by Grace Andreacchi
The Queen of Spain

I am the melancholy Queen of Spain.  For years I have refused to leave my room, a blue room, spacious, handsome, more than comfortable, what reason have I ever to leave this, my own room in the palace?  I have everything I need here, I have silk sheets embroidered by the Sisters of the Holy Shroud, I have thick carpets, fur rugs, a good fire in winter, chandeliers of the best blue Murano glass, I have a view of the palace gardens if I care to draw the heavy blue velvet draperies and look outside, which I do not.  Why should I look outside?  Everything I need is right here in this room...  The Queen is ill, they say.  The Queen is mad, she will not leave her room.  But I am not ill, I am perfectly well.  Mad?  Perhaps...  I have nothing to love.  For years I have been locked up inside this room, for years perhaps for centuries, I have sat alone hour after hour before the mirror and watched her.  There, in the mirror framed in gold.  She watches me, and I watch her, we have a vigil to keep, often the long night through.  By day she sleeps, as do I.  At first she was young and beautiful, she had however strange eyes, rather too large.  Through the long nights she has changed, yet remained the same.  She is no longer young.  She is not yet old, she will perhaps never be old.  She is ever beautiful.  She has dove's eyes, she has remarkably gentle eyes, but they are rather too large, brimming over with pain or is it fear?  Her ears are small and fine, the most sensitive parts of a highly sensitive mechanism.  The Queen is indeed a highly sensitive mechanism - with her fingertips she can feel the coming spring in a single leaf, with the soles of her feet she can feel an earthquake in China, with the tip of her tongue she can taste the blood of an insect that once lit upon the grapes in a glass of blood-dark wine.  But with her ears!  Take a good look - up close, it's worth the trouble, I promise you.  Look closely now at the ears of the beautiful mad Queen of Spain.  When she dies surely they ought to be kept as curiosities?  Surely they ought to rest on a bed of black velvet inside a wrought gold reliquary behind a little window of frozen glass to astound the sceptical eyes of posterity?  They are small and round and white, elegantly furled with a slight point up at the corners fox-like, and very small lobes that struggle under the burden of the Queen's jewels.  Unburdened, they reveal tiny holes that the jewels may be inserted or withdrawn.
        The Queen had not spoken for many years, she had not left her room in the palace for many years, when Signor Farinelli arrived at court, brought at fabulous expense from the theatres of London and Venice to take part in a desperate experiment.  A concert was held in a room adjoining the Queen's apartment; the singer performed one of his most enchanting arias, 'Pallido Il Sole' by the German composer, Hasse.  The handle of the door to the royal apartment was seen to turn, slowly turn - the door stood ajar, at first just a crack, then wider, wider, until at last it stood quite open and the Queen was plainly to be seen, a thin figure dressed in blue with a lace veil covering her face.  When the singer had finished his aria the Queen slowly put back the veil from her face and approached him.  She took him in her arms and kissed him on both cheeks.
        Now I will tell you something truly remarkable about this Signor Farinelli, something that nobody knows but I.  He has Julio's eyes.  Dove's eyes, gentle, rather too large, brimming over with a terrible and mysterious pain or is it perhaps fear?  Somehow or other the dreams from my head had made their way into Julio's head, or the other way around, I cannot tell which, but this much is certainly true:  That Julio in lace cuffs and a white silk coat, in a white wig that only accentuated the pallor of his fine-boned face, that fragile case of perishable loveliness that I love!  That Julio at the very time I dreamt this dream, in a white wig a white face a white silk coat was singing 'Pallido Il Sole' to the melancholy Queen of Spain.
        The Queen took the singer in her arms and kissed him, she asked what she might do to reward him, she assured him that she would refuse him nothing.  And all my treasures at thy feet I'll lay!  Because you touched my face once with your hand, because you touched, because you touched, gentle as a mother, my royal melancholy bruised-and-battered secret infant face.

Corridas comicas.  Do you find this sort of thing amusing?  The little crooked legs in pink stockings, the heavy head struggling for balance atop a tiny body, the shock of a withered face where one thinks to see a child, the tiny feet the ring of gold in ear or nostril the grimace of pain or is it fear?  The tiny toreador outfitted in pink and gold miniature finery the arms too short to reach behind the surprising head and some of them are handsome!  Would have been men to follow with slow eyes if they had grown.  The baby steer bellowing in pain or is it fear?  The sweat the dust the blood the stink the cruel laughter the wine and morphine and sausage, the piles of excrement the dances and comic songs, the broken bones, the dreams of love under a woman's skirt, the huge sad eyes that cloud over in pain or is it fear?  The screams in the night of pain or is it fear?

Some of them can't even wipe their own asses, their arms are so short.

Some of them long for women, some of them long for death.
Some of them are even handsome, would have been fine men, had they only grown!
Do you find this sort of thing amusing?

The Queen too must have her dwarf.  To remind her of human frailty.  She keeps it in a  box under the bed, it is very quiet, most of the time it sleeps.  When the Queen is lonely she sometimes opens the box, she sometimes takes it out and dresses it in tiny garments.  Now you are a toreador, now you are a nun, now you are the Pope in Rome...  Do you find this sort of thing amusing?  Neither does the Queen, she is not smiling as she dresses and undresses her living doll, as she helps the tiny crooked limbs into and out of pink stockings.  The Queen never smiles, neither does she laugh - she is melancholy indeed.  It runs in the royal family.  When she is unbearably lonely she sometimes opens the box, she sometimes holds the little one on her lap and sings to it very low - I have heard this from the guards who keep watch day and night outside the Queen's apartment that she sometimes sings to it in the night in a voice low and sweet.  She holds the little one on her lap, she caresses the tiny crooked limbs, she waters the infant finery with her tears.  Then she puts it back in the box, the box back under the bed.  It sleeps peacefully.  But sometimes in the still of the night she can hear it breathing and this sound is disturbing to the Queen's rest, for it reminds her of human frailty.
        Well.  There was something I wanted to say about Julio.  That he has dove's eyes.  O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs!  I said those words once, to Julio.  O my dove!  Julio did not say anything at all.  Julio's eyes are grey as the wings of a dove, they are pale and shimmering as the dawn sky over Berlin.  So betimes when I have sat the night through in my chair, when I have sat listening to the snow or the rain, to the soft low music of my dreams, to the screams of pain or is it fear, to the quiet breathing in the box under the bed that reminds me of human frailty when I have sat too long before the mirror in the golden frame or well away from it and then the slow clear light of dawn, pale and shining, looking at me out of Julio's eyes.


(Excerpt from Poetry and Fear by Grace Andreacchi)