Monday, January 20, 2014

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

From her office window, Isabelle Cloutier looked over the rooftops towards the east and spotted the full moon rising, a jaundice, sickly moon, the colour of a canine tooth, almost furtive and clandestine in movement. She wondered how many people in the city had noticed. Those few who could see the dark eastern horizon, were likely preoccupied with work, dinner, television, computers, shopping. She checked her watch, 6:35 p. m., and then she remembered she hadn't phoned her Mother last night having been busy at the office until eight, and then, not wanting to interrupt her Mother's favourite television show, Tout le monde en parle, she had let it go. Her Mother would now be in her room at the retirement home watching Le Téléjournal after her dinner. She had tried to convince her to avoid the television news, but no, she wanted to know what was going on in the world, it was part of her life she had said, the morning news paper and the evening news. To hell with stress and anxiety, she wanted to know. She paced back and forth before the window. She could phone her later this evening. Before nine at the latest.

The moon, the moon, like a spotlight scanning the prison yard, but of course it was as innocent as a wave lapping the shore, sincere as a bird calling from a tree, and yet, caught in an orbit of invisible authority, influence and sway.

She picked up a file and sat in the chair facing her desk, but her mind wandered. Her Father was telling her a bedtime story, cauchemauresque, of the Loup-Garou, the werewolf of Québec folklore. There were many versions written and told, but her late Father, the scholarly psychologist, had been fond of the realism and humour in the one written by Benjamin Sulte in his Mélanges d'histoire et de littéature, an old book she had inherited. The setting of the story was a lumber camp in the north, where hard-working men in the middle of January were loosing their woollen caps as the diable came upon them on the trail, and how the brave no-nonsense Mr. Lachance came to investigate and discover not a werewolf, but an enormous grey owl as the source of the mischief, its large nest, well-insulated with their woollen caps. She smiled to herself and remembered how her Father would tickle her when he revealed it was an owl, un grand hibou gris! She looked down at her owl pin on her blazer, ran her fingers along the edges and caught the gleam of light reflecting from the inset Baltic amber. She didn't know how many owls she'd collected over the years, but from stuffed toys as a child up to her adult jewelry, sculpture, paintings and photographs, many hundreds she thought. It was only later, as a teenager, she'd read the short tale and discovered Mr. Lachance had shot the great owl at the end of the story. Her Father had omitted that detail. She recognized that her life and occupation had been influenced by how Benjamin Sulte had chosen to make fun of the superstition by resorting to reality, and how her Father had chosen to conceal the harsh reality of man's relation with nature. Her desire to discover truth, the truths concealed, could very well be traced back to this bedtime story.

But she'd also learned that werewolves did exist, at least, their evil equivalents in human form. And superstition still persisted, emblematic of her daily choice of either a necklace, charm bracelet, ear-rings, broach, pin, or pendant depicting a stylized owl, eyes forward, penetrating, all-seeing.

She opened the file and began to read but she wasn't able to concentrate. She began picking over her conversation with Serge Lafond, a co-worker in IT who'd known and worked with David Ashemore. As soon as she had mentioned David's name, Serge had become very anxious, and asked her in a low voice to meet him at a local coffee place after work. She had arrived at 5:15 and found him in a back corner seat looking over her shoulder as she approached, as if worried she'd been followed.

“Why the interest in David?”

“I had an anonymous source stating that something might be amiss," she said.  "His death a possible . . . murder.”

He nodded his head. “I bumped into Dave at 6 o'clock one morning in the parking lot outside a gym I go to, and he wanted to talk. In my car. This was about two months before he died. He wasn't looking good, puffy dark bags under his eyes, one eye blood-shot, complexion grey, thinner. He said he hadn't slept well in over a year. I have to admit he sounded a bit paranoid and I suggested he see a doctor, take a leave of absence, but he told me the Doctors had only made it worse. What it was, he didn't say." Serge took a sip of his coffee, looked around and then in a quieter voice, said, "He wanted me to scan his car for tracking devices and his apartment for bugs. When I asked him why, he said he'd been investigating a company called E-Clipsis Four, an importer of electronics and computer components, but really a cover for a funded operation in Québec, an operation called Heavy Sum. Before he could elaborate, he noticed a dark car pull up behind his parked car, and he slipped down in the passenger seat and told me to drive away, and so I drove. I went around a few blocks and slowly made my way back to the gym. The car was gone. He asked me to drop him near the corner and I made my back to the gym.”

“Did you ever get to discuss this with him again?”

“No. When I approached him in the hallway a few days later, he told me to forget about scanning his place and car. He didn't want to involve me.” Serge shook his head. “Dave wasn't a field guy. I advised him to pass it on. He said he would.”

