Euphony

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This house. The one next door. Doh-ba-doo-ba-doo. The curly hair in the wind. The communal garden. A timeless ballad by John Coltrane. The beauty of chaos. Doo-ba. The beauty in chaos. Dream companions who come and go depending on the season and love. Love. Doo-ba-doo. A voice. That voice. Doo-doo. Méli had never before fit so well into a place and, melding into it, she now no longer knows where her skin ends and where the orchard, the stone, the air of her home begin.

And now the arrival of a baby, ba-ba-boo, to that family that is not a family but is a family. Be-bi-boo. Lily and Martin are going to be parents, remember when they told us, we’re going to be mothers, remember? Be-ba-ba. And the bad news about her health, remember when she told, remember, how supportive they were, remember? Love. Ba-ba-boo. That house. Love.

In that house in Toulouse lives music. And politics and love and the tenor saxophone and reflection and love and we’re going to have a baby and creativity and let’s change the world and sickness, ssh, ssh, nothing negative, nada, da-da-da, don’t think about it, sing, play. Let’s change the world. Doo-doo-doo. The piano. Doo-doo. And love. Méli smokes and feels and utters beautiful gibberish with the magic of her throat, da-da-da, and forgets everything that has no place in the house.

When she goes into the home recording studio they jury-rigged at the beginning of the pandemic, her whole body fills with one, two, three, and, and do, re, fa, la; that studio, t-t-tcha, from which several musical projects have already sprouted, tcha. Now there is not so much coming and going and only four live in the house, two couples, all musicians, t-t-tcha, all music, and they create, rehearse, record, rehearse, create, create, t-t-tcha, record. It took her a while to get into a rhythm, to be honest. The musicians she met during the years she lived in Spain and those in France became hyperactive during the lockdown, and at the beginning she would get new videos from them every day. But she was overcome with timidity and doubt. Tcha. Daily. What a talent. What talent? Tcha. And you, Méli, what about you?

She judged herself. She judges herself. Always. There is no judge who is stricter with her. She has started a thousand texts, melodies, rhythms that crowd her throat and begin, but they get stuck, wrong, Méli, wrong, terrible, Méli, they get stuck, they stay, a throat clearing, wrong, wrong, Mélissandre, c’mon focus, girl. She demands so much of herself because the mirror and the videos do not show the glowing aura that appears to her when she sings. She doesn’t realize how her voice rides on the notes of a piano, of a trumpet, of whatever instrument is put in front of her. How it makes love to the notes, her voice. You shine, Méli, look at you. Good. Good, good. Wonderful. But it could be better, couldn’t it? Di-da-di-la-la-la. Two unequal forces confront each other in her being, her inner authoritarian, ta-ta-ri-a, and her interior voice, which struggles tirelessly, to assert itself and get out. To assert itself and get out. To get out. Di-la-la.

Now, Méli has learned to open the floodgate instantly. She lets her primitive voice, her instinct, her guts speak. It comes to her and she sings it, ti-ti-ti, she records it and hides it away, well tucked away, tay-tay-tay, far from that authoritarian self, in a place where she could never find it, nor judge it, because she doesn’t have the key. She has nothing but fear. And when the fear passes, pa-poh-pa, Méli will go to the hiding place and rescue the song. Not today. Tomorrow? No. No-na-no. Well, maybe. Maybe. Maybe tomorrow. Today you learn from others. Tomorrow? Well, maybe tomorrow.

She and Emilio, her boyfriend, are a musical duo. Before the lockdown, they used to trot out the ii–V–I progression on every corner of Toulouse, ba-bop-ba-ba-dop-bop, but the winds of the present no longer permit that. Now they are experimenting with Brazilian music. Lily and Martin receive a government grant for having played more than seven hundred hours and are expecting their baby unburdened by too many financial worries. But Méli and Emilio haven’t reached the required number of minutes, so they are forced to draw from their savings, dop-bop, because they can’t play in bars, concert halls, or parks. For months they’ve been getting concerts canceled on them, months in advance. Ba-dop. Toulouse is silent. Everything canceled, postponed. No, no, no. May? No. August? No. October? No. No. Maybe in 2021 the silence will be broken. January? No. Maybe. The silence misses being torn open by Méli’s voice. Silence is filled with meaning thanks to music, but for the moment the notes are locked in the invisible cage of the communal garden.

