By Kedrick Rue
Sometimes when you tell a secret–a secret without real context or precedent–you’re creating a mystery rather than solving one.
This is the kind of secret I’m writing about today.
So there was a bar, and there was a back room. You may as well think of it as a fairy tale, because it may as well be. A bar, and a back room, and a guitar.
Also, there was a woman. She may have been French. Her name may have been Clotilde; that may also have been a disguise she was wearing.
It was the early seventies, everyone at the bar was there to see the stoner band which went on at 10:00. But I was restless, and I was still young enough for something stunning passing through my line of sight to make a deep impression. I ventured into the back room, which was private. I knocked three times; I said the magic word; I passed through the hidden doorway. The woman sang a song.
The song was called Secret Name.
If I remembered the lyrics, it would be worse than forgetting them. If I remembered even a hint of the chord progression, it might disappear into thin air. What I can tell you is that Clotilde was small and thin. Upturned nose, brown heavy-lashed eyes. Impeccably dressed in a tailored white tunic which nodded towards hippie culture even as it summarily dismissed it. There was no crowd; the crowd had come to hear the stoner band which didn’t go on for another hour.
She played guitar with manicured nails. Her thumbnail had been reinforced with a shaving from a ping pong ball, and I remember her commenting that this, more than anything, would be the reason that she would never be a star. I think this was humor; it may have been deadly serious.
I also remember the subject matter of the song. It was a fairy tale which may have been invented by Clotilde, about a woman imprisoned in a pillar of stone by a curse, doomed to languish until someone discovers her secret name. Unlike most fairy tales of this sort, however, there was no one attempting to rescue her. No prince, no fairy godmother.
After establishing the context, the song went on to list the people in the village passing by: the baker, the parson, the farmer. The baker commented that it might become a millstone, to mill his wheat. The parson mentioned that it might be carved into a crucifix. The farmer wanted to carve it into a watering trough. No one seemed to notice that the pillar they were walking past was actually a person.
Eventually five hundred years passed, and at the end of the song the woman herself had forgotten her name. And she hadn’t become a millstone, or a crucifix, or a watering trough. She had been only a pillar.
The song ended, and the few people lucky enough to have heard it were shaken from their spell enough to mumble and clap. And then the stoner band began to play, and the crowds rushed in, and Clotilde packed up her guitar and left.
I woke up the next morning not quite remembering how I’d gotten home, but with a scrap of melody flowing through my head, like a lone golden feather drifting through a darkening forest, and the memory of a name–her secret name–which I had been certain she had whispered to me in my sleep.
I later met this woman at a party. It was a few years later, and she supposed no one remembered her. She didn’t seem particularly pleased that I did. But I did, and I asked her several questions, which she answered in third person.
ME: Why did you stop?
CLOTILDE: Why did she start?
ME: Because she had something to say.
CLOTILDE: Her English is not so good.
ME: But there was a spirit, an esprit–
CLOTILDE: A spirit in the air…maybe only a passing spirit…
ME: And did anyone ever discover her name?
CLOTILDE: No one even knew to ask. Finally she remembered it herself, and the stone cracked. So she walked away.
I never saw her again after that night. Somebody at the party told me that she had recorded a single in France, and that if you knew who to ask or if you looked hard enough, you might find it. But even in this era of YouTube and Spotify, it fails to show up. I wonder if this means she recorded under another name.
And I realize that, even as I’m writing this, it’s the sort of secret which cannot be shared. It was shared once, and may never be shared again, like the door you go through in the fairy tale to find that five hundred years have passed.
Five hundred years have passed, and I am still thinking about a song whose words I can’t remember, and whose music is just a suggestion in my memory.
If that’s not a spell, I don’t know what is.
If you have information on Clotilde, e-mail Kedrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.