As Melisande Bramente came to the corner across the street from Café Hermeticum, she noticed Jerome talking to a roughly clad young man with a knapsack and a dog, an image which oddly reminded her of a pastoral scene of a squire talking to a hunter and his hound. Not wanting to interrupt their conversation, she turned and approached a store window display of trendy winter-clad mannequins, their weightless legs in knee length leather boots, their heels lightly positioned in a bed of plastic snowflakes, their long leather coats with fur collars up and colourful paisley silk scarves stylishly zhushed, and their sightless eyes gazing over her head, and she remembered how unnerving she had once felt when she waited in front of such a display window on a Sunday morning, 6 a.m., not a soul about, the figures had appeared sad, eerie, and with their stilted animated gestures, ultimately absurd, prisoners behind glass like tired commuters with frozen expressions, their large eyes looking beyond the glass as if having spotted an imagined future in a multidimensional mannequin world. Seeing her reflection in the glass, she adjusted her scarf and watched the reflection of Jerome parting company with the young man and make his way into the Café.
Although she thought the placement of mirrors added a depth and a positive Feng shui, she could tell there was a lack of absorbent materials in the decor, all wood chairs, tables, stone walls and black and white tiled floor. She entered and was enveloped by the clatter of dishes and the hums, hisses and whines from the espresso machines, and though the high pitched squeal of the steaming of milk made her teeth hurt, the babble of voices and the background jazz music enlivened her with a fresh sense of otherness. Such a change from her quiet desk at the Religious library where students padded about in their socks, her co-workers whispered, and a sneeze was a welcome sign of life.
The heart-shaped surfaces of their soy lattes jiggled as they carefully approached a table near the window, a process which reminded Melisande of the egg-and-spoon races of childhood picnics, stirring up fleeting images of those other church rituals, three legged race, limbo, horseshoes.
“It's good to see you,” Jerome said, placing his jacket on the back of his chair. “It's been a while.”
Melisande nodded. “Yes, we've all been busy with our own things.” She sipped her latte and looked out the window. “It's only Friday December 7th and we're already nesting for the winter. Thanks for meeting me.”
“So, how are you and P. K. doing these days?”
“He's fine. We're fine. He sends his apologies for being so busy with his novel.” She dipped her spoon in the frothy surface and scooped up a portion to taste. “Over dinner last night he told me he thinks his characters live more than he does. They're out and about experiencing life, and he's stuck in his apartment, at his desk, in front of his computer screen. 'Shadows against the wall' he said.”
“At least he had a taste of Trieste.”
“Yes, Trieste,” she said somewhat wistfully. “Oh, we just heard that Tullio, the young man who'd crashed his motorbike and fell into a coma, is now awake and recuperating in the house Pavor was staying in. The owner of the house is his close friend from the same university, and Tullio's grandmother lives a few houses away, and she'll be bringing him homemade soups, pastas, and such.” She lifted her shoulders. “So it all worked out for the best.”
“That's good to hear,” he said, thinking that Tullio would now be looking at that garden gnome Pavor had described to him, the gnome he'd written about in the postcard limerick.
“The reason I wanted to talk to you was that I had a visit from Thérèse this week. She was having a blood test at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and she popped by the library to see me as she was passing.”
“Did she tell you?”
“Tell me . . . what?”
“I proposed. She's accepted.”
Melisande smiled and touched his hand. “That's wonderful news Jerome. I'm really happy to hear that. When did you ask her?”
“Two days ago.”
“Ah . . . that's wonderful. That's so wonderful.” Smiling, she continued to rest her hand on his.
“So . . . what did you want to tell me?”
