Monday, April 29, 2013

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

Not wanting to make a movement that would signal to Hugh she was about to get up, Amelia Strand slowly opened her eyes and was relieved to see that Hugh's little bed in the corner was empty. As quietly as she could, she dragged up the extra blanket and brought her calves and thighs together under the sheets. Hugh was likely propped on the front window-sill looking for life. A touch of the cat in him, ears alert, observing, thinking obscure thoughts. She had left dry nibblies in his dish last night so he should be content. For now. One of them would have to get up and let him out for a pee. If only they had their own house with a fenced back yard, they could just open the back door and let him out while they stood with crumpled hair and creased face, scratching, preening and yawning like a monkey in a cage, waiting for him to do his business before they slipped back to bed for an extra ten minutes. Uncle Edward's coach house would fix that. She should make a list of the benefits of moving there, the pros and the cons. Running out of dog food and a litre of milk would be one of the latter. The nearest dépanneur, a minor trek.

She listened to Duncan breathing. Not quite a snore, although he was known to. She remembered the first time she told him he snored. Duncan had worried he was turning into his Father, a man whose snore could have stripped wallpaper. A good pillow and a gentle elbow seemed to work for them.

She stretched out her foot behind her scoping the proximity of Duncan's warmth. He must be facing the wall, his back to her. She was always curious to see her friend's bedrooms to discover who slept on what side. She thought someone should write a university paper on the topic, 'The Dominant and Subordinate Spooner, or, Position and Possession in the Marital Bed.' Sounds like the kind of papers she had translated in the past. She remembered Mélisande's bedroom. She had been over for tea and had used the bathroom. Her bedroom door was open and she noticed her side of the queen size bed was on the right. Natural for a single person. One doesn't sleep on the side of the heart. Too much pressure. Uncomfortable. She wondered what changes would occur if she ever married Pavor. Would he assume the dominant right side?

For a moment she was unsure what day it was and what was on her agenda. Wednesday? More floral work. Correct some of the papers for the course she was teaching. Dinner tomorrow with Uncle Edward and Noel. Ask Mélisande over for dinner. Her to-do list faded as she breathed deeply feeling the draught of sleep pulling her back.

If only they both had steady jobs, steady paychecks, benefits and security. Scrambling to hold the ends together, forever throwing the stepping stone ahead of them, one stride at a time, was tiring. So many of her old school friends had surpassed her. Houses in he suburbs, kids, cottages and capital. She couldn't rely on inheritance. Uncle Edward may be mortgaged up to the hilt and holding vast debt for all she knew. He might have nothing left to leave them. She clenched her teeth thinking of her parents having abandoned them in their mid-teens to go off to some hippie commune. Uncle Edward had been their saviour. Her younger sister, married and living in California, had kept in touch with their parents, but Amelia only received a greeting card once a year in celebration of the summer solstice, may the sun be with you, like some greeting from Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Her elder brother, who had written their parents off, was living in New Zealand working as a dentist.

She felt Duncan rousing, gently rising from his side, making his way around the end of the bed, unhooking his robe from the back of the door and slipping out with his slippers, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him. The clip clip of Hugh's little feet down the hall strangely reminded her of the sad trotting of the horses in Old Montreal, a carriage ride, shorts, sandals, cameras, seeing but not seeing. If only the tourists looked deep into the blinkered eyes of the horses, she thought, the one feature of all of us on this Earth that truly communicates and binds us as one, they would change their minds and walk. But it was tourism. Looked good. Picturesque. Horses had performed such tasks for thousands of years. You can't change the world Amelia she thought. Not in the blink of an eye. She squeezed hers shut and breathing deeply, fell back into a light sleep.


His concern was palpable. He liked that word. Palpable. He noticed it had appeared with more frequency in the books he read. Or was it only the blurbs? 'Palpably memorable!' 'The characters are palpably prodigious!' Sounds like a breakfast cereal. 'These butterfly flakes are palpably delicious!'

Still with his fingers crossed, Pavor continued to make his way along the Via San Michele, many of the old three storey buildings, he noted, were in need of a renovating spirit; their crumbling surfaces were stained grey with time and neglect, their shutters cracked and warped, their street level facades with their rotting window frames, flaking stone and graffiti embellishments, were sad and unwelcoming. Not a place to walk at night he thought. The incline became steeper, the buildings taller and finer in an example of immaculate conservancy. Sweating slightly, he approached the crossroads ahead, and watched his reflection bend in the convex street mirror like some carnival fun house image. These corner conveniences reminded him of oversize dentist mirrors. Common in Europe but practically nonexistent in Montreal.

Light and breadth of space lay before him with its pedestrians and scooters making their everyday excursions. He turned onto the Via San Giusto, almost tempted by the aroma of the take-out roast chicken issuing from the open door of a Trattoria on the corner, but on he trudged, keeping left, putting his back into it, until he reached another convergence of streets and a rough stone fortress wall rising fifty feet in the air—the wall of Troy it seemed to him—the fortification of the Castle of Giusto. He stood, catching his breath, relaxing on his heels, looking up at the top and imagining Helen on the ramparts of Troy looking for her Paris on the battlefield below. A fitting subject for one of Jerome's paintings. The weeds and grass growing out from the uppermost level of the wall diminished it in Pavor's eyes, nature, the all-consuming, could reduce it all to rubble with time. 

As he rounded the corner on the narrow sidewalk beside a low, seemingly derelict building crumbling and overcome with decay, he looked across the street to see a black cat sitting on a pedestal drinking fountain built out from a concrete facing attached to the wall. Thirst and curiosity led him over.

“What a handsome cat you are,” he said, wondering if cats the world over responded to tone. “Molto bello,” he added, as he neared and turned his head sideways inquisitively. The cat responded by getting up on its feet and stretching its back, tail in the air. Pavor wanted to pet the stray but was wary of fleas or a cat scratch. “Molto bello. Are you lost, or are you a cat of the streets?”

“Dante, vieni qui, salta, salta,” a voice said from above.

Pavor looked up to see a large half-moon opening in the wall, one of three he noticed, ancient drainage openings no longer in use. A young woman reached down with a scratching board and the cat jumped onto to it and up into the cave dwelling. She petted her Dante and ignored Pavor. She had long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail, jeans and running shoes and some kind of hooded sweater. She looked around twenty.

“Perdonami, il tuo gatto è molto bello, “ Pavor offered. Seeing she didn't respond, Pavor asked her why her cat was named Dante.

“Il suo naso, il suo profilo è come Dante,” she said.

Pavor laughed. “Ah, il suo naso, si, the nose, yes, Dante.”

Pavor could see how she could scale the wall using the fountain as a stepping stone. Refuge, but certainly not safe at night he thought. He looked up to see in the angle of the wall, an old-fashioned street lamp attached a few feet above the openings. At least there was light. And water below. Pavor felt suddenly quite ill with his modest wealth and freedom, and asked her if she needed food.

“No, la Chiesa fornisce cibo per me e Dante, grazie,” she said gesturing to the Cathedrale di San Giusto.

Pavor nodded wondering how he could help. “Do you like to read? Ti piace leggere?”

“Si, mi piacciono i libri.”

Pavor withdrew Tullio's copy of his book and taking 40 Euros from his wallet, placed them within like bookmarks sticking out so she could see them. Retrieving his pen, he asked what her name was.

“Perché?” she asked the sky.

“Voglio firmare questo libro per te. Io sono l'autore.” Pavor could always buy another copy of this book and inscribe it to Tullio again. “Il mio nome è Pavor Loveridge.”

“Carina, Carina è Dante,” she said. “Grazie.”

Pavor propped the book on the fountain, and inscribed the book to Carina and her Dante, 'may this bring you good fortune and happiness.' He drew a line through the inscription for Tullio, closed the book and handed it up to her.

In the silence that followed, he bent down and drank from the fountain, the water was surprisingly cold and sweet.

He hoped she didn't sleep there during the night. “Spero di non dormire di notte,” he called up to her.

“No, certo che no, io non sono pazzo,” she said with a laugh. “Durante il giorno, si, ma non di notte.”

“Buono. Spero che ti piace il mio libro,” he said, truly hoping the book would give her some enjoyment. “Buona fortuna Carina è Dante,” he added with a wave as he made his way up the street to the walled Cathedrale.

She was about the age of his daughter Tamara. 

The silence followed him up the street like a shadow.

© ralph patrick mackay

Monday, April 22, 2013

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

MobyDick Shipchandler Co., Istanbul, Turkey.

Pavor watched as the semi-trailer truck slow-geared past on the way to the commercial port further on, the driver in the sheer faced cab, a powerful chin with a massive tattooed forearm, the captain of his own ship, call him Ishmael with his Moby flash-frozen in the trailer behind. MobyDick Shipchandler out of Istanbul. Four foot blue lettering on a white semi-trailer truck. He needed that. A jolt of East and West to pull him out of his maunderings along the harbour. The name on the truck brought up memories of Melville and also Conrad's Lord Jim, Jim working as a water-clerk for a ship chandler's business in distant tropical ports, ever moving from port to port in the romantic pursuit of a fresh start.

The cars, trucks and motorbikes sputtered and farted past as he waited on the sidewalk to cross.

It had been a half-hour since Pavor had left the stone pier and its dark iron cleats behind, the winds having prevailed upon him; a half hour since he left his conjectures over how many people have simply walked to the end of that long stone pier and descended the few slime-slick stairs, water rilling in the crevices, and surrendered themselves to the cold dark waters. A long half-hour.

Nearby, to the bronze sculptures on the side of another set of stairs, these leading down to the water in front of the Piazza Unità, he had made his way, and had gazed upon these realistic depictions of two woman sitting on the concrete ledge sewing the flag of Italy, their dresses rippled like water, their hair furrowed by the imaginary wind. One woman had an all-knowing, all-seeing expression, wistful yet bemused. Sewing time itself. The sculptures had made him think of the numerous modern naturalistic bronze sculptures in Montreal, the man reading a newspaper in Westmount, or the couple embracing on a bench, and many others. There must be thousands of similar statues around the world he had thought, an art movement away from austere representations on high pillars and plinths, towards art for the people, eye to eye. He had wondered if there might be a correlation between freedom and natural interactive art, the more 'democratic' freedoms available, the more natural and accessible the art? He had stood looking at the bronze figures—not realizing tourists were hoping he would move so they could take photos of the bronze sisters—remembering when a friend of his had shown him a photograph of the statue of John Diefenbaker in his home town, some prankster had climbed up and screwed a cigarette between the former prime minister's lips and fitted a condom on his outstretched finger, an example of the perils of representation.

A grey and white butterfly flittered around Pavor's head before swiftly flying towards Bennigan's Pub across the street as if the smell of Foster's and other fine ales were mimicking Valerian, lavender or the blue flowering Hyssopus high on the Mountain slopes over-looking Trieste. It should be sunning itself around Miramare Castle he thought. Equally lost as himself perhaps.

Using the crosswalk near the marina where he had found himself, he made his way over to the city side of the harbour, redirecting his thoughts inland, towards the hospital and the possible answers awaiting him. At the corner of the Piazza Venezia, he made his way past the spicy aroma emitted by a Chinese restaurant that tried to seduce his hunger, but his fluctuating thoughts were preoccupied with Ishmael, Lord Jim, Mélisande, sculptures, doctors, nurses, and Tullio on a gurney possibly clinging to life like Ishmael to Queequeg's coffin.

He felt like he was entering a maze as he made his way down the narrow Via Torino, which curved round to the Piazza Attilio Hortis, a leafy refuge from the winds. The large chestnut trees and Pines provided a welcomed canopy for shade and softened light, an ideal resting place for his already tired feet. Sitting down, he watched the other park denizens and passersby, tireless mothers with their children in strollers, a few elderly men in windbreakers and caps sitting on a bench deep in conversation, arms crossed as if contemplating a chess move, the bicycles and motorbikes passing on the side streets, a woman tugging on the dog leash of her unseen pet intent on smells and odours on the other side of a low shrub, and the dark-winged figures in the trees above looking down on it all with possible distrust. Two short, jowly elderly men, one with a wooden cane slowly scuffed past him, their hats and well-cut suits from another era, brothers perhaps, like mirror images of Jorge Luis Borges. Next, two elderly woman, once again, one with a cane, possibly sisters, arm and arm, their kerchiefs and low-heeled shoes emblems of acceptance and propriety. A procession of twins or married couples? Friends reacquainted off for a stroll and a breath of air? Pavor wondered how they managed the heat during the long shuttered summers.

No one paid any attention to Attilio Hortis, the former head of the public library honoured with a bust on a plinth in the centre of the park. His nose had been broken off, a paper weight on someones desk or crumbled dust swept away by the grounds keepers long ago, Pavor would likely never know. The expression was a bit haughty, even from afar. People, with a capital P, do not like haughty when it comes to book learning it seems. The lawyer turned librarian had a name that evoked, for Pavor at least, Attila the Hun and Horticulture, such was his cultural bias.

Good old Hortus warranted a photograph for Mélisande, so he took out his cell phone and walked over to take a series of shots of the white stone bust while the old men on the bench stared at him open-mouthed as if surprised that a damaged sculpture of a forgotten librarian could possibly be of interest to anyone. Turning around, he made his way over the dusty ground to Italo Svevo who stood in Bronze on the sidewalk nearby, book in hand, hat in the other, a Triestine stroller frozen in time. With the toe of his shoe, he swept a few leaves off the bronze plate affixed to the sidewalk and took a number of photographs, Svevo lost in thought, perhaps thinking of that near-sighted, guitar strumming exile from Eire. Pavor had hesitated with James Joyce as many have, and finally having read Ulysses for a University course, he had felt riven from his Jamesian fixation, the author weaving the English language, history, Catholicism and the classical past and wrapping the reader like a top and pulling the umbilical cord and setting the reader off into a vortex of dizziness, coming to rest on the soft rich earth, eyes to the sky, head spinning, re-birthed with the depths of the idea of love, yes, yes, yes, love. This aroused a memory of the picture he took of Mélisande one crisp yet dusty spring morning, Mélisande leaning on the plexi-glass surround to the Robert Indiana sculpture in old Montreal, the psychedelic colourful letters spelling LOVE, evocative of the Beatles music, I love you, ya, ya, ya, a counterpoint and contrast to the nineteenth century limestone architecture that loomed above and around it. Mélisande, love, marriage, equanimity and contentment. Were not Joyce and Svevo married and conventional? Italo Svevo, the elder protégé of the younger Irish flanneur, had fallen within the Joycean shadows, and yet his writings were still unknown to him. People had told him he should read The Confessions of Zeno, As A Man Grows Older, and A Life, and though he owned paperback copies purchased from The Word bookstore and Grange Stuart Books back in Montreal, books taking up valuable real estate on his jumbled shelves, he had yet to venture into them; three more books on a seemingly endless scroll of a books-to-be-read bibliography easily catalogued by his love, Mélisande the librarian.

He wondered if Joyce had frequented Benington's Pub. Perhaps there was an unpaid bar tab framed and labelled, a tourist tidbit, a draw for the wayward scholar. Another pint if you will, sir. Another toast to that fearful jesuit. Such places as the pub and the Chinese restaurant provided a change for some, but Pavor had avoided them, their appearance so much like places back in Montreal. He had tried to seek out the little family run establishments where locals gathered for local sourced foods and recipes, from seafood and pasta dishes, to sauerkraut and sausage soup, so diverse the cultural mix of Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Slovenian and Croatian cuisine available. His stomach gave a preliminary growl, a troubling presentiment of possible hospital cafeteria food. Checking his watch, he decided his landfall was well behind him, the journey to the hospital at the centre of this maze of streets lay before him like an uphill endeavour, and so off he trudged like a reluctant Theseus without his thread.

Adrift without a map, he headed along the Via di Cavana with its stylish shops and small restos, where locals let their dogs pee against the light posts and flower stands, then took a right on Via Madonna del Mare, its narrow sidewalk just enough for a svelte solitary stroller. He yielded to an older woman and her plump canvas bags in each hand like comically over-sized boxing gloves, by walking onto the street only to have a spluttering Vespa make him jump with its horn. Looking over his shoulder, he caught sight of an attractive young woman, gleeful in profile—was that a wink? ogling his tight pants—her scarf flowing behind her like a banner.

On he walked, the crumbling buildings and their proximity producing in him a sense of claustrophobia. An officious flag fluttered above a doorway ahead of him, and as he approached it he could make out amidst the strange illiterate scrawls of graffiti, a ghostly sentence half scrubbed away on the stone base of the building. He crossed the street making his way between the line of parked Vespas and motorbikes, and took out his note-book and pencil and began to write the words down.

Il futuro non e'scritto.    il passato non si riscrive.      riprendiamoci il presente.

He could see the shadowed remnants of other words scrubbed away from previous scrawls of protest, as if the rough stone was a poorly cleaned black board of unrest. It is written in the future not the past, reclaim the present. And further on, in a different hand, La liberta é tutto. Freedom and everything. A brass plaque revealed it to be the offices of some state magistrate. The seemingly endless playing out of the past and the present, the pyramid of old wealth over the positionless strugglers beneath, the generations rising and falling in a cycle of circumstances, stoically impaired. The writing on the wall, letters falling between the cracks.

Ahead, a four storey building with lemon coloured upper floors caught the sun. A huddle of five youths stood before the rusticated doorway, their cigarettes and conversation in the air; three young women and two men, not anarchists and futurists, but pleasant students before the open door of learning, the public library, a building more reminiscent of an apartment block. The address number was 13, making him wonder if Italians lacked a superstition over the number.

“Biblioteca?” Pavor enquired disingenuously.

Roused from their closed thoughts, they welcomed the chance to interact with a stranger. “Si, si, biblioteca,” said a tall, very thin young man, his thick dark hair tousled above his long neck helping to exaggerate his pronounced Adam's apple. Confident, and sensing a late season tourist in their midst, he flourished his cigarette in his long fingered hand, sweeping the air before him, “Yes, but books in Italian, yes, no many Inglese. Sistema Dewey. You look for James Joyce?”

“His ghost perhaps, il suo fantasma,” Pavor said with a smile.

Their laughter united them. “Si, il suo fantasma ossessiona Trieste,” the youth said with open arms, “garda, eccolo!” he said pointing to an old man who had emerged from a side street and was walking away from them, cane in one hand, “James Joyce!” They all laughed and bumped shoulders, enjoying the moment.

“Al secondo piano si trova il Museo Joyce,” one of the bespectacled girls said looking up from her cell phone.

“Oh, grazie, domani, domani,” Pavor said pointing at his watch, and with a friendly nod he was off.

“Buono fortuna!” they called after him.

He turned and gave them a friendly wave, “Grazie, buono fortuna.”

Could Joyce really haunt Trieste? Dublin perhaps, but not Trieste. How could anyone dominate a city of countless lives and diversities of experience? Cities are inexhaustible. A hundred writers would come up with a hundred different stories, each representational, each capturing a time and place.

Stubbing his toe, Pavor managed to keep upright. Why do people look back? To admonish the uneven stone? To fix it in memory for the next time? To reveal to others that the fault was not in their stride, but in the stone? His thoughts and steps had brought him to a crossroads, a thirty foot cobblestone circle surrounded by three buildings, their concave colourful facades facing each other like three card players, the balconies and flower boxes their cards held close to their chests. The ground level windows and doors were protected with iron bars like laced boots, a common sight in Trieste, a leitmotif, a motivo conduttore or was the Italian phrase filo conduttore? The two streets climbed before him. Left or right? He chose the darker one to the left, and climbed the Via della Valle, thinking of being with Mélisande in Old Montreal, playing tourist, ice creams and window shopping, coins for jugglers and mimes. It would be about 6:30 a. m. in Montreal now. Still asleep. Clio pawing or kneading the covers perhaps.

Arriving at the end of this small street, he turned right on Via San Michele. Not a soul in sight. Coming to a small white mausoleum-like building, a Neoclassical facade with two Tuscan pillars and additional posts beneath the pediment with its small cross, a smooth, simple and unadorned white washed building. Christ Church, Anglican. The address was 13. He began to worry about Tullio. Two thirteens in a row made him feel his desultory steps were being guided by a higher hand. If the number was not inauspicious, then the library and the church could be seen as positive signs, a possible location for a marriage ceremony, and Tullio would be found sitting up in a hospital bed complaining about the food. He stood before the whitest,  most reflective building he'd come across in Trieste, and crossed his fingers.


