Free Souls, Chapter 27

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

Chapter 27

“Guten Abend, Herr Edelstein!” Sandy called out, letting herself in at Werner’s apartment door.

“Guten Abend, Fraulein Beichten! Wie geht’s?”

“Es geht wohl,” she replied, joining him in his minuscule kitchen. “It’s going very well, in fact. I got my presentation all done by five o’clock, I think it looks damn good, and I brought us a pizza to celebrate.”

“Ach!” he said, with an air of mock exasperation. “You Americans and your pizza! You live on nothing else!”

“Oh, you know you like it, too. I got it with extra sausage, your favorite.”

“Ja wohl!” Werner said, opening the box she laid on the tiny counter. The seductive fragrance of hot pizza filled the apartment. “You come in good time, meine Liebling. There is hardly a crumb to eat in the house. I think to myself, ‘Ach! Meine arme Zandra! She will starve, or dine on pickles and beer.’ Now kommst Du mit der pizza. Wunderbar! You will want a reward for this, ja?”

“Well, since you mention it . . . ,” Sandy began.

“You perhaps are thinking of one way I can reward you, nichts wahr?” He glanced down the hall towards his bedroom.

She gave him a wry smile. “No, Werner. You can reward me with– Werner, may I choose the music tonight?”

He shrugged off his disappointment and said, “Natürlich.”

“All right. Tonight I want to listen to La Damnation de Faust.”

“Ach! Again with Fausts Verdammnis!” he cried. “What have I created! You are fond of this opus of our Hector’s, are you not?”

“Yes,” she replied, though ‘fond’ wasn’t really the right world. Fascinated by it, compelled by it, ensnared by it– any of these would have described her feeling for the music better. She could hardly explain it to herself, and much less to him, how Berlioz’ dramatic legend had seized her imagination. It was an echo of her life these past four years. She had acquired her own recording of it but it sounded diminished on her little record player in her room at the rented house. Here at Werner’s, on his stereo system, the music could race around the walls of the room and swell and rebound on itself as it liked.

He reached out and tousled her hair. “Ach! meine Kleinchen! You see yourself as poor Marguerite, perhaps? You are afraid your Faust will bed you and leave you all alone?”

She chose to ignore that. “Come on, Werner. You said you had some beer? The pizza’s getting cold.”

“Du hast Recht, Leibling,” he said. They gathered up the food and drink and carried it to the living room. As the first strains of the viola were heard and Faust raised his voice in his paean to Spring, Sandy reflected on what Werner had said in the kitchen. This was yet another thing she could not tell him. She liked Marguerite’s music well enough; at his urging she was learning to sing her two great arias, in French and German both. But when it came to her identifying with anyone in La Damnation, it was not Gretchen, it was Faust himself.

But she couldn’t withhold her thoughts entirely. “Werner,” she asked suddenly, as Faust, alone in his study, sang of his disgust with life, “where do you think Faust went wrong?”

“I thought you wanted to listen to the music, ja?”

“Ja. Yes. But– ” she groped for a safe excuse for the question– “but if I understand the story better, I’ll enjoy the music more, don’t you think?”

“Vielleicht. Perhaps! But let us listen until this first side finishes. Perhaps, then, I can answer your question.”

They listened in silence until Side 1 ended with “The Song of the Rat.” Werner unfolded himself from the beanbag and went over to flip the record.

“Werner . . . ?” Sandy reminded him.

“Ach, ja. Der arme verdammnt Doktor. Where did he go wrong.”

“Yes, where?”

“Was willst Du? It was Mephistopheles, was it not?”

She wouldn’t be put off by that. “I don’t believe so. Not totally. He was already– I mean, already nothing in life was enough for him, he was ready to drink poison and die– ”

“Nicht unbedingt, Zandra. Not necessarily. That powerful drug might have given him illumination, like your LSD.”

“It isn’t my LSD,” she said, getting up and making a production of examining the bronze laughing Buddha. She had stopped smoking marijuana, even with Marvin, before the start of her junior year. She found she couldn’t design worth two cents when she was high, and it irritated her when Werner implied that American students did nothing but lie around stoned on drugs.

Relenting, she stood before him at the turntable.  “I’m sorry, Werner. But if that was his intention, why did he need a drug to gain it? Weren’t his studies enough for him? I know Berlioz doesn’t say that much about that part of his life, but isn’t that who he was in Goethe’s story, a great scholar?”

“Ja?” It was an invitation for her to say more.

“So once upon a time he was totally dedicated to his work, maybe he thought it was God’s call on his life, but he let himself think it wasn’t enough for him?”

“You could say that, ja.”

“And he was once a man of faith? When he hears the people sing the Easter hymn, he says, what?” She picked up the insert with the lyrics on it. “Oh, yes. ‘Le ciel m’a reconquis’--‘Heaven has won me back.’”

“Ja, so sagt es.”

“But he must have turned his back on that in reality, since he falls easily when Mephistopheles appears.”

“Again I say, Zandra, not necessarily. Left untempted, he might have continued on the upward path, vielleicht.”

She disregarded this. “I wonder if he needed Mephistopheles to be damned at all.”

“Oh, we all have our Mephistopheles,” Werner said with an air of certainty. “Die Frage– the question– is, will we listen to him, or will we hear the angel voices calling us to higher things?”

“Werner,” she said, suddenly feeling desperately in earnest, “do you think we all carry our Mephistopheles around in ourselves, or does it take some outside influence to do the job?”

