Saturday, March 23, 2013

To End is But to Start - Juilliard's Curse

             If I am to save Wendy and myself I must get to the island of the dead before midnight. Phisto, my conductor, and lover, has his cobalt eyes trained on my every movement now that I know what he wants.  I inhale deeply and sing the fifth lied in Mahler’s Ruckert lieder, “Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen,” for my third encore.  As I sing the exquisitely painful words,

the now familiar scent of lavender blooms and fills the packed church.  The audience seems to fall into a trance as they turn dreamily to identify the source.  They discreetly sniff themselves before they check out their neighbors. But I know the source of the heady fragrance.  And I feel that this is the last time that I can sing this piece, broken-hearted as I am.  This is a bitch, I think.  All I want to do is sing my last encore and then slip into my soft jeans and glide over the black waters of the canal that will take me to his resting place.  I want to lie on the cool earth beside his sepulcher to see if he is the man that’s been obsessing my thoughts and actions, or if it was some mad fantasy.  I move quickly after the curtain calls because I know that Phisto will be following me.  He suspects my love and my intentions.  I don’t have much time and I need him to believe that I want his insane future as much as he.  As if I think.
            “I’m wiped tonight.  I’m not up to dealing with a bunch of hysterical Italians. Please explain for me.” Then I touch the conductor’s lips so that he is not suspicious.
            “I love you.” I say and calculate how much time I have while I wait for Phisto’s response for he is always punctilious.
He pauses, such a drama queen I think impatiently, because I feel the weight of each lost second.  Then he traces my jaw and moves his hand down the curve of my neck to the top of my right breast.  His touch freezes my skin, but I miss something else, the sensation of
fire that follows.  Did he ever do that to me or did I just imagine it?
            “You were brilliant.  Your voice has grown like a mighty warrior’s prowess, now you are the most powerful weapon on the stage. It’s a battle field my dear.  Don’t let the gowns and sparkling jewels fool you.” He touches the yellow diamond necklace that he gave me, now nestled in my throat, where I feel my rapid pulse. I see that his eyes are fixed there.  He is mesmerized by the frenetic dance that he sees.
            “I’ll be refreshed and waiting for you later.”  I turn and look over my bare shoulder, “I’ll have my answer for you then, love.  You won’t be disappointed.”
            I turn and head towards my dressing area but see that his SNAKE waits for me.  Not tonight I think and slip into the ladies room. I’ll have to go in my concert gown.  Not exactly the comfort that I was looking for, but it will have to do.  Wendy is waiting for me outside.  We don’t have much time.  It’s almost midnight, the last half hour of November 2, the day that the Italians make pilgrimages to the Isola di San Michele where their dead are buried.
            I’ve bribed a gondolier who finally agreed, after intensive haggling, to take me to the island of the dead.  The Italians are very superstitious and no living person is allowed to step onto the island after the sun has set.
            “Affrettatevi signorina. Non possiamo ritardare. Avete il resto dei soldi?   
            I hand him the balance of the money and kick off my heels and step onto the rocking gondola. And now I will cross over to the island to view the sepulcher of the man that I love, and whom I am now sure, has returned my love.  The sky is a lush deep purple but the wind begins to gust and a flash of lightening scars the sky the darkest violet. So he realizes that I’ve slipped away, and he is angry, I think.  I shiver in the Fall Italian air and pull my hooded black velvet cape more closely to my body.  I know that I love the composer’s music and perhaps that is all of him that I will ever have. And I acknowledge that it has, in some ways, been enough.
            “Chill Wen, this was your idea.”
            “One thing in theory,” she says and huddles against me as the gondola bucks in the angry winds.”
            The gondolier begins to lose it and yammers about the weather and how we have disturbed the dead.  I hand him another 250 euros and tell him to calm down.  I barely hop off the gondola with my heels in my left hand, before he pushes off. Another flash of lightening illumines his terrified face as he makes the sign of the cross against his straining chest.  I panic then because without him we are stranded here until morning.  I reach for Wendy’s hand, it is cold and she is uncharacteristically quiet.  I can see her fear as well as her determination.  My black sequined gown glows in the eerie night shadows and I think that I must look like the bride of some demon. Better this than the bride of the other one, I think.  Wendy and I switch on our flashlights and consult the hand scrawled map that the gondolier had given me earlier.  It directs us to Luca’s grave.
            I abandon my shoes entirely and my Donna Karan stockings hold up valiantly before they tear against a stone. 
            “Ouch, this is like some bad 1930’s horror flick,” I say
            “Yes, but then we’d have a film crew and they’d have some freakin transportation back to the living.”
            “Good point.  Stop, do you smell that? I ask.
            “What are you… you mean the”
            “Yes the musky lavender scent.  He is here.  Dead nor not, he will protect us.  I’d bet my life on it.” I reiterate.
            “Uh, news flash, you are betting our lives on it.”
            “It’s okay, Wen. Promise.  I wouldn’t put you in danger.”
            She squeezes my hand and we follow the map with our flashlights trained in the same direction.  This is the path that will lead me to him, finally, after a year has passed and another Fall is upon us.
            “This must be it,” I say and move the flashlight to read the name on the massive ornate mausoleum.
            “There it is, Cantanta.”  Wendy screams.
            As for me, I’m filled with warmth and terror.  What if I’ve been wrong? What if he was just a brilliant composer who fed my fantasies, and somehow triggered my post-traumatic stress disorder that I’d suffered from after my parents were killed?  I pull myself together and raise my flashlight.  Someone has affixed photos of him to the sheer surface of the stone.  Those eyes, those lips.  My body feels heavy and it’s difficult to move, but perhaps it is only the weight of my longing.  Then I see something else, a bouquet of purple flowers, they are fresh so someone must have left them earlier today.  I can’t identify them but they fill me with dread and I almost drop my flashlight.
            I turn to choke down the bile in my throat when I feel him, as close to me as my skin.  My body seems to have no bones and melds in perfect symmetry with his.  His lips caress my ear and his sound is a melody that interprets the jumble in my soul.  He speaks of love, but I know that doesn’t exist.  Those whom I have loved are now dead.  Only memories remain, like dried blood on a white carpet, a dark scar against a once unsullied tapestry, ruined forever.
            “We will never be parted again.” His voice caresses my throat.
            I turn my mouth towards his lips. Since he won’t stop lying, I silence his voice.
            He takes my face between his well-formed, muscular hands and I glimpse the violet in his eyes before I close mine.  He covers my mouth with his and even though death invades our private moment, I feel as though I am no stranger here.  My mind fills with the sound of his aria, the one that now forever links us in fame’s fickle web. His arms hold my weight as I drift on the beauty that he created.  The sound and his kiss deepen until I gasp for air.  But I make no effort to retreat.  He is what I have longed for and since I can not find him in life, I will follow him through death.  
            There is not much time left and I struggle to tell him that I love him, that I have always loved him.  And I close my eyes welcoming the serenity that will follow. 
But we are torn apart and I realize, as my lungs fill with sweet air, that he is fighting for our lives.  The soft earth is covered in blood.  But I don’t want to fight anymore.  I want to follow him to a world beyond this.  I want the calm that will silence the voices and the loss. I want to make sure that Wendy is safe and then, I want to go home.

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