Something new

Those who have read my latest novel, Chains of Being, may have picked up on my kind-of-goodbye at the end of the book. I even co-opted my friend Shakespeare to deliver the message, complete with a modern day wizard metaphorically breaking his/her staff. That’s not a spoiler, by the way. The ending is almost unspoilable, because it’s so complex. Whatever I say about it won’t make sense until you read it.

But anyway, the goodbye is real. I’m leaving m/m romance. At least I think I am. I’ve said my piece. Which is kind of sad, since I never got around to writing the fifth Pax book – the whole point of writing the other four! – but there’s nothing left to say. Well, there is, but I’m not feeling it. I have to feel the stuff I write, or it comes out clunky.

Which brings me to… something else. Something new. Something that will probably never become anything, because I’m writing it mainly for myself, but yes, I’m definitely feeling it. 🙂 It’s not that all my words have dried up, just the ones tracing the fates of Michael and Jamie and the others. The words that fill me now have to do with… uh… well, planners. Ha. I’m switching from gay romance to my love story with journals, how’s that for a twist?

And even though I’m content with it staying a weird little apocryphal story, I miss being able to put it somewhere. I’ve entertained the idea of making it fan fiction, but I’m afraid that particular fandom doesn’t exist (one woman does not a fandom make).

So. Ta-daa. I’m putting it here. It may end with this one post, or I may add to it when inspiration strikes, I don’t know.

And with this underwhelming intro out of the way, let’s make room for…

The Assistant

Anatomy of an obsession

Today is all about his arms and neck. He’s wearing a t-shirt, perhaps to help me. Pen in hand, I keep my eyes on the gentle sinewiness of his forearms, on the angle of his shoulders. With each sweeping motion of his baton, extensors bunch and flexors yield. His fingers pinch and spread, as if unwilling to belong to the same hand.

Every now and then I scribble. I note similarity and difference, minute changes from yesterday. I document positions where there’s room for pain to creep in. He wants to know if he’s risking fatigue, if he’s conserving energy or not. In my bag there’s a book on anatomy for reference – his anatomy, not some generic encyclopaedia. It’s all in my handwriting, and today’s statistics will come in handy at his next physiotherapy appointment.

I draw a quick sketch of him for good measure. Scratch, scratch, scratch, lightning-quick. It’s not meant to be art, I just want to capture that habit of his where he leans forward too much, putting pressure on his lower back. I know why he does it. He wants to engage the orchestra, to compensate for his elevated position, but that bending is not a good idea.

Beneath the drawing I jot down one of my trademark analogue hyperlinks, a page number and a date – in pink, to signify ergonomics. Then I pull out a third book from my bag, the one for questions that can wait, that need the perfect moment or he’ll retreat into his shell. It’s a book for the sensitive issues I can’t just bring up out of the blue during one of our talks. It needs tact, perhaps even wine and darkness – a softening of walls I can’t always achieve, especially not on a Monday.

Maybe after the next concert, if it’s successful? Maybe then I can gently probe that age-old sore: his self-chosen exile among the exalted ones, his withdrawal to godly status from whence he’s spending the rest of his life trying to escape.

One fateful decision in his youth, and an eternity of years to atone for it.

He keeps insisting in interviews that the distance doesn’t exist, but his body tells another story. It constantly seeks to bridge that chasm. It pushes him to breaking point just to make a connection.

As I put the Book of Questions back in my bag, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake, drawing the sketch in the NowBook where he’ll see it, but it’s too late now. I can’t erase it, because I do nothing in pencil, only in ink. Nothing that’s recorded can be undone, and I would never tear out a page.

It’s all part of the chronicle. It’s why I’m indispensable.

Because my books are a labyrinth only I know my way around. Anyone else would get lost in its seeming randomness, but not me. I draw the lines, I create the itinerary. Where I point, he goes, and where he points, they all go. I’m the Ur-conductor, the puppeteer in the wings. Nothing exists without my say-so. I’m on the telephone lines, the broadband highways, always on the prowl for the next event, the next memory-to-be.

I’m the taken for granted one.

It sounds awful, but it’s not. If you can’t take your assistant for granted, what good is she? He lays his life in my hands and forgets about it. I’m an invisible force, like gravity, pulling him where he’s supposed to be. I live and breathe his days. I dream his appointments, I know the outcome before he’s even shaken hands. There are secret wormholes leading from the main calendar to project pages and task lists and maybes and preliminary dates and references to binders and folders and Internet pages. Structures with built-in protection against World War III, because I don’t just write on paper: I rearrange my very neurons to match him. Even if I lose the books, I can recreate it all from memory. Hook me up to a printer and it’ll spit out the very same pattern.

