Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fifty-Seven

As Edward Seymour pulled on his double breasted camel hair overcoat, and then arranged his scarf in the mirror, Isabelle Cloutier, the daughter of his younger, and now deceased, former associate at McGill University's Psychology Department, Marcel Cloutier, was waiting for the approaching train at the Atwater Metro station. She stood close to the tiled wall and noticed the risk takers who braved the orange line a mere foot away from the platform edge. They leaned towards the tracks like sprinters at a field race as if their motions would hasten the appearance of the white head lights in the shadowy tunnel. Such a diversity of faces. Every walk of life. She liked the phrase, every walk of life. The early afternoon crowd was a mixture of back-packed and ear-podded students, fashionable office workers, bleary eyed shift workers, shoppers, commuters, older people with groceries, Mothers with strollers. How many languages she wondered? How many Mother tongues were humming away above the collective consciousness of this group alone? And was there a loose thread amongst them, one with suicidal tendencies testing their will to life? It could happen at any station she thought.

With a sound like a raging river and exhalations of warm electric and rubber ions in the displaced air, the Metro train entered the station to the anticipatory manoeuvres of the travellers, their loose hair dishevelled as they sought out the closest proximity to the doors. She followed a small group on to the train and managed to settle herself on a single seat as the rising triadic tones of the train's departure issued from some mysterious location at the front of the train. The notes mimicked the opening of Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. She tapped her feet to the unheard tympani thinking of Kubrick's 2001, A Space Odyssey.

“Prochain station, Guy-Concordia,” a recorded voice of a woman announced.

No one had followed her. She'd been watching. After leaving her office at Greene Avenue and Dorchester, she'd walked through the lower promenade of Mies van der Rohe's Westmount Square, pausing to browse the expensive boutiques in order to watch for mirrored signs of a follower. She'd then taken the underground tunnel to the Atwater Station with only her echoing footsteps to accompany her. A little cloak and dagger at the beginning of the week felt good. She could appreciate its addictive properties. The shot of adrenaline, the sharp excitement, the self-centered concentration.

She generally only heard from Edward Seymour once a year with a Christmas card, so it had been a rare delight to discover a pale blue envelope in her mail box upon arriving home on Friday evening, an envelope that looked like a birthday card with Edward's still distinctive flourish of her first name. Hand delivered. Old school tradecraft. Untraceable.

Dear Isabelle,

I do hope this finds you well.

I have a request that may very well test your ethical principles. I shall leave it up to your judgement whether you can help me or not. I'm not familiar with your clearance for documents and files (or is everything now on some electronic device?) so I will merely proceed with my question. Either way, please destroy this letter once you've absorbed the information.

A very good friend of mine is/was the legal representative for a man named David Ashemore, a former employee of a branch of the Intelligence Services, research I believe. This young man (fifty-three does seem young to me) left instructions with his lawyer to pursue an investigation if he died young under unusual circumstances. He died in the fall of 2011 and the circumstances did warrant a look. His beliefs seemed at the edge of paranoia, but considering his position, there was good reason to accept the possibility he was being targeted in a manner that may have led to his early demise. So my good friend employed an acquaintance, a freelance journalist, to investigate, tentatively, in order to fulfil his legal requirements. This journalist, Thérèse Laflamme (who also uses the name Tess Sinclair) attended the funeral of the young man in early November of last year but wasn't able to glean much from the few who attended. Her attempts at following up the story by interviewing Ashemore's dentist, doctor, neighbours, or anyone possibly connected to him, met with much resistance. She suffered from various pressures working against her. All her regular connections in the journalist business apparently began giving her the cold shoulder. She felt she was being followed, her apartment searched etc. After a while she decided to leave Montreal and settle in Edinburgh having friends there. It began all over again. She then relocated to Bergen, Norway, and it was there she was met with what seems to have been a decisive action. She had in her possession compromising files of some kind that David Ashemore had left behind under the stewardship of his lawyer. She had kept copies on a small computer storage device and this had been stolen from her in Bergen, and then she had been subjected to a mysterious spray which had left her memory impaired. The complete Ashemore files and his journals that were in the hands of the lawyer were also stolen around the same time in a most professional manner.

