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PART ONE - THE QUEEN OF SPAIN (this page)
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
PART ONE - THE QUEEN OF SPAIN
THERE ARE DOORS in the mind through which only the brave may pass. Heavy golden doors, gem-encrusted, set in crystal, sealed with a thick sealing of blackest pitch. They open not to the ordinary hand, to the reasonable the well-groomed the wary - they open only to the hand that trembles, trembles! I say with fear and yet reaches out... To pass beyond these doors is to enter a kingdom of loneliness, a blue and gold wasteland where the fires of hell flicker underfoot and the choirs of heaven hum just audibly behind the burning yellow sky. At the end of this wasteland - for it has an end! God is merciful, after all - there is another door, a small door, and simple, made of soft, unpainted wood - one would hardly notice it if one were not already on the look-out for just such a door. It is so small one will most likely have to stoop to pass through. It opens easily to a light pressure of the hand. But if you have come this far! Why, then you may go in. This is the door to the human heart.
You will not see many such hands in a lifetime. Once attached to the lightly swaying violin of a childish prodigy standing barefoot in the snow outside the boarded-up Ansonia Hotel; once through the window of a passing train somewhere near the Czech border; and then there was Julio, there is Julio.
At the age of four he had not yet learned to speak. He could sing and dance to perfection, he was like a blue feather, his feet were small and fine in patent leather shoes. Kiss me, Julio - I said. Suddenly he was forty. I saw the golden doors for the first time. I knew that they would open to those small, fine hands. I wanted to buy an emerald a ruby a diamond ring for Julio to wear upon those hands. - You ought to have a ring, Julio, I said. We went together to the Place Vendôme in search of the perfect ring for Julio. At Mauboussin a woman with red wax lips showed us many rings. The stones were red and green with the blood of men and insects. Candles were burning in Ecuador, too many people had died for these stones. None of the rings was right for Julio. He was already forty, he had not yet learned to speak. - Kiss me, Julio. I tried to insist. He would not. - I'm afraid, he said. There were bruises around his wonderful eyes. He was frightened, I could see that, he was only four, a very small boy after all. Too young for such a kiss. On his small white hand was an emerald. He pulled at the ring, it was impossible to remove, it had grown together with the flesh. - Come and rest your head in my lap, I said. I'll tell you a story, a wonderful story, all about a prince who lived in a beautiful white castle, deep in a dark, dark wood. Julio put his finger in his mouth and began to suck, the emerald glittered near his chin, there were bruises round his eyes. Suddenly he was forty again. - I'm so tired, he said. Tell me a story. Can you tell me a story? I'm afraid, he said. Then he did not speak again for many years.
Well! There are many stories... There is the one about the Prince who killed a five-headed dragon and rescued a Princess from an ivory tower; there is the one about the boy who lost his way in the wood and met a talking fox, who showed him the secret of a great treasure; there is the one about wicked King Herod who tried to kill the Infant Jesus, and killed all the other babies instead. The Infant Jesus was safely on his way to Egypt, as everybody knows. There is the one about the Pharaoh who built a pyramid of pure gold, so high that it reached all the way to the sun... Thus did I beguile my child my lover my very life this Julio. He did not speak but listened with wonderful twilight eyes. Sometimes he laughed - music like the rustle of crystal forests in blue daylight. - I will do anything to make you laugh, I said. To make you smile. I gave my life to this task - it is an excellent thing to have a purpose in life at last! I will make Julio smile, I said that to myself. Every morning when I awoke I would ask myself - What can I do today to make Julio happy? There was always something, usually several things to be done. It did not prove to be all that difficult to make him smile, it was basically a matter of full attention to the question. I do not believe anyone had ever tried it before. Why should they, after all? The beauty of Julio's smile, this was a sight not for men but for angels. Men would not know how to value it. I knew, but then, I loved him. Love him, present tense. Shall always love him, future tense. My Julio.
Julio does not exist. That is the expert opinion, so I will let you have it here, up front, no holds barred, let there be no secrets between us therefore I tell you freely and without reserve or shame - although he changed my life forever, although he opened for me the golden doors of the mind, the hidden door to the bloody rose that beats within the breast, although he can sing and dance to perfection, although I have looked into those eyes a thousand times and said - Listen, Julio, Once upon a time there was a Prince... In spite of all this the expert opinion adjudicated from the lips of a large flabby white fish dressed in a grey suit in a grey room on Harley Street in London, England - No, my Julio does not exist. It's considered to be a very wise Fish, an excellent Fish, it's been to all the best fish schools. You are a charming woman, says the Fish. Its hands are thick and dead, they will not open any doors, they will close doors, heavy metal doors that slam shut once and for all with a clang like the tumble of the guillotine upon charming women who tell too many fine stories about princes, and princesses, and five-headed dragons...
We know the name of this Fish - Julio and I. We have seen him before, we were only fourteen. We were shut up behind metal doors, things were done to us, we bear the bruises still around the eyes. You love him, says the Fish. An accusation. We are too wise to disagree. We are wise as serpents. You love him, you love him, you love him... But how can I love him if he doesn't exist? Nobody can take that away from you, says the Fish. He is humouring me now. He thinks I don't notice, but I notice everything. I've seen this Fish before. We, Julio and I, have seen all too many such fishy fishy Fish. Who shall take the soul out of my body, the heart out of my breast? I don't say that. Not to the Fish. Cast not your pearls before Fish...
To get out of this place alive - our task for the day. We move quickly, light as a blue feather, the Fish is slow... Past the fat woman who guards the door and the thin woman who guards the telephone, past the grey-and-gold hunting man's private waiting room, into a black taxi, a blue airport, a shining silver plane. There is water on the wings, on the runway, glistening in a thousand golden lights. We get home alive, safe and sound, all in one piece, my Julio and I, safe together once again under the lindens. When I look in the mirror the next morning I see there are fresh bruises round the eyes.
Come to Vienna, said Julio with his wonderful eyes. There was snow on the runway, I was afraid but the Angels took care of it. There was snow on the wings of the plane. Julio's friends were smiling with many eyes from all sides of the cabin. - We like your hat, they said. We like your smile, we like you. We are the friends of Julio, please like us! I read a French novel, I tried to keep breathing despite the many eyes singing whispers snow on the wings. Upon arrival in Vienna I was greeted by a chorus of a thousand smiles a thousand singing whispers a swarm of pale lemon-yellow butterflies that settled on my arms and hair and followed me everywhere. We are the friends the lovers the devout of Julio, please notice us please like us please tell us your secrets. I did not speak, or rather, I spoke only when absolutely necessary. Julio's secrets are safe with me. On arrival in Vienna I was greeted by Julio, speechless with delight and fear, leaning from a second storey window above the Annagasse. There was snow on the church bells, on the copper towers, on the people and cars. My patent leather shoes were wet with snow. Julio was waiting for me behind a golden door, he was dressed like a Prince or a dragon in black and gold. He kissed my hand. - You are mine, he said. You are mine, all mine. To this I agreed with my heart, with my wonderful eyes. I gave him a flower, he was to keep it forever. Forever and ever and ever. You are mine, said the flower. I am yours. I was dressed like a Princess in a black velvet gown. - Mine, all mine, said Julio. I started to cry.
