K. Lorraine Kiidumae is a creative writing graduate of the Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio (fiction cohort) and the Humber School for Writers. Her work has appeared in Emerge, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Emails From India, Bandit Fiction (UK), and the Nashwaak Review. She is currently in the final stages of completing a book of short stories and her first novel, working from her home in Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island.
A THOUSAND SATURDAYS
Morning light filters across the skyline, through the blossoming cherry trees, and onto a cluster of high-rises on the other side of False Creek. Julian Holmes squints, and then shivers and mutters to himself as he wakes on his wooden bench of a bed under the Burrard Street Bridge, where he has fallen asleep the previous afternoon, under the warmth of the spring sunshine. Dew has crept up and settled on his skin beneath layers of clothing, covered with a torn sleeping bag that bears the stains of the past eighteen and a half years. He rolls over, coughs hoarsely, and spits into a rumpled, greying handkerchief. Sitting up, he massages a crook in his neck, stiff from his make-shift pillow of Ulysses, wrapped in his trench coat and folded several times around the thick book. Following his ritual of so many other mornings, upon awakening, he checks the time on his Rolex solar watch. Lucid green liquid numbers flap forward into twenty minutes after six. He automatically makes the conversion from Pacific Standard to Eastern Standard time. Twenty minutes after nine.
Julian Holmes daydreams: young again, it is Saturday and he remains in bed as his wife, Pepper, sets about her morning routines. Her mussed auburn hair, spread out on the pillow, a reluctant gesture to rise, tanned legs stepping down onto beige Berber carpet. In her cream silk, with a glowing complexion, she is beautiful before she has even applied any make-up. He watches as she slips out of her nightgown, letting it drop in a circle around her feet. She steps out of it and through an open glass door into the shower, leaving him with the same feeling of unworthiness that is always there—her pedigree evident in every strand of her flawless look as she dresses; the perfect bob, the crisply ironed white blouse tucked tidily inside navy silk pants. Femininity and entitlement that belie every nuance of her character, her graceful movements, her pose as she sits curled on a chair or stands in front of the mirror—a tilt of her head that signals she has been well-protected, well taken care of.
It is April, and the morning air is cool. Brightly coloured tulips bloom in wooden tubs in front of the bench where Julian Holmes sits, still shivering. A seagull squawks and lands on a piling next to him, emitting a harsh wail that causes him to start. The seagull drops breakfast down from its beak—a leg of a red rock crab, now pinned under the gull's webbed foot. Pigeons coo in the rafters of the Market building above, and swoop to the ground beneath him, next to the soggy, ragged hems of his pants. They peck at a spray of seeds scattered there in the night by a kind-hearted old woman with a hunched back, a kerchief tied around her head, like a peasant, a thick layer of woollen clothing. Startled by the pigeons, a water rat, hidden until now, lunges out from behind one of the wooden tubs of flowers, skittering down towards the stone break wall under the pilings. Julian Holmes’ gut churns. He rustles through his pocket for a half-eaten donut wrapped in a paper napkin, devouring it in one bite.
Julian Holmes had wanted to meet Pepper from the moment he first saw her petite frame bouncing up and down on the diving board of the swimming pool in the back yard at her parent’s cottage. He watched as she stuffed her honey-coloured hair up into her bathing cap, her heart-shaped face studying the water with a look of fixed determination before making her descent. It was a fluke, really, that he was there, that first time, at Muskoka Lake, when he was sixteen and Pepper was fourteen. He was staying at the cottage next door, owned by his mother’s employer, for whom she worked as a secretary.
Pepper’s father, Ethan Sachs, gregarious, social, and warm, like Pepper, invited his whole family over for a barbeque. It wasn’t a barbeque like his parents would have put on—hamburgers and hot dogs served with Safeway potato salad and coleslaw in the back yard, patterned paper napkins, Chinette plates precariously balanced on their laps in mesh lawn chairs under the maple tree. The table at Pepper’s house was under an awning, elegantly set with silverware on a fine white tablecloth, matching napkins folded and tucked into Waterford crystal goblets, summer floral Wedgwood china, candlelight, wine in decanters, a meal of several courses. Appetizers followed by a feast of fresh lobster flown in from Newfoundland served with lemon and drawn butter, a large prime rib of beef roasted on the rotisserie in the barbeque, cooked to perfection, medium rare and sliced into a thick cut. Vanilla gelato topped with a coulis of fresh local blackberries for dessert.
Julian Holmes hungrily reaches out for one of the overripe mangoes sitting in a box in the corner of his shopping cart, shooing away a mass of fruit flies circling above. Breakfast. He bites off the end and sucks the juice and pulp with his teeth, right down to the seed, devouring even the skin, wiping his hands on his filthy coat.
