Her dreams had taken her inside that house many times – she and her father always. She had no need or desire to enter that building. She suddenly could not imagine that people paid money to go see where people hid until they were betrayed? Why?”
“Let’s go to a café and get some coffee and a smoke. It’s getting cold, and it’s too early for dinner.”
“It is my pleasure babe; I know just the place.”
“Do I have to walk too far?”
“No, no, babe, just a few hundred meters.”
“What are meters again—is that the metric equivalent to miles?” “Or we could take a cab?”
“No, no, just around the corner.”
“I don’t know babe why they want to kill you.”
“No, how are you now?”
“Roshan, tell me the truth.”
“The answer was truth. What I said to you in Amsterdam was truth. It was truth. But it was not in Cobra. Cobra was something else. When we were in the…” The tape trailed off into white noise as she must have been changing batteries.
“Okay, so you thought about killing me, and you thought how am I going to kill her.”
“It was something else. I will let you know by email, but I don’t want to say on mobile. Because they may kill my Devi…” She clearly did not understand what he’d said.
“I will tell you another time. Not now.”
“How many days do I have to wait to know what you were thinking that day you thought of killing me?”
“They may have my phone tapped.”
“Who is they? The agency?”
Roshan’s voice became a whisper, “I am thinking you are with me in the new market in Calcutta, and we are in restaurant and you do not want to eat, and I order some food and you will not eat and I feed you bits of bread by my hand and everyone in restaurant is looking and thinking he love his English / white wife too much, and I know what everyone is thinking…they think he love her too much.”
“Please don’t trust me because I am the bad boy, but I do love you.”
“So this means that what you told me way back in Amsterdam is more true than what you have been telling me lately. Back in Amsterdam was true.”
“Way back in Amsterdam was true. Yes, babe, it was truth.”
“You are telling me that what you told me back in Amsterdam was true.”
“All of it.”
“What about the organization?”
“Little bit, yeah.”
“There is more than you have told me. You are more closely related than you have made out to be.”
“Relax. Please. Relax.”
“Are you still going to cooperate with the evil Americans?”
“Yes babe I will die for my Devi.”
“Are you going to tell them everything? That is the only hope. Is that why you did what you did—because what you told me in Amsterdam was true. Is that why you scared me that day? Things are not adding up. Okay, is what you told me back in Amsterdam true?”
“Is that why you scared me?”
Mattt. Matt. Matt and Elena in Delaware and soon to be Devonshire. The white moon-vine of her past opened onto the future. Or it could. Under the harvest moon on her Grandmother Morgenthau’s porch, Anna contemplated alternatives. Turns. Turantives. She had to torque herself out of this particular bind. Cicadas and locusts circled humming solid refrains of land.
Matt had been in Anna’s life longer than any male other than her father. He had imagined sending holiday cards that read “Holiday Greetings from Matt, Elena, & Anna”. And in over twenty-five years he’d more-or-less talked both of them into it. His wife, Elena, had been ready to try it a decade ago when she sent Anna images of her paintings as well as her sonogram of their unborn child. Matt had said to Anna within the last week, “we can have a ceremony…a ring…a baby if you really want.”
Now Matt and Elena had three children. That had been part of what had kept Anna away. All the noise. Anna could not imagine being on all the time in the way she had to be with her nephew Eli. She did good to baby-sit while her sister and brother-in-law went to the movies—not because she didn’t love him—because he exhausted her. Anna had to have quiet. A wide berth of solitude. But their children would be going away to college soon.
She’d unraveled the mystery of his past when she got to interview his grandmother when she worked for the daily newspaper in a county of thirty-eight thousand people and about the size of Rhode Island. Matt’s grandmother’s kitchen was where she learned to burn enemies names over a hot fire. Those were nights into playing Indian poker by the hanging kitchen lamp on a table covered with a red checked vinyl table cloth.
Matt’s grandmother considered herself lucky to have gotten to attend the Wheelock Mission for female Choctaw girls. “Well everyone knew the education was better there—and you got to learn Latin. The Indian girls learned English and Latin.” What Matt’s grandmother didn’t say but Anna knew from Mrs. Knox was that the girls also got bound and gagged with a dollop of quinine on their tongues if they were caught speaking Choctaw. The little house where they gathered round his grandmother’s table to play poker was less than a half mile away as the crow flies from the mission. It was unholy ground and all around knew it. It was where you took someone on Halloween when you wanted to scare the be-jesus out of them. Spirits jumped out of the graves in the form of mean dogs. But the true local kids didn’t go around at night-time especially. And when something happened out there—it was invariably someone who did not know the ground upon which they walked.
