The couple who got out of the silver coloured four-door sedan exhibited a vitality in their body language, a bounce in their steps, buoyant and brisk. She watched them as, arm and arm, they made their way along the sidewalk, then stop, laughing together, turn around and make their way back to the car where they retrieved three large pizza boxes from the rear seat. She recognized them now. Melisande and Pavor looking very much like young lovers. Turning around from the living room window of her old apartment, Thérèse found Jerome and Hugh staring at her as if waiting for an answer to a profound question. She knelt down and called Hugh over and patted his head and long back. Such an odd creation she thought. Humans finagling with genetics to create a functional companion for hunting. “You're a cutie, yes you are,” she said in an unselfconscious childish voice. Then looking up at Jerome, she added, “the apartment seems so different with all of their lovely belongings, but the views from the windows haven't changed.” The doorbell rang. “And that hasn't changed either,” she said standing up and walking towards Jerome who handed her a glass of wine. “How do you find the apartment?” she asked.
He kissed her forehead. “Much like you, slightly changed, but the views and the sound of your voice . . . the same. You're still my dear Thérèse, my dear Tess of Varennes.”
Duncan and Amelia hovered in the kitchen. They'd heard the bell but remained in place leaning against the Labrador granite laminate counter-top, arms crossed, looking down at the Greek key pattern in the floor tiles as if mapping out a route of escape. When they had answered the door to find Thérèse before them, Duncan's expression had been transformed from one of inquisitive pleasure to a mask of pallid stone. It was as if he had just opened the door to his Mother's ghost. Tess Sinclair, the young woman who had attended the funeral visitation for his long lost friend, David Ashemore, was standing before him. After the awkward introduction, Duncan looking vacant and troubled, had pulled his wife into the kitchen on the pretence of checking the stove.
“She doesn't seem to remember you,” Amelia said. “Follow your nose, play it by ear.” She took a few steps forward, turned to the right, and then walked in a half circle as if following the figure of a question mark. “I'll try to get Melisande into the kitchen to ask her if she knows the name. Alright? Don't worry about it.” She squeezed his arm and marched off reluctantly to open the front door.
Duncan caught his reflection in the bevelled antique mirror over the small kitchen table and sighed. What connection did she have with David? Why the pseudonym? What was she after? Did she have a multiple personality disorder? A twin sister? He lifted his eyebrows with the thought and sighed again. An amnesiac with a mysterious life, and a painter who likes to moonlight as a Dickensian street character! He adjusted his glasses, swept a hand through his thinning forelock, took a deep breath and made his way down the hallway to play his part, supportive husband, helpful friend, forgotten shadow.
Like slender birch trees on the edge of a forest, Jerome thought. He tried not to rest his eyes on Amelia's random grey hairs as he listened to her discuss the challenges of translation. He nodded at the mention of a well-known local translator of literature and looked down at his glass of wine.
To capture the fine silver strands in her hair, his Kolinsky red sable fine point brush would be ideal.
Were the grey hairs signs of stress and worry?
Roistering the pizza cutter in the air like a surgical device, Duncan looked down upon the remnant Vegetarian, Hawaiian and Reuben pizza slices and thought maybe just half of a Reuben would clinch the meal for him. He breathed in the aromatic warmth of tomato spice with the hints of pineapple and smoked meat, as he quickly ate while standing at the dining room table. He noticed Amelia and Jerome deep in conversation as they sipped their wine before the living room window, and he wondered if she was seeking out information about Thérèse who was now in the kitchen with Melisande accompanied by the sounds of plates being scraped and water running in the sink, evanescent evocations of her past tenancy. Was she responsible for the strange manuscript he found in the bottom kitchen cabinet? He wiped his lips with a table napkin and after pouring more wine for himself, approached Pavor who was perusing one of their living room bookshelf units.
“Nice set of Mark Twain you have,” Pavor said as he closed the green cloth volume of Following the Equator.
“It's not bad,” Duncan said, “but it's not up there with The Autograph Edition of 1899, or the many other finely bound limited edition sets which were issued. Do you like Twain?”
“Not especially, no. But when I was in college I wrote an essay comparing Twain's early story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, with the that old cartoon featuring Michigan J. Frog, remember that, One Froggy Evening, all cornerstones, continuity and largo al factotum. I also brought Poe's tale The Businessman into the essay. I've forgotten what I concluded, if anything.”
