by Susan Lloy
The man burst into the shop like he was running for his life. Causing the bell on the door to jingle erratically as if it had been jolted from a deep slumber. He brushed himself off from the rain that had settled on his jacket and water dropped to the floor like big tears from a sad tale. He proceeded to the fiction section to examine titles.
I recognized him by his photograph, Penvro Davis, a well-known author. He comes in sporadically, but never engages in conversation. I suspect he’s aware that I know who he is. Though, each time he approaches the counter to pay for a book, he silently hands over the money or bankcard without a single word except, ‘thank you’, before exiting.
I like Penvro’s books. They are cerebral and edgy with characters on the brink with unusual habits and uncommon dreams. But, he hasn’t published for some time now. I often think about him while sitting behind this counter surrounded by second hand books. This is my shop. I’ve been here fifteen years. It isn’t a good living, but I only answer to myself and that pretty much seals it for me.
There is a tiny bell that jingles each time the door opens or closes and I can hear it from every crevice in my shop. Sometimes it barely jingles at all. The space is open and square with a large antique leaded glass window all the way to the back and a glass front that faces the street. Bookshelves run along each wall, divided by author. I always wanted to be a writer and have attempted a novel and a short story collection, but have never completed anything. I roll in a constant state of perpetual planning, jotting down notes for this and plots for that. Putting them in my folder under the counter. Beginning a Word document, rendering words that have no conclusions. Eating a sandwich. Waiting for the door to jingle.
Penvro studies sleeves. Finally, he slides over a collection of three plays by Eugene O’Neill. I’m surprised. He hands over a twenty-dollar bill without words or gestures. As I give him back his change, I flirt with the idea of asking him to look at my work. Yet, this doesn’t seem likely. He leaves briskly – like he entered. The door shuts and the bell jangles enthusiastically.
I decide to make tea. It soothes my nerves. I prefer strong, black tea with a bit of milk. Sipping away, encased by books with the smell of paper lingering. It is a cozy space with atmospheric lighting and a few comfortable reading chairs next to the paned window at the back. Folks are welcome to hang about and sample a book. See if the words touch or penetrate, humor or shock. It probably isn’t good for business permitting customers a taste beforehand, nevertheless I think it’s nice and that’s what counts. However, I know the other merchants talk about me.
“I don’t know how that Dylan doesn’t go broke. Mind you now, he’s a good fella and all, but he has no head for making a buck.”
I’m not bothered. Everyone has something to say. But I must admit – it isn’t easy to be a bookseller when so many are reading online. My psychiatrist called today and informed me he must reschedule. An emergency. Doesn’t upset me. Most sessions there isn’t anything exciting to discuss. My life has been rather dull for some time now. In fact, I can’t remember when it wasn’t dull. No, that’s not true. My youth had been fairly wild. There were lots of parties, women and many illicit goings-on. Though, now that middle age has straddled me, these memories seem far away. Perhaps, three incarnations ago.
There’s always books to put away. People often come in to sell books. Most of the time there isn’t anything compelling, but these books waiting to be shelved aren’t too bad. I pick up each book with care, catalogue it and dust the cover before slotting it according to genre and author. I don’t live far away and the rent has been stable. The landlord is an old guy with a good heart. A rare commodity. But, he is getting on and I worry what will happen when he dies and the property is sold. How will I manage? There’s always something to fret about and my thoughts are diverted by the jingle of the door.
The woman nods when I look in her direction. She comes in often, though we never talk. Sometimes when I sit here and the door remains silent, I think about my customers’ lives and secrets. I write notes about them. Inserting them in my folder that sleeps under the counter.
She’s looking in the self-help section. I find that women prefer these type of books. They don’t much interest me. This particular woman’s weight fluctuates. Often she buys a book about dieting or weight loss recipes. Today she has one about getting rid of guilt and accepting the ‘real you’. I wonder what is real about her. She never says anything either. Only a mutter, perhaps a thank you, as I slide her change across the counter. After she leaves the shop I see a folded paper lying on the floor. It must have slipped out of her pocket. I walk over, pick it up and return to my counter to read the words.
It’s a grocery list containing various processed cakes and ready-to-go prepared dishes: macaroni, lasagna, Pad Thai, butter chicken, prunes and a laxative product – Senokot. Normally I’d throw it in the garbage, however, there are several phone numbers at the end and I ponder whether to return the paper if and when she comes again. I put it in another drawer under the counter. I open a Word document. The wind had picked up scattering litter throughout the city streets. Rain began to fall heavy from the sky. I wondered what to do with my afternoon, for I was out of money and without plans….
I heard the door jingle again and it is the same woman who was just here. She scans the floor. Probably for her lost paper.
“Miss, are you looking for this?’
“Yes. I believe so.”
“I found it on the floor after you left.”
“Thank you very much.”
She took the folded paper and put it in her pocket and left immediately. I looked out the window and watched her walking vigorously down the street. Wind lifts her skirt as she walks away. She’ll wonder if I’ve read it. It will play on her. I now know her secret, or at least something more about her.
