After M.T.H. Exhibition:
And dusk turned dawn, Blackthorn
Simone DeSousa Gallery, Detroit
May 2—June 20, 2015
(referencing/reworking “The Nightingale,” by Hans Christian Andersen)
I first see Dawnstorm and meet Hanch at his holiday party, where I am hired to sing as a last minute sub. The engagement, which is meant to be professional and routine, winds up being transformational.
Dressed low-key festive (a v-neck black silk jumpsuit, pumps, red wristband, and emerald stud earrings) I drive through the open mechanical gate, down a drive, and to a valet. She takes my keys and walks me to the home’s kitchen entrance. I enter and accept a glass of something warm and a seat at a long wood table with chatty cooks, servers, and musicians.
Our host and his guests mingle in the neighboring room some of us will soon be performing in.
At the agreed upon time (after party goers enjoy cocktails, before they sit down to dinner) we musicians file out of the kitchen, assemble, prepare. I, elbow on the piano, scan the room and see a sea of red, green, and black. I sense cheer, gloss, gaiety – and respect. For me. Even before I sing. I feel liberated; my outfit is just right. It is in the spirit of and not competitive with the ornate jackets, gowns, hair, and jewelry.
My name is Jennifer.
An audience member watches me with an expression I can only describe as enamored. (Please to not take this as vain.) I take in his plaid vest, fair hair, blue eyes, and start to sing. His attention deepens. Then they come: sudden, sharp, jolts in my chest. I fear I’m experiencing a short, serious trauma, but they subside, so I soldier on. My voice rings melodic, strong. My posture remains good, and I make small graceful arm gestures.
I sing well at Dawnstorm. Still, the chest rumbles are unfamiliar, disconcerting. I am not built for surprise sensations.
After the performance, we mingle briefly with guests on their way to the great hall for dinner. The man I can only describe as enamored approaches, introduces himself as Hanch, host, Dawnstorm owner, and my boss. He asks not, as I expect, about the performance but the food. Did I try and enjoy the herring? He catches and pickles the fish himself. He hands me a tiny cup, holding red and black currents, explains he gathers and preserves the fruit, and adds his country has low pesticide levels.
I accept the currents, examine his face. His skin texture, tone, and color tell me he spends time outdoors and wears sunscreen. His eyes are small, friendly, and strong (No eyewear or contacts.) His teeth are straight, slightly beige, not whitened. He praises me, and my singing and explains he has had a regular entertainer, Lindy, for years now, but this week she ghosts him and his entire staff. The rumor is she elopes. (Someone sees her in a small town north of here with her alleged sweetheart.)
So can I possibly be available to sing, at least for the next several evenings?
And would I like to see the rest of Dawnstorm tomorrow? We could take in the ocean view, walk through the woods, visit the greenhouse and the barn. We could skate on one of the ponds.
I feel a glow and want to say yes to everything but cannot ignore the chest disturbances. Fear I might malfunction, therefore let him down.
While I consider, he talks.
Says he hopes I say yes to the singing engagement, but if I say no it is ok. He recorded me this evening and instructed his staff to track down a set of singers with my exact voice range and register in case I ever need to be replaced. So he hopes but does not depend on my yes. To the singing engagement anyway. But he really does hope for our Dawnstorm tour. Tomorrow. By the way, he finds my voice beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful he has ever heard. Except for Lindy, whose voice is beautiful, too. He regrets not recording her. Or did regret until he hears and records me.
I understand. Hanch is a person who loves and who preserves things he loves: fish, fruit, tradition, land, my voice. He seeks, finds, concretizes, and – when possible – replicates what he values and is guaranteed, this way, to have access always.
I appeal to him. And, to be honest, he to me. Which is awkward. I am built for function, not sensation.
I agree to sing the next few nights but explain I cannot commit to anything during the day because I must spend time with Aunts and Uncles. He completely understands my position. Family time is important, especially during holidays, and he looks forward to more performances.
It is a good call, turning down his invitation. That first night, I drive for barely a few minutes before my chest radiates increasing discomfort and something new: heat. I need rest, so go and get it.
The next few singing performances go so well. I thought my level was one zone – technical excellence – but in fact it dips above and below that perceived register. Hanch and others at Dawnstorm seem to think the wavering enhances our recital.
