Joyland

Toronto |

Todd and Belinda Rivers of 780 Strathcona

by Jessica Westhead

Tammy and Bruce make a point of not taking each other for granted. To keep the spark alive they go out on monthly “dates” — they always chuckle when they call them that, because they are married, after all. They also do their grocery shopping together, but this Friday night Tammy is grocery shopping by herself because Bruce is out with his friend Gary watching the game at Enzo’s Slam Dunk, the Italian sports bar he and Gary like. “Are you sure you want to go by yourself?” Bruce had said to her in his thoughtful way before heading out. “We can go together tomorrow night.” “No, no, it’s fine,” Tammy had told him. “We need milk, and we need the pizza ingredients. We’ll have fun making the pizza together tomorrow night.” “You’re right,” he’d said, and left. So this Friday night Tammy goes to their local grocery store by herself and reaches for a basket but then pulls her hand back, and decides in that moment to get a cart instead. The aisles in this store are narrow and she and Bruce always use baskets so they don’t take up too much room, but tonight she thinks, I will get a cart. It’s just me, after all. So she yanks one out of the line and heads for the mushrooms, and it’s at this point that she sees the magazine. It’s lying on the bottom of the cart, with Nicole Kidman’s face smiling up at her. Tammy likes Nicole Kidman, all that frizzy red hair she has. She liked her better when you could still hear her Australian accent, but Nicole’s come a long way since then, and besides, who is Tammy to criticize? She reaches for the magazine — it’s a People — and then stops. I should really do the shopping first, she thinks. So she drops a few handfuls of bumpy mushrooms into a bag, then picks up a green pepper, a red pepper, and two semi-ripe tomatoes. She hasn’t put anything in the main part of the cart yet, just the child-seat part, which is kind of funny because the main part has so much space, and the child-seat part has those big leg holes that things can easily fall through! She looks at Nicole Kidman again. I’ll just read the cover, she thinks. Tammy isn’t a big magazine reader, but she will thumb through a People while she’s waiting at the checkout, and she gets a kick out of the photos of the stars in bad outfits, or what have you. Not that she cares about that sort of thing — she would never buy a People. But maybe she’ll just take a peek while she’s doing her shopping. That way she’ll feel less rushed than when she’s next in line and has to unload the groceries onto the conveyor belt, which Bruce usually does while she thumbs through a magazine. But Bruce isn’t here. So she stops the cart in the most unobtrusive spot she can find, by the cabbage — because who buys cabbage? — and picks up the magazine. And that’s when she sees the address label on it, and realizes that this crisp, shiny People is not from the grocery store. It’s from somebody’s house. “Tammy!” Tammy jerks her head up and hugs the magazine to her chest. It’s Voula. “Hi, Voula,” says Tammy. “Fancy seeing you here!” says Voula, because Voula is always saying things like that. “Hi, Voula,” Tammy says again, because there’s nothing else she really feels like saying to her. “What have you got there? A People! Is that the current issue? Can I see it?” Voula thrusts an arm at Tammy’s chest. Tammy takes a step back and her elbow nudges the cabbage pyramid, which teeters. “No,” she says. “No, Voula.” Voula frowns. “It’s just—” Tammy is about to say, It isn’t mine, but she doesn’t. Instead she says, “It’s not the current issue.” “But Nicole Kidman is on the current issue.” “It is Nicole Kidman.” Tammy chooses her words carefully. “But it’s not the current Nicole Kidman.” “Right,” says Voula. “Fine, Tammy, if you don’t want to let me see your People, I don’t really— I’m shopping for a party anyway, so I’ve got better things to do. Stavros and I are having a party.” “That sounds nice.” “Oh, it will be. We’re doing a selection of meat and an assortment of cheeses. And wine. You’ve never seen so much wine!” “Yum,” says Tammy, still clutching the People that doesn’t belong to her. Voula frowns some more and reaches past Tammy for a cabbage, which she yanks with both hands from the bottom of the pile. The rest of them tumble over each other like green and purple bowling balls and fall in a heap around Tammy’s feet. Then Voula says, “Where’s Bruce tonight, Tammy?” “He’s out.” Tammy sidesteps a stock boy who is rushing at her, and almost trips over one of the cabbages. “When’s your party, Voula?” “Tomorrow night. And I need lots of cheese and meat because it’s going to be a big party, with tons of people. So I’d better get shopping.” “Okay,” says Tammy. “I’ll see you later, Voula.” But Voula has already turned away from her to order some mortadella.
