** Impromptus **
It's a traditional family pastime –since my grandfather's grandfather had an affair with a prima donna, the Beecher family owns two good seats in the old theatre. Concert hall once a week, once a month, golf, and garden-parties, such are the traditions. It's OK for the music though; I do love music, classical music at least; I tend to shy away from more modern forms of it, Simon and Garfunkel is already a bit daring for me and jazz, well, I never understood anything to jazz.
Anyway, I was glad to go and listen to some piano that evening, I'd always wanted to see Martha Argerich in concert, and I wasn't ready to miss the opportunity.
Of course, even before Gary began to throw up everything he had eaten and see strange things moving up his bedroom walls, delirious with fever, scaring his mother to death, I knew Gen wouldn't come. She never did, always found a good reason, I suppose she was afraid of crowd, but still I bought two tickets; I didn't want her to know that I was seeing through her. Every time she sounded enthusiastic about coming, until the very day of the concert, then something went wrong. That time wasn't different, so I decided I'd go alone, Gen and her sister would stay with the kids although it made me feel like an unworthy father. I wasn't not too worried with Gary, I'd always been told I used to react the same way when I was a kid; we all have a tendency to get delirious in the family, boys at least. Maybe this should be a reason to worry after all, see my little boy show the same symptoms of weakness as his father.
I took a cab to the concert hall, arrived a bit early, greeted some people I knew, people my father or my uncle or my brother knew, important boring people who listened to me and said the usual words, "Poor boy, hope he'll be better soon, did you think of calling a specialist, fever's such a bad thing; Honey do you remember when James…"; actually "Honey" was greedily eying a long legged young woman who laughed a bit too loud and clutched to her older boyfriend's arm, slightly swaying on her high-heel shoes. That was the moment when I felt a sigh rise from my chest but I'm a well-mannered man so I kept on smiling and listening.
I was finally able to reach my seat, getting rid of those people and the music began, half an hour late –maybe a diva's whim, but I have to confess that Argerich never appeared like that to me although she was often referred to as "unpredictable" or "moody", and from the moment she laid her fingers on the keyboard, I lost all sense of reality and sank deep into the magic world I never quite wanted to leave and in which I seemed to fit so well.
The concert had been going on for a while and I was literally flying when I felt it –something burning the nape of my neck, incandescent touch of something unknown so I turned my head, irritated, searching for the one who was trying to pull me back to reality and then I saw him. Made him out, his silhouette, his look, the way he was sitting, watching me. Go to hell, I thought and buried myself deeper still in my personal fantasies.
But he came to me as I was having a drink in the bar among smart people talking in soft voices between the walls adorned with paintings I'd stopped looking at since I was a kid and yellowed pictures of well known musicians. He strolled to me, his eyes never leaving my face and we talked; no matter what we said, I wasn't really listening, rather wondering. He was too beautiful, too wild to be one of us, the way he talked was different, the voice was different, untamed by social conventions, both arrogant and lazy and the way his eyes raked over my face, my hands and my whole body, the shameless way he was already touching me with his eyes, had nothing to do with anyone I'd known. In my fantasies, sometimes, I'd indulged myself in such meetings but living it for real was breathtaking. We walked back to our seats at the end of the entr'acte and I offered him to sit by my side. He agreed.
The music was flooding me again with bliss when he took my hand in his and squeezed it, making my whole body react in desire. I squeezed back without thinking and it became difficult to breathe as he rested his fingers along the inner side of my thigh, just resting, not even moving, not teasing and after that it took me a while, lost in the thunderous applause, to get my breath back until he dragged me up and away along the corridors, down the stairs and into the hall.
We kissed outside, our hands trying to go further than they could, reach each other's hardness under the fabric, and made love in a hotel nearby, made love until we couldn't even move, melting into each other, entangled in each other's limbs, our mouths still sealed when we were too tired even to moan. We didn’t talk, there was nothing to say, he'd told me enough in the bar and so had I, so we waited until it was impossibly late to leave and go separate ways to our separate lives.
Then he vanished. He'd left me a cell phone number, but he never answered my calls, never called back and probably I should have renounced him but there was an insistent little voice at the back of my mind telling me maybe he was in trouble. One morning, I saw his picture in the newspapers, he'd been arrested, he'd killed a man, one at least but probably more, the journalist seemed to imply; one with whom he'd fucked before in a hotel room –then killed him. I didn't believe the accusations of torture, that seemed impossible. And he'd been sentenced to death, shit I couldn't believe it, death? I'd never felt as safe as I'd felt with him, certainly if he'd killed those men that was because they'd hurt him in the first place, I thought, tears blurring my sight. In fact, the disturbing part was the "with whom he'd fucked" part; the idea that I hadn't been a revelation to him like he'd been to me hurt; but maybe I'd been after all, maybe that was the reason why I was still alive, maybe he'd killed the others because they'd been such a disappointment and suddenly I didn't feel so bad anymore.
