Friday, February 22, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Thirty-Three

Clio coaxed and caressed Mélisande's ankles, weaving slowly back and forth in a tango of anticipation. Together they breathed in the rich smell of salmon cat food, yet, with divergent reactions, Mélisande masking her dislike by talking to Clio mincingly with anticipatory delight of such a delicious meal. “Oooh, Salmon, Clio, your favourite, yummm....” She placed the cat dish on the floor and petted Clio who hunched over it with an instinctual display of possessiveness. Hunger or habit Mélisande wondered as she watched Clio eat? And was she too but a pawn of the habitual responses of the digestive tract? Had habit taken over? Eating by herself stripped the fabric of the dining ritual away to reveal the truth that one was not always famished at meal times, and that many small food breaks seemed more efficient. She even felt she had lost weight since Pavor had been away in Europe, and yet, she missed the act of sharing a meal. She sat at her kitchen table and imagined Pavor sitting across from her, wine glass in hand telling her of his latest chapter of his latest work in progress, the words and descriptions of character swirling in the air about them like a host of fallen angels.

Receiving Pavor's email this morning was like having a fresh painted backdrop descend for the next scene: Trieste, old buildings, clocks, statues; a de Chirico landscape with long shadows and late sun, a couple walking in the plaza. It could be the book cover illustration, The Under-Glasse, a literary novel by P. K. Loveridge. She was a bit concerned he had ventured out of his zone of comfort, but secretly pleased that he might be mining layers of hidden sensitivity, layers possibly revealed due to their being apart for so many months.

Pavor hadn't mentioned his stay in Prague. It had been the purpose of his trip. A few weeks in Prague to visit his Mother and gather the spirit of place for possible fictional purposes, but the Trieste offer had come to him enroute, his agent having met him in Paris to lay out the details. His Mother, an imperious woman, opinionated and judgemental, who had been rather cool to Mélisande upon meeting her for the first time, had returned to Prague after her many years in Montreal, a return that may have softened her character she hoped, and made her more forgiving, surrounded as she now was with her culture and language. Mélisande imagined that Pavor's Mother had anticipated a doctor or a lawyer being her future daughter-in-law, and that a librarian was not quite on the same scale. She realized she didn't truly understand his Mother. Perhaps never would.

She walked over to the counter and decided to have a toasted white-seed bagel, sliced pear and tea for dinner. She carefully sliced the Fairmount bagel and placed the pieces in the toaster thinking that though Pavor could read the news of Montreal, and listen to local radio over the Internet, he could not get a delicious Fairmount bagel in Trieste. He would be missing that, she thought, and her company.

His description of Slovenia, horseback riding and cave exploration was enticing. She had already been reviewing her holiday status and possible choices and decisions to be made. She hadn't been on a horse for ages. This evoked the memory of walking with Pavor on Mount Royal last year to enjoy the autumn colours, and how they stood watching as two police officers, a female and a male, their equivalents in some other dimension, approached on horseback upon the cinder path, and how she internally swooned with the extraordinary beauty and strength of their black mounts with their long eyelashes, dark eyes and black manes, all urging her to reach out and caress their noses and jaws and talk to them like she talked with Clio. But of course she had restrained this urge and made do with small talk with the officers, pleasant types who were affable and proud, doing their best to control the powerful, once wild, natures beneath them. 

Sitting down at her kitchen table with her light repast, she turned on the radio and listened to the local news before turning the dial to find a piece of music to accompany her dinner. Frustrated by her findings, she switched it over to the cd player and pressed play. Telemann, musique de table, baroque music performed by old university roommates and friends of hers who had made a place for themselves in various baroque music ensembles in Montreal.

As she ate, she thought of the odd Latin text that Duncan had brought to her. She had had a moment during the day to look it over and it seemed to be a part of an esoteric or occult work possibly from the sixteenth century. The words clavis magna were used in the text, the great key. Well, she thought, it was a start. Duncan should be pleased to find such an odd remnant text thrown into a binding as filler to keep the cash books of uniform appearance. It must have been a bad year for business. She should really phone or email Amelia and arrange to meet over coffee, or perhaps have them both over for dinner and catch up on their lives. She could use a friendly chat.

She took her tea into the bedroom. The bedside table displayed her reading of the moment, at stack of books including Armadale by Wilkie Collins, Dear Life by Alice Munro, and poems by Anne Carson. She had been dipping into Armadale on a monthly basis trying to replicate the reading experience of the original Victorian Cornhill Magazine readers back in the early 1860s, and often wondered how they could remember so much after a month had passed, but then again, she had thought, there were fewer distractions, more time for them to think upon what they had read and create anticipatory fictional possibilities. She looked down and noticed the corner of the book of poems by Pavor under the bed. She brought it up from the dusty shadows and opened it to read the next poem in the arrangement:

You touch my shoulder pointing left. The star
Adjacent rising, Notre Dame, the church,
The overreaching extrovert, the draw
For photo-ops and tourists over par,
The structure of belief, and pigeon perch,
Is casting nascent shadows and the law.

The buses idle while the pilgrims stretch.
Hand-held devices at arms-length will bloom
Like floral offerings. Smoke and swagger
Arises from the driver whose fine sketch
In air with cigarette, “don't miss the tomb!”
Provides a sense of cloak and dagger.

The architect lies buried underneath.
What faith, or deal sub rosa paid for this?
And did Masonic ritual take place?
The apron and the evergreen? Did death,
The code, the key, the mystery, the bliss,
Unlock the blueprint of a cold embrace?

O'Connell's bones beneath the stones--a death-
bed convert to acquire his well-made crypt--
A skipping rhyme, alone he lies in slate.
And yet, such art, such beauty, and such breath-
less carvings, azure, sculptures, stain-glassed script
Surround once rented pews, choice real-estate.

A skipping rhyme? She shook her head and laughed. Oh Pavor, she thought, always tossing a pebble into the clear waters of reflection. He was always digging up interesting facts about Montreal. She remembered when he had told her about the architect of Notre Dame Cathedral being buried in a crypt beneath the church, and yet she doubted whether bus tours had such knowledge, although the pews had indeed been 'choice real-estate.'

She closed the book and laid it upon the bed. Drinking her tea, curling her toes and stretching her tired legs, she began to feel the fatigue of the day overtake her. A light nap was all she needed. She heard Clio making her way down the hallway to her bedroom, and as she closed her eyes, she listened as she approached and felt her leap upon the bed before settling down to perform her meticulous washing ritual, the sounds of which eased her mind of all worries. She should write a children's book she thought, a cat and a librarian take a cat nap together and dream of a distant castle where the Queen dines on marmalade and toast, marmalade and toast, marmalade and toast . . ..

