Time’s Bending Sickle

This site has two previous novels: “Four-Part Dissonance” can be found in the archives beginning October 2009; “Death and the Maiden” begins in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” begins in October 2010 (scroll down to find chapter one).

29. The Wastes of Time

It was dawn. The town of Dobrynichi, surrounded by a log pallisade, was about a hundred yards from a shallow trench that scarred the snow-covered plain. The trench stretched out of sight in both directions, curving around the town. It was crowded with men, most of whom rested an arquebus on its rim, and held matchcord which they occasionally blew on. Cannon were placed at intervals a few yards in front of the trench, and were protected by wickerwork barriers filled with earth. In that section of the trench nearest the town gate, Toby limped from one man to another, explaining, sometimes in German, sometimes in English, and sometimes, through Jacob, in Russian, how to fire an organ pipe. The smaller pipes were raised and backed by mounds of earth; the ends of the larger ones were weighted with stones. The sound hole of each pipe was filled in with clay, except for a small touch-hole charged with powder.
“Do not be afraid that the pipes will burst, for they hold no shot. But after you touch your match, turn away so that a backfire may not burn you. Now, all you, cannoneers, arquebusers, all. Hold your fire until I signal. We must fire all at once, together, ensemble, zusammen. We must make a good show.”
Toby turned and looked out into the mist. After a while, muffled sounds of firing and shouting could be heard, and then the roar of cannon, not so distant. More shouts, shots, and the cry of horses and the thud of hoofbeats. The medley of noises grew louder as the conflict grew closer–one could now hear swords clashing. Then, through the valley that led to the town, a crowd of horsemen came galloping. When the valley widened, they spread out.
“They’re ours!” someone called out in English.
Behind the retreating Russian cavalry, Dimitry’s horsemen pressed on. But rather than spreading out to pursue the Russians, they headed straight for the town. They were densely packed, and I could not see the last of them. Toby stood on one of the cannon wheels.
“Get ready! Fertig!”
The men blew on their matches. Toby strained forward toward the approaching riders. The rumble of hoofbeats was the ground bass over which the shouting and firing were mere grace notes.
I couldn’t see the whites of their eyes, but Dimitry’s cavalry were about fifty yards from the cannon when Toby shouted “Fire!” The cannon and arquebuses joined the organ pipes in an unholy chorus of noise, flame, and smoke, rolling along the trenches like thunder. For a while, I couldn’t see a thing for the smoke. However, if horsemen had been jumping the trench I think I would have noticed. When the smoke began to thin, I could make out a confused turmoil as the horsemen, who had turned in retreat, met their comrades pressing from the rear. The Muscovite cavalry had turned as well, and was now coming back to harass the edges of the milling Dimitrians. Eventually, the retreat gained momentum, and the Muscovites followed in pursuit. A few of the Russians in the trench, yelling and waving their swords, left their discharged arquebuses and set off running after the horsemen. The rest jumped up and cheered, or soberly began to reload. The men who had fired the organ pipes grinned in happy astonishment. Only one had ignored Toby’s warning, and got his face blackened when his pipe split; he seemed unhurt, but for a while he was puzzled by the jeers of his comrades.
Toby was clearly pleased and excited. “Brave music, men!” he shouted to his organists.

I awoke feeling much better. I had slept nearly ten hours, and my head was clear enough to make me grind my teeth in chagrin at my bizarre intrusion on Clio the night before. I’d call to apologize, then stay away. For a while. Until–what? Until I was a little more in control, more respectable, more presentable. Why? OK, the attraction was not only the wonderful cello. I allowed myself to think things that I had denied myself in my role as faithful husband. Yes, Clio interested me. But I was just a casual acquaintance, and it would be presumptious of me to think the interest could be returned. She had a life, and clearly had an interest in at least one other man. But I think Clio–and Marina, and Alice, and Doreen–were friends, though our acquaintance was neither long nor deep.
I shaved, showered, checked my wounds–which seemed fine–and ate a big breakfast of ham and hash browns. My leg felt better, but it usually did in the morning. Back in the room, I determined to call Clio, but put it off while I looked through the job ads in the Post and the Sun. I jumped when the phone rang. It was Clio.
“I thought you were going to call. I tried three different Day’s Inns.”
“Listen, I’m sorry. I was about to call and apologize for barging in like that, but I was slow getting up the nerve. Thanks for putting up with my weirdness.”
