Authors: William Deverell
Tags: #General Fiction
So am I not showing progress? Note that I took the elevator down as well as up, and didn’t implode in panic. Note that I am now cognitively aware of former irrational thinking.
If only the dreams would go away. They seem to foretell doom …
This one, for instance, Saturday night, after too much wine and loneliness. Aware, even in sleep, that Sally would not be there to greet my awakening, I went deeper, into a Stage I-REM dream featuring (yes, it’s back) an oompahpah band in lederhosen serenading Sally as she signed copies of her latest,
Miriam Runs Away from Home
. I was struggling toward her table. I was late. So far, this dream is as obvious as a fart at a funeral.
But it becomes tangled. My progress is halted by a banjo player, who says, “He’s vaiting for you.”
vaiting for me? Sally disappears without as much as a curtain call, and I’m in a panic, lost in a crush of people propelling me to a car. Then I’m in the front passenger seat, Alpine vistas below, brakes
screeching as we fishtail around a bend, and I can’t escape – the door handle is missing.
I look at the driver, and an even greater fear grips me. He is in a robe, wearing a false beard, and as he removes it, I see Bob Grundison – he is the spectre of death …
Whereupon I bolted upright in my cot in the bow of the
and banged my head on a beam. I was in a sweat, tangled in my sheet like a mummy.
He’s vaiting for you
. Help me with this one, Allis. Why was a banjo player even
brass band? Why was he serving as the messenger of Death?
As I wandered about the
, numbly brewing tea, I was returned to the real world by the discovery of a hair clip among my socks. I’m continually finding scatterings of Sally from our sails together. A sketch pad, vistas of Desolation Sound cross-hatched in soft pencil lead. Her spare toothbrush, a tampon.
I sat down to camomile tea and dry rye toast and ascorbic acid tablets and garlic pills – a breakfast routine so ritualized that Sally (in a bad mood) claimed it drove her around the bend. A shiver wriggles up my spine as I consider that bend, and now we see how free association helps unravel the metaphors of dreams: her brakes are screeching, my door handle is missing, we go off the road.
I am no aficionado of cars, though I occasionally ride in a taxi or with Sally in her Saab. One can at least escape from a car (given door handles); elevators and airplanes make for a far grimmer test of courage. My preferred conveyance is Vesuvio. Astride it, I can whisper through the streets at night, unseen. I can wheel silently past the bungalow on Creelman Street to ensure that Sally is safely at home, her car in the driveway. Occasionally, when I cruise the alley, I see her silhouetted behind the wide windows of her studio.
So far, I’ve not seen any man being entertained, though on one occasion, at dusk, I saw her entering a Kitsilano pub with the queen of punk, Celestine Post, who collects men as some
do buttons and pendants, who knows the singles bars. From a vantage point outside the open door, I watched them spread maps and books on their table. Michelin maps?
Frommer’s Guide to the Single Men of Italy?
The next morning, I called Sally on my newly purchased cellphone, and claimed false surprise and falser delight when she told me Celestine has snapped up the cheap ticket to Europe offered by Chipmunk Press; they’re leaving in a few days. I take relief only in the fact her tripmate isn’t, for instance, Ellery Cousineau. (A frequent flier who owns a Cessna and has told Sally he’d like to “take her up.”)
Sally has promised to meet me on her return. She’s promised we will talk …
Enough of that. I haven’t told Sally about the strange note. Let her have her carefree holiday, unaware that someone is
Or is that someone you? You’re waiting, silently demanding: Open up, tell me about your father, stop blocking. I will, I will …
At Beaver Lake, in the silence of Stanley Park, you sat on a bench to make notes while I watched dragonflies dart among the floating lilies and listened to the shouts of red-winged blackbirds.
As we walked along the seawall promenade, I must have sounded as effusive as a tour guide. Was I being tiresome? You didn’t need the local booster to point out the convoy of sailboats bobbing in the wake of a grunting tug, the North Shore mountains gazing disdainfully at us.
