A tangle of gold, p.5
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       A Tangle of Gold, p.5

           Jaclyn Moriarty

  In the room itself was a fireplace, a violin on a stand, a man with dark orange hair. The man took no notice of her. He was lighting a candle at the fire. Now he straightened, placed the lit candle in his left hand and reached, with his right, to unhook a mirror from the wall.

  The last thing Madeleine saw before all this disappeared was that somebody else—a girl—was hiding in the shadows of a corner.

  Then she was home again. Her nose had stopped bleeding.

  Her mother was already up, working at the sewing machine.

  ‘It happened again,’ she told her mother. ‘Like when we were at the station and everything disappeared and I saw a marketplace? Well, I just saw a room with a fireplace, and a man with a violin, and a hidden girl.’

  ‘Uh huh,’ said Holly. ‘Crazy. Maybe it was a dream this time?’

  ‘There was a frozen canal outside the window.’

  ‘Venice,’ said Holly.

  The canal, the gondola, the balustrades.

  ‘Exactly,’ Madeleine said. ‘Venice. But I don’t think it was a dream.’

  She got up and sat at the computer. She opened Google and typed, ‘Why am I hallucinating about Venice?’

  Google paused at that, and then offered songs about angels in Venice, a blog on the reality of Venice (compare and contrast the effect of hallucinogens, said the blog), and information about classes of cruise tickets to Venice.

  ‘Sometimes,’ she said, ‘the internet is not all it’s cracked up to be.’

  Her mother murmured agreement. The sewing machine buzzed.

  Madeleine tapped her fingertips together. She thought of the frozen canal.

  ‘Very cold winter in Venice,’ she typed, and Google was prompt to offer travel sites on the best times of the year to visit.

  She thought about the room she had seen. The fireplace and candle, the ornate furniture, rich and solid, both polished and rough, the elaborate clothing worn by the red-headed man and the hidden girl.

  ‘Historical very cold winter in Venice,’ she amended.

  The third result was a Wikipedia entry titled ‘Great Frost of 1709’.

  She clicked on this. In 1709, she read, Europe saw the coldest winter in 500 years. There was famine in France. A girl wrapped in furs by a roaring fire shivered so much she could hardly hold her pen. In Venice, there were dukes with red and dripping noses, frozen canals where people slipped and slid on the ice.

  Okay, Madeleine decided, I have had a vision of Venice in the Great Frost of 1709. This seemed clear to her and made her mildly proud.

  ‘So who was the man in the vision?’ she almost typed, but stopped herself.

  She tapped the keys lightly for a while, not making any impression, then she tried, ‘Do Italians have red hair?’, and scrolled through the results, not concentrating, lost in absent-minded thought, until something caught her.

  Composer, red priest, 18th century.

  It was an article about a red-headed violinist who lived in Venice in the early 1700s.

  Antonio Vivaldi.

  She was suddenly strangely frightened. Her mother was singing softly. She searched for images of Vivaldi.

  And there he was. The man she’d just seen. In the pictures, he wore a long, curling white wig, and he had a self-satisfied expression, but that was his delicate, girlish face, the gentle play of his lips.

  She sat back and stared. Seriously, she thought, why would I be hallucinating about Vivaldi?

  She knew nothing about him! She cared nothing about him!

  Well, the only thing she knew was that he’d composed that ‘Four Seasons’ tune they played in shopping centres all the time, and at ice-skating rinks. But she couldn’t even remember how that went! She read a few short biographies of him and found out he’d taught violin in a sort of musical orphanage called the Ospedale della Pieta for years. Mothers used to place unwanted baby girls in the ‘scaffetta’ of this orphanage: a revolving drawer set in the stone wall. They would ring the bell and run, and the assistant prioress would gather up the baby from the opening. If a baby grew up with musical skills, she’d be raised as a musician, and Vivaldi might teach her.


  Maybe the girl she’d seen in the shadows was one of these orphans? A young musician taking violin lessons from Vivaldi?

