Not wanting to make a movement that would signal to Hugh she was about to get up, Amelia Strand slowly opened her eyes and was relieved to see that Hugh's little bed in the corner was empty. As quietly as she could, she dragged up the extra blanket and brought her calves and thighs together under the sheets. Hugh was likely propped on the front window-sill looking for life. A touch of the cat in him, ears alert, observing, thinking obscure thoughts. She had left dry nibblies in his dish last night so he should be content. For now. One of them would have to get up and let him out for a pee. If only they had their own house with a fenced back yard, they could just open the back door and let him out while they stood with crumpled hair and creased face, scratching, preening and yawning like a monkey in a cage, waiting for him to do his business before they slipped back to bed for an extra ten minutes. Uncle Edward's coach house would fix that. She should make a list of the benefits of moving there, the pros and the cons. Running out of dog food and a litre of milk would be one of the latter. The nearest dépanneur, a minor trek.
She listened to Duncan breathing. Not quite a snore, although he was known to. She remembered the first time she told him he snored. Duncan had worried he was turning into his Father, a man whose snore could have stripped wallpaper. A good pillow and a gentle elbow seemed to work for them.
She stretched out her foot behind her scoping the proximity of Duncan's warmth. He must be facing the wall, his back to her. She was always curious to see her friend's bedrooms to discover who slept on what side. She thought someone should write a university paper on the topic, 'The Dominant and Subordinate Spooner, or, Position and Possession in the Marital Bed.' Sounds like the kind of papers she had translated in the past. She remembered Mélisande's bedroom. She had been over for tea and had used the bathroom. Her bedroom door was open and she noticed her side of the queen size bed was on the right. Natural for a single person. One doesn't sleep on the side of the heart. Too much pressure. Uncomfortable. She wondered what changes would occur if she ever married Pavor. Would he assume the dominant right side?
For a moment she was unsure what day it was and what was on her agenda. Wednesday? More floral work. Correct some of the papers for the course she was teaching. Dinner tomorrow with Uncle Edward and Noel. Ask Mélisande over for dinner. Her to-do list faded as she breathed deeply feeling the draught of sleep pulling her back.
If only they both had steady jobs, steady paychecks, benefits and security. Scrambling to hold the ends together, forever throwing the stepping stone ahead of them, one stride at a time, was tiring. So many of her old school friends had surpassed her. Houses in he suburbs, kids, cottages and capital. She couldn't rely on inheritance. Uncle Edward may be mortgaged up to the hilt and holding vast debt for all she knew. He might have nothing left to leave them. She clenched her teeth thinking of her parents having abandoned them in their mid-teens to go off to some hippie commune. Uncle Edward had been their saviour. Her younger sister, married and living in California, had kept in touch with their parents, but Amelia only received a greeting card once a year in celebration of the summer solstice, may the sun be with you, like some greeting from Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Her elder brother, who had written their parents off, was living in New Zealand working as a dentist.
She felt Duncan rousing, gently rising from his side, making his way around the end of the bed, unhooking his robe from the back of the door and slipping out with his slippers, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him. The clip clip of Hugh's little feet down the hall strangely reminded her of the sad trotting of the horses in Old Montreal, a carriage ride, shorts, sandals, cameras, seeing but not seeing. If only the tourists looked deep into the blinkered eyes of the horses, she thought, the one feature of all of us on this Earth that truly communicates and binds us as one, they would change their minds and walk. But it was tourism. Looked good. Picturesque. Horses had performed such tasks for thousands of years. You can't change the world Amelia she thought. Not in the blink of an eye. She squeezed hers shut and breathing deeply, fell back into a light sleep.
His concern was palpable. He liked that word. Palpable. He noticed it had appeared with more frequency in the books he read. Or was it only the blurbs? 'Palpably memorable!' 'The characters are palpably prodigious!' Sounds like a breakfast cereal. 'These butterfly flakes are palpably delicious!'
Still with his fingers crossed, Pavor continued to make his way along the Via San Michele, many of the old three storey buildings, he noted, were in need of a renovating spirit; their crumbling surfaces were stained grey with time and neglect, their shutters cracked and warped, their street level facades with their rotting window frames, flaking stone and graffiti embellishments, were sad and unwelcoming. Not a place to walk at night he thought. The incline became steeper, the buildings taller and finer in an example of immaculate conservancy. Sweating slightly, he approached the crossroads ahead, and watched his reflection bend in the convex street mirror like some carnival fun house image. These corner conveniences reminded him of oversize dentist mirrors. Common in Europe but practically nonexistent in Montreal.
