(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)
“And then, whap! the E-string breaks and knocks his hat right off! It was hilarious!” A knot of students, mostly members of the day’s orchestra, had congregated near the nearly-depleted punchbowl and Joel, one of Werner’s violin-playing colleagues, was sharing a story about the German’s early days at the Conservatory.
“Oh, no!” Sandy couldn’t help saying. “It could’ve hit him in the eye! He could’ve been seriously hurt!” The thought filled her with horror.
“Oh, not Werner,” Joel said. “He’s too lucky.”
“That hat deserved to be knocked a good one, it was so stupid-looking,” said someone else.
“Oh, hell, it sure was,” said a violist, laughing. “We thought after that he’d stop wearing it, but he just said, ‘Ach, nein, it ist mine protekshun’!”
“When did he stop wearing it?” asked Danny.
“Don’t remember. Was it after we filled it with shaving cream just before he had to perform in class?”
“Men,” she thought to herself. “They can be so cruel to each other!” Though the female music students were just as bad. And come to think about it, they pulled some pretty rude tricks on each other up in Studio, and yes, all right, she had participated, too.
So she was unprepared when two hands stole softly upon her waist and she was drawn back against his breast. “Werner!” she breathed, as a jolt of electricity flashed through her. For a moment the faces of the students, now laughing at her, grew dim. What was happening? He had done this kind of thing before, but it had never affected her like this.
“Liebling,” he said, turning her so he could look in her face, “where were you? You left me to the wolves, you did!”
“And you slew every one of them,” she returned happily. The other people may as well not have been there.
“But what have you been doing while die arme Hand was being shaken off the bone? Amusing yourself and forgetting all about me?”
“She’s been taking a poll on how great your performance was,” said Joel. “And the only choices were– ”
“ –Amazing, Stupendous, and Far-Freaking-Out-of-This-World,” concluded Danny.
“Ja?” The eyebrow went up. “And the results of this poll were?”
She looked up at him. She felt as light-headedly foolish as a ten-weeks’ kitten, as a four-year-old child, as the village idiot, and she did not care. “Everyone says– you’re a genius.”
“So sagen sie? Und Du, Kleinchen, was sagst Du?”
“I say– you are a genius.”
He hugged her to his side while his fellow-students male and female laughed again. Then the oboe, a young man with a drooping mustache and reddish hair permed into a puffball Afro, said, “What say we blow this joint and head over to the Quarter Rest? Werner, are you coming now, or do we need to tell the bartender to hold your usual for you?”
“Don’t be too long,” called out another, “or we’ll drink it for you and let you pay the tab!”
“Nein, nein, meine Freunde. I am sorry to miss your company on this occasion, but I am not joining you tonight. Zandra and I have plans.” He gave her a conspiratorial wink.
“No! No!” the group protested.
“Sandy, tell him he has to come!”
“You’re coming, too, right?”
“Werner, you can’t skip out on us like this! No!”
Then, “Andreas! Where’s Andreas?”
“Here he is!”
“Hey, Andreas, tell your roomie he has to come to the Quarter Rest so we can down a few schooners in his honor!”
Andreas and Werner exchanged a knowing glance and both nodded. “Nein,” said the cellist, “I cannot convince him to come. I am not coming either. I, too, have plans. Until very late,” he added meaningfully.
“Well, come around later, after dinner,” said Danny. “We’ll be there till closing or until we drink the house dry– whichever comes last!”
“Nein,” said Werner, giving Sandy a squeeze that sent her heart sailing into her head. “We will be busy later.”
Whatever he meant by that, her enchanted will refused to consider. She might have to make a decision. And just now she did not want to make decisions, she just wanted this new sensation to keep flowing through her. Was it the lingering effect of the music? Was it him and the power he had revealed on that stage? Was it something happening in herself? She didn’t care. To feel it was enough, to feel it was her only desire, and she hoped it would never, never end.
A few minutes later she and Werner were walking back to his apartment, his violin in his right hand, her hand in his left. She had been trying to tell him how his playing had affected her, how it seemed to affect everyone else, but each time words failed and all she could say was, “It was wonderful. Simply wonderful.”
