A Dove of the East

Free A Dove of the East by Mark Helprin

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Authors: Mark Helprin
stamping, the timbers of the hall shaking as if the earth had quaked, it threw him off balance for weeks during which he stuffed himself with good food and could write only music which was so squeaky it sounded like rusty wheels in the high Gare du Nord, music which if played for the pigeons would have made them rise in intolerance and bend in a sheet of white and gray across the plane of Paris sky.
    And he ran in the afternoon amid the blue which met buildings softly under the clouds, panting, pushing his glasses back on his face as they tried to fall to the ground. Eventually he built a routine of going all the way out to Neuilly and back, and as he got stronger it wrote Shannon in for another few months, for she could love only strength and could not face weakness. But it was so hard, to run and write, to eat like a beast and then starve, to make love until the dawn and then be fit only for the morgue, to be moved so by the music that it was like an electrocution, complete surrender and exhaustion.
    That summer they went to Greece. The winter’s rain seemed as far away as medieval European cities, and yet it was in one of these cities that Harry wrote in thundering clear classical style. He took the opportunity to take down good Greek music, and to write barrelhouse rolls to limericks they made up. These became extremely popular at a restaurant in Nea Epidavros called “Yellow House of Nonsensical Pleasure” where the foreigners gathered in the evenings. Of several dozen Swedes, Englishmen, French, Greeks, Americans, and Italians, three had birthdays on the same day, two (including Harry) had perfect pitch, all knew the fountain at Aix-en-Provence (or said they did), and everyone except the women except one was in love with Shannon—as if drawn into the maelstrom; the bright challenge took them up in its hands like moths.
    Harry and Shannon slept on the roof; a phonograph played them to sleep. As they watched the stars they became separate. Harry knew she was in love with the doctor, an Oklahoman who had been broken in Vietnam and then come back stronger. He was both larger and wiser than Harry, although he could not compose music, and he called Harry “Spence.” Next to him Harry felt like a young midget, and because he was not fresh or new at Shannon’s game he lost early on in the subtle war of deferences at the Yellow House of Nonsensical Pleasure. Harry retired to the piano and played his barrelhouse rolls, and then stopped going there altogether, and then Shannon did not come up to the roof.
    He cursed himself for not having the wisdom war brings. His father had told him of lying awake in an open meadow with an automatic rifle across his lap, waiting for the enemy while the sky was filled with artillery flashes and the white lightning of battle, a terror which numbed the little patrol in the field, something Harry might never know. It was one of the major reasons Harry loved his father, his sense early on that the man knew terror and bloodshed, and was grateful and loving just to be alive. They, the men in his family who had started out as merchants and professors and been made into warriors, knew something he could not. But they envied him for his cradle of peace. There was no way to compete with the Oklahoman, with the bronzed face and tranquil eyes which had seen men die in war. Harry was at a loss but determined to push with the same energy which had led them to survive, toward a depth in peace
could never know. He too was a fighter of sorts. To take in the whole great compass of the world—this was his task. The expanse of it could kill, and he had to dodge as best he could the potent backlash of music’s ecstasy. He left for Paris precipitously, almost without thinking or looking back, and when he arrived he forwarded Shannon her wicker trunks, wondering what she would do with twenty-five pairs of dancing shoes in a wild rocky spine of the Peloponnesus. She had written

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