by Halen Weinzwelg
Alfred Mulgrave sits there through the night, a pile of folders on his right, another pile on his left, folders scattered on the floor. . . the detritus of ambition'
Retrieve TM memory.
In the dead of night.
Mountains of paper.
Reconstruct. It's all there, in boxes on the floor, in folders on his desk, it's all recorded, the rise to power, what to extract, what to write, thinks of starting, whatever comes to mind, together with what's in those boxes, find the connections, discover the past. The distant past. Before all that paper work.
That same morning, first thing, Mulgrave rang for his secretary, Sir?, and he requested that she fetch files, landmark ones only, you know the important ones, but sir, that will take hours, they are in two warehouses in the west end; just the important ones, he said, all the files on my first company, 1955, he specified, relieved that at least he is able to bring back a date, but she is not happy, I have so much other work to do, and he, but you've been with me from the beginning, from that fast little office in a broken-down house on Merton Street, there's no use sending anyone else, you're the only one who knows what I want and where to find it. Mulgrave getting up from his chair to stand beside her, it is only a mnemonic device, and she, a what, sir?, and her breath reveals she is off the wagon again. Find them, he ordered.
She returned at eight tonight, it didn't take much imagination to guess she had the taxi wait while she picked up a bottle to sustain her throughout the tedium of her search. She complaining that nothing was properly filed after all those interviews with Peter Naimensh and Mulgrave and the night guard carrying boxes from the service elevator.
Alfred Mulgrave sits there through the night, a pile of folders on his right, another pile on his left, folders scattered all around on the floor; he's read letters, looked at pictures, scanned newspaper clippings, marked N.B. is red ink here and there, especially photographs of him with provincial premiers, with foreign emissaries, two pictures of Mulgrave at the side of prime ministers, a number of photos with E.P., any number showing him about to cut a ribbon.
The detritus of ambition.
It's all here, in this room. The rise to power as it is called, it's all on record, here, all around him; extract, embellish, invent, start at the beginning, what led up to so much paper. His head aches, his back pains, his eyes close - all this memorabilia and no memory. Turning pages with one hand, writing in the notebook with the other, reading what he has written, the facts are all there, something is missing, what led up to all this, who laid the groundwork, all those journalists wanted to know who he was before he became.
So much rehash.
In the near distance a small tower revolves, tells time in tiny brilliant bulbs, it is 2:58, the tower turns sad time vanishes and temperature appears, 14 degrees, time reappears. 2:59, then the same temperature. In the dead of night, the tower keeps turning. What incongruence.
Miss Aymong when she came in with the morning mail found him slumped sideways is his chair, his head on his chest, arms dangling, she was sure he was dead, looked as if he had a heart attack, men of his age, his mouth slightly open, on his pale face as expression of concern, and they she heard him snore. She left him sleeping, thinking she'd better be prepared far lord knows what, he has never done this before, stay is his office all night; in the washroom Miss Aymong knows already that there will be cancellations and mix-ups, she swishes and gargles a strong mouthwash, dabs perfume behind her ears and between her breasts, the returns to bend over the sleeping form, gently shakes him, Sir, wake up, sir.
Helpless is a dream over which he has no control.
A morning observance, a prayer almost, this daily contemplation of the sky above and the earth below, moving slowly towards the windows. Between him and pure space there is only transparent glass.
The void beckons.
Fear itself draws him irresistibly and once at the windows he becomes dizzy and must hold on to the solid bronze horse on a marble pedestal at his left; this vertigo, he assures himself, is caused by the fact that he is not programmed by nature to recognize the safety of double-glazed windows; his nervous system alerts him to a sheer drop from a great height, but even as he stares at the abyss below, he finds that the shiver from the base of his spine to the back of his head is not an unpleasant thrill.
A morning observance, this conquering of terror, he pats the horse and frees his hand and looks up at the sky, at the patch that is shaped by the tops of tall buildings, the vertiginous feeling, or whatever it is that causes the walls to slant toward him, that feeling is gone and he looks down at the solid cement parking lot directly below, receding himself that he is standing in his own office, in his sanctum sanctorum, in complete safety.
Twice I have set aside valuable blocks of my time, time I do not allow even for my own pleasure, ever; twice I took chunks out of my life, four months for Peter Naimensh, the best part of six months for Jane Coughtree; I put on 20 pounds from the lunches they insisted on eating, deals delayed, investments postponed, Aymong back to the bottle, for the biographies that never got written: Peter was posted to Peking, Jane had a baby; and through the years I have given appointments to ordinary journalists who wanted to do an article in depth, they said, I gave honest answers, I was absolutely candid about every step on the way up, withholding nothing, and just when they seemed to get going, figures to the last decimal, analyses of transactions to the last detail, someone quit the paper, someone's husband got a job in Saskatoon, things like that.
