From Cris Williamson, Circle of Friends
Dedicated to my circle of friends in the ‘Peg’ – Susan, Myron, Margaret, Ian, Sophie & Harvey.
The Circle of Friends
It was an early February Siberian high day; the wind had swept down from the north, bringing crystalline sunshine, powdery blue skies and a bracing cold that penetrated to the very centre of your bones. The boughs of the elm trees arched over the avenue and met creating a ceiling of green in the summer; at this time of the year, after a new snowfall they were overburdened with pristine, glittering powder. The view from south to north was just about perfect. Gerri had been out earlier with her black, English Cocker Tuppy. Tiny circles marked the place where doggy paws, sensitive to the freezing cold, had been gentle placed.
On a day like today, Tuppence didn’t fight the booties, knowing perfectly well how the beautiful snow froze in clumps into the crevices of her paws. Gerri had spent many hours during the winter thawing Tuppy’s paws with the hair dryer, and listening to sorrowful doggy whimpers of discomfort. Now, older and much wiser, the three and a half-year old Tuppy put up with the boots that kept her feet protected from the freezing cold.
It was the kind of day that sent photographers hiking around the city looking for the perfect picture for postcards and guides books for the city known by its critics as “Winterpeg” and by its friends and inhabitants simply as “The Peg.” The Peg was the one large Canadian city, even in these times of global warming, where according to Statistics Canada said the inhabitants were 100% guaranteed a white Christmas.
From her wide plate glass window on the corner of Queenston and Mathers, Gerri waited apprehensively for her friend Lily as she looked out at the frozen view. With wind-chill taken into account, it was almost 50 below today. Not one to be unprepared, Gerri wore, not one, but two pairs of long underwear underneath flannel-lined khaki workpants. In her lap was an old brown sheepskin hat with large ear flaps that tied under the chin and a black balaclava as well as a pair of custom-made brown sheepskin gloves. A custom-made old brown sheepskin coat sat in the green chair opposite ready to put on. In spite of the appearance of the perfect day, only a slight wind kicking up powdery wisps of snow in the clear air, Gerri knew she would need each and every object at her disposal to fight the insidious cold.
Tuppy whined and pawed with excitement at Gerri’s knee, waiting for familiar a blue and black doggie face to appear at the northeast street corner. She was wrapped in a in a fleeced lined red and blue coat and was shod in leather booties on rainbow suspenders that hung over her back so that she couldn’t kick them off very easily.
Gerri sighed and glanced at the newspaper in her hand. That morning, she had placed an advertisement in the “Lesbian/Bi” section of the personal ads in the Free Press. It read:
“Activist seeks cuddler who loves animals, walks in the park and protest marches.” It was followed by her cell phone number.” She stared at her ad, right there in black and white, and shook her head. Oh God, what had she been thinking? What had seemed like such a good idea the night before now seemed like idiocy in the daylight. She thrust the newspaper under the sofa cushions.
She’d phoned in the advertisement before she’d had time to change her mind early that morning. Uncertain of their reception, she hadn’t told any of her friends. Now, she was thinking she would get either prank calls or inquiries from men wanting to do a threesome. The woman of her dreams....ple-ease spare me. Gerri had been searching for this dream woman, her soul mate, since she was eighteen; she would be thirty-two on her next birthday and her soul mate was nowhere in sight. Before she met Irene, she had still believed that finding this person was possible. Now, four years after Irene’s departure the tender white spring flower of true love had resurrected itself in her heart. For a long time after her last partner’s departure, she had thought that she would never believe in love or relationships again. For a while, she believed that if she could just find some halfway honest person, someone to share time and possibly a little passion with that would be enough.
Time was, however, truly the great healer. Lately, the idea that maybe that soul mate she had once dreamed about was still out there came back to her anew. Maybe, watching the great partnerships among her friends – Lily and Winchester, Rebecca and Alan, Ephiny and Phantes, Pony and Solari and Cyane and Melosa – had given her new hope. Maybe, it was a feeling of accomplishment through her work with a new publishing venture in the city– Amazon Enterprises – who were working on publishing new works of lesbian writers and poets and the journals and papers of famous lesbians from the past. Maybe, it was that she’d gotten tenure at the university a year early after working so very hard and seemingly losing so much in the process. But now she felt she could begin to think about new beginnings. Whatever it was, there was a change and she felt she was done with mistakes of the past.
She’d been thoroughly burned by her relationship with Irene Andrychuk when they had broken up in this same house. They’d met at the reference desk at the Pratt Library at Victoria College in Toronto when Gerri was working on her PhD in Creative Writing. On the surface, it looked as if it should have been a perfect relationship. Gerri was scholarly and studious, and their similar interests in poetry, literature and films should have drawn them closer together. However, the spark that should have ignited as their relationship progressed was never really there. After two years of working hard at impermanent contract positions throughout the Toronto area, Gerri wanted to move onto a new phase in her career. As the writer of three volumes of poetry and the winner of several poetry prizes, the job at the University of Manitoba’s English Department had been just what she’d been hoping to find. There had been another job in Toronto, a contract at a small college with no possibility for advancement. She and Irene had bickered about which job Gerri should take. She had felt that Irene had been disappointed by Gerri’s choice to move to Winnipeg, and so had taken several months making up her mind before deciding to make the move to join Gerri.
Irene only lasted six months in the cold Canadian mid-western city. They hadn’t even come out to Winnipeg together. Gerri had driven out west by herself in her Dodge Dakota truck with her truck camper, her one concession to outdoor living when they had lived in congested Toronto. Gerri loved to spend time in parks by the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Superior where the water was ice cold and crystalline clear. Her half sister Winnie had flown down from Bermuda, and helped her to choose a house and settle in. Irene had stayed behind in their apartment at Bathurst and St. Clair, phoning Gerri every few days.
The discovery that Gerri had bought a large house in South River Heights seemed to re-ignite Irene’s interest in coming to live out west. By this time, Gerri was feeling distrustful and didn’t tell Irene where the money for the large three bedroom house had come from, and Irene hadn’t asked her. However, Irene had mentioned that she had seen pictures of large Victorian houses in the northern part of the neighbourhood on the Internet, and seemed disappointed that Gerri hadn’t bought one of these homes. Irene hadn’t asked, so she didn’t know, but the deed for the house was owned by a family trust in the name of the von Bietermann family. It had an interest in several businesses including a beach resort, two small houses in Bermuda, an export/import business, some waterfront property in Montreal and several other capital ventures. Winnie, who was inclined to be cautious, was unimpressed by Irene’s lack of enthusiasm over Gerri’s new job or the large house that Gerri had purchased.
When Irene had finally arrived in Winnipeg three months later, she easily found a good position at the University Archives, a position that Gerri’s department had helped her get as the partner of a staff member. Irene had the qualifications, including a good working knowledge of Ukrainian, but she’d been put at the head of the line of a number of other qualified candidates because of an affirmative partner hiring policy to assist qualified staff members to get jobs through the university. Gerri felt it was the least that she could do because Irene had resigned her job at Victoria College to come here.
Things were supposed to be going well. They’d been together almost three years, by then, if you didn’t count the three months it had taken Irene to decide to move out to Winnipeg. They looked great together. Gerri thought they had so much in common, didn’t they? Sure, Irene’s eyes often glazed over slightly as Gerri was waxing on about her new poetry project or some new article on Victorian literature, but Gerri thought that was probably some kind of temporary adjustment issue. After all, Irene had given up a tenured position as a librarian at the Pratt Library at Victoria College to come to Winnipeg and live with Gerri. And if their relationship wasn’t exactly what Gerri had once thought that a relationship with the woman of her dreams or soul mate was supposed to be, Gerri had decided that that was life. Then Gerri had come home one day four years ago and found Irene with her four large designer luggage pieces packed and ready to go. And one medium-sized and carefully addressed and labelled cardboard box knotted with heavy cord.
That last exchange was incised on Gerri’s brain like a tattoo, and she thought about it as she waited for Lily. She’d been expecting to work late with a student on a piece of writing, but Kala, her grad student, came down unexpectedly with bronchitis. So, she’d packed up her briefcase and headed home with the expectation of spending a quiet evening with Chinese takeout and television. When she’d arrived, the front hall was already packed with Irene’s belongings. She’d dropped her briefcase and sat down on the ottoman in the hall knowing that this didn’t look good.
“What’s going on?” She asked Irene, who was sitting calmly on the sofa with her legs coiled under her. Gerri thought absent-mindedly that Irene looked like a cobra ready to strike. To her somewhat stunned inquiry, her alleged life partner had responded with some vitriol.
“I can’t handle it!” Irene declaimed dramatically. Gerri remembered thinking that Irene had a tendency to be overly dramatic when they argued. Her friends from her writing circle suggested that Gerri should confront Irene more often about problems instead of avoiding them. Gerri thought this sounded like good advice from anyone who didn’t live with Irene, and that a day or two of stony silence from her partner after a subject seemingly as uncomplicated as the colour of the living room walls made her inclined to let Irene have her own way about simple issues such as decorating. Now, Irene was leaving so it seemed that the mint green living room and dining room hadn’t been enough to make her happy.
“Handle what?” Gerri stared blankly at Irene’s cold eyes. Gerri glanced outside at the snow covered lawn. It was true, it was a cold day - but the sun was bright and shining. Spring would come, but perhaps not, Gerri thought, in the bleakness and pathos inside her house at this moment. No, it would take longer for spring to reach there. She knew Irene hadn’t been particularly happy after they’d moved from Toronto to Winnipeg, but she hadn’t for one moment considered that they’d break up. Then Gerri had a sudden and blinding insight that that their relationship didn’t have the passion in needed to stay together in the face of her partner’s unhappiness – and this was one ingredient that she couldn’t supply. It was true that Irene was histrionic, dramatic and at times sulky. Sometimes, they had great make up sex, but this wasn’t the kind of lifelong passion that kept people together.
“Oh please!” Irene gestured dramatically at the large front lawn and the fine furniture in the living room, “Handle this prairie paradise.” Sarcasm had become part of dealing with Irene for so long, Gerri wondered why she hadn’t said anything about it before. So, she said it now.
“Well I don’t see it, Irene.”
“Well, you wouldn’t, would you?” Irene’s mouth made a sulky downward turn. “This is all perfect for you.” Gerri had heard it all before, about how Winnipeg was great for Gerri and boring and the end of the road for Irene. Gerri was appreciated here and had a good job; Irene was unappreciated and hated the cold and the mosquitoes.
“You’ll never have a house in a neighbourhood like this back in Toronto, Irene.” Gerri observed.
That had done it; Irene lost all pretence of holding it together and politeness. “You think not, eh? Ger...let me tell you that I could find another relationship tomorrow if I wanted one just like that! You think you’re something special – you and your poetry. You think this is a nice house? I can get a better one tomorrow, if I wanted.” She snapped her fingers.
“Good luck, when tiny houses near St. Clair and Bathurst, say on Cherrywood, are going for over a half million.”
“That’s pretty funny Ger, considering your sister owns a beach in Bermuda worth what, a few million give or take.”
“Winnie’s beach isn’t any of your business, is it Irene? I didn’t notice you complaining when we were sitting there in the summer on pink sand drinking Cosmos and eating coconut curry.”
“Well, when I think of spending the summers in Winterpeg picking mosquitoes out of my butt and then I think about that beach resort, I feel cheated.”
“Cheated out of what? Anyway, it appears that it won’t be your problem anymore because you’ve made your mind up what you’re going to do about it. And I don’t see why it should be my problem either.”
“Well,” Irene said sarcastically “It’s your problem because, Gerri - you are the head of the fucking family. We should live anywhere we want. You’re the stinking Baroness von Biedermann with family money I don’t even know about.”
“This is a pointless discussion.” Gerri threw her hands in the air. “I don’t want to live in Bermuda, and since I wasn’t born there, it isn’t even possible. Titles were banned in Germany after World War I. Anyway, I’m Canadian and I’m a woman so I’m not a Baroness anything.”
Irene stood in front of her, red hair flying around her as she spat her anger into Gerri’s face, “You know exactly what the fuck I’m talking about! We could live in New York or London or anywhere the hell we wanted. We could live on Russian caviar and Bolly and still not go broke. But instead we live in this backwater, and you slave away for tenure. I don’t get it.”
Although Gerri was a noted poet and had won several awards for her writing, she found herself lost for words. She rubbed her temples. There were so many problems with the German part of her family; she couldn’t even begin to explain them to Irene. The only thing being her father’s daughter had done for her was give her money for a little peace of mind, a title she didn’t want and a half-sister who was priceless. The rest was a mess that she didn’t propose to excavate at twenty-eight. She couldn’t, and wouldn’t, explain why she didn’t want to live the life that Irene proposed. It had no meaning for her. She would miss the cold of Canada, the solitary blackness of the stars, the smell of the autumn and the crackle of the fires in winter. She wanted to be known as a good Canadian poet, not excellent perhaps, but good. She wanted to write papers on writers that interested her: Victorians, Canadians, frontiersmen and women and native people. She didn’t want to go back to Ontario, not just yet.
The entire time she and Irene had lived in Toronto she had longed for escape. Toronto held memories of childhood that were both very sweet and terribly bitter. She’d been estranged from her family since she was twenty when her mother died of alcoholism. Her stepfather was very bitter about her mother’s early death, and blamed this on the marriage with her birth father. He’d told her repeatedly that her family were evil Nazis. Neither he nor her half brother had spoken to her since then, but she went looking for her birth family when her step family abandoned her. The Nazi story turned out to be completely untrue. Yes, her birth father’s family were German and English, but there was a lot about them that she’d never understand or know. Why her father’s family had left Germany in 1937 while on holiday and never returned, why they had left her father in relative poverty with some obscure and poor German relatives, why and how the rest of them had disappeared, why her mother and father had split up and he’d never returned to see her, why he had travelled throughout South America and some strange parts of the Middle East and Africa, and finally why and how he had died. Most of the details were not given to her by the family solicitor that she tracked down, and who she found out, had been trying in turn to find her through her stepfather who’d refused to help him.
From this solicitor, she’d learned that first Hitler and then the Soviets had taken most of the family money and their estates in Germany, although there were several valuable properties left. Their activities during the war and shortly after it were still shrouded in obscurity although the family’s anti-Nazi politics were clear. She later found out through a private investigator that her father had left another family behind in Bermuda after he’d left her and her mother. When she’d finally found out about the shreds of this family in Bermuda, she realized that the lies and jealousy that had driven her stepfather to destroy her mother could have swallowed her whole; she was grateful to whatever gods had given her sister Winnie and the remains of her family back to her. The title, which the very patient solicitor in London had explained to her was hers was fundamentally a decoration that she’d chosen never to use. She’d walked out of his Kensington office with a feeling of light-headed elation; she was no longer alone; she had a family. She’d gotten on the first plane to Bermuda to find her sister and had created the von Biedermann family trust with what was left of the von Biedermann fortune.
Irene understood none of this. She’d tried to tell to Irene why she had turned down the job at Sheridan College. Toronto was part of the past now, not the future. When Irene had finally agreed to come to Winnipeg after three months, she had hoped that they could repair their broken relationship. Even then, Gerri suspected that she and Irene had missed true love. The subtle chemistry that made two hearts beat as one, that made conversations weave together like a fine tapestry and that made it worthwhile to stick together in the good times and the bad, did not underlie her relationship with Irene.
Whenever she spoke to her younger sister Winnie about Mallory her husband, she found that Winnie had a tolerant good humour that she had never felt in any relationship. Mallory made Winnie laugh, and had brought her back home when she had temporarily abandoned Bermuda in her early twenties for New Orleans. He talked her into going back to the island, and making a new life when the old life of Bermuda had seemed impossible. As Gerri spoke to Irene, asking her why she was leaving, Gerri knew that she didn’t have whatever it was that it would take to keep Irene with her. It was over. Still, it hurt – the deception, the lack of discussion about the end of the relationship, the failure to discuss what had gone wrong – it hurt and would continue to hurt for a long time.
“So, you’re leaving, just like that?” Gerri watched Irene’s tense face as she lined up her suitcases in a neat row. The medium-sized box, Gerri knew, contained all of the things that Irene had brought to their relationship – a few ornaments, a teddy bear that sat on their bed and some small bits of pottery and china. Irene had always kept her things carefully separate from Gerri’s as though she had known from the beginning that this day would happen. When they’d moved to Winnipeg, Irene had left most of her things behind in a storage cube in a Toronto warehouse and had informed Gerri tersely that the university wasn’t really paying enough for both of them to move all of their belongings to Manitoba. They hadn’t discussed it, but it was as though everything had been building to this minute when Irene would finally walk out the door on her way somewhere else.
“I haven’t got time to discuss this now. The taxi’s coming in five minutes,” Irene said with clipped precision.
“What am I supposed to say to you in five minutes?” Gerri shook her head.
“Oh Gerri, there’s nothing to say.” Irene made a dismissive gesture. “Our relationship was over the day we moved to this frozen wasteland.”
Gerri shook her head, puzzling it over, “But what about your job at the University Archives?” She suddenly felt ill when she thought about it, “I – we – the department went to a lot of trouble to get you that interview at the University Archives. They put your name ahead of other people; they helped you find work because I asked them to, and you didn’t even want the job.”
Irene beat her fingernail impatiently on the oak mission table beside the chesterfield. “Yes, Gerri, you went to so much trouble. I wouldn’t have dreamed of staying here without that job. It’s a good thing I took a leave of absence from my old job at the Archives at Victoria College.”
“You allowed me to put my name on the line for a job you weren’t planning to keep? Why did you do that, Irene?” It felt as if someone had burned a piece out of Gerri’s heart. Irene had lied to her, and had let her believe that everything was all right. Many of the doubts that Gerri had swirling in her head about Irene started her thoughts percolating. “You told me you’d quit that job. Why did you lie to me?” She pressed quietly.
“Come on, Gerri, why would I do that? Lose a job in Toronto that I could never get back, come on! I’d have to be an idiot. There was no point in confronting you about this.” Irene tossed her long dark red hair and made a dramatic sigh. She stretched out slowly like a cat. Gerri reflected that she had always appreciated Irene’s long, sensuous, beautiful body, but now the sight of the other woman was beginning to nauseate her. Irene laughed nastily, “Wake up Gerri. I’m going home where I belong.” She stared attentively out the window as though she just expected Gerri to go away and leave her alone while she waited for the taxi to arrive.
“But I thought your job here was permanent,” Gerri persisted, trying to catch Irene’s eyes and find some fragment of guilt there, instead seeing nothing but the impatience to be gone. Gerri continued, “I thought you were going to finally send for your furniture in a couple of months. I thought it was a done deal. I’d even phoned the moving company.”
Irene made an irritated noise. “Look, that was just a story I felt was easier. Anything was better than having this discussion with you. I just cancelled them.”
Irene tried, as usual, to deflect attention away from her own actions and onto Gerri, “Look, if you’d come through after your PhD with a nice job in Toronto we’d still be together. There was that job at Sheridan College.” Irene stared at her fingernails as though the fact that Gerri hadn’t taken a second rate job in Toronto was just beyond her. Gerri knew her insistence on taking a much better position at the University of Manitoba had been a sore point between them, and she frankly had been surprised that Irene had agreed to come out west at all. Irene cleared her throat and continued in her little girl breathy voice, “But I’m not,” she smiled and made an expansive gesture encompassing the entire city, “living in this dump. Being the girlfriend of a rising poet in Toronto, going to lesbian events together, that was fun. This is a bore. You work all the time. For what, I don’t know.”
Through a mist of tears, Gerri stared at Irene as though she’d never seen her before. “I’m working toward tenure, Irene. Job security, remember? We live in one of the best neighbourhoods in this city.” She pushed her blonde bangs out of her eyes, “it’s hardly a dump. I thought we had a relationship and that we cared for one another. Not that I was a tool for your societal aspirations.” For several moments, she sat there with tears running down her face. It was too late, and what did it matter anyway? Through her swollen lids and misty salt-soaked eyes, she noticed that the cab had driven up. She had been used, she had been lied to and now she was being dumped.
“This doesn’t interest me. I’m sorry.” Irene shrugged her shoulders.
“I thought love would be enough,” Gerri choked out, her green eyes meeting Irene’s cold grey ones.
Without losing a beat, Irene grabbed her black leather jacket that was sitting on top of her suitcase and signalled for the cab driver to wait, “Look,” Irene said in a controlled voice, “I don’t know about this love thing. What I feel for you is what I feel for everyone I’ve lived with. It lasts just so long, and then kaput,” she clapped her hands, “it’s over for me. Maybe, we lasted a little longer because I thought we were going somewhere together. I liked going to readings with you, getting the attention, being part of the scene. But since we’ve been in Winnipeg, we’ve done that exactly once. And your colleagues aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I’m just not interested in discussing Henry James and the romantic poets. It’s a bore. And your other friends, the art history teacher and her artist husband with the big deal dog. It’s Sophie this, Sophie that. And of course, there’s Ephiny and Phantes.”
“I thought you liked Lily and Chess. And what’s wrong with Ephiny and Phantes?”
“Maybe,” Irene tossed out, “I just don’t like dogs in my house. And as for your old friends, they’re just your old friends baby, not mine.”
“Never trust anyone who doesn’t like dogs,” Gerri said in a soft, thoughtful voice quoting her new friend Lily who lived around the corner on Campbell.
“What did you say?” Irene turned around; she was wearing her tightest blue jeans. Gerri thought how she used to think they looked so amazing.
Gerri raised her voice, “I never thought you could be so shallow.”
Irene slinked across the room, “Well, I’m not an academic like you and your friends, Gerri. I do my best thinking on my back.” Irene snickered, “unlike you apparently.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gerri asked in a cold voice.
“Well, you’re not exactly warming it up in the sack for me.” Irene made a theatrical yawn.
Shaking, Gerri continued to cry as Irene got her things together. A thought crossed Gerri’s mind as she watched Irene signal the cab driver that she’d be a minutes. Drawing her lip in determinedly, Gerri said. “I’d like my keys back, please.”
Time seemed to stop as Irene turned and gave her a long nasty glare. “Oh, I don’t know that I’d do that would you? My lawyer is suing you for my part of the house; after all, we’ve been together three years. Two in Toronto, and one here. I think you owe me something for all my time and trouble. I’ll give you the keys when I’m good and ready, honey pie.
Gerri stood up. Her face was still tear-stained, and she felt lied to and deceived, but it was payback time. She smiled and looked Irene straight in the eye, “The family trust owns the house Irene. You’ll have to sue them, and since a major part of that money is in the Cayman Islands I guess I’ll just have to say good luck with that. So, if I were you I’d hand over the keys.”
Irene fished the keys out of her purse and tossed them on the floor, “I knew your family had money, but I never thought they were cheap.”
Gerri narrowed her eyes, “When I was looking for a house in Winnipeg, Winnie suggested that the family trust could buy it. She called it insurance, just in case. You never put one penny into this house, not for the sanding and refinishing the floor, not for the eaves, not for the summer house that you wanted so badly when you whined all last summer. You never asked about the taxes, the mortgage or the down payment. You didn’t even turn up for the first three months; you stayed in Toronto while Winnie and I found a house to live in.”
“Your sister never liked me.” Irene observed nastily. “I always knew...”
“Any discussion about Winnie is so out of bounds,” a warning note crept into Gerri’s voice. “Winnie might not trust you, but like or dislike doesn’t enter into it. If we’d stayed together, it would’ve been different. But you’ve been away a lot, and don’t think I haven’t noticed.” Gerri glanced at Irene, who looked away, “Look at me and tell me that you didn’t feather your bed back in Toronto before you left. You know what I’m talking about!”
Irene eyes widened, “So the little professor did notice the cold, empty bed at Christmas! What a bonus!”
“I noticed you weren’t with me in Bermuda when I went there at the last minute to be with Winnie and her kids. And oh yeah... did you spend last Christmas in Toronto with your mother or someone else? Why weren’t we together at Christmas? Why weren’t you there when I phoned? Maybe, I should’ve taken Winnie up on the offer to have a detective trail you.” Gerri nodded, “Is someone waiting for you at the airport, and you still want my money?”
“That’s none of your business!” Irene snapped.
Gerri shook her head, “Never mind, the locks will all be changed by midnight. Just get the heck out of my house. And if I get even one letter from even one lawyer asking for anything, I’ll give you something serious to think about. I’m hoping that there isn’t anything in that cardboard box that doesn’t belong to you.”
“I earned that piece of china,” Irene commented rebelliously.
Gerri nodded. She knew exactly what she was talking about; it was a large piece of Lladró that was fairly valuable. They’d bought it when they were on holidays, and Gerri had never liked it anyway. “Well, consider it a souvenir of our time together.”
Irene zipped up her boots then threw her coat over her shoulders. She moved the bags out of the house efficiently and quickly. As she moved the last piece out, she turned around and delivered a parting shot to Gerri before shutting the door. “If you want love so much, get a dog,” She said nastily. Then she slammed the door.
“I just may,” said Gerri softly, locking the door behind her and hauling out the Yellow Pages with the listings for the emergency locksmiths. She cried a little, and waited for Best Bonded emergency locksmiths to turn up. She wasn’t taking any chances. She also phoned the alarm company, and thought seriously about changing the front and back doors before deciding it was overkill. After making sure that the locks worked front and back, she went over to her liquor cabinet to pick up a 20 year bottle of Laphroig and then phoned her friend Lily and her husband Winchester who lived two streets over on Campbell.
While Lily was putting out her lemon squares which were light, perfect and tangy, her classic blue roan English Cocker Sophie came and put her chin on Gerri’s knee, giving her a look of total compassion. ‘Tell me all about it,’ the look said.
“You know Soph, it really sucks,” she told the spaniel. The dog lowered her head as if to nod, then put her chin back on Gerri’s knee offering silent sympathy with her dark chocolate eyes.
“I think she understands what’s going on,” she said to Lily as Sophie sat with her head in Gerri’s lap while they sipped some more Laphroig.
“Of course she does,” said Lily. Lily had once owned her own bakery, and was almost fifteen years older than Gerri. For someone who was such a good baker, Lily was very slight and a couple of inches taller than Gerri’s five foot four. Lily was proud of her ability to find a great deal on any second hand item of clothing even after Gerri had told her about the episode of CSI where an expensive wedding dress had been taken off a dead body by an unscrupulous funeral parlour owner. Lily just laughed. Her hair colour changed regularly from a brownish to a blondish to reddish hue depending on her moods, and she absolutely refused to pay for Gerri’s expensive hairdresser. However, she spent good money buying expensive glasses and her dog came from a top breeder. She’d been trying with no luck to talk Gerri into buying an English Cocker for the last nine months. They’d met one day when Lily had stopped and to talk and ended up giving her a mini history of her house. Lily’s family had lived in River Heights for two generations, and the Minzberg’s, the last owner’s of Gerri’s house had been old friends of Lily’s mother Bette.
She knew all about the intermingling Jewish and Italian families of the southern part of the neighbourhood, and knew all the best places to get good deals in the city’s long- established clothing business. She also knew exactly where to get the best fish, bread, meat and vegetables. She was slightly snobby about her art, but her taste was impeccable. Her husband was well-known for his prints as well as his oil and acrylic paintings. Lately, he’d gotten into computer art as well. Winchester or Chess, as Lily called her husband, had begun his life in Brooklyn, New York. He had a rusty emphatic voice and a way of telling stories about the past which made her wonder how he could have left the east behind for this cold western city, but he seemed happy here. He could create the impression of frailty with his gaunt frame at times, but when he was working he seemed tireless. Gerri wondered whether Winnipeg gave him the peace to do his work that living in the eastern US would never have given him. Occasionally, he’d have a show in New York which would make the local people suddenly aware that there was a true artist in their midst. But it was a strange city that had created many artists and writers, and had brought them back home again once they had seen the world. He was now one of theirs.
Winchester gave a crusty laugh. It was the practiced laugh of a university professor, well honed and slightly satirical. It was a useful tool for dealing with recalcitrant students. “Oh come on, Lily, Sophie’s just trying to get some food.
“Chess, Gerri’s drinking a glass of single malt.”
He shook his long expressive face, “Well, she’s trying to get some single malt then.”
Lily rolled her eyes at her husband, “You’re as annoying as Mum. Sophie doesn’t even like single malt.”
“Well, offer it to her, and see what she does,” Winchester’s eyes twinkled.
“Now, there a great idea!” Lily laughed.
Gerri twisted the glass around and offered it to Sophie. Sophie looked startled, wagging furiously she approached the glass, but Gerri was unprepared for the inquisitive nose to go diving right in to give the single malt a good sniff. Sophie’s small rear end with it’s docked tail resembled a dark blue-black beret. She looked up at Gerri with dark mysterious eyes, then sneezed loudly into the glass and sprayed dog saliva on Gerri as some of the single malt rose up in the air.
“Did you see what you did?” Lily gave Winchester an annoyed looked, and went to get a napkin, “A brilliant idea, Chess! I’m really sorry about that Gerri, as though you haven’t had a horrible enough day without the dog sneezing all over you.”
“It’s not important, is it Sophie woofie? My super ball player, eh!” Gerri tickled Sophie’s chin and the dog grinned slightly.
Sophie’s tail continued to wag and she gave the human a long stare. Sophie considered, ‘I wonder why Gerri wanted me to smell that horrible stuff. That tickles my nose. Well,’ she blew out a breath, ‘I supposed Daddy Chess going to say something about that other dog Gampey again, the one in that drawing beside his bed. It’s always Gampey this, Gampey that! Piffle. It’s true, I am a really great ball player just like Gerri said. I wish Daddy Chess would notice that. Oh well, Mummy Lily says great ball players run in the family. ‘ She put her muzzle back down on Gerri’s leg.
Winchester shook his greying head and then made the predictable statement, “Well, Sophie’s a wonderful dog. But she’s not Gampey, Lily. Gampey would never have done that.” Then he added in an annoyed tone, “I think Sophie’s drooling on Gerri’s pants.” He paused thoughtfully and considered the perfection of their first dog Gampey who apparently had never been surpassed by any of their other four dogs and who clearly never drooled on guests’ trousers.
Sophie promptly sighed loudly and looked at the ceiling.
“Chess, did you have to say that?” Lily demanded, “Look at Sophie!”
“Honestly Lily, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sophie’s a dog, she doesn’t speak English.” His rusty voice sounded faintly exasperated with his wife who insisted the dog understood every word.
“Well, you’ve really upset her.” Lily was emphatic.
Now, Winchester sighed. His wife was impossible about Sophie, and Sophie just ran around in circles in the house, scattering his drawings and pushing his art supplies onto the ground when it pleased her. If he didn’t love Lily so much, it would’ve been impossible. But he did love Lily. He considered; Sophie wasn’t like Gampey but she might have been a little like Nugget, the dog who was next to Gampey in perfection. Who could tell, and maybe he should mention to Lily how much Sophie looked like Nugget after all! Lily would like that, and it would get him out of trouble. “I don’t think she’s upset.” He said definitively, then added softly, “But I do think she’s starting to look a bit like Nugget.”
“Like Nuggie, do you think so?” Lily sounded hopeful.
“Well, yes she’s being so sympathetic with Gerri. So kind, just like Nugget.” Chess nodded sagely, “Yes, I believe she’s resembling Nuggie a lot these days.”
Lily looked pleased, and made a favourable comment to Sophie. Then she went into the kitchen to find Sophie a treat, and Sophie followed her hopefully.
Winchester turned back to Gerri, “Enough of crying in your beer, how is your new book of poetry going?”
“Well, it’s been hard going. And this is hardly motivating, this romance business.”
“Well - “ Chess hadn’t been a university professor for twenty years without becoming slightly pedantic, “you mustn’t let this romance business get you away from your work. I’ve heard you could get early tenure for that that last piece Blown Away, the one about the female outlaws. Good work.”
“You think so?” Gerri turned her mind to her writing.
“Absolutely, it’s great work. And this next piece will be just as good. Those bits that you showed me; I can do some woodcuts for it. It will be groundbreaking work on gender and sexuality.” He felt expansive, “After all, I did some of my best work after my first wife Beulah left and before Lily and I moved in together.”
“Lily was the great seductress.” She’d heard the story before, but it was a good one and could bear repeating.
“My mother was so upset when we moved in together,” said Lily coming back out of the kitchen with Sophie at her heels chewing on a homemade liver biscuit, “ The decadent artist and his mistress leading the sinful life. It was kind of fun being a rebel.”
“Yes,” Chess grinned thinking about how his fellow professors had thought he was quite the rogue at the time. “We were the talk of the Art Department for a while there, until we got married and did a year in England for her Ph.D. It was a good time.”
And that was how the rest of the evening went. Two weeks later Gerri heard through the grapevine that Irene had moved in with a rep for a textbook publisher who owned a house at St. Clair & Bathurst. Clearly, Irene had feathered her nest before moving on. She should forget her and move on as well. Four months later, Gerri went to pick up a small black English Cocker in Belwood near Toronto and brought her home with her.
From the beginning Tuppence’s place in the neighbourhood hierarchy of dogs had been assured. Today, she was going out with Rebecca Lynne’s cocker Harvey – a laid back sleepy blond male whose mother felt the need to take him for very long walks even when Harvey would rather lie in front of the fire and doze. Sophie was the head of the mini pack, and Lily always made sure that Sophie had learned some new trick to show off to the other dog owners. Sophie obediently did every trick that Lily taught her, but had other ideas about food.
Just now, Gerri could see Lily approaching with Sophie, both dressed in blue coats. She had clearly addressed Sophie firmly, because Sophie had leapt from Lily’s right hand to the left and placed her butt on the ground as though it had been superglued into place. Gerri knew the sequence of commands that Lily had given Sophie almost by heart, and felt in her heart that Sophie only went through the motions because she knew that her owner was very proud of ability to sit, stand, move and switch positions on command. Sophie obeyed each command with a heart that was willed by love and her owner’s pride in her ability to control her dog in this one particular way. However, when it came to surrendering a ball or giving up a tasty morsel of food she had scavenged, Sophie’s jaws locked with all the strength of a Bull Terrier. Today, however, in spite of the cold day something was different.
In the midst of Lily’s orders, Sophie stood up uneasily and looked across the road. There, on the corner was a tall dark haired woman, approaching from the northwest. The dog with her was formidable; the large black and white, probably male, Border Collie sat on the opposite side of the road and had fixed Sophie with an intense stare. He was wearing a red woollen plaid jacket that covered his upper body and the top of his legs, and his paws rested firmly on the very corner of the curb. He had on a red collar and no lead. The woman turned around slightly to look at Gerri standing in the window. Time seemed to stop in Gerri’s world suddenly. The woman looked straight at Gerri, her intense ice blue eyes seeming to stare straight through her soul.
The woman’s long black hair was braided back in a style that Gerri had always wished that she could wear, but never suited her. Gerri’s white blonde hair was kept relatively short in contrast to this woman’s thick black braid. She wore a bright red thickly- padded car coat which was probably lined with down, matching red sheepskin gloves and dark red leather boots which were also lined with sheepskin. Gerri knew exactly where the gloves and boots had come from because she had a similar pair in brown from a boot and glove maker who specialized in custom fit items of this kind. A thick scarlet muffler around her throat and red sheepskin earmuffs that matched the glove completed the picture.
Gerri could hear her heart thump in her chest as the blood circulated through her system and the dark haired woman locked eyes with hers. For a moment, she felt as though they met before at some other time, but that was impossible wasn’t it? Or had she seen her somewhere once before, and felt this strange magnetism strike her soul and done nothing about it? Indeed, even as the woman looked at her, Gerri was struck with her ineptitude in this department. Maybe, this woman was just a chance visitor to the neighbourhood and she’d never see her again. She felt strongly that she should do something. But what?
The stranger smiled at Gerri, and waved; she made some comment to her waiting dog who started off across the street.
Half way across the street the Border Collie met up with Sophie who stopped and gave him a stern look, and then foolishly growled at him. Lily pulled on Sophie’s lead and spoke to her sternly. The Border Collie circled Sophie with care, sniffing at her rear end and then tried to roll her over. Sophie’s growl had turned into a snarl by now, but the new dog wasn’t giving any quarter. He backed her across the road while Lily pulled on Sophie’s collar and yelled, and the dark-haired woman admonished her dog. By the time, they reached the opposite side of the road Sophie and the strange dog were still eye-to-eye. Now, Gerri could see the blue unflickering stare of the Border Collie, and the continued snarl of Sophie.
Gerri went to the front door and opened it. She ordered Tuppence to stay, and went out onto the wide snow-cleared steps. In a the blink of an eye, Sophie had jerked the lead out of Lily’s hand and skittered across the road headed for Gerri’s front door with the Border Collie right on her tail. She whipped past Gerri who tried to block her. Sophie ran into the house, while the Border Collie cut in on the opposite side. Now, three dogs were inside.
Tuppence began running in excited circles and barking, then headed over to the window to bark some more. Sophie made a beeline for the kitchen where she knew her friend Tuppence’s leftover food was located, and the Border Collie followed close behind her. All three dogs met in a flurry in the dining room as Lily made it breathlessly to the door calling Sophie’s name. The Border Collie owner made to the house second, right after Lily calling out ‘Raffi’ in a stern voice. All three dogs ran in circles chasing each other in a flurry, first around the living room, then around the dining room, then bolted briefly into the family room evading capture by Lily and Raffi’s owners. Then, all three dogs slipped past the humans again and dashed up the stairs with Sophie leading the pack, after which there was total silence. Gerri stood, her mouth agape, eying the open doorway where the bitter cold created a steady stream of heat leaking out into the street.
“What the heck?” The dark-haired woman began to apologize, “I’m so sorry, Raffi has never done this before.” She flashed Gerri a white, apologetic smile, “I’m Arty, by the way, Arty Pierantonio.”
“Gerri von Biedermann,” she got out, before she was interrupted by Lily.
“Oh, you’re the new vet at South River Heights Animal Hospital. I’m Lily Silverstein. I thought I saw you when I went in last week to see Dr. Brookner - Mary Brookner, she breeds cockers, English Cockers. She bred Sophie.” Lily sounded like all English Cocker owners, very proud to make the announcement of their pet’s fine parentage. “Well,” she continued in tone which was clearly not intended to make friends, “I would have thought that a vet would have had better control over their own pets. Even a Border Collie. ” The tone also implied that Border Collies were slightly beneath English Cockers in their abilities to be obedient, even though Gerri knew full well that Lily was entranced by the sheep herding trials that were on PBS occasionally on Saturday afternoons in the winter.
Arty’s tone continued to be cordial, but her smile froze slightly, “Well, if your cocker didn’t have problem with authority…”
“Sophie, a problem with authority? Listen here, ask anyone in this neighbourhood if Sophie isn’t the sweetest dog in all of River Heights or all of the city for that matter,” Lily was clearly defensive, “Don’t you think, Gerri, that Sophie has the best manners that you’ve ever seen?”
“Well I...” Gerri began, not wanting to take sides against this new and interesting stranger who had just turned up in her house. She wasn’t really interested in whether Sophie, Raffi or Tuppy had the best manners. In fact, at that moment she was only tangentially interested in the dogs. She was interested in the new stranger who was so striking and, she hoped, so obviously lesbian. At least, that was what she seemed to be. She listened to the adversarial conversation through a fog of other thoughts, thoughts that were far away from dogs and much closer to human.
“I’m not saying that Sophie isn’t well bred or beautiful, Mrs. Silverstein,” Arty was firm, “But she obviously has some dominance issues. Raffi is a large male, and she should be aware of that before trying to take him on. If he wasn’t so sure of his position, he might have become hostile with Sophie.”
“I see, and what do you call his chasing her all the way into a stranger’s house?” Lily asked pointedly.
“He’s a dog.” Arty explained patiently. “He was playing.” The emphasis on the first pronoun indicated politely, but firmly that dogs would be dogs – but occasionally their human owners could take them too seriously. Gerri wondered whether Arty had seen Lily showing off Sophie’s technical skills in obedience at the South River Heights Animal Hospital. Lily could be overly proud of Sophie at times, but it was a pride founded on real love of her pet. In the world of vets, surely Lily’s passion for her dog was welcome when they saw so many other dogs who weren’t loved. For a moment, Gerri felt almost overprotective of her friend, but as usually Lily wasn’t shy about speaking for herself. And now wasn’t any exception.
Lily tossed her head, “So your dog was playing by herding my dog into a stranger’s house?” She sounded determined.
Arty suppressed a smile, “Well actually- technically um,” she spoke with her hands and her blue eyes lit up, “Since he is a Border Collie and he thinks herding is fun, yeah he was playing. And it seems to me Sophie was on pretty familiar territory. She didn’t hesitate to help herself to the leftover dog food. “She winked at Gerri. “What are they doing upstairs, they’re pretty quiet?”
“For all we know your enormous dog has herded poor Sophie into a corner, she’s probably a nervous wreck.” Lily looked upset.
“Can I help?” asked a familiar Irish lit at the front door. A tall blondish woman with rosy cheeks holding a plastic box was standing in the doorway with a yawning blonde cocker on a lead. “I noticed the door was open so Harvey and I thought we’d just come in.”
“Why not?” Gerri shrugged, “The rest of the neighbourhood is here.”
“Sure, what do you say Harvey? Do you want to have another nap?” Rebecca laughed good-naturedly and Harvey yawned and crept over toward the fireplace. “Well,” Rebecca said briskly, “let’s shut the front door before we heat up all of the outdoors. I’m Rebecca Lynne, by the way. So are you the one that bought the big bungalow just up from the corner of Oak?”
Arty looked confused, “How do you know?”
“Oh,” Rebecca looked slightly embarrassed, “I got my son David to check out who had moved into that house. I’d always fancied it, especially after old Mr. Gold did all that landscaping and put that nice pool in the back. So, moved into by yourself, have you? Used to have a lot of garden before the landscaping and the pool, still it has some great varieties of day lilies in the front. Where’d your dog go? Alan saw you walking him to the park yesterday. Alan was saying he was so smartly dressed in a red coat, and so obedient.”
“I think he’s cornered Sophie upstairs,” Lily sounded slightly upset.
“They were playing!” Arty was emphatic.
Rebecca waved her hand, “That’s bound to be it, isn’t it? After all, there isn’t even the slightest peep from the kids upstairs. Let’s just go and take a look.”
“Sophie will be a nervous wreck,” Lily was upset.
Rebecca patted Lily on the shoulder, “I’m sure it’s fine.”
All four women crept quietly up the stairs and around the corner, while Gerri silently congratulated herself for making her bed that morning. They turned the corner and Harvey bolted in between their legs and made himself comfortable on the bed along with the other three dogs.
Tuppence was lolling on her back with her head hanging down over the edge as if to say, “I’m a helicopter, I’m a helicopter...look at me.” She had a slightly dippy smile on her face.
Sophie was sitting bolt upright, a red ball triumphantly in her mouth. “I told you I was a ball player, see. Look Raffi, I’m a ballplayer.”
Raffi sat at the end of the bed near the pillow surveying the others, looking pleased with himself. ‘See Mum, one, two, three and four that’s me. I’ve herded us all together. I’m such a good boy.’
Harvey turned around in a circle, yawned politely, ‘Oh I’m so sleepy; I’ll just nod off in this corner. So warm, so cosy, so...’ And he drifted into a loud snore.
All four dog owners looked faintly surprised. Rebecca shook her head, “Well, I guess they’re okay. Don’t you mind them on your bed.”
“That’s the dog cover, I keep in on the bed to keep it clean.” Gerri waved her hand dismissively.
“Sophie seems fine,” Rebecca added pointedly.
“Tuppence lost that ball six months ago,” Gerri said thoughtfully.
“I remember that!” Lily mused, “I thought you’d looked under the bed the last time Sophie was over here for a barbecue.”
“Yeah, that’s when it went missing!” Gerri caught Arty’s eye, “I guess Sophie knew where it was all along.”
“Well ladies, I think we should leave the dogs in peace and go downstairs and make coffee. I was going to take Harvey for a nice long walk, but obviously he has no interest in this proceeding.”
“Oh you’re with your friends.” Arty was apologetic, “I should leave.”
“Not at all,” Gerri said emphatically, “it’s obvious we want to know all about our new neighbour, or at least my friends do. Why don’t you stay and keep us company?”
“Well I don’t know...today’s my day off...I was thinking of visiting that bakery restaurant over near Osborne, The Tribal Chef.” Arty straightened her coat.
“Well, I did bring homemade peanut butter cookies and apple squares. I think they are even better than the ones that The Tribal Chef used to make when Eponin and Solari ran it before they opened up a restaurant. The guy who runs it now likes raw dough, what can you say? It was once a women’s collective of some kind. I think was called the Amazon Jungle? They’re good friends of Gerri here.”
“Really!” Arty looked at Gerri again. “The Amazon Jungle?”
“No, it was called Amazon Java Juice,” Lily shook her head, reminding Rebecca, “Some other women in the collective, Cyane Blackstone and Melosa Weatherly, left and formed Amazon Enterprises. It publishes lesbian books, and a lot of specialty stuff like Gerri’s poetry. In fact, they were lucky to get Gerri’s new book of poetry, “Gender Borders”. It’s a groundbreaking work about women in the past and in the present who live on the edges of gender.
“You mean like women who were soldiers and doctors in the American Civil War?” Arty asked, surprising Gerri with her insight.
“Actually, I write about all kinds of passing women right up until the present day,” Gerri commented, “Our definitions of gender are too narrow, and by helping to explode our concepts of gender I open up new frontiers for all women.”
“Oh yeah, here we go again!” Lily shook her head, “Some of us like our prisons.”
“I’d heard that you were a poet.” Arty grinned, “I guess for you, poetry is a spiritual experience.”
“Really,” Gerri responded, “How would you know that if you hadn’t read my poetry?” Arty didn’t respond to this comment, and looked momentarily chagrined.
When Gerri showed Arty to the front hall coat closet where she should stow her jacket and boots, she was quiet and Gerri wondered again where or if she’d seen Arty before. Her other friends knew where to hang up their coats, so they followed suit, and then they all trooped out to the kitchen where they waited while Gerri began the coffee. She took some coffee things into the living room, and started to set them up on the coffee table.
Arty stood quietly to the side in the kitchen in her fashionably low cut blue jeans and soft red cashmere sweater, feeling very out of place. These people seemed very friendly, but who knew what they really thought.
“So,” Lily began inquisitively, “are you from around here?”
Arty smiled slightly. “No, British Columbia, Vancouver. I went to vet school in Saskatchewan. But you can’t buy a doorframe in Vancouver these days for less than a fortune, so I came out here. My grandfather’s family has an old cottage on Lake of the Woods, so I’m kind of familiar with Winnipeg.”
“You moved here by yourself?” Lily asked her.
Rebecca nudged her, “That’s really too nosy.”
“I don’t know, Rebecca, you sent David out to look over who was moving in.” Lily pushed her friend’s shoulder.
“Well,” Rebecca said calmly, “I need to stay on top of things before Mrs. Lily Silverstein, the welcoming committee, just waltzes in the door and gets all the information before the rest of us.”
Both women looked curiously at Arty with their eyebrows raised.
Cool blue eyes appraised them both. “I’m single.” Arty announced finally. “The rest you’ll have to find out for yourselves.” She looked directly at the other two women, “So, maybe you can tell me whether Gerri’s always lived her by herself?” Rebecca noticed that the other woman was very tall, almost a head taller than her.
“Quite right,” Rebecca nodded. Then she shook her head, “It’s an awful story.”
“Horrible, heartbreaking” confirmed Lily, “But we never said so.”
Gerri came back into the room to get the coffee. She noticed that the other women were somewhat quiet, and looked around with a puzzled air. “What have you two trouble makers been up to?” She looked faintly disapproving.
Lily giggled nervously while Rebecca smiled smugly. Arty appeared to be studying the floor. Then they all headed out to the living room to find the coffee and cookies. The dogs remained astonishingly absent in spite of the lure of cookies and other yummy smells.
It took almost an hour for Lily to sufficiently probe Arty’s views on art, films and dogs, while Rebecca got in a few questions about Arty’s family. Gerri managed to smile several times at Arty, while Arty smiled back and made several favourable comments about the interior decoration that made Gerri blush. After Irene left, she had repainted the whole downstairs and done extensive brushwork around the borders of all the rooms and in the hallways.
Lily then began a discussion about her own scholarship in Art History, but before she could enlarge on Winchester’s work she discovered that Arty owned a piece that Winchester had done.
“Oh, where did you buy it?” Lily looked puzzled.
“It was bought around fifteen years ago in New York,” Arty picked up another peanut butter cookie, “I think I’ll have just one more. These are excellent by the way.” She waved one of the cookies at Rebecca.
“But that would mean you would’ve had to buy it at the show with the really big pieces. Unless, it was one of really little pieces.”
“Uh ah,” Arty shook her head, “it’s a pretty big piece. You know, it’s the one with all the animals around the waterhole in Africa. It’s... I don’t know, around by six by nine or so.”
Lily looked puzzled, “But I thought some hermit millionaire on top of a mountain in BC bought that one. That was so quite a long time ago now.”
“He did.” Arty grinned, “And now I have it.”
“But how did you get it?”
“Through family connections.” Arty grinned, “Kind of funny, isn’t it? It’s just a few blocks away from where it was created.”
“Yeah, in our studio in the backyard,” Lily mused, “Fifteen years ago.”
“Actually, I have a confession,” Arty looked pleased, “My grandfather bought it for me. We were visiting New York, and went to the exhibit. I’ll never forget the photographs of your husband’s studio. After I moved here, I found out that he lived on Campbell and I went over and looked at it from the alleyway. I don’t know. It influenced me into buying the house on Oak, anyway.” She settled down into the rocking chair where she’d made herself comfortable, and continued to watch Gerri as she answered the questions. She was expecting the other women to stay much longer, but suddenly, Rebecca got up and began to organize herself.
“We really have to go,” she announced politely.
“We do?” Lily asked making herself more comfortable.
“Yes, we do!” Rebecca gave Lily a nudge. “You know, we have to go to the sale thingy. The one at-at...” she grasped for an inspiration for a moment, “Yes, you remember Lily, it’s the one at Osborne.”
“Osborne?” Lily looked stunned. “What’s on Osborne?”
Rebecca appeared to think a minute, “You know that vinyl something place; it don’t know I think it’s called Round the Corner, you know the one with the records. It’s been there for twenty years.”
“Why are we going there?” Lily looked bewildered.
Inspiration struck Rebecca, “Winchester wanted a jazz album. He mentioned it last week.” Rebecca pronounced after a moment’s inspiration. She began to embroider on her theme. “They had an original copy of that Dave Brubek album Time Out that was in good shape, and Chess wanted to get a new copy because his was worn out. And we could look at a CD for Jenny for her birthday.”
“Isn’t Jenny’s birthday in June?” Lily looked dubious about buying a present for Rebecca’s daughter in February, even though the album sounded like a good idea. However, it was very cold outside and she was starting to have a good time with this new woman who seemed to be fond of her husband’s work. They could just eat some sandwiches and talk about art, Lily’s favourite activity. She said lazily, “We could hang out here for a while. I was just getting into a discussion of Chess’s paintings with Arty.”
Rebecca looked at Lily over her the top of her glasses decisively. “No, I’m sure that Gerri can tell Arty all about them, Lily.” She had a good feeling about this tall woman, and Gerri had been alone a long time, and all her friends knew about the fruitless efforts of some of her lesbians friends to get Gerri to go out on a date. If only Lily would let nature take its course. She stressed her next words, “I’m sure that Jenny said she wanted that song from that movie, Strictly Ballroom. I think it’s called Love is in the air.” She emphasized the title heavily to Lily who stared at her fixedly for a moment as though she’d gone mad.
“Love is in the Air,” Lily repeated cluelessly.
“Yes, Love is in the Air,” Rebecca said with slow emphasis.
Lily seemed to think about it and then the clue hit her. “Right!” Lily agreed suddenly, “We do have to leave. Love is in the Air by Paul Young, it’s the perfect present. We need to go right away and go to that vinyl place.” She got up to search for her coat and boots. She called loudly for Sophie who came rushing down the stairs. She was followed by Harvey who yawned and walked slowly down the staircase. Raffi walked behind them all and Tuppence walked slowly and deliberately in front of him as he nudged her gently, herding her down the staircase.
“Look at Sophie and Harvey,” Rebecca chortled, “One is asleep at the wheel and the other is turbo charged. And the other two look like they’re getting along well.”
‘Do things look like they’re going well?’ panted Sophie to Harvey as they had their coats and boots pulled back on.
‘Perfectly, that was a brilliant idea of yours Raffi running upstairs like that with Sophie!’ Tuppence barked.
‘I knew it would be just the ticket,’ he barked back, ‘And thank Heaven that door was open!’
“Girls and boys,” Lily said sternly, “What’s all this barking about?”
‘See ya later, Blackie,’ Sophie said as she slipped out this door.
“Goodness look at all the excitement,” Rebecca commented.
‘Have a good time with Blackie, Raf. I’m going home for a snooze,’ Harvey added.
“Yes, I haven’t seen them this excited for a long time,” Lily agreed, “We’ll have to talk about Chess’s work some other time, Arty.”
“Come on Lily,” Rebecca called out as they headed down the steps with the flying ears of the two dogs in the lead.
From the large glass window, Arty and Gerri stood and watched Lily and Rebecca headed up four houses south to Rebecca’s house. “You’ve got good friends,” Arty commented. They sat on the sofa in front of the fire. Their two dogs stretched out companionably side by side like old friends.
“Yeah, they’re nice. Lily’s an amazing baker as well. Her lemon squares are to die for.”
“You think I could get some?” Arty look plaintive, “I love lemon squares.”
Gerri nodded as Lily’s form disappeared down the road, “Well, if you play your cards right. You never know. Lily seems to like you.”
Arty laughed and then thought soberly, “Well, I’m taking up all your time. For all I know, you have plans for today. You do write poetry, and I may have interrupted the creative flow.”
“The creative flow can wait. That’s one of the advantages of living in Winnipeg. It’s a quiet life. And I’ve been working on a new short story, a new idea. I’m not sure where it’s going right now.” Gerri smiled, “Anyway, how did you find out that I wrote poetry?”
Arty shrugged her shoulders and her blue eyes sparkled, “Um, I guess the same way that your friends found out that I’d moved into that big bungalow on the corner of Oak.” She looked suitably mysterious, and glanced back at Gerri’s green eyes.
The icy blue eyes gave Gerri a strange feeling, and she probed more to make conversation. “But that’s not it, is it?” She guessed shrewdly her green eyes flickering with golden lights, “You’d heard of my poetry before, hadn’t you?” When she cast her mind back, she suddenly remembered a big room set with lots of chairs, and a tall dark-haired woman at the very back with ice-blue eyes watching her silently. It had been her last reading in Vancouver, three years ago at Little Sisters bookstore. The room had been packed with people, all of them waiting for a new work from the rising lesbian poet - her. Gerri was modest about her work, even though she worked hard as a poet and a short story writer; she never considered her work in the light of any of the commentaries that appeared in book reviews or back covers calling her “the Sappho for a new generation.” Poetry was just what she did, and she was lucky to get attention for her efforts.
Gerri was more interested in the positive reactions from her actual audience, who were largely lesbians, and was happy that people were reading her work. At that reading in Vancouver, she had been reading from her second to last work, “Blown Away”, which had been a series of extended narrative prose poems about women outlaws and gunslingers in the Wild West in the 19th century. Almost all of them had had sad stories, like Belle Starr who died left by the wayside by brigands or Calamity Jane who became an alcoholic. Now, she remembered the woman with the blazing blue eyes at the back of the room who had asked her about the sadness in her poetry and if she saw love and life in that this same way. At that time, a year after Irene had left, Gerri had found herself distrustful of love. The sad tales of the women outlaws and gunslingers had suited her mood, verifying that love was impermanent and ended in tragedy.
For her, at that time, there had been work, friends, family and promotion.
“I remember you,” she said slowly to Arty, “Three years ago in Vancouver, you asked me if I saw love as dangerous as it was for the women in my poetry.”
Arty turned to her with a look of sorrow in her blue eyes. Sensing his mistress was distressed, Raffi lifted his head from over near the gas fire where he lay beside the smaller Tuppence. A short inquiring noise crossed his lips, but was cut short by one look from Arty.
“And you said that even though times were different and women had more and better choices that this didn’t make them any happier.”
“Then you asked me if that meant that I didn’t believe in love,” Gerri continued, “And I said that I didn’t know. That to follow someone in love could be a dangerous path.”
“Yes, I wondered why you said follow?” Arty asked her.
For a moment Gerri looked perplexed as she sought the words, “When I spoke to you, I just had this feeling we had met before. I had this feeling that I should follow you, but that made no sense at all. My last relationship was a disaster. I was so afraid. Then I saw you, and for a moment I wasn’t afraid anymore and then you were gone. When the reading was over, you just vanished. I thought you’d wait or come back, but you didn’t. Why did you vanish?”
Arty made a long blink, and shook her head as if remembering. “What I’m going to say is going to sound foolish.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I saw you, you were in such pain. I felt drawn to you, but just as strongly I was worried about bringing pain to you. I wondered if I’d once brought pain to you.” Arty’s eyes looked troubled.
“You mean before. A long time before, don’t you?”
“Yes, but that seems impossible. I have a picture in my mind of you yelling, ‘I hate you.’ I don’t know; it seemed so real. Like I’d met you before, just like when I saw you this morning. I’ve read,” Arty confessed, “all your poetry. It’s like you’re searching for something you’ve lost and can’t find.”
“Maybe,” suggested Gerri touching Arty’s hand very tentatively then withdrawing, “I’ve never met it until now. But this is crazy. What I write is different from who I am. Just because I’m a poet who hasn’t written about happy, fulfilled love doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it’s possible. But when I saw you I knew that we had met, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Arty breathed, “But what about the memory?”
Gerri smiled, “Maybe we fixed it. Whatever made me angry.”
“So you don’t think I’m crazy?” Arty looked down at her. “You don’t think I’m crazy when I say that I knew when you said following someone in love was dangerous, that we had tread a dangerous road together.”
“Maybe we were outlaws,” Gerri suggested.
“Or pirates,” added Arty.
“Or maybe we just found a place to live in peace finally,” Gerri smiled. “But don’t you think love is dangerous?”
“If love wasn’t dangerous, would it be worth the risk?” Arty asked.
“But what about people who hurt you who aren’t your soul mate? How does that happen?” Gerri threw out.
“Maybe, it’s like Shakespeare’s sonnets. Maybe, you love some people that aren’t really worth loving,” Arty suggested.
“Like the difference between the dark lady and the fair youth?”
“I don’t know.” Arty pushed her dark bangs back, “Maybe when they’re not worth it, it hurts even more because you lose a piece of yourself when it ends. It makes you hate yourself.”
“Have you felt like that?” Gerri asked.
“Oh yeah, haven’t you? I know you have, that’s what all those poems were about. I couldn’t talk to you then; I couldn’t even ask you to autograph my book. All I could do was watch you because the time wasn’t right.”
Arty lifted her head proudly, “We’ll see. Let’s get to know each other a little first. This is going so very fast. I don’t want to be one of those lesbian jokes, you know - what does a dyke bring to a second date?”
“A U Haul.” said Gerri drily.
“Yeah, well. Let’s talk some more; go over to that park that is close to here.”
Arty got up to go and find her coat, and as she shifted the newspaper peaked out from underneath the cushions. She glanced at the personal ads, and nodded sagely before handing it silently to Gerri.
First Gerri blushed, then she stammered, “I um, have been alone for long time now.”
Arty gave her a sly smile, and took the newspaper from Gerri’s slightly shaking hand, “Oh, you don’t need to explain anything to me. But just as a matter of curiosity,” she glanced down at the paper, “Are you ‘hot and waiting’ or ‘waiting for you.’
Gerri looked slightly shy and said quietly standing up to move toward the coat closet, “Neither, I’m the activist cuddler who wants long walks.”
Arty put the paper onto the oak table beside the sofa, and placed her hands gently on the shorter woman’s shoulders from behind reassuringly. “Well, I have a Border Collie so you know I like long walks. But I’m only an activist about animal rights, and I’m not even really devoted to the cause because I’m not a vegetarian and I wear leather boots.”
Gerri could feel the healing warmth of Arty’s hands right down to the bone, filling her with longing. It seemed like a familiar feeling and was very attractive. It was all she could do not to lean over and caress one of the hands with her lips, but she restrained herself. She hardly knew this woman, what was happening to her? Lightly, she commented on her advertisement in the paper. “Yeah, well I consider myself an activist about women’s rights and lesbian rights especially in my writing.”
Arty walked with even long strides toward the closet, “Is that what you consider important? Would that make a relationship work for you? Is that what your last partner was lacking?” Her voice made light of the question, but a serious intention deep underneath. If this was the yardstick by which Gerri measured relationships, sadly she considered that this was not what she had to offer. She wasn’t interested in protests or political action in the broader sense. Her politics was her veterinary work with animals, her attempts to keep as many of them in good homes as was possible by making sure that people neutered their pets and provided them with good care. She worked for the SPCA as a free vet once a week to help people who couldn’t afford a regular vet, and she constantly struggled to make sure that her more needy clients did not abandon their pets because of the cost of onerous bills. Sometimes, she would fight with her colleagues about this, taking on a case just to help out someone who needed expensive work that they had no way of doing any other way.
She thought with a certain sense of pride about a homeless Native man who did wonderful work in wooden sculpture, and who had a serious drinking problem. A beautiful sculpture of a raven sat on in her office in the South River Heights Clinic. It had been given to her in the place of payment for complicated and expensive surgery on his shepherd-mix’s leg when no other doctor would take on the work. Now, he had a temporary job cleaning animal clinics in Vancouver and a place to sleep. There was satisfaction in that, but it wasn’t political and she didn’t publicize her work or make it generally known. She wanted to be sure that Gerri didn’t want something from her that she wasn’t prepared to give.
She listened with care to the voice behind her; Gerri was talking about Irene, about the failed relationship and about what Irene had been to her. “Irene,” Gerri said quietly, “seemed like the perfect girlfriend, the perfect partner at first.”
That made Arty tingle, and then as Gerri wrapped herself in her winter clothes she listened, “I thought Irene was interested in what I was interested in – literature and writing, poetry and books, art and documentaries – but what I found was that Irene was a liar and had been playing games.” From her voice, it sounded like she was crying, but when Arty turned around Gerri was brushing them away with her hands. “I was stupid, a fool. I believed she wanted to be with me because of me and then I realized she was interested in what I was, not who I was.”
Startled, Arty was uncertain what Gerri was saying at first then the truth dawned on her. She thought about her Winchester Silverstein painting, and how Lily had been surprised that she – a mere vet – could have such a major work in her house. While it was true she had insurance for it and an alarm system, it was largely protected because nobody would have realized the piece for what it was because it was in a house in South River Heights, not the house of a millionaire. She couldn’t afford such a painting, but her grandfather could and her family would leave her much, much more. With venom in her voice, Arty commented harshly, “She thought you had money.”
A shiver went down Gerri’s back, the voice was so familiar – its power and strength. “No,” she said clearly, “it was worse than that. My father, my family have a title. It means nothing; all German titles were banned after World War I. My father left my mother when I was very little. His family left Germany in 1937, and left him with poor relatives in Berlin. My father was a few months old. When he married my mother, he was a lot older than her. They ran around Europe; they spent time in Germany long before the wall came down, then later in South America. When my mother finally couldn’t take it anymore, she went home, divorced him and married my stepfather. He was her childhood sweetheart, and everything was okay for a while. Dad sold commercial real estate; we lived in medium-sized house in the Annex. My brother went to St. George’s; he’s a stockbroker, but we don’t speak. Mum threw me out of the house when I was eighteen after I spent the night with a girlfriend. We just drifted apart. My stepfather said my father was Nazi, that he was responsible for ruining my mother’s life.”
Arty considered, “That doesn’t really jive with the story about him being in hiding during the war, does it? Or the family leaving Germany. Maybe, he was Jewish. Do you think they were spies or something?”
“Oh that’s the best part!” Gerri laughed bitterly, “Mum was very white bread. She probably would have preferred it if he’d been a Nazi. She wouldn’t have wanted to know about Winnie, my sister. I couldn’t believe that it upset Irene, and how much she disliked her. As for my father being a spy, I just know that there is a wall where information about him is concerned. I don’t know what he was or who he worked for!”
“Do you think Irene’s problem was just about money?” Arty put a hand on her shoulder. “Or was it something else?”
Gerri shrugged unhappily, “I don’t know; Winnie is part Chinese, and Irene was well, not polite sometimes. I think that Irene heard about me from someone else in the community, and picked me out like a mark. You’d think the daughter of spy would’ve been smarter. But Winnie was on to her from the beginning. I found out later she thought I could afford a big house in Toronto, the title you see. And Winnie’s resort in Bermuda. There’s money, but not like Irene thought. A lot of Winnie’s money comes from her extended family, her father was in the resort business in Bermuda and she kept up the business. Some of the property in Bermuda comes from the Von Biedermann’s, but we divided it up in a trust. Equal shares for Winnie and me, and by extension eventually for my nieces.”
“That sounds nice, Irene didn’t like them?”
“Oh, she was polite when we were down in Bermuda. But she was pretty angry when she found out that my house here was in the family trust. The trust is actually in the Caymans, so she couldn’t touch it. That was Winnie’s idea.”
“It sounds like Winnie looks out for you.”
“Winnie is cautious, but we have reason to be. When I looked into my family history I found out that my grandfather was actually born in London, and they were half English, but father was born in Leipzig. He was a baby when the family went on vacation, and never came back for him. I think the solicitor who told me about the family knew much more, but he never told me. And he died a few years ago. I’ve never even applied for a British passport because I’m too scared to do it.”
“It’s ancient history. But I guess you’re protecting yourself.” Arty said thoughtfully.
“You believe that part of the past is that dead?” Gerri questioned.
Arty spun her around and looked in her eyes, “No, no I don’t. My parents called me Artemisia Pierantonio because there’s an old family story that we’re related to the painter with that name. No, I’m Italian - I know that the past is still alive in lots of places. You’re probably right, and who wants a visit from MI6 anyway?”
“Not me.” Gerri commented, “But I never told Irene about this.”
“You told Lily?” Arty guessed.
“Of course. She, naturally, is sure that my father was hidden during the war, that the family is part Jewish. But nobody I hire can get past the wall, everything is wiped out. It’s as though they never existed.”
“You must have hired an investigator to find this much out!” Arty’s eyebrows rose. “They should’ve found something besides your father’s will, and information on your sister.”
“No, that was it. If there is another family, they were wiped off the face of the earth.”
“That’s bizarre,” Arty said, “You’re right to be careful. And Irene didn’t need to know.”
“No,” Gerri said slowly, “She didn’t even want to come out here, but she was persuaded by the big house and stayed for a whole six months. I helped get her a job. She said she’d quit her old job, but that wasn’t really the case.”
“Ouch, how long were you here when you two broke up?”
“Where did the other three months go?” Arty lifted an eyebrow.
“I told you, it took a long time for her to decide to come out here, and I believe she only came so that she could sue me for half of the house. She told me that she was starting proceedings when she left. I got one letter from a lawyer in Toronto which was dated the day after she left, and then that was it. It all stopped when they realized the house was in a trust, and that the trust was held through the Caymans.”
“Good,” Arty said dryly.
“Can I pick them or what?” Gerri shrugged. “I want you to believe it would’ve been different if she’d had any intentions of staying with me here. I would’ve split everything 50/50, but she didn’t even bring anything out here but her clothes. She already had a woman ready to move in with before she even left me. Boy, I was stupid!”
“How old were you when you met Irene?” Arty asked.
“Oh, we broke up when I was twenty-eight, and we’d been together in Toronto for a couple of years. So, I was twenty-six.”
Arty came over to help Gerri get the lead onto Tuppence along with the doggie coat and boots that had been removed in the kitchen. She bent her dark head over the dog and smiled, “Well,” she said with a small smile, “sweet twenty-six and never been kissed.” Gerri felt her cheeks burn and drew back almost afraid that Arty was going to kiss her.
“Not quite that innocent,” she protested.
“Yeah, I bet you were,” Arty teased.
“So, how old are you, Ms. Experience?”
“Thirty-eight, chatterbox,” Arty tightened a strap on the dog’s lead and whistled for Raffi.
“If you think I’m a chatterbox, you need to meet my family. Winnie’s husband Mallory, Winnie and my nieces can out talk me any day. Doesn’t Raffi need a lead?”
Arty cleared her throat, “Well, actually contrary to anything that might have happened today, this is the very first time that Raffi has ever needed any kind of lead. He does exactly what he’s supposed to. You’ll see, he never even crosses the road until he’s allowed.”
“So, why is he called Raffi?”
“Actually, he’s called Raffles. You look like an old movie buff, think of thieves.”
Gerri looked puzzled for a moment, “Oh, Raffles, the gentlemen burglar! David Niven, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Arty looked significantly at Raffi as he headed for the road, “Watch your behaviour, mister!”
He looked up with an air of hurt Border Collie integrity. Arty called out to him, “Yes, you, mister. Don’t think I’ve forgotten. Keep in line.” He went over to the road and carefully placed his paws on the edge of the sidewalk. “See.” She whispered to Gerri, “he’s being such a good boy. And I have a ball in my pocket.” The furry black and white face turned to look at Arty, and his ears pricked up at the sound of the word ‘ball.’ “He stole my heart. And he was such a gentleman, all dressed in black and white.” Arty said gruffly, “I’ve had all working dogs. I had a shepherd when I was a kid, then a pair of twins – Artemis and Athena, they were Dobies, and I even had a greyhound rescue for a while. They’re all gone now, it’s just me and Raffi.”
“No previous attachments?” Gerri teased.
“Just old friends. Maybe, you’ll meet them some day.” Arty commented, “Not a soul mate in the bunch. You know, growing up in an Italian family isn’t exactly a picnic either. There are a lot of expectations; it took me a while to figure out that I was gay. I was twenty-five when I came out, and Mom was pretty disappointed. She’s okay with it now, but it took some time to work out. Considering all the fuss when she and Dad split, I thought she would’ve been more liberal. But you know, family is family.”
“So where are your parents?”
“Oh, Dad’s in the interior of BC with a new wife, near his business, and Mom’s in Vancouver with the old house in Kitsilano and a new boyfriend. He’s quite the stud piece, but he seems nice and Mom is still young and pretty attractive. I don’t think marriage with Dad was a piece of cake. She was just a kid when she got married - seventeen. Her dad wasn’t too pleased, but she was married in the sixties wearing one of those Romeo and Juliet get ups. She got into graphic design later. Her family make shoes and boots and she was used to drawing designs in leather by the time she could hold a pencil. You may have heard of them, Eduardo Shoes?”
“Who hasn’t? Those are really great shoes. I knew right away that you were wearing Eduardo custom boots. I have a weakness for nice footwear.” Gerri pointed to her own brown sheepskin-lined boots and laughed, “And I guess you can’t mistake these boots for anything but Eduardos. But it’s hard to find any really warm boots that look decorative as well. I just couldn’t see myself in Sorel moon boots!”
“You mean those white things that the guys on the oil rigs wear? Good until 60 below! I know the ones; we used to see a lot of them at the vet college.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty ugly, even if they are warm. But I do have a really ugly pair of Sorels to do the shovelling.”
“Well, as a vet I’ve needed some pretty horrible boots in my time!” Arty nodded keeping her eye on the Border Collie as Gerri put on the alarm system and locked the door. They headed for the corner. As they came nearer, Gerri could see Raffi trembling with excitement and Tuppence whined a little at her new friend’s dilemma. “Hold steady everybody!” Arty ordered and the dogs settled down a little.
Gerri gave her a look of respect, “It took me months just to get Tuppence to poop in the backyard. I had to get advice from a trainer, and now it turns out I know the ‘Dog Whisperer.’ It’s a show in England I saw when I was at a conference last year.”
“I’ve heard about it.” Arty waved her hand shyly, “I’m not that good.”
“I’ll bet you are,” Gerri tossed out. Arty gave the signal to Raffi, and he ran quickly to the next street corner.
They passed a house on the corner of Brock Street, just before the park, where a woman was busily shoving snow off her front walk, “Hi Sarah,” Gerri gave her a friendly greeting, “How’s it going?”
“Oh pretty well,” said a well dressed woman of about fifty, dusting off her hands, “I heard that Tammy and Jacob are looking for a house at the end of the street on one of the bays. Those,” she said for Arty’s benefit, “were Gerri’s ex-neighbours, until they moved out to Tuxedo. Jacob isn’t happy; he wants to move back. I knew he’d hate Tuxedo; he’s a River Heights boy. Have you heard a peep out of your new neighbour?”
“Not a sound,” Gerri confessed, “He goes off in the red Corvette and comes back late at night, but I’ve seen him heading out with a hockey bag.”
“I should send my daughter over there to meet him, then we’ll know what’s what.” Sarah concluded. She put down her shovel and held out a hand, “Sarah Lipchitz, and you are...”
“Artemesia Pierantonio.” Arty stretched out a hand, “How do you know he’ll get along with you daughter? Maybe he’s gay; maybe he’ll hate her.”
“Maybe. But we’ll find out all about him. I know he’s Jewish, and it’s worth a try. What the heck,” Sarah pushed back her light brown well groomed hair, “If you don’t want neighbours to talk to you, then don’t move to this neighbourhood. That’s why people come back here. You’ll fit right in, you’re Italian.”
“I can see that.” Arty nodded her head in agreed, “Is there anything more you want us to know today.”
“Yeah,” Sarah rubbed her hands and thought, “After you take that amazingly trained animal, I take it that’s your dog.” She nodded at Raffi, “He’s amazing, not as pretty as Tuppy, but still it’s a pleasure to see a well-trained animal. Anyway,” she confided, “I think you should visit your friend the watercolour artist and that metal sculptor at the top of the street. He got the base for that monstrous thing he put on the lawn out in the summer done, and I think he’s finished the whole thing. He and the kid were doing some measurements on the lawn. Here, I thought it was going to be modern and I’d hate it and they showed it to me. Beautiful work, titanium finish...it looks like a metal totem pole in silver. It’s fantastic. Although it’s probably a little cold to put it out today.”
“You mean Phantes and Xenon?” Gerri asked.
“Yeah, yeah, the kid with the name. I hear he calls himself Xe at school, I guess that keeps the other kids from beating him up. Of course, he is pretty big for his size – his father being no light weight. And the mother, well let’s just say I wouldn’t cross her,” Sarah leaned on her shovel. “Anyway, their place is a miracle of viniculture and crop cultivation.”
“They bought from an Italian who raised, the biggest tomatoes in the neighbourhood and had his own vines.”
“But the labruscas aren’t suitable for wine, really.” Arty commented. “And it’s too cold for real grapes here.”
“Oh yeah, she’s Italian all right. I’ll bet you know how to make wine,” Sarah smacked her thigh.
“Hey, that’s stereotyping!” Arty protested.
Sarah lifted an eyebrow, “But I’m right.”
“My father owns a vineyard, and makes his own line of boutique wines. But every Italian can’t make wine,” she was defensive.
“You’re telling me!” Sarah commented, “I drank several bottles of the wine Mr. Serino made, and it wasn’t any good. But obviously, you know about wines. Anyway, girls have a nice time.”
“How does Sarah know your neighbour is Jewish?”
“Oh,” Gerri lifted her hand, “Sarah knows everything. She even knew about how my ex-neighbour got pregnant. There was a lot of debate about whatever that was really an accident like Tammy said.”
“No wonder she moved away!” Arty shook her head.
“Oh they’re just as nosy in Tuxedo. Tammy’s from Winnipeg; she can’t escape.” Gerri commented airly.
“So how do they deal with you?”
“I’m a poet; I’m allowed to be an anomaly.”
“And me?” Arty hit her head, “I forgot I’m Italian. I guess that’s why I wanted a big kitchen.”
“Is it?” Gerri grinned.
“That’s for me to know, and you to find out,” Arty informed her with a wink. “Italian cooking is the best.”
“Well, that’s the most promising statement I’ve heard in a long time,” Gerri rubbed her hands.
Arty signalled for Raffi to cross the street and he sped across the road. They headed via the shovelled paths, further down into the community park where a fence blocked the street on the side by Brock. She brought out a ball from the depths of jacket and a light weight foldable disc; she threw both deep into the park where Raffi jumped to retrieve the ball. Then he went and got the disc on the other side of his mouth. Tuppence pulled on her lead and whined in expectation.
“Why don’t you let her off lead?” Arty asked.
“Oh,” Gerri said nervously, “I never let Tuppy off lead except in backyard.”
“It’s okay, she’s blocked in by the fence on one side and preoccupied by playing with Raffi. A good run will really wear her down, and I sense she could use it.” Arty looked over at the small black dog who was straining on her leash.
“I don’t know,” Gerri looked nervously at the large snowy area, “Even you can’t completely control Raffi.”
Arty gave her a look, “You think he went into your house by accident?”
“You don’t?” Gerri seemed surprised.
“You know, Raffi never does anything by accident.” Her shrewd bright blue eyes watched Raffi as he lay down at her feet.” You trust me don’t you?” She said gently, then added soothingly, “It’ll really be okay.”
“Hmm.” Gerri thought about it for a moment, and drew Tuppence close to her. “You’ll be a good girl, won’t you?” she said entreatingly. Then she unclipped Tuppence carefully for the first time in the large public area.
For one frightening minute, she thought she’d made a serious mistake. The small black dog cut loose in a large circle around Raffi and ran as quickly as her short legs would carry her. Then Tuppence moved in closer, and clipped Raffi gently as she ran by him. Slowly and with great care, he chased her around in circles and she panted ahead of him. At any given time, he could have easily swooped in and caught her, but he was careful not to push his small, slower friend. Arty threw the ball, and they both raced for it time and time again until their tongues were hanging out and they were panting from exhaustion. Usually, Raffi caught the ball with a strong high jump, but occasionally he allowed the other dog to retrieve it. Tuppence would wait for the ball to drop, and then would grab it quickly. She’d walk around wagging her tail, and teasing him with the ball. As he approached from the left, she would turn her head to the right and wag. When he went around her to the right, she’d turn her head to the left and wag even more furiously – then realizing that she’d tormented Raffi enough she’d drop the ball and the game would begin again.
The two women laughed watching the antics of their pets, and walked around the park in the crisp air. After about a half hour had passed, a small boy of around six came running toward the dogs in the park, his hand raised in greeting. He had long, flowing blonde hair, and his stance and trot was somehow reminiscent of a young colt. His cheeks were glowing pink with the cold, and his hands were covered in heavy down-filled mitts.
“Xenon!” Gerri shouted and waved her arms and she ran toward him. Tuppence came behind her, and Gerri stopped and put the dog on a clip. “Hey,” She took him in her arms, “you look so good. So healthy. Sarah said your Dad had finished the totem.”
“It looks great! Amazing! His arms reached out to indicate the span of the project’s greatness. “Better than the bridge.”
“Your Dad did a sculpture on a bridge?” Arty asked.
“Oh yeah, ask Gerri she’ll take you there. It was after the old St. Mary’s Bridge was rebuilt. It’s fantastic. This woman, some ancient female warrior from ancient times...a hero. The one I was named after. There were these ancient scrolls about her by some bard.”
“Oh yeah,” Arty thought a moment, “those women, those archaeologists in 1940’s, what were their names? Janice Covington and Melinda Papas, and the scrolls were written by a woman called Gabrielle. If she ever existed?”
“You don’t believe she existed?” Gerri looked surprised. “I just read an article about Melinda Papas in National Geographic, she seems like a highly reputable woman. She’s still a good scholar at her age.”
Arty shook her head, “Well, I don’t know. There are some pretty weird stories about those archaeologists going around, maybe they made the whole thing up. Old Harry Covington, he was some old rogue. Who can tell, maybe Gabrielle existed – but Xena I don’t know.”
“My Dad says Xena is number one by him, and he’s read all the translations of the scrolls. He says we need heroic female archetypes.” Xenon concentrated hard to get the words just right.
Panting hard, Raffi did another running pass around the women and the boy. Arty whistled to him, and he sat down. “Neat dog,” said Xenon, “I hope he likes cats; we’ve got the guru of all cats at our house. Gussie, she’s my Mom’s old cat...she’s fifteen.”
Shrugging her shoulders to loosen their tightness, Arty shook her head, “Raffi’s too smart to get into trouble with cats. You seem pretty handy with those big words for your age.” Her eyes winkled as she walked along with him, “So how old are you anyway, eight?”
Xenon beamed at her, “Hey, I’m just six and a half. I won’t be seven for another seven months, so I guess I’m not quite six and a whole half.”
Gerri put her hands on Xenon’s shoulders when he came and stood in front of her, “Xenon and his Mom and Dad visited England last February. You told me you saw Border Collies near Glastonbury herding the dogs, do you remember? And all the black faced sheep and the new lambs. Xenon didn’t eat any lamb after that for six months. And that took some doing because his mother cooks lamb the Greek way.”
Arty followed Gerri as she went through an opening in the fence and crossed the road. She went directly toward a small box-shaped white house with a small black & white cat sitting in the window with a rather cross face.
“See, it’s her majesty.” Gerri gestured at the cat who stood up slowly, looked at the group approaching the house, turned her back to them and sat down, “Oh dear, I think we’ve offended her.” Gerri laughed freely like a child, putting her gloves up to her skin which was pink from exercise and from the cold. As she bent over giggling at the obvious rejection from the cat, Arty observed how attractive she was with her white blonde hair, her petite shape with good muscular development and her well balanced stance. A brown haired woman with attractively shaped hazel eyes and curly hair tied back in a ponytail came to the door and opened it. When she saw Gerri, her face beamed in recognition, then looked reservedly at Gerri’s companion.
“I see Xenon has brought a lot of friends with him from the park.” She said in a welcoming tone as she ruffled the boy’s hair affectionately. “Take your coats off, and dump them on the bed upstairs. Wow, two dogs Gussie – how are you going to handle it?” She looked in the direction of the cat who was ignoring the newcomers. The two dogs stood by their owners waiting expectantly.
“Ephiny, this is my friend Arty, we just met this morning. We were walking our dogs in the park. She’s new to the neighbourhood. Arty, this is one of my oldest friends, Ephiny Gregorian.” Gerri’s tone was warm and indicated that she expected Ephiny to follow suit.
“I see...” Ephiny’s hazel eyes were guarded, “Where did you buy?”
“On Oak, the house...” Arty began and turned around and encountered a tall man at least six foot three on the staircase, and was startled by his sudden and quiet appearance.
“Sorry!” the metal sculptor apologized, “I have a habit of sneaking up on people.”
“That’s okay, I’m a vet I should be used to it. Some of my clients have snuck up me from time to time, particularly horses.” Arty put her hand over her heart.
“This is Ephiny’s husband, Phantes,” Gerri introduced him.
“So, you have a large animal practice?” Phantes looked impressed, “Do you do everything, sheep, cows, horses, the lot?”
Arty looked pleased by the inquiry, and became animated in her response. “Well, I’ve tended to a few exotics in my time. For five years, I worked with the zoo down in San Diego; it was a great experience, and I wanted to extend my knowledge of the field at the time. It was an adventure, but I felt it was time to come home to Canada. The South River Heights practice was a really good opportunity as a partnership. It’s well established, and has a mixed practise, which is unusual for a city vet. The oldest vet is retiring, and they felt I had the maturity and experience to add to the practice, and I know the city and the prairies – especially after going to vet school in Saskatchewan. It gives me a chance to work with the occasional ostrich and bison as well as a lot of horses. Aside from big dogs, they really are my favourites.”
“What are ostriches like?” Xenon demanded.
“Really cranky!” Arty grinned, “And pretty silly sometimes.” As they went up the stairs, she commented on the watercolours, “Wow, these are great! She looked at some beautifully executed still-life watercolours in bright blues and yellows with intricately painted lace table clothes and coffee urns. “These seem very familiar.”
“This series of watercolours are on a series of mugs produced in England.” Gerri told her. “But wait until you see the real treat around the corner.”
There facing them were four beautifully executed watercolours of working dogs. In the first, Springer Spaniels worked with police in checked hats to sniff luggage in an airport. In another, a brown and white spaniel with soft eyes was working to find bombs in an obviously war torn zone with buildings falling down. His handler stood devotedly at his side, and watched his with love and affection. In the third, a Border Collie was handling a group of sheep in what was obviously a competition. In the last, a final Border Collie worked a group of sheep in a traditional Yorkshire landscape of deep green fields enclosed by dry stone fences.
“This one,” Xenon pointed to the picture of the Springer Spaniel near the worn-torn buildings, “won a big award at a watercolour competition in England. That’s Buster and his handler Sergeant Danny Morgan. He won the Dickin Medal for Bravery. Mom got to paint him five years ago. He found a huge cache of weapons in Iraq in 2003, and she read about him in the paper. She never thought they’d let her go and do it, but she went to Iraq to meet his Buster and his handler. I was just a little kid back then. Mom says Dad was worried about her the whole time she was over there.”
“That’s incredible work,” Arty murmured as she bent forward to look at the picture, and the bright light from a side window caught her dark-hair and her well chiselled features. Ephiny studied the newcomer carefully. There was something about her that was eerily familiar. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she’d had that same feeling when she’d met her husband and when she’d met Gerri. It was odd.
Ephiny had known Gerri for ten years, having met her while Gerri was still an undergraduate at Victoria College of University of Toronto. At the time, Ephiny was still at the Ontario College of Art and Design, thrilled to have garnered a place in the prestigious commercial art program. She was living in a large turreted multi-storey house in the downtown area, close to both the university campus and the art college, and which was just a little too upscale for most students. Fortunately, some of Ephiny’s more lucrative work illustrating children’s books and greeting cards had made it possible for her to afford better accommodation. She hadn’t really noticed the young poet with the long blonde hair on the ground floor until one day she nearly knocked her down when she was entering the building quickly after a heavy thunderstorm. The downstairs hall light had been out; Ephiny made a quick turn carrying her heavy black portfolio and a box containing her painting supplies. Gerri, who had just entered the black and white tiled foyer to look for her mail, went tumbling to the ground against her door.
For one second, Ephiny was unsure who she’d hit and looked around frantically, finally locating Gerri who now had her back to her front door with her legs out in front of her.
“Good God,” Ephiny apologized, “I’m so sorry. I really wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“I’m okay, just bewildered. I’d been working on my stuff all day; I wasn’t watching where I was going. I see you coming and going all the time with your portfolio, I should’ve been on the lookout. You always come in around the same time. I was just trying to get my mail.” The blonde hair bobbed a bit as the other woman had rubbed her head, clearly unwilling to complain about her fall.
“Let me help you,” Ephiny said immediately, putting her work down on the floor. “Give me your keys. I’ll help you open your box.”
“No problem. Here you go.” She had handed over the keys gratefully.
“Right!” Ephiny had rummaged through the flyers and envelopes in the small box, and noticed a small letter from a familiar publishing house. “There’s a letter here from York Publishing.”
“Yeah, hand it over here. It’s probably another rejection. Darn them, why didn’t they send the manuscript back?”
“I write poetry,” Gerri said as the lighting flashed outside. For the first time, Ephiny saw close up the face of the woman she’d hit and it seemed familiar.
Although it had really been the last thing she had been expecting to hear, somehow the news that this small blonde was the writer of poetry seemed somehow appropriate. “Wow,” the blonde had suddenly said, “gosh, they’re publishing my stuff! Awesome!”
“Yeah, well it was a small envelope!” Ephiny said. “Do you need any help getting up?”
“No, I’m alright,” the blonde replied, “By the way, I’m Gerri von Biedermann.”
“I’m Ephiny Sergeant. I guess I should be moving along, I have work to do.”
“Okay, right.” There was a faint sound of disappointment in the other woman’s voice, then Gerri tossed out brightly, “Um, maybe you’d like to come in and celebrate? You know, have a drink or something. If you’re not too terribly busy, that is?”
And that had been how it started. She’d gone to Gerri’s first reading for the upcoming book; they’d stayed friends through the next five years – Gerri had even found her a job in Bermuda with the Ministry of Trade and Tourism doing brochures when Gerri had gone there to work for a couple of years. She’d met Gerri’s sister, who was three years younger, and Gerri’s brother-in-law Mallory when he’d first come over from Jamaica and run scuba tours of the Bermuda reefs from his sailboat. He’d had a friend who worked with him, Phantes Gregorian, who was a sculptor part time and a scuba instructor the rest of the time. They’d met in Jamaica during a pub brawl, and the two had been fast friends since that night. She and Phantes had gotten together, gotten married, and then finally moved out to Winnipeg. That was partly the reason that Gerri had decided to move to Winnipeg in the first place, but Ephiny had known by then that Gerri’s relationship with Irene had gone horribly wrong. However, Ephiny had always known that the red-haired Irene wasn’t interested in her friend, just the possibility of her money.
She gave the new woman in front of her a hard glance. Gerri put her coat on the bed, and went downstairs. Xenon was still talking animatedly to the vet about her favourite zoo animals. She gestured to her son. “Go downstairs, please, sweetie.” she asked gently, “I want to talk to Arty alone.”
“Sure thing, Mom.” Xenon said and bounded down the staircase.
Ephiny put up her leg as Arty came to the top of the stair. “Hi!” She said casually.
Arty gave her a cold blue stare, “What’s your problem?”
“Oh, I have no problems with you at all as long as you don’t hurt Gerri. If you’re going to do that, pack it in right now.” Ephiny said firmly.
“Look, we’re just getting to know each other.”
Ephiny nodded, “Um hmm, lesbian relationships have a habit of moving fast. Gerri’s last one moved really fast. All I’m saying is that if you’re not interested in long term, just do Gerri a favour and move along. Irene was really bad news, and it took her a long time to come out of her shell after that. If you’re a player, not a stayer, move on down the line.”
“How do you know what Gerri wants?” Arty asked her.
“I might not,” Ephiny said simply, “But I sure know what she needs. And I want to make sure you understand all about it. How come you’re not settled down? How old are you, thirty-five?”
“I’m thirty-eight, and I’ve been out for thirteen years, during which I’ve been pretty busy with my career. I’m still friends with all of my ex’s, but I haven’t really met a soul mate as yet. I’m not looking for a playmate, and I don’t play house unless I’m serious - so I guess that makes me different from Irene. You have nothing to worry about. I think you understand me.”
Ephiny met Arty’s level glance and nodded with approval, “I’m sorry.” She dropped her leg, “She’s been good to us and she’s from money, with a title, you know. So, sometimes I feel I need to scare off people who are going to use her.”
“I understand you’re her friend, but how come no one has come along in the last four years? She’s a great woman.”
Ephiny sighed, “Well she has lesbian friends – Eponin and Solari, they run a restaurant that’s very popular. She’ll probably take you there. They do French ‘Cajun food. They’ve tried to set her up a number of times. All of them were duds. And Melosa and Cyane – the publishers at Amazon Enterprises. I think Cyane was interested in extending their relationship at one time, but Gerri wasn’t buying a three-way.” Ephiny eyed Arty speculatively. “You know, I keep thinking of you with a sword in your hand.”
“That’s interesting, I see you with a bow.”
Ephiny grinned, “Well, on the totem my husband did I’m Artemis with the bow.”
Just then Gerri came up the stairs around the corner with Tuppence and Raffi at her heels, “What’s keeping you two anyway?” she demanded.
“Nothing!” Ephiny smiled at her old friend, “Nothing at all. We’ll be right there.”
“Good,” Gerri looked satisfied, “Because it seems that a certain young man wants to hear the story about the walrus that ate a raincoat and someone else wants to show us his latest sculpture for the front lawn after Armenian coffee.”
“I thought it was Turkish coffee. You mean the thick, syrupy stuff?” Arty asked.
“Oh no, not if you’re Phantes.” Gerri giggled, “Remember the time he made all that coffee for my sister’s husband Mallory. Mallory just kept saying, ‘Oh man, this stuff is so good.’ And Phantes just kept feeding it to him. And it is good,” she laughed, “It’s just that after a few you get so wired. And I think Mallory drank, I don’t know eight or nine of them and Phantes didn’t stop. Mallory is so big and athletic; and he’s Jamaican and loves to party. I thought he’d never go to bed! He just kept the lights up until three; I thought he was going to dance all night. But no, it’s never Turkish coffee, it’s Armenian, just like Phantes, his family is Armenian.”
They went downstairs and the cat looked disdainfully in the direction of both of the dogs. Tuppence trotted over to see her. The cat turned around and made an odd hissing sound in the spaniel’s face. “X..X,” it sounded like. Immediately, Gerri admonished her dog. “Tuppence, you know to leave Gussie alone. Come on, come over here.” The dog gave the humans and the cat one startled look, barrelled out of the room and headed for the basement.
“She always does that,” Gerri sighed, “there’s nothing she can get into down there, can she, Ephiny?”
“You know as well as I do, Gerri that there’s only a storage room and a crummy old computer down there.”
“Yeah, well just checking as usual,” Gerri said cautiously, “You know Tuppence, she’s a troublemaker, digging around at everything.”
Ephiny lifted her hand, “She just sniffing around for old cat toys. There are some boxes of old books, and other than that there are old paint cans from the house that are high on a shelf.
Then Raffi trotted over to look at the cat. This time the cat looked even more incensed and made a gargling noise which sounded like “G -, g -,” then ran down to the basement. The humans looked at each other and laughed.
“Well, I guess Gussie rules the roost,” Ephiny said, “should have known. Let’s go out to the back building and you can see Phantes’ sculpture, then we’ll have coffee. All the humans headed to the small square building in the backyard where Phantes had a sound- proofed room for welding his metal sculptures above the garage.
Meanwhile, in the basement, Tuppence had pulled out a large paper volume titled “The Compendium” in Phoenician. It was labelled volume “X”. She began pawing at the pages until she came to the entry under Xe, and found a picture of a strong female warrior with a sword at her back and a shiny circular object in her hand.
She heard the clip of doggie paws on the cement of the floor, ‘What is it’ asked Raffi politely.
‘It’s a woman, and her name is Xena. And she looks just like your Mom. Look at the picture. Wow!’ Tuppence read the entry sideways. ‘The mightiest warrior in all of Greece. Chosen of Ares. Hmm, who’s he?’
‘Can’t you read? Honestly!’ asked the high pitched cat voice coming up behind them, ‘He’s the God of War.’
‘Super!’ Raffi commented, ‘This warrior princess person does look like Mom. What about the other entry?’
Tuppence dragged out another heavy volume with ‘G’ on the side until she came to Ga, and found another picture, ‘Oh wow, look it’s my Mom. It says Gabrielle the Bard of Potadeia, chosen of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love. Gee, that’s even better. The greatest known bard of ancient times, is that ever great!’
‘It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all these years, but your puny dog mind hasn’t been understanding it. The wheel of creation has come around again. I hope you two have been doing everything you can to make sure they stay together, your Moms, that is.’ Gussie sighed. ‘All my great work, guiding the bard, talking to her, making sure that she understands her mission, it will go to waste if she and her soul mate don’t bond.’ She dragged out a third encyclopaedia labelled “A”, and leafed through the pages. ‘See, this is the problem.’ A dark haired man in a leather suit with studs and a beard was pictured.
Raffi sniffed at the picture, ‘He smells bad, even from here. Who is he?’
‘Our arch nemesis Ares, the God of War,’ said Gussie impressively.
‘That God of War guy, he’s not coming here, is he?’ asked Tuppence nervously. ‘He doesn’t look very friendly.’
‘Well, he’s pretty busy these days with all the wars and violence going on in the world, and Raffi’s Mom isn’t working with him this time, but he’s still obsessed with her. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. ‘ Gussie said sharpening her claws carefully on the old wooden furniture. ‘But we cats stay far away from him, he’s bad news.’
‘So how do we know this compendium thing of yours is accurate?’ Raffi demanded.
‘Explain to him about Schrödinger’s cat,’ Tuppence yawned trying to tell Raffi, but knowing that it was too complicated for her to explain. Gussie had tried to explain it her several times, and she always got confused.
‘Wow, is this the great compendium of knowledge given to us by Schrödinger’s cat?’ Raffi suddenly seemed to finally realize what he was seeing. ‘I never thought I’d actually see it! Only a few very lucky dogs and cats have ever seen the compendium.’
‘Listen and learn!’ Gussie instructed, ‘The great compendium of cat and dog knowledge comes to us from the ancient cats themselves. It is a ray of light in the darkness of ignorance, and was begun when the first cat walked into the first granary in Egypt 4,000 years ago. In every generation, it is given to one cat to continue writing the compendium and expand the poor consciousness of the human minds. The compendium teaches us that by working with human helpmates, cats and dogs can lead their humans to understand the great inner light of being. Without the compendium, there would have been no electricity, no computers, no progress of any kind. Humans would still be working in the dirt with scratch plows. For our work and pushed by evil, such as that embodied by the dreaded God of War Ares, cats and dogs and their knowledge have been cast aside and tormented. Fortunately, the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite knows our plight and works with us to smooth the path toward enlightenment. Behold!’
Gussie pushed a button on the computer and a beautiful woman with golden curls and gauzy rainbow raiment appeared in the screen.
“Hey, babes how’s it shaking?” said the beauteous vision.
“This is our honoured Goddess, the great Aphrodite herself.” Gussie cleared her throat.
“Wow, what a doll!” Raffi whispered, “And she smells great ,too!”
“Oh, thank you so much. And you’re pretty cute too, your little selves. Are these your new friends, Gussie?” Aphrodite asked.
Gussied nodded sagely, “These are the new helpmates of Gabrielle and Xena in this life, oh wondrous one. May your wisdom serve us well!”
“Ooh, don’t you love that - beauteous one, wondrous one! And that’s me.” Aphrodite flung out her arms to embrace them through the screen, “ Wow, I just love being a love Goddess. It’s the coolest thing. Now listen up sweetpeas, pay attention to your Aunty Gussie here and follow her instructions and if you’re in any trouble, just think big, beautiful, rainbow thoughts and I’ll be there to help you. Love’s the greatest force in the universe and you better believe it. But my bro’ Ares has been pretty busy these days so you little pumpkins better take care of yourselves and stay away from him.”
“I sure don’t want to meet him,” Tuppence shuddered, “He sounds scary.”
“Well, sweetie pie he’s my bro, so I gotta’ love him, but he’s a bit wacky about Xena so you need to watch your cutie little paws. I gotta’ splazoo, but big hugs,” she hugged them, “and kissies too cuties. And watch your furry little butts! Ciao bellas! And Gussie, you teach em’ right.” She pointed her finger at Gussie and was gone, leaving behind a blank screen with numbers scrolling across it.
Gussie continued her explanation, ‘In each generation, we work to bring light to the world. The bard Gabrielle the Bard knew this and was generous to many cats and dogs in her lifetime. It’s why your Mom is a vet, too. Xena loved and cared for many animals in her lifetime.’
Raffi looked impressed, ‘But what about this Erwin Schrödinger dude?’
Gussie sighed, ‘He was a small-minded human who found out that his cat was the great writer of the compendium in his generation. Enraged and jealous beyond measure, Schrödinger created a cruel scientific model to explain radioactive decay, using the example of a hammer, a phial of poison and a cat in the box. He asked whether the cat was alive or dead, but the question was irrelevant because he was really just trying to keep the cat away from others so they wouldn’t find out that he was smarter than Schrödinger.’
‘How thoughtless!’ Tuppence commented. ‘The poor cat.’
‘Precisely the point of the project, humans can’t be trusted. At the time of the great bard Gabrielle, she was still was able to give full credit to one of the greatest sources of her inspiration, her cat Isis as well as Xena of course. You see, my computer here is the largest intellectual project of this time or any other time. Of course, because you are dogs you will be allowed to look up things on the compendium although we will not expect you to contribute to the knowledge in any way. After all, you are dogs and as such not our intellectual equals. However, you will be given passwords to guide you through this compendium.’
‘And this computer has knowledge of any source whatsoever?’ Raffi questioned. ‘Even if we needed to defeat Ares?’
‘Well,’ Gussie smiled, ‘that would probably never happen – two dogs against Ares. And Ares has an immortal dog of his own called Horace. He would probably help Ares against you.’
‘But what if we had to fight Ares?’
‘Well,’ she scratched her nose, ‘there are lines of linear equations that could prepare you for battle with Ares and lead you to his probable strategies, but your best defense is a good offense.’
‘Aphrodite?’ Tuppence suggested.
‘That’s the idea.’ Gussie gestured to the scrolling computer. ‘And you understand your mission, of course?’
‘Our mission?’ Tuppence pricked up her ears. ‘Well, I guess it has something to do with keeping the soul mates together.’
Gussie sighed with satisfaction, ‘Give a spaniel enough time, they will finally understand a project if it has something to do with love. Yes, spreading the word of love throughout the universe is the work of the great compendium. By assisting your Mom, Gerri will write great love poetry for a new generation of women lovers. It’s inspiring, really.’ Gussie choked slightly, and wiped a tear from her eye with her paw.
At that moment, Ephiny’s footstep could be heard on the staircase. As she entered the basement, she addressed all three animals fiercely, “And what have you two dogs been doing, eh? Cornering a poor defenceless cat I see! And you, Miss Puss, turning on the computer again! And what are those foreign language encyclopaedias doing on the floor again? Good Heavens, I’ll never stop cleaning this place. Now, follow me you two dogs.”
‘Remember it’s up to you,’ Gussie whispered. ‘And remember the passwords.’
“Ah, no fighting you animals!” Ephiny instructed the animals to be quiet.
Ephiny came upstairs with the two dogs in tow. “Good news,” she announced, “I found them in the basement harassing the cat.”
Gerri went over to Tuppence and sniffed her, “I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but you smell fantastic.” Then she went to go and get their coats, the animals’ coats and Tuppence’s leads.
Arty stood by Raffi; it was true, he smelled wonderful. It was a strange smell – it reminded her of a fresh breeze and the most wonderful perfume at the same time. “What do you have that smells great in that basement?” She asked Ephiny curiously.
“Nothing,” Ephiny said, “it’s the darnedest thing. We think it’s Gussie, wherever she is a good smells seems surrounds her. And nobody can describe it. One person thinks it smells like orange blossom, Phantes thinks it smells like baking bread, and one person even thought it smelled like popcorn. It’s very odd. Anyway,” she said, changing the subject as everyone got their winter clothes on, “where are you going tonight?”
“I thought I might let Arty sample the delights of the Mississippi Queen.” Gerri looked pleased at the thought, “One of the delights of living in Winnipeg is that there are lots of good restaurants. I blame the long, cold winters. What else is there to do except eat? I hope you have a stringent exercise regimen.”
“Well, besides running daily, I do kick boxing twice a week and Tae Kwan Do. I need to be serious about my physical regiment, working around horses or cows and birthing big animals requires strength and endurance from the vet too.”
The two women parted at the corner of Queenston and Mathers, at Gerri’s house, with the promise to meet at seven. Precisely on time, Arty rolled up with her truck. Gerri didn’t come out to the door but signalled her indoors instead. When Arty came in, Gerri was talking to her sister Winnie who was obviously not planning to get off the phone anytime soon. Arty gestured at her watch.
Gerri nodded and told her sister, “I have a dinner date.”
“I hope this turns out better than your last partner,” Winnie said dubiously.
“Winnie that was four years ago,” Gerri was defensive. At this point, it was obvious to Arty that Gerri’s sister was less than thrilled that her sister was dating again. She hoped it wasn’t one of those anti-gay things, after all there were parts of the Caribbean that weren’t exactly gay friendly.
“I’m just saying, you need to be careful,” Winnie was cautious in her approach.
“Well, Arty’s a vet.”
“A vet huh?”
“We can’t all be lawyers or doctors or business people. And you took a chance on Mallory.”
“That was different.”
“Well, this is different too. I want to give this a chance, and I don’t particularly want to talk about it now,” Gerri said definitely.
“What’s that mean?”
“Until I meet her, it means okay.”
“Look, I have to leave, I’ll talk with you tomorrow.”
“Be careful,” Winnie warned.
“Stop it, good night!”
They had a wonderful dinner at the restaurant. The new server Antoinette made the experience perfect. They had a lovely Merlot with their meal, and Gerri was feeling mellow and happy by the time they got back home to her house. Outside the house under the avenue of elm trees, a man, his faced obscured by a large hat, waited in the shadows. “Oh Xena, Xena,” he sighed, “Every lifetime, it’s that same problem. It’s blondie this, blondie that. Remember when we were so happy together?” His face darkened, “And now, the compendium and my sister are convinced this new poet will herald a new age of lesbian love. It should,” he stroked his face dark bearded face and moustache, “be ironic that my sister is such a supporter of gay rights and lesbian love because she’s such piece of burnin’ woman love, the men can’t leave her alone.”
He laughed humourlessly to himself, “Well, maybe the Furies can help me out of this unfortunate dilemma! Sorry about this, blondie, I just don’t want to lose Xena in yet one more lifetime.”
Three undulating shapes of women with pointy faces stepped from the shadows. “Yes Ares, we are here at your request.” Their faces were twisted with the jealousy and rage they inspired in their human victims and they made horrible hissing sounds as their bodies writhed in seeming pain.
“Can you do anything about that?” he demanded pointing at the two women about to have a gentle, tender first kiss.
“Tee hee,” Alceto, the leading fury with danced about, the colours on her close fitting body suit changing from one shade to another, like the patterns of anger and jealousy. “Still obsessed with Xe-na, I see!” She cackled at him, “Well, I can do what jealousy and unfamiliarity often does to new relationships, I can cause havoc and distress. We can’t promise anything, but we can try.” Her forked tongue stroked his ear.
“Stay away from me,” he pushed her back, “the only one who is faithful is Horace, aren’t you, boy?” His Australian Shepherd who had been granted immortal life, barked at his master’s feet.
“Then why,” demanded the creature called Tisiphone, “do you care so much about Xe-na? You dog her footsteps through every lifetime, and you still lose her to her soul mate Gabr-iell-e.” She chortled at his discomfort.
His face darkened, “Xena was the only one,” he wiped the tears off his face with his coat sleeve, “the only one, who really understood my vision of war. After all these centuries, she’s still the only one. But that little blondie came along and ruined her. Taught her about redemption. And love.” He hiccupped and hit his chest, “That must’ve been something I ate. Anyway, you deal with that,” he pointed at the window, “and I’ll find an even better job for you in Hollywood.”
“Jealousy?” Alceto inquired.
“Hate?” Tisiphone quizzed.
“Hideous deception?” Megaera looked hopeful.
“No it’s even better. I’ll get some angry stars on Letterman for you.”
“Letterman is better than Jerry Springer, our usual corral of fun,” Megaera said thoughtfully, “It’s much more fun to see the higher class clientele pulling each other’s hair.”
“Angelina, Brad and Jennifer?” Tisiphone questioned eagerly. “They used to be such a gas.”
“Nah,” Ares shook his head, “They’re too lovey-dovey now. And that Angelina, she’s turned Brad into a peacenik. They’re a drag. But I’ll get you some new starlet with drinking or drug problem who’s fighting with her boyfriend. Your choice of who it is.”
“A young one,” Alceto crowed, “We’ve done some of my best work with the young ones. We should be able to get a fight going in no time. And good magazine coverage too.” She capered about.
“Hmm, will you throw in a child custody issue that we could uncover?” Tisiphone asked him.
“Absolutely, would I cheat you guys?” he asked plaintively.
Aleceto nodded, “Okay, you have a deal, Ares. And you will keep your word about the young starlet?”
“Absolutely, do I renege on close friends like you guys?” Ares waved his hand in the air, “But please, stay back, that sulphur pit smell is giving my dog Horace allergies.” The dog sneezed on cue. “See, allergies. Poor Horace, he’s such a good boy.” He patted his dog who panted and looked at him adoringly. Ares raised his dark brows at the Furies and gestured to them, “Go on, do your thing!”
“See you later, Ares,” cackled Megaera.
“When it’s time to collect,” added Alceto.
The three winding forms spun through the window and into the front hall where they waited unseen by the mortals in the house. “One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy and presto...” Alceto raised her hand at the phone and it rang. “Oh sisters, we’re going to have such fun!”
The phone rang again and Gerri picked it up. It was Irene.
“What’s going on?” Gerri asked as she heard the sound of hysterical crying. She thought her voice sounded a bit harsh and tried to soften the tone.
“Let’s step up the action a little,” Tisiphone waved her hand in Arty’s direction.
Arty heard, “I want to come home to you,” in a loud wail through the phone, and it didn’t sound like Gerri was discouraging her. What Irene actually said to Gerri was, “I’m in a lot of trouble, I need your help.”
“Look, now isn’t a good time,” Gerri said clearly.
“No, no, that’s not the way, this is what you’ll hear!” Alceto commented. Echoing through Arty’s mind came the words “God, where are you? Why haven’t you phoned me in so long. I need you desperately.”
“I’m so scared!” Irene sobbed.
“I’m trying to help you,” Gerri said quietly.
“See,” said the voice of Alceto in Arty’s ear, “Gerri doesn’t really care about you. She still loves that other woman, Irene. What do you really know about her anyway?”
Out on the street, the figure of Ares began to laugh. The dogs, Tuppence and Raffi rushed to the window to see the God Ares illuminated in all his glory outside the window.
‘Oh my God,’ Raffi barked, ‘He really is here. That Ares guy! Have you noticed those spinning forms in the room?’
‘Yeah, what’s that about?’ Tuppence shook her head, ‘This scares me.’
‘Yes, Tuppence, but you have to be brave,’ Raffi barked back.
Arty shook her head at Gerri violently, “What are you animals barking about? See, they’re fighting.” She rubbed her head, “I have a headache.” She mouthed at Gerri, “Irene’s pulling your chain,” but Gerri ignored her, only hearing that Irene sounded scared and alone. “What do you need Irene?” Gerri asked in a resigned tone.
Again, the Furies spun around the room, whispering to Arty and the dogs howled. “See how she runs to her ex-lover, and you thought things were over between them! Think again.”
“She’s left me. What do I do?” Irene wailed.
“Get out of here, before she makes a fool of you,” the Furies said in a chorus. “Look even, the dog needs to get out of here.”
Arty stood up to leave, “I’m going home,” she mouthed at Gerri.
Gerri put the phone down and went over to talk to her. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Arty said. “I guess I thought that things were going one way, but clearly they’re going another.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It means you’re still involved with this woman,” Arty said, wondering why she felt so angry.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard from her in four years. She wasn’t much of a girlfriend, but she’s in trouble,” Gerri said patiently, “I should help her.”
“You should drop the phone Gerri; she’s a bitch who used you.” Arty’s head pounded and a shrill chorus of laughter was between her and her own words. She sounded harsh, but the chorus kept urging her on. “I guess you’ve been talking to her all along,” Arty snapped.
“Why do I have a habit of getting involved in these situations? Why are you talking to me like this?” Gerri was puzzled.
“Poor little favourite of Aphrodite,” the Furies chorused even louder, “Anything we can do to make you miserable. You’ll never see true love if we have anything to do with it.”
“What do you mean by these situations,” Arty demanded.
“Nothing? So I’m the problem now? That woman is the bitch.” Arty wondered why she sounded so vicious.
“She’s just in trouble for now,” Gerri pleaded with her.
“I’m leaving. I knew this was too good to be true.” Arty knew that her reactions were illogical, but it was like she couldn’t stop herself.
“Please don’t go, I’ll talk to her for a little and calm her down,” Gerri pleaded. “Stay and we’ll work this out.”
But Arty had become stone cold. How could she, she wondered feel this way? This woman was so wonderful one moment and driving her crazy the next? She’d never felt this way about anyone before, so irrational, so driven. She had to escape. The dogs were leaping up and growling, clearly they were upset. Gerri’s apology should’ve been enough, but something stronger than her was driving her. Anger and resentment boiled over inside of her. She needed to be patient, but she was jealous and furious. She left with her dog who was still barking and going crazy. “What the heck has gotten into this dog?” She asked herself, almost bumping into a tall dark man in a duster coat in the shadows. He was pretty good-looking and had a big Australian shepherd with him. Raffi’s ruff went up, and his mouth pulled back into a formidable set of fangs. He backed up and growled angrily at the newcomer and his strange dog.
“I’m sorry to cause you any inconvenience,” said a plaintive voice that echoed inside her head, “my dog and I were out for a walk. I was just walking by.”
Arty turned on him, “I don’t know who you are mister, but I don’t like people who don’t like my dog. And he sure hates your guts, and I’m wondering why?” She gave him a cold stare, and got into her truck and drove off into the night.
As the vehicle drove off, Ares spoke, “Well, we’ll see Xena, whether I’m too late or not.” Then he vanished into thin air.
Back in the house, Irene hiccupped on the phone, “If I’ve caused you some trouble I’m sorry. There’s nothing you can do for me anyway. I just felt this overwhelming urge to call you when this dilemma came along. I’m going to hang up. I hope you can fix things.”
“I hope so too.” Gerri said quietly. Tuppence whined beside her.
Gerri went into the kitchen and fixed herself a hot chocolate and drank it. Suddenly, she felt almost overwhelmingly tired. What had just gone on? Why had Arty suddenly turned on her? Maybe, she should phone her. What if Arty was sick or something was wrong? She thought about it. Arty had behaved illogically, and had been nasty when everything was going so well. There was no explanation for it.
No, it was her term off, and if she felt like this in the morning she was going to charter a plane, and take Tuppence with her to Bermuda. Tuppence had a special passport that she’d been able to obtain through Sir Richard Gozney, the Governor of Bermuda as a part of her EU passport. She’d go and spend some time with Winnie and the girls. It was strange, that hot chocolate had made her awfully woozy. She didn’t see the last twisted figure of the Fury, Megaera spin off into the night after having slipped a sleeping powder into Gerri’s hot chocolate. It just wouldn’t do if Gerri called Arty and they got back together. Once they actually kissed, there would be nothing the Furies could do to break the bond between the two women.
Gerri tipsily mounted the stair. Had there been something in her food or in her dinner? Arty didn’t seem like that, and besides it would have affected her earlier. After locking the door, she’d just managed to hit the night setting button by the front door. This was weird. She stumbled into her room as the phone rang. Her body sank onto the bed and the phone seemed so far away, so very far as she drifted into sleep.
On the other end, Arty dialled Gerri’s phone desperately. The phone rang again and again. “She’ll never forgive me. I’m not even sure about what I actually heard.” She told Raffi.” There was something about that creepy guy outside of Gerri’s house that had shaken her back to normalcy, and she realized that Raffi had been trying to warn her about him. He seemed awfully familiar, and she realized she’d dreamt about him. In her dreams, he was an evil god of some kind. None of it made sense.
“Go on, answer,” Arty pleaded. Raffi looked up at her with worried eyebrows; what should he tell his Mom? The work of the compendium had to go on untampered with over the generations, but apparently some strange force was at work here. What should he do? He agonized in his heart.
At Gerri’s house, the situation was somewhat different. For the rest of her life, Gerri would feel ashamed of taking that hot chocolate. She could never accept that maybe she’d forgotten to clean her cupboard out carefully and that she’d taken some chocolate that had expired. If it hadn’t been for certain details, she never would have believed that the hot chocolate mix contained a secret elixir from the Furies which would work overnight to make her forget Arty. But this elixir would take eight hours to work properly.
When Gerri tumbled onto the bed unconscious, she had forgotten to crate the dog. For the first time in her three and a half year life, Tuppence was free in the big house and she didn’t like the feeling at all. She sat on the bed and wailed, but her mother still didn’t wake up. She pushed at her human with all the strength in her paws, and discovered that Gerri was still breathing, but she couldn’t get her to move. That was good, but she needed help and soon.
‘Okay’, she thought ‘I’ll use my password to get help from the compendium.’
Nervously, Tuppence jumped up onto the high chair at the computer station and flipped on the computer on with a paw that was more dextrous than most humans could have guessed. Okay, the screen was there. In the corner was Mozilla Firefox that her Mom used to negotiate the Internet, and she entered the password for the compendium and waited.
The soothing strains of Mozart filled the room, and Tuppence breathed a sigh of relief. This was what was supposed to happen. Mozart, the great musician who went to his grave attended only by his dog, it was a good sign. She relaxed temporarily.
Just when the compendium was supposed to roll out, a dark bearded piratical face with a moustache filled the screen, and a voice addressed her. He waved a finger at her, “Ah ah, little Tuppy. You can’t get help for Gerri from the compendium. She’ll be on a plane, and on her way to Bermuda by morning. You’ll never get Arty and Gerri together. Too bad!”
Tuppence growled angrily at the screen, ‘Get lost, fur face. I don’t want you. Mom doesn’t want you. Everything was going great until you came along. Mom is supposed to be the greatest lesbian love poet of this generation, and you can’t stop it.’
“Well,” flames came out of the top of Ares head and Tuppence’s ears blew back as a hot wind came out of the computer, “You may think so little spaniel, but what can you do? A spaniel all alone? I hate spaniels.”
Tuppence pushed herself past the barrier of her fear, imagining what her Mom might do in this very situation. She imagined Gerri would get angry; so she got angry for Gerri. ‘You can’t come in here, can you? My Mom is the chosen of Aphrodite and she smells better than you do.’
“Your petty insults do not touch me,” he lifted his hand.
‘But you are worried about the work of the compendium,’ Tuppence looked straight at him with her brown eyes.
“No, I’m not worried...” Ares began, “Well, maybe just a little. But this lovey-dovey stuff doesn’t really stand a chance beside the war and destruction I’ve begun to inflict.”
‘I’ve seen your work on the television,’ Tuppence commented quietly.
“And what do think?” He rubbed his nails on his leather vest, “Is that talent or what?”
Tuppence swallowed, ‘I think you’re overrated.’
“Famine, pestilence, flood, disaster, war and genocide and you, a little black spaniel think I’m over-rated,” he laughed uneasily.
She thought carefully about what her Mom would say, ‘Sure, you’re over-rated. I mean the basic black thing is working well. I, myself,’ she winked her long eyelashes at him, ‘believe basic black is the cutest. But you know, personally I find the guy who does the body pickup for the underworld much more frightening. When the humans are watching the news, I can always see him in the picture. He’s really scary.’
“You think Hades is more frightening than me!” He looked insulted. “But he’s actually helping people by taking them to the Fields.”
‘Yeah, whatever.’ Tuppence yawned, ‘I just wonder why such a big guy like you is worried about me contacting the compendium.’
“No, no I’m not worried little spaniel, I just won’t allow it.”
‘Why? If you’re so sure of yourself, there’s nothing I can do to stop you,’ Tuppence looked at him hypnotically.
He gave her a long hard stare. “I just don’t get what my sister sees in that blondie! Well, okay talk to the compendium...knock yourself out. See if I care, I’ll get Xena in the end.”
‘But she’s not Xena anymore.’ Tuppence pointed out.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” he gestured, “Just don’t get in my way again, little doggie.”
Then the concerned face of Gussie filled the screen, ‘Quick don’t waste any time, Blackie. Tell me what’s happening at your end.’
“My Mom is unconscious on the bed after drinking some weird chocolate drink,” Tuppence was tearful.
‘It sounds like work of the Furies, they’ll do anything for a primetime slot,’ Gussie sounded like she knew what she was talking about. ‘So, I’ll tell what I’m going to do...’
Meanwhile, at Arty’s house, the vet was becoming more frantic by the moment. She’d gotten in her truck and driven over to Gerri’s house and knocked on the door. There was no response. Half of the lights were out, and she could hear Tuppence barking and leaping frantically at in the front window inside. That was peculiar because she knew that Tuppence was always crated at night, but the dog was frantically pawing repeatedly at the window.
She went back home and paced. Meanwhile Raffi had made a decision. If he couldn’t tell his Mom about the work of the compendium, then at least he could tell her about Aphrodite. He turned on the computer, and got onto the Internet. He thought about the beautiful voluptuous blonde Goddess, her great smell, her wonderful gauzy clothes. Then her lovely image filled the screen.
“You see pookie, all you had to do was concentrate. And presto, here I am in all my glory.”
He told her what was going on briefly, and she calmed him down.
“Not so fast big fella, just get the big kahuna on the line here, and we’ll blast through this situation like a knife through butter.”
He barked frantically until Arty came upstairs, looked at the computer screen and signed, “What have you done Raffi? Who is this?”
Aphrodite pouted slightly, “Hey, it’s me babe, Aphrodite. Remember me?!”
“Sure,” Arty said politely, “And I’m the tooth fairy. How do I turn this thing off?” “Don’t worry babe I can zip over to you,” Aphrodite shrugged her shoulder in excitement and Raffi barked.
“Listen lady, I think,” Arty began and the body of Aphrodite emerged intact through the computer in the middle of her floor, “Wait a minute, how did you? That’s not possible!” Arty stood open mouthed and looked at the sweet smelling Goddess in her rainbow raiment.
“It was getting a titsy bit tight in there, anyway.” Aphrodite arranged her robes carefully. Arty reflected that the love Goddess, if love Goddess she was, was showing a lot of cleavage and ankles. She certainly looked like a love Goddess and she hadn’t seen anyone come out of the computer before.
“This must be a dream,” she reflected.
“No babes this is the real thing. The Love Goddess herself, me. Wow, I hear from Raffi that you have a problem.”
“Raffi’s a dog, he can’t talk.”
Aphrodite rolled her eyes, “Right, whatever! So spill, what’s happening with the new main squeeze? Where’s Gabby?”
“Oh right, you call her Gerri. So, many lifetimes so many names... What’s happening, I hear from the pooch that you’re in major trouble. Sounds like the Furies have been knockin’ at your door; they’ll do anything for a cheap TV endorsement. Those crummy scandal sheets have sent them way, way over the edge. They’ll do anything for excitement these days, especially after some of the big star blowups. Naming no names, eh? Well, my bro...you remember Ares don’t cha’ babe?”
“Sure, you were his chosen in ancient times, you know, when you were Xena. He was big and handsome, the God of War, your Daddy and your lover all rolled up in one tootsie roll. And you met this blonde babe, the bardest of the love bards and she wrote up your history and wrote you love sonnets. She changed you, and Ares...” Aphrodite noticed a puzzled look on Arty’s face, “You keeping up with the programme here?”
“Yeah, but wait - you’re saying those scrolls are true?”
“Look, when a love goddess comes through your computer at two in the morning and gives you the skinny on your before life, do you ask dumb questions? You and the little bardelette are like soul sisters, you groove to the same tunes, you’re made for each other and you blew it tonight right?” Aphrodite sounded a bit impatient.
“Yeah, but I thought that I heard voices, you’re saying it was these Furies.”
“Natch, I told you, Ares knows their number. Cheapo publicity.”
“And Raffi can talk?”
“Look sweetie pie, you’re getting caught up in details. The babe-ette, your girlfriend is unconscious at her house. And in the morning, she won’t even remember you. She’s taken Fury Fairy Dust, and you’ll be blasted right out of her bardic mind by the morning. She’ll blast out of this town, and this is your last chance for a go round with her in this lifetime unless we can find a way to get into her house and wake her up. And since she’s my chosen, I’m gonna help you out. So, what’ll it be honey? Me or nothing.”
Raffi barked, “Okay, the dog,” Aphrodite held up her hand, “has just picked me. What do you say?”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Arty shook her head, “I’m picking a woman in a rainbow outfit who appeared through my computer.”
“Good choice!” Aphrodite knocked her shoulder, “We used to work so well as a team, me, you and me and the little one. So, who has the keys to Gerri’s house and the alarm codes?”
“Ephiny, her artist friend, I’d guess.”
“Now, we’re getting somewhere. You get in your truck with Raffi, and I’ll meet you at Ephiny’s doorstep.”
“How are you going to get there?”
“Duh, love Goddess here, remember? I just do the snappy thing, and I’m there.”
“Well okay, I’m heading out to Ephiny’s with my truck and the dog.” She turned around, and Aphrodite was missing. “Well, Raffi, there’s no point in talking to myself is there?” She went downstairs, got into her truck and belted over to Ephiny’s. Even though it was past two in the morning there was a light in the window and Ephiny was standing there nursing a cup of coffee.
She went to the door and let Arty in, “I had the feeling you’d be back. Gussie kept sitting on my face, and when that happens there’s always trouble. What’s going on with Gerri?” Gussie sat on the staircase solemnly, and Raffi sat at the bottom of the step regarding her with clear respect.
Arty stumbled over her story, and just when she got to the part about how she’d become upset with Gerri and how she couldn’t get Gerri to answer the door but her dog was loose, a voice interrupted her.
“Hey babe, I, like, told you it was the Furies! ” It was Aphrodite in her rainbow garb standing in Ephiny’s living room.
Annoyed with the new comer who’d just popped in, Ephiny started to protest, “Okay, lady, just who the heck are you and how did you get into my living room at two-thirty in the morning when the door is locked?”
“Oh duh, not another one…” Aphrodite looked irritated, “I’m, like, the Goddess of Love, the big love meister, the one – you know. I pop in whenever I’m needed - like now.”
“And you expect me to believe that?” Ephiny said in a starchy way.
“God, I should’ve known that an ex-Amazon would be so completely clueless about my greatness. Well, check this out,” she snapped and vanished and reappeared on the staircase. “And this one,” she snapped and vanished and appeared upside down on the ceiling, “And dah-dah! I’m back here.” She snapped and was back in her regular place. “And best of all babes, I know what your husband ole’ Phantes told you the night he asked you to hook up with him ‘cause I was there.”
“No one knows that,” Ephiny was lofty.
“Oh right, like you can keep something like that from moi. He said...”
“Not in front of them,” Ephiny gestured with her head at Arty and the cat.
“Hey, so the starchy Amazon isn’t such a non-believer. Cool. Okay, I’ll whisper in your shell-like,” Aphrodite went over and whispered a few words in Ephiny’s ear.
Ephiny’s eyes got large, “Okay, if you aren’t the Goddess of Love, you’re something really weird I don’t understand. So, who are these Furies?”
Aphrodite polished his fingernails, “Well, they’re like these three really haggy Goddess babes who can make you hear and say anything after they get into your head. You know like Orestes, you do know the story about his Mom and all. It was a total bloodbath.”
“I had heard this story in college,” Ephiny stirred her hand to get Aphrodite to get along with the story, “But what does this have to do with Gerri?”
“Oh right, well she’s my chosen. Isn’t that cool? That’s why she’s suffered for love so much. But we have to make sure that Arty here gets in to see her before morning because the Furies left some Fury Fairy dust at her place, and in the morning Gerri won’t know her soul mate here from a hole in the ground. And then, a whole bunch of really great love poetry won’t get written and they’ll be more wars. And I know you get the whole thing, Ephiny. I know you’re kind of an Artemis girl, but you get this love and forever stuff right?”
Mentally kicking herself as she said it, she sighed, “Yeah, I get it. I’m a bit worried about the fact that Tuppence is loose and barking. Tuppence is never loose. And she always answers the door, that’s just not Gerri. But I was worried that maybe Arty had...”
“Arty, given her something? Oh sister,” Aphrodite vanished and reappeared right beside Ephiny, “You know in your heart of hearts that just isn’t what happened. You’ve seen war; you’ve been to Iraq. You’ve seen the ugly faces of those Furies, I’ve been my your side when you did that picture of Buster and Sergeant Danny Morgan, helping to keep you safe from harm in your mission. I’ve seen what you’re doing; now, let me help you save my chosen so she can write that poetry.”
“Okay,” Ephiny said softly.
“Good girl, get the key and I’ll meet you both at Gerri’s house inside.”
“But how are you going to...” Ephiny began but Aphrodite had vanished.
“She does that,” said Arty.
All the way to Gerri’s in the truck, Arty felt distinctly nervous. What if she was interfering with Gerri’s life in way that she shouldn’t, what about all the things she said, what about that fact they’d just met, then she remembered Aphrodite’s words and felt a sense of renewed confidence. Just as they made it to the door, a small black spaniel bobbed up and down in the window and barked furiously.
“You’re right,” Ephiny said, “That’s not okay.”
Arty turned to her right, and the strange man with the Australian shepherd was there again. She could’ve sworn that he hadn’t been there a minute ago when they pulled up with the truck. He lifted his hand in greeting and Raffi growled meaningfully in his direction.
“Hold Raffi’s collar, while I deal with this,” Arty said with some force.
“Why? Who is that? Where did he come from?” Ephiny asked.
“That’s Ares, the God of War,” said Arty with sudden assurance.
Ephiny didn’t think for a moment of doubting her, “What does he want?”
“Me,” said Arty. She walked over to where the tall, dark god stood proudly in the dark, “I know who you are, what can you possible want with me?”
He leaned forward, “I know you don’t remember me. You never do. I can offer you more than you can ever imagine, heads at your chariot wheels, the world at your feet.” His dark eyes looked straight through her, “You’re the only one, Xena.”
“My name is Arty now,” she said calmly but she could feel the hypnotic pull of the God of War, and she knew in her heart of hearts that she’s once been Xena, the Warrior Princess just like Aphrodite had told her.
“Your name is unimportant. Forget this birthing cow babies and fixing lame horses. Turn your back on that, Xena, and come with me. This time, this world – so many places just ripe for war, so many people looking for a leader, dying to die for one. You can be that leader, Xena. You can conquer this world, and I’ll be with you every step of the way. How good we’d be together…How good it would feel to bring order to these chaotic times…What about it Xena? Join me! If you say no, I’m out of here now. But understand what I’m offering you.”
“Have I ever taken you up on your offer?” Arty asked, “Other than when I was Xena?”
He smiled, and she could see in his face his handsome burnished countenance, his god’s face, “No, just the once. But it was enough. You are more than my chosen, you have been and always will be my blood child.”
“I have a father,” Arty pointed out.
“Orlando Pierantonio isn’t the father of your soul, and you know it. That vintner’s daughter, it’s just not what you could be.”
“I don’t want to be that,” Arty was patient with the god.
Ares nodded, then gestured at Gerri’s house, “When you really want to know about her father, call me and I’ll come. He and I are old friends.”
“He’s dead,” Arty reminded him.
“Oh, really?” Ares gave her a long look, “Long shadows, Arty. The past casts long shadows, and she’ll want to see them. The past isn’t done yet. Will you call me to give her a glimpse into those shadows?”
“Maybe,” Arty conceded.
“Well, until we meet again. Have fun with blondie,” he sighed, “I really would have laid the world at your feet.”
She turned and walked away from him.
“What did he say?” Ephiny asked.
“Long shadows, Ephiny,” Arty said sadly, “Very long shadows. Let’s get in the house.” After opening the door and disarming the alarm, the women rushed upstairs to find Gerri collapsed on the bed. Tuppence kept getting in the way as they tried to lift Gerri up and wake her.
“I’ll carry her down beside the fire,” Arty lifted Gerri into her arms, cradling her gently, and carried her down the stairs. As Ephiny made some tea she could hear Arty singing sweetly to Gerri as she put her in a chair by the fire.
“What’s going on, Arty?” Gerri’s startled green eyes were slits as she tried to wake up. “We were fighting.”
“Not us, the Furies.” Arty said gently and, as she kissed Gerri very tenderly, she could feel the echoing voices of the jealous Furies leak away into nothingness.
“Irene was just upset.” Gerri said, “This was the first time I’d talked to her in four years.
“I don’t care,” Arty said, “I was stupid to listen to those voices. It all means nothing, only you mean something. I was worried I was moving too fast, but it isn’t important. What’s important is us.”
“So, there is an us?” Gerri queried in a small voice.
“Oh yes, even if I have to storm the gates of Heaven itself, like the rebel angels, there will be us.” Arty assured her.
“You can have me as well as Heaven.
“Well, I’m glad! You frightened us,” Arty told her. “We had to wake you up.”
“I think I was drugged. I almost didn’t make it upstairs,” Gerri told her.
“Hey sweet pea,” Aphrodite appeared out of nowhere, “how’s it hanging?”
“My muse,” Gerri smiled, “Aphrodite.”
“Well, duh, finally somebody sees this face and knows me. Oh, little one, you do get into so much trouble!” Aphrodite said, “But you need to sing my greatest song for me yet, little poet.” She put her hand on her cheek and touched it softly, “See you later, sweet thing,” the Goddess said softly and vanished.
“I thought I heard Aphrodite,” Ephiny came in with a mug of tea.
“She’s gone,” Arty explained.
“I guess that’s what gods do!” Ephiny said. “You didn’t tell me how Aphrodite came to your house.”
“Raffi called her,” Arty told her.
Ephiny’s eyebrows went up, “Hmm,” she said, “maybe Gussie and my computer are more than they seem. What do you think?”
“I think we’re not meant to ask.” Gerri pointed out, “If they’re more than pets, and they’re really our friends, I guess we’re lucky. We’re surrounded by a circle of love.”
Ephiny smiled, “Hey you, I guess that’s why I’m so careful with you. You are very precious to me. A circle of love, that’s nice. Well, I’m going to go before Phantes and Xenon wonder where I am.”
“Call me when you get there,” Gerri called out still, trying to wake up.
Ephiny shook her head, “Fury fairy dust, well I’m going to have a talk with Gussie when I get home.” She put on her boots and overcoat and was gone.
The two new lovers sat by the fire, holding hands. “Where did you meet Aphrodite, Gerri?”
“When I was little, I thought she was my imaginary friend. She used to appear to me especially when my mother was mean to me and hit me.”
“I’m sorry - I didn’t know about that. My Mom was conventional, but she’s been great. More like a sister, than a Mom.”
“Mom was a drunk who was angry at herself for marrying my father and blamed me. Then when I had trouble after Mom died, Aphrodite came back – I thought she was my Muse – later she told me I was her chosen one and that she was Aphrodite. She said I’d always been her chosen one, and that the path of love would be hard, but in the end I’d find the right one. I didn’t really believe her until now.”
“I met her brother Ares, the God of War outside; he made me an offer,” Arty commented, “but I decided not to take it.”
“What did the God of War have to offer?”
“Nothing I wanted.”
“Did he have anything interesting to say?”
“Not today.” Arty squatted down, “Right now, you and I are stepping out of the shadows together.”
“I’ll go for that,” Gerri commented as her heart beat hard in her chest, “What about the other stuff?” She added lightly.
“Ah, you mean this!” Arty stood up, bent over and kissed her, then traced a finger down her chin to just above the fabric covering the sensitive nipple of Gerri’s breast, “You think there are going to be any problems there?”
“Ah, Gods,” Gerri kissed her more deeply, “I think not.” She moaned slightly.
Her cell phone rang. “That must be Ephiny, calling us back.” Gerri answered the call. She listened for a moment before responding, “You’re calling kind of late for an advertisement,” she commented. She listened for another moment, “Look no, I’m sorry,” she could hear Arty’s heartbeat close to hers, two hearts beating in time together. “No,” she told the late night caller firmly, “the position is already taken. Good night."