Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Apperception - Part 2 of 4

Continued from Part 1

I didn’t speak to him for an unforgiveably long time in social terms. Let’s call it ten minutes of staring blankly as the busy subway filled and emptied at the Queen Street, Dundas, College and Wellesley stations. He returned my gaze patiently, occasionally revealing an almost sheepish ‘Well, you’ve caught me’ smile that I assume was meant to be comforting.
Don’t talk to the apparition, I told myself. Talking to the apparition affords it the opportunity to respond, whereupon you will be talking to an impossibility so don’t talk to the apparition. While you’re at it, stare at the apparition and determine which film appearance you’re looking at exactly, which synapse’s worth of memory is firing this back at you for no reason you can fathom but do this without talking to the apparition.
This worked at first, but it felt rude not to at least acknowledge the dead-not-dead man. My application of the silent treatment ended shortly after passing Rosedale station, when he finally found a seat on the train directly across the aisle from my own. The passengers sitting to his left and right shifted their positions to accommodate his presence. 

That chilled me; I was no longer hallucinating one person. I had coerced bystanders into acknowledging his presence, or I had grafted his likeness onto some poor guy minding his own business on the train.
He actually looked rather happy sitting down, perhaps not surprising given his age. An older gentleman (he was 75 when he died) would understandably like to rest whenever possible. There was also no means of knowing how far he’d traveled to end up on my train.
He leaned towards me and said “Are you all right in there?” while tapping his temple with his index finger.
I didn’t move. He was close enough to touch me (which wasn’t an appealing prospect) and that was probably the impetus which updated my mantra from Don’t talk to the apparition don’t talk to the apparition don't dignify its presence don't let it make its own narrative to oh what the hell at least he's polite and if I'm crazy I'm already there I can't unwind the crazy clock and if this is all going south I might as well get on top and ride it down and talk to the...

I said “I think I’m having a stroke.” A trite opening, perhaps. But sincere.
He half-sighed and smiled. “Nothing that serious. Most people get,” and he twirled his finger around the side of his head, “a little bit off in these situations. You’re doing just fine.”
I made a quick inventory of my person; no numbness. No drooling. A slight headache. Strokes do weird things, but none of the more popular symptoms had yet manifested. That was a relief.

I learned forward and said “You’re sure this isn’t a stroke? Just a visit?”
He shook his head with a mild shrug. “This isn’t a mission. I’ve not been sent to talk to you. I’m just here. And I’m not dangerous. I’m…” and he paused for a moment, “…incidental. You’d needn’t worry about me.”

And that was that. He looked neither interested nor disinterested in continuing our conversation and checked his watch (a silver Swiss chronograph, at first glance)  before looking back at me pleasantly. I was just somebody with whom he could pass the time of day.

I finally said “You don’t look vicious,” and received another thin smile.

I waited a few seconds before saying “But that was always your strength, underplaying your role. It made you unpredictable.”
He pantomimed a small bow. “A little tricky, yes. I’m not a large man, so best to be that quiet one everyone says you’ve got to watch out for.”
I nodded. “You stole scenes afrom Max Von Sydow. And he was Jesus as the time.”

He chuckled and said “Yes, in 'Greatest Story Ever Told.’ I knew I could have some fun when I took the part, the Devil always gets the best lines. I don’t think Max was happy at first but we got along splendidly after watching the dailies.”
Had I heard him say that in an interview, somewhere? I added “Von Sydow played the devil later in ‘Needful Things’. Maybe he owes you a pint and a thank-you when he gets to where you are.”
His smile died out (as it were) in a few breaths, replaced with a sigh. “Still alive, he is. I’m aware of that,” and he paused, “and of the comings and goings. As you’d expect.”
I said “I have no idea what to expect in such a situation. In this situation. I’m just…”
 “Amused!” he said, brightening up.
I would have denied it, but he had a case.
“You’re an invention,” I said.
“That’s fascinating,” he said “Enlighten me. Which part of me isn’t real?”
“All of you. You’re dead.”
“Agreed!" he said adamantly. "I’ve not denied it. There’s a coroner in Saint Paul de Vence who signed the papers. I was cremated and had my ashes scattered in France as well, if that helps you in terms of closure. But I’m still happy to chat whenever I'm discovered.”
His ‘discovered’ comment felt obvious. He – or my stroke – wanted to explain something. I tried to ignore it.
A closer look at his face revealed that he was  the older Pleasance, not the one in his mid-60s who’d played the kidnapped (and improbably British-accented) US President in ‘Escape from New York’. He wasn’t as round as Pleasance from the later ‘Halloween’ movies (perhaps dying encourages moderate weight loss) and he frankly looked better than he had in the ‘Signs and Wonders’ miniseries he’d made shortly before his death.
And a realization; I’d never watched that series, only glimpsed at publicity stills and shots from the DVD release. I reasoned that, as an invention, he could only look as I’d seen him before. Or as a mélange of what I remember. 