Sounds of life start to stir: dragon boat racers push past at a fast clip on False Creek in front of him, ‘ha, ho, ho’ they shout as they paddle, to increase their energy. The caretaker for the market jangles his keys as he unlocks the doors and the clang of metal roller doors being pulled up by the merchants signal the start of the day.
Julian Holmes pushes his shopping cart around to the other side of the market, outside the Blue Parrot coffee shop, where he can see inside through the windows. His favourite waitress is there today so he goes in. She smiles in recognition as he digs into the tattered pocket of his grey suit pants, handing her a few coins for a coffee. He smiles at the waitress in return, taking care not to grin too broadly, ashamed of the few teeth he has lost after too many years of negligent dental hygiene.
"Good morning Candice," he says softly, by habit, looking up at her in a daze, fixing his gaze on her face, avoiding looking straight into her eyes.
The waitress looks at him with tenderness, shaking her head from side to side, and points to the name badge pinned to her sweater. 'ALICE,' it says "What am I going to do with you, hon?" Alice asks him. "Every day it's the same thing."
He looks past her, through her, as though he is in another world and she isn't quite there. With his mind slipping, slowly, distractedly, off in his head most of the time, he is lost to the world. Alice watches him walk away, with his nervous tic, and thinks he is beginning to look eccentric. But, from a distance, Julian Holmes still looks like an aristocrat, like any other businessman. His expensive Italian suit and trench coat have lasted all these years, a testament to the quality of the fabric and workmanship at Harry Rosen Men’s Wear. He saunters over to a table by the window with his coffee and smiles, breathing deeply in exuberant anticipation, anxious to get back to his solitary routines, to lose himself in his own thoughts, poring over the next chapter of Ulysses.
Pepper Sachs was ‘born with a silver spoon in her mouth,’ as the saying goes, and yet Julian Holmes always felt she was not a spoiled girl. Her parents had raised her well, he thought, and to him her values were more those of a Taoist—one prizing naturalness and simplicity—than of a girl with upper breeding. From the first moment he’d met her, Julian Holmes could see that she was beautiful from the inside out, and he sensed her softness, her gentleness, a bit of an underlying vulnerability in her large hazel eyes. She told him that first night that she believes in and practices the Three Treasures of Taoism: compassion, moderation, and humility. And yet, whenever they were together, her demeanour is one of spontaneity. Julian Holmes saw Pepper as poised and calm, self-possessed, confident. She knows from where she came.
The night they first met, when his family were invited to the Sach’s for dinner, Pepper sat next to him at the dinner table—purposely he’d hoped. When he was confused by all the different pieces of cutlery lined up in a row to the left of his plate, their bare shoulders brushed and Julian Holmes breathed in the fresh soapy scent of her as Pepper leaned in close—her soft, silky hair tickling at his skin—and told him which fork to use for each of the courses. They laughed about it in a way that said neither of them really cared about the forks; it was only an excuse to talk. They smiled warmly at one another and, when their eyes met, Julian Holmes felt her kindness and her depth. He knew then that he already loved Pepper. That she was the girl he wanted to marry.
And when it finally came to that nine years later it was after a slow and methodical metamorphosis of Julian Holmes. Seeing that his daughter was smitten with a young man in need of some spit and polish, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear," was all Mr. Sachs pronounced at the time, as he was given to forward and direct disclosure. “But I can see that he is a man who would never hurt you, and so if you wish to accept his proposal, I want you to wait until you are finished university to decide. If you still love him then, I shall give my consent.”
Julian Holmes slides Pepper’s photograph (torn a little now, after being handled daily for more than eighteen years), from inside the front corner of Ulysses, and looks at it closely. In the beginning—after he left and felt as though he had jumped through the billboard of life, from living one life one day, to living an entirely different life the next day, on the opposite side of the country—looking at the photograph would cause him to weep. But over the years, the photograph became a source of comfort, one of the rituals he created to get through the days. Sometimes, though, when he looks at her he still cannot believe he let that small girl on the diving board go.
As it was, Julian Holmes had caved in and converted to Judaism. Afterwards Mr. Sachs generously agreed to pay for his education, and had actually even chosen the university, Osgoode Hall, where he thought his future son-in-law should go. There was a subtle but persistent pressure to follow Sachs family tradition, to study law, and abandon his life-long passion for literature. A teacher of English or Creative Writing was not the sort of vocation Mr. Sachs had envisioned when introducing the husband-to-be of his only daughter to his cronies at the Bigwin Island Golf Club, or for the father of his soon-to-be conceived grandchildren. And so, in the end, Julian Holmes relented, he buckled in and weakened. What difference did it make anyway, how he earned a living, provided that he had Pepper, always there next to him, to marry and spend his life with? Nothing else mattered.
Seven intense years at university, followed by long, gruelling hours articling at Sachs & Co. had taken their toll though, both on Julian Holmes’ temperament and on his relationship with his wife. Once their daughter Candice was born, Pepper’s attention was all on the little girl, who was a lovely small replica of her mother, save for his sea blue eyes. Pepper was occupied in the long hours and late nights of motherhood, while he put in twelve-hour days at his father-in-law’s firm. By the end of the day they were both exhausted and a gulf was forming between them. They were living separate lives.
