The Hudson River Drowning Chronicles
Synopsis: This is the tragic account of Sully's mother's death and a simpatico meeting of Sully and Michaela in New York City. The format is a narrative poem.
Note: In Part 9, it's actually supposed to look a certain way on the page, but it won't save that way. If you want to read the story how it is visually supposed to look, go to my website.
Part One: Toes
I know my daughter's toes are wiggling beneath her calf-high laced boots. I look at my pocket watch, knowing it is time I take her away from the smelling salts and baths and soft pillows of her sisters. From this confining hotel room. My youngest, my Mike, needs noise and laughter and chaos and confusion.
She needs to wiggle her toes.
I just want Mike to see 5th Avenue, I say to my wife. I see my daughter's knees buckle and her feet turn inward.
We both know who rules this roost.
As long as you're back for afternoon tea, my wife replies.
Our eyes meet. We have the morning. We have the day. An adventure awaits us. I reach for her small hand, still a little girl, though in the shadows I see traces of what is to be, and I hold her hand tighter, because I know this day cannot last.
The afternoon will come. We will have to drink our tea.
We are now on the street. A carriage rolls past us, slinging mud into the air. Her laughter erupts, filling the sky with joy, as I look down at my spotted girl.
I am a Dalmatian! She says happily, her imagination free, not yet thinking of her mother's reaction to her new coat.
The prettiest one I ever saw, I say, as she runs along ahead of me down the new street. A farmland once, now a place for drifters and explorers like us. How things change.
How she changes.
She stops suddenly, her face reflecting in the glass window. There's my little girl again.
What do you see, Mike? I ask, peering over her shoulder.
She says nothing, but simply presses her hand against the glass. Then I see her. She's a beautiful porcelain doll, with the fairest skin and the bluest eyes.
Would you like to have her, Mike? I ask, I hope. My girl has never played with dolls. She has always been the doll.
Too many sisters.
Her toes are wiggling again in her calf-high laced boots. She is afraid to say yes. Afraid she'll stop being special.
Not my girl. Never.
I take her hand, and we press against the glass door.
Part Two: Hands
My son always holds my hand. He is a good boy, and he loves me. I wish I could love him like that, but my hands are loose. Fragile. I will give him these hands when I let go, and it will be difficult for him to hold on, to reach out and say yes again to someone who loves him.
But not yet.
We walk to market and he smiles freely as he runs between the grape seed and the fresh avocado. We are voyagers of the city, we are travelers of the earth, and he is my mate, my captain, my true north.
He is my Wordsworth. My Shelley. My Keats.
He is my Lord Byron.
He is poetry in motion and he makes my heart sing as he wraps his tiny hands around my neck and pulls me down to him. A kiss on the cheek, Mum.
Load up my basket, I say, run, run, my little logger. Lots of food. I don't want him to be hungry. Not for a moment. I look in my purse. Eighty-five cents in coins of the realm. Enough for bread. Maybe some cheese.
Who will feed him milk?
A beggar woman touches my hand. Alms, alms for a miserable woman, she says.
I put my hand over hers. She stops singing when she looks in my eyes. Misery cannot help the miserable. She knows this and backs away.
A voice from the lilies. Katie? Is that you, Miss Katie? I hide amongst the geraniums and violets. It is Father Venable. I cannot see him now. He will surely know, as God knows all things on earth.
What are ya doin', Mum? My boy asks.
Oh, you give me such a fright, Byron Sully! Do you mean to send me to my grave, boy?
No, mum. I love ya too much for that. He looks at me like I will be here forever. He trusts me. I brought ya somethin', he says.
Ya did? How did I get so lucky?
It is an artichoke. Why are earth did ya bring me that, Byron?
It's a heart, don't ya see? An artichoke heart. I won't ever love anyone but you. I'm givin' ya my heart.
He holds the artichoke heart in his palms, a gift from his hands to mine.
What shall we do with it? I ask, taking the juicy leaves into my hands.
