Newest review of AMPLE MAKE THIS BED & latest installment – Mar.25/2020

by admin on March 25, 2020

AmpleMTB-ThumbnailA NEW REVIEW by Zuzana M., Monterey Players

Theatre! Age on stage! 

Terry Oliver’s characters move from page to stage, so to speak. I enjoyed his novel because I met the people who ‘had to do’ theatre”.

He embarks on an immersive journey projecting the intimacy of theatrical space onto the expansiveness of a horizon-shifting novel. His characters are on stage actors and you, the reader, will be confronted with those who love and those who love to…. Act.


(Ama’s old lawyer friend makes a surprise visit to bring her bad news about her daughter’s entanglement with her drug-dealing boyfriend but offers to help her with her theatre venture…)

‘Thought I spotted your old red Toyota, Ama. Come to check up on whether I’ve learned my lines yet?’ said Gloria, hoisting her empty wicker baker’s baskets up onto the counter. ‘Haven’t done any rehearsing since you’ve been away.’

‘My fault, Gloria, not yours. However, you’ve got a reprieve  because I’ve changed our play order. Spike wants to do a Shakespeare play in modern English when he arrives. The Bridewell community theatre group want to make it a joint production with us, and we’re trying to figure out the logistics of who does what.’

‘You mean we all have to learn new lines for Twelfth Night? Won’t that be confusing for the cast?’

‘I was thinking it would be easier learning a different play,’ said Ama. ‘They want us to do The Tempest.’

Garth took the van keys from Gloria and headed out the front door. ‘I’ll leave you two to duke it out. I’m going to help Arthur rebuild the Regency, Gloria. Apparently Ama’s new designer has gutted it.’

‘That’s what I came to talk to you about, Gloria. The change of plays, since Claire came up with ways to rejuvenate the interior. Have you been in it while I was away?’

‘Yes, I met her last week when I went in to see Frankie about my costume for Twelfth Night. Arthur and Claire showed me how the stage would look when she’s done. She’s a whirlwind, doing six things at one time. No wonder she’s thin as a straw.’

Ama told her about her new plans to do Oh What a Lovely War, to take advantage of the re-jigged staging, but made no mention of Claire’s illness. She did tell her Claire would be staying with her so they could speed things along, to make up for lost time. Gloria asked her if she had any results from her trip to Montreal, to talk to her ex-husband about Ocean’s disappearance. Ama told her of the sudden change in Ronnie’s behaviour as a result of Jasper and Delphine’s involvement.

‘That does sound miraculous considering what you’ve told me of his total lack of support in the past, Ama. I guess Kitty was right after all, urging you to give Ronnie one more try.’

‘I still don’t quite believe it myself until I hear it from the horse’s mouth. I’ll find out all the fascinating details tomorrow when I meet Jasper for lunch,’ said Ama. She explained the deal she had made with him and Gloria just smiled, saying nothing.

‘Will I get a chance to meet this legal powerhouse who works for lunches?’

‘Kitty and Mrs. Spengler are throwing a party for him tomorrow evening and you’ll meet him there. Garth too, if he wants to join us.’

‘He has to get up too early so he tends to avoid parties and late nights. He leads a monkish existence most of the time. Up at an ungodly hour in the morning and in bed by nine.

‘Fishermen and bakers have hard, demanding jobs,’ said Gloria. ‘Once in a while they have to blow off steam. Most of the wives know what they’re letting themselves in for. My life is easy by comparison.’

‘I expect they tolerate it because they have kids to think of, but you and Garth don’t have any, so what makes you stay, Gloria?’

‘I think it’s because we don’t have any children that Garth goes on his benders. I get involved in the theatre instead. Whatever floats your boat, they say in Nova Scotia. It’s a different way of life down here that people ‘from away,’ especially city people, don’t understand. You have to live here for awhile before you appreciate it, Ama.’

‘Spike has an old converted fishing boat that we hope to use as a live-aboard. But I wish he was here now and it’s only been one day since I left him in Bridewell.’

‘I don’t know how you juggle all these men in your life, Ama. Two old boyfriends vying for your attention, and a glamorous ex-husband back on the scene. And a missing daughter. It’s like a Broadway play.’

‘It feels more like a French farce, the way it has me running in circles. The faster I run the further behind I get, Gloria.’

‘I’m sorry, Ama. I didn’t mean to make light of your situation. I know you’re having a difficult time. All these new changes at the theatre must be putting a lot of pressure on you. Whatever I can do to help, you know I’m on your side.’

‘Thanks, Gloria. I was telling Garth before you arrived, that Claire says we should organise work parties of volunteers. Tackle the backlog of stuff to do before the September opening. I know you and Garth know everybody in town, and I wanted to ask if you’d be the co-ordinator? Sort of my sidekick until Spike arrives.’

‘If I can fit it in and around my delivery runs, I’ll be your girl Friday, Ama. When shall I start?’

‘Claire and I will work out some schedules tonight. You can collect them at Kitty’s party when you meet my lawyer-saviour, Jasper.’

Gloria began to fill a paper bag with Chelsea buns and savoury Arcadia tarts. She handed it to Ama. ‘If you and Claire are working late tonight, you’ll need some fuel to keep you going.’

When Ama offered to pay, she refused, saying that Garth always made too much and they’d only go stale overnight.


That evening Ama brought Claire back to her old house-sit and proceeded to make a big summer salad, to go with the savoury tarts from Gloria. She let Claire choose some music and pour out the wine from the chilled box in the fridge. They carried the food and drinks through to the long veranda at the front of the old colonial house. Claire had chosen an Aretha Franklin blues, so they left the door open to hear it.

An old swing double seat hung from the porch ceiling and they sat side by side, sipping their white wine.

‘It’s lovely here, Ama, such a quiet street with those huge shade trees along it. How long can you stay?’

‘Indefinitely, according to Kitty. The owner is a widowed friend of hers who prefers to live in Italy. She’s chronically ill and likes the heat. I haven’t even met her. She took me on Kitty’s recommendation.’

‘Maybe I should go abroad to recuperate as well. Except I don’t know any wealthy widows with spare villas.’

‘Speaking selfishly, I’m glad, Claire. I don’t want to lose you.’

‘You may not have a choice if this diagnosis proves correct.’

‘Have you thought what you’ll do if it proves serious?’

