Publish the Word
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Angelus -- Chapter 21

 

 The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. Psalms 68:11

                              Chapter 21

 

She saw the reborn world as if a shroud had been lifted off the landscape.  Or cataracts peeled from her eyes.  The morning air was tremulous with birdsong, rose-beaked tanagers and jacamars and pepper-shrikes arabesqueing above the courtyard where she wrote in her daybook.   She sat in a mezzotint of sun and leafshade.  Carmela had joined her early for coffee but left to instruct the gardener and his wife the maid.  She felt feathery, able to rise into the air if she willed it.

 He had touched her.  Touched her forehead so lightly, a gentling touch, she all at once transparent.  His hand flowed inside her thoughts.  She felt stilled.  Absolute. 

How could she describe the sensations?  She couldn't, no, she thought, as she smoothed flat the pages.  No word existed -- perhaps music if her soul would blossom into song.  And early, sunrise no less, when normally she felt groggy and dragging, she was alert, searching her forehead in the mirror for some mark, but finding only herself, punked hair, eyes crinkled at the edges, astonished and yet herself, the memory vivid like a tracing on her retina.

They had talked, but every image seemed fused into the next, maybe only a minute, maybe an hour, she saw it all in time-lapse, his apparition, her disheveled embarrassment, his voice, she mute, he not etherial, no, not at all, she had felt his hand, studied his features, saw him closeup and substantial.

How do you exist? she had asked.

As an anomaly, he replied, in this bio-plasmic universe.


She tilted back to see the sky, the vibrant, saturated sky, so immense, she thought, so immense and adrift with clouds, an archipelago of clouds.  Mild September in the tropics, a hemisphere and lightyear away from home.  Next week at this time she would be sipping Camomile tea on her  deck and watching oaks and maples shed their leaves.  Only days hence, she thought.  Would she ever again see such a sky?   Cerulean.  Intense.  Deep Pacific tempera blue as seen from space. 

She still trembled inside herself.   His touch, releasing her to sleep, remained when she awoke.  Proof enough, she told herself.   And now the sky, the trees alive with birds, her freckled hands upon the paper, the air, the miraculous air all seemed somehow in-sync with this very moment and the next and the next after that.  A connectedness she couldn't explain, that's what she was trying to say.   Words eluded her.  If she spoke an angelic language she might articulate how she felt.

Symphonious.  Was that a word? 

She doodled, scripting her letters, adding a floral embellishment as an outer border, a trellis of ivy and bellflowers, then a decorative capital in medieval style.  The words remained empty, though.  She was unable to convey what she felt, had  felt: so inconceivable, his hand a cool wave of tranquility that had swept through her -- was that a cliché?  Her breathing stilled, eyes closed, her thoughts settled under his hand.  Everything soothed away, emotional Valium, she thought, the room evaporating, anguish draining from her mind, descending like an elevator down and down into liquid sleep.

A pathetic description, she thought.


For two hours she struggled with words.  Finally she abandoned the daybook when she heard the phone ring inside the house and Carmela announce from the open doorway that Julie was calling.  Her daughter, exuberant, her voice coming from a tunnel, it seemed, but reassuring. They had arrived safely, were having a great time, yes, the accommodations were fine, the sand like warm sugar, jetskiing later, okay mom, time's almost up, see you tomorrow evening, love you too mom -- a  two-minute verbal postcard.

She found Udo in his studio.  Listen to this, he said, too loudly because his headphones were clamped over his ears..  A fugue, baroque in structure but modern execution.  First movement, he said, his right hand poised in the air between them.  Exposition.  He dialed the volume louder with his other hand which hovered above the console.  Hear that, he said?  In Bach's time you would hear harpsichord.  Do you know what that is?  A synthesized marimba.  Does not exist except here, in digital.  The bass enters, he said.  Hear that?  Episode, followed by restatement in second voice.   Here comes tenor.

She motioned for him to remove the headphones, and then she told him the girls had just phoned.  They're having a great time.

Of course they are, Udo said.  Now, prepare for the repetition coming up.  Listen!  Listen! There!  You hear the harmonic trajectory?  With my computer I can compose endless variations.  Endless.  If you stand between two mirrors and see yourself ad infinitum, you have an idea of what I can accomplish.  Amazing, isn't it?  A realm where sound is binary data.  He held up his index finger and stared at its tip.  Infinitesimally small.  An orchestra, he said, on a minuscule chip.  Silica.  Polished sand   Poor old Bach would have been twice the genius.

