Baj always carried an enormous cardboard mailing tube, filled with musical scores carefully rolled inside, bedecked with signatures so billowing and rolling you thought an ocean wind had blown through them and filled their once-flat sails.
Prison guards with too much else to do sometimes studied the contents of the tube, coming in; recording bits of conversations between the Indian Baj, and Gavin. Would you make the music quicker here or slower, Baj would ask, and Gavin would say slower.
And with what careful ferocity would you proceed? Baj would ask in his beautiful rippling accents. Three-syllable ferocity.
Terrible but measured ferocity, Gavin would say, a bit like the deliberation in digging beneath a bank to reach its vaults. Shocking the guards, the overmen, that Gavin would even make mention of his crime, of trying to reach Irish bank vaults with friends (accomplices), but yet, it showed shame and no shame, first to the guards and then later on the rough-bearded but librarianish, hoarding souls of the parole board. He did not hide his crime. He mixed it with the art, of music, of film—-(creation, people outside the dance of creation called it, though the ones who practiced it would call it like digging their way to—-a bank). Higher being, higher calling—than money. His father James—asking his advice for film scores. The Royal Haymarket. The National. Correspondence went back and forth: on paper, clearly, he was in father’s graces.
Now a somewhat famous English father’s graces. (Few knew James was born American, a somewhat English—impostor.) Gavin was being asked for advice on film scores; even for ballet, still weirdly staged as space ballet—in Haymarket. The National next fall. In his father’s James’ graces, or his traces. He was not refusing to speak about his crimes. Ireland, slowly, was beginning to forgive Gavin, the runaway from sanity, the most delicious pleasure anyone can ever have: running away.
Before he was out: James’ and old dead father Wolcott’s guns would have to be given to a museum; someone would firmly tell James that Gavin’s judge had once forgiven someone else who printed pounds sterling and spent them—-for quite a while. Important turn. That application/invention—of a syndrome.
But they had made it up, the judges, the lawyers. The Christopher Robin boy, James’s legal men hired to defend Gavin would begin to call that other young man in court, in the judge’s presence; they, naming a syndrome that same judge and the law had brought to light. Pity—that Christopher Robin boy. (That overextended “boy” who had taken up counterfeiting—that bad habit—had begun that while studying, line by line, everything ever spoken by Christopher Robin in A.A. Milne’s classic Pooh books, during his studying years.) (Christopher Robin, boy-character dear to the countryside British heart, was the actual name of Milne the author’s son; Milne had decided in a blur of love and pride—-and a blurring of fictive boundaries— that it did not matter if his real son’s name was in books.)
Gently, repetitively, that idea, like a rock eventually fully darkened by rain, was completing, completed: and so Gavin too grandson of powerful Wolcott, son of powerful James, was a sort of postgraduate Christopher Robin, too long after his crimes in the columns of Irish newspaper, that Irish pretend forest, Hundred Acre Wood, also of his own stuffy Bloomsbury father’s and grandfather’s making: why, his father had driven him mad, his father son of the mysterious frequently absent Wolcott, as the postgraduate student had been driven mad by too much scholarly drivel, and the reading of the books too refuginous: Pooh.)
All of life is comparison. Perhaps another postgraduate neurosis, finally muttered the judge, aware that James had been a student too, and fearful James’s lawyerly men would dig deeper and learn (they already knew) that the counterfeiter, the one with the Christopher Robin syndrome—-had been another judge’s—-son. Judge Sutton’s. A friend’s. That made too meaty that local steak-and-kidney—-shepherd’s pie. That dinner with the other judge whose son was a counterfeiter. The lunches would have to end if the other judge’s son—was convicted.
Hinted, it was, suddenly, James’s son Gavin, similarly mad, only needed considerable artistic—–outlet—which his father James the famous could provide, and sparing, remember—good governmental—Irish—-expense.
Of course, Gavin was more talented than his father let on; wasn’t he? Gavin pretended to accept all his artistic failings, stutteringly accepting hope-filled advice. Better he had largely failed with music (he sensed his father’s possible ruse). Could he be edited? Of course, he was eager for all advice, for revision. Through some careful editing of past copies of playbills it was shown he had had bit parts in orchestras, had shown promise, but had been too soon success, then too soon discouragedom. Theater has necessary cruelties; it was not difficult to prove basis—for Gavin having been, through plain bad luck, inevitable for actors and creatives, had been let go in humiliating ways. Gavin half-pretended, for the sake of freedom, to take advice, waking at five o’clock, keeping a journal which was without words, only musical scores, of course all his saved correspondence from Baj and the other musicians and dramatic scorekeepers. Baj was the messenger, quiet man from India, loyal—-despite humiliations a dragoon of Great Britain still. In many ways Irish court and prisons were—like him—-royal attendants, too, to England, a maid, a footsoldier, eager to please, a maid, sturdy soldier, full of wonder.
