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THE MUSIC BOXindex007.gif

"The brain is the most remarkable instrument for music," his friend Max said during an intermission. Max, a neurologist at the Mount Parnassus Medical Center, was, like many of Iggy's friends a genius, but music of any kind could send him into raptures. It wasn't that Iggy pretended to be any sort of genius himself; he knew that his mind was no better than average at the usual tasks given to Everyman, its just that he felt when among geniuses and great talents, they ignored his idiosyncrasies. He didn't feel overwhelmed or reduced by intellect; on the contrary, he felt sheltered from the demands of competition. In a sense, because of the nature of our Luddite society at large, the particular geniuses he knew shared some of his feelings. Although they may have possessed differing reasons.
He was not sure if he had always been that way. He had just returned from Europe - well, just returned about five years ago - and all the world was filled with newness. Things that should be familiar appeared to Iggy with startling clarity as if experienced for the very first time. Colors, tastes, smells, not to mention art, music, taking the subway even, felt fresh and exciting.
"That's the way it always is to Americans who return from extended travel like you," his friend Carlos had said. And pretty much everyone else agreed with that sentiment. The truth was American was so isolated from the world that any outside exposure was bound to cause . . . changes. And Iggy was changed, there was no doubt about that. He felt sure of it standing right there on the steps inside Davies Symphony Hall watching the throng shift this way and that like leaves eddying on a slow, muddy current. There were people down there who probably would not even recognize him here today, nor he them. We are all rivers stepping into something twice or something something like that to do with time. According to Heraclitus. That much he did remember.
As a matter of fact, Iggy did not even recognize his own mother when she and his father came to The City some time back. There he was standing beside the gate with the letter from his father describing meticulously the date, time, flight number and accommodations. Suddenly these two old people appeared in front of him out of the clouds and he was being enveloped in a warm maternal embrace. After a momentary recovery he put his arms around her and looked at the balding man there.
"Ah, yes, father. Dad. Mom." Iggy said. While his mother effusively gushed, "Oh my boy my boy!"
Apparently they had not seen each other for some time.
His father was momentarily disgusted. "The big man moves to the big city and now so formal!"
Well, they got over that and so did Iggy and the rest of their stay went quite well, for it is a universal truth that no matter what, the child remains a figure embedded solidly within the amber that lodges in some particular place within a mother's heart. Psychologists have been trying to find it for years, but not one of Iggy's genius friends has found it yet, or if they have, they do not speak of it. Yet the child that lodges therein is always modified somewhat from the original model.
Iggy realized that even if he had leapt up in the middle of a restaurant with a chainsaw to slaughter every patron and host in the place, his mother would have simply said, "Iggy you know that is not you. I don't believe you would do such a thing. Now stop that."
The histories are packed with stories of mothers brought before grand juries to testify with utmost astonishment and disbelief against the most heinous crimes. "My boy kill 65 people with a blowtorch and a mattock? Then bury them under the fruit cellar and in the garden? Impossible! You see, as a child he always hated to get his hands dirty. The feel of earth under his fingernails was detestable. There you see. Impossible!"
For example: on a warm day just before his parents left, Iggy and they entered an ice cream shop after a half day of sightseeing, and his mother - once again the parent treating the child, tells him go ahead, order his favorite. You know - the special one.
And Iggy hit one of those scary blank places where he did not how to go forward for some reason, one of those places he had been running into a lot lately. Didn't these people know he had changed? What was wrong with them?
"I, ah, don't eat ice cream. Any more." He said.
His mother expostulated and condemned the fashion of all these new diets ending with the usual maternal inquiry of suspicion: you getting enough to eat?
His father, in what Iggy had come to realize was fairly typical of him, responded with irritated authority in speaking to the patient girl behind the counter. "The boy will have raspberry swirl. Mocha chip for me and mint chip for the lady. There!"
He saw them off with some relief and went back to his steady job as a clerk for the law firm of Hawkim and Snaggit. He was grown up and had a job and paid his own bills and so got on in the world and he needed no irritating reminders of any past dead life. In fact, the vast majority of people he knew he had known for less than five years and his address book was filled with crossed out names whose significance he couldn't recall.
In the swirling anonymity of The City, where constant flux and change and construction and tear down meant every moment became a new start among strangers who did not press for reminders of anything. In Europe he had loved the constant pace of newness and exposure. Even when he had gotten seriously ill along the Rhine, that too had been an experience.
