Joyland

Toronto |

The Circles in Which We Travel

by Claudia B. Manley

edited by Kathryn Mockler

Louisa, in a blue dress that plays up her red hair, runs around the kitchen. “Malcolm! I can’t find Iffy’s bag.”

“I’ve packed it,” Malcolm says from the doorway, dangling a black diaper bag.

“Jesus Christ, let’s go!” Louisa grabs it. “We’ll be late.”

Malcolm, in his own combination of red (sweater) and blue (jeans), picks up Iphigenia (Iffy for ease and endearment), who is already strapped into her carrier/car seat/cradle (the C3, as it’s known on the market). “Come on, sweet pea, let’s have dinner with our pals, shall we?” Malcolm strokes her eyebrows softly with his index finger.

Iffy, hairless in rainbow fleece and organic cotton, closes her eyes briefly. Milk lingers at the corner of her mouth, and Malcolm smells Louisa on her.

Louisa is already in the car. “Malcolm, come on. You know how they can be.” Then to Iffy, who is being secured in the backseat, “How’s my baby? Did you get enough to eat?” Her hand rises to her breast.

Malcolm gets behind the wheel of the black Volvo station wagon. “Did you remember the bottle of Sancerre?”

She nods. “Who else will be there tonight?”

Well, evidently Hamilton Prince took a place around here, so Brian invited him, and he’s also found some musicologist woman—Connie something—so I’m sure she’ll be there, too. I’m not sure if Raisa and Meghan made it up this weekend.”

“Ah, so I’ll finally have a chance to speak to the famous Mr. Prince about his issues with queer studies.”  Louisa rubs her hands together.

“Think dinner party, honey. Not conference.” He pats her knee, but Louisa is already resurrecting her long-standing argument with cultural studies.

Behind them their house seems to slowly diminish until it finally disappears completely after they crest a hill. Louisa always watches it from the sun visor mirror. “Any idea what’s on the menu?” she asks.

“Brian said nothing but to bring a good white.”

“That’s so vague. I hate it when he does that.  It’s so unnecessary to leave us in the dark. ‘Good’ is relative to the food—how can we begin to imagine what’s appropriate for the meal?  It’s like some stupid test.”

Malcolm nods. “I think it has nothing to so with the meal. He already has the wines he’s going to serve.  We’re just boosting his collection.”

“Next time we’ll bring a ‘good’ wine-in-a-box.”

“I hear they’re making a comeback.”

 

*

 

Savannah, dressed in blue jeans and a tight aqua tank top, stands in the kitchen, filming water boil. Her long black hair falls around the camera.

“How’s dinner coming?” Brian walks into the kitchen and sees her with the Super-8 camera. “Don’t worry—I won’t expect an answer until you’re finished.” He opens the stainless steel refrigerator and takes out individual avocado flans dotted with smoked trout. “However, I am assuming that art will not interfere with the timelines of tonight’s dinner.” He looks at the vintage school clock on the wall.

“Done.” Savannah takes the camera from her eye. “Don’t worry. Everything’s on schedule.” She pauses and looks at him, “You know how I feel when you doubt me.”

Brian, slightly overweight in baggy khaki shorts and a peach button-down shirt, says nothing. The boiling water isn’t even required for the evening’s meal. He pours himself a vodka.

 

*

 

Iffy is fast asleep by the time they arrive at Brian and Savannah’s converted barn. It stands alone just off the road bordered by woods to the west and its own acreage to the north and east. The closest neighbor is over a kilometer away. The house, however, would distinguish itself anyway, with its obvious renovations.

Malcolm pulls up behind the other guests and leaves the keys in the ignition. It’s what they do in the country.

Louisa opens the back door to retrieve Iffy. “Look. She’s fast asleep. Why don’t we just leave her be.”  She looks at Malcolm.

“I don’t see why not,” he replies. “There’s no one around for miles, and we’d definitely hear her if she woke up.” He points to the industrial-sized plate glass windows that are pivoted open to catch the evening’s breeze. “Plus, you know how sound travels in there. Brian may be a great architect, but he doesn’t have any children. There’s no place we could put her that would be quiet enough. She’d definitely wake up.” He gently closes the door and walks to Louisa. “Tara and Bill did it all the time with Clarence. It’ll be fine.”

