Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Sixty-One, Part A

Standing at the dining room windows, the spent garden before her, she looked closely at the stark limbs of the leafless trees and shrubs and thought they resembled the branching architecture of elkhorn and staghorn corals, corals she remembered swimming over with a feeling of great excitement and pleasure, but as this memory washed over her, she couldn't recall the context. Scuba diving? Snorkeling? The Caribbean? She noticed the small stone bench in the far corner, and could see herself sitting on the cold damp slab in the early morning, black-capped Chickadees playing in the fir trees above her, the delicate pink dianthus plants near her feet, robust spreading sedums and purple salvias reaching up towards a diversity of grasses—greys, greens, reds, feathery and slender—swaying and twitching in the light breeze. Raising her right hand towards her face as if to sweep away a strand of hair, she stopped and gently moved it back and forth as if waving to a friend sitting where she had sat. Mrs. Shimoda noticed this as she approached from behind.

“Such a beautiful space,” Thérèse said, hearing the floor boards creak and feeling her presence.

Mrs. Shimoda stood at her right elbow staring at the depth of the autumn garden scene wondering to whom she had been waving. There were no neighbours to be seen, no faces in rear windows, no stray cat to offer an appeal. Without words, she reached out and clasped Thérèse's hand, and feeling the warmth and pulse of her blood, in silence she shared the view. It was if she had a daughter, a daughter reunited after a long separation, the daughter whose loss she privately lamented. After her son had been born, they'd decided a single child was best so as to focus all their energies upon his upbringing and future. Uncertainties had guided their thoughts and emotions, uncertainties rooted in the experience of their parent's internments during second world war; their loyalty to Canada dismissed outright, their basic human rights stripped. Born in 1941, she often wondered if she had been a burden or a blessing. She remembered her Mother saying that the looks of their friends and associates who couldn't or didn't react to the injustice, haunted her more than the faces behind the phrases of abuse. Her parents had internalized the wounds, rebuilt their lives and looked forward, always forward. Those years were painful to stir up, but whenever the past was aroused, she would inevitably think of the injustices suffered by allied soldiers and civilians at the hands of the Japanese military, and this abstract balancing of sins made her feel like she was on a teeter totter, suspended in air, her feet dangling, dizzy with the vertigo of an invisible wavering counterweight in the distance, gravity pulling at her heels, nausea rising up her spine, until the thought of the atom bombs dropped on her distant homeland broke the spell.

Mrs. Shimoda gently squeezed Thérèse's hand and drew her towards the dining room table. “Do you remember this pen and the signing of the lease?”

“Oh, I do, yes, the little colourful carp.” She looked down at her signature and admired the bold and even strokes. She sat down and taking up the pen, she wrote her name beneath the signature to compare. Identical. She smiled up at Mrs. Shimoda. “I guess that's a good thing. For a second there, I thought I would have to scratch an X.” She looked back at the paper and then across the table to the completed jigsaw puzzle, a spring blossom scene in Japan, three woman in kimonos. Then she noticed the dark polished wood of the table revealed near the centre, like a deep shadow where one of the woman's hands should be, her arm reaching out to . . . a strange thought occurred to her, did the image arise from the dark hole, or was it being drawn into it? She breathed deeply to clear her mind of such an odd question and in doing so, she recognized the fragrance of incense. “I remember your house always had such a lovely smell,” she said.

“Would you like to burn a stick of incense? Relax with your thoughts? Come along. I'll leave you alone for a few minutes while you have a moment of calm before your dinner upstairs. You might need it. Adorable Hugh, the pet dachshund of Amelia and Duncan will be sure to find you of interest.” She led Thérèse to the living room and instructed her to sit upon the small cushion and make herself comfortable. “You can start by lighting the candle,” she said, withdrawing a dollar store disposable candle-lighter from a cabinet drawer. “My son thought it would be safer to use this than matches. I know it's not very authentic but, let it be our secret.” Back at the cabinet in the corner of the room she hesitated over which incense to offer Thérèse: one for good fortune with the scents of sandalwood, cinnamon and clove? Or a floral choice to relax her, such as lavender? She opted for the latter and returned to find the candle lit and Thérèse looking pleased. She handed the aromatic stick to her and instructed her to light it from the candle, let it burn for a few moments, then wave it out and place the smoking incense stick into the mound of ash within the Koro, the ritual incense burner. When Mrs. Shimoda had made her way to the kitchen, she followed the instructions and watched the aromatic smoke spiral upwards, and as she breathed in the familiar fragrance, she kept thinking how the ash of her incense would mix with the ash of Mrs. Shimoda's previous rituals and meditations, and this gave her a great sense of comfort, assurance, solidarity.


“In the midst of life . . . we are in debt,” Duncan said, pouring Jerome a glass of red wine.

Jerome laughed. “In debt, yes, that's a good one.”

Amelia came into the dining room with a platter of assorted cheeses, crackers, sliced baguette and grapes. “Please help yourself Jerome. Fresh from the Atwater Market.” She popped a green grape into her mouth. “There's such a lovely cheese shop there. So many choices, artisan, organic. We're very fortunate being so close.”

The three of them stood around the table in the awkward initial stages of self-revelation as they waited for Thérèse to complete her visit with Mrs. Shimoda, and Pavor and Melisande to arrive with the pizzas from Amelio's. Hugh, having thoroughly sniffed and passed judgement on this stranger in his orange socks, looked up at him with an expression of benevolent anticipation of cheddar.

“I feel I've seen you before Jerome,” Amelia said. “Perhaps at an art show or an author reading, or maybe it was a . . . restaurant.”

“You might have passed me on a sidewalk,” he said. “I like to sit on city benches and look for interesting faces. Yours looks familiar,” he added with a inquisitive turn of his head.

“So Jerome,” Duncan said, breaking the flow of the conversation in his attempt to avoid admitting they'd stared at him from the Commensal Restaurant thinking he looked like a Dickensian street character. “I imagine painting's more lucrative than selling old rope and books.” Bringing the subject back to the challenges of self-employment, Duncan could see a greater breadth of conversational options. “Buyers willing to shell out the big bucks for a portrait or two.”

Jerome cut a triangular slab of soft brie and placed it on a slice of baguette. “I don't know. It's all relative to how ambitious I want to be I guess. Values and opinions are out of my control, but I try to make a living.” He bit off half of the bread and cheese and pondered the shape of his career while Hugh spotted a fluffy snowflake bit of bread descend to the floor near the orange socks. “I recently had a very strange portrait request. It'll pay well, but it's unusual. I was picked up and driven to a large castle-like country estate an hour outside of the city—exactly where I'm couldn't say—and I stayed there a few days while I made preparatory sketches of the wife of the owner.”

“Sounds like something out of a Gothic romance,” Amelia said.

“There's an odd coincidence that involves you Duncan,” he said, bringing his glass of wine to his lips.

“Me? Really?”

Jerome wondered how to frame his story and how much to reveal. “I was waiting in their library before the next sitting, and naturally I browsed the books. On a bottom shelf, I noticed a book sticking out slightly, The Dark Room, Strand, in gold letters on the spine. I thought it might be a story from the Strand Magazine, but as I pulled it out, it was a fake.”

Duncan felt a rush of blood, a quickening of his heart beat. The Dark Room. Strand. “Ah, dummy books. A sham library door perhaps?”

“Well, it was a dummy book as you say, but the others were real. When I pulled the book out, the bookshelf eased forward to reveal a secret room, a room full of very old leather bound books, esoterica, magic, occult, and, on a lectern, a catalogue for the collection, a catalogue with your name on the title page.”

The cheddar-laden table water biscuit in Duncan's right hand cracked between the pressure of his thumb and fingers sending crumbs and cheese to the floorboards (an offer Hugh couldn't refuse, messy though it was). “My name? The Dark Room? That's . . . .”

“Yes, it is, isn't it,” Jerome said. “Extraordinary. So, did you visit the house and make the catalogue there?”

