Parody

by David W. Landrum

When Andrew Halliway pulled up to park, he saw someone on the sidewalk, looking up at the lighted windows of his girlfriend’s apartment. Andrew got out of the car and watched him. The lights her flat came on. He saw her shadowy outline in a window. The figure trembled, pointed, and shook an angry fist. Waves of green light seemed to radiate from him. Andrew shook his head, distrusting his eyes, and strode toward the figure, who heard him coming and turned.

“You!” Andrew shouted, striding toward him. “What are you doing here?”

The man looked at him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the light in Elizabeth’s apartment go out. When he turned his attention in front of him again, the figure was gone.

He looked around.  The sidewalk and street were empty.  Crickets sang in the cool of night.  The wide, dark lawns showed no trace of the figure. Andrew turned and went upstairs to Elizabeth’s place.

She kissed him. Looking into the familiar space of her apartment, he noticed her office was strewn with papers and boots stacked on every flat surface. A digital print-out of her latest project, the new City Hall she had designed. He put his arms around her.

“How are the guys who were injured today?”

“They’re okay. I guess it wasn’t as bad as it looked.”

Two men had been hurt at the construction site when a load of sheet rock had fallen on them. It had missed Elizabeth only by a few feet. Andrew had been in Chicago playing a concert and had not been able to come to her. She had called, crying, and told him what had happened. He made the drive to Grand Rapids in three hours (without getting a speeding ticket) and made it to her apartment only to find a stalking apparently threatening her.

She got wine out for them. They sat down to drink. He felt the tension go out of her as she talked about it.

“A cable broke. The equipment had passed inspection a week ago. The cable wasn’t frayed or damaged. The crew that inspected it said it looked like it had been cut.”

He put his arms around her, deciding not to mention the intruder he had seen. He was not even certain the old man he saw was staring at her (thought it had seemed like it). He could not explain how the figure he saw had disappeared. He decided it did not matter. They finished their wine and went to her small, cozy bedroom.

He woke before her, threw on a pair of pants, made coffee, and settled on the sofa in her living room.  He picked up a book from the coffee table and began to leaf through it.  He saw photographs of memorable Michigan buildings and their designers.  He stopped when he came across a black-and-white image of the figure he had now seen twice.  As he stared down at it, Elizabeth, in a robe, her hair mussed and tangled, came in and sat beside him.

“Will you make breakfast?” she yawned.

“I will in a minute.”  He pointed to the photograph.  “Who’s this?”

She gazed down and squinted.  She had not put her contacts in.

“Marvin Quinn.  He was a Grand Rapids architect.  He designed the old City Hall.”

“Does he still live here in town?”

“He died in the 1980s.” She smiled then added, “He wouldn’t be happy if he knew I was doing a post-modern take on one of his buildings.”

“Why not?”

“He hated postmodern architecture—wrote some pretty nasty things about it. He’d roll over in his grave if he knew what I doing with the City Hall project.”

Andrew gazed down at the photograph.  Elizabeth laughed and put her head against his shoulder.

“You wouldn’t have seen him,” she smiled.  “If you saw someone you thought was him, it was probably a relative. He has family who live in town.”

Two days later, Elizabeth led the Executive Board and the Planning Commission through the interior of the partially finished building.

“The new site will incorporate some of the original architect’s concepts, but will rearrange them,” she said, “building on what the first designer did.”

She projected a sketch of the new building and used a laser pen, to point out its design features. Andrew remembered the reception scheduled after the presentation.

As he watched Elizabeth, he caught the figure again. It stood only a few feet from him. He had a thin, grey face with a ragged mouth and hungry eyes; his clothing looked retro, from the forties or fifties, and his thin hair hung down in strands over his forehead

Elizabeth glanced up, caught sight of Andrew, and smiled. Agitated as he was, he returned her smile. She said something that made the board members laugh and went back to her presentation. When Andrew looked to his right, the figure had gone.

Elizabeth finished. Andrew joined her and the commissioners as they exited the half-finished building. One of the Commissioners caught up with him.

“I’m Kelly Agnew,” she said. “Blake Agnew is my son.”

“Oh, sure,” he said, trying to get his mind to focus on her. “Nice kid.”

Actually, Blake was not a nice kid.  Ten years old, he had learned guitar through the Suzuki method.  He could play fairly well but could not read a note of music.  He wanted to be a classical guitarist but seemed bored learning musical notation and was condescending toward his teacher.

