Steven Heighton



The calendar indicated spring, but the weather was equivocal and kept the city on hold. Steep sunlight, as yet unfiltered by any leaves, dazzled the eyes and burned the skin, but the winds were icy. A month of recidivist weather: tomorrow it might easily snow. Leonard and Halli Losco were driving home after their Sunday brunch in the Market—a ritual that had been central to their life together since they’d met four years ago, but which Losco suspected might soon be subject to suspension, or worse. Halli was due in two weeks and last night had experienced some preliminary cramping, a benchmark they’d learned about in the pre-natal classes that had recently concluded.
        “So here we go,” Losco had said.
        “Not yet, silly,” she’d told him, curled on her side, her head on his shoulder while his eyes probed the ceiling, as if for hairline cracks. “I mean, it could be a couple more weeks, even more.”
        Losco as a child had been so anxious that, had he grown up three decades later, he’d have been well acquainted with therapists and would have swallowed medication with his morning juice. Instead, he’d painstakingly coached himself beyond his phobias and become—as his business partner, Vance, put it—cowboy calm. He was a bulky, plodding kid with black-frame spectacles and curiously abbreviated legs. Sitting very upright at his school desk, he seemed of average height, even a bit above, but when he stood up, his large head remained more or less at the same level and his true stature was revealed. This anomaly generated both merriment and creativity among his schoolmates, who called him Tiny Lessco, Lost-legs, and Legs-low, as well as Colossco, Moscow, and Loser Losco. More laconic peers skipped the preliminaries and simply shoved or struck him, though seldom with any committed hostility. Allusions to his ethnicity—he’d inherited the swarthiness and vaguely Semitic features of the Maltese parents who insisted on ferrying him to and from school each day—were less frequent and, when they came, oddly tentative. Possibly his schoolmates considered ethnic slurs superfluous given his physique, or else they didn’t know how to go about disparaging the Maltese, who were not quite Wops, or Kikes, or Greasy Greeks, or Pakis, or anything else, and came from an island no one had heard of or could find on a map.
        Then Losco chose Stendahl’s Le rouge et le noir for his grade ten French project and was struck by its little hero’s Napoleonic willpower. It hadn’t occurred to him that you could so fully and plausibly concoct a new character for yourself, thus tightly regulating how others viewed you. Invisibility was not the answer after all. Nor was a class clown’s ingratiating hi-jinks. Image management was the key. So Losco—constantly goading and grading himself—worked to perfect a quiet, wry, never-ruffled persona that his peers began to notice. At university he was widely admired and even imitated by men who, a decade earlier, would have despised or overlooked him, or noticed only his truncated lower half, a feature he had not grown out of and continued to regret. Still, he was rarely anxious now about his physique or any other thing. His years of disciplined shamming had convinced his very core.
        Halli was the sort of woman whose every step or gesture is a small calamity for any watching male—so Losco told himself, with pride. Her slimness and tallness (she was taller than he was anyway) seemed to him patrician; she moved with a panther’s elastic ease and grace. Yet she seemed unaware of, or indifferent to, her charms. Her large brown eyes appeared wholly uncalculating—instead sympathetic and gently amused. She laughed often, though rarely at jokes. She lapsed easily into reveries or trances but in a moment could bear down and focus with tenacious practicality.
        He had never been with a woman of such varied enticements and hardly a day passed when he didn’t shake his head and marvel at this outcome. As for Halli, like women before her she was drawn to his calmness, which read as uncomplicated male confidence and which he knew must seem all the more remarkable given his size and appearance. (His one good feature, he believed, was the firm, stoical jaw he’d sprouted in his teens. With a replica straight-razor he groomed it each morning, weekends included.)
        The irony was that once Halli entered his life, his boyhood anxiety began to creep back. The sensations: motion sickness without the motion; a slight but chronic tightness under the sternum; the unsettled pulse of a man constantly expecting final notice from a loan shark. In the bedroom there had been a few close calls and Losco, aiming to pre-empt serious trouble, had supplied himself with pharmaceutical fail-safes that in the end proved unnecessary.
