Authors: Richard Lortz
NOVELS BY RICHARD LORTZ
A Crowd of Voices
Lovers Living, Lovers Dead
Children of the Night
The poem on page 85 is from the play
by William Archibald. Copyright, 1950, by William Archibald. Copyright, 1950 (Revised and Rewritten), by William Archibald. Copyright, 1951 (Acting Edition), by William Archibald. Reprinted by permission of Samuel French, Inc.
© 1980 by Richard Lortz
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce
this book, or parts thereof, in any form, except for
the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
Library of Congress Number: 80-65001
International Standard Book Number: 0-932966-08-X
Manufactured in the United States of America
THE PERMANENT PRESS
Sagaponack NY 11962
fugue (fug) n.
a polyphonic composition based upon one, two, or even more themes, which are enunciated by the several voices or parts in turn, subjected to contrapuntal treatment, and gradually built into a complex form having somewhat distinct divisions or stages of development and a marked climax at the end. (t. F. t. It.:m. fuga, g. L fuga flight)—fugue’like’,
“I played sly tricks on madness.” —
, who was dead, who had died eleven months ago, was standing on the corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue in Sheridan Square, and when she saw her son, Mrs. Harrington-Smith Evans knew the truth of it and the illusion simultaneously.
His back was to her as he nodded and gestured excitedly, speaking to two other boys his own age, both like Jamie dressed prematurely in the ubiquitous uniform of the Village: patched, faded levis and either a tank-top or a wash-thin t-shirt.
His blond, careless hair, always so neglected, hadn’t improved. It was scooped back from his forehead and hung in its usual thick, heavy coil from the nape of the neck, twisted ’round with a rubberband.
Grief, if profound, is a kind of madness. Like a fish from the sea greedy to devour the sun, Mrs. Evans’ heart leaped from its despair to embrace the illusion that shimmered before her eyes.
A hand she could barely control seized the door handle of the car, while the other, equally shaken, rattled a few frantic diamonds against the glass that separated her from the chauffeur. She saw Dori’s eyes lift to the rear-view mirror, then his head turned to see what had attracted her attention in the street as he braked swiftly and brought the long black Rolls to a smooth stop against the littered curb.
Later, when she thought about the incident and was sufficiently herself again to be able to laugh just a little, her cheeks nevertheless warmed with embarrassment. What must those three boys have thought?!—a woman heavily veiled, enveloped in black, trailing heel-length yards of diaphanous silk, flying like a witch from a chauffered limousine to seize one with a shattered cry only to confront—so intimately!—a startled stranger.
The boy jerked to one side in alarm, as amazed as if a giant taloned bird had plunged from the sky, pulling away from hands that literally clawed at this shoulders, a sudden wild mouth that sought to embrace his.
She succeeded in kissing him, missing the parted lips but smearing his cheek with a streak of pale pink before she stumbled back, her palms those of a child at a blackboard, scrubbing the air as if she could instantly erase the sight of the boy who wasn’t Jamie.
Thank heavens Dori was quickly behind her to lead her away, return her to the car, or she would have appeared even more of a freak, the shock of disappointment prepared to drop her sobbing to her knees.
She wanted to apologize, but it was impossible. She made Dori do it, watching from from the safe, cool shadows of the car, listening to his faint words.
“Madam is sorry. She didn’t mean to startle you.” And to the blond boy who so resembled Jamie: “She mistook you for someone she knew. You look very much like him . . . from the back, and from the side . . .”
The explanation was too long and elaborate, and totally unnecessary. He ended it there, touching the visor of his cap.
“F’r a minute,” grinned the blond boy, wiping his cheek, “I thought it was some kinduh new fuckin’ ripoff.” And just to make sure, he reached for the bulge of his wallet in the back pocket of his levis.
When they reached the Village Post Office on Christopher Street, Mrs. Evans was so oddly postured, the eyes lidless, fixed in an unblinking stare, that for one jolting moment Dori thought she had suffered a stroke, or that her heart had stopped.
But then he remembered how often he had seen her this way, when she appeared stupified, a superb fakir, so lost to the sensible world in her grief, that he imagined a mirror held to her lips wouldn’t cloud, or if she cut a finger, not a single drop of blood would bleed.
The last time . . .
It had happened after he’d driven her to the heart of Spanish Harlem and a shambles of a building for a visit with Alejaunita-Clemencia Luz, a medium who, it was said, had an extraordinary ability to communicate with dead children.
He opened the car door, kicked some garbage aside near the stoop for her to pass, and with tight lips and worried, almost tearful eyes, shook his head quickly, warning her, begging her in his own shy way not to go in.
The small waiting room was lighted with candles, choked with incense, curtained with beads, crowded to standing with half-crazed mothers, and one gaunt father so heartsick with loss, there were two round wounds in his head instead of eyes.
a woman’s mouth whispered, close to her ear; “he had two sons. Fine boys. Four and nine.”
Mrs. Evans moved away; intuitive, frightened to hear the rest, but there was no place to go.
“They died together. Both at once. A week ago. Exactly as the clock struck twelve. Something in the blood I was told . . . a rare germ, a mysterious disease the doctors knew nothing about, eating them alive. They wasted away, became withered and small, with their heads still big, like midgets in their coffins, like babies just hours from being born. . . .”
She was ushered through a cloud of gauze and velveteen into a circular room with just enough theatrical lighting to make out the white-gowned, curiously-luminous form of Mrs. Luz, and the ornately-carved captain’s chair on which she sat, raised on a two-step dais.
Possibly because the waiting room was so crowded, the seance, if that’s what it was, began without the slightest delay.
“I get a ‘J,’ ” the high priestess of Mu intoned “James or John. Perhaps Joseph.—No no; don’t tell me! Names are unimportant. When a communicant appears, he is never alone. He is with relatives or friends. Sometimes
names crowd into my head; everyone is so anxious to speak, to be heard. Your child was a boy of course; yes?—that much is certain.
a boy, I should say, because death, my dear, is an illusion, a transition, the shortest of journeys. Your son is well. And happy. He sends his love, many kisses. . . .”