Duncan was lost in a moment of astonishment. The looks of expectation on Amelia, Jerome and Hugh made him feel as if he'd just taken Aldus Manutius's name in vain. “No, no. It was all very odd. I was working for Stuart Grange at the time—his shop name was Grange Stuart—and he received a request to catalogue a special collection.” Duncan took a large sip of his red wine. “Boy, that brings back memories. The collection was held in an empty penthouse apartment on Mountain Street up near MacGregor, or now Dr. Penfield. Every day for two weeks I would stop off at a favourite bakery, buy a few cheese bagels, and then make my way up Mountain Street, past Holt Renfrew, the Chateau Apartments, and on up to the apartment. Those were carefree summer days. No worries. So much easier being an employee. Anyway, it was arranged I would show up at ten in the morning and wait in the lobby for a Mr. Vigg. He was an older well-dressed man, slight build, military moustache, cravat. At first I thought he was the owner, but no, he was a butler I think. Anyway, he had the key to the penthouse, and the key and security code to the locked room with the books. And what books they were. It took all my effort not to lose myself in them, search them for marginalia, read the texts, stare at the engravings, breathe in and feel every page.” Duncan was looking off into the corner of the ceiling as if the past hovered above the crown molding. “I was often early and would talk with the doorman, who was this tall guy named Dirk. The stories he had. Doormen see it all. One morning I was holding the fort as it were as Dirk went to the garage to bring up a beautiful dark green Jaguar XJ6 for one of the tenants, when an older well-heeled couple came out of the elevator with two children about the age of seven or eight, cute as buttons in their private school outfits. They went out the door and got into the jaguar and off they went. Dirk informed me later that the parents would often arrive home propping each other up in their expensive clothes, elegantly drunk. To me, the parents looked more like young grandparents, the children their wards. Probably the first time I saw rich people as . . . sad. I wonder if Dirk still works there? He was a fan of the novels by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove and all that stuff. I'm sorry, I'm going off on a tangent. So, yes, I would be let into the penthouse, and Mr. Vigg would leave me sitting at the fine leather-top desk, with a library lamp, and he would come back at four to lock up. The kitchen had everything to make coffee or tea, and there was black forest ham in the fridge, mustard, fresh bread in the bread keeper. I could help myself. It was a great gig. Loved it. Didn't want it to end. I would go out on the corner balcony and look down the street, the sounds of traffic, the lights, the bustle, the St. Lawrence river somewhere in the distance. Something very special that only those up at those heights experience. And the panopticon behind the building where the four apartment blocks created a square of wasteland, provided the occasional distractions of other lives, glimpses of diverse routines, a man at a typewriter, a woman doing yoga in the passing phase of sun, a cat sleeping on a sofa back, a dinning room table still life with a vase of faux flowers and a bowl of faux fruit, windows forever curtained, blinds forever drawn. Fascinating.”

“Did you ever meet the owner?” Jerome asked.

“Nope. Never knew his name either. Just the initials . . . what were they? D. G. K., a gentleman I think it was. I have a copy of the catalogue at the shop. I did the cataloguing, neatly pencilled, and Mr. Grange's wife Miriam typed it up. This was before computers had entered the scene. She was a librarian from McGill's McLennan Library who smoked Rothman's cigarettes and could swear like a sailor. She would sit at the heavy IBM Selectric and type away with tremendous speed and accuracy, sometimes with a cigarette between her lips, the smoke trailing up, resembling what I assumed a mystery writer might have looked like when pounding out their suspense novels, someone like Margaret Millar; and whenever Miriam changed the ribbon on that heavy monster she reminded me of a mechanic looking under the hood of an old car." Duncan shook his head. "Good days, good days. Mr. Grange put out some interesting catalogues in his time."

“Well, Duncan, I did meet the owner and his wife. Her name might, or might not be, Lucrezia, and his first name is Declan. Nice guy. Self-made. Rose from very little in Griffintown to become a real estate developer. Condominiums, hotels, that kind of thing.”

“Declan? Of Westlake-Declan Entreprises?”

Jerome shrugged his shoulders. “Could be. Is the company into condos and hotels?”

Duncan looked at Amelia, who looked at Jerome. “Duncan just received a letter from his landlord informing him the building where he has his shop and the land around it has been purchased by Westlake-Declan Entreprises for condominium development.”

Jerome, with his mouth open, managed, “That's . . .”

“Yes,” Duncan said, “it is isn't it. Extraordinary.” Their laughter felt silly but they couldn't help but find the whole business absurd.

Duncan's mind wandered off as Amelia and Jerome helped themselves to the cheese and baguette. He thought of old Stuart Grange looking at the location where he'd once had his bookshop, now a prominent highrise commercial building downtown, and the sad news that his dear wife Miriam, such a robust bigger than life character, had developed cancer and their hoped for retirement together had been diminished to his small apartment and her photographs.

The doorbell brought him back to reality and while Amelia went to greet either Thérèse or Pavor and Melisande, Duncan raised his glass to Jerome in a toast. “Here's to happenstance!”

© ralph patrick mackay

Monday, December 09, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Sixty

Rex Under Glass, part 6

With his bare hands behind him bracing the cold rough stone, Rex Packard posed for the camera: young man facing the firing squad he thought. Harris held the smart phone in front of him like a rare shell found on a beach: young man with a tenuous hold on reality he thought.

In comparison to the remnants of the historic fortification wall, Harris thought Rex seemed newborn, innocent, unstudied, and yet the stones were young compared to Prague's long dismantled Romanesque fortifications, the Gothic Medieval battlements and the more recent Baroque period defences, all taken away beginning in the 1870s as the coup de grâce for what time with its endless cycles of rain, snow, ice and baking summer heat had begun, the inevitable degradation and crumbling of mortar and stone where countless men had pissed, spat, cursed, and scratched graffiti after the cannon balls had flown and the assaulting armies had passed. Prague, now conquered by Budweiser, Perrier, McDonald's, where huddled clutches of students and knots of wandering pilgrims roamed the fabled cobblestones in search of time itself. Harris had seen it all. Rebuilding his life as a tour guide for two years had been an education in humanity's unending hunger for the past—and cheap souvenirs.

He handed the phone back to Rex. “If you'd been reading a book and sitting on a bench, it might have added a certain . . vraisemblance, but as you wish, man against a wall.”

Rex wasn't listening, he was too busy sweeping, tapping and pinching the touch screen. “Hmm, this one looks pretty good . . . .”

“Perhaps our distortions in the fun house mirrors captured us better.” Once again, Harris failed to elicit a response. He turned away and withdrew his cigarette case with the image of Ireland on the cover, and as he performed his ritual, he remembered the fake ruin at Belvedere House, the Irish folly called the Jealous Wall. He'd been on a day trip with a friend from Dublin for a spot of fishing at Lough Ennell, and after their brief angling excursion—the lake's renowned pike having eluded their hooks—they had sought out the autumn vistas around the big house and its folly, and yes, he had had his picture taken against the cold stones, posing like an Edwardian poet, wool scarf thrown over the shoulder of his tweed sports jacket, his supple leather gloves held in one hand, a Sweet Afton cigarette in the other, and it was there he'd learnt the story of the jealous man behind the jealous wall. He looked at Rex wondering if he'd appreciate the tale, but he was manipulating his phone seeking out wifi as if he were the hologram Doctor from Star Trek scanning invisible life forms on a distant planet.


It was almost three hours later when he thought it apropos to tell the tale. He had led Rex down to the Malá Strana, over to the Nostitz Palace pointing out its rich facade with its array of statues along the cornice by Brokof the Younger—now replicas, alas—a building where scenes of Amadeus had been shot he had informed Rex—a full head nod in reaction—then up to the Maltese Square where a statue of John the Baptist watched over the approach to the Maltese Church of the Virgin Mary under the Chain—an inquisitive cocking of the head—then round past the John Lennon Wall—gaudy and psychedelic with nostalgia and idealism—over the Devil's Stream to Kampa Island and the stairs leading up to the Charles Bridge where he had duly reprieved his old monologue about the statues on display—once again, copies of the originals—stopping to discuss John of Nepomuk who had been thrown from the bridge for having denied King Wenceslas the secrets of his wife's confessions concerning a possible romantic affair—a possible segue for the Jealous Wall—and then continuing with his old tour guide spiel across the river, under the tower past the museum of torture—plus ça change—and to the Old Town Square with its Medieval astronomical clock and a few bon mots concerning the fugitive nature of time—thinking to himself that one of the clock's four statuettes, the Miser, Vanity, the skeleton death and the Turk with the stringed instrument could be replaced with a representation of a jealous husband—before finally crossing the square and walking up and around to the his favourite Japanese restaurant where Rex had aped his choice of grilled salmon with teriyaki sauce, rice, Miso soup and salad washed down with a couple of Sapporos, and imitated him as he sat there picking his teeth after the fine meal.

