The Wonder Singer

The Wonder Singer

by George Rabasa

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781932961690
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Publication date: 09/03/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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THE WONDER SINGER



By GEORGE RABASA
UNBRIDLED BOOKS
Copyright © 2008

George Rabasa
All right reserved.



ISBN: 978-1-932961-56-0



Chapter One OH, THE SECRETS SHE TOOK WITH HER.

There are moments when the order of life collapses in midbreath, when a missed heartbeat brings on an earthquake. At such a moment, this story takes an unexpected turn.

Perla, the day nurse, calls out from the Señoras bath, "Oye, Lockwood!" Her shout, cracking with anxiety, cuts through the morning stillness.

Mark Lockwood sets down a mug hard on the kitchen counter, wincing as hot coffee splashes the back of his hand.

"Lockwood!"

He hurries across the living room to Señora Casals' bedroom. Perla stands at the bathroom door, her easy familiarity with him turning grave, as if at the click of a switch.

A moment later the nurse and the writer are staring down into the sunken marble tub where Mercè Casals, the legendary soprano, floats motionless. She is a sight, so fleshy and pale, blubberous and opalescent, buoyant in her fragrant bath, green eyes open and staring up out of the water as if at a precise point on the ceiling. A question seizes Lockwood's mind: What did she think the moment before dying that would cause her to open her eyes in wonder and turn the corners of her mouth in what is distinctly, even as her features are settling into death, a smile?

He reaches reflexively for the notebook tucked into the hip pocket of his khakis. For months he has been writing down the insights and telling details that will help his task as ghostwriter of the Señora's autobiography. "She loved a long bath. It was the perfect way to start her day." He scribbles down the thought as he speaks.

In the dim light, in the steamy warm air, in the scent of the orchids and the ferns and the snaking tendrils of ivy and clematis and jasmine, Lockwood hears himself think: My diva is dead.

Perla was usually in the bathroom only long enough to help the Señora out of the water and into a plush robe. Now, past any options that would have resolved a medical crisis, she sits on a brass chair, ready in her crisp white uniform to take on her professional role. "I always envied the Señora's bathing in such a lovely space. And now, an appropriately sensuous end to her life."

Lockwood gazes down at the tub where Mercè Casals lies undisturbed. Her thin dyed-red hair, undulating in the slight motion of the water, is a halo around her head. "Somehow it's not as bad a sight as I imagined."

Perla looks at him curiously. "You've never seen a dead body before. A muertito?"

"How can you tell?"

"Everybody has the same impression. 'My, she looks peaceful, like she's sleeping.'"

Lockwood agrees. "Serene, I would say."

"I've seen maybe a hundred dead people," Perla says. "I've seen them when they're going, I've seen them when they've gone, and I've seen them when they're just a collection of parts. But this is the first time I've seen the Señora naked. She wouldn't have liked that, the two of us gawking."

"You're her nurse. It's a professional thing."

"You're her writer. Is that professional?"

"It won't be easy to find another famous lady in need of an autobiography." He sighs unhappily. "What now?"

"We look for work."

"No, I mean after someone dies, and they're found, what happens next?"

"I call her doctor. There's paperwork. Approximate time of death. Probably between seven and eight. Tuesday, October 14, 1999. Too bad. She had been looking forward to celebrating the turn of the millennium. It meant a lot to her to live to the year 2000."

"She had a sense of her place in history."

"You will go on with the book, right?"

Lockwood shrugs. "I'll call her agent," he says. "He's also my agent. Kill two birds."

"Dumb choice of words, for a writer."

Lockwood tries not to stare at the submerged body. "She wouldn't want us to send her away yet. I feel her spirit needs the company."

"She died in her favorite room."

