Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Four

As Mrs. Shimoda held a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, a portion of a woman's pale hand outstretched and pointing towards the distant prospect of Cherry blossoms, she savoured the pleasure in placing it snugly in its finely cut destination, and hovered for a moment over the image that was gradually taking form, a colourful panorama of three Japanese women in patterned kimonos. A gift from her son Paul. Puzzles, cross-word and jigsaw, the latter most especially, allowed her to forget the everyday worries and concerns of her life.

Her concentration was slightly offset as she heard a distinct thud coming from her tenants above. She had seen Amelia leave earlier in the morning, so she assumed it to be Duncan, or 'adorable Hugh.' It seemed to come from the kitchen area. She listened a bit longer, heard a faint sound like wood scraping against wood, and then returned her full attention to the puzzle looking for the edge of a blue sleeve.

Duncan Strand was on his hands and knees half-way inside a lower kitchen cupboard looking much like the stereotypical image of a plumber. Hugh looked on intently stationed near his slippered right foot. Duncan had knocked a hefty can of chick peas off an inner shelf while trying to ascertain the diminishment of dog food supplies. It had rolled to the edge of the cabinet, dislodging a portion of the cabinet wall. He thought it was odd that the wood was so loose, and having pulled the piece of wood away, he saw something glisten in the dim light. Pulling it out, he found it to be a package sealed in shrink-wrap plastic. Hugh looked rather perplexed when Duncan emerged from the darkness without a shiny circular object holding his food.

Duncan's first thought was that it might be a manual for a dishwasher that had fallen between the cabinet and the wall during a renovation period, but as he placed it on the table, he realized it was a white, eight and a half by eleven, unmarked envelope, shrink-wrapped in a fairly thick plastic. He was unsure what to do. It didn't look like it had weathered much time in its enclosure. At that moment, he heard Hugh behind him scratching the wood within the cabinet. He turned to see Hugh's little tail sticking out of the open cabinet door. Time to take Hugh on his walk and do a little shopping as he had planned. He was content to wait for Amelia's return when they could open it together. He had learned in his 53 years the importance of sharing moments.

As he put his jacket on and wrestled with the dog leash, he remembered a lesson in sharing which had been a memorable awakening. Walking down the long corridor towards the apartment of his girlfriend's parents, the unnerving sound of mahjong tiles being shuffled accompanied by the sounds of voices speaking Cantonese, he arrived as Yiyin opened the door still speaking to her family preoccupied with their game, her supple brown leather jacket, plaid skirt and leather boots a picture of sophistication. Their long descent in the elevator where he mentioned he had picked up the pictures he had taken of them in and around Hong Kong and Macau earlier that week, and her severe reaction on hearing that he had looked at the photographs without her. His defence that he had wanted to make sure they had turned out had been interpreted as an unworthy excuse. It had been one of the defining moments in their relationship. Photographs. She had refused to look at them. Mystified as to whether it was her nature or her culture that was so formal in its expectations, he had sat in a daze while she drove fiercely down the steep curving roads, shifting gears with precision and skill. Eventually she did look at the photographs, but they were forever tainted with his selfishness and lack of understanding. Looking back, he saw he was so young, so naive. He knew so little of her relations with her family. He had felt sorry for her seeing she had been brought up in an old fashioned family where the sons were sent for higher education but not the daughter, but he could never decipher the inner workings of their relationships. Not speaking the language, he had always been in the shadows when conversations took place, never quite knowing what they or Yiyin were thinking. He felt, however, that this lesson in sharing had been the moment when he relinquished the vision of his own path for that of two.

He picked Hugh up and made his way down the staircase to the front door, and as Hugh licked his chin, he thought accommodation was a key to growth and maturity. He placed Hugh on the stoop, and they made they way down to the sidewalk. When he was just a kid, he remembered wanting to be old, mature, on his own, established, in control of his life, images of a pipe smoking sailor on the high seas, or an older man in a library surrounded by books, leather chairs, and paintings of seas and ships. It was the hard life lessons in between that he, and everyone, had to weather to get to those so called golden years. Life itself. The irony now, was at the age of 53, he was beginning to think more fondly of his younger selves. The robust health of twenty-five or even thirty-five looked very good.

They made their way along their little quiet side street, and turned right and briskly made their way up to that much reduced boulevard, Dorchester. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and CSIS building on the far corner, was not unattractive in its concrete and glass exterior. It could easily pass for an apartment complex or a small office tower. As Hugh sniffed along the grassy verge at the corner, Duncan mused that he had never seen a Mountie in formal outfit in the vicinity, only men and woman in smart suits and business wear. Not even a flashy tie or two. He often thought that when he was buying his bagels at a nearby shop the customer in front of him could quite likely have been perusing some top secret documents that morning, decoding some message from an operative: “Golf on Sunday?” Their jobs, he imagined, could be just as mundane as any. He was reminded of a sentence in Ulysses, where the viscerally grounded Bloom refers to a policeman as prime sausage. You have to be prime sausage to be a Mountie Bloom would have said.

Up Greene Avenue they walked, Hugh getting all the attention, the oohs and aahs at how small, how cute, how, yes, adorable he was. He stopped in front of the old Double Hook bookshop, their old graphic icon still above the door, a part of the old building's gingerbread. It was now Babar, a children's book store. He wondered if Yiyin had ever had children. Her marriage and whirlwind honeymoon in 1983 had been the last he'd heard of her. She could be living anywhere. Her children could be lawyers, doctors, engineers by now. Pedestrians passed the man seemingly lost in thought on the sidewalk as if he were a statue with a dog attached. His eyes were now looking behind and above the shop where Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Westmount Square rose up like a dark sail. For all he knew, she could be living there. Standing at one of those windows looking out towards the western sky, wondering what to do on such a glorious Sunday. He had known early on, that their relationship was not for keeps. They had been so different. He hoped she was happy wherever she was.

“Qu'elle est mignonne,” he heard a woman's voice behind him say. Turning, he saw an older woman and her husband looking down at Hugh, whose tail revealed himself appreciative of the adoration. Duncan smiled and said "bonjours", but he hesitated to correct the woman who was now petting Hugh, by telling her his name, “comme Hugh Laurie,” seeing that he might enter a maze of unnecessary confusion, not sure if Hugh Laurie was a known quantity. The couple smiled and sauntered off murmuring to each other. Only now, did he think he could have used Hugh Grant as a reference. He was quite sure the latter had a reputation beyond language. He looked at Hugh and tried to see if there was any resemblance. Probably not. But charm he had. Yes, he had Hugh Grant's charm.

As he looked down at Hugh, he realized he was standing on a piece of street art in coloured chalk. It was a square of pale yellow with a portrait of Babar, his hat and clothes in muted colours. The clever artist had also drawn lines over the artwork to resemble a jigsaw puzzle. A very talented artist. Duncan stepped back for he had been standing on Babar's trunk.

The sound of music drew his attention to the cars stopped for the light, a dark model Audi with its windows down was playing a song he recognized. Julie, his young secretary at the shop, kept him up to date on the latest music, for she brought her own music to listen to, and she was a fan of many modern bands, including the composer of the music coming from the expensive car. A song called Only the Young by the unusually named artist Brandon Flowers. The coincidence was strange. Just last week at the office he had heard the song, and going to Julie's desk, had found her watching the video for the song while she was on her lunch break, a video showing high wire artists which reminded him of the Cirque du Soleil. And now the song again. He felt a bit dizzy as he watched the car drive slowly off, two young women with dark sunglasses, blond hair in the breeze, smiling in his direction, but not for him, for his adorable Hugh.

© ralph patrick mackay

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