Monday, October 13, 2014

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

Aqueous floaters plied the liquid of his eyes like pieces of driftwood, their shapes reminding him of punctuation marks: comas, inverted question marks, and tildes, those squiggly lines to be found on the upper reaches of his computer keyboard. Pavor rubbed his eyes with his fingertips, the pressure producing a mild version of the kaleidoscopic displays he used to enjoy as a youth, the mandala-like formations of light expanding and merging before dwindling to an opaque sepia tone which in turn diminished to the darkness of an imagined interstellar space.

“Like elusive holograms,” he said, as if to himself.

Mélisande, sitting at his desk, looked round. “What?”

“Those little floating particles in our eyes, they're like elusive holograms.”

“Ah yes, I have a little dark one in my lower right eye. I'll be reading in bed, and I'll flinch because I'll think there's a spider on my sleeve, or on the bedspread. Something to do with the angle of light and shadow I imagine.”

“I wonder what creates them?”

“You can probably Google it.”

He stretched his legs out from his comfy chair and yawned, arching his back. “That would just take the mystery out of it.” He paused for a few moments.“What about . . . optical fish swimming in our visual aquariums?”

“Optical fish.” She smiled. “More like eye dust.”

He looked up to the corner of the ceiling and noticed filaments of dust swaying in the radiator's rising warmth like undersea vegetation. “My Mother used to call it Irish lace,” he said pointing towards the ceiling.

“Irish lace?” She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. “That's rather . . . .”

He sat up in his chair. “She didn't say it with a negative connotation. My Mother must have picked it up from my English Grandmother. When I was young, I knew nothing about prejudices towards the Irish, and I thought it a magical term, Irish lace. It wasn't until I was in my twenties, stuck as I was in my subjective mind, that I could shake the reference and see it for what it was. Then I wondered how I could have been so blind.”

“Great, now when I see the ceiling dust, I'll think Irish lace, and I'll have to catch myself from saying it.”

Pavor got up and walked over to her and began to massage her shoulders and neck, watching their reflections in the window, like two actors in front of a backcloth painted with a night scene of tree branches, the historic Sulpician Tower with its weather vane and the old fortification walls outlined with freshly fallen snow. “I just remembered the oddest dream I had last night,” he said, as he watched a small pick-up truck pass their building.

Mélisande gave up her reading and bent her head down resting it on her hands. “What was it?”

“I was in a country setting, standing before a pile of interesting carved stone ornaments, pineapple finials and crosses, and I found myself wanting to take one, the smallest of them, a ball finial which looked like a pawn in a chess game. But I felt I shouldn't just help myself to them, especially as I felt they were from a cemetery. Next thing I remember I have this heavy stone ornament and I'm trying to attach it behind the seat of my small motorcycle, which is odd, because I've never owned one. I cover it with a jacket or something, and then I see an odd vehicle bounce by on a nearby road it's truck bed laden down with these types of stone pieces, and I think 'cemetery.' I feel they saw me in the rear view mirror and I begin to worry they'll come after me. It was an odd vehicle. One of those cars that have a pick-up truck bed in the back.”

“Hmm, yes . . . an El Camino.”

“What? How'd you know that?”

“Librarians know everything Pavor. You must remember this.” They laughed. “No, my cousin Frank owned one. Always showing off his souped up half car to us. I remember it was blue with red flames painted along the sides. We used to joke it was like that hairstyle, the mullet. 'Here comes Frank with his mullet car' we used to say. 'Business in the front, party in the back.' Sorry, I don't know who came up with that phrase.”

“Right . . . your cousin Frank.” He realised he knew so little of her family.

“I probably would have forgotten the name of the car but it's stuck in my memory alongside the pilgrimage trek, the Camino de Santiago. So, what happened next?”

His fingers worked their way up to her scalp like a pilgrim up a hillside. “I don't know. I woke up I guess. That's all I remember. But I really wanted the stone finials, felt they'd make great decorations in a garden.”

“You . . . don't have a . . . garden.”

