Sunday, February 23, 2014

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

So softly did someone tread the stairs, that Jerome, sitting at his hallway table compiling a list of art supplies and groceries required, was startled when he heard a knock on his door. Thinking it odd, he sat in silence wondering who it could be. The knock once again, firm, three taps. The silence was resolute. He opened the door. It was either Bartholomew or Thaddeus before him.


“Are you able to have a visitor? Mrs. L. would like to check on the progress of the painting.”

Jerome looked down to the back lane and saw a medium sized black car reflecting the fine layer of snow in its waxed lustre. “Yes, yes of course.”

Bartholomew descended the stairs just as quietly as his ascension and opened the rear passenger door. Lucrezia stepped out, spoke a few words to him and then, looking over the top of her sunglasses to Jerome, made her way up towards him.

“Forgive me for descending upon you like this, but we we're in town and I was in the neighbourhood, so . . . .”

“Not at all, come in,” he said closing the door behind her. “Please excuse the mess. Have a seat.”

“Thank you. It's not messy,” she said taking off her glasses while looking around the living room. “Just what I imagined, comfortable and bohemian.” She sat upon the sofa and crossed her legs, her attractive calves on show.

“I've always liked the look of nineteenth century painter's studios,” Jerome said. “Oriental rugs everywhere, heavy antique furnishings, embroidered pillows, old bookshelves, marble and terra cotta sculptures in the corners, half-finished canvases on dark wood easels, Persian carpets draped over tables.” He stood awkwardly above her thinking, although dressed in a tailored suit jacket and skirt, she didn't look out of place. “The house of the Victorian illustrator and painter, Marcus Stone, has always been my ideal. Enormous windows and skylights with extraordinary natural light diffusion. He lived on Melbury Road in London near many other artists and sculptors, Fildes, Thornycroft, Holman-Hunt, and directly behind Stone, Lord Leighton had a home and studio. Unfortunately Stone's house has now been divided into flats selling for millions of pounds each.” He shook his head. “Hard to imagine artists of today living in such splendour. Victorian artists were like today's rock musicians. Actually, one of the houses on the street is owned by an old rock star. I'm sorry, rambling on about myself and old houses. I've just made a small pot of coffee. Would you like a cup?”

Breathing in the aroma, she thought it would be graceless to refuse. She nodded. “Yes, that would be nice.” She looked around the room thinking it truly did exude a snug bohemian comfort. Taking off her gloves, she noticed a booklet for a music CD on the table beside her. Rough Draft, either the name of the group or the album. She flipped the small pages and her eyes were arrested by one song entitled S & M, and she read the lyrics to the sounds of Jerome's preparations.


I'm a cappuccino cowgirl
Cinnamon sweet,
Living on tomorrow,
Riding the tweet.

Like it, Pin it,
Tumble it dry,
Oh, the déjà strain
Of repetitive eye.
Ads, buzz,
Word of mouth,
My brand's my key tattoo
North by south.

I'm a social selfie
Ego Evangelist,
To my Sado paparazzi
I'm just a Solopsist.


Dying for freedom,
Fighting for choice,
Texting out of treason,
Seeking a voice.


More Apps than I can see,
More Apps than you can take,
I'm A skeleton key
For the eye of escape.


More than I can see,
More than you can take,
I'm a skeleton key
For the eye of escape.
More than I can see,
More than you can take,
I'm a skeleton key
For the eye of escape.

Jerome noticed her reading the booklet as he approached with the tray laden with mugs, cream, sugar and the coffee carafe, but decided to ignore it as a conversation starter.

He poured the coffee. “Do you take cream, sugar?”

“A touch of cream please.”

