Violin, p.4

Violin, page 4



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  "You're a fool," I said. "You always were. I don't have to."

  I looked at Miss Hardy.

  At some time or other during this long and cacophonous night, she'd gone home and changed into one of her pretty shirtwaist dresses, and her hair was freshly combed. Her smile was full of comfort.

  "They took him away?" I asked Miss Hardy.

  "His book, his book on St. Sebastian, I put all of it away, except the last pages. They were on the table near the bed. They--"

  My sweet brother-in-law Glenn spoke: "I put them downstairs; they're safe, with the rest."

  That's right, I had showed Glenn where Karl's work was stashed, just in case ... burn everything in the room.

  Behind me, people quarreled. I could hear Rosalind trying to quiet the younger ever anxious Katrinka's long clench-teeth diatribes. Someday Katrinka will break her teeth in mid-speech.

  "She's crazy!" said Katrinka. "And she's probably got the virus!"

  "No, now stop it, Trink, please, I'm begging you now." Rosalind didn't know anymore how to be unkind. Whatever she had known in childhood had long ago been weeded out, and replaced.

  I turned around, looked at Rosalind. She sat slumped at the table, large and sleepy looking and with her dark eyebrows raised. She made a little gesture and said in her frank deep voice:

  "They'll cremate him." She sighed. "It's the law. Don't worry. I made sure they didn't cart out the room board by board." She laughed, a smug, smart-alecky laugh, which was perfect. "You leave it to Katrinka, she'll have the whole city block torn down." She shook with her laughter.

  Katrinka began to roar.

  I smiled at Rosalind. I wondered if she was afraid about money. Karl had been so generous with money. No doubt everyone was thinking about money. Karl's effortless doles.

  There would be some quarrel about funeral arrangements. There always is, no matter what is done before, and Karl had done everything. Cremation. I could not think of this! In my grave, among those I love, are no undifferentiated ashes.

  Rosalind would never say it but she had to be thinking of money. It was Karl who gave Rosalind and her husband, Glenn, the money to live, to run their small vintage book and record shop which never actually made a dime, not so much as I know. Was she afraid the money would stop? I wanted to reassure her.

  Miss Hardy raised her voice. Katrinka slammed the door. Katrinka is one of only two adults I know who actually slams doors when she is angry. The other was miles away, long gone out of my life, and dearly remembered for better things than such petty violence.

  Rosalind, our eldest, the heaviest, very plump now with her hair all white yet beautifully curly as it had always been--she had the loveliest richest hair--just sat there still making that shrug, that smirk.

  "You don't have to rush to the hospital," she said. "You know that." Rosalind had been a nurse for too long, lugging oxygen tanks and cleaning up blood. "No rush at all," she assured me with authority.

  I know a better place than this, I said or thought. I had only to close my eyes and the room swam and the grave came and there was that painful wonder: Which is dream and which is real?

  I laid my forehead on the windowpane, and it was cold, and his music ... the music of my vagabond violinist ... I called to it. You're there, aren't you? Come on, I know you didn't go away. Did you think I wasn't listening ...? It came again, the violin. Florid yet low, anguished, yet full of naive celebration.

  And behind me Rosalind began to hum in low tune, a phrase or so behind him ... to hum along, to join her voice to his distant voice.

  "You hear him now?" I said.

  "Yeah," she said with her characteristic shrug. "You've got some friend out there, like a nightingale. And the sun didn't drive him off. Sure, I hear him."

  My hair was dripping water on the floor. Katrinka was sobbing in the hallway and I could not make out the other two voices, except to know that they were women's voices. "Just can't go through this right now, I can't go through this," Katrinka said, "and she's crazy. Can't you see? I can't, I can't, I can't."

  It seemed a fork in the road. I knew where the grave was and just how deep, and I could go there. Why didn't I?

  His music had moved into a slow but lofty melody, something merging with the morning itself, as though we were leaving the graveyard together. In a disquieting yet vivid flash I saw our little bouquets on the white marble Altar Rail of the Chapel as I looked back.

  "Come on, Triana!" My mother looked so pretty, her hair in a beret, her voice so patient, her eyes so big. "Come on, Triana!"