His marriage proposal had been unexpected. It complicated her own revelation, and she couldn't think fast enough to find a substitute. “Ahh . . . well,” she said sitting back, “as I said, she just dropped by to see me since she was passing. I was busy, so I asked her to sit at my desk while I helped a student, and . . . well, she happened to see a page of Pavor's latest manuscript which I'd been rereading in my spare time, and when I returned, she was staring ahead with a frozen expression on her face, her body stiff as if she'd been turned into a tree. 'David Ashemore,' she said. 'I remember now.' And then she got up to leave. She said she was fine. Just a memory had come back to her. Nothing to worry about. She had to meet her Mother downtown and it was nice to see me. She gave me a hug and smiled and was out the door.”
Jerome, his mouth agape, looked across at her hands cupping her latte for warmth, a whisper of steam rising from edge of the foam. “What day was that?”
“Tuesday morning. Yes, Tuesday morning.” She could tell his eyes were looking inwards, searching the permutations of time to see whether Thérèse's recollection of David Ashemore might have influenced her decision to accept his hand in marriage. They sat quietly while the complex rhythms of Charlie Parker's tenor saxophone overlapped and weaved the silence between them.
“I was just concerned, you know, that . . .Thérèse might have remembered something traumatic. I wanted to know she was all right.”
“No, she's . . . she's good, fine. Actually, she's been more like herself these past few days.” He sipped his latte and looked out the window. The young man with the dog had emerged from around the corner and had sat down with his back to the wall.
“Would you consider,” she began, hoping to shift the conversation away from the past, “making it a double marriage with us on May 18th at the McGill Chapel? There will be so few people attending. No one from Pavor's side of the family, too far for his Mother, and only a few from mine. It would be lovely to have you join us in the ceremony.”
Shifting his head to one side, he looked at her as if he was judging the beauty of a vase or a statue. “I'll ask Thérèse what she thinks, but I feel she'll go for it. Sounds good to me. We won't be having many family guests either. Though I was thinking of a small reception at my friend Pascal's art gallery, Gallerie d'Art Crépescule. What do you think? Would that be ok?”
“Sounds like it would fit our budget. Wine, cheese, nibblies, nothing too formal. Yes, that sounds just right. Talk to Thérèse and then we'll get together for dinner sometime. I hope she thinks it's a good idea. It would be lovely for us all to share the day.”
Jerome nodded, then looking past her, raised his chin and lipped a silent hi to an acquaintance behind her. “She's been staying with her Mother in Varennes, and writing a few articles for a small local paper. Her Mother's actually happy we're getting married. Even to a painter like me.” He smiled broadly. “She'd like to see Thérèse settle down.”
“Mrs. Laflamme should feel lucky to have a future son-in-law like yourself,” she said. staring at his hands stained with remnant pigments deep in the creases and whorls of his fingerprints. “How's your painting these days?”
He checked his watch. “In a few hours the portrait I've been working on will be picked up and delivered, so I'm feeling good. Ready for some of my own work for a change. Something original I hope. Oh, I almost forgot, Pavor left this CD booklet at my place.” He pulled it from his coat pocket and placed it beside her cup. “A local band I dragged him to see on his first night back from Italy.”
“Rough Draft. How appropriate. Two bachelors on a night out eh?” She laughed. “Would they be good for the reception?”
Jerome shook his head. “No, I don't think so, too loud. The art gallery can pipe in light background music unless you have something in mind, a jazz combo or a classical trio.”
“I guess we can figure that out over dinner.”
Reduced to monosyllables and silence, they each sipped their coffees and looked out the window at the street view outlined in the welcome light of the diminishing day.
She wondered, as she looked at the lengthening shadows across the street, if marrying Pavor would soften his protective shell, loosen the stiffness at the corner of his eyes, deepen his vulnerability and open him to writing about the death of his wife and child. She could see them walking a labyrinth together, his tall figure before her taking each step slowly as if learning to walk, step after step, occasionally loosing balance, feeling dizzy, feeling lost. Pausing, she too would pause, and then follow him on to the centre.