“There you are,” he said, handing her a cup. “Yes, when I explored Melbury Road in London on foot a number of years ago, I remember wondering how a developer was allowed to raise a concrete apartment block near the beautiful Victorian villas.” As the words passed from his lips, he realized she could interpret them as critical towards her husband's profession as a real estate developer. “Lord Leighton's house fared better,” he said trying to change the direction of his conversation. “It's now a museum.” They both sipped their coffee. “I used to wonder if Leighton and Marcus Stone ever got along, exchanged words over the backyard fence so to speak. Evening strolls with a cigarette, or cigar, conversations about models, fading pigments, natural light, their public.” Jerome put his coffee down and leaned back in his side chair. “Marcus Stone died in his house. I like to think he collapsed while working on a painting.”

“Ah, perhaps his ghost wanders the hallways seeking revenge.” She smiled. “I hope I'm not too forward in dropping by to have a peek at the painting? Am I breaking protocol? Painter's protocol?”

“No, I'm pleased. I'd like your opinion actually. I haven't seen anyone in a week so to have your perspective would be great. Sometimes I get too close and can't see it anymore.”

“Shall we?”

“Sure, it's upstairs, if you'll follow me.”

“You lead, I'll follow.”

With a slightly higher heart rate, and a flush to his cheeks, he mounted the stairs feeling her eyes upon him. Their words had been like double entendres, sheer curtains around a canopy bed with their bodies entwined. The image made him nervous. She was married and he was in a relationship, though Thérèse's memory loss had made him feel like an impostor, informing her of what they had once shared, experienced, felt.

The large easel in the middle of the room held the canvas beneath a white cotton shroud. Jerome stood to the side, his hand on the sheet, waiting for Lucrezia to position herself, and as the sheet slipped to the floor with a whisper of surprize, she felt the colours hit her viscerally, overpowering her breath like a strong gust of air. Head slightly back, arms crossed, she approached the portrait, looking directly into her painted eyes, following the curve of the brow, her chin, her lips, remarking the pinkish hue to her cheeks, an ideal smoothness beyond the reality of her morning reflections. “It's wonderful. You've captured. . . my twin, a different life, a different age.”

“Maybe we all have our theoretical twins following different paths in other ages.” They shared an intense look before Jerome turned his eyes away. “It should be ready by the end of the month. Just the background and the lower portion of the chair are left.” He walked over to the window. He didn't see Bartholomew or the car. “I hope I didn't make your cheeks and your fingernails too . . . incarnadine,” he said to the window. “Your beauty added subtleties to the eyes and lips bringing a greater sense of vivid life compared to the original Lucrezia Panciatichi who, due to the times, was portrayed as rather . . . stolid. Spiritual, but stolid. There's more sub-textual expression in the placement of her fingers than in her face.”

She looked at the hands, the fingers parted over the armrest, the fingers resting on the small book. “You have a gift Jerome. It's perfect.” She approached and stood beside him looking out the window. “With your talent, you could have your ideal studio if you wanted. Are you one of those who feel undeserving of success?” Not waiting for a reply, she continued, “An old friend of mine from University was like that. She was extremely smart, talented, and wouldn't accept her gifts. When fortune came her way, she suspected something like a trap, and reared up. Sometimes there's no trap, sometimes life is all cheese, and one must accept it.” An awkward silence surrounded them. “I'm sorry, now I'm sounding like one of those motivational DVDs.”

“No, I understand. I do lack a . . . certain professional drive to succeed.”

Lucrezia wandered over to his work table covered in the preparatory sketches, jars of brushes, pencils, sharp-nibbed dip pens like miniature spears, erasers, books, and rags. She noticed a slim volume with spots of red paint on the cover, Alacrity and Karma on a Yacht off Palmyra by P. K. Loveridge. The title made her recall a conversation between Declan and Harry when they were relaxing at their home in the Caribbean. Harry had been reading a book concerning the death of a wealthy couple and the theft of their yacht off the small atoll of Palmyra in the Pacific ocean, which led to a dinner conversation over the dangers to rich people yachting around the world where pirates and criminals were afloat. A lifestyle with too much freedom can be rife with vulnerability had been their conclusion. She looked up and noticed a woman staring at her from a reproduction of a painting attached to a cork board, a nose similar to hers, aquiline, but the eyes were sullen and dark with an unfathomable emotion. “Who painted this portrait?” she asked turning around to him, pointing her finger at the subject.

