Marc Broussard never imagined that his wedding would be such a fiasco. His French-speaking friends and relatives mostly observed a tactful silence, while certain of his Anglophone co-workers and drinking pals made their sentiments known.
"Marc! If they don't fix the fucking air conditioning in five minutes, you'd better call your lawyer!" bellowed Jim Tate, who on weekdays sat across from Marc in an office in downtown Montreal, a city ravaged by one of its periodic heat waves. Wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of a hand, Jim surveyed the ballroom of the hotel that Marc had cherished as a place to make permanent his loving relations with a lady named Camille Charra. Marc was 29, Camille 26. Over the last couple of years, Marc had had little doubt about the direction of their relationship, and now the sweltering conditions in the hotel made the wedding seem almost like a sick joke.
"Marc, this is more like some half-assed rehearsal for a wedding than the event itself," snapped his parents' neighbor, Jane Champion, her face streaked obscenely with makeup that had mingled with sweat and quickly lost all consistency. She indifferently held a drink someone had thrust in her hand.
"I can't believe we drove up from Granby for this," spluttered Ned Brown, a business associate of the bride's father, clutching a mixed drink in his right hand, a newspaper-turned-fan in his left. The air did not stir, and Ned's damp blue shirt was already the agent of a fearsome odor beneath his $400 Brooks Brothers jacket, which he would soon remove. A few feet behind Ned hovered his wife and teenaged daughter, also clutching makeshift fans, the daughter with the look of someone who came to a zoo expecting to have a magical experience, and then saw the monkeys beating off.
"Once-in-a-lifetime event?" Well, I'd say that's true, but not in the way you imagined," sneered Erin Ramsey, the best English-speaking friend of Marc's bride, who was nowhere to be seen at the moment.
"Hell of a package deal," muttered Erin's boyfriend, Dick Haig.
By contrast, Marc's family seemed loathe to violate and profane the ideal of this moment, the end result of so many intertwined circumstances extending through centuries from the mists of remote history. Here they had come to wed, Marc and Camille, at a shining incomparable moment in the life of the universe.
I would like to piece together for you, as best I can, the causes of Marc Broussard's recent strange behavior. It is still not totally clear what happened to Marc just lately, around the third anniversary of those moments in the hotel-there are gaps in the narrative when no living witnesses were around-but I have a few ideas. I'm debating whether to disclose my identity to you, reader. I certainly don't want it to color your perception of what follows. I have little doubt that his oddness began on that awful day, in the ballroom of the Sherbrooke Hotel, where Camille's parents, Paul and Marie, exchanged nervous looks while her two younger brothers talked of baseball scores and comings, goings, and promotions at work. Guests shuffled and fanned themselves and tried to comfort Marc. In the carpeted, paneled beige hallway joining the ballroom to the dining room, Marie noticed the forlorn figure of Henri Broussard, Marc's father, stooped and slowed by Parkinson's disease, hobbling through the physical space as if to rejoin a moment in his life when he was not a sad and lonely old man.
"The thing that kills me is that I kept trying to like the event, which I experienced-here and there-as it should have been throughout. Everyone so happy before they started complaining again," Marc told his therapist, Dr. Edward Danvers, on whose couch he lay in a wood-floored suite downtown.
"I know what you mean, Marc. Better that the heat had ruined the event completely and utterly than for it to have allowed you glimpses of what your wedding should have been from beginning to end."
Dr. Danvers, who required all his patients to converse in English, had grown expert at fashioning the phrases tossed out by their tortured psyches into coherent, analyzable attitudes. Over 20 years, he'd grown into one of the most respected and highly paid therapists in Canada. As for Marc, he felt that therapy had done him good in the past, when he felt so troubled over a universe where horrors fell out of the sky so arbitrarily. It had wounded him to hear about motorists stopped at a red light on the city's outskirts who died suddenly when a neat rectangular section of an overpass fell on them without warning, or about a family in Quebec who were watching sports in their basement when a landslide buried them. After Dr. Roger Daigneault moved to France, Marc had to find someone new. He'd heard so much about Dr. Danvers.
Abruptly, Marc shifted his head to the left and caught a glimpse through the window of a 30ish woman in a faded pink and white dress walking up the street, stopping passersby to ask for a handout. Marc turned his eyes to the white stucco ceiling and shut them as his memory zoned in on that moment three years before when Camille's parents stepped up to him and spoke words they'd rehearsed for so many years, since the days when Camille was a girl with rich straight black hair who greeted visitors in English at their house in the East End, over-enunciating parts of the greeting, as if the language were like slightly ostentatious formal wear, then returned to the living room and flopped onto her belly before a screen where cartoon characters spoke in French. Again Marc shared the memory of Camille's parents at the wedding with Dr. Danvers.
