TORONTO, A NOVEL: Chapter 35

Bliss Carmen was a lot more upset about her dog Fish’s defection than she could possibly have imagined.
     “Well, I don’t miss how he takes a piss against my leg every time he has a chance,” Homer Rubik grumbled at her, pausing momentarily in his stapling of a Lost Dog poster to a telephone pole.  He then glanced back to observe his handiwork—in this case an urgent “Where is Fish?” message superimposed on Homer’s remarkably fine repainting of Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Lorenzo Lotto.
     Bliss looked again at the Xeroxed poster.
     “Don’t you think it would have been better with Fish’s picture on it?” Bliss asked him.
     “I didn’t feel like painting Fish,” Homer told her.  
“He pees on me all the time.”
     “So how will anybody recognize Fish if they see him?”
    “Oh they‘ll figure it out,” Homer muttered, mostly to himself
     “How come you know how to paint like this anyway?” she asked him.
     “I don’t know,” Homer told her.  “It’s just the way I paint.”
     But how come you painted this particular painting for Fish’s poster?”
     “I dunno.  I just liked it.”
     “What is it?”
     “It’s just something I saw in a book at the library.  I liked how this woman is holding this guy’s cut-off head.  Maybe she’s the one who cut it off, I dunno.” 
     “Why would she do that?” Bliss asked him.
     Homer spat into the curb near the telephone pole.
     “Maybe he asked her too goddam many questions.” He said.


       His Worship Mayor Cass Tamburlaine was getting nervous abut how the public didn’t seem halfway as worshipful as he thought they ought to be.
     “Muttered insults,” he told Joy, “whispered asides.”
     “Maybe they think that huge sensory deprivation tank in your office is a waste of Epsom salts,” smirked Joy.
     “Hahaha,” Cass replied, taking a mighty bite out of his Reuben and a huge gulp of Coke.
     Joy Pommery watched him work his way through the sandwich—this was his second one—with a look on her face that you might have read—had you been there—as either weariness or distaste—or both.  Perhaps oddly, there was also something in her soft green eyes that bespoke a wondering affection, largely inexplicable even to Joy. 
     They were sitting in a diner called The White Cow on Bloor Street West, out near Roncesvalles.  It was an unprepossessing place, a little grubby and soiled, that had been there for decades, dishing out burgers and fries, toasted westerns, club sandwiches, and—Cass’s beloved Reubens. He’d been coming here for years to eat them.
     “You can’t get a decent Reuben anymore,” Cass told her, reaching down to retrieve a strand of sauerkraut that had fallen onto his tie.  Joy leaned forward on her red naugahyde chair and, pulling a paper napkin from the dispenser on the table, dabbed daintily but thoroughly at droplet of Russian dressing that had come to rest at the corner of his mouth.
     “Just take that, for example,” he told her, taking the soiled napkin from her and holding it up to her.
     “Cass, for goddsake, put the napkin down!”
     “This,” he said, pointing a pudgy finger at the orange spot, “is what you can’t get anymore!”
     “What?” said Joy, “a messy napkin?”
     “Russian dressing!” thundered Cass.  “You can’t get Russian Dressing anymore!  They make Reubens with French Dressing—or god knows what—instead!!”
     “Who is they?” Joy wanted to know.
     “Everybody but here!” he told her, in a voice strident enough to cause five other people to look up at him from over their newspapers.
     I don’t even know what Russian dressing is, Joy told him.
     “Mayonnaise and ketchup,” said Cass, wolfing down his last bite of the sandwich, “sometimes with some horseradish.  That’s what they do here.  Horseradish.”
     Joy made a face.
     “I beg it isn’t even Russian,” she smirked.
     Cass drained his giant Coke.
     “Of course it isn’t Russian,” he told her. “It was invented by some guy in bloody New Jersey!”

      Tom Dollop and his wife, Violet, came into The White Cow and slid into a booth near the front door, just as Cass and Joy were leaving.
     “Isn’t that the Mayor?” Violet whispered to Tom.
     “Yeh it is,” he replied, watching Joy open the door and watching the two of them then walk out into a sunny noontime on Bloor Street.  I wonder who the woman is?”
     “His wife?” Suggested Violet.
     “Don’t be silly,” Tom replied, a little more abruptly than he really ought to have.  “You know the mayor isn’t married.”
     “Actually I didn’t know,” said Violet quietly.
     “Well, he’s definitely not.”  He looked first at the menu on the table and then at the list of the day’s specials, scrawled on a blackboard on the wall over the grill.
     “What do you want to eat?” he asked her.  Violet read the menu up and down and then gazed at the blackboard and then read the menu again.
     “Well?” Tom asked her impatiently.
     “I guess I’ll have a chicken salad sandwich and a cup of tea,” she told him.
     “That’s what you always have!” 
     “Well, that’s what I want.”
     “So why do you bother studying the menu?” he asked her.
     “Well, there might be something that catches my eye,”
     “But there never is.”
     “What do you care?” Violet asked him angrily.  “I can look at a menu for as long as I like, Tom, and I don’t see why it’s any of your business how long it takes me.”
      Tom sighed and looked out the window.  He watched Mayor Cass and the woman with him trying to hail a cab.
     “They’re certainly not married,” said Tom absently.
     Violet looked at him.
     “But we certainly are,” she said.