GILBERTINE & THE EXCHANGE (Volume One) — Prologue, Los Angeles, 26 June 1976

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I smelled it again this morning: rose and violet – in my nose, in my mouth, on my skin, almost running through me.

I can’t shake it – it’s extremely intense and very much still with me even now, over an hour later. I know perfectly well nobody can smell it but me, but it seems to be filling the whole bloody yard.

I came outside this morning, at the start of the dawn chorus, following the “mosaic path” – our own pied patchwork walkway of brick and tile — back from the front gate as it spiraled in toward the “Wishing Tree” like a quilted version of the Yellow Brick Road at its ending – or beginning – in the heart of Munchkin land.

The path is of my design, but the Wishing Tree itself I inherited from the prior owner, having made a solemn verbal promise never to destroy or remove the thing – a promise she then built into the declaration of CC&Rs just to make sure I didn’t. The tree is over 40 feet high, and to the casual eye, it no doubt appears to be dead – the limbs are perpetually bare, and I haven’t seen a leaf on it in the six years I’ve lived here.

But one can almost feel it vibrating when standing next to it. Every so often, for 16 or 32 bars, one can hear a choir – four parts for each vocal section, 64 parts in all – singing in polyphonic harmony.

Then, the music is gone again.

The tree is painted all the colors on a color wheel, plus a few it seems to have produced on the spot. The top is cloaked in plastic ivy leaves, the kind you sometimes see in restaurants, which apparently serve as a kind of canopy. Four chandeliers of cut glass hang immediately below. Beneath them, the tree is festooned with mobiles, marionettes, and mirrors; beads – hundreds of beads in a variety of sizes made of wood, plastic, glass, clay and metal; balls – mirror balls, crystal balls, a couple of “Magic 8 balls.”  clear colored glass balls; and, wind chimes — a score at least — mostly of glass or metal, but also of wood, as well as almost a dozen  wind whistles.

Sometimes, it seemed like some of it was meant to function as harmony for the voices, or at least a visual foil – at others, they seemed to function independent of one another, any interaction random and coincidental at best. But it would take a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism not to think that, when conditions lined up sufficiently, the tree really could grant a wish or two.

I’m 24 years old, and I’ve seen more magic – real magic – than most people will see in a whole lifetime. But, I didn’t expect any wishes to be granted this morning, sitting on the faux antique bench standing — brightly painted and with garish outdoor cushions at the end of the spiral — cushions whose conventional design changed, as if by magic — maybe — just before we installed them outside.

Right now, I simply found it an uplifting place to be. Over the last few days I’ve shed a fair amount of the darkness within, even if I’m still dragging my heart behind me.

But, the new light within me is a fragile thing, and today is the twelfth anniversary of “the incident” that saved my life and scrambled my mind at the same time.  I hoped the tree and the dawn chorus might help sustain the new light within me.

I’d brought Gramfer’s guitar with me, but with little expectation of actually playing and singing – it was the birds’ time, why spoil things for them.? I struck a single E9 chord – the one I used to think began “A Hard Day’s Night” nothing more – then left it to the birds to do as they would. It seemed to echo strangely about the yard, before fading off into the ether 30 seconds later. Then, another 30 seconds after that, I’d become inundated with rose and violet.

“Gilbertine?” I called out, expecting no more than the laughter of a young woman – Gilbertine as she’d been when I’d last seen her.

Instead, I heard the giggle of a child – Gilbertine as she’d been at 12 years ago in 1964 – as she’d been when we’d first met, both of us no more than 12 years old ourselves.

Perhaps I needed that, just as I’d needed it to dispel the darkness. Perhaps I too needed to return, not to the innocent I’d been at eight, as with the darkness, but as the more open, surrendered and trusting person I’d been at twelve. I closed my eyes and said a short prayer to St. Cecilia that I still had it within me to drift back to see my recently fled significant other, along with my ex-wife – OK, technically not my wife at all, but only on a legal trifle, and I continued to see her as my former wife – my many long-term American friends, and, of course Gilbertine herself.

If I could touch that time, and the person I was at that time, I could take the next step toward making things right again, and toward bringing Gilbertine back to me. And then – please, oh please St. Cecilia – things could be right with the world once more.

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