I could hear your resigned tone, Allis. This was yet another instance of the patient sneaking out a side door to escape the past. The early years are critical, I agree, but however misshapen with neuroses, the man who grew out of childhood proved capable. He went to school, amassed degrees, set up shop. He led an imperfectly normal life.
Until the prankish Fates chose me for their sport. Why? Did they consider me weak and susceptible? Maybe they’ve selected
me as a kind of lab rat, a stress experiment. How much voltage can the poor fucker take? I imagine them sitting around Zeus’ throne, bored.
Just for fun, let’s see if we can break this fellow’s tenuous grip on reality
As an example, they conspired – using the services of a crafty terrestrial agent – to plant evidence on me of a salacious nature. They arranged to drive me from my place of business.
I’d been restless through the weekend, pent up in anticipation of Sally’s return, but I kept a busy schedule: a long bike ride to Riverview to interview an alleged arsonist, an afternoon sail, dinner at my mother’s on Saturday, at the Pondicherry the next night.
Nataraja’s advice to his moping customer was “to get your ashes hauled.” Take advantage, he urged, of the generous offer of that “knockout who barged in here a few weeks ago, hot after your body – I should be so lucky.” The concept of getting my ashes hauled actually had some crude appeal – long abstinence from sex was causing me some physical unease.
On leaving the Pondicherry, I remained so preoccupied by thoughts of Sally that I began walking in a drizzling rain to the wrong home: to
home, on Creelman Street. I was almost at Kitsilano Beach when I remembered I’d come by bike to the Pondicherry, and had left Vesuvio there.
During my return walk, I had the sense I was being followed. It was a frightening feeling, but it was strong, in my gut. I glanced behind once and saw advancing, half a block down a poorly lit street, a hooded figure in a wide, flaring coat who quickly disappeared behind a parked van. I couldn’t make out the features of this funereal creature – it was as if he’d emerged from my dreams, Death’s messenger. A few minutes later, I snapped a quick look back and he was gone.
While biking to Granville Island, I was followed briefly by a dark minivan. I couldn’t shake that gut feeling …
When I entered the office on Monday with my takeout coffee and toasted bagel, James was already at his desk. He
remains the bright spot in my life – my office looks every day less like a junk store – and I now wait eagerly for the next session of the discipline committee, at which I’ll produce this prince as witness to the orderliness of my practice.
After passing a few pleasantries with James, I went into my consulting room to prepare for the day’s patients. Soon, I felt the slightest nudging that something was amiss, and it was only as the coffee began to stir my neural cells that I realized that for the last several moments I’d been staring, in growing confusion, at Sally’s portrait.
It had been hung upside down. By whom? Why? The building remains locked all weekend, the cleaners come only on Tuesday nights.
James was equally astonished and, fearing I might suspect him of negligence, assured me that on Friday, as the last to leave, he’d locked both the office and the downstairs door. Neither of us had been back since.
James directed a severe look at me, as if I were the culprit, and, producing his set of keys, asked if he might see mine. A search through my pockets generated a wallet, several coins, various crumpled reminder notes, and keys to the
and my bicycle lock. The office keys, on a ring with a nametag, were missing.
I can’t remember when I last used those keys – not for a few days, because James had regularly been first to arrive at the office, last to leave. If some felon had come upon them and deduced from the nametag they were my office keys, why would he have been content just to fiddle with Sally’s painting? Nothing of value seemed to have been stolen; our filing cabinets were unlocked. James checked the current files and they appeared undisturbed.
Now locks would have to be changed, and I’d be forced to endure the landlord’s ire – this has happened once too often, Ivan Kolosky will say. He is seeking any excuse to get rid of me and
the accountants who share my floor – the lease has a year to run and the ground-floor graphics firm is impatient to expand.
What message was I supposed to read in Sally’s upside-down portrait? A threat to her? Grundy was, of course, in my mind, but I knew another who had the spite and brass to do this, Vivian Lalonde – but how would she have got my keys?
Ivan Kolosky arrived brandishing a copy of the lease, directing my attention to boilerplate requiring tenants to ensure building security. (There has been one similar incident, plus one false alarm when Sally found the keys in the laundry basket.) He was horrified to learn that a nametag was fixed to the keys.
He phoned a locksmith, then said, “I will pay you three thousand to go now, immediately.”
My suspicion fastened on Kolosky – had he engineered this incident to send me scurrying from the premises? He has been known to prowl the building at night: I caught him once at ten p.m. testing my door: “Checking security, Doctor.” I dismissed the notion as bizarre.
I explained to him I had too much on my mind to be seeking new quarters, then ushered him out.
I had lunch later with Dotty Chung, and we conjectured about Grundy being the office sneak-artist. I remembered the dark figure following me: Grundy’s height. And what about Lyall DeWitt? He had stared, bland, expressionless, at Sally’s portrait. Had I left my keys in the open where they could be swiped? I’m too loose with them, James has warned.
It didn’t make sense that Lyall or Gundy would chance arrest for unlawful entry, but my mind was aflame with anxiety. I felt at risk. Sally was at risk. They know where I live. They know where I used to live.
Then I reminded myself – as I’m doing continually these days – that I might be devising paranoid scenarios. I sometimes wonder if I’m approaching a true illness, a DM-V 301.1 delusional disorder.
Dotty has taken an almost sisterly liking to me, finding much satisfaction in my male helplessness, and as we were going through my files, compiling a list of those with kleptomaniac tendencies, she offered a solution to my landlord-tenant problems. There is a vacant office below hers in Pier 32. I’d already tied up the
nearby. Why not move my practice, as well, to Granville Island, with its bustling market, its galleries and live theatres, its relaxed ambience?
“And I could use the company,” Dotty said.
