politicians may say they want us to join, but that's just because they're under tremendous pressure to hide the fact that they don't want to join! Do you think they want to give up all of their jobs? Their power? Joining the U.S. wasn't something the politicians came up with! At least not the Canadian ones. Oh sure, the American politicians may like the idea. But the newspapers aren't going to tell you who's really behind it all." "Who's really behind it all, then?" demanded Lina. Phineas shrugged. "Oh yeah, right!" said Lina. "Like you really know." "He might be onto something," said John suddenly. "It may not be the politicians as much as the military." Phineas nodded as if that was the correct answer. The truth was he had been making it up as he went along. "Really!" said Lina turning to John. John was more of a credible source. "Yeah," said John. "I noticed in the War Office that a lot of the military men were pro-American. Maybe it was just the war but they seemed really bonded with the American officers that came in. There was even a comraderie among the soldiers." John's job in the War Office in London had been tremendously satisfying. Although he had been nothing more than an administrative assistant, everything he had typed or filed had had a sense of urgency. He had enjoyed the ordered tension and the fraternity that results in crisis situations. Just the pretechnological atmosphere -- the filing cabinets being opened and closed, the reports coming in and going out, the maps of Europe with their ever changing coloured pins -- had been stimulating. It was important work. Even coffee and doughnut breaks were infused with intensity. "A military state!" said Phineas triumphantly. "Well, I wouldn't go that far..." said John. 81

"But we can't rule it out," said Phineas. "Economics, my rear end. This unification is about power." "Well, it's probably true that we aren't being told everything," said John. "I mean, most of what went on in the war was never told to the public. I really think that most people don't want to know what's going on. It's too scary..." "People are afraid of freedom," said Phineas excitedly leaning forward. "That's the whole point! The problem with freedom is that it's always accompanied by knowledge and the more you know, the more you don't want to get up in the morning." "Running a country is a job basically," said John looking down at his half-full cup. "You might as well leave it to the experts." "The issue of how we govern ourselves belongs to each and every one of us," said Phineas. "There are no absolute rules. There's no divine decree that it's going to be one way or another. Men establish countries and then they establish how it will be governed." "We're well past the point of establishing anything," said John glancing up. "Things are established." "Just because things are established doesn't mean we don't have free will. We, the people, still get to decide whether or not we want to go along with the establishment. And if we don't, we revolt." Lina glanced at Laurie to indicate I-told-you-so. "So, what are you saying...?" It was probably the expression people used the most when they talked to Phineas. "Well, Lina. We live in a post-war society. If there's going to be any changes now is the time. If we're going to take action, now is the time." "Well, it's too bad that Americana building has already been burned down," said Lina, leaning back and crossing her legs. "That would have been a good start." What would they say if they knew? wondered Laurie. "Don't mistake revolution for anarchy," said Phineas pushing away his tea-cup so he could put his elbows on the table. "It may be even more effective to instigate a new movement of thought." "Ahhhhhhh," said Lina showing some interest. "Like the existentialists in post-war France." "Exactly," said Phineas. "I think existentialism has had its day. The last thing we need is European angst. We, after all, are the New World. The existentialists leaned towards communism which seems kind of blasphemous considering we are the last bastion of democracy over here." "That actually makes a bit of sense," said Lina staring over Phineas's head as she thought about it. "Starting a movement of thought, I mean. We could probably do it..." "How?" said John. "What kind of influence do we have...?" "Through art," said Lina turning to him. "Through stories, through poetry, through articles sent to the right magazines. 82

Maybe we even start our own magazine. We start small and then grow." "I like it," said Phineas nodding. "Are we all in?" Laurie and Lina smiled at each other. Of course they were in. Like they had anything better to do. "OK," said John sighing. "Just don't expect me to..." "Of course not," said Phineas. This being settled, the meeting dissolved after awhile. Laurie and Lina set out along the semi-crowded sidewalk to do some shopping on Queen Street. "I'm thinking of bringing Danny along sometime,” said Lina. “I just don't know if he'll get along with Phineas." They strolled down Queen Street. Lina bought several Harlequin Desires and 6 back issues of Elle from a second-hand bookstore and a sequined silver skirt from a vintage clothing store. "I think this might be a halter top," she said. "But I'm going to wear it as a skirt." "Hi, dear." Sky greeted Laurie from the living room where he was flipping through Chatelaine. "You're home early. Get a job?" Sky's schedule at high school had so many spares and free periods for independent studies in it that she wondered if he ever received any traditional instruction. "What do you think?" she asked slipping off her blazer and hanging it on the back of one of the dining room chairs. She had spent the day filling out 500 job applications, and being told 500 times that they would call her if they needed a salesclerk, receptionist, waitress, etc. "I guess you'll just be living with us forever. Of course, you'll probably inherit the house when Dad and Mom die, but that'll be another forty years..." He turned a page in the magazine. "Your boyfriend called." "What?!" "You know, that guy, Jessie." "How did he get my number?" She had stopped and was staring at Sky. Sky shrugged. "Some people still use the phone book." "Hmmm." Laurie thought about this as she turned towards the stairs. "Wonder what he wanted?" "Oh and Lina called about an hour ago. She wants you to phone her back. But she's not at home. She left another number. Oh wow!" Sky suddenly yelled. "A recipe for green bean casserole! I gotta try this." "Hey!" she said when Lina answered on the second ring. "Laurie? Where have you been?" Lina demanded. "I've been trying to get a hold of you forever! How's it been going? Guess what I'm doing?" "What?" 83

"Babysitting." Lina's voice held no enthusiasm. "Why?" Laurie couldn't imagine Lina voluntarily getting involved with any type of work that didn't guarantee glamour, prestige, and inspiration for her movies. "My mother found out that Mrs. Martin needed a babysitter for a couple of weeks for her three year-old and her five year-old, so she volunteered me." Lina said this in a sing-song tone of voice. "She said she was tired of me lying around the house all day. Like it's not enough that I'm taking classes three days a week and that I'm working on scripts all the time. She doesn't realize that lying around is part of the creative process." Lina paused to sigh. "Today was the worst day of my life. I didn't know that little boys could be so active. They knocked over three lamps, pulled every book off the shelves and then smeared the lunch that I had made all over the kitchen walls. I had to clean up the entire mess. And then they refused to play any of the nice games that I suggested." "Like what?" Laurie asked. "Chess, checkers, Scrabble, that sort of thing." Laurie groaned to herself. By forcing her daughter to babysit, Lina's mother was seriously reducing her chances of ever having grandchildren. "Well, hang in there. How much longer do you have to do it?" "Four more hours," said the tormented voice at the other end. "Are you free?" she asked as if Laurie were a convict due to be released any day. "Come over and we'll play Snakes and Ladders. The kids are watching TV." home. There was a message on the answering machine when she got

"Psycho!" said Sky when Laurie came in. "It was that guy again. He said he was going to call back and don't pick up the phone because he wanted to leave you a message." "I've been thinking a lot about death," said Jessie's distant voice when she played it. "I mean, it's the most inevitable thing that's going to happen to us. You've got these people who worry about their stocks dropping, or their kid not doing well in school, or whatever, all these things that may never happen, but death is a certainty. Even if we just sit on our front porch and rock back and forth in a chair for the rest of our life, it's going to come eventually." He sounded as if he had paused to light a cigarette. "Sometimes I wake up," he continued, "and I'm terrified by how quickly it's approaching, how fast life goes by. And then there's other times when I think, I've got at least another 50 years to go and it seems like such a long time and I don't think I can make it, just getting up every morning waiting for it to be all over..." Laurie sat down on the floor. As terrifying as it was to think that you were inevitably going to cross over some threshold 84

to some unknown destination, it was more terrifying to wonder what it would be like to be arrested, put in prison and then tried for a crime she did commit.

85

CHAPTER NINE
September 10, 2011 Laurie awoke in the morning with a sick feeling of unresolve. Fear didn't immediately consume her. Instead it lingered at the doorway and debated its entrance. The source of her anxiety was easily traced if she had the courage to face it. She was a wanted criminal. As her awareness of the sunlight, her body entangled in her sheets, the books piled on her desk, increased, so her anxiety decreased until she could almost pretend it had never happened. Since she didn't have to be anywhere until lunchtime with Lina, Laurie decided to spend the morning in bed with a mochachino and a classic. Any classic. Preferably a Penguin classic since she liked their book covers. She threw on her bathrobe and went downstairs to make herself a coffee mixed with hot chocolate powder. Everyone else was out which was good since she hadn't bothered to brush her hair, rub the sleep out of her eyes, or brush her teeth. The kitchen floor was freezing and she wished she had had the foresight to put on a pair of socks. The windowsill above the sink had a layer of freshly fallen leaves. As cold as she was, the sight of the leaves made her feel warm. If she had been a child she would have rushed outside and made a pile to jump around in. Instead she took her coffee up to her room and pawed around her bookshelf for something suitable for her mood. Thackeray's Vanity Fair, she decided. She'd probably never finish it because by the time she got back that evening she would no longer be in a classic mood. But then her life was full of books that she'd only read the first three chapters of. Frustrated, Rennae shook the hairspray bottle in the hope of getting the last few drops to travel up the nozzle. She had managed to masterfully style her hair into a perfect crimped bob and was now faced with the prospect of losing it in 15 minutes if she couldn't spray. The bottle was a tall, narrow, sleek plastic package, with the environmentally-friendly logo in the corner by the bar code. Manufactured in Scarborough, Ontario, it would destroy considerably less of the ozone layer than the average volcano, but tragically would have to live 99.7% of its lifespan in an Ottawa landfill. Thankfully Rennae was not a hairspray-bottles rights activist or else this might have bothered her. "So, when do we take over the world?" asked John. They were at Hunan’s. "Soon," promised Phineas. "I've been thinking of our movement and what's exciting about living right now where we are 86

is that we're seeing a merging of two extremes, Existentialist alienation and New Age interconnectedness. The war has isolated us from the rest of the world but has potentially brought North America closer together." "Yes?" said John. His tone suggested, so what? "What I was thinking was," continued Phineas, "it's virtually impossible to democratize a country. Democracy can only work in a New World, a country where the people came to it for the sole purpose of establishing a democracy. IE, Canada, the U.S., Australia. I mean, look at Australia. It is the New World. It's an island, for crying out loud, the ideal amount of isolation to establish and maintain a democracy. Therefore, what I'm proposing is a New World philosophy." Phineas paused dramatically. They waited for him to continue. "That's it," he said. "That's my point." "Well, what is this New World philosophy?" asked John. "Oh, I don't know," said Phineas. "That's what we have to work on." "But we're not intellectuals," said Raquel. "You know, we're not like...." "Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus," said Phineas. "Right," said Raquel vaguely. "And the only remotely artistic person is Lina..." "Remotely?" said Lina. Her eyes momentarily moved from the door. She had casually mentioned that her boyfriend Danny would be stopping by and she was spending most of her time watching the door. "...I just don't think we can do it." "Well, maybe we can start with a simple movement," suggested Phineas. "I know! A rally in favour of split infinitives! We'll all gather outside the Humanities building of U of T with signs that say Split the Damn Infinitive! and Writer's for Freedom!" "Phineas," said John. "I really think that most people couldn't care less whether a man rapidly walks or a man walks rapidly." "OK, OK, maybe it doesn't have to be an intellectual thing," said Phineas, leaning forward. "Maybe it can be more like Zionism, where the land itself is important, except that instead of the Promised Land we want to make it to the New World..." "We're already in the New World," interrupted Lina, focusing on the table. "It doesn't feel that way," said Phineas, almost sounding emotional. "We have just as much tradition and narrow-mindedness as the Old World. Our movement should be about returning to the spirit of the New World. We're sitting here, scared to death of the changes in Europe and how they're going to affect us, but that's why our ancestors left the Old World. So that we wouldn't have to give a crap what went on over there. People came to this 87

continent happy to have a little land to settle on. Now we feel as if we're obligated to rule the world." "Damn," said John, adding some more sugar to his tea. "So much for world domination." "Think about it," said Phineas ignoring him. "Just let it settle and we'll brainstorm about what we can actually do..." "A commune," said Raquel. "We'll have to start a commune or something." "A democratic kibbutz," said Lina. "In Australia!" "I don't think so," said Phineas. "I like it!" said Laurie. Escaping the country! That was something she hadn’t contemplated! And it would definitely help her experience closure in her relationship with Jessie. "The men in Australia are amazing!" said Lina. "How would you know?" asked Phineas, looking offended. "Those accents," said Lina. She was getting excited. "I could just die! Let's do it!" She had temporarily forgotten that her boyfriend was arriving any minute. "I've got to admit," said John. "I've never met an Australian I didn't like. I met a few in the War Office..." "They've got great wine," said Lina. "And all that coast! We could live by the water..." "The Outback seems cool," said Laurie. "Kind of like a retreat," agreed John. "Spiritual redemption." "Exactly," said Laurie turning to him. "It's like, we can find ourself..." She paused as she tried to think it through. "It's a matter of evolution, I've heard," said John. "Those who are drawn to the water feel that human roots are aquatic, those who are drawn to the desert have a spiritual kinship with the Judeo-Christian origins..." "Are you saying I'm an atheist?" demanded Lina. It was amazing how quickly a conversation could turn personal. "Well, I've never heard you talk about God and you seem pretty self-sufficient..." said John with the tone of a man who knew. "But how can you base a person's theological belief on whether they're drawn to the desert or the water?" demanded Lina. "Think about it," said John. "Do you feel any kinship to the desert?" "Of course not. I've never even seen a desert." "Have you seen a desert, Laurie?" "No." "So there you go," said John, his point proven. "You've both never seen a desert, but when we talk about exploring a new country, you mention the water and Laurie mentions the desert. Those are the facts." John liked facts. "And think about it. If you believe man has evolved from sea-life, it's logical to conclude that the ocean has some secrets about your past. If you 88

believe in the stories about men and women who lived in a desert wilderness after their brief taste of a garden paradise, that vast dustiness could be a reminder of deep-seated memories of man's earliest years." "I think there's something to it," said Laurie nodding. "Something spiritual. Our collective consciousness calling to us. Don't you like the ocean because it's bigger than yourself?" she asked Lina. Lina thought about this. "Yeah, I guess so." "Well, I like the desert because it's bigger than me and I feel like there must be some hidden meaning in it." "Oh, meaning," said Lina shifting in her seat. "Well, that's different. Of course I see meaning in the ocean." Their mild argument was resolved where all could be content. Except that Laurie wasn’t content. She felt like a hypocrite claiming any sort of allegiance to Judeo-Christianity. She had seen people who had a right to that heritage and she wasn’t one of them. There was a time when she would have called herself a spiritual person but now her vague ideas seemed pathetic compared to real passion. The idea of the Garden of Eden appealed to her though. "Hey!" said Lina suddenly. They all looked at her but her sudden smile was directed to the door where a short, husky man with dark hair had appeared. Lina waved him over as she squished John closer to the wall to make a space for her boyfriend. "Everybody, this is Danny," she said when he had taken a seat. "John, Phineas, Raquel, and Laurie," she pointed. "So what profession are in?" asked Phineas politely. "Computers," said Danny vaguely. "Who isn't?" said Phineas. Danny shrugged. "A programmer," explained Lina, as if she were Danny's mother. "He's very good." They all nodded courteously. "I don't even use the Internet anymore," said Phineas even though his comment didn't directly relate to the conversation. "Why not?" Danny seemed to take this comment as a provocation. Phineas shrugged. "I'm tired of being interconnected. It wasn't even fun when the whole world was connected and it's less fun now that it's just North America. I mean, who cares what some man in Boise thinks?" Lina looked like she was dying to tell everyone that Danny was connected to Europe, but Laurie could tell that she was exercising discretion. "You'd be surprised what's going on," said Danny mildly. "It's not all chat rooms and newsflashes." "What do you mean?" asked John. He was a faithful user of the Internet. 89

"I'm connected to Europe," Danny announced. Lina looked pleased. Now they would all be impressed. Even Phineas couldn't belittle this one. "No way!" John leaned forward. "What's going on over there?" "They're probably planning an invasion," said Phineas sarcastically. "Right?" "As a matter of fact," said Danny, looking serious, "there are rumours." Everybody but Phineas looked nervous. This was even new to Lina. "That is exactly why I got off the Internet," said Phineas, blasé. "Who cares if some guy in Lyons thinks America is going to be invaded?" "I'm not talking about some guy in Lyons exchanging ideas with a guy in Munich about how North America should be taken over," said Danny contemptuously. "I'm talking about military strategies that are being developed..." "Europe doesn't want us," interrupted Phineas. "What the hell are they going to do with us? In case anyone hasn't noticed, North America isn't exactly on the cutting edge. We only won that war because we barely even got into it. Our technology was so inferior that if we had tried to keep up with all the computer espionage that was going on we would have been wiped out." "It was a hacker's war," agreed John. "America is dying," said Phineas. "It's a matter of empires. The Egyptian Empire reined for thousands of years with a few ups and downs. The Hittite Empire only reigned for about three hundred years before dying out. But it must have seemed pretty secure after about 250 years. America's had its day. We're the Hittite Empire and Europe is the Egyptian Empire. They have art and music and we have pop art and pop music. A thousand years from now a few archaelogists may sift through the ruins of New York City for our Andy Warhol trinkets, but the Sistine Chapel will be the King Tut's tomb." "I don't know anything about the future," said John, earnestly. "But I know one thing. It's not going to be anything like how we think. No one could have looked at a horse and predicted a car." "There's a saying in Europe, where the carcass is, there will the vultures gather," said Danny suddenly. "What do you mean?" asked John. "Well, it goes on to say that as lightening comes from the east is visible in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man," said Danny. "What?" said Phineas. "I'm saying,” Danny leaned forward, "you picked the wrong time to ignore the Internet, my friend. And North Americans don't know what they're missing. Europe...” he paused dramatically, "has discovered God." 90

"What?" This time it was John. "The second coming," said Danny slowly. "It's happened. God is on the Internet." Lina looked slightly embarrassed. "So what's next?" asked Phineas grinning. "Armageddon? The Apocalyptic grand smash finale?" Danny shrugged. "Well, it wasn't World War III, that's for sure." "So, like, who's discovered God?" asked Laurie. It had been a long time since she'd been online. She didn't want to know any of the theories of who burned down Americana. "Well, it ain't just a guy from Lyons," said Danny. "A lot of people have been getting messages. Like serious stuff about salvation and the end and all that..." "It's some hacker having fun," said Phineas. "As you know, all messages can be traced to a sender," said Danny patiently, as if he were talking to a six year-old. "These ones can't." "So the guy's really good," said Phineas. "So are the guys getting the messages. Whoever is sending these messages is a genius. He doesn't log on. He's untraceable. And he's sending massive amounts of messages. No individual or corporation has the capacity to reach everyone the way he does." There was a silence. "Well," said Lina. "Have you gotten a message?" She sounded anxious about the answer. "It's not happening in North America," said Danny. "Well that should tell you something," said Phineas. "What?" asked Danny. "Like, it's probably a North American having fun with the Europeans..." "Buddy, we don't have the technology." "Maybe we do." "We don't." Danny was authoritative. "I'm not the only one tapped into Europe. The American government keeps an eye on what's going on over there and they are baffled. And you'd better believe that they've got the top minds in the country working on it." "Oh my," said Raquel, looking around as if expecting God to appear at any moment. "So when do you think God is going to come to North America?" asked Phineas, rolling his eyes. Danny shrugged. "Any time now. But only to those who aren't scoffers. We chose to sit back and watch the war while Europe fought. Now nobody's fighting in Europe but a lot of people are watching and waiting. Maybe now's the time we should be watching but instead we're just carrying on with our lives as if nothing's happening. We worship action and we put down anybody who is just sitting around waiting for something to happen." 91

"Good goddess," said Phineas melodramatically. "You're not saying..?." "Believe in miracles, buddy, because you may be seeing some in the not-too-distant future." "I think sometimes they do expect miracles from us," Phineas sighed. "It's not enough that we grow up to be responsible citizens, but we must also save the rain forest, restore the ozone layer, put a stop to crime, negotiate for world peace, and make monthly mortgage payments." "I'm thinking maybe I'll get a perm," said Lina, desperate to change the topic, suddenly turning to Laurie. "Oh, yeah?" Laurie replied politely. "Yeah. I need that change in my life. Hey guys!" She addressed the general table. "Do you think I should get a perm?" They all stared at her and her hair. "We'll take a vote. How many for yes?" Nobody put up their hands. "OK then, no?" Nobody put up their hands. Lina sighed. "It's so hard to know, isn't it? Oh well. I'll keep working on it." Lina still went out with Danny after that night but the KAVREs didn't see him or hear about him again after that day. Each of them did, however, in private moments, give some thought to what he had told them. "Jul, darling." "Oh, hi!" Laurie tried to sound casual about hearing Jessie’s voice. "How's it going?" she asked in her friendliest conversation voice. "Not bad." Jessie wasn't trying to fake anything. "Uh-huh? "The police finally talked to me." "Oh! Really?" "Yes, really." "So how'd it go?" "Well," said Jessie slowly. "It would have gone fine except that they wanted to know why I received a call on my cell phone only minutes before the fire." Act natural, thought Laurie. "Right!" she said. "Yes, I forgot to tell you. Actually, I just didn't think to tell you..." "Well, of course I figured it was you," interrupted Jessie. "I personally didn't have a problem with it. It's the police who are concerned because my phone kept a record of the number that called, your number, of course…” "Well, of course," said Laurie. "That's when I called you…" "So I told them someone was waiting for me in the lobby," said Jessie, "and that would explain the phone call. I reminded them that I had already given them your name." "Well, yes," said Laurie. "I'm glad you did..." "They didn't feel a need to question you because, of course, if you stayed in the lobby you wouldn't have seen anything since 92

the fire started on the second floor." "Right," agreed Laurie. "I certainly didn't see anything." "I realized afterwards that I didn’t tell them about our mixup. So they probably just think we went back to my place together." "Oh," said Laurie. "Well, that does keep things simple. Thank you very much." "Well, I didn’t do it on purpose but I doubt they’ll bother talking to you.” Laurie tried to laugh. "Not that there'd be a problem if they questioned me. I mean, just because we didn't leave together doesn't mean..." "That you set the building on fire?" finished Jessie. "Exactly," agreed Laurie. There was a long pause. "Well..." said Laurie. It was that unmistakable "Well..." that people use when they think it's about time to wrap up a phone call. "I just thought I’d keep you posted," said Jessie. "Right," said Laurie. "Well, I've got to go." "OK," said Jessie. "Talk to you later." "OK," said Laurie, trying to sound as if she looked forward to it. They hung up. Laurie moaned. Not a superficial moan, but the type of groan King David might have uttered before commencing another psalm to God to deliver him from the depths of despair. She went up to her room and reached under her bed for a brown bag, opened it and took a swig of whiskey. She'd been drinking a lot lately. Mostly alone. If that made her an alcoholic she didn't care. It was either that or suicide. It was the unfairness of love. You gave your soul gladly to love only to find that it wasn’t required. You made unnecessary sacrifices for love because it was the only way you knew how to worship. You longed for something in return, an affirmation of mutual affection, but too often were bitterly disappointed. The idea that the purest kind of love is an unreciprocated one was no comfort. But what was the alternative? Freedom was no temptation. Freedom to explore the world? The world could only offer mild interest and remote possibilities compared to the possibilities of love. Love, at least, was concrete. It gave you a person to focus on rather than offering the nebulous potential of independence. She could meet someone new...But she’d met people. It was overrated. There had been men before Jessie -- men that she had loved and wildly wanted, but when all the memories of other men settled, only Jessie continued to rise to the surface. Jessie was the only one she'd wanted to marry. Not matter how aberrant, he had been 93

her Rock of Gibraltar -- the one with the aura of confidence and security. And now he was the man who was tormenting her. He knew. He knew she'd started that fire but he wasn't going to come out and say it. He was going to torture her first.