 

If you’re looking for something Bechdel-worthy, turn back now. I won’t have a single thought that doesn’t have to do with him.

 

But I’m not in love. That’s not what this is. And yet it’s just as strong.

We’re never taught how to feel anything but romance, are we? Strong affection scares us with its nebulosity, with its sudden appearance out of nowhere, its refusal to stake out a predictable path. Because what do you do with a love that’s unconsummatable? How do you keep a person in your life without marrying them?

Have your sister marry them?

Well, I don’t have a sister, and it’s not a wedding that’s going to keep this man tethered to geography. It’s control.

So I watch him. That’s what I do. Like a fly with a thousand facets all tuned into this one object, I see more than anyone else can. He knows the music, he sees the thread beginning in the watery overture of Das Rheingold and ends in Götterdämmerung, he knows every pin-drop pizzicato on the way, every thin fluty trill. But with all his conscious thought bound up in Wagner or Brahms or Prokofiev, what’s left to know himself?

That’s why I forsake a life of my own to document his. I’m the behind-the-scenes girl, and he’s not only on the scene. He is the scene.

Biographers may understand some of it. Historians burying themselves in tax documents and the dinner habits of some long dead king. My king lives, but I know what he had for dinner.

I was the one to order it.

 

Stalker’s job hunt

How I managed to worm my way inside that most sacred of sanctums is anyone’s guess. I can list the details, the preparations, the being at the right place at the right time, the white little lies. But none of that is the answer. The truth is, no one but me could have done it.

The answer is as vague as I am.

It’s something to do with my blandness. My ability to mimic life – to become who they expect. Who stands on the doorstep of budding fame, thinking they’ll be welcomed? A reporter, perhaps, or someone on the payroll. A receptionist, a liaison. An assistant so inconsequential it’s no wonder they don’t recognise my face.

One thing is clear. Nobody knew he’d be big. Nobody cared to trace his steps, because what would they do with the information?

I knew what to do with the information.

 

A TV programme from the early years, before. It’s in his language, but it doesn’t matter. I watch and rewatch like I always do, no subtitles and no help except his face. It looks almost angry, but not quite. Stern?

The scene shifts to someone else and I rewind, look again. Haughty. Is that it? I don’t think he realises. He’s only being serious. He’s only talking about something he feels strongly about. Trying to make a point, to get something across. Staring intently at me, the recipient of his earnest gospel. The good-as-deaf girl who hangs on every word in the hopes of understanding… something.

Once more the camera cuts to the other guy and I rewind. Again Aleksei looks up and relaunches into his sermon. What’s he talking about? Music, that’s all I know. I catch a Bartók here, a Suk there. The rest is shrouded in mystery. But I rewatch and relisten until I can mouth the sounds along with him. Until the data I’ve gathered is enough to build a 1:1 replica of his life.

 

I stalk him. That’s how I get the job.

And one day I’m there. There there, in the same room, breathing the same air. Single-minded focus has finally paid off, even though a thousand different outcomes would have been more probable. After meeting his gaze in countless film frames, I don’t meet it at all. I’m a shadow in the corner, just feeding on the atmosphere, on the swirling of dust motes – because they swirl this way and not that, and I read the pattern like a meteorologist of the soul.

“So how does it feel?”

It’s the first time I hear him addressed in person. I don’t miss a beat. I’m already re-watching it in slow motion, recording instead of experiencing – my secret, if there is one.

He looks up, caught off guard by the question. Too personal? Too familiar, too everyday on a day that’s as far from everyday as you can come? He smiles, a stiff smile to conceal sudden unease at being the centre of attention. Just now he revelled in benign dictatorship, the focal point of an entire hall, basking in applause like one born to it… and now, body rigid – held in check by a love-sick tuxedo and a shyness that’s inseparable from pride – he wants to disappear from his own party.

“Uhm,” he stalls, making a joke of it. Doesn’t want to answer, because where’s an answer that can simultaneously honour the enormity of success and the banality of just doing what you do? “Er…”

“The moment won’t come again. This is your chance to put into words what it feels like to have brought down the house for the first time.”

I can see him deliberate with himself, search for a feeling that’s possible to describe so people understand. Stalling further, he opens a can of beer just so he can look down. Shadows slide up his cheekbones to shield him from prying curiosity, but he can’t hide from me. I read the shadows as well as I read the light. I see the twitch of muscle as he wavers between condescending smirk and self-deprecating grimace.