© ralph patrick mackay

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Thirty-Two

Feeling lonely and slightly hungry, Pavor Loveridge stretched out on the settee, a print out of his day's writing on his lap, his foot tapping to the beat of Corcovado from the classic Getz/Gilberto album. It was 11 p.m. and his eyes were dry and his will was weak from a long day of writing and tossing baskets with paper rejects. Stucco ceiling. Who does stucco ceilings anymore he wondered. It was almost a language written on the surface of an alien planet. Perhaps he could develop a series in speculative fiction, The Vortex of Souvenirs. Something like those stories he read as a kid. He could use his Rex Packard character, leaving the spies and thugs on the surface of twentieth-first century Earth behind, to follow the trail of evil in a distant time of Steampunk shenanigans.

He thought of the email he had sent to Mélisande early in the morning, an email she had yet to respond to. Understandable. He deserved the silence. Time, he thought, time will see him through.

He had given up the struggle of writing a literary novel, The Under-glasse, a novel which he felt could fit in with the standard Canadian novel with its vast territory of guilt, failure, identity and conflicts of interest. Rex Packard lived again. His agent and publisher would no doubt be heaving the quintessential sigh of relief. What was he thinking they would all ask? A literary novel? The Under-glasse?! Midlife crisis? A love affair gone wrong? Male menopause?

Pavor had left Rex in the mansion north of Detroit looking over his text messages and watching MacGyver on the television. He had now slipped him into Montreal for the meeting with his former overseers. The return of Rex and Vernon. Picking up the sheets of paper, he began to read this second cast of the Packard line, hoping the hook and sinker would develop as the days progressed. 

Packard Under Glass, part 2

Rex Packard gazed intently at the palm of his right hand. A road map, topography unknown. What past or future could be seen in the lines of his hands, the arching life line, the yearning head line, and the dipping heart, rivers among the tributaries and striations of experience and the supposedly foretold? He rubbed his dry hands together as if they were cold and looked down at the open menu. The dissonant tone of an old-fashioned service bell sounded from the depths of the Mexican restaurant, an abstract sound of hope merged with hunger. Pavlovian. Melted cheese, chili, guacamole, tomatoes, beans, his mouth watering with anticipation. He could have used a Corona, but his el jimador with cranberry juice and Tabasco would do. The soft mariachi music danced with the susurration of the other customers creating a soothing background noise for his sense of social unease, being a solitary diner. He thought he would go for the Cactus Gratinado, and then, perhaps the . . . Enchilada.

A waitress wafted by, fresh-scented, vanilla.

“Do you still tell woman that you're twenty-nine,” a voice said, hand resting on Rex's left shoulder.

Rex disliked being taken by surprise. He usually took seats that offered a perspective on the room, the better to grasp any situation or newcomer of interest, but the restaurant was busy and he had had little choice. The sound of Vernon Smythe's cool enunciation was, he supposed, inevitable.

“Have a seat,” Rex offered, “I hear the Ceviche is very good this time of year.”

“Very kind of you Rex,” Vernon said, who sat down with suave casualness, crossing his right leg over his left knee like a chess movement. “So,” he continued, his grey eyes looking through Rex, “you've come a day early for our meeting, put yourself up at an expensive boutique Hotel here in old Montreal, and are enjoying some fine dining.”

“I suppose you know what hair gel I use too,” Rex shot back with a smile, “or perhaps, the tales I tell my hairstylist.” Rex sipped his drink thinking they must have extreme knowledge of all his movements to be such a few steps behind him. “Is it about the Russians?” he asked, thinking Vernon's hair had advanced to the stage of ashen grey.

“My dear fellow, we were the source for your Russians. We passed them on to you.” Vernon managed to smile a waitress down. “May I have a gin and tonic, my dear, a touch of ice and a twist of lemon. Thank you.” He looked around to gauge the distance of other diners. “I do hope they coughed up a decent penny or two.”

Rex looked at his menu and tried to remain calm. Think of a beach in Mexico, Rex, he told himself. Warm sand, blue seas, the gentle break of the waves. Palm trees, shade umbrellas, attractive women in bathing suits. “How many others have you been passing on to me?” Rex asked, raising his head and shifting it to the left the better to emphasize his concern.

“My dear fellow, we can't have you starving, can we?” He looked deeply into Rex's eyes trying to see if the penny had dropped. “You're our free-lance asset, you see.” He smiled as the waitress brought him his drink. “Thank you my dear.” Feeling that the staff and other diners would view them as Father and son, Vernon Smythe played the part accordingly, raising his clinking tumbler and offering a toast, “To your future, may it be prosperous, flamboyant, fragrant and brightly wrapped.”

Rex hesitated, but then raised his glass like a reluctant or recalcitrant son. The glasses were held aloft but did not embrace over the cutlery. "Something about the intonation of your voice every now and again reminds me of a cartoon character on television. Someone called, Stewie."

"I'm afraid your cultural references Rex, are quite over my head," Vernon said with a smile. "I have little time for television. And certainly not the news."

“So, then,” Rex said, “what's it all about?”

“Alfie . . .” Vernon sang the syllables, extending the second one with a dulcet touch. “Dionne Warwick is one of the great, and classiest singers of our age. The film was rubbish but the song, yes, the song will last.” Vernon sipped his drink looking at Rex to see if his cultural references had any effect. “What's it all about? Well, we have a rather . . . nostalgic bit of work for you.” Vernon withdrew a pair of glasses and began to read the menu, making a few humph sounds as he inspected the selected dishes offered. “You can relax your mind. It doesn't involve teaching additional Russians modern 'Democratic' methods on how to deal with dissent.” He looked over his glasses at Rex. “We hope your seminars have given them a new perspective. I don't think anyone is pleased to open their newspaper in the morning and see that another Russian journalist has been killed. We need the Russians to get with the program. Anything we can do to keep them from employing radicals from their former 'stans' to take out a busybody journalist or two is well worth the effort.” Vernon emitted another little humph sound as he read the menu. “They have red snapper, hmm.” He closed his menu and drank deeply of his gin and tonic.

“Nostalgic?” Rex said.

“Did you know that this building goes quite far back? 1840s. Yes, you look surprised. Imagine,” he said looking about, “here we sit where the old printing presses and the artisans once laboured; the strong smell of inks and the fresh smell of printed books and papers in the air. Ah yes, history under foot.” He finished his drink and looked at Rex. “We'll give you a buzz tomorrow morning to set up our little meeting. I'm sorry I can't stay longer. Dinner engagement.” Vernon got up, nodding towards the bar. “Enjoy your evening young man. Don't party too late.” And with a wink Vernon was off.

Rex watched as he made his way out followed by a dark-suited associate who must have been keeping an eye from his perch at the bar. He looked back to where Vernon had sat and noticed a twenty-dollar bill under the tumbler, the remnant ice and slice of lemon a shimmering accent over the Queen's head.

