At first, it was a combination of physical features that made me think that Hennessy – somehow – was the reincarnation of my mother Margaret. Margaret, born in 1907 in Budapest (well, just outside of Budapest in a tiny village called Nagytéteny, where horse-drawn carts, the animal noises of small farms and a rare street gas-lamp ruled the day and night, while the hum of the potter’s wheel and treadle sewing machines – my grandfather ran a small but busily energetic tailor shop – enlived the cobble-stone streets’ cartwheel-punctuated rhythms), had a Viennese-tailored face distinguished by a wealth of handsome and kaleidescopic features. Chiseled eyelids encased a brace of wide-pupiled irises that often seemed to be bathed in bella donna; I wondered often if the afternoon sun too much insulted her retinal backplate; perhaps it was shielded by enduring innocence from the ravages of an all-too-blatant solar accostation. Hennessy, too, constantly displayed a pupilation that reflected both insight and innocence, an ocularity oblivious to the 32,000 lux of the high-noon sun during a Florida summer’s day, an acceptance of luminance to reflect a complete absence of shyness in the brightest of lights, the purity of a soul happy, even joyous, to share its honest facets in a snapshot of integrity. The eye is the window of the soul, and a soul forged in candor has no fear of the hottest of bright solar insights.
Over time, time’s lovely and inexorable cadences until their final “Amen,” I began to see, perceive and even carve out with some meticulousness an understand better defined and more trenchant than an occasional physiological congruence. The world’s most insightful psychologist, the pipe-smoking, much-maligned and rarely well-read Dr. Freud, comments that “there is no love deeper or greater than that of a mother towards her male child.” If one is privileged enough to perceive this before the death of the mother, the understanding, indeed, the sensation of the understanding, is an endless sinusoidal wave crashing over and about one’s emotional bulwarks, drenching them with a wealth of vibrant droplets whose fervor belies their Freudian logic.
One evening, after an especially intense and exciting game of Scrabble, my mother (she always won the Scrabble games) told me this story.
“There was, once upon a time, a young prince of the kingdom of Farfaroff. He was charming, handsome and well brought-up. He loved his mother and father, and respected the rules of the kingdom. One day, he met the princess of a neighboring principality. She, too, was charming, beautiful and well brought-up. Unfortunately, she was terribly self-centered, as a princess of a wealthy kingdom is likely to be. She wanted the young prince to prove unequivocally the love he professed for her. She wanted to join their two kingdoms, and create a powerful state within their area. She decided to ask him to do something very difficult, but not impossible, in order to prove his love. As they sat in the garden one day, she said to him, “Prince Farfaroff, do you love me?” He smiled, and said, “Princess Neversat (for her name was derived from their principality of Neversati), I love more than the sun, the moon and the stars.” “Then,” she said, “would you bring me the sun, the moon and the stars if you could?” “Of course,” he replied. “In a trice. I would bring you anything within my power. But I cannot carry all of the planets at once.” She smiled. “What about the heart of a person?” she asked. “Would you cut out the heart of someone, and bring it to me in a silver bowl?” He thought for a minute, and realized that as a prince, he was likely immune from the general laws of the state. Besides, he had promised. “Yes, yes, of course,” he replied. “Well, then,” she said, “I want you to bring me the heart of your mother, in a silver bowl.” The prince was shocked, as the thought of killing either of his parents was abhorrent to him. However, after they parted company, he thought about it, and decided to go ahead with a plan to do as the princess had asked. The very next night, he sharpened a large, angry fish knife which he took from their well-stocked castle kitchen. He went into his mother’s room, and cut out her heart. Into the silver bowl it went, still beating. He ran down the stairs, planning to take his horse to the princess’s castle. But on the way down the stairs, running to reach his beloved, he tripped, and fell. The heart slipped from the silver bowl onto the white marble floor at the bottom of the stairs. He picked himself up, and then he picked up the heart, quickly. As he put it again into the cold silver bowl, out of the depths it spoke to him. “Did you hurt yourself, my son?” it said.
Freud, of course, was right. The language of fairy tales is the language of a deeper truth.
With the precision of a proustian remembrance, I remember precisely how I felt. A flush of anger crossed my eyes like a flash of heat-lightening; an embarrassing sweat froze in droplets on my forehead and under my Ban-lon shirt’s collar. I was lost for words. “Why, yes, yes,” I stammered. “That’s a terrible fiction. Sounds like something ogreish from the Brothers Grimm.” She, my mother, smiled her normal wan, cautious smile. She almost laughed, but that was rare, as rare as hen’s teeth, although her smile twinkled her crows’ feet eyes so gladly that you’d have sworn that she did, indeed, laugh aloud. “A long time ago,” she explained, cautiously, choosing her story-words with careful emphasis, “the Baroness Orczy started to write children’s and adults’ stories, to supplement the meager income she shared with her husband. She wrote, and he illustrated her books. Eventually, she became quite famous, and the success of her most noted book – The Scarlet Pimpernel – overshadowed her lovely illustrated children’s tales. Most of her work was published, and all of it was published with her husband’s paintings. It was a true labor of love, as he and she were in love all of their long lives, even after she became so famous, and had bought an estate in Monte Carlo. Some of the stories which the publisher rejected, however, were the darkest of tales, those which came out of the dangers and fears she and her family experienced in fleeing from Hungary during the Great War. She and I left our beloved Budapest on nearly the same day. The dark and tragic story about the Prince of Farfaroff was never published, unless I didn’t know about it. I had the honor to read it on the boat, on the way here to America, in handwritten form, as copied by her friend and cohort, her elder sister. Perhaps it was inspired by the evil Jack the Ripper, who murdered a young women literally on the doorstep of Emmuska’s home in London; perhaps it was a romantic tragedy encouraged by the brutality she’d seen just before leaving Budapest. I don’t think (said my mother thoughtfully, finger on the tip of her nose) the darker fairy tales were ever published, but I consider myself most privileged to have read the manuscript of the one I’ve just recounted for you.”