Music in Winter is a rhyming poem that was written just after The Arrival of Autumn.
It’s written about a young couple who are in love and who are walking on a cold, dark beach. The stars are out. The clouds are scudding in front of the moon. The couple’s feet are bare. The rhyme scheme is abab.
In winter, along the grey and green northwestern shore,
the freezing ocean draws its briny waves and bubbling foam
over beach crabs, Nautilus shells, and the crow-combed floor
as the sun sets beyond the sea into her western home.
Then the stars come out. One by one, they start to appear.
They are like lighthouses in the cold, black galaxies of space,
each with a message that says, Here, there are planets here,
circling round and round, far away, revolving round a fiery base.
And then, floating up from the water, comes the crescent moon,
scythe-like, Arabesque, swathed by scudding silver clouds,
and blinking behind a raven who flies, witchlike, through the woven gloom,
through winds whose warp and weft are the cloth of night’s dark shrouds.
In the midst of this a couple wander onto the sands.
They are lit by moonlight. Her hair is long; their feet are bare.
They walk like lovers and intertwine their hands.
They stop at sea’s edge and breathe the salty air.
It is a dark, cold night. A vagrant cloud covers the moon.
Not a light, not a lamp, not a glow can be seen.
The music of the ocean’s combers is an ancient tune.
The rustling of the firs lends woodwinds to the night’s song,
while the girl adds vocals to the primordial, ancient endeavor,
singing into the wind, into the wilderness, into the wild, high and strong,
a song that lasts a moment, with notes that last forever.
The Luthier Alone in His Workshop tells the story of a solitary old violin maker who, when he is fixing a violin, suddenly decides to play it in his shop. He plays a song by Johan Sebastian Bach. The music fills the room, and when he stops, there is an echo, then silence.
The poem’s written in free verse.
ear to horsehair strings
(pluck, pluck, twing)
The luthier: polar, hoary hair
rivuleted, waxen face
The Cigarettes were a hard core band full of righteous punks and rage,
The singer supported anarchy and sang it out on stage;
Lily was the drummer girl, a saucy lass in black,
She wore a fishnet pair of slacks, her thong rose out the back.
Jimmy was the trumpeter, always barefoot when he played,
Smoking reefers in the club and forever getting laid.
Molly was the bassist, she was a poet in her soul,
Writing chords and lyrics about Hell and money and control.
The city board of Farmington, a town conservative and straight
Booked The Cigarettes unwittingly for their Annual Harvest Fête,
When October came around the leaves turned orange and black,
The pumpkins ripened on their vines, the hay was heaped in stacks
Mrs. Trot put on a dress, her corset, stockings, and her hat,
And toodled out with Mr. Trot who was wearing his cravat.
On the way they met the Smiths who ran the local mill,
They were dressed in modest best, as humble as a hill.
The evening started very fair, with meats and fruits and pie,
There was cider in the goblets and a pretty autumn sky,
And then the band began to play, you could hear them from a mile:
A pounding drum, an ominous hum, the locals lost their smiles,
Then on the stage a screaming rage, as the singer yowled and croaked,
The sun went down, the lights came on, the fires flared and smoked!
The locals of Farmington were first transformed by fear,
And then they caught the wind of it and began to lend an ear!
“This band is fuckin rockin!” shrieked Mrs. Trot and threw the horns,
“Yeah, this is how we celebrate the reaper and the corn!”
And soon enough the town of Farmington said to Hell with our respect!
And threw themselves into a night of drink and dance and sex!
And every year thereafter… the townsfolk booked The Cigarettes!
The Disappearance of a Cat is a sestina. My dictionary defines a sestina as “a poem with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet, all stanzas having the same six words at the line-ends in six different sequences that follow a fixed pattern, and with all six words appearing in the closing three-line envoi.”
The Disappearance of a Cat was written at a time when I was listening to a lot of David Bowie, and it was written with him (especially Ziggy Stardust) in mind. It’s about a rock star, a cat, who chooses to disappear from fame.
Red curtains billowed open for that cat;
he waltzed onto the hardwood, so loaded,
his mouth slightly ajar, green eyes sparkling,
luring us into his act—a spider
deftly beckoning, weaving to music
of his own creation, dreamy and gold.
A costume hallucinogenic and gold,
he broke out with a well hung air, that cat
mortified the wild crowds, overloaded
as we were with his glitter and sparkling
hair. He played implications of Spider
and Cherry Wolves, lost in his own music…
Is it madness? the press asked, Your music? Tell us, how do the things you touch turn gold?
