Tuesday, January 04, 2005

vignette: replica

In the final year of her rule that was characterized by an unreasonably frightening generosity, Queen Elena, Monarch of the Pelagin, Sovereign of Kresis, and High Lady of Polidon, decreed the creation of a precise replica of her three kingdoms, to impart upon those who came after her an infallible knowledge of the lands’ prosperity and character during her days as beloved leader.

Those were days of incontestable bounty and quiet peace when the network of roads were new and led to uttermost parts of the country, when fishermen did not have to go beyond a cigarette’s distance from the deep harbors to make a day’s wage, when being a policeman was a part-time job due to the laziness of the dwindling number of criminals, and when the theatrical recitative was at its creative zenith, inspiring narratives about faith, knowledge and devotion mostly in the vulgar tongue for the edification of the masses.

Within the Royal Enclosure (that part of the grand palace where the Queens and Kings of old held very private wine-tastings or beheadings), Queen Elena summoned Simon de los Santos, multi-decorated artisan, composer, poet, priest and stock car driver, responsible for the conversational fountains at the Gate of Idad, the choreopoetic transliteration of Ibn al Faran’s Gestures Under Rainfall, the fluted design of the Marana Cathedral as well as being the one-time off-road record holder of the Kresis Annual Rally and perennial beauty pageant judge.

“Favorite,” the withered Queen Elena addressed him. “Would you say that under our rule the three kingdoms have come to a remarkable state of prosperity?”

“I would, my Queen,” Simon de los Santos replied with a graceful bow.

“And would you say that what we have built with our hands and hearts will last forever?” the Queen asked.

“My Great Lady,” Simon said, choosing his words with care. “Only the human spirit is immortal. That, and the legacy of free will, beauty and law that we pass to those who come after us.”

“Our thoughts precisely,” the Queen said. “You will undertake a task for us that will make all your previous achievements pale like virgins about to taken by brutes.”

“As you will, my Queen,” Simon nodded, his jaded eyes squinting at the hint of a challenge. “I am your servant.”

“Yes, yes,” the Queen said. “As you know, we will die within the year.”

A gasp resounded throughout the Royal Enclosure, flitting from lips to ear to lips from courtier to courtier before escaping down the hallway in the orifices of guardsmen and serving boys and from them to the scullions, washers, mechanics, deliverymen and gardeners on the palace grounds, then off into the polished streets where beautiful women with chiseled features trembled in sadness and handsome men daubed their soft eyes with handkerchiefs soaked in anti-aging cream as a palliative against time, and into the churches, synagogues, supermarkets, call centers, amusement parks and massage parlors where obese men’s hearts were given a double workout, and finally into the broad countryside and beyond to the satellite towns, villages and crofts where the news was met with great sorrow.

“Oh, no, my Queen,” Simon de los Santos protested, rising daringly to his feet. “It cannot be true!”

“Spare us your theatrics, favorite,” the Queen said, gesturing for him to resume his initial kneeling position. “It was foretold many years ago when a sea gypsy floated past our father’s yacht and was refused admittance to our birthing gala within. An old story, but true. She told everyone in attendance that at the height of our glory we would die. And so, here we are. We possess no charm to reduce our kingdoms to the size of a biscuit and keep them in a glass box. We do not believe that the miracles of quantum science can etch the lives of people on to strangely flavored particles. And we do not think that people in heaven keep track of who has done what.”

“True,” Simon de los Santos interjected. “That would be quite prideful.”

“Indeed,” the Queen said. “And in the absence of magic, science and religion, what do we have left to create something keep the memory of who we were and what we did alive?”

“Art, my Great Lady,” Simon de los Santos replied with tears in his eyes. “Free willed, beautiful, lawful art.”

“You will create, beginning this very day and without relent, a replica of the three kingdoms as it stands at one particular moment, a frozen moment of time that will capture the spirit of our people and all we have achieved. It must be exact, faithful and true. You will complete this, or your sons, or your son’s sons and so on, even beyond the final sunset and dawn of your Queen. Beyond us. You will perform this task with all your talent and all your strength.”

“With all my heart, Great Lady,” Simon de los Santos said softly.

“We intend to see some semblance of its wonder before we close our eyes for the last time, favorite,” the old woman on the ornate throne told him. “Now go. Begin.”

“At once, my Queen,” Simon de los Santos stood, bowed and walked away on legs weakened by the impossible weight of the Queen’s imperative, and when he was alone in his car, lit a cigarette, tuned the radio to sentimental love songs, and thought about glasswork, cartography and vanity.

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