Classic Round Robin

~ Music of the Soul ~

Chapter 8
by Tunnel Dweller 8

 

“Okay. Tomorrow morning around 10:00.” Catherine smiled weakly as she jotted the time in her appointment calendar. “Yes. I’ll see you then.” Her office chair creaked as she pushed away from her desk, leaned back, and closed her eyes.

“You look kinda tired Radcliff.”

“Joe.” Catherine looked up at her boss with the warmest smile she could manage. “What can I do for you?”

“How’s your calendar for next week?”

“Next week?” she said with a grin. “We’re working next week? I thought next week was ‘National Give Everybody a Week Off’ week.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice,” he replied with a smile that quickly evaporated. “But no. Put me down for Tuesday,” he said, pointing at an empty spot on her planner. “We have a pile of new cases to go over.” 

“Tuesday,” she said as she lettered J-O-E into the box. “I should probably go ahead and put you down for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday too,” she muttered under her breath. 

“Getting a little cranky, kiddo?”

Yes. She nodded. She was a little cranky. Weary. On edge. She was not looking forward to keeping the appointment she had just made with Amos Beiber. And this constant grind of casework was wearing her down.

“Don’t let the work get to you, Cathy. Have some fun,” he suggested. 

“Oh, okay ...  fun,” she said as she scanned the dates on her planner. “Let me see where I can fit that in.”

“Ha-ha.” Joe waved off her comment as he headed for his office. “Just try to relax a little now and then. That’s all I’m saying.”

She continued to trace her finger over the calendar pages, stopping at the indication of a full moon. She pulled a yellow highlighter from the cup of pens on her desk, popped the cap off, and highlighted the date. Okay.

***

“Oh dear,” Father responded quietly after hearing Vincent recount Catherine’s meeting with Gerda. “Such a difficult situation ... for all of them.”

The retelling of it didn’t make a solution to this predicament any more clear to Vincent. He held out hope that all would be well in the end. But someone was bound to get hurt and he was afraid Avram would take the worst of it.

“His entrance into the tunnels was noted by the sentries,” Father said. “He’ll be arriving any minute.”

“And you don’t know the purpose of his visit?” Vincent asked.

“His message only said he had something for us. It can’t have anything to do with this, could it?”

“No,” Vincent replied. He pushed out of his chair and began to pace the length of the chamber. “He doesn’t know anything. Yet.”

“He should know, Vincent.”

“Yes. But how? How do you—” The sound of approaching footsteps brought the conversation to an abrupt halt. Vincent strode toward the door to greet their old friend. “Avram come in. We were expecting you.”

“It’s good to see you again, Avram. How are you?” Father asked as Vincent ushered him into the chamber.

“I’ve brought you something” Avram said, placing a violin case on the table in the center of the chamber. “I’m sure this can be put to good use by one of the more advanced students here.”

“Well, yes,” Father stammered in surprise. “I believe several of the children will jump at the opportunity to play such a fine instrument  ... but Avram ... are you sure?”

“Did something happen?” Vincent asked. “Catherine told me you were to meet with the other musicians yesterday.”

“No, nothing happened. They are all very nice people. Good people. Such a positive place. A good place for people who have moved on.”

“Avram …” Vincent started, but the old helper raised a hand to stop him.

“I want to move on,” he said. “But the music can’t be part of it.”

“Surely, in time, you could return to it,” Father urged.

Avram shook his head. “For me, the music is not a before to be returned to. It is part of what happened there. I lived because I played for that Nazi Commandant. I gave him my music in exchange for my life.”

Vincent rested a hand on Avram’s shoulder.

“Um … I’m sorry to interrupt,” said Jamie, entering the chamber. “But there’s a … situation that needs Father’s attention.” 

“I’ll go,” Vincent offered.

“No,” Father replied, easing wearily out of his chair as Jamie looked on apologetically. “You stay here with Avram. I’ll see to the situation.”

Jamie headed out the door and Father followed, but he paused before leaving, turning to Avram. “I understand what you’re saying, my friend. But what I wonder is if the notes you played within the confines of that place were truly your music. Perhaps not. Allow yourself to consider that. Allow yourself the possibility that all is not lost.”

“Thank you, Father,” Avram replied.

“Vincent, will you see Avram safely out when he’s ready?” Father asked on leaving.

“Of course.” Vincent walked over to where Avram had left the violin. “May I?” he asked.

Avram opened the case and placed the instrument in Vincent’s hands.

The wood was smooth and warm to the touch. Light construction. Graceful curves. Taut strings. It was virtually weightless, yet heavy with promise. He carefully handed the violin back to Avram and watched as the man tucked it under his chin and took a bow from the case, stroking it several times across a cake of rosin.

“It has a rather lovely tone,” Avram said as he played a few notes. “It belongs in the hands of someone who will make it sing.”

“And you’re sure that person is not you?”

Avram didn’t reply but Vincent could sense the resistance in him. An unwillingness to return the violin to its case. A reluctance to bid it goodbye.