  You're going to die separated from us, Mother. Beautiful and without a gray hair in your head. When the time comes I won't even have the sense to kiss you goodbye the last time I see you. I'll only be glad you're going because you're so drunk and sick and I'm so tired of taking care of Katrinka and Faye. Mother, you will die in a terrible, terrible way, a drunken woman, swallowing her tongue. And I will give birth to a little girl who looks like you, has your big round eyes and lovely temples and forehead, and she'll die, Mother, die before she's six years old, surrounded by machines during the few minutes, the very few minutes, Mother, when I tried as they say to catch some sleep. I caught her death, I--

  Get thee behind me, all such torment. Rosalind and I run ahead; Mother walks slowly on the flags behind us, a smiling woman; she's not afraid in the dusk now, the sky is too vibrant. These are our years. The war has not come to an end. Cars passing slowly on Prytania Street look like humpback crickets or beetles.

  "I said, Stop it!" I talked to my own head. I put my hands on my wet hair. How dreadful to be in this room with all this noise, and dripping with water. Listen to Miss Hardy's voice. She is taking command.

  Outside, the sun fell down on the porches, on the cars streaking by, on the old peeling wooden streetcars as they crossed right in front of me, the uptown car clanging its bell, with all the drama of a San Francisco cable car.

  "How can she do this to us?" sobbed Katrinka. But that was beyond the door. The door she had slammed. She was bellowing in the hallway.

  The doorbell rang. I was too far over to the edge of the house to even glimpse who had come up the steps.

  What I saw were the white azaleas against the fence all the way to the corner and around where the fence turns. How lovely, how sublimely lovely. Karl had paid for all that, gardeners and mulch and carpenters and hammers and nails and white paint for the columns, look, the Corinthian capitals restored, the acanthus leaves rising to hold high the roof, and look, the clean blue for the porch roof so that the wasps thought it was the sky and would not nest up there.

  "Come on, honey." This was a man's voice, a man I knew, but not so well, a man I trusted, but couldn't think of his name just now, perhaps because in the background Katrinka was shouting and shouting.

  "Triana, honey," he said. Grady Dubosson, my own lawyer. He was all spiffed up, full suit and tie, and didn't even look sleepy at all, and perfectly in command of his serious face as though he knew, like so many people here, just how to deal with death and not to put a false face or a denial on it.

  "Don't worry, Triana darlin'," he said in the most natural, confiding voice. "I won't let them touch a silver fork. You come with Dr. Guidry and you go downtown. Rest. There can't be any ceremony till the others are back from London."

  "Karl's book, there were some pages upstairs."

  Glenn's consoling voice again, deep, southern: "I got them, Triana. I took his papers down and nobody's going to incinerate anything up there--"

  "I'm sorry for the trouble I've made," I whispered.

  "Absolutely cracked!" That was Katrinka.

  Rosalind sighed. "He didn't look to me like he suffered, just like he went to sleep." She was saying that to comfort me. I turned around again and made a small secret of thanks to her. She caught it; she gave me her soft beam.

  I loved her utterly. She pushed her thick framed glasses up on her nose. All her young life, my father shouted at her to push her glasses on her nose
, but it never really worked because she had, unlike him, a rather small nose. And she looked the way he had always hated her--dreamy and sloppy, and sweet, with glasses falling down, smoking a cigarette, with ashes on her coat, but full of love, her body heavy and shapeless with age. I loved her so.

  "I don't think he suffered at all," she said. "Don't pay any attention to the Trink. Hey, Trink, did you ever think about all the beds in the hotels that you and Martin sleep in--like who's been in them, I mean, like you, with AIDS?"

  I wanted to laugh.

  "Come on, darlin'," Grady said.

  Dr. Guidry took my hand in both of his. What a young man he was. I can't get used to doctors now being younger than me. And Dr. Guidry is so blond and so utterly clean, and always, in the top pocket of his coat, is a small Bible. You know he can't be a Catholic if he carries a Bible like that. He must be a Baptist. I feel so ageless myself. But that's because I'm dead, right? I'm in the grave.

  No. That never works for very long.

  "I want you to follow my advice," said Dr. Guidry as gently as if he were kissing me. "And you let Grady take care of things."

  "It's stopped," said Rosalind.

  "What?" demanded Katrinka. "What's stopped?" She stood in the hallway door. She was blowing her nose. She wadded up the Kleenex and threw it on the floor. She glared at me. "Did you ever think what this kind of thing does to the rest of us?"

  I didn't answer her.

  "The violinist," Rosalind said. "Your troubadour. I think he's gone away."

  "I never heard any damned violinist," Katrinka said, clenching her teeth. "Why are you talking about a violinist! You think this violinist is more important than what I'm trying to tell you!"

  Miss Hardy came in, walking past Katrinka as if Katrinka did not exist. Miss Hardy was wearing the cleanest white shoes. It must be spring then, because Garden District ladies never wear white shoes except at the proper time of year. But I was sure it was cold.

  She had a coat and scarf for me. "Now, come darling, let me help you dress."

  Katrinka stood staring at me. Her lip trembled and her bulbous reddened eyes ran with tears. How miserable her life had been, always. At least Mother had not been drunk when she was born. Katrinka was healthy and pretty, whereas Faye had barely survived, a tiny smiling thing that they had put in a machine for weeks, who never believed in her own special elfin loveliness.

  "Why don't you just leave?" I asked Katrinka. "There are enough people here. Where's Martin? Call him and tell him to come get you." Martin was her husband, a real estate wonder and sometime lawyer of considerable local renown.

  Rosalind laughed, smug and smirking and sort of to herself but for me. And then I knew. Of course.

  And so did Rosalind, who folded her arms and sat forward, her heavy breasts resting on the table. She pushed her glasses up.

  "You belong in the nuthouse," Katrinka said, trembling. "You were crazy when your daughter died! You didn't need to take all that extreme care of Father! You had a nurse here night and day. You had doctors coming and going. You're crazy and you can't stay in this house--"

  She stopped; even she was ashamed of her clumsiness.

  "I must say, you are one outspoken young woman," Miss Hardy said. "If you'll excuse me ..."

  "Miss Hardy, you must accept my thanks," I said. "I'm so terribly, terribly--"

  She gestured for me to be quiet, that it was all forgiven.

  I looked at Rosalind and Rosalind was laughing softly still, her head moving from side to side, peering up at Katrinka over her glasses, a big authoritative and beautiful woman in her weight and her age.

  And Katrinka, so athletically and fetchingly thin, with her breasts pointed fiercely through the silk of her short-sleeve blouse. Such small arms. In a way, Katrinka had of the four of us gotten the perfect body, and she was only one with blond hair, true blond hair.

  A silence. What was it? Rosalind had drawn herself up and lifted her chin.

  "Katrinka," Rosalind said now under her breath, filling the whole room by the solemnity of her tone. "You ain't getting this house." She slapped the table. She laughed out loud.

  I burst out laughing. Not very loud, of course. It was too funny, really.

  "How dare you accuse me of this!" Katrinka turned on me. "You stay here for two days with a dead body and I try to make them realize you're sick, you have to be committed, you have to be checked, you have to be in bed, and you think I want this house, you think I came here at a moment like this, as if I didn't have my own house mortgaged to the hilt, my own husband, my own daughters, and you think, you dare say that to me in front of people we hardly ..."

  Grady spoke to her. It was a low but urgent flow of words. The doctor was trying to take Katrinka by the arm.

  Rosalind shrugged. "Trink," she said. "I hate to remind you. It's Triana's house until she dies. It's hers and Faye's if Faye is alive. And Triana may be crazy, but she ain't dead."

  And then I couldn't help laughing again, a small mischievous laugh, and Rosalind laughed too.

  "I wish Faye were here," I said to Rosalind.

  Faye was our youngest sister by my mother and father. Faye was just a little waif of a woman, an angel, born from a sick and starved womb.

  No one had seen my beloved Faye in over two years, nor heard even a single word by phone or post from her. Faye!

  "But, you know, maybe that was the trouble all along," I confessed, almost crying, wiping at my eyes.

  "What do you mean?" asked Rosalind. She looked too sweet and calm to be a normal person. She got up, awkwardly, hoisting her bulk from the chair, and she came to me, and she kissed me on the cheek.

  "In times of trouble, we always want Faye," I said. "Always. We always needed Faye. Call Faye. Get Faye to help with this and that. Everybody always needed Faye, wanted Faye, depended on Faye."

