I dimly remember the past-days marching by, cold and sexless as stones, as I waited for something to happen. Soon, I reassured myself, someone or something was sure to burst into my life, infuse me with excitement and set me free. Was that only a week ago?---
Saturday morning I'd gone to a church jumble sale. I wandered through stalls of second-hand furniture and cheap bric-a-brac, hoping for something to catch my eye. A dark-haired woman in a flowered red shawl smiled as though she recognized me. With a quick movement of her black eyes she drew me toward her table.
"Look carefully!" she said, and spread her arms, fluttering beringed fingers over her goods as though exposing the entrance to Ali Baba's cave. "Here you will find all that you are seeking."
I rummaged through stacks of mismatched china, stained linens, stopped clocks, mouldy books and chipped figurines. Then, from under a twisted heap of junk jewellery, I uncovered a little crystal vial that winked and beckoned to me. When I snatched it up, the glass felt warm and electric in my hand. Barely legible writing on its stained label spelled "Enchantment." I tried to open it, but its stopper was sealed with wax. The dark-haired woman smiled and nodded as though I had passed a test. Her glittering eyes pinioned me with the force of their glance.
"A rare perfume, darling," she said. "It will change your life." Then she laughed, and her gold earrings danced. Hypnotized, I poured all the coins in my purse into her outstretched hand, and left.
At home I rushed to my bedroom and drew the blinds, the bottle still clutched in my hand. I pried out the wax and twisted off the stopper to release a warm scent, strange and intoxicating, and breathed it in like a drug. Trembling, I dabbed my pulse points and my hair, then threw off my clothes and poured the contents over my naked body. I could not stop until the vial was empty. The potion soaked into me, beyond my skin. I felt it permeate my flesh and bones and seep into my marrow. The feeling was deeply sensual and my body gave itself up to its magic. My eyes drank the colors of the scent as its hypnotic vapors engulfed me.
No date, no party invitations that evening, no friends dropping by; no surprise. I was alone, as I always was on Saturday nights, yet now I didn't feel lonely at all. I sat enjoying the vibrating brilliance spread out before my eyes and had no need for anything or anyone else, not even food or sleep. All night I watched the glimmering light show, as the incarnate scent filled my mouth with a tang of excitement and swathed my ears in scarves of sound.
Morning dawned cloudy and gray, but the room was bright, a full spectrum of color. Each color had its own sound, like a musical instrument. I heard oboes, violins, and flutes. This world was lovely. I spent the day floating in delight, hardly aware of my body, turned into pure soul.
Sunday passed and just as the streetlights went on, I heard a tapping at the front door. Who could it be? Nobody I cared about, that was certain. I swam through the haze to shut off the lights, only to remember that they weren't on. Were the magic glimmerings visible to others? I went through the house, pulled down all the blinds and drew the curtains across the windows. In my haste, I scratched myself on a nail. A drop of blood lingered on my finger; it was iridescent and bubbled lewdly.
Monday followed Sunday, and I still hadn't needed to sleep. The scent grew stronger and the colors streaked around me. Was it my imagination, or were they moving faster and faster? I was shaking. A dim consciousness told me I should eat, or at least drink something. I moved to the refrigerator and poured myself a glass of milk. The milk filled the glass with an unearthly glow, and the insidious perfume had crept into the carton. I retched and gagged and spit it out of my mouth. It snaked on the carpet, an undulating ribbon of color.
Now another week has gone by. I can no longer write. My pen skitters over the page, and I am agitated and dizzy; weak, yet a wild strength goads me on. Now the colors seem to be teasing me, uncoiling like ethereal serpents tipped with flames. The music, so innocent at first, has become seductive, almost bawdy. A Pan flute begins a simple air; an oboe develops the theme, taken up by mocking clarinets and raucous trumpets, and followed by cackling bassoons. I hear pounding at the door, this time louder; the kettledrums of many fists and a cacophony of voices punctuate the eerie symphony. I crawl into a closet to hide, but the colors and the sounds, constricted in that space, solidify into muddy tones that push against my chest so that I have to gasp for air.
My body has become luminescent; my flesh undulates in waves of color. I grow frightened, run to the bathroom and into the shower, where I attempt to scrub off the perfume's scent with a soapy washcloth. The shower beats down on me, and I soap myself all over again, this time using a nailbrush. Not only does the scent remain; it has grown even stronger. My skin, abraded from my daily scrubbings, is covered with glistening, suppurating scabs that glow like jewels. The dreadful reek cannot be scrubbed off; it seems to have replaced my cells. I stuff my ears with cotton to shut out the insane music, but discover something I already knew: the music plays within me. My body sings itself.
I am barricaded in my house. Outside, the voices grow louder, vie with the music. Men shout, "I love you! I love you!" Fists batter my windows. I hear the crash of broken glass. Where can I hide?
"Donia sang for e.e.cummings. It was a command performance of settings of his poems, but he asked to hear some Purcell, too. His favorite was "Mad Bess," which he listened to several times. As he left to bail a friend out of jail, Mr. Cummings hummed the song with delight.
Much of Donia's life has been spent as a working musician and teacher, although she did a five-year stint as editor at a scholarly publication. In high school she was voted Class Poet, but since she was also voted Tallest Girl, though several others topped her by an inch, you might take the honor with a grain of salt"