The small coin rose up high above them flickering with a crescent of reflected light—whether merely wavering back and forth or fully rotating they couldn't tell in the dismal street lamp's glow—before reaching its acme of freedom in the cold December air, a moment that would likely decide its future before its descent. Heads they would go to Hurleys, tails, to Brutopia, and if they flubbed the catch, and it dropped to the slush and snow at their feet, they would go to the Madhatter, the five cent coin a donation to the distant spring thaw when some keen-eyed waif would perceive it as a coin of incremental value and pocket it carefully with its kind. Whether it was the dimness of their surroundings, the chill in their fingers, or the rowdy Concordia University students who passed them making a joke about referees and the Montreal Alouettes, they missed the catch. Madhatter it was. Crossing the street, they settled their thoughts upon the warmth of a corner seat, a pitcher of beer, a mound of crispy hot onion rings, a dish of steaming chicken wings, and the pretty face of a server who could probably take out an unruly customer with a flick of her serving tray.
“My stomach's been growling all afternoon,” Tom Culacino said, bringing a rough-edged onion ring to his lips. “I don't think I had lunch.”
“Tabarnac, that's what you always say.” Yves poured beer into their glasses. “Growling all the time your stomach. It's like a little animal down there. Feed me, feed me.” They laughed. “Remember that song by Dunc's brother, that punk anthem with da growling stomach?”
“Hmm, how can I forget. I think it etched a little place in my brain forever.” Tom looked to the scuffed wood floor, and began to tap his foot while recalling the lyrics. “I don't know, but I have a hunch, day to day's no poetry. As they say, there's no free lunch, our stomach's are growling with poverty. It was the repeat of those last five words over and over that ground itself into the consciousness of the crowd, their heads bobbing like those plastic novelty drinking birds.” He selected a chicken wing and held it over the plate as if contemplating a chess move. “I used to wonder if Gavan's break away band, The Spliced Off, would have gone anywhere if he hadn't died.”
Yves concentrated on the appetizers, hoping to avoid one of Tom's digressions on the nature of names and their statistical anomalies.
“There are some lovely multi-syllable names on the roster of the CBC these days.”
Yves was dipping and crunching, munching and sipping. He gave Tom a “hmm.”
“Pia Chatapati, Ian Hanomansing, Paolo Pietropaolo, Ann-Marie Mediwake, Martina Fitzgerald, and Anna Maria Tremonti which just gallops along. Such lovely names.”
“Thomas Culacino works too,” Yves said, in the hope this would lasso Tom's run away thoughts.
“Yes, that does seem familiar.”
“I wonder where Dunc is?” Yves said checking his watch. He then took out his smart phone and dialled the bookshop. Placing a finger in his other ear to overcome the loud music from the sound system, he began to shake his head. “Just got the answering machine. Maybe he forgot.”
“Yeah, it's possible. He could be at home with a glass of wine in one hand, an open book in the other, Amelia nearby likewise, Hugh at their feet, and a piano sonata tinkling in the background.” Licking his fingers, Tom looked towards the door. “Though if he's on his way he'll find us. I tried to convince him to get a cell phone, but no, he says he doesn't need one. Too expensive.”
“I bet he went to Hurleys. He likes that triangular corner table in the front.”
“Yes, he likes that corner. Snug as a bug in a rug.”
They looked up as they heard three young women enter. The three graces stood for a moment, hesitating in their expensive coats, boots and handbags as if they'd expected an Alice and Wonderland interior instead of the rather seedy no frills pub before them. Tom and Yves exchanged looks expecting the women to turn around and deprive their sad eyes of a welcome sight, but the trio found a table and ordered pale ales.
With a voice slightly louder than before, Yves began, “There I was last night, watching les Canadiens on the tv, and Céline was looking at a magazine on fashion eh, 'Look at this,' she said, shoving this magazine in my face, 'a handbag that costs $9,000 dollars.' Tabarnac, a handbag for $9,000! I told Céline that would cover the cost of that new roof we need. Handbag! Roof! Crazy.”