‘It depends how serious and how long I’ve got. In the meantime, I expect I’ll soldier on and keep busy like my doc wants me to,’ said Claire. ‘What else is there to do?’

They ate in silence for a few moments before Ama spoke. ‘We could talk about it. Spike says I’m a good listener. And we’ve got a few days together to mull it all over if you don’t want to confide in Antony yet.’

‘If I did, he’d go screaming back to his wife at the thought of me dying. And that would be the last I’d see of him.’

‘You didn’t say he was married, Claire, or is she his ex?’

‘No, they’re only separated. Permanently, he insists. Doesn’t stop him from having lunch with her in L.A., whenever we have a row. At least, that’s all they have, according to him. I’m not so sure.’

‘I’m sorry, Claire. All the more reason for you to talk things through with me while you’re here.’

‘It would be better than the non-stop paranoia that passes for thought inside my head these last few days. What if I fall apart on you, Ama, are you ready for that?’

‘All I know is that having a confidante to go to, is what saved me from disappearing into a black hole when my daughter went wild, after she discovered she had ALS. I would make a bee-line for Kitty and spill it all in her lap. And within an hour or so, I would realise it wasn’t the end of the world after all.’

‘What did she do? Is she like the Samaritans or something?’

‘Nothing earth-shaking. We’d sit on her porch like this and drink gunpowder tea and sift through the mess I’d dumped on her, until I began to feel back in control of my life. Till the next time. Then back I’d go.’

‘She sounds wonderful. Like being a child and having your mother make everything better again. Unfortunately, my mother died when I was a teenager so I never had that option, did you?’

‘Not anymore,’ said Ama. ‘My mum’s in a nursing home back in England. Last time I went back she didn’t recognize me. Lost in her own strange world, repeating the same meaningless phrase over and over.’

‘What did she say?’



‘Motherbother, motherbother, motherbother.’

‘What do you think she meant, Ama?’

‘No idea. I often wonder about it. Just some words that have lodged in her brain that go round and round in a memory loop. Sometimes I find myself repeating them when I’m feeling defeated. In my case it’s probably ‘dementia praecox.’

‘What on earth’s that?’

Ama laughed. ‘It’s a line from a Tennessee Williams play I saw once on TV. Can’t remember the title. Maybe Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – anyway Liz Taylor was in it. Someone said she had dementia praecox and it stuck in my mind. Maybe I’ll end up like my mum, repeating it over and over, dementia praecox, dementia praecox. It’s sort of soothing, like one of those Buddhist chants I used to know.’

‘What does it mean?’

‘Precocious dementia. Medical jargon for early stages of losing your mind.’

‘Maybe I should try chanting it myself, when I start feeling a little crazy,’ said Claire. ‘Or motherbother. I like that better, rolls off the tongue – motherbother motherbother motherbother.’

‘If you were Catholic, you could try ‘mea culpa, mea culpe, mea maxima culpa,’ said Ama. ‘I had a boyfriend in my teens who used to repeat that while we were making out, to assuage his guilt for sinning. Sex outside marriage is a mortal sin for Catholics. Didn’t seem to stop him, anyway.’

‘Maybe he saw the chant as a workaround, provided by the church.’ Claire said. They both laughed.

‘They also say confession is good for the soul, Claire, so now it’s your turn.’

‘Oh god, don’t get me started, I’ll be here all night. Besides, I feel hungry and this tastes like soul food. Let’s eat instead.’

They fell to, cleaning their plates, then went through to the kitchen for seconds and more wine. Their bags, which had been dumped on the long harvest table, reminded them they had planned to go through the endless list of things that needed their attention at the theatre.

‘Do you feel up to spending a bit of time on these work schedules, Claire,’ said Ama, as she riffed through the papers in her rucksack, which served as her briefcase.

‘Sure, I’m up for it. What shall we tackle first?’

Ama told her that Gloria’s husband was an experienced carpenter and strong to boot. He was willing to work on the staging with Arthur.

‘Let’s not waste him on manual stuff, dismantling the seating. We’ll use him for the staircases, but first we have to find someone with a truck, to fetch them from the warehouse in Halifax. Do we have anyone?’

‘Arthur has a pickup truck but we can’t spare him,’ she said. ‘Maybe Gloria can find someone. She’s offered to be the work party co-ordinator until Spike arrives.’

‘A pickup would have to make several trips to bring them down in sections. What we need is a bigger truck that can do it in one journey. Tell her we’ll offer to pay for the gas. It’s too late to phone my friend, Arnold, at the exhibition warehouse tonight. I’ll call him first thing and tell him what we need.’

‘Won’t we have to pay him for them, Claire? Stairs are expensive, aren’t they?’

‘Arnold will be glad to clear some of them out. Last time I was in there he had them piled outside, as his warehouse was crammed to the doors. He can’t say no to all that free stuff and the exhibition firms pay him to haul it away. Nobody wants it once the conferences, shows and exhibitions are over. It just clutters up their workshops.’

‘Surely they could recycle lots of it for other jobs?’

‘They could but they prefer to build from new. It’s faster and easier,’ said Claire. ‘Arnold’s warehouse is like Aladdin’s cave. It’s where I’ll get our exhibition carpet from as well. You should see the place, Ama, you’d love it.’

‘I know I would, but I daren’t take another day off, I’m so behind. I’ve got a feeling Arnold is going to see a lot of me in the future.’

‘Leave it to me for now. We’ll ask Arthur to estimate on the rolls of carpet and measure up the lengths of staircases, now we’ve worked out where they’ll go.’

On and on they went, poring over the notes Ama had accumulated, prioritising jobs and calculating how many volunteers for each work party.

‘Gloria is going to have her hands full co-ordinating this lot,’ said Claire, when they finally stopped for the night. ‘I hope she’s ready for it, Ama.’

‘She’s not only a brilliant character actor, she’s a great organiser. The perfect girl Friday, she calls herself. I feel a lot better since she agreed to step in and help.’

Upstairs, Ama showed Claire one of the several spare bedrooms and loaned her a nightie, as she had brought nothing with her. Claire stood in the doorway to the master bedroom with its antique curved sleigh bed, while Ama found the nightgown for her.

‘Would you mind if we shared, Ama? I don’t like sleeping on my own. Just for tonight. I’m feeling a bit fragile.’

‘I don’t like it either. I’m a terrible sleeper except when I’m with Spike. Then I sleep like a baby.’

