Here’s a funny, sad, warm, deft, sweet, generous and human little story, a Valentine’s Day treat about couples and the wars they have to fight together. Not a romantic story, but a story about a couple watching and caring—in the welter of the public sphere and the private when they seek solace and comfort. As I have said before (since this is her second appearance at NC), Connie Gault is an old friend from my early teaching days when I used to migrate from one summer writing program to another across Canada. For a few lucky summers I taught at the Saskatchewan School of the Arts at an old tuberculosis hospital called Fort San in a dramatic geological trench called the Qu’Appelle Valley cut through the Prairie. That’s where I met Connie Gault. She is a playwright and the author of three books of fiction, including, most recently, Euphoria, which came out in 2009.
One night we dined with an Amateur Thespian. We had cocktails before dinner in front of a fire flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the park and the lake. I didn’t have to worry about making conversation because the Amateur Thespian was happy to entertain us, although he said he’d come a long way from his theatre days. He sat in silhouette against the sun that was dipping into the lake, and told us all the things he no longer did. Besides no longer acting, he no longer taught high school drama, he no longer golfed on municipal courses, or skied on crowded runs or (I deduced) paid for his own dinner. The Amateur Thespian had become a Professional Consultant in Human Resources. He told us all about his journey from education, where Human Resources techniques were in vogue, all about the workshops he’d attended as a high school drama teacher, and all about seeing where his talents could take him. Intuitively, he’d appreciated the human desire to simplify and he’d understood that his own proclivity to enjoy a little limelight could work for him. Now, as he sat far back in his comfortable leather chair, his head haloed, he didn’t mind telling us it had been a stroke of genius to sell his vision to people with money, not in the relatively restrained arena of education, but out in the wide-open field of business.
“You could be successful, too,” he said. “Anyone can.” There were three perhaps not easy steps. He knew himself. He believed in himself. And his goals were well-defined.
He’d formed a company. His wife became vice-president.
Besides the Amateur Thespian, we were to dine with my husband’s boss and the boss’s friend. They arrived too late for cocktails, she a little out of breath, both shiny from the shower.
The Amateur Thespian had a name: Ted. The boss had a name: Hank. And she, the beautiful friend with the long, sleek, clean arms and legs, the well-defined cleavage and the honey-coloured hair, was Sophie. Alex, my husband, had met Sophie once before. He’d described her as friendly.
Most of the evening, as dinner progressed through its courses, was spent discussing Initials. Initials were Ted’s way of dividing and conquering people.
“I’m a DI,” Hank told us. “Heavy on the D. Sometimes I hate myself. I’m working on the I.”
Sophie was a DS, he said. Apparently it caused her a good deal of internal conflict, although she barely looked up from her squid to acknowledge this.
Alex, I was told, scored very high on the I scale; that was why they had moved him from the accounting department to Human Resources. As well as an I, he was an S, an almost unheard-of combination for an accountant. Accountants were supposed to be Cs. Mainly Cs. With only a small bit of another Initial.
“You should have your profile done,” Hank told me. The test would take no more than twenty minutes. It had two parts, the adaptive and the natural. In the adaptive part you were to choose, by circling a number, what you were most likely to do in a given situation. In the natural part you were to pick what you would least like to do. The thought occurred to me that if going to dinner with your husband’s boss, his friend, and an Amateur Thespian was listed, I would have to lie.
At any rate, I didn’t have to take the test. Ted could tell I was a CD.
“Good,” I said. “Alex and I cover all the bases.” There were only four Initials. Sophie looked up at that. She and Hank did not, together, cover all the bases, and for all I knew, that might auger ill for them as a couple. Not a C between them.
Finally, as he’d been waiting to be asked and we hadn’t picked up on the cue (perhaps there should have been a P for perceptive on the scale), the AT revealed that he was a DI. Just like the boss. This meant that I was sitting at a table with four other people, and I held the lone C. I just knew C wasn’t trump.