© ralph patrick mackay

Note: I created the above image using The Pulp-O-Mizer cover maker. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Thirty-One

Jerome washed and scrubbed his hands with the lavender scented soap in an effort to remove the graphite and oil paint from the pores of his skin, remnant evidence of an afternoon's preliminary studies of Lucrezia.

She had suggested, after he had touched her hand to arrange her fingers as they were in the original painting, that he stay for dinner and the night, and continue his efforts on the morrow. Her husband, she had said, would like to meet him. Since there was nothing to draw him back to his lonely apartment, Jerome had accepted. She was pleased with his efforts and his skill, and had left him to clean his brushes while Thaddeus awaited to escort him to his room. He had led Jerome along a hallway and through a heavy door into what seemed a completely different house, a much older structure with a wide corridor, high ceilings, ornate moldings, old-fashioned hot-water radiators, and rich oak, or possibly mahogany woodwork; nineteenth century oil paintings and antique tapestries adorned the walls, and upon the ornately carved hall tables, bronzes, alabaster lamps, and porcelain urns; the old wood floors were laid with richly coloured oriental carpets which had made their passage a silent one. They had come to a large door with a sign above, The Tapestry Room. Thaddeus had opened the door to reveal a large room with a heavy-limbed four-poster, an elaborately carved stone fireplace and richly coloured tapestries on the walls, hunting scenes for the most part. Sleeping garments and a robe were laid upon the black and gold jacquard bed cloth.

Jerome looked into the mirror catching sight of the darkness beneath his eyes. He could use a good sleep in a sumptuous bed. The old-fashioned tub with porcelain fixtures reflected in the mirror, made him think a hot bath after dinner would be a warranted treat. As he dried his hands, he heard a loud distant noise, and then a tapping. He leaned his head into the bedroom to hear if it was the door, but saw a shadow at the triple arched window and noticed a dark bird pecking at the glass, wings flapping. It was gone by the time he reached the window sill, but it had left a black feather on the outside ledge, a feather enticingly out of reach, the lower sections of the windows having been sealed. As the fog descended like a veil, he looked upon the formal garden laid out before him, a fountain in the middle, and tall hedges in the distance in what appeared to be a maze structure. Classical and Gothic juxtaposed.

Fatigue from his concentrated exertion lured him to the bed where he lay down trying to suppress a brief memory of the movie The Shining, and hoping a light rest before supper would be restorative. Thaddeus said he would come to find him in an hour. There was a large dresser and a desk in the room but not a clock radio or timepiece in sight. He would have to rely on his internal sense of time, a sense though, he felt, had withered with modern conveniences and the scientific structures of time. Perhaps a bird would wake him. He closed his eyes and breathing deeply, fell into a light doze.

He stood holding a coffee in his left hand, his purple SUV beside him. It was a large room with enormous colourful abstract paintings on the wall. Seeing the crowd moving towards the shadows to his left, he joined them and soon found himself walking beside the yellow line on a Metro platform. Jostled, trying to keep his coffee from spilling, and trying to avoid falling onto the tracks, he managed to shoulder his way out of the stream and finding a green door, opened it and began to scale a staircase. The ceiling, however, seemed to descend as he ascended forcing him to crouch. Two workmen in jumpsuits murmured to each other as they sat on the stairs eating sandwiches oblivious to his rising concern, and his feelings of being lost. Large painted pipes and valves forced him to contort his body to make his way forward. Claustrophobia began to overtake him. He left the coffee behind and crawled forward on his belly towards what he felt to be a door. Pushing it open, he raised himself to find the same room, his purple SUV in the distance, the modern art, the crowds. A tall man who he felt to be his Father looked at him, then got in the SUV and drove away. He was running after it, helplessly running.

Jerome awoke, his head between the large pillows, the bedspread disturbed as if he had been thrashing. The dream lingered, for a brief moment, fragments of images, shards of reflections and senses falling away into that dark realm of the mind where memory and fantasy, the abstract and the real continue to create seemingly haphazard alternative narratives of life experience. Purple SUV, Metro platform, staircase, Father. And they were gone. The scenario as evanescent as the smoke from a cigarette.

He slid off the bed and went to the desk. He felt he couldn't have slept long. Ten minutes at the most. Looking into the drawers, he discovered pens, a pair of scissors, and three identical unused leather bound journals. Sitting at the desk, he opened one of the journals, the cream paper heavy and textured, fresh and demanding. To make the first mark on such a fine object filled him with a sense of responsibility, so he took up the fountain pen, turned to the last page of the journal and tested it with a few flourishes and strokes. Pleased with its weight and feel, he returned to the first page and decided to capture the moment.

Tuesday, October 23rd.
I feel I should write of my experiences. A record. A testament. Or, at least, mere evidence of this strange day. Something to leave behind or carry with me in case of . . the unforeseen.

It is now late afternoon and I feel that my initial doubts and concerns with this portrait commission have diminished. I was at first startled by my escorts, Tad and Barry, or Thaddeus and Bartholomew, twins of a certain physical size and outward demeanour, but Thaddeus seems to carry himself as a facade, his inner nature being rather soft and non threatening. His brother, however, is an unknown factor still.

I don't know where I was brought. The dark limo-like vehicle had tinted glass, and I fell asleep as well. Heated seats and plush leather so far away from my little hard vinyl seated Deux Chevaux. I do know we are in the country forty or so minutes from Montreal. Whether to the North, or to the Eastern Townships, I cannot tell. It is, however, a very wealthy estate. The subject of the portrait, who I am to call Lucrezia,is an attractive redhead a few years older than myself, intelligent and cultured. Her presentation to me was one of simplicity and openness. I fear I am drawn to her. Unintended pun—the pen avails itself of such linguistic devices, unlike the brush. When I touched her hand to model the fingers, there was a moment of intense feeling, but she overcame it quickly and talked of how her husband wanted to meet me, and that I should stay for dinner and overnight.

Though my worries over this commission have diminished, her husband is still an unknown shadow who now garnishes my remnant anxiety. I try to imagine what kind of man 'Lucrezia' is married to: Stereotypically older or avant-gardely younger? Self-manifested wealth or inherited? Overweight or fit? Tall or short? My expectations are open. I only hope he is not . . dangerous.

Lucrezia's eyes revealed much experience of life. I sensed she was mature, grounded, natural. She was barefoot. A white cotton robe her only adornment. Not even a ring. She shed everything for her pose. But we have many skins us humans. My sketches and preliminary daubs went well. Her face does suit the dress and the setting of the original. That can be a worry. Sometimes a modern face is out of place. That last line sounds like a lyric from a fifties song. 'Sometimes a modern face is out of place, but not in my heart tonight. . . .' I'm becoming silly with hunger.

