Tag Archives: memoirs made from dreams

Cabaret Singer, Lost Inside

Falling in love with a cabaret singer isn’t for the faint of heart. At points in my love journey, I closed my eyes and focused on an image of the man on a dark stage, dancing in a circle of light, his face a mask of black and white. But, in reality, he didn’t do much dancing. Rather, he sat at his black baby grand and played for hours with his eyes closed to me.

It hurt. True, he had more important songs to bring to light and air than the ones involving me — that I had written for him, of course. Somehow, even as a nobody, a woman second-class, I knew we had more than just a simple connection. And so I waited at the edge of the shiny wooden dance floor, which was always devoid of couples. As far as I could tell, although my cabaret singer was both talented and sought-after, he played for nobody on a nightly basis.

Rumor had it he was searching for a woman, or that his entourage did the searching, framing photos of eligible bachelorettes and sliding them to him while he sat at his instrument. He shooed them away, again and again. In my imagination, he didn’t prefer to have framed images of women dotting the landscape of his piano; he wished he could rattle them off. I detected a dismissive look in his eyes, and that wasn’t imagination. And, oh, were his eyes ever dismissive! They flitted past me, as well as the rest of the late-night stragglers at the dance hall. Making music — that was his primary job in this world, and who could convince him of anything else?

One night, I entered the hall to find my cabaret singer utterly changed. In addition to his usual tuxedo with the tie undone, he’d added a white pancake make-up to his face, red to his lips, and a set of disgustingly thick and black false eyelashes to his eyes. He was beautiful with that look — I couldn’t put my finger on why it suited him so well, as though a charmed blending had occurred. Overnight, he’d become the musical Emcee from Cabaret, and I half expected him to sing, “Beedle dee, dee dee dee, two ladies! And I’m the only man, ja!”

When I took up my usual corner vigil with my roommate — I always slouched my shoulders in the corner opposite his — he stopped playing to give the photograph parade a serious perusal. My heart jittered with nerves, and I pressed my hand to my chest and wondered if the three shots of Jack had depleted my potassium. I turned to the side and glanced his way out of the corners of my eyes, and then, when he spotted my obvious attempt to appear as though I didn’t care, I searched the glare of the waxed-over-scuff flooring. My roommate, whom I’d dragged with me, chucked a finger under my chin.

“You’ll survive,” she said. “I’m sure he’s not interested in any of those women. It’s hard to fall in love with a photograph.”

I might have believed her, but the man’s womanly face suddenly crumpled into a sad state, his full red lips pursed. He batted his eyelashes and couldn’t blink away the few stray tears that coursed black rivulets down his white cheeks.

“He’s fallen in love,” I said. “And not with me. I’ll be forever separated.”

My roommate seemed annoyed. She was one those invisible girls, far more invisible than I was — and I was nearly a ghost — and, hence, I tended to use her as my emissary. She did it without my asking. “Do you want me to go look at the photo for you, see what she looks like?”

“Please,” I said.

She slid across the floor, and I watched as she turned her frail blonde, invisible angel head to the framed image in my cabaret singer’s hand. While sliding back, she smiled in her sly way.

“It’s a picture of his mother,” she told me.

“How do you know?”

“Because of the resemblance. It’s obvious.”

“Oh.”

I raised my eyes to the piano, and I saw he’d brushed all the photos aside, and his entourage was packing them away, but he hadn’t yet begun to focus on his sheet music. Instead, he stared across the dance hall at me and my roommate. His shoulders were about as hunched as mine were. For five long minutes, he sat in silence and didn’t move, and he stared at us, the invisible females, as though he’d spotted two ghosts and didn’t know what to do with the vision.

Finally, he rose, gestured for another man to take his place on the piano bench, and crossed the room.

“Dance?” he said, holding out his hand to me. He sighed. “It’s about time, anyway.”

The new singer-player dashed out a folk waltz. I took my singer’s hand, and he pulled me into a swinging one-two-three.

“Beedle dee, dee dee dee, two ladies! I’m part of you, and you are two,” he sang so that only my ear could hear him.

You are two. I never saw him after that night because he disappeared at the end of our dance. For some reason, I no longer needed to see the man whose songs I wrote in secret. I never returned to the dance hall, and neither did he. Rumor had it, he’d found a better-paying gig. I heard his voice, though, especially in my dreams: I’m part of you, and you are two. I framed the song in my mind and kept it.