“Hmm, sounds like quite an essay. Where did you go to school?”
Pavor hesitated, took a sip of wine and tried to decipher the meaning behind the random overheard phrases issuing from the kitchen: 'unreliable perception,' 'someone who can't forget anything,' 'frustrating days.' “After Selwyn House, I attended Marianopolis CEGEP, and then McGill. What about you?”
“Followed in my Mother's footsteps,” he said. “That is, I attended the same elementary school in N. D. G.as my Mother, Kensington Elementary, which had been built in 1910. She went there in the mid 1930s, and my brothers and I followed in the mid 1960s.” His mind drifted as he recalled walking the same way to school as his Mother, following the sidewalks with awkward strides to avoid stepping on the cracks, past Knox-Crescent-Kensington Presbyterian church where his parents were married and where they attended as a family—all cubs, choirs, Christian homilies and committees—then over one block to the exterior stone stairs of the school, up the inner grand wooden staircase creaking into the darkness above, hands slipping along the darkened bannister polished by countless hands of students and teachers. . . . Duncan was looking towards his wife and Jerome but his focus was inward, distant, foggy.
“That's very special,” Pavor said, thinking of his own Mother's distant education in Prague. More overhead kitchen phrases, 'I thought I detected a spring in your step,' and 'what other secrets?'
“Ah, yeah, well, the school was turned into condominiums about twenty five years ago now,” and as he said this, he realized for the first time how greatly condominiums seemed to purse him like shadowy demons in a story by M. R. James. The older apartment building where he catalogued the 'Dark Room' had probably been transformed into condos as well he thought. “I remember hearing that a former teacher had been one of the first to move in.” Duncan sucked a tooth where a peppery remnant resided in the receding gums around his molars. “She must have had fond memories of the classroom. I can imagine her with her back to the old windows, a yard stick in her hand, a piece of chalk in her apron pocket, glancing towards the mantel clock,” he said gesturing dramatically with his hand.
“Sounds like the makings for a Gothic suspense story,” Pavor said.
“It's all yours. You could call it, The Classroom. . . .” They both smiled. “Anyway, then it was French Immersion for grade seven. I was in the second year of that experimental program. They plucked students from various schools—God knows how they made their choices—and threw us together, mixed us up, tossed in some spices and herbs and hoped for the best. It was a great year. I fell in love with my teacher, a raven-haired beauty with Cleopatra eye makeup and a weakness for long velvet dresses. When I look at the old classroom picture, I can see she was lovely and buxom and quite broad hipped, but it was her eyes, they got me every time. She was quite beautiful in a Sophia Lauren kind of way. I remember we had to memorize French poetry and recite it in front of the class, and when I had my turn, I made the mistake of looking over to her desk. She was sitting at an angle towards me, and when she looked up, I stared into her eyes and just forgot the poem cold. I'm sure if someone had asked me my name I would have floundered. Embarrassing for me, but very amusing to my friends. Yes, it was a good year.”
“Sounds more exciting than my old Harris Tweedy teachers at Selwyn House.”
“Yeah, I bet. Then after a local high school, it was Dawson College and McGill, but I'm about six years older than you so our paths would never have crossed.”
“I remember seeing you at Grange Stuart Books back in the day.”
“Yes, yes, I remember seeing you through the glass windows of the inner office where you sat with piles of old books stacked around you. And a big orange cat.”
“Yes, Lafcadio, a stray I adopted. A one-eyed lovable old thing. That reminds me, I have a few of your books I'd like you to sign. They're just in the study if you want to follow me.”
“Certainly, no problem.”
As they passed the kitchen, Pavor looked in to see Melisande and Thérèse sitting at the kitchen table in quiet conversation, Hugh lying beside his water dish.
“Are your ears burning, P. K.?” Thérèse asked with a wink.
A slight blush came to his face. Did women really exchange secrets so willingly? “Yes, red hot” He winked at Melisande and left them quietly laughing.