“I know, I know. Maybe a future garden. Our future garden.”

A silence overcame them as they each envisioned their own variation of an ideal house with a garden, Mélisande trying to accommodate Pavor's ball finial in her English herbaceous border, and Pavor wondering if Mélisande would punctuate his formal layout with a stone sculpture of a great Mother Goddess, the type she'd been discussing over dinner the other night, one of those pregnant stone earth Mother figures that she said long predated the Greek Apollo and his control over the Delphic oracles like some kind of Parnassian pimp. Such thoughts led to further speculations on how they'd balance the feminine and masculine elements within the house. Would the living room be masculine decor, and the bedroom feminine? His de Chirico copy of The Nostalgia of the Infinite over the mantle piece, or her portrait as Mélisande by Marianne Stokes copied by Jerome?

He continued massaging her scalp, exploring the geography of her northernmost hemisphere, deep in the forests beyond the tundra of her shoulders and neck, remarking how the whorl of her follicle origin was counterclockwise and slightly to the right of centre, which made him think of spirals, and he wondered if it could it be connected to the golden spiral of the Fibonacci sequence he'd been reading about? Softly, he massaged Mélisande's temples and around her ears, gently kneading while his mind drifted off to the phantom islands and lost atolls in the ocean of his memories. She began to breath deeply and he sensed she'd eased herself into a light doze. Gently, cautiously, he withdrew his hands and listened to her inhalation and exhalation with the attentiveness of a parent beside the crib of a newborn. He returned to his chair and picked up one of his old writing notebooks from a box he'd taken from storage in the hope that he'd find inspiration for plot developments, and began to turn pages with fresh, though vague thoughts of writing a mystery novel with clues laid in a pattern according to the Fibonacci sequence. An expanse of white space upon the paper brought his thoughts back. He'd come to little stacks of poetry, lines like hexagrams in the I Ching. He'd written the poems and fragments after the death of his wife Victoria and their child Tamara and he'd half forgotten them. With apprehension, he began to read:

Fare Forward

Dreams of puzzles three-dimensionally crossed
With letters in glorious enthralment,
Arouse to awaken, the sanity of whiteness,
Free convention, and fresh linen.

Grappling the flux with porous invention,
I reveal how sea-drops gather quickly,
The vestige apperception, as it pales to confusion,
Cleansed by holistic circlings.

A moral tenor, tending notes to equation
In a forever ending consummation,
'Farewell my love, this is the last curtain,'
A vinyl disc, grooves ever meeting.

With arm extended in spring's dusty air,
I press the clock-radio's pause,
And fare forward I flow with mythical dreams,
Of stylistic fingers ever repeating.


Silhouette / fragment

The silhouette of dark consent, a pure
Memento mori; languor's lenten ease.
The sails of hawk in circle motion, dark
Beneath the quiet force of sun; the growth
That breaks the earth, the shadow of a cloud,
The silent image, slip of dream, the mark
Of eye upon the page, a soundless oath
That festers within speech, a golden shroud.


In Buckram

In buckram with blank cartridge, pavonine
Yet apterous, a fallen angle lost
With ink dipped quills, I flounce the mirror's sign
Of a Bobadil in feathered humour's tost.
The quiet purist in me shifts the page
To suit the hearth, for ash to fit the soil
To benefit the sapor of a fruit.
And yet, I draw the bow again to wage
The shot of apple-innocence, and toil
To render into verse, it's very root.

Pavor closed the notebook and slipped it back into the white filing box. A bad idea he thought. A bad idea. The memories would encircle him like snakes, massaging, constricting and ultimately suffocating him with past regrets. He looked out the window above Mélisande, trying to focus on the night sky through the reflection of the living room upon the glass. Tomorrow, if the weather was pleasant, they should go for a Sunday morning trudge up the mountain and follow the pathways to the summit lookout, and breath the cold, crisp air, sip hot chocolate from the chalet and watch the city before them, glinting, humming, and steaming, alive with pre-Christmas activity, alive with new generations of diversity, alive with anticipation and possibility.