        Still, they’d been happy, often deliriously so—or so he believed, much of the time, when the anxiety was more or less in abeyance. But with the pregnancy it became worse, a flutter felt not just internally but around him, somehow, in the spaces of their house, like a faint tremor from a construction site. When he finally told her, she said in her sensibly upbeat way, “If you didn’t feel even a tad nervous I’d be nervous, love. It shows you’re taking this seriously.” He joked that he was just worried that the child (a boy: he’d insisted on the ultrasound) would inherit his stature instead of hers.
        Odd how the return of unpleasant symptoms—so familiar despite their long absence—could also bring a trace of relief.
        Driving them home now Losco gripped the wheel of the car with hands at ten and two o’clock. The traffic was light but his eyes flicked mirror to mirror, as if they were on the 417 at rush hour. He’d drunk too much of the restaurant’s potent coffee and he could feel the pulse under his chin. A glossy metallic-blue SUV loomed alongside, swung closer and then, as Losco tensed, veered away. Without signaling, it steered into a turning lane and then, too fast, onto an off-ramp. Halli said, “What’s that?” From the corner of his eye he glimpsed something detach itself from the roof of the SUV and fly off.
        “What was it?” he said.“They hit a bird?”
        She was looking back. “Pull over, Leo.”
        “What, here?”
        “We have to stop, love.”
        “What is it?”
        “I think a wallet. It’s on the shoulder of the road.”
        “Or maybe a learner’s manual. That idiot can’t drive to save his—”
        “Just pull over, Leo, okay? I think it’s—”
        “Okay, okay, I’m pulling over!”
        “I think it was on the roof.”
        He brought the car to a stop and reversed along the shoulder. The Audi A4 was a standard and he had driven it for eight years, tall in the seat, jaw heroically firm, eyes
fixed coolly on the road in a way that several women before Halli had admitted they liked, trusted. He was backing up quickly, nearing the off-ramp.
        “Oh, a car just drove over it! No, it’s okay—they didn’t hit it.”
        “Guy must have been filling up,” he said.
        She looked at him.
        “In the SUV,” he said. “Must have left his wallet on the roof. This is as far as we can go.”
        “Okay—I’ll go get it.”
        “What, are you kidding?”
        “Love, I’m fine, I’m not in a wheelchair!”
        “Let me go for it, Hal, okay? Please?”
        He leapt out before she could argue. He walked back along the shoulder and looked both ways up and down the off-ramp—it was only one way, of course—then stepped into the lane to retrieve the wallet. He made himself move casually, transparently, nothing to hide from the few passing cars. Security cameras must be observing him too. For a moment he saw himself on video, a small blurry figure stooping and reaching for some object. Maybe he should have let Halli get it after all? No one would ever suspect her of a nefarious deed—Halli, pregnant and with her usual bright aura of blamelessness, of exemption from the usual human failings.
        He gave her the fat wallet and pulled back onto the parkway. She told him she would find some ID, a number to call. Her cellphone lay in her lap, inches from her distended belly (lately he’d been pestering her to keep it out of her lap and away from the baby). Looking through the wallet she said, “We’ll call him as soon as I find a number. If he lives nearby, we could take it right to him!” The prospect of this little expedition—its novelty, its helpfulness—clearly pleased her. Something he’d noticed about his revived anxiety was that it preempted such generosities (not that they’d ever been his strong suit) by making him warily weigh every action, and by tilting him even further toward cynical suppositions. He was thinking now that the wallet was likely stolen, then gutted and left on a stranger’s car roof, a clever way to dispose of it randomly.
        “Any credit cards?” he asked.
        “Three different ones. And a driver’s license, health card, SIN card—Jean-Denis Beaulieu, that’s his name. Even his passport.”
