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Literature feat. Music Illustration: Vladimir Pérez Díaz (Vlade). Illustration: Vladimir Pérez Díaz (Vlade).

Still life with bees

It was a Chinese restaurant in an inner city, and I was looking at the ceiling. Looking up is always putting myself in a dilemma. Now I focus my attention on the solid wooden sleepers that form the structure of the roof, and they also weave a dilemma that I cannot pin down; I can't even tell if they are cedar beams, Creole mahogany beams, or imported plum tree slats. It always happens that others think I am indifferent, or distracted, that I am not interested in what they say, or that I am bored, and all because I look at the ceiling. 

"Hey you, Skylab!" Answer without thinking: Keith Moon or John Bohan?

What are you talking about? Oh, they've already gotten to the point. Bohan or Moon? Bah, same thing. They are both monsters. They are both fat; they were fat. They died young and happy, drowned in their own vomit of distilled alcohol with gastric juices. But the other had more passion. It was the brain of Tommy, although it is not known. I bet on him. Won't Get Fooled Again.  


It was Jorge who got up then with his eyes fixed on the ceiling begging forgiveness for me, begging God not to judge me for what, according to him, had been an unconscious escape of phonetic remnants, just a belch; I, who had so much adoration for the zeppelins, was committing an act of apostasy; "Where do you have your ears?", although Mentón was happy and proposed a toast to my criteria, my good taste and greater rigor, the one that had never betrayed him, because you had to know how to differentiate, fanaticism aside. As the blonde mumbled something about Tommy, had seen the movie, but without understanding almost nothing of that pessimistic moral where an abnormal is turned into an idol. Yeah, it's an old story about abnormals in power, girl. No, Mentón, you don't know, broder, what tells that story is the inertia of the minimum effort, the cliché, an elementary language and limited in its incapacity and that collective stupidity considers parables of a wise man. “But how does this girl know that…?” 

"At this point, and being in a place like this, I order that, according to the ancient custom of the Sublime Gate, only terms that mean nothing be used." That way we'll be able to understand each other better, as the wise Frenchman wanted.” Slow opened his mouth again.

"Don't be pedantic," I replied, trying to grab him before he went back to his silence. Actually, he just wanted to provoke him, to somehow get him into the game, but he didn't bat an eyelid at Jorge's passion for now imposing Moody Blues as the choral band in excellence. El Mentón supported him trying to fine tune a few bars. I opened the third box of cigarettes of the night, and blew smoke into Jorge's face. "And Queen, aren't they good too?" It also filled her with smoke and yes, darling, of course it did. The Mentón was still engaged in the violins of Night in White Satin, regretting having left the guitar. Fortunately.

"Anyone know Tangerine Dream?" Slow asked slowly. We stared, not so much out of outrage as for himself.

"They don't even talk." Giving synthesizers to Europeans was like giving whiskey to Indians, Jorge said. The Chin went to one of the windows and flung it open with a cry: Cold air from America! We applaud just for screwing Slow who in revenge downed half a glass of wine, all that was left of the last bottle. He let out a dragon belch and opened his arms: “In memory of King Arthur, siboneyes”.

What none of us could imagine was that the blonde's father was an important official of the Cuban embassy. in the netherlands. She said it like that, in the same low tones of those lands, without being relevant, just because she had gone off to tell the story of her life without anyone asking her, as a proof of gratitude, of reciprocity, according to her, for our friendly camaraderie… It was a very important fact, given the topic. “I tell you this because every time he comes he makes a stopover in Mexico, and there he takes advantage and buys me some records… José José… Emmanuel… even by Feliciano. They don't check his bags at the airport." He paused, looked at us, and I think he noticed. We would have strangled her right there. “God gives you a beard…, eh Chin?”. Maybe that's why he concluded: “You can also buy records in Amsterdam if I ask you. I'm an only child".

