Entry 055: Dance With Death


LP: Malpractice by Dr. Feelgood

1975 Columbia Records PC 34098, promo

Favorite Track: Because You’re Mine

The orchestra tuned to the hum of a dead grasshopper. The lead violinist took her seat, raised the bow to the strings, and stared forward with casual indifference as if performing before the King and Queen was just the same as sponging one’s self in the tub. The conduct was small, dwarfish man with spots of grey in his oily hair and spots of brown-black on his pallid skin. He had to place a footstool at the base of the cold marble podium so as to see over it and even then, the timpanist and most of the brass could barely see the man himself. All they saw was a flurry of baton motion.

Grumley sat in the balcony, fanning himself leisurely with a gift from his wife. It had a gnomish pattern on it: mosaic reds and golds and silvers suggesting the shape of a monstrous giant lizard, a dragon Grumley had argued but Telli would giggle and tell him he knew nothing about gnomes and their art. What it really depicted, she never said. But with each flick of his wrist, he remembered hers. How she would fan him during the sultry summer evenings while he read the latest and celebrated verses of Perrault and Stanley. The way she fanned feeling like she was breathing right into his heart.

Grumley fidgeted in his seat just as the symphony began. He had never been to a symphony. Telli had asked and asked, but he had never found the time or bought the tickets. It was, after all, an expensive trip from their country farm to the metropolis and then they would have to post up for the night at an expensive inn, they would be forced to pay city prices for half-cooked vegetables and poorly spiced seitan, and then they would have to be dressed properly as well and, because of the Doer Wars, silk was as rare as a unicorn sighting. But now, Grumley found himself right where he never took it, and never wanted to be if he were to admit complete honesty with himself, and he found a curious mixture of regret and resentment brooding just beneath the surface of his emotions.

Perhaps it was the first movement. What a gloomy opening, Grumley thought, the violins are drawing notes like a skeleton walking through a windy forest. Meanwhile, the bassoon is piping low notes from the very river Stax. Grumely paused in his fanning to look up the composer. He should have known. Baron Arturio von Brumsfeld. The infamous conductor of Black Masses and Chaos Magick. And this one was titled the Waltzing Funeral for Death. Bah, Grumley thought, an metaphysicist with melodies. This was going to be painful.

From the tepid dark opening, the first movement sprang into a delightful spring motif of frolicking flutes and ontological trumpets. Grumley noticed the rest of the audience was entranced, particularly with the lead violinists, whose fingers flew over the frets with a ferocity of a fawn in heat. She stamped her foot to the rhythm of the flickering baton, but her feet made no sound compared to the roaring crescendo of the ending bars. Grumley had not noticed how dark the auditorium had gotten. He really couldn’t even see the stage. A thick redolence of ashberry brought back memories of Telli that Grumley couldn’t shake. Tears welled in the corner of his dark eyes, hanging onto the ducts like icicles about to melt.

The second movement, the waltz, begun in clockwork fashion. The melody danced from cello to clarinet to zoolophone to oboes to a duel between the lead violinists and the second chair, fighting for dominance and the right to seat in the bony throne center of stage. Telli would love this, Grumley thought, and his throat seemed to close up on him. For a moment, he thought he had forgotten to breath and that life was rapidly draining from him.

And, in that moment, Telli spoke to him. She was sitting in the empty seat next to him, her outline phosphorescent and vermilion, her long curly hair running well down past her shoulders into purplish fire that seemed to form the V between her legs. Her face blinked in and out as she said, “Grumley, how I have missed you. Every night, and only night for where I exist now there is no need for the sunlight, I have dwelled upon the receding image of your face. I made wishes and promises and demands and threats and pleas to see you one last time. And now that I see you, I am despaired to find you, the mighty Grumley, reduced to crying at an orchestra.”

“I know,” Grumley quietly whispered. The lead violinist had won the duel and had launched her own attack about the very balance between noise and music. Her ivory violin made from the skulls of wolves seemed to bend to her very needs. The more madness she played, the more of Telli seemed to sit next to him. He could smell her now and a part of him wailed for physical contact. What harm would it be to reach over and touch a ghost?

“Do you remember me?”

Grumley nodded. How can one even go about and explain just how much he missed her. His head fogged, Grumley knew that the symphony was doing a better job expressing his emotions than words could ever portray. But was she even hearing the music? A dark line knitted across his brow.

“Would you like to dance to this waltz?”

Telli smiled a sad frown. Her hand reached for but then hesitated above his own which was gripping the armrest in mortal terror. “I can see them play, I can see their mastery, I can see the conductor’s great eye for detail, I can see the very vibrations leave their instruments and blend in the air above them like some kind of wonderful rainbow, but, no, I cannot hear them and therefore I cannot dance.”

Grumley cried. The waltz had ended. The third movement was titled Welcome to the Gates of Blank. Someone with a sick mind had moved a basalt gate onto the stage, both dark-stained iron doors open. Telli had taken his head and they were walking slowly down the aisle, just like everyone else. Most people had someone leading them. A few had a handful of children running around their legs. A handful were alone and they were too painful to look at. So Grumley focused his attention on Telli’s face as she read to him the latest verses of Perrault and Stanley, freshly composed and celebrated in the great white halls of Blank.

Their melody sounded just like an ominous bassoon.


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