Sixty-nine dollars. I recounted. Sixty-nine dollars and forty-six cents. I looked in my bowl of
paper clips. It held several things other than paper clips but not a single cent. I upturned my
knapsack. Nothing but dried out pens (leaked into the webbed fabric of the knapsack, I saw),
a piece of prehistoric looking chocolate and the spare key to the mailbox. I’d wondered
where that went. I looked under the bed and found a pair of panties impregnated with dust
mites. They had been missing for months. I thought about crying. I didn’t. It hadn’t done any
good so far. I climbed back onto the futon and thought about my situation. I was a wreck.
Unloved, unstable, utterly worthless, and now, fucking broke. I had to find a job.
I picked the Now magazine off the floor, flipped to the classifieds, and, ran my finger down
the jobs column. I wouldn’t waitress. I’d have to smile at people and pretend I was okay.
Movie extra? Maybe. I read the ad through. Professional photographs needed. Shit.
My finger moved down and stopped at: Are you an intelligent, normal woman? I need a
companion once a week. Well paid for the right person. You must be reasonably attractive, enjoy
exciting conversation and good food.
There was a telephone number. My heart stopped, started. I looked around the room for a
comforting object. I hovered at the postcard of a sleeping cat tacked above my desk. It was
crooked. My room, however, was beautiful - high white walls, ceiling edged with ornate
moldings, hardwood floor, grey marble fireplace (which didn’t work). It was serene when I
Surely someone who lived in such a room was okay. She could go out and have dinner
with someone. That would be all right, wouldn’t it?
I could step out and enter the world? I wasn’t really a wreck, or if I was, I could unwreck
myself. Suddenly it made sense. The ad was meant for me. I picked up the telephone -- the
one I'd bought a two hundred-foot cord for. So I could carry the thing with me outside when
I dumped garbage or checked the mail (nothing but bills). I lived in hope that Manuel would
I dialed the number listed on the ad.
—Courtley Associates, a woman answered. I put the phone down. It couldn’t be the right
number. I dialed again.
—Courtley Associates, the voice repeated.
—I’m answering the ad.
—Oh. Yes. Hold on a moment.
There was a long silence while I mulled over the woman’s voice. She sounded affronted.
—Jeff Boyd here, a man said, non-descript accent, non-descript name. Not enough to mull
—I’m calling about the ad, I said, moving the receiver away from my mouth to let my breath
—Right. Good. Very good. Excellent. Can you come in for an appointment?
I rearranged my mind around this. An interview? It was a real job. I could go after my
session with Patricia. Get it over with.
—I can come in this afternoon.
—Really? He sounded surprised, excited. I felt a bit sick.
—Three o’clock, then, he said, before I could change my mind.
—That’ll be great, I lied.
I scribbled down the address in the margin of the Now page. At least it was not to hell and
gone in Scarborough, it was downtown, not far from Patricia’s.
—See you then, he said cheerfully. I put the phone down.
Today? After my session? What was I thinking of? I could only manage to do one thing a
day, if that. My heart was going 110 or more but that was normal these days - ever since
Manuel got sick, ever since he left me for Cynthia. I used to have a nice slow heartbeat, sixty-
five, seventy tops. Now I was like a hummingbird, flitter flitter flitter. It got worse when I left
my room. Being outside was falling with a faulty parachute. It was better to stay in where the
walls held me together. So my insides didn’t pool out.
I breathed deeply, like Patricia told me to. In, out, in, out. No, that’s too fast, slow down,
but it was no good. I couldn’t stop thinking about the job. Maybe this Jeff guy needed
someone to help him with business meetings. That must be it. Could I do that? The ad said
conversation and good food. Maybe he needed someone to entertain clients. Conversation.
Good food. Things I’d once known about a very long time ago. I’d better wash my hair. I
flopped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.
