surprise. He told me that no one but him was ever allowed to touch this piano. Then he thought for a moment and said that now he would have to put a chair in that room so I could sit and listen to him play.
And I, perched on a stool in the dim, noisy, trendy bar in Toronto, with forty years behind me and God knew what before me, lovedâas a child loves a slithery bubble that skips away from its breathâthe image of myself sitting beside Matthew listening to his smoky, hurt voice singing for me alone.
He told me more about the house, the neighbours. I listened. He turned to me, and for the first time said, âI love you.â And of course I said, âI love you, too.â
H E BOUGHT WHAT SEEMED like a lot of drinks. Beer for me, beers for others at the barâwho reciprocatedâscotch for himself, though he had told me scotch had got him in trouble before and that he made a point of staying away from it.
He handed me a thick wad of bills and told me to put it in my purse and hang on to it for him. A little later, he asked me to peel off one of the outside billsâa twentyâso he could pay for yet more drinks.
In a little while, out of the smoky, noisy, semi-darkness came the manager. He shook Matthewâs hand, obviously very glad to see him, and they commenced a long conversation of which I could hear nothing except the introduction of myself. I also heard Matthew offer the manager a drink, heard the manager say he wasnât supposed to imbibe on duty, heard Matthew order a drink and a cup of coffee, saw the manager pour the drink into the coffee and take a few big gulps. Matthew looked like a man who knew exactly what to do every step of the wayâsmooth, friendly, in control, impressive. Professional.
And I assumed his profession was the one he said it was. The fact that the pub manager was nervous as a pup the whole time and seemed tremendously deferential to boot only made Matthewâwho wasnât losing his cool for a secondâall the more impressive.
But hard as I tried, I couldnât hear any of the business talk between the two men, except for one fragmentedsentence concerning the promoter. âWhen he called me and told me the person coming wasÂ â¦â the manager said, slightly mispronouncing Matthewâs name, âIÂ â¦â
The rest was lost as the manager turned away to say something to someone else. Matthew leaned toward me and said, âThey always do thatâsay my name wrong.â
The comment struck me as very odd. Matthewâs last name was extremely simple. Odder still was how Matthew had a preternatural ability to jump in with an explanation at the precise moment a question entered my mind. He was a skilled mind-reader and only he knew why.
The evening ended almost at closing time with a game of pinball in the basement room of the pub. Only Matthew and I and the manager were left down there.
When Matthew had told me about his own pinball machine, Iâd told him how I loved the game and how I sometimes played in the street arcades.
The three-way challenge was a delicate manoeuvering of winning and losing between the men. Matthew played very well and I, of course, was not as good as the men but not bad enough to embarrass my date or his associate. In short, I was exactly right. And so was Matthew. He played a brilliant first game, then let the manager win, then won again.
When the manager again disappeared into his office, telling us not to go yet, seeming to want to draw out the evening as long as possible, Matthew bent his face toward mine and whispered, âI love you. Do you love me?â
âYes,â I said trying not to show any hesitation.
âAre you sure?â
I couldnât answer. Without any anger or disappointmentâbut no snideness or sarcasm, either, he said, âI guess youâre not.â
When we left the Highlander, it was raining, and Matthew became impatient with