He could see the dog resting his chin on the young man's knee, and a hand held out as a woman passed. It was going to be a cold winter he thought. Why didn't Thérèse tell him about her recollection? Now he would have to wait. He couldn't ask. Not now. If she wanted to let him know, she would. He would hold her tighter when she stayed with him on the weekend. Kiss her more passionately. Listen to her more attentively. He'd paint her portrait. A cozy setting, sitting by the window reading a book. Late afternoon shadow and light. Domestic scene, Saturday, December 8th, 2012.
“Jacques Futrelle,” he said quietly to himself, leaning back against the bookshelves in the Sir Gawain section of the book stacks. He opened the book in the middle and gently snapped it shut sending a fine spray of dust into the air which hovered briefly before descending like a whale's exhalation to the taped and labeled boxes near his feet. He'd finished boxing the F's, all the Farjeons, Farnols, Farrells, Faulkners, Feinsteins, Feurbachs, Ffordes, Fieldings, Fitzgeralds, Flauberts, Flemings, Fords, Forresters, Forsters, Forsyths, Foucaults, Fowles, Freuds, Froudes, Fryes and Fuentes and others in between, but a remnant of Futrelles remained. A dilemma: start a new box, or add them to the beginning of the G's? Perhaps it was a sign. He'd always wanted to read the work of this author. The Chase of the Golden Plate by Jacques Futrelle. Might as well start here he thought. He flipped a few pages and read the dedication: To three woman I love: Fama, and Mazie, and Berta. He turned to the first chapter and read the first sentence:
Cardinal Richelieu and the Mikado stepped out on a narrow balcony overlooking the entrance to Seven Oaks, lighted their cigarettes and stood idly watching the throng as it poured up the wide marble steps.
Perfect escape reading he thought. He left the Futrelles on the shelf and looked towards the G's, his eyes skipping from Gaddis to Garcia Marquez, Garnett to Gaskell, Gass to Grass, Gernsback to Gibson, and then he slowly scanned the Gissings, Goddens, Godwins, Gogols, Goldings and Greenes. An empty box awaited, but he felt lightheaded, short of breath. Taking off his glasses, he rubbed his eyes. Dust, he thought, he just needed some fresh air. He selected a handful of books and bending down to place them in the box, he noticed the works of Robert Graves, specifically The White Goddess in a pale green Faber & Faber paperback edition. Slipping it out from between the author's Watch the North Wind Rise and New Collected Poems, he fanned the pages and breathed in the special scent of the paper and ink thinking of his first reading of the book when younger, the years when he was deep in the works of comparative mythology, enlivened by the books and lectures of Joseph Campbell, and seeking out authors in the Bollingen series, Bachofen, Eliade, Jung, Kerényi, Newman. Feeling a tightness in his chest, and overcome by a sense of claustrophobia, he sought out the narrow red floral runner rug in the central aisle between the stacks, a carpet that used to be attached to the stairs in his parent's home, a well-worn carpet upon which he used to sit, listening, thinking, following the patterns with his eyes and his fingers. Unsteady on his feet he looked towards the blind porcelain angel holding the open book in her out stretched arms, and thought he saw the great scholar of comparative mythology standing there as if guiding him on a museum tour, one hand in his tweed jacket pocket, the other gesturing towards the angel, his throaty voice discussing the lost powers of the pagan Goddesses. Nausea overcame him. He collapsed on the carpet, the bookshelves spinning around him with their gilt bindings a colourful blur. Was he suffering from an aneurysm like his Mother? A ringing in his ears and a darkness pressed down upon him.
He opened his eyes and he was on the beach once again, the beach where as a child he'd stubbed his toe on the sandstone rock with its perfect hole. He looked down and the book he'd held in his hand was now the lost amulet. Bringing it up to his eye, rough stone against his smooth skin, he scanned the horizon. A lyric from his earliest adolescent attempts at songwriting passed through his mind, Let your summers' breeze take me by the hand . . . a full moon seemed to hover over the horizon, blindingly bright through the weathered orifice, bright as the beginning of light at the birth of the u . n . . i
The phone rang. After the seventh ring, the old-fashioned answering machine's message played in the silence of the bookshop: “You've reached Lafcadio & Co. Bookshop. If I can't find it, Lafcadio can. Please leave your message after the beep and we'll get back to you. Thank you. Vous avez bien fait le numero pour Librarie Lafcadio & Co., s'il vous plaìt, laissez votre message après la tonnalité. Merci.”
