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Authors: Trevor Cole

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I sat there for a while breathing in the dry airplane air, feeling the engines’ hum against my spine and looking at the knees of the people sitting in the first row of seats – there were three dancers coming back from entertaining personnel some place in the Middle East (a big secret where, because they weren’t saying) who’d had to connect through to Canada at Dubai. Two of them were wearing jeans and one a sort of flowy skirt. I didn’t look up at their faces – probably they would have
been a bit upset by what happened – but they had some pretty nice knees.

“I just wanted to see what kind of movies there were,” I said.

“What movies?” said Oberly, standing in the aisle with his long arms noodling down from his hunchy shoulders. “What are you talking about?”

I tilted my head back and pointed at the tiny screen above me, embedded in the partition. “Aren’t they supposed to show movies on these?”

Oberly shook his head, which made his loose hair wave around. “This is a military plane. If you were military you’d know they don’t always show movies. Just like you’d know not to go butting into off-limits areas and to stop dead when you’re ordered to!” See, Oberly was ex-military. I think he got as high as Chief Warrant Officer. He was always talking like he was still in the loop.

From partway down the aisle, Leunette called up, “Oberly. Go tell ’em to put on a friggin’ movie.”

“It’s not our decision, Sergeant; it’s the crew’s. They might not even have any.”

Leunette shook his head in disgust. I liked Sergeant Leunette. I didn’t know him that well, but he felt a bit like a friend because Legg had liked him. They used to play poker all the time and I got invited to play a fair bit. He smelled like a chimney from spending a lot of his off hours in the smoking tent outside the kitchen at Camp Laverne, but the way he dealt with people seemed clean. “They must have some sorta shows up there,” he said. “The kid’s just trying to get through the friggin’ flight. What’s the problem?”

Oberly’s arms went all cockeyed. “We just had to tackle him to keep him out of a restricted area, and now you want to reward that behaviour?”

Leunette waved him off like gnats. “Whatever, he’s your guy.” He yanked a thumb at Jayne to get him out of his seat so he could slide over to the window. “Just seems to me like the decent thing to do.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure we’d all like to see a movie. But it’ll happen when the flight crew wants it to happen.” Oberly swept his hair back into place with one hand and pointed me to my seat with the other. “Go sit down, son.”

The hiss of air in the plane sounded like sand blowing across a field, and Oberly kept pointing to my seat as though the seat had done something horribly wrong and he was making an example of it. It’s seats like this one causing all the trouble! I stood up with my back to the cargo area door and my hands in my back pockets. And that’s when it occurred to me that it wasn’t just movies that were entertaining – all the commotion of the past twenty minutes had managed to keep my mind off things pretty effectively.

I slipped my hands out of my back pockets and found the door latch behind me. “Fuck you,” I said to Oberly, and then I opened it again.

6

T
here were few things worse than a jumbled inventory. Vicki, conscious of the fact that by now Gerald had probably arrived at the airport to pick up their son, but keeping that fact in an anteroom safely off to the side of her attention, made her way, clipboard in hand, around the sharp cabinet corners, past the stacks of boxed linen, and through the upturned chair legs sprouting like river reeds. Thankfully all her country oak and pine furniture (useful for filling out those three-thousand-square-foot finished basements) was exactly where it should have been, including the nineteenth-century fruitwood lambing chair she adored, the useful three-panelled oak settee, and the four small pine pot cupboards that did such admirable work as pedestals for large topiary and the occasional Carpeaux bronze. She was relieved to find as well that the dining sets, mirrors, and drum tables were all properly stored. However, four of the bedroom suites were stationed along the east wall, not the west, the salon pieces were in the wrong corner, the bureaus and
credenzas were in each other’s places, and the boxes of pewter, ceramic, and miscellaneous accent pieces were catastrophically misarranged.