The bathroom is a jeweled grotto, with only a faint glow from lights recessed into the ceiling, so that the tiles gleam like gems and reflect each other in mirrors and polished gold fixtures and black marble bases under the basin and the tub, where air jets and a spigot sculpted into a brass dolphin are aimed to whirl and spray and burble on all the right places from aching vertebrae to the elusive hot button. Sconces on brass pedestals burn sage and myrrh. To drive away devils. To attract male angels with golden curls, pearly teeth, fleshy earlobes, small penises. From hidden speakers would come the voice of Mercè Casals as Floria Tosca, as Norma, as Violetta, always the Señora listening to herself. The remembered songs took her breath away and made her heart pound.

Lockwood can hear her still: Ah! she might have exclaimed to herself. How I held that B-flat in "Vissi d'arte." It was as if God was breathing through me and the note would resound for all eternity.

Did I die of natural causes? Lockwood thinks she might ask at the end of her memoir. He asks Perla.

"Whatever makes you die is a natural cause," Perla says briskly.

He dips his fingers into the still tepid water and brushes a stray wisp from the Señora's forehead. "I think she died of her years weighing heavily, each like a stone upon her chest, as she tried to feel a little lighter by floating in her tub."

"Nobody dies of things like that." Perla is suddenly authoritative. "Too much bacon fat clogging the veins and causing a heart stoppage. As natural as death by Nembutal of Absolut or China White."

Lockwood shrugs; hard science is not about to cancel imagination. "Oh, the secrets she took with her. Just look at her expression."

Perla glances toward the Señora's face. "Cardiac arrests often bring on what looks like a smile. But it isn't one, not really."

He loves it that she can turn, in a heartbeat, from playfully seductive to coolly rational.

After nearly one hundred visits, past countless confidences and evasions, Lockwood had not wanted to go to the Señora's condominium the morning she died. Vague apprehension had tightened into a knot. Locked into the thick of traffic, with little choice but to continue grinding down I-5 toward La Jolla, he listened to her legendary "Sempre libera" of thirty years ago, turning the volume high-above road whir, traffic hum, engine whine, wind flap. Louder. The melody uncoiled dangerously, the consummate soprano slicing through the tape hiss in his cheap player, buzzing the speakers and sending a vibration all the way up his chest to the metallic frames of his sunglasses. Brushing anxiety aside, he drove on; a day without Mercè Casals' meandering talk would be like the silent yawn of an empty house.

Still, diminishing returns had set in; week by week, their ongoing conversation added up to less and less. Lockwood could handle being the Señora's hired scribbler, "Marcos Loco": also tapeworm, father confessor, unpaid shrink, reliable yes-man, royal hack, and bad-dream exterminator. She was, after all, a client; he'd had worse, and none of them famous.

At forty, Mark Lockwood felt on the verge of his first big book. Only modestly successful in his home-based business-Mark My Words, Inc., freelance writing of just about anything-he'd been promised a big share of the advance and a cut of the book-club deal, foreign rights, perhaps a miniseries. With his anticipated success, he had also become prone to moments of unexpected anxiety. Along with the disturbing evidence of his braking metabolism-softening flesh, thinning hair, dying brain cells-had come a heightened awareness that his recent good fortune could unravel in an eyeblink.

He already had on tape five hundred hours of reminiscences, confessions, gossip, and the occasional rant; they were bound up in a Gordian tangle. "You can busy yourself with the unraveling after I'm done speaking into your little box," the Señora had promised. "But first the story has to come out. In whatever way it chooses. Ask and listen. Leave the arias to me." He had gone along with her. There would be time to follow the thread that wound through the singer's triumphs and disasters, her loves and betrayals.

Lockwood wedged his tennis shoe of a car into a tight slot inside a garage studded with Benzes, Range Rovers, and Jaguars in Vortex Black, Eternity Blue, Gunmetal Gray. He reached into the backseat for his cassette recorder, blank tapes, extra Uniball pens, notepad with curling pages, and a brown paper bag containing two mangoes that had been ripening for three days, their scent now jammy and promisingly sweet. He felt a rush of anticipation because he was bringing them to Perla as a special gift.