He shrugged, slunk away like a peevish cat,
but turned, It’s all in how you get loaded— swig the right juice, you’ll be loved, sparkling; if not, you’ll be trite, clichéd, a spider.
And there’s nothing so lethal as spiders, save snakes, executives, and flat music- but every new enigma is choice gold.
We all dug his edgy airs, his cool-cat
Oscar Wilde imitations, stacked and loaded
as they were in packages, all sparkling
and convenient, quickly shipped to sparkling
masses and to the corporate spiders.
And everyone bought his life, his music,
his t-shirt. His album went silver, gold,
platinum; Rolling Stone begged for that cat
to pose, provocative and well loaded.
Vulgar, he said. Not a chance. But, loaded
and stoned, his agent dragged him in, sparkling
as wine, and spread him out on a spider
divan with eight purple arms, swank music
regaling him throughout. And royal gold
sashes were draped across the kingly cat.
One day he found nothing more in music-
each grain of gold vanished, nothing sparkling
left. And he disappeared with it, that cat.
In Sixty Years of Silence, a young woman, Sophie, risks all that she has to move to a new place, Grymsk, to play an instrument, the carillon, that has not been played there for sixty years. The instrument, however, probably won’t work.
Sophie Bellevedere was appointed carillonneur of the Grymsk Bells after sixty years of silence. A carillon is a set of bells in a tower, and the carillonneur is the person who plays them. For sixty years, there had been no carillonneur. There had been no music sounding over the city of Grymsk. The tower’s clock had stopped. It struck no hour; it kept no time.
On the day that she assumed her position, Sophie was led through the cathedral by a hunchbacked caretaker with cataracts in one eye. They walked down the aisle of the cathedral, passing dusty pews and the cracked altar. The stained glass windows which were unbroken let in a light of mostly reds and blues. The cathedral was completely silent, and Sophie followed a few steps behind the caretaker.
Sophie looked around wonderingly and with some apprehension. This was not her city. Grymsk was a northern town renowned for scarcely surviving the war. The city had been reduced nearly to rubble. Many of its homes had been torn apart. Then the war had ended, and winter had come. Many of the remaining residents had departed. The town became buried in rubble and snow. Strangely, one of the buildings that had undertaken the least damage was the Grymsk Cathedral, which housed the tower and the bells. But during the war, the carillonneur had died, and no one had come to replace him.
For some years an aging watchmaker had climbed the spiral stairs, and he had wound the Grymsk Clock. But then he had died, some forty-five or fifty years ago, and the clock had remained stopped ever since.
“It’s up here,” said the caretaker. His words jarred Sophie out of her considerations.
She looked. The caretaker was pointing at a cobwebbed door that sagged on rusted hinges.
“You’ll find it’s not working, I expect,” said he. “Hasn’t been played. I’m too old to go up there myself anymore. You’ll have to take the stairs on your own.”
He put a large skeleton key into the lock, and he tried to turn it. The lock wouldn’t budge. The caretaker cranked on the key. With a sound like a shot, the bolt popped back.
“Ha ha!” laughed the caretaker. “It works! Thought I might break the key! First time that door’s been open in ages!”
He turned around to look at Sophie. He had a wart on his cheek from which hairs sprouted, and a chin that curved up like the toe of a genie’s slipper. His one eye shined bright, and his face turned up in a horrible, but honest, smile. His teeth were carious, and many of them were missing.
“In you go!” cackled the old man.
Sophie poked her head through the open doorway. The air smelled musty and stale. Cobwebs hung from the corners, and they stretched across the spiral stair. The spiral stair itself was constituted of granite stairs that were chipped and cracked.
She entered the tower. She heard a sound behind her, and she turned her head sharply.
The caretaker was prying the skeleton key off a big ring which held many keys.
“Here you are,” said he. “It seems I put ten keys on this ring for every one I take off, so I’m always happy to see one go. Good luck to you, southern lady. Let’s hear those bells pealing again. It’s been so long since I’ve heard them, that I can’t even remember how they sound.”
“Thank you,” said Sophie, taking the key and pocketing it. “Is there a light?”
“Nah,” said the old hunchback. “You’ll have to just mind your step.”
“Mind my step,” muttered Sophie. “Very well then,” she said in a louder voice that she tried to imbue with confidence. “I’m going up to see my new workspace.”
“Well enough,” said the old caretaker, and with a wave, he left.
Sophie waved back, and she watched him until he was gone. She looked back at the spiral stairs, and she shivered in the sudden silence. It was a spooky place, this belltower.
