Authors: Paul Butler
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Butler, Paul, 1964-
Â Â Â Â Â Stoker's shadow : a novel / Paul Butler.
Â Â Â Â Â e-isbn - 978-1-926881-33-1
Cataloguing data available from Library and Archives Canada
Copyright Â© 2003 by Paul Butler
ll RIGHTS RESERVED
. No part of the work covered by the copyright hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any meansâ graphic, electronic or mechanicalâ without the written permission of the publisher. Any request for photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems of any part of this book shall be directed to the Canadian Reprography Collective, 379 Adelaide Street West, Suite M1, Toronto, Ontario M5V 1S5. This applies to clasroom use as well.
Cover design by Trivium
For Violet Butler
William watches the girl as she silently hangs up his coat; he watches her gold hair catch the muted rays in the lobby, sparkling like tiny flames viewed through a waterfall. “It's rather wonderful,” he thinks. “Wonderful and unlikely the way that glimpse of colour shakes the hundred years' dust from my chest; the way it conjures the image of the young man I never quite was.”
The boulder has been levered from the tomb for just an instant; a dazzling halo of sunlight has been allowed to escape. And it is a mad, outrageous sunlight which has been let loose in the cavern of his imagination; it is the golden beam which is the source of all life. There are swallows, hummingbirds, and dragonflies dancing in those briefly glimpsed rays. There are mythic flying creatures too, names and phrases caught in his fleeting childhood that have retained a distant thread to his heart. He has just felt the “light-winged dryad of the trees” tug inside him with spirit
wings, taking him back to the time of legends when everything seemed in balance
HE MAID TURNS
. She sees him staring at her. But he doesn't feel caught. Her look is open and curious, not afraid. This is part of her charm. She doesn't understand the rules, of course, she isn't English; so how could she know they were both breaking them?
“Is she in the morning room, Mary?” William asks.
He does not take his eyes from her.
“Yes, Mr. Stoker. Waiting for you,” she answers. To William, her west Irish accent bends syllables almost beyond recognition while at the same time remaining as light as a stream. She seems to blush slightly; this pleases him too because he loves the way her skin reflects her golden hair.
William shuffles through the little vestibule to meet his mother. The boulder returns and the dust resettles. He opens the door into the verdant jungle morning room. The paradox strikes him immediately. This place ought to be cheerful with its fantastic greenery and its constant pulse of life. But it isn't. There is a funerary air in the thwarted daylight, in the few rays that struggle past the palms and yuccas pressing against the windows. These narrow shafts catch the hanging dust, making William think of the slit windows of a medieval castle.
As usual, his mother is pretending she hasn't noticed him enter. William feels his pulse quickening.
His mother's intelligent pale blue eyes are steady; her gaze rests on a pamphlet in front of her. Her neat, classical features
are, as always, a picture of composure â a Greek goddess grown into a wise old woman.
William clears his throat, trying to gain her attention without speaking and legitimizing her pretense. The only acknowledgement, however, is from his mother's parrot which shuffles on the perch and tips its head at William â a faithful centurion guarding its empress. His mother remains quite motionless.
William is unable to take it anymore.
“Well,” he booms suddenly, surprised at himself. “How are you, Mother?”
His mother's brow furrows. She raises her head and gives him a benign smile.
“William, how nice to see you! How's Maud?” She turns the pamphlet over.
William clenches his teeth.
“It's nice to see you too, Mother,” he blusters. “Maud is very well. What can I do for you?”
“My dear, just by coming to see me you are already doing so much for me.”
She smiles sweetly again.
“Well, of course I'm always delighted to come and see you, Mother. But I was wondering particularly why you called me at work this morning, delighted though I always am to drop in on you on the way home.”
“What do you think of my companion?”
She gives him a mischievous smile.
William looks at the parrot.
“Companion? I thought you took her on as a maid.”
“Oh, no, no.” His mother lays the pamphlet aside and raises herself from her seat. “She's not exactly a maid.”
“If she's not exactly a maid, why is she dressed like one? And why is she answering your door?”
His mother picks up a dainty porcelain spray can and drifts away towards the plants. “She's helping Mrs. Davis,” she says. Little clouds of vapour appear between them.
William wonders what traps she is setting for him behind the white puffs and splaying leaves.
He feels his chest tighten. “Helping your housekeeper,” he says. He knows he is raising his voice but can't seem to help it.
“My dear William, please sit down,” his mother says, reappearing from the greenery with her spray can. “Don't be angry with me. I take whatever companionship and help that is offered me.” She gives him a sweet, helpless smile as she returns to her chair. “And in return I can help her take a step up in society.”
“She won't take a step up in society by cleaning your floors and answering your door.”
