Monday, September 30, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fifty-five

Out To Lunch, Please Call Back Again. Thank you. Duncan was late. His part-time secretary, Julie, had already dashed off to her real job as a hair stylist and placed the sign on the door, a sign she jokingly referred to as his mullet sign, business in the front, and party in the back, the French words in large bold letters above the English equivalent in smaller letters below—although it seemed counter-intuitive to him what with the English being famous for their Protestant work ethic, and the French for their artistic laid-back savoir-faire. Cultural clichés tended to keep them cozy in this ever changing city. He eyed the lock as he groped for his green leather key case, noticing perhaps for the first time, the inner circle—with its dark hieroglyph awaiting the key—surrounded by the outer circles of the round lock as if it were a large moon in relief upon a planet's surface. Once inside, he locked the door again, and turned the sign over to provide an instructional for potential—or metaphysical—customers to ring for entry. Having checked his messages left to him by Julie concerning the nothingness of the Monday morning enquiries, he made his way up the stairs to Lafcadio & Co., feeling the emotional attachments to the past bear down on him with the increasing gravity of every step. What would he keep from all of this? What about the cordage business archives? Donate the old ones to the McCord Museum? Missing a year here Mr. Strand. Yeah, I know, tell me about it. Storage? Stuff It and Store It would be a good name for a self storage facility. Stuff it in and store it away, out of sight, out of mind. Outdated garden furniture, boxes of family photographs and slides, camping equipment used once, sets of dishes inherited but kept for family reasons, old lamps, VCRs, boxes of cassette tapes and video cassettes their labels fading along with their contents, musty books, years of weighty Martha Stewart magazines, pots and pans, exercise equipment, memorabilia from vacations better off forgotten, plastic bins with mysterious contents, chipped pressed board bookcases, battered luggage, microwave stands, pneumatically challenged bicycle wheels, window and floor treatments rolled and standing up like fabric soldiers in the corner. Landfill layabouts all. He could see the sign already, Clearance, Everything Must Go, Going Out Of Business Sale....

He switched on the lights and approached his desk surrounded with crisp boxes of fresh stock purchased from estate sales on the weekend. One rich yuppie was changing his decor. Duncan was his first call. Book sets the man had said. Bindings. So he arrived to discover 20 volumes of a 25 volume set of Waverley novels, centenary edition in a fine three-quarter green leather with red labels and gilt titles with decorative gilt thistles, marbled endpapers and edges. Fine condition. Worth something if complete. In addition, ten spine-sunned volumes of a thirty volume set of Ruskin's works, uncut, three-quarter green levant morrocco, gilt titles and decorative devices, top edges gilt, marbled endpapers. Worth a great deal if complete. The loft yuppie was changing to a pastel decor and these green, golds and reds would have to go. He was going ultra modern, shifting with the times. No more pretentious bindings by the yard.

There had also been a strange painting resting on the floor nearby and Duncan had asked if it was going too. Most definitely Mr. Yup had said as if it were an embarrassing movie poster like Risky Business, Pretty in Pink, or Better Off Dead. He had offered him 50 bucks for the books and the painting. The guy had held out his hand without a word, happy to have the offending objects removed—along with their dust—from his space.

The painting was intriguing. Duncan sat at his desk facing the frameless canvas propped against the bookcase facing him. A thin-surfaced slightly distorted painting with tones of white through grey to black, depicting Keanu Reeves as Johnny Mnemonic. Keanu/Johnny, dressed in the character's white shirt, dark thin tie and dark grey suit jacket with damaged shoulder seams, was staring out from the canvas holding onto his suit lapels creating a classic triangulation of form which directed the eyes towards the centre. Probably painted from a photograph. In the upper left hand corner, dark black lettering, imitating Renaissance inscriptions:

Anno dni aetatis svae 30

Ego volo cubiculum servicium

Qvod me nvtrit
me destrvit

He liked it, but he knew that Amelia would find it an undesirable if not unwelcome acquisition. The books he could always sell to another upstart yup looking for bindings by the yard, but he planned to keep this painting for himself. Back of the door to the study perhaps, where no one would see it. He remembered when they filmed scenes from the movie below Jacques Cartier Bridge back in, what was it, '93 or '94? the city rippling with excitement over the hip new star in their midst. The scenes were probably shot over on Ile Ste. Helene, for he remembered having noticed a fleeting, out of focus image in the background of the shot, of Molson's Brewery sign glimmering in the deep distance.

The inscriptions were interesting. Even with his weak knowledge of Latin he could see the first inscription was a translation of I Want Room Service! Johnny Mnemonic's breaking point desperate cry for the upscale normality of delivered food, laundered shirts and expensive female companionship voiced atop a gravel pile as if he were Henry V calling out for a horse. Possibly the rallying cry for that whole generation. What was the rallying cry for his generation twenty years earlier? He scanned his memory for his favourite movies from the 1970s: Three Days of the Condor, Being There, A Fistful of Dollars, Brewster McCloud, Harold and Maud, Day of the Jackal, Manhattan, Network. “I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore,” from the movie Network. Yes, perhaps that was the rallying cry for his generation. It was the end of 1976, his first semester of CEGEP, he had gone to see the film with his brother and their girlfriends and Gavin had come out of the cinema manically screaming the line to the cold December air. Perhaps that's what set him off into punk music, and aroused the divergence in their tastes, Gavin the extroverted young man of action, and he, the quiet introvert more interested in melody and harmony. Gavin had written a song called Mad as Hell which had a local following. What had he used to rhyme with more? Rotten to the core, yes, rotten to the core. Was there a rallying cry for the present generation? His mind failed him. Too many movies, video games, and television shows, the great majority he knew nothing about. He felt out of sync with the times. Too much information. Duncan returned his attention to the painting. There was a signature in the bottom right corner, but it was black on black, difficult to read. Lac Pin? Lac something.

Facing his desk, descriptive cataloguing desires overcoming him, he reached down to a box of books he'd purchased from a retired academic—scholarly volumes likely to be slow movers—and came up with a decent copy of Alfred Russel Wallace's Natural Selection and Tropical Nature: Essays on Descriptive and Theoretical Biology, London, Macmillan, 1895. He dipped his hand down again and brought forth Mind and Nature, A Necessary Unity by Gregory Bateson. A third dip and . . . The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Henry Holiday, Macmillan, 1898. Inscription on flyleaf, “From one Snarkophile to another, warmest wishes. . .” Duncan turned the pages skipping past the short preface and began reading the first stanzas:

“Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

“Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.”

The telephone rang. It was an old rotary dial desk model from Strand Cordage days of yore, still managing to play a role as the bookstore's designated silence interrupter in the twentieth first century.

“Hello?” Nothing. Was it the phone or the caller? “Hello, anyone there?” Prolonged silence. “Lafcadio & Co. Bookshop here, can I help you? Puis-je vous aider?” Nothing. “Are you all right? Are you calling for help of any kind?” He held on a few moments longer and hung up.

He stared at the phone with his descriptive mind as if it was a divining instrument: the clear plastic finger wheel with ten finger holes; the ten white dots on the black phone like the motions of some stellar object; the metal finger stop like a kick starter for a motorcycle; the full moon in the middle of the dial, its white paper faded and soiled like a cratered surface; the numbers and letters surrounding the dial like a zodiac, the numbers One and Zero—which had become King and Queen, or vice versa, with the digital evolution—were alphabetically unchaperoned, while the Two through Nine boasted triadic alphabetic bodyguards. And what about the space for two other finger holes in the plastic finger wheel between the 1 and 0. Pulseless phantom numbers. Heaven and Hell. Direct.

The phone rang again.


“Wow, that's a quick pickup,” Amelia said. “Were you about to phone me?”

“Sorry. The phone had just rung before you and no one was on the other line. Was that you?”

“No, I just got in. Listen . . .” and she informed him about having met Thérèse and Jerome and about inviting them to dinner that night. “But that's not all. Mélisande's Pavor is back in town and they are close friends with the other two and want to come along.”

“That's crazy. I just met Pavor when I popped in to see if the bag had been returned.”

Amelia was standing in the kitchen looking at her Reading Woman calendar—October being a Danish painting by Michael Ancher of a young woman reading. “Well the calendar says it's a full moon tonight. And Hallowen's two doors down.”