The streets were full of drunken boys. They fell in the snow but were not hurt, the snow embraced them gently, kissed them held them close. The windows were full of Christmas lights - red and green blue and green gold and pink and white, and a white moon shining upon snow. That too was Julio. I put my head out the window, there was snow on the ledge and on the copper domes across the way. The room was hot, so high above the Annagasse, so I put my head out the window, I wore the white net curtain behind me like a bridal veil, my head was cold and my hands, all the rest of me very hot. The drunken boys were singing in the street below, one lay motionless in the snow, eyes and mouth closed, he did not make a sound. This too was Julio.
The room was hot, I was obliged to remove the black velvet dress. Now in the black lace bra pink silk stockings carnation skin pearl necklace I sat down on the bed. On the other side of the room a woman exactly like me sat down on an identical bed. I took Julio in my arms. - Let me love you, I said. Let me, let me... I lay down on the green silk bedcover, the woman on the other side of the room lay down on an identical green silk bedcover, I closed my eyes. My eyes and lips were hot my knees were trembling, there was a big hole just beneath my left breast where Julio had to go. I kissed him I kissed him I tried with these kisses to fill the bloody hole... Who shall take the heart out of my body? Again and again with kisses I tried to fill the hole. When I opened my eyes I was alone in the room on the Annagasse. I knew if I sat up, the woman on the other side of the room would sit up too. I looked for a while at my arm on the green silk bedcover - carnation pale pink and blue lightly sweating pungent with a rare French parfum, the curves found in nature are always the best, I thought.
I got up from the bed. My knees were trembling. A letter to Julio - that was the only thing inside my head. I sat down at the table, I took a fresh sheet of paper, I took the pen in my hand. My hand was trembling so, the words would not come right. I wanted to write a letter to Julio, to say - I love you I love you I simply love you I have a big hole right here right in the middle of my being and it hurts. Please give me back this missing piece, else I shall surely die... I closed my eyes my hands were trembling. The words were there inside my head but would not come right onto soft green paper. If only I had brought the rose-coloured paper from home! But no - I had only this green hotel paper.
I went into the bathroom. In the bathroom was another woman, exactly like me. Her face carnation pale her eyelids veiled in blue-black shadows pearl necklace round her throat and her lips slightly blue. Her hand was trembling so, she dropped the glass from which I was about to drink.
I sat down at the table. I closed my eyes, my hands. I watched the Christmas lights inside my head - red and green blue and green pink and white and gold. I listened very carefully - sometimes I hear best with my eyes closed. Soon I heard it - the thing I was listening for - Julio's silence. He has not yet learned to speak. I listened very hard to this silence, for a long time I listened, I don't know how long, for many years. When I opened my eyes Julio was looking at me with his wonderful eyes. I took up the pen and began to write - a letter to Julio. Sometimes I write best with my eyes closed.
He was very tired, his knees were trembling. He lay down on the red velvet bedcover. Three other men exactly like him lay down upon three identical red velvet bedcovers. Julio shut his eyes. He was dressed in a white shirt open at the throat, black trousers, patent leather shoes. The sleeves of the shirt were rolled to the elbows. The arms upon red velvet naked gold lightly touched with golden down, the veins moving silently beneath the skin. His lips were trembling, slightly blue. His hands were trembling, he shut them tight, the right hand closed over a flower. I am yours, said the flower. You are mine. There was a pin in the flower, it pricked the inside of Julio's hand. The hand closed tightly over the pin. I am yours, said the pin, cutting deep into the soft flesh of Julio's palm. You are mine. Julio turned over in the bed, the red velvet whispered as he turned, the bed moaned softly, Julio did not make a sound. Three identical men turned over soundlessly upon three whispering velvet beds. Julio lay face down on the red velvet bedcover, his arms over his head, protecting his head, his hands tightly closed. In the right hand was a flower, in the left hand nothing at all. The blades of his shoulders made two peaks slightly askew inside the white shirt. Under the left shoulder blade was Julio's heart, under the right shoulder blade nothing at all. He turned once again onto his back, the bed whispered and moaned, the lights flickered, Julio opened his eyes and looked for a while at the ceiling. There was ice on the darkened chandelier; resting among its cold branches, unseen by Julio, a pale, lemon-coloured butterfly. Julio brought the flower close up to his face, it smelled of a rare French parfum, it spoke very softly to Julio. I love you, said the flower. I love you, I simply love you. Julio did not speak, he was not yet able to speak, but he sighed a perfectly audible sigh. This is all the answer you are going to get, he said to the flower. Julio speaks the language of flowers, the language of sighs. It is enough.
THE SOUND that I need to hear. Julio's voice. Julio's voice, that begins somewhere inside Julio's throat, is a temple built with invisible columns of vibrating molecules - a temple to the holy spirit that is Julio. Is it a beautiful temple? People say that it is, that my Julio has the most beautiful voice in the world. I would think so too, but I no longer think about Julio's voice - I simply need it. Beautiful or ugly, cracked or whole, tired or fresh, singing speaking whispering sighing laughing screaming in pain or is it fear? the sound that tells me yes , he exists - my Julio.
I sat on the airplane with Julio. He read a newspaper, he was not able to speak. I watched the top of his head. I wanted to kiss the top of his head, to take his hand, to say - It's all right, Julio. Don't be afraid. He was frightened, I could see that, he was very very tired. There was ice on the wings, on the small rectangular windows, in the plastic beakers from which we were given to drink. In Berlin the snow was all gone. I listened to a Turkish driver and longed for the sound of Julio's voice, the top of his head, his hand. I had his silence - it was just enough. If I have something, anything of Julio's, why then I am able to... exist.
In Vienna I spoke French with a Yugoslav driver, in Berlin Turkish, which I do not speak, but they always say the same things, these beautiful boys with their flexible steering-wheel hands, they all want to know about Julio. Is he a good lover? Does he satisfy my every need? Gentlemen, I assure you - He does.
On the airplane at first I was frightened, I was very tired, I looked at the top of Julio's head, at his newspaper, I listened very hard to his profound silence, then I was no longer afraid. We were together, Julio and I, we would live or die together in the same flying metal womb, nothing else mattered, everything was fine, I went to sleep. When I woke up the snow was all gone. Julio walked away into the night, carrying his suitcase, wearing his absolute loneliness like a cloak. A beautiful velvet cloak. Julio is a Prince in disguise, an enchanted swan, an emperor in his velvet cloak. On his head he wears at all times a beautiful golden crown.
I watched him walk away into the night. The night swallowed him up. Where did he go? I lay down on my bed of roses, my bed of thorns. I lay down with Julio between my breasts, a bundle of spices. I wanted to cry because the night had swallowed him up, but I have promised Julio not to cry for a while. Before I was always crying, I think it made him sorry - I want him to be glad. I didn't cry. I love you, I said. I love you I simply love you. I shut my eyes and watched the top of his head.