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Memories! You’re Talking About Memories. Or Dreams.

A story can never end with a simple image. I take that back. Yes, it can. The writer gives her story the potency to be what it will. A weak writer may not endow it with enough power to live on its own without a respirator or feeding tube. That’s the trouble with humans playing God. We’re not shams exactly; we’re made in the image of, and all that. But where does that leave us? We aren’t mini-gods. I don’t need a biological or theological or theoretical education to know this truth in the core of my being. I’m not a god–so why do I play one as the author of my mini worlds? Yes, I know, they appear epic after the word count climbs over 90,000, but they’re tiny enough to slip into my braincells as places and people and adventures already visited, worlds already put to rest.

In my dreams, I see buildings–tall thin ones that scrape the sky, narrow oblongs that rest directionally to the horizon, and two-storied places with pitched roofs that cry for families. My rooms are inevitably messy. I’m a mess internally, so this isn’t surprising. Sometimes these buildings are hybrids, places whose windows I climb from, only to reenter again into dark basements. When I add, combine, and quantify, the dwelling I love the best is the one with the pitched roof like a spring sky. Blue roof–white shutters–yellow siding. This is the atmosphere of spring. And spring is meant to bring new life, as the agricultural world affirms–one could call it the scientific world, even if it does dwell down on the farm–and the religious world confirms spring’s delivery, as well, in its rites of cyclical death and rebirth. As a Christian, I recognize the fulfilment of my rebirth through Jesus’ death and resurrection. What that says about my interior spaces and their lack of order may or may not be unrelated because I’m a believer in Jesus, not spring cleaning.

I am a house. My rooms are messy. I have a blue roof, a slate roof, a red roof. My outside is composed of solid timbers, and timbers that are as frail as old, flaked paint. Sometimes, I live on an air-gasping, head-woozy floor in a tiny apartment filled with borrowed objects. Elevators and escalators send me up and bring me back down. At my workplace, I descend into the basement to drop my child in a womb-safe daycare, and then travel up and up to my small office, inside a larger office, inside a complex of offices in a building that was designed for medical offices. Up here, on this floor with a swooning view, I feel safe knowing my child is tucked away in the basement. On with the paperwork–or whatever it is I’m hired here to do.

The papers tucked away, I remember the house with the slate roof. That’s the one where my colleague and I–this time we’re medical examiners–climbed from a first-floor window, from that hinged, old-fashioned kind, onto the rain-soaked grass. We were frightened to be there; I can’t recall why. Memory creates an illusory image when attached to emotion. Or, I should say, memories are more vividly remembered when attached to strong emotions, but the cause and effect may be lost in the recall, such that the emotion and incident combine in the flash of a moment–a photograph left out of its packet. There’s no context, in other words, until another flash occurs, revealing another image connected to fear. Something is chasing us, and we’re ducking down in the shadows, where we can smell the mud of the grass and the dank, catty smell of the basement, and we lower ourselves through an unlatched screen back into the very same house we have just escaped.

It’s dark down here. Empty boxes sit stacked by our entrance route (and possibly our only escape route). My colleague insists we’ll be safe here, and he pulls me into a mesh box, and pushes me to a crouched position in the corner of the box. We hear a click, and it’s too late. The fear–the concept of shadow–is manifest. It has locked us in a cage of our own choice, our own hiding place. We peer out. How disconcerting. A single bulb swings above us, haloing a woman and a man in lab coats, holding clipboards. They’re examining us. We’re the specimens.

I should leave you with the spring house, rather than this cage deep inside the bowels of an old one. I should leave you with its hope, but I don’t yet know how. The last time I entered the house with the blue roof and yellow exterior and stark white shutters, it was littered with the detritus of guests–dirty plates and bulbous glasses settled with sweet wine. For now, it’s a house only the swallows will find, and they’ll build their mud houses up under the eaves. That’s a lovely image, but it’s not where I’m at.

I’m in a basement. Trust me when I insist that this is not only the proper way to end this–whatever this godlike creation of fictional worlds is–but it’s also the way to begin. Beginning on an upper floor is absurd, to say the least. No one can begin there. So I’ll start at the deepest place my dwelling dips. I’ll start at the beginning and end at whatever floor I manage to climb to before the story’s over.

