The Best Revenge

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  No Houses


This short story involves a coach line driver who is unable to convince his wife to join him in vacations after retirement . He finally begins to make his own plans for his retirement travel and
meets a lovely and exotic young Chinese woman from Hong Kong who he feels will be a great travel companion. His dreams are dashed but he is already split with his wife and she suddenly begins a new
life for herself.

Submitted: February 13, 2017

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Submitted: February 13, 2017

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The Best Revenge

By Jack Kay

 

When Arthur Flemming retired from the his job with Cross-Canada Coach Lines he told everyone that his days of travelling the icy roads of the Canadian highways were over

“Yes sir it’s the Southland for me” he said with a wink and a smile.

Not once in his thirty-eight years as a driver had he ventured beyond the Canadian border. He had often been asked to charter to California and Arizona but he kept stalling because he wanted to take the trip with his wife Alma.

Alma was an introvert . The sum total of her travels included a weekend in Calgary, two visits to Seattle and a driving trip from Vancouver to Vernon and Kelowna. She was not mystified by far off places. Alma watched travel logs and that was enough for her,  she said. Arthur had traveled across Canada from east to west hundreds of times, arriving home to fill Alma with stories of the vastness of the country.

 

Alma and Arthur had three children, the oldest at 34 was Steve who had dropped out of school at sixteen to work as a stock boy at the S’ave More groceries chain and rose to become the assistant manager of the largest stores in Burnaby. He had married and had two children who Alma and Arthur doted on, both of whom were in junior high school. Nancy, their second born was, at twenty -nine and  to their dismay  still single but very successful as a public relations assistant with the Sunshine Suites hotel chain in Vancouver. Nancy rarely visited with her parents because she found they wore her down in regard to her marital status. She had a few boy friends but  found comfort  mostly in the company of her many women friends . Nancy was career minded but she also realized her biological clock was ticking. Nancy was however in love with the Hotel manager, Derek Shaw. Unfortunately he was married, and despite a few liaisons at Whistler and Baker she was still on the outside looking in.

 

Alma and Arthur’s last born, Sean was twenty three and had studied criminology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver . His goal to become a police officer was suddenly realized when he was selected by the Canadian Forces for the military police.. After a years service he had been to Bosnia and Afghanistan. He was stationed in Ottawa and was on the short list for a commission in the military police.  Sean remained in constant contact with his parents by phone. He also had found the love of his life,a young woman who worked for the RCMP as a civilian administrator. She was from Montreal and he planned to bring her home when he got his summer leave.

Alma’s life revolved around her grandkids, the kitchen and shopping once a week. She rarely ever read anything other than the shopping news. Arthur had amassed a library of books, mostly about history and wars. He read constantly when he wasn’t driving and his knowledge of the history of Canadian cities was endless. He was a walking encyclopedia of mundane facts for  which Alma often exclaimed:

“My Arthur sure knows a lot of important information“

She was careful also not to mention that most of  his wisdom was useless to her and for which she  could care less.

Her existence depended mostly on an unvaried formula. She was not bored by the radio or the television. She was a master of routine and responded when asked about her day by smiling and repeating the same expression  “same old, same old”.

In her case it was the same and it was without any variation. She was ruled by  an observance of monotony.

Over the years Arthur had tried unsuccessfully to shake Alma’s penchant for vegetation but it was to no avail as  travel was out the question for Alma .

She met once a month with a ladies group to play cards. This was the sum total of her entertainment and the girls were all former  high school mates. Her favourite was Evelyn Cooksey whom everybody called Cookie. Cookie and Alma spoke on the phone every day usually just after breakfast. They spoke plain talk to each other and had been confidants for over 25 years . Cookie’s name for Alma was Mimi. The other women who played cards were not in their inner sanctum and did not share the  clandestine and shrouded messages of Alma and Cookie. Cookie had not taken her husband’s name of  Kriseweski, mostly at Alma’s urging because as Alma said:

“I won’t be able to call you Cookie anymore and I might start calling you Crookie. “ she said this with pleasure realizing she had made a pun on Cookie’s new name.

And so it was that Alma’s friend,  Evelyn Cooksey continued using her maiden name, to the delight of all her friends.

 

Despite Alma’s daughter’s pleas, Alma continued to wear pant suits that were fashionable in the  1970’s.She owned 3 polyester suits, and they remained packed in plastic bags for which she extracted one or the other as necessary. Otherwise she wore what is commonly known as a housecoat. In the dress trade the Yiddish word “smotta” best describes the housedress as a loose fitting piece of cloth with a apron type front and a pocket . The dress usually has a full neckline and the market price of  this utilitarian woman’s apparel  ran to ten dollars at Wal-Mart.

She ate sparingly and had been able to maintain her figure despite having three children. Once a year she went to the hairdresser for her annual Christmas coiffure. Arthur’s manager had a Christmas party for all available drivers which over the years had become very important for Arthur to attend.

Once dinner was over Alma usually whispered to Arthur that she wanted to watch a movie on Television.  They said their good-byes and Arthur received his bonus which was the only reason he said he liked attending.

 

The bonus was Arthur’s so called ticket to the future . Every year he banked the money and had a terrific nest egg put away for retirement.

Arthur wanted to see the world which he read about in his books. Pearl Harbour  in Hawaii was on his agenda first and the battle fields of Europe came next. He had worked out that if he went on two trips  every year for ten years he would spend only a small portion of the money he had accumulated. His wealth had reached almost five hundred thousand dollars and he was anxious to start a lavish spending spree.

Alma had no interest in money. “Money” she often said “will not buy happiness”. Her lack of involvement in their financial affairs drove Arthur to a point of utter frustration When he brought up the subject she responded with the same worn out phrase of - you know best Arthur.

Her  lack of interest in their goings on was not by design but by choice. She had created a vacuum around her life which insulated her from reality.

Her life as well as her husbands was about to be altered. The deck was going to be reshuffled.

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Alma and Cookie had created for themselves code words for taboo subjects such as sex.. Their word for intercourse was frolic. So when Alma declared to Cookie that Arthur and her had stopped frolicking, Cookie was careful not ask any further questions. Cookie did mention  however that she and her Mr. K had continued to frolic in their biweekly trysts. Alma always felt a hot flush come to her cheeks when Cookie described her brief encounters as “hitting the spot”.

Alma  wondered what hitting the spot meant but since they spoke in code she was not about to ask her.

Alma and Arthur owned their West Vancouver home outright and despite Arthur’s urging  to make some cosmetic changes the house had remained almost the same since they day they had moved into it.

Orange shag rugs in the living and dining rooms and pre -cushion flooring remained in the bathroom and kitchen as well as hot water taps that made unearthly noises in the bathroom. There was  a kind of old musty smell that prevailed within the house and Arthur grew to despise the sourness which mixed with the cooking smells made for an unpleasant existence.

Arthur had painted the interior of the house several times but the smell remained and rug cleaners were even mystified by the odors emanating from the rugs.

Arthur had decided to stop sleeping with Alma because she complained he snored and passed wind. He was happy to get out of their marital bedroom because the room smelled of baby powder which she used and cheap perfume that she lavishly sprayed on herself. There was also an assortment of women’s products lined up on her dresser which were seldom used.

Arthur had ensconced himself in one of the spare bedrooms. He bought a new TV and other items. As well he tore out the rug and replaced it with expensive broadloom. He re painted the room and added shelving where he stacked his books. Alma never entered his inner sanctum and knocked to tell him that meals were ready. He rarely ever went to the living room where she spent most of her days. But they continued to be quite civil to each other and Alma found that she could now sink deeper into her own consciousness.

 

Arthur often brought home travel brochures which he deliberately left about so that she would find them. He discussed family matters with her almost every day, asking if she wanted to invite their children for Sunday dinner. He spoke regularly to each of them but they rarely came to their parent’s home.  Their son Steve sent his kids over with his wife Marie and both Alma and Arthur often took them for burgers and fries. Alma took numerous pictures of the children. The family usually met once or twice a year for holiday dinners. With Seanaway  in Ottawa  the family get-togethers  had almost become none  existent. Their daughter Nancy chastised her father for fixing up the bedroom for himself . Her anger increased when Alma told her she didn’t care. Nancy decided to stop calling her parents and as a result weeks passed before Arthur  became worried and called her he  was greeted with her telephone answering  message.

He became so exasperated that he finally called her at work. She advised him she should not be interrupted  at work. His resentment regarding Nancy grew because he was unable to discuss the situation with Alma .

Alma said “Nancy  has grown up and is part of the new generation. There is nothing we can do now , we lost her a long time ago”.

Arthur responded by saying “ but Alma she is treating us like crap and we are just asking for a little respect . After all we are her parents”

Alma had no answer so she asked Arthur if he wanted mashed potatoes or fries for dinner.

 

And so it went !

 

Arthur’s retirement became a trip through hell . He bought a new car and drove around to see his friends at the Highway Cruiser company but they had little time for him now. He took day trips up to the mountains carefully asking Alma if she wanted to go for a ride in the country and  have lunch.. She demurred  with  her reply being  television related

“There is a good movie on today” or the “soaps all have new episodes”

She never failed to provide an excuse even on weekends when she would  tell him “Marie and the Kids are coming over and I want to take them for lunch”.

Her car was ten years old and had very few miles on the odometer but she looked after it and drove very carefully to the store and to Cookie’s house as well as to her monthly card games.

 

Arthur met with some of his old cronies at the coffee shop in a plaza near their home. Most of his old friends were also former  drivers but somehow  a former manager named Buddy Delvicchio became part of the weekly rendezvous.

 

It was with this man that Arthur shared most of his concerns . Buddy had been a mentor for many drivers  during his career and had a classic way of being a good listener.  On this occasion long after their old pals had left the shop, Arthur  described his dilemma and waited while Buddy ruminated over  what he told him.

“You can’t say that you and Alma have grown apart. You were never a real man and wife team from the beginning” he said sipping his coffee.

Arthur sat back for a moment trying to understand what he  had been told.

“What do you mean not a real man and wife team? We lived under the same roof, had kids, ate our meals together when I was home”

Buddy  interrupted him “ But Arthur by your own admission she never wanted to travel, or do things with you. You were on the road ,she brought up the kids and her life was lonely, boring and sheltered. You worked for a company that offered opportunities for her to go on numerous trips across Canada and they were free. Yet she never once availed herself except when you got married.”

“That’s right but now I’m retired and she still won’t go anywhere and as I told you I now  have plenty of money”

Buddy leaned back in his seat and looking Arthur in the eye, he said” Arthur your time for bliss is now, you are still young enough to enjoy life and see the world. You can’t reproach yourself, you tried as hard as you could to get her out of the house and into your life. Not sleeping with your wife is probably the first step towards marriage breakdown. Your children really don’t give a horses ass about you because if they did they would be on your doorstep. As I see it you have some choices to make and they are not pretty”

Arthur was stunned at Buddy’s assertion.

“You mean walk away”? he said looking around to see if anyone had heard his comment

“Right now we are looking at options Arthur. There are other solutions, which are  really the best you can hope for under the circumstances”

“Like what”

“Well taking  your vacations by yourself for one” Buddy said spreading the palms of his hands to show it was an alternative.

“Going on my own makes the trip really expensive, the single supplement is very high in price”

 

I am offering solutions. You have to decide yourself if it is worth it to you”

Buddy peered away glancing out the window , weighing his next thought to relay to Arthur.

“There is one other way to do this “

He stopped in mid sentence and gazed back at Arthur searching to see if Arthur understood his meaning. A sudden silence between them ensued with the background noise reaching a fever pitch.

Buddy leaned forward and spoke as quietly as he could over the clamor.

“Do you understand Arthur what I am saying or do I have to spell it out to you”

But Arthur did not connect with Buddy’s unstated words of advice.

Buddy motioned to Arthur that he was leaving and they headed to the front door and Buddy waved Arthur to follow him to his car.

Buddy opened his car with  his automatic car opener and even before Arthur had settled in his seat, Buddy leaned over to him

“Cripes, Arthur you are so bloody dumb sometimes”  he  smiled along with Arthur because they were old friends and Arthur knew Buddy was always there for him.

“”Look Arthur I never said this, and I will deny it forever but if it is too expensive to go alone, take someone with you. Now get out of my car and get your life back”.

 

Chapter 3

 

Arthur thought long and hard about Buddy’s appraisal of his dilemma. He spent sleepless nights contemplating his alternatives. Would he travel with another man  and stay in a hotel room? What if ...he supposed the guy was a gay man. But as he saw this image in his mind’s eye something else began to develop. Was Buddy saying he should find a  female companion? It was something he really never carefully thought about. The longer he mulled over the situation the more he became rattled.

Arthur decided to explore the destinations for his vacations before entering any ultimate solution. He began his search in the Vancouver Public Library. Nearly every day following  his breakfast which he shared in stony silence with Alma, he hopped  a bus to the main library which held a massive accumulation of travel books and maps.

 

He would arrive just after they opened and usually leave in mid afternoon. He had a plan of sorts which he employed to thumb through travel manuals and write down informationin a notebook he had started which he kept in his neat printing hand. He also photocopied numerous maps which he cut and pasted to the note book in a separate section for maps. He set his world visiting priorities by beginning in places he could go which were in close proximity to British Columbia and then spread his search into the Caribbean. He examined islands and methods of travel. He detailed costs of hotels and even sketched in restaurants and their possible costs.

His work area never changed he selected a double desk which had a  short privacy divider .  It was located near the outside glass wall which ran up the height of the library  reaching  down to  ground  level. The vantage point overlooked  several small coffee shops and bistros where he often would take a break and grab lunch. or a snack.

This work area became his domain and days would go by without anyone occupying the opposite chair and desk.

He had just  commenced gathering some  destination material  on South America when he noticed a youngish Chinese woman  had settled in the desk across from him. She was thumbing through a large  coffee table type book and had several others piled in front of her. Arthur kept his face buried in his note book marking his usual notations  often changing his pen to underline some important facts in red.

Once or twice he caught her outline in the corner of his eye . Suddenly the book she was pursuing fell from her grasp and clattered to the floor. As she reached for the falling projectile she dragged the other books down off the table.

“Oh goodness “she whispered

Arthur reacted almost immediately by jumping up and retrieving the fallen books handing them to her one by one. She smiled broadly each time he delivered one to her and she very politely thanked him

“I must apologize to you  sir for disturbing your research” she said in a very crisp English accent.

Her smile  was so genuine that it actually warmed him up. Her pleasantness appeared so bright and infectious. He couldn’t help but respond.

“Not very important really I am just looking for vacation spots to go” he said glancing out of the window so as to give the feeling that they were somewhere out there.

 

“She studied him for a few moments fingering the book she had in her hand. He continued glancing through the window but he could make out her reflection  In fact she was scrutinizing him. When he turned back he also took stock of her noticing she was extremely well dressed and had  shimmering black hair which seem to fall across her right temple. She wore a bright red sweater with a gold chain at her neck line. He couldn’t take his eyes off  her and continued to  examine her features because she was a exquisitely  lovely oriental woman. Her face had a slight blush but he noticed it was very clear . She had tiny earrings that shone, giving him the impression that they were diamonds.

