Saturday, 16 October 2021

Branching Out with Poet, Lecturer and Writer Amita Sanghavi of Oman.

 



I was introduced to Amita by New Brunswick poet, Richard Doiron, who suggested Amita would be an ideal fit for a Scribbler visit and a Branching Out Interview. I couldn’t agree more. Amita has kindly agreed to be our featured guest this week.

 

What I visited Amita’s website, I was greeted by the following:

Ordinary day, extraordinary possibilities. Reflections, Poetry, Musings and more.

 

It is a warm and friendly greeting and we are happy to have Amita share her thoughts and her writing.

Let’s chat with Amita.



 

 

Allan: Welcome to the Scribbler, Amita. Before we chat about writing and related topics, please tell our readers about you & family, where you were born, where you reside and home life.

 

Amita: Thanks Allan, for this wonderful opportunity of the interview. I am born and raised in Mumbai, India, and reside in Oman since the past 17 years. I live in Muscat with my daughter, and we are a single parent family of mother and daughter. I live on campus, and teach at Sultan Qaboos University.

 



 

Allan: You have an impressive body of work, featured in various publications and participated in numerous events. Congratulations on your many successes. Is there one such accomplishment you value the most?

 

Amita: I most treasure Diego giving me the title, ‘Maple Leaf’ on my poem ‘Mapled Me’ that I read on the show. That poem I treasure a lot, and is my favourite, as time and again, it seems to be most popular; it gave me the title ‘Maple Leaf’ from such a notable, remarkable veteran poet Diego Bastiannutti, that for me it is the greatest motivation ever, that too on Live Radio of Vancouver, home to British Columbia University. The poem got selected in an anthology published in the UK ‘‘Daffodils’’ where I was chosen as the Featured Poet! And last but not the least, Jeannette Skirvin, well known Canadian novelist, so beautifully made a video poem ‘Mapled Me’ that it has had almost 400 views, and counting.

 


 

Allan: Your website tells us of upcoming publications. Can you tell our readers what to expect and when it is all taking place?

 

Amita: I have several poems coming in anthologies; and single poems in journals. But what’s exciting is by December 2021, I am publishing my second book of poetry, “Astad Deboo: Poetry in Dance”. This is ekphrasis written on watching his dance. He is India’s most cherished Contemporary Dancer awarded the highest civilian awards including the PADMASHRI.



I also have three more books of poetry coming in 2022 and 2023, three of them on three photographers in Oman and Italy, and their work which inspired the poetry and one on a famous painter, but I have not yet given them titles.

 

 

Allan: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.

 

Amita: I knew since grade 7 that I only wanted to study poetry! Our school principal once walked into the class and taught us “Daffodils” by Wordsworth. The moment she recited it, the impression was so deep in my mind, that I returned home and asked my mother if I had to study only poetry what should I do? She said, Masters in English Literature. I pursued just that! I have MA, M.Phil., B. Ed from Mumbai, and one more MA from UK. I waited to see real daffodils till I was 29! It was after 16 years, I joined University of Lancaster and finally visited the very spot, the Dove cottage, and saw 10,000 at a glance!




 Somehow, that journey, from the classroom of grade 7 to the Lancaster classroom of Poetry taught by Professor Emeritus Mick Short, is a conspiracy of the Universe! Time and again, it has been a very unique experience when it comes to poetry- I have had several experiences of coincidences, serendipity, opening of doors most miraculously- but will elaborate on them some other time!

 

 

Allan: You were honoured by World Poetry Canada as poetry Ambassador to Oman. Can you tell us about this?

 

Amita: In my journey as a poet, my most memorable moment is when Ariadne Sawyer responded to my poetry submission online, and went on to include my poetry in her website, this was the best thing that happened to me in 2018. Then, I did my radio show with Ariadne Sawyer, and Diego Bastianutti at World Café Poetry. I am indebted and a great admirer of both these great poets and personalities of Vancouver, and see them as my role models. The radio shows were a wonderful opportunity to talk about myself, how my poetry evolved from my life experiences.





 

 

Allan: Who has been a major influence in your writing? Do you have a mentor? Favorite writers or poets?

 

Amita: I think I followed my own Voice.  Poetry that was simple always appealed to me, reached the core of my heart, spoke to me. I especially loved reading Maya Angelou, and definitely regard her as one of the best. As a mentor, I feel the long years of work of Ariadne Sawyer are very inspiring to a younger poet like me, and give my love for poetry a concrete example of how the sense of purpose and the varied possibilities are available, as I see her in her multiple roles as a poet and so much more! She has taken poetry to an all-new level, and her entire lifetime is about encouraging, bringing together and promoting poets. What’s absolutely astonishing and very pleasantly so, is how she has a new feather in her cap now, with poetry of Youth!




Before you bat an eyelid, Ariadne has an all-new role and a concept and she is off with all her love and light, pursuing it. This gives me direction, and purpose to what I should set out to do more, and how.

Ariadne Sawyer will always remain my role model, my inspiration to work harder and with dedication and also my mentor; so, will Richard Doiron remain a great role model and inspiration. His interview on your blog and his poet laureate speech are something I re-visit many times. If there is someone who ought to be awarded a PhD on their volume of body of work of prolific poetry, it is Richard Doiron. In fact, I discovered your blog while I was searching his works on Google.

 

**I’m glad you did, Amita. Richard is a fine gentleman.

 

Among older poets, Rumi, Robert Frost and William Wordsworth, and William Blake are my favourites, and among Indian poets, there are far too many in Hindi/Urdu/English/Bengali language, like Gulzar, Rabindranath Tagore, Jerry Pinto, Sudeep Sen, Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca, Naomi Shihab Hye, Ashok Bhargava, and yes, my all-new favourite, Zayra Yves, to name just a few. Ah, and Richard’s poetry comes back to my mind time and again, what more can I say!

 

 

Allan: You have recently been involved with the release of Impressions & Expressions. An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. Can you tell us about this?

 

Amita: I used to read poetry online and like them a lot, and found that if I had wanted to read again, I had to go to each poet’s Facebook and scroll and hunt for the one I liked, and re read it.

Over a year, I found this really a huge hassle, and then decided, well what do I want? I want all my favourite poems from several poets put in a single book, that I can reach out and read as and when I like. So actually Allan, I made that anthology just for myself! And then come to think of it, readers and poetry lovers would certainly want to read more than one poem of a poet. I always feel as a student of Stylistics, that it is always desirable to be able to read at least 6 to 8 poems from a single poet in order to know and understand their style, their philosophy and their uniqueness. 



Thus, this collection boasts of twenty-four very contemporary poetry ranging from YouTube and Instagram mentions to ‘I can’t breathe’ and post pandemic and during pandemic afternoons spent at the kitchen window. Each poem contributes a distinct flavor to the book by being ‘different’ from the poetry of the other poets in the collection. I also repeatedly read the 150 poems and struggled to give a title to the collection that initially I had called, ‘Power of Poetry’. I meditated deeper into what is poetry, and what makes poetry be born, and the ideal one I came upon after careful deliberation was that poetry is the Expression of the impressions of life each poet carries in having met and lived their life experiences; so, I felt there could not be a more apt title than IMPRESSIONS AND EXPRESSIONS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY POETRY.

By the time the edition was ready, I was madly in love with some of the poetry and have decided that in the lockdown, it was the best gift I have given myself!

 

 

Allan: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about?

 

Amita: Yes, just a note on why poetry is an Art we ought to bring back in this digital age, with a whole new enthusiasm especially post pandemic. I feel people will have undergone a whole gamut of emotions and been overwhelmed, and poetry will play a vital role in being able to open up very complex emotions and suppressed feelings. Poetry will prove therapeutic to readers who will find their emotions resonate with the poet’s and also cathartic to those who write it. I would like to end with this note:




The function and purpose of poetry is about life here and now; of our universally faced common experiences as human beings, our IMPRESSIONS, expressed in a succinct and imaginative way in poetry. Poetry is the only form of Art that resonates and retells each and every human experience musically, imaginatively, metaphorically, visually, emotively, explicitly, implicitly and aesthetically!

  


 

 

 

 

Writings of Amita Sanghavi.


Amita's Blog - https://amitasanghavispoetry.blog/


AmitaSanghvi YouTube

. https://youtu.be/Fj332mXKbMY

 

AmitaSanghvi Amazon Publications

 https://www.amazon.com/AMITA-

SANGHVI/e/B073JVF6M5%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

 

AmitaSanghvi profiles

https://www.instagram.com/sanghvi.amita/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.researchgate.net/profile/Amita_Sanghvi/amp

 

AmitaSanghvi Newspapers

https://timesofoman.com/article/1510089/Oman/Government/International-honour-for-

poet-based-in-Oman

A book review in Oman’s national daily:

https://www.omanobserver.om/article/917/Local/on-looking-upon-prof-eugene-h-johnsonsstorimagesA

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Branching Out with Photographer Sylvie Mazerolle of Moncton, NB.