“He plays very well.  Once he learns his notes, he should really take off.”

Every parent, he reflected, especially yuppie parents like Kelly Agnew, expected their child to be the next Christopher Parkening.  But children had their own agendas.

They walked to reception, in the old City Hall, built in the 1940s by Marvin Quinn. Andrew chatted with Blake’s mother. Elizabeth, surrounded by a circle of adoring board members, sipped a glass of wine on the other side of the room.

“Blake mentioned you were writing some original music,” Kelly Agnew said.

Andrew’s compositions supplemented his salary as an instructor at one of the local universities and the private lesson he gave. He had written three pieces for solo guitar and published them on the web. To his astonishment, a world-famous guitarist recorded two of them. They quickly became popular, several more artists recorded them, and this gleaned him royalty checks that varied, according to CD sales, from sixty to five-hundred dollars per month.

“I’m working on a composition,” he said. “It’s kind of like Stephen Dodgson’s Partita. It will be modern but still tonal and melodic—maybe somewhere between Dodgson and Andrew York.”

“I see,” she replied, though he was certain she knew neither composer. “Is it modern?”

“Modern.” He sipped his wine thoughtfully. “That’s hard to say. I’m not sure anyone even knows what ‘modern’ means anymore. Mine is more postmodern. I take a musical idea and play with it—maybe even parody it. But I do so in a way that still recognizes its beauty and—even though it’s done with a touch of irony—calls attention to that beauty.”

She smiled. “You and Elizabeth think alike. That’s exactly what she’s doing with the addition to City Hall—taking the original concept by Marvin Quinn and  . . . well, playing with it. That’s what she said when she presented the design to us.”

The mention of Quinn brought a dark cloud into his soul. He tried to ignore it. “She does that in all her buildings. It’s a general trend in art these days.”

The woman glanced over at Elizabeth.

“She’s a work of art,” she said, smiling familiarly. “You’ve certainly found yourself a pretty girlfriend.”

Andrew only smiled. Most people would not think of Elizabeth as outstandingly pretty—at least not in a conventional sense. Her face was plain and broad, her cheekbones wide (she once told him other children tormented her by calling her “pie face”). Her hair was thin and she was lanky and angular. Yet she made herself attractive.  And whatever she lacked in centerfold-type good looks, she made up for in soul and in intelligence.

Just at that moment, she broke free from the admiring circle of aldermen, hurried over to Andrew, and kissed him.

The adoring crowd cooed in approval; a smattering of applause ran through the room.

They chatted, drank wine, and nibbled hors d’oeuvres, glad to be able to talk.

“Who was the guy beside me on the second floor landing?” he asked.

“I didn’t see anyone. You were up there alone.”

“There was some old guy watching you. I thought he was giving you dirty looks.  He was standing right by me when you waved.”

“Didn’t see him,” she commented. She snagged a croissant from a tray a waiter carried by. “You were up there alone,” she said biting into it. “Nobody was across from you.”

“I thought I saw somebody up there who looked like Marvin Quinn.”

She smiled and told him he had been working too hard.

After that night, things returned to their regular patterns.  Andrew taught guitar and preformed.  Elizabeth busied herself working on the building, advising contractors, negotiating on designs, clarifying effects she wanted in the structure.

Then Andrew saw the man who looked like Marvin Quinn at one of his concerts.

He had scheduled the concert with a local folk arts society a year ago.  Such performances meant low pay and a small audience, but they were nice venues to preview music.  That night he planned to do two of the five numbers in his new composition as a trial run before the premier concert he had organized for December.  He was happy Elizabeth could be there.

She wore a gold frock, short, cut to accent her long legs and tall, thin figure.  If Elizabeth was plain, he noted admiringly, she knew how to dress to bring out her best.  Hair tied back, wearing brown tights and boots, she sat on the front row.

When they were driving to the concert, he had asked her how she had been.

“Tired,” she said. “We’re at a key point in the building. I’m working fourteen-hour days.”

“Don’t overdo it.”

“I’m overdoing it already. I don’t have any choice. Things have to get done.”

He came out on stage and began to play. Halfway through the second piece, he saw the face he had seen twice before—the man he had thought was Quinn—sitting three rows behind Elizabeth.

