Digital Ischemia

31/08/2018

Mirabelle the Admirable Red Admiral

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 16:00

(disclaimer: may not be female, admirable or red)

August is for visitations. Nature creeps in at me. One of my veg box salad bags turned out to contain beetroot leaves plus a bonus gold lamé bodystocking or chrysalis.

red admiral butterfly pupa

Eye-catchingly glamorous – apparently a red admiral butterfly in embryo. Chores were immediately sidelined in favour of entomology windowsill. Nothing happened. Advised to keep the effort hydrated, I gave pupa and leaf a daily drip of water. I couldn’t resist a light examination. This produced obvious inner writhings so I desisted. With no idea of pupation timescale or its likelihood of survival after several days’ refrigeration, inevitably I missed the emergence.

red admiral butterfly empty chrysalis

After a tense search of surfaces, curtains, plant pot, I discovered a crumpled, desiccated butterfly perched on my baffy. Repatriated to the windowsill, I plied her with water and sugar-water in bottle caps, and more beetroot leaves for shelter. None were attractive. I pushed a cap of water near her and she stalked off in the other direction until she became entangled in spiderweb by the plant pot. Mostly she was inert for such long periods I kept thinking she was dead until she moved again.

red admiral butterfly standing on beetroot leaf

Why do I involve myself in these unnatural nature observations? After a couple of days’ impasse, in desperation I refreshed the water and plonked a kiwi fruit end nearby. I even poured some water into furrows of a fresh beetroot leaf incase the caps were too high-sided. Instead she nodded into a discoloured puddle beside her discarded chrysalis.

red admiral butterfly standing on beetroot leaf

This crumpled husk dragging about a small plot and refusing conventional nourishment seemed disturbingly familiar. Apparently prompted by my pointless foutering nearby, she pushed her front legs off the leaf across the varnished sill, sliding and retracting in a sorry dance. Concerned for her falling off, I pushed the kiwi chunk across as a barrier. She uncurled her tongue and probed encouragingly. I left her to it. She had a good sook then left her mark. I don’t know if this is a good rating or an emetic complaint.

kiwi fruit piece post-butterfly

With this happening late in the evening, my mind was already birling loosely on its spindle. Was this butterfly paralleling not just my feebleness but also my fussiness for drinking dechlorinated water in a plastic free vessel? For fruit sugar rather than refined? Exhausted by my ineptitude and daft notions, the following day she retreated to a dried leaf hanging behind the plant pot.

red admiral butterfly on dead leaf

The next morning she was definitely dead. I recognised the tell-tale sign of a detached head. Caring for your chrysalis score: zero. Whichever god has me on their observation windowsill, I’m ready for my head-lopping now.

red admiral butterfly dead

Perhaps the crumpled wings and the abdomen twisted like a modelling balloon were signs that she was doomed. Where were the myriad spiders that habitually prowl this habitat? Perhaps I should’ve put her outside for a bird. I’ve seen sparrows going at butterflies like snakes eating eggs, although a little more quickly. Where was the universal recycler? Playing god is a tricky business.

Compost in peace, Mirabelle.

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21/08/2018

Wratislaw part 10 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

While Wratislaw scrabbles for a way to triumph, he must survive the obligatory probing by Kamila.
“Seven, eight years ago, in your interviews, you were…funny. Lately you are awfully serious. Are you overwhelmed by the complexity or the challenge of your many projects? The responsibility of your various roles?” She’s been listening. Inspiration strikes. A question lures. Can he steer toward it?
“Going by this evening’s performance being underwhelming? What could possibly be missing from my life?”
“Time to yourself?”
“Nope. Too much time with myself.”
She ponders. Or perhaps she leaves space to draw him out. Obligingly he fills it.
“Not all interviewers are as intelligent and insightful as you. You always made me think and feel.”
“Often I am told I interrogate people.”
“No, there’s no judgment. You seem genuinely interested. Your questions… Do you remember your ultimate question?”

Kamila’s eyes glint and widen. “My meta-question?” Jackpot.
“How did it go again?” Wratislaw asks even though he’s utterly sure. He needs to hear her say it.
“‘What is the question you would most like me to ask you, and how would you answer?'”
As her voice sounds through his skull he closes his eyes. She muses.
“I remember you cheated; well, you deferred.”
“I couldn’t say it out loud! It was inappropriate. It would’ve changed things…us.”
“So I let you off the hook.”
“You asked if there would be a time in the future when it might be…appropriate.”
“And you said you hoped so. That was exquisitely intriguing.”
“Do you still have it?”
“Of course.”
“Did you ever open it?”
“No! We agreed: not until we both agreed it was appropriate.” She wrings him out with that blasted virtuous integrity.
“How about now?”
They commit, like teenagers goading each other to escalating dares.

Kamila picks and rips at the tightly sealed, worn folds of paper. Eventually the grumpy origami acquiesces and gives up its secret. She jerkily scans his wished-for question. Something is awry. This paragon of calm control is overcome with convulsions of emotion. She pushes it at Wratislaw to read out. He recognises his writing, his wishing, as if he needed any confirmation of consistency.
“‘Would you like to dance with me…for the next fifty years or so?'” The answer is unnecessary. He chuckles cathartically. The image of the unattended piano in the foyer thuds into his mind. “I think I’ll have a bash at that Janáček now. Will you listen?”
Her maelstrom mind will manage only one word. “Always.”

Epilogue

Kamila leans on the sturdy chapel door, closing it with a reassuring squeaky clunk. The sudden, silent, dark dankness is refreshing. She glides between the pews, gratified by the decent turnout and stimulating discussion. Nothing is awry.

“What does ‘Wratislaw’ mean to you?” The question curls out from behind a pillar. She was asked during the event, and she gave answers about place, character, then let the participants add their own responses about marketing stunts and student pranks. This is different. This is the questioner she hoped for. She approaches and peers into the gloom.

Wratislaw’s shoulders fill the pew; his talented hands are clasped, resting contemplatively on the next pew’s back. He flicks those blue eyes sideways to her approach. She has his answer ready. But not just yet.
“You got my message.”
“Most of Edinburgh and quite a portion of the world got your message.”
“They see the word but not the message.”
He exhales a laugh. She waits for him to respond.
“‘Love Wratislaw’? It’s a social media meme now.”
Disappointing. He’s prevaricating.

Kamila returns a petulant truism. “They can circulate it and interpret it all they like.”
“You could’ve just called to say you would be here.”
“Not interesting.”
“Unlike walking from the hotel to the venue seeing my secret nickname chalked on every other lamppost? On thirty-eight random paving slabs? On railings and bins and benches and bus shelters?”
“It took me only two hours. I woke early.”
“You didn’t answer my first question.”
He’s learning. She alights on the bench beside him, just pressing the side of his body, and tilts her gaze. He pulls her on to his lap, and touches her face. She leans into the next fifty years.

END

Incidentally… it all started with a minor character described by John Buchan:

Wratislaw “was to the first glance a remarkable figure. About the middle height, with a square head and magnificent shoulders, he looked from the back not unlike some professional strong man. But his face betrayed him, for it was clearly the face of the intellectual worker, the man of character and mind. His jaw was massive and broad, saved from hardness only by a quaintly humorous mouth; he had, too, a pair of very sharp blue eyes looking from under shaggy eyebrows. His age was scarcely beyond thirty, but one would have put it ten years later, for there were lines on his brow and threads of grey in his hair.” John Buchan, The Half-Hearted

…which led me to research the name (and its pronunciation!):

Wrocław [Vrotswahf] (or Wratislaw [Vratislav] in Czech) is the largest city in western Poland. It lies on the banks of the River Oder in the Silesian Lowlands. The city is believed to be named after Wrocisław or Vratislav, Duke Vratislaus I of Bohemia.
Wrocław is the historical capital of Silesia and Lower Silesia. Today, it is the capital of the Lower Silesian Voivodeship. The history of the city dates back over a thousand years, and its extensive heritage combines almost all religions and cultures of Europe. At various times, it has been part of the Kingdom of Poland, Kingdom of Bohemia, Kingdom of Hungary, Habsburg Monarchy, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Wrocław became part of Poland again in 1945, as a result of the border changes after the Second World War, which included a nearly complete exchange of population.