  Madeleine decided she should find a YouTube clip of someone playing the ‘Four Seasons’, but she sat back in the chair and did nothing. She should get dressed. She should have breakfast.

  She thought of the seasons in Cello, how they roamed around the Kingdom, sometimes lingering, and then she became aware that her mother had stopped sewing and was moving about the room, behaving oddly.

  In fact, she was behaving like a series of seasons passing at high speed. She was rustling like dry autumn leaves, blowing sighs like winter winds, making thin high-pitched bleating noises like little spring lambs.

  Holly was circling the ironing board. Some item of clothing—

  a dress or skirt—was draped over her arm. As Madeleine watched, Holly unplugged the iron at the wall, plugged it in again, then lunged towards the ironing board.

  ‘What’s going on?’

  Holly was frowning closely at the iron. Next she glanced at the front door.

  ‘The iron’s broken,’ Holly said.

  ‘Huh.’ Madeleine couldn’t think of anything more interesting to say.

  ‘I need the iron.’


  ‘I cannot finish a piece of work without ironing it.’

  ‘Really?’ Now she was interested. ‘I mean, I always see you ironing after you finish sewing but I didn’t think it was, like, compulsory.’

  ‘It is. It’s a thing of mine. I’ve tried everything. I’ve switched it on and off at least five times. I’ve shaken it. I’ve slapped it. Turned it upside down. Everything.’ As Holly talked her eyes kept flying to the front door and then back to the iron.

  Madeleine followed her mother’s eyes. Holly seemed angry with the door. It seemed it might somehow be culpable here. Maybe in the night the door had climbed off its hinges, trundled over to the ironing board, and broken the iron?

  Then she understood.

  ‘You want Abel to fix it for you,’ she told Holly. ‘You want to run downstairs and ask for Abel’s help, but he’s not there.’

  Her mother flung the dress across the room. She raised the iron high, as if she might hurl that too. She stopped herself.

  ‘I need to iron!’ she half-shouted. ‘I don’t care that it might be pathological or obsessive or whatever. I don’t have many needs. Look at where we live! But I need to iron.’

  Madeleine waited.

  Her mother replaced the iron on the board.

  ‘Denny could have fixed it,’ Holly said more calmly. ‘He knew about electronics.’

  Madeleine nodded. Of course he knew about electronics. Back in the Kingdom of Cello he was named Abel and he owned an electronics repair shop.

  ‘You know, he never gave me his email address?’ Holly shook the iron lightly. ‘I didn’t even think of asking him. I just assumed he’d email me when he got home. He knew my email address. He set it up for me.’

  What if Madeleine told her mother about the Kingdom of Cello?

  Ah, pointless.

  ‘I miss him too,’ she said instead.

  Her mother was still glaring, and abruptly Madeleine understood.

  It wasn’t just that her mother missed the guy who could fix irons. She missed him for himself. She’d loved him. She’d let go of Madeleine’s father; she’d even tried online dating, Madeleine knew. But all the time there’d been the man downstairs. He’d been there from the start, rolling his newspaper as he explained in that café that there was a place for them, right upstairs from him.

  Meanwhile, he’d had a wife, a life, a son, a business, far far away, back home.

  So Holly was on her own now, with no place left to fall.


  Ahoy there Madeleine,

  It i
s I, Captain Princess Jupiter! Hoisting the sails upward! Or whichever direction it is the sails are supposed to go in.

  They must go up. Where else’d they go. (I wrote ‘hoisting the SALES’ first. Then I was like: that looks wrong.)

  Thanks for telling me about how much you miss Elliot. I didn’t realise that was the situation, and now I feel like I understand you better. And you had Elliot right there for a couple of weeks, in person? And now he’s gone? That’s like the universe messing with your mind. That’s cold, man. No wonder you feel like walking through glass. (Don’t do that, by the way. Don’t hurt yourself. You think it’ll make you feel better but it just makes you bleed. And it sends signals to the universe that you’re someone who deserves to be hurt, which I don’t think that you are.)

