There are no certain things in a life, excepting perhaps birth and death, and even these things have their philosophical disbelievers. Can it be said that the squabbling infant has really been “born” intellectually? Is there conscious life without intellectual awakening? Can the assemblyline worker who divides his life between the shop and the television and the weekly rut be truly said to be living? Can it truly be said of the middle-aged hausfrau, whose primary intellectual passion is the color of her eyeshadow for the cocktail party, that she has a life? Questions of difficulty we shan't attempt to rectify here, the purpose being simply to demonstrate that the simple facts of birth and death do not necessarily imply a life, in the sense in which conscious beings have come to understand that term.
Life is often attempted, however. Every generation of humanity sees the imperfections of the preceding generations and societies, and vows with the fervour of youth to do better. How many of these bright-eyed children become the generation whose own children vow to do better in the succeeding generation is the measure of life in the society. The measure has historically been small. Occasionally greater.
Brittany Forrest loved leaves. All seasons of leaves, from the earliest bright green tiny leaflings of late March to the crunchy brown ones underfoot in the fall; all shapes of leaves, from the large palmate chestnut to the furry little clump of the tamarack; all presences of leaves, from the grass leaves whose numbers were like the stars in the sky to the scarcest of skunk cabbage leaves she might find on a lucky spring day in the marsh. She loved to feel them and smell them and fill her eyes with their colors and shapes. She loved to lay in them and play in them in the fall, and dig her hands into the wet freshness of them after they'd lain under the snow all winter, and smell the new life growing from their nourishment. She spent time without passage studying their cells and protoplasm and chlorophylls under the microscopes in the senior biology lab at the university.
This bright August day Brittany Forrest was being comfortable with the presence of her love of leaves. In the bright afternoon light which gave the Small Commons on the University of Toronto campus the atmosphere of a Greek play she watched a leaf fluttering down through the air ahead of her, tossed and blown on the slightest breeze, dancing playfully away from her hand when she reached for it. It twisted and spun, now away from her, then towards her, now rising, then falling. Finally, as she passed by the spot where the leaf was playing, it fell to the ground alone, lost and nameless in the company of its numberless fallen selfs.
Not just any August afternoon - no day is just any day, nor any afternoon just any afternoon. They're all important to somebody, and this was an important afternoon in the life of Brittany Forrest, senior biology student. An important afternoon in an important week. She had just finished her last lecture of her make-up summer course in Modern Journalism in an Information Society, and the next occasion of note in her life was a big note - in three days she was to be married.
With leaves in the back of her mind as she kicked through them, and the most interesting lecture she had just left still dancing in the front of her mind, she still had enough mind and joy to hold the treasured engagement ring up and let the light from the gas lamps along the path sparkle and wink back to the stars in the sky, and the stars in her eye, and the stars in the dewdrops glistening from the leaves under her feet. Lots of room altogether.
Mrs. Joseph Black. Mrs. Brittany Black. A small frown pulled the line reserved for such things to her forehead as she contemplated the names. She had always been very proud of her own - Brittany Colleen Forrest. She wasn't quite one hundred percent comfortable yet with taking Joe's name - but they had discussed it already, and there was no doubt in his mind, at least, that she would be Mrs. Joseph Black. And she had accepted it without a great deal of disagreement, since it was obviously so important to the man she loved - there was no point in making herself upset now. She had accepted that she would be Mrs. Joseph Black, and her children would be little Blacks. It was the way of the society she lived in, and it was not really worth making a fuss over. Thus she had rationalised it so far, at any rate. What's in a name anyway, she thought, smiling? A rose by any other name would surely smell as sweet, as Mr. Shakespeare once said. She'd taken a certain amount of flak over her decision from some of her more radical feminist friends - but they weren't getting married to such a fine specimen of manhood as Brittany's Joseph Black, either.
