Mrs. Shimoda sat at the dining room table performing her monthly Saturday morning ritual of going through her purse, purging it of loose change, bills of sale, old tissues, slips of paper with appointment reminders, crumpled grocery lists like shadows of every list made and every one to come, pink post-it notes with numbers for fashion patterns desired and notions required, individually wrapped candies from restaurant visits with her son, ATM bank receipts as thin and smooth as India paper, and the inevitable dross of dusty lint in the seams of interior pockets. Hesitating, she withdrew a small strip of cloth in a pale shade of purple, one she had brought to the fabric store to seek out the right buttons for the blouse she'd been making; she rubbed it between her right thumb and forefinger, and recalled the Sunday afternoon she wore it to her grandson's birthday party, an afternoon overflowing with moments of gratitude and pleasure, moments of lucid smiles and gentle laughter no camera could possibly capture. She placed it on the table beside the loose change, and in doing so, shuffled a few coins off the edge with her sleeve. She heard them fall and noticed one rolling in a long arc towards the corner cabinet like a rogue car wheel after an accident. With a sigh, she made her way over and bent down on her knees to look underneath, and as she reached in to sweep the ten cent coin out, she saw the rough side of a jigsaw puzzle piece nestled behind one of the front legs. Picking it up, she recognized the shape. She turned it over to the shiny side glazed like a porcelain bathroom fixture, and there was the hand of the geisha holding the parasol, the missing symmetrical jigsaw piece reaching out to embrace and complete the image with the other 999 interlocking fragments she no longer had. Her son had returned the puzzle to the shop seeking a refund. She could hear his laconic explanation, 'defective' he would have said, 'missing a piece'. She looked down at this now redundant fragment in the palm of her hand thinking of a compass, a delicate hand holding the shaft of the bamboo oil-paper parasol, the thumb pointing North.
She couldn't conceive how it found its way under the corner cabinet.
Back at her seat, she began to return items into her purse: wallet, keys, pens, a vintage compact with an image of pale flowers which reminded her of an Aubusson carpet, lip gloss, a notebook, a package of tissues, a comb, a folded blue nylon tote bag in its pouch which mimicked her dark blue and white embroidered omamori (a gift from her daughter-in-law as a charm for her travel safety, one she hoped would bring green lights, never red), a tape measure, miniature scissors for coupon cutting, spare reading glasses, a nail file, and a few adhesive bandages for small cuts. Picking up the jigsaw piece, she thought, for the briefest of moments, of placing it in the bottom of her purse, but quickly dismissed it as an idea induced by a mischievous spirit. She would dig a hole in the earth at the base of her small bamboo shrub in her back garden, and bury it deep enough to avoid the reach of squirrels. Best place for it she thought. She looked out the dining room window and was reassured that such a task was still possible. The snowfall had been minimal over the last week. The ground was still friable. Tomorrow, she thought. She would bury it tomorrow. Her morning shopping lay ahead.
Halfway down the hill on her way towards the Atwater Market in search of a nice piece of fish for her dinner that evening, she recognized a car coming up the hill, the driver looking tired and expressionless, her hands grabbing the steering wheel at the eleven and one position as if it at a ship's wheel and lost at sea. Mrs. Shimoda smiled and nodded her head, but Amelia didn't see her. Poor girl, she thought, preoccupied with Duncan's business closure. Amelia had told her all about it and had jokingly reassured her that they wouldn't be bringing the weight of a bookshop home. She had been reassured, though the thought of lying on her bed beneath a dangerous weight of books on the floor above had given her a singular nightmare one evening. She'd dreamt of waking up in her room with books pouring from the ceiling like sand into the bottom of an hour-glass, an unstoppable influx of print, and there she was clambering up the growing pyramid of books only to slip down to the bottom perimeter where the door of her room had been wedged shut. She had awoken, the sheets in disarray, the ceiling intact, mumbling the word hashigo, hashigo, hashigo.
