Aaron Peck
Excerpt from The Bewilderments of Bernard Willis

The four of us sat in the living room of a movie set, in a large storage unit near Boundary Road, which doubled as an artist’s studio, writes Bernard. Empty frames hung on the walls. Hilton, that ambitious hack, allowed a couple of artists, friends, to use his space provisionally. His eyes were always askew. I disliked the way he looked at Lily, who had joined me for the afternoon, and so did she (“he makes me nervous,” she told me later, “the gross way he looks at me as if I don’t notice. I don’t trust him”). There’ll be wallpaper in the frames, he said, and look how the wallpaper matches the upholstery on the couches, which will repeat in each of the frames—but by then I’d stopped listening, stuck on the word wallpaper; how it reminded me of walking along Davie Street in Yaletown, toward Lily’s apartment, of a boutique hotel with a posh restaurant, its lighting coming through the windows, which created a tableux vivant of the rich, stylish and bored—like the magazine by the same name that I often pass in the windows of magazine shops—; and how that, in turn, reminded me of walking along St-Laurent in Montreal with my friend Marianne, its chic restaurants and encroaching gentrification. I’m thinking of Juan, I said to the three of them during a lull in conversation. We met up last night for coffee. Back in university, I didn’t know him very well but we felt a kind of, how shall I say it? A kind of correspondence. One day, I was leaving my apartment and I glanced over at the discarded mail in the foyer. Something caught my eye, a postcard with my name on it. I stopped, almost out the front door. As I reached down to pick up the postcard, I noticed my reflection in a mirror, which reflected in another on the opposite wall, my reflection doubling, multiplying, slipping away in both directions ad infinitum. The address was wrong but addressed to me and sent to another apartment. The neighbours returned the postcard, assuming it was for someone who had lived in their apartment previously. Misdirected postcards have a poetic quality because they lack a return address. Imagine a vault of misdirected mail, a dead letter office in some labyrinth of rooms in a downtown post office, or like that scene in Black Orpheus, an archive of lost materials. Anyway, the back of the postcard had paraffin-wax paper glued to the top, an address written on it, and a blank space where the text should be. I peeled off the paraffin. A text appeared beneath, a cryptic poem of borders and houses and meetings; it was signed “Juan” (later I would recognize the quote from the writings of Juan Muñoz). Juan knew which building I lived in, but he didn’t know my apartment number. I couldn’t understand why he would send it. Perplexed, I put the postcard in my bag and I didn’t think about it for the rest of the day. Later that evening I ended up at your apartment, John. We watched Eric Rohmer’s biography of Pascal (“dude, that sucked”), and then we had an extended discussion of his belief in the void. Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie, as Pascal says. After the movie was finished I left. I crossed between the flow of traffic and waited at the bus stop. Vandals had destroyed the bench: all that was left were two small beams crossing a base. Unable to sit down, I jumped on top of the narrow beams, bored with the wait. Across the street a small group of people passed. I focused on the group and suddenly I noticed my friend Juan. Astonished (I had never seen Juan off campus, in fact, I’d never see him outside our department), I called across the street. At first he didn’t seem to hear his name. I called again. He turned, squinting. A car passed. Juan, I said, it’s me, Bernard. Oh hi, Juan said, do you want a ride? Sure. I thought about the postcard in my bag. Juan introduced me to his friends as we walked toward his friend’s car. They had just watched a hockey game. Juan, I asked, by any chance did you send me a postcard? No—why? he responded. Because I got this postcard in the mail today. I showed it to him. No, he said, it looks interesting, but I didn’t send it. He smiled. Since then we haven’t mentioned it. At my apartment again, I wandered past foyer, mailbox and mirrors. I entered my apartment and switched on a lamp. I studied the postcard. The handwriting looked familiar but I couldn’t figure out why. I knew so few people’s handwriting, and still I couldn’t identify it. It looked feminine, so I started comparing the postcard to other letters I had received from friends until I found two similar hands: Marianne in Montreal. Yet I was uncertain. I picked up the telephone. It was past midnight in Montreal. You wouldn’t believe what happened to me today, I said. I told her the story of the encounter with Juan. She laughed the very same way that Juan had smiled: queerly. The conversation shifted. It was good to hear her voice, which I hadn’t heard in weeks and which due to the distance between our cities had, for me, come to embody her entirely, salubrious, friendship itself. As we hadn’t spoken in a while, we talked for an hour. We never broached the topic again.

Note on the text

The Bewilderments of Bernard Willis developed out of a conceptual experiment. I was asked to contribute a parallel-text to an exhibition catalog. That text, I decided, would consist of four four-page paragraphs, in which three disparate subjects would need to be connected, thus producing a series of digressive paragraphs that echoed aspects of the installation it accompanied. I enjoyed this process so much so that after completion I continued writing in this form. A novel began to write itself; characters appeared; research was conducted. And then the original essay was rewritten to work within the context and characters of the novel.