Then he straightens up again and faces the man – like a soldier, shoulders squared. That’s how much energy he spends on this one question, this one social confrontation. His lips curl into a semblance of contentment, and he says, “I’m happy.”

For a moment I wonder if he’s said a word in his own language, because I don’t recognize it. In his mouth it sounds different, as if he’s using it wrong. But no, the man nods and looks satisfied. And perhaps happiness does play a part in what goes on under that mild-yet-mocking exterior, but it must be dull compared to what he’s really feeling. I hope he goes back to his hotel room tonight and tells the notation paper the truth.

“Good,” the man says, letting Aleksei off the hook – leaving him free to take a gulp from the beer and a drag from his cigarette.

Yes. He smokes. A habit that will be entered into my book in an ink that bleeds through the paper. It will be allowed to drool unchecked through otherwise pristine pages until it dwindles of its own accord.

His eyes narrow as he inhales. For a moment he looks smug, almost arrogant. A move for the camera, for his audience. But as soon as the attention shifts to someone else, his eyes flick down into introversion. Shielded by soft lashes, no longer required to play the role of himself, his face sheds years as he breathes out a thin stream of smoke: a white fusion of all the answers he didn’t give – the thousand million possible combinations of syllables that could have summarised his feelings better than “happy”.

But no one is interested in those million combinations, and he knows that better than most. He hasn’t said so, but it’s obvious. For every person like him there comes a time in their life when they stop angling for the right words. After years of hooking the prettiest descriptors, the aptest metaphors, they allow those silver-slick perfections to slip away unused – because in the end, who will hear them?

I think he learned his lesson rather late.

 

Are you happy?

I never ask him about these things. The art of music is the art of knowing when and where to be silent.

But I take note. I have a book where I detail his fluctuating moods, invisible as they might seem. He’s the taciturn, stoic kind of man, even at his most affable. Some might think he doesn’t have moods at all, just a constant kindly reservedness, a hands-off smile of placid contentment. But there are shifts and shades even in his indigo twilight. Rippling moon shadows and faint starlight, purple paling into grey.

I write them down like statements, as dry as the meetings in his calendar. Item: a confused frown. He doesn’t understand why the horns have trouble following his lead. We’ll discuss it later. From my vantage point at the back of the room, I can see how his orders to them look different from those he gives the cellists.

He doesn’t agree with these analyses of mine. “The orchestra is a single beast,” he likes to say. “I can’t cater to them individually, I treat them like the team they are.”

And yet when he turns his eyes on a section or an individual, they feel like the only person in the room.

 

The first time I prove myself is banal, fleeting. He’s about to look for something to drink. He’s been talking to the concertmaster and his throat is dry. A tell-tale movement in his hand, no more than a twitch, but coupled with a sticky-looking swallow it’s plain as day.

When he registers the need consciously, he turns to see the glass of water already by his elbow. His eyes flit to me, just a moment of recognition, and then he drinks. Thinking nothing of it: once can be a coincidence, after all.

But over time the evidence stacks up. I hold his life in my hands as it spirals into chaos. I’m his one safe port in the gathering storm. I’m not paid – not yet – but one day he’ll wake up in a cold sweat and realise that he has to, or he’ll lose all semblance of control.

 

“So tell me. What is all this?”

I look at the table between us, at the myriad printouts and post-its and ripped pieces of paper that comprise my job interview. Lined, squared, dotted, plain. Yellow and white, some pink. Black text in Courier, Times, Georgia, Garamond. Months, days. Boxes to tick or to fill with text. There’s a computer with ten browser tabs open, there’s a tablet full of apps and a phone calendar with dates filled in. Ideas scattered across platforms, to do’s and quotes and feelings, has Mister Lanois answered yet? and maybe if Miss Nakamura says yes to a collaboration I can send her this folder.

I can already sense a collection of threads. There’s an invisible hierarchy, and all I have to do is put every item in its logical place.

“It’s…” I fumble for the words to convey that I know what I’m doing. But I can’t summarise his life in a sentence after having looked at these scraps for a mere minute. Is that what he expects?

“It’s a tree. No. A spider’s web. But not a two-dimensional one. It has strands that begin at the centre and continue in other dimensions.” I give a sudden chuckle. “It’s a brain.”

