She was unsure whether sleep was an option. Martine would not be back from Stavanger until tomorrow. Thérèse Laflamme double checked the locks on the doors and peeked from the edge of the curtains. The winds had not abated. A large puddle rippled as if ghostly fingers raked its surface. A few small branches were down. Leaves levitated and swirled beneath the fractured scudding clouds. She had tried to calm herself by drinking green tea and listening to Martine's cd's of a local music group, The Kings of Convenience, a soft and soothing acoustic music, but it was all too unsettling.
The day had initially appeared to be one of no consequence, just another day of new experiences in Bergen. The city, freshly born with its light mist clearing by mid-morning, had found Thérèse making her way down its narrow streets, over cobblestones and past windows of unknown lives, to the post office to buy stamps and mail her letter to Jerome. Two older ladies, arm and arm, kerchiefs and handbags their fashionable defence against the rising winds, had greeted her with 'god morgen' and she had returned the simple phrase with a smile. She had found everyone so friendly. At the post office, she had browsed the delightful stamps for sale, and was surprised by the dual language, English and Norwegian, stamp information booklets. The classic Post horn stamps were colourful, a nursing stamp was interesting, and a stamp with the musician Sondre Lerche was a surprise, but she wished the Edvard Munch stamps advertised for the new year had been available. The stamps promised details from Munch's Self-portrait, the Madonna, and The Scream, stamps that would have been ideal to slip inside the letter for Jerome, stamps he could paste into one of his sketch book journals as souvenirs. Who knows, she had thought, perhaps she would still be in Bergen when they were issued. Her future was undetermined. Her life, day by day.
After asking the clerk, 'kva kostar denne?' she provided the required currency and watched as her letter was stamped and tossed with others, adrift on their silent passages around the world, or down the street. Out of her hands. She had made her way over to the Café Aura for a cappuccino and a brownie, relaxing with a local arts paper and the Bergens Tidende in her continued efforts to learn the language by sight and reference.
Only with hindsight did she now think it odd that she kept seeing the same youngish couple during her morning of errands and wanderings. She had taken them for tourists. Bergen was a small enough city that such coincidences were understandable. The couple had entered the café after she had settled at a window seat. The man wore a leather coat that seemed, for a reason she couldn't understand, dated in both style and colour. They had taken a table in the corner and she couldn't hear what language they spoke. The man had gone out to have a cigarette and talk on his cell phone and other than that, she had paid little attention to them.
When she left the café, she had walked down and over past the old train station to the beautiful public library on Stromgaten and spent about an hour browsing the stacks and perusing the journals and enjoying the comfortable and attractive communal space filled with natural light. It was near the reference desk at the library that she again had caught sight of the couple. They had seemed oblivious to her and never made eye contact as they fingered the library pamphlets. When she left the library and walked around to the shopping centre for some groceries, she had spotted them in Rimi buying coffee and bananas. That was the last time she had seen them before making her way home along the pedestrian path beside the Lille Lungegardsvannet with its sea gulls gliding in the brisk winds, and then catching a taxi up to Martine's three storey stone home with its back to the mountain.
She didn't mind walking down, but the trek up with a few bags was too much. The winding narrow streets reminded her of parts of upper Westmount. Martine's home, passed down to her from her Father's side, with its pointed pedimented second floor windows and stone facings also reminded Thérèse of older buildings in Montreal, quite anomalous, surrounded as it was, by the predominantly clapboard buildings of various colours. It was from one of these Renaissance Revival windows that Thérèse looked down upon the narrow street below, and the lights of the city beyond.
When she had arrived home, everything was quite normal. Nothing had been disturbed. It was only after her lunch that she had discovered something was missing. Her flash drive in the the chipped porcelain cup at the window desk was gone. The flash drive with all of David Ashemore's files. She had checked the drawers of the desk, and then broadened her search to the rest of the house. Nothing. This unexpected disturbance had left her exhausted and her head literally reeling with nervous fear. She had begun to question whether she had indeed tossed it in the cold North Sea, a question which her mind must have brought up to release the pressure of the possible truth that someone had been in the house while she was being monitored by the young couple on her morning pedestrian excursions. They must have searched meticulously, carefully, probably with tightly gloved hands. Completely the reverse of so many film depictions where a character arrives home to discover their room a shambles and the object of their search taken. The manner of the lifting of the flash drive revealed to her that they were extremely intelligent, logical, methodical and precise.
She paced back and forth in the living room wondering what to do. It was 11:45 p. m. in Bergen, so it was six hours behind in Montreal. Mr. Roquebrune might still be at his office. She had resisted the desire to phone him, not wanting to disturb his busy life with her unsettling experience, but she now searched her notebook with all her contacts and dialed the long-distance number. Tuesday, she thought, did he stay late on Tuesdays? The answering machine picked up on the third ring. “Vous avez bien fait le numéro pour l'office de Wormwood & Verdigris, s'il vous plait, laisser un message après la tonalité. You have reached the number of Wormwood & Verdigris, please leave a message after the tone.” It was not what she wanted to hear, but the voice of Claire, the secretary, was reassuring. She then decided to call Jerome. It was necessary to break her paltry attempts at secrecy and make contact. She heard the phone, his phone, ring in his apartment. It continued to ring as her thoughts of unease mounted. One, two, three, four. Ten. Twelve. Fourteen. She hung up, frustrated and upset. Why wasn't his answering machine working? What had happened?
If they had only wanted the files, then she should be safe she told herself. Their methods didn't reflect a tendency towards violent resolutions. What could be gained for them? But then, she had knowledge of the information, the facts as related by David Ashemore. And, she had made a copy in code and sequestered it in her old apartment. A fail-safe in case anything happened to her. What if they searched that? Was an innocent renter now under their eyes as well? And what of the original files and journals in the vault of Wormwood & Verdigris? Have they too been taken? She would have to phone Mr. Roquebrune at his home, disturb his evening.
Paranoia had stripped the day of her harmonious pleasures; the discordant note of the continued sightings of the young couple had ended in a crescendo of twelve tone abstraction. It was as if her day had been picked up and dropped like a mirror, the shattered pieces reflecting sordid portentous illusions. Her thoughts began to merge with those of David Ashemore's, his isolating experiences reflected in hers. She realized that her perspective had been forever changed by reading his journals. There had been occasions when she remembered details of a situation and realized that she had transferred them into her own memories. She had told Martine a story of seeing someone on the Metro in Montreal, a diminutive young woman struggling with her very large double bass, and realized it was not her memory, but that of David's, a transference that had steeled her self-possession, hardened her resolve to disentangle the facts from her subjectivity. And yet, here she was, faltering with the unfathomable, the inconceivable, grasping at window curtains as if they were the sails of a ship in distress.
© ralph patrick mackay