[Sorry for the long break in this series. If you need to reacquaint yourself with the previous installments, Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.]
“She fed him my tongue.”
Nobody but the girl responds. And she sounds sad. Always so sad with that one. A sad clown’s leaky balloon.
The spit bubbles pop. She giggles, and searches the opera box for an audience.
Why did he bring her?
It’s more than the poor thing should bear.
Her pale blue eyes float without anchor above a sea of ninnies below. Notes shadow her ankles like silver fish, but she walks on water (he says, he says), and will not permit them air.
The scrap of bone and hair beside her pats her hands and whispers, “Mrs. Donovan, your husband has just stepped out for a moment. You’re at the concert hall, Mrs. Donovan. The concert hall. It’s the Elgar tonight. Marvelous, isn’t she?”
She snaps back her hand, fingering the opal ring Mother lets her wear on special occasions. “I know where I am, Uncle.”
Dirty old man. Serpents for hands.
“Snakes can’t smell without tongues,” she says. “And sirens can’t sing.”
“All right, Mrs. Donovan. Let’s not worry yourself about such things.”
This thing gags her. She must escape.
Scurry, scurry hermit crab
Look for food that you can grab.
Search for shells that fit just right
Hide in them when it is night.
Dipping forward to grab the umbrella he extends to shelter her, a heart pours out yesterday’s water.
Bobbing to its waves, her mouth spills open. Milky eyes track the sea’s shifting lights. Until they are upon her. Until she glows within their timeless grace.
Don’t work yourself up over a silly girl’s machinations, Penny.
Her tongue licks the sea salt from her lips.
There is nothing to it, my love. Just let it go.
Let it go.
And so she had. And so she—
“Mrs. Donovan?” the voice insists. “Penelope?”
Surfacing, she gasps for air, scanning the dark skies. The gaudy chandelier burns softly now, like a mariner’s distant galaxy. The girl’s notes wobble, so far from the hearth of home.
There is salt on her tongue. Is.
“I thought she cut it out.”
I did, I did?
“And fed it to him.”
I did, I did.
“Of course, Mrs. Donovan. Won’t you have a seat now? This movement is almost ended.”
The blue umbrella explodes like birds’ wings, and she lifts it above her head, ready to set sail.
“But now I don’t know,” she says, staring down at the girl—this ancient child—with the opal in her cello. “I really couldn’t say who—”
A few in the audience look up as she drifts near the rail.
To be continued...
[Cello: Jacqueline du Pré; Conductor and husband: Daniel Barenboim; video courtesy of markvogue]