“It’s OK. But I would like to know what’s going on with you. You don’t have to say now, but you could come have dinner tonight and talk then.”
“I’d like that a lot. I promise I won’t speak in tongues or communicate with UFOs.” I couldn’t promise not to have hallucinations. “As an explanation, not an excuse, I can tell you quickly that I was shot, and fired, and that my marriage is over.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Jean threw my cello off the balcony of our apartment.”
“Oh, no!”
“I’ll give you the bloody details if you’re sure you want to hear.”
“Jean didn’t shoot you, I hope? Or a jealous husband?”
“No.” I was losing my nerve. “Look, you can give me a rain check. I feel bad about you rewarding my presumption with one of your dinners. If you’re sure you don’t mind talking to me, let me take you out.”
“No, thanks. I’ll expect you at seven.” She hung up before I could weasel out.
I got through the rest of the day somehow. I made a few responsible calls, one to Janelle asking for unemployment paperwork, one to Perry, one to the insurance company, and one to my lawyer friend, the viola player who played quintets with us on occasion, and was the victim of dual-purpose jokes.
“Hey, Herm, it’s Tony.”
“Where the hell are you?”
“Baltimore. That’s why I’m calling.”
“I heard about that nut shooting you. I was worried for a while that I wouldn’t hear any more jokes. Now I guess I will.”
“How about now?”
“OK, let’s have it,” he said with mock resignation.
“How is a lawyer like a viola?”
Sigh. “How?”
“They both sound better when the case is closed.”
“Ho ho. Why Baltimore?”
“I’m not sure about that myself. It ain’t Dallas, for one thing. Anyway, I not only got shot, I got fired and dumped. Jean may be trying to find me to file for divorce.”
“You don’t sound like a happy camper.”
“It only hurts when I laugh. Anyway, you might call Jean and tell her you’re representing me–you will, I hope?”
“I don’t do divorce, but I can fix you up.”
“OK, I guess. Anyway, I’m at the Day’s Inn, Baltimore East. If I find something to do and settle elsewhere I’ll let you know.”
I resumed my search through the Post and the Sun. Was I fit for anything besides sales? I could work a computer a little, and knew some of the things they could do, but I was not a programmer or hacker, so I was not employable in that area. No jobs for second-rate cellists. The momentary pleasures of gallows humor faded rapidly. A halluciation began to flicker in my peripheral vision. I’d better get it over with before I face Clio.

I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of the scene I tuned in to. I expected to see wounded and dead, which is bad enough. But the Russian army was enthusiastically hanging all of the prisoners from Dimitry’s forces whom they discovered to be Russian. The disarmed prisoners were backed up against the pallisade wall of Dobrynichi and held at gunpoint by an almost solid ring of streltsy. A group of officers was separating them into two groups, one of which was herded into the town, and the other was pushed into a mob of yelling soldiers who began filling the trees with their hanging bodies.
Toby and Margeret looked on. Toby, visibly repelled, asked Margeret if it could be stopped. The Frenchman said, in effect, that it would be too dangerous to try to interfere with the soldiers’ revenge. He then launched into a dissertation on Russian society. The Russians were cruel because they had been taught cruelty; they had been beaten and robbed by those in authority time out of mind, so they naturally beat their wives and children and any creature weaker than they. If any of the common people should accumulate any goods through thrift or hard work, their betters take them away; so they live hand to mouth, and drink up anything they may earn as fast as they can. Your Swedes and Danes and Dutch are great drinkers, but they are nothing to the Russians. Since they have no power over their lives, they have no honor, and can be great cowards, as we saw at Novgorod Seversky. Like any wild beast, they will fight to survive; but they have no loyalty to anything but themselves.
Toby argued that many are fighting for Czar Boris, and many believe Dimitry to be the true prince, and, however misguidedly, are fighting for him.
Momentary passion and mistaken self-interest, replied Margeret. He was about to elaborate when Toby interrupted and pointed in horror to a gang of soldiers who had thrust a sharpened stake up the rear of a poor screaming, writhing wretch and were setting the stake upright in the ground. I shuddered to realize that gravity would slowly impale the victim further until death released him from his agony. Toby turned and vomited. I ended the vision as soon as I could. I drank a lot of cold water and took a long walk, letting the stinking and noisy traffic and garish signs for fast food and sexual display cleanse my imagination.

