"-and all that week, all I could think about was these damned blood tests. Blood tests, blood tests, blood tests. Meanwhile, I'm so sick that I'm debating every day as to whether or not I should even go into work while I'm stressing about the results. So finally, the results are in and I'm at the Doctor's office, and before my butt even hits the chair, Maher goes, "You've got Diabetes." And I'm like, "What the hell?" and the next thing I know I've got a prescription for Metformin three times a day, I gotta go to a Diabetes awareness class and I got Mum, Darla and Owen all over me about it- The Doctor's all over me about it –like I don't already know about Diabetes for god's sake, and now I have to get one of those blood sugar meters and... Eddy, are you even listening to me?"
Edward R Roth was in fact not listening because he'd heard all about it twice before. In the nine years Ed had known Valerie, he'd become an expert at not listening, especially when it came to 'the health report', as he'd come to call it. The woman could go on forever.
The two had been living common law for the last ten years and he'd already decided that he'd never marry her, was even pretty sure he'd be gone before an eleventh could pass in their depressing basement apartment. At age thirty-nine, Ed could see forty coming fast and perspective on his own life had been changing at almost the same pace.
They sat across from one another in a booth at a small diner off the side of a rural Quebec secondary highway. Ed was quite relieved to see the tall, lit sign appear from the snowy cloud of blizzard conditions almost forty-five minutes earlier. It had been getting rapidly darker and his tension level dropped markedly as he managed to back the Daytona into a parking position that would require the least trouble in getting out again, whenever that would be and under whatever conditions. From the looks of the snowbound vehicles in the small parking area, mostly big old four wheel drives, they wouldn't be the only ones stranded at the diner. While between the car and the front door, he couldn't read the name of the establishment because of the snow stuck to the sign, figuring it was no loss since it was surely done in French, making it impossible for him to read or pronounce it in any case. In many ways, from an Anglophone's perspective, Ed found Quebec to be a different country whether the province was separated from the rest of Canada or not.
However, after they'd ordered and ate, had their coffee refilled by the rude waitress to settle in for however long it would take for the plow to come by, Ed soon began to see what an ordeal this would be once she started talking to pass the time. He'd often feel like a bastard for wanting to beg her to just please shut up when she did this, but the fact was that he couldn't imagine a way to care any less about the things she normally talked about. This isn't to say that the art of conversation was altogether lost to them at this point in their relationship, but more a statement of how they'd simply run out of things to talk about. It happened in the last few years while they were drifting apart without either of them noticing at first. Ed now often wondered if she was as sick of him as he was of her, at least during her sessions of constant prattle, the idea that sometimes a nice silence between two people is a good thing never having occurred to her. Tuning her out had become a lot easier and less stressing than silently begging God for someone to come along and shoot him in the head.
At the moment, however, he wasn't tuning her out in favour of thoughts about the things that normally mattered to him, rather watching an American family of five sitting in another booth across the dining room. He could tell they were American by their accents and how they obviously weren't aware of how Anglophones were viewed in some areas of Quebec. If they were, they'd also be aware that the ten or twelve or more locals at the dining counter, who acted as though they didn't understand English, understood it perfectly well.
"They don't realize..." Ed toned.
Irritated, the somewhat attractive, slightly overweight thirty-seven year old brunette looked around at where her common law husband's gaze was directed.
"-and I don't know what kind of cockamamie excuse for a country has people who can't speak American running around this day in age, but somebody better teach them because they can't make change!" Allan Conway charged a bit too loud. "If I wasn't the type to check my change, I'd have been ripped off the last two god-damned times we stopped to get gas, and ya know what? Ya know what? I think it was on purpose!"
Cheryl Conway, Allan's attractive, dirty blonde wife, regarded him from across the table with speculation and said, "Dear, I hardly think they'd stay in business if they were ripping people off. It was probably just a misunderstanding because of the language gap."
