Fiction

The Garden Court Motel

By: Donald McMann

Motel for the lost

One

The first time Margaret Crossland walked into the new arena, she could smell the ice. It was a good smell, a familiar smell, even an exciting smell. It stirred her as few other scents could. W.T. had once gotten himself into trouble with her for observing that ice was in Margaret’s blood, but he hadn’t meant it that way. He hadn’t meant that she was cold. Just the opposite: that she was passionate about ice. Her years as a figure skater had given her an appreciation of ice, one that most people, who slip on it or chip it away from their walks or drop it into their drinks, simply don’t have. She knew, for example, that arena ice is made with treated city water. You can detect the chlorine in it. It’s subtle but it’s there. And arena ice always carries with it a reminder of the ponderous, looming Zamboni that grooms it, making it into that perfect, glassy sheet on which the skaters carve and pick their way to frozen art. Pond ice is different: more organic. It’s wild ice with a hint of algae locked in. It’s primitive, more alive. And then there are the outdoor rinks—hybrid ice. More civilized than pond ice, more pure than the machine-made ice of the arena. Not manufactured. Hand-flooded by dedicated dads, it smells of coffee from thermos bottles, and surreptitious cigarettes, and aftershave. Maybe just a whiff of beer or rye whiskey.

Margaret had fought for this arena. There had been meetings with the skating club, with the city councilors, with provincial cabinet members. There had been fundraising events: bingos, casinos, dinners with endless silent auctions of things begged from reluctant merchants. There had been grant applications to write. There had been local media to be courted: the editorial board of the Chronicle, columnists, TV news producers, editors of weekly community papers. Then there had been the need to forge alliances with other ice users—the speed skaters and, more significantly, the hockey leagues.

There had always been an uneasy relationship between the hockey players and the figure skaters. Mostly it was about resources. Mostly it was about ice time. And boys. Hockey took almost all of the boys. Hockey used most of the ice time. This new arena was supposed to solve at least the ice-time part of the problem, even if Margaret had finally given up on her one modest plan to bolster the number of boys: her two sons. One was addicted to hockey. The other to books, of all things.

It was a twin arena: two ice surfaces. One for hockey, the other for figure skating. A third rink, this one an oval for speed skaters, had been planned but later cut because of a funding shortfall. When the speed skating club fell behind in its fundraising goal, Margaret’s reaction was quick.

Cut them,” she’d said. “They’re too small and too lazy.”

They still practiced on an outdoor oval. They still resented it. They still blamed Margaret.

This day, ten years after the grand opening, ten years after all the speeches about partnership and sharing, ten years after she and the president of the local amateur hockey association had held the same pair of outsized scissors and cut the bright red-ribbon in an act that was to open, symbolically, not just a new building but also a new period of cooperation, Margaret stood at the top of the bleachers and looked down at the figure skating rink. Her eyes were intense. Bright blue. Her expression cold and calm. A vein on her right temple stood out, its pulsing visible. She looked down at the surface: the markings at center ice, the blue lines, the face-off zones, the goal nets at each end. She stood there looking down at the figure skating rink configured for hockey.

They say it’s just temporary—for Minor Hockey Week, but it’s not the first time this year, and this time we only had a couple of days’ notice. It’s not even just a week we’re locked out. There’s the setup and take-down. By the time we’re done, we’ll have lost two weeks of training time. And the Junior Nationals are coming up. We need that ice, Margaret. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Mary Yaremco, the president of the South Side Figure Skating Club, had been reluctant to call on Margaret to help with this problem. Margaret had many opinions about the training of young skaters and the operation of the club generally, and her history as a competitor, club founder, and super-volunteer gave her, so Margaret believed at least, both the voice to express those opinions and the right to expect that they would be accepted. But once the twin arena was opened and running, Margaret had unexpectedly stepped back, moved on, as she put it then, “to spend more time with my family.” Club executives such as Mary expressed shock and disappointment at Margaret’s decision. They rightfully gave Margaret much of the credit for bringing the arena project to reality. They noted Margaret’s foresight and determination. And privately they celebrated the family that had seduced her away from the organization. It was time for a transfer of power to a new guard. Time for a little more democracy. After all, members of the executive board were parents of tomorrow’s champions, Olympians. They knew what needed to be done to nurture their sons (however few in number) and daughters so that the young skaters’ achievements would exceed the victories of long-ago stars such as Margaret Crossland. Within a couple of years, Margaret had been inducted into the regional Sports Hall of Fame, and she had made the transition from leader to symbol. Until Mary’s call.

* * *

Margaret had been a part of every step of the arena planning process. She’d drafted the statement of principles. She’d helped with the functional programming. She’d consulted with the architects. She’d haunted the construction site. And no one knew the Cooperative Facility Utilization Agreement better than she. It said, in the plainest of the plain language she had promoted, that “in exceptional circumstances ice time dedicated to hockey or figure skating could be reassigned from one sport to the other.” The agreement went on to define exceptional circumstances: “(a) the loss of existing facilities due to damage or unscheduled repair, or (b) a unique special event such as a national or international event awarded to the city.”

Doesn’t qualify,” said Margaret, looking down at the ice surface and not at Mary.

