Views of a room
BY JIM MOSHER
The room is larger than he remembered, as if it had grown during his years of dalliance and despair. The sun eerily dances in motes of dust, spreading throughout the room in a dervish dance. It seems the dust is pouring into the empty space, jostling the light in a penetrating, continuous stream.
Save for the occasional sounds outside, the pillared space expands with a silence of its own; its own whispered self-parsing echoes emerge faintly from each of its crevices and corners.
It is wrong to deny space its own weight. The gravitation of this empty loft curves time. There was too much lost time. The space of this place had grown, burst forth in a dimly seen supernova. No witnesses here. But he stood here witness to the waste he’d made of his own space.
It was a multi-storey’d warehouse, not unlike the hundreds once home to sewing factories or other going concerns of another era. Perhaps brand-name biscuits were made here; perhaps workclothes for immigrant workers doing piecework for the latest brand.
Hardwood-floor creaks and echoes are softened underfoot. Pillars of concrete rise solidly, floor to ceiling, lending with the emergent daylight the bent of shadows across the dimly resonant expanse of dreams.
A clean slate upon which to build a new life.
The snow from the streets and its grime of gritty sand melts in pools of water across the plaster-coated floor, slipping in frail rivulets from Raould’s winter boots.
This is ideal, this place: a home spirited away from the desks of ciphers and code-breakers. It will be filled with a serenity lost, one piece, one stick at a time.
The plastic blinds part gently, peering outside at the to-and-fro of pedestrians slanted against the winter cold. The flurries began in the early-morning darkness. Now the city is awake even in this district no one visits anymore, but travels across like an abandoned cityscape. Once home to industry and pride, the district is a short-cut for office workers in the downtown core.
The pedestrians tilt into the mean, bone-chilling wind of another workday in a frozen hell.
Raould will sequester himself here instead. He’s left the drama of the highrise streets belching their quixotic drama of pained bureaucracy for what he hopes is the easier saunter of thought and creation.
Gudrun refused to accompany him on his dream. She hated him and his choices as they blew asunder in a tectonic shift that pained him more than continents adrift or other cryptic metaphors of lives alone and reunited.
He would create his own metaphor as each day, one thimbleful at a time, he built his own.
The room, the empty home of hardwood and slender-grand windows, would fill with his energy as each thimble was poured into its vacancy to capture its essence and his own.
Raould and Gudrun, both young, she brimmed with child, entered their first home exalted by spaciousness and possibility. He painted the awaited one’s bedroom. She fretted about matching the unborn’s personality with décor.
It was a commodious home: large, suburban, an hour’s commute from the city center. There was that double blessing: near enough to work but outside the walls of concrete that defined Raould’s life. He lectured at the downtown university where he’d met his first and only love, Gudrun. But the university job left him as much as he left it. Gudrun, disparaging the bad choices that led to his ignominious departure, felt forced, on principle, she’d said, to leave. Young Petur, just four at the time, left with his mother.
Raould turned in a dizzy circle, taking in the large room’s smell and breadth at every turn.
His nostrils pinched at the mild pungency and gentle waft of dust as he flung out his arms to greet his new home — the home he would build for himself in this dark and dank obscurity.
This place — grander still in his ambivalent imagination — was his new metaphor. A life to build, each part carefully constructed in the smithy of real choice.
He had dreamed of this place, years before. Then, as he adjusts his memory now, staggering to halt his faltering as he comes out of another manic spin, he dreamed his first addition was, then, to have been Gudrun: the wide-eyed, erudite scholar of antiquities whose knowledge of the human past lingered in millennia and minutiae lost.
Six years ago, he saw Gudrun beside him as he opened the door to this cavernous room, the very one he danced in now. “Two thousand square feet of living space,” he said to his new wife. “The possibilities are endless. Unfathomable, really.”
Raould is comely and Bohemian, in style, manner, dress. He croaks with personal ambiguity but knows of his inner fire, though never touches it. Gudrun languishes in a place of self-kept beauty, replete with adornments and lathers of the latest creams and endearments to the skin, face and body.
Gudrun grimaced wearily. It may have been Petur, groaning to enter the world, kicking or somehow offering advice on the lofty purchase. “How much?” she said, forcing a smile of consolation.
