Enid, Bruce & Pierre
October 16, 2015
“Hey, what’s up with Fergie?” asked Jacob Meier, one of the boys in Enid Ferguson’s Grade 9 Canadian history class. Someone had to explain her absence. It was a Wednesday morning at Rideau Academy and Enid had called in sick one day after dragging herself to school in lumpy drawstring track pants and shock-absorbing runners. Jacob, the runt of the class, was ballsy despite his size (a future lawyer, for sure) and kept pressing his classmates for answers.
“So, what’s up with Fergie?”
“How should we know?” snarked Queen Bee, Jessica Twombey, speaking for all the girls.
Jacob was only asking what every boy in the school was wondering. All of them — the straight and the eventually gay — had a vested interest in Enid’s breasts, legs, hair and the fashionable wardrobe that concealed this landscape. Enid had always gravitated to high-heeled boots, fitted skirts, clingy turtlenecks and one-of-a-kind necklaces — a new one every day. There were strands of polished stones from South Africa (Tiger’s eye, Malachite and Carnelian), as well as winking crystals and aboriginal beads purchased during Via Rail train stops across Canada. She also wore what the boys called, “her love nuts”: whole walnuts, acorns and Brazil nuts in the shell that some craftsperson had drilled holes through and strung together with invisible fishing line. Enid liked her necklaces long so they followed the rise of her breasts and dangled over the edge, swinging midair like a rock climber in trouble. The metronome action of her necklaces against her breasts lulled the boys into a trance through most of Confederation.
Now nondescript tops and track pants were obscuring her lines. The necklaces were gone, put back in some mysterious storage spot. The boys felt hurt and abandoned by this recent turn of events. The girls, meanwhile, intuited something was up and feared for their futures. “It looks like Bruce is pickin’ out her clothes?” concluded Jacob, still trying to solve this case. What other excuse could she possibly have for dressing like this?
Bruce was Enid’s husband. He taught phys-ed to the Grade 9-12 boys, showing them how to kick, jump, swat and tackle like men. An ex-fullback for the Ottawa Chargers, Bruce was big: 6’3”, 240 lb with triangular calves and hairy forearms whose crisscrossing tendons sprung to life with the slightest exertion. He had a full head of dark hair and a thick, well-groomed moustache threaded with ginger spikes. And apart from some greying chest hair, bad knees and too many matching track suits, Bruce felt good about life. Sure his body still smarted from tackles inflicted 25 seasons ago, but it wasn’t anything that Ibuprofen and yoga couldn’t fix. Overall, there was an ease about him that one could only pinpoint to his iconic status. Bruce was one of the lucky few to have sipped champagne from the Grey Cup. Every day, the halls of the school echoed with the cry, “BROOOOOSSS!” This was how the boys genuflected in the presence of a national sports hero. For his part, Bruce mostly deflected the adulation. Sometimes he conceded, though, cracking a half-smile and then squinting at the horizon to make it stop.
Bruce was a man in love. A decade of ups and downs with Enid had somehow convinced him — this Hummer of a guy — that he was lucky to have been chosen by her. At lunch, regardless of how Enid had treated him at breakfast, Bruce always crossed the floor of the school cafeteria — the entire room following him with their eyes — and gallantly pressed a long kiss on his wife’s cheek. “Hey, I haven’t seen you for six hours,” he’d whisper in her ear, while his hand resisted sliding down to cup her rear in front of the entire student body. How Enid responded was hit and miss. When it worked, she turned her head and fed his ear with something that made his moustache pull back to reveal a set of very straight, white teeth. One or two cocky souls usually clapped and whistled when he was scoring (Jacob Meier, or some other dedicated extrovert). Mostly, though, everyone just watched the couple’s movements with the mouth-breathing intensity of a Prime Time miniseries.
Bruce was husband number three. Maybe it was sports that had taught him never to walk away from a challenge. Or, it could have been the Buddhist readings that helped him make the transition away from pro ball. For a jock, he had a remarkably deft touch with women. Well, a woman. Enid. Husbands number one and two “were god damn wimps” (Enid’s words). They started out worshipful, but soon decided that second fiddle was an unnatural place for a man to be. Enid walked the moment they tried to write her schedule and control the attention other men lavished on her. They begged her to return, but her buttery leather boots were long gone.
Bruce made none of the mistakes of husbands one and two, but, still, he was worried. His up-for-anything bride — the same girl who wore red and white patent leather go-go boots to Expo 67 before switching to bare feet, a lace mini dress and a crown of wildflowers for her first wedding — was sputtering in her comet-like trajectory through life. Like most guys, Bruce knew what Enid was feeling was coming. He had just hoped it wouldn’t be so soon, if 49 could be considered too soon.
