The light that dripped through the Venetian blinds was so inviting that the doctor, waking up, wanted to lick it like caramel syrup.
He slid away from the sheets, lowered his naked feet onto the rug and put on a flannel bathrobe with the idea of following this light out the door. Marlene was still asleep, face downward. Her broad shoulders had slipped past the lime colored sheets.
He overcame the urge to study her asleep, knowing from past experience this would lead him to melancholy thoughts.
In the front hall, by the umbrella stand, the sunlight had made a sailboat out of a triangle and three parallel lines on the brown cork tiles.
Werner Hartmann stepped outside and heard the birds, the buds, a truck laboring uphill, gnashing its gears. All was blissful across the United States. Good day. Then he remembered the chamber music gathering that night, and felt a contraction, a pinch at the heart.
It was all because Geary, their violinist, had phoned the day before to say he couldn’t make it. He had to pick up his wife’s brother at the airport. Werner was upset; he had been looking forward to playing the Brahms piece and thought Geary was taking the group too casually. Either they would have to postpone the evening or else play trios. Then Annette, his oldest daughter, volunteered. Werner didn’t know if she could handle it. She was only thirteen, a willing but not noticeably gifted musician. Furthermore, she had the habit of sticking her tongue out when she played. Her violin teacher had warned her he would not allow her to be in the music school recital unless she cured herself of this ridiculous habit.
Well, this would be a good experience for Annette. He phoned the others for their opinion and they thought it was a wonderful solution.
So today Annette was going to have her debut.
“Pick me up!”
Terry scooted over to her father as soon as she saw him in the garden. Annette, who had been playing a game of tether ball with her younger sister, followed chastely behind, her chinked eyes frowning from sunshine as she waited beneath the rope-swing and the dogwood tree.
“Pick me up!” demanded Terry.
“There goes my gardening,” said Hartmann. He was more amused than put out. His chest hairs tickled Terry as he lifted her with his bony arms. She got right up close to his face to see it as if for the first time: the crusty brown pores, flabby lips and crag of a nose with its nostril hairs at the entrance of the cave, and the omniscient eyes, alien, watery blue, that looked into hers from a distance that could never be crossed.
“Hee-hee,” she laughed apprehensively.
Higher she rose, and now it was perfect. She giggled and her cheeks bloomed. Once...twice...thrice!” he pretended to drop her, and let her gently down.
“Again. This time a piggyback ride.”
From her kitchen window Marlene Hartmann laughed to herself at Terry’s directness. Pick me up! She knew just what she wanted, that girl. Heaven for her would be to swing in Daddy’s arms forever. But see how Annette hung back, already with that adult’s look of missing out. Maybe she thought she was getting too old for Daddy’s pick me ups.
Werner had a tightening sensation and immediately straightened his shoulders for Terry to slide down.
“That’s enough,” he grumbled.
Terry pulled a long face.
“No more now, no more.”
“Why don’t you give Annette a turn?” Marlene called from the back door. “I think she wants a piggy ride too!”
The girls were stunned that their mother had been “spying” on them. Hearing her tensely gay accent Annette made a sarcastic face. In fact she was glad someone had noticed her hovering and hovering, with her arms folded across her chest like a crushed bird.
“Well come here Annie! Soon you’ll be too heavy for me. One two three four Alley Oop!”
Annette closed her eyes and went limp. She thought she smelled the white dogwood blossoms growing on the higher branches.
“Come on, let’s finish the tether ball game, Terry. I’m winning 18-7.”
“Okay, but one more pickmeup.” Terry ran to her father’s knees and hugged them.
“Kids, let your father have some peace. I’m sure he doesn’t want you in his hair all Sunday.”
“We were going, mother,” Annette said.
“Well I should say so. Gosh, what a tone of voice!” Mrs. Hartmann said.
Her htisband waved to her. He looked so charming in his new goatee. She fancied him as a German courtier: distinguished, cultured, handsome to the ladies, a shade of melancholy. She remembered his face when it had been suffering but now that vtilnerability was losing ground to the warm fatherly fuzz of his beard, and a good thing too; perhaps she could relax and stop worrying about his discontent—begin to think of her own satisfaction more.
“Breakfast is in five minutes, okay?” Marlene called out.
At breakfast Hartmann had it on the tip of his tongue to suggest that Annette practice. But Terry was keeping everyone in stitches with her babble and be decided not to darken the mood. He would suggest it later on, but casually.
Werner scanned his subscriber brochure of radio listings. Grieg, Prokofiev, Scbuhert... Sunday fare. There would be an interesting discussion at 4:5. By that time they would probably have left for a walk.
He switched on the program: it was his habit to leave this station on all day Sunday, good or bad. Then be sat in his favorite chair and reached by instinct for the new periodicals. there were the scholarly journals that be told himself he should catch up with, but instead be opened a magazine that bad nothing to do with his field. It was a journal of political thought which be noticed seemed every year to get fatter and more infrequent.
The double issue at band was a collection of essays on the blue-collar worker. Turning pages, sensing the tone, Hartmann felt an older brother’s protective indulgence for the Left. there was something so touching about these writers with their gymnasium faith in correct analysis; their lyrical trills when they came to expose the true enemy; their controlled anger, hissing underneath the dialectics like a delayed fuse under a rock.