The look he gives me is sceptical, amused, affectionate. I shut it out to save myself from a white-out – that dreaded explosion of synapses that leaves my head a box of stark bright emptiness.

“So I need several books for this,” I say as I turn my eyes to the table again. “I’ll use one central book, to gather all loose ends. The ‘now’ book.” I nod to myself. “The NowBook.” It settles in my mind, finds its form. “And from there will stretch many strands that end up in other books – like hyperlinks, only it’s all analogue.”

“Analogue?”

“Yes.” Firm. There’s no other way. My head can’t wrap around cyberspace. “And I’ll need another book to track outside contacts. OutBook. But with a duplicate list in the NowBook, colour coded with page references. And another one for ideas that may go nowhere, but they pop from your head like gunfire and I need to catch them. You never know when you’ll need them, probably never, but they need to be stored. And then there’s a YoreBook and –”

“My book?”

“No, YoreBook, for memories. Emotional retention content, possibilities to do with the past. There’ll be emotion and memories in the NowBook too, but only insofar as it’s relevant f–”

I mean to go on, but his fingers on the table straighten slightly and lift from the surface. I fall silent. When I meet his eyes, there’s surprise in them.

“How…?” he begins, then makes a face and cocks his head. “How do you know? How do you just… know?”

“Because I’m not living,” I reply. It sounds weird, so I try to rephrase. “What I mean is, if I don’t interact with anyone, if I’m only focused on the system, I can see everything. I can decide where everything fits in relation to everything else. It works in silence and withdrawal. I work in silence and withdrawal.”

“And you see… ‘everything’.”

I shrug. “Everything to do with you. I won’t be able to help with the orchestra.”

He laughs. “Well, no, because that would make you superhuman, wouldn’t it?”

I frown. I don’t know how to respond to that.

“But why are you interested?” he asks. When I don’t answer at once, he adds, “You have to be interested to do this kind of work, don’t you?”

“Well…”

“Interested in me.”

I don’t move a muscle. Whatever my facial capillaries think they’re up to, they can think again. “Not in that way,” I say tonelessly. “Yes, it’s an obsession of sorts, but the focus isn’t our relationship, it’s your life. I’ll spend my days concentrating on your every move, but you’ll never think about my presence at all. If it works out, that is.”

“Sounds very lopsided.”

I throw one look at the scraps between us. “Which will fit right into the pattern you already have.”

His cheeks bunch in the kind of non-smile I’ve learned to steel myself for. He’s going to politely let me know that kind of analysis isn’t wanted.

But when I hold my breath for the inevitable, he hesitates. Then he lets out a breath – he’s been holding his too – and it becomes a chuckle. “You already know what I’m going to say.”

I look down into my lap. “Sorry.”

“I…” There’s movement as he shakes his head. “I should be repelled, but it’s exactly what I need. To not have to say anything. To have someone just know.”

I nod. Of course I already know this too.

“Well, consider yourself hired.”

I reach out to swipe the collection of scraps and notebooks into my bag, but he misinterprets the gesture and tries to take my hand. Our eyes snag in each other and I spill an awkward laugh. Our hands hover, like rival hummingbirds, for a too-long moment. Then he grabs mine and squeezes it with a smile. A warm smile, or a warm hand, or both, I’m not sure, I can’t separate the impressions. For a moment I’m too there to know what’s happening.

And then, as if he senses the threat, he lets go. “Thank you,” he says, and now his tone is the one he uses with the orchestra. I miss his other voice, and I miss the touch of his hand and his very presence before he even stands up and dons his coat. Long, long scarf, it should take an age to wind about his throat, but he’s done much too quickly and off he goes with his big long strides, marking this day as over.

So I don’t start immediately?

But I can start immediately. I pick up a piece of paper and feel it, light in my hand like a feather. Where someone else might sigh in exasperation, I feel like I’ve been given the most precious treasure – one I never really dared believe would be mine. I mean, anyone can be an assistant, if that’s what you’re after. There are countless tools both digital and analogue to organize your life, to categorise your wants and needs according to a logical structure. To have it all in one place.

But for someone truly to be an external hard drive of your life?

You need that extra ingredient.

 

Review

“Uhp!”

That sound, coupled with a pinching gesture, and the orchestra falls quiet. Attentive like trained dogs. What now? What does he want? Who screwed up?

“Violas.” He scratches his neck, weighs his words. If he doesn’t, they’ll come out harsh. He can’t just say what he feels. People don’t communicate on that level. “I’m not hearing the theme, and you’re the ones carrying it here. Can you just… a little louder, please. Okay, figure eight.”

