Still Life

Page 8

‘No! What happened?’

‘Philippe mumbled, “I’m sorry about this morning.”’

‘What did you say?’ Myrna asked.

‘Prove it,’ said Olivier.

‘You didn’t,’ hooted Clara, amused and impressed.

‘I most certainly did. There was a lack of sincerity about the apology. He was sorry he got caught and sorry there were consequences. But I didn’t believe he was sorry about what he did.’

‘Conscience and cowardice,’ said Clara.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Ben.

‘Oscar Wilde said that conscience and cowardice are the same thing. What stops us from doing horrible things isn’t our conscience but the fear of getting caught.’

‘I wonder if that’s true,’ said Jane.

‘Would you?’ Myrna asked Clara.

‘Do terrible things if I could get away with it?’

‘Cheat on Peter,’ suggested Olivier. ‘Steal from the bank. Or better still, steal another artist’s work?’

‘Ah, kids stuff,’ snapped Ruth. ‘Now, take murder, for instance. Would you mow someone down with your car? Or poison them, maybe, or throw them into the Bella Bella during spring run off? Or,’ she looked around, warm firelight reflecting off slightly concerned faces, ‘or we could set a fire and then not save them.’

‘What do you mean, “we”, white woman?’ said Myrna. Myrna brought the conversation back from the edge.

‘The truth? Sure. But not murder.’ Clara looked over at Ruth who simply gave her a conspiratorial wink.

‘Imagine a world where you could do anything. Anything. And get away with it,’ said Myrna, warming to the topic again. ‘What power. Who here wouldn’t be corrupted?’

‘Jane wouldn’t,’ said Ruth with certainty. ‘But the rest of you?’ she shrugged.

‘And you?’ Olivier asked Ruth, more than a little annoyed to be lumped in where he secretly knew he belonged.

‘Me? But you know me well enough by now, Olivier. I’d be the worst. I’d cheat, and steal, and make all your lives hell.’

‘Worse than now?’ asked Olivier, still peeved.

‘Now you’re on the list,’ said Ruth. And Olivier remembered that the closest thing they had to a police force was the volunteer fire brigade, of which he was a member but of which Ruth was the chief. When Ruth Zardo ordered you into a conflagration, you went. She was scarier than a burning building.

‘Gabri, what about you?’ Clara asked.

‘There’ve been times I’ve been mad enough to kill, and may have, had I known I would get away with it.’

‘What made you that angry?’ Clara was astonished.

‘Betrayal, always and only betrayal.’

‘What did you do about it?’ asked Myrna.

‘Therapy. That was where I met this guy.’ Gabri reached out and patted Olivier’s hand. ‘I think we both went to that therapist for about a year longer than we had to just to see each other in the waiting room.’

‘Is that sick?’ said Olivier, smoothing a lock of his immaculate, thinning blond hair off his face. It was like silk, and kept falling into his eyes, no matter what products he used.

‘Mock me if you will, but everything happens for a reason,’ Gabri said. ‘No betrayal, no rage. No rage, no therapy. No therapy, no Olivier. No Olivier no—’

‘Enough.’ Olivier held up his hands in surrender.

‘I’ve always liked Matthew Croft,’ said Jane.

‘Did you teach him?’ asked Clara.

‘Long time ago. He was in the second to last class at the old schoolhouse here, before it closed.’

‘I still think that was a shame they closed it,’ said Ben.

‘For God’s sake, Ben, the school closed twenty years ago. Move on.’ Only Ruth would say this.

When she first came to Three Pines, Myrna had wondered whether Ruth had had a stroke. Sometimes, Myrna knew from her practice, stroke victims had very little impulse control. When she asked about it, Clara said if Ruth had had a stroke it was in the womb. As far as she knew, Ruth had always been like this.

‘Then why does everyone like her?’ Myrna had asked.

Clara had laughed and shrugged, ‘You know there are days I ask myself the same thing. What a piece of work that woman can be. But she’s worth the effort, I think.’

‘Anyway,’ Gabri huffed now, having temporarily lost the spotlight. ‘Philippe agreed to work for fifteen hours, volunteer, around the Bistro.’

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