20/08/2018

Wratislaw part 9 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

Somehow Wratislaw has relaxed a little. Perhaps Kamila listening quietly alongside him has something to do with it. He is addicted. He tries not to sound petulant.
“What did you think of me?”
“I was disappointed.”
“OK, thanks. Well, that’s that then.”
“What happened to the Janáček project?”
“Shelved. Total loss of…everything.”
“That is disappointing.”
“Apparently that’s me.”

Kamila shifts position slightly. Perspective.
“You said you wanted to feel unrequited passion, like Janáček. Perhaps I flatter myself, but is this not why you call me Kamila?”
“Now you sound like you’re trying to argue that you left me for the sake of my professional—”
“Exactly.”
“So I could play Janáček with true unrequited passion?!”
“You were disappointing. For me and your other audience.”
“You keep saying that! I was depressed! You should’ve told me!”
“That would have defeated the experiment.”
“Experiment?!” Wratislaw no longer cares if he sounds hysterical. “And how did that work out?”
“Apparently your psyche is not the same as his.”
Wratislaw’s own disappointment and frustration are neck and neck.
“Well, this has been a tremendous waste of time, and actually a pretty cruel and unethical psychological game, just to prove two people aren’t the same.”

Kamila’s composure indicates there is a solid explanation in his near future. He hates that. She’s back to questioning, luring him toward her cursed superior understanding.
“Tell me this now, completely truthfully: are you not glad you had the experience? Felt those things?”
“The anticipation is better than the actual thing?!”
“The anticipation is better than nothing.”
“I can’t possibly know without reliving my life differently.”
“What do you want to happen?”
“I want you to behave normally—no, not ‘normally’; I don’t know what that means—authentically.”
“Are you sure? Be careful what you wish for, Wratislaw.”
He smirks as the heady rush pours through him again.

Wratislaw lays back on the cool, damp ground and finds, at last, a shred of confidence. A question.
“What do you want to happen?”
Kamila looks away and breathes.
“I want to feel the precision, the clarity, the quiet confidence of your playing again. I want to feel that you will take me on this dangerous journey through the dark, enchanted forest, but that you know the terrain, and you relish every landscape feature you navigate. You will wrestle and vanquish the wild beasts. You will take me on an exhilarating adventure and give me new understanding. You will bring me safely out the far side of the forest without falling over the precipice. The full, unsanitised, emotional journey with a wise guide. Most of all, I want to feel that I have somehow been part of the event, that my presence has affected you too, that I have been involved and have enhanced your experience.”
“Is that all?” He notices he’s clutching her hand. When did that happen? After six years it’s surreal.

Suddenly he understands what he was doing thrashing around in the undergrowth. Conniving harpy. He’s so pathetically susceptible. He was never in any danger. She’s just shown him, let him experience directly, exactly what she wants. All he has to do is deliver. Simple.

…concludes at part 10

19/08/2018

Wratislaw part 8 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

The closeness of Kamila’s voice is startlingly. “Still in the dark, Wrati?”
“Utterly.”
“Feel better for clawing at things?”
“No! How do you do that silent flitting and pouncing?!”
“I just walk carefully.”
“You pounced on me this afternoon in that…Schrödinger’s egg carton! And you’ve been teasing me all around this…”
“I promised you would see me.”
He curses himself for forgetting. He could have played a much cooler game. As cool as his sopping arse. Never too late.

Wratislaw switches topic. “Should I be concerned that you’re in Glasgow?”
“I’m not stalking you.”
“Evidently I’m stalking you. Badly.”
“You are not difficult to see: you look like a tattie-bogle!” Bless her, she speaks every blasted language better than him.
“Nature has not been kind to this suit. I just thought you might be fomenting revolution…type thing.”
“At the BBC?”
“Or through the BBC? Why are you doing whatever with the BBC?”
“It factors into a project.”
“That’s super-clear.”
“How is this your business?”
“I remember after Wrocław all sorts of citizen movements, democracy protests, suchlike, suddenly got turbo-charged.”
“You were not there.”
“I read newspapers! I was too scared to go back!”
“I thought there might be another reason, like you got your research.”
“You know I didn’t.”