“When you stood against the wall up near Petrin Tower, it reminded me of a story set in Ireland,” Harris commenced slowly. “I think I remember most of the details."

"I'm all ears," Rex said as if surrendering to an adventurous challenge.

"There was a man, an aristocrat named Robert Rochfort who, at the age of twenty-six married the sixteen year old daughter of another aristocratic family, not uncommon in the eighteenth century. They lived in a fine home called Gaulstown House. He was away a good deal of the time on business affairs, Dublin, London, and as Robert's younger brother Arthur and his wife were neighbours, they offered her friendship. She raised her children and the families were close, but Robert was distant to his wife and was rarely at home and was easily influenced by another brother, George, who, for monetary reasons possibly, disliked the young wife. An accusation of infidelity with Arthur was brought against his wife. George apparently the witness. Love letters were supposedly involved.”

Rex finished the remnants of his beer. “A bit of a Casanova then, this Arthur.”

“Well, that's the thing, perhaps not. Arthur had been shocked at the accusations and left the country to save face no doubt, and Robert locked his wife away in Gaulstown House with instructions to the staff that no family or friends could visit her. He meanwhile, lived in the beautiful Georgian mansion built on Ennell Lough, called Belvedere House, near his brother George's stately home. So, while his wife quietly lost her mind and began talking to the portraits on the walls, he was living the glorious life, respected, admired, perhaps even offered sympathy for having had the misfortune of an adulterous wife. When his brother Arthur returned, Robert sued him for £20,000 damages, what would be over a million dollars today, and inevitably Arthur was arrested and spent the rest of his life in a debtor's prison.”

“His own brother?”

“It's quite likely they were innocent. Just sensitive people sharing thoughts and emotions and supporting each other. Normal well-adjusted people with normal sensibilities." Harris waited while the waitress cleared their plates. “Then of course Robert had a falling out with the manipulative George.”

“Pistols at dawn?”

Harris nodded. “If only. He had a fake ruin installed to block out the view of his brother's house. This three story grand folly was called the Jealous Wall. I had my picture taken against it many years ago. Ruins were very popular in the eighteenth century, aids to reflection on the nature of time and decay, the memento mori of the landscape, but this Jealous Wall was a double fake, in its very nature, and the motive behind it. A greater example of the abuse of the Picturesque is unlikely to be found.”

“So what's the fortification wall in Prague got to do with an Irish ruin?”

Harris looked past Rex with a controlled frustration. “Absolutely nothing. Merely a subjective reflection on human nature aroused by the physical manifestation of walls themselves. The abuse of power. Wenceslas, Rochfort, Vernon Smythe. The manipulation of truth and lies.”

The lines on Harris's forehead made Rex think of sagging volleyball nets. He didn't want to discuss Smythe and his commission. “Where did you learn to pick your teeth like that, one hand covering the other?”

Harris raised his eyebrows in reaction to the change in the conversation. “I was stationed in Hong Kong for two years. Common enough to see people sitting around tables in restaurants picking their teeth after a meal. It would be an embarrassment to smile and reveal a remnant morsel between the pearly whites.”

Rex smiled making Harris wonder if they were caps.

“When were you there?”

Harris half-heard the question. He was imagining himself back on that humid island with its twenty-four hour hustle, decked out in his dark brown supple leather jacket, fake Rolex, stylish ankle boots with a decorative buckle detail, the sound of his footsteps a projection of his self-conscious displacement. He inwardly sighed and thought he could smell the sharp tang of the harbour, but it was likely just a residuum of dinner. Rex asked the question again. Harris looked up at him and saw someone who would have lost those prominent eye teeth if he'd encountered a Triad member with a grudge. “The mid '80s. China had just signed the deal to take over Hong Kong. The clock was ticking. Families were doing their best to get immigration papers. The upwardly mobile had already been sending their children abroad for University degrees—computer science and engineering were the big ones back then. Yes, the shadow of the transfer of Hong Kong to mainland China in 1997 loomed large. No one knew exactly what to expect. Few of us foresaw China's extraordinary economic development. Likewise with Dubai. If I'd been passing over that port city and someone had told me it would be the location for an astounding metropolis with the tallest building in the world, I would have thought them delusional. And what about Detroit.? Should have seen that coming.”

Rex nodded his head. “I was just there. It gave me the creeps. Made me think it could happen anywhere.”

Harris nodded his head knowing all about Rex's recent visit. “Corruption, mismanagement, global changes, luxury pulling the rug from under the feet of liberty. In two hundred years it might very well join the names of famous old ruins like Baalbec, Ephesus, Palmyra.” Harris smiled up at the waitress who brought him the bill. Rex motioned to grab it but Harris was too quick. “No, I insist, you're my guest. I'll take the hit this time,” he added with a wink and then busied himself with his wallet, counting the necessary Koruna. “Yes, my years in Hong Kong were enjoyable. Such a rich culture of food, luxury, gambling, horse racing, antiques. I began to collect when I was there. Small items, the paraphernalia of the opium den, emblems of oblivion and forgetfulness; exquisite Rosewood bowls, ivory handled opium knives, copper ashtrays and measuring cups, enamel opium boxes, glazed terracotta bowls, brass opium lamps, scales in brass with ivory beams and rosewood cases, lacquered leather travelling pillow chests, white porcelain head rests, lacquered bamboo pipes with terracotta bowls and ivory tips. Yes, and then I added anything to do with laudanum. Nineteenth century British medicinal bottles, pill cases and such. A decent collection. Got most of them at good prices. I kept a few items and sold the rest to help finance my shift here. Such is life.” He finished with the bill and looked across at Rex. “Are you someone who likes to remember or one who likes to forget?”

Rex stared at his spent tooth pick beside his empty glass. “I never thought about it before, but . . . I guess I'm more of a forgetter.”

Harris nodded as if he had already assumed this to be the case. He checked his watch. “We can swing by the Kavárna obecni dum for a coffee and dessert if you'd like, and we can discuss my ideas concerning our Mr. Smythe.”

“What about that absinthe you mentioned?”

“Ah yes, forgetfulness and oblivion. Just testing you for a reaction. I wouldn't touch the stuff. If you want something more authentic, try a Slivovitz, a rum brandy. Buy some and bring it home as a souvenir. Jelínek makes a nice looking bottle.”

As Rex put on his coat he said, “I feel you've led me on a wild goose chase today."

“Ah, well, it's beneficial sometimes to take the circuitous route, the diversionary path. To walk 'in rat's alley where the dead men lost their bones,' as Eliot put it." He smiled at Rex.  "It's easy to gaze at a landscape from the heights and believe what you want to, but it's much more important to feel the uneven cobblestones beneath your feet and read the writing on the wall.”

- - -

Pavor Loveridge reread the last line of his print-out and wondered if it was too pontifical. Maybe he should replace 'gaze' with a simple 'look.' He could already feel the shift in his sensibility, a turning away from his character Rex. Was he capable of killing him off? Moving on? He slipped the printed sheets of paper into a folder and put it in his desk drawer. Checking his watch he realised he'd better prepare for the unusual dinner invitation. Be observant and kind he told himself. Observant and kind. Try to bring some humour too. Light humour. Perhaps he'd come up with some ideas for his story when the night was through, lying awake, eyes closed, thinking of nothing and everything. Would he stay here or would he be with Melisande? He'd have to read the signs. Follow the path.

© ralph patrick mackay

Friday, November 22, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fifty-Nine

Duncan stared at the vacant lot across the street. The concrete blocks were jetsam, the graffiti scrawls really old-fashioned luggage labels of exotic destinations visited, Shanghai, Rangoon, Malabar, Montevideo, Valparaiso, Yokohama; the lone empty wine bottle held a mysterious manuscript within, tossed from some sinking ship like in that tale by Edgar Allan Poe. Sometimes he felt his daydreams were vital to his mental health.

Ship bound. Becalmed. He could hear the ticking of the clock in counterpoint to his wristwatch as he brought the cup of tea to his lips. No customers, no telephone calls. The odd book request from his online database aroused the occasional sense of being vital, but selling books online with so little human interaction had always felt, to him at least, soulless. Book values and prices had dropped due to increased availability, postage was sometimes more expensive than the requested book, and the only part he found enjoyable now was the process of packaging books to secure their safety from bumps and moisture.

He returned to his desk, the old wood floors creaking like a merchant vessel of the nineteenth century. The note on his desk reminded him to search his shelves for copies of P. K. Loveridge's novels for him to sign. In the aisle of “L's, he pulled out a copy of Pavor's Rex in Arcadia and his Olivaster Moon, and brought them back to his desk. Sitting down with a sigh, he remembered he had awoken last night from some forgotten nightmare, not quite knowing where he was, and had wondered what it would be like to lose one's memory. Perhaps it was like that feeling when he went from one room to another to gather an item, and then completely forget what it was he had wanted, but multiplied a hundred fold. Confusion, mystification, frustration, reality issuing a strange shadow feeling of familiarity. Unable to sleep, he had lain awake listening to Amelia's breathing, and it had reminded him of waves breaking upon a shore, her inhalation like the quiet regress, and he had felt she was the ocean holding him aloft, memory itself keeping him afloat, looking up at the full moon, its wavering reflection reaching out to him, luring him back to sleep.


The cream in Arthur's coffee spiralled and swirled like a distant nebula, the formations resembling his confused search for answers in the dark brew of shadows. Dipping the spoon into his cup, he circled the liquids into conformity while an island of bubbles in the middle turned and slowly collapsed like dying truths. He sipped his coffee and gazed at Jerome across the uneasy silence. Mrs. Laflamme had left them in the living room with coffee and fresh-baked ginger cookies—uniform circles glittering with rough sugar and darkly fissured like crevices on an alien landscape. They sat in flowery upholstered comfort and listened to the muffled voices and footsteps above them as Thérèse and her mother attempted to establish the past, overcome the present, and discuss the future.

Jerome looked at Mr. Roquebrune and thought he suited the decor of the house, the brightly coloured paintings of Québec countryside, images of horses pulling logs through winter landscapes, an autumnal view of low rolling hills reflected in a lake, a portrait of a rugged Habitant with his clay pipe and soft wool hat, Spring flowers in a vase.

Arthur was admiring the paintings at the same time, and yet had noticed one that seemed unusual, like a dissonant chord in a romantic adagio. It looked more suitable for an arched niche in a Neoclassical vestibule due to its shape and its quasi-religious arrangement of the figures. He wondered if it was one of Jerome's.

“Is the painting in the hallway one of yours by any chance?”

Jerome, aroused from his concentration on deciphering the noises from the second floor, looked back to Arthur and then slowly shifted his gaze to the hallway where the painting hung. “Yes, it is. Stands out from the others, doesn't it.” Leaning towards Arthur, he said with a lowered voice, “I wonder if Mrs. Laflamme brought it out of a closet and hung it there just for our visit.”

Arthur nodded his head. “It's very good, but yes, the style is . . . baroque in comparison. Is it based on an original?”


A thump from above like a shoe hitting the floor startled them.

"A friend of mine who makes many of my picture frames, had a simple arched frame made of rosewood in his studio, and when I saw it,  I thought it would  be good for a small scale copy of a painting Thérèse and I had found interesting on a  visit to Venice in . . . 2003.” He sipped his coffee and finished his soft gingery snap. “The original's in the Rialto area. A church called San Giovanni Elemosinario. Most people walk right by it because the entrance and iron gate are flush with the facades of the market buildings where shops sell tourist fare, t-shirts, shoes, jewelry, but the church's towering campanile is there if you look up." Placing his coffee on a side table and resting his head against the highback chair, he looked up at the ceiling as if he were sitting in a pew observing the painting in question. “Besides Titian's St. John the Almsgiver, there's a painting by Il Pordenone depicting St. Catherine, St. Sebastian and St. Roch. The figures are densely interwoven and positioned. Very little background to be seen. Thérèse thought they looked like prisoners squeezed under a transparent cloche. I've modernized it for my version of course. If you look closely you'll see the features of St. Catherine are those of Thérèse, Sebastian those of mine, and St. Roch of my friend Pavor Loveridge. I'm clothed and holding a camera in my outstretched arms above me and looking towards her as if twisted in a vortex. Thérèse, in a Tilly vest and chinos, is holding a travel guide open to pages with an image of the church tower and, in very small writing, the name of the church. She's looking up as if in awe.  Pavor meanwhile is kneeling down to pet a young Labrador Retriever who has one leg pointing off canvas, as if giving directions to the straight and narrow way. In the original the dog is a cherubic winged angel. St. Roch is, among others, the patron saint of bachelors and those falsely accused which I thought Pavor would appreciate being a bachelor and a writer of crime novels.”

“I'll have to take a closer look before we leave.”

Laughter filtered down the staircase, Mother and daughter's. Arthur and Jerome smiled.

“I think it was Vasari who fabricated a story that Titian was jealous of Il Pordenone, and then poisoned him. Il Pordenone died in his mid-fifties while Titian reached his mid-eighties. Such a competitive world back then. The truth . . . ?” Jerome shrugged his shoulders. He closed his eyes feeling the truth of anything seemed elusive at best. He imagined the painting, saw himself turning towards Thérèse as if he was her shadow guide, ready to add commentary, background, context, subtitles, colouration, light, meaning, truth, and then the thought image began to fade, Thérèse's so called transparent cloche was filling with an opaque mist. Upstairs she was revisiting the fragments of her life, rediscovering her past. Would she rediscover their love? Would she still accept him, accept his wedding proposal? He hadn't thought of that. Doubt tickled the back of his neck and he began to feel very insignificant and out of place, much like the painting.

The sound of footsteps upon the carpeted stairs alerted them to the descent of either mother or daughter, and they anticipated her like nervous patients in a dental office waiting room.

Get on with your life, her mother had said. Leave this globe-trotting behind for awhile. Settle yourself and find a job here in Québec. No more danger. She lay on the guest room bed beside an assortment of older photographs and mementos of her travels. Murano glass pendant and earrings from Venice; the small Mate gourd with Uruguay written in black letters on the side; the letter opener from Haiti; the finely carved pencil/pen holder from Venezuela; the mundane miniature Eiffel tower; a bookmark from Tallinn; a diversity of coins and paper money tactile with memories. She picked up a photograph of herself and the Australian friends she'd met on her travels in South America. They'd made their way down from Ecuador to the westernmost point of the continent in Peru past Talara. Climbing the rocks and sand to the lighthouse above the beach, she'd slipped and scraped the heel of her right hand, and her right knee, the scar a landscape feature on her skin, a smooth outcrop like a small phantom island. She remembered standing at the top, wind-blown, bleeding lightly, the oil tankers motionless in the distance, the round refinery storage tanks behind her like enormous suburban swimming pools, the birds clinging to the cliffs white-washed with their excrement below. Did she really visit such a place? Another photograph of the Hotel de Sel in Bolivia out on the salt flats, she and her friends reflected in the shallow water, a mirror image of blue sky and white clouds. She shook her head. It seemed the life of another. The binder in which her mother had placed all of her cuttings from newspapers, magazines and online sites—travel pieces, political and social stories, disaster relief reports, human interest profiles—was of little interest to her. Something had changed. Nausea overcame her when she contemplated such work. She imagined it would wear off. She just needed time to recuperate, adjust, redefine.

