Jean-Marc’s apartment on the eastern edge of Outremont was once a source of great pleasure but tonight, as so often occurs when arriving home, he scrunched up his nose at the odours greeting him in the entranceway. I don’t mind eating Indian food, he thought disagreeably, but must the smell of the cooking pervade every nook and cranny of this building?
This thought is more or less identical to the one he had yesterday and the day before. He would move, if only he could afford it.
But he can’t afford it, can he? Not with Arlene and Chelsea ploughing their way through his wallet. On the way home he listened to his new Bob Dylan album and smiled at the words, “You have too many lovers”. Of course it was a blues tune. Luckily Arlene’s therapy was being paid for by the Quebec government he thought as he walked up to the third floor. Convincing the social worker that she was suicidal wasn’t too hard, as another smile crossed his lips. Arlene isn’t suicidal; she’s murderous, but not suicidal.
Chelsea was another story. At the thought of her, Jean-Marc stopped in his tracks. What had begun with so much excitement was becoming, as the affair got more and more protracted, increasingly complicated. In the beginning, it was enough for them to enjoy a brief chat over coffee after work before rushing over to her place, like two dogs in heat, for a satisfying shag. In the last month, she had started demanding — not asking, mind you, which would have been so much easier to handle – but demanding, money for things she insisted she couldn’t afford: clothes at that fancy boutique on St. Denis street; tickets to a rock concert at the Bell Centre where Jean-Marc had to escape outside where he still could feel the vibrations of the bass guitar beneath his feet. It didn’t feel good being broke; the sides of his mouth unconsciously pulled down and worry lines permanently creased his forehead. He continued his dreary ascent to his apartment and his sullen wife of six years.
Opening the door of the apartment, Jean-Marc heard some shuffling in the kitchen. Arlene was wearing her pink rabbit-eared slippers which usually meant she was feeling fragile. Oh God, he thought, how will I be able to tell her?
Arlene hears the slow footsteps and knows that her husband has finally arrived home. A few months ago, Jean-Marc announced that his workload and work hours had significantly increased; he had no choice to refuse and would be home on most weeknights no earlier than 7:30 p.m. He explained that he’d probably be paid more but he didn’t know yet how much. Also, with the secretary out of the office after five, he wouldn’t be answering calls. “Well, let me call you on your cell,” Arlene had said, wondering how she’d be able to serve dinner so late and if she’d eat with him. Jean-Marc had made a face which implied that he’d be too busy to answer even his cell phone. This, and a myriad of other small things which occurred every other day made Arlene feel incrementally less and less loved. It was nothing she could put her finger on but when they fought, an anger welled up inside her that threatened to destroy everything. Hating herself for hating Jean-Marc, she decided to go for therapy.
“Taking your frustrations out on your husband – acting out,” her therapist had told her during the last visit, “won’t help the dialogue that you need to establish with him. Your husband will withdraw; he might even become scared of you if you’re too… violent.”
But Arlene was scared; scared of what she might do if she let loose with everything she was feeling. I don’t get it, she thought, why won’t he answer his cell phone?
“You need to find some inner self-control,” the therapist, Dr. Marcuse, suggested. “This will come, don’t worry. We’ll work on some techniques the next time we meet.”
Arlene is worried. For the better part of a week, she has toyed with the idea that her husband might be having an affair. “I’ll kill him,” she thinks, slicing the carrots on the cutting board. She knows that she really wouldn’t go to such extremes, but she can’t stop fantasizing plunging a knife into her Jean-Marc’s chest should the truth of his cheating ever come out.
Her mood changes abruptly. Next week is the Streisand concert, something she has been mentioning for over three months. Tonight, Jean-Marc is coming home with tickets. A vision forms in her mind of the two of them at the concert in front-row seats, shoulder-to-shoulder; perhaps she has her hand resting in his. Her face softens; she is warmed by a faint hint of love as she puts the cut carrots into the colander and turns to set the table. When Jean-Marc finally returns from work he will find an immaculately prepared table and a meticulously cooked meal.
There has been no time to change. Her husband’s home and she’s still in her bathrobe and slippers. Another ten minutes and he would have found her in her sexiest dress, makeup and perfume. Instead, he says, “Oh, hi hon, you should’ve eaten.”
“I wanted to eat with you.”
Jean-Marc sighs and puts his briefcase on the floor.
“I made your favourite meal.” She is pulling a casserole dish out of the oven.
“You could smell it, right?”
“Well, it’s ready. Sit down.” There are lit tea lights scattered around the room. Arlene dims the dining room light. When she’s seated, she raises her wineglass, and he his. “Here’s to Streisand.”
Jean-Marc puts down his glass. “Honey, we’re not going.”
Arlene’s face is a frozen mask, except for the pain in her eyes. Her glass is stuck in mid-air.
“I just couldn’t afford the tickets. They were $200 each. And even those seats were awful!” When she puts down her glass, some of the wine spills onto the table.
“Don’t,” she says. She puts up a hand. Her eyes are on the table. It takes all of her self-control to not sweep everything onto the floor.
Jean-Marc stands up. He needs to explain himself. He clears his throat, but no words will come.
“What about the money you said you were saving for this show? That was… what was it? Back in August?”
“I know. Well, I don’t have it.”
“Where is it?”
She’s looking at him now. Her eyes have welled up with tears and her lips are trembling.
“I don’t know. I just don’t have it.”
“Well, it didn’t just disappear, did it? Where did it go?”
Jean-Marc clears his throat again.
“I bought you some CD’s.” He pulls them out of his bag but holds onto them. He’s afraid that his wife will throw them out the window.
Arlene stands. Her words are barely audible.
“Something’s wrong, Jean-Marc. There’s something you’re not telling me.”
When he doesn’t answer, standing awkwardly with the CD’s in his hand, Arlene comes to him and looks intently into his eyes. She gently pulls the CD’s from his hand and places her other hand on his arm, squeezing her nails into his shirt.
“Get out. We’re through. You’ve got ten seconds to get out of here.”
In less than ten seconds he’s at the landing. The dishes in the cupboard rattle with the slamming of the door.