The rain has stopped and the sun edges itself through the front windows. It highlights all the defects on these old wooden hardwood floors. Scratches and wear marks from thousands of shoes that have scuttled about. This shop has had many tenants, first a tailor, followed by an accountant and then a comic bookshop owner. I took it over in 2001. I had just moved back from Amsterdam. Amsterdam had been my home for several years. But, a relationship faltered and my visa became problematic. I had a small amount of money put aside and secured this lease within one month of my return. Not at all convinced of my decision. But I’m still here. And the door jingles.
It’s Lee. He has his own apartment, which his family pays for, but enjoys the streets and comes in frequently. At times he rambles, yet is often lucid. Sometimes I let him rest in one of the reading chairs or let him wash up in the bathroom behind my counter. He stands in front of the cash register and tells me about the aliens and predators that are after him. Today he is far away…
“Dylan. Dylan. How are ya man? There are ships all around us. Those cunts have been tracking me for days. I’ve seen them in the sky, between the clouds and stars. They’re in the sewers. When I’m on the streets I hear their beacons signaling far below the earth. I know they’ve put something in my ear. It buzzes all the time and if it doesn’t stop I’m heading for Chow Mien right after this and jabbing a chopstick in my ear. I know the guy who washes the dishes and feeds the stray cats. One, two, three, many, many man… He’ll give me food and I’ll ask for the sticks. I’ll plan my revolt. But, here I know I’m safe. This shop is a force field and the books are my shields. Hey, got tea? I know your tea short circuits the stray trackers. Fucks their coordinates.”
“You’ll be safe here. Don’t worry, Lee. I’ve got an extra sandwich. Are you hungry?”
“No, No. I just ate with the cats at Pizza Joe’s. Cats know. Yup. Yup. Cats are cleaver, man. Hiss – purr, don’t matter. Yes. Yes. The cats are with me, Dylan. They’re with me.”
I brought him tea and the wrapped sandwich.
“Here, take this for later on.”
He drank the tea and put the sandwich in his pocket.
Lee had fallen asleep. Two hours had passed and the door had barely jingled. But, I’m closing up and must wake him.
“Lee. You got to get going now.”
He opened his eyes widely, as if in the midst of some horrible thought. He blinked several times and stood up like he had just been zapped by a cattle prod.
“No worry. No worry. I’m energized and ready. Ready. Ready. I think the nap fucked their trackers. The buzzing is gone from my ear.”
“That’s great, Lee. Shall we walk out together?”
I gave him five bucks and wished him luck from the creatures beyond the sun. Locked the door.
I walk towards my flat. The rain has stopped, but the sidewalks remain wet and glisten from the streetlights shining above. It’s about a twenty-minute walk from the shop and the air smells fresh and the sea close. Halifax is surrounded by water. I’ve tried living in other places, but I need to be close to an ocean.
A ferry’s horn drones in the distance. I think about Lee and wonder where he’ll sleep tonight to avoid the damp and cool air that will settle in from the harbor, or if he’ll bunk at home. Sometimes he disappears for a while, but he always comes back and I sort of miss him when he’s gone. My flat is on the top floor of an old building and I can see the lights of the city fuse into each other.
I’m single and have been for years now. That’s one of the reasons I’m seeing a psychiatrist. I can’t seem to initiate anything in my life other than opening the door of my shop and waiting for the bell to jingle. He has me on an antidepressant. Dysrel. It’s an older generation pill and helps me sleep. I pop one after brushing my teeth. Fall into bed. Reach for my groin before falling off.
I wake up to a foggy morning. Make coffee and have a slice of toast with rhubarb jam. I don’t open my shop until ten so I have time to leaf through the pages of the New Yorker to see what I’m missing. Today, I’ll open later because of an appointment with my shrink. The fog hangs making the morning appear Film noir.
His office isn’t too far and I reach it within fifteen minutes. There are a few patients in the waiting room as I pick up a magazine and drink my takeout latte. The psychiatrist’s door opens and I see Penvro exiting. He looks directly at me, but doesn’t smile or nod and leaves rapidly as if late for another appointment. My doctor motions me to come inside his office.
“So? Have you thought anymore about what we discussed at our last session?”
“ I just don’t see myself going online to meet a woman. It’s just not me. I know that’s what people do these days. But, like I said, it’s not me.”
“Well, what about joining a group. You enjoy writing. How about a writers’ workshop or a course at one of the universities in creative writing? There’s always the chance of meeting some new people there.”
I look around the calm and uncluttered office. Medical degrees hang on the walls with framed photographs of nondescript geographical locations. The furniture has a modern feel. I have another twenty-five minutes to go without anything to say.
“How are you sleeping?”
“Not too bad. You know. Not great every night, but most are OK. Better with the medication.”
“You know, we can always up your dosage. The maximum is three hundred milligrams, however, it may make you groggy in the morning.
“I’m all right with the present prescription. Let’s leave it at that.”
The remaining time passes and I leave feeling that these visits are a complete waste of time. Still, it’s something to do and someone to talk with and that keeps me coming back.
Whiskey and scotch line the table and smoke washes the room reminiscent of noctilucent clouds at polar twilight. It’s a bright room with windows that face east and west, but they’re covered by drawn blinds that block the sun like great warriors of a past world. His head is heavy and listless, without thoughts or words. Powerless to express or dream. He doesn’t attribute these afflictions to the booze, for this is the reason why he drinks.
