LAVANDER FIELDS: THE PARNASSIAN POET
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau
Lavander Fields applied lipstick the hue of waning roses to mask the colour of her tender mouth. An act of cosmetic futility it made her feel better- if even for a moment. Their once gentle pink now stained a perpetual shade of cornflower blue as a result of almost being frozen to death not so long ago. Thinking about it made her angry, an emotion she was unaccustomed to until now. Peaceable moments left long behind. A delicate frost drifted upon her skin like icing on a sugar cookie. It made her appear more fragile than she was. Glittered in the moonlight. Diamond dust gathered on her shoes as she rubbed her eyes to stay awake.
Her parted lips exhaled tiny puffs of smoke. The implied sensuality a by-product of her current condition. Long, white eyelashes kissed the top of her cheeks as she slowly blinked and retreated into the pages of the dog eared notebook covered in her furious scribbles. She lived alone with only her never ending sentences to keep her warm.
And a foundling named Mews.
She filled the journal's hand bound pages until the pen ran out of ink. After ink, she had only blood left and not much of it anymore. Lack of thoughts and silent plumps allowed creeping ice into her veins. Jack Frost, her constant companion no matter how she protested.
After exhausting all lyric and rhyme, and metrical form, she recited them in front of the broken mirror abandoned in her studio apartment by the previous tenant, not really caring much about the words at all. Her shattered reflection forced the poems into shards of glass seen smashing on the shabby wooden floors. On rotten days, she imagined the jagged edges piercing the ears of eavesdroppers filling the galleries below full of blood. Most days, it really didn't matter. Moments would pass then she gathered up the pieces of Parnassian poetry and put them into her notebook - just in case she ever really needed them.
She didn't sleep much. Anymore. Day turned to night with little notice in Lavander's new world. Her silvery eyes reflections of the night sky. Losing consciousness meant losing her way so she preferred to stay awake. The sun became the moon. The stars fired up and faded to black all while Lavander continued to write.
Strands of ashen hair fell from beneath the pale blue beret she wore on her head to keep the cold from seeping in. She plucked the hairs, one by one, from her scalp and let them fall from her fingers onto the pages below. She loathed long hair but regular salon trips proved more difficult than the strays easily remedied with a few snips from a pair of scissors reserved for making paper angels. The notebook gradually filled with strokes of black ink and pieces of hair but nobody cared.
You see, Lavander Fields was a poet. And not just any poet - a Parnassian poet, recently crowned poet laureate for the Museum of Wayward Girls. A coveted position by anyone enslaved to the written word in the oft forgotten town of Chopin. They even gave her an apartment of her very own. Which was alright - she guessed.
Tired of sitting around the barren apartment, she shrugged her shoulders and made plans to attend a poetry reading at the Forget Me Not bookshop. Almost there, when an obstreperous mewing from a passing alleyway compelled her to stop and investigate. Not one to be easily distracted, she surprised onlookers who knew her and even herself by the deleterious detour.
She liked the sound of the word 'obstreperous' and ' deleterious ' and stopped in the middle of the street to jot them down. Not wanting to be late, she looked at her wristwatch only to find it had stopped again. Judging by the position of the sun, and the empty shops, there was plenty of time to help the cat and make it back to the Forget Me Not. The sound of the wailing cat led Lavander down the alley, past several back stoops, through her arrondissement, and all of a sudden she ended up somewhere she had never been before. Lost. Simple lanes and logical streets stretched out like a difficult crossword puzzle, impossible to solve. Never been lost before, she failed to recognize the severity of the situation.
Moving along at an impressive pace, she caught up to the marmalade kitten while it stopped to watch a pair of chattering mice on what to scrounge for dinner that night. Lavander scooped the distracted cat up and tucked him softly inside her redingote.
"A cryptogram is no place for pussy cat." She whispered into his purring coat. "I shall sneak you into the bookshop, listen to the poet and then take you home for a cuppa milky tea."
Time moved on during the Lost. The sunlight faded out and snowflakes landed on her cheeks. "Winter in Spring? What a peculiar thing." she muttered. She closed her eyes and opened them again. Red brick buildings morphed into Moroccan courtyards. Mountains rose up and streams flowed through the streets. Birdhouses took flight and her world was suddenly not as it should be. As things became increasing complicated, she realized something had gone horribly, terribly, horrendously wrong. Lost.
"Oh dear. I don't know where I am." she said to nobody in particular. She checked her notebook to see if that would help. It didn't. What she didn't know was that tapping her wristwatch, scouring her pockets and looking for any bit of familiarity forced her further into the unknown. The cat's nails pierced through her sweater and dug into her skin. Nobody liked being Lost. Shadows descended. Open signs flipped to closed. Day disappeared into night.