Sun poured through the bay windows. The Blue Pine outside cut the light into long strips of
gold. The room was more than serene, it was resolutely joyful. I had chosen it for its beauty -
I knew I needed to get out of the dark apartment Manuel and I lived in. It was too
expensive. And I could not get his bloodstain off the kitchen floor.
My room stood in such contrast to my internal state of affairs that I often felt like an
intruder. Maybe it was the wrong room for me. Maybe I’d chosen it so I could avoid feeling
whatever it was that Patricia was trying to get me to feel. She said I should let myself fall
apart. Wasn’t I already fallen apart? The problem was how to put myself back together
again. Patricia told me to let myself go mad. Wasn’t she supposed to make me sane?
I looked at my alarm clock. It was time gather up my feelings and take them to Patricia. No
time to wash my hair. He wouldn’t want me for the job anyway. I’ve got no experience with
businessmen. Or women. I was beginning to feel relieved. I’d go but I didn’t have to make an
I sat on the bus wondering how to let myself fall apart in some way other than I already
had. Patricia told me she once made herself live on a park bench for a week. Was that falling
apart? Was it madness? I was apparently supposed to let myself loose, to unravel, to
behave without limits. Hadn't I lost them when Manuel got sick and hovered on death’s
doorstep for three weeks? I'd washed the blood off his body, carried him in my arms, spoon-
fed him in the night, held him when doctors tortured him. I watched him die and come back to
life. Wasn't that over the edge? Patricia didn't seem to think so.
Thinking about Manuel got the tears going. I didn’t care that people saw but no one
seemed to notice. I made sobbing sounds. They still stared into space or into their
newspapers. I began to feel a bit crazy, like a bag lady on the street - someone ignored,
stepped around. I felt better. I had done my homework.
The bus pulled up to my stop. Should I get off? Or just carry on until the end -- to wherever
the bus ended? Shouldn’t I do something I wouldn’t normally do? But I was walking towards
the door instead of descending into madness. Another day, maybe. There was lots of time. I
wanted to throw up.
I walked up the short footpath. Yellow tulips sprouted out of ceramic pots on either side of
the door. Patricia Williams, M.A. in brass on the wall. Why the M.A.? It seemed to advertise
that she wasn’t a real therapist. I pressed the bell, went in as the sign told me to, and sat in
the waiting room. I liked that bit. It was quiet, an in-between time. I could put myself on hold.
I could just sit there and not worry about the future because the future was already
assigned to a session with Patricia.
Patricia opened her door. She was small, smaller than me, and had long red gold hair down
to her hips. Was she the right one? I wondered each time. Wasn’t she too young? Shouldn’t
she be older? I didn’t want to think about the money I owed her. It seemed more than I
could ever possibly earn. And then I thought about the man. Oh God, I thought, but Patricia
was guiding me to the soft cushion covered couch and I put the thought aside.
—I don’t know why I feel so bad, I said.
Patricia blinked. Breathed. The right way - in, out, in, out. I hated these silences. I looked at
my hands. They were holding each other.
—You don’t know why you feel so bad? She said, after what seemed like forever.
It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. I felt as if I had done something wrong.
—Your parents died when you were six, Patricia said, her voice soft and slow, each word
—You were bulimic for ten years. You nursed your ill husband for months. When he got
better, he left you. Your remaining family lives in other countries. You have, she looked down
at her notes -- not many friends here.
Friends? Oh, I knew people, yes, but friends? No. No one I could call in the night and say
—I need help, please come.
Even when Manuel got sick there was no one to call. His family existed but you’d never
know it. Manuel was the black sheep, with all his tattoos and biker friends. Did they ever stop
to think why he turned out like that?
I had come to Toronto to visit my brother but he left two months later for Afghanistan and I
fell in love with Manuel so I stayed. Manuel seemed to be all the friend I needed. We did
everything together. We were soul mates. We didn’t need anyone else. Not for years. Not
until he slept with Cynthia. I guess I wasn’t enough. Patricia told me we were co-dependent.
I thought we were in love.
