Silence

You would have thought they were mute, were it not for their public exchange of vows. Marge and Tom went by the axiom « Silence is golden » and revelled in each other’s quiet company. Their lives settled, devoid of sound. They communicated through exchanged glances, and gentle touches. They laughed a lot, thinking their own thoughts. They were well-liked, not ones to spread gossip but always extending a hand for those in need. They wrote down detailed instructions when that would save time and just left each other notes. It was like a prolonged courtship.

They really did nothing extraordinary, except keep quiet. They went to parties where they both played the fiddle, in perfect counterpoint, one assisting the other, responding with speed and an uncanny sense of beauty. People loved being around them, pouring their hearts out to these willing receptacles. They were thought very wise, with the twinkle in their eyes, and everybody enjoyed their silent company.

They were of even character, and not prone to outbursts. They had reserved one hour a week where they actually spoke to each other. The rarity of the occurrence made it that more much precious. They realized that the things that had made them mad during the week were often trivial and not worth mentioning, just a surge of emotion with no real foundation. They thought deeply on what they wanted to share orally in this limited time. They rarely found a reason to go back to something in the week to clarify, or ahead, for that matter. They had no inclination for idle chatter. They played music together, or cards in the evening. They read in companionable silence, leaving bookmarks or annotations for each other. They would exchange witticisms in the margins – their library was enriched by their joie de vivre.

One week, Marge proposed they get themselves a songbird. She had been reading about it and was enamoured with the idea. She floated the idea, full of hope, but did not press her point. She was ready to wait for his answer, as their schedule was paced weekly. Of course, Tom gave it serious consideration. Anything that was brought up in that hour gave them food for thought for the week ahead. He had time to research it, think things through, answer his own objections. He also observed his wife and saw that she was not anxious, nor pressing him in any way.

Unfortunately, his father fell very sick. Tom’s mom had already passed away and there were no surviving siblings. Father was uncaring and mean, but he was still his father. No neighbour wanted to care for him, and so the couple took him in. The songbird discussion was put on the back burner as they did their best to salvage the mean man. He was loud and obnoxious, and the strain showed on the couple. When Marge would come to tend to him, he sometimes hollered “Get out! I want my son in here with me!” Being quiet was no longer a joy but a necessity, as they found themselves riding on negative emotions.

Their weekly hour was all the more sacred. They would leave the house and walk together, unable to avoid talking about the man who had invaded their intimacy. He was weighing them down, robbing them of their joy, of the quiet. Madge asked about the songbird, Tom acquiesced, desperate to atone for the presence of his father. “Do you want me to buy it for you next time I go in town?” They could no longer drive in town together. There must be someone at all times with the father. She agreed. They hoped that the bird would cheer them up and make this difficult period more bearable.

Tom prepared himself for the trip to town. Lists were made, edited, thought about. Getting the bird was a little luxury. They felt they owed it to themselves to take steps to lighten their mood. Their house was small. Father’s bed was near the kitchen stove to warm his brittle bones. Still he coughed and complained. Cats roamed at will, coming in the house for a change of scenery. They had made themselves scarce since the old man moved in.

Finally, Tom came back with a magnificent lyrebird. It was an odd choice, but the bird man had convinced him that the exotic bird would be a perfect companion. It could sing better than any other bird alive. This particular one was a youngster, still listening more than whistling, but if the couple was unhappy with the bird, they could return it, no questions asked. They made him a place with the chickens, and he roamed as he pleased with them during the day, feeding on small insects and the occasional frog. He learned to cluck like his fellow mates and was a joy to behold with his gorgeous tail. He liked Marge’s company and would hang around the kitchen window, sometimes following a fly into the house and eating it.

After a long agony, Father finally passed away. They lived in a small community. They laid him to rest in a casket in the front parlour, where their friends came to pay their respects. The whole town gathered and there was much noise, but a deathly silence fell when his voice was heard “Get out! I want my son in here with me!” The lyrebird had chosen this time to display his talents.

Obit – Django, the dancer

Django, the well-known Brazilian choreographer, died yesterday of emphysema, killed by air pollution in his beloved city of Rio de Janeiro, pictured in his masterpiece “Ciudades/Cities”. He was 61.

Revelled or abhorred, his work left nobody indifferent. I interviewed him in his heyday, in a café in Rio. He was 5 years my senior and had just had his major success, “Ciudades/Cities” performed in New York. I was fumbling with my questions and he, ever patient, was taking his time to answer, as though he had nothing better to do. He told me he was grateful for the breather. He said he loved to “study people’s expressions as they talked or waited, were bored or hopeful. The dance of the eyebrows, the eyes, the mouth a fascinating choreography of desire.”

He observed everything, from the fretful moves of pigeons in a park fighting over crumbs, to the longing pose of a vagrant just before he brought his lips to the neck of the bottle. The brilliance of emotions contained or unleashed dazzled him and inspired his best work.

I asked him about his latest choreography. He explained passionately that traffic lights lived to their own rhythms, repeated street after street, obeying a higher will. His piece was an ordered chaos ruled by syncopated graffiti. Garbage had its place, discarded papers were thrown in the air and floated on the breeze, or glass bottles were exploded on a wall, the forceful clash releasing coloured fragments in the light. He told me about the rain in the city, umbrellas dotting a busy street, the slow pace of people safe under them compared to the race for cover of the exposed ones. Everything was a joy to the eye – he stored millions of movements which he disgorged on the scene through the pliant bodies of his troupe. I sat mesmerized by his vision, enthralled by his movements as he mimicked the rain and the people running for cover. He called the rain “urban guerilla”. He laughed a lot.

He was a poet and a dancer at heart.

I asked him what his plans were, for his next work. He talked about sounds. He said he was interested in the rhythm of people coughing at the opera house. One cough started another, followed by a third, each bolder than the first. He revelled in the myriad of expressions the body revealed even though its bearer was unaware.  The whole was always greater than the sum of its part. He wrote feverishly, captured what he saw by any means. He turned to nature for inspiration and produced more dazzling work.

Then one day he called it quits. He had said all he had to say, was now happy to absorb and retain instead of constantly creating for others. He sought to transform himself. He was called selfish by the same people who claimed to hate his work. He paid them no mind. He turned to meditation, looking for stillness as another way to understand the world. He watched his thoughts, searching for patterns in their flow and colours. The quiet was bursting with energy, he was overjoyed by his findings.

He laughed his way into death as he had into life, capturing his essence as he danced into the next state, exuberant and free.

Hermit

He cannot outrace the sadness as he runs from one distraction to another. Always, at the end of the day, sadness waits for him, a steady companion as he prepares a meal for one, as he watches tv by himself, as he goes through the motions of preparing for bed. He does not actually sleep – he lies there and waits. Sometimes his thoughts toss and turn him to exhaustion, and he finally falls into an uneasy repose. Other times, he gives up, and gets up to watch yet more tv, the flickering light repeating in an insomniac pattern across the windows of the appartment building, an S.O.S. for all to see. Except there are no rescue teams, no boats, no lifeguards, no swat teams, no, no, noone.

He doesn’t sigh – he’s not one for self-pity. He just feels the weight of the sadness pushing him down, its heaviness preventing actual movement. He distracts himself by trying to recall lists of things. Sometimes he will try and list elements of a category using all the letters of the alphabet. Those distractions offer a short respite from the heaviness, a pause as though putting down barbells and picking them up again. It’s mental exercise, at least. He sighs – who is he trying to kid? His thoughts hang on to the word “kid”, he blanks it out, does not want to go to the dark place that is his childhood. He turns the light on, looks at his spartan surroundings, a conscious attempt at avoiding hurtful associations that would send him spiralling down in no time. He lives in avoidance, walks on eggs. He thinks he might benefit learning a new language. He’s heard of people who whistle to express themselves. That would be perfect. Hopefully, his thoughts would become tunes. He perks up, ever the musician. He can relate to that. His chest fills with hope as he searches the Internet for that magic cure.

Metal Horse

The burnished rider’s red hair is slicked back. He is stooped by experience, his sky blue eyes overlooking a fine long nose – a fox lightly guiding the massive mare. He revs her up.

The plane gallops full speed on the tarmac. The passengers feel its excited gait. Up and off, a smooth transition from ground to air, a collective sigh as the metal horse strains on her reins and reaches up to the sky. Foamy clouds stream by, no doubt escaped from the mouth of the beast.

She looks out the window to the water dotted with green masses, a pétri dish of festering bacteria, overgrowing its liquid support. Further out in the distance, lakes shaped like cartoon fish, fins well drawn. A brown-red river snakes lazily amidst the lush vegetation, sunning itself.

They hit a few air pockets. Seasoned travelers laugh them off, others look to the flight attendant for reassurance. He is a large fellow, his good looks momentarily overshadowed by his skin’s green tinge. He smiles wanly at them, his pale eyes watering. The turbulence doesn’t last long.

As they start the descent, a crowd of windmills wave their welcome with their long arms. The whinnying beast slows down, it’s windblown mane flapping about. It comes to a satisfying halt, its flanks heaving and trembling from the effort. The plane disgorges its content; the flight attendant throws up discreetly in the w.c. He has almost successfully overcome his fear of flying, but turbulence shakes him to the core.

Repetition

There is something to be said for repetition
The slow accretion of days
Into stalagtites of steady drips of boredom or hurt
Into calcified stalagmites of joy and mirth
That will solidify over time
Into one smooth column of life

Like the ebb and flow of the sea
The pounding of the surf
As the tide creeps in
And surprises you
So that suddenly you’re in to your neck

Repetition of a movement
Be it music or dance
Until thought dissolves
And only remains
The tapestry of life

No two repetitions are the same
And those infinite variations
Like a breath always renewed
Introduce the colour and variety
That make conversation possible.
There is something to be said for repetition.

Discovery

– I turned myself in at a hospital’s psychiatry unit.
– I kissed Conrad under the bleachers and let him fondle my breasts at thirteen.
– You had breasts at thirteen?
– You were in a mental asylum?
– We said no questions.
– You started it.
She relents. “Your turn.”
– I learned to fly a plane.
– I can do a 360 in a car, on ice.
(Technically, she was in the passenger seat and saw her ex do it. But she knows the technique and if he can do it, she certainly can.)
– I’ve done it with two girls.
– I fell in love with a girl.
– I almost got myself killed once, he whispers.

Her eyes grow wide in alarm and instantly fill with tears. She chokes. “I don’t wanna play anymore.” She cuddles in his arms, his warmth slowly relaxing her. Try to stay in the moment, she tells herself. She can’t bear the thought of his nonexistence. All the colour would drain from her world. She breathes deeply. It will take her years to tease out the stories behind these revelations. She is studying to be an archeologist. She has what it takes. The smarts to see when a shard is part of a bigger piece, where it fits, if it’s of interest. The patience to understand it. The imagination to weave a story in which the vessel has a place. Was it broken intentionally? Initialed? Part of a series? She loves puzzles. Mostly of the inanimate kind. This relationship is a whole new ballgame.

She’s got herself a certifiably insane bigamous pilot who almost got himself killed once. She… doesn’t have that much baggage. He’s got the bad boy look she craves. Her heart is already bleeding from the hurt she will undeniably suffer. She’s doing the dishes and whistling. Her keys whistle back. She hates the stupid gadget. She doesn’t actually tend to lose her keys but she could definitely lose the gadget. A gift from her ex-boyfriend. Emphasis on “ex”. Except she despises waste so she’s been hanging on to it, waiting for the battery to run out. She’s tried giving it away, but the few friends she has don’t like gadgets either. “Chuck it,” is their advice. Like she chucked her ex, without even a look back. Her new boyfriend is the One. She feels it in her bones.

He’s picked up the dish towel and is drying the dishes, and putting them away. Nothing sexier than an unassuming muscular guy. The ordinariness of his actions in an extraordinary package. Package? Did she even think that? She chuckles. He comes closer, drapes the dish towel over her face in a slow caress. They are part of the same puzzle, some pieces don’t look like they fit but eventually find their place, surprisingly. She can’t see yet what the final picture will be, she’s flying blind and she doesn’t care.

The Fall

She was pinned to the ground. He was walking slowly towards her. “Stay calm, don’t move.” He used the voice you reserve for animals stuck in a trap. She felt helpless as he lumbered towards her, a large, slow man. She started kicking the dead weight, trying to slide away from under it. His voice took on a tone of urgency, “Be careful, don’t, don’t.” He tried hurrying along, she believed he did, but she was starting to panic, and he still did not move quickly enough. She managed to scrape her boot from under the motorcycle, marking the fuel tank. He pulled the motorbike off her, had a look at the tank. “Why couldn’t you wait? I told you to wait.” His precious bike. He didn’t even check her out for scratches. She pulled herself off from the ground, dusted herself off. The shoelaces of one boot were worn off from the slide, the boot ripped open. They were still salvageable. She was glad she had been wearing construction steel-toed boots. That could have been her skin. She was wearing jeans and a leather coat, leather gloves, helmet. Nothing else was frayed. She hadn’t been going fast, they were practising with cones in a parking lot. She had skidded out of control, not sure how or why. She didn’t care to know. She probably had been going too slow, tried to redress instead of being one with the beast. She was told it was like riding a horse. You should not fight it, just try and be one with it, follow its movements. Her experience with horses was limited to an unfortunate ride at day camp. The horse had tried to bite her and chewed leaves and bushes instead of walking sedately with the others. She was told to kick it but she did not have the heart, and so it nibbled. She had hated every minute of it, the height, the uncomfortable seat, the power she did not master. The other kids had moved along nicely, nobody struggling. She had declined to ride the following week. Said she had female troubles. They left her alone to chat with the instructor on a bale of hay, in the shade.

She wasn’t even sore. She tried limping, to give him a bad conscience. “You need to ride her again now, so you won’t be afraid next time.” She obeyed, docile. It wasn’t an animal she was afraid of. She circled the cones, cautiously, leaning in, giving a little more gas than before, gliding in a smooth figure 8. He was in the middle, a lion tamer, his voice a limp whip waiting for a mistake to rear up its head. No mistakes. “Enough for the day. Let’s pack her in.” They gathered the cones, put them in his side saddle. He looked again at the scuff mark, at her, reproachfully. She looked back. He knew better than to start an argument when she was like that. There would be other times.