Too shy to ask for help, she thought it best to sit for a spell and try to sort things out. It shouldn't be that hard. A coal bin, served as a momentary rest stop. Lavander sat down on the ground next to it and gathered her skirt about her. The foundling snuggled in closer, protected by the folds of the oft mended jacket. Nails retracted. Full of fatigue and now covered in frost, it wasn't long before the poet and her cat both fell asleep, curled up together under a makeshift blanket of discarded dailies.
The duo went unnoticed for days. It was quite difficult to pick them out from in between the headlines and pages of the editor's wasted words. Being new at the Museum of Wayward Girls and a quiet Chopinian, nobody missed Lavander even though she didn't return home for a fortnight and a smidge.
Piff and Phuff, two local drunkards, stumbled out of the pub discovered the poet and her cat, nearly frozen solid beside the grocer's dustbin. Saved by good fortune and the accidental warmth of day old coals thrown out by the grocer himself. The only spot on Lavander's body not covered in frost, was above her heart where Mews had fallen asleep.
Cat and poet became constant companions, the marmalade Mews perfectly content to stay within the confines of the poet's dictation - kept close for company and inspiration. But the duo was now a trio - the uninvited Lost. Idle chatter and neighbourhood gossip spoke loosley of the Lost but to experience it firsthand could break your heart or lose your mind. It created a universe that constantly needed mending. Friends became foes. Words swelled full of emptiness, and the idealization of beauty slipped into crevices of misconceptions.
Lavander, more often than not, awoke to discover windows, doors and cupboards too, moved from where they once were. Groggy views. Sleepy eyes. Misplaced steps. Spinning helped and often righted the wrong. Still she wrote. Upside down. Right to left. It didn't matter. The words always came back.
Madame Faux, the museum curator told Lavander that it wasn't the cat. It wasn't the Lost but rather a simple medical condition known as developmental topographical disorientation. Lavander ignored the unsolicited diagnosis and continued to believe she was held captive by a world she forgot to create.
Every morning, once the teeter tottered room had been restored, she navigated her way to the kitchen, her thick, grey socks glid along the floor, picking up dust balls and stray hairs along the way. Breakfast consisted of a steaming pot of split pea tea, four bites of a scone laced with saffron threads and sliced grapes. She sat at the kitchen table to re-plan her well rehearsed day. Patterns and stanzas prepared her for the inevitable. If Lavander Fields was one hundred percent certain of where she was headed, she might avoid the meandering streets that swallowed her whole, causing her to be instantly addled and unintentionally Lost.
In an underhanded understanding between the Museum of Wayward Girls and the Spider House Cafe, everyone agreed (except Lavander) that she would perform a selection of spoken words at the cafe after three weeks of poetic incumbency. Although, Madame Faux had neglected to tell her this when she agreed to agree, Lavander had managed to write one and three quarters volumes of poetry for the much lauded event. The merging of poet and poem into one. If she spoke quickly, she hoped to be able to read it all before becoming Lost.
Taking a deep breath in, she pulled back the burlap curtain on the battered armoire to reveal the poet's meager wardrobe within it. Slowly she exhaled as tendril of dusts curled down from above. Stay calm. Keep breathing. The armoire's doors had been long removed, perhaps amputated and burned in the pot bellied stove during spells of bitter cold. Chopinians had been hit hard during the last revolution. While Queens battled on, the sun shone icicles and summer nights ceased to exist in the kingdom of Chopin. Warmth a luxury item few could afford.
Woolen garments chosen carefully from the second hand store on the corner of Pulse and Main, poised in wait for the poet's next stanza. Black and grey skirts, with white cotton shirts hung side by side. Metrical forms. Double stitched hems meant they would last a life time. A single redingote made of flannel and spun lilacs was the only colourful anomaly to be found. Its purple hues acquired by the local seamstress after Lavander became Lost. Strong enough to protect her should it happen again. Beautiful enough to hide its utility. A ruffled collar hid a compass, while bunches of blessed licorice root lined the pockets. Shiny, magnetic buttons dotted the front line and pointed her in the right direction. High Street meets Scotland Yard.
The kettle released a high pitch whistle, signalling its readiness to please. The sound caught the cat's attention and propelled him towards the stove. A pitcher of cream sat outside of the ice box, kept at room temperature so that it not curdle in the hot tea. She poured a drab of cream into the delicate pink tea cup and then a touch more into Mews' matching saucer. Cream. Sugar. Tea. Repeat.
The tea, a blend of harmonic split peas, elephant garlic and crushed chamomile, steeped while Lavander prepared for tonight's reading at the Spider House Cafe. The tea, not for everyone, kept her calm and provided a hearty meal. At least for Lavander.