The sidewalks were more slippery than she'd expected, the patches of ice and city-spread sand were distributed along the concrete path like frozen ponds and hazards of a golf course. Carefully she made her way down the hill. She decided she would take a taxi back from the market, and she wondered with anticipation if she'd be fortunate to come across Olivier. Such a pleasant smile and so polite. So helpful opening doors and helping her with packages. She was usually disinclined to participate in small talk, but with Olivier it was different. He asked how she was, talked about the weather, asked after her family, discussed his, all with his Haitian-accented English which charmed her into amiable and relaxed responses as she breathed in the sandalwood aroma of his car, making her feel as if she was sitting on a sofa in his living room. She had to admit, she accentuated her elderly qualities when around him, stooping slightly, walking a little slower, sighing with a touch of dramatic nuance. It was all give and take, authentic and studied, like life itself she thought.
Isabelle Cloutier closed her eyes and listened to the coffee machine. The inhalation and exhalation of water and air sounded like a Jacques Cousteau underwater adventure, the clicks, the bubbling, the drips and splashes of the dark tinted liquid leading to the heightened finale as the machine coughed and burbled, an expiration akin to the scuba diver taking the mouth piece from between their lips and releasing the oxygen into the water.
Breathing in the aroma of the fresh-brewed coffee, she felt as weightless as her imaginary diver rising to the surface of morning.
Pouring herself a cup, she walked over to her bistro table by the window where a sun-catcher in the shape of a snowy owl cast an opaque reflection upon her. She turned her tablet on and clicked on her Twitter account with its made up name and Twitter handle, AtheneNoctua. Her profile image, a small owl, looked back at her as she entered her password. Each Tweeter's distinctive profile picture acted as an immediate sign post to their content, a diverse news feed for her interests. Her eyes quickly scanned the tweets, skimming the surfaces, reading the first words and passing on:
A question of . . .
Scientists find . .
Do you have . . .
Watch this . . .
A look at . . .
Is the . . .
When asked to . . .
How crime will . . .
Who was responsible . . .
Your voice will . . .
Around in circles . . .
So excited . . .
Looking for a . . .
I can't be the only . . .
Nothing's more . . .
What does it say . . .
RIP . . .
Good morning . . .
Excited about all . . .
In a cab with . . .
Scientists have made . . .
Sad news . . .
Oh joy . . .
If the weather continues . . .
Still buzzing from . . .
I've decided i don't . . .
The top 20% of . . .
On this day . . .
Are Saturn's rings . . .
Between her hangover and her work week exhaustion, her concentration was as passive as a cat lying in the sun. She logged out of Twitter and checked her personal email. Messages and updates from a science magazine, online shoe sale, Clearly Contacts, travel opportunities, and one from Sotheby's with a catalogue of an upcoming sale of nineteenth century art. She knew her energy was low as she logged out of her account without looking at the catalogue, usually such a pleasurable weekend pastime as she searched for possible depictions of owls in paintings or sculpture she might conceivably afford.
Looking down into the back yard, she noticed her empty garbage can on its side, possibly knocked over by the wind, its dark opening like a tunnel entrance. This triggered the memory of a dream. She'd been walking into a tunnel, about twenty feet in circumference, and after a long trek in, the tunnel had begun to narrow, gradually at first, and then dramatically so, until thirty feet ahead of her, her flash light had revealed a convergence of the circle into a point like the inside of a steeple. Turning around, all had been dark. She couldn't see the light of the entrance, and she thought the tunnel must have curved. It was then she'd awoken wrapped and tangled in her sheets feeling frantic and trapped. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and wondered if it was symbolic of her evening spent with her girlfriend Carol at the book launch she'd dragged her to. 'You might meet someone new,' she'd said, 'someone literary, artsy.' She sipped her coffee recalling the evening spent drinking cheap red wine while a University of Montreal professor read from his latest book of poetry surrounded by hipsters with facial hair, plaid shirts, small fedoras, tattoos, dark rimmed glasses, and sloppy jeans and running shoes. The young women had worn outfits with shear panels, visible zippers, tall leather boots, and looked like they lived off cigarettes and carrot juice. And everyone had been so bloody young, and seemingly more concerned with the activity around smart phones and selfies than the obscure meanings of the poet's offeringss. What had Carol been thinking? But they'd had fun afterwards at the trendy Baldwin Barmacie on Laurier, where they talked, releasing all the stress and demands of their respective jobs while confirming each other's woes in soft voices and undertones. She smiled thinking of Carol's wordplay concerning the young men and women at the reading: Between the sad men and the Mad Men, you have the plaid men. Between the tattoos and the Jimmy Choos, you have the whose who's.