“Ah, yes, full moon. Halloween. Of course.”

“Uh huh. Should be quite an evening.”

“What about food? Do I have to pick anything up?”

“No. Supposedly Thérèse is a big pizza lover and so they're bringing over her favourites along with wine. Casual. Easy peasy. They even offered to bring paper plates but I had to draw the line somewhere. I'll pick you up just after five. Bye my love.”

Pizza. Wine. Full moon. He could almost hear Dean Martin singing That's Amore.

He picked up The Hunting of the Snark and walked over to the chairs near the front window. Not much activity out there. Concrete blocks along the front of an empty lot like fallen stones from a classical ruin, a homeless guy scrounging for bottles and beer cans, last month's newspaper swirling in the breeze like playful textual butterflies. He sat down and looked towards the slightly overcast sky. Would they even see the moon tonight?

Full moon. He put his feet up on the small table and watched the clouds dissemble as he remembered an incident from his childhood. The summer of 1969, the beach at Cavendish Camp Ground, Prince Edward Island. He'd wandered off to the west, as he usually did to be on his own, in search of interesting shells, stones and possible glimpses of life beneath the water, away from his family, the sun tanners, castle makers, ball throwers and the cries of the swimmers echoing from the waves. After a while, his cotton hat holding a small bounty of remnant shell life, bones of the sea, he had stubbed his toe in the shallow water against a stone, and looking down, he discovered an unusual piece of red sandstone shaped like a foetus—though at the time he hadn't recognised it as such, being only ten years old and quite ignorant of such things—a red stone with an absolutely perfect hole in the middle, drilled by countless waves and perhaps a pebble for the grinding. He'd reached down and pulled it away, separating it from it's sandy bed, leaving behind the outline with a little tower of sand where the hole had been. The gentle salt water wavelets had washed his bare feet as he naturally brought the stone up to his eye to scan the horizon. A charm of elementary particles. A sand-stone sextant. A new-found amulet that fit under his eye brow like an Egyptian eye of Horus. A future signifier of the yoni. A talisman against the disillusions held in store. It had been a moment of still magic, as if he'd been led away by some ancient spirit of the island to discover this very stone.

And that night, they had joined their neighbours and new acquaintances, a family from Atlanta, with their ultra modern motorhome with all the comforts—so different from their own privations in the tent trailer and separate kitchen tent with picnic table—to watch on their small portable television a broadcast of the moon landing, and how he had pulled out of his bunny hug the magic stone to scope the sliver of moon above him, dizzy with the thought of men walking on that distant light in the sky.

And yet, the next year, his Mother had died. His attachment to the stone had dwindled. It's magic doubted. It ended up resting on a bookshelf in the finished basement with shells, stones, a pennant from Plymouth Rock, a small lobster trap in balsa wood, a peace pipe from a wilderness village. He had left it behind when he had moved out, and years later, when he was helping his Father pack after having sold the family home for financial reasons, he had taken up the stone and had placed it among items he was going to take home with him, and his Father had told him it was his. He'd discovered it he had said. Duncan had stood there speechless. It was as if a vital organ had been torn from him. He'd let it go. Mystified, feeling sorry for his Dad. But when he cleared his Father's small apartment out after his death, it wasn't there. Gone.

Duncan breathed in deeply and exhaled with a great sigh. Had it been a blessing to find or lose he'd never know. A curse to have lost or found, his myth.

He shook his head to dispel the past and opened Carroll's Snark, and remembering the disappearance of the Baker at the end, he flipped to the last stanzas, spread the pages out on his lap and read:

The silence. Some fancied they heard in the air
A weary and wandering sigh
That sounded like “—jum!” but the others declare
It was only a breeze that went by.

They hunted till darkness came on, but they found
Not a button, or feather, or mark,
By which they could tell that they stood on the ground
Where the Baker had met with the Snark.

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away—
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

Duncan closed the book feeling a sense of exhaustion overcome him. He lay his head upon the soft chair back and fell into a light sleep.

© ralph patrick mackay

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fifty-Four

As Pavor approached the Religious Studies building where Mélisande worked, the Parisian accordion theme music from the movie Amélie played from his smart phone.

Pavor answered, voicing a three syllable pronunciation arc to the word hello.

“How's the weather in Trieste?” It was his literary agent Luke (“Fig”) Newton. “Yeah, you don't know do you, because you're not there!”

Pavor audibly sighed. Why did he answer, he asked himself. “I had to come to Montreal on family business. Sorry Fig, I should've let you know.”

“Family business? Your Mother lives in Prague, you're a single child, and your Father has been deceased for many years, sorry, no offence, I know what it's like to lose a Father . . . but, then again, I generally find Pops wandering the local mall so maybe it's not quite the same, but anyway, how's the book coming?”

Pavor looked up and noticed a dark-spectacled man seemingly lost in thought, or just lost, looking up at the computer science building down the street. “Great, new characters popping up, scenes in Prague, some will be in Trieste too. It looks good. Plot's firming up. So how's the agency biz?”

“Jesus Murphy, it's frosting my tomatoes if you know what I mean. Everyone wants an author who's twenty, female, gorgeous, been through hell, and writes like a fucking genius. The market's been through what, magic, vampires, zombies, S&M, what the hell's next? Septuagenarian surfer assassins?”

“I'll get right on it.”

“You know what I think P. K.? The next big thing will be pay-on-demand narrative, something like an intravenous drip right into the reader's head on a bi-weekly basis, fiction that's plugged right into the moment, informing the text, referencing the latest diversions and news, or better, some kind of prescient narrative foretelling the near future of next week. Forget about hyped-up history-smishstery fiction, oversized rehashes of the past. No, my good sir, what we need are narratives riding on the veritable edge of the wave, hanging ten, coming out of the tube carrying a new idea they didn't see going in. A writer who can glean the world and then sit at the keyboard and get into medium-mode and generate text streams for the world.”

“Right. Well, my clairvoyance quotient is kind of low, Fig, but you might have something there.”

“Damn right I have. Just think, the monstrous regiment of baby boomers are going to be hit with a massive wave of Alzheimer's like a bloom of algae in the future, this could be the answer. Keep their brains from shorting out, creating new sympathetic passages and connections. So, can we do lunch this week, or what?”

Pavor felt his head swim with the panic of such thoughts. 'Sympathetic passages?' “Sure, I think I can squeeze in lunch. How about your old favourite, Schwartz's, on let's say, Thursday.”

Fig Newton checked his coffee-ringed monthly blotter in silence. “Ah, Schwartz's . . . . Thursday's no good. Wednesday will work though. Two o'clock. See you there my friend. Bring a pen.”

Pavor turned his phone off, breathed deeply and scaled the stairs with a cold rhythmic scrape that echoed in the Gothic portico to the strained harmony of his heartbeat.

He might have to change agents.


Whether due to dust, germs, or allergies, the silence in the library was punctuated with a double sneeze from Mélisande's co-worker Manon, to which she offered the requisite phrases of à tes souhaits, and à tes amours, but when Manon let go an explosive third, it was her co-worker's turn to speak, as was customary, with et que les tiens durent toujours. Exchanging looks of anticipation for a follow-up, Mélisande was ready to resort to a common bless you, when they heard the hinges creak on the entrance door and turned to see the unexpected head of Pavor Loveridge appear like the leading actor in a door-slamming English farce.

Mélisande had dreamt about him last night. She had been in a large silent house, darkly lit, rooms full of people as if it were a party or a wake, and she was looking for him, manoeuvring around little cliques and coteries like a hostess with a tray of crudités. On waking, she felt she'd been wandering his house of fiction, his characters huddled in groups or lounging in the shadows, voiceless and menacing, preventing her from getting near him or finding a seat to rest upon.

In shock with the surprise of his visit, she quickly went to the door leaving all her conflicting emotions behind, and with a glance at Manon—who merely nodded her head knowingly—she was out the door followed by the reverse squeak of the fusty hinges. They found themselves surrounded by a haphazard assortment of student's running shoes, loafers and cheap lace-ups like an avant-garde art installation on the subject of souls, and wordlessly they embraced.