But they said it did. They said it’s a special event and—”

It’s not a unique special event, it’s an annual event. They have Minor Hockey Week every damned year. They can plan for it. You can’t let yourself be bullied this way. All you need to do—all they need to do—is read the agreement.” She looked over at Mary and was silent. Margaret was still absolutely cool. Mary broke eye contact almost at once. She stared at the floor.

Don’t worry,” said Margaret. “I’ll make some calls. I’ll deal with this.”

* * *

When Ted Bradley, coordinator of recreational facilities, got back from lunch at about 1:15, his telephone was flashing to tell him he had a message. He lifted the receiver and punched in his code. He listened. What followed could be heard throughout the office. It was carefully enunciated. It was loud. It had feeling.

Fuck! She’s back. Margaret Crossland is back. I knew this would happen. Fuck. We’re fucked.”

Two

It’s over.”

Ryan? Is that you?” W.T. had been sound asleep when Terri shook him awake and handed him the phone.

Yeah.” The voice was flat and he sounded as tired as W.T. felt.

Do you know what time it is?” Even though Ryan had lived for years in Toronto, the concept of the two-hour time difference had never appealed to him. When he wanted to talk, he called.

Uh, no. Ten?”

Other direction. Try six.”

Oh. Sorry.”

What’s over?” asked W.T.

Madeleine and me. It’s over.”

Ryan’s voice broke just a little on the word “over.” W.T. could understand why his son might be upset. Madeleine was supposed to be “the one.” After a string of intense but brief relationships, Ryan had met Madeleine nearly five years earlier. She sold commercial real estate in the Toronto area. That’s how they’d met. She found him several sites for the strip malls that he and his partner, Scott Gilchrest, developed. She was tall, nearly as tall as Ryan’s six feet, and she had long, honey-blond hair and large eyes the color of milk chocolate. She’d grown up in Hull and had more than a hint of French in her speech. People enthused over her: she was beautiful, she was smart, she was ambitious, and she was patient, patient enough to have been with Ryan for four of those five years. True, they didn’t actually live together—she kept her own place, but it had become more of a storage unit for off-season clothes and furniture she’d need someday. It was also a refuge, a place to retreat to when life with Ryan got too crazy.

What did you do this time?” asked W.T.

Be serious, Dad. This is the real thing. She took her stuff out of my condo. She even returned the key. She’s never done that before. And she’s blocked my emails. Won’t return phone messages. Nothing. Just nothing. It’s over.”

I’m sorry, Ryan. Really sorry. So, what happened? Something must have caused this.”

She says it is about trust. I didn’t have any. She accused me of following her, Dad.”

Well, were you?”

That’s not the point.”

It isn’t? Sounds like she thinks it is the point.”

Yes.”

Yes, what? Yes, it’s the point, or yes, you were following her?”

There was a pause.

Ryan?”

Um, both. I guess.”

God, Ryan.”

She’s threatening to get a restraining order against me if I try contacting her again.”

Why on earth were you following her?”

Well, it wasn’t really following. I mean, yes, I was driving by and saw her on the street walking into a restaurant after she’d texted me and cancelled our lunch. And yes, I drove around the block. A couple of times. OK. Three. Three times. And, yes, I did park the car and walk by the restaurant and kinda looked in the window. A couple of times. Until the last time. When she came out of the restaurant and yelled at me. But I’d never done anything like that before. To her, I mean. It was just the once. And she did cancel the lunch. What was I supposed to think, or do, when I saw her walking into that restaurant?”

But couldn’t it have been a business lunch, or lunch with an old friend? Why jump to the worst conclusion possible?”

There was a pause.

Ryan?”

“’Cause I suspected—it seemed possible that she—um, might have, you know, been seeing someone else.”

Why? Why did you think that?”

I don’t know. A feeling, I guess.”

Well, if you really couldn’t trust her, then I think it wasn’t much of a relationship.”

But I do—I did trust her. Mostly. As much as I seem to able to trust most people. Fuck. It always ends this way. I can’t seem to trust anyone, Dad. This was the longest relationship I’ve ever had. And look what I’ve done. Again.”

Calm down. Just calm down. I don’t know if you called for advice or just to talk, but I have two things to suggest.”

What?” He sounded tired, unenthusiastic.

First, don’t try to see her or talk to her. Maybe with some time she’ll reconsider. But right now, from what you say, she’s angry and wants nothing to do with you. Having her go to court for a restraining order would be tough on both of you and would certainly end the relationship. Permanently. Second, see somebody. A doctor, a counselor, a psychic. Somebody. If this is a recurring problem, some kind of pattern, then if you don’t fix it, it’s going to make you a very lonely and unhappy man.”

It’s already making me a lonely, unhappy man.”

I know. Oh, and one more thing.”

You said two things.”

Yeah, well, it’s three. Do not follow her anymore. Don’t follow anybody.”

Three

It is early August on a hot Thursday evening. The temperature this day has topped ninety. Ryan’s birthday is in a week. He turns fourteen, a middle-aged teenager, he tells his friends. And he is tirelessly campaigning. It’s the motor-bike-for-Ryan campaign. This is a time when the province still allows fourteen-year-olds a license to operate two-wheelers with motors of small displacement. More than anything else in his life, now or likely ever, Ryan wants one. As he tries to explain it, it’s not so much a want but a need.

I’m starting high school next year,” he says to his parents. “It’s farther away and you don’t want to be driving me to my school and Will to his school.”

We weren’t planning to. There are buses.”

There’s a pause.

Undependable,” he says, impressed with his own quick thinking.

And winter? You’re planning to ride in the snow?”

Well, um, no. That’s where I might ask for a ride, but don’t you see, while the weather is good, then you’re off the hook. Free and clear of having to drive one of us at least. And if I had to, to help you out, I could take the bus sometimes, because everyone knows that the buses are more dependable in the winter. I mean, they have to be, don’t they? They can’t have people waiting around at bus stops when it’s minus thirty. Right?”

His other efforts to get the motor bike are more convincing than his debating skills. He’s offered to contribute the hundred dollars he’s earned mowing lawns this summer. He managed to get on the honor roll at school, yet still his parents are resisting.

It’s still that crap about danger,” he tells his best friend, Doug. “She thinks I’m gonna ride in front of a fuckin’ truck or something. Like I’d do anything that would put my little red Suzuki at risk. She’ll be my baby. I’d never do anything to hurt her.”

This night he’s on his old bicycle, however, and hanging around the Dairy Queen with Doug and a couple of his other friends, Mike and David. This is only the second time since summer holidays started that he’s had the bike out of the garage. He doesn’t want his parents to think he has any use for a bicycle at all—even though just one summer earlier, his father used to joke that this particular bike might well need to be detached from Ryan surgically. He rode everywhere. He rode all the time. But, and this seems to have happened without his parents reading about it, learning about it from TV, or even noticing it for themselves, this past year bikes have become uncool. If you were fourteen—or almost fourteen, which had been Ryan’s actual age since the day he turned thirteen—then you either ride a motor bike or you saunter. Bicycles look too eager. He has only taken his bike out tonight because his friends were already at the Dairy Queen, and he was, in fact, eager to meet up with them.

Tonight the guys are having milkshakes. Ryan’s is strawberry, his favorite. They lounge on some concrete benches in front of the store, even though it’s much cooler inside. Middle-aged teenagers are often too loud for commercial premises. And Mike’s fondness for the word “fuck” (it’s used by him as a verb, a noun, an adjective, and an adverb), his appreciation of “fuck” for its versatility and its power and its capacity to cause unsurpassed hilarity at every repetition, seals the deal on this particular evening.

You. Out. Now.” The manager is clear.

Fucking asshole,” says Mike once he’s safely out the door.

The others agree.

* * *

They talk about motor bikes. They talk about the NBA. They talk about acne and whether or not ice cream can cause it. They talk about “women.” They blow bubbles through their straws into their milkshakes. They’re amused by this. They agree that the humor in this would probably escape “women.”

It’s Mike who notices.

Hey, Crossland. Isn’t that your mom over there?”

All four turn in the direction Mike is pointing, to the far end of the parking lot. There are two cars stopped there. His mother’s Mustang convertible and a big Mercedes sedan. Margaret is leaning into the driver’s side window.

Is she fucking kissing that guy?”

Shut up. She’s talking is all.”

Pretty tight conversation.”

Shut up, asshole.”

They watch. Finally Ryan puts his milkshake down on the bench, hops on his bike, and rides over toward his mother. Either she hears the bike’s tires on the gritty asphalt or she catches motion in her peripheral vision, but she starts and straightens up, turning to see her son riding toward her. He stops the bike, allowing the back wheel to skid out a little. It makes both noise and dust.

Ryan. What on earth…?”

The guys. Milkshakes.” He nods toward the three mop-headed boys staring at the action.

Didn’t your dad feed you?”

Sure. Hours ago.” Ryan looks away from his mother and toward the driver of the car. He is about his parents’ age. He has brown hair combed straight back. He has a beefy face with a small nose and dark-blue eyes.

Ryan,” his mother points to the driver. “I’d like you to meet Mr. Merryweather. He’s from the hockey association. We’ve been at a meeting about the arenas.”

Ryan’s now off his bike. He leans toward the car and shakes hands with the driver. The man smiles.

OK, mister,” says Margaret to her son. “We have a couple of more things to talk about. I’ll see you at home.”

Ryan hops on his bike and rejoins his friends.

He reports: “Some guy from the hockey group. They’ve sat through some meeting, and they still can’t stop talking.”

No one says anything. Ryan makes no eye contact with his buddies.

Hey,” says Doug, “do you guys know that Cindy and Jason M. went on a real date last Saturday? Yeah. To the movies. By cab. You know how much that woulda cost?”

Man.”

Fuck.”

Ryan says nothing. He is thinking of smeared lipstick.

* * *

Six days later Ryan wakens earlier than usual. It’s his birthday. He wants, for once, to be up before his father leaves for work. He knows he’ll probably get his birthday gift at dinnertime, but there’s always the chance, just the chance, it could be in the morning. He ambles into the kitchen, still rubbing his eyes. He wears only some pajama bottoms, too short. His torso is showing the beginnings of muscle across his chest, on his shoulders. Every night he does pushups in the hope of helping nature along. His dark-brown hair, uncombed, would make an excellent fright wig if only it were fire-engine red. His bare feet slap against the linoleum floor. His mother hears this and turns to him.

Good heavens. You’re up, and without being called.”

Ryan notices that she’s making pancakes. This is weekend food, not on the breakfast menu for a Thursday, unless…

Oh, but wait,” Margaret says, “could there be something about this day? Has some expectation roused you from teenaged slumber? Hmm. What could it be?”

Mom.”

Ryan, is that you?”

It is his father calling from the dining room. Another good sign. The dining room isn’t used for breakfast on weekdays.

Get in here.” His twelve-year-old brother Will’s voice.

Sleepiness lifts from Ryan like a missile from Cape Canaveral. He bounds into the dining room. Margaret walks in after him.

God. Oh, God. Look at it. Holy shit—I mean look at it.”

Bright-red, polished, spectacular—a 150 cc Suzuki sits on its stand just inside the patio doors. Ryan bounds over to it. Touches the vinyl saddle, looks at the gauges, walks around it, admiring it from every angle.

Jeez. The guys are gonna be as green as this is red.”

And, finally, he sits on it. He gets off and throws his arms around his father.

Thanks. Thanks a ton. This is the best birthday I’ll ever have.”

You’re welcome, but you’d better thank your mother too. Despite all your efforts, she’s the one who talked me into it. Convinced me you’re mature enough. Don’t prove her wrong, now. And rules? You can hardly imagine the number of rules I’ve got about this machine,” says W.T.

Ryan hears none of this. He goes to his mother and puts his arms around her. She hugs back a little stiffly. He pulls away. Their eyes meet.

Thanks a lot, Mom.”

You’re welcome, Ryan.” She smiles at him. Holds his gaze.

Now, how ’bout some pancakes.”

It’s about time,” says Will. “Hey, Ryan. I’ve already sat on it.”

Will watches his mother as she returns to the kitchen.

Four

She is the only customer in the place. As she sits at a booth by the window, Margaret looks toward the kitchen and gazes absently at the column of dark donair meat that turns on a vertical spit in the red light of a heat lamp. The restaurant is tired. It’s attached to a motel, the Garden Court Motel, a fifties-style place that’s pretty much original. The tables are Arborite with chrome trim, now dented and nicked in places. The floor is red and cream asphalt tiles laid in a diamond pattern. The color is worn in high-traffic areas. The walls are decorated with posters of sites in Italy and photos of kids’ hockey teams sponsored by the restaurant. The room is steamy hot and smells of onions, tomato sauce, garlic, and meat.

Margaret’s arrived first; Dan Merryweather, president of the Amateur Hockey Association, and the man with whom she’s just sat through a four-hour meeting of the arena planning group, is to join her. She’s not sure why she’s here, what she’s doing. She was taken by surprise when he turned to her at the end of the meeting and said, “I’m starved. Why don’t you join me for some pizza?”

There are lots of reasons why she shouldn’t join him for some pizza. She doesn’t like him. She doesn’t trust him. She should get home. W.T. has probably kept some dinner warm for her. She doesn’t particularly like pizza; it’s fattening. Lots of reasons. But something has caused her to come here to Vini’s Donair and Pizza Emporium, “home of the best donair and thin-crust pizza this side of heaven.” She’s not comfortable. Something is making her feel a little jumpy. She tries to define the feeling. Apprehension? Fear? Some form of anticipation? Hardly that. There’s no reason for this unease, of course. It’s not like she doesn’t know the man. During the arena planning process that’s been going on for the last six months, she sometimes thinks she spends more time with Dan than with W.T. Her hands are damp; she blots them with a paper serviette from the metal dispenser at the side of the table. She looks toward the door. Again.

Drink?”

She starts. It’s Vini, or Vini’s surrogate.

Sorry, lady. You a little on edge tonight, then?”

Long day, but sure—a glass of red. Please.”

We gotta nice house goin’.”

The wine comes. Dan doesn’t. She watches the meat going around and around and wonders if, when they serve it, they bring you a piece of paper and a pencil so you can leave a farewell note. Damn it, she thinks, if I’ve been stood up by someone I didn’t even want to be with

She’s about to drink down the rest of her glass and ask for the bill when Dan walks in. He’s a big man, over six feet. Everything about him is big: big hands, big voice, big head. He favors suits with big checks. Ties with big designs, big colors. He drives a big Mercedes sedan. He has brown hair, not yet thinning despite advancing middle age. He moves like an athlete—lumbers actually. He continues to play hockey in a senior men’s league, and she can tell, by the way his arms and shoulders stretch the big, white dress shirts that she sees him in when his jacket invariably comes off ten minutes into their meetings, that he still spends time in the weight room. There’s a bit of a double chin forming, and around his waist are the first signs that an aging athlete’s metabolism is changing, slowing. But these are only minor signs of time. Otherwise he’s vital, energetic, imposing. And then there are the blue eyes. Unusual. She studies them when she knows he isn’t looking in her direction. They’re not exactly blue, she thinks; they are really almost violet.

Dan’s not like most of the men Margaret knows. He’s loud, blunt. A bit of a bully, especially at the negotiating table, but she thinks she sees in those eyes, those eyes with a touch of purple in them, something more than an aging jock. It’s as though they do more than see, more than take in light and shadow. They seem to transmit as much as they receive. They are hard to turn away from.

Sorry I’m late. Had to make a quick stop.”

It’s OK.” She points to her nearly empty glass. “I had some company.”

Hey, Tony,” he calls across the room to the waiter. “Gimme a Molson’s an’ the lady’ll have another wine.” He turns to Margaret. “You’re gonna love this place. What kinda toppings do you like?”

She notices his cologne. He wears a lot of it. It’s a touch of floral but something else too. Something slightly metallic, something slightly salty. She likes it.

They place their order, talk about the meeting, criticize the self-interested but ineffectual speed skaters.

Can you believe that Harvey Jackson?” says Dan. “When you told him his group had to raise some real money or get out, I thought you were gonna make him cry.” They laugh. Margaret’s eyes water.

Poor dear,” she says.

The pizza is as good as he’d said. Margaret is surprised by how hungry she is. They both reach for a slice at the same time and their hands touch. Margaret snatches her hand back.

Jeez, Margaret. A little jumpy tonight?”

Sorry.”

When there are two slices remaining, they each take one—no touching this time—and they eat in silence.

Gelato?” the waiter asks when he comes for the empty plates. She tells him that she never eats dessert and then, after the briefest hesitation, orders strawberry. Dan laughs at her and orders the same.

The ice cream is gone. So is the wine and the beer. It’s time to go. Neither speaks.

We’re nothing to each other, she thinks, two people accidentally thrown together into an enterprise in which they both have an interest. Nothing more than that. She reaches for her purse and fumbles with it. She feels him staring at her and looks up.

I booked into the place,” he tells her.

What do you mean? What place?”

This place. The motel. I live on an acreage about ninety minutes out of town. If I work late, sometimes I stay here. So I stopped in at the office. That’s what kept me.”

But it’s not that late, it’s only about…” She stops. He’s leaning forward on his chair, his elbows on the table, his chin resting on those big hands, his face close enough to touch. The cologne. She looks at his eyes, and they crinkle around the corners. He raises an eyebrow. She feels her face flush. Perspiration breaks out on her temples and the back of her neck. She snatches another serviette and then thinks better of using it. He’s staring at her with those purple-blue eyes and grinning.

She can’t seem to think of anything to say. He can.

I see you looking at me during those meetings.” For once the voice is not loud. It’s quiet, a little hoarse. “You’re checking me out, Margaret. Others have noticed. Not just me. So I figured maybe you’d like an even closer look. A feel too.”

God. You figured wrong. Totally wrong. How dare you conclude…I would…I would ever even think of… You know what you are? You are an arrogant pig.”

Been called worse.” He leans back in his chair. Smiles. “But don’t have a hissy fit, now. It was just an idea for a little fun, an innocent little thing between two adults. It’s not like I’m asking you to run away with me or something. I think we could have some fun is all. Think about it, Meg?”

No. Not a chance. Never.” She resumes groping in her purse.

OK, OK. I have a wife to go home to. And you have a civil servant. We’ll both be just fine. But you don’t know what you’re missin’, babe.”

She is on her feet now. Breathless. She throws a twenty on the table.

That’s for my share.” It’s far too much. She doesn’t care.

Only her high-heeled sling-backs prevent her from running from the place. She moves as quickly as she can to the door, slips on the gritty floor, and grabs the handle to steady herself. She pushes the door open and rushes into the cool, dark evening.

Margaret gets into her car and slams the door shut. She’s gasping for air and, without starting the engine, she grabs the steering wheel with both hands and grips it as tightly as if she were driving 110 down a glossy road on a rain-soaked night. Her face feels hot. She’s not crying but her eyes burn. Along the sides of her face, her jawbones stand out with the effort of clenching her teeth.

Why, she thinks, why is it only men who get to pursue sex for sex’s sake—they with their transparent little plots, their clumsy seductions, their crude propositions? I’ve been checking him out, he says. Others have noticed. Well, hell, maybe I did want to—a little fling with a good-looking man. Utterly meaningless—as it would have been for him. Why don’t women exploit men, damn it, for something more than a dinner or a piece of jewelry? Why can’t we be the ones to use ’em and lose ’em?

Minutes go by. Her breathing is calmer now. She leans back in the seat. She lets go her grip on the wheel and rubs her hands together. A motel, she thinks, a dump that probably charges by the hour. Why not? Why the hell not?

And then she opens the door, gets out, locks the car behind her, and heads back to Vini’s. She walks deliberately. Her heels click against the pavement, this time with the deliberation of a cop walking his beat, a steel worker on his way to the late shift, a soldier keeping guard. She doesn’t hesitate when she gets to the door. She opens it and goes straight to the table, where Dan still sits. He’s well into his next beer. He smirks when he sees her.

Change your mind, Meg?”

Yes. I did. But not tonight. Next Thursday.”

But we don’t have a meeting next Thursday.”

We do now.” Her tone is almost formal as she stands over him.

OK.”

Another thing: I don’t want my car seen here. Pick me up in the lot of the Pine Heights Mall. I’ll be parked in the back corner of the lot. OK? Four-fifteen.”

Sure. Anything else I can do for you?” He tries his snide look again, but a sixteen-year-old shows through.

She pauses for a moment, looks away, and then meets his eyes.

You could go a little lighter on the cologne without damaging the moment.”

She offers him a little smile, lips closed, quick to fade. She turns and walks calmly from the place to the confident rhythm of the heels.

Five

The Garden Court Motel is not, in fact, anywhere near a garden, though it might have been before urban sprawl spread the city, like a load of steaming asphalt, across the countryside. Now the Garden Court is midtown, a bit dowdy, the sort of place used by oilfield workers in town for training, by traveling sales reps, and by people who’ve made a sale of a different kind and need a room for a night. Or just an evening. On one side of the motel is an auto body repair shop. On the other a store selling restaurant supplies. In its display window large, red letters proclaim Sail Price’s. The sign has been this way since Margaret and Dan began coming to the Garden Court for their Thursday “meetings.” Tonight’s is their eighth one.

Their products must help keep restaurants afloat,” says Dan.

He looks over at Margaret. Margaret is silent. She looks straight ahead.

Dan feels the early stirrings that precede an erection. He resists the urge to put his hand in her lap. Or his.

The cooler she is, the hotter I get, he thinks. And she’s cool tonight.

The Garden Court is set back from the street. In the space between it and the road is a parking lot and a small swimming pool surrounded by a high, chain-link fence. It looks as though it should be in the recreation yard of a minimum-security jail. A huge electric sign lists the motel’s features: color TV, phones, kitchenettes, swimming pool, air-conditioning. In red neon just over the door to the office flashes the welcoming word: Vacancy. Next to the office is Vini’s.

The Garden Court is a long, narrow building, two stories high. The door to each unit opens directly to the outside; at each end there is an open stairway that leads to the second floor and a long, exterior corridor used to reach the upper rooms. The numbers for the ground-floor rooms end in “A.” The upper rooms in “B.” Dan always takes Room 1B. It is the end unit, next to the restaurant supply store. Less noisy.

They climb the stairs in silence. He opens the door and holds it for her. She flicks on the light. 1B has been redecorated. The floor is covered in a shag rug that blends two shades of orange together. It’s obvious that it has been recently vacuumed and raked; the patterns are visible in the pile. One wall is completely covered in bronze-colored mirror tiles. There is a large bed with a cover in an abstract pattern including shades of brown and orange with just a touch of blue. The room smells of synthetic carpet and pine-scented cleaner.

He throws his coat on a nearby vinyl-upholstered chair. It, too, is orange. She hangs hers in the closet. He takes her into his arms. She’s always a little surprised at his height, the size of his frame. She hugs him back. They kiss. She notes that he’s cut out the cologne altogether.

Let’s get naked,” he says. His voice is a rasping whisper. He smiles down at her and then, taking her face in both big hands, leans down and kisses her mouth. It’s a long kiss. Their tongues meet. He’s never been more excited. Never.

You’re amazing,” he says. “No one else has ever made me feel like this.”

She remembers that she’s forgotten to pick up the dry cleaning. Must do that tomorrow.

When they are done, they lie together for a while. They’ve thrown the covers off. Evaporating sweat cools their skin. Their breathing becomes steady again; the gasps and cries that only minutes ago reverberated off the mirror tiles have all been completely absorbed by the orange carpet. Then he gets up and walks into the bathroom. He leaves the door open. She stays on the bed, listening to him urinate. She wants to brush her teeth and to rinse the taste of his mouth from hers. It’s time to end this.

* * *

If they had been down in Room 1A, they might have heard it—that puttering of a small motorcycle engine, about 150 cc’s worth of motor. The bike arrived just minutes after they had. It first sat idling at the curb, and then, when Margaret and Dan were up the stairs, and when the door to 1B was safely closed again, and the room’s lights were shining dimly though the orange window coverings, the bike pulled into the parking lot and stopped behind Dan’s Mercedes. The rider looked at the car’s license plate, and then, after no more than a couple of minutes, drove away.

Six

Margaret had a way with meetings. She’d start by arriving just a few minutes late. Keep them waiting—but just a little. Make sure they understand that you’re fitting them in between important commitments, even if you know those events consist of nothing more than breakfast and lunch. Show that you mean business. The clothes, the briefcase, the demeanor—it all had to say important. And even though Margaret had cut down on her volunteer activities since the big push to build the twin arenas ten years earlier, she approached this showdown at City Hall with vigor undiminished by time.

The meeting was in the mayor’s boardroom and was set to begin at eleven. When she walked in just after, four ward councilors were there; the mayor’s executive assistant, a young man named Jamie Brassard; the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, Richard Smithson; the coordinator of Recreational Facilities, Ted Bradley; and Dan Merryweather, still, after all these years, the president of the Amateur Hockey Association. Most of the participants were standing around visiting by a side table that offered a tray of pastries and a large coffee urn. The director, Smithson, and Dan sat at the boardroom table, before them an open file folder. The director was taking notes; Dan was talking.

Margaret, even in her fifties, could stop the conversation when she strode into a room. This day she wore a tailored navy suit and red-and-blue spectator shoes—four-inch stacked heels. Her blond hair was pulled back, iridescent under the room’s pot lighting. She wore a strand of large, white pearls with matching earrings that were set with perfect, fifteen-point diamonds. Pretty without being garish. Her briefcase cost more than the boardroom table. To anyone who mattered, it showed.

She moved through the room shaking hands, greeting the men—and they were all men—who were there to deal with the arena dispute. She left Dan for last. Actually it had taken Margaret some time to recognize him. The years had both taken from Dan and given to him. Dan was bald. And Dan was fat. His head was a giant, fleshy globe not far from the hue of a radish. His belly suggested fecundity. He wore gray flannel trousers, a gray tweed sports coat, a white dress shirt—all perfectly conventional, apart from the tie. It had a hockey player design that reminded Margaret of pajamas she’d bought for her boys when they were preschoolers. But the problem with the tie was not just its juvenile pattern, but the fact that it was short. Very short. It failed to meet the challenge of Dan’s immense gut. It barely reached halfway down his stomach. The tie made him look, she thought, like the biggest little boy in the world.

People were beginning to take their places around the table, and Mary Yaremco, the president of the South Side Figure Skating Club, had not yet arrived. Margaret poured herself a cup of coffee, checked the wall clock, checked her watch.

Well, folks,” said the mayor’s executive assistant, the meeting’s chair, “perhaps we should get started.”

Margaret took a seat. They began by going around the table so that all the participants could give their names and say whom they represented. Margaret kept checking the clock. She opened her briefcase and took out a file and a notepad. She checked her watch. She wrote the date on the blank top page of the pad. She looked at the wall clock again. She wrote the word “kill” on the pad, then crossed it out so that no one could see. Finally Mary rushed in, flushed, breathless, and after Margaret removed the purse she’d used to keep the neighboring chair, Mary sat.

Margaret leaned over to her and whispered, “Success?”

Yes. I just got word. Thank you so much, Margaret. I don’t know what I can ever do—”

We’ll talk.” Margaret leaned back in her chair and smiled. She glanced over at Dan just in time to see him look away. He’d been watching her. Gotcha, she thought.

* * *

The meeting began. The director gave some opening remarks about the importance of cooperation, about resolving conflict through compromise, about the spirit of sport extending to administration. Everyone nodded.

Next was Ted Bradley, the facilities coordinator and the man who, Margaret suspected, had probably made the decision to hand over the figure skaters’ rink to the Amateur Hockey Week’s organizers.

As you all know,” he began, “Amateur Hockey Week is one of the most important events of our city’s recreational year. It involves kids of all ages, not just from Edmonton, but from across the region. It attracts literally millions of dollars to the community, and it promotes a healthy lifestyle and good sportsmanship, a quality that we value not just on rinks or playing fields but in every aspect of community life. I might say that it’s sportsmanship that brings us together today as we attempt to find a cooperative way to resolve this minor scheduling issue.”

There was general nodding and some scattered murmurs of agreement. Margaret wrote the words “minor scheduling issue” on her pad and underlined “minor.” The coordinator then signaled his assistant to distribute a handout. It consisted of a one-page proposal to relocate the figure skaters to an arena in Spruce Grove, a bedroom community thirty minutes down the highway, an hour from their home arena in the city.

I realize now, thanks to the representations of Mrs. Crossland and Mrs. Yaremco, that their skaters can’t miss training time with competitions looming. We should have been sensitive to that. I really do apologize for our lack of consultation. But this solution,” he said, holding up a copy of the document that was being passed around, “I think solves the problem. It gives Amateur Hockey Week access to a venue it needs in order to hold a full schedule of games across the city, and it provides the training space the figure skaters need.”

He turned to Margaret and Mary. He tilted his head just slightly to the right, smiled, and posed his brows into an expression of sincerity.

We’ve heard you and we’ve acted. Isn’t this what the spirit of sportsmanship is really all about?”

Most of the meeting appeared delighted. Two of the councilors and Dan actually gave the coordinator a brief round of applause. His director, Richard Smithson, beamed.

I’m very glad—” Mary began to speak but stopped as Margaret waved her down.

Actually,” Margaret began, her voice even, her expression calm, “I think that community spirit and sportsmanship are also about keeping your word.” She reached for the folder in front of her and pulled out a document. She put on a pair of reading glasses.

This, gentlemen, is a copy of the Cooperative Facility Utilization Agreement. A clumsy title, maybe, but you know as documents go, it’s beautifully clear. And ten years ago we drafted this formal agreement to help at times just like this. This is what it means.” And here Margaret focused on the director, who looked away from her and began taking notes. “You can’t take our arena away for an annual event such as AHW. You simply can’t do it. It would be in direct contravention of both the words and the spirit of the agreement. I suggest that you schedule some of your hockey games in Spruce Grove, and we will continue to use our facility. Many of our parents are not able to get their kids to practice sessions and lessons that far out of town—especially under such short notice. Two of our coaches don’t even own cars. Your teams have buses; your schedules already involve travel to a variety of arenas—or to the city in the case of the out-of-town visitors—so a bit more road time shouldn’t be a problem. By contrast, your proposal does real harm to some young athletes who deserve better. We have some elite competitors who are going to gain national attention. Their training simply can’t be disrupted so some twelve-year-olds can play hockey. It’s not right and it’s not going to happen. You’ll have to move some of your games.”