One summer, when Julian Holmes was still articling at Mr. Sachs’s firm, he and Pepper took a two-week holiday at the family cottage. Candice was just a baby then, and Pepper was happily occupied most of the day. For the first time since he and Pepper met, he was able to spend leisurely days by the swimming pool, stretched out on a lawn chair, sipping gins and tonic, reading from the piles of books he’d brought with him. On the last weekend of their holiday he and Pepper sat, sipping wine, enjoying their dinner by the pool, Dave Brubeck’s Time Further Out playing softly on the stereo, Candice in her bed. They were happy. Julian Holmes smiled at his wife. “All I ever wish for are days like this. Where every day feels like another Saturday. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a thousand of these days, a thousand more Saturday’s, just like this one?” He kissed her mouth, gently, and she wrapped her arms around him, the warmth of his back leaning against her, her small soft chin resting on his bare shoulder. She held him for a long time.
Julian Holmes pushes his shopping cart outside the market, his coat flapping, and rolls down the hill towards Railspur Alley, past a trail of shattered glass, crumpled paper and cardboard boxes, stopping to check for pop cans and water bottles. Flies circle above the bin where he stops and he waves them away. He reaches in and digs around and his hand pulls out a Coca-Cola bottle, still half-full. He looks around to see whether anyone is watching, then downs the remaining liquid. He tucks the empty Coca-Cola bottle into the plastic bag, dangling tidily in its appointed corner of his shopping cart, and digs his hand back in. A foul odour rises up as he reaches a paper-wrapped, half-eaten hamburger from The Market Grill. ‘The best hamburgers in Vancouver’ it says on the wrapper. There was a time, in the early days, when this would have caused him to retch. But Julian Holmes scrapes off a circle of green mould from the top of the bun with his blackened thumb nail, and packs the burger into the little Thermos cooler he found next to the garbage bin a few months back.
Over the years Julian Holmes has found many things he is able to make use of—shoes, hardly worn, his very own size, well, perhaps a half-size smaller, but still close enough for a fit, although his big toe now protrudes through the worn leather, exposing a long, yellowing nail and an oozing blister that somehow reminds him of his grandfather. He’d also found a lawn chair with a thick green and grey-patterned cushion, and one wobbly leg, but he’d managed to fix it with the screw driver in his tool kit he’d found underneath one of the yachts hauled out for repairs in the shipyard. In truth he knows deep down that the tools were left there accidentally by a man named Sammy who works in the yard, one who is known to have a particular drinking problem and no doubt went to The Dockside for a beer at lunch time and never made it back, completely forgetting he’d left the tools outside. Or remembering but too intoxicated to return for them, figuring they wouldn’t be missed by his wealthy employer. ‘Well, possession is nine-tenths of the law’ Julian Holmes said to himself at the time.
Mr. Sachs, indeed, had been generous in funding Julian Holmes’ education, and also in providing him with a position at Sachs & Co., at an articling student’s salary. But that is where Mr. Sachs’s generosity ended. Mr. Sachs, it seemed, had his boundaries. Any additional income beyond his base salary, Julian Holmes was required to earn from bringing in his own clients. Mr. Sach’s did, in the beginning, also send a few clients in his son-in-law’s direction. A few of those clients, mostly the smaller ones, stayed with Julian Holmes. But most, sensing his unease and lack of confidence in his own abilities, in time moved elsewhere.
Articling lawyers were expected to use their connections to bring in prospective clients, but Julian Holmes did not mix comfortably with the wealthy, upper-crust society which he had been drawn into. Pepper kindly and gently demonstrated what was expected of him, from what she had seen her father do over the years—of hob knobbing at cocktail parties at the Bigwin Island Golf Club, adhering to proper form and etiquette, playing tennis or shooting nine holes on the golf course—but he just did not seem to fit in; he couldn’t seem to shake the uneasy feeling that everyone else in the room was looking down on him.
Opening a black Moleskin notebook—the one he had purchased at Blackberry Books when he first arrived in Vancouver, to log the passage of time—he enters his nine-hundred and sixty-second Saturday, another of the routines Julian Holmes began when his life was unexpectedly altered. In actuality though, the turning of his life upside down should not have been a complete surprise. Deep down he knew that everything that had happened in his life up until that moment lead him to that exact moment when everything changed.
When he finishes his coffee, he packs Ulysses and the black Moleskin safely back into the corner of his Safeway shopping cart and shuffles through the market. Sifting through bags of beaten apples and anjou pears, a box of overripe mangoes and avocados, he selects what he wants, and digs into his pocket for the last of his coins. The cashier waves him away cheerily when he is twenty-five cents short. There is an unspoken comradery to watch each other’s backs. They are taken care of—Julian Holmes and the assortment of other unfortunates who live under the Burrard Street Bridge and spend their days at Granville Island Market.
