Chaconne
I once heard a professor say that any mystery that can be solved is not a mystery. The man proposed a "God is dead" theology, based on Nietzsche, not the Bible, and yet his most receptive audience was Baptist, congregants who "knew their God had died." They writhed with him on the cross. I'm listening to a sonata composed by Jean-Marie Leclair, who served as violinist for a duke's court but had to live in the outskirts of Paris in a shabby hovel by a tavern. After a night of billiards, he was found in a pool of blood, stabbed in the back. And that's a movie I would like to make. Leclair's Chaconne in G minor plays, obsessive violins examining clues in a ground bass. At the scene of the crime, a gardener who discovers the composer becomes an automatic suspect. And everything's a clue. As Thales says, "There are gods in all things." The click of billiard balls, the caroms on green felt. His curly wig's half off, powdered and bloody. Through the doorway, his violin glows on the case's velvet lining. He sprawls on cracked tiles of the vestibule of his cramped house with peeling stucco. Horses are clopping on the cobbled street. Wagons are swaying. A crowd swarms. Police are stumped. It's the Eighteenth Century. The gardener is detained, released. A nephew looks suspicious, blames the uncle for his stalled musical career. The widow has the usual motive: money she lacks, deserves, must scheme to get. Anyone could stab a drunken man in his frock-coated back three times and stop the air he's humming. Even his ghost would be no help. He couldn't see his cowardly assailant pound the knife in. Flashbacks begin. He's making lace— his father's craft—and tuning a violin, applying rosin to the bow and stroking out a note, a scale, a run: a young musician married to a dancer, dancing with her. Then she dies. And then he meets his second wife, a beautiful engraver named Louise. After his death, she carries on her wifely duties, publishing his work and counting up the royalties. Another flashback to a fiddlers' duel he fought with his rival, Locatelli. Who won the concert? Who killed the violinist? The trick is that we never know, and everyone's a suspect. We observe a scene from his only opera: Circe the witch has cast a spell, transforming a nymph who's just a country girl (though competition for a minor sea-god) into rock above a whirlpool: love as the source of hate and homicide. All of them wanted him to die, probably even Locatelli, all conspirators who act in concert. Who struck the blows? One each for gardener, widow and nephew, three in all? The overture rejoices in a fugue where strings are stitching up the lace of polyphonic clues. But nothing's solved. Patricia Keene
Each fall, the architecture school requires all of its first-year students to erect shelters on the slope beside the classrooms and studios. They have a list of what materials they are allowed to use: cardboard instead of patterned cinder blocks, scraps they can scavenge, anything like driftwood. The problem is the site, which isn't level. Weather is unpredictable, and they must spend one night in their make-shift abodes. Ambition counts. Refrigerator boxes might do for derelicts but not for builders. No shanty town. They try to emulate their heroes whose designs are close at hand: Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, especially Zaha Hadid. Patricia loves her center for contemporary art. She's found some green translucent plastic sheets for windows, fits them into openings of trapezoids and parallelograms. Diagonals play against the jutting ledges for sleeping and for study. She even plants a garden on the roof, with drainage channels: Wind in the Willows meets Frank Lloyd Wright. Everyone's busy building on the hillside, but then she notices a man who's browsing, inspecting their work, examining designs: a homeless wanderer the students call the Fuzzy Man, handsome enough to play James Bond or Shaft (he could be black or white), a stubbly beard, wild hair that looks like graphite. Sometimes he pauses in his peregrinations to open up a battered pocket notebook and sketch—who knows what?—something that he's noticed. Later that night, when everyone's retired, experiencing their interiors, she's reading by a battery-powered lantern when there's a tapping on the cardboard door and a voice says, "Knock, knock." Oh no, she thinks, some joker wants to hear her say, "Who's there?" And so she opens up the door and sees the Fuzzy Man. She feels hairs rise on her neck. "I've brought you coffee for the night, de-caf, but flavored so it's like an opera cream." She doesn't want to let him in but does, and he sits down, cross-legged, on a blanket. "Thank you," he says, "not everyone I meet reciprocates. I won't stay long but like the house you've built here. See? I've even sketched it. Here, you keep it. No, it's yours. I'll go now." He leaves, and what was that about, she wonders, holding the pocket-notebook sheet ripped out. It's really pretty good, she thinks, and smiles, happy to savor coffee he provided. Next morning, sunlight makes the whole room green. When she emerges, though, there's cactus, sand, a gleaming emerald city in the desert. Ohio's been transformed to Arizona. And she's dolled up, not wearing a plaid shirt and overalls with speckles of white paint. She gazes up at arches, cantilevers, glass tinted green, a rooftop hanging garden, walls with paintings on a swirl of tiles. She realizes these are her designs, except the murals. She starts walking, stunned. When she looks back, the house she built is just a stack of cardboard and green plastic sheets, ready to be recycled the next day. She soon discovers she's acquired a husband, Rex Derringer, "no, call me Doctor, please," a man with law and medical degrees who fools around with interns and assistants, women and men, it doesn't matter which, as long as he's on top and everyone's cool and hip enough to treat it casually. She's taken on a girlfriend, Mattie Dawson, a painter who's been her collaborator on houses, public buildings, a museum. The work of Jennifer Bartlett comes to mind, and that's seductive in itself, she thinks. Everyone seems okay with this arrangement, but Rex is ready to explode. He's not on top. Mad logic is his only method. Someone has got to vanish. Who will go? One night, Patricia sees the Fuzzy Man dressed in a stylish suit. He sips a cocktail. "Help me get back," she pleads, "what do I do?" "You don't. This is the life you have designed. Forces at work are structural. Think physics." He wasn't homeless now, apparently, and really wasn't much help as a genie. She'd made a leap, and now she couldn't leave. One vote, and no one gets another chance, but there are other opportunities for choice, to go with Mattie and refuse to murder or be murdered. She consults her drafting table and begins designing.



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