His lawyer, my good friend, provided me with this background information. He has arranged for her to be brought home to Montreal on Sunday, and I will be seeing her this coming Monday morning for a psychological evaluation. I may be a bit rusty, but I do plan to try hypnosis to see if she can reveal anything that would point towards a reason for her attack.

If she does reveal anything, I do not plan to share this with her. It would be better if she is now seen to be free from such memories. We shall see. I really don't know what to expect.

My request: Any information concerning David Ashemore's life and his professional areas of investigation. It might very well be important to your service if something was amiss. I am really too old for such shenanigans, but the arrow of fate has pointed at me for assistance, so I must do my part.

I will be taking George III for a walk on Monday afternoon down the street to the access path to the mountain. You will find me strolling or sitting on a bench near Redpath Crescent between 2 and 2:30 p.m. Please don't take you car. Public transit or taxi please. Best for all. I can have Mary drive you back. She was kind enough to have dropped off this letter in your box today. If I don't see you, I will assume you have declined (or are away). Quite understandable. I would, however, certainly enjoy seeing you with or without the information.

All my dearest wishes,


She looked around the train car as her memory of reading and then burning the letter faded. The other passengers were in classic Metro mode, reading papers or books, fiddling with smart phones, listening to music, staring at the floor or dejectedly at their ghostly reflections in the smudged windows, the grey and black tunnel with its flashes of light slipping past like the end of an old filmstrip. She wondered if she would tell Edward about David Ashemore's family background. Was it necessary? Did a man nearing his end require but another example of the tragic sense of life? Did he need to know that David's parents were Holocaust survivors? Did he need to know that they changed their name from Auerbach to Ashemore? Who could possibly fathom the depths of their suffering and the reasons behind their choices. What memories they must have shut away like an old oak trunk in a dusty attic.

She joined the pressing crowd to ride the escalator to the light of day like weary miners after a long shift. Outside, breathing in the cool humid air, she hailed a long dark taxi and was whisked away from the the bustle of pedestrians, bicyclists and noisy buses up Rue Guy to the mountain. Easing her head back, she breathed in the scent of artificial pine freshener which seemed embedded in the burgundy plush upholstery, and absorbed the sounds of soothing orchestral strings pouring from the hidden speakers like overflowing jars of honey. From behind the quiet, dark-haired older driver, she noticed the CD case on the built in organiser between the seats, Mahler, Symphony No. 3. Simon Rattle, EMI Classics. She closed her eyes remembering a childhood friend whose Father drove a taxi even though he played French Horn with the Montreal Symphony. She imagined they didn't pay well in the 1960s. Upon turning abruptly to the right onto Dr. Penfield Avenue, she opened her eyes and began to remember her strolls along the street when she was a student at McGill University in the 1970s, a time when the street was still known as McGregor Avenue after the man who owned the land in the nineteenth century. How she would walk past the old mansions then occupied by embassies and dream of living in such grand houses surrounded by books and plants, daydreams that would help relieve the pressures of her student workload. Her Father had been pleased when they renamed the street after his friend, Wilder Penfield. And she remembered during the late 1960s when her parents had rented Penfield's summer home on Lake Memphremagog, not far from the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac. It had been two weeks of endless book reading, fine sunrises, swimming, and sailing. She and her sisters would descend the wooden stairs to the boathouse, lie on the wharf to suntan and try to capture minnows with a butterfly net, explore the wooded lot around the house, watch the clouds pass, and gossip about the handsome teenage boys four houses over. Isabelle breathed in deeply savouring the memories. The black and white photograph of Wilder with her Father signed by the famous doctor was on her RCMP office wall to this day.