One could say it was Mrs. Pendegrass who was to blame for what happened. Some days, when his emotions, for reasons he sometimes knows and sometimes does not, for instance on certain dates like Candice’s birthday or Christmas Day, Julian Holmes still curses old Mrs. Pendegrass. Mrs. Pendegrass had come to see Julian Holmes at the firm twenty-three years ago now to write up her will. She was only just sixty-three, but had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer, and thus, she knew, had only a matter of months left. Julian Holmes had heard of those stories of old women, widows and spinsters without any heirs, who lived sparsely, then left their fortunes to their cats, or the local Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In comparison to many of the clients at Sachs & Co., $465,000 was by no means a fortune, or even a small fortune for that matter, but it was unarguably a very large sum of money to leave to a paper boy whom you hadn’t seen for almost forty years. Although he had tried his best to convince her otherwise, Mrs. Pendegrass absolutely insisted that her entire estate be left to a paperboy she had known for only a few years. Those few years, though, happened to be the last two years of Mrs. Pendegrass’s marriage.
Her relationship with the paper boy began, innocently enough, on the days he delivered her husband’s newspaper, which was every day except Sunday. On some days Mrs. Pendegrass’s face would be so badly bruised, her lip cut from biting it herself from the force of the blow, that she could not go out in public. And so, one day it began, that Mrs. Pendegrass, who was not very old then and was, in fact, she told Julian Holmes, known for her exceptional beauty, a curse in a way, as this, or the jealousy it ensued in her husband, apparently was the cause of her beatings. At first the newspaper boy ran errands to the grocery store or to the drug store, getting things Mrs. Pendegrass needed. Then the boy seemed to ingratiate himself as Mrs. Pendegrass’s self-appointed guardian, stopping by each day to make sure she was all right, eventually helping her to escape, making the necessary arrangements, taking photographs, letters and information to her lawyer and then, later, to the police. Happily, in the end, Mrs. Pendegrass did manage to escape her abusive husband, and was left, seemingly, feeling indebted for life to the newspaper boy who helped her in her time of need.
Julian Holmes had dutifully drafted and executed Mrs. Pendegrass’s will exactly as she had requested and, in fact, by the time the will was completed, had come to understand and empathize with Mrs. Pendegrass’s unconventional reasoning in the distribution of her assets. And so, it didn’t actually occur to him—that ingenious, fateful germ of an idea—until after Mrs. Pendegrass had died.
Julian Holmes heads back to the Blue Parrot after lunch hour, just past one o’clock. There are usually scraps left on some of the tables, and discarded newspapers left behind, and it is very easy to sit down at one of the tables and inconspicuously eat the left-overs, while reading the paper, the other patrons none the wiser. He had cashed in the bottles and cans he’d scrounged this morning and now had enough for a small coffee. Alice slips him a stale muffin, ready to be thrown out, and smiles.
This has become another of Julian Holmes’s rituals. Each day, since the day he’d left, Julian Holmes sits in the Blue Parrot and scours through every newspaper he can find, looking for news about what happened. But none, so far, has ever come. On some days, after too many cups of coffee, he becomes riddled with paranoia, looking this way and that, expecting, at any moment, to be found. These episodes seem to be receding as time goes on, the frequency diminishing with each passing year. For one thing, he reasons, no one would ever recognize him. Eighteen years older, and the trauma having taken its toll, his reddish hair has thinned and, since he isn’t often able to find access to a shower, looks much darker from the oil that accumulates between his washings in the men’s room sink.
When Julian Holmes had spent long, gruelling, twelve-hour days at Sachs & Co., six or seven days a week, sometimes relying upon nothing other than Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts for sustenance, since there was no time to stop and eat, his complexion had turned a pasty white, at times with a greyish look, he'd thought, when he glanced at himself in the mirror under a certain light. Eighteen years of living outside, exposed to the elements, lying on his bench reading in the sun, walking in the cold seeking food and cans and bottles, sometimes feeling the wind on his face at night as he slept, and his colour was now, decidedly, a rough and roguish red.
One of the perks at Sachs & Co. was a weekly trim at a top hair salon—impeccable appearance was a must for the clients—but Julian Holmes’ hair was long now, hanging thinly down to his shoulders. One of his friends under the bridge gave him a pair of Wahl trimming scissors, because he happened to come by two pairs. Well, actually, Julian Holmes traded a pocket watch he brought with him that his friend coveted, in exchange for the scissors. The pocket watch had belonged to his grandfather; he’d inherited it upon his grandfather’s death, and his grandfather’s name was engraved on the back of it—Harley Rupert Holmes. But the watch no longer worked and so what use was it to him now anyway, Julian Holmes surmised, whereas the scissors were definitely of use, and so, in the end, with a slight regret, he’d made the exchange.