94

CHAPTER TEN
September 20, 2011 "Why doesn't the U.S. join Canada?" demanded Ariel O'Briaen, 89, from Kelowna, B.C., Laurie's grandmother who was visiting them for a week. The radio was on an easy-listening station giving its hourly news update that never neglected to mention the upcoming referendum. "Why don't you suggest that to Mr. Dowe, mother?" said Paul O'Briaen absently from behind his newspaper where Laurie could see from her vantage point that he was so absorbed in an article, he didn't even feel his James Joyce glasses slipping down his nose. Laurie's dad, Paul to everyone else, managed a small bookstore, read a lot naturally, loved to talk politics and was constantly threatening to start the tax revolt that he said was inevitable in his country. The tax revolt had taken a back-seat to the current unification crisis and it was quite possible he may even have been proud of his daughter if she ever told him that she was the Americana Arsonist. Laurie's dad had the curly black hair of his Irish father, the tanned complexion of his Israeli mother, and the placid temperament that came from growing up in a very volatile household. "It's not that grandpa and grandma fought," he had explained to Laurie once. "It's just that they both continually enjoyed expressing their diametrically-opposing viewpoints." Laurie's mom, Ellen to her friends, was also a calm person but for the opposite reason. She was a sixth-generation Canadian, grew up in a quiet, peace-loving household and now spent her days working in the garden and helping out her husband during the busy seasons. A liberated housewife is how Laurie described her. When their grandmother came to visit them every year for the Holy Days, Laurie's mom willingly faded into the background, her pale features and blond hair a stark contast to her dark and flamboyant mother-in-law. Grandma arrived with a carry-on bag of clothing and two suitcases full of food in case you couldn't find kosher in Toronto -- a ludicrous thought since Jews in Jerusalem had heard of Toronto's Bathurst Street. It was Friday evening, just before sunset, and they were all sitting in the living room waiting to light the candles for the Sabbath. Laurie's father had let this tradition slide since establishing his own household but it was reignited perennially with their grandmother's visit. Even Sky and Will were in the room sharing a seat on the fading brown, pseudo-Victorian couch and looking fidgety -- Sky because he was missing a band practice, Will because he was missing a televised summary of the highlights of the baseball season. Ellen O'Briaen was in the kitchen making sure their special Sabbath dinner didn't burn and Laurie knew she would emerge for the prayer and then disappear again. Ariel 95

O'Briaen was fussing with the heavy minora, making sure the candles were straight, something she lugged across the country with her every year despite that the her son's family had a perfectly good candelabra in their antique display cabinet, along with all of their other seldom used ornaments. "Children! Children!" Their grandmother, who had put a scarf over her head, clapped her hands. It was the call for all of them to gather around. "Baruch Ata Adonai," said Laurie's grandmother as she started lighting the candles and praying in Hebrew. "Elohenu Melech haolam. Asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat." She was waving her hands over the flames, then she covered her eyes, uncovered them and looked at the candles. "Amen." "Amen," they all said. At dinner the conversation had to be free from blatantly secular issues, which meant that Sky and Will quietly devoured their matzo-ball soup while Dad and Grandma discussed how the rest of the family was doing. The phone rang in the middle of a discussion about Uncle David's inability to stay in a workplace for any longer than two months and the strain it was putting on Laurie's aunt and cousins. Laurie got up to answer it. "Jul," said the male voice when she had said hello. It wasn't a preface, it was a simple statement that got caught in the telephone lines and remained suspended in the wires. "Oh, hi," she said finally. "How are you?" "Fine. How are you?" "Fine." There was a pause. Maybe Jessie expected her to say something like, actually I'm doing awful, which would have been the truth. "So, what's new in Ottawa?" she asked. "What's new in Ottawa? You really want to know?" Laurie sighed. "Forget it." "No, if you want to know what's going on in Ottawa, I'll tell you. Do you mean, what's going on with the public libraries, for instance? Or do you want to know about the club scene? Or do you want to know what's happening at my house? I mean, what's new in Ottawa is a broad question. Or do you want to ask me about the Americana fire? A lot of people in Ottawa talk about that. Is that what you want to know about?" That was the last thing she wanted to discuss. The next step in his torment could only be a direct accusation and she had no idea how she'd deal with that. "I want to know what the Horticulture Society is doing," Laurie said, brightly. Jessie laughed. 96

It hit Laurie that maybe this call wasn't about the Americana fire. Maybe this was about the dissolved relationship. Maybe that’s why he kept phoning her. So she waited for him to say, `I can't believe that you walked out on me like that! I can't believe you just packed your bags and left! We didn't even have a fight!' But he didn't. “Sorry,” he said. “You’d have to ask my mother about that one.” There was a long pause. She decided to risk speaking out. "Jessie," she said. "Ummm, maybe we should talk. At the time your ideas really bothered me and I guess..." It was too, too awkward to continue. To say something mild like, "I still have feelings for you," would sound so retarded. But to say something intense, something passionate, would only show how vulnerable she was. “Well, Jul, it’s about eternity.” “Eternity? What does that have to do with anything?” “It has everything to do with anything. This life is a blip compared to eternity. It seems to me that if the possibility of eternal life exists, we should pursue it.” “But why would I want to live forever?” she demanded. “Life is hell! Why would I want to live hell forever?” “Exactly,” agreed Jessie. “But eternal life is a gift. We all deserve to die. We’re all making this planet hell to live on. It’s called sin. But God says it can be different…” “Don’t Jessie!” she interrupted. “I don’t want a sermon! I don’t want the sales pitch!” “No,” he said coolly. “You want a relationship. I’m trying to explain what’s important to me. Things beyond this life. But all you care about is this life.” “I don’t even like this life.” She was seriously regretting not hanging up when she first answered the phone. “This life is sick.” “And I’ve got the cure,” said Jessie. “But you just want someone to share the sickness with.” This time she did hang up. She stared at the phone, not believing what she had just done. Then she stood there, hoping, beyond all hope, that maybe he would call back. Like he used to in Eastmount. But even though she waited five whole minutes, just staring at the phone, it didn’t ring. Laurie didn't bother returning to the dinner table to field questions about who had phoned. Instead she went to her room, retrieved her rapidly emptying bottle of whisky from her clothes closet and took a swig before putting on a CD and climbing into bed. The pain was overwhelming. She lay staring at the ceiling only wishing her brain could be switched off to afford her some relief. She had no desire to do anything, to go anywhere. The only cure that she could think of was in her whisky bottle. 97

After a few swigs, her head was spinning, but her will to live had been slightly restored. She'd go out and rent a movie for that evening, she decided. A heartbreaking love story -- the kind where one lover gets killed and there's no happy-ever-after. She needed to be assured that life is pain, and relationships are even more painful, and that it was OK because she wasn't the only one aching all over. It was always satisfying to be able to fit your emotions into a previously established plot. Laurie and Lina's favourite hang-out when they weren't at Hunan's was the mall, specifically the tables in the food court on the front row to Mama Green's Cookie Company where a very attractive young man by the name of Chris worked. Lina had been madly in love with Chris and his abundance of golden brown hair and wide-eyed sincerity for the last four years since he started working there as a teenager -- an infatuation that had transcended the reality of all her other relationships. They were at their usual table, with Chris a few metres away serving coffee and toasted cheesecake brownies over the counter to two elderly ladies, while Lina casually kept her eye on him. "How's the job market?" asked Lina in order to maintain a conversation, something which she liked to do so that Chris didn't figure out that she was obsessed with him. Like that would ever happen. Chris was one of those guys who didn't realize he was gorgeous and seemed genuinely flattered when a customer came up to his counter. "Poor to fair," Laurie said taking a sip of her French Vanilla coffee. She always got coffee from Madge's Fifty Flavours, while Lina was forced to drink unflavoured if she wanted to buy it at Mama Green's. "What a boring man," said Lina suddenly. Laurie looked over at the counter where a young, faded man with a face like a starched pancake was buying a cookie. "What a contrast to," she lowered her voice, "Chris." She only knew his name was Chris because he had to wear a nametag. She turned to Laurie and focused. "Oh, yes. The job situation. I'm sorry." Laurie shrugged. Her mind was still on the phonecall. She would have killed to have been able to talk about it, but there was just too much background information to fill in. "What do you think about the whole Americana Arsonist thing?" she asked suddenly. "I don't," Lina said. "It really doesn't affect me." Lina didn't care whether they joined the U.S. She loved the idea of joining a country with 1000 more times the amount of men than in Canada, but she didn't relish the thought of having to compete for them with a nation of long-legged tanned blonde women who either grew up as seductive cheerleaders or healthy wholesome tomboys with toned calves from playing basketball with their 98

brothers. "I dated a guy in Eastmount this summer who was an American," Laurie said. It was all going to leak out, she just knew it. If she talked too much about Jessie, she'd end up telling Lina she'd burned down Americana. She'd heard somewhere that criminals were always dying to tell people about their perfect crime and the police played on their egotism when they questioned them. "Now that we've broken up, I don't know what I think about it." Lina laughed. "If Danny had been American, it would have probably been me who burned down that building. I didn't tell you because it was too embarrassing, but can you believe he actually dumped me?" Her tone was clear. Any man who went around telling people that God was on the internet was in no position to dump someone. Laurie burst out laughing. "I don't know why someone hasn't thought of that yet," she said suddenly feeling light, purged. Head-on confrontation of your most terrifying problem really worked. You could become so much more objective about it. "I mean, why do they assume it's a political statement?" Lina shrugged. "If you're a sixty year-old politician who's been married for forty years, what else are you going to think? You forget what passion's like."

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THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER September 30, 2011 WHERE WILL YOU BE ON R-DAY? Canadians are now making plans for where they will be on Referendum Day. Meeting rooms with large-screen televisions in prestigious hotels across Canada have been booked as friends plan to gather together to watch the incoming results. In Toronto, citizens will flock to Yonge Street no matter what the results turn out to be and police are devising crowd-control techniques, since unlike winning the World Series where everyone can celebrate victory, there will be divisions among the people who are rejoicing and the ones who are lamenting. But by far, the largest crowds will be in Ottawa. From across the nation, people will come and gather on Parliament Hill for what promises to be a bigger party than any first of July celebration in the history of Canada. Police are expecting that most of the citizens on Parliament Hill will be pro-Canadian, in favour of a No vote to join the United States, and they are hoping that the pro-American factions stay home so that there is no animosity. "I imagine I'll see more red maple leafs waving outside the Parliament buildings on November 1st than I've seen in a lifetime of autumns," remarked Ottawa Police Chief Darrold Capon. /SURVEY: Where Will You Be on R-Day? D1

100

CHAPTER ELEVEN
October 1, 2011 Things were not looking good. On the six o'clock news they had an updated lead on the Americana Arsonist. The security guard at Americana had finally allowed himself to be hypnotized and under hypnosis was able to give police detailed descriptions of many people who had passed through the lobby shortly before the fire. Since she had sat in the lobby for over forty-five minutes, Laurie could only assume that her description would have been given to the police. That wouldn't be bad as long as the security guard didn't mention that she had left the lobby at 5:50 and never returned. She also wondered if that lady who had held the door to the stairs open for her had mentioned her to the police. "I've got this great movie idea," said Lina a few day later, pulling an assortment of papers out of her black leather mailbag and nearly knocking over her half-full cup of Mama Green's coffee. "It takes place in a little town. These are just rough notes." She handed Laurie the notes which had been written on paper towels, the back of a high school essay in favour of men wearing skirts, and sheets of stationary bordered with flowers that you would find in an English garden. It was hard to read Lina's scribbles, but Laurie got the general idea that it was about a woman who thinks that she's living next door to Anthony Hopkins and tries everything to find out if it is, including breaking into his house. "I like it," Laurie said looking up and handing the sheets back to her. "My teacher doesn't," Lina replied. "So that's a good sign. His favourite movie is Far from the Madding Crowd, which is not a horrible movie, but not really the work of a genius. Besides, it's based on a book. This is original." She waved the story before returning it to her cluttered bag. "Oh! Oh!" Lina got flustered all of a sudden. "He's looking." Laurie glanced over at Chris. "Don't look! Laurie! Damn you!" Lina's face was practically in her coffee. "He's not looking anymore," Laurie said. "That's 'cos you looked over!" Lina hissed, her head still low. "No, it's because he must have only been surveying the room. His eyes were on Peter's Perogies when I looked at him." Lina turned her head slightly so that Mama Green's would be in her peripheral vision. Chris was now wiping down the counter with a white rag. Lina sighed. "So close!" 101

It was barely 10:00 a.m. Even with a margin of error allotted for boredom, it should have been at least 11:00. Mr. Hardwood strolled out of his office. "What's the matter, Ren?" he asked, seeing her draped over her computer. She made an intriguing sight, a photograph in Life perhaps, with her short, black dress and dark, wavy bob. Rennae winced at her boss' familiarity. Such abbreviations, she felt like telling him, were reserved for lover's only. "Everything's fine, Mr. Hardwood," she replied, with forced animation. "I was just contemplating the Johnson/Maverick case. Do you want the title of the document in bold lettering or regular lettering?" Mr. Hardwood, an outdated Baby-boomer with more boom than baby, failed to catch the irony in her voice. "Regular lettering," he replied cheerfully. He deposited a sheaf of papers covered with facts and figures in his usual doctor's scrawling handwriting, on her desk. "Please type these before noon. I need them for a luncheon meeting." "Certainly, Mr. Hardwood," said Rennae with feigned briskness. "It would be my pleasure." As soon as his back was turned, the hostile look returned to her face. "Before noon? Before noon? Does he think I just sit out here and do nothing?" Forgetting that it was just a few minutes ago she had been painfully bored, she swivelled in her muted grey and mauve Grand & Toy typist-chair and viciously hit the Enter key on her keyboard. So many offices had voice-activated computers, it ticked her off that she had to work in one that was too cheap to invest in the new technology. Her father had arranged for her to work in the secretary pool of his attorney's office since he said she needed to do more with her life than shop for outfits to wear when she went out at night. Never mind that she was probably losing brain cells because of the fluorescent lighting and that all of her youth and vitality was being contaminated by the recirculated air that contained the viruses of everyone in the thirty-story building. Not to mention the irritation of working in an office that hadn't been redecorated since the eighties and still had its dingy baby blue carpet and creamy walls with pastel prints of vague-looking women in white dresses and straw hats gathering sea shells on a beach. Mortgage figures had not stimulated her for the past week and they failed to do so today. By noon Rennae had only typed half the sheets. She printed out the sheets she completed, making two copies. She put the two sets of copies on top of each other. If all the sheets looked the same to her, why wouldn't they to the client? Because the office building was in the unfashionable suburbs where there were no nice little delis or bistros to go to for 102

lunch, Rennae was forced to eat in the employees' cafeteria. Mercifully, Mr. Hardwood left the office early to ostensibly meet with a client. Only Rennae knew from the tennis-racket shaped bulge in his leather duffle bag that this particular client probably shared his love for work meetings over marguerites after a hard game. Mr. Hardwood departed at 1:30, Rennae at 1:45. She had been given a pile of letters to type, but after skimming them had decided that not typing them wouldn't affect the world order. When she arrived home that night after a day of shopping, Rennae dialled Dwayne's phone number and got the machine. "Hi, it's me. Call me. We need to make plans." She hung up. Two minutes later, while Rennae was still lying on her back on her bed staring up at her vintage poster of Depeche Mode, the phone rang. It was Jessie calling from downstairs. "This is a crank call," he said, hanging up. "If there's anything you want to talk about, anything at all, I'm here. Right here." "Uhhh, thanks Phineas." Laurie, who had been examining a pair of black tights, looked surprised. She and Phineas were doing some light shopping at the Eaton Centre. She needed tights and he wanted some new gloves. "As I said, anything. Matters of the heart, for example." Laurie laughed. "Can't hide anything from you, can I?" She pulled out her wallet and took the tights over to the cash register. Phineas followed. "So it's true." "What's true?" she asked, handing the lady behind the counter a bill. "You have a broken heart. C'mon Laurie! You've been too quiet. Something happened in Eastmount..." If only it were that simple, she thought. Her only agenda lately had been to get out of the house and away from the news. In some ways things had hit rock bottom and in other ways they hadn't. After all, the police weren't questioning her so the security guard obviously wasn't able to give them much information. "Maybe." She took the small bag from the sales lady and slipped it into her purse. "Maybe not." "Don't want to talk about it, eh?" said Phineas as they exited the store. "Not really." "Well, if you do..." "I know," said Laurie. "You're here.” "Right," said Phineas. They continued walking through the mall on the look-out for a store that sold gloves. "So, anything new on the revolutionary front?" asked Laurie. "Well," said Phineas, already warming up to the topic. "I'm 103

reading Von Clausewitz's On War. Brilliant book. German, of course. Points out things like Napoleon fought wars to win. I mean, that seems obvious, but a lot of people don't fight to win. Look at us. We didn't fight World War III to win and we didn't." "So, was this book just published?" "Oh no!" Phineas sounded offended that she would accuse him of reading a recently published book. "Clausewitz fought in the Prussian army during the Napoleonic wars. Later he fought for Russia." "Phineas, that was years ago! Isn't it just a little outdated?" "No," said Phineas, glancing at a window display of mannequins in bikinis. "Because his basic premise is it all depends on the situation. You plan your strategy according to the situation. And really, Laurie! How has war changed in the last six thousand years? Clausewitz points out that war is simply an act of force to compel our adversary to do our will. And that usually requires disarming our adversary first." "It's kind of like a relationship," said Laurie. "It's exactly like a relationship," agreed Phineas. "It's funny. I thought of that too. In ancient Babylon, Innana was goddess of both love and war probably because all is fair in love and war. You study all the great battle plans of history and you're studying male/female relations." Laurie laughed. "OK," she said. "Give me an example.” "Napoleon liked to switch his tactics halfway through the battle. If his strategy wasn't working, he changed." "OK, what about Alexander the Great?" "Oh!" Phineas almost sounded breathless at the thought of Alexander the Great. "He was one of the best examples! Alexander the Great fought initially to secure his territory but then went out and created an empire. He didn't fight because he needed an empire, but because he wanted one. That, I think, is so important in battles and in relationships because you have to be clearheaded and confident, rather than desperate." "Well, what about his actual battle strategies?" Laurie pointed at a store that sold men's accessories. "Oh, well I could go on forever," said Phineas as they wandered into the store. "Alexander was always the first one into battle. If you want to extend that to relationships, he would have never asked a friend to find out if the girl liked him. He would have gone right up to her himself. Alexander always took responsibility for what he conquered. You know, he didn't take more land than he could administrate. And the reason he could conquer so much territory was that he allowed self-government and didn't force himself on the conquered people. Very generous toward the conquered and adopted their customs, accepted their local prejudices. That would be like getting to know the person you're going out with, giving her space, and also learning from 104

her and doing the things she liked to do." "That's very noble, Phineas," said Laurie. They had been absent-mindedly standing in front of a rack of ties. She was wishing she had had this conversation before her relationship with Jessie. "Well, I didn't say I actually do it," said Phineas. "I don't think Alexander did it with his women either. Do you have any gloves?" he asked the salesgirl. "Sorry," she said. They wandered out of the store. "Let's see what else? Oh yes, Alexander always learned from previous battles. At Issus he realized that the weakest part of the Persian line was where the king was, so of course he headed for Darius's position whenever he fought his army. I think a great lesson of love and war is that winning just one crucial battle can open up the way for many opportunities. After Arbela, the whole Persian Empire was open to Alexander. Oh, and if you want a classic rule of love, it's know the person you're going out with. Alexander always studied the geography of an area as well as its history." "He sounds just perfect," said Laurie, glancing at a mannequin in a provocative red dress. Maybe she should have dressed more seductively with Jessie. "No wonder so many women slept with him." "It wasn't all smooth-sailing," said Phineas. "Alexander's veteran Greek commanders resented the Persian influences, such as the clothing and culture and marriages, that he encouraged, and that made his rulership difficult. Relationship lesson is, of course, your friends are not necessarily going to like the new habits you pick up. Alexander's empire held together as long as he lived, but fell apart shortly after his death." "The Celts fought naked," said Laurie suddenly. "Now that is another equally effective method," said Phineas. "And don't forget, they died their hair blond. That also works." Laurie hit him. "But I have to say," continued Phineas, "and this is just between me and you. I have learned one thing and that is this. Relationships built on lust don't work. There's got to be more somehow..." "Love?" suggested Laurie. "No, not even love. I'm thinking more like a purpose for being together. Like a case to solve, for example." "Oh!" said Laurie. "You mean, like those TV shows where a man and woman from the F.B.I. are put together to catch some guy.” "Exactly," agreed Phineas. "In my vast experience I've found that love by itself doesn't always work so you've gotta have more. A mission." "So, start a detective agency and make Raquel your assistant." "I don't think I'd be very good at it, solving cases. I 105

mean, I never wanted to be a policeman when I was little. Do you know what I wanted to be?" "I have no idea." "A taxi driver." "Why?" "I really don't know. I had this little plastic car that I would drive around the house in, pretending to be cruising for fares..." "Let's get a drink," said Laurie suddenly. They were on the ground floor, passing a series of restaurants, one of them a pub. "Sure," said Phineas agreeably. They went inside and selected a small table close to the bar. When the waitress came they ordered a carafe of wine which was brought promptly. "So, what makes a Canadian a Canadian?" Phineas asked, suddenly earnest. "Oh, I don't know," Laurie said, pouring herself a glass of wine to give herself time to think. It was a simple question but her mind was blank. She smoothed one of the sleeves of her black shirt and looked down at her faded jeans for revelation. "Well, we're not Americans." "What's an American?" "Somebody who comes from the big country in North America where they make television sitcoms and Levi's." "OK, so a Canadian is someone who does not come from the big country in North America where they make television sitcoms and Levi jeans. So what do they make?" "They make Canadian flags, they make maple syrup, they make beer, I dunno." "Those are all just stereo-types, Laurie." Phineas had turned his probing intensity towards this latest issue. "I want to know whether me being Canadian makes me different from an American." "OK, OK. Just let me think here..." she said repositioning herself in her seat and taking a deep gulp of wine. "Laurie, the definition of a Canadian has been an issue practically since the first settlers arrived here. The American Revolution resulted in thousands of British Loyalists fleeing to Upper Canada, who you might say were the original Canadians who defined themselves as being ‘not American’. Don't you read about your own history?" "No," said Laurie filling up her glass again. "In the War of 1812, President James Madison ordered an attack launched on Canada in the hope that these former American settlers would turn on the British. They didn't. This was the last official attempt to appropriate Canada, although Fenian raiders continued to make guerrilla-like attacks on the land that still flew the Union Jack." "See, the problem is..." said Laurie, now buzzing.”No one 106

knows anything about the Canadian heritage, so we might as well not have one." "In 1889 The Destiny of America: The Inevitable Political Union of the United States and Canada was published," continued Phineas, "...promoting the idea of American annexation of Canada based on the similarity of resources, capabilities of the people, language, economic system and Christian heritage. Anyhow, Canada resisted this American sense of `Manifest Destiny', choosing to maintain her British heritage rather than forge a future with her southern neighbour." "But you know," said Laurie leaning forward to make her point, a point that seemed so clear and necessary after her several glasses of wine. "Despite all this, I don't think it makes us all that different." "I think it does," said Phineas, also leaning forward. "As long as there's a border there are going to be distinctions. As long as we have different names we can't say we're the same." "So how do you think we're different?" she asked. "I think we're different at every level. Culturally, politically, economically. C'mon Laurie! This is our referendum. We get to choose whether this union happens so you should be aware of the differences." "Well Phineas," she leaned forward and looked him in the eye. "You wanna know what a Canadian is? I'll tell you what a Canadian is. A Canadian is a person who goes to American movies and watches American TV because it's easier and cheaper than making his own sitcoms and if it gets boring he can always switch stations." She grabbed the carafe and poured the rest of the wine into her glass. "That's more like it," said Phineas, grinning. "So, how's it going, Dad?" Laurie asked wandering into the corner of the basement that her father called his study since it contained a second-hand wooden desk with a non-matching chair, a poster of a street in Old Jerusalem, and a bunch of old textbooks and Dick Francis novels that he hadn't gotten around to constructing a bookshelf for. "I'm thinking of writing stories for children. I just finished one!" said Paul O'Briaen proudly, putting down his pen. He waved her to the green leather beanbag beside a fraying one-man trampoline. He leaned back in his chair and crossed a leg over his knee. "I'm going to start looking around for a publisher. Maybe as a job you could illustrate my books." "I don't draw, Dad." "Oh well," sighed her father as if life is too full of disappointment to expect anything good from it. "You haven't seen Sky or Will doodling have you?" "No, I don't think so. Well, what are you going to do if you get it published?" "Move this family to the Yukon and start writing full-time," 107

replied her father enthusiastically. "The Yukon is very cold, Dad." "Yes, but it's free, it's pure -- untouched by consumerism and political agendas. If we were in the Yukon we wouldn't give a hoot whether or not we joined the U.S. I mean, look at Alaska. Alaska isn't America. It's just Alaska." "Dad, are you worried we're going to vote to join the U.S.?" Laurie shifted her position -- a near impossible feat in a beanbag. "Yes and no," said her father slowly. "We've always been about ten years behind the U.S. in crime and just general decay. I'm afraid that by joining, it'll bring us closer to closing that gap. On the other hand, it's terrifying to see what goes on in some of the cities in America and know that it will happen to us eventually. Maybe not having that foreshadowing would be less painful. We wouldn't sense the decline as being so distinctive if we were all enmeshed in it." "That is so depressing, Dad." "Well, hon, that's why there's always the Yukon." Her dad's definition of a Canadian was someone who knew that if things ever got out of control, he'd move up north and live in a log cabin if he had to.

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CHAPTER TWELVE
October 6, 2011 "Yeah, but what's a Canadian?" Alistair Smith asked. He and a fellow articling student were having a lunch of McDonald's takeout at a table beside Rennae in the employees’ cafeteria. Since Alistair Smith was one of the few redeeming factors to working in the office she was by the window pretending to read a Danielle Steele novel while she listened to their conversation. "Who cares, right? That's the problem. I mean, it's not like our image on the world scene is all that outstanding." "Yeah," agreed Alistair. "You know, I wonder how many Americans could name a Canadian political party, never mind a political policy. It's no wonder we have an identity crisis." "Yeah, but what do we have to offer to the world?" The guy shrugged. "Well, we've got some nice beer. I'm sure that's the only reason they want to join us," said Alistair rolling up his striped sleeves and propping his elbows on the table as he bit into his dripping Big Mac. Special sauce spilled over and plopped onto his lap. "Drat!" he said, looking down. "Ignore it," advised his friend. "I once tried to get ketchup out with cold water and my shirt turned into tomato soup. Just wait for it to dry and then get it dry-cleaned." "OK," sighed Alistair, although he couldn’t resist a quick scoop with his serviette before stretching his leg out so that it would dry instead of smear further. "Anyhow, I don't know what the Americans are going to do with the French. I've been to Quebec City and I couldn't even order a hamburger in English." "Quebec City. Is that where General Montcalm died?" "I think so." "Wow, I actually remembered something from Canadian history." "You ever been there?" "No. I always go south." "Yeah, that’ll be a lot easier when we join. No money exchange," said Alistair. "Yeah, eh? In Florida, I was asked by a salesclerk if I was British. I told her I was from Toronto. Same thing, she says. Same thing. Only a bloody ocean between us..." "A friend of mine visited England before the war and told people he was from Toronto and they said, so you're an American?" "It really sucks. No wonder we don't have an identity." The other man was half-way through his Big Mac and had to turn it over and eat it upside down to keep it from falling apart. "Maybe that's why we totally run down our country when we're at home, but praise it to the point of obnoxiousness whenever we travel outside of it. At least that's how my parents are. It's embarrassing. We 109

go to Florida and my parents get into a conversation with some salesclerk and they basically tell her that the United States is a septic tank and Canada is the Promised Land." "But, like, why do we care? Why do we always have to defend ourself?" asked Alistair. "Countries like Nigeria or New Zealand don't sit around worrying that they aren't having the impact on the world that they should." He paused to think as he dipped a french fry into the mound of ketchup he had squirted onto a serviette. "Maybe it's because we're too close to the U.S..." "Well, I guess the lack of identity has become the identity," said the other man, licking his fingers as he deposited the last piece of bread and meat in his mouth. He picked up a serviette and wiped his mouth. "We've, like, got this nation of individuals loyal to themselves rather than to a country." "Yeah,” said Alistair. “Like you think about how few people join in the national anthem at a baseball game." "Yeah," the man leaned forward. "Even in business, you know, the trend is towards being an entrepreneur, rather than working for a large corporation. So maybe this whole identity thing is affecting us. Maybe we want to create our own identity, or something." The man paused to think more about this. "But you know, despite this lack of national identity, the ultimate compliment a Canadian can pay an American is, you almost seem Canadian. When we were in Florida my mother actually said..." Rennae would have liked to stay and listen to more, but she was already fifteen minutes late and still had to go to the bathroom to reapply her lipstick. "You've got to help me!" said Lina suddenly. They were curled up on the couch in the O'Briaen's living room, Laurie in a plaid shirt and cut-offs, Lina in a filmy white fake Chanel blouse irreverently mixed with tie-die jeans. Laurie looked up from The Toronto Sun Classifieds where she was supposed to be looking for a job but had got caught up in the personals. "SWD looking for partner who shares interests in underwater exploration, pre-Revolutionary lit." She couldn't for the life of her figure out what D stood for, what underwater exploration involved and what Revolution the person meant. It had to be a drug message of some sort. Straight White Druggie? "Uh-huh?" "Look, you went out with that American this summer, eh? I need you to help me write a script." Lina had been scribbling away on a white legal pad. "How?" Laurie asked warily. "Jessie wasn't exactly the AllAmerican Male." "Doesn't matter." Lina waved her hand. "For my class I have to write a script about a current issue but using specific characters. So I figure I'll do the referendum with you and this Jessie as the characters." "Why be so broad? Why not focus on the Americana burning?" 110

Laurie couldn't believe she had just said that. She was worse than a criminal who had to go back to the scene of the crime to see how everyone was reacting. "Yeah!" Lina was enthusiastic. "That's even more specific. I mean, everyone's probably going to do the referendum anyhow. Yeah, let me think...I know! Jessie burns down the building, or something. No. Wait. It would be you who burns down the thing since you're not American. Hey! I like that!" I'm in deep trouble, thought Laurie.