Most creative people, Ted declared, are Cs. But C didn’t stand for Creative. C was something like “Careful” or “Cautious” or “Conservative”. I probably looked surprised to hear it. Most creative people were C’s, Ted explained, because it took discipline to create. D was not for disciplined. D was for “Dominant”. That was why bosses were Ds. They’d better be. And Amateur Thespians turned Professional Consultants had better be too. I was for “Influencers”. People persons. S meant “Security”. Or maybe “Stability”. Which you might think would put those folks pretty close to being Cs. But you’d be wrong. The profile was different, subtly different. It took a Professional Consultant to see the difference; it took him days sometimes to make the distinction and to make it look easy. Making it look easy was part of the job. If it looked easy, that was because of all the time and expertise he’d invested and besides, if you’d bought his package, you’d paid for it to look easy.
The conversation went like this:
Sophie: Could someone please pass the HP sauce?
Hank: That’s her S there. She can’t eat a steak without HP sauce.
Sophie: (Objecting when he poured the sauce on her plate) I can do that myself.
Hank: Oh-oh. D.D.D. Boy, it’s a hard combination. See, she’s assertive but she wants me to look after her. But she doesn’t want me to smother her.
Sophie: (Mustering her dinner-party skills) Honey, I wonder what the janitor of our condo would be. He’s so funny.
Ted: (Eagerly) What’s he like?
Sophie: Oh, he’s a very creative person, I think. Friendly. And dedicated, you know? He’s not afraid of doing a good job.
Sophie: (Beautifully serious.) CI. I bet that’s right.
Hank: (To me.) We have a lot of fun with this. (To my husband.) Don’t we, guy?
Hank: And I’ve noticed a Huge Improvement in the company since we started on this. A Huge Improvement. (To the AT.) Haven’t you noticed a Huge Improvement?
Ted: I have. I have noticed a Huge Improvement. Even on the phone. Even the difference in talking to people on the phone.
Hank: That’s your I talking.
Ted: We need I.
Hank: (For my husband, via the AT) That’s where this guy comes in.
Ted: That’s right. (To my husband.) Isn’t it, guy?
We went home finally and I had a large scotch while I got ready for bed. I was pleased with myself. I had not drunk too much at dinner. I had not said too much.
Me: I did okay, didn’t I?
Me: I didn’t drink too much. Or say too much.
Me: Did I?
Alex: You were fine.
Me: That’s not just your I talking?
Alex: Let’s never speak of this again.
I recognized a disparity between my husband’s adaptive (what he wanted to do or thought he should do) and his natural (what he didn’t want to do) inclinations that might cause him some trouble in the future. But I gave his solution a big S for Sensible, downed my scotch and climbed into the sack beside him.
While we lay there staring at the ceiling side by side, I thought about him working in the human resources environment every day now. At one point during dinner, his boss had leaned across the table and said, “How is he at home?” I answered something like: “Uh, I think he’s… happy.”
Boss: How do you feel about the new job?
Me: I think it’s great to have a change. He seems to be enjoying it.
Boss: He’s flying. I see him flying. It’ll be interesting to watch him. See where he lands.
Me: (With the straightest face I could muster.) I don’t care where he lands as long as the journey is good.
Lying in bed beside my husband, I thought about him spending hours, days, the rest of his working life in human resources. It seemed to me he might have been better off in accounting where the formulas were with numbers. I wondered how he could survive. I wondered how I’d feel if I had a new job and he didn’t respect what I was doing.
To the ceiling I said, “It’s important work. Seeing that people are employed in the right jobs, that their job descriptions are accurate, their salaries fair, their benefits adequate. All of that is very important to those people.”
He rolled over and pulled me to him. I was going to say I threw Caution to the winds and let him Influence me, but the truth is all my levity had fled and I burrowed into him. I’d have buried myself in him if I could.
Connie Gault is the author of the novel, Euphoria (Coteau Books, 2009), as well as two story collections and numerous plays for stage and radio. Euphoria was awarded the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction and was short-listed for the High Plains Fiction award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best book of Canada and the Caribbean. She is a former fiction editor of grain magazine. She lives in Regina.