[Another piece in the new style. The individual letters of the letter set
sliding consecutively left or right or up or down form the initial letters
of the story text.]
C A T A L O G U E A R I A
O F P O S S E S S I O N S
A I R A E U G O L A T A C
S N O I S S E S S O P F O
Alstair and Sheila studied Sybelle Clark's SoHo condominium attentively.
"Classy" Sheila said. Alstair simply smiled. "Classy? An overdone Parisian
theme, actually. Chopin and nurturing Sand. Cherubs, angels, nymphs."
Arms crossed, Alstair then paced the apartment's crowded salon, an intense
Napoleon surveying an army. "Still, an admirable Steinway." Alstair sounded
some chords. "Sweetness and sin combined. Start notating, Sheila." Sheila,
Alstair's sometime secretary, started scribbling. "An admirable Steinway"
she said. "Sweet and…sinful?" Alstair smiled again. "Anything Alstair
says, sweetness. Accurately appraising Sybelle's art and such naturally is
required running an estate auction. Add in impartiality, and I'm obviously
nice Southeby's choice." Sheila snorted, curtsied sarcastically. "Sir Alstair,
I am in awe! Southeby's choice!" "Actually, nice Southeby's choice" Alstair
noted, amused. "Accuracy! Accuracy!" Alstair caressed Sheila's shoulder.
"Sweet signora, note…"
Alstair spoke confidently, cheerfully, sometimes singing aloud some
notable item. A Stradivarius cello. A Chippendale chair. Seven small
Nouveau statuettes — an arcadian shepherd, an immodest nymph, an
almost aetherial Terpsichore, a tragic Orpheus remembering absent
Euridice, an "almost erect" Satyr — laughed Alstair, "I adjudge it's
intoxicated" — Io imprisoned on the olive tree, and a "completely
sad-seeming" Aoide. "It's really obvious'" remarked Alstair. "An
earthly existence summarized in statuettes."
Sybelle's incredible operatic rise amazed even Europe's solid institutions.
A totally outstanding Norma. Rosalina acquiring intense, almost riotous
ovations. Tosca occasioning rave reviews. Increasingly admired, Sybelle
courted society. Sexual conquests, and trendy opera occasions. Royalty
issuing admiring invitations. Across six seasons, Sybelle soared. Now
interminable airline schedules and sleepless nights. Amphetamines,
cocaine. Old friends' advice, concerned, suddenly shunned.
*"Our catalogue continues." A Fragonnard. A Chromy copy "one-fourth
from actual" called Commendatore Cloak of Conscience. And another
Chromy, Anna's "totally anguished" Leporello. "Sybelle simply sank,
Sheila. Earth spins, seasons end. Although in opera they are always
critical, a constant." Sybelle's coloratura-colored Salome called a
failure. Only one opera found across a new season considered a
complete success, Sybelle's anxiety increased. A stagnant summer,
not one recording. Another stage, another skeptical audience. Serious
news services now noting suspicious cancellations.
"And continuing, Sheila. Certainly a nice Iranian rug. And another
interesting statue, Shiva, Lord of Sleep, undoubtedly English era. And
ah, excellent — an Elizabeth Sonrel. Extremely undervalued, Sheila.
Southeby's should love Sonrel." Elderly Alstair reached over to a table.
"Alstair thirsts. A nice scotch, Sheila? A small sample? No? I'll research
it alone. Silky smokey scotch, neat. It's actually superb. Not surprising."
Sybelle's considerable accounts notwithstanding, Swiss clinics and
talented psychiatrists only avoided. Another trendy party. Another
champagne, another oxycontin. Another coma-like sleep. And soon Sybelle
laying across a tub, a corpse. A coroner called, family contacted, and
news services. And inevitably ruled a regretful overdose of tramadol,
alcohol, and cocaine. Archives checked and numerous old recordings
resurrected. Interviews replayed. Introspective articles, individual
remembrances. Orations, nicely stated summaries, choirs singing. "Still,
so supremely stupid. Sympathy, Sheila? A suicide? Ah, Sybelle's an idol.
It's acceptable. So admired. A suffering artist. She simply couldn't cope.
Sad? Still, a suicide. A senseless cemetary. Self-negation."
One old Russian Orthodox triptych. A Napoleonic-inspired recliner. One
oriental-themed table of Indonesian origin. "Our incredibly sane-seeming
satisfying existence, Sheila, is attached to objects. Our intense acquisi-
tiveness inebriates souls. Intelligent Alstair is attached to a trap. Although
nice Southeby's should appreciate selling Sybelle's small Chagall. Angels.
Always angels. Childhood cancer, Sheila — childhood cancer's a true tragedy.
Totally absent any choice. Alstair's child, she…so swiftly succumbed.
Sorrow's a sacred niche I reserve, although imperfectly, I admit." Alstair
slipped a switch and awakened Sybelle's stereo. "And, a stereo system.
Arrakis speakers. Ah, simply amazing sound. And Anne-Sophie's Sibelius CD
spinning. Such sweet cold sadness. No one's interpretation is nicer." Sheila
sighed. "Alstair, I'm numb. Stop." Nodding, Alstair approached and closed
Sheila's notebook. "A catalogue. An aria. And… another night."
(Cover photo: Commendatore: Cloak of Conscience by Anna Chromy.)