"Well, Marc, you can surely understand that the sentiments behind those words aren't any less real because Camille's parents were sweating and people felt awkward."
"That's not the point."
"A highly successful friend of mine always says that if you wait for every circumstance to be right, you never get anything done. You, Marc, you went ahead and got this thing done, and here you are, beautiful wife, successful career, kid on the way. There's not a man in this city who'd look down on Marc Broussard."
"Easy for you to say. I-"
"Procedural question, Marc."
Suddenly the tone was peremptory.
"O.k.," Marc said.
"Why did you come to me?"
"Because my former shrink is gone, and I heard about a lot of couples who have great marriages thanks to you."
"A lot of couples. You're not a couple. Why isn't Camille here?"
"She manages her emotions better than I do-"
"Camille sees nothing in your lives today that would be different if the wedding had come off differently."
"Well, that can't be true, because it got off on the wrong foot, and that has affected the course of the marriage."
"Or maybe just your perception of it."
The doctor steeled himself for a protracted, circular argument.
Though three years had passed, Marc kept recalling the wedding obsessively, and his mind kept circling back to one scene in particular. It was when all the guests were sitting in the dining room. Marc has said frequently that this experience was so new and profound that for a fleeting moment he loved it, he felt he'd been right to choose a hotel-and this one in particular-rather than a church or some other venue for the wedding.
"Oh, Marc, tell us of your plans for the summer."
On both sides of the elongated table in the Blue Room of the Sherbrooke Hotel, guests made eye contact with the groom, eager to know where the affluent young executive would take his bride, with the vast reaches of Quebec beckoning all around, the mountains and the lakes and the vineyards and the resorts, a million anonymous sunlit places where you could sit under the still branches sipping wine and breathing the crisp air as the cries of herons or the clap of exquisitely toned bodies hitting water broke the silence. Marc and Camille had their lives ahead of them, and at every mention of "Quebec" or "summer," countless associations invaded his mind. No doubt the guests were curious about their plans to start a family. But Marc couldn't shake the sense that their relationship itself would be a like misshapen child thanks to the hotel's screw-up. Already it didn't feel right.
At short notice, all the hotel staff could dig up were three stationary fans, which made no difference for the majority of guests. In an effort to keep mascara from streaming down their faces in the stagnant air, women kept dabbing themselves with napkins. All along the table, men had removed their blazers and flung them onto the backs of chairs, and some had pulled off their ties and rolled up their sleeves. Marc's father, old Henri Broussard, a visitor from a remote age, looked ready to pass out. But part of Henri's game at this event was to appear genial and "in" with the younger, Anglophone guests: "Good to be here, yes, yes," he repeatedly said.
"Well," Marc began, feeling immediately that he should be speaking in French, the first language of his family and Camille's, but the question had come from Ned Brown's wife, Janet. In Marc's throat was a sensation like the residue of a lump of chalk sliding slowly toward a resting place in his gut. He could not shake this notion of a murdered possibility, of a love and that would flounder and crash and die like a crippled bird in the wilds of Quebec. He felt he had to shout his words across an invisible sonic barrier. "Yes, yes," said old Henri, under the gaze of some of the younger guests. Henri was sweating and his wispy white hair looked like the extremities of a discarded old rug.
"Well, Camille and I have always wanted to visit Charlevoix, and I think the next destination will be Grosse-Ile, then maybe Lac Brome."
"He means 'Brome Lake,'" one of the 40-something husbands near the opposite end of the room whispered in his wife's ear.
Janet nodded, the faintest of smiles playing at her lips.
"Good to be here, yes, yes . . ."
Now came predictable and perfunctory questions about those places, and the tiresome stating of information by Marc. More guests were fanning themselves with newspapers or whatever they could get their hands on.
Everyone vividly recalls what happened next: a long, racking noise from old Henri that seemed part cough and part spasm or seizure, as he rocked back and forth in his chair and his wizened throat and tongue tried pitifully to splutter the words: "Yeth, yeth . . . yeth, yeth . . . yeth, yeth . . ."
"Have you been to the vineyards near Lac Brome?" persisted Camille's older brother Denis, a big bearded man of 35, halfway down the table.
"Once, when I was a boy . . ."
For about 10 minutes, he continued in this vein, before noticing something in Camille's eyes. She sat directly across from him. He believed it was the first time since meeting her in a church in Laval on a mild Sunday 18 months earlier that he detected something like a plea.
"Marc, Marc," she whispered.
