I'll Be Home For Christmas


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Part 1

Saw Borsch this morning. He was hurrying along St. Politz, arms filled with parcels. Initially he pretended not to notice me but eventually stopped perhaps compelled by the goodwill of the season.

“I saw your brother.” He said.

“Vogel?” I said.

“That's him.”

“How was he?”

“Oh you know... ” He said tailing off.

“Not quite,” I said, “I haven't seen him in close to a year.”

“Ah yes...” Borsch rubbed his nose with a glove-less finger as though signaling to an unseen third party.  “Ah yes, ah yes...” He kept saying.

“What is it?”

“Nothing forget it entirely.”

“Come on.”

“Well the thing is...”

“Yes?”

“Well when I saw him, I mean to say, when he saw me, as it was...”

“Yes?”

“He was sitting on the street, you know?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well it's like this, he was on the street... with a blanket and a box.”

“A box?”

“Yes a cardboard box. A large one you know the type they might deliver a piece of furniture in or a chair or perhaps a footstool.” He paused, “A new refrigerator even.”

“What are you babbling about Borsch?”

“He was healthy at least, in a manner.”

“Eh?””

“He looked rosy cheeked, in high spirits.”

“Rosy cheeked? A cardboard box? What are you getting at.” I was perplexed by the language, I mean I recognised the words but the context seemed science fiction. Meanwhile Borsch was shifting uncomfortably in his Italian leather loafers. They were entirely the wrong footwear for such weather. I would merely have to tap him on his back and he would surely slide away down the icy street.

“Well it's like I say he was living there.” He said.

“Living there?”

“Yes on the street.”

“You mean...”

“Yes... like a vagrant.”

“On the street?”

“He was outside a shop... a nice shop at least. You know the Beggleys department store, where the doorman wear white gloves. Yes be assured it was a very nice shop. Yes, yes. Oh yes. ”

“Borsch!”

“Well maybe it wasn't him. I can’t be sure. In fact now that we discuss it I’m almost entirely uncertain if it was him at all. I mean he has one of those faces.”

“Yes.”

“An open, honest face. Easily mistaken for.”

“Yes a very honest face.”

“Yes... well perhaps that solves that. Someone else entirely!”

I always detested Borsch but I could see his attempt at lying was as much for my sake as it was for his. Under the circumstances it was a brave lie, perhaps the kindest thing he’d ever done for me.

We shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas and I remained fixed to my spot as I watched him slide away through the early evening crowds of Rue St. Clair. The preposterous fiction of it all was forming bitterly into cold fact. Women in fur shawls went clacking past with arms filled with brightly packaged parcels. I stood alone feeling the wind numb my digits. ‘Could it be true- my brother a transient?’ I considered, ‘A wastrel? A down and out? A bum?’

My first instincts were to foot around to where Borsch had described. But to what end? What could be said? To confront him in whatever miserable predicament his life had become would surely only worsen matters. What action could I take that wouldn't crucify him on site? I mean for all his disasters he remained a man of great pride.

The shrill wind bit at my ears and I segued into unconscious recollection of when my brother would dip me headfirst by my ankles into a snow drift following the first fall of the season. Such japes were common place; whether it was hardening snowballs in the freezer to welt inducing rocks or waking me at midnight on Christmas eve to tell me our parents had left home. Or indeed the occasion he made a pass at my wife on my thirtieth birthday. As sour as might have become he was, for all his crimes and misdemeanors, my brother.

I decided to let it alone that evening and returned home to where Marianne was preparing a traditional festive dish of salted cod and the dog was laid up by the fire in the manner he favoured with his hind legs raised in the air. I ate silently and beguiled the remainder of the evening sat in the tall chair beside the window watching the snow drift loosely along the street. Troubled by my silence Marianne asked what was wrong but in no mind to discuss it I feigned a headache and excused myself to bed.

There I lay for some hours not quite asleep but not truly awake either. The room grew cold and glowed with the phosphorus radiance of the moon shining off the deepening snow. I fell into a dream where I stood at the base of a frozen hill littered with headstones. Out of the ground skeletons appeared. Although not terrifying at first appearance there was something disturbing in the manner in which they huddled pathetically together and wrapped themselves tightly in blankets and over sized coats to keep their bones from rattling. Finally my brother appeared also as a skeleton but equally recognisable as himself. He climbed out of the trappings of the frozen ground and proceeded to embrace me in a headlock. He stuffed my mouth with snow before finally releasing me and climbing back into his grave where in he pulled the frozen soil back across him as if a clean white bed sheet.


The Trials

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Chapter 9 - The Underworld

The routine was proving detrimental to my health. Still it was preferable to ever falling asleep beside Dupuche. I felt assured that if I ever did the morning would find me turned to stone or possibly transformed into one of those obscure pieces of object d'art she had scattered throughout her top floor chamber. It seemed plausible that she held the sort of power that could render men into lifeless objects- and I wasn't ready to spend eternity as a lampshade.