Absolutely not.” It was Dan, and he slammed his big, open hand hard on the table. Coffee cups jumped in their saucers. People jumped in their chairs. Mary gasped. Margaret simply looked over her glasses at him.

We’ve got a schedule worked out. It’s been published. Sixty-five teams, local and out of town, have it in their hands.” He was shouting. His face was crimson.

We can’t build in the travel time now. Our city has a reputation to protect here. How do we explain this to the visiting teams? You’d turn this tournament into a gong show, for God’s sake. No way. No goddamn way are we ripping up our schedule and starting all over. And I don’t appreciate that dig about twelve-year-old hockey players either. We can claim as many potential elite athletes as you. More, even. I just don’t believe you, Margaret. I really don’t believe you.”

It was at this point that a secretary entered the room. Her expression was serious. She carried a small slip of pink paper that she gave to Jamie Brassard. He read it and rose from his chair.

Sorry,” he said. “I’ve just been called out. I’ll be back in a minute.”

The room was silent. People occupied themselves making notes, reading the handout. Dan wiped his forehead with a tissue. Margaret and Mary looked at one another. They smiled. Margaret got another cup of coffee. Two of the councilors followed her lead. As she took her place again, Brassard returned.

Well,” he paused and looked directly at Margaret and then at Dan, “I think you’re going to have to rework that schedule, Mr. Merryweather. We’ve just received word that the South Side Figure Skating Club has received a court order preventing us from using the figure skating rink for Amateur Hockey Week. I’m quite sure that we wouldn’t have attempted to have this meeting if we’d known that legal action was underway. But we didn’t know. I’m sorry for the inconvenience. I think we’re adjourned.”

Seven

It was a Sunday night. Dinner was over. Terri and W.T. sat in silence, just watching the fire. Fauré’s “Pavane” played on the stereo. The music was a favorite.

It works on a full stomach, in a darkened room, with a glass of rich, red wine,” he’d say on evenings such as this. “Music fits specific times of day. This is Fauré time—er, I mean it’s Fauré o’clock.”

W.T., you’re awful.”

They were on their second bottle of Shiraz. He’d bought a case of it and laid it down for three years. Tonight he’d decided it was ready, and that was about as much of a special occasion as he required. There had been some cocktails before dinner. W.T. was relaxed.

Ryan had called—during dinner, of course—to say that Madeleine and he were back together, at the price of couples’ counseling and some one-on-one work with a therapist for him.

I don’t know exactly when I’m going to schedule work in,” he’d said to W.T., but Ryan sounded delighted. W.T. was relieved. Dinner could be interrupted; it could be reheated, just as Ryan’s love life had been.

* * *

Margaret’s fault, you know,” W.T. said, breaking a silence that had gone on for nearly an hour.

What? What was Margaret’s fault?”

Ryan’s problem. This trust thing. I blame her.” His voice trailed off. There was another silence.

I did love her, you know, though at times it wasn’t easy. Not easy at all.”

But why blame her—for Ryan, I mean?”

He found out.”

Found out what?”

W.T. didn’t answer immediately. His eyes were closed. His head leaned against the back of the chair. Terri wondered if, after all, this was just dream speech, if the words came from that strange nether region between sleep and wakefulness. He held his wine glass at a slight angle. Thinking it might tip or simply fall, she reached for it, but the moment he felt her hand, his eyes opened, his grip tightened. He took a drink and then set the glass down on the coffee table. He turned to her.

Margaret was a remarkable woman in many respects. Accomplished a lot. Charm. Beauty. Intelligence. Talent. Certainly determination. Would have been great in business if women had done that sort of thing in our day. Or politics. But…” He looked away from Terri and into the fire. Then he turned back to her.

I guess I never told you, did I? She had an affair. My perfect wife had an affair when the boys were in their early teens and Ryan found out. He saw her with someone and he followed them. To a motel. A seedy motel. Poor boy. Didn’t need that. Kept it inside for years. Ate at him, I guess. Maybe still does. Finally told me the day after the funeral. Had too much to drink. Spilled the whole story. Later felt terrible about telling me. Apologized all over the place. Told him I’d known all along. Don’t know whether that helped or hurt. Poor boy.”

But what about—”

Poor boy.”

THE END

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Categories: Fiction

1 reply »

  1. Some excellent writing, Donald. I think you’ve arrived as a writer. You need to pay more attention to your plots, though. I was almost turned off by the first part of your story, but my interest grew when Margaret came on the scene. I liked her, didn’t care much for Dan. (And I understand I wasn’t supposed to.) I didn’t understand the need for including Ryan’s woes, and, to be truthful, I think I would’ve appreciated the story more if I were Canadian. It’s hard for me to get excited over ice-time. It’s hard for me to explain, but the pieces of the plot just didn’t seem to fit. The story cooked, though, when a feisty Margaret came on the scene. Maybe you could open with her, hook your readers, and then tell the story, especially the opening part, in flash back. Best of luck, although it’s not a good time for writers, unless they write in text.

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