Three -- Echo from Mount Royal
My brother Robert, six years older, was home on vacation from his job in Ottawa, his first visit since Christmas. I was annoyed at the way my parents fussed over him. I wanted to say, “He only works for the prime minister. He’s not Louis St. Laurent.” Our mother made all his favorite meals. He slept late. No one complained when he clomped up the stairs at odd hours in the early morning. Two nights after he’d arrived, we argued over our father’s car. My parents decided it was only fair, with Robert home so seldom, that he should have the car to visit friends. My brother turned to me with a grin. “I guess it’s the streetcar for you, little sister.” He and my father laughed. “I’m almost as tall as you are,” I said, storming up to my room.
My mother yelled from the kitchen. “Who’s making that racket?”
“I am,” I shouted, slamming my bedroom door. I wasn’t angry about the car. Instead, my childhood belief that our parents loved him more than me always surfaced when he came home.
When I returned from the dance, my parents were already in bed. I brushed my teeth and sat at my desk, trying to finish a chapter in my biology textbook. After reading the same page three times, I finally gave up. I decided a novel would be more successful in distracting me from my disappointing evening. I climbed into bed and finished reading Washington Square by Henry James. The revenge Catherine Sloper took on Morris, her would-be-lover, was satisfying. ‘You treated me badly,’ she tells him. ‘You made a great change in my life. Please don’t come again.’ Good for her, I thought and turned out the light.
I woke when Robert came home. My bedroom door always rattled from the suction when the front door opened. I heard our mother come from her bedroom and quietly speak to him as he climbed the stairs. “You shouldn’t wait up,” he said, forgetting to whisper. “You need your rest.” The sound of a kiss on each cheek. I pictured her hugging him until he pulled away. “I don’t need anything to eat. Go back to bed.”
My parents’ bedroom door closed. A moment later the toilet flushed. Then a hesitant tap on my door, and he slowly pushed it open. The hinges creaked. He blocked the hall light, his shadow thrown against the wall.
“Are you awake?”
“What do you think?” I said. “You’d wake the dead climbing those stairs.” I struggled into a sitting position. “Close the door and keep your voice down. You’ll have Mom in here.” Was he drunk? In the darkness, I couldn’t see his face. “What time is it?”
“Only 1:30. When we heard the Canadiens beat the Bruins, we had to celebrate.” He closed the door, gripping the doorknob so it wouldn’t shut with a loud click. “The Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup this season. You can bet on it. Bouchard will keep them in line.”
“Robert, lower your volume or go to bed.”
“What do you mean?” After a burlesque show, a hockey celebration and a couple of beers, he didn’t realize he was practically shouting. “You made quite an impression, little sister,” he said, trying to whisper. “Sol couldn’t stop talking about you.”
The excitement and desire I’d felt earlier that evening swept over me, but I kept my voice nonchalant. “What did he say?”
“What a great dancer you are.”
No, I thought, correcting him. Sol said I was an excellent dancer.
“He can’t dance for beans, but he enjoyed watching you. You’re not like the other girls he usually meets. All your practicing hasn’t gone to waste.”
“What else did he say?”
”How pretty you are—“
“I’m not that pretty.” My nonchalance was shameless.
“Don’t sell yourself short. He said you reminded him a little of Maureen O’Hara. Except with black hair. I don’t think so. Do you?”
“Uncle Max once told me I looked like—”
“Uncle Max? I wouldn’t go by what he says.”
“Don’t say anything more, if you’re going to be insulting.”
“And he thinks you’re smart—”
I laughed. “How would he know how smart I am?”
“No, he did. I told him you’re a big reader. People who don’t read think people who do must be smart. But don’t worry,” he teased,” I didn’t let on you’re as dumb as mud.”
Was Sol putting on an act for my brother? That didn’t make sense. Sol wasn’t a high school boy who wanted to show off. “What else did he say?”
“I didn’t keep notes, you know. It’s embarrassing when someone blabs on and on about your own sister. I didn’t think guys could be so mushy. And he wasn’t even drunk.”
My brother said Sol had always been the quiet one at college and shy around women. Robert had the impression his mother had been strict about whom he played with as a child.
“After meeting his mother I’m not surprised. He’s the baby in the family. His brother Ezra is eight years older. They both work for their father. You know Gottesman and Sons.”
His words took me by surprise. “The big store downtown? He’s one of those Gottesmans?”
“Big bucks, little sister. But you’d never know it. He doesn’t act rich.”
“He’s cheap like you?”
“No. In fact I tell him to stop paying for everything when we’re together. People might think we’re on a date!” My brother stopped talking.
“And?” I prompted.
He sat on the edge of my bed. “At the bar, he became the Sol I recognized from college. Shy and quiet. Something was on his mind.”
I could hardly breathe. My brother had become so serious.
“When I dropped him off, he didn’t get out of the car right away. I turned off the engine and waited for him to say something.”
I forced myself to remain calm.
“You know what he said?” my brother asked.
I thought I did, but I couldn’t trust my voice. I shook my head, pretending I had no idea.
“‘Do you think Rebecca would go on a date if I asked her?’ That’s what he said.”
When I remained silent, he spoke quickly, unsure of himself. “You would, right?”
“Yes.” My voice croaked. I barely heard my own answer.
My brother heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank God. I was afraid you’d be angry. What would I tell him if you said no?”
“The truth would crush him. Anyway he asked me to feel you out—” Then realizing what he’d said, we both started laughing.
We were no longer whispering. “Quiet,” I said pushing down with my hands as if that could lower the volume. With the tension broken, I saw how upside down all this was. Was I threatening to men? Nonsense. How silly was that? Then I had an awful thought: what if I was.
“He said if you agreed, he’d call tomorrow.” My brother stood up. The bedsprings squeaked and I felt myself falling back. “I’ll never play matchmaker again. It’s in your court now, little sister.”
As he opened the door, I had one more question. “Who did you see at the Gayety?”
Startled by my question, he said, “Lili St. Cyr. Why? Applying for a job?”
“Promise you’ll take me next time?”
“No chance.” He nodded toward the wall we shared with our neighbors. “Ask Michel to take you.”
After he left my room I fell back on the mattress, my arms stretched out to either side. My brother could call me ‘little sister’ all he wanted. I didn’t care. I closed my eyes trying to picture Sol at the dance. I was surprised when I couldn’t remember exactly what he looked like. What did it matter? I’d see him again soon enough. I tried to imagine falling in love with Sol. Instead feelings of desire overwhelmed me. Burrowing under the covers, I shivered with excitement. I don’t remember how long it took me to fall asleep.
Robert returned to Quebec the next afternoon. Sol telephoned that evening.
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