Awaking to find her arm asleep, she turned her body sideways feeling the full weight of the limb roll onto the bedspread. Slowly the arm regained blood flow, the painless cramp eased, and the tingling nerve endings resonated and faded like a glissando of harp strings. She quietly moaned not so much for the feeling returning to her fingers, as to the recollection of her nightmare, an occasional recurrence, a variation on a theme. She was once more back at her parent's third floor flat in Lachine. She was in a developing state of panic realizing she had a final test that evening for her last university course, a course to complete her business degree, and she hadn't prepared. In her efforts to locate her books and papers, she was thwarted by her parents who happened to be sitting on them, or inadvertently hiding them by their position. She sighed. At forty-eight years of age, and twenty-five years since she'd finished her degree, still this nightmare of anxiety arose from time to time, and so real that in that semi-awake state she was actually convinced she still had a course to finish, a degree to complete. She rolled onto her back and stared at the high plaster ceiling thinking of her parents and the working class poverty she'd escaped. Her father, his teeth in the glass beside the bed—the poor man's aquarium—sleeping off a night of beer drinking and hockey viewing with his “associates” down at the brasserie, spending his factory paychecks on beer, cigarettes and betting on les Canadiens and the occasional flutter on the sulkies at Blue Bonnets during the summers. Her mother ensconced on the flowered couch before her beloved glossy veneered television cabinet with the pot of dusty dried flowers on top, fully immersed in the lives of her family, those characters on her favourite soap operas, all those forevers and tomorrows of dramatic fantasy. Which ones did she watch? The names came back to her like the memories of undesirable relatives: As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, All My Children, Another World, Search For Tomorrow.
She looked over to the sleek dark digital clock and saw it was 6:45 a. m., the usual time of Declan's rising. But he was in New York with Harry, at the proverbial round of meetings. She was alone in their Old Montreal condominium and glad of it.
In the kitchen she prepared her morning health shake and stretched her back and neck between sips. Her hips were sore. Did they need to replace the expensive mattress already? The autumn issue of Vogue, thick as a patio stone, lay on the smooth granite eating area; it was the magazine issue she looked forward to each year, an issue she'd advance through 150 pages of air-brushed fantasy advertisements before reaching the hidden table of contents, the models staring back at her as if she were looking at herself in the mirror, eye contact making for a unification of the abstract, yes, this is you in the Valentino, Dior, Versace, Christian LaCroix, Donna Karan, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Chanel. She'd found it useless to bookmark pages by turning the top corners down, so she just tore the pages out and slipped them in at the end of the magazine for future reference. Once finished, she left a sticky note on it for Louise, their in-town housekeeper, to take. How it ended up making its way to Louise's daughter and into scrap books and collages, she didn't know, but such was the trajectory of the magazine's life, ending, no doubt, in the recycling bin. So much money and creative effort spent, and yet, so ephemeral. But the influences remained, money had been spent, faces had been seen, names had been recognized, writers had been read, charmed lives had been revealed, styles had been spun, shaken, and stirred. The ripples of influence would diminish with time while the inherent energies of the physical object would be recycled. Much like human existence she thought.
She made her way down the hallway to the large-windowed front rooms, looking at the dark framed photographs on the wall as she passed, photographs taken by Thaddeus of Declan and Harry with accomplished achievers: Guy Laliberté, Paul Allen, Richard Branson, Dennis Tito. What was it with self-made men and women, she wondered? She sensed they shared a certain continuity like veins of gold running through bedrock—if gold ran through bedrock. They also reminded her of bespoke suits, everything made to measure, unique. She stopped and looked at Mr. Tito's large smooth head and his sharp blue eyes and felt he exuded enormous foresight and boundless energy. Declan had a touch of that too, but not as much. Declan had said to her that if he'd had Dennis Tito's analytical genius, he too would be a billionaire space tourist planning on sending a male and a female to Mars, but as it was, he was sending people home to their condominiums and their deluxe vacation homes in exotic locales. Such was life. Declan had described to her how Dennis Tito had used quantitative analytics to estimate the trajectories of space probes for the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, and had later applied similar techniques to investment markets to become the billionaire he was today, “from orbits to markets,” Declan had said, “a genius at applying mathematics and computers to estimate risk and outcome.” Random variables, probability distributions, algorithmic trading, statistical arbitrage, the terms spun around her mind like space debris. She liked to keep up with the latest in high finance and every so often regretted not pursuing a Masters degree, but, having met Declan at a Alumni party, her orbit had been drawn towards his. Analytics seemed so fastidious, precise, conclusive. What about instinct she wondered? What about human nature? She looked at Harry and remembered how Declan had told her that when Harry, a young black kid growing up with him amongst tough white kids in Point St. Charles, had encountered racism, he calmly told his offenders that racism was a hereditary disease, and they had better see a doctor. Smart and tough.
Embraced by a compliment of patterned cushions on the cream coloured sofa, she rested her outstretched calves on the ottoman/cocktail table and looked down at the magazines displayed like a winning poker hand, The Economist, Bloomberg Markets, AAII Journal, Fortune, Architectural Digest. Looking towards the living room windows, a trinity of nineteenth century high arched design, she could see dawn had begun to etch the details of the elaborate stone facade of the building across the street. It was at moments like these, moments of quiet stillness, that she thought she must have been here a hundred years ago, and all the people in her life had been involved in that distant life as well, in different roles, names, professions. She stretched her arms above her head and yawned deliciously with involuntary gasps of her body's voice. Or was it really just due to the romantic suspense novels she liked to read when she was younger, and still resorted to on occasions when the arid and prosaic realities of life lowered the temperature of her emotions? The conflicting thoughts seemed intertwined like a strand of DNA. Strand. Duncan Strand. She would have to wait until Friday to discuss the Duncan Strand situation with Declan. Perhaps he could buy the stock of both businesses outright and set up a library in the future condominium, and the rope, well, sell it off to one of his connections in the Caribbean. That could help the bookseller reset his life.
