Shortly after Harry left, Norma heard the banging upstairs. Clutching her cane, she hobbled up the flight of stairs. With the deep, gravely voice of George Pappas rolling about in her mind, she quivered to think he was waiting for her.
When she opened the door, she saw, not the empty apartment, but Arthur’s study in their old house on Barclay Street. A brass lamp glowed on the desk underneath the bay window, illuminating stacks of her his important papers. She ran her hand over the purple velvet couch, fingering the white piping along the edges of the cushions. Her George, of years ago, leaned against the fireplace looking every inch the handsome gentleman. For just an instant, she wanted to touch his golden locks of hair, curling about his collar. But his icy eyes riveted her. He did not smile.
Hoping to gain the upper hand at the outset, Norma used her sternest tone. “George, don’t wear your hat in the house. It brings bad luck.”
Anger flashed in George’s eyes, but he removed his homburg. “Where the hell are the shares, Norma?”
“I don’t know. Arthur never told me. Besides,” she continued bravely, “he always said they were rightfully ours.” Her face darkened in disgust. “Anyway, you deserve nothing. You were all show and promise, but in the end you were a complete disappointment.”
A flush grew from his collar. “Goddamn it! A woman like you … ” He broke off and stared at his shoes.
“You’re a fraud, George Pappas.”
He stared at her in disbelief. “You stupid woman! Obviously Arthur told you where he hid the shares.”
When he grasped her hand, she cried out.
He growled, “I can easily snap your fingers off, one by one,” He yanked her arm up so that she dangled from his fist like a faded rag doll.
Norma’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she thought she would faint. George flung her to the sofa and stood over her.
“Don’t toy with me, Norma. You know the consortium raised the money for medical research. Arthur squirreled it away, and I am going to find it.”
Norma began to breathe normally. She played with the piping on the cushions and struggled to clear her mind. She wanted to dismiss George with a wave of the hand, but it was never that easy. She thought back to 1963, to the snowy December evening at the King Edward Hotel. She and Arthur had rushed from the black limousine through the freezing sleet and into the hotel foyer, lit by the tallest Christmas tree Norma had ever seen.
That night had been George’s show.
Under the immense crystal chandeliers of the ballroom, Pappas courted five hundred of Toronto’s moneyed elite at a one hundred dollar a plate black tie dinner to raise capital for Elixicorp Enterprises. Eager talk swirled about Norma and Arthur.
“Has Pappas really patented the elixir?” asked a portly man, tugging on the vest of his tuxedo.
“A wonder drug to prevent memory loss?” breathed another as he chewed his cigar.
When a waiter thrust a tray of hors d’oeurves in front of her, Norma frowned at the array of toast covered with glistening black beads.
“Caviar, Madame?” inquired the waiter.
Helping herself, she scanned the room for George. There he was, surrounded by women. He tossed his massive head of curls back to laugh in deep, rolling cadences. Norma held her breath. When she caught his icy blue eyes, she hurriedly turned away.
A woman in a pink sequined gown crushed against Norma to get a look at him. “My God! Isn’t he gorgeous? He can tuck his shoes under my bed anytime.” The woman winked at Norma and sipped her champagne.
Dinner in the ballroom was a luxurious affair. Silver candelabras and tiny, embossed menus were set out on snowy white tablecloths. Norma turned over her dinner plate to check the name. Her hand flew to her lips as she read, Spode. The twenty-piece orchestra began to play.
Waiters delivered salads, clam chowder and then Beef Wellington. Norma gaped at the labels on the innumerable bottles of French red and white wines. After coffee, Archie, sweat dripping from his brow, introduced George to the guests. Too many drinks, thought Norma. Next to Arthur, he was a buffoon and a pale imitation of George.
The chandeliers were dimmed and a spotlight swept across the ballroom to the stage. Pappas rose before them like a magician weaving his spell. The audience was ready for seduction.
“My dearest friends! In life, we cherish our memories. We remember Mom as she tucked us in and kissed us goodnight and Dad when he taught us how to ride a bike. What could be sweeter? But what if mother or dad lost all memory of you, or their darling grandkids?” His voice rose with a preacher’s zeal. “Wouldn’t that be one of the most heart-wrenching experiences anyone could have?”