He remembered now his Communist days, the general meetings at Koln, standing up in back to hear, the perennial stray dogs moving among the crowd. The first classes he gave as an instructor, all that came back, and suddenly the memory of the Gestapo ringing his house, and his walking calmly through the troops with an ear flapped cap over his head. Was it his blue eyes that deceived them? Or the worker’s cap? To walk past Death as casually as going through a turnstile, when so many, so many he knew were unlucky...
They had hidden him in the cellar of a rectory for a year. In Holland. A low-ceilinged room lit by naphtha lamp, with nothing to read but sermons. It was not a bad year. His mind reached a sort of stillness. He would have accepted whatever happened to him. Gestapo or liberation. He thought that if he ever survived he would like to give up university life and earn his bread with his hands, as a bookbinder or gardener.
And now look! He had turned up like a rabbit in a strange country and was making good money for an intellectual. This country respected European brains. They paid you well to spin out theories. He enjoyed the American comfort of life, the natural grandeur of the forests and the continental sunsets. But deep in his heart he longed for some strong conversation. The people who surrounded him seemed like white bread, in-excusably bland.
Hartmann had had a puzzling research career. He had always been interested in unexplained phenomena, those stepchildren considered beneath the attention of medical science. Faith healing and the laying of hands engaged him for a time. Then ritual fasting. Then he moved on to the ability to discern color through touch. Now he was investigating placebos.
It was not that he believed any of these approaches should necessarily be adopted. No, what excited him was just the delusional, the imaginative underside of the idea. When this had faded he let the research slide, not without leaving behind a slim article arguing that the evidence was “inconclusive” while chiding the medical establishment for its dogmatic neglect of the subject.
His more powerful emigrant friends were perplexed but continued to help him get grants. They still believed he would make a contribution. Certain other colleagues welcomed his conversation at lunch and appreciated his skepticism, but now there was the tiniest condescension accorded someone whose obsession with integrity begins to seem part of a pattern of self-defeatism. Poor Hartmann! He lacked the blind spot, the childishness necessary for deep enthusiasm. Whenever people urged him to publish more in the scientific journals, or better yet, write a book, Hartmann always answered:
“Why should I add to the rubbish in print? The world has seen enough half-baked nonsense already.”
He was fifty. He still had fifteen years to come up with a good idea.
“Oh no Regina you peed all over the floor. Stop that—bad dog. Look at this flood! And I just mopped up half an hour ago”
“I’ll mop up, mother.”
“You bet you will. I would appreciate it. I must go to Shopwell for tonight.—Come, out of the kitchen, Regina. Such bad manners to pee on the floor. Are you so old and senile you can’t hold it in ?” Marlene dragged the dog through the kitchen door and then stopped back in the living room.
“What do you think would be nice to serve them? I was planning some ice cream and fruit. How does that sound?
“What kind of fruit, do you think?”
“Mhm...” he pointed to the fireplace.
“Maybe a salad would be better. A nice garden salad on a summer night?”
“A salad would be excellent too.”
“What kind of salad? Fish or ham?”
A bird was warbling nearby, the same repeated call: two long ascending notes and eight short pips.
“Fish,” said Hartmann.
“Then I’ll have to go buy some. I have ham in the house but no fish.”
“Use ham instead, Leni, it makes no difference. It’s silly for you to go out of your way.”
“Not at all! I was planning to go to Shopwell anyway. Did you see how Regina leaked all over this morning?”
“I heard...” Werner began warmly. But be realized be bad nothing to add.
“Disgusting, hmm?” said Marlene with a flirtatious laugh that puzzled him and reminded him of something. What was it? be wondered.
Probably she just wanted to make contact. A moment later his wife was back.
“Black bread! that’s what Klausner likes. I could pick up some fresh warm pumpernickel at the bakery in Georgetown. Warm black bread and sweet butter. Mmmm... that’s lovely. that will be a treat for all of us.”
“Ya. Sit down and rest for a minute.”
“I don’t have time to rest,” Marlene laughed ironically.
“Who’s going to make lunch? And someone has to see that Terry gets her room clean.”
Werner’s brows were furrowed, as if trying bard to understand.
“And Then I must do a wash so you can have shirts tomorrow.”
“Terry!” be called out.
“Wait a second.”
“No waiting, you come here when Daddy calls,” said
Terry wobbled in on big heels and an old-fashioned floppy hat. “Excuse, gutt afternoon, I am just goink for a valk. Could you tell me von der vich vay to the zooo?” you tell me von der vich vay to the zooo?” “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” asked Werner, bending down to her level.
“Naturlist,” Terry rolled her eyes.
“Gosh! she’s such a scream when she puts on that German,”
said Marlene. “Where did you get those earrings’?”
“Excuse, ein moment,” Annette ran in, “this lady has stolen my prrse!”
“No, I want to be Grandma,” Terry whined.
“You can be Grandma in a minute, I promise,” said Annette.
“No, I’m the only Grandma, look!” Terry said, and stuck two throw pillows under her shirt.
“What a riot!—Hey kids, your room must be upside down with those costumes. Go and tidy up.”
“My room is perfectly neat.”
“Terry, go and clean right now,” her father commanded.
Terry sloshed off in her high heels.
“And you too, Annette.”
“Aher der my room is zo clean you could lick off der floor.”
“Stop it now. The joke is wearing thin.”
“Boy,” Annette muttered. It was a curious thing, this business of jokes wearing thin. Sometimes they could go on with the joking for a long, long while, and both parents would be laughing; and then suddenly they would say it had gone too far.
