passage

 

Whenever I see Elias it rains.

The first few times we joked about it, but after a year of watery visits it’s gone beyond coincidence—but he has no explanation and neither do I so we leave it there, hanging like the Turner painting on his wall of a shipwreck in a storm.

Now, why would a psychiatrist hang a dismal picture on his wall? The Good Doctor thinks it’s serendipity and I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any—‘the previous tenant had it on his wall and who am I to disturb the universe?’ The Prufrockian and Freudian implications all lead to an overwhelming question, and, of course, we don’t ask what it is.

Obviously, I find it hard to take Elias seriously, which is a liability since he is my shrink, but we have delightful conversations and he is a good listener and besides, it’s a necessary requirement of my parole.

I was very nearly killed in an auto accident—drinking far too much and popping pills—and since that got quite out of hand, here I am.

 

“So where are we?” Elias asks amiably, smiling over his half-moon reading glasses. He has the dossier before him and knows exactly where we are, but likes to invite me in.

“Maya and I broke up.”

“Again?”  His eyebrows arch and fingers tap out Braille messages to the thunder gods, the overlords of our rainy season.

“We have a tempestuous relationship,” I concede.

He sighs and scribbles a quick note.

I’m back to staring at the painting. I’m the hapless seaman, Maya’s the storm and Elias is the lighthouse—of course, he’s not in the picture—he’s watching from a safe distance, on shore.

“What have you been up to this week?” he asks with a faint smile, knowing very well I’m prone to be impetuous. But then, aren’t most writers?

“I bought a house.”

“Really? That was rather sudden—how did that come about?”

“Ari, a realtor friend of mine, heard it was going to be placed on the market. It was owned by the actress, Jessica Skye.”

A look of recognition crosses his face. “Wasn’t she that Thirties actress?”

I nod.

“Surely, she didn’t just die—she’d be over a hundred by now.”

“She died in 1980, and her daughter inherited it. And she just passed away.”

He seems outwardly unmoved, but I see his eyes—he’s intrigued. “What made you want to buy it?”

“An Art Deco mansion seemingly perfectly preserved in time? Who wouldn’t be interested—and besides, it came with two keys that don’t seem to fit any lock in the house.”

“Oh well, that explains everything.”

Elias doesn’t do sarcasm well.

The conversation moves on to other topics and the matter of the house is dropped until just before the session ends.

“You know the two keys that don’t fit are you and Maya.”

He says it flatly, in a matter of fact voice, half-expecting me to object—but I don’t.

I stretch and yawn. “I hear you, Elias—I’ve been thinking that myself.”

“You need someone less tempestuous, Leon. You need some calm in your life.”

“Well, who knows what tomorrow may bring?” I say facetiously, but know he’s right. I really need to find that eye in the center of the hurricane—that still-point in my crazily spinning life.

 

Three weeks later I’m moved in and paying contractors to reno the basement. I leave the main floor and grounds untouched, but the dark paneled basement has to go—it depresses me to look at it.

It’s near the end of the day, and most of the panels have been removed, when Sam Eastman, the contractor, calls me aside. Alarm bells are going off in my head—this type of colloquy from laborers almost always means money.

“We found an alcove concealed behind one of the walls,” he says.

He shows me a steel door behind the studding. “It must be an unused cold cellar, but it’s gonna be a helluva job breaking it open.”

We both stare at the door—Sam’s mentally calculating how much he can charge in terms of labor—and as for me, I’m smiling cynically that my instincts about laborers are proven right once again.

“I just don’t get why someone would put in such a heavy-duty door in the first place.” He’s taken off his Yankee’s ball cap and is scratching his head in wonderment. “You don’t happen to have a key, do ya?”

Of course, he’s pretty sure I don’t, and is also probably figuring, bonus for him.

So he’s understandably disappointed when I reach into my pocket and fish out a set of keys. I try the first one and it doesn’t work, but the second is a perfect fit and the door swings open.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he says, shining his flashlight, and peering in, “You’ve got yourself a Thirties speak-easy in there.”

He’s right—immediately before me, the walls are lined with shelves filled with liquor bottles and then, there’s a long stone-walled corridor resembling the catacombs, lined with tall, pigeon-holed wooden shelves with dark wine bottles nestled inside them.

“We should scope this out, Mr. Perkins.” Sam’s already being nosy, snooping around the liquor racks.

I suddenly feel defensive, as if my privacy’s being invaded. “No, I think that’s all for today, Sam.”

I gently usher him out. “I want to close this up and give some thought to what I’m going to do with the cellar—maybe call in an expert and get an informed opinion.”

Sam’s miffed, but complies. “You’re the boss—it’s your call.”

I shut and lock the door and wait until the crew gather up their tools and leave before turning out the light.

I sit by the fire with a glass of Shiraz and figure out a plan.

I’ll text Sam and tell him to take a few days off and then I’ll thoroughly explore the room the following day.

 

I start the next morning by hanging extension lights in the anteroom, and then begin cataloguing the brands of liquor and the dates.

I break for lunch and return just after one o’clock and start examining the dark corked bottles laid in the wine cellar. I have no idea about the status of the contents—I’m just intrigued by the ambience of the stonewalled cave.

As I’m examining the wine rack at the back of the cellar, I see it has hinges and can be swung out like a secret compartment. When I open it, I see another steel door, identical to the first.

I fish in my pocket for my set of keys and insert the second orphaned key into the lock and find it turns smoothly and opens the door. Mystery solved regarding the keys—now, what lies behind door number two?

I’m surprised to find a set of curving stone stairs which I climb only to encounter a third oak door, but this one is unlocked and opens into a book-lined study. The door is again cleverly disguised as a section of bookshelves.

I enter the room and see it’s a lovely den with mullioned windows, a fireplace and a huge writing desk—but can’t recall any evidence of this room from my walks around the perimeter of the house. Very strange.

At that moment, I become aware of the sounds of laughter and faint music coming from outside. I go to the window and look out. My breath stops.

A totally different world emerges before my eyes. There’s a garden party outside on the back lawn—people sipping champagne and dressed in the style of the late 1920’s or early Thirties. There are gleaming vintage cars parked in the circular driveway, and beyond, the tennis courts are in full use.

I can’t reconcile what my eyes are seeing with the world I know. I part the drapes to get a better look and as I do, a beautiful blonde woman glances up at the window and notices me.

She’s holding a champagne flute in one hand and is dressed in a sleek, pale blue gown that emphasizes her sylph-like figure. She stares intently, seeming to draw the soul right out of me.

Suddenly, the room starts spinning and I experience a strong wave of vertigo—everything about me darkens, as if a giant vortex were pulling me in. I panic, and stumble backwards toward the bookshelves.

The dizziness eases but I’m terrified and shaking. I run back through the doorway, down the stairs and out of the wine cellar. I’m so horrified, I shut and lock the door and stumble up the basement stairs to the main floor.

Once, I’m safely in my front room, my heart stops racing and my breathing slows. I’m still a bit shaky, so I pour myself a shot of scotch, knock it back and pour a second. I have no idea what just happened.

For the first few minutes I sit on my couch too dazed to think—my eyes are closed and all I can see are those huge dark eyes staring back at me. I know for certain the woman was Jessica Skye.

Elias, my shrink and sobriety coach, would be quite displeased to see me now—fingers trembling like delirium tremens, but my right hand firmly grasping a tumbler of scotch.

I must be losing my mind.

If you’ve ever doubted your perceptions, memory or ability to process simple tasks, you know the possibility one’s mind being diseased can be quite terrifying—I feel helpless, and completely out of control.

I’m losing my mind, I remind myself again, and then begin repeating the phrase as if that in itself might somehow stabilize me. Something’s telling me I’ll be all right if I can only admit that what I just experienced was crazy—impossible—unreal.