“Babe, I think of you and within a minute you call me.”
“Babe, please why won’t you tell me what that was about that day in Amsterdam? Why won’t you tell me on the phone?”
“I don’t know the answer. What I don’t know I don’t want to tell you.”
“Are you alone? Alone with your cat?”
“Yes, she’s downstairs sleeping.”
“Listen what you are telling me does not make sense. I feel like you are being difficult. Why did you scare me? Was it because of what you told me back in Amsterdam.”
“No babe that was not the reason.”
“It does not add up. What I am asking you now is what you told me back in Amsterdam true…you have told me something different since I have been back in the States. Was what you told me back in Amsterdam true?” In a whisper, Roshan said “yes.” Anna didn’t hear it until listening to the bootleg tapes.
“Because I love you.”
“You wanted to kill me because you love me?”
“Yes I don’t want you to be with anyone else. That is the good part.”
“And the bad part?”
“I will tell you tomorrow. Love me.”
“You have to tell me the whole story. You have to tell me in a way that makes sense to me.”
“Did you have your coffee?”
“What? What are you talking about babe?” It was code—never mind, he’d said.
“Did you eat today?
“Yes cheese, crackers and wine—that was enough.”
“I love you.”
“Do you love me? Hmm?”
“I love you… you can not imagine…you don’t know— you will never know…”
“Do you love me enough that you would not kill me?” His voice was so soft she could not discern the syllables into words.
“Did you finish your coffee?”
“Not yet? Big coffee?”
“Yeah twelve ounces maybe eight I’m not sure.”
“Listen, babe, finish your coffee go to bed…you have got cat on your pillow lay down with you”
“Tomorrow you will tell me?”
“I am with you. You will sleep with me like my sister. I will hold you as my Dev? in my hand as you sleep.”
“Will you tell me tomorrow?” Roshan began laughing.
“Why are you laughing…..”
“Right now I tell you right now.”
“I love you…goodnight babe.”
“Goodnight, I love you too.”
Doves surrounded her study. She thought of the Nathaniel’s poem inspired by Dante. Illuminated. Opalescent. Wingspan of dovelight. If Anna were to tell the whole truth she’d tell it was October, but it all had to end in October. She was not ready to end. It was the month of her birthday—she was born at daybreak and her chart showed that she was most radiant with the season of the sun and the day. Green edged cold. The leaves had just begun turning. The sumac first and then the sweet gum and sycamores. Lack of rain made leaves fall early this year.
Roshan called from Madrid. She heard him sniffing his blow.
“Stop. I don’t want to talk to you until you get clean and sober.”
“No , no, no I am not do that today. Not at all. Not yet. For you, babe I do not do it.”
“Roshan, damn it, I just heard you sniff it.”
“No, cold babe just a cold.”
“Listen, I need you to get pure and close to the Dev? more than ever. I need you to get pure in order to help me. You have to be pure.”
“This is truth I know. I will babe. I light a candle in the church for you every day…every day babe.”
“I need more….more help with prayers and devotions and fasts and sobriety.”
Anna thought about Renée Fleming rising today in Oklahoma in preparation for tonight’s recital. It was impossible not to think about Roxanne Coss the character in Bel Canto who Ann Patchett had based on Fleming. The ambient grey of this Oklahoma morning was not un-like the hanging guara out the window upon which the hostages meditated. Weather. The diva character in the novel had traveled to an un-named South American country to sing for a grand sum at a birthday party of a Japanese executive who could be lured there only by her voice. If the radicals in north Arkansas read novels they might plan something similar in the territory. It would be a striking coincidence. She wondered if it had crossed Fleming’s mind. To crawl in through the air conditioning vents. They would not be so kind as Patchett’s romantic revolutionaries who in the end wanted peace, justice and to feed the hungry.
When Renée Fleming reached for the microphone, the long undulating waves of applause stopped instantly as every hand in the concert hall parted and fell silently to their laps. Anna remembered what she said but not the order in which she said things to her audience. Because of her two good friends from Oklahoma “she feels like she is from here too…” Anna wondered if Fleming knew how recently this had been considered the “foreign mission field” by all mainline Protestant churches on the East coast.
Her dress was a pale aqua-green with sequins—the silk fan skirt at the bottom made her figure appear mermaiden when she exited the stage. Her waist to hip ratio was lovely, but her motherhood showed in her tummy. She had joked to the audience, “it literally took three people to get me into this dress tonight.” Anna thought of Scarlett O’Hara holding onto the bedpost while her slave-maidens cinched her corset to create that seventeen inch waist.
