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

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