This slump has sucked him up like a starved pilgrim refusing to spit him out. His last novel, ‘Treaty of Thought’, was published in 2011. Several new novel drafts were attempted, but his ideas were transient and the characters moved about without accomplishing anything of much interest, unable to stir any emotion. Although, he has published three books to date, the royalties aren’t sufficient to sustain him. He must produce. Therapy was initiated with the hope that it might dislodge his lettered constipation.
Arial kicks open the door of her apartment with a high-heeled shoe, struggling from the burden of grocery bags. She gently drops them on the kitchen floor enjoying the new weightlessness like a freed paratropper.
Her clothes and hair are disheveled from the wind and rain that falls relentlessly. Before removing her jacket, she reaches in her pocket and gently removes the wrinkled paper examining the phone numbers that are smudged, yet, still legible transcribing them in a little red book that she keeps in the kitchen drawer. She doesn’t own a cellphone and is proud of it, something that separates her from the others. Though, others think her odd.
Arial stands before the hallway mirror and lets out a disapproving sigh. Her stomach is extended inhibiting her skirt zipper from completing its course. After changing her wet attire, she checks for telephone messages; “You have no new messages” and returns to the kitchen. She cuts a large section of ice cream Oreo cake. Plunks herself on the sofa, turns on the television and furiously eats the cool desert. Following the cake she chooses lime taco chips and onion cream cheese spread. She turns up the volume on the screen as her crunching is drowning the sound.
She stares at her name on the unopened mail. Arial. It’s ethereal, though she is far from light. Eating is merely something to do. Breaking up the monotony of her days and nights. Following the taco chips and spread she swallows two Senekots. This is her ritual.
She sits before the computer and checks for emails. Little red dots are absent from her mail icon. She remembers discussing funny names of places that pepper the Nova Scotian shoreline with a guy from an online dating site.
Shag Harbor, for example, probably some sailors got laid there…. Sober Island, perhaps someone moved there to straighten out…. Bush Island and Beaver Harbor, well what can be said about them?
Arial thought these trivias comical and interesting, but he stopped chatting without reason. Now, her emails were mostly advertisers and the occasional far-away friend. She reopens the drawer and takes out the red book. Examines the phone numbers and closes the book again. Recently she had gone on a speed dating session and asked for a couple of contact numbers. No man requested hers.
I open the shop following the appointment with my psychiatrist. The sun has broken through the fog and light scatters throughout, igniting the space with rich warmth. I sit at the counter and wonder whether when Penvro comes again if he will he give me some kind of wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more kind of look. I expect the day to pass sluggishly.
The outside mailbox rattles from a drop and I immediately gravitate towards it. There are a few advertisements and a legal-looking envelope squeezed in between. Steward Taylor & Wexler is on the top left hand corner of the envelope in a dark blue font. It is an end of lease notice for this shop, stating that Mr. Riley has died and the property is now the under the proprietorship of his son, Randall. It says that I have six months to vacate. The door jingles. It’s Lee.
“Dylan, my man. Dylan. You’re late today. I’ve been waiting the long, damp night and morning. I hung out with the cats at Pizza Joe’s. Been doing smooth journeys through my starry nights and bright days. It’s been awhile since we took in each other’s eyes. Eyes of brown and blue. Colors of the sky and earth. That’s what they want – our sky and earth. The salt of the seven seas. But, it’s been quiet for days now I must say.”
“That’s good, Lee.”
I put the letter on the counter. Dread boils. I head to the small alcove next to the bathroom and plug in the kettle. Grab two mugs.
“Hey, Lee. Feel for tea?”
“Yup. Yup. Yup. Thanks man.”
Tea won’t help me much today. My fear has bloomed. It always seems if we worry about something enough, it eventually becomes a reality. At least now there is something tangible to discuss with my shrink.
The door jingles and a young woman enters. Her hair is a brassy blond with dark roots. Her clothes are tight fitting and worn.
“I bet her pussy stinks.”
“Shush, Lee. That’s not nice.”
“Sorry, sorry Dylan.”
“Ya know my girl Hazel is as perfect as a girl ever could be.”
“Oh yeah. How come you never bring her around Lee?”
“She’s not social. She’s shy. She’s….”
The girl approaches the counter with a collection of poems by Allen Ginsburg.
“Now that’s a good choice,” I say as she approaches the counter.
She smiles, hands over the money and exits. Lee quietly sips his tea in the corner.
Lee has left the shop and I’m filled with fearful thoughts. I have to get a hold of Randall and discuss the possibility of extending the lease. He’ll want more money. But where will I get it? I’m barely managing now. I sit for a long time in the shop. The door doesn’t jingle.
Penvro opens a bottle of scotch, pours a drink and stares at the blank page on his screen. He begins with a dialogue between two characters he overheard at the tavern. They discuss buried treasure and possible extraction sites along the Nova Scotian shoreline. After about fifteen minutes he stops. He has maps and costs, equipment and Nova Scotian history wandering his thoughts. Maybe this is something to play with? He recalls Captain Kidd’s words, “After my death, you may find treasure I have buried in a place where two tides meet.” He becomes enthusiastic and pulls the blind up; daylight enters, bathing him in white heat.
