Sleeping In Flame
|Series:||The Answered Prayers Sextet: Book 2|
|Sub-Genre Tags:||Dark Fantasy|
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Walker Easterling is a retired actor turned successful screenwriter living in the Vienna of strong coffee, fascinating friends, and mysterious cafes. When he falls in love with Maris York, a beautiful artist who creates cities, his life becomes alive in fantastic and unsettling ways. As Walker's love for Maris grows, his life gets more and more bizarre-he discovers he can see things happening just before they happen, and at the same time feels an incredibly strong tug from his past-so a friend steers him to Venasque, an odd little man reputed to be a powerful shaman. Venasque helps Walker discover and unravel his many interconnected past lives, and it is soon clear that an unresolved conflict from these past lives has resurfaced, and now threatens to undo Walker and Maris's love.
It took me less than half a lifetime to realize that regret is one of the few guaranteed certainties. Sooner or later everything is touched by it, despite our naive and senseless hope that just this time we will be spared its cold hand on our heart.
The day after we met, Maris York told me I had saved her life. We were in a café, and she said this through the folds of a black sweater she was pulling over her head. I was glad she was lost in the middle of that pullover because the statement, although true, made me feel much too brave and adult and embarrassed. I didn't know what to answer.
"It's quite true, Walker. The next time I saw him he would have killed me."
"Maybe he just wanted to go on scaring you."
"No, he would have tried to kill me."
The voice carried no emotion. Her big hands lay open and still on the pink and blue marble table. I wondered if the stone was cold under her palms. If I had been really brave I would have covered her hand with mine. I didn't.
Every once in a while my friend Nicholas Sylvian calls, in a huff, and says he wants us to make another movie together. He's got some new moneybags lined up to finance one of the many projects we've discussed. When that happens, I usually stop what I'm doing and give him my full attention. Life with Nicholas is fun and exciting, and sometimes very peculiar. I think in our past lives we were probably related in some close and aggravating way---revolutionaries who couldn't agree on tactics, or brothers in love with the same woman. We always fight a lot when we're together, but that's only because we love the same things, despite seeing them from different angles.
This time there was a Herr Nashorn in Munich who was very interested in producing Secret Feet, our adaptation of an obscure short story by Henry de Montherlant to which I owned the rights. The scoop was, Herr Nashorn wanted us to fly to Munich that weekend and talk the whole idea over, courtesy of Nashorn Industries.
So at 6 a.m. on Saturday, forty-five minutes before our flight was due to leave, Nicholas picked me up in his little white delivery truck. The first time I saw that odd vehicle, I asked my friend what had possessed him to buy it.
"Because it looks like the kind of truck the Pope tours in."
When I got into the Popemobile that dark morning, Nicholas looked at me and said, "We've got four problems. One, I don't have any gas. Two, I think I forgot my passport. Three, the radio says the traffic out to the airport is impossible. Four . . . I can't remember, but I'll think of it. Do you have any money for gas?"
There was no fourth problem, he had his passport, and we made it to the airport on time. When we were settled on the plane and had ordered coffee, he lit a cigarette and smiled to himself.
"Listen to me, Walker. No matter what happens with this Nashorn meeting today, there's a woman in Munich I've got to call. She's an American sculptress you have to meet. You'll love her." He said no more about it for the rest of the trip, but kept the same smile on his face.
The idea excited me. I had always liked blind dates. If nothing else, it was an interesting way of discovering what people thought of you. How often do we have the chance to see what we are in a friend's eyes? On a blind date you're told "You'll love her. I think she's very much your kind of woman." And whether she is or not, you end the evening knowing something new: As far as this friend is concerned, you're the "sexy blond" type. Or a "smoky brunette who has to be convinced" kind of guy.
My wife and I met on a blind date and that date led to seven good years together. In the end we separated after both of us spent time in other people's beds for greedy, bad reasons, and even worse results. The divorce consisted of two raw, mean people saying sordid half-truths about each other.
Why did things go wrong? Perhaps because wonderful as it can sometimes be, you can be sure marriage is at all times a quirky, difficult thing to maintain. In certain ways, it is very much like the solid gold family heirloom watch your father gives you for graduation. You love looking at it and owning it, but it isn't like the twenty-dollar liquid-crystal thing made of plastic and rubber that needs no maintenance to keep perfect time.
