We Must Talk
This story was one of those that came to me almost of a piece: the narrator's voice (in which some readers may correctly sense a tip of the hat to Alan Moore's character, Rorshack), the situation and its resolution were all there, as if waiting only to be written down.
Nevertheless, I hesitated before writing it and, again, before publishing it it the 2nd issue of the paper version of Edifice Rex back in 1996. The "woman in danger" motif is not merely a cliche, but one I find arguably dangerous and that is certainly used too often as an easy way of creating dramatic tension.
I finally decided that my play with that trope varied enough from the familiar that I could in good conscience release it on the world. I remain pleased with it.
— 1 —
Grange Park. Grass and trees in centre of city, illusory wilderness for children to play in after school; for drunken teenagers to waste summer nights; for old Chinese to practice tai-chi at dawn; for businessmen to eat greasy lunches in sun; for Christine Williams to pass through this evening.
Halloween. Cold for time of year. Been waiting — standing, sitting; walking, pacing — two hours. Insane thought: What if she doesn't come? Perhaps not insane; have been betrayed before. Frustration, anger, inside, want to come out, but force them back; will not surrender to emotion.
She will come.
And if she does not ...?
Dead leaves brush legs. Touch weapon in coat pocket. Pistol is tool: of instruction, of direction, of protection. Small gun, .22 calibre; more idea than weapon.
Inspect: wide-brimmed hat, false moustache, van-dyke beard glued to chin, glasses — plain lenses in frames.
Am cautious man; like boy-scout, must be prepared. Even for failure ... Many do not understand; call me criminal, or worse, if could identify.
Will she come?
Have seen other women tonight. Single, nervous; cross park, walk faster if they see me (as if interested in just anyone! Am loyal above all!) — through which she must enter, if she comes. Is always chance she will not; always possibility of change in plans ...
Touch pistol again; comforting. Rest by tree; wait and watch.
See her. Christine. Can be no one else!
Walks quickly, from strength, not fear. Arms swing in wide strokes, confident boots slap paved path with authority. Holds head high, proud; long hair flows behind like banner. Eyes large, bright, with brown irises (does not know she has seen me; or that I have seen her). Nose long, thin; off-sets small mouth, strong jaw. Costume no-nonsense concession to season. Little makeup (never wears any, otherwise); lips black in weak light. Peasant kerchief, long skirt shows beneath jean jacket; dressed like gipsy.
Does not see me.
Hears me. Tension in swing of arms; step more even, more authoritative. Will not give in to fear! My woman owns night, will not surrender right to walk in darkness! Six, five feet behind: "Christine!" Slows, turns.
"Who are you?" As though multi-syllabic word, adds, "Ro-ob?"
Am calm; hand comfortable on pistol butt. She has come. "Not Rob," I say. "Not Rob." Add tag: "Christine, we must talk."
"Who are you?"
"We must talk, Christine." Draw jacket aside, revealing pistol. "Please come; this way."
"Oh God. Who are you?"
"Must talk. Now please, come this way." Take arm, steer her way she came, then turn east, where street pokes into park. "Car over here."
"What do you want?" Smell fear; women frighten so easily, as if conversation, simple
proposal, always threat.
"Do not be afraid; do not want to hurt you, Christine." Try to guide her to rented vehicle — stolen plates; she pulls against me. Step back, show pistol again. "Please, Christine, must talk to you." Do not point pistol. "Please get in the car."
"How do you know my name?" Question rhetorical; stops struggling; I lead her to driver's
side. She gets in, I follow. "Thank you."
Motor engages quickly; modern cars so efficient. "Please fasten seat-belts, Christine; most accidents occur in city driving."
Buckles belt on the third try (nervous, on verge of cursing; foul language, flaw shared by whole generation; have come to accept, though with misgivings — and with hope that change can be accomplished, over time.
"Who are you?" she repeats as I merge with traffic. "What do you want?"
Do not answer. City driving dangerous. Too many side-streets, alleys, cars, pedestrians; too many careless people. Too many possibilities. Often astounded: so many drive, so few die.
