Posts Tagged 'adventure'

A spot of gothic romance

His eyes met hers. Her eyes met his. Their eyes met. Above their heads, black clouds formed, the winds began to howl and shake. Someone must die.

“In these terrible times, sir, I find it best to speak rarely and gently,” she said, looking back down at her needlework. Her voice was light and firm.

“Yes, indeed, m’lady, I understand that a raised voice would be improvident,” he said, reaching to take the needlepoint from her hands. She resisted only briefly. Pulling the white linen back, he revealed beneath it a letter, open and sitting in her lap. One eyebrow lifting slightly, he took the letter, folded it and slipped it into his cape.

“No need to worry about this, madam,” he said. “I will look after it until it is needed.”

“Yes, of course,” she responded, remaining seated, remaining composed, remaining convinced as ever that someone must die. Now quite certain which of them that might be.

 Outside were the sounds of preparation that had become common over these past few months. Horses and men, the smell of burning hooves as the animals were shod, the excited yells of small boys chasing soldiers and knights-in-training through the muddy streets. Enemies came in all forms in those days: enemies of state, illness, criminals and people made mad by poverty and dirt. The men in the castle held council after council, each beating the drum for his own reason. War. Glory, wealth, religion, property, power.

Who holds a woman’s letter over her head, leaving behind an unspoken threat? This young man has just taken a letter from the most dangerous woman of her place and time. Pity he did not recognize her; they’d met before, in other circumstances. If he had realized from whom he took the letter, the situation in which he eventually found himself might have been avoided altogether.



He slept a few times with an introverted nun, and even once wth a pope. I leave it to you, he said, to decide if a pope is more likely to be an introvert or an extrovert. Cuál?  What kind, flavor, type of temperament wants to change the very earth on its axis, the tides as they approach and recede?  I learned so much about the moon, he continued. Yes, I did. I learned also about discretion, about the stories that need to be told by history, rather than by their immediate narrators. 

He came from a long line of questioners, not quantifiers, and right away, that made him suspect. If you do question, if instead of counting you dance or paint, or live somehow in the world that is spun like a paint mixer or an aerialist, then the question of concrete, linear narrative will sometimes be thin and untenable, thin and burnt like sugar at the state fair, and sometimes the attempt to organize, quantify and justify only makes our aerialists dizzy. Of all the places to be dizzy, hanging from a rope over an unknown abyss is absolutely the most dizzying.

He had a spider once with a thin web and a very tall building and a day that was bright and sunny but with wind. He and spider hung suspended from the question of gravity over a tall building in a clear blue city, and they did not know what to do, only that up there in the air all was high and thin and wild, and that falling would be antithetical, would shock their little spider skeletons long before they ever touched down. Spider and he held hands, held hands and made a web of silk and longing, of silk and human hair, of silk and handprints reaching one to one to one to one down the side of the very tall building, all lit with green and violet lights, and when earth came up to meet them she was gentle as dandelions, soft as kiss, almost as imperceptible as hope itself. 


Butterfly hunter

In a small fishing village on the coast of Baja California, there lived a young man. The young man’s name was Gordon, and he was a musician. He played the piccolo, the piano and the flute. He also played the harmonium, pipe organ, and the xylophone. He was incomparable on the guitar, the violin, and the cello. In fact, every instrument he touched he played as if he’d known it all his life.


Gordon was a talented young man. Coincidentally, he was also the most beautiful person who ever lived, with curly chestnut hair, eyes of sea green and skin the color of honey. Although he was a brilliant musician, when he played, the young women of his village hardly heard him at all. They were too busy staring at his honey-gold skin and dreaming of wrapping his chestnut hair around their fingers.


Gordon never noticed them at all, so intent was he on making and playing music. Gordon wanted to write a symphony composed of every instrument ever played since the beginning of all time. He collected exotic instruments – the didgeridoo, the kazoo, the shakade, the lute – and learned each one of them just as quick as that.


One day in the marketplace, an old woman in a faded blue caftan with a shawl on her head told him of an instrument that he did not yet have.


“It makes a sound,” she said, “somewhere between a whistle and a hum. With it you can render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then again the bees buzzing.”


“What is the name of this instrument?” asked Gordon, in quite a tizzy.

“I can’t tell you that,” said the old woman, and she winked at him a little wickedly or maybe a little crazily, it was hard to tell which.


“I will only tell you where you may find it. The rest is up to you.”  She leaned over and whispered into his ear. “It is in Yakutz.”


Then she kissed him on his beautiful smooth lips, said “If only I was young . . .” and disappeared down an alley before he could say, “But where is Yakutz?”


Gordon decided then and there to go to Yakutz for this miraculous instrument that could the render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and again the bees buzzing. He packed his bag (a striped Guatemalan bag that was deep and sturdy) and strapped it to his back.  As he left the town just at sunset, a wailing could be heard in the streets behind him as the women of the village realized that their handsome young man had left them without even as much as a glance from his gorgeous green eyes.