THERE WAS ICE in the Teltow Canal, great floating blocks of it, turning and turning slowly in the black water. The swans white upon black, swimming among the floes. At first I did not know what it was, the ice, so long since I have seen such ice. In the Hudson every winter ice such as this, but I do not wish to remember the things that happened over there. I have remembered enough, I have almost died of remembering, I would rather forget - perhaps this is why I did not know floating ice when I first saw it. I waved to the swans, I threw them kisses, they didn't seem to notice me but I didn't mind. I wanted to climb onto the ice and float down the canal to Julio. I was sure he'd be waiting for me somewhere-or-other. My swan, my knight, the light of my life, my sun, my moon, my guiding star, my Julio. At Hallesches Tor the ice was frozen solid in long waves like the locks of a giantess's hair, the banks were covered with new snow. More swans - I lavished kisses upon them. - I love you, I said to the swans. They took it in stride. Children were burning sparklers, bright pinwheels of joy in the lavender snow. Children were calling in high, sweet voices outside my window, roses in the snow. Ein Kind von dir... I said those words to Julio. He placed his hands there, where the child would be. I turned my head to hide my tears. Another woman, exactly like me, turned her head as well, looked back at me with tear-bright eyes. There was no Julio beside her. She was all alone. Ein Kind von dir. The child in my womb leaped for joy at the sound of thy voice, leaped at the sound of thy footsteps in the hall. Oh my beloved, comfort me with apples, for I am big with thy child. Maria, Sophia, Felicitas, Raphael, Gabriel, Michael or as you like it, my love, my Lord. A godling, a little piece of eternity made flesh, a little piece of - Thee.
I lay on my back in the grass beside the Serpentine. The grass was short, the swans had eaten it down to the ground, the sun had baked it right down to the dusty ground. It was hot in London, and dirty and sad. I lay on my back with my eyes closed, listening. It was hard work, listening, always listening. I was frequently exhausted. I sat in the sad cafés where everything was dirty - the cups the spoons the plastic tablecloth the waitress's fingernails I sat in the laundromat that smelled of vomit and chlorine I sat in a green-and-white deck chair beside the Serpentine I lay on my back in bed in the airless attic room - listening, always listening. I had to listen hard, so hard! I wanted to cry, but I had promised Julio that I would not cry anymore. Not until I can cry in your arms, my love my life my soul. I listened for such a long time! For years and years and years. Then one day the telephone rang and suddenly there it was, the thing I had been listening for all those years - Julio's silence.
There are two places, identical but completely different, both are called Engelskirchen. A small town in east Germany. One is hot and still, spilling over the rim with the green-gold light of a summer afternoon. There is a lake of green-gold water, an allée of dusty trees, a fine old church, red-and-white, with a stalwart tower that broods over the town like an old chevalier back from the Crusades, there is a wooden picnic table where I sat beside Julio in the green-gold light and gave my heart away forever. To Julio. Julio, inexperienced in such matters, did not know what to do with this unexpected gift. I looked into his wonderful eyes - I had never done that before! Looked into a man's eyes - no, that was something I avoided at all costs. Once look into their eyes and they will have the power to destroy you, I thought. But Julio did not destroy me. He simply - looked back.
After this I was not the same. Things hurt that had not hurt before. I remembered things, I went to Venice, I nearly died there of remembering but the Angels held onto me, woke me up, forced their fingers down my throat, dragged me back. For Julio. The Angels knew what was coming - I did not. The evils of the past live on in our hearts. The evils of the present press upon us like an enemy army. But the evils of the future! And the good, please God, certainly the good. I did not die, but lived. To experience the future.
What did I find there? The second Engelskirchen. Cold and still, brimming with lavender light pale stars a white moon rising over snowy fields. There were Christmas lights hanging from the naked trees, torches flaring in the dark, children clustering like moths around paper lanterns, a stalwart tower rising into the dark, his courage undiminished by the cold. There were candles burning bright inside a red-and-white church and Julio under the croisée holding out his hand to me. - I love you, he said with his hand, with his wonderful eyes. I simply love you. I looked and looked into Julio's eyes, I did not know it was going to be like that! Things hurt that had never hurt before, but I was glad! I was glad I was glad... Now I knew at last why the Angels had interfered like that. I shall not die but live. He has set me as a seal upon his arm, a seal upon his heart and - Oh my Julio! Love is strong as death.
The snow came and left white footprints outside my door. Some of them were Julio's. He was there, outside my door in the snow. He did not ring the bell, he did not say a word, he has not yet learned to speak. He brought me a gift. I found it there in the morning, glittering softly on my doorstep in the light of the snow - Julio's heart. I took it up very gently, I looked and looked, I could not believe my eyes - such an unexpected gift! I took it up gently, I carried it to my lips, I kissed it very gently. I am yours, it said whispered shouted sang, the earth and sky were ringing with the sound of it the snow and the mud and the windows and doors all singing it I am yours. He is mine. Let heaven and nature sing.
Every snow crystal is different from every other. Since the world began how many billions and billions of tiny crystals have fallen on the upturned face of earth? Every one different from every other. Some feather fine, some cut like lace, some wear the faces of animals and children, some are sober and others gay some are stark and some bedizened all are chaste and secretive and although they fall into general types each is different from every other. Then each must be thinking its own thoughts, dreaming its own dreams, be troubled by its own desires - but if you draw close and listen for the whisper of these dreams thoughts desires the thing you are listening for is suddenly extinguished with a tiny sizzle like the snuffing of a candle under one's thumb. Snow crystals are unable to withstand the closeness of a human body. They simply melt.
Snow was falling on the Teltow Canal on the bare twisted trees on the heads of animals and children on the long black even streets on the tracks of the S-Bahn on the upturned face of patient earth. Billions and billions of tiny whispering crystals, every one different, every one chaste. Birds were flying in great flocks over the ruined Reichstag - hundreds and thousands perhaps millions or even billions of birds since the world began, all white but every one different, wheeling and turning in arcs of flashing white upon a white sky. Their cries filled the empty air over the Reichstag, sounding a mysterious alarm - one did not know what news of joy or disaster they had come to announce. Black birds were walking in the snow - enormous black birds, birds the size of small children or dogs. They had killed a rabbit and were picking it to pieces in the snow. Rose red in the snow the bloody animal all dead. I have promised Julio not to cry. I went inside and shut the door. There was snow on the door, on the windows, on the table and chairs, on the bed where I lie all night with Julio between my breasts a bundle of spices. I didn't know what to do about all the snow, whether to be glad or - the opposite. I lay down carefully on the bed in the snow and moved my arms to make a snow-angel. This I had done quite often as a child. Even as a very young child I had much time and patience for the creation of such ephemeral beauties. I lay on my back and looked up at the white sky, I moved my arms carefully in slow arcs, beginning above the head moving slowly down to my sides. The tricky part is getting up - you don't want to smash the angel by stepping on it. If you stagger even a little bit it's lost. But you can always try again. As long as the snow holds out. I lay there on my back and wondered about the flowers that were sleeping there under the snow. I could feel them watching me right through the snow - flowers are very curious. Probably because they have to stay in one place all their lives.
Julio went away. Suddenly the world was dark empty unbearable cold no rhyme to its fearful music no reason to its turning once more round. Like the church on Good Friday when they turn out all the lights blow out all the candles shroud all the statues in purple shrouds - he went away and the world was suddenly changed to a dark stranger. Where did he go, my Julio? To New York. Sometimes I see pictures of New York on television, then I have to change the channel very quickly. Pictures of New York frighten me, I can't bear to look at it - New York. What happened to me there, that a blurry image on a television screen thousands and thousands of miles away safe in the Prussian wilderness is sufficient to fill me with unbearable dread? What happened? What? Would you like to know? I grew up there.
I did not go to New York with Julio. First of all because he did not ask me. For such an earth-shattering question the time is not yet ripe. Then, I'm frightened of New York, I don't want to go there ever again, unless of course with Julio to protect me. He will put his arms around me very gently. If any dragons appear to molest me Julio will simply kill them dead. But as things stand - No, I'm not going back to New York. No thank you.
