Pavor signed the books, finishing each by blowing upon the page to assist the drying process of the ink as it was absorbed into the smooth, seemingly fibreless paper. “These may not last as long as the Oxtoby & Snoad there,” Pavor said, “but long enough I imagine.”
Duncan, resting in the high-back reading chair behind him, caught the reference to longevity like a loose kite string dangling before him.“Yes, what I've learned of the publisher is they insist on the best quality of binding, paper, ink and thread. I read an article on the Internet about their choices. Supposedly their leather is derived from the best skins available, tanned slowly with weak solutions of Sumac as was the custom, followed by vegetable dyes for a small selection of colour variation, and then finished off with an oil or beeswax glaze. They should last . . . forever. The paper, thread and inks are of the finest quality. Non-acidic of course.”
Pavor turned his chair around to face Duncan, crossed his legs and leaned back. “As was the custom?”
“Yes, the tried and true methods. But as I'm sure you know, the booming demand for reading material in the Victorian age influenced the unfortunate changes in methods, the introduction of sulphuric acid in the tanning process, the use of non-vegetable dyes, the splitting of skins and the faking of expensive grains by embossing and blind-stamping, and of course the use of acids in the paper production. A double whammy eh? Yes, the middle-class explosion of reading influenced the search for cheaper and quicker methods of production, and voilà, red-rot in leather, and more seriously, the brittle disintegrating paper. Shelf-life diminished. Things fall apart.” Duncan swept his hand around the room with its overloaded bookshelves, the gilt titles glimmering in the lamp light. “Crumble & Dust rather than Oxtoby & Snoad.”
“And now we have digital. The ghost in the room.”
“Oh, I like that, the ghost in the room.” Duncan smiled. “I think digital is wonderful, but it worries me too. Millions of books held in a digital embrace, a distant humming of hard-drives in warehouses thrumming with cooling systems. Seems tremendously vulnerable.”
“Humming and thrumming,” Pavor said. “Sounds like Melisande's description of a Chakra meditation class.” As Pavor made a mental note to remember this for future use, he noticed two hard-shell guitar cases leaning in the shadows of an open closet door. “Speaking of sounds, Melisande mentioned you were involved with music too.”
If not for Duncan's thick dark glass frames, Pavor would have noticed the crow's feet spread towards Duncan's ears with the mention of music.
“Yes, but it's been awhile."
Duncan found Pavor to be very sympathetic, a valued possible friend, so he decided to open himself up, reveal the soft vulnerable past with its bruised failures. “My brother Gavin and I were into music when young. Our Mother started us off in the late 1960s in piano lessons with a neighbour up the street, a Mrs. Shellstone and her calico cat named Calypso. I had more fun playing with Calypso than the piano. Then we discovered guitars. We left the piano lessons and Calypso behind and began singing covers of the Everly Brothers, The Beach Boys, The Beatles. When a bit older we formed a group called The Splices, and we were starting to compose our own stuff, but Gavin and I, though twins, were so different, so opposite, a strange inverted symmetry. When I listened to music, I never paid attention to the words, it was always the tune, the melody, the architecture if you will. I was the instrumental guy. Although he had no use for books, he was the one who came up with the lyrics.”
“That's fascinating,” Pavor said, his writer's mind sifting for possible fictional applications of these revelations.
“Then Gavin began listening to Punk music, Iggy Pop and the Stoogies, New York Dolls, The Clash, The Ramones, and early punk bands from Toronto. He could feel their words and their energy while I just heard noise. We were splitting apart. Ironic for a band named The Splices. I remember I wrote a piece of music, and I called it 'Composition in D,' and Gavin called it 'Decompostion,' providing the extra vowel, his added touch.” Duncan laid his head back and laughed quietly. “Such a character. He'd be listening to Joe Strummer, and I'd be listening to Joe Pass. I'd go to the Rising Sun club to hear Jazz music, and Gavin would find his way to some grungy graffiti grotto to hear the latest I don't what.” Duncan shook his head. “Makes me sound like a snob, I know, but I never judge other people's tastes, we're all so different. Diversity is the great key to life isn't it?”
“Yes, that's good, diversity the great key to life.”
“Joe Pass was amazing. Did you ever catch him at the Rising Sun perhaps?”
“No, missed out,” Pavor said, wondering if Duncan was going to bring up his brother's death.
