This Music, Excerpt V




Palo Alto, Winter 1964


Whatta ass Judith made of herself trying to be a hostess. Fred imagined how it must have been for his mother coming in, what it must have been like driving down with his sullen father. Irma would feel obliged to go through cold water, like a leather stocking who had found a river junction, which then became a city, and then he had to parade through it in a coonskin cap on the anniversary. Fred was telling it to someone in his own mind, someone he could not tell.

Everyone scrapped around their chairs as if they were nuns and the Pope's wife had entered.

Fred hated to see Lolly holding her cello to play it. He didn’t want anything between her legs but himself. If they were married, he would not allow her to play, not in public anyway. 

If they were married, he would not...theirs would not be like ordinary marriages, he told someone in his mind, they would not sink into the mediocrity of ordinary couples. But they wouldn't marry. It was unthinkable, he warned his nameless interlocutor. He would not be tied to that kind of girl, or any kind of girl he'd found to fuck. He would not have a mousy, cultivated baby like her, nor a brassy social whore like Zizi either, nor...but he could not marry, there was no danger. If he had to pay for another abortion, and if his father were at least bankrupt, and if he had flunked out of school, he could never, never have the money or be in a position to marry, or to date. Then he would be in another kind of life. But, as he had swum in this life not for the reasons of other people, and without yielding to the commitments they yielded to, he would like to swim in the other without allowing himself to dissolve.

Lolly's arms were bare. He saw a drop of sweat glinting in the dark bristles in her arm pit. She was breathing hard. Her whole evenings performance heaved as the chest of a swimmer locked in surf. Her bravura was a fragile diaphragm trembling. And it was not for him. They were flat puppets, children of their setting. 

In that other life, he would be in poverty. It would be alone because he could face no one more. He would work for some enterprise. He would live what common life makes for common boys. He was afraid to tell someone in his mind that he would live like-common boys. It would be like granting that every bodily molecule would be replaced. Well, maybe it would be better if he lived apart. He wished he could have that good tape machine of Greg’s then. 

Lolly was as sweaty now as when she fucked with him. She did not play for him. She shown tonight with need to everyone. She would go on from here. Without her there was some void he could not bear. But he could not go on with her if he left school, hitchhiked for the last time down the avenue of trees.

Fred began to imagine screwing some girl. No one in particular. Someone like the anonymous interlocutors who humiliated his inner life. Some girl with no more reality than being impressed enough with him to grant him access. Impressed with him whatever he was, with an obviously female body, ready to underline with her body the impression of him as heavy ink strokes underline the figure in a pencil drawing, and then her cunt jumping up and down until she came, and then his imagination showed him, with the music, how she would begin to melt around his cock in her, her cunt first like ice cream around a soldering iron, or like pulling string from the core of a neat bobbin, melting away from the middle out into a bright yellow fluid with foam, warm like English beer, until he lay in a puddle of this melt, which was bitter because he could not see through to what it had to do with the character of the girl, with her eagerness for him.

Fred's father began to applaud. He turned to his son and said, "What will it matter in a hundred years?" He clapped more loudly, "What does it matter now?" he asked his son. He ended up clapping loudly last with an echoing sound like a trained animal in an empty circus tent. "You're drunk," Fred told his father.

"I'm drunk. So what?" We are all drunk one way or another. Look at him." Fred's father gestured toward Gregory, flushed and stammering, gesturing chaotically.

Fred felt ashamed. He turned away from either his father or Gregory. He saw Peter gesturing to him. He tried to pretend he saw no one.

Peter approached him. Peter scared Fred. Perhaps he would try to put the make on him.

"What do you want?" Fred said to Peter without moving.

"I think you'd rather hear me alone." Peter said.

Peter put his bony, creepy arm on Fred's arm and began to draw him towards the hall. Fred was afraid people would look at them if he balked. Peter led him into the John. Peter closed and locked the door behind them. Fred felt as if he were inside an egg; the air was too thick, like albumen.

"There's something I believe you should know," Peter said.

"Go on, tell me," said the cool young intern, speaking in his mind to a troublesome patient.

"You may not speak with such assurance when you have heard me out." Peter said.

"The truth never hurt anyone," the cold-eyed intern replied. 

"Do you recall you phoned the cops last October? told no lie and it hurt certain people."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Fred said.

"Well," Peter said, "be that as it may, I understand your friend Lolly is in trouble." 

"Your understanding is bigger than your mouth should be," Fred said.

"I think you have always imagined," Peter continued, "that her whole life belongs to you." Peter smiled and leaned forward toward  Fred in the confined tile room and smiled at him as if they were both members of an unspeakable club of some kind.

"I don't imagine anything," Fred asserted.

"I'll tell you the truth then," Peter said.

"She allowed herself to give pleasure to our distinguished mutual acquaintance who came in late tonight." Peter raised his hand to keep Fred from speaking. "For example," he continued, "on November 28 of this past year, my warm-hearted cousin allowed her questionable virtue to be used in the usual way by," Peter gestured toward the living room. "Does that," Peter continued, "make you feel..." Peter leaned closer again as if to catch at a precious shadow that paused to struggle on Fred's face for a moment as uncontrollable as a hiccough.

"Why, I don't believe she told you!" Peter said.



Judith came and squatted in front of Gregory on her heels together with her knees spread.

"Maybe you should play now," she said soto voce.

"Lolly doesn't look too sober." Gregory said.

"Will that effect her playing?"

"She's not getting any soberer," Gregory said.

"Will you say it?" Judith looked up at him sad eyed.

"Would it be a little pompous for me to announce myself?"

"I'm just a little, little girl," Judith said.

Gregory stood up and said that as some of them might recall, they had a trio among them; Judith had suggested they might play. Since they had no piano, Buff had recorded his part (‘which was just as well,’ he thought to himself). They would now play the last movement of the Archduke.

Before they began, a rush of stage fright surprised Gregory. He was not afraid of anything in particular, just a pit of fear shaped in his stomach; it disappeared when his bow touched the string. The piano started. He waited Lolly's entrance, breathed when she came through warmly, then waited his entrance as if he were suspended on his strings.

The music ended. Gregory had not realized how tension sung in his body until he stopped playing. His fingers suddenly felt as balloons filled with water at the root and light gas at the end. Weakness and gladness trembled through him. He began to declare himself.

"I'm glad people like it. I'm glad I had the chance to play for you," Gregory said to no one in particular, to everyone. "I used to play like this..Do you think we were better tonight?" he asked Lolly.

"I'm so glad we did it," she said.

"....I was glad..." Gregory went on... "of course, it was funny playing with the tape. I'd gotten used to it a little...Oh...I'm so glad we did it..."

"I enjoyed the performance very much," Buff said leaning back in his chair.

"I kept wanting to change things, to work up to the mistakes on the tape. I always like to change things when I play. I'll say this for Beethoven: I couldn't see how. All the notes are right. Don't you all agree?"

Buff and Judith nodded.

"I really can't see," Gregory went on, why everyone doesn't do this all the time."

Gregory turned to Irma, "I used to play with my family one evening a week, all the time I was growing up," he said to her. "I am the guy who can write what people who  listen to music will want to play for their friends. Not today maybe, but the years will come to it. I would love that." He stepped closer to Irma. "That's one reason I don't become a factory manager. I want to leave a mark with love, friendship, pleasure, what one person longs to give another. Music is a gift.""How can you give real pleasure in a world of borrowed time?" Fred's father asked.

"It doesn't matter when they die if they've lived some time. I feel so much when I talk about this that it makes me foolish. If I can allow some people some time to sit in a circle like this and move one another with the lever of my music, that's what I want. Now do you see how glad I am Judith brought all of us here? I know some of you are not as satisfied with your lives as you could be. I wish I could prove to you there are ways to work it out. Then you could listen in a receptive spirit. I wish I could make music you would all have to hear with some feeling of power, love, and gratification, of working things out that I had when I wrote it. Then we would all be friends...Do you understand?”

Buff and Judith and Dr. Ramakrishna at least looked as if they understood.



Irma asked Dr. Ramakrishna, "Is Gregory really talented?"

"Are you in a position to do something for him?" the Indian asked in reply.

"No," she said. "I wish I had his talent," Dr. Ramakrishna said.

"It seems to me more of a problem than anything." Irma said.

Peter had an impulse to say with Hayden, "I swear to you before God as I am a man of honor, he is the best composer I know, either personally or by reputation..." But he felt it would be inappropriate.

Peter was glad for a chance to hear them play, but thought playing from a tape was affectedly over ingenuous, and hard for Gregory and Lolly to boot.

"Beethoven's ninth symphony," Irma leaned over and said closely to Mrs. Ramakrishna, "always sounded to me like a column of fat, greasy, German sausage makers marching to a Breugle beer bust."

"Men have to be together some-times," Mrs. Ramakrishna answered softly.

"Do you think Gregory will be a success?" Irma turned to Peter. "Where there's a will, there's a way." Peter said.

Buff played as if he had oranges on his fingers, Peter thought. He was just not a sensitive person.

There was a knock on the door. Peter went because he was not with someone. It was Simon Pure. That's all the evening needed. Continuing to block the way, he looked over his shoulder at Judith Meuf: it was her party. She gestured Simon in with her tossed head as if saying, "Of course."

Pure walked through the group of players and listeners as if he had every right to be there and only a casual connection with them, something he must have picked up reading meters, Peter supposed. Simon rounded the partition into the cooking area, where Peter could see him rummaging for left-overs.

Peter wondered if, in the devotion of play, Lolly saw or thought of Simon Pure. When Peter had come into the Y evenings last summer, he had wondered if Mulgrave began to feel him in the room. Not a clue from the full-cheeked child's face. Later he had wondered whether and how Mulgrave had noticed others come in. Peter had not heard from Mulgrave since November. He was not in town. There was no one Peter could interrogate.

Peter applauded decorously.