Upstairs in Jerome's painting studio, Arthur Roquebrune quietly paced the room, his hands clasped behind him, whistling softly. The nervous whistle filling the silence with innocuous innocence, it's just me, the well-meaning landlord. He scanned the worktable, the bookshelves, the floor and furniture for anything anomalous. There had been no answer to the phone, nor to the door bell, and he thought he might look about in the early morning light for other possible clues. Justifiable under the circumstances, a dispensational right, at 6:45 a. m.

Certainly Jerome was interested in Bronzino, the stack of McGill library books on the painter and the studies of the portrait of Lucrezia Panciatchi, made their silent case.

The oddly titled book by the author P. K. Loveridge lured him, intrigued him, and he opened it to the title page and read the inscription to Jerome by the author. A close friend of Jerome's. Trieste. Fetid paints? He sniffed deeply but couldn't say they were fetid. Slightly astringent perhaps, a touch of linseed oil in the air, but not fetid. Trieste? He wouldn't have left for Italy without telling him; he had arranged with Jerome to be made aware of any long excursions abroad, and Trieste was hardly a long weekend. Turning over a few pages of the book, the name Mozart caught his eye, and he stopped to read a poem:

-A lyric sadness in the air. Mozart?
Or Haydn? Almost sounds like Arvo Part.
-She is superb this busker near the curb.
-A balm for equine meditated flight.
-She raises all our darkness to the light.
We join the crowd. The pigeons we disturb
Advance and peck the concrete looking lost.
Our coins, festina lente, tempest-tost.

The sharps and flats and pitch are anchors thrown
To still our stride, like snares of sound our own
Hearts recognize. Becalmed in placid seas
Of melody, she bows us into port,
Slow sarabandes for landfalls soft, they court
Our wayward variations with a breeze
Of interlude. You take my arm and draw
Me on, exampla of Newtonic Law.

He turned back to the title page, making a mental note of the publisher Oxtoby & Snoad, Rye, as a possible outlet for his translations, and put the book back in place and went to the window. When would this fog relent he wondered? He would have to phone Jonathan Landgrave. Honesty generally proved to be the most reliable remedy. No point going in circles like a circus bear on a bicycle.

© ralph patrick mackay

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

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

It wasn't the quality of the light, nor the sound of the distant birds, nor even the emerging aroma of brewed coffee slowly rising into the house, weaving along corridors and slithering under doors that awoke Jerome, it was the undeniable pressure upon his bladder. He found the will to drag himself to the bathroom, his mouth a dehydrated cave of undesirable exhalations. After peeing he splashed warm water upon his oily face, scrubbed the sleep from his eyes and massaged his temples, water dripping down into his ears. Whatever had been in the curative drink the night before, had eased him into a sleep of the dead. There were dark crescent moons under his eyes, and his left one was bloodshot, a maze of red lines leading from his brown iris like lava flows from a dark volcano. He drank cold water from his cupped hand and decided to get right in the shower.

As the hot water massaged his scalp, neck and back with a rejuvenating pleasure, images arose with the steam around him, like wavering reflections in water, a confusion of Thérèse, Lucrezia and Proserpine knocking on his door and entering, the liquid diaphanous dress flowing beneath the long auburn hair as she approached the bed, her hand reaching out towards him. At times such as these he felt his art and his dreams distorted the longitude and latitude of his reality, the remnant images like colours at variance on a lost canvas. He turned and let the hot water flow over his face, washing the images down to the miniature vortex at his toes, a whirlpool for the visions of the night.

As he dried himself with the plush towels, additional dream images resurfaced. Pavor, Mélisande and Thérèse were talking to Lucrezia and Declan, standing in what he felt to be an art gallery, Bartholomew and Thaddeus behind them, playing billiards on a circular table. They didn't seem aware of his presence, and he felt himself hitting something, a wooden frame, a gilt wooden frame, and they all turned towards him and began to talk and point and he realized he was behind a picture frame, in a picture, captured in paint, immobile, and they stared at him like a painting themselves, grouped together like Rembrandt's The Syndics of the Draper's Guild, expressions of surprise, indifference, sadness.

He must ask Declan what was in that late night tonic.

He dressed quickly trying to slough off the night and embrace the day. He approached the window as he slipped into his leather coat; he could see the dawn was hiding behind the heavy morning mist which hovered over the garden maze like a wedding tent. He made his way out and along the corridor, and as he descended the main staircase, he heard noises from the kitchen below, and a faint aroma of coffee. The longcase clock remained at six o'clock and he approached it quietly and listened, but couldn't hear it ticking. He walked down a corridor leading to a sun-room which provided access to a patio on the side of the house; from this he stepped out into the damp morning air. The leaves upon the path were no longer messages of an oracle, but mere smudges of burnt umber, the lawn, a swath of cobalt green slick with dew.

As he walked across the lawn towards the maze, he stopped and turned to look back, a beautiful golden stone manor house with pinnacled gables, the vapours hovering above the roof line, no faces at the mullioned windows, no signs of activity on the grounds. The architecture was Jacobean in style and gave Jerome the sense that each stone had been imported, with perhaps a spirit or two. His three-arched window was in a castellated tower to the right, an eclectic feature that was like a Gothic exclamation mark to a long Jacobean sentence. He turned and continued walking, drawn towards the opening of the maze.

Before the entrance was a large flat stone in the grass with an inscription in Roman letterforms:

Go. There. With. Here.

Go there with here? The dense evergreen hedge material, some kind of Cedar he thought, was aromatic and soft to the touch and about nine feet high. He advanced, his sudden entry disturbing a small fluttering of chickadees, and then he hesitated, feeling the dense humidity of the air, the claustrophobia of the cave. He reached out his arm and followed his inclination to turn left, his fingers combing the wet evergreen foliage. Go there with here? He was not unfamiliar with labyrinths having attended, with Thérèse, Mélisande's facilitated walks, but he was less familiar with mazes, though he did remember that if you kept a hand, either hand, on the hedge, you would eventually find the centre. Walking on, he thought of Thérèse and the Rossetti poem he had read the night before, the last lines of each stanza having stayed with him, lines about a soul drawing another soul closer. “My soul this hour has drawn your soul a little nearer yet.” He said the words softly like an offering to appease the forest gods, rousing a memory of exploring his grandparents basement when he was a child, frightened by the darkness, saying the Lord's prayer under his breath as he had quickly made his way to the stairs.

Turning a corner, he could see in the distance a dead-end, but he continued on in case of a blind opening, and finding an opening to the right, followed it to a crossroads and he kept left again, the path leading to a true dead end, one that provided another stone in the grass, with another inscription, the Latin in large letterforms, the English beneath:

Nosce. Teipsum.
Look. Into. Thy. Self

He took out his pocket sketch pad and pencil and wrote down the two inscriptions just in case they could be clues to some grander puzzle, intuitive guides for a macrocosmic conceit. They could, however, only be early Latin examples of the plethora of pithy sayings he had been seeing of late in shop windows and on t-shirts, those 'keep calm and carry on' emblems of free thought. Then again, the stones could also be tell-tale crumbs to help him find his way out.

He walked back the way he came, passed the opening and then turned left, then left again, then a right and walked a considerable way until he came across a stone in the grass even though the path led ahead for quite a distance. He wrote down the inscription:

Ibant. Obscuri. Sola.
Sub. Nocte. Per. Umbrum.

To this there was no English equivalent provided, but his rudimentary Latin gave him the gist of the meaning, and he wrote underneath, “Under lonely night, they went dimly under the shadows.” He thought he wouldn't want to walk the maze at night.

The cawing of a crow startled him, and he continued on.

He wasn't sure how much time had elapsed as he traipsed within the maze, but he had come across three more stones and three inscriptions:

Non. Tardum. Opperior.
Not. For. The. Slow. Do. I. Tarry.

Ut. Umbra. Sic. Vita.
Shade. Is. Life's. Pattern.

Homo. Quasi. Umbra.
Man. Is. A. Shade. Of. A. Shadow.

It was not long after finding the last of these inscriptions that he found his way to the centre, where he discovered a carved stone pedestal with a large bronze sun dial on top. Around the bronze dial he read the words:

Salvagesse. Sans. Finesse.

The words seemed very familiar. 'Nature not Art.' A dog barked in the distance and he heard faint voices, echoes of rising vowel sounds. He noticed that around the base of the pedestal there were English words carved in the stone:

And Thou Like Adamant Draw Mine Iron Heart

He braced his hands on either side of the top of the stone pedestal gazing down at the sundial, and he sensed a spiral of mist circle round him, as if he had set in motion a roulette wheel and it had created a disturbance in the air. "Salvagesse sans finesse," he said trying to read the shadow on the dial. It seemed to him that both nature and art were reluctant to work together. Feeling faint, he walked over to one of the stone resting benches and sat down to copy out the inscriptions. His stomach growled. Breakfast must be soon he thought, but he rested and read the inscriptions over. Eight inscriptions and yet, any overall meaning was lost to him. He quickly sketched the pedestal and sundial, noting the Celtic carvings between the base and the top and then made his way to the opposite opening in the hedge where another stone was inset in the grass:


He noted the inscription in his booklet and walked on, more quickly. After numerous turns and dead ends, he came to yet another stone:

Vestigia. Nulla. Retrorsum.

As he pencilled the words down, he heard a strange sound of heavy breathing, a sound of many feet running, something that reached down into the depths of his instinct for alarm. The sound of an animal. He stumbled backwards and against the hedge as if trying to force his way through, and then the animal came around a corner running towards him.

“Beaumont?” he called out.

The black Labrador Retriever slowed and wagged his tail, his amber eyes were sharp with intelligence, his pink tongue, white teeth and his glossy black coat revealed a happy, healthy dog. Jerome bent down on his knees and called to Beaumont who, recognizing a fellow spirit, came to him and licked his hands and face. Jerome ran his hands into his fur and told him what a handsome dog he was.

“Have you come to lead me out Beaumont? Do you have the key to this maze?” And at this question, Beaumont turned and began to retrace its steps looking over its shoulder as if to beckon Jerome to follow. Beaumont was off with a confidant stride and Jerome had to pass over four further inscriptions without stopping before reaching the opening in the maze where he found Declan waiting, leaning upon a large bow, a quiver of arrows over one shoulder.

“Useless as a chipped anvil in this weather,” Declan said, gazing over Jerome's head at the sky. “The sundial,” he added, feeling Jerome had failed to catch his meaning. “You did make it to the centre?”

Jerome, still recovering from the exertion of the run and the surprise at seeing Declan, managed to nod a response. “Forgive my curiosity. I hope you don't mind?”

“How did you sleep?” he asked, ignoring Jerome's question.

“Soundly, though the tonic you recommended must have helped. What's in that by the way?”

“Oh, I couldn't tell you,” he said, looking down at Beaumont, “my housekeeper's secret remedy.”

Jerome nodded again, looking at the man before him in his Wellingtons, brown corduroy trousers, green Beaufort jacket with corduroy collar, plaid scarf and tweed cap, black Labrador Retriever at his heels, an image of a country man from another country, from another time.

“Looks like we both worked up an appetite. Come on, let's go back to the house, I can tell you all about the maze over breakfast.”

“Were you out hunting this morning?” Jerome asked.

“Yes, the duck and the Dodo down by the pond,” he said with a wink, and with a pat on Jerome's shoulder, he said, “Don't worry, no exotic meats this morning, just a classic English breakfast. My wife calls them Marmalade mornings.”

“Marmalade mornings?”

“It's always morning somewhere in the world, though the fog here seems to be against the day.” Declan pointed at the sky with his bow, a barren gest, “Fog was so dense yesterday, bird landed on the stone balustrade near the house, then slowly fell, dead at my wife's feet. Must have hit a window. It should have been flying towards grace. Perhaps it did. Not a way to get a party going." Declan paused a moment looking up as if inspecting for damage. "Beaumont brought it over to Belford for burial.”

They continued again over the wet grass in silence, Jerome not knowing how to respond to such an alliterative statement. Was Belford a person or a place he wondered? What party? Declan turned to him and said, “It's just us for breakfast, my wife has her routine of yoga, though she does like to join me once in awhile for a marmalade morning.”

Beaumont ran ahead of them towards the house, at ease and content. “Beaumont certainly knows his way around the maze,” Jerome said.

“Beaumont's a clever soul. Sometimes I think he has access to other dimensions, of course his sight and smell is well beyond our scope.”

As they approached the house, Jerome mentioned that they had an old world array of classical statues in the garden nearby, and asked if Declan had imported the statuary.

“Auctions, private sales, a few from Castlebourne. Some of them are made of Coade stone, and others in marble. The Hermes, the libation bearers, and the Venus are old copies. Provides a setting for my wife's contemplative walks.”

“You must have a talented gardener.”

“Belford Owens, the husband of our housekeeper. He has a breadth of old world knowledge. Eccentric though. Some days he'll talk your ear off, while others, you wonder what you might have said to put him off.” Declan quietly chuckled to himself. “He smokes a pipe. Not many pipe smokers left. Almost a lost art.” He paused before the large oak door with carved rossettes. “My Father smoked a pipe after the war, but now, it's a rare bird who brandishes such an instrument.”

“Do you smoke a pipe?”