Such were the memories tormenting Marc Broussard when he sat down in the office of Jean Lainé, a lawyer respected among many of the city's Francophones for his skill at arranging evidence and driving a point across like a pool player slamming a ball home in a carefully orchestrated move his opponent was not sharp enough to anticipate. Recently, Lainé had won judgments in favor of a logging company denied a permit to operate just beyond the St. Lawrence River in the Eastern Townships, and a bilingual teacher fired because his accent when he spoke in English was allegedly distracting to his students at a school in Kirkland. Depending on your viewpoint, Lainé was hawk or a vulture. At once, Marc's mind zoned in on the weeks before the wedding, and he began to share with the prim 45-year-old attorney his interview with Eric Dalton, the manager of the Sherbrooke Hotel, who had greeted Marc in his office on a blustery spring afternoon, spouting boilerplate phrases about the hotel and its reputation in the city and beyond. Eric Dalton wore a smart blue Charles Tyrwhitt shirt, a silver tie, and black slacks over a physique toned by countless hours on a treadmill, his artificially whitened teeth smoother and brighter than a precious jade egg smuggled from the ruins of the Romanov dynasty, as he grinned at the groom-to-be, making promises strengthened by references to weddings at the hotel over the years.
"And now I'd like to break those pristine teeth," Marc heard himself mutter under his breath in the somnolent air of the lawyer's office on Peel Street .
"I wouldn't go around saying things like that if I were you. You want to come across as impassioned but not fanatical," Lainé replied.
"Of course," Marc grumbled.
"Now, my first question is this: Why on earth did you come to me now, nearly three years after the event?"
"Well, I never imagined how I'd come to feel about it. I didn't want to face the reality-you've got to understand where I've been psychologically, trying to be mature and accept the problems and act like it was essentially a normal wedding and I need to get on with my marriage and everything-and then thinking the responsible thing is really-"
"Three years, Marc. This makes everything harder. Finding witnesses, withdrawing memories like pulling out teeth. . ."
"But not breaking teeth. Put it out of your mind, o.k.?"
"You've taken personal injury lawsuits and 'emotional distress' lawsuits that were five, seven years in the making. You can't turn me away."
"I'd turn you away in a second if I didn't think we could get somewhere with this."
"We can get justice?"
"Well maybe not justice, Marc. Lower your expectations a bit."
"It's all got to do with my experience with this guy. The promises he made, the way he pitched the whole deal, that smile of his, and then what he said to me when I went to him after the wedding and conveyed how everyone felt."
"Well, what's he going to say, Marc?"
On a Friday morning in June, after the frustrating meeting with the lawyer, Marc Broussard sat nervously among silent figures on the Metro studying newspapers or gazing at their feet. The headlines made more than the usual appeals for his attention. Despite the city's reputation for being so much more peaceful than any number of places in North America , it was in the midst of a season of violence. Here in this Paris of North America, this most refined of cities, the biker gangs were once again at war. Somebody had tossed a Molotov cocktail into a club where the Hell's Angels were meeting, and within seconds, three bikers in flames ran out screaming into the street while a fourth managed to squeeze off rounds from a .45 at the assailant, who was bravely speeding away on his Suzuki GS500. Another story: Pierre Leduc, who had spent three years behind bars for smuggling heroin, coke, and crystal meth into Quebec, was sitting behind the wheel of his 2003 GMC Envoy at a red light when two men dashed up on either side and filled the vehicle with fire from their Claridge Hi-Tec S9s before fleeing. Another story: Nguyen Ma, a 47-year-old Vietnamese man who came to Montreal three years ago by way of a refugee camp in the Philippines, was strolling on a promenade on the Saint Lawrence River when two white teens asked him for the time. When he paused to reply in his broken English, one of them pulled out a hammer and bashed Ma in the head so hard the man's brain bounced off his skull. They fished his wallet from his pants and set his body on a bench so he looked like he was napping.
And on and on . . .
With a sigh, Marc stepped off the train into the crowded station on Saint Catherine Street. Everywhere, people were rushing to offices or to classrooms at McGill University, but Marc had risen high enough in the hierarchy of his firm that he enjoyed some latitude with regard to his schedule, and today, the need to see Dr. Danvers was achingly persistent. Outside in the milky, slowly brightening air of 8:30 a.m., two rows of schoolgirls on the steps in front of the contemporary art museum were singing Beatles songs in French, in a manner both outgoing and self-conscious, to the amusement of passersby and the smiling approval of their teacher. Marc hummed words from "Can't Buy Me Love" as he shuffled past the museum and stepped into a diner for coffee before continuing west toward Crescent Street. On a banner overhead was a slogan concocted by someone in the municipal government: Nous Sommes Tous Montréalais. Marc liked the idea well enough. We are all residents of this city, the sum of our linguistic, cultural, and political differences is less than what we have in common. At Crescent Street, he turned and walked north half a block to the building where an elevator would take him three flights up to his shrink's office.