Edward Seymour's stature and the erect figure of George III were easily identifiable and she raised an arm in greeting as she emerged from the taxi. Edward approached and kissed her on the cheeks, while George sniffed at her pant legs.

“You're looking lovely Isabelle, so glad you could make it.”

“Me? My God, you're the one who's looking fabulous. Whatever Mary is serving you, I want the recipe.” She took his arm and they slowly began strolling across the street to the sidewalk.

“Shall we walk back to the house for a cup of tea?” he said.

“Yes, that would be lovely. I'm sorry I couldn't get here earlier,” she said, checking her watch to see it was 2:20 p.m.

“Not at all. Perfect timing,” he said squeezing her arm in his. “George has had his outing and we're all content. So then, I imagine the powers that be must be keeping you busy, nose to the grindstone, reports to be written, seemingly endless meetings to attend.”

“Yes, all of the above, and more.” They walked along in silence, George leading the way. “It's a sad story about Thérèse Laflamme. I hope she can . . . recover completely.”

“I do hope so,” he said, as they stopped briefly while George relieved himself rather stereotypically at the red and yellow fire hydrant to let his fellow canines on the street know he'd been out and about. “I imagine she'll be much like a precious fallen vase that's been glued back together. From a distance it will appear fine, but on close inspection, the fractures will be apparent.”

She nodded her head as they made their way up the long sloping sidewalk. “It was fortunate I was home on Friday and received your letter. I was going in to work on Sunday anyway, so I spent the day looking into the Mr. Ashemore for you.”

“I hope you'll forgive me for spoiling your Sunday.”

She laughed. “I enjoyed it. Something different. And now that I'm on my own, I feel I have more time.”

“I was sad to hear of your divorce but as long as you are better off and happy, that's all that's important. And if you need someone to talk to, I have some very nice sherry awaiting. Anytime Isabelle, anytime.”

She gave his arm a squeeze. “Well, I guess I should begin by telling you about David Ashemore's family background. His Father was an accountant and his Mother a bookkeeper. They raised David in a secular household in a modest home in Notre Dame-de-Grace, and he attended Protestant elementary school before being accepted at Lower Canada College. From there he won a scholarship to Yale for an undergraduate degree in Political Science and he continued on for his Masters degree. His interests were international security, multilateral diplomacy, asymmetric conflicts, and he seemed to have had a continuing interest in post-hegemonic global governance. He had various relationships but never married. Near the end of his life he was seeing a married woman five years older than him.”

“Hmm,” Edward managed. “Could that be a possible motive for his early death?”

“As far as I could tell, the affair was not seen as . . . contentious. Very wealthy husband, travelling most of the year, international business, probably had affairs himself. A tolerated secret, or one well kept.” She wondered if she might have to interview the woman. “It seems as part of his job, David was monitoring the latest research and development in science and technology, and how it was being used or misused by international intelligence agencies and filtered down to various special interest groups. Essentially the dissemination of cutting edge knowledge and the techniques of misuse.”

“I am impressed Isabelle. I had no idea you could find out so much about his work.”

“Oh, I have my sources. He wrote many reports and papers. David had been monitoring the research and developments of the manipulation of the brain chemical oxytocin and its relationship with the amygdala to induce a form of amnesia. The ability to induce amnesia in an enemy instead of killing them. A weapon to render them harmless. You can imagine the applications.”

They paused awhile, Edward breathing deeply. “When I interviewed Thérèse under hypnosis she revealed a name,Yumashev. Dimitri Yumashev. Does that ring any bells?”

Isabelle retained her composure. “It could be a lead.”

“She also mentioned the word Eclipses which seemed significant.”

That name did seem familiar to her. E-clipsis Four Ltd . David had mentioned the company in a number of his reports. “Well, those are excellent leads I can follow up. Don't worry, I'll be discreet.”

“Please, yes, I wouldn't want to be stirring up a hornet's nest that will endanger you. It's now in your hands, and I shall try to forget all about Yumashev and Eclipses.”