Declan opened the door wide. “Well, only with Belford from time to time. I like a nice aromatic tobacco blend with hints of chocolate and vanilla. Brings back memories.” Declan swept his arm towards the open doorway, inviting Jerome to enter. “I'll see you in the dining room in few minutes, I'll just take Beaumont and my hunting gear to the stables. You can take off your wet shoes and leave them by the door. We're informal here. Don't worry if you have holes in your socks, we all do, at some time in our lives.”

Back in his room, Jerome remembered, while washing his hands, where he had seen the words 'salvagesse sans finesse,' the bookplate in the Rossetti poems. Sitting on the bed, he opened the book and looked down at the old engraving showing two stags rampant beside a shield with a ship on waves, a helmet over the shield with closed visor and flowing ribbons, and the motto below on a thin ribbon-like scroll, salvagesse sans finesse. The family name beneath, Bertolais.

© ralph patrick mackay

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Forty

Thérèse Laflamme made a second pot of linden tea and observed the steeping process through the clear glass pot. Martine had recommended it for a variety of ailments, from the common cold to high blood pressure to insomnia, and Thérèse felt she was suffering from most of them.

Martine was due to arrive home from Stavanger around one o'clock, which gave her about two hours to prepare her presentation concerning the David Ashemore case, a narrative that seemed to her wholly implausible, but one that she believed Martine would take seriously, and, being a lawyer, provide her with advice as to how to proceed.

She sat down at the kitchen table and shook her head over her mistaken assumption. The small piece of plastic she had thought belonged to the outside light had really been a portion of the mounting device to contain small household items behind the kitchen door. The exterior light fixture had been glass. Her fears had tied the different pieces together, making her think someone had broken the light and placed a piece in the kitchen beside the broom, an example of psychological provocation. Such a conclusion had not been jumped at with abandon, paranoia pushing her forcibly in that direction. Her fear was influenced by the experiences of David Ashemore who had suffered from similar psychological provocations as related in his journals. Her perception, she could see, was under stress. She now saw life through a broken glass darkly.

She drew her fingers through her auburn hair, her unease expanding with the expectations of Martine's return, a welcome return, but one now tainted with the shadows of a dead man's legacy.


"Yes,” Pavor said, “I'm Mr. Loveridge.” The man before him was of medium height, early thirties perhaps, sporting short dark hair, a designer stubble some Hollywood actors would covet, a leather jacket, jeans and a motorcycle helmet in his left hand. Pavor's imagination saw him as an assassin in his new book.

“Tullio, Tullio Friuli,” the man said, offering him his hand. “I'm associate of Umberto's at the Università.”

“Pavor, Pavor Loveridge, pleased to meet you,” he said shaking his hand. Tullio Friuli. Tullio Friuli. Enough vowels there to trip over. Not a name for a character. “So, how can I help you Tullio?”

Tullio bent down to put his helmet on the doorstep, stood up, and then slipped his hand inside his leather jacket. Pavor suffered a nervous spasm but recovered quickly as he saw that the Umberto's associate was pulling out two softcover books, and not an imagined weapon. “I hope for you to sign these please, I'm big fan,” he said smiling. “I was passing. My nonnina live not far. How you say, two birds, one stone yes?”

“Certainly, certainly, yes, two birds, one stone,” his nervous smile softening up to his eyes. “Come in, come in. Are you with the Archaeology department as well?”

“No, I'm with the Dipartimento di Mathematica, but I'm friend with Umberto.”

Pavor flourished a fine felt tipped pen and took Tullio's books to the desk to sign. He recognized the book cover layout of the Italian translations of his Rex Packard series, a design which made him think of French language books in Québec. “How would you like me to sign them Tullio? Just my name or may I inscribe them to you?”

“To me, yes, that is fine,” he said, sighing as he sat heavily in the soft chair near the window, a sound of fatigue and weariness.

Pavor gently opened the book to the front free endpaper and and smoothed the paper down. He was about to write 'To Tullio' but that reminded him of a song from a distant decade, so he wrote “For Tullio, So pleased to meet you. Best Wishes, Pavor, October 24, 2012.” He then turned to the title page and drew a line through his printed name and underneath provided his author signature. He repeated this in his Rex In Arcadia, and then handed them back to Tullio. “It's fantastic to know I have some Italian readers who like my books. So, who are some Italian authors I should be looking out for?”

Tullio raised his eyebrows and shifted his head sideways, “I like Luigi Guicciardi, Alessandro Perissinotto, and Giorgio Scerbanenco. Many others too. I write names for you.” Tullio withdrew a small leather booklet and using Pavor's pen, wrote out the names in a small precise handwriting. “So you live in Montreal?” he said not looking up.

“Yes, Montreal, a beautiful city, like Trieste, beautiful, but not as old.”

“I have relatives there. Yes, beautiful city. Beautiful women too,” he said with a hand gesture to emphasize his appreciation of the beauty of women. He handed Pavor the list of his recommended Italian writers and got up to go. “That singer, Shania Twain, is she from Montreal?”

Pavor didn't quite catch the name at first, the pronunciation sounding like 'twine.' “No, I don't think she is.”

“Ah, I'm big fan of Shania Twain. Bellissima," he said, fingers and thumb together. Tullio turned about and paused looking around the room. “You need anything, I leave my number here,” he gestured to the paper in Pavor's hand. “Need tourist guide, let me know, yes?”

“Great Tullio, that's great, very kind of you. Thank you, grazie.”

“Thanks for signing books.”

The two men shook hands in a manly macho manner to consolidate all understanding, and Pavor watched as Tullio walked towards his motorcycle. He stopped halfway and turned around. “Continuare a scrivere,” he said, with a gesture of his hand as if he was writing.

Pavor pointed at him and nodded. “I will,” he added loudly. He stood in the open doorway feeling strangely like he was seeing a brother off on a journey, a brother he had never had. He gave a salute wave as Tullio pulled away nosily onto the quiet suburban street. He closed the door and returned to the living room feeling invigorated, and yet, standing there with the piece of paper in his hands, somewhat dizzy, memories of childhood birthday parties were roused from his dusty memory shelves, he was playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, going off in all the wrong directions, his friends hooting and laughing. What crazy games they played as kids, and so many involved blindfolds.

Catching sight of himself in the gilt-edged oval mirror over the modern gas fireplace, he realized he was unlikely brother material for Tullio, what with his 6'1” frame, his fair hair and blue eyes, and lack of any whiff of stubble. No, not a blood brother.

Looking down at the list of authors and the phone number, he placed the slip of paper in his wallet and replaced it in his back pocket. His papers in order, he was ready to go, but first he felt he had to use the bathroom and as he made his way there, he told himself he had to remember to bring his writer's notebook.


