(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)
Werner did not close the blinds as darkness fell, but left the windows unshielded against the blue twilight as he went around the room lighting the candles and the incense in the brass burners.
The two disks of new Beethoven album were on the record changer, waiting. “Bist Du fertig?” he asked Sandy. “Are you ready?” The question seemed to comprehend much more than her preparation to listen to a masterpiece.
“Yes,” she said, “I am ready.”
Werner was a musician; Sandy considered herself reasonably musical. And musical and musician, both were transfixed by the power and force of the first movement of the Ninth. It compelled their attention and brooked no rival. Sitting close together on the sofa, her two hands clutched in his, she felt them both to be under the command of a master infinitely higher and stronger than they. All other thoughts, desires, and intentions abased themselves as trivial, irreverent, unworthy. The performance was rich, yet supple and balanced, and it seemed she heard strains in it she had never noticed before. “It must be the conductor, it can’t be the wine . . . ” She noticed how from beginning to end the French horns spun a golden cord of sound through the fabric of the movement. The way the clarinets poured out their liquid harmony in concert with the melody in the flutes and strings. That plaintive song in the woodwinds towards the finale, with the tremolo phrase in the strings rising and swelling beneath. “Miraculous” was the only way it could be described.
The second disk dropped to the turntable and the Scherzo began. The insistent, compelling rhythm made her want to rise up, to take action, to perform some great deed if she only knew what it should be. Werner’s arm went around her, not to rein her in, but to join her in her restlessness, as if they two and the music were one in some eager conspiracy. Their excitement grew as the music played. She took a gulp of wine from the half-full glass at her elbow, then another. Was it her imagination, or were their hearts really beating in time to that urgent pulse? Was that only the roll and rumble of the timpani, or was it the thunder of the blood in their veins and infinite wonder crashing like the tide upon her consciousness’ shore?
In the middle of the second movement is a double-time presto, in which strings, brass, and woodwinds take up melody and countermelody and toss them from one to the other in jubilant sport. To Sandy it summed up the light and warmth and energy of this May Saturday, as even now the songs of the birds of evening drifted in through the open window. What must it be like to make music like this? With a sudden inrush of delight she thought how this man sitting holding her was one such. In her mind’s eye she saw him again as he had stood that afternoon upon the recital hall stage, drawing exuberant life out of dead wood and horsehair and wire. Oh! She was ashamed it had taken her so long! Why had she needed that to make her stop taking him for granted, to make her see how marvellous he was, to make her know, at last, that he was her love?
She turned toward him and looked up in his face. “Werner,” she whispered. “Oh, Werner.” And then, hardly knowing she did it, she laid her hand upon his breast, inside the open shirt. His skin was smooth and warm, and at her touch the heart beat faster.
“Zandra,” he said, and his other arm encircled her and his mouth came down on hers. The instruments again took up the first theme of the movement, and as if in concert with its insistent, throbbing pulse, they kissed.
His kiss filled her with power, with exultation. It seemed to make her one with the whole universe and the smallest atom and all else in between. His kiss was where she belonged, where she had every last right to be. So why, oh, why did the record have to end and by its very silence demand to be turned over? Werner took breath, and was preparing to kiss her again, when her devotion to the dead master took unexpected precedence over the desire of the living man. “Sweetheart,” she said, ducking her head so the kiss landed on her forehead, “the symphony. We need to hear the rest of the music . . . ”
He shook himself, as a diver might upon emerging from a great depth. “Ja, ja . . . you wish it, Kleinchen, it shall be done.”
While he was at the turntable, Sandy excused herself to go to the bathroom. She felt absurdly lightheaded; surely because she’d stood up too fast? Looking in the mirror over the sink, she was surprised to see that one strap of the white sundress had slipped off her shoulder. “How long has that been that way? I don’t remember it!” And it seemed very odd that she should not remember it.
She knew she was more than half tipsy. The thought amused her. How many glasses of wine had she had? Four? Five? And her usual limit was two! But no matter! With counterfeit sobriety she very carefully pulled the strap up where it belonged and deliberately, thoroughly, as if gluing one piece of paper to another, patted the strip of eyelet lace down upon her collarbone.
In the mirror, she examined her own face, fascinated. “Is he right? Am I really beautiful?” She seemed to be looking at another girl, one she hardly knew. The wide brown eyes glittered. The cheeks were bright and flushed, almost feverish. The lips seemed fuller, redder, like hothouse roses forced into full bloom. Was it the music, the wine– or something else?
“And what if it is Something Else?” she said defiantly to the reflection.
In unbidden response, from within her came a voice that was wholly cold, humorless, and sober. It said, “You need to leave now. You know where this is going; it can’t be pleasing to Christ. Leave now before something happens. Too much has happened already.”
“Well, maybe I want something to Happen!” she talked back to it.
Though of course (she immediately took back her defiance), of course she didn’t want to displease her Lord. That should go without saying!
But Jesus didn’t need to worry. Nothing was going to happen. At least, nothing she couldn’t handle, or undo, or step back from. She had a delicious feeling of walking tightrope over a great gulf, a gulf great but beautiful, like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, and so magically endowed was she that she might dance as she liked on that rope and never ever fall.
“Don’t kid yourself,” the grim inner self said again.
“I’ll have him see me home after the Beethoven is over,” she bargained. “No harm in staying for the rest of the Beethoven. No harm in Beethoven!” The idea of there being harm in Beethoven nearly gave her a fit of the giggles.
But no. She must not be silly. The night, the music, everything was too momentous for her to be silly. She must be very very very very very dignified and carry herself like a lady. Like she’d had nothing whatsoever to drink at all. Looking intently into the mirror, she smoothed her dress and ran her fingers through her shag-cut hair. “Sandy, you’re all right,” she said to her image. Then she flounced, almost danced, through the door to her doom.