Feeling that everyone else must equally be late due to the dense morning fog, it was with reassuring firmness that Amelia Strand pressed her foot upon the brake pedal as she waited at a red light, her green dash indicator blinking left. George III, beside her, seemingly oblivious to the unusual weather, was enjoying the outing—at least she thought so. On the car radio, the announcer discussed the overtures and symphonies of William Boyce as a small European car drew along Amelia's passenger side. The driver turned to look at George III who looked back at him, each cocking their heads with interest. The driver raised his eyebrows. George III shifted in his seat and opened his mouth to produce a small guttural noise of self-consciousness. The light turned green and Amelia, reaching out to pet him, noticed the small car drive away into the fog, and, with a swift intake of breath, she realized it could have been the painter they had been talking about, the boy friend of Thérèse LaFlamme. How many of those little cars could possibly roam the streets of Montreal?
A taxi driver behind her pressed his horn. In her rear view mirror she could see an arm raised in admonishment, so she took her corner and drove on, forgoing any improvisational sleuthing. Coming to another red light, she felt it was turning into one of those frustrating days. Duncan had left early and she had overslept. She had wanted to look over her translation work for the small insurance company that was due this week but that would have to wait. Then, as she stood before the toaster like a supplicant before an oracle, plate, knife and jam at the ready, she came to realize she had forgotten to put the raisin bread in. Will my toast burn? No, your toast will not burn. Then her scarf and shoes had proved elusive. And of course the fog. Yes, she thought, it might be one of those days, one of those days to be extra vigilant.
“And we will now hear William Boyce's Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, based on the overture to the New Year's Ode, Hail, hail, auspicious day, followed by C. P. E. Bach's Cello Concerto in A major.”
Amelia envisioned a baroque orchestra on a float in front of her, sawing away, dispersing the fog with their vigorous movements, leading her on towards the light of an auspicious day—and a parking space.
“Trying to be mindful is difficult when surrounded by mindlessness,” Amelia said, sitting down at the kitchen table. “But I did manage to drop George III off for his check-up, tests and shots and get back here without incident. The fog is as thick as my mind on a Friday afternoon.”
“I'm glad you made it back safely my dear,” Mary said. “Mr. Roquebrune almost had an accident coming here this morning. He is meeting with your uncle in his office at the moment. I've brewed a large pot of tea and the scones should be ready soon.”
“That sounds lovely. I thought I recognized Mr. Roquebrune's car. How is Uncle Edward?”
“Well, I found him asleep in his chair last evening. A book on his lap. One of his old journals. But he was fine. I helped him up the stairs to bed and he mumbled a few words. When I asked him what he said, he replied, 'Milton, my dear Mary, Milton,' and he repeated the lines out loud. Something along the lines of 'tomorrow to fresh pastures new and. . .' no, that wasn't it, it was ' tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.' Well, one or the other. I must say it brought a tear to my eye.”
Amelia got up and hugged Mary. “We're so lucky to have you looking after him. We're all very fortunate.”
Amelia felt that Mary, a widow in her late 60s, was inching her way towards retirement. She owned a condo in Florida but, attached as she was to her position, and to Uncle Edward, she only made infrequent short winter visits.
She helped Mary with the scones and the tea.
“Is it one of Mr. Roquebrune's regular visits?”
“Yes, I believe so. It was on the calendar.”
Amelia liked Mr. Roquebrune. Even when she was a rambunctious youth, he had always talked to her as if she were an intelligent adult. His soft spoken cordial nature, quiet movements, and kindly eyes belied the stereotype of a lawyer. He was certainly not young, but he still retained an upright and elegant bearing. The firm he worked for, Wormwood & Verdigris, was a very old law firm. Mr. Roquebrune had been with the firm for many years, as had his father before him. Amelia remembered the first time she accompanied her Uncle Edward to the firm's offices, a large nineteenth century Jacobean revival greystone which she had thought ideally suited the name on the brass plate. The wood panelling, ornate wood staircase, mullioned windows and the rich furnishings within, paintings, statuary, and carpets, had been an impressive setting for grey-haired men in dark suits glimpsed in the shadows. Whenever she happened to drive past the building, she always imagined Mr. Wormwood and Mr. Verdigris at the windows, tea cups and saucers in their hands, ghostly presences looking out on a changing world.
“I almost forgot,” Mary said, “while you were off delivering George, your Uncle was on the phone with an old acquaintance from England, a Mr. Gough. Apparently he is in Montreal and is coming to visit this afternoon, and will be staying for supper.”
“I guess the casual meal of spaghetti squash I was thinking of is out.”
“Mr. Seymour suggested a meal. One that he shared with Mr. Gough many years ago, grilled herrings and mustard sauce. A meal to stir up memories I suppose. I had to phone around to find the herring.”
“Herrings? Do you think he would still like us to stay for supper?”
“Oh, yes, he told me quite definitely he wanted both of you present. Don't worry, we'll have the squash and let the men have their fish.” Mary looked out the kitchen window and said, “Mr. Gough certainly brought English weather with him.”
Sipping their tea while the scones cooled on a plate, they heard the front door close and then footsteps coming down the hallway.
“I followed the delicious aroma of baked goods, ah Amelia, good to see you. I hope George was behaving?”
Amelia got up and gave her Uncle a hug and a kiss, and said, “He was no problem, as usual. I think he enjoyed getting out in the fog.”
“Yes, it does seem quite adamant about settling in,” he said joining them at the table. “Has Mary told you of my imposing an old friend on our casual dinner tonight?”
“Yes, we all look forward to meeting him.”
“Noel, his name is Noel Welwyn Gough, came to Montreal last Thursday to visit his daughter who has been working here in finance for a few years. She is soon to be transferred to Paris, so Noel thought he would make a short visit.”
“How old is Noel?”
“Oh, dear, a youngster compared to me. I believe he is 72. He was a patient of mine when I practiced in London. An unusual case. I was in my early 40s and he was in his early 20s. When he heard I was leaving to teach in Canada, he was a bit distraught, so I invited him to dinner at Pratt's. Such a peculiar little club. It was, and still is I believe, in the cellar. Rather dark. It had a very small dining room and the cloak room was a billiards table. A lot of stuffed birds under glass, perhaps much like ourselves at the time. But it was a warm and convivial place.”
“Has he been to Montreal before?” Amelia asked.
“Oh yes, he did come to visit with his wife in the 1980s. I remember we lunched at the old-fashioned art-deco restaurant on the ninth floor of Eaton's department store. It was a favourite of Lavinia's for lunch. It was full of odd characters. Quite a mix of people, business types and old fogies like myself. Mid-afternoons were often busy with elderly women in heavy make-up, perfume and fur stoles re-living the 1950s. We had a favourite waiter there, what was his name. . . Fred, I think. God knows what happened to them all. The restaurant has been closed for so many years now. I imagine it has quite deteriorated.”
“Duncan and I lunched there a few times in the early 90s before it closed. On one occasion, we were sitting on the balcony area overlooking the tables below, and Duncan dropped his napkin onto an older man's head.”
"Oh, ho, well, better on his head than in his soup! There will be no such concern tonight, as long as Duncan can restrain himself. Mary, we must watch Duncan's wine consumption."
Their laughter startled a rather sad looking stray cat who was exploring the fringes of the back door porch. After silence resumed, he was brave enough to spray his presence before disappearing into the shrubbery.
text and photo © ralph patrick mackay
text and photo © ralph patrick mackay