Presently Mrs. Hartmann left the living room. Annette sat down on the fireplace stones, looking into the grating. Then she reached for her novel and opened it into her lap. She wore a brown wraparound skirt and a heather sweater. Her bosom was already well-developed.
“What are you reading?” Annette asked her father.
“An article on American factories.”
“Is it good?”
“Mm, fair ... What are you reading?” he asked politely.
“Didn’t you finish that yet?”
“I’ve read it twice. I like it.”
Werner returned to his article.
“I’m reading it again for a book report,” explained Annette.
“When you finish maybe you can try something different. Have you tried Arrowsmith?”
“Who’s that by?”
“Sinclair Lewis,” Werner said with subdued irritation.
“Oh, right. Didn’t you bring that to me once from the library? ”
“I did, and you let it sit around for three weeks.”
“I had to read another book for school. Microbe Hunters. If you bring it again I promise I’ll read it.”
“No, I’m not getting it out for you. This time you get it
out yourself,” Werner said coldly.
Annette shrugged. She returned to her book, and he to his magazine. She read another chapter, though it was difficult to concentrate.
“There are books in the house already that you could read. Have you looked at those short story collections in the bookcase?” “Uh huh. I couldn’t get into them,” said Annette. “De Maupassant you couldn’t get into?!” “Which one was he?”
Werner almost lost his temper. Was she purposely being obtuse with that flippant tone of hers? Maybe he was wasting his time trying to educate her. He looked at the article—to return to it would be the most inviting course. “Bring me the volume of short stories from the bookcase.”
Annette obeyed immediately. “The De Maupassant or the 250 Great Short Stories?”
Werner reflected. “The 25 Great Short Stories.”
The book was hardbound and very heavy. Hugging it against her chest like a leaded anchor, Annette felt she was going underwater. She meekly placed it on the end table by his arm. Hartmann opened it to the contents page. His eye ran down the listing, and the sight of some old friends gave him comfort and professional pleasure.
“Get me a pencil, please. I’ll check off the ones I think are good.”
She fetched a pen for him from the dining room address book.
“Conrad... De Maupassant... Poe... Kipling... Merimee... Faulkner...Flauhert... And here’s an excellent little-known writer, Heinrich von Kleist. Have you heard of him?”
Annette nodded. He could not tell if she were telling the truth or not.
“I’m surprised they put him in here. A double check for Kleist. Who else?... Gorki...Jack London? He is more of a journalist. I remember enjoying his stories as a boy. I’m not sure how I’d feel about them now. I’ll check London, too.”
He handed the book back to her. Suddenly she wanted to get rid of it as fast as she could. She looked wishfully at the bookcase; if she put it back she knew her father would be annoyed. But she didn’t like to have it next to her. “I’ll just keep this in my room,” said Annette.
“Mhm.” A silence fell, like a sip of red wine. Instead of going out Annette waited, hung on for something more.
“By the way,” Werner said, “you might practice a little the Brahms for tonight.”
“I practiced it. Daddy!”
“You did? I must not have heard it.”
“I practiced when you were gone yesterday. I’ve been practicing it all week. Remember?”
“I don’t remember...” He wanted to tell her to practice it his time in his hearing. But he controlled himself The best performance would come if she felt relaxed. He might tend to be a perfectionist in music; there was no point forcing her to over-rehearse. Nevertheless, the worry showed on his jowled face. “Did you find it manageable or difficult?”
“A little difficult.—Daddy, do you think I could ever be a violinist?”
“That depends.” Werner filled his pipe bowl slowly with tobacco.
“Depends on what?” Annette said exasperatedly.
“If you were to take it more seriously you might. Most professional violinists practice five or six hours a day.”
“What I meant is, do you think I have the talent to become one—even if I practiced six hours a day?”
Werner thought it over. “Music is a very hard life.”
Annette squinched up her nose.
“Well you asked me my opinion. If you want me to say just what you would like to hear—”
“I don’t care what you say.”
“Lucky for you. That makes you very independent.”
I’m always offending her, he thought. The younger one is brazen but you have to laugh. There’s something jolly. healthy about Terry. This one gets her back up so easily. She’s poisoned with my melancholy.
“I’m going out to the garden,” Werner announced.
The sun had recently come out. A cloud had just passed over the land and was sweeping in dips toward the Potomac. Through a V of cleared foliage the hill could be seen with its alternations of light and shadow, each farm patiently waiting Its turn.
Werner stationed his garden chair in front of the clearing, his back to the house, in order to get the most distant view. As a result of clever landscaping one could imagine their land stretched for miles over rolling plains, though actually this plot held no more than half an acre.
The tiger lilies had come out marvelously this year.
Ah!... Let them say what they want, let them do what they want. As long as they leave me this beautiful at, this warm sky, this earth.
A noise shook the grass behind him. He was afraid it might be a human but it was only Regina waddling up for affection. Werner dug his fingernails into the dog’s shaggy mat. The animal sighed and Werner widened his massage, letting his fingertips soak up the heat, losing his train of thought, guided only by the whirlpool of muscles, indulging himself on flesh.
Werner hoped no one could see him. Then he began to wish that someone would take notice of his popularity with the dog, he who had always felt estranged from the natural.
“How much easier life is when there are all these living things around us—children, flowers, animals. How much lighter, how much heavier the burden! Look how grateful Regina is. I am such a success with her. She asks to be petted, I do, and she is happy. Terry asks to be picked up. I do, and she is happy. Incredible!”