He shrugged. “Wer weiß? Who knows? But lassen uns hear the rest of the music, ja?” He put the needle on the disc, then held out his hand to her. “Komme hier, sitze Du mit mir.”

“Yes, Werner,” she said, seating herself by his side. But though her body was with him in the beanbag chair, her mind was far away.

She wouldn’t, she couldn’t draw a direct parallel between herself and Faust. She wasn’t planning on being damned, not in the next life, at least. But as for this world . . . Hadn’t she already been Faust enough to pull her own self off the track, with no devil’s assistance needed? Her infatuation with Jeff had been one long “Minuet of the Will-o’-the-Wisps.” Her months with Marvin might as well have been spent in Auerbach’s beer cellar.

The students’ and soldiers’ choruses went by. She had schooled herself not to wince when the former was sung, and she had even learned to enjoy them as things in themselves. Put the past behind her, and accept what life had to offer now, that’s what she had to do.

But where was she now? She watched her boyfriend as he placed the second disc of the set on the turntable and returned to her side. Werner was capable, competent, and kind. He had a great future ahead of him. But did she have a future with him? The image of herself travelling all over the world with him, waiting for him backstage while he covered himself– and by association, her– with triumph, of being introduced at parties as the wife? girlfriend? companion? of the great virtuoso violinist Werner Edelstein had from time to time flashed its way onto the screen of her consciousness. And she had allowed herself to enjoy the vision for a moment before that efficient technician, good sense, turned off the projector and it faded away.

But perhaps she ought to think about where their relationship might lead. He cared for her more than she did for him. True.  But maybe she was asking too much, to want to be overwhelmingly in love before she should commit. Happy marriages had been made on less.

“We could never marry,” she shut out the possibility. On the stereo, Marguerite was singing the “Ballad of the King of Thule”: “Qui jusq’au tombeau fut fidele”– who was faithful unto death. “I could never– I mean, what about my own work, my art? I’m just as dedicated to Architecture as he is to Music!”

But that was a red herring. She had no apprehension that Werner would demand she give up her career for his sake. “Besides . . . these days it’s practically expected that a woman should have some job of her own . . . couples are working these things out all the time.”

He broke into her thoughts, drawing her attention to a particularly fine passage in the music. She composed herself to listen– “After all, I’m the one who requested it!”– but the inner questions left her with only half an ear.

“Do I think he’ll tempt me out of my virginity– what’s left of it?” She couldn’t take safety on that front for granted, but thus far, aside from a few broad hints, he’d been the perfect gentleman about it. Even here on the beanbag, where it would be so easy . . .

On the thought, as if sensing the direction her mind had strayed, he tightened his grip on her shoulder and, if possible, pulled her closer to him.

But no. If sex were the temptation, he could just as likely say she was a female Mephistopheles to him! It was something else that bothered her, something else in him that seemed to entice her to go where she shouldn’t and be what she should not.

“Last week, when we got to talking about redemption, and the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ . . . and he said that true Christian salvation was all about realizing one’s identity with the Godhead, and recognizing that human nature and divine nature are all one . . . and I asked him, so, why did Jesus need to die, and he said death wasn’t the enemy, it was a glorious blending with Universal Wisdom and Love, and Jesus died and rose to show us how beautiful death really was . . . That doesn’t sound like what I read in St. Paul’s letters, but maybe I don’t remember it right? I really should take more time to read the Bible, but I keep forgetting . . . ”

But to cast Werner as Mephistopheles come to tempt her from her faith– that was absurd. There had to be more for her to learn than she’d picked up at Fourth Presbyterian. She didn’t want to be a narrowminded fundamentalist, after all.

“I just wish he wouldn’t sound so much like the Transcendental Meditation crowd sometimes . . . I swear I heard him use the term ‘Christ Consciousness’ the other day . . . I really care about Werner– as a friend, I do– maybe I should point out where he’s going too far? Maybe God put me with him to help him know what’s right and he’s supposed to help me? He is making me think more about God and religion, after all . . . But is it the right thing?”

Just then, a harsh staccato “Ha!” exploded from the speakers. Mephistopheles and the will-o’-the-wisps, warning a simple young girl that she shouldn’t go to her lover’s house alone, and thereby tempting her to do just that . . . Sandy should have been expecting it, but it still made her jump. Its suddenness made her feel that moral danger could be anywhere– even right at hand.

“The Devil, he has frightened you, meine Liebling?” Werner’s arm held her close. “Worry not. I will protect you.”

But about then, Andreas, Werner’s cellist roommate, let himself in at the apartment door, a brown paper bag in his hand. Automatically, Sandy stood, with Werner uncurling himself more slowly. A shock-headed, blond, stocky young man with a lively eye, the Austrian took in the pizza box, the music on the stereo, and the two of them at the beanbag chair.

“Ach!” he exclaimed. “It is a party! I will join it. Here is more beer.” He threw them each a bottle, and Sandy was glad she caught hers and didn’t drop it. “Berlioz, ja? Our student orchestra and choir in Wien played Der Verdammnis one year. Our Marguerite was schrecklich, terrible, but we were excellent, wissen Sie?”

With that he helped himself to the remaining pizza, lit a cigarette, and eagerly engaged Werner in a discussion on the structure and performance of the music. From him, Sandy noticed, her musician did not demand quiet. After awhile she got up to go to the bathroom, and when she returned she sat down on a pillow near one of the loudspeakers. She didn’t mind that the two young men seemed to have forgotten her presence. Tonight, she preferred to be left to the Berlioz– and her own unsettled thoughts.

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