The scent of old books greeted Edward Seymour as he entered his study, the gilt stamped titles and the varicoloured bindings speaking volumes to him of distant pathways taken, memories, and relationships. At ninety-two, he knew they were unlikely to be revisited with anything but nostalgia. He went to the shelves where he kept books inscribed to him by old friends and associates, and breathed deeply as he gazed upon them. Wilder Penfield's novel The Torch, stood with his The Mystery of the Mind: A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain, and his No Man Alone: A Surgeon's Life; beside them, books by Karl Stern, his Pillar of Fire, his The Third Revolution: A Study of Psychiatry and Religion, his The Flight from Woman, and his novel Through Dooms of Love. Edward recalled the year of 1960 when both Penfield and Stern had come out with a novel and many had wondered who would be next. Even he had contemplated writing one, and having produced twenty pages, had but it aside. It must be in one of his old files he thought. He reached out a wrinkled slender finger towards Stern's The Flight from Woman, an interesting study of its time, and with his striated fingernail like old ivory, pulled it out and put it on his desk to hazard a glimpse of the past. Then, seeing Rainer Maria Rilke by Willem Graff, he pulled it off too, and opened it to to see Willem's inscription to him. He fanned the pages and a paper fell out and slipped down to the carpet like a glider making a perfect landing upon an Aubusson field. Carefully, he bent down to retrieve it and went to sit at his desk. A letter size sheet, folded in half revealed two poems, typed, one from each end as if mirrored, and when folded, resting upon each other in an intimate alphabetical embrace. He remembered. the attractive woman, a former patient, who had transferred her affections to him in the mid-1970s. She'd fallen for Rilke, and then for him. Or had it been the other way round? She'd left him with these poems after he'd discussed the issues with her and made her cognisant of the transference, as well as the boundaries of propriety and professional duty. The temptation now seemed less significant, but it was tinged with longing like the fragrance of musk. The paper itself was like a desiccated leaf preserved as an emblem of a path not taken.
C'est le paysage longtemps . . .
C'est le paysage longtemps, c'est une cloche,
c'est du soir la délivrance si pure;
mais tout cela en nous prépare l'approche
d'une nouvelle, d'une tendre figure . . .
Ainsi nous vivons dan un embarras très étrange
entre l'arc lointain et la trop pénétrante flèche:
entre le monde trop vague pour saisir l'ange
et Celle qui, par trop de présence, l'empêche.
Dans la multiple rencontre
Dans la mutiple rencontre
faisons à tout sa part,
afin que l'ordre se montre
parmi les propos du hasard.
Tout autour veut qu'on l'écoute,
écoutons jusqu'au bout;
car le verger et la route
c'est toujours nous!
The poems didn't arouse in him a dormant longing for youth, but did arouse the feeling that poems were embedded in timelessness, waiting silently for the next passerby to grab hold and briefly experience a sense of eternity. She had been a doctor of internal medicine which had made him think of poets being the doctors of eternal medicine. She had laughed at his play on words. He folded the paper and put it back in its old resting place almost hearing the echo of her laughter. He opened his desk drawer and withdrew his journal and began to write:
Wednesday December 19, 2012 - 7 p. m.
It has been many days since I've written this journal. Preparations for the holidays, doctor's appointments, fatigue and forgetfulness have all played their part.
A mild day, a light drizzle, and now, a light snow is falling.
Received two Christmas cards this morning. One rather special. It is lonely at the top of the age chain.
Nostalgia overcame me this evening. I dipped into old books. In one, I came across a slip of paper given to me by an old patient of mine, a woman who had transferred her affections to me, the classic therapist dilemma. It's good to know she worked through her issues and led a happier life. I wonder if she is still with us? She was very beautiful I recall. Having dealt with the fallout of such temptations over the years in treating a diversity of patients suffering at one of the three points of the classic love triangle, perhaps I'd been conditioned to resist such extreme emotions. So many affairs had ended in broken families and ultimately, loneliness. Very few had been successful diversions. Thankfully I resisted the temptation. Happily married to my dear wife, my friend, my equal, I had been fortunate. The latent affairs of the heart had stayed within my imagination.
Another Christmas will soon be upon us. Every year I think it might well be my last, although young doctor Bergeron thinks I'm 'bien fort.' I feel like a man in an hour glass, or a life-glass perhaps, standing on a small mound of remnant sand, a mountain beneath me in the other sphere. If only I could push on the sides of the glass, pound my fist upon the surface, rock the glass back and forth until it fell sideways to form a symbolic sign of infinity, and I could sweep the remaining sand into the concave feature of the glass and lie down and rest, cupped in eternity. I wonder why it is that some individuals when they reach a great age, catch a second wind and become avid for life? More to lose perhaps. Looking back, there seems to be a life hurdle that takes so many in their fifties and sixties due to lifestyle or genetics, but if they pass through, or over, that barrier, those last laps can be richly fulfilling. They have been for me, though a sense of guilt surrounds my willpower like the piping on my dressing gown.
Amelia and Duncan are doing well. She keeps me informed every other day as to Duncan's well-being. It has now been ten days since he emerged from his three day coma. He is functioning very well, his memory is solid, and what physical effects he sustained, he has overcome with minor therapy. The doctors are still uncertain exactly what caused his fall. A close call with an aneurysm like an asteroid passing through the Earth's atmosphere and burning up perhaps. The only oddity of his three day coma seems to be strange and random expressions in Norwegian, a language he did not know previously. A mystery. He seems to understand what the expressions mean, but he is unable to control their capricious and seemingly unconscious eruptions. Naturally, specialists and postdocs have been interested in his case. I have advised him to avoid researchers. Let it work itself out I told them.