I remembered to bring wine. Marvellous smells attended Clio when she opened the door. She was in denim shirt and jeans, but no apron. “Sit,” she said, handing me a glass of her own chilled white wine. “We have time to talk a bit while the oven does the work.” We sat. “Now, how did you get shot? I noticed your limp last night, but I assume you’re OK.”
“Yeah, I’m a bit sore.” I explained about Abner Cross, not minimizing my role in the loss of his job. I had figured out that my firing and Jean’s affair were related; at least Howell must have felt that his relationship with Jean would allow him to do it with no problems. I also speculated on the use he might have made of Jean’s “memories” of satanic ritual abuse, but I may have painted him blacker than he deserved. Clio listened with sympathetic fascination, but no judgments–only a few questions.
“Jean has seen a therapist?”
I explained that she might be contributing to the problem rather than helping.
“So all your stuff went off the balcony with the cello?”
“Yeah. I salvaged all but a few clothes, papers, records, and odd junk.”
“The cello–not fixable?”
“It’s toothpicks. I saved the bow, the neck, and the tailpiece. I don’t know why I bothered.”
A buzzer sounded from the kitchen. “Let’s eat.”
We had lasagna, salad, garlic bread, and a good red wine. Comfort food. When the coffee was ready, Clio put out five cups. I was just about to ask about the cups when the doorbell rang. Clio admitted Marina, Alice, and Doreen, all carrying instruments. Marina gave me a big hug, and they all clucked over my wounds. But we didn’t take too much time with my woes; we quickly finished our coffee and got down to playing. Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn–cheerful, engaging music, very therapeutic.
Over dessert it became clear that Clio had assigned the group the problem of cheering me up and helping me out.
“Now, Tony,” began Alice, “I have a colleague who’s going on sabbatical, leaving next week, and needs someone to stay in her apartment and feed her fish. Could you manage that for a quarter?”
“I don’t know what your plans are,” said Doreen, “but I have a grant with a bit of money for a research assistant. I normally would hire a grad student for this, but none is available this term. Could you do some scoring of manuscript part-books for eight dollars an hour? When you feel like it, there is some research I need done at the Folger and the Library of Congress.”
“These aren’t long-term solutions to anything,” said Marina, “but they may help while you settle things and see where you want to go.”
I tried to thank them, but I couldn’t talk. I cried. After a while, I said, “Please don’t tell the men’s union about this. Thank you all very much.”
“We just have to do this sort of thing now and then to remind everyone that women are better than men,” said Clio, smiling. I believed her profoundly.
I hugged them all as we said goodnight. Did I detect any difference in Clio’s embrace? It would be a flattering fantasy.
The next day I met Alice’s colleague, Maria Boniface, who trusted me implicitly on Alice’s recommendation. “I’m going to do some work on the art in little Italian churches before the Mafia steals it all,” she said. She was a wispy little woman in her early sixties, maybe a hundred pounds after Thanksgiving dinner, but she gave the impression that any Mafiosi would have a hard time getting a painting out from under her scrutiny. She showed me her fish, and described the regimen for their care. She pointed to a computer in a corner surrounded by loaded bookshelves. “I’m taking my portable, but you can use my Macintosh if you like,” she said, assuming that everybody must be writing something. “Otherwise just feed the fish and keep track of your long distance phone calls.”
I moved in two days later. I found some high shelves–too high for Maria–that would hold my books. There was plenty of room for my clothes, and even a parking slot for my car. I called Perry, Callie, Janelle, and Herm with my new address and phone number. None had much news. Herm had made contact with Jean’s lawyer, and gave me the name of a colleague who did divorces for somewhat less than a pound of flesh. Callie said that her relations with Jean had been strained when she left; she had called Jean a few times, but had had a cool response. “She insists she’s fine, but won’t really talk,” Callie said. Perry said that morale was low at Cullen, but the layoffs had subsided, and at least Ramforce was out of the picture. He said that Hiro had gone to work for Tom Backschieder.
On a whim, I called Wizarware and asked to speak to Hiro.
“Excuse me?” A youthful female voice.
“Hiro Watanabe.”
“One moment please?” A pause. “I’m sorry, sir? Like, we don’t have anyone by that name?”
“How about Tom Backscheider?”