Kamila wavers. Wratislaw feels a rush of desperation.
“Don’t vanish again!” He sounds panicked. His arse is soaking. Eels are probably on the verge of penetrating.
She continues softly. “Where did you get stuck?”
“You questioned my fundamental motivation for making music. ‘Because humans always have’ wasn’t enough. Neither was ‘because we need it’. Or ‘because it’s glorious’. You always came back with ‘why?'”
“I had odd ideas about our most profound learning being through relationship. Music somehow came into that – a way of engendering empathy…something like that. I could not get traction with it; you were no help.”
He can certainly empathise with mental free-wheeling.

Wratislaw refocuses on his stuckedness: the sheer tonnage of his inertia. “I probably shouldn’t say this, it being my livelihood, but sometimes music isn’t enough. Sometimes you need words as well. Even though music is raw emotion and travels straight to your heart and the primitive parts of your mind, still people interpret that emotion differently according to their individual biases.”
“We need song, opera?”
“Just sometimes we need to talk.”
“What do you want to say?”
He has run right into her trap. Again. Entangled in the cat’s cradle of his personal hydra. How to disempower it… What does he want to say?
“That I was enchanted…by you. That I thought you felt…something… And then you vanished, like a…dryad in the mist!” As ever, Janáček floats just beyond his grasp.
“I thought this was what you wanted.”
“To be abandoned?! In the midst of a rush of passion?!”
“Why would I want to attach myself to a comet?”

…continues at part 9

18/08/2018

Wratislaw part 7 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

In this dense web of stalks, cloud-reflected metropolitan light is inadequate. The ridiculousness of Wratislaw’s predicament, however, is plain to see. Pursuing an as yet unseen woman through some eccentric philanthropist’s forgotten wilderness. Easy to explain.

To continue his form, at this point, he wonders whether his unintelligent next move should be more blundering about in vicious thickets, or to hunker down. His stinging forearms and shins, and his throbbing arse, beg for respite. Hunker down and wait. How long should he wait to extinguish all doubt that Kamila has gotten utterly bored of his disappointing efforts and abandoned him to his mortifyingly un-man-of-the-woods-like fate? Mortified. Unmanned.

Wratislaw gazes about, trying to subdue his creeping anxiety. Is he more bothered by losing her or himself? Once again his brain loses visual traction on the shifting shades of dark. Frantically clawing in complete stillness. Instead he becomes highly sensitised to the tickling, the crawling, the scurrying, the rustling. A clear whistle pierces the fog, inside and out: a bird’s alarm or a guiding signal? Or just a rusted mental circuit venting dangerously high steam pressure.

Will anyone miss him? BBC Ben and his glowing orb would be a welcome lighthouse right now. Wratislaw would offer some professional enticement for… That sounds sordid. Plus his stock probably isn’t so high after that performance. So long ago. That other so civilised world. Not out here in the jungle.

Regardless of Wratislaw’s existential crisis, clouds drift along their journeys. Yet somewhere, something powerful grows impatient with his lack of progress and grants him a boon. A fortuitously timed shaft of moonlight spotlights a stone edge: a carved edge: a building. A purposeless ornament, which, as it turns out, finally has use.

Folly. How perfectly apposite. Wratislaw lunges for the stonework, pushing mercilessly through the knives and forks and razor wires, stumbling and slipping, arms scissoring across his face in a violent dance. He does not appreciate the overgrown path Janáček allusion. Emerging from the malicious vegetation, he hauls himself to a cool stone pillar and hugs it shamelessly. After tactfully clouding his trembles for an interval, a further moonbeam benevolently shimmers across the river and delicately lights the blindingly obvious path thither.

Wratislaw bravely departs his safe haven and careers jelly-legged to the water’s edge. He yanks at the infernal luring willow and swipes wildly at illusory clothes. The rippling water and the thrashing twigs have messed up the acoustics. He plonks on the first stone that seems big enough. Unfortunately it’s just another shadow so his landing is lower and wetter than he expects. His battered coccyx complains. He exhales forcefully.

