Sunday October 28, 2012.
There had been as many seats left on the flight as deadly sins. Pavor Loveridge, the last to board, had wondered what sin his aisle seat had represented. He had settled upon covetousness. Common enough. Though looking around him, gluttony appeared to have gained adherents. He had imagined a tug-of-war between the sins and the cardinal virtues with Gluttony as one anchor versus Diligence as the other. How could the virtues not lose? Pavor had eased his head back into the padded headrest and had imagined the straight-laced virtues holding the heavy twined cord in their chaste hands before letting it drop sending the seven deadly sins cascading backwards with a sling-shot effect, a tumble of legs and feet in the air, the rope like a serpent coiling and swirling about their concatenation of primordial cries. The virtues could win. It was all about a shift in perspective.
Pavor awoke from this comforting illusion as the flight attendant approached with the beverage trolley. He preferred the aisle seat. It allowed for the ease of stretching, the ease of washroom access, and the ease of observation. Other passengers could be vital source material as they travelled the aisle like white mice in a psychology experiment. Descriptions of physique, facial features, clothing, whether they looked at the other passengers as they passed, or kept their eyes ahead, could all be of interest and value to him in his fabrications upon the page.
The embarrassing voice of a macaw quietly murmured from his midsection. He was still peckish. A coffee and a croissant would help. The retired couple beside him—ideal travelling companions in their tweedy calm crossword and bookish preoccupations—had been dozing but awoke to wave the stewardess off and had resumed their siesta. Pavor sipped his coffee, the seven virtues and sins imbibing along with him. Seven, seven, seven. He remembered a story Mélisande had told him, a religious legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Something about seven Christians escaping a pursuit—of who he couldn't remember—finding refuge in a cave only to be held captive as their pursuers blocked the entrance with rocks. The seven had fallen asleep, and when they awoke, two hundred years had passed. One of the first time-travel narratives he had thought. Rather Rip Van Winkle-ish. Was seven an integral number to that tale he had wondered? Ephesus, Pergamum, Ctesiphon, Byblus, Persepolis, Ur, Trebizond, Petra, Caesarea, Jericho, Ballbek, all those extraordinary ancient cities with romantic notions carried in their syllables like life blood, whose sorrows and pleasures could never be measured by a handful of their dust. Ephesus, she had told him, had been the centre for the worship of Artemis, and she had stirred his interest by telling him how a British archaeologist had discovered a cache of jewels and statuettes—the offerings to the temple—under the pedestal of the statue to the goddess, a tale that had conjured up the enchantment of youthful reading. Perhaps he should add a bit of swash and buckle to his latest Rex novel. Lost treasure beneath a Montreal building. He licked his fingers of their buttery croissant crumbs, his inner macaw having succumbed to silence.
He finished his coffee feeling he'd the energy to read the few pages he had managed to write over the last three days. Time had been limited. He had arranged for someone to look in on the house while he was away for a week, and then he'd driven into Trieste to sell his Richard Francis Burton curiosity to the antiquarian bookshop, a welcome surprise for the dealer whose dusty eyelids had come to life as he listened to the story of its provenance and discovery, a volume, the dealer had said, would be a rare companion to the author's A History of Farting. Pavor had felt like he was playing a role, speaking the lines as he followed the script of a one-act play, a farce called The Haunted Book. It seemed inevitable, as if the book had been waiting for a lost soul to flounder by and discover its existence. He'd played his part, and been well-paid for his efforts. He'd also taken time to visit with Tullio in the hospital to leave him a replacement copy of his book he'd irrationally bestowed upon Carina as if she were his long lost daughter come to life in an ancient Italian fort's drainage duct. Tullio had been alone, and he'd lied saying he was family to gain beside access. Standing over him, book in hand, he had cast his shadow over Tullio's comatose body like the shadow of an imagined past joining his own shadow of guilt. When touching his arm, feeling the cool pasty skin, he had recalled the visit to the morgue to identify Victoria so many years ago. Her arm had been smooth as an alabaster statue, and as cold. There had been no words in that sanitized hell. Language had imploded into darkness, a darkness he'd been drawing from ever since. But Tullio, Tullio was in stasis, between dimensions, words strung together could be dropped down to him like a rope in a deep well, something to grab on to, something to hold. He had managed a few words of encouragement, whispered entreaties to get better soon with the added incentive of further Rex novels in the works, one with an Italian mathematician and his motorcycle.
Pavor retrieved the printed pages from the travel bag at his feet. Here he was travelling from Trieste to Montreal to surprise Mélisande, while his character Rex was flying from Montreal to Prague to surprise Dashmore. He looked across his companions and out the window but didn't see a plane. Only a faint glimmer of light supporting a horizon of clouds like burnished pewter.
