The Four-Chambered Heart

BOOK: The Four-Chambered Heart
4.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

1959

Book
III of CITIES OF THE INTERIOR

THE GUITAR DISTILLED ITS MUSIC.

Rango played it with the warm copper color of
his skin, with the charcoal pupil of his eyes, with the underbrush thickness of
his eyebrows, pouring into the honey-colored box the flavors of the open road
on which he lived his gypsy life: thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, and sage.
Pouring into the resonant box the sensual swing of his hammock hung across the
gypsy cart and the dreams born on his mattress of black horsehair.

Idol of the night clubs, where men and women
barred doors and windows, lit candles, drank alcohol, and drank from his voice
and his guitar the potions and herbs of the open road, the charivaris of
freedom, the drugs of leisure and laziness.

At dawn, not content with the life transfusion
through catguts, filled with the sap of his voice which had passed into their
veins, at dawn the women wanted to lay hands upon his body. But at dawn Rango
swung his guitar over his shoulder and walked away.

Will you be here tomorrow, Rango?

Tomorrow he might be playing and singing to his
black horse’s philosophically swaying tail, on the road to the south of France.

Toward this ambulant Rango, Djuna leaned to
catch all that his music contained, and her ear detected the presence of this
unattainable island of joy which she pursued, which she had glimpsed at the
party she had never attended but watched from her window as a girl. And like
some lost voyager in a desert, she leaned more and more eagerly toward this
musical mirage of a pleasure never known to her, the pleasure of freedom.

“Rango, would you play once for my dancing?”
she asked softly and fervently, and Rango stopped on his way out to bow to her,
a bow of consent which took centuries of stylization and nobility of bearing to
create, a bow indicating the largesse of gesture of a man whad never been
bound.

“Whenever you wish.”

As they planned for the day and hour, and while
she gave him her address, they walked instinctively toward the river.

Their shadows walking before them revealed the
contrast between them. His body occupied twice the space of hers. She walked
unswerving like an arrow, while he ambled. His hands trembled while lighting
her cigarette, and hers were steady.

“I’m not drunk,” he said, laughing, “but I’ve
been drunk so often that my hands have remained unsteady for life, I guess.”

“Where is your cart and horse, Rango?”

“I have no cart and horse. Not for a long time.
Not since Zora fell ill, years ago.”

“Zora?”

“My wife.”

“Is your wife a gypsy, too?”

“Neither my wife nor I. I was born in
Guatemala, at the top of the highest mountain. Are you disappointed? That
legend was necessary to keep up, for the night club, to earn a living. It
protects me, too. I have a family in Guatemala who would be ashamed of my
present life. I ran away from home when I was seventeen. I was brought up on a
ranch. Even today my friends say: ‘Rango, where is your horse? You always look
as if you had left your horse tied to the gate.’ I lived with the gypsies in
the south of France. They taught me to play. They taught me to live as they do.
The men don’t work; they play the guitar and sing. The women take care of them
by stealing food and concealing it under their wide skirts. Zora never learned
that! She got very ill. I had to give up roaming. We’re home now. Do you want
to come in?”

Djuna looked at the gray stone house.

She had not yet effaced from her eyes the image
of Rango on the open road. The contrast was painful and she took a step
backward, suddenly intimidated by a Rango without his horse, without his
freedom.

The windows of the house were long and narrow.
They seemed barred. She could not bear yet to see how he had been captured,
tamed, caged, by what circumstances, by whom.

She shook his big hand, the big warm hand of a
captive, and left him so swiftly he was dazed. He stood bewildered and swaying,
awkwardly lighting another cigarette, wondering what had made her take flight.

He did not know that she had just lost sight of
an island of joy. The image of an island of joy evoked by his guitar had
vanished. In walking toward a mirage of freedom, she had entered a black
forest, the black forest of his eyes darkening when he said: “Zora is very
ill.” The black forest of his wild hair as he bowed his head in contrition: “My
family would be ashamed of the life I lead today.” The black forest of his
bewilderment as he stood about to enter a house too gray, too shabby, too
cramped for his big, powerful body.

Their first kiss was witnessed by the Seine
River carrying gondolas of street lamps’ reflections in its spangled folds,
carrying haloed street lamps flowering on bushes of black lacquered
cobblestones, carrying silver filigree trees opened like fans beyond whose rim
the river’s eyes provoked them to hidden coquetries, carrying the humid scarves
of fog and the sharp incense of roasted chestnuts.

Everything fallen into the river and carried
away except the balcony on which they stood.

Their kiss was accompanied by the street organ
and it lasted the whole length of the musical score of Carmen, and when it
ended it was too late; they had drunk the potion to its last drop.

The potion drunk by lovers is prepared by no
one but themselves.

The potion is the sum of one’s whole existence.

Every word spoken in the past accumulated forms
and colors in the self. What flows through the veins besides blood is the
distillation of every act committed, the sediment of all the visions, wishes,
dreams, and experiences. All the past emotions converge to tint the skin and
flavor the lips, to regulate the pulse and produce crystals in the eyes.

The fascination exerted by one human being over
another is not what he emits of his personality at the present instant of
encounter but a summation of his entire being which gives off this powerful
drug capturing the fancy and attachment.

No moment of charm without long roots in the
past, no moment of charm is born on bare soil, a careless accident of beauty,
but is the sum of great sorrows, growths, and efforts.

But love, the great narcotic, was the hothouse
in which all the selves burst into their fullest bloom…

love the great narcotic was the revealer in the
alchemist’s bottle rendering visible the most untraceable substances

love the great narcotic was the
agent
provocateur
exposing all the secret selves to daylight

love the great narcotic-lined fingertips with
clairvoyance

pumped iridescence into the lungs for
transcendental x-rays

printed new geographies in the lining of the
eyes

adorned words with sails, ears with velvet
mutes

and soon the balcony tipped their shadows into
the river, too, so that the kiss might be baptized in the holy waters of
continuity.