She was grinning at him and  he noticed she had perfectly white teeth.

“Do I know you “she said shyly glancing away

“I wish” he said

“Really” she said raising her voice inquisitively.

Arthur was used to banter with people, through his highway bus driving experience, but he couldn’t believe what came out his mouth next.

“Well you are absolutely stunning “he said, fixing his eyes on her face and beaming brightly.

She laughed and placed her hands lightly on the books in front of her. He guessed it was to steady herself. He also noticed she was not wearing a wedding ring.

Their eyes continued to meet and the woman now appeared quite shaken by his attention.

He sensed that she might pick up and leave. But she continued to probe his features.

“I don’t know you , but I would like to know you “she said in a very serious and  strained voice.

He was astonished at her forthright comment

“That is suppose to be my line you know”

“Yes I know ” she said winking at him in a conspiratorial fashion.

But he stammered “you don’t know my name and ...”

“Have you ever seen a movie called Madison County where a man meets a woman who is a complete stranger and they fall in love? Or maybe the musical Carousel where the woman is sitting on a bench near a carnival and a stranger walks up to her  and begins to sing a song called If I loved you” 

He sat backgazing at her with a dumbfounded look on his face trying to determine where all this was leading.

 

Chapter 4

 

Her name was Harriet Chang  Andrews. She was the daughter of Henry Chang, a senior loan officer in the Hong Kong - Shanghai Bank. He was a lifelong resident and his father; Harriet’s grandfather had served in the British Army during the war as an artillery gunner. She had immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong when Mainland China had taken over the colony in 1997.

Harriet had attended the Parkhurst School for Girls. It was a very exclusive private school located in the Kings Road area of Hong Kong. She had excelled in languages and in Geography and on graduation had been awarded a prize worth several thousand Hong Kong Dollars.

She entered the Chinese University of Hong Kong School of Hotel and Tourism and graduated with honors from the three-year course. She spoke fluent English, Cantonese and had a good command of both French and Spanish.

She applied for a government tourism job and despite the fact that women were still fighting for recognition in Hong Kong, she captured the auspicious position of Travel advisor to the Governor of Hong Kong.

Her husband was a Caucasian who had a dual passport having been born in Britain. He had become a civil servant and worked in the travel and Tourism ministry.

His name was Oliver Andrews. Harriet had met him soon after he had gone to work in the ministry because as a travel consultant for the Governor she needed to deal with his office almost on a daily basis.

 

Oliver was a public school graduate. He had attended University in Manchester but dropped out to take an advertised position in Hong Kong. His knowledge of tourism was limited but he had an excellent command of English and was very well groomed as well as dressing immaculately. He reveled in sports and played soccer and rugby in weekend recreation leagues. He was very fit and worked out every day. Oliver Andrews was the very epitome of a cultivated Englishman. He was also a wearisome bore. He was a slave to his daily routine, breakfast at seven consisting of toast, two hardboiled eggs, orange juice and coffee. He had his bowel movement by 7:30, showered and dressed in the so called ministry uniform of the day, a blue suit with shadowy pinstripes and gleaming black shoes with a blue on blue button down shirt and some kind of bogus regimental tie with red stripes. He took public transport to work and arrived at eight forty-seven every day. He carried a Marks and Spensers umbrella, rain or shine and wore as his headdress a black Australian outback hat. None of his co-worker seemed to notice the incongruity of his choice of headwear.

 

When he met Harriet he had lived in Hong Kong one year. Despite the urging of his superiors, he had not learned one word of Cantonese. As a result his assessments were quite average. Oliver began to court Harriet after a ministry party, which included several tourist consultants. She liked his manners and he seemed quite genuine. She had had several Chinese boyfriends but this was the first time she had had the chance to be with an Englishman.

She quite liked him mostly because he was very polite and allowed her to do most of the talking. When they gathered in a group, he rarely if ever joined in the conversation except if the subject was sports or British Royalty.

 

Oliver disdained newspapers and got most of his daily information from television, which he watched for hours in his tiny bachelor studio. He had met a few young businesswomen but he felt inadequate with them, as they were cultured British girls or members of aristocratic families. His knowledge of politics and business was non-existent and if the subject was not soccer scores, he was left out of the conversation.

 

He did feel comfortable with Harriet because she was enamoured with his good looks and cultivated British accent.

 

They began to date and Harriet was soon begun to fall in love with Oliver, although the feeling was not mutual. Oliver considered the young impressionable Chinese girl his plaything. She spoke vociferously of her work for the Governor and when he lapsed into silence she would pick up the thread and discuss her friends and other sidelights to her life. She also discussed her family being careful not to be too transparent.

 

He would respond with his aha, aha after each of her long-winded narrations.

He hated these intrusions on his thoughts but allowed her to spin her little yarns and would finally end the diatribe with the comment

 

“Where shall we eat tonight darling the American bar or the Tinsheng restaurant on Governors?

 

They attended some symphony concerts at the City Hall and the latest American movies where they sat holding hands in the dark. He would kiss her briefly when he deposited her at the bus kiosk for her journey home but cuddling and love making were not in his repertoire.

 

Eventually he did propose to her and she took him home to visit with her parents Henry and Linda, It was to be a dinner party to celebrate their engagement and where Oliver was to present her with an engagement ring. Henry Chang felt he was a member of the new modern era Chinese but he did tell Harriet that Oliver should have asked for her hand in marriage.

 

When Oliver arrived at Harriet’s home Henry greeted him in Chinese.

 

“ho go hing yihng sik nehih Oli-ver”

 

“My father said he is very glad to meet you Oliver” Harriet translated.

 

By the puzzled look on Oliver’s face, Henry knew instantly that Oliver was unable to converse in even simple daily phrases of the Cantonese language.

He immediately reverted to English and introduced Harriet’s mother.

Henry was miffed, and although very hospitable, found the Englishmen very difficult to engage in conversation.

Oliver answered with his usual  “yes” and “no” answers and Henry became quite frustrated by the young man’s almost total lack of knowledge in nearly every subject he attempted to discuss.

Finally the meal was served and Oliver dug into the food voraciously filling his face with the different Chinese dishes as they were served. He also drank copious amounts of both water and wine. The young maid hired for the evening often filled his glass.

Before long Oliver did speak about his life in England as the wine had loosened his tongue, and described his upbringing and his parents who were both school teachers and his sister who was married and had three children and lived in Canada.

 

Harriet sat motionless as Oliver spilled forth a mountain of personal facts she had never heard before. He said he had difficulty learning languages because he had suffered from a reading disorder as a child.

 

The evening ended with Oliver presenting Harriet with a ring. Both she and her mother cried but Henry was unmoved because he felt inwardly that Oliver was what the Americans who worked at his bank called a dimwit”

Oliver took his leave, and Harriet saw him to a waiting cab.

When she returned her father began to speak in Cantonese to her, something he did when he wanted her attention.

“That gwailo will not be a good husband for you my darling daughter”

Harriet was stunned for a moment.

Her father continued “he has been in Hong Kong for a year and he cannot speak one simple Chinese phrase nor does he know anything about our culture, he is a stuffed shirt Englishman with no future here. Soon the mother country will be taking us over and the useless Britains will be gone. He will lose his job and you can mark my words on that”

Henry sat down having tired himself out with his tirade.

 

Tears came to Harriet’s eyes.  She sat down across from her father and her mother now joined her.

“He is not a foreign devil papa but he will learn our tongue from me and I will work with him to help him develop his knowledge of our heritage and the politics and history of our Administrative Region”

 

“Yes I think he can learn” her mother said smiling and using her hands to show her solidarity with her daughter.

 

“Listen my loved ones I am a banker I see people every day, I have come to make judgements based on much experience. This man will never be a

 Taipan, and you will have to work until you are no longer able to bear children.

 

 

 Harriet groaned and suddenly bolted from the room shouting back to her father being the boss means nothing, I just want a loving husband.

 

Oliver and Harriet married in the fall of 1995 and spent their honeymoon in the Fiji Islands. Harriet refused to tell her mother about Oliver’s love making because he was an abject failure in this regard. When they returned to their small apartment Harriet had found on Prince Edward Rd, her father had furnished it.

They enter their married life and Oliver continued to keep his normal routine. He now however rose earlier in order to have fifteen minutes of sex with Harriet. She did not relish these encounters but accepted them as part of her marriage vows.

Despite her entreaties to develop a fundamental knowledge of Cantonese, Oliver retreated into the argument that he was reading challenged. She also tried on numerous occasions to draw him out on his previous life and to get him to develop an understanding of the ancient Chinese customs. 

They had been married nearly a year and Oliver came home to tell her what her father had prophesized for his future

“I’ve been sacked,” he said, bitterly

She immediately was reminded of her fathers portends and felt tears welling up and tried to console her husband. He was not in the mood for being succored and turned away from her.

“Were you given a reason, “ she said finally getting her emotions under control

“Oh you know the business about not speaking Chinese and all that hog wash”

“But that isn’t reason for dismissal is it?”

“According to my supervisor I was not meeting the criteria for my job and my written work was below standard”

“Can you appeal?”

“Oh Harriet, I am fed up with their bureaucratic and pompous attitude now that we have given them their little country back, please let us  stop rehashing the situation. I am to be given severance amounting to half a year’s salary and a portion of our expenses to return to England,” he said dismissing her inquiries.

 

“Back to England” she said her voice dropping and tears beginning to flow again.

 

“We are going back to England, “ he said in a very strong and intimidating voice.

 

“I will make some tea and we can talk about this okay Oliver?”

 

“Harriet, there is nothing to discuss, my job is gone at the end of the month, I am unable to secure further employment in Hong Kong, and that is the whole entire situation settled”

“You mean without looking or making an effort to find employment you are just going to...give in”

“Without speaking Chinese under the new government policy I am dead in the water, do you want me to take a position below my station?” he said pointing at himself and taking a deep drink of his beer.

 

She was stunned by his revelation that he actually believed that he was above others. She could sense a degree of anger beginning to swell in her chest. She had always been submissive in her relations with him but now she knew her father was a very good judge of human character. Oliver was indeed a stuffed shirt and the very idea that he would even suggest to her that he was superior to her made her quite furious.

 

“So am I labeled as inferior to your station,” she said in a very controlled but frosty voice.

“Well now that you mention it, yes you are. All the Asians residing in this part of the world stand below me in the degrees of culture and intelligence .You know that Caucasians are much smarter and better educated. The British bloodlines are known world wide for their higher scales of intellect.

 

Harriet was astounded at his assertion. She eyed Oliver carefully to determine if he actually believed what he had just expressed. She had learned to understand his inarticulate ranting but this was so far fetched that she laughed out loud.

“Oliver that is terrible nonsense and you know it. This is a multi cultured society, people speak several languages and the number of college graduates is near the highest in the world.”

“That is my opinion Harriet, you know very little about sports, and and....”

 

“Look Oliver I am not going to debate this topic right now, you should know that I insist that you seek work here in Hong Kong and start taking night classes in Cantonese” she said stopping him in mid sentence.

 

“ I am returning to England with or without you so don’t tell me my girl what I will do or not do. That is my final word on this subject. You can do what you are doing in Manchester, there are lots of jobs for travel agents”

 

Harriet suddenly realized right at that moment that she was left with no alternatives. She stood up and walked over to where he was sitting and in a very strong voice said what she had been unable to say previously in their marriage.

 

“My father said you were a gwailo, a foreign devil, and he was right. Do you really believe that I would leave Hong Kong for a life in Britain where I could become a servant girl in your so called superior society” she asked him rhetorically.

He drank deeply from his beer and gesticulating with his hand he pointed at her and raised the level of his voice.

 

“Who said anything about your being a servant girl?”

 

“My friend Jenny Wong left Hong Kong with a college diploma in Hotel management and went to London two years ago, and today she works as a chamber maid in a hotel and can’t raise the money to come home for another two years”

 

“Well what do you expect she is just another slant eyed woman in Britain where there are thousands looking for jobs”

 

Now in their argument, Harriet glared at Oliver stunned by the offensiveness of his remark. She tried to get as much meaning as she could from his ethnic slur and affirmed that she was married to a racist

 

  She mustered up as much dignity as she could and without saying a word she walked into the bedroom and removed her suitcase from the closet. She quickly opened drawers packing as much clothing as she could. The tears streamed from her eyes .She opened the door just as he turned on the television and she headed to the hall closet and removed her jacket and walked deliberately to the door.

“When you come to your senses I will be at my father’s house,” she said opening the door to the outside hallway, hesitating as if to wait for his response.

 

“Its just as I thought you fucking Chinese have no class, don’t expect me here when you decide to come back you asshole.”

He had never spoken like that before.

When she reached the lobby she brushed away her tears and called a cab and she ended the evening in the warmth of her fathers and mother’s arms as they held her and shared her sorrow.

Two weeks passed without any word from Oliver and she finally decided to call her flat only to learn the telephone had been disconnected. Her real trauma was yet to come because when she tried to withdraw some money from her bank she was advised that all the funds had been cleaned out. Next her father drove her to the apartment and the manager who advised her that all of the furniture had been removed and the rent had not been paid for three months met her. Harriets’s father settled the matter immediately. She took the rest of her clothing and although she made inquiries Oliver had disappeared with everything they owned.

 

Chapter 5

 

Arthur had invited Harriet to a coffee shop near the library and she readily agreed. Eventually after short introductions, they began to make conversation and he asked how she had come to live in Vancouver. She then began to recount the story of her life in Hong Kong. He sat enthralled by her story. She spoke easily to him and he never once interjected a question but listened intently to the unfolding of her narrative.

At times, she spoke with uncertainty in a shallow voice particularly when she spoke of her disappointments, of which there were many.

 

Arthur glanced outside through the door of the building and noticed that they were being overtaken by darkness.

“I wonder if I could invite you to dinner, there is a Good Spot Restaurant nearby” he motioned towards the doors of the library building.

“I hope I ‘m not taking you away from anything “she said with a concerned look on her face

“No I am free and I would really like to hear more about you”

She smiled and followed him out of the building making their way silently past numerous pedestrians who crowded the sidewalk.

 

The restaurant was only a few blocks away and they were ushered on arrival to a table.

She left almost immediately to find the washroom and he studied the menu. When she returned he noticed that she had freshened up her makeup and combed her hair and to him she looked really quite beautiful.

They ordered, he a sandwich and she a large salad.

 

Arthur asked her to continue with the events of her past life.

 

“Very soon after Oliver disappeared with all my money and the furniture I learned that my job was to be reviewed as I worked for the Governor and the position of British representative in Hong Kong was to be discontinued. I was offered employment in the new ministry of hospitality and tourism at the same salary. I had decided to live with my parents since Oliver had taken all of my savings.”

She stopped and thoughtfully sipped a glass of water.