“Oh, that's a painting by Alexandre Cabanel, his Albayde. He was an Academic painter, anti-impressionist at the time, old school but a brilliant painter and teacher nevertheless. I saw a retrospective on his work a few years ago in Montpellier. I think it was the first since his death in the late 1880s.” Jerome walked over to a corner bookshelf and withdrew a large glossy softcover catalogue. “Here, you can borrow this and look it over.”

She flipped it open and seeing a self-portrait of the painter when young, thought he looked like Jerome. “He looks like you, though you don't have his severe and intimidating expression.”

“Umm, yes, people have said as much. I wonder if he ever smiled? The painting, Albayde, was inspired by Victor Hugo's poetry collection, Les Orientales. The fantasy and the colour of Orientalism was such a great theme in Romantic painting and literature. What do you think of her eyes? ”

She looked more closely. “Mesmerizing and menacing at the same time. I wonder what the model thought of Cabanel? Was she angry? Desirous? Do models fall for their painters like patients for their psychiatrists?”

“Ah, well, that I don't know. I can't say it's happened with me.”

Leaning over the table, she rubbed shoulders with Jerome.“Too bad for Mr. Loveridge's book,” she said pointing to slim volume on the table.

“Oh, yeah, but the author's a friend of mine, Pavor Kristof Loveridge. He won't mind. He recently returned from Italy and proposed marriage to his girlfriend of many years and they're to marry in the spring. She's a librarian at the Religious Library at McGill.” Seeing the chance to bring up the cause of Duncan Strand and his business dilemma, he elaborated. “It'll be a small wedding at the McGill chapel. I'll be best man and a new friend of ours will be the groomsman. An interesting guy named Duncan Strand, a bookseller who used to work for some shop called Grange Stuart before opening his own called Lafcadio & Co. But the funny thing is, he's also running an old family business in the same building, selling all types of rope. Well, for a few more weeks anyway. A company has bought the land and is going tear it down and build condominiums. He has to close both his shops. Reopening a secondhand bookshop in today's world isn't feasible according to him. Bookshops are closing due to high rents and low demand.” Jerome related this information in his most casual manner while arranging the sketches on the table, avoiding eye contact.

“Duncan Strand?” she said. “I know the name. He did work for my husband many years ago. A catalogue of old books.” She walked back to her portrait and stared once more at her mythical twin. “That's unfortunate. I think my husband's company is involved in that development. Perhaps I could have a word with him. See if something can't be done to help our Mr. Strand.”

Jerome looked at her wondering if he should press her with questions about the catalogue and see if she'd bring up the Dark Room, but decided against doing so. Pleased with her response, he joined her before the portrait and thought he'd help portray Duncan as a sympathetic type. "It's a small world. It's a shame he has to close the bookshop. I had dinner with him and his wife, Amelia, a translator, and he told me how much he loved visiting second hand bookshops for he never knew what might be on the shelves. Each visit would be a little adventure in promise, possibility, discovery. He went on about the joy of finding books with unusual inscriptions. He had many stories about inscriptions but I remember the one about a copy of Tom Jones, where the owner had written their name and underneath, Christmas present from himself and the date. Something poignant about that. Made me think of a lonely man at Christmas, reading Tom Jones for consolation.”

“That's very sad, yes.”

“Except for his book choice. I imagine Tom Jones must have kept his spirits up.”

She laughed and laid her hand on his shoulder.

Turning his head towards her, his lips only inches away from her fingers, he reached over and gently pulled her hand towards him and kissed her delicate fingers and her palm, and she turned to him, drawing his head down to her parted blouse, and then all sense of the outer world with its defences and barricades dissolved around them as they embraced with mournful undertones under the gaze of the portrait, her twin, neither stolid, nor too spiritual, and under the gaze from afar, of Albayde, sullen and all-knowing.

© ralph patrick mackay

Sunday, February 16, 2014

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

Duncan fumbled for the shop keys in his trouser pocket while he stared up at an x-shaped vapour trail, its sharp outlines dissipating against the blue sky. Was it a sign? A negative response, an omen? Or was it merely a visual outline reminiscent of a game of noughts and crosses? He was uneasy in his interpretations of late. A grand Nay? Or noughts and crosses? Time would tell. The latter choice, however, also held signifiers, the cross both a sign of negation and salvation, so unlike the zero, a natural form, emblem of this universe of spinning galaxies and their spinning worlds in orbits of unending time.

Down the street he noticed the profile of a surveyor leaning over a yellow tripod, his eye to the theodolite like a submarine Captain at a periscope. Preparations were being made, plans drawn, visualizations created. The surveyor adjusted his stance and it occurred to him the technology was as ancient as the Great Pyramids when compared to quantum computing, a subject Tom Culacino had discussed over dinner a few nights ago, an incomprehensible digression concerning multi-dimensional simultaneity. He could understand the straight lines, angles and points of the surveyor's art, but Tom's musings concerning the shift from binary digits to qubits had rendered him dizzy—though it could have been the wine.

Coins spilled over the edge of his pocket as he withdrew the keys. Festina lente, he thought, festina lente, the image of Aldus Manutius's printer's mark, the dolphin and the anchor passed before his eyes as he stooped to retrieve the loose change from their circular beds in the dusting of snow.

He locked the door behind him and turned the sign around for customers to ring for entry, and then made his way to the staircase to his bookshop on the second floor. Without Julie working mornings in the cordage business, the building was very quiet, every day feeling like a Sunday. She'd been playing the music of Arcade Fire over the past few months—a friend of his had called hip Montrealers in their twenties, the Arcade Fire Generation just as he had once called their own The Men Without Hats Generation—the rhythms and driving beat wafting up through the old building like a transfusion of fresh blood into the arms of an ailing valetudinarian. She hadn't been surprized, nor disappointed when he informed her of his closing the business. She had her job at the hair salon, A combination of habit and pity had kept her working for Duncan. A parting gift of a fine illustrated copy of Louis Hémon's Marie Chapdelaine along with a DVD of the 1984 dramatization of the book starring Carol Laure, had been his first choice for her, but the more he had contemplated the gift, the more it seemed out of date and irrelevant to a young woman of today. Louis Hémon, an author who'd met his death between the parallel lines of train tracks west of Chapleau in northern Ontario almost a hundred years ago, never to witness the publication and later popularity of his novel, seemed to him a bizarre choice as he looked out at the urban landscape they shared, this rich diversity between the river and the mountain, this metropolitan promise between the whirlpools and the cross.

He'd opted for a substantial iTunes card instead.