I try to make them comfortable, these people who want to write about me. I offer drinks, there is nothing between us but a desk:, I make small talk to help put them at ease, that time w a bid on a hydro dam in Brazil, boy what I didn't know about doing, business in the banana republics, the big shots, the hangers on, the politicians, everybody with their hand out for a share off the top, what's left over may or may not build a dam. Without exception the journalists nod their heads, saying they know, they have done their homework, schoolchildren, doing homework! then they get nervous, can't find pens, spill their coffee, I'm sorry I'm late, the chap from Financial Post said, not at all, I try to assure him, it's no problem, yes, he insists, I'm four minutes late, there was no room on your parking lot, was the sign out? I ask, Oh, yes, Lot Full, not your fault, I encourage, it's a very popular parking lot, I provide an efficient, courteous ambience, and he, do you mind if I smoke? - Would you say, one of them would ask, that your present happiness is due to the fact that you survived so many of life's dark moments, doubts - that sort of thing, would you like to speak about them?
I had a happy childhood, loved my years at school, I've always lived well.
Then you are an exceptional man. But surely you have not always been rich and powerful. Our readers are interested in how you got where you did, the steps on the way up, in a manner of speaking.
It's all on record Miss Aymong will ....
They want more, something personal, a point of view, a philosophy of life, nothing less, it makes him tired. Philosophy? You can say that it has been my philosophy never to lose control, but surely, they protest, there are times, never, I affirm, I have learned that silence controls people better than anything I can do or say, it makes them uncertain, and in that split second of their hesitation, the advantage is mine.
In the elevator speeding to the ground yet another journalist discovers he had no choice but to leave.
The power of thought; retrieve the memory.
Alfred Mulgrave sits there at his desk, holding a gold pen over a hard-covered notebook with lined pages, thinks of starting, what to say, whatever comes to mind, an anecdote, an epigram, think of a storm, a flood, a revolution somewhere, fill the pages with stories out of the newspaper, anything, create a collage, that's all a memoir is, a piling up, memoirs are made of this, he smiles, seriously though, no longer smiling, what, what brought me here, where are the connections, before this. Perhaps the truth is that memory is false and imagination holds the key. The past is in no hurry. I'll think of something.
In the dead of night, the gold pen still between his fingers, he puts his arms down over the notebook, his head down on his arms, forms in the night, take shape, become the messenger with the telegram of regret, movement impossible, a paralysis he will overcome the next day with acts of virtue.
Startled out of his sleep by nothing and no one, perhaps by the pen falling from his fingers, thinks he had a cat nap, a reverie, that's what it was, those vague images that cross the mind in that twilight between waking and sleeping. He never dreams. It's all that memoir business, his mind trying to dredge up pictures of the past, a past better forgotten, he is of sound mind in a sound body, memory elusive for a reason, nature knows best.
Going into his office the next morning. Aymong right behind him, the quotidian mail in her hand, talking tight into the silence, an annoying habit she has but what can you do, faithful servant and all that, she, I couldn't help but notice, sir, what you wrote in that book, it was open on your desk, are you going to do your own biography?, you know, sir, there are what are called ghost writers who will write about your life the way you want them to, of course, you will have to pay them, they are the real writers behind a lot of those biographies. Mulgrave says something about being sick and tired of trying to find answers, and Aymong suggests, why don't you ask the questions and the writer will write the answers, after all that's what he's getting paid for.
Opportunity for professional writer
You area writer of fiction who has already proven himself with publications and grants. You are a man possessed of an inventive imagination, yet in your daily life you are well-grounded in reality. You will be requited to parlay your creative skills into a scenario tailored to special requirements. Projected period of employment - one year.
The successful candidate will be a family man with three children and married to the same woman for at least 15 years. Your primary responsibility will be to apply traditional values to family life. You will be expected to demonstrate hands-am fancy skills and record them in every detail for our client.
The compensation package includes, besides a substantial salary, relocation, a two-storey field-stone house, all expenses of food and clothing, insurance, a car and ample parking facilities.
The bottom line is, will you and your wife and your three children be able to meet this unique challenge.
Miss Aymong thought the wording was clear and to the point. If I may say so, sir, she said, may I make a suggestion, and without waiting, continued, It's true that writers browse through literary journals or those ads in Saturday Night offering to exchange houses in London or Paris, but don't you think yore ought to aim for a writer who isn't too sure of himself. . . ? He would be a man who, no matter how good a writer, isn't doing too well financially, and always reads the want ads in the daily papers in case he has to give up writing and take a job. He always reads the business section, because in his fantasies he thinks, with my brains and my use of language. if I'd gone into business, I'd have made a killing, they're lucky I'm not out there, raking in my share. May I suggest you place the ad in the Report on Business section of the morning paper, the one on Thursdays that is devoted to Careers... ?