By Attila Zønn
Rathbone was once a Jew.
Not a casual Jew, in name only, but a Torah-observing, kosher-abiding Semite from Canaan—his people had persevered through pogroms and genocide to get him where he is now, sitting in the kitchen at a rectangular table, eating a bowl of Special K in the basement apartment of a ten unit building on the corner of Bayly and Harwood in Ajax By The Lake.
As he chews he watches the morning bustle on the sidewalk outside his long and narrow basement window. He sees legs and thinks: You can tell a lot about a person by the way they walk.
The tenants above him don’t know Rathbone owns the building. Thank God. He imagines they think he’s just the old recluse in the basement.
In the distant past of sixty years, Rathbone was born Israel Fischer — son of Jacob and Minnie, brother to Haya and David, his juniors, husband to the late Abigail, and father to no one.
Haya manages the building, is an exceptional buffer between him and the tenants and is a good sister but refuses to accept his new identity and still calls him Izzy. She has never agreed with his seclusion. She’s told him, “It’s not good living in a cave. Get out. Get some sun. Vitamin D will make you feel better. Go for a walk to the plaza. Get a coffee. Meet people. Go back to Temple.”
Go back to Temple? Not a chance. He’d rather hang from the ceiling by cables attached to his nipples.
Haya wants him to, “Get out there and be hit by opportunity.”
Rathbone’s wife of twenty-five years had been out there when she was hit by a car.
Abigail walked everywhere. On that day, she was out getting him a bottle of Wiser’s and smokes. Since that tragic day, Rathbone has quit smoking. Though he continues to drink — a necessary lubricant to glide over the friction of depression — he no longer drinks the brand of whisky that killed her.
What a terrible time that was.
It was a time to question God.
What was He good for if He couldn’t protect the one Rathbone loved? Why inflict such a useless death? Suffering. Why? Why? Why? Oh, Abigail. He knows he took her for granted and didn’t realize how much he loved her until she was gone.
So he gave up the Jew and became a man of no ideology. He was No One in his basement apartment and for a time that was a good thing to be.
But Haya said, “Once a Jew, always a Jew.”
“No,” Rathbone said. “I no longer identify as one so that’s my reality. Please respect it.”
Haya rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Suit yourself, Izzy.”
Rathbone once believed himself to be extraordinary, above the masses, the decider of his own fate. But when Abigail died, he was hit with the truth — he was just another human being with faults, weaknesses, and fears. He reckons he’s beyond the five stages of grief because he now thinks: Such is life. Ease, hardship, joy, sadness, jubilation, misery, upturns, downturns. LIFE
What pulled him out of his gut-wrenching funk one rainy morning was a marathon of the films of Basil Rathbone, a splendid actor for his time, suave, with a resonant voice. He was the perfect villain and, of course, the perfect Sherlock Holmes.
After the marathon, Rathbone felt uplifted. He gazed out his window and saw the sun shining. He breathed deep — the breath infused him with a new appreciation for the future. How many years do I have left? Why am I wasting that time concealed in a hole? The future begins today, and with a new beginning comes a new name.
So — Rathbone.
He liked the sound of it — rath and bone — but wondered: by what deeds of distant ancestors would a name like that come to be?
Rathbone spoons out the last flakes of cereal then puts the bowl to his lips and drinks the milk that remains.
Haya calls him every day to make sure he’s still alive. He loves her but she’s a broken record. His brother David is a pain in the ass. If there is such a thing as a prodigal brother, David is that. No restraint on his begging. Then, cash in hand, he goes away and months pass before David is back on his doorstep. Then comes the knock. The smile. David’s perfunctory feign of well-wishing — “How are you? How have you been?” Then the sad face — the life is just not working out for me face — but he has an idea. A brilliant idea that will get him back on the right track but . . . he needs some capital. Hand out. “How about it, Izzy? You’ll get it all back in spades.” The latest? David wanted to buy a pub. “How about it, Izzy?” Rathbone weighed the question and rubbed his neck then as always, “Sure.” How could he deny his little brother when he had the means?
And so The Black Fox came into his life.
But David was not a good manager. David was good at identifying his next get-rich-quick scheme but was easily disillusioned when the riches didn’t come quick enough.
