“The problem is,” Greg Berman said, “is that the number that we call a calendar year is really an ordinal number, but we say it like it’s a cardinal number. I understand that in Polish – your great-aunt Fela,” he added parenthetically, addressing Betty, “may she rest in peace, once told me that – years are actually called by their ordinal numbers.”

“You mean...” Betty began but did not finish, her mind still abuzz from her father-in-law’s repeated is.

“This year would be called the one-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-ninth year, and next year will be the two- thousandth year. When you say it like that, it’s obvious that the century and the millennium ends next year, not this year.”

Greg Berman is an educated man, Betty said to herself, and should know that the century and the millennium is a plural subject and takes end, not ends.

“When it comes to a person’s age,” Greg went on, “there isn’t any ambiguity like that. Our lovely Betty here, whose birthday we’re trying to celebrate” – he sighed deeply – “is turning twenty-five today and is beginning her twenty-sixth year.”

Why trying to celebrate? It’s been almost eight months now since it happened. Eleven days after the wedding. She and Paul had to cut short their honeymoon to come home for the memorial. Not that they had needed a honeymoon, with all the trips they had taken together in their more than seven years as a couple. But, anyway, by now...

“I think that in Hebrew,” Marcia Berman said, “there aren’t any ordinals higher than ten.”

“That’s. Not. Quite. True,” said the redheaded woman named Audrey, who was visiting Harvey from New York. Why she had separated the words – out of diffidence or for emphasis – was not quite obvious to Betty. Not. Quite. Obvious.

Harvey had met Audrey at the memorial – she seemed to have been a friend of Daniel’s – and they had struck up a friendship based on having been close to Daniel at different times in his life. Or so Harvey had told Betty when he informed her that he was bringing a friend. Audrey was quite pretty. “The year two thousand is hashanah alpayim,” she went on, fluently now, “and the two-thousandth year is hashanah ha-alpayim.”

“So which do they use?” Harvey asked.

“Neither,” Audrey said. “It’s sh’nat alpayim, which means the year of two thousand. And a woman who’s twenty-five,” she added with a chuckle, “is called a daughter of twenty-five.”

Une fille de vingt-cinq ans, Betty translated mentally into her mother tongue. “J’suis une fille de vingt-cinq ans,” she said aloud, looking at her mother.

Et moi, une fille de cinquante ans,” Mireille said with a laugh, quickly adding, “Presque.” Her fiftieth birthday was a month away. “Almost a daughter of fifty,” she said, aware that not everyone at the gathering spoke French. But Betty overheard Harvey explaining it to Audrey: “In French it sounds like a girl of fifty.” It was said in an audible whisper, but the way Harvey leaned into Audrey’s ear made Betty suspect that they were more than friends. Harvey had broken up with his latest girlfriend, Monique, about a month earlier.

Betty felt a surge of relief, like the passing of a dark cloud, now that the talk was about age, and the silly argument between Paul and Harvey about when the new millennium would begin was, for the moment, put to rest. At least until the next argument between the brothers would erupt. As if to confirm that expectation, a thunderclap could be heard in the distance. The storm had moved on from Montreal, but it was still somewhere nearby, probably somewhere in Eastern Quebec. Maybe in Rimouski?

For as long as Betty Wilner had known them – pretty much all her life – the Berman brothers, two years apart in age, had argued. Now they were both lawyers, sons of a lawyer, and arguing was what came naturally. Their arguments followed a predictable pattern: Paul would argue from logic and Harvey from precedent or custom, so that while both brothers, like all McGill law graduates, had both the BCL and LLB degrees, Paul personified civil law and Harvey common law. Naturally enough, Harvey worked with a criminal lawyer, while Paul clerked in the large firm, specializing in property and estate law, in which their father was a senior partner.

Back at their secondary school, the now-defunct North American Academy, the student body was split between those who called it North Am and those who called in Northam. (The adults called it NAA.) Harvey argued for North Am, by analogy with Pan Am, while Paul favored Northam, because it was how the first two syllables of North American, when spoken fluently, would be pronounced. Betty, for her part, was of the North Am persuasion, because that was how her friends had said it; they derided those who said Northam as snobs who wanted their school to sound like a prep school. But at that time she wasn’t close to Paul yet; that didn’t happen till a short time before the end of their schooling there – hers after Grade 11 and his after Grade 12 – in order to go, respectively, to the Cégep de Saint-Laurent and into the second year at Vanier College.