She listened to Udo's fugue through to the final, cascading wave of sound, stretto in Italian, Udo explained, how the voices topple one upon another to the inevitable, thundering,   orgasmic climax.  Thank the God who created thee, he said, for in music and sex we glimpse what heaven might be.  Forgive my  vulgarity, he said.  Music is often quite sensual.


Ava went down the back stairway, barefoot, the grass prickly, then the terrazzo fiery and on into the kitchen.  She and Carmela shared a platter of  crisp vegetables for lunch, then both decided they should ward off the muggy heat in the pool.  As she appraised herself in the mirror, Ava's suit struck her as ten years out of style and two sizes too large, but she went down to the courtyard, nevertheless, and lowered herself into the water.  Almost body temperature, she said, swirling, fanning water onto her face.  She remarked when Carmela removed her towel wrap that she had creamy skin like cocoa.  And your Evita is lovely, too, she said.   Do you moisturize? Ava asked.  And so on they talked, into the afternoon.

At one point as they lazed in the shallows Ava asked, are you spiritual? 

Spiritual?   When I was little girl, I attend Mass.

What about now, Ava asked.

 Now?  Christmas and Easter to church, Carmela said.  Maybe pray to Madonna.  Yes, I think spiritual.

Do you think women are more spiritual than men?

Carmela paused before answering.  She adjusted the clasp which held her hair back and above the water.  Only one time I know Udo go to cathedral to hear choir sing.  I do not think he pray.

His music has spiritual qualities, in my opinion, Ava said.  Earlier he played a piece for me he was working on.  I could hear celebration for the natural world.  It made me feel joyful --  the melody, how it rolled out and seemed to fold back upon itself made me think of the sea crashing over rocks and overflowing tide pools, of being drawn back by invisible forces, then rushing again toward the shore.  He may not go to church but to compose the music he does tells me he is spiritual.


They were leaning against the tile wall, their legs buoyant in front of them.  They had been in the pool so long the water no longer felt distinct from her skin, almost, Ava thought, as if gravity did not exist under her hips and thighs, or moon gravity, allowing her to hang suspended with minimal effort.

I believe in God and Holy Father teachings, Carmela said.  Good people go to heaven, bad to hell.

What if someone doesn't believe in God?

 Carmela shrugged.  Are they good or bad? 

 I don't know, Ava said.  That's the crux of a theological debate.  How good must one be to attain heaven and how evil to deserve hell?  Would a God of perfect love condemn  any of his creation?  Of course, a kind man or woman who doesn't attend church might be better than a hypocritical churchgoer.  Piety, I don't think, is confined to a pew.  Nor is sin exclusive to thieves and rapists.  I have always found religion a confusing subject, Carmela.  For me, to be spiritual means to rise out of myself, lifted perhaps, by music, Mozart or Handel, or a fresco by Raphael, an Emily Dickinson poem, a sunset or solitude in the woods -- to feel less me and more of everything else.  Does that make sense?

I am the same, Carmela said.  Latin mass so difficult to understand.  But my mother, she say God is wind.  He make the stars, all the flowers and trees.  He, the breath of life in all animals, man, fish, birds, women, children -- all. 

What about angels? Ava asked.

Angels, devils, spirits -- si, yes, of course.  My aunt was cursed by un espectro, a  glimmer, ghost, you know?  A priest finally drove it from of her house, back to the cemetery.  I  believe in fantasma, all these.  Angels.  Evil angels.  Superstitions.

Ava said, I'm not superstitious.   But I must tell you, I am preoccupied with angels.  Have you ever wondered what they look like?

All different, Carmela said.

You may be right.  As different, probably, as those they watch over.  Would you think me crazy-loco if I told you I have seen an angel?

She tested her words against Carmela's reaction, lingering after each sentence to see if she had revealed too much, had transgressed too far into the metaphysical.  Carmela let her legs settle underneath her as she listened, rapt, enraptured, Ava thought, her eyes glazed as if she were viewing an inner projection of Ava's narrative.  She described the angel as one woman might tell another of a secret longing, reverentially, with no need to be affirmed because the desire or dream was hers alone.  She chose her words with care and with a slow, precise cadence, so Carmela would not misunderstand.  And as she heard herself speak, Ava thought of  the young virgin's canticle, Mary who had fallen prostrate before the archangel, the words become song, rising from her moist lips, rising in the quiet dusk which had begun to drift over the courtyard on this Saturday in September.  She felt awed herself.  Hers thoughts became word and then thought again inside Carmela, who listened, silent, quartered equally by water and air, sun and shade.