Entering the house, they hear a woman’s voice. “I don’t really see how you can logically argue that Tony Orlando and Dawn aren’t in some part responsible for the current trend of anglicized Latin rhythms.”

“God, Connie.  I don’t even remember Tony Orlando and Dawn,” says Savannah from her perch on a leather ottoman.

“You don’t have to remember them. What’s important is that once you hear them, you recognize their significance.” Connie, a slight brunette in a jean skirt and white silk shirt, shifts closer to Savannah.  “That’s why I’m working on this book. It’s not obvious,” she says and sits back. “At first.”

Savannah ignores the implication and rolls herself a cigarette. As she lights it, she sees Malcolm and Louisa. “Come in, come in.” She hands her cigarette to Brian and goes to them. “Have you been standing there long?”  She kisses Malcolm on both cheeks. “Where’s little Iphigenia?” she asks Louisa.

“We decided to let her sleep in the car. She’s out cold,” Malcolm replies.

Louisa hands the wine to Brian. “Oh, very nice,” he says, looking at the label. He passes Savannah’s cigarette back to her. “I may have to bump something from tonight’s line-up to make room for this baby.”

Louisa and Malcolm smile at each other.

Savannah makes introductions, allowing Louisa to size up Hamilton Prince, all easy elegance in a Paul Smith shirt and faded jeans with aging rocker hair. Brian returns from the kitchen with two drinks.  “Here,” he hands Malcolm and Louisa each a glass. “It’s tonight’s aperitif. I’m still working on a name, but right now we’re calling it ‘The Morning After.’ It’s my own concoction.” Brian sits down as Malcolm and Louisa take places on the black leather and chrome couch.

Brian continues, “I got this amazing vodka from a tiny distillery in eastern Belarus. They only produce about 250 bottles a year—a real father/son operation. Anyway, almost impossible to get.” Brian smiles.  “So I macerate it with a few juniper berries, to add complexity, and shake it with half a jigger of ice wine to add depth and round it out.”  He stops and waits.

Malcolm and Louisa take their cue and sip.

“Well, what do you think?”

“Frighteningly easy to drink,” says Malcolm. “But it’ll have to be my only one tonight as I’m the designated driver, and I’m sure there will be a wine or two that I won’t be able to resist later.”

“Of course,” replies Brian.  “Louisa?”

Louisa smiles. “I think you’ve really captured a certain essence—a kind of ephemeral quality of the vodka—that pairs well with the ice wine.” She takes another sip for emphasis.

“Excellent. Well put,” Brian beams at Savannah.  “I’m so glad you two like it.”

Malcolm thinks he hears Connie mutter, “Oh give me a break.”

Louisa turns to Connie, “Did I hear you say something about Tony Orlando and Dawn?”

“Excuse me.” A man’s voice from the door breaks into their conversation.

They all turn and look at him, each trying to place him.

“I’m sorry,” he pants. His hair is stuck with sweat to his forehead. “It’s my wife,” he starts again. “We live down the road.”

“Slow down there, man. Is there an accident?  Do you need a phone?”  Brian stands and makes sure that Savannah is behind him.

“She’s having my baby. My car’s busted—can someone help me?”

“How’d you get here then?” Brian asks.

“Bike. Can’t put my wife on the bike, and the ambulance won’t come.” He looks from dinner guest to dinner guest.“Please. It’s an emergency.”

“Take the last car in the drive. Keys should be in it.” Brian looks to make sure everyone has complied with the unwritten rule of rural living.

“Thanks. Thanks a lot,” the young man says and rushes out.

Connie glances at Louisa who just shrugs. Hamilton shakes his head a little and raises his eyebrows.

Brian turns back to his guests. “We’re not just cottagers, we’re part of the community.”

 

*

 

Glenn MacLeod jumps into the black Volvo, throws it into reverse, and guns it down the drive. Geysers of dirt and rocks shoot up. It’s almost like doing donuts in Jordan’s field, he thinks. Almost, but not quite.

He pulls in front of the house where he and April are temporarily living with her parents. Before he can run up to the door, April emerges, helped along by her mother.

“Where the hell did you get this car?” April’s mother demands.

April looks worried.

