Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Forty-eight, part B

Jerome looked up from the canvas—from the delicate complexion of Lucrezia captured in paint—feeling uncertain as to the meaning of her question. He stared at her, his lips parted as if his private language had been wrested from him and made audible by a form of magic. Did he have anything to tell her? The question was like a net thrown wide to encompass a diversity of answers. It could hint at many possibilities he thought.

There was a knock at the door.

Thaddeus entered and made his way over to Lucrezia, who, with her back to the door, turned her neck to look over her shoulder, a pose that reminded Jerome of that exquisite bust of Clytie by G. F. Watts he'd seen in London years ago; Clytie, the water nymph transformed into a flower ever turning her head towards the sun, but in this case, away from the window towards the shadows behind her and to Thaddeus who whispered into her right ear. Jerome felt a touch of envy. The faintest watercolour wash of jealousy. She nodded her head and Thaddeus made his way to the door without a look towards Jerome.

“Excuse me Jerome, I must leave for a few minutes. Have a drink or a sandwich in the fridge.”

He nodded his head, closing his eyes with understanding. He couldn't help but follow her fine figure as she made her way out.

Saved by the knock. Or not. If she didn't know of his entering the Dark Room already, then perhaps Thaddeus was providing the message at this moment. Why did he have to succumb to curiosity? He was brought up to respect other people's property and privacy. Was it this very house communicating to him on an unknown level, leading him out of his room in order to come across Lucrezia closing the door to the hidden Dark Room? The timing of it all made him feel like a detective pulled towards a clue. He felt like he was falling into one of Pavor's suspense novels. And why their mysterious reluctance to fully reveal themselves to him? Was it merely a desire to retain their country living undisturbed by the likes of him?

It was perhaps the way her question had surprised him like flashing lights in the review mirror. What did he have to tell her?

A folding pentaptych painting took form in his mind. The left exterior door panel concerned his painter's progress, and revealed him painting Lucrezia in this very room; the other side provided a representation of his being shown the private office of Declan with the Rossetti Proserpine. On opening the hinged doors an interior triptych was revealed, the left hand image, his exploration of the maze, and the right hand side, his discovery of the Dark Room, while the large middle panel, a triangulated passion of amber, ochre, burnt sienna, vermilion, coral pink, his dream of making love with Lucrezia. The hidden triptych of his guilt.

With a fresh brush, he began to mix a bit of ultra blue with a touch of viridian and tested it on the bottom of his study thinking he might just paint such a pentaptych. He could ask his friend and frame maker, Ghanesh, a fine woodworking specialist, to create one to his specifications. He could see it already: gilt oak with rosettes and a thin outer black fluted frame striped in gold, like the one framing Rossetti's painting Monna Vanna he'd seen at the Tate.

What did she want to hear? What was she referring to? He could tell her about meeting Harrington, and the story of the laugh, the copy, or echo of a brother's laugh bringing them together after so many years apart. An enchanting story. Or he could tell her of being shown her husband's private office and Rossetti's Prosperpine.

Jerome heard the door open and he stood up as Lucrezia approached, her hips swaying ever so slightly in her low heels. She smiled and sat down. “Sorry for the interruption. So, where were we?”

She didn't appear to show signs of being upset. Her manner hadn't changed. “You had asked me a question. What do I have to tell you? Well, I met Harrington at breakfast. Very nice man.” Jerome looked at Lucrezia's lips. “Your husband recounted the story of the laugh.”

She didn't move, but merely nodded. “Ah, yes, the laughter across the room. It's one of my husband's favourite stories.”

“It's certainly a . . . an enchanting story.”

“Harry's such a gentle man. So talented. His laugh is unforgettable. So, did you sleep well?”

Jerome felt unbalanced, as if he were walking in deep sand. His initial assumptions of Lucrezia being a mere trophy wife had been washed away revealing a shape shifting form of uncertainty. Was she a scholar of forgotten esoteric lore? Was she trying to follow up on something Catherine Fenton, the designer of the maze, had written? A manual for the proper use of the maze and the obsidian mirror to attain . . . to attain what he couldn't possibly fathom. He hesitated with his brush over the colour palette. “I did have a strange dream,” he said, looking at her for any visible signs of complicity. “I was in a room with you . . . and your husband, and a number of my friends. Bartholomew and Thaddeus were there too, playing billiards on a round table.” He had forgotten about this light dream. Another possible panel for his imagined painting.

“Really? That's very interesting,” she said. “Beneath your bedroom in the corner tower, there's a billiards room.”

“Is there a painting of me on the wall by any chance?”

She laughed. “There is a painting but I don't think it's you. Anything else?”

He offered her the right hand side of his imagined pentaptypch. “Declan showed me his private office and the exquisite Proserpine by Rossetti. The colours are so rich.” He looked once more at her lips mixing nameless and numberless tints in his head. "I think I could stare at the painting for hours if it was mine."

“Hmm, yes, a beautiful painting. Perhaps I should be jealous. Of my husband being alone with such a beautiful woman."

He plied his brush on the background of the canvas cleaning it of excess. “I'm afraid I took advantage of your maze this morning and lost myself within it.” He opened up his imagined painting voluntarily in an effort to slow her approach to the subject of the Dark Room. Running scared.  “I'm sorry if I overstepped your courtesy.” He noticed she crossed her legs and sat further up in the chair.

“Did you . . . come upon the centre?” She was lightly bouncing her left leg over her right knee, her voice relaxed, unconcerned.

“Yes. I . . . arrived at the sundial.” Jerome lifted his thumb up in a hackneyed manner of measurement, his thumb joint being the distance from her top lip to her chin. “I rested on one of the stone benches and wrote down many of the stone inscriptions in my note book. It was a moment of peaceful, calm stillness. Until Beaumont arrived that is.”

“Beaumont?” She smiled. “He knows the maze well. Eyes and nose close to the ground make all the difference.”

“Perhaps I should get down on my hands and knees next time.”

“Like a pilgrim. Yes, it might work.” She coughed and reached for a crystal tumbler of water on a table beside her. “I remember an occasion visiting St. Joseph's Oratory, and as I climbed the many stairs I came across a man on his knees making his way to the top. A prayer at every step, hand making the cross.” She paused looking down at her delicate knee enveloped in tan suede, and ran a hand over it, smoothing out the nap. “I talked to him an hour later on my way down. Such belief in our age of science and technology is as rare as the disease the man's daughter was suffering from. He was praying for a cure.” She paused tilting her head back. “It's interesting how the words cures and curse are but a letter away.”

