“Vanities of vanities,” says the preacher, “all is Vanity.”
I. Lewis and Alice
My brother always told me that it all depends on how you look at it. His advice, he told me later, applied to everything; an over-priced leather jacket, an expensive meal, a back-up television, life—girls. It all depends on how you look at it. Or her in this instance. This instance being this story.
My brother, whose name is Lewis and who is a minor four years my senior, prided himself not in his work or wisdom—his work being law and his wisdom being the fear of the Lord—but in his possessions, undoubtedly thinking too highly of his taste and opinion.
That being said, his house and all his earthly assets were fine. His house was a country dwelling built some hundred years before he bought it and its furnishings just the way I would have them if I were to have a home and a family to occupy it; large wooden things, dark and traditional with fancy linens and fine china. He owned a car that was black, sleek and shiny which he drove to the office wearing one of his various suits; usually of grey twill that he paired with a shirt sometimes of small plaid, and a skinny coloured tie with matching gingham pocket square.
Even his appearance, to match his clothing, was fine. He was a tall man built like my father with a good jaw and a healthy hairline; a crown of light brown hair kept short and parted to one side. But it was not his hair or suit or house he ranked the highest, but a wife named Alice.
Alice was a farmer’s daughter who seemed to mysteriously have everything of an aristocratic upbringing. To me, she was ideal; a honey-haired, brown-eyed woman; a pretty thing so much so her height and weight were of no consequence in the matter. She was agreeable and caring; never weak, never over-bearing. She was coated in grace and she liked me a lot. She often made Lewis look better than he really did and when asked on the subject my brother always replied that her attraction to him was a result of exactly that reason.
Lewis was a bachelor through most of his years at Windsor College where our father and our father’s father studied architecture. He was in his last year of studying law, mind you in the middle of his class (something he manages to leave out when telling the story) when an English major crossed his path and she, innocently thinking nothing of their eyes meeting, never engaged in a pursuit, not realizing he already was. He followed her around campus in the fall, waited outside her classes in the spring, learning a great many things about her. Upon graduating and starting low in the ranks at Doyle and Doyle, Lewis never forgot about his college girl and that’s when he finally employed her in his life. They weren’t inseparable as almost are romantic couples are; they dated only three years, engaged for one and wed the next. My brother, nearing thirty and his wife, four years younger, had been married two and a half years when he entered the gates of Windsor again.
It was determined before either one of us were born that we’d attend Windsor, Mum’s hopes for us becoming just like our father, and we agreed that our time behind desks and in the lecture seats were going to be ours alone. And my years were—until my brother Lewis became guest lecturer Lewis Wahlton in the law department.
Luckily enough for me I wasn’t in law. I was enlisted at Windsor to study Philosophy and had been for three years, passing my twenty-first birthday six months before my sophomore year. I got along quietly, rooming in a red brick Victorian townhouse with my cousin, and managing to pay tuition with the money earned working as a nightly secretary for Loney and Wills, undoubtedly because of word sent by my brother in the law world. It was October when my satisfyingly dry life at Windsor ended.
I had just barely past my mid-term examination in Topics in Contemporary European Philosophy and I was sitting in that very class, listening to Professor Mayseck discuss phenomenology and its approach to classical philosophy problems (Today: the distinction between “knowledge by acquaintance” and “knowledge by description”) when I realized I should have read the recommended texts.
I chewed the end of my pen as I stared at the clock on the wall, high above the teacher’s bald head. I was torn between counting down the minutes and wanting them to drag on and on and on. I knew at precisely 12:46 pm Prof. Mayseck, who was never late and never early, was going to dismiss us, some one hundred students, and I was going to have to run across campus to my housing, drop off my books and run all the way back without working up a sweat.
Alice had invited me to lunch.
The clock struck the time mentioned and I was off. My shoes skidded along sidewalks and I stopped cars at crosswalks, a few of my unconfined papers blowing away in the wind. I climbed steps to the townhouse, fumbled with my keys, my pen still between my lips, and I stomped up the winding staircase inside to my apartment. I tossed my textbooks and my book bag, ignoring my cousin on the sofa, and grabbed my tie from the back of one of the kitchen chairs. I was back on the sidewalk, crossing avenues and slow students on the way, all while pulling the black tie over my neck, watching my fingers fiddle with the silky fabric.
The Den was a dining hall at the college, one I liked because of a sentimental photograph of my father as a student standing by the mantle with his mates and raising a glass.
I raced over the terrace and stopped.
I took in a deep breath, clearing my head and straightening my tie.
Through the French doors, I could see them, sitting at a table on the other side of the hall. I cracked my neck and the doors opened for me as if by magic.
I sat, staring at the mantle in the Den; six feet wide with a mirror overhead, reaching the excessive height of the ceiling. The fire in the hearth was flickering. My brother and my sister-in-law sat across from me in the wide room barely busy with the autumn sunlight catching the crystal on the empty tables. Lewis was reciting a story about when we were boys, one he forgot to tell at Thanksgiving the week before, as he finished his meal when I realized that this reoccurring lunch was going to happen daily for whatever time Lewis was given as lecturer.
“Are you working often?” Lewis picked up his drink and showed off the cuff of his shirt sleeve; navy and red check which he paired with Dad’s skinny black tie and navy pocket square.
I inhaled deeply as I looked from the mantle to his face and let out my breath slowly.
