[[This story is unconventional in that it’s told in both first person and third person. You the reader will probably be aware of the act of reading the whole time. If you feel I shouldn’t play with the rules like that maybe you shouldn’t read on; I guess it just makes it more like a play.The plot is on the surface and underneath is the tension between reality and the imagination. It is the very first story I wrote when I began practising the art of the short story. It has been edited but it is still very like the story first written in 2010.. By the way the name is pronounced Jah-fee-ah ]]
I wanted to run out the front door, down the garden path and brain my Dad with a blunt instrument. My relationship with my Dad on that Thursday was at an all-time low. I felt it had slipped away like a morning fog while we were taking care of business.
I watched my dad, doing the usual thing with his mobile phone, under the maple tree in the front yard. I stared out my bedroom window. The tree’s leaves were turning red, amber and orange. My Dad stood level with the cool, patterned grey and white bark; a dark figure in his black suit. Gary Ballantyne, Investment Broker to what seemed like half the known world, was connected via modern technology to his favourite people .Earlier he had knocked on my bedroom door but I ignored the sound.
Last night I had made my third attempt to show him the really awesome pictures I had taken on the Year 12 trip to England and France; the best ones were taken in the medieval village of Chartres. I had been rapt with what I had learned about medieval clothing, medicine and beliefs. I had been surprised to discover (and enjoyed sharing with my mother who is a doctor) that women were held in high esteem, educated and even encouraged to practice the medicine of the day. Dad I wanted to share it with you and you stuffed it up. I wanted your attention. I wanted to say thanks, thanks for letting me go on one of the most expensive trips MLC has ever had. You just blanked me. Tears slipped down my cheek. Even as I cried, I realised something to my shame, for a few years it had been cool for me to blank my dad, a lot.
The autumn sun was already warm and Gary wiped his brow as he entered Malvern station to board the 8.15 for the City loop. Suddenly he was tired of everything; he didn’t use the earphone of his iPod but just stood, half leaning against the stainless steel pole of the carriage. He could hear the voice of his wife Margherita in his head.
“YOU have changed so much! I remember when you used to laugh out loud every day. Do you remember when you worked at McLaren, Kline and Partners and I was pregnant with Madeleine? The girls in the office loved to laugh at you; you had a magnum of champagne with a lacy maternity bra wrapped around it on your desk. You used to tell everybody soon my wife is going to have a beautiful baby!”
Suddenly He wanted to lift his arms and shout, “I didn’t mean to change.”
Instead, he stood silent and immobile.
When he arrived at Southern Cross Station he decided to take the escalator to the food court on the concourse level and buy a cup of coffee. He had arrived at the office right on 8.45am for five years. He worked up to twelve hours on weekdays. Hope they don’t call out the Light Horse to rescue me from the City of Tardy. His mouth twisted.
As he descended half an hour later on the escalator to street level, he noticed what appeared to be a pair of legs covered with red and white silk protruding across the walkway at the bottom. In the few seconds it took him to reach the bottom an unusually clad woman had stood up. She had on a long low-waisted medieval style gown with sleeves that draped down to her knees .Panels of alternating colours made up the bodice and skirt, and an ornate belt draped her hips made of silver with green enamelled flowers attached. A dark red circular cape that fell from her shoulders revealed the detail of her dress.
While he was gaping he became aware of a flash of light ,a slight vibration and then a rattling and clanking attracted other passers-by’s’ attention. Suddenly a man clad in armour appeared, carrying a large shield; divided into four sections, alternately silver and orange in colour, separated by green raguly lines. On the four sections were displayed a silver skeleton key, an azure coloured butterfly edged with gold, a C with much ornate detail and a wooden treasure chest ,closed. Speechless, he blinked.
No one else seems to have noticed he just appeared.
From behind him he heard a familiar voice.
“Gary, is that you? Can’t believe you’re not in the office yet! Hey!”Dave rattled on in his usual garrulous style. “These buskers have amazing costumes, but they better shuffle before security gets here!” He pointed to the overhead camera. “The fines are pretty stiff. Anyway Gary, better be off! See you at the office.”
He could remember when Dave would have asked him to walk with him.
As if on cue, two security officers appeared and escorted the buskers to the office on the other side of the forecourt. He felt compelled to talk to them. He couldn’t leave. He went over to the office and knocked on the door.
A surly looking dark-haired man opened the door.
“Excuse me, Gary said, playing dumb, “What did these people do wrong?”
“Nobody is meant to busk in the station, mate. I’m sure you know that.” he began to shut the door.
Gary blurted out, “But they’re just foreign students, aren’t they?”
“They’re foreign, alright. They sound kind of French. We’ve just called a translator.”
“What are you going to tell them?”
The guard drew back and looked at him. “You don’t look like a troublemaker but you’re pretty curious.”
“Well, I was here to meet some actors for a medieval gig ……I think they are the actors on the way to our gig. It’s a promotional type of thing. I really don’t think they meant to cause trouble.” Liar.
The man withdrew and spoke to his superior, Mick.
“We’ll let them go but would you just get them out of the station. Remind them not to practise their acts in the station. Ok?”