“Hello, Mr. Strand. My name is Jonathan Landgrave of Landgrave & Landgrave, Notaries. I represent a client who is currently involved in the condominium development. My client was unaware of your bookshop on the premises, thinking it was occupied solely by the cordage business. It's also been drawn to his attention, that you were of service to him many years ago in preparing a special catalogue of a book collection in his possession. With this in mind, he would like to extend his hand in in a gesture of assistance. If you are interested in selling all or a portion of the stock of both businesses, he would be pleased to acquire them at the going rate. If you could arrange for a catalogue overview of your stock in both businesses, their estimated retail values, and what you would consider a reasonable purchase price, we could meet at my office to discuss the proposition in detail. We look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me at this num . . . .”
Melisande sat at her desk rummaging in her purse for her lemon lavender lip balm. Applying it, she noticed Pavor's CD booklet Jerome had given to her. Out of curiosity, she looked Rough Draft up on Google, and finding numerous bands with the name, narrowed her search by adding 'Montreal.' Finding the webpage, she clicked on the link and up popped a black and white site designed with letters in different fonts and scripts with the band's name across the top in bold with a treble clef in place of the letter G. Headers beneath listed News, Tour, Store, Music, Photos, Lyrics, Connect, and along one side, all the social media buttons. She clicked on photos and looked at pictures of the band performing at Le Bar Prufrock last month. The musicians seemed very young. She didn't see Pavor or Jerome amongst the attendees, but she did recognize Tom Culacino, Duncan's friend who worked down the street in the science building. Clicking on Music she read the list of songs from their eponymous album:
Thread of Love
Mary Mad Maud
Phone Me Persephone
Merry Mary Marry Me
Muse in a Man's World.
She was about to click on the last song when Manon, her co-worker approached. She closed the window and returned to her database.
“Did I catch you looking at wedding dresses?” Manon asked, with a wink.
Jerome was surprised to see both Bartholomew and Thaddeus at his door. He noticed the latter was holding a neatly folded Hudson Bay blanket as if it was an offering. For a brief moment, the thought crossed his mind the blanket was really for him, something to wrap his dead body in as payment for the unexpected tryst with Lucrezia, their employer's wife.
“Come in, come in. Good to see you guys again. How are you doing?”
They ignored the question, their eyes levelled at the fine white cardboard box with the dimensions of a painting. “Is this it?” Bartholomew asked pointing to the box.
“It is. I've packed it well so there shouldn't be a problem with transport. It's surrounded in a protective veil of fabric cushioned with styrofoam edges and housed in this special cardboard box I made for it. I have a large plastic bag you can put it in it you like. Will it be going to a framer first?”
“No, they have an antique frame waiting. Mr. Landgrave asked me to give you this envelope. The final payment. And our employers would like to thank you for your excellent work.”
“Thank you. Just doing my job. I hope they like it.” Jerome sensed they were both more abrupt and business-like in their manner towards him, making him wonder if Thaddeus had disclosed to his brother the details of his having dropped Lucrezia off here a few weeks back. He held the door open. “Oh, Bartholomew, I just wanted to let you know I'm getting married in the spring.”
Thaddeus had already descended the outer staircase and was opening the trunk of the car, and his twin brother, holding the painting in one hand, turned around on the outdoor landing, smiled, and said, “Congratulations. When's the big day?”
“Oh, it's not for awhile. May 18th at the McGill University Chapel. We'll be having a small reception at my friend's art gallery after. We'd be pleased if you would all join us.”
© ralph patrick mackay