‘I’m a bag of bones these days. I don’t know how Antony bears it. I’ll try not to dig you in the ribs with my sharp elbows,’ said Claire. She climbed into the king-size bed. ‘I promise to keep to my side, Ama, but if I start hugging you, just push me away.’

‘I’ll pretend you’re Ocean, my daughter. Whenever she felt depressed, which was frequently, she’d creep into bed with me.’

‘I feel so exhausted by bedtime these days, I fall asleep instantly. Much to Antony’s displeasure. He’d become used to me being all over him, and can’t figure out what’s come over me this last while.’

‘We’re like a pair of old spinster sisters dreaming about our missing men,’ said Ama, turning out the bed lamp.


In the morning she woke to find Claire curled against her back, one arm flung over her, sleeping deeply. She carefully extricated herself and padded downstairs in her scruffy old slippers to make coffee. While it brewed, she pored over the work schedules drawn up the night before. Halfway through them, she remembered Jasper. The kitchen wall clock showed 9:15. He would probably already be in mid-flight from Montreal. She made some toast with honey and put a couple of bananas on the tray with the coffee mugs, then took it upstairs. Claire was still sleeping, curled in the fetal position.  Ama set the tray down on the bedside table and opened the curtains. Her old work clothes lay on the chair by her side of the bed, as she had intended to put them on. Instead she flipped through her wardrobe, picked out a couple of light summer dresses and held them up to her, in front of the long wardrobe door mirror.

‘The blue one, definitely,’ said Claire.

‘You woke up. I thought you were out for the count. I made you some coffee.’

‘I smelled it, that’s what woke me up.’ She propped herself up in bed and reached across to pick up a mug. ‘Mmm, cinnamon toast. Sometimes Antony spoils me like this if he’s feeling randy. He thinks cinnamon toast is an aphrodisiac.’

‘I must remember that when Spike arrives. You don’t think this lemon one is more suitable for a business lunch? I don’t want Jasper to think I’m coming on to him. He never needed much encouragement in the past.’

‘I like the scalloped hem of the blue one and the plunging neckline. I could never get away with that but you’ve got plenty to fill it out,’ Claire said. ‘Put it on and let me see.’

‘I need a shower first if I’m going out to lunch.’ Ama sat on the edge of the bed and peeled a banana. ‘I was kind of keeping the blue one for Spike. I bought it in Bridewell, on impulse, with a friend. You don’t think it’s too girly for my matronly figure? Mutton dressed as lamb, my mum would say.’

‘Can’t tell till you put it on,’ Claire said. ‘If I’m invited to this party tonight to meet Jasper, I’ll have to go home to get something else to wear. And I’ll need some more clothes if I’m staying for a few days. I can’t fit into any of yours with my skeleton frame.’


Ama finished her breakfast and had a quick shower. She dressed in the bathroom in the blue number with the scalloped hem and modelled it in her bare feet for Claire, who sat in bed with her knees drawn up, going through her capacious bag looking for something.

‘Sumptuous, Ama. But you’re right – too provocative for your lawyer friend. Better save it for Spike, although I doubt if you’ll have it on for long. If he’s as keen as you say he is, he’ll have you stripped off and popped into bed in no time.’

‘Suits me,’ said Ama. ‘The sooner the better.’ She slipped off the blue scalloped number and put on the pale lemon dress instead. ‘There, this shouldn’t distract Jasper from his legal duties.’

‘Very ladies who lunch,’ said Claire, ‘very chaste and demure.’

‘Hardly chaste. Jasper knows me of old with my string of ex-husbands. But it will keep his mind on business. I’ll tell him there are other treats in store for him tonight, when he meets you and the glorious Gloria.’

‘It will have to be my fine mind that attracts him, with you and Gloria there.’

‘We’ll see. Jasper has very eclectic tastes, he told me.’

‘Where’s he taking you to lunch, anyway?’

‘He’s not. I’m taking him, remember? That’s our deal. I hope it’s not too expensive. I’ve never been to the Lobster Pot before, have you?’

‘A few times. I know the head waiter there. Have you booked?’

Ama shook her head. ‘It’s lunch time so I thought we’d just show up.’

‘If you want a window table with a stunning view of the harbour, you should book. Would you like me to call Laurence for you? After all, Jasper is coming all the way from Montreal, so you ought to make an effort, Ama. Show him you appreciate his help.’

‘I do, I do. I can’t thank him enough.’


Claire phoned the restaurant and arranged the table for her, and Ama went downstairs to make some calls from her study overlooking the garden. She left Claire still ensconced in the big bed, already on the phone, launched on her heavy workload. She drove her little Toyota across town to Kitty’s to liaise with her about Jasper and the party. Sarah and Kitty assured her they were on track with everything and didn’t require any help from her, beyond squiring Jasper around as planned.

From Kitty’s she drove to the G&G café to deliver the schedules to Gloria for the work parties. Garth was busy making dough, with his brawny arms and thick fingers forming incongruous delicate shapes with the pastry. He told her that he and Arthur’s crew of volunteers had made serious inroads into removing the unwanted seats, in preparation for building the ramps. He said Arthur had already asked him if he would tackle the stairs, while he worked on the apron staging. They couldn’t install the ramps until the new stage was constructed. What they mainly needed was more helpers.


At ten to one, she parked her car opposite the Lobster Pot and sat waiting for Jasper to show up. She watched the clusters of Asian tourists who dawdled along the narrow waterfront street, for any sign of him. The restaurant was on the second floor of a former dockside warehouse projecting over the water. It had a pedestrian wharf access as well as the main entrance where she had parked. She was about to go and check it out, when a large black sedan drove slowly past.

‘Jasper!’ she called out of her window, waving her arm at him. He turned his head, saw her, and braked to a stop. She motioned him into an empty space in front of her and waited for him to park and get out.

‘Ama – that was easy. I thought I might have trouble finding you in these narrow lanes.’ He gave her a bear hug then winced and rubbed his back. ‘Long drive, but beautiful along the old lighthouse coast.’

‘I’m so glad to see you again, Jasper. I’m longing to catch up. Shall we walk along the dock for you to stretch your legs before you sit down again?’

‘What an amazing old town, Ama. Like driving back through time 300 years. It must be fun living down here.’

‘Do you think Delphine would like it, Jasper? Maybe you could bring her next time.’

‘She’s a big city girl. Likes her amenities too much, whereas I’m a country boy at heart. I could fit right into small town life.’