Patricia kept looking at me with those big hazel eyes. I looked through the window behind
her, across the street, past the houses, over the trees, into the pale blue sky until there was
nothing, nothing at all. A bright clear white nothingness.
—Sue. Patricia said.
—Sue? Louder this time.
I felt as if I were waking. Sleep, oh very funny. I lay awake all night every night, trying to
still my heart.
—I’m sorry, I said.
—Why are you sorry?
I didn’t understand the question. I tried to think what the right answer was. She wanted
something and I couldn’t give it to her. After a while I said,
—I don’t know why. I’m just sorry.
—What are you feeling right now?
Oh God. Not this again. I never understood what she meant. What was I feeling? Where? I
—I don’t know. My usual response.
—What’s going on in your body? Her usual response.
I scanned myself, felt the pulse my heart, my breath shallow in my lungs. I looked for
something, anything. What would satisfy her? There was a slight bunching in my diaphragm,
my throat was constricted.
—My stomach is a bit tight and so is my throat, I said hopefully.
—Can you go there, can you place your attention in your stomach, where the tightness is?
So it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. I didn’t want to go there. What was the point?
There was nothing there. I was angry. I guess that was a feeling. One I wasn’t going to
share with her. She should be talking to me, explaining, figuring it out.
This wasn’t working.
—What’s happening? Patricia asked.
I closed my eyes, pulling myself in. I’d do it. I’d be a good girl.
—Nothing really. I feel the tightness.
—Can you stay there, can you describe the feeling?”
Anger climbed up my throat, opening the constriction. Fuck this. What was there to
describe? I already described it.
—Nothing. Nothing’s happening.
I opened my eyes. Please, I said silently. Patricia glanced down at the table, glanced up.
The clock was facing away from me but I always knew when it was nearly over. I closed my
notebook, put my pen in my bag.
—Same time next week? I asked.
—It’s not time yet. We have a few minutes. I’d like to do a little bodywork on you first. Is
that all right?
It was the second time Patricia had asked. She was an alternative therapist, she believed
in the healing power of touch. I didn’t want to be touched but I had liked lying there on the
massage table. It was like the waiting room, a place where I could stop thinking for a few
minutes. I climbed up and lay on my back, closed my eyes so I wouldn’t be seen.
Patricia held my ankles. Instead of not thinking I remembered my other appointment.
Maybe I could telephone and say I was suddenly ill. I was ill, it wasn’t really a lie. They didn’
t need to know it wasn’t physical illness. Or was it? Wasn’t the mind part of the brain and
therefore physical? I thought about asking Patricia but she was doing a wavy thing with her
hands over my stomach. I thought about my sixty-nine dollars. Closer to sixty-six now, after
TTC fare. I had enough for, what, one week? What about rent? I owed Patricia for eight
sessions. I had to do something. Don’t think about it. Just go to the appointment, just go.
Patricia moved to my head and held it, her fingers pressing where my skull joined my neck.
There was silence. Empty space. And then a splash of purple, shining like the wing of a
butterfly, landing gently between my eyes. For a moment, I was free. I forgot who I was.
—Get up slowly, there’s no rush, Patricia said. My muscles geared into action. I turned on
my side and swung my legs over the edge. I was embarrassed, as if I had revealed
something private but I didn’t know what it was.
—I’ll see you next week then? Patricia asked, coming close as I gathered my stuff up. I
knew what was coming. I put my things back on the chair.
—If it’s still all right? I mean, the money?
Patricia smiled and nodded, as if it was a stupid question. I felt my face redden. I opened
my arms and hugged her. It was the way we always ended.
A woman was in the waiting room. I looked away, not wanting to embarrass her. Or me.
Once outside, I stood still for a moment. I was always slightly catatonic after a session, as if
I’d been sitting in a hot bath too long. I had an hour before the appointment. Time to spare.
I should have made it earlier. This was not good, to be out in the open with nothing to do. I
could have a coffee at the Second Cup on the corner of King and University. Better not. The
portioning out of treats was grinding to a halt. I had my beautiful room. That was it.