“Hmm, yes,” Jerome said softly, almost to himself, sensing she was casting off a thin veil of self-knowledge for him to catch, and he breathed in the aromatic resins of her spiritual interests like a devotee. A small revelation, a parsimonious gift.

“In comparison to the man, I felt like a gawking tourist," she said. "Gazing at the reliquary holding Brother Andre's heart, staring at the display of canes, crutches and walking sticks, impressed by the aesthetic beauty within.”

Jerome swept a dash of cadmium yellow and worked a touch of raw sienna into it. “I painted a number of copies for a client who lived up behind the Oratory. My client could look out his window and see the dome. I think it was just a few steps down to an entrance. The easy way in.”

She thought of saying that the easy way in was never rewarding but held the words back. Had she not taken the easy way in by marrying Declan? She looked out the window behind Jerome, catching glimpses of pale blue sky and the sun. “So, what copies were they?”

Jerome rested his brush and looked at her with a half smile. “Although I'm not very good with a painting knife, they were copies of works by Paul-Emile Borduas. His black and white series. People walking by my client's house could see the paintings on the living room wall and be impressed. Vanity I guess. Part of the decor. I've also copied a few triptychs of Francis Bacon. Originality is difficult. Copying is . . . well . . . it's technique.”

“We have a Francis Bacon in one of our residences. Horrid thing. Upsets me every time I enter the room. Do you sign them with the original artist's signature?”

“No, never. I always do variations instead of exact copies. Slight differences in subject, perspective, but colour much the same palette. I use the name of Lacier Pinto for such paintings.

“Lacier Pinto?”

“Derived from the letters in the word 'replication.' I like it. It seems apt. Pinto refers to painting in Spanish.”

“Ah . . . yes, very clever. I'll have to keep my eye out for any Lacier Pinto paintings on the market”

He laughed. “Probably not worth much.”

“Well, you're like a . . . magician with paint aren't you. Old masters to modern abstract. I wasn't aware you had such a breadth of . . . talent.”

They exchanged eye contact and he tried to smile as he felt his cheeks blush. A silence descended upon them, an awkward silence. He felt certain she had discovered his breach of privacy. The Dark Room, he felt, was now creating a distance between them.

“Painters are formed by their society to a great degree,” he said, trying to shift the conversation to drier, less emotional ground. “Francis Bacon never studied art. He did it by the seat of his pants as one of my teachers was fond of saying. A very odd duck. An outsider who used everyday images to capture a moment, often a twisted moment, and what he produced was disturbing. He even began painting on the unprepared side of the canvas, the wrong side, the one you see before you, the back if you will.What he produced was a reflection of the dark century he lived in, acceptable reflections of true reality whatever that is. I'm sorry, I feel like one of my old professors.”

“No, no, continue. I'm all ears,” she said smiling at him.

“When I was a student, I wrote a long art history paper on the paintings of the Victorian George Frederick Watts. A quintessential Victorian in many ways. When young, he went to Europe and to Asia minor to study and paint, and he produced some pleasant landscapes and I remember thinking he should have pursued a career as a landscape painter. Anyway, when he returned to London in the 1840s, he was overwhelmed by the poverty and suffering and he produced a number of realist paintings depicting what he saw, Found Drowned, Under a Dry Arch, Irish Famine, Poverty. It was a Dickens world, but whereas Dickens could write about it and move his readers to compassion and understanding, his illustrators still provided sentimental images to accompany the text. For Watts however, no one wanted to look at paintings of a drowned prostitute, or near skeletal homeless people huddling under a bridge to keep dry. No one would want them on their walls. No gallery would show them. It was my thesis that the Victorian society forced him towards his use of symbolism and allegory and made him a lesser painter for it. At least in our eyes today.” Jerome put his palette and brushes down, got up and stretched. “Francis Bacon lived during a time when there weren't restraints on the acceptable. People called his paintings ugly and horrifying but he didn't care. He didn't have to fit in like Watts had to conform.” Jerome began to walk about the room, articulating his words with hand gestures. “Watts wanted to fit in, find his way into the upper ranks, so he worked on his grand allegories while also being a prolific portrait artist. All the usual bearded and moustachioed suspects, the stern-eyed stuffed shirts as well as his fellow artists and writers. Tastes and perceptions change though. What many Victorian's thought of as plain we find very appealing. Watts's early double portrait of Long Mary is today very appealing and modern. His portrait of Rachel Gurney, is to my tastes, one of his best portraits, although I do like his Pre-Raphaelite inspired portrait of Jane Senior. Rich, rich colouration. But symbolism. Much of his work along those lines doesn't stand up very well. The exception being his Minotaur which hangs in the Tate. In my paper, with reference to his Minotaur, I made parallels to the work of Francis Bacon. The monster is depicted from behind showing its heavily muscled torso and its massive fist crushing a small bird, a symbol of purity. It made me think of some of the works of Francis Bacon. The almost abstract muscularity of the terrible beast with its vacuous gaze and open mouth, I perceived as resonant with some of the work of Bacon, specifically his Painting 1946. The grim, bleak violence of it. My professor didn't quite see the connection but I remember receiving a very good mark.”

“I think I've seen the painting you're talking about on a book cover. What's it symbolic of?”

“Yes, it would make a good book cover. The Minotaur is leaning over the parapet of the labyrinth looking out to sea for the ship bringing him his human sacrifices. It symbolized the horrific fact of prostitution on the streets of London at the time, and was his way of expressing his outrage and despair, and a way for Victorians to get the message without being . . . mortified. I think he painted it around the mid-1880s, but only gave it to the Nation ten years later or so. I don't think many Victorians got the message. If you visit the Tate Gallery, you must see it.”

“If it reminds you of Francis Bacon, perhaps not.”

Jerome stood before the window looking out towards the autumn colours feeling like he had escaped the harbour of his subterfuge and was slowly floating out to sea. She joined him. Her arms were folded and her left shoulder touched his right arm and he let the sedative seduction of her lavender fragrance overwhelm him. He imagined himself turning to her and kissing her lips with their numberless and nameless tints.

“Has society formed you?” she asked.

His fantasy faded like a sigh. “No doubt, no doubt.” The broad complexity of her question felt like an anchor dragging the dark cold depths for a hold. “I've never thought deeply about what I've become. Too much self-knowledge might hinder my creativity.”

“I thought you were all technique.”

Feeling he was being lightly mocked, his self-respect was roused. “I do have my own paintings. I'm not just a copyist.” He turned around and sat upon the wide window sill, arms crossed. “You must visit my studio.  I can show you my portfolio.”