“I borrowed it. I asked, don’t worry.” Glenn helps April into the passenger seat and runs to his side.  “The city people down the road,” he says and starts off before April’s mother can join them.

“We’ll call from the hospital,” April shouts out the window, but her mother has already rushed inside—no doubt to find a ride for herself.

“You okay?” asks Glenn.

“Well, I feel like I’m trying to crap a watermelon, but other than that,” April wheezes out.

Glenn can hear her do the breathing exercises she’d made them practice together. “Doubt my mom did breathing exercises,” he’d said to her when she brought home a brochure about free Lamaze classes from the public library. “Think she just popped us out.” Now, having lived with a pregnant woman, he imagines those exercises can’t hurt.

“Glenn, you didn’t steal this car, did you?”

“April!  No way. I asked, I swear. They told me I could take it.” Glenn stares at the road. “I promised no more of that, didn’t I?  I’ve been good. You gotta trust me.”

“Sorry, sorry,” she says. “It’s my mom. She’s driving me fucking nuts. We gotta get out of that house as soon as we can.”

Glenn swerves to miss a pothole. “Soon, baby, soon. Let’s just get Junior out, and then we’ll worry about that.”

As he speeds along the winding roads, he thinks about that cottager’s house. They took something good and then messed it all up with those giant windows (anyone can see in) and that ugly furniture. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that some people have two houses, had bought the house he’d wanted, and that he and April had to live with her family. It wasn’t fair that the apartment above Louie’s Garage was looking better and better.

Glenn wants to take the Volvo and just keep driving.

“Glenn! The baby’s coming. I can feel it!”

Glenn takes the turn into the ER just in time while images of the open road are quickly replaced by the reality of the moment. “We’re here, honey. Just hold on.” He parks in the spot closest to the emergency entrance (let them give the car a ticket, it’s not his, he doesn’t care), and hustles April inside.

Iphigenia snorts and shifts in the backseat. 

 

*

 

“I’m not saying that your argument lacks a rigorous analysis, but it does seem based on rather subjective assumptions,” Connie says pleasantly to Hamilton, who has taken the seat beside her.

“Sorry to interrupt, but dinner’s ready.” Brian made up for time lost to Savannah’s filming by serving the avocado flan in the living room rather than waiting for them to be seated at the table.

The guests take their seats like children following a well-established seating chart. Brian and Savannah assume the positions at opposing heads of the table.

“Savannah dear, what can you tell our guests about this dish?” Brian prompts his former student.

Savannah tucks a strand of long black hair behind her left ear, leaving the right side as a kind of curtain in front of her eye. “This is a wild mushroom vichyssoise. Everything’s local.” She looks at Brian who smiles encouragingly. “Brian and I hunted the mushrooms in April and dried them ourselves. The potatoes come from this crazy, but wonderful, woman over on route 23, and the cream and butter from the Amish dairy over in Welton. Of course, the herbs are my own.” Savannah looks from guest to guest expectantly.

“I’ve taken this opportunity to uncork this uncharacteristically oaky Chardonnay from California. I think you’ll find that it really brings out the earthiness of the mushrooms.” Brian raises his glass and says, “Salud!”

Malcolm speaks to Hamilton, who is seated diagonally across from him, “You can’t honestly believe that public museums still have some kind of responsibility to the general population. Particularly after how mainstream culture has denigrated, or ignored at best, these institutions.”

“Of course that’s what I’m saying—museums are part of mainstream culture, they’re responsible for their own obsolescence. But I’m saying even more—without a concerted push on the part of artists, museums, and the people who support them, patrons like yourself, Malcolm, there will be no more cultural value to what we call art.”

Savannah sighs. “I don’t really make art to contribute to anyone’s idea of cultural value. It’s just the natural expression of my impulses, the pearl that results from the constant rumination on a feeling or sensation.” She dribbles some soup from her spoon back into her bowl, making a little flower on the surface.

“Savannah, this soup is really wonderful,” breaks in Connie. “You must give me the recipe.”

 

*

 

By 9pm, Dr. Fielding is exhausted. At 72 he should be retired, but they’re having such trouble attracting new doctors that they’ve kept him in light rotation. Despite his desire to spend his days taking walks and pouring over his stamp collection, he’s glad for the extra money.

