|The View From Here
|by Dorothy Speak
AT NINE O'CLOCK in the morning, Dilys carries a sheaf of invoices down to
"Victor wondered if you could sort these
for him," she says. Honora is sitting at the hotel reception desk reading the
newspaper. It's her job to answer the telephone, to check people in and out, to handle
inquiries and small housekeeping problems raised by guests. However, these days the
telephone does not ring very often, there is little traffic in the rooms or on the stairs,
for it is the end of October, it is, in fact, Halloween. The tourist season has pretty
well wound down, though there will be a flurry of activity at Christmas-time, people
escaping from the city from Toronto mainly, to pass the holiday season here where there is
no commercialism, where the climate is temperate, and where they can walk through the
simple streets and down to the lake on Christmas Day to look at the cold charcoal water
and the strange spectacle of the beach coated with a thin layer of snow, like almond icing
on a fruitcake. Already the hotel is booked solid from December 24 to New Year's.
This morning it is grey and blustery, Honora's
favourite kind of day, when business is slow and she can sit with her mug of coffee in the
little reception booth tucked under the stairs halfway down the dim, narrow hallway from
the front door. She looks at magazines borrowed from the parlour, writes letters or makes
personal telephone calls. Sometimes, as from a physical distance, she pictures herself
sitting in the soft yellow wash of light from the little Tiffany lamp on the counter,
inhabiting a warm, protected island at the heart of the dark, silent hotel.
"Don't bother with the invoices if you
don't have time," says Dilys. Is there a touch of irony in her voice? wonders Honora.
Probably. Honora knows that she doesn't do enough to make it worthwhile for Dilys to keep
her on reception, but she doesn't offer to do any more. She is fifty and she is not
interested in working, she has never been interested in working, but she is even less so
now. From time to time Honora talks about moving back to the city because she knows it
will throw Dilys into a panic. Five years ago, Dilys called Honora and asked her to come
down here from Toronto to help out at the hotel. She had heard about Honora's divorce, she
might even have been happy that it had freed Honora up to come to Franklin Bay. Honora and
Dilys are cousins. They grew up together in the same wealthy Toronto district of stone
houses, vast properties, topiary shrubs, iron fences. There were dozens of cousins in this
neighbourhood, all private-schooled, uniformed, spoiled and petulant, but it was Honora
that Dilys decided to latch on to.
"I can't stand being alone here with
Victor," Dilys confessed when she was persuading Honora to come and work for her.
"I love him but he bores me out of my mind. He has no sense of humour, no spark. He's
a mole. I need you," she told Honora. "We're like sisters."
Dilys is with Victor because it is important
for her to be married at this point in her life; she requires it in order to feel
complete. Years ago, she led a wild life in Toronto with her first husband, who makes
documentary films about artists, composers, dancers. She invested a good deal of her
inheritance in these ventures and lost money. While Dilys was meeting with the bankers,
trying to keep the film company afloat, her husband was conducting exhaustive research
into a young ballerina. Dilys discovered them in bed together. After the split-up, Dilys
was able to salvage something, she got enough money out to buy this small
nineteenth-century hotel. She came here to Franklin Bay, a town of less than a thousand
people, for a cure. Nobody who knew her was at all surprised. Dilys is a person of
extremes, of dramatic swings of behaviour.
Out on the long two-storey porch, with its
spindle banisters and curlicue brackets, the bales of hay and wheat sheaves and grape-vine
wreaths blow in the wind. Tomorrow, when Halloween is over, Dilys will have these and the
pumpkins she herself carved in intricate lace patterns removed. Soon she will be seen at a
desk in one of the cozy lounges at either end of the central hall designing the Christmas
decorations, inside and out, for the hotel: there will be big velvet bows, fir garlands,
pine-cone wreaths, constellations of white lights everywhere.
While Victor has a good business head and is
useful to Dilys for keeping the books balanced, it is she who has the style, the flair for
décor, for drama and ambiance, that carries the hotel. The velvet wing chairs in the
sitting rooms, the wooden decoys and carved pheasants, the gas fireplaces, rich wooden
floors, snow shoes, Currier and Ives prints, gilt mirrors, scenic collectors' plates,
lamps made out of antique water pumps were all her idea. In the guest rooms there are no
telephones, the walls are pine or brick, the beds high and soft, with plain white
coverlets. There is a simplicity to the place that Honora feels has a calculated,
self-conscious quality meant to appeal to big-city ideas of pure country life. For
authenticity, Honora's own taste runs to seedy motels on deserted highways, broken
mattresses, mildewed bathtubs.