Just then an extraordinary sweep of light and shade came over the garden. He rose automatically. In that gust of wind the twigs seemed to stand out against the trees with iron clarity. Accents of sunspots were strewn over the grounds like drops of rain after an electrical storm. Each blade of grass and each pine cone seemed to have shivered into its final outline. This must be how Adam saw, Werner thought.
He had known such bountiful moments in Nature before, when attentiveness came as easily as breathing and everything smelled very grand and be knew they didn’t last longer than a half-hour... even so, even so, be thought stubbornly, this was all happening and it was marvelous, marvelous.
Marvelous, marvelous, be kept repeating, hoping to prolong it. Already be felt the blood was draining from the scene, the crispness was retreating. He listened to his heavy breathing, the sharp bird noises... If heaven were to speak to him now be would not miss the signal.
Maybe an angel passing overhead would be lured by his antennae.
He thought of Rilke, and of the passage in Duino Elegies about going through life with the attitude of always lingering, forever taking leave. “So leben wir und nebmen immer Abscbied.”
Well, I’ve bad my moment of happiness for the day.
His neighbor on the right side, Purdy, came out with a hose to give his garden a sprinkle. Mr. Purdy was a lanky businessman with white hair that rose in a dependable cowlick. He bad shrewd common sense, Werner bad decided once, but he liked to play dumber than be was.
Werner was in the mood to talk now and strolled over.
“Afternoon...” Mr. Purdy said. “I see you been puttering around in your garden here.”
“Yes I was trying to, but I puttered so much that my engine went kaputt.”
“Oh ho, yes.”
“And now I must put away my putter,” Werner nodded sagely.
A silence arose. Purdy seemed to have forgotten he was talking to anyone. His eyes took in the tricycle, bicycle and other hardware of his neighbor’s yard.
“You have a sun tan. You have been away for awhile?” Werner brought him back pohtely.
“Yes... on a business trip, to Austin, Texas. Had myself a ball. Say have you got a No. 5 spade I can borra?” Purdy asked in his Maryland drawl.
“A No. 5 spade, a spade,” Werner tapped his forehead. “Hmm...” He was eager to oblige in some way. Rarely did any of his neighbors ask him for a favor and he took it as a sign of growing community acceptance. But he knew he had no such article, so his mind began to work the answer into a joke, possibly: No I haven’t—to call a spade a spade. His clouded face had already given Purdy the answer.
“Thanks anyhow. I’ll just drive down to Sears and pick up a new one.”
“And what are you planning to plant?” Werner asked.
“Well there’s a good question!” Purdy said with a hint of fun in his eye. “It depends on if we get the cabbage in soon so’s we can utilize the patch by the side of the house, because Mrs. Purdy wants tomaters and I’m thinking we can diversify over by that fence. That is if there aren’t so many rabbits as we had last year. But even if they’re back I got a little surprise for them. You see that metal thingamajob over there?” Purdy went into an explanation of catching rabbits and the varieties of fertilizers that passed over Werner’s head.
Werner gave himself over to staring shamelessly at his neighbor’s Adam’s apple. It had a loose flap of gooseflesh that slid up and down every time Purdy took a swallow. This man is priceless, thought Werner.
Finally Purdy’s mouth went dry and he turned to hook up his rubber snake.
Werner hurried inside to tell his wife. “I have just been talking with Mr. Purdy—” he announced. Marlene was not immediately visible. Soon she came up the basement stairs carrying the wash basket. She brushed past him and into the kitchen.
Werner pursued her with his juicy anecdote. “I have had a most interesting tete-a-tete with our neighbor Purdy,” he said suspensefully.
“Yes? What did he have to say?”
“He was giving me a course of instruction on the uses of fertilizer. You can’t believe how he went on. I know he is a salesman for a living but I never knew what he sold. Perhaps it’s fertilizer.”
“I should think so, with that smelly garden.—Lunch is now.
Can you call the girls?”
“What?” Annette stuck her head in mistrustfully.
“Your mother informs me that we are to eat lunch. Please kindly join us ladies...”
The children took chairs on one side of the maple table, which was large even without the center leaf, and barren except for four straw Mexican place mats. The girls were banging their forks on the place mats. Werner sat at the head of the table, absently watching them.
“You weren’t supposed to tell Mommy we were saving for her present,” Annette said.
“Oh yeah? Well you’re the one who made me tell her!”
Marlene called from the kitchen: “Who will give me a hand to bring in the food?”
Annette looked at Terry. “Your turn.”
“You remember I had to dry dishes this morning.”
“Okay, okay,” Terry said and went inside.
Werner tapped the table to get his daughter’s attention. She would appreciate the story about Purdy.
“Do you know Purdy our next door neighbor? Well he is starting to speak freely with me. For the first time we had a decent chat...”
“Thank you for being so polite!” cried Marlene as she struggled in with a large dish. Werner cleared his throat and helped her set it down. “Help yourself There is some leftover macaroni salad also if anybody wants it. You can start on the jam and peanut butter and cheese.”
“Peepee butter,” Terry said brightly.
“Pass down the cheese, please?”
“I don’t want no peepee peanut butter mommy.”
“that’s enough. what kind of nonsense is that to talk at the table.”
“Me no talkee nonsense,” Terry said solemnly like a movie Indian.