“The new job was very taxing and the hours began to exhaust me. There was a constant hubbub in the office because the cubicles were so close together. I could hardly think and spent my free days resting and therefore my social life suffered. I had a few dates with young men my father arranged, most of whom were Chinese Americans. One of the fellows wore cowboy clothing,” she said, stifling a laugh with her hand on her face.

 

 

“About three months after I started at the government office I was on my break and saw an add in a Travel agent’s magazine for an agency in Vancouver, Canada. I saw they had an e mail address, so I sent a message asking about the agency. They responded the next day with price, location and the number of employees”.

Their food arrived; Arthur ordered a coffee while Harriet stuck with her water.

They ate in silence but Arthur noticed Harriet picked at her salad taking very small morsels. She continued after he had bitten into his sandwich.

 

“ The cost was quite high but my father said he would loan me the money and I could repay when I was able. In Canadian dollars it was as over one hundred thousand. There was also the cost of travelling to Canada as well as the need to have a sponsor .We were in luck, my Uncle Paul Chu lived here in Vancouver and ran a computer accessories business. My father called him and he was delighted and said he would visit the owners the next day. He called back a few days later saying for him it was excellent location, lots of walk-in traffic as well as good experienced employees. He mentioned the owners were a  Chinese Canadian couple who had a family . They wanted to spend more time with their children.

 

Harriet stopped and glanced at her watch. A slight frown crossed her face.

 

“I think I have really talked your ear off Arthur, I hope you are not getting bored”

“No, please go on.It is very fascinating. I just wonder how you are able to relate to  me a total stranger so much personal background?’

 

“You are very easy to talk to, and I thought when I met you perhaps you were a good listener and”- she smiled and again  timidly covering her face, I just believed right away you were in need of a friend like I am”.

 

He smiled and impulsively patted her hand, mutely urging her to continue.

The waitress brought the bill which he took and asked when the restaurant closed, ordering another coffee and asking Harriet if she wanted more water.

 

She nodded her head  yes and thanked  him.

 

She continued” I wrote them and asked if I could visit and make my decision. They wrote back advising me that they would help me obtain a airline ticket available to travel agents. But I would need to show good faith by placing a twenty thousand dollar refundable deposit to the agency. My father made the arrangements and within a few days I had asked for a leave of absence from  my job for two weeks. the money had been transferred to my uncle who placed the funds with his lawyer in trust”

 

I flew to Vancouver and I was met by the owners whose name was Song and their manager Jenna an East Indian girl. I was whisked to my Uncle’s place and after all the usual family meetings with cousins and cousins of my cousins and friends of my cousins.”

 

Arthur burst into laughter and she joined him in the amusing sidelight to her story.

“The next day I visited the agency and it was as my uncle described, well run and very profitable. The staff of five were very competent. The owners had an office which I would use . He opened the books to show how well they ran the agency. I noted some areas I would change but since my experienced was in Hong Kong and in a closed Government environment I would have a steep learning curve”.

“The monthly expenses were quite high but quite manageable. I also asked if the Songs would be interested in continuing as outside agents for cruises which were their expertise and they agreed.”

 

“I found a small apartment near the office which is on Kent Street.I called my father to tell him the news and he said he would arrange for the balance of the money to be available, and I also told him I would need more money for operating expenses and my own personal expenses.”

 

“”This all happened two years ago and after getting my uncle to sponsor me

 

I was cleared to move to Canada as I was investing in a business. Since then I have done nothing  but work six and seven days a week. This is the first time I have even eaten a meal any time in a restaurant or talked  about anything other than travel or business. I am still paying my father back but the agency has grown really well. I put a large sign in our window that we spoke French and Spanish and suddenly they were lined up at the door when we opened in the morning”.

 

She glanced at her watch and he realized that their discussion was at an end.

“I guess I must go Arthur, you certainly have been a good listener.”

“Well sure Harriet I understand and it’s really been terrific to meet you and hear your story”.

Arthur couldn’t determine what to do next as his usual instinctsfailed him.

“ I think I  have sensed that you are married “ she said as she let her gaze move to some inanimate object on the wall.

“I meant to mention the fact  that I am married and I hope you didn’t think I was hiding anything”

“I never asked  you  and you were very kind to buy my dinner and listen to my life history and the subject of your private life  never  really came up”

Arthur took her hand,  gently tightening his grip and gazed up into her eyes.

“I have a story to tell you Harriet and if you give me a chance I will be very honest with you. about my life, may I call you and see you again?’

 

She studied him for a moment and calmly placed her free hand over his, cautiously and patiently searching for an answer to his question.

“I guess we both have a lot of baggage and even more importantly we have a massive cultural distance. My people are still disdained in this country  and my family will never ever support me in any relationship with a person outside of my nationality. For now I will be happy to be your travel agent , I can be your adviser on destinations and I guess I can have lunch and dinner with my client” she said grinning at him.

 

“Sounds great to me Harriet and next time you pay for lunch”

 

 

 

“No way , we split the bill“ she said laughing and rising from the booth.

“She headed for the restaurant exit and he noticed she had a card which she handed to him.

 

On the sidewalk in front of the restaurant she hailed a cab and waving to him as entered  she said “Give me call on Saturday and we can arrange to meet”.

“When on Saturday, he yelled”

“Morning will be good” she shouted back and waved again.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Arthur headed for his bus but realized he was in for a long wait and finally also hailed a cab and had the cabby drop him two blocks from his house.

 

When he arrived Alma had  retired for the night and he slipped into his room  removing  his clothes and spread out on the bed. He laid for a long time  replaying every moment of his encounter with Harriet. Her face was the last thing he saw whenhe finally fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

 

The following morning he awoke and  formulated a plan for his future. Alma had not awakened yet and he slipped out of the house unnoticed.

Arthur decided to head for the coffee shop and see if his old manager Buddy Delvicchio was around. Another old friend mentioned that Buddy was working again at a trucking firm as a dispatcher. Arthur remembered that Buddy occasionally  worked a few weeks  as a  replacement for his brother-in-law . He said his good-byes and made his way to the trucking firm which was located in the commercial section of Vancouver.

Just as Arthur entered the building he met Buddy, who invited to come along for breakfast at an eatery close by.

Arthur related to  Buddy the chance  meeting with the Harriet and that he needed advice on how to proceed.

 

Buddy sat back eyeing Arthur and noticed a certain degree of elation had come over his friend. The man he had known for several years was now totally out of character..

“ Frankly, Arthur you probably need a reality check right now. You just met this lady yesterday and already you are falling all over yourself. You are fifty-one years old white and married. Your responsibilities are endless, and even if you can convince this girl to take up with you , there are still plenty of unbelievable roadblocks and detours. The demands from your family will drive you crazy and you could lose half your dough in any contested marriage settlement with Alma , if it ever  gets that far. Be smart, play this very cool. Get a lawyer and a tax accountant and wait and see what this all leads to. Eventually your wife will find out and you have to get over that hump. And talking about humping”

 

Buddy hesitated and reached for his coffee. He didn’t want to talk about a sensitive  personal subjects with Arthur but he knew that if he didn’t Arthur would no doubt ask.

“Look Arthur, young women need guys that can ..well know razzle dazzle them.”

Arthur looked dumbfounded at Buddy’s alliteration.

“Oh man ,Arthur you are so damn stupid sometimes, girls like to be screwed by young bloods with big dicks who can do it five times a night and who bang the drum slowly, ”.

Arthur laughed  “Yea I get it, so how do you know I don’t measure up”

Buddy glanced  fleetingly around the tables nearby and scrunched down in his seat to give Arthur notice they were talking confidentially.

 

“Well anyway” Buddy went on” “You need to get your finances straight and find out where you stand with your house, because I am willing to bet you that with the market the way it is you can get a bundle. If Alma wants the  house, she will have to pay you out and that could mean several thousand dollars into your nest egg.”

 

Buddy explained that his brother-in-law had made a killing on his house when he split with his first wife before he married Buddy’s sister.

“The other matter I have to mention is the second hand store wardrobe you own” said Buddy motioning  at Arthur with his forefinger.

 

“You need a proper shave , you have hair all over your ears and in your nose and you need to sharpen up your image, remember when I was your boss and I kept after you to look presentable? If you want any self respecting woman to really look at you twice you need to get your act together and start looking up to par.

Arthur looked down at his rumpled trousers and ran his hand over his unshaven face , glancing around the restaurant for a mirror.

 

Arthur agreed with his friend that he needed upgrading and left the restaurant giving Buddy his profuse thanks and headed down to the nearest mall.

He spent hours walking through the stores, buying several outfits, pants shirts, a new suit and some sports jackets . He also checked out a tuxedo, but decided  to purchase a dark suit. He spent several hundred dollars, before  driving to another mall where he bought sports clothing, including golf shirts, T shirts, bathing suits and shoes. His car was jammed with bags and he realized that he would have to  make sure Alma wasn’t home before bringing the clothing to his bed room.

She was sleeping when he arrived home and he quickly unloaded his car.

He spent the next few days planning his next activity. He made several phone calls including one to a lawyer he knew  and made an appointment as well as  getting  in contact with an accountant. He visited a specialized unisex barber shop and  had a haircut which notably changed his appearance.

 

He saw Alma briefly one afternoon near the end of his  spontaneous splurge. She was surprised at his sudden change but kept her remarks to herself thinking she would ask her friend Cookie in  her next phone call why Arthur was dressing up, unless she thought he had gone back to work.

 

On schedule Arthur called Harriet at her office and she seemed delighted he had called and she arranged to meet him at her travel agency and they would decide where to go for lunch.

Arthur carefully dressed for his date, and slipped out of the house , driving to a down town parking lot walking quickly to the agency.

The first thing he noticed was how good she looked. She was dressed in a bright summer outfit and her hair shimmered. He was absolutely thrilled to see her again.

 

Arthur was introduced to the staff and afterwards they decided to walk to a nearby vegetarian restaurant.

After ordering she sat back smiling quite brightly and noticed he had changed his appearance. Arthur did not tell her he had been on a buying spree. Harriet noticed he looked very youthful with a what appeared a fresh haircut and quite new shirt and slacks .She commented to him how sharp he looked and felt a faint glow of appreciation that he taken the time to dress up  for their meeting.

Their lunch arrived and they took up time discussing the special fare they had ordered and finally Arthur took advantage of a lull in their conversation to tell her how wonderful she looked.

“I hope you don’t mind if I tell you how beautiful you look and how  much I have thought about you since we met on Monday”

Harriet beamed and reached for his hand .

“”I have to tell you that I enjoyed our discussion, you were so good to allow me to unburden myself , it was the most pleasant afternoon I have spent since coming to Canada”

“I was just wondering if you have some time today or do you have to get back after our lunch,” he said wiping his lips with his napkin.

“What do you have in mind  Arthur”

I just thought perhaps we could walk over to the park next to the city hall and find a bench , its quite shady there”

“Yes that would work for me” she said

The waiter brought the bill. He wanted to pay but she protested and they finally decided to split it with Arthur leaving the tip.

The streets were lined with numerous shoppers and pedestrians , but within a few minutes they had walked to the small inner city park where all the benches were taken. After a short wait one bench under a very old dogwood tree became available and they settled down to watch the passerby’s and to make small talk.

“I think I mentioned I have a story to tell you. It won’t take very long and may clear up any apprehension you may have about me”

She shook her head  yes  and as he spoke she looked directly into his face.

 

He began by telling her about his life as a bus driver and that he was stuck in a very unhappy marriage. He wanted to travel and spend his life savings on some of life’s pleasures and his spouse was like a lead weight around his neck. He described how his children were become estranged and that he was at the point of walking away.

She listened intently to his narration , but as he spoke she weighed his sincerity, noting his facial expression was quite placid despite his family issues. To her he demonstrated no anger but his frustration was evident.

He spoke slowly and tried to uncover all of his background  quickly.

His narration came to end when he spread his arms to show that he had a dilemma.

“Frankly Arthur I don’t know what you want of me, I understand your situation but I told you we are miles apart culturally, and not only that but you are married. If you need a friend and a adviser I certainly would be happy to be your friend and help you with travel arrangements, but you have to know that a girl-friend boy-friend status for us is out. I can’t go sneaking around with someone who has a marriage commitment.My marriage was an utter failure because my husband was unable to integrate or tolerate the  Chinese society. I cannot break my parent’s hearts again.”

 

“Whoa” he said putting up his hand to show a stop sign.” Lets start again, I need a travel agent and a friend, and you arrived in a timely fashion.. I am leaving my wife, for a whole lot of reasons, of which you are not one of them”

“Please, please Arthur forgive me for being so pathetically defensive,”

He nodded and she notice he was close to tears

“People”, he began often meet and enter upon relationships , I am told that they are completely plutonic , that it is all I can hope  from you. But not to say that I will do everything I can to gain your respect and loyalty. I have already planned to seek to speak conversational  Cantonese  or Mandarin as I have called for an appointment. I am making arrangements to get an apartment  in Kits and I hope to be in a position to take a short trip in about a month.”

She was stunned by his revelations and felt quite ashamed that she had misunderstood his motivation.

She was so moved by his effort to at least try to learn her language that she tearfully told him how much she appreciated his thoughtful idealism.

“You will be in a for a surprise at the difficulty in learning to speak Chinese but it is absolutely fantastic”

 

He stood up quite suddenly and brushed the seat of his pants.

“Lets meet again when I have all my ducks lined up and I will call you for a meeting” he said thoughtfully.

Harriet reached up and took his hand and stood very close to him suddenly she placed her arms around his head and softly kissed his cheek.

“I have been quite horrible Arthur, I guess I am still uncertain about men”

He held her for a moment taking in the breath-taking aroma of her hair and  perfume.

 

Arthur was mesmerized by her stunning good looks . He stepped back to look at her . They stood for a long time silently  gazing into each others eyes. He could barely contain the warmth he was experiencing. Harriet, was plainly shaken by his attention and how much he seem to adore her.

Harriet abruptly broke the spell

“I have to get back to the agency, but why not call me next week and possibly give me an update and where you would like to go on a vacation.”

She began to walk away and to wave, but stopped , energetically coming back to him, hugged him and kissed his cheek and he responded by gently placing his hand on her back and kissing her face.

With that she walked away glancing back with a bright smile to counter hischeerful grin.

Arthur walked to his car and as he drove out of parking lot he realized that he entered a zone of his life that was permeated with uncertainty.

 

Chapter 7

Alma began to grow mystified about Arthur after her friend Cookie told her that she thought Arthur was seeing another woman.

“Believe me Mimi men his age start looking around because they are like a jungle cat, they are predators”

“But maybe he has a job or something and he would get really mad if I confront him”

“Don’t be a drip Alma, he doesn’t have job he has a girlfriend” Cookie told her friend.

“What should I do” Alma sobbed

“Okay get a hold of your kids and tell them you think he is playing around and they should get him to back off”

 

“But Cookie what should I do, tell him I will go on vacation with him or something like that or maybe ....”