Every year the hotel turns a bigger and bigger
profit. With the exception of Honora, Dilys gets a lot out of her staf£ She is not so
much a good manager of people as someone who lashes out and pushes and bullies and shouts
until she gets what she wants. Also, she has a talent for public relations. She has
persuaded noteworthy people, Shakespearean actors, opera singers, broadcasters, to have
their weddings here at the hotel, and got the stories covered by the Toronto papers. The
hotel has been written up in all the right magazines. Dilys moved here, thinks Honora,
because she wanted her own town. And it must be admitted that the hotel put Franklin Bay
on the map. Dilys led the way, then other entrepreneurs followed, opening a coffeehouse, a
scattering of bed and breakfasts, an English pub, boutiques selling designer T-shirts,
native art, silver jewellery, pewter, English woollens, stained glass. People began to
retire here, for the mild climate and the quaint shops on York Street with their picket
fences and clapboard siding and Georgian windows.
Dilys leans over the counter. Everything about
her appearance--the aubergine lipstick, the heavy biscuit face powder, the rhinestone
frames of her glasses, the burgundy hair--everything is calculated to shock. She thinks of
herself as a work of art, but the effect is not beautiful, it is bizarre, it borders
on--well, on the Halloweenish. She is short and heavy and waddles a little when she walks.
She has bad feet and must wear low shoes. In the thrust of her bosom, the circumference of
her biceps, the span of her hands, the way she stands with her feet firmly planted apart
like a heavyweight boxer, there is something solid, something threatening. Dilys is no
pushover. She is a force to be reckoned with.
"Victor and I were down on the pier last
night," she says meaningfully.
"Were you?" says Honora without
"We passed your friend's boat."
"The boat was rocking like crazy,
Honora," says Dilys with mild disbelief, a touch breathless. "It was so obvious.
People knew what was going on. Those curtains he has aren't entirely opaque. We could see
shapes. We could see figures moving. We might have even heard some moaning."
"We're two consenting adults. We were
doing it on private property.
"But, Honora! On the pier!"
"Nobody's forcing people to stop and look.
Or to listen either."
Dilys sighs resignedly, perhaps a little
listlessly. "What's it like with a younger man?" she asks, her face sagging with
thinly disguised envy.
"It's kinky It's like incest. Forbidden
"I thought you usually did it at your
place. Why pick the boat?"
"Variety is the spice of life."
"It must be hard to do it in there. In the
boat. With so little room. I suppose there's a bed of sorts, I suppose you do it on the
"Never! Too dull, too comfortable."
"Sometimes he puts me up on the kitchen
counter. He ties my hands behind me, to the faucet. He ties my ankles to the cupboard door
handles. He puts a gag over my mouth. He blindfolds me. He starts with whatever
instruments are within reach, smooth, fat wooden handles, empty beer bottles, a turkey
baster, penetrating, teasing me until I'm nearly crazy." Honora is embellishing now
because she knows Dilys wants it, needs it. "And the rocking, the rocking of the
boat. It drives you mad. Things build quickly, with the motion. It's like riding a roller
coaster with nothing on. It's like sitting naked on a magnificent, slowly galloping steed.
Dilys, you just don't know."
Dilys presses her lips together for control,
pulls on her trench coat, picks up her purse and keys. This morning she is making a trip
up the lake to Goderich, where she is having a revised brochure printed up, with next
summer's rates and new menus for the hotel dining room.
"Victor is feeling punky today," she
confides in Honora. "He's more depressed than usual. He needs some sort of
pick-me-up. Slip up and comfort him for a minute if you get the chance."
"I don't know if I'll have time. I have
these invoices to sort."
"Oh, forget the invoices. It's bound to be
slow at the desk today. Take a moment or two. I'll be gone all morning."
Honora knows what Dilys is talking about. Isn't
Dilys always thrusting Honora and Victor together? Doesn't she put them in positions where
there are opportunities for mischief, for compromise? She is always testing Honora. She is
testing Victor. Placing them in such tableaux must give her a feeling of power. At the
same time, she does not believe Honora would ever take advantage of such moments. She
relies on Honora's loyalty; on her friendship.
Victor's office is on the second floor of the
hotel. Sometimes his door is locked in the daytime. Dilys and Honora believe Victor
masturbates up there. Dilys doesn't care what he does to himself That's his business, she
says. She finds Victor's sexual needs childish and pathetic. She has told him she won't
have sex with him any more. Honora knows all of this because Dilys tells her everything.
She talks about Victor as though he were a child and she a mother confiding her problems
to another mother. She talks about him with much the same reckless candour and wounded
pride with which Honora talks about her daughter, Rachel, who has recently followed Honora
to Franklin Bay. Honora and Dilys have told each other too much in their lifetimes, so
much that they could never afford to terminate their friendship. It would be dangerous,
incriminating. There is a great deal at stake.