“Yes, but it's all relative. That kind of money to the movie star is like 90 bucks to us. Milly bought a new bag recently for about $70 and I thought that was a lot. Her money though. I told her it was lovely.”
“But $9,000 dollars? What did the designer do? Hire a private jet to fly to the Amazon to kill the animal for the leather? Then travel to the Himalaya to find the rare bird for the rare colour to dye the leather? Then get someone to weave the gold thread to stitch the bag together? A roof is tar paper, wood, nails, shingles, man hours, blah, blah, blah, profit added in. Understandable. But a handbag? C'est incroyable.”
“You forgot the generator and the portable radio blasting 80's hits to keep the roofers happy.”
They laughed and glanced over at the young women who were talking into each others ears seemingly oblivious to their loud conversation about handbags and roofers. They were working their smart phones, their safety lines to the wider world, and Tom wondered if they were tweeting about their exploratory excursions into the grottoes and warrens of Montreal's pub life. They began to take selfies, having fun, smiling, laughing. Youth he thought, so much more connected and sharing. As a computer geek, albeit an old one, he felt it was progress. He gnawed on a chicken wing thinking of his twenty year old self in 1978, a time that had offered the novelty of Walkmans and chaos theory, Fortran punch cards and fractals, pocket Instamatic cameras and Apple IIs, digital watches and DRS-80s. The slide rule, ruled, but the future hadn't come quick enough.
“Tristan's into shredding now,” Yves said, changing the subject.
Tom dragged himself back from the past. “Shredding?”
Yves mimicked the style of guitar playing by running his left hand fingers quickly up and down an imaginary fret board. “Like you know, metal guitar, what Randy Rhoads was doing in the seventies, but faster. Tristan wakes up, eats his Shreddies and those little Oateo's or whatever for breakfast, and then he practises the shredding. Sounds like scales to me. Céline bought him the headphones so he could hear himself, and we don't have to.”
“I thought he was into computing?”
“Yeah, yeah, he still wants to be a geek billionaire, but one who is cool, you know, one who can shred like his heroes, those oddballs, weird guys with names like Buckethead, Bumblefoot, and zillions of others. Mon dieu, there's like eight year olds on the Youtube shredding away like masters.” He shook his head in astonishment.
“Yeah, crazy fast times we live in.”
While they continued to diminish their plates of appetizers, Tom was thinking of the books he liked to read, postmodern, speculative works, pages thick with rapid, metaphorical riffs, ones that reminded him of the guitar virtuosity of a Joe Satriani whose riffs not only impressed, but moved, not only shook, but stirred. It was all in the emotion funnelled into the slide in and slide out, the pull off and hammer on, the melodic overlay on the rhythmic underlay. “I'm sure Tristan will go from scales to adding some emotion. The rough edges of youth are mellowed with age and experience aren't they? Look at us?”
“Hmm, yeah, mellow, like when I shovel the snow in front of my shop, and I'm fine, but an hour later, I bend over to pick up a pencil, and bam, there goes my lower back, eh, sacrifice!”
Tom laughed. “Yup, I know that feeling. Surprizing what reaching for a thumbdrive can do to you.” He looked at his watch. “Maybe we should phone Dunc at home. He's already a half hour late.”
“He's got a lot of books to pack, but, he as said, he has to do that himself.” Yves withdrew his phone and began to dial. “One thing you can say about Dunc, he knows how to pack a box of books.”
“Yes, but he'll welcome us when the heavy lifting comes round.”
A sacred geometry of soap bubbles floated above the sink, an emblem of some distant harmony beyond everyday life. Melisande gently blew the bubbles towards Pavor who waited with a fresh drying cloth before the wood dish rack, and he too added his breath to their trajectory and together they watched their fairy-like progress as they rose and fell towards the floor between them, attracting the attention of Clio sitting on her haunches in the act of licking a forearm to wash her face.
“I was thinking of a having a labyrinth walk on the Sunday after the Saturday wedding. I could make one of my seven circuit birdseed classical labyrinths. Depends on the weather of course.”
“We've walked labyrinths together in the rain before.”