After a few moments of bewildered and moist stillness, he imagines he feels warmth on his arm, a faint breath on his cheek. Probably some rebound sensory effect from the thrashing. Or, just possibly, hiding in plain blindness.

He conjures Kamila in his mind, slides his hand across and is shocked when he connects. Electricity crackles through his skin.

…continues at part 8

17/08/2018

Wratislaw part 6 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

The initiative must be seized else-how. Wratislaw calls out. “What is your fixation with forests?”
Kamila’s reply echoes from elsewhere. “Fourteen trees is a fixation?”
He swerves before refocusing. “The question there was ‘fourteen trees is a forest’ but let’s not get diverted. In Wrocław, when I asked where you wanted to go next, you pointed at that Białowieża forest.”
“It wasn’t Białowieża; that is the opposite part of the country. And considerably bigger.”
“Where were we then? I thought I was in a world-renowned forest.”
“Why would this matter?”
“It was magical.”
“Maybe the air was polluted with hallucinogens! Poland had a big problem with toxic smoke. People kept trying to get rid of illegal plastic waste imports by putting fire to waste dumps.”

Wratislaw’s whole body focuses on keeping her talking, to try to work out where her voice is. “Or maybe your picnic was spiked!”
“Maybe we were dehydrated or hypoglycaemic.”
“Maybe our bodies were just in shock from walking more than twenty metres at a time.” His had been.
“Maybe it was a midsummer daydream.”
“It was magical.” He’s already said that. Call it emphasis.
“You think it was the place and not…us?”

There it is: the tiny uncertainty. She isn’t one hundred percent. What is he certain of? Nothing, except she isn’t in the sneaky pine. Still just glimpses and shadows of nothing. And the small matter of his enduring infatuation. He lets the beleaguered birch swish back to upright…ish.

He has to explore her uncertainty. To explore the terrain. Instead he blunders. He launches impetuously down the ridge and finds himself accelerating beyond leg control. He chooses arse over head to lead the descent – meaning he sits and slides, rather than tumbles. Important to have that point clear. He can argue the relative wisdom with the physiotherapist who will have the enviable challenge of enabling him to sit comfortably again to earn his living.

After its premature start, Wratislaw’s slide takes longer than he expects. He puts this down to the time-expanding powers of adrenaline. When he finally halts he is at the disgorgage of a burn into the river. This small-scale estuary with picturesque miniature mud-flats is a welcome coolant for his friction-savaged arse.

He rises carefully, finds his limbs reassuringly responsive, and turns about. There are more than fourteen trees. Something new is awry. With river at his back, he has a panorama of perpendicular inclines, paved with leaf litter. With no idea whether he is up- or downstream from the original position, he crawls up the least precipitous wedge, grasping wildly for those beleaguered young birches.

Several branches slap wet leaves resentfully at Wratislaw so he closes his eyes for much of the ascent. When he reaches a level where he doesn’t immediately feel his feet sliding backward or other discouragement, he cautiously raises his lids. With his eyes mildly attuned to darkness, he focuses on a fleeting movement, slipping between trunks. Through his frantic, fruitless scramble he thought he heard a ripple of laughter. Or was it the river? She’s taunting him.

He leans his hand on the nearest trunk. He withdraws it instantly from something unexpectedly soft and slimy. He thinks of insects that mind-bogglingly disassemble their bodily integrity back to primeval goup, then rearrange themselves structurally into something quite different. Except for the unfortunate individual he just plunged his fingers into. No longer to emerge and reach its full potential. Now destined to mutate horribly into chimaera with himself. Rather like The Fly. The Wrattisfly. What a Frankenstein’s monster that would be: his shoulders giving it wings like a pterodactyl, a weak abdomen of no use but as a prop, and yet remarkably dextrous legs and antennae. Somewhere in this hallucination there must be a metaphor. All skilfully choreographed. She’s manipulating him.

Something warm brushes his cheek. The reverie dissolves. Glancing up he sees the flicker of things with wings the wrong way about. Bats. Not bothersome. But why no bird calls? Probably silenced by his threatening crashing about.