After Dilys leaves, Honora picks up the telephone and dials Toronto.
Dilys must know about these long-distance calls Honora places from the hotel desk but she
never mentions them.
"Who is this?" comes a small, hostile
"You never call me."
"I'm calling you now. I called you last
week." As she speaks, Honora is picturing the quiet treed streets, the circular
driveways, the tennis courts of her childhood neighbourhood, where her mother continues to
live. She still has a good deal of money, but is stingy about giving any of it to Honora.
To get anything out of her, Honora must pay somehow, she must make these phone calls, she
must put up with the abuse.
"I'm aching everywhere and nobody
cares," says her mother petulantly.
"You should get out of
"It's cozy under the
covers. It's raining here."
"You should be up walking.
You take too many pills."
"I love my pills. I love
the colour of them. I have every colour in the rainbow."
"But, Mother, you don't
need medication. There's nothing wrong with you."
Honora's mother has always been
a hypochondriac. From the earliest Honora can remember, everything in the house had to
revolve around her mother. She never cooked Honora a meal in her life. There was a
housekeeper. Honora's mother stayed in bed and bullied Honora's father until it killed
him. He was a meek, kind and tolerant man, a professor of mathematics at the university.
When he came home from his classes in the evening, he carried bowls of soup up to her bed,
laid out clean nightgowns for her, brushed her long hair. He tended to her needs with the
orderliness, the pragmatism, the attention to detail of a mathematician.
"What about me?" Honora
had asked him.
"Of course I love you
too," he told her, but Honora believed that if he'd really loved her, he would have
taken her away from her mother and let her have a childhood. When he died, Honoras
mother did not attend the funeral.
"I'm too exhausted,"
she said from her bed. At the burial site, Honora picked up a handful of earth. It was a
dry, loose, infertile soil. When she tossed it on the coffin, much of it blew away in the
wind. What a fool you were, Father, she thought. What a waste you made of your love.
"I saw Ford's picture in
the news today," says Honora's mother.
Ford, Honora's ex-husband, is a
criminal lawyer who has his name in the papers all the time. He defends famous
white-collar murderers, often businessmen, accused of committing clean, brilliant,
"It was the society column.
He goes to all the best functions."
"That would impress
"Why did you have to move
to Franklin Bay?"
"I like the view from here,
"If you came back to
Toronto," says Honora's mother, "I'd give you money."
"You never gave me money
before, when I lived there. Actually, Mother, now that you mention it, I could use a
little help right now."
"You shouldn't need my
money, at your age. If you hadn't thrown away all your opportunities. Your father and I
wanted everything for you. You could have gone to university; You had the brains. You
could have gotten an arts degree, like Dilys. But you ran away to Europe. I felt so
"Mother, that was thirty
"You didn't call us for
months on end."
"I needed space,
"You lived in some
"It was a flat. There was
nothing squalid about it."
Honora's mother doesn't know the
half of it. When she was twenty, Honora was working in Madrid for a photographer. She grew
up overnight. She tried marijuana and cocaine. She learned to masturbate. She slept with
the photographer and found that she did not feel guilty about his wife Rosaria and their
little son Jesus. The photographer paid her very little and, as he neared bankruptcy,
nothing at all. After a year, Honora came back to Canada because her parents refused to
send her any more money and because, returning one day to the studio with sandwiches and a
bottle of wine, she found the photographer naked on top of a client on the floor, all
tangled up among the extension cords and electrical wires. Back in Canada, Honora met, in
her parents' house, Ford, a law student and the son of an academic colleague of her
father. She married him. At the time, it seemed the easiest thing to do.
"Dilys was here to
visit--oh, two weeks ago," says Honora's mother.
"I know. I sent my love
"She's such a faithful
niece. Such original ideas. That is the kind of daughter I wanted. People like Dilys make
things happen. She talked about you." Honora recalls Dilys's words when she set off
for the visit. "I'll put in a good word for you," she promised Honora.
"She's so protective of
me," Honora says.
"Protective! Ha! Don't you
know, Honora? Don't you realize that Dilys resents you in so many ways? She says you're
passive and lazy."
"You don't know that."
"She didn't want to say it
but I got it out of her. We had a long heart-to-heart talk. She called you a freeloader.
Don't tell her I told you."
