Since my wife left me, I've taken to having a few of an afternoon, so I stopped in at the Eternity on Queen Street West for a drink. It's one of the last good "conversation bars" left in Toronto. I like a nice quiet place to have a sip. Like all the other musicians I know, I hate the canned music in most bars. It seems designed to interfere with my conversation and to piss me off in general.
In the Eternity, you can actually hear your own thoughts and share those of other people, and Henry, the guy who runs the bar, is always glad to see his landlord.
On this particular afternoon, I was in no hurry to get anywhere. I'd finished all the meetings for the week, and I looked forward to a few days of relaxation. So, I bellied up to the bar and asked Henry for a pint of Nutbrown Ale and a shot of Jameson. I believe in getting to the first stage of intoxication quickly and then coasting for a while.
I'd just about finished my first round. I was looking at the TV but not seeing it, more like staring into space mindlessly. Suddenly, I was brought out of my reverie.
"Excuse me sir, can I get you another drink?"
Standing in front of me was a startingly beautiful young woman. I was momentarily rendered speechless. After a moment, I managed to nod and even to speak. "Yes, thank you. But just bring me a pint of Nutbrown. I don't need any more of the hard stuff for a while"
She went to draw my beer, and I looked at her. Actually, I'm afraid that I stared. She was about 5'4" -- on the petite side but not too short. Her figure was nearly perfect for my taste. I estimated that she'd certainly fill out a nice C cup, and her hips left no doubt as to her gender. But it was her beautiful face that was most startling. Her features were almost perfectly symmetrical. Her hair was a glossy black. Her complexion was creamy white. Her eyes were the blue-green colour of a mountain lake. When she smiled, as she did now, her teeth glinted brightly.
By the time she returned with my beer, I had recovered my powers of speech and gathered what wits I had. So, I came out with my usual suave opening. "You're new here, aren't you?"
"Yes. In fact, I just started today. I'm a student at OCAD, but I've got to take some time off to make some money. So here I am."
The fact that she was a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design was not at all startling. Queen Street has long been the haunt of Toronto's artists and artsy. Nor was the fact that she needed money. Most students do. I wanted the conversation to continue, so I introduced myself.
"I'm Danny Sullivan. I'm a sometime jazz musician. Mostly, I'm sort of a high-class bum."
She laughed. "I'm Carole Tulliver." At least it sounded like "tulliver." "And you sure as hell don't look like a bum to me. Bums usually don't wear Armani suits."
"Neither do I, but I just came out of a meeting. Tell me, do you spell your last name T-A-L-I-A-F-E-R-R-O?"
"Yes, that's right: Taliaferro. Pronounced 'tulliver.' It's an English name. I get a little tired of explaining that it's not pronounced like it looks."
"Well, Carole, I'll tell you a little known secret: I was born in England, and I lived there until I was sixteen."
"Why don't you have an English accent?"
"I learned in high school that an English accent was not necessarily a social asset. And then I got into jazz. Not too many English accents in jazz. Not in Canada, anyway."
"Oh. Well, I'm not from England. I'm from Sudbury. Way up north. It's not the end of the world, but it's close to it."
"So what brings you to Hogtown?"
"Art. Or the chance to make it. Uh oh, there's Henry, the boss. He probably expects me to do some work. I've got to go. Maybe we'll talk later?"
"Count on it."
I didn't really expect to continue my conversation with Carole. I've never been what you'd call a "chick magnet," and now that I'm north of 40... well just say that I have more of an opportunity to look at beautiful young girls than I do to talk to them. But in about 15 minutes, Carole was back. She said, "I'm on my break now. Want to sit down at one of the tables in the back?"
Of course I did. When we sat down, me with my beer and Carole with a Coke, she grinned at me.
I said, "What's the joke?"
Carole smiled broadly. "Henry just told me that you own this place. And you described yourself as a bum. Some bum."
"Why can't a bum own a bar? Most bums would die to own a bar."
"Danny Sullivan, I think that you enjoy pulling my leg. And you know what? I kind of enjoy your joking with me."
"Carole, I'm sorry if I mislead you. Let's start over again." I held out my hand. "I'm Danny Sullivan. I'm a famous jazz musician and man about town, and I own this place."
