Face Value


Marcel had barely known of her, not until contacted by her solicitor; estranged from his mother, his aunt Claudette had been a student prodigy, both the lone French, and lone female, member of her class at Oxford. Whether this was the root cause of her apparent isolated immersion in a surrogate 2-D world, so to say, was very much the matter at hand to his detective’s mind.

It seems she had, nevertheless, known of him, perhaps as a result of his groundbreaking work with Scotland Yard and its new fingerprinting technique he had helped advance as continental liason.

What he had found among her personal effects would prove the most daunting challenge of his young detective’s career. As his hand gripped the door's handle to the pied a ter she had occupied at the Hotel Metropole, its peptide messenger instantly, timelessly made his brain aware that the very atoms which vibrated slower than their cousins in that handle's immediate surrounding 'empty' space were not separated by some bright line of demarcation, albeit invisible to the human eye, but were indistinct from all others down, down at the fundamental level of their, our, existence. His hand, any hand of any human being was no different. It was then, for the first time, that he knew what to do, doubt having returned to that anti-material dimension comprised of empty space filled with all other negating forces forever orbiting their pulsing dark star of fear. Was she, then, putting to some sort of test of science that most elusive of bonds, whether chemical or, still more, though intangibly so, love itself?

Photographs by the hundreds, made, apparently, with the new portable box-like cameras first tried and tested in the American civil war by Brady, et. Al. were everywhere storage space could be improvised. There were even miniaturized photos stuffed into her antique apothecary closet, the more proper place for her potions and vials, one of which, seemingly, had been the cause of her demise. One such vial had been recently refilled, its paper seal having been replaced according to the apparent age of its vintage watermark and, while rather good print marks were plainly visible upon the surface, no aid was to be had from the nascent files of the police authorities.

Her only constant friends, it appeared, had been but these two-dimensional images of a, nevertheless, deeper world in which they---person, place, thing--- dwelt, a possible dimension abutting dementia itself, in which her possible un-doer lived free, the very proposition offending Det. M’Ordant’s logical sensibilities.

The lawyer had added but one further physical reliquary: her laconic diary. Terse as it was, it made constant reference to the pictorial----one fragmentary entry made the apparent date of her demise, caught his inquiring eye, indeed, he could not put it out of his usually orderly compartmented brain: “….stepping into a painting.”

Marcel recalled a chilling anecdotal case commentary he had read of from the dream work of the rising young Swiss Dr. Jung.

And, was not dreaming painterly, he mused. To bring forth onto the, now, supple mental canvas palettes of improbable pigmented imagery percolated from . . . within . . .what, whom, where, why . . . alas, the artist, but a conduit, knew little, at least rationally.

Bemusement, alas, was their only ‘reasoned’ accounting for their process and product.

Yet, in this case, it seemed to the accidentally lugubrious M’Ordant that smiling Muses & Fates of the artful cloaked even deeper mysteries of the Jungian stripe.

Marcel was delighted that the young Herr Doktor in Zurich had agreed so readily to consult for him. He had written in speedy reply:

“ . . . and, I must tell you, divining the cryptic thoughts of one who

has departed mortal form is a challenge that my peculiar science relishes; for all its trappings, you see, this Life shares liberally in the attributes of the dream.”

Zurich, her spired gargoyles attesting, seemed a proper place for such exploring; he arrived early and strolled across the boulevard into a stately museum. His eye was drawn to a large dark canvas, a familiar one: while he was no devotee of the graphic arts, this one was apparently a favorite of his departed recluse of an aunt, as she had photographed it, somehow, repeatedly, from various angles, including one―the most prominent of the photographs he had brought for the good Doktor―he found simply incredible, indeed, impossible to explain. As he would soon learn, this ‘coincidence’ was, like most confluent incidents, to be no accidental, random occurrence.

As he approached, the august Dr. Jung was smiling broadly, taken immediately with the young Frenchman.

“Enchante” Jung announced with sincerity, despite the sterner form of the lilting tongue his had, innocently, tripped over.

As the two men conversed they walked to the cathedral-sized office of Jung, cluttered with Dutch tapestries and well-worn huge rugs of Persia. “I like the mandalas within them, very mood-altering, yes?” Jung observed.

“Mandalas?” queried M’Ordant.

“Ach, zis is woven, so to say . . . ”Jung paused, self-amused at his pun; “. . . .into ze fabric of ze East, seat of many mysteries.”

“Well, Herr Doktor Jung, I bring you one, somewhat further to the west.” The two men liked the other’s sense of the risible imbedded, often undetectably, within even the most seemingly serious, even deadly so.

Motioning to his deep burgundy leather couch, M’Ordant sunk into it, determined to avoid any reference to its usual occupants, women not unlike his aunt, desperately alone with their repressed forbidden thoughts, thought ‘hysterical’.

An hour later, the two men were scrutinizing the sepia print of a painting, the very one that M’Ordant had stumbled across while strolling the halls of the gallery across the way.

“Why zis is Sir John Dee, as painted by an obscure Flemish master, one Demeerl, I know it well . . . ”

“Yes, you are neighbors” M’Ordant revealed his recent acquaintance with the oil rendering of the English alchemist and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth.

“Just so, you have seen the sights already” Jung quipped, noticeably without smiling.