After she hangs up, Honora bites
the inside of her cheek until it bleeds. How alike are Dilys and Mother, thinks Honora for
the first time: the envy, the nastiness, the blame. What has Honora done to threaten
Dilys? Is it her long legs? Her deep, gravelly voice? The tranquil core of her that Dilys
has said she so admires? Her Chanel suits left over from her life with Ford? The class she
gives the reception desk, which is exactly what Dilys said the hotel needed? Honora looks
out the hotel window at leaves blowing down the street, at stores across the way, many of
them closed up already for the season; most will not reopen even for Christmas, their
owners have gone off to Florida or Australia for the winter. Soon Franklin Bay will
resemble a ghost town. Honora feels a wave of something. Sadness? Panic? Once again, she
sees herself sitting in the little reception cubicle, a bird in a bright cage. For a
moment, she feels she would like to tear the hotel down, board by board.
She sets about sorting the
invoices. It is not so big a job after all, it takes less than half an hour. When she
begins her hands are shaking, but by the time she finishes the shaking has stopped because
she knows what she must do. She gathers the invoices together, lifts a section of the
counter, slips through and lowers it again. Quietly, she makes her way upstairs, passing
the restaurant, with its orange tile floor and Shaker chairs and stiff white napkins
folded like swans and long fan-shaped windows giving a view of the street. Distant, muted
sounds of cooking come from the kitchen, the smell of onions frying. Honora treads softly
on the deep stair carpet. Turning at the top step, she goes down the narrow, deserted
hallway, which is filled with the salty smell from the sauna at the end of the passage.
She knocks gently on Victor's door, looks quickly up and down the hall, then slips swiftly
He is sitting in an old, heavy
swivel desk chair, wearing his customary three-piece tweed suit--it is a kind of uniform
for him, his suit of armour, you might say, protecting him, if that is possible, from
Dilys's scrutiny, from her harping. Through the window, a pearl light falls on his long,
almond-shaped head, which is bald and shiny and somewhat pointed on top, like a very
large, smooth and absurd bird's egg.
"Honora--?" he turns
to her, nonplussed. Even after all these years he is shy, surprised around her, perhaps
because she and Dilys have such a solid history together, a good chunk of Dilys was
already spoken for, before Victor ever met her. He cannot help feeling like a latecomer, a
gate-crasher, a third party;
"I've brought you
something, Victor," Honora says. He reaches out to take the invoices. "No, not
these," she says, and lets them flutter to the floor. She grasps the back of his
chair and turns him around so that the window is behind him. The room is hot, she can
smell his stale suit. Reaching down, she loosens his tie.
Unfastening his belt, she pulls
his trousers, his underwear down over his white hips, over his hairy knees, lets them fall
in a tangle around his ankles, onto his heavy-stitched Oxford shoes, so that he could not
get up and flee even if he'd wanted to. Even if he'd wanted to. Honora doesn't feel
anything like surprise at what she's undertaken, but goes about her task with a certain
economy, with rapid, deft movements. Perhaps she has imagined this scene before, perhaps
she has dreamt it.
Is this survival? wonders
Honora, looking out the window over Victor's head as she moves on top of him, causing his
chair to glide pleasantly, rhythmically, on its wheels. Or is it destruction? What does
she want? Is she striking out at the alliance between her mother and Dilys? Is she trying
to chip away a little piece of Dilys's establishment, attacking at its foundations? The
rough wool of Victors suit jacket burns her knees. She unbuttons her blouse but he
does not dare to touch her skin. Victor is terrified of Honora. He is terrified of Dilys.
He only looks at her bare breasts, her navel, the curve of her hips revealed by the
loosened blouse. His hands rest, as though they are dead, on the chair arms. He is like a
little cringing dog, thinks Honora with disgust. Out of him comes a whimper, helplessness,
gratitude, begging her not to stop, but to carry them all the way.
What a pathetic ruin he is,
Honora thinks, an empty; quaking shell, hollowed out by Dilys, blasted powdery as ash by
her temper, by the sheer force of her will. But aren't they both damaged? Aren't they,
together, Honora and Victor, the wreckage from Dilys's ambitions? What I am doing, thinks
Honora, will cause problems for Victor, problems for Dilys, somewhere down the road. That
is enough for me. It is not power she wants. No, the whole idea of power bores her.
Rather, she is interested in lies and secrets, broken vows, taboos, sins, betrayals,
violations, lust, damage, forbidden pleasures: what she sees as the true undercurrent of
life, the dark web of desire, the private deeds meshed together, woven like horny
undergarments, worn close to the body, that make the ordinary outward trappings, the
apparel of everyday life supportable.
Afterward, Honora moves to the
office door. Victor has tucked his shirt back into his pants, straightened his tie, mopped
the perspiration from his scalp. He is on his hands and knees collecting the scattered
"Shall we tell Dilys about
this?" Honora asks him.
"Christ, no!" he says,
his face flushing with alarm.
"She might like to know.
