Adorable Hugh had tried to enjoy his quiet evening at home. Often when left alone, he would sit on the chair by the front window, prop himself up on the sill, and watch the neighbourhood dogs and their tethered humans. Many he knew by scent. Others he had met nose to nose. He had learned not to draw attention to himself. No barking. Such behaviour was quite immature. He remembered travelling in the car with Duncan and Amelia, and, coming to a stop, had noticed a tiny fluffy thing, sitting on a human, its little paws on the side window, yapping away at the dog on the sidewalk, a Great Dane. How embarrassing. There is observation, and there is . . . well, he didn't know, but barking from behind windows is just simply not done.
He sighed. It had been a rather tedious evening alone. Nothing to see out the windows for some reason, and only the ticking of that clock in the kitchen over his bowl. At least they had left enough nibbles and water. He sighed into his soft dog blanket on his soft dog bed, and looked up at them, huddled under their blankets.
Amelia was thinking of Mary's retirement revelation. Mary had wanted to sound her out, see how she took the news. It wouldn't be for a year, she had said, but she thought it would be best to prepare for her departure. Edward would understand, she knew, but it would create a dilemma. Who would replace her? Mary had wondered if she and Duncan might consider moving into the coach house and looking after Edward like they sometimes did when she was in Florida. She hadn't told Duncan yet. She wanted time to think. How could they possibly replace Mary? She had become family. The more Amelia thought about the coming change, the more she saw themselves moving into the coach house and taking care of Edward. It would be the best for all. It was fortunate they had not purchased a home as yet. She would discuss it with Duncan tomorrow after dinner. Opening her eyes, she could just make out it was near one a.m. She would be tired for her nine o'clock meeting with a client.
Stretching out his foot into the cold nether regions of the bed, Duncan lay on his back and tried to clear his mind of all the flotsam and jetsam of the past few days. Think of tomorrow he thought. Think of tomorrow. He had to make a delivery of twines and ropes to Mr. Wing in Chinatown, a loyal customer from his father's day. It had been months since he'd last seen Mr. Wing. Always good for a word of wisdom or an occasional pun. Chinatown in the morning, followed by Noel Welwyn Gough in the afternoon to browse the books of Lafcadio & Co. He breathed in deeply and sighed softly thinking it should unfold like a simple turn of a page. Verso, recto, and home again. No more gallivanting about in the fog. Two simple events. Two purchases. And now, perchance, to dream. What did those distant navvies take to get to sleep? He imagined himself a sailor in his bunk on a Dutch galliot on a calm sea, the unknown medicine slowly taking effect. After a few minutes without success, Duncan rolled to his side and slipped his arm around Amelia's waist, and, falling into the scent of her, was adrift, at sea, asleep.
Souvenirs of the Vortex? The Vortex of Souvenirs? Such were the suggested book titles that his mind was . . curating. Curating! What an absurd abuse of a word. I curated my breakfast this morning: fresh coffee, croissant with kiwi slices. I shall curate the garden this afternoon. Pavor Loveridge drank his strong coffee, fingering a small packet of zucchero di canna, his laptop open before him. The morning was dull, cool, and a drizzle continued to fall; drops of water periodically dripped from the peak of the garden gnome's red, slightly bent, hat. He knew he should write Mélisande but the demands of his agent and publisher for a new book was, he felt, etching age lines into his face. Those wince marks at the sides of one's eyes, crow's feet. No, nothing so visual, more like the lines of agony, the agony of disbelief. The six books he had written felt like stepping stones beside an infinity pool leading to the edge; the drop is there, just over the line, the line of printed type which hovered invisibly on the empty page before him.
He looked to the lower right hand of his screen to see it was 7:35 a.m. Mélisande was undoubtedly asleep. What a strange world. If Earth began to spin faster, how would we still sleep our eight hours in shifts. We're all on shift work for the world. Gaia our overseer. She doesn't seem pleased with our work of late. We've been helping ourselves to the office supplies. Could that be the book he should write? A little departure into speculative fiction? The Vortex of Souvenirs?
The letter for Mélisande he was contemplating would take a week to arrive. Or more. Perhaps an email would be the right choice. No fancy stationery and interesting stamps with their cancellation, no smell of coffee in the paper, no whiff of the harbour under the stamp, but a direct, officious rather bland form of communication, the email. He opened his account and avoided looking at the messages with their enquiries, and began to write her a letter.
I hope this finds you well. There is not a day that passes without you in my thoughts. Your love and companionship, your intelligence and knowledge are qualities that keep me inspired. Being away from you, my life is the poorer. Needless to say, I find myself quite alone. This is good for my work, and perhaps good for a renewed perspective and appreciation of life, but it is a challenge.
