Current Projects: Sound Seduction: An Excerpt from Dreaming Georgina
About the novel:
Dreaming Georgina is a fictional re-imagining of the life of Georgina Stirling, a 19th century lyric soprano from Twillingate, Newfoundland who defied the narrow conventions of her family and community. In 1888 arrived in Paris and presented herself to Mathilde Marchese, the most illustrious voice teacher of her day. Marchese took her in and within 3 years Georgina made her debut in Paris. The novel explores the unusual circumstances that fueled the young woman’s ambition and those that led to the loss of her vocal powers after a brief but brilliant career. Throughout the telling, her pet pig offers her unusual reflections to guide us into a different way of knowing the truth of the singer’s life.
At first I was runty pig, dirty and dumb to everyone. Even Susanna called me runty pig.
Susanna was my second beginning. She rescued me on a frosty day after my rampaging mother went wild and devoured all her young. Except me, of course. I was the ninth piglet, an orange-pink runt of a thing with ears like the over-grown blossom of a geranium. On winter mornings when wind rattled the windows Susanna caressed me in warm soapy baths, and filled my bowl with oats and barley steaming with hot milk from the kitchen stove. I rooted out crumbs and crunchy bits that fell onto the floor from the counters and waited for Susanna’s gurgling sounds. "Good little pig! You spare me the broom.”
But that was long ago, before the hot summer night when the far-away opera singing sister crashed through the kitchen door and turned us upside down. It was her sounds that did it.
Even as a small piglet my ears were large and powerful. They stretched and twirled every which way and funneled sounds from all around from outside to inside. In the first days of my life in the corner of Susanna’s kitchen, my piglet dancing ears surprised Susanna with a pleasure that she shared with her neighbour, Lily.
“Watch Lily! Those two downy funnels, each with a life of its own. They never stop. Not even indoors. Twitching, twirling as if they’re whisking away something invisible—air, clouds, or flies, perhaps.”
Lily’s eyes rolled upwards. “Honestly Susanna! Her ears are only doing what pig ears should.” She paused and sighed, “But, how would you know, you never grew up on a farm. Indoors, outdoors those ears are running on blind, stupid instinct. Never forget that.”
Lily and Susanna were unable to know that my ears capture the more than human sounds of the world—the sounds of sun and wind, water and earth and all their creatures. Once captured, these sounds pass through my heart into my blood and bones, muscle and sinew where they transform the rhythms of my heart and lungs, the energy in my muscles, the marrow in my bones. Within these transformations, I discover stories.
One day when the sun shone through the kitchen window with a new brightness, the splosh-thud of ice water melting on hay caused my ears to dance with an intensity that was new. Susanna stroked them, “It’s spring, “ she said and led me outside. Instantly my ears captured the cracklings of sun on snow and funneled them inside. Here they awakened grand stories of the big melt, of puddles so large they captured the sky, of endless rain and the return of mud. My body hummed.
Susanna led me into a pen beside the barn. “Root! Root!” she said and my snout broke the hard, cold surface of the earth for the first time. She threw her head back and laughed in delight. I rooted until I had a mud hole.
Even in the intense pleasure of my rooting I kept my eyes on Susanna’s comings and goings in and out of the kitchen door and around the yard. I rooted most happily when she was working on her own patch of ground, nearer the house, clearing away dead plants until the earth was bare and exposed.
After the last patches of snow had melted away, she announced that she had a spring treat for me. She looped a long rope gently around my neck and led me out of sight of the kitchen door and down a path behind the barn. I trotted alongside her until we came to a vast shimmering lake of green grasses marked off with a wire fence. Her eyes danced when she opened a gate and led me inside the enclosure. “Graze, root, wallow," she said and I knew exactly what to do.
I abandoned myself to the unfamiliar sweetness of the new grasses and the caresses of the soft spring air, until she turned on her heel and vanished. My knees began to tremble. Without her and the sounds of her quiet voice talking and humming I couldn’t settle in. When at last I heard her call my name, I tingled head to toe and sloshed through the mud to greet her at the edge of the wire fencing. Her face blossomed like a ripe apple when I nudged her hand with my muddy snout and when she hosed me down and brushed me at the kitchen door, my skin felt as good as wallowing in the wet, black earth of the meadow.
Spring soon gave way to summer when the sounds of blazing full summer sun filled my ears as intensely as its rays seared my skin. Once on a scorching mid-July day, when Susanna was preparing for Lily’s birthday party and I was in my pen beside the barn, the sizzlings were so intense that they pierced the marrow of my bones. My legs folded beneath me and I trembled with the sounds of parched earth—a pig hell—and lay flat as a pancake on the dry hard ground that was once my mud hole. Yet as I lay splayed out, dusty and flat, my ears brought me the summer gurglings of Eels’ creek as it carved its way through the loamy soil of the meadow. These sounds swept away the darkness of my pig hell and awakened the memory of my first plunge into the creek’s cool water. I dove snout first then rose on my galloping pig legs pulling back and forth through the water until I met the creek’s current mid-way and floated downstream.