He plugged the kettle in to make tea and then sat at his desk feeling that he was settling into one of his lows. “Concavities” Tom had called them, using his mathematical metaphors with their subtle nuances of meaning beyond Duncan's understanding. Ever since hearing of the sale of the land for condominium development, his moods had been erratic, shifting back and forth between a sense of freedom, to one of immobilizing helplessness. His mind began to ponder the what ifs. What if Amelia had not played with her sister in her uncle's dumb waiter as a child? He might not have been called to replace the ropes, and hence, would never have met her. She might have married someone better, a lawyer, doctor, engineer, someone who could have provided a stable financial existence. Had he ruined her life? What if he'd broken free from his Father's business, gone abroad, pursued another career? What if he hadn't been entranced by that first true book he'd bought from his church bazaar when young, that small hardcover biography of Keats by Sidney Colvin, the spine cocked, the former owner's name on the flyleaf, pulling him into the vortex of literary magic? What if he hadn't quarrelled with his brother? What if his Mother hadn't died? What ifs were like unredeemed winning lottery tickets past their due date. He breathed in deeply. Too many things had happened recently. The discovery of the odd manuscript and its mysterious disappearance from the shop; the switch of the laptop bags leaving him with Kierkegaard's Either/Or instead of the 1881 cash book; and finally, the condominium development and his dilemma of how to deal with a lifetime of books and a remnant family business. Three's a charm his Dad used to say. What else did he say? There's nothing between the sceptre and the spade but hard work Duncan. Nothing between the sceptre and the spade. Spadework. Grave digging. Alas poor Yorick. Be resilient Duncan he told himself. Be resilient. But as the water boiled in the kettle, he was imagining himself lying down in an enormous book, the text of the right hand pages cut out to fit the contours of his body, the lines of text truncated by his form, and his body inked to replace the missing letters and words. Then he imagined the preliminary pages descending over him, followed by the stiff green buckram binding revealing a gilt decorative emblem on the cover of an ouroboros in the form of thick coil of rope, tail in mouth, with an open book in the centre. A Life in Books - Duncan Strand in gilt letters on the spine. Buried in print, in a book shaped coffin.

The click of the kettle's automatic turn-off feature brought him to his feet.

What would be the text he wondered? What letters and words would cover his body? A teabag slipped between his fingers and fell to the floorboards like a seedpod and he quietly cursed the stiffness in the joints of his left index finger and the fatty tumour growing in the palm of his left hand, an enlarging knot pulling on the tendons of his fingers like a spider the threads of its web. He stretched his fingers back feeling the tension, and examined the small pale hillock between the head and heart lines with its radiating shadow lines, just one of many that his body seemed to produce with abandon—the one on his right forearm was the size of a scallop. See the doctor Amelia had said, but the last thing he wanted was someone digging around in the palm of his hand possibly making it worse. Ever since he had turned fifty years of age, his body had been setting off warning lights like an old car.

He placed the tea cozy over the small pot which reminded him of his Mother snugging his wool hat on his head. He could see her at the dining room table for her Tuesday morning teapot meetings with Mrs. MacSween and Mrs. Brown, neighbours and friends—Edna and Agnes to her—and he could hear her voice saying she'd be Mother and pour the tea. From the bottom stair he would listen as the Queen Anne English bone china cups would burble with delight, and he'd watch the vapour rising from their delicate gilt rims and wait for the gentle plop of a sugar cube and the clink of the spoon before the sublime silence of the first sip.

Taking a deep breath to dispel the memory, he turned around and walked towards the book stacks. There was a time when he could have recounted the purchase memory of each book—a church bazaar in 1990 for that volume, a hot summer's day at an estate sale on Rosyln Avenue in '82, for that one—but the books had outnumbered his casual recall for years now; and the books he'd sold over the years had vanished from him completely as if he'd packaged and shipped off their memories of provenance along with the books themselves. He looked into the first aisle to his left and scanned the colourful spines. Perhaps he could choose a text to represent the page to surround his body in his imaginary book coffin. He looked into the aisle to his right, the aisle of Sir Percivale where the end of the alphabet graced the shelves, and thought Swift's Gulliver's Travels seemed apropos. Voltaire's Candide? Waugh's Brideshead? Wells's Time Machine? Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest? Woolf's The Waves? He turned his attention to his left, the aisle of Sir Lancelot, and looked up to see Kobo Abe's Women in the Dunes. He always liked that book. Atwood's Life Before Man? Borges's Ficciones? Conrad's Lord Jim? Such a wonderful opening passage. A heavy quarto of Balzac's Les Chouans, with a hundred engravings? Or the large edition of Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, its gilt titles faded? A favourite volume of Keats he remembered. It was a volume that seemed to have edged its way forward from its shelf-mates as if eager to be picked. Taking it down, he blew the dust off the top edge and dust motes floated in the muted light like fecal matter in an aquarium. He brought the book back to his desk thinking perhaps a more elaborate form of bibliomancy was necessary, something greater than the Sortes Vergilianae, the divination by the random placement of an index finger. Why not dip into that sub rosa randomness that's been tripping him up of late. Why not use chance to shine a light into the depths of happenstance. Why not avail himself of the arbitrary to perceive the ultramundane and stimulate that preternatural presence he occasionally felt when playing cards or scrabble with Amelia, that sense of a whimsical, playful manipulation overseeing the game. All mathematics Tom would have said, the math behind the odds, the odds behind the math, but still, that sense of something behind the curtain, an unexplainable shadow presence that remained with him.

