Svengali Reveals Himself.
|Svengali Comes Clean
"So when is the fame and fortune to arrive?"
Trilby asked the question quite bluntly as she removed the stage make-up from her face, staring intently into the bright mirror. She did not need to turn and watch Svengali's reaction to the question; it was nothing new to them, having been discussed again and again in recent weeks. This was merely small talk now, a need for the familiar to settle her mind.
In the corner, the shadowed corner farthest from the glaring lights of the mirror, Svengali settled deeper into his chair and raised a sardonic eyebrow.
"Ah, my dear, it cannot be long now. Already you are drawing them as moths to a lantern in the darkest night. Soon they will be clamoring to see you and your name will be known beyond the bounds of this forgotten city."
"Oh, you always say that. But see, there are no bouquets and anxious suitors waiting expectantly at my door. Yesterday, a rose, one pathetic, half-dead rose, delivered by some grimy footman, and nothing tonight. This is hardly the stuff of dreams, you know." Trilby made a petulant, pouting face at her reflection, then smiled at her pretense of childish impatience.
Svengali smiled too, a sinister smile, he hoped. "It is coming, you will see. The theater is filling nicely these days and the box office becomes busier than it has ever been."
A mischievous look sparkled in Trilby's eyes as she began the application of her offstage make-up, re-creating a face that was unknown to the watchers in the darkened theater. "That is no more than I could have achieved without you, Sven. It's for me they come, not you."
"Yes, you are quite right, my dear," replied Svengali after a suitably thoughtful pause. "You will be great whether I am here to help or not; your talent shines as a star in the heavens and I must forever be a mere minion to your ambition. What I do is just to hasten the day when all will bow before you and nothing awaits me but grim obscurity as you soar higher and higher." He sighed deeply in mock acceptance of his fate.
And she, so used to the game, played along. "Don't be silly, Sven. You know that you will be with me and I will always acknowledge how you have helped in my career. Not that it is much, as yet." A thought struck her then and she continued in a more serious tone. "But what do you get from this? You never say just how you benefit from all the work you do on my behalf, all the promotion and encouragement and noising abroad. What's your aim for yourself in all this?"
"It is all for you, Trilby. My joy is that you should attain the heights that are your true destiny. This is all my life to me." He glanced at Trilby's face in the mirror to see the effect of his words. The smile in her eyes told him that she knew how he pretended at a nobility overstated. He grinned and shrugged.
"Oh, all right then, I admit I get enjoyment from it. This whole sinister Svengali thing, it's fun to play. What could be more entertaining than to be the dark, unfathomable figure behind the throne? I build a persona for myself as much as I do for you, and mine is a delicious, mysterious role. When you are famous, they will speak of you with pure love in their hearts; but of me, they will lower their voices and talk in furtive whispers, wondering, yet fearful of my brooding presence. Oh yes, I have my rewards as well."
Trilby laughed, that sweet laugh that was to entrance millions. "Sven, you are so funny when you tell the truth. I think that may be why I keep you around. Only yesterday I was saying to Gecko how you amuse me. And he, of course, just nodded and grinned, thinking to please me." She stopped then and turned to look at Svengali.
"And why do you keep him on? I mean, we both know that Gecko's just a fawning sycophant. What on earth d'you get out of him hanging about all the time?"
Svengali cocked his head to glance at the shadowed ceiling. "Oh, I don't know. He's always been there, I suppose, and I haven't the heart to tell him to go." Suddenly embarrassed at his admission to having a heart, he added quickly, "And everyone needs an evil Svengali behind them, after all."
Trilby snorted at his flippancy. "Yeah? Well who is your Svengali then, oh great Mr Sven? Answer me that, if you can."
For a while there was silence as Svengali considered the question. It was clear he was taking it seriously for his eyes stared unseeing into the darkness beyond the mirror. Trilby continued with the last touches to her make-up as he thought. She knew him well now and understood that an answer would come in time.
Then Sven began to speak slowly, not looking at her but vocalizing his thoughts for her benefit. "Perhaps I am my own Svengali. After all, I am playing a role that is decided by my true ambitions. So my Svengali may be my own inner self, demanding that I fulfill this persona it has designed for me. Or it might be the obsequious Gecko. He demands this through his loathsome inability to be anything more than a parasite upon our good natures. Perhaps I find it impossible to do anything other than help him, as incapable of aid as he is. This whole pretense might be just an unwitting response to Gecko's imperative that I be something that he can cling to. But no, I cannot stomach that one. Let me look elsewhere..."
Svengali frowned as he searched for a more acceptable answer. Trilby was a little surprised at his determination to find a decent response to so meaningless a question and she turned in her chair to watch him. He was lost in thought now, his fingers rubbing at the short beard that outlined his chin, his eyes narrowed and cast downward to the floor.
Suddenly he looked up at her and grinned in triumph. "Ahah!" he announced. "I have it!"
Trilby smiled at the victory written upon his face. "Oh really, great Sven? And, pray tell, what is it that you have seen so clearly?"
"It is really quite obvious," he replied. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he paused for dramatic effect. "It's true that I have a Svengali and I must be simple not to have seen it before. The answer, my dear, is that it's you! You are my Svengali, the one who drives me on to be who you want me to be. You are the Svengali that decrees that I shall be the Svengali that you require!"
There was a look of quiet contentment on Trilby's face now. She nodded once before aiming her answer at the darkness of his corner. "Yes, my good friend Sven. My secret is out..."
This little tale can be read as it is but it helps if one understands the meaning implicit in the name Svengali. Merriam Webster has an excellent definition of it, together with its origin.
Word count: 1,187
Twisted Tales Contest, deadline July 15 2021