Arial is at work. She’s an assistant to a lawyer. Let’s say a bit more than a secretary and less of an assistant, but a space between these two worlds. She has more to do than just secretarial tasks. She must arrange dinners and procure tickets, book hotels and sometimes purchase a gift for the wife or children. It makes her feel superior to the other ladies, yet she’s bored and feels stuck.
Arial goes for lunch and has a light salad. She must make more of an effort. Her bowels haven’t been too happy either and her stomach is bloated and full of gas from overeating and purging. She’s finding it difficult today, glued to the chair at her desk. Her belly in revolt. She flirts with the idea of calling one of the men she met at speed dating in her little red book.
Upon arriving home Arial lets out great expulsions of gas. She’s certain there’s enough to take her to Saturn and back. Her behavior towards her body, a temple besieged by famine and plenty, is delinquent and requires scrutiny. She feels shame wash over her. Her agitated belly is swollen and round. She looks at least seven months gone.
She retrieves the little red book from the kitchen drawer. There are two names with contact numbers from her speed-date soirée. Kevin and Eric are written in a careful pen. She remembers their faces – Kevin, kind of rugged with a graying beard and Eric more artsy, tall and thin sporting black attire.
Arial asked for their numbers because they had been curious and seemed to exhibit some degree of concentration when she spilled her precious five minutes sitting opposite them with a cocktail in hand at a bar called ‘The Cranky Duck’.
Stretching herself flat on the sofa she picks up the telephone and dials the first number. It rings four times.
“Yes. Kevin here.”
“This is Arial.”
“Arial, we met at speed-dating.”
“Oh, OK. Sorry, but I’m not sure I remember you.”
“I wore a midnight-blue dress. My hair leans a little to the auburn shade. I work for a lawyer. More curvy than thin.”
“Yeah, I think I know who you are.”
“Listen Kevin. I was wondering if you’d like to hookup? Have a drink, or a meal, a movie or whatever?”
“I can’t Arial, sorry. I’ve been seeing someone since that evening. I’m, how can I put it, on lockdown you might say.”
Disappointment spreads like spilt ink.
“OK, then Kevin, well it was nice talking to you. Bye.”
She puts the phone on the coffee table and rubs her stomach with the palm of her hand.
I’ve been ringing Randall all morning, but it continuously goes to voicemail. Maybe he’s avoiding me, even though we’ve never met. I look around my shop envisioning empty shelves and a space where voices echo. A door that opens, yet doesn’t jingle.
I divert my worries by turning the radio to the chamber music channel. A string quartet encircles the room. Penvro enters and comes towards me, which is unusual taking me by surprise.
“Hi.” He says with a clear toned voice. A voice that can send words across auditoriums and digital platforms.
“Listen, I’m not sure how to approach this, but I’d really appreciate it if
you’d keep my psychiatric visits to yourself and away from your customers. Let’s face it – this is a small town. I don’t want people knowing my business.
“No problem. It’s nobody’s news.”
“What’s your name anyway?”
He offered his hand.
“Penvro. Thanks Dylan. And by the way I enjoy your shop.”
He tapped his hand on the counter and left abruptly. The door jangled. I try to reach Randall. I’ve left several messages, but he never returns my call. I search the white pages to see if I can find his father’s address. Perhaps he’s staying there. If the house is in the vicinity I intend to walk there after I close. At the very least, put a note in the mailbox asking him to give me a call. The day passes slowly and I feel swallowed by dread. I make an appointment with my shrink.
“I have no solutions for my life if lose the shop. There aren’t any reserves. A little put away, but certainly not enough to start something new. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Yes. Change is always challenging. Dylan if you didn’t have money issues and you could do anything you wanted, what would that be?”
“That’s just it, I don’t have a clue. I’m in a total rut.”
“Well when we’re under stress, decisions and life changes can seem ominous, but we have to sort out what is possible. Don’t you agree?”
“I suppose so. But, let’s be frank. I initiated these visits because I can’t start anything. What makes you think I’ll be able to accomplish that now?”
“We’re at a junction where these issues must be accelerated. How has your sleep been since you’ve received your lease termination notice?”
“Shall we up the medication during this transition period? It only adds more anxiety to the pot if we’re sleep deprived.”
“OK. Whatever. I don’t care.”
We continue without any resolve. I take my new prescription and make a new appointment before exiting the empty waiting room.
I made my journey to the Riley residence. It was in darkness when I rang the bell, leaving my letter in the mailbox with the hope of hearing from Randall soon. Limbo isn’t a great spot to linger.
The next day Lee is waiting for me when I approach the shop.
“Dylan. Dylan, my man. I’ve been waiting for ya.”
“Yes. I can see that Lee. What’s up?”
“Me Dylan. Me. I feel good today. Energized and ready. Ready for whatever comes my way.”
“That’s good, Lee.”
I turn the key and the door jingles. Lee follows me inside.
“You don’t seem yourself, Dylan. I see all things. Anything and everything. See. See. See. Tell me what’s on your troubled mind.”
“Oh Lee, I don’t want to bother you with my troubles.”
The door opens and Arial enters the shop. She doesn’t look in our direction, but heads to the books.
“She’s nice. Maybe I should ask her on a date?”
“Thought you had a girl Lee? Isn’t her name Hazel?”
“Hazel’s no more. No. No. No more.”
“What happened Lee?”
“They got her.”
“Who’s they, Lee?”
