Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Fairy Queen

For Lightman

He lived in a garett, a little artist’s garett furnished only with the barest necessities. There was a brown table overladen with books and scrolls, parchment unfurled and stuck to the table by sticky tea residue from the various and assorted pots and cups he had left upon the table. The only part of his musty enclave which was truly his own was the little balcony he had outside, upon which he would stand, holding a trusty mug of tea and looking down upon the sights that would greet him, most surely that of little Sara, whom he mentally referred to as Princess Sara from the novel. She was indeed the little princess, with all of that woman’s charm; her hair was black, her eyes a queer green and her lips were red and full. She was the baker’s daughter, but she loved flowers, and it was upon her to adorn the plates of bread with budding roses or silvery lilies. She wore them in her hair as well, and every part of her aspect seemed fresh to him, and shouted to him of a life that was alive, that blossomed every day with new fervor and new delight. He took pleasure in watching her, and delighted in venturing out every day to take a flower from her.

But he was unhappy. It was not the kind of unhappiness that passes, the loneliness borne merely of a cold winter, of an inability to see farther than the cold snow upon the ground, a momentary loneliness that could disappear once the sun had come out, as it recently had. No, it was a loneliness that went far deeper, a coldness that seemed to sink into his very bones. He either burned with fire or he froze for lack of it; he seemed to exist only at extremes. Those who knew him saw him as mild and kind, a gentleman, a student, someone who existed but who did not impact the world around him. Only he knew the kind of impact that he had and could have, for his very soul burned with it- it was in his music.

His music was at once a curse and a gift; it was all of him risen into a kind of nothingness, an offering of flames that he gave to those whom he cherished. There were few who could comprehend it and even fewer who could comprehend him, and so he languished in his apartment, scribbling feverishly when the mood was upon him, sorrowfully berating himself for his lack of will when it was not. His landlady was good enough to come up every so often and straighten out his rooms, air his linens and do up his sheets, but he did his own dishes and cared for himself. His dining room table, it was true, was ill-used- it was a surface upon which he left his various scrolls and scribblings- and he mostly ate in the kitchen, but otherwise his apartment was lit by sunshine and was clean, white in most aspects, where the light hit it.

He had come to rely upon a routine; he would begin the mornings with a breath of fresh air as he walked onto his balcony, clad only in his soft grey bathrobe, his hair mussed from a night’s ill sleep. Often he could not sleep, for sounds danced within his mind, music that rode his thoughts and inflamed him, a kind of electricity that sparked within his body, something which he could not control, for it was his master, and he its disciple. There were bags under his eyes and the shadow of a beard, yet for all this he did not look particularly unkempt so much as tired, and tired in a productive manner rather than one that suggested laziness or an inability to produce much of merit.

He would drink his tea in the mornings, lazily watching the rain through the panes, silver slashing through the sky and splattering upon the white stone, otherwise standing outside so that he might observe the people go about their daily routines. He was able to find some joy in them, but there was no one who brought him as much joy as Sara, who seemed as free and unchained as he was not. He admired her vivacity and foolishness even as he knew he would never dare make the scenes that she reveled in; he hungered for her zest for life and hoped she knew nothing of the headaches that plagued him, of the images that drove him mad. He lusted after the completion of some great project, but was always aware that there was yet something more that must be done, and something else that must be accomplished ere he could rest.

He would retire to his apartment, having been refreshed by the sight of that beloved face, and begin anew, bringing new energy and vigor to his work, writing the sun and sky and moon into his music, but mostly writing everything he felt, the darkness that shadowed him and the horrors that plagued him. He knew human experience intimately; lived it with every pore of his being. He did not need to hear a person speak to know what troubled them; he was aware and it was this very awareness that brought him pain, a kind of sorrow that he could not escape. He did what he could for the malcontents who sought him out, but it was all he could do at times to contain what he himself felt, for he knew that none of them suffered as he did, and none of them knew what pain was in the way that he knew it. Pain was his lover, someone who slept with him at night, caressed him in his dreams, smiled at him in his sleep. Pain was everything to him, and he reveled in her touch, for he had long ago decided he had no other hope, and if she was to be everything to him, he would enjoy her.

He realized, however, as music careened before his eyes in a swirl of colors, and he wearily looked upon the rainbow that shone before him and wrote, a conduit for the power that drew him, that he had begun to long for something more, something that was not made of pain but of something entirely different, a pleasure that he had never thought could be his. He knew that he would die young, had always known it, but even so he desired, selfishly in fact, to have one thing that would be wholly his and to know it absolutely. He wanted something as pure and unadulterated as the genuine being who danced before him, happy in the sunlight that flooded her face, reveling in the flowers she clutched to her breast. He wanted Sara, as his companion, his friend, and at some point, his wife. And so he set out to woo her in the best way he knew how- to draw her in with his music.

He began slowly, unaware even of how his face changed when he looked upon her. One day he walked downstairs, lightly tripping down the stairs, almost laughing as he entered the bakery and gravely requested a cinnamon bun. “A cinnamon bun?” said she, earnestly, pleasantly. “But for whom? Surely you don’t mean to eat it all yourself, now do you? Take another, why don’t you, and give it to someone on your way.” She pulled another of the sticky concoctions from the shelf, placed it into a white paper bag and wrapped the package for him prettily, sucking her finger where she had burned it. “Have a lovely day!” she said and smiled upon him radiantly, then paused a moment. “Ah yes,” she said again, as she bent down swiftly and rose up again- “here it is- the nightingale’s rose. It is all in red, and it is meant for you.”

She handed it to him with a dazzling smile and he, for his part, charmed by her innocence, amused by her exquisitely childish behavior, took it from her and gave a half-bow, exiting the shop. He returned to his garrett and wrote once more, paeons and odes to the spirit of youth, to everything that influenced him and taught him of her and all that was her. He wrote the redness of a rose into his music, composed tunes to the green of the stem, unfurling and becoming in her presence. She was his companion, and everything she touched became beautiful in his presence.

This became a habit, so that every day, instead of beginning with his customary mug of tea, he instead stopped by the bakery and requested a sweet. She had a different flower for him each day- a lilac, a lily, an iris or a tulip- but never again the rose, as she had the first day. She was always pleasant and always friendly, never anything if not polite. But he could sense that she did not feel for him what he did for her and this only added to his sadness, since he saw in his grasp someone who could see him truly, for when he looked into her eyes he caught the shadow of his pain. There was something reflective about those eyes, something dark in the experience they had despite her innocence and youth. He wondered about them often, composing music to them, to everything that they were.

He wrote her eyes, then, extraordinary as they were, green and luminescent, into his piece, adding it to the rose and her daily smiles, the joys that gave her pleasure, the innocence of her youth. He played his piece, unfinished, drawing the bow across the strings, the violin collaborating to produce an exquisite darkness that surprised him even as it struck him as the very essence of who she was. The next day, when she handed him a crocus, she remarked that she had almost gone blind the night before; for some strange reason something had ailed her eyes. She looked at him curiously as she said it, and he blushed, almost as though he were younger than his years, and had committed some crime, though he did not know what.

She laughed up at him, and simply to see her took away some of the pain that rested upon him like a coverlet, one that hung as closely to him as his clothing, if it were not his skin itself. Every time she looked at him he caught the faint shadow of his pain in her eyes, and was curious as to whether she understood, or whether it was his own wishful thinking that placed that unhappiness there as well. There was no reason that she should be unhappy, well-fed and content as she was, living out her days brightly and merrily in a golden world where she was protected and all was as it should be. And he would not give her the pain had he the choice; a thousand times over would he wish to bear it rather than give it to her. But in this he had no choice; one is either born with it or without it; if it is acquired, it is only because one had the potential for it at birth.

He would play to himself to calm himself, melodies that caught his fancy and twirled about him, lifting him to euphoric heights or giving vent to the chains that bound him. He had not revealed himself, and so no one knew of his talents; his landlady knew that he enjoyed the violin, but did not realize she harbored a prodigy in her apartment. She knew nothing of him and he kept it that way; he did not like the way in which people would see him as freakish were they truly to understand him. When he played, he ceased to exist, for his soul and the music were so attuned, so truly together, that it was like a man and his lover, the two existing as one, impossible to sunder. He wondered at these times whether there was more of him to give even if he wished it, decided that there was, and decided that anything that could lift the burden of his life from him would give him a stronger and more beautiful reason to exist.

And so he waited. He waited as he learned of the tips of her fingers, of the young men who romanced her, of the way she looked as she stepped outside in her smart red cape and black shoes, of the curl to her hair and the shine to her skin. He waited and he wrote all of this into his music, enhancing it, creating a melody that was at once haunting and enchanting, as though she were something more than a baker’s daughter, and he something other than a poor student. And then came the day that he believed he had completed all, and having gone to see her in the bakery, he invited her to visit him- just for a moment, he said, so as not to worry her father. She gave him an odd look and then went to fetch her things, her wrap and her coat, and followed him up the stairs.