By the time he reached Shore Tower, he was resigned to whatever approaching turmoil his stomach was signaling. He tucked the tails of his white shirt into his khakis, slipped the tie knot to the collar, and checked his hair in the lobby mirror; the Señora was critical of his appearance. Preston, jovial behind the concierge desk, let him into the lobby.

"A glorious day," Preston offered, because it was not in his nature to be less than radiantly optimistic. "Will be nice and bright once the fog lifts."

They chatted about the traffic on I-5; Preston wanted a full report so he could relay the information to Tower residents venturing out to San Diego or LA, out for an early start on hair and nails, Neiman's or Saks, and always the doctors, legions of them, the cardio man, the knee jerk, the chemo gal, the diet director.

The guard's affable reception lifted Lockwood's spirits. The elevator carried him up to floor twenty-eight, where he expected to sit one more day, listening to Mercè Casals, his thumb poised over the pause button of a cassette recorder, a $29 antique from Radio Shack that produces tapes to play in his car and office boom box,

Perla, here since seven, greeted him at the door. "Señora is still in her bath," she said. "I'll check on her soon." The Señora was usually dressed by the time Lockwood arrived.

He hovered in the kitchen and drank the coffee Perla offered him. He persuaded himself that every one of her gestures of goodwill was evidence of some erotic current flowing between them. He found her exotic: a big-city girl from the DF, the Mexican capital. After considering the variations on olive and cinnamon used to describe Latino skin, he decided hers was nutmeg. Lustrous black hair, cut short and combed into a boyish part, gave her a bold, somewhat dismissive look. Her brisk Spanish accent was by turns amusing and provocative.

This morning he tried to please Perla with a mango. He took it out of the wrinkled brown bag and held out to her the plump yellow fruit.

She showed him how Mexicans eat them, stabbing a fork through the mango's rump to the seed, then peeling down strips with a paring knife to reveal the golden pulp awaiting the first bite of her perfect teeth.

"I'm having a hard time keeping this under control." She laughed, the back of her hand wiping the juice that tan from her mouth.

"Few acts are as sensual as a woman biting into a mango," he observed.

"You're pushing your luck, Lockwood."

"I've made an impression on you at last."

"Not necessarily a good one."

"Perla, what a heartbreaker you are."

"Tontito. You don't think adolescent behavior comes with risks?"

He sighed unhappily. "It's nice of you to worry."

"I'm a nurse."

"Do you have any professional advice?"

"Yes. Back off a little."

"You're not telling me to go away, though."

Perla only shrugged.

"It could lead to something interesting?"

"Don't count on it, Lockwood."

He liked Perla to call him Lockwood. He found the mixture of familiarity and distance wonderfully unsettling. Sometimes she called him "Mark-in-Time Lockwood." Or "Top-of-the-Mark" when she wanted to flatter him. It beat being called Marcos Loco, as Mercè Casals had done when she'd first met him.

"Señora is taking a long time with her bath." Perla nodded toward the closed door beyond the living room.

"Let her," he said, clinging to her presence. This moment alone was a gift, possibly planned by the Señora, prolonging her bath so her scribbler and her nurse could be alone. She was like that in her sense of fun, her meddling. "Will you know when she's ready to come out?"

"She'll ring her bell, and I'll hold up a big towel in front of my eyes." She added seriously, "I'd better check on her." Disappointed, Lockwood watched her march toward the bedroom. Even as medical fashion tended to pastels, the Señora liked Perla in white because it was the professional color for a nurse. Lockwood was both attracted and frustrated by her crinkly whites, the panels of starched fabric boxing and masking the roundness of womanly shapes, boat-like shoes and opaque hosiery inhibiting his imagination.

When the job of day nurse to Señora Mercè Casals had been posted, Perla had called immediately. Señora Casals explained the position. "I want you to wear a uniform at all times. No, I'm not sick, and beyond handing me my pills at the appointed times and informing my personal physician, Dr. Velasco, when my blood pressure reads high, you will hardly need to do anything medical at all. But wearing your nurse's uniform will keep our relationship serious. It's too easy for two women spending day after day together to become too chummy. I need you to remain a professional. We will become friends, of course. I like you already."

"Gracias, Señora."

"But it's even more important that you like me." The Señora had sighed, as if she were already despairing of the young applicant's rising to such a challenge. "I will be able to tell, you know, no matter how cheerful and efficient you are. If you are covering up negative emotions, your hands will give you away. I will ask you to rub my neck when I feel a headache coming, massage my feet when they swell, spread lotion on my back when my skin is thirsty. I cannot bear to be touched by someone who holds back. It's a special, rare gift to be able to touch another person and let her feel the goodness of your heart by the weight of your hands and the movement of your fingers. Timing is all. If you withdraw your hands too soon, I will sense reluctance; if you prolong touch pasta certain point, it will be cloying and insincere. You will also bring my morning coffee and afternoon tea. And you will tell me the story of your life and your dreams and fears because we will have much time to get to know one another. But mostly, you will spend a lot of time by yourself staring at the wall. That's the most difficult part of the job."

Perla smiled. "I have some reading to catch up on. There's TV. I can write or call my family in Mexico."

"Unfortunately, no, not when you're on duty," her new employer said firmly. "I wouldn't want to feel I'm interrupting a greater pleasure when I call you. You can knit or crochet. You will be happy to answer my call."

IT WILL BE YOUR WORDS.

After years of dealing with corporate clients and their concrete objectives, Lockwood had felt out of his depth for the job interview. Six months ago, he'd waited in the gloom of Mercè Casals' shuttered condo and tried deep breaths that came up short on oxygen and long on the blended scents of cut flowers and dishes of potpourri.

Standing before wall-to-wall windows, he parted the heavy brocade curtains. From twenty-eight stories above the ocean, he imagined he could see south to Cabo San Lucas, north to Santa Barbara.

The Señora wore rhinestone sunglasses with lenses so dark she would haltingly feel her way from a wall to a lamp to her chair. Her world was fragile: chalky bones in the hips, knees, shoulders. Around her, glass cats and goldfish and frogs by Lalique. Chinese vases and Murano bowls. Tiny Limoges boxes in fanciful porcelain shapes-trunks, clocks, purses, pianos, pea pods and dogs, clown hats, and party shoes-all down to the details of the enameled latch and the interior glaze, with the signature that said they were a higher class of knickknack.

On that first afternoon, the Señora's aspiring writer waited on a velvet couch that drew him into its pillowy depths, a silk-and-feather quicksand that rose all around him, giving way under his butt and elbows and spine, so that he felt his knees rising and the whole of him curling up.

(Continues...)




