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What Happened at the Pond

I

The two men stare into the pond. Its black, flat surface reflects nothing back. Not their top hats, not their dark wool overcoats, not their fancy moustaches.

The dredgers with their nets have gone. The constables have packed away the evidence. The patched gown. The cheap hat. The little handbag. They’ve all gone back to the station.

The two men are alone. Neither wants to confess to the other the reason he waits. But weren’t there silver lights in the deep? Silver flashes like snakes? Or chains?

It’s almost dark and the silence is becoming awkward. At last the younger man, the one with the oiled whiskers and the checked trousers, says, “There was another disappearance just like this one. It must have been ten years ago now.”

The older man’s hands are in his pockets, his shoulders are stooped. He looks suddenly frail. “Not so long as that.”

“It was just the same, though, wasn’t it? It was in all the newspapers. The clothes without the body.” He swallows uncomfortably. “The flashes of silver in the pond.”

“The last trace of her—they’ll be gone by morning.”

The younger man turns to look at his companion. “It was your case. That’s why you came back.”

The older man points at the water. “Look! There’s another one.”

The strand of silver rises almost to the surface before spiraling back down. “What did you mean, the ‘last trace of her’? You don’t think she killed herself?”

“I did, with the first girl. She was with child—she had no husband. But then we couldn’t find the body, and there were these flashes.” He sighs heavily. “And a witness.”

“A witness?”

“Yes. We found her waiting, here at the pond. I took her statement. She gave me the victim’s diary.”

“Are you certain she wasn’t the murderess?”

“I doubted her story then. I suspected her.”

“But not now?”

“Now, I believe.”

II

Adèle

–You won’t find her body there, or anywhere round here. She’s gone to the other world.

–You know who she was?

–Her name was Mary Prince.

–And what is your name, miss?

–Adèle Constant.

–You’re certain it was she?

–I know every stitch of her clothes. This is the cloak she hung on the peg next to mine every morning. This is the gown she wore all last week—see how the seams have been let out here and here? And these are the shoes the nuns gave her last Christmas. Just look at this fine stitching!—they must ha’ come from one of the great families.

–Can you describe her please—what did she look like?

–You lot would have said she was unremarkable, but that’s not to say she wasn’t pretty. You just don’t remark on girls like us. I noticed her even before he did. I used to watch her at the factory—she sat at the bench across from mine. Her hair was the colour of corn silk, and just as fine. You wouldn’t notice the colour in the shop unless the sun was coming in, up in one of them high windows, and then she shone out pretty as an angel making the coat of Joseph. Her eyes were bluish, almost grey; it was hard to notice the colour, but you did because her brows and lashes were so pale you couldn’t pick ’em out from her white skin. She used to blush so fierce when he talked to her. The red spread right across her broad high cheeks and down that long neck. I used to watch her all the time, just for pleasure.

–Where was she from?

–Don’t know. She had a way of talking that made you think of far away. I thought she’d probably come from Ireland when all the other ones came. But she denied it. Said she was a T’ron’o girl.

–Who were her people?

–Far as I know she didn’t have any—no relations, no friends.

–She was with child?

–’Bout six months gone, I’d say.

–The baby’s father—did you know him? Were they married?

–No banns had been read, and she had no ring, if that’s what you mean.

–But there was a man? Someone courting her?

–Oh, yes. He started hanging round the factory gate about a year ago. A right outlander, he was. Never socialized with any of the men. He came only to stare at the girls. And pretty soon, at one girl alone.

–Can you tell me his name?

–We were never properly introduced—they would usually just disappear together, directly the shift was ended. But she called him Tom—Tom Flint.

–Do you know where I can find him?

–You can’t. He’s gone. He’s taken her home—to the place he came from.

–But they were alone together. There must have been a place in town where they’d meet.

–They always came here, to this pond. Dank and dreary, so I thought, but a shade pleasanter than home. She lived in lodgings with a lot of other factory girls.

–But not you?

–I’ve lived with my uncle, since my aunt died, to look after the children.

–You say he’s taken her away. You don’t believe she’s dead.

–He said he would take her to the other world, and now he has.

–To heaven, you mean?

–Lord, no! You must think me a fool, or worse. No, not heaven—another land, an earthly place.

–Forgive me, Miss Constant, but I don’t quite understand you. By what means did they travel to this ‘other world’?

