Audrey restlessly stirs the ice cubes around in her glass of rum and coke. She watches the sparkling cubes bang angrily against each other before synchronizing harmoniously into the perfect twirling circle. Round and round they go, leaving an ominous dark plunge in the centre. The cubes stick together, as though to protect one another against the menace in the middle.
Twenty to eight. She’s early. Rob won’t arrive until at least ten past. He’ll come waltzing through the doors of the Charthouse Restaurant and look directly at where she’s seated. Their favourite table. It’s outside under the heat lamps overlooking the Fraser River. Grey and murky, the water is most becoming at night when the sky transforms the river into black molasses and reflects the lucidity of the stars. They’re unstable on the water, wobbly and in motion with the beat of every wave.
Audrey sips her drink pensively and watches the people walking along the boardwalk. She plays with her wedding ring, twirls it around, pulls it off, then slips it back on. The diamond sparkles back at her. It looks so beautiful, crystal clear, it draws light in at every angle of its perfectly-cut square. Rob chose this ring to define Audrey’s uniqueness. It was crafted to look like an old Victorian ring, detailed, different and stunning. Beautiful, yet hard. Tough. Like her. She’s been through a lot in her life yet feels so vulnerable and unprepared for this.
The loss of her parents at a young age caused her to seek counseling. She never got along with her foster parents. Even after spending all her childhood and adolescent years with them. Eileen and Steve, she started calling them at age 10, never Mom and Dad.
She was constantly reminded that she wasn’t of their flesh and blood. As if an idiot couldn’t spot the very apparent physical differences. Steve with his thinning, blond hair, piercing blue eyes and drinker’s nose. Eileen had ridiculously fluffy hair, mousy brown, and always sported in a bob, “to keep the look of youthful vitality,” she said, and watery blue eyes. A forked tongue. Audrey was quite the opposite: wavy, thick, black hair, brown eyes and olive skin.
Audrey gathers her brows together and bites her lower lip. It was purely by chance that she happened to be in Toronto three months ago. Rob works for a retail chain that was opening new stores in the east, he was in charge of the hiring. She had recently been laid off from her job. She was moody, depressed, and worried about her future. Rob didn’t want to leave her alone. He cuddled and caressed her. He convinced her that a little trip was what she needed to get away. Audrey agreed, and they left the next day.
Audrey liked Toronto. It’s a trendy and lively cosmopolitan city. She didn’t have any memories of being there before, but she’s been told its her birthplace. She felt at home, comfortable. Rob was right. The change in scenery did her some good.
“I’m glad. You just needed a break.” Rob smiled down at her one morning when she was walking him to work. He was 6’ tall with broad shoulders and dark green eyes. Weather eyes, Audrey called them. She could predict his moods by looking at them. When he was angry or disapproved of something, they would cloud over, like a storm manifesting in the distance. When they were calm, they were like the ocean in one of those paradise brochures in travel agents.
Rob kissed her forehead and then went off to finalize the hiring. Audrey took off in the other direction to go shopping. She had received a nice severance package and intended to enjoy it.
Right outside the mall doors, Audrey noticed a small, wooden kiosk. She read the pink and blue neon banner. HeritageNow, Trusted Since 1972. Instant Unlimited Searches! Get a full report on your family history! Just $149.00 for a limited time! Reduced from $300.00!
An overwhelming sense of curiosity washed over her. She desperately wanted to know who her parents were. Without hesitation, Audrey walked right up to the salesman behind the kiosk. He was bald, rotund, and had enormous eyes that protruded from his face. His voice was soothing. His words like smooth velvet. Before she knew it, she had paid him the $149.00 plus taxes and given him her address for the much-wanted information.
Audrey didn’t tell Rob. Her first secret.
“Can I get you anything to munch on while you wait?”
Audrey looked up in mid-twirl of her wedding ring. “I’ll have another tall rum and coke please. Actually, you better make it a double.” She winked and moved her empty glass for the waitress to take.
Audrey remembers a story she’d read during her first year at college. “Say Yes” by Tobias Wolff. She remembers the class discussion well as it was on the controversial topic of interracial marriages. Some were of the opinion that it was not a good idea. Such marriages don’t usually work out, and it apparently had been proven statistically. The instructor got squeamish. He’d touched upon a sensitive topic and he dared not go in too deep. Some of the students were themselves of mixed heritage and the discussion was getting heated. He changed the topic.
“So, what do you think?” Audrey had asked Rob as soon as she got home from school. She already knew what her husband thought. He’d been quite vocal on the topic and often refuses to associate with other ethnic races. He always says that it’s not that he is racist, he just didn’t have any of the same interests as they did, nor does he understand them.
Rob also works with a black guy, Chris. They work well together. They’re buddies. Work buddies. But there really isn’t any reason to associate after five, he says, especially since Chris married a white girl. Their kids make Rob wince. His green eyes flash with disapproval. The lighting of things that are wrong in this world.
“It’s wrong. They simply don’t work out. When you start messing around with different races, the kids grow up with no sense of direction and confused about their identity. Take Chris for example. Will you look at his poor kids! They’re the ones who are going to have to pay for their parent’s mistakes.”
Rob shook his head with frustration. Audrey climbed onto his lap like a child and buried her head in his neck. The cloud slowly parted when he looked at his wife. He smiled and stroked her head gently.
Five after. Rob will be arriving soon. Audrey twirls her wedding ring faster. She opens her handbag and pulls out a 9”x 12” crumpled brown envelope and slowly pulls out a blue binder. About thirty pieces of paper all put in place, perfectly mapped out. Carefully researched, printed and put together just for her. Her family history. Starting from the year and country in which both her parents were born, how they met, the newspaper clipping of their sudden death, and the fostering of their daughter Audrey Mills to Eileen and Steve Henderson.
She immediately turns to page twelve where a coloured photograph greeted her. A tall, muscular man with curly blond hair and playful blue eyes smiled at her. On his right arm slept a chubby baby girl. Just a small bundle wrapped in a pink blanket, her small, dainty white shoes popping out from underneath the folds. With his left arm, he embraced a woman.
Audrey quickly lifted her eyes from the photograph, removed the straw from her drink and guzzled the remaining bit down in one gulp. She squinted her eyes to slits at the strength of the rum burning down her throat.
The power of alcohol on an empty stomach was felt immediately. She relaxed. She allowed her eyes to make their way back down the page and focus on her mother. She examined her. Scrutinized her. She stared at her straight, thick black hair, her olive toned, perfect complexion. The very Asian, almond shaped brown eyes were laughing, mocking. The slightly flared nose, the perfect white teeth.
Audrey sighs. She wonders how Rob will react to the news. She thinks about their marriage together. Nine years of marital bliss. Never a seven-year itch as her friends jokingly warned. Audrey and Rob were permanently stuck in the honeymoon stage.
She starts to play with her wedding ring and gazes out the window. A storm is brewing in the horizon. She watches the black rain clouds in the east float rapidly through the sky. They will soon collide with the white cotton clouds, happily forming shapes in the west, unless the wind pushes them in another direction.
Audrey turns and is greeted by a kiss on the forehead. Rob has finally arrived.