She brushed the cobwebs away, and she mounted the stairs. Sophie took a deep breath, and she began to ascend. Bats fluttered away from her, flying up the spiral stair. Spiders scuttled into the cracked mortar. As she climbed, she passed the mechanism for the old clock.
The mechanism was housed in a dimly lit room a third of the way up the tower. Sophie looked for a moment onto its gears, cogs, springs, and steel. The mechanism had not yet rusted out, but certainly it had not been put into motion for ages, and she thought that it must be stuck in many places. Here again, spiders had made their homes. Sophie smelled the droppings of rats, and she heard their soft scurries.
Sophie continued up the stairs. Now and then she passed a small window which was really no more than a chink in the stone tower. As she rose, she gained views of the surrounding town, which seemed to become more and more beautiful.
The town of Grymsk was situated in a valley. On this day, the sky was overcast and grey. Many of the small cottages, those that had not been rebuilt, looked like ruins up close. But from a distance, from her height, the cottages, and the holes in their roofs and walls, took on a nostalgic, picturesque appearance. They looked like quaint ruins. Beyond them were long meadows, then there were the hills of green grass dotted by white wildflowers. In the distance, veiled in haze, lay the striking fjords for which this northern land was famous.
Sophie next passed the carillon’s enormous programmable wheel. When working, this drum shaped object went round and round like the wheel of a water mill. In it were metal pins. These pins could be moved about to create different melodies. Sophie stopped here, and she went into the chamber where the programming drum was housed. She blew some dust off it, and she examined it. Its steel cables were still attached to the clock mechanism, as appropriate. The pins were bolted into the wheel, as appropriate.
Here, too, were housed the Grymsk Bells. The bells, much like handbells in a choir, were of different sizes so that different octaves could be played. The bigger the bell, the deeper the sound. The bells’ wires, which were used to ring the bells, appeared intact.
Sophie looked up. Still more steel cables ascended up into the highest part of the tower, where she knew that the keyboard itself, from which music could be manually played, would be kept. These wires, too, seemed in order.
Sophie gasped, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by anxiety. This was her first musical job, her first time in her desired career since graduating from university, far to the south in Brendenia, the university city on the sea. There, in Brendenia, it was warm, and there, too, it was a haven for the fine arts. Brendenia was a place known around the world for its culture and cuisine. But there were no jobs to be had for a poor, young lady without social or political connections in Brendenia. The jobs in Brendenia went to the wealthy, and, through a system of patronage, they were passed from one noble family to the next. She’d been working as a clothes-washer when she had overheard a customer speak of the blighted, blasted Bells in the shattered city of Grymsk. He had mentioned its carillon. Sophie’s ears had perked up. It was not often that a person heard of a carillon. She had timidly asked the customer for details. He had readily supplied them.
One week later, Sophie had written to the city of Grymsk, asking whether they might have a job for her. She had waited more than a month for their reply.
When Sophie had received the city’s letter, she opened it very carefully and with a heart that beat like a tambourine.
The city of Grymsk’s reply was pleasant, polite, and practical. First the city had thanked Sophie for her interest. They then wrote that they would accept Sophie, but that they had very little money. The city of Grymsk wrote that Sophie, if she wished to take the job, must work without pay, but that they would provide her with a furnished room and board. Furthermore, the city wrote, they had doubts whether the carillon would work at all. And if the carillon did not work, then the city did not have the money to repair it.
Sophie found herself facing a terrible choice. If she took the job in Grymsk, she would make less than she did in Brendenia, for a post that likely would amount to nothing, because everything depended on the carillon and whether it would work. If the carillon did not work, then she would use up her savings in getting to and from Grymsk.
But Sophie was desperate, and she hated the idea of living her life working at the launderette. After a week of consideration, Sophie sent the city of Grymsk a letter accepting their terms. In a part of her mind, her anxiety increased. She felt frightened and afraid. Yet, as she prepared to leave Brendenia, the idea of playing music in a town that had, for sixty years, gone without the sound of its bells, became more and more romantic and attractive to Sophie.
One cold fall morning, Sophie took her luggage aboard a train, paid the fare with the few coins that she had left, and she steamed north, to a country unknown to her, to a city that she had never imagined, to be the carillonneur for a carillon that might not work for a job that did not pay.
Now she found herself examining the very heart of that great and powerful musical instrument, the carillon, and finding it to be in far, far better shape than she had dared to imagine. Perhaps, she thought, it was even in working order.