He struggled to maintain his concentration. No doubt, it was the same man. He recognized the old, grey face and noticed he wore the same retro clothes he had been wearing on two other occasions he had seen him.

He looked at Elizabeth. She gave him a smile. He turned his mind to his music, doing pieces by Giuliani, and Britten, and then the Allegro and Molto Vivace from Dodgson’s Partita for guitar. The last number was one of Elizabeth’s favorites and he caught her look of pleasure when he began it. He glanced at up at the man in the fourth row who watched, his face unexpressive.

Andrew saw him during the break and went over to him. He was not certain how confrontational he wanted to be. The man seemed to be stalking Elizabeth. He had seen him three times now in close proximity to her.

“Have I seen you before?” he asked.

“I think you have.”

“You look like Marvin Quinn.”

He smiled—not a good smile. “Marvin Quinn has been gone quite a few years.”

“Are you are a relative?”

“You might say that,” he replied, his voice tired and grey. He paused and added, “I have an interest in preserving his work.”

A loud burst of laughter rippled through the room, and he recognized Elizabeth’s laugh in the chorus. He turned. Someone in her group must have said something funny.  Elizabeth and three other people were reveling in the aftermath of a joke.

When Andrew turned back the man had, once more, apparently vanished, though he did see him in the second part of the concert. He sat in the same place. He looked grim-faced when Andrew introduced his original composition with a note on parody and postmodern technique.

At the end of concert, when Andrew looked up to indicate the end of his final performance piece, and as applause began, he noticed the man had gone.

Three days later, after he had finished a round of private lessons, Andrew came home, opened a beer, and turned on the TV to watch the Olympics.

The room grew suddenly cold. A few feet away from him stood the man he had thought was Marvin Quinn.

Andrew sprang to his feet, ready to defend himself. But the figure only stood.  He made no move and its face remained expressionless.

“How did you get in here?” he demanded.

The figure did not reply.

“You are Quinn,” he said, his tongue so constricted with fear he could hardly speak.

He nodded affirmatively.

“What do you want?” Andrew managed to say.

“Stop her,” Quinn replied.

“Stop her from what?”

“From finishing the building. Stop her or I will.”

Anger rose up to replace Andrew’s fear.

“You’re the one who caused that accident a week ago.”

“Stop her or I will,” he repeated.

Suddenly the phone rang and the figure was gone.

Andrew stood there, so shaken he could not answer. The ringing died away. His legs felt numb. He thought he might fall if he tried to walk. Dizzy, breath uneven, he managed to get to a chair, where he sat, half-dazed. After the confusion passed, he got up and turned on all the lights in his house. Watching over his shoulder, he went in the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. His hands shook as he drank it.

He checked the caller ID. It had been Elizabeth (she never left messages on answering machines). Thinking Quinn might have gone after her and she had called for help, he dialed frantically.

“Hi, Andrew,” she chirped, her voice even and cheerful.

“Beth, are you okay?”

She laughed. “Okay? I’m fine.”

“What did you call me about?”

“Nothing. It’s one of those weird things.”

“I thought you’d maybe had another nightmare.”

“No. I’m up late tonight. I just felt like calling you.”

Her happy tone of voice, in contrast to what he had just seen, made him shiver.  “That’s sweet of you.”

“I was reading The Divine Comedy a couple of days ago. It made me think of you.  Dante called God l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stele—‘The Love that moves the sun and the other stars.’ Sorry, I’m getting sappy.”

Elizabeth had studied in Milan, Italy, for two years (this was where she was won over to postmodernism) and could speak and read Italian. She loved Dante and read and re-read his poetry.

“How’s the building coming along?” he asked.

“We’ve got all the wrinkles out, but I have to be there all the time to make sure things are done correctly. You ought to come and see me. I’ll be wearing a hard hat.”

“That’s a fetish of mine.”

She laughed then said, “I feel kind of silly calling you at one a.m. I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No.  I was watching TV.”

They talked longer. After she clicked off, he sat and wondered about Quinn’s threat. He did not think ghosts could do much of anything but frighten and harry people. Of course, to be haunted would be traumatic enough. But if Quinn meant to haunt Elizabeth, why had he appeared to him and not to her? And what could he do to her?

He found out the next day.

Andrew had finished a guitar lesson and walked out to the lobby of the music store where he taught when one of the cashiers told him he had an emergency call.  Elizabeth had had a seizure and was at the emergency room.