I’ve noticed that she often seems lonely. With her heavy build, her rather flat, pugnose face, she isn’t one to attract many male admirers; on her rare dates, she disconcerts her companions with her laconic manner – she eschews small talk. A failed marriage to a womanizing telephone installer has added to her distrust of men. Because of my general inability to fit the macho stereotype, I’m on her short list of exceptions.
“Anyway, you need someone to watch over you.” She reddened, as if embarrassed by the borrowed lyrics, and turned gruff. “I want to be around if Grundy decides to have another psychotic attack.”
I hugged her.
She took me on a tour of the space: it was bright, bare-walled, needed renovations. No elevator required: the rental space was just above ground level, with a balcony suspended over the water and affording a view of salt inlet and mountains and sky. Nearby are the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and the metallic glitter of Granville Island Hotel, with its micro-brewery.
I told James to negotiate the lease and to advise Kolosky I’d accept his three thousand dollars.
I spent much of that evening and the next day in a futile search for the keys – they hadn’t been left at Riverview or on the
. Then I discovered that my windbreaker was missing too. I’d worn it on the weekend, but where?
I could swear I had on a sweater when I visited my mother on Saturday, but still I went to her house that evening for a quick rummage. The keys weren’t behind the cushions of the stuffed chair on which I’d sprawled, or in any closet.
Victoria put her writing on hold and watched – she prefers to work at night, through the witching hour. “I can’t concentrate with someone prowling like a thief around the house. You should have your damn keys sewn into your pants pockets.”
Over one of her herbal tea concoctions, I was treated to a discourse on Clinton Huff. Her adversary had risen wounded from the trenches, regained strength for the battle, and filed a motion to continue the trial.
The court jester, Victoria called him: “He ought to be laughed
of court.” But benevolent, bend-over-backwards Judge Lafferty had agreed to hear his petition, and the hearing was set for the next day, Wednesday. I told Victoria I’d pop in. I’ve developed an interest in the case, in the bumptious mayor of Jackson Cove. I have some admiration for him, in fact – he isn’t without nobility and resolve.
Distracted by my worries, I reacted like a stammering fool when Sally called that night from Rome, greeting me with a lilting “Hi, sweetie.” I managed a garbled greeting, asked about her holiday. She was pleased with it but exhausted, was soaking her feet, blistered by her new Italian shoes. She and Celestine would be flying home the day after tomorrow, arriving in the evening.
I took a breath and began pouring out my woes: I’d received threatening notes, my office had been invaded, I was concerned not only for my safety but hers. I begged her to taxi non-stop to Celestine’s and bunk there. I would meet her there and explain everything, she wasn’t to worry. I’d received her postcard, had a laugh over the shepherd and his elk horn, the guy looks like someone I met, it’s a message, I’m being summoned to the mountains.
“Are you feeling all right?” she asked. I lied reassuringly, wished her a boringly safe flight.
As I cycled that night to the Pondicherry, continuing my quest for the keys, my mind was heavy with Sally, with an anxiety provoked by what she’d not said on the phone: that she wanted our life back as it was, that she’d been wrong to exile me from her bed.
At the restaurant, I explained my mission to Nataraja, who listened, nodded sagely, then said God had given him the key to understanding. I admire his way of making the meaningless seem profound – in headier days, he had a hundred saffron-wearing followers.
“Please speak plainly.”
“You left your jacket here.”
“And where the hell is it?”
No other customers were within hearing, but he lowered his voice. “That looker with the long legs? She came in just after you left, winked at me, took the jacket from the chair.”
Vivian Lalonde. “And you
“She said, ‘Tim left his jacket.’ I figured, okay, she’ll give it to you. I thought you were waiting in her car, like you took my advice, made a date to penetrate the gates of divine paradise …” Nataraja began to look less confident in this theory as he saw the dismay in my face.
I sat down. I ordered soup. I berated myself. Vivian hadn’t been concentrating on her studies, had failed the simple test I gave her. She’d stalked me to the Pondicherry. Seeing me leave without my jacket she’d filched it, found my keys in a pocket, entered my office in stealth that night to leave a jealous message: she isn’t the one for you, Timothy, she is upside down, I’m right-side up, accept the fact she’s gone from your life.
At the same time, I felt relief, for I’d been twitchy at the thought of the pet bunny and his keeper grubbing about with the portrait of the woman I love. I was beginning to wonder, too, if Vivian, not Grundy, excited my fears of being followed.
I’d underestimated Vivian’s obsession with me, it was deep, not some sudden fancy.
The next morning, I asked James to tell Vivian I was withdrawing my services and recommending she see Dr. Allison Epstein instead. (It seems to me she needs a good Freudian cleaning-out. You have the advantage of already knowing something of the file. Disinter
I asked James to bring me the Lalonde file, and he produced a three-inch-thick folder bulked up by psychological tests and interpretive comments, some Rorschach and other test material, and my own scrawled, barely readable notes. When I riffled through them, I spotted an unsealed manila envelope, postcard size.
“What is this?”
“Those would be the
My jaw fell open. “Nude … how did they get here?”
“I assumed you put them there.” James put his hand to his mouth. “Oh, dear …”
I fumbled the envelope open: half a dozen glossies of Vivian artfully baring all, stretched across a chaise longue as if modelling for Ingres. I hurriedly replaced them. I’d underestimated Vivian’s capacity for mischief. What game was she up to? An attempt, obviously, to embarrass me in some way, possibly to embroil me in accusations of misconduct.
Unsure what to do about the photos, I told James to stash the file in his desk, then I raced out to catch the next act of Victoria’s drama. I slipped quietly to the back of the courtroom, hiding behind a woman with big hair, not wanting Clint Huff to see me – I was reluctant to exercise my supposed powers over him; it would feel like bullying.