A can of pineapple tidbits, a can of pizza sauce, a bag of pre-shredded mozzarella, and a carton of milk later, Tammy is home with the magazine. She puts away the groceries while the People lies there on the kitchen table. By the time she’d gotten to the cash register she’d read the cover and the table of contents, but that’s as far as she’s gotten. The fact that this People belongs to Todd and Belinda Rivers of 780 Strathcona Drive hasn’t really sunk in yet. She knows it belongs to them; she just hasn’t let herself think too hard about it. She looks at Nicole Kidman. Nicole Kidman looks back at her. Belinda is a nice name, thinks Tammy. Todd, not so much. The phone rings, and Tammy picks up the cordless. “Hello?” “It’s Bruce,” says Bruce. “Is Tammy there?” “It’s me,” says Tammy. “Hey,” he says, “you’re supposed to say, ‘Who’s Tammy?’” Because that’s their thing. “All right. Who’s Tammy?” Bruce sighs. “It’s wrecked now.” He tells her he’s on his way home and they both say I love you, and then Tammy hangs up the phone and picks up the People. She turns it over and turns it over again. Todd and Belinda’s, she thinks. There is a bruise on her leg from the cabbages. She wonders if Bruce will ask her about it.
“780 Strathcona is just across the park,” Bruce says the next morning. “You can walk it over to them.” It’s Saturday and they are lying in bed, and Tammy has just told him about the People. “I guess I could.” “I’ll go with you. It’ll be nice.” “Nice,” she says. What she’s thinking is, But I haven’t read it yet. “Ahhh!” Bruce stretches and sits up. “So that’s one thing. What else are we going to do today?” Tammy continues to lie there. “I don’t know.” “I’m going to make eggs,” he says, and walks out of the room. Tammy looks up at the ceiling, then turns her head to look out the window. The sun is bright and birds are chirping. I’m not going to get up yet, she thinks. Bruce may be up and that’s fine for him but I need a few more minutes of lying here. “Tammy?” Bruce calls. “Do you want scrambled?” “Yes, please!” she calls back. Then she thinks, No, fried. She opens her mouth but then closes it. Scrambled will be good too. She wishes she’d brought the People into the bedroom but it’s still on the kitchen table. She wonders if Bruce is going through it right now. If he’s looking at Nicole Kidman and her Alsatians, which is what the article is about. “Bruce?” No answer. He’s engrossed, she thinks. She gets out of bed and walks down the hall to the kitchen, where Bruce is standing at the stove with his back to her. The People is on the table, exactly where she left it last night. “Um, can you make me fried instead?” she says. “It’s already done.” He turns around with the skillet, which is full of yellow lumps. “They’re already scrambled.” They sit down at the table, with the People between them, and eat. “I ran into Voula at the grocery store,” says Tammy. “She and Stavros are having a party tonight, with lots of cheese and meat and wine.” “I thought we were making pizza,” says Bruce. “We are. We weren’t invited.” He puts down his fork. There is a tiny speck of scrambled egg on his chin. “Did she say we’re not invited?” “Well, no.” Tammy gestures at her own chin, pretending to wipe it, but Bruce doesn’t get the message. “She intimated it.” “But they’re our neighbours,” he says. “They live all the way across the park.” “Hey!” Bruce tilts his head and the egg morsel falls off his chin and onto the floor. “So do the Riverses!” She frowns. “Who are the Riverses?” “Todd and Belinda!” He points to the magazine. “Maybe they’ll be there!” “Oh, right.” She opens the People to the Kidman spread. Her Alsatians are magnificent, thinks Tammy. “We could crash it,” says Bruce. “The magazine will be our ticket in!” “So now you want to go to their party? I thought we were making pizza. And I thought you didn’t like Stavros.” “I don’t. But you said there’d be food.” “We’ll be full from the pizza.” “Then maybe we should make the pizza another night.” “But I bought the ingredients.” “Sunday,” says Bruce. “We’ll make the pizza on Sunday.”
They have sex after the eggs, and it’s pretty good. When they’re finished Bruce says, “So what else can we do today?” “I thought we were going for a walk,” says Tammy. “We don’t need to now. We’re bringing the magazine to the party, remember? So what else?” She wants to say, I think I’d like to do some reading. Instead she says, “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” “We could go to the hardware store.” “What do you need at the hardware store?” “We need a couple of washers and a smoke-alarm battery. And you’ve been talking about shelf paper, so we can get some of that too.” “Hold on,” says Tammy. “I have never talked about shelf paper.” “If it wasn’t you then who was it?” “I don’t know,” she says, “but I have never.” “Hey,” he says, “where’s that bruise on your leg from?”
So they go to the hardware store. Bruce buys two washers, a D battery, and cornflower-blue shelf paper, and chats up the girl at the cash. “Since when does corn have flowers, anyway?” he says to her. The girl laughs uproariously. She’s a teenager with spiky hair and thick leather bracelets. “I don’t know!” she says. Tammy wants to say, Corn is a flowering plant, but all she says is, “Let’s go, Bruce.” “What a nice kid,” says Bruce when they’re outside in the sun. “We need more nice kids like her. Real people, you know?” Tammy doesn’t say anything but Bruce is looking at her, so she nods. “Now what?” he says. “Want to go home and lay some shelf paper?”
By five o’clock the smoke-detector battery has been installed and safety-tested, and the shelf paper has been laid. Now Bruce is doing whatever he’s doing with the washers and the bathroom sink, and Tammy is finally alone with the People again. She sits down at the kitchen table and starts to read. Nicole pats one of her prized Alsatians and smiles. “They’re my pride and joy,” she says. “They’re everything to me.” “Tammy?” Bruce calls from under the sink in their bathroom, which he sometimes jokes is a “real-life water closet!” because it’s so small, and opens onto their adjoining kitchen and living room, like an actual closet. “Could you get me a glass of water?” Tammy stops reading. She wants to say, Why don’t you just drink from the faucet? But instead she gets up and gets Bruce a glass of water. “Thanks, Tammy,” he says, after he drains the glass and hands it back to her. “What are you doing right now?” “Just reading the People. There’s a good article on Nicole Kidman.” “She’s that actress, right? Red hair? What’s she doing with herself these days?” “I don’t know yet. I haven’t finished the article.” “Well, what are you standing around doting on me for? Go on and get reading! You can tell me all about it when you’re done.” Which makes Tammy not really want to keep reading the article, at least not right at this moment. So she turns on the TV instead. “I thought you were going to read,” Bruce calls. She flicks through the channels and sighs. “I am.” She turns off the TV. “There’s nothing on, anyway.” Tammy gazes at the glossy photo of the pink-cheeked Nicole, surrounded on all sides by her magnificent dogs, with her big ranch-style house in the background. She flips to the next page and keeps flipping. The Kidman story goes on for another five pages. After that is the Best Dressed section, and it looks like a good one. Tammy takes the People over to the couch and gorges her eyes on all the lemon taffeta, which is apparently all the rage this year. She is just about to turn the page to the Worst Dressed section, which is her favourite, when Bruce stands up and says, “Try turning on this tap, Tammy. Just try it.” She’s holding the magazine in such a way that it appears as if Cameron Diaz has her thumb for a face. Wouldn’t that be something, thinks Tammy. Cameron Diaz with a big, ugly thumb instead of her small, beautiful head. Ms. Diaz’s spot on the Best Dressed list might not be so assured if that were the case. Then again, if People was being fair, it should really only be the outfit that counts. But when did People ever care about being fair? “Tammy?” She looks up to see Bruce standing in front of her with his arms dangling at his sides, a wrench in one hand. “Oh,” she says. “Sorry.” “I fixed it,” he says. “I fixed the drip!” “That’s great, Bruce.” She puts the People on the coffee table. “You have to turn on the tap to see the difference though.” “Okay.” She follows him to their bathroom and rests her hand on their toothpaste-spotted tap handle, and turns it. “Smooth.” Bruce slaps his thigh. “What did I tell you!” Tammy puts her hand under the cold running water, feels her skin going numb. “Whoa, six o’clock,” says Bruce. “We better get ready for that party!”