Andrew told her to cancel the other lessons he had that day and drove frantically to the hospital. She was in one of the small emergency care areas. She did not look ill. In fact, she rolled her eyes when she saw him. They had hooked her up to monitors and put her in a pink and white hospital smock. He bent down, kissed her forehead, and asked her what had happened.

“I blacked out. We were at the building site. They couldn’t revive me for a half hour. Then I came out of it.”

He remembered Quinn’s threat. “You’re working too hard,” he said.

“That’s the verdict. I guess I am getting a little fanatical about this building. It just means so much to me.”

When the doctors released her, she came to stay with him. After two days of rest (during which Andrew heard incessant complaints about how bored she was) Elizabeth went back to work.

In his spare time, he found out about ghosts. Most of the things he read on the internet and in books were things he had heard already. Ghosts were creatures caught between worlds. The websites and print works he found said their power to harm people was limited. Since ghosts were not substantial, they could not inflict physical harm on anyone and did not have the power to take life. The thing that sent a chill through him, though, was when he came across a description of the worst a one might do to a person:  ghost possession.

Some authorities said they could temporarily possess a person. The symptoms they described were identical to what Elizabeth had told him when they talked about her “seizure” at the new City Hall. She had felt cold, then thirsty, and then blanked out—though, she said, it was not like fainting. “I could see everything,” she said, “but I couldn’t connect with the outside world. It was like opening your eyes and looking up when you’re underwater.”

For all the information he found, however, none of the sources carried guidelines on how to combat a ghost—other than hiring a psychic or exorcist. He did not have the time or the inclination to do this. Elizabeth, who was even more of a rationalist and agnostic about the supernatural than he had once been, might rethink their relationship if she found out he believed in ghosts. He did more internet searches and watched Ghostbusters for clues, but nothing communicated any information that might help him. He could only wait for the next visitation from Quinn and hope he would have the wisdom to deal with it.

The next visitation occurred a week after Elizabeth’s seizure.

When he got home from playing a reception, Quinn stood in the center of his living room. The specter did not frighten him as much this time. He put down his guitar case and took one or two cautious steps toward him. They stood facing each other in silence for a long moment.

“What did you do to her?” Andrew finally asked.

“It’s hard to explain.”

“You possessed her?”

“I think they call it that.”

“All right, Mr. Quinn. What do you want?”

“I’ve already told you. Stop her.”

“From building the new hall?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“She has her own life. She doesn’t obey me. And”—he licked his lips and mustered his courage—“there’s no reason to stop her.”

“Stop her,” Quinn said, shaking a spectral arm.

“She follows a style of architecture that involves incorporating a variety of designs—”

“I know what she does. Stop her or I will.”

“Looks like you’ve tried to that three times and failed. You don’t seem to have the power to harm her.”

“I don’t but I will. I’ll pay the price.”

“Price?”

“I won’t explain. You wouldn’t understand if I did explain. But I will pay the price. I’ll do whatever it takes to get power over her.” He looked grim. “If you really do love her,” he said, his voice grey and tired, “stop her from doing this.”

“I don’t know if there is any persuading her. She will do what she believes is right as far as the design of that building goes.”

“I’ll pay the price,” he said for the third time.

His persistence chilled Andrew. What price Quinn might pay to the Devil or whatever Powers ruled the realm of malevolence was a mystery to him, but he spoke with so much confidence, and with such horror in his eyes, that Andrew shuddered.

“Elizabeth hasn’t done anything to you. How could you harm her when she hasn’t provoked you?”

He raised his fists over his head.

“I will not tolerate parody.”

Andrew felt horror creep over his body as Quinn’s appearance changed. His skin took on a greenish tint, his teeth seemed to elongate and sharpen, his fingers turned into claws. Blood ran from his eyes. The evil energy he exuded thickened the air in the room. Andrew fought for self-possession and resolution as Quinn’s appearance grew more and more hideous. Then suddenly the room was empty.

He sat down, nauseous, trembling, his breathe short, covered with sweat.  He was afraid for himself, but much more for Elizabeth.

How, he asked himself, could you stop a malevolent spirit who had the resources of Hell on his side?

But almost immediately the answer came to him.  He knew the why Quinn had appeared to him and not to her. He knew why the accident at the construction site had hurt two workers but not hurt Elizabeth. He also had a clue as to why Quinn would be forced to pay a price to harm her.

