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Jennifer L - PDF

VIEWS: 101 PAGES: 196

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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…

                          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
April 14, 2011

                    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
     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

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
     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

MORE/ A12-A16
    /Economic Effects   B1, B4-B5
    /Cultural Effects   D1

EXCERPT   FROM   CanCom   --   the     24-hour   Canadian    Comedy
April 20, 2011

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:    (looking at a hair dye box)    Do you think I have time to
           bleach my hair?

Mark:     (looking at watch) Well, we've allotted two hours for
          this. How long do you think it will take?

Elaine:   (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...

Mark:      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?

Elaine:    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.)

Mark:      This isn't going to be easy.

Elaine:    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.

Mark:      How much did all of this cost?

Elaine:    Shopper's Drug Mart had an American Face and Body Beauty

Mark:      But how much did it cost?

Elaine:    Oh, about the same as our income taxes last year.
           (Trying to change the subject, picks up the hair-
           colouring box.) You know, they really should print news

          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:     Who in America reads...on a Saturday night?

Elaine:   That reminds me, weren't we supposed to say something?

Mark:     Well actually, we were supposed to yell something.

Elaine:   You know we don't yell.

Mark:     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!

Elaine:   (hissing) Wrong show, sweetie!

Mark:          (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!

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

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
     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.

     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
     "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
     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

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
     "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
     "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
     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.

"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
     "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
     "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?"
     "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?"

     "From that clump of bushes that I saw the other day."
     "But you said that you didn't know what kind of berries they
     "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.

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
      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.

      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."
      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
      "Your elbow sticks out too much," he said as she resumed her
      "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-in-
      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

     "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
     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
     "How did you know my name?" She turned to him.
     He shrugged. It was obvious he had no intention of telling
     "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
     "Why don't you play the next one?" she asked as they walked
through a shady alcove to get to the ninth hole.

     "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
     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
     "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.
     "Happy childhood?"
     "More stable than most."
     "High school?"
     "Don't remember much of it."
     "Any drugs or deviant sex?"
     She smiled.
     "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."

     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
     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
     “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,

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
      She nodded.
      "Exactly. You too...?"
      "What's your middle name?" He asked abruptly.
      "Because I collect middle names as a hobby. No, seriously, I
just want to know."
      Jessie reached over and ran a finger across the back of her
      "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-the-
Duckie-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

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.
     "I've never seen them here."
     "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.

     "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

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
      "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

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 cottage-
style 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."

     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
     "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,
     "I'm glad you feel that way," said Jessie.
     "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
      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
      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
      "Do you have a name for it?" asked Laurie, sitting down

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
     He shrugged.
     "Yeah, I was in the war, like everyone else."
     The Canadians and Americans sent over had been stationed in
Britain, as border guards more than as offensive soldiers.
     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."

     "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
     "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
     "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

     "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.

      "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
      "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
      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

quite time for dinner. The British were smart. They had their
     "Shandy's?" she said.
     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

     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

     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
     "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 college-
aged women plotting a way to climb up to the second-story window

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
     "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
     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
     "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
     "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

     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.

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."
     "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."
     "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."
     "OK, then..."

     "OK, I guess I'll see you tomorrow..."
     "OK..." she said.
     "OK, then. 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.

     "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
     "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

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
      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."
      "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..."
      "I'm gay."
      "Cool," said Jessie grinning and flicking some ashes into the
      "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
      "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.

     "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?"
      "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.

     “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
     "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

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
     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.

     "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
     "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.

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
      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
      "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
      “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

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 freshly-
arrived shooter in one quick gulp.       "I speak metaphysically, of
      "Jessie, you're smart.     You'll do great things with your
      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!"

     "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
     "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
     "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
     "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

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
     "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 grown-
ups. 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

      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 man-
eating 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
      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
      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
      "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
      "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
      "Well then, who are you?" demanded Laurie.

     "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
     "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.

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.

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.
     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
     "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

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
     "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

brick house. The lawn was as refreshingly green as the Eastmount
golf course and there were hibiscus bushes lining the front of the
     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
     "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,"

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
      "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
      "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
      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.”

      “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
      Jessie and Laurie went through the door and down a flight of
      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 good-
looking, 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…

     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

      "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 metal-
trimmed, vinyl chairs that you find in a drop-in clinic's waiting
      "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 nice-
looking 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.

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
     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

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
     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
     "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

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
     "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
     "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
     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

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
     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

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
      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

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?"
     "Get home OK?"
     Was now the time to use Alain as a natural source of
     "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
     "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
     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   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.
     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
     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.

