Please make a donation for the information that you are reading on There is more than a book length of information on this site regarding poetry and the human brain, several bibliographies and it has taken several years of research to find, digest and write the information. This is the only site on the internet where this information may be found. For those accessing the chronic fatigue syndrome information, please feel free to use the information wihtout charge to improve your health. Thank you.

The Invisible Career


The Not-So-Ugly Canadian

The door of Dennis and Claudine’s compartment slides open and a man in a pillbox cap enters. He is crisp and official in his spotless, black uniform with its wide leather belt and mirror-like shoes. Claudine grabs her blouse collars, and Dennis’ first thought, so far from home, is that the man is a soldier and they’ve done something dreadfully wrong without knowing it. He snaps his report closed.

“Los boletos, Por favor, Senor,” the man says and holds out his hand to Dennis.

“I think he’s only a conductor,” Dennis says. Claudine rummages in her purse then holds out the tickets, guiding them around Dennis’s hand. Dennis sighs at her determined smile, her need for principles regardless of the circumstances.

“Estos boletos son de clase segunda. Este ses un cache de clase primera. Uds. Es necessario que fe movan,” the conductor informs Dennis.

“No hablo el espanol.” This is the only Spanish Dennis knows. “Do you speak English?”

The conductor examines their passports and tells them again, in Spanish, that they do not have first class tickets and will have to move. Dennis and Claudine look at him blankly and he smiles. His smile says, ‘Sir and madam, we understand one another well enough, but stay where you are this once.’


After he leaves, they slouch back, wilting in their over-warm Ottawa clothes and watch the alien landscapes slide by: marble fountains under lobsided palm trees, newsagents in brightly coloured caravans, mile upon mile of red-tiled roof, lombardi poplar stiff as cattails. So different from the Ottawa they left the day before. Five inches of snow had descended, dense as cotton. Night opened cloudless under a brittle moon, and cold wind drove the snow into board?hard drifts behind trees and fence posts, even in the lee of the Rideau Canal downtown.

Claudine had begged for a holiday without itineries and goals. “We need to become friends again, Dennis. Do you understand that?”

Dennis shh, shhed her and closed the door of her office. He leaned back, counting dots in ceiling tiles and said very deliberately, “If you were an employee of mine, I’d have gotten rid of you long ago. Now get yourself together.”

“You’re so very hard,” Claudine said, sneaking a finger to her eye as though itching her nose.

Dennis can hardly believe they landed in Paris without a plan and decided on Spain on the toss of a franc. They have clothes for every weather.

“Shouldn’t we at least find a place to stay?” Dennis hates uncharted time and this structureless holiday stretches out before him seemingly without end.

“You agreed to come and go without schedules. You gave your word.” In the mirror under the luggage rack, Claudine is hard, repelling, masklike in her weariness. Her need for opposition weighs on Dennis and he lets the subject drop.

In an open field, a nun leads a line of schoolgirls past a high, stone wall. In her black habit and bobbing, gull?winged cap, she bends and hurries along. The lagging girls laugh and rush in the deep, spring grass. They wear navy pinafores and white blouses, carry arms of books. Some are holding hands. From the train, the scene is nostalgic, sad in its innocence. It has an otherness quality so unlike Ottawa that after the scene passes, Dennis can hardly believe it was there at all.


Dennis turns to Claudine and finds that she has been looking straight at him steely eyed. He has the wildest feeling she’s decided she suddenly doesn’t know who he is and is boring in to find out. Flushed with emotion, Claudine turns away. She reaches for his hand, something she hasn’t done in years. Self conscious as can be, Dennis also turns away.

“I love you,” Dennis says, turning to his reflection in the window. He jumps when Claudine tells him, “I love you too.” Her eyes remain closed.

Things have not always been so strained. Claudine came from Saskatchewan and blithely told him she’d never seen a maple leaf before coming east. “Never heard of the Golden Triangle. Couldn’t put Toronto on the map?” he had said incredulously until she pointed out he was clueless about prairie wool and freight rates. Such revelations had been hugely attracting.

At the first seaside town, the train leaves them standing in a dusty, deserted street wondering if they’ve made a mistake. They don’t even know where they are. Bags in hand, they descend mazes of streets that dip to the distant Mediterranean. Luckily, the door of the first pension opens to a long, clean hallway lined with cool tiles. Luminous sun streams in leaded French doors. The living room is white?arched and compact, with a small bookshelf and white dining table. All is austere and spotless.

“This can’t be true.” Claudine flings back the bedcovers revealing crisp linen sheets. She throws open the French doors and finds a tiny balcony bathed in sun. Below, neighbours return, shouting in Spanish, a precise language, so unlike the rolling French of Hull. Their neighbours carry packets of cheese, fruit and long baguettes. Older women in black dresses and shawls open doors for daughters shepherding darkeyed, olive?skinned children. Claudine eavesdrops silently, drinking it in.


“I love you,” Claudine whispers and clasps Dennis so openly, so unexpectedly he falls back, nearly toppling them over. He holds her woodenly, not knowing what to say.

“I’m just tired,” he says. They both know this is not what he means to say, yet Claudine bobs her head encouragingly and pulls her lips into a flat smile. Semi?humanized by a shower, they fall into a whirling, jetlag sleep.

The town, they discover, rests on a hill that slopes south to the sea. Window?tinted Mercedes glide the spacious, upper streets. Dennis and Claudine’s pension is a short climb above the beach, hidden in the crowded, crooked backstreets next to the market. Among the awning?shaded carts, flies spin over ripe papaya, the red gash of steak. Dennis and Claudine are dismayed to find that the beachfront tourist strip is gaudily American: Buffalo Bill’s Bar and Grill; the Fort Dakota Saloon complete with neon bubbles, can?canning legs and swinging double doors. Budweiser cans flash on the walls.