The large book lay unopened on his lap

On a pad of paper, he wrote down the simplest of questions, “What Is Going On?” He counted the letters, 13, added the spaces, 3, multiplied by the number of words, 4, to arrive at 64, and then multiplied this number by the three odd occurrences, leaving him with the sum of 192. Picking up the heavy volume of Robert Burton's Melancholy to seek out the 192nd page, he opened it and at once a large bookmark for Grange Stuart Books fell out into his lap. The bookmark had been living in the dark interstices between pages 304 and 305, Partition 1, Section 2, Member 4, Subsection 7, An heap of other Accidents causing Melancholy. He read the first paragraph:

In this Labyrinth of accidental causes, the farther I wander, the more intricate I find the passage, & new causes as so many by-paths offer themselves to be discussed. To search out all were an Herculean work, & fitter for Theseus: I will follow mine intended thread; and point only at some few of the chiefest.

Was this the sign itself? Not so much an answer, as an understanding? The words reminded him of the quotes on the slip of paper that fell from the Kierkegaard volume, quotes from the philosophers Wisdom and Wittgenstein, and he sensed there was a resonance between them and this Burton passage. But what about page 192? Checking it, he discovered a mundane description of how diet affects the humours, all carps, lobsters, crabs, cowcumbers, coleworts and melons, and quickly dismissed it as insignificant. It was almost as if there was a dual nature to this preternatural presence, a good and an evil, one of helpful guidance, and one of mischievous misdirection. He turned back to page 304-05 and once more read the opening passage. Everything was somehow connected.

The phone rang. Silence greeted him on the other line. He didn't repeat his initial hello, but sat there listening to the fuzzy static, feeling like he was staring into a dark haunted house waiting for a ghost to appear.


To the sound of the surveyors pounding stakes into the ground, Duncan looked out of his window and sipped his tea, the residuum of unreality leaving him with the bitter taste of his cross-grained and self-aggravated existence.

© ralph patrick mackay

Sunday, February 09, 2014

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

The Sunday New York Times for November 18, 2012, lay upon Edward Seymour's desk in a state of well-read completion, its neatly stacked sections with alternating folds from left to right, reminded him of a sagging trampoline. Did habit underlie his subscription renewal each year? Were his weekly pleasures and frustrations in its reading, mere conditioned responses? Were the stories and their inevitable corrections mere stimuli goading him to bear the weight of the world's dysfunction upon his aged shoulders? Picking up his thin copper paper knife worn smooth with years of handling, and thousands of envelope openings, he ran his finger alone the dulled edge while he thought of the continuing saga of unrest in the world, the unending narrative of conflict and suffering.

The day's mail lay before him on the desk blotter like missives from the front lines of some distant battle. He closed his eyes and his mind was soon led away by a reminiscence of youth. It was June 1927, he was seven years of age and beginning a two-week stay with his aunt in the green leafy paradise of Highgate while his parents were in Holland attending a wedding. The great war must have been reflected in the eyes of the widows, but all he remembered was their presence as visitors calling on his aunt, and as dresses and hats filling up the pews of St. Michael's Church whose tall spire rose above the treetops pointing to heaven like a broadsword. He could still recall the face of an elderly woman, a friend of his aunt's who took him by the hand and showed him the green stone slab in the central aisle of the church commemorating a great poet, and he'd been overcome with the image of this great mysterious man looking up in darkness beneath him, an image which had triggered a recurring nightmare for many months afterwards. It was only as a teenager he'd understood the mysterious poet had been Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and when he had visited his aunt after the war, he had revisited the church and read the inscription and quietly whispered the opening lines of Kubla Khan—that fragment much maligned by Hazlitt and others—as his offering to that long suffering poet, and to his wife and family who must have suffered exponentially from his addiction to the “dull opiates” and his afflictions of spirit, and also, as closure for his own journey of survival.