She put her hand on his shoulder. “I'd like that. Come. We'll go find my busy husband. He mentioned he wanted to show you one of his old cars. Something you two have in common it seems.”

© ralph patrick mackay

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

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

Adjusting her ear buds, Mélisande Bramante started her iPod and settled back on her favourite bench under the overarching branches of an old fruit tree, the bruised shadows of the summer having diminished to mere latticework in the declining light of autumn. One of her stable of University squirrels made its way over to her. She reached into her lunch and drew out a small brown bag of peanuts, in the shell, and tossed one lightly towards it and watched its dexterous little fingers handle the nut and its little teeth nibble away at the protective shell—one of her simple pleasures. Their world didn't offer much room for diversification of character—their goals in life were fairly circumscribed, though their skills at dissembling and hiding food gave them scope for creativity—but she could discern subtle differences in their demeanour. She had given three of them names, March Hare, Mad Hatter, and Dormouse. It was the latter who was before her nibbling on the brittle shell.

As she bit into her hummus, tomato and pickle sandwich, the block piano chords of one of her favourite songs played in her ears, Ashley Chambliss’s A Little More of You. She closed her eyes with the pleasure of the song and the anticipation of the artist's next song, Iron Hands, which was to follow. Listening, she realised, perhaps for the first time, that the right hand chord remained constant, while the left hand went up and down a few notes on the scale, slowly like footsteps up a flight of stairs, and then down; the base notes made her think of Sisyphus and his stone, and the right hand, timelessness, infinity. Her visualisation of stairs, a miniature Escher-like interior that was at once an exterior, roused an old memory of a recurring nightmare she had had as a child; she would be climbing a staircase, a staircase without supporting walls, and upon reaching a narrow landing, she would drop to her knees clutching the edges of the structure, vertigo within her, nothingness without. She discovered later that she would descend the stairs from her bedroom, still asleep, and find her Mother in the living room and curl up beside her on the chesterfield. And her Mother would lead her back to bed. After months of this behaviour of sleepwalking, her Mother had told her about her nightly visits. Mélisande, even at the age of seven, had been embarrassed. She had revealed the nightmare. A pill was prescribed by the family doctor. The nightmares ceased.

She often used to wonder if her Mother missed her somnambulant visits.

She opened her eyes and breathed deeply. It had been an odd morning what with the fog finally dissipating and that shelf collapsing. Thankfully the swoon-worthy hunk who had caused it had helped her put everything back. Such nice hands she thought.

She finished the triangle of sandwich and wiped her lips and hands before taking out of her purse a half read paperback copy of Sarah Caudwell's The Sibyl in Her Grave, and within it, like a bookmark, a small envelope addressed to her from her friend Sophie, a reference librarian at the McLennan Library. She wondered if it was an invitation to a bibliographic bash or possibly a send-off for a septuagenarian librarian named Marion. Sophie was always organising some get together or other. She could see the windows of the library from her bench and wondered why Sophie hadn't just dropped it off by hand. Opening it she found a card with an image of a young woman flying on a magic carpet made of an open book, and within, a hand written note and a piece of paper, folded and taped shut. She read Sophie's message in the card:

Dear Mélisande,

I know this is odd, but I thought this would be the best way to handle it.

I recently had a request to find the obituary of an old McGill English professor, a Professor Petherway, and I came across the unusual name of Loveridge in the same obits. Since it's an unusual name, I thought it must have had a connection to Pavor. I want to give you the information but I also want to give you the opportunity to refuse it, or give it to Pavor and then proceed from there. I know this must sound strange, but I know how much you love him and how long you've been waiting for him to commit.

All my love,

P.S. If you read the information, let me take you to lunch.

Mélisande held the folded paper in her lap while her imagination conjured up episodic possibilities similar to the Wilkie Collins novel she had been reading. Was she going to read about the death of Pavor Loveridge? Was she in love with someone who took over his life? An impostor? A twin? A fake Pavor?

With her thumb nail, she cut the tape holding the folded paper together. She hesitated while she listened to the sound of leaves scuttling along the sidewalk nearby, like the sound of rats beneath her in the depths of the city's subterranean world. Rats. Where had she read the story of about a usurper of an 11th century archpiscopal seat who, having refused food to the starving poor during a famine, had fallen sick in his island castle on the Rhine only to be eaten by rats? A cautionary tale. Karma. Alacrity and Karma on a Yacht off Palmyra. She would have to read more of Pavor's book. Pavor. She held the photocopy paper in her hands and slowly unfolded it. 

She had waited long enough.

 It was an old obituary from the Montreal Gazette. The death of Victoria Loveridge and her daughter Tamara, beloved wife and daughter of Pavor Kristof Loveridge . . . . the remaining words were mere marks on a page, hieroglyphics. Her hands shook, the envelope fell to the grass.

The Dormouse, awaiting another peanut, scampered close to investigate. Picking up the envelope, he sniffed it, turned it round in his hands, and then let it drop. He looked up, confused, uncertain, unsure.

She didn't need to read more.

She looked down to see the Dormouse sniffing the ground. She picked up the bag of peanuts and emptied them unto the grass, an overwhelming bounty for the poor thing, like a pile of prehistoric bones for an unwitting archaeologist. The mother lode. Winter was around the corner. She never knew if her favourite squirrels would make it through to Spring. Dormouse would have a better chance of it now.

Back at her desk, she withdrew an old-fashioned buff card catalogue from her supply of now obsolete card stock, and placed it in her typewriter and began to catalogue Pavor's book of poetry. The card would be filed in a special drawer devoted to Pavor's work. The other thirty-five drawers of the oak filing cabinet she had at home were devoted to all the books she had read, catalogued by author, with the date of completion and occasional comments and page numbers annotated in pencil on the back. Life is long, but catalogue cards are thin. She didn't worry about running out of filing space. Thirty-six drawers, she thought, were sufficient for the most edacious of readers.

She slipped the finished card inside the book and put it back in her purse. She was doubtful she could read the book just now. Perhaps ever.


After breakfast, Declan and Harry had left Jerome to his own devices, and he'd planned to further explore the maze but his shoes had been taken, ostensibly to be dried. He'd returned to his room, used the facilities, maundered over Rossetti, avoided the journal, and looked out the window until boredom had led him downstairs to browse the library to pass the time until Thaddeus would find him and escort him to Lucrezia for another sitting.