With microphone in hand, George stepped into the audience. Touching one woman’s shoulder, he gazed into her eyes. “Wouldn’t you do just anything to bring them back to you?” Wide-eyed, the woman nodded dumbly.
“Well, friends, Elixicorp Enterprises can bring them back to you.” George, followed by the spotlight, strolled further into the audience. Pointing to one and then another, he crooned, “Soon as we’ve raised the capital and cut through all that red tape, we will have the one pill—the only pill—that reverses the effects of aging and reverses memory loss.”
George sauntered back to the podium and loosened his tie. “Now I know what some of you are thinking: ‘that George Pappas must be some kinda snake oil salesman. Nobody’s got a pill for that!’”
The audience held its breath. Another woman, next to Norma, nudged her. “I hear he’s absolutely fantastic between the sheets.” Waving her champagne glass in front of Norma, she laughed. “A real tiger!”
Norma glanced at Arthur, pale in the shadows.
Swirling his jacket like a sorcerer’s cape, Pappas patted his red satin cummerbund and laughed. “But we do have that pill!” His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “Stretch yourself, my friends! Buy as many shares as you can tonight. Why? Because in three months time, those shares will be worth three times as much.”
The eagerness of the crowd surprised even George. Men, waving check books, rushed to the back of the room to subscribe. George slapped Arthur on the back, saying “Artie, that’s the lovely rush of money.”
Then Norma was back in Arthur’s study, and George was still towering over her. “Please, George! Don’t hurt me. I’ve got holes in my mind today. I’ll try to remember, and when I do, I’ll call you right away.”
George shook his head angrily. “You stupid old bitch. You think you can fool me with that? That money was raised for legitimate medical research, and we need it now.”
In fury, Norma twisted away from him. “You’re just a bully with no brains and no style. You bilked everyone in Toronto, but you got greedy. And then you got sloppy.”
George gripped her arm so hard she screamed out.
“I’ll be back, Norma. You can’t hide it from me forever.” He walked to the door. Turning, he growled, “I will tear you apart if I have to. And you’ll be begging me to take those shares.”
He slammed the door. Norma waited in the cold apartment until she was sure he was gone. Then she hobbled downstairs and made a cup of tea.
Harry strolled slowly along Cecil Street, wondering what had become of Madame Odella. Most likely dead, he concluded. But where was her beautiful daughter, Katrina?With no real explanation, Katrina had grown cool and disappeared from his life. A pang of longing touched him. It seemed that the past was always just an instant away.
During law school, Harry had shared the second floor flat with a classmate, Peter Saunderson. His lumbering presence in the tiny rooms always made Harry feel cramped. And then, one night, Peter ran his hand over Harry’s chest as he squeezed past him in the hall. Harry jumped back, banging his head against the wall. Peter pretended innocence, but Harry caught the lonely, hungry look in his eye. The thought disgusted him, but he refused to consider moving that year. After all, the lovely Katrina lived downstairs. They reached an uneasy truce, but Harry spent many hours with Madame Odella and her daughter in their front parlor. From what he could tell, Peter lived a solitary—rather furtive—life, and that suited Harry just fine.
Unless a reading were in progress, Madame Odella kept the red velvet curtains drawn back to keep an eye on her tenants. She sat at a card table with a purple robe draped over her mountainous body. White wisps of smoke curled up from the cigarette in her ashtray, turning the room blue with haze.
“I will read your cards tonight, Harry. Come. Sit.”
Harry laughed and shifted the immense tabby cat from the chair. “And pray tell, what will Madame Odella see tonight?” The cat’s green eyes glimmered up at him.
Harry watched her place the cards in a mysterious pattern known only to her. The first card she turned up was The Fool. With good humor, he examined the brightly colored card, which depicted an idiotic looking young man, in a green peasant suit, stepping off a cliff. He smiled and thought the game ridiculous.
Madame Odella drew solemnly on her cigarette. “You are a young man, Harry, with many challenges ahead of you.” Her yellowed finger tapped the card. “See how The Fool steps confidently into the unknown?”
“He looks pretty stupid to me,” he laughed. The tabby cat hissed and slunk under a chair in the corner.
“The Foolrepresents the blithe spirit in you. You must cherish him, Harry. He is the force that teaches you to let life happen in order to find happiness. To learn, you must take risks.”
Solemnly, she made a fist in the air, then relaxed and opened her hand. “You must not cramp life out of fear and misunderstanding. If you do, you will never conquer the emptiness within.” Across the red and white checked cloth, she reached out and grasped his wrist. “If you fail in this, you will drive love from your life.”
Impatient, Harry frowned and shook his head. “Where do you get all this? I mean just from this one card?”
“You must listen carefully, Harry. It comes from the forces within and outside you.” Her eyelids flickered. “But The Fool also represents naïveté. You must guard against this in your nature. You are very trusting, but your chosen profession may change that.”
She turned over the next card and sighed, “It is as I thought.”
“What?” Harry heard the trepidation in his voice. But, of course, it was only a game. He stared at the card with the pale moon looming over a dark and barren landscape. A sense of unease crept over him.
“The Mooncard warns of someone in your life who hides behind curtains like a cowardly puppeteer.” She stared deep into his eyes. “He is an enemy, Harry, who will prey upon your naïveté. He is an instrument of your destiny.”
“Who is he?” Harry demanded.
Madame Odella shrugged. “The cards do not say, but he is close by now.” She bowed her head in study. Shadows flickered on her broad face. “He is the trickster who erases all your carefully constructed boundaries to make way for the new. You are paired with him, and he will follow you along your life path.”
Glancing about the room, Harry wished he could open a window. The old woman was talking nonsense. Where were the usual, happy predictions like your true love will last a lifetime?
“You will have three women in your life, Harry,” she said. She turned over the Priestesscard, which showed a bejeweled, ethereal being with eyes cast upon some distant world. “But your true spirit guide, the third woman, will come only later in life when you need her most. She is beautiful beyond all your imaginings, and you will be in her thrall.”
Harry grinned and shoved back his chair. Without warning, the huge tabby cat sprang to his lap from a bookcase.
“Sit,” she commanded. “You must accept this woman just as she is. She is the good in you.”
“Terrific, Madame Odella. I’ll think about all that.” Harry caught a glimpse of Katrina in the kitchen. He stood, almost knocking over the table. Katrina smiled over her mother’s shoulder and pointed upward to his bedroom above. Harry hurried up the stairs.
Still gaping up at the Cecil Street house, Harry suddenly realized how odd he must look, a middle-aged man lost in reverie on a street corner. So much time had slid by. His thoughts darkened as images of Katrina swept over him.
He remembered her as young and lovely, lying on his narrow bed tucked up under the eaves of his bedroom. As she set down her philosophy text, she tossed back her long blonde hair. Her eyes came alive with challenge and readiness to argue. Laughing when she scored a point, she would beckon him to the bed. Sliding in beside her, in awe, he touched her lips and traced the line of her neck with his fingertip.
He never understood what went so terribly wrong. Suddenly, she was slipping out of his life. She no longer came to his room. They no longer met downstairs, at school or at their favorite spot, the bridge. Climbing the stairs one day, he found her in the upstairs hallway with her books and notes clutched to her breast. The winter light from the tiny dormer window cast a sickly glow upon her face. Edging past him, she rushed down the stairs.
Whenever he tried to talk to her, she drifted further away. He would see her walking across the campus or in the library stacks. When he did catch up with her, she was always polite, but cool and distant. Better if they had argued or she had simply left him for another guy. Nothing. No explanation. He shook his head and turned back to the car. Any fragment of the past was always waiting to surface.
What could he have known at twenty-one?Back then, he saw only a well-lit path leading ever upward. No dark twists or cavernous pits in sight. Like most of his eager classmates, he had seen admission to law school as a ticket to the land of riches and comfort. How like the blithe fool! But his world had darkened when Katrina left without a word, and he thought the emptiness of spirit would always be with him.
Turning the car’s ignition, he wondered if his father had plunged into the same void when his sister, Anna, died. He never saw his father shed a tear, but his pain was written in the twisted lines on his graying face.
As he edged the car back to Dundas Street, Harry continued with his recollections—but this time with a smile. Madame Odella had predicted the appearance of his spirit guide later in life. She could only be Natasha, who had come into his life last year like a soft breeze when he needed her most.