About a month after Brinkman's soirée we received an invitation to a second, with the promise of more music. Rann regretfully declined, explaining that Kiri and Will were visiting one of the northern cities that evening for a ceremony of some kind and his presence was expected. He warned me not to make any plans for the following day, though.
My mother, who usually considers dressing up to consist of throwing on some indifferent clothes and draping herself with amulets and other assorted junk, took an unusually long time that evening to get ready. When she finally emerged from her room, I did a double-take.
"Wow," I exclaimed. "You look really nice." In addition to putting on one of her best dresses, she'd tied her reddish hair up into a kind of topknot, I guess you'd call it, and crowned it with the jade comb I'd bought for her in Little Tokyo. I'm not much into clothes myself, but I had to admit the results were pretty impressive. Besides, scientific skepticism aside, the jade couldn't hurt, I thought; there'd been several men at the last soirée who'd struck me as being just her type.
When we arrived we found quite a few guests already milling around. Over in one corner two musicians were setting up. One was unpacking a violin, and the other was attaching legs to some kind of small keyboard instrument. Brinkman came over to welcome us, and I promptly interrogated him.
"That's an Earth instrument," I said, pointing to the violinist. "Is she from Earth too?"
"Not at all," he said, looking amused. "She's native-born Deshtiran. So is the other one."
"What's that thing?" I asked. "The one he's putting legs on?"
"It's a harpsichord."
"So there are Deshtirans who specialize in Earth music? Is that unusual?"
"Very," he assured me. "I think there are only a dozen or so on the planet. But since Deshti is the capital city, most of them live and work here." I digested that for a while, as Brinkman wandered off to greet more newly-arrived guests.
"Interesting," I remarked. "All his friends seem to be either fellow researchers or musicians, except for Kiri and her circle."
"Well, it's only natural, Hal," my mother said. "After all, didn't you say he was a musician himself?"
"Uh, I think so," I confirmed half-heartedly. Yeah, right, I thought. He'd played in a rock band for a year or two back when he was working at Lawrence Livermore, while he was still in his twenties. He'd once been asked why, during an interview for PBS. "To meet girls, of course," he'd responded with a stage leer.
The music turned out to be quite good. I don't know an awful lot about classical music, but my mother sat enraptured by the playing, applauding enthusiastically. Once they'd finished several pieces and called a break, I took advantage of the general hubbub to ask her a question.
"Can you play as well as they do?" I wanted to know.
"Oh, Hal, you know I haven't played in so long," she demurred.
"Spare me the modesty crapola," I said impatiently. "You know if you're good or not. Well?"
"Well, I suppose so," she said hesitantly.
"I knew that. Don't go away." I hunted up Brinkman, and once I got his attention I told him he had another potential performer if he was interested.
"Certainly," he said. "Does she have her instrument with her?"
"She will in about five minutes," I said and ran up to our room, returning in considerably less time than that with her flute case.
"Are you sure about this, Hal?" my mother asked uneasily. I could tell she was embarrassed, but I wasn't going to let her get away any longer with playing in the dark to herself.
"We have a surprise performer," Brinkman announced, after clapping his hands a few times to get everyone's attention. "Jennifer Larkin, from Earth, is going to play the flute for us." I saw the two other musicians pause and look at each other, then leave their instruments and find seats. By that time my mother had unpacked her flute and was warming it up, blowing air through it and checking her tuning. Hesitantly she turned to the assembled guests.
"This is Syrinx, by Claude Debussy," she stammered, looking for all the world like a jittery junior high school student doing her first recital. Then she closed her eyes and started to play, and after that all anyone was conscious of was the music, growing out of a single simple phrase, repeating, expanding, weaving a web of sound around and through everyone present, until it faded away into silence.
When she stopped there was no sound at all, just an utter hush. She finally put her flute down and looked at the floor in embarrassment. Only then did anyone venture to break the silence with hesitant applause, after which the whole room erupted in an ovation. Loudest of all were the two musicians we'd heard earlier.
"Could you do that piece I heard you play back in Vegas?" I asked, when things quieted down a little. "You know, the platinum thing?" There was an immediate outbreak of entreaties for her to go ahead, and she finally bowed her head in acquiescence.
