Winter 2009 [Issue No. 15]
Close of a Season ▪► Alan Walsh
Came in the wrong key gone the other week I thought well I thought the gameís up at last, thatís about finished it but Iím still in there for the life of me Iím stillÖ I donít know might as well not ask me how, he said, I certainly donít know. Breath had sunk to a throaty whisper and he cradled the receiver deftly between cheek and shoulder fixing himself another scotch found the last of the ice was gone and all the minibar had left to grant him was yet more nuts, bringing up the volume of the television once again to ensure no one could make out the conversation through any of the walls a talk show dealt with decline in crop yields heard right the way down the hall. Used to make these things, he said, you could feel the weight holding them felt like you were talking into something now itís like youíre talking into your hand IÖ no what do you, no that was the TV Iíve long finished drinking anyways the minibar isnít near stocked to handle the kind of day Iíve had. Hauled himself up onto the mattress near where heíd spilled the first tonic water of the night by then almost dry fumbled nearby for that packet of Rothmans. Listen donít get me wrong, he said, you couldnít even imagine and then today was a whole amount worse again, he said, we were coming round into the Paradisium Iím trying the same trick Iím fixed on the score afraid even to blink even to hardly breathe I catch sight of the baton draws me to his line of vision eyes seared out of their sockets and his face red raw he clamps his jaw to the left whole way through lord knows why for the life of me I slip and hit a flat C right as the piece moves into strings so far gone I missed the caesura entirely. Well what do you think was it audible it was like I burst a paper bag in the middle of the hall nobody even blinked, no not even a pause I couldnít meet anyoneís eye in the place when I finally did it wasnít me they were looking at I tell you itís getting to me IÖ Evelyn this is maybe the fourth fifth time in three weeks I canít believe itís a blip I mean weíve been through this I donít know if youÖ well weíve talked about it before I mean Iím afraid to take them I canít have side effects canít have things getting any worse and it says about drowsiness on theÖ well maybe I will go see him after all can you get me a booking ifÖ two weeks, yes I know this keeps up Iíll likely be packed up on a plane back long beforeÖ what? Itís past one here but feels like I justÖ I know youíre right I really should six am call tomorrow they said breakfast crack of dawn can you believe... Yes and well same to you and the kids tell Harold to leave the dog in peace for pityís sake, yes and yes and you too.
Rehearsals he used a pencil rather than baton to facilitate making notes as he went in a single motion and then to convey a necessary informality compared with the evenings - sweater worn misshapen clung to him like it was an unwanted Christmas gift dug out for want of anything at all had it rolled up the one sleeve that he could lean on the elbow to write at his plinth head sunk into a fist. Below Clarence for his part fingered silently the same four five bars on his tuba over again had to ask the loan of a pencil for notation having dropped his own and watched it roll back all the way to underneath the tympani his score looked like it had been defaced by a remedial class loosed with pencils at least in the opinion of Horst second tuba to his left. Thatís nerves is that, he said inclined toward him hand smothering his mouth the nails on it bitten right down, if ever I saw it raw nerves shredded right into bits but weíre all of us in the same boat I mean Iím on the wacky stuff me, introduced a tiny vial of tablets from an inside jacket pocket into Clarenceís line of vision marked too small to decipher, I never would have I mean I donít even seriously drink not seriously but weíre all of us in the same boat you hear that stray note a movement back stray and one beat out you hear where it came from? Clarence stiffened upright in his seat tried not to broadcast the sudden leap in heart rate shook his head as much as he could offer it came out a limp shrug. Canít tell me you havenít noticed the whole world has noticed, he went on, gone four weeks now that new fella a row back the one replaced Antoinette, no donít turn round - you know the guy balding thick set kind of a cast eye. You think itís him, said Clarence. Stands to reason you ask me, said Horst, four weeks since it started same length heís been sat there same look of composure carved into hisÖ no donít look round, same mistakes the same places you remember Antoinette petite little thing sallow skinned the two years sitting there not so much as aÖ no wait now of course you do little slip of a thing had to up and leave out of the blue remember the rehearsal left the place in floods of tears well four exact weeks these flat Cs tell you what theyíre not coming from nowhere everybodyís talking about it you didnít speak to Boateng heís losing sleep over it. Light hesitated in the high bay window cut a soft shaft diagonal across the front of the stage taking in the west-most side of the plinth to move in streaked white down the sides of cellos found the grain detailing the boards beneath keenly polished to a coated sheen only to peter out in the sudden shade of the congratulatory bouquet sent in advance of the night already poured over onto the stage in pieces. Baton raised to alert the chorus they proceeded through the Introitus and for good measure the guts of a Confutatis making it a third of the way before the same baton called a halt the head set back into its fist. As though investigating the source of the light, Clarence cast a glance behind and to the left tried to catch the newcomer busy for his part with his own score.