My boy frowns and then looks at me with breaking innocence. Why, eat it, Mum. Ya should eat it.
Part Three: Gloves
My hands grow. They grow too much. My mother says I have to wear gloves tonight. I don't want to. They itch and make me look like a surgeon. I don't want to be a surgeon. I want to be a sailor when I grow up.
We walk through the busy street and I hold my father's hand. I cannot feel his hand, because of the starchy white gloves. But he can feel mine, and he gives my hand a squeeze as he leads me through the sea of drifting people. Perhaps if I were taller I could bob along the sea with them.
I don't hold Katie's hand. She is too fragile. She is pressed against my heart. Secure and safe.
I look into her glassy eyes.
I push her golden hair away from her porcelain face.
I'll protect you, I whisper into her hair.
But Katie doesn't have ears. They forget to make them.
As we swim down Ann Street, I see the Park Theatre, and it is even grander than Father's description. I've never been in a theatre before. I am quite nervous. Because you hear things. About actresses. And what they do. And who they are.
Of course my mother has a sudden headache.
And Rebecca is feeling faint.
And Marjorie isn't interested.
And Maureen and Claudette are hungry. They don't want to go inside.
But not me. I want to see these singers, these performers, these sailors of words. I take my father's hand, gloved, protected, but I itch to throw them off and run through the streets singing, I am here, I am free, I am alive.
Tickets, please, the usher says. My father pulls them out of his tuxedo pocket. I want a tuxedo. Tails and bows and flaps. Like a penguin. Us penguins wobble inside and climb inside our box. Our ice box.
We have our own chairs. Red velvet. The same color as the brocade curtains. I pull mine to the edge of the balcony. My father raises his eyebrow as Katie and I lean over the side.
The lights go out.
I lose him in the darkness.
But, there is music, there is Rodolfo, and I am in love for the first time in my life.
Do you like, Mike? My father whispers. Do you like it?
Oh yes, I say. Yes. I love it. My heart is open wide as my Rodolfo, my poet, sings to me.
I will never love another after tonight.
Part Four: Ears
Mum? I say from the corner of our small place in this world. Our haven. Our hole. Our hell.
Mum? I try again. She doesn't hear me.
This isn't the first time.
The raging fire in July. She couldn't hear me then either. Our home. Our life. Taken from her.
She cries at night. She doesn't think I hear her, but I do.
She still misses him.
Mum, I love you.
Mum, you don't have to work so hard. We can go away. Find a new life. We'll find buried treasures in the West, and I'll decorate you with silver and turquoise and sapphires. And we'll climb to the top of the highest mountain together. Would ya like that, Mum? Mum?
Are you hungry, boy, she asks. I don't want ya to be hungry. I say yes even though I'm not.
Her hands are shaking as she cuts the bread. I'm afraid she'll cut herself. I leave my corner, and slide my hand over hers, stopping her. She doesn't move. She hardly breathes.
There she weaves, by night and day, a magic web as colors gay, she has heard a whisper say, a curse is on her, as she stay, to look down on Camelot, she whispers, twining her fingers with mine.
Is it me, I ask, as I try to free her hand from the knife.
No, she shakes her head, her eyes closing once, twice, three times. It's Tennyson.
We'll eat together, I say. I'm not hungry, she says. I'm never hungry.
She drops my hand, and the bread tumbles to the ground, unwanted by us both.
I have to go, she says.
Not without me, I say. You'll catch your death in the rain, Mum.
She steps out into the alley and the rain pours down across her golden curls, flattening them across her porcelain face. I step towards her, and she shakes her head, smiling beautifully. Smiling sadly. She calls to me, the better days of life were ours!
Is it me? I ask, running towards her, but her eyes fill with shards, and she disappears with a faint whisper in the air, the worst can be but mine.
Part Five: Nose
The second act is halfway over, and my daughter is sleeping. But there is a soft smile on her face. I think the opera has left the building and has infiltrated her dreams, sending her to places that only little girls are allowed to know about.
She is snoring. Not so softly. Perhaps it is her aria.
An older couple from the next box glares at me. They obviously never had children and do not recognize genius when they hear it.
I lift my daughter from the balcony and bring her to my shoulder. She nestles into my neck, and soon, her solo performance is over. I am deeply saddened. Especially for that snoody couple.
Suddenly, my nose tingles. I know that smell. It's from the streets and the alleys where the beggars warm their hands, from the hotel room where the girls circle around me as I read our evening devotional, from the kitchen where the cook bakes her bread and from the woods, where it spread without mercy, like wildfire.
Fire! A voice shouts from the orchestra.
Fire! I stand with no hesitation. I know what happens with fire in New York. It's unstoppable. It does not wait for water.
My daughter opens her eyes, her dream not yet over, and we leave our box, our fantasy, as I begin to descend the red, velvet stairs. The lobby is filled with smoke, and soon, I know, smoke will take that beautiful red velvet and singe it forever.
But we are out of the box, the tragedy, first. I spin my daughter around in my arms and hold her to me. There is confusion and chaos in her eyes.
I'm sorry, I say. I'm so sorry. I would never let anything harm you.
The rest of the audience files behind us, coughing, gagging, repeating my performance with their loved ones.
She looks into my eyes and smiles, believing me. I know, Father. I know.
She turns around suddenly, looking at her hands, her gloves, and her chest. I don't know what it is. What is it, Mike? What's wrong?
Where's Katie? She asks quietly. I don't know what to say as the smoke infiltrates my skin and eyes and nostrils.
Part 6: Heart
Mum! Mum! His voice sounds like my heart as I run down Houston Street, as I go closer and closer towards those rushing waters.
Those quiet waters. Those sleeping waters that still the heart.
Mum! He calls again. I shake my head. I have to tear him out. I have to tear him out of my heart. So he can live. So I can die.
Go home, Byron! I don't want ya! I have no son. You hear me? I am barren! Childless!
He stops. In the rain. I think I killed him. I am not sure.
I know I killed me.
But my boy is strong. My boy is brave. My boy has a heart I never will.
Ya liar! He charged me like Samson, like David, like Moses lifting his rod over the water. You're nothing but a liar! You love me more than life! More than life!
I nod once. I can't lie to him. More than life, I say.
But my heart has already stopped. The waters are rushing in. And I cannot stop running.
Part 7: Arms
I have to get her, I say, pushing away from my father's arms. Katie needs me.
I'm sorry, Mike, he says, but we can't go back inside. There will be other dolls.
He doesn't understand, but he always understands. But I don't want another doll! I scream, stepping away from him. I want Katie!
She's gone, Mike. I'm sorry, he says, as he tries to hold me. But I won't let him.
No! It's your fault! It's all your fault! I hate you! I hate you! And for a moment I think he believes me as I run away from him, through the chaos, through the crowds, in to a city that grows darker and darker with every passing lamp post.
Part 8: Hair
Her hair is my torch as we leap unto the grassy banks. I cannot catch it. I love you is not enough. Wet strands fly back, roots of herself, her dead weight, but they are too beautiful to be her ashes. I keep them as they hit me, her regrets and my treasures.
She steps onto the bridge. She looks like a mermaid hovering over her water kingdom. I have never loved her more.
Don't look back, Byron, she says. Don't let the past haunt your dreams. Fill your days.
We'll make new dreams, I try, one last time, but I have already tried dreaming. She doesn't know how.
I will sleep, she says, with no dreams.
I watch my mother close her eyes and fall asleep. I am not fast enough to wake her from her dreamless sleep.
The last I touch of my mother is her golden hair, flying in the wind.
Part 9: Lungs
The water is colder than I thought.
It brings on chills.
It shakes the heart. It fringes the hair. It curls my toes. It extends my hands.
Oh God, Oh! Is this death?
