Sunday, July 17, 2016

“Purgatory: A Love Story,” by Lis Jakobsen

Margot claimed the restaurant booth and started the wait for her friend Derrick.

There’d been a time when she thought their larking friendship might deepen and inspire an occasional commemorative gesture of promptness on his part.  This hadn’t happened.

Instead, Margot had come to ritualize the elastic time between her arrival and his, starting each vigil with an affirmation:  accept, only accept.

As a lapsed Catholic, she knew she didn’t have the full complement of faith needed to take the concept to the point of grace.  But it sure beat the hell out of drumming her fingers on the table for an hour.

She’d unpack and lay out on the table what she joked to friends was her version of the Catholic mass travel kit. It contained sacred vessels and essential liturgical items: a time-waster mystery novel; personal journal; cryptic crossword puzzle; and phone.  At least she wouldn’t need the bottle of Saint Bernadette Spring Water or the sacrificial trail mix this evening.

The rest of these, though, would see her through the wait for Derrick, who made lateness seem like a wild horse of his own invention, one only he could ride successfully into the corral while waving his big white hat at the crowd.

Margot, by contrast, revered punctuality to the cusp of fetish and usually showed up at least 20 minutes early to any appointment, threatre showing, book lecture or Hudson’s Bay white sale. 

She found it absolutely necessary to arrive early so as to choose the best seat, read her program, examine the stage, study the menu and organize her coat and purse.

“There, that’s better,” she’d tell herself, straightening her signature pearl necklace. It had been her mother’s and once the long strand sat the way it should on her neck she felt grounded. 

Derrick, on the other hand, used, “Sorry I’m late,” as standard greeting, the equivalent of, “Hi.  How are you?” and if he ever got a chilly reception for his blithe lack of concern, his buoyant arrival never seemed even slightly wobbled by it.

He had a way of melting away any initial resistance to his singular brand of congenital insouciance.  There was a manner of entering a room as if everyone were entirely relieved to see him, even strangers.  As if the table gave a sigh of gratitude when he rested his arms on it.  As if the menu thrummed with pleasure at his touch.

And, dammit, the waitresses did take his order as if on a mission to tell the angels he needed a dirty martini.  

Her thoughts were interrupted when she felt a current move through the room. She looked up and there he was, 45 minutes past the appointed time. 

“You’re late,” she said as he sat down.

What would the excuse be this time?

“Traffic?” she suggested.

No answer.  Just a smile. That smile. Today, it bugged her. “Lost track of time, did you, while you were rewriting one of your rejected novels?”

“Ha. Ha. Ha. Very funny, Marg-gie.”

“You know I hate it when you call me Marg-gie.  Are you depressed?

Smiling more broadly now.  “Clearly not.”

“In love?”


“Not again,” she said, lightly, but turning her head sharply, searching the room for someone to take her order.

“Yup,” he said, looking up in time to catch the waitress’ eye. 

There would be the other kind of waiting now. She began to worry the pearls in her long necklace as if it were an heirloom rosary.

Lis Jakobsen is a retired public relations consultant who clocked in a lot of job writing over the years, including plenty of speechwriting, mostly for government.  It was definitely not from the “I have a dream” sphere.  She lives in Hamilton where she has happily turned her hand to other kinds of fiction.

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, St. John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Ingersoll, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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