His hands fly up, and with them fly the instruments, settling on collarbones and nether lips. Too late: the pinch reappears. Then: raised eyebrows – ready now? – and down goes the beat again, everyone on board. The hint of a smile is all they get for doing it right this time.

But it’s more than enough. Even for me, sitting in the shadows with my book and my pen, I feel it too. The elusive warmth that makes you cling to what’s almost nothing, but when that almost-nothing touches you, it’s as close to heaven as you’ll get.

You see how it brushes right up against romantic love? But everyone whose hearts are touched by his gossamer approval can’t be in love. That’s not what it is. It’s just so very impossible to live without.

And so we come to the why. Why did I ever dream this dream? Why did I devote my life to making it here? There’s the interview with his mother, of course, but you can’t base an obsession solely on a mother’s anecdote. So what’s the attraction?

His femininity. Amid all that masculine pride and his will of iron is a girlish softness you can’t ignore. Yes, it’s facile to call it by its traditional name. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I should only speak of his vulnerability and his authority without ascribing gender roles.

Let’s see how we go.

So what’s the attraction? His gentleness. Amid all that quiet resolve, the way he demands things without even speaking…

It’s pointless, you see? This is all about gender, even if I don’t say it. The female assistant sweeping a path for the male genius who ignores all other aspects of his life to focus on honing his craft? It’s straight out of Fuck the Patriarchy 101.

But I’m honing my craft too. I’m a genius in my field, the queen of my own kingdom, and I’m the one to tell the story. See how the roles are muddled? I’m the Watson to his Holmes, needed and undervalued, a sounding board without whom he wouldn’t even exist. But I’m also the detective, the observer, the only one who can tell him why he always pauses after a conjunction.

And he wants it. Needs someone to deduct and record, because otherwise there would just be sea surf: a fragile froth that pops its own bubbles, quiet and relentless, a molecular dance that distracts like the magician’s hand until suddenly, it’s over. The moon’s eclipse, the cessation of gravity. One day will be his last, and what I haven’t written then won’t exist.

The irony is, of course, that by then it’ll no longer matter. All this careful collecting of tiny nothings… when he draws his final breath I will burn the lot.

Which is why we have our talks, always with adjoining hotel rooms so I can slip in and out.

 

“So.”

He looks up, almost-smile in place, that human manifestation of entropy. It holds for a moment, but I don’t let his gaze go. Then he drops his pretence – so hard to let go of, even with me – and becomes Aleksei again: not so much resting bitch face as resting demure demoiselle at the Louvre face. How a person looks when they’re completely relaxed.

And beautiful. Let’s not kid ourselves.

“So.” I sit on the edge of the bed, bag pressed to my chest until I realise it’s pressed to my chest. I lower my arms, try to relax like he does.

A genuine smile this time. “How was today?”

He never means me. “You were tense.”

His eyes flick down to my bag of books, but I’m not quoting from them. My notes are too detailed. This is my summary, the succinct soundbite. He doesn’t have time for anything else.

He sighs inaudibly. “So what do I do?”

Imagine a beach, flits through my mind, but he wouldn’t rest on a beach. He would count the beats between waves.

Before I can flip through my mental index for something else, he says, “Never mind. That’s not for you to answer, is it? We’ll take it up with the physiotherapist.”

Or a therapist, I almost blurt. For a moment I even think I’ve said it aloud, but he doesn’t flinch, which he would have done if I had.

“Yes,” I say belatedly. “I’ve made a note of it.”

“Can I see?”

He holds out his hand on the covers. I allow myself one look at it, one mental sketch of those photogenic lines: it looks like an example drawing from an artist’s guidebook. This is how you shadow tendons, this is how knuckles work.

Oh yes. Anatomy. I open my bag and rummage through it, cheeks slightly warm, until I find the NowBook. The drawing, I agonise, but it’s too late to dissemble. He’ll see it, and we’ll take it from there. Maybe the thoughts I had as I drew it won’t be visible in the lines. Maybe we won’t have to have The Talk just yet.

He flips the book open with one thumb on the tab and the other holding the stack of future pages. As his eyes fall on the sketch, he stills. I see his eyes flit over my scribbled notes on height of elbow, shoulder muscles, the correlation between the energy he spends and the energy he gets in return from the orchestra.

Because it’s an equation, make no mistake. He can’t just sit back and relax and expect things to happen all on their own. To some extent he has to break his body to make them dance. I’m not here to tell him to take it easy. I’m here to provide the data so he can make a decision on exactly how much torture is enough.

