WARNING - this story may contain adult content including coarse language and/or sexual content which may be offensive to some
a short story by Mark Kolke
April 18, 2011
I am off, out of the rental car lot - pointed for Joliette, aimed to be there about 11:30, and I’ll wait till noon – nine years I’ve waited for this day - for Paige’s release.
The only thing I don’t know about what happened is the why of it.If there is anything I want to know – need to know, it’s the why.
It isn’t driving me crazy, but I know that I’m stuck - I can’t go forward with this still haunting me.
Thursday, at noon, I’ll get a chance to find out.
I’ve been up at the cottage - home away from everything - on Hillside Drive in Port Severn.Another dustybreezy July day, last Tuesday, when that thunderstorm arrived - sitting out on the deck, wind whipping me wet, pelted by the chill of an afternoon hail storm, as if that pummeling would have value – or solve anything that booze hasn’t been able to soothe for ten years.
It haunts me still, on rain chilled days; out there on Georgian Bay, or at home alone in my study, or working late at the office - a haunting - uncured by another gulp of scotch.
I’ve been looking in the proverbial mirror ten years now – not enjoying the view very much, waiting for this chapter of the nightmare to end.
Like I said, Thursday, at noon, I’ll get a chance to find out.
It is all interlaced with Paige’s bloody hands, my malaise, Freda’s loss and tears – I still have memories of that short time, of our youthful invincibility, it was a full ten years of joy, but it seems so short now after this decade of pain that followed .
I remember that precious decade - four lives, four lifetimes, tightly woven together in that decade when we could do no wrong - when we danced till dawn and dreamt large.Lived large, worked hard, played hard, we thought it would never end.
That all ended, the night Tony died.
Paige didn’t mean to kill him, I’m sure of it, we all were.It was an accident.
The jury didn’t see it that way.
It still rings in my head, as if it was yesterday:
‘Would the defendant please rise’, the judge asked but it was really a command, the courtroom hushed, everyone sat motionless except for the sketch artist from the Globe and Mail, feverishly brushing charcoal on paper, to capture the look on Paige’s face for next morning’s edition.
You could hear a pin drop when the jury forewoman reported, and it was as stunning as a gun’s report, ‘Your honour, we find the defendant guilty of second degree murder’.
Thirty days later, the judge pronounced sentence - taking into account the jury’s recommendation for imposing the minimum because of Paige’s obvious remorse and victim impact statements from Tony’s brother and mother.They still loved Paige and didn’t believe she intended to kill him.We all believed that it was just a horrible accident, cutting down a genius in his prime.We thought the manslaughter option was the most the prosecution might convince a jury of – but surely not second degree murder.
Lawyers are wrong sometimes. Her defense failed to prove their argument.
She got the ten year minimum required sentence - less a year for the time she’d been in custody before and during the trial.She was shipped to the women’s federal prison at Joliette, Quebec.
Her appeal attempts, both unsuccessful.
I am sure – in the heat of the moment, she must have wanted him to hurt in every way. I still remember that brutal headline: Betrayed wife wanted husband to hurt,but I never believed she wanted him dead. He wasn’t just a meal ticket for her, I believe deep down despite the hurts, slings and arrows that she still loved him.
She told her story in court, how she’d suspected Tony was having an affair with my wife Freda – that she’d come home early from her shopping trip to New York, confronted them and, in the tussle and yelling match that followed, inadvertently pushed Tony, and that he fell down the stairs to his death.
The forensic evidence convinced the jury that he’d been bludgeoned first, then sent down the stairs.
I understood her anger – her rage even, at finding out, at confronting them.Of course, she wanted him on his knees, but I’ve always believed her story – that she wanted him apologizing, quitting his affair and groveling . . . working at putting right the un-rightable wreckage of their marriage; but, not wanting him dead.
As for my feelings about it, and my marriage to Freda, not so much – it was pretty well dead from the neck up emotionally for years. Her affair with Tony, while embarrassing for me, was something I got over.So I thought.Still, I have some unresolved issues. Maybe I’ll get some counseling one of these days, but so far the Scotch and trips to Georgian Bay have proven my best therapy.
Ah, . . . those were the heady days, back when we are fresh out of school – Tony was such a nerdy whizz. He had little time for shaving, showering or even taking a piss in those days, the code was just flowing out of him.I ran the sales operation – but there wasn’t much to that. Each time Tony created a new program when we put ‘version 2.0’ after the title, orders spilled in like Niagara, and bushels of cash flowed just a liberally.The money was better than any drug you can imagine – far more intoxicating than booze but the excess of cash brought a very different brand of hangover.
Freda ran the office until that summer we married – it had just gotten too large for her to handle, too many zeroes, too many accountants.Besides, she was pregnant with the twins and we had so much money after my last round of stock options neither of us would ever have to work again.
And then she lost the pregnancy.We were never the same after that, we both had a big empty hole to fill, and no amount of cash or things would fill it. I turned myself into a workaholic. Freda turned to her friends, spent time with Paige and started hanging out with a rough crowd at blues bars she frequented, and as we later learned, with Tony.
