|This is the fourth chapter of what is evolving of its own accord into a strange sort of mystery novel. The first chapter, Miro, is published here. The second chapter, Letter to Ariela, is published here. The third chapter, the Faeries of Morpheus, is published here. Chapter five, Review of the Evidence, is in progress. The novel consists of a set of fragments, recollections and memorabilia, that are discovered by Inspector Tom·s Moreno LÛpez in a carved box in the home of Miro, an engineer who has mysteriously disappeared and is now assumed dead. The carved box was apparently made by Miro’s estranged wife, a famous artist, who has turned up at a country inn, incoherent and delirious, and fallen into a mute trance, oblivious and unresponsive to everyone, including the couple’s two adult children. So Inspector Moreno must try to piece together the puzzle from the ‘clues’ in the box, each of which is contained in a numbered envelope, and each of which, as Moreno reads and ponders them, becomes a chapter of the novel. Here is the contents of the fourth envelope:
The four of them — Miro, his neighbours Wolf and Kristen (parents of the delightful Birgit, who had brought him the abandoned Puppi and Kitti, the wonderful creatures who filled some of the empty space left by the departure of his beloved Ariela), and Elena, the community school principal, who frequently borrowed Ariela’s artwork and Miro’s architectural drawings as inspiration for her students — met monthly for a game of cards in Miro’s solarium.
The game of cards was just a pretext for their monthly get-togethers, which often evolved into artistic and philosophic explorations that lasted well into the night. Each ‘game’ evening had a different theme, and Miro prided himself on creating an atmosphere in the entirely glass-surrounded solarium that reflected the theme and inspired the evening’s activities. Tonight, the theme was Sensation and Intuition, and the game played was a Basque bluffing game that used an unusual Tarot deck — each card was illustrated with a unique work of art that suggested the meaning of the card, so that readings could be entirely intuitive rather than based on ‘learned’ meanings of the cards.
The card game involved the collection of runs and sets, using the Tarot deck’s four suits and the arcana as a fifth, higher-ranking suit, but also involved a declaration in which not all the cards were revealed, and, unless challenged (which carried a penalty if unsuccessful) it was the best declared hand, not the best actual hand, that won the round. But before a challenge, potential challengers were permitted to ask questions of the declarer and discuss with the other players whether they thought the declarer’s body language betrayed a bluff or not. Miro quickly discovered the symmetry of ability to bluff and ability to suss out bluffing in others — since he lacked both.
He had positioned four clusters of scented candles around the room, each representing one of the four elements — earth, air, fire and water. The breezes coming in through the windows mixed the elements, and as the game proceeded the four friends discussed what these combinations suggested to them and reminded them of. The soft candlelight also created the evening’s mood — one of camaraderie but also gentleness, tentativeness.
“Look, this is your card, Miro”, said Wolf. “It is a lost mariner, in heavy seas, not sure who or what or where he is. See the compass — it has four points but none of them is identified. Before he can find his way home he has to decide which point on the compass is which.”
” ‘Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ” quoted Elena. The others chimed in in unison: ” ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.’ ‘I don’t much care where.’ ‘Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.’ ‘Öso long as I get somewhere.’ ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.’ ” They laughed and clinked wine glasses, and Miro performed a mime act that he had seen years ago of a ‘random walk’, with the others cheering and encouraging each time his walk took him closer to the conversation pit where they were playing, and groaning each time it took him further away.
“Take care, pajarito” said Kristen, “The drunkard’s walk only eventually takes you home in two dimensions. As soon as you start to fly, each choice is sure to take you ever farther from where you want to go”.
Miro stopped his walk by the stereo and put on a Procol Harum song:
In starting out I thought to go exploring and set my foot upon the nearest road;
In vain I looked to find the promised turning, but only saw how far I was from home.
This coup prompted applause from the group, and Miro bowed and ended his performance.
Elena opened her bag and drew out a series of bottles, and three blindfolds. After covering her companions’ eyes, she challenged them to identify the contents of her bottles, only by smell, by taste, by feel. The group was chagrined at their inability to differentiate very different scents and flavours without visual clues, and learned that familiarity, recent exposure and knowing the precise name of a particular flavour or scent’s source all had a bearing on ability to identify it. They also learned how to differentiate the smells of their companions’ hands without seeing or touching them, even when scents were applied to disguise them. And they were most surprised at their inability to identify objects by touch alone.
Wolf introduced the next event of the evening, bringing out a set of goggles that, he explained, could be programmed to shift the ‘visible’ wavelength of light and energy up or down the electromagnetic spectrum. They took turns looking at infrared and ultraviolet emanations in the room, and those coming from each others’ bodies. But when Kristen looked at Miro with the goggles, she began to cry.
Later that evening, when Wolf and Kristen had gone home, Elena stayed behind, lamenting the problems of the educational system and how, despite her ideals of teaching students how to learn and then letting learning be a self-initiated, self-directed and self-paced process, she and her teachers kept falling back into traditional ‘teaching’ roles. In some cases her students were too young for this to be ‘learned’ helplessness, or co-dependent behaviour. Elena speculated that it was role-based behaviour, and that the only way she would be able to free her students from the expectation that she would teach and they would passively learn, was if she were to create the illusion that she was not a teacher (or a principal), and allow herself not to be a teacher. She lay beside Miro, her head on his shoulder, imagining with him how this might be done.
Finally, they grew weary, and, as they did when they were childhood friends, they nestled innocently in each other’s arms and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, Miro had a terrible dream that Ariela was lying, unconscious, at the bottom of a deep well. And that, thanks to Wolf’s glasses and his heightened ability to sense things without seeing them, he could feel and ‘see’ precisely the terror she was experiencing. And, in his dream, their two children were standing helplessly at the top of the well, unable to imagine what to do to rescue their mother — their faces in ghastly mime make-up, unable to speak. Miro woke up shouting, and it took an unsettled Elena an hour tocalm him down.
And then he noticed, at his feet, a card that had somehow become separated from the rest of the deck.
Not the Lost Mariner, though. It was the Hanged Man.
Artwork above is from Sweden’s Linda Bergkvist at furiae. Some of her extraordinary work is available for sale through her site.
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