“Spending your time getting to know any new friends?” Alice asked, hoping; her delicate hand sweeping away her blond hair which had fallen into her eyes. The rest of her hair was pulled back, revealing her earrings, the ones with the grey stones she had imported from Barcelona.
“No,” I admitted. “Studying too much.”
“And how is Dan?” Lewis asked next, leaning back in his seat. “You should invite him to eat with us next time.”
Next time, I knew it. Dan was our cousin and my roommate. He was a good-looking lad with dark hair and a giant smile all the girls swooned over. He wasn’t involved in any extracurricular activities like me so our time together was frequent.
“Is he setting you up on any dates with any of the girls from Mallory?” Lewis teased.
I laughed out loud. “Of course not. All those girls are too young, taken or if they aren’t, there has to be a reason why.”
“Marty,” Alice said, disappointed.
Marty. It only sounded sophisticated when she said it. Martin Theodore Wahlton was the only way my name could sound important.
“There are tons of pretty girls here,” Alice said. “You can’t tell me that you’re not fond of one of them.”
Pretty girls. Sure, there were pretty girls here. There were plenty of pretty girls everywhere. Pretty wasn’t what I was aiming for. I smiled at her politely, avoiding an answer.
“We’ll just have to find you one,” Lewis chimed in, looking around the room as if to pick one right there and then.
“There may have been a lot of beautiful girls here when you were in college and you picked the best of them,” I said, watching Alice grin bashfully at the compliment I paid her, and smiling too. “But it’s like all the girls here are too disinterested in me and I don’t really mind.”
“Well, have you shown any of them encouragement?”
By this time my brother and I were both sitting exactly the same way, something our mother always laughed over. We leaned with one elbow bent on the back of our chairs and the other arm resting on the edge of the tabletop, looking far too unimpressed with one another.
“No, why would I?” I asked. “I don’t know any of them.”
“That’s not the point, Marty. Listen,” Lewis got excited about it, leaning over the table with both arms, destroying the symmetrical image. “Girls like it when boys show up first.”
I truly had no idea what he meant and I sat out of sorts for the rest of the meal until the conversation unfortunately continued outside on the terrace.
It was warmer outside than it should have been, nevertheless leaves on the trees lining the paved walks and gravel footpaths amidst the parks and tennis court were changing and giving the dull limestone buildings a perk.
Alice was back in her cardigan, her heels clicking in between my brother’s long strides. I walked along with them, my hands in my pant pockets like they usually were—something my mother told me was a terrible, terrible habit. I was wearing a pair of chinos, rolled up a bit to reveal the high top of my sneakers, and a blue chambray shirt with my tie looking too much like Lewis’s.
“You can’t tell me you’ve spent three years here and not one of these girls has caught your eye,” Lewis said.
I frowned, watching my feet as I thought about it a while before answering. “Not really,” and I shrugged.
I didn’t know if it was my looks or my personality that didn’t cause a frenzy of girls to giggle or surround me when I was in the presence of any. I didn’t feel that it could be either. I wasn’t as good looking as Lewis or as smart but I was…good enough. I didn’t look like my father, Lewis did. I looked like Mum who had tanned skin and blue eyes. Her hair was darker than mine but it framed our faces similarly, and to my regret I still looked too boyish. Mum said I would always look like a boy and never a man. Sadly, Lewis agreed, probably basking in his manliness entirely.
“I’m going to find you one,” Lewis said as we walked closer to his parked car, that beautiful smart-looking car that I envisioned speeding down the highway in my shiny aviators and loving life finally.
I sighed longingly as Alice laughed at her husband’s declaration. I opened her door for her and she patted me on my shoulder, thanking me for coming. After shutting her up inside the car, her flowing skirt sliding on the leather, I looked to Lewis on the other side of the car. He leaned over the top with his key in his hand.
“Trust me,” he said. “I’ll have you head over heels for some lucky girl by the end of the week.”
“Why are you so intent on it?” I asked, smiling at his ridiculous bet.
He shrugged and opened his door: “I want you to be happy.”
His words struck me kind of funny and I frowned, watching him hop into the driver’s seat, saying, “Tell Danny I said hello,” before shutting the door.
If anyone could find me a girlfriend it would be Lewis, and because I respected him with a little too much esteem, I had no problem letting him.
II. The One
I took five courses in my first semester of my third year at Windsor and I had brought my attention, my focus and my best to every class. But not that week. I blamed it on Lewis, of course, and his silly unmentioned provisions for happiness. I sat in the hollow halls in the middle row or whatever seat was empty and within hearing distance to the professor, scanning the faces of the girls, eligible or not. I came to the conclusion after History of Great Thinkers on Wednesday that philosophy majors were as unattractive as the professors. I had two other classes to attend that week so I kept my eyes ready.
Lewis invited me to lunch alone on Thursday and we met at the mantle in the Den and I asked how his classes were going, to which he replied: “Painstakingly boring. I want to fall asleep more than the students do. I feel bad for you.”
“Why? I’m not becoming a lawyer.”
He was wearing his usual gray suit, but this time with a blue and white checked shirt and no tie. I looked at his watch for the majority of our meeting, its pearl face glowing amidst the sparkle of the band.
Lewis managed a laugh in spite of my comment and asked me how my “progress” was going. “Why do I have to confine myself to the campus?” I asked.
Lewis winced while thinking on it. “You don’t,” he said finally. “It’s just the easiest.”
