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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another excerpt from The Fallen Bassoonist (draft)


Violette and Didier Re/Deconstructing

As imparted by Violette to old friend and mentor, Jeannette Le Blanc, the renowned producer at the Paris Opera House:

“Yes, I fled to another country; survival depended on it. I left behind the young lover and an eloquent stalker in a wheelchair. Left behind my avaricious, vitriolic brother, in touch with the doctors. Someone had reported the affair to him and he was foolish enough to call me, gloating. The lover was black, you see -- enough of a deviation to commit me, perhaps. But I was cunning, slow but quick when I have to be, always. Took a few belongings, a bank check in the amount of the entirety of my accounts, and cursed my mother for leaving a trust fund (though my savings were substantial). Then I boarded the next train due north. While I’m still in touch with the lover, I don’t intend to resume the affair.

The lover, the stalker, begone. I had no room for men, wanted simply to be. An equal load to leave and be left, always. I had already been abandoned, and blamed for being so. I had already been incarcerated like a wild lioness because I had made horrifying noises and torn my hair from the roots. I buried her, yowling. There was a knife in her tiny throat. I did not see the slasher, could not see through the haze of the chaos. Fog captured the mountains, a blue almost black fog with a voice like an addict’s: I want, I want. And the voice howled, hot and delirious with summer air whirling round and round the malignant mountains.

I saw Michel fall, as though pushed by fog and wind, my baby tossed like a cherry tomato into the mouth of a sharp moon. She fell face down, fell down, pierced, silenced, she fell into the mountains. No, I recall wrong. She’d left us before we climbed the mountains. Way before, when she was thirsty in my dry womb, that was the beginning of her end. She hardly survived and we buried her without benedictions somewhere I forget where, we wanted no one to know, for fear. But no, I may recall wrong again. Michel simply disappeared, leaving me on mountains, I think we fought, about a woman or money or politics, no matter. We fought and he was gone or maybe not. Or I was gone. I can’t recall, can’t recall. But what did we do with the baby?

Naturally, I knew that none of “them” would believe my forgetfulness, my inattention to essential details. So I feigned madness, easy for me to do. I had feigned it before, say out of boredom, the flaunting of conventions, rebellion from complacency and control, a fuck you to the acceptable gods, my obscenely dogmatic parents. Say, an uprising from big daddy cock with his metronome, tick toc, tick toc, and poor maman hen in her coop, praying for a raison d’etre, and crying in her nest about her failure to produce no more than two fertile eggs. So much crying everywhere and all over time. And oh frère Jacques, frère Jacques, the smug, greedy bastard, first born of the loathsome union between the maiden ladybug and the squalid roach, no wonder I am soiled … But surely I hyperbolize when I’d rather exercise and ventilate my magnificent lungs, sing high and low, expunge my life of the low. I was gone, am always . . . disappearing. What do I know?

So I hid in an English village for nearly a year, courtesy of Alice, an old friend from the conservatory, gave up the meds, and began to feel a little alive again, at least, a bit less like a zombie. Not that my sleeping improved. In fact, the nightmares numbed by drugs returned in full force. I would awaken sweating and panting from my recurring dreams of impending death, lie in bed, feeling as though I were degenerating, then fragmenting, disintegrating, evaporating. But eventually, I began to accept my fear and recognize that the nightmares of death, both in sleep and waking, were not literally “happening.” Obviously, they were potent metaphors.

What was I telling myself? What were the dreams imparting? If I could comprehend the reason or reasons I was having the nightmares, would I awaken refreshed for the first time in my life? Would the mysteries of my past, the details of events I seemed to be keeping from myself be revealed, liberating me? Yet, might such revelation in fact pose a far greater danger than the nightmares that were causing exhaustion and stress? Hideous possibilities came to mind. Had I pushed my husband off the mountain, suffocated my baby? Had my alcoholic father raped me or attempted to rape me? I began to dwell morbidly on these terrifying possibilities to the distraction of little else, going over and over the events that might or might not have occurred. I recognized that my memory had no doubt been further impaired by the shock treatment, coupled with the psychotropic drugs I was compelled to take, following the trauma of my experience on the mountain. Was there even a child? Why did I recall a baby girl so vividly, when, au fond, I wasn’t sure she’d existed? Was I my own baby? What a delirious thought!

