Saturday, February 22, 2014

Smile: A Vignette


    The backseat of his father’s Audi. Bryant, resting his head on the window watches the ditch receding and advancing against the shadow thrown from the afternoon sun. Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor in his headphones. Both things mesmerize him. Drifting off now and then, but wildly conscious, he hears his teacher Adamo Botzio warning him of the perils of listening to someone else play the piece you yourself are supposed to master.
    “A virtuoso never mimics, Bryant.”
    True, he thinks, and yet, as first violin, he will not be reading sheet music on that evening. He can think of worse criticisms among an audience in the mezzanine than “He sounded very much like Julia Fischer.” He knows he needs to feel this piece. And the way she plays this – God, it’s a miracle along the lines of how shadows work. The way the tree line bounces in, steps out – the car keeping a straight steady line all the while. A signpost whips past his forehead, close and too quick to read, the words on it, Denver 30 Miles. It jars Bryant from his reverie and he turns to see his father hammer his fist on the steering wheel. Bryant kills the volume on his iPod.

    “Jesus Liz. Did it at any time occur to you that we were in a cemetery? A cemetery! A funeral! “
    The hum of the four Pirellis.

    The newspapers were calling Bryant a child prodigy four years ago, when he was eleven. At each performance hardened skeptics experienced a sort of conversion. A newfound belief in the divine. Brahms, Dvorak, Glazunov – Bryant Zukis could play anything from these composers within a week’s notice, and a rumor was amok that detractors were deliberately devising ways to throw him off his game. Botzio had recently secured him a guest performance as first violin with the Denver Symphony Orchestra. The date was set, and Bryant was preparing, but today a storm brewing three feet in front of him captured his attention. He leaned closer.

    “Do you have any idea how important the son of the man in that casket is? No, let me speak, Liz.” His father raised his right hand to stifle something Bryant’s mother was about to say. “He is my only chance at a promotion in the company. And what an honor to be a pallbearer. I nearly died myself when they asked me. But why? Why, when we are about to lower the guy into his eternal darkness… why would you, my wife, raise your camera, and say ‘Smile?’”
    Bryant’s mother observed the outside landscape, the shadows leaping.

    “Look. I said it many times now. I’m sorry.” She turned to face him. “I don’t know. I forgot myself. You all looked so handsome. Something out of habit. I said smile. I’m sorry. I knew instantly how wrong it was. A faux pas. Call it a momentary lapse of reason.”

    “Well, I’m going to call it stupid if you really want to know!” He passed a Corvette doing 90. “And you know what? It’s not the first time.”
    Bryant could see that his mother’s head sloped forward. She was looking down at her hands. He imagined tears, and did not want to see them.
    His father, not quite done, continued – “It’s like sometimes I wonder if you know much about social etiquette, Liz. The bigger world out there. I’m in meetings, day in and day out. You’ve got to be on your toes. Christ, the people I roll with, their wives have to be on their toes, too. It’s a part of it. You know what would happen to me at the firm if I walked around telling people to smile while they’re lowering their fathers into a grave? I’d be finished. It’s stupid what you did.”

    Bryant moved closer, and as he did so, he turned Julia Fischer full throttle, slipping the headphones from his ears to appear as though he heard none of the preceding one-sided banter. He tapped his father’s shoulder.

    “Dad, I wasn’t going to really say anything about this, but – remember my last recital, the one at Hamden Hall?”
    “I do son. You were exquisite.”
    “Yeah. At the intermission, me and Mr. Botzio stepped outside the stage door to get some fresh air and… and…”
    “And what, Bryant? What?”
    “Well – it’s just that, we both heard something that sounded like rain, and we turned to see you taking a leak on the back tire of someone’s Mercedes in the parking garage. Seriously dad, I didn’t mind so much, but Botzio, he’s on the committee of hiring for full-time orchestra, and like… what your family is like, matters.”
    Pirellis. God, the hum they can work up.

    “Well, for frig sakes, why doesn’t someone install a few more bathrooms in that place? The lineup for the urinals was a dozen men deep!”
    But by then the headphones were on, the volume on nine.
    Bryant sat back to watch the shadows playing their afternoon games, catching a certain slant of sunlight in the passenger mirror. Illuminating his mother’s smile.

.-- © Ciprianowords, Inc. 2014 --


Anonymous said...

I'm smiling too!

Stefanie said...

Excellent story!