II

Hilary’s Song

INSIDE AND AROUND the king’s House of Assembly, a multitude was flooding in from all over the island. The throng shoved their way through in the dark, resolved to get to the front, each one in the ten-thousand-strong horde pulsating with excitement; yet, there was not a sound. Except, the susurrus of some hushing others—and others hushing those hushing others—and the quaint symphony of nature quietly conducting itself in the background: hissing waves down the shoreline, cheeping birds sleepless in the rustling trees, cicadas discreetly creaking off now and then. The snaking crowd quickly settled; their excitement thoroughly squelched by a common desire—desperation—to hear the hallowed voice of one person. An expectant silence it was and, darkness that couldn’t wait to be lifted.

Hush.

Hush.

Hush.

And then—the voice. The voice for which envious mothers had left their toddlers at home, unattended; the voice for which husbands would leave their wives if it so much as whispered their names; the voice after which every youth had pined, but would never think to own; and the voice for which the king—Ahio IV—had made an exception to the rule that only a royal member would speak in his House of Assembly. The voice—her voice—soared into the night sky with the robustness of a rumbling flying boat, only it was as tender and velvety as a robin singing in the night; and then this epic voice crept quietly into the hearts of the audience—men and women alike—and fizzled up emotions one never knew existed. The voice was crisp, fluid, and strong; and it delivered the first line of “Hilary’s Song”—her song—unaided by instruments:


WHAT DO YOU KNOW, O LITTLE INCHWORM BELOW


She stopped at one line; and just that one line, all the ecstasy withheld within the crowd was surging forth like a rapid stream into gush of screams. But they stayed silent, piously silent. And in that silence and darkness, the young star waited. And then she giggled, teasingly, and rather irreverently, at their deferent silence. Finally, the pitch black lifted; a solitary light from high shot down onto the diva, exposing her fair porcelain face and scarlet lips, her white glowing neck peeking through a laced corset that she’d worn on the outside. And all that dammed frenzy broke free: they cheered, whistled, and cried. The island rumbled into life. The young rising star placed her palms daintily to her corseted chest, and flipped her head left, and right, and then swirled to look around behind her, as if to say, is this reception for me? She spoke into the sound-transmitting device, trying to rise above the deafening reception from below: “For me?” She turned to one side of the audience—“For me?”—and the other side—“For me?”—theatrical eyelashes fluttering at them—“Oh thank you, thank you. Thank you so very much.” Her words chewed away by the uproar. But soon enough, realizing that she wanted to speak—or sing!—the fans simmered down to silence together, unprompted. “Thank you!” Her words sparkled in the suddenly quieted hall and the outdoor beyond.

“But no.” She shook her head, hard. “Not like this.” She waved her finger about. “You’re inflating my self-deluding bubble, which, as a matter of fact, had already swelled the minute I saw this mighty turn-up.” She paused with deliberation. “But you know what, though?” And again—pause. “I’m loving it!” she exclaimed, her words cackling in the overdriven transmitter. Her exuberance caught on, and the crowd erupted all over again, albeit short-lived, because their diva lifted her forefinger to her pouting lips. Hush. And her voice came back on: “If you insist on such a generous reception”—giggles—“may I suggest you offer one to this little fellow as well?” She tapered her hands toward the sound-transmitting device, a diaphragm coiled to a metal ring, attached to a stand. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ‘carbon microphone!’” The fans humored their diva with a fleeting applause, not quite noticing the scientific ingenuity that brought the voice to them. “This fellow, this ‘carbon microphone’—as they called it—this hero. This is what I truly worship. For this—this. Is. Revolution.” Her grand gesture again met by halfhearted cheers and applause.

