And then one night I woke up in the early hours of the morning and heard strange, almost unearthly music sounding faintly from below. For a while I tried to go back to sleep, but found myself plagued with black thoughts that just wouldn't go away. I finally decided to stumble downstairs and find out what my mother was listening to.
I stopped on the stairwell in amazement. My mother was sitting in the semi-darkened living room, softly playing a flute I didn't even know she owned. There was no music in front of her, and I wasn't sure if she was playing from memory or improvising. Whatever it was, the music was eerie, with strange leaping lines and swirls alternating with ghostly echoes from the bottom of its register. I just stood there, listening, until she finally finished and put the instrument down.
Applause would have been out of place. "That was beautiful," I said instead, as quietly as I could, not wanting to shatter the mood. She looked up at me, and I saw glistening streaks on her cheeks. "Mom?" I exclaimed, dismayed, and took the remaining stairs two at a time. "What's wrong?" She just shook her head and smiled through her tears.
"I'm all right, Hal," she said. "Just a little--"
"A little--?" I prompted her hesitantly.
"A little melancholy, I guess."
"I didn't know you still played the flute."
"I haven't since I was in school," she said. "I could never bring myself to do it. It just reminded me of what I could have done, if it weren't for your father. But I really felt like playing tonight. I hope I didn't wake you up."
"No, I was restless and couldn't sleep anyways," I reassured her. "Were you improvising? That was really neat."
"What's the density of platinum got to do with anything?" I asked, puzzled. She grinned.
"It's the name of the piece, silly. Written for a musician who owned a platinum flute," she explained. "It's by Varèse."
"Wow. And you were playing that from memory?"
"Uh-huh," she confirmed. "I didn't know if I'd still remember it, but I did. You know, it felt good to play again." She looked fondly at the instrument in her hand.
"You really gave up a lot for him, didn't you?" I said. "Your playing, your career. And all for nothing." I suppose it wasn't a very sensitive thing to say, but even wide awake I'm not exactly Miss Tact.
"No, Hal, not nothing," she contradicted me. "You're hardly 'nothing.' I just wish I could have given you a better family to grow up in."
"No one could have a better mother than I have," I insisted, throwing my arms around her in a heartfelt hug.
After that night she sometimes spent several hours a day practicing. From somewhere (I have no idea where) she resurrected a box full of flute music, everything carefully stamped with her maiden name, and it wasn't unusual to hear it echoing through the house at all hours of the day and night.
"Why don't you start playing professionally again?" I suggested one day after a particularly exhilarating piece. "I can't believe you're not good enough."
"That's not the way the music world works," she informed me sadly. "No concert promoter is going to look twice at a forty-four-year-old housewife who hasn't played professionally in over twenty years. And there's not much in the way of orchestra work here in Las Vegas." She had a point there. Years ago the casinos had eliminated most live musicians in favor of recorded backup music. As far as anyone could tell, the tourists had never noticed the difference. "I don't mean to disappoint you, Hal, but this is for my own satisfaction."
"We could move to someplace better," I suggested. "Back to Minneapolis, maybe." She laughed.
"Oh, you never give up, do you? It's one of your most endearing qualities, you know. We'll see."
After that I started spending a lot more time with her. Besides watching movies together, we had a number of long talks, and it was only then that I discovered just how much my mother needed companionship and how little she'd gotten from my father during the last few years of their marriage. I had distant recollections of a happy, laughing household back when we still lived in Minneapolis, and a father that loved to take us hiking, to the movies, or on trips around the Midwest.
My mother filled in the intervening gap for me for the first time: how as his practice began to grow, and his income with it, it became an obsession with him. How he eventually heard that Las Vegas was a gold mine for medical practitioners, with some of the highest health care costs in the country, and virtually unregulated.
Moving here had been a jolt to me. I found my classmates to be a much different breed than those I'd left behind. There was a tremendous amount of money carelessly tossed around by parents eager to display their status, and a pervading attitude among their offspring that denigrated study in a state where one could make more in tips (not to mention dealing drugs) than in teaching. I'd had only one good friend since arriving here, Melanie, and her parents had chosen to move out of state after the death of her older brother in the Millennium Eve Uprising.
I found that my mother also felt terribly out of place here, something she'd successfully concealed from me since the divorce. Although she had some casual acquaintances in her New Age circles, she'd once commented to me that they were an "awfully flaky bunch." I found myself dreading the resumption of the school year in September, when my own time would once again be occupied with classes during the day and homework at night.
Several evenings in a row I found her sitting in the back yard when the air was clear enough to see a few stars through the pervasive light pollution. After the third time I bundled her into my car right then and there and drove her for an hour out into the desert, where in spite of the residual glow of the city along one horizon she could actually get a reasonably clear view. There we just lay out under the stars for several hours, like we had the day Rann left. Ultimately we ended up doing this at least once a week.
Always hanging over our heads was the custody battle looming ahead. There had been meetings with the opposing attorney, and testimony taken, and other preliminary details attended to. My mother had spent several long afternoons closeted with our family attorney, the one who'd handled the divorce, and the report hadn't been good. He'd confirmed that my father had considerable influence in town, including a cozy acquaintance with the judge assigned to our case.
There were also rumors, never substantiated, that the street gangs weren't the only organizations following what they called the "Lucie philosophy." Rann told me once that Lucie himself (his real name had been Veladikor Sotok, by the way) had been out for only one thing, and that was power. But he'd skillfully orchestrated a subtle and persuasive propaganda campaign to attract followers to his growing organization, and many of those who hadn't actually gotten burned in the uprising took it all quite seriously, with its message of saving America from chaos, minorities, immorality and copyright infringement.
Whether my father was directly involved or not was purely a question of which rumors you listened to. There was never anything concrete, of course. Apart from a vocal fringe on the far right, the vast majority of the public considered Lucie to have been a traitor and a reactionary. But I remembered all too well the quarrels, at times almost coming to blows, during the last few weeks before the insurrection itself when Lucie first began appearing in the news. My mother had been appalled at his associations with white supremacist groups, his eagerness to "leash" the press, as he put it, and his call to "bring the creative arts back to sanity." My father, on the other hand, had made no bones about it being high time, as far as he was concerned.
And now he and the judge with power over my fate were linked by this same red thread, and that was where things stood when the official custody hearing convened at the end of August.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|