There he had been, waking up after apparently fainting or something and a rather charming nun sat there and began chattering at him in German. Was he supposed to know German? He didn't know. For it seemed he couldn't speak English or any other language for that matter. His tongue was thick in his mouth, like some foreign object. Had he been embarrassed after the fall? Well no, for he must have been unconscious.
It took some weeks to get out of there, during which he practically had to learn how to walk again. He felt he had been reborn and was starting life afresh. This did not bother him; on the contrary, flickering images of some imaginary past life felt troublesome, disturbed. When he got home he found these books by dark authors like Poe and Lovecraft and these dark demented writings that felt as if someone else had written them. Someone who had been inclined to thoughts of self-murder.
He threw out those books and all the writing and got rid of photographs of things which no longer had any significance. Right out into the trash it all went until his room was as spare as a model living unit for Ikea furniture. He got himself a brand new job without any recollection of where he had worked before. No one contacted him from his old job and probably they did not care he had disappeared, for in the anomie of The City, people come and go all the time. And Iggy was satisfied with that state of affairs.
But these reminders tend to be persistent, for it is the nature of Iggy's people to want to bind that much harder those things which are unfortunately most ephemeral and he had reached that age when his predecessors were beginning to look to their final resolutions.
One day the mailman, Mr. Patch, brought him a small box which came from far distant Amherst. The return address listed a Mr. and Mrs. Neal Blenheim. There was a small rosewood box, a ceramic figurine, a letter and a short note inside. These things were like clues to some mystery. For he had no idea who the Blenheims were.
When he opened the rosewood box, he found the underlid was an arched dancehall of mirrors before a plush velvet dance floor and a metal post set on a dais above two grooves for the placement of earrings or whatever. Beside the brass post were the shattered figures of the ballroom dancers: a man wearing a tuxedo with both arms broken off and a woman wearing a swooping gown, missing one leg. They appeared on close inspection to be both Japanese.
Underneath was a winding key, which Iggy twisted. The jewelry box chimed briefly and then went silent.
Beside the key was a small note with a date of some years previously. The note was addressed to him, and it said simply, "Those were the best years of my life. Janice Mandelbaum."
Totally mystified, Iggy opened the letter from the Blenheims. It talked substantially about the failing condition of Mrs. Mandelbaum, who it appeared was not much longer for this world. The woman did not go out, did not watch television, did not read books or the papers, and apparently did not leave the bed. The box and the figurine were among the final possessions being parted out to relatives, although the fact this was happening before the actual death of the person involved somewhat annoyed Iggy. It seemed that everyone around this woman had accepted her own sense of futility without question. The letter, written in a spiky but clear script, was signed "Love, Aunt Miriam."
He had to re-read the letter to find a reference to "distribution to nephews" before he had a clue regarding what this woman was to him. Aunt of some kind, apparently. As for the figurine, it was a five inch high porcelain statuette of a boy playing a standup bass. It had a chip in it and Iggy found it rather ugly and turned it over to read with a the name in pale blue "Goebels", which his eyes tricked him into reading as "Goebbels", sending a little shock of fear through him until he parsed out the letters again. He wrapped the thing up and put it away in the box it had come in.
Who were these Blenheims and why were they sending him junk in the mails? Relatives, it seemed. This must be precisely the reason why people treat as a commonplace the idea that all relatives must be irritants.
He turned to the broken music box, wondering if it could be fixed. So it was that with tweezers, superglue, exacto knife, a magnifying glass, eyeglass screwdrivers, wads of tissue and got knows what else he went to work for the next four hours. It was close to midnight when he finally was done and there it sat, with a newly polished mirror glass and the Asian couple perched once again upon the metal post, which he found revolved to the sound of the tink-tink of the musical device, which he never really could get working properly, if it ever had.
And so there it went, this couple in revolving in their own detached reverie on a long lost world to the sound of the broken music. The thing must have recalled a time and place for someone, but for Iggy it meant nothing other than somebody else found it worth keeping. There was that note after all. The figures were plastic, the box itself made of pine stained to look like rosewood and the mirrors had been glued on leaving irregular gaps. You probably could buy something just like it in Chinatown for about a dollar and a half.
He wondered who this aunt was and if he had ever met her. It was then he realized that he did not know if he had ever met her or the Blenheims. That the wisps of recollection evaporated over an empty baseball field strewn with unrecognizable trash where a little boy wandered lost and confused, unable to remember the way home. And where all of the signs had been whited out.
He got up and made ready for bed. A stray light caught the mirror reflections from the jewelry box which chinked once before again going still. That night he slept soundly, without nightmares or troubling dreams of any kind. It was the deep sleep of a man who is at peace with his memories. Or lack of them.


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