About the Author

Claire Holden Rothman

Claire Holden Rothman is a Montreal writer. After early training as a lawyer, she taught college literature, and creative writing at McGill University. She has also worked extensively as a translator in her native Montreal, winning the Glassco Prize for her translation of Quebec’s first novel, Le chercheur de trésors/The Alchemist. Rothman’s short fiction has appeared in numerous literary periodicals. She has published two story collections, Salad Days and Black Tulips. The Heart Specialist, her first novel, was longlisted for the 2009 ScotiaBank Giller Prize, is a Canadian bestseller, and was released in Italy, Germany, the UK and French Canada. Claire Holden Rothman lives in Montreal with actor Arthur Holden and their two sons.

Books by this Author
Lear's Shadow
Excerpt

The old man knows he should watch the road, but he can’t. His eyes keep drifting to the black churn of cloud overhead. Nightfall is still an hour away, but the sky is so dark he can’t see the white lines on the pavement. He curses, gropes for the headlight switch, pressing buttons and turning knobs to no visible effect. The car plunges through the shadows down the final stretch of Pine Avenue, past the Royal Victoria Hospital and the grimy stone archway of the Neurological Institute. It weaves across lanes as though driven by someone crazy or blind or both.
As the old man rounds the curve onto Park Avenue, brake lights ignite in front of him. These he can see. He slams down hard and stops a foot short of an aging Pontiac. Behind him, another car squeals to a stop. All the way up Park Avenue cars are at a stand­still, their taillights blinking in frustration.
The old man kicks open his door. Above him, the sky is as oily and opaque as the asphalt. Wind slaps him, claws at his clothes, whips strands of hair across his scalp. He puts a hand over his eyes to shield them from the swirling grit and fights his way forward. Then he hears it: the beating heart of the chaos, a faint, steady patter of drums. Through the blur of wind and flashing lights he sees them: arms linked, laughing like drunks at a party. They’ve choked the broad city street—they’ve brought him and everyone around him to a halt. And they’re laughing.
The wind knocks him hard into a stopped car. He can see them clearly now. Youngsters, shirtless, their chests decorated with paint. Two girls are half-naked too, directly in his path, wearing bikini tops or maybe their brassieres. He moves closer, grabbing at the sides of vehicles for balance. One of the girls is fleshy, a pink-skinned child. The old man shoves her. He does it out of indignation, but also because she’s the weak link in the chain. She comes unhooked from her companions and staggers, looking up at him with round astonished eyes. A boy shouts. A second boy spits at him, then grabs his arm and shakes it so hard his vision tunnels.
He breaks free and continues through the bodies, through the shoves and shouts and gusts of wind, until something makes him look up. Above him, a winged black enormity is etched against the sky’s lesser blackness. He freezes. Then he realizes it’s the angel—his angel—gazing down benignly, pointing the
way home.
The sky lights up making the angel gleam. A second flash comes and the old man sees again the thing that he thought was a hallucination. A rope is tied around the angel’s neck; someone is hanging from it.
The sky blazes and goes dark, blazes and goes dark: God play­ing idly with a light switch. At the end of the rope is a girl, a thick tail of hair swinging behind her like a demented metronome. Her feet brace against the angel’s loins while one of her arms sweeps up and down, as if half of her were trying to fly.
Thunder cracks followed by shrieks. A drop of water hits the old man’s forehead, then another. An instant later the sky opens, obliterating the girl and scattering the crowd. He tries to run but his limbs are useless, as in a nightmare. He collapses, first onto one knee, then onto his shoulder. For one electric moment as the pain sparks through him, his body fuses with the storm. The old man rolls onto his back. The last thing he sees, dimly, before closing his eyes, is a stricken angel in a drowned sky.
  
1.

