“Someone's in the flat,” she said. “It could be Jerome.”
Arthur Roquebrune stood with the recycling bin in his hands—a bounty of glistening plastic, glass, paper and cardboard, the dry tailings of their life, their public offering to the spirit of the curb. “That's excellent my dear, thank you.” Thinking it unwise to venture blindly, he thought he would use the telephone as a first step. It might not be his tenant.
Hoping it was Thérèse, Jerome picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Jerome, I'm very glad to hear your voice. Are you busy?” Mr. Roquebrune nodded to his wife as they stood together in the kitchen and she nodded back breathing deeply.
He was tired, hungry, and in the middle of his take-out Thai noodles. “Ah, no, not really, I'm just having a bite to eat. Is there something wrong?”
“I'd like to come round and talk.” Arthur pursed his lips hearing Jerome hesitate. “It concerns Thérèse.”
“Is she alright? Has—.”
“No, she's fine, but I must talk with you. I'll let you finish your dinner. I can drop by in . . . let us say thirty minutes?”
Jerome's thoughts were now as dishevelled as his hair. “Sure. Right. See you soon.”
The minutes dissolved into seconds as if Roquebrune's request had drawn him into a tighter orbit. He stood before his back window looking towards their large well-lit house. Such normality and comfort. The darkness of early night permeated the scene before him, while the amber warmth from their windows cast positive shadows of light outwards. It was like a Baroque nocturne, a chiaroscuro contemplation.
A dark form emerged from the backdoor, and then he saw Mrs. Roquebrune, her husband's double, framed by the light as she watched her husband descend the stairs and then stop and turn towards her. Words were exchanged and then she closed the door. Arthur switched on a small flashlight and made his way across the lawn. The scene aroused an image of a gypsy among the hedgerows at night. Had he painted such a picture? He couldn't remember.
The flashlight bobbing in the darkness sparked an unpleasant memory and he closed his eyes and turned away from the window. He had been young, naive. It had been a warm summer night, and he had been late for a visit with his girlfriend who lived on the other side of Mount Royal in Notre-Dames-de-Grace, so, to save time, he had decided to take the mountain cinder path with his thin-wheeled ten-speed bicycle to avoid going around it. Little had he known that the mountain with its circuitous paths became a haven for delinquency at night, and little had he anticipated the absolute darkness of the path between the heavy tree growth on either side. He had been half way up the long gradual sloping tunnel-like path when he had noticed sinister lights ahead, bobbing like fireflies. Then the voices, anarchic, drunken. Laughter too, drunken, anarchic. The lights had been the burning embers of cigarettes. He had picked up speed—drawing all his strength thinking of his girlfriend waiting for him to arrive—for he had now fully realised he'd made a serious mistake in venturing up the mountain at night. His bicycle tires biting into the gravel and dirt and the strain of his grinding gears had alerted the unseen rabble ahead of him that an utter fool had made his or her way into their dark labyrinth. They were like unseen shadow-sirens luring him to destruction with their shouts and pleas to stop. It must have been a fear-inspired shot of adrenaline, and luck, that helped him evade their grasp as he passed their faceless voices. One of them had pursued him, swearing, cursing, but fear and love, fear and love focused his body's efforts. The moment he had heard his pursuer falter and give up had been one of a deep visceral sense of survival. He had continued unabated, cursing himself along the way for being so stupid, until he'd arrived at the stairs on the other side of the mountain. Coasting down past the enormous homes and mansions of the rich and well-established, past their finely landscaped properties and expensive cars in their driveways, past the depth of riches and security, he'd imagined what could have happened. He could have been beaten, stabbed, robbed, left unconscious in the dirt like roadkill, and, all the while, people in those homes with their faces immobilised by television sets, or doing the laundry, talking on the phone, or reading a book, would have been oblivious. It might well have been his ghost coasting down the streets to his girlfriend's home, arriving at the light over the door, passing through the wall like spirits do and watch over her worried concerns as she waited for the . . .
The doorbell rang.
* * *
Mélisande had arrived at Amelia and Duncan's front door resolved not to falter under the weight of the days' revelations, but when she had stretched her finger towards the bell, she had panicked. A memory of visiting Thérèse at this address with Pavor in tow had briefly undermined her resolve. She had been about to turn around when seeing Mrs. Shimoda smile at her through the window while watering plants, she had smiled back and regained her composure. A strange serenity had then overcome her as she had climbed the stairs listening to Duncan's small talk, his thanking her for bringing the computer bag with the strange Latin manuscript pages, Hugh's adorable face at the top of the stairs, and the light piano and vibraphone music tinkling in the apartment above her, setting a mood, creating an inviting ambience. The invitation to dinner had been prescient. She had been in need of the company others to avoid that lonely warm bath of self-pity. They had greeted and hugged her, brought her a drink, and after a few words, had left her alone while they continued dinner preparations in the kitchen. The apartment had felt smaller than she remembered. Books and antique furnishings dominated the space. Thérèse had always lived with few belongings and a much more modern decor, an Ikea decor, an Ikea lifestyle. Duncan and Amelia's art work was decidedly old-fashioned: Prints, Veduta of Florence and Rome, small oil paintings of flowers in vases. She had browsed their bookshelves in the living room, noting the mixture of English and French titles, the tendency towards Literature with a capital L, so different from Thérèse's non-fiction books on history and social causes, Lonely Planet travel guides, foreign language dictionaries and diverse magazines.