I went last year. Julio was there too, but he didn't speak to me, not a word, he had not yet learned to speak. Still, he certainly saved my life last winter in New York. For some things, speech is superfluous. Julio has... other resources. I'm in no way exaggerating, I certainly would have died in New York last winter if not for Julio. It was strangely warm, like spring. Everything had the same colours as before. I noticed this immediately in the taxi from the airport. These colours, the colours of fear. I have your daughter, said the driver to my father. He called my father on a mobile phone, he wanted to ask directions, in New York nobody knows where he is going, everybody is always getting lost. I have your daughter. My father thought that perhaps I had been kidnapped from the airport. How much would he pay to have me back, I wonder? The light of his life, the favourite, the plaything, the foolish virgin... How much? Some day he will be called to pay a price for this girl child, this plaything, some day, but it is not I who shall reckon it up. We have your daughter! The Angels might have said it that time in Venice, they might have called long distance from the Gritti Palace - Hello, we have your daughter. Prepare to pay...
Julio helped me. Julio saved me. He was waiting for me in a red and gold palace, he was dressed like an angel in red and gold, he held out his hand to me - such a fine hand! There was grace in it, beauty, and simple truth, and courage undiminished by the outer darkness. Start not, much-injured Princess, said Julio with his hand, with his wonderful eyes. How did he know that I am a much-injured Princess?
Every place has its own colours. La lumière du nord... said my good friend the Prince of Palagonia, pulling the green velvet drapes against the lavender night that was fast filling the garden court of the Palais Royal. He was speaking not of Paris, where he passed his declining years in pleasant exile, but of Venice, whose winter dress of violet and gold once stirred my heart so that it rose on the wings of the iridescent doves above the foaming sea cupolas of San Marco it rode the cool pink waves around the Salute at dawn it ached and ached - I did not know why. In my head was already something of Julio. Ombra mai fù... sang Julio, inside my head, as the grave golden dawn unshadowed the Salute, flashed up in the windows of a hundred dead palaces, rode the cool green waves. Ombra mai fù...
I have not been back to Venice since that time I was saved by the Angels - it was summer then, the colours were different, I needed a few minutes to recognise her dressed as she was in dark rose purple royal velvet green. The splash of oars and the wail of accordions at night beneath the window where I sat waiting to die. Would these colours now make me afraid? I don't know - I haven't been back to find out. There are so many questions I do not know the answers to. What colour is Prague in summer? What colour is Budapest? China? Why is every snow crystal different from every other? Why do the Innocent suffer? Why Evil in the World? Why has Julio not yet learned to speak? And - Who is the man in the black leather jacket who follows me on the U-Bahn at night?
Before Julio I did not know why my heart ached like that - now I do. It aches for Julio, for love of Julio - this was always true but I had to meet him first in order to find it out. A whole lifetime of heartache, and now I know. So - we make progress in life!
A smell a sound a colour - and suddenly remember! Or suddenly forget. There is a peculiar whirr/click whirr/click that the elevators make rising inside their steel cages in New York apartment buildings. I had forgotten that! When I heard it again my blood ran cold.
Who is the man in the black leather jacket? Is he perhaps an angel? And, if he is an angel, is he a good angel or a bad angel? A man in his mid-fifties, I would judge, stocky, poorly dressed, with hair that stands up like a brush on his head. He waits for me outside on the Schönleinstraße, sometimes he smokes a cigarette, sometimes he chews gum. He pretends not to notice me at all but wherever I go, he is there.
New York is a dangerous place. Everybody knows that. It's in all the guide books, travel agents, friends will warn you, magazine articles make much of it from Paris to Duluth... New York is a dangerous place. Bad Things happen to you there. Bad Things, for example, happened to me. But in my case it had nothing whatsoever to do with the ethnically diverse delinquents who prey upon visitors. I come from New York, I was born there, into that dangerous place, a tiny helpless infant - think of it! Squalling and bawling in my brand new red-and-white infant skin in a place too dangerous for German tourists. It's enough to make your blood run cold.
The Experience of Snow
Crystallised water vapour. Velvet shoes. Gluey bits of cotton wool. Dr. Zhivago on the big screen. Nothing prepares you for the real thing. And then one day suddenly you are in it up to your neck and it's not what you expected, it's not at all how you imagined it, not at all not at all...
Frau Holle is making her bed. Shake and shake and shake till the feathers fly all around the little house, then it is snowing in the world above, she says with her terrible teeth. I shook and shook as hard as I could, I wanted to make the snow but it would not come - in the morning there was not snow but blood in the bed, soaking bright red into white sheets. There was blood on the door on the windows on the table and chairs. There was blood, so much blood - where did it come from all this blood? My mother was angry. Blood is hard to wash out! she said, hiding her terrible teeth behind her hand, but I knew they were there. She did not want this troublesome girl child bleeding inconveniently into the bed. I don't want you, she said. I never wanted you. I didn't want to rock your cradle. A fact I only discovered much later: Little girls are not supposed to bleed like that. How was I to know?
I wanted to make it snow.
Nothing, nothing prepares you for the real thing. I grew up in the tropics, yes, that's right, in a tropical jungle, a pink and green twilight jungle. We had pet tigers bright-faced monkeys slim-waisted Indians at our beck and call. We did not have snow.
And then one day!
What is it? I said in a loud voice. At first I simply did not know. Sitting under the green-gold shadows at Engelskirchen with Julio's slim golden arm only inches away from my own. What...is it? How was I to know? It was not at all what I expected.
I went to Venice, I nearly died there - of the shock, I suppose, it was a shock after all. I drank champagne till I was drunk in a blue room with a view of the Salute. I didn't know it was going to be like that! Nobody told me. Not my mother. Especially not my mother. Or rather, they told me. Masters of language, poets of long ages had told me again and again but still! Nothing prepares you for the real thing. Suddenly you are in it up to your neck. You are in it way over your head... To look upon that face, just to look once again upon that face, I would give anything, I would do anything... It's cold! you say, surprised somehow, although everyone's told you, you've read it a thousand times. It's light, it's fine as lace, it tickles, it sticks to your eyelids and the back of your hand, it has no taste it has no smell it's real.
Roll themselves naked in the snow
Too many deer on thin legs starving
Change the colour of their coats to harmonise with the snow
Now they are practically invisible to their enemies
I went to France, I sat beside a slow country river and watched the blue barges white swans grey cathedral towers in the rain. None of it mattered, none of it was Julio.
Tutto mi spiro rimorso e orror. In a blue and silver room I drank champagne to wash down the pills - eighty pills - I counted them - more than enough for one troublesome girl child bleeding from impermissible places, wouldn't you think? Go ahead and die then... Somebody said that to me. I thought I might as well.
But I did not die. Not then, not ever. I am not ever going to die.
I awoke in a hospital bed I was too weak to move even so much as a little finger there were wires attached to my chest and bloody bandages wound around my wrists, that's odd, I thought, I don't remember cutting myself, not this time, this time it was pills, I'm sure of it why then these bandages? The room filled with blue Venetian light and the sound of water running in a fountain just outside the window. The telephone began to ring there on the bedside table but I was too weak to answer it a butterfly settled on my bandaged bloody hand, a pale butterfly lemon yellow with tiny black spots one each on the delicate drooping forewings.
Set me as a seal upon thine arm, as a seal upon thy heart
I am safe and sound, I am going to live forever and ever, and every night I lie down upon a bed of virgin snow.