Today, Dr. Danvers was in something of a snippy mood thanks to his experiences with patients.
No, Mr. Debray, I do not think your son would be better adjusted in a French-only school. I think that's rather a poor excuse for your inability to get along. Now if you want a better relationship . . .
I'm sorry, Mrs. Leclair, but I never promised that the therapeutic qualities of your painting would erase all trauma stemming from the accident . . .
Listen, Mr. Moran, this has nothing to do with wanting to return to a small-town lifestyle. If you insist on clinging to an outmoded cultural idiom . . .
Reciting to himself some of the boilerplate phrases he used to soothe and lull patients, Dr. Danvers lay back in his plush jet-black designer chair. Though he might rely on stock concepts, his mind was hardly idle. Lately, Dr. Danvers had immersed himself in a tome entitled The Psychoanalytic Hoax. Though he found its case quite engaging, he had decided to turn the book around, spine inward, on the black shelf flanking his desk and chair and the patient's chair and couch, so that the title was not visible. Let's keep things simple for the patients, he thought.
Lying back in his plush chair, Dr. Danvers exulted in the ambiance of the suite, at once sophisticated and self-effacing, and thought of the Mexican restaurant that had just opened off Saint Denis Street. There the dessert menu included ice cream burritos topped with rich chocolate sauce. After two visits to the place, he was still trying to assimilate the concept of fried ice cream. Following a dinner of perfectly turned pollo and several glasses of chardonnay, the dessert would not only be ineffably exquisite, but would also help remind him of his status as one of North America's elite practitioners of the arts of mental wellness, with a growing stable of clients and a burgeoning record of citations in the footnotes of refereed journals. Increasingly, the Mexican restaurant was competing with an Italian one in Westmount for the doctor's time and cash. Sure, it ate into his paycheck, but money was for spending, and when Freud wrote about an "infantile need for the spontaneous gratification of impulses," he had never studied the menus of these restaurants. Dr. Danvers could not avert a peek at the red digits in the clock on his desk, even before he heard footsteps coming down the hall.
"Marc!" the shrink began.
"Hello, doctor," the patient replied, sliding into the chair across from the 50ish man with a graying horseshoe of hair around the dome where veins stood out like the lines on a map of the Metro. If Marc were at his office now, he'd be on the phone, yelling, cajoling, exhorting, pleading, but now he absorbed the ambiance of the suite once again, its air of containing the distilled wisdom of hundreds of years of thought without at all being stuffy. Reclining in his chair before the doctor, Marc sought articulate channels for the turmoil inside his skull. Just let the doctor guide you, he thought. Dr. Danvers studied the pasty face of the patient clad in a $200 blue Abercrombie dress shirt and a pair of khaki trousers held fast to his waist with a $100 Ian Poulter belt.
"I think about my wife all the time. I can't imagine what my life would be-I just can't think of it except in terms of meeting this woman, of us being born and our lives growing and intertwining . . ."
"Marc, I know, I know. What concerns me is your lack of understanding-"
"Damn it, what don't I understand?"
Marc could not temper the anxiety in his voice, awkward enough already thanks to the thick, cartoonish accent of a French Canadian speaking English, sounding like a talking moose in a kids' show.
"If you can let me finish, we can have a civilized conversation," said the doctor, looking directly into the depths of those Gallic black eyes.
Marc looked down, humbled, ashamed.
"We've been talking at cross purposes here. You've been speaking of the ardor of your love for Camille, but if such feelings and longings are the way you characterize them, then they do not, they never did require formalization and systematization-you must understand this."
"But I just get so depressed . . . and it's no joke. If the depression weren't flooring me, I wouldn't be here."
"You know damn well how you feel about Camille."
"I feel as if destiny has been thwarted," replied Marc, looking at the floor.
"Destiny. Come on. I've always thought your instincts are enlightened and secular."
"What did or did not happen three years ago at the hotel is incidental to your 'destiny.' If your love is what you say it is-"
"But that's it! Young people shack up everywhere, all the time. Then after a year or two of mutual masturbation, they get hitched, they tie the knot. But Camille and I-"
"Destiny, Marc, for Christ's sake!"
"Camille has eyes like-"
Spare me, the doctor thought.
"I know, I know," he told the patient.
"Since that wedding, there's been this, I don't know, this tentative quality about everything."
"And why is that wedding a point of demarcation? Because you are the slave of a cultural idiom, a false idiom! "
Marc considered this. He gazed out the window, then at the books lining the opposite side of the room, finally let his eyes drop as he wondered if maybe he hadn't put too many eggs in one basket, after all.