My room is the Tapestry Room and feels much like an old-world stately home. The hunting scenes depicted in the tapestries seem historical or mythological in nature, the colours used are very warm and make the large room feel intimate. I imagine that a fire in the grate would add to the intimacy as its muted light flickers upon the colourful threads and weaves. I just looked more intensely at the one behind the bed. A tall ship in full sail, a lamp lit near its prow. A galleon of some kind, something like a ship from the time of Sir Walter Ralegh and his kith. It is quite different from the hunting scenes, in colouration—blues and greys—as well as subject. No figures, just a portion of the ship and in the foreground, the white crested waves and swampy land. Seems modern as well as old.

I just heard a knock on the door. Time must have flown. Thaddeus just called my name saying he'll be in the corridor waiting to show me down to dinner. I wish myself luck....


It was with a sense of relief that Amelia and Edward looked upon Hugh and George greeting each other for the first time. The dogs made a number of small circles around each other, tails wagging and mouths open with curiosity, sniffing, smiling, creating a familiarity of sorts. They were an odd pair. To Edward, Amelia's miniature dachshund and his Airedale brought to mind various odd couples, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Sidney James and Kenneth Williams, while for Amelia, she thought of Bouvard and Pécuchet, Holmes and Watson, and Vladimir and Estragon. But such frames of reference quickly evaporated when George spread his front arms down in a pose of what seemed to be an offer of play, and Hugh hopped about in the grass following him around in the backyard. A success. They retreated to the patio and its comfortable chairs.

Amelia had not revealed her reason for bringing Hugh up to the house, only saying she was out with him—which she was—and since she was so close, she thought she would pop in and say hi. Edward was pleased with the impromptu visit and the resulting vigour that George was exhibiting.

“It's good to see George being more lively,” Edward said. “I fear I don't stimulate or offer him much in the way of exercise these days.”

“I'll try and bring Hugh up more often now that I know they get along.”

They watched the dogs cavorting, and then laughed lightly as George rolled over in the grass before resting, while Hugh, now being eye to eye, nose to nose, stood before him as if in conversation.

“I say, this is quite a backyard,” Hugh said.

“Hmm, yes, but I don't use it much,” George said looking about. “I used to do the old run and fetch a stick or ball, but it's been a while. I sort of miss that.”

“Yes, yes, I do that from time to time.”

“Have you ever jumped for frisbees?” George asked looking at Hugh's short legs.

“Frisbees?” Hugh said. “No, no, I can't say I have.”

“Not my thing either Hugh. Hard on the teeth I bet.”

“And the nose too if you miss it,” Hugh offered. “I say, is there a cat about?” he said sniffing the air.

“Good nose Hugh. Yes, but I don't worry myself about it. A stray. They come and go.” George looked at the house and Edward and Amelia talking together. “It must be a hard life, without a home.”

“True enough. True enough.” Hugh was impressed with George's magnanimous comment. And yet, he wondered if George had ever been scratched by a cat. “I say, there is an abundance of scents around here. Fox, skunk, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, and even, yes,” he sniffed more profoundly, “yes, a hint of groundhog."

"Oh yeah, we have a full line of wildlife up here Hugh. A full line."

© ralph patrick mackay

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Thirty

Photograph | Lady Galt's house, Mountain Street, Montreal, QC, 1899 | II-128067
While looking out of the upper window anticipating Noel's arrival, Duncan tapped his feet and slapped his hands on his thighs to the beat of the song Waves by the group Metric. One visit with Yves and here he was listening to pop music. The street below was quiet. A few parked cars. No one on foot. The fog had lingered, an atmosphere wavering up and down like a pious spirit in  prayer. Then he saw a taxi cab draw up, and Noel, well-dressed, or 'spiffy' as his brother used to say, emerged. Duncan turned the cd player off and quickly went down stairs to the front door of the shop.

Noel mimicked a salute as he approached. “Permission to come aboard, Sir?”

“Glad you could make it,” Duncan said, locking the door and flipping the sign for potential customers to ring for admittance.

Duncan gave him a quick tour of the remnant cordage business on the main floor and then they scaled the stairs to the upper level where his Lafcadio & Co. Bookshop was sequestered in shadow. Duncan turned on a few overhead lights, and went around turning on lamps to warm the space up. He pointed to the bookshelves towards the back of the large space, “Please browse freely,” Duncan said sweeping a hand towards the books. “I'll boil water for tea. If you need help, just call me."

Noel began to explore the space with his eyes. In front of the large front window, two comfy chairs and a small round table, then Duncan's desk covered in books and papers and his computer, then to the far side near the front, a little area for his kitchen amenities, and behind it all, the floor to ceiling bookshelves arranged on either side of a central aisle which ended with a pedestal table upon which stood a large porcelain angel holding an open book in its hands, staring at him from the distant shadows. The bookshelves came out from the walls to form U shapes, individual private browsing spaces, so if one stood at the front and look towards the back, there could be twelve possible browsers lost in the their bookish browsing nooks. Noel turned into the first one on his left side. He noticed a wooden sign tilting down from the uppermost shelf, Sir Lancelot, the letters in gilt. He turned around and looked across the aisle at the facing nook, Sir Percivale. In order to grasp the overall arrangement, he walked out to the aisle and made his way towards the angel, looking left, Sir Gawain, Sir Geraint, Sir Gareth, Sir Gaheris, and Sir Bedivere. Pausing to inspect the porcelain angel with its finely detailed feathered wings, a shiver came over him as he looked into its eyes, seemingly blind in depiction. Noel looked up to see three small prints, scenes of fantastic sea ports, fortresses on hills, sloops and barks with their canvas sails full with the breeze, and in the foreground, locals in exotic dress. He continued his tour looking into the nooks on the opposite side, Sir Galahad, Sir Kay, Sir Bors de Ganis, Sir Lamorak, Sir Tristan, and once again, Sir Percivale. Noel shifted his glasses to the end of his nose and looked at Duncan who sat at his desk writing. He checked himself from asking him about the arrangement, and continued where he had begun, discovering, after a few moments, that the books were seemingly on all subjects, intermixed. Only with a second look did he realize they were alphabetical, by author: Kobo Abe, Irving Abella, Douglas Adams, Addison, Alfred Adler, Aeschylus, Mark Akenside, Agricola, Alighieri, Amis, Piers Anthony, Apollinaire, Apollonius, Apuleius, Hubert Aquin, Aquinas, Matthew Arnold, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Arrian, Artaud, Ascham, Isaac Asimov, Margaret Atwood, John Aubrey, Auden, Audubon, Austen, Auster, J. L. Austin, A. J. Ayer. . . .

He heard a phone ringing in the distance, then the sound of Duncan going down the stairs. Looking around the end of the bookshelf, he heard the kettle beginning its reluctant whine and hiss. He walked over to Duncan's desk and looked down to see a manuscript held open by the weight of a dark blue cd case, Metric, Fantasies. The manuscript was a  meaningless jumble of numbers and letters that resembled a text. He walked back and quietly resumed his browsing, mystified.