Cheryl, in fact one of the more attractive women in her book club, actually didn't notice any problem with the quaint Canadians she'd dealt with to that point. They all seemed very friendly, especially the men and especially the ones who couldn't speak English. In her dark purple, short sleeved pullover, white sweater over her shoulders and buttoned at her neck and a pleated gray skirt that went just past her knees, she assumed they were simply unused to women of American standards.
Even her husband was an extension of these standards which weren't just American, but personal. At forty-seven, three years her senior, he stood tall with a solid build at five foot, eleven inches. His features were almost ruggedly handsome and the iron gray that had begun to take over his hair in no way diminished the man he presented.
Nineteen year old Calvin, sitting to her right, took strongly after his father in appearance, lacked the blustery attitude, but understood the politics of standards as did his mother. Jeans and a bowling shirt were his usual attire and that evening was no different as he once again looked around the eating establishment and the other patrons with his nose wrinkled in light disdain. Unlike his mother, he didn't find the natives, as he'd been referring to them, to be especially friendly. However, both his sisters would have sided with Cheryl on that.
Jill, sitting on Cheryl's left and beside the aisle, was an eighteen year old confirmed habitual texter of things so important to young women her age, such as where her many friends were currently located and with who. She looked like her mother with slightly darker hair, the same height and soft curves except without the breast augmentation that Cheryl had had done in order that the swell of her chest could perfectly match her slightly rounded hips, if not a little more so. Her youngest daughter was currently looking bored stiff in the 'no service' zone they were travelling through, slumping in a black skirt that her mother considered a bit too short even in the summer, and a lightweight pink sweater.
The oldest of the three siblings was Deb at age twenty. Still living at home because of the horrible economy, she was the only one of Cheryl's children who'd gone at all astray, refusing college in favour of just getting out there and to hell with more classrooms. Darker hair fell down her shoulders than her sister's and, like Calvin, she took after her father in facial features, her grandmother on his side in the body. Her breasts were slightly bigger than her mother's large C-cups with the proportioned hips and the height of five foot nine to go with them. She sat beside her father on the inside, as unprepared for the subzero Quebec climate as the rest of her Floridian family was, in a pair of tight fitting, black pants that she knew made her ass look great and were also fit for her part time job at the local TV station. Her white blouse was buttoned up respectably, not because her mother preferred it, but because Deb didn't feel she had to show all that much skin to appear desirable. She was right.
Allan, the owner of Conway Outfitters, a chain of no less than three locations selling the latest and greatest hunting and camping equipment, knew better than to be mollified by his wife's doubts about the way the French did business.
"It's in the eyes, Cheryl. I've been doing business most my all life and I know a shyster by the look in his eyes. Every very time I open my mouth in this God forsaken, third world, arctic wasteland of the inbred, all I get is that look."
"Heh. Inbred," Calvin smirked.
"Those guys at the counter look like they live in the woods," Jill lazily remarked after a glance over her shoulder.
"Maybe, Deb spoke up, "that's just the way people are around here."
"Debbie," her father replied, "Where would you rather live? Here, or in Florida?"
" ... Well... in Florida, but-"
"I rest my case."
Deb rolled her eyes and looked across the dining room at a couple in their mid to late thirties. They were the only other people in the place aside from the rough locals and, as she looked, the pretty brunette in blue jeans and red sweater spoke to her friend, a regular looking guy with dark hair, jeans and gray flannel shirt. A look of irritation lay over her features and he looked sharply at her, a similar look in his, but more careful. He looked like he was going along to get along.
"Is it too much to ask that your attention be on me for once?" Valerie indignantly demanded.
Ed's lips compressed in frustration as he regarded her, but it seemed like there was wasn't any honest answer he could give that wouldn't clearly say that it was too much to ask of him. Her medium brown eyes filled with affront as he remained silent, only shaking his head and rolling his eyes in reply.
"Yeah. That's just... (sigh) Do you even care about me?"
"If I didn't, I wouldn't be with you now."
