“Suzanne” by Michael Betcherman
Suzanne had it all. Then she lost it. Now she wants it back.
Suzanne Braun had it all – beauty, status and money. Then her husband died – but unfortunately not before making a series of foolish investments that squandered her inheritance. When a promising relationship with a wealthy and aging suitor founders during prenuptial negotiations, Suzanne finds herself a social pariah, universally regarded as an unscrupulous golddigger.
Her prospects look bleak until her late husband’s brother, Douglas, invites her to spend the summer at Inglewood, the family cottage on Lake Joseph, a playground for Toronto’s uber-rich. Suzanne packs her bag, deposits her wayward daughter at summer camp and armed only with her wits and her sex appeal, heads north with one goal in mind: to return home at summer’s end with a wealthy fiancé in tow.
Douglas’ frumpy wife Catherine dreads Suzanne’s arrival. Years earlier she went out with Suzanne’s late husband before he dumped her for Suzanne, but there is more than a summer in the company of a hated rival at stake. Catherine fears that the sexy widow will set her sights on her brother Mark, a successful businessman who is returning to Canada after 14 years in Japan. The prospect that this social climbing opportunist might penetrate the family circle is too horrible to contemplate, and Catherine will stop at nothing to prevent it.
Chapter one tease
MONDAY, JULY 3
Subject: the wicked witch of the west
To: Marjory Stein
Well, the she-devil arrived Saturday afternoon, laden with six Louis Vuitton suitcases and the touching confession that her “fondest desire” was that we put the past behind us. She’s been on her best behavior; gracious towards me, deferential towards Douglas, and doting towards the children. That sound you hear is me retching.
My foolish husband has been completely taken in. He is convinced that Suzanne is sincere about wanting to turn over a new leaf. When I muttered something about a wolf in designer clothing, he accused me of being mean-spirited and even suggested that I was jealous of Suzanne because I had been ‘going with’ Michael when he met her. Have you ever heard anything more absurd? A handful of unmemorable dates hardly qualifies as ‘going with’ someone. If anyone is jealous, it’s Douglas. Why else would he dredge this up after all these years?
Michael’s the one he should be angry at. I don’t like to speak poorly about the dead, but if he’d had the courage to stand up to Suzanne, none of this would ever have happened. He and Douglas were as close to each other growing up as Mark and I were. Can you imagine either of us letting anyone get between us like she did with them? Then again, perhaps I’m being too hard on Michael. The woman is a remarkably nasty piece of business. It’s only taken her a day to set Douglas and I against each other. She had years to work on Michael.
love to David and the kids,
You know how much I love Douglas, but it was very disloyal of him to invite Suzanne to Inglewood without clearing it with you first. And that crack about you being jealous was way out of line. The point is that she went after Michael while you were still seeing him. Whether or not you were interested in him, and of course you weren’t, is completely irrelevant. You don’t do that to a friend. But then she never was interested in being our friend, was she? We were just her ticket to the right side of the tracks. I wonder if it has ever crossed her mind that if we hadn’t befriended her, she would never have met Michael in the first place. Remember that god awful yellow jump suit she was wearing the first day of class?
By the way, I saw her at Holt’s a couple of days ago. Truly depressing. The woman doesn’t age. If there is a God, she really does move in mysterious ways. If I was in charge, I wouldn’t have wasted the boils on the Egyptians, I’d have saved them for her. She was her usual phony self, declared herself ‘absolutely thrilled’ to see me. yadda yadda yadda. I guess she lost my number when it came time to put her house up for sale. By the way, she dropped the price a second time even though her agent suggested she take it off the market until things pick up. Michael must have left her in worse shape than we thought.
I have to admit she’s got nerve. Her parting words were ‘I hope we’ll get a chance to see you at Inglewood,” as if her name was on title. Why don’t you put her up in the boathouse? Maybe the raccoons will persuade her she’s not welcome.
Oak Tree Realty
Everything Maggie touches turns to SOLD!
I arrived at Inglewood Saturday after dropping Jennifer off at camp. Any doubts I had about the wisdom of placing her there were dispelled two minutes after we arrived when, in full view of everyone, she loudly announced that I could leave and then brusquely rebuffed my attempt to hug her goodbye. If she didn’t bear such an eerie resemblance to me, I would be convinced that she had been switched at birth.
Douglas and the children were out when I arrived, leaving Catherine free to provide a welcome – a slab of orange cheddar, some stale crackers and the remains of an open bottle of wine – that clearly defined the rules of engagement. I am the poor relative with nowhere else to go; she is the benevolent lady of the manor, duty bound to take me in.
What happened next convinced me that I am faced with an adversary who will stop at nothing to get rid of me. Once we exchanged pleasantries, she asked if I would like to see some pictures of the children. Before I could tell her that I would rather be jabbed in the eye with a hot needle, she advanced towards me with a hideous grin and a daunting stack of photo albums. At first I thought she intended to crush me to death with them but that would have left marks. It was only by the end of the first album, when baby Tony had rolled over onto his side for the third time in his life, that her fiendish plan became clear. She intends to bore me to death.
Catherine is a charter member of that tribe of dull women who live vicariously through their children, obsessively immersing themselves in every detail of their lives and tirelessly singing their praises. If her children are even one-tenth as talented as she claims, before the summer is out Tony will be offered a Rhodes Scholarship and Cleo’s artwork will be removed from the fridge and installed at the Whitney.
After half an hour I could feel the life force draining out of me when Douglas came to the rescue. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me. At the risk of sounding immodest, I think he is happy to have me here on aesthetic grounds alone. Catherine’s best years – a relative term – are long past. If they are still having conjugal relations, it is only because he is burdened with an extraordinarily strong sense of duty.
The children are a pleasant surprise. They are neither as dull and unimaginative as their gene pool would suggest, nor as spoiled and self-centered as their upbringing would lead one to predict. Although they are as different as night and day – Tony is an introvert, happy to spend his days with his nose in a book while Cleo is outgoing and energetic – they get along beautifully with each other. Tony takes his responsibility as a big brother very seriously and Cleo absolutely idolizes him. I couldn’t help wondering if Jennifer might have turned out differently had I been able to provide her with a sibling.
The cottage itself is lovely – a little run-down in that charming way which only the rich can pull off – and I am sure I shall be very comfortable here. It was built a half-century ago by Catherine’s grandfather – Grandpa Jack – and it is a point of honor with her that everything here remains in its original state. This year Douglas finally rebelled at his wife’s reverence for tradition and installed an indoor toilet – a state-of-the-art composting toilet that converts you-know-what into black earth for his vegetable garden in a few short days. (Note to self: avoid vegetables for the duration.) Within minutes of his arrival he showed off his new toy. He was so proud of it that for a moment I thought he was going to give me a personal demonstration.
Grandpa Jack’s original outhouse is still standing and Catherine continues to use it when the weather cooperates. She contends that the view of the lake it provides on a moonlit night is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Not an image one is keen to linger on.
More later. An interminable evening of board games awaits. Is ‘bitch’ in the official Scrabble dictionary?
WEDNESDAY, JULY 5
I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but if things keep up the way they’re going my marriage won’t survive the summer.
Yesterday the Wards called up to invite us to a cocktail party. Douglas made sure that Suzanne was included. I could have killed him. We were an hour late waiting for her to get dressed. She finally emerged in a pair of shorts – short being the operative word – and a low scoop neck t-shirt that had the men salivating the moment she bounced off the boat. Earl Stewart, loaded as usual, immediately started chatting her up but the look he got from Elisa sobered him up in a hurry. After that, the others were smart enough to keep their distance.
Roger Dillon was there as well. He’s throwing his annual bash this Saturday at the club. Suzanne was desperate for an invite and threw out a number of feelers, all of which Roger pointedly ignored. Not surprising, considering that he and Henry are such good friends. Most people would have got the hint but not our Suzanne. She cornered Roger when he was talking to Douglas and me and asked him outright if she could come to the party. Can you believe the gall of the woman? The poor man was caught completely off-guard. Talk about an awkward silence. He said yes, of course. What else could he do with Douglas standing right there? Tell one of his best clients that his houseguest wasn’t welcome at his party?
I thought, if nothing else, that this would at least remove the blinkers from Douglas’ eyes, and that he would finally see her for what she is. I even dared to think he would feel so insulted by her outrageous behavior that he would send her packing. Fat chance. He was insulted – but by Roger, not Suzanne. He said he didn’t give a damn about Roger’s friendship with Henry, Suzanne was our guest and if she was good enough to be invited into our home, then she was good enough to be invited to his damn party. He actually chuckled about the way Suzanne made Roger squirm. Said it served him right.
Yesterday we went to a cocktail party at a cottage across the lake. After being marooned at the cottage for three tedious days with nothing to do but listen to Catherine coo with delight every time one of her prodigies uttered a word without stuttering, the change of scene came as a welcome relief.
Unfortunately, there was not a bachelor in sight. Which is not to say that the outing was devoid of entertainment. One of the guests, an obnoxious fool who confirmed my belief that self-made men are among the least agreeable of the species, mistook my friendly conversation as a sign that I found him irresistible. Emboldened by several martinis, he took me aside and told me how much he enjoyed talking to me. Then, staring deep into my cleavage, he declared that he would love to pursue our conversation at a later date, say tomorrow afternoon at the Village Inn. I told him this was a lovely idea and suggested we ask his wife to join us. From the look of consternation that crossed his face, I could only assume that he was suffering from an advanced case of dementia and had completely forgotten that he was married. His wife soon joined us and it was heartrending to witness the look of horror that crossed his face as his memory came flooding back.
Happily the evening was not a total loss on the social front. I have been invited to a party this Saturday at the golf club, an annual event that kicks off the summer season. A number of eligible bachelors are certain to be in attendance, and from a smattering of phrases I overheard as Catherine and her friends discussed their various attributes – “made a fortune from the IPO”, “bills out at $950 an hour”, “bought the penthouse apartment for $7 million, and then gutted the place” – I am hopeful I may finally meet my soul mate.
Catherine was dismayed to learn that I had been invited to the party. Indeed, I did not think the human face capable of contorting itself into a look as sour as the one that graced her face when she found out. Then again, a week in her company has caused me to question many of my basic assumptions. For example, I had not thought it possible that a human being could memorize every two-letter word in the Scrabble dictionary, nor that victory in a game of Monopoly could be the source of such visceral satisfaction, but on both counts she has proven me wrong.
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