Cookie cut her off and commented:

“Look Mimi we need to talk, meet me at the donut shop in half and hour and I will think of a strategy. In the meantime if you can  get a hold of your daughter and son and tell them that you need their help”.

Alma rang off and immediately called her daughter at work who grudgingly told her mother that she would be over the next day after work . Alma tried to get in touch with her son at the grocery store but he wasn’t available so she decided to drop in and find him.

She ran out of house leaving her weekly laundry in the washer and drove to her son’s store and after finding him having a smoke in the staff lounge that she needed his help. He reacted angrily because she had searched him out at work , but said he would be at the house the next day to meet with her.

 

Cookie met her at the coffee shop and advised Alma to tell Arthur that she knew what he was up to and that she would leave him and seek to have their assets divided. Alma became very upset, wherein she began to sob uncontrollably and shoot out of the shop and raced for her car. Cookie followed her and jumped in beside her, in an effort to bring Alma under control. It was fruitless,  Alma became so agitated that her friend became  alarmed.

Cookie called her husband  on her cell phone. He  arrived minutes later with a hope of being a calming influence. He only made the situation worse.

In the end Alma asked them both to leave , the tears began to dwindle and her fear turned to anger.

 

She slept fitfully that night but avoided trying to speak to her husband. In the morning she was so exhausted that she fell into a deep sleep and Arthur had slipped out of the house before she was able to speak with him.

Later that day her daughter Nancy and son  Steve arrived and she angrily told them of her suspicion. She related that she had entered his room while he was away and that his closet was filled with new clothing and that he had changed his appearance with a modernistic haircut.

So what makes you think he is running around she was asked by her daughter.

 

“Cookie said it was quite obvious and I trust her insight”

“What other wisdom did your mentor tell you” remarked her daughter disdainfully

“Well she said I should threaten him by saying I am going to leave him and it will be at a very tremendous cost to him.

Nancy sat down in a chair which faced her mother. She watched as her mother came completely apart with  convulsivesobbing. Her brother stood up in an effort to console his mother but was waved off by Nancy.

Neither spoke but waited patiently until she had stopped wailing and Alma looked at them with a beseeching look on her tear drenched face.

Steve began to speak but was cut off immediately by Nancy

“You have to pull yourself together, mother, because right now you are surmising the worse. Cookie is your friend but unless she really knows the truth she has no business giving you a scenario she has seen at the movies or on television”.

Steve again tried to interject but Nancy stood up and walked over to her mother placing hand on her shoulder

 

“I know Steve will agree” she said to her mother and nodded at Steve .

“That you have to confront Dad about this and don’t make any threats”

“Yes” agreed Steve. Which  as it turned out was his only contribution to his mother’s quandary.

Alma offered them coffee and both reported that had appointments and left . Alma made herself tea and decided to wait near the entrance hallway for Arthur to come home.

When he returned later that evening, he was surprised to see her still up and asked her if she was okay and was met with a torrent of tears.

“Is it one of the kids “

“No its you, I want to know what the hell is going on”

This situation was unlike anything he had ever faced with Alma and he sat down facing her as she continued to weep.

“Look Alma for God’s sake quit the balling and tell me what you are talking about.”

“Arthur Flemming you know perfectly well what I’m talking about, all those new-fashioned clothes and a jazzy haircut . Do you think I am that stupid that I don’t know you have a girlfriend.

 

He had been waiting for an onslaught like this from Alma, he knew that sooner or later he would have to face the music. and launched into an immediate tirade

“You know what Alma you are right, I have a girl friend and she is Chinese and you know what else Alma, I have an apartment and I am moving out. I gave you every chance I could to get out of this rut you are in, but you chose to stay buried in this house . You would rather confide in your stupid friend than talk to me. We could have traveled , seen the world, but you would rather watch that idiot box. What do you think was going to happen, that I was going to let my quality of life slip away and become a  vegetable  like you”

She sat stunned by his explosive words, powerless to move, and unable to speak or to cry. She felt totally numb and fixed her eyes on a painting which depicted a winter scene in a mountain village which hung in a corner of the room”

He went on not waiting for her response” I will be moving shortly and we can settle up all the affairs with our lawyers. I suggest you retain one as soon as you can . We need to make a settlement and I promise to be generous”.

She had to think quickly and began by asking him if he would reconsider if she changed. She spoke of their life together and that she had brought up the children herself and that she had looked after the house.

He felt a pang of guilt as she related all of the effort she had put into maintaining their life together.

“Alma I don’t hate you , but I just don’t love you anymore either, our lives have changed dramatically, I want more than you are willing to give. It just no use to try and put the toothpaste back in the tube. Lets move on, you will be happier without me. You need to have lots of space and so do I. Let there be no recriminations”

 

She could sense it was futile to try and make him change his mind. She could see he was determined to take the plunge out of her life.

“Well Arthur she said quite soberly, I can’t understand what you want but I can’t stop you and I won’t. Just think of what you might lose, your children, your grandchildren and maybe this house and more importantly me.”

Again the tears came  to Alma and Arthur also began to feel teary but held on to his composure.

 

“Alma we are miles apart on our desires, you love a very simple life and I have the travel itch, what’s  more  I crave a full time companion who will share some adventures with me. For thirty years you have not wanted to join me once on a vacation to anywhere. Maybe some day you will wake up but I am not letting my life slip by while I wait for you.

 

Alma sniffed, almost like there was a bad smell in the room looked at her husband with a  combination of wrath and  pity. 

“Goodbye Arthur, I will never ever speak of you or to you. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

 

Chapter 8

 

Six months later

 

Surprisingly for Alma the time had passed quickly, once she had overcome her initial shock she had with her children’ help began to plan her future. True to his word Arthur moved out taking only his bedroom furniture and a few items of a personal nature.

Alma retained a lawyer who wrote up a list of demands based on their assets and Arthur’s pension. The lawyers hammered out a separation agreement where Alma would get half of the assets and a monthly stipend from Arthur. Alma decided that she did not want the house and the family  home sold almost immediately with the residue of the sale being shared equally. She kept her car which she immediately traded for a new more luxurious one. Alma selected a  three bedroom garden home in a gated community dubbed Harvest Gardens and disposed of all the furniture from her previous home and had her  lawyer send Arthur a check for the sold items She resolved to make sure all her contact with Arthur was completely dissolved.

Alma broke off her relationship with Cookie and sought to remake her life . She completely refurbished her new home as well as hiring an interior  decorator. Her daughter Nancy was thrilled at her mother’s new found emancipation and began to set aside time to help her develop a new wardrobe. For the first time in their lives they began to enjoy each other’s company. Nancy introduced her boy friend  the now separated Derek Shaw to Alma and the three of them met on numerous occasions for lunches and dinners.

 

Nancy helped her mother to buy up scale clothing which seem to suit her and Alma went to a exclusive hairdresser to have her create a new hair do. Alma seemed to have an entirely new focus on life. She spent much of her time shopping and as she said when Nancy asked her “Just gallivanting around” she responded

Nancy’s boyfriend began to bring a few male acquaintances to their dinner and luncheons . The men were mostly younger than Alma but she was charmed by their manners and expertise in ordering dinners. Most of the men were however hotel employees and were gay.

Alma liked them mostly because they asked for very little, she liked them all and found that they were interesting and very polite to her . She made certain that she always paid her own way, but on special occasions paid for one or another of them.

Once Nancy introduced her to fascinating elderly man who had a antique business in West Vancouver. She became intrigued by him and they began to meet for some shows and concerts.

Alma realized that somewhere along the way that both of them would want more than a kiss in the dark. She decided to make the first move which backfired because he was unable to become aroused, his only desire was to be her escort.

Alma had learned  however to take disappointment in her stride.

Eventually she became active in a singles club where she was a sought after dance partner. She was getting more offers of dates then she could handle and began to become quite selective on who she went out with.

One night she saw a very well dressed man who she thought was dapper . He appeared to be slightly younger than her. He sat by himself and so she got up and offered her hand to him and welcomed him to the club. He was very soft spoken and appeared slightly ill at ease. She went over to her table and excused herself from her friends and joined the man at his table.

They talked about the  country and western band that was playing and he said was not much of country fan but certainly liked their good steady beat. He invited her to dance and she casually asked his first name and told her  it was Richard Cassidy

“People call me Rick“ he told her as they danced to a slow waltz.The one thing she noticed was that he smelled good. Like clean soap she thought.

 

She liked him immediately and the feeling appeared to be mutual She told him that her name was Alma but her nickname was Mimi and he liked the name so well that he called her Mimi for the whole evening.

He brought her some drinks and when the late lunch was served she stood in line and got him a sandwich  and salad.

He smiled very easily she noticed. He said very little about himself and she never spoke of Arthur only her children and grandchildren. Nancy had told her to learn as much as she could about current events and sports because single men are just not interested in grandchildren. Alma took the Vancouver Sun every day and read it cover to cover. As well she studied the National Post for financial news and also to review her investments.

As the evening with Rick grew to a close he mentioned that he was a retired  bank manager and she spent several minutes, talking about investments and mutual funds.

He listened to her with a renewed interest and became very impressed by her knowledge. She asked him if he liked hockey and he said he was an avid fan and she went into great detail about the Vancouver NHL team.

They left the dance together walking into a very cold January evening . Alma was bundled up in her new expensive wrap and he wore an impressive parka.

Alma decided to take the initiative and invited him for coffee the next day at a specialty coffee shop. He accepted and they began to meet at the same location on a regular basis.

He seemed satisfied to have a casual relationship and she enjoyed their lively discussions. Alma felt very much at home with her friend and as their meetings often lasted for more than two hours she began to invite him to her home. Their friendship escalated to the point where he sat with on her couch and they indulged in kissing and petting.

He invited her to his home on the West side of Vancouver and she readily accepted his invite. It was a large two story home  with a U shaped driveway. The house was sparsely furnished but was well appointed with deep  rugs and leather chairs and some very elegant tables.

He mentioned that his wife had left him to return to her home in England some years before and he had just never made any improvements since she taken most of items of real value for which he did not object.

 

His kitchen was huge by her standards with  numerous cupboards. He had prepared a meal of pasta and salad with some French bread and a bottle of very good wine.

They conversed about local events and new shows which were coming to town and that the hockey team were not playing very well.

Do  you have any children Rick” she inquired

“Yes” he responded, but waited a few minutes to elaborate.

“My daughter Daphne is a nurse at a hospital in Brighten England, and my son Geoffrey is a Christian missionary in  Guyana. He works for the church of England. My wife you see was a ultra religious woman who unfortunately was ineffective in getting me to attend services on anything other than the Christmas season”.

“So may I presume”? Alma said  leaving the answer open .

“Actually she left me for another man, a man who was an ordained minister from Britain”who looked very much like the comedian John Candy , he chuckled .

Alma also was unable to control herself and giggled quite hilariously. Soon Rick was  soon guffawing even harder than Alma.

Both of them were completely out of control, shaking with laughter.

He had to gulp air to be able to speak and when he did his words were spoken in short phrases.

“The best part.......was... that...he ...left her because she was ... “

 

He was helpless to continue and Alma was now shrieking with  laughter . Neither of were able to calm down for several minutes because every time they tried attempted to change the subject they would burst into peels of laughter.

 

As quickly as it had started their laughing jag ceased and he looked at her with a unmistakable flash of desire. Alma stood up and walked around the table and cradled his head in her arms and whispered in his ear.

“I hope she left you a bed”

 

Chapter 9

 

Rick indeed  did have a  king sized bed and Alma spent numerous hours and days, wrapped around her lover. He proved to be the biggest thrill of her life. In more ways than one. He was insatiable and caused her to become quite adventure some. She finally found out what hitting the spot meant and enjoyed Rick’s ability to bring her to rapturous conclusions They share a lot of humorous episodes whenever he mentioned the missionary position  during their pillow talk. When asked if she was having a good time, she replied that although she was  slightly bitter about her failed her marriage but was quite proud when she said:

“ Living well is the best revenge”.

 

 

Meanwhile Arthur continued his  cordial personal business with Harriet, and commenced to travel quite extensively in North America. and the Caribbean... Harriet avoided the prospect of joining him on his sojourns but he would call from the travel destinations marveling at the scenery and the surroundings.  But Arthur really wanted Harriet to travel with him to some exotic location. He was ineffective in his attempts to interest her in going with him. They went out to dinner frequently and visited  the art museum and science museums  nevertheless she would not enter into any other intimacy with him. Her business had grown substantially and one of her agents now began to handle his travel needs . On several occasions he was not able to see her because she was extremely busy with travel wholesalers. Communication between them ceased completely when he tried to call her from the tiny island of Aruba to see if she would come there to meet him. She never called him back due to the fact  she was involved in some major booking,. She meant to apologize to him when he returned but it completely slipped  her mind . She never did contact him deciding to put their meetings on the back burner.

Arthur was devastated by the turn of events . He was now alone. With Alma gone from his life his children had also taken her side and felt no need to contact him.

He returned to his old habit of going to the coffee shop to visit with his friends. His pal Buddy had stopped coming to the shop because as he told Arthur “You guys depress me”.

Arthur  had invested a fairly substantial part  of his savings in the stock market only to lose all of it and he was now having to watch his expenditures  very closely.

 

He began to let himself go again. His apartment became disorganized and dirty and his clothes lay wherever he dropped them He rarely ever did his laundry and he gave up eating  at home preferring to eat at small restaurants nearby. His sink was  constantly piled with dirty dishes.

He began to go back to the library to see if he meet another woman, and he was unsuccessful,. On one occasion he was asked to leave because a librarian said she had a complaint that he was harassing a patron.

He visited a travel agency near his apartment to inquire about a cruise only to find it very expensive if he didn’t share a cabin.

His car was stolen one night when he had gone  to a movie and he found out the replacement was only a fraction of what he  had paid. He did not replace the car and  chose  to take the bus.

One night he met a woman waiting for the bus who appeared to be  about his age. She worked at the hospital as a cleaner. She told him she had come from Russia an that her husband had been a musician  and they were able to emigrate to Canada because there was a need for symphony musicians at the time. Arthur stayed on the bus long after his stop listening to her story. Her husband had died and she was left penniless because he not been able to get any decent work . She had no children and she worked mostly nights in the hospital.

Her name was Katarina.Arthur went with her to the sky train station because she lived in neighboring community of Surrey. She was flattered by his attention. He noticed that she wore her hair in a bun but she had a very clear complexion. Katarina spoke English very clearly and Arthur decided to ask her if he could call her

“That would be nice if you like” she said reaching into her purse for a pen and a small notebook. She handed him the note as they walked to the sky train station

“Here is my number but I  work sometimes on the graveyard shift  so please call after lunch”

“Sure by the way my name is Arthur-Arthur Flemming”

The train pulled up and she waved to him and he smiled as he raised his hand to return her gesture.

Arthur walked slowly back to the bus stop, to wait for the bus. He stepped into the bus shelter to shield himself from chill winter wind.