For the love ofÖ Evelyn he might at least have made an effort might have shaved one thing, he said, sat there collar a good way open eyes like heís barely had a nightís sleep whole effect just like he only five minutes beforehand collapsed out of bed tell you itís no wonder they think itís him. The volume on the television was set high enough to drown out his opening another can of nuts crouched rooting around the cabinet for a soda water attempting at the same time to pull on a sock the matching one having disappeared into a crevice in his case. Iím starting myself to think itís him starting to feel like IÖ no Evelyn I was just being flippant, no I appreciate thatÖ uh huh well thatís as may be but speaking for myself I made it all the way through today without even a hitch and whatís more I felt I couldíve gone on another good hour easily. No they had to clean the place people are already sending us flowers and this place the organisers they put them right up on stage can you credit that right up with us a quarter of the chorus the front row broke out in hayfever, swear to you weíd get five bars in one of them would up and sneeze these precious types I meanÖ no not exactly. Dimmed the lights a small amount folded away the newspaper a day old he had spread open on the world events page a headline talked of speculation driving up cotton defaced with peanut oil into a damp smudge all the way to as far as the cartoon. I think heís Dutch, he said, hang on would you I canít find my bowtie for tonight the staff here they waltz in switch everything round on you they replaced the soap I bought especially for my skin they Ö Dutch I donít know from where he smokes is as much as I know I see him outside with the smokers. Four weeks give or take I donít know it must be the acoustics it must pick up some common area between us I canít even begin to guess how the whole hall you should see it arches above us with divots out of them they havenít changed it since the war some remnant of the HapsburgÖ well no I didnít mention it I donít mention every little thing didnít mention they replaced second violin either did I? No it must be two odd months now Carl his wife slipped the shallow end of a swimming pool leg broken in three places has to nurse her through the summer. Not really you see itís harder again to find a Tuba player on short notice least a good one not an instrument everybodyÖ somebody French some French guy didnít know him had to leave well past it anyway I donít know I think they advertised it in the papers. Well of course I donít think itís fair but it takes the pressure off me thatís all I, uh huh yeah I can hold on I only have toÖ wait he did what to the dog? Evelyn love of mercy you give the child crayons allow him wander around unsupervised what did you expect wouldÖ and did he get it all the way in? No Iím not surprised in the least he took off it would surprise me if we ever see the animal again weíre only lucky he wasnít of a mind to take it out on the child wellÖ creature running around a crayon out of its ear weíll be picked up for animal cruelty is whatíllÖ an orange drink what time is it over there you think sugar willÖ listen fine you, thatís fine you know best. Any case getting back I was saying maybe this other guy maybe this can help I can get back to concentrating again on the score not have to worry about meeting someoneís eye some point or tearing off another sheet now the pressureís off. What no told you already I donít know what mightíve caused it to start with IÖ yes I know what you read but stress over what exactly I meanÖ well it would certainly want to be something big I mean if itís going to merit up and packing in a whole season over it would sure want to be something Iíd at least have noticed and... No I canít think of anything. Flare of his lit cigarette reflected in the television the smoke curled up the wall behind into a wandering crescent as far as the painting to break into loose tendrils dissipate as though back into the canvas. Get through the recital tonight, he said, maybe itíll be stimulation enough to see an audience there I donít know, get through tonight I think it could make a difference give me a little, what, ah I see well donít let me keep you. News on the screen showed tanks rolling into some canyon on PR manoeuvres standards borne in luminescent colour against white cloud walls ravaged into crumbled dirt a reporter shared a joke concerning the flock of sheep grazing unperturbed behind him Clarence avoiding the television screen or mirror at all costs seeing to his bowtie the light as it was through that westerly outlook did him no favours he preferred the reflection tinted dark brown the back of the wardrobe. Allowed himself the solitary glass of red but went back on account of it feeling foolish leaving the final third of the miniature bottle sour unused his fingers worked through five six bars twitched their way along the crease on his thigh the time it took to finish off after all the newspaper a piece on downsizing in timber.
Hit that flat C not even three minutes in did you hear it twice at least the first five minutes then did it again missed the mordent completely swear I almost choked, Greif downed three quarters the volume of a mineral water scarcely taking his eyes the once off the floorboards had Clarence cornered over by the exit door let open to cool them off over the interval and then to facilitate the smokers, let alone his timing I mean he keeps coming in a beat in arrears what kind of a professional I mean where is his head Iíd take him out now go back in a tuba down better than a disrupting influence damn fool heíll throw the whole recital itís practically all I can think about now. Horst finished his cigarette arched his head inward eyes set on the empty buffet table the other side of the room, Iím not supposed to say anything, he said, didnít hear this from me didnít hear it at all only itís being taken care of. Samuel is going to sit him down tonight after weíre done talk him through maybe seeing out a short break maybe he can take a turn teaching the youth section they donít have anybody on brass since Spring. Same as being put out to pasture Iíll give you itís hard on the guy but it pays and if well if he simply canít make the grade where does it leave us? What little light the evening still offered drained out through limpid breaks of cloud cut in irregular pattern smeared the skyline flushed white-orange calling in harsher weather again the following morning. The bow of an oak creaked over into the rear courtyard in a spillage of weathered greens emptying leaves right onto the concrete over where the chorus gathered three or four of them audibly clearing their throats. Bring back the girl we had in there to begin with I say, Greif finished the bottle, what was it Annette, two years every night note perfect she carried herself well and letís face it easy on the eye. Antoinette, said Horst, you mean, any road thatís not on the cards she must be four-odd months into her term by now itís probably already kicking. Thing like that it puts a damper on your playing career tell you that much, wave the practice hours a fond farewell anything but lullabies. The red light blinked to life faintly enough they wondered if it wasnít only a reflection of outdoors but enough of them had already assembled by the second arch waiting to retake the stage. Greif yawned through two distinct facial expressions pinning in again his collar and smoothed over the fly-away strands of hair plaguing the back of his scalp. Clarence looked out into the yard a last time, electric light brought up around the edges peeled away the layer of texture granted by the evening exposing the concrete into a single flat coverage borne out right to the corners to the bins waited long enough to witness the music inside disturb a fox bolt upright out of a crate and watch it steal away again into the gloaming.
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