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
     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

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
      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.
      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
      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 best-
looking man in the world. But at sixteen I met a man who could

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

stomach and she turned to Daniel who had followed them into the
     "Can we just sit down?" she asked Daniel.       "I'm a little
     "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.

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
     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.


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
     "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."
     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
     "Oh!" she said as if she had just gotten it. "No, I forgot.

     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
     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
     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 t-
shirt, 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.

     "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
     "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
     "I remember that show," Laurie said, making herself another
coffee, this time mixing in a few spoonfuls of hot chocolate

     "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 bike-
ride 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

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
      "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 wooden-

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
      "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

announced that they will no longer be directly involved with the
     "That's interesting," said their grandfather, his standard
remark after every summary.

     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.
     "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."
     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.

      “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
      "They think the fire may have started with a bottle of booze
and a cigarette."

August 14, 2011


     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
     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

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, bulletin-
board 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 three-
story 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

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

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
     "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?"
     "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

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 life-
force moved her to say when a waitress dropped a plate of half-
eaten eggplant two tables over from them, thoroughly securing
Dwayne's attention.

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.
     "How was it?"
     "The usual," she lied.      "Anything exciting happen around
     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

      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
      "May I see the paper?" asked Phineas. "I'd like to check my
      "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
      In high school the little group had only come together as a
result of their shared interest in having a clique to hang-out
      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.

     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
     "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
     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
     "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
     "I own three," said Phineas absently.
     "You have to say something positive about her," Lina reminded
     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.

     "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
     "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."

     "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
     "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 pre-
technological 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.

     "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
     "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
     "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.

Maybe we even start our own magazine.     We start small and then
     "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
     "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."
     "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?"

     "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."

        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

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.

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
     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

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
      "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
      "...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
      "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

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
      "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
      "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
      "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
      "Of course not. I've never even seen a desert."
      "Have you seen a desert, Laurie?"
      "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

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
      "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
      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.

      "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
      "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
      "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."

     "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
     "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
     "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."

     "Good goddess," said Phineas melodramatically.    "You're not
     "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.
     "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

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 mix-
up.    So they probably just think we went back to my place
      "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
      "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
      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
      She could meet someone new...But she’d met people.     It was
      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

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.

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
     "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

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 ha-
olam.    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," 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?"
      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.

      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
      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
      “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
      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.

     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

     "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."

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
     "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

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
     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
     "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!"

     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
     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
     Because the office building was in the unfashionable suburbs
where there were no nice little delis or bistros to go to for

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
     "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
     "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

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
     "Phineas, that was years ago!       Isn't it just a little
     "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 clear-
headed 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

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
     "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
     "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
     "I don't think I'd be very good at it, solving cases.        I

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."
     "I really don't know. I had this little plastic car that I
would drive around the house in, pretending to be cruising for
     "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
     "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

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,"

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
     "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.

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 take-
out 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
     "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
     "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

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?
     "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 All-
American 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?"

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.

October 8, 2011


     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
     "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
     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
     "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."

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
      "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.

     "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…"

     "What do you think of Canada joining the U.S.? asked Rennae
     "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.

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
     "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

license. What if the picture triggered something in the mind of
the border guard and he thought it looked like the Americana
      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
      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."
      "With a proclivity to be incredibly humble about his human
      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
      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."

     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 middle-
aged 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
     "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.
     "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.

     "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
     "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."
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 supposed-
to-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.

      "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

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..."

     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.

October 9, 1992


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

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

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
     `"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
     `"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
     `"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.

     `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
     `"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

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

                              * * *

      ""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
      `"Standard procedure. Cut their beer supply immediately," he
      `"Very good, sir," replied Lieutenant Howell, just short of
      `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
      `"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

     `"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
     `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,

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
      `"No because his girlfriend was really worried when I phoned
her this morning."
      `"Try her again," urged Johnson.     "Maybe she's heard from
      "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

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
      `"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
      `"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.
      `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
      `"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,

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
     "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 left-
wing 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

secondly, they had listened to CDs, not the radio, all the way

      "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.
      "I knew you wouldn't have heard. You're not one for current
      "Jessie, what are talking about?"       Rennae's stomach was
fizzing like a volcano and her irritability was spilling over like
      "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?"
      "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
      "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 end-
times?    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

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 fashion-
magazine 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
     "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,

hoping it would be sometime past the legal limit for arresting
     "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 middle-
aged 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
     "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.

     "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
     "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?"
     "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

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
      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
      "What the hell are you talking about?" asked Laurie. She was
jittery as it was about the bridge-bombing without John adding to
      "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

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
     "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
     "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
     Sky sighed, turned around, and decided to throw on a pair of
jeans and go out and find someone to jam with.

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
     "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
     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.

     "That pretty much sums it up."
     "We can, however, break the cycle by bonding with our own
children," said Jessie, continuing with his therapist-being-
interviewed-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?"

     "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
     "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

     "Well drat.    How does that make her different from anyone
     "I dunno," Laurie said returning to her magazine.       "Maybe
that's the point.     Maybe Canadians aren't that different from
     "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
     "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
     "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 middle-
aged man in a plaid shirt and cords. "Why hasn't this happened in
     A sign flashed on the bottom of the screen.      David Kaplan,

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
     "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
     "Thanks," mumbled Lina, not looking up. "It was distracting
     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?"
     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
     Jessie came hurtling out of the beer-store, six-pack in hand,
     "Drive, woman! Drive!" he yelled. "I've just robbed the beer
     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
     "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

     "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.

October 20, 2011


     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.

Chelsea Banks
Lakeland, Minnesota

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 take-
out 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,
     "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."

      "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
      "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
      "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

     "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
     "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
     "Oh dear," said Lina.

      "Don't worry, John.   Thanks to all the war training that's
gone on there's thousands of people who could have carried that
      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
     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

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 marble-
tiled 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!"

     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,

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
     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

      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
      "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.
      When it's all over -
      The still remnants of a nuclear war."
      "Armageddon?" asked Phineas.
      "Sex," replied Lina.

     "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
     Maybe an awkward work slips out now,
     Maybe someone notices our words are dusted lightly with
     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
     "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
     "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.)

     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

        but our neutrality
        And caught and stopped the pendulum at the minuscule 90
        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
     "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
     "No, but I haven't heard anything about them arresting anyone
for blowing up the bridge so I assume that I'm still primo
     "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?"

     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 navy-
blue 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
     "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
     "First pay cheque. No, probably second or third pay cheque.
First one is going for a plane ticket to Germany."
     "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.
     "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 double-
breasted 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, booze-
drinking 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!"

     "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
     "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

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
     "There'd be no north/south division because there would have

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
      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.

      "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
      "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
      "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

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 American-
made 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,
     "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

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
     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.

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?

Man in the back: What do ya mean who's Hughie?               Everybody in
         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?

Man in the middle: No,     I   mean   like   rhododendrons    or    mountain

Charlie:   (writing this down) OK, prettier billboards.            Any other
           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       complimentary    doughnuts.
           Yes, sir?

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,
                This has been your nightly National Lesson on How
           to Be an American.
                One final reminder, please don't forget to stop by

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.

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
     "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.

     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 twelve-
pack 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 co-
dependent, potentially abusive, relationship."
     Laurie nodded.

     "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 self-
assertion?" 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 relationship-
sense. 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

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
      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
      "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
      "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
      "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

     "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
     "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.

     "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

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
     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
     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 pre-
parade 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

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."

      "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
      "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
     "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
     "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

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
     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.

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
      "You weenie," she said to her daughter as she handed the
basket to Phineas.    "While you were primping, I made the entire
      "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
      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
      "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."

     "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
     "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

about saying that Canada is making a grave mistake to ally herself
      "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
      "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
      "Undecided," replied Lina.
      "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

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

     "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
     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
     "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
     "Maybe we can get someone to hold our spot for us," said
Lina. "Two hours is a long time!"

     "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,
     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
     "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
     Raquel looked annoyed. She had also had many looks from men
that day.
     "I know," Laurie sighed and started walking towards the
     Phineas shrugged and the group began to amble along behind
     "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.

     `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
     "Then why don't we just join them?" yelled another man in the
     "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
     "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."
     "Summer romance?"
     "In Eastmount?!"

      "Believe it or not."
      "It'd be easier to believe we were Siamese twins separated at
      "Well, obviously, he wasn't from Eastmount.      He was from
      "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
      "Hey! Did you guys hear?" He slid into the booth. "There
was a bomb threat on the CN Tower! They had to evacuate it."

     "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
     "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."

     "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
     "Not   to  mention   all   their  capitals,"   added   Phineas
     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
     "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."

     "I think you're bluffing," said John. "You'd make a great
tour guide."
     Phineas turned to say something to him but instead came face-
to-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
     "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

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
      "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

      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 twenty-
four 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
      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
      "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."

     "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
     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
     "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
     "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
     "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

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
      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

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
     "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

got us to look at you more carefully, your name coming up in both
      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
      “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
      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.

November 2, 2011


      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,
      "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

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
     "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.

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
     "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
     "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?"

     They settled back in their seats and sipped their frothing
     "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

December 2, 2011


     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
     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
     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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