 





It’s a treat to have Sylvie back for a Branching Out interview. She has been a guest before, once on her own – see it HERE. The second time she shared an interview with her author partner, Jason Hamilton – see it HERE.


There has been a lot going on since Sylvie’s last posting. New photographic series, a new picture book, a new website and beautiful new photos. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of Sylvie’s photos and I’m proud to say I own several prints of her work. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite because it would be too difficult to pick just one.


Let’s have a chat with Sylvie.

(Copyright is held on all photos. Used with permission)


 


 

Allan: What made you get into photography?

 

Sylvie: I tried other medium a few times (acrylic, watercolors, sketching) but I could never get it to look like the vision I had in my mind’s eye. It drove me nuts. Having worked in fashion and beauty as a makeup artist, fine art photography and editing photograph is very similar to the process of makeup application: Start with a basic image, remove the blemishes, enhance the beauty with light and shadows as well as colour combining. Photography brings me back to that meditative flow that I missed so much from makeup artistry.

 






 

Allan: What is your favourite subject to shoot?


Sylvie: A slice of LIFE. Something or someone with a past, a story to tell, character and textures. Things like crackled paint, weathered faces, pots and pans that have a patina from years of baking stacked in a mess, a farmer’s hands. Beauty is all around us.



 

 

Allan:  What does photography mean to you?

Sylvie:  It’s a form of therapy, escapism, meditation, documenting, creating, storytelling…it’s everything.

 

Allan: What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer?

 

Sylvie: Slowing down and connecting with my subject and/or viewers. With so much visual stimulation in our lives for someone to pause and feel your image enough to stop scrolling, it means you've captured something. Having someone see things or themselves in a different light (no pun intended) is so satisfying.



 

Allan: Provide me a quote from an artist (whatever medium) and tell me why it represents you.

Sylvie: 

"Nothing is impossible -The word itself says I'M Possible." ~ Audrey Hepburn

I really connect with this quote because when I set my sight on a goal that I truly want, I
fully believe it can be done. I go all in with F.A.I.T.H: Fully Anticipating It to Happen.
I try to not force things but more allowing things to present themselves.



 

Allan: What else would you like to mention?

 

Sylvie: 

Concept around you spin me:


I created these images on a trip to the amusement park with my son. I wanted him to experience all the wonders that this place had given me all those years ago. I hold those memories dearly.
The nostalgia of going to the fair as a young girl makes me smile. I can close my eyes and smell the cotton candy as its sweet scent travels with the cool nighttime breeze. Sipping out all the flavour and colour from the endless slushies with what seemed like a foot long curly straw.

I remember it so vividly.
I didn't go with the intension of creating for an exhibit but once I saw them all lined up, I really wanted to share them. I think they are fun.

Those endless evenings were some of the best parts of summer.


 

 


 

 

 


 


 

 

 

(Copyright is held on all photos. Used with permission)

 

 

 

 

Thank you, Sylvie, for sharing your thoughts and magnificent images. Wishing you continued success.




 

Please drop by her website - Sylvie Mazerolle Photography






Monday, 4 October 2021

The Crimson Stain. A short story by Allan Hudson.



Thank you for visiting the Scribbler. I hope you enjoy the story. 

 

The Crimson Stain

 

When Victoria opens the door, it gripes every inch. The hinges haven’t been oiled since John Turner resigned as the Liberal leader in 1989, twenty-five years ago, the same day her grandfather died. The first level of the three-storey building has been closed, sealed and forgotten ever since. The two upper levels, divided into four apartments, have their own entrance. Last year Victoria became the new owner when her father passed away. But since she had no time then to manage a hundred and fifteen-year-old edifice, she had it boarded up. Sentenced it to solitary confinement. Tenants evicted. There were too many memories for her to part with it though so now the boards are down.  

Victoria’s father was an only child and his father’s death took a heavy toll on his well-being. She remembers the days her father walked around in a miasma, sunken cheeks and a faraway look. After enough time passed, he was able to deal with what remained of his father’s legacy. The merchandise was removed from the store, the first level locked and forgotten.