Sophie’s hopes surged as she re-entered the spiral stairwell and climbed higher. She climbed the last three hundred stairs, and she emerged in the uppermost landing of the Tower of Grymsk.
This was the room which housed the keyboard, the space from which she could play the carillon. Around the room were many windows, so that the room itself was flooded in light. Whereas the other chambers in the passage had been lit solely by holes in the tower’s sides, this room’s windows held glass. The panes were very small and square, and Sophie found them charmingly reminiscent of the glass panes on a greenhouse.
The view was extraordinary. She could see for miles in every direction. She spent time walking around the room, savoring the glorious views, imagining herself dusting the sills, painting the flaking wood, and having the broken panes replaced. She dared not look too closely at the keyboard in the center of the room, at the controls of the carillon.
If the programming wheel and bells were the carillon’s heart, then the keyboard was its mind.
Sophie willed herself into low expectations. She told herself that when she examined the keyboard, she would find it broken, with a year’s worth of work necessary to repair it. She dared not hope at all. She reminded herself that Grymsk had been bombed heavily during the war. She considered the cobwebs, the bats, and the traces of rats that she’d seen on her way up. She looked at some of the panes of glass in the windows, panes which were smashed and broken. Nature and animals would have destroyed the keyboard. Birds would have made their homes in it for decades. There was really no use hoping for anything more than a keyboard which would, ultimately, need to be completely replaced, an action which the town would not have the money to even begin.
Sophie drew a deep breath.
She looked down at the carillon’s keyboard.
The keyboard was wooden, of white oak, with conical wooden keys like lathed staves. There were forty-eight keys, one for each bell. There was a wooden bench.
Sophie touched the bench, and it wobbled but held. She sat upon the bench, and she looked beneath the keyboard. The steel wires, save one, were connected to the keys. These wires, she knew, led back to the bells.
The moment she’d been waiting for had come. It was time to test whether the carillon worked.
She set her fingers lightly over the wooden keys, feeling anxious and nervous.
She drew her hands back. They had been shaking. Sophie drew a breath to calm herself. She stood up, and she walked in a small circle around the room.
She’d given up her life in the south for this job. She’d traveled across the continent. She had no friends here. Little money. No salary. And for what? For the chance to play a rare, unpopular instrument that might not work—that might not ever work. She might be a fool, she thought, looking out the window.
The Bells of Grymsk.
Grymsk: a small, bombed out city in the north, where the winters were so cold that people dashed from the shops to their homes to avoid freezing. Grymsk: a city where there were eighteen hours of darkness when winter came. The people here, she knew, owned fur cloaks and sleds with runners.
Sophie had never even seen snow.
What was she doing here?
She sighed, and she shook her head. She looked thoughtfully out the window, over the broad meadows and pretty land. It was very quiet up in the tower, and Sophie appreciated the silence. It gave her peace and tranquility.
Sophie realized that she had to know whether the great instrument worked. She’d given up the life that she knew to be here.
Sophie sat down again on the wobbling bench. She straightened her back. Her long auburn hair fell to the middle of her back. Her delicate hands touched the keys. She set her feet on the pedals.
She thought of what she’d like to try. A song by the Brendenian composer Itelo Vesperelio.
Sophie struck the keys, and the bells began to chime.
A thrill shot through her.
Throughout Grymsk, villagers looked up at the tower in wonder. They stopped the things that they were doing. They stared.
Sophie didn’t stop at the first notes. She continued straight through the song, her heart hammering in her chest, more powerfully, she felt, than the sound of the bells. The bells clanged, and their overtones hung in the air. The song lasted for three minutes, three minutes of glory and ecstasy for Sophie, for she had proven for a moment, to herself, at least, that she had made the right decision. That not everything she’d striven for was in vain.
Out in the streets, an old lady, so shocked to hear the Grymsk Bells again, a sound she had not heard since the war, broke down and wept. The last time that she had heard them, she had just been married to a young, handsome man named Francko, and then he had gone off to war. There he was shot and killed. The bells, shortly thereafter, had gone silent. The sudden, unexpected sound of the Grymsk Bells brought the memory of him flooding back, and she wept in the middle of the street. Her groceries, from which a baguette stuck out of the bag, lay beside her. Her knees were on the hard cobblestone of the streets, and her face was in her hands.
When Sophie was finished, she went into another song, and then another. And then another after that. The music was triumphant, joyous, the jubilee of smashing sixty years of silence.
And when she’d finished playing, and while the overtones of the music still hung in the air, Sophie stood from the old wooden bench, and she went to one of the windows of the loft, and she opened it wide. She put her head out, and she looked over the scene. The streets were dotted with people standing stock still, looking up at the tower.
