MEMOIR OF A SPHINX
(this fable intersects with VINTAGE VELVET)
Half human, half beast, the stoic sphinx lies in repose, the voices of the shifting winds keep her silent mind company. She is awaiting the arrival of strangers bearing answers to an intriguing riddle.
Delphine, half woman, half fox; urban sphinx encased in grey sable, did glide down Fifth Avenue as hundreds, in unison, poured from the silver monoliths that surrounded her, an army of ants charging towards their lunch hour picnic. The crisp, winter air, metallic in taste, combined with the stench of steam and soot rising from the bellows beneath the metropolis. A sense of operatic intrigue took over the holiday streets.
Delphine waited to cross the street, her eyes straight ahead, staring, at no one in particular. Her left hand held a clutch, her right, a myriad of brown paper packages. As the light turned, the surge of the crowd from across the street began and, just as they reached the curb, a woman was scooped up by the surge, becoming first, a momentary blur, then, a flitting arm in flight, and finally, a loud thud.
On the sidewalk, lay a woman, not our fallen femme fatale, but another femme, fallen on concrete, encased in dark wool, her brown eyes erratically scanning the white sky, her predicament leaving her splayed and unhinged…and surrounded by packages…
Leaning down to assist a fallen comrade, Delphine summoned a name from the stranger, the shaken woman whispering, “Claire”. Delphine propped her up and readjusted her hat with a pat. Claire insisted that she had scraped only her wrists and that her biggest injury was to her ego, but she was otherwise intact. Once standing, she nervously brushed herself off, thanked the stranger, gathered her belongings, and before you could mouth 1, 2, 3, was swallowed up by the crowd.
Delphine continued on her journey, headed home. A ballooning sense of elation welled up inside. For years the lady had tried to whistle, but her mouth never seemed to cooperate. Today her body conveyed a melody in its step, that yearned to be topped off by a glorious, whistled tune (..I hear the bluebirds singing..) but alas, no wind emitted from her pursed lips, the only wind blowing was that of the cold, cold, wind of winter.
Entering the foyer of her apartment, Delphine placed her packages on the piano and headed straight for the bathroom to run a bath. Duscha (her greyhound) followed straight behind, a graceful, hovering shadow, a ghost of a dog really. Delphine took in the rising steam of the bath, the vapor acting as an opiate to every cell in her body as she undressed. Duscha sat adjacent to the tub, transfixed in silent conversation with the wall.
Delphine could not wait for the sun to set and the luminous cuticle moon to rise. Tonight she would reveal the nature of her elation, stowed in one of the packages she had just brought home . Her entire life seemed to be dilating, like a rare orchid, slowly opening, seeking its potential; blooming to the anticipation of many.
After her bath, Delphine headed to the bedroom and pulled a long dress out of her closet. The dress mirrored the radiant moon rising over the vast city. Made of satin and edged with iridescent feathers, its silhouette projected the grace of a water bird at the edge of a river, the silhouette broken by a crown of platinum hair. She sprayed a cloud of perfume before her, and with grace and precision, walked through the cloud, shrouding herself with just enough scent; a veil of white orchid with a hint of bergamot.
Delphine’s metropolis of choice was Manhattan, as was her cocktail. She referred to the cocktail hour as her “fountain of vermouth”. Now that the moon had risen, she made her way to the bar and, with a chemist’s flare, poured a jigger of rye, a jigger of vermouth, some bitters and one could hear the “pop, pop” of two cherries being dropped into the glass.
The Jack of Diamonds arrived punctually at 7. You may think the Jack of Diamonds sounds a tad one-dimensional, but, not so. Delphine found the name to be a perfect fit: his name was Jack (no surprise there), he had a great profile, and the man had a knack for adorning her with gems, be it rubies, diamonds, or sapphires. And his humor was infectious, driving from sophisticated to squalid in a matter of seconds. Delphine poured the card a breathy scotch and motioned him in the direction of her couch, a long streamlined affair, the color of fresh cream and identical in color to the wallpaper, the piano and the curtains. Even sweet Duscha was, perhaps not the color of cream, but more the end result of cream once churned: you see, sweet Duscha was the color of deliciously whipped butter.
A man of presence, Jack quietly awaited the reveal to Delphine’s secret. She took to the other end of the couch in full recline, with a package swinging from her wrist. The package, bound by string, was unwrapped with great flare, out of which emerged a fan of papers. Delphine cleared her throat and announced the existence of her memoirs, the green light of which she had just received from her publisher that morning. She had picked up the memoir to make a few requested edits, the publisher declining the details of the medieval passions occurring between our sphinx and her jack.
Delphine, flipping through the pages, prepared to share her life, in paragraph form, with the man across from her. As she sifted through the pages, her face took on a puzzled look. She kept clearing her throat in preparation of reading the opening dedication, but nothing came out. She shuffled the pages forward and back. She seemed to lose sight of what she was reading and suddenly acted as if a blind woman trying to feel the pages in front of her as much as to read them.
Dear reader, what can I say? Welcome to the vignette of Delphine, a woman, who while flipping through her memoirs, realizes to her great dismay, that she is not the main character…
Suddenly, Delphine let out a surprising shriek, simultaneously releasing her cocktail and the memoir to gravity; the papers fluttering to the floor, the liquid splashing everywhere; an amber wave of stain forging lithely across her rather beige world. The stain continued forward, in the direction of Jack, at which point, Duscha, sensing a wind of change, leaped upon his mistress. Delphine, large dog in lap, heart on sleeve, convulsed in an arc, her head facing the floor, her eyes landing onto the title page of the memoir before her..
Vaudeville – An Act in 5 Senses
A memoir by Claire Stuyvesant
…In another part of the city, high up in a building profiled by a star pocked sky, Claire gazed out her window onto the winter streets below. A gust of wind was blowing a flurry of snow, sprinkling the sidewalks and street lanterns with a kind of cosmic dust. Claire’s mind was a blank. She too had just opened her package…only to discover that she too was not the protagonist of her own beloved memoir.
And thus it came to pass that these two strangers, whose lives did intersect on a cold December day, ever so briefly, had lost the irreplaceable. Not in the form of the divine breath of life, made visible by the winter air, or the mechanics of their beating hearts (at this very moment, fluttering rapidly inside their fragile chests, as if a baby bird caught in a net), but a simple loss of self.
Delphine raised her head, her face expressionless, eyes staring straight up to the ceiling. Jack, sitting back, chose to wait a good 45 seconds before taking action. Delphine pushed Duscha to the side, stood up, and, unfazed by the 3 brown continents now floating across her dress (along with a few archipelagos I might add), headed towards the piano. She lifted its keyboard cover and slowly began playing the first few bars of a melody she had heard on the radio.
I hear the bluebirds keep singing sweet,
I hear the robins go tweet, tweet, tweet.
You got me talking right through my hat.
Delphine was swept away by the undertow of music and pursed her lips together…out of which came a whistled refrain.
Claire walked towards her closet. Tonight her pink sweater felt a bit off center, a bit garish to her. She searched through her clothes for something more suitable, and came upon a beautiful cream-colored sweater with a boat neck collar and a small, embroidered anchor lingering on its right shoulder. Claire removed the pink sweater, laid it on the edge of a chair , and slipped into the cream colored replacement. She retreated to her bedroom, gathered the papers she had unwrapped from the packet earlier and began to read her memoirs. She began with the very first page…
Memoir of a Sphinx
by Delphine Fleming
Copyright © 2009 Meike Kopp, All Rights reserved.