Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Take a break and read a short tale of revenge...Maybe?

Final Entrance

Nick Cole

     “Do I know you?” said the man in the tan Burberry coat.  Inside Charlie Davis flinched.  Maybe his face would have flinched, once.  Maybe his body might have even twitched.  Once.  But Charlie Davis’s life was about body control and what was left didn’t flinch.
     “No you don’t.”
     The man in the tan Burberry coat stopped.  Charlie’s good ear recalled the memory of the man’s passing footsteps moments before.  Expensive shoes against the pavement of Seventh Avenue.  The cadence of the step had been staccato clear.  It reminded Charlie of the children’s chorus from Carmen.  Every time he looked in the mirror, spoke or wondered what his daughter’s life without a mother would be like, he was reminded of Carmen.  But the steps had ceased and now the man was saying: Yes he did.  He knew Charlie from somewhere he was sure of it.
     Charlie turned to face the man.  It was better to face these encounters not just with his good eye but with his entire self.  Or at least what remained.  Truthfully.
     Charlie took a step toward the iron-haired man whose coat and shoes on a windy fall afternoon in New York City identified him as not just an investment banker, but most likely some firm’s CEO.  A CEO and therefore a patron of the Met.
     “No sir,” rasped Charlie.  “We do not know each other personally.  But maybe you know or knew of me.”
     Burberry CEO Man expected a simple answer.  That was the deal in these situations.  Well to do man confronts vague acquaintance on street.  Vague acquaintance fallen on hard times.  Burberry CEO Man listens to tell of woe, offers sympathy, feels good about self and relates tale of woe to wife or golf partners later.   
‘Remember young so and so?  Managed that fund.  Well I saw him limping along on the street today.  His face was destroyed.  Etc etc...’  Another tick in the other column when one reflects on who won and who lost.
Charlie continued, “If you attend the Met, you might know me from a few season back.”  Charlie raised his face, letting Burberry Coat Man see the scar that ran from beneath the patch covering his right eye back to what remained of his ear.  His therapist would be proud.
The peach and the cream of Burberry Coat Man bloomed into bluster. This was not part of the script.
“Charles Davis.” Charlie croaked.  “Tenor.”  The other scar, above his larynx, remained covered by the gray turtleneck that was the favorite of all Charlie’s turtlenecks.
After that, most people mumbled apologies and fled.  Sometimes they asked if he was over ‘it’ yet. 
Burberry stepped forward, removing chocolate calf-skin gloves and placing them in his left hand.  He held out a smooth right hand missing three fingers to Charlie.
“Bad bit of business that was.”
Charlie stared at the maimed right hand of Burberry Man.  Then he moved his cane from his good right hand to his own useless left and prayed silently that he would not fall down.  He could hear his physical therapist raging after the fact of the fall he was sure to commit.  A big gamble and one day he’d pay for it with a broken hip or a concussion.  Charlie always laughed and said he couldn’t pay because he couldn’t afford to.
“I lost these in the Ia Drang Valley when I was a little younger than you are now.”  Burberry Coat Man looked him directly in the eye.  He was giving something away.  Something the therapist had told Charlie he needed to take.  Needed to own.   Burberry Man was giving dignity away for free. 
Charlie rose up as much as his crippled body would allow, squaring his shoulders as the Alexander Technique he’d once studied indicated he should do before letting go, before giving the audience the full glory of a rising tenor reaching for that moment of vocal dominance.  The stuff opera legends are made of.  He was still a man, not what was left of one.
“Don’t let this beat you,” said Burberry Coat Man, once a young soldier.
Charlie mumbled he wouldn’t and after a moment the two parted and Charlie was soon at the graffito-covered iron door of his apartment building.
The climb up the stairs, one handed, reminded him to be grateful Jenny did not need a stroller anymore, and to be thankful she had started pre-school.  That was another therapist thing:  being grateful.
Because you can’t be grateful for being stabbed almost to death in front of four-thousand people by Carmen, your ‘one true love’.  But you can be grateful for what remains; what you didn’t lose in the attack.
It was Charlie as Don Jose who was supposed to do the throat cutting and the remorse that followed.  Not his ‘Carmen’.