She had stood over their stereo turntable watching the record revolve slowly—Crystal Silence by Chick Corea and Gary Burton—mesmorized by the stylus, a still point travelling the grooves of a darkly carved labyrinth of sound. The longer she had looked at the motion of the long playing record, the more fantastical it seemed to her that sound could be imprinted into vinyl, stranger even than digital. She had browsed the small display of records, perhaps their choice for the evening, Hiroshima, Pat Metheny, Sade, Keith Jarrett, Roy Hargrove, Brahms.
The evening had been as smooth, pleasant and filled with golden warmth as the butternut squash dish Amelia had prepared. They had finished the bottle of wine while reminiscing and telling stories. Duncan had recounted a story of visiting the cemetery and happening across a misspelling of a headstone inscription, and Amelia had coaxed him into telling a story of how The Splices had been well known for splicing songs together for their cover arrangements, even providing Mélisande with a small vocal sample of how they used to slip back and forth between Fun, Fun, Fun by the Beach Boys and Kraftwerk's Autobahn. Feeling relaxed and at ease, Mélisande had told them about the collapsing shelf and the handsome young student, and when Amelia had teased her that Pavor might get jealous with her carrying on in the stacks, the wine had softened her reaction and she had replied that she was starting to feel like the old man in the sea, and Pavor was the fish. They had laughed lightly. This had prompted Duncan to relate that Zane Grey had been a great sport fisherman and had written books on the subject, a comment so dry, flat and non apropos that, after a heavy silent pause, an irrepressible fit of laughter had overcome them, and they had fed off each others laughter in a triadic rhapsody, an eye-watering cathartic release of all their pent up anxieties and concerns.
Mélisande now stood in the hallway looking at a copy of John Donne's Courtier's Library that Duncan had found interesting enough to mat and frame. No. 9. Quidlibet ex quolibet; Or the art of decyphering and finding treason in any intercepted letter, by Philips. 'Anything from anything.' She didn't know John Donne had written this brief list of satirical book titles. No. 3. Ars excribendi omnia ea quae vere ad idem dicuntur in Joanne Foxe in ambitu denarii, autore P. Bale. That was an odd one she thought. To write down everything within the area of a coin, a penny, all truths told to John Foxe. A jab at Foxe's fabrications in his Book of Martyrs no doubt.
“The translations are on the back, not that you need them,”Duncan said, advancing down the hall to stand beside her and look at the curiosity upon the wall. “I like number 8.”
“Number eight,” she said, “'Pythagoras Iudaeo-Christianus, Numerum 99 et 66 verso folio esse eundem, per super seraphicum Io. Picum.'” She smiled. “Yes, that's a good one. 'The Judeo-Christian Pythagoras, in which 99 and 66 are demonstrated to be the same number if the folio is inverted, by the angelic Pico Della Mirandola.' Snap. I guess he was puncturing a few Hermetical balloons.”
“Number 32 is quite good. 'Quid non? Sive confutatio omnium errorum tam in Theologia quam in aliis scientiis, artibusque mechanicis, praeteritorum, praesentium et futurorum, omnium hominum mortuorum, superstitum, nascendorumque; una nocte post coenam confecta per D. Sutcliffe.'” She laughed. “A confutation of all errors in Theology and the sciences and mechanical arts, by all men, past, present and future, drawn up one night after supper by Doctor Sutcliffe.” She searched her memory to recall a Matthew Sutcliffe who'd been a severe critic of Roman Catholics.
“Perhaps you two can come up with some satirical titles while I attack the dishes,” Duncan said as Amelia joined them.
“Duncan and his book lists,” Amelia said. “Are you still creating your own list of apocryphal book titles?” she asked, standing beside Mélisande smiling.
“Um, yes, and perhaps one day I'll complete it with long textual notes in an overtly scholarly style, and have it properly printed up for an amusement to roll into large homemade Christmas crackers. My favourites so far are: The Interpretation of Drams, or, Whiskies I Have Known, by Brandy “Shot Glass” Evans, Travels With My Ant, or the Peregrinations of Elwood Spinkle and his Pet Ant, and Eastern Simpsonianism, or,The Profound Manifestation of Homerologists in Outer Mongolia by Goforth Wheeless. I'm working on textual notes to each title in the style of Pale Fire."
Amelia faced Melisande and rolled her eyes. “Come along, we can talk in the living room while Duncan cleans up. He enjoys it bless his heart,” and she kissed her husband on the cheek before following her friend to the front room. Hugh was at a loss at who to follow, but opted for the Amelia and the visitor who carried the scent of cat on her slacks.
Dishes were rarely a chore to Duncan. He had his most fertile thoughts while washing dishes, taking a shower, or brushing his teeth. These tasks were so well-ingrained after 53 years that his mind was let loose to be creative. Who knew what would pass through his thoughts. What fool's gold might glitter like the real thing.
© ralph patrick mackay
© ralph patrick mackay