He sits down at the long table and looks into his school geography book with the maps of the world, the white sweep of currents, testing the names to himself, mouthing out the exotic. Caspian. Nepal. Durango. He closes the book and brushes it with his palms, feeling the texture of the pebbled cover and its colored dyes which create a map of Canada.
He was born into a region which did not appear on a map until 1910, though his family had worked there for twenty years and the land had been homesteaded since 1815.
To the boy growing into his twelfth year, having lived all his life on that farm where day was work and night was rest, nothing would be the same. But on this night he did not trust either himself or these strangers of another language enough to be able to step forward and join them. He turned back through the trees and fields carrying his own lamp. Breaking the crust with each step seemed graceless and slow.
So at this stage in his life his mind raced ahead of his body.
So when customers step in at any time, what they are entering is an old courtyard of the Balkans. A violin. Olive trees. Permanent evening. Now the arbor-like wallpaper makes sense to her. Now the parrot has a language.
Now, in the city, he was new even to himself, the past locked away.
I loved the piano. It was something to get lost in. My exit, my privacy. He had his money, gambling, he had his winning elsewhere. I had my radio work and my piano. Everyone has to scratch on walls somewhere or they go crazy. And you?
There was a wall in him that no one reached. Not even Clara, though she assumed it had deformed him. A tiny stone swallowed years back that had grown with him and which he carried around because he could not shed it. His motive for hiding it had probably extinguished itself years earlier. . . . Patrick and his small unimportant stone.
Patrick believed in archaic words like befall and doomed. The doom of Patrick Lewis. The doom of Ambrose Small. The words suggested spells and visions, a choreography of fate. A long time ago he had been told never to follow her. If Patrick was a hero he could come down on Small like an arrow. He could lead an iguana on a silver leash to its mistress.
Nobody else wants the claustrophobic uncertainty of this work, but for Patrick this part is the only ease in this terrible place where he feels banished from the world. He carries out the old skill he learned from his father—although then it had been in sunlight, in rivers, logs tumbling over themselves slowly in the air.
Patrick felt ashamed they could discover so little about him. He had reduced himself almost to nothing. He would walk home at dusk after working in the lake tunnel. His radio was on past midnight. He did nothing else that he could think of. (…) And suddenly Patrick, surrounded by friendship, concern, was smiling, feeling the tears on his face falling towards his stern Macedonian-style moustache.
He thought, l am moving like a puppet. He touched an arm in the darkness not fully realizing it was human. A hand came from somewhere and held his wrist. “Hello, Patrick.” He turned on the flashlight. She was waiting for the light, like a good actress, ready to be revealed.
- Compassion forgives too much. You could forgive the worst man. You forgive him and nothing changes.
- You can teach him, make him aware . . .
- Why leave the power in his hands?
Come on, Patrick, of course some make it. They do it by becoming just like the ones they want to overtake. Like Ambrose. Look at what he became before he disappeared. He was predatory. He let nothing cling to him, not even Clara.
I don’t think I’m big enough to put someone in a position where they have to hurt another.
He remembers his father once passing the foreign loggers on First Lake Road and saying, “They don’t know where they are.” And now, in this neighborhood intricate with history and ceremony, Patrick smiles to himself at the irony of reversals.
“The trouble with ideology, Alice, is that it hates the private. You must make it human.”
In books he had read, even those romances he swallowed during childhood, Patrick never believed that characters lived only on the page. They altered when the author’s eye was somewhere else. (…) Each character had his own time zone, his own lamp, otherwise they were just men from nowhere.
- You watch, in fifty years they’re going to come here and gape at the herringbone and the copper roofs. We need excess, something to live up to. I fought tooth and nail for that herringbone.
- You fought. You fought. Think about those who built the intake tunnels. Do you know how many of us died in there?
- There was no record kept.
You must realize you are like these places, Patrick. You’re as much of the fabric as the aldermen and the millionaires. But you’re among the dwarfs of enterprise who never get accepted or acknowledged. Mongrel company. You’re a lost heir. So you stay in the woods. You reject power. And this is how the bland fools – the politicians and press and mayors and their advisers – become the spokesmen for the age.