  Also, thanks for taking an interest in making me back into a princess. Cos I really want that: I’m sorta done with this life. It’s, like, when I first found myself in Berlin, I was like, huh? But then I just went with it, and I was happy cos I’m into wurst. I love the noble sausage. But now, I’m so over this life here.

  It’s not like I was one of those little kids who play princess or wish they had a pink tiara, I threw rocks at those kids. One of my foster mothers got me a fairy dress once and I used it to line the hamster cage. And it’s not like I even want to be pretty. I just want to have a hot bath without some douche pounding on the door, or busting in cos the lock’s dodgy, and without having to wash muddy footprints off the bottom of the tub, and the line of grime around the edge, and the hair that’s clogging up the drains, before I even get in.

  And I’ve got an ear infection now cos this dude started kissing me right after I’d put my head under the tap to make the bad feeling go away, and I had water in my ear, which I wanted to shake out, or dry, but he’s kissing me in this romantic way where he makes your head tip over sideways, so the water was running down, right into the ear, and it wouldn’t’ve been polite to stop him in that moment.

  I really liked that dude. His name was Ulrich, and he walked in this crazy way like he’d just got off a horse. His legs wide apart, I mean. I was never sure if that was a condition he suffered from, or if he was being funny. He had little rabbit teeth too, which a lot of people can’t carry off, but he did, his face made me happy. He’s stopped coming by now tho, and I never got his number so there goes Ulrich.

  Also, every time I start to think I’ve got German zorted, people come in the bar and start talking zuper fast at me, or in a different dialect or regional accent or whatever, and I’m done for. And I’m zorta sick of wurst.




  Dear Princess Jupiter,

  Okay, I think we have to get you out of there and back to your Kingdom. It doesn’t sound like you’re having fun, and it’s stupid, I mean there are enough poor people around without you having to be one, when you’ve got perfectly good palaces just across the way.

  But I don’t know how.

  I keep thinking about the idea of people changing themselves. Like you. You’ve transformed yourself into a girl called Ariel Peters. You’ve given yourself a new past, which is sort of based on your true past. Like, you talk about a foster mother giving you a fairy dress? That was probably a nanny trying to get you to dress up for a Royal ball.

  But this transformation, it’s not real. You’ve shuffled yourself around, or taken a step sideways. And it’s wrong. Maybe it’s even why you’re doing so many drugs and stuff?

  I don’t know if I’m truly myself or not. I know I’ve changed a lot since I got here—I’m much quieter, and I read and think all the time, and I’m obsessed with Isaac Newton. Whereas before I was always running, moving, dancing. So which one am I? The one from before or now? I keep staring at myself in mirrors and windows, thinking, is that me?

  You are so right about the universe messing with me, by giving me Elliot and then taking him away.

  He wasn’t himself though, not really. Not compared to how he was when we wrote to each other, or when we held each other in the space between. He was remote and once I saw this rush of trouble cross his features.

  You know, I look at the parking meter every single day, hoping Elliot might write to me? I know he was going into hiding for a while (with Hostiles!!!) but I think that must have been sorted out by now and he’d be back home. So I just keep looking, and hoping. Even though I know it would put his life in danger to write.

  When I was saying goodbye to Elliot at the train station, I had this fantasy beforehand, that he’d look me in the eye and realise he liked me or whatever, and kiss me goodbye, but what actually happened was I had a bleeding nose—I keep getting a bleeding nose all the time—so there’s blood all over my face and I’m mad at him for leaving and he’s frowning, like: what is WRONG with that girl?

  M xx


  Hey Madz,

  Nah, he was frowning cos he was worried about you but he had to catch the train so there was nothing he could do to help. Imagine if he’d been laughing, like, ‘Baby, you’re bleeding & I’m jumping aboard the see-ya-later train!’ or imagine if he’d been going in for the kiss when you’re trying to deal with your situation? Those two things would mean he’s an insensitive arse. He was frowning cos he’s nice. He sounds hot.

  I bet you hear from him soon.

  Your friend,

  the Amnesiacal, Maniacal Princess

  PS I’m so tired today. Tell me more about my Kingdom?