Welcome to my world, Allis. I’ve studied by San Francisco Bay, visited Boston and New York, travelled Canada by train. But where else would any person of average sanity prefer to live but here in Vancouver, my enclosed, familiar, coherent world? I’m a product as well of its West Coast eccentricity, its manic depressiveness – morose and soporific in the winter rains, kinetic, vital when the sun crawls from hibernation.
We must have looked like an odd couple in that park. Dishevelled me, in my old khaki shorts; graceful, ever-fashionable you, in your long, belted skirt. Do you remember, on the seawall, how I pulled you from the path of three careless line skaters, and almost tripped over my own feet as you and I made contact? And do you remember how I averted my eyes when we came upon a handholding couple too obviously in love? What did you surmise? That I was unable to bear their happiness?
(The book fair in Bologna will be a long series of cocktail parties. People engage in aberrant behaviour at conventions. Celestine Post will set no good example. I must confront these concerns. It’s no vast calamity if Sally has a fling. She has to get it out of her system. She’ll love me the more when it’s over.) And I realized: I was being selfish – I’d merely lost a companion; you were grieving a loss of life.
A thoughtful stillness came over you, and I let you stay there a while, only too aware of how my distress pales in the face of your young man’s death. In a perverse way, that realization has begun to work as therapy for me. I must not take matters so much to heart. Things happen.
I was glad I was able to divert you from your thoughts with my account of the bizarre trial of Huff versus Victoria Dare. An arcane message to me from Clinton Huff bears deep analysis, so let me replay the scene.
First, as a preface, late Sunday dinner at my mother’s house – an unpretentious frame structure in working-class Grandview, just off Commercial Drive. I’d stopped off at the Kowloon Moon for takeout (I’ve never mastered the kitchen; without Sally, my life has become a restaurant), and as I toted in the steaming cartons Victoria was at her computer dashing off one of her eighty-dollar-a-pop obituaries.
This is her latest business venture, writing death notices and seeing to their publication in newspapers, where her own ad also appears in the classified columns.
(Unable to find words for
your loss? Literary Consolation Services will be pleased to help.)
Composing euphemism-laden obits nets her a better income than did her last job, managing a used-book store, but she finds the work boring.
Maybe, as well, it influenced her choice of genre for her novel, though deeper factors were at play: her father was a mortician, and both he and her mother drowned in a float-plane accident when I was seven. (Birth of a neurosis. You were expecting something more tangled and obscure?)
Victoria greeted me with a hug. At fifty-two, she seems even more striking than in her youth: tall, slender, black hair streaked with white falling to her waist. Expressive eyes that don’t always let strangers know she’s teasing. She still smokes, against my advice.
She printed out her latest obit and asked me to critique it.
Until his brief ailment brought his heart to its final pause, Pops, as he was fondly called by relatives and friends, remained an avid gardener, whose roses were the envy of his neighbourhood
. I told her I was reminded of Emily Dickinson.
Sitting beside her printer was a pile of manuscript. Victoria is hoping this new novel will sell more than the thousand hard-covers of her first effort.
When Comes the Darkness
didn’t make it into paperback.
Over corn soup and garlic prawns we talked about Sally, whom Victoria has known for nearly three decades, having replaced, in part, the mother Sally lost in childhood. They remain pals and share secrets. Sally had come by the day before, Victoria said, but they didn’t talk much about our separation.
“I didn’t press her, we hardly raised it. My attitude was: If she wants to vent, I’m all ears and sympathy. But we talked about Europe and about my inexpressibly revolting trial.”
“Yes, and did she mention any male friends she might be seeing?”
“I don’t think she’s ready for that.”
“It might take a little time – is that what you’re saying?”
“Honey, this is just a hiccup. She needs a break from you – she’s an artist, it’s hard to be creative when someone is pinging off the walls. You’re too wrapped up in the drama of all your incessant emotional crises. It would help if you somehow restructured your life a bit, got your act together.” Victoria is an expressive talker, her hands active, emphasizing points with chopsticks.
getting my act together. I’m seeing a shrink. Allison Epstein, who wants to dig into my childhood. That involves you.”
“It’s always the mother, isn’t it? There’s a whole industry out there blaming mothers. I’ve no doubt she’s a part of it.”
I was perplexed that she was so defensive. Was she afraid of stirring up the working-mother guilt that has always oppressed her? I was a latch-key kid, and somehow she blames herself for all the time we couldn’t spend together.
Victoria abruptly changed the subject: she had her own crisis, her libel trial. She was set upon my coming to court, to meet with her lawyer, to help him get a handle on Mr. Huff.
The lawyer, John Brovak, is from the bull-in-a-china-shop school of litigation. Notorious for his lack of subtlety, he’s reputed to have once mooned a judge in open court. I’d recommended against hiring him, insisting she didn’t need a lawyer – her publishers are represented by a respected Queen’s Counsel. Her response: “I want a good old-fashioned brawler in my corner. I want someone with oversized testicles to take on the evil dwarf.”
She was needled at the Q.C. for having proposed a nuisance settlement of thirty thousand dollars – ten times the advance she got for the book. She wants vindication. It is only a coincidence that the fictitious Clint Huff has a living counterpart who also happens to be mayor of a small town. She’d picked the name at whim – it had a rural, good-old-boy flavour.
In the novel, Mayor Huff commits ritualized, sadistic murders, and the real Huff has been on television, taking such
vigorous umbrage that one might conclude he’s revelling over his time in the spotlight. He is quite eccentric, though not without intelligence – apparently he is a capable English teacher. Adding to the weight of his claim is that he physically resembles the short, stocky, bespectacled killer in the book.
The non-jury trial, at the New Westminster courthouse, has been assigned to Judge Betty Lafferty, who, when in practice, had a history of defending the downtrodden. It is feared that she might favour the mayor of Jackson Cove over the well-heeled defendant publisher. Clinton Huff has no Q.C. in his corner; he is, in fact, representing himself, and not well. His try for an injunction against distribution of
When Comes the Darkness
has been thrown out; the book is still in the stores.
When I arrived by taxi, early, I found John Brovak outside the courts by the stern-faced sculpture of Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, an infamous nineteenth-century hanging judge. (He is recorded as once having told a jury
should be hanged for bringing in a wrong verdict.) Begbie was clutching a pipe, Brovak a cigar. He is in his late forties, tall and burly, with a nose that has seen repair work, unkempt even in his black barrister’s robe, looking as if he’d hurriedly dressed for Halloween.
“Huff’s a fruitcake, Tim, active in the Libertarian Party, which attracts oddballs like flies to shit. His hobby is suing the government.” He showed me a file. “Look at this, the guy refused to fill in a census form, and he took it to the appeal court.”
There were other legal challenges in the file: to the firearm registry law, to various acts and bylaws. Judges had rejected his suits in peremptory fashion, often with one-paragraph decisions. There seemed sufficient evidence for a preliminary diagnosis of compulsive litigious disorder.
“You’ll thank me for bringing you here, pal, you’ll have a couch doctor’s field day. He’s got his own Web site. You want more information about how to challenge the government, log on to FreedomFirstForever.net.”
“I don’t want him to know I’m on a watching brief. Don’t announce me.”
Brovak told me that Huff was in the second-floor corridor, could be easily identified by the leather elbow patches. “He looks friendless – I don’t think there was a big turnout from Jackson Cove. Can you imagine those fucking suits – offering him thirty grand.”
I left Brovak to his cigar and made my way upstairs. Milling about near the courtroom were a small assemblage of the curious and a few reporters. The man I took to be Clinton Huff was wearing a checked sports jacket of a cut popular in the 1970s and was gazing solemnly at a larger-than-life print of a bejewelled Queen Elizabeth II and her consort. Huff is about fifty, balding, no moustache to compensate – instead, a flared structure of trimmed beard on chin and jowls. It makes him look leprechaunish.
As I walked past him, he turned my way and for some reason began to gape at me with a puzzled intensity, as if I were the last person on earth he expected to see on the second floor of the New Westminster Courthouse. I’ve had no previous connection with this man, so assumed he’d mistaken me for someone else. I was dressed too casually for him to think I was but an interested spectator.
Finally, he approached. “Excuse me, would you happen to be consanguine with anyone in Jackson Cove? “ A precise, formal manner of speaking.
“Consanguine?” His use of the word startled me.
“It means related to.”
“I don’t believe so.”