She noticed a colourful square of glazed clay on the night table, a gift from her friend Melisande, a finger labyrinth she had made using special paints to form a miniature medieval Chartres  labyrinth. She reached for it and started her index finger along the smooth yellow path between the raised indigo blue lines, rising up towards the centre and then swinging away and around. As she continued the circuitous route, she thought it exemplified the challenge before her of regaining the past, a visiting, a revisiting, all the points of her life, a much more demanding task than a direct avenue to a single memory like a spoke on the wheel from tire to hub. Regaining her memory was to be a slow, incremental endeavour. And she wasn't sure of what the outcome would be.

She rolled off the bed and went to the ensuite bathroom and splashed water on her face. Leaning over the sink, drops of moisture suspended on her skin, she looked deeply into the radiating greys and greens of her irises where the dark reflection of her form stared back at her, the pupil, like a black hole, absorbing everything, even light. It was all there, inside, behind the eyes, stored away like archival files. Patience Dr. Seymour had said, patience.


Amelia wiped the bathroom mirror with glass cleaner wondering how many times Thérèse had stood there looking at her reflection. How many mornings, afternoons, nights, preparing for the day, for the night, brushing her teeth, plucking an eyebrow—or annoying facial hairs—applying make-up, combing her hair, opening the medicine cabinet? All mundane rituals performed with little conscious thought. Would she use the bathroom and see herself as she once was? The lighting, the colour of the tiles, the feel of the glazed porcelain sink, the cold metal of the taps, the sound of the flush, all reviving old memories.

She would have to tell Duncan not to mention the odd manuscript found in the kitchen. Now that it was lost, so may it remain.

Why did she offer to have them over? What had she been thinking? Was it more to do with Jerome than Thérèse? It might very well be disastrous. She scrubbed the toilet bowl vigorously as if her doubts were the germs and mineral scale. As she flushed the soapy water away, she thought of Thérèse's loss with mild envy. Would it not be a completely fresh beginning? An opportunity to forget painful childhood memories? Experience the world without psychological baggage? Recollection transformed into imagination? An innocence regained?

The cold, clear water filled the bowl while receding whispers issued from the tank. She closed the seat lid and wiped the surface where the fixture's manufacturing name was printed, CRANE. Duncan was usually the one who cleaned the house and he'd been too rough, having somehow removed a portion of the 'R' so every time she looked, she would read CHANEL, even though the last letter was a phantom. Eau de toilette Duncan had joked. Would Thérèse notice? Would it be a stimulus?


The storage unit would have to go. He could donate the clothing and household items to a woman's shelter, and then choose the photographs of special moments and bring them to a shop to be digitized, reduced to a slim disc, easily filed away in a drawer of his writing desk. He needed to forget the dead and get on with the living, but create a balance of remembering, honour their lives with continued visits to the cemetery, silent toasts on birthdays, wedding anniversaries. Pavor felt he had to grapple with the past very carefully. He knew from experience his dreams and waking thoughts were affected after handling the remnants of that life, he was often haunted by images of his wife and child, the apartment they had once shared, the imagined scenarios of trying to stop them from going out that day, or driving them himself instead of poring over law books, what he could have done, the what ifs and the if onlys.

An equipose, a balance was required, with unwritten rules for his new relationship with Melisande. He didn't want to be pitied. It would be a closed book on the topmost shelf, out of reach, out of sight, a private journal not to be mentioned.

Pavor dipped his coffee cup into the soapy water and slowly, methodically scrubbed, enjoying the heat on his hands, the bubbles tickling his wrist.


The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove by Dead Can Dance shuffled its way from her iPod to her earbuds as Melisande finished a statistical report. She began to tap her thumb beside her mouse, her mind drifting away from numerical facts to numinous energies. She closed her eyes tapping her right foot under the desk. She wondered what Pavor was doing. Pavor Loveridge. Lovegrove vs. Loveridge. Grove vs. Ridge. Mrs. Loveridge. Would she keep her own name? It was the law, otherwise she would have to pay for the privilege of Mrs. Loveridge. She liked it. Melisande Loveridge. Melisande Aurelia Loveridge vs. Melisande Aurelia Bramente. Initials MAL vs MAB. Queen Mab, Queen Mal. Would they live separately until the wedding? Would they leave their separate apartments and buy a small house? The amalgamation, the division, the balance of belongings. Would her cat Clio get along with Pavor as a housemate? Would she sleep on his side of the bed, on him, around him to demonstrate her dominance over him in the pecking order of things? Would he rise and make her breakfast and her lunch, clean the house, do the shopping, take out the garbage and recycling? Would she have an influence on his writing? Negative, positive? Would he be like a medieval walled city when he was writing? Would she be waiting at the tower gate for entry. Waiting like a merchant or a pilgrim for admittance. Waiting like a refugee from a ruined city. And once within, would she have to circle round to find his heart? 

© ralph patrick mackay

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fifty-Eight

Edward Seymour gently unscrewed his black fountain pen, the metal threads issuing a sound so familiar to him, it was like a Pavlovian stimulus to write. He smoothed the pages of his journal with the heel of his hand, and slowly swept the fine nib along the blank paper, indigo ink etchings connecting the past scribblings with the blank pages of tomorrow.

Monday October 29, 2012.

Isabelle Cloutier met me today. My letter from Friday was successful. After meeting in the park, she accompanied me back to the house for a quick cup of lemon ginger tea and we sat in my office and talked for a few minutes before she had to return to work. (Mary was on her way to a hair appointment and dropped Isabelle off.) It has been a few years since we last met. She looks well. Still strong-willed, ambitious, determined.

A photograph my old friend at Clark University sent me many years ago caught Isabelle's eye. Having lived with it for so long, it had become but another piece of furniture to me; I hadn't truly looked at it for years. She was fascinated by the gathering of the distinguished academics and psychologists standing on the Clark University steps for the photograph. It was taken during Freud's first and only visit to America, 1909. She of course recognized the Viennese cigar smoker in the centre front row, the eminence grise, but I pointed out Franz Boas, Edward Tichener, William James, G. Stanley Hall, Ernest Jones and a tall, stalwart looking fellow in a sharp modern-cut suit with modern tie and collar standing to Freud's left. She didn't recognize him. Carl Gustav Jung I said. She was taken aback not realizing he had been so big, so robust. She'd only seen images of him as an old man sitting in a chair with his pipe and reading glasses, one size down in his two-piece suit. It is a remarkable photograph. Jung is very relaxed in his pose: a wide stance, arms to his sides, his right shoulder ever so slightly leaning down towards Freud as if in deference. Jung stares at the photographer/viewer with seemingly bemused patience. (Body of a football player like Penfield or Ernest Rutherford). And William James in his old style clothes, with one foot projected in front of him seemingly in a demand for attention. Perhaps he thought the gathering could be traced back to his being the teacher of G. Stanley Hall, who became the first PhD in psychology and then president of Clark University and organizer of the event.. James's eyes look quite faded and almost blurry in the photograph. He only had a year to live. I wonder if he knew. And Franz Boas on the end of the first row, a twinkle in his eye, like a trickster. Perhaps he'd just been having a casual conversation concerning psychical research with James. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall. (A multi-lingual fly).

To think of Freud initiating a disturbance of the sexual forces underneath the staid uptight New England society of the day with its scientific bias, seems strangely akin to Nabokov's in the late 1950s—and yet Nabokov, I seem to remember, dismissed Freud as a . . . fraud. A twisted paradox for a literary scholar no doubt.

Isabelle's revelations concerning Ashemore plus this reanimated photograph stirred up a great deal in me. She informed me that Ashemore had been monitoring the abuses of scientific discoveries, methods of manipulation, and mind control, the abuse of biochemical and acoustic antagonists. All very reminiscent of the cold war efforts I lived through. I recalled my early work under William Sargeant at St. Thomas's in London, and later here at McGill, learning of Donald Ewen Cameron's work at the Allan, the electroconvulsive therapies and paralytic drugs . . . No wonder I decided to break away and start my own practice. It's disheartening to learn such experiments are still being pursued, but not unexpected. The other side of the moon. La face cachée. (I see from my journal calendar it is a full moon this very night).

