“Mom, what town was that?” asked Sandy as the train pulled out of a station in southern Germany.
“I think the sign said Esslingen,” said Mrs. Beichten.
“Oh,” she said, consulting the map. “Then we’re nearly to Stuttgart.”
“Yes, pretty soon.”
The barrier was holding. There had been no more slip-ups since that afternoon in Vienna. Two weeks had gone by, and maybe the barrier wasn’t needed any more. About a half hour ago they must’ve passed north of the town where Werner was born, and until now she hadn’t given it one thought.
“Where are we going after Stuttgart?” she asked.
That was one of the best parts about this trip. Except for when they wanted to take advantage of scheduled events and activities, they travelled at their leisure, going where they liked when they liked. It had made for some interesting stays in some third class hotels, but the inconvenience was worth it. It made the experience more authentic.
“I thought we’d rent a car and drive up to the village your father’s people came from. It’s about twenty-five miles to the north of there. What do you think?”
“I’d like that,” Sandy replied.
“And after that we’ll drive over to Speyer– ”
“Great! I’ve heard they have a Romanesque cathedral that’s really worth seeing.”
“–and from Speyer we can pick up one of those milk-run Rhine River cruises and make our way up to Bonn. We’ll be able to get off and on and see a few castles.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me.”
And it did. The mention of Bonn hadn’t fazed her at all. She proved it to herself by saying, “Bonn, that’s where Beethoven was born. I’d like to visit his birth house.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged.” Her mother smiled. “Now I think we’d better gather our things. The train will be pulling in soon.”
* * * * * *
“So how did you like the Beethoven-haus?” asked Karen Beichten a week or so later in their hotel room in the West German capital.
“The house, I liked a lot. It has just the right combination of square-cut honesty and amusing ornamentation. I liked the proportions of the rooms, too.”
“What about the exhibits?”
“The pictures were nice. But, I don’t know, I expected more furniture. For it to look more like a house and less like a museum. I liked the Beethoven apartment on the Mölker-Bastei in Vienna better. I got more of a feeling of him actually having lived there.”
It was such a relief to be speaking of the Maestro without painful associations. As she used to before last May.
“I’m sorry it was a disappointment,” said her mother with an air of having something up her sleeve. It puzzled Sandy a great deal. “This should make it up to you. Remember when I left you upstairs in the room with the landscape views?”
“Well. I was downstairs in the ticket office. There’s a music festival going on in Bonn this week, and tomorrow night they’re playing The Choral Symphony. And I got us tickets to go hear it! The girl told me they were the last two they had for sale. Now tell me what a clever mother you have!”
Sandy’s chest tightened, her arms felt as if they’d been seized by two implacable claws, her eyes widened in horror. Werner’s face loomed up before her, as it had that night, tender, passionate– false. The memory of the music . . . Freude, schöner Götterfunken . . . weaving into her consciousness, its beauty supporting the lie . . . No. She’d been wrong. She couldn’t. She saw that now. It was still too soon.
“Control yourself,” was her inward thought. “Mom doesn’t know. Say something sensible; you can get through this.” She took a deep breath, willing herself to be calm. “Uh, Mom, that’s really nice of you,” she said aloud, “but, well, I’m tired. I think I’d rather stay in.”
“Sandy, I said it’s tomorrow night. You’ll be fine by then. Besides, weren’t you just telling me you wanted to go for a walk to the cathedral Platz this evening?”
“I know,” she replied, trying to sound genuinely tired and not merely testy. “But I changed my mind. I’d better take it easy the next couple of days.”
Her mother gave her a very narrow look. “Young lady, this exhaustion seems to have come on very suddenly. It’s not your time of month, is it?”
She felt herself on the verge. “No, Mom, it’s not my time of month!” she said, her teeth gritted. “It’s just that I’d– I’d rather not go to the concert and I wish you would leave me alone!”
If their budget had run to a suite she would have run into the bedroom and slammed the door. As it was, she flung herself towards the window and stared out onto the street, pretending total absorption in the sight of ordinary Bonners buying the evening paper from the news vendor on the corner below. Her hands clutched the sill, her legs trembled, her face hurt from trying not to cry. “If anyone looks up here they must think I’m a madwoman. And I don’t care. I don’t care!”
“Sandy, turn around.”
“Alexandra, turn around.”
She could feel her mother’s eyes boring into her back. And they were her mother’s mother’s eyes, the look that always saw through her and pried out all her secrets, if there were secrets to be pried. Her shoulders tensed as she struggled to suppress the agony that was rising up in her.
“Alexandra Marie, this is your mother speaking to you. Tell me what’s wrong. For the last time, turn around.”
Slowly, as if her body were a rusty machine that had not been oiled in decades, she turned to face her. “Smile, Sandy, smile. Convince her it was nothing.” She said, “I’m sorry. I was just being silly. I’m over it. Okay?” She contorted her face in a rictus grin. “See? I’m fine.”
Karen Beichten shook her head. “If you’re fine, you’ll come with me to that concert tomorrow.”
“That’s okay, Mom, you go by yourself and have a good time.” Her fingernails were digging into her palms. If only her mother would drop the subject!
“You must think your mother is blind or a fool, young lady. Something’s going on and I intend to find out what it is.”
“Mom, please . . . ” She covered her face with her hands and began to cry. “Please, don’t make me go, I can’t stand it!”
“Sandy, sweetheart . . . ” Her voice softened. “Why don’t you want to hear the Ninth Symphony? You’ve loved it since you sang in the big concert in high school. Why all of a sudden– ?”
She broke off. Her eyes widened. “Wait a minute. Back in Vienna, when that nice young conservator took us up to see the Frieze. That last painting, the one with the man and woman embracing. Is that it, Sandy? Does this have anything to do with Werner?”