Her mother laughed in spite of herself. “Who would like some milk?”
“Mommy, you should bear the way Susan Edmonds does It. She was teaching us at Brownies. ’I no is crazy. No I me.’”
“I’m not surprised she teaches you it. such trash, that Brownies!” said Marlene Hartmann, leaping up to fetch something.
“why do you call it trash, Mother?” Annette challenged her.
“It’s rubbish, that’s why. Trashy is common, low, worthless. Darling, would you like some wine?”
Hartmann shook his bead. He bad fallen into a bad mood. It was childish he realized, just because they interrupted his story!
“what’s the matter?” asked Marlene.
“Sit down. I’ve been waiting for you to eat with us.”
“Ob I? I eat when everyone is finished!” Nevertheless she sat down. “Who would like some more bread ?”
“I would!” said Annette.
“Of course you would! Here, help yourself, but go easy on the slices. You watch your figure, girl. You don’t want to get like Mommy do you? Gosh I am on a diet and I can’t eat a thing! Now who would like the rest of the macaroni salad?”
“No thanks,” said Terry.
“It’s a pity Then,” said Marlene, “I’ll have to give it to Regina. And she gets so fat she won’t be able to waddle from he kitchen to the bathroom. Poor Regina, under the table— maybe she would like to join us for a meal! what do you say, Regina? Look bow she always goes to Daddy. Clever dog, knows who is the master. Mhm, what a gorgeous day outside. It’s a shame we didn’t eat on the patio. So much more fun to take meals in Nature! Who wants to be stuck inside on a day like this. We should go for an excursion. I have an idea. kids, listen. Please stop that for one second. Who would like to take a ride this afternoon.”
“I would,” said Annette.
“Me two. Me three,” said Terry. “Me four.”
“Wonderful! Maybe you can ask Daddy if he takes you.”
“Yes if you like,” Werner said. “I could take them to the museum of the woods.”
“Mu-seum!” Terry wiggled up her nose. “Every time we go anywhere it’s the museum.”
“You could go to the old canal,” said Marlene.
“That’s no fun, the canal.”
“No we can have a nice time,” Annette poked her sister,
“Come on Terry, say the canal.”
Terry refused to budge.
“Is there anything for dessert?” asked Hartmann.
“There’s firuit and cheese.”
“We had cheese for lunch. That’s not dessert,” exclaimed
Annette. “You don’t have to take it if you don’t want it! In Europe it’s considered a very elegant dessert.”
Annette shrugged off this statement. “So what happened with Purdy?” she turned to her father.
“Yes, you never told us that story,” Marlene said.
“He is going to lay traps in the backyard to kill the rabbits.
“Barbarian!” exclaimed Marlene.
“Why is he a barbarian?” Annette asked.
“Will you let me continue?... He thinks the rabbits are coming from a farm coop on Muehlenhill Drive. And that the owner opens the cages at night because he doesn’t like the small homeowners. Purdy suggests that everyone in our row buy rabbit traps and leave them at the fence.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it!” Marlene said. “Think if Regina gets hurt.”
“Yet I enjoyed talking to him. You get an idea what America must have been like. He is unique, Purdy, a vanishing type of Americana.”
“What do they do with the rabbits when they kill them?” asked Terry.
“They cook them in a stew. Hasenpfeffer. Very tasty.”
“Yuck! I wouldn’t eat that if you paid me ten dollars.”
“You might change your mind someday,” said Werner, taking a peach from the fruit basket.
The discussion seemed to have reached its end, when Terry muttered: “He’d kill a rabbit just for some old lettuce!”
“Lettuce means cash, no?” Marlene remarked. “In this country they worship cash, it’s only natural they kill for their God.”
“I don’t think Germany’s any better,” Annette injected.
“No, Germany is worse! There’s no comparison. Germans are very greedy, certainly. But at least in Germany they don’t destroy the natural beauty for a few extra dollars.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Annette scornfully.
“You may not agree, that doesn’t make me ridiculous!...Besides, when were you in Germany, miss?”
“I read an article that said Germany was one of the greatest polluters in the world. And that some of their big lakes are already dead.”
“Where was this article?”
“In the Christian Science Monitor.”
“I never heard of such a magazine.”
“Oh mother, you don’t know what you’re talking about! Right, the students are protesting because the German rivers are being polluted and the forests are getting cut down?”
Annette asked her father.
“That is unfortunately correct,” said Hartmann, who had been keeping out of it.
“I thought it was time for the cities,” Marlene said doggedly, her voice catching, “but that they had a plan for protecting the countryside.”
“What plan? You think everything is trashy over here and it’s all perfect in Germany, Germany! You don’t know.”
“I know you don’t talk to your parent that way. Go to your room,” Marlene blurted out. She fled the table instead. They could hear her sniffling in the kitchen.
Annette looked ashamed of herself. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” Then she went into her room to begin her exile.
Werner and Terry were left alone at the table. Neither particularly wanted to look at the other.
“Golly!” said Terry. “I didn’t even expect that.”
Her father gave his assent, as if to say: I know, you didn’t have any part in it.
Marlene was loudly weeping in the kitchen. For about twenty seconds he considered not going into her. Then he picked himself up. She was not just crying but efficiently cutting a tomato at the same time, the blade pressing through the tomato and stopping just short of her thumb. Werner found her very lovable in this mode. He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. He could feel her thighs through the apron.
