I take advantage of the fact that there was a federal election in Canada yesterday, featuring a Prime Minister Trudeau, and today is Leonard Cohen’s birthday. I present this excerpt from my novel, Fame’s Victim, when Cohen was still alive and attending the funeral of a former Prime Minister Trudeau.
Excerpt from Fame’s Victim
ST is present-bound enough to be aware when the end of the funeral arrives. Vested clergy group at the front of the church and the RCMP poll bearers again emerge. To the mournful strains of the organ they begin to slow-march the coffin along the aisle. He has no desire to mill about to meet the family for he has never met any of them before. He only encountered Le Monsieur the one time, but it was obviously significant for the older man.
This ceremony of death makes everyone equal, and ST takes his place comfortably among the hundreds of other mourners who begin to leave the Basilica. Their progress along the center aisle is orderly but slow and he has time to inspect the interior of the building. As he looks at statues and woodwork and stained glass, a hand taps him on the shoulder.
“That’s one of my favourites.”
ST turns to see Leonard Cohen nodding and pointing to the left. He follows the other man’s finger and eventually perceives a somber painting enlivened with splashes of mystic colour.
“I see ecstasy.” Cohen’s voice is a low murmur.
“So do I.” ST immediately understands what the quiet voice means. “It breaks out.”
“The way death should be.” The poet glances at ST with a half smile. “Something to look forward to.”
“I’ve never doubted that.”
“Ah.” Cohen shrugs. “If Pierre could only speak to us now.”
“Do you think it possible?”
“No.” His eyes hold ST. “Not the way I mean, at any rate.”
“The tongue stilled.”
“Something I will regret.” He leans toward ST. “Do you have plans after the funeral?”
“Not really.” ST keeps to a muted tone. “I thought I’d look around the city. I don’t leave until this evening.”
“Then perhaps we could take a noontime stroll to a place of refreshment.”
“I don’t want such public exposure.”
“This is the Prime Minister’s day in Canada. It is understood why you’re here, and you will be left alone.”
They come out into the sunshine. Media attention is heavy, but it is directed elsewhere. ST is pleased to discover that his companion is adept at quickly moving through crowds. They descend the steps and start along the street, garnering glances but no intrusions. They turn a corner, cross another street, and traverse a Square that leads to a narrower street. ST notes it is Rue le Royer and the pedestrian traffic is slight.
“A restaurant or an outdoor café?”
“I’d like food and to be outside.” ST speeds up to keep pace. “But I’m not sure about a public display.”
“There is a favourite place of mine. We will be left alone.”
The street enchants ST, much as many of the ornate, narrow streets of Europe do. He can imagine himself standing on one of the small, door-sized balconies looking down as pedestrians, such as two, black clad men, scurry along below. In a few minutes they come into the direct sunshine of a broad avenue. They are on Place Jacques-Cartier, and it is ringed with cafés and restaurants. There are also hundreds of people milling about in the crisp October day.
“There might be the occasional ‘hello’.” Cohen glances at ST. “Nothing more than a smile is required. Most of these people are on their lunch hour, intent on a bite and a glass.”
“I’m certainly intent on a glass.”
“That’s where we’re headed.” He doesn’t point but starts across the square. “There are many tables still free.”
ST again keeps pace, walking beside the other man as they go up the hill. People do indeed notice them, but after an initial surprise comes a look of understanding. The day still belongs to Le Monsieur.
The outdoor café has hanging baskets of flowers, many in robust bloom. The tables are of ornate wrought iron and have burgundy table clothes. The chairs appear to be actual wooden kitchen chairs.
“Perhaps that corner.” ST points to the back.
“But – non.” Cohen smiles as he grabs ST’s arm. “Here – at the front. We are to watch the street go by in all its tousled glory.”
“Will they not be watching us?”
“Give and take.” He begins to steer ST to a table. “We will be taking more than they.”
A couple of the tables have wide umbrellas open over them. ST prefers one of these but instead is gently nudged to the street front. All of the other patrons do look as they walk among them, but although their eyes linger no one says anything. At the table ST begins to pull out a chair which will put his back to the street, but Cohen clicks his tongue and moves the chair until it is nearly beside the other.
“We’ll sit together. We’ll twin their delight.”
“If they approach . . . “
Cohen winks. “You won’t have to sing a note.”
ST settles beside the poet and gives himself up to the street scene. Regardless of the chill in the air most of this early afternoon crowd have made little concession to the time of year. The women especially seem as fashionably and attractively attired as he has seen in any public place.
“The ladies are alluring.” ST smiles.
“Antidote to the black of funeral garb.”
ST notes the usual ‘double take’ of those pedestrians who happen to look their way. Barely is eye contact made however before it is quickly removed. Couples immediately chat together, but there is not one finger pointed in their direction.
“What would you like to drink?”
ST looks away from the street and smiles as an unexpected thought takes him.
time?” Cohen glances at his watch.
“Will they have something decent here?”
“They will offer a selection.”
With a half-raised arm and the gesture of a finger the waitress is summoned. Upon hearing the request she lists a half dozen champagnes. ST chooses one he knows will be as crisp as the day.
“Dear God – yes.” ST smiles at the waitress then glances at the other man. “Any suggestions?”
“They stuff a chicken breast here with portebello mushrooms, feta and wild rice.” He touches his lips. “With a Greek salad it is a meal to embrace.”
“That sounds fine.” ST looks back to the waitress. “But bring the champagne now.”
“Are we to toast?” Cohen watches the waitress walk away as he speaks. “Or are we to mourn?”
“I less and less mourn the dead.” ST also watches the waitress leave. “They are lost to us but they are not lost to time.”
“Then we acknowledge?”
“Yes.” ST turns to the street. “The only time I met the Prime Minister – mere months ago – he desired we have champagne. It is a memory to share.”
“Memory – the ghost at every table.”
The noontime crowd has run its course and, just as with the café clientele, the number of people on the street become fewer. However word-of-mouth has spread and everyone makes a pass of the café. Other than being the object of glances and smiles, the two men are not interrupted. Pedestrian traffic does slow however when the bottle of champagne arrives.
“They want a show.” Cohen runs a finger over the cold bottle.
“There’s a proper way.” The waitress is winding a white napkin around the bottle.
“In tandem, don’t you think?” The poet glances at ST.
“That will make the news of the world.” ST indicates the number of cameras and video recorders among the crowd.
“It should be the news of the world.”
The waitress is not certain of his intent, but when Cohen stands beside her with a generous smile she hands him the bottle. He lets the napkin fall to the table and holds the champagne – label out – toward the street. ST gets to his feet amid the click-click-click of cameras and begins to remove the wire basket.
“You can not share my déjà vu but trust me, Time is doubling over with laughter.”
ST begins to twist the cork, his other hand around the bottle’s neck even though Cohen holds the base. When he feels the cork start to give he puts both thumbs against it and shoves. As it explodes into the Montreal sky the waitress holds the two glasses and, amid the welling applause from the street, ST pours the champagne.
“We begin to set the clocks at normal.” The poet takes both glasses and the flustered waitress flees.
“By drinking champagne at noon?” ST reaches for the offered glass.
“By showing we no longer need to mourn.” Cohen’s smile contains wry triumph. “Time is pulling out of the station and now we need to jump on board.”
“With a sip of champagne?” ST brings his glass to his lips.
Cohen gives a slight bow to the street. “The most effective slight-of-hand is the trick that’s seen by all.”