La Toccata Del Magda

Some went beyond the decency of the horizon, it was their choice, the right to choice so rarely invoked in this foetid city that, in itself, choice had become an act of depravity. They walked, straight-backed, with a kind of unbroken dignity beyond the walls to the ancient Line that distinguished between the living and the technically dead. No-one had ever looked back or if they had it was not reported. All citizens were called to witness this Out-Casting, even the strange renegades of OldTown, by order of the Protector but commentary was forbidden. One could be punished for remarking that they could still see their loved ones beyond the Line; it was not possible to acknowledge that which was invisible, what could not exist, what had, perhaps, never existed or so was the Protector’s reasoning and he was prone to publishing the odd philosophical treatise on the nature of existence and annihilation. Few understood his arcane writings, only the injunction not to speak. Families wore red mourning to such an event and wept silently and children stared, huge-eyed, and often physically gagged for they were frequently the greatest danger to themselves and all unknowing could call out to a beloved brother or uncle beyond the Line. The Protector had the tongues of such children cut out, not even the innocent were permitted to acknowledge that which was invisible. The Protector believed in immediate justice.

Magda had not been born when her father had chosen to cross the Line and

later she would wonder if he would have crossed it had he known that she was to make an entrance into the world. Her mother had scorned such vanity in her daughter.

You think he would have changed for you, child? Nay, he was a Teller, a Speaker, a Weaver of tale strange and mangled and nary did he listen to any but hisself. But he be aught but bones now, the wind whistles through him and you’ll be the same if you think too much. Best to let it lie, Magda, life be cruel enough without adding to it.

There was a wisdom in this that Magda recognised but somehow could not accommodate. But she knew that her mother, despite her pragmatism, allowed her much in the way of freedom. She had always been an odd child, almost unbearably lonely at times, and driven by a yearning for things she could not name, images that glimmered on the edge of her mind, an elusive and beguiling world that she forced herself to ignore; it was too confusing. So she befriended each and every maimed cat in the walled city and the few birds that chanced there found a welcome in the child. With these and other pathetic exiles she filled something of the void within her. It seemed to her that animals understood her, at least they did not avoid her as adults did, turning away, or muttering about a curse. The children of the city were less subtle and tormented her freely every chance they got, shrieking abuse and calling her ghost-get or laying wait in vicious ambush for her as she rambled through her seamless days. Consequently Magda learned the architecture of the city as few others had before her and could disappear with almost uncanny speed. But her heart could not match the magnitude of that hatred and she grew thin and unnaturally withdrawn. Often she would climb the outer wall and lay in the turret, staring for hours into the blue of the sky, watching evening etch its darkness onto the world and feel it moving into her like a dark pulse in her blood, the muted hush in her heart. And then there were stars, their icy, white blaze in the distance, their stately, measured dance. Some nights she had heard an echo of that immense music but of this she never spoke, not even years later when it was safe to share such things. It was a secret that sustained her under the bruising weight of the Protector’s city where beauty had become a heresy and freedom, a forgotten, cobwebbed dream.

Magda knew her days of roaming would come soon enough to an end, somewhere in time her future waited: a man, a hand-fasting, work, children, silence and death. She devoted herself to becoming as undesirable as possible but knew it as hopeless; the decree remained, at FirstBlood a girl must marry and bear children for the city of the Protector. She also knew from hearsay, for she was gifted in eavesdropping in the loft above her mother’s kitchen, just how many girls died in FirstBirth. She was beset by an unshakeable intuition that this would be her most likely fate for she was small and delicately made, there was a lightness to her bones, to her steps, a translucence to her skin and a grace that not even she could disfigure. The perimeters of her daily world were becoming smaller, she could feel herself shrinking, coiling in upon herself and as if in recompense her dreaming world began to flower in the night world of sleep. As if in defiance of the edgeless grey that constituted the Protector’s city, to its monochromatic texture, her soul would take wing of a night. Vast flocks of golden eyed birds flew through her, an ancient king spoke to her of a lost dolphin ring, she swam in the azure blue of deep, unknowable waters that she had never seen, and always a figure, somehow insubstantial, danced on the edge of her vision. She would awake speaking in the Forbidden Tongue:

Mamita, che seorita, vange les angeles, perdu, perdu…

Her mother was beside herself and spoke only in whispers, consulting the wisdom of the women in OldTown and Magda grew used to waking to some bright-eyed crone sitting by her bed weaving signs and smelling of some foul herb, burbling in a language she did not understand. She knew she was becoming a danger to herself and her mother but she could not resist the lure of her dreams, like a bright river fish on a sunny day she was drawn into an intangible place of silver, mirrors, an endless gleaming light. And blood, so much blood, she feared she would drown in it.

She dreams of a world outside the walls, it draws her like a web-spinning, power there is in it, she’ll nay resist it long, pauvre chicita. She dances there in the dream. Her heart is like a big drum beating, her feet are patterning something very old. But Old Muerte, death, is fishing for her and she smells him. Clever chicita. It is in this child to cross the Line, though no woman before her has travelled it. La Que Seba protect her. There is a mist across my seeing and the power of the Protector meshes something foul. I cannot see more, madness, peril at her FirstBlood. You must hide her and you know where. Long past is the time when she should have met the brother of her father. Be wise, little mother, let her go.