A whiff of lost time snags her senses as soon as she steps in. Musty scents stir in the open door where fresh air barges in with no resistance. She hears something skitter in the corners, probably mice. Looking around gives her shivers. Cobwebs hang from corners like small kites. The early morning light gives the ones in the window edges a yellowish hue. Thickened by years of dust, the small dark bodies of the spider’s victims dot the surface like pepper. She hates spiders. The only thing she dreads more is seeing the stain on the worn wooden floor. She hasn’t thought about it for years. Only when she decided to renovate her grandfather’s haberdashery did she realize that she’d have to look at it.         

Four tentative steps into the old store takes her to the base of a circular rack of dull and unpolished chrome which once held a selection of men’s hats. Victoria recalls trying them on when she was a kid and her grandfather teasing her about looking like a little boy with her short hair and the oversized hats resting on her brows. For a moment, the ghost of his memory shimmers in the light. His bushy eyebrows, the gap between his front teeth and the half-rim glasses perched on the tip of his nose is how she remembers him. Now she must face an unkind memory. The crimson stain.




She had come home for the funeral although she was living in another city when her grandfather died. Right here in the store. Right where the faded blotch on the floor remains. Struck on the head by someone, he laid unconscious and bled out. An undignified death. All for the seventy-five dollars in the till. The details in her memory can’t reach around the fact that her grandfather’s life was only worth such a measly amount of cash. No one has ever been apprehended or held responsible for the terrible deed.

Motes flitter carelessly in the dim sunlight which penetrates the dirty patina of the windows. Victoria takes another three steps and she’s beside a counter. Close by lies the stain. Visible still, under a soft layer of dust the color of baby powder. Its irregular shape looks like an odd shaped boot with a small foot. Victoria bends to sit on her haunches and wipes the dust away, covering her mouth with her other hand. The blood puddled on the left, thick and hard. A round bare spot in the center where her grandfather’s head may have lain. Thinking of all the times he let her play in the store, she misses him so much. Tears come in a gush. They drop to make plop marks on the gritty floor.

A firm voice from the open door startles her and she wipes her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Mrs. Delvecchio. Is that you?”

Victoria rises to face a rough looking character, lanky frame in bib coveralls which looks like they’re trying to swallow him. A lower tooth is missing but the smile could generate electricity and the eyes are enthusiastic. This man doesn’t look anything like she expected but he comes highly recommended.

“It’s Ms. Devereaux now. And you must be Hector?”

“Hector Hastings at your service, Ms. Devereaux.  How about you call me Heck? Everybody does.”

“Fine then… uh, Heck. Call me Victoria.

“I’ll do that, Victoria. Gosh darn but that’s a lovely name.”

Victoria eyes him with an amused smile. She doesn’t think she’s ever heard the words gosh, darn and lovely used in the same sentence before.

“Thank you, Heck. Now, do you have a writing pad?”

He smiles widely again and sticks out his chin.

“Don’t need one.”

Taps his head.

“I don’t forget things, Vicky. I mean Victoria. See.”

He looks around, smug with his recovery.

“So, what we doing here, Victoria?”

She takes a deep breath and with one hand behind her back and her fingers crossed, she waves him toward the center of the store. There are several clothing racks where they stop. Fixed displays line the two side walls and part of the back wall where another door opens into a room that looks cluttered with more racks. Victoria waves her hand around to encompass everything.




“I want all of this, and I mean all of it, gone. As part of our earlier conversation, Hect… Heck, whatever you take must be inventoried and we’ll decide if anything has value. Then I want the whole space spotless. I want to be able to eat off the floor.”

Hector is waving both hands and his head is shaking.

“I ain’t no cleaning service Victoria. I mean… “

Victoria was meek once, but her ex-husband fixed her of that. She turns to face Hector direct, her dark eyes as forceful as her voice.

“Are you or are you not a project manager, slash contractor? I was told you were a man to get things done.”

“Yes, but… “

“Well then manage it, Heck.”

She doesn’t like being pushy. So, she offers him the brightest smile to win him with charm, and softens her voice.

“The basement will need the same treatment as well. Except a room in the back. That was my grandfather’s get away when I was younger and I want to do that myself. I’m actually starting on the room tomorrow. When your people are done up here, you and I will meet and decide what renovations to do. Now follow me upstairs and I’ll show you the changes I want in the apartments. The top floor can wait until the fall or winter.”

