About…   Persian Moons

A Novel




Dying Moments

(October 1988)

Another gloomy fall afternoon in Vancouver. Erica Swanson parks her turquoise BMW M5 near Creekside Place and walks fast toward the building. In the elevator riding to the tenth floor, Darren’s words on the phone this morning circle in her head and she basks in triumph again.

“Come again?” she’d asked him, not believing her ears.

“You can have the painting,” he’d replied. “It’ll be delivered this afternoon. Come and get it around four o’clock. It’s yours.”

After three years of wrangling and resistance, as recently as last night, about the ownership of the damn painting, winning tastes incredible. Yet Darren’s sudden generosity feels fishy. So she’s anxious to reach his apartment and pick up the Woman in the White Dress before he changes his mind again.

      The loud music reverberating from inside Darren’s apartment conceals her knocking on the door. She turns the doorknob and it gives. Shouting “Darren” over the noise, she enters warily. No sign or sound of him, she staggers forward fretfully amidst the spooky shadows filling the living room in the dying daylight. Near the sofa, she stops with panic and a muffled scream at the sight of Darren knocked out on the floor. She yowls again and kneels to help him, but her hand feels moist with sticky blood when she touches his neck. She cringes swiftly and her heart topples in her chest as she imagines what might have happened. She gasps and curses herself for this horrific turn of events, which could ironically be of her own making. Her crooked plot has apparently caught up with her today. It has backfired horribly just as her fortune had mysteriously begun to look bright. Her sweet daydream about owning the elusive painting, and the chance that Darren’s change of heart had been a sign of wanting her love, all perished in a chill sweat. All her hopes waning fast again along with the daylong glory of winning.

      Erica charges to the balcony and begins yelling at the people in the street for help. They look lifeless, too, with their curious stares, bemused by her frantic words and gestures from the tenth floor. She climbs onto the lower bar of the railing and leans to scream more fiercely at them. Still no reaction, as if they’re deaf and dumb. The scene of those dopes down there, wandering nimbly or watching her numbly, aggravates her further. She leans even more and yells harder. Still they cannot hear her, she feels. Such a hopeless situation! Yet a swift, appalling sensation hauls her beyond hopelessness… In midair, a rush of adrenaline dazes her in disbelief: Why airborne? Why in jeopardy? God, please help…

Futile prayer… The daunting descent accelerates callously and her heart jumps at the sight of the fast-approaching asphalt, its grains spelling ‘death’ so vividly. With petrified eyes and flailing arms, she begs the frozen pedestrians who are watching her demise in awe. The dumb fools are totally numb now.

      Pointless pleading… Only the vagrant she’d noticed earlier from the balcony is approaching her trajectory, apparently unaware of the plunging disaster. His steadfast search for empty cans and plastic bottles, enthusiastic walk, and tight clasp of the bursting bag had appeared annoyingly naive and weird to her when she’d been facing such a pressing predicament on the balcony and screaming her heart out. His calm and concentration, ignoring her screams, had felt surreal.

      But now he and his big, supple sack look like a great landing target—gods’ answer to her prayer. Yet he’s off the mark by half a second. She strives to grab him, but she’s paralyzed… SPLASH!

She flattens in front of the vagrant after slapping him to the ground. Spectators retreat, except for a guy who drags the vagrant away from the trodden body lying in blood and brain bits. The tramp is hazed for a moment—only slightly by the scene of the accident, though. He leaps back on his feet, coolly wipes the splattered blood from his clothes and face, clutches his sack, and scurries away without acknowledging or thanking the guy who’d helped him.

The sergeant glances at the remains and recoils before nauseating. His partner fetches black plastic covers from the trunk of the police car to veil the horrific abstract art plastering the pavement. They add their own artistry first, though, by drawing the outline of the body on the sidewalk with a piece of chalk and stretching a yellow ribbon around a lamppost and two trees.

“Anybody knows her?” the sergeant asks the crowd. Nobody peeps as he peers around. “What happened? Anybody?”

“She was shouting about something on the tenth-floor balcony for a while and then fell,” a man says, pointing to Creekside Place.

“Was she fighting with someone?” the sergeant asks.

“No, but she punched this guy’s face before hitting the asphalt!”

      The sergeant glares at him. “She did what?”

      “She punched this guy in the last moment.”

The sergeant observes others nodding. “Which guy?”

“He scrammed with his sack; turned into Pacific Street.”

The sergeant calls his partner, who’s starting toward the paramedics: “Hey, Wayne, call the dispatch to send a squad around Pacific Street and Granville to find this guy with a big bag. Then find the building caretaker and check this woman’s apartment on the tenth floor. Bring him here afterwards.”

Stretched listlessly on the floor, Darren is losing consciousness and the energy to answer the phone, which is ringing faintly, as if echoing from a cave’s cavity. Finally the answering machine turns on and he barely hears his father’s rickety voice whining about his annoying young neighbour—‘the piglet,’ according to him. “Darren, this filthy piglet is driving me nuts! Yesterday a dozen cockroaches crept out of my mashed potatoes. I’d spent all afternoon shopping and making those potatoes and steak! I freaked out, smacked the plate off the table, and stuck to the kitchen wall, trembling. I thought I was dying. The cockroaches crawled all over the broken plate before vanishing into the narrow air that this damn piglet blows with his torturing machines to control everything in my apartment. Call me right away…”

      Dad…! Darren gasps. How can I help a stubborn man deranged by senility and seclusion? Witnessing his father’s agony has been a real torture, especially when imagining that similar genes could be haunting his own destiny. Yet right now he gives not a damn about his crooked genes or destiny. What was the point of all those efforts to come to terms with life and find peace? The highlights of his life flash before him briskly. But then recent incidents manifest in daunting details in slow motion…

      Yes… the painting… The story of the Woman in the White Dress began three years back, in 1985, right after he painted it at the shores of the Caspian Sea. The bad omen has followed it all along, but the sequence of ominous events started four months ago.