She might be relieved it's finally happened. Another item she could cross off her agenda.
She's been pushing us together for a long time, hasn't she? She's been asking for
this." If Honora were to tell her, Dilys would blame Victor. Honora and Victor both
know this. She would be more likely to punish Victor than Honora. Blood is thicker than
"For god's sake, Honora,
don't tell her! Jesus!"
Dilys is gone for more than the morning. She does not return until two,
her hair wild and her face ruddy from the wind. She comes to Honora before even taking her
"I saw Rachel," she
says breathlessly. "When I got back into town I needed to go to the hardware store,
so I had to drive down Louisa Street, past Holmes's clinic. Honora, I drove past and there
she was in the goddamn window, hugging him in plain view. What on earth is she thinking
"She's over twenty;
She should behave more responsibly."
Dilys is not really one to talk
about responsibility in children, thinks Honora. Dilys's daughter Euphemia is living in
some sort of commune in Alberta, some sort of crazy religious camp. She has had three
babies, all by different men in the commune. She is not even sure which men they were. The
people in this commune, the men and the women, look very much the same, they look like
sexless acolytes, with their flowing India cotton gowns, long matted hair, unwashed limbs,
bead necklaces, thick leather sandels. There are apparently drugs in this community; and
nudity, incense burning, trances, chants and rituals carried on by candlelight or by the
illumination of the full moon. There may even be guns. Dilys flew out there once, hoping
to talk sense into Euphemia, to bring her home. She came back shocked and totally
disgusted The commune, she said, was full of dirty cross-eyed children. She doesn't talk
about Euphemia now. It is as if she never had a daughter.
"It's getting too
overt," says Dilys about Rachels behaviour.
"Franklin Bay is a tiny
community. People are conservative, they talk. If it gets out, the whole place could blow
up over it."
"So be it."
"It could affect the
"People in Franklin Bay
don't stay at the hotel."
"But they'd talk. They'd
find ways to undermine, to sabotage."
"I'd leave then, if I proved
"But that's not the
Honora walks home through the town in the mellow afternoon light. It has
been a warm and rainy fall. The last of the leaves have finally been torn from the trees,
they are plastered flat to the wet front lawns, where the grass, uncut since September, is
long and wet. It is a soft and agreeable afternoon, tinged with the not unpleasant sense
of sadness and termination that autumn brings. The streets are pungent with the perfume of
death, of the slow and steady disintegration of matter, the deep rotting smell of
composting leaves, of fermenting apples lost in long grass, of branches knocked down by
gusty winds to turn soft and slippery as snakes in the gullies, of the funky scent of
toadstools and rich damp earth. Everywhere, on porches, in front windows, bedroom windows,
is the droll burlesque of Halloween, pumpkins and paper witches and tissue ghosts, vain
attempts to stir up a little horror. On one lawn, a dozen little skeletons, swinging from
the branches of a crab apple tree, act out a strange and ghoulish comedy.
When Honora arrives home, Rachel
is in the kitchen eating a grilled-cheese sandwich. Honora is surprised to see her there
so early. This is usually the time of day when she plays her little games with Dr. Holes,
once the patients, the therapist, the bookkeeper have cleared out and before he must go
home to his wife.
Honora goes down the narrow hall
to the bathroom to freshen up, to give Rachel a little space. She and Rachel tread
carefully around each other, they have learned there are regions that are off-limits.
There is a fragility, a potential explosiveness to their relationship that has to do with
Ford and with why they are both here in Franklin Bay. Rachel knows about Ford's
infidelity. She knows the reasons that Honora and Ford are not together any more. She may
understand them ideologically, but on an emotional level she is still angry. She will
always be a child, in this sense, and she will always blame Honora because it is easier to
blame the gender you know than the gender you don't. In the end, thinks Honora, women will
always turn on each other like angry dogs.
Rachel went to university in
Toronto and dropped out in the spring of her third year. She came here to live with
Honora. She lay on the beach all summer and toward the end or August, when the
weather grew cooler, she got this job, as the chiropractor's receptionist. Since nearly
the first day, since Labour Day, she's been involved with Dr. Holmes. There is a big wire
cage in the office, in the physiotherapy area, a section of curtained-off beds, with ropes
and sturdy leather straps hanging from it. These are used to support injured limbs,
mending hips and fractured arms that need traction and therapy. Rachel has told Honora
about how Dr. Holmes puts her in this cage, ties her up, straps her down, whips and spanks
and twists and drives her to a climax. Honora is fascinated and disgusted by these stories
and also slightly incredulous. She finds it somewhat difficult to picture the shy and
introverted, the thin, poker-straight and conservative-looking Dr. Holmes, with his
serious face and his short grey military haircut, as a kind of circus ringmaster with a
whip, a cruel gamekeeper in a zoo. On the other hand, she is able to believe Rachel's
stories entirely, because she has learned that people are usually just the opposite of
what they appear.
