Die Musen

By M. Landau Friedman

 

 

As Angus D’Oily traveled about the continent those last days of 1926, he encountered most all of the engineers whom he required to help him carry on with his scheme to fashion a time machine.  A gentleman in Hamburg provided him with an electrical ballast gearbox, and a professor in Heidelberg provided Angus with a purge bulb and even suggested a draftsman out of Berlin to design the centrifuge. 

 

So Angus composed a few letters to the draftsman, and by late winter 1927 he agreed to help.  He asked if they might meet out in Weißensee, and he mentioned an alehouse there by the name of Der Spieler. 

 

But on the night when they meant to meet at the alehouse, the draftsman never stopped by.  Nevertheless Angus waited all night long.  The draftsman’s train must be late, Angus told himself.  You must remain patient, that’s all.  If you depart, of course the draftsman shall come along but a moment later.

 

So Angus spoke up now to ask the barmaid to bring him another Weiße Royal, and he asked if perhaps the establishment provided dried flowers by which to sweeten the ale—anything to maintain the dialogue as long as possible.  It always discomfited him to sit alone in a place like that. 

 

But just as Angus meant to ask if the barmaid might bring him a Bavarian crème, a procession of the most extraordinary women suddenly stepped into the alehouse.  They stood so very tall, so very austere.  And as they approached the barmaid to ask if she might help them with directions to whatever the address they sought, Angus gazed upon them all so rapt.  He likened the one to der Friedensengel down in München, for how very long and elegant the woman’s forearms. 

 

Angus turned to one of the fishermen from the lake to ask if he might know whomsoever the women might be.  But of course any Berliner should recognize them.  So he asked Angus to count them, whereupon he counted out all nine of them.  Then the fisherman told him that these must be “die Musen” come to dispatch someone—perhaps a composer who recently completed his ninth symphony. 

 

(And now the fisherman described how die Musen shall permit a composer but nine symphonies before they destroy him.)       

 

Angus turned from the fisherman to observe die Musen as they departed the alehouse.  And though Angus certainly appreciated how dissimilar his own passions to those of a composer, nevertheless Angus found it impossible to thwart the impulse to follow the procession.  You should meet with the draftsman some other time, Angus told himself.  You mustn’t pass up the opportunity to witness a rite such as this.  For all at once now nothing so beguiled him as the question of whose life die Musen meant to extinguish tonight. 

 

So Angus stood up from the table and followed the procession out into the street where he walked alongside them and asked wherever they might be bound. 

 

But of course die Musen told Angus very little.  When the procession reached die Straßenkreuzung they stopped for a moment to look down the one thoroughfare.  They told him that this should take them to the rehearsal hall where Kurt Weill just now commenced his Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny.  And then one of die Musen pointed in the opposite direction and wondered if this might take them down to the cinema house that just now presented that moving picture Oktyabr with all that splendid music by Edmund Meisel.  Then another pointed backward to the alehouse and mentioned it the best route back to the conservatory where Paul Hindemith lately served as instructor of composition and counterpoint. 

 

But die Musen neither turned back to the alehouse nor turned east or west.  Instead they carried along ahead, and they remained rather quiet till they reached the one townhouse and gazed up to the light that shone from the casement.  And now they spoke of the composer up there and lamented his deceitfulness—how he composed his ninth symphony the year before but published it as “Ein Liederzyklus.”  And now the one spoke up to recall the many other composers who sought to deceive them and that way summon a tenth symphony. 

 

Die Musen stopped now as the doomed composer’s silhouette shone through the casement where he approached his pianoforte to play the pilfered tune.

 

So die Musen ascended the steps and carried on through the door while Angus remained there in the street to await the moment when the keys should fall silent. 

 

But all at once now Angus envisioned what anguish die Musen should visit upon the doomed composer.  For how to simply dispatch him as they did all the others?  They should wish to punish the thief. 

 

And now Angus took to whistling a tune from his father’s old penny hymnbook—the very tune the father always preferred to perform upon his bagpipes till that bout with bone disease prevented his fingers from working the melody pipe.

 

Perhaps Angus possessed no other means to conceal his trepidation.  Perhaps he always suspected his own labors so very sinful, unnatural—the notion that he might someday comprehend a body of knowledge so plainly prohibited Man, the notion that he might travel through time.

 

And then—just as the pianoforte upstairs fell silent—Angus stopped all his whistling and debated whether or not he should ever dare to arrange another interview with the draftsman. 

 

 

M. Landau Friedman holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and has published his verse in several rather obscure student journals.  He also holds an M.A. in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa and has published several articles in the newsletters and websites of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society.  “Die Musen” is his first fiction work to appear on the web.

 

Published on September 30, 2008 at 9:56 am  Leave a Comment  

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