Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A New Hope

As I may or may not have yet mentioned, I dabble a bit in the 'ol creative writing. I've completed a MA in English with a writing concentration in which I wrote for my thesis a (very) short novel and have written a fair number of short stories, none of which have seen the light of day. Well, kind of. I have "sold" one piece of fiction, to the on-line literary journal New Works Review. (I put "sold" in quotations since there was no actual payment involved.) Since they don't seem to maintain archives, I guess it's more or less kosher to post the story here. Enjoy.

A New Hope

Andrew Gearding fidgeted uncomfortably in the hard wooden folding chair, rattling both his awkward, bony frame and that of the impervious cello case between his knees to and fro in an attempt to achieve at least a minimum degree of comfort. He and the rest of the London Symphony Orchestra had just arrived at the Anvil Studios in Denham, digs not nearly as history-laden or ample as their usual space in London, Andrew noted to himself. The studio was small compared to their normal rehearsal room, and what with the room needed for the preponderance of recording equipment, the large screen facing the orchestra and the film technicians with their equipment, the space for the musicians was even tighter than it usually was for a recording session. Shaking his head, Andrew conceded defeat before they had even begun; no matter how he looked at it, the day ahead looked to be a long one.

As he settled in, Andrew scanned the room, his eyes anxiously searching the woodwind section and mentally noting the other musicians one by one. Soon enough, he had spied her. Buried just to the right of the mass of clarinetists, alongside the brass section, she sat, methodically paging through the score before her, with her goose-necked oboe resting between her legs. Without quite realizing he was doing it, Andrew smiled; it was the happy, shy smile of a school child. Today, she had on a plaid skirt and a green blouse the color of wet, thick grass, and her hair was pulled back into a tight, yet fetching, deeply ebony bun. Her features were sharp, angular and unforgiving, her face primarily defined by high cheekbones that barely descended below eye level and razor-thin dark eyebrows that grasped towards each other over the bridge of her nose without quite touching. Her nose was small and symmetrical, with an upturn at the end that gave her nostrils a lean ovular shape. Her mouth was equally small, with the hint of a smirk always seeming to hide behind her pursed, circular lips. Her name was Lucy Violet Bath and Andrew was smitten with her, smitten with every beautifully harsh and neat detail of her face; even the small, muffin-shaped mole on her neck directly below her right earlobe gave him a shudder.

Lucy had only recently joined the orchestra, having previously played for the opera house in Wales, and Andrew had yet to speak to her. This was not through some fundamental lack of courage, Andrew insisted to himself, often, most usually at night as he pictured her in his mind, but was rather part of a deliberate and calculated plan. While he was quite eager to meet her, Andrew knew that these things were best not rushed, and that only by careful and deliberate planning would a successful encounter be possible. Before approaching her, he knew he would have to develop a connection, so that his first approach would be seen as more sophisticated than the clumsy advances of a nervous teenager. He was still searching for that connection, and remained confident that, in due time, he would find it. Perhaps her mother had gone to grade school with an aunt of his. Or perhaps her father and his shared greens rights at the same club. Sooner or later, it would be logical to proceed, and once it was, he would. If there was a truism by which Andrew lived, this was it; that nothing in life could better be achieved by passion than forethought. Methodology and logic were the keys, Andrew was sure, to success, in any endeavor, and Lucy would be no exception.

As Lucy fiddled with her oboe, Andrew was reminded of the scoring session he was there for. Squinting his already small, almost Oriental eyes behind their wire-framed lenses even smaller in an expression of disapproval, he began to get ready. Andrew was by all measures a small man, and the contrast between the large, almost muscular cello and the small, thin and balding, rather unmanly, man wielding it was a disorienting one. This paradoxical sense of contrast was further compounded by Andrew's manner of dress. While many members of the Symphony had begun to dress more casually for rehearsals and recording sessions, Andrew was steadfast in his appearance, and had never attended a session, recording or rehearsal, in anything less than one of his many tweed three-piece suits, with bow-tie knotted squarely around his neck, vest buttoned to the top, and his leather loafers polished to a fine gleam.