As he neared the open door to the library, he glimpsed Lucrezia coming out of a room. At first he thought it was Declan's office, but he realised it was in the adjacent corner. She closed the door and pushed a book back with her foot, a book in the middle on the bottom shelf, and then left by the door to the drawing room. He stood still as if struck with catalepsy. At once he thought he should go in search of his shoes and forget what he had just seen, but no sooner had the thought passed his mind, than he found himself in the library approaching what he believed to be another sham door. But it was genuine. The shelf section contained real books, not just the facade of spines. Bound sets of French and Italian classics. Some German authors as well. He bent down and pulled out the middle book, a three-quarter bound volume with gilt lettering on red, entitled The Dark Room – Strand. He wondered if it was an old novel from the Strand Magazine, but whatever it was or had been, it was now a sham book, for there was a click and the shelf section sprang open to reveal a groove on the side to pull it further. The weight of the door must have been exceedingly heavy, but it easily glided open and pocket ceiling lights came on. He hesitated. It was another room of very old books, perhaps ten feet by ten feet. An intoxicating odour of ageing leather, paper and ink enveloped him as he slipped in sideways. An oak pedestal in the middle of the small room was the only furnishing other that the rich diversity of leather bound volumes. On a shelf under the pedestal he noticed a slim volume with 'Catalogue' in gilt letters on the spine. He lifted it up to the inclined reading platform and opened it up to the title page.

The Dark Room
A Catalogue of Esoterica
From the Collection of D. G. K., a Gentleman.
Duncan Strand
Montreal: Grange Stuart Books

He looked around at the gilt titles shimmering in the low light. A thick dark leather volume entitled Disquisitionum Magicarum with the date 1657 at the bottom of the spine caught his eye. Books by Freytag, 1710, Thyrseus, 1600, Pererius, 1598. Other names from the shadows between the raised bands, Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, Basil Valentine, Agrippa, Francis Barrett, Pseudo-Hermes, Helvetius, Lull, Dee, Bruno, Fludd, Maier, Vaughan, Flamel, van Helmont, Sendivogius, von Mynsicht. They must be books from the old Castlebourne estate he thought. Nothing unusual. People collected all sorts of odd books. A floorboard creaked, or so he thought. Careful not to make a noise, he slowly turned around and was startled by a dark oval of polished stone held in place by a filigree of ironwork on the back of the door, and upon it, his reflection, his dark semblance, like an aura, or the shadow of guilt.

After waiting moments that seemed endless, he took a deep breath and braved the opening. No one was there. He closed the door and pushed the book back in place and was sitting on a couch with the first volume of Godwin's Caleb Williams when Thaddeus found him.

© ralph patrick mackay

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Forty-Seven part B

'Between the no longer and the not yet.'

Pavor relaxed his shoulders and released the weight of his arms upon the desk, his fingers poised on the keyboard—an act of contrition, of supplication—as if they were stemming the flow of unwanted letters.

'At once under the volcano, and over the rainbow,' he typed. Thoughts of Malcolm Lowry and flying monkeys rose briefly in his mind. He paused, then highlighted that last sentence and pressed delete.

What was a coma? He realised he was quite ignorant of the latest science.

'A desuetude of action concealing an unfettered imagination.'

Were a coma patient's thoughts spinning ever upwards like a twisting ladder of DNA? Was it an endless labyrinth excursion, circling, passing, reaching the centre only to return to the start and begin again? Or a maze of past emotions and experiences relived as the mind explored hither and thither, a retracing, a re-encountering, a déjà vu here, a vestige of life there? Science, he thought, must be studying it in depth, at length. He imagined an article entitled, Induced Comas and Space Flight: From Here to Mars in the Blink of an Eye.

His Mother thought his work as a writer was much like a coma. The imagination. Fantasy. Day dreams. She wanted him to return to law, to real life dealing with real issues. Writing. Perhaps writing was much like a coma. Or the act of writing at least.

'A detachment from the future, a moment within all moments, the unreflective harmony in the womb, a transcendental acquiescence.'

Pavor stopped typing and, taking up his vodka and tonic, finished the drink, lemon slice and all, chewing the sour cleansing sweetness before spitting it back into the glass with a shiver down his spine. He should resume his Rex Packard novel. Progress was needed. He had to put his sense of guilt aside. Umberto, with a view indulgent with charity, had said as much when Pavor had revealed the story of Tullio's accident. Connecting the dots from his perspective was solipsistic. Tullio had been tired, he had been visiting his Grandmother in Villa Opicina. Just because he dropped by to get a few books signed before driving into Trieste was no reason to take the blame for the accident. And what of the rogue garbage container slipping from its chained position? He could almost feel the tap of Umberto's hand upon his upper arm as he had said that Goethe might have felt somewhat responsible for the resulting suicides after the publication of his The Sorrows of Young Werther, but Pavor shouldn't enslave himself to guilt due to an overwrought sense of improvidence, or as Umberto had added, if he should give a beggar money to buy a roast chicken, he can't blame himself if the beggar chokes on the wish bone.

He rose and walked over to the window and watched the ornamental trees quiver in the wind, and then his eyes followed a twist of dry leaves being swept round the garden gnome in a miniature vortex. He stretched and rubbed his eyes feeling like one of them, beguiled by the diversion of chance breezes. If he had stayed at his desk writing about his characters Rex Packard and Vernon Smythe, the accident that befell Tullio, and the meeting of Carina and Umberto would not exist for him. Now, now they were future characters. Their interactions had been digested, their characters would be dissembled and finally divested upon the page in a faceted and fragmentary fashion at some distant and unexpected time.

Checking his watch, he returned to the glowing screen. He wasn't very good at writing after five, but he thought he should try and rough out a few scenes and then finesse the details in the morning.

Sitting before his laptop, he wiped his lips and began to type.


In a café at the corner of Milton and Park Avenue, a young woman dressed in jeans, sweater, fall coat and scarf, sipped her espresso. She was as unremarkable as the diverse assemblage of university students nearby. A thin book of selected poems by Rilke—accompanied by the poet's eyes on the cover—peeked out of her brown leather purse on her lap. She was seemingly occupied with her cell phone, but she was also attending to the faces and voices of those around her. And keeping her eye on the front door.

A text message on her cell phone informed her that an identical laptop bag had been purchased. Her partner was waiting.

It didn't take her long to walk the two and a half blocks to the second-hand book shop. She browsed the window ledge of bargains while checking the reflections in the window glass for anything suspicious passing behind her. It wasn't necessary, but habit and conditioning had created a need, the fulfilment of which made her feel physically and mentally at ease. Not wanting to waste time, she entered the shop and casually approached a table holding a display of philosophy books. She scanned the bindings for what she was looking for, and picking out two, she quickly paid the young man who seemed more interested in pricing books than looking at her figure. A minute later she was opening the door of her partner's car. He handed her the bag and she placed the books inside.