Slowly, carefully: cross Queen Street; chaos: streetcars, parking spaces, automobiles, pedestrians. None pay attention to laws of civility or survival. South of Queen: less traffic, fewer pedestrians. Still, am cautious: will not fall prey to over-confidence. Execute turn. Richmond Street: will take us to University Avenue, from there: Gardiner Expressway. Will take us from city.
"Who are you?" Christine close to tears.
"No fear. Want only to talk."
"What about!" Shouting. "Who are you? How do you know my name?"
Please, wait for highway."
— 2 —
On highway, asks again: who I am, what I want. Traffic light enough, willing to speak. "Name is George. You are Christine."
How do you know — "
Have not had honour of formal introduction; is why we are here now: to effect introduction, begin courtship.
"Christine: you do not know me; I know you. Have for some time."
"You've been stalking me?"
Stalking ugly word. Have been investigating."
"You are remarkable woman, Christine. Beautiful. Intelligent. Not vain."
"You — "
"Have been paying you much attention. From first moment, first view, knew how special you
"Why are you doing this?" Face: confusion, fear — more confusion than fear. Permit self small smile; perhaps this time have made correct choice.
"Has somebody hired you?"
"Hired? No, Christine. Have investigated of own accord. You see, Christine ..." Must stop. Heart pounds, hands grip wheel like vice. "You see, Christine ..."
"What!?" Voice cold, fear edging out confusion, no sign of affection, no sign of love. Feel own fear. Have known disappointment, humiliation, rejection; too often. Speak carefully, control voice; women respect strength. Pity fear, but cannot love it.
"You are exceptional woman, Christine, woman who deserves best in life, best in everything."
Does not reply.
"Name: Christine Williams; friends say 'Chris', sometimes 'Chrissy' — you discourage latter. Are 19, second-year student, University of Toronto. Live with parents, but pay rent for basement apartment and modicum of indepence. Do well in school, play intramural hockey, plan to travel before starting Masters."
Still driving. Glance often at mirror, over shoulder; careless drivers everywhere.
"How do you ...?"
"Noticed last winter — remember snow storm, blizzard? Army clearing streets? Saw you walking through Grange Park. With friends, you enjoying self. Rolled in snow; fought with snow; chased friends in snow, laughed like child.
"Was overwhelmed by enthusiasm, beauty. Had to know more."
"You've been following me around since last winter?" Shakes head. "Why didn't you just talk to me?"
"Christine ... Am talking now."
"Talking? You've just kidnapped me!" Permit self brief look: jaw trembling, hands clutch seat either side of hips, but voice still strong.
"Need to talk to you — with you — Christine. I must. We must. Have had privilege of knowing you; now must return favour."
"I don't even know your name." Now voice trembles; perhaps not as strong as had thought, hoped."
"Told you: No need to fear. No wish to harm you."
"Then what do you want!" Shouts, chasing joy from heart. Keeps shouting: "What do you want? What do you want? What to you want?"
"Christine — "
"What do you want!?!"
Seldom raise voice; unpleasant, uncivilized. Sometimes necessary. Young people — young women — possess so little self-control, prone to hysteria. "Be silent, Christine! Shouting not communication; get nowhere by shouting."
"Oh God ..." Begins to cry. Must be gentle. Firm, but love also willingness to teach and guide.
— 3 —
City behind. Sky dark. Drive on, 9 kilometres over speed-limit; no wish to attract attention. Christine weeps, but no longer sobs, will soon regain control. Young recover easily.
"Did not intend to frighten, Christine."
Weak smile, shakes head, laughs. "You didn't intend to frighten me! What did you think I'd feel? You've kidnapped me and you don't think I should be frightened! You must be out of your mind!"
Words harsh, but am pleased: strength of character, unique to Christine, starts to reassert. If she does not only fear, is chance will not end as have others.
You are brave girl — brave woman." Young despise reminder of own youth. "But have never experienced danger. Parents love, protect; even now, convinced are special, beyond harm."
"You think you know everything about me, don't you?"
"'Everything' reserved for God. Know you walk streets of city, any hour; unmindful of warnings of parents, tales of friends, of men who rule night. Among other attributes, bravery attracts."