Exiting through the emergency doors, he expects to see his wife in the white ’96 Buick idling nearby.  He checks his watch. She must be on her way.

I probably have enough time for a smoke, he thinks, and pulls a pack from his jacket pocket. He starts to pace with the cigarette, ignoring the opening and closing of the automatic doors until Nurse Richards comes out to gently ask him to stop.

“Oh, sorry. Just lost in thought,” Dr. Fielding remarks and heads back to the parking spaces.

It’s then that he sees it. The car in his space. The black Volvo station wagon. They must’ve delivered it.  That must be why his wife isn’t here.

The keys are in the ignition, and he eases himself into the driver’s seat. He doesn’t need to adjust much. It feels as though it had been made for him. He notices a wrapper on the floor and makes a mental note to complain about the cleanliness of the vehicle. Just because it’s a used car doesn’t mean it has to be dirty.

He pulls out of his space and heads onto the road home.

Dr. Fielding perks up behind the wheel. The road he’s driven his entire life feels smooth and new. Even in the pitch black, he knows the curves and appreciates the way the vehicle clings to them. He finds himself slightly above, rather than below, the speed limit. “This car is amazing,” he says aloud.

He takes a detour, just to give himself a little extra time behind the wheel. As he drives he begins to let go of the petty slights a doctor of his years receives at the hands of the young ones fresh from the city.  Who cares if he only attends to Little League injuries or the ailments of the old?  It’s still important work, whether you’re setting a 9-year-old’s leg or helping an old man pass a kidney stone.

His patients appreciate his work. That’s what matters.

I’ve got a nice new car, thinks Dr. Fielding. Who cares if it’s hemorrhoids or open-heart surgery that helped me get it?

Dr. Fielding sinks deeper into the seat, ready for a long journey. But at the rotary in the next town over, he remembers his wife at home, and turns the car back toward their house.

 

*

 

“Queer theory is as important for heterosexuals,” Louisa frames the last word with quotation marks, “as it is for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning community.”

Malcolm watches with a familiar mixture of admiration and apprehension.

“Queer theory is important, and I don’t think anyone at this table would disagree,” Hamilton begins, “but it shouldn’t be separated from cultural studies. Doing so disrupts the flow of ideas and energies in the public sphere. It alienates it precisely from the context it’s meant to inform.” He looks across the table to find Connie smiling at him. He returns the favor.

Savannah rounds the table, collecting the plates from the quail with Muscat grapes and replacing them with moose medallions in a soy-sherry reduction.

“Well,” Hamilton says. “I can’t claim to have had moose before, but I’m excited to give it a try.”

“Danny, the young man who watches our house during the off-season, killed this moose on our property.  I couldn’t resist serving it to you despite moose’s reputation for being gamey. I think you’ll find it surprisingly light.” Savannah waits for everyone to take the obligatory first bite. “I thought that it fit nicely with the cycle we’re partaking of tonight. I’m just sorry that I didn’t get the chance to film Danny field dressing the moose. It would’ve made compelling footage for my latest work. But,” she adds lightly, “Danny has promised to call me the next time he bags (as he calls it) another.” She retakes her seat.

It is Brian’s turn. “I’ve paired this with a spectacular, in my mind of course, Pinot Noir from the Okanogan Valley. Hard to find, but worth the flight out west, if you ask me.”

“Louisa, how did you get interested in queer theory?” Connie asks, returning the focus from wine to women.

Louisa gives Connie a patronizing smile, tilting her head ever so slightly to the left, and addressing her as one might a dog or slow child. “You mean, as a straight woman?”

Savannah giggles at the end of the table.

Louisa ignores her and continues. “Well, I don’t identify as gay or straight or anything, so I come from a position of acknowledging the privilege afforded by my presumed heterosexuality while seeking to further explore the boundaries and limitations of gender assumptions.”

“There was a collective day of mourning in the lesbian community when Louisa married Malcolm,” Brian remarks.

“That raises an interesting question,” continues Connie. “Why did you chose to marry when it is not a right afforded to homosexuals in many countries.”

“I understand where you’re coming from, and while I do subscribe to the concept that the personal is political,” Louisa smiles again, “I also believe that change is achieved not only through resistance to hegemonic pressures but also through the reimagining of these institutions.” Louisa turns to Savannah, “That was delicious. Who would’ve known?”