He sat down in his reading chair.  He would rest for a few minutes then make a sandwich.  Outside someone yelled ‘Hey! Hey!!’ as a bus rolled away.
“Don’t let this beat me!”  He screamed at the walls.    He screamed at Tan Burberry Coat Man.  Who was he to talk?  He’d only lost three fingers.  I lost my voice, half my body, one eye, one ear... and my wife.
Pills would be nice, said the quiet voice within.  Some pills for the afternoon would be very nice.  He could watch an afternoon movie, maybe have a few beers. 
He got up from his chair.  A nap might have been nice, but when he’d started thinking about pills he knew it was time to move.  If he could get a hold of these thoughts he wouldn’t have to rush out to a meeting.  He could just talk to his sponsor later and they could clean it up with a little confession and straight talk.  Kevin knew how to listen.  Plus there was Jenny to think about.  If his parents called, and they would because they always did when he got into the pills, Jenny would be back with them.
And that would be for the best wouldn’t it?  If Jenny were gone.  Pills and Love and Rockets.  No more Jenny.
I lost my wife, he thought.
That’s not the truth.  You didn’t lose your wife.  You know exactly where she is.  She’s in a grave out in Brooklyn.  Murdered. 
Murdered in his dressing room as she waited for the final curtain, watching two month old Jenny sleep amidst the clamor and bark of The Metropolitan Opera.  A career as a soprano on hold, while his career erupted through the stratosphere of opera.  The final engagement for his first season at The Met, then off to Covent Garden and later that summer that had never been: a debut at La Scala.  A beautiful wife, a beautiful baby girl and a voice some were already calling the next big Verdi Tenor.
Pills would be very nice right now.
He went into the kitchen for a bite and knew he was heading to the 18th Street ‘No Surrender’ Meeting.
He picked up the bread knife to cut the fried egg and Bermuda onion sandwich he had just made.  He stopped at the thought of knives and music.  In the apartment downstairs, vacant for three months, someone was playing indeterminate music.  Charlie hoped they would be rap lovers. He’d had enough opera for one life.
Renata Castelletti’s first strike had caught Charlie in the femoral artery, instantly dropping him to her eye level.  Stunned, he had continued to sing on stage at The Met that night.  Was this real, he had thought?  Her next stroke came over her shoulder and directly into his eye. Was he still singing?  He thought not.  It was then that he heard the audience screaming as the blood he was spewing must have really got going.  The knife had gone through his eye all the way back to his now severed ear canal.
Do I have to think about this every time I make a sandwich, he wondered, and heard his therapist say, “Well not thinking about it didn’t seem to be working, did it?  Remember the pills.  The overdose.”
Maybe I’ll just call Kevin, thought Charlie.  This is getting a little out of hand.  Burberry Coat Guy caused all this.
It came out of his mouth and he instantly knew it for the lie it was.  Burberry Coat Man didn’t murder his wife in his dressing room before going out to a packed house to finish the job. Renata Castelletti did.
But she didn’t finish the job.  She killed him, technically, in front of everyone.  He was dead, dying.  But Jenny survived, untouched in her crib.  And as long as Jenny survived he would keep surviving.  He cut the sandwich.  Raised it to his lips, realized he forgot the mayo, vacillated whether to do without it, then realized it wouldn’t be a fried egg and Bermuda onion sandwich without mayo.
Halfway to the fridge for the mayo, he heard the music coming through the floorboards of the kitchen clearly now.
It was not rap.
It was Carmen’s Aria.  The one in which she sings about love being a many splendored thing and how wild and free she is.  Free to choose to love any man.    The soldier Don Jose.  The bullfighter Escamillio.  
Even if you have not been stabbed half to death by an aging, crazed mezzo soprano, Bizet’s aria is still haunting. Charlie in mid shamble halted, frozen in time.
Several minutes later the aria ended.  He was still standing in the kitchen.  His mind though, was back on stage, watching as a shining blade leapt once more into the air, retracing its path from his eye, held aloft as screaming, Renata Castelletti drives it once more down into him and he thinks he remembers thinking, “Oh please, not my voice.”  This was the same for him as saying “Oh please, not my life!”