He must have been in his thirties when he read the fanciful story concerning Coleridge and Charles Lamb on Hampstead Heath. He looked at his bookshelves trying to recall what author, what book. Charles Lamb had met Coleridge on the Heath, and the great poet had supposedly taken hold of a button on Lamb's coat and launched himself on a long recondite discourse. Lamb, remembering an appointment, had taken a pocket knife and cut himself free, only to return later to find the poet still in full exposition, deep in the complexities of an unfathomable subject, still holding forth, still holding . . . the button.

George III stretched and yawned on the carpet. They'd had their early morning walk in the light dusting of snow, their footprints following those of a small rabbit down the driveway to the sidewalk in a triadic semblance of the hunt. A dog's life seemed so simple, and yet, so insecure. George's character, he thought, was much like Max, his aunt and uncle's Airedale, and the source of his love for the breed. Those early excursions on Hampstead Heath with his uncle and Max, and the bright distant allure of Kenwood House—where he was told an elderly Irish noble lived—were experiences that continued to inform his life beneath the surface, under the fold, the love of Airedales, the love of pastoral walks, the love of stories. The thought occurred to him that he could also trace his choice of profession back to that elderly woman pointing out the dead, and much troubled, poet under the cold commemorative stone, the birth of his nascent desire to understand the psychology behind it all.

Eased by this brief foray into the past, he gripped the paper knife firmly and turned to his correspondence, the topmost envelope being addressed to him in the hand of Isabel Cloutier. He inspected the stamp, a recent issue of one of the Zodiac signs, Libra, Balance, and felt it was a symbol to interpret, a subtle message concerning the inquiry he'd placed before her like one of the labours of Heracles. No return address. He slit the top of the envelope and withdrew a card, the front illustration being a small brown owl, sad and vulnerable looking, a watercolour by Albrecht Dürer. Isabel, with her small, left sloping script, had written within:

Friday November 16th, 2012.

Dear Edward,

I hope this finds you well.

Since we last spoke on Monday, October 29th, my inquiries have met with quick resistance. I thought I was being discreet. I was informed that my unofficial inquiries into David Ashemore must cease; the operation Ashemore had uncovered had been dealt with, and his death had no connection with said operation. I certainly felt the pressure to conform or risk the consequences. I was reminded of my position as profiler and forensic psychologist, and it was pointed out that I was not a freelance investigator.

I did, however, interview a woman who continues to visit Ashemore's grave and leaves flowers. We had coffee and she opened up to me. She too thought his death was unnatural. She is now estranged from her husband, and I asked her if he could have been a source of retribution against David. She admitted it was a possibility, but felt it unlikely.

It seems, at least for now, we'll never know for certain what was behind his death.

My apologies.

All my love,


He stared at her writing until the words and letters became unfocused hieroglyphic scratchings, and then reached for his journal and opened it to a fresh page and began to write.

Tuesday November 20th,

I received a letter from Isabel Cloutier today concerning her inquiry into the death of David Ashemore. Her efforts were officially stymied. She was forced to give it up. A depressing, though not unexpected, outcome.

I do hope her career will not be affected. What an old fool I have been.

This will be but another fragment to decipher after the Fates have finished with me, after Atropos, that daughter of the night, has cut me free.

Opening a drawer, he withdrew a glue stick and rubbed two circles on the back of her card and then with his dry fingertips, pressed it down on the facing page of his journal. A sad little owl staring at his bleak entry for the day.

© ralph patrick mackay