Ama laughed and squeezed his arm. ‘Montreal is the smallest town you’ve ever lived in, I’ll bet.’

‘You’re right. But it’s because of my chosen career. You have to go where the clients are.’

‘People need lawyers in small towns, too,’ she said. ‘In fact, Kitty will be sounding you out about taking her on, so beware.’

‘It would give me an excuse to come down and see you more often, Ama. I might take her up on the offer.’

They wandered back to the Lobster Pot and climbed the stairs to the entrance, which was decked out with fishing paraphernalia. Ama spoke to Laurence, the silver-haired headwaiter who came forward to meet them. He nodded when she mentioned Claire’s name and led them to a table with an open sliding glass window, above the glittering water of the harbour. He pulled out Ama’s chair for her and smiled.

‘Claire said I was to defer to you, as the gentleman is your guest. Perhaps you’d like to decide what to eat before you choose the wine.’ He handed them menus and indicated the chalkboard with the day’s specials as he moved back to the bar.

Jasper raised an eyebrow. ‘Why the special treatment, Ama, do you come here often?’

‘Never been before. It was recommended by Kitty as the best place in town for seafood. What would you like, Jasper?’

He glanced at the specials. ‘Well, it is called the Lobster Pot and the whole lobsters seem very reasonable. What do you say, shall we share one?’

‘You must be ravenous after your flight and long drive. I think you’d better have a whole one and maybe I can ask for a small one,’ she said. She signalled to Laurence they were ready and he came back to stand beside her.

‘You have decided already?’

‘My friend has travelled all the way from Montreal this morning and I’ve decided he needs a whole large lobster to himself. I’ve only come from across town so I would like a small one, if that’s possible?’

‘Perfectly possible. And how would you like it prepared?’

‘I’ve only ever had it in a salad or chowder. I’ve no idea how to eat a whole one.’

Laurence looked around the half empty dining room and made a decision. ‘Would you like to watch how they prepare them in the kitchen? It’s not busy so the chef can demonstrate. But first, would you care to choose your wine and you can bring your glass with you?’

‘You choose, Jasper, you’re the expert.’

‘No, this is your treat. I’m in your hands.’

‘Oh god, I only recognise one or two. Would the Gewurztraminer go with lobster? I’ve drunk that before.’

‘Definitely,’ said Laurence. ‘Nice and light for lunchtime, too.’ He went over to the bar and then disappeared into the kitchen.

‘You are getting the royal treatment, Ama. They never ask me to watch the chef. Your friend Claire must be very influential.’

‘You’ll meet her yourself tonight. I happen to think she’s a magician but you can decide for yourself.’

Laurence returned with the wine, opened it and poured Ama a mouthful to taste first, then filled her glass when she nodded and poured a glass for Jasper. ‘Now if you’d like to follow me to the kitchen.’

They carried their glasses with them through the bar area and into the kitchen, where the chef stood waiting for them with two red lobsters, one large, one small, in front of him on the counter top. Laurence introduced him and left. Alonzo nodded to them.

‘You wish to see how to prepare a whole lobster, Laurence says. It is very simple. First we remove the large claws by breaking them off.’ He laid them on the wooden chopping block and picked up a heavy meat cleaver. ‘Then we crack the shell with the flat side of the blade,’ he said, whacking each claw in turn with the cleaver. ‘Next we snap off all the small legs like this.’ He demonstrated, deftly stripping the thin legs from the body of the large lobster and set them aside with the claws. ‘Now we turn it face down and split it in half – from stem to gudgeon, as the fishermen say.’

He placed the cleaver between the eyes and pressed down with the flat of his hand on the top of the blade. It crunched through the shell from head to tail and opened the insides like mirror images. ‘Finally, we remove this long black vein which is the intestine and stomach, being very careful not to break it and taint the meat with a bitter taste.’ Alonzo scooped it out with his fingers to lay aside, then laid the split lobster on a prepared bed of lettuce on a plate and set the claws and legs to either side along with several wedges of lemon. ‘And it’s ready to serve. As I said, quite a simple operation, but it helps if you have one of these.’ He smiled and held up the heavy cleaver. ‘Not necessary, of course. The fishermen often use a hatchet at sea to chop them open.’

They watched as he repeated the operation on the smaller lobster. ‘And now you know how to do it at home, and not have to bother coming to the Lobster Pot. Laurence loses a customer, you buy direct off the boat, cutting out the middle man and soon I am out of a job and back working on a fishing boat.’ Alonzo grinned at them and led them back out of the kitchen.

‘We promise not to tell a soul,’ said Ama. ‘Your job is safe with us.’

They thanked him for the demonstration and returned to their table to await their meal.

‘I suppose you’ve done that yourself many times, Jasper.’

‘Not at all. Delphine is the expert on shellfish. I stick to the barbecue or the restaurant.’

‘It may come in useful when Spike and I live aboard on his boat and we catch our own. Are you allowed to do that, Jasper or do you need a licence?’

‘Not my area of expertise, but I’ve often seen sailboats with a lobster pot on deck so I assume it’s possible,’ he said. ‘You’re not really thinking of living aboard an old fishing boat, are you, Ama?’

‘That’s Spike’s dream and I’ve agreed to try it, if he agrees to help me with the theatre. And I’m in desperate need of him if we’re going to open on time.’

A young woman arrived with their plates of lobster and a pot of aioli. She set it down and returned with a basket of warm bread rolls, then proceeded to pin large white napkins round their necks.

‘Attack,’ said Jasper, picking up a claw and pulling out the meat with his fork to dip into a dollop of the garlicky mayonnaise.

Ama followed suit, unsure about what to eat and waiting until Jasper ate some of the body meat before she sampled it. Soon she was squeezing lemon wedges and spooning aioli on everything and wiping her hands on her bib. Jasper showed her how to use the crackers to crush the thin leg shell and pull out the meat with a pick. He leaned across the table to feed it to her and juice dribbled down her chin.

‘God, it’s like a scene from ‘Tom Jones,’ Ama said, mopping her chin with the huge napkin.

Jasper poured them more wine and sat back to watch her eat. ‘This was worth coming all the way from Montreal, Ama. You sure know how to show a guy a good time. I’m already thinking about my next visit. I don’t think I’ll tell you all my news. Save some for the next trip.’

‘When are you going to give me all the details, Jasper? I’ve been trying not to ask.’

‘Let’s not spoil our lunch, shall we? I’ll tell you everything afterwards.’

‘Now you’re making me nervous – is it bad news?’

‘It’s mixed, Ama. Enjoy your meal first. I’ll give you the whole story later.’

‘I’m sorry, Jasper. I didn’t mean to rush you, we’ve got all afternoon. I’ve waited all this long, I can wait a bit longer.’

‘Tell me more about your theatre project. Will I get to see it?’

‘You can’t escape it. I want to show you the whole enormous pit I’ve dug for myself and listen to your hollow laughter at my folly, for taking it on in the first place.’

‘Sounds like fun. I’ll bet you’re loving it.’

‘Strange to say, I am, most of the time. When I’m not panicking at what I was thinking of, at my advanced age.’

‘It will keep you young, Ama, doing something important and satisfying, instead of sinking into old age like me.’

‘I don’t know how important it is, except to me, but it is very satisfying. You’re the one who’s doing important work, upholding the law, defending people in trouble.’

‘If you only knew how trivial my life has become, Ama. Handling divorces of selfish people with too much money and nothing to do, except keep changing partners. Not much upholding of the law involved. Unlike my wife. Delphine loves being a judge in Juvenile court.’

‘The more I hear of Delphine, the more I want to meet her. You’re a lucky man to have found such a life partner, prepared to tolerate all your philandering, Jasper. I suppose she can’t resist you with your silver-tongued sweet talk.’

‘She resists me very easily, I’m afraid. It’s like trying to make love to a porcupine. She bristles when I attempt any advances. I’ve learned to keep my distance. As I told you before, we’ve come to an arrangement. We share a house, not a bed. Why I keep working I suppose, nothing at home for me anymore.’

‘There must be other compensations. Your social life together, part of the glitterati of old Montreal. Being lionised as a powerful trial lawyer.’

‘Pretty mangy old lion these days.’

‘Not to me you’re not, Jasper. I have nothing but admiration for the way you’ve been helping Ocean. And Delphine, too. Please thank her for me.’

‘I suppose I can’t stall any longer, Ama, now that we’ve eaten all the lobsters and drunk all the wine. If you want to settle the bill, we perhaps ought to go somewhere we can speak privately.’

She caught Laurence’s eye and made writing motions on her palm. He nodded and came over to them with the bill.

‘I hope you enjoyed your lobster enough to come here again and try some of our other specialties?’

‘It was both delicious and educational, Laurence. I shall start saving right away for the next time,’ said Ama.


They shook hands and left the restaurant to walk along the docks towards the empty fishery warehouses, past the huge old tall ship, thronged with tourists snapping selfies in front of it. They found an empty bench and sat watching the quarrelling seagulls.

‘I wanted to speak to you in person, Ama, because it’s hard for me to explain what I feel is happening with Ocean. She’s a very disturbed young woman and I can’t quite get through to her about the risks she’s taking. Mixing with the drug dealing gang her boyfriend Clay is involved in. I’ve talked to him at length since he’s been arrested and he’s fully aware how dangerous it is, but he told me he doesn’t care. He says he has late stage AIDS and will probably die soon. Selling drugs is the only way he can get money to live until then.’

‘Oh God, Jasper, are you trying to tell me Ocean is infected too?’

‘She told Delphine she wasn’t, but she didn’t want to find out for sure. It’s almost as if she’s been in some sort of solidarity pact with him. Is there something you haven’t told me I should know about her, Ama?’

‘She doesn’t confide in me anymore, Jasper. I’m completely in the dark about her present condition. I can only guess she may have had some further confirmation of her ALS diagnosis and that’s why she’s acting so erratically. Do you think that might be why she’s linked up with Clay – because they both think they’re dying?’

‘It’s one explanation, I suppose. It would account for them behaving like some present-day Bonnie and Clyde couple. I haven’t said too much to Ronnie yet – didn’t want to scare him off. It’s possible she may confide in her father. You said they’ve been close in the past.’

‘Do you think I should talk to him, Jasper – see if he can find out anything? Only….’

‘Only what, Ama? I can’t help her if you keep information from me.’

‘It’s just that if he thinks she’s HIV positive, he won’t want her anywhere near his new family. I’m sure his young wife will freak out if she catches wind of it.’

‘Delphine and I’ve talked through the different scenarios and can’t see any happy long-term outcome, Ama. If Ocean and Clay are hell-bent on this mutual self-destruction, it’s hard to predict what they’ll do next.’

‘But you said Ocean had agreed to stay with Ronnie and that he was giving her a job on his new TV mini-series.’

‘That’s what Delphine has managed to have them both promise to do. Meantime, I’ll try to get Clay a reduced sentence doing community service.’

‘It’s more than I’d hoped you could do, Jasper. I was sure Ocean would end up in prison.’

‘None of this has happened yet, Ama, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If what we’ve been saying about some kind of suicide pact between them is true, I can foresee them both jumping ship.’

‘Why? Did she say anything to Delphine?’

‘Not in so many words. She told her she wouldn’t abandon Clay. He needs her. And when I spoke with him in jail, he said he wouldn’t implicate her in the charges against him. So, putting two and two together, both Delphine and I think Ocean will wait for him to be released and then skip town again.’

‘And you’re going to all this trouble, knowing what the probable outcome will be, Jasper?’

‘We don’t have much choice, unless you want them both to end up with prison sentences.’

‘God, Jasper, I’m so sorry to have embroiled you and Delphine in this affair. I should have known better than to ask you in the first place.’

‘No free lunches, Ama. It’s the price I’m prepared to pay to be back in your life again.’ He grinned at her. ‘And as for Delphine, she’s delighted to have Ronnie gracing her dinner table and making her the envy of all her women friends.’

‘What do you think I should do, Jasper? Do you see any way out of this mess I’ve got us all into, with Ocean?’

‘For the present, there’s nothing you can do. Just wait and see. We’ve all done what we can. The next move is up to them. The best thing is to get on with your life and we’ll keep a watching brief on our star-cross’d lovers. Do you believe in Fate, Ama?’

‘Fate? I don’t think I believe in anything anymore – except old friends. Like you.’

‘To fill up my slow days in the office, I’ve started re-reading the classics. Filling in the gaps in my narrow legal education. I’ve worked my way through the Greeks from Homer and Hesiod, including all the big-name dramatists and now I’m onto the philosophers. And to a man, they’re all big believers in Fate. Everything is in the lap of the gods with them. I guess that’s where we are now, Ama.’