"My bravery ..." Sniffs. "Well, that's just great, isn't it?"
"Agreed. Great indeed. Bravey, Christine. Bravery and passion, for life, experience. Desire to learn of world, talk with many people; belief that experience brings understanding — of world and of self."
"Look: What do you want?"
"You know, Christine Williams."
"Oh God ..." Eyes close, head slumps, fists clench.
How to reach? Have failed so often, can not stand to fail again.
"Yes. Is love, Christine."
"I don't even know you! You don't know me!" Is crying again.
Wait until tears subside, say, "That is why we must talk."
Am patient man. Allow Christine time. Drive long in silence, approach Barrie, small city north of Toronto beyond which highway splits: Highway 69, Highway 11 — will take latter.
"Need gas." Station controlled access, highway only. Exit, stop car at pump, show pistol. Even in love, must be careful. "Do not speak to attendant, do not move. Do not wish to harm."
"I'll do whatever you want." Sad she is still fearful.
Nothing to fear, Christine. Love you."
Unroll window; pistol by thigh in right hand. Give attendant twenty dollars, roll window up. Soon start car roll away from pumps. "Now have gas enough to drive through night, Christine. Time for talk."
"Oh great," says Christine Williams.
Laughter comes. "At last!" Pass Barrie, take Highway 11, smaller road, slower. "At last, the Christine Williams — angry Christine, strong Christine! Fear that woman just illusion, fancy perhaps, of lonely heart. Worried had loved facade, not woman." Smile warmly, despite angry curl of lips. Have seen that fire during date only once before; with that woman came closest to success.
"Why don't you just tell me what you want?"
Fear still present. "We must talk, Christine; not clear yet?" No response. "Love you."
"You don't even know me!"
"Know you well, Christine Sarah Williams. Have studied, followed, discovered patterns. Watched. Listened to you with friends. Know habits, likes, dislikes, tastes. Know desires, dreams, fears.
"Are independent spirit, Christine. Friends many and varied, yet none special. Have no lover. Study English literature, speak French, want to write.
"Do not fear Christine; hurts me when you fear."
"What do you want from me, then?"
"Talk, Christine, share; how often it be repeated?"
"Talk about what?"
For first time, am unsure. Have got so far, so fast — where now? "Why not answer your questions? Sure things you want to know of me?"
Wipes eyes. Still frightened, but wondering if I am not monster she had believed. Wants to trust; senses kinship. Asks: "How old are you?"
"Excellent. Excellent question, Christine. Am 51."
"Oh. You're ... you're quite a lot ... That is — "
"No need for discretion, Christine. Am not offended by fact of nature. Yes, am older; not disadvantage. Throughout history, union of older man, younger woman commonplace — accepted and honoured relationship. Woman matures younger. Even decades more often bridge than chasm. Other questions?"
"Where ... where are you taking me?"
Victory within grasp. "For ride, Christine."
"Are going there — and back again."
Mutters, "Tolkien?", then falls silent. Reference obscure — do not pursue; will have years to share references.
"Is nothing you wish to learn?"
"Nothing at all?"
Christine stares at floor. "Why didn't you ... why didn't you just talk to me? Why didn't you phone me up and ask me out? You obviously know my phone number."
"Would you have said yes?"
"You see? Would have had no chance — stranger calling from nowhere. You would have had no chance, we would have had no chance. This way, can go beyond facts, beyond courtesies, discover human being beneath flesh."
"Are still frightened? Of me. Christine: do not fear. Have told you: do not wish to harm you."
"Then why don't you give me the gun?"
Sad smile. Almost forget am not alone. "Am not ready to trust that far ..." Shake head. "Trusted once. Too far, too soon. Was only 18, finding courage, finding self. Remember dating. Kissing in parked cars, darkened theatres. Walks along lakeshore, desperate love in bedrooms not ours. Remember days of fear, passion; of love not returned. Was 17, entering — "
"17? I thought you said — "
"Does not matter. Entering manhood. Trusted too well young woman wanted to make wife. Lied, betrayed. Found in arms of another, thought was best friend."
"I know what that's like."
"Do you? Truly, Christine?" Progress!
