Ygdrasil

Blossom Plumb

 

 

At 92 Hedron St. the light loves ten o’clock.  It surges into the music room like a thousand gold children released from school.  Outside, it’s snowing.  Flakes, on holiday, stall at windows, peek in, drift down. 

 

Edan, rapt, leans against the door jamb in the kitchen.  He watches his beloved in her apple-green leotard, polishing the piano in a reverent way, as if bringing it into being; the soft moves of her amber chamois circulating praise.  The cloth lingers on the gold script—Steinway, a tangy scent of lemon lilts the air.

 

Now.  Dare he tell her now, with the vast heart of the piano as witness?  What would happen to her world?

 

His thoughts sway in rhythm with hers.  He mirrors her movement, marking

time with the back of a wooden spoon on the door.   

 

This was the way they had written so many songs:  by listening deeply to  simple things—the secret laughter of dice,  a retired broom’s regrets.  She’d write a line, he’d follow with the next.  Magazines said they were household names “as familiar and necessary as the toaster,” wrote a critic in the N.Y. Times.

    

Watching her, he saw dusting as a dance, a daily, an honorable mention.  Look at her! She rises in remembered toe shoes, lifts her slender arms into ballet's first position, flinging the chamois to the floor.  An idea opens in Edan’s mind, its stamen sallies forth.  He sees a pas de deux for woman and piano. 

 

“Somewhere out there,” he grins, “they call that housework.” 

    

In the bright sunlight, Pain, cloaked, polishes his red sword.

 

Dropping to one knee before the piano-monarch, she touches the hem of its obsidian cape in secret colloquy, then rises and strikes a chord—an E flat melodic minor seventh.

 

His favored sonority.  She is calling him.  How can he tell her now?  She gives the chord her whole body—improvises an homage and he’s dazzled anew by her talent.  Edan whispers ‘bravo’ into the silent kitchen.

 

His idea’s full-blooming now, he takes it across the room to her, brandishing the spoon.

 

“I’ve got the title!”

 

“Speak.” 

 

“‘A Gratitude.’ You danced a new form—two sweet-hinged words.” 

 

“Hinged?”

 

“Gratis means thank you, plus etude, means study—a study in thank you.” 

 

“You’re so smart.” 

 

“Gratis hugs Etude,” he clasps his hands at the small of her back and pulls her to him, “like this.”  He slips off her green hair band and kisses her moist brow.

    

The chord continues.  The piano hoards it, as if the sustain pedal were locked—the king calling Scheherazade back for one more story.

 

She stirs in his arms.  “Ygdrasil is watching.” 

 

“I know.” 

 

For troubles weighing over ten pounds or,  just stuck on a song, they sought its counsel.  Ygdrasil is a giant tree in the park; its mass fills a sketch hanging on the wall above the piano.  Named for a tree in a pre-Christian myth, it was believed to hold all of heaven, earth and hell together by its roots.   

 

One more song.  Then he’ll find the courage tell her.  Tell this hummingbird—this Ave.

    

“Ave.”  He loves the sound.  Her name was Ava, but he first heard Ave, as in Ave Maria and it stuck.  Often, he hears that glorious music when he looks at her.  Ave.  Means Hail.  Means farewell.  The writer Ernest Hemingway, she told him, said farewell was the most beautiful word in English.

 

“We'll find out,” he thinks, “We’ll find out.”  Ave dances off down the hallway.

    

Edan—his name is Gaelic for fire.  And he had kept a magic circle of fire around them these fine five years.

 

For how much longer?  The red sword had found its mark in him.

    

Last week, on a rain-scowled Wednesday, he had sustained, yes, precise verb, sustain, a nasty diagnosis—an affliction he’d thought plagued the very old, not an artist of thirty-two.

 

He walked home from the medical palace, interred in a column of silence, past a playground full of children without voices, through traffic without horns.

 

His thoughts flew to his childhood home in England—the great forests of Yorkshire.  Should he seek the Green Man, sustainer of his boy life?  Carved in trees and stone fountains, smiling over doorways and churches, posing in gardens.

 

The Green Man was the nature god, present in every culture since the Neolithic camps.  Symbol of Death and Resurrection.  Edan loved his wild-wind hair and face of laughter.  Would he heal with him?