Brittany swung onto Delacore Street, nearly home - it had taken her a year and a half, but she had finally gotten rooms in an old Victorian house within walking distance of the main campus, and all of her classes. She sidestepped a couple of seedy looking young men, staring at them just long enough and coolly enough to let them know that they'd be looking for trouble if they tried anything. Toronto was nowhere near as bad as New York, but it was still a city of over two million people, and its crime stats grew every year. Brittany had no intention of making that particular list. A few cars cruised by as she pulled her knapsack from her shoulder and took the ten worn stone stairs to the small porch and front door of 2878 Delacore St. two at a time. She lifted the old-fashioned latch on the screen door and stepped into the hallway, reaching for her apartment key. Ground floor left, looking right out onto the quiet street, through a large bay window - a place she had quickly learned to love and call home for almost two years now.
As she dropped her knapsack to the table beside the door and shrugged out of her sweater and sneakers, a welcome shape appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. A toothy smile spread across her face.
"Joe," she said, moving to meet the person who was coming from the kitchen, "Hi! I was hardly daring to hope you'd be here already. Good to see you - mmm.."
Her words came to an abrupt end as their lips met in a long and deep kiss, arms and legs entwining, hands searching out favorite places. Many seconds later, with deep murmurs and sighs, they separated briefly, long enough to agree that, since he was early and their plans were flexible, they had time for what they both wanted to do more than anything else in the world at this particular moment. The hormones of the young and passionate had their way, as they always have and always will, as long as the world will endure.
As the sounds of passion ebb and flow from Brittany Forrest's small bedroom, we discreetly look around her apartment. The front room is about fifteen feet square, with the wide bay window at the front looking out onto Delacore Street. White lacy curtains hang from the curtain rods; there are no drapes. The ceilings are high - nine feet at least, and the plaster decorated with a swirling spiral design. A largish chandelier hangs from the center of the ceiling, with half a dozen frosted bulbs to give lots of light on dark winter nights. The walls are papered; the pastel blue and green flowered design is a little faded but not too terribly stained, except behind the couch where someone with oily hair at one time evidently spent long periods of time leaning against the wall. The furniture is typical student - a low, beige, fold-out couch along the wall opposite the door; two armchairs arranged in the corners surrounding the window; a large telephone-cable table in front of the couch, covered with newspapers, magazines, text books, orange peel; and an old card table by the door which was the receptacle for such things as book bags, purses, gloves or coats. On the floor was a large, old wine-coloured Persian-style rug, although it more likely came from Eaton's than Persia.
The door leading to the entrance hall is heavy, dark mahogany, Victorian, with similar frame. The smaller door on the other side of the card table which leads through a newly constructed hallway to the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom is more modern, thin and light - two-by-fours and gyproc. The bedroom is on the left of this hallway, with its new walls separating it from the living room to one side and kitchen on the other. The bathroom is at the end of the hall, off the kitchen - evidently placed there to minimise the amount of new plumbing which had to be installed when the house was built, since the bathroom in the apartment on the other side of the house is beside Brittany's, through a thin two-by-four wall.
Brittany's kitchen and bathroom are perhaps a cut above the average Toronto rooming house offering, although certainly not of Rosedale standards (Rosedale is the upper class section of Toronto - the 'if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it' district). They are clean, and equipped with the basics - combination shower/tub, vanity counter with wall medicine cabinet and mirror door in the small bathroom, and a reasonably new fridge and stove in the kitchen, with a table and sink and window looking out on the driveway which separates 2878 Delacore from 2876 Delacore. The cupboards hold a hodgepodge of dishes and food - some came with the apartment, some she'd scrounged from friends and family. After two years of living away from home in similar residences, and two more at this location, she had pretty much what she needed, at least for the time being.
There is a stirring from the bedroom; a figure has entered the kitchen.
One of the cupboard doors opens; a lean tanned hand reaches in for the instant coffee and a couple of mugs. His lean frame is dressed only in white boxer shorts, decorated in small blue hearts - not entirely his preferred style, but a present from someone special. Beside him, the electric kettle began to whistle. After opening the jar and spooning a helping of the brown powder into the cups, the tanned hand reached for the single outlet on the control panel of the stove, pulled out the plug of the kettle, and filled the cups with steaming water.
Brittany emerged from the bedroom door, pulling shut her worn blue cotton robe and tying it, then running her hands contentedly through her tousled hair, shaking her head and smiling. She leaned on the kitchen door frame with one shoulder, crossing her arms and looking to her companion.
