(this fable intersects with MEMOIR OF A SPHINX)
Claire swung round from the bar and eyed her sisters from afar, they were two broken little sparrows perched near the front of the speakeasy (adorned in rusted wool), awaiting the reward of a worm, or worse yet – a police raid. Claire, dressed in a swirl of pink, looked like a far more exotic bird primping for a ritual, a mating one most likely. Her silk bodice housed wisps of billowing fabric and she wore a crown of taffeta on her head. She smiled and winked in the direction of her sisters, swiveled back to the bar and leaned in to retrieve her glass of cognac. Suddenly, a splinter shot through the silk, prying it open like a gift, landing into the soft flesh that lay just below her hips. Claire winced in pain.
Adjusting her costume and trying to retrieve the splinter, Claire raised her eyes slowly and surveyed the room, determining her audience: her sisters still anxiously close to the entrance of the Speakeasy and Scott, her beau, barely visible amongst the sea of anonymous men.
Claire walked self-consciously across the room and made for the hallway leading towards the back of the theatre, heading towards her dressing room. The room was tiny and dark and featured a small table with an oval mirror as well as the scent of someone else’s perfume, a heavy amber presence. Claire picked up her cognac and gazed into the mirror, taking a long, meditative sip of its heat. The refracted light from the crystal glass projected a constellation of liquid stars onto her face.
Claire had but a moment before she heard the tinny sound of her cue – a ragtime waltz hammered out on an un-tuned piano. With no time to remove the splinter, she rushed down the hallway, paused, and then slowly walked onto the stage. She let her feet lead her to the rhythm and her arms swiftly followed. She began her syncopated strut, full of grace and gusto, often cocking her head sideways, looking directly into the audience, daring them to look away. The footlights lit her up like a pink luminescent pearl, all a glow in her hollow of vintage velvet. She shuffled her feet and twirled with abandon, her pale hand caressing the curtain that enshrouded the stage. The moment her hand stroked the velvet, her eyes filled with a very different scene. The fabric, a conduit of sorts, seemed to link her to a vision. Confused, Claire saw dust blowing, a stale snowstorm whipping past despondent faces. She no longer saw the audience in their seats, or the canned lights projecting onto the stage. The dust, relentless in its surge, had buried everything in Claire’s vision. She saw circular weeds blown across empty roads, threadbare children and furniture loaded on top of trucks. Astounded, she could no longer hear the music, just wind and an odd hum. It continued on…. Claire stopped, mid-song, taking the stance of a vulnerable and sullen child. She waited for the vision to end. She stood in silence on the stage, eyes wide, a shipwreck dwindling into dark waters. The audience stirred, feeling the tension in the room. Slowly, she stepped away from the curtain and the vision immediately vanished. Unbeknownst to Claire, her clairvoyant visions had once again ruined an act. The future looked bleak. The Great Depression was just around the corner.
The murmur of the audience started to compete with the music. Claire’s arms began to slowly rise, as if gently filled with helium, slowly, slowly aloft. She found the music in her hands and in her arms and swayed, a swallow in full flight, she swooped across the stage, mesmerized by the music. The song released its final few notes and came to an end. Claire curtsied before the audience, noting their lackluster applause and distracted expressions. Leaving the stage, she held out her arms like a ballerina and swerved to avoid touching the velvet once again, like a child superstitiously skipping over the cracks on the sidewalk.
Claire returned to her dressing room where she met her sisters hovering outside the door. As they entered the room, Scott came lumbering up the hallway, big grin in sight, and said “God, Claire, you were great!” Claire’s sisters, in unison chirped, “Liar, Claire looked like she saw a ghost.” Claire, unaware that she carried the gift of clairvoyance did not know how to address these strange episodes that often happened while she was dancing and offered, “Anyone for a drink up front?” The sisters just stood and stared, awaiting an explanation. “Oh,” said Claire, who began to adjust her bodice as she dug into the tornado of silk and taffeta. Finding what she was looking for, she extracted the long wooden splinter from her thigh, defiantly holding it high in the air, “You mean this?” she said.
Her sister’s seemed a trite confused, shrugged and headed for the door. Scott, not being able to figure out what was going on, busied himself with the mirror, grooming his tiny mustache. Relieved, Claire took a sip of cognac, threw the splinter onto the floorboards and smiled. Her secret remained intact. Their future was not to be told.
Copyright © 2009 Meike Kopp, All Rights reserved.