DAKKI: Well, here's something I never thought would happen.
DALTON: And something that I…prayed would never happen. (Sobs.)
DAKKI: But be that as it may, here we are. I've been thinking for the last few weeks about my fanfiction roots, particularly the perpetually-unfinished Boys of McKinley House…
DALTON: Which will hopefully REMAIN that way…
DAKKI: We'll see. The point is, in the last couple of weeks of NaNo WriMo-ness, my usual compulsion to write has turned into something way more intense, and tonight I found myself looking through old unfinished stories…only to find this piece of fic, which I started an amazing four and a half years ago, only to become bored with for some reason now forgotten to me.
DALTON: You were busy trying to learn the lyrics of "Anything Goes" in Mandarin so you could be like Willie Scott in "Temple of Doom."
DAKKI: Ah, yes. And anyway…I present to you my first contribution to the Newsies fandom in well over a year and a half (seriously, and I doubt anyone even remembers I was there)—a modest little story called 'Heart and Soul,' half of which was written in 2004, half of which was written tonight.
DALTON: Wonder at her lack of improvement!
DAKKI: Ahem. ENJOY!
Heart & Soul
I came to New York City because I needed a break. I needed to close my eyes and see what it was like to be on the other side, and to realize that the world didn't stop just because I wasn't there to move with it. Everything around me had become so shot-through with memory that I could no longer see it for what it was—I had lingered for too long in a place that I could no longer call my home. I looked in the mirror in the morning, and the face it showed was not mine.
"You need some time off," my favorite sister Aloysia said, wise as the hills with her eleven months of seniority. "Take a breather—God knows you deserve it. I'll be out of my apartment for the next few months; you can stay there if you want."
She smiled at me brightly, and took a sip of her tea. We were sitting in a café in South London; it was six-thirty in the morning, the soft rhythm of rain on the street outside already setting the tone for the rest of the day. I had just done my final performance of Aïda at the opera house the night before, and I still had my stage make-up on, or at least what was left of it. My eyes were dark and smudged, the back of my neck still powdered; I was grimy, exhausted, and sore. Aloysia, sitting across the table from me, was pristine as an orchid, clothed in white lace. She was vacationing across Europe with her husband, and had stopped in England to see my performance. Somehow, she made this seem like an immense personal favor.
Of course, Aloysia didn't know my real problem. She didn't know about Christian, and she probably never would. Right now, she believed that all my troubles could be chalked up to exhaustion and too many late nights. She looked at me across the table with her soft brown eyes, and placed a cool hand on top of mine.
"Manhattan will be good for you," she said. "I promise."
But so many things had been good for me before. Clean air, a week in Bath, working harder, going off the bottle, going back on the bottle, working less. And none of them had helped me at all since Christian died.
But I didn't say any of that—simply nodded, faintly, at my older sister, put a hand to my cheek, and looked out the window at the London rain, wondering if I could see as far as New York.
Travel has always been a part of my life. When I was sixteen, I left my hometown in Austria to study music at the conservatory in Vienna, and since then, I've rarely stayed anywhere for more than a few months. Somehow, it was odd that I had never been to America before—it was, Aloysia said, akin to going your whole life without ever hearing Idomeneo. At which point I responded that many people had lived a very long time without ever hearing Idomeneo, or even, for that matter, knowing what it was. At which point she said, "ah, my Magdalena, but are they happier for it? Are they?"
Always one for the dramatics, our Aloysia was.
I arrived in the city a few weeks before Christmas; it was pitch-dark, too cold for snow, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I found my way to her apartment, went to bed, and didn't wake up until morning.
The music of the street was what brought me back to life. The hawker's cries and nickering of horses, wheels on the pavement, whoops and shouts, and one relentless hoarse-voiced newsboy who was like the last golden thrush on the tree outside the window.