Thinking it was a good time to change the subject, she ventured into the personal. “So, how is your favourite niece, the translator, Emily is it?”

“Oh, Amelia. She's fine, fine. Thank you for asking.” Edward didn't want to reveal that Amelia was to entertain Thérèse that very night. “She's very helpful and looks after me like Mary.” He was just about to tell her that she had visited him this morning but caught himself. “The life of a freelance translator can be a challenge, but Amelia and Duncan are managing. He's the bookseller if you remember. I hear that world is changing drastically, what with these electronic books and such.” He stopped and gazed upon the autumn wreath and flower arrangements in ornamental urns in front of a slate roofed mansion. “The world is moving awfully fast these days. I don't know how young people keep up.”

Isabelle looked down at George who returned the gaze wondering why they had stopped. “I guess we should envy George here. Your world hasn't changed that much has it George?” she said and stooped to give him a pat on the head.

"Yes, George and I are like snails under the shrubbery. Living up here on the mountain with the rabbits and the crows, above the fray, the struggle. We know it's a battle down there, one that's full of daily efforts of hard-working people trying to make a good life for themselves and their children. And then there's the poverty, the violence, the crime. We hear the sirens. Ah yes, and we're glad they're not singing for us. But, we've had our day, our own struggles." They continued walking up the gentle slope.  "Sometimes Isabelle, I feel morbidly guilty for living so long. Most of my contemporaries have already gone."

Retrieving a birthday card from her inside jacket pocket, she held it before him. "Well, I hope you won't be feeling morbid as you celebrate your your upcoming 92nd birthday! And may there be many more to come." She gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Thank you my dear, very kind of you to remember." And as Edward walked on, he felt as if they were part of a caravan, the mauve envelope in his hand like a vital message for a Queen awaiting in some distant oasis.

© ralph patrick mackay

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fifty-Six

Pulling the thread tightly, Mrs. Shimoda poised the needle above the opalescent button on her favourite teal coloured blouse like a Northern Gannet ready to plunge into the sea, when the doorbell rang. Not wanting to rush the final steps, she set her blouse upon the dining room table and quietly walked through to the living room's front window wondering who it could be. Canada Post? A nervous salesman with a clip board? Resolute religious pamphleteers from the far edge of reason? It was Amelia from upstairs. A welcome sight.

“I'm sorry to bother you Mrs. Shimoda.”

“No bother, please, come in.” She closed he door behind her and invited Amelia into the living room. “Would you like some tea?”

Wondering if she should accept or refuse, she read the signs as quickly as she could, and noticing the shimmering light upon a seemingly completed jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table in the next room, and the open sewing box and a blouse beside it, she decided Mrs. Shimoda was offering tea as a necessary preamble, a courtesy. “No, thank you, very kind of you to offer. Perhaps another time.”

“Please, sit down. Is everything all right upstairs?”

“Thank you.” Amelia sat down on a mossy yellow shot silk armchair. “Yes, yes, we're fine. It's about your previous tenant, though, Thérèse Laflamme.”

Mrs. Shimoda lifted her chin slightly half expecting bad news.

“She's all right,” Amelia added quickly to dispel any possible inference of a violent end in a far away country. “It's just that she's suffered a slight case of amnesia, and her friends thought that by revisiting the apartment and meeting you again, it might help her revive memories and reanimate the past.”

Mrs. Shimoda nodded her head not at all surprised by this revelation. To help her arouse memories, she could lay the original lease forms upon the dining room table, place her black fountain pen with its small images of koi beneath the layers of lacquer—certainly a memorable device—and then replicate the signing ceremony. “Yes, of course. How unfortunate for Thérèse. When do they want to do this?”

“Well, today if possible. Only if it's convenient for you. They're coming over at six o'clock for dinner. ”

She breathed in deeply. “It would be best if Thérèse came here first. I'll prepare for her visit. I'm sure it will help.” She showed Amelia out with a smile waving away her effusive thanks.