Andrew, finally settled into his chair, proceeded to unlatch his case and remove his instrument. The cello had been Andrew's for years, since his boyhood, really, and if he had been inclined towards such frivolities (which he most decidedly was not) he might have followed the lead of American blues artist B.B. King and named his instrument. Of course, he would have chosen something a bit more regal and elegant than "Lucille" - perhaps Abigail, or Guenevere or Victoria. As it was, he merely displayed a substantial, and, some might say, excessive, amount of care towards it (not much more, really, than many of his fellow musicians paid to their instruments). With deliberate, practiced care, Andrew removed the cello from its case and placed it between his knees, the slender silver rubber-tipped foot gripping the faded linoleum floor tightly. Once the cello was situated comfortably, he removed from the case at his feet a small bar of resin, with which he began to expertly grease the slightly frayed tendons of the bow.

From all around him, Andrew heard the yawning and stretching sounds of instruments being woken up by their owners, disagreeable toots and hums and scratchy, irritated yelps and barks. Refusing to rush, Andrew calmly proceeded to grease his bow, stroke by stroke, and only when he was completely satisfied with the grip on the strings did he neatly place the resin bar back in its compartment and put bow to cello.

Slowly, the expectant sounds of the orchestra began to coalesce, like constellations dimly etching their shapes into a dusky night sky, and as they did the immense screen in front of the orchestra was lit up by a beam of light emanating from the rear of the studio. With surprisingly few short strokes and adjustments, Andrew was satisfied with the tone thrumming from beneath the bow, and he turned his attention to the music on the stand in front of him. A quick glance at the film's title, "Star Wars," was enough to dampen his already besodden spirits that much more. "Star Wars." With a title like that, what else could it be but some turgid piece of sci-fi claptrap? Film scoring sessions were bad enough, with the incessant start and stop and start and stop of short cue after short cue, the added chaos caused by the presence of the filmmakers and technicians, and the infuriating necessity of syncing the orchestra with the pale, ill-focused images on the screen, but to add on top of all that the dreariness of a simple-minded sci-fi score? Andrews?s already dark mood purpled.

Turning his attention back to the score before him, Andrew glumly conceded that even a sci-fi score might merit a brief perusal before he was called upon to perform it. As he leafed through the pages, noting the cello parts mentally, Andrew could not help but think of other scores, scores he would rather be playing: The Haydn Farewell Symphony, perhaps, or, no, even better, a Haydn string quartet, the Opus 20, wonderful, wonderful cello lines in that one! Of course there was always Andrew's beloved Mozart, any Mozart at all - an opera, a symphony, a string quartet, even one of the piano concertos, and he would be in heaven. Now there was music! So beautiful and perfect, but in ways beyond the Beethoven his father had been so fond of, here was music that thought rather than felt, music that was smart rather than muscular. Mozart was like a vastly complex puzzle opened up and solved before his eyes, each piece a necessary part of the whole, each motif developed as if by equation, the piece as a whole snug and fitted together perfectly, with not a single note or phrase out of place.

Andrew was startled by the thinly clanging sound of a baton on a music stand. The man standing at the podium, the composer as well as conductor, was balding, with pepper-gray hair ringing his head and framing his face in a trim beard. He wore large, round glasses and was indicating that they'd be starting with the cue labeled "Chasm Crossfire." Angry at being jolted from thoughts of Mozart to play something entitled "Chasm Crossfire," Andrew paged through the score before him to locate the part. As he did so, the lights in the room darkened, and numbers flickered ghostly on the screen. Having located the appropriate pages, Andrew held his bow above the strings, ready to begin.