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THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER October 8, 2011 WILL CANADIANS BECOME AMERICANS? In the event that Canada votes Yes in the upcoming referendum, will the average Canadian assimilate himself into the American culture? Canadian sociologist, Bryan Cartwright does not think so. "Some Canadians don't even know their own anthem," he says. "You don't seriously think they're going to learn the American one do you? They'll get as far as `Oh say can you see,' and then they'll fade out. At baseball games you'll be lucky if they stand up. And then, they'll look around to see who all the nerds who are singing are." Cartwright's newly released book, The Canadian Way, describes how difficult it would be for Canadians to adjust to the American culture. "Even the Canadians who support joining the U.S. will find it difficult to work up to the level of patriotic enthusiasm that the average American maintains. Our culture has just not oriented us to openly display our pride for our country, except at unguarded moments." How about our culture? We already have a culture largely based on American television and magazines, says Cartwright. "They cannot infiltrate us anymore than they already have. There are many notable exceptions, however, mostly in the area of comedy, that Americans would never understand." In some areas, the American way of life would never get through. "We have closer ties to European culture even despite the war," says Cartwright. "For example, our teens are used to looking to Europe, not just North America, for music and clothing trends. Americans are self-sufficient enough to have a large pop music industry and a developed fashion scene and don't always look to the rest of the world for influences and additions to what they already have. It would be hard for Canadians to give up their cosmopolitan outlook. In many ways, being cut off from the New Europe has affected Canadians more than Americans." Cartwright brings out another factor in the Canada character that might be hard to reconcile with the American temperament. "We are a more passive nation. There is no revolution or major civil war in our history. Fundamentally we've always strove for law, order, and good government, and violence is something that we mostly vicariously experience through television. In the event that Canada votes Yes, it will be hard to tell how we reconcile our different historical backgrounds." 112

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
October 8, 1992 "OK, check out what I've got so far." Lina didn't even bother greeting her as she slipped into one of the hard plastic chairs within viewing range of Mama Green's. No matter. Laurie didn't really want to talk about her gruelling day of job searching anyhow. Her dad had told her stories about the eighties when high school graduates could walk into downtown offices and join the junior secretarial staff on the spot, the economy was so good. Why was she born too late? Now she'd need a Ph.D. to do the same thing. "It's called Lavender Baby," said Lina, even though the script was in Laurie's hand. "The setting is in a bar, well, more of a jazz club, as you can see. He comes up, starts talking..." Laurie skimmed the script. The dialogue was sharp and witty, foreshadowing conflict, but it in no way resembled her relationship with Jessie. "I like it," she said. It's great." She handed it back to Lina. She was hoping the script would turn out to be so far removed from real life that Lina would forget to include the Americana burning. "Lori's Canadian. Rich is American. They'll break-up. Lori will burn down Americana. And the irony will be that everyone will think it's political when really it's just the fury of a scorned woman." "The fury of a scorned woman," Laurie repeated, more to herself. "Yeah. Shakespeare, I think." "Where's Chris?" she asked judiciously changing the subject. "I dunno." Lina shrugged, feigning indifference. "Maybe he's sick." "I dunno," said Lina again staring directly at the Mama Green's counter where a high school girl with long blond hair was making a fresh pot of coffee. It was probably the first time Lina had been able to look straight at the counter without fear that she'd be caught staring. Dare I say it, thought Laurie. Could Chris have moved on to a REAL job? "You know," said Lina, eager to get off the topic of Chris. "We are the movie generation. We are not the generation who goes to Europe find ourselves." "Obviously," said Laurie. "No, I mean, we don't even want to find ourselves," continued Lina. "We want to act. We want to pick a character in a movie and be him or her." Laurie shrugged. "Sure," she said. 113

"If I hadn't been a drama student, I wouldn't have realized how much we over-dramatize our own lives. When we break-up with a man, we collapse on a couch and sob and say that we can't go on, because that is the role of woman who has just lost her man. We'd rather act out pain than accept boredom. We'd rather act as if we'd just lost our only love than admit he was a bit of jerk and we're relieved to be rid of him." Laurie could not have agreed less. She wished she was just faking it. "Yeah," she said. "Since there's no intrigue or espionage in our lives," continued Lina, "we gossip and speculate and look for signs of intrigue in other people's lives. Everything we do is an act. Everything. The way we talk -- serious students over coffee, socialites at parties, girl-talk in the dorm's at college; the way we eat -- hamburgers and fries when we're out with the girls, salads when we're out with the guys, boxes of cookies when we're alone. Our clothing is our costume. The world is our stage..." Laurie continued to nod agreeably. Jessie picked her up after work. "You wouldn't believe how depressing working is," Rennae said as she climbed into the dark Oldsmobile. "So mind-depleting." "Since when did you worry about mind depletion," he asked, pulling out of the parallel parking space and making an instant lane change without putting on his flicker. Rennae punched him in the arm despite it being attached to the only hand on the wheel and then sighed deeply. "A pay cheque is not making me happy, Jessie." They were weaving in and out of traffic. If driving was supposed to be an indicator of a man's sexuality, Rennae shuddered to think of what awaited her brother's future wife. "But you can afford not to find happiness in a pay cheque," he said. "You've got daddy and mommy taking care of you." "Yeah, but what about all of those people who don't?" "The human race is about survival, babe. Where do you want to go?" Rennae shrugged. "McDonald's. I'm sick of everything." "Perhaps you might consider championing the Marxist cause. It may not be as fashionable as it was last century, but it's still a viable alternative." "Can't you ever be serious?" "I was being serious." "Are you a Marxist?" Jessie made a right turn, barely slowly down. "At one time I believed firmly in maintaining the status quo. Redistribution of anything made me nervous. Now I favour a community of like-minded people where the strong bear the shortcomings of the weak…" 114

"What do you think of Canada joining the U.S.? asked Rennae suddenly." "Too jolting. But I imagine it’s inevitable. At this point, I don’t consider myself a citizen of either nation…" They pulled into a McDonald's parking lot. "I've got an idea that should cheer you up," said Jessie. "We'll go through the drive-thru, get on the highway, pump up the radio, and pretend we're Bonnie and Clyde on the run." For the first time Rennae smiled. "Big Mac, large fries, and a vanilla milkshake," she replied.

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN
October 7, 2011 "I've given up looking for a job,” said Laurie. “Now I think I'll just keep my eyes open for a well-off widower over fifty who's looking for a companion that he wants to support in the style that she has yet to be accustomed to." She and Lina were sitting on Lina's bed in her entirely black bedroom, a remnant of a rebellious adolesence. Lina was holding Genny, her doll, and Benny, her teddy-bear, as if they were children, periodically cuddling them. "Make it over seventy," advised Lina. "That way you'll inherit everything quicker. Maybe even in time to marry again. Actually though, since you're not working, maybe you want to drive down to Niagara Falls with me and we'll do a little research for my script." "What kind of research?" "Oh, just talk to American men. Get a feel for their perspective." "Oh, you mean the American side," said Laurie, suddenly filled with horror. She was a wanted criminal in the U.S. "Of course I mean the American side. That's where the Americans are." "And how do you suggest we get to know them without them thinking we're hitting on them?" Laurie was frantically thinking this idea through. The hard part would be the border crossing. That's where they checked I.D. and really examined you. Would they recognize her from the security guard's description? Lina shrugged and kissed Genny's cheek. "If they're cute, it doesn't matter. But I figure we'll concentrate on guys who are working, you know, behind food counters or in stores. That way, when they get off work we'll already be halfway home." "Sure, whatever." She would do it, she decided. It would be the test. She couldn't live her life in fear. The best strategy to take would be to just act normal and behave as if she'd had nothing to do with the Americana burning "How's tomorrow sound?" They were driving along the Queen Elizabeth Way in Lina's mother's GEO Prism, a smooth, polished car even though it was ten years-old, windows down, a CD vibrating not only the air in the car, but all of it for about 500 metres around them. "Almost there!" yelled Lina when they passed a road sign. Laurie had her birth certificate, but they would ask for photo ID crossing the border so she had brought her driver's 116

license. What if the picture triggered something in the mind of the border guard and he thought it looked like the Americana Arsonist? That's stupid, she told herself. There hadn't even been any pictures on the news of what the Americana arsonist might look like. They hadn't even suggested that it might be a woman. Closing her eyes, Laurie leaned her head back and took a deep breath. Lina made a quick lane change. "How would you define Jessie?" she asked suddenly. "Kind of twisted," Laurie replied opening her eyes and taking another deep breath. If anything happened, she would deny everything. She would not budge from her denial. “Kind of twisted? How so?” “Well, he’s really good-looking, very independent, but he’s a bit of a religious kook.” Lina nodded as if she was familiar with religious kooks. "How would he define himself?" "Somewhere between normal and abnormal. Probably everything in between." "Ego-centric?" "With a proclivity to be incredibly humble about his human origins." "Cerebral?" Laurie shuddered. "Too, too complex." "Can I meet him?" "No because I’ll probably never see him again in my life." They had been driving through the bright lights of Niagara Falls heading towards the Rainbow Bridge. There were five cars ahead of them when they turned into the border crossing -- an open court of cement, white-painted lines, and flashing red lights. Now they were four cars away from crossing the border. Laurie didn't like it that each car was being cross-examined as if it were the witness for the prosecution. "Takes 'em long enough," said Lina looking at her watch, a reflexive gesture since they weren't on any particular schedule. "Do they think people are trying to smuggle stuff over? I mean, in a few months there may be no flippin' border, so why stress it now?" Three more cars. A beat-up pick-up truck with two guys and a girl was being directed to the Customs building. As the truck made its turn, Laurie couldn't help notice that the girl kind of looked like her. "What on earth do they have to declare?" asked Lina as they pulled up one more car-length. "I mean, there's nothing in the back of their pick-up and they didn't look like the type to do mega-shopping on the Canadian side." "Booze?" Laurie asked. "They looked about nineteen." 117

Lina shrugged. "Where? In the tires?" Now they were next. "Drat." Lina was riffling around in her back left pocket. "I hope I have my birth certificate." The car in front of them pulled away from the border guard's kiosk. Still fiddling with the back of her jeans, Lina lurched the car forward into place. "Good-morning-ladies. May-I-see-some-ID?" said the middleaged official, looking bored. "Ah, here it is." Lina was in a pretzel like position groping in her tight back right pocket with her left hand. She brandished her birth certificate. "Driver's-license-please," said the official not looking at her as he took the certificate and typed a number into his computer. "Could you be a darling and open the glove compartment?" Lina asked. After rummaging through empty CD cases and chocolate bar wrappers, Lina found her driver's license." "Where're-you-from?" he asked, returning Lina's papers. "Toronto," said Lina. He looked at Laurie for the first time. "Toronto," she said. "Got any papers?" Laurie pulled out her birth certificate and license and leaned over to hand it to him. He glanced at her birth certificate and handed them back. "Shopping?" "Not really," said Lina. "Just an afternoon out." "Just an afternoon out," repeated the man slowly, his tone suggesting, you've come a long way for an afternoon out. "OK, actually, we're going to try to meet some men." "That's better," said the official smiling thinly. "Good luck." He waved them through. "I don't believe you!" Laurie said as soon as the window was rolled up. "What else could I say?" asked Lina. "It's true." "I can't believe he didn't look at my license," Laurie said looking down at her lap where her birth certificate and license were stuck between her knees. "Why should he? You're not driving." To her horror Laurie realized that they had only cleared the Canadian side. There was still the American official to contend with and like the news reports had been emphasizing, the Americana case was in the U.S.'s hands. "Oh drat. Not again." Lina had already lost her driver's license and birth certificate as they pulled up to the red line to wait their turn to be interrogated. Her head went down to check under her seat as if she were assuming the crash-landing position. "Lina," Laurie said. "It's our turn." The car in front of them was home-free. 118

"Dang." Lina emerged victorious with her papers but had bumped her head on the steering wheel coming up. "Good afternoon. Birth certificates and photo I.D. please," said the young Marine Cadet-looking official, looking at both of them. Reluctantly Laurie passed her papers over. "Where're you from?" he asked as he examined them. "Toronto," said Lina. "Where are you from?" Laurie groaned inwardly. The American looked down at Lina. "Buffalo," he said with a small smile. "Do y'a like it?" asked Lina conversationally. "I think I'm supposed to be asking you questions." "OK," said Lina agreeably. "Why are you going to the U.S.?" "To gain some insight into the American psyche. To destroy prejudices by meeting new people. To build bridges instead of walls." "Admirable. Are you bringing anything over?" "Just an open mind." He handed them back their papers and waved them on. "I can't believe that," Laurie said, huddled in her seat. "Americans appreciate honesty just as much as Canadians." WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!, a billboard sign greeted them with its giant red and blue lettering. "A mall!" shrieked Lina. "So close to the border!" "Rainbow Mall," Laurie said reading the sign, still recovering. "Sounds politically correct." "So long as it's got lots of young male sales clerks," said Lina as she twisted the car into a five-story parking lot, ripped a ticket out of the machine and started them spiralling up the ramp to find a free space. "I want this book." Lina was staring at the hardcover novel in her hand. "But it's $35. American." "Hmmm," Laurie replied. She was getting sick of the bookstore. After a quick check of the latest fiction, magazines, and a brief inspection of a table with books for under five dollars, she was ready to go, but Lina had been examining her book for about 15 minutes. "It was made into a movie. A really good movie, but of course the book's supposed to be 20 times better. I'm never going to make a book into a movie. Oh, I really want this. It hasn’t come out in Canada yet. I guess I'll think about it. It's the last one though." Reluctantly she put the book back on the shelf. They wandered in and out of the quiet stores -- a hobby shop, oversized fashion outlet, a drugstore, a clothing store that catered to the polyester-tastes of the elderly, a young supposedto-be-trendy clothes store that specialized in styles that had come and already gone. Lina went back to the bookstore to hold the novel, only to come out undecided. 119

"I don't believe this," said Lina an hour later. They had scouted the mall and were now seated on plastic chairs in the desolate food court sipping Loganberry drinks in huge Styrofoam cups. All of the salesclerks were either young women or older men. The only guys remotely interesting were some teen skateboarders, remnants of another era, who looked unapproachable leaning against a wall, exchanging loud libidinous stories. "I'm going back," she said. "What?! They'll think you're psycho!" "I just don't know," Lina said sounding panicky. "I mean, I want it, but not for $35. Maybe if it were $25." She stood up. "I'm going to read the first page and if it hooks me, I'll take it." She wandered off, abandoning her full drink. Laurie was left for about half an hour wishing that she had bought a magazine. There wasn't much to look at since no one seemed to shop in the early afternoon on a weekday. Finally she got up, trashed the remainder of her drink -- everything in America came super-sized -- and returned to the bookstore. Lina looked up from about the twenty-fifth page. "I still don't know. I mean, it's kind of funny. Maybe it'll get better. Oh hell. I'll take it." She stomped up to the cash register that had a small "Canadian money NOT accepted at par" sign, ripped open her wallet and visibly cringed as the digital price appeared, complete with sales tax. On their way out she seemed disheartened. "I'm going into withdrawal," she explained. "This always happens when I spend an unexpected amount of money. I get depressed for awhile. I feel empty, as if I were robbed and I want to cry. Oh why couldn't it have been in paperback?!" Lina was edgy as they made their way back to the food court to get a late lunch. She refused to buy more than another Loganberry drink saying that she couldn't stand losing any more money. She maintained the tenseness as they waited by the worn off-white counter for Laurie's vegetarian pizza to be heated in the massive metal oven. She settled down slightly as they took a seat and she opened the book. "Hold on!" Laurie said suddenly. "Decent man alert." She pointed with her elbow at a twentysomething shopper wearing a blue-striped t-shirt with Levi's and sneakers. "Got 'im." Lina jumped up. Lina's philosophy of life was that you shouldn't be afraid of strangers. Trust everyone until he or she gave you a reason not to. "We're all human beings sharing this planet," she had explained to Laurie once. "Most of us don't want to mug or murder or rape someone but if we go around living in terror of each other, evil triumphs anyhow. I believe in caution, but fear drastically reduces the quality of life." Within a matter of minutes, Lina was animatedly chatting as 120

she lead the man back to the table. "This is Laurie," she said when they came within introduction range. "Laurie, this is Andy." "Hi," said Laurie, feeling weird. "Yeah," he said, taking the seat beside her. "Same to you. So what do you guys want to talk about?" "What it means to be American," replied Lina, taking her seat across from him. Andy laughed. He was pleasant, all-American looking, brown short hair, medium height but stocky, probably played on the football team in high school, and probably had a girlfriend with full-body permed blond hair and a cheerleader body. "So, it's like, you said you guys are Canadian, and you just want to know what the differences are?" "Exactly," agreed Lina. "OK, well, being American's like a pretty cool thing because basically it's a great country. I mean, I've seen pictures of Bangladesh, and it just doesn't compare." Andy laughed. Lina grinned. Laurie might have smiled because he really was quite good-looking except that she was still thinking about the blond girlfriend who probably co-ordinated her socks and hair accessories with her sweaters. "OK, seriously. We have a lot of patriotism and I think that's good because we have a lot to be proud of. And historically we've done a lot to help the world and we've kicked butt when we had to. And, like, now we've gotta stand alone..." "So what do you think about Canada joining the U.S." interrupted Lina. "Would you guys be too offended if I said that I really don't care?" He raised two sincere eyebrows at them. "I mean, I know you have a great country, but we're already pretty big and I don't think that joining is a big deal because I can go over to Canada whenever I want to anyhow." Lina nodded. "Thanks Andy." She sounded like a celebrity interviewer. "Maybe you could tell us some personal details, like what kind of music you like." "Sure. I like good rock. You know. Maize Wilson. Freddie Harvey and the Maniacs. R.U.N. Train. Things like that." "I can't help but notice those are all American groups. Do you listen to much European music?" Despite the war, pirate radio was all the rage in Toronto. "You mean like all that British synthesizer stuff that's coming back? No, not really. I mean, basically I'll listen to pretty much anything. My radio's usually tuned to WROC 103." "Top-40's pretty popular?" asked Lina. "Well, it is Top-40. I mean, if it weren't popular, it wouldn't be Top-40." "Exactly," said Lina. "Now, how about clothing. Do you like to be noticed, or..." 121

Andy interrupted. "Girls like to be noticed more, I think. Take my girlfriend, for instance. She's always fussing with the hair, the lipstick, making sure everything's coordinated." I knew it, Laurie thought. "Me, if it's clean, I throw it on." "Thank you so much," said Lina. "We've really enjoyed talking to you." "No problem," said Andy standing up, giving them a little grin, and making his way back through the empty tables and chairs. "Very average," said Lina after he was out of hearing range. "Very ordinary for a man whose country invented Glamour and Cosmopolitan and GQ." "America always seems more exciting on TV," Laurie agreed. "Hold on! We are on a roll!" Lina had spotted another young approachable male staring wistfully at a 60" stereo system in an electronics store across from the food court. She jumped up and hurried over. Laurie's piece of pizza had been humongous. America featured the large food portions. She had to keep eating though because she had paid for it, so she just kept swallowing, eliminating the chewing step. Suddenly, walking before her, barely managing to manoeuvre around the tightly-packed tables, was a fat woman -obese was more accurate -- years of Mars bars, Ranch-flavoured potato chips, Double-Fudge Chocolate ice-cream in the solitary confinement of her small home, no doubt watching soap operas to make up for the lack of handsome doctors and gorgeous conniving entrepreneurs in her own life. Laurie got up and threw out her half-eaten pizza while the fat lady bought a milkshake and a baked potato with chili and sat several tables away from her. Laurie became aware that they were not the only ones in the food court. There was a Vietnam-like survivor, a man with wild grey hair in a camouflage shirt seated with a cup of coffee by one of the wall tables, and he wasn't watching the fat lady... Come back Lina, thought Laurie.

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THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER October 9, 1992 from SAM FLANDER'S ADVICE COLUMN Dear Sam, I'm one of your faithful Canadian readers and I'm appalled by the anti-American sentiment that is arising in our country as a result of the upcoming referendum. I know that people should be patriotic. In the past, our country was notorious for being apathetic with regards to national pride, but now I think we've taken it too far. What is your opinion about patriotism? --Proud, but not too proud, in Sutton Dear Proud, Patriotism should never be at the expense of another country. We have to learn to love without needing to hate someone or someplace else.

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN
October 9, 1992 "I'll tell a story," said Phineas all of a sudden. "Truth through fiction." Raquel, John, and Phineas were lounging around Hunan's. Raquel leaned forward and propped her elbows on the table carefully avoiding the oolong tea stains even though they'd never show up on black. "OK, Camus," John said. "Go ahead." "This is a Canadian story," said Phineas. He leaned back and assumed the Southern-yarn position. * * * "Americana had already been burned down. Murdock decided that CanTer would just have to do something more dramatic to get some attention, like blowing up the Rainbow Bridge that crossed over from Niagara Falls, Canada to Niagara Falls, New York. A symbolic gesture to separate the two countries. `CanTer (short for Canadian Terrorist) was Canada's only known terrorist organization and was often confused with CanTerre which was a French-English organization that sought to encourage unity through working side-by-side on the earth. Basically this meant that quite a few bilingual gardeners would show up at Murdock's meetings. But they were agreeable people, nodded when he spoke of the need to bypass bureaucracy and just take the initiative as citizens. When he presented the idea of blowing up the bridge, they took it well, consulted their date books and said they were free any evening so long as it wasn't a full moon when some of them liked to do a little midnight seed-planting (certain vegetables, like turnips, squash, and potatoes were notorious for being tastier if planted after 10 pm, though who had initially discovered this, no one knew.) `The plan was simple. A crowd of about seven of the gardeners would try to cross over the border in a van full of produce and herbs that they would say was for a display at a gardening convention in Rochester. The guards would be so distracted by the vegetation, which is tricky bringing over the border due to bacteria contamination, that they wouldn't pay much attention to the vehicle itself. Underneath, the van would be rigged up with a bomb with enough potency to convert the Rainbow Bridge into a rainbow in the sky. `"Er," Daniel, an elderly man in bifocals and a Burger King sun-visor, raised his hand. "Do we remain aboard the van when it blows up?" `There was a murmur throughout the tiny room. Murdock, who hadn't given it much thought, sensed morale might be low if the 124

gardeners had to give their life for the cause. `"No," he replied. "You can pretend the van stalled on the bridge and get out and walk." `"Can we have a contract, preferably written in your blood, that you will not push the lever until we are all safely off that bridge?" asked Helen, a robust, white-haired grandmother wearing a Maple Leafs sweatshirt with her white polyester slacks. `"You have my word," said Murdock, trying to smile sincerely. `"Hummph," replied the woman." "The big day arrived. With a van full of baby carrots, cucumbers, green peppers, red peppers, parsley, garlic, and a heap of snapdragons just for luck, the gardeners pulled into the holding area for cars waiting to cross over from Canada to the United States and stopped at the red line. When the car in front of them pulled away from the border guard's box, they gunned it forward. `"Good afternoon, folks," said the official, to the seven or so curious faces peering at him from the driver's window of the van. "Got your passports?" `Seven passports were produced, examined, and returned. `"May I come around and see what else you may have in that van?" asked the Canadian official. So far everything had been routine, but he was picking up strange vibes from these seemingly ordinary citizens. `"Certainly," said Keith, the driver, an avid-bulb planter who also printed and circulated CanTerre's newsletter, Unity through Growth. He climbed out of the van to open the back doors. `"Produce," said the official grimly when the doors were pulled back to reveal what could have been a vegetable market stall. That would explain the vibes he had been getting. No doubt the grandpas and grandmas had been hoping by sticking their faces through the driver's window that he wouldn't see anything in the vehicle. (He was wrong of course. They were all just curious and excited and didn't want to miss any of the action.) `"Gardening convention," explained Keith briskly. "In Rochester. Got some of the biggest turnips from Ontario back here." `"Don't know if I can allow it," said the official. "We don't usually let this sort of thing over the border." `"Yeah, but you let peaches from Georgia and oranges from Florida come up here," complained Madge, a small, flushed-looking lady in a pink track suit who had a mini fruit orchard in her backyard. `"Besides," said Keith quickly. "It's only for display. We're bringing it all back." `"Well, I'll let you do it, but I don't know that the American officials will allow it." `"Thank you, sir," said Keith shutting the back doors and climbing back into the front. The American officials didn't matter. The van would never make it across the bridge. 125