–Well, they went through the pond. Those flashes in the water you keep staring at? She used to see them all the time, whenever he’d go back home. I found her here once, and she showed me what to look for. The pond was a doorway, she said, and he had the power to travel through it. But he couldn’t take her with him, not until he’d got hold of a silver wand…. You think I’ve made all this up, don’t you? Don’t put your pen away, sir. You wanted the truth and so I’m giving it to you.

–Miss Constant. You can’t expect me to believe…

–Not at first, just as I didn’t. Even Mary, simple as she was, thought he was being fanciful when he talked of this other world. But somehow she began to believe him…

–You said Miss Prince was simple. Easily led, perhaps?

–You’re twisting my meaning, sir. Innocent, I should ha’ said. Good and trusting. But not ignorant or foolish. No, she could read and write—I guess the nuns taught her. Whenever she could split a penny she’d buy a ballad or two, and before Tom came along, we used to walk home together, and she’d read ’em out to me, or sing ’em, if she knew the tune. And she kept a diary—she wrote in it often, before the shift bell if she’d time or at the dinner break.

–Did she ever go walking with a man, before Tom Flint?

–You want me to stain her character, do you? Well, I won’t lie to make your job easy. I used to chat with some of the boys, as we went up the long hill, but Mary never so much as looked at them. She always kept herself apart. Until Tom came. He was tall and handsome, with a sort of bright glow about him, for all he was so dark. All the girls noticed him, but not Mary, not until he’d drawn her out, forced her to hear him. It was the world he spoke of, you see, that tempted her away. It was so green and pretty. No smoke. No choking diseases. Not even any factories.

–There’s a wilderness outside Toronto, Miss Constant. More green than most of us could stand. Why did Mr. Flint need the pond for his otherworldly escape?

–Now you’re curious, aren’t you, sir? But you’re getting it all wrong. He came from the pond. Once he left, and didn’t come back for weeks. She almost fretted herself to death, watching for him on the bank. Sometimes she’d let me watch with her. And then finally she saw him, coming right out of the pond in a great orb of light. She said he looked exactly like Jesus ascending through the clouds into heaven. He didn’t know what that meant ’til she told him about our Saviour. I guess that makes you heaven, he’d said. Oh, he was always saying the most beautiful things to her. I wish I could remember them all…

–Do you mean to say he had no religion? Was he an aboriginal?

–Goodness, no. A Mohawk would ha’ been saved, or at least ha’ known what a Christian was. Tom Flint’d never heard the word. He might as well ha’ come from the moon!

–Or from the pond.

–Yes, sir.

–You said she kept a diary. Do you know where it is?

–It’s mine now. She said I could have it when she’d gone, since she couldn’t take a thing with her, not even her clothes.

–Have you read it?

–One of the neighbour lads has been to school and I got him to read it me for a penny. And that was cheap at the price, cause now I know ’twas all true and I won’t be forgotten. I won’t always card the wool and weave the cloth. I won’t die afore my time. Laugh if you want, but Mary said a man was coming for me, too, to take me to the shining world you see there, in them flashes. In the pond.

III

Mary

Thurs 4 April

I will call today my birth-day since none but God saw my infant birth. Afore now, like a baby, I felt naught but hunger and cried for naught but wanting. Until this hour I knew not what it was to live. Did God see what we did together? I think He would not reproach me, for is not Tom Flint one of God’s own messengers? And did he not come from another world on purpose to find me? He tells me so every day and I cannot disbelieve him. Aren’t God’s angels beautiful like Tom? I have sat for hours in church with the saints and angels floating round my head. I have seen them. And there is the miracle of my birth, what I am, what we are in our unity.

Fri 5 April

I told Tom about my birth-day. It made him very happy to know what I had felt and seen and he kissed me many times to show his pleasure. He said it was my First Awakening. Was it my soul waking up? He said the soul was not what I thought it was. What was it then? He said I might not like to hear the truth. I insisted on it. It was the magic, he said, that had always been inside me. I grew fearful when he talked of magic. He saw it in my eyes. He saw how I turned away from him. I said, a little defiantly, I have been touched by God. His dark eyes gleamed like two orange coals. I touched you, he said. God had nothing to do with it.

