Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A teaser

I wrote the prologue to my novel last night, and decided to post it here, just as a teaser.

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It was a gentle, warm July afternoon. A soft breeze blew, wafting the delicious summer aroma of roses, English Lavender, and jasmine through the open casements. As Anna sat at her writing desk in the expansive drawing salon, she felt the yellow-orange hue of the afternoon sun streaming in through the arched pane-glassed windows, enveloping her in it's warmth as she fingered through a stack of old letters that were tied neatly into a bundle with a crimson satin cord. In front of her lay a guest list for yet another one of her garden party charity benefits that she was supposed to read through and approve.

"This list can wait," she thought impatiently, pushing it aside.

She was too distracted by the stack of letters in her hand to be bothered with it, and as she caressed the worn, folded edges of the cream-colored parchment paper, she reflected back to another warm July day, thirty years hence, a day spent lounging in the lush and expansive gardens of Laxenburg Palace, the summer home of her former employer, Emperor Joseph II of Austria.

"It was all so simple, then, Caro", she whispered. "We thought that if we kept our love a secret, if we didn't allow it to venture beyond the palace garden walls, that no one would be harmed."

As she continued to reflect, she remembered the words from a recitative:

The moment finally arrives when I'll enjoy without haste In the arms of my beloved... Fearful anxieties, get out of my heart! Do not come to disturb my delight. Oh, it seems that earth, heaven and this place answer my heart's amorous fire. As the night responds to my ruses.

"We thought that we could love and then go on with our lives as if nothing happened between us. We were wrong", she sighed to herself as she carefully placed the letters back on top of the desk.

"I should have done as he requested long ago, and destroyed these as I received them", she thought. "But they're all I have left of him," she argued with herself.

Again, she picked up the letters and lifted the bundle to her petite, turned-up nose and tried to take in the scent that might still have lingered on them. She remembered his scent well, a pleasurable blend of citrus and spices from the West Indies, mixed with the musk aroma of pipe tobacco. She could still detect a faint hint of the tobacco, but the traces of his cologne had long dissipated.

Tears of lingering grief and regret pooled in her eyes and her bottom lip quivered as she untied the cord from the bundle and opened one of the letters and began to read. The worn parchment was stained with tears and ink runs from the many times she had opened and read it before. In her thoughts, she imagined that he was speaking the words to her in his broken, and sometimes comical English, riddled with double negatives, and difficult to understand because of his thick Schwabian accent.

"My little bug", she read out loud blotting the tears with her handkerchief, "It is my dearest hope that this letter finds well you. As I don't not know how to give gracefully this news you to, I will come quikly to this letter the purpose and tell you that I will not be able accepting the commissun to come to London…"

She smiled to herself, allowing a soft chuckle to escape as she remembered the sound of his voice, and the way his accent only grew thicker as he became more nervous and flustered.

"English was never his best", she mused, wiping yet another tear.

Most of his other letters to her were in Italian. It was only when he had difficult or painful news to convey to her that he wrote or spoke to her in English. She believed that the reason for this was that he was forced to slow down and think about what he was saying or writing in such situations. She remembered the little vocabulary game that they played with one another to help him learn English, as well as to help her with her German. They would lay together on the freshly mown lawn of the palace gardens and he would ask, "Sagst du in Englisch, das wert…". She would have to listen to the word in German and know what English word would best translate. Then in turn she would ask, "How do you say in German, the word…".

As she read the letter aloud to herself, her mind began to wander to another painful time when he spoke to her in her mother tongue. It was on a frigid, gray, morning standing in the freezing drizzle in late February of 1787, in front of the customs house near the Karinthian gate, that she bid him a tearful farewell with the promise that she would return to Vienna in a year and in the meantime she would work diligently to obtain a commission for him to come and compose some operas for the King's Theater in London. He promised that he would write a letter to her every month until her return.

"Nutting makes any of da sense mit out you, Nancy", his hat and greatcoat drenched and drooping in the freezing rain.

As her carriage drove away from the customs house towards the gate, she peered through the tiny window in the back and watched as he stood in the middle of the muddy road, his eyes red and swollen from crying.

That was the last time she saw him.

She felt a sudden chill and as she looked up, she saw young Spencer stride past the door to the corridor.

"Spencer," she called out to him, "I feel a chill coming on, dearest. Would you be kind enough to light a fire for Mummy?"

Concerned by the fact that his mother felt a chill on such a warm July day, he rushed to her side, his brow furrowed and eyes fixed upon her face.

"Mummy! Are you quite all right?" he inquired anxiously as he knelt beside her chair.

Spencer, who was merely thirteen, was deeply devoted to his mother and spent a great deal of time worrying and fretting over her since her illness a month prior.

"I'm fine, "she assured him, "Don't fret. I simply felt a draft," she said as she folded the letter and placed it back on the stack with the others. Perhaps a small fire will ease the chill."

Not entirely convinced that his mother was telling him the truth, Spencer darted towards the stove in the corner of the room, opened the door and shoveled a scoop of black coal inside. In a few moments a warm glow radiated over the entire salon. He then walked back towards his mother and helped her out of the chair onto her feet, and taking her arm, he walked her to the settee near the stove. As she raised up from her chair, she reached for the bundle of letters, clutching them in her hand as he gingerly led her to her seat. Spencer then fetched her rug, placed it carefully over her lap, and affectionately kissed her on the top of her head.

