(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)
“More wine, Liebling?”
“Yes. No. Well, a little.” The clinking of bottle on glass, distinct in the silence. “Oh, Werner, this– ” she gestured to the remains of the meal– “has been wonderful. I can’t thank you enough.”
“More music,” he said, rising and going to the turntable. “For us, tonight, Zandra.”
For them, tonight . . . he had put on was the “Scene d’amour” from the Berlioz Romeo et Juliette. When he returned to their improvised picnic blanket, he did not seat himself opposite her as before. He placed himself at her side, drew her to himself, and it seemed that everything he did and everything he was incarnated the soul of that glorious, throbbing, passionate music. With the softest touch he caressed the skin at the nape of her neck, and she only with great difficulty suppressed a moan of sheer pleasure. With his finger he traced the curve of her jaw, the bow of her lips. He delicately kissed her bare shoulders, his mouth barely touching the skin, and so sent exquisite agonies of joy cascading through her being.
What was it? What was it? She had lain in his arms before. They had listened together to the “Scene d’Amour” before. Before this they had listened to it together as she lay in his arms! It had never affected her like this. Why was tonight different? Could it be that at last she was falling– Oh! Whatever it was, she didn’t want it to end!
He said to her, softly, “Would you like to come with me to see my country sometime?”
“Oh, yes, Werner, I would!”
“I will take you there. You will see my Germany. We will go to Austria, and Paris, and to Rome, if you like. Wir zusammen werden, Zandra, ich weiß es, we will be together!”
The piece ended. Instead of letting the recording play on to the next number in the dramatic symphony, Werner left her side, put the Berlioz in its sleeve, then pulled another recording off the shelf. But it was wrapped in a flowery blue gift paper. He raised her to her feet and said, “Zandra, I have a third surprise for you tonight. But before I show it to you, I want you to answer one question for me.”
“Anything, Werner,” Sandy whispered. “Anything you want.”
“Two questions, eigentlich– actually. First, you did not sign the note you sent to me this afternoon at the interval– did you know?”
“Oh! Didn’t I? Should I have come backstage and given it to you?”
“No, Kleinchen, you did well. There would not have been time. And question the second: What inspired you to write what you did?”
“I don’t know. It just came to me. It seemed right, that’s all.”
“Say it for me now. No, sing it for me.”
Without demurral, she sang,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
These words, and all the words of Schiller that Beethoven set in his Ninth Symphony, she had learned by rote in Concert Choir in high school. But not until Werner had she learned what the German really was saying. And not until this afternoon had her heart understood what the poem really meant.
“‘Joy, thou glorious spark of heaven,’” he translated, “‘daughter of Elysium! Drunk with fire, we approach, O heavenly one, your holy shrine!’
“Zandra, is that truly what you felt when you sat this day listening to me play?”
“It is, Werner. Truly it is.”
“Ach! ‘Wer ein holdes Weib errungen!’” he said, apparently to himself, and her heart leapt– “Zandra, I too want to feel that joy. I want to be fire-drunk with joy, mit die Freude!
“Bitte,” he said, taking her hand and leading her to the new sofa, “setze Dich hier.”
With a strange mingling of uncertainty and trust, she complied. He had placed her precisely in the middle of the couch, a fact that carried a meaning she sensed rather than understood. The light from the window fell on her like a spotlight. She smoothed her skirt down on either side of her, folded her hands in her lap, and waited.
And Werner Edelstein, the hero of the afternoon, receiver of plaudits today and surely for years to come, retreated two steps, sank down on his knees before her, reached out his hands, and began to say, began to say, oh! all kinds of nonsense, of course it was nonsense, and yet, it seemed she had been waiting for him to say it for a million years.
“Ach, meine Zandra! . . . my lady of the white dress . . . Du bist so schöne, ja, so schöne . . . Du bist wie eine Braut (or did he say, “You are like my bride”? . . . ) . . . Du bist meine Königen . . . my queen of heaven’s joy . . . I want to look at you, to adore you, für immer und immer . . . so schöne, so schöne . . . Zandra, mein wahres Herz, meine Leibe, mein Engel . . wie lange, ach, wie lange I have waited for you! . . . meine Dame des weißen Kleid . . . my lady of the white dress . . . wie eine Braut, wie meine Braut . . . ”
Never before had anyone said such things to her. She accepted that she was nice-enough looking, in a very ordinary way, but to have any man, let alone him, kneel before her and call her beautiful, and queen, and bride, and say he wanted to adore her forever . . . If his will hadn’t held her, if she hadn’t had three glasses of wine already, she could not have endured it for five seconds. But there she sat in the golden light enthroned on the new sofa as if she were indeed a queen, receiving, yes, accepting it all with a heart pulsing with joy. She let him go on saying it, she yearned for him to go on saying it, for as long as he ever willed.
“Meine Freude, my joy!” he exclaimed at last. “Zandra, meine Freude, meine schöne Gotterfunken!”
He fell silent for a long moment, his head bowed, his long hair covering his face. Then he lifted up his eyes, looked deep into hers, and in his thin but true tenor sang to her Schubert’s “Du Bist die Ruh.”
Oh! How could it be? Her heart raced, taking in the words to that loveliest of songs. Was this merely the day’s second recital for him, with herself as an audience of one? Or was he making the poet’s words his own? “‘I consecrate to you . . . my eyes and heart’ . . . ‘Come here to me . . . ’ or, oh! is it, ‘Come live with me’? . . . ‘The tabernacle of my eyes by your radiance alone is lightened . . . ’” Oh, if she only could know!
“‘ . . . o füll es ganz, o füll es ganz!’”
The song died into the stillness, but his eyes held her fast. One heartbeat. Another. Another.
She could bear it no longer. “Oh!” she cried, covering her face with her hands, “It’s too much for me, too much!” And she burst into tears.
Instantly he was by her side, holding her in his arms. “Ach, Zandra, Liebling, Schätzchen! What is wrong? What did I do?”
“Nothing, Werner,” she said, trying to laugh and drying her eyes on Danielle’s shawl. “Nothing but treat me much better than I can ever, ever deserve! Oh! why are you so good to me!”
He held her close. “Ach, but you mistake yourself,” he said, smiling. “Nevertheless, I hope to give you cause to ask die Frage again and again.”
She struggled out of his embrace and stood. “I’m all right now. Thank you. And . . . didn’t you say you had another surprise for me? Unless . . . that . . . (she hardly dared think of what had just happened; it hardly seemed possible it had) . . . was it?”
“Ach, ja! Ich vergessen habe. Thank you that you have reminded me.” He strode over to the stereo wall and returned with the package wrapped in blue paper. “It is for you. Open it.”
She tore off the wrapping and drew out an album sleeved in black. Front and back, in an exuberant orange typeface, the title was blazoned, “Solti Beethoven 9th.” “Oh, Werner! I was wanting this! Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“‘Freude, schöner Götterfunken,’ he quoted. “‘Tochter aus Elysium!’”