Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gabriella's Voice: The Serial Novel

Chapter Four, Part II

Trauma at the Space Needle

After watching Tosca take her stunningly awkward dive from the parapets of the Castel Sant’Angelo, Gabriella and I evacuated, stopping by the opera house dispensary to obtain a couple of aspirins for her self-fulfilling headache. We passed by the International Fountain, walked through the monorail terminal just in time to see the night’s last departure, then crossed the big lawn in the direction of the Space Needle, shining like a big round boat against the milky blue clouds of night.

“Let’s go there,” I said.

“No-oh!” sang Gabriella, on a descending fifth (coincidentally, Puccini’s favorite interval). “That is too cheesy, much too cheesy. And it’s a rip-off, too. Trust me on this one. Seven bucks for a glorified elevator ride, and once you’re at the top all you’ve got is a jungle of tacky souvenirs and the same boring fucking Seattle skyline you can see from any of the perfectly free hilltops all over town. Spare me!”

“Wow,” I said. “This is a sensitive topic, isn’t it?”

“Yes! Every friend of mine in the world who lives farther away than Olympia insists on dragging me up this screwy thing!”

“One problem, dearest Rosina,” I said. “I’ve never been up that screwy thing myself, and it’s funny but I have this rampant inability to pass up going to places I’ve never been. Come on – my treat.”

Gabriella let out a sound like a congested lion and led me grudgingly across the green. The elevator attendant warned us that they were getting ready to close down for the night, but I reassured him that my companion couldn’t handle more than a few minutes anyway. After a half-minute of excessive gravity, we exited to find shiny cheap mounds of retail kitsch and a window-wide band of lights. Gabriella shucked off her contempt and settled into the old role of tour guide, taking my hand and pulling me to the south window, where the skyscrapers of Seattle posed for us like fly-eyed giants who slept standing up.

“Okay, the tall, thin puppy at the far end there – sorta square on one side, rounded on the other? – that’s the Columbia Seafirst Center, 943 feet, built in 1985, dark black by daylight, almost a shadow, then swing just a little bit to the right, with the pyramid on top, that’s the Mutual Tower, 730 feet tall and my favorite, jade green tints and art deco stars, some groovy retro geometrics, cause you know me, I’m a traditionalist. Built in 1988. Then that ugly concrete circus tent off in the distance, that’s the Kingdome, of course. Next! Well, just around the corner from that you’ve got that little white thing with the nice spire, that’s the Smith Tower. Not much now, but back when it was built in 1914 it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Now, what really cracks me up, back over to the, um, east here, are those godawful circular.… I don’t know, they kinda look like the apartment building Mary Tyler Moore lived in – those are the Westin Hotel towers. You can’t see the first one, it’s hidden behind the other, but they built it in 1969, when all architects were obligated to design ugly buildings, but when they built the second tower, the one we can see, in 1982, well, they decided it had to look exactly like the original, because why have one homely building when you can have two? And then, if you swing further east, across I-5, you can see that big, gentle rise of Capitol Hill, and right between that and the freeway there’s Pike Street and the Trademark Cafe and First Hill, of course, where you’re... no longer living.”

How this drawn-out spiel turned so quickly, I don’t know. But there it was – Gabriella’s brown eyes melting me down not with anger, necessarily, but rather with a look of confused impatience, one finger still pointed out the window toward Broadway.

I felt more ashamed of this than I should have – the woman didn’t own me, after all. Right? I turned to finger a row of dangling Mt. Rainier keychains, trying to come up with a good answer. “How did you know?” I asked.

Gabriella slapped me playfully on the shoulder, trying to shake some of the overseriousness out of my face. “You, pal, are a known quantity. Certain islanders have observed you sharing long conversations with a certain celebrated soprano, and have set the bloodhounds loose. And of course they all figured out the deal about your big ass check, too, which only adds to the intrigue. All of which means that I get daily reports on your whereabouts and behavior, whether I want them or not. So what are you doing staying at the Island Country Inn?”

