THE GUEST OF HONOR, a lost opera.

22 Apr 2014

Mrs. Duncan told me about India and the bodies on the Ganges. She went on about the mystery of India while wrapped in a shawl. She is just a mental portrait now, something that wont flicker out even if I try. I'd like to say how demanding she was, but she wasn't, although there was the occasional warning of Practice your Czerny, You have to know Czerny. This is what those scales should sound like, she'd say, and run her hands up the keys resembling me after a lesson running down the stretched steps along her backyard, like a human descending scale. Leon, her husband stood there a lot, always with a leafrake, looking more to me, like a concrete sculpture of her signature: Mrs. Leon Duncan. I knew little about women's signatures then. Come to think of it, I never even learned her first name, surprising, really, because I've tried every poetic device I know of to squeeze description of the years of once a week lessons, save hypnotism (so far). Maybe I'll meditate for hours, get myself so wound up in this that I'll realize her name, clear as a forgotten chord, was Joy, or something happy. Unbelievable. I know it now. Her name was Rose. I must have been thinking about it all along. You see, that's what it is that was bothering me in the firstplace, this bubbling all throughout the years, though the name Rose never struck her image up particularly, it was perhaps suggested, even stronger when linked to something Indian in nature. There was the time when Mrs. Waters invited me in for something I'd never heard of, and said it had rosewater in it. Maybe I then thought of Rose telling me the India stories. Hey Rose, do you remember the betel nuts? Well, I'm sitting here right now trying to unlock a mysterious Indian tradition by eating one of the little creatures, veins and all. You remember how they look, don't you? They're woody with tiger stripes and hard as stones. I've been dismantling them with pliers, consider it finger exercises, Rose, Rosewater, Rose Leon Duncan, consider it finger exercises for me to do now with no piano to lean down over, like the postcard you sent, I want also to travel, eat the betel nut, get hooked, turn my saliva red, float in the Ganges when I'm dead. White-hot mysticism everytime your camera went off in my direction like memories flashing, fabulating and confabulating, I'm not sure you ever existed now, If I ever even learned the piano. Oh Rose, don't you see what you've done to me, when I pass a piano in a ballroom, or in a hallway, and the people who are always with me nudge for songs, and they do nudge, and even parts of me still signed, Mrs. Leon Duncan probably volunteer myself up for them, and well aware that nothing good is going to emerge anymore. You must have something to do with that quality in me, Rose. Your name is not so unfamiliar to me now as before, it even seems that I only remember your first name now, that hidden person always telling me to perform tricks I do not know. That's the definition of pressure, like sweating on manuscript paper in front of you. How often did you practice?, you asked, and I replied, of course, I don't understand, I had it. You taught me to sightread in this way, knowing I wouldn't admit not practicing, knowing I'd struggle. Oh Rose, Oh Leon, this is it, this is my coda for you, my recapitulation, this is Dance of the Demons, The Burning of Rome. This is the final Bethena Waltz, the last cake-walk, the end of a list of two-steps, it's the end of C sharp minor and The Bells of Moscow, it's the end of Rachmaninoff, it's the lost ragtime opera of Scott Joplin's, locked up air-tight and secret in a Wells Fargo safe in Carson City, or in some rooming house in Pittsburgh I have to say goodbye this way, close the keyboard down, pack away the busts of composers along your wall, and send you off, into another part of your home, out of the music room for now, out of view.

[No idea when I wrote this... probably 1989 / 1990.]

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