I pretty well lived at the pool hall back in my younger days,
much to the grief of my good parents, who thought that such places
were dens of iniquity where great and wondrous transformations
were carried out on young boys to make them turn from the Lord
and smoke cigarettes and curse and swear like old salts from the
sea. It was a curious sort of place for certain; and one where
the Lord was surely not safe. There was for sure lots of cursing
and swearing and smoking of cigarettes and there were occasional
bouts of drinking and gambling, but I took the attitude early
on that it was all in good fun — maybe not good, clean fun, but
fun all the same. I revelled in it — much to the grief of my
parents, who were probably right in what they thought.
The pool rooms from back in my youth were what I think you’d call
bastions of male machismo, where men hid from wives, and boys
from their mothers, and every male of the species knew he was
safe and secure from all things womanly. The old men contended
that no female had ever set foot in the pool room where I got
the better part of my learning. I couldn’t prove that to be true,
but my mother wouldn’t even go in the place to get my Dad his
smokes when he was in hospital for his ulcer. It was just that
kind of place where one step inside could taint your soul for
an eterninty in the hereafter — at least that’s what I’m sure
my mom felt.
But this is the story of a girl I once knew — and she was a special
thing, and I loved her with all my heart back in those other olden
days. She came into my life when I was in the twelfth grade, struggling
to make sense of logarithms, wrestling with the chemical symbols
for all sorts of foul and evil-smelling concoctions and generally
having a most difficult time with the whole adolescent thing.
And it was true that I had never been on a for-real date in my
whole life by the time I was in twelfth grade. And it wasn’t like
I wasn’t interested, because Lord knew that I was more than interested
in anything and everything female. But I just couldn’t get my
nerve up. The other guys called it getting shot down when a girl
refused their advances, but I called it being humiliated, and
I avoided it at all costs.
Now, I’d known this girl for some considerable length of time,
both of us living in the same small town, but I’d not known her
well because we ran with different crowds. I’d admired her, too,
because she was a looker — that’s what the other guys said. Would
have liked to have gotten closer to her, but was forever without
the chance. Anyway, after we got older, she was constantly on
the arm of a boyfriend, usually a big tough, hunk of a guy with
the looks and the money and the inevitable car, and I had none
of those. So, I kept my distance — knew I hadn’t a chance.
And so it happened that while I was in twelfth grade, I really
did struggle with my maths and sciences, but I was a wizard in
English literature. There wasn’t a hidden meaning lurking that
I couldn’t find as we read our way through some of the great literature
of modern western civilization. But others were not so fortunate,
and could discover nothing hiding among the words and phrases
in their English texts — they saw only the plain language on
the surface of the pages and could not mine beneath for the richness
of thought contained in their depths.
And it also came to pass that my twelfth grade English teacher
pulled me aside after class one day, just before Christmas break.
"That was a great way of expressing that the way you did,"
she said, alluding to a particularly insightful remark I’d made
in a discussion of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which I have
always considered to be a work of true genius, a slim volume compared
to Grapes of Wrath, but packing much more emotional punch.
"It’s just the way I see it," I answered, appearing
quite non chalant about receiving such praise.
"Well, I just wish more of the class had your way of looking
at work like this," she said. "It would really make
my job easier."
I stood in silence, rocking back and forth on the heels of my
cowboy boots, but not exactly sure where this was leading, wondering
why she’d called me aside.
She seemed to wait until the rest of the class had left, and only
when that had been accomplished, did she continue.
"I wanted to talk to you about something," she started.
I knit my eyebrows and got a serious expression on my face to
show her I was paying attention.
"I’ve got a student who’s approached me for extra help —
from my other Grade 12 class," the teacher said. "The
problem is that I’m already tutoring six kids this semester and
I’ve gotten myself too busy." She paused.
I regarded her. Said nothing, but waited for her to continue.
"I was wondering if you might consider helping this student
understand some of the books on the course?" the teacher
asked. "I think it would even be okay if you charged a little
something for your time."
