Yeah, I'm going back. Am I nuts? Maybe. But to be fair, the experiences at Willoughby Castle, while troubling, did not mess me up at all. In fact, I did learn a lot from the experience. But this time is different. Clair is the initiate, not me. I worry how it might affect her. But why? Maybe underneath all her casual bravado is a coiled rattlesnake, a ticking time bomb, or any other ominous cliché you might think up?
Clair? Oh yeah, Clair Forsche, "Like Porsche with an F," she'd joke, empathizing the automobile's often omitted second consonant. Born in Montreal, five years after me in...let's see...who was President? Never mind, I have enough trouble remembering my own age let alone anyone else'. She stands about 2 inch taller than my 5'10", thin, stacked -- if you will -- without it being overwhelming, and blue-violet colored hair -- her natural color, she'd say, starting to laugh. Her reasons are her own, possibly a strict Roman Catholic upbringing that created doubts as it did for me when in the sixth grade, I wondered if the residents of Jericho really deserved to be massacred. But that was me, not her. I can only wonder about her personal reasons.
I can justify it all very well. We're both adults, after all, and this is with all the consent forms signed and the notarized letter from our primary care physicians. Mine was pretty routine. "Am I suicidal?" No. "Transgender?" No. "Substance abuse?" Other than an occasional drink or an infrequent joint, no. But I wonder how different Canadian doctors are with their universal health care. Can I, knowing what she's told me about herself, trust her not to be traumatized by visiting Willoughby Castle with all its maze of psychological tests dressed up in occult trappings?
Clair laughs a lot and she is very open about matters most people would keep as tightly-guarded secrets. She is very open about her bisexuality. "But it doesn't really matter," she'd say in her low voice some call smokey, "both stink if left unwashed."
But she has a gentle side too, balancing things out. She enjoys moonlit walks on late spring evenings, the scent of lavender in the air.
Yes, I seemed to know her very well. But, as I have to remind myself, all this was over one weekend, and a few phone calls, a few months ago.
It all began in early June. "You live so close to Niagara Falls but have never visited?" Joe, a junior partner in the law firm where I work, commented. "Me and the kids go there every year. My wife trades off that one week in summer for having them Halloween and Thanksgiving and swapping Christmases and New Years on alternating years."
I nodded, knowing more about his marriage and divorce than I cared to.
"Tell you what," Joe said, looking at his computer screen. "I have to drive to Toronto on business next week. You know, the Morris case. What do you say I drive you there on Sunday and pick you up on my way back the following Saturday?"
I did have a passport -- or at least the credit card sized version for Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Why? Getting one seemed like a thing to do at the time. No, I was not hoping a romantic vacation would ease the pain following my own divorce. Oh yeah, I was married to the former Cecilia Hubart, scion of a wealthy -- if untrustworthy -- family of lawyers. From the legal battle between her father, acting as her attorney and my having an idiot for a lawyer -- as that saying goes, I lost the house, four of our five cars, and three cats I was not terribly fond of (the feeling was mutual). I did get her family's copy of an authentic 1560 Geneva Bible, which she allowed me to keep, her coming from a "King James Only" family -- apparently purchased by a grandfather who had issue with James I's reputed homosexuality.
So anyway, why the divorce? Why the marriage? Cecilia was, and still is, an attractive woman. But her "soul," if there is such a thing, is very ugly. Bigoted, prone to believing tabloids over common sense, a woman who graduated law school by bullying classmates into doing her work. The fifty thousand dollars her family donated to the school had to have helped. She is, to be blunt, a toxic, soul-sucking spoiled brat. So she got the aforementioned goods and I got a ten-year-old Ford and the delicate, but still readable, Calvinist Bible.
Joe, who prefers driving at night, picked me up at 4am and by 8 had crossed into Canada. He dropped me off at the hotel, slightly off-season, being early June, but not greatly discounted. Then he went on his way.
I went up to my room and took a moment to figure out the key card, having never had to use one before, and thinking they only existed in video games. Unable to fall to sleep during the drive, I fell asleep quickly and dreamed of a computer screen showing screens of keycards being inserted to end a game level, and displays of "Percent Killed," "Area Explored," and "Par Time" -- obviously the scores of a fourteen year old with too much time on his hands.
I awoke sometime that evening with an adolescent sense of urgency I hadn't felt in years. The shower was a nice Plexiglas box with a seat, perfect for attending to matters. Afterward, I quickly dressed and decided to walk around.
Niagara Falls is a nice town, if one likes tourists, tourist attractions, and hills. Even this early in the season, the street was packed -- mostly American college students half my age, who seemed to think their view of the Falls was somehow enhanced by them standing in the foreground. Maybe some annoying artistic tendencies were emerging in me, as I considered selfies nothing but a demonstration of narcissism.
I decided to find a restaurant, not having eaten since my very pre-dawn breakfast of coffee and a couple snack cakes. 'Stanley and Peter's Bistro' was the first I came to and decided "why not?" It was reasonably well-lit with just enough of a turn on the dimmer switch to be considered mood lighting.
"I'm Clair and I'll be your waitress," a tall, violet haired woman said, setting down a menu. "I'd recommend the poutine,"
"The what?" I asked.
"Fries with cheese curds and gravy. It is biggest in Quebec, but popular throughout Canada."
So I gave it away, I was an American and a tourist. However I was raised to view food as an adventure, having eaten some things most Americans would find disgusting. "Okay, I said, and a beer."
"Very good," she said, taking the menu. "Oh, my shift ends in about five minutes but I'll stick around. I'm curious how you'll like the meal. And my tip," she said, smiling. I will be in street clothes, though. Hope you don't mind."
"Not at all," I said, thinking of how badly I hated the office dress code, remembering old TV shows about denim-clad lawyers. That had never been my experience.