Thursday, October 5, 2017

27. Lunch

The day after returning to Toronto, Mimi was sitting on a bench in Philosopher's Walk behind the Royal Ontario Museum.  Except for the yellowing leaves of the planted grove of birches, everything looked almost exactly the same as the day she had packed her bags for Bermuda.  This morning she had been in the department, talking to two of the professors about what to do next, how to go about finding a new supervisor and the funding needed to complete her work.  There was also brief discussion of the Bermuda field course, and no one had a clue what to do about that.  Adrian was mentioned by name by no one.  Depending on who was speaking, he was referred to as "a certain professor," or "a certain delinquent professor," or "that prick."  He had abandoned his post and left the museum and the university short-staffed and liable with course enrollments already filled.  Mimi was seen as another of his victims, the most tragic, because her relationship with Adrian had not been a well-kept secret.  She was treated kindly.  She understood that they meant well, but was irritated by the patronizing concern. 

She was trying to keep her mind off herself, off her dubious academic future and off the two very different men who were now gone – and on the field course, on how she was going to accomplish this.  A plump black squirrel scrabbled onto the bench next to her and pawed her thigh.  She quickly lifted her hands and held them beneath her chin until the rodent understood that no food was to be offered.  It dropped back to the ground.  "Go 'way," she said.

Over the next two weeks, registration week and the first week of classes, all five students visited her in her study carrel, a closet-sized room with a narrow vertical window on the thirteenth floor of the library.  The window looked south and west, across that corner of campus, Chinatown, the old red-brick hospital, and beyond that to Fort York — no longer a place of fond memory — and then the lake, the flat, grey-blue line that separated Toronto from the rest of the world.  The students had been dropping by almost daily, alone or in twos or threes, as if they couldn't bear not to see her.  She felt the same, that she would have withered and died without them.  They were very precious to her, her kids, the only reward of her Bermudian misadventure.  She was hoping someone would visit soon, Stew and Shana maybe, who seemed to have become somewhat of an item, or Molly, who would want to go eating.  These thoughts generated a quiet knock on the door.  It was Molly and Joanne.

They walked to College Street with shoulders hunched and collars clenched shut against a chilly fall wind, to a restaurant specializing in Szechuan Cuisine.  They took a booth, Mimi alone on one side.  The waitress bent low as Molly ordered for them.  While eating they talked about the status of the course.  Things seemed to be going well.  Mimi had met with no serious opposition so far, the only possible hold-out being the Dean, who was fussing about setting an extremely unorthodox precedent.  But several in the Anthropology Department were strongly supportive, writing letters and making phone calls on her behalf.  Mimi wasn't sure if the eager assistance stemmed from honest appreciation of the documentation she provided, or from pity.  It didn't matter.  Either way, she was unhappy for herself, but encouraged for the students.

As they waited for the bill, Molly produced a colorful envelope from her bag.

"Oh," Mimi said.  "Are these new ones?"  Molly had been the only student on the course without a digital camera.

"Yes, my last roll."  She handed it across the table.

Mimi placed the first photograph face down on the unused placemat, and the second face down on top of the first to preserve the sequence.  The pictures were of late in the course, from the end of the hurricane on.  She laughed at Joanne frowning at a trowelful of dirt.  She also laughed at Shana making a face at Stew, who was pointing back at her mockingly.  She took a long time examining a picture of herself sitting on the rampart hugging her knees, looking west, and wondered what she had been thinking about at the time.  She had not been aware the picture was being taken and couldn't read her own expression, which seemed a point in transition between two more decided expressions.  She smiled at a tiny blurred comma that Molly insisted was a rock lizard.  The second-last picture obviously came from a different roll, much earlier.  It was Adrian, standing with one hand on his hip, the other out of focus in a gesture to Brian and Shana.  She shoved it into the stack.  The last was also from another roll.  It was Derek, a profile of his good side.  He was hunched beside Joanne's pit, his glasses off, either talking to Joanne or just admiring the impressive excavation.  This photograph Mimi also inserted hastily among the others, somewhere in the middle.  She looked suspiciously to Molly, who wouldn't meet her eyes.

She was refolding her napkin with unreasonable precision, then said without looking up, "You can have any of them you want.  I have two copies of each."

Mimi hesitated, then reached.  She fanned the pictures like a deck of cards and removed several, but held them close to her chest so the students couldn't see which.  She inserted the rest into the colorful envelope and pressed the flap down onto the glued strip.

On the way back to the library they spoke very little.  Mimi, by nature by far the most talkative, said next to nothing, so Joanne took it upon herself to carry the conversation, something she found unfamiliar and difficult.  She decided to bemoan this semester's courses.  One by one she described their content, the professors and the teaching assistants.  Her conclusion was that it looked as though "They were all going to suck."  Mimi occasionally turned her face from side to side to smile at each of them, although not to the extent that teeth were revealed.  Finally, they reached the library and the students bade her farewell.  She hugged them, smiled, this time with teeth, then hurried up the stairs.  A cold drizzle had begun, and Joanne said, "Let's go."  With her blocky head she indicated south, and they ran across Harbord Street as the light changed, into the glassed-in lobby of the zoology building.  Molly unzipped her bag and removed the envelope.  They were standing next to a green plastic garbage pail positioned against the wall.  She handed half of the photos to Joanne to cut the time it would take to flip through them.  "Here's Dr. Lyon," Joanne said almost immediately.  She flicked him into the trash.  They resumed flipping.

"I don't have him,” Molly said.

"Me neither," said Joanne.

"She took him."
The walk to the restaurant and back had made it feel as though her shoes had been laced too tightly.  She worked them off and put her legs up on the second hard wooden chair in her little room.  From her jacket pocket she removed the photos, and passed over the others to look at Derek.  She experienced a strong, sad pull, and wished she could go back to that moment, whenever it had been, to send what was about to happen off on a different course, without the hurricane, without the nastiness at the end.  She knew he was in New York with his brother and was sure that Michael knew the phone number, but was pretending he didn't.  She thought of going online and checking New York 411 and working through the Coulters.  How many could there be?  She had looked in the Toronto phone book to see how common a name it was.  One hundred and twenty-seven.  There must be more than that in New York, in Manhattan alone, where she suspected but wasn't certain he was.  New York was so big.  She didn't know the name of his brother or his initial to narrow it down.  Michael wasn’t sure either, or pretended not to be.  She had spoken to him twice and he was being evasive. 

“Donald?” he had said.  “Or was it Doug?”

“Are you sure it started with a D?”

“Not a hundred percent.  He wasn’t a very nice person.  I tried to forget him as quickly as possible.”

She guessed he had promised Derek he wouldn't tell her his whereabouts, and that hurt, a lot.  Derek wanted absolutely nothing to do with her.  Michael would say, "I know it's a tough thing, Sweetheart, but he was badly hurt, and he's confused about a lot of things.  He doesn't want to talk about Bermuda.  He won't talk about it."

"So at least he can talk?"

"Uh... yes."

"Can he remember things?"

"It would appear he can."

"He obviously doesn't want to talk to me.  He probably hates me."

"No, that's not in him," Michael had said.

She wasn't sure about that.  She thought about the cactus spine in the letter.  She guessed that even if she found his number he might simply hang up on her, which would be awful.  She bent her leg and pulled her sock to expose her ankle.  The tiny round mark was still there, immortalized by her pigment.

"A little time, he'll be healed, and he'll turn around," Michael had said.  "I'm working on it; it's more complicated than I thought.  Please have faith."

"Have faith," she repeated as she crossed her arms against her breasts, which were sensitive, the way they sometimes were just before her period.  This was a relief.  She was more than a week late.


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