From David Gilmour’s Indelible

Nov 7, 2015 by

From David Gilmour’s Indelible

Fiction:

 

He was working as the guest host of a television show when he met her. Sandrine Roth. Politicians, biographers, directors with a new movie, actors, environmentalists, eccentric celebrities, anybody with something to sell turned up eventually at the Berkeley Street studio. The show ran at noon; gays, waiters, night hawks, insomniacs, meth addicts and shut-ins venerated it.

What was it called? His recent treatment at the hospital had torn dark patches in his memory, like a series of numbers from which certain ones are blacked out. Tomorrow Today! That was the name of the show. He felt a wave of relief to be able to recall it. Word retrieval, the doctor had warned him, was the first property to be compromised by shock treatment.

Tomorrow Today. Shock treatment. Hmm.

The executive producer, an anorexic Tom Wolfe type, assigned him a personal assistant to make sure he showed up sober and on time for the six a.m. make-up and briefing session. (Even back then he had a reputation for “late nights.”) Sandrine Roth was his junior by nearly twenty years, a cute young intern with a clip board, a round face and an ass that started at her belt.. She’s out of my league, he thought. Too good looking, too jazzy.

But when they went to bed together a month later, it didn’t click and they both lay there, embarrassed. Boy-girl things happened right away or they never did. Or so Arthur Ghent believed. You either wanted to take their clothes off and put your nose in private places or you didn’t. And he didn’t. She smelled funny; or rather her face did; not bad, just odd.

The regular host who had been recovering from a pulled groin (squash) returned a few weeks later and the assignment ended; you could have said that was that: A friendly wrong turn. Life was full of them.

Occasionally, in the winter that followed, he saw Sandrine Roth in the cafeteria; sometimes they crossed paths in the hallway; they talked well and easily because they could, because there was nothing at stake. Once she leaned over and brushed off something from his eyebrow.

“What?” he said, vanity drawing his head suddenly backwards.

“Nothing. Just a little night thing.” In that moment her physical familiarity seemed almost wife-like.

But then, six months later, a funny thing happened. Arthur’s lover, Jane Roadhouse, an aboriginal rights lawyer abruptly dumped him. That same night, from a bar near his apartment, he made a boozy phone call to Sandrine Roth at her work number and left the following message.

“I need to talk to a beautiful woman,” he said. It was an out-of-character remark, not to mention a tad cinematically corny, but he had little left to lose. It occurred to him that she might play it for her friends at work. Maybe not. There was about Ms Roth a sort of fundamental decency that didn’t go with that kind of derisive vanity. Or so it seemed from the few exchanges he had overheard passing by her desk. Which he did more than necessary.

When he got back to his apartment on Brunswick Avenue that night, he noticed giant icicles hanging from the eaves troughs above his head; fangs that assumed a sinister symbolism as though they were waiting for him. He passed quickly underneath; opened the front door, smelt the familiar winter carpet smell, went up the stairs, turned the corner and went into his second floor flat. A single key sat on the wooden floor. And in that key, in its dull glow, he sensed that he was on the cusp of a new and terrible life. And that the worst was yet to come. The red button blinked on his answering machine.

It was a message from Sandrine Roth. After an uncertain pause, a pause that said, I’m not sure about this at all, it said simply, “Okay.”

But forty-five minutes into their “date” the following night – they went at her suggestion to a candlelit bar, very fashionable at that time with good looking young men – Sandrine Roth settled her chin into her hand, raised her brown eyes to the ceiling, inhaled deeply through her nose (a gesture he would come to know well) and said, “What I think is that you should go home right now and call your lawyer friend. What’s her name?”

“Jane Roadhouse.”

“Call Jane Roadhouse.”

Minutes later she dropped him off at his front door, the ice tusks still gleaming. He passed Dr. Glotz on the stairs. She was a psychiatric intern at a downtown hospital. Coolly friendly. Months earlier, he had helped her with a cable television installation; had spent an unsupervised hour in her apartment with the inevitable results involving his nose and her laundry hamper. All his life he had been the prisoner of such inclinations; sometimes he acted on them; sometimes he didn’t. But he knew there was something greedy about him, some part of him that seemed never to have quite enough of anything. It was perhaps why he drank too much. To neutralize this sensation of not-quite-thereness.

A few days later, Sandrine phoned him from her desk at the television station. How had it gone with Jane Roadhouse?

“Not well.”

“Maybe she’ll change her mind. Great sex is a rare thing.”

“Yes,” he answered hollowly. Then, “How do you know the sex was great?”

“Because you told me.”

“Oh.”

“Twice.”

But Jane Roadhouse never changed her mind. In fact, it would be twelve years before he spoke to her, a chance meeting, in a bookstore. Extraordinary that you could share a bed for years and then never see each other. That life was, indeed, “a nasty, brutish” affair.