When Ava finished, she lifted herself up to pool's edge.  Carmela still had not spoken.  Ava laid her hand upon Carmela's shoulder.  She could feel the imprint of sun.  She could feel  the hard scapular bone under her skin.  Carmela turned toward her, turned her face up, into the waning, golden light so Ava could see that no further words were necessary.

 

Daybook, September 12

A woman waits, it seems, for years

 for the moon to rise with its death mask and poison-glow.

She waits for the wind with its ragbag of afflictions.

She waits for her husband, in his black suit,

who channels the dead, the dead

with their cans of laughter, soft flick and soft voices.

For her children she waits all night

and into the next, awake, waiting

for the accident to happen and the phone call.

She gathers the window's pain unto herself,

gathers light from a passing car, gazes

sleepless, into the dark.  And a woman mourns as she waits,

the night full of death-wails and homicides,

her cat tearing the rabbit's flesh, the owl dismembering,

bone, gristle and grit, so much scavenging, so many deaths.

And a woman will wait for love all her life

and into the next, entombing her joys one by one.

She will whisper over and over the requiem of women:

Blessed are you who wait, for you shall be transformed,

no longer the mirror of others, the hook of second-hands,

the nag, drudge or shadow underfoot.  No cellulite or spider-veins,

 no handfuls of hair or pain which clamps down and holds on. 

If an angel were to come to you in his luminosity,

were to lay his hand upon your forehead and say

the rooms you have entered were completed by your presence;

the children you lost have found themselves;

the life you await is this moment, without end,

then the air would ignite with voices, and you,

like an acolyte in your immaculate gown,

would begin to sing, symphonious, as on the first day.

 

The daughters took a taxi from the airport Sunday evening, their arrival a flurry of hugs, brushed kisses, more overstuffed bags than they left with.  Wait until you see the swimsuit I bought, Julie said.  A lavender maillot with matching georgette pareo, fits great and I hardly paid anything.   What a great time we had, didn't we, Evita?  I want to go back and stay longer.

They went out to the courtyard and sat around the pool.  Julie and Evita dangled their legs in the water, while at the round, wrought-iron table Ava and Udo sipped malbec wine in long-stemmed glasses and Carmela an iced lime tea.  Evita urged Julie to tell the story, but Julie said she didn't want to upset her mother. 

What story? Ava asked, now reluctant to let drop what had risen in their collective curiosity.  Did something happen?  You didn't get into trouble, did you?

No, no, Julie said.  No big deal.  We were at the beach, floating on air mattresses, you know, just letting the waves rock us back and forth, floating and sunning, and I must have dozed off  because when I looked up, I was halfway to Africa.  Well, it seemed like I had drifted pretty far out.  I tried to paddle back toward shore, but I was in a rip current.

What's a rip current? Ava asked.

Like a strong, underwater tide.  It kept washing me farther out, no matter how hard I paddled and kicked against it.  I shouted, but nobody heard because of the surf and kids playing and screaming, and I just panicked, I guess.  I thought I was shark food.  Oh yeah, that's the other thing.  They had shark warnings out and told people not to go far from shore.

Where were you? Carmela asked her daughter.

Evita said, I was in shallow water, but I never heard her call.

What happened?  Ava asked.  Obviously the sharks didn't get you.

It was so weird, Julie said.  As I got farther away, I worried they wouldn't even be able to see me, that Evita wouldn't know where I went, just a yellow blip disappearing on the horizon.  I was really swept along, almost a mile, I'm sure.  I can swim, but not against that current.

So how did you get back?  Ava asked.

That's what's weird.  A little fishing boat seemed to appear from nowhere.  I slid down the side of one swell and crested the next and suddenly, right in front of me, was this little old grizzled man in this little old wooden boat and toy motor.  I couldn't even get into his boat because the waves had grown so turbulent.  But he threw a line out the back and towed me in until I could stand and walk to shore and then he putt, putt, puttered away before I could even thank him.  When I got out of the water my legs collapsed under me, and I began to shiver.  I was an emotional wreck.

When she told me, Evita said, I could not believe her.  We searched to see the little boat, but it was gone.  After that we were too nervous to go back in the water.