The Pale Blue Dot is a story that starts off with a perspective of how small Earth is. Perhaps the main part of the story begins a little further in. It’s the story of Katy Miller, a pop star, and her desire for fame, fortune, peace, and tranquility, and of the plan that she and her handlers hatch to get Katy what she wants.
Imagine yourself as having lived since the dawn of time. Take a moment. Describe to yourself how long that might be. You would have been alive since before the planet Earth. You would have been here when Earth was being formed. You would have been here when carbon dioxide was first created. You would have been here when our planet, for lack of a better word, first started to breathe. You would have been here during the time of the dinosaurs, who survived for tens of millions of years. You would have seen the meteor hit, and the dinosaurs destroyed. You would have seen the earliest hominids, who survived for hundreds of thousands of years. You would have seen the Stone Age, the Iron Age, and finally the last couple thousand years of modern civilization, the Anthropocene, which are less than a blink in time.
Additionally, you would have had time to consider how small the planet Earth is with regard to the universe. The planet Earth is one planet in our solar system. A single one. One single planet. In our galaxy, the Milky Way, there are a hundred thousand planets. There are many, many galaxies in the universe. The universe is a decent sized place, and we don’t know whether or not there are other universes.
Now, for one moment, imagine yourself at the edge of our galaxy.
For this exercise, don’t even imagine yourself at the edge of our universe, because that perspective is so big that the mind boggles.
Just imagine yourself at the edge of our galaxy. The planet Earth would be so small that it would seem like a pale blue dot. The people on planet Earth would seem like tiny, squibbling things like bacteria or molecules. The people on Earth live for a hundred years or so, which is not even a blink in time. A hundred years is far, far less than a blink in time.
The lifespan of a star is a blink in time, and stars live for ten or fifteen billion years. The Earth is only four or five billion years old. Our universe has been in existence for ninety or a hundred billion years. We, human beings, live for a hundred years. A hundred years is nothing. Nothing.
Now, imagine, during this time, getting all wrapped up in determining which human has more pieces of paper than another human. That’s greed for money. It’s not noticed beyond our solar system, I guarantee it. In fact, no one outside our solar system cares whether Honduras owes money to China or whether China owes money to Honduras. It doesn’t matter. Not one iota.
Now imagine the humanitarian efforts of our people. Those are not noticed either.
Imagine the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of humans. Outside of Earth, it doesn’t matter. No one outside of Earth notices or cares.
The fact is, we’re not noticed by anyone. We’re operating on our own, in a distant galaxy surrounded by eight lifeless planets, circling around a burning, lifeless star. We’re four light years from the next nearest star, and no one’s in that solar system either.
We are a long ways from anybody.
When you die, nothing will happen. You will just be dead. Death will be like a dreamless sleep, and I guarantee that too.
However, that being said, none of this information, not one bit of it, was mentioned by Katy Miller’s handlers when they proposed to her the idea of the living room camera.
Katy Miller was beautiful. She had a mesmerizing profile. Even her silhouette was breathtaking. Additionally, she had a voice as clear as a bell jar. She could move a hundred million album-equivalent units, which was the music industry’s measurement for reckoning how many albums were sold, now that albums had gone digital and everyone consumed their media electronically. She was as rich as a sultan, as pretty as a plum, as famous a musician as money could buy, and she had the trappings to go with her attributes.
She had an Aston-Martin that ran solely on electricity, and it did none to a hundred in 2.3.
She had a pet lemur. She had four pet dogs, two of which could fit into her handbags.
She received Gucci sunglasses in the mail, promotionals, and she never wore them nor even knew what became of them.
Katy Miller had a staff of maids, lawn-grooms, and butlers to keep her mansion looking perfectly, outrageously neat.
Katy Miller had a team of handlers who sought to leverage her fame and fortune, and to make her celebrity status bigger, more consumable. Audiences, they knew, wanted access.
It was Raúl Wang, her agent, who first suggested the living room camera. Raúl was just under forty, olive-skinned and handsome, with a perpetual five o’clock shadow. He wore Versace and Armani suits. He was born in Queens, and he came of Latin and East Asian blood. He had moved to Los Angeles to make his career, but retained his east coast connections. Raúl was very much in vogue.
“Katy darling,” he said. “I’ve just had the most fabulous idea. Why not put cameras throughout your house and stream your daily life live?”
Katy was smart, but she was also interested in money and growing her brand. She paused. “There’re tons of other people already doing it.”
