Chapter Five

Annie – 2003

“How can I tell him?” “He needs to know.” “He needs to get tested.” The same script ran in her head, over and over. “What can I possibly say? He is going to hate me. He should hate me.”

It took almost a week after hearing the diagnosis for Annie to work up the courage to let out the truth. She opted for a public place; George Square at eleven in the morning. She wasn’t sure what to expect or how he might react. Sitting on the pedestal of the Walter Scott statue, with pigeons milling and cooing, she whispered.  “I have tested positive for HIV.” With a shudder she continued “ I am so sorry. So very, very sorry … Stephen.”

But he smiled and nodded and said “I know, I have been positive for almost two years.” The bells started ringing at St Mungo to herald the top of the hour, the ringing became louder, and the chiming was inside Annie’s head. Her nose started bleeding and bile rose into her mouth. Just before she sunk to her knees, he said “you are the fifteenth person I have passed this plague on to.”

Apparently, Stephen called 999 before he walked away or that is what Annie assumes because he wasn’t there when she woke up with a paramedic shaking her and saying “are you okay ma’am?”  She never saw him again.

“Ma’am, what the frig?” was her first thought, as the emergency worker tried to put a mask over her mouth –  then confusion, denial, terror and anger. Thirty minutes later, with the absurdity and tragedy sinking in, she was released on the spot by emergency services and she headed for Babbity Bowster on Blackfriars to get drunk.

Monday morning, after two days of drinking and stupor, questions started forming first out of confusion, then denial, then anger, then revenge and again confusion.

“How is this possible? He said he loved me? Who is this friggin bastard? Why would he do this? Why me? Why?”

On Wednesday, she laughed “The irony that I snorted, smoked and shot and whored with hundreds and he infected me.” “I hadn’t been tested and didn’t consider telling him that I was a slut.” “What does that say about me?”

Annie didn’t reach out to Stephen. She hated him but stopped blaming him entirely. She recognized her responsibility in all of this. She hated him but she also hated herself.

Before his arrest, Stephen texted her and all the alleged victims: “Turning myself into the law, my life is over. Take care. Always love you.”  the Glasgow Evening Times said in a front page article in late April.

Police arrested Stephen Ames, 41, last week after he turned himself in — and admitted he had unprotected sex with “dozens” of partners with the intention of killing them by infecting them with the virus. Only two possible victims have yet been identified.


“I don’t want to be identified.” She said out loud over a coffee and paper in the shop near her new west end flat. “I am not a victim.” Annie knew she could beat this, she had overcome tragedy many times.

By early May, Annie was back seeing Dr. Siobhán McTavish, the psychiatrist that she went to when Andrew left her almost 20 years ago. She was a bit surprised her office was still on Howard Street near St Enoch Shopping Centre because her practice had grown and received significant publicity when she was the expert witness, for the prosecution,    in a high-profile domestic violence case and subsequent divorce. Still Siobhán saw her within two days of Annie’s call and connected her with and AIDS support group that same day.

Annie would learn everything she needed to know from research, professionals and others who were living with the disease. For her part, she had already acknowledged her part in the situation, without absolving Stephen of his part. She had accepted that changing the past wasn’t possible so she was choosing to move forward and live the best life possible. An abundant life was still hers to create and every day became the perfect combination of challenge and opportunity. “This too will change my life forever, but I get to choose if it is for the better or worse. I choose better.” was the statement she made to Dr. McTavish and the first meeting of Kernow Positive Support. Some long term members of the network were offended by her brashness and simplicity but Siobhán remembered how Annie’s tenacity and optimism helped her overcome the physical and mental scars in 1983.


Chapter Four

Joan -1972

Flower power, the War, Nixon’s visit to China, Gordie Howe’s  retirement didn’t mean much to Joan or any of the 200 residents of Bloomington, Idaho. Events of the day did arrive in the village, weeks later, through Spokane and Seattle newspapers than travelling salesmen left. Bloomington was out of range of TV and radio signals were cut off by mountains and Montpellier and Bear Lake Wilderness Reserves. Outsiders intruded occasionally but ‘Bloomers’ stuck mostly to themselves.  Everyone knew everyone’s business and there was lots of backyard and church step gossip but the sleepy community abided each other because their circles were small.

Joan didn’t ever realize that she was poor – everyone was in the same boat. The railway was in bad shape and very little rolling stock travelled down the line from Montpellier south any longer. Every family had seen layoffs and hard times. Food wasn’t plentiful but tasty and sufficient. Treats weren’t common. Apple pie in late summer and Christmas dainties were appreciated all the more. Trucks carried freight on Highway 89 but really only to connect with the I15 via interstate 30. Nobody stopped in Bloomington. Why would they.

The shouting, drinking and door slamming seemed normal until one morning, just before Joan’s 13th birthday when her mom announced “ your father has left, the son of a bitch, and he won’t be coming back”. He didn’t. By the time she got to school, it seemed everyone in Bloomington was buzzing with the news. For seven years, no one paid much attention to her( even as she desperately hoped someone would notice her). Most days she sat with Wanda MacKenzie and Shirley McLaughlin for recess and only spoke in class when one of the teachers asked her a question. Now everyone, students and staff took an interest in her – mostly pity from teachers and ridicule from the grade 7 and eight girls, but attention nonetheless. Whispers turned to taunts very quickly and “your mother couldn’t keep her man happy” was the most common refrain she heard for the next few days. For Mrs. Mattson and Mr. MacRae, Joan became a project, someone to nurture and dote on. The favoritism didn’t sit well with her or her classmates but it was better than the bullying.

At home, her mom became defensive about everything from chores, money, the weather and Joan’s questions. “Why do we fight all the time?” She never answered, never explained. She stopped going out and didn’t have anyone to talk with.

School eventually became bearable but in June what was left of her family began moving west. The first stop was Pocatello where mom got a job, as cook, with the Idaho Department of Corrections. Within a month, a string of sweaty men began parading through their little rented house. Some were around in the morning but never for supper. Joan was back in school- grade 9 and mostly blended into the woodwork. “No one notices me in the big city. No one knows my stuff.” she wrote in the only letter she sent to Wanda (even though they tearfully promised to be friends forever). Home, school and in between was all she knew, all she wanted to know. Most days she didn’t even notice the walk home but rather she drudged the 4 blocks with her head down. Then she met Garrett Andrew Wilkie, a senior at Pocatello High School. Walking home, on Friday afternoon, a car pulled up beside her. She didn’t know cars but this one was white and she recognized the driver – Garrett Wilkie. “Do want to come to the Poky Pride rally with me and Tim?” he shouted over the rumble of the exhaust. “Who is he talking to?” wondered Joan and then realized there was no one else on the road. “It must be me.”  “What?” she strained as she tried to gain some composure.

“Do you want to come with us to the rally?” he said deliberately as if he thought she was a bit slow. “Yes, thanks.” She stuttered more out of something to say rather than a desire to join them.  Immediately, Tim was out the door holding the seat forward so she could crawl into the back seat. The rest of that evening and the weekend is a bit of a blur. Garrett was a perfect gentleman, introducing her to his friends, buying her a pop at the rally, asking her to the game “Poky won, I think.”, and driving her straight home afterwards.  “Can I see you tomorrow?” he asked sheepishly (or what she took for sheepish). “Sure.” She said quickly, this time because she really wanted to see him.

Over the next two weeks, Joan became a minor celebrity. She was in Garrett’s presence all the time she wasn’t in class. He was popular so she was popular. They sat together, they rode together, they talked together. On the second Friday after the rally, Garrett took her to a party outside of town. This was the first time Joan tasted beer – it was awful but she didn’t let on. “I remember kissing him and feeling him press against me.” “ I remember saying No, No, No” “ I remember hearing him say “ see just like her mom. I got her to spread her legs in just two weeks. You owe me ten bucks.” Then, nothing else.

Joan didn’t stay at the same school for a full year through high school; six schools in four years. They kept moving west.


1974 – Wenatchee, Washington

Apple blossoms and their fragrance that enters through your eyes should make you smile. Not much smiling happened in grade 12. In the midst of new growth everything felt dead.


Chapter Three

Chapter Three – Annie


Common Scents Creative was booming, Annie had more than 125 freelancers and contract designers, writers, web and content consultants working on 30 projects at a time including the Kelvingrove Museum, the West End Festival and the Glasgow Rangers.  The quant office on Hanover, a block from GOMA and George Square was becoming cramped but “that was part of the charm” explained Annie “give clients and freelancers a bit of chaos to add to credibility”. While Tesco and Marks were way out of her league, they were turning about £4 Million in business which allowed for an extremely extravagant and indulgent lifestyle. Partying at West End clubs, attending late night (early morning) theatre in the tunnels under Central Station, and using ‘recreational’ drugs on the Green with some dangerous characters was a normal week. “Go hard and sleep on Sunday or when I’m dead” was her mantra.

Through June, July and August, Annie found a group of younger zealots with the same stamina that she stilled believed she had. They went every night till the early morning and didn’t take the Sabbath seriously. Dozens of young men and women went through her bed; some staying for a week but most only for a one-night fling. The encounters seemed to fuel Annie’s creative juices “the more I flow, the better the ideas flow” Everything was magical. Money, sex, drugs, and notoriety were her life. There was the incident in late August where she was hospitalized at a Charing Cross clinic after some rough sex got out of hand. The bruises eventually healed but her spirit was more battered. She became more cautious, even reserved by her previous standards.

She was walking alone through the Barras Market at noon one Friday and noticed a middle aged man buying take-away from an Indian restaurant. He was definitely not her usual type; wearing an expensive suit and carrying a satchel. She spied him for about 30 minutes, following his route through the market and out onto Kent St heading back towards Bell. Back at the shop, she shook it off as a bit of fun and poured herself back into provoking a fresh approach for a new client. But she found herself back at the Barras the next Friday anticipating another covert mission. It was almost 1pm when she saw him through a crowd, moving north at a brisk pace. She had almost missed him. As surreptitiously as possible, she quickened her pace and followed him north and then west along Trongate right to an office building in the Merchant City. “This will be easier next time” she thought “ now that I know where you work and we are just around the corner from each other” Almost as if he had heard her thoughts, he stopped and turned towards her. “Stephen, Stephen we need to talk about the deposition” shouted a much younger and more stylishly dressed man. Stephen took his arm and almost dragged him off the walk and into the vestibule. As she passed, she could see them arguing; arms flaying, faces red oblivious to the fact that there was a 40 year old woman staring through the glass at them. Annie came to her senses and turned on her heel and headed for George Square.

Over the next week Annie found herself detouring past Stephen’s office, even stepping in and reading the tenant listing. There was no Stephen but there were two barristers on the third floor. A little research and a trip to the 3rd floor and she knew he who he was; Stephen Ames of Ames Millar LLP Solicitors. While she was sitting on a bench in front of the Gallery of Modern Art, plotting how she might need the services of a good solicitor, Stephen appeared and sat on the museum steps. He remained there for maybe 10 minutes watching the passing crowd and then got up and headed back towards his office. “He left an envelope on the step. This is my chance” Annie dashed the 10 yards to the step scooped up the manila envelope “it is quite heavy” she thought and then blurted out “Sir, Sir. Sir, you left this behind on the stairs.” Stephen turned and she met his steel grey eyes for the first time. “ He seems upset, almost resentful” was her initial thought but then a smile swept across his face. “ Oh, goodness. How careless of me” he said. “ Did he really say that or was she dreaming a 1940’s movie?” went through her head. Funny.

After the clumsy exchange, he said “ Stephen Ames. Thank you, I am not sure where my head was.” Annie jumped at the opening with “Maybe you need to take some time a clear your head. Would you like a cuppa, my treat?” The initial embarrassment in every first invitation passed quickly and they picked up two teas and two scones and went back to the bench in front of GOMA. Stephen “wouldn’t hear of it” that Annie would pay. The conversation was generic but genuine – the what do you do, where are you from kind of stuff and they agreed to meet the next evening for a quiet drink near Queens Park Station.

For the next four months, their relationship blossomed into dinner and theatre a couple times a week and jaunts to the country at weekend. The chemistry was undeniable, the conversation was fierce, and the sex was amazing – so tender. Annie couldn’t remember feeling like this before, not even with Andrew.  She felt alive in a way that was foreign and scary. Whenever her mobile rang, she hoped  it was him calling. when they were together her heart swelled and yet she couldn’t bring herself to tell him how she felt. All those years of casual relationships made commitment or the expectation of commitment very difficult.

Finally in November, the weekend of St. Andrews Day “weird I know”, she blurted out “I really love you, Stephen” as they were on the train to Stirling for a day excursion. He matter of factly replied “I love you too.”  There was no embrace, no physical contact at all. Just silence against the rattling of wheels on rails. They rode like that, caught up in what had been let out of the bag, for almost 30 minutes. Finally, he smiled and took her hand and said “this is good, right?” Annie squeezed his hand and said “right” This was the last time that their conversation went down that path.

Christmas was difficult, it was always difficult. Miles away from home with mixed memories of the season and far too many bridges still burning, the festivities seemed nonsensical. Without a religious impetus, without a greed motive and without a familial sharing reason Annie felt that she was a hypocrite to join in the celebration. Stephen was a traditionalist – not ‘figgy pudding’ but definitely a tree, presents and turkey. Annie could do a good Scrooge but chose this year to surrender to his plans. He paraded her through his circle of friends, mostly barristers and solicitors and old school chums, from early December till the 22nd. Everyone seemed indifferent to her presence and she wondered “am I losing my zing?” As was his practice, he caught the train from Glasgow Central to Dumpfries, with Annie in tow, on the morning of the 23rd and his family was waiting to take them onto Kirkcudbright for three days of merriment. About noon on Christmas Eve, Annie “came down with something” that laid her on her back with a cold compress over her eyes. She didn’t sleep but rather listened to the season unfold in the Ames household. Laughter, groaning, disagreement mixed with the aroma of wood burning fire and mincemeat tarts baking in the oven. It would likely have been wonderful if it hadn’t been for the ache that seemed to have enveloped her body and a sense of dread that filled her heart and mind.


By mid-January Annie realized that something more than a bug was causing her symptoms that had now grown to quite a list; headaches, fatigue, swollen glands, a rash in places she couldn’t quite see, and a persistent angst that she knew what was the problem but couldn’t put a name to it. After attending a clinic and having a series of blood panels she was referred to Gartnavel Hospital to see a specialist. The name it turned out was Human Immunodeficiency Virus.



Chapter Two

Today – Mavis

This was getting annoying. “Downright annoying” as Granma Beth would have said. The Sobieskis had planted dill in their front flowerbeds and put little gnomes on both sides of the front steps. While not as annoying as the Granger’s solar lights along the driveway and sidewalk, this was still an affront to what was normal in Pierce Meadows.  Mavis and her neighbour Jill considered and debated over the back fence whether they should “just march over there and set them straight.” In the end, they just complained to each other but the disregard for what was expected kept nagging. “Why couldn’t things stay the same.” There is safety n sameness.

Mavis was up every morning at 6 and out for a brisk half hour walk in the neighbourhood before 7, except Sunday when she used 30 minutes to read her Bible and get ready for the early mass at Blessed Virgin Anglican. She walked alone, without headphones, taking in her community. She was keenly aware of the slightest changes to the homes, yards and boulevards along her route. “Paying attention was important, paying attention to detail even more important” she reminded herself almost every morning.

The Victorian on King still had a for sale sign – “they are probably asking way too much.” The Benson’s had a new car – “did they leave the BMW in the driveway so everyone would notice?” The community association had flyers up about street cleaning next week – “I need to remind old Mrs Grauer to make sure her car wasn’t left parked on the street. Remember the mess last year.”

Today – Joan

As the sun came up Joan had an inkling that today meant something different, she felt a bit unsettled. She got up at seven and plugged a cartridge into the Kuerig and went to her front door to pick up the morning paper from the hallway. “Two minutes, that’s what the advert said, two minutes to a perfectly brewed coffee.” The Seattle Times said it was May 6, “what was it about May 6?.” She couldn’t recall. Flipping the paper on the counter, she grabbed her coffee and popped the canister into the compost bin. “Those flowers need to be changed” she thought. Spinning to pick up the vase, her housecoat sleeve clipped the edge and sent vase and flowers flying. Almost in slow motion she thought “that is the vase that Roy gave me for our 25th; he bought it when we were on the Isle of Skye, just before we took the ferry back to Scotland and the train to Fort William. Why did he choose that one with the teal and mauve blending together, it didn’t match anything in the –Crash” “How could something that solid shatter into so many pieces? Watch your bare feet. Where is the ‘crazy glue’?” A blur of teal and mauve jumbled with anger, grief, confusion creating a black smear across her kitchen and her life.