After lying in bed a few minutes I threw up the sash and looked out onto the street thee floors below, my dark, coarse hair brushing lightly against the sill, overcoat thrown on over my nightgown. I closed my eyes and let the cold winter sun bathe my face in light, listening to the half-dozen voices around me. German was my mother tongue, and I was practiced with Italian and French, but my English was barely passable, and of all the speakers down below, talking all at once, I could only catch a few words at a time. I didn't need to understand it, though—something about the murmuring hum of conversation as it rose and fall was beautiful, not to be understood…a refrain repeated in the background, over and over, until it was not ever heard. Just below my window, one voice rose from the crowd in elaborate song, an aria.
"Buy a pape! Buy a pape! Rockefeller heiress taken into twenty-seventh precinct—latest scandal, yours for a penny!"
He wasn't tall, but he had lungs on him. He could have been a singer.
Looking up at my window and catching my eye, he raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Buy a papah, lady?"
"No, but I will give you a nickel if you shut up."
He tipped his cap to me. "Nice try." He raised his stack of papers, and began once again to yell in earnest.
It wasn't worth it to try to go to sleep again. I put my hair in a stiff braid, because I didn't feel like brushing it, got dressed, and had some coffee and condensed milk for breakfast. I didn't know what I was going to do that day--only that I was going to do something. If I stayed inside all day, I would go insane.
I stepped out onto the sidewalk, making ghosts with my breath and pulling my fox fur cap down over my ears, milking as much warmth from it as I could. I had left the moat and castle fortress behind to seek my fortune in the wide world, and had barely decided what direction to turn before I was greeted by my first obstacle. A fire-breathing dragon… a newsboy… was there a real difference? If there was, I couldn't see it.
"Late-breakin' news," he said. "You won't wanna miss it."
I smiled and reached into my coat pocket, searching for some American money. After finding two farthings and a half-crown I pressed a coin into his gloved palm, and took a paper.
Whatever it was, it must have been more than a penny. His eyes widened to the size of saucers.
"I'se Racetrack, by the way," he said, leaning in as I skimmed through a truly shocking article on decrease in the price of feed corn.
"Magdalena Iphigenia Constanze Papagena Cavalieri."
"…I'll jus' call ya Maggie."
I turned a page. "Much pleased to make your acquaintance."
"That's a nice accent," he remarked.
"Thank you. So is yours."
He smiled at that, and hefted his stack of papers up onto his shoulders. "It's been nice meetin' ya. I'll see you around, then?"
My God, I really needed to start looking at money before I paid people for things. "Of course. Although I am hoping, for the sake of your credibility, that this is a very slow day."
"Aw, of course."
"…and obviously you have got your consumptive wife to worry about, and your twelve children back at home."
"No, no wife," he said. "She…died, a while back. It's jus' me an' the kids, now….we need someone ta take care of us. They're so sick…an' all their socks need ta be mended…"
"Hundreds," he said, gravely. Then he looked up at me, almost with tears in his eyes. "Whaddaya say, Maggie—will you marry me?"
"Maybe tomorrow," I said.
"Well, your loss…" he grinned and began to walk away.
As I started off in the other direction, it occurred to me that, once again, Aloysia had been completely wrong. New York City was far better than Idomeneo, on just about any day of the week.
The next afternoon, I saw Racetrack again, out selling a few blocks away from Aloysia's apartment with a young boy he introduced as Slider (I could only assume he was one of his imaginary children). He asked me once again to marry him, for Slider's sake, at least, and when I said no he asked me if I would like to buy a paper. I didn't have any money on me, so I invited them both up to the apartment, gave them tea and let them mess around with Aloysia's things. I figured if one of them broke something, I would give them an extra tip.
"So Maggie," Racetrack asked, after a while, "whaddaya do for a livin', that you never seem to work?"
I cocked my head and smiled, skimming over the entertainment pages. "I'm a singer."
He paused at this. "Any good?"
"You cannot listen to yourself, I fear."
"Sing somethin', then."
So I did. It was Violetta's last aria from La Traviata, a piece that went on and on until it left the singer exhausted, all the time rising higher and higher until the narrative seemed to have no other choice but to spontaneously combust. It was one of my favorite pieces.
By the time I finished, both of them were staring unblinking at me.
"Youse sound like a dyin' cat," Racetrack said at last, once he had fully recovered.
"Years of practice," said I.
After that, he came around all the time: early in the morning, thick stack of papers still under his arm, and in the late afternoon when he was done. He showed up and sat around with the beautiful presumptuousness of all young men. He came in, talking of nothing, stomping the snow from his boots, talking of nothing, and acted only pleasantly surprised when I gave him hot cups of coffee and pastry, as if he had not been planning on it all along. When he showed up I would bring him a tray of croissants from the patisserie down the street, politely take one to nibble on, and, when he thought I was not looking, stuff every pastry on the tray into his pockets, which were deep.
I pretended to dislike his visits, just as he, I think, pretended to come in only for the free food. I knew that for him comfort was a great part of life, and that my apartment was the only heated building he could most likely find in the winter, at least one no one would kick him out of as soon as he began to warm up. He told me all about the place where he lived, how you had to break through ice in the morning if you wanted to wash your face, although forty boys sleeping in one room was almost enough to keep things warm.
"An' you can imagine the smell, Maggie," he said.
"I certainly cannot."
"Aw, c'mon. I know all about you artist folks. When was the last time you took a bath?"
"When did you last bathe?" I said.
"Not important. 'Sides, I'd take a nice long bath ev'ry day if I had that nice big porcelain tub fulla boilin water youse got in there. Must be real nice on a day like this…after a long day a bein' outside…no good ovahcoat…no good boots…"
He took a bath, and while he was in there, blowing soap bubbles and splashing water out of the tub, I went to the piano and sang a few scales. I had come to the city planning on doing no singing at all, but an opera society had already contacted me and asked me cordially to sing at a gala they were hosting right before I left. I said no. They said they would pay me whatever I desired. I said pay was unnecessary so long as they let me sing whatever I wanted. They said, of course, of course. I said, all right.
I sang as I always sang: without listening to myself, or anything. I closed my eyes and sang, and remembered what my old teacher had said to me—that every opera, every moment that made music sublime, was contained in the scale. I sang and did not hear Racetrack come out from the bathroom, and did not know he was behind me until he tapped me on the shoulder. Then I screamed, and turned around to see him smiling at me.
"Youse sound the same singin' and screamin'," he said, and I noticed that he was wearing a cherry blossom-pink kimono that I had picked up in Japan.
"That is a nice color for you," I said.
"Aw, ya like this?" he said, looking down at himself. "Just summin' I found lyin' aroun', you know. Say, Maggie, you get this from the emperah himself? Were you one a those geisha girls?"
"I sang there."
"In Japan? You really been to Japan?"
"I," I said, "have been everywhere."
"You evah been to India?"
"Of course I have."
"To the jungle of the man-eatin' tigahs?"
"Well, no. To Bombay."
He smiled. "I had this book when I was a little kid," he said, "with all these colah pictures, ya know, of all the places in the world, all the people in 'em. The Indians were always my favorite. Jus' lyin' around in the sun, they want a mango they can reach up a' pick a mango, they want a coconut they can get a coconut, an' they got those jungles with the man-eatin' tigahs in 'em, you heard a' those?" I nodded. "I wanna to there someday. Ya see I got it all figured out. I ain't gonna be sellin' papes forevah. Someday, see, I'm gonna join the crew on a ship, one that's goin' to India, and once I get there I'm gonna go out into the jungle and find a big sapphire or a ruby or summin' and with the money I get from that I'll live like a king for the resta my days. Have a coupla pretty wives. Pick some coconuts. An' if I feel like it I'll go into one a' them jungles and wrestle me up a tigah an' ride it around town. I bet I could do it." He saw me looking at him doubtfully. The pink of the kimono brought out the pink in his cheeks. "Well," he said, "I'm pretty, I know, but that don't mean I'm tough."
"Sit down here with me."
"Come along. Sit down. I want to show you something."
I had thought of teaching him how to play scales on the piano—I have always believed no man is truly complete until he can play a little piano—but to my surprise he began playing without any help. Just a simple melody, a repetition really. He looked at me and smiled.
"Weren't expectin' that, were ya, Maggie? You wanna help me out?" And he took my smooth hands in his hard ones, harder than mine had ever been though he was still a child, and showed me what to do.
"Now, I'm gonna start singin', and don't be scared when I don't sound like your screamin', 'cause that's just how we do it in America. You ready? I'm gonna want you to join me, y'know, the second go-around."
"Haht an' soul, I fell in love with you, haht an' soul, the way a fool would do, mad-ly…be-cause you held me tight, an' stole a kiss inna night… now c'mon Maggie, c'mon. Sing with me."
The next time I saw him was the night of the gala. I was putting on a good dress for the first time in weeks, my hair put up, and all my jewelry on. When I caught myself in the mirror on the way to answer the door, I thought I was back in Vienna again.
He came in with a bloody nose and lost no time in collapsing, facedown, on the silk damask couch Aloysia had paid a fortune for in Paris. He lay there for nearly a minute, then rolled over, kicked off his boots, looked for a moment at the large red spot he had left in the fabric and then at me.
"Ya look pretty, Maggie," he said.
"You're headed out tomorra, ain't you?"
"Yes. At noon."
"Goin' back to India?"
"No. I don't know yet. Maybe to India. Maybe."
"Ya lost somebody back there, didn't you?"
"Yes. I did."
He looked at me for a while. "Well. I know you gotta go do your fancy dress thing, but…if you could sing that song you sang before, that song, you know…I would like that."
I sang it for him, standing there in my living room: Violetta's aria from La Traviata, again, the song a woman sings when she is about to say goodbye forever to the man she loves, the song a woman sings when there is no hope left. I sang without knowing of the world around me, and when it was over he was sitting by the couch, holding his sleeve up to his nose and crying.
"That part at the end," I said, in part because I did not know what else to say, "that part that say 'amami, Alfredo, quant'io t'amo'—that means, 'Love me, Alfredo. Love me as I love you.'"
"I know what it means," he said.
"I had a sistah once," he said, still not taking his sleeve away from his nose. "She wasn't a professional or nothin', we didn't have no money for that kinda thing. But she had a friend who worked at the opera house, an' he used ta let her go backstage with 'im. She would learn all those songs by heart. She sang 'em to me. When I was little. She used to sing to me jus' like that."
"She died, your sister," I said.
"Yeah. An' your…"
"Husband," I said. "My husband. No one knew we were married. But yes, my husband, he died. Before I came here. He, ah…he wrote music. He was a composer, you see. He wrote nearly everything I sang. But this one, this song, it was his favorite."
"Well, it ain't a bad one," he said.
I did not go to the gala that night. I stayed home and cleaned up Racetrack's bloody nose and sang all night for him, and by the dawn we were drinking coffee together, the window open, snow drifting in.
"Your nice furniture's gonna be ruined," he observed.
"Yes, well. Someone already bled all over it."
He punched me on the arm.
"You are my only friend here," I said. "Here, in this city. Will you visit me in India? Will you visit me when I am there?"
"Well, that depends. Will ya be livin' in a city like this?"
"No. Way out in the jungle. With the man-eating tigers."
"Well ya gotta be careful with those tigers, y'know."
"I know. But I think I will be all right."
He smiled at me and looked up at the white sky through the open window, and the white snow against it. We both looked up. We looked up, the snow cold and sweet against our faces, and looked up and up, and into the brand new world of the day.