He points his finger towards the ceiling.
“She doesn’t contact me anymore.”
“That’s too bad, Lee.”
“Yeah. Too bad. Got to find another girl now.”
And he looks towards Arial.
Arial observes books. Not taking any notice of our discussion and Lee’s sudden interest. She chooses a romantic novel and brings it to the counter.
“That looks good!” proclaims Lee.
Arial continues smiling at him as she slides seven dollars towards me.
She saunters slowly out the shop and down the street. Lee records her direction of walking from the bookstore window and says without a doubt…
“She’s the one.”
Lee’s a handsome dude. He’s tall and thin with dusty, blonde hair loosely haloing his head. He has striking blue eyes and a good nose. Sensual lips. If he didn’t speak there’d be a buzz of ladies around him. I tell him if he’s serious about getting a new girlfriend, then he must adhere to his medication. Otherwise, he’ll scare them off.
“Right, right, right, Dylan my advisor and confidant of all internal workings. I shall heed your wise instruction.”
I sit gloomily looking out the storefront window waiting for the rain to fall. Sometimes it’s good for business when it pours. People come in to escape the weather and look at books while waiting for a break in the downpour.
Lee is hanging around. I don’t mind. I often hijack his fractured thoughts, travelling to other galaxies, forging the unknown. It disrupts the tedium of my day.
Arial takes her book purchase to the office. She puts it in the drawer of her desk with the image of Lee’s face in her head. His beautiful smile and interest in her book or her, perhaps. As the day lingers he becomes fixed in her thoughts, like a favourite sweet or new pasta dish, something that she can’t get enough of.
After multiple phone messages and the letter drop-off, Randall finally responds. He left me a message stating it wasn’t merely a question of more rent, but that he intends to sell. Now that his father has gone, he has no intention of maintaining the family home and buildings. He’s selling up. I feel the bottom of my stomach fall to the ground. That’s that. Now what?
Penvro comes into the store and for the first time says,
Not another word was uttered. He went to the historical section, grabbed a couple of books and slumped in one of the reading chairs by the paned window. I had bought a bag of clementines on the way here and began to peel one. The aroma of orange laced the air. I saw Penvro’s head look in my direction.
“Sure. They smell awfully good. You have a long face today. Therapy not working?”
“That too, but I’m going to lose my shop. The landlord is selling.”
“I’m truly sorry. A lot of people will miss this place, including me. Are you going to look for another space?”
“I don’t know.”
I forgot that Lee was still here and he came darting around the corner knocking a book or two off the shelf as he frantically raced to the counter.
“Dylan. Tell me it’s not true. What will we do? This is the center of all things.”
I sit before the counter in a daze, my thoughts moving about sluggishly and without intent. The door jingles and Penvro walks in.
“I’ve got an idea that may shift your mood. How about coming with me to scout possible buried treasure sites? I could use an assistant.”
“Oh yeah! Why me?”
“Maybe it’ll cheer you up. There are several sites; I’ve done some research already.
“If you’re referring to Oak Island, there’s been enough said about that.”
“I know, but maybe there’s a twist.”
“Penvro, I’m not even sure that we can access the site.”
“That’s why I need you. To alert me if someone comes. You’ll call me on my cell. So how about it… you in?”
“Sure, I guess. When?”
“As you know I’m flexible. When is your next day off?”
“Well, think about it. Sometimes an adventure is good. Clears the head.”
“OK then, it’s a date.”
“Sunday it is.”
Penvro left and I stood there wondering why he had invited me along. For all one knows he may want to discuss our shrink. That must be it.
It’s a small city with streets brushing each other north and south,
east and west. The weather was warm and the Atlantic breeze softly blew throughout, licking the faces of the citizens and twirling weathervanes of sailing ships on building tops. Arial left the office, her stomach growling. She took an outside sidewalk table and ordered lunch. Lee was present in her head. He was something she wanted to sample, finish and enjoy every piece. It had been some years since she’d been with a man and although she wasn’t thrilled by the state of her current physical condition the contemplation of his touch and what appeared enthusiastic gesture, would hopefully prompt her to get it together. Roadblock this gorge and purge act. She went back to work, though her thoughts were not on her afternoon duties, but of Lee and how she might approach him. She envisioned him in motion, dancing before her as if he were a Twirling Dervish, handing over a rose, a piece of jewellery or chocolate with each whirligig.
I stand in front of my shop waiting on Penvro. He arrives on time, pulls in fast, and is hard on the breaks.
“Well, I’m here right?”
I got in and looked around his vehicle, which was on old Volvo. It was cluttered with papers, empty Styrofoam cups and a full ashtray.
“Don’t mind the mess. I’m not much of a housekeeper.”
He asks me if I want the music on and I tell him I don’t care either way. Penvro turns on a seventies music station and my thoughts are returned to youth, long hair and reefers. Hallucinogens. Fun times.
“So, what’s your angle gonna be on this story?”
“I don’t know yet. That’s why I want to explore the site. See if it can ignite vision. Are you still going to our shrink?”
“Yeah, for now. But I won’t be able to afford it for much longer. Anyways, I find it a waste of time.”
“I know what you mean. Most of the time I feel the same.”
We take the old road instead of the highway, which sweeps along the coast past little villages, wharfs, boats and fishing gear. The sun burnishes the dark blue ocean and the whitecaps dance tangos.