Standing in Bruce’s grey track pants before her grade nines, with sweat trickling down her temples and what looked like a plop of dried toothpaste on her top, Enid was leading a discussion on the October Crisis and defending her man — “Um, excuse me, guys, but Prime Minister Trudeau crushed civil liberties to protect civil liberties” — when a sharp pain crossed her abdomen. Fearing she would lose it, she instructed her students to review Chapter 7 in their text book and made a run for the toilet. Ever determined, she still got in a parting shot: “Uchh, the Separatists can leave for all I care.” Slam went the classroom door.
The air was still aswirl after her mad dash to the bathroom. The keeners in the front row turned in their seats to look at the slackers in the back row, then everyone in between. No one shouted, “Party!” or left the classroom to light up on the smoking island out back in the school parking lot. Enid had slammed the door to keep them in. They just stared at each other, shrugged, and turned back around to get on with their readings. Without Fergie there to witness their quips, there was no point in acting up.
Mr. Trudeau would have been bemused by this episode. He needed all the support he could get standing up to the Separatists. But then he never had cramps like Enid’s. Maybe the occasional pulled muscle from tough frisbee catches or the odd paper cut from the stacks of parliamentary documents piling up on his desk, all of which he read from front to back. Nothing seemed to sideline Pierre. He ran at life with the energy of a 17-year old in love. For a long time, Enid wanted to be the one Pierre ran to (not for anything serious, of course). In her prime, she looked better than Margaret in a bikini, if that were possible. Moreover, she was the one with the real “connaissance intellectuelle.” And Pierre knew it.
Enid was that girl from the Summer of ’72 who stood on the sidelines during the height of Trudeaumania wearing a tight sleeveless sweater embroidered with the slogan, “Vote for P.E.T. or BUST” across her untethered breasts. Nick, president of the Young Liberals of Canada, a fellow Ph.D candidate and Enid’s first husband, was standing right beside her at a gathering on the Hill when photographer Duncan Cameron pushed past everyone to get to her. Dropping to one knee, he captured Enid’s form against a diamond clear sky. The country went nuts wondering, who’s that girl?
Trudeau smiled when he was handed the paper the next day. He was still smiling fifteen years later when he instructed one of his assistants to contact the National Archives to secure the rights to include Enid’s picture in his memoir, Thoughts on a Just Society. On p. 121, there was Enid right below a photo of Pierre doing a double tuck off a high board into a hotel pool and right beside a shot of Barbra Streisand leading him at intermission through the crowded lobby of the National Arts Centre.
Like Maggie, Babs, Liona, Margo, Gale and Kim, Enid had her own file in the Prime Minister’s mind. Ultimately, though, she would go on to write about him instead of being a source of light entertainment. The sweater paved the way to many interviews with the Prime Minister for both her books: Being Canadian: It Beats the Alternative (a love letter to her country) and Profiles in Compromise (a compilation of her best ass-kicking columns for Maclean’s). Every time Pierre opened the door for Enid to his art deco home on Pine Ave. in Montréal, he made it clear that he thought it humorously wonderful she had become a historian. Enid forgave him for his vague patronizing and let the tape recorder roll. Post-interview, she repeatedly turned down his offer of a sauna, but did say yes to sharing a joint with him because it turned his condescension into full-on camaraderie, and resulted in some deep philosophical conversations and a ton of good quotes. For hours, their laugher bounced off the marble surfaces inside his art deco home.
The boys in Enid’s classes all knew about her untethered past. Most of them kept a xerox of “ Bust a Vote,” as they called it, in the back of their binders. Some even went to the trouble of laminating their pictures. As a result, the school’s copy of Thoughts on a Just Society did more splits than Elfi Schlegel. The strain of all that photocopying on the book finally proved too much for its binding and it eventually cracked into two separate parts right at page 121. “No, it lifted and separated,” snickered the boys. The memoir had to be replaced twice by Mrs. Harstone, the school librarian. After that she kept the newest copy of Trudeau’s memoir on the reference shelf behind the check-out desk and only granted signing privileges to students with written permission from the head of the History Department. As a result, photocopies of photocopies of Fergie proliferated down the grades making her outlines harder and harder to make out.
*Every effort was made to source the copyright holders of the photo, “Vote P.E.T. or Bust” (I have an extensive collection of Canadian history picture books and none did). If anyone knows, please notify me at firstname.lastname@example.org