 

At 92 Hedron, the key turns reluctantly in the lock.  The brass door-knob feels hostile in his hand.  He presses a pearl button on a panel just inside the door.  Yo-Yo Ma bows his cello to Bach.  Ah, he can hear again! That helps.

 

He leans against the music, its satin cushions, and surveys the once familiar room.  It hasn’t heard the news.  Insufferable complacency of chairs.  Frowsy chrysanthemums on the carpet—indifferent.  Their maintenance is secure.   

 

His is not.

 

He jingles the cord of camel bells that hang on the kitchen door (Ave loved caravans and Persian poetry) bringing Bedouins to San Francisco and Ave from the bedroom.  “I have come to collect your attention,” he says.  “No contribution is too small.”

 

She draws a big heart on her tee-shirt with her fingers.  He bends towards it then straightens abruptly; something pulses in the  room, a drumming.  An odor of peppermint speckles the air.   

 

“I need your darling listening.  Something important has...   we need to talk about...”  he breaks off.  A shadow has passed over her face, only an instant but she is pale.

 

He pretends distraction, turns the flame under the tea kettle, “Wait for me in the studio,” he says, “Earl Grey O.K?”

 

Following the drumming brings him to the living room.  A stranger is sitting in the wing-back chair by the fire, legs crossed, regarding him quizzically.  A small, rosy-faced man in a green and yellow checked suit that casts a neon glow against the plum velvet of the chair.  Straw-colored hair falls chin length  and swings like long grass as he turns his head.

 

Edan shouts louder than he means: 

 

“What the...?  Who are you?  How did you get...?” 

 

The man springs from the chair and spreads the air with a flourish.

 

“Fred, here,” he says.  “Fred Fear, at your service.”  His grin licks wicked around the edges, glee spills from its core.

 

“Fear?  You’re fear?”  Edan steps back giving this crazy idea plenty of room.  “You’re kidding!”

 

“No need to insult me, man.  It’s my name and my game.”  He squinches his face, squeezing his eyes shut—an apricot laughing. 

 

“No offense, I thought you’d be...”

 

“I know—maximum scary, tall, dressed in black.  Maybe huge wings or...”  He purses his lips, considering.  “Of course, I can do the horror drag, my repertory is infinite, but,” he claps his hands smartly, “I’m here on business, let’s go.” 

 

“Go?”

 

“To the picture show.”  Fred laughs.  He loves his work.  Edan smells his breath—peppermint.  Clever touch, he thinks.  Lets him get close.   

 

Edan stands on a midnight plain.  The sun rises, disengages from the earth and becomes a yellow balloon traveling gaily over the world, trailing its string.  Starting at the top, like tar pouring, it turns black and explodes.  A thousand dead birds fall to the ground.   

 

Next, he’s in a museum with marble floors and pillars.  An exquisite vase etched with ancient glyphs is displayed in a glass case.  Visitors line up to view, linger in awe.

 

A small crack begins at the base, streaks up the side and becomes a maze of tiny veins covering the body.  It’s Ave’s face—the vase disintegrates.

 

“Where did you find those pictures?” 

 

“I merely provide the space.  It’s your work.  You created every one.”  Fred squeezes his eyes again, his shoulders jerk up and down.   

 

“You’re saying that’s my future?”  Fred offers an elaborate, do-I-know?  shrug.

 

“They don’t have to be true, do they?”  Edan asks.  “I have some choice.” 

 

“I don’t know.  I’m a specialist.  Fear is my game.”  Fred struts on the carpet, his thumbs hooked in his vest.   

 

“My clients are forever.  Always a bull market in the fear business.   Yup.  In rare cases, people absolutely ignore me.  Ungrateful, I call it.  After all my work.  Well, gotta move on.” 

 

Fred walks to the door in his lopsided swagger.  He opens it.  The wind chime tosses in its two cents.  Bach continues with infinite possibilities.  Fred taps two fingers to his brow in a soft salute.

 

“See ya soon,” he says.

 

Edan looks up to the stout branches of Ygdrasil.  Reverie rushes him to Yorkshire’’ green heart.   He wanders with the deer a while, knows he’s home.  When it’s time, he will donate himself to the forest.  Fair enough.  A feast for the crawling, buzzing creatures.  But Ave...