“Who indeed,” echoes Connie.

 

*

 

Dr. Fielding’s wife, Gail, is cleaning the last of the supper dishes when he pulls into the drive. The headlights shoot through the kitchen window, and she drops a glass as she raises her hand to shield her eyes.

“Oh fudge!” she snaps. She’s still cleaning up the glass when Dr. Fielding comes in.

“Gail, come out, dear. You must see our new car!” Dr. Fielding bounces from foot to foot in front of her.

“Careful!” she admonishes. “You don’t want to grind the glass into the floor.”

Dr. Fielding takes her arm, “Leave that, come out.”

Gail deposits the glass remains into the trash can and follows her husband out.

“What do you mean—‘our new car’?” she finally thinks to ask.

“The Volvo, of course. They delivered it to the hospital. I thought you knew.” Dr. Fielding leads her to the black station wagon. “I assumed that’s why you weren’t there to pick me up.”

“I didn’t pick you up because the radiator cracked in the Buick. I left you a message. Didn’t you get it?”

“No. No, I didn’t,” he replies, without adding that he forgot to check for any.

“Well, it’s lucky then that they delivered the car.” She looks at her watch. “Oh! If I run now, I can make it to the QuickMart before they close. We’re out of ice cream.” She looks at Dr. Fielding who is admiring the car. “The keys. Can I have the keys, please?  I’ll be right back.”

Dr. Fielding reluctantly hands them to her and sighs. He stands in the driveway and watches her pull away, noticing something in the back seat for the first time, but Gail is gone before he can say anything.

 

*

 

“The golden days of eBay are over,” Brian says as he holds a glass of Riesling to the light. “I remember when you could get an Eames chair for $50. Now a single cocktail glass from that era could set you back that much alone.”

Savannah rolls her eyes.

“A slight exaggeration, perhaps,” concedes Brian.

“eBay started out as a great, level, marketplace,” Hamilton offers. “But like so many ideas based on supply and demand, the sharks eventually took over and ruined it. The last good buy I got was a 1936 Parker fountain pen.” His hand goes to his breast pocket but finds it empty. “However, I’m addicted now and find myself in the embarrassing, and costly, position of trying to recreate my mother’s kitchen.”

“So, you’re buying Pyrex?” asks Connie.

“Definitely, but only a certain pattern.”

“I love Pyrex,” Connie coos.

“I actually find the idea of used dishware a little repulsive,” says Malcolm.

“We’ve been buying bistro dishes from France for years,” adds Louisa. “We prefer not to have any possible physical evidence of past unknown dinners on our dishes.” She smiles at Malcolm. “Especially now with Iphigenia.”

“So, do you collect any antiques or things like that?” asks Hamilton.

“Not really,” they answer in unison.

Savannah has moved back into the living room and is now draped across one of their club chairs. “I find that so depressing.” She takes a drag from her cigarette. “I like to imagine what might’ve transpired right where I’m sitting. It makes daily life a little more provocative.”

“Shall we join Savannah in the living room?” Brian stands and lets his eyes land on the desk that was their first purchase together.

 

*

 

Gail Fielding pulls into the empty lot of the QuickMart and dashes into the store, leaving the car running. It will only take a minute, she reasons, and makes a beeline straight for the freezer section.

She finds herself debating Rocky Road or Butter Pecan.

Jeff and Pete walk up to the QuickMart and stand outside.

“Man, this sucks,” says Jeff. “We don’t even have enough money for a pack of smokes, let alone beer.”  He looks at the pathetic change in his hand.

“Yeah, and we’re not going to be able to muscle any favors out of Wally in there,” concludes Pete, as he nods toward the clerk inside.

The two teens stand there for a minute, caught in their own moment of indecision.

“Dude!”  Pete suddenly says. “Check it out, the car’s running.  Let’s go!”

“What? Steal this car? Are you nuts? Thanks, but no,” says Jeff.

“Don’t be such a pussy. We’re just going to borrow it.” Pete is tired of this town, this scene, this friend, but there is nothing else. If he gets caught, it’d definitely be trouble for him, but he doesn’t know what Jeff is whining about. It’d only be his first offense. “Let’s go,” he says again and walks towards the driver’s seat.