`They pulled away from the booth and started the drive across the bridge. `"I'm nervous," said Madge. "I mean, what if this Murdock man is afraid that we're going to rat on him and he blows this thing up with us still in it?" `Keith smiled. `"I thought of that. I removed an essential screw from his whatever-you-call-the-box with the button he presses." `"Oh!" Madge shivered with pleasure. "Just like the movies!" `Keith cut the engine at the spot where there was the little red line that marked the border -- a strange boundary thousands of feet above rushing water. Niagara Falls was roaring off to the right. `"Get out slowly as if the engine stalled," said Keith. "We can't look like we want to make a run for it." `Madge, who was already out the back doors, had to be restrained by Helen and Keith to keep from sprinting. The group started walking briskly for the American side. `"Show your passports when we get there," said Keith. "Don't tell them we came from the van. Just say we're over to have a bite to eat and do some light shopping." `"I have to go to the bathroom," said Madge. `When they reached the cluster of border guard kiosks they had to go into the Inspections building since they were on foot. `"Passports, please," said the bored border official. `"Just here for a bite to eat and to do some light shopping," said Madge quickly. `The official looked at her strangely. `"Here with that boat owner's convention?" `"Yes," said Keith quickly. `"OK." He handed back their passports. `"What convention?" asked Madge as Helen and Keith hustled her through the glass doors. `Murdock was waiting in a navy blue Pontiac, by a huge Welcome to New York State. We're Glad You're Here sign. He rolled down the window. `"What the flip did you do?" he demanded. "I've been trying to blow the bloody thing up for the last fifteen minutes and nothing's happened!" `Keith sighed, tossed him the screw, and started hustling his group towards a mall where they could get a bite to eat and do a little light shopping..." * * * Phineas grinned at them. Raquel smiled. John rolled his eyes. "So many nuggets of wisdom, Phineas..." "Thank you," he replied politely. “My dad’s thinking of 126

making it into a movie. Don’t tell Lina.” "OK," said John leaning forward. "I've got one too. also Canadian. Untitled." He launched into his story, slightly self-conscious. * * *

It's

""Report just in Sir," Lieutenant Ron Howell, looking mildly heroic in his red and beige uniform, marched through the thick mahogany doors. "Civil war has broken out again in the province of Texas. Bloody mess, eh?" `Major Maclean looked up from his desk piled high with paperwork. `"Standard procedure. Cut their beer supply immediately," he said. `"Very good, sir," replied Lieutenant Howell, just short of crisply. `The technique of cutting off a province's beer supply had been consistently effective since the 2447 war when Canada had carried out a quiet, discreet, almost bloodless takeover of the former North American peninsula. The promise of peace, order, and good government had eventually brought the rest of the western world under the umbrella of Canada in the 2600's more than any passionate appeal for democracy. `Unwilling participants in the New World Order weren't tortured, nor did they disappear as in past regimes, they just couldn't accomplish their radical agendas in a laidback society of 4-day work weeks and the much looked forward to 3-day weekends of camping trips or picnicking in the many extensive parks, or just veging in the backyard with a 6-pack. Besides, the bloody paperwork just to get a single gun was ridiculous. The Canadian government tolerated many things but insufficient paperwork was not one of them. Anyone found with an unregistered gun was sentenced to 20 years of community service with no hope of parole. `Computers, which would have probably reduced the paperwork considerably, had lasted until about the 2700's when it became evident that they were becoming dangerous -- intelligent enough that they posed security threats since they had the capacity to overthrow human control. Now they were only used to store minor, miscellaneous files. `"Report says it's serious. National Security says that they suspect an internal leak of some sort. They're afraid that this time the province of Texas will be a lot more severe in their attempt to force the federal government to allow them their independence." `"Thank you, Lieutenant. I'm sure I will familiarize myself with the report." It was a dismissive statement. `Howell turned to go. `"There's one more thing I'd like to mention." Howell hesitated. 127

`"Well, go on." Maclean, who had already returned to his paperwork, looked up briefly. `"It's about Miles. Lieutenant David Miles, sir." Howell stopped. Lieutenant David Miles was his roommate and a close friend. `Maclean was waiting impatiently. `"He's missing." Howell bit his cracking lips that were desperately in need of lip balm to protect them against the dry, bitter, northern winds. `"Do you suspect foul play, Lieutenant?" `"I don't know. He just didn't come home last night. I called his girlfriend this morning and she said that he left her place at around 23:30 (actually, it was more like 1:00, but since curfew was 24:00, Howell altered his account slightly). He never made it back to base." `"Well, report it to Investigation." Maclean went back to his endless paperwork. `"Yes sir." `Howell left the room dissatisfied. He didn't know what he had expected from Maclean except that he knew he had to say something to someone. Miles wasn't the type of man to just take off unexpectedly for a joyride to the province of Hawaii -- not with an advancing career and a girlfriend hotter than anything Virtual Reality could come up with." ‘No. Something had happened and Howell knew it wasn't kosher. `Back at his narrow work space divided from the next stall by a clear soundproof, bulletproof partition -- as if it were needed between co-workers who usually spent their days sorting papers -Howell waved to Lieutenant Jeff Johnson who worked to his right. Johnson returned the wave then gestured to Miles's empty desk on Howell's left. He simulated a man guzzling a bottle of beer, then heaving it. Howell shook his head and shrugged. Johnson raised an eyebrow, got up from his silver, metallic desk and pushed through the narrow glass doorway. `"What do you mean? You live with him." `"I know, but he never came home last night." `"That's strange." `Howell was gratified by Johnson's concern because it showed that he also appreciated that conservative, even-tempered Miles wasn't the type of man to just disappear. `"You think something happened?" asked Johnson. Jeff Johnson was the total opposite of Howell. Where Howell had a tanned complexion and dark hair, a result of his mother's Spanish roots, Johnson was pale with hair as white as the snow-covered peaks of the province of Colorado. Howell was quiet and restrained. Johnson rarely came into work Monday morning without a hangover and a racy story about a brunette or blonde who just happened to be hanging around the base lounge. The stories got especially interesting when the girl turned out to be the daughter of a major-general having a drink while she waited for her father, 128

which might account for why Johnson had been passed over for a promotion more times than Texas had tried to secede. `"You sure he didn't just stay at his chick's place?" asked Johnson winking. "I mean, if I had a girlfriend who looked like that..." `"No because his girlfriend was really worried when I phoned her this morning." `"Try her again," urged Johnson. "Maybe she's heard from him." "She said she'd call me if she hears anything." `Howell got up from his desk and took the two steps that brought him in front of the wide, metal-framed window. At least the architect of the base's administrative buildings had believed in natural light or else Howell was sure he would have gone nuts by now. His tenth-floor window looked down on the parking lot where he could see his own somewhat shabby modular vehicle, a sharp contrast to the glossy, super-modular engine that Major Maclean was climbing into. `"Bet that thing can hit 300 k's in 30 seconds," murmured Johnson enviously, as he joined Howell by the window. Then he seemed to be struck by a thought. "That's strange. The Major never leaves his desk. I wonder where he's going?" `Howell shrugged and turned away from the glass. `"I guess all we can do is wait. Maybe something will have turned up by tonight." `"Wait, buddy." Johnson tugged at his sleeve, still looking outside. "It's not just Maclean, it's a whole entourage. This is really weird." `Three shiny vehicles were gliding out of their spots, all of which were designated for top-ranking officials. `"Maybe they're have a conference," said Howell, standing over by his desk and wondering whether he should go get a coffee and bring it back to his work area even though it was against regulation to eat and drink while handling papers. `"All meetings are held in the fortieth-floor conference room," said Johnson. He glanced at his watch. "Besides, it's ten o'clock. Conferences are usually held right after lunch." `Howell began to feel a constriction in his neck, an apprehensive sensation that he had not had since having to do an Ancient Literature presentation on Margaret Atwood back in high school. He looked at Johnson who was staring back at him. `"Something's wrong." `They bolted for the sliding glass door. `If it hadn't been for Johnson's guileful nature they would have never caught up with the caravan of cars. `When they arrived at the security booth, after racing down and climbing into Howell's vehicle, Johnson assumed the character of a frantic administrative-assistant to Major Maclean. Waving a sheaf of papers (Howell's owner authorization and insurance records for the vehicle) he shrieked to the guard, "Which 129

direction did Major Maclean go? He left his most important notes sitting right on his desk!" The guard pointed left and before he could ask them any questions, Howell had pulled out onto the road (Without screeching the tires, of course. He wasn't that type of man.) `"Faster!" said Johnson leaning forward in his seat as if that would propel them even more. "You're only going 220!" `"This baby only goes 240," said Howell switching into the highest gear. `"Never mind," said Johnson, one hand on the dashboard as he stared through the front window. "I see them up ahead. Slow down." `"Speed up. Slow down," grumbled Howell adjusting the gears back to a modest 200. Up ahead on the road, the last vehicle of the entourage could be seen just before it made a sharp left and disappeared into a grove of trees. `"Turn," commanded Johnson as they reached the two trees that the vehicle had vanished between. `"What?" Howell twisted in his seat to look at Johnson. "You're out of your mind. They'll know we're following them!" He pulled his vehicle onto the side gravel. `"They're obviously not going to have some sort of meeting in the trees by the roadside," said Johnson impatiently. "They'll go deep into the woods. Now let's go!" `Howell sighed and started the modular vehicle up again. `"Keep going. Keep going." Johnson was leaning as forward as he could into his seat to catch a glimpse of movement up ahead. "Stop!" `Howell released the brake key and their vehicle almost instantaneously halted. `"Get out very quietly," said Johnson, depressing the door release and almost rolling out onto the soft, moist earth. Howell did the same. `"They're just up ahead," Johnson barely whispered across the roof of the vehicle. Between the trees Johnson caught the movement of a red uniform. `"Keep behind the trees." `Together, the men crept up closer towards the little opening in the forest where there seemed to be a gathering of all the top officials of Canadian security. Howell's heart was pounding. Behind him, Johnson was breathing a little heavier. Howell felt an arm on his shoulder as Johnson guided him behind a large oak tree where they could clearly see the scene. `In a flash of horror Howell realized what had happened. But it was too late. There was a tiny hard object pushed into the small of his back, just about the size of a 12mm fully-automatic pistol. `"Sorry ol' boy," said Johnson assuming a Texan drawl as he pushed him into the centre where all the top security men were being held hostage at gunpoint by a triumphant Major Maclean, 130

Lieutenant Miles, and his stunning girlfriend, all now wearing cowboy boots. "But a man's gotta do, what a man's gotta do…"" * * * "I bet we could do that!" said Phineas excitedly when John had stopped speaking. "Talk about a project for Kids Against Virtual Reality Entertainment!" "Yeah," said John drily. "You'd be good at something like that." "But why would I want to do that?" Phineas mused. "Let's see, maybe I don't want Canada to join the U.S. because we'll increase our burgeoning deficit. Or maybe I'm just concerned about preserving our advanced form of national health care. Or maybe we should go with my story and blow up the Rainbow Bridge…" "It's just a story," said John putting his elbows up on the table. "I mean, we blew up bridges in the war but it would be impossible to blow up that bridge. You'd have to be some leftwing terrorist trained in a camp in Yemen, or something, to know how to do it." "I think it could be done," said Phineas confidently. Raquel was silent while she carefully consumed a box of Smarties, deliberately saving the blue ones for last. "Want a cup of coffee before you drive home?" Laurie asked when they pulled up into the O'Briaen's cracking black asphalt driveway, badly in need of a visit from the Home Service Club. "Sure," said Lina braking abruptly, nearly setting off the automatic air bag release. "DA,da,DA,da,DA,da," Mr. O'Briaen was humming from the couch behind a Globe & Mail when they were passing through the living room to get to the kitchen. "DA,da,DA,da,DA,da." "You know, girls," he said in the tone of voice he had been using on them since they were children, his extra-sensory perception telling him who was on the other side of his paper. The newspaper was pulled down and his face emerged, a sure sign that he was about to impart wisdom to them. "It is so ironic that we live in a time when there has never been more oppression in the world, and yet we are an era that is painfully self-conscious of our rights not to be abused." "That's why the movie industry is thriving," said Lina. "Life is full of inconsistencies and they make damn good movies." "Yeah, well," Paul O'Briaen sighed. "Were you girls listening to the radio? The Rainbow Bridge was blown up about an hour ago." "WHAT?" They both shrieked. "Yeah, where've you been? It's shaping up to be the biggest story since the War of 1812." Laurie was in too much shock to tell him firstly, that only two and a half hours ago they had crossed that bridge, and 131

secondly, they had listened to CDs, not the radio, all the way home. "Evil has triumphed," Jessie remarked when Rennae walked into the kitchen for a two a.m. tonic water to settle her stomach. He was sitting at the kitchen table, wearing a pair of paisley boxers and poking at a pastrami and spicy mustard sandwich. "What?" "I knew you wouldn't have heard. You're not one for current events." "Jessie, what are talking about?" Rennae's stomach was fizzing like a volcano and her irritability was spilling over like lava. "The Rainbow Bridge was blown up tonight." "What?!" Rennae slid down onto the floor into a horizontal position to ease her pain. "Remember this moment, Rennae," said Jessie. "It will be the Canadian version of do you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot? Do you think anyone we know did it? I wouldn't put it past some of the guys you've dated." Rennae groaned. "You're kidding, right?" "No." "Then I think you did it." "No, darling, because I don't have an alibi which means I couldn't possibly have done it or else I would have arranged one first." "So what do you think this all means?" asked Rennae, rubbing her hand over her stomach in an effort to soothe its displeasure. "That we're living in a perilous age, the proverbial endtimes? I dunno." There was a pause. "Well, I must be going," said Jessie, standing up. "Maybe I should phone everyone I can think of. No one watches the news anymore so I figure I've got to inform the world of what's happened."

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN
October 10, 2011 "Of course I'll incorporate this into my script," said Lina. They were sitting in the mall's food court, both drinking Swiss Almond Chocolate coffee since Lina no longer had to buy regular at Mama Green's as Chris was obviously not coming back. She was recovering fine. The script was all-consuming. "Do you think I should have the girl directly responsible for the Rainbow Bridge bombing? Maybe her brother's a terrorist or something? I'm not sure. I think I'm going to forfeit the data I gleaned from our trip to the U.S. and continue to model Rich after the stereo-typical American male that I've encountered in fashionmagazine fiction and young adult television movies." "Make the girl's great aunt directly responsible," Laurie said. The farther away from the truth they got, the better. She had a Toronto Star spread out in front of her and much to her consternation the CIA was linking the Americana burning to the Rainbow Bridge bombing. This wouldn't have bothered her if she had spent the evening in her living room in Toronto, but unfortunately, at about the time the bomb could have been planted, she had been crossing over the bridge with her conspicuous, flirtatious cohort. "Says here the blast was so explosive that they don't know what kind of container it was in. It's a miracle no one was killed. Only an abandoned car was blown up." Laurie was trying to keep a conversation going. Of course if the police questioned her about the bridge, she had Lina as an alibi. And it would be obvious that they didn't have the expertise to pull off something like a bridge-bombing. "An abandoned car?" asked Lina, looking up from her white legal pad that she had been scribbling ideas on. "Apparently it stalled. Belonged to some woman who works in a craft store. She just got out of it and walked back to Canada. The police found her at home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but she said the brakes were weak and that she had called a tow truck to go get it once she got home." "Sounds suspicious to me." "She was trying to get to a pottery convention, or something." "I think she did it," said Lina starting to scribble furiously. "I mean, who would suspect a woman going to a pottery convention? Who would suspect a woman, period? I'm putting it in the script." "How does that tie in to Rich and what's-her-name?" "Oh, it doesn't have to tie in," said Lina vaguely as she wrote. "It can just be a coincidence." "So, when do you have to hand in this script?" Laurie asked, 133

hoping it would be sometime past the legal limit for arresting someone. "End of the semester. It's like the final," said Lina not looking up. Today she was wearing a long black trenchcoat despite that everyone else around them was in shorts and t-shirts due to a freak heat-spell. She had informed Laurie that she wasn't overly warm since she only had underwear on beneath. The doorbell rang during dinner that night. The O'Briaen's were in the middle of one of their mom's specialties -- hot dogs. Sky was on his sixth loaded with every condiment he could think of including horseradish and coleslaw, unlike Will who ate his plain and freaked out if so much as a spot of ketchup accidently dripped on it. No one moved. Laurie's father, who only got into vehement Biblical disagreements with the Jehovah's Witnesses who come to their door, had ceased answering it in the evenings. Her mother said it broke her heart to have to turn away young people selling chocolate-covered almonds for Drug-Free Kids or Youth Fighting Child Abuse since she gave her allotment of charity money to Amnesty International. Sky and Will couldn't care less who was at the door, so Laurie got up to answer it. She figured if it was some weird pervert, there should be enough time to shout for help before he dragged her out. Two men, one young, one middle-aged, stood on their doorstep discreetly dressed in slacks, white shirts, and ties. "I'm an agnostic," she said before they could stick a pamphlet in her hand. The younger man laughed. "I hope not," he said flashing a badge. "We're with the Investigative Branch of the RCMP." Her body went cold and her mouth must have fallen open because the young man was quick to reassure her. "Nothing to worry about," he said quickly. "We'd just like to ask you a few questions," said the middleaged man. "Who is it?" Laurie's father appeared around the corner to rescue her and her mind from possible zealous evangelizing. "We need to see," the middle-aged representative of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police consulted a piece of paper, "Laurie O'Briaen." "Well that's my daughter," said her father putting his arm around her shoulder. "What's this about?" "Your daughter crossed the Rainbow Bridge yesterday afternoon with a companion," he consulted his list again, "Evangeline Huxley." He looked up. "We're doing a routine questioning of all the people who went over to the U.S. yesterday." Paul O'Briaen had the good sense not to act surprised that his daughter had gone to the States since she hadn't gotten around to mentioning it to the family. 134

"Would you like to come in?" asked her father. "No, that won't be necessary. We're just asking people if they noticed anything out of the ordinary on the bridge when they went over or came back." "Well," Laurie said taking a deep breath. "That was the first time I crossed that bridge, so I don't know what's out of the ordinary. I mean, I read in the paper that there was an abandoned car on it and I didn't even notice that." "Thank you very much," said the man making a notation on his notepad. "Have you talked to my friend, Lina?" Laurie asked for no particular reason except that she didn't want to appear like she was in a hurry to get on the phone and contact all her cohorts to organize a get-away. Her entire body was numb with stiffness. The younger RCMP officer blushed. "We did that just before we came here," said the middle-aged man grimly. Laurie could only imagine. "Thank you very much," the man nodded to them. "If you remember anything, give us a call." He handed her a card and the two men turned away. Paul O'Briaen waited until the door was shut and locked before he turned to her. "I was in the U.S. yesterday," Laurie said, her head down, her body weak with relief that the Americana burning hadn't been mentioned. At least her conscience about the bridge was clear. "I figured as much," he said. "Did you blow up the bridge?" "No." "Too bad," he said as they returned to the dining room. "If you had, we would have packed our stuff tonight and fled to the Yukon to avoid arrest." "So, what are you little pumpkins discussing tonight?" Jessie poked his head into the den where his sister was making-out with a guy he had never seen before. They broke apart. "Significant issues," said the husky young man who was wearing a Waterloo jacket and looking startled. He wasn't sure whether Jessie was going to be antagonistic. "You know, life." "The real issues are the ones you'd think about if you were locked in solitary confinement. You wouldn't give a hoot whether a new kind of beer came out if you were in solitary confinement. You wouldn't give a damn whether Canada joined the U.S. All you'd care about is life. Freedom. Why man exists. What happens after he dies." The man stared at him. "Wouldn't you?" "I imagine you would," Rennae said, getting up and patting him on the back. "But we are not in solitary confinement." "You are and you just don't know it." Jessie positioned himself on the arm of a rust-coloured recliner. The last he knew his sister had been seeing Dwayne. Where she'd found this one he 135

would have loved to know. "Uh, actually, uh," the man groped for a topic. "We were uh, talking about who burned down that bridge. Any ideas?" "Yeah, my ex," said Jessie cheerfully. "She's too nice to attack me, so instead she attacks my country." The man looked confused. "We're American," explained Jessie. "Didn't my sister tell you?" The man thought about this. "But the Rainbow Bridge joins Canada and the U.S." he said. "Maybe it was some anti-Canadian American." "How many anti-Canadian Americans are there?" asked Jessie. He picked up the TV Guide and flicked through it. "It's his time of the month," explained Rennae. "Let's go out for coffee." She grabbed the man's hand and stood up. Everyone was at Laurie's place, sprawled on the No-Stain beige carpet in the living room, playing Scrabble. "Mighty suspicious coincidence," said John as he positioned "xenophobic" on the board. Raquel gave a little squeak because it opened up "zebra" for her. No wait. That was Z, not X. "I mean," John continued. "Phineas tells a story about an abandoned van and a bridge blowing up, and that very afternoon, there's an abandoned car and the very same bridge blows up." He glanced quickly at Phineas. "Are you suggesting I had something to do with this?" demanded Phineas, pausing with a letter in mid-air that he had been about to place on the board. "I should, just to create a little trouble," John chuckled. "Actually, I was suggesting that you're a seer of some sort. Maybe you're from a prophetic line. Do you have Jewish blood in you?" "What the hell are you talking about?" asked Laurie. She was jittery as it was about the bridge-bombing without John adding to it. "Phineas told us a funny little story about a terrorist group blowing up the bridge before it even happened," John announced as if he had just solved a crime. Phineas was saved from responding as Sky wandered into the den wearing a navy-blue bathrobe. "Hi kids," he said listlessly, dropping onto the couch and reaching for the Virtual Reality apparatus. "Don't turn on the TV," Laurie said absently. "This is a Kids Against VR Entertainment party." Just a story, she was thinking. Nothing to worry about. Sky sighed and threw down the equipment. "So what are you talking about?" “The Rainbow Bridge bomber. Got any ideas who did it?" asked 136

Phineas, hoping that no one would put down "zebra" by "xenophobic" since he had all the right letters. No wait. That was Z, not X. "I've been thinking about that," said Sky, "and since the Rainbow Bridge joins Canada and the U.S., it could just as easily been some psycho American." Lina, dressed in black and locked in the Buddha-position was holding her wooden squares close to her chest in case anyone was tempted to cheat. Very carefully she put down "soup". "If an American bombed the bridge, it's a compliment to Canada because it shows that they acknowledge us as a force," said Phineas. "Of course America is a force," said Sky. "They're bigger than us." Phineas jumped up in mock offense. "I wish to defend my country!" he bellowed. "How dare you say that they're bigger than us!" He brandished an invisible sword. "To the death!" "To the death." Sky stood up and held up a hand as if responding to a toast before he wandered out of the room. "Your brother seems troubled," said Phineas resuming his position after a quick survey of everyone's letters. "He's been like this ever since he started watching the news regularly," Laurie said. "It probably has something to do with the theory of a man's psyche being intertwined with his global environment." "Intertwined," Phineas mused. "You may have something there," he said as he placed I-N-T-E-R-T in front of Raquel's "wined" ("You know, as in, wined-and-dined.") When Sky looked in the den about an hour later, the KAVREs were playing loud seventies music and had the plastic Twister sheet spread out on the carpet. They were screeching with laughter as their bodies contorted like a twisted Picasso. Phineas glanced up from a position that could only have been managed after extensive tumbling classes as a child and grinned at him. Sky sighed, turned around, and decided to throw on a pair of jeans and go out and find someone to jam with.

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
October 20, 2011 "How was work, dear?" asked Jessie, rising from the forest green leather couch and putting down his newspaper to give a perfunctory kiss on the cheek to Rennae who had just trudged into the den. "Crummy. As usual." She collapsed in the matching chair tastefully staggered across from the couch and kicked off her shoes, thoroughly feeling like what her grandmother would innocently call, a "working girl." "So..." said Jessie conversationally. "What do you do all day, anyhow?" asked Rennae. "A little peeved are we, that you work all day to pay the rent while I stay home and watch soaps?" With the Americana building being rebuilt he was still working from home. "Stop it, Jessie. I mean, are you doing anything, or do you just sit around?" "I just sit around and plan what I'm going to do when I take over the world." Rennae sighed and looked over at a green and blue Matisse print that hung over the fireplace. Their mother had bought it the same day she chose the couch. "Getting together with what's-his-name tonight?" asked Jessie. "Of course," she said turning back to him. "Why do you do it, Rennae?" "Do what?" She pulled her feet up onto the chair and tucked them under her body. "Run around. Risk getting something. I mean, most people learned the lesson with AIDS." "I dunno..." She looked back at the Matisse. "I think I'm looking for something..." She sat very still biting her lip. "You know what line I always fall for?" she said suddenly. "It's, you're the only girl I ever wanted. I mean, even if it's not true, I give the guy credit for having the intelligence to say it.” There was a pause. "I know." Rennae sighed. A thought struck her. "Why don't I ever miss anybody that I've broken up with?" "Child abuse," said Jessie in a clinical voice. "Emotional neglect. You may have noticed Mom and Dad really didn't pay much attention to us. Hence, we're not pathological liars or serial killers, we're just not bonded." He said the last word as if he were savouring the concept. Rennae thought about this for a few minutes. "Well, hell," she said. 138

"That pretty much sums it up." "We can, however, break the cycle by bonding with our own children," said Jessie, continuing with his therapist-beinginterviewed-on-talk-show voice. "Too bad I'm not planning on having children." Jessie picked up the remote and flicked on the television. The television screen showed a park bench in Central Park, New York. An overhead voice was speaking. "And now, our correspondent in New York City! Mark!" A man with short brown hair and a wide smile walked into view of the camera. "Thank you! Thank you!" He bumped into the park bench. "Oops! I'm sorry! I'm really sorry! Are you OK? Ah, Canadians are so polite, aren't they? If we cut a driver off on the highway we wave at him and in return he doesn't pull out a gun and shoot us. This has a lot to do with a sense of national preservation -with only 35 million citizens, we feel each and every one is too valuable to be killed in random highway shoot-outs. `Seriously, it's great to be here in New York. Reminds me a lot of Toronto, except that we don't have as many cabs and not as many muggers, so there's a lot less to joke about. After all, why joke around? Americans joke around. We're not American. So we try not to joke around. Life is so serious. After all, we have taxes to pay. And we have a wonderful health care program." Mark turned to a passer-by. "Has anyone ever told you about our health care program? Well, I could do that right now, except, wait, this is supposed to be funny, oh well, forget it. `Anyhow..." He turned back to the camera. "...as you probably know, I've been sent to America by the CBC on a spy mission. Basically I'm trying to find out whether or not we really want to join this country. While I'm here I'm reporting on the 5th Annual International Music Festival being held right here in Central Park later tonight. `We had a hard time picking a musician to send as a representative to this festival because there are so many excellent Canadian performers. Hey! Don't laugh. That wasn't supposed to be funny. Anyhow, we finally decided to choose two, one to represent the English, one to represent the French. That's a word we like in Canada, represent. It sounds so civil. I guess if we wanted a fair representation of the first languages spoken in Canada we should have also gotten a Chinese performer, an Italian performer, a Portuguese performer, but then that wouldn't have been a musical performance, that would have been Caravan..." "What is this?" asked Rennae. "CanCom." Jessie flicked the converter to a suspense movie with two masked men in the process of breaking into a bank. "What's the matter with CanCom?" asked Rennae. "It's not funny," said Jessie stretching out on the couch. "What do you think is funny?" 139

"I don't think anything's funny," replied Jessie. "You're never going to survive." Rennae was watching the TV screen with glazed eyes. "Humour conquers all, does it?" Jessie stared at the ceiling. "No, but it makes things bearable." Jessie sighed and turned onto his side. "Why does everyone try to make things bearable? I mean, why fight it? Life is pain. Accept it." Rennae stared at him. "Like, that's what you really think?" "Yeah." He looked up at her with his cool blue eyes. “But I’ve got the solution if you want it.” "I really don't understand you," Rennae said, getting up and walking out of the room. "This script is killing me," said Lina. She and Laurie were both on her bed, backs against the wall, with mugs of Belgian Hazelnut coffee. "How come?" Laurie glanced up from the latest Macleans that had a cover article on terrorism in Canada. It chilled her to think that she had contributed a substantial chunk to the meagre history. Hadn't anyone considered that the fire at Americana might have been an accident? "Well, I want to represent Americans and Canadians with equal fairness but I can clearly see that I'm heading towards the point where the guy's going to be a sleaze and the girl's going to be a martyred heroine." "That's not your experience with Americans," Laurie said reaching down to put her half-full coffee mug on the braided rug, hoping that she wouldn't forget about it and step on it if she got up. "That's your experience with men." Lina sighed. "I mean, the only way I can use stereo-types is if I satirize them and I feel that it's hard to satirize something when you don't even know what it's like in the first place, capisce? I'm not having too much problems with the Canadian girl. She's pretty, peace-loving, and she's never been a cheerleader. If I was making up a Canadian guy, I'd just make him a non-football player and stick a Blue in his hand. Maybe I should make the guy Canadian, and the girl American?" She thought about this for a moment. "But I don't even know where to begin to get a model for an American girl…" "Jessie had a sister," Laurie said, leaning forward, eagerly. If she could get Lina to switch the characters around, the chances of the story being connected with her would diminish considerably. "Yeah? What was she like?" Laurie shrugged. "Normal. Seemed to be really into clothing. Was always out 140

somewhere." "Well drat. How does that make her different from anyone else?" "I dunno," Laurie said returning to her magazine. "Maybe that's the point. Maybe Canadians aren't that different from Americans." "I'd like to meet her so I could form my own assessment." Laurie looked up again. "Sorry, she lives in Ottawa." "So? We've already driven to the States. I know! Why don't we go to Ottawa for Referendum Day! There's bound to be a humongous party on Parliament Hill." Laurie sighed. "But how will we meet Rennae?" It was Lina's turn to sigh. "You'll call her up and ask her if she could meet us somewhere." "I barely know her!" Laurie was horrified. "I never even officially met her!" "OK, so we'll go over to their house, you pretending you want to see Jessie and I'll strike up a conversation with Rennae." Lina began to scribble onto her notepad. Boundless optimism, sighed Laurie. Lina didn't even stop to consider that it would be hard to start a conversation with someone if she were up in her bedroom listening to CDs or out with her boyfriend. And the thought of seeing Jessie again… What was she supposed to say?! He’d think she was psychopath just showing up at his door for no reason. "I'll think about it," Laurie said. The light from the setting sun was streaming through the window, reflecting off of Lina's rapidly moving silver pen and flashing at Laurie like an SOS message in Morse code. "What are you writing?" Laurie asked. "Nothing," replied Lina continuing to scribble. That was Lina. Irritatingly open and private at the same time. Her tone was friendly but her words a blatant hint to stop bugging her. "I'm just going to have to...oh, never mind." Laurie stood up and wandered over to the window. "I feel sick." "Take some of my Advil," said Lina, still writing briskly. "Not that kind of sick." Sick of the whole situation. Sick of life. Lina was barely listening. Laurie grabbed the convertor from the bed and switched on the TV. "If this had happened in the U.S., at least 20 terrorist groups would have tried to take credit for it," a woman in a pink suit with matching pumps was saying to an academic-looking middleaged man in a plaid shirt and cords. "Why hasn't this happened in Canada?" A sign flashed on the bottom of the screen. David Kaplan, 141

Terrorist Expert. "Well, Susan," he replied as he shifted and leaned forward in his chair. "A lot of those terrorist groups that claim responsibility are international organizations, Palestinians, Serb nationalists, that sort of thing. The Rainbow Bridge Bombing is clearly a North American act and I think most international groups know we wouldn't take their claims seriously." "If it were an international terrorist group," the woman really wanted to dwell on this idea. "One theory is that the Americana burning was a retaliation for our war effort..." "Against the Americans or against the Canadians?" asked the terrorist expert. He didn't like other people presenting theories. "Against both countries." "It's a messy theory." The man sat back in his chair. "No one has claimed responsibility..." "Damn!" Laurie said, pressing viciously down on the power button. "Thanks," mumbled Lina, not looking up. "It was distracting me." Laurie wandered to the window and stared out at the top of an ash tree, stripped of its leaves, naked and innocent of its shame. "What's the matter?" asked Lina looking up suddenly. "Nothing," said Laurie, continuing to stare out the window that was quickly becoming moist from her breath. "You sure?" "Yeah." Hesitantly, Lina returned to her writing. The sun set that night in full grandeur but Jessie didn't notice. He and Rennae were too busy arguing over whether to buy Labatt Ice or Labatt Blue. Consequently, they sat in the Oldsmobile in the parking lot of the beer store for about half an hour before deciding to just get a six-pack of Coors since it was cheaper. Jessie came hurtling out of the beer-store, six-pack in hand, yelling. "Drive, woman! Drive!" he yelled. "I've just robbed the beer store!" As Jessie ripped open the passenger's door, Rennae deliberately slid slowly into the driver's seat, put the car in reverse and pulled out of the parking space. "Oh man!" said Jessie, in disgust. "The police would have had us surrounded by now if I really had robbed the place." "How much was the beer?" Rennae asked, glancing at the purchase. "Too much," Jessie replied. "It seems to me that there's something sick about the government taxing alcohol. I mean, how are we going to drown our sorrows over the amount of taxes we're already paying if we can't afford beer because it's also 142

overtaxed?" "Write to your Congressman," Rennae suggested. They were heading back home to watch TV. "That's in America. This is Canada, honey. House of Representatives person, or something like that." "What's the dif?" Rennae shrugged. "On TV they're always writing to their Congressman." It was an intentionally ignorant comment but Jessie didn't bite. Instead he began asking her how many people she'd slept with in the last six months. It was a rude question but Rennae obliged him with an answer. Jessie gasped. "You've got to get out more," he said sarcastically. "Well, how 'bout you?" said Rennae. "How many?" "Baby, do I look like the type who just freely goes around exchanging bodily fluids with everybody? No thank you. I'm a born-again neo-Conservative. I don't believe in pre-marital sex, or evolution, or aliens from UFOs landing on earth and taking over the bodies of leading national politicians." "Oooooh," said Rennae, checking her rearview mirror just because she remembered that you were supposed to now and then. "Conservative with a vengeance. Look out Liberals." There was silence. "You know," said Jessie suddenly. "AIDS was the biggest cliché of the 90's. I mean, movies about AIDS were as common as the movies about cancer in the 70's and 80's." "At least it increased awareness," said Rennae. "Sure," said Jessie, suddenly sarcastically. "If I were dying of AIDS I would have wanted everyone to be aware." "I can't imagine what it would feel like knowing I had a terminal disease," said Rennae, making a right-hand turn onto their street. “Rennae, we all have a terminal disease. It’s called life.” “Oh get off it Jessie. You’re so depressing.” The street was nearly empty. There was a light snow coming down which glittered in the street lights and coated the road like powdered sugar. Or maybe cocaine, thought Jessie. He'd never tried cocaine, mostly because the opportunity had never come up. No conquests, he thought. No empires. Only the decline and fall. And to make it all seem so worse, at his age Alexander the Great had been pushing through Asia Minor.

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THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER October 20, 2011 LETTER TO THE EDITOR There has been a lot of American-bashing in Canada in the last few months. As I wrote that first line, I almost said, in your country, however this letter is not intended to cause division, but to try to understand why young people today are having so much difficulty getting along in the global sense. To get straight to the point, our generation, and the two or so that preceded it, have been given images rather than ideas to solve the world's problems. The media, the marketing world, have provided us with ambiguous monosyllabic philosophies like Now! and Push It to the Limit and have couched them in coolness -- images that appeal to our basic lusts and fears and choke out all chances of us searching any deeper sources for answers. These philosophies don't even begin to answer questions like how to end hunger in Africa or how to prevent women from being raped in Eastern European civil wars. We can't even solve these problems in our own countries. We've been gravely misinformed in the past about matters like the ozone layer depletion, the scope of fighting in the Middle East, the extent to which politician's private lives affect their public work. Stories are sensationalized to compete with other networks and to sell more ad space. How can we know what crisis is a false alarm? The scary thing is, North America is linked by the media. It represents our source of information and values. What makes us all North Americans -- whether we live in Whitehorse or Los Angeles -- is that we can all watch the same sitcoms, go out to see the same movies, listen to the same music, read the same news magazines, and wear the same things because we're keeping current with this month's Vogue. A referendum is approaching that affects all North Americans and our future together. Please don't let the media make your decisions for you in this referendum. Whether you vote yes or no, decide based on what you deeply feel is right. Sincerely, Chelsea Banks Lakeland, Minnesota

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
October 21, 2011 Laurie was the last one to arrive at Hunan's and the KAVREs were in the middle of a game created by Lina called Bluff for lack of better name. The idea was to go around the table, carrying on a seemingly regular conversation. If you made it up and got away with it, you got a sugar packet from the metal container by the sweet-and-sour sauce. If someone called your bluff, he or she got one of your packets, but if it had been true the bluff-caller lost one of his or her sugars. At the end, the person with the least sugar packets had to buy a drink for the person with the most. "I've been rereading Notes From the Underground," John was saying. "And I think the point that struck me most was when he said, man is condemned to be free." "That sounds like Eric Frohm." Lina wasn't calling his bluff, just trying to smoke him out. "No." John shook his head. "It was Dostoevsky." "The existentialists referred to Dostoevsky a lot, didn't they?" said Lina. "Yes, they did..." "Bluff!" said Phineas suddenly. "It wasn't Dostoevsky, it was Sartre who said man is condemned to be free." "Darn," said John handing Phineas a sugar packet. "I was talking to my brother this morning..." Laurie said as she pulled off her coat and slid into the booth. "Bluff," said Phineas. Laurie sighed as she took a sugar packet from the container and threw it into his pile. "We've got visitors," said Phineas glancing at the door. "What nefarious crime have you just committed?" he asked Laurie. Two policemen had entered the restaurant. Laurie looked up along with the rest of her table and the five or so other patrons because it was obvious they were not there to pick up their takeout chow mein. From the back emerged the nervous-looking owner, a middle-aged Chinese man who rarely spoke and let his daughter take care of the waitressing while he quietly worked the cash register. He walked directly up to the officers as if expecting them and jerked his head towards the KAVRE's table. "Everyone scatter!" said Phineas in a muted bellow. "Each man for himself!" The OPP arrived in front of their table. Both were the generic brand of Toronto policeman -- late thirties, brown hair, mustache. "Good evening," said the one with a notepad. "We'd like to ask you a few questions." "Should I call my lawyer?" asked Phineas. "That's up to you." 145

"What I mean is, do I have the right to remain silent? Will anything I say be used against me in court?" Phineas didn't sound the least bit guilty or concerned if anything he said was used against him in court. In fact, he seemed excited, as if, at last, something that he'd always dreamed of was happening to him. "You're not being arrested," said the officer grimly. "We just want to ask you a few questions. The owner of the restaurant says that on the afternoon of October 9th, he overheard a conversation that this group was having about blowing up the Rainbow Bridge. A few hours later, the bridge blew up. Would you care to explain this?" Laurie and Lina glanced at each other. Say nothing, was the message that passed between them. Laurie was as nervous inside as John looked. "How can he hear us back there?" asked Phineas. "I mean, I never see him." Phineas started examining the wall beside him as if looking for the secret that permitted sound to travel through it. "Phineas, I don't think that's really the point," said Raquel. "You see officers," she said looking up at them with a confident I-can-explain manner as she smoothed down her skirt that had casually made its way up her leg stopping at the point where panty met hose. "We were telling stories. We do that just for fun. And Phineas just happened to tell a story that came true..." "Who's Phineas?" the officer interrupted her. "Me, sir," Phineas raised his hand as if he were back in grade five. He was actually starting to look nervous. "Where did you get the idea for your story?" "I honestly just made it up, sir. There was no preconceived thinking." Phineas sounded somewhat earnest about conveying his innocence. "I mean, I've been thinking about the referendum and then there was that Americana burning and I just put the two ideas together. I mean, I just about freaked when the bridge really was blown up." "As a character witness," John spoke up, sounding quite nervous himself, "I would just like to say that Phineas is not the type of person to associate with terrorist groups. He's not even the type to hang-out at places where he may overhear terrorist groups discussing their future activities. I would go so far as to say that Phineas borders on boring..." "Thank you," said the officer. "Can I get your full names now?" "This isn't going to go on any record is it?" said John, obviously in the first stages of hysteria. "I mean, it was just a story. He made it up! It's not true!" "This is a little bit more serious than a speeding ticket," agreed Laurie, even though she hadn't even been at Hunan's on the 9th. "Do we have to give you our names? We didn't do anything. I wasn’t even here the day this story got told." She also had some vested interest in not going down on the 146

records. "You can give me your names or you can come down to the station for further questioning. Right now you're the only leads we have." "We are not your leads!" said John sounding like he might cry. "We are nothing! We are in no way connected with us!" "Phineas Donovan Mervington, no hyphen. I don't mind if you put this on my record. It may help me if I ever want to defect to North Africa and join a right-wing terrorist group in training." "Are we allowed to make a phonecall?" asked John. "Look," said the policeman, clearly irritated. "You're not being arrested. We're just taking your names in case we need to get back to you." "We're suspects," said John dimly. "Do suspects have criminal records?" "No! They do not!" said the policeman, exploding. "Do you think this is a totalitarian regime? We do not keep records on you about the time you cheated on your grade three spelling quiz, we have nothing about your dental work, and we certainly don't keep a record of a suspicion if you're proven innocent!" "Give them the names, kids! There's only one thing we can do now!" said Phineas rising to his feet and raising his arms in a rallying-the-troops gesture. "Find the real Rainbow Bridge Bomber and clear our noble names!" "Sit down and shut up, Phineas," said Raquel unexpectedly. "We're going to sit here and keep talking because we're innocent." John looked at her gratefully. Her calm was contagious. They all gave their names, home addresses, and the police left. "It's not that bad," said Phineas. "It's kind of cool to be suspected of something." "Well, we can thank God we're not in Europe. You'd probably be shot if they suspected you of blowing up a bridge," said Lina. "Actually, fascism in its purest form is an excellent system of government..." said Phineas. "This might not be the time to discuss that..." said Lina. "Oh, you're right," said Phineas carefully scanning the room. "The walls have ears." "I'm a suspect," said John. "I'm a suspect! I worked in the War Office, for crying out loud. The tightest possible security requirements..." "It's no big deal," said Lina. "Once they check their records of you..." "That's just it!" said John, his face in his hands. "They probably already have! Oh God help me!" He put his head down on the table. "Do you know what my department did?" None of them did. "We co-ordinated shipments of explosives," said John looking up. "Oh dear," said Lina.

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"Don't worry, John. Thanks to all the war training that's gone on there's thousands of people who could have carried that off." When he had gotten home, the first thing John had done was phone his old boss who was now in Ottawa. Although he hadn't been in his office, his secretary had promised John a phone interview for the next day. "Unless they have a witness to identify you at the site, there's no way they can do anything." "I just feel so..." "There's nothing to worry about, son. I'm willing to vouch that none of our ammo went missing when you worked with us." The man laughed. "Boss, I didn't even have the training..." "Well, of course. But try to explain that to civilians. They just assume we're all trained terrorists. They don't realize war is as much paperwork as anything." "Thank you, sir." John took a deep breath. "No problem, son. You call me if it gets serious." "Thank you, sir." There was a note on the door, Enter All Ye Who Dare. "Phineas," sighed John, ripping the note off the door. "Some freak could walk right in." "I don't think he would mind," said Laurie. The KAVRE's were supposed to be hanging out at Phineas's that day. John had met Laurie and Lina on the walk over. Raquel had a job interview and had promised to try to stop by later. "Phineas!" John called in the hallway. There was silence. "Of course he's not going to answer," said Lina. "He's probably got this house rigged so that we'll never get out alive." They went into the living room and Laurie sat down on the couch. Lina examined some family photos on a side table. John began experimenting with melodies on the piano. The phone on an end table rang. They all turned to look at it but before any definite action had to be taken, someone had picked it up in another room. "That was Raquel," Phineas said coming through the arched doorway. "She wants us to meet her at a really cool diner she's found. A place where they don't turn their customers over to the police." John sighed. "OK, let's go," he said. "Meet you in car," said Lina. "I got to use the loo." "Me too," said Laurie. Phineas was animatedly talking to an unresponsive John when Laurie and Lina came out to the BMW. "It would be called Rent-A-Family," he was saying. He smiled briefly at the girls as they got in the back and he started the 148

car. "What you do is get married, have two kids and then rent your family, including yourself of course, out to old people." Phineas was giving John unsolicited career counselling. "They or their relatives pay. People do it in Japan. As the kids get older, they can rent themselves out as a grown daughter or son, or a brother or sister." John nodded and looked out the window. "What if it turns into an escort system?" asked Laurie. "It wouldn't," said Phineas firmly. "Clients would be carefully screened. And if it all goes bad somehow, like your wife stops liking the idea, or something stupid like that, well, you could always just be a relationship consultant." "A relationship consultant?" said Lina. "Yeah. If people have a problem with their relationships they can come to John and he'd give them advice based on the great lovers of history." "Oh you mean like, why don't you just kill yourself because that's what Romeo would do?" Lina snickered. "Exactly," said Phineas. John seemed distracted. Laurie figured it had something to do with being a suspected terrorist. "Or Don Juan," said Phineas. "That's always a good one. `I would to heaven that I were so much clay, As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling -Because at least the past were pass'd away -And for the future -- (but I write this reeling, Having got drunk exceedingly to-day, So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling) I say -- the future is a serious matter -And so -- for God's sake -- hock and sodawater!' Oh, I hope that diner is licensed!" For no apparent reason, Jessie was waiting in the marbletiled foyer when she came out of the elevator at five o'clock. (Actually, it was more like 4:54. She usually got so edgy from about 4:30 onward, that she would have to leave work early because she was too strung-out to wait anymore.) "Hey, little lady! Want a drive home?" Rennae gave him an anaemic smile. "I appreciate you showing up but I have no sense of humour for at least an hour after work." "Pauvre chérie." Jessie massaged the back of her neck as they moved through the automatic doors. "Tell me all your problems, mon petit choux." "I'm terrified of growing old," said Rennae as they headed out into the crisp fall air. "I mean, I was sitting at my desk today, hand on my cheek, when suddenly I had the most alienating sensation. Someday I'm going to feel wrinkles on this cheek. I can't face that! Damn it! The world belongs to youth!" 149

Jessie put his arm around her shoulder and gently led her to the car, opening the door before going around and climbing into his side. "Who says the world belongs to youth?" he asked. He had his keys in his hand but hadn’t inserted anything into the ignition. "Why should ages 15 to 30 be the best years of my life, the years that I fill with hedonistic memories to live off of for the rest of my life? That myth paralyses us with fear -- makes us run out and do insane things that stop being fun at about 18, but we keep on doing them so that we'll have cool memories when we retire. It's a media ploy to keep us from focusing on the real issues. `I mean, they make it like you want to be able to tell your grandkids about the time you crashed a sorority pajama party instead of being the wise seer and telling them you have no significantly libertine memories because you realized the futility of it all and didn't bother to make any." He inserted a key into the ignition and the Oldsmobile smoothly transformed into a living being. "You know," said Rennae thoughtfully. "I'm more afraid of getting wrinkles than I am of dying." "Don't let the media get to you," said Jessie as they pulled out of the parking lot. "The small fears can be more paralysing than the big ones. But they make you lose sight of the really important things." "Have we given any thought about going to Ottawa for what is shaping up to be one of the biggest bashes in Canadian history?" asked Phineas. The KAVREs were lounging around in the O'Briaen's den. "Referendum Day?" said Laurie. She was hoping that Lina would change her mind about going. "What else?" said Phineas. "It'd be silly not to go," said Raquel. "We're so close." "Of course we're going," said Lina. "OK," said Phineas. "Who volunteers to book us some rooms?" "Are you paying?" asked Lina. Phineas sighed. "You use me for my money." "I know and you love it," said Lina. "Give me your credit card and I'll go do it now." She stood up. "Laurie, do you think your Dad has an Ottawa Yellow Pages?" "I don't think so," said Laurie. "Check the Internet. Or why not just call the EconoLodge in Toronto and ask them for the phone numbers of their Ottawa places?" It might not be so bad if they all went. Maybe Lina would forget about the Oaklands. "Good idea." Lina took the credit card from Phineas and left the room. "Let's make criminal amounts of coffee and have a poetry reading," suggested Phineas from where he was standing by a quiet, 150

dusty, wooden bookcase stacked with CDs, decrepit paperbacks, and a 1984 Encyclopedia Britannica set that had been sold to her parent's on the pretext that it's mere presence in the home would ensure their children's entrance into an Ivy League university. Phineas was pulling out CD cases and examining the lyrics. The group was galvanized into sloth-like action. Cat-like, Laurie stretched and pulled herself up from the orange shag carpet where she and Lina had been reading a Cosmopolitan article on how adulterous love affairs during the war had affected the marriages of four couples. John, who had been reading the Lost and Found Classifieds put down the paper and wandered over to join Phineas at the bookcase. Raquel reached down from where she had been reclining on the sinking couch for the abandoned Cosmopolitan. "How 'bout this," John said, holding the lyrics from Golden Oldies from the 50's and 60's. "I love you, ba-beeeee. Baby, I love you." "We haven't started yet, John," said Phineas. "Hey! Listen to this! It's called Munch Baby. It actually goes Munch baby, Munch baby, be my Munch baby. Munch me! Munch me!" Phineas looked up. "Funky, or what, eh? Weird album." He turned it over. "It's called Cowboy Love." Lina returned to a room strewn with CD cases and paperback books from Paul O'Briaen's university days to announce that she had booked them a room -- a single -- at an Econolodge on the outskirts of Ottawa. All other rooms for the November 1st weekend were taken. Laurie made a pot of coffee. "Rule number one," said Phineas assuming the lotus position on the floor. "Coffee must be drunk black. No cream or sugar. Rule number two. Don't interrupt. Rule number three. Be spontaneous." He settled back, leaning against the couch where Raquel was still reposing with her magazine. There was a pause. "I've got one," said Raquel unexpectedly, her eyes still on the magazine. "Earth moves, Heaven shakes, Violent passionate forces Move us, shake us, Shape us. Be a mover and a shaker." She looked up. "It's an ad for running shoes." Phineas started reading in a deep, mellifluous voice. "The coffee mug I hold on my open hand, I drink the drink of your lingering presence and my lonely spirit, 151

They mix and meld. The blood from the strawberry Drips down my finger, My blood red nails, And I lick it. I would drink your blood. I have heard the nightingale's song. She sings of me." There was a respectful pause by Phineas before he said, "That was called, Your Lingering Presence, from Poems by a Jilted Lover. It says here," he turned to the cover, "that this woman is the Dorothy Parker of the 70's." "Six thousand years of poetry," said Lina reading from a book. "Let me make a humble contribution. I have heard a poet should never apologize for his writing But in my experience, humility is still the better way. Love -The eternal truth. The deepest love I've tasted is with the people Who I haven't been afraid to let go of And now they sign their letters Love always, And I know I will share eternity with them. Twenty-one years old. Too young to know what I want, Too old not to worry about it. I have the secret of life But too often, lust gets in the way And becomes the light of my life, like the moon So bright and compelling that I forget that the other side Is dark and pockmarked. I need to be consumed by the sun." "What book?" asked John when she had done. "The Inner Cosmos, replied Lina. "By the same author as Poems by a Jilted Lover. Here, just let me read the poem called The Inner Cosmos." She took a gulp of coffee, flipped some pages and started reading. "I clutch the universe with the palm of my hand. The volcanos, The white clouds opening into Pink and orange disarray, Hurtling through the tunnels of Fire, water, air, Till it meets the rotating earth. EXPLOSION! When it's all over The still remnants of a nuclear war." "Armageddon?" asked Phineas. "Sex," replied Lina. 152

