Monday, November 2
I would have run to little Naomi when she cried out, except I had to get the poppy to stay on. That seemed paramount as I stood in the master bedroom at 4 Metcalfe Street, getting ready for my TV appearance. The producer at CBC’s Power Today had emailed us all with her fourth reminder since Friday morning. Okay, folks: We’re in Remembrance Day mode as of Monday, so we ask all on-air guests to have the poppy prominently displayed for broadcast. We won’t have a box of them in the studio yet, so please bring your own. Should go on the left, over your heart. Yes, yes. I had a track record for being one of these careless dolts who loses four or five poppies to the wind and just gives up somewhere around November 7. I imagined hundreds of those plastic-and-felt florets I’d bought over the years clogging the gutters of Cabbagetown and the Annex, and the goddamn veterans counting up their gold like Scrooge McDuck. The things were clearly engineered to fall off. It became critical, in that moment, to get it fastened correctly. More critical than whatever else I planned to wear — brown tweed over blue shirt and some pleasantly centrist slacks — or my efforts to sooth the ginger flare of comb-over that sprang across my skull like the facehugger from Alien. (Cheryl Sneed, my fellow panellist and long-time nemesis on the Right, would make some green room remark about it, regardless. Either that or the wisp of PEI accent that still warped my rhotics — which I hammed up whenever I was in her presence, because I knew it annoyed her. ) And, perhaps, more critical even than what my three-year-old daughter was screaming about down the hall, in the bathroom. Grace was on it, anyway. I heard her fly out of Naomi’s bedroom with a panicked Sweetie, are you OKAY? followed by a quick gush from the faucet. I plucked the poppy off my bureau, fluttered it like a parasol in the mirror. Wait — where was my tweed? Oh right, of course. I hurried into the hallway.
“Philip. Philip, are you there?”
I was not. I bounded up the stairs to my third-floor office, zagging around the Dora the Explorer doll lying on the hardwood beneath my feet. Entering my office, I found the tweed where I last left it: thrown over the arm of the futon. I nabbed the jacket and laid it flat across my desk, moving manuscript printouts from my next book (tentatively called “Christianity and Its Dissidents”) out of the way. I bent over and manoeuvred the flower over the lapel. I poked the steel pin into the pure virgin wool and pressed the poppy in as deep as it would go. Then I raised the jacket up and looked at it. Already the plastic blossom had slid a few millimetres out of the lapel.
Grace’s voice echoed from the hall and through the open office door.
“Philip — seriously, are you there or not?”
Just a minute, dear. I returned the jacket to the futon arm and then moved to the overflowing bookshelf on the opposite wall. I pulled down my author copy of Corporate Canada Today (Tuxedo House, 2014) and quickly confirmed a few facts about ODS Financial Group, which would be the subject of this afternoon’s Power Today interview. Yes, yes. Managing partner since ’99: Viktor Grozni. CFO: the lovely and talented Glenda Harkins-Smith. Market cap before the 2008 crash. Market cap just before Friday’s announcement. Number of Canadians with pensions directly managed by. Number of ancillary businesses shareholders had no idea existed. Amount of direct subsidy from the Harper Conservatives since 2011. Yes, yes. It was already there, all of it, in my head. Cheryl Sneed didn’t stand a chance.
Time to throw the jacket on and quickly help Grace with whatever she and Naomi were dealing with in the bathroom (the child had stopped screaming, but continued with a kind of hiccupy crying that seemed to reverberate through the whole house) before heading downtown. I turned and reached for my tweed, only to have my gaze hauled to the floor. There on the hardwood lay my poppy, face down like a drunkard.
Oh, that is it, I thought. Fucking veterans.
I grabbed the tweed and picked up the poppy before storming back down the stairs. Time for Plan B.
“Philip — Philip can you please come here. ”
I hustled down to the main floor. Stole a glance at the clock on the kitchen wall. Oh God. I hurried to the door leading to our basement. My basement, since Grace and the kids rarely went down there. More oubliette than man cave, it had a set of stairs that descended almost vertically into that dark, unfinished gizzard. I marched down and popped on the light, which only marginally diminished the darkness, then went to my small workbench with the poppy and jacket in tow. I rested the tweed flat and placed the scarlet bloom onto the lapel. Then I grabbed the industrial stapler I had bought at Canadian Tire to assemble some rather complicated birthday party decorations for my stepdaughter, Simone, when she turned thirteen a few weeks ago. The tool was heavy in my hand, like a weapon. I clamped one end of the nozzle over the flower and tucked the other under the tweed.
There. Perfect. Well, not perfect. I held the jacket up once more. Hopefully the CBC’s cameras were not so HD that they would pick up the tiny planks of metal that now held the poppy in place.