Young Gordon went to India and Peru and Paris and Beijing. He went to the Bahamas, Australia, the Yukon and the Sandwich Islands. Everywhere he went he asked “Where is Yakutz?” (which he could not find on any map anywhere). 


But everywhere he went the people he met were so stunned by his beauty that they would say anything to get him to stay with them. In Italy they called him “bellisimo.” In Guadalajara he was called “el guapo.”  In San Francisco they called him “honey,” and they called him all the time.


He worked his way around the world in a jiggery pattern (Gordon had a horrible sense of direction). Everywhere he stopped, he made his living playing exquisite music on exotic instruments. No one ever listened, though, because although he was a brilliant musician, his beauty eclipsed everything else. And everywhere he went, he asked every stranger about an instrument that could make the sound of bees buzzing, and then horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then again the bees buzzing.


Gradually, Gordon became aware that he had a problem (he was beautiful and talented, but he was not quick). People were lying to him left and right, promising to take him to Yakutz (which more than once turned out to be a time share on one tropical beach or another) and then trying to seduce him instead. He became discouraged, and took himself to a small dude ranch in northern Utah, where he arranged to play the fiddle and teach clog dancing to pay for his room and board.


One evening he sat on a fencepost in an empty corral and played his fiddle with a sad heart. The corral was on a broad mesa with a view that went all the way to Wyoming (he assumed), and the moon was high and full. He heard coyotes howling not far away, and he thought they were crying with him. He wondered if the instrument he was seeking could make a sound like howling coyotes or belching frogs. He played even more sadly as he though of Yakutz.


Walking back along the moonlit trail to the dude ranch, young Gordon came upon an old woman walking slowly with a cane. She wore a babushka, and as he drew closer, Gordon saw that she was blind.


“You play the fiddle more brilliantly than anyone I’ve ever known,” said the old woman. “Except perhaps one, an old man I knew as a child who could play any musical instrument as if he’d done it all his life.”


Gordon thanked her, and they walked together in silence for a moment.


“You are a young man,” the old woman said at last. “What can possibly make you play so sadly?”


Gordon told her of his search for the one musical instrument he had yet to find, the one that could render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and again the bees buzzing. He told her of his travels around the world, and of how sad he was that no one who saw his face would listen to him play or help him in his search.


The old woman listened without interrupting and then asked “Where did the old woman say you could find this wonderful instrument?”


Gordon told her, and the old woman said, in great excitement, “Why, I am from Yakutz! Let me take you there. What a fine time we will have!”


Gordon hesitated for a minute, thinking of past offers and hoping that the old woman’s Yakutz would not be another Club Med experience. Looking at her, though, he saw again that she was blind, and so they went to Yakutz together.


Yakutz is in Siberia, you know, and it is cold cold cold. The Yakuvitz keep warm with potatoes and vodka, with red-cheeked women and with music and dance.


How they danced in Yakutz! How they drank! Gordon was spun from dancer to dancer and his glass was filled again and again until he was as blind as the old woman, who sat in the corner with a potato in one hand and a glass of vodka in the other.


Late that night, Gordon lay on the floor with the room spinning wildly in a vodka dance around him. As the room settled and the Yakuvitz sank to the floor, where they slept, Gordon heard a sound. First he heard the sound of bees buzzing, and then horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then at last again the bees buzzing, more faintly this time, as if they were buzzing away.


“What is that I hear?” said Gordon and he tried to get up on his knees, but he fell down again (because he was terribly drunk, to tell the truth).


“It is a Jew’s harp,” said a voice, and Gordon turned his head to see lying next to him a beautiful Russian girl, with red cheeks, flashing black eyes, big strong arms and the barest trace of a mustache on her upper lip. She smiled at him, and he stared back, entranced by the gap between her front teeth and the dimple on the left side of her face. She tried to sit up, but was just as drunk as he, and so they went to sleep, with their heads touching, on the floor underneath the table.


In the morning, the old woman introduced her granddaughter to Gordon, and was very pleased that they’d gotten to know each other on the floor underneath the table the night before. Her name was Valenka, and she hugged him with both her strong arms and gave him the Jew’s harp from a pocket under her apron.


Gordon put the Jew’s harp in his mouth and played. The cold morning air was filled with the sound of bees buzzing and horses’ hooves, and Gordon took the harp from his mouth and smiled bigger than he’d ever smiled before. Valenka smiled back, and Gordon realized that she was smiling at him and his Jew’s harp and his music, not at his most beautiful face, and he felt himself blush all the way to his toes.


That evening at sunset they were married. They played many an exotic instrument at the wedding feast and danced ’til the sun came up the next day. Afterwards they left Yakutz and traveled to Kyoto, where they’d heard a Zen master made a Jew’s harp of bamboo, and that with it one could make a sound like the beating of hummingbird wings. They didn’t know the name of the Zen master, but they were sure they could find him, if only they looked long enough.



©1995 Teresa Phillips. May not be used without permission.

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July 2020