On the second level, she gives Hector the tour of the two units that will be turned into one – to create a large enough space for her to live. She points out the walls she wants down, the carpets she wants removed, the floors she wants sanded. Repairs to drywall and plaster. One kitchen removed and refinished into a den. They’ll discuss painting the rooms later. When they return to the sidewalk where his truck is parked, he digs through the center console looking for a business card.

The day is mild and she removes her jacket to fold it over her arm while she waits. Looking up at the building, she feels a sudden rush of warmth as she thinks of the joy her grandfather would feel at her being here. She’s doing the right thing. She only hopes she can be as honest and thankful with her clients as her grandfather was. 



The sunlight adds gold streaks to her auburn hair and a shine to her face. When Hector sees the glow emanating from her, he can tell how happy she is.

“Here’s my card, Victoria with my email address too.” 

“So, when do you think you can start?”

He’s looking off into the sky, rubbing his chin.

“Let’s see now. I can get a truck and I have a couple of men I can spare tomorrow morning so I’ll send them early, around seven-thirty and they can empty out the basement. That way you can be sure they don’t take anything you don’t want taken. Know what I mean?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer and Victoria is thrilled. She didn’t expect help so early. She’s smiling and bobbing her head.

“Today’s Thursday, so how about I get the cleaning and moving people here on Monday. I’ll put all the contents in my warehouse for now. Then you and I can meet here again on Wednesday and have our sandwiches off the floor. And I can have a gang working upstairs in another week.”

“I hold you to that Heck and I’ll bring the sandwiches.”

“Same here. And if you do bring sandwiches, bring baloney with ketchup, that’s my favorite.”

And then he’s off. Victoria moans softly and shakes her head as she watches him go. She can’t remember the last time she ate baloney, as he calls it. She shrugs and says to nobody, “What the heck?”

She’s laughing at herself as she locks up. Two old ladies strolling by look at her oddly and hasten their step.

 

The next day, she meets the two men. They surprise her by bringing her a coffee with sugar and creamers in a paper bag. They’re sipping their own steaming cups as they listen to what she wants done. She likes them already. Daryl is the younger one, with the flirting eyes, kinda cute. She guesses he’s in his early thirties, a few years younger than her. Pierre, about ten years older, is married with two little girls and a Doberman. She chats with them for a few minutes. She loves the curiosity of small city people but offers nothing of her background and evades any personal questions. They leave their empty cups on the counter and proceed toward the basement.

To get to the basement, they proceed to the back of the store and maneuver through a room where there was an area for a tailor and a seamstress, a pressing station, a small office and storage. Then they go out another door, which leads to a covered porch at the rear of the building containing stairs going to each level. Where they are standing in the back porch, there is a wide exit door that leads to a parking lot and delivery area. A set of steps lead to the underground room.




Unlocking the door, Victoria enters first and from memory reaches into the darkness on her right and finds a light switch.  Four, hundred-watt bulbs hang naked from the ceiling. The glare makes them blink until their eyes adjust to the bright lights. An odor of furnace oil and old cardboard drifts toward them. A quick scan makes Victoria realize that the basement is for things that nobody wanted or had nowhere else to put them. The only thing clear of dust and debris and cobwebs are the oil furnace in the center, the electrical panel on the right and a path leading to both. Clutter everywhere else. She waves around the room as she did with Heck yesterday.

“Everything goes, gentlemen. Sort it out later. Keep what you want and toss the rest in the dump. Don’t touch anything beyond that door in the back until I see what’s in there.”

She’s pointing to a wooden, six panel entry to another room. There is a path cleared to the door amidst the debris. No footprints disturb the dust near the door and she guesses no one has been in there for a long time. The men don gloves and start removing the junk. Victoria makes her way to the back and stands in front of the door, staring at the glass knob. She’s never been in there before. She recalls, quite clearly, her grandfather telling her he was the only one allowed in the room, not even her grandmother had access. Through all the years of curiosity she assumes it to be locked. After reaching for the knob, she turns it to find the door opens easy. Entering slowly, she has to bat away small spider traps to clear the doorway. The hinges hum a similar tune as the front door does.  Assuming there is a switch close, she reaches in and finds one on the right to reveal only a table lamp to brighten the room. Stepping in, she stares at the contents with a blank look. It’s not what she expected.

