WEDNESDAY, JUNE 29, 2005
From her office above the Regal Repertory Theater, Rose Bowan watched a Coke can roll down the sidewalk across the street. It missed the fire hydrant, hit a tree, spun under the café's wrought-iron gate, and set off in an arc around the tables, whose languorously twirling umbrellas somebody had better start lowering.
She called her mother on the landline.
"Hello, darling," Fiona answered over the blare of the television.
"Hi, Mom. I can hardly hear you."
"Could you please turn that down?"
"Where did I . . ." The volume dropped. "A special weather statement's coming on."
"It's going to pour any minute. Let me come pick you up."
"Wind gusts to sixty kilometers per hour," Fiona said. She was reading. "The greater Toronto area should expect—"
Lightning crackled the line.
"Did you hear that?" Rose asked.
"The day I can't walk five blocks in a bit of weather is the day you can shoot me in the head."
"Have you shut the windows?"
"Do you want to hear a dirty joke?" Fiona said in a changed voice, mischievous and with an Irish accent.
"No," Rose said heavily.
"What happened to the man who fell down the toilet?"
"I might have left my bedroom window open."
"First it got dark."
"Mom, I'll see you later."
"Then it rained."
"Bye for now."
"All right, darling," Fiona said in her normal voice. "See you soon."
There was a long lightning flash, during which the office flickered like an old film. The sound of stately, processional thunder that followed was called brontide, Rose happened to know. She put the phone in its cradle and looked at the Wall of Stars, so named because it was covered in photographs of her father posing next to movie legends. The photograph directly across from her was of him and Groucho Marx smoking cigars, her father seeming to smile straight at her, and it was her habit to look up from time to time and tell him about the theater, its finances and programming, her plans to fix whatever was falling apart beyond the point that it could no longer be ignored. These past few months she also filled him in on her mother's condition.
"She's getting coarse," she said today. "Like a little boy."
He already knew. Today in his eyes she saw the knowledge of everything that had been and was to be, and she turned in her chair and watched the rain.
When she turned back, she found herself reading the plate under the photograph. She blinked, puzzled, and read it again: Groucho Marx, January 12, 1962 . Her eyes moved along the rows of plates: Jerry Lewis, July 14, 1966 ; Gloria Swanson, September 15, 1966 ; Mickey Rooney, October 23, 1968 . Normally, even from a few feet away and in good light, she wasn't able to make out those words. But here at her desk, in the gloom, they were perfectly legible.
How could this be?
She looked around the office, and everything—sofa, film canisters, movie posters, bookshelves, the spines of magazines—had the same hyperclarity, and not only that, it was pulsing.
She lifted her glasses. Now black flecks were obstructing her vision, hundreds of them, geometrical flecks like bits of broken lettering. She rubbed her eyes, and the flecks, as if besieged, began organizing themselves into medieval fortresses. Her glasses made no difference. Off or on, the frenzied structures grew.
At their peak, when there was no room left, they collapsed. Rose had a rush of nausea, and then a quick, exquisite sensation of her skin tightening and cooling and her flesh clinging to a vibrant bony web. The sharp vision returned, without the pulsing. She saw a tiny white spider rappelling from the ceiling, its thread and translucent legs. She touched her pen to the thread, and the spider swung behind her desk out of sight.