The politeness of Baj—-sweet cuminy soul of India. Greenish but inside like rough yet flimsy silk, gold. Bitter only slightly; sweet only slightly, if an edible. Gavin’s letters never showed the desperation of most prisoners’ correspondence: the hasty frightened crushed acceptance of God that suggests God—as last cheery resort. Gavin’s letters definitively showed control and judgement, creating general sense Gavin was like his father, an artistic maverick, but sturdy, yes; in spirit. (They said when apprehended—revolvers in hand near the bank—in the Irish tunnel—strange, surrounded. Gavin— had boisterously laughed).
Restoration! Creative art might need him more—-than prison needed one more human project. (And—James had heard that word had dropped that Wolcott of Bloomsbury was Gavin’s grandfather.) Freeing him had become a work of art, deft subtle yet hammerhanded project.
Wolcott’s name could save him—-like the triangular, corner-niche cupboard in old English country homes saved up mystery, where the strange dishes are dusted rarely but are so brilliant and resolute in their colors and shapes it does not matter. Rarely used, they outshine dust and loss. They both flare and beam. Wolcott, the curio.
Old dead Wolcott, who had not objected to the honor of being someday father—future-forward donor soul—-to revengeful solitarian Diana—-went on to fail in a passive-aggressive way (over twenty iridescent years passed following her death, till his death) to be father-project-manager to her child. All it required was keeping, not losing, her numbered slip of paper, with its magic number for the cryogenic pearls of eggs, beside Diana’s ginger-haired father’s black velvet box of bulldog cufflinks, in shadow-safe deposit box at Barclays’. Then did nothing in the twenty years, Wolcott stunned still by her car crash death in a French tunnel. The Fiat Uno mystery less mystery and misery than the dry-ice spell of pearls and eternity that are women’s eggs—-laid plain and true like naked- and priceless—caviar. Unstrung, pincushion with pearl-headed pins in it: stringable long-liveable pearls.
Because, perhaps, his guilt—-about knowing he had an unseen (then) son James in America?
Or perhaps he saw Diana’s only purpose was to road-wreck and undercut Charles, the husband then always adjusting his own (precious) cufflinks in every photograph you saw. Diana wore black plunging necklines; Charles adjusted his philandering cuffs. Charles had his own pair of cufflinks (he found his fatherin-law’s bulldog cufflinks abhorrent) engraved with initials C and C (for him, and Camilla whom he would eventually marry). Camilla had had them made just before his honeymoon with young Diana. Camilla married someone else, a Tom, became mother to Tom’s three. Intertwined, the Cs, forming a Chanelish channel crossing not under but over Diana’s dumb young golden sparrow-brown-turning-to-morning-goldcap of hair.
Many would assume the hidden, frozen eggs, guarded by the new god of science, came movie-like doctor-macabrely after Diana’s modern car-crash death, in a hospital will-and-trust attempt to cheat death, but no. Extracted between child one and child two, they went beyond the heir and spare. Three for a braid, three for the most stable of chairs, the milkmaid’s stool (fairy milkmaid what country Diana looked like in her early days—to big-eared Charles).
Wolcott, old fool then and dead fool now: like his empty collected white tiger’s skin he kept upstairs in his bedroom, and his son James who turned up after he was dead—also brightly, snappily, found. His mother had practically delivered him—to his doorstep that he would never step across again. Tiger! Dead strut! The dark RAF greatcoat had also been handsome and great, found by James early at last like blind man’s bluff in dead man’s attic: but like tiger’s skin, it suggested—ghostly emptiness, the stuffed animal’s hide expecting you to locate and isolate the guilt of the murder, without clues.
