Excerpt from Epiphany

Chapter 1

Toronto: December 10, 1974

“Only two weeks till Christmas and you can’t guarantee shipment?” Griff was getting exasperated. The voice on the other end of the line was apologetic, but in this case sorry didn’t cut it.

“I can’t afford to use you if you can’t be trusted to come through.” He held the receiver away from his ear and listened to the tinny voice on the other end. More apologies. He slammed down the receiver.

Outside, huge wet flakes were falling faster by the minute and the downtown streets were snarled with traffic that had slowed to a crawl beneath a beautiful— and for Griff, a costly blanket of snow.

“I’m going to lose it!” he shouted to no one in particular, as Roz, his assistant breezed in and dropped a mug of coffee on his desk.

“It looks like one of our greeting cards,” she enthused. “I hope it stays on the ground till Christmas.”

He gnashed his teeth and swiveled his chair to stare glumly out at the darkening streets. “Don’t even mention that word again in my presence, or I won’t be responsible for what I do.”

“Which one—snow, or Christmas?” she laughed.  She stood behind his chair and placed her hands on his shoulders and gently kneaded away the knots of tension. He resisted at first but then gave in, leaning back in his chair and allowing her to massage away the stress.

Roz had come to work for him ten years earlier, with the professed purpose of offering wisdom and support—but as time went by and their relationship developed, it appeared more like she ‘adopted’ him as her own.  After her husband passed away, she drifted for a while and then decided to get back into the race. Griff, who was then only twenty-five and the inheritor of Lytton Gifts and Cards, became her personal project.

The arrangement benefitted them both. She succeeded in making it to her fifties while still remaining strikingly beautiful, and he, under her tutelage had matured into a more or less responsible adult. It wasn’t easy managing him, but over the years he evolved from being a brash, impulsive wunderkind into his present incarnation—an esteemed corporate executive—a young man to be reckoned with, according to Fortune magazine. Lytton Gifts and Cards in the meantime had become the decade’s most successful Canadian business and boasted subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, Europe and the States.

“Has Mandy called back?” He unfolded his lanky frame and stood up to stretch.

“Sorry, Griff. I put in four calls to Mont Tremblant, but the concierge says she must still be on the slopes.”

He stretched toward the ceiling, trying to work out the kinks. “Great, just great. I’m stuck in the city while she’s away skiing in Quebec. What about Randy—any luck reaching him?”

“Afraid not. According to his secretary, he’s been tied up in meetings in Montreal all week and then is heading to Turks and Caicos for Christmas.”

“I see.” He looked decidedly glum.

“How about having dinner with me at Three Small Rooms? —I can phone and get us a table.”

“Thanks, Roz, but Jude’s home alone. God only knows what he’s got into by now.”

She smiled sympathetically. Jude was Mandy’s whim last Christmas—an adorable, tri-color Australian Shepherd puppy. Roz recalled dropping in on the couple over the holidays and falling immediately in love with the frolicking, fluffy bundle of black, white and copper fur.

“Haven’t you been able to get a pet-sitter yet?”

Griff heard the question, but was reluctant to answer. He interlocked his fingers behind his head, tilted back, trying to stretch out the remaining tension. The limbering up technique wasn’t working.

She eyed him pointedly, waiting for his reply.

“I’ve got a service that drops by and walks him and changes his food and water—that’s about it, so far.”

“I guess Mandy’s trip was kind of short notice,” she hinted, trying to soften the fact.

“Bloody inconsiderate, if you ask me, but then, that’s Mandy isn’t it? Grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth—damn princess.”

Roz looked at him ruefully, “But then again, some might say that you also were ‘to the manor born’.”

He glared at her reflection in the black windowpane and then, turned back to face her. “You know I don’t give a damn about money—never did—but Mandy, she’s a piece of work. Took her out last week to a steak house and a cute little waitress, probably no more than eighteen served us. She was friendly, you know—a perky little thing. You know what Mandy did? —She turned up her nose at her—that’s right—that spoiled snob literally turned up her nose at this poor kid. Jeez, I hate her some times.”

She stood in the center of the floor staring at him with a look of profound sympathy. Neither spoke for a few moments until he finally broke the silence with a bitter chuckle. “I got back at her though. I gave that little waitress a fifty-buck tip. When she came back to the table all happy and gushing, I thought Mandy was going to choke on her martini.” He laughed uproariously as he pictured her livid face in his mind’s eye. “You know what I thought all the way home? I thought, why out of all the possible women in the world, did I pick her? Nice, eh?”

“She does have her moments.”

He looked at the clock. “Hey, it’s six o’clock already. We should be going. Rush hour’s probably winding down.”

