Saturday, October 20, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Eight

The rosewood mantel clock seemed to tick louder, or was it only, he thought, because his good ear was towards the fireplace. He was looking out the living room window, the early October evening sky darkening from the distant eastern horizon where the lowlands of the St. Lawrence river basin gradually rose to the hesitant first outcrops of the Montegerian hills, now diminishing in the first shadows to islands like they were once before, and no doubt redolent with the scent of fallen leaves and woodsmoke, where cottages and homes clustered nearby with windows glowing with the colour of clover honey, and where, perhaps, a man or a woman stood, like him, looking out upon their views while pondering their inner lives, the evening humidity hovering invisibly upon the cool glass as if seeking out the warmth of their breath.

Edward Seymour turned to look at the eight day fusse timepiece clock, the blued moon hands pointing to 6:40 p.m. 'Time to keep time running' Lavinia used to say, and he would wind the clock for another week. Sunday evenings were their favourites. He looked up at the portrait of his wife above the clock and raised his small glass of port and drank a silent toast. How many were left to him he wondered. Four a month, fifty-two in a year. Perhaps this was his last. Everything was ritual now. His morning cup of warm water with lemon, his gentle yoga exercises he had been doing since he was in his early 40s, his all too brief walk with George III, his light morning breakfast, his opening of the morning mail, the appointments with doctors, the rereading of a special book, the conversations with a neighbour, his interactions with Mary, his recollections of youth, his sharing time with family.

'Look, the clock is happy,' Lavinia would say when the time was ten minutes past ten, or ten minutes to two; or, 'look, the clock is sad,' when it was twenty past eight or twenty minutes to five. Her personification of time would always conjure up the image of a smiling or frowning clock face with eyes, nose and mouth like the image from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. What would she have said about 6:40 he wondered. It reminded him of a landing signal officer directing a plane; or flag signals he learned during the war. The letter A came to him, yes, the letter A.

Looking back out upon the lights of the city, he would soon notice the four beacon spotlights from Place Ville Marie searching the undersides of the evening clouds like a flashlight pointing into an alabaster cave. It generally reminded him of London during the war. He drew the curtains on another day and walked slowly over to the ornately carved mahogany cabinet in the corner of the living room, lifted the top, turned the record player on, started the turntable and lifted the stylus, his hand shaking, before dropping it as close to the outer edge as was possible. George III lifted his head from his outstretched front limbs and rolled on his side. The clicks, pops and snowy crackles of the grooves were as much the past as the record itself, Danny Kaye singing a silly song, The Thing, Lavinia's favourite light-hearted depression-lifting silly song. The record remained on the turntable, a permanent home in her memory. He sat down in his mahogany framed wing chair with the worn orange damask cloth chosen by his wife, and listened. It was not much. A short song, a ditty if there ever was one. He closed his eyes and imagined Lavinia at the record player, her foot tapping on the carpet, her richly curled dark red hair catching the lamp light, her cool gin rickey clicking in the glass as she moved, smoke furling towards the ceiling from her long Benson & Hedges cigarette. The room became crowded with party guests from the past, high heels and nylons, ties and brogues, the chatter of so many voices, laughter. All of them ghosts now. He had outlived them all. 

Glancing at the books on the lamp table, Fourteen Stories by Henry James, and a blind-stamped leather bound copy of The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, he picked up the latter, its fine grained cover as lined as his old hands and opened it to the brass paper cutter, smooth and thin with age, that held his place. Waring. It was a poem he never tired of rereading. Taking a sip of his port, he looked forward to having Duncan read the Henry James to him tomorrow evening. Amelia was a good reader too, better in fact when it came to diction and pronunciation, but he was fond of Duncan's odd mannerisms. This reminded him of his resolve to look at some of his private journals. He was unsure whether a decision had to be made concerning their future. To leave them where they were, untouched, or have them sent off to be recycled. A memory of a short story by Robert Graves came to mind. Something to do with compost, he remembered, we are all but compost in the end. How Lavinia was shocked to see the gardener pissing on the compost pile. It was an old method of helping with alkaline soils he had said. Well, he didn't say it in such scientific words but that was his drift. He too has long shuffled off from this spiral of never ending seasons with all their fallen joys and nether currents. He put Browning aside, walked slowly over to the cabinet, took out an album at random from the shelf underneath, a long playing recording of Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia and other Russian pieces, and set it going. Then he made his way across the hall to his book-lined study.