“Got to get cleaned up” he said aloud starring  into the darkness and murkiness of the night.

He leaned against the shelter bench hands in  his pockets and whispered to the wind “Got to get the toothpaste back in the tube”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Revenge

By Jack Kay

 

When Arthur Flemming retired from the his job with Cross-Canada Coach Lines he told everyone that his days of travelling the icy roads of the Canadian highways were over

“Yes sir it’s the Southland for me” he said with a wink and a smile.

Not once in his thirty-eight years as a driver had he ventured beyond the Canadian border. He had often been asked to charter to California and Arizona but he kept stalling because he wanted to take the trip with his wife Alma.

Alma was an introvert . The sum total of her travels included a weekend in Calgary, two visits to Seattle and a driving trip from Vancouver to Vernon and Kelowna. She was not mystified by far off places. Alma watched travel logs and that was enough for her,  she said. Arthur had traveled across Canada from east to west hundreds of times, arriving home to fill Alma with stories of the vastness of the country.

 

Alma and Arthur had three children, the oldest at 34 was Steve who had dropped out of school at sixteen to work as a stock boy at the S’ave More groceries chain and rose to become the assistant manager of the largest stores in Burnaby. He had married and had two children who Alma and Arthur doted on, both of whom were in junior high school. Nancy, their second born was, at twenty -nine and  to their dismay  still single but very successful as a public relations assistant with the Sunshine Suites hotel chain in Vancouver. Nancy rarely visited with her parents because she found they wore her down in regard to her marital status. She had a few boy friends but  found comfort  mostly in the company of her many women friends . Nancy was career minded but she also realized her biological clock was ticking. Nancy was however in love with the Hotel manager, Derek Shaw. Unfortunately he was married, and despite a few liaisons at Whistler and Baker she was still on the outside looking in.

 

Alma and Arthur’s last born, Sean was twenty three and had studied criminology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver . His goal to become a police officer was suddenly realized when he was selected by the Canadian Forces for the military police.. After a years service he had been to Bosnia and Afghanistan. He was stationed in Ottawa and was on the short list for a commission in the military police.  Sean remained in constant contact with his parents by phone. He also had found the love of his life,a young woman who worked for the RCMP as a civilian administrator. She was from Montreal and he planned to bring her home when he got his summer leave.

Alma’s life revolved around her grandkids, the kitchen and shopping once a week. She rarely ever read anything other than the shopping news. Arthur had amassed a library of books, mostly about history and wars. He read constantly when he wasn’t driving and his knowledge of the history of Canadian cities was endless. He was a walking encyclopedia of mundane facts for  which Alma often exclaimed:

“My Arthur sure knows a lot of important information“

She was careful also not to mention that most of  his wisdom was useless to her and for which she  could care less.

Her existence depended mostly on an unvaried formula. She was not bored by the radio or the television. She was a master of routine and responded when asked about her day by smiling and repeating the same expression  “same old, same old”.

In her case it was the same and it was without any variation. She was ruled by  an observance of monotony.

Over the years Arthur had tried unsuccessfully to shake Alma’s penchant for vegetation but it was to no avail as  travel was out the question for Alma .

She met once a month with a ladies group to play cards. This was the sum total of her entertainment and the girls were all former  high school mates. Her favourite was Evelyn Cooksey whom everybody called Cookie. Cookie and Alma spoke on the phone every day usually just after breakfast. They spoke plain talk to each other and had been confidants for over 25 years . Cookie’s name for Alma was Mimi. The other women who played cards were not in their inner sanctum and did not share the  clandestine and shrouded messages of Alma and Cookie. Cookie had not taken her husband’s name of  Kriseweski, mostly at Alma’s urging because as Alma said:

“I won’t be able to call you Cookie anymore and I might start calling you Crookie. “ she said this with pleasure realizing she had made a pun on Cookie’s new name.

And so it was that Alma’s friend,  Evelyn Cooksey continued using her maiden name, to the delight of all her friends.

 

Despite Alma’s daughter’s pleas, Alma continued to wear pant suits that were fashionable in the  1970’s.She owned 3 polyester suits, and they remained packed in plastic bags for which she extracted one or the other as necessary. Otherwise she wore what is commonly known as a housecoat. In the dress trade the Yiddish word “smotta” best describes the housedress as a loose fitting piece of cloth with a apron type front and a pocket . The dress usually has a full neckline and the market price of  this utilitarian woman’s apparel  ran to ten dollars at Wal-Mart.

She ate sparingly and had been able to maintain her figure despite having three children. Once a year she went to the hairdresser for her annual Christmas coiffure. Arthur’s manager had a Christmas party for all available drivers which over the years had become very important for Arthur to attend.

Once dinner was over Alma usually whispered to Arthur that she wanted to watch a movie on Television.  They said their good-byes and Arthur received his bonus which was the only reason he said he liked attending.

 

The bonus was Arthur’s so called ticket to the future . Every year he banked the money and had a terrific nest egg put away for retirement.

Arthur wanted to see the world which he read about in his books. Pearl Harbour  in Hawaii was on his agenda first and the battle fields of Europe came next. He had worked out that if he went on two trips  every year for ten years he would spend only a small portion of the money he had accumulated. His wealth had reached almost five hundred thousand dollars and he was anxious to start a lavish spending spree.

Alma had no interest in money. “Money” she often said “will not buy happiness”. Her lack of involvement in their financial affairs drove Arthur to a point of utter frustration When he brought up the subject she responded with the same worn out phrase of - you know best Arthur.

Her  lack of interest in their goings on was not by design but by choice. She had created a vacuum around her life which insulated her from reality.

Her life as well as her husbands was about to be altered. The deck was going to be reshuffled.

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Alma and Cookie had created for themselves code words for taboo subjects such as sex.. Their word for intercourse was frolic. So when Alma declared to Cookie that Arthur and her had stopped frolicking, Cookie was careful not ask any further questions. Cookie did mention  however that she and her Mr. K had continued to frolic in their biweekly trysts. Alma always felt a hot flush come to her cheeks when Cookie described her brief encounters as “hitting the spot”.

Alma  wondered what hitting the spot meant but since they spoke in code she was not about to ask her.

Alma and Arthur owned their West Vancouver home outright and despite Arthur’s urging  to make some cosmetic changes the house had remained almost the same since they day they had moved into it.

Orange shag rugs in the living and dining rooms and pre -cushion flooring remained in the bathroom and kitchen as well as hot water taps that made unearthly noises in the bathroom. There was  a kind of old musty smell that prevailed within the house and Arthur grew to despise the sourness which mixed with the cooking smells made for an unpleasant existence.

Arthur had painted the interior of the house several times but the smell remained and rug cleaners were even mystified by the odors emanating from the rugs.

Arthur had decided to stop sleeping with Alma because she complained he snored and passed wind. He was happy to get out of their marital bedroom because the room smelled of baby powder which she used and cheap perfume that she lavishly sprayed on herself. There was also an assortment of women’s products lined up on her dresser which were seldom used.

Arthur had ensconced himself in one of the spare bedrooms. He bought a new TV and other items. As well he tore out the rug and replaced it with expensive broadloom. He re painted the room and added shelving where he stacked his books. Alma never entered his inner sanctum and knocked to tell him that meals were ready. He rarely ever went to the living room where she spent most of her days. But they continued to be quite civil to each other and Alma found that she could now sink deeper into her own consciousness.

 

Arthur often brought home travel brochures which he deliberately left about so that she would find them. He discussed family matters with her almost every day, asking if she wanted to invite their children for Sunday dinner. He spoke regularly to each of them but they rarely came to their parent’s home.  Their son Steve sent his kids over with his wife Marie and both Alma and Arthur often took them for burgers and fries. Alma took numerous pictures of the children. The family usually met once or twice a year for holiday dinners. With Seanaway  in Ottawa  the family get-togethers  had almost become none  existent. Their daughter Nancy chastised her father for fixing up the bedroom for himself . Her anger increased when Alma told her she didn’t care. Nancy decided to stop calling her parents and as a result weeks passed before Arthur  became worried and called her he  was greeted with her telephone answering  message.

He became so exasperated that he finally called her at work. She advised him she should not be interrupted  at work. His resentment regarding Nancy grew because he was unable to discuss the situation with Alma .

Alma said “Nancy  has grown up and is part of the new generation. There is nothing we can do now , we lost her a long time ago”.

Arthur responded by saying “ but Alma she is treating us like crap and we are just asking for a little respect . After all we are her parents”

Alma had no answer so she asked Arthur if he wanted mashed potatoes or fries for dinner.

 

And so it went !

 

Arthur’s retirement became a trip through hell . He bought a new car and drove around to see his friends at the Highway Cruiser company but they had little time for him now. He took day trips up to the mountains carefully asking Alma if she wanted to go for a ride in the country and  have lunch.. She demurred  with  her reply being  television related

“There is a good movie on today” or the “soaps all have new episodes”

She never failed to provide an excuse even on weekends when she would  tell him “Marie and the Kids are coming over and I want to take them for lunch”.

Her car was ten years old and had very few miles on the odometer but she looked after it and drove very carefully to the store and to Cookie’s house as well as to her monthly card games.

 

Arthur met with some of his old cronies at the coffee shop in a plaza near their home. Most of his old friends were also former  drivers but somehow  a former manager named Buddy Delvicchio became part of the weekly rendezvous.

 

It was with this man that Arthur shared most of his concerns . Buddy had been a mentor for many drivers  during his career and had a classic way of being a good listener.  On this occasion long after their old pals had left the shop, Arthur  described his dilemma and waited while Buddy ruminated over  what he told him.

“You can’t say that you and Alma have grown apart. You were never a real man and wife team from the beginning” he said sipping his coffee.

Arthur sat back for a moment trying to understand what he  had been told.

“What do you mean not a real man and wife team? We lived under the same roof, had kids, ate our meals together when I was home”

Buddy  interrupted him “ But Arthur by your own admission she never wanted to travel, or do things with you. You were on the road ,she brought up the kids and her life was lonely, boring and sheltered. You worked for a company that offered opportunities for her to go on numerous trips across Canada and they were free. Yet she never once availed herself except when you got married.”

“That’s right but now I’m retired and she still won’t go anywhere and as I told you I now  have plenty of money”

Buddy leaned back in his seat and looking Arthur in the eye, he said” Arthur your time for bliss is now, you are still young enough to enjoy life and see the world. You can’t reproach yourself, you tried as hard as you could to get her out of the house and into your life. Not sleeping with your wife is probably the first step towards marriage breakdown. Your children really don’t give a horses ass about you because if they did they would be on your doorstep. As I see it you have some choices to make and they are not pretty”

Arthur was stunned at Buddy’s assertion.

“You mean walk away”? he said looking around to see if anyone had heard his comment

“Right now we are looking at options Arthur. There are other solutions, which are  really the best you can hope for under the circumstances”

“Like what”

“Well taking  your vacations by yourself for one” Buddy said spreading the palms of his hands to show it was an alternative.

“Going on my own makes the trip really expensive, the single supplement is very high in price”

 

I am offering solutions. You have to decide yourself if it is worth it to you”

Buddy peered away glancing out the window , weighing his next thought to relay to Arthur.

“There is one other way to do this “

He stopped in mid sentence and gazed back at Arthur searching to see if Arthur understood his meaning. A sudden silence between them ensued with the background noise reaching a fever pitch.

Buddy leaned forward and spoke as quietly as he could over the clamor.

“Do you understand Arthur what I am saying or do I have to spell it out to you”

But Arthur did not connect with Buddy’s unstated words of advice.

Buddy motioned to Arthur that he was leaving and they headed to the front door and Buddy waved Arthur to follow him to his car.

Buddy opened his car with  his automatic car opener and even before Arthur had settled in his seat, Buddy leaned over to him

“Cripes, Arthur you are so bloody dumb sometimes”  he  smiled along with Arthur because they were old friends and Arthur knew Buddy was always there for him.

“”Look Arthur I never said this, and I will deny it forever but if it is too expensive to go alone, take someone with you. Now get out of my car and get your life back”.

 

Chapter 3

 

Arthur thought long and hard about Buddy’s appraisal of his dilemma. He spent sleepless nights contemplating his alternatives. Would he travel with another man  and stay in a hotel room? What if ...he supposed the guy was a gay man. But as he saw this image in his mind’s eye something else began to develop. Was Buddy saying he should find a  female companion? It was something he really never carefully thought about. The longer he mulled over the situation the more he became rattled.

Arthur decided to explore the destinations for his vacations before entering any ultimate solution. He began his search in the Vancouver Public Library. Nearly every day following  his breakfast which he shared in stony silence with Alma, he hopped  a bus to the main library which held a massive accumulation of travel books and maps.

 

He would arrive just after they opened and usually leave in mid afternoon. He had a plan of sorts which he employed to thumb through travel manuals and write down informationin a notebook he had started which he kept in his neat printing hand. He also photocopied numerous maps which he cut and pasted to the note book in a separate section for maps. He set his world visiting priorities by beginning in places he could go which were in close proximity to British Columbia and then spread his search into the Caribbean. He examined islands and methods of travel. He detailed costs of hotels and even sketched in restaurants and their possible costs.

His work area never changed he selected a double desk which had a  short privacy divider .  It was located near the outside glass wall which ran up the height of the library  reaching  down to  ground  level. The vantage point overlooked  several small coffee shops and bistros where he often would take a break and grab lunch. or a snack.

This work area became his domain and days would go by without anyone occupying the opposite chair and desk.

He had just  commenced gathering some  destination material  on South America when he noticed a youngish Chinese woman  had settled in the desk across from him. She was thumbing through a large  coffee table type book and had several others piled in front of her. Arthur kept his face buried in his note book marking his usual notations  often changing his pen to underline some important facts in red.

Once or twice he caught her outline in the corner of his eye . Suddenly the book she was pursuing fell from her grasp and clattered to the floor. As she reached for the falling projectile she dragged the other books down off the table.

“Oh goodness “she whispered

Arthur reacted almost immediately by jumping up and retrieving the fallen books handing them to her one by one. She smiled broadly each time he delivered one to her and she very politely thanked him

“I must apologize to you  sir for disturbing your research” she said in a very crisp English accent.

Her smile  was so genuine that it actually warmed him up. Her pleasantness appeared so bright and infectious. He couldn’t help but respond.

“Not very important really I am just looking for vacation spots to go” he said glancing out of the window so as to give the feeling that they were somewhere out there.

 

“She studied him for a few moments fingering the book she had in her hand. He continued glancing through the window but he could make out her reflection  In fact she was scrutinizing him. When he turned back he also took stock of her noticing she was extremely well dressed and had  shimmering black hair which seem to fall across her right temple. She wore a bright red sweater with a gold chain at her neck line. He couldn’t take his eyes off  her and continued to  examine her features because she was a exquisitely  lovely oriental woman. Her face had a slight blush but he noticed it was very clear . She had tiny earrings that shone, giving him the impression that they were diamonds.