"When we get together now," said Laurie, taking a sip of coffee and reading from Poems by a Jilted Lover which she had grabbed when Phineas wasn't looking. "Our words never have anything to do with what we're feeling. We could be polite acquaintances, Friends even But no one would suspect That we had once frantically ripped off Every bit of clothing from our souls Ecstatic words! Soft words. Words that wrapped the nakedness of my soul like strips of silk. Maybe an awkward work slips out now, Maybe someone notices our words are dusted lightly with familiarity. But no one would ever suspect That we used to speak like lovers." Laurie looked up. "Words," she said biting her lip suddenly. Thankfully Raquel had just found a poem in Cosmopolitan. "It's called Summation," she said. "I spent my last $400 in the world on a leather jacket, I'm addicted to coffee, I ran out of my favourite lipstick, I've been through three boyfriends in the last year, I always run expensive pantyhose on the first wear. It's just as well life is short." "Kind of macabre," said Phineas. "It's an ad for lipstick," explained Raquel. Now Lina had Poems by a Jilted Lover and was flipping through it. "This is called A "Touching" 20th Century Version of a Love Poem - Ha Ha Ha. She cleared her throat. "From this point forward I am sincere. For you I will keep my hair long. I think I love you more than coffee. I admit - I used my last boyfriend for his car and the chance to get out of the house...Hey!" She looked over at Raquel. "This sounds a lot like that one in Cosmopolitan!" "The bastardization of art!" Phineas sighed. "The mix between marketing and the humanities! It's watering down our culture." "Maybe the poet who wrote Poems by a Jilted Lover now works for the lipstick company," suggested John. Lina continued reading. "But I would never use you, except for your fabulous upper torso. (Which is poetry all by itself.) 153

I try to be optimistic because I would do Virtually Anything to make this work. In the event that it didn't, I would get On a train and go to Italy and meet men But this is only because I always plan the worse-case scenario. (No offence to the men in Italy who I am sure are fabulous.) You deserve Romantic poetry. But I am only a romantic 20th century poet struggling to tell you how i feel. about beauty. and you." "1806 was a good year for Napoleon: a poem about the Arts," said Phineas closing his eyes. "Quiet, please. I'm making this up as I go. Rossetti would love to paint the inside of my head which is full of you. My idea of American Lit is to roll in the daffodils and then write about it, afterwards. I've written a poem about you, of course. You wore a yellow shirt today, It would fit in. 1806 was a good year for Napoleon. A ruthless lover, Bonaparte. Mobil strategy. Changed the game in the middle of it. Knew his opponent's weaknesses. Took his opponents by surprise. I have a great respect for a man who escaped from an island when he couldn't even swim. Love is live art. You could paint a thousand paintings and still not be satisfied." Lina closed her eyes and started to speak. She was obviously going to try to match Phineas. "Karmadean colour in his eye, Like bleeding red pastel hearts drawn with the chubby hand of A determined kindergartner Who sees no need to balance love and hate, Or any reason for waiting, But sees affection as a foamy bath of bubbles, Not cyanide, And crumples up the paper when his hand slips. Horrific emaciated karmadean eyes that I starved And now devour and am devoured by, And am shocked by their lack of the simple egotistical Why? If when we were young we didn't entangle ourselves with 154

Lina. word.

anything but our neutrality And caught and stopped the pendulum at the minuscule 90 degrees sliver before it crossed the invisible line of love or hate. We would have been One." Sky had been standing at the doorway listening to Phineas and "I've got one," he said after her voice dropped on the last

He strode in and stood in the middle of the room. "Come in," said Phineas. "Join us!" Lina was annoyed. She had wanted an opportunity to briefly discuss the meaning of the poem. Karmadean was a word she had made up. "People who walk alone have a lot of time to think. And thinking has been known to lead to suicide. But everyone looks OK so I don't worry about it." Sky took a deep breath as he examined the ceiling. "A Poem about Alienation," he said before turning and walking out. "Well, that's what it's all about," said Phineas cheerfully. "Building bridges instead of walls to avoid the pain of alienation. Speaking of bridges..." "I don't want to talk about bridges," groaned John, holding his head. "Have the police called you at all?" asked Lina, turning to Phineas. "No, but I haven't heard anything about them arresting anyone for blowing up the bridge so I assume that I'm still primo suspect." "Our Phineas," said Lina affectionately gazing at him like a father proud of his son's first homerun in Little League. "I have one," said John, grabbing for the nearest paperback which turned out to be Poems by a Jilted Lover. He obviously did not enjoy discussing the Rainbow Bridge bombing. Opening the book he started reading. "I love him down to the molecular level. I love his kidneys, his liver, his brain cells." John's voice dwindled. It was not a poem that he was comfortable with but he seemed to shrug internally and keep going. "I could drink his saliva and cover my skin with his blood. I could stare at his earlobes for hours. I love him. I love him. I love him." There was a pause. "Uh, let's see, that was called Obsessed." "Kind of sexy," decided Phineas. "And aren't we all just a little obsessed in our own way?" 155

The phone rang that night at the O'Briaen's and Laurie, although on her way out the door to go to Lina's, picked it up. It was Phineas. "Hi. I just wanted to call and see how you're doing. I'm at my mom's house flipping through magazines right now." "What for?" "Picking out outfits I want to have someday. There's this great sweater, I've got to show it to you sometime. It's navyblue cotton, very thick-looking, with a red, white, and yellow pattern. I really like it." Pages rustled. "Oh wait! I found my perfect blazer. It's brown and green tweed, a very subtle plaid and it's $2,250. Oh well." "Why does the price matter?" asked Laurie. "You've got money." "My father has money, actually," said Phineas. "And he has this old-fashioned idea that the best money is the kind you earn yourself. Absurd, isn't it?" "So, when do you plan to get all of this stuff?" Laurie asked. "First pay cheque. No, probably second or third pay cheque. First one is going for a plane ticket to Germany." "What?" "Yeah. More business opportunities." More pages rustled. "Now I've got a Better Homes and Gardens. My mom's got a subscription. Oh!" He had found something. "I've got to show this to you sometime, Laurie. It's the perfect room -- a huge bay window that looks right out onto a lake." She heard a page being ripped out. Laurie had been leaning against the wall, but now she slid down and sprawled on her back. "Phineas?" "Mmmm?" He was preoccupied with another photo. "If you spend your first pay cheque on a ticket to Germany, how're you going to get a second one?" "Oh, I'll teach English until I can start something in importing and exporting," he said as if it were obvious. "Oh." She pondered this. "Does anyone over there still want to learn English?" "Oh sure. This is the best suit. It's navy blue doublebreasted and I think it's silk. Yeah." He sounded as if he were reading the fine print. "It's definitely silk. Hey! I meant to ask you, have you ever thought about how the dramatic urge is just about being extreme? Actually, I meant to ask Lina, but you can pass it on to her. I think people take equally perverse pleasure in wasting and in scrimping or in being devilishly evil or piously good. Like, I never feel sorry for the Puritans because they had just us much fun being self-righteous as the card-playing, boozedrinking womanizers of their time. Whoops! I gotta go. There's another call coming through and my mom told me she'd kill me if I missed any of her calls. Ciao, darling!" 156

"I know how it's going to be tonight," Lina was saying to Laurie. They were on Lina's bed, their backs against the wall, and drinking cans of pineapple-peach juice. "When all of my mother's friends come over for coffee, they'll ask each other, while I'm standing there, why an attractive, almost 23-year-old is still living at home and hasn't found a man. She's probably really selective, they'll say, as if I'm not there. `They seem to have this idea that our generation is so concerned about compatibility that we're waiting for the perfect person to come along. What they don't realize is that we know there's no perfect person." `I want to scream sometimes.” Lina took a swig of her juice. "I want to yell at them all that I've dated every imperfect dysfunctional psychopath man both here and at university. I would have actually married some of them. Even the ones who picked me up an hour late and spent the evening flirting with the high school girls at the table next to us. But instead, I'll smile serenely and say, how can you understand someone who can watch nine innings of a ball being hit by a bat, but can't spend five minutes in a clothing store? My mother's friends will sigh and exchange meaningful glances that say, how do you get through to these liberated young women? And I won't bother telling them that there are some days I’d gladly give up shopping and sit through baseball games for the rest of my life if I had to." "It's sad, isn't it?" said Laurie. They were quiet as they finished sipping their juice. Lina switched on the radio. The sun was creating a pattern on the wall loosely inspired by the latched window -- a haiku of light and shadows. Laurie thought about Jessie. It hurt to think about him. In her mind she would hold onto him, her arms wrapped around his iron shoulders, and she felt nothing except that this was right. What hurt the most were the moments when she didn't think about him, but about it, the it of their uncertain relationship, their tenuous connection. Those were the moments when she wanted to throw a glass at the wall. It wasn't the man that enervated her now, she knew, as much as the memory of the desire. "Can I put in a CD?" asked Laurie, getting up from her bed and going over to Lina's stereo. "Of course," said Lina, absent-mindedly staring at her wall. The phone started ringing in the hallway. "I'd better get that," said Lina. Her mother had gone to the store to buy some cookies before her friends came over. Lina returned a few minutes later carrying a blue message pad. "I have just written my name perfectly," she announced, holding up the message pad. Laurie looked up from the CD she was holding. "It's smooth, elegant, yet casual," said Lina showing her the 157

signature at the bottom of the memo beside received by. "I really don't want to give this to my mother now because I want to keep this as a record of how I always want to write my name." "Make another message for her," suggested Laurie. "Or just tell her the message." "I think I will." Laurie was sure that Lina loved herself more than any man ever could and for a moment envied her narcissism. Lina was staring absently at the clothing in her closet, obviously looking for something to wear, but not actually thinking about it. "I seriously don't mind the thought of getting old," said Lina. "That's when you can take up bird-watching, or baking, or line-dancing, and not really care whether it's cool or not. I mean, old people just wear what they want, do what they want, take bus trips and complain the whole way if they want to and people listen to their complaints..." Lina's brain switched into selecting-an-outfit gear and her voice trailed off. "You know what I mean," she added, to cover for any lack of clarity in her remarks. "Yes," said Laurie. "I just hope I live that long." "What is a Canadian?" Phineas, reclining on a couch like a feasting Roman senator, was asking the question as if he were the first person to think of it. "Can we be satisfied with the definition, not an American? It's true, but what does not an American mean? The KAVREs were hanging out in John's living room. "Canadians have a reputation for being less exciting than Americans yet they are more cosmopolitan because they've never fully experienced the melting pot syndrome," explained Phineas as if he were a guest lecturer. "An Italian is still an Italian in Canada. The Portuguese are still Portuguese. The person doesn't have to change, only the soil they live on. `Canadians also seem moodier -- the grey cold winters, maybe. The thing is, there really isn't such a big difference between an office worker in Minnesota and an office worker in Ottawa." "The youth," continued Phineas when no one had taken advantage of the pause. "We could be just as patriotic as Americans if it were already widespread and an established part of our national psyche. But we have a history of being reserved. " "What if Canada was the size of the U.S. and the U.S. was the size of Canada?" asked John suddenly from the other couch where he and Lina had a game of Memory going on on the coffee table. "How soon would we become like the U.S.?" "With no Revolution or Civil War in our history we'd probably still be relatively peaceful," said Lina turning over two cards. "With more people we'd probably make more contributions to the world." "There'd be no north/south division because there would have 158

been no civil war and no slavery, but there would still be the regional tensions," said John, turning over two matching cards and adding them to his growing pile. "I think Canada would be the friendly St. Bernard and the U.S. would be the spirited chihuahua yapping at her heels," said Laurie. She was curled up in an arm chair watching the Memory game. "Americans have an incredible spirit and confidence that they carry with them wherever they go." The doorbell rang. "I'll get it," said Raquel getting up from the floor where she had been stretched out, only half-listening to the conversation. She was back in less than fifteen seconds. "John," she said. Her voice was calm, controlled. "It's the police. They want to talk..." "Darn," said Phineas, looking up. "I knew I should have paid that traffic ticket." Hurriedly John stood up, knocking over his pile of cards. He also returned to the room quickly. "Uh, Lina, Laurie," he said. His voice was not calm and controlled. "The police want to talk to you." His pale face and paralysed expression made it seem like police at the door meant sure death by torture before they mercilessly tossed your naked body into a burial pit behind the precinct. "Us?" said Lina. "Oh no!" said Laurie. Lina and Laurie had talked it over and had agreed that it was better not to tell John that they had crossed over the bridge that fateful day since it would only add to his worry. "Come on," said John. "They're waiting!" Lina and Laurie followed John into the hallway. "Good evening, ladies," said the younger of the two officers. "Hey!" said Lina. "I remember you!" "We have some questions for you." The older officer had decided to take charge of this investigation. "Our records show that you, Lina Huxley, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge with your associate," he glanced at his notepad, "Laurie O'Briaen, on the same day the bridge blew up." "Well, we crossed over before it blew up," explained Lina. "You didn't tell us that your friends were in the vicinity of the bridge..." the older man turned to John. "I didn't know," said John, looking like he was either going to kill someone or start to cry. "Why didn't you tell me?" He turned to Lina and Laurie. "Why would we tell you?" asked Lina sounding surprisingly reasonable. "It had nothing to do with anything." "Well, why didn't you tell me?" asked John turning to Laurie. "I didn't think it would do any good..." said Laurie holding her head and feeling sick. 159

"I thought about telling you," Lina continued. "But I never got around to it. I thought it was a little strange that the bridge blew up and we were there, but they suspected you and Phineas..." "Well Lina," said John, glancing at the policemen. "Now they suspect all of us." "Let's pin it entirely on Phineas," suggested Lina. "Let's tell them he masterminded the whole thing..." "Lina!" John was furious. "You're worse than him!" "None of us did it," he said turning to the police. "You have no proof because none of us did it. However, if you are going to arrest us, I want to make a phonecall first..." "We're not arresting anyone," said the older man. "We're making inquiries. An investigation is underway. We just wanted to ask you whether there was a connection between your story and your friends crossing over the bridge." "It doesn't make sense," said John. "Why would I tell that story if I knew what was going to happen? I didn't even know that Lina and Laurie were going to the States..." He was desperately trying to make his point. "A fictitious story doesn't make sense, especially not on the day of the bombing itself. If it were a planning session, you know, a serious discussion, a few days before it happened..." "That is exactly why you are not being arrested right now," said the older officer. "And you girls can consider yourselves very lucky that no one saw you stopping your car when you crossed the bridge. The whole thing seems like a mighty strange coincidence to me..." He gave the impression that had it been up to him they would have slept behind bars that night. The powers that be, however, prevented him from carrying out justice. The policemen turned from the door after promising that John, Phineas, Raquel, Lina, and Laurie would hear from them. Very carefully John shut the door. "Lina!" he said speaking slowly. "You were awful..." "I never know what to do in situations like that," explained Lina. "Situations like that?" said John turning red. "Situations like that? Does this type of thing happen to you often?" Phineas and Raquel appeared in the hallway. "We couldn't help overhearing..." said Raquel. Phineas held up a bottle of whisky. "I found this in what I presume is your father's private desk since I had to open it with a key that was hidden on top of the curio cabinet. It might help the situation..." John sighed and went to the kitchen to find some shot glasses.

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THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER October 24, 2011 KITSCH, KULTURE, AND THE AMERICAN WAY While some Canadians are concerned that joining America will entail a loss of culture, others would like to embrace all things American. In a nation-wide survey, 48% of people prefer Americanmade products to their Canadian-made counterparts. When it comes to entertainment, 87% of us "usually only watch American movies" although this number might just be reflecting the difficulty of obtaining pirate European productions. The numbers are different for television, however. Only 29% of people prefer American fare. Most Canadians are satisfied with home-grown shows. A possible explanation for this might be the infusion into the Canadian industry of a number of talented British television makers who have fled their native land after the war. Music seems adept at crossing the borders. Four of the top ten albums currently being sold in the U.S. are by Canadian artists while five of the top ten albums in Canada are American. The bestseller lists show a similiar situation for books. Five of the top ten novels on The New York Times bestseller list are by Canadians while six of the top ten novels on The Globe and Mail bestseller list are by Americans. Pro-American Canadians cite many reasons for wanting to join the U.S. Below are some examples. "Our culture is already saturated with Americana. To fear a further saturation is absurd." Clement McDonald, 47, Halifax. "I love the American way! A bit of guts and glory will be like a shot in our arm." Susie Tenner, 59, Moose Jaw. "We fought together in the war. To suddenly treat the U.S. like they're the enemy is petty and juvenile." Keat Davin, 25, Toronto. "Although as a whole America isn't perfect, I've never met an American I didn't like." Donna Stimmons, 42, Vancouver. "I think that our two countries joining is the first step towards peace. We can't do anything about what's going on in Europe, but we can ensure security here in North America." Don Krantz, 53, St. John's. Although economic and security concerns are playing a large role in people's consideration how to vote, one of the biggest issues in this referendum is Canadian culture. With regards to overall culture, 35% of Canadians feel America is superior to Canada.

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CHAPTER NINETEEN
October 25, 2011 All Lina had talked about for the last few days was meeting Rennae and Laurie could think of no good reason why they shouldn't stop in and say hi to the Oaklands when they were in Ottawa. What excuse would she initially give for being there when she knocked on the cold, austere Oakland door? Lina would be there beside her like an excited Yorkshire terrier straining at the leash to get inside and sniff out everything in the house occupied by honest-to-goodness Americans, if you could call them that after their ten or more years in Canada. Rennae's view of the States was probably shaped by movies and television as much as Laurie's was. And why did Lina have to choose the Americana burning for her script? Couldn't she have done it, say, about some 40 year-old American man who's parents are in Europe but who's children will grow up thinking of them as the enemy? There were so many issues in their complex society.

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EXCERPTS FROM

CanCom

October 29, 2011 A banquet room in a hotel. Crowds of people. An older man, Charlie, is at the front on a podium. He is wearing a toga with a maple leaf sticking out of the top. Charlie: Attention! Attention! We will now commence the meeting of the Rhinoceros Party! First on our agenda, we want to discuss the possibilities opened up to us by our unification with the States, the most important one being we are now allowed to join in the pursuit of happiness, the second most important one being we can elect someone to run for President!

Man in the back: (wearing a fisherman's sweater, standing up)I elect Hughie! Charlie: Who's Hughie? Everybody in

Man in the back: What do ya mean who's Hughie? Cornerbrook knows Hughie. He's my cousin. Charlie:

All in favour of electing Hughie to run as our candidate for President say eh!

Audience: Eh! Charlie: OK, now we have to discuss how we're going to pursue happiness. Any suggestions?

Man in the middle wearing a plaid shirt: Well, I'm a trucker and I'd like to see some prettier billboards on the road. Charlie: You mean, like girlie billboards? I mean like rhododendrons or mountain Any other

Man in the middle: No, landscapes. Charlie:

(writing this down) OK, prettier billboards. suggestions? Yes ma'am?

Middle-aged lady at the side: I would like to have complimentary doughnuts on coffee breaks at work. Charlie: (writing this down) National Yes, sir? complimentary doughnuts.

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Man in suit in the front: I want an 80-story parking lot built right beside my office building so I don't have to drive around for half an hour every morning looking for an empty meter. Charlie: (writing) 80-story parking lot. Yes ma'am?

A young woman at back wearing an oversized black sweater: (waving her hand wildly) I want MuchMusic pumped into the subway cars on oversized television screens. Charlie: What about the people who don't like MuchMusic?

Young woman: Give out MP3 players to anyone who buys a Metropass so they can listen to something else. Charlie: (writing) MuchMusic on subways, MP3 players with Metropasses (looks up). I think we have an agenda for this year folks. I'd like you all now to join me in the singing of our national anthem... Oh, wait, we haven't joined the U.S. yet. We don't have to do that. Coffee and doughnuts for everyone in the next room!... * * * A television studio with a Dan Rathers look-a-like. Mark: Good evening and welcome to our nightly National Lessons on How to Be an American, paid for by your taxes! Last night we discussed how you need to replace your igloos with real homes and how if you're expecting the government to pay for this, forget it. You're on your own now. It’s called capitalism. Tonight we will be discussing a basic American characteristic and that is to cheer. That means when you go to a baseball game, you don't clap politely when your team makes a base hit, you jump up and down and rip off your hat and wave it in the air. Try practising screaming "YEAH!" and "GO!" at the top of your lungs in the privacy of your bedroom. It might help to also find a team to cheer for. Every American usually has a team that they keep up with and root for. To all the teens, when your high school football team has an afternoon game, don't use the time off to go home and catch up on your soaps, stay and watch and cheer! That's right, cheer! This has been your nightly National Lesson on How to Be an American. One final reminder, please don't forget to stop by 164

and pick-up your "American Prep Kit" at any Loblaws, A & P, or Dominion store. This handy complimentary kit, paid for by your taxes, contains such useful items for women as a curling iron, an aerobics work-out tape, and a subscription to Glamour. For men it includes a football, a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger, an oversized Stars & Stripes flag for the pole in your front yard, and a subscription to Sports Illustrated. Both kits contain the lyrics to the national anthem. Thank you and good night.

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CHAPTER TWENTY
October 29, 2011 "Only three more shopping days until the Referendum!" announced Phineas. Once again, they were in the O'Briaen's living room, having abandoned Hunan's because John hated the place and Phineas said it was unethical to report regular customers to the police. "Oh, man!" said John running his fingers through his hair. "I hope they find the guy who blew up the bridge!" He and Raquel were playing Crazy Eights. "What does that have to do with anything?" asked Lina looking up from a Harlequin Romance. She had started off reading them because they were so kitschy and had ended up addicted. "Nothing, except that I think about it all the time." "For crying out loud!" said Lina. "You didn't even do it and you're probably more worried about it than the guy who did. Give it up. See a psychiatrist!" "I will be your psychiatrist," announced Phineas looking up from the game of Candyland that he and Laurie had been playing. "Let's play doctor, everyone. Lie down, please," he said as he bodily removed Raquel from the couch and signalled for John to take her place. "I don't want to," said John. "Then will you promise not to talk about it or think about it anymore?" said Phineas. “I mean, I’m the one that’s going to end up in the, what do they call it…? Pokey?” John sighed. "I'll try not to think about it." "Case solved," said Phineas triumphantly. "I'll add this success to my many files. Maybe I'll even have my own television series someday." They all resumed their respective activities until Phineas found an old volume of Shakespearean comedies on the bookshelf and insisted that they all act out Othello. Phineas assumed the role of director -- getting everyone in their places by determining what part of the living room constituted a street and what part the inside of a building and who would play who. "OK," he said rubbing his hands together and stepping back. "Rodrigo and Iago, you're on!" John and Raquel entered. "Tush!" said John, "never tell me; I take it much unkindly that thou, Iago, who hast had my purse as if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this." "`Sblood, but you will not hear me," replied Raquel. "If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me." The scene continued. 166

Laurie came on in scene three as Desdemona. The role of a sweet, rather mindless, devoted wife didn't bother her as much as the idea of a good love gone bad. Phineas played Othello with melodramatic passion while Lina and John filled in all the smaller roles. "What's worth more?" asked Laurie when they had finished and were lying around on the carpet moving their way through a twelvepack of Labatt's Blue. "The conscious choice to love someone, or the spontaneous impulse? Commitment or passion?" "Passion," said Phineas. "And a bit of choice." "Definitely passion," said Raquel. "Passion," said Lina. "Even though it's brutal and hellish and might take you places you don't want to go." "Choice," said John. "And a bit of passion." "Well, do you think Desdemona and Othello had a meeting of the minds?" asked Laurie, rolling over onto her stomach. "I really don't see much evidence of a connection," said John. "Though they thought they had an understanding. The truth always comes out in the end though." "But Desdemona thought she loved him." said Laurie. "What's the difference between loving someone and thinking you love him?" "If I were Desdemona's therapist," said Lina, "I'd say, everyone needs love and when you find that person that suddenly opens up the world, heck, the universe, for you, well, you totally want to jump on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and trumpet to the world about the quality of your man. I'd say your man, Othello, sounds incredible. He's got those exciting travel stories, he's successful, he's got soul, and best of all, you're in a two-way relationship! Desdemona, it's too perfect." "How can something be too perfect?" asked Laurie looking at her. "Othello and Desdemona connected." "Yeah, but think about it," said Lina sitting up. "She came from a fairly stable family. Her mother devoted her whole life to her father and she grew up with that example. Of course, her mother did elope with her father and that's probably why she did the same. But we don't know a thing about Othello's family and it seems a little strange to me that for all they talked about, Desdemona still didn't know a thing about his parents." "Do you think your family really makes a difference whether or not you fall in love with someone?" asked Laurie. "No, you can fall in love with anybody regardless of their background. I’m talking about maintaining a relationship. If Othello's from a dysfunctional family, he's going to have problems with intimacy and trust," insisted Lina. "What am I saying? He did have problems with trust. That's probably why. You know, I bet Desdemona thought she had enough faith for the both of them. But I would have loved to tell her, look chuck, trust is useless if it's not reciprocated. You could be heading for a codependent, potentially abusive, relationship." Laurie nodded. 167