This was what came of leaving things to Hella, her parttime assistant, which she had had to do this morning during the disassembly of the Gainsmore Road house because it had been necessary to meet with Avis at Lightenham Avenue. Not that Hella wasn’t good at many things – she was a true godsend when it came to the assembly phase, taking a firm hand with the moving crews when Vicki was elsewhere engaged and showing real talent with window treatments and linen layering (anything that required spreading or smoothing seemed very much up her alley). But she had proven herself untrustworthy in disassembly and pack-up, not seeming to appreciate the importance of being able to lay hands on a given item in the warehouse at a moment’s notice. If it was discovered, for instance, one hour before a showing, that because of some subtle shift in a new home’s foundation a thin vertical crack had appeared in the plaster seam between the wall and the fireplace mantel, then it was vital to be able to immediately locate and install the taller set of Flemish fire irons and perhaps even the Tunbridge ware bellows as an attractive camouflage. Hella didn’t seem to understand that it was this sort of taste-appropriate response upon which Vicki’s clients had come to rely, and which had contributed to Vicki’s status as one of the top real estate stagers in the city. Vicki, of course, accepted some of the blame for Hella’s lack of awareness in this regard, because she was loath to make Hella feel anything but loved; although in itself, this was hardly a failing.

For twenty minutes she rummaged among the warehouse shelves, through the boxes of accents. She was able to check off the soft toys and the equestrian accessories (the helmets, boots, whips, and riding trophies that she used in the Ralph Laurenlook guest bedrooms). She found the barometers and hearth clocks, and everything to do with the dining room (decanter sets, tea sets, the silver milk jug, the George
III
mahogany table cellaret with spirit bottles, and so on), the decorative kitchen fruit pieces (a dozen rustic pears and seventeen apples, formed in high-gloss papier mâché at 150 per cent scale), which she displayed in bowls and placed on open shelves to bring colour and culinary intimations to white or off-white kitchens – these were safe and sound. And the boxes of everything silver and everything treen were eventually located. But though she searched the entirety of her accent collection, and then the remainder of her eight thousand square feet of warehouse space, with all the lights on, she could still not find her Meissens.

When she called Hella at 2:08 p.m., about the time she imagined Gerald would have begun to drive back with Kyle, the hand that held the phone to her ear was shaking as if she were cold. “Hella, sweetheart,” Vicki purred, “I’m here at the warehouse and I can’t seem to find the Meissens.”

“Which?”

“The Meissens, darling. They were in a grey box all to themselves.” She always treated the Meissens with extra care, because the porcelain tureens with the blue-onion pattern and the two candlestick figures represented the beginnings of what she had made of herself. Her mother, Patricia Dealing, had loved antiques and built up an impressive collection, much of which
was now incorporated into Vicki’s inventory. But her mother’s job, in a very real sense, had been her marriage to Marshall Dealing, the airline executive; antiques had been merely a hobby. It was Vicki who had seen the potential in what the antiques, in their ideal arrangement, represented – an accomplished past, an appreciative present, the clarity of mind and the contentment of spirit that came from all things happily in their place. This was something, Vicki sensed, that people would pay money for, and the Meissen candlesticks were prized as her first find with that objective in mind, bought twenty-three years ago with her mother’s approval as a bargain at $285 for the pair.

“Oh, you mean the china bowls and all that? They’re in with the treen now. I thought it would be good to pack the wood and the porcelain together, for safety.”

“So,” said Vicki, turning around to survey the boxes arrayed on the deep shelves before her, “in the box marked
treen
, I will find the Meissen porcelain?”

“Yes.”

“And that includes the two candlestick figures?”

“Yeah … I think so.”

“All right. Now” – she located the box marked
treen –
“I want to say that was a very clever idea, to think that the treen bowls could act as an extra layer of protection, in case the Styrofoam and bubble wrap wasn’t enough –”

“Well, wood’s a lot stronger.”

“Of course, yes.” Her heart thumping, Vicki shifted the heavy treen box to the edge of the shelf, eased it to the floor, and crouched down to open the flaps and begin lifting out the contents, item by item, as she shrugged the phone snug to her
head. “But do you see why that might not be the clearest way to package things? I mean, if I’d needed to find the Meissens in a hurry –”

“I should have written Meissen on the box too, I guess.” Vicki could tell by the turn in Hella’s voice that she felt terrible about the mistake. And perhaps Hella was thinking too about having not used enough Styrofoam packing chips around the Meissens, because that had been obvious to Vicki as soon as she’d opened the box. “I don’t know, it was just, like, we only had the movers for three hours, remember? For both floors!”