Rex Under Glass – Part Four
Sitting upright, the sleeping mask in his hands, Rex wondered what it must have been like to face a firing squad. Were the blindfolds secondhand, soiled and blood-specked? Did they really provide you with a last cigarette? He thought of that romantic television series he never tired of watching on DVD, Reilly, the Ace of Spies. Reilly was finally captured and shot in the back while walking towards the border. A better way to go. A false sense of hope. The more he thought about the blindfold, the more it seemed it was for the benefit of the firing squad than of the condemned man. A preventative measure to keep the soldiers from being distracted by the humanity behind the eyes. If he were ever held before a firing squad, he felt sure he'd decline the blindfold. Defiant, he would capture a last glimpse of the world as he collapsed, the falling sun, the passing cloud, the beetle in the sand. A beau geste.
Putting the sleeping mask away in his carry-on bag, he stretched his legs out in the aisle. He preferred the aisle seat for the additional convenience of appreciating the approaches and departures of the attractive attendants. He liked a woman in uniform. Crisp neat suits, crisp neat smiles. Men had, unfortunately, stumbled into the profession, tripping over the new century and finding themselves the equal opportunity fantasies of high-flying women. But soon, he felt, all flight attendants would look like armed border guards, or perhaps even androids. The romance of flight had withered for him. A wink and a fling. Ephemeral fantasies nipped in the bud.
The flight attendant, his latest infatuation, was approaching. Smiling, he asked, “Excuse me, how long till we touch down?”
Blonde, petite, she braced herself with his seat as if they were at sea and whispered it would not be long now, the winds were with them.
“Thank you. It's good to know something is,” he said winking up at her. Fantasy. His life was a series of fantasies.
Pavor looked up from the pages. The light snores of his seat companions were a syncopated distraction, and possibly an offstage chorus offering its opinion on his latest work. It was at such times that doubt, like a leaden blanket, would wrap itself around him leaving him weak with inertia, making him feel as heavy as solid granite, yet light as a balloon the merest edge could pop. He had to fight off the sensations otherwise those unruly twins, atrophy and entropy, would render him senseless of all nimble aspirations. When work was going well, he often felt like he was holding an old mirror before him, slowly scratching away the reflective coating off the back with his nails, working from the edges towards the centre, leaving the face and the eyes for last, until finally, seeing through the glass clearly, he would offer his manuscript to his agent and the whole process would begin again. He had created euphemistic terms for his literary life: the prose and coins of his narrative life, the whorls and burls of his publishing firm, the legal brocades of Bramble & Thorne his lawyers, and the dues and don'ts of Chatter & Prattle his literary agents, all helping him to become the unavowed author of his own forebearance, and allow him to submit his latest creation to be sepulchred in a storage space devoted to the remnant belongings of his wife and daughter, an archive of finite grace, a hidden shrine with a modest monthly fee.
He looked up at the ceiling of the plane with its oddly carpeted surface and remembered what Mélisande had called him once. She had called him the arranger of disorder, a term he had liked very much, but one that was not original to her, having taken it from a song by one of her favourite singer songwriters, Suzanne Vega. To lift a phrase from a song and apply it to someone out of context, was always contentious and unfair, but he thought the phrase apt. He had sensed a negative barb inherent in its use, but Mélisande was unaware of the source of his disorder enough to make him feel like he was a sailor lost at sea, and she, an inquisitive sea nymph offering guidance. It hadn't been that long ago, they'd walked a seven circuit labyrinth she had made in the sand on an empty beach. He had experienced a cleansing stillness, but one that had worried him. Would he lose his attachment to the prefigurements in black and grey he'd lived with all his life, from his initial creation of his rogue art dealer Ormond Develle in his Olivaster Moon, to his latest Rex Packard diversions?
He looked down to his papers and resumed his reading:
The taxi ride along Evropska to the Diplomat Hotel, had been swift and uneventful. The sidewalk advertising bill-boards for such things as Volkswagon products, the banners for major American movies featuring comic book heroes, the graffiti scrawls, and the signs for MacDonald's and Shell gas stations all provided a soft entry to Prague. Even the street pole banners with the word 'welcome' in ten different languages were reassuring.
Vernon Smythe had arranged for one night at this modern hotel. In and out, he'd said. A favourite phrase of Vernon's. In and out. After finishing his registration, the front desk clerk, a formal young man whose shirt collar seemed rather tight, gave him an unmarked slim envelope saying it had been left for him. Thinking it was instructions from Vernon, he opened it while ascending to the seventh floor.
So glad you arrived. I look forward to meeting you.
I know you must be tired, but after a short nap and a scrub, please meet me today at 3:00 o'clock at the base of Petrin tower. I know you're somewhat familiar with the city, but nevertheless, I suggest you get your Hertz and make your way down, Prevnostni, U Brusnice, Jeleni to Keplerova and at Phorelic drive round to the Strahovska and walk the rest of the way. No need for the funicular. No need to go through the Mala Strana.
We have much to discuss. Don't worry. All will be revealed.
Rex held the stiff card in his hand sensing he'd heard that phrase often enough. All will be revealed. A favourite of Vernon's. He turned over the card to see the image on the front, a winged angel holding a golden branch. The back of the card revealed it to be an allegorical figure of Victory on Niklas Brucke.
© ralph patrick mackay
© ralph patrick mackay