We cross the narrow causeway, which leads to Oak Island. All is still, save for the birds in the sky and the surf that washes against its irregular shores.
There were a couple of buildings facing us when our wheels first touched the island’s soil, but there nary a vehicle in site and the place looked deserted and silent. We take the road that travels the east side of the island and then head west where the road divides the island in half. We drive towards the Money Pit that was first discovered in 1795 where six people have lost their lives and others squandered entire fortunes attempting to locate the suspected treasure that lies deep within, protected by booby traps and flood tunnels.
When we arrive at the pit there isn’t much to see, only a wire fence with a dilapidated shaft in the middle. Penvro asks me to wait at the road. There has been much speculation as to what lies down there: from Captain Kidd’s treasure to Shakespeare’s original works to Naval treasure. Maybe even the Holy Grail or Ark of the Covenant. I wait for a bit then head towards the Pit to join Penvro. Although, after jumping the fence and standing before the opening looking for any hint of something undiscovered, there were only weeds and brush to greet us and the occasional deerfly nipping at our exposed skin.
There is a large sign outside the fence. It chronologically outlines the first discovery in 1795 and the original elevation of thirty-two feet to present at one hundred-seventy feet and where it has since been gridlocked. We take a look around listening for sounds for this is a privately owned island and trespassing will be met with fines or possible prosecution.
I head to my shop where Lee is waiting for me. His hands are theatrical as he looks up and down left and right
“Lee. What’s up?”
“Dylan. Dylan. Dylan. What are we going to do about this shop?”
“Lee, we aren’t going to anything. There isn’t anything to be done. The owner wants to sell. That’s it. Can’t control that.”
“Control. Control. Control. He’s part of them man. He’s with those cunts that place the trackers in our heads. Mine has been acting up since you’ve told me about the shop. I want to find him. Make him answer to this unforgiving buzzing. And I’ll make him answer. Yup. Yup. Yup.”
“Calm down Lee. Have you been taking your medication? I thought you were interested in finding a new girlfriend? You seemed quite taken with the lady who you were chatting up last week.”
“Substantial. You said she’s the one.”
“Yes. Yes. Yes. I do want to ask her on a date”
“Then you best clam yourself. You’ll have no chance if you’re wound up like this. Have you seen your doctor lately?”
“No. He’s a cunt too.”
It’s lunchtime. A few customers linger about browsing through the titles, reviewing the backs of book covers. Lee has left and I worry about him. He’s seems more off-kilter than is customary for him. I call and cancel my appointment with my shrink.
Arial leaves the office for lunch in the park facing the harbor. She spots Lee sitting on a park bench as she makes her way up the steep hill. Her stomach begins to flutter and she feels more alive than is customary. She is undecided whether to say hello, walk by, or maybe drop her purse before his feet. Arial decides to take action and approaches Lee.
Lee lifts his head in the direction of her voice and looks directly at her.
“Have you been to the shop recently?”
“I just left. Neither one of us can go there for much longer. The owner is going to sell the shop. My man Dylan will be no more.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. I have a fondness for that bookshop myself. In fact, that’s were we met. I’m on my lunch. Do you want to go for a coffee and discuss it?”
“OK. You lead the way. I shall follow. Maybe to the ends of the earth.”
They walk a couple of blocks towards a small restaurant and choose a table with a red-checkered cloth facing the street. A busker plays a guitar and sings on the sidewalk, while blowing a harmonica between lyrics.
“You know, we haven’t formally met. I’m Arial.”
“Lee, who rides with glee. Said, he, he, he.”
She looks at him, thinking his remark was rather odd, but instead takes in all of his beauty. Tossing his words to another hamlet, to a place that won’t be troubled or questioned. She wonders what he makes of her. Does he find her desirable and interesting? She envisions herself as a ripe maid needing to be feasted on without delay. Though, he appears somewhat nervous and his eyes never settle on her entirety.
“What do you do Lee?”
“Do? I do everything and anything. Do. Do. Do.”
“What I mean is, what is your line of work?”
“I don’t work. Not in a conventional way at least. I’m the sentinel of the city. Alerting the citizens of predators who lurk below and fly above.”
“I see, sounds like fascinating work.”
“It is, most definitely.”
“Who are these predators you speak of?”
“The ones who place the trackers in our heads. The ones who create the intolerable buzzing. The ones who want our earth. The ones who want us.”
“I must say they sound extremely menacing.”
“Oh, we must be diligent. You bet. You never know when they’ll appear. They’re sneaky and calculating and must be stopped.”
“Lee can I ask you something?”
“Do you suffer from a mental illness?”
“Suffer. No. Mental illness, yes. I’m schizophrenic so they tell me. Does this information alarm you?”
“No, not at all. I find you charming and eccentric at best.”
He was quirky, to say the least, yet a lot more engaging than most of those dull lawyers in her office. Overhearing the events of their boring weekends and family holidays. Trying to squeeze by their polished shoes and their beer bellies hidden by three-piece suits. As a result, she chooses to find him unique, rather than ill.
“Lee, would you like to have dinner with me sometime?”
“That sounds good. Good. Good. Good.”
“How about Thursday? We could go out, or I could cook for you. Which do you prefer?”