Udo said with irony, and that was a great time?

We met a couple guys from Rio, Julie said.  We exchanged addresses.

We built a fire on the beach, Evita added.

I got flea bites from the sand, Julie said, proffering her legs for inspection.


After the girls went up to shower and then, in Julie's words, sleep for three days, Ava asked Udo what he would do with the key he had given her, the key from Eva Braun.  Even if I did find the right bank, she wondered aloud, would they let me just waltz in and open up an account box which hasn't been touched in fifty years?

Udo was framed in a nimbus of light cast from the pole lanterns which stood sentry about the courtyard.  He tipped back in his chair, all silhouette.  Are you planning a trip to Europe? he asked.

Not anytime soon.

Carmela rose up in her chair and said, you might find much money.

What would I do with old German money?  Would I get into trouble?  And what if bank officials or the government started asking me questions.  Who are you?  This account has been closed or is under surveillance.  And what then, if I had to explain the key or how I had access or my relationship to Eva Braun, late wife of the late Chancellor?

Well, she loved jewelry, Udo said.  She might have left some of her collection.

But how would I explain?  Ava felt an overwhelming urgency to know.


Udo, furrowed, leaned toward her.  When I discovered the truth of father's past, I searched everything, each box, every envelope, the house inside to out, hoping in my avarice to locate a buried fortune of  Deutsche marks, or better, gold bouillon like loaves of bread.  Surely, I thought, I might uncover a chest of diamonds, rubies and emeralds from the vast storehouse of Reich treasury.  Did I tell you Herr Ricardo Bormann had a villa 350 kilometers from here on the Parana where it snakes into Argentina?  He died in 1959 or '60, according to father.  At the time I seriously contemplated that I would mount an expedition of one, myself, to go exhume his rotting carcass.  Why, you may ask?  In case he really did intend to take his wealth with him.  Oy!  I was even tempted, my sister, to travel to Munich and see what magic door that key opened.  But I was not legal heir to its contents.  His abrupt silence punctuated the inevitable next words, uttered by Ava.

And I am the heir, aren't I?  Her daughter by birth.  And his.

A monstrous thought, isn't it? Udo released the words slowly and sympathetically.  Hitler.  Scourge of the modern world.

Ava surprised herself at what she said next, her thoughts unrehearsed.  I've begun to resolve these facts about the diary and why we moved to Paraguay and mother's reticence.  You know, Udo, at first I thought you were crazy, that you were spinning some dark fairy tale.  Nazis.  La Arana.  Eva Peron and all that -- kind of lunatic ravings.  Don't take offense, but I really wondered about your sanity.

And rightly so, Udo said, amused.  I wonder myself some days.  Ask Carmela.  She questions my sanity, too, if she would be honest with us.

Carmela in protest said, no, no. You have artistic nature.

You see? he said.  My madness has an alibi.  Artistic.

Stillness settled over them in the humid air which carried the girls' music as a faint backtrack.  As Ava stared upwards beyond the lantern's glow, she saw millions of starfish in a black sea.  She finally said, your music is the same, I think, as my painting.  A different world opens before you, a world you enter, where you lose touch with time and those about you in ways they can't understand.  Am I right?  And in that world, what you do, seems what you were anointed to do.  Trivial to others, perhaps, but your music, note by note, or for me, brushstroke after brushstroke is the same as breathing.   If I cease, I die.

I heard on the radio, Udo said, that our national soccer team will cancel its matches with Peru because of cholera in Lima, an epidemic according to news reports.  Why can we not, I thought to myself, eradicate these diseases?  Cholera?  Or cure cancer?  Or make airplanes which don't crash?  Yes, I know what you say.  The world of our making, in which we dwell, such as my music is also imperfect.  But I allow myself as ruling despot of that world a small power, a benevolent power.  In this other world we are all powerless, are we not?  Accidents of birth.  The galley slaves of fate rowing blind on a raging sea.  Tell me why your daughter Julie did not perish in the ocean?  Or why you were born of such parentage?

She didn't know.  She held up her wine glass, saw him scarlet, the world become bloody.  She spoke not knowing where her words would lead.  I feel sorry for Eva Braun.  She seemed simple, so shallow, so vain.  She wanted to be a mother.  And she wanted respect, if only she could be the wife, not the mistress.  I think of her writing, month after month, a prisoner of her own vanity, not wanting to leave her little orbit of importance.  And her beloved Fuhrer, I think, was more a deity to her.  Fulfillment of her fantasy?  I don't know.  I cannot visualize him as a husband, or worse, a father.