The room is the size of an average bedroom, maybe a little bigger, she thinks. All the walls are bookcases, except the one with the door. That one has pictures, posters, newspaper clippings, pages torn from magazines stuck on the wall with dozens and dozens of thumb tacks which look like a small brass army of beetles. 



Hardly any of the light blue wall right up to the ceiling is visible. The photos catch her attention and she shuffles over to look closer. Set in groupings, the middle one is of him and her grandmother. One larger section is dedicated to her father. Another assemblage is of her and her younger brother. There is only one of her brother’s funeral. Her grandfather was not a huggy-huggy person but she always knew he loved her. She feels flushed at the display, and feels his presence so real it disturbs her enough to look around. She only sees remnants of her grandfather: the chair, the pipe, the no-nonsense lamp and the books.

All the walls are a continuous set of shelves and they’re full. In the center of the room is a large, overstuffed chair that would look fine in a rich man’s living room. The cushion is the only part that looks used. It’s indented in the center and lumpy like the bottom of an egg carton. On the right is an end table with the lamp which is a spindle of burnished wood and a plain beige shade. It rests beside an ashtray the shape of a frog with a Briar wood pipe in its mouth and a box of wooden matches. A coffee table with a blue glass bowl, empty except for a few dried-up popcorn kernels that looks like dead insects, and several magazines. Everything sits on a dark blue area rug.

She strolls along the book titles, not recognizing most except for the Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury novels. Considering her grandfather, Bradbury is a surprise.




 Running her finger along the spines as she walks by, she leaves a narrow trail of parted dust. As she’s doing so, an idea hits her. Going back to the main room, she sees Daryl leaving with a couple of boxes.

“Daryl, can you set that down for a minute and come here?”

The young man, puts his load aside and joins Victoria in the room. She passes him a ring of keys.

“Can you and Pierre start here next, please. Leave the furniture. Take all the books to the third level, apartment number four. Set them anywhere.”

“You bet. It won’t take us long.”

“Thank you, Daryl.”

At ten o’clock, Victoria leaves for coffees and doughnuts, asking what the men want. By the time she’s back, the books and back wall in the basement has been cleared. After the refreshment, she walks back into the room. Something seems odd. She steps back into the basement and looks at the wall where the door is located. It’s at least several feet longer than the same wall inside the room. She didn’t notice it before when there was so much debris in the corner. Going back inside she walks up to the wall left of the doorway. It’s just shelves. No openings or hints of anything behind them. She goes back out and checks again. Definitely a difference. Returning to the shelves, she studies them closer.

The wall is divided in three sections, three cases side by side. Victoria scrutinizes each one. Nothing seems out of place until she gets on her knees to look closer at the bottom shelves. In the center one, close to the right side, is a hole, three-quarters of an inch wide. Worrying about what might be in there, she pokes her finger in cautiously up to the second knuckle. A hard surface denies any further entry. She pushes against the blockage and she hears a clicking sound. The center cabinet moves forward by an inch. She jumps back, startled by the sudden shift in the shelves. Standing up to see better, she grabs the exposed sides and finds that the shelving unit slides freely ahead toward her until it stops when the back portion is even with the front of the others. She still can’t see behind. Trying different grips and motions, she finally finds a release switch on the side panel and the shelving unit creaks open to her right.

Dust particles and a blast of cold air encompass her and she backs off, coughing. She only sees shadows inside the cavity. The table lamp doesn’t have enough cord to bring it closer. She checks to see if one of the men has a flashlight. Pierre nods at her when she asks.

“Yeah, there’s one in the truck. I’ll go get it. Back in a sec.”

When he returns, he gives her the flashlight and tells her that he and Daryl should be done in an hour or so. She returns to the room. Flashing the light into the opening, she sees more cobwebs and an old trunk. The kind with a rounded top, a large latch hanging down. 



It looks ominous and out of place, like a hammer in a first aid kit. Metal corners and wooden slats make up the frame. Two heavy leather straps are riveted to the sides. Why was the trunk hidden? A rushing thought visualizes a dead body. Imagining the gruesome image of a skeleton pimples the skin on her arms.