THE FORMATION OF THE CRYSTALS appears to depend upon a number of factors - the quality of light, the ambient temperature, the number of people in the vicinity and their dispositions towards one another, the sound patterns created by such phenomena as passing streetcars, the feet of horses, the motion of tree branches in the wind, a mechanical organ played at varying speeds, the voices of children, the flight of birds overhead.
- Leiermann, F.S., Schneekrystalle,
Today I was successful in the observation of at least seventeen new crystals. I was also able to make drawings of several of these before they melted completely away. I now believe that the crystals fall into distinct genera, and these in turn seem to occur in harmonic cycles determined by the phases of the moon, the direction of the wind, and the feast days of God's saints. All those days sacred to the Virgin Mother, as well as those dedicated to the Holy Virgins such as St. Agnes, St. Lucy, et cetera, are most favourable to the formation of crystals. On the feast of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins I saw for the first time the triple-headed crystal or triceratops. I believe it is formed by the simultaneous growth of three crystals that have come together at the moment of birth. They are like diamonds in their brilliance and utter purity, and may represent the three jewels in the crown of a Virgin - Patience, Wisdom, and Chastity.
-Olaus Magnus, Archepiscopus Upsalae,
Historia Naturalis, Rome, 1555
It was snowing in New York too, I saw it on television. Then it must be snowing on him, I thought. The pure white tasteless odourless jewels of heaven are falling one by one by the billions and billions and every one different upon the sacred head of Julio, upon his eyelids the back of his hand his patient upturned face the shoulders of the coat he wears...
* * *
THERE WERE DREAMS in my head - dreams dreams snow and rain and beautiful golden dreams.
I am the melancholy Queen of Spain. For years I have refused to leave my room, a blue room, spacious, handsome, more than comfortable, what reason have I ever to leave this, my own room in the palace? I have everything I need here, I have silk sheets embroidered by the Sisters of the Holy Shroud, I have thick carpets, fur rugs, a good fire in winter, chandeliers of the best blue Murano glass, I have a view of the palace gardens if I care to draw the heavy blue velvet draperies and look outside, which I do not. Why should I look outside? Everything I need is right here in this room... The Queen is ill, they say. The Queen is mad, she will not leave her room. But I am not ill, I am perfectly well. Mad? Perhaps... I have nothing to love. For years I have been locked up inside this room, for years perhaps for centuries, I have sat alone hour after hour before the mirror and watched her. There, in the mirror framed in gold. She watches me, and I watch her, we have a vigil to keep, often the long night through. By day she sleeps, as do I. At first she was young and beautiful, she had however strange eyes, rather too large. Through the long nights she has changed, yet remained the same. She is no longer young. She is not yet old, she will perhaps never be old. She is ever beautiful. She has dove's eyes, she has remarkably gentle eyes, but they are rather too large, brimming over with pain or is it fear? Her ears are small and fine, the most sensitive parts of a highly sensitive mechanism. The Queen is indeed a highly sensitive mechanism - with her fingertips she can feel the coming spring in a single leaf, with the soles of her feet she can feel an earthquake in China, with the tip of her tongue she can taste the blood of an insect that once lit upon the grapes in a glass of blood-dark wine. But with her ears! Take a good look - up close, it's worth the trouble, I promise you. Look closely now at the ears of the beautiful mad Queen of Spain. When she dies surely they ought to be kept as curiosities? Surely they ought to rest on a bed of black velvet inside a wrought gold reliquary behind a little window of frozen glass to astound the sceptical eyes of posterity? They are small and round and white, elegantly furled with a slight point up at the corners fox-like, and very small lobes that struggle under the burden of the Queen's jewels. Unburdened, they reveal tiny holes that the jewels may be inserted or withdrawn.
The Queen had not spoken for many years, she had not left her room in the palace for many years, when Signor Farinelli arrived at court, brought at fabulous expense from the theatres of London and Venice to take part in a desperate experiment. A concert was held in a room adjoining the Queen's apartment; the singer performed one of his most enchanting arias, 'Pallido Il Sole' by the German composer, Hasse. The handle of the door to the royal apartment was seen to turn, slowly turn - the door stood ajar, at first just a crack, then wider, wider, until at last it stood quite open and the Queen was plainly to be seen, a thin figure dressed in blue with a lace veil covering her face. When the singer had finished his aria the Queen slowly put back the veil from her face and approached him. She took him in her arms and kissed him on both cheeks.
Now I will tell you something truly remarkable about this Signor Farinelli, something that nobody knows but I. He has Julio's eyes. Dove's eyes, gentle, rather too large, brimming over with a terrible and mysterious pain or is it perhaps fear? Somehow or other the dreams from my head had made their way into Julio's head, or the other way around, I cannot tell which, but this much is certainly true: That Julio in lace cuffs and a white silk coat, in a white wig that only accentuated the pallor of his fine-boned face, that fragile case of perishable loveliness that I love! That Julio at the very time I dreamt this dream, in a white wig a white face a white silk coat was singing 'Pallido Il Sole' to the melancholy Queen of Spain.
The Queen took the singer in her arms and kissed him, she asked what she might do to reward him, she assured him that she would refuse him nothing. And all my treasures at thy feet I'll lay! Because you touched my face once with your hand, because you touched, because you touched, gentle as a mother, my royal melancholy bruised-and-battered secret infant face.
Corridas comicas. Do you find this sort of thing amusing? The little crooked legs in pink stockings, the heavy head struggling for balance atop a tiny body, the shock of a withered face where one thinks to see a child, the tiny feet the ring of gold in ear or nostril the grimace of pain or is it fear? The tiny toreador outfitted in pink and gold miniature finery the arms too short to reach behind the surprising head and some of them are handsome! Would have been men to follow with slow eyes if they had grown. The baby steer bellowing in pain or is it fear? The sweat the dust the blood the stink the cruel laughter the wine and morphine and sausage, the piles of excrement the dances and comic songs, the broken bones, the dreams of love under a woman's skirt, the huge sad eyes that cloud over in pain or is it fear? The screams in the night of pain or is it fear?
Some of them can't even wipe their own asses, their arms are so short.
Some of them long for women, some of them long for death.
Some of them are even handsome, would have been fine men, had they only grown!
Do you find this sort of thing amusing?
The Queen too must have her dwarf. To remind her of human frailty. She keeps it in a box under the bed, it is very quiet, most of the time it sleeps. When the Queen is lonely she sometimes opens the box, she sometimes takes it out and dresses it in tiny garments. Now you are a toreador, now you are a nun, now you are the Pope in Rome... Do you find this sort of thing amusing? Neither does the Queen, she is not smiling as she dresses and undresses her living doll, as she helps the tiny crooked limbs into and out of pink stockings. The Queen never smiles, neither does she laugh - she is melancholy indeed. It runs in the royal family. When she is unbearably lonely she sometimes opens the box, she sometimes holds the little one on her lap and sings to it very low - I have heard this from the guards who keep watch day and night outside the Queen's apartment that she sometimes sings to it in the night in a voice low and sweet. She holds the little one on her lap, she caresses the tiny crooked limbs, she waters the infant finery with her tears. Then she puts it back in the box, the box back under the bed. It sleeps peacefully. But sometimes in the still of the night she can hear it breathing and this sound is disturbing to the Queen's rest, for it reminds her of human frailty.