I myself have wondered, Udo began solemnly, if she told him -- at the end.  If he knew about you.

I don't know.  She left for Berlin November the first.  And then it ends.  I don't know.

In father's opinion, Eva Braun planned to escape to Argentina, to reunite with her -- with you.  But I don't know either.  Our mother intended, perhaps, to spare you such speculation.

I think your mother fear she must give you back, Carmela said to Ava.

Well, that may be, Udo said.  But apparently she had no trouble leaving her own son.

Oh no, Ava said.  She was devastated.  She never recovered.  I can't recall ever seeing her truly joyful.  Even my graduation or wedding.  She was pleased, of course.  But the pain of separation changed her, hardened, like an invisible shawl she could never remove.

Well, Udo said, sighing, then sighing again.   It's a world of endless prevarication.

You sound cynical, Ava said.

Am I cynical? Udo inquired of Carmela, his voice rising.  When she nodded, he dismissed her with an angry wave and said, I don't care.  Cynicism is like gray hair.  The longer we live, the more of it we are entitled to.  To be cynical, in my estimation, is more virtue than vice.

 While Ava prolonged her glass of wine, Udo had drained the entire carafe, the alcohol now evident in his voice which had become contentious.  She sought Carmela's glance to signal her displeasure.

You should go to bed, Carmela said to Udo.

Nonsense, he replied, suddenly incensed.  He rolled his head back to survey the sky.  It's early.  I want to enjoy this splendid evening with my esteemed sister,

I'm pretty bushed, Ava said.

Bushed?  What is that? Udo asked.  Bushed.  Have you become herbaceous?

It's an American colloquialism for tired.  Exhausted.

Are you tired?  Stay, please, Udo said, dragging out his words thickly.  We will debate the merits of these wonderful idiomatic phrases like bushed.  I am bushed.  Do you know in Spanish we say Eso que me dices te lo creere cuando los pollos mamen queso.  I will believe that when the moon is blue cheese.  When the moon is blue cheese?  Do you say that in America?

I really am tired, Ava said, pushing away from the table.  Now that the girls are safely back, I can relax.  As a mother, I'm sure Carmela understands.

Ah ha, Udo said punctuating the air in front of him with his index finger.  In Paraguay, fathers are not mothers.  Thus, fathers can have no knowledge of these secrets which pass between you women.  I do not know if men are women in your country, but our men do not wear earrings.  They do not wear makeup or silk lingerie. Men are the hunters and warriors of a culture.  Women tend to the children.  They pledge obsequience to their men.  And a woman who is a mother would never neverabandon her children.  He swayed to the left, steadied his gaze, then tapped the air again for emphasis and added, unforgivable.

Good-night, Ava said rising, her response stuck in her throat.

Wind frittered about her room, agitated the curtains, restless and laden with nightscents but no coolness.  She sat on the floor, against the bedframe.  To release her irritation at Udo she closed her eyes, breathing slowly and mechanically until the knot in her chest subsided, draining away until only the floor's smoothness and the wind's patter remained.  She felt emptied.  Udo's rage had seemed to erupt from nowhere.  For years and years, she realized, he had borne an inner wound, a deep wound.  She framed the photo in her mind with new clarity, the nine-year old boy in rack and pinion focus.  His wiry boy's-body stiff against the light.  Unsmiling and sullen.  Refusing to utter a word.  Their mother shuffling bags onto the airport cart, father at her elbow, unfurling a bill from his hand, stuffing it inside her black, plastic purse.  She would not know until they arrived in Miami the money was play money in their new country.  She saw them all.  Her mother nudging her to say good-bye to her brother.  Her mother bending to enfold Udo.  His eyes vacant, somewhere else.  Father's lips on her forehead.  Say good-bye to your brother.  Say good-bye.


