Read Mind Games Online

Authors: William Deverell

Tags: #General Fiction

Mind Games (12 page)

Huff had the floor and was speaking well from a prepared text, seeking forgiveness for having walked out when we last assembled. He had been taken ill, had found his way to a medical clinic. His proof was a note from a general practitioner: hyperventilation, high blood pressure. Bed rest had been
ordered. If the trial were allowed to proceed he was prepared to produce many witnesses who would attest to the fact he isn’t a serial killer.

John Brovak and the publisher’s Q.C. described themselves as, respectively, blown away and incredulous at the plaintiff’s effrontery in demanding such pampering. Brovak growled, “Why don’t we give him a teddy bear, too, and tuck him into bed?”

But Betty Lafferty acceded to the request of our brave bantam rooster, warning him he may ultimately have to pay the defendants’ costs.

“I shall take that chance, my Lady. I remain persuaded of the rightness of my cause.”

Day books and palm computers were consulted. The lawyers’ calendars were crowded, and it was agreed the trial should recommence in October.

After court recessed, I came upon Huff again staring at Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on the mezzanine wall. He spotted me as I was passing by and, instead of faltering under my fearsome analytical gaze, denounced me.

“What do you know? Nothing! They betrayed the one great shining light of this world.”

Presumably by “they” he meant his defamers, and he was the shining light. Though perhaps he was speaking of the royal couple. I take some pride in my ability to unveil hidden personas, and realized that in his case I had merely done a surface scan. I felt challenged by him, by some mystery deeply hidden. What
I know?

I wanted to ask him who in Jackson Cove resembled me, but he hissed at me like a snake. “Fetish? You’re a fraud. I intend to expose you.”

I was startled by his vehemence. He rushed away. This threat – added to some events I’m about to share with you – continues to persuade me that my life is beset by some vast, complex Shakespearean plot. What are the odds that one person can have
so many problems dumped on him simultaneously? Clearly if there is no logical explanation, the answer lies in the realm of the arcane. Or are there solutions hidden in the clues that float through my dreams?

Consider the one that came to me that night. I was in a Roman city, following Sally. She’d flit in and out of view, running from one colonnade to another, stopping to peer at me, hurrying off again. Then I heard someone behind me saying, “Open him up,” and I realized I was also being stalked – by not one but a throng of ill-wishers: Vivian Lalonde and Grundy and Lyall and the entire disciplinary board, all wearing togas, with Clint Huff trundling behind, a distant threat. But others were after me too, their faces hidden in their togas.

And there was someone else chasing me – someone who for the moment I feared more than the others. It was you, Allis, and you were the only one armed – you were brandishing a scalpel, ready to do business upon me.

(Upon coolheaded review, I’m unable to fathom why I so resist being opened up. I think it’s just that there’s too much of the present to dig through, too much going on, rattling me, blocking distant memories.)

As my dream continued, I found myself on a bicycle, gaining distance from my pursuers. The setting morphed into a country lane leading to a cluster of wooden buildings, a church, a store, a one-room school. I heard a banjo, lively music that seemed to lure me there. But as I approached, my way was barred by Irving Kolosky, who was locking the village gates. “You can’t come here,” he said, “without the key to understanding.”

Then Huff materialized beside me, in his lederhosen. “He luffs you,” he said. To luff is to sail close to the wind, so likely the phrase, deciphered from German-accented English, becomes “He loves you.” Not
loves me. The words seem swollen with meaning, cryptic, ominous.

Freud has said that in our dreams, our
dialogues intérieur
, we keep a blind date with an unknown self. But what am I saying,
so often, so confusingly, to my other self? I accept your theory that the village is my notion of Jackson Cove, that the dream reflects a repressed need to connect with my father. But why is the gate locked?

Or does the locked gate represent frustration? I’ve expended hours, weeks, months trying to trace my father’s whereabouts. There are few clues – first name Peter, in his early twenties, a second-year medical student (but where?). I’ve tracked down every Peter enrolled in every medical school in 1967, made contact, made awkward explanation, and earned only regrets and sympathy.