“It’s a nice island,” I said.

Gabriella skipped over my lame response and continued her cross-examination, turning her head away from me and toward her skyscraper sisters. “I don’t get it. If you were some kind of stalker – and believe me, I’ve had ‘em – well, you were already in an ideal position right there on First Hill, just down the street from the Trademark, where I spend the majority of my waking hours, and where you could come in any ol’ time and run into me. So why would you pick up and move to Bainbridge?”

“It’s a nice... island,” I muttered.

“God, Billy! Open up, wouldja? Won’t you give me just one damned factoid about yourself? If you really want to be opera-pals, you gotta give me one or two little strings to hold on to here.”

“I’m in love with your voice,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s nice, I know, and I appreciate it, but what’s that got to do with.…”

The buzz came up from my shoetops and rifled into my arms. I grabbed fistfuls of Gabriella’s velvet wrap and pulled her toward me. Her eyes popped out in surprise.

“Listen! I’m - in - love... with your voice. Bainbridge Island is the place in which your voice resides. When you perform in that theater, your singing leaves a residue in the air, and the rest of the week… I walk the streets of Winslow, breathing it in, letting it settle on my skin.”

The buzz seeped back out of me and I loosened my grip on the wrap, smoothing out the creases with small, apologetic movements. Gabriella backed away to a safe distance, clearly unnerved. I hung my head, ready to take whatever she would give.

“I was right about you. You are a creep. I should have known, I should have.… Damn it!” Her speech was beginning to slur, her eyes shining with water. “I was starting to like you, you know? It’s not easy for me to find friends, Billy. I’m weird. I’m constructed of different... parts than other people, and you might think that’s just great… but it’s not easy! It’s….”

She never finished the sentence, but instead turned and walked quickly to the elevator. If the idea was to get away from me, it wasn’t going to work. The elevator was still on its way back up. I caught up with her just as the door slid open. We seemed to have no choice but to get in, together.

“Ah, the last couple of the day. You should feel honored….”

The attendant was punchy from the day’s work and didn’t seem to notice that his well-meaning chatter was being ignored. I stood on one side, Gabriella on the other, silent, both of us staring down at the burgundy carpeting. The quick descent, the steady escape of gravity pulled at my chest and stomach and the old music came rushing back in, grandma and mom and dad and Bobby, and Stephanie, poor Stephanie, and by the time we reached the ground the walls of the elevator were moving in on me. The doors showed a thin slip of light and I panicked, pushing past the attendant and through, rushing out into the gift shop where I immediately lost my directionals, running one way then the other down the rows of clothing and road maps as the cashier stared on in horror. She must have thought I had committed some sort of crime, and was attempting to flee. Finally I spotted the front door and spun in place, knocking down a rack of Puget Sound T-shirts before sprinting for the door and bursting into the night air.

I thought the outdoors would be enough for me, but they weren’t. I sucked in air but couldn’t breathe. I stumbled forward, dizzy, hyperventilating, halfway across the big lawn and fell to my knees, knocked down by the wind off Lake Union, by the lights of the Needle like a frozen helicopter at my back. I raked at the grass with both fists, throwing the blades over my shoulders, into my hair. The buzz gripped me with its seaweed hands and threw me into sobs, great gasping waves, and I buried my face into the lawn, the warm damp earth filling my nostrils with the smell of tobacco and grilled fish and burning wood.

The rest of it came to me through several feet of sand; I was buried somewhere, trying to dig my way out, and I heard the sound of my name, a hand on my shoulder, fingers around my forehead lifting me up. The feel of skin against half my face. What came next was song. As I lifted my ear to the base of Gabriella’s neck, a warm liquid filling my head, and the world came back to me.

Next: Recovery at Bainbridge

Buy the book at: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Gabriellas-Voice/Michael-j-Vaughn/e/9781929429950/?itm=1

Image by MJV.

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