Copyright is held by the author.
MY WEDDING ring landed on the second last stair; it bounced quite slowly and gracefully onto the flat, parquet hall floor where it spun fast before coming to rest almost self-consciously at his feet.
He laughed quickly, uncertainly, looked at the ring and then up at me and when I didn’t respond, didn’t move an inch, he cleared his throat and said “Are you driving?” He left the ring on the floor.
I shrugged, muttered “OK” and walked slowly downstairs. I picked up the white gold ring — we’d bought a matching pair on a holiday in Wales just before we married — with a twinge of regret and an iota of reverence and placed it on the hall table next to a pair of wool gloves I never wore and never would again.
He carried our two holdalls out to the car and placed them carefully in the boot and we took our preferred positions: I refused to be a passenger to his aggressive driving while he was quite content to accompany my excessive Guelph road tolerance. So there we were — a pretty picture of perfect unhappiness.
The doors slammed shut and as the engine then the heating woke up I had the unmistakable whiff of dope — or to be more specific home grown skunk. I said quietly “You stink”. That was a matter of fact.
He shrugged — a large Gallic gesture from a Torontonian.
There seemed no point in saying anything else as it would simply have a continuation of the argument that had led to the dramatics of the wedding ring about ten minutes before. We’d had the same quarrel in different forms so many times; it was the grumbling undercurrent of our seven-year marriage. The frequency of the arguments — evidently my increasing intolerance of his habit — and the intensity of dislike I know I exhibited must have demonstrated clearly to any flies on the wall “this marriage is in deep shit”.
Yes, we both knew our marriage was going to the dogs; he wasn’t prepared to change, not for me, and certainly not now it was legal. To him I think, our marriage was just a different ball game from the one we’d entered into so readily, so longingly, so naively. To him — I know as he said it many times — I was too uptight, too unwilling to compromise, too right all the time.
I partly opened my window to let some clean, very cold air into the car. I heard him mutter “Bitch.” Then he remained silent simply turning his head away from me as Guelph disappeared and all there was to look at in the south Ontario snow was industry shutting down for the holiday, and malls looking forward to the sales.
It was a silent 40 minute drive to Toronto Pearson. An unproblematic drive given that it was Christmas Eve. It was even easy to find a space in the short stay car park. All boded well.
In Terminal 1 not a word passed between us as we queued, considered our co-passengers, their Christmas sweaters, their baggage and their children. We were silent with each other as we moved grudgingly slowly through security. Once air side we were creatures of habit and drifted off in two different directions; him to one or all of the bookshops and me to coffee and people watching.
On the way to Starbucks I bought an expensive and pretentious home décor magazine that lasted for one flat white. I went back for a second time and bought a thin blue book by Mary Swann. In the queue to pay, I saw him out of the corner of my eye; he looked as if he was sweating slightly and I wondered if he’d been stupid enough to have a toke in a secluded washroom. I moved quickly to avoid him. I don’t think he saw me.
I sat at a window, with my thin blue book unopened in my ringless hands. I looked at – seeing but without any great interest – the business of exterior airport spaces; the little byways that the truck and snow plough and emergency vehicle drivers knew by heart, the various hoses lying in wait like giant anacondas, cold men and women signalling in some unknown language. It was all as muddled as my marriage and I had no idea why on earth I was still going to LA for Christmas.
Turning away from the comings and goings outside I was aware of people at other tables, eating sugar loaded buns and doughnuts and drinking buckets of coffee. I wondered how many of those people had a more hate than love relationship with their nearest and dearest; how many of them were well on the way to an acrimonious divorce. How many of them were going to visit in-laws they quite liked but not enough to be travelling a couple of thousand miles to see on Christmas Eve.
Our long-standing agreement was that we’d always meet up at the departure Gate after the first call. At first I thought he was just late and I sent a text message “At Gate 46. Where are you?” There was no response and when the priority passengers were called I started to get annoyed, really annoyed. I wondered if he’d brought some weed with him and perhaps he’d been sniffed out by a clever dog. Maybe he was being held by airport police, waiting to be handed over to the RCMP. Maybe they had his phone, maybe he’d muted it.
The flight was starting to board properly and in truth I didn’t know what to do apart from sending him more unanswered texts alternating with unanswered calls. I told the air steward at the gate and she took his name and mine and said “The flight won’t wait long you know.”
I did know, of course I did but I didn’t think it would come to that. The steward put a call out on the PA system and then asked again what I wanted to do as boarding would be closed within a few minutes. Another call went out on the PA system “Mr. Peter Morris, travelling to Los Angeles please go immediately to Gate 46. Your flight is about to depart.”
However much I disliked him that day I couldn’t imagine going without him, not to his parents in LA. How stupid would that have been. The flight left without him and without me.
I’m not a nervous person but I acted like a headless chicken and truly turned in circles at the now empty Gate, sending him text after text. I needn’t have bothered.
“Mrs. Morris? Mrs. Sarah Morris?” It was a young woman, not in uniform but with a swinging photo card on a lariat and a name I didn’t quite catch. Susan something I think. “Would you like to make your way to customer services on Level One. They have news for you.”
She didn’t answer but carried on “Go down the escalator” She pointed to her left. “and head for Arrivals . . .”
She carried on providing me with directions but I wasn’t really listening; I was trying to focus on what he must have done: He wasn’t violent, he could be rude – too clever and more than a little arrogant, and he didn’t listen, but the thing that kept on zinging its way into my thoughts was his dalliance with Rosie Webster. I wondered if he’d gone off with her somewhere. Much later I talked to Rosie and she hadn’t seen him since late summer; she was surprised that I’d thought he’d run off with her. She said, and I remember this really clearly “I thought he still loved you. He never said a bad word about you. I had to ditch him in the end —you were getting in the way.”
Oh Rosie Webster. Oh Peter Morris.
Anyhow, the woman who’d told me to go to Customer Services had now gone and though I hadn’t heard anything after “Arrivals” I was good at asking people for directions and so I found my way to Customer Services where a man with another photo card lariat and another name I didn’t register, seemed to be waiting for me and led me to a small room labelled ‘Relatives’. At that moment, entering that room, I knew for certain that Peter had been arrested and I was dammed if I was going to be involved. I’d had more than enough of him.
I was wrong. It turned out that not long after I’d seen him in the bookshop Peter had collapsed in a men’s toilet in the main Departure lounge. Standing at a urinal he had first fallen forward and hit his head on the porcelain and then fallen sideways onto the floor at the feet of a man from South Korea who knew his first aid and started resuscitation. Another man — a Canadian citizen originally from Bangladesh — rang 911 and a poet from Liverpool zipped up Peter’s flies.
He was being pronounced dead in a Toronto ER around the time I was wondering why the hell I stayed with a guy I didn’t really like very much any longer. They prised open his left fist and my white gold wedding ring tumbled out and span like a dervish on the Emergency Room floor.
I still have the thin blue book and the white gold ring. I look at them occasionally and wonder.