Thursday, October 11, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Six

“I guess it all started with a dumbwaiter," Amelia said.
Jacqueline raised her eyebrows, turning her head slightly to the right. "A dumb waiter?"
"Yes, one of those elevator-like conveniences in older homes."
"Ah, bon, a dumbwaiter, yes," Jacqueline said.
"Perhaps I should start with my Uncle Edward,” Amelia offered, as Jacqueline took a sip of her coffee. “My mother's sister met him in England and they married and lived in London for many years. He trained as a psychiatrist and had a practice there. He was friends with many artists and authors such as Mervyn Peake and Graham Greene,” Amelia added, half thinking it was an unnecessary fact, but also thinking it was one that helped place her uncle in a more literary light. “There was an offer of a teaching position at McGill University and they came to Montreal. It was in the early 1960s. A military moustache graced his upper lip and he generally wore a cravat. Quite different to my other relatives. Uncle Edward bought a large house—there was old money on his side of the family—on the slope of Mount Royal, on Redpath Crescent, which is an odd name for the street as it is laid out like an elongated circle and rather looks like a noose.”
“Oh yes, I know the street,” Jacqueline said, “it runs up from Pine, not far from Trudeau's old house.”
“Yes, yes. A street of lovely houses and trees. My uncle's house is a beautiful stone mansion, slate roof, mullioned windows, gorgeous oak panelling inside, and it has a coach house. They never had children and my sister and I would look forward to family visits for we had, for the most part, the run of the place. Wonderful for hide-and-seek. Uncle Edward had a cork-lined study which I believe was even off limits to my aunt. Off limits to us certainly. Anyway, he left teaching and opened a private practice in his converted coach house. His clientele was select. His patients were generally well-to-do and suffering from depression, anxiety, marital problems, family problems, but no cases involving extreme mental illnesses. In 1988, his secretary was leaving to have a baby. My aunt suggested that I could take up the position for the summer break to make money for my university courses. I was 19 and soon to be 20. It was a pleasant job in a place I adored. From time to time I would ride my bicycle up from my shared apartment on Laval Avenue. But most often, I would take the bus, and walk up from Pine.”
“Where about on Laval did you live?”
“South of Pine on the east side across from where Émile Nelligan had lived, well, a few doors down at least, so our landlord told us.”
“Oh mon dieu, Didier had a flat on Laval, close to rue Napoléon around that time. Le monde est petit.”
“We could well have passed each other in the street, or stood behind each other at the shops. It is funny how the world works.” The thought occurred to Amelia that if she had met Didier and become romantically involved with him, then this conversation with Jacqueline, and much else besides, would not have taken place. “Well, it was at the end of July when in walked Duncan. He was wearing a denim shirt with a sign over his breast pocket, Strand Cordage Ltd., and at first I thought he was there for a service call of some kind, but he said he had an appointment. He was youthful looking, handsome, sporting aviator sunglasses. He was not a typical patient.”
“Was it love at first sight as they say? Le coup de foudre?”
“It may not have been as sudden as that, but their was a . . . a frisson lets say, an emotional reaction. But, here he was seeking psychological assistance. I didn't know what to think. Duncan had been the last patient of the day, and my uncle asked me to close up as usual, and while he sauntered home to walk his dog, an Airedale named George, there I was, with access to the files. I had an interest in Duncan, but it would have been unethical to look. I was tempted more than once during the week to dip into the file but I resisted. The following week, Duncan arrived promptly, looking just as handsome. He was rather quiet and shy. Without fail he would produce a slim paperback book to read. I remember thinking that he could at least make some small talk but it seemed it wasn't part of his character. At least he wasn't hitting on me in a vulgar way.”
“So, what did you do? Cleavage or leg?”
Amelia tapped Jacqueline's hand in mock admonishment. “Honestly! I can't remember," she smiled. "Anyway, one week he had forgotten his umbrella, and coming back in, he bumped into me on my way out to find him, holding his umbrella. We had laughed and he apologized and then just before he was going to turn around and leave, he asked if I would like to go out for a meal.”