Light and breadth of space lay before him with its pedestrians and scooters making their everyday excursions. He turned onto the Via San Giusto, almost tempted by the aroma of the take-out roast chicken issuing from the open door of a Trattoria on the corner, but on he trudged, keeping left, putting his back into it, until he reached another convergence of streets and a rough stone fortress wall rising fifty feet in the air—the wall of Troy it seemed to him—the fortification of the Castle of Giusto. He stood, catching his breath, relaxing on his heels, looking up at the top and imagining Helen on the ramparts of Troy looking for her Paris on the battlefield below. A fitting subject for one of Jerome's paintings. The weeds and grass growing out from the uppermost level of the wall diminished it in Pavor's eyes, nature, the all-consuming, could reduce it all to rubble with time.
As he rounded the corner on the narrow sidewalk beside a low, seemingly derelict building crumbling and overcome with decay, he looked across the street to see a black cat sitting on a pedestal drinking fountain built out from a concrete facing attached to the wall. Thirst and curiosity led him over.
“What a handsome cat you are,” he said, wondering if cats the world over responded to tone. “Molto bello,” he added, as he neared and turned his head sideways inquisitively. The cat responded by getting up on its feet and stretching its back, tail in the air. Pavor wanted to pet the stray but was wary of fleas or a cat scratch. “Molto bello. Are you lost, or are you a cat of the streets?”
“Dante, vieni qui, salta, salta,” a voice said from above.
Pavor looked up to see a large half-moon opening in the wall, one of three he noticed, ancient drainage openings no longer in use. A young woman reached down with a scratching board and the cat jumped onto to it and up into the cave dwelling. She petted her Dante and ignored Pavor. She had long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail, jeans and running shoes and some kind of hooded sweater. She looked around twenty.
“Perdonami, il tuo gatto è molto bello, “ Pavor offered. Seeing she didn't respond, Pavor asked her why her cat was named Dante.
“Il suo naso, il suo profilo è come Dante,” she said.
Pavor laughed. “Ah, il suo naso, si, the nose, yes, Dante.”
Pavor could see how she could scale the wall using the fountain as a stepping stone. Refuge, but certainly not safe at night he thought. He looked up to see in the angle of the wall, an old-fashioned street lamp attached a few feet above the openings. At least there was light. And water below. Pavor felt suddenly quite ill with his modest wealth and freedom, and asked her if she needed food.
“No, la Chiesa fornisce cibo per me e Dante, grazie,” she said gesturing to the Cathedrale di San Giusto.
Pavor nodded wondering how he could help. “Do you like to read? Ti piace leggere?”
“Si, mi piacciono i libri.”
Pavor withdrew Tullio's copy of his book and taking 40 Euros from his wallet, placed them within like bookmarks sticking out so she could see them. Retrieving his pen, he asked what her name was.
“Perché?” she asked the sky.
“Voglio firmare questo libro per te. Io sono l'autore.” Pavor could always buy another copy of this book and inscribe it to Tullio again. “Il mio nome è Pavor Loveridge.”
“Carina, Carina è Dante,” she said. “Grazie.”
Pavor propped the book on the fountain, and inscribed the book to Carina and her Dante, 'may this bring you good fortune and happiness.' He drew a line through the inscription for Tullio, closed the book and handed it up to her.
In the silence that followed, he bent down and drank from the fountain, the water was surprisingly cold and sweet.
He hoped she didn't sleep there during the night. “Spero di non dormire di notte,” he called up to her.
“No, certo che no, io non sono pazzo,” she said with a laugh. “Durante il giorno, si, ma non di notte.”
“Buono. Spero che ti piace il mio libro,” he said, truly hoping the book would give her some enjoyment. “Buona fortuna Carina è Dante,” he added with a wave as he made his way up the street to the walled Cathedrale.
She was about the age of his daughter Tamara.
The silence followed him up the street like a shadow.
© ralph patrick mackay