A sudden insight: I fear the key to understanding; I lock that gate because I can’t face the truth it hides. Peter is a failure. He never made it through medical school. He’s a quack, he’s in a mental institution, maintaining his frayed sanity through weekly electroshock. He is the village idiot of Jackson Cove. But Victoria claims she loved him …

James greeted me in the office Thursday with the news that he’d upped the ante from Kolosky to eight thousand dollars on guarantee of immediate departure. I decided, yes, let us make a quick break – a new start in a new space might help me escape my ghosts. I cancelled my appointments and we attended to the various tasks of departure – change of telephone listing, notices to friends and clients, hiring a crew of student movers.

Files were boxed, my five-hundred-volume library packed. By late afternoon all was gone but some of the heavier furniture, to be saved for tomorrow: two desks, filing cabinets, refrigerator, couch, armchair.

Alone now – James had gone off to organize my new space – I stood by my desk amid the dust and scraps of seven years of professional labour. I swept the desktop contents into a drawer: pads and pens, a loose shirt button, bicycling gloves. I’m too embarrassed to ask James to enter any of these drawers. I’ll clear them out myself.

I brought out Vivian’s file from James’s desk, found myself perusing those nude photographs more closely. They’re tastefully erotic, as one should expect from a design student: one assumes she herself was the photographer, that she used a timing device.

Shamefacedly, I admit my body heat rose as I studied her in repose, lying on her side, lips parted, beckoning with an arm outstretched. I felt dismayed that I was reacting physiologically, and quickly put the photos down and went to the window.

The lowering sun filtered in wan and yellow; outside, the going-home traffic hummed. Into the emptiness came Sally, flooding me. In two hours I would be meeting her at Celestine Post’s Gastown loft. I wouldn’t be comfortable enduring Celestine’s sardonic manner or dealing with the trauma of reunion. I didn’t allow myself to hope Sally has abandoned her experiment in singleness.

I snapped open a beer, drank, paced, wandered down the hall for a piss in the washroom that I share with the accounting firm. They hadn’t yet quit for the day, so I dropped in to say my goodbyes, had a whisky with one of the partners. I learned that Kolosky had offered them only twenty-five hundred dollars to quit their lease. I had the dubious honour of being worth more.

When I returned to my office, the door was ajar. As I entered, I smelled a familiar perfume wafting from my consulting room. I looked in: Vivian Lalonde was lying on her stomach on the couch, reading a book. As usual, she was wearing the barest slip of a dress, backless, held up by only a shoestring knot behind her neck. The dress was blood red, the same shade as the toenails on her raised, wiggling feet. Her skirt had ridden up, and between her parted thighs I could make out a furry pudendal shadow.

I pulled myself together and marched in, and gave her an arms-folded show of body language as I stood over her. “How did you get in here?”

“The door was open, Timothy.”

“Why were you buggering about with Sally’s painting?”

“I thought if you saw her in a different way, you might come to your senses. But I see she’s disappeared from your wall. That’s ironic, isn’t it? Psychologically speaking.” She looked around, at the dust shadow left by the painting, at the skeletal remains of my office. “You moving out, Timothy? Have I scared you away?”

I was irked by her casual attitude. “This appointment has been cancelled. Wasn’t my message blunt enough?”

She turned on her side and put a page marker in the book. It was my own work:
Shrinking Expectations

“Relax, Timothy. I’m not going to bite you.” She sat up. “I just came to return your jacket. Your keys are in it. You’re really delightful, you’re so absent-

There was my jacket draped over my swivel chair, along with her own coat: ankle-length, with a hood.

“I thought I’d request, as a last favour, that you sign this for me. Is that too much to ask?” A pout, as she extended the book. “‘To Vivian, with love’ would be nice.”

Did she think me such a fool? “You’ve been stalking me, you filched my keys, snuck in here, and tampered with my files.

I walked out to James’s desk, swept up her glossies, strode back, flung them at her. Vivian watched with amusement as they flapped through the air and spun across the floor.

“What do you think you were trying to prove?”

“That I was worth a second look? They’re from a class in photography, Timothy. They dared me to pose.” She laughed. “They were shocked when I did. But they produced some interesting work, don’t you agree?”