Voula was right. There are tons of people here. Tammy stands in the middle of them, by herself. On the other side of the room Bruce is talking to Stavros about cheese. She knows what they’re talking about because she was included in the conversation at one point, but as soon as the subject of cheese came up, both men became animated and Tammy walked away. And now they’re even more excited because they have moved in front of the buffet table where there is actual cheese to eat. Tammy doesn’t remember Bruce ever expressing such an interest in cheese to her. And he has definitely never expressed an interest in Stavros. He hates Stavros. What’s worse, the People is tucked up under one of Bruce’s arms, and every time he reaches for another hunk of Camembert or spiced gouda he comes a little closer to letting it fall. She should’ve just taken it from him, she thinks. Better yet, she should’ve told him to leave it at home. Better even still, she should’ve stayed home with it herself. Voula’s party is the last place she wants to be. The worst part of all is, Todd and Belinda Rivers from 780 Strathcona could be here, and she wouldn’t even know it. “Tammy! Fancy seeing you here.” It’s Voula, in a dress. “Hi, Voula,” says Tammy. Voula frowns at Tammy and then glances over at Stavros and Bruce. “Well, well,” she says. Thought you’d crash our little party, did you?” “It was Bruce’s idea. I wanted to make pizza.” “Did you try the mortadella?” Voula has painted her lips the exact shade of peach that clashes with every type of skin tone. “It tastes like it sounds!” “I’m not sure what that means,” says Tammy. Voula squints across the room. “What’s Bruce got under his arm?” “Nothing, it’s nothing.” Tammy grabs a slab of mortadella from the meat-and-cheese table nearby — she isn’t really clear which one of them it is — and takes a big bite. Voula looks away from their husbands and gives her a wink. “Like it?” Tammy doesn’t like it, not at all. But she nods and smiles and keeps chewing. “What did I tell you?” says Voula, her eyes following every twitch and quake of Tammy’s jaw. Tammy swallows and feels tears welling up. She blinks them back and says, “Mmm!” “Voula!” yells Stavros. “Tammy!” yells Bruce. “I guess we’re being paged.” Voula waves at her husband. “Be right there!” “I, um, have to go to the bathroom,” says Tammy. “No you don’t.” I hate you, Voula, Tammy wants to say. What she says instead is, “You’re right.” The two of them make their way through the crowd to their men. Tammy sees that the People has slid almost completely from Bruce’s grip, and, just in time, she reaches out and saves it from falling. Bruce is too engrossed in the cheese to notice. But Voula does. “Isn’t that the People from last night? You brought it for me!” “We brought it,” says Bruce, “but not for you.” “Oh,” says Voula, and then, “Stavros, give me some Stilton.” Stavros carefully spreads a cracker with an even layer of Stilton and hands it to her without a word. Tammy watches them and says, “Bruce, give me some Monterey Jack.” Bruce cuts a wedge of Monterey Jack, eats it himself, and says to their hosts, “Do you know Todd and Belinda Rivers of 780 Strathcona?” “Know them?” says Voula. “We love them!” “Todd’s in the study with our accountant,” says Stavros. Voula points toward the kitchen. “And Belinda’s in there gabbing with my masseuse!” “Did you hear that, Tammy?” says Bruce. “They’re here!” “Bruce,” says Tammy, “can I talk to you for a minute?” “Ooh,” says Voula. “Secrecy!” “Did you invite these clowns, Voula?” Stavros says, waggling his elbows comically. Voula and Tammy lock eyes as Tammy and Bruce edge away. When they are on the opposite side of the room, Tammy whispers to Bruce, “I think I want to go home now.” “But we just got here,” he says. “And there’s so much cheese and meat.” “I just don’t feel very comfortable.” “What about the magazine? What about Todd and Belinda?” “Screw Todd and Belinda,” Tammy says, and then she reaches up to cover her mouth.