The communal garden adores the merriment of all the musicians who inhabit it. Just musicians? Well, musician-ethno-psycho-carpenters. How many are there now? Eight? Ten? I don’t know. Twelve? I don’t know. How many people live in the other house? People come and go. I don’t know. From the garden. From life. Ny-ny-ny. Like when, at the age of two and a half, Méli arrived from Tahiti with her mother, who started out singing in bars and concert halls and parks. That’s how Méli grew up, going from stage to stage, immersed in melodies, and that’s why she now feels, at the age of thirty, that the musical-chaotic-creative house in Toulouse is a home par excellence. People come and go. Méli hasn’t been to Tahiti for ten years. She will go back. Ta-ta-hi-ti-ti. She will go back. She doesn’t know when, but people come and go. They come and go. She will go back. Or not. Ta-hi-hi-ti. She will go back.

They have done everything in the common garden. Everything. Clarinet. Sewing masks for hospitals. Double bass. Cooking competitions. Piano. Yoga, pilates. Saxophone. Packing food for the homeless. Trumpet. The garden is the most ironclad and harmonious present. Remember the concert of Balkan music for the neighbor who couldn’t return to Romania as planned? Everything. Everything. Ting-ting-ing. Everything. The shared garden, the shared house, the shared life. They share everything. The food, the clothes, the joints. They debate, argue, question the government measures. It doesn’t matter. They love each other. Everything belongs to everyone, nothing belongs to anyone. The common baby. Ting-ding-ting-ing. The vegetable garden shines because every morning — if she feels like it, to tell the truth — Méli waters it singing, ding-ting-ting, and merges with the earth and, while the plants occupy themselves with trills, she photosynthesizes.

Shortly before the lockdown, the health problems began, and Méli broke isolation to go to the hospital, and then they discovered the spots on the MRI. The news of the baby was mixed with news of her multiple sclerosis and all the feelings crowded together in that house in Toulouse. Grief. Rage. Happiness. Grief. Happiness. Love. Surprise. Fear. Love. Love. Joy. Fear. Love. Love. Love. 

She waited to tell her parents until after the lockdown. She wanted to tell them in person. To her grandmother, nothing. Not a peep-pi-pi. Her grandmother gets too much bad news. She loses friends every month. Nothing. Not a word-pi-pi-peep. She is a very cheerful woman, she does not want to spoil that. Everything remains the same with her grandmother, but her relationship with her parents has changed since they found out. She now calls them more. They give her space. They know that Méli will tell them any news. Pi-pi. They love each other, they trust each other, they stay hopeful.

The music, the orchard, the politics keep her alive. Fi-fi-fa-fa-fa. A few months ago, the police wanted to arrest a girl from the other house for hanging an anti-Macron banner in her window. Then they came up with the idea of filling the streets of Toulouse with questions, and now they go out from time to time to hang posters. Fi-fi-fa-fa. Méli has received scholarships and welfare and thanks those who fought to get them and honors them by fighting. During the lockdown, the government took the opportunity to pass new legislation worsening workers’ conditions. Fu-fu-fu. The struggle cannot stop. The posters don’t say anything outright, they just ask, open the debate, fi-fa-fa, and people look at them and curse them or discuss them or applaud or exchange opinions or reflect for a moment and move on, with the question inevitably trailing behind them. What are my core values? Fa-fa. Can hope be cultivated? Fi-fa-fa. Do you want to return to abnormality? Fi-fi. Do you develop your critical thinking? Fi-fi-fa-fa.

Music, the orchard, politics, love. Love. Da-ya-da-du. Méli owes her mental strength to all those who surround and care for her. Love. She is persuaded, more than ever, of the great power of salvation of love and solidarity at this time. Ya-da-du. Displays of fondness and affection do not cost money. They cost time, dedication, and sometimes commitment. Méli is a composition of harmony and love and encouragement, a whirlwind of musical notes swirling in her throat and exploding in the air, and she knows all too well that in this life we have no choice but to improvise.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}

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More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus