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Authors: Mordecai Richler

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‘Dr Parks has always said,’ Bette continued, too absorbed to protest, ‘that if you want to succeed you must always shoot for the bull’s-eye.’

Atuk promised to try.

‘You’re as good as the next fellow. You simply must believe that, Atuk. You see, the most successful men have the same eyes, brain, arms, and legs as you have.’

‘I drink now. You too.’

‘I’ll bet,’ she said, narrowing her eyes, ‘that you envy some people.’

‘Many, many people.’

‘But still more people envy you.’

‘Do they?’

‘Sure. Some are bald-you have a head full of hair. Some are blind – you can see.
Everybody envies somebody else
. You must learn to have faith in yourself.’

Soon they were sipping gin and carrot juice together nightly and Bette continued to do her utmost to fill Atuk with confidence.

‘Why go to so much trouble?’ he once asked her.

‘Because I have to help people. That’s me.’ Her long, powerful, Lloyd-insured legs curled under her on the sofa, a lock of blonde hair falling over her forehead, Bette smiled and said, ‘Do you realize
you’re just about the only male who has never – never tried the funny stuff with me?’

‘Don’t you admire me for it?’ he asked hopefully.

‘Yes. Certainly I do.’ She got down on the floor and began a lightning series of chin-ups. A sure sign she was troubled. ‘But don’t you love me?’ She rolled over on her back, supporting her buttocks with her hands and revolving her legs swiftly. ‘Everybody loves Bette Dolan,’ she insisted.

‘And so do I. Oh, so do I!’

So Atuk told her his dreadful secret. ‘I lack confidence,’ he said, ‘because I am unable to make love. All that stands between me and hitting the bull’s-eye is a woman who can … well, encourage me over the hump.’ He lowered his head. ‘I need help, Miss Dolan.’

A plea for help was something Bette Dolan had never taken lightly. She sprang to her feet, bouncing upright. Her lovely face filled with determination. After a long and solemn pause, she said, ‘I will help you, Atuk.’

‘Would you? Honest?’

To prove it she stepped right up to him, her eyes squeezed shut against anticipated distaste, and kissed him on the mouth. ‘It’s the very first time for me,’ she said.

‘I’m so afraid,’ Atuk said, his voice quavering, ‘of failing.’

Bette kissed him again, forcing his mouth open. When she was done, Atuk cleared his throat and
poured himself a rather strong gin and carrot juice.

‘Aren’t you even … don’t you feel …?’

‘It’s no use,’ he said.

Bette pulled him down to the rug with her and led his hand to her breast. ‘This should be very stimulating for you,’ she said. She kissed him even more passionately, rolled over on him, tried a couple of other sure-fire things, and then pulled back to look at him quizzically.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I do feel a certain …’

‘Good.’

‘I think my pulse-beat
has
quickened.’

‘That’s progress, isn’t it?’

But it seemed to Atuk there was a sour edge to her voice now.

‘That’s all for tonight,’ she said.

At the door, however, she suddenly clung to him. ‘I hope you realize,’ she said, ‘that no man has ever even held me in his arms before. I couldn’t you see. Because I belong to the nation. Like Jasper Park or Niagara Falls.’

‘I do understand.’

‘I’m trying to help, that’s all.’

She had Atuk back early the next afternoon for a lecture.

‘I think your trouble may be mental,’ she said.

‘Very likely. Many times the Old One has said—’

‘Well,’ she interrupted, taking a deep breath, ‘the first thing you must understand is that every human being from the beginning of time has possessed sex
organs and was produced as a result of sexual intercourse. Does that shock you?’

Atuk whistled.

‘I thought it would. You must learn to think of your sex organ,’ she said, drawing a sketch on the blackboard, ‘as being just as common as your hands, your heart, or your pectoral muscles. If you analyse the penis as you analyse the function of any other part of your body you will find that it’s made up of essentially the same kind of materials.’

‘I’m going to love it in Toronto,’ Atuk said.

‘What?’

‘Nothing,’ he said, hastily pouring himself another gin and carrot juice.

‘Then, to quote Dr Parks, if you analyse the sex act itself in the same clear-thinking way, you will see that this simple function is no more mysterious or filthy than eating, breathing, or urinating.’

After the lecture Bette shed her smock and was revealed in the most provocative silk pyjamas. Her work clothes, she called them off-handedly, and she at once engaged Atuk in a series of practical exercises: therapy. Soon there were lectures every afternoon and by the end of the first week there was rather less time spent at the blackboard and more at therapy. She was, Atuk thought, very inventive for a novice. Usually, she was also the acme of patience. A model teacher. Though there were times when the therapy became so real for her that the final, inevitable disappointment made her petulant.