“But you’re famous, Katy darling! People want to see how famous people live: the mansions, the cars, your darling Toto.” Raúl held up Toto, her lemur.
“No,” said Katy. “It’s unoriginal. I only do new.”
“Wear a camera,” suggested Millie Lundquist. Millie Lundquist was one of Katy’s entourage, and she was reclining on Katy’s divan. “I mean, have cameras all over the house, and wear a camera too. People can choose to toggle between your point of view or the POV from the house cameras. If they want to look at Toto, they look at Toto. If they want to follow you, they follow you.”
“Hmmm,” said Katy. “Warmer. But not quite hot.”
“What if you asked all your friends to wear cameras?” asked Lucas DiLorenzo. He was Katy’s boyfriend, and, she thought, he might not be for much longer.
“Too much of a bother,” Katy replied. “I’m meeting new people all the time, traveling the world. I meet friends, CEOs, executives, media personnel, et cetera. They’d all have to be mic’ed up, and that would be a hassle. And I wouldn’t want the cameras on during business negotiations, nor would any of the execs.”
“I like Millie’s idea,” said Raúl.
“I do too,” said Katy.
Millie blew a puff of smoke into the air, and she shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, Of course it’s just casual genius.
“And all that Millie’s idea needs is a little twist,” Raúl continued. “Something to make it more flamboyant and original. Something that takes it beyond the pale into true originality. I’ve almost got it—you’ll have cameras all over the house, you’ll wear a camera, and…” He paused, at a loss for what the twist would be.
“You could record everything,” suggested Lucas.
“Ok,” said Katy. “But so what?”
“People could go back and review what you said. It would give your life the illusion of the eternal.”
Katy shrugged her shoulders. “I guess.”
“Biographers could go back and review everything.”
“No,” said Raúl, “Too long-term. Recordings are interesting and utilitarian from a historical perspective, but they’re not click bait. A recording’s not sexy enough. It doesn’t generate enough pop.”
“Fine,” said Lucas.
“Oh, Lucas darling, don’t be petulant. It was a good idea,” said Katy.
“Thank you,” said Lucas, looking mollified.
Katy realized she’d need a new boyfriend soon. There were hundreds of likely candidates to choose from. Lucas was handsome, but she wanted a man she could, at times, follow, not one she whom she always had to lead. She found that exasperating.
“What we need,” said Raúl, “Is something sensational.”
“I’ll fake my own death,” said Katy brightly. “That would be sensational. I’m bored of the glamor anyway. Well, not bored of it, but I need a respite.”
“Fake your own death!” Raúl marveled. His mind wondered as he considered the possibilities.
“Is that possible?” asked Millie.
“I’m the Queen of Pop.” Katy shrugged. “Anything’s possible.”
“What about us?” asked Lucas. “You and me? We wouldn’t be able to be seen in public anymore.”
“We’d have to figure that out,” said Katy.
“Oh,” said Lucas.
“We’d have to figure out a million other details,” said Katy, soothingly. “But the idea’s got some panache, you’ve got to admit.”
“Panache?” said Millie.
“Vim and vigor,” said Raúl absently. “You know, pop.”
And just like that, he had an idea. “You’re the Queen of Pop,” he said. “Why don’t we make you just go ‘pop’?”
“What do you mean?” asked Katy.
“You’ll vanish in a puff of smoke. You’ll disappear.”
“Okay…” said Katy.
“Death is too morbid. It’s too macabre. People would feel betrayed when you reappeared. There would be a police inquiry. No, death’s too much of a pain. But vanishing, disappearance… Now there’s an idea! Put the disappearance together with the idea of you wearing cameras all the time, so that none of the audience can see you planning your own disappearance. Now we’re cooking!”
“I love it!” said Katy. “So the idea is that we plan the entire disappearance beforehand, correct?”
“Right,” said Raúl, nodding and thinking.
Millie sat up on the couch.
Lucas leaned forward.
“A month before my final concert date, I begin to wear the camera, and I have cameras installed in the tour bus, on set, wherever I go. I live stream everything. The audience has total access. Everyone follows me everywhere.”
“Right,” said Raúl. “And at the last concert, after all your contractual obligations are complete, you come out for the encore, and we arrange for a puff of smoke at center stage. We suddenly shut all the cameras off. The stage has a trap door that we’ve never used before, so that even the band has no idea where you’ve gone. You go through the trap door, and I am waiting beneath with a disguise. We hustle you out. There will be thousands and thousands of people screaming. No one will look twice at a person who doesn’t look like you. They do quick changes at the Super Bowl, we’ll do a quick change beneath the stage. Then you’re in a car that Millie drives, and you’re gone. We send you away for a year.”