In any event, my obsessive attempts to lure my dormant memories out of their hiding place, like a snake charmer without an instrument, led to an immobilizing depression For months, I ate little, drank much too much, wine, spirits, whatever was available at any moment, the drinking a contrary and perverse modus operandi designed to annihilate those memories, along with myself. My face began to wither and I sang out of tune.

When I wasn’t drinking, I was sleeping and refused to leave my room, despite the occasional entreaties of my friend. Usually, she left me alone. I was becoming a burden on her, I feared. She would give up on me and throw me out. As it was, she proved to be my only comfort, holding me during my frequent crying fits, stroking me hair, praising me when I expressed disgust with myself, my life, reiterated my failures. Finally, after an entire night of throwing up and falling down, I decided to give up drinking and otherwise pull myself together. That would take enormous strength, but I convinced myself that I could do it.

So now I am here, Jeanette. I’ve been working with Madame Debour to get my voice back into shape for the stage. I’m almost ready to start again, and I’m prepared to fight my brother if he turns a dirty trick. I want the stage, the sensation of acting, rather than being acted upon. Now, nothing else seems to matter.

With affection,



Didier dreams that he’s a bassoonist in a movie about a wayward woodwind ensemble. The movie takes place in Egypt. Maurice the oboist has just broken up with his wife and can never remember his lines. Suzanna the clarinetist is suffering from insomnia because she’s in love with the newly divorced director, who’s in love with Clothilde the flutist who flouts his advances and threatens to sue him for sexual harassment. Didier is having problems acting “with feeling” because he finds camel riding extremely arduous and ridiculously foolhardy, particularly at night and up the impossibly steep incline of the Great Pyramid of Khafre at Giza. The camera crew and director are threatening to fire him. Just as the movie caravan reaches the apex of the pyramid, Didier’s camel slips on a crumbling chunk of ancient limestone and Didier finds himself falling.

Didier awakens trembling. He hasn’t wanted to think about his own descent from an insignificant mountain near Geneva; it was as embarrassing. What he believes he recalls sounds like the first rehearsal of a bad opera:

Maurice Come now, Didier, have no fear, it is only a small mountain. Join me on this heavenly day: the sun smiles benevolently and storks do play.

Didier: I have never even climbed a dune, my friend. My feet are always unsure of themselves and that mountain looks daunting. I’d prefer to stay here, on terra firma, and swim in the lake. Then take the yodeling class taught by that formidable Valkurie. That is more my speed, Maurice. Besides, the sun doesn’t smile and there are no storks here, at least not at the moment.

Maurice: Oh, you and your literalism! But friend, you have never known the delights of looking down from a mountain on a lucid day. There is nothing to compare.

Didier: I have known the visual pleasure of looking down at passing vistas from an airplane, with my head in the clouds. That is enough for me. I have no ambition to conquer mountains. Besides, I prefer maigrets and Magritte to mountains.

Maurice: Ah, what can I do to persuade you? Shall I invite your Valkurie to ascend with us? What is her name, Cora?

Didier: Just try!

Maurice: And if I succeed? Will you promise to make the climb?

Didier: I dare you!

Was that how it happened? Should he blame Maurice, rather than his lust or even the mountain? What a preposterous thought. But on hindsight, he recognizes his innate distrust of mountains. Perhaps he was bullied into climbing one as a child and harbors a hidden terror? Who would have bullied him? Classmates? Father?

Didier imagines hearing Cora’s screams as he tumbled downward over stones; well, he thinks he can. Perhaps she had declined Maurice’s invitation. Perhaps all he can recall accurately is the irreal sensation of falling from a (relatively) great height. Does it matter what happened? Didier suffered a head injury, so he can’t trust his memory. Also, he’s lost touch with Maurice, who showed up faithfully at the hospital for the first few weeks. Out of guilt or friendship? They never discussed the incident.

1 comment:

Ann_Bogle said...

There's an angel at thy table ...