I thought for a moment, surprised at what was being asked, caught
unawares by her question. "Gee," I started to answer,
continuing to rock in my boots………
"You don’t have to answer right now," she interrupted.
"Think about it and let me know later in the week, but before
the holiday if you can, so we can get the two of you started during
With that, I was off, hurrying to my next class, but wondering
about the offer to tutor as I hurried. I could surely use a little
extra cash — that was for sure — but it would mean sacrificing
time from the pool room and from hanging out with the guys —
both major intrusions in my social life and so a cause for serious
consideration. I could use the extra cash, but I’d mull it over
just the same.
As it turned out, I mulled it over until dinner that night when
my Dad announced that he had run into my English teacher uptown,
which was not all that strange considering my Dad worked in the
post office. That meant he regularly ran into almost every single
person in town when they came to pick up their mail, which was
what my English teacher was doing when my Dad ran into her.
"Miss Robbins tells me she’s offered you a job," my
Dad said between mouthfuls of leather soup, an odd mixture of
fatty, end-of-the-line roast beef and flat, doughy dumplings that
had been invented during the depression when my mother’s mother
had wanted to fool her family into thinking there was still food
"Well, it’s not exactly a job," I answered, thinking
to discourage him from putting pressure on me to accept. After
I made the brief answer, I abruptly shoved a spoonful of leather
soup into my mouth, hoping he’d get the point and drop the subject.
"Oh, isn’t that nice," my Mom said. "If it’s not
exactly a job, what is it she’s offered you, dear?" she asked,
maintaining the conversation and almost certainly assuring my
position as a tutor.
Likely for some big, hairy, ugly basketball player who had to
pass English so he’d be allowed to play for another season, before
he dropped out to become human fodder for the furniture factory
on the town’s main street. Because that’s who I’d decided my student
was most likely to be. The more I’d thought about this, the more
sure I was that this tutoring thing was going to be a big mistake.
"Well, what is it?" my Dad asked impatiently. "If
it’s not a job."
"She wants me to help somebody with their English,"
I finally answered. "But I’m not sure it’s a good idea,"
I quickly added. "I mean, it might just slow me down — I
mean, I don’t need anybody getting me confused about this stuff.
And that might happen."
My Dad was looking at me like I was crazy, and I probably sounded
like I was, both of us realizing that I was offering up some pretty
"It sounds like Miss Robbins must think you could do it,
son," Mom said. "You’ve always gotten really good marks
"I know, Mom," I answered.
"She told me you could make a little money over the holidays,"
joined in my Dad, adding his usual practical, finance-oriented
point to the discussion.
"It likely wouldn’t be much," I countered.
"Well, it sounds like a good opportunity," my Dad said.
"You should think about it."
"I am thinking about it, Dad," I answered.
"It sounds like a good opportunity. Maybe there’d be something
more next year," my Dad said, relentless in his reasoning.
"I know, Dad," I answered. "I’ve thought about
"You two better eat your soup before it gets cold,"
my mother chimed in, effectively telling us the conversation was
at an end. And we both listened to what she said, because there’s
nothing that can curdle your blood quicker than to be faced with
the prospect of eating some of my Mom’s leather soup after it’s
gotten cold and taken on the consistency of wet cement.
But I knew that if I didn’t accept the tutoring assignment, each
time I approached my Dad for some cash from now until I reached
middle age, he’d remind me of how I’d passed up the one great
opportunity in my life — I was trapped in the proverbial no-win
So, I accepted. And the plan was that I would meet my new student
on the last day of classes before the Christmas break, right after
the Christmas assembly, so that we could set up a schedule of
appointments for over the holidays.
So, I dutifully trudged up to the classroom where I studied English
immediately following the assembly, painfully aware that my friends
were headed for the chinaman’s restaurant where they would sip
cherry cokes and plan the festivities for the first night of the
much anticipated Yuletide vacation.
I entered the room, and it was empty, except for a single person
— the very girl I’d admired from afar for so many years. I stopped
short — said nothing.
"Hi," she said brightly. "You must be the English
"I…I guess," I managed to stammer, knowing full well
that I was turning twenty-seven shades of red, embarrassed to
be confronted by her, wanting to scurry from the room and hide
"I’ve seen you around," she said. "We were in the
same Confirmation Class at church."
