by Christina Carson
“What do you know about trust, Libby? What, what is it about? Does it mean you trust someone to do something or trust them not to do something? When you say, ‘I trust you,’ what does that mean?”
“I can’t answer for the human race, Jocelyn.”
“I’m not asking you to. I just asked you what it means when you say I trust you.”
“Libby, what does that matter? It’s Tommy you’re mad at; it’s him you need to ask.”
“I’ll get to that, but right now I’m taking a pol. What does it mean when you say to me, for example, I trust you?”
“Well, I guess it means that how I know you—what you believe, how you’ll behave—won’t change.”
Jocelyn, who had been presiding over this discussion like a judge by looming over Libby who was sitting on the floor, fell backward onto the chesterfield behind her in a dramatic display of shock at Libby’s answer.
“Bloody hell, you mean no room for error, no space for change. Trust means to you I can’t disappoint you at any turn.”
“Well, I don’t know. You asked me spur-of-the-moment here, but for sure there is something in the notion of trust that means I can count on you.”
“Count on me how?”
“Give me a break. I’d have to think about that for a while.”
“So maybe we would have to define the choices or behaviors where you expect constancy from me. Then you could be certain of the trust you place in me?”
“I think everyone already has one of those lists, Joce, but the problem is we never put it on the table. We make the foolish assumption that my list would be similar to yours.”
“So you’re saying, Lib, that Tommy has a list, and I have a list and obviously ours don’t jive in some rather critical areas.”
“That’s the problem I’d say. It’s not just the areas but also the significance we attribute to them. What you think is critical appears to be much less significant to him.”
Joce sat up. She stared into space momentarily, unmoving.
“So when I caught him in the act of sleeping, in our bed I might add, with that girl he met at Frank’s, that implies he and I have a different definition for trust in the realm of sexual loyalty? How ‘bout decency? How ‘bout sensitivity? How bout’ safety? How bout…”
“Hold it Joce. Don’t head down that road again. It’s perdition’s highway.”
“Then there’s this, Libby, he said not to be upset because that episode didn't mean anything to him. Do men ever listen to what they say? Didn't mean anything? So it is possible then to have great intimacy with another and have it mean nothing? Could that possibly mean that many a night we had sex and it meant nothing to him? Begs the question doesn't it.”
Now the room was silent as a tomb, one of those found deep in the earth, moldering and thick with cobwebs. Libby sat staring at Joce. Joce sat staring into nothingness, her face distorted with something other than betrayal this time. It appeared more like she’d lost her bearings, the frightening sense of being without any certainty or clarity. Reason had always been her ally, but for the life of her, she could not make sense of this. Her fiancé, a man she’d known for three years was now an unknown; her prior sense of rightness questionable. She wanted answers but she kept drifting into the emotion. It was so raw, so cruel that it kept catching her attention. She wanted to scream out her betrayal, the image of him lying there with whoever she was, lying in their bed, laughing and touching, aglow with this ‘meaningless’ encounter. But she wasn't even sure who the enemy was anymore. She threw her hands out to her sides as one does when they are losing their balance and attempting to grab hold of anything that will break their fall. Hers hit the cushions of the chesterfield and clawed into them as she sat rigid, barely breathing. In that weakened state, she lost her battle to stay present as she slid back into the image of their first meeting, into that sweetness, that innocence, and her face softened.
“Jocelyn, I’d like you to meet Tommy an old school chum.” In that first moment something inexplicable let them peer straight into the core of each other and struck them dumb with awe. People call it falling in love as did Tommy and Jocelyn before the night was over. The bell-like ring of fine wine glasses, the perfume of the gardenia bushes just outside the open sliding doors, the mild level of chatter that polite society maintains at such elegant functions, all that disappeared for Jocelyn as she stared into the face of this blond-haired, brown-eyed young man who was so caught in her magic that he could not speak. They rest of the evening they sat out in the manicured garden of the estate this historic house occupied, in the soft darkness of a Victoria summer. They shared tidbits from their lives, lightly like hors d’oeuvres before a feast, but mostly they sat in the uncanny ease and gentility that love at first sight bestows on those it graces. He escorted her home that night, kissed her at her door and said he’d call in the morning. And so he did.
Her mind then skipped from one beautiful memory to the next. How gentle they were with each other, how willing to find out what pleased one another. They were playful, intense and completely guileless in one another’s company. Their passion sparked like flint on steel. Had anyone just last week asked if she was satisfied, even deeply satisfied, she’d have said yes without hesitation. Three years of glory, that’s how she saw it. But did he feel that way too? She never thought to ask.