Mélisande awoke, groaned and stretched, wiping moisture from the corner of her mouth. “Ohh. . . your massage put me right out.” She swept a hand across the manuscript pages. “Sorry, I think I drooled on your novel.”

Approaching her, he bent down, hugged her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “A special watermark to remember then, 'this is where Mélisande fell asleep!'

“Luckily it's only a first draft.”

“What do you say to a walk on the mountain tomorrow?” If the weather's good that is.”

“Sure, that sounds nice. I could use the exercise.”

“Great, I'll let you continue reading. Do you want anything from the kitchen? I feel like a piece of that strong cheddar and some of that nice bread.”

She was tempted to joke about him feeling like a piece of cheese but let it go. “No, nothing for me, thanks,” and watched him leave the room, his fingers scratching his brow. She sensed his distraction, his preoccupation, his pale anxiety, and put it down to creative pains. She picked up a pencil in her left hand and waggled it over the pages and began to read:

Rex Under Glass – Part Nine

She watched Rex Packard walk around the corner carrying what appeared to be a painting. She put her car in drive and pulled up beside him as he reached his rental. She lowered the window. “Have you added art theft to your quiver Rex?”

His questioner's voice, a rather richly toned feminine voice, though startling, was not threatening. If he'd been in danger, there wouldn't have been sarcastic small talk. Rex ignored the question and continued to place the painting in the back seat of his car before turning to see a black Escalade driven by a dark tanned attractive woman in her mid to late forties, her short blond hair gelled and curled this way and that in an artistic fashion. “We need to talk,” she said, and he heard the click of unlocked doors.

She smiled holding out her hand.“Vera, Vera Causalton, most people call me Vera Causa.”

Rex didn't catch the reference as he fastened the seat-belt, but he shook her hand. “I guess I don't have to introduce myself,” he said, feeling somewhat off balance, both by the surprise situation and her attractiveness.

Without a word, she drove up the winding streets with control and speed until they arrived at a lookout on Summit Circle blocked to vehicular access by stone planters. She parked just before the expanse along a sidewalk near a gated entrance to one of the enormous Westmount mansions and got out. Rex followed as she walked towards the stone balustrade and the flickering city lights in the distance.

“Money and influence Rex,” she said motioning to the stone planters with their rather scraggly floral displays. “This lookout, or Belevedere, used to be open to cars so you can imagine the late night revellers, the teenage trysts, the creaking cars, the disruptive sounds, the broken bottles. Now . . . parking is obviously curtailed and a curfew's in place.” She looked at her watch, a large faced multi-functional dial. “Shouldn't be long before one of the private security SUV's makes an appearance.” She looked up. “Camera surveillance.” She withdrew a small brown decorative box and took out a little thin cigarillo and lit up. “Started smoking Schimmelpennincks when I was based in The Hague.” She blew smoke out towards the city, the lights of the residential lowlands, the towers of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Westmount Square and the beginnings of the rising cityscape with its condominium and office towers to the east.

Rex was impressed with Vera's moxy, her alluring figure and her large dark eyes, so much so, he forgot to have one of his own cigarettes. Perhaps he worried it would be his last. “Are you with one of the intelligence services?”

She ignored the question. “It's about Vernon Smythe. His activities of late have been causing some . . . ripples in foreign ponds. As you may have learned, he's invested heavily in commercial applications of various scientific and technological innovations. The Russians, the Chinese, even the North Koreans have done business with our Mr. Smythe.” She drew heavily on her cigarillo before exhaling towards the sky. “It seems there's also money to be made in more . . . capitalistic endeavours at home. For an example, when there's an urgent need for a city sports team to win a championship, Vernon's company can be hired to use their acoustic weapons to have the visiting team wake up in their hotel rooms fatigued, irritable, and feeling like their spines have been twisted like an elastic, and their jaws wired shut. Specific players can be targeted, the goalies, the top scorers, the pitchers, the heavy hitters, the quarterbacks that type of thing. Easier targets are individual sports figures such as golfers, tennis players, etc. Where there's a fortune to be won, some will shake hands with . . . a Vernon Smythe.” She turned her back to the city and sat upon the balustrade.

“So, what can I do about it?”

A large wheeled SUV drove up and parked alongside the stone planters and a man emerged talking into a shoulder communication device. Rex watched as Vera walked towards him and began a conversation; she showed him some type of identification and he tipped his hat, smiled, and made his way back to the security vehicle. She came back to Rex, tossed her cigarillo to the concrete walkway and crushed it out with her expensive black leather loafer.

“We want you to do the right thing and help your country. Be one of our unofficial eyes and ears on Vernon Smythe and Co.”

Rex looked towards the dark foliage of the park trees, a sense of confusion overcoming him, as if he'd wandered off a pathway and was lost in a forest. Was that a small stream running across the park? He squinted his eyes but he couldn't make it out.

“The future is all about conditioning Rex. Conditioning, psychological control and manipulation. With every keystroke monitored, every nuance evaluated, every communications analyzed by algorithms to discover 'negative association quotients,' or NAQs, Governments can then instigate a universal system of protocols to adjust civilian behaviours. Someone visits a questionable site, they receive a shot of acoustic or some other type of conditioning. Over time, citizens will learn, like mice in a lab experiment, to avoid such associations. Old fashioned conditioning Rex. Avoidance therapy. The main problem is of course the male population between the ages of 14 and 34, always has been. We've been lucky to have the gaming culture in place—although it has its problems too—but it's been much the best pacifier since television and popular music. But you see, Vernon is pushing the envelope, getting ahead of plans, possibly undermining such future developments.”

“Sounds like a cheap science fiction novel,” Rex said, turning around and sitting beside her, their thighs touching.

She looked at him sideways. “We're already living in a cheap science fiction novel Rex. HyperSonic Sound is old hat. My trunk is full of parabolic microphones and other acoustic paraphernalia.”

“Sounds kind of kinky to me, but whatever turns you on.”

Vera Causalton got up and started walking to her Escalade, while Rex stared at her hips swaying in her tight dress pants. “Think about it Rex.”

He followed her. He felt he would follow her anywhere.


Mélisande put the pages back in the folder and placed the pencil back in the chipped blue coffee mug, its dark graphite spire head first past the glossy veneers of plump felt pens and retractable ballpoints to the shadows below where small coloured thumbtacks awaited, forgotten in the dust. Pavor's story lines were too bizarre for her. His readers, however, seemed to enjoy them. What kind of person could torture an innocent with such acoustic weapons she wondered? Who could do such things? Who could be so drained of empathy, compassion, humanity? She wished he would abandon this darkness, this shadow-side, and find new subject matter. Perhaps if he wrote an autobiographical work of fiction, reveal the loss of his wife and child, cast it upon the page, it would be a catharsis, akin to a baptism, allowing him to embrace a new path.

She slipped the folder back in the desk drawer and turned her head towards the kitchen trying to understand what the sound was, and then realised it was Pavor humming along to a song on the radio. As she made her way to the warmth and brightness of the kitchen, she recognized it. It was the song, A Holly Jolly Christmas sung by Burl Ives, a song bound to brighten the mood of the most jaded misanthrope. She began to smile.  

© Ralph Patrick Mackay

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

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

Duncan raised the cool water in his cupped hands and gently pressed it against his face, rested his palms over each eye, and breathed deeply as the remnant water trickled down his wrists. He repeated the process and then reached for a towel thinking perhaps he shouldn't have been drinking Maudite along with his new prescription. Looking deep into the mirrored reflection of his brown eyes, he wondered if the depression medication he'd been taking since Edward Seymour had advised “a light tonic” back in the mid-80s, was interacting with it.