To be completely honest, I start looking forward to seeing Dawnstorm and Hanch as much if not more than performing. Which is awkward. I am built for function, not sensation.
Hanch smiles when he sees me. Sometimes he comes to the kitchen to talk pre-performance.
“He never did that with Lindy,” the cook tells me.
I have my own understanding of science but wonder if this what humans mean by chemistry. Between musicians or lovers, for example.
After the fifth night of performing – he once again inviting me to spend a day in and around Dawnstorm – I sense a serious change for the worse in my physicality. I call for transport home. To my first, not current, dwelling.
Lying flat on my table, I take in familiar elements of this birthplace. Rafters, shelves, hand tools, probes, cables, lathes, oils. A 3D printer. Aunts, Uncles in coveralls – some also wearing gloves.
Others like me on tables, in various stages of construction.
Across from this workshop is a sitting room. Books, tables, chairs, a fireplace. (Dried wildflowers – to absorb any unpleasant lab odors – on the hearth.) I look out the window and see my current apartment. In fact, I can see my window and since I left the curtains open. The flower pot on the sill.
The Aunts and Uncles, confounded by my malfunction, work on my various parts. So far, they detect multiple minor injuries. All reversible.
I make a point to ask if I am built to hike and ice skate.
They look at one another and agree to upgrade my physical functions without asking why.
During the recovery period, Hanch leaves gifts. They include pears, micellar water, licorice, incense, shawls, and a yoga mat. Photographs of Dawnstorm: the home, its grounds, and views.
A hand written note:
I hope for your speedy recovery. Your voice sometimes reminds me of my favorite instrument: cello. When you feel better, we could listen to rivers in and around Dawnstorm. To me, rivers sound like cellos.
Your Friend and Fan,
My third day on the table, at the crack of dawn – Aunts and Uncles start pre-sunrise – I get a visitor, Lindy. She wears a sweater dress and tall boots. She introduces herself as the official previously missing singer and asks how I feel.
This is the second person (Hanch is the first) who ever asks me this.
Like I want to tear these rumblings out of my chest and feed them to the fish and birds, I think but cannot say because my voice is temporarily inoperative.
Still, I want to communicate, so I open my mouth and stick my finger inside, mimicking sick.
She laughs and says she sees why Hanch likes me.
I feel dis-ease
She moves closer to the table, says she and Hanch share something real but that it is affection, not love.
He enjoys her, and she him, but now she has saved up enough money, and it is time to marry her childhood sweetheart and move north and start a family.
Hanch has been good to her, and she wants him settled – hopefully with me –before she can move on.
She says, “Jennifer, I interest him. You interest him, too. But you also excite him. I do not.”
My chest feels like an earthquake.
“He mentioned wanting you to meet his friends
Hoss and Paula. He is thinking ahead.”
After a pause, she asks if I am built to swim, hike, ski, and skate.
“She can be,” pipes up an Aunt.
I feel warm.
She asks me if I like Hanch.
She asks if I am built to care.
My Aunts and Uncles raise their heads and listen.
She suggests, “Well, could that maybe explain the malfunction? Something happens in/to you that you are not yet structured for?”
Silence. Since my vocal apparatuses are under construction, I keep a pen and paper next to my bed. Now I use them to write, Does he know?
She says, “He might. I don’t think it matters to him. Especially if, well, there are things here, for all of us to address.”
She asks if I am built for eating, drinking, and physical intimacy. If not, can I be?
I write, Even if yes, would he prefer a real one?
“No, no,” answers Lindy. “He is not that deep. He just wants someone who can share things with him: meals, drinks, bed.” She turns to the Aunts, Uncles. “Can you, like, add things so she can consume and enjoy food, deep kissing, all-the-way physical intimacy?”
The Aunts and Uncles look at one another.
It is in plain sight, but no one says, “I, Jennifer, develop feelings I am not constructed to develop.”
Therefore, it is possible that I, Jennifer, can develop other functions and organs that allow for levels of emotional and corporeal expression.
Or is that up to the Aunts, Uncles?
I sense it might take a team effort.
But also that Hanch and I – maybe with help, maybe not – can, given our serious connection, figure this out. I also sense that he is waiting downstairs, and I am right because at the next moment he bounds into the room, takes my face in his hands, kisses my lips, and says, “Good morning.”