Well. There was something I wanted to say about Julio. That he has dove's eyes. O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs! I said those words once, to Julio. O my dove! Julio did not say anything at all. Julio's eyes are grey as the wings of a dove, they are pale and shimmering as the dawn sky over Berlin. So betimes when I have sat the night through in my chair, when I have sat listening to the snow or the rain, to the soft low music of my dreams, to the screams of pain or is it fear, to the quiet breathing in the box under the bed that reminds me of human frailty when I have sat too long before the mirror in the golden frame or well away from it and then the slow clear light of dawn, pale and shining, looking at me out of Julio's eyes.
Fragments from the Diary of Don Alonso di Paragon, Admiral to Her Majesty the Queen of Spain.
Found locked away in a trunk, a leather trunk coated with fine pinkish-white dust found in a tightly locked room in a crumbling palace upon the blue hills of Spain, found in a trunk at the bottom of the sea, written on paper that had already begun to crumble when first it was written upon, bound in brown cordovan leather stamped in red with the seal of the Royal Spanish Navy, written in pale blue ink that has already begun to fade as I write, much of what I write is already illegible, these parts I shall do my best to amend, I shall rewrite revise invent where necessary, the Reader will please to be patient with me, the story is certainly complicated and will require many re-tellings if we are to arrive at the truth. The Truth.
Page One. A delicate pen-and-ink drawing of a ship. What kind of ship? Three masts, fully rigged. A full moon above, or perhaps it is the sun? Below a monstrous sea peopled with huge primeval fish, octopi, sea-dragons. Smooth-cheeked cherubs overlook the scene.
We turn the page now. It crinkles ominously but it does not tear. To continue:
7 March. I do not believe that anyone has ever been this far south before. We are passing through a strange country, steep iron-grey rocks on every side and the sun a dim grey flicker on the horizon. The sea is grey and heavy, sluggish ragged uneasy, it sighs in a deep breathless voice that neither ceases nor slackens night and day. By night fires are seen burning upon the hills, the sound of drums, human voices singing or rather chanting. By night flashes of strange lightning, prolonged vertical strips of light that move in a circular pattern about the ship. The sea is suddenly bright for miles around and beneath the surface of the water appear the moving shapes of sea monsters and gigantic fish. In place of the usual thunder, a shrill electronic noise, something between a scream and a musical note, but this is not always the case, there have also been silent manifestations of light. The cold is something terrible.
9 March. We have very little food left, almost no water. There is much sickness among the men, fever and also madness brought on by the total lack of colour in the landscape. We have now been at sea for one hundred and forty-four years - I no longer believe that we shall ever return to our own country, to our homes. Most likely we shall perish here in this desolation. I hold it as most unlikely that my Lady Queen shall ever read these melancholy pages, ever learn of the devotion to her service on the part of her faithful servant. Strangely enough, I am sure that she is still alive. Impossible that she, my Queen, should ever change, ever grow old, or talkative, ever leave her rooms in the palace. No, impossible, unthinkable. She has entrusted me, Don Alonso di Paragon, with a mission unlike any other in the history of navigation. Go south, she said to me - simply that. I have read in a book that there is a golden door, she said. Listen, Don Alonso, my good man, I have seen it in a dream, this door - a golden door, it lies buried among snow and ice somewhere in the deepest south of the world, nothing is deeper than that, she said. A door to the human heart. You must find it for me, Don Alonso, she said. You see how it is with me, I am unable to leave my apartment in the palace. I must sit here before the mirror and keep the vigil, lest the oranges turn pale and drop from the trees before their time, lifeless gobs of sticky grey inedible mush, lest the pure Spanish blue all drain from the sky through a little little hole - no one can see this hole it is so very little but it was left there by the Angel Gabriel on his way back up to heaven, with a golden pin he pricked the little hole in the sky and all, all will be lost if I neglect my duties for even a single day. The blue will drain out of the sky just like that! she said, and the stars will follow shortly after. You see how it is, Don Alonso, I cannot possibly leave my palace to take ship and sail across the seven seas, always going south, in search of the golden door. The animals would sicken and die, the waters would rise, death in the folds and rotten corn in the drowned fields. Soon mortal men would follow. No, Don Alonso, clearly I cannot go. It is no part of a Lady Queen to embark upon such an adventure. I must squander time as best I can before this mirror. Meanwhile I have my Dwarf to comfort me. It seems that God in His Infinite Wisdom made men in order to serve Woman. This one plays or sings, that one goes in a ship to find a golden door. Another will come when I am dead to pray over my putrefying body a mass for my imperishable soul. Go, Don Alonso, I have described to you the door, I believe you will find it, she said. I believe I shall, my Lady Queen. Go, and God be with you, she said.
Later the same day, or rather, early the next morning. I went ashore with a small party in search of food. The natives of this place, despite their forbidding appearance, have proved to be friendly - or at least, not outright hostile. They are brown beardless black-haired men, their teeth are filed to sharp points, their faces and bodies ominously streaked with red and white paint, despite the ferocious cold they wear no clothing of any kind. They were not interested in finery, weapons, not even gold. Their only wish was to hear us sing. Fortunately I was able to remember a song - something in praise of the Virgin that I learnt as a child. With this they appeared much pleased and I had my reward as they loaded us with strips of a mysterious edible - a sort of dried meat, although I cannot guess at its origin - we have seen no animals on these bare hills. I would have dearly liked to question them as to the whereabouts of the golden door but this was not possible - we are only able to exchange the simplest of messages. Their eyes around the fire dark and bright as pools of ink, they held their naked spears upright at all times, they seem never to smile. I did not notice any women among their number, nor children either. I suppose we have met up with a party of hunters. But what game? Their greatest treasure is a small bird which they keep in a highly decorated cage covered with a soft grass-cloth. When the cloth is removed the bird sings, briefly, a song of great sweetness. I have never seen such a bird before - it is something like a nightingale, but smaller and more colourful - bright blue the body, black wings and tail, and a red crest upon the head. The natives appear to worship it - at least they knelt before it and chanted what I took to be prayers. Snow falling fast tonight, white on the iron-grey hills, white on the masts, on deck. I pray that the sea does not freeze solid, leaving us stranded in this godforsaken place.
11 March. The sea completely frozen, and covered with snow. As I stood on the deck early this morning I saw a figure approaching the ship, walking easily upon the ice. A dull silver twilight, shot with beams of bloody red as a reluctant sun touched the new-fallen snow and then this lone figure coming closer, ever closer, it seemed to move with infinite slowness against the vast emptiness, to grow ever larger and more distinct while everything else stood still. His approach across the white field was utterly noiseless, not so much as a single muffled footfall reached my ear. Nor did he leave, that I could see, footprints behind him in the snow. Perhaps the crust was simply too hard. Gradually I was able to distinguish details: a magnificent warrior, erect and strong-limbed, with a mane of black hair like a flag falling to his hips. In his right hand a spear. His appearance at once both fierce and oddly comforting - somehow I knew at once he had come to do us good.
