Two Stories by John von Daler



Caravaggio, Narcissus, c. 1597

A mirror is the best, he thought. A mirror or yourself on TV. Then you know you’re alive.

He combed his hair back from his forehead and then patted his cheeks with a soothing scented balsam.

He checked himself for faults in the mirror, white hairs, unbecoming lines, discolorations. Everything seemed to be working well. He looked over his muscles and by turning up his cuffs a few times made sure his tattoos were visible.

He still looked like the sportsman he had been. But he had been thinking lately that perhaps he should go back to his training programme of some ten years ago. He had not played for more than a decade.

He made sure that the little microphone in his pocket was completely hidden. Then he turned to the cameraman and winked.

“Let’s get started with our day!” The cameraman waved without answering and they left the hotel room like a little float from an Easter pageant.

That evening the little entourage had settled down on a bench by the beach at the summer resort. The day had been complicated. The town had been empty, so they had filled their film with walks down lonely roads, luncheon in an empty restaurant and quite a few telephone calls to the sportsman’s teenage daughter who had decided not to visit her father. Off the record, he had asked her if she didn’t think it would be fun to be on television. She had answered that she had homework and an exam to study for.

So now he and the cameraman were sitting on this bench watching the saltwater lap up onto the beach. The sky was heavy with rain. The beach was empty. There was really not much that the millions of potential viewers could watch unless they thought waves were particularly fun.

The sportsman could not stand thinking that his daughter had stood him up. At the same time he was thinking that the whole thing was good for publicity, in a way, that publicity was good for his pocketbook, that his pocketbook was good for living the good life and that they were showing the good life to those millions of viewers: in a way his good life paid for his good life.

Then for some reason he wanted to cry, just a tear or two for a second, and he asked the cameraman to switch off the camera for a minute — and he did. But the cameraman secretly turned on the little, hidden camera in his lapel. After all, it was the real life of real emotions they were supposed to show. So he got the real tears by the real bench by the real sea.

Later on, mostly because of the tears he had cried into the hidden camera, the sportsman got invited to do another series about revitalising his career, with training sessions, the pain of the unaccustomed exercise, the lost games, the humiliation of the catcalls and the adoration of the women who had seen him in real life on television.

That film paid for a vacation that he also filmed. In it, he met the next love of his life and lost her to an actor who was drunk. And it really happened. No fiction here. Just wave after wave after wave lapping quietly up on the beach of his life.


Speaking of the War

Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 1663/64

“That war just had to be fought! It was justified!” a young man shouted. “For many important, indisputable reasons!”

In the middle of the loud, belligerent, political discussion the old man would reach some kind of impasse in himself. He would go silent, the way a great orchestra after pummelling from crescendo to crescendo reaches a tremendous fortissimo and suddenly breaks off into the all-encompassing hush of a Grand Pause.

He would sit quite still for a moment. When the contours of his face again had reverted to the relaxed dips and curves of an intelligent Buddha, he would say:

“In which month were you born?”

If his opponent, though taken aback by the sharp switch in topics, answered him politely enough, the old man would sit back in his chair and mutter to himself.

“February, huh? Then you were probably conceived in May”. He would fix his eyes on a certain section of the wall, a blank, white space with a pregnant glow similar to the space between the window and the woman with a necklace in the Vermeer painting.

“May, when the Japanese cherry trees have just blossomed and the capricious weather suddenly becomes more predictable, yes, even warm. A half-moon plays hide-and-seek with the frisky clouds. The grass is as green as your dream of Ireland and far across the rolling lawns a piano piece by Debussy depicting a girl with flaxen hair wafts gently through the night air.”

“A couple lies on a cotton cloth beneath a small tree full of pink blossoms flickering in the moonlight. He is half on his stomach, half turned toward her. She has her arms around his torso and her left leg stretches across his legs, her body also half-turned in his direction. They are kissing quietly, gently touching each other’s lips in quiet anticipation.”

It is now still in the room. No one seems to remember the original subject of the conversation. The old man looks down at the table and waits.

“What were you going to say? In quiet anticipation of what?” someone asks.

“Oh,” answers the old man as he looks across at his erstwhile opponent, “That was when you were conceived. That was what brought you here tonight. Nice to know, don’t you think? That we all were conceived in some month, in some setting, in some place, in some mood.”

The old man raises his glass and drinks a silent toast to everyone and to no one. You can almost hear the minds counting months.

His young opponent tries to figure out how to reintroduce the topic of the war. Then somebody decides it’s late; it’s time to go home, war or no war.

About the Author

John von Daler was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1945. He attended public schools and studied the violin and piano privately. At fourteen he moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, where he continued his public school education and violin lessons. At seventeen he left Norwalk to attend Princeton, where he studied creative writing under Philip Roth and majored in English, writing his senior thesis on symbolism in the works of Karen Blixen.

After graduation John von Daler moved to Denmark and married a Dane he had met in Princeton. He became a bookseller and later a teaching assistant in the Department of English at Copenhagen University and at the University of Southern Denmark where he specialized in minority literature. After a decade of teaching von Daler began to work as a freelance violinist in the Promenade Orchestra in Tivoli. He became concertmaster and later conductor of that orchestra. These positions led to work in recording studios and theatres in Copenhagen. Composing and arranging became part of his work and later he began to write plays. He had several longtime working relationships as a sideman for various Danish performers and for twenty years he toured throughout Scandinavia, and Belgium, France, Ireland and Tanzania as a soloist and recording artist.

John von Daler is now retired and spends his time writing, composing, translating and studying European history. His biographical novel “Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude” is available through WiDo Publishing and Amazon.

Post Image

Utagawa Hiroshige, Maiko Beach, Harima Province, c. 1853 (detail)

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