Dark oak shelves with fluted pilasters and rosettes housed his collection in precise order. In his youth, he had been much less concerned with placement, relying on memory and serendipity, but the older he got, the less time he wanted to devote to searching for desired objects. While in his early seventies he had donated years of dusty psychiatric journals to the University, journals which had been moldering away in the lower level of the coach house, volumes he hoped they had benefited from by way of recycling. The price of paper was decent at the time he remembered. The books that remained in his collection were the special volumes that reflected his life's journey. Many inscribed by the authors.

Two low shelf units beside his desk under the window housed his private journals, light brown leather with the date stamped in gilt at the base of each volume. He retrieved the volume for 1988 and made his way back to his comfortable chair in the living room, the strains of the oboe drawing him forward, his slow steps in half time to the pizzicato camels of his imagination. That recording was a bit faster than he liked, or was it just because he had gotten slower? George III did not appreciate the music it seemed, having gone off down the hallway towards the kitchen for water. Edward watched George's relaxed gait and thought that even to this day he didn't know why he loved Airedales so much. It was something deep within. An identification with character? Perhaps he had been one in a previous life.

Sitting down, he lay the volume on his lap, closed his eyes and listened to the rest of the music, gently swaying his head with the beat, envisioning a caravan, himself atop a camel, lumbering from side to side, dream-like visions of seraglios and colourful woven rugs rising like phantom oases in the distance. During the silence between the end of Borodin's piece and the beginning of The Romance from The Gadfly by Shostakovich in a piano and violin version, he opened the journal and sought the month of February. The piano's opening notes sounded like a lullaby he thought as he turned the pages until he found the first passage relating to Duncan. He began to read:

Friday February 19, 1988.
Lavinia reminded me of our dinner party tomorrow evening. PET and a few other distinguished guests have been invited. Should be a long day of preparations. Do hope weather holds, PET said he would walk. I can always drive him home if necessary.
Massella Landscaping have been doing a very good job of snow removal. They seem to have a firm grip on the market around here.
Duncan Alastair Strand (DAS) age 29, phoned this morning. Joan placed the message on my desk, with his full name and phone number. He wanted to ask if I could possibly see him as a patient. I had gotten along with his father Joseph Strand of Strand Cordage Ltd., when I needed the dumbwaiter repaired. I asked if there was an emergency, but he replied that it was not an emergency, but he simply needed to talk to a professional over the circumstances of his life at this moment, and having gotten to know me briefly when fixing the dumbwaiter, he felt comfortable in asking. I agreed to meet him next week. NOTE: I do remember seeing an obituary in the paper last year for a 'Strand'. One of those 'suddenly' obits. Could very well have been a relation. Strand is an uncommon name. I do hope, it did not involve, rope.

Monday, February 22, 1988.
It has been a slow but full day. Tired from much thought. Quiet dinner with Lavinia. Snow has kept us within, the fireplace crackling in the grate. My door is open. Lavinia playing the harpsichord. Sounds like Bach.
Heavy snowfall made for cancellations today. Did not get far with George, the front walk had to do. Snow too heavy. Joan couldn't make it to work and I said it was fine. Quite understandable. I said I could handle the desk and phone. I told her to stay warm and safe, I would phone the patients to cancel appointments.
DAS was my only patient. I wasn't able to contact him in time to cancel. He arrived, understandably, late. I asked how he managed to get through the snow and he replied 'an early departure and perseverance.' Well, I told him he was my only client for the day, so there was certainly no rush.