She was grinning at him and  he noticed she had perfectly white teeth.

“Do I know you “she said shyly glancing away

“I wish” he said

“Really” she said raising her voice inquisitively.

Arthur was used to banter with people, through his highway bus driving experience, but he couldn’t believe what came out his mouth next.

“Well you are absolutely stunning “he said, fixing his eyes on her face and beaming brightly.

She laughed and placed her hands lightly on the books in front of her. He guessed it was to steady herself. He also noticed she was not wearing a wedding ring.

Their eyes continued to meet and the woman now appeared quite shaken by his attention.

He sensed that she might pick up and leave. But she continued to probe his features.

“I don’t know you , but I would like to know you “she said in a very serious and  strained voice.

He was astonished at her forthright comment

“That is suppose to be my line you know”

“Yes I know ” she said winking at him in a conspiratorial fashion.

But he stammered “you don’t know my name and ...”

“Have you ever seen a movie called Madison County where a man meets a woman who is a complete stranger and they fall in love? Or maybe the musical Carousel where the woman is sitting on a bench near a carnival and a stranger walks up to her  and begins to sing a song called If I loved you” 

He sat backgazing at her with a dumbfounded look on his face trying to determine where all this was leading.

 

Chapter 4

 

Her name was Harriet Chang  Andrews. She was the daughter of Henry Chang, a senior loan officer in the Hong Kong - Shanghai Bank. He was a lifelong resident and his father; Harriet’s grandfather had served in the British Army during the war as an artillery gunner. She had immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong when Mainland China had taken over the colony in 1997.

Harriet had attended the Parkhurst School for Girls. It was a very exclusive private school located in the Kings Road area of Hong Kong. She had excelled in languages and in Geography and on graduation had been awarded a prize worth several thousand Hong Kong Dollars.

She entered the Chinese University of Hong Kong School of Hotel and Tourism and graduated with honors from the three-year course. She spoke fluent English, Cantonese and had a good command of both French and Spanish.

She applied for a government tourism job and despite the fact that women were still fighting for recognition in Hong Kong, she captured the auspicious position of Travel advisor to the Governor of Hong Kong.

Her husband was a Caucasian who had a dual passport having been born in Britain. He had become a civil servant and worked in the travel and Tourism ministry.

His name was Oliver Andrews. Harriet had met him soon after he had gone to work in the ministry because as a travel consultant for the Governor she needed to deal with his office almost on a daily basis.

 

Oliver was a public school graduate. He had attended University in Manchester but dropped out to take an advertised position in Hong Kong. His knowledge of tourism was limited but he had an excellent command of English and was very well groomed as well as dressing immaculately. He reveled in sports and played soccer and rugby in weekend recreation leagues. He was very fit and worked out every day. Oliver Andrews was the very epitome of a cultivated Englishman. He was also a wearisome bore. He was a slave to his daily routine, breakfast at seven consisting of toast, two hardboiled eggs, orange juice and coffee. He had his bowel movement by 7:30, showered and dressed in the so called ministry uniform of the day, a blue suit with shadowy pinstripes and gleaming black shoes with a blue on blue button down shirt and some kind of bogus regimental tie with red stripes. He took public transport to work and arrived at eight forty-seven every day. He carried a Marks and Spensers umbrella, rain or shine and wore as his headdress a black Australian outback hat. None of his co-worker seemed to notice the incongruity of his choice of headwear.

 

When he met Harriet he had lived in Hong Kong one year. Despite the urging of his superiors, he had not learned one word of Cantonese. As a result his assessments were quite average. Oliver began to court Harriet after a ministry party, which included several tourist consultants. She liked his manners and he seemed quite genuine. She had had several Chinese boyfriends but this was the first time she had had the chance to be with an Englishman.

She quite liked him mostly because he was very polite and allowed her to do most of the talking. When they gathered in a group, he rarely if ever joined in the conversation except if the subject was sports or British Royalty.

 

Oliver disdained newspapers and got most of his daily information from television, which he watched for hours in his tiny bachelor studio. He had met a few young businesswomen but he felt inadequate with them, as they were cultured British girls or members of aristocratic families. His knowledge of politics and business was non-existent and if the subject was not soccer scores, he was left out of the conversation.

 

He did feel comfortable with Harriet because she was enamoured with his good looks and cultivated British accent.

 

They began to date and Harriet was soon begun to fall in love with Oliver, although the feeling was not mutual. Oliver considered the young impressionable Chinese girl his plaything. She spoke vociferously of her work for the Governor and when he lapsed into silence she would pick up the thread and discuss her friends and other sidelights to her life. She also discussed her family being careful not to be too transparent.

 

He would respond with his aha, aha after each of her long-winded narrations.

He hated these intrusions on his thoughts but allowed her to spin her little yarns and would finally end the diatribe with the comment

 

“Where shall we eat tonight darling the American bar or the Tinsheng restaurant on Governors?

 

They attended some symphony concerts at the City Hall and the latest American movies where they sat holding hands in the dark. He would kiss her briefly when he deposited her at the bus kiosk for her journey home but cuddling and love making were not in his repertoire.

 

Eventually he did propose to her and she took him home to visit with her parents Henry and Linda, It was to be a dinner party to celebrate their engagement and where Oliver was to present her with an engagement ring. Henry Chang felt he was a member of the new modern era Chinese but he did tell Harriet that Oliver should have asked for her hand in marriage.

 

When Oliver arrived at Harriet’s home Henry greeted him in Chinese.

 

“ho go hing yihng sik nehih Oli-ver”

 

“My father said he is very glad to meet you Oliver” Harriet translated.

 

By the puzzled look on Oliver’s face, Henry knew instantly that Oliver was unable to converse in even simple daily phrases of the Cantonese language.

He immediately reverted to English and introduced Harriet’s mother.

Henry was miffed, and although very hospitable, found the Englishmen very difficult to engage in conversation.

Oliver answered with his usual  “yes” and “no” answers and Henry became quite frustrated by the young man’s almost total lack of knowledge in nearly every subject he attempted to discuss.

Finally the meal was served and Oliver dug into the food voraciously filling his face with the different Chinese dishes as they were served. He also drank copious amounts of both water and wine. The young maid hired for the evening often filled his glass.

Before long Oliver did speak about his life in England as the wine had loosened his tongue, and described his upbringing and his parents who were both school teachers and his sister who was married and had three children and lived in Canada.

 

Harriet sat motionless as Oliver spilled forth a mountain of personal facts she had never heard before. He said he had difficulty learning languages because he had suffered from a reading disorder as a child.

 

The evening ended with Oliver presenting Harriet with a ring. Both she and her mother cried but Henry was unmoved because he felt inwardly that Oliver was what the Americans who worked at his bank called a dimwit”

Oliver took his leave, and Harriet saw him to a waiting cab.

When she returned her father began to speak in Cantonese to her, something he did when he wanted her attention.

“That gwailo will not be a good husband for you my darling daughter”

Harriet was stunned for a moment.

Her father continued “he has been in Hong Kong for a year and he cannot speak one simple Chinese phrase nor does he know anything about our culture, he is a stuffed shirt Englishman with no future here. Soon the mother country will be taking us over and the useless Britains will be gone. He will lose his job and you can mark my words on that”

Henry sat down having tired himself out with his tirade.

 

Tears came to Harriet’s eyes.  She sat down across from her father and her mother now joined her.

“He is not a foreign devil papa but he will learn our tongue from me and I will work with him to help him develop his knowledge of our heritage and the politics and history of our Administrative Region”

 

“Yes I think he can learn” her mother said smiling and using her hands to show her solidarity with her daughter.

 

“Listen my loved ones I am a banker I see people every day, I have come to make judgements based on much experience. This man will never be a

 Taipan, and you will have to work until you are no longer able to bear children.

 

 

 Harriet groaned and suddenly bolted from the room shouting back to her father being the boss means nothing, I just want a loving husband.

 

Oliver and Harriet married in the fall of 1995 and spent their honeymoon in the Fiji Islands. Harriet refused to tell her mother about Oliver’s love making because he was an abject failure in this regard. When they returned to their small apartment Harriet had found on Prince Edward Rd, her father had furnished it.

They enter their married life and Oliver continued to keep his normal routine. He now however rose earlier in order to have fifteen minutes of sex with Harriet. She did not relish these encounters but accepted them as part of her marriage vows.

Despite her entreaties to develop a fundamental knowledge of Cantonese, Oliver retreated into the argument that he was reading challenged. She also tried on numerous occasions to draw him out on his previous life and to get him to develop an understanding of the ancient Chinese customs. 

They had been married nearly a year and Oliver came home to tell her what her father had prophesized for his future

“I’ve been sacked,” he said, bitterly

She immediately was reminded of her fathers portends and felt tears welling up and tried to console her husband. He was not in the mood for being succored and turned away from her.

“Were you given a reason, “ she said finally getting her emotions under control

“Oh you know the business about not speaking Chinese and all that hog wash”

“But that isn’t reason for dismissal is it?”

“According to my supervisor I was not meeting the criteria for my job and my written work was below standard”

“Can you appeal?”

“Oh Harriet, I am fed up with their bureaucratic and pompous attitude now that we have given them their little country back, please let us  stop rehashing the situation. I am to be given severance amounting to half a year’s salary and a portion of our expenses to return to England,” he said dismissing her inquiries.

 

“Back to England” she said her voice dropping and tears beginning to flow again.

 

“We are going back to England, “ he said in a very strong and intimidating voice.

 

“I will make some tea and we can talk about this okay Oliver?”

 

“Harriet, there is nothing to discuss, my job is gone at the end of the month, I am unable to secure further employment in Hong Kong, and that is the whole entire situation settled”

“You mean without looking or making an effort to find employment you are just going to...give in”

“Without speaking Chinese under the new government policy I am dead in the water, do you want me to take a position below my station?” he said pointing at himself and taking a deep drink of his beer.

 

She was stunned by his revelation that he actually believed that he was above others. She could sense a degree of anger beginning to swell in her chest. She had always been submissive in her relations with him but now she knew her father was a very good judge of human character. Oliver was indeed a stuffed shirt and the very idea that he would even suggest to her that he was superior to her made her quite furious.

 

“So am I labeled as inferior to your station,” she said in a very controlled but frosty voice.

“Well now that you mention it, yes you are. All the Asians residing in this part of the world stand below me in the degrees of culture and intelligence .You know that Caucasians are much smarter and better educated. The British bloodlines are known world wide for their higher scales of intellect.

 

Harriet was astounded at his assertion. She eyed Oliver carefully to determine if he actually believed what he had just expressed. She had learned to understand his inarticulate ranting but this was so far fetched that she laughed out loud.

“Oliver that is terrible nonsense and you know it. This is a multi cultured society, people speak several languages and the number of college graduates is near the highest in the world.”

“That is my opinion Harriet, you know very little about sports, and and....”

 

“Look Oliver I am not going to debate this topic right now, you should know that I insist that you seek work here in Hong Kong and start taking night classes in Cantonese” she said stopping him in mid sentence.

 

“ I am returning to England with or without you so don’t tell me my girl what I will do or not do. That is my final word on this subject. You can do what you are doing in Manchester, there are lots of jobs for travel agents”

 

Harriet suddenly realized right at that moment that she was left with no alternatives. She stood up and walked over to where he was sitting and in a very strong voice said what she had been unable to say previously in their marriage.

 

“My father said you were a gwailo, a foreign devil, and he was right. Do you really believe that I would leave Hong Kong for a life in Britain where I could become a servant girl in your so called superior society” she asked him rhetorically.

He drank deeply from his beer and gesticulating with his hand he pointed at her and raised the level of his voice.

 

“Who said anything about your being a servant girl?”

 

“My friend Jenny Wong left Hong Kong with a college diploma in Hotel management and went to London two years ago, and today she works as a chamber maid in a hotel and can’t raise the money to come home for another two years”

 

“Well what do you expect she is just another slant eyed woman in Britain where there are thousands looking for jobs”

 

Now in their argument, Harriet glared at Oliver stunned by the offensiveness of his remark. She tried to get as much meaning as she could from his ethnic slur and affirmed that she was married to a racist

 

  She mustered up as much dignity as she could and without saying a word she walked into the bedroom and removed her suitcase from the closet. She quickly opened drawers packing as much clothing as she could. The tears streamed from her eyes .She opened the door just as he turned on the television and she headed to the hall closet and removed her jacket and walked deliberately to the door.

“When you come to your senses I will be at my father’s house,” she said opening the door to the outside hallway, hesitating as if to wait for his response.

 

“Its just as I thought you fucking Chinese have no class, don’t expect me here when you decide to come back you asshole.”

He had never spoken like that before.

When she reached the lobby she brushed away her tears and called a cab and she ended the evening in the warmth of her fathers and mother’s arms as they held her and shared her sorrow.

Two weeks passed without any word from Oliver and she finally decided to call her flat only to learn the telephone had been disconnected. Her real trauma was yet to come because when she tried to withdraw some money from her bank she was advised that all the funds had been cleaned out. Next her father drove her to the apartment and the manager who advised her that all of the furniture had been removed and the rent had not been paid for three months met her. Harriets’s father settled the matter immediately. She took the rest of her clothing and although she made inquiries Oliver had disappeared with everything they owned.

 

Chapter 5

 

Arthur had invited Harriet to a coffee shop near the library and she readily agreed. Eventually after short introductions, they began to make conversation and he asked how she had come to live in Vancouver. She then began to recount the story of her life in Hong Kong. He sat enthralled by her story. She spoke easily to him and he never once interjected a question but listened intently to the unfolding of her narrative.

At times, she spoke with uncertainty in a shallow voice particularly when she spoke of her disappointments, of which there were many.

 

Arthur glanced outside through the door of the building and noticed that they were being overtaken by darkness.

“I wonder if I could invite you to dinner, there is a Good Spot Restaurant nearby” he motioned towards the doors of the library building.

“I hope I ‘m not taking you away from anything “she said with a concerned look on her face

“No I am free and I would really like to hear more about you”

She smiled and followed him out of the building making their way silently past numerous pedestrians who crowded the sidewalk.

 

The restaurant was only a few blocks away and they were ushered on arrival to a table.

She left almost immediately to find the washroom and he studied the menu. When she returned he noticed that she had freshened up her makeup and combed her hair and to him she looked really quite beautiful.

They ordered, he a sandwich and she a large salad.

 

Arthur asked her to continue with the events of her past life.

 

“Very soon after Oliver disappeared with all my money and the furniture I learned that my job was to be reviewed as I worked for the Governor and the position of British representative in Hong Kong was to be discontinued. I was offered employment in the new ministry of hospitality and tourism at the same salary. I had decided to live with my parents since Oliver had taken all of my savings.”

She stopped and thoughtfully sipped a glass of water.

“The new job was very taxing and the hours began to exhaust me. There was a constant hubbub in the office because the cubicles were so close together. I could hardly think and spent my free days resting and therefore my social life suffered. I had a few dates with young men my father arranged, most of whom were Chinese Americans. One of the fellows wore cowboy clothing,” she said, stifling a laugh with her hand on her face.