If she left for the cafe within the hour, she'd arrive within a timely manner - much before nightfall when the reading was to start. She could sit and write while waiting for the audience to arrive. Once an avid adventurer, now trips anywhere scared her. Almost to death.
The automata table clock perched above the pot bellied stove ticked and whirred the moments away. Another piece that to failed to keep the proper time as the numbers were randomly placed around its tiny mother of pearl face. The confused clock maker placed miniature roses and a stuffed hummingbird for fancy effect. More for distraction. Stripped of meaning, it's sole purpose to be beautiful. Lavander adored it. A gift from her mother. The only thing she managed to save from marauders after she died.
Two days prior to the poetry reading, she spoke to museum staff, for directions and meticulously wrote them all down, memorizing each utterance along the way.
"Take your first left and head down the street until you come to the horse and buggy waiting for Mrs. Roster. She's very regular and will arrive at exactly 11:59 am . Then go to your right and follow the postman, who passes by at 12:07 pm until he arrives at the cafe." advised Sota the conservator. "He takes the same route, day in and day out. Time is precious but not to him"
"Don't listen to Sota. The postman is lazy and takes many shortcuts. Much better to follow the red stones, then turn left at the brick pathway and keep straight until the wooden esplanade. It's right there." said Whimsy, the curatorial assistant. "It's full of purpose and intent. There's no missing it. Minutes matter."
"Stop confusing the girl." said Ki-Lan, the centismicorn's caretaker. "None of that makes sense. You spend too much time in the museum and not in Chopin. This is how you get there." He continued in a very authoritative manner convincing Lavander to keep listening, overriding everything the others had said before him. He also convinced her to pick up some candied jellies for the museum's centismicorn, Speranza. It was all the young unicorn would eat during her first six months of life - something the guidebook had neglected to tell Ki-Lan.
She opened her notebook, reviewed the directions and started to write. Rewriting them would help remember. She rolled her neck back and forth, took a catlike stretch and began writing. In a state of relaxation, the fountain tipped pen slid magically across the paper as if of its own doing.
When the tea party ends , smash your cups
then when nobody's there, turn to the right
Post a letter while it's still light
Birdhouses two four six and eight
Counting birds while you still can
Never forget one through ten
The museum in back and bookkeeper ahead
Number the birds until they're dead
The writing stopped. Her shoulders tensed up and she breathed faster. The room filled with haze as she began to breathe faster. She looked at the notebook. The letters appeared written in haste, and brimmed in sentimentality. Like over sugared tea spilling onto the counter. Her mind filled with rage. She shook her head and wrung her hands together. She tore the page out of the book, crumpled it and threw it on the fire inside the pot bellied stove. A small hiss escaped from within it. Nothing mattered.
Mews curled up on the unmade bed as Lavander prepared to leave. Locking the door behind her, she headed down the wooden steps to the front door. She looked through its window, the wavy surface distorted her view. The morning sun had disappeared and dark clouds blanketed the sky. Once outside, loud cracks of branches snapping to ground permeated the vacuous sound-scape of Chopin. A path of broken china led the way out.
The Mayor and Madame Faux arranged for a tea party at the museum but they had been so busy fussing over the guest list and who begot who that they forgot the tea so it simply turned into the biggest brawl that Chopin had seen in quite some time. The porcelain pathway a baroque reminder of unnecessary battle.
Before stepping past the stone gate, she pulled out her notebook, and scribbled a few words. The red, blue and white striped flag flapped loudly in the wind above her. She pursed her lips in habitual mistrust, closed her eyes then tore out the page. After crumpling the paper up into a tiny misshapen ball, she tossed it into her mouth and began to chew. She swallowed the paper wad, and continued on her way. The Spider House Cafe was only a few blocks away. She had been there a many times. It shouldn't take her long to get there. She had carefully planned out every step. The moss and lichen on the north side of the trees help to keep her oriented. Tiny letters "L" and "R" tattooed on the back of her hands now concealed by a pair of gloves.
Dark greying skies. Chilled to the bone. Humidity thick as gruel permeated the streets. She turned around to see splintered branches laying in the snow. Icy remnants clung to the trees in a weak attempt to hang on for their lives. Snapping twigs followed alongside her. Snowflakes attached to the leaves that didn't have the chance to fall encasing them in a glassy grave. Beautiful destruction. In search of the sanctity of the cafe, Lavander counted the number of birdhouses. Only a few more and she should be there.