The guard’s beeper went off. Someone was causing trouble on the concourse level.
Gary and the new arrivals stared at one another for two long minutes. The woman reminded Gary of a character in one of his daughter, Madeleine’s story books; one of the books from which he had read at night, long ago. He sighed.
He held out his hand, “I’m Gary.”
The woman stared at his hand and looked puzzled.
The woman spoke with a guttural accent.
“Lady Gaeophia Du Cannon.” She pointed to her companion.”Elstan Du Cannon.”
Elstan smiled and placed in his hand what appeared to be two real silver coins.
The thought occurred to him that photos of these two would be of great interest to Madeleine. He motioned for them to stand together in front of a nearby pillar. He took several photos and then unpacked his laptop and transferred them to his media files. He felt eyes boring into him and noticed that both Gaeophia and Elstan, slack-jawed and pop-eyed, watched what he was doing. He played them some of his slide shows and videos. He found one of Madeleine chasing her pet rabbit in the garden. She was eight and her wavy auburn hair bobbed about on her shoulders. He noticed Gaeophia’s hair was similar in colour but reached past her waist.
Sometime later, he had despatched the two in a taxi and supplied them with a business card. Gaeophia stowed it in the drawstring bag she carried. Elstan had been asked to remove his armour, stowing it in the boot of the taxi, which caused him considerable upset. They acted like they were expecting a fight. Elstan didn’t feel so self-conscious when he looked around ,it seemed to him that a lot of people in this strange place went to market in their underwear. Gary felt like waving goodbye but just smiled, then leaned in the cab window and gave the driver the address.
I think the French Embassy will be able to sort them out.
Gary headed for the tram that would take him up Collins St. He wasn’t thinking of work but Madeleine, the sun shining on her wavy auburn hair. The image lasted until he was seated at his desk, and turned on his computer.
About 12.30,after a productive morning in the office, Gary started to think about his favourite Chicken on Rye. As he reached for his jacket, a shriek from the front reception caused him to leap up and bang his leg against the desk.
“You cheeky bugger, John, Is this your idea of an April Fool’s Day joke! I thought things were awfully quiet round here.”
“What on earth are you talking about, Sue?’
John spoke, accompanied by more giggling from Sue.
“After the hassle I got into last year for playing jokes, you’ve…..’ His voice trailed away.
Gary and Dave arrived at reception together, both attracted by the disturbance. Dave, who was about to say that he had seen, unbeknownst to Gary, Gaeophia and Elstan earlier that day in High St was struck dumb by the rest of her entourage. Behind the resplendent Gaeophia and Elstan were two men ,in hose and tunics, carrying a small casket of oak with iron bands and two locks.
One produced a small horn and played a long note.
“Bow to the Lady Gaeophia!”
“Why the hell, not? I love a bit of play acting”, said Sue and affected a courtesy.
On impulse, they offered to take the jokers to lunch.
At first it wasn’t so bad, the joke, despite having to buy lunch for the four costumed personages. Dave was thoroughly enjoying the disconcerted looks, the stares of fascination and the laughter, especially from the young women but Gary was bemused. He couldn’t help wondering why the attention seemed to ‘throw of’ the performance of such a well-prepared actress. She glared at the audience and at times spoke, in what he thought was old English, but in a completely incomprehensible way. The Lady seemed genuinely angry when the diners at the next table laughed to see her long sleeves trailing in the soup bowl. During the next course she quickly grabbed for a fork and asked about its use, after her first effort at eating steak with the knife attached to her belt met with gasps and snickers. As Gary used his plastic to pay for lunch, he reflected that the next time he went to lunch it could not be so absurd.
I can’t describe how bad I felt by lunchtime that day. Mum had driven me to the corner of Glenferrie and Barker’s Roads and I’d taken the tram to Methodist ladies College. I endured the morning. For five and a half years I had been attending MLC and I was a pretty good student. Until today I had never gone home at lunchtime with a headache. Desperate to be alone I pretended to the nurse I had called my mum. When I arrived home, I stood under the maple tree in our small front yard, feeling smashed. I leant against its mottled bark. Everyone thought I must have picked up a virus, in France, but I felt heart sick. The autumn sun was warm on my upper body. I lay down with my head on my schoolbag, my jumper under my thighs and dozed off. When I woke up I remembered the strangest dream.
In my dad’s office was a medieval lady, dressed in the style I’d seen depicted at Chartres, accompanied by a man in a tunic carrying a very unusual shield. I especially liked the azure butterfly in the bottom left quadrant. My Dad was staring at them puzzled.
The lady went behind his desk and was pushing buttons on the keyboard of his computer. Dad said stop touching that please but she picked it up and walked forward until the plug jerked out of the wall and dropped to the floor. Dad went toward her but the man stepped between them and produced a pouch full of silver and gold coins.
“Lady Gaeophia desires to purchase this magical window of wisdom.”
Dad shook his head and tried to take the laptop back.
“Get your own. I’ll tell you where to get one. This one is full of my stuff.”
He tightens his grip on the edge of the screen.
This really loud guy who has worked with Dad for years comes into the room. By this time there is a real struggle going on.