"It still amazes me, Joe," she said, looking at his back as he reached into the fridge for the milk, "How I can have a thousand things on my mind, and not even be thinking of sex, yet one touch of your lips or body and all I want to do is drag you into the nearest bed and get your clothes off." She closed her eyes and clenched her shoulder muscles until she shuddered; "MMmrrun hmmmm."
Joe turned. Joseph Black, Brittany Forrest's soon-to-be husband, was a good looking man. Six feet tall, trim and muscular, with fashionably long black hair, small neat mustache, and black eyes anchoring an aristocratic face, he also carried that particular attitude of assurance that can only be gained through generations of breeding. It is an attitude which triggers a favourable response in most biologically active females, who require primarily that their breeding partners be able to provide for their young. His father had been a successful corporate lawyer in Toronto, and his family money could be traced back to England in the 18th century.
Joe wasn't all old and conservative, however. He was the first of his family to take his undergraduate degree in Canada - his brothers and fathers and uncles had all gone to Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard; Joe was considered quite the provincial Bohemian to have overcome the wishes of his family to attend the University of Toronto. This ability of Joe's to display an unconventional attitude was what had attracted Brittany to him, and after that his natural charm had won her heart.
Joe looked back to her with that half-smile, that mysterious assured look promising magical things from worlds unknown, that Brittany had found dangerously irresistible.
"Takes two to tango, love," he said, saying the words softly and full of hidden passion; "And you are without a doubt the best tango I've ever known..."
"Brrrrr!" exclaimed Brittany, shaking her head and walking over to the sink were she turned on the cold water tap and splashed some water over her face; "Hang on to yourself, kid, or you'll be right back in the bedroom!" She turned to Joe, stood on tiptoe and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "You're a dangerous man, Joe Black, a dangerous man! But if we're going to get to the show, we better get on with it, eh? Is the coffee ready?"
Brittany took her cup from the counter after watching for a second as Joe poured the milk in the cup and stirred the dark brew, then pulled the chair from its resting place under the table and sat, looking out the window, down the driveway towards Delacore Street. A light warm wind ruffled her hair as she reached to the table for her cigarettes and lit one.
"Done at last!" she mused, taking a long drag and blowing the smoke towards the ceiling while looking at Joe, who was reaching back into the fridge and coming out with a piece of cold meatloaf from the night before, then lifting his coffee cup from the counter and joining Brittany at the table. "Hard to believe that three years of university is over."
"Yep," replied Joe, swallowing a chunk of meatloaf and washing it down with coffee, "You're an educated woman now, my love. The folks in Boston'll lap you up like a cat drinking cream. Congratulations, by the way - I don't believe I got a chance to say it when you came in the door!"
He leaned over the table, as Brittany leaned to meet him and they kissed briefly. As they parted, he lifted his coffee cup in salutation and she laughed.
"Thank you, my knight errant!" she answered him, smiling and clinking her chipped enamel mug against his; "You know, I have no doubt, of what a wonderful help you've been the last few months."
"Sure," Joe replied, smiling, "All that wonderful study of the human body when you could have been wasting your time with the books or some such foolishness!" He reached over and took a cigarette from the pack and lit it.
"Oh, that's not what I meant," Brittany said, blowing a cloud of cigarette smoke in his direction and kicking at him playfully under the table, "I mean how you've been so good about spending time talking to me about the courses, and suggesting things to read, and generally playing devil's advocate. You've really given me another perspective on things, and I know it's showed up in my essays. Which reminds me - I meant to tell you about Professor Davies' closing lecture from 'Media and Society' this afternoon - it was really very interesting. He talked about how newspapers and television - and radio and magazines and movies, of course, but mainly newspapers and television - are not quite the neutral reporting bodies we've all grown up believing, but are actually in the business of distributing what amounts to propaganda - encouraging us to see the world in a certain way which is of benefit to the media owners. It was very interesting. A lot to think about."
Joe sat for a moment looking at Brittany.
"Yes," he finally replied, "It's quite true. Anyone who still believes that newspapers report the news in any type of neutral fashion has been living with their heads in the sand for a long time. But that's a big sort of discussion, and if we're going to get dinner at Big Ed's before the show, we'd better get our butts moving. You first in the shower, or moi?" He finished, raising his eyebrows with a wiggle.
Brittany laughed at his expression, as Joe had hoped - tonight was a night for fun and celebration, not serious discussion about the composition of modern society, which he had been learning quite a bit about himself from somewhat more direct sources than lectures in the halls of academe.
"Oh, I suppose you'd better shower first," she said, still laughing; "I've never heard of any man taking so long making himself pretty to go somewhere - shaving, and mustache trimming, and deodorants, and body powders, and just so-so! So you can be making yourself beautiful while I shower, and we can meet at the door in - what?" She looked up over the table at the round clock face over the table, then her eyes widened as she jumped to her feet; "My God, look at the time! It's five o'clock and our table is for six! What were we doing so long in the bedroom!?" She looked down at Joe with wide eyes, thinking back for a second. A small smile played around the corners of her lips, and she felt a small fire igniting in her lower abdomen. "Oh, yeh, that's what..." She shook her head, and tugged at Joe's arm. "C'mon, babe, maybe we'd better get in the shower together - to shower, I mean!"
And shower they did, and make themselves pretty - an easy task for the young. At precisely sixteen minutes to six they were pulling shut Brittany's apartment door and checking to make sure the sticky lock had engaged. At twelve minutes to six they were at the Bathurst station of the University Avenue branch of the Toronto Transit Commission - TTC, to its many patrons - and at one minute after six, having been very fortunate - as some people are at some times - in having a subway train pull into the station just as the descended to the platform - the breathless couple were being ushered into their table at Ed's Palace by the maitre de. A couple of white-haired elderly ladies followed their progress with happy, perhaps somewhat envious, smiles at the palpable trail of youthful joie de vivre. One of them dabbed at the corner of one eye with a dainty handkerchief while the other laid a white-gloved hand on her wrist, all set to begin the reminiscences about their far-off youth - far-off, at least, in years - not so far away in memory, that blessed equaliser of time's inevitable passing.
Brittany saw none of these perturbations in the world's activities caused by her passage - she was too busy looking at the decor of Ed Mirvish's magnificent restaurant, having never eaten there before. Julius Ceasar would have felt at home here, she thought, rolling her eyes. There were marble statues on tall pedestals scattered throughout the large dining area, many of them nude. The twenty-foot ceilings were supported by fluted Grecian columns, and the walls were painted with scenes from Greek and Roman mythology. Heavy purple drapes hung over doors and mock windows and throughout, and the floor space was designed to provide innumerable nooks and crannies on different levels where young lovers or secretive businessmen or secretive but bold lovers might have all the privacy they desired. White and bright and royal purple and blue, and the murmur of dozens of voices, laughing and enjoying themselves.
Brittany's head was turned to get a last look at a particularly interesting statue featuring two nude women when her progress was stopped by the simple act of bumping into Joe.
"Woops!" Brittany said, turning her attention back to her soon-to-be husband and the maitre de.
"Your table, Sir and Madam," said the maitre de to Joe and Brittany, smiling, and pulling out Brittany's chair; "Your waiter will be along immediately. Enjoy your meal!" With a flourish he turned and was gone.
Brittany grinned over at Joe happily. "Wow," she said, "Quite a place, altogether!"
Joe returned her smile. "You really haven't been here before, then?"
"No, a little out of my league, I always thought. Living on student loans without much help from home puts a limit on dining out. Andropoulos' Greek Deli had to do when the macaroni and cheese ran out. The only 'fancy' places I've been to have been with you - and we haven't been here."
"Well, a small oversight, perhaps - but no more worries along those lines," said Joe, reaching out to cover Brittany's hand with his and smiling over at her, "Mrs. Joseph Black, newly graduated from UofT, will have to learn to live in the style to which her disgustingly rich new family has become accustomed to. I hope it won't be too much of a problem, Ms. Forrest soon to be Mrs. Black!"
"Oh, let's not get into it all now, Joe. You know how I feel about being a kept woman - I'd really like to make my own way, to feel I was contributing something to us and our new home, as well as establishing myself in my profession. We'll work it out, though - we've got the love to work through our disagreements, don't we?"
Brittany searched Joe's eyes with her own. She was determined not to let this particular point of dissension - one of the few they had - cause any problems on this night. It wouldn't be accurate to say they'd fought over Brittany's desire to work in journalism after they were married - her degree was in biology, but she also had a strong interest in writing, and jobs in biology were very difficult to obtain without some sort of post-secondary degree which she didn't plan on going for just yet - but they had different ideas as to post-married life for the Blacks. Joe could see no reason for Brittany to work - given Joe's family connections, he would be assured of a place in a prestigious law firm as soon as he graduated, and an equally assured rise to a position of prominence; given this assurance, he felt that his wife should have their children young, while he was becoming established, and then become a social asset to him, hosting parties for important people and providing him with a good family image should he decide to go into politics, a very real possibility. He had not been overly adamant about this, however, when Brittany stated her case. He was certain that she would come over to his way of seeing things once she had had a taste of life in the working world, where the romantic dreams of youth tend to shipwreck painfully on the shoals of reality. One should not infer a great deal of wisdom of Joe's part from this opinion of his; more, perhaps, a type of cynicism, an appreciation for the differing lives of the rich and not-rich, in which his family had seen to as a central, non-school part of his education.
"Yes, Brittany, my love," Joe said now, reaching over to take her hand, "I do believe our love will see us through whatever problems may arise. And when I see that look in your eyes, and the way your hair falls over your shoulders, I feel a definite problem arising." He squirmed in his chair and looked around, then leaned over the table to whisper to her. "Have you ever done it under a table before?"
Brittany's eyes opened wide for a second, and she burst out laughing, quickly clamping her hand over her mouth to stifle the outburst. Her cheeks reddened slightly, and she was about to chide Joe (in jest, of course) for embarrassing her in public - or trying to - when a dark shape appeared beside the table.
"Good evening, folks," a cheery voice said, "Glad to see you're enjoying yourselves. I'm Tim, your waiter for the evening. Can I get you something from the bar, or would you just like your menus?" As he finished speaking, he set a small woven basket with various types of steaming rolls on the table between Brittany and Joe.
Joe looked up at the waiter, a slight smile still lingering on his face as he took his eyes from Brittany. "Hi, yourself," he said; "I don't think we need the menus, thanks. I was telling the young lady about how delicious your rare roast beef is, and that's what we've come for..." He looked over at Brittany, and she nodded in agreement; "And while we're waiting I'll have a Chivas and soda - and Brittany...?" As Joe finished ordering, he looked to Brittany.
"Um, I guess I'll just have a glass of the house white wine, please," she said, as the waiter nodded agreeably.
"Right you are," he said, as he moved off briskly, "I'll be right back with your drinks, and your dinner should be here in about ten minutes."
Brittany looked over to Joe, mischief in her happy eyes. "Now, what was that you were saying about under the table, Bub?" she asked, grinning; "The only time I've ever seen you under the table, Sweetheart, was last 24th of May weekend, up at your parents’ cottage. And you weren't feeling so hot when you crawled out from under it the next morning, as I recall!"
Joe put a hand over his head, groaning in mock pain. "Ohhh, don't even remind me!" he said, shuddering, "I don't think I've ever felt so bad in all my life! And Mother sure didn’t help matters - she was NOT impressed!"
And so they laughed and were happy, as should two young people in love. The roast beef came, and was very good if not great; the Waldorf cheesecake was interesting, the coffee dark and flavourful. Had it been Wong Lee's and not Ed's, there might have been fortune cookies, and had there been fortune cookies they might have promised good things, wealth and happiness for all concerned. Like most fortune cookies, they would have been wrong. Which is quite alright - who in their right minds would really want to know the future anyway?
Some hours later Brittany Forrest and her husband-to-be emerged from the nearby Royal Alex Theatre amidst a throng of excited and satisfied patrons. The play - Cats - had captured almost everyone's 4-star rating, and conversation abounded on this or that cat, or on one of the many memorable songs. Brittany had been particularly captivated (cativated?) by Gus, the Theatre Cat and was humming the tune as she happily wrapped her hand around Joe's upper arm.
“I’ll have to give that a go on the cello this weekend,” she said. She had been taking cello lessons for the last year, and was quite accomplished already, having a natural rhythm and talent, and also finding it an excellent way to relax - her “meditation time” she called it, as she could put out of her mind any problems she was having while practicing. Joe smiled down at her, somewhat indulgently. He accepted Brittany’s love of doing the music herself, but did not really understand it. Musicians were available to perform for one, for a price, and he felt that quite sufficient, preferring to spend his time in other ways more directly involved with more mundane pursuits such as making the money to pay the musicians when one so felt the urge.
It was a beautiful August night, with the humidity of the day dissipated and a refreshing breeze blowing up the long canyons of downtown Toronto from Lake Ontario. There was a fairly steady stream of traffic on the major streets even at this rather late hour, but it was much quieter than the daytime hustle and bustle of business. Brittany and Joe strolled aimlessly down King Street, talking and laughing, watching the people and stopping for a Polish sausage with piles of sauerkraut from one of the vendors along the way. Finally, after turning onto Yonge St., they stopped at a sidewalk cafe for a drink before returning home.
Brittany was looking out at the parade of passers-by when Joe spoke.
"And what's my newly finished with university beautiful lady looking so thoughtful about on this fine evening?" He questioned, setting his scotch glass back on the small table. Brittany returned his smile, and took a sip from her beer.
"Oh, what's there not to think about?" she answered, with a little laugh; "There's been so much happening lately, and today, and going to happen. The play was wonderful - I just love what they do in the theatre! But I was just thinking, when you spoke, however, about the lecture this afternoon, and our short conversation on it afterwards. Do you really think that newspapers tell only part of the truth, and all of these people -" she waved her hand at the people on Yonge Street, then her eyes and hand both to include the miles of apartment buildings and houses in the greater Toronto area, "- do you really think all of these people are being given a dose of fairy tales every day and buying it all? It just doesn't seem possible, in a democracy like Canada, where we all get to vote for the politicians, and there's freedom of expression all over the place -" she laughed, looking across the street from where they sat to a store-front display offering 'Live Nude Entertainment' and 'A Fine Selection of Books - Must Be Over 18 to Enter', "- as we can certainly see here. Anyway, it's not just that - I mean, you can go into any bookstore and buy books about all kind of political theories, and loonies are always getting covered in the papers. If we're being fed a constant dose of propaganda, why are we allowed to see this other stuff? I don't know - I always respected Professor Davies, but he was beginning to sound a little off the wall today. Maybe he had a bad night or something."
"Yes and no, love,"answered Joe to Brittany's inquiring eyes, "Yes and no. The newspapers are run by businessmen, and businessmen are in business to make profits. So it's only natural that they try to sell as many papers as possible - it makes for higher advertising revenues. And they sell more papers by giving the people what they want to read. It's a market driven system, no doubt about it. But in all fairness to Professor Davies, he does have some points, much as I disagree with his underlying philosophy."
Brittany held up her hand in what Joe had come to know as a request to stop talking for a moment while she digested something. It was all interesting to her - her years at university had been filled with biology courses, and her few free periods had been taken up with English, or journalism, or history - she had never seemed to get around to any basic business courses, and the idea that newspapers were simply another business out to make a profit was a new idea to her. It made sense, though.
"Well, okay, so newspapers want to make a profit like anyone else in North America," she said after a moment's thought, "That makes sense. What does it have to do with fiddling the news, though?"
"Well, now that you're through with formal university education, and about to become the lovely Mrs. Joseph Black, I suppose your real education has to start soon," answered Joe, looking over to where Brittany sat sipping on her beer. Her eyebrows raised mockingly at this last assertion.
"My 'real' education?" she smiled challengingly.
"Why, yes, for lack of a better phrase," responded Joe, "Your 'real' education."
"And what might that involve, now?" she asked.
"The end of innocence, for a start," said Joe, grinning back at her wolfishly; "Believe me, Sweetheart, there's more things under heaven and earth than you'll pick up at university, to paraphrase one of your favorite writers. And it will be my pleasure to introduce you to a few of them." He waggled his eyebrows a la Groucho Marx. Brittany took the hint and laughed with him. Now was not the time for talking deep. She would wonder, a few minutes later as they ambled down College Street along the university grounds towards her apartment, how much innocence she had to lose.
Quite a lot, as it would turn out.