Isabelle is very sharp and capable, and is rising in the organization—Marcel would be proud—but she senses there are glass ceilings ahead. Progress, regress. Subject, object. Those moments when the narrative of one's life reveals the seam lines, plot structures and weaknesses, the figure in the carpet fading, the disillusion in the dénouement.

She asked after Amelia. As I write in this diary I wonder what Amelia will make of so many years of these private journals with their private meanings and allusive references. My acquaintances, friends, and patients often listed with initials. Would she even risk reading them? I don't think I could destroy the volumes after so much spirit expended. Perhaps she will simply leave them on the shelves as decorative dust collectors. Or would she box and store them away? I may have to broach the subject or make a request attached to my will. Their ultimate fate . . . ? I could imagine Amelia reading these words many years from now. It might very well read like a Gothic novel. The professional cases, the personal life, the musings, the mundane. Perhaps she'll use them as sources for fictional endeavours.

Arthur Roquebrune will be bringing Thérèse to see her Mother this afternoon. I instructed him and her partner Jerome to be patient. I also mentioned that odours would be excellent triggers to stimulate episodic memories, suggesting to Arthur that a stop at a gas station might prove useful, the smell of gasoline being such a powerful odour. Fried onions, bacon, brewed coffee, pine scent, spices, vanilla , furniture polish . . . Perhaps they will arrive to the odours of Thérèse's favourite recipe baked or cooked by her Mother. The unique smell of her parent's home will be significant in itself.

I forgot to note that Thérèse's partner, the painter Jerome van Starke—an interesting young man who seems familiar— provided an estimate for the cleaning of the old portrait of my forbear hanging on the stairwell landing. He mentioned how my distant relative resembled a friend of his, a writer named Loveridge. We must all have our multiple doppelgangers roaming the world at one time or another. Our quantum doubles in different dimensions.

As Edward closed his diary and leaned back in his chair, relinquishing reason for the immaterial mysteries of his imagination, Mélisande Bramente stood on a library stool helping a student locate a copy of Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter by Kerényi, while trying not to cover herself in residual dust from the shelves. A humdrum Monday had been transformed by the half carat clarity of a diamond engagement ring into a day of restless thoughts and inattention. She couldn't concentrate. She couldn't settle down. When she had slipped that small platinum circle onto to her finger she'd felt like the still point of a labyrinth with the world spinning around her. Her co-worker, Manon, having found her staring off into the near distance oblivious to the questions of students, had suggested she go for a short walk to clear her thoughts, but she had resisted, Eleusis, she had said, required locating. As she approached the circulation desk with the mysteriously misshelved volume, Pavor Loveridge, safely in his own apartment, was positioning the stylus over the second song of a dark reflective record—his copy of Ultravox's Lament—ready to touch the slow release and watch it descend upon the subtle undulations of the vinyl like an enchanted snake. Adjusting his headphones, he leaned against the window frame and stared through the leafless branches and rested his eyes on the late autumn colour of the climbing ivy wrapped around one of the old towers of the Grand Séminaire de Montreal across the street. A camouflage embrace. Cars, trucks and bicyclists made their ways east and west in a seemingly endless stream of desire and necessity, and he wondered if he'd find the strength to return to Italy. Mélisande had accepted his proposal and now he wanted nothing more than to stay. The fact of having met Jerome and Thérèse at the airport only reinforced this desire, as if the two planes that had circled the airport with the three of them as passengers, had set in motion an indeterminate fate. The fact that Pascal Tessier (the art gallery owner) no longer required Pavor's apartment, having mended his wayward ways and returned to his wife, had also seemed fortuitous,  (An African violet—a gift—had been the only casualty.) He was relaxed, reluctant to travel.

What would he tell Fig at their meeting at Schwartz's on Wednesday? He could almost see him turn the colour of the smoked meat with the news. Perhaps he could arrange to return to Italy in January. Have Mélisande visit for three or four weeks in April or May.

As the music swept Pavor's thoughts off their feet, Arthur Roquebrune was in the process of driving Thérèse and Jerome towards Varennes to visit with her Mother. He'd been anticipating the meeting with apprehension. Like witnesses to an accident, they would have differing perspectives. Mrs. Laflamme would likely experience anger towards him, a milder reproach towards Jerome, and likely mixed feelings of guilt and frustration towards herself in her relationship with her daughter. Jerome would likely feel a sense of guilt and regret with a revived anger towards him. Roquebrune felt only too deserving of his daily self-reproach, so much so that it had beleaguered his dreams, a recurring nightmare of rowing a small boat from one shore to another, but frustrated by the weight of too many passengers aboard, Thérèse and Jerome among them. He was barely able to move the oars. Passengers in he way, walking from stern to bow, rocking the boat. He generally awoke with the sense of taking on water. Restless nights leading to unsettled days.

He wondered what Thérèse was thinking or feeling as she sat beside him looking out the window. He looked in the rear view mirror and noticed Jerome was transfixed by Thérèse's reflection in the side mirror. A triangulation of loss.

Edward Seymour had suggested a leisurely drive past areas she was familiar with, in silence, without questions or prodding. Let her do the work naturally he had said. Let her memory mend itself. So, Arthur had chosen to drive along Boulevard Saint-Joseph past the duplexes and triplexes with their exterior staircases reaching out like welcoming arms, then south on rue St. Denis past the older buildings with their retail establishments.

Thérèse raised her finger to the glass. “Ah, Le Rideau Vert,” she said, remembering images from a one woman play, Madame Louis 14, Jerome by her side. When they drove past the bookshops of Guerin, Renaud-Bray, and Ulysses, memories arose of browsing for travel guides, biographies and presents for her Mother. Passing the Theatre d'Aujourd'hui, the title of a play, La Liste, was roused, a play she had attended with her girlfriends (white wine at the intermission, long line to the bathroom). A blur of boutiques, restaurants, and dépanneurs lacked familiarity yet stirred a semblance of ones she must have visited. She nodded her head slowly towards Carré St. Louis, its park bench denizens diminished by the cooler temperatures. Down they drove and turned east onto Sherbrooke Street, coming to rest, due to a red light, in front of the Maison Arthur-Dubuc with its vibrant late Victorian eclectic architecture. She stared at the three story bay window topped by a Dutch gable, the Neo-Romanesque entrance porch with its polished columns the colour of burnt orange, and the corner turret with its pointed tower roof like a French Château and said “Dandurand, Monsieur Dandurand once lived there. The wealthy businessman, real estate developer. He named the area of Rosemont after his Mother, Rose Phillips.”

Roquebrune felt a warmth flow through him as he recognized the name as the wealthy businessman who owned the house for many years. “Yes, the first owner of an automobile in Montreal, 18 . . . ?”

Thérèse turned to him smiling, “1899,” she said. He smiled back. There was hope.

Jerome was smiling too. “Yes, I remember you wrote that article about the history of the Rosemont District for the local newspaper. Your Mother must have all your articles in a clipping file. They should help you remember.”

Thérèse turned to face him, smiling. “Yes she does. Her bragging file.”

Passing the original main branch of the Montreal Public Library across from Lafontaine Park brought up memories, thought images like old-fashioned slides upon a dining room wall: walking in the park, feeding the ducks, the squirrels and pigeons, listening to summer concerts, Saturday afternoon picnics, children with toy sailing ships, an adult manipulating a replica of the Bluenose by remote control; and the library, the silence, the calm, the shadowed light—a Neoclassical building that now housed a city arts administration centre named after the poet Gaston Miron, whose book L'homme rapaillé she remembered reading but not identifying with or completely understanding.

Duplexes, triplexes, restaurants, small apartment blocks, stores, gas stations passed without a thought until they came to rest at a red light beside the Chateau Dufresne.

“Do you remember our visits?” she asked Jerome.

He leaned forward as much as the seat belt would allow and touched her shoulder with his hand. “Yes, yes, the opulent interiors, yes, of course. We wanted to live there, sit in the chairs, at the desks, look out the windows, breath the air. Those stain-glass windows and frieze's by Guido Nincheri, the fine woodwork panels and floors, the furniture, the bronzes, that oriental style smoking room and its double in Gothic. What an extraordinary place. Two brothers living in a perfectly symmetrical double Beaux Arts home divided by a common wall. We have to visit again. We can relive it together.”