Sat 6 April

I want to tell Adele about Tom. She is so curious. She sees everything. It was she, last winter, who saw Tom’s attentions toward me. I never would have thought of him, but for her. Tom said I could not tell her yet about what we did because she might gossip and then I would lose my job. I did not want to contradict him, but I know Adele. She is my only friend in the factory and I am hers. She would never talk. When I marry, I will leave Toronto and she will be alone. I cannot bear to think of how sorry she will be.

Sun 7 April

After mass, I told Mrs. McBride I would be sleeping at Adele’s. That was a Lie. I stayed out with Tom all night. It was early in the year to be sleeping under the stars, but in Tom’s arms I never once felt cold. Our place, the place where we lie together, is a dark pond at the edge of the city. Though we can hear the rumble and the whistle of the new train, no one can see us. The pond lies at the bottom of a bowl made from sloping fields. There are no houses there, nothing human, just briars and thick, knotty bushes. He never talks much when we’re at the pond, though he sometimes asks me to sing. Last night, I sang Tam Lin. I watched his face closely, thinking to find his history reflected there. But he only took me in his arms, hungering. When he’d had his fill of me, and I could speak again, I boldly asked what I had so long wanted to know, had he been taken by the fairies? He only laughed. Did I think he needed rescuing?

Mon 8 April

I asked Tom when we will be married. And he said, according to the laws of his people, we already are. That first time, when he did not ask me, and I did not like him so much, that was the claim. Now I belong to him and he can never leave me. Was it not the same as a Christian marriage? I could not deny it, though I cared not at all for the word they used. Was I a bit of Upper Canada? Had Lord Elgin granted him a lease? For an answer he took away my clothes and covered me all in dead leaves. You are the land, he said, and claimed me again.

Thurs 11 April

Poor Mrs. McBride! I am ashamed of all the lies I have told her for Tom’s sake. I have not been home in many days, and at the end of the week, I will clear out my things. Mrs. B thinks I will be living with Adele now, and so I have let Adele into my secret. She was quite astonished at first, to hear that I was a wife, and then gloomy when she learned what kind of wife I am, and how I live when I am not at work. She actually wept when I told her Tom had forbidden me to wear a corset or petticoats. They had always marked me as a better sort of girl, she said, and what kind of man was Tom that he didn’t know the difference. What kind of man, indeed? I cannot tell her yet—that is Tom’s secret. Adele is right about me though. I am already half wild. I spend all my days as an unthinking animal in the factory and all my nights in the thorny fields with Tom.

Sun 14 April

I went to confession this morning before mass. I will never go again. Father Kinney pretended there could be no marriage outside the Church. I was living in sin with Tom, he said. But what about all the people living in other worlds who do not know Christ? They were sinners, like me, he replied, his voice angry. I should have submitted meekly to be guided by him, but I could not. I knew God was not angry and I told him so—he had touched me with the powers of creation. I could make music out of air. I could make light out of dark. He called me a blaspheming whore. I showed him my power. He called me a witch. I fled without absolution.

Mon 15 April

I do not believe Tom slept at all last night. Most of the time, he just looked at the stars. Once I asked him what he could see—did he know the constellations? “Not here,” he said. “I don’t know where I am.” Those were his exact words. When we first met, he called himself an explorer. Could an explorer really be lost? Then I remembered Lord Franklin in the Arctic, and his poor lady still searching. But how could Tom get lost in Toronto? Then he told me. He was banished here. Banished? By God? No. The Queen, then? No. By his family? No, it was a rival who told lies about him, a man called Mervale. One evening, when Tom returned home from hunting, a group of men ambushed him in the forest. They bound him tightly with rope, they made him wear a sort of bridle with a spiked curb to keep him silent, and they carried him off to Mervale’s castle. There, his captors revealed themselves to be his peers, men who had been his friends. They met Mervale in a low-ceilinged oblong room, most of which was taken up with an artificial pool. Mervale touched the water with a silver wand and instantly a picture appeared on the dark surface, this very place. The men threw Tom into the water, bound and all, and he thought he would drown, until he discovered his hands and legs were free. He swam up, and climbed out here, into another world, naked as the day he was born. I felt cold all over while he told his story. He had not come on purpose to find me. He never meant to come here at all. Why had he lied? He protested. He had not chosen to come here, but he had chosen me. I was special, different than the other girls. Was it the magic? Yes, he said, he knew we were the same.