Wolcott’s soul once proficient lording over India, but not strong enough to save him from territorial dissolve: tree-surrounded Bloomsbury house off Russell Square taken over by an American son ignored and exiled by him, son of a visiting out-of-place American; then next to be left to someone English and abandoned—by both parents. Adoptee. Christopher Robin kingdom! The lonely bumbling stuffed animals! James, son, had to hunt for pedigree; another, his adopted son Gavin, would never get that proof of map, unless you counted the horrible placemat of brightness DNA ancestry searches will grant to you the adoptee after you pay your fee. No mountain names or cities, not even a river. Those would make you think real thoughts. No, just hard bright unfiltered colors, boundaries determined by squabbles of war. That’s your ancestry! Countries as blank as the image of your parents’ faces always would be for you. Why, your parents are—-nations! Lucky powerful—-you! Unguilty them! Simplicity—no features! As bright and shocking as over-bright flowers. The countries and colors. Like a mad wealth of Indian nations that no Britishmen had blended, really. Though the map argued stupidly otherwise. Here today. Going, gone, today, yesterday or tomorrow: the melted wax crayon colors, that do not want to blend. That was the yelled quiet curse of the plastic map.
Presumably Diana’s child would one day have this before him or her; but you liked to believe they that day would see a fine blot of light falling there. With sharp crownish points from maple or sycamore overarching the window, outside, making through
freak of accident—-like Arthur being able to pull the sword from the stone—-some pointed accidental message. From a crownshaped set of leaves, from thin, thin cloud. Heir-apparency. Heir-non-transparency. A richness of voice, someone with him or her. Oh, dear, there’s that silly map, your DNA analysis. I know where you are from. Will tell you. But by and by. (Almost nested, almost prince or princess, never-to-be.) Day struck by—-golden tones of harp. Framed—-by shapes of leaves. Sycamores. Maples.
Shakespeare’s job was filling maps—-with faces. Raging against pedigrees, that rigidity. And yet, cheering for them. They were his doors in and out.
To understand the curse that befell this uncrownable prince or princess you would you have to have lived with boy James in Wolcott’s house, have seen the startled angry looks of housekeepers (was he mad?) (why, yes) hearing sets of china thrown away—-sequentially—–by—pubescent James. (Crash!) Belonged to her. (Crash!) Used by her! (Crash!) The someone who took my mother’s place. Served tea to her. (Crash, crash.) Jagged crumbled now the pansies and the peonies and the roses, the precious painted wistfully-trailing thorny vines——the puffed ecstatic somewhat hysterical flowers on white glossy china. What womens‘ lips might have touched——James had shattered. Made no difference if Diana.
Happened then. Little did he know by the time he appeared—-at twelve—she would soon be dead. Dead Diana. Died Di. Dead Di. Dodi. Died. Did Dead. Diefully.
Years pass. Years pass! (They die, the years—-not us?) James, rich by velvet seat after velvet seat, proceeds from theater, messages from the lonely to the lonely, moved on to property the size of a small manageable sky, Wolcott’s house. O, house. Along the richest parts of London’s serpentine wharf, the Thames, more about five-star Chinese restaurants and their feng shui-guarded dragons—than boats or travel. Were boats real anymore, or useful? People were drawn in particular James thought (he had only been in it once, with Delores) to one glowing Chinese restaurant with handmade, immense scarlet lanterns in every window-cunning-cove eighteen floors up. (These lanterns, like Chinese temples, always looked to James like bright fresh blood.)
In Bloomsbury Baj had proper caretaker’s due—having tended Wolcott two decades: Delores lived with Baj in the house, caretaking her—too. Painful for James—they’d become what his mother had wanted to be with Wolcott, age-disparate but somewhat romantic couple, with a British habit of eggs, roast potatoes, and ham in the mornings. There was something about those holy-triangle three, potatoes, eggs, and ham, in the mornings, which usually in the Britainness of Greatness usually led the young—to marriage. The sight of eggs, potatoes, and ham, the smells and sight together, the breakfast puzzle of colors and scents and the fear of tomorrow and the rest of every day, assuaged for that moment by potatoes, eggs, rashers of ham.
All was almost right. As reign? Then Delores, who had risen from nowhere to dance in James’ space ballet in the Royal Haymarket, threw herself off one of the bridges you have to pass under to reach the Royal Maritime Museum, that museum a very significant meandering river-distance from London. In Greenwich—-where time and numbers were first manipulated by time into mean time, broken china of time; where fulcrum of latitude and longitude would rule events, where railroad time and intent of travel would run through time tapestry, threads of plaid those lines which are the anticipated time of arrival and departure, those most important events in lives become chillingly stupid addition and subtraction; when are you going, when will you be back, will you ever be back in time. Ask the times table.