As the conductor cued in the orchestra, the screen in front of them began to play. The music was rhythmic and punchy, with a guttural seesaw line for the cellos that Andrew sawed through with ease. Onscreen a young man clad in white armor ran down a gray corridor, pulling behind him a young woman, also in white. Both the man and woman were firing large, heavy guns behind them at a pursuing group of similarly armor-clad and helmeted fellows. Andrew yawned, sawing away. The music was not nearly as bad as he had feared, with no electronic noise or synthesizers intruding on the purity of the orchestra, but was pretty rote chase music all the same. Following the score with his eyes, and keeping the baton in his peripheral vision, Andrew was startled to hear, amidst his sawing, a sprightly theme pipe up from the trumpets in the brass section to his right. The motif had an energy to it, a fanfarish, lyric quality that Andrew would never have associated with a sci-fi film. The motif repeated itself as it was taken up by various instruments, then dovetailed into a new, brief romantic theme before the sawing returned in the cellos and low strings and woodwinds, ending the part. Not great, but it could be worse, Andrew reasoned.

Several takes later, the bespectacled conductor said that they would now be playing through the film's main titles. Sparing a quick glance over at the woodwinds, and surprised to find a smiling, not frowning, as he was, Lucy, Andrew found his spot, readied his bow and awaited the conductor's signal. "Take sixteen," the recording engineer announced, and with a flourish the brass trumpeted out an introductory fanfare, the percussionist beating out a ringing triangle tone to accompany it. Immediately, the brass led with a pronouncement of that sprightly motif Andrew had noticed earlier, here rendered more stately and ornate than before. In the middle section of the opening, the strings painted a brief lyrical theme, and Andrew found himself grinning as he bowed the notes out of his cello. Much to his surprise, Andrew felt emboldened, the music producing a quite unexpected emotional reaction. This was, after all, not Mozart; it was, in fact, as anti-Mozart as you could get - was, Andrew realized with a guilty start, music that might make even the Beethoven of the Ninth blush. And still, it was doing something to him; something in its unapologetic, direct and triumphant spirit was speaking to him. "Take seventeen."

The day's session was over, and Andrew had packed up his cello. All around him he heard the discordant buzz of musicians chatting, making their various plans to grab a bite to eat or get drinks together, laughing at their gaffes, and, Andrew thought, discussing the music with far more animation than a film session usually generated. Andrew normally kept to himself, and as he stepped his way out of his row he said a simple goodbye to the other cellists. As he made his way to the exit, his cello case cradled under his arm like an oddly large and hourglass-shaped baby, he spotted Lucy out of the corner of his eye. She was smiling broadly, still in the middle of packing up her oboe, and several seats to either side of her had already been vacated. Andrew paused. The plan didn't call for approaching her as of yet; that was not the methodical, logical way to proceed. And yet, as he stood there, halfway to the exit, he was transfixed once again by her sharp beauty, and he felt the oddest compulsion to just go over and introduce himself. Almost without realizing he was doing so, Andrew took a step in her direction. But just a step. As soon as it had been taken, he caught himself. No, no, no, mustn?t stray from the plan. What would he have said? What would she have said? No, it was still far too early to proceed, far too early. Andrew gathered himself and left the studio.


Andrew slid his key into the keyhole and turned it, pushing the door open with that hand and pulling the cello in behind him with the other. As he leaned the cello against the wall by the music stand and put away his coat, that small snatch of melody kept running through his head. Da-da, Da-da-da-DA-da. Ugh. The entire way home it had been like this, that simple, child-like, really, refrain running around and around in his head. He had even caught himself humming it a few times. Why this was, why this basic, Sousa-level melody wouldn?t detach its vampiric form from the stalagmites in his head was puzzling, but, no matter what the reason, Andrew knew he had to get rid of it.

Andrew lived in a relatively large flat in London, not far from the Symphony's hall. The flat's key feature, the reason that he had bought it, was the excessively large living room, much larger than any he had seen elsewhere during his search. An old, cracked-brown leather couch that had been his uncle's reposed in the middle of the room, like a tired elephant resting after a day?s foraging. The couch was faced by two matching antique wing chairs that he had found, right in London actually, in a store he had passed on his way to lunch one day. Shelves, large floor-to-ceiling shelves that ringed the other three walls entirely, dominated the rest of the large, square living room.

The shelves were filled, completely, with nothing but records. It had been his father's collection, and now it was his, and he had added to it tremendously. The records in the living room were what Andrew considered the heart of the collection. The remainder, including many of the items his father had passed on, was in storage in the building's basement; there simply wasn't room in the apartment for the entire collection. Every recording was a classical piece, there wasn't a solitary rock, country, jazz, folk, popular, comedy, West End show, blues, soundtrack or spoken word album to be found in the bunch. The collection was organized by composer, arranged alphabetically, with Adams starting in the top of the room's northernmost corner and proceeding clockwise until Zemlinsky, in the bottom right hand side of the last shelf by the kitchen.

As Andrew peered at the shelves, he realized that some Bach would be the perfect tonic to erase the stubborn vestiges of the day's score from his memory while he cooked. He plucked the recording from the shelf, gingerly removed the record from its sleeve, and placed it on the turntable. Then, with a surgical delicacy, he slowly and deliberately placed the stylus on the album.

As the dry, intricate music played, Andrew fetched from his refrigerator the ingredients for his meal. A thin fillet of veal, a few small yellow onions, some shallots, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a box of light cream. He placed the items on the counter and from the cupboard below retrieved the pepper grinder, box of risotto and bottles of imported Italian olive oil and midnight-black aged balsamic vinegar. As he prepared his dinner, Andrew listened to the music, actively trying to let it wash over his senses and knock loose that irritating fanfare. As he let the music work, he pondered: what was Lucy doing at this moment?

Well, she could have been here with you, listening to the Bach and helping to prepare the salad, chatting about music and the opera and the theater, sipping wine, and - dare I say it? I dare! Mayhap flirting a bit? But no, instead she's probably alone, or, even worse, consorting with that flautist!

Andrew paused, mid-chop. That was odd. He hadn't heard that voice in years, that contrary impulsive voice that had dogged him all through grade school, until the routine and strictness of his life had gotten to be too much for it. Hm. No, no, Andrew reasoned, if he had invited Lucy to dinner the odds were that she would have politely refused, and just like that any possibility of, well, of him and her, would have been gone forever. No, better to be careful and precise. Still, as Andrew continued to prepare his meal, neither that persevering nugget of melody nor his old contrary friend would give up the ghost entirely, and by the time the veal was cooking in the oven, Andrew was thoroughly annoyed. And on top of it, the Bach was starting to give him a headache. Who was the hack they had butchering that poor cello?

Frowning, Andrew walked into the living room, with his apron still tied around his midsection, and lifted the stylus from the Bach. He replaced the album in its sleeve, and re-filed it. Scowling, he scanned the shelves, and in almost no time at all he had located what he was looking for. Mahler's Fifth. If the Bach couldn't quell the traitorous thoughts spawned by the Star Wars piece, Andrew reasoned, then perhaps he needed to fight fire with fire. As the choir and orchestra opened with a blaring fortissimo chord (what an assaulting way to open a symphony, he thought), Andrew returned to his veal, hoping that thoughts of aliens and Lucy would soon be, at the very least, a dim background hum.


The next day at the recording session, Andrew found himself quite without the power to stop looking in Lucy's direction. Every few minutes or so, whenever there was a break or pause (and, as this was a film scoring session, there were many), his eyes would betray him and wander in her direction; a few times now he was sure she had spied him. Normally, he had enough self-control to limit his glances, ensuring that no one, Lucy or otherwise, could deduce any attraction on his part. But now? Andrew was certain that half the orchestra must know of his yearning. How could they not? He was staring like a lost puppy and there was nothing he could do about it.