Djuna walked along the Seine the next morning
asking the fishermen and the barge sailors for a boat to rent in which she and
Rango might live.

As she stood by the parapet wall, and then
leaned over to watch the barges, a policeman watched her.

(Does he think I am going to commit suicide? Do
I look like someone who would commit suicide? How blind he is! I never wanted
less to die, on the very day I am beginning to live!)

He watched her as she ran down the stairs to
talk to the owner of
Nanette,
a bright red barge.
Nanette
had
little windows trimmed with beaded curtains just like the superintendent’s
windows in apartment houses.

(Why bring to a barge the same trimmings as
those of a house? They are not made for the river, these people, not for
voyages. They like familiarity, they like to continue their life on earth,
while Rango and I want to run away from houses, cafes, streets, people. We want
to find an island, a solitary cell, where we can dream in peace together. Why
should the policeman think I may jump into the river at this moment when I
never felt less like dying? Or does he stand there to reproach me for slipping
out of my father’s house last night after ten o’clock, with such infinite
precautions, leaving the front door ajar so he would not hear me leave,
deserting his house with a beating heart because now his hair is white and he
no longer understands anyone’s need to love, for he has lost everything, not to
love, but to his games of love; and when you love as a game, you lose
everything, as he lost his home and wife, and now he clings to me, afraid of
loss, afraid of solitude.)

That morning at five-thirty she had awakened,
gently untangled her body from Rango’s arms and reached her room at six, and at
six-thirty her father had knocked on the door because he was ill and wanted
care.

(Ali Baba protects the lovers! Gives them the
luck of bandits, and no guilt; for love fills certain people and expands them
beyond all laws; there is no time, no place for regrets, hesitations,
cowardices. Love runs free and reckless; and all the gentle trickeries
perpetrated to protect others from its burns—those who are not the lovers but
who might be the victims of this love’s expansion—let them be gentle and gay
about these trickeries, gentle and gay like Robin Hood, or other games of
children; for Anahita, the moon goddess, will then judge and mete out
punishment, Mr. Policeman. So wait for her orders, for I am sure you would not
understand if I told you my father is delightfully clear and selfish, tender
and lying, formal and incurable. He exhausts all the loves given to him. If I
did not leave his house at night to warm myself in Rango’s burning hands I
would die at my task, arid and barren, sapless, while my father monologues
about his past, and I yawn yawn yawn… It’s like looking at family albums, at
stamp collections! Understand me, Mr. Policeman, if you can: if that were all I
had, I would indeed be in danger of jumping into the Seine, and you would have
to take a chill rescuing me. See, I have money for a taxi, I sing a song of
thanksgiving to the taxi which nourishes the dream and carries it unbreakable,
fragile but unbreakable everywhere. The taxi is the nearest object to a
seven-leagued boot, it perpetuates the reverie, my vice, my luxury. Oh, you
can, if you wish, arrest me for reverie, vagabondage of the wildest sort, for
it is the cell, the mysterious, the padded, the fecund cell in which everything
is born; everything that man ever accomplished is born in this little cell…)

The policeman passed by and did not arrest her,
so she confided in him and found him rich with knowledge. He knew of many
barges here and there. He knew one where they served fried potatoes and red
wine to fishermen, another where hobos could spend the night for five cents,
one where a woman in trousers carved big statues, another one turned into a
swimming pool for boys, another one called the barge of the red lights, for
men, and beyond this one there was a barge that had been used by a troupe of
actors to travel all through France, and there she might inquire as it was
empty and had been deemed unsafe for long voyages…

It was anchored near the bridge, long and wide,
with a strong prow from which hung the heavy anchor chain. It had no windows on
the side, but a glass trap door on deck which an old watchman threw open for
her. She descended a narrow and steep stairway to find herself in a broad room,
with light falling from skylight windows, and then there were a smaller room, a
hallway, and more small cabins on each side.

The large center room which had been used for
the stage was still full of discarded sets and curtains and costumes. The small
cabins which branched off on both sides had once been dressing rooms for the
ambulant actors. They were now filled with pots of paint, firewood, tools, old
sacks, and newspapers. At the prow of the barge was a vast room papered with
glossy tarpaper. The skylight windows showed only the sky, but two openings in
the wall, working like drawbridges on a chain, were cut only a few inches above
water level and focused on the shore.

The watchman occupied one of the small cabins.
He wore a beret and dark blue denim blouse like the French peasants.

He explained: “I was the captain of a pleasure
yacht once. The yacht blew up and I lost my leg. But I can fetch water for you,
and coal and wood. I can pump the water every day. This barge has to be watched
for leaks. It’s pretty old, but the wood is strong.”

The walls of the barge curved like the inside
of a whale belly. The old beams were stained with marks of former cargoes:
wood, sand, stone, and coal.

As Djuna left, the old watchman picked up a
piece of wood which held a pail at each end, hanging on a cord. He balanced it
on his shoulders like a Japanese water carrier, and began to jump on his one
leg after her, keeping a miraculous balance on the large cobblestones.

The winter night came covering the city, dusting
the street lamps with fog and smoke so that their light dissolved into an
aureole of sainthood.

When Djuna and Rango met, he was sad that he
had found nothing to shelter them. Djuna said: “I have something for you to
see; if you like it, it might do for us.”

BOOK: The Four-Chambered Heart
4.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Beat the Band by Don Calame
Edged Blade by J.C. Daniels
The Poison Master by Liz Williams
Mastiff by Pierce, Tamora
Muscle Memory by William G. Tapply
Vampires and Sexy Romance by Eva Sloan, Ella Stone, Mercy Walker