Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Old Flame

She always got that way when she'd been drinking. Mean. Ugly. Like the world owed her an explanation. I'd taken to hiding the bottle when I wasn't at home but maybe I forgot that day or maybe she managed to find it somehow but the minute I walked in through the door and saw her sitting there with that expression in her eyes I knew she'd been at it. It was a hot day, the peak of summer, I remember because it was the day they buried my friend Ramon and the heat was so bad that the paint on his coffin had started to warp before they lowered him into the ground. Poor Ramon. He was just twenty three, too. Anyway, there I was, all sweaty and upset, and she starts in on me with her where were yous and her why don't you ever take me anywheres. It made me mad. So I told her she'd been right all along and I was having an affair with Angelica, in fact, I'd just got back from being with her, we were in a hotel room all afternoon, fucking. This was a lie. I hadn't even seen Angelica in two weeks and anyway there was nothing like that between us. Besides, as I just told you, I was at this funeral.

So I told her this and she started to cry. Said she didn't know why I treated her that way, how I was ruining her life, how she could have been a great artist but gave it all up just for me. Nothing I hadn't heard a dozen times before. I told her if she wanted to be a great artist what was stopping her? What did she do all day anyway, sitting at home? It's not like she ever did any housework. Then she got mad and said she would too, she'd show me. And I said fine. Then she started to throw things at me, at which point I ducked into the bathroom and took that shower I'd been wanting, what with the heat and the dust from the cemetery and the grit of death on my skin.

I figured it was just one of her tantrums, that she'd sleep it off and be properly apologetic the next day. But when I got home the next night (having spent the evening drinking with my friends, in Ramon's memory) I found she'd actually gone out and bought herself a second-hand violin. Where she got the money for it, don't ask - she must have been stealing from me on the sly all along. Anywhere there it was, and now she needed to practice. At least that's what she called it. What it really amounted to was a lot of god-awful sawing and squealing, way into the early hours of the morning. The neighbors complained, the people from across the street complained, at one point the police showed up at our door. But she stuck with it. Said even Yehudi Menuhin had to practice. I told her yes, but Yehudi Menuhin can play, only then she got that mean look in her eyes, like maybe she'd been secretly drinking again, so I gave it up.

Two weeks of this, of me getting no sleep at night, and dozing off in office during the day, and I decided I'd had enough. Told her I was leaving. I may even have suggested that I was moving in with Angelica, though naturally nothing like that was happening. I just figured I'd move out for a week or two, give her a bit of a scare. Hopefully by then the whole thing would blow over, she'd come to her senses, give up on this violin thing and we could go back to the way things used to be.

It was fifteen years before I saw her again.

Oh, I guess you all know what happened in between. To her, that is. The success of that first album, the concert in the stadium, the radio broadcasts during the war. I wasn't doing too badly either. By the time I met her again I was vice-president of my firm, and only a year or two away from making director. It was in Mexico City, of all places. I was there for a conference. I saw a poster for a performance she was giving. One of those intimate little ballroom things. I figured I might as well go see her play - I'd always meant to, but somehow, back home, I'd never got around to it. Besides it isn't really my kind of music, the stuff she plays. All this jazzy folk stuff. Give me Mozart any day.

Anyway, so I saw this poster and I had a free night, so I figured I might as well catch the recital. I planned to sit at the back, unnoticed, and slip away when it was over, but she must have spotted me in the first half because during intermission one of the organizers came and gave me a note from her. Could we meet up after the show? For dinner? I'll admit I felt flattered. Yes, I said in my note back, of course.

She didn't look bad for her age. Not quite the figure she used to have when I first met her, but you have to expect that. I told her her performance was superb, though I hadn't really enjoyed it. I said I never realized back then that she had gypsy blood in her. She said she didn't. Oh, I said, I thought you did, I mean, given the kind of music you play. No, she said. We were quiet for a bit then.

Are you married, she asked, after a while. No, I said, never got around to it. Work, you know (I didn't want her to think I'd been pining away for her or something - she's just silly enough to believe something like that), it's a pretty crazy world, business, takes a lot to be a success, you have no idea. She nodded. What about Angelica? she asked. What about her? I said. Didn't you leave me to be with her, she said. Oh, that, I laughed, there was nothing to that. I was just having you on. I left you because you were driving me crazy with your drinking and your violin practice. Nothing ever happened between Angelica and me. Oh, I see, she said. Then we were quiet again.

After a while I asked her if she was in Mexico City long. No, she said, I leave tomorrow morning. Me too, I said. What a coincidence running into you here, of all places. Yes, she said, I'm glad you came for the concert. I'm glad I did too, I said. In fact, she said, it's great seeing you again after all these years. We should go out and get a drink to celebrate. I was going to say yes to that, then I remembered how she got when she was drinking and said, no, better not.

8 comments:

Puranjoy said...

Wow! This was the greatest.

Anonymous said...

u didn't sound indian at all. good peice

Anonymous said...

hmmm..that was abrupt. I missed the falstaffian twist. :)

V.

Shantanu said...

Me too...was sort of looking forward to a twist-ed ending! :-)

This sort of feels like how the Sopranos ended...

Nice piece.

Kusum Rohra said...

Exactly what did I miss? Where is the well as V puts it Falstaffian twist?

Entropy said...

I liked it.
Zen

Chevalier said...

Loved it...
So practice did make her better. Inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Little predictable in the middle...but liked the ending! No closure....