Our conversation was something else entirely. Attempting nonchalance, I said “What do know about me?”
“Very little,” he shrugged. “You were a surprise.”
“You called me Michael.”
His rolled his eyes to the heavens. “That’s hardly evidence of divine or diabolical influence.”
“Who told you my name?”
Another shrug. “Always been a lucky guesser, me.”

I smirked, unashamedly amused at this point. I asked “What else do you know?”
“Little of relevance. I’m not a search engine.”
“The dead have the internet?”
“The dead can see. And sit on trains.”
“And chat.”
“You’re proving that right now.”
I stopped being amused at that. “You’re a hallucination.”
“Nobody’s objecting to you talking to yourself.”
I looked around. Nobody was staring or even appeared to have noticed babbling idiot me. I suggested “They’re polite. Or I’m too scary to approach.”
He smiled, warmly. “Why don’t you ask somebody if they see me?”
That wasn’t going to happen. “Talking to the dead’s crazy enough for me.”
He nodded sagely. “If you’re embarrassed, you’re not crazy. The insane have a great disregard for propriety.”
I considered this while watching a short bit of theatre. The woman sitting beside him stood up to get off the train at Eglinton station, dropping her purse on his foot. He picked it up, handed it to her and she said "Do you know where I get the bus to Bathurst Avenue from here?"

He shook his head and said “Sorry, I don’t live here,” (raising the question where do dead actors ‘live’ and why choose Toronto as a vacation spot?) and she nodded, leaving the train and showing no sign that anything was out of the ordinary.

As the train left the station, he smiled and said “Have I just proven or dis-proven some theory about me?”
There was a finality about his smile with that line; the introduction to the game appear to be over. Now we were down to brass tacks. When I said “It’s telling me the stroke is going to be a bad one,”  I was long past being amused.
The brass tacks disappeared seconds later. He shrugged again, his voice suggesting mild irritation. "Not to worry. I’m not the angel of death. It doesn’t happen that way.”
A long silence. A few seconds of relief. Death doesn’t announce itself, apparently.
I said “Will you tell me how it happens?”
He lifted one eyebrow, theatrically. “To what end?”
I almost smiled. “To pass the time?”
He shook his head, gently. The topic appeared to have been dropped. We were approaching Finch station, the end of the Yonge Street line, when he stood up and said “I believe you’ve overshot. Don’t you have a home to go to?”
I said “Yes. And yourself?”
“As I said earlier, I’m incidental. One place is as good as the other, when incognito.”
“Almost incognito,” I corrected him.
The train slowed and he started towards the door. I could have followed him – I at least half-considered it – but his departure stuck me as more appealing than his appearance. He said “If I were you, I’d go home to my wife. Disregard me, although it’s been a pleasure. There’s no bad news following. Go home and call your doctor about your headaches, he’ll set you right.”
He nodded and turned to the door in lieu of a goodbye. He was about to set foot on the platform when I said “And what if my doctor’s a woman?”
He smiled from the platform, maybe looking a little bit relieved. I heard him say “Then all the best,” with a wink as the doors closed.
He turned to find an escalator and I was no longer part of his non-existence. I was just a man on the subway, several stops past his original destination, living with a mild but potent headache, soon to discover that my doctor (male) was on vacation; my appointment the next day took place with his replacement, a well-qualified woman who’d practiced in France before coming to Canada.


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