Easy things were more appealing, I thought, agreeing with him enough to listen to his theory.
“Let’s take a tour,” he said, setting down his drink on the nearest table and then waving his arm toward the restaurant door.
Windsor College was ancient. It produced more working lawyers, doctors and teachers than any other school in the county. Its performing arts academy, something the “real” students despised being associated with, was even revered. Its campus wound and stopped and began again throughout the public conservation area and had its own community in which if you did not attend you did not enter. Potter’s School for girls was established before the legacy of Windsor began and hence, Lewis took me there first.
We looked up at the dormitory, a colonial house with a large porch, and it stared back at us. “They only accept the best in the province,” Lewis said.
“The best?” I asked. “What does that mean exactly?”
Lewis frowned. “I don’t know.”
The best looking? The best dressed? I didn’t know but as girls rushed out of the white front door, I knew it meant both. They filed out like a military brigade, proper and refined, looking too fierce to approach and passing us both without a second glance. I looked at my own clothes, wondering if they were the cause for the shunning response. I was wearing jeans, dark-washed and just the right length. I had a button front shirt; white with two breast pockets, rolled up on the sleeves because they were too short anyway.
“Too cold?” I said about the girls.
“I was going to say too young,” Lewis said. “But that sounds about right too.”
He took me to the theatre next, saying, “Actresses, they have to be nice to look at.”
We sat in the back row of the dark auditorium watching auditions for The Importance of Being Earnest. We slumped in the cushioned seats, unimpressed, watching one girl after the other. They recited their lines from the center of the wooden stage, shouting at us; their voices cracking with every enthusiastic note. I frowned and concluded: “Too loud.”
Lewis and I took to the grass outside to watch field hockey practice. We stood, arms folded, squinting under the sun, as we watched the girls team; a bunch of brawny-looking girls running the length of the field in red plaid skirts, forcefully pushing one another out of the way. Before I could react, Lewis shook his head and pushed me aside, saying, “No. No, no.”
Defeated, we walked outside the main dormitories, new complexes built to blend in with the old Victorian cityscape. “We have to go where you’re not used to going,” Lewis said as he looked around us. Then: “Library,” he concluded as he snapped his fingers with his moment of epiphany.
“Are you making a jab at me?” I asked.
“At me not being a scholar.”
“If you were one you’d be studying law or medicine.”
“My major isn’t a result of my ability but more about my interests,” I defended. Lewis continued to stare at me blankly. “I go to the library a lot,” I confirmed.
He inhaled, frustrated. “Where to then?”
I didn’t want to go anywhere with him after that so I waited until he came up with another suggestion or until I had to say, “I have to go to work.”
“Café,” he said, suddenly smiling. He was already half way down the street where a small coffee and paper shop sat. I reluctantly picked up my feet to join him, hoping he’d see that the venture was a waste of time and I, for once, would be the right one.
The location was, yes, a place I rarely entered. It was full of loud, bubbly girls high with caffeine dressed in the latest fashions, and smart-looking boys, too smart for their own good, alone in solitude and dressed in black and tight scarves with dark-framed glasses.
“I don’t think so,” I said after we stepped inside.
Lewis smiled and patted me on the back. “Let’s get a drink.”
“I don’t like coffee.”
He looked disapprovingly at me and glided into the line-up in front of the cash counter.
We stood by the newsstand and there was a girl there, scoping out fashion magazines, who I nearly bumped into. Unbalanced as I was, with my hands in my pant pockets, she scooted behind me in the crowded space to get a better look at the autumn/ winter issues. She excused herself so I did too, which really didn’t sound like actual English words at all.
Lewis watched her and I didn’t want to because I knew from the look on his face, he was ready to pick her. The quizzical frown he had when examining her was so obvious, I hit him in the arm. He relaxed his brow and asked, quietly: “Do you know her?”
He shook his head casually and shrugged. “Seemed like you knew one another.”
My eyebrows sunk down into a frown. “How?”
The queue was shrinking in front of us; the magazine girl took a spot behind us with her choice from the paper shop, staring absently into space. I turned to see her quickly, to get some kind of impression of her, before darting my eyes away.
“What do you want to drink?” Lewis asked me.
“I don’t want to drink anything,” I told him, annoyed he didn’t understand me the first time.
“Hurry up, I need to meet Alice.”
“Then what are we doing here for? Let’s go.”
Lewis smiled at the magazine girl, gently moved me aside and said, “You can go ahead.”
She smiled politely. It was all of her expression I saw because I looked away again with only the tiny curve of my lips.
Lewis stood with me. “We’re leaving?” I asked, hopeful.
He held up his finger, telling me to wait, as he watched the girl pay for her magazines. I finally looked at her; she had a smart jacket on which floated around her middle, showing no sign of her shape. Her jeans were the only thing tight and maybe her flat shoes, revealing the top of her foot, looking too white against the black leather. She had dark hair, I wasn’t sure how long it was because it was pulled back. She had a brown leather tote and I couldn’t see inside it. She walked past us, bringing a breeze so fast I couldn’t see her face.
Lewis’s eyes followed her, watching through the large storefront window pane, eager to follow her so much so he suggested it.
“What?” I exclaimed. He was already half way out the door. “You can’t be serious.”
He smiled and went outside. Rolling my eyes, I followed him. He scanned the faces and the backs of students’ heads before catching a glimpse of the magazine girl at the intersection. “There,” he said, walking too swiftly to be inconspicuous.