Setting the flashlight down on the table, she balances it so it will shine in the opening. Tugging on the straps, she is able to slide it out into the middle of the floor. Dust everywhere. She waves her hands to clear the air. The smell is stale and makes her think of moldy bread. She steps back for a moment and gapes at the trunk, leery of what she might find. Even more puzzling is that her grandfather would hide something. Bolstering up her courage, she gives herself a pep talk.

“No sense fretting over it. Can’t be anything dangerous. Get it done, Victoria.”

The clasp has a keyhole and Victoria worries she wouldn’t know where to find a key. There is a perturbance on each side of the circular latch. She squeezes them and the latch pops open. At first glance, the trunk appears empty. Victoria has to lean forward to see inside. Standing upright and propped against the lock side is a rectangular package wrapped in plain brown paper.  A brownish twine hugs all four sides with a tidy bow in the center. She handles is as she would a new born. The paper is old and crinkles when she lifts it. Turning it over, she discovers an envelope attached to the brown paper in the center. She brings the package out closer to the lamp. Wipes off the cushion with her free hand and sits in her grandfather’s chair.

About the size of an opened three-ring binder, the packet has perfect square edges. The letter is glued to the paper and with a light tug, it comes off. She sets in on the table and unwraps the package. The paper is brittle and flakes on the edges where she unfolds it. Inside are two paintings, canvases stapled on narrow wooden frames. She holds them up to the light. The images look familiar to her, the style of painting. What surprises her the most is they are of a similar image and yet different. Fluctuating light patterns spill over what looks like a tree with hanging branches. It reminds her of Impressionist paintings she saw last year in a travelling display at the museum in Ottawa. Why her grandfather would hide works of art for so many years is an enigma. She scratches her head and studies the paintings for a few moments before she sets them on the carpet and opens the envelope.

Inside is a single page. She recognizes her grandfather’s neat script. It’s written in fountain pen and the words have faded over the years but still legible.

 

          January 13, 1939.

I hope I am dead when you find these paintings, whoever you are. I can only hope it is one of my relatives, someone who cares enough to clear my name. Rather, I should say, to right the wrong I have done.

The paintings are originals by Claude Monet. I expect this will come as a surprise to you, dear reader. Would your first question be, why are they similar? Monet often painted the same scene but with different light patterns or in different seasons. These two were never publicly displayed. Titled Weeping Willow, they were completed during the First World War as an homage to fallen French soldiers.



Your second question, no doubt, will be, why are they locked in a trunk and hidden behind a bookshelf? The answer is simple, I stole them when I was a teenager, back in France, before I moved to Canada. Are you shocked? This coming from a man that honored his word, made sure his child knew right from wrong, a man who was known as an honest upstanding individual. (At the very least, I hope I was regarded as such). I have no answer as to why I stole them. The opportunity arose and Monet was quite famous when he died in 1926. On impulse, I had to have them.

But what good has it done me. Not a moment has passed since then when I don’t hang my head in shame when I think of what I’ve done.

Whoever you are, it is now your duty to restore them to the rightful owners. Let your conscience be your guide.

Clarence Devereaux.

 

Staring at the letter, she trembles with the thought of her grandfather’s admission. It seems impossible. The letter falls to her lap. Sitting back, she sighs heavily and glares at the paintings at her feet. The first thought that comes to her mind is how valuable they must be. If she remembers correctly, one of Monet’s paintings sold a few years back for over eighty million dollars. How could she possibly restore them to their owners without implicating her grandfather? Worse yet, how could she explain their presence on a property she now owns? Where would she take them?

Sinking down in the chair, she contemplates what she must do.  An hour passes as she remains like a statue, the rising of her chest the only movement. The paintings create a dilemma. Only when Daryl knocks on the door to tell her they are finished, does she rise from her deliberations. Before responding to Daryl, takes the time to remember the look of joy and satisfaction as her grandfather’s clients walked out his shop sporting a new hat, the respect they all paid to him for his skills. She then recalls the crimson stain on the main floor, and wonders: hasn’t her grandfather suffered enough indignity? Gathering up the paintings and the letter, she sets them gently back in the trunk, slides the trunk back in the empty space, resets the inner shelf, shuts the light off and closes the door.

As she climbs the stairs to the first level, she feels someone is watching her. She pauses and looks back. A vapor, ghost-like, rises from the edges of the door, and dissipates.  




I enjoyed writing this story. It was an idea that stuck in my mind for a long time before committing myself to it.


Do you like short stories? Tell me what kind you like in the comment box below.





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