Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Two

"What about Hugh?"

"What about Hugh?"

Before his wife could respond to his laconic parry to her initial question, they heard Hugh coming down the hallway. A pleasurable sound, his little paws with their nails softly clipping along the oak floorboards. Even their landlady who lived alone beneath them found it reassuring.

Though they had  been recommended to her as good tenants, they didn't know that Hugh was possibly the deciding factor in their getting the flat. Mrs. Shimoda, who owned the duplex, had interviewed them as if they were applying for a job, a sheet of questions and her pen hovering over a point system they could not decipher. It had reminded her husband of a short story with the archangel Michael interviewing the latest inductee to heaven, a mystery writer who had been murdered.
"Loud music?"
No, they had both assured her, they didn't like it themselves. Her husband had admitted he collected classical and jazz records, but he only used headphones so as to appreciate the instrumentation and nuances of the sound.
No, again. They rarely entertained, and if they did, it would be for a small quiet dinner party of not more than two other couples. They explained further that they were both quiet, mature, bookish types who spent most of their free time reading and drinking tea. Mrs. Shimoda had made a number of marks on her papers at these revelations.
They had looked at each other as if they had forgotten a crucial piece of paper. His wife had taken the lead by revealing that they did have a miniature dachshund named Hugh.
"Miniature Hugh," she had repeated, pen poised over her papers. "Does he bark?"
Rarely, if at all, they had assured her. "We can bring him over so you could make your decision whether he is acceptable," her husband had offered, adding, "he is quite adorable."
"Adorable Hugh," she had said quietly.

They agreed to bring Hugh over that afternoon and sure enough, Hugh proved adorable. Thence forward she referred to him as 'adorable Hugh.' They didn't know at the time that Mrs. Shimoda's son also collected records, and her late husband had had a childhood pet dog named Itsuke, a full size dachshund.

She had then shown them her garden. It was not a large backyard, but it was exquisitely laid out with flowering shrubs, small trees, wooden plank walkways, large potted plants, a rock and sand feature and the  soothing sound of rippling water. Hugh had perked up at the sight of the garden and dipped his nose in the small pond of cool refreshing water before seeing a squirrel on the fence and advancing as if protecting his new territory. The squirrel had puffed its tail, shaking it up and down like a lion tamer's whip, before deciding to scamper along and leap into a tree, thinking, quite possibly, it had never seen such a big squirrel before.

Mrs. Shimoda had smiled.

She had shown them a section of her garden where she grew tomatoes and basil plants, touching the basil leaves and releasing their fragrant pungent scent into the air, a scent that would remind them of that moment. She had told them they were free to help themselves. She also mentioned that Hugh would have to take his ablutions, however, along the sidewalks and in the parks nearby. They had not thought otherwise.

The four of them had stood in the garden sharing a moment of rare stillness, with only the sparrows chattering above them in the dappled sun. As he breathed in the fragrance of the garden, Duncan was reminded of the scene in The Decay of the Angel, where the now aged protagonist of the Mishima tetralogy meets the Abbess of the temple.  Having his literary memory trying to place itself in his day to day life, made him wonder if it enhanced his reality by adding colour, light, and nuance, or if it diminished his reality by obscuring it with layers of fictional shadow.

They had then noticed  movement  beside what was soon to be their new balcony. An elderly couple approached the wrought iron railing, both well-dressed and looking slightly apprehensive. Mrs. Shimoda raised her arm in greeting and they waved back. "I feel autumn will arrive early this year," the old man had said, supporting himself on the railing like a priest at his pulpit, issuing dire admonishments of fire and brimstone to his flock. Mrs. Shimoda had responded that it could well be. She knew this was his first lob over the fence, and the ball was in her court, so she introduced her new tenants, Amelia, Duncan and their dog Hugh to her neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Stirling. The Stirlings had wished them well and hoped they found the neighbourhood to their liking, saying it was a quiet, close knit little group of people on the small street. Amelia and Duncan had thanked them with many smiles, head shaking and waves preceding their entry into Mrs. Shimoda's flat to sign the documents.