“Fifteen minutes,” he said.

She nodded and watched him get out and walk towards the University. If there was an asset to turn the head of a librarian, it was her partner, a physically striking young man with blue eyes that could charm the age spots off an older woman's hands.

Finding it odd he didn't carry a bag, Mélisande Bramante had noticed the handsome young man enter the library, and watched him disappear towards the extreme right of the stacks. He must know what he's looking for she had thought. She was in the middle of filling out an online order for monographs when she heard a groaning thud followed by the sickening sound of falling books and cascading paper. A prime example of the dreaded shelf collapse if there ever was one. She left her sheltered desk near the door and went to investigate. Why was it, she wondered, these incidents generally happened while her boss was at lunch? But with each step her empathy eased her annoyance. She hoped no one was hurt.

The young woman with the laptop bag hearing the noise, waited a few moments outside the library door. She noted only two other pairs of shoes besides her partners leather slip-ons. She quietly entered. The two students hunched over their computers were away from her line of sight, so she quickly exchanged the laptop bags, noting the weight of the target bag was almost identical with its fake, and was out the door and down the stairs before her partner had a chance to fluster the librarian with his charm.

It was fifteen minutes before the young man returned to the car. He had helped the librarian fix the shelf and put the books back. All part of the plan.

“No problems?” he asked.

“In and out without a snag,” she said, putting the book away, her thoughts still tethered to Rilke's poem Eve, the last line winding its way around her like a snare. “How about you?”

“Easy peasy,” he said sticking the key in the ignition. “The librarian had interesting tattoos on her arms. Didn't expect that.” He turned to her. “What about you? Do you have tattoos.”

She smiled. Make him think about it she thought. “How about that new Thai noodle place on St. Catherine Street?”

The young man looked at his watch and then softly touched her arm. “Sounds good but, I have a dental cleaning in thirty minutes. It will have to be next time. Can I drop you off.”

“No, it's fine.” She handed him the spare key set. “I'll walk back to my car. The bag's in the trunk. For their eyes only.”

On her way back to her car she caught her reflection in the bookstore window, her muted double staring back at her with questions she didn't want to hear.


The coastline of Norway around Bergen appeared to be as if a mirror had been dropped and the jagged fragments were the result. Arthur Roquebrune sat at his desk at Wormwood & Verdigris with a map before him, debating whether he should travel to Bergen to escort Thérèse home. Morally he felt obliged to make the excursion but logically he felt it wasn't necessary. His adversarial legal idiom hit the ball back in forth in his mind like some kind of dialectical tennis match. And how could he justify it to his wife and his partners? In addition, he would be meeting Martine Haugen again, the woman he'd made a fool of himself over after that third glass of wine ten years ago at that conference in Paris. No, too embarrassing to relive that brief infatuation. Martine Haugen could see Thérèse off at the airport in Bergen, and he could meet her here in Montreal at the Trudeau International Airport, and then drive her to Varennes to stay with her Mother. First-class, all expenses paid by him through the David Ashmore funds.

In consultation with Thérèse's Mother, he would then provide her with additional financial assistance from the investments and also call upon his good friend and client, Edward Seymour to provide preliminary psychological consultation. Between them, they had enough connections with specialists at the Royal Victoria Hospital to repair her memory loss and help her resume her normal life. She had already shown signs of progress.

“She's piecing things together,” Martine had said. “Filling in the blanks, seeing the picture of her life take shape.”

Jerome van Starke would play an important role and yet Jonathan Landgrave had not yet returned his calls. Very unprofessional he thought. But he gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking Landgrave could be on a brief holiday. Whenever he saw Jonathan about town, he was generally well-tanned, it was either a short golfing holiday in Florida, or an escape to St. Lucia for a week, and once he had told Arthur he had just returned from Tahiti. Tahiti. Robert Louis Stevenson. He pictured Stevenson sitting on his veranda, dark eyes, drooping moustache, and long hair, basking in the humidity of the islands. This aroused a desire to browse the small blue volumes of his Tusitala Edition of the writer's works when he returned home that evening. He imagined himself sitting in his study, baroque music on low, a copy of Virginibus Puerisque and Other Essays open on his lap, soft macaroons and a hot cup of tea. . . . He sighed. The age of 67 and he was still prone to the occasional daydream.

Thérèse and her condition, however, must stay paramount in his thoughts. Martine had informed him Thérèse remembered a moment before she had been found wandering. She had heard the door bell, and upon opening the door, a scentless spray like a mist blown by the wind, fell upon her face. No other details until she found herself on a street bench, confused, wondering who, what and where. It had been Martine's contact information in Thérèse's small woven wallet that had allowed the local police to make contact with her.

Roquebrune didn't want to know what the science was behind the spray, all he wanted was a status quo, a return to normality for them all. The rights of the living were trumping those of the dead.


Standing before the family crypt at the cemetery, Duncan pulled away a spray of tall grass at the corner of the modest granite structure and began to wind it around his fingers. All the old Strands were there. From his Great Grandparents to their descendants including his Grandfather and family. Names and dates. Names and dates. The death of Phoebe Strand in 1885, age 3, and Hiram Strand in 1915, age 19, a reminder, he thought, of the tenuous nature of the individual carried away by the flow of history. Whether it was disease or war, accident or old age, the family was fairly representative of its time. His parents were nearby in a separate plot along with his brother Gavin upon which he had just left a small bouquet of flowers. There was room for a few more Strands, especially since cremation and an urn would only require a small hole in the ground. Shallow spade work of an hour at most. Probably less. His younger brother, a fifty year old bachelor living in Ontario would never have children. And he and Amelia would never have children, so it was the last of the Strands. He was the end of the tether, a dying metaphor if there ever was one. All those jokes about his surname, the play on words, the innuendos growing up. He had often wondered if his family had adopted the name of Strand when they launched themselves into the cordage business so long ago, or conversely, had they taken up the business because of the name. The family was fairly stranded now, beached, shipwrecked, high and dry, the business at the end of its rope. A dying metaphor.

He wondered if a diversity of future Montrealers strolling in the cemetery enjoying the fall colours or the spring flowering trees and shrubs, the birdsong, the sun and shade, the odd woodchuck and rabbit, and the omnipresent squirrel, would walk by, as he walked by old tombs of forgotten families, and read their names and think, perhaps, how sad it was there were no longer family members to tend to memory. A cautionary thought.

The sepia melodrama of the thought slipped away as he passed his hand over the rough stone and the self-evident deterioration around the letters. We are the stone dust of the letters the carver sweeps away, he thought.