"I can't help it doctor. I can't help it."
"It won't be easy to liberate yourself from a false idiom. I never said it would be easy," the doctor intoned, thinking of patients over the years who had taken him more seriously when he came across as offering stern medicine, no easy fix.
"Look at me, Marc. You must re-conceive of your relationship with Camille, reconstruct it from the ground up."
"I can't do that."
"I can't, and we're going to sue the hotel, we've decided."
Dr. Danvers stared into the distances of the young man's eyes.
"You've got to be kidding!"
"Do I look like I'm kidding?"
"Damn it, Marc, it was three years ago. How are you going to sue the hotel?"
"Oh, believe me, we've consulted minds more legally sophisticated than yours-it's not too late, and we do have a suit."
"Look out the window, Marc."
The patient sat still, not thinking Dr. Danvers was speaking literally until he repeated the command. By degrees, Marc turned to gaze out at the hazy scene, a woman pushing a stroller up the sidewalk in the heat of late morning, a family of Algerians sauntering the opposite way toward Saint Catherine Street . Already Marc knew what the doctor was getting at, that the world was grinding on, everyone was preoccupied with now and tomorrow and the next day and had no concern for spilt milk.
"Look me in the eye, Marc."
Disconsolately, the young French Canadian brought himself to meet the stare of that middle-aging face.
"Come on, Marc."
He gazed into the face of 21st century psychoanalysis.
"Revenge represents the most regressive tendency, the slurry pond of your subconscious spewing up nonsense-"
"Easy for you to say."
"Marc. There is nothing more childish than revenge. "
"You'll have to jettison the idea of this line of demarcation."
"You think I can save my marriage?"
"Don't look down, Marc. Make eye contact with me."
He locked eyes with Dr. Danvers.
"You are going to listen because I'm telling you a scientific truth."
Marc sat there like a statue, then began to nod slowly.
Dr. Danvers got up and left the suite to use the restroom down the hall, while Marc busied himself with the books on the long narrow shelf.
Following an afternoon at the office, people saw Marc walk into a restaurant on Sherbrooke Street, perhaps not knowing what he'd say to Camille, but perhaps sensing that at last, he'd begun to fathom the depths of that cesspool so caustically described by his shrink. A waiter in a white blazer with a rose in his breast pocket greeted Marc and asked him, in English of course, whether he'd like to sit in the garden, from which came titters and the clinking of glasses. Marc started to say yes, then shut up. In the dim light of one of the tables flanking the approach to the garden sat Camille, clad in a red dress, with an amulet hanging at her neck, an adornment he had not seen her wear in public since their honeymoon, a tar-black obelisk with a ruby eye almost as hypnotic, in its way, as the gaze from the bespectacled eyes of Dr. Danvers. Already she was working on her second glass of pinot noir, gazing straight ahead even when she must have heard his voice. When he sat down facing his wife, she looked around at him and the waiter and two dozen diners, emerging by degrees from her meditations like a turtle re-engaging with the world. She met his gaze and they sat there, Marc Broussard and Camille Charra. How he yearned to feel again the sense of engaging with the psyche of this woman who not so long ago had been the small, shy daughter of an East End couple of modest means, greeting visitors at their door, reaching up to push back a lock of rich dark hair as she smiled and told them: "Entrez, mes parents vont arriver. " Looking into Camille's eyes, Marc began to recapitulate the morning's therapy, brushing aside her questions about work. In the face of no matter what frustration, Camille evinced a girl's curiosity about Marc's daily existence.
He implored her to listen to him. If they loved each other as he thought they did, then the external irrelevancies must fall away. Camille objected. They could sue the hotel, she reminded him. She had no doubt M. Lainé would represent them well. But people don't want to dredge up an ordeal of three years ago, pulling witnesses out of their busy lives for so vindictive a cause, he argued. Nous devons continuer avec notre vie. He returned her gaze and saw something he had never, even wanted to see. Within minutes, Marc and Camille stepped out of the restaurant into the mild air of Sherbrooke Street , where couples walking arm in arm were as common as soldiers once were on the avenues of an Eastern Bloc state.
"I 'll tell you, Marc, I don't know why the hotel couldn't get its stuff right," said Jacob Blais, not seeming to notice or care that both Marc and Jim Tate were working frantically and in no mood to shoot the bull. Marc hunched over his desk in the office downtown, trying to lose himself in the stock portfolio he managed for a wealthy couple in Quebec City. Shut up! Are you trying to rip open an old would? he felt like screaming at the firm's green young assistant manager who had so little sense of the work culture here, of the moments when the digits on a screen became Marc's sole point of reference in the universe, a blissful safe passage through time, and he grew resentful of any impertinence.
"Yeah, to hell with them," Jim muttered, hoping to shut the kid up.
"Of all the days in the summer when they could have let that happen-"
"Absolutely," Jim said, adding, "Jake, would you go find me the numbers for the Roux account for October 2003? Right now?"
The kid picked himself up and got lost amid a wilderness of file cabinets. Jim gazed across at Marc, who once again tried to belittle the issue: "We're not going to sue the hotel. All the unwanted attention has been difficult for me and Camille. I wish everyone would forget it. Did you see the article in the Gazette on the ruling concerning pension funds investing in private capital pools?"
Soon Marc was back on the phone, calling and exhorting and feeling anger rise within him, then he slammed the phone down and sat with his black hair in his palms, feeling like a handcuffed man who must silently ignore taunts and challenges to his honor. Then he was back on the phone, incurring looks from Jim whose eyes contained a plea to keep his voice down, though Jim knew better than to challenge Marc openly. Dave Radcliff, one of the managers of the mutual funds division down the hall, stuck his head in and invited everyone to accompany him to a pub on Saint Laurent Boulevard in half an hour, drawing a chorus of consent even though Marc longed to stay on the phone, to keep hammering away at the reservations of his clients. He rose and followed his colleagues down the hall and into an elevator, then they were out in the glare of Saint Catherine Street, moving past a record store and a throng that had formed on the pavement in anticipation of some teen idol's appearance, down past the contemporary art museum with its framed image way up in the sky of a pair of female lips poised for a kiss, past the sex emporia and cafés staffed by kids in black without a milligram of fat on their figures, past more strip joints where loud bits of poetry from the speakers made themselves heard in passing-"Listen, bitch / I want my dick sucked! "-and past teenaged hookers playing it a bit more discreetly than they would in a few hours, though assertive nonetheless: "Hey, do you want a date?"
The heat and humidity warning issued by Environment Canada contained dire words about sunstroke, exhaustion, and muscle cramps. Jim wondered if he was the only one who'd heard it. When the party made a left onto Saint Laurent , Jim asked, "Are you all right, Marc?" The latter's vague, somewhat incoherent reply suggested that he was upset over something he'd seen in his shrink's office.
"God, it's nasty out here. Where's this place?" Marc added.
"One more block," Dave said.
Finally they came to the bar beloved of Dave, whose usual crew of drinking buddies could not be here for one reason or another. Beefy men in tank tops were watching a screen and raising glasses of beer to their lips.
"Sure you're all right, Marc?"
Marc nodded and straightened his tie of silver scored with white.
They sat down at a long table at the front of the bar, where the windows were open and hot air wafted in off the crowded street. Outside, a brunette in a long white skirt took in the façade of the bar and the four guys in a single sweep, then turned away in distaste, continuing up the boulevard to some appointment or rendezvous. Dave rattled off figures concerning how stocks had reacted to the latest employment data, but it seemed he really wanted to hear his own voice. Jim ordered a Boreal Rousse for himself, everyone else a Boreal Blonde. They had a second round, and a third.
"Make some moves today, Marc?" Dave asked.
"Marc cleaned up," Jim answered.
"Your division's the talk of the halls," Dave said.
"I don't know. I'm definitely not keen on hiring someone else right now," Marc stated, his eyes wandering over the crowds and the Gallimard bookstore directly across the street.
"I say, Marc, how on earth do you go around knowing that Eric Dalton is breathing the same air as you?" asked Jake, ignoring a look from Jim.
Before Marc could answer, Dave sent Jake to get another round of Boreals. At one of the tables behind the co-workers, a couple of students were bantering:
"What exactly is 'Canada'? If you had to answer the question without reference to geography, what would you say?" one asked the other.
We didn't have to come to this dive. We could have gone to a nice enclosed place with air-conditioning, thought Jim.
Dave's look over Marc's shoulders contained an inquiry to Jim as to whether Marc should continue drinking. Jim shrugged subtly.
"You all right, Marc?" Dave asked.
Marc stared out the window sipping his beer.
"Marc's one of the savviest and toughest managers I've ever met," said Jake, whose status at the firm was an open question. But there was sincerity in his voice, and he was hardly contradicting the others' sense of Marc, particularly in recent weeks when Marc had toiled late at the office every night, studying every move, every twitch of the central bank or the Montreal Stock Exchange. Marc's technical prowess was extraordinary. He was one of the first in the company to embrace, and master, new systems that recorded and sorted trading data faster and more minutely than any other equipment to date.
"So, Marc, I'll say it again. I've never met someone more committed to helping his clients build their position. If I were a 45-year-old guy in Joliette , depressed about my wife turning 30 and wishing I could tithe more in church-"
"Shut up, Jake," said Jim, not in a harsh voice, but not smiling either.
"Talk about a man you can depend on. Talk about a man who'd never screw someone he made a contract with-who understands the nature of a compact-"
Jim clapped Jake so hard on the back that the kid blew beer through his nose and out of his mouth, to the amusement of passersby on Saint Laurent .
"Go get us another round, would you?" he asked, pressing bills into the boy trader's right hand, sticky with beer.
The blond kid picked himself up and wobbled toward the bar, reaching for support toward the shoulders of patrons who weren't shy about voicing their irritation.
"I don't know why we hired this kid," Marc muttered.
"He's got the right attitude, some of the time, hasn't he?" Dave asked.
Marc looked at the ground.
"Marc? I'm not really sure this was such a good idea," Dave said.
"You're showing heat exhaustion or something," Jim put in.
"Marc! " Dave shouted, turning the heads of the students behind them and a few others.
Finally Marc spoke: "I will kneel humbly before my king and hope he will not find me without merit."
Jim and Dave looked at each other. Marc recognized one of them as his king?
"It's got to be heat exhaustion or something."
To Marc there came images of the sweaty ungainly bodies shuffling on the floor of the Sherbrooke Hotel's ballroom, all seeming miserable except for Denis Charra, Camille's older brother. Marc's body seemed to want to fold in on itself, he was sweating and stammering, his fingers twitching, as his colleagues looked around the bar nervously as if to pre-empt looks from curious revelers. Now Marc could think of nothing save for the face of Eric Dalton when they had the initial interview about the wedding and the hotel's suitability as a venue, the face of someone for whom promises came so easily, a member of the city's Anglophone elite with always such an assured air, making eye contact with Marc and proclaiming: "We're professionals. We'll make this the most unforgettable experience of your life. Package deals start at . . ." No, it cost Eric Dalton nothing at all to unveil vistas before the eyes of credulous young people, vistas where they could walk forever in the security of a love captured and insulated inside a ritual of inexpressible beauty. That man said he'd never made a promise he couldn't keep, said it in the clipped precise English of an accomplished Montrealer.
Marc keeled forward into the arms of Dave Radcliff, who grunted and straightened him out as inconspicuously as possible. Before Marc knew what was happening, someone, Jim or Dave, was fishing in his front pockets, then he felt his cell phone sliding out, and Jim fiddled with it until Camille's number came up on the screen. Camille was just blocks from the bar, finishing her shift at the hospital. Minutes later, Camille walked into the bar, turning the heads of the large-bodied guys in tank tops who had gathered to watch a soccer match on the screen above and to the right of Marc's party.
"He's had it," someone said.
Brusquely, as if it were beneath her to consort with the guys in tank tops, Camille pushed her way through and linked her right arm with Marc's left, then they were out on the street boarding a cab. As they rode through this most beautiful of North American cities, Marc eased his arm gently past the base of Camille's neck, resting his palm on the smooth clean whiteness of her shoulder, turning his head to inhale the aroma of her hair while she uttered monosyllables at the driver. Camille kept shooting looks at Marc until he whispered that they had overreacted, that physically nothing had been wrong. When the cab finally reached the driveway of the street in Westmount that looked as if its cleaners were armed with microscopes, Camille thrust bills into the driver's hand and the couple got out and stood there in the verdant street where not even a cat stirred. Deeply he inhaled the scent of the acacia leaves in the yards, as rich and seductive as his wife's hair.
"Désolé, Camille. "
Marc followed her up the short flight of steps into the unremarkable but cozy house they had moved into just after the honeymoon. On the wall of the foyer, the Klimt print distracted him as he kicked off his dress shoes and removed his tie before sauntering into the living room, where he half spun and half fell onto the wide beige sofa as Camille moved about in the kitchen. He lay there in the silence of his immaculate middle-class home.
Marc Broussard had a fortune in the Royal Bank of Canada.
Marc Broussard had a wife who only grew more enticing with the gradations of time.
Anyone could see that he did not come from a genetic cesspool, unlike some of the fellows in the bar today.
Yet somehow he could not dispel the sense that Camille's eyes lingered on Jim Tate, on Dave Radcliff, on the waiter in the restaurant on Sherbrooke Street , just a moment longer than they should have.
Camille brought out a tray with glasses of ice water on it, and they sat in the stillness facing each other. As they made small talk, he knew he loved her. The doctor had tried so hard to make Marc focus on the regressive character of certain of his attitudes and the authenticity of his love for this woman, a radiant unimpeachable fact.
"Camille, je pense que M. Lainé- " he began.
