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Siana's Dream: The Music Box
In Escalon, California, where I lived with my grandmother during the summer, there was a girl from Mexico named Siana.
She lived with her grandmother, too, and she had two things she had fascinated me:
One was a picture on her kitchen wall. Not a normal painting, but a picture torn from a calendar. In the picture a man sat in the street, his feet bare in the dust, wearing an immense sombrero and a dusty sarape. He had a black mustache and a long delicate nose, and his fingers rested on the strings of a large brown harp, with a fat soundboard like the throat of a bullfrog, and a strand of ribbons tied to the the soundpost.
“Siana,” I said. “That picture’s wrong.”
“Oh?” she said.
“That’s a harp.”
“But only girls can play the harp.”
“And they have to be blonde.”
“Ha! You are so wrong!” she scolded me. “In my country, El Arpa is a macho instrument! ONLY the men play.” And then she whispered, “The women play secretly! But I will show you something even better,” and she took me to her room, where she opened her drawer and pulled out a beautiful wooden box.
“This is a musicbox,” she said, and when she opened it, two dancers popped up – a boy and a girl – and they spun around as the music played. “You see these dancers?” Siana said. “I know them! This beautiful girl with this big wide skirt? You know her too … because she is ME! And you see the boy? This boy, so handsome? That … is Juanito, the boy I love.”
“But not really,” I said.
“Yes! Really! And this box? It … is … magical! Truly magical. Because every night when I wind it up and the music begins, I discover I am flying, truly flying through the night!
“Everything around me is totally dark, like midnight, and then suddenly – Boom! — sunlight, colors, smells! I am in my own market plaza in Mexico, with all my friends. I am serious! OK, it’s like a dream, but totally real! And we are laughing and dancing and singing! You cannot imagine how wonderful it is to be home like that. Suddenly!
“But – Deborita — wait! You know how dreams are like? When you are in one place and suddenly it becomes a totally different place? This, too, this happens to me. One moment with all my friends, the next I am completely alone in another plaza. Big. Empty. The wind pushing scaps of paper around on the ground. And I am watching from above, on a big wooden platform. So alone, you cannot imagine how empty I feel.
“And then I see — way on the other side – a hundred miles away, but maybe just from here to there — I see a man coming into the plaza with a big box, as big as a grown-up person. He carries it on his shoulder, like it weighs nothing.
“And suddenly I know him! I know why he has the box! He is a musician for this night’s fiesta, the box is his bass and this – where I am standing – it is the stage! And now I see the rest of the band, coming a cross the plaza! First the man who plays Jarana, which is the Mexican guitar. And then his brother – who plays the Jaranita, the little Jarana. And then his other brother, who plays the itsy-bitsy, tiny Jarana — which they call “the mosquito.”
“And finally, I see the man coming with the greatest instrument of all — an instrument as big as a beautiful fat woman with a wide skirt — this is the man who plays the queen of all instruments, the heart and soul of the Mexican triple-waltz. He comes barefooted and singing — the man who plays el arpa!
“And, oh, Deborita, like water pouring in, the plaza fills with people, and music. Faint at first, then louder and louder, people dancing, laughing, singing. It is Fiesta – and every person there, I know I know them, but I can’t remember even one name!
“But, Deborita, listen to me! The most important thing happens next! One more person comes into the plaza. I see him a hundred miles away. Look! You see, there? It is Juanito, the boy I love.
“You see him? See?! He is looking at me! Through all these dancing people, he is looking straight at me. And I am looking at him.
“We … are … looking … at … each … OTHER!
“And he begins to cross the plaza, so slowly like he has forever, his eyes never move from my eyes. Shhh — I can hear each step as his boot hits the ground, because my ears run to him. Nothing else exists . Nothing but Juanito.
“And suddenly he stands before me, in the dust and dirt. And he takes my hand.
“And we are dancing.
“Even now, here with you, I see us dancing. I see it! Realer than real. And first I see us like we are now: fifteen years old. And then we spin … and suddenly we are twenty-five. And we spin again … and we are forty. Then we spin and we are fifty-five, then seventy, ninety, one hundred! One-hundred-and=eight! And we are still dancing! Deborita – we are still spinning, Juanito and me. We are spinning and dancing forever. And ever. And ever…”
She stopped, and looked down at the music box.
“… and ever.”
Then she closed it.
“In my dream.”
Once, years ago, after I told this story in a show, a little girl in the audience raised her hand and asked:
“Is that story true?”
I was stumped. She was a child. Sitting with her mother. They both glared at me.
Well…” I gulped … “There’s truth and there’s truth. … it’s true there are many Mexican girls in California. It’s not true I played with them. I was never allowed to. But I watched them, and marvelled.
It’s true there was a music box … but it belonged to my cousin Claire, and it only had one dancer, a girl in a pink tutu.
It’s true there was a girl named Siana, but she was my producer’s daughter — and he told me she would listen to this song, and dance to it pretending the CD case was a music box.
It was MY grandmother who had a page torn from a calendar framed on her wall, but it was of a scene in the mountains – and the Mexican harp-player was in an old clip-book I had.
The tiny Jarana is called “The Mosquito,” and I know this because my friend Mercedes told me. She is the Siana of this story, but I met her when I was 40, and her name is Mercedes Gomez. She did marry the boy she loved, but she didn’t meet him ‘til she was a grown woman with four daughters … and he was from Sweden.
I was the one who fell in love with Juanito. But he was Jewish and he played the Tuba. And now we no longer dance together.
But the story is completely true.