        “His passport?”
        “It’s in the—oh, what do you call it—in the cash slot, with the cash.”
        “How much?”
        “A twenty and a five. I’m still looking for a number. Wait, here . . . I’ll call him, this must be his card. It’s a video arcade in Gatineau.”
        “Really? I didn’t think there were any of those left.”
        Peripherally he saw her lift the phone to her far ear, then cover the ear closest to him with her free hand, a natural enough maneuver, yet it set off a thrill of pain under his heart, as if she were trying to exclude him from some private exchange. Silence. Then she was speaking, apparently leaving a message in her flawless French (she’d studied in Paris and now tutored the children of foreign diplomats here). He knew many of the words and heard her leave her cellphone number and their home number but, oddly, he couldn’t make out the message’s full import, though in context it should have been easy.
        “I was hoping it was a cell number,” she said, setting the phone back down in her
lap, on top of the open wallet, “but I guess it’s a land line. But he might check for
messages once he figures out he’s lost his wallet and passport.”
        “I would.”
        “I know you would, sweetheart.” She said the words fondly enough, but then again, the line between settled affection and love’s erosion in habit and predictability—was it not a fine one?
        He pulled into their flat driveway, needlessly setting the parking brake, and turned to her. “Home.” She sat unmoving. These days when the fatigue hit her, it was abrupt and flattening. For the last five weeks or so, she’d been taking a long nap after their brunches. Gently, briskly, he relieved her of the wallet, then jumped out of the car and came around to her side.
        As he unlocked the front door of the house he glanced back across Cedar St, which was cedarless, wide, no sidewalks. Murray Olson—a perpetually tanned, lanky widower in his seventies—raised a hand and left it aloft in a manner that seemed almost shamanic. In his other hand Olson held the tall rake with which he’d been turning the earth, readying his garden. Halli irradiated him with a broad, spontaneous smile. No one besides Losco could have guessed that she was desperate to climb upstairs and collapse into bed for the rest of the day.
        He disliked bringing the wallet over the threshold into their home, as if this step transformed a commendable act into a de facto theft. After tucking Halli into bed—promising her he wouldn’t spend his whole afternoon trying to return the wallet—he went straight to his office, eased shut the door, and checked the landline for messages. Nothing. He called one of the man’s credit card companies. To his surprise he found that they would do nothing to help either him or Jean-Denis Beaulieu. The man on the line, Pardeep—strong Indian accent but flowing English—seemed astonished that Losco expected him to give out a customer’s contact details. “But he’s lost his wallet,” Losco protested. “We have his card—he’ll want it back, right? Can’t you at least reach him and give him our number?” The wallet—square, black, metallically shiny—sat on his desk as it had on the road. He eyed it as if it were some improvised explosive device. “I mean, I really want to get this thing back to him.”
        The man said the company could do nothing until the customer contacted them.
        “And has he?” Losco demanded.
        “I cannot answer this question, sir.”
        Next he tried the police. They were no more helpful. They suggested he consider contacting them after twenty-four hours if he still hadn’t heard from the owner of the wallet. He left a message at Beaulieu’s work number, as Halli had done, though Losco recorded his in English. He keyed in the web address of the video arcade and crashed out a wordy email, more detailed than necessary, his fingers snapping over the keyboard. He flagged it urgent. Then he rifled through the wallet again—careful to replace everything exactly—but found no other contact number, though he did notice something that both Halli and he had missed so far. Several items were out of date: a debit card, one of the credit cards, also Beaulieu’s driver’s license and Quebec health card. But the SIN card and passport were current. He rubbed his eyes, blinked moisture onto his contact lenses, and looked again at the passport photo: a man with the neck of a rugby tackle, a stubble beard, thick black hair that seemed to erupt from his scalp just an inch or two above the eyebrows. What no such image could indicate—and who understood this better than Losco?—was the person’s size. Beaulieu might be anything from a giant to a burly dwarf. (Losco glanced again at the driver’s license, where an actual height was listed: 180 cm.)