Before she knew what was happening she was sobbing, wracked with tear heaves, sprawled on the floor. She couldn’t stop. The flood gates were opened and the flow didn’t cease. Her breath was  trapped inside the sobs and a puddle was pooling under her face. “ my arms won’t  work. I can’t breathe. What is going on. Am I dying? May 6th..May 6th? That was the day that Roy left. “Fishing up north” he said. “ Be back tomorrow”

Tomorrow didn’t come. They didn’t find his body – just an empty boat and an empty truck. “How could he not come home?” Four years ago, “I waited and waited. We couldn’t have the funeral for more than a year.” I didn’t say goodbye that morning. I didn’t thank him, I didn’t tell him.

The tears flowed, the heaving continued, Joan’s world splintered into memories – memories and hopes.

They had planned to go back to Scotland and then tour the fjords of Norway and Sweden. The condo was supposed to be a perfect home as they saw the world together. Six more years and Roy was eligible for full pension and Boston, New York, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Diego and San Francisco was on the circuit for that summer. Great books, artsy movies, museums, flying kites, long walks going nowhere…

Almost three hours later the phone rang and she found herself passed out from exhaustion, still lying on the floor. “This is Sears calling, we are in your neighbourhood”  was all she heard and  Joan gently placed the handset back in the cradle.

The day passed and the sun came up. May 7 – a new day, a new beginning but a lingering uneasiness persisted. “ Keep busy. There is always something that needs doing.”  Joan never used the Kuerig again and the Times piled up in the hallway until she cancelled the subscription. The million pieces of the vase were gathered together and put in a Tupperware container. She would find the glue and piece it together – “as good as new”.Grandma Gert would have said. “ Good as new” “Spilt milk” “Let it out girl” “This too shall pass” But Grandma Gert wasn’t here anymore nada neither was Roy. That was the new beginning that came from the exhaustion and release of yesterday.



Annie claimed to have no ties. “Nothing holds me down. Nobody tells me where to be or who to be” she as matter of factly told Mavis and Joan when they happened to share a table on a patio three summers ago. They had been out prowling their favourite shops and peeking in windows – not really shopping; more walking, talking and gawking. The sunshine was a gift that they hadn’t seen for more than a week and the patio at Beyond Juice had been too inviting. Annie had sat down, uninvited, and struck up a conversation that quickly became personal. Usually, Mavis and Joan would have been taken aback by her forthrightness but she ‘had a way about her’. They opened up about their current situations and their hopes and dreams, at least those that they had shared with each other.

Annie drew from Joan that she was lonely since Roy was travelling so much and she occasionally felt she needed someone else in her life and “a little bit crazy.” Annie countered with “loneliness is all we really have and when we learn to live with ourselves, we learn to live together and aren’t we all a wee bit loony?”  Amazing how a string of words can sound can sound profound.

Mavis, naturally more guarded, shared “I am in a rut, doing the same stuff today that I did yesterday, last week, and last year.” Annie laughed “a rut is a grave with the ends kicked out. If you don’t climb out, someone will bury you or you’ll bury yourself.”  Made sense but how? What do I need to do?

Over the next hour the girls (Annie called them the girls or alternatively the old girls or her girls) heard of the adventures she had been on. They suspected there was some embellishment and said so when they walked back to the train station. Regardless they were intrigued and listened in awe. Annie grew up in Seattle , Everett really, and had attended Washington State for one semester before flying to Prague with Andrew, who would become her husband, at a Paris wedding, for less than a year “I worked my way west across Europe, as a model, a waitress, a bookseller and a stripper before I was 25” (They both thought(wrongly) that the stripper was an exaggeration but listened anyway and feigned a tiny bit of shock). “ We ended up and split up in Glasgow. Haven’t seen him since. I guess technically we are still married- wow hadn’t considered that we would be celebrating – what would it be, our 28th anniversary next February.”