I am glad you have a good position. I am content in knowing your workplace affords a sense of contentment. In my experience, such places are rare, quite rare. It relieves me of much worry knowing your life is well-found.
I had planned to write with pen and paper, to scrape, scrape, scrape with my mordant pen as it were, and mail you a proper letter, but the factor of time has pressed down upon me and I have relinquished the pen for the keyboard. The better to reach you sooner. How did they manage in the past? Months might have passed before letters arrived. Lives changed in the interim. Intelligences rendered obsolete.
Travel in our modern world is so different. In the past I could write to you that I miss reading the local papers, or listening to my favourite French CBC radio shows, but now I can use the Internet to be connected with home. Montreal is but a few keystrokes away. I can see what weather befalls the city, what Aislin and other cartoonists are holding up for ridicule, and what artistic endeavours have risen to the top of the journalistic consciousness. I do though, miss the ease of merely turning the radio on and instantly hearing the rich deep voices of the French CBC radio announcers. I once asked a friend who works there why every radio announcer has such a deep rich voice, and he said, jokingly, smoking and a full life. When I was younger, I had applied for a job at the French CBC radio. I imagine, my voice was not rich enough.
Everywhere you look, statues and clocks, statues and clocks. Could be a title for a book. The clocks on churches and city buildings remind me of the works of the symbolist artist de Chirico. The city of Trieste has a rougher edge compared to Florence and Venice. A true working port city. There is be some sort of coffee expo or convention here soon. Trieste is, I think, the major import centre for coffee. They take it seriously. No milky dribble after eleven in the morning. They must roll their eyes when they travel. Blessedly, haven't seen a Tim's or a Starby's, though something tells me there might be a golden arch lurking.
As you know I am not staying in the city itself, which is fine by me. Too much distraction. I am here, ostensibly, to write a first draft of my next novel. The house belongs to a Triestine academic who is teaching in China and won't be back until sometime at the end of July next year, so the spring would be the best time to visit. The house is in Opicina and is quite modern and has all the conveniences. The garden comes with its own gnome. A gnome with a book. The owner also has a small flat in Trieste but he has rented that out. My staying here is a favour in a way through my agent. I just have to pay for the utilities and take care of the property. House sitting. I remember it well. He has left his little car for my use which has been extremely handy since the railway to Trieste has been undergoing repairs.
I've had a request for a travel piece by an American magazine. My agent happened to drop my name and location into a cocktail party conversation and voila, a request for so many words. Trieste has been done however, and I feel I should explore further afield. I have made a tentative trip across the border into Slovenia. Being part of the EU, the border passing was fairly smooth. Driving with plates from just across the border helped. I was stopped for a brief enquiry, and being Canadian, and having the first names Pavor Kristof, gave them more to think about than usual though.
When I was younger, I had thought of adopting a new name. I used to avail myself of my Mother's scholarly library of books, and the names I remember thinking of were, Perceval, Panurge, Porthos and Pangloss! I do have a distinct memory of reading Rabelais when young, the chapter where Pantagruel visits a library and provides a list of titles from the catalogue. Every possible target is satirized often scatalogically. I always remember the rather sedate title, The Hotchpot of Hypocrites. I must have been about fourteen, 1974, I had gone with my Mother into the Flammarion Bookshop on University Avenue—I know, you were only 4, before your time and long gone—and while my Mother was looking at dictionaries (and my Father was probably at Curly Joe's Steakhouse just a few doors away) I picked up Dumas's Les Trois Mousquetaires and thought perhaps Porthos would indeed do. That may have been the root of my becoming a writer. A desire to change my name. When I think of the four names I contemplated, I feel I have a touch of each in my character. I'm sure you could tell me which one is the dominate trait if any. Or am I dominated by my being a Taurus? Who knows.
I have a few items I always travel with: your picture, my pens, a small bottle of Quink, and that bookmark from the day I bought the Dumas. On the back of the Librarie Flammarion bookmark there are lines to pencil out “Mes prochaines lectures” with three columns for 'auteurs, titres, et notes.' My list of books and authors are of course, youthful: Poe, Conrad, Melville. . . . The bottle of Quink that I purchased over twenty years ago I've rarely dipped into. It is more of a talisman. It worries me though. Evaporation has carried 99% of the ink away. One day, I fear, I shall awake and find it dry. Perhaps that will be the day I am struck by an apoplexy like something out a ghost story by Henry James. I have always thought that Robert Louis Stevenson's death was one of the great apoplexies in the world of writers. Stevenson's last words were something to the effect of 'I feel something strange. Do I look as if something is wrong with me?' I know this must be morbid to you. Forgive me.