Noel was dipping into Chats on Old Pewter by H. J. L. Massé, when he heard a knock on the end of the wood shelving unit, and Duncan appeared.

“Hello, anyone there? I thought I lost you.”

“Well,” Noel said, closing the book on old pewter, “I could easily lose myself here for quite a few hours.”

“Are you finding my arrangement a bit of a puzzle?” Duncan asked, looking down to the stool to see a small stack of books, Lucian's True History, Heliodorus's An Ethiopean History in a limp vellum binding, and an 1853 copy of The Works of Apuleius.

“I see you follow the Knights of the Round Table cataloguing system.” Noel said gesturing to the sign of Sir Galahad. 

 Duncan laughed. “If you would like a break, I've made a nice pot of tea.”

They made their way to the upholstered chairs by the window, a teapot under a cozy, cups, milk, sugar, and a plate of biscuits were on the table.

“When I moved my stock here,” he said as he poured the tea, “I decided to make it simple. All books, no matter what the subject, shelved alphabetically. Milk?”

“Yes, please, and just a touch of sugar. Thank you.”

“Since I would only be selling over the Internet, such an arrangement was possible. My computer database has all the subject catalogues.” Duncan handed Noel his tea. “As for the Knights and the Angel, they were a purchase from an estate sale.  I was called one day and asked to come round and look over a private library for sale. Finding that I was the first dealer to see the books and other items was a pleasant and rare occurrence. I bought twenty large boxes of good books that day. The couple overseeing the estate sale didn't know what the signs were used for, and they were glad to part with the Angel for a pittance. Twenty dollars I think I paid.”

“Are you still out there buying books?”

“No, not so much these days.” Duncan sipped his tea and looked at Noel who seemed truly interested. “I've attended book sales for over thirty years. The long line-ups in the cold autumn and spring mornings, and the hot physical scrums of jostling pickers and dealers is behind me.” Duncan finished his cup of tea, his thirst overcoming him. “One of the saddest sights in that world was seeing an older dealer, Mr. Belkin, holding his broken glasses that some young turk had knocked off his face while in the heat of a McGill University Book Sale.” Duncan sighed and filled his cup and offered more to Noel. “The image stays with me. It's like an engraving on my wall of memory. Mr. Belkin was in his fifties at the time, a large man. I'm sure he could haves squashed the punk who did it, but he carried on, the older ladies running the show provided some tape for his glasses.” Duncan stared at the plate of biscuits, as if it was the source of memory.

“Sounds like a competitive sport,” Noel offered.

“Yes, the search for the valuable among the dross can be competitive. I don't miss it." Duncan paused thinking of those who were still out there scrambling for books in this baffling new market. "So, how is the Ritz Carlton Hotel?” 

“Superb, an old-world elegance to be sure.”

“I've lived in Montreal all my life, and I've never set foot in the place. Passed it countless times, watched rich people helped in or out, peeked in as I passed, and said hello to the square-shouldered doorman, but never once have I been over the threshold.”

“Well, Duncan, we will fix that on Thursday evening.”

“Yes, Amelia told me of your invitation, thank you, I look forward to the dinner.” Duncan said.

"A fellow Hotel guest mentioned to me in the elevator, that the Montreal novelist, Mordecai Richler had been a regular patron of the Ritz Carlton Bar."

“Yes, that's right," Duncan said, "and a few other convivial watering holes too I believe. Oh, sorry, that doesn't sound very good, the Ritz Bar as a watering hole!"

"Maybe I should read one of his novels," Noel said ignoring Duncan's last remark. "Any recommendations?”

Duncan thought for a moment, gauging Noel's sense of humour, and going over the story lines in his head. “They're all good, but perhaps St. Urbain's Horseman might be just the book. I have a signed hard cover copy if you want, or if you're travelling light, a paperback.”

“The paperback will do, thank you,” Noel said taking a biscuit. “Did you ever meet him?”

Duncan threw his head back and laughed lightly. “I did meet him once, but it was not auspiciously.” Duncan munched on a cookie, the crumbs falling onto his corduroys. “My brothers and I were working at my Father's little cottage in the Eastern Townships, cutting trees, chopping wood, and various other manual jobs. I said I would go check the mail at the small crossroads town of Austin. Blink and you miss it back then. I imagine it's built up these days. Anyway, there I was, sweaty, dirty, dressed in my work clothes and baseball cap, and looking altogether like a local farm hand, when up drives a car, and who emerges, Mordecai Richler. I was sitting on the stairs eating french fries.” Duncan sighed and brushed the crumbs off his trousers. “Not how I wanted to meet a famous author.”

“Did you say anything?” Noel asked with much interest.

“I managed to mumble, 'I enjoy your work very much,' gesturing with a french fry. Not my greatest moment,” he said shaking his head.

“Did he respond?”

“I think he was as surprised as me,” Duncan said looking out the window shaking his head. “He had a supple, soft, rich voice and as he passed me, his aromatic schimmelpenninck cigarillo in one hand, he thanked me very much and said my fries looked good.” Stretching out his legs, he took a sip of tea. “I knew he had a cottage in the area, but I never expected to bump into him. Life adds a little . . . trajectorial fun, when you least expect it. ”

“Trajectorial fun? I like that. Not sure if it's accepted English, but it has flow,” Noel said waving his cookie in the air before him. “I noticed a few books by a Hugh MacLennan. The title Two Solitudes seems familiar.”

Duncan nodded his head not quite sure where Noel was leading the conversation. “Yes, it's a very good book, important in its day, but, for me at least, seems a bit dated. I prefer reading the novels of Brian Moore," Duncan added as an aside. "MacLennan believed there was an affinity between the Scottish people and the French in their historical experiences, so he was sensitive to the issues in Québec at the time. He taught at McGill for many years. I was fortunate to take his course on the modern novel in the last year he was teaching, Joyce, Faulkner, Woolf, and even Waugh's Brideshead were covered among others which I can't remember.”

“Was he a good professor?”

Duncan tilted his head to the side as if such a motion would help shift memories to the fore. Looking over at Noel, a man who had held a professorship at Oxford for many years, he didn't want to say anything obnoxious about academics. “I don't think he wanted to teach, though he was extremely intelligent and knowledgeable, Latin and Greek were his solid foundation. He could shift between a joke and a serious point in one sentence. I remember his voice was resonant due to his heavy smoking habit, and his accent was an odd mixture of East Coast Canada where he was born, and a mid-Atlantic flare possibly from his years as a Rhodes scholar.” Duncan looked up to the ceiling and crossed his legs once more. “I stopped and talked to him once outside his office, and asked him about his years teaching at Lower Canada College.”

“Oh, he taught there,” Noel said. “It must have been before my late friend Frederick Jones made an appearance.”

