Les Petit Chanteurs A La Croix De Bois
The most beautiful boys in the world live their changeless lives in this
poster on my bedroom wall.
At night their angels’ voices fill the house while I fly in my dreams over tiny island cathedrals that dot long forgotten
Alpine lakes. In the morning I’m always another day older, but les petit chanteurs are still exactly twelve and a half,
still losing baby teeth, still nailing each impossibly high note. In their moon-white robes they look to me like little singing
Jesuses, out to save a world of souls with a song. I give them good French names like Jacques and Armand and Olivier because
they are robust and in love with the world. But in my heart I fear for them, for us all. That devil, time, lurking somewhere
just out of sight. I suspect one day years from now I’ll awaken and look up to see they’ve suddenly become old
men—grimacing, deaf, still trying to hold those hopeless notes through the long night, their ratty robes ridiculously
small on their old man bodies, their big wooden crucifixes strung so tight around their necks they chafe and choke. My beloved
Jacques red-faced, bent double with angina…Armand collapsing of a stroke and dropping out of sight…
Things began to sour when love no longer had much to do with getting naked. Our narrator told it better
than we could have ourselves. Omniscient, he was with us in the kitchen, the bedroom, the garden, lending simile and metaphor
to our growing disenchantment. ‘Their words,’ he’d say in the car as we squabbled over some trivial thing,
‘were clumsy, careless, thrown around like fists of the drunk.’ He spoke in the past tense, always with accuracy
and indifference. He sounded a lot like James Earl Jones. One evening she didn’t come home after work. I might have
waited up all night, hurt and suspicious, creating wild scenarios and plotting revenges for each, but for the omniscient one.
‘He was alone at last,’ he said in a low, calming voice, ‘and she wasn’t coming back. Somehow he knew
this. Strangely, he felt nearly nothing—just a vague, alien sense of aloneness. Of self-ness. He was suddenly hungry.
He popped a frozen pizza in the oven and sat down on the couch. Then he turned on a baseball game—just him and the remote
control, like in the old days. Like she’d never been there.’
He’d leave behind an elaborate map. They’d find it tucked in his toolbox, but of course by then
it would be too late. He’d have gone—difficult to say when, exactly—and taken his pony with him. And they’d
begin to wonder: all those weeks leading up to this, all the time he’d spent barricaded in the basement, crouched in
the lamplight at his little workbench. The endless hours he sat muttering, piecing together the chain mail shirt, the trousers,
the hood, link by tedious link, ever the quest on his breath. Always the quest. And when they unrolled the map, there would
be nothing for them to do
but trace his treacherous path with a finger and shake their heads (and some would weep). While
far away, in some other morning’s quiet hour, he’d be trotting off across the flooded country, believing his magic
pony would skim the water’s surface like a basalisk lizard. And far to the north on a distant steppe the fabled Mongolian
horsemen would be waiting silently for him—mounted three abreast in case he actually was the one—concealing hand-woven
finger puppets under their yak parkas.