Night of Cake & Puppets
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(He wouldn’t do that, a voice in me insists, like I know him at all.)
(You do know him.)
I don’t. Of course I don’t. We’ve never even spoken. But I was pretty confident that he wasn’t a jerk. That he wasn’t a jackass. Not that this is on par with what Kaz did to Karou, of course, but it’s not great, either. I was fully prepared for him to not show up at Location One. I’d have been really disappointed, yeah, but I couldn’t have held anything against him. If he’s not interested, he’s not interested. But why follow the treasure hunt to the end, looking all dazzled and velvety the whole time, and then…run away?
My phone buzzes. It’s from Karou: a list of conversation openers that I won’t be needing.
—a) Hi. I’m Zuzana. I’m actually a marionette brought to life by the Blue Fairy, and the only way I can gain a soul is if a human falls in love with me. Help a puppet out?
—b) Hi. I’m Zuzana. The touch of my lips imparts immortality. Just sayin’.
—c) Hi. I’m Zuzana. I think I might like you.
I read them with bitterness, then drop down onto the bench and nudge the puppets apart, breaking their embrace. The angel falls back, her arms askew, head lolling off the edge of the bench in a swoon. Dead of a broken heart. I think I might like you indeed. No dancing around it, just honesty. That’s what Confident Girl would say. If she had someone to freaking say it to.
I write back: Thanks, but I won’t be needing these after all.
—…he ran away.…
—Left the puppets. Left them MAKING OUT and didn’t wait around for me. At least the puppets got some action tonight.
There’s a pause during which I imagine Karou getting outraged. But when she writes back, it isn’t outrage that comes through.
—This makes no sense, Zuze. Did he leave a note or anything?
A note? I didn’t think of that. A spark flickers in my heart hole. Is it possible?
Heart hole! The angel’s heart hole. Something’s poking out of the angel’s heart hole! I look up, around, as if Mik might be spying on me the way I’ve been spying on him. But I don’t think so; there’s nowhere to hide. I reach out…it’s a rolled-up paper. I unroll it and, in a second, all of my disappointment, mortification, paralysis, bewilderment, and humiliation evaporate and are replaced by…giddiness, relief, thrill, swoon, and delight.
It’s Mik’s own version of my first treasure map, hastily done. At its center: a ballpoint-rendered self-portrait that is pretty much a child’s smiley face doodle with sideburns and a goatee. As bad as it is – and it is – there’s something so sweet about it, something so totally affectless and jerk-free that I can’t believe I ever thought Mik would do something mean. Oh ye of little faith. I remember the conversation I had at Poison with Karou a while back, before I even knew Mik’s name, where I wondered what chance there was of him being a non-orifice. As if there could be any doubt! He radiates non-orificeness. I was just afraid to believe it – or else afraid that some other girl was already the lucky beneficiary of his non-orificeness.
Which doesn’t appear to be the case – because he played my game tonight, and now…he’s inviting me to play his.
The puppets’ embrace takes on new meaning, and my cheeks go hot. Was it a message? How could it not be? The scroll is a message, too: A speech bubble balloons from smiley-Mik’s lips. It reads:
Devil’s Stream, 20 minutes.
PS walk slowly
And there’s a crudely drawn map of the Kampa, but no X-marks-the-spot that I can see. The Devil’s Stream isn’t very long, but it’s certainly long enough that a precise location would be helpful. And what’s with the twenty minutes? What’s he up to?
My phone is vying for my attention. It’s a string of texts from Karou, all along the lines of: Hello? Z???
My fingers are shaking a little with thrill shivers as I type back: You’re a genius and a savior. THERE IS A NOTE! <3 <3
I have never in my life typed a heart symbol. Those are for milquetoast girls. Karou will probably think my phone’s been stolen – or possibly my body, by a lovelorn alien. I send the text anyway.
This is what comes back: …who is this??
Me: Don’t you dare mock me.