‘I want you,’ she ultimately said, ‘to go for broke today.’

‘You mean shoot for the bull’s-eye?’

‘Yes,’ she said, exasperated. ‘I’m not enjoying this, you know. I’m only trying to help. But I’m getting discouraged. You must try to help yourself, you know.’

‘I couldn’t. I …’

Bette sprang up and caught him in a judo hold. ‘You shoot for the bull’s-eye, goddam it,’ she said, ‘or I’ll …’

So Atuk finally made love to Bette.

Afterwards Bette lay so still, she seemed so remote, that Atuk wondered if she suspected that she had been seduced.

But Bette had been lifted into a hitherto unsuspected sphere. It had never occurred to her before that love-making could be anything but nasty. Filthy. Like her father belting her mother into submission in the next room. How utterly wonderful, she thought, that indulging in the funny stuff could be such a generous and Christian thing to do. There was truth, after all, in her mother’s saying time and again, that there was no joy greater than helping others.

Atuk spiked his carrot juice with more gin.

‘I think,’ Bette said, her voice jarringly submissive, ‘that you ought to try again, sweetheart.’

And so Canada’s Darling, the unobtainable Bette Dolan, became Atuk’s grateful mistress, and Atuk
was soon reconciled to phone calls at all hours of the day or night.

‘You must come over immediately,’ she’d say. ‘I feel the need to help you.’

So at a quarter to eight Atuk started out of the rooming house, jumped a bus, and hurried over to Bette’s place.

Perhaps it was because he was so lonely, maybe he drank too many gin and carrot juices, but that evening Atuk confessed to Bette what he had done on the tundra.

Bette was certainly horrified by the nature of his crime, but she said, ‘The case is closed. You have nothing to worry about, darling.’

‘I didn’t mean any harm. What did I know of such things?’

‘Of course, of course,’ she said, pulling him to her again.

‘You must promise never to repeat what I have told you,’ Atuk said, suddenly realizing that he had revealed his most dreadful secret. ‘You must swear it, Bette.’

‘I swear it. Now come here.’

4

If he didn’t go directly to Bette’s after his classes at Eglinton, Atuk usually went to the bar around the corner for a bottle of Twentyman’s Ale.

A sign outside the bar proclaimed the presence of a rock’n’roll group Direct From the Ed Sullivan Show and a Smash Run in Buffalo, and inside Atuk joined the pale released office workers all bent in a curve over bottles of ale at the horseshoe-shaped bar, a row of pencils still in the breast pockets of their jackets. Over toward the door, a pyramid of rubbers and overshoes lay in a steaming puddle. Atuk felt miserable because it seemed to him that after the initial, hardly profitable, success of his book of poems, he had failed at everything in Toronto except Bette Dolan, but his success with Bette was fraudulent and besides she was too slim for his taste. Oh, he thought, for a fat smelly bear of a girl. Damn. Here he was blessed enough to be in Toronto, and what had he made of himself? Nothing. What had he done for his family? A food parcel. His Tribe? The Elders of the Igloo? Some blurred photographs of strategic bridges, the railway station, the airport. Nothing to shout about. The Old One would be disappointed.

Atuk was bitterly determined to prove to the Old One, Bette, Gore, and Doc Burt Parks, that he was not entirely without vim-and-vigour.

‘What you dare to dream,’ Dr Parks had said, ‘dare to do.’

Bette had introduced Atuk to the great teacher when he had come to Toronto with a group of bodybuilders. Dr Parks introduced a physical culture display in the sports department of Twentyman’s
Department Store, where his equipment was for sale. An enormous crowd had turned up for the exhibition, but this was no surprise, for Bette Dolan had promised to appear.

A magnificently built man of sixty-two, Dr Parks strode masterfully up and down the platform. ‘Well, then,’ he began, ‘I’m sure all you washed-out, weak, worn-out, suffering, sickly men want to renew your youth and delay that trip to the underground bungalow.’

Lake Ontario Jr struck a classic pose.

‘We have brought together here some of the finest examples of Canadian manhood in the world. We are building a new race of muscular marvels greater than the Greek Gods. We’re doing it for patriotic reasons.’

The Best Developed Biceps of Sunnyside Beach rippled his muscles.

‘You too,’ Dr Parks told the people, ‘can develop a physique like Buddy Lane and overcome constipation, hernia, hardening of the arteries, diarrhæa, impotence, heart disease, and so forth.’