Returning to her sewing she looked out of the dining room windows and thought that they could stand there together, looking out at the garden lit by the porch light, and that too might evoke memories. It's difficult enough, she thought, living on the edge of tomorrow, without the past for consolation.


While the clouds dissembled and city hummed, Duncan Strand, or his consciousness, tried to fend off the fatigue of his body by creating little nervous spasms and fits to keep it awake, but his body was weary and dragged his consciousness into the depths of sleep. . . .

. . . he was walking a narrow wooden hallway and coming to a door with a brass plate reading H. M. S. Absolute, he entered and with hands clasped behind him like a visitor at an art gallery, he carefully made his way between low stacks of hardcover books distributed like a miniature maze upon the polished floorboards of the what felt to be the great cabin of an old ship. He stood for a moment looking out of one of the slanted rear windows until, hearing a tingling bell he turned round to see the approach of Søren Kierkegaard and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

“It's odd how these windows are on an angle,” he said.

Søren sighed deeply. “The windows," he said, "being at the back of the ship, must allow for an angle of understanding for we're looking backwards, and looking backwards is always slightly askew.”

Ludwig, his arms crossed in his grey tweed sports coat, with a look of perplexing simplicity stated, “The light reveals that even the dust has its place."

At that moment, Yves, Tom, Jerome, Mélisande, Pavor, Amelia, and Thérèse entered the room, and then his long lost twin, Gavin.

They each took a shot glass of shimmering clear liquid, and raised them as if to propose a toast. 

The next thing he knew, it was night time, and they were on a flank of waste land with piles of rubble and gravel rising behind them, while before them, dark waters lapped a shoreline, and lights in the distance spread upon the water like leaking photons. They gathered round an oil barrel burning with rubbish and old palette wood. Ludwig looked deeply into the flames, and quietly mumbled a few sentences no one could hear or understand. And with that utterance, he turned around and climbed the gravel pile and disappeared from view between the crags in the dark. They all looked at each other with profound confusion. Then they heard laughter as a gust of wind roared down upon them. Gavin then picked out a flaming piece of wood to act as a torch, and made his way up the rubble and gravel pile, and standing atop, he yelled something, which was drowned out by the winds, and launched himself into the darkness. By the time he himself climbed to the top of the gravel pile using his hands to steady him, he could see no trace of Ludwig or Gavin. They had quite vanished away. He then felt his feet slip in the loose gravel and sensed he was falling . . .

Duncan awoke, The Hunting of the Snark falling to the floor with a soft bump. His neck had been lolling to one side, and dribble had rolled down his chin and into his shirt pocket. Breathing slowly, he wiped his lips and face and as he raised his head, the details of the dream began to recede from him like a wave rushing back to the sea, only fragments lingered in the wet sand like polished stones. Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein had been actors in his two-act drama. And Amelia, his friends and others, plus his brother Gavin, aboard a ship . . . then on a shore at night . . .but the details were fading rapidly, ineluctably, frustratingly. He wondered which character in the Snark they each represented: the Beaver, Butcher, Bellman, Baker, Bonnet-maker, Banker, Barrister, Broker, Billiard-marker, and Boots. His profession also began with a B: Bookseller.

He looked down and noticed a lose piece of paper had slipped out of the fallen Snark, and picking it up, discovered two stanzas written with the same fine penmanship as the inscription on the flyleaf:

They sought it with theories and a fine research chair,
They pursued it with tenure and scope.
They postulated facts with utmost care,
But failed with values and hope.

That's why I am here, not lounging back there
Seeking it with letters and chalk.
And now if you'll excuse my silent despair,
I think I will go for a walk.

