by Marie Rennard
A Short Story
Originally published in French as the Ange Guardien. English translation: Marie Rennard and Gilles d'Aymery.
(Swans - August 27, 2007) In an island, we can only find what God sowed, and what we brought with us. And in the Islands where God sowed misery, men cultivate it, and only bring with them marble stones to plant churches, since one has to submit.
This morning, Chrysodome played "Summertime." I was making coffee. The air was burning already, and I felt in my back the shiver of an ice cube. It's amazing what one can feel through music. And I always hear his tunes far before the roar of this fucking truck.
I took the trash out, smiling. He was sitting on the cab of the garbage truck, as usual, and he smiled back. He's got wonderful teeth, and his saxophone shines like gold. It stinks, up there on his truck, and it's full of flies; but they dare not rest on his saxophone, which he plays just to let us know it's time again.
The truck takes him before dawn. He rests his head on his case, on the bench by the crab-pie seller. Since Chrysodome's been playing from the top of the truck, nobody has ever forgotten to bring the trash cans out; they do not sit all night at the curb, and the rats have almost disappeared.
In the wealthy districts up the hill, they've got modern trucks, with loudspeakers that always play the same piano tune. A strange music however, a nice one, but one that smells a bit like the drugstore where I used to buy the pills of the Dona for whom I used to work. Once, she told me it looked like Wish's The letter to Elise, and that it was really beautiful. If she says it, that must be true, but I don't like music that smells of chemistry.
Sometimes, Chrysodome plays tunes I've never heard before, but it always swings between guts and heart, and nests in the sternum. Every time, it's much nicer than the tunes that must be stored in one's head to remember them.
It may well be the difference between the music of those who live up the hill and that of those who live down hill in the popular districts; but, anyway, those aren't matters I should wonder about. Questions are like music. There are those from up there and those from down here; those from the head and those from the guts...
The Dona has often told me I was asking too many questions. If she says it, it must be true, but questions, like breathing, come without thinking much in advance.
When they started sending trucks with their music to warn people that it was time for garbage collection, I asked her why they didn't also send them down hill in the poorer districts, where there are always many more rats than up there. She answered that God, who's all powerful, would protect His people, like governments protect theirs.
Chrysodome showed up a few days after the Dona had told me that, and I wonder if it's really God who guided him to our local truck.
In the neighbourhood, I didn't say anything about it, otherwise they'd keep awaiting.
They'll keep waiting for the intercession of God they hold in their sternums, like music. And I'm not sure that Chrysodome showed up thanks to divine intervention. That's maybe what The Dona states; but just because she says it does not mean it's true. Oh, well, what do I know, anyway...
The first time I talked to him, to tell him I loved his music, he listened to me silently, and then he blew a strange creak in his saxophone, something like a grimace. I twisted the hemline of my dress for a moment, and I left. I didn't know what else to do. He had closed his eyes and gone back to sleep below the palm tree without caring about me any more.
Next morning, I asked my brother Boniface to take care of the trash. I was ashamed. Boniface took the opportunity to play hooky, but since I wanted to look at Chrysodome without being seen, I didn't call him back.
Chrysodome was sitting on the truck, his elbows resting on his open knees, his round white hat down his neck, and his saxophone was shining on the bunch of filth like the soul of New Orleans. By the time they collected all the bags, the whole street was on beat. Chrysodome was playing a Cuban thing, imperceptibly tearing off notes from time to time at the end of sentences. That was just like a belly scratch, nothing that deserved a trip to the pharmacy.
Anyway, I'm not sure the others felt it, because they were perfectly beating the tune. Luis, alone in his boilerplate igloo was offbeat, because he was half choking with the diesel fumes from the truck, and, rather than tapping to the beat, he was trying to warn people that his trapdoor was one again jammed.
As none were noticing it, I gave up hiding myself and ran to kick the trapdoor open. Afterwards, I remembered that I was running in my slippers, dressed in my nightgown, for they were all watching me and laughing, even this schmuck of Luis. I told him I should have let him kick the bucket, and I left.
That afternoon, I came across Chrysodome near the waterspout. He acknowledged me with a slight nod and did not seem to make fun of me. Anyway, I gritted my teeth and looked elsewhere.
The next time I talked to him was the day when the priest was beating up Pilar. I was bringing crab cakes, and I found the priest holding Pilar by her hair and hitting her head on a marble column. Apparently, he wanted her to register her youngest kid for catechism, and she didn't want to because registrations were already closed for the year. Since I was not strong enough to make the priest, let go and Pilar was bleeding a lot, I ran out for help. Chrysodome was heading up the road... He strangled the priest who was kicking and trying to bite him, swearing like a pagan, and Pilar was able to return to her home. I don't know if the priest has registered the kid for catechism, but as the tale had gone around the neighbourhood, he apologized the next morning during church service, and he gave communion to Pilar first. Her forehead was all blue.
