Mélisande Bramante sat on the penultimate pew of the chapel reading a book and eating her organic apple. With a bite, a fine spray of the fruit's nectar bridged the pages, from verso to recto, infusing the paper with its sweetness. She gently rubbed the excess moisture away and turned the page, the dedication and prologue still humming in her thoughts. She scanned the next poem and then read it with more attention:
Not quite a hero's quest—that's much a realm
Of online multi-player games—but more
A reckoning of life to overwhelm
That sense of passing time, that final score,
That echo in the garden maze. You say
Each cobble's placed by hand like lead type in
A printer's form, an alphabet the rain
Will ink, for notes we'll make along the way.
Allegro, largo, grave, our movements terse.
Our cumbrous strokes the margins will invade
With title, preface, footnotes, end notes, verse.
You say we're typographic interludes
In variations infinite. Remade,
Recycled cosmic dust all faith includes.
She closed the book and finished her apple, thinking about P. K. and why he wrote the book of verse. A reckoning? She wasn't sure she wanted to go on this voyage. She heard a noise in the hall, like someone sighing loudly. Going to the door she opened it slightly and saw a young man in dark green cords and a corduroy jacket to match, bending over his shoes, obviously struggling with a recalcitrant knot. Hesitating, she continued to watch as he succeeded in untying his shoes and place them beside a pair of desert boots.
Turning, he saw Mélisande standing at the open door of the chapel across the hall. She wore a black dress with purple winter tights, and a thin purple cardigan and held a book in one hand and an apple core in the other.
“Ah, eating in the chapel, someone is being naughty. Just the person I wanted to see,” he said. “I was hoping you could do me a favour.”
“A favour?” Hearing students coming up the stairs, she gestured for him to follow her into the chapel, “Come on, we can talk in here.”
Settled on a back pew surrounded by the muted light from the stained glass windows, Mélisande faced Duncan with her apple core held in front of her. She looked from side to side wondering what to do, so Duncan pulled a few tissues from his coat and wrapped the core and placed it back in his pocket, much to her amusement.
“So, how is Amelia?”
“She's great. Busy, which is good. Translation jobs here and there, and her course is popular, so she is doing alright. How are you?”
“Fine, fine, just taking a short break. The calm before the storm. Well, it never really gets too busy here.” She pushed the sleeves of her cardigan up to reveal her tattoos. “How is the book selling business these days?”
He looked down at her arms noticing new tattoos since he last saw her, a red rose and a bee on her left forearm and a spider web in a Gothic arched window on her right.
“Those are lovely,” he said gesturing to her illustrated arms.
“Thanks. An artist friend designs them for me. I can roll down my sleeves and they become my secret. Of course during the summer they are revealed much more. I am a bit more revealing in the off season.” She smiled.
Her arms rested on the book on her lap obscuring most of the words, but he could make out Love, Karma and Palmyra, and he thought she must be reading a slim obscure religious monograph.
“I'm sorry, you asked me about the book business. Well, I imagine some booksellers are managing, like The Word which is so well situated near the University, but for my humble offerings, the tide is out. I think the eReaders are starting to have a major impact.”
“We try to buy anything you have of interest, and we thank you for those older volumes we were missing in the Luzac and Probsthain series, but our budgets have been cut, which is becoming a boring refrain everywhere isn't it? Are those new glasses? They look good on you.”
“Oh thanks. The heavy frames are back in style. I had a similar pair when I first started wearing glasses back in grade three. Those frames were found in a glove compartment of my Aunt's car and she gave them to my Mother for me.”
“Found in a glove compartment?”
“Yes, that was the story. God knows. Cheap as in free. Anyway, my brothers thought they looked like ones people wore in Russia. It was the cold war era.” He thought of that cartoon with Rocky and Bullwinkle and the side characters of Boris and Natasha, Russian stereotypes, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman, spectacle wearing time travellers. His brothers had mimicked their voices quite well. Dark-rimmed glasses still retained a residue of that odd mash-up in his mind.
“I was hoping to look like Michael Caine in his Harry Palmer movies. Some men buy red sports cars, I buy dark glass frames. Sometimes I think I look more like Buddy Holly though, a bit on the whimsical side.”