Karou: You’re not going to start collecting heart-shaped rocks or anything, are you? Because we might have to renegotiate our friendship.
And I have some time to kill before the mysterious twenty minutes elapse, so I call her – stupid texting, anyway; sometimes it takes a ridiculously long time to think of actually dialing the phone and speaking instead of typing away like numbskulls – and I assure her emphatically that there is no heart-shaped rock collection in my future. ‘Toes,’ I say, thinking of my grandfather’s supposed golem souvenir. ‘I’m going to take toe trophies from all my boys from now on,’ and if Karou knows that ‘all my boys’ so far equals zero boys, she doesn’t let on.
‘That’s more like it,’ she says.
It’s really good to hear her voice. She tells me she’s going to Pakistan next. Pakistan! I issue all sorts of ill-informed warnings that she doesn’t need, like to wear a burqa and not do any random sexy dancing in public, and she keeps trying to bring the conversation back to me and Mik.
Me & Mik.
I’ve never been part of an ampersand before. Never a ‘we,’ never an ‘us,’ but by the time I get off the phone and start walking – slowly, as directed – in the direction of the Devil’s Stream, I’m feeling pretty good about my chances. It may be a grand delusion, but the feeling carries me along like I’m floating, and in no time at all, I’m nearing the footbridge at the end of Velkoprevorske Street, wondering where to go next. And that’s when I hear it.
Violin. Live and real and drifting with the snow. It’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, which I’ve heard so many times that I didn’t even realize, until hearing it now, that it had become…mundane. Oh, yeah, Mozart’s such a genius. What’s for dessert? But hearing it like this, outside, at night, in a snowfall and meant for me…it’s newly born in my mind as the sublime creation that it is. It’s the Andante, softer and sweeter than the Allegro, and it’s just…I can’t even explain it.
It’s a dimension. The space around me, the world above me – until just now a void of night air beset by snow flurries – becomes a living thing. Music. Close your eyes and it’s a rosebush blooming in time lapse so that its shoots and blossoms flow outward in a swift choreography of growth and collapse, twine and coil, release and fade.
Close your eyes and music paints light vines and calligraphy on the darkness within you.
It draws me forward, like a hand extended. Mik is on the other side of it, somewhere as yet unrevealed, his music making a trail straight to him, and I’m so grateful in the moment that it’s not an ordinary person I’ve fallen for, and not even an ordinary musician, but a violinist.
As soon as I step onto the footbridge I see him. There’s the mill wheel just beside the bridge – the cute wooden mill wheel every tourist to Prague snaps a photo of – and Mik is down on the narrow dock beside it, barely ten feet away. There’s a wall between us, though, concrete topped with an iron fence, and my miniature self has to stand on tiptoe to peer through the bars. His head, cozied by his knit cap, is bent over his violin, his posture is loose and fluid, he’s blushing his blush of exertion and creation, and nothing has ever been quite as amazing as the fact that this perfect sound is the result of the smooth, deliberate swing of this beautiful boy’s arm.
I’m not the only person who’s been drawn to the music. Passersby are stopping to listen. Some windows clatter open in the buildings fronting the stream, and for a minute everyone is still, bent toward this lovely sight: Mik on the mill dock, playing Mozart to the snow.
No, not to the snow. To me.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik is Mozart’s Serenade 13. Serenade.
World, I think it’s important to acknowledge here that I am being serenaded. The Charles Bridge arcs in the backdrop, its lampposts ghostly. The canal is black and glinting, and the night is saying: Yep. Everything is miraculous.
Indeed, Picasso. Indeed.
‘Excuse me,’ I say to a couple who are paused nearby, leaning into each other so that their breath plumes mingle and become one. ‘Can you boost me up?’ I gesture to the wall. It’s high, with pointy iron finials to further discourage what I am about to do, but the couple make no effort to dissuade me. They smile like they’re in on a secret, and the guy makes a stirrup with his hands, and up I go. That’s when Mik looks up. Right when I’m balanced on top of the wall.