"He's sick. What he does to
you is sick," says Honora.
"What you and Dennis
do is sick."
"How would you know?"
"After I go to bed, Mother,
don't you think I can hear things?"
Rachel tells Honora that she is
going to meet Dr. Holmes at the office after dark. His wife will be busy at the house with
the local children knocking on doors looking for Halloween treats. Dr. Holmes has told her
he is going to a professional meeting up in Goderich.
"She's stupid enough to
believe that," Rachel says smugly.
"Rachel, I doubt if Mrs.
Holmes is stupid. She's a very successful business woman."
Rachel has been pressing Dr.
Holmes to make a commitment to her. She wants him to get rid of Mrs. Holmes, she wants to
live among the antiques in the sand-brick house on the cliff, the two-hundred-year-old
house with the large grounds covered now with fallen oak leaves rich as copper shavings in
the sun, and the converted brick butter-house where Dr. Holmes parks his Mercedes, where
the wind is always blowing and the lake, far below, rises and falls like a sleeping giant.
"But the house is hers,
don't you see that?" says Honora. "She must have family money."
"Peter has a thriving
business," argues Rachel. "He has clients coming in from all over the
"You don't get rich, not
that kind of rich, from cracking people's backs. And he won't want to give up his
"She can move out. She can
go back to Toronto."
"Rachel, how do you think
this is going to happen? She has the antique store. He has his business. Their livelihoods
are here. People don't throw that away overnight. Neither of them will want to leave, and
in a town this size they'd see each other every day. You'd see her."
"I don't care."
"Don't push it, Rachel.
These things have a way of blowing up in a person's face."
"I refuse to be like you.
I'm not going to settle for too little. I'm determined to be happier than you've ended
After Rachel leaves, the phone rings. It's Dennis. "Meet me down on
the beach in half an hour," he says.
"Why not my place?"
"We'd have it to ourselves.
Rachel's just gone out."
"Fucking the good
"The beach will be
"We'll build a fire. Even
without the fire, you won't be cold. I'm going to do things to you that you'll never
On a small dead end, where the
houses are sparse, Honora takes a steep wooden stair down the cliff to the beach. She
steps down onto the sand, her heart pounding even before Dennis moves out, swift as a
deer, from behind a bush.
"Scare you?" he grins
hopefully. He has told Honora he is in love with her, he wants to marry her, but she just
laughs at him.
"You are inappropriate for
me in every way," she has had to explain to him over and over. She met him a year ago
when he docked his boat in Franklin Bay and started working at odd jobs down at the
marina, repairing and maintaining people's boats. When he comes to Honora, he smells of
the fishy lake, of outboard motor fuel, of strong oil-based paint, and this excites her.
So do his youth, his lack of education, his irreverence, his physical strength, his
leathery, prematurely lined face. In his brief life, he has drunk heavily and done a lot
of cocaine. He has had gonorrhea.
Now he leads Honora along the
sand, which is firm and packed from the week's rains. As it turns out, Dennis becomes too
excited to stop and gather the necessities for a fire, though there are branches strewn
all over the beach from storms. His mouth is on Honora's neck, his hands are all over her
body, sliding down her breasts, down her hips, pulling away her trench coat, yanking up
her skirt, wrenching her stockings, her underpants without any regard for tearing them.
This is what Honora wants from him: madness, violence, damage. He pushes her down on the
beach, leaping on top of her like a wild cat. She pretends to object. He grabs her long
hair in one hand and jerks her head around painfully. He kneels on one of her wrists,
pressing it into the sand, takes ahold of the other and twists her arm behind her. He has
got his pants down and has entered her, thrusting and grunting. Now Honora gives herself
up to him entirely, abandons everything, feels her lower regions swollen with desire,
need, longing, a rush of excitement flashes up through her body, as though the whole lake,
lapping within earshot, has entered her loins to flow upward. Finally, Dennis falls on
her, his head pressed into the sand.
For a few moments, Honora lies
there quietly, gazing up at the starry night and thinking: What is sex about, but
self-destruction? This is what we all want, isn't it, to annihilate ourselves? In being
subsumed by your partner, you become less, not more, you enter a black vacuum, like Alice
falling down the hole.
Three-quarters of an hour later,
Honora and Dennis are climbing back up from the beach when they see a powerful flashlight
shining at the top of the stairs. The beam draws a circle, then floods down the steps,
picking them out. They hear the clatter of urgent footsteps coming down toward them.