The fabric of the earth would become the wharf-woof of Great Brits even sent aeronautically spaceward, to The Great Space. In time, in time, Earls of Sandwich and Greenwich. There would be established new life which none of them could bear imagining, for their own world was too dear. James’ work—science fiction, music, space ballets— promised this, but kept it far enough and distant enough—that you could avoid—that real shatter.
Delores’ death—-supposedly flinging herself in all her ecstatic beauty (coming from nothing to become a ballerina, almost untrained but perfect, as china was truly like wild trailing teacup unruly roses burst to angry bloom, only to crashing-break) made James and all James’ men in theatre and in plays—-bury themselves—–in work. Remember the faux-ballerina. Every song from her or for her. She was the fire, James had always said to them, the ignition—we—-the small but useful lightning flare.
Everyone had pretended—at first—-she weighted herself down. Then the comments, terse, foregone: don’t wait for the secrets men—the investigators and the masters of governmental cover-up—to give—real reasons.
Jealousy wears plaid or flowers. Cuff links plain or designed or designated with some intent or purpose—or none. As the step of the house of Wolcott held all up. As the step of Wolcott’s house in Bloomsbury led you in. And then came Gavin the adopted one but truer to England than James. Who came from an angry resolute colony perhaps of those genetically inclined to get even with government, with the high-shouldered banks which were governmental men, in essence, in concentrate: the fulcrum of power money.
James remembered the day she had been tested. She had had to tell him subtly; so great an announcement needs no yell. First, the glance she gave him over dark mailbox, as he was opening a letter, dropping by to visit her—at Baj’s place. O, house, Bloomsbury: please no more Braille sorrow for you. Your perfect splendor, Delores; leaves around her—your?—face. O, Delores. She. Her. The one. The accident but the chosen. Standing so thin and tall—on step. A step-dancer? Of that house that was Wolcott’s and then had to become James’ when he did not want to return to America, James’s American mother’s heart literally bursting, death in a taxi while trying to be a good leftover jettisoned girl, trying to be at his, Wolcott’s, funeral; after Delores’s drowning, almost ephemeral grief, now his adopted son Gavin come from it, the house four blocks from the place Virginia Woolf had lived in with all her grief, in comparison adopted angry Gavin like a mad raven in a tunnel with others with guns ridiculously greedily trying to find his fervent way into a bank of lockedness, his Gavin with lawyers and cunning with James trying now to evade the gavel drop of a judge, trying to free himself perhaps also from this accumulation of griefs in one Bloomsbury house. In Ireland, however, not England, James sometimes remembered. Quite far from the house.
Dancer with almost no history of dance: yet she was star. Also new milkmaid for Diana. Achieved, brood mare for Diana, true heir of Wolcott. His lightning bug; she carried the ignited eggling. But by whom? Was it the soul of Baj, was it India? Was it all of James’s legal men or the son of James, Gavin, imprisoned in Ireland? None would ever tell; none would ever know. All James knew——despite the drawbridge opening of her thighs— it was not him. No, no, it could not be him, he could not bear that thought, so great the glory and the responsibility it dizzied you. It set Shakespeare to the curb, to any curb you chose along the streets. It removed Shakespeare’s skull from his grave, and brought it back, and fixed it and fused it beautifully.
Who owned the Spencer cufflinks? In the bank deposit box in Barclays’? Why, James. He’d accepted them after five visits from Baj, Baj spluttering like a grieving elephant. Baj with a pearl or two to grant him rights to, pearls cryogenic worth far more than—cufflinks.
But no, James reminded himself, now. That bank vault was Daphne’s. DuMaurier’s. Rebecca’s. The one in love with the sea, who loved no one but herself. Secrets sealed, as pottery is glazed in its factory of barn, to cover the truth why all it was was fine-baked dirt. As we are dripping water glitter of brightness even in tunnels and caves. Look at our cars: they wear extravagant jewelry. Dishes, fine china—why, the time of flowers, the memories of heat, swirled to vanish-gold, bonelike paltry dust wetted and become the compressed and gleaming cup, which James even now, much older, would like to break, in hopes it dispelled some curse.
We go, they say, from water. To air. To dirt. In the house, once the number was kept. Baj had brought the number.
And that was the trajectory of Delores. Broken china. Flower designs, urgent as they always are on china. Dirt to water. Water to dirt. Pearls, pearls, lost, now drowned, though you’d never thought of pearls as drownable: but here, they were.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust? No.
Water to water we go.