She looked doubtfully out the window at the snow dancing before the pane. “I’m not so sure about that, but if Jude’s all alone, maybe you should head home. You want me to try calling those two once more before I leave?”

“Naw, I don’t feel like getting upset again and driving home with heartburn. I’ll try them later.”

She patted him affectionately on the arm and left, gently closing the door behind her. He turned off his desk lamp and swiveled in his chair so he could peer out into the darkness. His mind immediately began to wander and then, like a compass finding true north, he focused his thoughts on his missing wife. Unlike him, Mandy was totally spontaneous—flying off to ski in Quebec would be as normal to her as going out for coffee. He unrolled an antacid tablet and slowly crunched it in his teeth.

He had known her forever it seemed. “She’s from our social class and perfect for you,” a friend observed, but shortly after their splashy marriage, he knew he made a mistake. She insisted on pursuing a modeling career and became a sensation, gracing runways from Paris to New York. God knows, she didn’t need the money—the Stuyvesant’s were even wealthier than his family, but Mandy craved the footlights, the spotlights and the limelight. She even dropped her last name, preferring to be known simply as Mandy and spawned a whole generation of adolescent wannabes and a complete line of clothing and accessories bearing her logo. The intoxication of celebrity totally fulfilled her and she was never more sparkling and effervescent than in a room full of adoring strangers.

But what about him—was he happy?  He wanted a quiet life and family, but that was out of the question—pushed to the back burner while ‘Mandy’ pursued her career. She was a moth drawn to the limelight. Even their honeymoon turned into a celebrity photo-shoot and practically before the ink dried on the marriage contract, the bloom was already off the rose or the writing was on the wall—or whatever damn cliché her posse of followers whispered behind his back in well-intentioned sympathy, while being totally oblivious of the anguish he actually felt.

He trailed her through France and Britain while flash bulbs popped and champagne flowed, but was already miserable and drunk most days. He would have cut his losses and come home if not for Randy.  Randy Morrison was more than his best man—he was his best friend. Good old Randy—always there with a joke or a witty remark that worked their alchemy to transmute his angry barbs, and smooth things over with Mandy.

Yes, Randy had been there for him, through private school and university. He was his confidante and friend—his only friend. The Morrison’s had struggled for years to keep up appearances, limping along in the energy sector and struggling to extract petroleum from the tar sands of Alberta. So it was poetic justice when the Fuel Crisis hit, his family made ridiculous amounts of money. Now they appeared well on their way to becoming western Canada oil sheiks.

He’d like to think that money didn’t change Randy, but it did. Regardless, Griff had more in common with him than Mandy—he blurted that observation out once in the midst of one of his drunken tirades and she slapped him full on the mouth. That slap was some kind of watershed in their relationship from which the two of them had never recovered—although, he thought they were recovering, until Mandy took it into her head to take off on her early December ski trip.

He placed some documents in his attaché case and snapped it shut. Another night without her, another night alone—he’d spend it sipping wine and watching the snow pattern itself in darkness—maybe take Jude for a midnight walk. Regardless, he’d be back tomorrow running the company his father left him and wondering why he even bothered to get out of bed.

The angst of the everyday corporate exec, he mused, smiling cynically to himself. But what else could he do? He had absolutely no idea. At any rate, mulling over mistakes wasn’t helping, so he forced the thoughts from his mind, locked the office and sullenly rode the elevator to his underground parking spot, feeling bleak and desolate as the night outside.

When he pulled into his driveway two hours later, he was thankful for the low voltage lighting that marked the edges of the road leading to his house. The snow had drifted and obscured the winding lane, but he was able to steer his Porsche into the middle of the lighted path like an airline pilot touching down on an illumined runway. It was eerie as he made his silent passage through the drifts, and the thrill it gave him temporarily lifted his spirits and pushed back the sadness for a few moments.

His temporary joy was eclipsed, however, when he opened the front door, and found the house cold and dark. He called out to Jude, but there was no response. He knew he’d find him curled up on the couch where Mandy usually sat, waiting for her, not for him. Another of her impulse buys, he stewed. He turned on the lamp and Jude blinked at him and a sudden wave of compassion swept over him. “Hey boy, were you sad and lonely? I’m sorry. I know you miss her.” He hugged Jude and rubbed behind his ears. “C’mon, I’ll let you out and then find us both some supper.” Jude knew the drill and was off the couch in a bound, heading for the front door. Home alone. He shook his head sadly and headed out with Jude into the night.

The shrill ringing of the phone pulled him out of a deep sleep. He glanced at the luminous digits of the clock on his night table and fumbled for the receiver.

“Griff—is that you?”

“Hey, Mandy! Where were you? I was trying all day to get a hold of you.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you weren’t. Maybe Roz just didn’t try that hard. I think she hates me.”

