Bookmark #5 Ottawa, Ontario
Garbo Laughs, by Elizabeth Hay
Cars whizzed by, the wind picked up. Lew felt waves of fatigue roll off Dinah as she leant into him. There was another bench next to the iron railing, he helped her over to it and she sank down, and then he knelt at her feet. “Enough already,” she said. “I’ll marry you.”
— from Garbo Laughs Elizabeth Hay, published by McClelland & Stewart. Bookmarked at Bronson Place, West side (near Fulton) at Colonel By Drive, Ottawa on October 26, 2010.
About Elizabeth Hay and Garbo Laughs
Elizabeth Hay was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, the daughter of a high school principal and a painter, and one of four children. When she was fifteen, a year in England opened up her world and set her on the path to becoming a writer. She attended the University of Toronto, then moved out west, and in 1974 went north to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. For the next ten years she worked as a CBC radio broadcaster in Yellowknife, Winnipeg, and Toronto, and eventually freelanced from Mexico. In 1986 she moved from Mexico to New York City, and in 1992, with her husband and two children, she returned to Canada, settling in Ottawa, where she has lived ever since.
Hay has won many awards for her works of fiction and non-fiction, including The Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-fiction, and the Marian Engel Award. Hay’s second novel, Garbo Laughs (published in 2003) won the Ottawa Book Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Garbo Laughs is the story of the intimate connections between neighbours living in Ottawa South around the time of the 1998 ice storm.
Garbo Laughs is published by McClelland & Stewart.
Seated on a bench near the Laurier Bridge, Lew watched perfect stars, six-pointed and filigreed, land on his black corduroy pants. For several minutes he was completely absorbed by the tiny, weightless complexity of one snowflake, then another, then another. A dozen pairs of boots were beside the bench, all innocence and trust, and he felt a burst of affection for a city where you could leave your boots for several hours and return to find them untouched. It was almost Islamic, as if people had gone of to say their prayers in stocking feet, just as it was almost Japanese, the custom of shedding your shoes whenever you entered someone else’s home. It was four o’clock. He stuffed his boots into a gym bag (he was skating home) and slung it over his shoulder. The ice was rough and uneven, but it would get better; the season was only beginning. By the time Lew reached the Bronson Street Bridge, half an hour later, the sun was down and light emanated from the surrounding city and from the snow and ice itself. Somebody was searching among the boots around the bench to which he was headed. He swerved over and came to a halt.
It was Dinah, and her boots were gone.
“I can’t believe it,” she said. “They’ve stolen my boots.”
“They aren’t here.” And she laughed in uproarious amazement.
“Sit down,” he said, taking her by the arm. “What do they look like?”
“Last year they stole my snow shovel off the front porch. I thought that was as low as you could get.” Her voice was its usual raucous, sexy self. “Navy Sorels, size six.”
He searched around the bench, holding on to the back with one hand to keep his balance, then farther afield among the snowbanks. “I’ll help you get home,” he said, sitting down to unlace his skates.
She looked with gratitude at his reliable face. “You’re a darling. I’ve always said so.” And when he offered her his arm, she took it. They made their way across the few yards of trodden snow to the wooden staircase, and up the steps to the sidewalk. Cars whizzed by, the wind picked up. Lew felt waves of fatigue roll off Dinah as she leant into him. There was another bench next to the iron railing, he helped her over to it and she sank down, and then he knelt at her feet. “Enough already,” she said. “I’ll marry you.”
He unlaced her skates, pulled them off, shoved them into his gym bag. Then he got her to stand on the bench and climb onto his back. “I’m too heavy,” she said into his ear. She had her arms around his neck as he set off with a lurch, adjusting his walk to her weight, which was heavier than he expected. “I’m too heavy,” she said again. He grunted. Soon he was sweating. They had to wait for the traffic to thin before crossing Colonel By. And then two more blocks. He had his arms around her legs and the gym bag in his locked hands, a lean, wiry, surprisingly strong man who managed to carry her 131 pounds on his back like a voyageur, she thought, on a portage between canal and home.