It was like a jolt, a momentary lapse of unanimous lucidity. In an instant we were all praising some part of his body or his apparent beauty while I squeezed what was left in the bottom of the glasses and offered him a collection of gold and the Chin jumped from the seat to the bar to stir the sleeping Chinese and ask him for some voucher sheets and pencil. The list started with the revered ones that we hardly knew, those Small Faces that were once mentioned between the attentive yawn of Baker Street followed by Humble Pie; Little —mythical, that's where Randy Maisner came from for the Eagles!—, Joe Cocker… or not, better Cat Stevens; a bit of the Skynyrd, then add Molly Hatchet, uff, a bit of Status Quo, if so, also put MC5 and the Velvet underground and something of the child models: Morrison and Gram Parsons, Gram Parsons?, yes, they say that his ashes fly in the California desert; okay, we'll have your records, bah; put on something soft, Clapton..., of course, and Hendrix... and the Velvet Underground —it's already there— then Tom Waits to finish off the innocence and of course the old Lou, all of them cult, exquisite and powerful, to then move on to the best of the South, give me a drink from your glass, precious, it's over, strata from Nashville, Alabama and Memphis, then a craw of anise and the guardian angels of Little Feat, it's like I'm eating candy; and syrup burps, also something classic from the Great Stinky Train and ZZ Top, the good little Allman brothers band, does anyone know the Marshall Tucker Band? Shut up, Slow... and some of the boss Springsteen, with a double e? Of course, beast, leave me alone, let go! Ah! Also include Crosby, Still and Nash, because I want Neil separately, or at the most with Crazy Horse, it doesn't matter. same, but without the train of the other three; recua?, ah… Is Neil Young Canadian?, he's a pure bear, son; put on something by Haendel, who?, Handel, or the ParsifalAt least shut up! That's “slow” music; You have to be tolerant, gentlemen… put on at least something from Colosseum, better James Taylor, with Free, with Bad Company, with the Trio Matamoros, with whoever… ah! the wonder: Who, who? WHO who? Who, who?, your mother's cunt, so you can hear fat-moon, chubby Moon of the sacred leathers..., and this is drunkenness; no, this is paradise, the light, broder, the light, take advantage of it while it lasts; drunkenness is what we're going to get if the records arrive, ask, ask! Then the classics: all Yes, all EL&P., all QueenSilver —that's extremely rare…— or Cream, Genesis…, the Seeling England by the Pounds it's the best album of all time, did you know?, bah, you haven't heard..., Canada puts on its own: Rush and BTO, doesn't your dad make a stopover in Gander?, and well, since we're so happy, close there with a flourish: anything from the Floyd except the Ummagumma and the Darkside, that we already have them; put the chameleon Iggy Pop, the plow guy too, who? Jethro Tull ignorant, Aerosmith and finishes off with the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road of the myopic Hurrah. 

It was the party of utopia, but a party nonetheless. Enough for us, or so we thought. Sometimes I wonder: what are they complaining about? We settle for so little..., "a little soup and anise at dawn", "and rock and roll", "we are so poor...!", children of our own island condition; very little space is left to boast of such a thing. We depend, now as then, on ships; the fleet is still our pride; “…a stigma among the waters, which oscillates with a life of its own, that is why one almost always has the sensation of a continuous murmur of waves under one's feet. And if you add to this the austerity, the monastic pretensions of the environment, I thought, as if you were walking through a silent abbey, then you find yourself with your head bowed and your feet dragging, chewing obscene prayers that do not reach the choral prayer, the that raises songs to the delirium of grandeur, to the foolish pride of I don't know what purity, to the monolithic block”. We had accidentally fallen into the second of the themes.

Why did it always, at some point, come this far? Perhaps it was to stir up the earth a bit. Without having a clear or intense idea of the context, we were not so foolish or so audacious as to try to change something. “The insular immutable” (the Slow); "not even propose it: we must be consistent with silence" (Menton). "Let's shout then at dawn, when no one hears us" (Me). Therefore, if there is no choice but to accept it as is, only the irony remains, because the syllogism was clear: young people are the clay of the future; it is so that you are young, then, you are clay… (Slowly, now a little more loquacious). 

"I hope they arrive," said the blonde, folding the papers before putting them in a pants pocket.

—They can sink in the sea, or explode in the air…

“My dad is a character, but he still can't walk on water. The blonde grabbed my glass and looked at the bottom.

"By the way," Slow woke up definitively, leaning over the table. There is a guy who applied an interesting variant to the biblical parable: he smoothed the waters of the Strait with an ironing board. Also for something like this you need a lot of faith. They say it still has the rope marks on its back. 

"Beastly." Jorge also leaned over the table, his head close to Slow's, as if they were in cahoots. They say there was another who caulked a Chevrolet, fitted a propeller to it, and slid down to the keys like it was down a highway. Wide lane.

"More than faith, imagination is needed, and a bit of genius and madness, too," I said, looking at Slow out of the corner of my eye. He seemed to wake up, more because of the variations than because of the theme itself. He was coming back to life now, when we were all beginning to feel sleepy and the Chinese was picking up the tablecloths without shaking them and placing the chairs on top of the tables. 

"The only thing that saves these cases from being tragic or pathetic is a touch of distinction, although sometimes this lightness, the very subtlety of forms, is not enough to achieve the objective," he said then. In Guantánamo there was someone who had the idea of crossing the bay to the base in broad daylight, in full view of everyone, that is, just when no one expected such a thing. For that he built a beautiful swan of papier-mâché trimmed with white nylon straps, and put it on her head. A great and splendid idea, until someone detected some anomaly in the bird's gliding, as if it were bucking over the sea... He didn't feel the voices, and he sank halfway... —He looked at us, and with a sigh he concluded—: Everything The attempt to attain beauty carries with it the germ of death.

It could be touching, but I couldn't take it anymore. With a laugh I knocked over a glass, which exploded on the floor like a fragmentation grenade. The Chinese jumped, looking at me without understanding. Slow pushed back his chair and knelt among the remains of the glass examining the tiny shards of glass as if they were diamonds as he whispered in true wine, in true wine in a litany Jorge and Mentón looked at us, their heads like two synchronized pendulums, undecided between laughing too or grabbing each other by the neck.

"I'm going..." Jorge stammered. I looked at him, and he gave me a seizure. He had suddenly become serious, and from one moment to the next he would become dramatic, of an alcoholic-tragicomic histrionics that I know well. But it didn't happen. A second before the metamorphosis he got up, tripped over the table, hugged me and left.

—I cut too. I'm falling asleep, yawned the Chin. He put on the beret that he had folded in his pocket, rubbed his arms and then mine, saying goodbye. This is my swan,” he said, pulling his hat down over his eyes. It makes me invisible when I don't want to see anyone.

No one will see it anyway,” the blonde said as the Chin left. I don't know if I'll see it either. He may call on the phone, although he barely speaks when he does, he says he gets the feeling that someone else is listening to him. Then he limits himself to muttering a few laconic monosyllables, with long stretches of silence between one and the other.

"Finally alone, and now we have to go." —El Lento was ecstatic with the Chinese and his art to lift the tablecloth from our table as if it were a dirty sheet. He was muttering in low Cantonese and we crossed our fingers. Then he walked away to sit by the door with a blanket around his shoulders.

"Why do they bother you?" -asked. They're the best guys you'll find in this shitty town.

 —I don't know whether to be happy or to cry… But anyway you're right. Then he fell silent, and we stayed that way for a while.

Then I remembered that I had forgotten the blonde; maybe it wasn't there anymore. Without much clarity to be able to specify, I turned at once: there it was. Very gingerly then I kissed her, and she stuck on like a sticker. I looked at Radames. I didn't want to argue with my friend now. I started humming the first bars of free-bird, a song “that makes my soul come to my body”, makes me feel sure of myself, and whether you like it or not, partner, those two guitar solos, the riff alternate, they are a celestial sound, viola of gods.

“Human music, that's enough. But if you say so…” and smiling, he pointed to the door. The ancient Oriental moved it with one foot, opened it and ajar until it was almost closed with a squeak that invited us to come out. Close up and come here for a moment,” Radamés yelled at him. The man approached like a sleepwalker and sat down at the table. 

"Don't laugh," I whispered to the blonde. This is serious.

"Listen to what I'm going to say to these two," Slow began, pointing a finger at the Chinese's forehead. The man nodded disciplinedly and looked at us. Although the reason is common —he said—, the majority lives as if each one had his own peculiar understanding. That's fine, but it's relative, like everything. This guy —he was pointing at me— has a particular conception about… music, since we're at it, but he forgets or doesn't know something fundamental. Boethius divided music into human and worldly. The first is the music that tradition allows us to listen to and compose. The second is the music of the world, a game of space and time that only initiates can hear and only scientists through mathematics can calculate. This practice has its origins in Babylon. The Hebrews in some psalm speak of the music of the angels. Then it is assumed by the Pythagoreans: in Alexandria and in the late Middle Ages it was essential for an astronomer that his scheme of the world be built on the principles of the harmony of the spheres. It is a game of space and time as closely linked to astronomy as it is to mathematics...

"A forerunner of the Glass Bead Game...

My interference only redoubled her passion.

"See what I'm saying, mate? he said, sticking his index finger into the Chinese's chest. Here the citizen gives us a reliable sample of how to take the radish by the leaves with style. The lightness of this type of association simplifies the essences, and can thus turn the I King or a Zen koan into a simple charade riddle. He does not believe? The Chinese fixed it with the slots, opening them slowly until they were round. 

-Yes Yes of course. Radames nodded.

—Let us then imagine a system of concentric spheres. The Pythagoreans calculated the ratios between the length of a string and the musical intervals it emits. They then extended the idea to the world, and by calculating the distance between the planetary orbits, their lengths, and the intervals on the scale, they gave each planet a note. Let us then imagine a spectator located in the center of the system. Its visual field describes an imaginary triangle that cuts the planetary orbits on its edges. When the planet crosses the triangle lets hear its note. If an eclipse occurs, and two planets appear in a straight line from the viewer to the periphery of the system, a chord. However, from another point in the system there would be no such chord. These structures had —or have— the possibility of reordering the music that was heard from each of its points. For each point of the system the rhythm and melody at a given moment is different… (Pause). The procedure was applied with some variants during a period that includes nearly 2000 years. (Absolute silence). The blonde: (Looks at the ceiling, at the two of us, at the Chinese, looking for a glow on the floor). And if these isolated pieces were grouped together, could a symphony be composed, for example? I don't know… I mean, could someone copy that music? El Lento: My contribution to universal art will be precisely to demonstrate that it is possible to transcribe those sounds. Create a celestial score, let's say. How can I achieve it? he asked himself without being questioned. I have some doubts that can lead me to it. For example, pneuma. In ancient musical writing they signed the song. They had no mystique, and the length of the notes was not precise. Why was this writing called p-pneumatics...? —taking care here to emphasize well the lip grimace that mediates between the p and the n—; perhaps because each verse was prolonged according to the pulmonary neuma of the singers. But this is something that we may never know for sure… 


* Fragment of the fifth chapter of the homonymous novel, Havana, Cuban Letters, 1999 / Cienfuegos, Editorial Mecenas, 2022. 

Atilio Knight Atilio Knight Narrator, translator and Director of the Teatro de La Fortaleza group. Some of his books have received important recognition in his country. Recently, he received the Alejo Carpentier Short Story Award 2020 again, for the book La suitcase de B. More posts

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