“What are you doing in Montreal?”

The coolness of the question hit Pavor like a waft of cold air from the open back door of a city bus. “I wanted to see you. . . so I quickly booked a flight.” He squeezed her hand softly. “Can we talk?”

She pulled him over towards the chapel doors and finding it empty, they settled themselves on the right-hand penultimate pew. With his sun tan and the dark crescents beneath his tired eyes, he looked like a jet setter seeking atonement after a long night of excess.

“When did you arrive?” she asked, looking at him closely for signs of dissimulation, as if his having missed a small section under his chin while shaving was revealingly duplicitous.

“I came in last night. I wanted to surprise you. I'd planned to see if Pascal was still using my apartment and if so, I'd have taken a cheap hotel room. But you'll never guess who I bumped into at the airport.”

She shrugged her shoulders, “Your publisher?”

“Jerome and Thérèse! She was supposedly staying in Bergen with a friend and somehow suffered a form of amnesia. She seems a bit fragile. Jerome flew there to escort her home and was met at the airport by a Mr. Roquebrune, a lawyer and friend of Thérèse, and also, Jerome's landlord.”

“My God, I hope she's all right. Jerome visited me last week and we talked about Thérèse. We were worried about her secretive investigations, but you know Thérèse, the free spirit, independent and strong, always willing to take on the big issues.” She relaxed her back against the hard wood pew feeling her shoulder blades touch the wood like inceptive wings. “We always felt she'd find the balance of truth on her side. Someone looking out for her and all that. Was she attacked?”

“No, but I've yet to hear all the details,” he said, feeling selfish in his lack of answers. “I'll see if we can all have dinner together. Maybe it's what she needs to help lift the veil of memory.”

“Dinner would be great. I'd like to see her. So you stayed with Jerome?”

“Yes, I slept on his sofa bed and Thérèse stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Roquebrune. When I awoke this morning he'd already gone over to see her.”

"I'm sorry I didn't respond to your lovely email last week. I printed it off. You made Trieste, Slovenia and the countryside very appealing.”

“You must come over with me . . . .” He hesitated, faltering, words swirling around his mind like dry leaves in a vortex, and, as if by centrifugal force, the words that spun out were like mirrored images: “I must tell you something before I can ask you something.” Light-headed, with a sense of lurking variables waiting to upset his progress, fictional hands sliding invisible hurdles onto his path, he felt naked and blind as he walked towards his self-revelation. “When I was young, foolishly young, I . . . my girlfriend became pregnant, and we married. We had a daughter. . . .”

Mélisande was struggling with how to respond. Should she tell him she knew all about what had happened? Or let him bring it forth as a revelation? She followed her feelings and reached out and put her hand on his arm feeling the pressure of warm tears in her eyes and the tightness in her chest.

“They died in a car crash. I . . . I've been keeping it inside all these years as a way of getting on with life, but . . . it's as if the seeds of that suppression or guilt sprouted and grew into an enormous pine tree, and I've discovered I've been living beneath it, on the pine needles, in the shade, listening to the haunting winds speak through the branches. When I was in Trieste I decided I didn't want to live like that anymore. Being away from you and surrounded by the ancient landscape, the summer light, the warmth of the sun, the sea, the winds, I . . .” He knelt in the narrow space and withdrew a small black box from his jacket pocket, it sported the mark of a Triestine jeweller, and opening it, he asked, “Will you be my wife?”


“So you think there might be a correlation between the loss of the cash book, the alpha-numerical manuscript, and the sale of the land to Westlake-Declan Enterprises?” Tom Culacino said as he paid for their coffees.

Duncan blew on the froth of his cappuccino like a gambler blowing on dice for good luck. “No, nothing so fantastic. Just that it's one of those patterns of three.”

“It might be an opportunity you know. Sell off your books, the rope business, and embark on a new phase of your life. You're turning 54 soon, give it a title, Fifty-four Reset. Has a nice ring to it.” He placed his coffee on the small table creating a hoop of hot wet moisture. “Look at it like a new chapter in your life. A new model. A monetization of the old Duncan into a new Duncan, Duncan 3.0 with the next thirty years of your life before you. A new adventure.”

Duncan thought it was easy to say, harder to experience. He envied Tom's choices having constructed a successful path through this brave new world of computing with its litter of punched cards, floppy disks, hard drives, monitors, CPUs, microchips RAM, bitstreams, configurations, assemblers, compilers, vertex shaders, and God knows what else behind him to arrive at his comfy position with a padded pension to look forward to. But he admired Tom's achievements. Tom's skills and interests had coincided with the developments of new technology, while his own interests had converged with the past, books and rope. He felt like an anachronism. “Yes, a new adventure. So, what have you been up to? Any research that would help me with my 'new adventure,' something to invest in perhaps?”

Tom shot him a glance as if he'd just seen a Luddite trying to jump his gravity gravy train. Drinking deeply from his coffee he concluded poor old Dunc was the most unlikely tech spy, so far removed from the edge as he was. “Well, there's always the gaming applications I have on the back burner, but, for your ears only, I've been researching something I call S. A. Y.”  He lowered his voice and leaned towards Dunc with a conspiratorial eyebrow, “It stands for Storative Ambiotic Yielder. A program to funnel the fluid information from Google News via various Geo positions and run it through my program which would synthesize it into one narrative story line, which would in turn fuel the virtual worlds of Second LifeMMORPGs and such with real world forces and pressures to inform the virtual experience.”


Tom almost felt sorry for him. Like some guy dabbling in alchemy. “Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games. Milly is a Games Master of a little thing I developed which is taking off called The Rings of Voltan. She's making a nice little salary without leaving home. Yup, a crazy new world to discover.”

Duncan was secretly appalled people could be making money off of virtually nothing, thin air and computer code. He had a ship load of books and . . . it didn't bear thinking about. Stay positive Dunc he told himself. Fifty-four Reset. A new adventure. “Yeah, crazy new world.”

“How's Amelia doing?”

Remembering the discussion concerning Mary's position and moving into the coach house up on the mountain, their future was indeed taking on a shape he couldn't have envisaged last week. Chance to save money, time for travel. A chance to visit Henry James's old house in Rye, look up Oxtoby & Snoad. Pop over to Bruges, Paris, Prague. “She's well. Busy with translations of one type or another. We should have you and Milly over for dinner soon.”

“We'd love that. It's been awhile.” Tom stretched and yawned. “Sorry, I was out late last night. Not used to it. That band Yves emailed us about were playing a club so I rolled by to catch a set. Yves even showed up.”

“Ah right, I'm sorry I couldn't make it. Past my bedtime. I tell you, when Sunday at 10:00 p. m. arrives, I'm brushing my teeth, getting ready to turn in with a good book.”

“A bit of Masterpiece Theatre and then to bed eh?"

"We don't have tv."

"Oh, right. I don't know how you guys live without it."

Duncan wondered how they lived without books. "So how was the band last night?"

"They were interesting. I downloaded their music already,” he said fingering the ever present earbuds dangling from his shirt pocket. “You'd like their music. Literary references. I think the singer has a PhD in literature or something, though she looks kind of young.”

“Everyone looks kind of young these days.” He sipped his cappuccino. “Our antidote is to watch the lawn bowlers in Westmount to feel young again.”

“Hmm, yeah, but then again, they're probably in better shape than us mouse-jockeys.”

They both chuckled, then sat in silence drinking their coffees, picturing themselves in Tilley hats, white shirts and trousers, maybe an Oxford tie for a belt and those soft white runners plying the soft green sward under an azure sky.


After finishing his coffee, Duncan decided to drop by the library and ask Mélisande if an attractive young woman with expensive tastes had made an appearance looking for her copies of Kierkegaard. Standing in front of the wood doors, he slipped off his shoes and quietly entered looking to his left where she was usually to be found. A young woman came from the depths of the area to ask him if he needed help.

“Actually, I've just dropped by to speak with Mélisande.”

Manon, thinking of the old proverb, un malheur ne vient jamais seul, informed Duncan that Mélisande had just stepped out for awhile and that he could wait if he desired.