Our eyes meet, and all this rigamarole and scheming, the back-and-forth across the bridge and diving behind tombstones, it all comes down to this moment.
Our eyes meet.
And…it’s like all my life I’ve been this tower standing at the edge of the ocean for some obscure purpose, and only now, almost eighteen years in, has someone thought to flip the switch that reveals that I’m not a tower at all. I’m a lighthouse. It’s like waking up. I am incandescent. I never knew I could emit heat and light. Damn. If the music created an external dimension, this creates an internal one.
There is more to me than I knew.
Mik smiles, and it’s such a mix of glad and shy and sweet and eager and even a little bit of what I could swear is amazed – like he’s amazed by his good fortune that I am climbing over a wall to him – that it triggers a kindred smile in me. My face responds without authorization from my brain, so the resulting smile feels like the biggest, most unguarded, goofiest smile I’ve ever unleashed in my entire life. I didn’t even know my face could do this. It’s like there were hidden zippers in my cheeks. Jesus.
This must be what feelings are. This is why people write poems! I get it now.
I get it, and I want more.
I start to climb down the outside of the bridge. Or, well, I look down for clues as to how I might accomplish this last, crucial step to finally entering Mik’s magnetic field, but it’s a far drop to the little metal walkway below, and I hesitate. And no sooner do I hesitate than Mozart hesitates. By which I mean, Mik’s bow falters over the strings and the music cuts off, and when I look back up, he’s laying his violin and bow in their case and coming toward me. There’s a light smattering of applause, but I’m not going to be distracted by anything outside the circle of this moment.
Here’s the situation. Me: clinging to the outside of the bridge. Mik: on the metal walkway below. His head is about even with my feet. He’s looking up at me, and our eyes meet again and I’m thinking I love your face at him because it’s just the best face and I can’t help imagining a situation in which we are standing with our foreheads and nose tips touching, and it’s only now that I realize the lighthouse radiance I feel myself emitting is actually blushing. He’s blushing, too, and with the distance reduced between us there’s the sensation that our blushes are meeting in the middle. The edges of our magnetic fields are bumping against each other.
And then Mik speaks. All he says is ‘Hi,’ but he says it like he’s breathing it out on a plume of pure awe, and it melts me.
‘Hi,’ I say back. A word spoken, and no mouth malfunction. Granted, it’s only hi, but it’s the most meaningful hi I’ve ever said, and it doesn’t even sound like my voice. It sounds like it belongs to some girl with a heart-shaped rock collection, and I defiantly do not care. ‘Help me down?’ I ask.
And he reaches for me. I crouch to sit on the edge of the concrete wall, the iron of the rail hard at my back. I find I’m still just a little out of range of Mik’s hands, so I have to tip forward, fall to him and let him catch me. And I do. And he does. And it’s like I’m watching myself do this thing – fall into Mik’s waiting arms, into his magnetic field at last – from a great distance. He catches my waist, so padded by my sweater and coat that it’s just pressure and not even the feeling of hands, and I catch his shoulders, likewise coat-padded but still nice and boy-shouldery, and he sets me down in front of him, simple and neat, and here we are, squarely arrived at the talking portion of the evening.
There’s a long pause.
But it’s not a bad pause, because Mik is looking at me like I’m the treasure from the high shelf that someone’s just taken down and put into his hands. I find I don’t mind being looked at like this. I don’t mind it at all.
‘I got your note,’ he says.
‘I got yours, too.’
‘I can’t draw,’ he says a little quickly, like he’s offering an apology, and I know he’s just as nervous as I am.
‘And I can’t play the violin,’ I counter. ‘That was…beautiful.’ It’s such an understatement. Sublime might begin to get at what it was, but that would just sound pretentious.
He shakes his head, humble. ‘That was nothing. I mean, don’t tell Mozart I said that. But it wasn’t like what you did tonight. I don’t even know what to say. It’s the coolest thing anyone’s ever done for me.’