“There would be a police investigation for a disappearance too,” Lucas put in.
“No,” said Katy, “We just put it out to the masses that I’m going on an extended holiday, à la Dave Chappelle. He vanished to Africa for a year. The police didn’t look for him. I’ll vanish somewhere for the same.”
“The police won’t investigate a holiday,” agreed Millie. “I love it.”
“People will go crazy about it—” Lucas said admiringly. “And you can record it. The Disappearance of the Century it will be called. People will talk about your vanishing for decades after you come back.”
“Yes, we’ll record it. People will review the recording like it’s the Zapruder film. And the disappearance will give me a year of peace and quiet that I can’t get any other way,” said Katy happily. “And, at the same time, it will make me the most fashionable celebrity in the world for another year. Everyone will be guessing at my disappearance and anticipating my return.”
“We’ll have you ‘pop’ back into existence at New Year’s,” Raúl said with sagacity and cunning. “We’ll have you pop back in Manhattan, New York right at the moment that the ball drops at the turn of the new year. Times Square. New York. Everyone will be watching. The ball will drop, and, in a puff of smoke, you will reappear. We’ll have the band ready. You can launch right back into a song. Don’t do a new one of your own. No one would know the words. Do a cover. Do Elton John’s, ‘I’m Still Standing’.”
“It’s perfect,” said Katy breathlessly. “I love everything about it!”
Millie applauded. Lucas held up a flute of champagne. His eyes were shining bright for Katy.
“I’m happy for you, Katy,” he said.
In that moment, when she saw his handsome face, and she felt her heart fluttering, her mind changed, and she thought, “I could see myself marrying this man.”
“But wait,” said Raúl suddenly, dampening the affairs for a moment. “What if plans change during the last month? How will we communicate even a slight change to you? You’ll have cameras on you literally all the time.”
They all paused, puzzled for a moment.
Then Katy had the solution. “I’ll tell you what,” said Katy, “We’ll do it the old fashioned way. How did people get a message across when they didn’t want others to see it? They did it in code. On the day of my last concert, you tell me what changes must take place, and tell me in writing. The audience will see what I’m reading, but you write the real message so that I only need to read every third word of the document. If I understand it, then I’ll sign it. That way, the audience will think that they’re seeing something like a legal document, but they won’t understand that they’re really seeing a code.”
“Excellent idea!” said Raúl. “And I’ll only put the code in the last paragraph. So you can just disregard the rest of the document and go straight to the code. That way, people will understand why it seems to be taking you a while to read it.”
“Wonderful!” said Katy.
“Marvelous!” said Raúl.
“Great!” said Millie.
“Let’s do this!” said Lucas. They toasted with four flutes full of champagne. They spent the night getting happily drunk together, and, for the next month, they made the logistical preparations.
The logistics went well. They got a disguise for Katy, and they put a trap door in the stage. They bought a burner car without a title.
When everything was ready, Katy gave Lucas, Millie, and Raúl a hug. They wished each other well. They made their final checks.
Then, perhaps most importantly, they turned on the cameras.
Everything that Katy did for the next three months of her tour was filmed: her shows, her dressing, her interviews, her flights, her bus rides, etc.
The concerts were a smashing success. Katy Miller’s personality was vibrant, audacious, at times a little too aggressive for the pundits. The audiences ate it up.
Katy Miller’s popularity soared.
For the next three months, Katy was as busy as a bee. She flitted from one venue to the next.
Six weeks into her three month-long touring schedule, Katy broke up with Lucas. The cameras recorded it all. His tears, and hers, were the covers of tabloids for two weeks.
Katy felt herself growing weary at times, and she began to feel eager for her break from fame and fortune. It was tiresome, she felt, to be hounded all the time. The vanishing act, she realized, was going to be a boon that she’d needed. She really would take some time off for herself. She contemplated a long break that filled her days with fresh fruit and yoga, something like Julia Roberts did in Eat, Pray, Love, except that Katy would skip the Love part… And, she thought with an amused grin, maybe she would skip the Pray part too. Maybe she would go somewhere quiet and just Eat.
When the big day came, Katy reflected that her final concert date had arrived, and she thought, Good, I’m exhausted.
Her tour manager came into her dressing room with a long, contractual looking document that he said was from Raúl.
The tour manager said, “Katy, Raúl wants you to read this document and sign it, if you agree with what it says. Is now a good time for you to do that?”
