Books I’ve Failed to Write: Excerpt 2

Here is a snippet from The Peregrina, the unfinished novel I ended up salvaging for parts. It borrows a few elements from my grandmother’s biography – the early fascination with Roma music and the enraged smashing of a toy fiddle when she was just five years old. None of this made it into the “new” book (my WIP), but the characters of Dek and Bianka did, in much revised forms (Dek is no longer a musician).

Dek’s most powerful memory of music was caught up with the memory of his mother and wolves. When he was five years old, he heard the gypsies playing in the hills one night. He left the Circus grounds and followed the sound to their campsite, where he spent the night sitting around the fire with them. They welcomed him, laughing, into their circle of music and dance. It was almost daybreak when Bianka appeared, haggard and furious, with an odd, unfamiliar smell lingering about her. She said not a word to the gypsies, who stepped away, looking down as she approached. She caught Dek by the hand and dragged him down the hill back to their own camp. The only thing she said to him was: “Didn’t you hear the wolves howling all night, you little fool?” When he was older, he thought he must have imagined the wolves that had watched them pass down the hill, dogging their steps yet never attacking the mother and child.

            She spanked him soundly with her hairbrush when they got home, while Fru screamed and wept outside. But he did not regret his transgression. He was obsessed, now, with the music he had heard. He wanted a fiddle of his own. He begged and begged, while his mother put him off. Months later, Orlando the Great presented him with a funny little toy fiddle. Furious, he smashed it to bits against a rock. He did not want a toy. He wanted to make music as wild as the hills by night, music a person could not but dance to, music like watchful wolves, full of secrets.

            It was his father who gave him the violin, after his illness. They saw him very rarely, but when he came, he came always laden with gifts from the city: wood-carved toys, or hair ribbons for Fru, jewelry and perfume and a packet of money for their mother. He took up too much space, with his shining shoes and his city clothes, his big voice. He towered in their trailer, hands deep in his pockets, an expensive watch chain dangling from his breast pocket, his handkerchief tucked just so. He rocked back and forth on his heels, smelling of cigars, and said things like: “Well, you all look fine, just fine! Country air, eh?”

            On that first visit after his illness, when Dek met his father but could not see him, he was different. He was quieter. Dek, newly trapped in a world of total darkness, noticed for the first time how much his father seemed to shift about and fidget. But he brought him the violin, a real violin. Dek did not know much about violins, but he knew this one was finely made and must have cost a lot of money. He nearly wept when he first held it in his hands. It fit into his hands, it fit against his body, like a part of him that had been missing all this time. He taught himself to play with a little help from some of the musicians in the circus, as he could not read music of course. But he understood it instinctively. He held the violin and the bow in his hands and music flooded forth. 


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