Wratislaw resumes his disoriented weaving between trees. The ground level helpfully lowers then rises. He lurches around a larch and snatches another just in time to prevent himself re-launching into Arse-luge Ravine. He pivots daintily upon the precipice and sags into an elastic coppiced hazel. Noting its rarity among a cluster of hawthorn, holly and dog-rose, his luck may be changing.

…continues part 7

16/08/2018

Wratislaw part 5 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

Why had Kamila been talking to Wratislaw, back then? Her answer had been brilliant. She gazed out across the cityscape. First, of course, she asked him what he saw. He stated the obvious. Then she explained it.
“Buildings, streets, green space, activity, movement, travel, glitter and shadow… Zoom in or out, pan across. This is a vast and deep fascination. I see infinite interest in finite space, a fractal psyche.”
It was him.
“You think of me as a Mandelbrot set?” He had been pleased with himself for dredging up that reference. Until she hit it out of the park.
“I think of you as Wratislaw.”
He was unable to resist grinning. As always, she took it further than he could have imagined. “So, I know who you are, obviously, and you know who I am, for what this is worth. Can we please not talk about professions and partners and parenting and all this cliché competitive life shit?”
“In favour of?”
“Interesting things!”
“And interesting names?”
“Yes; what will you call me?”
“Kamila, obviously.”

As Wratislaw crouches in the darkening jaggy shrubbery, tickled by leaves and probably things on legs, that memory still warms. He recalls taking several moments to regroup. He gestured the cityscape.
“Where would you like to go next?”
“In the real world or in your head?”
“It’s your metaphor.”
“There.”
She pointed decisively to a tree-clad eruption a few miles north-west. He had only one move.
“May I take you?”

Wratislaw decides that Kamila, for all her superiority, is probably tactically stuck at this point. Probably because he isn’t behaving as she expects, i.e. intelligently. He’s feeling tingles in intimate places, and not all of them can be attributed to invading insects. He’ll have to move. Any move will gain the initiative. For no reason other than his innate perversity, he sets out vigorously from the rhododendron in the opposite direction.

Too late he remembers how she ended her discussion at the fateful event. “Go out now, go away, go back to your lives. Don’t think any more about this. I don’t ask you to think about any of this stuff; I only ask you to think.” Drat.

Surrounding the ensemble of quaint river bank, shady willow, shadier pine with possible occupied perch, and bruised rhododendron, is a band of thicker mature trees. These turn out to be planted on a ridge. The ridge turns out to be ideally suited for pretending you’re in a tree when you’re not. Now they both are. Pretending.

One slender birch sapling suggests to Wratislaw a cunning wheeze. He manoeuvres around to its ‘safe’ side and triangulates his target. With careful force the birch curls over beautifully. A couple of thrashes sweep the perceived vantage point and several small pine cones hit the ground. Why no squeal or proclamation of acquiescence to his masterful offensive? He detests a silent audience.

…continues at part 6

15/08/2018

Wratislaw part 4 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

With the stealth of a grizzly bear, Wratislaw forces his way further into the rhododendron, shattering branches and snagging his shirt. Obviously the witch has seen him coming, has scaled a tree, and has gained the tomfoolery initiative with the pelting effort. How can he get a tactical advantage?

Back on the ramparts, he had tried Kamila’s approach, grilling her about her motivation.
“Why are you talking to me? This isn’t still guilt for letting me think you were someone else.”

At the start of the afternoon, Wratislaw had headed to the back of the auditorium. His being there at all had been entirely the fault of a colleague who had suggested the diversion since he was in south-west Poland between assignments. He had had no other interest in a sideshow about ‘thinking’. He had expected to have to resist cheesy showmanship and light hypnosis.

As he had moved into the end of a row, a woman a few seats along had garbled some pleasantry. He had fumbled an apology in English. Always the British embarrassment for being elsewhere without any effort at the native language. She had quipped back—in English, curse her—that she wasn’t Polish either and the event seemed a long way for him to have come. He had admitted he had other business there and asked if the speaker was worth travelling from Czech for. And off they had gone, easily conversing across ranging fascinations, and incidentally swapping seats somewhere along the way.