The day after the party the happiest summer story of all happened. It began when Susanna wrapped only in a towel called me to follow her down the winding path to the creek. At the creek’s edge she dropped her towel and dove into its deepest pool. I followed. The air pulsed with her laughter as together we caught the current and floated downstream, arms and legs akimbo, past the stand of young alders to the place where the creek scoops out a mossy green bank. In that moment, Susanna’s presence became omnipresent inside me and within this connection I felt my legs most nimble and strong, my ears most capacious and true and the power of my rooting snout boundless.
The next day a stranger thrust a letter into Susanna’s hand without a word of greeting. Susanna dropped into her chair, clutching the letter inside her fist and rocked. Her brow was furrowed, her breath, short and sharp. When finally she opened the letter, a different fragrance, unlike anything I knew, softened my nostrils. The scent was almost as alluring as fallen apples, squishy and soft under a November tree.
The sister arrived in the dark. Susanna had been particularly listless and sour that day, bellowing at me if I crossed her path and croaking about the hot nail drilling inside her head. At dusk she went about the house slamming the windows before closing her bedroom door and shutting me out. I curled up in my kitchen box.
It was pitch dark when I heard rumblings outside. The bristles on my back stood straight up, I bolted to attention and braced myself to lunge. The kitchen door rattled in its frame, the handle jiggled noisily. My jaw tightened. The door burst open and the door-crasher loomed in the doorway, filling it entirely. The almost apple scent of her letter filled my nostrils. A crooning wail shattered the darkness, “Susanna? Susanna? It's me, my darling one, your little sister. Your Geo-baby has arrived.”
The voice stopped me. Its volume bit the insides of my ears. But still I stood guard, a foot away, my snout low, swaying my head back and forth.
“Susanna? Your Geo! I am here! Where are you? Can't see a thing!” The door-crasher grunted, groaned, pushed and shoved until two large trunks crossed the threshold.
I lunged forward. Another shriek seared inside my ears, and then several more, each one so intense I shook my head and almost lost my footing.
Susanna croaked from behind her bedroom door. “Pig, quit it!”
I held my ground, balanced by my snout grazing the surface of the floor. Then the kitchen light blazed overhead and Susanna, stooped and rumpled, was at my side. She squeezed the back of my head with one hand and slapped my rump with the other. “Off. It’s family! My sister!"
I stepped backwards and together we faced our door-crasher only feet away.
The sister’s mouth opened large and dark. “A beast! This is the piglet?” With her fiery eyes fixed on me she took a step backwards, tossed a broad-rimmed hat onto the kitchen table and pulled herself up tall, “You have to control a beast like that.”
Slowly she surveyed the room, then returned her gaze to me and began to unwrap acres of silvery cloth that swathed her shoulders, all the way down to her waist. She shook her head, pulled her fingers through her long curls and a knot of snakes, writhing and curling, cascaded down her shoulders.
“Control? What’s to control?” Susanna said, “ She’s my faithful beast and smart.”
“All very well, my dear Susanna, and you know my soft spot for animals, but this one is a brute. Needs a ring, at the very least.”
“Never? But she’s hardly a piglet!”
“She’s growing well and strong. No longer the little runt she used to be.”
“Ah, but my dear sister, I am here! At last we are together.” The sister stepped forward, her arms outstretched, the edges of her thick red lips curling upwards, her teeth shining white. Susanna stepped backwards. I did too. The sister stopped, her arms dropped to her sides. She frowned.
“Oh Susanna, Thank the good Lord I left my little Suki behind. Even though I’ll have to endure our separation. Your beast here would eat her for breakfast.”
Susanna shook her head. “ No. Truth is she prefers hot oats for breakfast. She’s a social creature. She might even enjoy your Suki. As long as he didn’t taunt her with his barks and yips.”
At dawn the next morning I awoke to a gurgling song, mellow and deep and then the sister’s footsteps pacing the floor in her bedroom above the kitchen. I trotted down the hallway and butted my head against Susanna’s bedroom door. When I failed to rouse her, I returned to the kitchen and stood guard in the middle of the room, my eyes fixed on the entrance.
Her footsteps sounded on the stairway, I inhaled her scent, my heart raced, and she filled the entranceway. Her crimson hair was a thick cloud around her head, her violet eyes gleamed brightly. I fixed my eyes on hers but she refused my gaze and raised her nose to the ceiling. Then in one enormous gulp she sucked up the room and entered, one long stride after another, her purple gown sweeping the floor behind her.