“I’m sorry, sir? Mr. Backscheider is no longer with this company?”
I was puzzled. I still had Tom’s home number, so I called, and Tom answered.
“Tony, my man! You OK? Hiro told me about the shooting.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll live. You’re not at Wizardware?”
“Nah, I couldn’t take that corporate shit. I thought about suing, but I got them to pay me off, and I’m starting a new company with Hiro and a few other old hackers.”
“What about your games?”
“The old ones? They have them, but we’ve got some new ones that’ll blow them away. I’ve got one called ‘Evolution,’ with dinosaurs and everything.”
“Great. What do you call the new company?”
“Dragonbyte, with a y of course. Cool, huh?”
“Right on. Say, do you need a cello player?”
“We could use a salesman–at least we could use you. Come on out.”
“Many thanks, but I’d like to stay east for a while. But let me sell some of your stuff on straight commission out here.”
“Sure. I’ll send you some samples and poop.”
I gave him the address and sent regards to Hiro. So maybe I wouldn’t starve.
My other job started the day after I moved. Doreen was a music historian and was working on a newly discovered manuscript of mid-sixteenth-century Netherlandish motets. They were in five seperate partbooks, one for each voice part. Doreen had xeroxes of these parts, which had to be transcribed in score for publication and study. She would edit them and resolve what appeared to be copying errors and other problems, but I could do a lot of the preliminary work. It was just what I needed, sedentary, peaceful, exacting, engaging, but not particularly difficult work. I enjoyed hearing in my head the music emerge as I added each part to the score. It had that same serenity and contrapuntal interest of the In nomines that Toby played with Van Meergen and his friends.
In fact, as I was surprised and fascinated to discover, the part of one of the motets I was transcribing sounded familiar because it was the In nomine theme. I flipped through the xeroxes and discovered the theme in a good quarter of the motets. When I pointed this out to Doreen, she was also excited. “I don’t know much about the In nomine, but it’s very interesting to find it used in these motets. When you can get around better, why don’t you look at some of the other early string In nomines and see what the relationships might be? We could get an article out of this.”
“We? I’m hired help.”
“But you discovered it, because you knew something I didn’t. I’ll do my share, but you’ll do a lot of the legwork. It’s the way it’s done, or should be. But it’s easy to be generous when there’s no direct money involved. The journals that might publish this article, if we do it, don’t pay anything.”
We did the article, and it was eventually published in an academic journal on music history. I was excited to see my name in print after Doreen’s. That, and the thrill of discovering something new, something I hadn’t hallucinated, whetted my appetite for more. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The lawyer that Herm recommended to me seemed pleasant enough on the phone. His name was Oliver Johnstone; I soon learned from the people at his office that everyone called him Ollie. I started off by telling him that I didn’t want to contest the divorce in any way, and that I didn’t want anything from Jean, not even damages for my cello. I’d brought nothing to the marriage, and had had a fairly rewarding job as a result of it. I had, over the years, earned what I had spent on my car, books, and clothes, and would like to keep them.
“Look, Tony,” Ollie said, “I’ll be neglecting my obligation to you if I don’t ask for something. It’s a community property state, for God’s sake. You don’t have to ask–you just make trouble if you insist on not taking what’s coming. Besides, you’ve gotta pay me.”
“I don’t want to take advantage of her. She’s been through a lot of emotional and mental stress.”
“She can buy a lot of comfort and therapy with what she’s got. Drew must have paid her five or six million during that buyout.”
“Nevertheless, I don’t want any of it. Changing the subject, can we do all of this on the phone? I don’t want to come to Dallas unless I have to.”
“As much as I’d like to see what an idiot like you looks like, I think we can. But think about what I’m saying. I’m meeting with her lawyer tomorrow. I know him, he’s good. He’ll want me to argue. He won’t have any fun if we can’t haggle. How about it?”
“No.”
“Well, I’ll see what’s on their minds and call you. Remember, I may be a friend of Herm’s, but I’m not cheap.”
“We’ll work it out.”
“I don’t know how. I hope you do.”
He called back the next day. “I had a little fun after all. They want your car.”
“What?”
“Yeah. They’ll generously let you keep your clothes and books. Don’t worry, they know it’s outrageous. It’s just a tactic to keep you from asking for more.”
“It seems more like a tactic to piss me off. Did you tell them what I said?”
