Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Five

Emerging from Simons department store, each carrying a bag with a new sweater, Jacqueline and Amelia stood at the corner waiting to cross the street. A frayed remnant of a poster on the lamp post fluttered in the gusts created by the high buildings. The bottom half was concealed by a cheap black and white photocopy promotion for a punk band, The Paranoids. The poster underneath was for an old concert of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, a graphic image of a ship with a black sail on the sea, the music for the evening had been the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, and a composition by Messiaen. The rest of the poster was covered up.
“I remember attending that concert,” Jacqueline said.
The Paranoids?”
They both laughed and gently bumped each other's shoulders as they imagined her in the audience of a punk band concert. They crossed the street on their way to the book store for a bit of browsing, their fellow pedestrians seeming so young, so preoccupied with their hand-held devices, some with white wires falling from their ears like remote tethers to their mothership.
“You would think punk is passé,” Amelia said.
“Ah, oui. Though I don't remember the bands that played the punk music in my younger days. It was Beau Dommage, Harmonium, Paul Piché, Véronique Sanson. Douce, with melody.”
“Hmm, yes. I haven't heard Beau Dommage for ages. What was that song they had, 'pour un instant' or something? It was more my elder brother's age but I remember him playing the record.”
“Oui, 'Pour un instant' mais c'etait Harmonium. A very big song for them. Very memorable. But that too, is passé.”

They reached the large bookstore, a new advertisement on the window for the Montreal orchestra with a picture of the conductor, Kent Nagano. Jacqueline held the door for Amelia gesturing to the picture saying how handsome he was, and enjoyable to watch. Amelia lifted her eyebrows and and said, “Ohhh, I seeee.” They followed their light laughter through door and made their way past the housewares and stationery to the back of the shop to look at the books in French. They separated and browsed the display tables, the colourful temptations of text and art vying for their attention.

Amelia looked down at a provocative, or 'racy' as her Mother would have said, cover of Maleficium by Martine Desjardins, a Victorian image of a nude woman, arms above her, with a religious symbol photoshopped onto to her loins. She picked a copy up and casually read the back cover. A respectful envy for the translators who gave the author an English voice overcame her once more. She had read all of the author's books. In French. As she was placing the book down, Jacqueline came up beside her with a copy of L'Amour en Kilt and Le Monde Selon Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith. “A translator's dream, don't you agree?” she asked. “He writes so many books, c'est incroyable!”
“I love his work. Poor Bertie,” she said and laughed sympathetically. “Who is the translator?”
Jacqueline searched for the name and said, “Elizabeth Kern.” They didn't know much about her, or what else she had translated. The representation of Bertie on the cover didn't resemble Amelia's visual conception but she thought the covers were clever.

After looking at books for fifteen minutes, Amelia purchased a copy of Espèces by Ying Chen, while Jacqueline picked Va au bout de tes rêves by Antoine Filissiadis.
“Mais évidement!” replied Jacqueline, and arm and arm they crossed the busy street for a light lunch, Jacqueline humming a tune by France Gall.

In the eyes of the man who occupied the end of a sidewalk bench beneath the second floor restaurant, the two women approaching could have been sisters. Both had light brown hair cut in a modern shoulder length style, one slightly taller than the other—he remembered he was 5' 6” and the taller one was about his height—both wore glasses, stylish with colours, well-dressed and probably around forty years of age.

Whenever Duncan lunched with Amelia at this restaurant, he would like to get a window seat and casually observe this homeless man. He never pan-handled. He would just sit there, people-watching in his designer shreds, running his finger through his stiff 'Edward Scissorhands' hair. Duncan, though sensitive to the homeless plight, had a number of theories concerning him. His clothes were so perfectly frayed, so strangely sand brown in colour, that Duncan often thought the man had just come from wardrobe for a Dickensian shoot. Perhaps there was a sociological experiment taking place, secretly filming pedestrians and their reactions to him. Another of Duncan's theories was he was privately payed by a competitor across the street, to sit on the bench during the all important lunch time period to hopefully discourage customers from entering the restaurant below, thinking no one would enjoy eating while a rather desperate looking man stares at you as you bring the fork to your mouth. His third theory was that he was really an undercover cop or a private detective. Amelia had said he was reading too many mysteries. A modern Sherlock Holmes in disguise? The Case of the Recalcitrant Waiter? He too didn't think much of this theory. It didn't hold much weight.

Amelia believed Duncan was suffering from, P.R.O.F.N.I.D.L.E. : Persistent Reference of Fictional Narrative in Daily Life Experience. She had jokingly made up this acronym, telling her husband she was thinking of writing a paper on it, using him, Mr. Y., as the case subject, and maybe even pitching it to the CEGEP where she taught a course in translation terminology, so she could add another course. She could be a Professor of Profnidle. (Professor Profnidle sounded good too.)

Seated by the window with their plates half full of cold salads and hot vegetarian selections from the buffet, they quietly ate and took in their surroundings. An attractive young women seated behind Jacqueline was talking to her phone as if it were a video camera; she seemed to be an actress of some kind discussing with her agent the details of an offer. Amelia sensed her refined use of language and accent came from Outremont or possibly upper Westmount. Then again, it could be from around the University of Laval in Québec city.

Soft classical music filtered down from the ceiling like a calming mist.
“So how did you meet your husband?” Amelia asked.
“Ah bon, we met on les Îles de la Madeleine.”
“Making castles in the sand?”
Jacqueline smiled. “No, we weren't that young. I was interested in the seal pups from having read about Bridget Bardot's visit back in the 1970s. There was a new eco-tour during the winter, and I went with a girlfriend. It was 1991. Didier was there with his camera. We met 'on the ice' so to speak.”
“That is very romantic.”
“Yes, we were staying at the large brick building on the island, a former convent which had been converted into a hotel. They were the tour operators. A helicopter took us out to the ice floes. We got close to the white seal pups, so soft and vulnerable. We had a marvelous experience. Cold, but merveilleux.”
“Well, I hope he kept you warm.”
They laughed as they guided their forks into pieces of Greek Tofu and Chinese Seitan.
“And Didier is involved with computers?” Amelia asked.
“Yes, he has worked on many projects, recently his company is developing social media tools for business, as well as a new side project which examines digital photography for authenticity. Photography is Didier's great hobby.”
“He seems very talented.”
“Yes, he is, but he works long hours. Thierry and I often eat alone. So, how did you meet Duncan?”
Amelia looked down at the remnants on her plate. Her story was very personal. She had only recently met Jacqueline, and yet she was so at ease with her.
“How about I tell you over coffee and dessert? A little poppy seed cake with fresh fruit on the side? We can share," Amelia offered, thinking it would give her time to frame her story.
“Oh, a story and dessert!” Jacqueline said. They both looked out the large floor to ceiling windows at the lovely wide street, the sacrificial trees dropping their first leaves of the season. They noticed that the homeless man had moved on.

Image and Text © ralph patrick mackay

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