We left the old man standing in the doorway. Through the small windows of the armoured car I could see the city, shattered glass and fallen masonry. I was driven to a secure complex comprised of several square miles. It was the palace of the previous king and now a little piece of Texas organized in the spirit of a college campus – dormitories, bars and fast food chains. Post-adolescents on the up side of a high school touchdown are sent here to flicker and die.
When they went to collect the soldier inside the well the old man was dead. A bullet through the right side of his skull to match the report. That’s how we knew it was suicide. Now he’s small talk, scuttlebutt working its way through the cafeteria. Eventually he’ll be a story in Wyoming.
I was assigned an office with a bedroom adjacent. There were televisions in both rooms to make sure we were all watching the same war. The floors and the walls were marble and the ceilings plaster. The echo was distracting and distorted the music that I had so carefully selected to get me through all of this. The soldier responsible for my comfort managed to find me a very fine stereo. I asked him for some carpeting to absorb the sound, anything will do, I said.
The next day he delivered four large, exquisite Persian rugs. I only need two … I can’t take them back … I see, put one on the floor and hang one on the wall of each room … which walls … opposite the door … which rugs … it seems like you have a flair for this … yes sir.
Bartok packed a lunch and a gramophone and set himself to wandering. He went digging for the old songs, the old stories. They were floating face down in the Danube a few steps ahead of the secret police. Now he holds the darker chords a little longer. He is his father, he is his father’s father and the toothless grin of the Huns. In Budapest they say he didn’t just lick it off the ground.
I have yet to hear God speak – a little vibration in the larynx, thoughts lost to thoughts otherwise. On earth music trumps conversation. In the war to end all wars one thing led to another and then the corpses began to pile up. It is best to catalogue bodies before they are buried. Listen, if you will, to the music a man with a shovel makes.