But William obeys. He circles the room to the oriental chair near the window. The parrot croaks a territorial warning as he sits.
“We will just have to see how the arrangement turns out, William. She is from Ireland. I may be of help to her.”
“Of course,” he agrees in order to shut the conversation off. “I'm sure you're right, Mother.”
William puts his hands on his knees and gives her a tight smile. “In any case, Mother, what is this emergency you told me about on the telephone? What can I do for you?”
His mother's gaze slips onto the pamphlet now face down on the lacquered side table. “Oh William, I'm almost afraid to show you.” But she reaches out and draws it towards her lap.
There is a tense silence. From where William sits, he can see the illustration on the pamphlet, a grotesque, crooked shadow, like the cover of a lurid novel, except in the stylized, distorted manner of a latter-day Van Gogh. William wonders what such a thing could possibly have to do with his mother or himself.
After what seems like an age, she lifts the pamphlet up and passes it to him. The parrot scrapes on its perch over William's head.
Face to face with the bizarre illustration, he remains none the wiser. The illustration seems to have spilled over from somebody's nightmare. The central figure is neither substance nor shadow, more a mixture of both. Its headlamp eyes and pointed teeth convey a truly remarkable malignity.
And then, in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture, something catches his eye â some German words and then his late father's name: “Bram Stoker.” William feels his mother's expectations; he can hear her soft breathing as he gazes. The parrot squawks. William notices the banner of flying rats spell the word, Nosferatu. He remembers the word from reading his father's novel when he was a young man.
“Nosferatu,” William says bewildered. “Eine Symphonie des Grauens.” William lets the meaning fall, remembering a few terms of German from his distant school days. “âA symphony of horrors,' of course. A motion picture of father's novel! Well?”
He hands the pamphlet back to her, vaguely aware of an oncoming storm, dimly noticing the strange silence which, from long experience, he recognizes as a harbinger of his mother's withering disappointment in him.
There is a pause.
“Well. I see,” says his mother, gripping her chair arm with one hand and letting the pamphlet drop on her lap. “It doesn't seem to worry you, after all.”
“I don't know, William. I'm not sure. Foreigners have just stolen your father's literary property, turning it into an obscene penny-dreadful. Certainly your father wouldn't have stood for it. But maybe I'm old-fashioned.” William notices her breathing. It is becoming heavy and rhythmic, her Boadicea-before-battle mood. Suddenly he is desperate to cut this off.
“Ah, ah!” he says quickly. “Royalties! Of course you should have been informed and you must be owed some money.”
“Money is the least of it.”
“I hardly see that, Mother. There is a lot of money in moving pictures. Much more than you will find in a lifetime of novels.”
“That's not my concern. This is your father's work, his reputation.”
William smiles. “My father's reputation hardly rests on a free adaptation of one of his novels by a motion picture company. It doesn't even have the same title as Father's novel.”
His mother's pupils contract to pinpricks. She fastens William with her stare. “Does it not worry you what people will think?” she asks.
William sighs, defeated. “Not particularly, no. Should it?”
“William, I don't understand you sometimes.”
William suddenly feels as though lead weights have been tied to his arms and legs. “I'm sure I must try your patience grievously, Mother,” he says.
She stares at him for another few moments.
“Your father was an upright, literary man, not the kind of author represented here.” She picks up the pamphlet and waves it in the air.
William sighs. “Mother,” he says, “if people in London see this film they won't think anything about Father. Cinema audiences don't think. They'll have forgotten everything about the picture within twenty-four hours and will be running out to see Charlie Chaplin or Douglas Fairbanks. However, I'd be glad to seek advice about the money. I shall go to the Society of Authors.”
“If that's the only point you can grasp, William, it will have to do.”
later, William is leaving. He feels as though every ounce of his energy has been drained, leaving him as dry and withered as a museum mummy. He still manages a smile at the young girl. With her rustling white apron now blurred through his tired eyes, she has the quality of a ghost, receding into his dreamworld. She is backing off also smiling, too polite, the sweet creature, to turn her back on
him while she withdraws towards the lobby to fetch his coat. He inhales her scent of starch and soap and watches her hands caress her cotton apron; his eyes follow that movement as though he were a snake being charmed.
“I'm sorry. I should have taken your hat,” she says suddenly, and William realizes for the first time that he has had it in his hands all this time.
“That's quite all right,” he replies. “I prefer informality, don't you?”
She disappears at last, emerging again with his coat. She holds it out and he turns and feels the warmth of her fingers through his collar as his coat rim descends onto his shoulders. She comes a little too close and William feels the delicate prickles of her hair on his neck.
“It's all new to me,” she says almost intimately. William feels a sweet tingle somewhere inside him. “Everything here,” she whispers.
He turns around to face her.