A pack of wolves ran down the street. Good Samaritans posted Warning posters regarding the Lupine crew but she had never seen them before now. Thought them made up. The wild dogs pounded down pebbled pathways looking for bits of meat or grafts of kindness. She thrust her hands in her pockets for anything she might have for them but came up with nothing more than some lint and a used hanky. She crossed the street in an effort to avoid what she couldn't give. A sharp pain filled her chest. Cowardice and shame.
To get back to where she once came, she trusted the buttons on her coat to help her out. The golden cuffs placed inside the sleeves, guided her a few steps north, then turned her around and crossed back to begin where she left off. She pulled her gloves up and began to walk. It seemed considerably colder on the other side of the street. The unexpected frost in the air around her burned her cheeks and numbed her nose. Smoke turned to crystals as she exhaled in the wintery weather..
The sky changed again. Seeming stuck between day and night, the light bounced between the two paradigms, creating a bluish hue throughout Chopin. The snow stopped falling and the ice bean to melt. Her eyes avoided the sky and fell below to a muddied mess of footprints going in all directions. There was no way she would be able to find her own even though she had the soles of her shoes specially imprinted so she could follow her steps wherever she went. A bloody mess. She twirled and twirled to at least find one landmark, a bird, a bench, even a cleverly arranged stack of stones would do. Something to point her in the right direction.
The gas lamp posts, still smothered with snow, sizzled from the wetness. Clumps of travellers passed through Chopin's cemetery towing their tattered baggage behind them. The train station located right on the other side of Lewis Bleu's house. She pulled her coat tight to ward off of the inevitable chill that accompanies the dead. She missed her friend Lewis and vowed to visit her the very next day. Her notebook clutched close to her chest. Her gloves unravelled from incessant worrying.
The bird seller should be on her left and the museum right behind. "I just left there a moment ago. How can it be so far away?" she cried to a quarrel of sparrows in the trees above. She stopped in the middle of the street and circled around. A policeman riding a penny farthing tricycle appeared in front of her.
"There are no whirling dervishes allowed in Chopin! You'll have to go back from whence you came!", he yelled from atop his mobile post.
"Oh, I'm not a whirling dervish. I'm just a little lost and hoping to find my way again." she replied.
"Well, I'm afraid you can't stop and twirl in the middle of the street like you haven't a care in the world. Twirling has been banned here in Chopin".
"You're likely to cause an accident or something." The policeman tipped his cap in her direction. "Carelessness and lack of caring will not be tolerated by the Mayor. And his council."
"I'm looking for the Spider House Cafe." she told him. "Spinning in circles helps to set things right." she uttered to herself.
"The Spider Cafe? Are you certain of the name?", he asked. "I know most everything that goes on in Chopin and I don't know of any Tiger Mouse Cafe."
"That's not what it's - " she stopped short realizing the policeman had started to pedal away, moving onto the next potential calamity, protecting the citizens of Chopin from nothing in particular. She thought him rather silly if he ever had to chase someone on that big wheeled contraption. She checked the secret compass and traced the 'L' on her left hand with her index finger for reassurance. The sweet smells of chocolate and icing sugar enveloped her as Chopin's Master Baker rolled by with his cart.
"Can I help the next person in line?" He shouted into the foggy streets. Blinded by a random circus act, Chopin's Master Baker was the best in the land even though he couldn't see a thing. The Blind baker of Chopin.
"Excuse me Master Baker, I'm looking for the Spider House Cafe.", she said.
"A lovely young lady like yourself? Looking for the cafe?", he replied trying to protect a unseen stack of croissants from the blowing snow. "That hardly seems right."
"I'm a poet." She cleared her throat and stood a little taller. "A poet laureate."
"A poet?" He mulled it over. "Well, I'm headed there after the next delivery. Why don't you follow me?" He smiled and handed her a croissant from the teetering stack. "You look like you could use this."
Lavander nibbled at the croissant. The taste of crème caramel filled her mouth. She wished for a little sugar, cream and tea. Repeat. She accompanied the Master Baker until the next stop where he needed to stay for longer than she could wait.
Birdhouses appeared as the sun shone through the clouds. Frozen openings and transparent walls melted from the warmth. She placed one boot in front of the other. Systems. The sound of her footsteps reassured her. Moving forward. Her pace quickened. Footprints everywhere.
Minutes later, she arrived at a storefront that had never been there before. The Master Baker 's cart and Policeman's tricycle were parked out front, perched atop the black and white tiles. Above the door, gold lettering on a black background read La Maison Araignae. She placed her hand on brass handle, opened the door and stepped inside. Araignae, the cafe's owner spotted her right away and scuttled to her side.
"Are you ready to start? We've been waiting for days. We thought you lost."
"I'm not lost, I'm right here where I've always been." Lavander, crossed into the shop, handed Araignae her coat, and stepped onto the stage. She parted her lips and the words toppled out.