Julian Holmes still has the scissors now but has come to prefer his hair longer, so he leaves it that way. In winter it keeps him warmer, in summer, in the bright long days, it protects him from the sun and from being recognized. He knows he is taking a bit of a gamble wearing the suit, that it could be the one tell-tale clue to his identity, especially given that he is well over six feet tall and stands out in a crowd, but he needs it, he needs the suit to maintain his dignity. To feel right, to feel himself. He is the best-dressed person under the Burrard Street Bridge. It is possible there may have even been photographs of him wearing that very suit, provided to the police.
Sometimes, on dark and drizzly nights, or when he suddenly looks up from his book and snaps into consciousness, as if awakening from a lucid, hypnotic trance, wondering where he is, Julian Holmes finds himself staring at families sitting at tables in the market around him, sipping cocoa, laughing, wearing stylish puffy vests and new winter clothes, and he thinks about going back. He will pull out Pepper’s photograph then, and look into her gentle eyes on the faded paper, now all that he has left of her, and he imagines she would never turn him in. That she has been desperately looking for him everywhere over all these years, frantically returning to anywhere they've ever been together, going back over and over again to each place, never remarrying, waiting only for his return. But he knows he could never do that to Pepper. Force her to choose between her father and him, for he knows he can never go back to Sachs & Co. That he would be distrusted, would likely be disbarred. And when he thinks of confronting Mr. Sachs, after all he did for him, paying his tuition through law school, allowing such a ne’r do well to marry his daughter, he becomes agitated. And he returns to his routines then, one of which is methodically cataloging all the books he is reading, forcing his thoughts to the task at hand, in order to divert his thoughts, to expel them, to push the interminable loop, the endless sadness, from his mind.
The very first thing Julian Holmes did when he first arrived in Vancouver was head to Blackberry Books in the Net Loft and buy up as many of the books he’d always wanted to read—'The Divine Comedy, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Faust, The Odyssey, Iliad, and Ulysses--everything he could find from his list on the shelves in the classics section, in exchange for all of the cash he had in his pocket. For awhile, that first year, he worked part-time at the book store and bought more books each week and even rented a small bachelor apartment so he would have an address, and he got himself a library card. That was another reason Julian Holmes had kept the suit. To him, the library is a sacred place, and he didn’t want his library card to be taken away. He needed to look like he belonged in the library.
At other times, when he allowed himself to hope in order to go on, in order to give himself something to live for, Julian Holmes imagined that his daughter might come looking for him. She was only six years old when he knew he had to leave, on that Tuesday morning. He rose early, while Pepper was still asleep, and tip-toed into Candice’s room and kissed her face. He’d meant only to kiss her once but after he started he couldn’t stop. Under the light of her Bozo the Clown lamp, Candy looked just like her mother. He found himself, not fully aware of what he was doing, kissing her face again and again. In the end, he took a risk and held onto her, crushing her so tightly against him he feared squeezing the breath from her. Remarkably, she stayed asleep, her head falling limply back, her long soft hair more blonde than Pepper’s, hanging in the air beneath her, catching up in his fingers as he grasped her. He stopped to untangle himself, gently pulling the strands of hair so as not to rouse her, and patted them into place. He laid her back down on the bed, cradling her dainty head in his hand until he could safely roll it onto the pillow. Without looking back, he ran down the stairs to his car and away from there. Julian Holmes knew he was scuppered. He had no other choice.
Now, he found himself looking for Candice everywhere. Some days—another of his routines and rituals—he will sit outside on the bench at the Kid’s Only Market on Granville Island, and watch the children in the playground, splashing in the wading pool. His eyes seem to have acquired genetically programmed vision to spot only children with blonde hair. He studies them intently, always wondering whether they have come for him, found him, always wondering if it could be her. Year by year Julian Holmes makes the mental adjustments to surmise what Candice would look like now. Today, well, just last month, Candice turned twenty-four on the ninth of March. The thought of this makes him start to cry. These are always the times he feels he can no longer go on as he is, that life itself is not enough. But this is where his routines come in—he pulls the photograph of Candice from his wallet—her school photograph taken in Grade One, and he talks to her. He tells little Candy what he has been reading that day, and he gives her advice based on what he thinks she would need at the age she is now and he feels, somehow, these messages are reaching her. Julian Holmes knows that this would sound a little crazy to anyone he had worked with at Sachs & Co., and to Mr. Sachs himself, for that matter, but the people who share the grass with him under the Burrard Street Bridge understand, and know exactly what he is talking about when he recounts these things to them.