The book falls from his hands – a short fall to the soft embrace of the sheets beneath. He looks up at me. “Something you want to tell me?”

So he sees. “No,” I stall, even though I know it doesn’t work.

“You know I can’t hold back. Not now. Not so close to the premiere.”

“I know.”

“So what’s this?” He indicates the drawing.

“It’s just a moment in time,” I snap. “How you look. Additional information for your physiotherapist. She’ll know what to do.”

“Yes, she’ll tell me to stop trying to reach them.”

I’m struck dumb. He’s made the connection himself, then? “I, uh…” I close my eyes and shake my head. “She would never say that.”

“Perhaps not. But she’ll think it. She’ll write it in my medical journal.”

“So what? She doesn’t know what it takes to do your job.”

“Do you?”

The accusation is an ice pick in my chest. Winded, I can’t find my voice.

“I’m… sorry.” His voice is soft again. “I just don’t know…”

… how to do this? Well, neither do I. We both have impossible jobs.

He rubs his face, looking weary now. Weary and grey. All the aches and sores in his muscles asking for attention, for sympathy, for a day off.

I’m sorry,” I say. “I could never do what you do, and I wouldn’t presume –”

“Can you watch me while I sleep?”

I fall silent, stunned. It’s an outrageous demand, worded like a suggestion.

“Of course.”

 

Snapshots, fleeting moments. How we met, truly met. A moist paw – his, not mine – and a mumbled name. Since then he’s learned to say his name as if it matters – the way it matters to thousands and counting – but it hasn’t come easy. For a while I was the one to train him. Face to face in hotel rooms, him practicing introductions, me giving advice on eye contact, hand pressure, diction. He tried to relearn his own name, but in the end he gave up even though it helped. When I asked why, he held my eyes and said, “I’m not afraid of you.”

 

Watch me sleep.

I walk over to the stuffed chair with its cream upholstery. Remove his clothes – the scarf, his shirt, his trousers – and sit down. I keep his garments on my lap, still warm from his body. He climbs into bed, white t-shirt and boxers, crisp and clean under crisp and clean covers. All that’s missing is a teddy bear. Pulling up the covers, he sits cross-legged under the sheets and watches me back for a moment. His blue-grey eyes make one attempt to lode my depths, peruse me like they peruse the orchestra, probing for flaws, for holes he can fill with his genius.

The innuendo makes me warm. I busy myself with folding his clothes in my lap and placing them on the coffee table. Sometimes I stumble into these things. My thoughts brush it like butterflies’ wings, like the errant question at a museum: what would it be like to kiss one of these statues?

When my half-blush has settled I look up, calm again. He’s lying down now, covers drawn up to his chest, one half naked arm on top of it, hand clutching the sheet. Those hands, those arms are his livelihood. People pay to watch them, but I’m paid to watch. And where they see only the power of the leader, or indeed the pointless flapping of a parasitic prat, I read his lines, the tautness in his bicep and wrist, and I know where he hurts.

“If you want me to reschedule, move it forward so you can get it over with…?”

He rolls over on his back and directs an accusing glare at the ceiling. “I can’t…” There’s a sharp sound that I only afterwards realise is a gasp. “Fuck.”

I flinch. He rarely curses.

“I know I’m driving my body too hard, but there’s no other way. You see them. They need it. They’re this close to sinking into complacency. I’m the vitamin shot. I’m…”

“Alone.”

His lips part, but he doesn’t reply at once. There are no non-digital clocks in here, and yet I can feel the ticking of seconds as the window for non-awkwardness closes.

Then he mumbles, “How do you draw that conclusion?”

“You need connection, and right now you’re not getting it.”

His gaze nails me in blue. “Connection.”

I nod.

He sits up. “Connection. It’s the name I…” He shakes his head. “I haven’t shown you the concerto, have I?”

“Concerto?”

He stares at his hands, and a muscle beneath his eye trembles. “I’m writing a cello concerto. Well, trying to. But there’s just too little time.” He makes a face. “No. It has nothing to do with time. I have no inspiration.”

I wait.

“No ‘connection’.” He chuckles soundlessly. “No one to play it. A cello concerto with no cellist in mind? Impossible.”

I nod. So I have to start looking for cellists. I open a book and jot it down. It gets its own page because it’s important.

 

Important. I even underline it.

 

Not knowing how goddamn right I am.

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