Julia's List

You’re saying she always wore black.  You’re saying she drank a tad too much.  She gave you a Ken doll. You gave her a Barbie doll.

Months after I first found out, you’re telling me this.  In the dark, amid endless silences.  You said then you’d never get into details. It was over between you and her.

But now I’m saying to you, in the silence that has fallen over us once more like a blight, “What was her name?”

Of course you’re not going to tell, it wouldn’t be like you.  We’ll just lie like this forever, your stubbly chin scraping my shoulder like a hair shirt, like sandpaper on an open sore.

But you actually give in.

“Her name’s Michelle.”

The banality of it enrages me once more.  A triangle.  Something not in my script.  Till now my life had an outline. First, twenty years ago, we were Rob and Julia.  Then, Rob, Julia, and Jennie.  Then, Rob, Julia, Jennie, and Tamara.  No, not quite.  By then it was Julia, Rob, Jennie and Tamara, for times had changed.

You’re telling me she’s in computers, that she plays tennis.  That’s why it was okay. You weren’t really lying.  That’s what the two of you did.  Played tennis first.


In the morning when I look in the mirror, I see the stunned eyes of a wronged woman.  I can’t believe I can look like this.  I can’t believe I can care this much.

When I first found out, you told me what you’d needed was to experience another woman.  Because neither of us had ever been with anyone else.  Because we went that far back.  To high school.

But that’s something I thought was special about us.  That we went back that far.


The weird thing is, sometimes things seem better between us.  We’re even making love again.  I watch myself doing it with curiosity.  The craving is stronger than ever, a new kind of wildness, even though I’m left hanging at the end.  Because stretched between us like Clingwrap lie the pores of a stranger.


We sit side by side in swivel chairs faced by the therapist, a beautifully groomed woman whose nails match her cherry-painted lips.  Another triangle.

“Look, when I called,” I say, “I thought this was about a marriage going sour, some kind of mid-life thing.  But since then I’ve discovered Rob’s been having an affair.”

She looks at you.  “Really?”  You nod.

“But you agreed to come.”

You nod again.


“Julia said she’d leave me if I didn’t.  She did go away, and wouldn’t come home unless I came here.”

“And she didn’t know then that you were seeing another woman?”

“No. She left because she claimed I was being impossible.”

“Are you here against your will?”

I can barely make out your voice over the drone of the air conditioner.

“I’m here because Julia’s my life.”

Another time the therapist wears black.  Her hair is pulled back in a chignon.  Her nails and lips are mauve.

“Are you aware that you’re angry at Julia?”

“I’m not angry at Julia.  Julia’s angry at me.”

“What do you want from her?”


"Julia’s your life, and you want nothing from her?  Can you explain that?”

“What he wants,” I break in, “is flattery.  That’s what he tells me he got from this Michelle of his.  She told him he was terrific.  Why don’t I say he’s terrific?  Do you believe he expects me to think he’s terrific after this?

“Julia, Julia,” the therapist soothes.  “Let Rob tell it for himself.”


Today the therapist wears green leather.  The lips and nails are coral.

“Why did you lie to Julia, Rob?”


“Rob, I see a lot of couples.  Some of them have open marriages.  The woman comes home, the man comes home, they cook dinner together, she says to him, ‘Guess what, hon?  I met someone today. ’ Is this the kind of marriage you and Julia have?”

“We have a nice life together.”

Had, not have.

Yes, we had a nice life together.  In the midst of a battle royal, we’d catch each other’s eye and unaccountably start to chuckle.  And end up in bed.  We weren’t on our best behaviour like we are now, scared to make waves in the shipwreck of our lives.

“Julia,” the therapist says, “Why so dramatic?  Why so intense?  Isn’t there anything good about this guy?”

“He’s got a great body and a full head of hair.”

“Be serious, Julia.  Make a list for next time.  Tell me what you like about Rob.  What’s your best memory of him?”

The list:

1. He’s got a great body and a full head of hair.  How many men do I know who could fit into the jeans they wore in high school?

2. He’s a wacky guy.  At our reunion, that’s what he wore. His torn jeans from Grade XI.  And Jennie’s leather jacket.  There we were, me dressed to kill and Rob looking like the Fonz.

3. He’s a wonderful father.

My best memory of you: the day we brought Tamara home from the hospital, the air stung with cold.  When you came to fetch us, you couldn’t park close by, and we had to walk a bit.  I thought the baby was fine in the snowsuit, but I had no idea it was so cold.  And so before we stepped outside, you unzipped your down jacket and placed her next to your heart.

“Rob, can you comment on Julia’s list?” the therapist asks at the next session.

“Tamara’s birth was the peak moment of my life.”

I sneak a sideways glance at you.  Your eyes are unnaturally bright.  The therapist extends the box of tissues. We each take one.

You say to her, “I have never felt such . . . joy.  We took childbirth classes with both children.  I hadn’t expected to like them.  It was a bit like coming here.  Julia made me go to the first class and I got hooked.  But with Jennie there were complications.  I worked so hard with Julia, but the doctor wouldn’t let me stay for the birth.  For Tamara I was there.  I can’t tell you what that was like.  One minute you’re staring at this spot on the table and there’s nothing.  Well, not nothing.  There’s Julia, and she’s magnificent, she’s in control even though she’s absolutely exhausted.  But there’s no baby yet.  And the next minute there’s the tip of Tamara’s head and a tiny shock of black hair.  It sounds corny, but it was a miracle.”

The therapist nods.  “It is a miracle.”

She leans toward you.  “Do you think Julia controls your life too much?"

“Julia’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I keep thinking of the Barbie and Ken dolls and what they might have meant to you and Michelle.  I keep thinking that, if our best memories of each other are from when Tamara was a baby, what’s to keep us together now that she’s turning thirteen.  I keep thinking of my three nights in the hotel before you said you’d see the therapist and of how we sleep these days spoon style with your chin resting on my shoulder.

I keep asking myself what’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

"Julia's List"

This short story was published in Telling Stories: New English Stories from Quebec
edited by Claude Lalumière
Véhicule Press, 2002


2001 - Honourable Mention in the CBC/Quebec Wrters' Federation Short Story competition

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