A Fine Line

There is this well known cliché; “it’s a fine line between genius and insanity” that could mean a couple of things. The rationalizing of someone who is completely mad, or the need to explain eccentric behaviour otherwise associated with genius. If there was a fine line between genius and insanity, it could be that Phyllis had just stepped over it.

I was standing in her kitchen as she paced the living room playing with the dog. It was some sort of small terrier that would lose its mind in her playful presence. She was playing tug of war with the dog, Delilah, using a ratty, knotted rope.

“There comes a time in a person’s life when they have to stand up for themselves, when they have to open that door to the rest of their life.”

I agreed.

“That’s why I’m doing it. Enough of all of this, I’ve got the place, and the money to open the business. And Paul doesn’t know what he’s in for.”

Paul was a man she’d met recently, but whom she had known since high school. He was an oil man, running his business out west. “He rides his bike to work every day because he’s a conservationist.” A conservationist that managed a corner of the one of the filthiest and most toxic industries in the world. She explained his genius further and I listened with a polite smile.

“Paul and I are gonna get the hell outta dodge with the dog and the cats and that’ll be it for me. You’ll come visit right? We’ll set you all up.”

“Sure I will.”

She ripped the knot out of Delilah’s mouth and threw it sloppily against the stack of packed cardboard boxes filling the living room. Delilah grabbed it and came back over to her. Phyllis stood up and took another swig of her beer. She had been cut off from the bar downstairs, so we had retreated to her lakefront condo so I could look at the bed she wanted to sell fast.

Nothing made sense. This woman had had a long time career in high level positions, had served on boards and volunteer committees, and was even a sort of mentor to me. Despite her wholesome, hardworking front, she had retreated to her condo and had thrown a hunk of hash at me, telling me to roll. She was a hardworking woman who loved to party and lacked an aversion to risk.

While it wasn’t out of character for Phyllis to speak passionately and indulge in a little extremity when we went out, none of what I was seeing or hearing in front of me was making any sense. Perhaps it was her drunken delivery of the madness of her plan, or the fact that I knew what else was going on that we weren’t talking about. She had just been let go from her position, thrown her brilliant reputation into a tailspin, and was under criminal investigation for embezzlement after her office had burnt down and destroyed all of the paper she had created in the last seven years of her job.

As I stood there in her condo amid the boxes, watching her play with the overexcited dog, I was trying to piece everything together. With folly, I was trying to use logic to piece together absurdity.

“He’s a Libertarian, Paul is.”

“What is that?”

“It means he believes everyone will find and live by their own true path.”

“Well that kind of makes sense doesn’t it?”

“He’s brilliant. You’d really like him, you guys would totally hit it off.”

“You’d think I’d hit it off with an oil man?”

“That’s not who he is.”


“He has no idea what kind of ride he’s in for!” She said cackling, waving toward Delilah and the two cats who timidly peeked their heads out from between boxes to stare up at me.

“Maybe he does know and he welcomes the change.”

She started laughing uncontrollably, and I took a sip of my beer.

She stood up and walked over to me, beer in hand. The dog stayed on the spot, fighting with the knotted rope Phyllis had left.

“I can’t go on like this. All these years of overtime, all of the fighting, all of the bullshit. Who can live like this?”

I shrugged, thinking about my own life and current problems. I had no answers for her, nor could I profess to have any ideas.

“It’s just time to get out of here. Stat.”

“You found a buyer?”

“Oh yeah, a lovely gal from London. She walked in and fell in love with the place.” It wasn’t a surprise. The condo had a 180 degree view of the lake and the south–west pocket of the city. Beneath the tower and the dome a steady stream of headlights flowed like an electric river right along-side the building. I’d never seen anything like it in the city.

“It will all work out. It’s going to be perfect.” She half-muttered to herself, staring out at the black lake. “Trust me on this.”

In the living room, I watched Delilah tire of playing with the rope knot and begin to circle the living room. Finding a spot in the centre, the dog squatted, and looked over at me with an expression of pained confusion as it pissed on the carpet in the middle of the room.

© 2009 – 2011 Chris Dwyer