Tues 16 April

I refused to go with Tom last night and went home instead with Adele. I pretended I was tired and unwell from sleeping so many nights out of doors. In truth, I have never felt stronger. Tom gives me fresh meat every night, and when I lie with him, the heat burns all through me. I breathe easier. There is a new hardness in limbs that were weak and frail. No, it is only my spirit that fails me. Tom came here through the pond? Banished not by God, but by Mervale? Then he is not an angel, any more than he is Tam Lin. There is no Christian religion in the world he came from. They worship strange gods under strange stars. But there is magic in his world, true magic. He let it slip this morning as he walked me into town—he needs more magic to go home. Now I know the true reason for his courting and his ‘claiming.’

Fri 19 April

Adele has been asking me a great many questions about Tom. It feels wrong to keep the truth from her, especially when she has been so kind. Much against her uncle’s wishes, she has given me food from her own plate. She has shared her blanket and her tiny bed. During the night, she must have felt me shivering, in spite of her nearness, because she put her arms around me. Did I miss him? I wept, and all the story came out.

Sat 20 April

I have lost my job at the factory. When I tried to pass through the gate this morning, Mr. Holder told me I was not wanted anymore. Adele argued with him. He threatened to give her the sack. Hopelessly, I went to the Office to collect my wages, and as I climbed the stairs, I saw Tom, watching me from across the street. All at once I knew he had somehow caused this to happen.

Sun 21 April

I attended mass at St. Michael’s to escape from Father Kinney. The new Cathedral is beautiful beyond any other work of man. It is bright like the sun shining through trees. And it is big as the night sky. I was just wishing Tom could see it when I felt his gaze upon me. He sat across the aisle with a look on his face that would have tempted Mother Mary. I found I could not stand when it was required—my legs were too weak. No more could I sing or speak or see. It was as if no part of me belonged in the world, because every part of me belonged already to Tom.

Mon 22 April

I went down to King Street to seek work in one of the new hotels but I was turned away from every door. It is impossible that I could be known in every quarter of this great city. Yet I meet fear and revulsion wherever I go. Is it my name? My face? Is there a mark upon it I cannot see? I confess I am beginning to be afraid of Tom. He is cutting all my earthly bonds, one by one, and soon I will float free. I will be like steam seeking the clouds, and then I will be nothing.

Sun 28 April

On Tuesday Mr. Constant turned me out. Fearing for Adele I did not linger. For three days I wandered. Tom found me on the lakeshore, battered and starving, and he brought me back here, to the pond. There’s a shelter here now, built from odd pieces of wood, and a bed, or rather a nest of cedar branches, turkey feathers, fox fur, and scraps of old clothes. He has nursed me and fed me. He has taken pleasure, I think, in my complete surrender.

Tues 30 April

Tom’s world is real. He showed it to me with his magic. Before we lay down together, he cut my hands, and his, my thighs, and his, so that our blood would mingle in the act. While we loved, I traveled to another place, a large castle, built entirely of black stone and circled by a river of fire. Behind the square towers, the sky blazed red. I felt my hands and feet were burning, and that the fire was spreading all through me. I could not breathe. I thought I would die of thirst. Trembling in every limb, I looked up at the high black walls. Through a veil of smoke I saw Tom’s eyes gleaming. I saw his black hair waving. He threw me a coil of rope. I caught it, though it almost knocked me down. The black rope twisted round my waist like a thing alive. Then he lifted me over the fire. He lifted me above the sharp shining walls. When he held me tight, like a treasure, he did not unbind me, but carried me below. Down, down, down, we went to a warm earthen chamber. Odd clay statues stood guard above the hollow where he laid me. The clay people caught fire, one by one, inside their bellies, until only I remained unlit. The rope pulled at my four limbs. I opened to receive Tom’s fire. It was in my mouth, and in my eyes, in my hands, and in my belly. I burned more brightly, at last, than the clay people. But Tom, Tom was the sun. He was the beginning of time and all things. And he has chosen to make a world with me.

