the well-lit streetcar toward the back the mother patiently explained.
But why are you marrying him, the young son asked. Because we're
alive; because I love him. Before I wasn't sure but now I'm sure.
The child continued to not understand but knew he had won most
of the field of her heart. The lights failed and brightened as
the streetcar trident sparked in the darkness and the bulging
machine ground on the rails, transiting a corner of the capital
The subject of this conversation could not be evaluated immediately. He was short
and halt of speech. His hair sprang in unruly curls, oblivious to wartime fashion:
the slick cropped businesslike hair of killing men. He had been a pilot who when
shot down behind enemy lines had crawled back because his left leg broke in the
crash. Now he was of some importance to the secret service. He had proven an
ability. Related to it was his kindness to women. Few understand the laws.
Since the secret service provided all—education, comfort, and most excitingly,
a car—there was glamor to live in the city. Its chaos, its tumult rose not from
trouble but from energy. Crowds surged in waves from out of the ground, hurrying
up the subway stairs with not a glance upon each other. The variety of crowds,
their swift change of events and direction were akin to the shiftings and coursing
of birds. What is one's own in that place? Put something down, another takes
it up, for it belongs to both, as the finished painting's colors were once granules
of wheat or rock. The traffic ebbed and tremored, thunder made a melody, fast,
deep, but not sinister, that continued to play when the war came to an end.
The pilot no longer drove to unmarked buildings downtown in the black sedan.
Its doors flipped open together on either side like wings that paradoxically
spread at the end of flight. He was a confectioner now, an ice sculptor, he moved
about huge forms of translucent statuary as their servant. The extravagent swarmed
to the warehouse to buy from Hephaistos and he received their acclaim in the
knowledge even stone must vanish one day.
The son had accepted that his mother would stay with him and actually rejoiced
that he himself was now a prince of the city. They could go but he would not,
While wandering in a crowded section of the city, just after dusk, he found he
was lost. Shoppers and celebrants warmed the moment. The high brick tenement
buildings vibrated and echoed music. It was summer. He realized that he had left
a Navy jacket behind at a party while the long light of afternoon faded to delighted
dancing and talk of new safety. He needed the jacket now somehow. So far into
the boisterous districts he couldn't say where his treasured car was, and he
had neglected to say goodbye.
The teeming civilization of streets, humanity, their food and raptures, surrounded
him. People looked his way, did not look, moved on, reappeared to recognize his
distinct carriage and intent, saying this was he and no other. One, then more
voices gathered from inaudible to the level of imagination and then suddenly
discerned, so that the sound was real, calling to him. He could hear them call
his name. The syllables formed a heartbeat and a passage through the city streets.
Now he had come upon higher ground, to cobbles from the ancient city that became
the modern, where loomed a high Cathedral. Under the first buttress lay an approach
or courtyard for the believer, and here were his parents, sitting on a huge wagon,
restraining god-like horses and looking to him with the hypnotic light of happiness.
His promise returned with final power; they could go but he would not, and it
was most important not to look greedily and long after them or he would see himself
there too. Instead he did all that he could, shouting, vocalizing without meaning.
The effort took the strength from his frame; he dropped to his knees and continued
to make a noise that was joy. They seemed so out of place already but the Cathedral
protected them. He did not know truly whether he had been their invention of
love or they his, but this was their final gift, a glimpse of Heaven.
below to hear WJ Ray reading
"The Prince and The Labyrinth" with musical
Theme from Diva, (Cosma), DRG Records, 1981
La Wally, "Catalani", Ibid.
Samuel Barber, "Adagio for Strings", Atlantic Symphony, Telarc, 1992
here to Download Mp3
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