My Name is Jane

written by Christine Unger


The Valley of David

Val-David, the Valley of David, it had been a long time since Sunday School but I do remember the outline of the story of David and Goliath. What giants might live here in this little, apparently quiet mountain town. The mere fact that Jane had made this place her home was enough to set it aside as noteworthy. Rifling through the local gallery’s collection of Jane’s beautifully crafted catalogues I recalled the hell-bent pleasure seekers of Bosch’s Garden of Delights. A place like this could hide a thousand secrets in its steep winding roads, hidden valleys, shimmering lakes and secret gardens. I was reminded of a book I’d read years ago about Charles Fourier’s socialist utopian ideas and his assurance of the pleasurable perversions and curious political miniatures that emerged like spotted mushroom in dark mossy nooks in little, out-of-the-way towns.

City Hall was a treasure trove of information. A small tattered book dating from the 90's titled “Val-David: a History” sat on a corner desk stacked with tourist brochures—Ski Mont-Blanc, Ski Mont Alta, Auberge Prema Shanti, Les jardins du precambrien, Village du Pere Noel, 1001 Pots, Ferme Duquette, C'est la Vie Cafe, Le P'tit Train Du Nord—in one corner. I dutifully took one of each while covertly pocketing the little history book (don't worry, I returned it later in the week). I sat in the only chair available while the city clerk sat behind her desk benignly ignoring both my presence and the insistent ringing of her telephone, enjoying a rather delicious looking deli-sandwich and sipping grayish looking coffee from a paper cup. I looked at her pointedly and she nodded to a sign on her desk (le bureau est fermé entre 12h et 13h30 - the office is closed between 11:30 and 1pm). It looked pretty certain I wouldn't be getting any help in the near future. Looking through the pile of brochures I realized there wasn't a single good map in the lot. I decided to use madame's lunch break to do a little snooping in town.

I'd noticed the local real estate office on the way. Its windows presented a surprisingly active market. The place was housed in a once-upon-a-time log cabin converted into a business space, pretty much the norm in this area. The real-estate agent sitting at the desk looked bored. I leaned over and glanced nonchalantly at her name tag-Angela.

“Why hello Angela,” I drawled in my best southern honey accent, “I think you may just be able to help me.” I gave an internal nod of thanks to my mother for taking me to the South Carolina flower and tea shows I’d so loathed as a child. So the class hadn’t exactly rubbed off on me but when needed I could pull off a fair imitation. The results were spectacular.

Angela sat up straighter, tidied her hair and ran a tongue over her teeth. Her sales instincts told her there was usually opportunity attached to an accent like mine. “What can I do for you today Madame,” she said with only a hint of Québecois. I could have pretended to be looking for property, but I had a feeling this relationship might be useful.

“I’m looking for an old friend darling. Maybe you know her, Jane, she’s an artist?” Angela hid her disappointment admirably. Like almost every agent I’d ever encountered, her once good looks were quickly losing headway to too many hours sitting at a desk or in a car, too many bottles of wine drunk on her own, eyes and cheeks puffy, skin and teeth a sallow smoker’s yellow. Aging less than gracefully in a profession that had looked like easy money and which had instead led down a road of personal degradation as sales tore away at integrity, one property at a time. Low prices and looky-loos eating time and profit margins. The shear time swallowing insipidity of sales made her increasingly boring, even to herself.

Still, it was an opportunity. She was, after all, surviving in a panicky market, her instinct for sales clearly kept her going. I hope she could see the admiration in my eyes. I had every sympathy for making the best of the wrong choices in life. She was still trying. Her hair was nicely coiffed, her outfit clean, fitted. She got out of her chair and with quick, practiced movements found her way to the information I needed as well as a perfect little map of the area on which she kindly circled Jane’s studio and her business Atelier Scarabeé. A look of genuine sadness passed quickly over her eyes when she finally, really looked me in the eyes, “Madame, you realize she is no longer with us…”

I slumped, acting the part of someone suddenly distressed, but also overcome with a real sense of grief. She pushed her chair towards me and I sat heavily for a moment, not speaking. Finally I looked up and muttered, “how long, how…”

“It is not sure, but it looks like the murder…” “I am sorry, she was very good for the town. She had a great heart. Her projects brought us so much colour. We will miss her.”

“I should have known to call ahead, it’s been a really long time, I thought I would surprise her, I thought she could help me… “ I laughed weakly.

Angela put a comforting hand on my shoulder. I thanked her for her time and her kindness, gripping the map and feeling just a little dirty for my subterfuge. Suddenly she gripped my shoulder. Looking surreptitiously out the front window as if checking for something she leaned in and whispered, “go see the fortuneteller,” she handed me a card that read 1001 Pots.” Apparently I hadn’t fooled her one wit. My curiosity spiked. Fortuneteller??

One more errand. It ought to be simple but I just couldn't see how to go forward if I didn't know Jane's last name. I'd scoured the internet earlier, trying to find it, but there was nothing at all. I dropped in at the local library and looked for her name, cross-referencing her address with phone directories and any other directory or reference I could think of. There were reams of mentions in local and national newspapers, reviews of her work, her presence at rallies and referendums, and so on. As listed in the phone directory, her name was Jane Peacock. I'd found it so easily I was surprised it hadn't been mentioned in the news article. No wonder she didn't use it, it was oddly apt and just a little 'too much' for an artist as subtle as Jane. No wonder she'd dropped it. A name like that really lent itself to ridicule. But the real surprise came from immigration records. Canadian archives only records immigration arrivals up to 1935 from January 1, 1936 onwards landing records remain in the custody of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. But there she was, Jane Peacock, listed as having arrived at Pier 21 in 1925 at age 32, arriving on the maiden voyage of the Italian liner Conte Biancamano. Soooo there was another Jane Peacock. But I checked, and there wasn't. Which would mean she'd been born in 1893. Impossible.