She gravely shook my hand, and she said, "Glad to meet you. I'm Carole Taliaferro, an impecunious student masquerading as a bartender."
"OK. Now that we're formally introduced, let's talk."
And we did talk. We talked all that afternoon and during the succeeding days and weeks. We talked about all the great and small things -- things that you share with friends. Soon, we were good friends. Our afternoon talks became a habit.
I learned that Carole's parents were more than willing to help her through school, but that she'd put a limit on the amount of their help that she was willing to accept. They were both teachers. Her dad was retired, so the family income wasn't very big. Hence the job at the Eternity.
I also learned that she had wanted to be an artist as long as she could remember. Her dad was an artist, and she grew up watching him create wonderful things with his hands and his mind. And then she found that she had talent. I suspected that she had a lot of talent, and not necessarily all for art.
Not that I put the moves on Carole. Far from it. I'm as prone to dirty old man thoughts as the next guy, but Carole and I had become great pals. I didn't want to fuck up our friendship by hitting on her.
One Saturday afternoon, I'd just finished one of those interminable goddam meetings. I was consumed with a raging thirst, so I came into the Eternity for my customary tipple. Carole was nowhere to be found. I thought it might be her day off, or perhaps she had a cold. I finished my first round and headed for the john. There sitting at a table near the washrooms was Carole. She was leaning on the table, holding her head in her hands. She was crying.
"Sweety, what's happened?"
"That cunt of a roommate of mine! She's throwing me out!"
I'd never heard Carole use the C-word before. I guess I never even thought she knew it. I momentarily forgot about my need to drain the lizard.
"OK, what's going on? How can she toss you out?"
"Because she owns the fucking lease, that's how! And she's decided to move her goddam boyfriend in and me out."
"Then just move somewhere else."
"You don't understand. I can't fucking afford to move anywhere else. I've been living in this pigsty because she only charged me $300 a month. Any place else I've found is at least $700. And for that you get something even worse than I have now."
I sat down next to her. I thought for a moment. Then I put my hand under her chin and lifted her lovely face so that I was looking into her teary eyes.
"I may have a solution. You need somewhere to live. I have a place that's not being used. No, wait a minute. Don't say no until you hear me out. I have a basement apartment in my house. It's a legal apartment -- separate electrical service, separate entrance and all that stuff. Doors with double locks. But I just use it as a rehearsal studio, and I don't play that much any more, so it's hardly ever used. I have no idea what it's worth, and I don't care. I wouldn't rent it to anyone else anyway. At least come and take a look at it. What can you lose?"
She looked at me with those big glacier-blue eyes, still full of tears.
"Danny, I won't take charity. I'd rather go back to Sudbury."
"Carole, you're not taking charity. I just want you to come have a look at this joint and see if it's worth the trouble. OK?"
She smiled a little bit. "OK."
"What time do you get off work?"
"Tonight? Well, I guess it'll be 8:00. I'm on the early shift."
"OK. I'll pick you up in front of the joint at about a quarter after eight. We'll go take a look at the apartment, and you can decide."
"Danny, I couldn't possibly afford it."
"Maybe, maybe not. Be in front at 8:15. I'll be in the green BMW."
"Yeah, green. You wanna make something of it?"
She smiled at last. The clouds passed away, and the sun came out. "No, it's just kind of unusual, that's all."
"You bet your Aunt Fanny, it is. See you later. Right now, I'm going to complete the mission I was on when I was interrupted."
I made it to the john just in time. Blessed relief. Then I had one more beer and went to my office.
At the appointed hour, I pulled up in front of the Eternity. I'd chosen that time well. It would give Carole time to get her stuff, and I knew that I couldn't park in front of the Eternity. Traffic on Queen was always nuts, and this was a Saturday night. I stopped, and she hopped right in.
"You weren't kidding, it's green, all right. But it's a beautiful car. What model is it?"
"It's an M5. And you're right, it's green."
"I thought that all BMWs had three-digit model names, like '320' or '530. My dad's a real car nut, but I never heard of an 'M5.'"
.... There is more of this story ...