Birds on the wing and fish on the fin.
Also, my brother’s first memory of my father was seeing a pair of legs waiting at the bottom of a rail car as he and Mom disembarked. I assume this was also the York St. Station. He would have been three. Dad was away on the continent fighting a war when he was born and, at war’s end, had been shipped directly back to Canada.
And – of course – I lived ten minutes away from this station for thirty-four years. Many and many are the times I walked the tracks to go to UNB, both as a student, and for work at the University Library. Many was the Sunday walk I took from the Station to the Princess Margaret Bridge, which was two kilometres away. Then I walked back beside the river.
I also took a number of train trips to and from this station. And during those times the train finally did not physically come into this station, one took a bus from here, to and fro the Fredericton Junction station.
This unexpected walk down memory lane is caused by my current character, Alison Alexandra. For the last three days I have been describing Alison Alexandra sitting beside a disused train station (now a museum), waiting for a train to pass so she can wave at the engineer. Which she did.
Here is the link that describes how this station – eventually – was revived from its years of abandonment, and its derelict situation, to become a modern place of commerce.
I bet Shakespeare could look you in the eye and tell you who you are – so well-versed in the ways of people he was. And he could then place you upon the stage, and have an actor have a go at you. With puns and foibles and insights.
Thus do I repeat my Shakespeare (if not Shakespearean) homage.
The stage is as bare as my lady’s ass in his lordship’s bedchamber. Rough-hewn in the most knockabout way, leaving splinters in the palace lawns of the imagination.
There’s many a dip ‘twixt the trap and the lip.
It fares little better than hastily strewn boards covering parched ground, and barely enough elevation to keep the understanding masses at bay.
Were one fool enough to come from out the wings, and at centre front begin a soliloquy about the beauty of the wretched arena on which he stands, to fight the resulting and justified spontaneous combustion, there would not be found one drop of piss from any a Thespian’s hose.
For who could allow this sacrilege to be spoken?
Even the flag atop the pole knows that the magic is not yet arrived.
A stage without commercial trappings:
without solid doors and thick drapes;
uncluttered by pillars and arches, tables and chairs, windows and fireplaces;
sans orchestra, sans balcony, sans pit.
A stage revealing all its secrets. Profound as emptiness.
A stage in wait.
For in this world writ small – as in the globe around – the audience has nothing to know, nothing to learn, until the actor makes an entrance, and prepares to fight past our eyes to battle with those thoughts and fears which lurk in sheltered halls.
What’s Hecuba to him?
Why – nothing.
Merely a name on a page of script, a cue at which to turn his profile thus.
It is what Hecuba becomes to we who wait,
that turns the key upon the heavy gate.
In my novels where HM The Queen occasionally appears, one of those instances is after her own mother’s death at 101 years. Here is a meeting between my protagonist, ST, facilitated by the Royal Steward, Howard.
As it is the most of formal protocol days ST must accept that Howard is first and foremost a Steward of the Queen. He will be guided, he will be ushered, he will be tended to with the utmost of discretion.
“A sad occasion, Howard.”
“Leavened a touch this time around, Sir.”
This is Howard’s way of informing him that all – more or less – is as it should be.
“Please convey to Her Majesty my deepest condolences.”
“You may do so yourself, Sir.” Howard indicates for another member of the staff to continue greeting the flow of arriving vehicles. “If you’ll follow me.”
This is unexpected. ST had been surprized enough to be invited back to what he assumed would be a somber buffet in one of the State reception rooms. There would be small talk and a hurried atmosphere as most of the Royal family would soon be on their way to the internment at Windsor Castle.
“Whose idea is this?” ST asks the question to Howard’s retreating back as he follows the other man along the front of the palace.
“Whilst on duty, Sir, I have no ideas of my own.”
They enter a section of the palace unknown by ST. They come to a door that Howard has to unlock. He uses no swipe card nor keypad but a substantial metal key upon an equally impressive key ring. When they are through the door Howard locks it behind them.
The corridor is far shorter than the length they have just walked. ST guesses they are near the back lawns and gardens. He wonders if he is going to be taken to the pond he stood beside so many years ago, and if he will have the chance to skip stones again. However, in less than a minute, Howard turns sharply along an unexpected hallway and shortly stops in front of a set of double doors.