One day, when Julian Holmes was at the wading pool, watching, looking for Candice, he could remember, quite distinctly, that at that time, Candice would have been nine and a half years old, and he pictured her in his mind’s eye, a little more gangly, freckled, much of the roundness gone from her face. When he looked up and straight into such a face, before he even realized what he was doing, he got up from the bench, leaving and forgetting his shopping cart, with all of his worldly possessions in it, and ran towards that girl, calling Candice’s name. The girl’s mother, who was watching from the other side of the pool, started to run towards him, taking in his shopping cart with her panicked eyes, then looking back again to his face, and the mother began yelling for help. Julian Holmes, of course knowing now that the girl was not Candice, given that her mother was clearly not Pepper, berated himself for the risk he had taken. He ran down the pathway past the lagoons, on up Creekside Road, and continued towards Kitsilano Beach, back to the safety of his place under the Burrard Street Bridge.
For days afterwards Julian Holmes could not sleep for fear he would be woken in the night by the police, but they never came. Staying away from the Granville Island Market, and from the Kid’s Only Market, he prowled at night, without his shopping cart, and with only his plastic bag for cans and bottles, a precaution, should he need to run quickly on a moment’s notice. Weeks went by and nothing happened—the police, if they were called, no doubt believed the woman was an hysteric, afraid of the homeless. The police, by now, already knew who he was and that he had never caused any trouble. However, sobered by his near-miss, he vowed never to be so foolish again and that is when he had come up with the Candice ritual. Of talking to her photograph and telling her things.
Shortly before he’d left, with his resources slowly diminishing and the needs of his family, he, and Pepper, and little Candice, continually increasing, the thought had occurred in a most slow and natural sort of way, Julian Holmes’ survival instincts, as it were, breaking into the fore, born from necessity. Indeed, and it seemed, after he’d given it considerable thought, that it was a form of entitlement. $465,000 sitting in a trust account, entrusted to him, Mrs. Pendegrass now having gone the way of her maker and, with no heirs, no children of her own, it was he, Julian Holmes who, in the end, in the final days of her life, was there to console her, even going so far as to visit her in hospice. Yes, in fact, it was at Mrs. Pendegrass’s request that he went, a final tidying up of her affairs, but at least he had gone, had made the seventeen-kilometre trip to Heart House Hospice where she lay dying. And, in that last visit, he had delivered to Mrs. Pendegrass the final source of her comfort when he was able to impart the joyful news of having, after considerable effort, managed to locate Mr. Ryan Noble, the named benefactor in Mrs. Pendegrass’s estate, the paper boy to whom she seemed so morally and emotionally indebted.
It was on this return trip, after his last visit with Mrs. Pendegrass, on the long drive through the country, back to Toronto, when the thought had first crept into his mind. That this Ryan Noble had lost contact with Mrs. Pendegrass over forty years ago and would not even be aware of her current demise or of her death when it happened. And even if he did, he certainly would not be expecting anything or be having any feelings of entitlement about her estate. No, Mr. Ryan Noble would not be aware of her bequest unless he, himself, Julian Holmes, chose to inform him of the fact.
And that same thought occurred to him, less than one month later, when the attending nurse at the Heart House Hospice contacted him to say that Mrs. Pendegrass was gone. “She slipped away, quietly, in her sleep,” the nurse said, “poor thing.” It had been so easy, too easy, ridiculously easy, Julian Holmes supposed, guiltily, being in a position of trust. He who up to that point had never even stolen so much as a dime justified to himself that he had done it for Pepper, and for Candice. That he had been living well beyond his means for years, solely because he was anxious to please his wife Pepper—who, after being at home with Candice for only a few years had been no longer satisfied and wanted, needed, more, to go back to University, to earn her Masters in Philosophy and Theology—and his well-meaning but demanding father-in-law, it seemed to Julian Holmes, had placed an unending burden of expectation, thrust upon him not of his own choosing, a responsibility that caused him to be in a constant state of anxiety, and fear. One quick transfer of funds, of $465,000 that really belonged to nobody, had ended all of that.
But Julian Holmes’ relief did not last long. The gnawing fear and worry about a shortage of funds was soon replaced by a dark feeling that settled into his mind, a feeling of impending doom, a feeling of foreboding, a lingering question of what would happen if somebody found out. Especially if Pepper found out. And Mr. Sachs. Some days, when a jovial mood seemed to erase the memory for awhile, when he would have some wine, several glasses, or a bottle, or two, Julian Holmes was able to forget, to compartmentalize Mrs. Pendegrass’s $465,000 into a quiet corner of his mind. On other days, his worry seemed to manifest itself into some form of growing sickness, a nausea that would not recede, a quickening of his heartbeat that turned into a form of panic, and he would take in deep breaths to calm himself. After some time, when these episodes of his quickening breath increased, he began to hyper-ventilate, and was unable to stop himself.