She turned around and her face was dripping with tears. She’s like a mango, he thought, when you squeeze her the juice runs out. How amazing that mysterious wetness, like her vagina which is always sopping every time I go to touch it.
“Marlene, Marlene,” he rocked her.
“Did you see what she said to me? Oh, you wouldn’t let it upset you! To be talked to so cruelly by your own daughter.”
“I understand. But listen, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be dragged down to the level of a thirteen year old.—I agree. she shouldn’t have said that to you. I’m only saying she’s an immature child and if you consider that you won’t get as hurt by her.”
“She has such a cutting tongue, you don’t know!” said Marlene, wiping her eyes with her apron string. “It’s easy for you to ignore it. She’s always polite with you. Mother is fair game though. ”
He sensed her crying spring was about to run down. He put his arms around her; but just this tenderness set her off again
“What hurts, what hurts the most is that they learn it from you. You are always being so clever and I’m the idiot. Mother is a fool, that’s what you think of me. You stick up for her. What do I know? I’m a common housewife. Is it my fault my education was stopped by the war, that I married so young and to someone who was smarter than me?
He had no easy words to answer her. I could agree, thought Werner; I could poke holes in her statement, I could find exceptions, historical reasons. In the end I am powerless to take away certain kinds of inequalities.
Werner stayed with her a long while near the sink. It was getting cloudier outside. Soon they would drive out to buy ice cream, and maybe take a walk along the canal, and get home just in time to start receiving company, and something else would happen, and something else, and they would forget what had made them cry two hours earlier. That was the real sorrow. One activity was always following the next, taking them further along a path that was never explained, further away from some point back there that never got cleared up. One’s spirits lifted and collapsed a dozen times a day with no fidelity to up or down. From upstairs came the sound of a violin being practiced.
Marlene blew her nose. Then the family drove out to the Potomac Canal.
“Geary could not make it, eh?”
“No Geary had to pick up his wife’s brother at the airport.”
“So this young lady will be our violin master. Enchante de vous avoir dans notre ensemble. You undersund French? Geary should be careful,” Klausner winked at Werner. “He may come back next week and find he has lost his seat.”
“If you heard me play you wouldn’t say that.”
“We shall see tonight. Your father says you are the new Heifetz.”
“She will do well. Come, have some food,” said Werner.
“Marlene has gone out and gotten Schwartzbrod especially for you. I think you have made a conquest.”
“At my age I have my doubts.” Klausner followed his friend into the dining room. He was a great-shouldered, bullish man, with a plodding walk, a psychoanalyst. At the cello he was a pillar of strength.
“Mar-lay-na!” he pronounced it, kissing her hand. “You are looking so lovely tonight if I were ten years younger I would not let you stay with this rotten man.”
“And your eyes are getting weaker!” Marlene laughed.
The doorbell rang again.
“Stanley, I’ll bet,” said Hartmann.
Stanley and Joy Morrison came into the dining room. He was tall as a basketball player, with black-rimmed glasses and a slow grin. His shirt pulled tensely against his bony shoulders when he put his big hand forward to shake hands. He and his wife worked at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. They were in group therapy together and had recently joined a nudist colony. Stanley, at thirty-five, was the youngest member of the quartet, capable of beautiful playing, but insecure, and hence the weakest link.
“Your front door is open,” he observed.
“We leave it open for wandering gypsy violists,” said Werner. “Have a chair. Have some Camemhert.”
“Joy, what happiness it is to see you,” Klausner exclaimed,
“particularly for an old Freudian like me.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” asked Joy.
“Because Freude means Joy in German, get it?” said Stanley.
“White wine anyone?—to wash away the taste of Klausner’s bad puns.” Werner filled the glasses with great zest.
“Aren’t you going to offer any to our violinist?” Morrison nudged him. “What are you, an adult chauvinist?”
“No, but I am cautious just the same.—Here Annette, have a little.”
“Oh, more than that!” Annette exclaimed. Everyone laughed.
“Refills?” Werner asked after a silence of some moments.
“Any more for me and I’ll make Brahms sound like—
“Boogie Woogie!” Klausner finished Stanley’s sentence.
“That would be nice for a change,” said Marlene.
“How’s the research business, Werner?” asked Stanley.
“So-so. And you, are you doing anything for my welfare?
What about my health and education ? I keep expecting you to pull some strings with the President.”
“No...It’s only old Hans here who’s saving any souls.”
“Not so!” said Klausner. “Just last week I let two of my patients go crazy.”
Everyone laughed, Klausner heartiest of all. Marlene Hartmann smiled to herself; she loved the sound of laughter in her house, and had a special affection for Klausner.
“Well, shall we start?” said Werner. They moved into the living room, where four wooden folding chairs had been set up facing the orange couch.
“I was looking over the Brahms score this morning and I noticed,” said Stanley, “that Brahms has the habit of making the tempi difficult for amateurs—”
“Brahms has no longer any habits,” Klausner interjected.
“Which is rather peculiar for a composer,” added Werner.
“On that note...” Stanley said gamely, sitting down and taking his viola out of the case.
They began to tune up. It was the moment when each man Had to go into himself, leaving the social comfort behind. Stanley frowned and listened to his tone; Klausner, bowing, stared into space; at the piano Werner’s profile had turned into the outline of severe nobility.
“We will start off with the Mozart trio,” he said calmly to Annette,“and then the Brahms. You can tune up now or later.”