"All right," she conceded to her listeners. "Density 21.5, by Edgar Varèse. Twenty-one point five is the density of platinum," she added timidly.
I remember as she played seeing Gelhinda, lips half-parted, eyes wide and almost unblinking, raptly watching my mother as though she were trying to see every note as it emerged from the instrument. When the piece finished, it was almost as if she were reluctant to let go of the music, only finally applauding when my mother made a deep bow to acknowledge the enthusiastic audience.
"Would your mother be interested in playing with us later?" said a hesitant voice at my elbow. I turned to see the violinist we'd heard earlier. "We've got music for a Telemann trio sonata," she said. "We'd love a chance to try it out."
"I'll bet she would," I said. I wasted no time laying the idea in front of her. "What?" she exclaimed, horrified. "You want me to sight read it in front of all these people?"
"Sure," I said. "Look, it's a party, not a concert. At least give it a try." I was already so euphoric over the way things were going that I think by this time she knew I was unstoppable, so she reluctantly agreed.
I was all gung ho by now for them to start immediately, but my mother demanded that the guests at least be given a few minutes to actually socialize; after all, as I'd said myself, it was a party, not a concert. It did give me an opportunity to observe Brinkman a bit, so I didn't really mind.
It didn't take long for me to notice that one guest, the very attractive young woman who'd played one of the Deshtiran instruments at the previous soirée, was doing her best to let him know that she was, not to put too fine a point on it, available. Now this could be interesting, I thought, remembering his reputation as an alleged rake. He certainly didn't object to her presence, and the two were deeply engaged in conversation for a good part of the time. I couldn't hear the conversation, but I got the definite impression that he was putting on one of his "performances." At least once I spotted her discreetly running a finger up one of his legs. I was just beginning to really enjoy my first foray into sociological data collection when my mother and the other two musicians began tuning up for their sight-reading.
It went very well, with only a few stops here and there for one or another to find their place again. It turned out none of the three had ever attempted the piece before, so it was a level playing field, so to speak. The winner, of course, was the audience, which was delighted. It was well after eleven before the exhausted musicians, my mother included, were finally allowed to put away their instruments.
By now the guests were starting to drift away. One of them, to my considerable surprise, was the young woman who'd been so energetically pursuing Brinkman earlier. She finally left wearing what I thought was a distinctly crestfallen expression.
My reflections were interrupted by my mother, who was clearly in a state of rare excitement. "Hal," she said, "you'll never guess what happened." I was going to guess, but she didn't give me time. "They want me to join them on a regular basis, doing trios. In concerts. Real concerts!"
Apparently the flute is regarded on Deshtiris as a highly "exotic" instrument, and here she was, a trained specialist. It couldn't have worked out better if I'd planned it that way, which I hadn't, much as I'd like to take the credit. Well, her excitement couldn't help but be infectious, and so the evening came to a close on a thoroughly upbeat note.*
I was going to walk her back to our suite, but when I turned around next she was already deep in conversation with the other two musicians again, so I just told her I was going ahead. We did, after all, live in the same building as Brinkman, so it wasn't like I was abandoning her in a deserted neighborhood. Besides, Gelhinda assured me she'd see her back, so I finally stumbled off to bed by myself a half hour later, feeling thoroughly satisfied with the havoc I'd wrought.
I was awakened about two hours later as my mother stumbled into our suite. As best as I could extract the story from her, she and Gelhinda had spent the intervening time celebrating in a highly liquid manner. Mother, you're going to regret this tomorrow, I thought sadly, but I kept my comments to myself and just made sure that she made it safely into bed while hoping for the best.
"I'll never get to sleep at this rate," she protested as I tucked her in. "I'm just so excited about everything that's happened."
"It's really wonderful," I agreed. "Besides, you can sleep in tomorrow morning. Let me know if you need anything."
"Goodnight, Hal," she said. As I was about to leave, she added, "Thanks for what you did tonight."
"Goodnight, Mom," I said gently. When I looked in on her five minutes later, she was fast asleep.
* Enough with the music puns already, Haley. - Ed.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|