"Love is one thing," Lina continued, "but what if, say another element, like fear or doubt, were ever thrown into a relationship? Desdemona was just the type to internalize it all, blame herself, and become paralysed." "Can you have real love and still be afraid?" asked Raquel. "No," said Lina. "Othello's feelings for Desdemona, for example, were too strong to be real, like calling her his soul's joy. Love is letting the other person use the bathroom first, or telling him he has lettuce in his teeth if he's about to stand up and deliver a speech. I think he was in love with her as a symbol, not as a person." "So you're saying his feelings for her were merely an example of the male conquest-orientation?" asked Phineas. "Well, like Emilia said, we're food and they're the stomach." "She called it a meeting of the minds, he called it victory," said Phineas grinning up at the ceiling. He was lying flat on his back and still managing to take large swigs of his beer. "I'm wondering too, if she might have been projecting some of the traits she valued in a man onto Othello?" said Lina. "When it comes to issues like trust, you can't just assume that a man is going to be as trusting and secure in your relationship as you are. It's always hard to drag a man up to a higher level. Usually he'll end up dragging you down to his." "How would you have suggested that Desdemona prevent her demise?" asked Phineas. "Right from the start, she should have looked at his friends," said Lina. "You can always analyze a man by who he hangs out with. Othello's little circle struck me as being very into the machismo thing, not very sensitive and in tune with their own emotional needs, or their women's, for that matter. From what we know about Cassio he seemed a bit unsure of himself." "You would perhaps suggest that he read some books on selfassertion?" asked Phineas. "Exactly," agreed Lina. "Rodrigo is just a walking hormone, the type of man who isn't even aware that women also have brains. As for Iago, his own wife didn't even trust the man. And he was Othello's right-hand man. Also, I think Desdemona should have listened more to Emelia who seemed to have good relationshipsense. She should after ten years of living with Iago who I would not be surprised if he had an abusive childhood because he seems to have this suppressed hostility for mankind in general. In any case, I don't think he's in touch with his inner child." "It makes me think of Oscar Wilde's words," said Phineas. "All men kill the thing they love; the coward does it with a kiss, the brave man with a sword." "I'm not saying that Desdemona should have denied her feelings," continued Lina. "We should trust our feelings. They're valid. I just think that now that Desdemona knows what it's like to be crazy about someone, she'll never settle for anything less. But she should have been prepared to accept that 168

if the Othello thing didn't work out, she should continue to reach out until she found that person she was really looking for -- the man who she not only connected with, but who was more relationship-oriented -- and even if she never found him, at least she'd have been true to herself." "Thank you, Lina," said Phineas. "It's always nice to throw in allusions to other Shakespeare plays. As I was saying, if Oscar Wilde's words are true, we can conclude that Othello did love Desdemona, but it causes us to question the nature of love..." Laurie had tuned out. If you thought you'd found true love and you turned out to be wrong, it undermined your faith for the rest of your life. Either you had to convince yourself you never had a marriage of true minds or you had to try to move on and pretend to love again. Desdemona had it good. She died believing she had a marriage of true minds. But what if Othello had gotten on a boat one night, sailed away, and she never heard from him again. That would have been the tragedy. "Well, I read something in the paper this morning," said John. "About a CEO who shot his wife. Kind of like Othello strangling Desdemona. He said he wasn't really sure why he did it..." John stopped speaking. He had the acuteness to realize that the point of his story had passed. Any additions would belabour the account. "Maybe there was an Iago somewhere in his life," suggested Raquel. "You know, whoever's second-in-command in a corporation." "You hold Iago responsible for Othello's demise then?" asked Phineas. "Well, Iago kind of manipulated Othello..." said Raquel. There were two categories of men, Laurie decided. There were those she wanted to explore and those she didn't. Not their bodies, but their minds -- especially the ones with the defined brain structure. By turning their features inside out she wanted to create a definition of thought, striking new ideas, an intellectual explosion. Now she knew what Phineas meant by a new movement of thought. Jessie had been her new movement of thought... "OK, here's a question for you," said Raquel. "Who would you rather marry, Othello or Cassio?" "Iago," replied Lina. "Why?" asked John, staring at her. "Because Othello strangled his wife and Cassio was..." Lina was looking for the right word. "Insignificant," said Laurie suddenly. "Cassio was insignificant." "Yeah! Exactly!" said Lina, glancing at Laurie. "Actually, I found the strangling to be kind of appealing, except it bothers me that without Iago, Othello would have never done it." "I totally don't understand you!" said John, looking 169

horrified. "It's simple," said Phineas sounding bored. "All of Lina's neuroses could probably be traced to a couple of successive bad relationships compounded by an Electra complex..." Lina poured the rest of her beer on Phineas's body, carefully allowing it to soak into his clothes so that it wouldn't drip onto the carpet. Phineas didn't flinch. "You know, maybe the problem is we start out with such high expectations," said Laurie suddenly. "Everyone starts off, like, this is going to last forever and it never does. Maybe we should just get into a relationship with low expectations and then, one day, we'll wake up, look over at the person beside us and think, Wow, I really love him." "But what if it never happens?" asked Raquel. Laurie shrugged. "It's better than waking up one morning, looking over at him and realizing you don't love him." "I don't think I want to fall in love with a friend," said Raquel. "It's totally not fair because the minute you start loving someone, it begins possible to stop loving him. That's why we're so quick to fall in love with strangers. We don't care enough about them to worry about the day we'll stop loving them." Phineas raised one of his eyebrows. "You know," said Lina. "Sometimes it scares me that the earth is hurling through space like a baseball. I just want to spread-eagle on the ground and scream in terror. And other times it excites me so much I want to climb the tallest tree I can find and scream with pleasure." Phineas's other eyebrow went up. "But I also find it reassuring somehow, knowing there is so much out there and that maybe someday I'll get a chance to see it, you know, beyond all this…" continued Lina. "You mean, like when you die?" John asked. "Exactly," she said. "I mean, no one can really dogmatically say what happens when we die." She turned to look at him. "I hope we get to explore the universe." "I think I only like to think about infinity within the confines of mortality," said John. "But do you think people can be soul-mates?" Phineas asked as if he were just carrying on the conversation. "Like, how?" John asked. He was trying to connect the idea of a soul-mate with infinity. "Like do you think a man and a woman can connect at a deep level?" "Sure, why not?" John said. "You can be friends with anyone if you get to know them well enough." "So, that's all it is?" Laurie asked, feeling mildly irritated at this reductionist philosophy. "Getting to know the other person?" She pushed aside her hair which had fallen in her face and took a swig of beer. 170

"What else?" said John, looking at her, puzzled. Metaphysical connections, she wanted to say. Intangible forces drawing and holding two people together. There were times when the other person seemed to be merely an incidental part of the relationship. When she allowed herself to think about Jessie as a person -- his personality, his ambitions -- she realized she didn't even empathise with him. Is it possible to love someone without liking him? she wondered.

171

October 31, 2011 It was going to be the party to end all parties, according to all of the newspapers, which no doubt would confuse the heck out of the politicians. Were people celebrating because they knew that in 24-hours they would be beginning the process of joining the United States? Or was it because the national fervour and pride had reached such a crescendo that people just had to get out in the streets like David dancing before the Lord with the Ark? As they drove from Toronto, around Lake Ontario, towards Ottawa, Laurie couldn't help but feel a little bit patriotic. Maybe Canadian's didn't have a clear cultural identity, but sometimes, she thought, their patriotism ran as deep as the land itself. She hadn't realized how much farmland was left in Ontario -fields and fences and farmhouses interspersed with dense, untouchable forest. The trees came in so many varieties ranging from dense pockets of greenery to isolated Salvador Dali creations. Dusty grey backroads broke off the main highway leading to unknown retreats and more unexpected hills. She liked the huge boulders that sat incongruously, yet harmoniously, in the middle of some fields, surrounded by shoots of shrubbery and tall, yellow grass -- Impressionism meeting Surrealism. Jagged rose-coloured granite, sweeping purple wild flowers, and frequent brilliant blue marker signs provided colour. The buildings were dull compared to the land -- squat bungalows or prim, prosaic Victorian replicas. Laurie and Lina checked into their small but functional room in the Econolodge on the outskirts of Ottawa. Phineas, John, and Raquel were driving down in the BMW early tomorrow on Referendum Day. Lina had wanted to get to Ottawa early to stop by the Oaklands without missing out on any of the Referendum Day festivities. Laurie was trying to fight the desire to reconcile with Jessie. Maybe while Lina was somehow talking to Rennae, Jessie could be convinced to take a walk with her. Driving down through the semi-crowded streets with its preparade feeling, Lina suggested hitting Parliament Hill just to check out the action. Sure enough, there were already teens and young adults from across Canada lounging at the base of statues of former prime ministers. Suspicious beer-looking beverages were being guzzled from apple juice bottles to show at least some respect for the several policemen roaming around. Since looting and starting fights weren't Canadian tendencies when in group situations, the policemen looked relaxed, almost as if they were enjoying the Sunday-picnic atmosphere. Canadian flags were everywhere and were also being worn as bandannas, sarongs, and sewed on the backs of knapsacks. Flags on 172

sticks ranged in size. "Wow," said Lina, leaning way over Laurie to stare out the window, even though she was driving. "I wish I had a video camera! This is Canadian history in the making." "Uh, Lina, we're about to rear-end that car in front of us." Lina slammed on the brakes even though they were still several car lengths away from the mini-van in front of them, which was why Laurie had been able to speak so calmly. The Chevy behind them screeched to a stop and honked. Lina accelerated, made a lane change, and they were soon putting distance between them and Parliament Hill. "OK, so where do I go from here?" asked Lina. She had insisted that the first thing they do was visit the Oaklands. Laurie, who fluctuated every five minutes on whether or not she wanted this visit, was secretly hoping that nobody would be home. "I don't really remember," she said. Lina sighed. "Well, you have the address, right?" Laurie dug around in the pocket of her jean shorts. Unfortunately, she was too conscientious to have forgotten it. She handed over the scrap of paper and even though they were driving through the late afternoon city streets full of people who had just gotten off work, Lina pulled a map of Ottawa out of the glove compartment and started reading down the index for the street name. "I think I remember," Laurie said, as it became clear to her that Lina's insurance probably wouldn't cover the cost of them ramming into one of the many BMWs and Audis in the business district they were driving through. About ten minutes later they had pulled up in front of the Oakland's home and Laurie hated to admit it, but her palms were cold and sweaty. Lina positioned the car right under the NO PARKING BETWEEN 7AM AND 11 PM sign and jumped out. She was ringing the doorbell while Laurie was still walking up the driveway. Jessie answered wearing a blue and burgundy striped bathrobe. From the look on his face, Laurie was sure he was about to tell Lina that Girl Guide cookies clog up his arteries when he saw her, frozen in his driveway. "Jul," he said. "Jessie," she replied. "What are you doing here?" Lina was examining him as if he was a full-life replica of Elvis done in marble, but Jessie was looking at Laurie. "Uh, we're here for the big referendum and my friend wanted to meet an American," Laurie said pointing to Lina. "She's, uh, writing..." She felt so lame she just stopped talking. Jessie stared at Lina. "Maybe I could meet your sister," said Lina helpfully. "My focus is really on American women." 173

"My sister's not at home," said Jessie looking back at Laurie and thoroughly dismissing Lina from his attention. "Well perhaps we could..." Jessie came down the steps and joined Laurie on the driveway, leaving Lina to stick her head in the door and suck up all of the American culture she could from the Oakland foyer. "Jul," he said softly taking her shoulders. "It’s good to see you." His cold blue eyes penetrated her brown ones, searing her like a thousand kisses. His arms dropped and he strode back, barefoot, to his door. Without looking back at Laurie, he shut the door in Lina's face. "Wow!" said Lina, who hadn't heard anything. "He's rude but he's cute! Are you sure you can't get back together with him?" "Yes," Laurie said numbly as she climbed into the passenger seat. "He's just so amazing! Intense!" "Thanks, but I'd rather not open a sealed coffin." She waited until they were out of sight of the Oaklands before she rolled down the window, stuck out her head, and let the wind dry her tears before they had a chance to fall. I'm going to join a convent, she thought, and do penance for the rest of my life to atone for my stupidity. If Laurie had had her way, she would have spent the evening drinking whisky in the tiny bar beside the Econolodge waiting for some poor sucker to try to pick her up so she could smash his face in. But Lina dragged her out in search of more civilized thrills and she found herself sitting in a club with a pitcher of Molson Canadian and two guys from Chiquoitaim, British Columbia. The two guys, Mark and Gary, were telling her and Lina some of their hitchhiking stories and how only yesterday morning they had been in Winnipeg, worried they wouldn't make it in time. To think the whole festivities were going on practically in Jessie's front yard and Laurie knew he wouldn't bother coming out to see any of them. She wondered what he did in the evenings when he wasn’t at his church. "I would love to live in Toronto," said Gary to Laurie. Or maybe it was Mark. She had tried to remember their names by thinking that Mark was wearing a melon-coloured polo shirt and Gary a grapefruit-coloured polo. But now with the strobe lights going, both of their shirts looked cantaloupe. "Yeah, it's a great place," she said. Mark and Gary were rugged, clean-cut, maybe not on the cutting edge, but all-around nice guys. Probably treated their girlfriends well, but didn't really take their opinions on politics or world hunger too seriously. "But only for awhile. Cities make me edgy if I stay in them for too long." "I get claustrophobic in rush hour," she said, trying to be agreeable. Why was she feeling so crummy? It's not like she 174

didn't know it was over with Jessie. It's just the way he was so dramatic about it, so final. If he were just being spiteful Laurie could have taken it, but he had spoken like he really felt it was over. But she already knew that...What was her problem? "I hear you've got a great subway system." "Well, yeah," she said. "I guess I take it for granted. But now that you mention it, we do..." Her mind was wandering. "Gotta void," said Lina standing up. "Come with me?" "Sure," Laurie said getting up. They told Mark and Gary they'd be back. While they were shoving through the crowd, Laurie turned and saw Mark and Gary giving each other a high five. "Let's get out of here," she said. "What? Why?! I gotta go!" "Mark and Gary seem to live in the Neanderthal age when if you meet a city girl in a club, you get to go home with her afterwards. Maybe no one’s contracted syphilis yet in Chiquoitaim." Lina sighed as Laurie dragged her out of the club. They found a nearby doughnut shop so that Lina could take care of her basic need. "Try another club?" asked Lina when she came out. Laurie took a deep breath. Her breathing was becoming more rapid, her head was spinning, and her stomach felt like it was going to blow up with fury. "Are you OK?" asked Lina. "NOOOOOOOO!" Laurie suddenly shrieked. "I am NOT OK!" Everybody in the doughnut shop turned to stare. Laurie wanted to kill them all. She glared at them. They looked nervous. Some people were surveying how quickly they could make it to the nearest exit. "Ummmmm," said Lina. Laurie turned and walked out.

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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
November 1, 2011 "Darling!" Phineas burst out, as Raquel appeared at the top of the winding staircase wearing tight, toreador velvety maroon pants and a navy gingham shirt tied to expose her navel. The outfit was set off by a pair of crocheted burgundy high-heeled slippers that revealed scarlet toenails. "You're so IT!" "Thank you," murmured Raquel, as she retrieved a leather jacket from the hallway closet. "This is a special day, so I figured I'd be a little sexy." "And you do it so well," said Phineas guiding her towards the front door. Raquel's mother, dressed in pink terry-cloth bathrobe emerged from the kitchen hauling a picnic basket that looked Oxford circa 1908. "You weenie," she said to her daughter as she handed the basket to Phineas. "While you were primping, I made the entire lunch." "Sorry, mother," said Raquel, unpenitently, kissing her as they exited the house to join John who was waiting in the car. They were leaving at four in the morning since it took six hours to drive to Ottawa and they didn't want to miss any of the action that might take place on Parliament Hill. They were off. A nontraditional family on their way to enjoy a holiday of food and games and togetherness. "Anyone bring a frisbee?" called out Phineas, Ward Cleaver in tennis shoes. "Yes," replied John pulling out a flexible vinyl neon pink circle out of the pocket of his khaki pants. "Oh goodie," said Raquel, sounding surprisingly enthusiastic. “They’re calling for sunny and 21 degrees,” added John. "Perfect. What's for lunch, dear?" Phineas asked Raquel who was peering into the picnic basket. "Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and rippled potato chips!" She gasped. "The fat! How could my mother do this to me? Oh wait, that's for the men. There's also some non-fat cheese sandwiches and carrot sticks. We can all drink Diet Coke." "Dessert?" asked John. "Regular Twinkies for the guys. Lite Twinkies for the girls." "Sounds scrumptious," said Phineas, fiddling with the radio and stopping at a big band station. "So, what are we all going to vote today?" "No," said John. "Not that it's any of your business." 176

"Yes," said Raquel. "You're voting yes?" asked Phineas mildly surprised. "No, I mean, yes, it's none of your business." "Oh." Phineas paused. "Well I'm voting to join Florida." It became apparent as they got closer to Parliament Hill that parking space could prove to be a greater issue of the day than the referendum results. "Should've just walked," said Phineas as they became part of the amorphous traffic jam. "Not in these shoes," replied Raquel. After a good thirty minutes, they found an empty space right by one of the Parliament Buildings. "I sure hope the Honourary Chairman of the Seat doesn't need his spot today," said Phineas, climbing out and happening to notice the reserved sign. "This is great," said John as they approached the vast grassy area where people from all over Canada had gathered with picnic lunches, guitars, and Maple Leaf flags. "First of all," said Phineas. "I think we should do the patriotic thing and cast our vote." They made their way to the general line that led to the one large voting tent set up for the Parliament Hill region. "I hope we can still vote even though we're not in our constituency," said Lina as they got closer to Parliament Hill and joined the bumper-to-bumper traffic. "I'm sure we can," Laurie replied vaguely. "I mean, this is a referendum, not an election, so we can probably vote anywhere in Canada. For that matter, I'm sure you can vote anywhere in an election too." She was tired from only getting four hours sleep. She and Lina had stayed up talking and Laurie had ended up telling her the whole story of Jessie -- everything but the Americana-burning. Lina had been extremely sympathetic, so sympathetic that she had taken all of her notes for her script and flushed them down the toilet. "I had no idea you were going through all of this," she had said. "What a jerk! I am so sorry for bugging you about it so much! This is the dumbest thing I've ever written anyway." Finally, they found a spot in the guest parking of an apartment building about two miles from Parliament Hill. When they had trudged their way through crowded streets full of briskly moving Canadians and vendors selling popcorn, roasted chestnuts, hot dogs, soft drinks, and paper Canadian flags on what looked like plastic straws, the first thing Lina wanted to do was vote. They headed for the line. "I know that Americans are people," one college-aged man dressed in Polo white a few people ahead of them was saying loudly. "And they deserve our respect. But I have no qualms 177

about saying that Canada is making a grave mistake to ally herself with..." "Phineas, of course," said Lina. They were about to shove their way up to join them when Laurie gasped. "Lina!" she said. "I think that's Rennae! In line. Three people back from Raquel. I only saw her once, but I'm pretty sure that's her!" "Where?" Lina swivelled her head in practically a 360 degrees turn. "With that guy. She's got on a Waterloo jacket." "Wow! She's something isn't she? I'm so jealous. Are all American girls like that? If they are, I'm definitely going to have to vote no, 'cos there's no way I want to compete with that." "What are you going to vote," Laurie asked still staring at Rennae. "Undecided," replied Lina. "Undecided?" "Yes, I don't think we've been sufficiently informed to make an intelligent decision. I'm registering my dissatisfaction by saying I'm undecided." Laurie sighed. "Lina, it's just a matter of do you want to join the U.S. or not? I mean, it's not that complex." "We don't know anything about it though. Will there be more Canadian fashion models in American Vogue? Will we all be called America, or will we get to have a new name like Canerica? Will movies be cheaper? There's a lot that wasn't discussed." They moved up to join Phineas, John, and Raquel. "That girl looks really familiar," said Rennae who had been twisting her head around to see how many people were behind them. "Which one?" asked the man, turning around. "Oh, don't look! She'll know I'm talking about her!" "She didn't see me," said the man confidently. "Which one?" "She just walked by. Now she's in line in front of us, wearing a plaid shirt." The man casually surveyed the crowd again. "Curly brown hair?" "Yeah. But I have no idea where I've seen her." "Well, don't worry about it." He gave the back of her neck a quick squeeze as if to emphasize his point. But Rennae didn't particularly care that the girl looked familiar. She was preoccupied by the guy in white. The rest of the group was semi-interesting. Along with the girl in the plaid shirt, there was a girl in frayed white jeans and a black turtleneck who was tossing a neon pink frisbee back and forth with a quiet-looking, brown-haired guy in khaki pants and a pink and olive green polo. The fifth member of the party was a desultory girl with long red hair and dressed to thrill, standing by a huge 178

picnic basket and seemingly preoccupied by the copper roof of one particular Parliament building.

pointed

green

"They're talking about us," Laurie said. "How do you know?" asked Lina, accidently throwing the frisbee into the middle of a family of five and forcing John to go over and apologize in order to retrieve it. Turning her head around slightly, Laurie could see Rennae and her boyfriend were both looking their way. Then when she pretended to survey the crowd, he was still watching her. "Don't you want to talk to them?" Lina took a step. She hadn't experienced complete closure with the script. Laurie clutched her arm. "Don't. I want nothing to do with that family ever again." Lina sighed deeply. "OK. It really doesn't matter anyway." "Really?" Laurie didn't believe it. Lina sighed. "It's just that deep down I know that people are only interesting up to a point. I guess that's why I want to turn them into a movie and make them even more interesting." "Fiction is better than real life?" "Well, at least you can edit out the boring moments... Oh, I don't even know why I care! I'm just going to write the bloody script any old way I want! I mean, how different can an American be?" There was a rumbling from a young couple in front of them. "How different can an American be?" said the sandy-haired, round-faced man. "Do you think we'd be standing here in this two hour line if we didn't believe there were some differences?" "Two hours! Do you think it'll take that long?" asked Lina horrified. "Of course there are differences," Laurie said soothingly. "My friend and I know that. We were just being flippant." The man looked at them suspiciously before turning back around. He seemed edgy after that and Laurie was sure he was afraid that they were American infiltrators and at any minute were going to stab him in the back. "Bring back the frontier attitude!" Phineas was yelling to anyone who would listen. "Where is that frontier attitude that comes from living in the coldest country next to Siberia? All you have to do is drive 300 kilometres north and you'll be in the wilderness! Two and a half million square miles of forest, lakes, tundra, and if you go in the winter, snow and ice! It's hard to be flashy when your sidewalks and lips are cracking from the cold! It's hard to always be fashionable in a parka and earmuffs! But we're Canadians! Let's all swing together, hold fast, keep tight...!" "Maybe we can get someone to hold our spot for us," said Lina. "Two hours is a long time!" 179

"Where would we go?" Laurie asked looking around. "I mean, all we'd do is go sit on the grass with a Coke and listen to that guy over there playing his guitar and singing Newfie folk songs, which we can do right here." "You're right." Lina plunked herself down on the grass and started tapping her foot to "I's the bye who builds the boat." A small crowd had formed around the man, and pretty soon everyone was joining in on the songs that they had learned in grade school music class, but never thought they'd have a chance to use, as evidenced by the fact they had to mumble many of the words they had forgotten. Laurie pondered on whether or not they had learned the words correctly with their full Newfie intent in the first place. Probably a lot had been lost in translation. "Oh!" squealed Lina. "It's The Ontario Song! I totally forgot about this one!" "Give us a place to staaaaand," the crowd was roaring in melody. "And a place to grooooow! We'll call this laaaaand, Ontariooooo!" Four hours and 153 folk songs later, they were ushered into the red and white striped tent to cast their vote. "Well, that was kind of anti-climactic," said John when they had all emerged on the other side. "Just a little X and it's all over." "Ah, but think of what that X represents," said Phineas vaguely, sounding as if he wasn't paying attention to himself. Lina winked at Laurie. Phineas was staring at Rennae Oakland. Laurie groaned. "What?" he demanded, turning to her. "Nothing," she said. "It's just that she kind of stands out," said Phineas defensively. Raquel looked annoyed. She had also had many looks from men that day. "I know," Laurie sighed and started walking towards the street. Phineas shrugged and the group began to amble along behind her. "Coffee!" Phineas announced dramatically. "I need coffee!" They wandered around downtown Ottawa. Laurie had to pretend that it was all unfamiliar to her. Thankfully John noticed Sparks Street where all the cafés were. "Let Canada continue to be an example to the U.S.!" A young man standing on a bench was yelling to a small crowd of people who had gathered around him. The KAVREs joined them. "But we're exactly the same!" a college-aged woman near the front of the group called out. "Don't let the similarities detract from the differences! Our democracy is not a competitive ruthless system, but one with safety nets for the misfortunes of time and chance. 180

`And Canada has never been in a position to threaten anybody with her military force. Our contributions have been peaceful. The first commercial oil well was in Canada!" he bellowed. "The first telephone was invented in Canada! The first commercial jet transport was in Canada!" "Canadian firsts!" snorted a man beside Laurie. He was speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. "What good do they do anybody? Most Americans think it happened in their country anyhow!" "Then why don't we just join them?" yelled another man in the crowd. "Because we don't need them!" the young man standing on the bench hollered back. "They don't appreciate us!" "What the hell is appreciation?" the man returned. "We need a strong economy! Not appreciation!" The young man's face was getting red. Laurie tugged at Phineas's arm. She didn't want to stick around and see a fight even if it was just two people yelling at each other. Reluctantly Phineas started walking. John wanted to stop and see if there were any good ties in a men’s clothing store. Raquel went with him, no doubt still annoyed at Phineas for noticing and commenting on Rennae. Lina saw a bookstore she wanted to go into. They all agreed to meet at a 50's style diner called Memories that Phineas had suddenly decided that they had to try. "Come," said Phineas taking Laurie's elbow and steering her towards the restaurant. "I'll buy you the cheapest thing on the menu." "Actually," he said when they were inside with the lime green wood panelling, black-and-white checkered floor and bright electric lights, seated at a table examining the humongous menus, "I think I'll buy you a drink so you'll tell me what's wrong." Laurie sighed. "Nothing's wrong." "Two Long Island Ice Teas. Make hers a double," said Phineas to the waitress who had appeared. "Burgers and fries OK?" Laurie nodded. "C'mon," he said when the waitress had left. "You can tell Uncle Phineas. Something's bothering you. You're hiding it well, but I can pick up the vibes. Maybe we were Siamese twins, with my foot attached to your ear, severed at birth and separated so that we would never know our freakish past." "Actually..." She figured she'd just tell him and get it over with. "That girl in the Waterloo jacket was my ex's sister." Phineas whistled. "Small world." "Yeah." "Summer romance?" "Yeah." "In Eastmount?!" 181