Pavor made his way around the traffic circle and into the Esso Station just up from this crossroads of the main thoroughfare into Villa Opicina. A neatly dressed young man came up to his window and Pavor politely asked, “rienpire per favore.” The Esso sign had made him feel, for a moment, back in North America, the sign so incongruous to him in north eastern Italy. The sounds and smells of gas stations, so evocative of childhood holidays with his parents, were international now, this station a clone of countless thousands around the globe. And yet, as he looked at the sign for 'Bar,' and signage saying 'Slovenian,' and the swarthy men sitting on stools outside, truckers and workmen, smoking, talking and occasionally looking in his direction as if wondering what a blond haired man was doing in these parts, he realized that such stations, though standard, allowed for cultural modifications. A bar instead of a Tim's outlet. Drinks instead of coffee. He remembered walking by a wine bar in Trieste with a service window to the sidewalk and people milling about with a glass of wine and their cigarette as if it was a residential patio and a party was in progress. He couldn't see such a convenience catching on in Montreal, sophisticated though it was, the weather was against it.

The clean-shaven young man washed his rear window with skill and strength, the clump and squeak of the squeegee a metaphor for a helpful and reassuring spirit so rarely experienced back in self-serve Canada. He wondered if there were any service stations left that provided actual service. Hearing the click of the automatic pump mechanism, he looked to see what shocking amount was due, and depleted his wallet of the necessary bills and asked for a receipt. His accountant had an unwavering appetite for receipts. “Grazie mille,” he said as he gave the young man a tip. He started the car up and slowly made his way to the curb. Looking through the rear view mirror, he could see his back window was as clean as a minimalist literary style, no unsightly drips of ironic detachment, no annoying streaks of sub-textual disparagement. He watched the young man approaching the group of workmen on the stools, and heard a jagged ripple of phrases and laughter, perhaps a mix of Slovenian and Italian, good-hearted and harmless, the carefree expressions of working men, often rich in observational insights. Though, as he drove away, he did wonder what a woman would have experienced.

The day was tipping towards late morning, the sun behind him breaking through the clouds and combing the maritime pines on the mountain slopes as he made his way down to the Opicina Obelisk, the landmark commemorating the road between Trieste and the Austrian frontier. Passing the Obelisk on the curving road, he looked over to see people getting ready for a jog or a morning bicycle ride on the Napoleonica, the famous walk with views of the gulf of Trieste and the beautiful coastline, an item on his list to explore with Mélisande when she visited.

The city and the gulf were visible over the shrubs and low trees, a difficult sight to draw one's eyes away from, but the roads were smooth and with each glance towards the gulf he derived a breath of anticipation for the unknown encounters waiting below. Having found a CD in the glove compartment by someone called Vasco Rossi, he slipped it into the player and relaxed into his seat.

He knew what roads to take by now, having studied Umberto's helpful, efficient and detailed instructions laid out much like an archaeological plan. The sharp right onto a very narrow road, the Via Commerciale, could easily have been missed, and he was grateful for the tip. This older road, however, was not as smooth, and with cars and small motorbikes parked along the side, oncoming traffic, and numerous tram track crossings,  it demanded his full attention.

Rex Packard, his internalized fictional creation crept behind the wheel as he made his descent on the winding road, urging more speed, goading him to pass small motorbikes, but he kept Rex under control, gathering insights into his character's demands, making mental notes for future references. How would Rex drive? What would he think of Vasco Rossi? Would there have been an incident at the gas station? These ruminations and the vivid impressions of the countryside kept his mind busy enhancing his storehouse of knowledge for future use. Writers, he thought, were so underpaid for their work. His mind was always at work, even, and perhaps most especially, when he was asleep. 'I'll sleep on it' was a daily exercise for writers. If he divided what he made by the hours he worked, he would be ashamed by how little it would be. If he had continued as a lawyer, his hours would have been long, but the pay would have been infinitely better. What he needed was a hit. Or a movie deal. Something to put him over the high walls of the gated communities of the comfortably ensconced. He imagined Rex holding his hands together and bracing himself to take Pavor's foot and weight and catapult him over the golden field stone wall into the gloriously landscaped wonders, where modern houses sprawled and aquamarine pools shimmered in the warmth of a Southern sun. Palm trees, cacti, an Audi, a Mercedes and a Range Rover, California, the coast, success.

His fanciful imaginings quickly dissipated as he came up to a source of traffic. He was surrounded now by gleaming concrete apartments interspersed with older homes tightly hugging the shoulders of the road on the slope of the mountain. Flashing lights ahead revealed an ambulance and police. Craning his neck, he couldn't see much. A small van pulled up behind him, the man sticking his head out the window to get a better view, an arm raised in a gesture of frustration. The siren then started and he watched as the ambulance drove off towards the city, and slowly the traffic began to move. As he approached the area where a policeman was waving motorists on, he noticed a mangled motorcycle on the right side of the road, and it looked like Tullio's. Driving ahead, he turned into a small parking area near the road, and began walking back. With his poor Italian he managed to learn that one of the many heavy wheeled garbage containers had broke free from its position on a nearby sloped driveway and rolled into the street, the motorcyclist had tried to avoid it but had swerved and lost control, crashing into the fence. “Ospedale Maggiore,” the policeman had said raising his shoulders and arms and shaking his head if indicating death was a possibility, “Ospedale Maggiore.”

As Pavor walked back to the car, he noticed something catching the light in the shrubs, and reaching out he saw it was one of Tullio's books he had just signed. Rex Manu Propria. It must have flown out of his jacket. Its companion was not to be found.


He didn't remember driving down to the hospital, having been in a state of shock. But the frustration at finding parking awoke him to mundane necessities. He decided to park on the water's edge and walk back, a long walk but he could use the time to grasp what had happened. There was nothing he could do at the hospital. He wasn't family. He would just be a nuisance standing there with a book in his hands bothering Doctors and nurses.

He took a right onto the Via Mazzini which he knew led straight to the public port area, the rusticated stone buildings and their street level boutiques reminding him of Old Montreal. That's where he should be. Driving in Old Montreal, Mélisande beside him, newlyweds on their way to breakfast. They would have found a house and settled into work routines, entertaining friends, visiting family. None of this would have happened. A house sit in Villa Opicina for ten months wouldn't have been offered. Tullio Friuli would have been unscathed, his books unsigned. Pavor now thought of his signatures as death warrants.

As he parked the car he could hear the sound of the water and the cry of the gulls; in the distance the tankers and container ships seemed immobile, metal islands in the morning mist; sailboats, their white canvases reflecting the muted light, leaned before the wind; these sights and sounds seductively eased his mind and he grabbed a scarf from the backseat and walked towards the low broad stone pier, its dark horn cleats running along both sides as if defining a path towards the river of forgetfulness. The large rough cut stone beneath his feet welcomed his stride and the winds, the Bora whistled and spiralled round him like spirits at play.