Television cameras dollied in as a nine-year-old French Canadian boy and his father, a man no more than four foot eleven, began a series of amazing exercises.

‘This fellow here,’ Dr Parks said, ‘is the strongest stunted man in the world.
Isn’t that something?’

A few people applauded.

‘Body-building is one of the finest means known to man of overcoming juvenile delinquency. If the kid’s in the gym you know he’s not out getting a fix. Why, I’m sure none of you want your boy to grow up a skinny runt … puny! … you want him to be a real Parks he-man!’

Next the drums rolled, the cameras came closer, and a big muscular Negro was led onstage. He wore dark glasses.

‘Isn’t this fellow
something
?’ Dr Parks asked.

But the applause was mild, grudging. Atuk was puzzled. He felt sure he had seen the Negro somewhere before.

‘Know what he needs,’ somebody said, ‘a brassière!’

Unperturbed by his luke-warm reception, the black shiny giant lifted a huge weight. Dr Parks whistled with amazement. ‘
Isn’t he
 … SENSATIONAL
?’ Dr Parks demanded, beginning to applaud.

‘Aw.’

‘Where’s Bette Dolan?’

‘We came to see Bette.’

Dr Parks turned accusingly on his audience. ‘You see what he’s just done?’ he said. He paused. ‘Well,
he’s blind!’

The audience gasped. Touched and shamed.

‘Meet Jersey Joe Marchette,
THE WORLD’S BEST DEVELOPED … BLIND … NEGRO
!’

Now the applause was deafening.

‘Like I play the piano too,’ Marchette said, grinning.

‘Just look at those muscles,’ Dr Parks said. ‘If he can do it – so can you!’

Jersey Joe Marchette struck another pose.

‘Recognize him?’ Dr Parks asked.

‘Isn’t he the guy in the Ever-Black Shoe Spray Commercial?’

‘Wrong!’

‘He’s Mr Klean-All on the Derm Gabbard Show.’

‘Wrong again. Tell ‘em, Joe.’

‘In the Twentyman Steel Four Freedom spots,’ Joe said, extremely pleased, ‘I’m one of the guys in Freedom From Fear. You know, the guy with the lunch pail and the big smile. There’s me and this kike and—’

‘O?,’ Dr Parks said, ‘O?. A big hand for Jersey Joe, folks!’

Marchette was applauded even more wildly this time, but he wouldn’t leave the stage. Dr Parks glared at him.

‘One minute,’ the compére said, rushing onstage. ‘We have a special surprise for you, Dr Parks.’

‘Oh.’

The compère handed Jersey Joe a big brass plaque.

‘Almost forgot,’ Jersey Joe said. He wet his lips. ‘Dr Parks,’ he began, ‘I have been asked by the Federation of Blind Muscle Builders of Canada to present you with this plaque.’ Jersey Joe, in his
excitement, now stood with his back to Dr Parks. ‘You have been a constant inspiration …’

‘This is it
. The most moving moment of my life,’ Dr Parks said. He turned quickly to the compère. ‘Can you at least get the bastard to face me?’ he whispered.

Gently the compère turned Jersey Joe toward Dr Parks.

‘… inspiration to us,’ he said, wandering off toward the right again. ‘It is therefore with great pleasure that I … give you this … plaque,’ he said, offering it to the audience.

‘Over here,’ Dr Parks said, turning him round again. He blew his nose. ‘I’m speechless. Isn’t this sensational?’ He held the plaque up to the camera. ‘When I get home this plaque takes the place of honour among my hundred and fifty-two other plaques and medals given to me by kings, sheiks, pashas, generals, leaders of men, governments, athletic associations and so forth. I—’

Offstage, right, there was a crash.

‘OK,’ Lake Ontario Jr called out. ‘I’ve got him.’

‘And now,’ the compère said, ‘Bette Dolan!’

Bette told the people how her father had raised her on the teachings of Doc Burt Parks. ‘Even before I could walk,’ she said, ‘he threw me into the pool. Oh, I went under all right,’ she added, ‘but he shouted at me, swim, baby, swim … and you know the rest of
that
story.’

The applause lasted two minutes.

‘And now,’ Bette said, ‘I’d like to do a little something for you.’

Bette Dolan was handed an ordinary hot water bottle and within three minutes she had managed to blow it up and burst it as easily as a balloon.

‘She demonstrated wonderful lung power there,’ Dr Parks said, ‘didn’t she?’

BOOK: The Incomparable Atuk
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