"Believe it or not." "It'd be easier to believe we were Siamese twins separated at birth." "Well, obviously, he wasn't from Eastmount. He was from here." "Hey! I've got a great idea!" Phineas leaned over, his elbows on the table, just as the drinks came. Not one to hide his private conversations from waitresses, he continued speaking as she set down the napkins and then the bulbous, frosty glasses. "Why don't I start dating Miss Waterloo and then, one day when I'm over at her place, call you up on some pretence, you know, maybe you have a Chinese checkers board or something and Waterloo and I just happen to want to play a game. Then when you're over there, you'll bump into your ex, and suddenly a wave of love will sweep over you both and you'll wonder why you ever parted, and you'll be in each other's arms again, and we can all have a double wedding." "It's irreconcilable, Phineas," Laurie said sipping her drink through the slim turquoise straw. "Besides, it's a long drive from Toronto to deliver a Chinese checkers board." The burgers arrived. "I'm going nuts, Phineas," said Laurie suddenly. "Really?" Phineas was trying to rip open a plastic packet of mustard for his hamburger. "Yeah. The whole relationship was bordering on insane. I mean, he was insane -- very Hamletesque." "Your ex?" Phineas was trying to get the packet open with his teeth. "Of course. Phineas, the guy was actually a Christian." "Maybe you should call the police." Phineas was now using his knife to try to saw the top of the packet off. "The police?!" Phineas threw down the packet in disgust. “Why would I call the police?” continued Laurie. “Oh, I dunno. Christians believe some pretty weird things. I read some of the Bible once. God was actually telling these people, I think they were called Israelites or something, to go kill a whole town of people…” "You know," Laurie went on. "This world is an evil place. And I mean, it's not just this world, it's this life. War and lechery, that's all we are." "Screw these stupid things!" said Phineas, as the ketchup packet he had picked up ripped open suddenly, spraying tomato paste all over his plate and splattering more on the top of the bun than the burger. Laurie sighed and handed him her paper napkin. John had appeared in the foyer of the restaurant and was surveying the room. He spotted Phineas and Laurie and hurried over. "Hey! Did you guys hear?" He slid into the booth. "There was a bomb threat on the CN Tower! They had to evacuate it." 182

"Do they think it's for real?" asked Laurie. "They won't know for another couple of hours or so." "Has anyone claimed responsibility?" asked Phineas. "The guy who phoned the threat in said he wanted Toronto to look more like the Chicago skyline." "Whatever," said Phineas. "It might have been Detroit, I can't remember." John looked up at the waitress who had appeared at the edge of their table. "Coke, please," he said. Lina swept into the room and slid into the vinyl booth beside Laurie. "Did you know," she said as if about to divulge the latest gossip, "that they won't give the results of the referendum until tomorrow morning?" "Well, that stands to reason since after everyone votes they still have to count the ballots," said Phineas taking a gulp of his drink. "Well," Lina paused to consider. "What are we going to do with ourselves till then?" Phineas shrugged. "Go back and sing folk songs? Does anyone know the lyrics to The Maple Leaf Forever?" “I do,” said John and began singing, “In Days of yore, from Britain's shore, Wolfe the dauntless hero came and planted firm Britannia's flag on Canada's fair domain. Here may it wave, our boast, our pride and joined in love together, the thistle, shamrock, rose entwined, the Maple Leaf Forever. The Maple Leaf, our emblem dear, the Maple Leaf Forever. God save our Queen and heaven bless, the Maple Leaf Forever…” Some people started to applaud. "I know," said Lina before John could start the second stanza. "We'll sightsee!" "Oh, you know what we have to see!" said Phineas. "The Americana building!" "Where's Raquel?" asked Laurie quickly. "She's watching a reenactment of the 1837 march against the British just down the street," said John. "She thought the men looked good in their uniforms." "Why on earth are they reenacting the 1837 march against the British?" asked Laurie. "I mean, for one thing, it took place in York, not Ottawa." "It's a pro-American thing," explained John. "You know, it's Canada's one and only rebellion against the Motherland so it's all they can really work with." "Is there a William Lyon Mackenzie?" asked Phineas. "Right at the head of the group," replied John. "Thank you," he said to the waitress who had brought his drink. "It's so exciting out there!" Raquel said, materializing behind the waitress. "There're signs everywhere! Like a protest, or something." 183

"What kind of signs?" asked Phineas. "Like, oh let me think, like America Was Born In Revolution, Canada In the Spirit of Exploration." "Did you know that in 1818 a convention was held which determined the 49th parallel," said Phineas. "It was based on the watershed between the waters flowing north to the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay and the water flowing south to the Gulf of Mexico." "No, Phineas," said Lina. "I didn't know that." "After that, America moved its expansion to the vast west leaving Canada to fill out the north." "Fifty states is just way too much," said Raquel suddenly. "At least we only have ten provinces to remember. What a nightmare if we join the U.S. and have to memorize all those states." "Not to mention all their capitals," added Phineas cheerfully. After a lunch of hamburgers and fries they set out towards the Parliament Buildings, this time not to revel in the crowds, but to be bona-fide tourists. "Oh I wish I had a camera hanging around my neck!" moaned Phineas. "It's the Parti Québécois!" Lina practically screamed. "Where?" asked Phineas, frantically surveying the masses, even though he had no political interest in the Parti Québécois. "There!" Lina pointed to a small group carrying signs with the fleur-de-lis. By maintaining its unique culture, Quebec had been spared the national soul-searching over the question of what it meant to be a Canadian. Rumour had it they were making separate negotiations with the Americans. But of course, they didn't want to miss out on the day's festivities. "They were the first political party to propose free trade with the U.S. back in 1983," said Phineas. "Actually, free trade has been an issue since the beginning of the last century. That's when Canadians first rejected the idea. But the Parti Québécois were, like, the first official party..." "Very interesting," interrupted John. "You know, one thing I've noticed is that in America everyone is either a Democrat or a Republican. But here we just vote for the party that ticks us off the least. You know, if you don't like what one party has done with the country, at election time you just vote for another one." After moving through the crowds and pausing to examine the 1967 Centennial Flame that eternally burned in front of the three Parliament Buildings, John said it would probably be quieter around back. "For your information," Phineas said, "the building in front of us holds the Senate and the House of Commons. It was actually burned down in 1916, as was the one to the left of us. The Parliament building to the right of us is the only original." "Where did you find that out?" asked Lina. "Field trip, grade eight." 184

"I think you're bluffing," said John. "You'd make a great tour guide." Phineas turned to say something to him but instead came faceto-face with Laurie and saw her troubled look. "It's going to be OK," he said putting his arm around her. "No it isn't," she said. "I'm staring into the abyss and one more step forward and I go plummeting. I'm desperately trying to come up with some alternatives to insanity." "Think about happy things," Phineas suggested. "Like what?" "You know, things that make you happy. If you think you're going insane, you're not thinking about good things." "Kind of like My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music?" "Exactly," said Phineas snapping his fingers. "I knew I got it from somewhere!" "Is it freezing out here?" asked Laurie, looking around the general horizon with distaste. "No, it's all warm and fuzzy," replied Phineas, squeezing her shoulders. "I'm freezing." "We'll get you some coffee." "Maybe I have a terminal disease, or something," said Laurie. "Oh, yeah?" Phineas sounded marginally interested. "How can you tell?" "`Cos I ache everywhere, but I don't really hurt. I just don't feel right all over." "It's going to be OK," said Phineas, again. "No, it isn't!" "Oh yes it is!" Phineas practically sang. "C'mon!! Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens!” They kept walking towards the massive building, turning when they got right up to the road in front of it. "What's this?" asked Raquel, pausing to look up at a copper statue of a sober-looking man who looked pre-Twentieth century. "Who's this," Phineas corrected her. "And it's obviously a former Prime Minister." "It's obviously a Father of Confederation," said John reading the brass plate. Phineas sighed. "It's sad how Canadians don't know their Prime Ministers from their Fathers of Confederation. Our education system is conspicuously wanting. Now here's one I know," Phineas said walking up to the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald. "He looks familiar," agreed Raquel. Lina started walking towards the black-iron fence that held people back from plunging into the frothy Ottawa River. "In 1858, Ottawa was chosen as the new nation's capital and they began to build the Parliament buildings," said Phineas. "Before that, British barracks stood on Parliament Hill. That's the library over there." He pointed towards a wing of the main 185

building. "It was not damaged by the fire in 1916." Right ahead of them were two ancient hippies on a bench making out in an exact replica of Rodin's The Kiss. The KAVREs were all intrigued. The couple continued to hold the pose while they walked past. "I forget to tell you," said Phineas, turning and pointing back to the top of the main Parliament building. "That part on top is called the Peace Tower." "Listen to this," said Phineas. They had cut through a little alleyway downtown and found a café in a courtyard and were now settled in white metal lace chairs. Mercifully Phineas had forgotten about Americana and was now reading a New York Times that he had bought in a bookstore. "There are some people in Europe who think they know the exact spot in the sky where Christ is going to return." "How did they figure it out?" asked John. "Well..." said Phineas skimming the article. "OK, let's see. OK, you all know the book of Revelation? It's in the Bible. Well, there's apparently seven letters to seven churches at the beginning of it and the churches are referred to as seven lampstands and for each church there's an angel who is referred to as a star. OK, got it?" Everyone nodded. "Well, these people have looked at the geographical arrangement of the ancient cities, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, and apparently they match up with a particular star arrangement. It's not like it's a particular constellation or anything, just a bunch of stars. Anyhow, they think that Christ will appear in the centre of the star formation as well as the New Jerusalem which is supposed to be coming down from heaven...Oh and this is interesting. In the message to the Pergamum church it says that they live where Satan has his throne, so of course these people think that that star represents Satan's headquarters..." Phineas continued skimming. "Apparently all of this isn't as far-fetched as it sounds because the ancient Egyptians built their pyramids to match the Orion constellation since Osiris was associated with that constellation. They thought that Egypt was a mirror of heaven, that the Nile River represented the Milky Way. Oh, and Babylon was really into the stars..." Phineas continued reading to himself. "That's very interesting!" said Lina, captivated by the whole idea. "That's very typical of an oppressed people," said Phineas turning the page. "They turn to religion." "So, it's a religion?" said Lina. "Of course!" said Phineas looking up. "What did you think it was? An astronomy club?" "Well, what do they do?" asked Lina. "I mean, do they have a 186

service?" Phineas sighed and turned back to the article. "OK," he said. "What's it say?" He found what he was looking for. "All it says is that they have a room where there's a throne in the middle of it. They leave that empty. Around the throne are seven lamps representing the spirit of God and twentyfour chairs for some elders. It doesn't say who the elders are. Maybe people in their church, I dunno. Oh, and on each wall there's a picture. A lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle." "That's really weird," said Lina. Phineas shrugged. "Can I read my stocks now?" "What do they do? I mean, what's their service like?" asked Lina. Phineas feigned irritation. "I don't know. Why don't I read further?" He turned back to the article and emerged from it a few seconds later with an answer. "They chant," he said. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. This sounds like something your boyfriend would get into. You know, that dude who said God was online…" "He's not my boyfriend," said Lina, irritated by the comment. Having emotionally wounded Lina, Phineas was free to turn to his stocks. Laurie was glad Phineas hadn’t commented on Jessie. Her half-empty sugar packet that she had propped against the tiny metal rack where it came from slid down and spilled its crystalline contents onto the white table, most of it falling into the tile's cracks. She took half a packet of sugar in her cappuccino, Lina about five. No wonder she's so hyper, thought Laurie, watching her constantly shifting in her chair to cross or uncross her legs, leaning forward, twisting back, while she stirred and restirred her coffee as if the sugar needed continual dissolving with each layer that she went down in her cup. "What's the difference between a café latte and a cappuccino?" asked John. "I dunno," said Lina looking at her café latte more carefully. "One has steamed milk and one has frothy milk maybe. Frothy, that's such a scary word." "Frothy. Fro-thy," said Phineas looking up. "I mean, it's not sexual, but it seems kind of obscene." "Venus rising out of the frothy waters," said Phineas taking a sip of his cappuccino. "Yeah! That's what it is." Lina put down her cup. "It is sexual. I mean, Venus rising out of the waters is serious sexual symbolism. Bodily fluids." 187

"I never thought about that before," said Phineas. "That symbolism of her rising out of the water. This is so charming!" Phineas surveyed the stone walls and little flower boxes. "It could be Quebec City." "Do you realize in 12 hours Quebec City may just be another New Orleans?" Laurie said. "Well, technically, it will take a year or so before we officially join the U.S.," John said, taking the final gulp of his drink. Laurie groaned and put her head down on the frosted glass table, carefully avoiding the area where she had spilled her coffee when Lina accidently jostled the wobbly table. "I wish there was something we could do," she said, her head still down, her voice muffled. A sudden piercing patriotism had stabbed her left breast. "It's up to the hearts of the Canadian people now," said Phineas. "Oh well," Laurie looked up. With her thumb she absently started brushing the remaining spilled sugar off of the table where it disappeared in the breeze before even hitting the concrete. "I personnally can hardly wait to be a Promise Keeper," said Phineas. "How `bout you, John?" "I don't pray in public." "I don't pray in private." "If you want to contribute to a return to the Dark Ages, go right ahead. Believe me, you'll learn to pray in private when the church reigns supreme in America and the slightest voice against it is silenced," John said sounding suddenly vehemenent. "John, I don't see what you have against sincere, wholesome, God-fearing people..." "I have nothing against sincere, wholesome, God-fearing people and everything against the not-so religiously-minded people who often lead them. It's the power of a few individials with the quantity of their devoted followers that makes me nervous." “I would hardly equate Promise Keepers with the papal corruption of the Middle Ages,” said Lina. "Well, I for one can hardly wait to give my heart to the Lord,” said Phineas. “I think I’ll become a Southern Baptist. Church on Sunday mornings followed by fried chicken and mashed potatoes…" "I think I'll be joining Matriarchs of America," said Lina. “I’m going to join the United Empire Loyalists,” said Laurie. Phineas laughed. “That’s a good one." After that the conversation drifted from one thing to another until they all agreed to head back to the motel. John rode in the backseat with Lina and Laurie. "Oh no!" Laurie was startled by John’s sudden outburst as they pulled into the parking lot of the Econolodge. Then she saw the police 188

car parked outside of the office. “Who cares?” said Lina. “Police are everywhere. Worst case scenario, they’ve come to arrest Phineas.” The tone of her voice was big deal. But as it turned out, Phineas had nothing to fear. As soon as they stepped out of the car, two policemen approached them and focused on Laurie. "Laurie Juliana O'Briaen?" "Yes?" She could feel the fear rising in her stomach. "We'd like to take you in to answer a few questions." After the man had voted, they went back to the Oaklands and made spaghetti and meatballs, and baked brownies for dessert. Rennae had read in a Mademoiselle article about date ideas that making dinner together was a bonding, romantic experience and he definitely seemed to enjoy himself. Jessie came downstairs when they were having coffee with the brownies and he and the man had a cordial discussion about whether the Jays would make it to the World Series this year, which made the evening seem even more cosy. After doing the dishes (the man washed, Rennae dried, and Jessie put away), they retired to the den and spent the evening watching television reruns of The Untouchables. But Jessie’s mind was far from the movie. After Laurie’s visit to the Oaklands, two detectives and two men from the C.I.A. had showed up at his door, asking a lot of questions, trying to get him to remember every detail of the day Americana burned down. Even more alarming, they had gotten it out of him that he hadn’t actually met up with the friend he’d been waiting for. “Laurie Juliana O’Briaen?” one of the men had confirmed, as he had consulted a notebook computer. Jessie had nodded. “So you finally met…where?” “Here,” he had admitted. “A misunderstanding. She thought I would meet her in the lobby. I thought she would come up to my office.” He had shrugged. “We ended up meeting back here.” But they had really seemed interested in Laurie, even asking him for a photo, demanding it, in fact. So he had had to print off a couple of pictures they had taken together in Eastmount on his digital camera. When asked when he had last seen her, he had been forced to admit it was only about half an hour ago. The men had exchanged looks. You mean, she was in Ottawa? Well, yes, he said. Although he had no clue as to where she was at the moment and how long she was staying. No problem, they assured him. One of them immediately got on his cell phone to start calling every motel and hotel in the area. When they left, Jessie was left feeling dazed and forced to face something that had been bugging him all along -- Laurie 189

didn’t have a bottle of alcohol with her when she showed up at his place. And Laurie occasionally smoked. The CIA had a lot of questions She had seen enough movies to know that she would be better off saying less than more and that if they were actually arresting her that she was entitled to one phonecall and a lawyer present. Mostly she had cried. They asked her questions about where she was the day Americana burned down. According to a Mr. Jessie Oakland she was in the lobby of Americana. Was this true? She had sobbed even harder. “Were you a houseguest of Mr. Oakland’s?” She had been crying too hard to answer that one too. What did she have against Americana? “Nothing,” she had wept. “I don’t even know what they are.” What she had meant was, she had no clue what kind of company it was. It occurred to her at that moment she didn’t know if it sold insurance or made children’s toys or running shoes or what. Since her answers were minimal and the CIA could not elicit a confession from her, she spent several hours just waiting in a quiet room with a table, a couple of chairs, and a securely barred window that looked out on a dark alley. At one point a policewoman came in with a paper cup of coffee and a bagel for her. She ate and drank without tasting anything. Reviewing the interview in her mind, she knew she had handled it as best she could. She had been a basket case, but she hadn’t lied or confessed. Laurie had no idea how much time had passed before a man came in and told her that for her information, she would be here for awhile since she was their number one suspect and if she wanted to make a phonecall, go ahead. “My parents,” she said, numbly. “They’re already here,” he said. “Your friends must have called them.” “Can I see them?” “Yeah, OK.” Laurie sat there stunned. It was really happening. Her life was over. One stupid little temper tantrum and she was going to pay for the rest of her life. "You know," said the man, still standing in the doorway grinning at her. She suddenly recognized him. He was the younger officer who had come to her door to question her after the bridge had blown up. "I would have never guessed that it was just a nice Canadian girl who had so much hostility against the States. You're lucky no one got hurt. They'll go easy on you, don't worry." "I didn't blow up that bridge," said Laurie suddenly. "I want you to know that. I honestly did not blow up that bridge." "Don't worry," said the man. "We checked your background and you don't seem a likely candidate for blowing things up. Funny coincidence you being there that day though, isn't it? It's what 190

got us to look at you more carefully, your name coming up in both investigations." Yeah, life was weird. "We're going to let your father come in and see you," said the man. "Thanks," she said, looking down at her hands. What was she going to say to her dad? "Hi," she said when her father was escorted into the room. She wanted to put him at ease. "Look, I don't know what you've done," said Paul O'Briaen, hurrying over to her, "but just don't get yourself into more hot water by lying to them..." "Don't worry, Dad," she said standing up holding both his arms. “The walls have ears.” She smiled. “I know, Dad.” “Whatever it takes, we’ll get you out of this.” Her dad looked older, tired, and she hated that she was the reason for it. Paul O'Briaen returned to the waiting area. Laurie's friends had followed her to the police station and the family had driven to Ottawa upon receiving the phone call. Phineas had loudly declared to any interested officer that no one would leave until Laurie was released. After being assured by Mr. O'Briaen that Laurie was OK and was now talking to the police, the group was at a restless loss as to how to kill time until something broke. Lina pulled out a notebook and began to write in it. Phineas went out to get them coffee and returned with café au laits and several packs of cards. Sky and Will played Go Fish, Raquel and Mrs. O'Briaen started a game of Crazy Eights while Phineas, John, and Mr. O'Briaen had a go at poker despite only Phineas having a vague idea of how it was done. John was sent out to get some burgers which they ate without much enthusiasm. Lina was back to writing in her notebook when she happened to glance up. Her eyes widened. She was going to say something but she suddenly realized no one would know what she was talking about. It was Jessie. He had come into the police station and marched straight to the front desk. No longer wearing a bathrobe but dressed in a white shirt, tan pants and black blazer, he said something to the lady at the front counter that seemed to cause quite a stir. She waved for two police officers who immediately came over and escorted Jessie to some back room. Weird, thought Lina. She wondered what he had said that had gotten such instant attention. After awhile she returned to writing in her notebook. 191

THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER November 2, 2011 NO! 59% of Canadians voted no, they do not want to join the United States, and Prime Minister Richard Dowe says that any plans to instigate unification with the United States will be filed away. However, 41% of Canadians said they were willing to join the U.S. Sources close to the Prime Minister say that he is disappointed by the defeat of what was considered his pet project, but is not surprised considering the idea of becoming American could be too much of a jolt for conservative Canadians. "I feel confident that if another referendum were held in 10 years the number of people voting No would be considerably lower," he is quoted as saying to a member of his cabinet. Steve Maclean, leader of the People's Resistance Movement, disagrees. "If anything, people are going to become more patriotic over the next 10 years," he said outside of the Parliament buildings, along with thousands of other Canadians, when the results of the referendum were released. "We'll watch America, knowing that could have been us, knowing those could have been our boys sent off to a foreign war, knowing those could have been our cities torn by racial violence, and we'll say thank God we still have a chance to be different." The People's Resistance Movement will not disband just because the referendum campaign's over, but have plans to continue to preserve and promote Canadian culture. More/ Election results A3-A5 On Parliament Hill A8-A9 Patriotic salute section B

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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
November 2, 2011 They arrested Jessie early that morning. Laurie was released and led in a daze to her waiting family and friends. The Oaklands rushed to the station, eager to post bail and get their son out of prison before any of their friends found out. Jessie had spent the latter part of the night and earlier part of the morning confessing. Aspects of his confession were vague. He couldn’t remember the exact office he had started the fire in, just said he’d picked the first empty one he came to. Was it premeditated? No, he hated the company and it had been very spur of the moment. (They accepted this considering the fire had been started with some alcohol and a cigarette.) Was Laurie involved? No, she was just visiting him at the time. But in the end it was Rennae's testimony that was the most damning. When the CIA questioned her as to whether she remembered Laurie staying at their house, she had to honestly say, no, she hadn't. "I didn't notice anyone..." She said vaguely. "I mean, she could have been there..." No one could not notice a houseguest, the CIA agreed among themselves. It was clear what had happened. Laurie had never been there in the first place. Jessie had given them a name to throw them off and he had picked the name of his ex-girlfriend. Pretty feeble, the C.I.A. concluded when they questioned Jessie. Creating a story about waiting for his girlfriend in the hope that suspicion would fall on her in the event that she didn’t have an alibi. But women didn't just burn down buildings for some vaguely patriotic reason. But with his change of heart and a full confession this would be an easy prosecution. Ten years, was the guess going around the station. Maybe he’d be out in five with good behaviour.

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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
December 2, 2011 "I think it's a great idea," said Phineas when he was finished speaking. They had found a new hangout -- a little Italian restaurant that served an awe-inspiring Amaretto cappuccino. "That's because it's your idea," said Lina. "No, really. Think about it, it's so hip. Let’s kill this Weltschmerz and really start to live again!" "I like it," Laurie said. She was feeling pretty good today. It was a fragile sense of well-being but it was a start. It required that all variables go her way, the chief one being that her optimism not waiver. Optimism in what? That she’d meet someone to make her forget about Jessie? No. More that she’d be strong and find happiness in freedom, although she still suspected that freedom was overrated. Unfortunately, her freedom was at Jessie’s expense. He had written her a letter. All it had said was, Dear Jul, I know what I’m doing. It was all my fault. Someone set me free once. I’m just repaying the favour. Jessie. She didn’t quite follow it, but she didn’t resist it. She was free. It was just such a blessed relief to be free. She hoped prison would turn out OK for him. "It's fun” she continued. “It'll keep us busy. It doesn't damage the environment. I mean, what else are we going to do with our lives?" "Well, you're going to write your autobiography about how you dated an arsonist, go on book-signing tours across Canada and then later sell your story to all the major American networks. However, you'll need something to keep you busy in your old age, so I agree, it's the ultimate KAVRE venture," said Phineas. "We'll make the place swinging. Cool people will come and drink pink champagne out of plastic cocktail glasses while they play. Raquel can put on a silver-sequin evening dress and show off the prizes." "Where're we going to get the money?" asked John. Phineas sighed. "John, John," he shook his head. "This is a business venture. We go to the bank, present the idea, and if they don't go for it, I go to my dad and say that I’ll tell the world who really writes his television scripts if he doesn't give me the loan to start it up." "But, Phineas," said John. "A bingo hall? For people our age? Do you think anybody'll go for it?" "I know they'll go for it," said Phineas confidently. "And you know why I know that? Because we'd go for it. Food, fun, and games, not to mention a chance to win fabulous prizes, what more do people want?" 194

They settled back in their seats and sipped their frothing cappuccinos. "What kind of prizes?" asked Raquel suddenly. "Pink polka-dot stuffed tigers," said Phineas. "Snakes and Ladders, vouchers for dinner at Pizza Hut, t-shirts with pictures of famous artists' faces, surfboards, honeybears, software, coloured pencils, Plasticine, cans of creamed corn, The Complete Works of Margaret Atwood, purple hairbrushes, all-night mascara, Candyland, vinyl knapsacks, Roots sweatshirts, 40-piece sets of Bunnykin dishware, all the glorious little things that make people happy...”

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THE EASTMOUNT ENQUIRER December 2, 2011 RAINBOW BRIDGE BOMBER CONFESSES Carla Matthews, 32, a Niagara-on-the-Lake store clerk, has confessed to blowing up the Rainbow Bridge on the evening of October 9 as a vindictive gesture against her American boyfriend, Don Carlburg, 29, of Buffalo, New York, who had broken up with her two and a half months previous to the explosion. "It was symbolic," said a tearful Ms. Matthews, voluntarily turning herself into police yesterday. "I wanted to blow up all chances of seeing him again." Ironically, Mr. Carlburg was in Canada at the time of the explosion. As a side inquiry, the police are investigating Mr. Carlburg on suspicion of smuggling inexpensive American leather goods across the border and selling them to Canadians at jacked up prices. Ms. Matthews explained how she drove her car to the middle of the bridge, with a bomb in the trunk, and then abandoned her car as if it had broken down. She told border officials she was attending a pottery convention. Police are still inquiring into how she obtained a bomb. A police psychiatrist who examined Ms. Matthews says that she is "not entirely sane." Ms. Matthews, who has collapsed in a fit of mental exhaustion, will be treated in a sanatorium before having to face trial. Considering her psychological and emotional condition, Ms. Matthews's lawyer feels confident that his client will not go to jail, but will be allowed to complete her sentence in the sanatorium. Police investigation shows that after leaving her car on the Rainbow Bridge, Carla Matthews took refuge at her mother's home in Niagara-on-the-Lake and told no one what she had done. Her mother was upset at her daughter's arrest, but not surprised. "Carla takes her emotions seriously," she said in an interview at her home. "I'm not proud of what she did, but I'm not shocked. She was very hurt after the break-up with Don, and she didn't want to talk about it. She kept her emotions inside of her, and I don't think that was healthy. She should have shared them with me instead of blowing up the bridge." CBC has made a bid to buy the Carla Matthews story and turn it into a movie. MORE/ Carla Matthews's life story A5

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