CHLOE’S ELBOW by Dawn Andrews and DF Lewis
This scene runs over and over, luminous, although its edges have dissolved in time like a sugar cube in tepid water. There is a beach, sand glassy and brittle under a huge sun, a blazing supernova. How we met. She was drowning. I was there. "Look, don't struggle – I'll help you if you let me!" Her arms flailing, her elbow in my eye, the crack of bone on bone. Then she relaxed – the shiner she gave me. How come such a little squirt could bruise me so easily? After I finally managed to haul her out of the water we both lay on the sand, panting and exhausted, as if we had been having sex for ten hours. Straight.
They lingered, those tale-telling violet marks I had to constantly explain away. I claimed it was a riding accident that I had suffered from off the back of some godforsaken unbroken steed masquerading as a child’s near-pony of a pet. When I forgot the story and replaced it with another figment of my imagination (being lodged against a car by another car) I must have become the world's most accident-prone man overnight, my wife acidly commented. Yet I hated it when they faded. After she died, I'd even pinch myself to recreate them, then cry my eyes out.
How much can be reanimated, from the past? If I save another struggling girl, out of her depth, will it be the same? I keep wondering if I can make it happen again. Change the ending – all still passionate and very alive. I begin to see where Doc Frankenstein was coming from. And the freak with the living doll, Coppelia. Hey, doc. Cop a load of this! Cop? Dr Coppelius. That was his name. Swanilda – well, that was a different story. She played fast and loose with all puppet-masters, at the best of times, give or take the omniscience of Him who could only create her as a human, let alone a puppet. Give a man a break.
But she never did. Demanded perfection, always. The pure line of the jaw, not a bone out of place. Only her enigmatic sexuality saving her from the scrap heap of miscellaneous parts, piling up in the basement, awaiting incineration. Of course, her flirting ways were a constant threat, and maddening to her creator. She finally went too far. Lost the game. Snake eyes! Chloe had fractured her elbow. My wife, Swanilda, did die – I wasn’t sure, looking back at my notes, whether Chloe had died, or Swanilda had died: certainly one of them had done so. By composing fictions (like a latter day Borges), I have thrown up the luck charms and they’ve come down as dice. Chloe is the winner. Cube dice chipped off her old elbow.
She lies in the grass, trying to read a book that flickers on and off in the deepening twilight. Of how Mayans made dice and other gaming tools from the bones and skins of the sacrifice victims they tortured. Chloe knows she is a winner only in name. The stakes of love are high, and losing sometimes fatal. Poor Swanilda! Her pale blue eyes still radiate calm fire, cobwebs forming between her delicate brows. Chloe is an echo of someone else. Her elbow an echo of another elbow. Perhaps her own. Let me come clean. I compose music. The notes on the staves are like puppets. Crotchets and minims bouncing along the trampoline themes, heads butting, tails twining, keys turning, quaver waves surfing. This is the tale of one special composition. Chloe's Elbow, in four movements. A reanimation of soul from sound.
Soul from sound. Women can live their lives out as echoes of another presence. (We puppet masters rule the game, despite minor losses.) Did you know that Chloe and Swanilda were at school together? They were rivals, even then, the games they played – Chloe was the champion gymnastic dancer, Swanilda the vaulting princess – Watch her approach at a graceful run, pleated skirt wild above white thighs as she leaps high to reveal regulation navy-blue knickers, hands firm upon the leather horse, golden charm-bracelet jingling. As are the nerves of the gamesmaster who watches, breathless. Perfect landing, all smiles. Chloe takes to the floor, dances free-style, the music swells, the pattern of the music skips and misses a beat, as the heart yearns the dance progresses, even Chopin, he of the demonic hands, has a hard time keeping up! The girl spins like a dervish. Scriabin’s piano music next, more off-the-wall than Chopin, despite the obvious similarities, does sound from the tannoy. Has a strange metallic texture, as if broadcast direct from the ballroom of a submerged ocean liner. The epic tenderness of lost pleasures. Other girls clamber over a huge webwork of wall bars in tune to some internal rhythm not made obvious by the music, yet with so many sweaty show-offs crawling thus vertically towards their imputed Heaven, there was no dimunition in the attention span of the audience of proud parents towards the antics of Chloe and Swanilda in free-style abandon: a many-handed clapping building in time to the undercurrents that several sensed the music held, if not the dancing itself. The religious frenzy that sheaths the dance Spain and North Africa, the arabic delight in rippling flesh, the beating heart, open upon the dancefloor, that the dancer responds to, evermore in tune with the audience, wielding unveiled desires. Gymnastic dancing was relative to both performer and watcher only inasmuch as it was quite separate from either. A sculpture. A single thing called dance. The puppet-master’s vision was one that sketched their shapes in grounded free-fall without any danger to life or limb – a skein of independent images overmapping the two girls’ real attempts at the choreography in their heads. Elbows clashing, heads butting, in the overenthusiasm of their finale as a duet.
They cling to each other as the music ends. Dazed azure stares into greyest smoke, a painful understanding. Chloe has cuts on her hands. Swanilda'sface is scratched. Wounded by the freedom gifted to them by the music. The leather horse does not even blink. It is sleek with sweat. It imagines the future: a sea scene within its equine skull that betokens both a near drowning and the shuttling lifeforce reconfigured as music – in an attempt to stave off that watery extinction. Chloe's horse desiring to swim out, one of those horses that love to swim, at the expense of the rider who clings for dear life to a seaweed-entwined saddle, the wetness and heat of the animal neck against her face. The night before she remembers as if in a dream, the music, La Mer, waves pulse forever within the notes as if held prisoner by the mind that can sit before this immensity, and turn it into wriggling creatures of pure sound. Her mouth filled with the acrid bitterness of death, her eyes stinging pearls, full fathom five.