Pass it on. She wondered if he had. Isabelle looked up at the large framed photograph of a snowy owl behind her desk, its large yellow and black eyes looking down on her like she was prey. Taking a scrap of paper from her desk, she wrote down the words, Heavy Sum, and began to rearrange the letters trying to find some significance. Then she saw it. Heavy Sum, Yumashev, the Russian name that Thérèse Laflamme had mentioned to Edward Seymour under hypnosis. She stared at the letters and recalled the advice her old boss had left her with, 'be careful of revealing the right truth to the wrong person, or the wrong truth to the right person, for such a misplacement could be dangerous, if not fatal.'


Honeymoon, Thérèse thought. A honeymoon in Italy. She was happy for Melisande and Pavor. She rested her head on the firm pillows of the guest bed and closed her eyes. She was fighting jet lag empty handed, and her psychological struggle with memory loss she felt compounded her exhaustion exponentially. The glass of red wine over dinner didn't help, and she recalled trying to say the words: mind wanders, and transposed the letters and came out with: wine maunders, but everyone had been too polite to notice. She yawned, stretched, and then lay on her side, knees up to her chest, arms wrapped around them like she was doing a cannon ball off a diving board. She looked at the round dial of the alarm clock and thought of the full moon she'd noticed through the car window when Pavor drove them back to the Roquebrune's house. To honeymoon in Venice with a full moon would be ideal. Reflections of dappled white and silver upon the water as one dined on spaghetti in squid ink sauce. She'd never been to Venice, but someone had told her about that challenging culinary choice. She would give it a try. She wasn't sure about Melisande though. Was squid ink a vegetarian option? If Jerome asked her to marry, they could honeymoon as two couples. Jerome could be their tour guide to the architecture and art. . . Lucky Pavor, house-sitting in Villa Opicina. Such an offer, she thought, would have fit nicely with her lifestyle. Pavor's discussion of Trieste and the Slovenian countryside had aroused an old memory of wanting to make a trip to the divided city of Gorizia in Italy, and Nova Gorica in Slovenia. She could have written an article. Maybe it wasn't too late. After Venice, she and Jerome could . . . .

She then remembered the déjà vu she'd experienced earlier in the evening as she sat in the living room of her old apartment, a memory of a party she'd given around New Year's and she was telling Pavor a story. Duncan seemed familiar too, but he couldn't have been there, for they'd never met before this evening.

She breathed in deeply and felt something in her sweater pocket, something Duncan had given her, one of his book shop's bookmarks. She drew it out and looked at the design, a large orange cat reclining on a desktop, his left arm resting on a low stack of books in a most human-like fashion, his eyes looking directly at her, Lafcadio & Co., Fine Used Books, the address, email and website address underneath. No hours listed. She turned it over to see the small poem he'd had printed on the verso. Before he gave it to her, he'd read the poem aloud like a dramatic monologue, a bit of light verse he thought Pavor would find amusing:

The Author's Boomerang

He frowns with reason; he has always said,
“The public has no knowledge of true art;
The book of worth these days would not be read;
'Tis trash not truth that goes upon the mart.”

And then was published his beloved work—
Some twenty-six editions it has had—
And he his own conclusion cannot shirk:
With such success as this it must be bad!

-John Kendrick Bangs
Cobwebs from a Library Corner

Bangs. Did such a name still exist? Obscure, Duncan had said, a forgotten satirist, novelist and journalist. She closed her eyes, the bookmark falling from her hand, sleep pulling her in. But the story of Poe, Duncan had told a sad story about Edgar Allan Poe. She could see Duncan acting out the tale. Mr. Bang's father and a friend had left their club in New York one night, and had come across a man leaning against a lamp post, drunk, his hat in the gutter. Mr. Bangs Sr., had picked up the hat and offered it to the man, who eloquently thanked him for such an act of kindness. When Mr. Bangs asked him his name, he had replied with great dignity, “Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.” Bangs had then said, that was interesting, since his name was Tay and his friend's name was Toe, to which Poe had managed that they were well met, since their names made Potato, and then he had walked away. How sad to make fun of a great writer she thought. It seemed obvious to her that the author of such ridiculous verse had merely made up the story. Her head nodded with the weight of fatigue. She seemed to be circling in a whirlpool. Poor Mr. Poe she thought, and she imagined herself on the street in Bergen, adrift, alone, and friendless like Poe, her memory impaired. And as she fell into sleep, the last line of the author's The Raven, the only line she could remember, played itself across her thoughts like sky-writing, shall be lifted, nevermore, nevermore, nevermore. . . .

© ralph patrick mackay

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