“Well, not exactly. I just let them state their position. I told them I’d consult with you before we respond.”
“Go ahead and tell them. Get it over with.”
“OK, but I’m sending you a bill.”
“Please do. Hit me a little at a time.”
Maybe I could manage. I was living very cheaply, and was earning a little money doing Doreen’s work. When Tom’s samples from Dragonbyte arrived, I checked them out on Maria’s Mac, and was very impressed. I took them around to computer stores and college campus stores in the Baltimore-Washington area, and actually made a few sales. I found I could live in my monk-like present circumstances, but I’d be in trouble when Maria returned and I had to pay rent. And when I got a bill from Ollie for $250 for three hours’ work and two phone calls, I began to worry. How much would the whole process cost? Since I hadn’t insured or listed my cello seperately, my insurer coughed up only $200. It was worth at least six thousand. Well, I’d think about money later.
On the bright side, I got to play Clio’s cello with the quartet several times. The women continued their sympathetic and supportive interest, which was of course gratifying–but also, I must admit, a bit burdensome. When I got the insurance check–before I got Ollie’s bill–I talked Clio into letting me take her to dinner. I took her to the seafood restaurant Marina had introduced me to, for it was cheap and good. Fortunately, Clio knew and liked the place, and we had a good meal. She was friendly and at ease, and didn’t raise my misfortunes as a subject for conversation. I appreciated that. Instead, we talked about art and music, and I managed to get her to tell me more about her life.
She had had the good fortune to have stable and loving parents, who were themselves children of immigrants. Her father’s parents had lived in a Jewish neighborhood, where every other family was trying to raise another Heifetz. Her father was a big kid, so he was steered toward the cello. But as much as he had loved music, her father had felt it would be impractical to make it a profession, so he worked his way through NYU and got into Columbia Law School. Her mother played piano, so Clio grew up with music.
“I remember the looks they would give each other when they were playing together and the music was going well. It was almost erotic. Of course that bothered me a lot when I was an adolescent.” She laughed.
Clio had taken piano lessons, but her interest in art was so much greater that she had focused intently on it since high school. Her parents, perhaps regretting their own sacrifices of art to practicality, were very supportive.
“I wish I had had to fight them more,” she said at one point. “I got where I assumed everyone loved my work. Then in art school I ran into some really cruel teachers and fellow students. They told me what I was doing was crap, but they couldn’t explain why–at least not to my satisfaction. Maybe if I had been forced to fight and argue my point of view earlier, I would have had an easier time.”
“Or maybe your parents’ confidence in you gave you strength to persevere, which you obviously have done.”
“Maybe so. But you know at a certain time of your life your parents have no credibility, especially compared to your peers or to some charismatic mentor. And although I’m doing OK, there are still a lot of artists and critics who think my stuff is crap. It took me a while to learn how to take that.”
“Music is not like that. I guess it is in composition to a degree, but in performance, gross competence is so demanding that questions of nuance and interpretation come up only after you have shown that you have the technique. You have to play the right notes in tune, you have to be able to play up to tempo.”
The conversation led to the discipline of art and the time it took to cultivate it. Clio said that her grandparents worried because artists, more than musicians, seemed to have loose morals and eccentric behavior. “What a laugh. I worked so hard that art almost made me a kind of nun.”
I was eager to explore the implications of that remark, but I didn’t dare press it. Clio, however, went on to say that she did have a few dates in school, and one long serious relationship with another artist. He couldn’t take the competition of her success, however, and broke it off. “He was older, so I thought he was mature. I guess I was naive.” But most of the time she painted instead of socializing.
When we arrived at Clio’s, I made a clumsy attempt to kiss her. She gently put her hand on my chest and gave me a peck on the cheek. It was a long time after that before I got in Clio’s house without the quartet or other guests present. Yet the next day, Clio invited me to a gallery opening that weekend. We went to a lot of free concerts and galleries, and occasionally had lunch or dinner out–dutch, at her insistence. We got to know each other pretty well, on one level, and, I think, became good friends. I wanted to go beyond that, of course, but for some reason Clio held me at a warm, friendly, but firm distance. And sometimes she could not go with me because she was doing something with Brian. She would say this without a hint of sexual provocation–she would use the same tone and expression if she were doing something with Doreen or Alice. Somehow I managed to find comfort in that.

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