"Take 117, 'Tales of a Jedi Knight'" the recording engineer announced, and Andrew raised his bow. The conductor lowered his baton and the strings hummed a stationary chord, the piccolos and flutes framing it with a repeating motif of rising and falling notes. Then, Andrew heard a haunting melody waft through the air, played by the oboe. Immediately, and quite against his will, he looked over to see Lucy playing the solo with quiet concentration, with an equally quiet gleam in her eye. The melody was subtle and soft, and nothing like the fanfare that had been stuck in his head since the afternoon before. Melancholy almost, with a sense of the mystic to it. There was no denying it this time; Andrew liked it. Glancing back at his the score on his music stand, Andrew realized with a start that the melody was about to be passed from the oboe to the first cello, which was he. Glancing back at Lucy for his cue, and not at the conductor, as he should have done, he saw her smile and nod in his direction. Their eyes locked; it was the first time they had directly looked at each other. Sweating slightly, Andrew nodded back and put bow to string, gently bowing through the same melody. As he did so, exploring that strange mystical quality the theme possessed, he stole one more quick glance over in Lucy's direction, once again catching her eyes directly. She too was smiling.

The day's session was wrapped up, and Andrew was once again packing up his cello. This time, however, and try as he might he simply could not deny it, he was looking forward to the next day's session. That subtle theme he and Lucy had shared was now stuck in his head, and he really didn?t mind. It had none of the precision or order of his Mozart, and, quiet and reflective as it was, still very much the stamp of Romanticism, and yet Andrew found that he quite liked it. With a not-unhappy start, he realized that he was humming it even now beneath his breath.

"Catchy tune, hm?" Andrew looked up, startled to see Lucy looking down at him, her sharp features smiling.

"Why, yes, it rather is, I agree. Much to my surprise, I must admit," he replied. Andrew found himself sweating uncomfortably, hoping against hope that she was not going to call him out for the day's copious stares. What on earth would he say? That he found her to be a thoroughly enchanting woman, and wanted more than anything else in the world to get to know her better? That try as he might he simply couldn't help from looking at her every chance he got?

"Mine too," she said. "It's really an interesting score, though, don't you think?"

"I do, I do. Not usually my particular cup of tea, I must admit, but there's something about it that . . . my word, where are my manners? I'm Andrew, Andrew Gearding. You're new to the orchestra, are you not?"

"Yes, yes, I played with the opera in Wales for many years, and just moved to London. Lucy Violet Bath," and with that she put forth her hand. With what he hoped was a calm ease, Andrew reached up and took her hand in his, noting as he did the fine, clear complexion of her skin and the way her fingers could really have been a piano player's, thin, long and tapered.

"A pleasure to meet you, Lucy," Andrew said.

"The same," she replied. A brief pause hung in the air, pregnant and ripe.

"Lucy! Let's go, I've got to be back for a lesson by six!" called out a voice from the back. Lucy started and took her hand from Andrew?s, and he was dismayed and shocked at how much that simple act hurt, at how much he wanted that hand back in his.

"Sorry, ride's waiting. See you tomorrow, Andrew," she said, as she turned and headed towards the exit.

"Tomorrow then," Andrew called out. Tomorrow.


On his way home, Andrew, still humming contentedly that melancholy "Tales of a Jedi Knight" heme, stopped at the local music shop. He approached the counter and saw to his delight that Sam, the shop owner, was there. As the record collection in his flat would suggest, Andrew not only knew Sam well, but was rather well-liked by the man. Andrew supposed that he might easily be his best customer, so this was hardly a surprise. Still, unlike so many record shop owners in this day and age, Sam was almost as knowledgeable on the topic of classical music as Andrew was, and the men did get along reasonably well.

"Andrew, here for the new Handel organ concerto? Just came in yesterday and not a bad reading, I must say," said Sam.

"No, Sam, actually I've a question for you," said Andrew as he approached the counter. "John Williams, film composer, the name ring a bell?"

"Well sure, he's done a bunch of stuff, what do you need?" asked Sam, clearly puzzled that Andrew was asking after a non-classical album.