Jeff glances inside where he sees Gail Fielding standing in front of the freezer with a gallon of ice cream in each hand. He turns away and gets into the car.

Pete steps on the gas and reverses out of the lot. Taking the first side road he comes across, he opens the Volvo up. For a station wagon, it has a pretty nice ride. He feels free, and then, he has the answer.  They’ll drive this baby out of town. Just head to the closest city and find a new life, disappear from this hellhole.

He sees a house coming up, lit from within. Probably fuckin’ cottagers, he thinks, but slows down as he approaches. No need to draw attention to myself, he reasons.

He checks the rearview mirror, just in case, and catches a glimpse of the car seat. “Holy fuck!” he says.  “Jeff, dude, you need to look in that car seat and tell me there’s no baby in it.”

Jeff spins around and sees Iphigenia asleep. “Fuck man, we need to dump this car quick. We could go down for kidnapping.”

Pete’s hands are clammy on the steering wheel as he quietly rolls the car in front of the house. At least they’ll leave the kid with some people. He wipes down anything he can remember touching before getting out.  He’s seen that on TV.  “C’mon, let’s go,” he whispers.

The two boys quietly close the doors and run across the neighboring fields, back towards their homes.

 

*

 

Louisa tries to stifle a yawn, but Malcolm catches her and nods.

“Sorry to break things up, but I think Louisa and I need to take off,” Malcolm says. “Unfortunately, Iffy doesn’t really sleep in yet.”

“Well, I’m glad you could make it.” Brian rises from his chair. “Thanks again for bringing the terrific wine. It went beautifully with the maple crème brulee.” Then Brian adds, “It was better than the wine I’d originally chosen. Good job.” He clasps Malcolm on the shoulder.

Louisa and Malcolm say their good-byes and walk outside. They pause for a moment as they approach their car and look at each other. “I don’t remember parking it here,” Louisa says. Malcolm shrugs, and Louisa goes to check on Iphigenia. “Look at her. She’s still asleep. What an angel.”

Malcolm turns the key in the ignition and as he drives away says, “You don’t think …”  He stops himself.

“What?”  Louisa asks after a moment.

Malcolm knows that to bring up the merest suggestion that their car, with their child in it, could’ve been the one that that man with the pregnant wife took would pitch Louisa into a marathon of “What ifs” that only sedation could halt. But then, why was the car not where they’d left it? That guy must’ve moved it to get to the next car. The one without a sleeping baby in it. Malcolm is sure that this is what happened.

“Malcolm?” Louisa asks again. “I don’t think what? That Hamilton and Connie are having, or going to have, an affair? Of course they are.”

They both laugh and then lapse into a comfortable silence.

 

*

 

Iphigenia’s Night

Iphigenia settles into her car seat. The motion of the Volvo is familiar and vibrates her quickly to sleep.  A final burp of breast milk shakes to the surface and escapes from her like a little kiss. The reminder of dinner causes Iphigenia to unconsciously make a few sucking motions with her mouth.

She dreams. Blue. Blue bathtub filled with water. The warmth and the weightlessness. The floating and the blue. She pees into her diaper.

Now faces—Malcolm and Louisa’s first, and then others. Each comes in and out of focus. Iphigenia feels nothing more than familiarity or newness with each face. No anxiety yet. Where are the faces when she can’t see them?

Her eyes flutter open briefly, and when she sinks back down again, she’s lying on her back looking at the shapes and colours hanging above her. Her tiny hand reaches for the red square but doesn’t get it.  She tries for the yellow triangle and is again unsuccessful. She reaches again.

When her hand comes down empty, it brushes something hard, which she immediately grabs. A plastic block, red like that other shape. Satisfaction. She brings it to her mouth. Red feels nice.

She gnaws on the block, staring at the shapes floating above her until it is those shapes that she feels in her mouth.

Voices bleed into her consciousness, and she shifts in her car seat, trying to recognize them. But there’s no face that belongs to them and so she lets go, this time finding herself examining the fleece of her blanket.

Iphigenia remains in her dream, on that blanket, until she is jostled awake by the moving of her car seat.  She opens her eyes just enough to make out Malcolm’s face and gives a little cry.