“It would seem oddly that we and she have found the same point of interest among them” M’Ordant added.

“May I tell you that this is most strange; I have a dozen patients who are somewhat obsessed with this very work.”

M’Ordant, detection his object, then produced the piece de resistance, at which the good Doktor stared, unblinking.

“Curious, do you notice the peripheral border?”

“Of course . . . but it makes no sense; I have consulted with experts in America and England: it is not a defect of the camera or the plate” M’Ordant almost whispered, intuitively, close to the Doktor’s ear as he was.

“Very interesting, psychologically speaking, of course; you whispered, unconsciously, zis was partial paralysis of your larynx, do you know?”

Realizing that Jung was right, he swallowed hard, trying to shake it off.

“Exactamonte” he agreed, uncomfortably.

“My patients have had ze same symptoms, sometimes for days. Shall we take a walk?”

The hour was late, the air dampening, and Dee had grown impatient with the young artist, insisting that he had had enough of posing for the day. When he returned abruptly, just as the painter was packing up his paints, a jovial Dee seemed to float to the spot he had just marched away from, assuming his pose, motioning the confused portrait maker to continue. When he finally grew weary himself, he walked past a book-lined study where he was certain he spied Sir John in deep contemplation of a large tome’s text, when only tens of seconds ago he had been in conversation with the very man in another room minutes away down a long solitary corridor. These old mansions all have secret passageways, he concluded, too tired to pursue any thought, however intriguing.

After a cordial repast at a nearby café, the two men, now fully informed of the other’s methodology in two rather new sciences of the mind, made their way to the Statz Muset, home to the painting in question. Near the hour of closing, they found the gallery deserted. Looking up at the imposing image, Dee was in the full regalia of his high office, holding in his hand an amorphous white stone of a sort, its aspect deliberately opaque and seeming to glow. Behind him, his famous books, the largest then in Europe.

As the men suddenly looked at each other, it was mutually evident that another almost nondescript diaphanous figure occupied the background, near a long table of instruments and glass beakers flanked by an apothecary’s mortar and pestle.

M’Ordant crashed through the silence, itself begotten by their now derailed rational train of thoughts.

“It’s not in the photo” the Frenchman blurted, as if logic were the immutable law of all consciousness.

“My dear fellow, rationalism and doctrinarism are the diseases of our age . . . ” Jung conceded for both of them, essentially reading M’Ordant’s mind.

“Then I am truly afflicted―no, the camera must have been flawed, or the development process, notorious really” he told himself as much as his companion.

“As you wish, but I suggest we seek out the curator who may tell us if our camera obscura of an eye is also defective” Jung lightened the moment, pointing at his bespectacled eyes; M’Ordant seemed lost in the loops of logic and simply nodded, distantly, forcing a smirk.

“Gentlemen, forgive me, the guard has told me . . . please, we must close . . . ” Herr Vonnegut pleaded politely as he approached them.

“Good sir, my friend of the foreign constabulary and I have a bit of a wager―could you lend your special knowledge to assist us in quickly sorting it out?” Jung chortled.

“Yes, I suppose, but time is short; please, come into my study, the light is good there.”

As he examined the photo the once staid curator grew pensive.

M’Ordant pressed him.

“What is your opinion―should there not be a figure, just there, behind Dee?”

The curator, looking up now, with deeply wrinkled brow, slowly replied.

“Gentlemen, yours is a problem of perspective.”

“Look here, do you see this was made at an angle which excludes the figure you speak of” he continued, pleased with himself.

“My question is, who took the photo?!” M’Ordant almost demanded, policeman unchecked.

“I am not expert in these matters, however, Herr Vonnegut, would not the person taking zis photograph have to be . . ” Jung added.

“ . . . so close as to be . . . IN the painting, so to say!” Now they all laughed, however nervously, their guffawing a sort of ineffectual balm of this breach of a, now, ghostlike logic, haunting their discourse more habitually than persuasively, now mirroring the painting’s puzzling apparition.

Dr. Jung, less enamored of fear than its seeming cousin, reason, suggested that they revisit the actual painting.

“As you wish, however, I know this work as well as any of the hundreds here . . . ” Vonnegut replied, as they walked now briskly toward the gallery.

It was simply not there; Dee was there, although an almost vacant look now describing his visage, they all agreed. None spoke, save for Jung.

“The lighting, the lighting . . . thank you Herr Vonnegut, gud abend.”

Now in the street, Jung restarted. “Is it truly so surprising? Why, Herr Dr. Planck has just written that an atom is no-thing! In a world where the very molecules they comprise consume other molecules of atoms?! Ach, I must return to the hospital. Do contact me with any progress, I am most curious. I shall be in Paris next month for a conference on the psyche, perhaps then.”

M’Ordant certainly was unconvinced, although one could not actually hear his mind close as was the case with the curator, the sound of that phenomenon rivaling the actual clang of the museum doors as they left; he smiled.

As M’Ordant walked to the train depot, he spied peripherally a couple arm in arm: Dee’s face and that of his aunt, like two living death masks so precise the detail, even in the evening’s last light. He wheeled and ran to overtake them, stumbling over a cobblestone.

Peering down, what he saw sent horripilating shivers throughout his body: the waxed parquet floor of the . . . gallery.

The End