"I need one of his scores, what do you have?"

"Well, the only one we have in stock right now is Jaws."

"Jaws?" Andrew asked.

"Don't get to the pictures much, do you? Huge American picture from a few years back, made millions, big shark, got people scared of the beach? Any of this ringing a bell?"

"No, I'm afraid not," replied Andrew, puzzled.

Sam came around the counter and headed for the small soundtrack section of the store. He rifled through the stack for a moment, and pulled out an album with a picture of a large shark surfacing directly beneath a bikini-clad swimmer. "Here you go, Jaws."

Andrew took the album and confirmed the name: "Composed and Conducted by John Williams."

"How is it?" he asked.

"Not bad, not bad at all."

Later, Andrew sat at the small writing desk that took up a corner of his bedroom contemplating the stationary in front of him. After a few moments, he deliberately put his pen to paper, and wrote:

Dear Lucy,
From, as it would seem, one Williams fan to another. It's nice to know that music continues to be able to surprise even those such as us, those who live and breathe it day in and out. I hope you enjoy it.

Andrew signed his name, folded the paper, placed it into an envelope and sealed it. Carefully, he wrote "Ms. Lucy Bath" on the front, and affixed it to the wrapped album. As he did so, he felt a nervous shudder course through his small body. Perhaps this was a mistake after all. Could this be too much? Would she laugh, or merely be uncomfortable with the gift, with him, forever ruining any chance he might have had? Or would she be touched and flattered, and could the simple gift lead to something, anything? Andrew recalled the moment, several weeks ago, when he had first laid eyes on her. She was beautiful, of that there was no doubt. But it was something else entirely that drew his attention that day. He had walked past her on his way to his seat, and she had laughed, at what he had no idea, she was talking with a friend, but that laugh . . . Sighing, Andrew decided to find out, either way.


It was the final session, and the wrapped album and note lay directly beneath his seat. "Take 203, 'Princess Lea's Theme,'" the recording engineer announced, and Andrew readied himself to play. As Williams lowered his baton with the first beat, a piccolo played a descending ladder-like introductory melody, with a clarinet soon picking it up. Then, the main melody started, played by the French horn. The theme was a beautiful and delicate bit of gossamer, with just a hint of melancholy in it. Andrew, with the cellos silent so far, was able to just listen, and he did so, by now fully willing to surrender himself to the unabashedly, not just Romantic, but romantic, music. There was more than just the whiff of romance in this particular piece, Andrew realized, this was a true love theme. As the first statement of the theme ended, the woodwinds played a short bridge, and Andrew looked over to see Lucy grinning broadly as she guided her oboe through the sinewy passage. As the bridge ended, the flutes picked up the main theme again, and Andrew and Lucy locked eyes and smiled. Still smiling, Andrew turned his attention back to the score, readying himself for his part. After a second woodwind interlude, the string section began to play the main theme again, and Andrew happily laid out the bottom of the harmony, the violinists filling in the top. The theme began to crescendo and build, in true Romantic fashion, repeating one last time with the full orchestra behind it in glorious, open and unashamed full-throated thrall to the music. As the theme climaxed, a solitary flute and violin gently ended the passage, and, furtively, Andrew and Lucy locked eyes, smiling at each other again.

Williams thanked the orchestra for their time and patience and with that they were done. Still smiling, as he had been almost non-stop for the past few hours, Andrew packed up his things and grabbed the package from beneath his chair. Humming Princess Lea?s theme, he walked over to Lucy, who was still collecting her things. Andrew?s nervousness had, remarkably enough, deserted him, and as he approached, Lucy looked up at him. He held out the wrapped gift.

"For you," he said.

"For me? Why, thank you," she replied.

"I was wondering if you had any plans for the evening."

"None, none at all." She smiled again, and Andrew felt his pulse skip a beat, a new, though not unwelcome, sensation.


Until Whenever

No comments: