(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)
The flames of the candles cast their dancing glow on walls and ceiling. The window admitted a long rectangle of shimmering blue-black sky. Even more than the incense from the little brass burners, the Adagio of the Ninth Symphony permeated the air like intoxicating perfume. And she and Werner, the two of them, sat very still together on the sofa, not kissing now, her head cradled in the hollow of his shoulder with his strong right arm warm around her.
Long past was the impulse to flirt and giggle. “Miraculous,” she thought again. “The music is miraculous, the performance is miraculous . . . and he, he is a miracle, and I never knew, till today I never knew . . . ”
And tonight, something extraordinary would happen between them. It had to. If he meant half the words he’d uttered earlier that evening. it was inevitable.
But never yet had she crossed that final barrier. Never once had she let any man know her in that way.
“I won’t let him if I don’t think he means it . . . ” she reassured her sensible self.
“But if he does?” asked her heart. Oh, if he did! But it must be the ultimate. She could ask the blessing of Jesus on nothing less. Anything short of that, she would keep him in check. She would call it a night at the end of the symphony and get him to take her home. But if he should come right out and ask her to be his wife? Oh, then, then the word and act of love would be like a king and queen leading the way into a royal banquet. All fear would be over. She would speak her love. She would show it. “Oh!” the sigh escaped her, she would show it, she would!
“What is it, Liebling?” inquired Werner, brushing her hair with his lips.
“Nicks,” she said, trying to answer in German. “Neesch. Nichts.” Damn. Her brain was perfectly clear, perfectly. But her tongue wasn’t keeping up. Better not to talk. Just listen, sit here and listen, sit here in his arms and slow down and listen . . . slow down . . . everything seemed to slow down, slow down in tempo with the music . . . their breathing rising and falling with its rhythm . . . melody and countermelody weaving and entwining like a burgeoning vine bearing fruit and flower in her soul . . . its wonder and beauty flowing through the open gate of her ears and filling her to overflowing with something that was far more than itself . . . “‘O füll es ganz . . . ”
His fingers stole over and began to ruffle the pintucks of her bodice, as if the texture intrigued him. “I shouldn’t let him do that,” she observed to herself. “Not yet, he hasn’t said the word . . . I should put his hand back where it was, on my arm . . . ”
But it was a caution laid upon some other girl, not herself. The venturing hand rested for a moment lightly on her bosom, then, like a bird finding its home, it settled itself cupped around her right breast. Stroking, stroking, the skillful thumb and forefinger stroking . . . Her own hand, over his . . . surely she ought to take his and move it, surely that’s what she would do . . . But her right hand had a will of its own and it caught and captured that nesting, stroking bird and held it where it was.
A preening bird, a striking match that lights the fire . . . a fire kindled throughout her body, especially in that one hidden region of danger and desire . . . . Sandy clung to the music as to a lifeline. With its help she could control that blaze, even where it burned strongest . . . She would observe its effects on her . . . stand above it . . . she would be on fire but not consumed . . .
“Liebling!” he murmured, nuzzling her ear.
“Oh!” she betrayed herself. “Ohhhh!”
His eager mouth again found hers. Her lips parted, yielding to his, as her arms went around him to hold him close. He kissed her deeply, more deeply than before, with all the intensity he might lavish on the most intricate sonata. His left hand rested on her leg at just that point beyond which it would be impossible to mistake its meaning; first lightly, then more firmly, as if by right of possession. “He does have right of possession,” the thought winged through her head as breath and soul mingled in a black velvet infinity . . .
Another click as Side 4 dropped into place. The thunder of woodwind, brass, and timpani that begins the last movement caught neither of them unaware. Still, at its onrush they broke apart and for a moment clutched each other by the shoulders, eyes staring wide into eyes, lips parted in amazement. Only for a moment, then as the cataclysm of sound poured over them again, he took and kissed her with a fierce intensity that welled up from the music’s deepest heart.
“Zandra,” he groaned with the pleasure of it. “Zandra!” Then he folded her in his arms as the music enfolded them. Her head rested on his breast, and into her hair, as the basses and cellos first intimated the familiar Ode to Joy, he softly, then with more strength, repeated the word “Freude . . . Freude . . . Joy . . . joy!”
She burned with the fire of his embrace, the passion of the music, the wonder of all that had happened and yet was happening this amazing day. If any thought remained of danger, of transgression, that this was something they shouldn’t do, it was utterly consumed in the blaze of the moment. All that mattered was this measure, this phrase of the music, this caress. The instruments passed the immortal theme from one to another, and she returned him sigh for sigh, kiss for kiss, touch for touch. His cotton shirt, so inadequate a barrier from the beginning, came off– by her hand or his own, she was never quite sure– and she eagerly explored the frontier of his body as the entire orchestra took up the theme of Joy. Oh, the sensation of his bone and muscle and wiry sinew under the pressure of her venturing hands! His back alone, she felt, was a symphony it would take her a lifetime to know. It was right to be in his arms, it was right, she told herself. She loved him now, she did, and tonight, soon, she would tell him so.
And then she simply forgot the fact of her love. She forgot Werner, She forgot everything except what she heard. It was not so much the fury of the full orchestra as their music crashed over the two of them like the rush of a mighty waterfall. No, it was the voice of the bass soloist standing against the clamor, his voice upraised like a trumpet, proclaiming
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
“O friends, not this tone!” Sandy had never before heard the bass recitative of the Ninth Symphony sung with such authoritative lyricism or such masculine richness. It took her by surprise. “Werner!” she exclaimed, in a pitch very like her ordinary voice.