I had to know, I had to see him again, make sure that what I'd felt wasn't just an fantasy, that it had been real, the heat, the love, the tenderness, the careful roughness, his hands around me, his lips and the way he'd made love to me, his hot skin, his pulsing flesh, his smooth cropped hair underneath my fingertips; I had to make sure, so I began to look for him. I knew where he'd been judged, of course, but he'd been transferred twice and nobody seemed to know for sure where he' been incarcerated. When I finally found out I learned that visits were forbidden. What? Forbidden? Yes, except close family and he had none, he had wives, ex-wives, I learned but he didn't want to see them, didn't want to see his sisters either, and I tried to explain that I was the closest one he had, making the warden's look turn suspicious. But I can be fucking stubborn when I want to, and finally on a Saturday afternoon I was led by a haughty guard through a maze of passages, stairs, heavy doors which looked like the gates of hell and abandoned in front of his cell, not quite sure what to say.
I saw him raise his head and his look, his incredulous, delighted, bright look had me chuckling with pleasure.
"You were hard to find," I said, and gave him the gift I'd brought.
"Yeah, my life has been a little hectic lately," he said, his eyes not leaving my face, his smile still tentative, "thank you for the record."
"Thank you for the love. My name's Toby, may I call you Chris?"
We were holding hands like teenagers, lost in each other's eyes, not moving for a long while until he pulled me to him, drawing me into a breathtaking kiss, mindless of the bars which were hurting us.
"I love you, Chris."
"I love you, Toby."
He doesn't know, yet, but I'm working hard to take him out of here, have the sentence commuted, working hard on his case late at night because I don't want him to die, no matter how much he deserves it –I don't believe he deserves it, the whole story must be some tragic chain of events; and I'll succeed, I know I will, I'm good at that, but I won't tell him before I'm sure because I don't want him to carry this burden of hope for too long.
In the meantime, I visit him as often as I can and the look in his eyes when he sees me is priceless. I managed to buy a guard, he opens the cell sometimes and of course there's not a lot we can do but at least we can hold each other tight and hug as much as we like, kiss even and sometimes a bit more.
Of course, that's not much, but I'm satisfied with what little we have and I'm ready to fight to keep it, make my imaginary world come true at last.
There was a time when I used to be sure that nothing could take my attention away from Martha Argerich's hands flying like restless birds above the piano, brushing along the keys in a mesmerizing dance.
When I was around 8, my mother, in a desperate struggle to teach me something that would help me escape a dreadful fate, decided that I'd take up the piano –she was a good teacher. Not jazz or honky-tonk, although I did play that later, in bars, but Schubert, Haydn and Mozart. It makes me wonder now… Who was she really, how had she stumbled across my terrible father and come to love him, what kind of malediction was it? She died when I was 13 and my father vanished, probably relieved; we were scattered in host families… I never met my sisters again since then, never tried to.
But coming there, in this concert hall where I felt so out of place was a particular delight and I rarely enjoyed it, I didn't have the money, so when I did come, there was nothing that could spoil the bliss, I could have stayed for days. Martha Argerich, the inner passion that devoured her was one of my favourite. That day, I'd been lucky, I'd stolen the coveted ticket from a man in a hotel where I'd been waiting for a friend. Then I'd run back home to pick the only decent suit I'd left before coming here, sit among the crowd like any normal guy and let the music take me.
I was watching her hands, the way her wild hair danced around her tense face, she looked like a witch, I was in love with her, she could throw me into a whole different world where there was nothing to fear, nothing to hate, a world of pure beauty. And she'd been rare for so many years that her presence here was a benediction, I relished the way she seemed to make the music so easy, so heartbreakingly simple since I knew the amount of work and genius this required. The easier it sounded, the more admirable it was.
And suddenly I saw him, seven rows on the left. First thing I noticed was the way he was sitting, leaning forward, his body quivering, engrossed in the music. He was alone, the seat next to him was free, maybe his wife or someone had been held up. As Mozart's breathtaking sonata kept flowing on me like a purifying spring, I took a better look at the man. He was wearing a black suit, a blue tie and a light blue shirt, the suit was blatantly stylish, something that seemed to say, look at the kind of man I am, Armani, maybe, something like that, and the guy was plain hot. Then it was like in books, you know, as if my insistent look had warned him that he was being watched and he turned his head, his blond hair shining as they caught a hint of the dim light and his eyes searched the crowd… Blue eyes, I was sure about that and suddenly there was something else than the music tearing at my soul.
The entr'acte began; I rose and walked down to the bar, sure I'd find him there.