He thanked her, and checking his watch he realised his time was limited. He slipped back out and as he began putting his shoes on, he heard the chapel doors open and looked up to see Mélisande followed by a tall man who he recognized as the writer, P. K. Loveridge.

“Duncan? I'm so sorry, no one's come by looking for their bag yet. I can email you if they turn up.”

“Thank you, that would be great. I discovered it might be a young woman of expensive tastes.”

“Good, I'll keep my eyes out,” she said wondering how he could possibly have discovered this. “I don't think you've met my friend Pavor. Pavor this is Duncan Strand who runs Lafcadio & Co. bookshop. Duncan's wife Amelia is an old friend of mine.”

Duncan shook hands with him sensing a firm yet yielding grip. “I enjoyed your Olivaster Moon. A great read. Any chance you'll bring back Ormond Develle in another book?”

Pavor exchanged a quick look with Mélisande. “That's very kind of you. Perhaps he'll rise up and demand a new role. Never know.”

Sensing an awkward pause, Duncan made his escape. “Well, I have to get back to the shop. It was very nice to meet you Pavor. Thanks again Mélisande.”

“Say hi to Amelia for me.”

Duncan waved at the top of the stairs saying he would. He made his way out with a sense of having achieved something this morning. A few gleanings of interest: the description of his Kierkegaardian, a new perspective on his changing future, and Mélisande was sporting a large diamond on her ring finger. The engagement ring would be a choice dinner conversation piece.

© Ralph Patrick Mackay

Thursday, September 19, 2013

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

Duncan was thankful for the seat on the mid-morning bus going uptown. He needed it. He'd just learned that Mr. Therriault, the owner of the William Street property where he operated his rope and book shop, had accepted a generous offer to sell up. A vast area was being gentrified and his fairly well-kept building was, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on the point of view, in the way. Duncan had anticipated the possibility of change, yet he hadn't quite estimated the probability, and now with the hidden variables having risen to the surface, he felt swept away like so many loosing chips on a craps table. First the exchange of shoulder bags at the library, then the missing alpha-numerical text from the shop, and now this. The pattern of three strikes again. How many years had his family been on that street in various addresses over the years? How many years? Well, the whole area was being developed and soon all the crumbling red brick buildings with their boarded windows and graffiti scrawls surrounded by empty lots filled with debris, derelict trees and rank standing water—random rippling mirrors of the ever changing skywould be bulldozed away and efficient, modern structures would rise—along with the tax base—and bring a new life of urban professionals, landscaped frontages, speciality shops, expensive cars, bicycle paths and the smell of rebirth in it's sharp angles, level planes and clean reflections. The old area would pass into the local history books for what it had been, a mixture of residential and factory life where manual labour met machine, a destiny of forgotten names and addresses listed in old street directories, of interest only to those looking back. The area had fallen so low that this development was a good thing. It had to be. There was a time, the decade of the 1970s and early 1980s, he thought, when a building crane had been unknown. The lean years. Duncan then remembered the Olympics in 1976, and rolled his eyes. Taxpayers were probably still paying for that stadium.

A young woman wearing an attractive mauve hijab entered the bus and made her way down the aisle and sat beside Duncan. He smiled with his eyes and pulled himself out of his slouch. Life goes on he told himself. Life goes on. The woman's attire reminded him of an incident, in a life of seemingly endless incidents. It was the end of May 1979, he was driving his yellow Volkswagen Rabbit on his way to the new apartment he shared with his girlfriend, and he came up beside a dark model two-door jeep which was quite full of what looked like household objects. The jeep had been signalling a left turn and he was going straight, but the jeep didn't turn and ended scraping the side of his car. The young woman in the passenger side who was wearing a hijab had looked frightened, and her partner, a large young man with dark hair, moustache and six o'clock shadow had come out to inspect the damage. The jeep had not suffered anything but his Rabbit had sustained large scuff scratches along the doors.

“I have a friend on the south shore who can fix this,” the man had said, pointing to the scratches.

“Ah, maybe we should exchange information first,” he had countered.

The young man had brought out a folded sheet which apparently was a temporary international driver's license. He was from Iran. A student at Concordia University. It was his address, however, that jolted Duncan as much as the jeep itself, for it was the same address as the large apartment building where his girlfriend used to live with her parents, and where he was forever parking his yellow Rabbit on the side of the ramp that led to the underground parking—a space the tired-eyed janitor was forever telling him half-heartedly not to use. Had this young man recognized his yellow car and considered he'd been following them? Perhaps had been following them for some time? Had he hit his car to find out? They must have been under pressure, stress, easy enough to brake out with a symptom of paranoia. The revolution in Iran had been going on since January. He assumed they were likely children of wealthy parents in Iran, perhaps professionals themselves, possibly on the wrong side of the new regime, and he knew that Concordia had a substantial number of Iranian international students and that many lives were being disrupted. They had exchanged information but when he tried to follow up, the young man had seemingly left the country. He often wondered what happened to them. He had followed the news, read about the purges of the universities, and he had heard that thousands of politically motivated executions had taken place. A few scratches to his car seemed so ridiculously unimportant. It was one of those incidents, however, that had made him feel like a pawn in some strange game of the Gods; human lives manipulated to collide at a crossroads on a dark night, one side seeing possible significance in the yellow car, the other, bewilderment over the coincidence of an address. Life was forever sliding these incidents his way it seemed. Why had he taken that road that night? The timing was so precise. He shook his head, defeated by a lack of answers. The world must be overflowing with such incidents, he thought, the nature of fates crossing in space and time, those moments when life is lifted above the mundane and a choice is offered, a chance to be taken. Could he have been instrumental in that couple's life? Had he failed them? Had they failed him? He would never know.

Seeing his stop ahead, he excused himself and slipped past the young woman and was soon walking towards the bookshop where he hoped to find a clue to his missing bag. The thought of what he was going to do with the family business and his bookshop, due either to shock or disbelief, had not penetrated his deepest concerns, and he had put it on a shelf like a book requiring further research. He wasn't prepared for that opening chapter quite yet. That narrative seemed to be in another language, one he would have to learn.

As he reached the bookshop, he couldn't help but stop and check the cheap books on the window sill, an irresistible pull like a bee to lavender, and as he browsed, he breathed in the unique fragrance emanating from the open door, as enticing a the smell of fresh baked bread to a hungry man. A slim blue volume of Rousseau's Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire caught his eye and he deftly slipped it out from its forlorn sill-mates thinking it would be an ideal companion for his pocket. Opening it, his left hand thumb fanned the pages coming to rest on the third promenade, and he read the first lines:

Je deviens vieux en apprenant toujours.

Solon répétait souvent ce vers dan sa vieillesse. Il y a un sens dan lequel je pourrais le dire aussi dan la mienne; mais c'est une bien triste science que celle que depuis vingt ans l'expérience m'a fait acquérir: l'ignorance est encore préférable. L'adversité sans doute est un grand maître; mais ce maître fait payer cher ses leçons, et souvent le profit qu'on en retire ne vaut pas le prix qu'elles on coûté. D'ailleurs avant qu'on ait obtenu tout cet acquis par des leçons si tardives, l'à-propos d'en user se passe.

Yes, he thought, just what he needed. He possessed a few copies of the work in both English and in French, but they were hardcover volumes with aged dustwrappers and fine portraits, not suitable for peripatetic perusals. He made his way in, searching his pocket for a dollar. The young man working was unknown to him, but he knew that any employee of the shop was bound to possess an exceptional quality in some fashion or other—whether they were a polyglot, a tuba virtuoso or competitive kite flyer—and this kept his hope from faltering. He laid the volume on the small wood counter followed by the loonie.

“I know this will be an odd question, and a long shot, but do you happen to remember a customer who purchased a two volume softcover edition of Kierkegaard's Either/Or recently? It had a three letter stamp on the flyleaf, PMR.”

The young man dropped the loonie in the till producing a hollow clink as it joined its till-mates. He looked at Duncan steadily, recognizing him from book sales over the years as another bookseller and friend of his boss. “A two-volume set of Kierkegaard? . . . I do as a matter of fact.” Placing a bookmark in the Rousseau, he paused to evaluate the effect the information had upon his questioner and seemed pleased. “It was memorable due to the method of purchase. An attractive woman entered the shop, went straight to the display table, reached down and plucked the volumes up and paid for them. Not a glance at anything else in the shop. She paid and she left. Not a word. Fastest sale I've ever known.” He turned his attention back to a small tower of books he was pricing. “She was quite attractive. Didn't seem like your average philosophy student. Expensive clothes, expensive purse, expensive perfume.”

