Sunday, January 22, 2006

DIM MANSION : part 1

All we know for sure is that we aren’t sure of anything, but by now it’s urgent that we make some headway. Things are getting out of hand. Our first premise, which can be stated with reasonable confidence, is this: around town, people are vanishing into thin air. This is known. All else is hazard and surmise; nevertheless, we must infer what we can and take action. The time for hemming and hawing has passed. Our citizens are vanishing at an astonishing rate, and the children are colicky all night.

Gannon the Fishmonger was the first to disappear. Let us examine the facts. Gannon left his family sleeping soundly at home and proceeded to Lathel’s Bakery, as usual. The two businessmen made small talk about the vagaries of shop keeping and the stickier wickets of local government. As Gannon drank his coffee, he perused the morning edition of The Town Crier, while Lathel dispensed with the morning rush. When the logjam finally cleared, Lathel noticed that Gannon was gone, and had forgotten his newspaper. He wiped his hands on his apron and sat down with a scone – blueberry, to be precise. As he ate, he thumbed through the paper and noticed, with mild curiosity, a brief item circled in blue ink about a missing pet cat. The owners were confounded to find its collar discarded on a window ledge, the tiny bell dangling over the sill and tinkling in the breeze.

We know that Gannon then headed for the bazaar, where the other merchants’ booths already stood in various stages of assembly; that he strode down the flagstones of Main St., sucking at the ivory stem of his long pipe, leaving a tracery of rich-smelling smoke laced through the brittle morning sunlight behind him; the extraordinary light that once brought us cloudless joy, now furtive with doubt.
If this account achieves wide publication, a nota bene for non-natives is warranted: we take immense pride in our mornings. The light contorts low and jagged across our buildings and bridges, our creeks and avenues; it breaks into sharp-cracked stars on wind cocks and tin chimneys, plays out dazzling tricks of perception on plate glass windows and mirrored storefronts. So the report submitted by a passing commuter that Gannon’s head wore a radiant halo that morning was dismissed out of hand – we assumed that Gannon passed a reflective surface just as the sun shifted into a certain position, creating an optical illusion. The citizen who entered this incident into the record was granted anonymity, for he felt ashamed. He emphasized that he did not truck with supernatural phenomena, but in times as unaccountable as these, no detail could be deemed insignificant. On his good name, he felt compelled to come forward and – without jumping to conclusions – report what he had seen.

Other testimonies confirmed that Gannon behaved normally at the bazaar, tipping his cap and rotating his right wrist, which pained him in humid weather. Talwick the Haberdasher, whose concern lies directly across the main concourse from the Fishmonger’s, swore that Gannon looked blurred at the edges, was difficult to distinguish from the scenery around him. A man without borders. But these are paranoid and hysterical days. Our women are given to fainting and shortness of breath; our men to intrigue and bluster, and people are disappearing. We must view all available data through the inflexible lens of fact, and forestall the shading in of gray areas until the basic truths become known.

According to his daily ritual, Gannon unfurled a green-and-white striped awning over the stand and hung up nautical decorations: course fishing nets, rusty gaff hooks, locally stuffed seagulls, and his frontispiece, a large barnacled anchor. His slight, tow-headed apprentice brought in the catch, which Gannon arrayed in ice-filled bins. The boy noted that while Gannon seemed normal, he did not hum the old rowing songs he usually hummed while setting up in the morning.

The boy thought that perhaps Gannon was annoyed with him for being late. It is a brisk five-minute walk, as the crow flies, from the harbor to the bazaar – looking down from the square, the sun-glittered ocean stretches away in rose and orange, fading to a darkness that shrouds a neighboring island town. But because he didn’t want to pass by the old mansion, the boy used a slightly longer route.

Looming on a rocky bluff between the harbor and bazaar, the old mansion has been a source of schism in our town for as long as anyone can remember – its provenance is a seldom-discussed lacuna in Lewellyn the Archivist’s scrupulous records. The old mansion casts a dark pall over our otherwise cheerful homes; with the ornate iron filigree of its gates and widow cages; the inherent drabness of its stones and its infested timbers; its weedy lawn and hard-etched, skeletal trees. Some want to renovate it; others, to tear it down, but nothing ever happens: the item recurs regularly in the minutes of the Town Council as “unresolved.”

Some citizens even claim that the mansion has its own weather, an overriding grayness and climate of dolor that not even the morning sun can dispel, but only partially cover, like a blanket too small for its pallet. But these are troubled times, rife with wild accusations and shrill admonishments. We imagine footsteps muffling past our darkened windows at night; every tree seems to conceal a rafter of crows waiting to burst out and startle us with their racket, and people are disappearing without a trace. So superstition must be held at bay, lest we all become lost.



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