She took in the odd arrangement, the browns of the table and the violin, stored carefully inside its case. Her eyes widened as she saw it but she said nothing, preferring instead to take a seat upon a velvet green cushioned-chair, which was fading slightly. The sun gave her a halo upon her black hair, and she looked up at him, smiling delightfully, as he told her he had written her a song. “Play it,” she requested, and settled back with a strange look- almost of resignation, as though he had triumphed over her. She closed her eyes and he began- unable to look at her- unable to look at anything but the swirling colors that accompanied the music he had written, the images that danced before his eyes, vivid visions that inflamed and aroused his heart to further desires and stronger measures.

He looked upon her as he finished and noticed that she had been crying. He bent closer, helpless, unhappy that her fringed eyes were wet with tears, and only then noticed that her tears were truly diamonds, and that she had lifted one of them off and set it upon the table. “You have there,” she told him carefully, and she seemed to shine strangely, “the tear of a fairy. It is precious, so you must keep it with you always, to aid you in remembering.”

She went toward the stairs but stopped and turned once more. “You have had the great misfortune,” she stated, “to fall in love with a fairy. And what is more, I am not merely one of the fairies, but I am the Fairy Queen herself. You have done what no mortal has done before, with any of their ballads or odes- you have managed to draw a tear from me. Lest you destroy yourself, however, I warn you to put this music aside, and give up this venture of capturing me.”

He was stunned, senseless. The baker’s daughter, a fairy queen? It made no sense, and yet he saw that it was true. How else to explain the experienced innocence in her eyes, the joy that she brought him, the pain that she understood too well? She was an immortal, and he, a human. Yet even as he saw clearly, and realized this, he knew too that he must triumph, that he must capture her essence and write it into music, imprint it upon his soul. He loved her, he saw now, and she had known it, though she had hoped to keep it a light flirtation between the baker’s daughter and the poor student. But he loved her, and what was more, he saw through to her essence, a mystery that none had perceived before. Why was she here? What purpose did she serve? He did not know and knew he would not know. He only knew that she was as unhappy as he, in her own way, and that he would write her into his life in order to keep her.

Every day he added parts of her to his opus, and she grew fond of him, coming to visit him. She spun him tales of the land whence she had come, explaining that she had been exiled for her disobedience, and told that she might live as a mortal instead. “But I am immortal,” she had added wryly, “and so I will live here until they send me back- or until-“ and then she was strangely silent, and did not finish her thought. He wrote these half-finished silences into his piece as well, her strangeness and otherworldiness, the mortality that was not truly hers, the color of her skin, which was pale and iridescent, and the queer green eyes that saw straight through to his soul.

He offered her everything he had and she would take what she could; he remembered fondly the way in which she had sat one evening, his blanket wrapped around her, shivering a little as she drank a mug of tea. Her supposed father never seemed to notice these absences, and she good-naturedly informed him that she did not allow her father to miss her at these times, or even to notice that she was gone. She had been doomed to live as a mortal even though that was not her life, and this was not her place, but small magics remained to her, and she practiced them even now.

They grew closer, until her very shiver caused him to grow cold, and he knew that she was aware of something stronger than he was, a kind of connection that caused her to grow ill. As he wrote more and more of her into his piece, he felt her fade away, until her skin was almost transparent, iridescent, shining with a thousand colors but demonstrating none. And then came the night when he came up to his apartment only to find her in emerald silk, desiring to dance with him, and he knew that it was finished, and the dream had been concluded.

He danced with her, and then almost tentatively she placed her fingers on his cheek- and transferred to him a fierce rush of power, of the current and river that was herself, so that he was drowning in it, in a pain and joy that was not his own and an ability that far exceeded his, though in a way that was completely different. She pressed her lips to his silently, and he felt the agony was shared, but it was an exquisite kind of agony, one that meant as much to her as it did to him, and with it came a blinding sweetness. It was only after this kiss that she handed him a red rose. “I will tell you the truth,” she said, “and you will hear it, and then you will decide.” She stood and suddenly seemed a Queen in truth, the Fairy Queen, and for a moment he was afraid.

“I have captured you,” he said, and heard the truth in his words even as he said them.

She inclined her head. “You have captured me,” she answered, “there- in your music. If you play it, I shall fade away and disappear; I shall not exist anymore. I will only exist in your soul, where I will join you, so that when you play you will play with the memories of me, with what I am and what I was to you. I will add to your pain, but I will also share it, and in that way I will be a slight comfort to you.”