He should have asked for his wife.  He should have said ‘oh please not my wife,’ in that moment of begging.  Renata had seen to that before entering Stage Left for the Act Three finale, when Don Jose murders the untamable Carmen.  At that moment, as the blade fell once more into him, into his throat, he didn’t know his wife lay dying as Jenny slept, and all he could say as the blade drove down into him with an easiness he found unbelievable, was “not my voice.”
Maybe that’s what the pills had been about it.  Maybe he should have been asking for his wife’s life instead of his voice.  How could he have known?  He didn’t.  Didn’t know as the prop master Ralph tackled Renata, wrestling the knife away.  Didn’t know as he tried to get up and finish the opera as his blood spat forth across the stage.  He would sing.  He would sing and everything would be alright.  A dark cloud spread from the corner of his eye as he tried to rise to the packed house.  His wife would be worried about him, he remembers thinking as he lost consciousness.
He didn’t know she was dead.  Didn’t know for a month that she had been dead that entire month.  Buried.
The aria downstairs ended.
The apartment was supposed to be empty for another month.
He went back to the sandwich, deciding to eat it without mayo.  He chewed numbly while sweat ran down the side of his body he could still feel.
Somewhere the phone was ringing, had been ringing for some time.  He put down the sandwich and answered.
“Charlie?”  It was the voice of his former agent.
“Glen?”  Charlie croaked.
“It’s been a couple of months.  Sorry.  Before we go any further, The Met just called.  The police are looking for Renata.  They figure she might have gone there, but no sign.”
“What happened?  I thought she was upstate in an institution.  Maximum.”
“She had a doctor’s appointment in the city.  Her lawyers’ sweetheart deal.  Anyway she just walked out the back door of the doctor’s office.”
Silence hung in the air between them.
“I don’t think...” started the agent.
“She said I had to die for Carmen to live forever.  Did ‘they’ help her escape?”
“Stop it Charlie.  That was The Santeria talking.  She was an over the hill mezzo whose life had never been anywhere near stable.  Combine the cocaine and Doctor Otume’s cult and it was bound to happen...I’m sorry Charlie.  I didn’t mean...”
“It’s good Glen.  I’ll be alright.  I...”
Downstairs Renata laughed.
If someone stabs you in the eye, stabs you in the throat and laughs while they straddle you, you don’t forget that laugh.  You just never forget that laugh.
“I’d better call the school, Glen, and make sure they keep an eye on Jenny.” But Charlie had no intention of calling the school.  He hung up.
Downstairs the music began again. The final duet between Don Jose and Carmen. Cest’Toi Cest’ Moi.  It’s you!  It’s Me!
He considered the bread knife.  Down below Renata Castelletti began to sing.  In the cherrywood dresser his dead wife had been given by her parents for their wedding, was a gun.  A nickel-plated 357 Magnum.
“It’s you,” he croaked as he took hold of its rubber grip.  He flipped the action, gazing at the thick waiting shells within.  Below the song was reaching the place where once he would have sung. 
He’d only fired the weapon once.  It was a hand cannon.  The bass baritone of pistols, he remembered thinking.  The man at the range who’d sold him the weapon, upon seeing his useless left hand, said it was too powerful for Charlie. 
Charlie lied.  He knew it was too powerful, he’d told the man.  But he’d always wanted one just like it.  Wanted to be a gunslinger. Certainly not to kill himself with a weapon that would leave little room for failure, as he had thought then and every so often since. Usually when the clock read Jenny’s-been-gone-too-long and what kind of life could you give her anyway.  Never when Jenny was right there, asking one of her many questions.  Then the thought seemed childish, petulant.  Even ridiculous.  Now that his body was useless he could at least own a gunslinger’s weapon as a souvenir, he’d lied to the man. 
The gun owner liked that answer.
“Well if’n,” he’d actually said ‘if’n’, “you ever do fire it at someone, remember this:  You shoot with your mind not your heart.”
Down below, the music of Act Four swelled as Don Jose was just bars away from his final outcry of betrayal and subsequent murder of Carmen. Charlie closed the action of the pistol with his good hand. 
At the front door he considered locking up.  But he wouldn’t be long, he reasoned.  He would be back in time to get Jenny from school.  He would be back for Jenny and her endless questions and their life together, all of which he would be sure to be grateful for.  But he wouldn’t miss this final entrance.  He wouldn’t let ‘this’ beat him.
He closed the door and descended the narrow stairs to the apartment below.

The End

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