I pressed the up button to the elevator. I opened my address book again. 24th floor, suite
5. Courtley Associates. The doors slid open and two women walked out giggling. They carried
expensive purses, wore short smart dresses, had stockinged legs and high heels. I was a
child with my battered knapsack, blue jeans and black leather jacket.
I loved that jacket.
Manuel had given it to me for our fifth wedding anniversary. On this marbled flooring, it
was not the right thing to wear. I stepped back and let them pass before turning to follow
them out. I wouldn't do this, I’d go home. Then I remembered there was no one at home. I
remembered the money. I put out my hand to stop the closing elevator doors, pushed them
open and stepped inside. The numbers flicked from floor to floor.
The doors opened out onto a beige corridor. I turned left and walked halfway down looking
at doors with numbers until I saw I'd gone the wrong way. I turned around and walked the
other way. I knocked.
—Come in. It was the affronted woman, sitting behind a large creamy desk piled with
—He’ll be right with you, she said, not looking up. She was middle aged, the roots of her
short hair were gray, the rest an orange fuzz. It was an ordinary office. Fluorescent lights.
An oil painting of an eagle diving for prey. A small green leather armchair in the corner, glass
coffee table in front, outdated Toronto Life magazines stacked on top.
I turned around. He was thin, tall, his grey jacket too large, his off-white shirt buttoned too
tightly onto his neck. He wore shiny fat orange tie.
—I’m Jeff, he said, extending his hand. It was clammy, a dead thing with bones.
—Please come this way, he gestured towards another room. A boardroom. In the middle
was an enormous black table surrounded by straight-back chairs, no windows. A brass
framed clock hung from the wall at one end, another oil painting on the other – sheep
grazing indolently in a field, looming clouds above. This must be the wrong room, I thought. I
turned to leave but he had stepped in behind me and closed the door.
—Please, he said, pointing to a chair. I sat down and he placed a blue folder on the table.
—There’s a questionnaire inside. It’s what we do here, really. We test people to see if they
are suitable for the job they are applying for. Sort of a personality test. His Adam’s apple
jogged up and down as he talked. It was a hard, angular thing, not apple-like at all.
—What job am I applying for? I asked. I must have misunderstood something. I tried to
remember the ad. Jeff smiled. His teeth were mildewy. His breath smelled of Chinese take-
away. I leaned away, the wooden back of the chair digging into my spine.
—If you don’t mind I’d like you to do the survey first and then we can discuss that. It
won’t take long, I’ll step out and check on you in about half an hour, all right?
I nodded. I could do a test. I was good at tests. Jeff left the room and I looked at the
papers. It was a multiple-choice questionnaire. I scanned the top page.
Do you consider yourself a depressed person? Always, Frequently, Sometimes, Very
Occasionally, Never. When faced with a project, do you prefer to begin it, be engaged in it, or
have it finished? Always, Frequently, Sometimes, Very Occasionally, Never. In group situations,
do you usually take charge, stay in the background or join in with everyone else? Always,
Frequently, Sometimes, Very Occasionally, Never.
How could I answer these questions? I could tick all the answers. To all the questions.
Surely it depended on the situation? I stared, trying to get the right answer but nothing
Why was everyone trying to dig in when there was nothing to find. I was a dead thing, like
Jeff Boyd’s hand. Oh, just do it, I told myself. Get it over with. I ticked off the boxes. Some
pages (the folder was thick with them) had questions that were meaningless to me. What is
my usual response to my boss’s anger? I don’t have a boss. And it depends on why he is
angry. Just tick what seems best. Anything will do. I ploughed through.
—Going all right? Jeff’s voice startled me. I had finished ages ago and was staring into
space, into the dim light of the boardroom, wondering if the sheep were going to get wet.
—I’m all done, I said, handing him the folder. He clutched it to his chest.
—Jolly good. I’ll just be a moment, I have to put them through the computer, he said,
backing out and closing the door again.