I hiked back up to the main floor, throwing the jacket on as I did. Moving to holler upstairs to Grace, I turned to see that she and Naomi were already in the kitchen, waiting for me. My wife leaned against the counter, arms folded over her chest, her bottom lip tucked under her top teeth, her head tilted. Oh, she was mad. I briefly scanned the kitchen for the source of her rage. Surely I hadn’t forgotten to clean up the wreckage of the Bloody Joseph (my third since breakfast): the inedible stump of celery sequestered in the compost, the tin of tomato juice washed out and blue-binned, the celery salt resuming its place in the spice rack, and various other accoutrements returned to their sentry posts in my bar fridge. But no. The kitchen was spotless, as per our agreement.
“Oh, hey,” I ventured. “Look, I’m running late but would you mind —”
“Did you not hear me calling you?”
What was I to say to that?
“I’m pretty sure you did hear me calling you, Philip,” she went on, “because I could hear you shuffling in the hallway outside the bathroom as I did. ”
“I wasn’t ’shuffling,’” I said. “I was getting ready for this CBC thing. Look —”
“The tub faucet upstairs still isn’t working right. ”
“Yes, it is,” I disagreed, stupidly. I had showered earlier in the day, as had Simone before she’d gone to school. (It wasn’t apparent whether Grace had had her shower yet. ) But she was, technically, right — the tub faucet was still plagued with a peculiar problem: the cold water tap would spew piping-hot water for nearly a minute after you turned it on. It was the latest in a series of bathroom issues we’d been having. You’d think that for the ungodly sum I paid for 4 Metcalfe Street six years ago when we got married, we’d have a fully functional bathroom — not to mention a finished basement. But no, no.
“You were supposed to get it fixed,” Grace said, “like, three weeks ago. And now —”
“It’s on my list. You know it’s on my list. ”
“And now what I feared would happen — what I knew would happen if you didn’t get it fixed — has happened. Naomi went in there before I realized and turned on the tap and scalded herself. ”
“I had to take a pewp,” Naomi informed me with a sniffle, and displayed her reddened right wrist.
I looked at her. “Did, did you poop in the tub, sweetie?”
“She didn’t poop in the tub,” Grace barked. “Philip, you’re missing the point. Did you not hear your daughter scream out and start crying?”
I did. Of course I did. But I knew — or at least assumed — that Grace had things well in hand. Which she did.
My eyes flicked to the wall clock. Jesus.
“Look, what do you want from me?” I tried a half smile. “I fixed the sink up there, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you fixed the sink — after I nagged you about it for five months. What, do you want a medal for that?”
“I’m serious, Philip. Would you like a prize for fixing the sink? We could write to the French government and get them to create a new international award for plumbing, and give it to you. They could call it the Douche d’Or. ”
“You’re hilarious,” I deadpanned, but then chuckled on the inside. She must have been sitting on that joke for weeks.
I shrugged at her. “Look, what can I say? I’m not handy. You know that. This kind of stuff stresses me out, and I have enough stress in my life right now. I’m teaching two courses this term. I’ve got the new book. I’ve got the thesis defence I’m chairing in a few weeks, and …” My eyes floated back to the clock. “I’ve got this CBC thing this afternoon. ”
“So you don’t have time to pick up the phone and call a plumber, is what you’re saying. ”
“It’s not about calling a plumber, Grace. It’s about having the headspace to figure out if there are any plumbers left in this city who haven’t screwed us over. ”
“You weren’t teaching in the summer,” she pointed out. “You could have done it then. ”
“Yes, but I had a breakthrough with the book, and …” I pinched my nose, sighed. In that moment, I longed for my old life, before we bought this huge, and hugely expensive, house in Cabbagetown. For sixteen years prior to marrying Grace, I had lived in a loft in the Annex. If the sink broke, the landlord came and fixed it. Which felt like something that only happened in fairy tales, now.
“Look,” I went on, “just because I wasn’t teaching doesn’t mean I had the capacity to deal with …” And yes, I said it then; the words just flew out of me. “… a bunch of domestic trifles. ”
“Wow,” she said, long and slow, and blinked at me. “So I guess what you’re saying is it’s really my responsibility, because you’ve got all that,” and here she mock-furrowed her brow at me, “deep thinking to do. ”
“Oh, come on, Grace. ”
But she took a step toward me then, her backside leaving the counter. In one fluid motion, she jutted her hip out, picked up Naomi, and parked the child upon it. Engaging, she was, in that most basic act of motherwork: to hold her child close. Then Grace threw back her thick, curly hair — sporting a henna dye job she’d acquired a few months ago, one I thoroughly approved of when she first modelled it for me, burying my face in its waves later that night, in bed — and looked at me with those wild, emerald eyes of hers.