Wed 1 May

Today I felt strong enough to leave the ‘nest.’ Tom held my waist as we took a turn around the pond. In the bright sun, I saw that my gown was in tatters and my skin was caked with dirt. I wanted more than anything to be clean again, so I asked Tom whether I might bathe in the pond. At first he seemed reluctant. He had camped here for months hoping the doorway to his world might open again. I promised to be quick and he relented. He watched me from the grassy bank. I had just dunked my head under the water, when he leaped to his feet. Had I seen the light? I stood quite still, and then I saw it, a streak of light like a silver ribbon. Go under again, he said, and stay there as long as you can. Obediently, I held my breath. When I rose, more flashes, thicker now, like great white snakes. Down I went again, and this time, I opened my eyes underwater. I could see quite clearly the shape of the land, the rocks and plants, and the snakes circling me ever faster, and even passing through me. Reluctantly I surfaced. Tom had seen it too and was beside me in a moment. “It’s happening,” he said.

Sat 4 May

It did not happen that first time, but with every night that passes, the magic grows stronger. I spend so much time in the water I almost cannot walk on the land. I asked if he could not make me a mermaid. He laughed—his magic “didn’t take that turn.” So my skin is always shrivelled, my hair always wet. I would have frozen to death by now if Tom did not keep the water hot with his magic. I take my rest while Tom hunts or steals the things we need. If I were not so exhausted I would be terrified of his getting caught. Most of our swimming happens at night, because the lights are brighter. We have made two important discoveries. Firstly, I have to be in the water, or there will not be any white snakes. Tom alone cannot make them appear. Secondly, the snakes are bigger and more powerful (Tom’s word) when he adds his magic to mine. Thankfully my face is the one part of my body that is not wrinkled like a prune, because there has been an awful lot of kissing. What sort of power were we giving to the snakes? They want to form a sphere, he says, and we’re helping them to bind together more tightly. So what happens when they do? We will be inside it. We will cross over.

Sun 5 May

I had hardly put my head down, when I felt Tom lifting me up and stripping off my clothes, ready to toss me back into the water. No, I said vehemently. Today is Sunday, our day of rest, and I want to visit Adele. We were both in high spirits as we walked into town. Tom’s presence seemed to remove all the obstacles that had so recently made my life in Toronto a misery. Adele’s uncle traded jokes with him, and promised to welcome me back to his house whenever I called. We met Mr. Holder on the street. Business was good, he declared, they would need more girls soon. We passed Father Kinney on the steps of his church. He gave us a friendly wave. We carried our picnic to the King’s College. I asked Tom, what had he done? He grinned wickedly. “When you left me, Mare-rie, the world was like a ship, listing to one side. Now you’re back, it has righted itself.” Adele was immensely pleased with everything Tom said. He talked at length about his world, rather unguardedly as I thought, and even promised Adele that if she truly wanted to emigrate—he laughed at the word—then he would make sure she had a husband to carry her home. I reminded him that the passage was uncertain, even for us. But he only folded me in his arms. “We’re so close, Mare-rie. It could be tonight.”

Mon 6 May

Tom was right. It finally happened. The day had made our feelings stronger, and love made our magic stronger. We were lying in the shallows. He had spread my hair out on the grassy bank. I pulled an eerie whistle from the air and shaped it into song. The music floated above the thorny fields. I thought I might fly with it to the stars. But then Tom drew me back to earth. He was making me glow, brighter and brighter. I dug my fingers into the grass. I could not bear it. I wanted him to release me. I cried out. He covered my mouth with kisses. And then little by little he dragged me to the water. My fingers made trenches in the dirt, slowing him down only slightly. But it was enough. The full force of his magic burst upon me in the depths. The white ribbons exploded out of me, binding together with dizzying speed, and ensphering us in light. I heard him in my thoughts, “We’re going home.” And then his body was ripped out of mine. I saw his eyes redden, first with anger, then with fear as he tried to hold on. But he was gone and I was alone. The white sphere dwindled into snakes and then ribbons. I crawled onto the bank and wept.

The sun has risen. The thorns are green. In another month there will be roses here. I know I will not live to see them.

Fri 24 May

I wrote the end of my story for Adele, but it seems there is still more to tell. I have tried to die, but the pond will not take me. There is magic enough in the water—or in me—for a cruel joke. It gave me gills and fins. It made me a mermaid. The first transformation took only a few hours, but it was a week or more before I could turn myself back. During that time, I learned to hunt in the marshes, and travel through the hidden waterways down to the lake. I think I would retain my marine form, and live forever apart from humankind, if I were not carrying Tom’s child, a human child. For his sake, I must go to Adele, and beg her to help me.