 He put his glasses on, and as he ran his fingers through his hair, he noticed one of the many postcards of Montreal landmarks that Yves had applied to his record shop bathroom walls as decoration—a veritable salle de bain time machine—a postcard of the amusement centre of their early youth, Belmont Park in Cartierville with a view of the north river, now, somewhat ironically, a quiet green space named after its noisy predecessor. Memories, faded brief instances, flashes of image came back to him like those of his Father's slide shows of their family vacations to Cavendish Beach or Expo 67: the old wooden roller coaster descent, his baseball cap swept away, a sharp corner of the Wild Mouse, puddles and reflected sky, litter and sticky shoes, popcorn and pink cotton candy, shooting ducks in the shadows, ring toss, stuffed animals, spinning teacups, an enormous mallet suspended in the air anticipating the ringing of the bell, the bumper cars . . . bumper cars. It had been one of his favourite choices as a kid, yet one of the most frustrating. Alone, finally in control of one's direction, gripping the steering wheel, foot to the pedal and then . . . one was bumped off course, bumped again from another, pinned against the side while the clock ticked and the opportunity to drive freely, diminished. It was like life itself he thought, self-determination battered by the vicissitudes of a competitive world. Or at least a competitive twin.

He stretched his neck. Grinding bone and muscle rippled and popped.

But wouldn't the far-seeing gurus and those complacent authors on the self-help shelves supporting the zeitgeist of the day admonish him? Wouldn't they chide him for not seeing that he too was the driver of the other bumper cars? Wouldn't they say he was pinning himself to the edge while the unseen clock ticked away with maddening velocity? Expired? In stasis? A mirrored infinity of little Duncan's at the wheel?

Frozen in the banality of an everyday truth, he looked at himself in the mirror.

Was he responsible for the disappearance of the two unusual manuscripts? Was he responsible for the condominium development bulldozing the land his bookshop and family cordage business had found its home? Politics? Language? The price of gas? The double-faced internet?

Was he responsible for the discovery of the unusual rock on the sandy beach of Prince Edward Island? And for its loss?

As his thoughts grappled with bastard fate, the image of the marble sculpture of Laocoön rose in his mind. As soon as we slip from our Mother's wombs, he thought, we're swept into that flow of myriad possibilities, headlong, fingers in fists, coming out fighting, ready for the first slap.

Duncan rolled his shoulders and readied himself to join his friends, and as he opened the door he heard the soft acoustic 1970s folk sounds of Harmonium's Pour un instant coming from the speakers, and he stood in the open doorway, the lyrics and melody enticing him to feed on nostalgia, and yet he sensed, at least for the moment, he was a stranger there, out of place, his appetite expired much like the clock of that old amusement park ride so long ago. He felt remarkably untethered, yet he was equally filled with the uncertainty of what he would do. His life lay before him like one of those winding paths in old paintings leading to distant lands. He was still relatively young at 53 years of age. Wasn't he? Fifty three. Fifty three? Nausea rose from the pit of his stomach as if that amusement park mallet suspended in the air had finally come down to hit the mark, but the puck had only risen a few feet in his mind, the ringing bell silent far above.

He was on the dust heap at fifty three.


Lucrezia checked her smart phone for further messages from Declan who was caught in a flight delay at LaGuardia airport, which, according to his lack of syntax and use of exclamation marks, was not a pleasant experience on a Saturday evening on the 22nd of December. Seeing he wouldn't be able to make it to their country house till the next day for their quiet Christmas together, she'd made a visit to the secret book room and retrieved the cigarettes she kept in a fake volume bound in calf with the title The Sibylline Oracles - Sir John Floyer - 1713 in gilt on the spine. She'd just finished with a cigarette and tossed the remnant into the fireplace where the dry maple wood crackled and sputtered sending flames and sparks upwards like a smithy's forge. She rarely smoked more than the first half, just enough to overcome the need. The unacknowledged habit helped reduce her consumption, and hiding them, and rarely smoking them, added to their elicit pleasure. Their household staff were aware of her occasional proclivity; smoke vortexes rising from between the hedges of the maze, random white filters of her Davidoff brand unearthed in the garden by Belford Owens their gardener and stable man, or the hint of smoke on her clothes caught by the sharp nose of Miriam his wife, were sure signs. Of course Thaddeus and Bartholomew knew. They purchased them for her. As for Declan, she knew his opinion of her occasional habit. He voiced his concern once, and let it rest.