Melisande ran a soapy sponge around the edge of a plate. “Yes, but I've never created a birdseed one in the rain. I'd be wet right through. Anyway, perhaps I could create one at Pavor's friend's art gallery if it has a room big enough. Easy to sweep up birdseed after.”
“True. Nice fit with an art gallery too.”
“Walking the labyrinth would help everyone shed their habitual thinking, reawaken their centre balance, overcome their self-consciousness and open themselves to each other more fully. A new beginning for everyone.”
“It would be wonderful.,” he said, giving her a little kiss on the top of her head. He dried a plate with solemn clockwise motions. “I really am glad you asked Pavor to join us on the day. Hopefully Thérèse will agree.”
“I hope she's all right.”
“Yes, I feel responsible for triggering her involuntary memory. I shouldn't have used the fictional name Evan Dashmore. Jerome told me it was too close to David Ashemore, but I couldn't resist the evocative symmetry.”
“Maybe it's for the best. Jerome said she was more like herself. Maybe it was just what she needed.” Handing a bowl to Pavor, she imagined herself watching them all walk a labyrinth together, but then the field of vision shifted up and she rose like a soap bubble and looked down on them walking and could see they were really all walking in closed circles around each other, circles within circles, no access to each other, like the rings around some planet. “I had the oddest dream last night,” she said.
“Tea with the Queen?”
She laughed. “No. I was on a plane and in front of me was the actor Colin Firth, and beside him was a woman with a child. I figured they were his family. Then I fell asleep on the plane and dreamt I was in an absolutely enormous old house, rooms upon rooms, and a vast open gallery and entrance as well. I sensed my sister was there but I didn't see her.” Melisande stopped washing, and taking a towel, dried her hands and rested, leaning on the counter.
“You were dreaming within a dream?”
“Yes, I've never dreamt I was in a dream and then falling into a dream before. Anyway, we sensed someone was coming home, and Colin Firth showed up and was in a bad mood. He went straight to the smallest room in the house, a book-lined study and locked himself in. I went up to the door and there was a peep hole which allowed me to look in, and he was sitting at a desk, surrounded by books.” She looked down at Clio who was now in a yoga position licking her right foot.
“Then what happened?”
She looked up at him with moist eyes. “I was back in an enormous open gallery, full of sunlight, and I was twirling around and around and around.”
“Wow, that's quite a dream. Colin Firth eh?”
Dipping another bowl into the soapy water, she smiled. “The poor actor must be in many women's dreams. Mr. Darcy and all that.”
“Ah, right. That reminds me of my own dream last night. I was in the old public library you used to work for before McGill. I had two pencils and was trying to sharpen them on that old-fashioned wall mounted pencil sharpener, but they kept snapping, grinding improperly. I ended having pencils with squared ends instead of points, and so I returned to the large high marble topped circulation desk and began to make a list. I think it was groceries of all things.” Pavor tilted his head sideways trying to recall the details, details as elusive as a handful of fog. “All of a sudden the library was full of people, and the man at the desk, who seemed to be my double, began to sing opera. No one reacted. I went to the front door, the aria following me. Next I was in the metro, but had just missed the train, and, remembering a bus could get me where I wanted to go, I made my way up and caught the bus, but it was soon apparent it's route had been changed. I got off and began walking, thinking of the street I was supposed to be on, a street I dream about often, have dreamt about for years, one with the same shops, ones that sell antiques, books, flowers. I've often dreamt of entering the bookshop and browsing the shelves, picking up and handling volumes, their colour and titles palpable with felt existence, but it's a street that doesn't exist in reality, only in dream, only in my dream memory.”
Melisande washed the cutlery and then rinsed the small handful before giving them to Pavor. Their dreams seemed divergent, desperate, the beginnings of two constellations swirling towards each other. “I sometimes dream of that old library,” she said. “Dreams of finding people wandering at night when it's supposed to be closed. Anxiety dreams of having forgotten to lock the front door. I go up to them and tell them the library is closed, but no one hears me, they sit there looking through me, they walk around like ghosts. I haven't worked there for years. Places stay with you. We carry them inside.”
© ralph patrick mackay