Dear Readers: This is the last post I will make for a while. I hope to put the three novels I have posted on this site into e-books, and will let you know when they are available. Many thanks to those who have continued to read my pieces in this inconvenient format, and especially to those who gave me helpful comments. Also thanks to the friends who gave me advice when I wrote them in the first place.
As a reminder, “Four-Part Dissonance” began in October 2009 (see the archives); “Death and the Maiden” in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” in October 2010.
By Edward Doughtie
Phil Sanders, third stand, fifth chair violist, staggered sleepily to his hotel room door. The knocking had been soft but persistent, and he had waked with a little jolt of adrenaline. He looked through the peephole and saw Sara Viotti, second stand, third chair first violinist. His heart gave another lurch.
“Just a minute. Let me get on some pants.”
He struggled into his jeans and opened the door. Sara slipped in with a shy smile; she didn’t look him in the eye.
“Sorry to get you up,” she breathed.
“That’s ok. Are you all right?”
“Oh, yeah.” She hugged her t-shirted chest. Phil, now wide awake, observed the shifting breast tissue. She was a small woman, curvy without being plump. Phil’s imagination surged.
“Ah, Phil.” She took a deep breath. “Could I—could I borrow your room for a while? An hour, maybe? You’re the only one I know with a single room, and I just need a little—private time.” She hugged herself tighter.
“Sure,” he said without thinking. Anything. He started to the door, then stopped. “I’d better put on some more clothes. Won’t be a minute.” He reached for his shirt. As he pulled on his socks, he glanced at the clock radio: one-twenty. Sara stood in leggings and ballet slippers, shifting from foot to foot, looking at the floor.
“Guess I’ll go read in the lobby. For an hour?”
“Maybe an hour and a half?” She looked up, appealing.
“Ok.” On his way to the door she stopped him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
In the lobby, Phil found an easy chair behind a column and settled down with last week’s Time. The only other occupant was a trombonist, still in concert clothes, sprawled and snoring on a sofa. Drunken Duncan, couldn’t make it to his room. Good thing he didn’t have to play tomorrow.
Phil stared at the magazine without seeing it. Sara filled his mind. He had watched her during rests for a long time. He loved the way she tossed her dark hair when she took a fast up-bow, and when she set her lips in determination during fast passages. He had talked to her occasionally, but never felt that he held any interest for her. She always seemed to be looking at someone else. But now she had come to him for a favor. Something positive about him had registered with her. She was grateful. She kissed him.
Phil was almost thirty, not exactly a virgin, but for some time an involuntary celibate. Playing in this second-tier symphony was the goal of years of hard practice and grueling auditions. He worked hard at keeping up. It took a lot of time.
Of the young women in the orchestra, five were married, one was a lesbian, and two didn’t attract him. Then there was Sara. He looked at his watch; give her the rest of the second hour. What did she want her “private time” for? Meditation? A personal phone call? A tryst? That was obvious, but he hadn’t wanted to think of her meeting another man, especially for sex.
No, maybe she had to call her family. Something delicate, something Phil needn’t know about. Her sister was pregnant, maybe. Did she have a sister? No, forget about sex. She was late with her car payment and needed a loan from the Bank of Dad.
He tried to read, but drifted off and dreamed that Sara’s kiss led to a warmer embrace, a deeper kiss—he woke with a jerk. His watch told him he had been gone two hours. He stretched, yawned, and returned to his room. He knocked first, but heard nothing, so he unlocked the door and went in.
The room was dark. As he fumbled for a light switch, he heard a sniff. The dim light showed Sara, fully clothed, curled up on the bed, her back to him. He moved around the bed and saw Sara’s face wet with tears.
“Are you ok?”
She sat up with a sniff and ran her hand over her face. “Yeah. I’ll go and let you sleep.”
“Don’t worry about that. Can I help with—with anything?”
She shook her head, but then bent over, hid her face in her hands, and sobbed. Phil looked around for something to do. In desperation he ran to the bathroom and grabbed a towel. She took it and continued to sob. Phil stared at her, hesitated, then opened the mini-bar. Small bottles of wine, champagne, whisky. He poured the whisky into a bathroom glass and knelt in front of Sara.
“Drink some of this,” he said. She looked up, her face twisted and red. “It may not help, but maybe you won’t care.”
She took a sip and coughed. “Thanks. Is there any ice?”
“I’ll get some.”
He snatched up the plastic bucket and ran down the hall. When he got back with the ice, Sara was quietly staring into the glass, now and then wiping her face with the towel. She thanked him for the ice and drank. She seemed to be more in control as she put the glass on the bedside table, rose, and went into the bathroom. Phil saw her brushing at her hair.
“God, I’m a mess. I’ll go as soon as I look a little more normal.”
She stood by the bed, taking deep breaths. She tried to smile at Phil. “I’m rooming with Bella. She’s so nosy. She won’t let me alone if I come back looking like this. She thinks I’m—“ Again her hands went to her face and her shoulders jerked with sobs.
Phil guided her back to the bed and handed her the glass of whisky. After a while she drank a little more and said, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I wish I could help.” He wondered if he dared to touch her, hold her hand, put an arm around her shoulders. Instead he handed her the towel again.
She had the hiccups. She looked up between sobs and hiccups and tried to smile. Phil smiled and said, “Boo!” She hiccupped again and smiled.
