Fandom Awry, by Maude Larke
How did I manage to want this?
I wake in the morning, heavy-headed but ready to throw off the quilt. It is not a quilt.
It is not a double bed. It is a single bed. But I have plenty of room in it.
I struggle to sit up and look at the room. No medieval beams. No mirrored closet doors. Lots of toys, games, a computer.
And something that slides softly against my inner thigh. I lift the covers, expecting a mouse.
It’s a penis.
Where did I get that.
A soft knock sounds. The door cracks open. A waterfall of dark curls frames a wider-than-horizon smile.
My diva. The one I run to see in every opera house within train or plane distance. The one who had shown me a vivid Violetta, several sizzling Juliets (Bellini’s, Gounod’s), an imperious, sad Contessa, a forlorn Sœur Blanche. Many others. I lose my breath. And bunch my blanket around my new penis.
“Dylan, are you awake? How’s my little boy?”
So now I know where I am. Almost. Either her DC townhouse or her Martha’s Vineyard retreat. And she’s home, between operas. And she’s coming in to take care of me.
And how old am I? Five, I think. If I remember the newspapers aright, the absence from the stage, the return I had found so joyous. A wrenching Magda Sorel.
How do I explain I’m not her son?
I do the explaining anyway. All through breakfast. She thinks that it is a new game, and admires my creativity. I finally get violent with the frustration. She scowls.
“That’s not my Dylan. He would never speak like that.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you.”
She goes from scowling to stunned.
I finally persuade her to come with me to the phone. I call my number. It rings for a long time. We hear my voice but I don’t hear my tone. We hear panic. I tell Angela to talk to her son, and he screams back through my mouth.
“Mommy! I don’t know this place! I don’t know this body! Take me home!”
I calm him/her, I explain the apartment, I tell him where the fridge is, camouflaged in the wooden paneling that parades through the whole kitchen. I tell him not to worry, just eat and relax. We’re coming.
Relax. I need to follow that advice. I am shaking. Angela has gone from stunned to mystified and anxious.
We book plane tickets. She shows me the way to the airport, which I apparently already knew.
In the plane I confess. The idolatry, the mad worship from the balcony, the endless if-evers that I muttered many times. And I blame myself for making some wayward half-asleep wish that brought me into that bed, that body, that life.
She wonders what she’ll tell her husband. I pray that she won’t have to tell him anything.
She does not talk about forgiveness. She can’t until we find her boy. I still don’t know what we will do. I think, perhaps a medium.
We arrive. I know this airport. I lead her out of it and into a taxi. I speak the language, she doesn’t. I give my address. We go far too slowly.
We arrive in the neighborhood but can’t get into my street. The road is blocked. There is a smell of wet smoke.
I am small. I slip out of the taxi and slink through the barriers, the people, red trucks, snakes of canvas on the ground. I ask the man who looks like a chief. He explains the fire. Second floor back.
I realize only then that Dylan had had no experience with a gas stove.
I get Angela out of the taxi, take her to a nearby park, explain and cry. We both feel hung-over. Jet lag plus deep grief.
We decide not to tell her husband. My father. I promise to be a good son. Angela promises to try to understand. I try to remember that I’m five and not thirty-five.
I adjust. I learn Dylan. I think of cold spinach each time Angela hugs me. I still hug back. Dad adjusts to my temporary strangeness. Angela mentions a fever. I become a genius at school because I’ve already learned a lot of the answers. There is talk of advancing me through some grades. I resist and insist on a normal track and school myself to enjoy classes. I am afraid of where a fast track will take me. Away from Angela’s arms.
I show no interest in toys and games. I get rid of “mommy” quickly, and go for “mom”. I get away with talking like an adult because I am so cute. I take advantage of my cuteness.
I discover violin capacity, already worked up. I ask for piano too. I remember the old lessons in that other place and reapply them now. I progress rapidly. Later I add trombone and voice.
I wrestle with puberty in the middle of choir rehearsals. Music just digs to my core. Like it does for Mom. I have to tell her to go to my school. She laughs when I explain.
I persuade Angela to let me keep all four instruments going in a juggling act until I’m through college. She agrees when she hears my Brahms.
I tell her I wish Brahms had written an opera so that she could sing it. She hugs me and goes off on her next opera tour.
I am the model son. For Angela. Her husband is another thing. I’m far too jealous of him. Far too close with my mom. One day I almost become less than model. I always find her absences long. I always insist on hearing her sing when I am in the same town with her.
I attract girls. They are fun, they are good in bed. But I find no attachment.
A classmate and bully who calls me a sissy sneaks a lit firecracker into my left hand. Angela is by me in the hospital when I come to and cries with me. She cancels performances, she hovers over me, she holds me. I heal slowly. My ears regain their reception of sound.
Minus one finger, I go without two instruments. I follow in Mom’s footsteps. Bass-baritone ones. I develop a strong voice and a strong trombone. I get a composer classmate to write a duet for me and mom for my graduating recital. She is tearful with the thrill of it. I am barely capable of getting through the recital.
By this time I am taller than Angela, with her dark hair, but straighter. People see the resemblance in the eyes. They begin to understand that I am a musician too. I grow a beard to avoid having to learn to shave. It oddly becomes me.
Mom asks if I plan to marry someday. I tell her that I meet too many musicians. That I may need to marry an accountant. She laughs. Dad commends the idea. He reminds me (he thinks) that he had started as an accountant.
One day, the best news. I will go on stage with her. My first time on stage, and it will be with her. Even cold spinach is no help. I burst into tears when the director announces that I passed the audition I was so afraid of taking. I give a big hug to the mezzo-soprano at the beginning and the end of each rehearsal.
I go on. I succeed. I am an overnight sensation, a chip off the sweet soprano block. Mom is proud. She poses for countless photos with me. Dad rolls his eyes and accepts. From now on, twice as many operas to snore through.
I go on to other operas. I rarely sing with her. It is always a difficult thing to do. One needs to breathe to sing. I can never really breathe around her. I commission roles, explore twisted or wounded characters. I find the best makeup jobs for suffering bass-baritones. I am known for my taste. And for my dramatic side.
I go through women. None are her. I try blonds just to see. It makes little difference.
Angela and I move in our separate orbits and come back together in between tours. I become a big career man. I see her far too little. Dad is complaisant.
I come back to her when Dad suddenly dies. I console. I cringe in my room when she sleeps. I am so near her now. Too near.
I cancel my Don Carlo at La Scala to come back to her when she becomes frail. I carry her down to the front porch, so very light, and sit her in my lap. I stretch out by her side at night. I am too pained to cry when I wake up and she doesn’t.
I mourn her, Dad, Dylan, wherever he went. I function badly without the three of them.
I seek a biographer for Angela. She is young but competent. I talk all about my Angela. She shows much sympathy, and much knowledge. Then I love her. I leave out the old old story. I move to become a part of her. We marry.
My Angela has a posthumous grandson named Angel. I think he is.
Maude Larke lives in France with the ghost of her last cat. Her credo is ‘never wear two things of the same color when hiking’. She has this bad habit of collecting things and getting antsy when people begin to touch the items in the collections. Especially the pebble collection. She thoroughly admits that she teaches as a day job out of sadism.
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Tags: accidents, death, Maude Larke, music