“Really? Was that recently?”

“Last week . . . Wednesday.”

“Wednesday . . . .” Duncan was lost in thought as he made his way to the door almost tripping on the step. He turned and thanked the young man for his exceptional memory and made his way slowly towards the university, his eyes cast downwards as if reading the fractured sidewalk for signs of symmetry.


Jerome heard the rattle of the tea tray as he stood before the window looking out at the remnant fall colours and the city towers in the far distance below, huddled together as if for warmth. Turning, he was surprised to see a young woman with the tray followed by an inquisitive, if formal, Airedale whose light ochre, charcoal and black coat made him briefly remember Declan's dog Beaumont. The dog's face looked very familiar. He'd seen one very similar recently, and he began to search his memory.

“Mary asked me to bring the tea out for you, there are biscuits if you like.”

“Thank you. Very kind.” He was perplexed over who she was; her clothing and overall appearance suggested more of a private secretary than a servant. Perhaps Mr. Seymour's. She also looked vaguely familiar. Had he watched her pass by one day he wondered.

Amelia sat upon the sofa, poured him a cup and handed it to him. He sat across from her on one of the high back embroidered chairs, and George sniffed his trouser leg.

“What a handsome dog. What's his name,” his fingers running through the dog's rough upper coat.

“George the third. The third because he's my Uncle Edward's third Airedale. Yes, I'm sorry, my name is Amelia, I'm Edward Seymour's niece.”

“Ah, nice to meet you. My name's Jerome. Your uncle has a very lovely home, and such fine paintings.” He reached for a biscuit and George sat on his haunches beside him looking hopeful. “I'm a painter myself.”

She felt guilty for having had any misgivings about him, unshaven though he was. “There's a very interesting portrait of a distant relative of my uncle's on the landing, the eyes never let you go, painted in Holland by Jan van Ravestyn my uncle believes, but he did say it requires a cleaning. Do you know who could do such a job?”

“Ravestyn. That would be a fine old painting. I know of several people who do such work, but their waiting lists are very long. I'm capable, but it's a laborious job to be a restorer . . . it requires a great deal of patience.” He bit off half of his biscuit producing a subtle nervous tick in George, who then moved his head and licked his upper lip. "Not really my area."

“You can give him some of your biscuit if you like. It won't harm him.”

Jerome did so and she handed him a small napkin. “Don't worry about the crumbs, I'm sure George will ferret them out of the carpet. Would I know your work?”

He looked at her wondering if she frequented his type of cafés and bars and concluded it was unlikely. She seemed a few years older than him, studious, and stylishly conservative in her dark pants, burgundy turtleneck sweater and colourful scarf. A different orbit of friends altogether. “Some of my paintings are around the city in cafés, businesses, and in private collections; I also do portraits. Helps pay the rent.”

“Oh, hmm,” Amelia mumbled as she munched on a digestive. She began to view him as someone who wouldn't be offended by a candid, point-blank question, no circling round the subject and wasting time, and she couldn't see how to advance the subject in any other way. “May I be quite frank with you Jerome?”

He nodded, wondering if he'd made a faux pas.

“I happened to drop by to speak to Mary and I mentioned seeing Mr. Roquebrune drive past me looking very serious. I've known him for many years and it made me think something was wrong. Well, Mary mentioned he had brought a young woman to see Uncle Edward, a journalist named Thérèse. I asked Mary if young woman's last name might be Laflamme, and she said it was.” She noticed Jerome had taken the revelation like rain rolling off a statue's face, as if he'd turned to stone. “My husband and I, you see, recently discovered that your friend, Thérèse Laflamme used to rent the flat we're living in now, in the house owned by Mrs. Shimoda, so when I heard her name mentioned, I felt I must meet you both. I understand it's not an optimal time . . . .”  The thought occurred to her that a visit to her old apartment and seeing Mrs. Shimoda might be helpful for someone reconnecting the dots. “But, I wondered if a visit to our flat and meeting Mrs Shimoda might help her revive memories. Of course it would depend on whether Uncle Edward considers it acceptable.”

“You're living above Mrs. Shimoda now?”

She smiled widely. “Yes, isn't that amazing? A friend gave us Mrs. Shimoda's phone number when she heard we were looking for a new place.
When we met our neighbour, Natasha Roy, she mentioned Thérèse's name as the previous tenant.” She had no desire to connect Thérèse with the strange manuscript Duncan had found in the dark. She was actually pleased it had disappeared and hoped Duncan would never mention it again.

If it had not been for the initial stage of jet-lag on top of his mild hang-over, Jerome might have reacted with a greater expression of astonishment, but he was seeking simplicity and calm, and this brilliant streak of crimson dashed upon the dour canvas he had been contemplating was discouraging. He was saved from any further response by the approach of Thérèse and Uncle Edward.

“Amelia, what a pleasant surprise. I see you've been keeping Jerome company.” Her uncle had the gift of graciousness; he could have found them rolling on the carpet in a torrid embrace and he would still have retained his composure. “I'd like you to meet Thérèse Laflamme.”

© ralph patrick mackay

Monday, September 16, 2013

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

Weightless without a thought, he broke through the surface of sleep like a man awakening face down on a calm sea; he rolled over to an unremarkable yet unknown ceiling, and confusion. Where was he? What day was it? Who was he? The odours of paint and canvas spun his nascent feelings like a compass star pointing, eventually, to the reality of the pull-out couch in Jerome's apartment. His mouth was dry, a stiff neck promised a future headache, and he had to pee, but he lay there, the pressure on his bladder balanced against the weight of his inertia. Was it all a dream? The music club, the three Boréales, Rough Draft? He looked over his right shoulder to the side table and saw with his sleep filled eyes, the CD jewel case covered in letters and the name of the band. No, it was as it was.

Unlike his father, he had never possessed a fault tolerance for liquid forgetfulness. That third beer had been a technical knock out. He stretched his neck from side to side thinking that Jerome, ten years younger than him, had a metabolism better able to go the extra rounds. A faint memory of Stacey Keach in that boxing movie from the seventies swept up to his consciousness, that open ended ending, so much like life. He stretched his legs down to the cold corners of the sofa bed and wondered if Jerome was all right. His self-doubts and his feeling of being cursed rose to the surface of his thoughts as he rubbed his eyes. Were Tullio and Thérèse further examples of proximal contact? What about Carina? Umberto? His tweedy flight companions? Were they all in danger of the side-effects of brushing up against his deterministic fate? It was always when at his lowest physical and mental ebb that he erected such negative scaffolding, refurbishing a simple, austere structure with baroque and grotesque features against a backcloth of fog and grey skies.

He reached out for his watch and felt, and heard, his shoulder crack sending an electrical current up and down his spine, his ageing nervous system's wake-up call. It was only 9:30, which gave him preparation time. He wanted to be fresh, looking his best. He grabbed the CD case, opened it and managed to slip the thin booklet out, a lyric running round and round in his mind like a mouse on a treadmill. He turned the small pages and found the lyrics for the song, The Thread of Love:

The Thread of Love

Sweep my pixel dust away
Sailing strange love's ocean;
Follow me but don't betray
The thread of love's e-motion.

So follow me, follow me
Invisibly, invisibly.
Trace in me, trace in me
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.

Synchronize synaptically,
Your camera lucida;
My bitstream flows bilaterally,
I won't be your persona.

So follow me, follow me
Invisibly, invisibly.
Trace in me, trace in me
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.

We'll keep ourselves in hour-glass mode,
Our servers overflowing,
Holding to eternal code,
With topic drift converging.

So follow me, follow me
Invisibly, invisibly.
Trace in me, trace in me
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.

Your hard cache won't tear us apart
Byteing dust, and broken link.
We'll balance love right from the start.
Horizon to the very brink.

So follow me, follow me
Invisibly, invisibly.
Trace in me, trace in me
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.

