Expiation

Expiation
By Katherine Revello

“Force, the child of desperation,
Is the last resort of the hopeless.
Who understand strength only in body.

Faith, they understand not.
Thinking sorrow and torment can break
A resolve termed stubborn rebellion.”

The lyrics—his lyrics—blared from the radio. Ewan punched the power button in disgust. The slender bud vase sitting atop the machine, stuffed with cuttings from the monkshood bushes that grew at his door, trembled at the violence of the force.

“Oh God, I can’t live in memory.” Ewan cried, half-pleading, through clenched teeth.

The little purple-cowled flowers glared with ecclesiastical disapproval at this mild blasphemy. But Ewan ignored them. These monks, after all, had a murderous purpose and were in no position to give moral scoldings. The poison contained within them was the means by which he rid himself of the shaggy mountain wolves that stalked the night.

Portrait of a modern troubadour: an ethereal flush upon the apex of acutely angled cheekbones, a tinge of pink pastel contrasting a waxy complexion. Rhythmic flutterings of aquiline fingers, caressing taut strings. A lanky body moving in time to the torrent of notes churning trough the air: crashing forward, leaping back. Rolling over and over in a siren’s grandiose song of adulation. An apparition of virulent spirit: conviction like flint, touched with a vein of emotion’s glittering diamonds.

Now, look a little closer at the aging man groveling before sound waves belching from a hunk of rusting metal. See the true image: the bleached bones of a modern Prometheus staked out on an isolated peek, flanked by macabre crows looking on without compassion. Hercules never showed to free the prostrate man, shackled by his own boundless love to the dirt he once hoped to cultivate.

Yes, that song, that ode to moral purity, that anthem of inspiration, was his own funeral dirge.

What had made him think, flush with the arrogance of youth, that he, unlike all the other heralds who preceded him, could impart in his audience some desire that lasted beyond the resonance of the notes?

The same thing they’d all thought of course: the sheer strength of his indefatigable will.

At least the others had names that struck a chord in memory. Fate had him crueler to him. One song, rocketing to fame, and afterwards—not even a record deal.

The words are too fanciful. Why not use simpler meaning?

Audiences want a quick thrill, not a philosophy lesson.

There’s no melody: how can you dance to it?

So the excuses from the credentialed industry experts ran. And who were you to challenge them, you lone dissenter? You had talent, but what was talent. Lots of people have talent. They had Experience, the titles and market research. And you couldn’t argue with that.

What good was artistry if it didn’t produce results?

Just go our way, and we’ll both profit, you’ll see, they’d said. They and all the women whose sultry eyes masked a vicious insipidity. Bend a little. Let us polish your raw edges. It’s just the packaging that changes, not what’s within.

After three decades, he’d given up trying, taken what money that song had brought and retreated to a cottage in the foothills of mountains only visited infrequently by intrepid outdoorsmen. His guitar remained buried in a closet. His voice, once so pure and sonorous, only ever grunted in greeting to a passing stranger.

He told himself the absence of torment was happiness. But each day, though he prayed for absolution, the little purple father-confessors steadfastly refused to grant him exit from this purgatory wherein his flat, discordant voice, transposed imperfectly on warped vinyl, eternally subjected his captive dreams to a ceaseless torment at the hands of the soulless record machinery.  The penance, perhaps, of his cowardice, of having turned tail and fled from the institutionalized forces of intransigent blindness.

All content protected by copyright. The Politics of Discretion, 2016.