Letters and chalk. Silent despair. Placing it back in the book to accompany the inscription “To David, From one Snarkophile to another, warmest wishes, ............” and the signature he couldn't make out, the thought occurred to him that if he could trace the writer of the inscription and the stanzas, he might discover an interesting provenance. The inscription lacked a date, but the faded ink, and the fine penmanship suggested it could be upwards of a hundred years old. He returned to his desk and settled it on a pile of books for his personal collection. If he'd known about the sale of the building before the weekend, he wouldn't have been out buying books, wouldn't have found the Snark, wouldn't have had the dream.

He looked over at the painting. It already exuded an aura of bleak suggestiveness.

He clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair, and imagined himself a few years into the future, sitting on bench facing this very spot, now a towering mass of glass and concrete blocking out the sun, and just as he had come across Stuart Grange that day on McGill College Avenue sitting on a bench facing the location of his old bookshop, and they had sat there recreating images from the past, perhaps he too would be joined by a friend and proceed to shuffle the deck of nostalgia and deal each other cards of numbered reminiscences.

Opening his desk drawer to look for a thin booklet with samples of famous author's handwriting, he rummaged through the assemblage of bookmarks, pencils, paperclips, happy-face tacks, screwdrivers, sticky notes, labels, Canada Post custom forms, petrified glue sticks, an empty match box from Davidoff's on Sherbrooke Street, his plastic pin depicting a rabbit on cross-country skies over the number 110 for the Canadian Ski Marathon his younger brother had dragged him into so far back he couldn't remember the year, an old red and gold stiff cigarette pack with Egyptian illustrations: Ramses II filter tip, casino dice with his name on them, a limited edition ten dollar gaming token from the Riviera in Las Vegas from 1996, three Rapier English darts in a black leather case, broken cassette tape holders, and an assortment of CDs. Eyeing David Sylvian's Secrets of the Beehive, he felt it was just what he needed. Forgetting all about his search for the booklet, he popped the DVD drive open on his computer and selected the song Orpheus, then walked over to his mini fridge with the kettle on top and decided to make tea. One could never go wrong with a pot of tea, he thought. Enjoyable when shared, but just as restorative when alone. Better still, a long walk with the one you love, and then a pot of tea. Life always came down to the simple things in he end.


Influenced by Thérèse's condition, and having the afternoon to himself, Pavor had fallen into the nostalgic mood of a flâneur, walking up and down the streets between McGill College and Mackay, observing, absorbing, and seeking the hidden and the obscure, such as the beautiful projecting bay window on the side of a Victorian era home now looking down upon an alley and across at a brick wall of a twenty floor apartment block like a vulnerable eye in the land of the blind, or the particular symmetry of twelve window air conditioners—window shakers he'd heard them called—across a span of three period buildings like punctuation marks, or the unfortunate renovations stripping a building of all sense of uniqueness, but also, on occasion, buoyed by the preservation of a quality architectural specimen, inspired enough to set his imagination off to visualize the street as it used to be over a hundred years ago, a narrow residential avenue of fine townhouses with cut stone facings—city residences of managers, doctors, and widows—with cast iron fences around small front gardens with bird baths, large shade trees, birdsong, horse drawn carriages, busy squirrels, families walking dogs, aspidistras or cats in windows, and tradesmen delivering staples, and then to contemplate the passage of time, as the enlarging city began its commercial encroachment, leading to the transformation of many of the homes into rooming houses, the gradual loss of their Victorian gingerbread details, the demolition of many due to neglect and developers seeking to build apartment blocks or office towers, the survivors succumbing to commercial establishments such as dental offices, jewelry stores, fashion boutiques, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. In another hundred years, he couldn't possibly imagine what would be found.

There almost seemed to be a generational change taking place. The closing of the Mount Stephen Club seemed to mark the passing of the old Anglo elite who had held on to the past as long as they could, now to be revitalized by new money and architectural vision into a boutique hotel for the nouveau riche. Transformation. Change. It was inevitable.