So Rathbone left his basement, went to the pub and took it over.
When undertaking a new endeavour one must have a strategy. There was an office in the back but Rathbone preferred to be in the midst of the happening because he never wanted to miss anything. After seating himself at various tables around the room he decided that his best view came from the table closest to the stock room — table 4 — from where he could see the front door, the bar and all angles of the place.
The periodic whiffs of stale beer that escaped the stock room were reminiscent of his university years — good years — when he bar-tended at night. Oh, the diversity of lives at the watering hole — drinking for fun or drinking their lives away, he saw all kinds. Standing behind that bar he got a good education on character and the human condition.
The first order of business once he took over the pub, according to Haya, was to create a vibrant identity for the place. Haya suggested it be an Irish pub. Except for the Jameson, and the Guinness on tap, there was nothing Irish about this pub.
“But isn’t an Irish Pub a stale cliche?” Rathbone said.
“Cliches are known and comforting,” Haya said. “Everybody loves an Irish Pub. Put a shamrock on the sign beside the Black Fox — fox.” She paused. “Hmm,” she said. “You might have to change the name.”
“It sounds English.”
“Fox hunt. So no. Call it a something . . . something . . . Inn.”
“But this isn’t an Inn. It’s a pub. There are no rooms for the night.”
“Inn doesn’t have to mean you can stay for the night.”
“I don’t know . . .”
“Alright, Izzy. Suit yourself, but Irish is the way to go. All you have to do is put some shamrocks on the sign, paint a wall or two green and voilà, you’re Irish. Oh, and display all manner of potatoes on the menu.” She wrinkled her nose. “You’ve got to remove the fox though. Maybe something about a Leprechaun?”
“The Black Leprechaun?”
“No, no. The whole name. Something . . . something Leprechaun. The Happy Leprechaun, the Merry Leprechaun, something that puts a leprechaun in a positive light.” She paused. “They are nasty though, aren’t they? Greedy things. Well, you decide, but Irish is the way to go. Trust me.”
Rathbone did hours of research on the Irish and Irish lore and settled on The Black Irish Inn. He would only have to add two words to the sign and that was the economical thing to do.
“Oh, my god,” Haya said when she heard. “Have you lost your mind?”
“Black Irish is a thing,” Rathbone said. “I researched it.”
“Where? On the Internet? You can’t believe anything you read on the Internet.”
Rathbone shrugged. “My choice,” he said. “I can still keep The Black . . . staying true to its origins.”
Being familiar with the art of business but not knowing the workings of the hospitality industry, Rathbone decided to keep the existing staff. Rathbone sensed their anxiousness when he gathered them together that morning. He raised his hands and smiled.
“This is just a greet and meet,” he assured them. “Except for the sign and decor, I’m not making any changes.” However, he wanted to meet them individually.
The staff cued and each had a sit at table 4.
Shereen: brunette, green eyes. She wears black; tight leggings, short skirt with a low neck blouse enhancing her cleavage. She’s not beautiful but she is sexy. Sexy is better than beautiful. Beautiful wears out. And not all beautiful women are sexy. Beautiful women can be bores. She’s thirty-five, a lifelong server, has a good heart, a soft spot for righteous causes and little animals, has no dependents and is single. She probably has a house full of cats. Rathbone has watched her behind the bar. She has people skills but also a take no shit personality. Perfect manager. Well-spoken, makes continuous eye contact — a good leader.
Wanda: squat, heavy, man-ish hair cut, a Celtic warrior, — probably a lesbian — (He didn’t care.) She could knock some teeth out with just a slap on the back. Gregarious. A wonderful brogue and everyone was “Love.” “Hello, Love. How are you Love? Wuddal’ya have, Love?” And, “That’s all yer havin’, love,” and shove drunks out the door.
Jim, the cook, ex-military, missing his ring finger and pinky. His son Jer, a nice kid, who part-times on those busy nights.
Pam, Minerva, Caroline. The waitresses. All blondes, nice girls.
So Rathbone was set, leaving his apartment at 10:30 am, Shereen will already have unlocked the pub and put the coffee on.
Life is ever-evolving. One norm fades away and a new one takes its place, bringing new feelings and new smells. He enjoyed his weekday mornings now, with Shereen, sitting at table 4 . . .