 

She had the “genius of joy but she was fragile.”  That’s what her doctor had said. 

 

She had been a street musician in San Francisco.  He first saw her in a doorway on Eddy St. shivering and singing, in a man’s ancient tweed coat.  The long sleeves were rolled up double and its only button, a disc of bright orange with a happy face, dangled from its weary thread. 

 

She was singing softly to herself, in a falling-water voice with raggedy edges.  She seemed like a child—unaware of her surroundings.  Of danger.  As if the doorway was a meadow of sweet clover.  He loved her sound and when he dropped to his knees beside her, it had seemed the most natural thing in the world. 

 

He listened for a few bars and then sang with her, an old Rogers and Hart tune, “Blue room, for two room.  Every day’s a holiday because you’re married to me.” 

 

And it was.

 

There was the hospital for a year or so and sometimes he couldn’t reach her but the music could.  They always write  new songs. 

 

The doctor had said, in his careful voice, “Talent often resides in an unreliable nervous system.”  Unreliable.  Pretty good for a doc.  There were some hideous labels out there. 

 

Now.  He turns off the kettle, and goes to fetch Ave, his decision a warm gold flower at his spine’s root.  She once said his face wore the  irreducible optimism of leprechauns.  “Be with me now,” he thinks. 

 

He finds her at the window watching the snow, wearing a slender lavender wool dress and high leather boots.  He takes her hands. 

 

“Let’s go somewhere else.  The furniture knows all our scripts.” 

    

“How ‘bout Paris?  Book stalls all afternoon...” 

 

“I’m serious.” 

 

“Uh oh.” 

 

“Yeah, uh oh serious.” 

 

She collects her purse, draws on red plaid mittens, tosses him a green wool scarf.  “It's the park then.  Pretty with the snow.   We'll sit with Ygdrasil.” 

 

 

“No intro,” he advises himself.  “Tell her.  Like it’s another song to work on.” 

 

“Ave,” he begins, “I thought we'd always be dolphins; we'd only sing, make love and take our huge brains for long swims.” 

 

Always be dolphins, oh Edan.” 

 

“It's going to be a different sort of swim,” he says, and tells her about the glass slipping from his hand and the tremor, how it comes and goes.  How little is known.  Tears come and he lets them; it feels good to be at the truth of things.  He tells her about  the forests of Yorkshire; he tells her about the Green Man.

 

“The Green Man?”  she is crying too—gently, the soft rain kind, just receiving what he has to say. 

 

“In England there are five times more carvings of the Green Man than of Christ.” 

    

“No way—five?” 

 

“Amazing, isn’t it?  Oh, you've seen him everywhere.  He looks like this.”  He puffs his cheeks in a beatific grin, scoops leaves from the ground and places them, an attempted garland, on his head.

    

“In gardens and lakes they sculpt him into a fountain.”  He fully extends his tongue to illustrate flowing water.  Ave takes his cue, sticks out her tongue all the way to match.  With her mittened hands she rummages in the earth and snow around her, desperately trying to play the game, to locate leaves, but tears blind her. 

 

Her face crumples, seeing a picture of herself without him.    She wraps her arms around him, presses her head on his chest.   He puts his arms around her. 

 

“I’ll be a Green Lady,” she says, “And we'll write wonderful songs.  We'll show people:  Hey, here’s a way.  This is how you do it.” 

    

He sings, in a lullaby tone, “This is the way we love the world, love the world, love the world.” 

 

Ave leaves his embrace and kneels before him, putting her snowy mittens on his shoulders. 

 

“Repeat after me” she says,  “With whatever we have, for as long as we have.” 

    

“With whatever we have, for as long as we have.” 

 

“We will write songs.” 

 

In his clear tenor, to the tune of  ‘Do mi sol do,’  he sings:   “We will write songs.” 

    

Ave, radiant, returns to his arms. They rock each other under the tree of the world.

 

Photo "Bonded Strength" by Bella Dante.

 

 

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Fiction Copyright © 2007 Blossom Plumb. All rights reserved.
Photo Copyright © 2007 Bella Dante. All rights reserved.