Tues 18 June

If it were not for the dreams and the child growing inside me, I might almost believe what Adele sometimes pretends, that Tom was a rover and a thief, and he is not coming back. I go through the motions of my old life. I live at Mrs. B’s, I work at Holder’s, and I go to mass of a Sunday. Yet I seem to be living two lives, in two worlds. When I close my eyes I see the chamber beneath the castle. I remember what he is, and what I am. And this is more vivid, and more real to me than the factory, the church, or the city itself.

Tues 23 July

I was in the pond when a huge white orb materialized around me and rose slowly upward bursting in the air and raining down on my head like stars. Tom pulled me out of the water and laid me on the grass, marvelling at my new shape. Regarding my belly, he was at once joyful, proud, and defiant. He laid his burning hands on me, seeing through my very skin to the womb where the tiny creature floated. There was a prophecy. His son—our son—would one day be king of the Five Seas, and the founder of a great magical house. Regarding my strangely altered limbs, he declared my magic was stronger than he had guessed, and far more dangerous. I could never appear in my true guise, except when we were alone. If I were discovered here, I would be put into a cage. But if I were discovered in Tom’s world, I would be instantly put to death. How could it be so, I cried in disbelief. Did he not live in a world of miracles and magic? He did, but as in my world, some kinds of magic could be tolerated, and even looked for, while others could not. If his people hated the thing I was, then how could he love me? He did not speak again, but showed me how it would be with us hereafter, and I knew his love to be true.

Mon 29 July

Tom has gone back to steal the wand from Mervale. It is the only way to bring me through, for as long as I am myself the door, I cannot pass. He did not like to talk about it, though, and I fear he intends to do something wicked for my sake.

Thurs 5 September

I just woke from the most terrible dream. Tom’s castle and lands were burning, and he came walking out of the flames, as from the very mouth of Hell. He was naked. He carried nothing with him. But the blue knight riding hard aimed a lance at his heart. Oh God! I will go down to the pond to pray for his safe return—or my release. If he does not come, and I do not die, then I will swim far out from shore, to find the river that will take me to the sea.

Fri 6 September

Dearest Adele,

I am leaving—

Goodbye, not forever—

Mary

IV

There’s a knock at the door. The older man opens it. It’s the young detective from Toronto. His moustaches haven’t been waxed or trimmed. They’ve fallen into his ragged beard. “How did you find me?”

“We’ve identified the girl.”

The older man turns, goes into his sitting room. The detective follows him. Neither bothers to close the door of the little cottage.

“It was Adèle Constant. Her uncle identified her things. He called it murder…she’d been walking out with a strange man. Though he would never come into the house, Mr. Constant met him a few times in the street—said he had an odd manner of speaking. Seemed always to be talking down to him, too, as if he were Constant’s social better; but the man dressed in borrowed clothes. He had no work. He called himself John Smith.”

“Has the man been found—any trace of him at all?”

“Not as such. There was a quantity of ash at the scene—at the pond. And a man’s button in it. The uncle said it was Smith’s. He’d never seen another like it.”

“Ah, I’d always wondered why I couldn’t find Tom Flint’s clothes.”

The younger man stares at the worn carpet. His ragged hair falls over his eyes. “The diary…I can’t understand Adèle’s wanting to follow Mary.”

“Because Flint was a brute, you mean?”

“And God knows what else.”

The older man sighs. “Do you think she never felt the back of her uncle’s hand? Do you think she surveyed the factory floor and discovered a more hopeful prospect there?”

The younger man does not reply, but sits twisting his cap in his hands.

The older man rubs his eyes and looks wearily out at the fading day. “There’s something more?”

“Well, yes. If we are to believe that Tom Flint came from another world, and took Mary Prince away, and then another man came for Adèle Constant, then where are they now?”

“A different question haunts me, detective.” He leans forward in his chair, his red-rimmed eyes opening wide. “Where are we?”

A bit about the author:

Christine Boulos teaches Victorian literature at a big university in Toronto. The Victorian novel was her second literary love; portal fantasies were her first. Somehow, probably when she passed through the magic emigration portal that is the Peace Bridge, the two got mixed up, and this story is the result. Visit author page