Tony programmed, I sold, and Paige shopped. And shopped.It wasn’t that she would run out of money or that Tony would care – he was too focused on the next magical combo, ones and zeroes, that would make some new concept in physics reach some factory floor reality, and again treble his fortune.
While the three of us – Paige, Freda and me – had all come from nouveau richefamilies in Forest Hill, each with fathers who were good ole’ classmates from Upper Canada College, morphed into faceless Bay Street lawyer money machines – but Tony started poor, and never made the transition.He was constantly worried about having it all disappear, or that we would lose it to some seismic shift in the industry. Enough, was never enough for Tony. We was on a constant quest for more, and more, and more.
Tony came from Stonewall, Manitoba. Fireman’s son, he won a scholarship to Waterloo and the rest is history.He got a job right out of school at Research in Motion. He quit half way through his second week.He couldn’t stand the egos and he felt Blackberry was headed for ultimate oblivion. Obviously, he had RIM’s future wrong, but he knew his own potential was great – and that it could not be realized there.
He had a mind, what a mind, and a vision of his own.Paige had already begun re-decorating their grubby student pied-à-terre in anticipation of that first RIM paycheck. She knew she’d hooked up with a commercially viable whiz-kid despite being ostracized by her parents for her trouble. She was right of course, and she didn’t care that her family’s money was cut off – she believed in Tony.
But what a hoot it was - Paige got furious the day he quit.It all blew up that Friday night at the Raintree Café.It was, oddly, the night we’d planned to celebrate Tony’s first payday – he was the only one us with a real job.
“What? … What the fuck did you do?” . . . Paige was yelling.It was hilarious because Tony was beaming from ear to ear while she was sounding off so everyone in the bar could hear.
Tony’s response, clear, solid and calm, was: “I quit my job at RIM, I’m starting my own company and I am signing a contract with Magna”.
“Tony, we don’t have money for groceries this week and the rent is due next Tuesday, and you quit your NEW job?Are you nuts?”
By then, Freda and I were laughing our asses off – and Tony joined in as he pulled out the retainer cheque from Magna for $100,000 and showed it to Paige. I swear, if she didn’t fall silent – one of the few times I saw her at a loss for words.
She was contrite. They left soon after. I am certain Tony got very lucky when he got home that night.The next week Paige scrapped her apartment reno plans and started house shopping, and he never looked back.The trophy wife was born!
That was all so long ago – and yet it seems like just yesterday.
Back to now . .
This Thursday, at noon, I’ll get a chance to find out.Over the years Paige had confirmed most of the things I knew about her relationship with Tony – her wild spending binges being her crying out for attention she needed, the attention she craved, the attention he just never knew how to give her. There was an understanding that she knew how much he loved her – but she also knew he loved creating software even more.Really, to change Tony, would be like telling Mozart to put his wife ahead of his music.Understandable for Mozart and for Tony, but not for anyone else, least of all, their wives.
Anyway, after refusing to tell me the whole story behind that chaotic night when Tony died, Paige had promised to tell all, once she was out, once Joliette was behind her.
Thursday, 9AM … I’d just got in at Dorval, on the shuttle from Pearson.The Budget rental counter was quiet as I approached.
“Bonjour Monsieur Turner.Tim Turner?”
“Oui, madame.I’m Tim Turner.”, I responded in a lame attempt at a credible accent.
I slid my driver’s license, credit card, frequent flyer card across the counter to her, she scanned them quickly – and I was out of there with three strokes of a pen and my parting ‘Merci’.
“Merci Monsieur”, and she waved as I made my way to the rental parking lot, just as I have once each month for nine years.I would report on the status of the business – just a shadow of its former greatness since Tony’s death, and ultimately on the sale and disposition of the proceeds. The last couple of years I’ve simply been going to hand her the investment manager’s reports on her portfolio, to have her sign corporate papers, tax returns – that sort of thing, but mostly just to see Paige.
She has been for me, for a couple of hours once a month, the only light I see, the only joy I feel.Her looks are holding up; prison life at Joliette isn’t too harsh, but it doesn’t offer manicures, pedicures and personal trainers the like of what Paige used to find at Hazelton Lanes or around her Bloor and Bay haunts, but the prison work has left her fit, strong and looking hotter than ever.
I am off, out of the rental car lot, pointed for Joliette, aimed to be there about 11:30, and I’ll wait till noon – nine years I’ve waited for this day, for Paige’s release.
So much water under so many bridges – lives of promise broken, like ships crashing into icebergs, there is no way to be joyous.Freda, gone, who knows where? . . . with the next in her series, one biker bad-boy after another.She’d kept it together through the trial, but leaving me wasn’t enough, she had to leave town.
I used to call her brother Ryan for updates, when he had them, of her whereabouts but, frankly, it was more than I could handle any more.The marriage was over, the divorce was done – time to leave the poor woman along. And, it became easier not to know.
At noon, with all the drama of a gloomy movie – the main door opened, plain prison issue suitcase in hand, there stood Paige.The breeze blew her blouse tight against her body, her nipples rose through the fabric like Braille letter A’s.Her jeans were prison-baggy, her smile was broad, her shoulder length hair flew freely in the breeze. We walked, then skipped a few steps and then ran toward each other. Holding her felt so good. Tight, close – like the hugs we all used to share on New Year’s Eve, so long ago.
