Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

AN EXCERPT FROM INFIDELITY: A NOVEL

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Noah had recently begun writing numbers on the backs of things with a blue ballpoint pen.

It had started with paper—receipts, coupons, five-dollar bills that he would find on countertops and in drawers.

The numbers always seemed random, pointless, meaningless. The doctor told Tamara and Charlie to expect randomness in his behaviour, that it was nothing to worry about. It was normal, or rather normal for abnormal.

They allowed it because, although annoying, it seemed relatively harmless. They allowed it because the doctors told them repeatedly, “You should go to the place where he lives instead of expecting him to come to you.” Come to normal. The numbers, the organization, it seemed to settle him down. Scrawling numbers on everything pre- vented him from screaming. Seemed to solidify his need for order.

His debilitating need for order.

Charlie would come home and Amanda would apologize profusely.

“He wrote on your books today, Mr. Stern. The ones in your office. I’m sorry, but I know you asked me not to stop him,” she said, exhausted.

“It’s all right. I understand.”

“He could only really reach the first three shelves, so I moved as many as I could. I tried to pick out the more valuable ones.”

Charlie noted when he went to survey the damage that Amanda had not moved any of the books he himself had written, multiple copies of poetry collections littering the floor with Noah’s childish scrawl all over them.

Over time the numbers got higher.

What started as one- and two-digit numbers written on the back of takeout menus and Canadian Tire money grew into four- and five-digit numbers written on the bottoms of mugs and the undersides of tables.

One day Charlie came home to find that Noah had written 387 on the back of the television with a Wite-Out pen he’d found in Tamara’s desk drawer.

Then it was 586 on the cushion of the recliner in marker.

Around this time Tamara stopped inviting guests over. Although she was generally calm and flexible, given years of dealing with Charlie’s neurosis, she was quite proud of domestic order and her ability to keep house. She loved Noah, but his ongoing defacing of their belongings was a source of embarrassment that caused her to move her monthly book club meeting elsewhere.

“Maybe we should put plastic on the furniture,” she said to Charlie one night over dinner.

“Don’t be absurd,” he replied.

“I’m only looking for solutions. It’s not absurd to want to find a solution.”

“This is the way it is. We have to learn to accept it.” Charlie enjoyed being the rational one for once, while Tamara gazed mourn- fully at their pristine beige microfibre sectional.

Another time Charlie awoke from a nap in front of the television to Noah carefully scrawling 869 on his thigh with a Sharpie.

From there it just got worse, and soon they discovered what he was actually doing was some mysterious form of cataloguing.

Their fat, aging, orange cat Mille sported a collar with the number 1227. The garage door opener became 1376. Charlie paid for meals with bills numbered 1456 and 1457.

It simply couldn’t be stopped. When Charlie pulled the pen from Noah’s hands he screamed and pounded his fists with such violence it was terrifying. Charlie no longer had the energy to care that his home was being defaced, no longer cared about the questions and stares of potential dinner guests.

The doctor always said it would pass, like all his other phases, and that he would move on, but on a Monday afternoon Charlie came home from the university to find that Noah had begun the elaborate task of putting everything in the house in chronological order.

Again Amanda was exhausted and apologetic, panting at the doorway with hair dishevelled, her eyeliner smeared onto her temple.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Stern, I couldn’t stop him. He just got so upset—”

“It’s okay, Amanda. I know whatever it is it’s not your fault.”

Sometimes it amazed Charlie that Amanda had not yet quit. He was constantly impressed with her resilience and tolerance, both of Noah and himself.

Charlie hung his coat on a hook in the hallway and braced himself for what he would see inside. Amanda readied herself for his reaction, placing her hand over her mouth as if to muffle a cry.

Sitting there, among spoons and empty plastic bottles, Tamara’s suit jacket and the toaster oven, Noah looked up at Charlie and pointed to a small, clear space on the floor of the living room.

A space between the ficus plant, 868, and the vacuum, 870. “Daddy. 869.”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Stacey May Fowles

Stacey May Fowles is a writer and magazine professional living in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to The National Post books section and currently works at The Walrus. Her latest novel is Infidelity, out this fall with ECW Press.

Go to Stacey May Fowles’s Author Page