        An internet search turned up little information, just a few hits linking the man to the video arcade and citing that same phone number. Two other men shared his name, one of them deceased, the other a notary in Laval with a busy Facebook page.
        Halli slept for three full hours. Since long before the pregnancy she’d enjoyed this happy capacity to sleep at any time. Losco saw this knack, which he mostly regarded with affection but at times also envy—even a trace of puritanical censure—as another sign of her healthy, feline nature. She did not live to one side of herself but wholly within her own being, her own instinctive life.
        He was in his office, checking email again, when she came in.
        “Leo—honey—I told you I’d deal with it. I knew you’d . . .”
        “Nothing, love. It’s okay. So he hasn’t called back?”
        “Must be nuts. Hasn’t he noticed his wallet is missing?”
        “It’s Sunday, Leo—some people don’t check things as often.”
        He studied her face, half-expecting something new to appear there, some
expression he’d never seen before. He said, “It’s just—I hate having this thing hang over us.”
        “Then we won’t let it! Would just soup be okay for dinner? Maybe Thai?”
        “Let me do it, Hal, I said I would.”
        “I’ve had a long rest, love. Let me, I want to.”
        And she withdrew before he could object. For a moment he felt he might lower his brow to his desk and weep. She loves me, she loves me, she loves me as much as I love her—and how can that be? And yet it seems she really does, still.
        He turned to some of the work he’d meant to catch up on during her nap. He
and his partner had an investment consulting firm and for a year Halli had handled the communications side of certain portfolios (she could calm and conciliate the prickliest clients), but lately, of course, she was falling behind.
        The telephone on his desk detonated. “Hello?” he said in the cool, noncommittal bass he affected whenever answering.
        Through a heavy accent—not French—a loud voice pushed out a word and repeated it. At first he thought it was a garbled hello, then he thought it was Halli, then, perhaps, Ali.
        Losco said his own name, then, “Who am I speaking to here?”
        “This is Halli?”
        “Losco, Leonard Losco. Who is this?”
        “She leaved me a message.”
        “Today?” The tweak of jealous suspicion came with a sense of familiarity, as if
he felt it all the time or had long been expecting it; this could not be Beaulieu, surely; this
was the eventual interloper who had always been destined to call.
        “Of course, yes, today!” said the voice.
        “What is this about?”
        “What? You have my wallet, yes?”
        Losco glanced at call display and scribbled down the number. “Please tell me your name.”
        “Jean-Denis Beaulieu.”
        Losco’s own French accent was mediocre, he knew, but he himself could have pronounced the name more correctly.
        “Would you rather speak French?” Losco asked. “I think I can manage. My wife’s is better, but, uh, she’s—”
        “Yes, Halli, my wife!”
        “No, my French is no better than English.”
        “My mother was not Québécoise,” he said brusquely, as if he’d had to explain too many times. “I grow up elsewhere, Albania.”
        After a moment Losco said, “Okay, well—so can you come pick this thing up? No, hang on,” he said, hesitating to give their address.“I can bring it to you. Where are you?”
        “No, I am not,” the man said confusingly. “I pick it after dinner. Where is your house?”
        It hit Losco that he couldn’t be out delivering lost items this evening, he had to
stay with Halli. “What time would after dinner be?”
        “What? I am not sure. Maybe eight.”
        “Why don’t we say eight p.m. then. I’ll be waiting.”
        “Maybe I be a bit later.”
        “Please don’t. My wife . . . she’s not feeling well.”
        “Ah yes, I see,” the man said, now sounding amenable, even sympathetic.
        With a spasm of dread that Losco recognized as irrational, he gave their address and simple directions.
         In the kitchen he found her seated on one of the shining stools by the new black marble island. She was hunched over, a hand spread over her belly, the other splayed on the marble. On a cutting board lay the chrome-bright Japanese chopping knife, a sweet potato, strips of bell pepper, veiny leaves of chard.