“This is stupid,” I declared when he stopped to pick her out from the crowd again.
He huffed. “I lost her.”
“What does Alice think of you chasing girls?”
“I’m not chasing her for me. I’m chasing her for you.”
“How do you know I’m even interested?”
“Marty,” he said firmly. “I know.”
I never quite understood what he meant when he said that and he said that often. I frowned on the sidewalk. I could see the magazine girl quite clearly, but I wasn’t about to point her out. She looked both ways before crossing the avenue in front of the dorms, the setting sun catching the plains of her face.
I sighed loudly.
If my brother said she was the one, then…she was the one.
Lewis and I walked the university roads, passing lecture halls and collected clubs, with the setting sun behind us, making everyone silhouettes. “You want me to stalk her?” I asked him.
“I want you to get to know her,” he corrected.
“Without talking to her?”
“Learn about her, is what I’m saying.”
I frowned; I didn’t know this girl’s name, how old she was. I didn’t know what classes she took, if she was even a student.
“Find out what her schedule’s like,” Lewis suggested as we walked back to the Den’s terrace.
“How am I supposed to do that?”
Lewis stopped at his parked car, turned and grinned. I shook my head as he drove away, leaving me with no further advice.
I tried to imagine her, the one, again. I couldn’t remember how tall she was, how slender, the exact color of her hair—nothing. Then I remembered what Lewis told me; it all depends on how you look at it.
But I was late for work.
It was near suppertime and just when students and families were sitting down at long dining tables or around countertops, relieved to meet the end of another day, I was headed for five hours behind a desk; reading Husserl and answering telephones.
Doyle and Doyle Barristers and Solicitors was downtown on the waterfront. Leaving the Windsor campus was like leaving another town in which all things picturesque were born and sustained, the perfect Edith Wharton American living was left behind and real life began.
The city was smoggy near the lakefront with sailboat masts breaking the horizon and ferries bridging the gap between the harbour and the island across the way. The lawyers’ office where I worked was newly refinished, but the only square footage I ever really saw of it was the space between the door and the front desk.
It was a large, dark wooden writing desk with a green lamp that was always on; it was the only light on in there after hours because the ceiling lights were on timers, which I, apparently, wasn’t considered in. The telephone rang about seven times an hour and I answered, saying, “Doyle and Doyle Barristers and Solicitors, can I connect you?” In which the other end usual replied, “Yes, please, Mr. Doyle.”
In between rings I ate poorly homemade sandwiches, nothing like the ones Mum used to pack in my school lunch, opened my textbooks, wrote papers, jotted notes and read passages. The night cleaners came and went, mopping the tile floors and emptying garbage cans. I always smiled, extra friendly, because it seemed—these lawyers—the more you paid them the messier they were.
It was near eleven when I got home to my housing. I made zero progress in my studies that night. I was thinking about the magazine girl—the one or whatever I was supposed to call her. Lewis lived a life I envied. I wanted it. I’ll admit it. So, I was going to follow through with his plan.
I spent the following week trying to locate the magazine girl, without much luck. I tried to see if she was in any of my classes—none. A dozen circumstances ran through my head; what if she was ill that day? What if she slept in? What if there was some life-altering scenario which kept her?
I went back to the café. I thought the monthly delivery of the new magazine issues would have enticed her—nothing. What if she got her subscription delivered now? What if she went to some other book shop on campus?
I stayed late after classes to see if she would come in for the next seminar; I hung around the dormitories in case she lived in residence—nothing—not one trace of her existence. I figured she transferred or she never attended Windsor to begin with.
I didn’t know if it was the introduction of the magazine girl in my life that was causing my grades to drop or my lack of knowledge on the subjects. I walked around with my heavy books and decided I should pick up more recommended reading at the library.
The library was a squatty thing, long and never-ending with shelves after shelves, aisle after aisle. I went directly to the librarian for help. I liked her because she was a retired English professor with a very charming disposition; she wore fashionable eyeglasses and her gray hair styled and never disheveled. But when I arrived at the front desk, after passing whispering students hidden behind books and booths, the old lady wasn’t there. There was no one there.
I waited, growing annoyed by the second, and searched for someone to help. When I turned back around, I froze.
There was someone behind the counter now, appearing like a flash and I blinked, thinking it was my imagination. The look on my face must have been priceless.
It was the magazine girl.
She just stood there, staring back at me like any real person would.
“Can I help you?”
Ah, her voice! She was real. She was alive and…speaking to me.
She appeared unimpressed, so I tilted my head, trying to as nonchalant as my nerves would let me be, and dropped my books onto the counter, clearing my throat.
“Returning these?” she asked.
I did have the ability to speak and she was interrupting me—I wanted to prove to her, if this was really going to be our first interaction, that I was capable of at least that.
“Yes,” I squeaked.
I cleared my throat again.
“I need to take out An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology,” I said, trying to sound smart about it.
The magazine girl stared at me like I was speaking a different language and to someone who’s never studied what I have studied, it might. She blinked, removed the books from the counter and carried them to the opposite counter behind her.
She did some typing on a computer and waited, tapping her finger on the space button for something to do. I looked away so I wouldn’t ogle her. Then:
“We don’t have that one available, it’s wait-listed.”
I swallowed. “For how long?”
My expression dropped and now I wasn’t thinking about how to impress her, I was thinking about my grades.