“Yes, it was in the thirties I think. It must have rather bleak back then." Duncan sat up straight and crossed his arms. "Even I remember many corner lots were mere overgrown swamps with cut-through paths when I grew up there in the 1960s. My grandfather had settled in NDG in the first decade of the twentieth century when it was mainly farm land and summer vacation homes. He ended up having quite a few houses built for his children, my Father's house included, only a few blocks away from LCC which appeared on the scene as a boarding school in 1909 I believe. Sorry, I'm rambling. Anyway, Professor MacLennan said it was indeed bleak, the pay was poor, and the teaching level was beneath what he knew he was capable of. I remember he quoted a Latin phrase with a wink, and I just nodded like I knew what he was talking about," Duncan laughed and looked at Noel for acceptance. "His smile was elusive. He would keep his upper lip over his front teeth and only rarely would you get the full smile. I sensed he was a decent kind man.”

Noel nodded, sipped his tea, while memories of his teaching days reemerged after years of forgetfulness.

“The wife of a friend of mine told a story about MacLennan,” Duncan began. “It's so odd I don't think it's apocryphal."

Noel was aroused from the past and said, “Oh, yes.”

“Supposedly the author was staying at the large old home of her parents and they heard a scream coming from the guest bedroom.”

“A ghost?” Noel asked.

“No, nothing so dramatic. A needle.”

“A needle?”

“Yes. Her parents went to investigate and called through the door to see if the author was all right. He responded by telling him that upon getting into bed, a needle had pierced him in the .  .  ," Duncan hesitated, unable to decide upon the word to use, "scrotum," he said finally.

“Oh, dear,” Noel said shifting his legs about. “I'd rather have the ghost.”

“Yes, me too.”

“A needle in the bed linens, not a pleasant thought to be sure."

“Do you believe in ghosts?” Duncan asked.

“Britain is overrun by ghosts, Duncan, real or imagined. I've never experienced one, but Oxford has its share.” He paused and helped himself to a chocolate biscuit. “There is a story my wife likes to tell visitors. It is the tale of Rosamund, a nun who had caught the eye of King Henry II. Supposedly, he kept her as a concubine in a special garden within a labyrinth—or no doubt, a maze as your good wife elucidated for us last night—and it was guarded by a Knight who held a thread of silver, which when followed led to Rosamund. The Queen killed the Knight, quite a feat in itself, then followed the thread and offered the fair maiden a chalice of wine,  poisoned wine. And so this poor Rosamund haunts the Trout Pub in Wolvercote, which is only minutes from central Oxford as the crow flies.”

“A fascinating story,” Duncan said quietly. “I had an experience when I was younger." Duncan looked at Noel who looked back with interest, nodding an encouragement. "I've only told a select few, my brothers, Amelia, and Edward." He paused while he gathered the facts from memory. "My Mother passed away in 1970, when I was twelve. My Father arranged for her visitation and funeral service to be held at a prominent funeral home on Mountain street near St. Catherine Street which had catered to many Protestant families over the years. After the visitations were finished, I remember going into the washroom of the old elegant building to wash my face, the image of my Mother's open coffin still haunting my inner eye.  I was so young. I was still in a state of shock I guess. But I stood in front of the sink which had a very wide large mirror above, and as I finished washing my hands and face, I looked up to see a circle of condensation on the mirror, to the right and above me. It had not been there when I first looked in the mirror. I got up on my toes, held my breath, and looked at this strange circle of what appeared to be a warm breath on a cold mirror, in a perfect circle the size of a silver dollar. It lasted for what seemed minutes, and then gently evaporated to a central point and vanished altogether.”

“That is an extraordinary experience Duncan. Striking, very striking," Noel said. "We know so much these days, yet there are mysteries beyond our comprehension."

"I've never known what to think. Was it the spirit of my Mother, or was it some other presence? Was it a hallucination? A trick of the light?"

"Certainly a unique story to my ears. Condensation on a mirror, perfectly formed." 

“The story continues though. A few years later, about 1978 or 1979, when I was dating a young woman from Hong Kong who was into dancing and discotheques—not my thing, but one adapts—she wanted to go to this new disco simply called 1234. When she told me the address was 1234 Mountain Street, I remember feeling nauseous. A discotheque where there had once been solemn services, pain, weeping, sadness . . . death." Duncan shook his head.  "But we went. We went numerous times. There I was dancing in what used to be the chapel surrounded by a mob of glazed-eyed merriment and exaltation of the physical senses. Dancing trance-like in a celebration of life, energy and youth. Hormones mixing with liquor spirits and powder substances in a rite of sensual colour and movement. The big hair, the laughter, the broad smiles, the make-up, the perfume, the cigarette smoke, the disco ball above, spinning out its flashes of light, the strobe lights, the deafening music, the pulsing of the beat rising up from the floor into your legs, the scrum at the bar, the young men in the bathroom  prepping their hair and straigthtening their leather ties and brushing their suits, padded at the shoulder in the fashion of the day. It was bizarre. And yet, I never told my girlfriend of what I had experienced there years earlier. I held on to the sacred memory and the unusual experience.” Duncan felt himself flushed with emotion and fatigue. “I'm sorry, I haven't thought about it for awhile. It just came rushing out, fresh and vivid. Forgive me.”

“Not at all,” Noel offered, “an extraordinary experience indeed.” He reached over and patted Duncan's shoulder. “An extraordinary experience indeed.”

“After that, I proceeded to do research into the house. I guess I became slightly obsessed with the address. It had started as a private residence back in 1859. Owned by a . . . David Wood, yes, he was partner in a firm of wholesale wool merchants. The house number began as 188 Mountain, then 290 Mountain, and then at sometime in the twentieth century it became 1234 Mountain. This Mr. Wood became an advocate after his business went into liquidation. He then appears as Secretary and Treasurer of a mining company owned by a man who lived nearby on an adjacent corner of the street. Then, in 1872, no more Mr. Wood. The house is purchased by Alexander Galt, the youngest son of the Scottish author and poet John Galt."

"And did you research them as well?" Noel enquired with interest.

"Yes, to a small extent," Duncan said resuming his tale. "Alexander was a prominent politician and one of the main proponents of Canadian Confederation, making a trip to London with a few others to put their case before the British Parliament. At one time he had an audience with Queen Victoria. Anyway, that was his Montreal residence. He died in 1893. His widow in her widow's weeds lived there till 1902 when the funeral business took it over.” Duncan got up and stretched looking out upon the grey day.

“Well, here we are exchanging ghost stories as the fog oozes around the windows and under the doors like it was 1912 and not 2012,” Noel said, joining him at the window. I've enjoyed our chat, but I best be on my way. I'm to meet my daughter for dinner this evening. We are going to something called Le Festin du Gouverneur.”