She was still sitting rigid, straight up and motionless only now her face was a mask of anguish. Libby got up and came to sit beside her. She draped her arm around Joce’s shoulder, leaned her head against her friend’s head and spoke softly into her ear. “I am so sorry, Jocie. I never saw it coming either. I thought you two owned the moon and the stars. And worse, I don’t have a ghost of an idea how to help you take your pain away. With her other hand she searched her jeans pockets for a tissue. The tears rolled down Joce’s cheeks in rivulets, though she made no sound. It was eerie, this level of grief, this depth of turmoil. It was so unlike Joce, so unlike this pillar of strength she grew to depend on, trusted always to be there. It unnerved Lib and right now, with a big job interview at the end of the week and a sickly mother she tended, she felt panic rising like bile in her throat. Lib patted Jocelyn’s shoulder softly. “Heh, Joce, I need to get. I know you understand. But don’t hesitate to call me at the drop of a hat if you need me.” Before Joce realized what Lib was about, she was gone.
When the door clicked shut, a shudder went through her. She began to feel how flimsy the lines of connection appeared even among those with a shared history of promised aid and understanding. She wanted to say to Libby, “No I don’t understand. Right now is when I need you.” She had trusted Libby to be there for her at such a time as this, but it was clear she didn't want to be. She had trusted Tommy with much more than that. “Who sold this bill of goods to us,” she asked aloud, “this notion of trust?” Was there any truth to it, she wondered, or was it merely a succor for our fears, a hedge against the dark night of the soul, but like a tiny pocket light incapable of brightening the spot where it was most needed?
It was late, but she needed to talk with someone. She headed toward an all-night bakery a few blocks away. She liked talking with the night baker, a Dutchman, who immigrated to Canada after WW II. He was a man who lived on an edge, not by choice but happenstance of war. You could feel it. Yet he always seemed to keep his balance.
The shop had the soft lighting it always had at this hour, and she was the only person there as she walked to the counter that ran in front of the muffins, scones and pastries. She liked sitting there as it allowed a private conversion between them while he could still attend to his work. When he saw her come through the door, he focused on her reddened eyes and pained expression. He had a cup of coffee in front of her before she even sat down and with no one there to notice, he laced it with a bit of brandy.
“I look that bad, eh?”
“I've seen you better.”
He finished setting the oven for his next batch of scones. Then he picked up his coffee cup and came round the counter, sitting on the stool next to hers. He waited.
“This started with finding my Tommy in bed with another woman, in our bed actually and then him saying that it meant nothing. That’s when I began to let myself see what we expected from each other, required of each other, differed. Then up popped this puzzling word, trust, and the complexities it spawned. I am lost, Rudy, just lost. I've never been in this place, and I’m afraid to move for fear of slipping in further.”
“What do you really want to know?” He got right to the point.
“It’s this trust thing. Can we really trust or is it just some dreamed up fantasy we wish were true?”
Rudy lit a cigarette. He liked the night shift because he could sneak a smoke. He inhaled deeply, held it as he pondered, and then slowly blew it out of his mouth in pale-blue smoke rings. “I’ll tell you a story. It was 1944. My young friends and I, who were once resistance fighters in France, now huddled in our barracks at Buchenwald on the slopes of Etter Mountain, the cold no match for the thin rags we had left as clothing. Our former muscled young bodies now stretched taut across bone. Six months earlier, I had been one of the first to be hauled out and interrogated. They wanted names. To pay for my silence, I was blinded in one eye and beaten to a pulp. We were all interrogated. One of our group broke during his, gave names of our co-workers then imprisoned in Paris. When he came back to our barracks, he was shunned. He was a traitor in my eyes. He spent a week balled up in a dark corner of the barracks eating and drinking nothing. I suspect he was trying to kill himself. But strangely, it didn't work. So he got up, walked out into the cold and began to befriend other despairing folk. Sometimes he had a tiny bit of food he could share; sometimes it was merely the presence of a gentle, accepting soul that he offered.
“The trust we resistance workers shared, he breached. I called him a traitor. But was he? Weren't we trusting each other to do our best? Did he not do his best? And was I in that moment doing my best? It is so easy to point a finger and call a name. However, only when you are finally reduced to the essence of what you are, stripped right down to the bone, can you safely say to another, 'You can trust me.' Only then."
Rudy snubbed out his cigarette and returned behind the counter. I watched him pull some fresh scones from the oven, the room now rich with the scent of cinnamon. I stared at him, afraid even to imagine where his life had taken him. How did he survive? I wondered.
As if he read my mind, while he stood removing each scone from the tray, he said, “I survived because I stopped pointing fingers and calling names. Instead, I struggled to accept people as they were rather than judge. You and Tommy have a grave problem facing you, your first. Trust, as a point of argument, is for those who like racking up points of righteousness or self-serving forgiveness. Just be who you are and either accept that...or be better than that."
He turned. His face was lined by age, the blade of somebody’s knife that had sliced at it, and piteous suffering, yet mirrored only humility.
It was 4:00 AM as the phone rang where Tommy was staying. He answered like a man who no longer slept soundly.
“Hello,” he said tentatively.
“Tommy, it’s me.”
“Oh Jocelyn, what…have…I…done…?”
“Come home. Let’s just start there. Come home, now."
To read other short stories by Christina Carson
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