He was tracing a thought, a thread leading back to his university days doing a master's degree in literature at McGill, a thesis on the work of Henry James. From Henry James, to a Law degree, to becoming a writer of crime and spy thrillers seemed inconceivable, and yet the path was as straight as this pier with its rusting cleats waiting for the hawsers, lines and cables coiled and ready upon the decks of memory.

Could he lay the blame upon the author? Had he unconsciously donned the mantle of the preconceived and out-dated notion that a conventional married life would be the ruin of his writing career?

The pier seemed to stretch out before him endlessly.The winds became stronger, buffeting and buckling his legs with their gusts and bringing up a memory of the film The French Lieutenant's Woman, with Meryl Streep tempting fate out on the massive windswept Cobb.

His thoughts returned to the James story, The Lesson of the Master, wherein an older successful novelist warns a younger talent, Paul Overt, to avoid marriage, believing it would dilute his art into thinner, less artistic creations. And yet the master novelist was happily married. Paul left behind the young woman he loved to write in Europe for two years, only to come back to find the elder novelist, now a widower, ready to marry Paul's love.

Pavor sat down heavily upon a cleat, his legs together, huddled like a penurious beggar, his scarf fluttering about his face. Could such a story have been guiding his way? Had he been avoiding marriage feeling it would inhibit his writing? Commitment, that thorn of reality in the foot of his aestheticism? He considered the worry that, inversely, marriage might induce him towards the creation of high literature and deprive him of his ability to write his popular novels. The Underglasse being the temptation. Perhaps that was at the root of his disinclination.

He felt the edge of Tullio's book resting against his ribs underneath his jacket and withdrew it. Flipping through the pages he began to  feel that the words and letters had been written by someone else. The dark water lapped at the edge of the pier unconcerned with humans and their frailties,  ready to consume anything thrown its way. The temptation had been great to toss it in and watch it sink, and then leave Italy altogether, but his responsibilities were not so obscure as to leave no evidence behind. Poor Tullio lay upon a hospital bed, possibly with a sheet over his head, being escorted towards the hospital morgue by pale faced clones of Charon. 

No, he had to stay. And with a sense of guilt, he thought of the details he could glean from such a hospital visit.

© ralph patrick mackay

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

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

Wrapped in her house coat, her feet beneath her on the upholstered chair, Thérèse warmed her hands with a cup of coffee held close to her chest, the steam rising in front of her eyes like the warm vapours from a subterranean fissure. She went over the conversation with Arthur Roquebrune, trying to decipher the possible dissimulation in his words, the signs and nuances of the withheld, and though she sensed he was deeply concerned, she also felt he was being equivocal, like some stage manager holding the curtain together out on a proscenium stage, assuaging a restless crowd that the show would go on—as soon as the inebriated lead actor found his way to consciousness.

She was weary from little sleep. It was now 7:30 a. m. in Bergen.

At least Martine would be back from Stavanger today. She would have to tell her all about the David Ashemore case, the missing flash drive, and the possible need to change the locks and get additional security devices.. She was filled with dread over Martine's possible reaction. She had contemplated leaving Bergen but she felt uneasy about such a decision. There were too many unknowns.

She got up and walked over to the front window and noticed something broken on the window sill. A piece of white plastic with a circular shape. She went to the front door and upon opening it, could see that the exterior light had been broken, the plastic cover and the bulb in pieces amidst the leaves and small twigs on the steps. It must have been the high winds last night she told herself. She went to the kitchen to get the broom from behind the door and noticed a piece of white plastic on the floor near the dark synthetic bristles. She picked it up and could see it had a circular shape much like the broken light fixture outside.


Missed intentions and failing resolutions danced a slow quadrille around him as Pavor checked his on-line messages. In his private email, his agent and publicist had sent enquiries as to his progress; in his public email from his minimal website, there was a request for an interview from a small magazine, offers to review new books, offers to blurb new books, offers to read unpublished books, questions from a university student concerning the heroic and mythic in his Olivaster Moon, a query from a University Professor over the possible use or allegory and symbol in his Rex Manu Propria, or his RMP as the scholar termed it, and another concerning his use of idyll in his Rex In Arcadia.

Nothing from Mélisande. No response. Private or public.

He logged out of his emails and then logged into his gluttony of news feeds wondering what had possessed him to venture into such territory. The syndicated, the aggregated, the annotated, the calculated, the calibrated, and the validated all leading him to feel, in the end, fabricated and flagellated. How could he possibly keep up?

And his agent had suggested he get on Twitter and Facebook. My god, how would he ever get any work done? He couldn't understand how other, more famous authors, could manage such social medias. Perhaps they had ghost twitterers he thought. He disliked real cocktail parties let alone Twitter's endlessly digital cocktail party, a twenty-four hour, seven day a week bacchanal of hotlinks and twitpics, slants and views, theories and humours, all garnished with directives and dispositions.

Playing poker with Thomas Pynchon and Stephen King—and never mentioning books—would be more his thing. That would be fine. But no, not Twitter.

Pavor closed down his internet connection and shut his laptop. Restless, that's what he was feeling. Restless. Empty. He needed human stimulation. People watching was in order. He should take the morning off and drive into Trieste and let the bustle of humanity swing him about like a dusty wind and wash over him like a spring rain. Have a light brunch, and a stroll. Yes, deep observation and strong coffee would be the antidotes to his damned self-concerns.

Perhaps he should take that Burton book down to the antiquarian bookshop for an appraisal too. He picked it up off the desk and flipped through the pages and read a few lines at random.

Hardly we learn to wield the blade before
the wrist grows stiff and old;
Hardly we learn to ply the pen ere Thought
and Fancy faint with cold:

Hardly we find the path of love, to sink the
Self, forget the “I,”
When sad suspicion grips the heart, when
Man, the Man begins to die:

The whole artificial construct of the poem was rhetorical. Burton's summation of his philosophical viewpoints hiding behind the couch or flowered veil of a pseudonym. Pavor remembered when he was younger he had fallen under the spell of exotic travel narratives and the author's assault of the Victorian stuffed shirts, but not long after he came to see Burton as an Imperialist, and one who upheld racist views. He was a man of his time. Larger than life perhaps, but of his time.

Perhaps he could sell the book and finance a research trip? Rex Packard in Japan? Have him driving a Toyota 2000GT around Tokyo? Partying at Café 1894?

The doorbell rang. At least he assumed it to be the doorbell having never heard it before. He wondered who or what it could be. Postal delivery? Neighbour? The Authorities? 'Why for you have no papers?' His imagination kept step with his sense of words as he recognized 'author' and 'paper' in this last thought, and realized that literary theorists would have clambered all over it, or his agent saying he was an author who needed to be producing pages of finely typed papers. He grabbed his leather coat and the keys to the car in preparation for an emergency exit if needed, and then opened the door looking like he was in a hurry.

"Mr. Loveridge?"

© ralph patrick mackay