Her clothes had draped over her willowy frame, under her long, straight, dark hair, itself under a retro cloth Alice-band. Her eyes were dark too, like treacle with glints of amber. Glints of activity within. Tremendous activity. He hadn’t sought to impress; just to keep up. He had had no idea she was psychoanalysing him. Or about the more critical factor.

After a particularly deep exploration of his motivation for solo performance, which had taken her a good couple of minutes, she had paused, glanced away, breathed, and smiled at him. That had fanned the sparks into a warm glow. She had then stood, ambled to the front of the hall and proceeded to lead a discussion on thinking. Hiding in plain sight.

He had felt eviscerated: six months of ‘getting to know’ compressed into six minutes. Had he only known that rich seam would have to last him six years.

None of that explains what Kamila is up to now with the clothing decoy. Wratislaw tries to distract himself from the distracting notion that she is unclad. In a tree.

…continues at part 5

14/08/2018

Wratislaw part 3 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

Kamila had said she preferred the Czech version of the Polish Wrocław, although the sound was similar. She knew his real name of course, but wanted a conversation without the public celebrity, without the performance accolades. Wratislaw just wanted the conversation. What had she said?
“It just doesn’t work for me.”
“Doesn’t work for me either, obviously.”
“You are not happy in your illustrious career?”
“No, I mean yes, but the name doesn’t get me the attention of interesting, intelligent—”
She grimaced at the developing patronisation. He stopped. They started again. Obviously, somewhere thereafter, they stopped again. He winces at the recollection.

Advancing through the gloaming, Wratislaw senses dampness in the air then hears a faint, welcome trickling. However, inevitably, something is awry.

Where the river bank blurs beneath a willow’s fine fringe of branches, a suitably willowy figure lies, one leg stretched toward the rippling water. He peers to see if there are bare toes, or dipped toes. That seems more important than identifying the owner. In truth he has already decided that point, even if reality will prove him wrong. In the absence of movement, he begins stealthily closing the gap.

Wratislaw is interrupted by a twig or seed hitting the top of his head and pattering on the ground beside him. And another. Some squirrel at trough, perhaps. He doesn’t doubt that squirrels are nocturnal. He resumes stalking the prone figure.
“Have you thought this through?” That voice scythes through his viscera. It didn’t come from the bank; it was much closer.

He freezes for two seconds; for another two his eyes dart back and forth fruitlessly in the fading light; then he plunges into a convenient rhododendron bush.

Wratislaw crouches among the resentful jaggy branches, palpitating, sweating even. His mind races through his irrational and probably pointless behaviour. If she has seen him, then, obviously, she was the ‘squirrel’. Why hide in a bush, where she can no doubt still see him? In order to see her. And who then is the figure on the bank?

Always Kamila questioned. It was her way of creating conversation. “Why are you here?”
“Here in…Wrocław [vrotswahf]—did I get that right? I was saying ‘roe-claw’ until my manager updated my crib sheet—Good. So, here in this city or right here on this…rampart?”

After the event she tracked him to a flat roof outside the second storey dance hall. The french windows along the corridor were open for ventilation. She seemed relieved, as if she’d been searching for him and had feared she’d missed him. He’d been waiting and hoping, to talk some more, and some more, and some other. He was gratified.

Onward with her interrogation. “Or here in this country, at this building, this event. Or anything between or beyond. The point is to see how you interpret the question.”
“That really over-complicates things.”
“You only have to pick one, otherwise I think you evade the question.”
As he had earlier, Wratislaw found himself comfortable being truthful. “I am fixated on modern Czech classics.”
“Can you have a modern classic?”
“I think the question there was ‘then why are you in Poland’. Because Czech classics since Beethoven are like eating apple crumble for twenty years then tasting lemon sorbet. And now I need some…cheese.” The metaphor expired horribly on him.
“This is how you prepare: with a dessert menu?”
“I want to get right in his head—Janačék—like method acting, but playing. I want to feel ten years of unrequited passion.”
“And more than one thousand unanswered letters?”
“Yes! The wrist-ache!”