She lifted out the four treen bowls first (these she was using less frequently lately because modern treen bowls had become so popular at crafts fairs her two-century-old walnut antiques were too easily confused for something just carved out of a stump of maple). The ingenious little Meissen inkwell was next. And by the time she had set the two blue-onion Meissen tureens carefully on the worn plank floor, it was obvious that the thing she feared had happened had, in fact, happened.

“… I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to make it on Tuesday,” Hella was saying.

The two Meissen candlesticks, each with its own cherub-like putto standing upon a mound of leafy green seaweed, embracing a long, vertical eel-like fish whose tail splayed over the putto’s raised knee and whose mouth opened wide to accept the base of a taper, were laid on their sides at the bottom of the box. Each of them, at least 150 years old and now worth $740 apiece in the unlikely event Vicki would ever sell, was wrapped in a single, inadequate layer of bubble wrap. And each of them, precious thing, was snapped in two.

“… Wednesday should be fine, though,” Hella was saying.

“Hella,” said Vicki, light-headed and reaching down to the dusty floor for support, “when you packed the Meissen pieces with the treen bowls, did you happen to lay the candlesticks on their sides?”

There was silence on the line as apparently Hella was sending her mind back to the hurried moment of packing, and Vicki, sitting tilted on the floor now with one leg bent underneath her, laid the top halves of each of the candlesticks on the floor and slid the useless bubble-wrap blankets from the bottoms.

“I think so, yeah. I thought it would be safer.”

“Hum.” Vicki pressed the heel of a hand against one eye. “Well, that’s my mistake then.” She spoke through a roughness in her throat. “I should have told you it’s always better to keep tall, fragile things standing upright. I thought I had.”

“Why? Is anything wrong?”

“Hum,” said Vicki. Her voice felt squeezed; she found it hard to catch her breath. “Well, it’s just that” – she held one of the candlestick bases in her lap, and she folded herself over it, pressing the putto, the child, against her stomach – “they seem not to have survived the trip.”

Nothing came from Hella for a moment, until she offered a soft “Oh, no.”

7

T
he Trenton airport wasn’t much of an airport, as far as Gerald could tell, and he regretted that nine months ago, when Kyle had been heading out, he hadn’t driven his son here himself. He’d wanted to, but Kyle had insisted on finding his own way because he wasn’t a child who needed to be driven around by his parents any longer.

KYLE:
I’m not going to a school dance or something, Dad; this is a life decision. I don’t need a lift to my life decision.

If Gerald had managed to convince Kyle to let him drive, he’d have had a chance to see the Trenton passenger terminal and know that Kyle was about to place himself in the hands of an organization, the military, that invested no effort or attention whatsoever in moments of transition. Kissing one sort of reality goodbye, heading off to another – it was no big deal, apparently,
as far as the military was concerned. Gerald didn’t know what exactly the components of a transition-friendly passenger terminal would be, but a gathering area with a dozen or so anchored seats, a grey departures counter the size of a lectern, a lone conveyor belt for luggage, a beefy, unhappy-looking man standing with his foot propped up on the rung of a stool, in a building imbued with the character of an unused garage, clearly missed the mark. He was looking for decorous. He was looking for grateful. This wasn’t a place for honouring the decision to put everything you held dear at risk, this was a place for slipping in and out unannounced.

That it was small, though, with a minimum of doors and passages, made it hard to miss whatever new arrival – soldier, government official, casualty – one might be looking for, and for this Gerald was thankful. He’d managed to make the trip in just under two hours; not bad given the consecutive slowdowns on the highway east of Bowmanville, the first caused by a man changing the rear tire of a Toyota, the second by a dark-blue van stopped at the side of the road for no discernible reason, which made people think it a speed trap and slow to an ooze. (It wasn’t a trap, though; Gerald had made a point of staring into the window as he inched past and saw the driver, mouth open, asleep. He’d banged on the horn out of frustration at that point and the driver hadn’t moved, so there was a chance, Gerald realized, that he was dead. Which didn’t lessen his irritation.)

BOOK: The Fearsome Particles
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