***

Rolley was hungry. He rubbed at bloodshot eyes with the heel of his hand while he stood before the open refrigerator door, staring into the void. He grabbed the remains of a half-eaten sandwich and a can of soda and elbowed the door closed.

He cleared the kitchen table of the GED study manuals that he had been pouring over for hours and sat down to eat.

His thoughts shifted from his studies to recent happenings at work. That Catherine Chandler is persistent. And he liked her for that. There was a fierceness to her that he admired. He had spent enough time on the streets to know ferocity firsthand. The vicious, savage kind. But hers was a gentle ferocity, if that were possible.

He cleared the table, turned the stereo on, and settled into the apartment’s one comfortable chair.

He remembered the first time he had seen Catherine’s particular brand of ferocity at work. She would have done anything to get him to meet with Vincent. Even in the state he was in back then, he knew that was love.

A police siren wailed in the distance and he got up to turn up the volume on the music.

***

Vincent looked down from Catherine’s balcony, where a river of headlights flowed slowly through the chasm between glittering towers. “He played for me.”

Catherine gave him a look of surprise. “Avram?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Vincent nodded. Catherine turned to face him, eager to hear. “It was beautiful. Shaky ... at first and tinged with ... sadness.”  He wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close. “But beautiful.”

Catherine leaned back into his embrace. “I wish I could have been there.”

“You may still have the opportunity.”

Catherine turned her head to look at him, eyebrows raised in question. “Oh?”

Vincent nodded and smiled. “He took it with him.”

“The violin? He didn’t donate it to the children after all?”

Vincent shook his head, smiling. “No violin for the children. But, perhaps a teacher.”

“Oh! That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, it would,” he agreed, and for a moment they both enjoyed that happy thought. But he could feel her excitement fade, crowded out by concern. “Come,” he said, settling down on the floor of the balcony, pulling her gently along. He encircled her in his arms and felt some of the tension leave her.

“I want things to be better for him,” she said.

“As do I.”

“Will they be?” she asked. “Will things be better or worse for him once this secret regarding Amos’ wife … his wife, is revealed? Part of me wonders if it would be better for him not to know."

He tightened his grip on the woman he loved. He wondered too. Would I want to know? “There’s love, Catherine. Avram’s for Gerda. And Gerda’s for him. That love will see them through this. It has to."

“And Amos? Is there enough love there to see him through this also?”

***

The branches of leafless trees scattered the early morning sun as it flooded through the diner’s plate glass windows.

“I’m sorry. I know this is difficult.”

“Yes.”

A waitress stopped at their table, refilling Amos’ coffee cup from an insulated carafe. Catherine shifted the bowl of creamers in his direction. He’s taking this fairly well.

“And she said she wouldn’t see him?” he asked.

“She was pretty firm about that.”

Amos nodded. “She has always kept that part of her life private.”

“You didn’t know that she had been previously married?"

Amos shook his head. “So many of us were alone in this world after the war … had to start over. It was not uncommon that, in starting over, some chose not to mention their former lives.”
 
“Because they wanted to forget ...”

“Forgetting, I’m afraid, is not possible.” Amos took a sip from his coffee. “But it’s a delicate balance, the past and the present. Everyone copes with it in their own way.”

“Would you like me to speak with Avram? To try to explain?”

“No,” Amos replied. “No. I thank you, Catherine.” He waved down the passing waitress, who delivered their check. “You’ve been so good to help. But now this is ours to resolve.”

“What will you do?”

“Sometimes it is best to cover our wounds. Sometimes they need to be aired and allowed to heal,” he said as he gathered his coat and hat. “Gerda is a good woman. She’s been a good wife. A good mother. She was a gift that came to me in my darkest hour. This is my gift to her. She must be given the opportunity to find whatever peace she can.”

***

Gerda Beiber sat on a bench in McGolrick Park, her gaze fixed on Winged Victory, a statue that honored the 150 residents of the Greenpoint Brooklyn neighborhood who had fought in World War I.

Soldiers.

So different from the soldiers she knew.

Inside the camps, they had known so little of what was going on outside, in the world beyond the fences. And then one day these other soldiers arrived - and they were free. Free and part of the world again. Oh, so eager for emancipation. And so unprepared. Hope and despair. Happiness and sorrow. Always trying to find some balance between the extremes. Trying to keep your footing in a world that kept revolving while you remain tethered to a point in the past.

Gerda felt a warm tear chill as it rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away, gathered her coat about herself and headed home.

***

“He had no idea?” Father asked.

“I think he had an idea,” Catherine replied. “He said it is fairly common for survivors to keep their past to themselves.”

“And he understood?”

“He accepted it,” Catherine replied. “He loves her.”

“He didn’t tell you what he planned to do?” Father asked.

“No. Except that he wants Gerda to make peace with Avram. Maybe I’ll learn more in the morning. He called before I left the office to ask that I meet him at the center to receive a donation from Elliot Burch.

“Burch?” Vincent asked. “Is that a coincidence?”

“Not really,” Catherine replied sheepishly. There was a sudden flurry of activity on the pipes that she knew indicated that meal time had arrived. Saved by the bell.