Chloe and Swanilda finally faded or still fade from any overlapping. Chloe became an artist of fine distinction. The dice came down in her favour, all manner of many-sided geometricisms that were once popular in role-playing games of the late twentieth century. She often incorporates their bone configurations in her art. Dragons and dungeons in freeform abstractions. Marienbad nuggets in random ricochets off their own surfaces as well as the ground they brushed.
Swanilda married Dr Coppelius. Schools are only for a meagre portion of contemporaneity. She and Chloe couldn’t possibly have gone through the whole of their lives clipping their joints in accidents of dervish or dance. Heads were not made of rubber. Clips and slaps of the skull rind would inevitably bring brain damage. Their girlish love for each other could never have borne such comings together.
Dr Coppelius was a dollmaker. He made Looby Loo for Andy Pandy, then created for her a soft boy called Teddy as a companion, because Andy Pandy was too preoccupied with picnic hampers. Swanilda was model for most. Her dancing was a diversion, though, since puppets or dolls rarely moved of their own volition … except perhaps, at their optimum, in dreams. Gymnastic wastrels and waifs he often ragged out into human shapes from excess bedding. He made horses into shoes, and shoes into horses. Or, boots, perhaps, bearing in mind the mane and neck and laced up jaw-bits. Vaulting was a pleasure deeper than leapfrog.
Meanwhile, Chloe became a long-distance swimmer, as well as an artist. She felt her elbow ends and kneecaps were safer in the water. A slomo dance of the forward crawl. She saw the coral beds as an artform she yearned to paint for real. Crags and fucus standing up on the canvas with the soft geometry of exotic airfish weaving between their furrier, seaweedier bits.
Chloe and Swanilda finally faded or still fade from any overlapping. Salting their melancholies. Chloe became an artist of fine distinction. The dice came down in her favour, all manner of many-sided geometricisms that were once popular in role-playing games of the late twentieth century. She often incorporates their bone configurations in her art. Dragons and dungeons in freeform abstractions. Marienbad nuggets in random ricochets off their own surfaces as well as the ground they brushed. In this way she creates scenes that turn black white and white black, the wanton feathers around her throat clinging to the possibilities of change, yet a theme that in reality had one outcome. Last year. Whatever happened? Happened. She was inconsolable, wished to forget. But in creating, only remembered with agonising clarity. More games. Swanilda married Dr Coppelius. Schools are only for a meagre portion of contemporaneity, teaching girls how to please and simper and lie. She and Chloe couldn't possibly have gone through the whole of their lives clipping their joints in accidents of dervish delight. Heads were not made of rubber. (Not yet.) Clips and slaps of the skull rind would inevitably bring brain damage, and this they could ill-afford. Their girlish love for each other could never have borne such comings together. Dr Coppelius was a dollmaker. He made Looby Loo for Andy Pandy, then created for her a soft boy called Teddy as a companion, because Andy Pandy was too preoccupied with picnic hampers. The desire for picnics usually an excuse for rural coupling, yet Andy wore an abstracted air, always. Fiddling with the salt cellar he would lie under a giant horse-chestnut, lost in the blue while Teddy and Looby Loo messed around in the licentious rhodedendrons.
Swanilda was a model wife. Her dancing a playful diversion, using the four-poster as a vaulting horse…. though, since puppets or dolls rarely moved of their own volition…. except perhaps, at their optimum, in dreams. Gymnastic wastrels and waifs she often ragged out into human shapes for excess bedding, although never going to De Sadean extremes. He made horses into shoes, and shoes into horses. Or, boots, perhaps, bearing in mind the mane and neck and laced up jaw-bone. Vaulting was a pleasure deeper than leapfrog. (And good for the complexion.)
Meanwhile, Chloe became a long-distance swimmer, as well as an artist. She dreamed of making it to the island; she knew it existed, that place where magic taints the air and the dream-capped towers, where sweet sounds drive the beasts to distraction. She felt her elbow ends, kneecaps and other sea-changed bits were better off in the water, away from civilisation, the temptations of excess. She scoured old junks shops, looking for a map. A slomo dance of the forward crawl. Even on land, now, she had the elegance of a mermaid. Like Esther Williams she kept her make-up immaculate, nobody knew how. She saw the coral beds as an artform she yearned to paint for real. Rich and Strange, as the voyages existing in the barnacled mind of Peter Grimes. Crags and fucus standing up on the canvas with the soft geometry of exotic airfish weaving between their furrier, seaweedier bits. She started to use collage, satins, laces and even the skins of rabbit and mink, to create the depth of thought she needed, then objects that only she and those closest to her could ever understand. She became 'obscure'. Moribund art dealers with care-worn moustaches would frown at her lack of monetary ambition. And she would watch her name, etched upon the sand, erased by each new tide. Then she would dance, and laugh. The freedom of being nameless!
Yet our names are violet marks. Not tattoos, not even everlasting bruises … from the fight or the fight against rescue from drowning. Only puppets can be tugged clear by the strings – or by the hands up their nethers.
The horses vaulted through the waves. Those exercising waves, stretching their meniscus curves. Allegro, Adagio, Scherzo, Allegro. Two halves of one woman tugging back at the strings that a Doctor had once pulled free. Edge to edge they re-healed their well-heeled pizzicato souls. The only cop out was not knowing where the strings ended. Brass and percussion, too. Yet the egg-timer allowed the sand free rein through the middle joint. Time to go home, Andy is waving goodbye, goodbye. Chloe’s Echo. The shiner she gave me.