Free Souls, Chapter 31

Free Souls

by KAH

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

Chapter 31

The recital was over. Werner had disappeared backstage; to sit down and get something to drink, she hoped. Sandy was trying to join him there, slowly making her way through the crowd at the apron of the stage. But at every turn someone waylaid her, wanting to talk about the performance. After ten minutes or more she finally detached herself from the last enthusiastic music student and was about to head up the stage steps and back into the wings, when she saw Werner, already back in the hall, standing talking to Dr. Fischer.

She came up to them just as the department head was saying, “ . . . reception. There is someone I want you to meet.”

Werner reached out and gathered her to his side. “Und hier is someone I would like you to meet, Herr Doktor. May I introduce my girlfriend, Zandra Beichten.”

An undefinable look, almost a query, crossed the older man’s face at these words. He glanced at Werner, who said, “And Zandra, this is Dr. Reinholdt Fischer, my teacher.”

She shook hands with Dr. Fischer. “I’m very glad to meet you, sir,” she said.

“It is very good to meet you, too, Miss Beichten,” he said. “I think today you are very proud of our Werner, as am I. Are you not?”

“Oh, yes!” was all she could utter. Her heart and mind were too full to permit her to say more.

“Great things will come out of today’s concert, you may both believe me well.  Werner, I am glad to be called your teacher.”

The three of them were not long by themselves.  Others came crowding around them, music students and faculty members both, all wanting to congratuate Werner on his performance, all wanting to congratulate Dr. Fischer on his protégé, all with questions and compliments and comments on the music her boyfriend had composed.

Standing there listening with his arm around her waist, she had time to look around the room. Up at the top of the hall, near one of the entry doors, she noticed a girl about her age, with long straight black hair, looking intently towards their group; staring, almost. The girl, who looked almost Oriental, immediate dropped her gaze, hesitated a moment, then took two or three irresolute steps down the aisle towards them. But just then someone, it might have been one of the students Sandy knew, made a joke and she turned towards him and laughed with the rest. When the conversation resumed and she glanced up the aisle again, the Oriental-looking girl was gone.

It was time for all of them to be gone. “Werner,” said Dr. Fischer in a tone both humorous and firm, “You must not keep your public waiting. And I believe the school has laid out some very fine things for us to eat in the reception room. Come along. Miss Beichten, you must keep him in order, nichts wahr? Everyone, come.”

In the other room, Dr. Fischer ordered his pupil, “You wait here,” and went off into the crowd. Sandy remained with her boyfriend, her hand in his. “Werner, it was– ” But before she could say much more the String department head returned with a short, wiry, gray-haired man in tow.

“Mr. Emerson,” he said to him, “this is Werner Edelstein, our composer and soloist of today. Werner, may I present my good friend Mr. Jack Emerson. He is the music director of the C— Symphony Orchestra.”

Sandy looked up at Werner in delight. She knew the work of both Maestro Emerson and his orchestra. To have him want to meet him was an honor in itself.

Mr. Emerson shook Werner’s hand, saying, “Young man, that was a revelation. That can’t be your first major composition, can it?”

Werner murmured something about his earlier works, and Mr. Emerson went on. “I am engaged in planning next year’s season with the orchestra, and there are still a few holes I need to fill. You may have heard of the new series we have planned?” He glanced at Dr. Fischer as he said this, who shook his head as to say, “I did not mention it to him.” “Well,” he went on, “Our board has decided to feature young soloists and performers from this state and the ones surrounding it. The past few months I have been going to hear young musicians like yourself to see if I want to invite them to solo with our orchestra. Mr. Edelstein, would you be free this coming winter to do that? Who knows, we might feature you in your own concerto!”

Sandy felt his hand clutch hers in excitement. Still, his response to the great conductor was businesslike and calm. “Ja, I would be honored to play with your excellent orchestra– if your American government does not object.” His lips twisted in a self-deprecating smile. “My student visa, it expires at the end of this August.”

“Oh, if that’s the only problem, don’t worry about it in the least! I can help you get your Green Card if you wish to remain in the United States past August, and if that doesn’t work out, we will fly you here from West Germany and take care of all the paperwork for you. At our expense, of course.”

Werner bowed. “Vielen Dank’, Maestro Emerson. I will reserve for you whatever date you wish.” At his side, Sandy could feel his exultation. To what might this not lead? Perhaps Maestro Emerson could offer him a regular seat in his violin section! Or give him a strong recommendation to the music director of another great orchestra?

“Excellent! May I have your contact information? If you move, I will get in touch with you through Dr. Fischer, of course.”

Werner felt in the pockets of his tuxedo trousers. “Ach! I have not a scrap!”

“That’s all right,” said Sandy, quickly opening her purse. “I do.” She held up the little notepad. Her boyfriend took it and the pen from her, and seemed to examine the paper a moment before writing his information out for Mr. Emerson. The older man put it away carefully in his notecase, then prepared himself, by all appearances, to stand there and discuss Werner’s concerto with him till the church bells rang the following morning.

But Dr. Fischer was accustomed to taking charge on such occasions. “Jack, my good friend! I am afraid you must allow Mr. Edelstein to go and do his duty. There are many people here who wish to congratulate him. They will be very disappointed if they can not.”

“Not at all,” said Mr. Emerson, cheerily. “Mr. Edelstein, if I do not catch you later on this afternoon, I’ll make sure to see you again before much more time goes by. We have a lot to talk about together.” They all shook hands (Werner gracefully introducing Sandy to him as they did), then the music director of the C— Symphony Orchestra disappeared into the crowd.