I’m in a cage in a basement. That’s my simple image, and its potency relies solely on the hope of spring and its ability to unclasp locked doors.

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A World Without Social Media

Seven Pillars by Eva Domschot © 2012

This is the place where stones sing in their spiritual houses.

On Sunday, we woke early to attend church. In fact, we didn’t merely attend. My husband read a sermon from the pulpit because we’ve recently lost our pastor to Florida’s more sophisticated medical system. Our pastor handed in his retirement–which he had planned to do, anyway, albeit not under the dire circumstances of a life-threatening illness. Therefore, my husband, being one of a few men left in church, was enlisted to choose from a stack of published Lutheran sermons to read in the midst of the liturgical service.

He chose a sermon on the building of spiritual houses. It seemed a little too apropos for our small body of believers, a group that has shrunk drastically over the past several years due to its members moving away. With approximately twenty-three adults and six children left, we may, indeed, dwindle into an ethereal concept that once met in a church building.

However, I don’t wish to dwell on negativity and loss. Spiritual houses aren’t impervious to the fluctuations of the physical world, but they are certainly less prone to shifting when a cornerstone provides a strong foundation, as well as a reference point for the other stones built into the structure.

The day, itself–Sunday–built its own walls as though it were a spiritual house, one beginning with a roof and no set foundation. Time and space are inextricably linked, creating a foundation for something, in any case. The physical is interwoven with the spiritual, even if we don’t understand exactly how this tight mesh is bonded. I have no intention of mixing metaphors; a decorator has covered the stone walls of Sunday with woven banners. This requires a sole image and no mixing of thought.

The day began with a roof on a chilly fall morning. We sat under the roof of the sanctuary, speaking liturgical words and singing hymns to the organ, and then we sat under the roof of the fellowship hall, where we sipped coffee. Next, we offered a lift home to a church friend; we entered her (and her husband’s) domain so my husband could check out a broken door in need of repair. Meanwhile, the children and I studied magazines and nicknacks and books. Our friends’ house is one of puzzles, fairies and cats, and shelves of books that would give any bookworm a case of the delirious chomps.

Our friend loaned me a memoir about an Oregon family who, one summer, bicycled across Canada. Gratefully, I held the book close in the crook of my arm, knowing it could easily be the kind of memoir I love.

Family and I drove home, under the roof of our car, then entered under our own red roof, under the blue sky. And we ate avacados and other delicacies, and we allowed the house its disarray. I disappeared in my room to read the memoir, but before I’d finished a page, I fell asleep and dreamed that I didn’t have the proper license for fishing and would have to watch as others let down their hooks into the placid waters while I stood by, my lone figure a scrawny child, ageless and pale. I was a pathetic child in life and dreams; I really was. I woke up with my head missing.

The roof blew off–was it at that moment? The roof disappeared, leaving a sky overhead and walls of sliding dirt and stones, of cactus and mesquite, of wild fall flowers blazing in violet verbena, marigolds, orange mallows–all backed up against the desert mountain. Husband and I walked deliriously up to the seven pillars, a quarried place, the dog in a heavenly house where rabbits ran pellmell through the brush. Then we ran, scrabbling down, down, back to our house.

Under the red roof, head restored, I, in a tangible fashion, made tortillas on my press and cleared the house of clutter. If others have domains of fairies and cats and books, I own a mental world whose clutter is so eclectic and bizarrely shaped that I need an outer one that maintains an orderly distance.

And so the spirit house ended with beans and chile and fresh tortillas grilled in a substantial cast iron skillet.

****

But the house with the fairies and books and cats and puzzles is only part of the whole. Remove the roof, discover stone slabs where rocks sit, piles of them, singing and waiting to be set into houses. A hoard of them crack and pop–insubstantial until somebody breaks a tooth on one.

In the center of a slab bench, a seat waits in the middle of two piles of rocks. Sort them, discover their unique shapes, where they might fit, but leave them undisturbed because this is the place where stones sing in their spiritual houses.

A bent tree (I hear it). A patch of shrivelled vines (I know that song). A triangle of grass breathing a different air in the midst of a city where others dwell (I’ve heard it, but have yet to learn it).

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