Even before the earth had quit its shifting dance beneath his feet, he’d already retraced every one of his paces, reaching eastward against all arrows as every other portent pointed west: starting from the Palace, which would soon collapse, through Union Square, where nothing loomed above, then on horseback to the still-standing Ferry Building. He’d doubtless find some boatman he could pay, shuttle the bay back to Oakland, board a train returning to New York, and undo not just geography but a century or so of history. Still more time would unravel as he’d cross the sea, like some Columbus turned around in his travels, his sins in this one lifetime all set right. Once again on the soil of Europe, he’d slink back, each step rewinding the thousand years of Roman rule, all the way home, presumably to the Year Zero, where time begins and he stands there at last, regarding the cradle where his sons are now rocked, to dwell unaware as he sings to them into their impenetrable sleep.
But then, his plan fully formed, he notices the sound has stopped.
There was light in the sky. The sun was about to come up. Propelled as he’d been out of bed, he saw now that he was standing at the window, left open in all favorable seasons to facilitate his deepest unimpeded breath. He felt a breeze brush across his face to displace the tiny hairs, invisible from any stage, between his tweezed and pampered eyebrows. And just like that, hundreds maybe thousands must be dead.
Right then, a folly set in: Was this his fault? Could he have thwarted it? Of course this was pure farce. Though wasn’t his the finest voice, not just of his time, but ever born and evermore to be? Everybody said so, and those who should think otherwise were deceived. Surely God Who heard all had heard this one voice above all, and if he had God’s ear, what else could he not call forth from His hand?
Absorbed in these thoughts, he heard from behind one last slight thump. A spittoon, displaced in the quake, tipped and toppled off its little pedestal and out oozed black slime, threatening the edge of a priceless Persian rug which would, in an hour or so, be left as cinders. If he could levitate that carpet, as some Arabians said djinn could do, then surely he could fly it through this window, not east now but west, over open ocean to Japan, then China and India, and whatever unnamed world lay ahead between himself and his heart’s desire.
One more interruption snatched him again out of all reverie. Without a customary warning knock, his man, Giancarlo, burst from the hallway into the room in a state of contagious panic, heaving the vault-like door halfway off its hinge. In his most obsequious Florentine, the lumbering sentinel approached in a flurry of animated inquiries. Next, unsatisfied by any assurances the singer could bestow, the ardent servant started insistently picking and poking at his body like some latter-day Thomas, determined to dispel any doubt that the master remained against all odds intact.
[more to come]