Sweep my pixel dust away
Sailing strange love's ocean;
Follow me but don't betray
The thread of love's e-motion.

So follow me, follow me
Invisibly, invisibly.
Trace in me, trace in me
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.
The thread of love
The thread of love
The thread of love's e-motion.

He remembered Livia Plurabelle had shifted to a small keyboard synth for the song, while the bass player had taken over the percussion for the new wave melody with its two minute musical opening sequence. It had imprinted itself upon Pavor's mind, hook, line and sinker, and he felt it had been the soundtrack to his dream, a dream of a beach at dawn or dusk and the tide rising quickly forcing him to the base of a rock cliff, sheer, steep, unscalable. The consideration that the dream was possibly allied to the demands of his bladder undermined the romantic suspense of the narrative, but he admitted it was likely the source.

Jerome had left a written note taped to the bathroom door informing him that he was at the Roquebrunes visiting with Thérèse. Breakfast essentials could be found. Help himself. Taped to the paper was an oddly shaped spare key which made him think of a pocket Derringer, the kind of handgun women kept in their purse or under a dress in hard-boiled fiction, one that stirred up images of book covers of Dashiell Hammett and his favourite, Ross MacDonald—the key, like the gun, was an open invitation to come and go as he pleased.

At the back window facing the Roquebrune house, he drank his coffee and gazed out at the morning scene. Beside him on a low bookshelf, a cassette radio with an empty case resting upon it, beckoned his curiosity. He pressed play, and listened to an atmospheric sound scape emerge which developed into a melody with a gentle beat, a soft voice, and gentle arcs of oboe colouration. Picking up the case, he saw it was a group he'd never heard of, The Dream Academy. The lyrics he heard linked it to the song listed as In Places on the Run. He began to tap his foot and nod his head to the chorus. Jerome was always listening to different music. Outside, the autumn colours would soon shed their camouflage, revealing the sharp-edges of brick and mortar humanity and the sinuousities of chimney smoke, an odour to evoke countless memories.

He began to map out in his mind the circuitous path to Mélisande: along Maplewood, cut down to Mont Royal, then across the intersection to the the access up to the cinder path of Chemin Olmstead, down past the Sir George-Etienne Cartier monument with its enormous winged figure of Pheme on high, or, as Mélisande had informed him one day on their way to Café Santropol, the mythological representation of the Greek or Roman Fame. He had merely thought it was an angel with a laurel wreath, but she had educated him, and revealed it could be seen as either positive or negative, as renown or as rumour, the light and dark sides of the goddess or spirit. A messenger of truth, or scandal. So, after a bow and a nod to the goddess, he would continue on the path up behind McGill University's sports complex, along Pine and finally down University to the Religious Studies building. He estimated the time required, added an extra half-hour for hesitations and indecisions, and then began to go over what he was going to say to her. How to begin he wondered? How to begin?


As Amelia parked the car at the back of the house, she could see George III looking out from behind the glass of the kitchen door as if overcome with ennui, those enigmatic Airedale eyes focused on some distant prospect of tomorrow. Mary appeared beside him and waved to her and opened the door to let George out.

“Hello Georgie,” she said, bending down to kiss him on his long snout. She didn't mention the word “walk” but she sensed he was in hope. “Come on, let's go see Mary, come on.”

Mary settled a pot of tea on the old pine table and dressed it with a feline fabric tea cozy, snugging it down around the base like a woollen toque on one her relatives. “So, my dear, what brings you here so early on a Monday morning?”

“We've discussed your future retirement plans and we're behind you. We'll step into your shoes and do the best we can.” She rubbed her hand into the thick coarse hair of George who sat beside her possibly in anticipation of a salty digestive biscuit. “It will allow us to save money towards a house of our own, and be closer to Uncle Edward.”

“Thank you Amelia. It's good to know I can move forward. If I live as long as Edward, I'll have almost another thirty years.” She shook her head and began to pour the tea. “Thirty years. Another lifetime to some. At sixty-seven, I'm still young.”

They both laughed at the unintended rhyme. “Maybe you can become a poet in your new future,” Amelia said.

“I'll miss you all, but I'll visit, don't you worry. You won't see the last of Mary.”

Amelia touched her forearm, “We'll certainly miss you too, so you better visit. Every Christmas if you dare confront the cold and wet.” They both groaned. “When I was coming up the street I passed Mr. Roquebrune going the other way. I don't think he saw me. I waved but he was looking straight ahead. A serious look on his face. Preoccupied.”

Mary drank her tea holding her cup with both hands, looking over the rim with the concentration of a competitive bowler. “Arthur brought a young couple over for Edward to talk to. The young woman, her name is Thérèse, seems to have suffered some type of amnesia. I believe Arthur said she was a journalist.”

“Thérèse? A journalist? Is her last name Laflamme by any chance?”

“I think Arthur said it was, yes, do you know her?”

Amelia was stunned. “No, I don't, but I think she used to be the previous tenant of our place. That's so funny.”

Mary lifted her left eyebrow with mild surprise. The world was getting smaller as she got older it seemed. "Coincidence is an odd thing isn't it? Her boyfriend, or partner is waiting in the living room. He seems a nice young man, a bit bohemian perhaps, but then again, he is an artist.”

“An artist? What's his name?”

“A good old-fashioned name, Jerome, Jerome van Starke.”

Amelia felt goosebumps on her arms and she shivered. A bohemian artist with a vintage car who liked to sit on a street bench and watch people walk by was now in her Uncle Edward's living room. A light feeling of guilt passed through her as she imagined him evaluating her Uncle's valuable possessions.

“Maybe he'd like a cup of tea.”

“You can bring it to him if you like. I was going to myself when you drove up. Bring him this plate of digestives too. He looks a bit like a starving artist,” she added with a wink.

© ralph patrick mackay

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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

Arriving at Trudeau International airport on a Sunday evening always aroused a stealth-like guilt for Pavor, a rootless feeling as if he and his dubious fellow passengers were breaking adamantine tradition by sneaking into the city with clandestine manoeuvres under the cloak of darkness while the citizens below in their snug well-lit lives were trying to avoid all thought of their diminishing weekend, that moment when the cold salty undercurrent of the coming days is already nipping at their soft weekend toes with the brackish water of worry, a nettlesome menace to the weary clock-punchers, students, and office dwellers with their bureaucratic politics and pedagogic necessities mapped out before them in an endless series of MTWTF's—or, as his old law school friend used to say: More Time With The Futiles—driving the restless to choose variable escapes such as Chinese take-out, a good book, or the dramatic absorptions of television, and he would imagine his younger self, lying on the pink and blue Aubusson carpet of his parent's TV-less living room with his storybooks or toys, listening to his Mother's occasional quotes from Trollope with her remnant Czech accent—a favourite author to bolster her vocabulary—while his Father in his casual postprandial subterfuge of Scotch and soda behind his main sail of newsprint would listen and offer an Ahh, very good, or Charming my dear, charming, before returning to his fascination with the death of others as rounded up by the obituaries of the week, and he too would provide his own occasional interruptions with commentaries on the stiff little columns and their dry little words—interspersed with such recurring sounds of beloved, peacefully, predeceased, condolences, in lieu, cherished—commentaries spiced with shocking revelations like so and so had really been an unhappy person, or, so and so had had an affair with his secretary, or, so and so had a brother who did himself in after the war, and these competing words would dance a slow quadrille above him as he lay upon the soft colourful pile, as if Mrs. Proudie and Osiris himself were contending, arm and arm, for his soul, and he too would dread the onset of bedtime, and the prospect of darkness, nightmares, and worse, the arrival of Monday morning.

Having nothing to declare but his unwavering thoughts, Pavor passed quickly through customs, and, having but a simple carry-on bag, avoided the further wait at the carousels where a diversity of baggage descended a conveyance slide and circled slowly as tired passengers leaned anxiously like doe-eyed parents waiting for their children to emerge from a modest fun-house amusement park ride, a moment which offered the opportunity for further people watching and the pairing of restless faces with scuffed and colourful ribbon-marked luggage, and as he passed his tweedy flight companions he smiled and nodded to them and remembered the day he saw a robust man retrieve an oversize duffel bag to which a long wood-handled spade had been securely roped, making him think of a possible convention for grave diggers. Alas.