Pavor sat down at the desk before the small stack of his novels to sign, but his eyes were drawn to the fine binding of an Oxtoby & Snoad publication, a surprising rarity, resting on a side table. When Duncan went in search of a desirable pen, Pavor couldn't resist the draw of the dark brown supple leather with gilt tooling, the marbled endpapers, deckled edges, the fine type choice and handsome title page, The Shadow of Night, Containing Two Poetical Hymnes by George Chapman, with Notes and a Critical Essay by Noel Welwyn Gough. He fanned the pages and breathed in the rich scent of the printer's ink which aroused the memory of visiting with the eccentric Sebastian and Claire Bishop, the proprietors of Oxtoby & Snoad. Sebastian with his waxed moustache, and the inevitable ink under his fingernails, 'eclipsing what was clean for what was real,' he'd said, always seemingly in search of the choicest of papers, and Claire, followed around by her chubby Corgies, forever making tea and quoting obscure lines from obscure poets, her fair hair swept up in a bob like some kind of avant garde flower arrangement.
“I haven't gotten very far with that one,” Duncan said as he entered with the pen. “Chapman's meaning is a bit obscure, though I imagine the essay and notes will help.”
“Lovely binding. An obscure publisher, a bit scarce for showing up in Montreal. How'd you come across it?”
Duncan felt like he was fly casting, whisking the line out to the cold shallows to see what he'd come up with. “Noel Welwyn Gough is a good friend of Amelia's uncle. He was in town recently and mentioned this book. It belongs to her uncle. Just a loan. Yes, I know, never a lender nor a borrower be. Have you heard of the publisher before?”
“Chapman,” he said as if he'd not heard Duncan's question, “was believed to be the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's sonnets. Connected with the School of Night and all those melancholy souls shrouded in the mysteries of the universe.” He looked down at the open volume in his hands and began to read aloud. “Now let humour give seas to mine eyes, that I may quickly weep the shipwreck of the world: or let soft sleep (binding my senses) loose my working soul, that in her highest pitch she may control the court of skill, compact of mystery, wanting but franchisement and memory to reach all secrets.” He closed the book and placed it back on the side table. “Sorry, couldn't resist picking up such a fine looking book.”
“Understandable. Actually makes me want to give it another go. Maybe it's best read aloud.” And he thought of poor Amelia bearing with his recitation before bed. “Here's the pen I was looking for.”
“Just my name, or should I inscribe them to you?”
“An inscription please, yes, to Amelia and Duncan would be very nice, thank you.”
“Words and rhymes,” Pavor said as he began his inscription on the flyleaf of Olivaster Moon, “over four hundred years old and we're still drawn in by the desire for . . . connection, connection with other times, other meanings, other perspectives.” He paused, the black flourishes drying on the page. “The world moves on, and science makes such works seemingly redundant, and yet we're still fascinated, still given to opening ourselves to other possibilities and subtleties of understanding, other selves, other worlds.”
Melisande thought Thérèse still retained her tenacious drive and perception. It reminded her of Clio with her cat-nip mouse, holding fast, biting, scratching with the hind paws, not letting go. Deep instinct strong and unbroken. How she could tell they'd been intimate before picking up the pizzas was like a Sherlock Holmes moment. Was it that self-evident? They hadn't planned it. Pavor picked her up from work, they drove home to feed Clio and order the pizzas over the phone, and then they found themselves stumbling towards the bedroom in a modern dance choreography, shedding clothes between embraces, spinning, bending, falling. And that glimpse of Clio sitting in the open door, watching them before turning away in disgust at the sight and sound of their lovemaking.
“It feels like home again,” Thérèse said, as she came back from using the bathroom. “I could close my eyes and walk around the apartment and imagine the past.” She sat down at the kitchen table and they both looked at themselves in the bevelled mirror, with its reflections of energy and light, and both felt it could be a year ago, the two of them still in a pas de deux with their respective partners, Jerome with his brush, Pavor with his pen.
Melisande nodded her head in acknowledgement, “Yes, that's good.” But her mind was elsewhere, She was recalling Edouard Lock's dance film, Amelia, with its breathtaking choreography. She'd gone to see it with Jerome years ago when Thérèse was away on some assignment. And the next day they'd met at a Sushi restaurant on Boulevard St. Laurent and there was the choreographer, Edouard Lock, all dark eyes and handsome striking angular features, having lunch by himself, a can of Coca Cola beside his plate of sushi, a combination which she thought much like his creations, juxtapositions of classical and modern, intimate and frenetic, the interior wastelands of emotion revealed.
© ralph patrick mackay