After the mass, I cleaned the marble column that was dirty with Pilar's blood and hair, and I thought of Chrysodome's hands around the priest's neck. He has huge, brown, hands, like those of a killer. That's the time he chose to join me, and I asked him what he was doing before coming here.
He turned red, and started staggering a bit, and I clearly saw he didn't feel as answering my question. It's Luis, who was smoking a cigarette nearby, who answered sniggeringly. "He was working in the zoo of Managua, at the reproduction program of big apes."
As I was looking puzzled, he explained that those apes were such assholes that they were about to disappear because they could not have a hard-on, and then he sniggered again. After that, he stuck his cigarette between his teeth, and he simulated a jacking off, explaining that's what the "musician" was doing in the zoo, wanking gorillas to get their sperm. And then he left, leaving the two of us quite embarrassed.
Chrysodome hid his right hand in his pocket, and to show him I did not mind, I took his hand out and gave a small lick to his palm. When I left his hand, he took his saxophone, and this time around the sound did not look like a grimace; it was more alike the moaning of a wounded baby elephant.
When I worked for the Dona, I had to clean her trinkets. She had a lot of yellowish ivory statues. She explained they were made out of the tusks of elephants, and that they were killed for that purpose. I don't know if elephants depend on God or on governments, but if governments don't protect them, God may finally have elephants born tuskless to protect them from men, the same way He sent us Chrysodome to protect us from rats. While I was thinking of this, Chrysodome had left, and I noticed that dirty water was dripping from the cleaning brush to my sandals. So I stopped cleaning and I went for a swim in the sea, near the promontory, because the tide there cleans shit and plastic bags better.
When I emerged from the water, Luis was waiting for me. I first thought he wanted to apologize, but not at all; he just wanted to tell me that Chrysodome was not a guy for me. He said Chrysodome had accepted this job at the zoo because the director had explained to him that apes were sharing most of their genes with humans, and that someone had to give them a hand. He sniggered again because of his deriding allusion to a "helping hand," and told me it was a pity bananas were not about to disappear, for it would have been enough to tell Chrysodome they share exactly half of their genes with humans, and that would have been even more laughable.
Me hopes that it's people like him who are about to disappear, but since he seems to be the only one to be aware of all this, I asked him to keep it for himself. I don't know how Luis can know that much about Chrysodome, apes, or bananas, but I sure hope he won't tell everybody.
I told him that if people knew about the zoo, they would soon forget about the music, and also about rats, and they would organize processions to ask God for punishment. He had a vicious smile and replied that it all depended on me.
I waited for him for a great part of the night in his igloo. I had time enough to toss sleeping pills in his wine. I emptied the whole box in his bottle.
I had taken the pills from the Dona when I was working for her. It had made me dream that people could sleep thanks to tablets prescribed by doctors. It's as though the doctors from up there in the hills were as powerful as God -- except that when God makes you sleep, it's not for one night only.
When Luis came back, he was already half drunk, and he smiled. He said I was a clever girl and was a fast learner. Then he started drinking again. I left and carefully jammed the trapdoor behind me.
I think he did not suffer.
He was still sleeping when the garbage truck stopped in front of his igloo to load the trash bags. Moreover, the kids had gathered around the truck to prevent it from leaving before the end of the tune, which was a long one, and for a moment, the driver gave heavy strikes on the gas pedal to try to scatter them. I was carefully watching from my window, and the diesel fumes were spreading thick around the igloo like yellow incense around altar boys in church.
Two days later, when another drunkard finally found Luis, everybody thought that it had to happen one these days.
When I went to see Chrysodome, late in the afternoon, he was sitting on the beach, softly playing for the waves. I sat silently by his side, and he talked about Luis first. He said it was due to misery, and nobody deserved to die that way.
I didn't answer. He wouldn't have enjoyed finding out that misery had nothing to do with the outcome. Luis would not have been choked like a rat without the help of the Dona's sleeping pills.
I waited for a while, and then said that at least Luis would not spread embarrassing rumours around any longer; and I gave a slight touch to his saxophone: It was as sweet as ivory statues. Then he put his right arm around my shoulders, and he blew in my sternum a tune as soft as a caress that swept away from my mind that hideous smile of Luis.
If you find our work valuable, please considerfinancially.