Amelia sipped her coffee and noticed the young actress behind Jacqueline was smiling at her. Stories overheard, she thought, become stories retold. She lowered her voice slightly, “I said sure, I was ready to leave and so we left together, walking past the beautiful houses in the light rain towards Pine. I remember seeing my uncle emerge from the main house with George as we started off on the sidewalk.”
Jacqueline reached over and placed her hand on Amelia's, “Did he show you the door for fraternizing with a patient?”
“Well, when I arrived the following Monday morning, I heard my uncle practising his oboe in his office. This was a hobby of his but I had never heard him play it before in the coach house. He asked me into his office and advised me that if I was to begin a relationship with Mr. Strand, I should be discreet at the office. I was an adult and he respected me, but there were professional aspects involved. He said Duncan was a very nice young man, and there was nothing to worry about on that score. I had thanked him, saying we had only gone out to have a meal together and I wasn't sure if we were going to have a relationship, but I completely understood.”

A silence hovered between them, a silence of unasked questions. What was Duncan seeing a psychiatrist for? Did curiosity overcome her ethics? Did she look at his file? Had there been a falling out with her uncle?

“I couldn't look at his file,” Amelia continued. “I actually gave it to my uncle saying it might be better that he keep Duncan's file in his desk. He thought there was no need for that, he had complete trust in my discretion. That actually gave me the power to overcome the temptation. I never did look at the file.”
Jacqueline nodded with serious understanding.
“Well, only the first day,” Amelia added. “Just the basic information. His name, address, age, and that sort of information. Duncan Alasdair Strand, born October 29, 1958. A secretary has to know these things.”

They laughed and finished their dessert. Amelia wondered how far to go with her revelations. There was so much to tell about her life and Duncan's. Too much for the capacity of a light lunch conversation. And what would Duncan feel was appropriate? Had she already gone too far? Would she benefit in any reciprocal way with such revelations?

"But you said it all started with a dumbwaiter," Jacqueline prompted.
"Oh, right. My uncle's house has a dumbwaiter. As youngsters my sister and I actually took turns pulling each other between floors until Uncle Edward banned us from using it as an amusement park ride. Too dangerous he had said. Well, the dumbwaiter needed a new rope. My uncle looked up 'rope' in the yellow pages, and came across Strand Cordage Ltd. He didn't phone, but visited the business and talked to Duncan's father. They generally just sold ropes of all types but they also provided the service of replacing ropes on dumbwaiters. Mr. Strand senior sent Duncan to fix the dumbwaiter and my uncle liked him very much. So when Duncan .  .  . when Duncan had some difficulties, he approached my uncle for help." Amelia sipped the remnants of her coffee wondering if this was the right time to tell Jacqueline a bit of Duncan's story. She couldn't see a better opportunity. She could tell Jacqueline was sympathetic.

"Duncan's fraternal twin had died in a sports car accident in 1987. It was a difficult time for Duncan and he needed someone to talk to. He very much liked my uncle and being a psychiatrist, the decision was easy. Duncan and his brother Gavan had been in a music group since they were young. They called themselves The Splices. They wrote songs together. Played in clubs. When Gavan died, the band fell apart. There were two other members, a bass player and a drummer. Duncan keeps in touch with them on Facebook."

"I am so sorry for Duncan. They must have been close, fraternal twins often are."
“Yes,” Amelia nodded. “It is still difficult for him. We don't often discuss his brother. Well, that is how we met. I didn't mean to end on a sad note. Sorry."
"Not at all. I feel much closer to you both already. We all have stories," Jacqueline said thinking of her own family history.

 "I wanted to invite you and Didier for dinner one night," Amelia said trying to change the mood. "What about next Friday or Saturday?”
“That would be lovely. Let me talk to Didier and we can set a date."
“Great. Duncan and Didier can get to know each other.”
“Yes, Duncan and Didier. Hmm, their names would look good on a sign don't you think: Duncan et Didier, Notaires. Or Didier et Duncan.
"Yes, a nice ring to it."

They carried their trays to the front of the restaurant, Amelia thinking it was fortunate the place did not have waiters, or she might have offended someone. The busboy nodded a thanks as he wiped a table down. She remembered that a number of famous people had once been busboys. She smiled back. Her mother had taught her to be nice to waitresses and waiters. People who work on their feet all day she had said, deserve our respect. Other people too, but just think of how tired their feet are after a day of work. To this day she was mindful of workers and their feet and thought it was a wonder she hadn't become a chiropodist 

Image and text © ralph patrick mackay.

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