He was standing near the door. I'd been watching him as he talked with some couples, probably explaining why he'd come alone, or why he'd come, or discussing the music. He turned to me, gave me a somewhat shy smile and I'd been right, sky blue eyes, expressive mouth, and blond hair waiting for my hand to ruffle them.
"Hi. Do I know you?"
"No. I noticed you during the concert, you were looking like you were possessed by the music."
He snorted and leaned against the door. "I was. I hadn't come here for years, and tonight… It's wonderful to be back for such a woman, I love her; she is the one who's possessed."
I grabbed a flute of champagne from a tray and nodded.
"She's wonderful. Do you play piano?"
"Oh, no, no, I'm not …" He gave a short laugh, and shook his head. "And you?"
"I used to, when I was young. Maybe I'll try again one day, this is the kind of occasion when I really want to."
"Yes, I can imagine. You… did you come alone?"
The question took me by surprise, I didn't expect it, he'd asked that with an innocent and natural smile, just happy he'd found someone to share and I couldn't help smiling back.
"Yeah, well, my friends aren't the classical music kind," I answered, tilting my head.
"Oh, I see," but he didn't look shocked, "and no wife?"
"No. Not anymore."
"My wife should be there but our son is sick, she preferred to stay home."
And didn't I just love her for that.
We were still talking when the bell rang.
"What's next?" he asked.
"Schubert, Impromptus," I answered.
"Great, I love it, it's the kind of music which doesn't stand mediocrity, otherwise it's just… common" he said and then as we were walking up the stairs, he asked me if I'd like to come and sit beside him, in the same tone a college boy asks a girl on his first date, his eyes shining, and of course I agreed. He walked by my side, casual and smart, waving to some people he knew, cool and yet so nervous I could feel his body vibrating. When we sat side to side, he kept his eyes on the stage, watching the piano bathed in the golden light of the lamps and, there she was again, brisk and determined, lean and wild, walking to the piano like a soldier resolved to defeat the enemy, surrounded by a reverent silence. I heard my attractive neighbour catch his breath and lean forward again, resting his elbows on his knees in a boyish and enthusiastic position.
The music was so beautiful I could've cried, and when I took his hand and squeezed it lightly, he didn't push me away, but lowered his head, gave me a stealthy look, a smile and squeezed back. God, I'd never hunted there, never even thought about it, I just came there for the music, but I felt like a kid again and when he leant back in his seat, both our hands rested on his thigh, still joined. I freed mine and laid my palm flat against the wool of his trousers to feel his heat through the fabric, let my fingers slip between his legs and just let them there.
The last notes lingered and finally stopped; everybody around us rose but we didn't move, desperately wanting to prolong the moment, share this new intimacy a bit longer, until Argerich finally came back and this time we were eager to join the general enthusiasm. We blinked in the returned light and sighed; we applauded until our hands hurt, our shoulders touching, our eyes locked, and I wanted the elation of this moment to last endlessly, never stop but of course it had to. We waited together as the crowd slowly drifted away and followed, barely touching each other, avoiding each other's look, but I noticed how flushed he was, how swollen his mouth looked, wondering if my own desire was as obvious as his. Probably not, I know how to disguise better than anyone, but I could feel it burn high inside me.
In the great illuminated hall he put his coat on and so did I. We walked out together, our mind numb with desire and we kissed in a dark corner behind the columns at the top of the stairs in the semi-darkness, kissed like we'd been starving for months, savage deep kiss to steal the other one's soul, music still dancing in our head. We snaked our hands under each other's coat, under the jacket, pulling out the shirt to feel the skin, his skin was smooth and hot and he was hard, as hard as I was. I grabbed his ass under the trousers, rubbing against him, pushing him against the wall in the cold winter night, not letting go of his mouth, his neck, his shoulders, and he didn't let go either, burying his face in my neck as I stroked him.
"Not here," he said, his voice trembling, "not here, I don’t want to mess it up that way."
We found a hotel nearby, he called his wife and told her that he'd met some old friend from the time he was in Harvard, even gave her a name and told her he'd be home at dawn and while he was speaking I was silently stripping him, raining kisses on his whole body, until he was naked and yielding and hungry. When he hung up, I dragged him to the bed, impatient to have him.
We made love for hours, devouring each other, refusing to let go until dawn forced us to part.
Two days later, at dawn, I was arrested and charged with murder; they'd found one of the bodies I'd dumped into the river just the day before the concert; Jesus, I couldn't even remember what the guy looked like. I was sentenced to death which didn’t surprise me. But one month later he was there, standing in front of me, the bars between us. The only thing he said was, "You were hard to find," smiling this beautiful luminous smile which consumed my life and made everything else look meaningless, and took my hands in his, before offering me a record, Schubert's Impromptus by Alfred Brendel.
Then he told me his name and now I know what I'll whisper before I die.