"I caught my last ... boyfriend; my boyfriend and my best friend at the time — "
"Yes. Yes, it was." Shakes head. "You've really done your homework." Is impressed; am pleased.
"And yet: are friends again. She is ... forgiven?"
Christine shrugs. "I guess so. 'Time heals all wounds', you know?"
"Have heard sentiment — never understood. Cannot forgive betrayal, cannot forgive theft of that which is mine by right."
"Christine: What do you expect from life? What goals, what desires? What dreams?"
Christine calm. I hope, I dream, I desire again. She speaks slowly. "I'd like to have children some day. And travel — but you already know that." Turns. "What about your dreams?"
Smile gently as pounding heart allows. "You know dream, Christine. Love of good woman, life lived justly, lived well."
"You think kidnapping is just?"
Confess to sudden anger; had thought she understood. Fooled by own hopes? Perhaps as angry at self as at woman. Shout: "Again: Talk of kidnapping! Wish only to speak with you and forever call me criminal?"
Christine shouts too; beginning of end. "Maybe I don't want to talk to you! Did that ever occur to you? Did it?"
Snarl, "All alike!", but despise self for counterproductive weakness not mastered. "Changeable! Vindictive! Friendly questions one moment; poisoned accusations next! Woman, how you sadden me."
"I'm sorry." Voice suddenly gentle. "I didn't mean it. I do want to talk to you, I do; please believe me ..."
"Do not lie Christine."
"I'm sorry." Again, close to tears. "I'm sorry."
Understand." Temper gone like summer storm. "Are still young; do not understand fully power you wield, strength you have to wound."
"Power? To hurt you?"
"To hurt all men. Are weak, so much in need of woman's love. You do not comprehend difficulty for man in world where woman has such power." Hesitate? How much to reveal? How soon? Such is my flaw: without honesty, without truth, where is love?
"Power of Woman over Man, like man over dog. Man comes, goes, at Woman's pleasure; fight for you. Die for you. Give up soul for you, knowing you can destroy with single word." Laughter chokes shadow of past. "Have been destroyed many times."
Have never admitted before.
"But you've survived. Somehow ..."
"Have survived. Yes. But at such cost, Christine! Scars borne by all men; run deeper than caverns."
"Like techtonic plates?"
Silent for time; then roar laughter, as have not done for years. Christine understands! Against all odds, beautiful Christine understands!
"Yes! Deep as techtonic plates!" Great joy: at last, have chosen well!
Then shock: "Sometimes," Christine says, "techtonic plates move apart, instead of coming together."
Stare at dark highway ahead. Force of will alone prevents crash. Must not yield. Night still young. Have survived emptiness, pain, before. Will again. Beside me, eyes angry as sun at noon, stare.
"You hate me." Heart broken. Hope shattered.
"Well what did you expect?"
— 4 —
Love; hate. Cannot hate person one does not love. That moment: sneering words, voice full of contempt, loathing; love, hate battle for possession of soul.
Halt car on gravel shoulder, turn, pistol in right hand, left reaching for pocket.
"How dare you!" Am madman. "How dare speak so?!?" Pull handcuffs from pocket.
Christine struggles to open door. "Opens only from outside." Display cuffs.
Christine in tears again. No longer care. "Hands behind back."
"Oh God, please ..."
"Arm. Behind back. Now." Wave pistol; woman obeys. "Lean forward." Confused, afraid — still does as told. "Head on dash."
Is so beautiful, even in darkness. Body like strong, slender tree, breasts like ripe fruit: will always remember.
But must stay in present. Snap cuffs around wrists behind back. "Regret necessity." Pull back to seat-rest. "Can no longer trust."
"Please ... I'll do anything you want ..."
Expected more, Christine. Was wrong."
"I'm sorry ..."
"As am I."
Christine silent. Return pistol to pocket, set car in gear. Sad but accepting of failure. Woman has power; must deal with truth. Still angry; accept that too. Have failed again, must pay price.
Turn car around — tires complain, but do not care; rental vehicle and, in anger, forget morality, forget safety.
"Where are we going now?" Voice weak, shaking.
Do not reply. Cannot. Am heartbroken. Remember last time of weakness, when loneliness almost could not be endured.
Had left work, gone to bar where females dance, naked and unashamed — or such is pretence. Was weak, ordered drink. Weakened further. Later, whore in car, apartment: sanctuary. Paid whore two hundred dollars. Ashamed. Struck her when done.
"Please?" Rouse self. Distraction dangerous; grief, anger, even joy, all dangerous when conducting motor vehicle. "Please, where are you taking me?"
"You have exercised choice." Speak though voice not steady. "Now must pay price." Can speak no more, can barely contain grief. Christine recognizes error, falls silent. Outside, begins to rain.
Switch on wipes, reduce speed. Will not add to tragedy with accident.
"Please, where are you taking me?"
"Returning to city." Am growing calm, mastering self. I, not she, have made error. Heart has led me astray. Need silence, but she does not permit. Understands her responsibility? Must hope: power exercised without thought, consideration of weak is great evil. "Please cease crying, Christine." Am selfish, yes; if only others understand they are, too.
"You're not ..."
"Not what?" Am ready to communicate, to try again, despite knowledge.
So be it. Drive on, through rain grown heavy. Between hammering water, sweeping wipers, can barely hear guilty tears.
Presently, past Barrie, see sign, slow and pull off highway. "Hungry, Christine? Or thirsty?"
"My arms hurt."
"Could have been otherwise; exercised choice. Now must pay price. Will be over soon. Hungry?" Slow car, pull into parking lot of truck-stop. Chain: more individuality lost to world. "Something to eat, drink?"
Shakes head, but will bring extra meal, second drink. Females often change minds.
Park far from restaurant. Late; no other vehicles near. Headlights off. "Christine." Turns to me, lovely silhouette, darker than night. Take pistol from pocket. "Please get down on floor." Pretends not to understand. "I'll help." Touch shoulder with free hand; jerks away, bangs against door. "Please, I'll do anything ..."
"On floor." Disappointed still; still not surprised. Not one has had strength, purity imagined. "Lie flat."
"My arms ..." Flop up, down, behind back. Reach again. No resistance. Push her down, force her onto floor, head beneath steering column.
"Now." Touch pistol to back of head. "Removing handcuffs; do not move, please."
"Oh God ..." Hypocrite's tears do not move. "Oh God!"
Unlock cuffs, pull hands up, over head. Ignore groans. True pain? Perhaps. Slip chain through gap in steering wheel, re-attach cuffs to wrists. Christine hangs, cannot move.
"Will return soon." Take handkerchief from pocket, insert in beautiful mouth, ignore thrill when knuckles brush full lips. Many would not comprehend.
Return to quiet car. Unlock, open, door, place food on back seat. Brandish pistol again, base of skull. Undo, re-do cuffs. "Brought food, in case." Remove gag.
"I don't want any!"
"Food. And Coca Cola. Brought Coca Cola."
"And how the hell am I supposed to eat anything with my hands like this?"
"Will feed, if mind changed."
"I haven't changed my mind, God damn you!"
Turn on cabin light. Is beautiful even in ugliness of rage. Cheekbones flash with tears, eyes wild, blood pulses beneath smooth skin. "No not comprehend anger, Christine." Bacon/double-cheese-burger still warm. Flesh tasty.
"You don't understand? You don't fucking understand?" Savage swearing nearly chokes; barbarism from beauty, how wrong I am again.
No Christine, do not understand. You reject me. I suffer. You have wounded me."
Can logic reach? No, female does not see, never does. "I've wounded you? I have wounded ... you." Face turns. Torso turns. Am broken by dichotomy of physical beauty, ugly mind. Return to bacon-double-cheese-burger.
"Oh God, I don't believe it. I can't believe it!" Crying again! 51 years: the female still incomprehensible.
"Why tears? Why remorse?"
"Yes!" Laughs through tears. "Yes, that's it exactly! Remorse! Remorse! I've treated you so badly, how can I not feel remorse?"
Put down burger, almost in tears myself. "No idea, Christine, how that makes me feel; to know you accept responsibility for own actions — to know you care."
"Of course I care. Of course I do ..."