She bade him follow her upstairs to the bedroom, where she pushed open the twin windows, admitting a breeze that faintly stirred the ends of her hair. Marc stripped and lay on the bed, letting his mind wander, here at the crossroads of external stimuli and the deepest reaches of his subconscious. As Marc slept, he fancied himself standing in the ballroom of the hotel, in the stagnant air. On both sides of the elongated room, male guests had removed their jackets, women had yanked their blue or violet dresses up to or even above their knees, discomfort warring with modesty as certain of them turned their gaze to Marc, as if he held the key to fixing what the management had blown today. Denis Charra and some of the younger guests still made an effort to bring this event off as it should be and, infuriatingly, was at moments. Though Denis had a beard and had not removed his blazer, he evinced little discomfort as he gyrated in the center of the room with a girl Marc did not recognize. In one of the outlying chambers hid Camille with her train of attendants. Marc decided he'd had enough and left the ballroom, following one of the elegantly paneled hallways past portraits of a few of Canada's prime ministers, Harper, Martin, Chrétien, Mulroney, Trudeau, until he reached an intersection and strode off in the direction his anger dictated. He turned left and left again, and within moments, Marc stood in a big room with palatial windows open to let in the dusty scorching air of the desert. Gazing outside, he took in an infinity of sand and space and heard the wailing and jeering of tribesmen hiding just out of sight beyond the dunes and cliffs. He turned around. Under a portrait of Louis XIV, taking up most of the east wall, stood Camille in her gown, her hair pulled back to expose the breadth of her creamy cheeks, beside a priest in flowing white robes clutching a small volume bound in cracked dark leather. When Marc moved toward her, he saw for just a moment in the mirror at the opposite wall that he and the bride resembled a pair of dolphins.
In the morning, after relating his dream and some of his thoughts on the hellish previous day to his semi-conscious wife as she lay in their bed in the second floor of the house in Westmount, Marc Broussard dressed and walked out onto the driveway, into the air with a threat of rain that swelled and swelled but never made good on itself. There he stood surveying the avenue with all its lives contained in neat cocoons of symmetry and reciprocity, balance and order, on a plane far from the sultry world of the city. Marc began walking through this silent morning world until he reached the Metro station, where a few people later recalled noticing an unshaven 30-something man sitting with his hands enclosed between his knees until the train glided into the station and whisked him off in the direction of Saint Catherine Street. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a knock minutes later on the door of a building downtown, and a salutation: "Hello, doctor."
Two days later came another knock on the door of Dr. Danvers's office, civil but peremptory. After a pause, three detectives in the hall outside had a superintendent open it and preceded him into the suite with its sleek black tables and chairs and its minimalist ambiance. At this point, they gazed past the books strewn without rhyme or reason all over the polished wood floor, to where the avatar of 21st-century psychoanalysis lay slumped with a pair of scissors protruding from his bloody bald dome. The detectives, whose names were Plummer, Johnson, and Moreau, called in all the appropriate people, then spent an hour interviewing the doorman, time not entirely wasted, for they got a description of the last patient to enter the premises, and the doorman recalled the fellow's name from a conversation weeks before. In the shrink's desk, they found not only a schedule book filled with names of patients, but also a densely written journal in which the doctor set down accounts of his meetings with patients and his thoughts about them.
"Not exactly what the pro-Francophones want to hear right now," said Detective Johnson, after the three made a preliminary assessment of the murder and its motive.
"But evidence is evidence," Plummer replied, nodding soberly.
Johnson began mumbling cryptic comments about sacraments, the Council of Trent, and cultural atavism.
You must be wondering how I know all this, so I may as well come out and tell you that my name is Jim Tate, and I've been following with fascination the case of my colleague who was so much like myself through a distorted mirror. It's amazing what spouses, colleagues, and even detectives will share with you if you can pad their wallet a bit, even or perhaps especially if it means impugning a colleague of their own.
While Johnson and Moreau were outside having a smoke, Plummer surveyed the spines and covers of the books strewn across the floor, and then, as he turned to gaze out the window beyond the doctor's desk and chair, he caught the reflection of something curious, emanating from the area directly above the smooth dustless surface of the shrink's desk. On closer inspection, it was the image of a little blond boy, without attire, in a position suggesting readiness to give and receive. Someone had saved a number of similar images here, the detective saw. After a quick glance down the hallway, Plummer walked back to the far end of the suite and stood over the computer, pensive, then with a darting movement reached down and performed a bit of electronic surgery. Not a crime, in the detective's eyes, but a favor to everyone who respected Dr. Edward Danvers and his work, and a favor, too, to millions of others. People who had the interests of progress in mind, in a united province that repudiated atavistic tendencies. No need to fret over the deleted images, the detective thought. It was bad stuff. It was probably all in his head, anyway.