The Music of Life . . .
This piece was written by a very close friend of mine, Michael Keane, as an offering for The Masked Ball. It’s a beautifully haunting piece of lyrical writing and I’m so thrilled that Mike is in talks with Macmillan to publish his mother’s memoirs entitled Views from the Balcony. It is Catherine Duncan’s vibrant observations on her long life living in Paris until her death recently. Obviously the ability to express thoughts in the most elegant way is a gene that has been passed down and I am sure you will all be enticed by this piece below. To see similar lyricism, go to: http://thevelv.blogspot.com/
Written for Mesmered:
As I walked through the park that day, I saw her sitting on the bench, next to the statue of Diana, the huntress.
I couldn’t see her face as it was covered by a large, battered hat, but I did catch a glimpse of her mouth. It turned down at each end, which seemed to signify either rejection or contempt. Her clothes were constructed in uncompromising layers, dust-encrusted, and her shoes were in tatters. I thought I detected a slight rocking movement to her body and a faint murmur. Was it a song or just sadness? As I paused, perhaps in sympathy, perhaps to offer some help, whatever that might be, she slowly raised her head, and I judged she was around forty years old, but her skin was worn, and her eyes were watery – with tears or tiredness? Her face seemed expressionless and detached, and I wondered for a moment whether she was blind.
“Good morning,” I proffered, but the only response was a small adjustment in focus. I repeated my greeting with a smile. Almost imperceptibly, the greeting was returned, the face dropped again, and was enveloped by the hat. I stood for a moment or two, then continued along the path to the ornate wrought-iron entrance gates into the park. But I’d left behind part of me behind on that bench beside Diana. Her face hovered before me as I walked along the street, past people and shop windows. What were those eyes saying? “Stay? Help? Go?”
I was already late for my appointment, but stopped, stood a minute or two, then abruptly turned, and retraced my steps. As I walked into the park, I could see the small figure still there on the bench.
“Hullo again,” I said, awaiting a response. The head looked up but still without immediate recognition. “Can I help you?” I asked. “Do you need money?” As I said this, the sudden thought came into my mind of the time when I had given a few coins to a man standing outside the cathedral, and my companion had told him sarcastically “So long as you don’t give this to the church!” But I wouldn’t have minded what she did with the money, though I doubted whether she would have used it on drink, as the other man obviously did. I only wanted it to buy her some form of happiness, even if brief. In a way, I was ashamed that my solution to her needs came down to money. Money was anonymous. It masked the real truth. It was the universal “fix-it”. I knew that this person needed more than just money. The help she needed should be based on her own particular circumstances, her past, and her future. With that in mind, I waited apprehensively for her reply. Hopefully, my offer would be treated with the contempt it deserved.
But suddenly, her focus became acutely intense, fixing me with a steely gaze, her eyes boring into my brain like a surgeon. Here we stayed in a state of suspended animation until suddenly she said: “My only need is music.”
“Music?” I stammered.
“Yes – music,” she responded.
“But how?” I asked, but once more, the face dropped, and she re-joined the statue beside her in stillness. Leaves dropping from the trees were caught in little eddies of wind before reaching the path. Birds strutted across the grass listening for worms. A wild idea exploded in my head. “I can play some music for you in my apartment if you’d like to come,” I said. She looked up, and an astonishing thing happened. She smiled. Her whole countenance beamed. But, then, just as quickly, the corners of her mouth returned to normal, and the face began to drop. “No – I mean it,” I said. “My apartment is not very far away, and it would be no trouble. Just for an hour or so.”
“You really mean it?” she asked. I nodded. She reached for a old woollen bag which had been behind her, slowly rose from her seat, and indicated she was ready to follow me.
I had no idea why I was doing this – inviting a person like that to my apartment. “They’re all drunks, these people,” friends had often told me. “A useless expense to society.” I would squirm inside when I heard this. I knew that many were indeed alcoholics, but that was no reason to set one’s mind against any hope of redemption. Just to write people off. I realized what I was doing was rebelling in my own way against such opinions. Making a stand against inhumanity.
It was a tedious journey for my companion. Even though my apartment was only a block or so away, she was obviously not used to walking any distance at all, and by the time we reached my doorway, she was out of breath, and I was worried it had been too much for her. But walking in, and looking around, her eyes immediately sighted the piano.
“A piano!” she almost shouted.
“Yes,” I said. “Do you like the piano?”
Without a word, she rushed toward it, and, sitting down, began to play. The sound that proceeded from that instrument I will never forget. It was as if heaven had descended into the room. The notes spun in a most wondrous ballet. As I watched her hands floating effortlessly up and down the keyboard, an amazing transformation took place. I could not believe my eyes. The woman on the park bench was turning into a young girl with flowing red hair, clothed in a long white satin dress, her face and very being bursting with incredible vitality.
She played on and on, every second more beautiful. I prayed fervently she would never stop. But eventually, stop she did, and then turning to me, said slowly: “And now you know.”
Magic had overwhelmed me. I was living in another world. “I have been invited to a masked ball next month,” I said. “Would you do me the honour of being my partner?”
The angel before me smiled. “I don’t think so,” it said.
“Oh – please,” I implored.
She rose, and, taking hold of her bag again, moved toward the door. “Can we go back now?”
As we walked together toward the park, my thoughts moved to a vision of the ball, of my partner in her long, white satin dress,
and bejeweled mask, I, in a red velvet jacket and pantaloons, alighting from the coach, being greeted by the liveried servants at the doors to the great house, inside the swirl and whirl of costume and laughter, whispered improprieties, dangerous liaisons, and everybody asking: “Who is that girl?” and she moving forward to the piano, and the hush of unbelievable rapture as she played. But now, as we passed through the ornate, wrought-iron gates into the park and to the bench beside Diana the huntress, the old world had returned.