The surprise was not that Mrs. Beichten should have pierced through to the heart of her mystery, but that she had not done so earlier. Sandy threw herself into her mother’s arms. “Yes,” she sobbed, “yes!”
It all came out. Not a kiss by kiss description; of course not that. But by the time she was through her mother knew how close her daughter had come to giving herself wholly to her faithless ex-fiancé, and how closely the Choral Symphony has been intertwined with the affair.
“He ruined it for me, Mom. He did. Forever.”
“Oh, sweetheart, no, he didn’t. The music is bigger than anything anyone does with it. Werner’s not the first to use the Ninth for his own purposes, Sandy. And it’s been used for worse.”
She held her daughter close. “It’s not just what Werner did, is it? You’re ashamed of yourself for going against the Holy Spirit in you.”
“We do that. Even after Jesus claims us, we’re still sinners. Ask Him for forgiveness. He won’t push you away.”
“I did, Mom, that night, but I keep feeling it’s my fault. I knew better!”
“We often do. Sandy, sit down in the chair and let me tell you a story.”
It was one of two easy chairs in the room. Bastardized Modern. Squarish, with buttons. Acid green synthetic upholstery. Very ugly. It looked like she felt. She sat down.
“Back when your father and I were engaged, we could hardly keep our hands off each other.”
Sandy sat up straight. “What?”
“It’s true. That’s one reason we had only a two months’ engagement. The other, of course, was because his unit was liable to be called up to go fight in Europe any day.
“Well, one night, in his old 1934 Plymouth, he and I– ”
“In the back seat?” Sandy couldn’t help asking.
Her mother looked indignant, then her lips twisted in a wry smile.
“As I was saying, young lady, in your father’s old Plymouth, that night, the moon was full and the clouds were racing by and we were talking– well, and other things . . . and Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey were on the radio and we got just about as far as you did. And we nearly decided what you did with Werner, that our love was enough.”
Karen Beichten’s voice caught and her eye was moist. “I’m sorry, Sandy. I really miss your father.”
“Oh, Mom, so do I! . . . But you didn’t go ahead and . . . ”
“No, we didn’t. Not because we had such great self-control. But because when we first knew how we felt about each other we dedicated our relationship to Jesus Christ.”
“If Werner had been fully dedicated to me I probably would’ve gone through with it.”
“Well, if it had merely been up to us, we probably would have, too. That’s what I want you to understand, sweetheart. We’re all weak. We all go astray outside of Christ.”
Sandy stood up and gestured helplessly. “But that’s what’s killing me, Mom,” she said, waving her right hand as if pointing to the unseen difficulty. “When I stopped things, it wasn’t because of Jesus, it was because of me!”
“You don’t think He might have used that reaction of yours to work His will? He’s almighty, you know.”
“I know, Mom,” Sandy responded. Her mother didn’t yet understand, and it made her impatient. “But there I was, getting so upset because I found out Werner was unfaithful to me, and the whole time I was being unfaithful to Christ!”
“And you think He’s angry at you? Or should be?”
“Well, no, but . . . ” She knew that was the right answer, but she didn’t feel it at all. She moved over to the dresser and began to play aimlessly with the objects on it. A heavy crystal ashtray. A book of matches with the name of the hotel printed on it. A pad of writing paper with the same.
“Sandy, listen,” her mother said to her image in the mirror. “When did Jesus die for your sins?”
“About two thousand years ago.” It was like reciting the Shorter Catechism in Fourth Grade Sunday School.
“How long have you been committing them?”
She turned around and began to calculate. What was the first wrong thing she remembered doing? Her mother answered for her: “For a little over twenty-two years. Since you were born or before. Every last one of them was in the future when He died.”
“Yes, but I’m a Christian now. I should know better!” Why didn’t Mom understand? She wanted to stomp her foot with the frustration of it.
“Do you really think His blood isn’t enough to take care of the sins you commit after you made your profession of faith?”
“Well, no . . . ”
“Sandy, sweetheart, come here, let your mother give you a hug.”
Her arms around her, her loving breath ruffling her hair, Mom said, “You were always my good girl. Not perfect, but very, very good. But please don’t think your father and I loved you because of that. We loved you– I still love you– because you were our child.”
“I know, Mom,” she said, struggling for release, “but when I was a kid it seemed easy to do the right thing. But it seems like the past four years I’ve done nothing but the wrong thing, and do it on purpose!”
“I doubt that!” asserted her mother. She looked her daughter steadily in the eye. “Girls who do that don’t end up as sweet, intelligent, accomplished young ladies. But even if you had– Sandy, your heavenly Father doesn’t love you because you’re perfect, you’re perfect because He loves you. He loves you in His Son Jesus Christ. You know that!”
“Yes, I know that.” And she began to feel that she did.
“Well, it sounds like you need to learn it again.” Mrs. Beichten smiled. “And I think you need to learn the true meaning of Joy. Frankly, my dear, I think Mr. Gustav Klimt got it wrong. There’s higher joy than a good marriage, and I speak as a woman who had one. Shall we go hear the Ninth tomorrow evening and dedicate it to the Lord of Joy?”
“I think we can do that,” Sandy said, drying her tears.
“Good. Now let’s go get something to eat. There’s a dish called Himmel und Erde I’m dying to try.”
“Why not?” said her daughter cheerfully. A great load had been lifted from her. “If something made of potatoes, bacon, and applesauce could be called ‘Heaven and Earth,’ I’m sure it could be so tonight in Bonn.”
by Catrin Lewis, 1982, revised 2014. All rights reserved