“Glasgow was a great place, gritty and real. Took the ‘Clockwork Orange’ every day, without paying, from the West End to Central Station to work at a Mark’s. Paid the bills and gave me a reason to want more.” It turned out that more meant setting up her own small boutique marketing company, “ even though I didn’t know squat” in a cheap storefront near the Museum of Modern Art. The quirky location provided interest and credibility and business walked in and later knocked down her doors to get on the client list. It also turned out that “her personality, passion and power of BS was all she needed.” It was all she needed until the real work started and through her connections she found some trained and talented freelancers to share the space and do most of the design work. Annie continued to coerce, corral, and convince clients that Common Scents Creation was the place to be. Twenty years later, burned out and past time, she sold the agency for “ a shitload of money” and left Glasgow heading east across Europe to Asia and landed back in the US 2 years ago.

She said what she meant, did what she wanted, owed nobody anything. Mavis thought “ that would be why she understands loneliness so well”

Over the next three years, Annie and her girls – all in their 50’s, met for furious conversations about politics, religion, money and anything else that was considered a taboo in polite company. Mavis and Joan waited for these times to be less concerned, less cautious, less conventional and more alive. “Conformity is the opposite of courage” Annie chided one Friday evening, six months ago, as they ate fish and chips by the water. “Too much salt. Too much fat. I will need to eat nothing but fresh vegetables for the rest of the weekend” thought Joan. “It takes so much work to follow the diet that Dr. Boehringer had prescribed.”

“Step out of the box and get on stage and sing your lungs out. Do another something for the first time – anything. Break out of the mold and create a new you” was easy for Annie to say and seemingly do but Mavis and Joan held positions in their communities and worried about what their families would think.



