The House on Peel Street by Chrissie Robb

Cecile Duvalier occupies the entire ground floor of a house on Peel Street, and that is where her business is based. Though some might argue with her calling it a business, she very much thinks of it this way.  Cecile has a degree in finance from McGill and has moulded an astute sense of a balanced market economy to her personal and professional needs.

Of course her real name contains neither a Cecile nor a Duvalier but together the two produce a notion of old-world boudoir charm which serves her well.

Cecile is very good at what she does. Both instinct and meticulous research have helped her refine a model approach to her trade based on a deep understanding of psychology. Early in her present career Cecile read biographies of all the famous courtesans of history with the cool, clinical eye of a psychiatrist, and thereby learned how to please men.

When a new client calls Cecile sets up the first appointment for a week later. She needs this time to research his background and character.

M had called a week ago.

Ten years older and having risen in the corporate ranks, she recognized him immediately as he entered her apartment.  His chipmunk cheeks more than ever functioned as a repository for conceit and disdain. It was this expression which had defined his opposition to her in an interview ten years earlier.

When Cecile had studied business at university in the 1960s, it was an era during which women were neither welcome nor valued. Exceptional marks and laudatory references had made it difficult for the faculty to refuse her admittance,  but she’d needed all her wits to facilitate her passage through the program. She’d graduated with honours and expected a productive career in her field, replete with all the financial and professional benefits this would bring.

But academia is one thing and the real world another.

She had sent out more than one hundred job applications. These resulted in three meetings, a seemingly normal percentage of return according to statistics that related to these endeavours. For her interviews Cecile chose a tailored skirt and white shirt, pointed toes, and heels that meant business but were not high enough to prove intimidating.  Seated before the panel, she was careful to appear crisp and businesslike. She sat tall in her chair and levelled a frank and open gaze at her interlocutors.  

The all-male panels posed questions relevant to her education and experience.  However, an attitude of smug paternalism greeted her responses and suggested to her that the meetings were merely form.  The men appeared amused by her presence, if not her “audacity”, but let it show that she was wasting their time.  She would not be hired, but the firm had granted her the interview and, inasmuch, could not be accused of sexism.  

It was the final of the three interviews that defined how Cecile dealt with men from then on.  A young male, bristling with self-importance at his inclusion on the panel, let it be known that there had not been a single female in his graduating class. Loud and officious, he puffed out the notion that corporate affairs required skills and a commitment that a woman could not possibly admit to. He was openly chided by his seniors who were quick to make apologies on his behalf, and glad to blame the lapse in courtesy on his youth. She was in no doubt they all secretly agreed with the younger man’s sentiments.

There was no place for women in corporate affairs.

Cecile decided to put her considerable discipline and talents towards carving out a life of power and control over the very men who had dismissed her sex. She spent the next several years learning to charm and cajole, and stroke male egos whenever necessary. 

Cecile lived well. She cultivated, and moved in, circles of wealth and intellect and gradually built a clientele that included a coterie of political high-rollers and corporate elite.

Throughout, Cecile chose to stay on in her first floor apartment of the gracious, if slightly decaying, grey-stone house on Peel Street rather than move to the more prestigious neighbouring Westmount ;  a move which many of her clients had offered to underwrite to their personal or business accounts.

She hardly missed an affective life.

Cecile now knew everything about M. What he had not divulged in the cigarette aftermath of sex she had gleaned from her meticulous research. She learned that he had ambitions in the political arena, and that he had spent years courting the rich and powerful. She knew his address, his home number and the name and characters of his long-suffering wife and three children. He was proud to boast that he was a tyrant with his staff and totally at ease as he recounted tales of his domination and humiliation of women in the workplace. 

He was a success in the corporate world. 

While she had never totally dismissed the notion of personal revenge for her client’s earlier slight, Cecile’s temperament was not so inclined.  These few weeks with M had changed her mind.

Cecile calculated that three months would suffice to reel him in. Then she would go to work.  She would plant the seed of suspicion, knowing by instinct that it would grow.  She also knew that marriages to wives who were wealthy on their own account would not survive a public disclosure of infidelity.  M’s political aspirations would be shot. Divorce would devastate him on many levels.

A public telephone on nearby Ste. Catherine Street would seal her anonymity. She’d make sure she talked directly to the wife.

When challenged, M would pass it off as a prank call. But Cecile had calculated the odds and was certain in her knowledge that seeds of suspicion grow into flowers of distrust.

 

Chrissie Robb is the pen name of a resident of the Vaudreuil-Soulange region.

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