“I was sitting so close once, I could have polished his shoes. A short man, male pattern baldness, a moustache, a three piece suit, and you think, an accountant, a salesman or a barber. Just him on a chair, his Florentine cutaway sunburst Gibson—at least I think it was a Gibson guitar—and his breathless liquid bebop stylings. One of my favourite of his many recordings is The Paris Concert, where he plays with Oscar Peterson, and Niels-Henning Pedersen. The three P's in Paris”
Pavor took out a small leather pocket notebook and a pencil and began to write. “The Paris Concert? Joe Pass?”
“Yes, check it out. My good friend Yves, the bass player for our old band, runs Disques Deux Côtés, he might be able to get his hands on a copy for you. So anyway, after Joe Pass, I discovered Pat Metheny, Al di Meola and on and on as it goes.”
Pavor nodded his head, “Disques Deux Côtés,” he said as he wrote down the name. Underneath he also wrote, 'humming, thrumming, digital embrace, M's Chakra meditation class, ghost in the room.' “So, did The Splices break up?” and as he asked the question, he felt like a psychiatrist with a notepad, Duncan, his patient in the comfy chair.
Duncan sat up and leaned forward as if about to impart a whispered secret. “I became more involved in books. I was working at Grange Stuart's bookshop and studying Literature at McGill, and then . . .” Duncan caught himself from saying 'Gavin died in a car crash' as he remembered Pavor's wife and child had died in such a manner, a secret he was not to know. “Gavin died unexpectedly and the group fell apart like an old book. I'm still friends with the other band members, but we've moved on, created our own lives, families, kids.”
The silence between them held their respective secrets in balance. Duncan was thinking of having argued with Gavin over a girlfriend the day he died, and the discovery from the autopsy that he'd been high on a psychedelic drug, facts he'd kept to himself all these years. Pavor, though staring at the bookshelves, was examining the familiar landscape of his aggravated guilt, travelling the nightmare loop of his unmollified regrets, all while the shadow of Gavin's car crash stretched out to meet the shadow of his wife and daughter's car crash and the horrible visualization of their interaction.
“Is this where the séance is being held Sir?” Thérèse said, her head peeking in the door, Melisande behind her with a smile.
Duncan's wit was aroused. “The medium and the message, we've been awaiting your arrival,” he said, getting up and bowing to them. Thérèse left them with a sharp laugh and Pavor got up and joined Melisande in the hallway leaving Duncan to rearrange books and turn off the lamp thinking Thérèse was certainly a vigorous and quick-witted amnesiac.
“I'd like you to announce our engagement to them,” Melisande said, squeezing Pavor's hand. “The timing's good and I'll be inviting Amelia and Duncan to the wedding too.”
Pavor nodded, “Yes, yes of course.” And as they walked down the hallway arm and arm, he had a déjà vu moment, but one he quickly dismissed as a synaptic hiccup. He breathed deeply like an actor in the wings, and began searching for words. Speech, speech, speech, the spoon against the champagne glass, the guests craning their necks, the dry coughs at the back of the room.
“I can't recall,” Pavor began, when everyone was before him in the living room, “the source of the quote, but as an author of suspense and crime novels, it's always stayed with me, that is, to make a good story one should have a charm, a murder, a song and a ghost.” Was it Melmoth the Wanderer? Shakespeare? Brockden Brown? Poe? “But I would like to append this list, à la Jane Austen, and add . . . marriage.” He waited a few moments as everyone exchanged looks with Melisande. “Yes, I've asked Melisande's hand in marriage, she has accepted me, doleful though I am, and we do hope you will all join us for our special day, which I believe,” he said looking at Melisande, “we will determine in the nearest of futures.”
Hugh, overlooked and underfoot, tried to comprehend the loud congratulations, soft embraces, and the chatter of emotions that filled the room, but found himself overwhelmed, and so retreated to the dining room where beneath the table's three ring circus with its trilogy of pizza toppings, he sniffed out a camouflaged morsel of succulent smoked meat on the oak floorboards. Chewing, he looked at them with fading interest.
“So,” Duncan began, “in tying the knot, are there any dangers involved in marrying a novelist?”
Melisande looked at Pavor with eyebrows raised in embarrassed expectation. “Ah, well,” Pavor said, “I do tend to fall asleep with pencils on the bed. I can't tell you how many times I've awoken with a sharp pencil lurking in the sheets. Could be dangerous. Yes, could be.”
© ralph patrick mackay