Saturday, January 25, 2014

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Sixty Three

Jerome couldn't see Thérèse's window, but he imagined her asleep, snug in the warmth and comfort of the Roquebrune's guest bedroom. Tired, he made his way up to his studio and sat before his preparatory sketches of Lucrezia. Tubes of Orpiment, Naples Yellow, and Vermilion lay on the table like vital medicaments, but he was bereft of energy. What little he had had, he'd left behind at Amelia and Duncan's apartment, all of their voices still reverberating in his head like a sinfonia by Vivaldi, violins, oboes and bassoons. He hoped he hadn't talked too much and bored Amelia with his knowledge of Dutch painting, though she seemed to have given herself up to his story of the vulnerable and much targeted Irish Vermeer and the secrets it had revealed after its long and arduous journey in the shadows of international art theft, and then his trump card conversation piece concerning the pigment known as Mummy, the ground-up Egyptian mummies that made their way into older paintings, and how an average mummy could last a good eight years to a seller of pigments. He walked over to his bookcase and from the jumble, chose his post get-together, post art-opening, post-after-all-the-small-talk-like-so-much-finger-food party piece of music to help him decompress and retrieve that inner balance and that quiet equilibrium. An odd choice, but Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf's Symphony No. 4 in F major, The Rescuing of Andromeda by Perseus, had a lovely opening slow movement which could quiet the buzzing voices in his head. He fed the CD player and within seconds, the long fluid oboe lines stretched out like an undulating view from a grand country house, a breathless bucolic scene, a serpentine landscape rolling away with a Capability Brown aesthetic; and as he reclined on his wicker settee, he imagined his head resting on Thérèse's lap as they lay in the shade of an ancient oak tree, goldfinches twittering above them, the gentle breeze caressing their skin. Declan and Lucrezia's country home passed through his thoughts: the maze, the sculpture garden, the library, the hidden Dark Room, the polished scrying stone behind the door, and then he remembered the series of paintings by Burne-Jones on the Perseus and Andromeda subject. He rose, weak at the knees, and made his way over to his bookshelves to retrieve a large book with reproductions of the painter's work. Turning the pages to the half-remembered location, he was enlivened to find that yes, his memory was correct. In two of the paintings where Perseus faces the sea nymphs, the three nymphs are standing on an emblem of water, a thin mirrored stone, which somewhat resembled the one on the back of the door of the hidden room. He ran his fingers over the reproductions, wishing he could be standing before the originals, drinking in the surface texture and colour. After a pause, he turned the page to find the artist's exquisite The Rock of Doom, and he was filled with an inspiration to reproduce it with Thérèse as Andromeda chained to the rock, and himself as Perseus come to set her free. He returned to his wicker sofa and propped the open book on his chest. The dark violet colour of Perseus's armour—an armour which he thought was much like a modern superhero's such as the latest in Batman's bullet-proof attire—was a favourite pigment with Burne-Jones. Such a rich contrast with the skin tones of Andromeda, naked with uncertainty before her saviour. Jerome's mind mixed burnt sienna, titanium white and yellow ochre, and his eyes recreated the brushstrokes as he painted her figure, feeling the resistance of the fine sable hairs, the liquid magic of colours merging, melding. Breathing deeply, he listened to the oboe above the expanse of the gentle strings, the book eased down upon his torso, and sleep gently withdrew his imaginary paint brush from his imaginary hand.

It was the briefest of rests, for, aroused by Dittersdorf's Presto second movement, he decided to make his way to bed; he was getting to old to fall asleep on sofas and chairs. As he brushed his teeth, he thought of Duncan's dilemma, the closing of his bookshop and family cordage business because of the condo development, and wondered if he passed this information on to Lucrezia and Declan, whose catalogue of rare books on magic had been the product of Duncan's hand, and whose company was forcing a final scene, perhaps something could be done to help him. As he rinsed his mouth, the thought occurred to him that Duncan might not want to be helped, but nevertheless, he would mention it to his new patrons. He sensed Amelia would find any offer of assistance a welcome one.

As he turned the light out and dropped his head to his pillow, he thought of Thérèse. He had freed her from her chains by bringing her back from Bergen, but he sensed he still had to slay the sea dragon, whatever that might represent.


“Well, she seems strong willed,” Duncan said. “I hope she recovers completely.”

Amelia finished rubbing skin cream on her arms and face. “Uncle Edward pulled some favours with his connections at the Neurological Institute. A specialist will be looking at her tomorrow.”

“Good, good.”

“So,” Amelia said, “how'd you get along with Pavor?”

“Nice guy. Quiet. Cards to the chest. We got along though. Bookish connections.”

“Great. The wedding at the McGill Chapel will be lovely, and a honeymoon in Venice . . so nice.” Amelia trailed off as she turned the sheets down on the bed not wanting to bring up the fact they'd never had a true honeymoon abroad in the classic sense. A week in the Eastern Townships, though enjoyable, wasn't Venice.

“Yes, Venice, very nice,” he said, and as his mind played over the words very nice, he realized that if he dropped the 'ry' in very nice, it became Venice.