She paced back and forth in front of the hearth, arms crossed, wondering if she should start that Ann Patchett novel she'd bought, but ultimately, she felt too restless for the page. She missed sitting for Jerome, missed watching him work, looking at his body move as he worked the canvas. She'd been foolish with him once, but he hadn't been the first. There had been that sportsman sailor in Antigua, and the book specialist at Sotheby's in London but that was all. Brief flings of the moment. Three occasions. No further relations or communication. She couldn't see herself doing it again. She was glad Jerome was getting married but Declan's offer to host a small reception for the couples in the spring made her worry Jerome's wife would somehow perceive that something had occurred between them. A glance, or a phrase by one of them, or even by Thaddeus and Bartholomew, could possibly arouse a speculation.

Passing the Longcase clock in the hallway, she made her way to the kitchen where she'd left the novel and found Beaumont lying on the rug near the door, half-asleep. She winked at him when he opened an eye to look at her, and then she bent down and petted his shoulder and side.

“Declan will be home tomorrow Beaumont, tomorrow,” she said. “He can take you for a long . . .” but she caught herself before she said the word whose sound was a pure Pavlovian trigger.

While she made herself a cup of hot chocolate, she decided one of her favourite movies was the cure for her malaise. Ever since having watched one of Gene Tierney's movies on television when young, she'd become enamoured with the actress. She brought her mug to the cozy upstairs den and opened the cherry wood cabinet to reveal the large flat screen television, and shelves filled with books on her favourite actress, along with DVDs of most of her movies. Two rows of movies beckoned her: Belle Star, Whirlpool, Close To My Heart, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Heaven Can Wait, The Razor's Edge, Son of Fury, Black Widow, Leave Her To Heaven, Night and the City, Sundown, Hudson's Bay, Tobacco Road, On the Riviera, The Shanghai Gesture, Dragonwyck, Never Let Me Go, Thunder Birds, Laura. The Left Hand of God and many others. Lucrezia chose Laura as the film to watch, and she pulled out a large glossy book with pictures of the actress accompanied by famous people in her life such as Oleg Cassini, Aly Khan, John F. Kennedy, Humphrey Bogart, Howard Hughes and Dana Andrews among others. She also reached for the actress's autobiography entitled, Self-Portrait and walked over to her favourite chair. She placed the books beside the Tiffany lamp on the small wooden filing cabinet in the corner of the room which kept her collection of Tierney memorabilia which Ebay had enabled her to find, movie cards, photographs, magazines with her cover photo such as Life, Movieland, Screenland, Movie Stars, Modern Screen, Silver Screen, Paris Match, and rare movie posters she had had professionally framed in dark wood to match the den's decor: Sundown, Laura, Night and the City, Dragonwyck and Leave Her to Heaven. Declan called the den the Tierney Room.

As the credits rolled in front of the painting of the title character played by Tierney, she hummed along to the theme music and flipped through the actress's autobiography, stopping to look at the photographs. She recalled how she'd suffered from depression and had been hospitalized in the mid-1950s. Electroshock treatments had been administered. Memory loss had been a side-effect. What a nightmare it must have been for her she thought.  A gorgeous woman named after a man, in a man's world, controlled by mad scientists in white coats placing electrodes on her forehead and temples. Such a world of madness must have been as claustrophobic as a small room thick with cobwebs.

She closed the book and paused the movie so she could get her reading glasses she'd left in the bedroom, and after finding them on her side table, she stood before the portrait of herself as Lucrezia Panciatichi painted by Jerome, and wondered how long it would be before she found herself talking to the portrait like a heroine in a Victorian novel.

© Ralph Patrick Mackay

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.