‘Nothing to be done. Sounds like Beckett – Waiting for Godot.’

‘Not at all. We do everything we can and then let it all play out. You can’t second guess the gods, according to the Greeks, or it will all end in tears.’

‘In that case, I will follow your sage advice and get on with my life. Which means my theatre project. Are you ready for your tour of inspection, Jasper?’

‘Lead on,’ he said, steering her towards his large black rental car.


She directed him to The Regency Theatre and he parked the car behind it in the half-full lot. Ama led him round the front and in through the partially refurbished entrance foyer to admire the effect of Claire’s work. He stood staring up at the filmy canopy, now fully opened above the huge chandelier and pinned over the bar and curving elm staircase.

‘Impressive, Ama. Quite a transformation from what it must have been before you started, I imagine.’

‘All Claire’s ideas. We merely do as she tells us.’ She took his arm up the wide stairs to see the poster displays covering the blistered old mirrors and then to lean over the balcony railing to view the foyer and bar and gauze canopy from above.

‘Shame all those big brass sconces everywhere have turned black,’ said Jasper, rubbing his thumb over the nearest one. ‘Do you think it’s possible to restore them?’

‘With enough volunteers and a giant can of Brasso, Claire says they’ll gleam again. They’re solid brass.’

‘Is it a problem finding volunteers, Ama?’

‘It is for me, but Claire has a way of press-ganging everyone she meets into helping.’

‘Will I get to meet her? She sounds like a miracle worker.’

‘She is and you will, so be warned. Grown men eat out of her hand.’

‘I can hardly wait to fall under her spell.’

‘She might still be onstage, let’s have a look.’ She opened the heavy hardwood doors to the balcony seating and ushered him through.

‘What’s happening, Ama? It looks like they’re gutting the place.’ Jasper went down the carpeted stairs to lean over the balcony railing.

A group of men were dismantling seats from one section while another gang of volunteers, mostly women, bent over another section, fitting the new art deco zigzag pattern covers, under Frankie’s supervision. Ama pointed to Arthur, down in the newly opened empty space, talking to Garth who was laying out sheets of plywood for a ramp. There was no sign of Claire.

‘That’s Arthur, the stage carpenter who’s making it all happen. I’ll let him explain to you what’s going on. Come on.’

She led the way back down through the foyer and into the auditorium and introduced him to Arthur and Garth. Frankie had disappeared back to the costume loft.

‘Give him the VIP treatment, Arthur and we may persuade him to let us put his name on the program as a patron. I’ll go and find Claire and Frankie.’

She left them and threaded her way through the auditorium to backstage. There was no one in the Green Room so she tried the costume loft. Frankie stood talking to three older women seated at his worktable, each with a sewing machine in front of them.

‘These are my three elves sewing fine seams, Ama. They even come equipped with their own machines. Lucy, Clara and Joyce. I have an assembly line here that would rival Henry Ford for efficiency. How many have we covered already, Lucy?’

‘Over thirty,’ said Lucy, ‘but we’re running out of supplies. We need to stop and cut out some more patterns.’

‘I’ll pull two people off the fitting team and show them how to cut. You keep stitching, Lucy.’

‘Have you seen Claire, Frankie? I can’t find her anywhere.’

‘She left half an hour ago to meet Gloria – something about organising a truck to collect stairs in Halifax. She said she was going home afterwards and would see us tonight at the party.’

‘I want you to come and meet my lawyer friend, Jasper. I’ve been giving him a Cook’s tour of Arcadia and the theatre, hoping to interest him in our project. He’s with Arthur at the moment.’ She drew him aside. ‘Where did all these people come from, Frankie? The place is swarming with volunteers.’

‘We all did what Claire told us to – contact our networks and this is the result. Who did you bring besides your lawyer, Ama?’

‘Gloria and Garth. And tonight, I hope to tap into Kitty and Mrs. Spengler’s networks, so have your list ready of who and what you need. Now come and meet Jasper.’

For a moment she couldn’t spot Jasper in the group of workers, until his head appeared above a sheet of plywood he was holding in place for Garth. He had taken off his jacket to help.

‘Good god, Arthur. Is this your idea of VIP treatment? After all my wining and dining to persuade Jasper to visit our project, you have him sweating like a stage-hand. Next thing you’ll have him sweeping the stage.’

‘All Garth’s fault. He was showing him how the ramp will fit under the staircase.’

‘I told them I was renovating our old week-end cottage in Hudson Heights but was scared to tackle the loft staircase,’ said Jasper. ‘Garth was giving me some tips.’

‘Frankie, this is Jasper Falkenham, a very big fish from the St Lawrence I hope to persuade to come and swim in our local waters. You may call him sir.’

Frankie bobbed a curtsy. ‘Pleased, I’m sure. Allow me.’ He picked up Jasper’s jacket from the seat and brushed imaginary dust off it before helping him on with it. ‘I expect you’d like to come and meet my harem, the flower of Arcadia?’

‘Now that is exactly the right way to appeal to Jasper,’ said Ama.

‘Don’t you want to see how we’re going to cantilever the staircase?’ asked Garth.

‘Be right back,’ said Jasper, following Frankie backstage.

‘What do you think, Arthur, does he seem interested in our project?’ asked Ama.

‘If he’s not convinced, wait till Claire gets her claws into him this evening,’ he said.

‘I told him if he came by tomorrow, I’d lend him some work clothes and he could help with framing the staircase landing,’ said Garth.

‘I’m astonished by how much this group has accomplished already, Arthur. I can almost begin to picture what it will look like when you’re finished. I’d better get cracking on the play or we won’t have it ready to put on for the opening.’

‘There’s still miles to go yet, Ama. Me and Garth figure your deadline is too unrealistic and we may have to delay the opening, if we do everything Claire wants.’

‘All this new staging is pretty ambitious,’ said Garth. ‘We may have to cut corners to be ready on time.’

‘What kind of corners, Garth? You won’t do anything unsafe and have the fire officer condemn the place?’

‘No. More like only putting in one ramp and one staircase to the balcony, is what we had in mind.’

‘Oh no! Claire will be so disappointed,’ said Ama.

‘It’s just an idea. Kind of a fallback plan if we need one,’ Arthur said. ‘You may have to make a choice, Ama. Either delay the opening or settle for one ramp and staircase. It will still look terrific. Don’t look so glum.’