I put her bag in the trunk, and then we just sat there – in the front seat. It was weird. After all this time served, time to speed away from here, she just wanted to sit, to hold each other and soon there was more.
I cupped my right hand on her left cheek. I drew her toward me and she eagerly followed.Her mouth on mine – hungrier than mine, though we have both been without the comfort of a partner for just as long.I felt her gobbling me, like I was dessert – something I’d not known before first hand, but I’d had my share of witnessing her and Tony going at it.
Soon we were groping far more than teenagers ought to do at night – and we were doing it in broad daylight. Before some guard might come out saying ‘hey, get a room’, I thought we should move on.
I’d booked rooms at Hôtel de ville in Saint-Antoine-de-Lavaltrie. It was a short drive, a small town, a good place I thought to spend the night and next day before heading to Dorval and then flying to Toronto. Paige was a big city girl, but after nine years locked away . . . I thought she might need some adjustment time.I was being a little selfish too – I wanted some quiet alone time with her.
As we cruised down the road she took my hand . . not holding it, but stroking it, over and over. Occasionally she would run her hand up my neck, stroke my ear and rub my baldness.I can’t tell you how excited I got.
Settled into our rooms by mid afternoon, I was going out, to get us some ice and cold drinks – when Paige guided me to the edge of her bed. She asked me to hear her out, that she had something important to say, it was time for her to tell her complete story.
‘Tim,’ she started, ‘there is part of the story, the night Tony died, that I have to tell you.I’ve not told anyone before. The only other person who knows this is Freda, and I don’t believe she ever told you.’
‘What are you talking about . . .?’, I was startled – ‘but, you told the whole story to the police, to me, to your lawyers – and you testified in court!’
‘I lied.’, her response.She was shaking. I was shaking.
‘What the hell is going on?’I yelled.
‘Listen Tim, this is very hard for me.Just let me tell it my way, OK?I haven't had that exciting of a life in Joliette – but it hasn’t been all bad. I got help there, with a lot of stuff. Childhood stuff, things between Tony and me – things I’d never sorted out, I didn’t have to – I just went shopping. As if that ever cured anything.’, and now she was starting to cry, her beautiful blue eyes welling up, ‘but I’ve found, finally, an exquisite sense of balance . . . the psychologist there – Kay, helped me a lot and encouraged me to tell you this. I need to get this off my chest – and I need to tell you, because you need to know – you deserve to know, the whole story’.
She went on, ‘There are a lot of things I wish I would have done, instead of just sitting around and complaining about having a boring life, filling my void and soothing my pain with spending Tony’s money. You thought, as I told the story before, that I discovered that Tony and Freda were having an affair – and I caught them, that I confronted them, that a fight went from yelling to pushing, to shoving, and that I pushed Tony, that he fell down the stairs.’
‘Right,’, I said, ‘that’s exactly as I remember you telling it.’
Paige blurted – sobbing now, ‘But Tim, that’s not what really happened.’‘I’ve wanted to tell you, so many times, but I was too afraid I would break your heart and it wouldn’t have made a difference for me; because, you see, it wasn’t Tony having an affair with Freda that started the fight.’
‘It was me, having an affair with Freda.Tony came home early from work that day – he caught us in bed. He went into a rage. He was going to kill me.Yes, the geeky kid from the prairies had a temper. He was so outraged – he was chasing me around the house with Freda chasing after him – trying to stop him, trying to get between him and me. I guess she figured he wouldn’t hit her. I think she was right. He was certainly big enough to push her aside easily, but he didn’t.They moved outside the bedroom and were on the landing – that’s when she hit him.There was a trophy on the table – there, one that Tony won at school for one of his projects. Freda grabbed it, and hit Tony on the head just as he was about to throw me over the railing. He fell. He was dead. There was nothing we could do.I couldn’t let Freda suffer for that. We cleaned off the trophy and put it in another part of the house - and then together we pushed him down the stairs.’
I didn’t know what to say – I couldn’t utter a word. My mouth was dry, my palms were clammy, my heart felt like it was pounding two-hundred beats a minute.
Finally, I found my voice, ‘why haven’t you told me this before?Why wait all this time?’
‘Tim, you may not be the quickest study on things – but you are a good man, you’ve helped me and Tony’s legacy by running the business, managing my business affairs and investments for me. I don’t know how I could ever thank you enough. But, more than that, you’ve been the only person who visited me. My family dis-owned me, they haven’t visited me in years.You are there for me – you always are, you always have been.Even back in college days, in Waterloo, you looked out for me by looking out for Tony.I love you for all of that. I love you for the fine man you are.I needed to wait, until now, to tell you.I was afraid, if I told you before I got out, that I’d never see you again.’, and, by then her sobbing became uncontrollable.
All I could do, was hold her.
She could be mine.
Best trophy ever – perhaps a wife, though, a name change might be challenging – not sure the world is ready for a Mrs. Paige Turner.