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New Year's in Montreal.

We'd had a long down period before Montreal. Helen was erratic again. She'd push Bible passages on me at dinner though this had little to do with her thinking on other days. She didn't leave the house much. There were times that she'd burst into my study with ideas that made little sense to me, ideas about behavior. She became paranoid. She was convinced plots she saw on TV centered around her problems. She misheard song lyrics so that their meanings were painful and cruel. She accused me of sleeping with her sister because I drove her sister home one night when she had had much too much to drink. Before I'd returned Helen had broken eleven good plates.

The next morning she made me breakfast in bed.

My parents in Vermont took the children for Christmas. And I must say that I'd begun to find reasons to stay away from the house though I was scared to death about what might happen in my absence. There was a doctor at the hospital whose number I had memorized.

Montreal was an idea Helen had when she seemed to spring awake. She reserved a room at a bed and breakfast and called her mother to watch the house and take care of the dogs. She handled all of this and packing our luggage with the alacrity and precision of someone used to taking weekends away.

We drove to Montreal on the day before New Year's and we dropped our bags at our place, which was on a cobblestone street in the old section. The weather was frigid and I was tired, but Helen had caught on to a good mood the way one might catch a bus pulling by. She wanted us to shop, to buy the things we should have bought the kids and each other for Christmas.

"Why didn't we do anything special?" she asked me, and I did not know what to say. She seemed confused by the look on my face and laughed it off.

"Come on," she said. "It's the last day of the year and we're in Montreal."

We spent the whole day as other people do, passing through bookstores, art shops and huge underground shopping malls. I lost Helen once in a bakery. I searched through rows of fresh bread, donuts, bins of rolls. Then I saw her at the front of the store looking for me, the way a young girl might search for a boyfriend, bewildered and expectant, beautiful.

We had thick brown beers in a dark tavern that smelled like brewer's yeast.

We ordered a pitcher and I told Helen about the fight I'd gotten into in Montreal when I was nineteen and a college student down in Burlington. I'd told her this before but she heard it now as if she was discovering something new about me.

I showed her the small scar where a jab had cut me over my left eye. She ran her finger back and forth across it, as if she hadn't seen it before. Then she leaned over the table and kissed my eye. She did this without a trace of awkwardness.

"I believe we're getting drunk," Helen said, no hint in her voice of the last few weeks. I refused to think about them and allowed myself this fable: That we would have more of these days. Again and again.
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Author:Barbash, Thomas
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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