Excerpted from THE WONDER SINGER by GEORGE RABASA Copyright © 2008 by George Rabasa . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Wonder Singer 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
George Rabasha has truly created a beautifully-written, engaging novel that is rich with emotion. It tells the story of legendary opera singer Merce Casals and author Mark Lockwood, who has been hired to ghostwrite her autobiography. As the great diva divulges her achievements and adversities, during 500 hours of taped interviews, Mark develops a heartfelt affection for her. Following her sudden death, her agent wants a 'famous author' to write her memoir. Obsessed with his project, Mark refuses to give his tapes and notes to the replacement author. His deep desire is to produce the authoritative memoir...to re-create the story Merce shared with him, in her own words. Therefore, Mark joins up with her nurse, her number-one fan and her husband, to lovingly write Merce's story as a way to celebrate her life. Mr. Rabasha brilliantly alternated the chapters between Merce's life story and Mark's manic process of documenting it, drawing me deeper into this captivating story. Also, he did a magnificent job crafting these charming, unique characters. Merce's history, especially her Spanish Civil War memories were extremely fascinating. Through it all, she demonstrated courage and a strength that is admirable and inspiring. I absolutely LOVED this amazing page-turner, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK!!
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
George Rabasha has truly created a beautifully-written, engaging novel that is rich with emotion. It tells the story of legendary opera singer Merce Casals and author Mark Lockwood, who has been hired to ghostwrite her autobiography. As the great diva divulges her achievements and adversities, during 500 hours of taped interviews, Mark develops a heartfelt affection for her. Following her sudden death, her agent wants a 'famous author' to write her memoir. Obsessed with his project, Mark refuses to give his tapes and notes to the replacement author. His deep desire is to produce the authoritative memoir...to re-create the story Merce shared with him, in her own words. Therefore, Mark joins up with her nurse, her number-one fan and her husband, to lovingly write Merce's story as a way to celebrate her life. Mr. Rabasha brilliantly alternated the chapters between Merce's life story and Mark's manic process of documenting it, drawing me deeper into this captivating story. Also, he did a magnificent job crafting these charming, unique characters. Merce's history, especially her Spanish Civil War memories were extremely fascinating. Through it all, she demonstrated courage and a strength that is admirable and inspiring. I absolutely LOVED this amazing page-turner, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK!!
epicrat More than 1 year ago
My favorite parts of The Wonder Singer had been the flashbacks to Mark's encounters with Mercè and the "excerpts" from Mercè's autobiography-in-progress. I could gather a sense of the diva's charismatic personality and how she became world-beloved. The writing was beautiful, and there were some really great passages that blew me away with how lyrical they were. However, one thing I had an issue with were the characters. Not a lot of time had been spent on them for me to "know" them well. Like I could see that Mark wanted to keep the tapes and write Mercè's story himself, but I did not really understand the motivation - why Mercè had become important to him, why he let his marriage fall apart... And I wish the supporting characters - Mercè's nurse, Mark's wife, her husband - had more of a presence in the story. The ending was quite unexpected, but I really thought it worked well for the story for the most part. Almost like a happily-ever-after, though not quite.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Legendary soprano Senora Merce Casals hires almost forty year old minor league ghostwriter Mark Lockwood to write her autobiography. He spends several hundred hours interviewing the diva and looking over related information. When the opera star is found dead in her jeweled grotto bathroom tub, her agent Hollywood Hank sees her death as a win. He fires Mark and hires famous biographer Alonzo Baylor to tell Merce¿s story.-------------- Irate with the snub as he feels an affinity to his late client to include a belief he owes her the true story and not a titillating fabrication to make the best seller lists, Lockwood takes his interview tapes with him and vanishes. He is abetted by Merce¿s loyal team consisting of her nurse Perla, her cross-dressing pal Orson, her husband, and other adoring fans and employees. Lockwood begins writing the definitive biography of Merce Casals.----------- This is a fabulous work of fiction that hooks the audience from the onset with Mark¿s vivid descriptions and never slows down as readers obtain insight through the interviews into the Spanish Civil War and the scenes behind an opera house. Thus the story line contains a ¿biographical fiction¿ inside the bigger plot. Through the rival writers, George Rabasa brings to life a late soprano star so explicitly readers will believe Senora Casals was a real diva.---------- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Writing a book about a book has never been an easy feat. Often the reader will enjoy one book over the other, and excerpts will be overlooked so that they can get back to the more interesting plot at hand. THE WONDER SINGER does not suffer from this affliction. From the very first chapter, Rabasa throws you head first into the story and does not lose momentum through to the end. Perhaps what makes THE WONDER SINGER so interesting, however, is not the late Diva herself, but rather the small cluster of adoring followers that are so intent to produce a book about her life. The #1 fan, the devoted housekeeper, and the hired ghostwriter provide real chemistry and often funny scenes throughout the book. And by the time you reach the last chapter, you may find yourself rooting for the good guys, booing the bad guys, and mourning the loss of a great voice in opera.