Amelia propped and positioned her pillows, and the thought occurred to her that the older people became, the more pillows they tended to have on their beds. Youth, in contrast, a symbolic mattress on the floor in an empty room. Designers, interior decorators and magazines were influential in this trend of having a bed with cascading pillows in size and pattern from the headboard to the middle of the bed like an arrangement of diminishing returns, lovely to look at, pleasant to relax upon, but a style that created the dilemma of where to put all the pillows when you merely wanted to sleep. Stacks of pillows on side chairs, side tables, cedar chests and benches at the foot of the bed. She rolled her eyes at such a laughable dilemma, too many pillows. “Do you think we have too many pillows?” she asked.

Duncan surveyed the bed and wondered if it was a loaded question, like 'do I look good in this dress?' “I imagine we have the average number of pillows for a couple in a cold northern country. The hotter the climate, the less pillows on the bed the better. Unless you live in air-conditioned bliss, then I guess, you know, more pillows.” Pleased with his response, he made his way to his side of the bed and settled himself as did Hugh in his dog bed. “Why pillows?” he asked, and then wondered why he hadn't left the subject well enough alone.

“I don't know. Maybe it was Jerome's story about mummies.”


“Yes, he told me how they used to import Egyptian mummies and grind them up for a brownish paint pigment. The colour varied with the mummy. Some had better resins it seems.”

“Ah, resins, fascinating,” Duncan said, and he stretched out his right foot and caressed the bottom of his wife's left foot. “I guess they had to use what they could get. Lead, arsenic, cinnabar, ground-up mummy. Not the healthiest of professions.”

“Jerome told me that an Italian art teacher he studied under showed him old tubes of Mummy from the turn of the century, items that had been passed down through the artist's family—they were a family of painters—tubes of Mummy pigment kept in little individual wooden boxes, like coffins. Family heirlooms.”

“Hmmph, fascinating,” Duncan mumbled, lost in the image of this bizarre family memento mori, mummified Mummy pigments in little Mummy coffins.

“And Thérèse, I knew it would be a simple explanation. She used her Father's surname for her English language journalism. Understandable. No mystery. Paranoia need not apply. Tess Sinclair, journalist.” Amelia opened a new French novel and began to read.

“Hmm, yes,” Duncan said, as he too opened a book, a bed-side biography of Lou Andreas-Salomé he'd been dipping into for whenever he needed a change of perspective. His eyes scanned the lines of text, but his mind was not cooperating. Did Thérèse lie about being a friend of David's? Was she really just following a story, writing up the funeral business? Investigating the methods of grieving, remembrance, honour? Thanatos in the parlour? Digital innovations in the presentation of a life? Metal Rock selections in the Chapel service? Undertaking 2.0? Open casket make-up and the use of ground-up Mummy blush. And as his somewhat jaded thoughts spread upon the bed like recalcitrant Tarot cards, he thought of David's gravestone in the rose garden where his ashes resided—the complete opposite of being mummified—the one-eyed gardener with his pipe, and the mysterious blonde haired woman with her monthly flower offerings, and he thought he should bring it all to Pavor as an offering for one of his future crime novels.


As Melisande soaked in the bath, Pavor sat on wood chair across from Clio who reclined, arms curled towards her chest, staring at him from a cushion on a comfortable chintz covered chair in the living room. Disenchantment he thought. Clio, the calico cat was disenchanted. He took out his notebook and wrote, disenchantments of change and he wondered if his literary agent, Luke 'Fig' Newton, who he was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, would be disenchanted at his upcoming marriage, and the suggestion that he was thinking of killing off his character, Rex Packard, and writing something more . . . literary. He imagined a landscape of North Western Slovenia, a mixture of conifers, valleys, fast moving rivers, rocky gorges, the Austrian Alps in the distance, an evocation of landscapes found in The Prisoner of Zenda, in Eric Ambler thrillers set in the Balkans, or in The Lady Vanishes by Hitchcock. Disenchantment could be the title. He could use shades of character he'd gleaned from meeting Tullio, Carina, and Umberto, perhaps a dash of the recently met Duncan and Amelia.

How odd for him to have an Oxtoby & Snoad publication. If Duncan discovers his own Alacrity & Karma issued by the firm, he could plead modesty, not wanting to shift the discussion away from the Chapman book to his own volume.

Spring wedding. Preparations will take valuable time. So many details to cover. Invitations he remembered would set the tone. Opinions. Choices. Decisions. He would have to make another speech, one of many no doubt, and he began to think of opening phrases, writing in his mind. He flipped to the back of his notebook and began to write:

Shall we raise a glass, a velvety tonic for the entanglements of nostalgia, liquid evocations, vintage complexities compressed, for the veiled perceptions of time.

No, he thought. Too ornate, too baroque. It would have to be simple, honest, heart-felt. He closed his notebook and looked over at Clio, and thought, yes, it would have to have the calm serenity of a feline pose, with just a smidge of self-deprecating humour like the antics of Hugh the sausage dog. Eighty percent Clio, twenty percent Hugh. A few notes and then to speak extemporaneously would be the ideal. He rose and slowly approached Clio and offered his fingers for her inspection, and after the brief inquisitive wet nose investigation, he gently petted her from between the ears down her spine, saying how pretty she was, repeating the phrase with each comforting caress in his attempt to sooth her anxious concerns over his intrusion. Hearing the sounds of Melisande emerging from the likely now tepid waters, he straightened himself and began to look at her bookshelves. Women writers were well represented. No Alacrity & Karma in sight. He really should read more women writers he thought, and he reached out for a title unknown to him, The Spanish Decameron by Maria de Zayas

© ralph patrick mackay

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