“I have Introduction to Phenomenology,” she said, reading the screen in front of her. “And The Phenomenological Mind. It’s recommended for students who have a special interest in cognitive science.”
I stared at her until she looked my way.
“Do you like cognitive science?” was her question.
“I’ll take the first one,” I said, touching my shirt collar as if it was choking me.
She wrote down the author and the duodecimal number on a scrap piece of paper for me. “Is that all?” she asked, handing it over.
Was this it? Was this all she was going to ask me?
I thought for a little while.
“The…Structure of Scientific Revolutions…”
She turned back to her computer and typed more. I thought that for sure would impress her, but, apparently, it did not.
When she found the book online, she wrote its details on the same piece of paper and then finally smiled at me. But I couldn’t smile back, all I said was, “The Nature of Mind.”
“It’s by David Armstrong.”
She turned, typed, found and then scribbled the new information on the paper. She slid it across the counter one last time. Her smile had shrunk.
“Thank you,” I said before turning toward the first aisle of books.
As I walked away, I wondered if she was watching me, if my reaction to her and her reaction to me was…normal. I was let down, for starters. She didn’t have a name tag; she didn’t ask me how I was—she didn’t do any of the things I expected her to do. Smile, laugh, send me on my way with well wishes. And yet her inattention intrigued me more.
I walked swiftly down the library aisles, ready to find my books. I tried to keep an eye on her to make sure she didn’t leave. I finally found her; I couldn’t lose her now. The duodecimal numbers grew larger and longer and I couldn’t spot the front desk from where I was. I thumbed the spines of the books quickly, reading the numbers out loud. I snatched the three books as fast as I could and raced back to the front desk.
I wanted to curse when the stylish old lady was back and the magazine girl was gone. I waited with the pile of books in my arms, searching for her.
“Can I sign those out for you?” the usual librarian asked me.
It was no use; the magazine girl was gone.
I sighed and gave over the books, leaving with only my grade’s improvement to look forward to.
The bell on St. Mary’s cathedral rang twelve times, the gongs echoing around me as I walked from the library to the Den. It was time was for lunch with Alice and Lewis. But this time it was different; Kimberly had been invited, too.
I raced across campus and found myself at a loss without a tie or jacket, just my sweater and shirt collar showing. I knew they were all going to show up in their best but I didn’t have time to change.
Kimberly was my older sister. She was the middle child and that didn’t even begin to sum her up. She was favored by everyone, including me, because she was beautiful and knew what to say at exactly the right time. She spent a lot of her time and money in Europe, sending us capital souvenirs upon request. She dressed us brothers when we were young and our style as men was a result of her taste and our grandfather’s closet.
The Den was relatively full when I arrived, with my new library books tucked under my arms. I instantly spotted Alice and Lewis alone at a table. A waiter walked me over to them sitting under tall French windows and I sat down, defeated, before either of them could greet me properly.
“Martin,” boomed Lewis cheerily. “How’s it going?”
I sulked, slouching lower in my seat as he leaned over the tabletop to read the title page of one of my books.
“Are you so behind that you have to bring your reading to dinner?” he said, laughing.
“I was at the library,” I said, glaring as I remembered his remark about my studies. “I didn’t want to be late. Where’s our sister?”
“She’ll be here.”
Kimberly was always late and, like I said before, everyone loved her, even despite that unruly fact.
Lewis was wearing a black jacket this time with a white shirt, making me look severely underdressed. Alice, to match him in elegance, was in a dress, a pretty frilly thing and lots of jewelry which she wore, I’m sure, to impress our extra guest.
They talked a while and I wasn’t listening, even while declining to order until Kimberly showed up. I scanned the faces of the room, the waiters, the alumni, the professors and investors. Then I looked out the window overlooking the green lawns and stony paths where students walked, bundled in scarves in the chilling autumn weather.
“Marty,” Lewis said, obviously annoyed by my lack of concentration. “Marty!”
I frowned, my focus out the window still. I squinted to better my view of…
The magazine girl.
Standing without thinking, I smiled at Lewis and said, “I found her.”
I dashed outdoors and Lewis and Alice followed. I stood on the terrace, calming down when I saw her sitting stationary on a bench in the distance. The three of us stood watching her for some time and then my sudden satisfaction thinned.
“That’s her then?” Alice asked. “What’s her name?”
“We don’t know,” Lewis said.
“Don’t you think she’s plain?” I asked, tilting my and leaning back, trying to get a new perspective.
“No, she’s adorable!” Alice said.
The magazine girl was reading a book and her hair was down now, different from when I saw her only minutes ago. It was longer than I imagined. I didn’t know what it was about her that didn’t excite me; she wore jeans and an unflattering coat…and boots which looked more or less like slippers.
I scrunched up my nose like there was a bad smell and Lewis said, “Don’t you like her?”
“I think she’s a Potter girl, don’t you?” I thought out loud. Then:
“What are you all doing out here?”
We all turned simultaneously to see who had addressed us. It was Kimberly, of course. Alice embraced her excitedly and they shared equally enthused greetings. Lewis and I waited our turns to give hugs and kisses and ask how she was doing.
Looking at the magazine girl, Kimberly frowned. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve found a girl for Marty,” Lewis announced.
“A girl!” my sister screeched, clapping her hands excitedly.
“Shh,” I snapped. “She’ll hear you.”
“Who?” she asked, looking in the direction we all were looking.
“There,” Lewis said. “On the bench.”
Kimberly squinted to see better and then smiled. “Oh,” she said, “that’s Rosie.”
I whipped my head toward her, my hands still in my pockets. “Rosie? Is that a real name?”
“You know her?” Lewis asked.
“From when I was at Potter’s.”
I looked at Lewis with a told-you-so expression. “I knew it.”
I didn’t want to sound too interested in her because I was afraid of my sister thinking I was desperate and of my brother thinking I was seriously considering his choice and otherwise allowing him to pat himself on the back one more time. So I organized my questions about her, distanced them through the dinner’s conversations to quench any suspicions.
I asked for her full name right off, to which Kimberly replied while setting down her drink, “I think her real name is Scarlett Rosamund.”
I winced as I turned to Lewis who sat across from me in the dimming light of the restaurant. “That’s rather harsh, don’t you think?” I asked.
“Or is it Rosamund Scarlett…” Kimberly continued, picking up her drink again and looking at the ceiling as if the answer was up there. She shook her head finally and said,
“Either way, she’s a King-Fontaine.”
“Should I know that name?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t think so, they’re not from here.”
I could have asked where she did come from or about the size of her family, but I didn’t.
I resigned to examining my sister’s outfit while Alice inquired of her latest adventure.
Kimberly was wearing slender black pants that were too short with small flat shoes and on top she had a white sweater with ruffles all down the front. “This is how the women in Paris dress,” she said while spinning 360 degrees before we sat down at our table. I admired the way she kept her hair free of frizz and tamed her natural waves. I wished that were the way Rosie King-Fontaine, if that was her real name, would have kept her hair and clothes.
It was getting dark outside and the yellow lights on the walls by the mantle sent everything in the room aglow. Kimberly was talking about Potter’s School for Girls when I tried to fit in my next question about Rosie. My sister sent the table into laughter when finishing her anecdote with, “That’s why all the boys in Mallory thought it was a finishing school.”
“Isn’t it?” I asked.
“Hardly. This is the twenty-first century, Marty.”
“They teach girls how to cook and sew and clean.”
Kimberly nodded, obviously offended by the comparison and said, “And Latin and French and German and how to decode Milton while solving quadratics and building from the periodic table.”
I began to wonder if I had judged Potter Girls, for that was what we all called them here, entirely wrong. Kimberly went to Potter’s School and she turned out fine, not cold and unapproachable like I had labeled the gaggle of girls that filed from the dorm every night.
“And you met Rosie there?” I asked, coughing after, hoping that if they didn’t hear me they’d just skip to another topic.
Kimberly nodded. “Yes, she was two years younger than me.”
“You were friends then?”
“We said hi and bye. She was quiet and I was quiet; never one for socializing until I was done with that school.”
Kimberly may have outgrown her shyness and severity but Rosie, for what I could tell, hadn’t yet.
“I don’t know where she was before she came to Windsor but I know why she did,” Kimberly added. “Her father had a stroke and the consequences on his health were grave. They had to buy a house to accommodate his needs and the big house on Coach Street is hers. That’s all the girls ever told me about her.”
“So she does go to Windsor?”
Lewis, Alice and Kimberly looked at me as if I should have been asking about something else that Kimberly had said and I looked, puzzled at each of them, until Kimberly said, “I don’t know. I don’t go to Windsor.”
Lewis cleared his throat on purpose and said, “Now that you’re back in town you should invite her out, Kim.”
“And let her know about your scheme,” I interjected immediately, disgusted by the idea. “Not a chance!”
“Kim wouldn’t say anything, would you, Kim?”
“Of course not! It’d be far too embarrassing anyway.”
“See what she’s like,” Lewis said. “You’d be a very positive influence. Alice should go too.”
I frowned as I surveyed them all making plans and although I despised the idea more than thoroughly, I couldn’t help being intrigued to find out more about Rosie’s life and Kimberly, if anybody, would be the best influence on her.
It seemed, after my sister told me her name, I saw Rosie King-Fontaine everywhere; I passed her on campus sidewalks, coming through doors and even waiting in hallways. I stared at her each and every time waiting to see if she would stare back. She never did. She never seemed to look up once. This wasn’t working; this waiting, in which I didn’t know what for, or the inaction I wasn’t taking, though I didn’t know how to act if I had the guts.
I had to wait to find out if Kimberly had spoken with her because Kimberly didn’t show up to lunch at the Den. Alice didn’t either and when I asked of her whereabouts, Lewis told me she was with our sister.
“Kimberly did want to see you though. Something of some grave importance I’m sure,” Lewis mentioned, forgetting to veil his sarcasm as we sat at a small table outside on the terrace where men were smoking expensive cigars in expensive suits.
I began to worry that Kimberly was with Rosie that very minute and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else Lewis said. I was imagining the worst; Kimberly in close proximity with Rosie and discussing Lewis’ plan and roaring in laughter over how stupid it was.
“If I call Alice at the house—they could still be at the house—where should I tell Kim to meet you?” Lewis asked.
I was staring into Lewis’ chest and studying his upper half as the bistro set concealed his lower half. He was wearing a suit, though it wasn’t as heathery as most of his others were; it was charcoal, and underneath was a black shirt—the whole ensemble was from his favorite store on Queen Street. “Marty,” he said, trying to get my attention.
I looked down at my wool cardigan and white Henley, saying, “Donahue’s.”
Donahue’s sounded like some Irish pub but the only good pub around that Windsor kids went to was the Iron Duke. Donahue’s was a men’s boutique with dark furnishings and a vast selection of tailor-made options. It was all Italy-imported goods, from their leather to their cashmere and everyone who worked there was white-haired and eighty. My father took Lewis there for the first time for his elementary school graduation suit. Kent waited on us and Kent had ever since, of course favoring us more whenever Kimberly was present like everyone does. “Such expensive taste,” Kent always said of her.
I met Kimberly there and she greeted me like any sister would and neglected to mention where she was or who she was with, so I figured anything she was about to tell me during our shopping excursion wasn’t going to be so gravely important as Lewis had figured.
“Buongiorno,” she happily saluted Salvatore who always manned the cash counter. He nodded toward her, smiling graciously and welcoming us in.
Kent walked in next, good and wholesome Scottish Kent who was always impeccably dressed. “Miss Wahlton,” he said. “Welcome, welcome. Ah, Mr. Wahlton, looking for something new?” I nodded casually as I scanned the shelved and hug garments on mannequins and in display windows. “Something new for church perhaps?”
“Yes,” Kimberly answered for me. “Maybe,” she corrected. “We’ll look first and ask for you when he’s decided.” Kent bowed his head slightly and smiled politely, leaving us alone as we were the only ones inside the store.
Kimberly examined folds of English tartans, fondled merino wools and clung to Italian leathers as we circled about the wall displays and table tops. “So. Guess who Alice and I ran into during lunch?” she began.
I stopped in my turning, suddenly terrified of her sentence’s end. “Please say Mum,” I begged.
She smiled. “Rosie from Potter’s; the girl Lewis is so set on me befriending.”
She didn’t need to be so specific. I knew exactly who she was talking about. Rosamund Scarlett King-Fontaine was the only name I had been fixated on for the last week when I should have been studying names like Locke, Hume or Descrates.
“Oh?” I said, concealing my eagerness to unlock every detail down to the way she wore her hair.
“Yes, it was completely on accident too, because I had planned to come up with some sort of way to meet with her.”
“How did you see her?”
“Alice and I were eating at the Tea Shoppe and she was purchasing something to go. I just shouted out her name and we got to talking. She remembered me rather well too and all that good stuff. I told her of my going to Europe and I asked about her naturally. Oh, Marty, you have to get this tie,” she exclaimed, pointing to a navy and maroon striped one inside the table’s glass top.
“What does she do?” I asked swiftly, not distracted by Kimberly’s subject change or impressed with her finding.
“She studies history at Windsor.
“History? What’s one to do with that?”
Kimberly turned and gave me a look. “Well, what is one to do with a philosophy major?”
I blinked and stared into space, thinking on her question, but I decided to overlook it for now, seeing as the topic was Rosie King-Fontaine and not me. “I told her that I had to see her again and it wasn’t one of those invitations that I usually to say to other girls I haven’t seen in months because I don’t really intend to see them at all—it was real.”
“What did she say? Did she like you enough?”
“I think so since she agreed to watch the rugby game tomorrow.”
“Rugby? On campus?”
“Mm hmm, Alice is coming too.”
“Did she like Alice?”
Kimberly frowned at my anxious tone. “They barely spoke.”
“But everyone likes Alice.”
My sister laughed. “I’m sure she did like Alice just fine.” Kimberly moved to a rack of jackets and pulled one out. “Now, try this.” She handed me something of grey herringbone and shoved me toward the fitting room. When I came out, Kent was there holding the tie Kimberly had spotted earlier.
I looked down at the jacket on my body and tugged at it a bit, stretching and flexing my arms, feeling the fit of it. “You look great!” Kimberly said.
I spun to face the mirror. “It’s part of the fall collection, just imported,” Kent informed me, standing behind me with a measuring tape draped around his neck.
I looked down at the three-digit price on the tag and then at my reflection again. “Also, the new messenger bag you saw in the catalogue is in,” Kent continued. “It comes in the burnt brown like Kimberly suggested.”
I nodded and turned to face them both. “I’ll take it.”
“And the satchel as well?” Kent asked.
I looked at the mirror again and nodded slowly. “And the tie.”
V. MRS. WAHLTON
Church was the next day and church always meant seeing my mother. Lewis always told me that Mum was a loveable enough person but her love was not easily given. This, of course, made me feel as if attaining my mother’s love and approval to be some weighty feat that even he had trouble with. As I grew older, I figured that her selectiveness was a good thing, proving her discernment and that’s where Lewis got his from.
I wore my new jacket from Donahue’s and Lewis even made a comment about it. It was almost a compliment but not quite. My parents, who were always in love, the one love I knew was certain in the world, sat at one end of the fourth pew from the back row and us children lined up, descending according to our birthdates. Alice was there too, sandwiched between Kimberly and Lewis.
I could never concentrate in church. I always got distracted too often to let the words of ministers linger and have meaning. I was stuck on how loudly and awfully the man in front of us was singing. I was caught up on examining what everyone else was wearing; counting the pieces of glass in the stained windows, how many hymnals were upside down and tucked inside the backs of wooden pews; the various sizes of choirs we have one Sunday and not the next. So, I sat not really listening at all, wondering what Mum was going to cook for lunch.
