Kage Baker was an alto. She had a soft, low way of speaking and a wonderfully warm and smooth singing voice. Singing harmony with her – I am a soprano – was a physical joy, like being a pane of blue glass next to a crimson one in a stained glass window. It’s one of the things I miss the most often since she died, that harmonic perfection when we sang side by side.
But she was very quiet. You really had to listen to get all the nuances of what she said, and she was frequently talked right over in conversation. It made her crazy when that happened, and she often complained that no one listened to her. It didn’t help that we came from a large, loud family. Or that, spending decades in a theatre troupe, the family we joined was even larger and louder.
Actually, people did listen to Kage, because she also had a dry and hysterically funny wit. She was a natural raconteuse, and anyone who ever heard her at a reading can testify that it was always a riveting performance. As a fellow writer at a group reading once remarked: “I did some reading. Kage put on a show.” (Thank you, Rick Bowes!) No, the problem was that people couldn’t hear her.
I can no longer hear her.
I can’t summon the memory of how her voice sounded. All the years of conversation, and the only phrase I can currently call to mind in her own voice is among the very last things she said at all: “I’m going, kiddo. Sorry.” Not only does this shock and sadden me, it is damned inconvenient, since I am trying to complete her stories. A wise and compassionate friend has assured me I will hear Kage, that my mind will resurrect her voice when I need it; but so far, that low voice is still buried in the crowd noise in my mind. Man, that would annoy her! I can see, though, I can see her roll her black eyes and make that particular exasperated moue that meant she thought no one was listening and she might as well leave the party. But no! Because I can see, and so I can read, and since I am literally walled in on all sides with her words (boxes and drawers of manuscripts everywhere), I can summon up her voice with my eyes.
Kage’s latest novel is The Bird of the River (out July 20th. Five stars on Amazon. Go for it.), which is set in her fantasy universe. So I’ve reread The House of the Stag and The Anvil of the World: I remember where each scene was born, and can hear her expounding the plots as we drove along or did the laundry. Most of Bird was plotted out in a bar in Kansas City, over gin Collinses: Kage kept losing pens and we finally bought her one in the lobby store, with a plastic trolley car on the end that lit up red when she pressed it down on the paper. During Stag she was obsessed with kettle corn and fried shrimp, and her notes were always grease-stained to the point of transparency. The insane magical duel scene in Anvil was devised and literally acted out around a campfire in Big Sur, with much howling, laughing and snorting beer out of our noses.
I’ve reread The Women of Nell Gwynne’s and the wonderful story The Bohemian Astrobleme (which you may find online at glorious Subterranean Press, www.subterraneanpress.com), and now I can see Kage’s hands flying as she talked out the plot of the sequel with me. She gave it the working title Who We Did On Our Summer Vacation … and in fact, I have presently left the exquisite Lady Beatrice locked in carnal embrace with a mad submariner on the cliffs above Torquay. I have to rescue Herbertina from a well-meaning fox terrier, dispense with a treacherous butler, and then sort out what Kage planned to do with the strange skull Mrs. Otley found in Kent Cavern …
Oh, yes. I can hear her clearly now.
Tomorrow: distractions of the flesh