Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Elgar: Third Movement (The Wife Who Would Remember)

[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?

“Mrs. Donovan?”

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.

She rises.

“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]


Anonymous said...

I sense a person's crisis spoken in the language of poetry. Wounds painted. Blood as an artistry.

Aine said...

I must admit, I'm a bit confused. I'm hoping that the next part of the series will shed light on all of these wonderful details.

I sense that Mrs. Donovan's perspective is muddled by dementia, perhaps? But the images seem to be pieces of a puzzle. I am eager to find the edges and corners so that I can piece it together.

Can't wait for the next part!!

ChrisEldin said...

Yes, I felt confused too. But it feels like it's leading up to something.
Has there been a gap in time?
I want to read on....

Sarah Hina said...

One crisis, but many perspectives. And hopefully, no judgment. This was a tricky one to write, Jason...

Which is why I understand your confusion, Aine! In all honestly, I'm a bit confused, too. ;)

Yes, Mrs. Donovan has the early stages of dementia. Which is why this piece is even more purposefully oblique and scattered than the others. I hope her pain and empathy pierced through, though...

Chris, there has been gap in time of twenty years between the husband's affair and this concert. I'm sorry that it was a bit of a mess! I almost let the series go after the first two sections, but there's that need to complete something, once started.

That said, I'm rather dreading the conclusion...

Ello said...

Sarah, I knew she had dementia! It came out very clear to me and I swear I knew it before I saw your explanation!

My comment was going to be Wo! Shocking and alarming and I can't wait to read what is next.

I knew it! (beaming because I wasn't that confused!)

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, Ello! I'm so glad it made sense to you. :)

I'm also playing around with memory in this series. So I thought the dementia angle was an interesting device to demonstrate the mind's cracks and fissures, and how our doubts and past pain can still shadow the present. Even if we can no longer name them.

Vesper said...

It is much clearer now, after reading the comments too.
I think you mastered this moment, Sarah. It's a very tough one to write.
I have to go back and reread the first two parts. Also, I'm looking forward to the next.

Sarah Hina said...

I appreciate the compliment, Vesper, but I really feel like I slipped here. I was nervous to write this because of the skewed perspective, and that showed in the writing, which is rather a jumble.

Ah, well. We can't nail all of them. :)

Thank you, though!