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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Merry-Go-Round. By John von Daler

              I rang the bell. There was a long silence, then footsteps, then nothing, and finally the door opened just slightly.
         "Why?" said a voice. "Why here? Why now? Why at all?" I could think of no answer but, "I have no inkling."

         This, apparently, was the right answer, because the door swung open with a smack. I saw a figure in a white robe with a stencil on the back run away down a long corridor lined with tall windows.
         I entered and closed the door. As the person who had let me in disappeared out a side door I stood alone in the entranceway.

         Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

         How I wonder what you are.

         Up above the world so high,

         Like a diamond in the sky.

         Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

         How I wonder what you are!

         My friend the violinist had called. "Come by," he said. "Let's have one of our good, long talks. You know, with bread, wine and cheese. We'll talk about music and women and what'all else. Is there anything else? Oh yeah, food and books."
         "Great," I said. "Where are you staying at the moment?" My friend had been changing homes and relationships for the best two years. You never knew even which country he would be in.
         "Just come to the hospital. Building five, front entrance. Somebody will let you in."

         Someone came knocking
         At my wee, small door;
         Someone came knocking
         I’m sure-sure-sure.

         I listened, I opened,
         I looked to left and right,
         But there was nothing stirring
         In the still dark night.

         I sat facing the double-door that opened onto the hallway surrounded on three sides by windows in the little room for visitors. I unpacked some bread, some cheese, and a bottle of alcohol-free wine. Just as I pulled the bottle out of my bag a man in a white coat, with spectacles and thin lips looked sternly in my direction and wiggled the first finger on his right hand like a windshield wiper and shook his head in the opposite direction.
         "Alcohol-free," I said and held up the bottle. He squinted at the label, gave me another dissatisfied frown and hurried away with flat, floor-scraping steps.

         Happy days are here again

        The skies above are clear again

        So let's sing a song of cheer again

        Happy days are here again

         "I do this every once in a while," said my friend as he sat down. He too was robed in white with a stencil, but he had a baseball cap on backwards. "When life seems too much ... Ah but you brought the wine, I see!"
         I picked up the bottle to show him the label. He frowned.
         "That's not wine. Oh, well. You're here and the cheese looks great." I noticed that his #violin fingers still were calloused from playing a lot. But they were shaking.

         Round and round the cobbler's bench

         The monkey chased the weasel,

         The monkey thought 'twas all in fun

         Pop! Goes the weasel.


         "But why do you keep on?" I asked.
         "Because I want to." He looked me in the eye. "You know and I know that I could quit just like that," he said and snapped his fingers. The sound echoed more loudly than I had expected in the three-sided room. "It wouldn't take me two seconds. But I don't want to."

         Ring around the rosies
         A pocket full of posies;
         Ashes, Ashes
         All stand still...

         As I walked home I did not remember what we had talked about. It had been nothing special. My thoughts turned to imagining how my friend had had himself put away in this part of the hospital.
         When life seems too much, he had said.  Then I thought of his violin playing, all those feelings channeled through tiny wires, brought to life by stroking horsehairs, all the sounds of love, regret, fear, enchantment, rapture, and loneliness. Can that little, wooden box carry all those feelings out and away? Can the doctors at the hospital? Can the bottle? Can our friendship?

         Row, row, row your boat
         Gently down the stream
         Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
         Life is but a dream...

         Months later I learned that he had died, not by his own hand directly, but certainly indirectly. A violinist going to pieces, I thought. He would have liked that sentence. We could have finished off a whole bottle of Pomerol just talking about that one sentence. All the friends and music and doctors and talks and thoughts had not been quite enough.

         And all of the kings horses
         and all of the king's men

         couldn't put Humpty together again...

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