Photo by Roloff Beny
Photo by Roloff Beny

The Prince and the Labyrinth
A Dream

In 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 city's downtown.

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, not yet.

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.

Click below to hear WJ Ray reading
"The Prince and The Labyrinth" with musical background:
Theme from Diva, (Cosma), DRG Records, 1981
La Wally, "Catalani", Ibid.
Samuel Barber, "Adagio for Strings", Atlantic Symphony, Telarc, 1992

or Click here to Download Mp3

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