The light turned green and as they advanced, they each glimpsed the leaning concrete tower of the Olympic stadium in the near distance and Thérèse thought the observation windows above the large rectangle retractable roof storage space made it resemble a three eyed howling ghost, such a contrast with the turn of the century mirrored mansion they had just passed.

Low rise commercial buildings dominated as the neared the expansive Place Versailles shopping mall where Thérèse had worked as a sales clerk in a clothing store for many summers while a student. While she was remembering details of her time there, Arthur realized he would have to make a series of manoeuvres to gain access to the expressway that would take him south on the Trans-Canada Highway leading to the Louis-Hyppolite Fontaine tunnel under the St. Lawrence river to the south shore, manoeuvres that would make it appear to Thérèse and Jerome he was lost and making absurd choices, for he had to continue on Sherbrooke Street, cross over the highway, take the first right south and circle back north and make another circle and go back in the direction they came, only to make but another circle and finally come round to the access ramp to the highway, and at each turn, he would see the Loblaws on the far corner and the retirement home complex behind where an old friend of his had indeed retired, a pleasant apartment and well-placed near shopping venues, but an end-of-life dwelling he hoped he would never find himself having to surrender to, and here he was circling and facing it like a sign from the future, retirement home, retirement home, retirement home.

It was his desire to emulate Edward Seymour in his hold upon independence. He'd rather die at his desk in the home he'd lived in for thirty years than succumb to resignation. It was also his hope he would die first. His dear wife would be provided for and an upscale retirement home with excellent social activities and quality meals would suit her well. Freedom from a large house and its concerns.

As he took the final circle, Arthur noticed the anxious looks from his passengers. “Don't worry, I know where I'm going,” he said.

Jerome looked up towards the new buildings of the retirement home and realised they were located behind the old asylum where the poet Émile Nelligan had lived out the last years of his life, now the modern Institut Universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal. What had caused the poet's breakdown? Was it a family dynamic? A Dublin born father, David Nelligan and a French-Canadian Mother creating emotional stresses? Or was it the unromantic chemical imbalance? The expressways and highways hadn't scarred the landscape when he lived there. There must have been fields, trees, church steeples, views of the river and Ile Charron. The name of the small island always brought to mind the mythological character of Charon, the ferryman of the underworld. The thought that his childhood friend was drawn by the frigid currents of the river past this island towards Varennes seemed miraculous. Almost twenty years have passed since he leaped to his death. Pierre. Pierre Sable. Had he been in love with Thérèse as well?

As they entered the tunnel, Jerome eased himself back into the seat and closed his eyes, imagining Pierre's body floating above them, watching their progress, following their path.

© ralph patrick mackay

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fifty-Seven

As Edward Seymour pulled on his double breasted camel hair overcoat, and then arranged his scarf in the mirror, Isabelle Cloutier, the daughter of his younger, and now deceased, former associate at McGill University's Psychology Department, Marcel Cloutier, was waiting for the approaching train at the Atwater Metro station. She stood close to the tiled wall and noticed the risk takers who braved the orange line a mere foot away from the platform edge. They leaned towards the tracks like sprinters at a field race as if their motions would hasten the appearance of the white head lights in the shadowy tunnel. Such a diversity of faces. Every walk of life. She liked the phrase, every walk of life. The early afternoon crowd was a mixture of back-packed and ear-podded students, fashionable office workers, bleary eyed shift workers, shoppers, commuters, older people with groceries, Mothers with strollers. How many languages she wondered? How many Mother tongues were humming away above the collective consciousness of this group alone? And was there a loose thread amongst them, one with suicidal tendencies testing their will to life? It could happen at any station she thought.

With a sound like a raging river and exhalations of warm electric and rubber ions in the displaced air, the Metro train entered the station to the anticipatory manoeuvres of the travellers, their loose hair dishevelled as they sought out the closest proximity to the doors. She followed a small group on to the train and managed to settle herself on a single seat as the rising triadic tones of the train's departure issued from some mysterious location at the front of the train. The notes mimicked the opening of Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. She tapped her feet to the unheard tympani thinking of Kubrick's 2001, A Space Odyssey.

“Prochain station, Guy-Concordia,” a recorded voice of a woman announced.

No one had followed her. She'd been watching. After leaving her office at Greene Avenue and Dorchester, she'd walked through the lower promenade of Mies van der Rohe's Westmount Square, pausing to browse the expensive boutiques in order to watch for mirrored signs of a follower. She'd then taken the underground tunnel to the Atwater Station with only her echoing footsteps to accompany her. A little cloak and dagger at the beginning of the week felt good. She could appreciate its addictive properties. The shot of adrenaline, the sharp excitement, the self-centered concentration.

She generally only heard from Edward Seymour once a year with a Christmas card, so it had been a rare delight to discover a pale blue envelope in her mail box upon arriving home on Friday evening, an envelope that looked like a birthday card with Edward's still distinctive flourish of her first name. Hand delivered. Old school tradecraft. Untraceable.

Dear Isabelle,

I do hope this finds you well.

I have a request that may very well test your ethical principles. I shall leave it up to your judgement whether you can help me or not. I'm not familiar with your clearance for documents and files (or is everything now on some electronic device?) so I will merely proceed with my question. Either way, please destroy this letter once you've absorbed the information.

A very good friend of mine is/was the legal representative for a man named David Ashemore, a former employee of a branch of the Intelligence Services, research I believe. This young man (fifty-three does seem young to me) left instructions with his lawyer to pursue an investigation if he died young under unusual circumstances. He died in the fall of 2011 and the circumstances did warrant a look. His beliefs seemed at the edge of paranoia, but considering his position, there was good reason to accept the possibility he was being targeted in a manner that may have led to his early demise. So my good friend employed an acquaintance, a freelance journalist, to investigate, tentatively, in order to fulfil his legal requirements. This journalist, Thérèse Laflamme (who also uses the name Tess Sinclair) attended the funeral of the young man in early November of last year but wasn't able to glean much from the few who attended. Her attempts at following up the story by interviewing Ashemore's dentist, doctor, neighbours, or anyone possibly connected to him, met with much resistance. She suffered from various pressures working against her. All her regular connections in the journalist business apparently began giving her the cold shoulder. She felt she was being followed, her apartment searched etc. After a while she decided to leave Montreal and settle in Edinburgh having friends there. It began all over again. She then relocated to Bergen, Norway, and it was there she was met with what seems to have been a decisive action. She had in her possession compromising files of some kind that David Ashemore had left behind under the stewardship of his lawyer. She had kept copies on a small computer storage device and this had been stolen from her in Bergen, and then she had been subjected to a mysterious spray which had left her memory impaired. The complete Ashemore files and his journals that were in the hands of the lawyer were also stolen around the same time in a most professional manner.

His lawyer, my good friend, provided me with this background information. He has arranged for her to be brought home to Montreal on Sunday, and I will be seeing her this coming Monday morning for a psychological evaluation. I may be a bit rusty, but I do plan to try hypnosis to see if she can reveal anything that would point towards a reason for her attack.

If she does reveal anything, I do not plan to share this with her. It would be better if she is now seen to be free from such memories. We shall see. I really don't know what to expect.

My request: Any information concerning David Ashemore's life and his professional areas of investigation. It might very well be important to your service if something was amiss. I am really too old for such shenanigans, but the arrow of fate has pointed at me for assistance, so I must do my part.

I will be taking George III for a walk on Monday afternoon down the street to the access path to the mountain. You will find me strolling or sitting on a bench near Redpath Crescent between 2 and 2:30 p.m. Please don't take you car. Public transit or taxi please. Best for all. I can have Mary drive you back. She was kind enough to have dropped off this letter in your box today. If I don't see you, I will assume you have declined (or are away). Quite understandable. I would, however, certainly enjoy seeing you with or without the information.