Dennis and Claudine stick to the sea side of the street where men lean long poles over the beachwall. There are buckets of brilliant fish in the slim shade of the sun?melted walls. Curious, Dennis reaches out to a teenager who wears navy blue coveralls and blue sandals, a kind that girls wear in Canada. Then he realizes he can’t say anything and stands there without speaking. Sucking on his cigarette, the teenager draws away and Dennis returns to Claudine feeling very foolish. “I can’t get a Globe and Mail. I can’t understand Spanish papers. I can’t even talk to anyone.”

Most days, Dennis and Claudine stroll through the market and down past the row of pubs to the beach. Dennis has pointed out, “We need to acquire the obligatory tan.” They both know that a tan is the only proof a Canadian will accept of a successful winter holiday.


Returning in the afternoons, they both know where they’re going. They know from their calendar that Claudine should be ovulating. They’ve brought their thermometer and chart. In the dark, unfamiliar room, Dennis forces himself to be ready. Semi?hard, he rolls Claudine back and guides himself.

“You’re hurting me,” Claudine says quietly.

“I’m sorry.” Dennis stills, risking collapse. Soon he hasn’t any choice but to continue. Claudine’s fingers push against his shoulders but she is silent, lying on the razor without complaint. After so many fruitless seasons, both know the urgency of success. Their love has little affection and Dennis is dissatisfied, with himself and the difficulty.

“We have to, you know that,” Dennis says to Claudine’s silence.

“I know, dear,” she says, turning from his kiss. Dennis supports himself above her on his elbows as his passion shrivels. When he does not speak, Claudine says patiently, as she has many times, “The problem is stress. From making a decision I can’t live with.”

“And it’s my fault, isn’t it. Its always my fault.”

Dennis is furiously immobile, frustrated by this raw dead hole in their marriage. He rolls on his back with a brick in his head. He’ll have to perform successfully in very short order, a responsibility that always falls on his shoulders. Enjoyment, being normal is next to imposible. With each new period, a new measure of guilt is heaped on him. Sometimes he can’t perform, and that hurts, but the guilt is worse.

“I’m not a trained seal,” Dennis says to the ceiling. “I have feelings too.”


In the dark, silence lengthens between them, lying together, yet far apart. Both are afraid of failing and bloodletting is the last thing they want. Spanish voices sound innocent and lost in the convoluted streets.

Dennis reaches out and Claudine jumps. He runs his hand along her shoulder, massages her back round and round, for the longest time, until he’s sure she’s gone to sleep. Dennis closes his eyes and drifts away, away from meetings and agendas, exerting influence, managing his career. He misses the CBC news, what’s happening in the far flung planet of the world.

Behind him, Claudine’s eyes burn into the dark.

Coming and going from the beach, Dennis and Claudine graze their way through the cafes and beachfront pubs. Shop windows are filled with silver and aquamarine bracelets, mother of pearl rings. Dennis comes back from the WC one day to find Claudine being chatted?up by a Spaniard.

“I am ordering your wife this drink. Something special. I hope that you are not offended by me.” The man is bronzed and masculine, the possessor of blue, blue eyes and a thatch of shiny, black curls. He wears a faded bluejeans shirt unbuttoned to his diaphragm and leans against the bar in a male haze, almost sleepily, saturated with sexuality. Goodwill-ambassador Dennis reluctantly shakes his head. The man lays his gold chained hand on Claudine’s wrist.

“For so long I have wanted to know more about your beautiful country.” Though forward, the man is thoroughly charming. “You must love your country deeply.”

Claudine and Dennis look at one another and burst out laughing. Love Canada? The notion’s absurd. They laugh again at their companion’s confusion because they could never explain.


Not understanding, the Spaniard asks, “I have said something wrong? This is not funny, yes?”

Not wishing to leave the wrong impression, Dennis and Claudine are about to pledge undying love for Canada when the Spaniard brings his finger to his eye and languishingly extends it almost to Claudine’s nose. “Well, it must be beautiful. I see there are many beautiful women in Canada.”

“Is that what you see?” Claudine adjusts her skirt and smiles distantly at Dennis.

“I see it with my own eyes,” he says, spreading his arms grandly; what he says is the wonderful punchline of a perfect joke. At the table he has come from, his friends raise their glasses in salute. Looking over, Dennis is shocked by the beauty of these men, the sheer, female beauty of them. His polite, attentive smile does not reveal these feelings but, as soon as possible, Dennis extracts Claudine from the pub. Her new friend stretches out his arm ruefully as Dennis guides Claudine onto the beach promenade.

“Perhaps we will get better to know one another,” the man calls, ambiguous as to whom he is speaking and what he means.

Regaining bearings down the street, Dennis places the men in a less than flattering context. He tells Claudine about the communal washroom ? a cast impression with two treads for feet and a hole between. “And thats all. Can you believe it?” Claudine falls silent shaking her head.

These local men pop up around town. Spotting the turistas on the beach, the men kiss the air and sing out, “Hello to my lovely Canadian sweetheart.”

Smiling, Claudine waves, but continues what she was saying to Dennis. “The infertility is caused by stress, as you well know.”


“To hell with your doctor and his explanations.” Dennis also smiles at the men. “Sometimes I think that’s just a story you cooked up because you’re so damned feminist. Come on, Claudine, you’ve got to come to terms with it. You’re thirty-five.”