His clandestine arrival with its impending surprise for Mélisande released a reserved energy within him which he hadn't experienced for some time. With gusto in each stride, he walked down the broad corridor and felt fortunate that no one was waiting for him—relatives and friends waving their arms about like he was lost and now found, were anathema to him—and with a keen sense of freedom, he ventured into La Maison de la Presse to pick up a local paper and peruse the best sellers on display. Invariably he would inwardly groan as he stared at the colourful books by pinnacle authors with their sharp-edged titles making all the big bucks while he slogged away in the lower reaches of fictional achievement. No books by P. K. Loveridge. Understandable. Shelf-space was at a premium, and he couldn't elbow a King, a Cornwell, or a Krentz out of the way—although he had thought it would be interesting to place one of his titles alongside the heavy hitters on the main display of a large downtown bookstore and sit back and watch reactions.

As he paid for The Gazette, two familiar faces passed by on the other side of the glass like actors in a film walking towards a vanishing point, and for a moment he had a horrible feeling that Jerome and Thérèse had taken up his invitation to visit him in Trieste and were preparing to take flight.

“Jerome, Thérèse,” he called out, but they didn't hear him due to the high level of ambient noise and whispering echoes in the corridor. He briskly followed up behind them and called out once again making Jerome turn with a look of fear tinged with astonishment.

“Pavor? What . . . what are you doing here?”

He sensed something was odd for Thérèse looked at him as if he were an advertising poster for a men's aftershave. “What are you guys doing here? I hope you're not on your way to Trieste!”

The complexity of thought faltered at Jerome's lips. It was as if he had been asked to paint Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel on a match box. He was further exasperated by the appearance of Mr. Roquebrune who asked him whether everything was alright, looking with concern at Pavor and his folded newspaper, a classic hiding place for a silenced gun.

“Mr. Roquebrune please meet Pavor Loveridge, an old friend of ours.” After they shook hands and acquired initial impressions, Jerome took Pavor by the arm and followed Thérèse and Mr. Roquebrune towards the revolving doors.

“Thérèse has suffered some memory loss. We just arrived from Bergen, Norway, where she was staying with a friend. It's all very complicated.”

“Ah, I sensed something was wrong. Is she all right though?”

“Yes, yes, her memory is coming back, slowly. She's going to stay the night with the Roquebrunes. I live right behind in their rental property. Did you just arrive from Italy?”

“Yes, a surprise for Mélisande. I want to, to . . .” he stammered, not wanting to burden Jerome with incidentals of his desires at this moment. “I just want to see her, so here I am.”

“Where are you staying? Isn't Pascal still using your apartment?

“I was thinking of a cheap hotel.”

“You can stay with me. My pull out couch is comfortable, and we can talk.”

They watched as Thérèse and Mr. Roquebrune stepped onto the circular moving platform of the automatic revolving doors, and then they followed by stepping onto the next quarter slice. She turned around to face them through the clear glass, and they looked on silently, like groom and best man to their bride and father, and Thérèse, with a look of desperation on her face, refused to budge, and they missed the exit and continued round, and they too continued, and they too missed the exit while the October evening air swept in and ran its cold fingers through their hair.

Pavor felt his buoyant mood deflate as the discouraging reality before him kept them face to face on this make-shift merry-go-round.


A secular vow of silence to remedy the unimaginable overcame them as Mr. Roquebrune chauffeured his large comfortable sedan along Côte-de-Liesse expressway, the central nervous system of the sprawling industrial sector of the city with its squat factories, warehouses, expansive parking lots and rail yards, an essentially treeless landscape, made less disagreeable cloaked in darkness and developing fog. Pavor looked out at the uninviting landscape and remembered how his inquisitive fresh-eyed Mother used to seek out the sources behind Montreal street names, and how she had discovered this expressway was named after an old reference to the religious pilgrimage site of the blessed Virgin of Liesse in north eastern France, and how she thought it had been degraded to a dusty, noisy pilgrimage of endless trucks, cars and motorcycles as if it were a thoroughfare in Milton's Pandemonium. He looked around to see that Thérèse and Jerome were sleeping in the back seat, like models for a Pre-Raphaelite painting, her head resting on Jerome's shoulder. He tried to relax but he felt the awkward imposition of his own presence sitting in the sumptuous front seat beside the quiet concentration of Mr. Roquebrune. Was Thérèse's condition a result of the enquiry she had discussed with him back in January? Was his character of Evan Dashmore too representative of his deceased counterpart, David Ashemore? Was his imaginative fiction too close to fact? Was he inviting a bout of memory loss?

When they passed the large red and blue sign for Kraft Canada, Pavor remembered how his Father, on their trips back from Ontario, would declare they were almost home whenever the sign loomed ahead, and still today, whenever he saw their products in the stores, he would experience a subtle feeling of impending arrival. But not tonight. Their destination, the leafy opulence of Outremont's Maplewood Avenue, was a further twenty minute stretch away, and Pavor, feeling as roped down as the spade to the duffel bag, felt as numb as an anaesthetised dental patient.


After settling Thérèse in the spare room at the Roquebrunes, Jerome made his way home and found Pavor browsing his bookshelves.

“How's she doing?” Pavor asked, a copy of Trois Contes by Flaubert in his hands.

“Good, good. She's got a lovely room and she seems relaxed. She hit it off with Mrs. Roquebrune right away. I feel she'll sleep well tonight. Are you hungry?”

“I could really go for a poutine,” he said. “And maybe a strong coffee.”

“That's not a bad idea. La Banquise is open.”

“Great. Something to adjust the gears of the old internal clocks eh.” He put the Flaubert back on top of his seemingly unread book of poetry, Alacrity and Karma on a Yacht Off Palmyra. “I see you've been busy with a Bronzino. ”

“Hmm, yeah, a bizarre portrait request. I'll tell you all about it, Thérèse's story too. Come on, Isodore awaits in the stable beneath.”

“The old Deux-Chevaux's still hanging in there?”

“Oh, yeah. It has more . . . equilibrium than me. At least I hope so.”

Jerome backed his Isodore out of the garage and Pavor slipped in beside him. “Do you remember this cassette?” Jerome asked, shaking the music tape of Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses, before sliding it into Isodore's modest sound system of a jerry-rigged cassette player.

“I haven't heard that in ages. Brings back memories of that road trip to Québec City.”

The driving rhythms of Let Me Down Again followed by The Things You Said filled the small car and sparingly issued from the open windows as they drove the ten minute journey to the restaurant, their hands tapping, heads nodding, lips mouthing the words, youthful memories cleansing their minds of immediate concerns.


The restaurant was busy, students for the most part, making Pavor feel that at 47, he was slipping down the other side of the mountain towards the valley of old age. “Bonsoir Sylvie,” Jerome said to the young woman who greeted them at the door and showed them to a table. Pavor noticed the iridescent hummingbird tattoo on her inner wrist, and thought it rather appropriate for her manoeuvres about the restaurant. “Pas besoin d'un menu. C'est très simple. Deux grandes poutines classique et deux cafés, s'il vous plait.” They both smiled up at her as she nodded her head repeating the order.

Pavor let his eyes wander around the restaurant with its youthful customers and employees, its brick wall, wood benches, funky painted tables, quirky art work, and the quintessential black chalkboard. He missed Montreal. Missed its smell, its diversity, its triplexes, even its potholes.

“So, how's your new novel coming along?”

“Right, the novel.” Pavor felt like it existed in another time and place. “Back in January at Thérèse's party, she told me a little about the case, the David Ashemore case she called it, like she was a private eye in a hard-boiled novel. What little I know of it, however, is informing the plot of my recent novel. I was going to lead with the character's death, but I've found him interesting and he's turning into someone with possible breadth, someone I can take places. Maybe I'll dispose of my non-patrician Rex Packard and continue with this new creature. I named him, perhaps a little too close to the bone, Evan Dashmore.”

“Maybe you should change his name to something less . . . coincidental,” and he told him all about the disappearance of Ashemore's papers at the law office, the theft of the thumb drive in Bergen, and then the mysterious spray that caused her memory loss.

“What does Mr. Roquebrune propose? Can we go after them, bring them out in the open?”

“At the moment, he doesn't believe there's anything we can do. I feel so fucking helpless. I should have told her to let up.”

A young waitress brought them their coffees and poutines and they donned their public mask of happy customer and thanked her.

“What we need is someone like Jack Reacher to bring about a resolution,” Pavor said, digging into his french fries dripping with gravy and curds.

“A friend of yours?”

“No, unfortunately. He's a fictional character, fictional like his kind of resolutions.” He chewed the ambrosial offering while thinking he could try to dramatise a form of justice for Thérèse but it made him feel equally helpless. “This is the best poutine I've had in a long time. It's good to be back in Montreal, potholes and all.”

“Best in the city, perhaps the world,” he said, bringing a forkful of the rich salty comfort food to his lips. “They serve so many kinds here, it would take you a month to try them all.”

Silence overtook them as they ate, that most primal of actions, one, that no doubt predated mealtime conversation.


Outside, feeling blessed, they leaned on Isodore and picked their teeth with toothpicks. If only life were so simple they both thought. If only.

“Come on,” Jerome said, “I know a place where we can relax and talk.” And they drove back along avenue Rachel towards Mount Royal with its cross glowing above the rooftops like a night light for the homeless. He found parking across the street from the orange fronted club and they made their way over, but on discovering it was a evening devoted to slam poetry, Jerome suggested another club up the street. The sidewalk was littered with cigarette butts like spent bullet casings, and shreds of food wrappers and newsprint. Old discarded gum dotted the concrete like age spots, while wisps of fog the colour of parchment malingered round the street lamps. A pan-handler with a dog gently asked for alms as they approached and Pavor dished out a few loonies for the young guy. He felt sorry for the dog and wondered what that revealed of him.

“Le Bar Prufrock,” Jerome said, pointing up to the gold lettering above the door, but Pavor was looking towards the curb where an old VW camper van was parked. Black print on white, letters neatly painted or perhaps stencilled, covered all surfaces of the van like one of those circle the words puzzles found in newspapers. The side-door had a panel with large letters spelling 'ROUGH DRAFT' and the letter 'G' replaced by a treble clef. “You can't get away from words can you?” Jerome added, prompting him away.

On the door of the club, a small hand-lettered poster advertised that the music group Rough Draft was playing sets that night. Two thin mop-headed guys and a blond with rainbow eye makeup holding drumsticks stared back at them in lettered t-shirts, a textual leitmotif echoing the van, a veritable literary triangle. Once within the bar, whose floor and ceiling seemed to exist in a realm of metaphysics, they found their way around huddled groups of youthful hipsters to a small round table near the back corner whose surface was sticky with the condensation of old beer.

“I'll just go get a couple of drinks. Boréale good for you?” Jerome asked. Pavor nodded his head as he sought to merge with the darkness. From middle-class suburban Italian bungalow to an obscure music club on St. Laurent boulevard in one day was testing his resilience. Jerome returned with two bottles with glass hats, as the song I Melt With You by Modern English played over the sound system.

“So how's Trieste?”

“Triste c'est Trieste said Tristram on the tram,” he replied. “I met a fan, signed some books for him, then later he was involved in a motorcycle accident. I passed it as he was being rushed to a hospital. Tullio Friuli is his name. I visited him at the hosptial before I left but he was still comatose. Poor bastard. Cheers.”

“Wow, so much for the quiet life to concentrate on a book.”

Pavor drank deeply enjoying the sharp bold flavor of the Canadian beer. “I met some interesting characters while there. All grist for the mill. They might show up one day, well, variations and fragments reassembled in cubist fashion to use your phraseology. Have you seen Mélisande lately? I emailed her last week but never got a reply.”

“I did. Last week some time.” He filled his glass with the remnants from the bottle. “We discussed you.”

Pavor's eyes widened. “Really? Nothing good I hope.”

“She . . . no, it's none of my business. You'll see her tomorrow I imagine. You know she's the one for you. If not, I'll have to bop you on the head.”

“I'm going to propose to her.”


Pavor nodded, then drank deeply, the golden liquid reflecting amber shadows on his cheeks.

“I'm thinking of the very same thing with Thérèse. When she recovers completely, I'll ask her”

“We can have a double marriage ceremony. Save money,” he added with a wink. “A toast to our future wives, may we all enjoy happiness.”

“Cheers,” Jerome said, clinking his glass with his old friend's.

“So what's this Bronzino portrait all about?”

Jerome was about to frame his thoughts on the subject when Rough Draft mounted the minuscule corner stage at the front of the room and began to prepare for another set. “I'll tell you later. Fascinating couple. Very rich. I met their friend too, an interesting architect, named Harry Harrington. Nice guy.”

“That name rings a bell. Harry Harrington, architect. I think I read a profile about him in a magazine. His picture reminded me of that old jazz drummer . . . what's his name? Max . . . Max Roach, yes, yes, but without the hair.”

Jerome, though not familiar with the drummer, nodded his head in acknowledgement while Rough Draft positioned themselves. The two guys, draped in low slung fenders, one bass, one guitar, were bookends to the blond rainbow-eyed girl in the middle, a standing percussionist before her snare and top hat. A young man with piercings and tattoos mounted the stage and squeezed behind the girl's microphone.

“Yes, it's Al, the guy who runs this joint and I just want to introduce the band to you. On bass guitar we have Adagio, on guitar, Zoran, and on lead vocals and percussion, the lovely Livia Plurabelle. Let's hear it for them, great, yes that's wonderful. They'll be signing merch at the break when you can buy their new cd, or vinyl and that wonderful t-shirt everyone's wearing. So their first song is called, Hold Me, enjoy. Rough Draft!

Pavor and Jerome clapped with the crowd, shared a look of raised eyebrows and settled back to listen.

In the shadows I've been searching for you,
Since I left you on the shore alone.
Paranoia's feeding on my life's blood,
Tainted by my visions far from home.

Hold me, hold me,
Hold me, hold me,
Darkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you see me with your Google Glass?

Hold me, Hold me,
Hold me, Hold me,
Starkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you feel me oh my Mucho Maas?

Imaginary forms are taking over,
Androids chasing sheep in chorus sing.
Joseph K. And Hamlet are debating,
Who will be the ghost and who the King.

Hold me, hold me,
Hold me, hold me,
Darkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you see me with your Google Glass?

Hold me, Hold me,
Hold me, Hold me,
Starkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you feel me oh my Mucho Maas?

Alice slayed the dragon with a hat pin.
Grendel roasted up old Moby Dick.
Molly Bloom's run off with Dr. Watson,
Lizzy Bennet's loose and won't commit.

Hold me, hold me,
Hold me, hold me,
Darkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you see me with your Google Glass?

Hold me, Hold me,
Hold me, Hold me,
Starkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you feel me oh my Mucho Maas?

Deep within a text of fine conjecture,
Lost within the maze with the Minotaur.
Wildly running from the sound of footsteps,
The tree of knowledge's now an apple core.

Hold me, hold me,
Hold me, hold me,
Darkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you see me with your Google Glass?

Hold me, Hold me,
Hold me, Hold me,
Starkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you feel me oh my Mucho Maas?

Pavor's head was spinning with the golden liquid coursing through his veins, all the tensions of the night dissolving with the rhythms, and he closed his eyes as Zoran veered off into a wordless musical bridge with crying blues and greens of musical texture, launching Pavor, with the essence of driven youth, to the other side of the dark valley beneath him.

Pynch is hitting on the dusty home plate,
My hair is grey, my pitch is slowing down.
He hits it to the bleachers and the bleeders,
Is that you, with catcher's mitt and frown?

Hold me, hold me,
Hold me, hold me,
Darkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you see me with your Google Glass?

Hold me, Hold me,
Hold me, Hold me,
Starkly, (Adagio & Zoran)
Can't you feel me oh my Mucho Maas?
Can't you feel me oh my Mucho Maas?
Can't you feel me oh my Mucho Maas?

Applause arose from the small room amid the clink of glasses and murmurings and whistles. Jerome and Pavor felt it was just what they needed to forget the world for awhile, and ordered another beer, eager to hear the next song.

© ralph patrick mackay