        “Don’t worry. I’m fine. Just a little cramping. The soup”—he finally took in the delicious aromas of chicken stock, coconut milk, lemongrass—“it’s almost done.”
        “Let me take over. I knew you shouldn’t be doing this.”
        “Oh, Leo, enough—I told you, I’m not a patient.”
        Firmly, but with a complete lack of vehemence—trusting as always that the world would listen to her with respect and, sooner or later, agreement—she’d maintained that the medical establishment had pathologized the natural process of pregnancy. Gradually she’d overcome his resistance to a midwife, though she had then compromised as well and agreed to have the midwife attend her not at home but in the obstetrics ward of the nearest hospital.
        He wondered if he should be thinking of taking her there now.
        She agreed to lie down in the living room and watch a little TV while he finished the soup and steamed some rice. She couldn’t see him from the couch where she lay. He poured himself a scotch from the supply he kept in the cupboard, for guests. She, of course, was not drinking while pregnant, and he had insisted that he would teetotal as well, in solidarity. He very much missed wine at dinner—and contrary to the forecasts of acquaintances, the craving did not fade. Most evenings now, after she turned in, he would serve himself a double, afterwards carefully washing the glass and observing his hand—a stranger’s, small and hairy—replace it in the cupboard.
        Over their supper, after he’d filled her in on the phone conversation, she said she was curious to meet the elusive Monsieur Beaulieu, but by 8:30 he still hadn’t arrived and she said she couldn’t wait up any longer. Losco kissed her at the foot of the stairs, then loaded the dishwasher very quietly, not wanting to miss the sound of the doorbell.
        He went out onto the front porch and looked up and down the empty street. It was almost dark but there was still a glow to the west above Olson’s roof—a surface decidedly in need of repair.
        “Where the fuck is this guy,” Losco said in a gangsterly undertone that he was pretty sure would have shocked Halli.
        At 8:55 he took a second Balvenie up to his office and called the number he’d jotted down. Two rings, then an answer, “Allo?” A background of white noise, the hum of a highway or busy street.
        “Jean-Denis?” He hoped his gruffness would convey his feelings and spare him
        “Oui, c’est moi.”
        The tone was blunt and cold, acknowledging nothing.
        “Leonard Losco here . . . Hello?”
        “Yes, I am here.”
        “But you’re not here.”
        “You said you’d be here at eight!”
        “At eight, yes. It was impossible.”
        “You’re on your way now?”
        “I think so.”
        “You think so?”
        No answer. Losco tried to fill his lungs, his chest suddenly tight. He said, “I’ll see you shortly, then,” and added, as if Beaulieu might have forgotten, “I have your wallet here.” Silence. “Hello?”
        The man had hung up.
        By 9:30 Losco was in a full-blooded fury. What if he, too, had needed to turn in early? He snapped the laptop shut, having cleared out his inbox—a feat he tried to accomplish at least twice a month and which usually left him feeling cleansed and in command. He closed his office door, slipped downstairs, let out Halli’s old cat, Mitch, then fiercely emptied and cleaned the litter box. Down in the finished basement he changed into his gym gear, switched the wide-screen TV to a documentary channel and boarded the treadmill. His short hairy legs chugged beneath him, adrenaline overriding the whiskey. He felt he could easily run for an hour, and maybe he would—though surely Beaulieu would appear in the driveway before then? Losco would see him coming: the basement was dark except for the TV, while a grated window high in the wall gave a ground-level view of the lawn, the driveway, and Olson’s house across the street.
        Olson’s upstairs light winked out. It was after ten. Blameless Bastards (Losco was joining the documentary a bit late) followed an Irishman’s search for his elder half-brother, whom as a baby the church had taken from its unwed mother a few years before she married and went on to have a “legitimate” son. On her deathbed, she’d told this son that his half-brother had been raised by nuns in a special home. The son’s search had revealed that thousands of children like his brother had died in these homes, often of minor ailments—“an outcome bespeaking neglect”—and that while death certificates had been issued, few graves could be found.