“I don’t have any choice,” Claudine begins. “And that’s what you don’t understand. Women pay the penalty. Not men. All you pay is lip service.” They’ve been over and over this but he never seems to understand.

“Well, dear,” Dennis says as reasonable as can be. This is the tone Claudine hears on the phone at work. “I can’t very well take the time off, now can I? Just up and leave. Just kiss my career goodbye.”

“But you expect me to?” When Dennis doesn’t answer, she says, “Exactly.”

“There is daycare,” he says patiently. “What our friends do, remember?”

“Then why have kids at all?” Claudine is weeping, something she bitterly opposes. She’s got no way out. She’s known it and hated it for years. She’s got to do what he wants and he can’t see how hard it is for her to compromise her ambitions.

Dennis stares wearily out to sea. He always finds himself against a wall. Claudine spreads sunscreen on her arms and legs, lets herself go to the April sun. They’re almost the only people who believe its warm enough to be tanning on the beach.

Dennis chews his Uniball pen and wears his reading glasses down his nose. His staffing report has some alarming FTE scenarios. Dennis’ staff could be trimmed.

Dennis looks at the sun poised above a white?washed pub perched over the cool, blue sea. The sun’s light reflects hard off red tile roofs bunched together with blinding walls, and Dennis throws down his report.


“Here I am finally getting a good measure of success and you come along and knife me in the back.” Then he pauses, surprised at this admission, this need slipping out. “That”s how I feel, how I really feel, Claudine. It’s like you’re deliberately trying to undermine me, in the way you know that’ll hurt me the most.”

“That’s the real problem, isn’t it. Under everything else, I mean.”

“Yes it is,” Dennis says. “I hope you don’t think I’m manipulating you.”

Claudine inspects him closely. “I think I believe you.”

Crinkly and sunburnt, Dennis and Claudine stop later in the market. In front of them, an older man barters over smoked meats hung like rows of fingers. He turns them around, quietly disagreeing with the price. The shopkeeper jumps around excitedly but the man holds out his coins and waits, faintly, patiently smiling. He wears a fez over his closely-cropped scalp and a purple, felt jacket with a sabre insignia. His dark face is deeply grooved and he has a precise square of moustache on his lip. Dennis guesses he is Egyptian or Lebanese. On the man’s arm is a beautiful European woman who draws her hand through a mane of swept?back, black hair. Her eyes are heavily mascaraed, expensively female. She wears a skin?tight black dress and girlish pumps. She turns as though on a runway, head first, shoulders following. Each foot lands directly in front of the last. Dennis knows that every gesture is conscious, planned, signifigant.

Normally Claudine disaproves of women flaunting sexuality but this woman is from another world, and Claudine knows her rules do not apply. When the woman’s eyes settle on them, they hold an instant of challenge and then dismissal before her gaze passes on.

“She could have walked out of a perfume ad.” Dennis feels white skinned and banal in his scruffy shorts and velcro Reeboks.


Dennis and Claudine are too timid to barter for their food ? pigeon sign language is hard enough. They purchase mayonaise spattered fritatas in cone?shaped papers. Soldiers lounging by jeeps stamp their cigarettes as they stroll by. The men sling black, automatic rifles casually from shoulder to shoulder ? too casually for Dennis and Claudine. “How’d you like them in front of your office every day?”

Tired of the tourist places on the beachfront, Dennis and Claudine stop at the pub overlooking the beach where they spend their days. They sit in the cool arbour shade watching the bartender open for the day. The bar has stucco archways and frets of glossy black bars on the windows. It opens into the courtyard, which lends the taberna a leafyness. The owner comes over wiping his hands on a white towel draped from his shoulder. It turns out that he is a displaced Londoner and it is a great relief for Dennis and Claudine to speak in English with a real human being.

In his late fifties, the man is broad shouldered, white?haired and asks, to their pleasant surprise, if they’re Canadian. “How could you know?”

“Ah,” the man says mysteriously, then adds, “I couldn’t hear you all the way to the kitchen, like the Yanks. ‘Hey, bartender, gimme a bourbon,'” he yells in a loud, Cockney drawl not like any American accent they’ve ever heard. “And of course, yur nod de udder wawns yu av dere. Allo, allo? I em dee froggee,” he says. “The ones we English love to hate. And you are English Canadians too?”

Claudine gives Dennis a little poke because, as an eastern Canadian, he’ll be insulted.


“Call me Harry,” the man says. He is warm and chummy.

Only Claudine notices Dennis’ reluctance to accept the man’s handshake. Harry lays his hands on the table and leans forward as if to reveal his deepest conviction. “Canadians are the best of people. Not like Yanks or Spaniards at all,” he says and throws out his arm to take in the town below. “I get back at them by taking their money. I show them a good time and laugh all the way to the bank. But don’t tell them that.”

When the meal arrives, the bacon is limp and greasy. Toast stands upright in a silver stand. It is crisp as crackers and rips the roof of Dennis’ mouth. The grilled tomato performs miracles of pain on Claudine’s canker sore. But they do not complain. The bartender beams at them. “Have a good nosh up.” Far from Ottawa, they listen diplomatically and wish someone would come in so they can eat in peace.

“I’d love to go to Canada,” the man continues, taking them into his confidence, “but not the Missus.” He nods to the back. “Too far from home, she says.”

His wife mops passively behind the bar and smiles briefly. It appears she hasn’t the energy to keep up. She is pale and washed out, obviously ashamed of the old cleaning dress she wears.

“Well,” Harry winks at Dennis and wipes his hands on his towel, “we try not to let things like that get us down do we. Our crosses to bear, like,” he says softly. “The greasy Dagos,” he says suddenly, like a curse, then looks away.

“There must be something nice about them,” Claudine says, striving to be fair.

“Oh, yeah. Don’t get me wrong,” he says quickly. “The trade has been real good. Wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.” At this, his wife looks up and he shoots her a deep, dark look.


As they walk through the market later, Claudine says, “Honestly, some people will tell you the most intimate things when they hardly know you, won’t they? It’s like they put their whole lives, their deepest secrets in a nutshell, just for you.”

Their days begin to consist of the beach, meals and drowning, sudden sleep, so much so that Dennis says, “All we seem to do is eat.”

Dennis’ surprise makes Claudine laugh. He seriously considers his waist, sucking it in and then relaxing, as he lays out their towels. The older man they have seen around town with his companion is also frequently on the beach. Catching sun against the beach wall, the man sits in a lounge in his suit. They have an umbrella and a pitcher of pink juice. Beside him, the woman sits on the sand wrapped in a huge, cream towel. She’s much younger than him and rests her cheek against his knee. The man drops his hand and strokes her but does not look up from his paper. Interlacing their fingers, the woman takes up his hand, and holds it to her cheek. This hand could be the world’s most important gift for the gratitude she showers on it, the kisses, her lips quivering, as though reaching out to their very first kiss. It’s such an overreaction Dennis can’t understand why he can’t drag his eyes away. Melancholy as can be, the woman watches waves march in, her delicate legs folded to the side, towel riding up her thigh.

Dennis forces himself back to his report, but in no time finds himself staring at the woman again. Dark strands of hair fall down her cheek to her upturned lip. He worries she will notice. Sun bounces from the different roofs into his unshaded eyes, a cubist silhouette, coming at him. He is angry with not being able to concentrate. The woman is beautiful, but that’s all. She shouldn’t affect him. Dennis thinks Claudine doesn’t see but she does and isn’t jealous. Men, she thinks, are too easily deceived.


Claudine lies incognito and remote behind her space?age, white sunglasses, her plain blue skirt rolled up her smooth legs. She’s a pretty woman, clear and youngish but not girlish. Lying back, her waistline is slender and attractive. Propped on her elbows, she watches the endless Mediterranean surf roll in.

Dennis’ finger runs absently up and down where Claudine’s brasierre strap presses through her blouse. His eyes focus on sparrows twittering on the beachwall then slide past to the other couple. The woman observes them curiously, Dennis’ arm on Claudine’s shoulder, then inclines away lazily. Dennis knows she knows he is watching her.

What can be getting into him, Dennis wonders? A turf war is coming and he’d better be sharp. This report is a serious one for it is a prereorganization plan and his future is at stake. What can be the reason for releasing FTE summaries in advance rather than as appendices of the plan? This concerns him greatly; fortunately, there’s still time for lobbying. He makes a note to resurrect the bumpf he showed the new minister and the efficency measures massaged together for the annual report.

Then he’s staring at her again. He sighs loudly and rubs his eyes. “I have no hidden agenda Claudine.”

“You don’t have to say that, dear. I know.” Claudine pulls a bottle of blanc de blanc from her beach bag and Dennis says, “Here? On the beach?”

“Gosh you’re an old fart sometimes,” Claudine says. Surprised at himself, Dennis gives in but goes to hunt up a couple of glasses. Perhaps the woman would disapprove. Perhaps it’s only him, Dennis thinks and catches his over serious expression looking out the bottom of his bifocals in a window. His face is critical, unimpressible, bent into shape.


Stepping back from the forbidding image, Dennis sees Harry’s wife, Loretta, coming down the dusty road. Beside her is the teenager who was fishing some days earlier. The boy carries her red mesh shopping bags filled with lemons, limes and other bar?fruit. Dennis and Claudine are surprised to hear that he is the woman’s son, recently returned from public school in England. It is explained that this means private boarding school to a Canadian. Gerry makes a deep, deep bow and elaborate circles with his hand. “Honest English folk at your service, Guv.”

Dennis and Claudine can only laugh at their misunderstanding. Loretta gives Gerry a little whack and he raises his arm in a Heil Hitler salute and carries on as though staggering under his load. Loretta wipes her forehead with her hankie and watches her boy go. She asks if they’re enjoying their trip.

“It must be nice to get away for awhile, without the kids, I mean.”

“We have none.”

“Too busy, I expect” Loretta says lightly, shading her eyes from the sun.

“No,” Claudine says pointedly.

“I see.”

“No, no, it’s not serious. I’m told I should be able to overcome it.” Claudine puts the back of her hand to her forehead in self?mocking humour.

“I understand,” Loretta says.

Angered, Claudine thinks, do you? How can you understand? You have a child. The hardness must show in her face because Loretta covers her hand with her own.

“I’m sure you’ll be happy soon,” Loretta says. “I’ll light a candle for you. Ta ra for now.”


A few glasses of wine later, afternoon grows thick with Spain: the click of jewelry in the market, indecipherable voices, green sun under palm trees. Dennis and Claudine can’t help feeling that if they were pinched they’d wake from a dream. They can hear themselves telling friends, ‘We got wine from the keg for only 30 pesatas. Can you believe the holiday we had?’

Heading for their afternoon rendezvous, Dennis and Claudine pass along the beach road and through the market. The browned, beautiful men they’ve met sun themselves in cafe courtyards under the siesta sun. There are mackerel rolls and bottles of red wine wrapped in wicker, plates of squid and paella.

“Hello my princess,” the men call.

“You better jump into those cute jogging shorts of yours a little more often,” Claudine teases and pinches the fat over Dennis’ kidney. He’s not amused.

Claudine refuses to be self conscious, and waves when the men blow kisses and laugh at Dennis’ consternation. He thinks he’s not jealous and Claudine holds his arm because she knows that’s not true. Blossoming peach trees snake up the dusty walls. High on patios, bedsheets snap in the clear, blue sky. Rolling waves peak in the distance.

Every morning, Loretta walks along the beach with her bags of fruit. Seeing Dennis’ phrase book, she says, “Stop at the taberna if you need a hand with anything.”

When Dennis and Claudine pop in for a cervesa or two, Harry raps his knuckles on the bar. “Here they are, my favourite Canadians. What’ll it be, mate?”


Harry allows Dennis to buy him drinks. In the evenings, Loretta splashes colour in her face and beams at Gerry, pleased to have him home from England. Gerry is a natty teenager, fond of argyle cardigans, and wool slacks. He has a pair of spotless penny loafers, something Dennis and Claudine haven’t seen in years. They’re an American touch, he informs them, with exaggerated irony, that are, “All the rage at home.”

Gerry holds up his diminutive cup. “The only thing I come back for is the coffee. Ah, cafe con leche. I tell my friends it’s the drug of the Spanish proles, instead of ta for the cuppa luv, at me ‘ome.” Gerry imitates the way Harry speaks and Dennis realizes his usual accent is not Cockney.

“Ah, yes, it’s the public school,” Harry says. He raises his arms to take in the bar. He rubs his fingers together, indicating that the expense of boarding school keeps them in Spain. “The lads in Gerry’s school are frightfully far back and he’s getting frightfully upper crusty himself.”

Harry cuffs Gerry’s cheek and looks embarrassed. Gerry is too proud to notice. It is clear to Dennis and Claudine that Gerry will soon be very critical of his parents, particularly Loretta who regards him so fondly.

“I don’t see why they just don’t go home,” Claudine whispers. “They must be able to work something out.”

“A high price to pay,” Dennis agrees.

Harry and Loretta are exceedingly proud of Gerry, his fine, fresh looks, his witty jokes, even though most are told at Harry’s expense. On weekends when Harry compliments his sailor’s hat with a white shirt and an apricot cravat, Gerry confides, “Harry thinks he’s quite classy,” then laughs helplessly at the ridiculousness of it. He stands back from the bar, and tosses darts into the dartboard bullseye. The contrast between him and his parents is striking. They seem old enough to be his grandparents.


“The missus’s boy,” Harry says. “No kids the two of you? Watch your step, if you know what’s good for you.”

Dennis and Claudine are stung by this comment and don’t know what to say. Loretta suddenly comes?to and says to Claudine, “You’ve got some lovely earings. Get them in the market?”

Loretta says she’ll take Claudine to a nice shop the next time they run into one another in town. When they meet, Loretta points to a white columned building on the hill above the market.

“I’ll bet you’ll be glad when Gerry’s home to stay,” Claudine ventures.

“Oh, I expect Gerry will stay in England. There’s nothing to keep him here. Only Harry and, well…” In the morning sun, Loretta looks her age and, in turning, the on?shore breeze catches the brim of her straw hat and bends it up, pulling the blue ribbon under her chin.

“Why don’t you keep him here, if that’s what you want?”

“It was me who wanted him to go.”


“To stay English. You know,” Loretta says wistfully. “So he has roots, so he feels he belongs somewhere.”

“Though he won’t come back,” Claudine says.

“Though he won’t come back,” Loretta repeats and nods. Her hat brim lifts and she reaches for it, purse strap falling into the crook of her arm. “Pesty wind.”

“Why don’t you want to go back?” Claudine is surprised at herself for being nosey. “I don’t mean to pry.”


“It’s Harry, really.” Loretta’s cheeks turn pink. “He can’t go back, a business problem like.”

“I thought he said you didn’t want to go.”

“I know what he said,” Loretta says. She hesitates then carries on. “When we were courting, see, I said, only if you send the boy, Harry. And he’s kept his word, he has, paying for Gerry all these years. I owe him for that, don’t you think? He’s not so bad really.”

As if anticipating Claudine’s thoughts, Loretta adds, “Love’s not very important, is it? Being lonely is much worse.” Loretta’s flowered cotton dress presses against her pale legs and she lifts her heavy mesh bags. “Harry does like the boy, even with Gerry taking the mickey on him and all.”

After this, Claudine leaves Dennis plotting with his report and explores the town on her own. She and Loretta see one another often on her walks. This proves fortunate on one occasion as one of the Spanish men they’ve met finds Claudine alone. He approaches with his arms outstretched.

“Your husband finds you no more beautiful? Well, Franco do.” The man puts his arm around her neck. Claudine is frightened and doesn’t know what to do. Who can she turn to? They’d probably think she deserved it, going around alone. She’s relieved as can be when Loretta lifts the man’s arm off her shoulder. Loretta wags her finger and says something in Spanish.

After he’s gone, Loretta holds her finger in front of her lips. “I told him you were my niece. Don’t let on now.”

They sit and share a mineral water in slender, glass cups.

“I’ll miss all these men,” Claudine says and laughs. “Really, how do you stand them?”

“Oh, you get used to it,” Loretta says with a wry smile.


The two of them sit on the edge of a fountain. Water spatters down, invitingly cool in the sun. Loretta watches the sun wrinkle on the fountain bottom. “They get to know you’re not a tourist. They don’t like you knowing that behind the stone fences and closed doors are their wives.”

“Their wives?!” Claudine is outraged.

“Oh, yes. All these blokes are married, with kids.” Loretta runs her fingers in the water. “They don’t let the wives out, oh no. They’re Roman Catholic and Spanish. They hit them when they please and no one says boo.”

“That’s awful. How do they get away with it?”

“It’s considered normal,” Loretta says with long?resigned bitterness. “Oh, they’re beautiful, but did you know they ask you to pay for them, drinks, meals, even if they join you? And they try and take you home, to your place. They laugh at you then go home to their wives no questions asked.”

“That’s awful,” Claudine repeats. She’d leave Dennis on the spot.

“It’s the way they are,” Loretta says simply. You can’t hate them for it. They’ll take you or someone my age. It’s all the same to them. It’s a pastime,” she says mildly. She looks at the fountain, its marble cherube pouring water endlessly from a jug. Claudine likes her thoroughly.

Some evenings, Franco and his friends are in the pub. Harry slaps them on the backs and laughs at their jokes. Occasionally they address Claudine, but never Dennis. They wear layers of gold chain around their necks, brilliant silver on their dark hands. No, Dennis does not compare.


There are others now and then, the Egyptian from the beach leaning heavily on his silver?headed walking stick, French tourists, blonde Scandinavians. And once, an American airforce pilot, stationed in Germany. He wears long white shorts splashed with Hawaiian colours and a freestyle skiing t?shirt. There are black sunglasses in black frames on the bar, Chesterfield cigarettes. The pilot is solid, well proportioned. Dennis thinks he’s about 1.75 metres tall and 25 years old. He’s surprised to learn they are the same age. The pilot is telling Claudine he saw a blur at 300 feet and, as he hit the stick, a jet past over his head.

“One of yours pal,” he says and gives Dennis’ shoulder a little pat. He shakes hands warmly and concludes, “It’s an interesting profession.”

“You enjoy that?” Dennis’ tone does not betray the sentiment everyone in Canada shares: the man ought not to enjoy it.

“Yes, sir. I’ve learned a lot in the last ten years and it’s all because of the airforce.” The man’s drawl has been softened by his years on the continent. He tells them he was a shy Texas farm kid when he joined up. He says he wished he knew back then what he knows now but that’s the way it goes. “I’ve no regrets.”

“And just what have you learned?” Dennis says, draining his amber cervesa. The American laughs at such a direct question and Claudine shoots Dennis a nasty look.

“It’s like ten years of my life disappeared. But it doesn’t matter because I feel good about myself now. I’m not married yet, but I’m better material than I was.” The man’s gaze is straight, untroubled, as he stands back from the bar on his spread legs.

“The right stuff, eh?” Only Claudine catches Dennis’ irony. Irritated, Dennis soon steers the conversation into a military discussion. “You have to agree that U.S. defence policy simply supports your economic interests.”


“What’s wrong with that?” the American says. Then he gives it more thought. “No sir, that’s not all we do. We protect the rights of free people everywhere in the world.”

“Americans you mean,” Dennis snorts.

“And Canadians. That’s what Vietnam…”

“Vietnam was an American war. A Canadian couldn’t put the country on the map.” Dennis speaks lightly, and presses his tortoise shell glasses into the bridge of his nose with his fingertip.

“You’re real proud of that aren’t you?” the American says softly. “No teenager on your block died in a rice paddy, did they? That’s what we live with everyday of our lives.” The American taps his finger on the side of his head. Behind him, the local men shake fists and poke fingers into one another’s chests. The American gives them a mean, quiet look.

“Hey pal, Canadians don’t start wars.” Dennis is throat-gagginly polite and Claudine and Harry look uncomfortably at one another.

“You Canadians never get into scraps do you? You sit back happy as hell to have us defend your ass for nothing. And all the while you’re thumbing your noses at us. That’s what nobody can stand about Canadians. You’re so goddamn self righteous about never getting your hands dirty.”

Dennis feels himself losing control and wrenches back from the argument so he doesn’t make a fool of himself. He’d love to spit out that Canadians are more worried about being run over by Americans than anyone else. But he resists the knee?jerk reaction; Gerry would be against the American but no one would take him seriously; Loretta wouldn’t take sides; Harry would stand with Dennis but Claudine’s not to be trusted, and that could make it a a dog fight.


“I’m afraid I’m getting carried away.” Dennis lifts his beer glass to explain. “Be assured that I register your criticisms, as I’m sure we all do. No hard feelings, eh?”

Dennis sticks out his hand. He’s angry for retreating into his public self but doesn’t let this be seen in his smiling face. He slaps the American’s back. “Barkeep, give my pardner another shot of red eye.”

At the other end of the bar, the Spaniards shake hands, slap backs and carry on in talk spiked with Americano this and that. One of them leans over to Claudine and whispers something in her ear. He puts a finger in his mouth and draws it slowly down his chest. Looking at the saliva on his skin, a shudder passes through Claudine.

“You’re not going to take that are you?” the American says to Dennis.

“Ignore them. Those guys don’t know when to quit.”

The American’s mouth drops open and he turns and leans around Claudine. “Leave the lady alone, bud.” Expressionlessly, he adds, “Escuchame hyos de puta espanolas, soy a Americano y estoy mejor que los todos de ustedes.”

The closest man gets off his chair. The American strolls over and assumes a martial arts stance. His up?turned hand arcs slowly across his chest. He stops, angled to the side, looking at his hand. When the Spaniard also turns to the hand, the American plunges his arm down and yanks it up and over his other arm. In that split second, his fist follows, over and down, cracking the other man’s nose. Then he calmly beckons the whole group. Harry is beside hmself. These are his regulars, his living. He’ll have to side with them. The American snaps his foot into the air beside the man’s face and holds it there. When the man reacts, he yells, “!Voya al diablo” and scares them out the door.


They stand on the other side of the glass screaming like fiends that their friend has all but been killed. “Matad los bastardos Americano! !Espitad en los Yankees perros! !Espitad en susojos!”

Presently a police jeep screeches to a halt outside the pub. The police spin the now docile American around and push him against the bar. One smacks him with a rifle in the kidney and demands to see his passport. Dennis is incensed by this abuse of power. “You can’t do that.”

One of the police shoves a rifle in Dennis’ ribs and Dennis is about to move the barrel aside when he catches Harry motioning him very cautiously, very severely to stay out of it.

Afterwards, Harry says to him, “Listen, laddy boy, you better watch yourself with those bastards. They’re not like at home.”

The American nods. “If they kick you, take it, and don’t ever forget your passport.”

Dennis and Claudine are shocked by the violence and the men’s acceptance of it. Neither have passports and the danger they’ve exposed themselves to starts to sink in. They’ve had the feeling nothing could go wrong, perhaps because they’re tourists and this isn’t really real.

“How foolish we’ve been,” Claudine says.

Quiet settles on the bar. Gerry, who has been leaning on the terrace wall blowing smoke into the warm, cloudless night, suggests a game of darts. He writes their names on the blackboard and one hundred pesatas from each is deposited in a jar.

“It’s Dennis with two ‘n’s,” Dennis corrects him. “Not the French spelling.” Although Anglophone, Dennis is pleased with his Francophone name, Dennis Foucette. It’s a plus in Ottawa, a small asset.


“Penis Foucette, Penis Foucette,” Claudine chants vampishly in his ear in pigeon French. “Il est membre extraordinaire. Il est grosse meatez.” She’s gay and silly and Dennis knows he’ll get no more sense out of her this evening.

It’s soon clear Gerry is a hustler. He dispatches Dennis and Loretta. Though very drunk, Claudine fares better. She’s always had uncanny luck and soon has Dennis groaning on his stool. She knifes the American, then Harry and finally young Gerry who cannot conceal his anger. Claudine can’t help laughing at her good fortune and waves the fan of money in Dennis’ face.

Also in the bar, is the man with the fez that Dennis and Claudine have seen around town with his beautiful companion. He has sat quietly at a terrace table in the shadows, apparently content to watch the others for the evening. He sat calmly through the fight, hands resting on his walking stick, sipping the thick, strong coffee and thimble?sized brandies Gerry has been taking to him. When conversation thins, he catches Claudine’s eye, “Madam, pardon, mais je vous ai surpris en conversation francaise et si possible puis?je parler enmoment avec vous s’il vous plait.”

Claudine and Dennis are frozen with embarrassment. The man must have understood her joke about Dennis’ name.

“Monsieur,” she begins shakily, “Je parle francaise, ah, only un peu,” and holds her finger and thumb slightly apart. “Un peu, vraiment, I’m afraid.”

“I misunderstand. Pardon me.” He chooses his words carefully and speaks English with a thick accent. “I hope you will permit me to say, and as well that I am not too forward.” He leans to his ashtray and taps his ivory cigarette holder on the rim, taking care to knock off every bit of ash. Standing and addressing Dennis, he speaks directly and simply. “Canada is very large country, yes? But it has very few people. Is empty country, no?”

“That’s the best thing about it,” Dennis protests. Every Canadian knows this through and through.


“Beautiful land, yes, monsieur, I must agree. But it is people that make a country. Only people. This village has been here one thousand years.” He stops to let the thought settle in. “America,” he says, nodding to the American, “is began on great notions, it is the imperial power. I do not wish to say more, but you Canadians may want to think on this. Canada is not great. It does not have a great people. Is that not so, monsieur?” The conviction and truth in his voice cannot be argued with.

“Why do you feel the need to ask me that?” Dennis says, slyly turning the tables.

“Monsieur, please, please not to evade answering the question? Can you not be honest?” With some shock, Dennis realizes the man has the same patient smile he used in the market. It’s so small, only Dennis would catch it and, he knows, be supposed to catch it.

“You think I am a child, don’t you?” Dennis says. He has to say this, yet could cut his tongue from his mouth for saying what he and the older man both know to be true.

“By no means monsieur,” the man says. “I see you are very sophisticated, tres formidable. As you say, the liquor is talking for you now, I am certain.”

The next day, Dennis is grateful for the Egyptian having allowed him to save face. He’s learned something useful, though he’s not sure quite what.

“I’m tired of this report.” Dennis closes his book and runs his hand over its pebbled, salmon and grey cover. He and Claudine are now tanned and sleek, brown and healthy against their white, summer clothes.


“I want you to know I’m trying very hard to see your point of view Claudine.” Dennis will not look at her. “I overlook how hard it is for you to give up your career to get kids. All I can say is it ain’t forever.” He puts his hand up to keep Claudine from arguing. “I know that’s not good enough. I also know you don’t need my criticism. You’ll get enough from women who have kids and go to work. I also see you need me on?side to bite the bullet. Maybe I’m too cut and dried in the words I choose but I want you to know I’m trying to back you up. It’s something I’m not good at.”

A damn breaks in Claudine and her shoulders fall. She hadn’t known how stiff she’d held herself. Dennis lets her cry against his shoulder. “I’m used to being decisive and hardnosed. I forget the rest of my life’s not like that.”