“Well!” said Dr. Fischer. “Did I not say great things would come out of today’s doings? And that will be only the beginning. But now, my pupil, you must pay the price of success.” He stationed his protégé near the door of the reception hall, in what turned out to be a very short reception line, composed solely of Werner, Dr. Fischer himself, and Dr. Bryn Thomas, the Conservatory principal. Sandy excused herself; she had no place in it. Besides, she had other things to take care of– like giving herself the pleasure of circulating among the attendees and hearing others say out loud what she herself thought and knew.

At first she enjoyed herself just picking up the chatter. Not everyone was talking about Werner and his concerto, of course. Some people were discussing that afternoon’s major league baseball game and others were comparing notes about their gardens. But a great many were reliving the recital, and she stored up what she heard to pass on to Werner when they would be together alone.

Contemplating this, she was a little startled when a young man came up to her and said, “Hi, Sandy. Werner abandon you?”

“Oh! No! Hi, Danny,” she said, recognizing him as one of the Conservatory students. “No, he’s over there, doing the honors.”

They both looked across the room to where Werner was still doing his duty manfully. She thought he appeared tired.

“‘What! Will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?’” Danny parodied Macbeth.

The queue of waiting well-wishers did look to be interminable. “Oh, gosh!” Sandy said, worried. “I hope nobody shakes his hand too hard and squashes his fingers!”

“No,” said Danny. “We string players learn early how to keep people from doing that.”

“Oh, yes! You played the double bass in the orchestra today! How did you like Werner’s concerto?”

“Well, he didn’t make it easy on us, did he? All those double stops and key changes . . . ” He laughed, then grew sober. “Seriously, though, it was an honor. It took a hell of a lot of work, and he gave us holy shit during rehearsals. But we got it, and I’m glad we did. It’s a sensational piece. I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep it in the repertoire here, even after Edelstein’s gone on to bigger and better things.”

“I’m glad to hear you say so. Me, I’m not trained myself, and of course I’m biassed, so to have a musician praise it . . . ”

“It’s good. Better than good. I wouldn’t say so if I didn’t mean it.”

They stood in silence a moment, watching the progress of the reception line. Sandy recognized the blonde girl who had sat in the front row to the right of her. She saw her shake hands with Werner, and seem to ask him something. He shook his head severely. Then (Sandy wasn’t sure due to the intervening bodies) she thought he raised his eyes, as if trying to indicate someone or something across the room.

“Oh, dear! That blonde girl who’s shaking hands with Werner!” said Sandy. “Looks like she may have asked him a question he didn’t like. Poor girl! I hope he makes allowances for the general public.”

“General public?” asked Danny, shaking off some abstraction. “Who, Lisa? No, she’s a student here. From Sweden.  Piano, I think.” He seemed to remember something. “Come on,” he said, taking her elbow. “You’re standing here with nothing. Let’s get you something to eat and drink.”

He steered her away to the nearest refreshment table, fixed up a plate, and put it and a cup of punch in her hands. It all looked wonderful, but Sandy was still too excited to eat.

‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me . . . ’” The verse from John’s Gospel somehow rose to her memory. It wasn’t appropriate to apply it to the present circumstances: she knew that, of course. Still, it described how she felt. Food didn’t strike her as important right now. Hearing what others thought of Werner and his performance did.

In a few minutes mundane reality intruded. A sharp object was digging into the skin of her chest. “Damn, one of the safety pins must have come loose. Maybe from all the clapping . . . ”

There was nothing for it but to head to the Ladies’ and get it fixed. She slipped noiselessly into the restroom, the doors of which had been equipped with sound dampers so their opening and closing couldn’t be heard in the recital hall, and stood at the mirror, fiddling with her bodice.  Two of the toilet stalls were occupied, and from one a young woman’s voice, that of a contralto, Sandy thought, was saying, “ . . . the scherzo, you must have been thrilled!”

From the other, another voice, more subdued and less resonant, returned, “Oh, you don’t know how much that meant to me!”

Sandy was racking her brain as to what precisely they were talking about. She knew there was a sonata or two on the program; was the girl talking about the scherzo movement in one of them? She didn’t have her program sheet with her to check– “Damn, I must’ve left it on the table at the front of the reception room!”– and in any event, she had her hands full with her sundress and the uncooperative strapless bra.

The contralto voice said, “So later tonight do you think he– ” But just then Sandy stuck her finger with the pin and let out a little “Ow!” Immediately the conversation across the stall partitions ceased. One toilet flushed and out came the contralto, a medium-height girl with blunt brown bangs and a Prince Valiant flip.  Ignoring Sandy, she washed her hands and left the room. Sandy washed her own hands and pressed a paper towel to the pin prick, holding it over the sink so she wouldn’t get blood on the white dress.

After a minute or two, the other toilet flushed. The girl who emerged was petite and dark with long hair, very Oriental-looking. It was, in fact, the young woman who had stared at them from the top of the recital hall about an hour before. She froze for a moment when she saw that someone was still there, then with an air exaggeratedly casual washed her hands without acknowledging Sandy’s presence again. Then she, too, exited the room.

“Bizarre! I wonder what that was all about? Not my fault if people gossip in the Ladies’ room and other people overhear them. Why’d she look so offended at me?

It wasn’t her concern. The bleeding had stopped and the pin finally slipped into place. She returned to the reception.

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