If Anna were to tell the whole truth she’d tell that it wasn’t really Erin that attended the recital with her. It was Jena—who was more or less a fan of Anna’s as she’d recently discovered. Jena warm with wine and nearing the end of a recent dinner party had said to Anna, “I’ve always wanted to ask you—how did a girl from Mound Grove, Oklahoma get herself to Columbia?” Jena was a self-described hillbilly—she sort of celebrated it. What she didn’t know and Anna couldn’t tell her was that Anna’s family was deft at passing. Anna was still passing. Only recently had Anna looked up the median income of her hometown which had now 715 people and 350 households with the median income being around ten thousand dollars a year. Anna wouldn’t be willing to tell what her family made a year. She had had no idea how great the discrepancy. She knew there were at least a handful of other families in town in the same income tax bracket as her family—they all kept their Scotch or Bourbon at the same country-club.
What did it mean to be a hillbilly? They had never accepted Anna—except as other. The “touched” child. Grandmother Morgenthau always said Anna was the one with the “gift.” It was a gift that ran in families, and Grandmother Morgenthau had tried in vain to teach her daughter Nina. Nina did not take to it—and didn’t believe enough. Nina had gone on to join a Protestant cult. That sect made Grandmother Morgenthau, “shiver,” to use her own word.
Anna had chosen to wear the red silk dress with gold shoes with her toes freshly pedicured and painted a deep red. She and Jena were going to play dress up. The tickets lay on her writing desk. Renée Fleming in the territory. It seemed otherworldly.
Can you not take the voice to the jungle as Anna’s student had so recently said of young Cesár in Patchett’s novel? “You can’t take the opera to the hillbillies.” Anna wanted to hear what this young black gay man from the farm thought. She didn’t know that she agreed. Coss had discovered a voice that to use her words would have “lived and died in the jungle.” The book comes close to asserting that art is salvation—especially singing—in languages that are foreign and so can be felt but not understood. She thought of the poem of a friend after seeing the opera in New York.
At Tristan und Isolde, On a Monday in October
We are told the sea is calm. The wind reverses, and the land
Continues to near. As a general matter, the choices we contemplate
Have already been made. When Isolde holds out the cup to Tristan,
It need hold nothing but water. She has watched him
Look upward past the nicked blade, and acknowledged she will let him
Live, will never act sensibly again. The breaking waves
Become fingers of foam. Everything is human, everything
Is we. Time happens to the mind in thought
As the gradient of color moves north early in October.
We know the leaves will fall. As Tristan comes to her quarter,
Isolde taunts him to speak clearly. Nothing important can be said without fear. We are near enough to land to see the fluttering hinge of a butterfly,
Orange-black, on its way south to safekeeping.
The world is blue water in a blue eye.
In this performance, at first each turns away.
We stand outside a window as the curtain catches flame.
The act closes to the applause of men and women
Who have watched each other age.
The cellos, oboes and bassoons pull down a dark purple black that makes one feel the undulation of the ocean beneath them. Darkness variegated purple-blue hanging back between dreaming and waking. The dark downward pull into the depths is punctuated with threads of light cast out by the English horns even if in an elegiac death march. Black, purple pulled forward and upward into lightness. The back and forth of the down pull or undertow of the black and purple and the upward forward sensation of the lightness creates a frustration and deep longing edging ecstasy. Then, suddenly, quiet moments are blue water reflecting back the light of the moon. Dove-light. Swan-light. Requiem-light.
And in that darkness everyone in the room could imagine kissing those lips that Anna was lucky enough to see only because the kind older gentleman with a full grey beard offered her his theater glasses twice during the performance. She shared them with Jena. They were the hillbillies in the upper balcony holding onto the railing and leaning forward as if to enter her voice as a room.
Will you hear all I say?
Requiem as art. Feed on me
It was strange impressions I was searching for
a certain dryness of mouth as a sweep of wind.
This is the image of our unlit room.
JL Jacobs grew up in Oklahoma underfoot to her great-grandmother who was midwife and root-doctor to a small community at the end of the Trail of Tears (forced removal of Choctaws to Indian Territory 1830-32). She studied art, photography and literature, and graduated from Brown University’s MFA Program. Her work has appeared in such journals as Ploughshares, New American Writing, New Orleans Review, American Letters & Commentary, Volt, Five Fingers Review. Books include, Varieties of Inflorescence, Leave, 1992, The Leaves in Her Shoes, Lost Roads, 1999, and DreamSongs, Above Ground Press, 2004. Recent work has appeared in Fascicle, Octopus, American Letters & Commentary and Ploughshares. She lives and writes in the Cross Timbers of America – where the eastern woodlands meet the Great Plains.