Looks like I'll have to take the positive response to my last posting to issue this "failure", two chapters of the actual book itself, where "Joanne" becomes Lana.
What is below is the first and last chaper of my novel, THE FIRE IN BRADFORD.
A top editor,having seen these chapters, was not at all impressed.
Lana appears before you while you are rolling your own cigarettes, the 1920's Vogue face, the bobbed hair, a Drew Barrymore fallen into the rye on one September day, though I knew in future September days it was not a field of rye that Lana would fall into, but a baroque field of dreams, of opium, and then the rush of cocaine that would make her thoroughly modern, thoroughly Chicago out of 1930.
Yet it was l986.
I was a newspaperman with a predilection for French authors, because they were so maddeningly thorough, the linchpin of real writers and so well did I get to know twentieth century authors in French that I soon got to teach a night course in it.
Ah, the French penchant for the absurd, the splayed-out mysticism of an Andre Malraux and the incredible clarity of image and idea that only Frenchmen possess, and they'd be the first to tell you. Despite the utter incomprehensiveness of their humour (Fat man wears mop-wig--ha- ha) the French are somewhat superior and they know it. Celine, for instance, or, for that matter, Celine Dion.
Enough that I was a teacher of French authors and she walked in one day with no hint of the Vogue beauty that I would later know, no inkling as to the heaviness of spirit that would later come to oppress me, no clue at all as to the beautiful woman who resided in the suburban Mam's overalls, the little white tee shirt with the red apple monogram, the closely cropped hair like Celine Dion in Las Vegas.
But not me.
I was an old hot-lead linotype newspaperman just getting over a divorce, getting my love out of imagination, tossing the I-Ching, seeing my love in the allure of print until she walked in.
We had actually met the very first time on the stairs of Sacred Heart School where Seneca had a night class. She was on the way up and I was on my way down. She had looked different then, walking right up to what seemed the middle of a Goethe fantasy of mine. How these screwball women with their multiple personalities and costumes do attract one: She was the very image of Kathschen Shonkopf, Goethe's firs love, the nice high forehead so many girls from Ontario possess, the hair severely back in a bun with the neatest little bonnet atop, large haunting eyes like your mother's, straight nose somewhat probing, delightful little crooked lips and the cutest overbite.
She did encourage my Goethe fantasy. I saw another image of Lana, but this time with a pre-Victorian dress exquisitely corseted, nice breasts, waist hardly existent at all. And Granny boots!
So there were at least two Lanas that I already knew about, and after the years, many, many more.
But on this particular autumn evening, she was in to study French authors, a fascination for the Bastille, I guess, the French Revolution, socking it to the Bourbons (who would return a generation later to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing)--all that stuff of high drama for a fairly active imagination, constrained somewhat by a husband she imagined as pesky.
She did seem to know her French authors, but largely of the Victor Hugo mold and a lot of Dumas, the adventure, misery, suffering, cell-to-cell signaling. Was there a dungeon in her life?...Lord knows what the suburbanites in Bradford were up to these days.
I always found myself charmed to find that in spite of possibly rococo lifestyles up there in Riveredge Park, hardly anybody in my class, largely women, had ever read real novels like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina, the substance of all those adventurous, adulterous wives who think their problems will end by leaving old hubber, only to find with Chekhov, that their problems were just beginning. Or was old Mr. Chekhov just a prig and a spoilsport who knew nothing about real swingers, a Wayne Newton who didn't know the first thing about Shania Twain. I don't know how I'd ended up at Lana's house.
A somewhat raffish untenured professor who enjoyed drinking with his students after class, I had no objections at all when she asked through a third person if she could come to one of the pub nights, and could she bring her husband.
Hubby was handsome as the night is long, like a European Wayne Gretzky, his manners continental, but no accent at all. Dracula in a hockey jersey, liked by all immediately, sweet as a pimp.
I could not help but marvel at the Vogue beauty of Lana now before me. What had happened to the closely-cropped hair? How did it reach lovely 1920's back-cut modishness in the scant three weeks that I'd seen her last, before she'd begged to get a little time off from her classes to go on a "camping trip"? A wig, of course, but it made her look more like Drew Barrymore, though Lana had a deeper beauty, more English, the inner glow, the hint of Viking.
I was lighting my cigarettes backwards. I had no idea how this present-day Julie Christie out of the Twenties had even broached the threshold of my life and wondered why she seemed so interested in me. I also wondered, as a veteran of not a few affairs, how many others had been pole-axed in the same way. She'd obviously been charming men for a long, long time, the blue eye shadow, the absolute blondness, pint size and everything about her fashioned, turned, just so. Sheer elegant femininity, and you could bet your granny boots there were at least three other guys playing here besides old hubber. Unnatural elfin beauty. A setup for loners and stoners.
The husband's name was Leif. Leif the Lucky. Or was he?
I balked at first when they poured me into their red SUV, to be carted home with them. Drunk, I was babbling, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass. Leif seemed somehow intrigued by this last reference to Immanuel Kant.
Enough that we somehow got to a neat white cottage in Holland Landing, the husband unexpectedly retired rather suddenly, passed out in the bedroom and Lana and I were left to ourselves in a shag-rugged and Danish-style living room with its U-shaped chesterfield facing an immense picture window with the drapes not yet drawn. And the chess table in the corner.
And suddenly I became aware of how lonely I was, me the divorcee and frequent near-separado from my subsequent live-ins, the man of many wives and master of none. It seemed I was suddenly curved up in a ball of loneliness, vulnerability, want. I just wanted her, anybody, anybody like her, to hold me. "Just hold me," I was beginning to keen.
Very deliberately, she put an open palm and extended, graceful fingers to the seat of where she saw the trouble to be. Maybe just a lonesome woman not sure of herself , or someone used to certain kinds of men, or maybe this had to a a wham-bam-thank-you ma'am, and that would be my fifteen minutes.
Earlier, she had gone to the hi-fi to put on an LP and I noted she kept bending over to reveal a beautiful pear-shaped derriere that she seemed rather anxious to display. Was she a virgin, the wife of some Ruskin, who was found years later to still possess her hymen after a lifetime of marriage? A lesbian? A lady of the night? Or maybe a lonesome woman. A lonesome woman suddenly not sure of herself because of a husband's imbroglios, or homosexuality, or extramarital affairs, or all of the above.
In any event, we settled down. She had put on, of all things, my favourite Bob Dylan LP, the "Bringing It All Back Home" one. Pop nihilism , but what an articulate and haunting nothingness. "It's all right ma, I'm only crying," the great American genius rasping it all out, sharp trick-of-the-trade F-chord penetrating the D tonic, then quickly to a G and then back to the D, doom-da-da-dadda dum.
Holy mackerel! She was right on my frequency.
Back to Title Page
Something was wrong in Hamilton; my father was acting funny. I was acting funny, the lack of sex, the frustration, the pain of the non-relationship after all these years, up to five hundred points on the Selye stress scale, which was only a hundred in the first place. At my parents home in Hamilton, I had been watching Italian movies late at night, and , making sure my parents were asleep, masturbating copiously, like a teenager. I almost missed the credits on the soft core flick. Produced by Salvatore Bathgate Gambini. The pimps were into blue movies now? In an orgy scene, the girl being eaten looked for all the world like Lana through the grease on the lens. This was all getting to be hard on clean socks and still harder on my sanity. Damn Lana. My brain was awash with alligator sperm.
I had intended to return to Newmarket Sunday night, just after the Italian movie. I checked into the bathroom to find my father lying on the floor. He greets me, but seems unable to get up. It is just before Christmas in l991 and my father is on the floor, disgraced apparently having filthied himself, like I had "filthied" myself before the TV with that Italian movie. My father cannot rise up, cannot get up. It is just before Christmas l99l and my father cannot get up.
I did the best I could. I summoned one of my sisters and then another but they would not come. Various excuses. I tried to bring my father around, but no good. He lay on the floor. I had no choice but to call an ambulance.
My poor father died in a matter of days, and though by Ukrainian law I as the son was the only heir. My sisters ended up with the new houses my father owned. The Canadian way. I ended up with a shack worth some money for the property alone. I knew it was worth $l00,000. I did have King Lear fantasies about my sisters poisoning my father for the properties, making my own breadcrumb sins nothing at all, but I dismissed all this as mere paranoia, considering my mental state over Lana. Despite my father's death, I was still in a state of shock. Things were going on all around me and they seemed to be happening to somebody else. I could think of nothing but Lana, like a drowning man snatching at a twig.
Maddened, I went to phone the only one I loved--Lana?--to vent my grief over may father's death.
"I'm married now, Daniel. I'm sorry about your father, but I am married now. I don't want to see you again."
I don't want to see you again. It was the first time she'd actually said it. When would I awake from his nightmare, to really get it, realize that it was all over, had been over from the very first few months.
I don't want to see you again. Her replies had always been "Leave me alone" or "Leave me and my husband alone." Never "I don't want to see you again."
Double depression. My father was dead. I would be rich, but where was the salvation, where was the soul of all this? What kind of monster would call his witchy mistress while his father was dying? Or did I realize that I was now totally alone?
I was going into a Tennessee Williams fantasy. I didn't go to the moon, I went further. I attempted to follow in my father's footsteps, a death wish.
I took $63,000, bought a car and attempted to find in motion what was lost in space. I traveled around. I drank and drank again for three years until the money was gone. I ended up in a West End hovel, staring at the Vogue cigarette papers package, still thinking of Lana, my beauty fallen into the rye herself, or more property into coca leaves and the poppies.
There were rumors of Lana being murdered by her pimp, but this could not be as the papers had shown a call girl ring broken and the pimp in jail. Nothing said about a murder. Served the bastard right for playing with my life like that. For egging Lana onto near killing me. Lana was definitely in a hole though. Like me in my mental hole. I had to find out if she was at least alive. Curiously, it was a Halloween night.
She was there waiting for the subway car. She would not speak. Certainly no now, the season of the witch. She would not acknowledge my presence. She passed right by me as she went to board the train.
I realized that she had put on quite a bit of weight. Her grimace, or near grimace as she had passed me was toothy. She wasn't quite yet a hag, but another fifteen years would do it. I had no doubt in my mind about Lana having become a witch.
Presently, just when I was starting to get things together, after in fact having spoken to Super-Fly on the phone with the weird information from him that I'd already won (he somehow knew who I was), just when I was trying to get this very novel together, to once again planning to waylay Lana again, I found that someone had set fire to my loft apartment.
Two days later, he succeeded. I was forced to do a swan dive out of a second-story window and lost in the blaze everything I had. Again, someone had struck. Hard. I also sensed that Lana was now dead. I recalled Gambinis's voice on the phone quite a few years back. You have a problem, Daniel. If you don't solve the problem, I will. I will Daniel." I knew now that he was after both of us. Lana's house probably burned to the ground. They were hoping to get witch and warlock all in one swoop.
I realized once and for all that there was a ring of people in York Region who would stop at nothing, not at murder, not at arson, not at subverting everything that is overground and legitimate, including, if necessary, a teacher of French authors at a provincial college. Demons. The dark side of York and Simcoe counties, here on the rim of Toronto.
I called the Attorney General, something I should have done at the beginning of this book. Superpimp and Salvatore Bathgate Gambini were rejailed and dungeoned. There was a search party out for Lana, who may have died in her own fire.
And yet the image of Lana, my little Helen of Troy, continues to haunt me. I go out to find companions, and failing that, cigarette papers with the Vogue design. To stare at her face, perhaps through flame, forever.