My study looks out onto 88A Avenue from above Kally’s garage-studio. Before Elgar was born Kally and I discussed what to do about the allocation of rooms in our three-bedroom suburban. In the end we decided to convert the corner bedroom, which is directly opposite the master, into the baby’s room and reconfigure my study for double duty as a guest room.
We had a Murphy bed installed on the west wall and arranged the furniture so the space could be converted at a moment’s notice – all we had to do when Mother arrived was shove my swivel chair under its desk, unplug my laptop, drop the Murphy bed and presto! she would have nothing to complain about. As for me, I didn’t consider it too much of an inconvenience to lose my view of the North Shore mountains or to have to migrate my office to the dining room table whenever we had company.
Everything was good
Then Elgar vanished.
Lately I’ve been thinking of wallpapering the study end of my space. I don’t dare tell Kally because she will figure out what I’m up to right away. I can picture her standing in front of me, arms akimbo, head tilted, a suspicious look furrowing her brow and the question ‘Why?’ hanging on the air between us like electricity in a lightening storm.
I’ve had a little experience wallpapering. When Mum and Dad were still together and bought their condo in Victoria I helped do their bedroom one weekend. I remember thinking, ‘Anyone can do this,’ then being surprised at how out of kilter my angles had become by the time I reached the end of the fifteen foot wall behind their king-size bed.
They chose a forest scene to complement their pine furniture. I didn’t say so, but found the effect a textbook example of appalling interior decoration – the kind of outcome producers would excoriate savagely on one of those reality-makeover TV shows. The forest scene absorbed too much light, leaving the room in a perpetual state of old-growth gloom; and it looked fake, but not enough to give the impression of being intentionally representational – rather it presented as an embarrassingly amateurish Trompe-l‘œil.
What I have in mind for the east wall of my study is a floral pattern. Nothing out of the ordinary. Certainly nothing any of our guests would consider to be an exemplar of appallingly bad taste… truth be known we don’t have guests over much anymore and I’m the only one who uses the Murphy bed these days.
I have been checking around local paint and interior design shops to see if the kind of wallpaper I am looking for actually exists. This is not – it turns out – a simple undertaking, and I have resigned myself to an approximate match of the pattern I have in mind, which has been out of vogue for at least three-quarters of a century.
An exact replica would cover the wall with an effusion of lilies and asters, the flowers floating abstractly, nestled into clusters of leaves.
If you don’t't stop to think when you glance at this wallpaper, you get the impression of brick overgrown with an effusion of plants from an ever-so-English garden. Look closer, though, and you see that the flowers and leaves are not bound together by stems or vines. No sustaining network connects this purely decorative motif. It floats in space, not so much a living organism as a cascade of petals, tossed in the air by some species of adoring spectator.
Kally will recognize the pattern right away, of course, because it approximates the backdrop she chose for her Cosima portrait, the first she completed in her Cosmic Chicken series: the one she showed me excitedly as soon as it was finished, breaking her own secrecy rule; the one she agreed to mount outside her studio entrance; the one that drew me into the Gallutian dimension in search of Elgar.
What I want to do is plaster over the wall behind my computer with this floral motif. I want to have ten-and-a-half by nine feet of Cosima’s original backdrop behind the enlarged image of Cosima’s eyeball that stares out at me from my computer monitor whenever I power up or the machine switches into screen-saver mode.
“Why?” Kally will demand an answer when she sees my handiwork. I know exactly how she will ask this question, her voice a concatenation of anger and fear, a quavering frequency that signals something gone dreadfully wrong – like the time she opened her wallet to pay a restaurant bill in Penticton, and discovered the slot for her credit card empty because she’d left the card on a convenience store counter in Hope.
Wallpaper has the peculiar property of making things disappear by making them visible. That wasn’t the case with my parents’ selection of an old growth forest scene, which is why it was such a decorative disaster. Instead of suggesting to the viewer a world beyond it only made the existing boundaries seem more cramped and oppressive. Cosima’s wallpaper does the opposite. The interstices between the lilies, asters and leaves are like the spaces between whirling atoms, they suggest passageways to the infinite… to the place where Elgar might be found.
Does that seem crazy?
Maybe. But is it any less sane than a world where a toddler goes missing from a Mac’s parking lot on a Monday afternoon? Or where people detonate bombs in cars parked on busy streets? Or where billboards and TV ads convince us that perpetual gorging is the closest thing to Nirvana we human blobs can ever hope for?
Crazy or not, I have decided to go ahead with my little home renovation. I’ve got the paper, the boxes for dampening, the sponges and squeegees – the works. Maybe this time the paper will go on straighter than it did for Mum and Dad.