Honora sinks down onto a bench built into the side of the stairs, halfway up. A police
officer stops in front of her. There is another one further up. The flashlight shines in
her face. She shields her eyes. She knows she must look a mess. Her hair is matted with
sand, her trench coat is wet and soiled. The officer must wonder what they were doing down
there. He must know. As soon as she saw the flashlight and heard the heavy boots on the
stairs, Honora knew what was wrong.
"Are you Honora
Gilchrist?" the officer asks her. He is not from Franklin Bay. There is no police
force here, there is no crime. "It's about your daughter. I'm sorry to have to tell
you that she's dead. It looks like murder."
Dilys says, "I saw him buying the gun. On Halloween day. It
was when I went to Goderich to the printer. You know that gun shop out on Twenty-one just
before the Clinton turnoff? Of course I didn't actually see the gun, but he was
coming out of the shop with a box in his hand. That must have been the day he bought it. I
didn't want to tell you this."
Yes, you did, thinks Honora. She
is sitting at the reception desk stuffing flyers into envelopes. It is a week after the
murder. This morning when Honora was walking to work, the first sweet and gentle
snowflakes of the season started to fall. They came down softly, individually, like the
picturesque and somehow unreal, the decorative snowfalls you see in Japanese prints.
Honora came into the hotel with a light skin of white on her hair.
"Oh, Honora, don't you see?
I could have prevented the murder!"
"But he didn't use the gun.
He didn't use the gun on her. He used his bare hands."
"But if I'd called the
police, they could have arrested him right then and there."
"They don't arrest a person
for buying a gun. He had a permit." Honora knows all the details. She knows more
about Peter Holmes now than she'd ever wanted to. Possibly, she now knows more about him
than she ever knew about Rachel, her own daughter. It was in all the papers for a week,
article after article. It seemed there was a dearth of excitement and gore in these parts.
When it happened, people wanted to hold on to it as long as they could. Her first day back
on the job, Honora had sat down at the reception desk and found a newspaper Dilys had
placed there surreptitiously, with a big article about the murder.
"Oh, Honora," Dilys
said later, that first morning, feigning surprise, feigning concern. "Are you reading
that? How did that paper get there? Give that to me. You shouldn't have to see these
things." Honora thinks that Dilys likes to believe she could have stopped the murder.
It gives her some sort of power over Honora to believe this, an actual hand in her
destiny. Dilys in fact learned of Rachel's murder before Honora did. The police, called to
investigate Dr. Holmes' clinic after a neighbour reported hearing the discharge of a gun,
then went for information to Dilys' hotel, it being the only establishment open on
Halloween night. Dilys sent the police looking for Honora and Dennis down on the beach.
Honora wonders if Dilys is pleased by the publicity of the murder,
for might it not draw morbid sightseers - potential hotel guests- to Franklin Bay?
Honora's mother came to the funeral. Dilys drove down to Toronto and
brought her up for it.
"I felt I had to,
Honora," Dilys explained. "She called and asked me. What could I say?" You
brought her because you wanted to undermine me, thinks Honora.
At the funeral, Dilys and
Honora's mother sat shoulder to shoulder in a pew near the back of the church. Honora's
mother looked jaundiced. She'd dug out her old mink cape with the mean, desiccated mink
head on the collar, glaring up at her face.
"The smell of mothballs! I
thought I'd keel over!" Dilys later confessed and Honora felt a strange twinge of
hurt, on her mother's behalf, which surprised her.
"Aren't you angry?"
Dilys demands, the day of the first snowfall. "Aren't you angry about the murder?
Don't you have the courage to be angry? That was your daughter. Your flesh and
"I know what a daughter
is," says Honora. Honora believes that Dilys is in one respect happy about Rachel's
death, because it has left Honora childless, much like Dilys herself, for Euphemia might
as well be dead. All the other betrayals by Dilys, the control and the duplicity, Honora
can tolerate. But this she cannot accept. "I know what a daughter is," she
repeats. "When Rachel was alive, she loved me. You can't say that much for
Dilys goes away angry. Honora
knows that there will now be consequences, as there have been following past disputes,
past fallings-out between them. A lengthy period of coldness between Honora and Dilys will
ensue. They will pass each other in the narrow hallways of the hotel looking the other
way. They will speak only when business requires it. For a time, this will be all right
with Honora. She will welcome the unfamiliar silence, being sick of Dilys's constant
chatter. Honora will bide her time. She won't give in. She is a person who doesn't
apologize. Oh, yes, she has made mistakes in her life, but they were part of her and she
never backs down from them. Then one day Honora and Dilys will start talking again,
because that is the way of families. It will have nothing to do with forgiveness or love.
