(the story of) Imprinting — excerpt 2
NOTE: in continuation of excerpt 1
A stripe of sapphire blue washed across a vast canopy of dark blood; blue and red, like watercolors, plump with moisture, mounted deep and high. Opposite this blue and red sky was a long slope of dark corduroy seats, broadly extending towards another bottomless depth.
In the center, a young woman with short, pale golden hair was leaning to one side, apparently falling down, but supported by a thin rope that she was grasping with her up-stretching right arm. Her bare legs, very slender, were rigid, straight, and close together, forming a slight angle with the floor beneath. She was facing the blue and red sky; her head was tilted up a little, resting on the up-stretched arm. She was wearing an azure chemise and a same-colored round skirt with a sash. I gave her a Victorian style crinoline under her skirt to make it fat and belled-out. Her gaze could not be seen, but by the gesture of her head, we could assume an expectant look.
Farther into the stage, against the sky canopy stood another young woman. She was being filmed. She was dressed as a Virgin in Saint Hildegard von Bingen’s vision – a crown of lilies, and a white silk frock — a frock of innocence — with the choicest flowers within. The flowers I chose to place in her bosom were Moroccan roses, white peonies, different-colored lilies, and scarlet mums. This woman who played the role of a Virgin, now let’s call her Hildegard, had wavy hair the color of blackened wood spread over the white frock. She was facing the right side of the stage, the east, with her head gently tilted up as well. Later, in the film, she was to open her mouth and pour out sweet honey and milk.
Hildegard and Kiirsi – the woman leaning onto the thin air – were drawing a diagonal line from the far end of stage left to down stage center; stage right, however, was empty and dark. A short staircase was set slightly to the left of down stage center. With its blue and red sky, the setting appeared still and quiet.
It was just this stillness and quiet which I was to disturb. I sang a melody while I stepped slowly onto the stage by the stairs. I wrote this melody to be pure and shimmering black –starting on the high Dorian mode, rising a fifth and then a fourth to its octave, lingering just a fleet moment and swooping down to the third degree of the mode, then finally trilling up fast by steps to a brusque tritone, resting there. The melody echoed within the space; the lingering tritone held the air tight as though tasting it. I was on the brim of the stage. Streaming phrases of a harpsichord, like the sound of many waters, was lurking behind the curtain on stage right, the dark side, echoing too, a low rumbling, ghostly like an undertone.
I turned and faced the slope of corduroy seats, looking for a pale face in the darkness. I saw my friend Hadas. I glanced backstage. “Lights on, could you? Thanks!” I shouted, then hurried down to the audience.
“How does it sound? Is the balance all right?”
“That’s very good, actually,” Hadas nodded. “I didn’t expect you’d sound this clear, even when you’re not facing the audience.”
Hearing that, I swept clean my oily forehead and turned to the stage again. They were still filming Hildegard. In three months, on the stage of my production’s premier, Hildegard will not be there, and the spot where she stood will be replaced by a film projection of her vomiting honey and milk.
“Poor Kiirsi,” I said, “You know, I made her stand like that for almost twenty minutes.” I may have felt guilty, yet my gaze fell upon my slender friend at center-stage once more. Her bare legs and neck dissolved into the splash of white-hot stage light, and her thin arms grew out of those puffed sleeves. How piteous a scene — a frail girl hung dangerously in the air by a slim wire. Often, it was this arousal of pity that attracted one’s eyes to an object. I was well aware of this sinful act of appreciation of beauty.
“Yes, Sugre, you are. You are cruel,” Hadas said warmly, and chuckled. I was always amazed by how her chuckle whirled around her agreement like dandelions’ seeds, light-heartedly and friendly. “But just to remind you, it’s almost eight-thirty and I thought you wanted to get everyone together for dinner.”
I gave a jolt. My mind had been absorbed in a magnified expanse of deliberately progressing time, and my body, in this slow motion, seemed to have attuned itself to the meticulously observed narrative of artistic design. I had not glanced at my watch for quite some time.
“Is it really eight-thirty? My goodness!”
How long had we been rehearsing since lunch break? I remembered after I had come back from getting some burritos and carbonated juice for my crew that Michael had met me at the door and handed me the recording from last time; it was a quarter past one then, and the brazing sun was dipped lopsided in a surprisingly distant corner behind the roofs on low hills, shy from the clear, sharp sky of late September. No one who stayed inside the theatre would have seen this, however. Inside the theatre it was plastic dark except within the pool of light that glowed on and around the stage. This kind of environment created only in the very professional theatres was to enforce the drama; like in dreams, you see images through the darkness behind your closed eyelids, and what you see glows vulnerably and yet is supported by the surrounding darkness.
So in this theatre everyone’s sense of time had malfunctioned, and no one would complain about their long hours of hard work.
Kiirsi already changed into an oversized sweater and yoga pants. She was sitting in a chair in the audience rummaging her calves. I went over to her and started giving her some chops on the back. She winced once, “Ooh, zat waz really good. Kanyou do my neck, too?… Ah, zat waz good. Zo vwat are we doin’ now?”
“We are going to have dinner,” I replied, “What do you feel like eating?” My mouth was watering for a spongy scallion pancake, but I knew well where I was and who I was with. “There’s a pour house down Oxford StreetI told you about. Do you want to go there?”
“I’m OK with anything. Vwat do you all vwant to eat?”
“The pour house sounds good to me,” Hadas said, trying to help me make a decision, “Let’s just go there. They have a variety of food.”
We packed and I ushered Joel, the harpsichordist, out from backstage. I asked Hildegard if she was coming along, but she replied that she had to attend a second session of a concert at Harvard and then catch the last train to Manchester. We said our goodbyes, and then walked out of the theatre.
The night was tranquil, with a little early freeze of winter. We walked throughBrookline’s semi-suburban area; most of the gourmet restaurants and independently managed shops were closed. The pour house was called Oxford Common, but the kitchen served a reasonably wide range of cuisines. I thought the restaurant was a good choice considering the backgrounds of my company. Sure enough, once we sat down at a table, we sent out an order of a rare sirloin steak with no sauce, a burger named “Mess With Texas”, an Atlantic fish with cold yogurt, a vegetarian stir-fried dish with tortilla, and a stuffed naam bread that was the substitute for scallion pancake.
We clinked our glasses for good company, then dissolved in a fizz of conversation. The surroundings, the dim light and the loud hum, the cocktail of talk and laughter, made me aware of my wariness. I leant back and rested my head on the booth chair, quiet for a moment, simply listening at tentatively. I looked at Kiirsi — Hadas was talking with her with great interest, probably about various subjects concerning Scandinavian culture. Kiirsi, tinted with the murky shade of the lamp above her head, seemed to blush in a deep hue of loganberry; her hair, on the other hand, was glazed lightly with a rather greenish shimmer. She looked unreal in these colors, like a woman showered nightly in the urban light. I imagined her in smart leather jacket and black knee-high boots, an adolescent child who learned to get away from bright and cleanSweden, and migrate to downtown Manhattan searching for her young flock. On the other hand, my first and lasting impression of Kiirsi was her sharing homemade carrot cakes with me on a wild turf under the cool midsummer Nordic sun.
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(Ⓒ Copyright Mu-Xuan Lin 2007-2010)