        Programs of this sort could be counted on to sharpen a workout. The angrier Losco became, the more he took it out on the machine, pounding the conveyor belt with his shoes while panting retorts and epithets at the TV. He’d rarely gone to church as a child. His parents had been conservative and traditional in most ways, but for reasons that Losco never managed to learn, they attended mass only at Christmas and Easter.
        At 10:50 he stepped off the treadmill, toweling sweat from his sheared, balding head, and stood watching the screen as a voice-over described the discovery of some thirty tiny skeletons in an old septic tank behind a nunnery west of Dublin. Across the screen flashed images, thankfully low-res, of the grisly excavation—or was it Losco’s sudden tears that made them look indistinct? “Sooner or later all buried wrongs must face the light of justice,” the narrator intoned, and Losco in a thickened voice snapped back, “Yeah, right, tell me another good one!”
        At eleven p.m. sharp—a touch calmer after the exercise—Losco called the number again. After four rings a recorded voice mumbled something about not being available . . . pas disponible. He called back and listened more closely to the recording. No invitation to leave a message or call-back number.
        He showered quickly in the basement washroom, so as not to bother Halli, then dressed and ran back up the two flights of stairs on his toes, silent. In his office he checked the phone for voicemail. Nothing. His email inbox was already clogging up again—spam, a few auto-replies, social media site invitations—but nothing from Beaulieu. He slid the bedroom door open and peered in. She was sleeping quietly. He ran downstairs and stepped out the front door in his slippers, then walked to the end of the driveway and looked up and down the street. The wind had died; the air felt milder than out in the harsh sunlight this morning. He looked back at the house to confirm that the street number was visible under the carriage lamp, as if the pruned juniper by the door could have sprouted a few feet higher since dusk. His eye was drawn up to their bedroom window and a memory seized him, not of real life but of a film he had seen years ago. An old farmhouse is turning on its occupants, a family. The father is outside at night, doing something—patrolling the grounds? No—there’s an axe in his hands—he’s chopping wood. He looks back at the house. In the high window of the room where his children lie sleeping, the face of some monstrous creature glows, staring out at him.
        He went inside and phoned again and this time left something after the beep, a gruff repetition of their address. Haltingly he added, “Je vous attends avec impatience,” though as he hung up it came to him that the phrase actually meant something quite affable, “I look forward to seeing you,” or even, “I can’t wait to see you.”
        He took the wallet downstairs and sat on the couch in the front room, facing the street, curtains open. On a table beside him were a telephone, his glass of mineral water and another Balvenie, just a taste. The wallet’s contents he emptied onto his lap. This time he noticed that Beaulieu was smiling slightly in his passport photo, one corner of his mouth curled up, which was odd, in fact astonishing—the bureaucrats at Citizenship were notorious for rejecting photos betraying even a flicker of a smile. Born Montréal, 1975. Customs stamps indicated that he’d visited Albania several times in the past few years.
        The telephone rang and he swept it up.
        A phrase in that surly, Slavic-sounding French.
        “Could you repeat that in English? Is this Beaulieu?”
        “Are you still waiting me?”
        “Of course I am! Do you want your wallet tonight or not?”
        “It’s past eleven now. It’s eleven-thirty-five. Do you want your—”
        “I cannot come there yet. I am very busy. I will come there soon.”
        “You’re not serious.”
        “I am not . . . what? I will be there no later than one.”
        “One in the morning?”
        “What . . .? Of course.”
        Losco heard himself babbling into the mouthpiece, “Forget it. Okay? I’m going to bed now. I’ve got to be up first thing tomorrow. It’s almost midnight. I’ll stick your fucking . . . I’ll leave your property in the mailbox and if it’s still there tomorrow I’ll be leaving it with the cops. The police—you understand?”