Pepper suffered feelings of guilt as she witnessed this, feeling she had pushed her husband into a life to which he was ill suited, to which his temperament and constitution were too delicate, too frail. Pepper’s fussing over him, and watching the fear in her eyes as he paced back and forth around the room in effort to regain his breath only added to Julian Holmes’ duress. Those old feelings of unworthiness reared up, and he pushed Pepper away. In time, her sympathy turned to exasperation, impatience, and, ultimately, to an underlying lack of respect.
It finally happened late Friday afternoon of the Victoria Day long week-end. Julian Holmes went into Sachs & Co. that day, a little later than usual, wearing his plaid designer shorts and a yellow Polo Ralph Lauren golf shirt. The car was loaded and packed to the rafters with non-perishable groceries, books and blankets, suitcases stuffed with summer clothes and bathing suits, Candy's games and beach toys and sandals, a box filled with wine, beer and liquor. He was leaving the office early and they were heading up to the family cottage at Muskoka Lake after work. A copy of Ulysses was tucked into the top of his overnight bag and he felt a sense of rising excitement at the thought of three glorious days of freedom, to sit poolside with a gin and tonic, reading. He remembers the precise time because he had just finished checking it on the Rolex solar watch he had treated himself to from Mrs. Pendegrass’s estate funds, to see if it was time to leave yet. Three twenty-one p.m.
Mr. Sachs poked his head in the doorway of his office and said, “I’ve arranged a meeting with the bank on Tuesday at ten a.m. and would like you to be there—so make sure you're back on time, we’ve got some business to discuss.” His father-in-law gave him a wry little smirk, Julian Holmes thought, and a bit of a wink, and told him to enjoy the week-end. Julian Holmes felt the blood drain from his face.
After three long, excruciating days at the cottage, unable to concentrate on Ulysses, Julian Holmes stewed and anguished continuously, belting back double glasses of gin, pacing back and forth around the pool. Pepper tried to get him to relax, herself oscillating between annoyance and fretful worry, but by Monday afternoon her husband’s face had turned into a mottled patchwork of red splotches, and he could barely breathe, he was hyper-ventilating so badly.
One of the things Julian Holmes loved most about Pepper was that she wasn’t one of those women who talked aimlessly and incessantly on and on. She was a thinker. And a good listener. They had always been able to talk to one another, and for the first four years, until Pepper had turned eighteen, this is what their relationship had been comprised of.
Pepper watched him closely that week-end and tried to get him to talk, to tell her what was wrong. But Julian Holmes just couldn’t. He realized what he’d done. On Monday-night they drove home in silence, the windshield wipers splashing frantically back and forth, a pendulum marking off time, clearing away a torrent of rain.
Julian Holmes rose extra early on Tuesday morning, unable to sleep, so early it was still dark outside, and almost vomited into the sink from the tension. When he arrived at Sachs & Co. no one else was in yet. He punched his code into the alarm panel and turned on only one of the lights. He sat down at his desk in the dark for a few minutes and began to execute his plan. He removed his wallet from his pocket and placed it on his desk. He took out his keys and sat them next to his wallet. He seemed to be acting by rote. He removed his wedding ring and put it in the pen box in the top left drawer of his desk. He hesitated for a moment, and then removed his gold cuff-links—a wedding gift from Pepper—with his initials—JCH—monogrammed onto them—along with the matching tie clip, and placed them in the drawer with his wedding ring. He removed his navy and purple pin-striped tie and draped it over the back of his chair. He felt a sense of relief. He could finally breathe.
Julian Holmes fled out the door and down the twenty-three flights of stairs. Wearing his grey Harry Rosen suit and carrying his trench coat, he walked brusquely to the Yonge Street Subway Station. He ran down the stairs and leapt over the turnstile and onto the platform, just in time for the advancing train. He stood on the platform and waited until the train pulled away. He was the only person there. He advanced to the edge of the platform and looked back and forth, up and down the tracks. After a few minutes, the sound of the next train came funnelling down the tunnel. He took a deep breath and whispered ‘God forgive me,’ as the memory of the first time he and Pepper had met flashed into his mind, and he could almost see her there, smiling, nudging him, laughing, when he had chosen the wrong fork for the salad. The train was in sight and Julian Holmes’ braced himself and took a step forward. All of a sudden, he heard footsteps behind him, running down the stairs to catch the train. He was perspiring. His heart was beating quickly. He looked up to see a woman, holding the hand of a small child, a girl, with long hair tied in a ponytail. The child looked up at him, quizzically. A wash of shame and guilt came over him. He shielded his face with his hands and ran back up the stairs and out onto the street. At the first corner he came to, he stuck out his thumb to catch a ride to somewhere, anywhere.
Later Julian Holmes learned that at ten o’clock precisely, Mr. Chamberland arrived on the twenty-third floor at Sachs & Co., and was greeted personally by Mr. Sachs, who seated him in the boardroom. They were each given a cup of coffee by Mr. Sach's secretary and then chatted amiably about their long week-ends, while they waited for Julian Holmes to arrive for the meeting. At seventeen minutes after ten, Mr. Sachs was becoming impatient, checking the time on his watch repeatedly, until he finally asked Miss Blumfeld to kindly go and fetch him. Miss Blumfeld arrived back at the boardroom door a few moments later, looking perplexed.