 

 

“About three months after I started at the government office I was on my break and saw an add in a Travel agent’s magazine for an agency in Vancouver, Canada. I saw they had an e mail address, so I sent a message asking about the agency. They responded the next day with price, location and the number of employees”.

Their food arrived; Arthur ordered a coffee while Harriet stuck with her water.

They ate in silence but Arthur noticed Harriet picked at her salad taking very small morsels. She continued after he had bitten into his sandwich.

 

“ The cost was quite high but my father said he would loan me the money and I could repay when I was able. In Canadian dollars it was as over one hundred thousand. There was also the cost of travelling to Canada as well as the need to have a sponsor .We were in luck, my Uncle Paul Chu lived here in Vancouver and ran a computer accessories business. My father called him and he was delighted and said he would visit the owners the next day. He called back a few days later saying for him it was excellent location, lots of walk-in traffic as well as good experienced employees. He mentioned the owners were a  Chinese Canadian couple who had a family . They wanted to spend more time with their children.

 

Harriet stopped and glanced at her watch. A slight frown crossed her face.

 

“I think I have really talked your ear off Arthur, I hope you are not getting bored”

“No, please go on.It is very fascinating. I just wonder how you are able to relate to  me a total stranger so much personal background?’

 

“You are very easy to talk to, and I thought when I met you perhaps you were a good listener and”- she smiled and again  timidly covering her face, I just believed right away you were in need of a friend like I am”.

 

He smiled and impulsively patted her hand, mutely urging her to continue.

The waitress brought the bill which he took and asked when the restaurant closed, ordering another coffee and asking Harriet if she wanted more water.

 

She nodded her head  yes and thanked  him.

 

She continued” I wrote them and asked if I could visit and make my decision. They wrote back advising me that they would help me obtain a airline ticket available to travel agents. But I would need to show good faith by placing a twenty thousand dollar refundable deposit to the agency. My father made the arrangements and within a few days I had asked for a leave of absence from  my job for two weeks. the money had been transferred to my uncle who placed the funds with his lawyer in trust”

 

I flew to Vancouver and I was met by the owners whose name was Song and their manager Jenna an East Indian girl. I was whisked to my Uncle’s place and after all the usual family meetings with cousins and cousins of my cousins and friends of my cousins.”

 

Arthur burst into laughter and she joined him in the amusing sidelight to her story.

“The next day I visited the agency and it was as my uncle described, well run and very profitable. The staff of five were very competent. The owners had an office which I would use . He opened the books to show how well they ran the agency. I noted some areas I would change but since my experienced was in Hong Kong and in a closed Government environment I would have a steep learning curve”.

“The monthly expenses were quite high but quite manageable. I also asked if the Songs would be interested in continuing as outside agents for cruises which were their expertise and they agreed.”

 

“I found a small apartment near the office which is on Kent Street.I called my father to tell him the news and he said he would arrange for the balance of the money to be available, and I also told him I would need more money for operating expenses and my own personal expenses.”

 

“”This all happened two years ago and after getting my uncle to sponsor me

 

I was cleared to move to Canada as I was investing in a business. Since then I have done nothing  but work six and seven days a week. This is the first time I have even eaten a meal any time in a restaurant or talked  about anything other than travel or business. I am still paying my father back but the agency has grown really well. I put a large sign in our window that we spoke French and Spanish and suddenly they were lined up at the door when we opened in the morning”.

 

She glanced at her watch and he realized that their discussion was at an end.

“I guess I must go Arthur, you certainly have been a good listener.”

“Well sure Harriet I understand and it’s really been terrific to meet you and hear your story”.

Arthur couldn’t determine what to do next as his usual instinctsfailed him.

“ I think I  have sensed that you are married “ she said as she let her gaze move to some inanimate object on the wall.

“I meant to mention the fact  that I am married and I hope you didn’t think I was hiding anything”

“I never asked  you  and you were very kind to buy my dinner and listen to my life history and the subject of your private life  never  really came up”

Arthur took her hand,  gently tightening his grip and gazed up into her eyes.

“I have a story to tell you Harriet and if you give me a chance I will be very honest with you. about my life, may I call you and see you again?’

 

She studied him for a moment and calmly placed her free hand over his, cautiously and patiently searching for an answer to his question.

“I guess we both have a lot of baggage and even more importantly we have a massive cultural distance. My people are still disdained in this country  and my family will never ever support me in any relationship with a person outside of my nationality. For now I will be happy to be your travel agent , I can be your adviser on destinations and I guess I can have lunch and dinner with my client” she said grinning at him.

 

“Sounds great to me Harriet and next time you pay for lunch”

 

 

 

“No way , we split the bill“ she said laughing and rising from the booth.

“She headed for the restaurant exit and he noticed she had a card which she handed to him.

 

On the sidewalk in front of the restaurant she hailed a cab and waving to him as entered  she said “Give me call on Saturday and we can arrange to meet”.

“When on Saturday, he yelled”

“Morning will be good” she shouted back and waved again.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Arthur headed for his bus but realized he was in for a long wait and finally also hailed a cab and had the cabby drop him two blocks from his house.

 

When he arrived Alma had  retired for the night and he slipped into his room  removing  his clothes and spread out on the bed. He laid for a long time  replaying every moment of his encounter with Harriet. Her face was the last thing he saw whenhe finally fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

 

The following morning he awoke and  formulated a plan for his future. Alma had not awakened yet and he slipped out of the house unnoticed.

Arthur decided to head for the coffee shop and see if his old manager Buddy Delvicchio was around. Another old friend mentioned that Buddy was working again at a trucking firm as a dispatcher. Arthur remembered that Buddy occasionally  worked a few weeks  as a  replacement for his brother-in-law . He said his good-byes and made his way to the trucking firm which was located in the commercial section of Vancouver.

Just as Arthur entered the building he met Buddy, who invited to come along for breakfast at an eatery close by.

Arthur related to  Buddy the chance  meeting with the Harriet and that he needed advice on how to proceed.

 

Buddy sat back eyeing Arthur and noticed a certain degree of elation had come over his friend. The man he had known for several years was now totally out of character..

“ Frankly, Arthur you probably need a reality check right now. You just met this lady yesterday and already you are falling all over yourself. You are fifty-one years old white and married. Your responsibilities are endless, and even if you can convince this girl to take up with you , there are still plenty of unbelievable roadblocks and detours. The demands from your family will drive you crazy and you could lose half your dough in any contested marriage settlement with Alma , if it ever  gets that far. Be smart, play this very cool. Get a lawyer and a tax accountant and wait and see what this all leads to. Eventually your wife will find out and you have to get over that hump. And talking about humping”

 

Buddy hesitated and reached for his coffee. He didn’t want to talk about a sensitive  personal subjects with Arthur but he knew that if he didn’t Arthur would no doubt ask.

“Look Arthur, young women need guys that can ..well know razzle dazzle them.”

Arthur looked dumbfounded at Buddy’s alliteration.

“Oh man ,Arthur you are so damn stupid sometimes, girls like to be screwed by young bloods with big dicks who can do it five times a night and who bang the drum slowly, ”.

Arthur laughed  “Yea I get it, so how do you know I don’t measure up”

Buddy glanced  fleetingly around the tables nearby and scrunched down in his seat to give Arthur notice they were talking confidentially.

 

“Well anyway” Buddy went on” “You need to get your finances straight and find out where you stand with your house, because I am willing to bet you that with the market the way it is you can get a bundle. If Alma wants the  house, she will have to pay you out and that could mean several thousand dollars into your nest egg.”

 

Buddy explained that his brother-in-law had made a killing on his house when he split with his first wife before he married Buddy’s sister.

“The other matter I have to mention is the second hand store wardrobe you own” said Buddy motioning  at Arthur with his forefinger.

 

“You need a proper shave , you have hair all over your ears and in your nose and you need to sharpen up your image, remember when I was your boss and I kept after you to look presentable? If you want any self respecting woman to really look at you twice you need to get your act together and start looking up to par.

Arthur looked down at his rumpled trousers and ran his hand over his unshaven face , glancing around the restaurant for a mirror.

 

Arthur agreed with his friend that he needed upgrading and left the restaurant giving Buddy his profuse thanks and headed down to the nearest mall.

He spent hours walking through the stores, buying several outfits, pants shirts, a new suit and some sports jackets . He also checked out a tuxedo, but decided  to purchase a dark suit. He spent several hundred dollars, before  driving to another mall where he bought sports clothing, including golf shirts, T shirts, bathing suits and shoes. His car was jammed with bags and he realized that he would have to  make sure Alma wasn’t home before bringing the clothing to his bed room.

She was sleeping when he arrived home and he quickly unloaded his car.

He spent the next few days planning his next activity. He made several phone calls including one to a lawyer he knew  and made an appointment as well as  getting  in contact with an accountant. He visited a specialized unisex barber shop and  had a haircut which notably changed his appearance.

 

He saw Alma briefly one afternoon near the end of his  spontaneous splurge. She was surprised at his sudden change but kept her remarks to herself thinking she would ask her friend Cookie in  her next phone call why Arthur was dressing up, unless she thought he had gone back to work.

 

On schedule Arthur called Harriet at her office and she seemed delighted he had called and she arranged to meet him at her travel agency and they would decide where to go for lunch.

Arthur carefully dressed for his date, and slipped out of the house , driving to a down town parking lot walking quickly to the agency.

The first thing he noticed was how good she looked. She was dressed in a bright summer outfit and her hair shimmered. He was absolutely thrilled to see her again.

 

Arthur was introduced to the staff and afterwards they decided to walk to a nearby vegetarian restaurant.

After ordering she sat back smiling quite brightly and noticed he had changed his appearance. Arthur did not tell her he had been on a buying spree. Harriet noticed he looked very youthful with a what appeared a fresh haircut and quite new shirt and slacks .She commented to him how sharp he looked and felt a faint glow of appreciation that he taken the time to dress up  for their meeting.

Their lunch arrived and they took up time discussing the special fare they had ordered and finally Arthur took advantage of a lull in their conversation to tell her how wonderful she looked.

“I hope you don’t mind if I tell you how beautiful you look and how  much I have thought about you since we met on Monday”

Harriet beamed and reached for his hand .

“”I have to tell you that I enjoyed our discussion, you were so good to allow me to unburden myself , it was the most pleasant afternoon I have spent since coming to Canada”

“I was just wondering if you have some time today or do you have to get back after our lunch,” he said wiping his lips with his napkin.

“What do you have in mind  Arthur”

I just thought perhaps we could walk over to the park next to the city hall and find a bench , its quite shady there”

“Yes that would work for me” she said

The waiter brought the bill. He wanted to pay but she protested and they finally decided to split it with Arthur leaving the tip.

The streets were lined with numerous shoppers and pedestrians , but within a few minutes they had walked to the small inner city park where all the benches were taken. After a short wait one bench under a very old dogwood tree became available and they settled down to watch the passerby’s and to make small talk.

“I think I mentioned I have a story to tell you. It won’t take very long and may clear up any apprehension you may have about me”

She shook her head  yes  and as he spoke she looked directly into his face.

 

He began by telling her about his life as a bus driver and that he was stuck in a very unhappy marriage. He wanted to travel and spend his life savings on some of life’s pleasures and his spouse was like a lead weight around his neck. He described how his children were become estranged and that he was at the point of walking away.

She listened intently to his narration , but as he spoke she weighed his sincerity, noting his facial expression was quite placid despite his family issues. To her he demonstrated no anger but his frustration was evident.

He spoke slowly and tried to uncover all of his background  quickly.

His narration came to end when he spread his arms to show that he had a dilemma.

“Frankly Arthur I don’t know what you want of me, I understand your situation but I told you we are miles apart culturally, and not only that but you are married. If you need a friend and a adviser I certainly would be happy to be your friend and help you with travel arrangements, but you have to know that a girl-friend boy-friend status for us is out. I can’t go sneaking around with someone who has a marriage commitment.My marriage was an utter failure because my husband was unable to integrate or tolerate the  Chinese society. I cannot break my parent’s hearts again.”

 

“Whoa” he said putting up his hand to show a stop sign.” Lets start again, I need a travel agent and a friend, and you arrived in a timely fashion.. I am leaving my wife, for a whole lot of reasons, of which you are not one of them”

“Please, please Arthur forgive me for being so pathetically defensive,”

He nodded and she notice he was close to tears

“People”, he began often meet and enter upon relationships , I am told that they are completely plutonic , that it is all I can hope  from you. But not to say that I will do everything I can to gain your respect and loyalty. I have already planned to seek to speak conversational  Cantonese  or Mandarin as I have called for an appointment. I am making arrangements to get an apartment  in Kits and I hope to be in a position to take a short trip in about a month.”

She was stunned by his revelations and felt quite ashamed that she had misunderstood his motivation.

She was so moved by his effort to at least try to learn her language that she tearfully told him how much she appreciated his thoughtful idealism.

“You will be in a for a surprise at the difficulty in learning to speak Chinese but it is absolutely fantastic”

 

He stood up quite suddenly and brushed the seat of his pants.

“Lets meet again when I have all my ducks lined up and I will call you for a meeting” he said thoughtfully.

Harriet reached up and took his hand and stood very close to him suddenly she placed her arms around his head and softly kissed his cheek.

“I have been quite horrible Arthur, I guess I am still uncertain about men”

He held her for a moment taking in the breath-taking aroma of her hair and  perfume.

 

Arthur was mesmerized by her stunning good looks . He stepped back to look at her . They stood for a long time silently  gazing into each others eyes. He could barely contain the warmth he was experiencing. Harriet, was plainly shaken by his attention and how much he seem to adore her.

Harriet abruptly broke the spell

“I have to get back to the agency, but why not call me next week and possibly give me an update and where you would like to go on a vacation.”

She began to walk away and to wave, but stopped , energetically coming back to him, hugged him and kissed his cheek and he responded by gently placing his hand on her back and kissing her face.

With that she walked away glancing back with a bright smile to counter hischeerful grin.

Arthur walked to his car and as he drove out of parking lot he realized that he entered a zone of his life that was permeated with uncertainty.

 

Chapter 7

Alma began to grow mystified about Arthur after her friend Cookie told her that she thought Arthur was seeing another woman.

“Believe me Mimi men his age start looking around because they are like a jungle cat, they are predators”

“But maybe he has a job or something and he would get really mad if I confront him”

“Don’t be a drip Alma, he doesn’t have job he has a girlfriend” Cookie told her friend.

“What should I do” Alma sobbed

“Okay get a hold of your kids and tell them you think he is playing around and they should get him to back off”

 

“But Cookie what should I do, tell him I will go on vacation with him or something like that or maybe ....”

Cookie cut her off and commented:

“Look Mimi we need to talk, meet me at the donut shop in half and hour and I will think of a strategy. In the meantime if you can  get a hold of your daughter and son and tell them that you need their help”.