“Look,” Phil said, sitting on the floor facing her, “it might help if you talked a little bit about what’s the matter. I’m a good listener, and I don’t gossip. I’d like to help, even if I can’t cure your hiccups.”
“Oh, Phil.” She hiccupped. “It’s too much, too painful.” The tears came again.
Phil didn’t know what to say, so he sat silent, watching her cry, wipe her face, and suck the ice in her drink. They were quiet. She made no move to go, but rolled on her back and sighed at the ceiling. Phil thought the whisky was relaxing her. It might not be good if she went to sleep here, he thought. But then . . . .
“I thought he loved me,” she began, very softly. “Eric, I mean.” Eric was the concertmaster, married and fortyish, and in Phil’s mind an arrogant bastard. “He wanted us to be discreet, you know. Nobody should know. It might make trouble in the orchestra. So when he asked me to find a room to meet in, I—well, you can guess. I didn’t expect him to d-dump me.” She stopped and jerked with silent sobs. Phil kept quiet.
“We’ve been—seeing each other for a while. It was easier in town. He kept telling me he was getting a divorce. He didn’t say he wanted to be with me, but there were hints, suggestions. I guess I saw what I wanted to see.”
Phil heard some anger. That was good. But then came more sobs, breaking up her speech.
“I should have known. His wife always met him–back stage. They seemed
glad–to see each other.”
“Do they have kids?”
“Yeah. Two, I think. Oh God. What am I going to do? I can’t sit behind him and look at that mole on the back of his neck and just forget.”
Maybe the start of melanoma, Phil hoped. Sara flailed her hands about. Phil caught one and held it. She let him. Except for an occasional hiccup, they were quiet for a good while.
Phil had an inspiration. “Tell me about something or some time that made you happy.” After a realizing the implications of what he said, he added, “Before you joined the orchestra.”
She gave a brief laugh that turned into a hiccup. “Before the orchestra. I guess that makes it easier.” She swirled her glass and crunched an ice cube. “I was ten. I’d just won a concerto contest with the local orchestra, and I had this new dress for the performance. I was more excited with the dress than with the concert. It was a deep red velvet thing. White lace collar. I loved that dress.” She stretched and sighed. “God, playing was so easy then. I played the Bruch, and it just rolled off. I don’t think I could do it now.”
“Sure you could.”
She looked at Phil as if she were surprised to find him there. “I guess I could play the notes. But not with that confidence—that simplicity.”
“Have you played the other concertos?”
“I’ve studied them all. Well, most of them—Beethoven, Mendelssohn of course, three of the Mozarts, the second Prokofieff, the Berg, Barber, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens third, the Walton—“
(Phil had worked on the Walton viola concerto, but could never have performed it.)
“Played the Brahms with the Interlochen orchestra. Nothing since then.”
Phil tried to think of distracting subjects. “Ever play any quartets?”
“Back at Oberlin. We had to for a semester, but not since then.” She smiled. “I liked it. We did a Mozart, a Beethoven, and a Dvorak.”
“There are lots more, many great ones.”
“I guess. I just never had time.”
“I play with Bob and Jess when we can. Sue used to play with us, but now . . . “ He didn’t finish, because Sara knew that Sue had moved up to a better job in L.A. He hesitated, then said, “Would you like to join us sometime? We just read for fun.”
She looked at him, considering. “Maybe.” She disengaged her hand. Her eyes were red, but dry.
Sara looked at the clock. “I’ve really got to go.” She stood and pulled herself erect. “Thanks, Phil. Sorry to keep you up.”
“Anytime.” She left without kissing him.
Phil knew he couldn’t get back to sleep now. Four thirty. He’d sleep on the plane. Quartets. Sara would be good, once she got to know the literature. With Bob–meaty, sturdy, sensible Bob–solid on the cello and Sara on first, maybe they could get some gigs as a quartet. Maybe leave the orchestra. If they won a big contest, maybe they could make it. And maybe he could get close to Sara. He allowed the dream to spin on.
On the plane the next day, Phil strolled down the aisle and leaned over Sara. “I was thinking. After the matinee concert tomorrow, we’ll be free until the next day. Could you join us for some quartets?”
Sara was sitting by Drunken Duncan, who was leaning on the window, snoring. She looked up from her magazine as if she were trying to remember who Phil was. “Oh. Hi. Uh, tomorrow? I don’t think so.”
She didn’t think so the next two times he asked. Bob brought Anton into their quartet, and he and Jess seemed happy with him, though Phil thought he overplayed. Phil watched Sara surround herself with the two women he didn’t find attractive. She and Eric didn’t look at each other. But he had seen her smile at Drunken Duncan, as he leered at her while moving his trombone slide suggestively.
Phil sat by Bob on the plane home. Bob was engaged, and had three sisters. Maybe he knew something about women. Phil approached the topic gingerly. A woman, he said, had unloaded a lot of personal stuff on him. He was a sympathetic listener, thought he had helped her, and she seemed grateful at the time. But afterward, it seemed that she wanted nothing to do with him.
“Of course,” Bob said. “She let her guard down, showed weakness. She needs control. Can’t let you get close again.” Bob raised one eyebrow and one corner of his mouth. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Phil nodded. Maybe. But if she came on her own terms? He could dream, couldn’t he?