“With both our jobs, it’s doable,” Raould said in the slavish manner he’d been trained to feign with this woman he so dearly, impossibly, loved. “They say it’s a steal.”
“How much?” Gudrun, who knew her husband’s manic flights of moment too well, persisted.
“A quarter,” he whispered with a gulp and pleading in his eyes.
“Million! A quarter of a million dollars?” Gudrun smiled, now with that full derision she used to quiet, quell and quash Raould’s dreams.
Raould’s heart fell through the floorboards into the basement below. It crashed in a heap of wood, nails and plaster. The cloud cleared long enough for him to right himself — and peer into the menacing smirk that crept across his wife’s face, now more crimson than even child-bearing would account. Raould levelled himself, knowing that his heart’s flight through the storey below had been imagined, even as he had imagined that Gudrun would embrace his latest project.
Six years later, two years divorced, Raould stood at the threshold of the same home. At half a million, it was considered a steal in what had become a trendy area for artists, lawyers, doctors and other professionals.
He could afford it, of course; just as he could have afforded it at half the price. Though he’d left his cushy job as a university lecturer in theoretical physics years before, that had never been his only source of income. Raould wrote romance novels, an avocation that generated far more money than his full-time work as sessional lecturer.
Money had never been an object. He did not confess that to Gudrun, however. He feared his relative wealth might scare her. That may have been a mistake; certainly, given the outcome it appears it was ill thought.
Raould often mused that he should have told his wife, particularly when she made a financial argument against the purchase in the warehouse district. What was he to say? ‘Sorry, Hun. We’re loaded. We’ve courted for almost a decade — and, all during that time, I’ve been earning boatloads of money writing drivel for horny housewives.’
Romance writing was, fortunately, formulaic. A book could be completed in under a week. He told his agent a month was required for most projects, though epics could run into months. More money, less work. It was a winning formula. It left a lot of time for other avocations.
Raould nods affirmation, now as he leaves those memories behind for his moment. “Hello, home. Let’s have some fun,” he says aloud.
He chuckles, oddly self-conscious. ‘Well,’ he thinks resolutely. ‘A bed comes first. A king size bed.’
The real estate agent catches him on the flight of stairs down to the trendy building’s entranceway. Raould smiles broadly. “It’s a ‘yes’,” he says with a toothy, TV host grin.
“I’ll write it up,” Melissa, the strait-laced agent, says aloofly. “My office later? Three p.m.?”
“You’re on, sweetie,” Raould says as he opens the large oak door onto the street. He turns back, as the wind sounds through the open door. “Make it five o’clock. We should talk.”
Melissa offers a mock curtsy.
Raould does not. Instead he pulls strenuously on the heavy door, which slams shut loudly.
‘The gales of November come early,’ he thinks, as he leans into the flurry. Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting song about the ill-fated Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald spins in his head.
The snow is becoming crisper under foot as the wind hardens it after the storm’s sunless beginnings earlier. He pounds along the sidewalk a block before crossing the sanded street to his pick-up truck. Miraculously, the jalopy starts at first go. The old Ford is not partial to the cold but it has served Raould well.
‘Should buy a new one. God knows, I can afford it.’
But possessions and the ambitions and lusts they engender, the fire in the stomach they create, are the last things on Raould’s radar these days. No, at 38, he is burning with a single desire. He will ‘find’ himself. He will unravel the Gordian Knot of his wasteful, wanton life. ‘Then, I will truly be free,’ he muses wistfully. ‘Maybe.’
Melissa, as well Raould knows, never works beyond four in the afternoon. Raould pulls into the driveway of her mansion home on a swanky crescent on the periphery of the downtown core. The evergreens are heavy with snow, the air sharpened by frigid winds.
The neighbourhood was built by the grain barons of the early-1920s. Immune to the Great Depression because of their greater wealth, the scions of commerce insulated themselves in virtually gated communities of grandeur along the riverbank, hidden from the view of passersby.
There were rumours among the common folk about the ostentatious wealth of these elites but few, save gardeners, maids and other servants, ever caught a glimpse.