Chapter One

Joan and Mavis had stopped lying to each other ten years ago, or they stopped pretending they weren’t when both knew they were. Watching the crowd rush by from the patio at the market, they recognized how fortunate they were. Hundreds of people trudged by with shoulders slumped and eyes glazed, trying to get through another meaningless day. They didn’t seem to notice the smells and sounds of the water or the rhythm of the farmers and fishermen who were still stacking their wares and getting ready for another busy day. Every day for these two old friends, there were possibilities, not an extravagance but small moments of appreciation and wonder.
Mavis had three healthy children, all working in their chosen fields, which friends from the community auxiliary reminded her wasn’t usual anymore. James, her eldest, was a lawyer who was only slightly embarrassed by his mother because of impropriety he was involved in a few years ago. Robert worked for the government as an auditor and seemed happiest when he was on the trail of some accounting mischief. Finally, Elizabeth managed a team of designers who filled the homes of the nouveau rich with expensive artwork and bric-a-brac. Liz didn’t earn the same money as her brothers but always appeared to be the happiest of the three. Mavis didn’t have any grandchildren yet, but that would come, she hoped.
Joan was widowed and somewhat estranged from her children but enjoyed great friendships, the occasional date, and being the master of her own life. Her calendar was filled with volunteering for art organizations – mostly ushering for two theatre companies that allowed her to see all the plays in both their seasons without buying a subscription. There were days she felt lonely, but “everybody did.”
Oh, there were some minor ailments. Joan felt twinges of arthritis when the seasons changed and still needed to watch her diet because of problems with being regular. If Mavis climbed too many stairs or extended her morning walk, her irregular heartbeat seemed more erratic. But, all in all, they enjoyed good health.
As for the creature comforts, they both had more than enough money to meet their expenses and enjoy an annual vacation, usually together. They lived in simple homes. Joan’s downtown condo had two bedrooms, which gave her enough room for quilting or the occasional guest and allowed her to enjoy the bustle of the city. Mavis was still in the rambling bungalow that had been her home for nearly 30 years. It was a comfortable community where she knew some older neighbors, even though it was ‘changing.’
The current change resulted from those new people moving into the neighborhood. Joan had heard Mavis complaining for months about them. They had too many guests, too many cars parked on the street, didn’t put out their garbage bin on Tuesday night (like everyone else), didn’t cut their lawn on Saturday morning (like everyone else), and now they were painting their house – blue.
Mavis and her neighborhood friends didn’t like any of this. Everything had been fine until they moved in. “Why couldn’t they get along and go along with everyone else? Was there a language or cultural barrier? They did have a different accent and had only been here (in Canada) for about a year. But didn’t they have garbage pickup and grass in Poland? Didn’t they know that a blue house would stand out and they wouldn’t be like everyone else?”
This wasn’t the first time Mavis bent Joan’s ear about ‘those people.’ There had been a series of phone calls last April when they moved into the house down the block. “It looks like they have a huge family. There are always lots of cars in front of the house.” “Now they are having a bbq in their backyard with music.” “I saw him coming home at 3:30 in the morning. I wonder what he is up to.” She hadn’t brought it up, for a while, at their weekly lunch until a couple of weeks ago, and now Joan wished that she hadn’t asked: “how are things with the neighbors?” She treasured this time when they could enjoy a meal, a glass of wine, and casual conversation while watching the bustle of the city around them. This complaining was ruining the experience and the relationship for her.
Joan had suggested that “being different might be a good thing” the first time the subject was raised, but this was dismissed quickly, and the matter was changed. But, this idea of being different stuck with Mavis. She realized that, on her next birthday, in two months, she would be 55 – not an insignificant landmark. What had she done that had been remarkable? Raising two kids, entertaining her husband’s clients, keeping house, and volunteering at the bake sale once a year. None of this seemed remarkable. What had she done that was different from thousands of other middle-aged women? What would set her apart? What would be her legacy?
The itch to do something was irritable but hadn’t become unbearable yet. She was able to go about her life with the niggling thought that there could be more, without acting on it, until she saw the purple coat. It caught her eye as she passed Oneill’s Ladies Wear about three weeks ago. Her first reaction was, “who would ever wear anything that gaudy?” but the image stayed with her all day. She found herself standing in front of the window the next day admiring the lines, and within the first week, she had gone in and tried on the coat. The assistant said, “this is the only one we brought in, and it fits you perfectly; what luck.”
Mavis didn’t succumb to the sales pressure or compliments, at least not immediately. But on Friday, ten days later, she was at the shop writing a cheque for $929 (more than she had ever spent on a coat). She snuck it home and hid the box in the spare bedroom closet, embarrassed by her foolishness and excess.
Each evening, the coat came out, and the ritual would begin. The box was opened, and the bright purple shone against the white packing tissue. She would stand and admire the vibrancy of the purple against white and marvel at the emotions and yearnings that it stirred. Pride and shame swam together against a current of curiosity and disgust. Then the coat was removed and laid flat on the bed. The perfect human torso shape that called out as part of the seduction. Buttons, large, black, shiny buttons, begged to be opened. The coat screamed, “put me on, put me on, please.” Anticipation was part of the ceremony, so she gently lifted the garment, turned it, and observed it from every angle. Slowly, she absorbed how the sleeves fell like a soldier standing at the ready. The collar stood proud on the shoulders, almost lifting the coat into the air.
She turned to the mirror and held the coat in front of her body. Every time she reached this stage, her face flushed, accenting the purple serge against her steel blue eyes and grey hair. Then, a fleeting thought, “I am still beautiful; why hadn’t I noticed?” The realization emboldened her, and her left arm slid into the sleeve – a chill as the silk lining rubbed along her forearm, and then with a quick turn away from the mirror, the coat was over her, embracing her in luxury and lust. The real rush came when she whirled and caught the first glimpse of the finished product. Over the past week, she had learned that if there was an unbearable delay before the unveiling, the anticipation heightened the sensation.
A transformation happened in this small, defiant, bold act; Mavis was still Mavis but more. Paradoxes presented themselves; good versus evil, prim versus naughty, cautious versus carefree, and most importantly, assured versus curious. Her assurance that her ideas, life, and way were right seemed under siege. The scaffolding of her life shook- unexpected and uncomfortable but somehow exciting. Occasionally, the fear of change made the coat disappear quickly into the box, but more recently, the status quo keepers were kept at bay, and the purple coat worked its magic.
It was as if a trance overcame her, and Mavis found a voice, her voice, saying, “There is more. There must be more to life. What is it? How do I see it? Where do I find .. what will I find?” As the words flowed from her lips, they seemed to envelop her like the coat, gently, provocatively, and uplifting. These thoughts occupied her for hours after the ritual, not disturbingly but with lingering anticipation. Then, finally, the routine of the day began to fade the cloud of words, and Mavis, old Mavis, returned to her everyday actions – the same actions she had been taking for more than 30 years. But the purple coat waited.