Hours pass and it’s grown dark—I’m still sitting frozen in the front room, completely unable to deal with the curve life has thrown me.

It’s my fault, I muse. I’ve lived a debauched life of disordering my senses and now have to reap what I’ve sown.

But even as I’m telling myself this, and sipping my scotch and feeling the heat of it soothing my nerves, I can still see her face, her huge dark eyes, and want to go back and be with her.

If insanity is rehearsing the same misperceptions over and over, then I’m definitely deranged.

My sane, rational brain is telling me I’m unhinged, but the other part of me, my shadow self, is obsessing about a dead woman.

And as I’m sitting here, it all seems so clear—outside, somewhere in time, there is a sunlit garden where beautiful people are whiling away a June afternoon—and inside, a crazed and obsessed man is contemplating embarking on an insane adventure losing himself down a rabbit hole of madness worse than an opioid dream.

And Elias thought Maya was the tempest in my life…

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.


Ernest Dowson

 

 

© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

Posted in short stories | Comments Off on passage

recognition

When I finally got my promotion, and the office and title that went with it—I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.

I was sitting in the Miller Tavern in uptown Toronto. “Well, you’re looking at the new Dean of Communications,” I announced.

Joanne smiled and offered congratulations—Jack slapped me on the back—and Rob lifted a celebratory glass. And that was that.

Next…

But what is next? I asked myself.

I felt like Daisy in Gatsby—What was I going to do tomorrow, or the day after, or the next thirty years of my life?

 

“Why do you have to do anything?” asked Claire as she cleared away the supper dishes.

Outside, the late October chill was frosting the windows

We were living in a maisonette in Scarborough—you know, one of those townhouses you enter through a hallway like an apartment, but it’s got a patio and a patch of green?

The rug was littered with toys, Sippy cups and cookie crumbs.

“Does this fulfill you?” I asked, sweeping my hand around the room.

“Sure—we’ve got the kids and a nice house—and we’re not rich, but we’ve got enough.”

I stepped backwards onto a squeaky toy. It made an annoying squeal, adding to the other squeals emanating from the family room.

I glared in frustration and wearily slumped down onto a dining room chair. “Maybe for me, enough isn’t enough.”

Claire smirked good-naturedly. “Are you running a temperature, dear?”

“Okay, maybe I’m venting,” I said hotly, “but I always figured if I didn’t make it by forty, I wasn’t going to make it.”

“What is “it”, Grant—What more do you have to accomplish to feel fulfilled?”

“I don’t know—I need to earn some recognition.”

“You’re a Dean—what do you want to be—President?”

“Naw—nothing like that—I’m talking about real recognition.”

She put down the tea towel and sat down at the table beside me.

“You’ve never given up on the dream, have you?”

“Nope.”

My novel was sitting on a shelf in a buff cabinet in my office—three hundred sheets Claire typed five summers ago—when I was still green and believing.

I smiled cynically as I pictured my youthful enthusiasm. Time, the subtle thief of youth, I mused.

Claire read my expression.

“Look, if it means that much to you, why not try to get it published?”

I shrugged, feigning indifference.

“I told Harold Adams about it when I worked for Holt and he was very interested. He’s at some exclusive publishing house now. Give him a call.”

If it weren’t already dark and past six in the evening, I’d have probably picked up the phone.

“Maybe I will,” I said cockily, “who knows? I might have a best seller.”

“Whoa Nellie!” she laughed. Phone and meet with the guy first.”

I phoned the next day and Harold was in New York, but his editor agreed to meet me. We scheduled a meeting for Friday afternoon at two.

 

When I arrived at the publishing office, it looked like a quaint coach house. It was a white, colonial style building on a small side street near the university.

The walls of the reception area were adorned with portraits of various Canadian literati—famous poets and writers whose faces were instantly recognizable.

Hell, even McLuhan and Cohen were there.

I began experiencing my first twinges of self-doubt.

Read more…

© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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