For awhile they fell into companionable silence. Then Sandy spoke up and said, “There was just one thing I don’t understand.”
“So, Kleinchen, you understand all the mysteries of Bach and Berlioz and Weinberg? All but one?”
She gave him a playful punch. “No, silly, I just don’t understand the mystery of you. You said you dedicated the encore piece . . . the Wieniawski . . . to me . . . ”
He stopped still and she stopped with him.
“But I don’t remember ever hearing it before.”
“Do you not? I am sure I have played it for you, and you told me you liked it very much.” He sounded a little hurt.
“Oh, no, Werner, no!” she said, placing her hands on his lapels in appeal. “No, I believe you! It was probably just me, distracted over some project I had due. I– I think, yes, it must have been familiar. That’s why it struck me with such force. And now,” she said happily, looking up in his face, “I’ll always think of it with you playing it for me, on the day when you, when you–! Oh, Werner, you are so beautiful!”
He caught her hands in his and kissed them. Then he said, “Ach, Zandra, we must not do so here. What will the neighbors say? Let us go home. Did I not say I had a surprise for you?”
She wondered what it might be. A thousand possibilities passed through her brain and a thousand were dismissed. Whatever it was, she was sure she would love it.
They arrived at his building. He unlocked the entry and let her into the hall. They walked up the four flights of steps to the third floor. She waited for him to unlock the apartment door. He opened it, and they stepped in.
The late afternoon sun streamed in between the slats of the blinds on the west-facing windows. By its light she could see two things:
The large, smelly beanbag chair was gone.
And in its place, pushed up against the wall with real end tables flanking it, was–
A genuine sofa.
No, not quite a sofa. A futon on a frame, with a paisley India-print bedspread bunched up and thrown over the back at one end. Why was it a surprise for her? Again she wanted to say, “I don’t understand,” but she didn’t want to hurt him again.
“That beanbag, I know you did not like it. I could see your nose wrinkle up when we sat in it. Now it is gone. This sofa, it is a futon, the excellent invention of our Japanese friends.” He stopped suddenly, perhaps thinking that might strike her American spirit the wrong way, coming from a German.
Sandy hurried to his rescue. “That’s all right,” she said. “Japan is our friend now. Like West Germany.”
“Like West Germany,” he repeated with a strange significance. “Danke. So!” he went on with his usual quick cheer, “This excellent futon, it is very versatile. It is a sofa, it is a bed. This one only has a metal frame,” he admitted, “but it will keep the inhabitants of the house off the floor!”
True, but why should he acquire such a thing, and at such a time? Immediately after graduation she was going home for a couple of weeks, then leaving for Boston before the end of June. He wouldn’t even be in the United States past the end of August, unless his visa status changed. And if he landed a place in an orchestra this summer he would be leaving Mt. Athens before that. How much use could either of them get out of it?
“Do you like your surprise?” he was asking.
“Yes . . . I’m . . . very surprised. Overwhelmed. It’s . . . lovely.”
“I am happy. I thought you would like it.”
Examining the futon more closely, she saw that the tan cover had a slight discoloration on the seat, a vague blotch darkening the fabric. That at least explained how he could afford it on his limited budget. It was shop-worn, maybe a return, and cleaning hadn’t removed the stain. So he’d gotten a good deal on it. But even with that, the purchase went against everything she knew of his thrifty habits. He only spent money when the object was important to him.
Wait a minute, she thought. “He knows our lease is up at the house the middle of June. Will he ask me to stay here in Mt. Athens, so we . . . so we can be together awhile longer? And the futon will give me a place to sleep without . . . without sharing his bed in his bedroom?” The idea touched her.
But still, the time was coming when a piece of furniture like this would have to be left behind, or moved. No, not left behind. Werner would not be willing to waste the money he spent on it. It was something he’d want to keep permanently, to go for when he was establishing a household. When he was planning to get–
Her hand went to her mouth to stifle a sob of joy.
When he was planning to get married.