After that evening, after the forty-five minute date, he and Sandrine kind of “fell together.” Talked on the phone when there was no one more interesting to call, went to the art gallery, rented a David Cronenberg movie, moved a new microwave up her narrow staircase, and carried on together with the grateful but mild sadness that comes from being with someone wonderful you don’t want.

Sometimes she even slept at his apartment. They shared the same bed but they didn’t fool around with each others’ bodies. On his forty-fourth birthday they took another half-hearted swing at it but it was again a dead end. Why didn’t he desire her? Simple. She didn’t smell like the lawyer. The French are right, love is a question of smell.

Late one fall evening, the leaves blowing across his lawn, she knocked lightly on his apartment door and came in. He could smell her perfume.

“I can’t stay long,” Sandrine said.

“Who is he?”

“I can’t say. He’s married.”

“Why would I care if he’s married?”

He cares. He wants it to be a secret.”

A few minutes later he watched her walk across the lawn to her car. There was a park on the other side of the street and the leaves were blowing there, too. What exactly was he feeling standing at the window? Relief, it was a relief that she was sexually taken care of, that the task (and the guilt from its non fulfillment), didn’t fall on his shoulders.

And yet, hmm. He found himself recalling a peculiar incident that had happened a few nights earlier. After drinking their way across town, they had fallen into a comfortable silence in her car on the way home, Arthur thinking about the lawyer, Jane Roadhouse, about where she was at that second. Whom she was with. It was film festival season; she loved movies; she was out there, somewhere, in a dark theatre, her sharp chin pointed upwards to the screen. Who was beside her? Jane had left him one morning during breakfast. He had been talking, he recalled, about a book he wanted to write, but her attention seemed to be flickering around the living room like a butterfly. Fluttering away then returning; leaving then coming back.

“Are you listening?” he said.

She raised her thin arms in the air, her eyes watered with fresh tears. “I can’t do this anymore,” she said.

“Can’t do what anymore?”

“This,” she said gesturing around the room. “Damage has been done.”

Damage has been done. He had bullied her out of love. She was gone and – he knew it in his gut – she was gone for good. A woman like Jane leaves a love affair from the inside; by the time she has her suitcase on the stairs, she’s been gone for some time already. All the signs had been there. But he’d ignored them, convinced that the strength of his personality alone would bring her around. Around from what? Around from being who she was? A delicate personality which had distorted itself to please him for too long. Until that morning.

Sandrine’s car turned up his street and came to a halt in front of his apartment. The park glittering under night lights. “I’m too drunk to drive home. Can I stay over?” she said.

She smoked a cigarette on the back porch, and then they went to bed. Both still a little drunk.

They were lying in the dark talking about old lovers when she told him about sleeping with a married cameraman man the year before.

“Where was his wife?”

“At work. She was an anchor at –.” Sandrine named a local network. “We used to go to his house in the afternoon, while his wife was at work.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“It wasn’t.”

“Yes it was.” Arthur thinking about Jane. “You’re a bad girl.”

“So spank me,” Sandrine said after a moment.

Spank me? Yes, he remembered that now. It had singed his imagination more than he realized at the time, the simple eroticism of three words, “So spank me.” How odd a thing, he reflected, how mysterious human sexuality.

It changed something between them, those three words. But if not immediately, when then? Oh yes, the staff party for the season finale of Tomorrow Today. They were standing in the doorway of a crowded, darkened apartment when suddenly he leaned over and kissed her on the mouth. And she kissed him back, there, in public at the party. Which led only a few moments later to her undoing her bra in the front seat of her car with an appetite that verged on greed.

They ended up in bed in the guest room of his apartment, the guest room, ironically, because he wanted to avoid the fumes of the lawyer whose sharp chin and beautiful eyes lingered over his bed like T. J. Ekleburg over the valley of ashes.

That time it worked.

Afterwards they went down to the street. Over her shoulder, he noticed the oval park, the right side of which you could see from the guest room of his apartment. It was very still, no people, no chasing dogs, no children. Just wet grass, moist silence. Then the overhead lights went out with an audible swish.

He studied her over the hood of her car and found himself perplexed that he had he not found her desirable earlier.

“You smell different,” he said.

“You mean I smelled bad before?”

“No, no, just different.”

She looked up between the trees and inhaled. The signature of her forcing herself to say something difficult.

“I have a skin condition.”

“Oh.”

“It makes my face red. So I have to wear an ointment.”

Somehow he couldn’t leave it alone. “But I couldn’t smell it tonight,” he said.

“I wasn’t wearing it tonight.”

So that was it. How treacherous sex could be, hanging on the presence or the non-presence of an expensive antibiotic cream.

 

Winner of Canada’s Governor-General’s Award for Fiction, international best-selling author David Gilmour’s most recent novel is Extraordinary.

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