But back to my little sojourn into Slovenia. We must visit when you come. I just did an explorative drive in a small circle essentially. First to the Skocjan Caves and the park around them near Divica, and then back towards the Lipizzan horse breeding farm. We can go horse back riding. (I haven't been on a horse since I was a child. Do we all secretly feel we are horse whisperers?) The horse breeding started in 1580! Giordano Bruno was in Toulouse, Montaigne finishing up his Essays, and the Mother of Quevedo was experiencing birth pains. Quite a fin-de-siècle. On the road from the caves to the horses, is the old town of Lokev, its red tiled roofs and white buildings nestled in the valley of low rolling green hills. Picturesque. We must visit. There is a museum in an old Fort Tower built by the Venetians I believe. A defense against the Turks. Late 15th century. Takes you back doesn't it? There is a bar underneath for a refreshing beer, or two.
I had an unusual experience over the border. I chose to drive the smaller road instead of the very modern highway. It was the scenic route as my Father would say when we used to get lost on our holidays. The scenic route. And indeed it was. The road was to pass the towns of Merce, Povir, and Gorenje pri Divica before reaching the area of the caves at Divica. Passing the town of Merce (the orange tiled roofs and white buildings are to be found in each village) I followed a small road which my map, speechless and dumb as I am, said would bring me to an abandoned church on a hill. I lost my way. The church was unreachable with my little suburban car. Beautiful countryside though. I retraced my route back to Merce and for some reason I turned up a certain street. I don't know what made me think to turn up that street. My Father always said trust your instinct. So I turned, and came across a sort of flea market selling vegetables, fruit, woodwork, and some household items and junk. Amongst the junk I came across a slim volume which had some water damage to the back cover, but overall, was intact. It was underneath some old bibles and books in I imagine Slovenian. I managed to converse with the young sales woman in my basic Italian and bought some fruit, a little wood stool, and the book. I wasn't sure what it was at first, I just slung it in the back seat with my purchases and off I went. When I drove back through Trieste in my circle home, I stopped for a refreshment and looked at the book further: The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi / A Lay of the Higher Law / Translated and Annotated / by / His Friend and Pupil / F. B. / London: Privately Printed. No date or publisher. On the flyleaf, an inscription: For Daisy, 'Reason is life's sole arbiter, the magic labyrinth's single clue.' R. F. B.
I had thought of visiting the antiquarian bookshop so wonderfully situated at the end of the Via del Rosario not far from the Roman theatre—a shop we must visit—but I held off, thinking I could research it myself. It astounds me that it appears to be a copy of a work by Richard Francis Burton. He published it as if it was merely a translation but it was his work. The edition is very rare for only a few copies were issued without the name of the publisher—Quaritch—on the title page. The inscription seems to be for the sister of an artist who visited Trieste and produced paintings of Burton. I have been reading about her and supposedly she was a close friend, and when Burton died, she experienced his ghostly visitation, so she knew when she awoke that he had died in the night. And she was correct. Such stories. Such stories. And how it found its way into a pile of odds and ends in a small town in Slovenia is a mystery. Perhaps, to follow the line, it was the spirit of Burton or Daisy who led me to the site. Stories upon stories.
I am so sorry. I have written far too much. I may have lost you on the border!
I have been mulling over what to write for my next novel. This morning I was even considering a possible foray into speculative fiction, but I feel I will stick to my idea of writing about love and life. I have had a title in mind for some time: The Under-Glasse. My publisher will probably baulk at the name. It comes from Herrick. I didn't bring many books with me since I have my tablet, Kobo, and laptop, but I did bring my Anchor Books copy of The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick. Something about the smell of old Anchor books is intoxicating. I bought this one at that shop Lafcadio & Co.
The title is from a poem by Herrick. I shall type it out for you.
The Houre-glasse, which there ye see
With Water fill'd, (Sirs, credit me)
The humour was, (as I have read)
But Lover's tears inchristalled.
Which, as they drop by drop doe passe
From th'upper to the under-glasse,
Do in a trickling manner tell,
(By a watrie syllable)
That lover's tears in life-time shed,
Do restless run when they are dead.
I send you all my love and hope all is well.
He directed the cursor over the 'send' button, hovering for a brief moment, a hesitation of his editor's mind, but pressed down and off his letter went into the digital ether.
© ralph patrick mackay