What would she do with such a chance? Go back to school? Begin her own real estate company? She curled and stretched her toes, the fine delicate bones cracked in the dry air like the sound of wood burning in a fireplace, and her toenails, shimmering like nacreous pearls, reminded her of Alicia, their beach loving daughter in California, their Venus rising from the scallop shell. She hoped she wasn't being foolish like her mother. A fling with a painter? She shook her head. Had she dramatized a scene from one of those romantic suspense novels, or reenacted an episode of a past life? She would phone Alicia later to check on her and wish her luck in her coming exams. Pre-med had been one of her own teenage dreams, a life as a doctor, stethoscope around her neck, crisp blue blouse beneath the white jacket, but the business degree had been the economical and obtainable option. Wasn't California rife with temptation. the bastion of the drug and sex trade? She looked at the clock on the sideboard to see it was now 7:20 a. m., much too early to phone the west coast. Alicia might have been up late studying, much like her own late nights when a student at college and university. She shivered as she recalled the days when a few of her friends had finished high school and had begun working at low paying secretarial and sales jobs and they would try to get her to come out with them on the weekends to the discotheques downtown and the seedy bars attached to the cheap motels on St. Jacques Street, places where dancing, drugs and abusive males were like so many facets of the disco ball blinding them to reality, bars that she'd called compounds of dangerous elements, the arsenic, lead, plutonium and mercury that would ruin their lives. Thank God she hadn't fallen into that darkness of early pregnancy, abandonment, drug use, poverty. There, but for the grace of . . . something goes Kathleen O'Connor. God? Common sense? Self-belief? Self-respect? Her real name seemed so foreign to her now. Kathleen O'Connor. She'd left it behind like a theatre progamme on a threadbare plush crimson chair. No Facebook for her. Her father was deceased; her mother, suffering with Alzheimer's, was in an old age facility; and a brother who left home at sixteen, whereabouts unknown—she often wondered what became of him: a roughneck on an Alberta oil rig? A longhaul trucker down through the Midwest? A Casino sweeper? A grease monkey in a gas station that still had one of those rubber tube ringers cars drive over when they pull up to the gas pumps? A grifter moving across the continent? Drug addict? Convict? Dead? She liked to think he was living in suburbia with a wife, two kids and a dog, a new pick-up truck and car in the driveway beneath one of those adjustable basketball hoops, and maybe a trampoline in the backyard. He was the wildcard that might be flung across the table at her one day, but for now, Alicia was the future. Everything behind her, stepping stones out of the shadows.
They'd decided to bring Alicia up without organized religion, offering her a broader spirituality, a more holistic view of life, like the airing of a fusty old room. She herself, however, still had a weakness for the Virgin Mary, with the Ave Maria, the Angelic Salutation at the ready, in a whisper, under breath. She could see the blessed Virgin full of grace looking down on her, the Goddess subsumed. Better than the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost she thought. A woman to confide in, to understand. I have sinned, forgive me. A moment of passion, of weakness.
Roused by her sense of guilt over Jerome, she thought that she should ask Declan to increase the amount of the scholarship they had set up, one that helped promising students without financial means. Friday would be a day of requests she thought. She would prepare a special fish dinner. One of Declan's favourite.
“Duncan, Duncan, wake up,” Amelia said, shaking his right shoulder.
“Agghh, what, what?” Duncan muttered. He breathed in deeply and turned onto his back, the tension in his body eased as he fully awoke from a dreamscape. “Sorry . . . oh my god, bad dream." He licked his dry lips and felt like he'd just come up for air and was now floating on a water surface. "How bizarre. I was in my parent's home, everyone was there, you were there too. There was a big commotion over the plans to run a railway track between our neighbour's house and ours, which is absurd for it must be all of fifteen feet between them. Crazy. And they were going to build some kind of shack in our backyard for an employee to work in, to monitor traffic or something.” He shook his head and rubbed his eyes.
“Hmm, you're under a lot of stress.”
“I was devising a plan to sell the house quickly before anyone knew of the railway, before the value of the property would fall. I was going around trying to figure out how to move everything quickly.”
Amelia snuggled up against him and kissed him on his warm, somewhat clammy cheek. “Well, we know where that dream came from. Don't worry. We can move a lot of the books to Uncle Edward's basement, and into the carriage house basement as well. I'm sure Yves and Tom would help. Maybe even Pavor and Jerome.” She squeezed his chest and rested her head on his chest. “Or we can hire a moving company. Probably worth the money.”
Duncan wrapped his right arm around Amelia and squeezed her tight and kissed the top of her head, her hair tickling his chin. Books, books, books he thought, they'll be the death of me. Why hadn't he been fascinated with stamps, or butterflies? So much easier to handle, and so much lighter. As his body relaxed in that ease of early morning calm, he envisaged a domino effect of books. Books knocking books over, spreading out in lines and convolutions that resembled, in his mind, the pathways of the black plague that had made its way across the plains of Central Asia with the Golden Horde in the thirteenth century, erupting during their invasion of what is now Crimea, then carried with the fleeing Italian merchants to Constantinople, the outbreak there and their withdrawal to Italy and the inevitable outbreaks and dissemination across Europe and arrival in England. . . . books falling like bodies in the street, falling, falling, ad infinitum.
© ralph patrick mackay