Monday, 21 February 2011

The Ruthlessness and Wonder of Love by Nancy Snipper


    The first time Margo met Alex, his appearance was disheveled. He had piercing

blue eyes, scraggly blond hair, and was wearing an old knitted sweater that draped over

his excruciatingly thin body.

    “Here is a fellow who has just been released from some half-way house,

  and sniffs turpentine,” she thought. “I hope his painting skills are better than his taste in


Margo instantly judged people. Often she was right; more often wrong.

    He was painting the house she had just purchased. He rarely spoke, and when he

did, she had to make an extra effort to listen. His voice was horrifically monotone. He

never looked Margo in the eye, and he had a strange habit of squinting while loudly

inhaling when he spoke,  which was hardly ever.

    Sometimes, he would point very strongly to a wall, muttering something in his soft

 voice.  Margo decided he had some hearing deficit - hence his strange intoning.  Still, the

 house was painted in record time. Margo was impressed.

   Three years went by. One day, Jim, Margo’s live-in boyfriend who was more

like a brother than a lover to her, spotted Alex carrying flowers in a waif-like manner

to the next door neighbour’s house. She peered outside her window and giggled at this


   The male occupant of that house happened to be the brother of Joyce, a colleague of

Margo’s with whom she taught English as a Second Language. The fact that Alex had

done a lot of work for Joyce’s brother right next door amused Margo, for Margo was

intrigued by coincidences.

   Joyce had recommended him to her with a warning: “He’s a good painter, but he

speaks like a poet and is very shy.”

     Now 42, Margo would come to rue the day that Joyce brought Alex into her small

 home, and eventually her life. He was 11 years her junior – a fact that ultimately didn`t

 work in her favour. It would take seven years for her to recognize this.  Margo

 never applied common sense to matters of the heart.

    One morning, Margo noticed a fresh crop of crocuses growing in the back garden.

“It must have been Alex, who planted them. He must have jumped over my fence to do

the deed,” she mused to Jim.

   She was impressed by the fact that Alex sought no thank-you in return for this

 generous gesture.  From that day on, she nicknamed him Angel Alex.

 “What an intriguing fellow,” she thought.

    One day, Alex rang her door. Jim responded, announcing Alex had dahlia

bulbs for the garden. She didn’t see him, but the box carrying these bulbs was placed in

the furnace room by Jim.

    A phone call was due.  Jim had no idea how to plant these strange looking bulbs

 that resembled  rotten potatoes. Perhaps their owner could inform her. Alex came

 over and showed her how to plant them. He also brought seeds that day, and without

 ever looking at her, explained in a hypnotic fashion how to plant them. She found

 him difficult to follow. His knowledge about gardening was impressive; his humility

 equally so.

   Margo was a busy woman. She was a writer, teacher and drama animator for her own

theatre club. Her varied projects necessitated the need to remain focused, level-headed

and practical, but once Alex began talking slowly without emotion, throwing a shield

over his underlying sensitivity, she became entranced by his total love affair with

those beautiful earthly wonders; and when he described the scent of a lily to her, she felt

his rapture. “What an unusual person,” she thought.

   One day, Alex came over for another garden visit. He stayed late.  He was sitting

in the adjoining living room. With uncharacteristic spontaneity, Margo brought up from

the basement stacks of paper files containing her life’s work of poetry. She proceeded to

share her love of music with him, playing practically every classical CD she owned. She

particularly stressed the Yo Yo Ma recording of Bach. He sat at the table, elbows on it,

cupping his entire face into his hands. She took this as absorption.  In fact, it was

boredom, as she would find out much later.

    On another occasion, Alex stayed to watch a television program about successful

women. Suddenly, he launched into an invective about stupid business women with

 their papers and briefcases.  Being a Classics graduate and possessing a calm
 character on most occasions, she found his anger and seething hatred frightening. She

 had never heard such obvious loathing. It wasn’t so much what he opined; it was the

 manner in which he did it.

    Once Alex stayed at night far too long for pizza. Jim wasn’t there. She told him she

really had to go to bed. He left stating he was feeling sick, a refrain she was to hear very

often in the future.

   Lights. It all happened over the silly things. Poor Jim couldn’t install them. Margo,

tiring of Jim’s ineptitude, bullied him into calling his father to find how to do it. His

father was good at such things, but he wasn’t a talker, particularly on the phone.

    Poor Jim. In trying to install the little buggers, frustration thrust into full gear. He

yelled at her saying he had no idea what he was doing. Once again, she made him feel


   When you aren’t in love with the man you’re living with, no matter how much he

adores you, his little mishaps become his vulnerable sores, that in her case, she refused

to treat, other than with disdain.

    The relationship was bearing down on her. Jim was a severely depressed man whose

 unhappiness held no fascination for her. He lost patience, something she had

 lost with him five years prior to this particular incident.

    “Everything I do is wrong,” he yelled at her in a pathetic manner.

 She remained impassive. He left himself open for secretive ridicule. She loved him, but

 it was a love that was not of the flesh, and hence, not the kind of love that she was

 yearning for.  That day she kicked him out for good. His tears had no effect on her. She

 was cold and definite in her decision, though she had no idea where she was heading. In

 that moment, she erased ten years of waiting for this man who desperately loved her to

 make a man of himself in bed and at work. The day he left, his life changed, and so did


    Margo rationalized her cruelty, recalling when he crashed her car going to work at

night because of a burglar alarm going off – his  arrogant boss had called him telling him

to “check it out”.  Margo had to take a taxi to help him sort out the whole dam thing.

Jim had been drinking. It was past in the morning.

    For an entire year, he had lied to her about going back to M’Gill University at night -

 she used to drop him off , but he never set foot in the building - as he later confessed.

 These two events alone were enough for her to send him into oblivion.

   When you have hopes for a man, and every important facet of a serious relationship

never arrives, no matter how much he loves you, no matter how brilliant he is – which

Jim was, it’s time to put him out.

   She was heartless and unforgiving. She sent Jim packing, his plastic bags in hand,

the door closing on a chapter in her life with a dear man whose compassion and

uniqueness she was unable to appreciate until it was too late. Her lack of sexual feelings

for Jim, and his disinterest in sex, only became obvious to her when she took up with

Angel Alex very soon after Jim’s departure.

    Alex came over and smoothly installed the lights. She was impressed. No drama, no

mess. He stayed very late. She began to bombard him with questions about his family. He

was extremely shy and smiled demurely as she gazed into his eyes that spoke of solitude

and innocence – the perfect combination for childless Margo.

    Alex had two brothers and a sister. His mother had died from a heart attack

the day after her release from the hospital. Margo felt sorry for him. She also felt

appreciation for his quiet manner of expression. She realized he was intelligent and

articulate, not at all pedantic, as Jim was.  In fact, he was totally different than any man

who had entered her world. He was detached, without emotion, and spoke in a hushed

robotic manner. Still, Margo felt his sensitivity was undeniable.

     Cupid’s arrow came in the form of a single question.

“Who do you think was telling the truth, Anita Hill, or Clarence Thomas?” Margo was

 testing Alex as he was getting ready to leave for his home where he lived with his oldest

brother, sister and father. She was referring to the old sexual harassment charge Anita

Hill had brought against Clarence Thomas who was up for appointment as a Supreme

Court Judge. The world had buzzed loud about the hearing. Margo was surprised to

discover Alex knew about the case. In a succinct manner, he turned the question back to


“What did she have to gain by lying?”

     He was right. It was an insightful reply, one that instantly showed Alex’s

inscrutability, born in a context of  protective selfishness. Margo would come to wish she

had noticed this facet of his character more than his answer to her question. Gain

through lying was something Margo had never applied to her own life; Alex, on the

other hand, made it his modus operandi. Mindful and cautious at work, Margo was too

exhausted off-hours to apply such wisdom  and focus to casual strangers. She called it her

‘sabbatical of the mind’, a condition that kicked into full force in the company of



    He began to do small renovations around the house, leaving very late. She once tried

hugging him, as he wafted past her in the narrow entrance.

“No touching,” he said emphatically.

     If only she had heeded him. Once, when coming up the basement stairs, she gently

 took his hand and ran it across her cheek. That simple gesture carried a depth of

 tenderness Margo had never felt before. Alex did not reject it, but smiled.

    Margo spied Alex working on the upper balcony next door at Joyce’s

brother’s house. She was wearing a short skirt from Athens she had picked up in the well-

heeled neighborhood of Kolonaki in Athens, Greece, while on assignment as a guest

journalist for the Greek National Tourist Office. Alex smiled down at Margo. She

entered her house.

“Shit! I can’t believe I’m falling for that creep.”

   Buckets of tears. She was lying in her bedroom upstairs, yelping and sobbing for

him, like a dog in heat. He was in the basement. He refused to come near her. Finally he

did. He approached her bed, reluctantly.  She told him she wanted to comb his hair, and

he let her. She then placed his head between her small, firm breasts. Was this the boy she

had so longed for and never had?

   Margo doesn’t remember the first time they had sex - strange - considering how much

she had wanted it with him. The two-week, post-Jim episode of seduction was thrilling

for Margo. The wonder of it consumed her. Would he come to her if she lay on the floor?

    He did, often. That was the excitement. They would roll around together, their

bodies sealed, clothes on and grooved into the magnificent indentations and protrusions

of their forms. Margo felt it was their souls as much as their bodies that were hastening to

their climactic union. It would take many more years before Margo realized Alex did

not feel the same way.

   Alex stayed over most nights and spent weekends with Margo. But he often sought

refuge in the family’s Lachine home, for Alex was a loner. Lachine was about 15 minutes

by car from Margo’s home. Alex felt safe in Lachine with his father and brother there. He

always headed home after Margo criticized him over this thing or that. Often, he left

abruptly, slamming the door. Weeks would go by without hearing from him. So she

would call him. When her charm made no dent in his armour, she resorted to shameful


  “Come back, Alex. I miss you, and I’m sorry about what I said. Please honey, don’t

 punish me any longer.”

   Margo had a lovely voice. It made up for what she lacked in appearance. She would let

him know how wonderful he was, and that fights were normal in relationships. Her

maternal manner and sincerity softened his resolve. The promise of a fine dinner sealed

the deal. They would reunite in the sweetest ways, and Margo’s exhilaration cried out in

love for him.

    Summers became winters. Margo began to believe Alex was more in love with his

garden in Lachine and the old ladies that invited him for lunch whenever he mowed their

lawns and shoveled their driveways.  She had never met all the widows in Alex’s life,

but she viewed them all as his surrogate mothers; his had died the year she met

him. Nevertheless, she desperately clung to her beloved - despite his increasing

 indifference towards her.

      Darkness descended on Margo. More fights, then silence Alex left her life the same

 way he entered it –  quietly.  On a cloudy, rain-soaked day, he walked out. He never

 returned. It was just after he had installed a new set of lights.