In the living room, sitting in her comfortable high back corner chair, she curled her legs up and wrapped a crochet throw around her shoulders and stared at the painting entitled Phantom of the North, a Great Grey Owl in flight, its piercing yellow eyes and hooked yellow beak facing her as if she was the prey, the enormous head and its heart-shaped face with semi-circular feather arrangements in curving lines of super-symmetry and its extraordinary outstretched wings showing off its banded feathers ready to wrap her in an embrace before the talons found their mark.
After a long, seemingly dreamless period of moody darkness—imageless dreams sightless people are said to experience—she thought of the abundance of evocative dreams she'd had this past week. A dream with owls was not uncommon with her but this one had been unusual. She'd awoken on Thursday morning to recall one of finding an owl in a barn-like modern house; she'd looked up to see it in the peak of the rafters, and she'd opened a door and called to it as if to a cat. As it swooped towards her, she'd prostrated herself on the floor facing a glass-fronted China cabinet which reflected the owl's flight over her, a baby owl she could see. Then fear had entered as she'd sensed a large mother owl swoop down and join the owlet. Realizing the owls were still inside the building, she had opened a further door and followed the same procedure only to find herself in a large screened in porch and she had to reenact the process once more. Finally, the owls had been released and she was standing in the sun, a sense of great contentment and freedom overcoming her. If it signified a revelation in her life, she had yet to see how.
A small stack of envelopes and flyers, Friday's mail, lay on the table by the door. She got up and brought them back to her chair and sorted through them. An envelope with Edward Seymour's distinctive script caught her eye. No stamp. Hand-delivered. She opened it and found a card with an image of a Dutch interior. Her eyes first lighted upon the dog in the foreground beside the leaning broom, then the grey-striped cat with its arched tail in the middle distance, then the parrot in the opened cage above, then the white piece of paper, an envelope, on the bottom stair to the right, and only then did her eyes wander down the black and white tile floor to the the depths of the painting and notice a framed picture in a room to the right, but quickly concluded it was a mirror and the reflection of a black-hatted man with his back to her facing a young woman in blue to his right. It was such a richly detailed interior, it pulled her in, instilling a desire to be there, petting the dog, cuddling the cat, calling up to the parrot, and reaching down for the letter and opening it to read its contents. Isabelle turned the card over and read that the painting was called, View of a Corridor by Samuel van Hoogstraten, 1662, Oil on Canvas, Collection of Dryham Park, National Trust. Within, she read Edward's short note.
I was rummaging about in desk drawers and found some old cards I bought when on vacation in England in the mid-eighties, my foray into the Cotswolds and environs, all Chipping this and Chipping that. Such lovely stone buildings in that area of the world. Such golden warmth. I remember visiting Stanway House and from there, making my way south west exploring Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bristol, Bath and all interesting sights along and around the way, including Dryham Park which has, I seem to remember, an astonishing collection of Dutch art. You must make a trip my dear. Well worth the time. The cage door is ajar. The cage door is ajar.
I just wanted to let you know that our Thérèse Laflamme visited me unannounced this week, and her memory of the David Ashemore case had returned to her. Something about reading a friend's work of fiction in progress had triggered her recall. I just wanted to warn you in case I had possibly mentioned your name to my niece who is now friends with Thérèse, and who could possibly mention your name and your enquiry on my behalf. My old brain. I can't be sure if I mentioned it to her or not. In any case, I told Thérèse to get on with her life. If there were wrong doings involved in Ashemore's death, time will work it out. It is out of our hands now.
I can't guarantee anything. A strong willed young woman like Thérèse is a force of nature.
Anyway, my dear, we must get together over the coming holidays. If you're alone for Christmas dinner, consider yourself invited. Please let me know.
All my love,
She held the card wondering if she was indeed called upon, would she take up the cause? Or would she take that vacation?
© ralph patrick mackay