So spoke La Consuela, the healer of OldTown who had spent three nights by Magda as she slept and wrestled the dream-darkness to come back with this vision. Not long after this judgement, Magda awoke for what seemed the first time on a clear morning in the BirdHour and found herself alone. She felt oddly connected to herself as if some shadow within her had dissipated in the night. She flung open the windows of her room and allowed the light to stream across her, the morning seemed to hold a promise but of what she could not tell. La Consuela found her half hanging from the window frame attempting to entice her favourite cat indoors.

Chicita, I have come with a gift for you.

For me?

Se, Magda, I offer you a journey.

Away from here, from the city?

Perhaps. It is for you to choose. Would you learn your father’s kin?

Is it allowed?

Se, if you so choose.

I choose.

Do you know what you do, little one?

I want to breathe, again, Consuela, I want to fly.

Years later Magda would look back on this morning and know that with these words she had irrevocably altered the course of her life, on that morning she shaped the first part of a road she would travel, she began to chart the contours of a new landscape. And she would still count the cost as worth it. But that morning the sun seemed to shine for her alone. With the single assurance and egocentricity of the young she left her mother, almost carelessly, and ventured out with La Consuela to OldTown in search of her uncle and the legacy of her father.

Your uncle is named Enrico and even in OldTown he is accounted strange. He is a rarity, a jongleur, he plays music, he shapes his soul on the lute and sets us all free with song. He will be killed if the Protector ever discovers this. It is said of Enrico that he allowed himself to be bitten by the red desert snake and he survived so he has little cause to fear any living man.

And that was the totality of La Consuela’s knowledge of Enrico and with it Magda was forced to be content. They journeyed into a part of the city that was new to her, it intrigued her with its sense of the Forbidden, its forgotten, casual decadence and something else far less easy to describe. It seemed to take a long time but Magda became increasingly fascinated by OldTown’s colour, children darting in and out of alleys dressed like gorgeous parrots, doors decorated in intricate, brightly-textured patterns; she sensed there was an energy here, a drive, a sense of restless purpose and this pleased her. In this she was the true daughter of her father.

But even she was ill-prepared for her first meeting with Enrico. Consuela discovered him quite accidentally in the square of OldTown indulging the feral populace in one of his rare performances. Long before she actually saw him, Magda fell in love with his magnificent voice which gilded the afternoon with tones of such longing her heart ached and with such promise that her spirit rose upward and yearned to soar across distant lands, to experience, to encompass all. Enrico sat in the dust and held his audience by the power of his voice alone, a master cantadora, and in words of a dialect that few truly understood and all reached to understand. He stood up, a small, neat man with remarkable hands and dressed in such outrageous finery that Magda gasped. As if sensing her he turned and with one sweeping gesture drew her into the centre of his world

Se Magda, long, so long have I waited for you like an ache in my blood. I knew you in the long night of le hambre del alma, your soul starving in NewTown. I see now, beneath the game of your skin, my brother’s bones and your eyes, ojos del cielo, sky eyes in the velvet night he loved. Aishling, I will not keep you long but before you leave me like your father did, we will dance, my love, and I will teach you to sing on the wild paths you must travel.

Clapping his hands three times on the ground he dismissed his audience and turned to confer with Consuela. Magda stood a little apart from them ,aware that they were discussing her and she became more than a little distubed about the consequences of her precipitious decision. Eventually Conseula took Enrico’s left hand and smeared it with dirt and her own saliva, the traditional gesture that signified an oath-taking in OldTown.

Then she turned to Magda and spoke:

Chicita, I go now to make your WomanDress for the day coming of your FirstBlood. What are the colours you desire?

I would wish green and dark purple for the first part of the evening sky and white gold for stars, Conseula, but I will not marry.

Little one, you are a river of fire and I think you are right, you will not marry, but you should think on what that will mean, Magda.

I have, Conseula, I have dreamed it is my fate to die in FirstBirth. I will never marry.

O Chicita.

And so saying Consuela strode off into the late afternoon leaving Enrico with his niece. He did not hurry her as they walked to his dwelling but spoke gently, in that beguiling voice, of simple things, his home, his cats and his work as a cantadora. From the time he was a small child Enrico had made his living as a teller of stories drawing on tales that belonged to the Maygar treasury of his family; stories that ranged across time and cultures, many of them predating the time of the Protector’s regime and all these he shared with her as if she were his equal.

So began one of the happiest times in Magda’s short life for her uncle also taught her many things, the names of stars and birds, the language of their inheritance and the secret writing of music. He instructed her in the mysteries of drumming: how one pattern will call to the heart, another to anger, and yet another to tears. Enrico knew that life was not served by work alone, nor by the dictates of the Protector but by the spirit that moved, unique to each living thing. More importantly he taught her to dance and it seemed to Magda that this was the sole reason for her existence. She poured herself into the wild, whirling intricate pattern of la Toccata until she became it, until she no longer sensed her own body only the energy that moulded it.

Se Magda, you dance like a wind-spirit, let earth and sky fill you, forget the little bones in the feet, la Toccata will hold you, it is the oldest dance of freedom, made for a God, danced only by a woman.

And all the while Magda grew taller and stronger and the days passed like clear water flowing in a stream until the morning she woke to her FirstBlood. Enrico sensed the change in her without her explanation and sent immediately for Conseula. He made no attempt to console her with false hope.

It is time to be free of this little garden we have made, Magda. To stay when it is time to leave is to be less than what you are, it leaves a deep scar on the soul and that is not an easy thing to live with.

And then Enrico spoke to her of the long months in which La Consuela and her people had conspired to keep their world safe from the prying eyes of the Protector’s men. For it had been rumoured that the Protector had always taken an interest in Magda and her strange ways. He desired her greatly for FirstBirth. Enrico attributed this to his desire for vengence against her father who, on the day of his Out-Casting, had laughed openly at the Protector’s power. Magda listened in silence, somewhat alarmed to be the focus of such interest. Idly she fingered an old pattern on Enrico’s spirit drum. She could feel an energy gathering in her, a prelude to a storm.

Enrico, what was my father’s name?

Angelo del Sanguisto.

Did he know what lay beyond the Line?

Niente, Magda, but he did not believe it belonged to Old Muerte. That is the speaking of the Protector and webbed with lies. We always forget that he is only a man, not a God. Your father knew that.

Why did he leave?

Your father had no fear in him, he believed, and he was gifted in the art of seeing, that another world was shaped over the Line and that it had taken his dreaming from him. He went in search of it. What shall you do, Magda? I shall Out-Cast myself.

Se, you are so like him, el rio abajo rio, the river that runs beneath the river. So much strength in you, little one, you frighten me.

I will not die here, not for the pleasure of the Protector, Enrico.

Se Magda, there is that. And I will not mourn you as dead beyond the Line either.

Magda contemplated the enormity of the choice before her, but she knew that she was not fashioned to yield, there was little of compromise in her. But her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Conseula who revealed the splendour of her WomanDress without comment. It was a thing of such beauty that Magda was left speechless; it seemed that Conseula had captured the time of twilight in all its myriad shades, the first fire of the nightsky, wild birds and the wind, the endless possibilities of the time of transition.

Conseula smiled at her:

This is the only wisdom I have for you, Magda, it is said of old that at the time of twilight and dawn that everything that is not fixed is vulnerable.

I will leave in the hour of the Hawk, Conseula, just before the setting of the sun, will you tell my mother?

Se Magda, although I think she knows. I will have the children announce it through the city.

Throughout that long day Magda said little for it seemed to her that it had all been said in one way or another, Enrico sang to her and she allowed the strength of his songs to fill her. As evening came she dressed and with her uncle she took her first steps on the new path. A vast crowd had gathered to watch this extraordinary event and Magda was astonished to see that the children wore shades of the same colour as her dress. Even in NewTown there was little evidence of the red of mourning. As she approached the huge arched doorway that was open to her and her alone, she stopped for her mother stood there, dressed in lilac and green, and in her eyes Magda saw a mixture of pride and grief.

Suddenly the Proctector’s voice roared above her:

Magda del Sanguista, as stupido as your father, it is not my wish..

And Magda felt such a rage in her that it shook her bones:

You are a fool and worse than a fool, your wish had nothing to do with it. This is my choice. I will not stay here to sate your lust. You are as nothing, dust and ashes beneath my feet. Cursed be the air you breathe, the seed of your loins and the pulse of your blood!

And with that she stepped through the arch and walked through the gathering of evening to the Line that had kept her people in bondage for over a century. Behind her she heard Enrico begin the opening beat of her song and the echo of a thousand hands, tapping and beating til it rose like a crescendo in her blood.

Years later it was told how Magda del Sanguisto danced through the Line with La Toccato, how her spirit flared in an ecstasy of movement, how she crossed and re-crossed and tempted Old Muerte from his hiding place and danced him til he dropped and the colour of the evening was stayed and there they danced til stars burst above her and she slew him with the beat of her heart and the wild stamping of her feet. And with her dance she defeated the power of the Protector and set her people free. At least that is the way the cantadoras tell it.


  1. robbie said,

    May 22, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I love it.

  2. Robert Verdon said,

    May 22, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    I love it.

  3. KateMcNamara said,

    May 27, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Robert: Thanks

  4. katemcnamara said,

    June 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    As part of a longer sequence of works which will be published in November 2008, I believe La Toccata del Magda works. Please note that The Line exists for every person on the Planet, the courage required to dance with it remains the responsibility of each and every individual now sentient and breathing.

  5. June 3, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    […] had become an act of depravity. They walked, straight-backed, with a kind of unbroken dignity beyon On the Water this Week San Antonio Express-News & KENS 5AUSTIN ?? Here is the weekly […]

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