Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"A Man’s Man," a short story by Joan Gardner

She was a prissy thing, born and raised in Toronto, and used to all the amenities a city offered. She dated regularly, but dully, and hadn’t been excited with her choice in men since Jason left. Left with her friend. Ex-friend. Eight months gone.

He still called, though, saying he’d dumped the girl and could they not try again. She’d stopped answering two months ago, letting it go straight to voicemail. She only listened to his messages if she’d had a martini too many. Which happened more often than it should, truth be known.

Her condo was, as she was, immaculate, precise and perhaps a bit sterile. That could actually be literal as she had just passed her 39th birthday and well, she wasn’t stupid; she’d read the reports. Time was marching on.

Her girlfriends were all of a kind. Hard working, hard drinking, well-dressed career women with condos on the lake and Coach purses and two-hundred-dollar hair appointments; streaked and bleached and layered just so.

The girlfriends that had moved on had done just that, moved on, and out, and up, and off. Houses in the north of the city, designer babies, no ups or downs just constant tedium, granite this and granite that, and cookie-cutter husbands manscaped to a hair, so as not to ruin the look of the pristine necklines of their cashmere sweaters under their thousand-dollar suits as they dutifully commuted back and forth.

Somewhat like Jason had been, although his back and forth was between two women. His ups and downs as well come to think of it. Literally. Bastard.

That lifestyle was not on her agenda now. She was done with all that. She would have something different, even though, admittedly, she was leaving it a bit late.

Tomorrow’s client meeting certainly held promise. A large fishing camp in Northern Ontario was looking for a new marketing plan to attract Americans and, having looked through their existing website to get an idea of what their current plan was, the picture of the partner that was coming to tomorrow’s meeting was of extreme interest.

This was no cosmopolitan city boy; this was what you’d call a man’s man. (In Toronto, the only man’s men she came across were like Travis and Jerry, the couple in 2410 and that was something entirely different.) This guy was hard. Not in the “his hard manhood stood aloft” kind of way, but in an “I’ll save you!” kind of way.

Ah, imagination (and a big glass of white wine that was now half-empty) was a great way to take a virtual trip. Wouldn’t her friends just die to see her with a man like this on her arm! Maybe she’d move north to wherever his godforsaken camp was.

She knew absolutely nothing about fishing or boats or even where Northern Ontario was precisely, but suspected it was a good deal farther north than the 401. Someplace she didn’t generally go willingly. Ah, but she would surprise everyone by being not only smart and assertive, but also plucky and adventurous. How hard could it be?

In the conference room the next morning, she glanced at herself in the mirror over the credenza, smoothing her tight skirt over her hips. Perfect. This was going to be a cake-walk. Lunch was arranged for noon at Northside, where the calamari fritti was the best in the city.

Duncan McDonald was ushered in and he definitely was a sight. Pretty well filled up the entire room as well. The red plaid jacket he was wearing matched his ruddy cheeks and he practically oozed health and vitality. Made her partners on the ad team look pallid and weak as they smiled uncomfortably in his large presence.

Introductions were made and hands were grasped and shaken by a mitt the size of a dinner plate. Rough as her emery board, which, she noticed, was not a grooming tool he was familiar with. Was that dirt under his nails as well? And that smell? What in God’s name was he wearing? It was like he’d stored up the very last case of Drakkar from the 80’s and dumped half of it on himself for the “meetin’ with the city folk.”

Whatever. There was money to be made and reckless and adventurous plans afoot; surely she shouldn’t judge somebody on one boorish mistake?

Lunch was a disaster. His voice boomed across the room and he laughed far too easily. He didn’t even know what calamari was and laughed, loudly, when told he was eating squid. He actually picked it up and sniffed it! The expensive, crisp sauvignon that she had ordered was pushed aside and he actually ordered a beer. A beer! Which he drank from the bottle.

He ordered the rainbow trout and wondered aloud, to the waiter, where in the hell the head had gone! He sniffed suspiciously at the perfectly presented and deboned fillet and added a generous shaking of salt without so much as tasting it. Oh. My. God. Kill me now. He shoved aside the artfully piled jicama salad with his knife and said it looked too ‘artsy fartsy” for his tastes.

On his third beer, he suggested that she come and visit the fishing lodge to get a better idea of how they could promote it, and that he was sure she would be taken with its beauty. He then lifted the white linen cloth, high enough that the waiter looked their way for God’s sake, and gave a nod and a wink at her feet and suggested that she might need to buy some boots instead of “those high-heeled struttin’ things.” With the goddamn laugh added, just to piss her off, she was sure.

She felt like sticking the heel of those “struttin’ things” right up his ass but realized that this would not further her so-called plucky plan. She told him that if she was going to consider his offer she could shop for what she needed when she got up there (wherever “there” was), and he told her that the closest store was “Buckeye’s Bait Shop” about 50 km away that sold bait, beer, cigarettes and stale chocolate bars.

To get to “real” shopping would require an eight-hour drive. He then picked up the bottle of beer, sucked backed the dregs and actually burped! She signaled for the waiter, paid the bill, left a generous tip and they got up to leave.

His napkin tumbled to the floor and he bent to pick it up, then held it like a matador’s cape, brandishing it at her as if she was a crazed bull (which was quickly becoming a possibility.). Then he flipped it up on his head, grasped the ends under his chin and starting doing an imitation of a babushka. Oh dear God.

She hurried him out the door and they made their way back to the office, with her having to take two quick strides and strange little hop to his one, making her look like one of those stupid little dogs that people put coats on and yank around on Saturdays mornings while sipping their lattes.

They arrived at the office, her, flushed and puffing and a few perfect hairs out of place. She wasn’t sure whether she actually had a few beads of, oh my god, sweat, on her upper lip? He was, of course, simply himself. A man’s man in a plaid jacket.

She called in her assistant, Martha, whose eyes lit up as soon as she saw him, and advised Martha that she should ready herself for a trip to Mr. MacDonald’s fishing camp in the next couple of weeks. Assuring him of her assistant’s expertise in getting the necessary background work done, he signed all the necessary papers and was escorted out, more than willingly, by Martha.

She kicked off her heels as soon as she got in the front door of her condo. Ah, nothing like wearing four inch stilettos to make one appreciate bare feet, once you got over the initial groan of shortened muscles being stretched, no, ripped into position. Vanity hurt, but as long as you were grimacing in style you were on the right track.

She dumped her briefcase and purse on one of the bar stools and quickly helped herself to a tall glass of wonderfully cold Prosecco. The bubbles soothed on their way down. What a freaking nightmare of a day.

Her cell phone, which she’d placed on the counter when she got her wine, quietly buzzed with a message. Jason’s number flashed across the screen. Ah. Again. This time she retrieved the voice mail. He wanted to know if she wanted to keep the subscription to Bon Appetit or if he could change the address on it and take it over himself. He’d always done most of the cooking and he was actually very good at it; all of a sudden she was starving!

He laughed dryly, in that way that he had, and told her he’d picked up an amazing sauté pan at Holt Renfrew and he was dying to try a few new recipes. She imagined his beautifully buffed nails on the handle of the pan, and smiled. She remembered his light, and wonderfully expensive, cologne.


Granite this and granite that couldn’t be that bad, could it?

She picked up the phone and pushed redial.
Joan Gardner is a country girl turned city girl turned country girl again and lives on a farm with her husband and various animals. One of which is a teenage daughter. Joan is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel as her youngest finishes up high school and two older daughters have already flown the coop, so to speak. Time for me, me, me is becoming available and she is starting to pursue interests, like writing, that were put aside long ago to feed the animals.

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Barrie, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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