All my dearest wishes,


She looked around the train car as her memory of reading and then burning the letter faded. The other passengers were in classic Metro mode, reading papers or books, fiddling with smart phones, listening to music, staring at the floor or dejectedly at their ghostly reflections in the smudged windows, the grey and black tunnel with its flashes of light slipping past like the end of an old filmstrip. She wondered if she would tell Edward about David Ashemore's family background. Was it necessary? Did a man nearing his end require but another example of the tragic sense of life? Did he need to know that David's parents were Holocaust survivors? Did he need to know that they changed their name from Auerbach to Ashemore? Who could possibly fathom the depths of their suffering and the reasons behind their choices. What memories they must have shut away like an old oak trunk in a dusty attic.

She joined the pressing crowd to ride the escalator to the light of day like weary miners after a long shift. Outside, breathing in the cool humid air, she hailed a long dark taxi and was whisked away from the the bustle of pedestrians, bicyclists and noisy buses up Rue Guy to the mountain. Easing her head back, she breathed in the scent of artificial pine freshener which seemed embedded in the burgundy plush upholstery, and absorbed the sounds of soothing orchestral strings pouring from the hidden speakers like overflowing jars of honey. From behind the quiet, dark-haired older driver, she noticed the CD case on the built in organiser between the seats, Mahler, Symphony No. 3. Simon Rattle, EMI Classics. She closed her eyes remembering a childhood friend whose Father drove a taxi even though he played French Horn with the Montreal Symphony. She imagined they didn't pay well in the 1960s. Upon turning abruptly to the right onto Dr. Penfield Avenue, she opened her eyes and began to remember her strolls along the street when she was a student at McGill University in the 1970s, a time when the street was still known as McGregor Avenue after the man who owned the land in the nineteenth century. How she would walk past the old mansions then occupied by embassies and dream of living in such grand houses surrounded by books and plants, daydreams that would help relieve the pressures of her student workload. Her Father had been pleased when they renamed the street after his friend, Wilder Penfield. And she remembered during the late 1960s when her parents had rented Penfield's summer home on Lake Memphremagog, not far from the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac. It had been two weeks of endless book reading, fine sunrises, swimming, and sailing. She and her sisters would descend the wooden stairs to the boathouse, lie on the wharf to suntan and try to capture minnows with a butterfly net, explore the wooded lot around the house, watch the clouds pass, and gossip about the handsome teenage boys four houses over. Isabelle breathed in deeply savouring the memories. The black and white photograph of Wilder with her Father signed by the famous doctor was on her RCMP office wall to this day.


Edward Seymour's stature and the erect figure of George III were easily identifiable and she raised an arm in greeting as she emerged from the taxi. Edward approached and kissed her on the cheeks, while George sniffed at her pant legs.

“You're looking lovely Isabelle, so glad you could make it.”

“Me? My God, you're the one who's looking fabulous. Whatever Mary is serving you, I want the recipe.” She took his arm and they slowly began strolling across the street to the sidewalk.

“Shall we walk back to the house for a cup of tea?” he said.

“Yes, that would be lovely. I'm sorry I couldn't get here earlier,” she said, checking her watch to see it was 2:20 p.m.

“Not at all. Perfect timing,” he said squeezing her arm in his. “George has had his outing and we're all content. So then, I imagine the powers that be must be keeping you busy, nose to the grindstone, reports to be written, seemingly endless meetings to attend.”

“Yes, all of the above, and more.” They walked along in silence, George leading the way. “It's a sad story about Thérèse Laflamme. I hope she can . . . recover completely.”

“I do hope so,” he said, as they stopped briefly while George relieved himself rather stereotypically at the red and yellow fire hydrant to let his fellow canines on the street know he'd been out and about. “I imagine she'll be much like a precious fallen vase that's been glued back together. From a distance it will appear fine, but on close inspection, the fractures will be apparent.”

She nodded her head as they made their way up the long sloping sidewalk. “It was fortunate I was home on Friday and received your letter. I was going in to work on Sunday anyway, so I spent the day looking into the Mr. Ashemore for you.”

“I hope you'll forgive me for spoiling your Sunday.”

She laughed. “I enjoyed it. Something different. And now that I'm on my own, I feel I have more time.”

“I was sad to hear of your divorce but as long as you are better off and happy, that's all that's important. And if you need someone to talk to, I have some very nice sherry awaiting. Anytime Isabelle, anytime.”

She gave his arm a squeeze. “Well, I guess I should begin by telling you about David Ashemore's family background. His Father was an accountant and his Mother a bookkeeper. They raised David in a secular household in a modest home in Notre Dame-de-Grace, and he attended Protestant elementary school before being accepted at Lower Canada College. From there he won a scholarship to Yale for an undergraduate degree in Political Science and he continued on for his Masters degree. His interests were international security, multilateral diplomacy, asymmetric conflicts, and he seemed to have had a continuing interest in post-hegemonic global governance. He had various relationships but never married. Near the end of his life he was seeing a married woman five years older than him.”

“Hmm,” Edward managed. “Could that be a possible motive for his early death?”

“As far as I could tell, the affair was not seen as . . . contentious. Very wealthy husband, travelling most of the year, international business, probably had affairs himself. A tolerated secret, or one well kept.” She wondered if she might have to interview the woman. “It seems as part of his job, David was monitoring the latest research and development in science and technology, and how it was being used or misused by international intelligence agencies and filtered down to various special interest groups. Essentially the dissemination of cutting edge knowledge and the techniques of misuse.”

“I am impressed Isabelle. I had no idea you could find out so much about his work.”

“Oh, I have my sources. He wrote many reports and papers. David had been monitoring the research and developments of the manipulation of the brain chemical oxytocin and its relationship with the amygdala to induce a form of amnesia. The ability to induce amnesia in an enemy instead of killing them. A weapon to render them harmless. You can imagine the applications.”

They paused awhile, Edward breathing deeply. “When I interviewed Thérèse under hypnosis she revealed a name,Yumashev. Dimitri Yumashev. Does that ring any bells?”

Isabelle retained her composure. “It could be a lead.”

“She also mentioned the word Eclipses which seemed significant.”

That name did seem familiar to her. E-clipsis Four Ltd . David had mentioned the company in a number of his reports. “Well, those are excellent leads I can follow up. Don't worry, I'll be discreet.”

“Please, yes, I wouldn't want to be stirring up a hornet's nest that will endanger you. It's now in your hands, and I shall try to forget all about Yumashev and Eclipses.”

Thinking it was a good time to change the subject, she ventured into the personal. “So, how is your favourite niece, the translator, Emily is it?”

“Oh, Amelia. She's fine, fine. Thank you for asking.” Edward didn't want to reveal that Amelia was to entertain Thérèse that very night. “She's very helpful and looks after me like Mary.” He was just about to tell her that she had visited him this morning but caught himself. “The life of a freelance translator can be a challenge, but Amelia and Duncan are managing. He's the bookseller if you remember. I hear that world is changing drastically, what with these electronic books and such.” He stopped and gazed upon the autumn wreath and flower arrangements in ornamental urns in front of a slate roofed mansion. “The world is moving awfully fast these days. I don't know how young people keep up.”

Isabelle looked down at George who returned the gaze wondering why they had stopped. “I guess we should envy George here. Your world hasn't changed that much has it George?” she said and stooped to give him a pat on the head.

"Yes, George and I are like snails under the shrubbery. Living up here on the mountain with the rabbits and the crows, above the fray, the struggle. We know it's a battle down there, one that's full of daily efforts of hard-working people trying to make a good life for themselves and their children. And then there's the poverty, the violence, the crime. We hear the sirens. Ah yes, and we're glad they're not singing for us. But, we've had our day, our own struggles." They continued walking up the gentle slope.  "Sometimes Isabelle, I feel morbidly guilty for living so long. Most of my contemporaries have already gone."

Retrieving a birthday card from her inside jacket pocket, she held it before him. "Well, I hope you won't be feeling morbid as you celebrate your your upcoming 92nd birthday! And may there be many more to come." She gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Thank you my dear, very kind of you to remember." And as Edward walked on, he felt as if they were part of a caravan, the mauve envelope in his hand like a vital message for a Queen awaiting in some distant oasis.

© ralph patrick mackay