Anna had a head-full of thick, chocolate brown hair, large round, dark eyes, and a radiant smile that took over her entire face. She definitely inherited her father's Italianate features. When she was young, back in the days when she was the toast of Venice, the darling of Vienna, and the talk of London, she boasted a petite and curvy figure, but over the last several years, poor health and the cares of life took their toll on her form. Her pleasing, maidenly curves ballooned, and by the time she retired from the stage, she was no longer the pert and sassy soubrette that she had been in her former years. Still, she was a lovely woman and her warm and spirited personality shone through despite the changes in her outward appearance. Loved and adored by her family, as well as her many friends and professional associates, Anna was still the talk of London.

Anna told Spencer the tales of her successful career as Europe's premiere buffa, of how she upstaged that ridiculous castrato, Luigi Marchesi, in Florence and was dismissed because of it and of how the Emperor of Austria, Joseph II learned of her reputation in Venice and sent Count Durazzo to hire her as the prima buffa for his newly-formed Italian Opera Company in Vienna. She told him of how she met her dear friend and colleague, Michael Kelly, and how she and Kelly became dear friends with the likes of Joseph Haydn, Antonio Salieri, and of course, Wolfgang Mozart. She told him of his Uncle Stephen, and how he composed all of his brilliant operas, always casting her as the heroine, and how they had shared an exceedingly warm and devoted relationship.

There was one association, however, that Anna did not reveal to her son. Although Spencer knew that Mozart was a dear friend of his mother's and that she held the distinct honor of being Mozart's original Susanna in his comic opera, Le Nozze di Figaro, he had no idea that theirs ventured beyond the realms of a warm professional and personal friendship into a love for one another that Anna dared not speak of to anyone. He knew of the letters, and he knew that some of them were upsetting for his mother to read, as he had observed her read them on many an occasion, and saw her reduced to tears over them. She rarely spoke of Mozart, but he knew that there must have been something profound between them. And in a very strange way, Spencer felt Mozart's presence around his mother almost constantly.

"Mummy”, Spencer inquired as Anna reached for him, folding her arms around his young form and drawing him close to her breast.
"Yes, dearest, what is it?"
"Did you love him?"
"Who, Caro?” Anna asked, knowing all along to whom he referred.
"Mozart", he replied, whispering.

Anna hesitated for a moment, not knowing quite how to answer, and then in a very matter of fact tone, she confessed, "Yes. Yes I did. Tenderly." She stared forward, her eyes affixed upon the stove.
"Did he love you, Mummy?"
"Oh yes, he did. He loved me with the greatest affection."

Warm tears welled in her eyes. Profound, deep loneliness and a longing to be with him overcame her. She knew at that moment that it wouldn't be long before she would join him. She was transported in her memory back to her last concert in Vienna where she sang the aria that Mozart composed for her as a parting gift. It was unique in that it was composed as a duet for piano and voice with orchestral accompaniment. He composed the piano part for himself, and the text was chosen carefully, especially for the occasion, from his beloved opera, Idomeneo. Anna recalled how when Mozart presented it to her, and she sang through it for the first time, there wasn't a dry eye in the room, and how afterwards, she threw her arms about Mozart's neck and he embraced her tenderly. She wasn't sure how either of them got through the performance at the concert, but they did. How anyone couldn't know the warmth they felt towards one another after hearing them perform it, she didn't know. It was a love letter in music, a bold, open, public declaration of their affection.

You ask me to forget you?
You advise me calmly to forget you and love another and want that I still live?
Ah, No! I would rather die!
Come death! I wait for it courageously!
To seek consolation from another,
to give my love to another only fills my heart with dread!
Cruel suggestion! Ah! My despair will kill me.

Anna sat silently, holding her son to her bosom. After several moments, she spoke again.

"Dearest, would you do something for Mummy?"

Spencer replied eagerly, "You know I would do anything for you, Mummy! You need but ask."
"The letters…" she swallowed hard as she clinched them tightly, "I want you to take them and throw them into the fire."

"Burn them?" he asked, not sure he had heard her correctly.

"Yes Caro. Burn them. It’s what he wished. He asked that I destroy each one as soon as I read it, but I couldn't bear to part with them. They were all I had of him, and I couldn't bear to destroy them. But now…" she sighed, “I must, for they were intended for only me.”

“Please, Spencer”, she hesitated, “burn them."

He arose and took the letters from her tiny hand. As he moved gradually towards the stove, he peered back anxiously to make certain that his mother hadn't changed her mind. Anna turned a tender, reassuring glance towards him.

"Go on, dearest. It will be all right," she assured him with a smile.

He opened the heavy, iron, door and placed the letters upon the fire. He stood and watched as they burned, the flames consuming the brittle, dried-out parchment almost instantly. It was done and the world would never know that they ever existed.

1 comment :

  1. Hey, how are you doing? I really liked this post. Thanks for sharing this with me.