“I’d rather later.”
“Fine. Would you like to be my page turner for the Mozart?”
“All right. That will give me something to do.—I’m so nervous!” she whispered to him.
“That goes away,” he whispered back. “remember, keep your tongue in.”
“I will!” she said, and laughed ruefully.
’’What’s the order?” asked Stanley.
“I thought first the Mozart piano trio, to warm up, then Brahms third quartet, then solos if anyone wants, then if we have time, another trio, the Haydn we did before. How does that sound?”
Klausner nodded. It was assumed that Hartmann would make those decisions. Though not necessarily the best musician, be was the guiding spirit of the group, its backbone.
Werner gave the signal with his chin to begin. Stanley was there from the first note. Klausner liked to bold back, to let the other players set the scene, and move cautiously in and around their energy. Then when be felt rooted in the piece, be would charge like a buffalo and everyone would go flying to the end. that Klausner loves to steal the show, thought Marlene.
“Soon you should go to bed, you have school tomorrow,” Marlene remarked to her youngest daughter.
“I want to see Annette play.”
“Of course you’ll see Annette play.” Her mother was touched by this loyalty. they were learning to be friends, those two. such flowing music! Lovely. Like mountain springs when the snow melts... Interesting bow Stanley and Klausner always look down at their instruments, while Werner keeps nodding to them and giving quick glances in their direction. that funny giving-approval with his chin. He was not always so attentive to the people around him. And look at Annette—leaning like a swan over the piano to tum the pages. that girl has such a beautiful neck! Where did she get it from? Not Werner or herself, it must be Grandma Hartmann. what a pity she wears her hair wild and keeps it hidden. Tonight she looked very neat with the brown tortoise- shell barrette. Barrettes are such funny things. Father and daughter in a space of their own. How she bends down to tum the pages, practically putting her breasts in Werner s mouth! Does be notice it I wonder. Of course be notices it The way she parades around him in her slip, sitting in front of him with her legs open and panties showing. I’m jealous of my daughter! Silly! Of course, she’s younger and prettier than me. Werner is surrounded by women. Poor man, it must be a strain on him. Sometimes I think we give him too much love. He feels stifled. But I can’t help myself—how can 1 hold back my feelings? When I see him I feel so grateful. Every day I can have him in the same house with me I want to say it’s a miracle. Ridiculous! You’d think by now I would take him for granted. But he’s so impressive-looking. You sec how the other women are drawl^ to him. Joy as well. Ich! I love him so much more than he loves me, it’s pathetic. If I were to hold back more but I can’t. He’s getting tired of me. Certainly, I can’t stimulate him enough. I’m no intellectual. He talks to Annette before he talks to me. I am like a visitor 111 my own house. Gosh, my eyes are getting wet. This music makes me so sad. It’s like that other one, who proposed to me on the lake. I didn’t understand what he wanted! Crazy girl— just seventeen. I asked Mother what it was all about and she said I was much too young. He had such strange unhappy eyes: that’s what sticks with me. And later on he went off and committed suicide. But certainly not because of me! I wonder what both men, so sensitive and educated, saw in me. Was it something they made up? Was it that they needed a hausfrau who was practical and down to earth. To balance their soaring? Maybe I did look “mysterious” at one time, the way my lip hung down in the old photographs. Now I don’t think 111 specially attractive at forty. It’s Werner who draws people to the house. All these brilliant people, our social circle, the group tonight—of course they made small talk with me at table but they don’t care anything about me. If Werner were to die before me they would see me a few times out of courtesy, and then I will be thrown back on myself. Gosh, how lonely that will be! And why do I keep thinking lie will die before me? Now I must hold back the tears. It’s over. Everyone will be looking round. How did the piece go so fast? Good music is such a treat for me, but I always think about something else! Next time I must really listen to every note.
Anyone for some coffee?” she jumped up. “You must be thirsty, you musicians. That was marvelous!”
Bravo,” Joy Morrison called out. She followed Marlene into the kitchen. “Can I help you with the dishes?”
“No, everything’s taken care of.”
Joy lingered all the same. Then she moved to help Marlene lift the tray—which was quite light to begin with. Not because I can’t manage, thought Marlene, but for her own conscience. I should really invent some task for her to do. If I were nice. But I’m not feeling so nice toward her.
As she passed the kitchen doorway Joy stopped her to confide. “I feel foolish sitting there and clapping at the end, don’t you?” “Foolish, why?” “Because it’s making believe that we’re the audience—an audience all of three—when really they’re playing for each other. We’re just eavesdroppers. I don’t know, it makes me mad.” “That’s interesting. I’m not sure I see what you mean,” said Marlene. “Well skip it,” Joy murmured. “Probably making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Coffee mugs were passed around and again the players tuned their instruments. This time Annette joined them. Annette went over the score: it was the C Minor piano quartet. The first movement was allegro non troppo, the second a scherzo, the third andante—which was good because by that time she would need a rest—and the fourth allegro again. How convenient that the slow part came in the middle! She wished the whole thing was andante. Stanley gave her a wink, as if to say: Just stick with me!
“I’m already,” she said. Her father nodded and hit the first note with such incredible firmness his finger almost went through the keyboard The beginning was fairly somber: she wasn’t going to try any fancy phrasing, if she kept up that was enough. Daddy was giving her approving nods, so far, so good. She looked across for one second at her father’s hands: they were like knotted roots growing from a tree. She knew their feel when he took hold of her hand on a walk, their special temperature. How I hate him sometimes, but I always love his hands. Elbow’s up! She hadn’t made one mistake yet. I’m going to have to make a mistake soon. This next part is where I always make the mistake. I feel like I’m on the merry-go-round and can’t get off. I have to make a mistake soon. It’s coming up, it’s coming up, one bar away, train going around the curve. I got it! Now let’s see if I make this next one. This part is too iiard for me. They can’t expect me to do this, this is getting too fast for me. This is a nightmare... Why am I putting myself through this? Oh, first mistake! (Hartmann winced at the sour note but nobody else seemed bothered.)
He doesn’t like it when I mess up. But I like it. I’m going to to mess up some more before this is over. I’m only thirteen cars old! Funny that time we played the duet and I goofed on the last note. Boy, was he upset. Why do I always do that? I know why.
Terry waved at her and she lowered her eyes. Her fingers were swelling from the tension of the bow. Her forehead was hot; her nostrils itched. She tried to scratch her nose and bring the bow back in time but lost the rhythm. Don’t think about that mistake, just let it go by. If you get stuck you’ll never be able to find your place again. But that mistake was so interesting! It was like watching a glass roll off the table and knowing and knowing and not being able to stop it. Those are my favorite kinds of mistakes.
Why was Stanley smiling at her so weirdly? Through those goggly glasses.. He was a friendly one.
Annette rolled her eyes in mock exhaustion: Difficult, whew! Stanley returned the expression: Impossible! Klausner noticed their clowning and made a wry jab at them with the bow. You two are having fun, his bushy eyebrows said: what about me? Klausner played the next phrase in such a way that Annette imagined it was for her benefit. She could not say what made it stand out, but it was somehow droll, as if placed in quotes. She looked sideways at Klausner and tried to play the same way in response. He returned with an extra-ordinarily robust sawing motion. Annette smiled to herself, then tittered.
Werner looked sternly at her. He had the feeling he was Whipping them along like a steward. He would do justice by the owner, Brahms. Maybe there was no justice in the world but they would have justice in music. For instance this pas sage: he would show them how it was done. Tenderly, but with no relinquishing of strength. Each note asked of him to be played with sympathy, to be stroked on the face, while the other notes were crying in the comer. How hurtful art was to all the things it left out. No you can’t come in, only C minor, he gets work today! That was what Nietzsche meant by: “Genius always has a streak of cruelty.” Even Fra Angelico was cruel to the vulgar subjects he refused to paint. Let’s see what Stanley will do with this solo. Not bad... Ow, little crude. There is that crudeness in his character. He takes pains to disguise it. Annette is playing astonishingly. Maybe she took to heart what I said before about her laziness. She is being forced to play beyond her capacity by the stronger players. Here everything is laid out and we have only to follow. Time knows how to behave for once. We do God’s bidding. Music is God’s inexorable thought.
What are these flowers on the piano? I don’t want flowers. I am only interested in one thing, music! Like four horsemen we are plunging off the cliff.
At the end of the cadenza Terry pulled her mother’s face down to her and whispered: “Mom, Daddy looks really mad.”
“Not mad at all, dear. He’s concentrating hard. It only looks like frowning.”
They were in the Andante. Werner felt a globe of anger in his stomach. He watched it grow vertically into a glass rod across his lower chest. Then the glass cut deeper into him. It was like a deep gash, a valley between two sharp ridges. He knew the gash had always been there, covered up, the only companion in his loneliness. Now it was coming out, like blood tinder white scar tissue. It was very satisfying to feel it But also so painful that it swelled him like a sausage that soon must burst.
The others, as if sensing his anger, moderated their playing They surrounded him sorrowfully, like three graces. They were picking him up and rocking him. He did not like their protectiveness. He was grateful when the adagio began and he could again be an avenging angel. It was hard to imagine a music as anguished, as sickly as this piece. They had reached a pitch that was as keen as a dentist’s drill piercing an open nerve. How much longer was this agony going to build? Was this what he was supposed to give himself up to, this yearning and infinite ache?
Suddenly the melody lifted right up and they were on a plateau overlooking broad plains... a field of waving wheat... it seemed an unimaginable solace was offered shortly ahead. Don’t let this stop, don’t let anything spoil the harmony that IS meant to be. Just once let my soul overflow its banks. My heart is flooded with good strong feelings. It’s going to be all right, my life will be redeemed... let no one dare to spoil it. If only they can let me have it this once. Oh coolness, sorrow, earth everything together...
Annette bit her lips. I just know I’m going to make a mistake, I can’t help myself, she whimpered inside. I know I’m going to miss it. They came to the finale, her elbow dragged and she played the penultimate note. It screeched horribly.
“WRONG NOTE! WRONG NOTE!” he screamed.
She let the violin drop from her hands. Hartmann saw blood and slapped her face.
A force had carried him out of himself Something magnetic, something loving, and she must have sensed this love because even as the others tried to separate them she wept in his arms.
Oh, yes,” he said, wiping the tears away. How easily tenderness came now. Then Marlene moved in to protect her, and Stanley and Joy Morrison. They’re convincing her that she should be frightened of me, he thought bitterly.
Klausner took his friend Hartmann aside, into the hallway, away from the other’s hearing.
“Werner,” Klausner shook his head in private. “You just don’t do things like that!”