“Hey, what are they doing here? I’ll call security, ok.”
Dad nods, red in the face.
By this time, I can tell you Lady Gaeophia has forgotten she’s a lady.
The Security officers arrive and manage to get the lap top off the two intruders and hustle them out the door. Dad gets up from the floor to go with them and looking at his workmate Dave, groans out
“She’s vicious, that one, got me below the belt.”
Dave replies , “Really”, and smiles.
When Dad gets downstairs Gaeophia has disappeared and a jabbering Elstan is trying to explain himself to two very puzzled men.
I wake up. A golden maple leaf has fallen on my brow. I stand up and drag myself and my bag into the house.
Gaeophia found herself flat on her back on unforgiving flagstone. She had travelled back home through the vortex of time. Somehow she opened a door to the strangest place with her secret, magical experiments in search of wisdom. Lying with her eyes closed she recalled the vision she saw before she left. It was of the girl she had seen walking through the streets of Chartres, attired most strangely, with hair like her own, she recalled. She was sure she had come close to her on her recent foray, for she had seen others attired like the vision girl in that peculiar place. She had almost obtained the lighted window of wisdom but the man Gary had not been willing to give it to her. As she opened her eyes the ornate tapestries of her home castle appeared through a fog .The pungent smell of herbs assailed her nostrils. There was no sign of Elstan in her peripheral vision. If he has not returned she had decided to make sure he brought back that coveted computer “the window of wisdom.” Then the hem of the long, black cloak worn by her father and mentor, Hawk brushed against her cheek. She steeled herself to shut out his ravings.
“Sely, Gaeophia, Sely! Is there no end to your foolishness? Where is Elstan? Have you beguiled him with your magic?” Elstan was nowhere to be seen. She listened for his steps, his armour, and his voice. Hawk continued to rant, “It is medicine we practice, not this!” He grabs her arm roughly and then pulling her towards him releases her arm suddenly. Stumbling and. lowering her eyes, she says nothing but she is uncowed. She must have the window of wisdom. She considers that the strange people will not harm Elstan. Stoney faced, she contemplates her plan.
The following Monday Gary was called by the police.
“Mr Ballantyne, will you visit this man that was picked up at your building last week? No-one can identify him. Perhaps he’ll talk properly if you are there. No-one round here can understand his language. They’re suggesting some kind of Psychosis. ”
Gary arranges a lunchtime visit with Senior Constable Jay.
For the first time since he had met Elstan he finds him fearful rather than fascinating. Constable Jay goes out after a while because he thinks he is putting Elstan off. Still the only thing Gary can make out is ‘Gaeophia’ and ‘Window of wisdom’. Finally, Elstan pulls out from under his tunic a brochure on laptop computers and a credit card marked clearly with MS GAEOPHIA CANON .Gary shakes his head. Finally the half hour is up and as they leave Gary checks to make sure that Elstan hasn’t had any visitors.
“None”, insists the nurse.
A vision of the auburn haired woman pops into his mind.
The night four days after the weird events start, Dad and I really talk. At dinner time, the first meal we’ve had together in weeks, he shows mum and me the pictures of the strangers from the station. I wonder at the coincidence because they are the same as the people in my dream and dressed like the people in the medieval book and postcards I brought home from Chartres. Then I show Dad all the pictures from my trip. We linger over the shots of the streets, houses and seascapes. I show him a picture of St Hildegarde with other female medical practitioners from the year 1140. He remarks how much one of the women resembles our Gaeophia.
Dad and I talk and laugh late into the night .He remarks how good it is to discuss all the intriguing mysteries of our day. It is like I am taking him on a tour of Chartres. I remember when I was a kid dad had seemed to look forward to everything as much as I did. He always had a special surprise or joke to share with me and my friends had thought he was so cool. I give him a hug when we say goodnight.
When he came home a week later with a silver antique ring decorated with a green enamel flower, and told me he’d found it on his desk the day Elstan disappeared from the mental hospital I laughed. It was hard to believe that the scenario I considered we may have imagined really happened. He explained that the police contacted him when Gaeophia’s knight disappeared, without a trace. When he returned to his office after speaking to them the ring was sitting on his desk with a strand of long wavy auburn hair wrapped around it. It had not been there minutes before. He had looked the style of ring up on the internet and it appeared to be an authentic antique ring from the 12th century. Then he discovered his laptop was missing. The company treated it as a theft. There was nothing on the security camera except the shadowy back view of a man with long hair wearing a tunic.
“You’re kidding Dad…right? This is a tall story, and you got the hair from Mum.” I slapped his arm.
He laughs and puts his arm across my shoulder.
“You know the last week I’ve started to believe that anything is possible. I think we might all go on a holiday together soon and just have fun… No telling who we might meet.”
He winks at my mum who smiles and tosses back her long wavy hair.
“Hey,” he almost shouts at my mum, “You don’t have any ancestors that were female medicos in the 12th century, do you?”
The grove of oaks whisper as Lady Gaeophia walks down to her favourite rock by the lily pond. She opens the slim black laptop, and watches the pictures of the young girl with the auburn hair chasing the rabbit around the small green, until the battery icon flashes, and the image disappears.