Lunch on Sundays was always at my parents’ house. It was in the countryside like Lewis and Alice’s house and it was a place that always brought up deep-rooted, unanswered questions.
Mum welcomed Lewis and Alice inside when they arrived as if it was the first time she had seen them all day, even though they had only been separated for the twelve-minute ride from the church.
I was watching it all quite bitterly from my chair in the kitchen. Dad was beside me. Dad only dressed up for church and holidays, something Mum detested thoroughly, and he always scoffed when his sons did otherwise. Kimberly could prance around in high heels and fancy hairdos with new sweet-smelling perfumes and no one would think any more of it.
Mum made soup and bread and salad and served us all at the dinner table, set with an autumny bunch of flowers in the center. Mum always dressed like she was more artistic than she really was; with layers of chunky jewelry and long, flowing sweaters. Dad, on the other hand, never dressed to his full potential; always in ill-fitting slacks with sweaters from his past. Lewis blamed it on retirement and country-living.
For the entirety of the meal, I sat with my head down, finishing as quickly as possible to keep the conversation short. I just kept praying, wishing, hoping that no one would bring up Lewis’ matchmaking attempts.
Then Kimberly looked at me and it was a look which didn’t quite have a name; it wasn’t sly or sheepish or cheeky, it was just Kimberly and the fact that she was going to start talking about you. It was almost a moment she was giving, politely, for you to start talking about something else before she began. But I didn’t catch on as swiftly as I ought.
“Mum,” she said, sitting a little straighter and interrupting Lewis and Dad’s conversation about some boat one of them was thinking about purchasing in the summertime. Mum looked up, delighted like everyone does when Kimberly addresses them. “You remember Rosie from Potter’s, don’t you?” Kimberly asked, and as the name slipped from her mouth, I dropped my fork with a loud clang. Mum wasn’t impressed.
“She’s got a hyphenated name, doesn’t she?” Mum asked, after slightly glaring at me because of the fork. “What was it?”
“Are her parents divorced?” asked Mum.
“No, no,” continued Kimberly. “I ran into her the other day and we got to talking.”
Mum looked at Kimberly for more information as if the rarity of her daughter talking about someone for so short a length of time too abnormal.
Kimberly inhaled one large gulp of air and then: “Lewis thought that she and Marty would make a good match.” Then she sucked in her lips; whether she was trying not to laugh was something I didn’t know.
“Really!” Mum screeched, looking at me and smiling. “Marty, that’s wonderful–what’s she like?”
“She’s adorable,” Kimberly said. “She’s sweet and good-looking. I think she’d fit in nicely with us, don’t you, Alice?”
“Of course,” said Alice, grinning in my direction.
My expression dropped as I stared into space. Alice and Kimberly were as much a couple as Lewis and Alice and I never imagined them initiating any other girl into their clique.
“What do you think of her, Marty?” Dad asked, poking his white head of hair out from behind Kimberly, who I was sitting beside.
I stuttered a little and tried to get something out, anything really, but Mum came back with, while pointing her fork at me, “Why haven’t you asked her out yet?”
“I don’t know her, Mum,” I argued gently. “I’ve never even spoken to her.”
“Your father didn’t know me when he came up to me. Lewis didn’t know Alice, either, did you, Lewis?”
Lewis tried to agree but Dad interrupted.
“Do you like her or not?” he asked, leaning over to see me. He looked at Mum and they both pointed their forks at one another from opposite heads of the table. “I don’t think he likes her.”
Mum nodded, agreeing. “Is she pretty?”
“She’s very pretty,” shouted Kimberly, obviously offended that I hadn’t said so in the first place.
“Why are you so upset?” I asked her.
“I just can’t believe you don’t think she’s pretty.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t think she was pretty. When did I say that?”
“You don’t think she’s pretty?” Lewis chimed in too, equally offended as our sister.
“Lewis thinks she’s pretty.”
“I picked her out,” Lewis said.
Alice hid her laugh behind her napkin and I shook my head, shocked.
“We’re going to the rugby game tomorrow, meeting her there in fact,” Kimberly stated matter-of-factly.
“Oh,” Mum said, rather pleased and getting back to her meal. “That settles it then.”
“What settles what?” I asked.
“You can see for yourself. Now,” she said, sighing and finishing off the subject. “Marty, how’s our cousin doing?”
My mother always had a way of stirring up trouble and then taming it down with simple statements and lingering looks. After that, I was fine with the rest of the conversation. There was laughter and jokes and stories told, mainly by Lewis and his charm.
After the meal, I stood near the bay window overlooking the tree-covered lawn, and wondered about what we had become. I could see the three of us children running around the trees, dashing through fall leaves and splashing through rain puddles.
Kimberly was inside her room, folding and hanging her clothes in her closet when I knocked on the open door. I walked in and landed on her bed, apparently doing something I shouldn’t have because she told me to get up instantly. Sitting up, I surveyed her things. The room claimed she was still a little girl with the same patchwork quilts on the bed, knit pillowcases at the head and old blanket at the foot; the same pop music records stacked on her bookshelves in between the hard-covered children’s books. But there were the hints of her adulthood scattered throughout the sentimental childhood memories like souvenirs from her travels; the glassy perfumes set atop the vanity and her old textbooks from Potter’s lined up with her well-worn travel guides.
She finally stopped from organizing and turned to stare at me. “Marty?” she said because I was daydreaming.
I looked over and said, “What do you wear to a rugby game?”
To be continued…