He made his way back to the old office near the gates of the cemetery. The thinning fog clung to the tops of the evergreens where a crow perched calling in the mist. Humans, he thought, had outgrown their auguries. He kicked a stone along the path thinking that the native Canadians who used to scale this mountain would have attended to its call, read the sign, understood the meaning. A crow in a cemetery on old native land. What foothold did anyone really have he wondered.

But the famous and accomplished who were buried at the cemetery certainly appeared to have one. Anna 'King of Siam' Leonowens, John Abbott, Sir Hugh Allan, David Thompson, the Molsons, the McGills, the Roddicks, and John Redpath whose odd Victorian neckbeard always made Duncan think of one of the characters from the Planet of the Apes movies. And of course Sir Alexander Galt whose house became the funeral home where he experienced something beyond him, and later danced in the disco conversion with his Hong Kong born girlfriend, a disco where he had once mourned.

“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” he said loudly, spinning around as the crow flew off gracefully towards the south. A grey squirrel, startled, sat up on its haunches, hands together holding an acorn, contemplating the strange nature of a man talking to himself.

“David Ashemore, David Ashemore,” the older woman said as she typed the name into her computer. Her dark hair in an old-fashioned perm reminded Duncan of his Mother's hair, forever darkly set in time. “The location of David Ashemore's resting place, here we are.” She was reading silently from the screen, but also recalling a request for this location about eight months ago. “He's resting in the sculpture garden, a niche on the east side of the circular granite wall that surrounds it. Would you like one of our maps?”

“Um, sure, why not. Thank you.” Duncan unfolded the brochure, the map of the cemetery displayed before him, the pathway lines reminiscent of the borders of countries. “I don't suppose David has had many visitors,” he said, feeling in the mood to talk. “No close family left. Parents long gone. No siblings. Rather sad.”

The woman smiled up at him. “Well, you never know, there's always someone, like yourself for instance. Or . . .” She hesitated, realising her sympathy might lead her over the line of accepted discourse with a patron. “Do enjoy your visit, and if there's anything we can help you with, anything you'd like to know about our services, please don't hesitate,” she said, giving him additional brochures.

He nodded, thanked her and made his way out.

A niche, a columbarium niche was very appealing, especially the indoor example listed on the brochure. Some niches even had window glass and space for photos and personal items, like one of those shadowboxes that crafty people create. Year round visiting without the worry of heavy winter weather, your loved one looking back at you from beside his or her urn. Mementos like a favourite book, a pen, a stone, a shell . . .a golf ball. A pretty penny though he thought. A pretty penny. What was Yves ranting about, the loss of the penny? The phrases relating to the coin would outlive the penny itself. Penny for your thoughts, in for a penny in for a pound, penny wise pound foolish, penny pincher, a penny saved is a penny earned. His Father was fond of that last one. Not that it helped. Duncan thought of his Grandfather's little framed cartoon over the old oak desk at Strand Cordage, two men at a bar with the words written above, “Yer pays yer money an' yer gets yer—froth.”

All of a sudden Duncan felt immensely tired. Tired of having kept the Strand business going. Tired at having tried to keep the family together. Tired of trying to hold on the past. Tired.

He stopped to watch two squirrels chase each other around the large trunk of a Maple tree, their movements based on sound for they could hardly see each other due to the breadth of the trunk and the quickness of their feet. Somebody wrote about squirrels chasing each other. Was it Wittgenstein? Orwell? Or . . .and he remembered it was from a William James essay he was reading a few months ago, a nice edition of Pragmatism (1907), which he had purchased from an estate sale. He would have to look it over again when he got back to the shop. See if he could glean an insight into . . . squirrel behaviour.

As he approached the sculpture garden, he noticed a man working nearby. The circular granite wall was inviting and he gravitated towards the eastern arc looking at names to the accompaniment of clipping sounds from the man's pruning scissors. David Ashemore 1958-2011. Simplicity itself. But for the small red rose in a small holder beside his name. Who, he wondered, had left the flower? A mistake? There was a blank stone beside his so it could only by for him.

If they had remained friends would he be standing here? Had he attended Lower Canada College and been primed for scouting at McGill by Professor Petherway as possible material for intelligence work (Petherway intoning Beowulf's rich guttural northern voice, a mixture of Germanic, Icelandic and Scandinavian sounds to their  fresh ears) would their destinies have been exchanged? Would David be standing here? Would he be lying there?

Duncan wandered over towards the gardener, an older man, swarthy, strong, pruning the rose bushes with meticulous care demonstrating years of experience.

“Another year, another pruning,” Duncan said, trying to start up a conversation.

The gardener stretched his back and nodded his head as if measuring Duncan for his personal philosophy, sizing him up for his understanding of the world. It was then Duncan noticed one of the man's eyes was not quite eyeing him, a glass eye he thought. Difficult work pruning with one good eye. Duncan checked the man's hands, all fingers present and accounted for, a sign of skill, prudence and patience.

The gardener with the weathered skin pocketed his pruning scissors and withdrew a pipe which he fiddled with and then lit with delightful puffing sounds. He exhaled the fragrant smoke in an arc above them and approached Duncan.

“Do you know much about roses then?” The man's voice was surprisingly soft.

“Very little, I'm afraid. My Father planted rose bushes I remember, tea roses I think, back in the middle 1960s, one for each member of the family. Perhaps he should have chosen peonies instead. Less work, more dependable.”

The man nodded, smoke rising past his fake eye without it blinking.

“The root stock is the key. Good hardy root stock grafted into delicate flowering varieties.” He rested the pipe between his lips as he surveyed the rose bushes nearby. “But they are care intensive that is to be sure. Pruning just so, preparing them for winter, mounding around their bases, protection always needed due to the frost and thaw, frost and thaw. Have you ever visited the Botanical Gardens? Enough rose bushes there for a Queen. Very impressive and interesting due to the varieties. But you must think of the petals, the beauty of one flower, eyes up close, the scent of the beauty filling your nasal passages hitting that area beneath the eyes. Hit right between the eyes is a good phrase to describe the experience. That's the way to truly appreciate a rose. Much like a glass of wine.” Using his pipe as a directional device, he pointed to the flower beds. “The bushes here are few but they are fine specimens.”

The gardener's reference to hit between the eyes made Duncan immediately look at the man's glass eye and he had caught his glance.

“Have you worked here long,” Duncan asked.

The man removed his cap and scratched his thinning grey hair. “Must be going on forty years. Yes. I don't do as much heavy work as I used to do, but I still like to feel the earth in my hands, tend to the roses, inspect the trees. Variety we have, yes, to be sure, variety we have.”

“It's so lovely here. I can stand in the cemeterey and not see or hear the city that surrounds it, and I feel I'm in the country with these extraordinary old trees and wildlife.”

The man smiled. “When I get home from work every day, my good wife says 'So, how was your day in the country?” He chuckled. “Two worlds in one day I have, two worlds in one day.”

“You're lucky to work in such a place. Fresh air. Nature.” Duncan turned towards the granite wall. “I'm just visiting an old friend I lost contact with. Died fairly young, early fifties. No family. It's odd that I just discovered a flower beside his name.”

“Is your friend's name Ashemore by any chance?”

Duncan's eyebrows lifted at this. “Yes, that's right. How'd you know?”

“Since the spring a woman visits once a month and leaves a rose. Like clockwork. She asked me once if it would be alright to use one of the roses from the bushes here if she forgot her own. When I see her I say hello. We exchange small talk, the weather, the plants.”

“I was best friends with David Ashemore when we were very young, and then our paths diverged and we lost track of each other. His obituary was the first time I was reunited.” He paused wondering whether the visitor might be the young woman at the funeral home. “Was she a younger woman named Tess Sinclair, auburn hair, about five foot seven or eight?” Duncan asked feeling he was pushing the man too far, overstepping propriety.

“No, I don't know her name, but she was not as you describe. An older well-dressed woman, expensive clothes. Blond hair. Petite. I thought she might have been his wife.”

“Ah, I see. No, David never married. Well, it's good to know he has someone thinking of him, thank you,” he said, unsure, however, whether this fact made him feel less sad, or more.

© ralph patrick mackay

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Forty-Seven, part A

“Any request?” Yves asked, flipping through a stack of new arrivals beside him.

“Any Bill Evans in there?”

Yves flipped half a dozen records and then raised the cover of Everybody Digs Bill Evans. “You must be psychic Dunc. This is a Riverside recording, his second as leader. Not bad shape. Nice gold colour. RLP 12-291, recorded December 1958.” He withdrew the shimmering disc from its yellowed paper liner and smelled the vinyl before placing it on the turntable behind him. Duncan admired the dexterity and care with which Yves handled his wares, much like he himself handled books. “Let's try Side Two, Tenderly.” Piano music flowed from the numerous speakers in Disques Deux Côtés, an upbeat bright number ideal for the morning. They settled down and drank their coffees.

The stylus on the record began to skip.

“I'm having the déjà vu? Dunc,” he said, “A scratch, merde.”

“Nothing like living in the moment . . . moment . . . moment.”

Grabbing the wax pencil from behind his ear, Yves began to write words on a sheet of paper on the sales counter. “Sounds like a song to me, Dunc, could be a hit.”

“Parlez-vous déjà vu, le ciel est bleu, bleu chez nous, déjà vu, déjà vu, parlez-vous déjà vu.” Duncan improvised a tune to his words, moving his body side to side with the syllabic swing.

Yves held the pencil over the paper staring at Duncan without expression. A moment of silence, a soap bubble moment. Then they laughed while Yves turned around and placed the stylus on the second song, Peace Piece. “You're so coo-coo for coco pops.”

An ambient calm enveloped them, the notes slowly filling in the spaces around them like muted colours on a canvas.

Duncan smiled over his coffee as a memory was aroused of having seen the film Trois Couleurs: Bleu by Krzysztof Kieslowski. It must have been 1995. Or was it 1996? It was a Wednesday or a Thursday afternoon. The Cinéma de Paris on St. Catherine Street, a repertory cinéma, offering great films marked down like remaindered books. They had climbed the narrow staircase, he could see Amelia advancing towards the old-fashioned ticket booth while he looked behind him hearing a conversation at the foot of the stairs. A man at the open door below, was turned sideways listening to a well-dressed older woman who was apparently not accompanying him. Duncan knew instantly who he was. The golden corduroy suit with the rose in the lapel were the man's trademarks. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, former Prime Minister of Canada was on his way up the stairs. He didn't tell Amelia. They stood in the small lobby with half a dozen others, mainly students. Amelia was oblivious to Trudeau's presence until she looked round to see him standing nearby with a large drink and a large popcorn in his hands, and she had immediately started chatting to him, introducing Duncan to him, discussing Kieslowski and film. Trudeau it turned out was a friend of Uncle Edward. He shook his head remembering the occasion. They had followed the now private citizen up the stairs and to the left into the darkness of the old cinema. Red carpeting seemed to come to mind. Trudeau had wished them good viewing and they likewise. They had sat quite far back on the left side while Trudeau made his way towards the front. There had been something very poignant about seeing an extraordinary figure in Canadian politics sitting in the sixth or seventh row, by himself, watching Trois Coleurs: Bleu in a run down old repertory cinema on a weekday afternoon. Poignant, sad, and yet, absolutely wonderful. After all the difficult politics of the past decades, he could still walk the streets of the city and go see a film when he desired. Just a lawyer now. Just a fellow citizen. It was only a few years later his son Michel died in an avalanche. The news had made them both remember that day. The memory more poignant still.

As the Bill Evans tune completed its canvas with a final flourish, they both breathed deeply and nodded at each other, words would have tainted the beauty of the song and the playing.

“So, how's the family?” Duncan asked as the soft brushwork of Philly Jo Jones on the drums accompanied the developing melody of the next tune.

Yves pushed aside the papers and settled on the stool looking out the window, the passing trucks and cars casting reflections upon his face, at once matte and then glossy. “Pas pire, pas pire, mais, Tristan wants to stop school and become an entrepreneur!”

“An entrepreneur? How old is he, fourteen?”

“He wants to be the next David Karp.”

“The next who?”

“The guy who started Tumblr. Tristan says the guy left school and started his own business when young. Now he's worth gazillions.”

Duncan warmed his hands around the coffee while looking out the window at the early morning passersby, wondering how many parents were facing similar situations. “We missed the boat on this computer thing didn't we? I remember back in . . . 1977, Tom Culacino took that summer job at Zeller's head office. He showed me round one day. The computer was the fifth floor. No doubt all that information on those huge reel to reel behemoths in their air conditioned bliss could fit on something the size of my baby fingernail now. Or less.” He shook his head thinking he was sounding like his Father.

“I took the Fortran in the CEGEP back in 1977. Punch cards, crazy printouts. I didn't see no boat Dunc. Not even a row boat.”

They both raised their eyebrows and laughed at an old memory together concerning rowboats.

“I didn't see it either,” Duncan confessed sipping his coffee. “Head in the sand I guess. And now, everything's so fast. People have the attention span of a key stroke. Tumblr, Flickr, Twitter. I don't get Tumblr. Someone posts a photograph and then fifty people leave a monosyllabic response, some with just an emoticon. Really!”

“Whumblr slackr spittle splatter,” Yves said as if in a trance. “That's no lie. What's happening to our little brain cells, eh?”

“Nano-fried Mr. Poirot, nano-fried.”

“So my friend, you find any books on Boris Karloff for me?”

“Sorry. No Karloff items,” Duncan said. “You're the Karloff collector for me. Don't worry, my eyes are out there for you.”

“I can't understand it, you know. Boris Karloff was playing the part of Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace on the stage for three years, three years, and when they go to make a film, they leave Boris on the stage while the rest of the cast goes to Hollywood. What were they thinking?”

Duncan settled himself on the stool, knowing that Yves, a Karloff aficionado, was on a rant.

“They could have cast someone else for the stage, non?” Yves sketched something on the paper before him with the wax pencil, something reminiscent of Frankenstein's monster. “Raymond Massey! Wasn't he in tractors or something? Massey-Ferguson. Who gonna laugh at that great line about killing a man because he looked like Boris Karloff, when it not coming out of the lips of Boris Karloff. I tell you, it could have been a great film, but . . . and Cary Grant, tabarnac! Running around like a chicken with its head off. A terrible film.”

Duncan tried not to laugh but he couldn't help himself. “Yes, yes, I agree with you, Grant was terrible in that film.”

“So, what about you, have you found any rare books worth the big bucks?”

Duncan didn't want to be the bibliographic bore and tell Yves all about the strange Latin manuscript he had found. His mind was tired. He had stayed up late reading and researching possibilities, only to lie awake, tossing and turning, conjuring up images of legendary occult classics lost to time, John Dee's defence of Roger Bacon, or Giordano Bruno's Clavis Magna. He had been studying a brief monograph on the Jesuit College Library of Québec which began in 1632, a library with 600 books, many quite rare. Interesting books including Rembert Dodoens's Florum et coronariarum (1568), Nicolas Monardes's De Simplicibus medicamentis ex occidentali India (1574), Louis Maimbourg's Histoire de l'arianisme (1673), and Philippe de Meulebeecke Lansbeghe's Tabulae motuum coelestium perpetuae (1653). There was also a volume by Oswald Croll, a noted follower of Paracelsus, his La Royale chimie de Crollius (1623). He had wondered how many suppressed volumes might have been brought into Québec by the Jesuits in the early years. It was possible that the Latin text was a fragment of a work by someone like the Hermetic philosopher Michael Meier who had lived in Prague as the physician to Emperor Rudolph II. Possibly his Viatorum, hoc est de Montebus Planetarum Septem, (1618), where he searches for the alchemical truth in nature using the cloak of mythology, or one of his last works, Cantilenae intellectuales de Phoenice redivio, published in Rostock, Norway in 1622, and dedicated to Frederick Prince of Norway. He conjectured that such interesting volumes could possibly have been smuggled into Québec. The Jesuits were certainly against the Rosicrucians but they were also scholars. They had been somewhat successful in subsuming the works of the Rosicrucians by reinterpreting their rose symbolism as referring to the Virgin Mary, helping to undermine the remnant followings of the Hermetic tradition after 1620. It was possible such books found their way to Québec. Getting to know the enemy through the Index librorum prohibitorum. Then, in 1773, after the suppression of the Jesuit society in Canada by order of Pope Clement, the books might have been stripped from their mates, perhaps saved from the flames and dispersed by the few booksellers and bookbinders of the day, ending up as filler, spine reinforcements or fire lighters on cold winters nights. All conjecture on his part, but one that fuelled a certain bibliographic desire to have discovered something unusual. Then again, it could quite easily have been in a private collection and suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. All these complicated thoughts passed briefly through his thoughts as he sipped his coffee.

“No, I haven't discovered the Mother lode yet.” He paused thinking of the golden opportunities he might have missed, the valuable pamphlet at a Church sale, the slim volume at the bottom of a box at a garage sale. “Perhaps I should write a book. We could really use the money.” Duncan pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked at Yves hoping for a moment of seriousness. “C. Day Lewis, an English poet, was living in a cottage that needed a new roof. I think the cost was around £100. What did he do, he wrote a mystery novel, A Question of Proof, published in 1935 by Collins. That book is very scarce in its original British first edition with a dustwrapper. May not even exist anymore as such, in mint condition. But anyway, he went on to write about nineteen other mystery novels, many of them with his gentleman detective, Nigel Strangeways. Yes, maybe I should create a gentleman detective and make my own Mother lode.”

“What name you going to call your gentleman detective?” Yves asked stretching his arms over his head.

Duncan noticed the grey hairs creeping into Yves's goatee and imagined him as one of the first explorers up the St. Lawrence, or a Voyageur with a canoe full of beaver pelts. “I don't know, something unusual, like Mortimer Nightingale, Fulwood Williams, Diderot Wilkins, or Ashmole Evans. Yes, I've been thinking of names for awhile. Of course I'm still on the hunt for Poe's Tamerlane.” Duncan said. “Every slim bit of nothing between a few books could be the one, or it could be hiding within a volume of worthless religious sermons. If only we had Dr. Who's Tardis eh? Go back in time and buy 10 copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, 5 copies of Poe's Tamerlane . . . .” Duncan's mind wandered into the realm of fantasy while Yves waited for his return.

“And Boris Karloff's signature, too ciboire!” Yves added. “This came in too,” he said, showing Duncan the grey album cover of André Gagnon's Le Saint-Laurent. “Signed by the man. Not my kind of music, I can't love everything. Have a listen,” and he slipped it on the turntable. “I'll give this to ma chère maman. She likes André Gagnon, Felix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault and those guys.”

“Isn't it odd that we never talk politics?” Duncan said as the soft pop piano music flowed around them as if they were indeed bobbing along in a boat on the St. Lawrence river.

“What do you care if I vote PQ. Got to keep you Anglos in check somehow, criss.” He laughed.

Duncan laughed along with him. “Remember when we were young how they would put the voters list on the telephone poles for anyone to look at, but who you voted for was a secret. Now,” Duncan hesitated with his arms in the air, “the voter's list is secret and sacrosanct and yet people place signs on their front lawns broadcasting who they're voting for. Upside down world it is. And here we are, still friends even with all the politics over the years.”

“What's separatism between friends!”

Their laughter startled the pigeons on the sidewalk in front of the shop.

© ralph patrick mackay