2013-10-01

Cloud Atlas Sextet holds my life


HÔTEL MEMLING, BRUGES
QUARTER PAST FOUR IN THE MORNING, 12TH-XII-1931
Sixsmith,
Shot myself through the roof of my mouth at five A.M. this morning with V.A.'s Luger. But I saw you, my dear, dear fellow! How touched I am that you care so much! On the belfry's lookout, yesterday, at sunset. Sheerest fluke you didn't see me first. Had got to that last flight of stairs, when I saw a man in profile leaning on the balcony, gazing at the sea-recognized your natty gabardine coat, your one and only trilby. One more step up, you'd have seen me crouching in the shadows. You strolled to the north side-one turn my way, I would have been rumbled. Watched you for as long as I dared-a minute?-before pulling back and hotfooting it down to Earth. Don't be cross. Thank you ever so for trying to find me. Did you come on the Kentish Queen?
Questions rather pointless now, aren't they?
Wasn't the sheerest fluke I saw you first, not really. World's a shadow theater, an opera, and such things writ large in its libretto. Don't be too cross at my role. You couldn't understand, no matter how much I explained. You're a brilliant physicist, your Rutherford chap et al. agree you've got a brilliant future, quite sure they're right. But in some fundamentals you're a dunce. The healthy can't understand the emptied, the broken. You'd try to list all the reasons for living, but I left 'em behind at Victoria Station back in early summer. Reason I crept back down from the belvedere was that I can't have you blaming yourself for failing to dissuade me. You may anyway, but don't, Sixsmith, don't be such an ass.
Likewise, hope you weren't too disappointed to find me gone from Le Royal. The manager got wind of M. Verplancke's visit. Obliged to ask me to leave, he said, on account of heavy bookings. Piffle, but I took the fig leaf. Frobisher the Stinker wanted a tantrum, but Frobisher the Composer wanted peace and quiet to finish my sextet. Paid in full-bang went the last Jansch money-and packed my valise. Wandered crooked alleys and crossed icy canals before coming across this deserted-looking caravansary. Reception a rarely manned nook under the stairs. Only ornament in my room a monstrous Laughing Cavalier too ugly to steal and sell. From my filthy window, one sees the very same dilapidated old windmill on whose steps I napped on my first morning in Bruges. The very same. Fancy that. Around we go.

Knew I'd never see my twenty-fifth birthday. Am early for once. The lovelorn, the cry-for-helpers, all mawkish tragedians who give suicide a bad name are the idiots who rush it, like amateur conductors. A true suicide is a paced, disciplined certainty. People pontificate, "Suicide is selfishness." Career churchmen like Pater go a step further and call it a cowardly assault on the living. Oafs argue this specious line for varying reasons: to evade fingers of blame, to impress one's audience with one's mental fiber, to vent anger, or just because one lacks the necessary suffering to sympathize. Cowardice is nothing to do with it-suicide takes considerable courage. Japanese have the right idea. No, what's selfish is to demand another to endure an intolerable existence, just to spare families, friends, and enemies a bit of soul-searching. The only selfishness lies in ruining strangers' days by forcing 'em to witness a grotesqueness. So I'll make a thick turban from several towels to muffle the shot and soak up the blood, and do it in the bathtub, so it shouldn't stain any carpets. Last night I left a letter under the manager's day-office door-he'll find it at eight A.M. tomorrow-informing him of the change in my existential status, so with luck an innocent chambermaid will be spared an unpleasant surprise. See, I do think of the little people.
Don't let 'em say I killed myself for love, Sixsmith, that would be too ridiculous. Was infatuated by Eva Crommelynck for a blink of an eye, but we both know in our hearts who is the sole love of my short, bright life.
Along with this letter and the rest of the Ewing book, I've made arrangements for a folder containing my completed manuscript to find you at Le Royal. Use the Jansch money to defray publishing costs, send copies to everyone on the enclosed list. Don't let my family get hold of either of the originals, whatever you do. Pater'll sigh, "It's no Eroica, is it?" and stuff it into a drawer; but it's an incomparable creation. Echoes of Scriabin's White Mass, Stravinsky's lost footprints, chromatics of the more lunar Debussy, but truth is I don't know where it came from. Waking dream. Will never write anything one-hundredth as good. Wish I were being immodest, but I'm not. Cloud Atlas Sextet holds my life, is my life, now I'm a spent firework; but at least I've been a firework.
People are obscenities. Would rather be music than be a mass of tubes squeezing semisolids around itself for a few decades before becoming so dribblesome it'll no longer function.
Luger here. Thirteen minutes to go. Feel trepidation, naturally, but my love of this coda is stronger. An electrical thrill that, like Adrian, I know I am to die. Pride, that I shall see it through. Certainties. Strip back the beliefs pasted on by governesses, schools, and states, you find indelible truths at one's core. Rome'll decline and fall again, Cortés'll lay Tenochtitlán to waste again, and later, Ewing will sail again, Adrian'll be blown to pieces again, you and I'll sleep under Corsican stars again, I'll come to Bruges again, fall in and out of love with Eva again, you'll read this letter again, the sun'll grow cold again. Nietzsche's gramophone record. When it ends, the Old One plays it again, for an eternity of eternities.
Time cannot permeate this sabbatical. We do not stay dead long. Once my Luger lets me go, my birth, next time around, will be upon me in a heartbeat. Thirteen years from now we'll meet again at Gresham, ten years later I'll be back in this same room, holding this same gun, composing this same letter, my resolution as perfect as my many-headed sextet. Such elegant certainties comfort me at this quiet hour.
Sunt lacrimæ rerum.
R.F.
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, 2004