"I remember," I answered, and the tone of her voice
seemed to set me somewhat at ease, so that I could feel myself
relax a bit.
"So, do you remember any of that stuff?" she asked.
"What stuff?" I answered her question with one of my
"That Bible stuff they taught us," she answered. "You
"Oh, yea," I said. "Guess I remember the important
stuff. Haven’t killed anybody recently."
She laughed at my little joke, and the rest of the tension I was
feeling seemed to disappear.
Still, there was a silence and I was a little unsure what to say.
"So," I started……
"You likely want to know what a smart girl like me is doing
needing English help," she said, seeming to sense my uncertainty.
"Well, I’m a wiz at science and math but I don’t seem to
be able to get English through my thick head. I just don’t seem
to understand what the writers are getting at."
"Well, I’m not sure I always know, either," I answered
"Miss Robbins says you’re really good at this stuff,"
the girl said.
"I do my best, but I’m not sure there’s any trick to it,"
I said. "I think it’s mostly being able to let yourself go
and getting inside the author’s heads."
"Can you teach me how to do that?" she asked.
"Don’t know," I answered, again truthfully. I paused.
"Do you like to read?" I asked.
"I don’t read much," she admitted. "I used to read
Nancy Drew, but not much past that."
"Maybe we can change that," I said.
"When do you want to start?" she asked.
"Is tomorrow too soon?" I asked back, and the pool hall
and my friends were both forgotten.
"That would be great," she answered.
"Should I come to your place?" I asked.
"No, you can’t come to my place," she answered and I
was aware that she said it a little more loudly and deliberately
than was perhaps necessary. "I’ll come to your place, if
it’s okay," she added, and her voice was immediately softer
and more like it had been earlier.
"Yea," I answered, unsure what nerve I’d struck. "That
would be great."
And so we parted, and I walked on air as we left the room. I didn’t
even bother with my friends or the pool room. I went home. I had
work to do.
My mother’s jaw must have dropped a foot when I told her my student
was coming to our place for tutoring the next day and that the
student was, in fact, an attractive member of the opposite sex.
I could well imagine her sitting up half the night knitting baby
booties for the grandchildren, and knew for sure she’d be up early
the next morning to make sure the house was good and clean before
my guest arrived.
I was also up early, reading voraciously away, scribbling notes,
trying to prepare for the first lesson. After all, I had to make
a good first impression, appearing able to make many wise and
knowledgeable insights into the work of various great writers
— a tall order, even for one much more learned than I. I didn’t
have hunk-type looks, or cash, or a car. I would have to dazzle
her with my superior brain. I would have to show her that there
was more to life than tooling around in a fancy red convertible
with the captain of the football team. Everything depended on
how we made out at this first session.
She was to come at four and by ten after I was sure she’d changed
her mind and not bothered to call.
"Are you sure it was today?" my mother asked.
"Yes, mother," I replied, and just then there was a
knock at the kitchen door.
I showed my new student into the living room where we were to
work, finally managed to convince my mother that we didn’t need
anything, and we settled in to study.
The hour passed quickly, too quickly for my liking. I know for
certain that I had never spent that much time that close to a
girl who was also surely a woman. I could smell her. Her breath
touched me. I could feel her without touching her. I was continually
aroused during the lesson, constantly afraid it would be revealed
to her. But I did my best to conceal it, and it seemed to go unnoticed.
Finally, my Dad came home from work, meaning an end to our time
We had said nothing to each other, excepting what needed discussing
for high school English, but I felt I could feel something between
us as I showed her out. And just as she stepped out the door,
she looked back and our eyes connected for the first time since
we’d come together the day before. I melted into a puddle of soft,
warm emotion at that very instant and could tell she felt something
too. But she turned and left, not looking back as she walked down
the sidewalk and made her way toward her home. I watched her go,
until she was no more.
I waited for our next meeting, two days hence, filled with anticipation.
She was on my mind constantly and she came to me in my dreams.
I’d heard my buddies discussing the concept of getting "hung
up" on a girl, and had laughed at them as they went through
the various gyrations of puppy love, but now I felt an awful grasp
upon my soul. I wanted to be with her. Indeed, I craved to be
with her, and had little interest in the rest of my life.
The two days passed slowly, but finally they were at an end, and
I was pacing the floor, again awaiting my tardy student. Then,
at fifteen minutes past the hour, just after my Mom had again
asked me if I had the right day, I peered out through the kitchen
window and saw a bright, flashy, red sports car pull into the
driveway, and at once my spirit soared and was crushed. I realized
my Venus had arrived, but had come with one of the thick dullards
she usually hung with.
I watched from the corner of the window as she climbed from the
car. Then, just as she was about to close the door, it seemed
whoever was in the car spoke to her, because she wheeled around,
an angry, hurt look on her face, and said something back into
the vehicle. The car door slammed abruptly shut and the car backed
quickly out of the driveway.
She stood for a moment in the driveway, a light snow falling about
her, seeming to try to compose herself after the brief altercation
with the car’s driver. She brushed her hand across her face, perhaps
clearing away an errant tear. And even as I watched her there,
I could see only heavenly beauty both in her and surrounding her.
She seemed a vision of soft radiance to my lovestruck eyes.
Finally, she came up the walk to the house. I pulled back and
gave her time to knock, not wanting her to suspect that I’d seen
the exchange in the driveway. But I didn’t wait too long after
she knocked and I swept the door open and invited her inside.
Soon, but not until I had fended off the obligatory offer of pop
and chips or cookies and milk or whatever and whatever from my
mother, we were back sitting in our study area in the living room.
"Are you okay?" I found myself asking after we’d gotten
settled, not sure I should ask such a question, but unable to
prevent myself from doing so.
"Is it that obvious?" she asked, but she offered up
a small smile that made me feel better.
"You just look like you’ve been upset," I answered.
"Oh, I’m all right," she said. "I’m just not a
very big fan of Christmas. I find it a hard time of year."
"That’s too bad," I said. "Most people really like
"Well, most people’s fathers don’t come home drunk and miserable
every night over the holidays," she said.
"Your Dad?" I asked, not sure I wasn’t treading where
"Oh, he drinks all the time," she answered, "but
at Christmas, it’s always worse. He can’t hold a job, and at Christmas,
he gets feeling sorry for himself because he’s got no money and
he really takes it out on my Mom."
"God, that’s too bad," I answered. "It must be
"It’s not great," she answered. "And Jeff just
doesn’t understand what I’m going through."
"Jeff your boyfriend?" I asked.
"Yes, and all he cares about is whether I’m going to make
the big Christmas party," she answered. "He doesn’t
understand that I’ve got other responsibilities. My Mom has to
work and I’ve got to help with my brothers and sisters and get
meals ready and stuff like that." She paused. It seemed a
cloud had settled over her. Gone was the bright cheery person
I’d encountered at our previous meetings. "And I’ve got to
help my Mom deal with Dad. I can’t leave her alone with that."
"That’s really too bad," I said softly, trying to show
her that I could understand. "Well, I’ll tell you something,"
I continued, "if there’s ever anything I can do — anything
at all — you call me. You shouldn’t be going through this alone."
"You’re sweet," she said, leaning over and giving me
a light kiss on the cheek — a touch that sent a warm, gentle
wave of emotion washing over me. I could feel myself blush.
And we waded into that day’s English lesson, and no more was mentioned
about her difficult circumstance. And it was a pleasant enough
hour, just to have her so close, and to see her face as she listened
attentively to my every word — just to have her as mine for even
a time so short.
Finally, it was at an end. Jeff’s car horn sounded from the driveway.
"I’ve got to go," she said, gathering up her books.
I escorted her to the door and got her coat for her.
"I’ve enjoyed this," she said, looking back at me as
she prepared to go. And, again, as they had on the previous occasion,
our eyes locked together, and I was flooded with feelings for
her — and I knew she could feel them too.