“Um—” she muttered, dropping her ear to one side very briefly to nuzzle a hooked finger. Fidgeted a bit. Then, very slowly, she twisted both her arms to reach for her back and her nimble fingers began unstringing the cord that bound the corset that bound a woman’s body. “Hmn—” she sighed a big burst of relief when the corset loosened, and again: “Hmn—” She flung forward the unfastened corset, her thin white blouse underneath spilling down loosely—and freely. She lifted the corset by the hook of a finger. “I don’t wish to be bound any longer.” She let the corset slip from her finger, and then slipped her head under the neckline, afterward rolling her head left and right as if checking what she’s wearing beneath. The men whistled, laughter burst out here and there; the women giggled, the more conservative among them covering their lips with puritan hands. Then her head reemerged from her blouse. “It’s called a brassiere”—giggles—“This, too, is revolution.” This one fired up. Whistles from the men screeched from every side; the women’s shy giggles pullulating into wild chortles; men and women both applauded in hilarity. The star, in equal parts bashful and confident, giggling, then restraining, then chuckled, allowed the cheering to swell and recede on its own. “All right— Okay— Let’s sing!” She nodded to her accompaniments: five white cellos and a white baby grand bathed in individual spotlights. The pianist played the introductory notes softly; she spoke gently over the music: “This is my song—‘Hilary’s Song’—A song of hope—Your song”; a cellist blended in, followed by another; “Take it away!” she whispered; the rest of the ensemble assembled into a chaos of ordered melody. Hilary Canker sang:



WHAT DO YOU KNOW, O LITTLE INCHWORM BELOW

OF THINGS ON HIGH, THE RAINBOW, THE POT OF GOLD

YOU WRITHE, YOU ROLL, YOU SQUIRM, THEN YOU FOLD

YOUR LIFE IS TAKING A TOLL, O TAKING A TOLL

LA TI DO LA TI DO SO LA TI DO



WHY DO YOU SIGH, O L’IL FINCH EGG IN THE LIE

WHEN TIME IS NIGH, WHEN YOU FALL APART AND DIE

YOU CREAK, YOU ROLL, YOU BREAK, AND YOU FOLD

YOUR LIFE IS TAKING A TOLL, O TAKING A TOLL



LA TI DO LA TI DO SO LA TI DO…



BUT LO!

THE FIERY FINCH IN THE SKY

BEHOLD!

THE FLUTTERING BUTTERFLY

YET I CRY, AND I CRY

TO GOD ON HIGH



WHAT DO YOU KNOW, O LITTLE INCHWORM BELOW

OF THINGS ON HIGH, THE RAINBOW, THE POT OF GOLD

YOU WRITHE, YOU ROLL, YOU SQUIRM, THEN YOU FOLD

YOUR LIFE IS TAKING A TOLL, O TAKING A TOLL

LA TI DO LA TI DO SO LA TI DO



AND…LO!

THE FIERY FINCH IN THE SKY

BEHOLD!

THE FLUTTERING BUTTERFLY

AND I CRY, AND I CRY

TO GOD ON HIGH



WHAT DO WE KNOW!



Stunned silence followed. And then the stunning applause, cheers, and whistles. The young rising—risen—star raised her hands to the blinding light above, soaking in all that thunderous glory. Except, her roving eyes behind her fluttering lashes were achingly seeking out the romping crowd. And there he was. Already gazing at her with his green sparkling eyes, smiling quietly, waiting. This young gentleman it was who loaned the carbon microphone, a prototype, from its inventor; who convinced the king to display his “royal magnanimity” by leasing out his House of Assembly “for your people”; who brought the rising star from her home in Mikio Island to the Island of Ahio; who had, above all, acquired the music sheet, “Narcissus,” for “Hilary’s Song” from a renowned composer in Dartnorth. Connections. This fine-looking ambitious young trader it was who knew all the “right” people. This young heir to the Pacific’s wealthiest sugar merchant, it was, who made everything possible for this young talent, presently transformed on stage into a star, a laureate, a goddess. Amidst all that ongoing pomp and romp, in an unnoticed moment, her sight peered beyond her fake lashes to catch his eyes, and their eyes met, sights interlocked, the two submerged in the noiseless underwater, insulated from the swirling sea crashing away from all sides. “Barnett Ahio.” Her voluptuous lips motioned at him without actually saying it, her eyes moistened with happiness, gratitude, and…longing. Young Barnett, and he alone, saw his name on her lips. He quietly lifted his hat and blew a clandestine kiss at her. The crowd’s raucous reception rumbled on—in total oblivion to the couple’s private intercourse—echoing from the king’s House of Assembly into every corner of Ahio Island. Nature’s tender symphony washed over entirely by human fanfare.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents

either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events,

or locales is entirely coincidental.

NEXT:

Unpublished Manuscript (III):

Barnett Meets the Queen

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