Like a deck of cards skillfully spread out in one deft movement, so were his memories of falling multiplied, as if every faltered step from childhood to this day, every scraped knee and palm, reverberated within and spread out before him as he lay upon the damp rough sidewalk, winded and stunned. His right shoulder had taken the brunt of the fall dislodging his glasses which skidded across to the homeless man and his dog who were the original objects of his having explored the nether regions of his pant pocket for change, oblivious to the slightly raised crack in the concrete, the result of a mild earthquake the year before, an earthquake which the homeless man and dog had experienced with much feeling, sitting as they had been, on the cold hard cement. As Duncan regained his breath, the remnant resonance of his past fading, the homeless man approached him, glasses in hand, asking him if he were alright while his dog licked Duncan's ear and chin.
“Yes, yes, good dog, good dog. Fine, fine. Thank you for my glasses. I'm blind without them.”
“You're lucky they didn't brake. Let me help you up.”
“What's your dog's name?
“Good Patouf,” he said, petting the dog, a beige mix of breeds with a pair of kind eyes and a slim build.
And your name is . . ?”
Duncan thrust his hand out to shake the man's hand and thanked him for his kindness. Withdrawing his wallet, he took out a twenty dollar bill and folded it into Mike's hand whose pride resisted the offer but Duncan insisted, saying that he had saved him a great deal more by bringing him his glasses.
“What you did means more than the money. Truly. Thank you again.” And with that, Duncan began to walk away turning after a few steps to wave a salute.
He rubbed his shoulder and felt the corduroy had taken a scuff. Stopping to look in a store window, he managed to make out his reflection, that shadow that never quite measured up to what he expected to see. His hair was a bit dishevelled, his glasses, a bit off kilter, and his corduroy jacket a bit soiled from laying ever so briefly on the walkway.
He sensed that Mike didn't have a substance problem. More one of circumstances. A man on the street with a dog seemed to him much more pitiable since it echoed a past life of normality. Duncan looked back but he couldn't see him for the fog.
That was the second incident today. Two strikes. He would have to be extra careful as he made his way back to the shop in this unusual weather. As he walked on he wondered why three strikes. Could it possibly predate baseball and its parochial empirical exclamation? A mythological origin, the God's and their lightening bolts? The Greek chorus?
Checking his watch, he saw it was 11:30 a.m. Still slightly disoriented, he looked about and noticed the Café Hermeticum, a trendy place he had always felt too hip for him. His hunger, however, and his desire to clean himself up, emboldened his action. He could grab a quick bite and be on his way.
A warmth embraced him, a warmth of brick walls, mirrors, modern art and the strong aroma of roasted coffee beans..The few other clients were absorbed in their conversations and ignored him. The music was of the world, Turkish? Music for his whirling dervishes perhaps. He didn't feel that out of place. It was, for Duncan, a welcome change. Ordering a plain black coffee and a panini with roasted zucchini, eggplant, cheese and pickle, he asked the pleasant young woman with one modest ring on her left nostril which was quite becoming, how long the café had been in business.
“Nine years I think. It's changed hands a few times though.”
After paying, he made his way to the restroom to wash his hands and check his overall appearance. His jacket had indeed suffered from the impact, the shoulder seam had loosened and the wide wale corduroy had lost its colour somewhat. Considering what could have happened, it was negligible. He washed up and combed his hair with his fingers, drawing his thin and diminished forelock down on his forehead.
The panini had been a heavenly pressed gustatory delight, and yet, he knew from experience, he would likely never experience its equal no matter how many times he revisited. Such was his axiom of dining out.
As he thanked the young woman before leaving, he noticed a small painting on the wall. A portrait of a woman. He stood before it and was deeply impressed by the skill of the painter. The woman remarked that it was of the owner, painted by a local artist who frequented the café. Duncan looked at the signature, 'van Starke.'
“The artist is very talented.”
The waitress smiled, and said, “And he's very nice too. Not all artists are.”
Duncan nodded and smiled.
P. K. Loveridge finished the superb gnocchi with a pleasant Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. Pouring a post postprandial measure, he walked into the study and sat before the leather-top desk. A number of postcards he had picked up in Trieste lay before him. Sipping the wine and sucking his teeth and working his tongue into the crevices to extract cheese and tomato remnants, he thought of who he could send one to. A light rain tapped the windows and the wind from the North brought the shutters to life. There was Pascal Tessier. It was unfortunate his wife had demanded his leave taking. Pascal's little affair with a younger artist was possibly the last straw. The last straw. What a hopelessly tired phrase. Poor Pascal. It worked out for himself, however, in that he had a reliable and trustworthy sublet tenant for his apartment in Montreal. He could trust Pascal to keep his book collection and personal papers from harm. It also brought a buoyancy to his bank account.
Feeling alive and relaxed, he thought a limerick would be the thing, something to make Pascal think that not everyone was prospering. His mind swam with possible first lines. Why stray from the expected? Yes,
There was a young man from Trieste . . .
He sipped his wine and worked on the concluding three lines in his head. After a few minutes he was satisfied with the result. Though there were no secrets in a postcard, he thought the words would not be unacceptable. He picked up his pen and in his concise script wrote:
J'espère que cela vous trouvera en bonne santé. Il ya quelques bons vins de la région. J'espère que vous pourrez visiter et partager une bouteille avec moi. Tous mes meilleurs voeux et merci encors.
P.s. Un limerick pour vous amuser. (In jest. My writing is going well--touch wood.)
There was a young man of Trieste,
A scribbler of words quite obsessed.
When he failed in his craft
To complete a first draft,
He suffered a cardiac arrest!
He addressed the postcard and turned it over. The picture was of the Canal Grande with the statue of of James Joyce in the foreground. He found the representation of the famous author to be rather on the heavy side, looking more like a well-fed dock worker on holiday than the extravagant myopic wordsmith. He wondered what Joyce would think if he could be a ghostly flanneur and stroll across the bridge on the Via Roma and see himself in bronze. He might think he looked duller than a fat weed that roots itself with ease on Lethe wharf.
Glancing at the stack of books beside him, a scuffed blue binding of Hamlet, its gilt lettering dulled to a phantom bronze, hovered on the pile. He sensed he got the quote wrong, but that was the wine talking. What spirit made him pick up the play from the owner's book laden shelves was a mystery of his unconscious. Rereading Hamlet in a pleasant modern home in Villa Opicina overlooking Trieste and the bay, was not an experience he could possibly have envisioned in his younger days. Had fortune smiled?
Sipping his wine he began to address another post card, a narrow picturesque street in Trieste. This one to Jerome. He composed another limerick in his head, sipping wine and smiling to himself.
The local wines and food are of course, delightful. I look forward to a visit from you and Thérèse. Much solitude to share, and many convivial pleasures as well. We must visit Eppinger caffè in Muggia together.
A limerick for your pleasure:
There was an old man in Trieste,
Who travelled the world on a quest,
But when he got home,
He found but his gnome,
Forsaken, and quite dispossessed.
For Mélisande, he uncovered sheets of heavy-weight correspondence paper with the owner's address along the bottom, and an image of a trident top centre.
My Dearest Mélisande,
His pen hovered over the cream paper like the beak of a still blue heron. He had so much to say, so much to ask, so much to plead, the strength ran from his arm. The limericks and the wine had taken their toll. Should he phone her? No, she would still be at work. Best to wait for the morning and its lucid anodyne.
He slipped the copy of The Aspern Papers and Other Stories from under the play and rising, took it over to the soft chair to finish. How many times had he read that story he wondered. How many times had he agonized with that fool, that utter fool.
© ralph patrick mackay