Love.

Andrew walked to the window and looked out at the autumn sky. The stars shone clear. A bright yellow moon hung above the rooftops of his neighborhood. He remembered her phone call and the quotation from Dante:  The Love which moves the sun and the other stars. It was one of her favorite lines. It led him to a simple logical conclusion:  to stop a malevolent spirit who had allied himself to Hell, you use the resources of Heaven. He thought of Elizabeth and of their love for one another. Neither of them was religious. But didn’t the Bible say God was love? Would the presence of love not be a factor whatever he believed?

The next night he drove down to the half-finished City Hall at one in the morning, the time, a website had told him, when ghosts most often appeared. The scaffolding and half-laid masonry looked spectral in the moonlight. He stood on the sidewalk and called Quinn’s name. After a moment, he appeared.

“I’ve thought about you said, Quinn. Will you agree to one thing?”

“What?”

“Do you know Frederic Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park? It’s on Beltline and Breton. It used to be a farm, I think.”

“I know it.”

“I want you to meet me there.”

“Why?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there. Meet me there and at least listen to what I have to say.”

He stood still a long moment, deciding. Finally he answered.

“I agree.”

And with that he vanished.

On Tuesday, the only night the sculpture gardens were open, Andrew walked past the towering glass arboretum to where the DaVinci Horse sculpture stood.

He had contemplated The Horse many times:  its strength, the outlines of its muscles done in bronze, the capture of power in the lines of its massive body. The park was well lit, but the huge shadows all around made him jumpy. He had stood only a few moments when Quinn appeared at his side.

For a while the two of them gazed at the sculpture. Even through their antagonism, they shared a love of its beauty. After what may have been three minutes of silence, Andrew spoke.

“You’ve seen this before?”

He nodded.

“It’s an impressive work of art. Leonardo came up with the plans, and made the clay molds for the bronze. Then war broke out. The City of Milan took his bronze to make cannon, and after the city fell the French destroyed the mold. DaVinci never completed his project. Hundreds of years later, a wealthy American hired an artist to complete it.”

He paused. Andrew felt like he was lecturing but could not think of any other way to convey what he wanted to say. He continued.

“But when the artist began the project, she found out the design was imperfect.  Leonardo was not good at drawing animals. The musculature was all wrong; the proportions were off, the perspectives not realistic. Nina Akimo corrected all that. In other words, she kept the general design of DaVinci’s project but improved on it. You might even say Ms. Akimo’s work is a parody of DaVinci’s—one that improved it. Elizabeth is doing the same thing. She isn’t mocking and ridiculing your building, Mr. Quinn. She’s calling attention to its brilliant features.”

Quinn said nothing. Andrew went on.

“I don’t know much about things on the other side. I don’t know what you have to do to get at her. I think, though, you will have to pay a high price to overcome love. If you’re willing to hang by your balls in hell for two-hundred years just so you can hurt an intelligent, sensitive woman who creates beautiful things, I’d say you won’t ever get free. The Devil is getting the better bargain and also sealing a deal. So I’m asking you to let it go. I’m also asking you to appreciate what she’s doing. I won’t step aside so you can hurt her. I can’t. I love her too much for that—and her love for designing buildings is so much a part of her soul I can’t love her without also loving it. This ups the ante.” He paused and then added, “You’re going to harm someone who understands and appreciates your designs more than anyone else in the world.”

He looked up at the dark sky shot with stars. He had felt the aura of Quinn’s hatred when he materialized in the apartment. Now he felt something different. He felt letting go and felt the beginning . . . of beauty and of song. He could express it no other way. It blew like a breeze and unlike the thick waves of malevolence he had felt before.

After a moment, Quinn turned to him. His somber and hard-bitten expression did not change, but he gave a little nod of his head. Andrew fancied the look in his eyes softened just a bit, and then he vanished.

Andrew got out his cell phone. Elizabeth answered on the forth ring.

“Did I wake you up?”

“Yes, but that’s okay. It was a good sleep. I feel more rested and refreshed than I have in weeks.”

“Can I come over?”

“Sure you can. I’ll pour some wine.”

Andrew closed up his phone and stood still, gazing at the sculptured horse. A star tore loose and streaked across the sky. He smiled, turned, and headed for the parking lot.

The End