Nods, smooth cheeks streaked with salt water. "Really care. If only ..."
Shakes head and laughs — laughs! "If only you had waited a little while; even a few weeks might have made all the difference."
"Waited?" Strange idea. "Have already waited more than year. Have waited long enough. Why wait longer? Want me, or not — yes?"
"Well yes. Yes, most of the time. But, but I — you surprised me." Eyes narrow. "You frightened me."
She stares, as if trying to read soul. Sip Coca-Cola while waiting for more words.
"I didn't ... I didn't realize what you wanted; I didn't realize who you are."
Hope blooms like impossible rose in desert: Can it be true? After so many years?
"Will you let my arms free, darling? So I can show you I understand?"
Rose gone, never was. Falsehood, as always. "Please?"
"Lies." Hurts more than rejection. "Why?" Manhood hammered, self under assault. For time, care for nothing: weep. Say, "Why so cruel? Why?"
Slowly, regain control. Christine also cries. Bow head, turn to face front. Place food on rear seat. Turn key. Cannot look at Christine; too ashamed.
- 5 —
No talk for hour of return drive. Am sullied, want night to end. And yet, as we leave highway, observe as mouth opens again. "Why have you done this to me, Christine?" Am pathetic.
"I'm sorry," all she says. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry ..."
Place I know, not far from highway; one of several. Never use same one more than once in two, three years. Can drive vehicle nearly into wilderness, even in city! Toronto: city of many parks! Hate secrecy, but world understands so little: would call me criminal.
Park. Turn of lights. Appreciate rain: police patrolling donut restaurants.
"What are you going to do?" Soft voice reminds of pain. Had forgotten, watching darkness, listening to rain.
"Why frightened?" Am still angry. Sarcasm low, but clear in voice. "Please prepare to exit automobile." Can longer bear to speak name.
"I can't even move!" Laughs — ugly sound. How was it I was so blind?
Still raining; feel small pity, despite harm she has done; not wearing water-resistant clothing.
Nonetheless, leave car, walk to passenger door, open it. "Please exit vehicle."
"You're going to kill me, aren't you?"
All say this, or variation; mystery of the female. "Please get out of car." Pistol not even visible.
"What if I don't?"
"Watch too much television, Christine." Why always make difficult? Not enough to insult, humiliate? World would be improved if less time spent making things difficult for others. "Then will have to force, sully both even further."
"I'm not getting out."
Empty threat. Show pistol. "Please exit, Christine."
Cries again, but exits. Stumbles. Not easy to walk in dark after long drive. "Slowly, Christine. Is no rush."
Suddenly turns, screams, "Why don't you just get it over with! Just do it, you son of a bitch!" Rain so heavy, hour so late, only I can hear.
"Please keep walking, Christine." Touch pistol again, only signal she understands.
"Look, can't we work something out? I'll do anything you want, I promise I will! Anything at all."
Say nothing. Uncoil rope worn around waist. "Please turn around, Christine, go to bench." Mean picnic table, but speak before thinking, make error.
Christine tries to run, but dark and rain and bound hands slow her. I chase after, catch my chain, jerk her back. Can barely hear crying, rain so falls so loud.
Try to comfort, though own heart cries out: sometimes own strength of will amazes. "Unfortunate you made this choice, Christine. So badly wanted to be yours." Hand on shoulder, force her towards table.
"What do you prefer?"
Pretends not to understand. "I want to live!"
As so often before, am forced to decide for the female. "Then you will sit; easier that way."
Shakes head. "Sit?"
"Sit." Does not move so, using hand, turn her around, force her to sit on bench, back to table. Bind firmly, then unlock cuffs. Smile. "Will not need these anymore, Christine." Small joke. Seems not to comprehend. Pretence? Shake head: God's humour perverse. Not my place, to delve His mysteries.
Last look: how was it, saw such beauty there? Where was error? "Goodbye Christine." Return to rented auto.
Before door closed, hear her voice, but wind and rain carry words away, destroy structural integrity; hear only sounds without meaning.
Wait moment, start engine. Am tired. Wet. Lonely. Must still telephone police, tell where Christine is to be found.
Do not look forward to drive home.