More ghosts Duncan thought. “Oh, you'll have a wonderful time. Amelia and I have had dinner there. Great fun. So, I'll just get that paperback for you, and are you interested in buying the other books?”

“Yes, yes. The Lucian, Heliodorus, and Apuleius, but not the book on Pewter. Tally it up, let me know the damage.”

Duncan went to find the Richler book, and picked up a paperback copy of Two Solitudes as well. He sat down and tallied up the books, then gave Noel the 15% discount he usually gave friends and other dealers. He looked down at the adding machine, $123.40. He sat at his desk frozen with the peculiar and singular coincidence of the price, the phosphorescent numbers glimmering before him. He wrote out a receipt for $125.00 “I'll  throw these paperbacks in as a gift, and of course our lovely bookmarks wouldn't go amiss.” He wrapped the books in paper and taped the ends like a present, wrapped them in a plastic bag and placed them in another plastic bag for the best protection against the elements. Handing the bag to Noel with the receipt he told him he could pay him anytime, cheque or cash was fine. Noel thanked him, and as they waited for the taxi to pick him up, they stood in awkward silence. The revelations that had passed between them were  heavy weighted secrets that had cleared their minds of everyday minutiae. Stories that deserved a solemn and quiet leave taking. They shook hands as the taxi arrived. Noel thanked him and wished him well.

“See you Thursday evening,” Noel added as he opened the car door.

“Enjoy your dinner tonight,” Duncan said with a wave, hoping Noel would experience a ghostless encounter in the old Fort where so many soldiers died and supposedly roamed the grounds after dark.

© ralph patrick mackay

Note: The image of Lady Galt's house, 290 Mountain Street, Montreal, c.1899 by William Notman & Sons, is care of The McCord Museum, the link to the original photograph can be found here..

Friday, February 01, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Twenty-Nine

“My name's Tad,” the large man said, taking Jerome's bag and easel in hand. “After you. The car is on the main street. We thought it best not to bother with the lane.” Jerome went down the stairs and together they walked towards the street. 

“Will your boss Mr. Landgrave be there?” Jerome asked nervously.

“Mr. Landgrave is not my boss, Mr. van Starke,” Tad said. “He was representing my boss you could say.”

“I think I might have forgotten to lock my front door,” Jerome mumbled somewhat unconvincingly.

“No, it was locked,” Tad said. “I checked as you made your way down the stairs. Force of habit.”

“Oh,” Jerome said, taking in a deep breath, “thanks,” and walked along in silence.

“Here we are.”

An exceedingly long, seemingly anonymous looking black luxury car idled by the curb. A man on the other side of the street walking his dog, stood watching. The trunk rose in slow motion as they approached and Tad placed Jerome's supplies within.

“The best seat in the house,” Tad said holding the rear door open for him.

Looking in he could make out two pairs of leather seats facing each other. He heard a woman's voice as he sat down.

Life gives us pieces of the puzzle each day. We can recognize them or not. Sometimes we are incapable of seeing them until much later when they have merged and transfigured."

The uncontrollable is always present. The wild card. The metaphorical asteroid on an unknown trajectory.”

The driver's side door opened and Tad sat down in the seat facing the back.

We live in a world of answers. Answers are all around us. But it is the questions that come from within us that will prove to be our truest guides.

“Sorry,” Tad said, pressing a button. “Just some motivational data I was listening to. Sit back and relax, enjoy the ride. It will be about 40 minutes to our destination.”

Jerome couldn't see the driver due to the dark glass panel between them. The windows too, were of such a tint that he could not see where they were going. He looked at Tad as he buckled himself in. He was not what most would consider a handsome man. His broad nose and his boomerang jaw seemed incongruously connected with the softness of his blue eyes and the deep cleft under his lower lip.

“Would you like a refreshment Mr. van Starke? We have Perrier, Canada Dry, fresh orange juice, or filtered water.” He pressed a button and a little door opened revealing the a mini bar. Jerome reached over and took a water.

“Thanks. You can call me Jerome, or Jerry if you prefer,” he said before sipping the water. “This is quite a car. What is it?”

“It's been de-badged, so I would be surprised if you could tell who the maker was. Sometimes it's better not to know.” Tad ran his right hand along the leather trim of the door and said, “I can tell you it is the most secure and powerful vehicle of its kind on the market. Relax. Our chauffeur is an excellent driver.”

“How can he see without the rear view mirror?”


Jerome watched as Tad flourished a pair of dark framed reading glasses, withdrew his hand held device from the inside of his suit jacket, and begin to check what he assumed to be messages. He looked at Tad's large broad hands and their finely manicured fingernails as they manipulated the small keyboard like shiny opaque shields parrying digital attacks, sweeping up and sideways, tapping and typing, a warfare of ones and zeros. He noticed Tad look over his glasses at him briefly.

“Are you one of the unconnected?” Tad asked.

“Yes,” Jerome said, stretching out his legs.

Tad handed over his device. “If you're contemplating getting connected, a new model of this phone will be coming out early next year. If you're not in a rush,” he added with a half smile.

Jerome handled the seductive smooth black phone, a Blackberry, before handing it back like some sort of unknown artifact from the future. His old plastic desk phone seemed like a relic or an antique in comparison. Tad put it in his pocket and then opened a drawer between the seats and withdrew a tablet computer. “I like this one for reading though,” he said. “I like a good mystery, The Cat Who series by Braun, and the Aunt Dimity series by Atherton.” The light from the tablet reflected off his belt buckle and cuff links and made his crisp white dress shirt glow. “Do you know those series?”

Jerome's initial perceptions of the man before him had fallen away like the petals on a spent tulip. Motivational data? Reading glasses? Blackberry? Cat Who? Aunt Dimity? “Um, no, I don't know those books,” he said feeling illiterate.

“You should try them. They relieve your mind of daily concerns. I'm just starting the 14th in The Cat Who series, The Cat Who Wasn't There.” Tad was tapping and sweeping the bright screen with intent. “Here,” he said handing over the rather heavy tablet to him,”read the first paragraphs and see what you think.” Tad withdrew an identical tablet from the drawer and started that one up. “We have a few of these loaded and ready to go.” Tad touched a few buttons and trays were swung into position complete with angled supports for the tablets.

The title reminded Jerome of T. S. Eliot's poem, McCavity the Mystery Cat. He began to read the story and yet after ten minutes or so, his eyelids began to feel heavy; the smooth riding vehicle with its sumptuous heated seats overcame him, and he felt his neck weaken. Soon his head fell back into the luxurious leather and he was asleep.


“The eagle has landed,” Tad said, shaking Jerome's left shoulder.