Is this the black silence that fills hell, with gnashing and clawing as my lungs fill with ice and air is
to be found
as God leaves my soul
where is earth
where my feet may land on solid ground
but oh my heart, my heart
my boy, oh, my boy
I can see his reflection above me
there is still a God
there is still a Heaven
and he is a part of it
he is still living
he won't be damned
he won't be sent below
where circulation where heat where speech
is cut off from the world that I live in
oh why was happiness so hard to find in that world above me
when he was there
when he was so beautiful and loving and good
why did the fires come
why did the crops fail
why were the summers so hot
why did we leave England
why did my mum go go go
why did did did she do this
why did she do this... this… this…
Part 10: Wings
Mum! I cry out, but I know she cannot hear me, Mum! Don't worry! I'll wake ya! It won't take long!
I jump on the railing and my arms become wings. I'll swoop down like a seagull, and we'll fly so far west she won't remember her nightmares.
As I jump into the night sky, I hear my mother's name being called in a mournful sound, Katie, Katie, and I wonder for a moment if I am too late.
Part 11: Lips
My legs feel as broken as my heart as I travel onward towards the river. I am going to catch a ship there and sail away.
Just a doll. Why doesn't he understand? My lips tremble.
I can hear the water calling. I hear voices. Voices calling.
Something isn't right.
I pick up my skirts. Something is in the air. Something terrible.
A heart is broken. I see a bridge. I see a boy. He's flying into the sky. For a moment, I think his arms will turn into wings.
But they are man made wings. Broken wings. And he falls as if he has been shot through the heart.
No! I cry, my doll forgotten, the music lost, Rodolfo ripped from my heart as I slide into the banks of the Hudson.
I have to save his life.
I take the useless skirt off along with my shoes. I step into the water but jump back instantly. It feels like death touching me.
I look out into the black water. He is still under.
I have to face it. I've seen a corpse before. My father doesn't know. It was a woman. A young woman. I touched it, but this water is colder than her face.
I step in again. And again.
It feels like
It feels like
It feels like
I can hardly breathe.
I swim, I move towards the fading foam he left behind. I try to take a
And I am under.
Part Twelve: Her Lips
It is cold. My hands stop flying, but I can't stop reaching for her.
Can't stop searching.
It is black.
And all I can hear is my mother's name.
Over and over again
What did she say again? Don't look back?
But there had been a voice.
A hand touches my shoulder.
Fingers run through my hair.
I think I am dying as someone holds me. As someone takes me in their arms and pulls me to the surface.
I hear her gasp for air behind me. I know it is she. The voice behind me.
We are moving. We are sailing through the Hudson.
My mother is gone. I don't want to open my eyes.
I feel the earth as she pushes me to my back. Open your eyes, she begs. Please open your eyes. I try, I can't.
She touches my lips. Her hands are cold and wet, but they are soft. Like an artichoke heart.
She opens my mouth and breathes into me. Almost like a kiss. Like waking up from a dream into a new dream.
I coughed and choked and I am unable to look at her. But she holds me anyway, and whispers soft words in my ear I want to remember but know I never will.
Are you a sailor? I ask my lady hero. She smiles sadly. I was, she says.
You're givin' it up, I say. I feel sad too. I have lost my compass.
I lost someone today, she says. I think I was supposed to.
Why, I ask.
So I could be here with you, she says.
I nod slowly, looking towards the black water, wondering if my mother has found dreamless sleep yet. Wondering if she is happy. You saved me. Sail the West with me, I say. We'll be sailors together.
Her lips part and I think she might say yes.
Part 13: Eyes
Mike! The lamplight circles my daughter, and there she is, in the banks of the Hudson, drenched to the bone. Her eyes squint in the sudden heat, and she sees me.
She is the last scene of La Boheme, only she is Rodolfo. What on earth? What on earth, I say. But she cannot answer me. She is holding a shivering boy, too young himself to be alone on this dark, dismal night.
My eyes widen. In the distance, I see a woman's body, floating to the surface and sailing down the river like The Lady of Shallot.
I do not know what to say.
The children's eyes meet. I see two dreamers. I see drowning sorrow. And God help me, I see the future.