"That's what you always say, but it's come to the point where it doesn't mean much. Now it's almost like an insult."
"Val, would you just please not do this? I was distracted by what's going on over there, that's all," Ed told her in a voice lower than hers. "Why do you always have to make these negative assumptions that I don't care just because I get distracted or whatever?"
"Because you're always distracted. Haven't you noticed how I've been asking you lately what I'd just said when we talk?" You can never tell me, can you? Not once could you tell me. You never listen to me and you don't even seem to want to be with me anymore, so I'm asking... Do you love me?"
It suddenly seemed as though their relationship might not last the night and, in the space of a second, Ed imagined what the rest of their car trip would be like in that event, not to mention how things would go once they finally did reach her mother's house. Would he be expected to drive her back? Would he have to rent a motel room for a week while she stayed at her mother's place until then?
"Valerie, I'm sorry you take this as an insult, but it's true: If I didn't love you, I wouldn't be here. I know we've had our problems, especially in the last few years, but that doesn't mean I don't care and that I don't love you. You've got to stop assuming my feelings for you."
"I have to assume your feelings for me because you never talk to me," she almost plead.
Ed heaved a small, exasperated sigh and glanced across the room at the family from south of the border. One of them, a pretty young woman with dark hair, was observing them. She turned at his glance.
At first, Jill didn't understand the reference her mother had made to 'Grizzly Adams' in relation to the locals present, but she laughed once her mother told her a little about the show that was before her time.
"One of 'em could be the bear," Allan joked, looking around the table at his family with a grin, receiving one in return from each of them except Deb.
"Must get cold and lonely up in these woods," Calvin sniggered. "A big, warm, furry bear probably comes in handy on a night like this."
"Oh, gross, Calvin!" Jill laughed.
"Only if the bear speaks French," Cheryl added.
The four of them broke into uncontrollable laughter at this, even Deb finding it hard not to laugh a bit at her mother's punch line.
"-because I'm sorry, Eddy, but if you want to be with someone else, than go. I'm not going to spend my life with someone who doesn't love me."
"See, again you're not listening," Ed testily replied. "I'm trying to tell you that I do love you, but no matter how many times I tell you that, it's like I never said it even once."
"That's because I don't believe you. And I don't think you really believe it either."
"Well, what the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"It means just what I said. You don't love me. You're used to me."
"That's part of loving someone," he argued, knowing this to be true and suddenly wondering if he didn't love her after all, as opposed to her accusation and his own beliefs on the matter.
"Yes, but not the only part. Of course you get used to someone, that's where the security and trust in a long term relationship comes from, but there's a difference between getting used to someone that close in your life and taking them for granted."
Rolling his eyes again, he retorted, "Okay, great. I don't care about you, I don't love you and now I take you for granted. I might as well just shut up here and now because everything positive that I try to say just gets twisted and-"
"It's not about saying positive things anymore, Eddy. It's about saying where we stand with each other. For real."
Ed closed his eyes. The worst of it was that she was right. In most everything she'd said she was right and, for the gazillionth time, he wondered why he was even still with her, why it was that he couldn't just leave her and find someone else who could... whatever. Make him happy? Was he being a coward, stringing her along for the sense of security that he valued as much as his freedom to try again with someone else? Someone he was at least interested in listening to?
"Val, I... I understand what you're telling me. It's just... We don't seem to be going anywhere and, before I know it, I'll be..."
" ... Do you remember when we started?" she took over. "It wasn't like this then. We had our fights, but it was really about struggling to make ends meet more than it was about us. Hm. We even had sex back then. What happened to us?"
It seemed she'd asked the question as a personal demand of him, her accusing tone implying that he of all people should know as the one obviously responsible for whatever it was that had happened to them. He opened his mouth to respond, but the words that he'd planned were cancelled by his passing glance at the line of burly locals at the counter.
They'd been pretty quiet over there, but the expressions on their faces, especially the pretty blonde waitress behind the counter, belied a group of very unimpressed people.