  That’s a nice thing to say, what you said about Elliot. Thanks.

  Okay, here are some things Elliot told me about Cello:

  They play a game called deftball, where they kind of jump over furrows in the ground. There’s something called a Cat Walk in the province of Nature Strip, where cats of all kinds—lions, panthers, tabby cats—promenade at dusk. There are living Colours that fly through the Kingdom like weather patterns, forming mist or rain or darts or thunderclouds, and they can tear you apart or blind you, or make you sleep, or help you brew tea, or find the things that are lost.

  It sounds like an amazing kingdom, but I don’t think I’m ever going to hear from Elliot again. I think the Kingdom’s door is shut and locked, and I’m so, so sorry that you got left behind.

  Look after yourself,




  Madeleine, Belle and Jack were at Auntie’s Tea Shop.

  ‘Your nose is bleeding again,’ Jack said.

  ‘Get any blood on the scones,’ Belle said, ‘and I’ll give you a shiner to match. Tip your head back.’

  ‘No. Tip it forward.’

  Everything tipped and was gone.

  She was in a room with sloping ceilings. Two small boys were crouched on the floor. They leaned towards each other, studying a patch of sunlight on the floor. Smudged black drawings covered the walls: she glimpsed a bird, a ship, a circle.

  And then she was back. Her nose had stopped bleeding.

  Belle was licking strawberry jam from a knife. Jack was examining the cream. Neither of them had noticed anything.

  ‘I just had another hallucination,’ Madeleine told them.

  ‘You what?’ Belle demanded. ‘How’d you do that?’

  ‘Well, remember I had that weird sort of vision on the station when we said goodbye to Elliot? The other day I had another one, and it just happened again right now.’

  She told them about Vivaldi and the musical orphanage. Then she told them she’d just seen two boys in a sort of attic room.

  ‘And pictures of a bird, a ship and a circle on the wall,’ she added.

  A bird, a ship, a circle. That series of words was familiar.

  A bird, a ship, a circle.

  The words turned their own circle, and started again.

  A bird, a ship, a circle.

  The tablecloth was lace. She ran her palm across the patterns, caught her fingers in the holes.

  A bird, a ship, a—
  She knew where she’d seen those words before.

  In a description of Isaac Newton’s bedroom. When he was twelve, Isaac had gone away to school and he’d boarded in the garret room of an apothecary. On his sloping walls, he’d drawn charcoal pictures: beasts, men, plants, triangles, mathematical figures, a bird, a ship, a circle.

  ‘I think one of the boys was Isaac Newton,’ she said.

  The others chewed thoughtfully.

  ‘Do you know about the hypnagogic state?’ Belle said after a moment. ‘It’s this in-between point where you’re sort of awake and sort of asleep at the same time. You go into a trance and journey deep inside yourself—like travelling to another world—and, if you’re lucky, you feel yourself being torn apart, broken into pieces, which is unbelievable agony. Then you put yourself together again and you’re enlightened.’

  ‘Do you think that’s what’s been happening to me?’ Madeleine asked. ‘I’ve been going into an in-between trance?’

  ‘Nah. I think you were dreaming.’

  ‘But I wasn’t asleep. I was sitting here eating a scone.’

  ‘You mean she keeps falling asleep for microseconds?’ Jack mused, getting interested. ‘Like narcolepsy?’

  Belle slammed her knife onto the table.

  ‘What?’ said Jack. ‘What’d I say?’

  All three were looking at the knife. The jam on it had smeared the white of the cloth.

  Belle turned to Madeleine. ‘It hardly ever happens, that hypnagogic state. I’ve only seen that sort of enlightenment in an aura once. Guy was a parking inspector. Think about that.’

  There was another long quiet.

  Abruptly, Jack pushed his chair back. He dropped a few coins on the table and walked out of the café.

  Belle watched him go, then reached across to his leftover scone.

  ‘What’s going on with you two?’ Madeleine asked.

  Belle let the scone fall. She looked at the window. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ she said, twirling her hand vaguely, and then she also stood and walked from the café. The door thudded closed behind her.

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