Beatrice Rose stood in the kitchen of her apartment on Sainte-Famille Street, staring at the string of Christmas lights looping off her shelves. It was the end of May and the temperature was brutal, inside and out. Montreal was in the grip of the year’s first heat wave. She glanced through the window at the darkening sky and back at her brave little out-of-season lights.
It was the day of her mother’s birth: Deirdre McMaster Rose would have turned sixty-five. A pain flared in Bea’s chest. Not a pain exactly, more a familiar squeezing, strong enough to block her breath. She knew it wasn’t a physical phenomenon. It wasn’t asthma, though years ago a pediatrician had concluded that it was and prescribed a puffer. And it wasn’t her heart. That poor, flap­ping organ would survive, she knew, after decades of living with this squeezing. She’d visited her mother’s grave at the Mount Royal Cemetery that morning. The grass around it had been lush, undamaged as yet by the sun. The first flies of the season had cir­cled her lazily. She’d left a rose on the headstone instead of a rock.
Her mother had been dead now for more years than she’d been alive. She was killed in a car crash at the age of thirty-two. Bea’s father, Sol, was at the wheel. He never spoke of it. After the car overturned at the intersection of Park Avenue and Pine, he’d climbed out with bruises and a graze on his left cheek where his beard hairs would never grow again. Her mother hadn’t been so lucky.
The kettle chirped tentatively then opened into a full-throated wail. Bea took it off the heat and made herself a herbal tea: calming nettles. The bright orange stove coil faded to black. Her tension wasn’t due entirely to the anniversary. There was a more pressing cause. She’d been invited to a party.
She glanced at the kitchen clock, a whimsical thing she and Jean-Christian had picked up at the dollar store, fluffy clouds floating in a blue sky, and took a sip that scalded her tongue. The evening was too hot for tea. Her body was a furnace. She put the cup in the sink, taking care not to spill its contents. She was in her party wear, a pink kameez, the most beautiful thing she owned, bought years ago in northern India. The neckline, low by Indian standards, was embroidered with shimmering threads of gold. She knew it looked good, even if the body it adorned was no longer young.
It was time to leave. She walked down the hall without turning on the lights. The apartment was typical of the Plateau Mont-Royal, long and narrow, with windows at either end, its middle cave-dark. Bea patted the wall at the bathroom doorway to find the light switch. Her face appeared in the mirror, lit up out of the darkness.
Jean-Christian had come in February for his belongings. Among the items he’d left with was the rice-paper globe that had once softened the bathroom light and made intriguing shadows. A naked bulb remained, dangling dejectedly from the ceiling. Also gone was the shower curtain with its bright motif of tropical fish. She’d been at work when he dropped by. He knew her schedule. It was easy to find on the studio website, but he knew it without checking: her schedule had been his. For seven years they’d managed Om Sweet Om together, offering yoga classes and workshops and running a popular teacher-training program. They were well known. Their studio had been one of the best. Not as big as the places downtown, perhaps, but reputable, respected. Even her father was impressed.
The light cast visible lines in the face in the bathroom mirror, especially around the eyes, from which they fanned like cracks in a windshield. Bea would turn forty this summer. No man, no money and a business on the point of collapse. She had spent the winter adrift.
She should have gone for counselling. That was what her sis­ter, Cara, said. But Bea didn’t have the money or, frankly, the desire for therapy. She didn’t need a psychologist to tell her what was wrong. The breakup had hit her hard. Jean-Christian had given her no warning. There had been a third party; she never did find out who. Behind that pain was the deeper anguish of her mother, the old trauma, the ghost in the shadows. It didn’t take a degree in psychology to see where the trouble lay. She would survive this loss, just as she’d survived the one in her childhood. She still had some fight left.
     In any case, she couldn’t waste energy thinking about her emotional state. Other matters required attention, like her failing yoga studio. Without Jean-Christian, Om Sweet Om was no lon­ger viable. The clients were mostly women, whom Jean-Christian had held, literally, in the palms of his hands—large, capable hands with which he’d adjusted people’s postures while reciting Persian poetry. The mix was devastating. He wasn’t young anymore either, a full decade older than Bea, but no one ever guessed. Whereas Bea was short and wiry like her father, Jean-Christian was six three, with a dancer’s build and hazel eyes so piercing they made you weak-kneed. Bea used to think that was a figure of speech. But at the first sight of Jean-Christian, she’d felt it. And she’d seen other competent, sane women turn red and confused when he looked their way. Within three months of his departure a third of her clients had left, and Om Sweet Om had begun to lose money.
     Bea squared her shoulders and breathed. A deep breath, filling her belly. Whatever she’d once shared with Jean-Christian Dubois was over. It was time to move on.

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The Heart Specialist

The Heart Specialist

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