“Our destination, Sir.”
ST makes a quick appraisal of his person, tugging a coat tail and smoothing his hair. He questions the steward with a glance and Howard nods his head before he knocks on the door. ST can’t tell if Howard actually hears a response or if there is a designated seven seconds before he swings the doors open.
“Come in, Howard.”
ST notes that Howard unusually precedes him into the room instead of standing aside and then following. He is also surprized that when he himself enters the room Howard does not close the door behind him.
“Thank you for attending.”
“Your mother made a profound passage through Time. You’re welcome.”
The Queen is mid-room, standing beside an ornate floor lamp. The room is not a large audience chamber but a smaller sitting room or den. There are comfortable chairs and books on shelves and a writing table. In one corner is a television and a discreet bar.
“Yes, she did.” The Queen finally approaches ST with hand outstretched. “She put every year to use.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” ST takes the Queen’s hand, ungloved and barely adorned, and shakes it gently. He looks her in the eye as she does to him and finds a calmness he did not expect.
“Come to the window.”
He follows her across the room and notes that Howard, although unbidden, does the same. They stand in a line before the broad panes of glass.
“My mother did not often reside in this palace as she believed it rightfully belonged to the current monarch.”
“Howard tells me you are finding out about appearances.”
“Yes.” ST does not hide his glance toward the steward. “I am discovering that it is others who do not permit me to be on an equal footing.”
“Exactly so.” The Queen smiles. “And does Howard instruct?”
“I suspect so, Ma’am.” ST also smiles. “But with Howard, who can ever know?”
“Oh, we live and learn from that one.”
The Queen looks away from the men and stares out the window. Since ST is here by request and no polite dismissal has occurred, he realizes the audience is not over. He also realizes, standing and looking onto a burgeoning garden, that this may be one of the quietest rooms he has ever been in. There is not a sound reaching them from the great city of London, nor from the bustle of the palace.
“When my mother did come here, this was her favourite room with her favourite view.” The Queen points out the window. “She would often spend an afternoon here after some public or family function – the two often intertwined.”
“As she would often point out, Ma’am.”
ST almost snorts in surprize for Howard has just given the Queen a verbal nudge. He assumes this is part of a steward’s job, but ST has never seen it done.
“Yes, Howard.” The Queen glances at him. “My mother was a ‘public’ person over sixty years. She both resented and appreciated the fact that she had forty years without.”
“Both, Ma’am?” ST is struck by the notion for not only does it sound contradictory but he is startled to realize he has similar feelings.
“Yes.” The Queen turns and looks directly at ST. “She appreciated the fact she did experience the younger portion of her life where she lived almost normally. She resented the fact that by having that experience she lived the rest of her life knowing what she was missing.”
“And you, Ma’am?”
“I was not born to be a Queen but as long as Uncle David had no issue I was always reminded I was Heir Presumptive. My youth had some normality but I was never allowed to go my own way. “She pauses to look out the window. “I have never known what I am missing but I am aware I am always missing something.”
“Do you think that is worse?”
“How can I compare?”
ST has no answer for this and hopes it is rhetorical. That you can’t really know one thing without experiencing its opposite is a nugget found in the core of Space/Time – and Space/Time rules the world.
“Howard’s body language is urging me on.”
“Is it, Majesty?” It is Howard himself who asks the question. “Uncharted waters, Ma’am. I apologize.”
“You’re being protective, Howard.” The Queen nods. “It’s appreciated.”
[Franz & Ottla]
Franz Kafka lived way too long with his parents (his discord with his father is famous), and stayed in the city of Prague (which he described as “The little mother with claws”) for most of his life. But his sister, Ottla, escaped both. In my rendition of Kafka’s missing diary entries, in Kafka In The Castle, I show his reaction to his sister’s escape.
20 April 1917
Fate laughed up its sleeve, and this morning’s post brought a letter from Felice. A letter of no consequence, except for its arrival.
And I, in fact, have answered it. Perhaps too hastily. Perhaps too truthfully.
I have praised Ottla so much previously that F. has, upon occasion, made comments about my admiration.
That was her word, and I think it was not used favourably.
But the truth is – I have great admiration for my youngest sister. She does not think and think and think.
She does not discuss things for weeks.
My God – she got away from Prague!
In my novel, More Famous Than The Queen, I follow the life of ST, so famous he is only known my his initials. One of his friends is the Queen of England. They have the occasional meeting.
Here, written a number of years ago, is an abridged account of one of his meetings with Her Majesty, in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.
So, why not share, on the heels of the recently released documentary of Her Majesty, walking and talking in her gardens – itself quickly becoming famous.
ST walks half way along the lake without seeing anyone else. He assumes he will quickly be notified when the Monarch is ready to receive him. He knows his progress is being monitored by sensors and security devices.
He slows his pace. He is past the turn in the path, and nearly to the head of the lake. He can not be more obviously present as he stands beside the glistening body of water.
ST absently gazes at the ground in search of a skipping stone. The lake is so narrow, he will have to throw along its length. It seems he won’t get to practice his rusty skills, for the earth is totally absent of suitable stones. Crushed, white pebbles border the lake. All of the strategically placed rocks are too hefty – some even large enough to sit upon. It is apparent the area is regularly raked.
He pushes his shoe through the pristine arrangement, hunting for an errant rock which might have missed a ground keeper’s eye. Not a particle of dust accumulates on his highly-shined toe.
ST’s hunt is futile, and he begins to search in earnest around one of the large rocks. Instead of using his toe, he carefully reaches forward to push the polished pebbles out of the way. He even picks some up, hefting them in his palm.
“Is it your intent to stone our fish?”
ST is so startled he drops the pebbles. He has heard not the slightest sound behind him. He turns with much surprise and shock, prepared to rebuke whichever ground keeper or security person he confronts. His angered preparations are for naught.
“They will prove adept at avoidance.”
“They have survived many a grandchild.”
ST stares at the small woman, and actually feels a twinge of reverence. They have met before, and had conversations – not just two minutes of “chat” during some reception. Even though ST knows all about the smoke and mirrors employed by fame, there is always something at the core to be obscured and reflected.
A small woman in black, glancing at him while squinting into the sun. It is not who she is, but all the things people believe when they meet. For the first time, he realizes what others may be seeing when they come to look at him.
“Skipping stones, Ma’am.”
“A poor choice here.” She turns from the sun.
It seems to ST she would like to be alone, but for him to leave in any direction would be acutely apparent. Startled by royalty at the beginning, and offending royalty at the end, is not the way he wants to remember this encounter.
He stands his ground, keeps silent, and watches the small woman’s back, as if he were a faithful yeoman of the guard. Give him a halberd and pike, and he would be the most diligent defender the kingdom has ever seen.
She is staring into the water, which reflects the blue sky and the trailing white clouds. The surface is so calm their reflections sparkle. “Do you know they call this the Queen’s weather?”
“That seems rather a lot of responsibility to us.” She takes an unhurried look into the sky, then points to a huge swath of blue. “As if we could command such a thing.”
“It’s just as easy to take the credit.”
“Then credit must be taken for the poor weather. To be accorded jurisdiction over fifty percent, demands a responsibility over the other fifty.” She turns and looks directly at ST. “And so much more, beyond our expertise.”
And although ST does understand, he speaks because he is spoken to. And he does not speak the first words which spring into his head, which would be impertinent.
“Yes, Ma’am.” He has forgotten how perceptive she is.
“Many do.” She is waiting.
“`Heavy is the head that wears the crown’.”
“Our Mr. Shakespeare knew his Royalty.” Her eyes definitely change, ST will swear to it. “Although we suspect he would prefer a correct rendition. `Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’.” “Henry IV, Part 2.”
“Are you playing catch-up?”
“It is to be commended.”
She glances toward the palace, and then looks into the sky. “In the country, we generally tell time by the sun.” She again walks toward the lake, and stands so close her toes seem to touch the water.
“This conversation must never have taken place.”
“Ma’am. My plan is to make my memoirs a tissue of lies.”