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TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT GRIEF

EMMA RICHLER June 24 2002
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TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT GRIEF

EMMA RICHLER June 24 2002

'WHO AM I AND WHY AM I HERE?'

When had Barney possessed her as a lover? They had made a deal, and that was it. Still, Barney had money, so why force him into a divorce? She gave her hair one last delicate pat and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Yes, at 35 she still had a fine figure, much more to offer a man than any nasty child of 19. She had been wise to insist on only two children.

Perhaps because she detected the first sagging lines of age on her neck she turned sharply away from the mirror.

When she stepped out of the powder room she noticed André idling at the bar. He seemed so intent on something. The admonished child—told No by his parents but not Why. A deep tenderness for him swelled within her. Encouraged by this rare honesty she walked towards him slowly.

“Why didn’t you keep your appointment, André?”

“I don’t like your brother,” he said.

“He’s just a spoilt child. No good perhaps, but harmless all the same.”

She wanted badly to say I want to be kind, I want to be nice—but she didn’t know how to express it.

Jessie wandered through life not experiencing things but accumulating memories. One day she would be old and men would find her body ugly. In preparation for this she was collecting episodes, a book of satisfactions over which she could ruminate when she was no longer a desirable woman. So all happenings were snatched at greedily, doubletaken, and not honestly enjoyed. She did not guess that instead of remembering her “memories” she might only be able to recall the unfilled intervals between, the duds, the awful blanks.

“You don’t get along with your family, do you?” she asked.

“No.”

“Are they really wealthy?”

“Very.”

“So was my father. He was a very great man. A banker. He was one of those people who was just too good to live. He died quite suddenly in the early days of the New Deal.

THE ACROBATS

MORDECAI RICHLER

We could have faced the bank auditors together if not for my mother. She made life unbearable for him. And then she was always so fussy about Derek.” She smiled kindly. “I was in Canada once.”

“Did you see any beavers?”

The bar stool he sat on was high. She leaned up against his knees.

“Your buttons are undone.”

“Button them for me.”

He did up the buttons slowly. The feel of her breasts tingled on the backs of his fingers.

“Why don’t you come to New York? Take Barney’s offer of a job.”

“For one thing I haven’t got enough money for a train ticket to Paris.” Guillermo is right, he thought. I am without hope or reason or direction.

“If I ask him he’ll buy you a boat ticket.” Her voice was still soft, but unsubtle also. An implement studied in the seduction of bored lawyers and doctors with frigid career wives.

Suddenly André burst out laughing. “Hey, you must really clean up in the U.S., eh?” She giggled. “Will you come?” she asked. André considered her offer. Back to Amer-

ica—the done version of a bum world already gone bad. Slogan thoughts and tabloid ideas, a bedside Freud and a billboard neurosis. He had the letter from Norman in his pocket: “WHO AMI AND WHYAMIHERE? Ask yourself this daily for you are running away.” And of course, the suburban sophisticates—Saturday night is beer and ideas, talk cozy with intellectual commonplaces. We are the enlightened! We are SUFFERING for the rotters, the stinkers, the people who lead such boring godawful lives not like us at all (Warren, darling, please play those Eliot records again, I’m worried about the meaning). 0 God, 0 Christ! America is a furnace and the temperature is 180 F and still going up. Men in rimless glasses and women in slacks are stoking and stoking and if you don’t wear a white-Protestantimgoingplaces-TV-B.A. -Luce-rugged nonentity uniform, then in the fire with you Rogue! ... Another rented room, long walks at night on the cold neon-lit desert, pretty girls just pretty in their summer print dresses....

“I’m evading the draft.”

“Are you a Red?”

She said it unemotionally. Not alluding to its political implications, but as if being a Red could be embarrassing, like someone in the family having an illegitimate child.

André hesitated. “I’m not even a pacifist. I just don’t want to die foolishly.” “Are you a coward?”

“Something like that.”

“I don’t understand politics. Join us for a glass of champagne?”

“Okay.”

She squeezed his hand.

Juanito frowned when André entered the booth. He appeared nervous. The two Spanish girls were nowhere around.

Barney grinned merrily. “Hiya! What gives?” he asked.

André hoped that Barney wasn’t drunk. He was sorry now that he had accepted Jessie’s invitation. He looked

out across the dance floor but he couldn’t see Toni. He wondered if she was watching him.

Juanito poured André a glass of champagne. “André and myself are great friends. We met in Madrid,” he said.

Juanito resented André’s intrusion. He felt that André finding him here like this—lying, entertaining crudos [vulgarians]—might interpret the situation so as to establish his own superiority over Juanito.

In his corner Derek moped with bellicose deliberation. He had none of the pure lines that imposed a wicked grace on his sister’s face. Only the family malice. He resembled a roguish caricature of Jessie. “All!” he said, smiling drunkenly, “my fan club has arrived—the man who read The Edge. Tell me, old boy, did you have an unhappy childhood? Do you think I’m a bit of a cliché by now? Well, don’t make snap judgements, you know absolutely nothing about it. Homme, je suis.... You too, Canada, may turn out to be only intelligent, just bright. Mean-

while, I shall be generous, I grant you licence to hate me. Why not?”

André flushed. “I’ve got an idea, Derek. Why don’t you try feeling sorry for yourself. Drink, go to pot! That’s what always happens in the movies.”

Derek laughed bitterly. He recalled, dimly at first, the last of the parties on the terrace of Jimmy’s Bar in Haut de Cagnes. Most of the fags had worn falsies under their costumes and Lila had turned up in a tuxedo. Jon had disgraced him again. Now, it came back to him vividly—the sweet music, contaminated laughter, sad adolescents doodling with deviations, night air stinking of summer and sea, the tourists up from Cannes for kicks. He felt dizzy and lonely and disgusted. “Ça va, Canada.... I withdraw. At your age everything is still possible.” I will write to Jon, he thought, and advise him to jump into the ravine. He turned to Jessie. “I’ve had too much to drink. I feel sick.”

Jessie leaned on André’s arm. “We’re touched,” she said.

“Let’s dance, Jessie,” Derek said. “André has already asked me for this dance.”

“Dance with me! I want to talk to you.” “Dance with him!” Barney said. Clumsily Derek directed Jessie out of the booth. Barney brightened up as soon as they were gone.

“Look, kid, this is the score,” Barney said hastily, his eyes bulging with conspiracy. “We’re going to get Jessie off to the hotel and dump her in bed. Juanito here is going to show us what really goes on in this town. He’s going to line us up with some broads! You come back to the hotel with us and we’ll meet Juanito here in about an hour. Okay?”

“Okay, I guess.”

Juanito averted his eyes.

“I’ll pay the bill,” Barney said.

Juanito jumped to his feet. “No! No! Allow me to pay.”

André laughed nervously.

Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart Ltd.