When her twenty-fifth birthday approached, Harvey argued that there should be no celebration during the year of mourning. But Paul, who had organized her all her birthday parties since her twentieth, maintained that it didn’t matter since Betty wasn’t Jewish anyway, at least not by the standards of the Bermans’ Conservative congregation. To the hip, liberal rabbi who had married them, on the other hand, the Jewishness of the father whom Betty had never known had been enough, and he wouldn’t have cared about the year of mourning.

Paul had won that argument in the sense that, by dint of persistence, he had managed to get a reasonable number of friends and family to attend the party, even Mireille, the mater dolorosa who had been the one who had to fly to New York in order to identify the body, to arrange for cremation after the forensics had been done, and to collect and bring back the most personal of effects. But although Happy Birthday had been sung, the occasion was far from joyful.

Even so, toasts were raised. And when Harvey, in the course of toasting, made his remark about this birthday being his sister-in-law’s last of the millennium, Paul insisted that the year 2000 would be the last of the old millennium, since there had not been a year zero. That was when their father, as usual, stepped in to mediate.

When Betty watched the Berman brothers argue, Paul was to her not the man she loved, now her husband of eight months, but the kid brother of her brother’s best friend. (Le petit frère du meilleur ami de mon frère. De feu mon frère, she corrected herself mentally. My late brother’s. Betty. by this time, thought mostly in English, but every so often she felt the need to express a thought or a feeling in French, and never more so than when thinking about family relationships.)

But when Paul argued with people other than Harvey, she remembered him as the knight who brandished his rhetorical lance on her behalf in any discussion in which she was involved. It didn’t matter who the other parties were – fellow students, teachers, parents, Mireille’s lovers – Paul was always on Betty’s side. This was what had helped revive the childhood crush she had had on Paul, who was almost as good-looking as Daniel, and turn it into love in the course their last year at North Am.

Shortly after her seventeenth birthday Paul picked her up at the airport when she came back from a weekend in Toronto with Daniel, who had just taken off for Cuba. During the drive back to Saint-Laurent she recounted her experiences in Toronto, including her arguments with Daniel, and Paul told her that he loved her mind. J’aime ton esprit, he said, and when she was silent he added, “and everything else about you.” “I love you too,” she said, and he drove her to his house. His parents were out, and they made love for the first time. Before Paul there had been Gérard Brunet. But since that time, eight years now, there had been no one else. Not even the thought of anyone else.

The party was winding down. It was a Tuesday evening – the 8th of June – and people didn’t stay late. The older Bermans – Greg and Marcia, Greg’s brother Harold and his wife Tilda – were the first to leave, followed shortly by Mireille. The younger crowd trickled out one by one or two by two, until only Harvey and Audrey were left. Their presence made Daniel’s absence into something like a palpable presence of its own, hovering above them like a ghost.

A year earlier, when he called Betty from France to wish her a happy birthday and she used the occasion to invite him to her wedding four months hence, he said that he would not only be there to “give away” his sister, but he would also make an effort to attend her twenty-fifth birthday, for the first time since her twentieth. They spoke in French and he said that, rather than her anniversaires, he would celebrate her lustriversaires, a word that he had adapted from the Italian for the recurrence of a five-year period. At the wedding, though, he said that he wasn’t sure, as though he had a premonition of what would happen less than two weeks later.

Betty, by now, was wishing that Harvey and Audrey would leave too. Perhaps Harvey had been right after all: it was too soon to have a party. The conversation dragged on from one trivial topic to another: the delis of New York and Montreal compared, the future of the Expos, the new Mylène Farmer album (Audrey had never heard of Mylène Farmer), and especially – and repeatedly – the strangely tropical, stormy weather, with tornadoes ravaging Ontario and thunderstorms over Montreal. At the same time, any mention of world events – the war in Kosovo and the indictment of Milošević, the end of military rule in Nigeria, the war in Guinea-Bissau – was avoided, lest someone bring up Daniel, who had reported on them. The only exception was the recent elections in Israel, which Audrey talked about. She didn’t trust Barak, she said.

All that Betty wanted was to be alone with Paul, in bed with him, in his arms.

“There’s someone that I wished had been at the party, but couldn’t make it,” Betty said as she sat down on the bed and let her shoes fall off her feet. Paul sat down beside her.

“Someone you invited?” he asked, putting his hand on her arm as a way of disguising his annoyance at not having been consulted about the invitation. She, of course, knew how to see through his disguises.

“Yes,” she said as she turned to face him with a smile.

“Who is it?” He began to unbutton his shirt.

“Megan Kenner.”

“What?” There was no disguising his surprise, even shock. “You... you know her?”

“Well, back at North Am, ten years ago, she was Daniel’s girlfriend...”