“Home cooking. Then I know it’s safe. They haven’t gotten to it.”
“Are you always so suspicious?”
“Yes. As should you be, my fair Arial.”
They exchange numbers and part ways. She follows his footsteps as he heads towards the bookshop Dylan’s Roost – where she had initially spotted him.
Lee comes into the shop and tells me about his coffee date with Arial.
“That’s great Lee. But don’t skip on your meds. Don’t want to scare her off. Right?”
Penvro enters and walks directly to me.
“Dylan. How are ya?”
“OK. Same old.”
“Did you know that there are three hundred and fifty islands off Mahone Bay and Oak Island? The treasure could be on any one of them.”
“Is that your angle?”
“Not sure yet.”
“Now tell me, why would anyone go to all the trouble of building that pit with its hosts of booby traps and oak castings every ten feet?”
“Perhaps that’s the key. To throw folks off. Keep people busy.”
“I dunno Penvro, sounds stupid to me.”
Penvro looks at me and I think that even though I’m surrounded by books I haven’t read most of them, nearly none of them. I feel like a total fraud. It’s not that I don’t like books. On the contrary I love books, but my concentration level has been disabled for a long time. At least ninety-six full moons, one eclipse, three direct-hit hurricanes and countless sub-tropical storms.
When someone approaches me and inquires about words I usually wing it. I have a visual memory for book covers and can usually recall some hint of content by remembering bits of the back flap pitch. So who am I to question Penvro’s ideas?
“Sorry Penvro. I didn’t mean stupid. What do I know?
“That’s OK, Dylan. I haven’t sorted it out myself yet, but I value your opinion.”
Arial thinks about her upcoming date. Should she be wary? Naugh. He seems spirited and sweet. She went for a Brazilian bikini wax; had her hair done and a pedicure, for she wanted to be prepared. And ready she was. She had rehearsed the evening over in her head, first a cocktail, dinner and then Lee for dessert.
In fact, she had thought about him so much she had fallen behind with her work had been questioned by her boss, Mr. Stewart. He had inquired with concern, not malice. Arial had been at this office for thirteen years and she and Mr. Stewart, who was the head partner in the firm and a highly respected criminal defense lawyer, had formed a close working relationship. She was highly efficient, but he felt sorry for her, jammed in her snug attire and never a new story about a man, trip or anything to speak of.
Arial assures Mr. Stewart that all is well, but that she had just received news about an old friend who lived an ocean away and was saddened from the sudden death. She had always been a good fibber and she willed her nose to keep its small, thick position as Mr. Stewart voiced his concern for her. Telling her to take the rest of the week off and sort herself out. She sheds a false tear and thanks him. He rubs Arial’s shoulder like a loving father instructing her not to think about work. She gathers her purse, leaving a desk absent of personal touches. Not one photograph or any indication that she spends most of her hours behind it.
She goes directly home and begins preparing dinner, roast-beef and potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables. She figures any man would like this standard meal. As Arial checks the slow cooking roast she worries that he may be a vegetarian. She forgot to ask.
Lee was to arrive at seven o’clock. She checks the time and sure enough, five minutes before, the doorbell rings. It is Stella her next-door neighbor wanting to borrow a light bulb.
“Smells awfully good in here Arial.”
“I’m cooking roast.”
“I wish I could muster a dinner like that, but it’s hard to do the all the work just for oneself, as we are. I should take a cue from you.”
Arial brings the light bulb and feels like Stella is waiting for an invitation, or at the very least, a dinner plate sent over when it’s done.
“Sorry Stella, I’ve got a date. Got to get back to the kitchen.”
“Oh lucky you, Arial.”
Just as Stella turns, she comes face to face with Lee.
“Lee, how nice to see you. Come in.”
Stella looks behind trying to get a better glimpse as Arial closes the door behind him. Lee is casually dressed, appears calm and less fixity than she recalls.
“How are you, Lee? Care for a glass of wine? I hope you eat meat. I’ve prepared a roast beef dinner.”
“No for wine. And yes for meat.”
“Can I offer you something else instead? A port perhaps, or a cocktail?”
“Just water, please.”
“Sparkling or uncarbonated?”
“Sparkling, like a clear night sky or a sun-kissed sea, topaz and tears.”
Arial brings the water gesturing Lee to sit, staring into his light blue eyes wanting to know every detail about him.
Lee is hungry, wants to eat right away and doesn’t feel like making small talk. He thinks, ‘I won’t stay long’. It’s not that he’s uninterested in Arial, but, there is something of greater importance pending. When Dylan was chatting with Penvro, Lee spotted the eviction letter in Dylan’s drawer and memorized both the address and name of Randall Riley. He plans to visit old Randall and ask him outright, why he wants to take away the place of refuge and ideas, dreams and escapes.
“Your dinner smells delightful, Miss Arial, I must say.”
“Miss? Don’t be so formal.”
“I’m rather famished as I’ve been skulking the beasts all day. Their bastard captain has sicked the sleuthhounds on me.”
Lee points towards the ceiling light.
“Oh come on Lee, you don’t really believe that do you?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes. I certainly do. Often I see and hear them. One could say we schizophrenics are either cursed or blessed. I choose the second.”
Arial gestures Lee to take a seat at the dining room table. She brings the steaming roast with gravy and side dishes and invites Lee to help himself.