‘When will I have to decide? Not right away, I hope?’

‘It will depend how long it takes us to build the first ramp and set of stairs,’ he said. ‘Then we’ll know whether we have time to do the second ones.’

‘Don’t tell Claire yet, Arthur. Let’s wait and see how you get on, first. Is there anything I can do to speed things up?’

‘Not unless you can find two or three more Garths to make up another team. This bunch here are willing but they don’t have the carpentry skills we need.’

‘Okay. For now, don’t mention this to anyone – we don’t want the word to get out that the opening is going to be delayed – bad for morale.’


Ama made her way backstage to find Jasper. Frankie was showing him the few samples of commedia costumes he had found.

‘Jasper’s been telling me his wife is on the board of the Montreal opera house and she might be able to help with these costumes.’

‘We can’t afford to rent them, Frankie – they’d cost a fortune.’

‘I already told him but he thinks they might loan them to us. From an old Magic Flute production.’

‘I can’t promise, of course,’ said Jasper, ‘but Delphine might be able to call in some favours. She’s raised a lot of money for them over the years.’

‘And just how would you persuade her to do this, Jasper? She’s never even heard of us.’

‘I told you – we have an arrangement. We scratch each other’s back from time to time.’

‘From what you’ve told me, Delphine’s been doing most of the scratching lately.’

‘You have no idea how many hundreds of opera tickets I’ve unloaded on my clients for her in the past. It’s a question of picking the moment. Leave it with me.’

‘Alright. Meantime, Frankie and I will be preparing a list of what we need, ready to pounce when you give us the nod.’


She looked round at the workroom with all the women cutting and sewing covers. ‘Now if you can tear yourself away from Frankie’s harem, I’ll take you to meet your landladies for the evening.’

‘Goodbye, ladies. A demain,’ he said, waving to the smiling women.

Au revoir, Jasper,’ they called back.

Ama took his arm and led him to the stage door. ‘You didn’t waste any time, Jasper. I suppose you know all their names, too.’

‘Gather ye roses while ye may,’ he said. ‘I’ve garnered three invitations to lunch already, Ama. I may have to extend my stay in Arcadia.’

‘Remember this is not Montreal, Jasper. I have to live here. I don’t want you causing any scandals.’

‘Fear not, I’m nothing if not discreet. Besides, they were all merry widows.’

‘Speaking of merry widows, you are about to meet two of our finest, Kitty and Sarah. Mrs. Spengler to you, as she is a local, born and bred. I am allowed to call her Sarah, now that we are friends.’

‘And Kitty?’

‘Kitty is ‘from away,’ as they say down here. New York to be exact. Married into one of the oldest families in Arcadia and is one of the most influential movers and shakers in the county. And my dearest friend here.’

Jasper drove his big rental car up the steep streets to Kitty’s house and parked in front of the old colonial mansion house. He stood admiring its facade as Ama removed his case and suit zip bag from the back seat.

‘Close your mouth and try not to look like a country bumpkin, Jasper. Remember they’re expecting a sophisticated lawyer from Montreal. Don’t let me down.’ She climbed the front steps to the enclosed veranda while he followed her. ‘Look behind you, now.’

He turned to take in the sweep of the harbour with the old town below them. ‘You certainly know how to pick your friends, Ama.’

She pulled on the old doorbell and it rasped faintly inside. A moment later, Mrs. Spengler opened the door, pulling off her apron as she saw who it was.

‘Ama – we’ve been expecting you. Come in. Here, let me take those things. Kitty! They’re here.’ She took Jasper’s case and suit zip bag into the hall and laid them on a chair.

‘Jasper, this is Mrs. Spengler. Sarah, Jasper Falkenham, my friend and pro bono lawyer.’

Sarah shook his hand and drew him into the drawing room off the hall. ‘Have a seat, while I fetch Kitty. She’s probably prinking in front of the mirror before she meets you.’

She left the room and Jasper gazed about it, looking at the old maritime paintings on the walls.

‘This is finer than any hotel I might have expected to find. Are you sure I won’t be putting them out?’

‘Not at all, they’re looking forward to having you. I told them what a prize you were.’

Kitty sailed into the room straight to Jasper and took his hand in both of hers. ‘This is a rare treat for us. We seldom have such distinguished guests from Montreal. You’ve met my friend Sarah and I’m Kitty. May I call you Jasper? Ama has told us so much about how you and your wife have been helping her daughter, Ocean.’

‘Ama and I are very old friends, Kitty. I’m only too pleased to be of some assistance to her and Ocean. I, too, had a wayward daughter, as she may have mentioned. I know how she feels.’

Kitty turned to Ama and smiled. ‘He looks far too dashing to be a bona fide lawyer, Ama. We have such dry old sticks here in Arcadia, don’t we, Sarah?’

‘I can assure you he is the genuine article, Kitty. Don’t be deceived by his appearance, or he may have you putting him in your will.’

‘I expect you must be gasping for a drink after your long trip, Mr. Falkenham. I’m notorious for my cocktails. Would you like one?’ asked Sarah.

‘What a good idea, Sarah,’ said Kitty, ‘let’s all have one of your whisky sours and then perhaps you could show Jasper his room, so he can freshen up before the party starts. The bathroom is right next door if you’d like to have a shower.’

‘Better lock the door, Jasper, or you may have someone scrubbing your back,’ said Ama.

‘We won’t be eating for a while so maybe you’d care for a snack to tide you over,’ said Sarah. ‘I can make you something while I do the drinks.’

‘Ama stuffed me full of lobster and wine at lunch. If I have anything more, I’ll fall asleep and disgrace her in front of your guests.’

‘Plenty of time to have a nap as well,’ said Kitty. ‘Shall we sit out on the veranda with our drinks and then we’ll let you escape upstairs.’ She took Jasper’s arm to lead him out of the room and Sarah went off to make the cocktails.

‘I suppose Ama has shown you round our old Regency Theatre. What do you think of all the changes she and Claire are making?’

‘Very inventive and radical. I know how these old public buildings can drink up money to restore to their original grandeur. This is more like a clever disguise, don’t you think, Kitty?’

‘I only have second hand reports from Ama. She won’t let me visit yet – says it’s too dangerous for decrepit old ladies.’

‘I never said any such thing, Jasper. I just want to wait until there’s something more to show than a building site. Right now, what we need are strong men with good carpentry skills. To help Arthur and Garth build ramps and staircases, in time for the grand opening in September.’

Sarah pushed open the door and set down a tray of cocktails and a plate of appetisers. ‘These are for Mr. Falkenham to tide him over till the party. The fancy ones are Kitty’s – but mine are more filling.’ She handed round the whisky sours and sat down. ‘It’s a long time since I been in the old Regency but can’t say I remember any such things as ramps and stairs on the stage.’

‘That’s because there aren’t any yet,’ said Ama. ‘Arthur and Garth’s team are just building them but we’re running out of time. I was hoping you and Kitty might know some skilled carpenters you could inveigle into lending a helping hand.’

‘Scarce as hen’s teeth,’ said Kitty. ‘I’ve been trying to get someone to do repairs to the kitchen for months now.’

‘Most of the skilled men I know are fishermen and boat builders,’ said Sarah. ‘There’s a saying down here that boat builders can build houses but house builders can’t build boats. So maybe I could talk to some of them. There’s a lot of unemployed fishermen these days, pining for something to keep them occupied.’

‘Too bad I’m so clumsy with my hands or I’d volunteer,’ Jasper said. ‘I’ve been pottering around our week-end cottage but my carpentry is very rough and ready.’

‘I doubt if Delphine would lend you to us anyway, Jasper. You’re more useful gracing her dinner party fund-raisers, I expect.’

‘You’d be more than welcome to stay here, if you wanted a bit of a holiday from all the stresses of Montreal, wouldn’t he Sarah?’

‘Be nice to have a man around to cook proper meals for, instead of the sparrow portions I have to prepare for Kitty.’

‘God knows we could use all your other skills, Jasper. But could you cope with being a big fish in a very small pond?’ said Ama.

‘You all make it sound quite compelling. And it would make a change doing something more meaningful than handling another society divorce.’

‘Let him see his room with that perfect view of the harbour before he makes up his mind, Sarah,’ said Kitty, topping up his whisky from the cocktail shaker. ‘It would be like having Gerald back home again to make a fuss of.’

‘I’ll leave you to revive for the party, Jasper, and go home to get changed myself,’ Ama said. She drained her glass and stood up. ‘I’ll collect my car on the way. The walk will sober me up after Sarah’s powerful whisky sours.’


When Ama pulled up to her old house-sit she saw Claire’s silver SUV parked in the drive and found her upstairs, perched on the old curved sleigh bed painting her toenails.

‘Sit down and I’ll do yours next,’ she said.

‘I must have a shower first, I smell like a ditch digger,’ said Ama, heading into the bathroom.


She stood in the shower and let the warm water beat on her shoulders, feeling the tension of the theatre’s problems draining from her body. After rinsing the shampoo off her hair, she turned the water to cool to close her pores, then pulled on her matted old terrycloth robe and went back to the bedroom to sit beside Claire.

‘Ready? Same colour as mine, Sis?’ asked Claire holding up the little bottle. ‘Eau de Nile.’ Ama nodded and stuck out one foot for Claire to start on.

‘Matches my lemon dress only it’s all grubby and sweaty from the theatre today,’ she said, watching Claire expertly applying the pale green nail polish and pushing wads of cotton wool between her toes, to keep them separated.

‘I’ve been going through your wardrobe and the news is not good, girl. You’ve been sadly neglecting yourself. However, I found a decent cream linen suit that might work for this evening,’ said Claire, pointing to an outfit hanging on the old wardrobe door. ‘Bit wrinkled and needs a good press. Just right for the artistic director image. And it won’t show me up too much, I hope. But your lingerie drawer is shocking, Ama. Old industrial knickers is a more accurate description. If I wore things like that around Antony it would dampen his ardour permanently.’

‘Well, it’ll have to do for tonight. I don’t know about you but I’m not planning to show my drawers to anyone this evening.’

‘All I can say is turn the light off first before you let your sailor see them or he’ll sail off into the sunset.’

She finished doing Ama’s toenails and climbed off the bed. ‘Tell me what you think of this little number Frankie discovered in the costume loft.’ She took a shimmering little flapper outfit from the wardrobe and held it up for inspection. ‘Kinda slinky, huh? Do you think I can get away with it for the party, or should I save it for opening night?’ She slipped off her kimono, revealing flesh-pink silk French knickers and a push-up bra that made the most of her slender form. She slid the short flapper dress over her head and struck a twenties pose for Ama.

‘Classy. You look as though you’d stepped straight out of a Noel Coward play. Of course, you’ll make the rest of us look like lumpy frumps but the men will love it.’

‘What about your big city lawyer – will he like it?’

‘Jasper? Guaranteed. He’ll probably try to swallow you whole. Dress and all.’

‘Good. Just so I can keep his attention long enough to pitch some ideas to him about my travelling museum project.’

‘Poor Jasper. Do you think I should warn him practically every woman in the room has designs on him? Me, you, Kitty with her charities and Sarah with her women’s refuge. He was barely in their house before they were trying to lure him to move in.’

‘I expect he doesn’t mind being lionised by women, from what you’ve told me about his past. Now where’s your steam iron and let’s get you dressed to impress. From what Frankie tells me about Kitty’s parties, Jasper won’t be the only big fish there. Half the glitterati in the county cultural circles have been invited. We have work to do.’

‘It’s only a social evening for the local theatre workers to relax and enjoy themselves a little, Claire.’

‘Ama, your naiveté is breathtaking sometimes. You said yourself practically everyone has an agenda to push tonight and this is our chance to push ours. Get your war-paint on and let’s join the fray. But first, I need a little stiffener.’ Claire opened her silvery clasp handbag and removed a small tube of pills. She popped one in her mouth and washed it down with a gulp of white wine from the bottle they’d been sipping while they dressed.

‘What’s that, Claire? Are you on some medication for your… condition?’

‘Not yet. Antony gets these for me to keep my energy levels up. Want to try one?’

‘What are they?’

‘He won’t tell me exactly. He says they’re kind of like Ecstasy, only different.’

‘Claire, are you sure you should be taking that kind of thing with your diagnosis? They might …’

‘Kill me, you mean? They might – but so might leukemia.’ She put the little bottle back in her bag. ‘“Be bold and let who would, be wise.”’ She opened the front door and they stepped into the silky warmth of the summer evening.













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