DAS, his initials remind me of the Sanskrit surname, and this in turn brings up my early interest in yoga from reading B. K. S. Iyengar's 'Light on Yoga' back in the sixties. I can see it on my bookshelf now here in my study. It truly influenced my direction. There I was at McGill, a climate tainted by Dr. Cameron's views, and I was moving away from such scientific manipulation. The abuse of science, I fear, will continue with every scientific discovery. I fear the more we discover, the more we will be moving towards a society which can use the information to control people in an Orwellian sense. For every benefit these discoveries bring, there will be people who will take advantage of the knowledge and use it to harm people. Scientists will come across odd permutations in experiments, offshoots that can have negative results on human health. These will be used and abused. 

I often wonder what life I would have had if I had remained in England. If I had not become interested in Eastern thought. We are all made of decisions and choices. Few of us, I imagine, find our ways smooth and even. Few of us. I realize how fortunate I have been in life. Very fortunate.

DAS was certainly ruddy cheeked and had a healthy appearance. He hadn't changed much from his first visit to the house to fix the dumbwaiter. He appears to look younger than his age, but his speech and the look from his hazel eyes reveal a maturity of soul. His body language, his dark brown hair, his manner of speaking with hesitant thought, all seem to conjure up characters from the past.

I began with small-talk concerning his family, their business, and hoping his family was well. I then asked him how I could be of assistance. He was obviously troubled and had difficulty in expressing it at first. He didn't know where to begin. Then he just said that his brother, a fraternal twin, had died in a car accident late last year. They had been in a music group together since the age of 14. His late brother, Gavin, had helped out with the family business and he too on occasion, but now that Gavin had passed away, he had to help out a bit more. Their mother had died when they were 12. A younger brother, George, lives in Ontario, a sports journalist.

With the death of his brother, their music band, The Splices as they were known, disbanded. Duncan had been working at Grange Stuart Books, his day job he said. I told him I knew Stuart. Knew the shop well, too. DAS said he helped Stuart at sales. Stuart would choose books, and DAS would box and cart them. He also did quite a bit of the cataloguing in the back room. The business was not really geared for street traffic, hidden as it was on a side street, up a flight of stairs from a door without signage. Most of Stuart's business was with specialty collectors, catalogues, and universities. He had started there in the late 1970s when a student. Stuart Grange's wife had been a childhood friend of DAS's mother, and they had remained friends, living one street over from each other. He has a B.A. in English Literature. McGill. He said we could have crossed paths in the hallways. Quite likely, yes, quite likely. In the mid 1980s when Stuart Grange retired, Duncan took over his stock and opened his own store, Lafcadio & Co., while still playing with his brother in the band. I told him I remember hearing about Lafcadio & Co., the name had intrigued me, but I admitted never having visited the shop. He said the name was after Lafcadio Hearn, and specifically his cat, blind in one eye, a stray tom who he had named Lafcadio. He was the Co. 

His problems seem to stem from an accumulation of incidents:
-A breakup with a girlfriend, a Hong Kong born young woman who he had met at a club where they were performing.
-A tryst with a touring performer from China.
-Conflicts with his brother over creative pursuits.
-A brush with death, skin cancer, a fortunate early detection.
-Difficulties with his book selling business, juggling this and music.
-Pressures from their Father concerning the family business.
-The death of his brother.
-Demands of his father's business as the elder Strand is not well and is near retirement age.
-All the above couched within the parentheses of his Mother's early death.

These, in general, have slowed his momentum. Damaged his sails so to speak. He is in port for repairs. He seems keen on nautical terminology. Understandable from growing up with his Father's shop selling all types of rope, much of it for the marine market. I sense a touch of depression, and feel perhaps a light tonic of some kind would not be amiss. But I shall see with further developments. He is still youthful for his age, still resilient. I hope I can help him repair his vessel and send him on his way.

Edward noticed the music had stopped. He closed his journal feeling quite exhausted with the past. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, in and out, deep breaths, before falling into a light sleep.

Text and image © ralph patrick mackay.

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