“Can these ‘sleuthhounds’ see us now? What about our privacy?”
“No. No. I ditched them at Dylan’s Roost. That’s the only place they can’t control. And do you know that Dylan will lose his shop? The landlord is selling the building. Lee eagerly eats. All the while saying …“Yum. Yum. Yum. Arial you are a gifted cook.”
When Dylan arrives at his shop he sees the ‘For Sale’ sign standing erect and determined in front of his store by an established real estate company. His stomach feels nauseous and he is filled with shuddersome thoughts. Thoughts that take him to dark places without exits or armour. He opens the door; the bell jingles and he decides that once this shop is gone, he never wants to hear a bell jingle again. But, the door does jingle and a few customers saunter in listlessly pulling the odd book from its shelf.
He looks at the empty chair in front of the lead-paned window and wonders how Lee’s date went, or if he even showed up. He can’t imagine Lee on a date and Dylan runs scenarios in his head. He sees Lee excited rambling on about predators and preventative measures. He sees Lee looking wide-eyed saying, “You’re the one.” He sees the disenchanted woman exploring his handsome face thinking,
‘Why do you have to be like this?” as Lee repeats his words, solidly cementing them in the ears of his listener.
Lee heads to the Riley residence passing streetlamps dimmed by the incoming fog that hangs low smacking the cool sidewalk with lusty moisture. Arial wasn’t at all pleased when he gulped down his coffee after the last mouthful of tart apple crumble, repeating, “Why so soon? Do you have to go? Can’t this wait?” As he tried to explain the calibre of the situation. Blurting out, “No time to waste. No leniency for Riley. No to invasion. No to control. No to spending the night.” Her sad face trailed his quick footsteps.
The Riley house is majestic, standing proudly at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac and set a fair distance from the road by a well-groomed lawn. There are a few lights burning as he begins his approach, not sure what steps his plan should follow.
Lee slowly cases the place peeking in the ground floor windows. The house appears empty and lifeless. He tries the double-hung wooden window frames, then struggles with a set of French doors facing a terrace hosting a swing chair and dining area, which is stuffed with olive-colored cushions and potted ferns of varied growth.
Tonight the sky is bursting with stars and Lee feels panicked swinging in the squeaky chair fully exposed to danger, viruses, beams and radiation, horrible strange creatures, noise and torturers. His head boils with electricity and uncontrollable buzzing. He’s convinced the cunning cunts above and below shall launch their crafts and come not only for him, but others as well.
He runs for cover under a willow tree letting the soft branches dust over him as he becomes highly agitated and frenzied. Lee has a direct view to the house interior and spots a man drying his hair with a bath towel while pouring a drink at the same time. He scurries to the house and peers in, but the figure has his back to him and is unaware of his presence.
Lee begins to knock on the door gesturing the man towards him. Randall takes a swig of whiskey squinting his eyes exerting to see who is the shadow before the glass. He grabs a fireplace poker, finishes his drink with one swift gulp and walks towards the doors and tapping the poker on the highly polished floorboards.
“Yeah. What do you want out there?”
“Are you Mr. Riley?”
“Yes, who’s this?”
“My name is Lee, may I come in?”
“Lee? What do you mean banging on my door at this late hour?”
The knocking becomes harder and hurried.
Randall lifts the poker while turning the knob of the door. Before he has a chance to question him, Lee rushes through, pushes him aside, locks the door and pulls the blue velvet curtains tightly together.
It’s been several weeks since I’ve seen Penvro, whom I imagine is preoccupied with pirates, treasure, shipwrecks, canons, gangplanks, swords, mutiny, eye patches, taverns, parrots and ship rats, plus the random damsel here and there. But, that isn’t so. Penvro sits in an old sailors’ pub down on the waterfront hearing yarns about sea travels, disasters and triumphs.
Arial hasn’t heard from Lee for several days and strolls the streets hoping to catch a sign of him. But, Randall knocked him on the head with the fire poker and rang for help. Now Lee lies sedated in the Psychiatry ward. She calls his cellphone but he never picks up. She lets several weeks pass before heading to the bookstore unsure of what she’ll do if she runs into him. She climbs the hill to the familiar street, but Dylan’s Roost is vacant, absent of any forwarding address. She looks in the window and examines the cleared-out store void of books or any sign that it was once a haven from wind and rain and comforter of words. She turns away missing a postcard stuck in the doorframe from a foreign land.
Sorry I didn’t stop to say good-bye, I left quite unexpectedly, jumping a freighter to parts unknown. You might say to clear my head…Take care, my friend and guardian of thoughts. Penvro.”
Dylan sits before his psychiatrist, his head empty of words.
Susan Lloy has honed her perceptual skills working in diverse environments; from handling nitro and explosives in the Canadian North to slinging drinks in Halifax, she now coordinates a Cardiac Surgery Unit in Montreal. A graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, Susan has published twice with Revolution House, Production Gray Editions, Penduline Press, PARAGRAPHITI, Beecher’s, The Prague Revue, The Round Up Writer’s Zine and this September with The Writing Disorder based in Los Angeles and the Amsterdam Quarterly. She will be published again in late October with Blue Crow Magazine out of Australia. She has just finished a short story collection.