Neat vodka - not on the rocks, but poured already several degrees below freezing. The first few swallows had tasted of harsh sunlight...and only now did each glass bring the comfort of deepening shadows. His eighth symphony had been written and rewritten over and over again until, after twelve years of self-torment, he had destroyed every sketch and plan, every last cancelled note: page after page of laborious manuscript had been fed to the stove in one final act of renunciation - and release. From then on, silence. The harsh sunlight of hope the twilight of gathering despair - which was worse?Ron Butlin's surreal fiction has featured here before in Bach and modern technology and Better than working in McDonald's. Today's stranger than fiction story comes from Jean Sibelius is invited to run away and join the circus which is in the same volume of Ron Butlin's short stories as my other two extracts were drawn from. And Sibelius running away to join the circus is not as daft as it sounds.
It had been a quarter of a century since that glorious conflagration, and getting drunk at least led somewhere: to oblivion.
Just then the clowns appeared.
At first Sibelius thought the three red-nosed, banana-footed entertainers had to be an impurity in the homemade spirit. they trooped around the side of the house in a small procession through the snow: the leader in long-tailed evening dress and topper, the second a white-faced pierrot, the third turning cartwheels. Top Hat piped them to a halt on an imaginary flute. They stood in the garden looking directly up at the composer.
Not the DTs then.
A large sip to bring his visitors into better focus.
'You're Sibelius, aren't you?' Top Hat raised his invisible flute and played the clarinet solo that opened his first symphony.
'That was a very long time ago,' was the composer's only comment.
'And this?' The final theme from Tapiola, his last completed work, published some forty years later.
'Seems even longer.'
'And this?' The clown blew as if across the mouthpiece, letting his fingers caper wildly up and down the stops, but no sound came. He shrugged, then took his imaginary flute in both hands and mimed breaking it in two over his knee.
Sibelius said nothing.
Top Hat smiled up at him: 'That's done with.'
His companions joined him in a three-man chorus singing, 'Come with us, come with us! Come and join the circus!'
Portrait of Sibelius came from the original 1976 Decca LP release of Sibelius' symphonies with Lorin Maazel conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. The artwork design was by David Anstey, who normally created rock albums, and the colouring by Laurie Richards. To make amends for reversing their handiwork I reproduce the complete sleeve above. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot