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Fanlight (The Brunch Chronicles Ch. 11)

Sep 8, 2020

A Story Written By Kevin Gallagher

Ivan was painting the floor, taking his inspiration from the conservatory of an old Dublin house featured in one of the Travel and Leisure magazines. The floor he was mimicking was of alternating deep blue and terracotta tiles, angled at ninety degrees to the rectangular border, like diamonds.  The design ran the length of the room between the banquettes culminating in a fanlight pattern. The idea for this motif had come from the top of a brass framed mirror we had purchased at the Windsor Arms sale and installed at the bar.

Ted too was busy with a project – installing a windscreen. 

When we first moved to 99 Sudbury, the Robert Bury Lumber Company occupied all of the south side of Sudbury Street from Dovercourt Road to King Street. The company had moved out of the city shortly afterwards and the buildings demolished to make way for townhouses. By this point Ted and Ivan had already scoured them for salvageable materials, delightedly lugging back chairs, poles and odd bits of metal.

Among these was a pair of heavy iron bars that looked as if they might have been tools for moving lumber in the kilns.

“Curtain rods” said Ted.

“A bit heavy, wouldn’t you say?”  They must have weighed thirty pounds each.

“We can make it work.”

Ted bought ninety yards of fine muslin for the drapes – ninety yards for a window with a perimeter of perhaps twelve. The rods were first wrapped tightly with the muslin, then swathed with wide loose loops of the fabric and hung above the window. Cascading down the sides of the window, the drapes fell in “pools” on either side, a visually dramatic effect generally lost on whoever had to mop the floor.

“What is holding those rods up?”

The drapes were necessary not to block the light but to frame our one large window and glass doorway. They were a source of natural light and once the lumberyard was gone afforded a clear view of the downtown skyline rising above the mass of concrete rubble that was left.  Townhouse construction had been put on hold because of the recession, so that for many months the setting sun reflecting off the golden Royal Bank building made early evening in the dining room feel like morning.

“Floral wire. It’s really strong.” Ted said this with some conviction. 

Donna worried, “What if they fall on someone’s head.” 

“Relax,” he laughed, “It’ll hold up anything.”

If the demolition of the lumberyard gave us the radiance of the setting sun from the east, it also gave the east wind a clean sweep. If the door was opened at the right angle when it was blowing, the drapes would lift over people’s heads and dropping down would sweep bud vases, wine glasses and any other light object to the floor. At least the floral wire held.

So Ted built a windscreen for us, five panels of clear Plexiglas with a gilded frame with the same fanlight tops reflected in the mirror and the floor painting. Now we had the light but not the breeze.

Ivan wanted to airbrush the edges of the tiles to give them dimension and a more realistic appearance. He was adept at tromp l’oeil; the floor in their home kitchen had what appeared to be an aquarium in it, with a stately procession of red and silver fish swimming Escher-like out of one side and into the opposite one. People walking into the kitchen would hesitate before stepping onto the space or just go around it. I was anxious to see how he would take the flat painted surface of our floor and make it three dimensional, so as it was a one-man job, I volunteered to stay and keep him company. 

I was ready to wash brushes or run for paint refills but what I did mostly was to move his ashtray along and keep his glass (and mine) of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum and orange juice replenished. I remember being halfway down the room with him, he on his knees, painting carefully, and I moving from banquette to banquette watching and talking. After that it got dark.

When I woke up the next morning, Donna had gone to work and the kids to school and I had a terrible hangover. It was late in the afternoon by the time I got to the restaurant to look at the floor. I was amazed; it looked great, every line straight. Ivan arrived shortly after. He just shook his head. “Looks terrible”

I stared at him, “No, it looks great!”

“No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t look real”

“Does to me.” I said, perplexed.

He shook his head and set about redoing the floor anyway. I decided that he probably didn’t need my help this time. 

But now Donna was coming in, back from the bank and her eyes were very, very blue. If you know Donna, you will know that she is a sweet, kind and generous person with great style, an irrepressible sense of fun and very blue eyes.  What you may not know is that she also has an explosive temper. The deep blue of her eyes takes on a startling, almost mesmerizing intensity when she is happy or angry, giving you the feeling that you could fall right into them. If she is not smiling, it’s wise to break the spell and back away. Glasses, books, boots and paperweights had been hurled in my direction in the past (every one deserved!) and I was cautious.

She wasn’t smiling. 

But it was not me she was angry with, or at least not mostly angry with.

“Fucking MacPherson! He sent back four cheques!”

“OOH. Were you talking to him?”

“Yes, I told him to get them back or I’ll be back tomorrow, drop my drawers and piss on his rug! And he keeps calling me Mrs. Gallagher.”

“Well, you can sort of understand why..”

Cutting me off, she snapped, “It’s not my name!” 

“Okay, okay and how did it all end?”

“He said he’d see, went into his office and closed the door.”

“Ah, well, I guess we’ll see tomorrow then.” 

Taking the opportunity to slip away before the subject of my late night came up; I said, “I’m going to see if Ivan needs any help”

Ivan was doing quite well without my help. I could see now why he wasn’t satisfied with the previous night’s work. The edges of the tiles look raised and worn from foot traffic. Instinctively I bent to run my fingers over the edges of the fanlight.

“Don’t. It’s wet.”

I was only the first of many who, doubting what they saw, had to lean down to run their fingers across the floor.

READ THE NEXT CHAPTER: ‘Bank Manger – Pt. 2’

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE CHAPTERS OF ‘Diary of a Restaurant – The Brunch Chronicles’.