They both looked to the doorway as Hugh made his appearance. Hugh looked from on to the other trying to figure out why his name was in the air.
"Yes old Hugh, we're going away and we have to find a place for you," he said, scratching Hugh's head. "We can't leave you here all alone can we?"
Amelia picked him up and gave him a hug before placing him on her lap and stroked his long back. She said that they could ask Nancy to take care of Hugh while they were away.
"Nancy, hmm," was his response.
"Or your brother perhaps." she said.
The thought of his brother George taking Hugh for over three weeks left him feeling slightly nauseated. An image came to him of Hugh on a couch licking George's fingers covered with that cheese coating they put on puffed cheesy bits, and watching loud sporting events on television. Hugh might never be the same. Who could they rely on? A kennel was out of the question for them. All he could offer was another "hmm," thinking it was too early in the day for a difficult conversation. He decided to change the subject, one of his reliable modes of interchange.

"I had the oddest dream last night," he revealed.
His wife sipped her tea and looked at him intently, seeing through his ploy, but being too tired to persist said, "Really, what was it about?"
"Well," he said, feeling much more at ease, "we had just entered this enormous sumptuous room, gorgeous period furnishings, rugs, paintings, fine bindings, a veritable grand country home." He liked to include his wife in his dreams even if she was not present in all of them, for the thought of his being independent in that other realm might signal desires which were not present in actuality, might put doubts of his loyalty and solidarity in play. The thought that his wife might think he was gallivanting about in his dreams with movie stars and strange women, leading a bachelor existence in effect, might be a disruption to their equilibrium. But in this case, she was indeed in his dream as she often was, although, seeing and recognizing faces was more of a feeling than a direct visual sense.

"You sat in a lovely tapestry chair behind me to my left, and I sat down at an extraordinarily carved harpsichord, fine in-layed woods and an elaborate painting on the inside panel. The keyboard was unusual for it had only brown keys, as if the white and black had melded. They looked and felt like some rare wood which was very odd. Then I began to play. Beautifully. The keyboard took on a strange form in that it extended far to the left of me, seemingly twice the length of a modern piano keyboard, and I was pulling it back and forth like an old typewriter to play the lower chords. There I was playing away, and leaning back on the bench to look out a window to my right. I noticed a statue on the lawn, which made me think it must be of the original owner of this stately home, and this gave me a frisson of nervousness realizing that this was not our house. The statue then came to life. He was a tall bearded man with a cane and a book under his arm. He stepped down from his plinth and walked towards the window. The former statue peered into the house, and began talking, but to whom I couldn't say. Then I noticed two other former statues, at least I felt they were, walking on the lawn. I felt we had just waltzed into this beautiful room and I had the audacity to start playing this rare instrument, and wake up these statues from their statue existence."
"And then what happened?"
"A stately women appeared in the entrance to the room and approached the harpsichord, bending over slightly and leaning on the edge. I didn't feel she was angry though."
"And . . ." she probed.
"I woke up," he said.
 After a pause, he resumed, "It just hit me how quiet dreams are. 'As quiet as a dream' would be a good expression don't you think? Do you hear in your dreams"
"Yes, I think I do," she said, "or at least the mental equivalent of sound. But that is a fascinating dream."
"I know, where did that one come from? Sometimes I think I must be dipping into other people's dreams." It was only later that night while looking through his bookshelves, and coming across a paperback collection of J. G. Ballard's best science fiction stories and looking at the contents page seeing The Garden of Time, that he thought there might be a slight connection. But he hadn't read the story for years. And he had dreamed the dream before coming across the paperback.  It was one of those moments when he realised how much the unconscious mind was working away like the proverbial mysterious individual behind the curtain.

They both sat drinking their tea while Hugh propped his little front legs on the kitchen table and wagged his tail against Amelia's ribs, oblivious to the uncertainty of his fate and the strange inner nature of humans.

© ralph patrick mackay

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