Alma rang off and immediately called her daughter at work who grudgingly told her mother that she would be over the next day after work . Alma tried to get in touch with her son at the grocery store but he wasn’t available so she decided to drop in and find him.

She ran out of house leaving her weekly laundry in the washer and drove to her son’s store and after finding him having a smoke in the staff lounge that she needed his help. He reacted angrily because she had searched him out at work , but said he would be at the house the next day to meet with her.

 

Cookie met her at the coffee shop and advised Alma to tell Arthur that she knew what he was up to and that she would leave him and seek to have their assets divided. Alma became very upset, wherein she began to sob uncontrollably and shoot out of the shop and raced for her car. Cookie followed her and jumped in beside her, in an effort to bring Alma under control. It was fruitless,  Alma became so agitated that her friend became  alarmed.

Cookie called her husband  on her cell phone. He  arrived minutes later with a hope of being a calming influence. He only made the situation worse.

In the end Alma asked them both to leave , the tears began to dwindle and her fear turned to anger.

 

She slept fitfully that night but avoided trying to speak to her husband. In the morning she was so exhausted that she fell into a deep sleep and Arthur had slipped out of the house before she was able to speak with him.

Later that day her daughter Nancy and son  Steve arrived and she angrily told them of her suspicion. She related that she had entered his room while he was away and that his closet was filled with new clothing and that he had changed his appearance with a modernistic haircut.

So what makes you think he is running around she was asked by her daughter.

 

“Cookie said it was quite obvious and I trust her insight”

“What other wisdom did your mentor tell you” remarked her daughter disdainfully

“Well she said I should threaten him by saying I am going to leave him and it will be at a very tremendous cost to him.

Nancy sat down in a chair which faced her mother. She watched as her mother came completely apart with  convulsivesobbing. Her brother stood up in an effort to console his mother but was waved off by Nancy.

Neither spoke but waited patiently until she had stopped wailing and Alma looked at them with a beseeching look on her tear drenched face.

Steve began to speak but was cut off immediately by Nancy

“You have to pull yourself together, mother, because right now you are surmising the worse. Cookie is your friend but unless she really knows the truth she has no business giving you a scenario she has seen at the movies or on television”.

Steve again tried to interject but Nancy stood up and walked over to her mother placing hand on her shoulder

 

“I know Steve will agree” she said to her mother and nodded at Steve .

“That you have to confront Dad about this and don’t make any threats”

“Yes” agreed Steve. Which  as it turned out was his only contribution to his mother’s quandary.

Alma offered them coffee and both reported that had appointments and left . Alma made herself tea and decided to wait near the entrance hallway for Arthur to come home.

When he returned later that evening, he was surprised to see her still up and asked her if she was okay and was met with a torrent of tears.

“Is it one of the kids “

“No its you, I want to know what the hell is going on”

This situation was unlike anything he had ever faced with Alma and he sat down facing her as she continued to weep.

“Look Alma for God’s sake quit the balling and tell me what you are talking about.”

“Arthur Flemming you know perfectly well what I’m talking about, all those new-fashioned clothes and a jazzy haircut . Do you think I am that stupid that I don’t know you have a girlfriend.

 

He had been waiting for an onslaught like this from Alma, he knew that sooner or later he would have to face the music. and launched into an immediate tirade

“You know what Alma you are right, I have a girl friend and she is Chinese and you know what else Alma, I have an apartment and I am moving out. I gave you every chance I could to get out of this rut you are in, but you chose to stay buried in this house . You would rather confide in your stupid friend than talk to me. We could have traveled , seen the world, but you would rather watch that idiot box. What do you think was going to happen, that I was going to let my quality of life slip away and become a  vegetable  like you”

She sat stunned by his explosive words, powerless to move, and unable to speak or to cry. She felt totally numb and fixed her eyes on a painting which depicted a winter scene in a mountain village which hung in a corner of the room”

He went on not waiting for her response” I will be moving shortly and we can settle up all the affairs with our lawyers. I suggest you retain one as soon as you can . We need to make a settlement and I promise to be generous”.

She had to think quickly and began by asking him if he would reconsider if she changed. She spoke of their life together and that she had brought up the children herself and that she had looked after the house.

He felt a pang of guilt as she related all of the effort she had put into maintaining their life together.

“Alma I don’t hate you , but I just don’t love you anymore either, our lives have changed dramatically, I want more than you are willing to give. It just no use to try and put the toothpaste back in the tube. Lets move on, you will be happier without me. You need to have lots of space and so do I. Let there be no recriminations”

 

She could sense it was futile to try and make him change his mind. She could see he was determined to take the plunge out of her life.

“Well Arthur she said quite soberly, I can’t understand what you want but I can’t stop you and I won’t. Just think of what you might lose, your children, your grandchildren and maybe this house and more importantly me.”

Again the tears came  to Alma and Arthur also began to feel teary but held on to his composure.

 

“Alma we are miles apart on our desires, you love a very simple life and I have the travel itch, what’s  more  I crave a full time companion who will share some adventures with me. For thirty years you have not wanted to join me once on a vacation to anywhere. Maybe some day you will wake up but I am not letting my life slip by while I wait for you.

 

Alma sniffed, almost like there was a bad smell in the room looked at her husband with a  combination of wrath and  pity. 

“Goodbye Arthur, I will never ever speak of you or to you. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

 

Chapter 8

 

Six months later

 

Surprisingly for Alma the time had passed quickly, once she had overcome her initial shock she had with her children’ help began to plan her future. True to his word Arthur moved out taking only his bedroom furniture and a few items of a personal nature.

Alma retained a lawyer who wrote up a list of demands based on their assets and Arthur’s pension. The lawyers hammered out a separation agreement where Alma would get half of the assets and a monthly stipend from Arthur. Alma decided that she did not want the house and the family  home sold almost immediately with the residue of the sale being shared equally. She kept her car which she immediately traded for a new more luxurious one. Alma selected a  three bedroom garden home in a gated community dubbed Harvest Gardens and disposed of all the furniture from her previous home and had her  lawyer send Arthur a check for the sold items She resolved to make sure all her contact with Arthur was completely dissolved.

Alma broke off her relationship with Cookie and sought to remake her life . She completely refurbished her new home as well as hiring an interior  decorator. Her daughter Nancy was thrilled at her mother’s new found emancipation and began to set aside time to help her develop a new wardrobe. For the first time in their lives they began to enjoy each other’s company. Nancy introduced her boy friend  the now separated Derek Shaw to Alma and the three of them met on numerous occasions for lunches and dinners.

 

Nancy helped her mother to buy up scale clothing which seem to suit her and Alma went to a exclusive hairdresser to have her create a new hair do. Alma seemed to have an entirely new focus on life. She spent much of her time shopping and as she said when Nancy asked her “Just gallivanting around” she responded

Nancy’s boyfriend began to bring a few male acquaintances to their dinner and luncheons . The men were mostly younger than Alma but she was charmed by their manners and expertise in ordering dinners. Most of the men were however hotel employees and were gay.

Alma liked them mostly because they asked for very little, she liked them all and found that they were interesting and very polite to her . She made certain that she always paid her own way, but on special occasions paid for one or another of them.

Once Nancy introduced her to fascinating elderly man who had a antique business in West Vancouver. She became intrigued by him and they began to meet for some shows and concerts.

Alma realized that somewhere along the way that both of them would want more than a kiss in the dark. She decided to make the first move which backfired because he was unable to become aroused, his only desire was to be her escort.

Alma had learned  however to take disappointment in her stride.

Eventually she became active in a singles club where she was a sought after dance partner. She was getting more offers of dates then she could handle and began to become quite selective on who she went out with.

One night she saw a very well dressed man who she thought was dapper . He appeared to be slightly younger than her. He sat by himself and so she got up and offered her hand to him and welcomed him to the club. He was very soft spoken and appeared slightly ill at ease. She went over to her table and excused herself from her friends and joined the man at his table.

They talked about the  country and western band that was playing and he said was not much of country fan but certainly liked their good steady beat. He invited her to dance and she casually asked his first name and told her  it was Richard Cassidy

“People call me Rick“ he told her as they danced to a slow waltz.The one thing she noticed was that he smelled good. Like clean soap she thought.

 

She liked him immediately and the feeling appeared to be mutual She told him that her name was Alma but her nickname was Mimi and he liked the name so well that he called her Mimi for the whole evening.

He brought her some drinks and when the late lunch was served she stood in line and got him a sandwich  and salad.

He smiled very easily she noticed. He said very little about himself and she never spoke of Arthur only her children and grandchildren. Nancy had told her to learn as much as she could about current events and sports because single men are just not interested in grandchildren. Alma took the Vancouver Sun every day and read it cover to cover. As well she studied the National Post for financial news and also to review her investments.

As the evening with Rick grew to a close he mentioned that he was a retired  bank manager and she spent several minutes, talking about investments and mutual funds.

He listened to her with a renewed interest and became very impressed by her knowledge. She asked him if he liked hockey and he said he was an avid fan and she went into great detail about the Vancouver NHL team.

They left the dance together walking into a very cold January evening . Alma was bundled up in her new expensive wrap and he wore an impressive parka.

Alma decided to take the initiative and invited him for coffee the next day at a specialty coffee shop. He accepted and they began to meet at the same location on a regular basis.

He seemed satisfied to have a casual relationship and she enjoyed their lively discussions. Alma felt very much at home with her friend and as their meetings often lasted for more than two hours she began to invite him to her home. Their friendship escalated to the point where he sat with on her couch and they indulged in kissing and petting.

He invited her to his home on the West side of Vancouver and she readily accepted his invite. It was a large two story home  with a U shaped driveway. The house was sparsely furnished but was well appointed with deep  rugs and leather chairs and some very elegant tables.

He mentioned that his wife had left him to return to her home in England some years before and he had just never made any improvements since she taken most of items of real value for which he did not object.

 

His kitchen was huge by her standards with  numerous cupboards. He had prepared a meal of pasta and salad with some French bread and a bottle of very good wine.

They conversed about local events and new shows which were coming to town and that the hockey team were not playing very well.

Do  you have any children Rick” she inquired

“Yes” he responded, but waited a few minutes to elaborate.

“My daughter Daphne is a nurse at a hospital in Brighten England, and my son Geoffrey is a Christian missionary in  Guyana. He works for the church of England. My wife you see was a ultra religious woman who unfortunately was ineffective in getting me to attend services on anything other than the Christmas season”.

“So may I presume”? Alma said  leaving the answer open .

“Actually she left me for another man, a man who was an ordained minister from Britain”who looked very much like the comedian John Candy , he chuckled .

Alma also was unable to control herself and giggled quite hilariously. Soon Rick was  soon guffawing even harder than Alma.

Both of them were completely out of control, shaking with laughter.

He had to gulp air to be able to speak and when he did his words were spoken in short phrases.

“The best part.......was... that...he ...left her because she was ... “

 

He was helpless to continue and Alma was now shrieking with  laughter . Neither of were able to calm down for several minutes because every time they tried attempted to change the subject they would burst into peels of laughter.

 

As quickly as it had started their laughing jag ceased and he looked at her with a unmistakable flash of desire. Alma stood up and walked around the table and cradled his head in her arms and whispered in his ear.

“I hope she left you a bed”

 

Chapter 9

 

Rick indeed  did have a  king sized bed and Alma spent numerous hours and days, wrapped around her lover. He proved to be the biggest thrill of her life. In more ways than one. He was insatiable and caused her to become quite adventure some. She finally found out what hitting the spot meant and enjoyed Rick’s ability to bring her to rapturous conclusions They share a lot of humorous episodes whenever he mentioned the missionary position  during their pillow talk. When asked if she was having a good time, she replied that although she was  slightly bitter about her failed her marriage but was quite proud when she said:

“ Living well is the best revenge”.

 

 

Meanwhile Arthur continued his  cordial personal business with Harriet, and commenced to travel quite extensively in North America. and the Caribbean... Harriet avoided the prospect of joining him on his sojourns but he would call from the travel destinations marveling at the scenery and the surroundings.  But Arthur really wanted Harriet to travel with him to some exotic location. He was ineffective in his attempts to interest her in going with him. They went out to dinner frequently and visited  the art museum and science museums  nevertheless she would not enter into any other intimacy with him. Her business had grown substantially and one of her agents now began to handle his travel needs . On several occasions he was not able to see her because she was extremely busy with travel wholesalers. Communication between them ceased completely when he tried to call her from the tiny island of Aruba to see if she would come there to meet him. She never called him back due to the fact  she was involved in some major booking,. She meant to apologize to him when he returned but it completely slipped  her mind . She never did contact him deciding to put their meetings on the back burner.

Arthur was devastated by the turn of events . He was now alone. With Alma gone from his life his children had also taken her side and felt no need to contact him.

He returned to his old habit of going to the coffee shop to visit with his friends. His pal Buddy had stopped coming to the shop because as he told Arthur “You guys depress me”.

Arthur  had invested a fairly substantial part  of his savings in the stock market only to lose all of it and he was now having to watch his expenditures  very closely.

 

He began to let himself go again. His apartment became disorganized and dirty and his clothes lay wherever he dropped them He rarely ever did his laundry and he gave up eating  at home preferring to eat at small restaurants nearby. His sink was  constantly piled with dirty dishes.

He began to go back to the library to see if he meet another woman, and he was unsuccessful,. On one occasion he was asked to leave because a librarian said she had a complaint that he was harassing a patron.

He visited a travel agency near his apartment to inquire about a cruise only to find it very expensive if he didn’t share a cabin.

His car was stolen one night when he had gone  to a movie and he found out the replacement was only a fraction of what he  had paid. He did not replace the car and  chose  to take the bus.

One night he met a woman waiting for the bus who appeared to be  about his age. She worked at the hospital as a cleaner. She told him she had come from Russia an that her husband had been a musician  and they were able to emigrate to Canada because there was a need for symphony musicians at the time. Arthur stayed on the bus long after his stop listening to her story. Her husband had died and she was left penniless because he not been able to get any decent work . She had no children and she worked mostly nights in the hospital.

Her name was Katarina.Arthur went with her to the sky train station because she lived in neighboring community of Surrey. She was flattered by his attention. He noticed that she wore her hair in a bun but she had a very clear complexion. Katarina spoke English very clearly and Arthur decided to ask her if he could call her

“That would be nice if you like” she said reaching into her purse for a pen and a small notebook. She handed him the note as they walked to the sky train station

“Here is my number but I  work sometimes on the graveyard shift  so please call after lunch”

“Sure by the way my name is Arthur-Arthur Flemming”

The train pulled up and she waved to him and he smiled as he raised his hand to return her gesture.

Arthur walked slowly back to the bus stop, to wait for the bus. He stepped into the bus shelter to shield himself from chill winter wind.

“Got to get cleaned up” he said aloud starring  into the darkness and murkiness of the night.

He leaned against the shelter bench hands in  his pockets and whispered to the wind “Got to get the toothpaste back in the tube”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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