Jerome awoke, feeling drowsy, embarrassed. He wiped his mouth, stretched and rubbed his eyes. The tablet computers and the trays were gone. As Tad got out on his side, Jerome could see that they were in a parking garage of some kind. Then his door opened so he unbuckled and got out. Standing before him holding the door open was a veritable clone of Tad, complete with chauffeur's hat and dark sunglasses. Jerome looked around to see Tad closing the trunk, the bag and easel under his arm.

“This is my brother Barry,” Tad said. “Yes, identical twins.”

Looking around he could see five very expensive cars of different colours and makes with room for others. He followed Tad, and Barry followed him making him feel like a baby elephant in an old time circus act. Through a heavy door they came to an elevator. In awkward silence they rose effortlessly to the third floor and then began walking towards the far side of what Jerome thought must be an enormous private house. They turned a corner in the corridor and reached a final door which Tad opened to reveal a large studio space filled with natural light. Half the ceiling was window glass at a forty-five degree angle. Jerome took in a bookshelf, a mini fridge, an upholstered chair, various stools and chairs and a very large antique wood easel. He felt the pressure rise.

“There's a bathroom just through there, if you would like to freshen up. And the fridge has fresh sandwiches, apples and beverages if you're feeling a bit . . . peckish.” He shook Jerome's hand. “Make yourself at home. Help yourself. Don't be shy.”

“Thanks very much Tad. This is great.” Left alone, he approached the windows that rose to the glass roof, and looked out at the what appeared to be hills in the distance. In the foreground he could see finely tended lawns, gravel drives, and equestrian fencing to the far right with a few horses, their heads down, noses in the grass. The bookshelf held a small stereo system, and many books on art interspersed with other books. Literature mainly. Vernon Lee, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Dickinson.

He felt for his watch and realized he had forgotten to put it on this morning. He could see it on the counter of his bathroom. He had to assume it was nearing half past eleven.

After washing his face and hands and having a pee, he wandered around, looked in the mini fridge, and then sat before the easel, preparing his pencils and brushes. He wondered if his subject would mind being photographed. It would help him as he worked at home. His preliminary sketches were the key but photos would definitely help his memory.

When he heard the door open, he spun about on the stool and stood up. An attractive woman, about 5' 6”, perhaps in her mid forties, started walking towards him, her dark red hair flowing down upon her white terry cotton robe. She was bare foot.

“I hope Thaddeus and Bartholomew treated you well?” she asked reaching out her hand to shake Jerome's. He shook her soft hand, vanilla and lavender fragrances flowing over him in her wake.

“Yes,” he managed, holding on to her hand perhaps rather longer than necessary. “Yes, they were very efficient. Thank you.” Thaddeus? Bartholomew? More petals falling.

She walked around him to the windows. “We have been experiencing more fog than usual. Though,” turning around to face Jerome, “I imagine it will soften the light and be more . . forgiving.”

“I would think any light would be ideal for your fine features.”

“You can call me Lucrezia by the way,” she said before walking back to the upholstered chair facing the window in front of the easel. She crossed her legs, the robe slipping to reveal her right calf and part of her thigh. She reached up and drew her long hair together and tied it back.

Jerome ran his fingers through his hair and breathed deeply. “I have a few questions about the painting,” Jerome began. “First I'd like to know if a modern canvas is acceptable, or whether you would prefer complete authenticity with a wood panel? And secondly, if you would be willing to let me photograph you as an aid to my memory.”

“Canvas is fine. As for photographs, I am afraid your sketches will have to do.” She raised her shoulders and stretched her neck back and forth.

Jerome stared at her fine cheek bones and strong jaw line. Much determination therein. Her lips were full, especially her lower lip. His pencil flourished lines and shades. Each of her long lashed dark green eyes had a beautifully flared inner canthus. Her appearance was a contrast to the original. Her mouth was larger, her nose was not quite so long, her eyes much darker, and her overall bone structure bolder. This living Lucrezia was much more seductively beautiful than the original.

“So Mr. van Starke, how did you become a painter?”

He continued scratching away, looking at her for a few moments between flourishes, his eyes dark with concentration. “I really don't know. It's all I remember doing.” He scratched and smudged the graphite and rubbed the paper. “From a young age I found myself at home in art. Second nature I guess.” He picked up his stool and got much closer to her, wanting to capture her eyes. “You can call me Jerome.”

“Jerome. Such an old fashioned name,” she said crossing her arms. “Were you born in Montreal?”

“Yes,” he said, looking deep in her eyes. “Thirty seven years ago. My Mother brought me up on her own. A single child.” He turned his head sideways and looked at her nose. “My Mother was Dutch and my Father was French. I've never met him.”

A silence descended upon them. A crow called persistently in the distance.

“When I first saw the portrait at the Uffizi,” she said softly, “I was immediately taken with her. She was so vulnerable, so real.” She looked at Jerome's eyes and wondered if he saw something likewise within her. “I know it must seem unusual to desire such a portrait.”

“Not at all.” He rested his hands on the sketch pad. “Your response to a work of art is very natural.” He bent his head down and worked away. “A single painting can evoke such a breadth of  responses. Did you suffer from Stendhal syndrome when you visited Florence?”

She laughed lightly. “No,” she said, resting her hands on the arms of the chair, “I imagine my fortitude was strong. I paced myself.”

“Could you possibly push the collar of your robe away a bit so I can draw your neck and ears.”

A slight flush came to her cheeks as she gently pulled the robe apart revealing more than Jerome had anticipated. Her well kept figure was fuller than the original Lucrezia. He was used to the naked body, but he felt the intimacy heavy in the air.

“Is Lucrezia really your name?” he asked, trying to remain professional.

She didn't respond at first. He looked up at her eyes to see if he had overstepped his position. “I'm sorry, it's none of my business,” he said. “Forgive me.” He continued sketching. “I too remember seeing the original when I was in my twenties,” he said hoping to recover the momentum. “It is a moving painting. Yes, very real.”

“Have you read the novel, The Wings of the Dove?” she asked.

“No, I haven't. I know of it of course, but I've yet to find my way there."

“The painting is referred to,” she said mysteriously. “My reaction was rather different as you say, from the female character in the novel.”

“I'll have to look it up,” he said. “I'll just work on your hands now if I may.”

Lucrezia didn't close her robe, but merely displayed her fingers as they were found in the original. “I can lend you a copy if you would like. We have numerous copies of works by Mr. James.”

Jerome looked up into her eyes. “That is very kind. Thank you.” A thought came to him. “Perhaps I could use the book for the painting. Have your right hand lying upon the open pages of The Wings of the Dove?”

She turned her head sideways. “We shall see.” The light shifted. The crow called out once more breaking the silence. Lucrezia looked past Jerome out the windows and could make out in the distance, on the top most branch of a very tall evergreen tree, the proud dark winged creature. Calling. Calling. She felt Jerome touch her hand, she looked down and saw the graphite upon her fair skin. Pencil dust she thought. Pencil dust.  

© ralph patrick mackay