And just as she stepped out the door, I took my best shot. "Don’t
forget to call if you need to," I said. "I’m always
here to listen."
And she left my life and went back into Jeff’s, and I could feel
jealous anger rise up in me to know that she was with such an
uncaring lout, who made no effort to see what she was going through.
How could she be with him?
But I went on about my business. We wouldn’t be able to meet now
until after Christmas had passed. That meant three days before
our next session and I couldn’t just sit about the house and pine
away. So, I pulled on my parka and headed uptown for the pool
room. With any luck, I’d be able to get into a good game of card
pool. Somebody might even have smuggled in a bottle and there’d
be a little drinking to be done — that appealed to me on this
And the rest of that day passed and we were into Christmas Eve
day. I was generally discontent, but knew the mood was caused
by the girl. I shot a little more pool in the early afternoon,
until the place closed for the holi day, then a few buddies and
I headed for the chinaman’s restaurant to sip on cherry cokes
until that place closed for the holiday, then we were left in
the street, faced with the prospect of going home.
Later that night, after my parents had settled in for a long winter’s
nap, and the presents were under the tree for another year, I
was surprised to hear the phone ring just as I was preparing for
bed myself. I hurried and snatched up the receiver on the second
ring, not wanting it to disturb any who slept.
"Hello," I said.
"Hi," answered a voice I recognized immediately as belonging
to the girl of my dreams.
"How are you?" I asked, realizing it was likely a stupid
"I’m not great," she answered. "Sorry to call so
late, but I didn’t know who else to call." There was distress
in her voice — I could hear it as she spoke.
"What’s wrong?" I asked, almost afraid to hear.
"It’s my Dad," she answered. "He came home drunk
again tonight, and he brought a couple of his drinking buddies
after the bar closed for the holiday. They were drinking here
all night, and, finally the other guys left, but my Dad got really
angry. He started to knock my Mom around. I tried to stop him,
but I couldn’t. I got my brothers and sisters and ran out."
It was desparation I heard from her now. Her words quick and tense.
"Where are you now?" I asked, my heart pounding in my
"I’m at the laundromat," she answered. "It was
the only place I could think of that might be open."
"Stay there," I said. "I’ll be right over."
"You’ll come?" she asked.
"Stay there," I repeated. "I’m on my way."
We said a quick goodbye and I hung up the phone and walked to
the bottom of the stairs.
"Dad," I called into the darkened upstairs where my
parents were sleeping.
"What, son?" my Dad called back . "Who was that
on the phone?"
"It was a friend, Dad," I answered. "I need to
borrow the car for a while."
"Is anything wrong?" he called down.
"No, Dad," I lied. "I just need to go out for a
"Well, okay, but be careful," he answered. "It’s
been snowing and it’s slippery in spots."
"Okay, Dad," I answered. "Thanks."
And I was out the door, into my Dad’s car, and fishtailing off
up the street toward the laundromat.
I found them in good order, the girl and her brothers and sisters,
but all looking thoroughly miserable and forelorn to be out and
in such a condition on Christmas Eve.
"Oh, God, thanks for coming," the girl gushed as I came
through the door, rushing up and giving me a huge hug. She had
"That’s what friends are for," I said, and I guided
her over to where the younger ones were huddled in a bunch.
"How are you all?" I asked, giving them a great big
smile, and trying to make them feel more at ease.
I got a round of return smiles from the bunch, except the youngest
girl, who scrunched up her face and let out a loud wail.
"Comeon," I said to them. "I’ll take you home."
"We can’t go home," piped up one young boy. "Daddy’s
"We’ve got to go and check on your Mom," I answered.
"Now comeon, let’s go."
And I followed the lead of the oldest sister, who was my reason
for being in this strange circumstance, and we gathered up the
brood and were soon all in my Dad’s car, the love of my young
life just a few scant inches from me. I could hear her breathing
We pulled up in front of her house, and all was in darkness.
"Let me go in first," I said, knowing that I was now
frightened at the prospect of having to enter such a probably
hostile environment. "I’ll make sure everything is okay."