“Hey, don’t say that—Roz doesn’t hate anybody, besides, she did try several times.”

“There—you see what I mean? You never even made the effort. Why do I bother anyway? It’s all so futile.”

“Don’t talk like that, Babe. So what if Roz dialed the number—I was the one waiting to hear from you. By the way, where were you anyway? It’s three in the morning.”

“I’m on Quebec time.”

“It’s the same time zone as here. Where have you been?”

There was a pause on the other end. “I was out on the slopes all day and then I ran into Paul Shapiro from Fashion House. He invited me to dinner to discuss using me as the face for a new line of make-up.”

“That’s great, but why didn’t you call—couldn’t you spare a minute or two and give me a shout and let me know how you were?”

“That’s why I didn’t phone, Griff. I didn’t feel like having to go through an interrogation with you, for God’s sake.”

“I was worried about you. I’m your husband you know.”

“Yeah, I know. Remember that when you jet off to London or New York. It cuts both ways. Anyway, I’m exhausted and just wanted to let you know I was okay in case you were worried about me.”

“I am worried about you.”

“Okay. Good. Let me sleep. I’ll phone tomorrow.”

“But Babe, when are you coming home?”

“Tomorrow, Griff,” she barked angrily. “We can talk then.”

He heard the click and listened to the dial tone buzzing in his ear. He lay back and stared at the ceiling. He knew he wouldn’t get to sleep that night.

He didn’t hear from Mandy the next day, or the day after. He and Roz must have made fifty phone calls to the ski resort, all to no avail. Finally, at breakfast on the Friday, the phone rang. He heard Mandy’s voice on the other end. At first he was relieved she was safe, but then his anger boiled over.

“I’m just about at my wit’s end. I was worried sick about you. Where the hell have you been?”

“Randy drove up from Montreal. I’ve been with him.”

It took a few seconds for her words to register. “I don’t get it—what do you mean you’ve been with him?”

“I’m leaving you Griff. Randy and I are flying out today to Turks and Caicos. It’s over.”

“You and Randy—what’s Randy got to do with this?”

“Typical. All this time he and I were getting close and you didn’t even see what was happening right under your nose.”

“Wait a minute—are you saying that you and Randy are in love?”

“Duh, yeah. Like I said, you just don’t get it. I don’t want this to be messy, Griff. I talked to Daddy yesterday and he said we could get a quickie divorce down there, if you don’t contest. I’m not going after the farm—just give me the house in Turks and the New York condo—that’s all I’m asking.”

“Just like that? —You expect me to accept that my best friend has just ran off with my wife and I’m supposed to sign your little paper and everything will be all right?”

“It’s up to you. We could drag this out for months and make it really messy, but in the end, the result is going to be the same. I don’t love you, Griff—I probably never did. Our marriage was a mistake. I should have listened to Daddy from the start.”

“But can’t we at least sit down and discuss this?”

“There’s nothing to discuss. Randy and I are going to make our home in Turks, so you get to keep the Toronto house and furnishings—that’s not a bad deal.”

“But what about Jude?”

She paused for a long moment, before answering. “Do what you like with Jude. I can’t be tied down to a dog, so I guess he’s yours.”

“Bloody great! He was your baby—that’s what you called him.”

“He’s an animal, Griff. He’ll get over it and so will you.”

“Where’s Randy—can I speak to him at least?”

“What for? So you can rag out on him for betraying you or something? Randy can’t stand you—he told me that—he said he was the one running interference for you all this time. He couldn’t understand why you didn’t appreciate me. Finally, I guess he realized he did.”

“I see.” He stared dully out the window at the snow.

“So, how’s this going down, Griff? Are we going to do this peacefully or do you want to fight?”

“No fight,” he sighed. “Send me the papers.”

“So, that’s it—we’re done?” Her voice registered surprise.

“Yeah, we’re done.” He paused for a few seconds before adding, “Have a good life.” The words caught in his throat as he hung up the receiver.

How could he not have seen this? Maybe he could understand Mandy, but Randy—his best friend? He checked the company’s Christmas calendar hanging on the wall—Friday the thirteenth—it figures. Jude stared up at him, resting his chin on his shoe. As he stared down at the dog’s sad eyes, the reality began to sink in. For the second time in his life, he was alone—cut adrift, with no idea of what to do.

He felt his grip on things loosen and he began to tingle all over and go cold. He couldn’t think, let alone talk or move. Everything went numb and blank like the snow outside his window. For hours, he sat there—staring—totally devoid of thought, until at last, his eyes began to sting and hot tears began rolling slowly down his cheeks. It was finally over. With trembling fingers he managed to pick up the phone and dial Roz.

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© 2013 – 2014, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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