“Well, where is he?” Mr. Sachs growled.
“I think you’d better come and see for yourself,” Miss Blumfeld replied.
Always a dutiful son, Julian Holmes had called his mother shortly after he’d arrived in Vancouver, hesitating before he dropped a few of his coins into the payphone, not knowing what to say. It took him almost a week to get there, hitch-hiking in the hot sun, walking until his feet burned from the heat of his shoes scuffing against the tarmac, sleeping under the stars in the park at night, then walking some more until he could barely stand up, waking up in train station toilets or car parks. It was several weeks later that he finally got up the courage to phone her. He didn’t reveal to his mother where he was and she was so overcome with relief at the sound of his voice she didn’t bother to ask.
“Oh Julian, it’s okay! They know! They knew all along! Oh darling, you can come home now.”
Julian Holmes had given it a great deal of thought after his mother imparted the news, about what happened after he’d left. Unknown to him, shortly before he’d chosen to flee, Mr. Sachs had discovered that the funds for Mrs. Pendegrass’s estate were transferred to the wrong account, to his son-in-law’s personal bank account. Their external accountant found the transaction during the year-end audit and brought it to Mr. Sach’s attention. Seething and sickened by the news, but wishing to avoid a scandal, Mr. Sachs covered the $465,000 from Sachs & Co.’s account. The matter disturbed Mr. Sachs deeply, however, and he realized he needed to do something quickly—to find a large client with ongoing legal requirements in order to keep his flailing son-in-law on the up and up, to keep him, for the sake of Sachs & Co.’s reputation, on the straight and narrow. He managed to convince Mr. Chamberland from CIBC Wood Gundy to transfer their routine legal work for mortgages to Julian Holmes. Mr. Sachs secretly arranged the meeting for an introduction and, regrettably, had planned to tell his son-in-law about the arrangement, after he saw how the two men got along.
Julian Holmes thought of the weeks he had just spent, alone, and banished. By the time he got to Vancouver, he’d begun to realize what his life was going to be like and he was missing Pepper and Candice so much a continual physical pain had lodged itself in his abdomen. He gave a great deal of thought to whether he should go back. He thought of what his life might be like when he returned—that he might be able to own up to what he had done, to beg for another chance and step back into the other side of that billboard. The thought rolled around continuously in a loop through his mind, causing him distress, not knowing what to do. He’d gone to the Blue Parrot then—it was Saturday—and he entered week one into the black Moleskin notebook he had just purchased. He stretched his feet out under the table, took a sip of his coffee, and breathed in the sea air coming in through the open windows. He flipped to Jonathan Cainer’s Horoscope section of the newspaper and read first Pepper’s, then Candice’s, then his own, a ritual he started that day and would continue every day as a way to feel connected to them, to see what the stars said. It was his own Gemini prediction that had resonated with him:
'They took some honey and plenty of money, wrapped up in a five pound note...' More today, from the master of nonsense, Edward Lear. A five pound note is money - indeed, at the time the poem was written, it was 'plenty of money'. Why wrap up plenty of money in plenty of money? And how could you spend it if it all got covered in honey? Lear's poems had lots of rhyme but very little reason. That is why we like them. Try to take delight in a situation that exasperates you due to its apparent lack of logic.
Julian Holmes flipped open a page of Ulysses at random. The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.
He interpreted these readings to be messages telling him what to do. He felt an immediate sense of relief. He hesitated for a moment, and then wrote a line next to the number one he had entered in the Moleskin notebook. Nine-hundred and ninety-nine more to go. Almost a thousand more Saturday’s to go, one thousand more Saturday’s, just like this one.
Julian Holmes makes his way back, towards his wooden bench under the Bridge, stumbling as he sits down, a cup of coffee teetering in one hand, and he remembers. He flinches, even now, at the memory. It is hard for him to believe that over eighteen years has passed. It has been a life lived, like any other––a friendship found, a conversation had, love won, and then lost again, a will to survive, days filled with routines and rituals, to enjoy, as best one can with the lot they have been given, or chosen, the passage of time.
He looks out at the boats motoring past through False Creek, and breathes in deeply, once again, the scent of the sea air. He takes a sip of his coffee. A seagull squawks on the piling next to him, nibbling at a half-eaten donut it has found. He rises and leans forward to pick it up. He squints into the sun and looks up into a halo of yellow before him. “Candice?”
His arms reach towards the halo. “Candy, baby, is that you?”
A sea of blue, where her eyes should be, seems like a blur, like a mirage, blending in with the halo of yellow. “I always knew that you would come.”
Julian Holmes rushes towards her, towards the light. “I always knew that, somehow, someday, you would find me.”