He came to a halt about fifty feet from the ship and motioned me to approach. As I set foot upon the frozen sea I felt it suddenly heave under me, apparently not as solid as it appeared. A boisterous wind tore between the ragged cliffs and plucked at my bones - I was afraid. The warrior held up his hand and motioned me to come on, and the wind died away as suddenly as it had come. Still I was frightened for I had felt the ice move under me. If I dared another step it might give way and I should most certainly drown. A second time he motioned me to come - I shook my head. I looked back at the ship, then again upon the featureless white face of the frozen sea. A third time he motioned, insisting, commanding. I looked into his wild, stern, infinitely tender face, the slanting black eyes, the hair like a flag. Then he smiled - a flash of white fire. 'Fear not! Come!' he said, speaking to me in my own language. His voice was clear and low and inexpressibly sweet - there was something in it I cannot describe, although I have thought it over at some length. It was a voice more felt than heard - I would not even swear that he had spoken at all, I did not see his lips move, yet I heard the words quite clearly in my head and as if from close up, and not shouted across fifty feet of frozen desolation. I was at once buoyed up by that voice - I knew then that I would not fall through the ice. Quickly I covered the short distance - at the last he reached out and took hold of my arm, pulling me towards him. Up close he was somehow familiar to me, and yet I was sure he had not been among the braves of the previous evening - I would have remembered him. He gave off a powerful, sweet-smelling odour, unlike any I have ever known, mysterious, soothing, and at the same time quickening - for a moment I thought, spring boughs dripping with rain.
'You must leave the sea, your path lies now across land.' He pointed towards the rising sun. 'That way!' he said. 'East, over those hills. You will come to a forest, a dark and terrible place. Do not be afraid, but go on. The forest also has an end. Beyond the forest is - but you will see for yourself. Be steadfast and true-hearted! Only that. It will be enough. You will find the golden door.'
'But...who are you?' I said. Again he smiled, again that flash, like fire. 'Michael,' he said, and with that he vanished. He did not go back the way he had come - he simply wasn't there. I have absolutely no way of knowing whether he was a helpful heathen gifted with mysterious powers who had somehow got wind of our mission, a heavenly apparition sent to guide us, a deceiving demon, or merely the product of my own overwrought imagination. I returned to the ship and entered my cabin to find it filled with this same inexplicable fragrance of spring. Upon my bed, neatly laid out, was a small golden cross identical to one he had worn round his neck - I remember distinctly to have seen it gleaming there upon the magnificent naked breast. I took it up and examined it - I felt a sudden rush of warmth to the heart, a tenderness unknown to me, a softness and a strength. I put it to my lips, I kissed, I felt upon my lips the warmth of a kiss, a blessedness painful, acute, and unspeakably pleasant at that. 'Michael,' I said aloud, looking about me as if for the first time at the familiar walls of my cabin, the untidy bed with its rumpled red silk coverlet the empty wine glass streaked with red wine the dark burled walls of Spanish cedar the fetid candle-ends the white circle of window the dark mirror in its golden frame the map of the known world... 'Hold me up, Friend,' I said. 'Don't let me stumble, don't let me fall.' I put the amulet most carefully around my neck, next to the skin, and drew my shirt over it quite close.
Meanwhile back in Spain...
What is this he has written me? 'A land of ice and fire, more terrible than any I have ever seen. Everything - sea, earth, or sky - is strange. Imagine a frozen sierra, glittering in the midnight sun...' But he says nothing of the golden door. My dreams are not good - of man-eating ghouls wandering black-faced and gory-mouthed under a midnight sun. I had rather not sleep. Reasonable, under the circumstances. I had rather not eat. The Queen is mad, they say. The Queen will not sleep, she will not eat. But I am not mad. I am simply not hungry. At least, not for anything to eat. I will call my faithful Kammersänger, I need only to ring this little silver bell and ask for him, and he will come. Yes, he will surely come, no matter the day nor the hour, even in the deepest gulf of the night he will come. Sing for me, please... He will sing for me. It is at once his duty and - I am proud to write it - his delight to sing for me. He has not told me this, not in so many words, but I know it without that. Such declarations are not necessary between us - we understand one another to perfection. Pallido Il Sole, I say. Let us have, by all means, Pallido Il Sole. And he will sing for me. Or Sulle più belle piante, or Che farò senza Euridice. Sing, my nightingale, sing...
In Paris there is a narrow street steep dirty in no way important leading down to the Square Montholon. A boucherie, a yellow plateglass window behind which a selection of mouldering furs that no one will ever buy, empty shops, soiled entryways, nobody ever seems to walk down this street but I. As a child I often lingered in this street, I had been sent to Paris to learn the art of dancing - I heard a nightingale singing there in the dirty little street, nobody heard it but I. What is he doing here, so far from his native woods? Why has he come here to sing his heart out in this steep dirty unimportant street in the heart of Paris? The roar of the grands boulevards does not reach here, the windows and cars and housefronts are all coated with fine black dust, and nobody ever walks here although it leads down to the Square Montholon. A low sort of café on the corner where you may play billiards or baby-foot - I will not venture into such a café - a matched pair of cheap hotels, the poorer sort of papeterie. The heavy green trees all so still the bronze monument to the working girls of Paris the quiet drunks the shiny brown piles of excrement the empty brown and green bottles in the sun. I have never seen the nightingale, but I have heard him sing, here in this lonely little street, in this lonely Square, and here in my room in the Palace I have heard him, it was four o'clock in the morning, just before dawn, nobody heard him but I. Sing, Nachtigall, sing, ein Lied aus alten Zeiten...
The Queen will not eat, they say. The Queen is mad. But what is there to eat? Dripping bloody flesh of murdered animals, sad plants torn from their quiet sleep in the earth, the mother's milk of nursling non-human creatures, the intricate exterior womb for the unmade nightingale? No thank you. I am not hungry. Not tonight. Not for anything to eat.
Then Your Majesty will starve, they say. Your Majesty will die. Soon nought will remain of our beautiful Queen but the bones. But bones are beautiful. The most beautiful, and most durable part of the human animal. I would like to have one of your bones, my Love, my Life, my faithful Kammersänger. Just a little bone, a finger-bone perhaps. From one of those delicate, fine-boned hands. I will sleep with it under my pillow at night. I might sleep at last with such a memento under my pillow. I know already how it will look: blue-white and fine, hard and smooth, brittle bright and beautiful. Be it but one little bone - I shall know thee.
The last time I was in Madrid it was to see Julio at the Villa Real - a small, elegant hotel, the sort of hotel where only rich people stay, or people on expense accounts. Come to Madrid, said Julio, but when I got there he would not speak to me at all, at all. All the way to Madrid in the snow I wondered what he would say to me when I got there but in fact by the time I arrived at the Villa Real I already knew that of course he would not say anything at all. Please come, he said to me on the phone, I am here in Madrid alone I am here without you and I know that soon very soon I shall die, I shall die and have to go - somewhere - alone, alone - without ever having touched your hair. We are born alone and we die alone and in between? Please come to Madrid because I am so alone here without you, he said. And so I got on an airplane - it was snowing in Germany, I wore my fur coat, not the Dior lambskin but the black mink because it is the warmest and also it looks well, the Queen of Spain must not travel too light. All the way to Madrid through ice storms and fire I wondered what Julio would say to me, but by the time the plane was approaching the Madrid airport I already knew - He will say nothing at all. Because, despite all I have done and no doubt also on account of all I have failed to do - Julio has not yet learned to speak.
The lobby was small and close, gold and white, it was like being shut up inside a jewelbox. I rang his room, holding an absurd gold-and-white baroque jewelled telephone to my ear but Julio did not answer.
Come my Love, my Life, my Darling, put your head in my lap, let me stroke your pretty golden hair, answer the phone and I will tell you a story, a wonderful story. There was once a Prince, who lived all alone in a beautiful white palace so deep in a dark wood...
He did not answer the phone, he came down to meet me in the lobby, he did not say a word to me there in the small bright gold-and-white stuffy jewelbox. 'Thou art a treasure given to me by God,' he said that to me once. And thou art my pearl of great price, said I to Julio. And I will sell all that I have, I have gone and sold lost destroyed extinguished all that I have and all that I am in exchange for - Thee. The body is a casket of ivory and gold, but Thou art the jewel within.
He did not take off his sunglasses. (I did not take off my sunglasses either, for that is a trick he learned from me.) Perhaps he did not look at me at all, I don't know, I don't know, I can't say. I saw that his pretty golden hair is now already all shot through with grey. Julio, I came because you called, I said. Won't you speak to me now, my Julio? I did not say, it was not necessary to say, for the answer was already obvious, had already been obvious several thousand feet above the blue hills of Spain. No. A walking bomb swathed to the eyebrows and that despite the oppressive heat of a Spanish afternoon. If you touch me I will die. If you speak even so much as one small word of endearment to me I will explode into a thousand thousand pieces and send this entire glittering gimcrack jewelbox and you and me and the baffled but curious concierge all hurtling into outer space. If you touch me I will die.
Child child child child child
In the warm fragrant evenings we will sit together on the balcony of the royal palace to watch the sun set behind the blue hills. Coffee in tiny cups of blue-white porcelain, crisp almond cookies, sweet marsala wine. Sharpest thyme and sweetest honeysuckle. Wordless, side by side, in perfect harmony. I in pale blue silk, he in white brocade and heavy, dark gold lace. The blue-white bones of his fingers around the porcelain cup. Darkness gathers, the air grows chill, and fireflies glimmer among the trees. He turns and looks at me with the whole vanished light of evening flashing up in those amazing eyes and I think - Now at last he is going to speak, this is the moment, at last at last! A star trails a bright streak across the violet sky and burns itself to death before it can reach the cool bosom of earth.
I went to an ordinary non-jewelbox business hotel by the airport and washed my hair and lay the whole night in a big cold slippery bed I lay shivering with wet hair watching French television to keep off the hand of Death, I did not sleep at all at all. When it was still dark I got dressed and went down to the lobby, I paid for my room, I sat in a red plush chair and watched a boy in a blue jacket wiping the red marble circle of floor, around and around, a big shiny red circle. You could play Circus here, I thought. As a child I took great delight in the Circus game. I played alone in the small sandy ring behind the pony stalls, the same ring was used for the corridas comicas. Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please! I am the Ringmaster in a tall hat and gold buttons, I am a dancing bear, an acrobat, a clown, I am the beautiful lady who floats like a star high above the heads of the open-mouthed public, I am a crooked little dwarf riding bareback on a ravenous tiger... I looked at the brochure of all the hotels just like this one all over the world. You can stay at this same hotel in Côte d'Ivoire, in Singapore, in Kuala Lumpur, in Kansas City. At six o'clock I took the minibus to the airport, to get the first flight to Berlin. The minibus was crowded with fat, perfumed Spanish businessmen and their wives, they were very gay, they were laughing all the way to the airport, and two silent Japanese in the very back. I left my love alone there in Madrid. Alone alone. We are born and we die alone. He is going to sing the Bach, I said that to myself again and again. He is going to sing the Johannes-Passion. At the airport I bought a newspaper and looked for his name among the concert listings, when I saw it there I breathed a sigh of relief. As long as your name is here in tiny smudgy black-and-white print I know that you still exist, you have not yet vanished utterly from the face of this sad earth and left me here alone alone in a universe without you.
In Berlin I lay in bed for days I was sick with exhaustion heartache desire whatever it is that makes you want to die but you know that you can not. The night before Julio was to return from Madrid at four o'clock in the morning I awoke very suddenly. Julio is in trouble - I said those words to myself. Only after I had said it did the telephone ring. But this time I knew - He was not going to say anything at all.
Help me help me help me Please help me If you love me then help me I am so alone I think I am going to die but I know I can not...
What is it about five-star hotels that makes you feel that you want to die? Oh, it is everything - the perfect backdrop, the necessary illusion of complete and useful sacred luxury. I myself once nearly died at the Gritti Palace for example... Because Julio would not speak to me. I was new at the game then. I did not yet realise what a Master of Silence I was up against. I thought, because he did not speak, that he did not love me. Therefore, I wanted to die. I thought - I will die. I swallowed eighty pills. Nevertheless, I did not die. Our silent conversation was just beginning - Oh Thou, my love, my heart, my fatal adversary!
Do not die, Julio. Not yet. Come here, child. Let me hold you, thus - tight tight tight tight tight. You see? Nothing bad can happen to you now. You are safe in my arms. Angels are watching over thee, child. Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael, great and mighty angels, warrior angels. Hundreds and thousands of angels, bright and beautiful angels, are all of them watching over you. Close your eyes, my love, and I'll sing for you, I said. Ein Lied aus alten Zeiten...
Four o'clock in the morning. And this is not the first time. There have been other, similar screams in the night - two o'clock, five o'clock of a dark winter night of the soul in New York for example. I have not forgotten, I am not ever to forget those shrill screams in the New York night / Berlin morning. Now it is four o'clock in Madrid, in Berlin. What sort of telephone - gold-and-white baroque or ordinary black business? A gold-and-white room, a blue room, perhaps even a red velvet room? Did you turn on the light, or can you tap out my number in the dark? Do you know the number by heart? Did you think for a long time before calling, lying there alone in the dark a big cold slippery bed the sheets clammy with sweat (the only odour I long for in the night - the perfume of your sweat), did you lie very still looking up at the ceiling, or did you perhaps toss and turn and wind the damp sweat-fragrant sheet about your tender body? Did you perhaps cry real tears or call my name or wonder what on earth I thought of it all or if I could possibly still love you and possibly ever forgive you after such a virtuoso performance of silence in Madrid? Did you turn on the light? Did you look at my photograph, do you keep it by you? Or have you perhaps torn it up, thrown it away? (I still have your photograph, I could never tear it up, I could never throw it away.) But perhaps you know my face by heart? My face. Is that what made you call? That madonna of delirious and sorrowful mysteries... Or was it perhaps something I said, or something I failed to say? Or was it perhaps nothing to do with me at all but only the darkness of the night the closeness of the room a shadow on the floor beside the bed a creak from the door a whisper a tremor a dream a bit of darkness smudged like a half-killed moth struggling inside the brain, struggling to get out.
Nobody else you can call at four in the morning. Only me. (And I have nobody at all.)
Did your hand shake, or was it steady? Did you tap out the whole number at once (with a fine blue-white finger) or did it take you several tries? Was there something you meant to say, something you had thought out ahead of time, and if so - what? Or did you only wish to ring a bell in my house so that I would wake suddenly (but I woke before the bell had even rung, my Julio!) and waking take you in my arms and say: Hush my Baby, my Child, my Love, my Life. Angels are watching over thee. Nothing can harm thee ever again. Now close thy pretty eyes and I'll sing thee a song.
Es waren zwei Königskinder,
Die hatten einander so lieb;
Sie konnten zusammen nicht kommen,
Das Wasser war viel zu tief.
After your call I lay awake for hours in the dark, I lay very still, looking up at the ceiling. A nightingale was singing in the courtyard outside my window. What is he doing here in the heart of Berlin, so far from his native woods? Why has he come here to sing to me in the night - ein Lied aus alten Zeiten?
LONG FICTION >