Here in this enclave of power, long, sinuous driveways led to garish homes of Tyndall stone, quarried in a town near the city. Wrought iron fences and, more recently, surveillance cameras protect the gilded enthralls.
Raould stops at the closed gate of the semi-suburban estate. He honks his signature, if unimaginative, beep-da-da-da beep-beep beep-beep.
Melissa, wearing a see-through black negligee, quivers at the image on the closed-circuit TV, then presses a button. The gate swooshes open, pushing aside the accumulated snow effortlessly.
Freemasons ostensibly built this and many other mansions in this cloistered city district, solid as the limestone rock of which they were built. Down the crescent, out in the wide open for pedestrians and motorists to see, stands a mighty synagogue of white limestone, lending to the theory that Jews were the predominant lineage in the area. It is urban legend, but legends spring up as conspiracies and lies do.
This district was, instead, largely built by Canadians whose antecedents arrived in this promised land in steerage from England, monied and dreamers admixed.
Peasant stock is hardier, so it was from their ranks many of the nouveaux riche would emerge, as here and elsewhere in a city parched by the aridity of the ’20s and ’30s. Later, but just as surely, Ukrainians would plant their flag on this shifting sand of fortune; mostly marking their territory in real estate because of their innate frugality and bitter recollections of hard-scrabble lives in Ukraine, a world away.
The covetous eye to wealth is steely. You are born to it or you earn it, matters not. Once you have it, you will not release it from your cold, dead hands.
Raould knows about money. He is, though, keening for another ally. He is a seeker — better, because of his ample failures, he has become one. He would use his wealth, he vowed recently, to explore the closets of his mind and thoughts.
But, first, there was Melissa.
They never talk before or during coitus, though occasionally Melissa screams out imprecations to ‘fuck me hard’. Raould takes it in stride. He obliges her rare incomposure.
Melissa retires, as always, to the ensuite off the master bedroom after the love making. There, she purges all the juices and bidets. Fresh as a daisy, she emerges for a polite chat, as is her wont, about the day’s events.
“You know with the commission I get from the sale, your purchase, I’m going on a holiday to the French Riviera,” she says matter-of-factly, crashing her scented, sweatless naked body against his sweated one, his freshly engorged penis of no apparent interest in her most vapid moment of self-indulgence.
Raould turns to greet her face to face. He thinks about how much he actually loves this woman beside him. It is fleeting because, he realizes now, she is not there in any sense, not the carnal sense he sought of her and others.
The primitive has been lost to most. “We,” he murmurs disconsolately to himself, “cannot be anymore. We’re too involved in our images and imaginings of ourselves. We gorge ourselves but our primal appetites we cannot whet.”
She does not hear him. She prattles on about yachts, butlers and fine white sand. But the language he speaks to himself is as dismissive as a narrative. Melissa has no value precisely because he has belittled her cravings and fancies. Perhaps she speaks to him the way she does because she is insecure.
He had, after all, given her no good reason to think he was anything but a money-lusting fool. She simply plays the part, warming to him in the manner she expects him to want.
Raould feels blind guilt at his vapidity. But he knows she could never learn of him, either the him of those years before or the him he was becoming.
‘It’s terribly un-Zen of me,’ he says to himself. Then he pulls her to his warm body — and she returns to her zen of pleasing and imprecation.
Rome is always Rome, Catholicism always Catholicism.
Lutheran-born, Raould is a failing Christian, even at fifteen as he tours the grounds of Vatican City and observes its swelter of images, and lies and centuries of mythology. The teenager wants nothing more than to embrace the Lord, the grotesque acts of the Church pushed to the back to engage the clutch of objectivity.
Jesus died for our sins. Loyalty to the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost — even of the Ghost of midnights past rendered the triptych unlively.
One search or two through antiquity and the sageness of the ages would be enough for any right thinking man. Raould fell off the bus.
The Pope would be, by and for God, the arbitrator. Wizened and aged, God would tally the costs and benefits, figure the sums then divide by two or three, even figuring the Holy Ghost still mattered.
Much later, a spy who came in from the cold of his own night, recalled his time as a fisher on Lake Winnipeg.
(Mosher is a writer. He lives in Winnipeg Beach. This is a first instalment of a longer piece.)