Smoking Guns: #3 — Death comes calling

Posted on August 3, 2012


[This is the account of my third “smoking gun.” It is as accurate as I can make it, a process that has included repeated interviews with the principles involved, always following Gibbs Rule Number One: Never question suspects together. Conversations are left out except when the exact words can be confirmed, or the comment was short enough that a memory approximation is reliable. Also, I’ve kept the descriptions as free of sensationalism as possible, in order to let the facts speak for themselves. For more information on this Smoking Gun series, please see Smoking Guns: Introduction.]

This is the final Smoking Gun episode. It’s easily told, and I’ll keep it very simple because I’m not much in the mood for this. I’m just wrapping up something I started, and my reasons for starting it are no longer at all clear — if they ever were. Fact is, these are my “smoking guns” and by their very nature as second-hand accounts, they cannot be of use to anyone else.

Squirly’s bar, 807 Queen West. (Image from Google Street View.)

For several years I was senior writer on a Toronto magazine dealing with the arts, cuisine, music, and general culture of Queen Street — both east and west. One of the perks was the tendency of the publisher to throw really great parties at some of Queen Street’s best establishments. On this occasion it was held at Squirly’s, a popular Queen West bar/restaurant.

The party included other writers, friends, and probably even a couple of advertisers. We were seated at a long table that had one end butted against the front window, and one long side against a wall. This put those of us sitting near the window end on that side at a distinct disadvantage when it came to trying to get out to go to the washroom, since it required everyone else on that side to get up and move.

I was happily engaged in a conversation with JF. We tended to gravitate together at these events in order to discuss the relative superiority of our respective mother tongues: French for him, English for me. In the midst of all this food, drink and camaraderie I suddenly felt a sense of shock, like when someone tells you the most terrible news you could imagine. There was no intervening stage: I was laughing and talking one moment, and the next moment I felt like the world had dropped out from under me. Along with this feeling came the absolute conviction that my mother had just died.

I wanted to shove it aside as just some emotional quirk, but couldn’t. There was simply no way to continue acting as though everything was fine when I felt like I’d just been hit with a tragedy. In order to confirm or deny this feeling I had to ask everyone along my side of the table to let me out, then I went to the bar and asked to use the phone. I called my mother, and waited, already knowing there would be no answer and trying to figure out how to extract my wife and I from the party without unduly upsetting everyone else there.

And then my mother answered the phone.

Well, as they say — this was awkward.

After a moment of hemming an hawing I told her why I’d called: that I’d had the sudden strong feeling that she’d died, and that I was very relieved to discover that she was alive and well.

Then I went back to the party. On the way home I told my wife what had happened, and we joked about what it must be like to get a phone call from someone saying, “Oh, hi. I thought you were dead.”

When we got home there was a message on the answering machine. It was from my mother. Shortly after I’d talked to her she got a phone call telling her that her sister, my Aunt Ruth, had just died.

Ruth, in many ways, was my second mother. Even when we lived hundreds of miles away I’d spent several weeks every summer at her place (it’s where I first learned to ride a two-wheeler), and she’d always treated me as one of her own. As a teenager living in Malton (outside of Toronto), I frequently hitch-hiked down to her place for some down time.

A few years after the Squirly’s event, I was watching a bad show about “paranormal events,” complete with all the standard lack of confirmation and vague documentation. At one point, however, a woman was talking about a time that she’d been away from home and had suddenly known that her child was in trouble (injured, as I recall). She said, “It was like a switch had been thrown. One moment I was fine, and the next I was terrified for my son.”

Whether it was true or not, I was inclined to believe her. That exactly described the feeling I’d experienced when Ruth died.

And that’s it for the Smoking Guns.

I’m not sure, but that may also be it for this blog. We’ll see.