I left the car running and padded apprehensively up the front
walk, and was finally at the door. Then, I wasn’t sure what my
course of action should be, to knock politely and await the confrontation
that might follow, or to barge right in and attempt to surprise
whatever might lay in wait for me behind the door. I knocked.
There was no answer, so I knocked again. I also looked back toward
my Dad’s car and smiled, hoping to re-assure those from the family
who waited there.
Finally, I tried the door. It yielded and I pushed it open and
stepped gingerly into the near-dark house, looking about in the
dim light cast by the Christmas tree.
"Who’s there?" called out a woman’s voice. "Frank,
if that’s you come back, you might as well leave right now. There’s
nothing more for you here."
"It’s not Frank, ma’am," I answered. "I’ve brought
the kids back home. Are you all right?"
The woman appeared in a doorway off the room where I was standing.
She looked more than a little the worse for wear, misery etched
in a tired-looking face.
"You’ve got the children?" she asked.
"Yes, ma’am," I answered.
"Keep them out of here for a few minutes, until I get cleaned
up," she said. "I can’t let the little ones see me like
this." She made an attempt to straighten her hair.
"I’ll do my best," I said.
And I headed back out to the car, where I explained the situation.
"Your father’s gone," I said, "and your mother
would like you to wait for a few minutes before you go in."
We settled in, but it was only a couple of minutes and we saw
the lights come on in the house, and soon the mother was at the
front door waving for us to come.
I walked up to the front door with the wayward children, and watched
awkwardly as they embraced and wept with both sadness and joy
at being re-united. While they were in the middle of the reunion,
I slipped quietly out the door and sat on the step. I wondered
at what had happened on this night. It was crisp and clear and
cold. I looked up to see a cascade of stars spilled across the
sky like rare and wondrous jewels. I breathed in huge mouthfuls
of the frigid winter air. It felt good.
Just then the girl came out of the house to where I was sitting.
She took a seat beside me.
"How is everybody?" I asked.
"Oh, not too bad," she answered. "The little ones
want to hurry to bed so Santa will come."
"Yea, I guess it’s Christmas," I said.
There was a long silence. I could see our breath billowing vapourous
as it mingled in the night air. The two became one.
"Listen, I really want to thank you for coming and helping,"
she finally said, interrupting the quiet. "It was awfully
nice of you."
"What are friends for," I said. "I’m just glad
I was able to come when you called."
"I’m beat," she said. "I’m not sure I’ve ever felt
"Should I wait out front for a while in case your Dad comes
back?" I asked, looking over at her.
"No," she said. "You go home. Mom’s promised that
she’ll call the police if he tries to come back. That’s probably
what we should have done earlier."
"All right," I answered. "If you’re sure."
"I’m sure," she said, and with that she leaned forward
and gave me a kiss full on the lips, so that it took my breath
away, and I almost fell off the step. "Thanks. You’re sweet,"
"Merry Christmas," I said softly, and it seemed a moment
of the most special time had arrived.
"Merry Christmas," she answered, and she disappeared
in through the door and closed it behind her.
I walked on air back to my father’s car, glad to have been kissed,
glad to be alive, sure that I had made the most of my chance.
There could be no doubt that I had rescued the fair maiden in
her time of crisis. What more could I have done to win her heart?
It was a long Christmas day. I wanted to call the girl to make
sure everything was okay. As it was, I borrowed Dad’s car and
drove by her house in mid-afternoon to see if anything was amiss,
but all appeared quiet, so I was soon back home, eating turkey
with all the trimmings. Finally, the day was at an end, and I
The bowling alley in town was open on Boxing Day, so my buddies
and I took advantage of their pool table, playing a few games,
whiling away a generally boring day when most things remained
closed for the holiday. Finally, that day was also at an end,
and I slept.
The next day, there was a lesson and I waited anxiously for four
o’clock. It came and went, but I wasn’t surprised because she
was always late. I kept a look-out at the kitchen window, expecting
to see her come walking along.