Knees trembling, I held my ground in the center of the room while her hunting eyes scoured every surface, opening and crevice in the room. She disappeared into the pantry then reappeared nibbling a piece of cheese. She opened each cupboard, scanned its contents, sighed, nibbled at the cheese, sighed again, opened the icebox, doubled forward and inserted her head, then groaned, turned on her heel and aimed herself towards me. I was at the outside door.
“Move yourself, ugly pig. I want out.”
I scrambled aside--what else was I to do without Susanna there to anchor me—but then I twisted to follow her. I had to, even though she turned and scowled at me, before she picked up her skirts and her pace and took the path towards the meadow.
I stood guard at the kitchen door until the spectacle of the rising sun painting the sky lavender then pink and then the palest blue unfastened me from my vigilance. Once unhooked, the resonations of her voice sounding in the distance pulled me forward.
I first caught sight of her as she drifted through the shimmering grasses of the sloping wide meadow, her arms floating at her sides. I followed her from as great a distance as I could manage, almost deafened by my heart pounding against my ribs. It quieted when she came to rest in the golden shade of the yellow plum tree, its branches heavy with summer fruit. Here she looked to the ground, planted her feet, drew her hands together at her waist then fixed her eyes on a point high above me and beyond the horizon. Her chin dropped, her mouth opened, her arms drifted upwards as waves of liquid sound rolled from her mouth. The hair rose on the back of my neck, then a tingling crept across my scalp, darted along my shoulders, shivered down my spine. My snout quivered uncontrollably and I stumbled towards her. Somehow my snout brushed the fingers of her floating hand.
Her mouth snapped shut, her eyes darkened and blazed down on me with such horror I wished myself blind. She raised her skirt, and then her leg and her sharp booted foot pierced my side.
“Filthy pig.” She hissed, then scrambled down the path back to the house.
I lumbered back to the house, hot blood trickling down my side and filthy pig resounding inside me. I longed for Susanna’s smile, for her hand on my side. At the kitchen door I curled into my grassy nest certain that she would appear at any moment.
The sun was high overhead when Susanna finally stepped through the door. I sprang to my feet. Her face twisted at the sight of my bloody nest, “ Pig, poor pig.” Her arms flailed about to shoo away the swarm of flies feeding on the gash on my side. She dropped to her knees. Then a howl pierced the air unlike any I had ever heard from her. “Georgina, bitch. Look what you’ve done.”
I felt the crash of slamming doors, razor sharp shrieks and thunderous roars. In the silence that followed my heart, which had opened so wide to absorb all Georgina’s sounds now ached with an intensity that was new. I wanted it closed again,
Days passed. The resonations of Georgina’s trills and gurgles, twitters and trolls, whispers and whoops in my muscles and bone killed my appetite for any of my familiar pleasures—rooting in the meadow, tickling Susanna with my wet snout, sucking up kitchen droppings, slurping hot oatmeal.
Susanna kept us apart. If Georgina appeared in the kitchen, Susanna pushed me outdoors. If Georgina came outdoors, Susanna twisted my ear to force me inside the enclosure beside the barn. The fact was that my ears, twisted or not were so attuned to Georgina’s voice they funneled its faintest murmurs inside me. Each sound intensified my craving to feast my eyes on her mouth in song and to see the rhythmic swaying of her body, her arms floating up from her sides.
Soon I began to search out hidden places where I could watch her singing secretly. Susanna quickly sensed what I was up to. Each time she caught me rooting around in new places she’d twist my ear and nudge my side with her knee. “Forget it. She’ll smell you. She hates you, don’t you see. You’re only safe with me.” Susanna couldn’t understand that her harsh words had no power to stop my craving.
One day when Susanna lay flat on her bed complaining of the hot nail drilling inside her head, she insisted that I stay beside her. I nuzzled my snout into her neck and watched her tight fist relax and her skin brighten. Then the sounds of Georgina’s footsteps in the hallway near the parlour set up a shivering inside me. When a single note sounded on the piano, my ears, nose and legs began to twitch. Then the voice became the air in the bedroom, its resonations pulsing inside me and I was propelled out the door.
Susanna bolted upright, her eyes ablaze. ‘Slut!” she shouted after me. “Whoring after her sounds.”
I stumbled and flushed with shame but the force of Georgina’s voice pulled me into the dark hallway. I planted myself at the parlour entrance and rested my snout against the vibrating door. I found a crack, peered inside and a blazing light, a July sun at midday, dissolved my shame. Within its brilliance I breathed inside her sounding breath, beyond body and time, a universe of harmony and love, and I was changed forever.
That moment was my third beginning.