This has me somewhat worried.
This special case of Duncan, along with today's card from Isabelle Cloutier, have convinced me to tell Amelia the truth about her Mother and Father. If I should falter, hesitate, or pass away before I can tell her, I will write it here, in brief, in the hopes she may some day read my journals which I will bequeath to her:
My youthful half-sister Catherine, the progeny of my wayward Father and a young secretary, was sent to Canada before my arrival. Suffering from depression, she found herself ushered into the care of Donald Ewen Cameron where she was exposed to his experiments with Electroshock and drug therapy, leading to her later spiral of dysfunction. What an unfortunate place to have met a husband, but meet Richard, Amelia's father she did, another patient of that misled research. When I arrived to teach at McGill, Catherine and Richard had already found a hippie haven in the Hare Krishna movement. Though I tried to help, they'd distanced themselves from us. Amelia was young when they left that group and changed religions once more, following a Yogi off to California and we secured legal custody of their children. I never broached the subject of Cameron's experiments upon them with Amelia. I had thought it best to avoid creating a need to stir up the truth. The players involved were too powerful. The whole unfortunate affair had been sealed away, an episode from the cold war no one wanted to revisit. The truth revealed in these cases is as rare as elephant eggs in a rhubarb tree.
It has been decades since I've written in my journal about Catherine and those difficult years. Guilt? Catharsis? If you are reading these words Amelia, please forgive an old man his sins.
As to Isabelle's letter within her Christmas card—un hibou comme d'habitude—she informed me that she had received a cryptic letter signed with the initials of what must be Thérèse Laflamme, with the names of David Ashemore, an arrow pointing to the name Jarvis Whitehorne, and the acronym, P.R.I.S.M. It seems Amelia must have heard me discuss Isabelle's name or I absentmindedly mentioned it in passing. Isabelle researched Jarvis A. Whitehorne and discovered a rogue researcher in the footsteps of Cameron. This man seems to have his own research company, Whitehorne & Associates. The acronym seems to stand for Peremptory Remote Intra-Sensory Manipulation. No longer is it necessary to have a patient in a room to experiment upon according to Isabelle, now they can insert devices and activate them remotely, or, by the use of acoustic devices, disrupt sleep patterns and manipulate the body's chemistry from afar. It all seems so far-fetched but Isabelle assures me such experiments are taking place. It is a great abuse of science and technology. The rational male mind has objectified the other and is able, without conscience, to break their very spirit. Isabelle sees the abuse of such types of scientific and technological advances as a greater threat in the future to individual freedoms than concerns over big brother listening to their phone calls, or is it reading their emails now? The rational male mind and the objectification of the other will always be the source of great evil. Isabelle suggests that David Ashemore had come across the activities of Whitehorne and had begun to write reports about them, only to find himself, she thinks, a target. She fears that Ashemore was told to desist in his investigations, but continued. Much conjecture on her part she admits.
A sense of dread overcomes me as I think of such abuse. I will tell Arthur all about Isabelle's discovery on Saturday over our chess game. I just realised we won't be playing chess till the New Year. Well, it will keep. Best not disturb his holidays anyway.
I shall wait till after Christmas to tell Amelia about her parents. She has too much on her plate right now with Duncan's still delicate health, and the closing of his business. Good news is that Duncan has a buyer for most of his stock, and some of the funds will be put towards a new car and a trip to England. I would not mind seeing England once more, but for the travelling. And I'm sure a third wheel would be unwelcome. They never did take a decent honeymoon. I shall add to their financial purse and also provide them with addresses of our living relatives on that distant island.
Edward drew a line beneath the last sentence and taking up Isabelle's letter, pasted it down upon the facing page, then closed his journal and returned it to his drawer. Walking over to the window, he looked out upon the limbs of the naked trees with their layer of light snow like Gothic tracery. Here he was, with the night birds and cobwebs, the city glittering below like distant stars. He closed the curtains and his eyes alighted upon the framed piece of paper hanging between the bookshelves and the drapery. He had discovered it in a strange book published in 1918, a book explaining the details of the gas mask created by a research group under B.F. Goodrich, a book with haunting images of a soldier modelling the mask, and looking like an undersea monster. Images enough to haunt a child's dreams he thought. One of the authors was a certain Major R. G. Pearce, who he learnt through the head librarian at McGill, had been a medical doctor in Ohio, and a sometime poet. The piece of paper was Pearce's poem entitled Entropy. Edward never felt closer to the words:
When the night raven finds our hearth and fans
The dying embers with his wings, and space
Which time has warped into our frames expands
In unstrained rest, there will remain no trace
Of us on earth, but in the firmament
Perhaps a Protean cloud will hold my form
And it will catch the light your star has sent.
When like my song your molten heart was warm.
Since crumpling power shares not in our estate
Contented we should lie in dreamless sleep;
And hurried time will never confiscate
The tryst which mutual souls have sought to keep.
Our elsewhere and our here will then be one
Beyond the reaches of the cyclic sun.
If this would be, our lives may not be vain
For smiles might ripple over space again.
The head librarian had given him a short lecture on the prevalence of poets who had trained as doctors, offering a long list of names, some well-known, others obscure. Such individuals were able to maintain a balance of science on the one hand, and the intuition of poetry on the other. It gave Edward hope, acted as a soothing balm for his sense of dread. From the door, he looked back and scanned his bookshelves for an instant, then, turning the light out, carried the books by Stern and Graff to the living room to spend an hour or two with his hands in the past.
© Ralph Patrick Mackay