And now, four decades later, she finally saw with his eyes.  They were leaving for a new world, without him, and he knew, but she did not.  In her excitement she could see only the sleek and shimmering plane with its tiny windows.  She saw the tier of steps, the pilot in his brown uniform, the planes beyond veering up into the vast sky.  But Udo had turned invisible.  He disappeared before their politeness and damp hugs and father's lips fading on her forehead. As mother bent his small body against hers, he had already vanished.  Gone.  Gone inside himself while she was departing with his one, true mother.  She and Udo, days ago, had dissected her leaving, the promise that he and their father would follow later, but whatever had transpired between their parents would be now and forever unknown.  Udo hated her for taking away his mother.  He could not fault the mother who left him, or if he once did, he had transferred his bitterness toward Ava, the daughter who was not even a real daughter.  Years and years and years his resentment had smoldered and now she had seen all his fury burst and pour over her like a toxic spill.

She went into the bathroom to wash her face.  Water dribbled tepid from the faucet, a liquid rust that smelled of the river.  She towelled her face, the mirror eyes not hers.  She averted staring at herself as she brushed her teeth.  The stubbled hair and saggy flesh along her jaw and under her chin, the raccoon eyes peering back made her feel like she was invading a stranger's privacy.  When she returned to her room she propped open the balcony doors, then flopped onto her bed.  She stared at the wall as if it were a projection screen onto which she could replay the angel's appearance, roll it back and play it again.  Why her?  He had not been there and then he was, filling the room with his presence..


She stretched, languid, not sleepy but relaxed and also sad for her brother for whom she had genuine affection.  The wine had mellowed her, had made her morose, as well.  She heard his music start up.  Then she heard him singing above the music, too late, she thought and too loud.  She went to the balcony to survey the dim courtyard but didn't see him at first until she heard the metal gate, then saw him cross the lawn into a pool of light.  She saw his parody of a drunken stagger, the neck and hip of a wine bottle clasped in his right hand, Udo easing

down and kneeling, as if he were about to pray.  Then he toppled forward onto his face.

She considered going down the back stairs to him before he woke the girls, but as she deliberated, Carmela arrived and stood momentarily above Udo's prone form, then she bent and lifted him upright, hoisting him again until he stood wavering, then limped him back to the deeper shadows of the house, his song never once interrupted, not even by the warm ground's sudden embrace.        

 

Shortly after sunrise she recorded the dream she carried from sleep into the new day.  Julie's ordeal, she realized, had uncapped her own bottled fears of water and drowning.     


Daybook, September 14

Were I a sea creature, this air would be lethal,

As poisonous as Zyklon-B in the showers of Bergen-Belsen.

I would gasp like a flung carp, gills fluttering, my soft, pink membrane exposed.

But I dwell in the kingdoms of air, emigre to this water which carries me.

I have drifted beyond voices, past the reef of lost souls,

adrift it seems, for years, alone and desultory.

Upwelling currents rise for miles toward me with their black tentacles.

I think of letting go.  How effortless to release and slide under,

a simple immersion, pirouette and down-drift,  free-falling

into muffled silence.  A simple inhalation of algae and saline, like ballast in the lungs.

A bright door opening in the green water.  But I hang on to the air which buoys me.

Up on a swell, then down like a bronc raging under my legs, I cling, sea-tossed

on the patched raft of my flesh, drifting leeward, carried by prevailing winds,

sun-blind under gulls which score the air, dive and vanish.  I dream, sleepless,

of sharks, blue and lovely, as they glide past.  I dream of the moon,

like an aneurysm, softly bursting.  I dream of a celestial navigator

coming toward me across the nightsky in his small, gleaming boat,.

 

When Ava had dressed and wandered downstairs to see who was awake, she found Carmela in the kitchen arranging canapés on a silver tray.  Her maid was chopping vegetables.  You're busy this morning, Ava said.

 Party tonight, Carmela said.  She paused, then pointed out the window toward the courtyard.  Beyond the courtyard on the lawn was a panel van, its doors open.  Two men were erecting a canopy tent.

A belated birthday party for Udo?

No, for you, Carmela said.  A going to home party.

Really?  Your idea? she asked.  When Carmela nodded, Ava hugged her and said, gracias for your kindness, Carmela, for a going to home party.  May I help?

No, no.  She said something in Spanish to Rosario, the other woman, then she held up a glass French press and asked Ava, have coffee?


Ava carried her cup and saucer out to the sunlit yard to watch the workmen.  One was straining to buttress the main stave with a guy rope while the other rocked backwards outside the tent with another rope wound about his waist to stabilize the sway.  After several minutes they secured it upright and free-standing.  A second truck arrived as the two tentmen were packing their tools.  A young man alighted and began to unload black folding chairs.  He built one stack, head-high and paused to remove his shirt which he wadded up to sponge sweat from his face.  He glanced over, then spoke to Ava, but she could only nod her foolish smile and turn away, certain he would think her impolite for not responding.

Julie accompanied Evita to a late-morning class, assuring her mother as they left that she could understand the teacher's every word, so maybe she should think of transferring her credits and staying, okay?  What do you think?  Can we discuss it later?

Udo didn't appear until mid-afternoon.  He came up behind Ava as she sat in a damask armchair sketching the music room piano.

He touched her lightly on the shoulder and complimented her drawing.  Would you like me to play? he asked.  I have not tuned the keys for some time, so like all of us aging relics, it tends to wheeze and creak from neglect.  He said as he began to play, this is from a Beethoven sonata in E-flat, autumnal, I think, a piece I admire for his mastery of articulation and tempo.  He closed his eyes as he played. From the slight incline of his head, Ava wondered if Udo heard the music internally first, a few notes prior to the keys lifting their hammers above the strings.   He leaned forward, lines of tension like a musical staff across his forehead, his lips pursed, his hands gliding on and on, the melody plaintive and melancholy until his final, passionate glissando.

Beautiful, she said, applauding him.  How do you remember so many notes?

He smiled at her approval, his eyes refocused.  I just remember the first note, he said, and the others come unbidden.  Like diamonds on a golden chain, one after another.  In truth, years of practice make it look magical, but I can tell you father would bellow for me to stop all that infernal banging if he was in a bad mood.  Back then my skill was in volume, not harmonics.

This party, she said, we're celebrating my departure?


As he rose to his feet he reacted to her subtle irony.  Your humor is as irreverent as mine, he said.  Yes.  In two days you go home and who knows when we will see each other again?  In another forty years?  I shall be ninety-nine.  So I have planned a small garden party and a little nacht music for you to remember when you are back in America.

Music too?

Yes, a few friends to bang and wheeze on their instruments, if they come, and some of Evita's companions.  We will have a party to resurrect the dead, as you say in English.

In English, she said, unsure if he were being wry with her, we would say, a party to raise the dead.

The musicians began to arrive at six, several at a time, until there was an entire orchestra of nearly 30 arranging their music, tuning violins and cellos, the flutes in front of the French horns, a timpani drum, an electric piano to one side which required three extension cords plugged end to end .  Udo told Ava he had hired the musicians' guild to be sure his music was performed competently.  To Paraguayans, he said, classical music is an old folk song on a guitar with a couple of castanets..

He introduced her to the musicians he knew, then led her to other guests who had come, some of European ancestry, a few managing English adroitly, old school friends, Udo's attorney and his wife, two women acquaintances from the Ministry of Culture who, Udo joked were his patrons, his Medici, though unfortunately not as licentious. While they held forth over glasses of chilled wine, Ava understood none of their language.  When Julie and Evita appeared with two additional girls their age, Udo shepherded everyone toward a semicircle of chairs which faced the orchestra.  


He waved his hand to quiet the guests and musicians.  The time has come, Udo announced in English then repeated in Spanish, to unveil a work which is both new and old.  It is new, having never been performed prior to this evening.  Our talented musicians have had the sheet music only one day, but I trust their skill.  This music is old, however, because I composed it years ago and therein lies a tale which I shall briefly tell you.  As a young man in school I discovered the work of Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges.  His philosophical stories had a profound effect upon me.  I knew that he was blind and that he also enjoyed listening to music, so I sent him a tape recording, some of my musical experimentations.  He sent me a postcard with a cryptic reply, an encouragement, I thought.  So in my audacity, I wrote to ask if he would send me something unpublished which might be suitable for music, I, of course, volunteering to set his words to my composition.  Several months later I received a story in the mail from him and this attached note:

       My young friend:  I send you a mere fragment, a scrap left on my doorstep by a peddler of fables.  I could never quite wring the proper notes of sadness from the words.  Perhaps a true musician like yourself might succeed where I have failed.  Borges.

And so the inspiration and title for this symphonic poem entitled The Vanishing Man are from Jorge Luis Borges.  I am most pleased, Udo said, to premier it for my sister and my niece.  The first movement begins with the words of Borges.  The subsequent movements are mine. 

Because my sister speaks little Spanish,  I have prepared an English translation for her.

            Evita handed Ava a sheaf of typed pages while Udo paused, and then with dramatic flair he began to read The Vanishing Man.

 




   

 

 
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