But the red car came instead. And I watched as she climbed out
of it, then leaned back inside to offer the driver, no doubt the
dreaded, uncaring Jeff, a kiss. My heart sank as low as it could
go. I even felt the beginnings of a tear in the corner of my eye,
but I chased it away. How could I have been so stupid? Stupid,
"How are you?" I said to her as she came into the house,
a smile on her face.
"Oh, I’m great," she answered. "Looking forward
to discovering Steinbeck."
"Great," I answered, lying, wanting her to leave so
I could be alone, the way I belonged.
But I struggled through the lesson. I even managed to smile in
the appropriate places, and once let out a laugh. I kept my real
emotions hidden. I couldn’t let her know how I felt. She’d laugh
at me, to think I could have cared for her. I’d be a joke.
Finally, the lesson ended — even before the horn sounded in the
driveway signalling Jeff’s arrival. Just as we were gathering
up our things, I saw she had a ring on her finger. I’d not noticed
it on our previous encounters.
"You’ve got a new ring," I remarked. "Christmas
"Sort of," she answered. "Jeff gave it to me. It’s
an engagement ring. He asked me to marry him when he gave it to
me on Christmas day."
"You said yes?" I asked, my voice flat and monotone,
the life already beaten out of me, knowing the answer.
"I had to," she answered. "I can’t live at home
anymore. Jeff can take me away from that."
"What about your Mom?" I asked.
"I can’t help her," the girl said. "She took him
back again, even after the other night, just like she always does.
I’ve got to get out."
I said nothing. I was destroyed beyond belief. I had no idea what
to say. I thought I had done all that I could to win her heart.
But I’d failed and lost.
I walked her to the door.
"When should we get together again?" I asked.
"I can’t study together anymore," she said. "Jeff
doesn’t think it’s right that I come over here. He’s awfully jealous."
I wanted to cry out to her that he was also an insensitive jerk
who’d likely start and finish as a frustrated factory worker like
her old man and who’d end up beating the daylights out of her
and their snotty-nosed brood of kids. But I was quiet for a moment.
"Oh, I’m sorry to hear that," I finally answered. "I
thought we were making some progress." But I knew there was
no point in continuing the lessons, because she’d be pregnant
before the school year ended — Jeff would have to put his mark
on her — make sure her life was over. That’s what happened all
too often in this little one-horse town.
Finally, she left and the red car drove out of the driveway. I
hurried up to my room so my Mom wouldn’t see me cry. More anger,
After I was cried out, I went back downstairs and grabbed my parka
off the hook behind the door. "I’m going uptown," I
"You’re going to miss supper," my Mom said.
"I’ll grab a burger," I answered.
"Your Dad will be disappointed," Mom said.
"Tell him I’m sorry," I answered, and I was out into
the coming night, knowing that I didn’t need supper on this night.
I needed the pool room with all of its courseness and roughness.
I wanted to smoke cigarettes and curse like a sailor. And I wanted
to engage in a bout of drinking and gambling. I wanted to be somewhere
safe from all things womanly.
So, I got drunk and I gambled away my Christmas money and I staggered
home in the wee hours of the morning. When I awoke at about noon
the next day, I had one hell of a headache, but the heartache
seemed gone. I was thankful for that and when it came back, I
drank it away again, and I’m afraid to say but this became a regular
pattern in my life from that time forth. And some might say I
have a drinking problem, but I really do think it’s more of a
woman problem. And although I never lost my love of reading, and
although I can still find those hidden meanings faster than anyone,
I am a bit of a bum these days. I just can’t take the humiliation
that comes from life.
So, I drink. So, sue me. Except I haven’t got any money, because
I lost it all playing card-pool. And to this day I never have
asked a woman out. And that’s the story of my one great love and
how I came to ruin because of it.
What’s that they say?
And so it is.
Copyright © John Gardiner 1997
This article may not be archived or distributed further without
the author’s express permission. Please read the license.
This electronic version of The Melancholy Man is published
by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.
John Gardiner is a 44-year-old former community newspaper editor from Wallaceburg, Ontario,
Canada. He can be emailed at <[email protected]>
His stories The Melancholy Man, and
The Minister’s Son are also published
in The Richmond Review.