        “You cannot do that.”
        “Oh, I can’t? What can’t I do?”
        “You are meaning, the box for mail, outside?”
        “Where else?”
        “But you have my passport!”
        “I don’t want to have your passport, okay? I want to give it back to you!”
        “But, maybe someone steals.”
        “From my mailbox in the middle of the night?”
        I should never have given him our address, Losco thought. Should have taken the thing straight to the cops.
        “I tell you, I come there soon. Maybe before one.”
        “Look in the mailbox, then. I’ll be asleep.” Hardly. Losco knew his own nervous system—he would be alert for hours unless he took a sleeping pill, a practice he was resisting lately, since at any time he might have to drive Halli to the hospital. “Don’t mind the barking of our dog,” he heard himself add, conjuring a second, more formidable pet. “He can’t get out at you.”
        “You cannot do this—I tell you this.”
        “Oh, you tell me this? I’m waiting ten fucking hours here and you tell me what I can or can’t do?”
        “Just a minute,” he said and covered the mouthpiece. “Halli? Darling?”
        “What’s going on down there, Leo?”
        “Nothing, Hal.” She must be at the top of the stairs—yes, there, her feet, white and swollen. “Go back to bed, Hal, I’ll be right up.”
        “I’m cramping again. I think maybe it’s happening! I’m really wet.”
        “What, you mean your waters broke?”
        “I don’t know, maybe. I just woke up. Oh . . . I’ve got to sit down.”
        “I’m coming, Hal!” He unblocked the mouthpiece and said softly, like a philanderer ringing off in a rush, “I’ve got to go.” The line was dead. Onto the table beside his unfinished drink he tossed the gutted wallet and the various cards and passport, then leapt up and ran to the stairs. She was sitting at the top in the white linen slip she’d been wearing to bed this third trimester. In the half-light her eyes looked small and red, her lips tight.
        “I’m phoning the midwife,” he called up firmly, as if expecting opposition. “She’ll meet us there.”
        “Wait . . . it might be easing off.”
        He took the stairs two at a time and sat beside her, put his hand at the base of her
spine, kissed her clammy cheek.
        “Come on, beautiful. I’ll help you get changed.”
        The phone rang. He swore, startling her, and she flinched as if at another contraction. He leapt up and made for his office, calling back, “Sorry—just a sec!”
        He closed the door behind him and swept up the receiver. “What?”
        “You hang up on me.”
        “You hung up on me. Now leave us alone, I’ve got to take . . .” He caught himself; he’d almost revealed that the premises might soon be empty. “I’ve got to get some sleep. I’ll put your wallet outside now. Don’t ring the bell when you come—I won’t answer the door.”
         “But I come now to the door!”
        “You’ve been saying that all fucking day! And I’ve let the cops . . . I’ve told them I’ve been trying to reach you—to return your property.”
         “Leo!” he heard. He rammed down the receiver. “Just a second!” he cried, then plucked the receiver back up and called the midwife, Simone—he’d put her number on speed-dial—and asked her to meet them at the hospital. Then he grabbed his
car key and his own wallet and strode out of the office.
         He held her small suitcase as he opened the front door for her. She was supporting her belly with both hands, hunching over enough that she and he were almost the same height. Her eyebrows were crimped together as if from the pains—or maybe fear, though she showed no other sign of it. As he locked the door, the landline rang from both his office and the living room. “Forget it,” he said roughly, as if to Beaulieu.
        He helped her into the front seat of the Audi.
        “Leo? It’s okay. We’re going to make it just fine.”
        “I know that! Do you have everything?” It hit him that he was forgetting something himself. His cellphone? Yes. It didn’t matter, she had hers.
        “Honey,” she said, “you want me to drive?”
        As he neared the end of their street, trying to accelerate smoothly, reasonably, a white cargo van sped past them in the other direction. A streetlamp’s glare on the van’s
windowless side briefly showed the ghost of some painted-over name and logo.