“Shhh!” he whispered, smiling and putting his finger to her lips. “Listen!”
“ . . . Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen . . . .” The bass notes rolled out like the voice of the earth on an early spring day when from its very depths all nature is waking and emerging into life.
But now, what was happening? What was he doing? For before the ad libitum run on the word freundenvollere had come to its end, Werner had curtly whispered, “Bitte!”, set her away from him, and sprung off the couch. And before the soloist’s second declamation of the word Freude! was complete, he had pressed the button for Pause and lifted the needle off the disk.
She could only stare. What was wrong? Didn’t he want her to touch him, to stroke him, to give him her love?
She had but a short space to wonder, for he took her by the hands and gently, almost deferentially raised her from the couch. “Zandra,” he said, “bitte mir verzeihe, aber . . . Nein,” he said to himself, shaking his head as if trying to clear it of some confusing influence. “Nein. No. It must be in English!
“Zandra,” he tried again, “please, forgive me for interrupting this greatest of masterpieces. But I must have– I need– silence . . . for what I want to ask you.”
She waited, trembling, unable to think, hardly daring to feel.
“Zandra, ich–I for love have no language but music. It says what I need it to say. But with my own feeble voice– diese arme Stimme– I want to ask– ” (and his trembling seemed great as hers) “–to ask you– Zandra, I love you and want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?”
Her world reeled. Or had it been reeling all evening? He had done it. He had spoken the words his speech and actions all day had intimated, that they had hinted at but never-quite-certainly proclaimed. And now the words had been said, openly and frankly and past all misunderstanding, and what could she say in return?
He had proposed to her in her native language. She would honor him as he had honored her. Without thinking about it too much, without being certain if her German was even correct, she returned, “Werner Edelstein, ich werde fröhlich sein, dein Weib zu sein.”*
It must have been the answer he was listening for. For now, in the soft dark silence of the candlelit room, he clasped her to his naked breast and kissed her in a way that seemed to meld them together for all eternity.
“Oh,” Sandy breathed within her soul, “I’ll never again be as happy as I am now! Never, never, never!” Her arms clung to him; her rapture found voice. “Mine! Mine!” she exulted. “Oh, Werner, all mine!”
Had he pulled back a little at these words? No, of course not. There was something he wanted to tell her that his embrace could not say.
“Liebling, I have not yet the ring– ”
“That’s all right,” she interrupted him, thinking he was still saving up to pay for it. “I– ”
“– You are an artist,” he continued, “and you will want to come with me to pick it out. We will do it this next week, after you finish our concert hall and turn it in.”
“Yes, Werner. That will make me very happy.” She smiled to hear him intruding everyday life into their present dream. But that was a beautiful thing to her. Everyday life was now part of their dream, now that she would be his and he would be hers alone.
“That can wait,” he said, planting another kiss on her upturned mouth. “Tonight, meine Schätzchen, wir– Ach!” He broke off suddenly, overwhelmed. Then triumphantly, clasping her tightly again, he exclaimed, “Ach! ‘Mein Weib, mein Weib an meiner Brust!’”**
A quotation, and she knew the source. From Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio: sung by the imprisoned hero Florestan upon his reunion with his intrepid and faithful wife Leonore, who has set him free. Sandy knew the duet by heart, and nothing, she felt, could have been more fitting for him to say.
“Aber jetzt– but now– ” he said solemnly, looking into her eyes, “this is our bridal night, and it is time for Joy!”
Their bridal night. Yes. Of course it was! They had plighted their troth before God; what need had they of other witness? The public celebration would come, of course it would. But now, this night, together, alone, for just the two of them, it was the hour of Joy, die Freude Stunde!
He led her to the far corner of the room and turned her to face away from the sofa and the stereo wall. “Kleinchen,” he said. “Remain here, and do not peek until I come and get you. I have etwas zu tun– something I must do. Promise me?”
“I promise,” she said, wavering between curiosity and trust. She kept her eyes averted, but behind her she could hear the squeak of metal or springs and a slight thud on the carpeted floor, then a whoosh! as of something thin and pliable being shaken out into the air. Her ears caught the sound of his footfall– now inestimably dear– walking toward the turntable. Then again the Ninth Symphony, the needle set back to the lower strings’ first adumbration of the glad paean to Joy. The volume was set lower now, and she guessed why. “Ah, poor Ludwig!” she laughed to herself. “From here on tonight you will be upstaged by Love!”
“Jetzt, Liebling,” he said, rotating her to face the futon. “Did I not say this was our bridal night? And here is our marriage bed. It is ready.”
For a moment she trembled. The futon was no longer a sofa. He had pulled it out to make a bed, with the India print bedspread flung across it and two pillows– with clean covers, too; she wondered where he had gotten them so quickly– placed at the end closest to the apartment door.
“It is ready,” he repeated over the music. Then for the second time that evening he asked,“Jetzt, Zandra, bist Du fertig? Are you ready?”
“Ja, ich bin fertig,” she assented.
Then to herself, in English, “At least, I think I am . . . ”
* “I will be happy to be your wife.”
**”My wife, my wife on my breast!