“Catherine. You’ll stay for dinner?” Father asked.

She glanced at Vincent and his look was invitation enough to make her stay.

***

Avram’s apartment was small but well-appointed. The building’s ancient steam radiator system heated the compact space so over-efficiently that Avram often cracked open a window to regulate the temperature. Tonight the cool breeze carried in fresh air and carried out the sounds of a tune he thought he had long forgotten. A simple Polish love song he had played years ago. His fingers came to the notes out of habit, allowing his mind to wander.

To wander to Amos Beiber’s apparent agitation at the mention of Gerda’s name.

He played on and the glow of the single-bulb ceiling fixture flashed golden light across the hand-rubbed varnish of the instrument nestled under his chin.

To the abruptly ended conversation between Father and Vincent.

The bow’s motion cast angled shadows about the room.  

To the music center’s lobby. The donor’s plaque. The inscription.

The music hummed through him and imperceptible cracks widened to receive it.

‘Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair ~ Elie Weisel.  Donors: Amos and Gerda Beiber.’

Could it be?

A telephone ring broke the spell. His phone?  "Yes?"

Amos.

“I hear you are playing again.”

“You’ve been speaking to Catherine Chandler.”

“Avram, will you meet me at the center tomorrow morning? There’s someone I think you can help.

Avram placed the violin carefully in its case, latching the cover. “Yes. Of course.”

***

Catherine watched as Amos Beiber showed Elliot to the door. Her intention in asking Elliot to make a donation hadn’t been to put herself back in close proximity, but Amos said her presence had been requested. Of course it had. So here she was on a Saturday morning, watching Elliot watch her.

“Thank you again, Mr. Burch, for your very generous donation,” Amos said in parting. “I hope you can join us for some of the donor functions.”

Did he just wink at her?!?

Just then, Catherine spotted June Smithers, the center’s executive administrator, headed toward her office. “June! Wait up!” She could use this opportunity to talk to June about redecoratinh the waiting room – and get away from Elliot.

***

Elliot stood at the glass entrance doors where Amos had left him, watching Catherine. He noted how she approached the woman in the flowing flowered skirt with a warmth and good-natured energy that was, well, Catherine Chandler. He didn’t know what they were talking about but it was something that made Catherine happy because she was smiling and laughing. And she looked so good when she smiled.

“Excuse me.”

He drew his gaze away from Catherine to find the building’s janitor standing in front of him, bucket of water in one hand, squeegee in the other. “Excuse me,” the man repeated. “I need to get at those windows.”

He watched Catherine retreat into the administrator’s office.

“Wouldn’t bother, man,” the janitor said. 

“Huh?”  Was he talking to him?   

“She’s taken.”

Was a janitor commenting on his love life? Elliot looked hard at the young man. Who the hell did he think he was?

“Pardon me, Mr. Burch …” Now what? Amos Beiber had returned with another gentleman at his side. “We need to borrow this young man for a moment.”

“Me?” Rolley asked.

“Yes,” Beiber replied, smiling. “My friend here needs an accompanist.”

Elliot looked back toward where Catherine had disappeared ... then at the threesome headed into the studio. This just isn’t your day, Burch.

***

Amos poured coffee for Avram and Rolley. “I’m glad you two got together. That sonata was lovely. Really lovely. However,” he said, glancing at his watch, “I have to be going. I have a meeting uptown about some concert arrangements.”

The two said their goodbyes to Amos as he rushed from the room and Avram extended a hand to Rolley. “Thank you, Rolley. Perhaps we can do this again sometime? I have some pieces written for violin and piano I think you might enjoy."

“I’d like to play again with you, sir, but … I don’t read so well.”

“No? I could help you. If you’d like.”

“Yes,” Rolley said. “Yes, I’d like that Mr. Kozinski.”

“Avram. Please.”

“Yes, sir,” Rolley replied, rising from his chair. “But now I’d better get back to work.”

“Do you think anyone would mind if I stayed for a few minutes? The acoustics here are so nice. I’d like to play for a bit longer.”

Rolley shook his head. “Nope. This room is usually empty on Saturday afternoons.”

***

Catherine ran, quite literally, into Rolley as he was leaving the studio. Rolley looked happy. Relaxed. She looked past him through the open door and saw Avram there in the studio. “You’ve met Avram?”

Rolley nodded with a smile. “Mr. Beiber asked me to accompany him. Mr. Kozinski’s really good. He doesn’t need anyone to play with him, but it was nice of them to ask.”

So Amos found a way to reach out to Rolley after all. She could hear violin music through the door. Vincent and Rolley were right, Avram played beautifully. She couldn’t make out the tune he was playing. Something soft and lyrical.

“Catherine?”

“Gerda?” Uh-oh.

“Have you seen Amos? He asked me to meet him here.”

Oh, Amos.

Rolley spoke up. “Mr. Beiber just left.” Catherine looked back to Gerda, whose eyes were now closed. Listening. “He was here in Studio three with Mr. Kozinski and me. But he had to go.” The playing in the studio was getting louder. Rolley reached for the door behind him and pulled it shut.

 

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