        “God damn it! I knew there was something.”
        “Nothing,” he said through his teeth.
        “Leo, I need you to be calm now, for me.”
        “I know. You’re right.”
        There was little traffic on Carling, and the lights, to his surprise, favoured them. He’d looked forward to this trip, brief though it would be; he’d planned to shine as her imperturbable pilot, guide and guardian. Now it seemed almost too easy. Something must be wrong, or about to go wrong. Some of the signage in this familiar strip now seemed charged with ominous significance, EMERGENCY STAIN REMOVAL, while ahead in the night the hospital’s glowing H reared like a prophetic initial.
        “Almost there,” he said.
        A red light finally stopped them. Her cellphone rang in her purse.
        “Leave it,” he said.
        “Could be Simone,” she said in a pain-flattened little voice. “Wait—this number.
I think it’s the wallet guy. I forgot about him. He didn’t come for it?”
        Losco stared ahead at the light. “Never showed.”
        “They’re getting really close, the pains.”
        “We’re there, Hal. There it is. Look.”
        “Oh!” she said, “did you remember to bring Mitch in?”
        “Damn it!” He slammed the base of his palm on the wheel as the light changed. “I forgot—I forgot the cat too!” They lurched forward with a roar. Among all the apprehensions bearing in on him now, worst was the old assumption that at some point, under some unforeseeable, fatal pressure, the elaborate device of his persona would crack.

In this part of the city, moving up meant moving down the slope, toward the Ottawa River, Westboro Beach and the “village.” Two years after Oliver was born they found a larger, slightly older house, a close stroller-push from the shops and the shore. If they were going to have a second child they would be needing more space, they’d agreed, though for him there was another, more visceral reason he kept to himself: the first house had never felt fully secure after the night of his son’s birth.
        In the second house one night—Halli lazing on her side, her head on his shoulder, her mouth by his ear (she disdained the protocol confining women to certain awkward post-coital postures while trying to conceive)—she said, “You never did hear back about that wallet, did you?” It seemed this latest try had reminded her of the day leading up to Oliver’s birth.
        When Losco had driven back from the hospital at six the next morning, to let
in the cat and feed it, he had found neither voicemail nor email from Jean-Denis Beaulieu. The wallet and its contents lay on the side table where he’d forgotten them in the throes of their departure, beside his unfinished scotch and the lamp he’d left on. Curtains wide open. In his relief that no disaster had come to pass—the thug-faced Beaulieu smashing a window, breaking in, trashing the place, maybe finding and hurting Mitch; above all, Halli coming to some harm in childbirth—he’d sunk into the couch and plunged his head into his hands, shaken by sobs that were both violent and soundless.
        On his way back to the hospital, from which he would bring his family home that
afternoon, he’d dropped off the wallet at the police station.
        “No,” he says now in a tone of mildly intrigued surprise, as if the oddness has only just struck him. “I never heard anything more from the cops or that guy.”
        Their marriage is young enough that he can still remember every lie he has told her and this is one of them. The truth: a few days after their return from the hospital, groping in the mailbox, irritably trying to dig out a flyer clinging to the inside, he found something he must have missed for several days—an old parking ticket, not his. On the back, someone had written a line with a failing ballpoint pen, the strokes almost slicing through the paper so that even where no ink had flowed the message could be read:


        The words froze his nape and scalp and made him look up and around the quiet neighbourhood, as if someone must be watching the house, had been stalking them for days. Murray Olson waved from the garden where he was digging. Losco calmed himself. Nothing had happened, nothing was going to happen; Beaulieu had his effects back by now; he must have hacked out this note in a moment of balked fury. Losco crushed the note in his fist and buried it in his pocket, though that evening he removed it, flattened it carefully, reread it several times, then tucked it in a fold of his wallet, where it would remain secretly, dangerously, like an adulterous note he couldn’t bear to destroy.


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