“Not at all, they look really good on you.” Looking at him she found it hard to believe he was 53, he looked so much younger, though the grey hairs were more evident with proximity.
“And how is the rope business?” she asked.
“Can I interest you in a clothes-line, a rope-ladder or perhaps our tug-of-war model? So, so. Getting by. Which brings me to the reason for my visit. I was going through the old cash books of the family business, and I came across an old Latin text bound in at the back, upside down and missing the prelims. From the paper and print, it is very old. Possibly 1600. I found half of a watermark which I shall try to find out more about. With my rudimentary Latin, I think it is a religious text. I was hoping I could leave it with you and you could discover its true nature.”
As he fumbled with the laptop bag, she thought that Amelia had done well meeting Duncan. He had his feet on the ground. And they would be alright, for she thought her Uncle must be very wealthy. When she was a student with Amelia attending Marianopolis CEGEP, they occasionally visited his house, and she had been impressed.
He pulled the bound volume half out of the bag.
"I hope you can help with this one. The leather is deteriorating so mind your clothes. I'll put this back in the bag for now. Keep the bag too, I don't need it at the moment." He placed the bag on the pew beside her. "Thanks again. If you're looking for a book, any book, I'll get it for you as a present.”
“No problem. So, any book eh? Perhaps a Gutenberg Bible, or two?”
“If I can find one, it's yours,” he said touching her left arm. “I better let you go. It was great to see you again. And thanks for doing this for me.”
“Ah, no problem. It will give me something to do in the quiet moments,” she said with an ironic smile. “Say hi to Amelia.”
“I will, I will.” And with that he left the chapel and quickly laced his shoes, quietly coveting the desert boots which were back in style. He had had many a pair in the sixties and seventies. Perhaps he should shop for some. They would be a change from his brown leather Sperrys. Give Amelia a surprise.
He made his way across campus to the main library thinking that this invasive fog was beginning to infiltrate his consciousness. He wouldn't be surprised if he saw whirling dervishes spinning about on the soccer field, or a schooner's sails emerge between the trees.
Putting his hand in his jacket pocket he discovered Mélisande's apple core in its damp shroud. Seeing one of the many campus squirrels standing in the mist, he began to call to it in a high pitched tutting sound. Remnant apple in hand, he tried to entice it. It jumped onto to a cement plinth which resembled a water-fountain and lifted his front paws up in the air sniffing and peering warily at Duncan. He didn't understand the language but he comprehended the human gesture. Getting quite close, Duncan held the core at arms-length and gave a little toss, the core landed beside the squirrel. Inquisitively, he smelled it, picked it up and nibbled at it briefly. Then holding it pensively, looking at Duncan as if for a reaction, tossed it to the grass below. Duncan rolled his eyes. Everyone's a critic.
Jerome, standing in front of the five-arched central window of the library, was flipping through Zimmer's Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Mélisande, seeing him from the desk, wondered what atmospheric disturbance was causing men to descend upon her bookish quietude. First it was P. K.'s volume of poetry, then Duncan, and now Jerome. Approaching him, she noticed how the red rosette stained glass device inset in one of the windows seemed to hover above his head due to the strange light from outside. She also noted he had a small hole in the heel of his left sock.
“Jerome?” she whispered to his back.
He closed the book, and leaned towards her ear and softly said, “Could we talk?”
She led him out of the library and across the hall to the chapel. She sat him down where Duncan had sat and asked him what was wrong.
“I wondered if you had heard any news of Thérèse?”
“No, I'm sorry. But you know Thérèse. She is always breaking away. She'll be back. Have you talked to her Mother?”
“Yes, she advised me that her daughter was fine, and just needed to be on her own for awhile. Not to concern myself, not to worry myself.”
“Well, that is reasurring.”
“I received a book of P. K.'s the other day. Poetry.”
“Yes, me too.” She didn't know what to say.
“What's with those two?” he said. “Here we are, stranded in this fog, and they are . . .” He couldn't finish his sentence.
“Why don't we have dinner. We can talk more then. I finish at five.” She got up. “It will do us both good to talk.”
After he laced up his shoes, she gave him a brief hug before entering the library.
Jerome descended the stairs thinking she smelled of apples. What was that quote, he thought. 'Comfort me with apples.'
photograph and text © ralph patrick mackay