Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Theatre Box

When we crawled back into the woodshop, music could be heard on stage. Marie-Thérèse collected her sleeping sister and followed me through the wings back to the house. I found it easy to pick our path through that maze of wonders, for each bizarre creation had left so deep an impression on me no adventure would erase it. When I did hesitate before the choice of two paths, Marie-Thérèse would indicate the correct direction with a nod. She had said nothing since the tower. Was she resentful of my false courage and transparent bravado now on realizing that the danger was imaginary? Was she disgusted by my blood-soaked and filthy appearance? Or was she ashamed of her own fear? I wanted to turn and study her face, to hold her hand and answer her questions but I was still playing the role I had accepted and found I could not take off my mask.  And she did not ask me anything, but followed silently in my footsteps.

We arrived backstage, but a woman I had not seen before shooed us away. Marie-Thérèse whispered, "There's a better place to watch." I followed her again as she led me down an unfamiliar corridor and up a new flight of narrow stairs, but this one better lit and papered. We came into an empty box that overlooked the parterre and offered a wonderful view of the stage. The benches were low, but by pulling them right up the box railing we could just peer over, and remain unseen ourselves.

I could scarcely believe my eyes. The drab stage I had stood upon not more than an hour ago had transformed into a brilliant palace, lit by the fire of a hundred thousand burning diamonds. A grand room with a barreled ceiling supported by massive pilasters caught the last rays of the setting sun.  Behind it an enormous colonnade retreated an unfathomable distance, and beyond the last columns, impossibly, a shimmering blue sea spread out to the horizon! The room was illuminated by three massive chandeliers, their cut crystal panes glinting like the eyes of angels, and hung at such a height it made me giddy to think of the poor soul who would need months swaying atop a ladder just to light them all. In the centre of the room stood a banquet table covered in a lavish brocade threaded with gold and silver, and decorated by three golden obelisks. I had never in all my life imagined such opulence and wealth, so concentrated in one place, in such harmony and perfect arrangement. Between the pilasters and the barrel vault were corbels and brackets of white marble lined with gold; each pilaster contained a niche into which a classical sculpture had been placed, each one different: Diana and Apollo draped with strings of fruit and laurel leaves, and others I did not recognize; ridiculously high-backed overstuffed chairs upholstered in velvet and silver lace; in the foreground near a doorway to the right of the stage an arrangement of swords, shields and helmets.

It was so brilliant tears started up in my eyes, and I rubbed them away with my grubby fingers. The music of viols and hautboys and horns transported me out of the box where I was a little girl in a dirty dress and into that scene so completely, I thought I was dreaming. The world that I knew, my uncle, the bookshop, the streets of Paris, Marie-Thérèse and M. Biancolelli, all vanished from memory as I inhabited that palatial scene. All time and all space were concentrated in that brilliant place, and I had never lived in any other.

Two women entered the room from opposite sides, and my heart leaped: one was costumed like the Sylph I had earlier met. Before I could address her, I realised she was not the same, but just as lovely and ethereal. Both carried an elaborate basket: one tall and filled with peonies and roses and the other flat and filled with truffles. They approached the table at the same time and then started on discovering the other, circled each other warily, then gently laid their offerings on the banquet table. I watched them so intently I felt I could reach out and touch them, but they did not notice my presence.

3 comments:

Enjah Mysterio said...

Spirits of Earth and Air! ... I await the next installment, transported as though I were there myself!

Young Geoffrion said...

You are perceptive as always. The one is a Sylphide, the other a Gnomide, as you will see. Air and Earth, justement.

hba said...

Had the stage been dressed or had the experience in the tower somehow transported you elsewhere.