  Katrinka stepped in front of me. It came as a shock, the full dislike in her expression, the full personal contempt. Would I never, never get used to it? From childhood I had seen this impatient, raging contempt, this intense personal dislike, this distaste! This aversion in her face that made me want to shrivel and give in and turn away and be silent and win no argument or fight or point of discussion.

  "Well, Faye might be alive right now," Katrinka said, "if you hadn't financed her running off and disappearing without a trace, you and your dead husband."

  Rosalind told her plainly to shut up. Faye? Dead?

  This was too much. I smiled to myself. Everyone knew it was too much. Faye had disappeared, yes, but dead? And still, what did I feel, the big sister? A protective fear for Trink, that she'd indeed gone way too far, and they'd really insult her now, poor Katrinka. She'd cry and cry and never understand. They'd all despise her for this and she'd be so wounded.

  "Don't--" I started to say.

  Dr. Guidry made motions to hurry me from the room. Grady took my arm.

  I was confused. Rosalind was at my side.

  Katrinka wailed on and on. She was going to pieces in there. Somebody had to help her. Maybe it would be Glenn. Glenn always helped people, even Katrinka.

  The implication of the words struck me again--"might be alive."

  "Faye's not dead, is she?" I asked. If I'd known for sure after these agonizing years of waiting for Faye, well, then I could have invited her down into the wet grave with us, and we could have been there, Faye and Lily and Mother and Father and Karl, Faye included in my litany. But Faye couldn't be dead. Not my precious Faye.

  It made a lie of all my eccentricity, my seemingly excessive wisdom and high-toned feeling. "Not Faye."

  "There's no word on Faye at all," said Rosalind next to my ear. "Faye's probably drinking tequila in a truck stop in Mexico." She kissed me once more. I felt her heavy tender arm.

  We stood in the front door, Grady and I--the mad widow and the kindly elderly family lawyer.

  I love the front door of my house. It's a big double door, right in the middle of the house, and you go out on the wide front p
orch and you can walk to the left or the right, and the porch wraps all the way around the sides of the house. It's so pretty. Not a day of my life has ever passed that I have not thought of this house and thought of it as pretty.

  Years ago, Faye and I used to dance on the porch of this house. Eight years younger than me, she was small enough to be in my arms, like a monkey, and we would sing, "Casey, he waltzed with the girl he adored and the band played on--"

  And look at the azaleas in the patches by the steps, blood red, and so thick! Of course it was spring. Everywhere they bloomed, these pampered plants--a real Garden District house with its snow-white columns.

  And look, Miss Hardy didn't have on white shoes at all. They were gray.

  Back inside the house, Rosalind roared at Katrinka. "Don't talk about Faye, not now! Don't talk about Faye."

  And Katrinka's words came in one of those long dramatic drawn-out growls ...

  Someone had lifted my foot. It was Miss Hardy, putting a slipper on my foot. The gate stood open below. Grady had my arm.

  Dr. Guidry stood beside an open ambulance.

  Grady spoke again, telling me if I would go to Mercy Hospital, I could walk out just as soon as I wanted to. Just let them get some fluids and nourishment into me.

  Dr. Guidry came to take my hand. "You're dehydrated, Triana, you haven't eaten. Nobody's talking about committing you anywhere. I want you to go into the hospital, that's all. I want you to rest. And I promise you, no one will do anything or test for anything."

  I sighed. Everything was getting brighter.

  "Angel of God," I whispered, "my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here ..."

  Suddenly I saw them clearly around me.

  "Oh, I'm sorry," I said, "I'm so so sorry ... I am so very sorry for all this, I ... I'm sorry." I cried. "You can test. Yes, test. Do what has to be done. I'm sorry ... I'm so sorry ..."

  I stopped on the front walk.

  There were my beloved Althea and Lacomb at the gate, and they were so concerned. Maybe all these white people--doctor, lawyer, lady in gray shoes--held them back.

  Althea made a lip as if she would cry, her heavy arms folded, and she tilted her head.

  Lacomb said in his deep voice, "We're here, boss."

  I was about to answer.

  But I saw something across the street.

  "What is it, honey?" Grady said. Lovely touch of Mississippi in his accent.


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