She paused. “If you do not play it,” she said, and a glint of hope remained in her eyes, “we may continue as we are, but you will never be complete, and I will always be a Fairy Queen, the companion of a mortal but never truly his, not in this life or another. For I will take no partner be he not immortal,” she said, and he realized she had done this as a kind of penance, for she would not love someone only to watch him die, when she herself could not.

He hesitated a moment, for he could not bear to bring her harm. He thought and then anxious, he arose and paced the length of his apartment, stopping only to take the bow and run his fingers up and down its length. “You would do that?” he asked, and his voice held more than a question.

“Of course,” she answered simply, and she waited for him to decide.

It seemed like eternity; it was a matter of moments. Tears swam in his eyes as he reached for the bow. “I would have you for myself,” he said thickly; “I would have you in my playing, in all that I am.” And he proceeded to play her requiem, for it was the essence of her, and once it had been played, she could no longer exist. He took her spirit and gave it new life; blinding colors lit his vision and entire worlds were opened to him, so that he saw worlds he could never have imagined, fairies chanting the requiem alongside him. He saw them all performing as one, in a kind of brilliant unison, but when he actually looked at the woman before him, he saw her fading, fading, her skin turning white as the color left her face, until finally her lips were blue. But he could not stop. The bow rose and fell of its own accord; he played and played and sapped her strength, and he felt again the imprint of her lips upon his, the fierceness of that moment and the rose that she had given him. He took it all and drew it to himself, until his skin was on fire with the pain of it, but even then he took more so that her soul melded with his, and he was complete. He looked at his bow, then, and it seemed to be lit with golden light, and he saw the image of her dancing with the fairies, carefree and mad in their joy. He looked again to where she was but she had disappeared; she had given her entire self to him. He played a music that was exquisite and sacred, holy in its tenderness and purity, dark and mad, the music of suffering, the requiem of a fairy queen.

And it was only when he was utterly exhausted that he let the bow slip from his nerveless fingers, preferring instead to slump to the floor, his head caught upon his elbow, and he cried with a ferocity that tore at his heart, for he had both destroyed and freed the only creature that he had ever loved- and it was then that he had acquired his genius.

In the future, whenever he played, he saw her in miniature dancing in gold upon his bow, images created of flame and fire, and his soul felt attuned to the world in a way that it could not have without her sacrifice, and without his ability to take her away.

But he could not help, after these performances, after these moments which made his very career, to shed a tear as he looked at his boutonnière, which was always a red, red rose…


Credits: The Little Princess, "A Narnia Lullaby," "The Nightingale and the Rose"


Anonymous said...


This is a good preparation fot the finals.

Anonymous said...

Breathtaking and sad at the same time. Truly enjoyed this. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Luckily I have no willpower, and even though I should sleep I couldn't stop reading. This is a beautiful fairy tale...just what I feel like for the spring.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why the majority of your stories all touch upon loss - and choices that all have poor consequences.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Good job!

Anonymous said...

Chana,this is an amazing story!
Elster is right in saying that many of your stories deal with pain,loss... I'm not surprised. You help enough people @ Stern deal with their broken hearts. Very thoughtful and kind of you.
Good shabbos!

Anonymous said...

i can certainly attest to that! chana you are wonderful; the depth of your emotions, insight, and kindness are truly remarkable.

Anonymous said...

Chana,this is such a powerful piece!
All three of us read it while having breakfast this morning and it spoke to each and every one of us.
You have an incredible gift of putting emotions into writing. looking forward to many more stories .
Great job!

Stubborn and Strong said...

perfect story for Lightman! You almost capture his soul on this story. Amazing!

Anonymous said...

This is quite intense. What does it mean that he needed to destroy the Queen in order to capture her and also bring her to full life? The price seems almost too high -- true, she became incorporated into his soul and play, but he could no longer dialogue with her, or relate to her in any way as her own sovereign being, which is after all what the meaning and joy of love is rooted in.

Perhaps this captures the tragedy of human existence -- the inability to fully, truly live as oneself in this world and this lifetime. One's true fruit may come to blossom in a way that he cannot experience himself. Others will partake of it, but he himself will not be able to taste the fruit of his own labor.

I haven't even touched on the tragic role of the feminine.... The role the Queen plays as both love and mother.... I suppose she dies in one world to ultimately capture him in another. But she evinces a willingness, or even an eagerness to die. Does her commitment come from devotion, necessity, love? Is it self-sacrifice or self-ascension she pursues? Does she reflect the role of the feminine in all connections? (One could analyze the Freudian themes endlessly...! :-] .... but in many ways those themes might cheapen the painful, true depth of the story.)