He rested for a moment, his shoulder against the black cast iron lamp post on Crescent Street, the sign for Ruelle Nik-Auf Der Maur above him pointing towards the Sir Winston Churchill Pub and not the damp shadowed alleyway along the side of the building. He conjured up an image of Auf der Maur's hard-drinking cronies with a ladder, screw drivers and a hammer, providing that honorary shift to the sign, and then repairing to the pub for a toast to their fallen journalist comrade, Boulevardier, and raconteur. Then again, it may have been pointing at the pub from the very start. He'd never met the man but had heard stories of his smoking and drinking stamina, and his friendship with the author Mordecai Richler, another man of the world, one likely to be found with a decorative pack of Schimmelpennincks nearby.

One street over, on Mackay, between St. Catherine Street and de Maisonneuve, he stood before the two surviving houses on the block, attached twins in disrepair under the shadows of the modern. It wasn't so much the deterioration and neglect of the architecture that stirred deep emotions within him, as the loss of the rich experience that had existed there in the quiet old world charm of  Café Toman, the Czech café on the second floor of the turn of the century home. He remembered the entrance with the large mirror to check your hair and scarf before scaling the old creaking wood staircase to the landing with its round oak table spread with magazines and newspapers, the hall tree to hang your coat, the gentle classical music coming from the modest speakers, the old prints of Prague on the walls, the tall narrow windows and their muted light, the laughter and greetings of the charming Robert who managed to make everyone feel special and remembered, the descent of his Father George from his nap on the third floor and the overheard conversations in the kitchen in the old language, the delicious borscht or goulash with a little plate of subtle cheese bread fingers baked in special old world forms, the delicate sandwiches, the coffees and cappuccinos, the cookies like the vanilkove rohlicky—a favourite of his Mother's—little vanilla crescent moons dusted with the fresh snow of confectioners sugar, or the irresistible apple strudel with a dollop of fresh whipped cream which would leave one feeling dinner wouldn't be required that night. And of course the hand-made truffles to take home to someone special. For many years it had been his escape, a writer's refuge from the bustle, a place where he had felt completely at ease, he could relax with a coffee and a pastry, think, read, and scribble notes. A place to observe university professors, students, and occasional groups of noisy first timers thrilled with the unusual. But once Robert's Father passed away, he took the end as an opportunity for a new beginning, and closed the café.  Freedom. More time. A new life.

Turning around, he saw the fairly new tea shop in the lower level of the still new Concordia University building, and made his way over. He was impressed with Thé Kiosque's offerings and ordered a small pot of Margaret's Hope and a Chai tea scone, and then sat at the window counter seat, and stared at the sad building directly across. There must be many like him who missed the old café. The deterioration didn't bode well. It looked as vulnerable as a wounded rabbit under a circling hawk. It wouldn't surprise him to hear it had become a parking lot one day.

“Your tea, and your scone,” the young woman said.

“That smells wonderful, thank you.”

“Do you know the story of Margaret's Hope tea?” she asked, seemingly eager to talk on this quiet early afternoon.

“No, but my . . friend introduced me to the tea and I recognized it on your list, so I ordered it.”

The slim dark haired young woman with numerous rings in her right ear, rested her hands on the top of a nearby chair and began to tell him all about the tea. “It was a small tea plantation owned by a man who lived in London who had a younger daughter named Margaret. On one occasion she visited the garden plantation and was charmed, but on her return to England, she became ill and died. The Father named the tea garden Margaret's Hope in her honour.”

“That's very sad,” Pavor said, “but a lovely story.”

“Supposedly, visitors to the old tea estate have felt or seen her ghostly presence in the old home, on the verrandah, or watching over them while they try to sleep.”

“A delicious tea, and a ghost story. Thank you for telling me. A very interesting background.”

She smiled and began to wipe the table running the length of the window and told him to just ask if he needed anything else.

He thanked her as he gently poured a sampling of Margaret's Hope, and looking across at the derelict structure, he tried to suppress the thought that his life was surrounded by ghosts.

© ralph patrick mackay