Here she frowned sideways at him. Surely she didn’t register smut; English not her first language etc. She ploughed on with the serious.
“Do you think composers must be unappreciated in their lifetimes for them to produce such timelessly brilliant work?”
“Keeps them keen.”
“Do we value composers’ legacies—our selfish enjoyment—more than their personal contentment and gratification?”
“Oh, don’t make it into a moral philosophy question!”
“How can it be a moral issue? They’re dead.”
“Except the living ones.”

So it went on: Wratislaw trying to charm through Kamila’s so very serious pursuit of wisdom, to cover the fact that he was utterly fascinated yet out of his depth. Which is exactly where he is again. Loving every moment. Despite his professional mental focus melting like the sorbet. He recalls the subsequent Chopin festival being another of his unremarkable performances. His Raindrop Prelude was a miserable drizzle. He can plot the correlation between his virtuosity dissolving and her presence in space and time.

…continues at part 4

13/08/2018

Wratislaw part 2 of 10

A drily hyperbolic, humorous short story – a pianist with a passion for Janáček’s music finds the composer’s unrequited infatuation is part of the bargain

Wratislaw series begins at part 1

BBC Ben laughs as Wratislaw’s smirk melts away to distracted despair. Ben plays the precarious rapport.
“Shall we carry on, then? I mean: this is radio; we could be drifting in outer space for all they know.”
“Oh, I’m already there. Totally defused.”
Ben chuckles. “I like to have guests wait in a windowless void; they get a bit untethered.”

Wratislaw has managed to press the disturbance into just a tiny corner of his mind. He’s almost completely subsumed in describing his experience of Martinu. Almost.
“All that in just one minute forty-five. It’s miniaturism on a colossal scale.” He watches Ben puzzle over the juxtaposition and decide it makes a perfectly oxymoronic exit from the interview.

Ben shuts down the recording and thanks Wratislaw in his straightforward Manchester manner. Wratislaw appreciates the lack of toadying. Still, yet another something else is awry.
“Dress code seems rather formal today?”
Ben laughs coyly. “I didn’t think you’d noticed!”
Wratislaw chuckles politely, leaving a gap for Ben to fill. He learned that from her.
“We have this live section party thing after. A sort of thank-you knees-up for getting through the festival season with nothing more than a slight over-run from a broken string, a couple of screaming kids, and one interval track that went AWOL.”
Wratislaw allows a smirk. “Ah, yes. I’m invited.”
“Great! Well, might be awful actually. Our researcher–I think you just met her—she reckons we won’t last ten minutes.”

Kamila. Obviously. That’s why he is asking. Kamila Tuháčková. Not her real name either, but real names turn out to be meaningless. And researcher-cum-philosopher-cum-sorceresses don’t usually wear frocks like that. Surely. But of course Ben is just exercising their rapport, that diaphanous bit of professional camaraderie that is already dissolving. Because Wratislaw has a performance to come. Come undone. Come dancing. Cum-sorceress.

Wratislaw has made two laborious circuits of the throng, trying to graciously accept compliments, trying not to point out too often that it was, in fact, merely one of his mediocre performances. Gone was the ready confidence, replaced with caution. He avoided the risk of any flourishes, turned out an agricultural recital, and was lucky his damp tension hadn’t caused him to slide out by a half-note on those blasted polished keys. On the plus side, he can easily catch out any obsequious flatterers.

But he doesn’t have to be here. He doesn’t even have to be polite. He came for something else and it eludes him. A loose garden door catches his eye. A welcome respite to reassess and plot the quickest route for his escape. For his disappointment.

The downward slope of the extensive lawn draws him away from the hall. Nobody else seems enticed out here, unappreciative heathens, but the situation suits him. He deliberately brushes by shrubs and tree branches, unperturbed by dew and beetles landing on his jacket. The smell they give off is sublime. But everything is heightened when she’s there. Except not there.

Tuháčková, pronounced too-hatch-kova, not too-hats-, as one of her colleagues had doggedly referred to her, as if it was funny. Why always the British patronisation of other nations? Always inventing their own pronunciation and even names. But isn’t his own another example? Her example. Always an exception… Always exceptional.

…continues at part 3

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