Their remaining days are steeped in heat. Dennis and Claudine retire and let their bodies take over, working up a shimmering, slippery as fish. They merge, through many doors it seems, discover a greedy, ferocious love they haven’t known for years. Afterwards, sun glances off the glass table top and the table bulges with strawberries, deep orange cheese, pineapple and meat. Satiated and refreshed in the balcony warmth, they look at one another and don’t break off the other’s eyes.

“You’re so touchy,” Dennis teases and looks one?eyed through his champagne. “You say I’m an MCP but you’re just jealous.”

This is such a gross distortion Claudine can’t help but laugh.

“What about my suffering? You didn’t have to produce sperm in a doctor’s office.” Dennis looks aghast as he gingerly hands over his prize bodily fluid. “The nurse took it as ho?hum as someone in a drug store running condoms through and letting everyone see.”

Claudine loves his neutral moments, deflector screens lowered. Even his snobby humour. It makes him flawed, more than he thinks, more like everyone else. He had been so scandalized, so angry at the time.


“What will you tell the boss when the time comes? You don’t have any markers to call in.”

Claudine laughs at the hopelessness of her job situation.

“His very first thought will be how my leaving will affect him. His second will be how he can use it to get rid of me.”

“Motherhood is a tough case.”

“His weekly challenge.”

Suddenly serious, Dennis crunches down on the problem. “A better tactic would be not to tell him until the end. Arrange a secondment, and present him the memos to sign a fait accompli.”

Ignoring Dennis, Claudine continues with her thoughts. “I can imagine the letter he’d write outlining his position about my leave. ‘The return commitment is a comparable position in the Department. This does not preclude a return to this Division, but provides me with the flexibility to fill your position, should this be required, while preserving your rights to continued employment within the Department.'”

“He’ll eat you alive if you don’t play him right,” Dennis persists. “He’s no MCP, don’t fool yourself. He’s a rising star, like me … come on, let’s be honest. I’m no MCP but, objectively speaking, certain of my talents surpass yours.”

“You’ve never been helpful before,” Claudine says hotly.

“Don’t get me wrong, my personal feelings would never cloud my business dealings with the guy. We understand each other perfectly. He’d use me and I’d do the same. Feelings are irrelevant.”

“You’re so cold.” Claudine looks into the shadowed backstreet.


“No, only good at the game, and that’s why I can give you good advice. Please take it, Claudine. I love you.”

“It doesn’t seem much like love.”

“Well maybe you could see me a bit more clearly instead of making me measure up to your high ideals all the time. Please, dear, this is my kind of game.”

There is an uncomfortable pause and then Claudine says, “Yes, that is true.” Maybe she can trust him now.

“He doesn’t care if you’re a woman. You’re just a tool. Personal interest is king, Claudine, and he’s only interested in what you can do for him. So do him some good. Get him dependent.”

“He won’t fall for that.”

“Sure he will. He may suspect you, but he won’t care, if you’re giving him good, sexy stuff. To hell with principles, Claudine, burn him.”

Formulating a plan for Claudine as he returns from the market, Dennis comes upon the woman companion of the Egyptian gentleman. She is bent over in the street, peering into a bag of mewing kittens left to die. She looks up at him with a massive hurt in her beautiful face. A tear drips down her cheek. It cracks open in Dennis’ head that she is going to say, “Please help me, how you say,…” She’s sensual as incense. Her beauty hits like a fist in his chest and he is mesmerized, astonished when she does just as he thinks she will. Yet something isn’t right.

“Maybe you take them to America.” The woman runs her finger along the top of her ear. Dennis has ESP for such stageyness.

“I’m Canadian,” Dennis says, “not American.”


Darkeyed, the woman looks up from her small crouch and shrugs away the difference. Dennis hardens. She’s really a girl, he sees at last, from a world alien to him and his Claudine.

When the time comes to leave, Dennis and Claudine stop at the pub for a last meal. Harry has his back to them and his towel over his shoulder. He hums a child’s nursery rhyme and cuts up lemons and limes. Loretta scrapes the grill.

The meal is fine English cuisine. Peas, bangers, mash and a grilled tomato. “Why the English destroy tomatoes this way, I cannot fathom.” Both hands on his knife, Dennis stick?handles his blood pudding around his plate. “Hockey pucks might taste better.” He heaves a sigh and flings the black sausage over the wall into the sea. Claudine laughs at his understandable, uncomplaining disappointment.

“Well, what do you think?” Dennis says, laying his hand on Claudine’s stomach.

“With this trip and all, who knows? Maybe I’m an hour late.” Reacquainted, they smile at one another and squeeze hands under the table. They fall into small talk with Loretta about Canada and keeping in touch. Wistful and jealous, Loretta rubs her forehead and sighs. Her grill sizzles behind the bar. Dennis and Claudine like her thorougly. She’s a truly decent human being. “I feel like I’ve known you all my life.” Their heads fall together and they hold hands, something Claudine would never do in Ottawa.

“I hope Gerry comes around.”

“Yes,” Loretta says simply. She smiles palely, unconvinced.

Behind the bar, Harry rummages about cursing at the plumbing. He emerges, wiping sweat from his large, open?pored nose and flicking his swatch of limp, over?long hair across his skull. When he discovers they’re leaving, he grimaces and places his arm around Loretta’s shoulder. “It’s always the good ones that have to leave. It’s true.”

His comment is so disarmingly nice that Dennis and Claudine leave on their journey back to Ottawa ? their real world ? feeling touched and special. It takes awhile to realize that Harry hasn’t meant what he’s said. Savouring the green haze in the maple trees, Claudine decides she’ll write to Loretta. When she does, Dennis pens a note too, something he would not have done before.