Honora will speak to Dilys because Dilys spoke to her. Or it may be the other way around.
No one will keep track, no one will want to remember.
Now, Honora looks out at the
shut-up stores across the street, which are softened, remote behind the white screen of
snow. She wonders if this virgin snowfall will kill her, if it will destroy her with its
gentleness, if the mild winter ahead, too kind after the death of Rachel, will finish her
off for good.
Out on the street, the
chiropractor's wife, Gillian Holmes, passes by on her way to her shop. She is carrying on
with her antique business, just as before. A few days ago, she stopped Honora in the
street, looking very cheerful in a smart red suit, black patent pumps, her cap of blondish
hair shining in the sun.
"I'm sorry about your
daughter," she said, surprising Honora.
"But you realize," said
Honora, "that she was--?"
"Involved with Peter? Oh,
yes. I'd known all along. However, there was no point in trying to stop it. You see, my
husband was a very sick man. A violent man. He'd been in treatment several times. It's all
Dennis had not wanted Honora to
visit the scene of the crime. She'd asked the police to take her there and he'd gone
along, trying to dissuade her. When they reached the chiropractor's office, he'd put his
hand on her arm.
"Honora, don't go in. Take
their word for it," he said, but she shook his hand off angrily.
"I have to do this,"
she said. "I have to see it for myself Leave me alone. Get your hands off of
me!" And she went on in.
"Fuckin' bitch," Dennis
said to her back.
In Dr. Holmes's office, Honora
saw Rachel hanging upside-down like a carcass in the wire cage, bound there by leather
straps, wearing only black underwear. Her neck had been broken but there were no marks on
her body. After killing her, Dr. Holmes had lain down on the treatment table next to her
and shot himself in the head. It all looked carefully planned and neatly executed, except,
of course, for the doctor's blood sprayed against the walls and the partitioning curtains.
During the few days of
compassionate leave that she took, Dennis came to Honora's house several times, but she
would not answer the door. He began to drop off notes.
I didnt meen nothin when I said that to you. It just come out spontanius. It didn't
have nothin to do with my jenuin feelings for you as a woman and as a person...
Come to think of it maybe I did meen it when I called you a fuckin bitch cause youve
always been a helluva lay and not many women your age can screw like you. So you shoulduv
took it as a complament. The above is ment as a joke a little humour whitch Im sure
you could use some of...
I was a little coked up that night on the beach. I never told
you cause I didnt have enough stuff for both of us. It was just
something give to me for a favor I did a guy So I got an excuse for what I said to you. So
will you take that into consideration?
I love you.
Honora does not believe there is any such thing as love. Peter Holmes
had said he loved Rachel, hadn't he, and he'd killed her? What, then, was the difference
between love and hate? Honora thinks about her father. Even his love for her mother was,
in the end, something else, wasn't it? Negotiation. Manipulation. Control. Codependence.
Had Rachel loved Honora? Had Honora ever taught Rachel how to love? Honora cannot
Honora heard that Dennis had left
Franklin Bay. Dilys told her this. Didn't Dilys hear everything? Of course, Dilys was
privately happy that he was gone. No longer would she have to worry about walking down on
the pier some soft evening, passing Dennis's boat and knowing that Honora was in there,
riding with pleasure on a slippery maple spoon handle.
Honora sits at her kitchen table
after work. The image of Rachel hanging upside-down in the cage flashes up in her mind,
choking her with grief, with the futility and valuelessness of everything. She sees
Rachel's eyes, frozen in the moment of her death, so wide open and intense, staring at
her, at the policeman, with the most compelling expression of--what? Astonishment? Horror?
Fear? Regret? No. None of these. Accusation.
She goes to her bedroom,
pulls out suitcases, begins to pack her clothes.
She is not sure exactly how she
failed Rachel but she knows that she did. In some way she is responsible for Rachel's
death. She did not set an example. She did not show Rachel how to live happily. She did
not present her with an alternative to life with Peter Holmes. Perhaps Honora should never
have left Ford. She should have stuck with him, as her own father had stuck with her
mother, and that might have saved Rachel's life.
Honora cleans out the drawers of
her bureau. Where will she go now? She remembers something her father once said to her.
"Honora," he said,
"life is like mathematics. Whenever you make a mistake, when you find that your
solution is wrong, you must go back to the beginning." Honora will return to Toronto
now. She will start all over. She will try once more to make her mother love her.
As she is completing her packing,
Honora comforts herself with one thought: perhaps Rachel had loved her after all. Perhaps
that expression of hers when she died was a private message for Honora, a generous parting
gift. Watch out, Mother, watch out. You are in greater danger of self destruction than