I must say I was rattled by her sang-froid. I fought for composure, said in a level voice, “I want you out of here, Vivian. Out of my life.”

She sighed. “Still in denial. What a pity.” Again she extended the book. “Just sign it then and I’ll be gone. That’s it, Timothy, then I’m out of your life, your muddled life.”

I felt it unwise to continue berating her, scrawled a signature on the book, nothing more. I was desperate to believe she’d come to her senses, was seeking a final gesture, a polite closure. As she stood, tugging at her dress, there came to her face a look of melancholy, of acceptance. Seeing that, my anger died, and I felt a little sorry for her.

I urged her to continue her therapy elsewhere. (I gave her your card, Allis, and forgive me for that. You won’t want to touch her after you hear what comes next.) I pompously told her I was sorry our relationship had taken an awkward turn, that I expected her to be a celebrated success in the field of design arts.

She walked to the uncurtained window, looked out on busy Fourth Avenue. “I hope you’re not moving from here just to run away from me.”

“The landlord is buying me out.”

She turned to see me holding out her coat. Her eyes were wet. “And you’re setting up shop on Granville Island.” There was a slight hoarseness in her voice that I’ve learned is a harbinger of emotional display.

“Vivian, you must promise to stop following me.”

“Do you think you can hide?” She continued to reject the coat, seemed in no rush to go anywhere, in fact perched on my desk – I sensed I’d lost the moment. “I’ve been doing a little research. Some newspaper clippings, your interview in
Psychology Today
. You don’t like to travel. You hate crowds. You’ve had only one female relationship. That’s what’s amazing. It sounds so restricting. I’ll bet sometimes you just want to explode inside with the need to break loose, to dare your heart to go where it wants.”

“Please leave now.”

“You don’t know who your father is. It’s wonderful you can admit that. You’re so open … I can’t talk to my father, I never could. But why do you He to yourself about the important things?” She slid onto her feet, began advancing on me. I turned, made for the door, but she beat me there, blocked my path. “I’ll never lie to you, Timothy. You once told me to stop playing, to be real. Okay, this is real. I’m real, look at me.”

She reached behind her neck and loosened the tie. I found myself dumbly staring at her bared taut breasts as her dress floated down. She skinned it from her hips, kicked it free, then stood before me, calmly offering.

“My God! Vivian, get dressed and get out of here before I have the cops drag you out.”

“Don’t fight it, Timothy. Recognize the inner being, know yourself, your moods, your desires. It will make you whole again.”

Where had she got that – out of some pop psychology paperback? In growing panic, I looked about for the telephone, but it had been unplugged and removed. As I checked my pockets for my cellphone – where had I left it this time? – I noticed, with dismay and humiliation, that I was starting to get an erection.

Should I have to explain this? There had been a long sexual hiatus. Vivian, need I remind the world, is superbly attractive.

“Don’t lie to yourself,” she repeated, aware now of the protrusion in my pants. “I can be everything she’s not. I can be anything you want.”

She reached for me and I fell backwards onto my desk, and she on top of me. Her hips were pressed against mine, grinding against them. “Damn it!” I yelled. “Stop this!” As I turned to avoid her mouth, I felt her lips slide along my cheek, a wet, red smear.

The events are distorted in memory, such was my turbulent state, but I know that her hands were tugging at my belt and that I resisted, pushing at her body, finally rolling free.

I managed to gain a standing position, discovering then that she’d loosened the belt, and that my trousers were slipping. “Vivian, don’t be a whore. Where’s your self-respect?”

She seemed astonished at my rejection; suddenly her face clouded. “You bastard,” she hissed.

I picked her dress up and tossed it to her, and, pulling up my pants, escaped to the outer office, where, as the fates would have it (but not unexpectedly, given their caprices), I almost collided with Irving Kolosky. He’d just come in from the hallway, on silent creeping feet.

“I heard voices,” he stammered. “Your door was open. I was just checking to see if the movers …”

His words trailed off into silence as he saw the longitudinal red smudge on my face, my belt and shirttails hanging loose. Then he peered through the doorway into the consulting room. I turned to see Vivian stepping into her frock, swearing, “You complete and utter total bastard.”

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