“Yeah, but... but do you know who she is? That she’s May Green, the porn star?”

Betty laughed. “She was. She retired at twenty-five.” She turned her back to him, a signal for him to unzip her sundress, unhook her bra and kiss her back. It was a routine that he loved, and it was for his sake that Betty kept a stock of back-zipper dresses, which were going out of style. “Then she had a baby.”

“How do you know all that?” he asked between kisses to her shoulder blades.

“She came to Daniel’s memorial. She didn’t stay long, but didn’t you see me talking to a woman with a one-year-old baby?”

That was Megan Kenner? With the short hair?” Paul sat up with a start.

Betty laughed again. “Not much of a porn-star look, was it?”

“I thought she looked familiar, but...” Paul mumbled inconclusively.

“Well, that was Megan and her kid. She had her implants taken out so that he could nurse on natural tits. And the child is my little nephew Sam. Our little nephew, I guess, since you’re his uncle by marriage,” Betty said as she finished undressing and lay down on the bed, exposing the front of her body to the warm, humid breeze wafting in through the half-open window.

“You mean...” Paul said after he unbuckled his belt, his hands in mid-air as though unable to continue his undressing.

“Yes, it’s Daniel’s child. You see, their relationship never really ended. When he was at Columbia, whenever he came back to Montreal on vacation, he would always see her. Then she moved to Toronto when she graduated from Concordia, which was around my twentieth, and that’s when he more or less stopped coming to Montreal, except for Fela’s funeral and for our wedding. But they kept seeing each other, off and on, until the end, sometimes in Toronto and sometimes in New York, and even in Montreal when he was here for Fela’s funeral and she was here for that reunion.”

“So... so he knew about the baby?”

“Of course he did. It was intentional. Megan wanted Daniel’s child.”

“When did you find out?”

“Not until he was almost one, a little before our wedding. Maman told me. She knew all along.”

“She kept it from you?”

“She said that Daniel and Megan preferred to keep it quiet, for whatever reason.”

“Is that why you’ve kept it from me?”

“I guess so. And... well, it just never came up.”

“What about Daniel’s estate?” Paul asked after a pause. “I’ve been wondering about it all these months. I asked my dad, and all he said was that in New York these things take time. Has Megan put a claim on it?”

“She didn’t have to. He wrote a will, leaving everything to his son, Sam Kenner-Wilner.”

“He did?” Paul again stopped his undressing, after pulling down one leg of his pants. “And you knew that too?”


“I just assumed that you would get it,” he said in a resigned tone, pulling down the other leg.

“I guess I would have, if it hadn’t been for Sam. You know that my father died before he knew that I was going to come along, so he left one-third to my mother and two-thirds to Daniel, but Daniel gave me half of his share. Of course you know all that,” she added with a smile as she pulled the sheet over herself. The night was warm and sticky, and no more than a sheet was needed for cover.

“Yeah, I know. But it just doesn’t seem right.”

“What doesn’t?”

“Daniel’s estate going to that... that kid?”

What was Paul saying? “Why not?” Betty asked, beginning to feel annoyed. “Sam is his flesh and blood.”

“But the money came from your father, and he isn’t your father’s flesh and blood.” Paul, fully naked at last, was lying on his side, facing the supine Betty.

“What are you talking about?” She turned to face him.

“You didn’t know? Miki Wilner was not Daniel’s biological father.”

“What?” What the hell was Paul talking about?

Paul smiled. “Remember the DNA test on his body that Daniel had done back in ninety-two?”

“Well, sure, that was to prove that it really was his body.”

“It proved that it was your father’s body, but not Daniel’s. It was no secret. Daniel told Harvey all about it.”

Betty was silent for a long time. “Then who was his father?” she finally asked.

“Legally, your father of course, under the presumption of paternity. But biologically, I guess it was your mother’s last boyfriend before she met Miki.” He paused. “You didn’t know? No one ever told you? Not Daniel, not your mother?”

Betty shook her had, unable to speak.

“Maybe she was ashamed,” Paul said tentatively. “And Daniel...”

Betty took a deep breath. “It was around that time that we kinda stopped being close. Maybe even a little before, after I got close to you.” She wiggled her toes on Paul’s leg through the sheet, on top of which Paul was lying quietly.

“This sure is the night of revelations,” Paul said with a chuckle that he quickly suppressed. “How come you’re telling me all this tonight, about Megan and her kid?”

Her kid? What a way to talk about their nephew!

“When I called Megan,” she said, trying to keep calm, “to invite her to the party, she told me that now it’s okay to tell you. She said that keeping it from you had something to do with legal matters and with you being a lawyer and my husband. I don’t know. Anyway, whatever Daniel had that’s in Canada, which is most of it, is now in trust for Sam, for Megan to manage. She’s an accountant, you know.”

“She is?”

“Yeah, that’s what she majored in at Concordia.”

“Has she got her license?”

“I don’t know. Does it matter? She’s the executor of the will. Once probate in New York is completed and when Daniel’s apartment gets sold, it’ll bring in another quarter of a million. He got it for eighty thousand!” Betty laughed. “Not that Megan needs the money,” she added. “It’ll just be there for Sam.”

“It just doesn’t seem right,” Paul said again as he lay on his back, still on top of the sheet. “I wonder if my dad knows about it.”

“I would guess maman told him, since he’s her lawyer, but probably confidentially.”

“My dad sure does keep things confidential,” Paul said with a laugh that sounded bitter, almost angry.

“Well, isn’t that his obligation?”

“Yeah.” Paul laughed again.

Betty suddenly felt herself bereft of sexual desire. “Good night,” she said, turning away from her husband.

“Hey, not yet,” he said. It was as if he had just become aware of the hard-on that she had noticed building up over the last ten minutes. He quickly wriggled himself under the sheet and into contact with her. But she moved further away from him, almost to the edge of the bed. “Not now, honey,” she said. She never called him honey, except after not now, and that didn’t happen often.

They were awakened by distant thunder in the middle of the night and made love perfunctorily. After Paul went back to sleep Betty could not hold back unwelcome thoughts. She remembered that, during their first year as a couple, she had briefly harbored suspicions that Paul was interested in her wealth more than in her. She had talked to Daniel about them. He hadn’t seemed to share her misgivings, but encouraged her to listen to her own heart and mind. Her love for Paul had finally won out.

But now Paul’s carping about her not inheriting Daniel’s estate brought back that memory. Did Megan suspect that, if Paul had known about the child, he would have contested the will? Is that what she meant by “legal matters and Paul being a lawyer”? And would he have used as an argument the fact that Daniel was not her full brother?

Did that matter? Of course not to her. But to Daniel, perhaps? Is that why he had become more distant from her after she turned eighteen, when he gave her half of his wealth? Or was it because of Paul? Daniel and Paul never got close, despite the double bond – best friend’s brother/brother’s best friend and sister’s boyfriend/girlfriend’s brother. For eleven days, brothers-in-law.

A feeling came over her that was like what she felt when Paul and Harvey argued: that the man beside her was not Paul, the love of her young life, but another Paul, someone she had just had so-so sex with. When had she ever felt like that? Maybe toward Gérard, around the end of her seventeenth year, when she first began to feel attracted – in a mature way – to Paul.

But that, she now remembered with a start, was the last time that she had made love with Gérard. Plus jamais avec ce gars-là, she remembered saying to herself. Never again with this guy. But that couldn’t possibly be how she felt about Paul. There was no other guy that she was attracted to. No, it was just a malaise brought on by the intimate revelations of the evening.

But weren’t intimate revelations supposed to bring a couple closer together?

No, it wasn’t the revelations. It was Paul’s attitude. Why did it “just not seem right” that Daniel’s son should be his heir? And what did Daniel’s biological paternity, discovered by sheer accident, have to do with it?

Or was it Megan’s work? At North Am Megan’s reputation had been that of a slut; it was known that she liked sex and lots of it, and she did what came naturally to her. Just as Paul, who liked to argue, became a lawyer. Or, for that matter, as Megan, who was good at math, also became an accountant. Who was Paul to judge?

The LCD face of the clock radio on Betty’s nightstand showed 3:14. I’d better get some sleep, she said to herself. She got up stealthily to go to the bathroom, found that it was time for a tampon, and went back to bed.

She had taken the twenty-first Alesse tablet some forty-odd hours earlier, at breakfast on Sunday. She now remembered, as she was stretching next to her sleeping husband, taking care not to touch him, that at the time she was thinking that this tablet would perhaps be the last one for some time to come; that, if Paul agreed, she would not resume the Alesse cycle on Wednesday of the following week; that she would tell him, perhaps on this very night of her birthday, that she could not longer think of any reason to postpone getting pregnant, now that her thesis was almost done; that she hoped he felt the same...

The next time she looked at the clock, it read 8:22. She sat up with a start. There was no sign of Paul or, she realized after she got up and walked into the kitchen, of his having made himself any breakfast. In the past, on the occasions when he had to go to the office before her waking, he would invariably leave her a note declaring his love and his hope that she had slept well. This time there was nothing.

She turned on the coffeemaker, sat down and began to cry.

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