Every day you have to wind the gold beauty to make it run right, and you have to keep setting it, and you have to take it to the jeweler to be cleaned. . . . It is lovely and rare and valuable, but the rubber watch keeps better time with no work at all. The problem with twenty-dollar watches is that they all suddenly stop dead at some point. All you can do then is throw them away and buy another.
I realized this after my marriage wound down and stopped. It made me feel stupid and bitterly sad, but by then things were way beyond fixing, and neither of us wanted to see the other again.
My wife Victoria (a name I still say slowly and carefully) remained in the United States after our divorce and entered graduate school. I am sure she is a serious, diligent student.
The worst part of being alone was memories often cornered me and wouldn't let me get away. A pumpkin-colored coat in a women's boutique froze me in front of the store window, remembering a meal with Victoria in Cyprus where most of the things on the table were that same Halloween orange. Or waking with a fierce cold, and the first thing you think of is, the last time I had one this bad, someone right here was genuinely worried about how high my temperature was.
In the year after the divorce, I returned to Europe and wrote two good screenplays for films that had only an outside chance of ever being made. But that wasn't bad because the work kept me busy and eager to see what the final drafts would look like.
There are long quiet periods in life that are very much like waiting for a bus on a nice day. You don't mind being there so much because the weather is sunny and nice, and you're in no hurry. But after a while you start looking at your watch because there are more interesting things you could be doing, and it really is time the bus came.
Maris just read these pages, and indignantly said I hadn't once mentioned where all of this happened. I told her I was going to get around to that; I had been saving Vienna for a place in our story where I would be able to describe it in the roundabout, leisurely way it deserves. But since there is less and less time now, perhaps she is right.
Victoria and I had come to Vienna eight years before, newly married, full of zip, curiosity, and enthusiastic love for each other. I was acting in a low-budget spy movie being filmed there. I'd gotten the role because I have the looks of a vaguely sinister pretty boy. In my short acting career, I'd played a cowardly Nazi soldier, a show-off baseball player, an arrogant college student, and a mad killer in a Hawaiian shirt. The Vienna role, which turned out to be one of my last, was that of a golden boy--Ivy League diplomat in the American Embassy who just happened to be a Russian spy.
One of the first things that struck me about Vienna was the funny-sounding street names: Schulz-Strassnitzkigasse, Ottakringer Strasse, Adalbert Stifter Strasse, Blutgasse. Usually you took a big breath before saying one of these names so you wouldn't run out of air halfway through the pronunciation.
Everything was clean and gray and too heavy with history. Round a corner, and there would be a white plaque on the side of some building describing Schubert's birth here, Freud's office there.
American cities shrug at their brief histories. There are few signs of pride in past tenants or events, notwithstanding the kitschy Disneyland atmosphere of places like "Colonial Williamsburg." It is as if the places are saying no, we're not so old, but who cares? Look how far we have come. Look what we've got now.
Like so many European cities, Vienna has an old heart and is arrogantly proud of its long, confused life. Its art school rejected the candidacy of young Adolf Hitler. Yet some years later, the Viennese greeted him with delighted fervor in one of their most revered places, Heldenplatz (Heroes Square), a few days after he had invaded their country. In the first years of his life, Mozart blossomed fully in Vienna into the exquisite short-lived orchid he was. Then, only a couple of decades later, he died there and was dumped into a paupers' grave somewhere outside the city walls. They're still not sure where.
Because so many old people live there, the city's personality is a reflection of theirs: careful, suspicious, orderly, conservative. It is a town where you needn't be afraid, where taking a walk is still a great visual pleasure, where real cream is used in the cafés.
Victoria and I had never been to Europe together, so being in Vienna in those first days of our marriage was one long adrenaline rush to wonder.
Nicholas Sylvian was the director of the film, and our friendship began quickly when we discovered how similar our tastes were.
When shooting for the day was over, we often went together to the Café Zartl where we talked about rock and roll, how both of us had at one time wanted to be painters, and only as an end-of-the-evening subject, how to make our movie better than it was.
The producers had taken a chance on Nicholas because he was still relatively young and, until then, had never made a "big" film. But his lovely documentary about old Russians living in Vienna, Opa Suppe (Grandfather Soup), had won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and caused a lot of talk...
Copyright © 1989 by Jonathan Carroll
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