I went back to my blank daydream. Being here was a bit like Patricia’s waiting room, a
moment where I didn’t have to report a feeling to myself or to anyone else. Something good
out of this.
Jeff’s voice shook me back into my skin.
—I’m very impressed. Very impressed indeed, he said. His pasty skin was flushed. He
pulled up a chair and sat opposite me. I felt a shot of pride. Finally, something I could do
right. I smiled. I noticed how he tried to hide a balding spot by combing his thin brown hair
—You are so balanced, he said.
I blinked. Balanced? I was on a complete tilt.
—So. Would you like the position?
—What exactly is the position? I asked. My mind had gone numb after all those questions. I
tried to think about what he had written in the advertisement. I could remember something
about conversation. Could I converse? About what? My balancedness?
—Well. I’m a man. I have normal requirements.
Normal requirements? I rolled the words over in my mind. It sounded mechanical, as if he
wanted me to check his plugs.
—And that would be? I asked.
—I’m very clean, if that is what you are worried about, he said, leaning forward, the chop
suey hanging in the air.
—Are you on the pill? He asked.
The pill? Oh, the pill. I tried to imagine being in bed with him. He was repulsive. But it would
be a job - I didn’t have to like him.
—Diaphragm then? He asked hopefully.
—What are you going to use? I asked.
He seemed stunned by the question.
—Me? I don’t use anything. I could never use a condom of course. He smiled at me as if I
surely must agree. I thought about the man with AIDS in the ICU next to Manuel. He died
while Manuel was on his second blood transfusion.
—We would meet once a week, Jeff continued, —every Thursday evening. You could stay
over if you liked.
I wondered where I’d stay over. Here? In the boardroom?
—How much would you pay me? I asked, quickly calculating how much I’d need to do this.
Five hundred? A thousand? Just one night a week. I could do it, yes I could.
Jeff stood up suddenly. He looked hot, nervous.
—Excuse me a moment. He left the room. I thought about the money. Even if it was only
five hundred each time, I could pay my debts off. Get some new clothes. Get my teeth fixed.
Where was he? I needed to go to the toilet. The clock ticked loudly. I watched the second
hand move, one minute, two, three, four. I stood up, opened the door and walked out.
—Where is the washroom? I asked the woman at the desk. She made a huffing sound and
then pointed to a set of doors and went back to her pile of papers. I walked towards the
doors and Jeff came out of one of them. He looked flushed and crumpled. His fly was half
zipped. He reached for my arm and I stepped back, but it was too late, he had me by the
wrist. His hand felt sticky.
—Don’t go, we haven’t settled your wage, he said too loudly, glancing over at the secretary
who didn’t take her nose out of the papers but I could tell she was watching closely. Even
the tips of her busy fingers were watching as Jeff maneuvered me back into the boardroom.
—I thought a hundred dollars would be appropriate, don’t you? Generous even? he said,
his hands clasping the lapels of his jacket, his chest pushing forward.
—One hundred? Per hour? I asked. I did the math. That would be about right.
—Per night, of course. He brought his face closer to mine. —I’m sure the money would come
in handy, wouldn’t it?
This time I didn’t move away. Something rose up in me, something ancient and huge,
something from deep inside the earth. It started at my feet, filling my body like a great tree,
distinct and unquestioning. If I didn’t get out of the room it would burst with the size of me.
Jeff smiled. I could read his mind - he took my silence as agreement. I had to stop myself
from laughing in his face. If he had offered me ten thousand it wouldn’t have been enough.
—Thank you, I said, and I meant it, but not the way he thought I did. I picked up my bag
and walked out, the eyes of the woman behind the desk boring into my back like hot metal.
The metal melted. I was impervious, I was so full of light nothing could hurt me.
A salt and pepper haired, smart-suited man held open the doors of the elevator for me. I
nodded my head, a small imperious nod.
—Isn’t it a beautiful day, he said.
—Yes, it is, I replied.
— A truly beautiful day.