First thing in the morning she’d dispatch me to the new Dupuche offices in the cities regenerated docklands to collect the morning correspondence. On my return I’d stop by a patisserie on Schelburg avenue and collect her breakfast. If the weather was fine I might linger long enough to drink a coffee and watch all the bodies in the middle of their morning commute. For a time it brought good feelings but soon I was feeling no less constrained- the longer I lingered the more conscious I became Dupuche was awaiting me. I’d picture her looking down from summit of the high tower, assisted by an antique spyglass she kept beside the window. No matter where I went the building seemed visible, at the centre of the bright sky looming above all else.

When I returned Dupuche was rarely ever further than her bedchamber, typically sat at the dresser in her Lloyd Loom chair brushing her black hair with a bone handle brush. I’d be required to wait while she’d read the correspondence. This might take up several hours, time I would kill by wandering the vast confines of the building. This was no small thing, what had one time been twenty floors of office space was now a vast kingdom of curiosities. Each floor had been tailored as a unique solution to provide means to live purely within the four walls of the tower.

The building was layered such as this; the first floor was a meeting room, the second a library, the third floor a gymnasium complete with climbing sets, free weights and standing bicycles. The fourth was home to a full sized tennis court with scoreboard and umpires chair. The twelfth floor held a screening room with thirty five mm projector, blacked out windows and bank of sixty velvet seats. The only reel on show was a silent version of Nightmare Alley. The other floors continued in the same manner; walk-in wardrobes, thirty foot bathrooms, ballrooms, bars and a casino. Perhaps most ostentatious of all was the full size swimming pool in the basement, which, like much of the building’s facilities, had been long left to ruin. It's once polished fixings had now decayed to rust, adding to a building that was rank with a deathly grandeur, akin to the great hotels of Europe after the war. A mausoleum that had once been somebodies dream but was now no more than a playground for ghosts.

Dupuche explained how her father had delivered it to her shortly before his death,

“He tried everything. He flew me to Lourdes. They strapped me to a table and fed me a rainbow selection of pills. I went to psychiatrists, hypnotists. They cured my vertigo, arachnophobia, my crippling shyness, everything but the agoraphobia. It crushed him. He wanted a son. He blamed himself, he blamed my Mother when he realised he wasn't going to win. Still, overall he wanted me happy. His last act was to move the business down town and transform the building into this monstrosity”
I spent many afternoon hours wandering the floors feeling like the sole tourist at a world expo that never opened. I attempted to render repairs where I could, wiping away the years of dust and changing the blown bulbs. Still there was little point beyond busying myself, Dupuche never ventured beyond her upstairs habitat. The majority of her days were lived inside her bedchamber and a windowless closeted room just off of it. This small-hold was an enclave of dark panelled wood and housed an archive of esoteric documents and mysterious texts; everything from accounts of the trials of the Knights Templar, a letter from Lucretia Borgia to Pope Alexander VI; correspondence between the Court of Henry VIII and Clement VII, documents pertaining to the Rosicrucian and Chapters of the Golden Dawn. The room was decorated with figurines, sham jewels, black voodoo beads, iron antlers. Along the floor was a white marbled line either side of which were various astrological and astronomical symbols that pertained to the effect of the wind on the stars. Returning from below stairs I’d frequently find Dupuche sat inside reading some obscure text to the light of a thin green candle.

Enough time spent in Dupuche's company it was hard not to feel spooked. She kept odd and hours and busied herself with a series of undefined and peculiar activities. The only occasions where she formalised into any type of routine was for the weekly meetings of the board that were held on the ground floor. These events came as a reassurance, providing evidence contrary to my worst fears that Dupuche was either an apparition or a figment of my imagination.

I'd be required to lead the guests into the greeting room. The curtains would be shut with the room being only lit by floor lamps that left an atmosphere closer to a seance. After a prolonged wait Dupuche would glide into the room in a white plunge dress and pearls, missing only a puff of smoke. The talk was all about stock options, fiduciary outlooks and fluidity. It made as much sense as Chinese Algebra, still it was in these situations I was able to witness Dupuche's true power. The board members were a sombre crowd, septuagenarian’s with collars too small for their necks. Dupuche would reduce them to trembling school boys. I took special interest in the manner in which they all agreed to all her whims without complaint, acting either out of fear or hypnosis. She manipulated them in the manner that was nothing less than supernatural. None of them even dare look at her, ask a straight question or call her anything but madam. I considered this is how it happens, this is the way the world was run. I had no doubt that somewhere similar cabals of men were meeting, those charged with running the world, and behind them all a woman was dictating the way, a Shiva of this world and the next.

 


30 Days In November

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Chapter 2 - Five Million People...

'Five million people
Propelled by beliefs
That can't all be right.'

November 6th: The snow came again, insistent this time. First with sleet then two nights of freezing, like the layering of a meticulously prepared cake. I was waking later every day, suffering vast heavy nights with no dreams. Hours unmoving like a brick thenwaking imprinted with sheets. Was it an illusion? mysterious paranoia brought on by the change in the weather? the current predicament with the foot? or some other mysterious force at play? I felt in danger to myself, from myself! I phased to and said 'Stop! Is this really the way I want to be carry on with my time?' Here I was dreaming the days away on painkillers whilst there was a city out there, a city as good as any city! 'Well what's up with it I thought? Nobody asks to be born but the least you can do is live!' I should have been out there throwing my money all around. I owed it to myself. I thanked God for winter, my favorite season, and asked if he wished me to believe in him today. The kitchen stayed silent. I fastened my coat tightly, put three socks on the bad foot and headed out for the first time in eight days.

A morning of haze had crystallized into a brilliant winter afternoon. A few people hurried in silence, drunks sat in doorways pale as ghosts. I felt like an astronaut who missed the parade. 
When I first came to the city I scrutinized every passerby, what story they carried deep inside. What kept them able to hold it in? I wasn't too fussed by that now. Conclusions and question marks were everywhere, not just on peoples faces but newspapers stands, bill boards and in every window. An avalanche of information all buried in syntax and coding. 
I stood watching a television in the furniture shop window, blowing into my hands thinking how some people feared television as you might fear a medieval disease, it's effects yet unknown. Other people didn't seem to care. Still it certainly was a big noise. I carried on careful over the slippery pavement, my foot shuddering in fear of every landing step. I could see her in my minds eye, sitting down on the beds end, the rising of the pleated skirt. The giddiness. I knew how nights like that begin, the tangle everything gets in, the heart and the desire, the mind to drowned to think. I felt a chill as I skated over the weird earth. The worlds weight is unrequited love over desire. Dragged like a ball and chain. No rest without it, no contented sleep. And still it goes ignored. Men joke about women to keep from their loneliness, women pass by men without a blink.

I arrived at Valerie's coffee shop. A favorite afternoon haunt before work took away freedom like a hooded assailant in the night. I met Christopher on his lunch break, he was sat blowing into his hands at a table in the window, “Your late.”
“I can't hurry with this foot, I'm liable to kill myself!”
“Alright.”
We sat in the window drinking small strong cups of black coffee, mulling over the passing women like reconnoitering bank robbers. It was all too tough, I just couldn't see how it could be done. “Can't be done!” I said to Christopher, 
“Nonsense.” He said, “Claudette has many beautiful friends.”
“I have no doubt. It's me I worry about.”
“You shall meet them and they'll love your weakness.”
“I like your fresh approach. But I'm not strong enough for the chase.”
“Listen to you! Marianne has rotted your brain. You can't let a woman kill you.”
I didn't know the answer to that. After awhile he got up and said he was leaving.
“Where are you going?”
“Work.”
“Oh yes.” I'd almost forgotten that was something people did.

Christopher had tried setting me up with a women before. Just after the episode with Edith I'd agreed to go on a date to the theater with him and Claudette and one of Claudette's, friends Maria. It never happened though. I'd grown so anxious with the thought of it during the day I left work early and went drinking. Some hours later I went home to ready myself and fell asleep on the bed. I woke late and had to sprint all the way there. I arrived late, sweating and smelling. The three of them had already gone in and in all the rush I'd forgotten my ticket too. I walked back alone in the rain, got home, threw up and then began drinking again. Then I got into bed and thought about Marianne. It was as though she was the default canvas in my head, the test screen, whenever I relaxed there she was. I turned out the lights and cursed whatever hex she had on me.
Christopher never let me forget about that, “Do you remember Maria?” He'd say.
“Yes.” I'd say. And then he'd laugh his head off.

After he had left and I remained drinking the very small cups of black coffee on my own, looking out at the tree lined street covered in dirty snow. Thinking 'It's funny! All these men looking at women. What did they expect?' All down the street they went, as though lost in some great addiction. Eyes as big as dogs sniffing ecstatically at every passing corner. They were leaning from doorways and car windows. What were they looking for? A smile, a wink? Was it titillation? Desperation or something more sinister? The men were not discerning over the women, all women, any women. Specific areas of these women scrutinized, the breasts, the legs, the face, deep into the face. In that security of the passing moment. It was not a real moment, not like being caught in the lift with a person. The freedom of the fleeting second, just before they're gone forever. These women aren't tainted with history. Flashing white legs, held no clue to the possible pandemonium that could occur when a man and women share their lives together. No holding up of mirrors to study the close imperfections. None of the gnawing instability. It was the world of gorgeous masks. Walking tall, beauty and machismo. I drank another espresso. Eyeballs buzzing. The women walked past in fine winter dress. All somebody's Marianne. Suzanne, Claire, Maria. Each with they're own conflicts, left behind or up ahead. It was generally unfair, the tribulations men and women had to put each other through. Thinking about it made me sad. It seemed impossible at times to live amicably. It was as if it was unnatural. Like some figment of bad television. I thought about my uncle and aunt and other couples too. What hell they put each other threw. How tied up people got looking for blame and later self regret. 'Still' I thought 'I'd go back to all those bad nights with Marianne in a shot.' It beat whatever type of life this was.