"I, uhh. I gotta use the can. I'll be right back."
Valerie sighed expressively and sat back, shaking her head. She loved him, but she wouldn't stay with him if he didn't share those feelings for her. He made it so hard to know if that were the case and wondered why she hadn't left him long before then. She watched him on his way to the washroom, remembering the first time she'd seen him, the tall, thin, able bodied man with the nice broad shoulders and tanned skin, hairy chest.
On his way by, Ed approached the booth occupied by the Conway family and stopped beside the end of the upholstered bench Allan was sitting at. Leaning over the head of the family's shoulder, he smiled casually and imparted a few things in a low, cautionary tone.
"FYI: The only thing that people around here hate worse than an Anglophone from Ontario, like me, is an Anglophone from the States. Like you. You should also know that they understand and speak English as well as you and I. It's just a little game they like to play. You don't want to play it with them, friend."
Allan twisted around and watched the younger man's retreating back as he walked the rest of the way down the aisle and into the door marked with a universally understood washroom icon. He turned to face his family afterwards with a sour expression.
"Well, that son of a bitch has got some nerve!"
"What'd he say?" Cheryl asked curiously, looking away from the bathroom door and at her husband.
"Did he speak in French, Dad?" Calvin wanted to know.
"No, he spoke in perfect American and he told us that we're hated in this piss-ant country! Because we're American!"
"Dad, that's not what he said," Deb tried while looking nervously toward the long counter.
"We saved these peoples asses in both the first and second world wars and we get hated for it!? My father was in the war and mister, I'll tell you-!"
"Dad," Deb tried again, "That was the British. The Canadians actually helped us-"
"Deb, I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about. I-"
"But Dad, he said they understand English."
"Wh- what?" Cheryl asked, sitting upright, wide eyed and looking first at her daughter, then at Allan. "Did he say that? Is that what he said?"
Calvin laughed out loud and said, "So what if they do? It's only-"
"Oh no," Deb squeaked, grabbing her father's forearm as she anxiously looked over the heads of her mother and two siblings. "Daaad..."
He'd already taken note of how the local inbred of the God forsaken, third world arctic wasteland had vacated their stools and were entering the dining room, one of them going outside for whatever reason. His attitude automatically began to adjust as he watched the rough group of men, perhaps fifteen of them at a glance, as they approached. It wasn't any less comforting to note that not all their eyes were on him.
Calvin turned to look over his shoulder and did a double take, his eyes widening like his mother's at the motley collection approaching. He saw large work boots, jack shirts, dirty work coats, battered caps with industrial logos and chainsaw safety pants. They were all spattered with woodchips here and there, half of them with thick beards and mustaches, the other half with four or five day beards.
Jill began to get scared when some of them stopped at the end of the booth's entrance, wishing she had Calvin's seat as she looked up at the men standing there. More piled into the booth behind her father as she felt another group take the one behind her, their dark, sweaty, woodsy smell surrounding her. She looked fearfully at her mother as Deb looked fearfully at her father, neither of the girls willing to look behind them anymore than Calvin or their parents.
Cheryl glanced nervously at Jill, unconsciously pulling her sweater closer about her, then to her husband as he looked uncertainly up at the man beside him.
One of the tall Sasquatches looked down on him in return. He smiled, the thick, gray mustache and beard parting to speak with a moderate French accent, but in perfect English.
"Hello. My name is Grizzly Adams. I'm pleased to meet you."
His friends all laughed quietly about this as Allan very nervously laughed along, half believing that these guys might get serious.
"Uhh, yeah, I hope you know that, uhhh... well, that was just a little... little joke. (ahem)"
"I- I apologize if that upset or offended anyone," Cheryl offered as she looked nervously from one of the burly foresters to another, none of whom looked to have any standards at all, American or otherwise. At least the speaker, who now turned to address her, seemed to be reasonable in a recognizably human fashion.
"That's very good of you to apologize, but our feelings are already hurt."