“Never a better,” Katy replied.
The tour manager laid the document onto the table. It was a page long, in fairly small print. Katy went right to the last paragraph. This was the coded letter that she’d been anticipating.
The paragraph read.
You are everything, and what is, shall always still be looked on. I know no other lady changes the music from the old—my dated generation’s side. Sign of times if you want; you’re the best; All Timer, you’re ready!
Every third word read, “Everything is still on. No changes from my side. Sign if you’re all ready.”
A short time later, she went on stage. She made a playful mention of an upcoming disappearance. It was vague, but not too vague. Then Katy sang her songs. At the end of the concert, she stood in the center of the stage. Her arms were raised on either side. She wore a glittery red costume that looked like a swimsuit. It was very revealing. It could not be mistaken.
There was an enormous puff of smoke. For a moment, Katy could see nothing.
Then the trap door opened, and Katy fell through. Raúl caught her, and he set her gently on the ground. He had waiting for her a frumpy black hooded sweatshirt and some grey sweat pants. He had some tennis shoes. He had sunglasses.
The first thing that Katy took off was the camera. When she pulled it off, it was like the weight of a millstone coming off her neck. It weighed but a few ounces imperial, but several hundred pounds, and gaining, psychological.
Katy pulled the clothes on, and she and Raúl slipped out from underneath the stage. She kept her head bowed. They were like salmon going upstream against a current. Security, police, and media were hustling toward the stage.
No one prevented their escape.
Millie was waiting outside with the car idling. Raúl and Katy stepped into the car. They shut the doors behind them. Millie drove slowly away. The car’s windows were tinted black. Raúl pulled the back of the backseat down, and Katy crawled out of the backseat, into the trunk of the car. Raúl put the seatback back up again.
Millie and Raúl were very quiet as they drove out of Los Angeles, out toward the desert. It was a horrible thing that they had in mind to do.
When they reached the desert, it was two-thirty in the morning. Raúl opened the trunk, and he helped Katy out.
She was a smart girl, Katy, and as soon as she saw the desert, she knew that something, at some time, had gone wrong in the plans. Her moment of realization came a moment too late. Raúl struck her ferociously with the tire iron, and she went down like bricks into the sea.
Millie and Raúl had left shovels in the desert. These they used to bury Katy.
The document which Katy had signed, the great part of which she had not read, was recorded by all the cameras that she’d used. She’d signed that she planned to go away, that she’d been planning her vanishing since before the cameras had been turned on. The document stated that she was tired of the materialism and wealth, and she was leaving half her hundred million dollar fortune to Millie and the other half to Raúl.
Millie and Raúl, having cooked up this scheme between them, felt a hundred million dollars to be a prize well worth one human life. They reasoned that the police would search only half-heartedly for Katy, since she signed that she was going away.
Millie and Raúl didn’t need much, they realized, for all that money. They needed the will to commit murder. They both recognized that they had that will. And, Millie and Raúl fathomed, they’d have to bury Katy deep. So deep that she’d never be found.
They buried her deep.
It was a sensational little human drama: the sudden disappearance of the Queen of Pop, the conspiracies, the love, the recorded evidence, the police investigation, the strange and unlooked-for will, the mystery, the intrigue, the glamor, and the fame.
Lucas was right. People called it The Disappearance of a Century. Some people believed that Katy Miller would return or be seen again, like Lydie Marland, the governor’s wife who lived in a mansion with a secret room. Conspiracy theorists said that Katy Miller had been murdered by Raúl and Millie, and these theorists were mostly disregarded. The police, reviewing the final concert, realized that Katy had playfully mentioned her upcoming disappearance. The lead detective thought she went south to Mexico then, perhaps, to Peru. Raúl and Millie, on separate occasions, had informed this detective that Katy was interested in temazcal.
So the detective moved on from the Miller disappearance without much sorrow. There were murders where the victim had certainly been killed, and disappearances where the victim had definitely been kidnapped. These cases had substance, and, although they weren’t so glamorous, still the victims and families in such cases needed police help. There was only so much time that a detective could devote to one case, even a high-profile one, without shirking his duties with regard to the rest of his caseload.
And outside of this pale blue dot of a planet that we call Earth, no one batted an eyelid that one meager life was lost or that pieces of paper changed hands. No one heard the collective buzz of millions of people conversing about Katie Miller. The pleas, whims, words, and actions of humans were utterly and completely muffled by the vastness of space.
But on planet Earth, for decades after the fantastic circumstances of Katie Miller’s disappearance, many people continued to care.