I am old. My backbones are out of place, my chair is uncomfortable. And Slava saw my right hand catching a spasm when he walked into my conservatory office.
"Dimitri Dimitiyevich," he said, "You write too much. And you think too much."
I tried to squeeze out a wry smile, "There is a lot to write about, and a lot to think about. For example," the twitching motions finally stopped, "this letter. The original copy went to the MFA earlier. They said it will be translated and sent."
Slava glanced at the piece of paper. "Do you think he would come? Maybe be he'll even play a concert again!" A twinkle shined in his eyes.
"You and he are a lot alike. Really. A lot." Before I could ask why, Slava dropped the paper onto my desk and strode towards the door, his large frame looms along all my paper piles that may fall over him anytime. "The memorial recital for Heinrich Gustavovich is tonight. I'm going to rehearsal now." His shadow waved me an apparent goodbye for now.
Well, Slava is always the most inscrutable one. If the young maestro from Canada and I are a lot alike --- I do not know what Slava meant by that, either --- then Slava and Masha share a lot more similarities. Both are mysterious, inscrutable, stubborn, and hopelessly passionate.
Now I am even more looking forward to finally meeting the young Canadian maestro. Of course, lecture-recitals should be arranged for conservatory students, and Masha should meet him too. I hope he will accept my invitation.
Masha's apartment is never dark, no matter the weather outside. It was iron grey when I left the conservatory, and it is raining hard now.
But she looks paler than usual. Maybe it's the usual steam from the tea cups. But her eyes never dimmed, ever since the days we were in the conservatory. Sometimes she reminds me of this icon I saw when I was a very young boy: the woman was crying, but her eyes and face were bright, firm with resolutions, and full of life. It left me a great impression.
"Mitya, it is so very kind of you to visit," her voice was steady but weary. "Has your back completely healed?" I hesitated and shook my head. "I can't sit long enough to play the piano, but I can sit long enough to still compose." Masha seemed to be amused by my little quip. She looked away at her piano in the far corner of the living room, then back to the table at my hands holding the tea cup. The rain didn't sound as harsh as the rain I walked into.
"Dimitri Dimitiyevich," she said, "Do you remember when Sergei Serveiyevich died?"
"That was..." No sooner did I opened my mouth, than I realized Masha did not in fact, ask a question. Nor did she expect an answer.
"And Vladimir Vladimirovich. And Heinrich Gustavovich..." Masha's words trudged on. She looked even paler, her tea cup was still full, and her voice dissipates into a whisper I could barely hear. "Maybe I will be next."
"Before that, Masha, you must, first, meet the young maestro from Canada then. You and he are a lot alike. A lot," Since when did I start talking like Slava? But it is true: Webern, Krenek, and Hindemith --- they will have a lot to talk about. "Slava loves him too. It is truly a pity that you and I were not in the concerts 12 years ago."
"Then, I will pray for your complete healing, and for my life long enough to meet the young maestro then," she smiled, and made the sign of the cross with the crucifix in her hand. There was a strange sense of comfort and assurance in these motions of hers.
I walked out into a rusty grey sky over my head. The rain finally stopped. And it's not even winter yet.
Nobody knows what he was really like. There is a mystique around him: about that dumpy chair that he'd never part with, about his stubborn habit of humming at the keyboard, about his absolute passion and devotion to music, and about his inscrutable private thoughts.
Some say his childhood back injury alerted him to human mortality, hence his so-called eccentricities. Some say he is a rebel, a maverick who smashes institutions, restrictions, and conventions to make true art. Some say he is a pioneer, a thinker too far ahead of his time, and only after his death, did the world catch up and start to appreciate his ingenious ideas and creations.
But there was never a shred of doubt, about the fact that he wrote this letter:
February 7th, 1970
Mr. Dimitri Shostakovich
In care of Embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Dear Mr. Shostakovich,
Thank you very much for your letter, and for the kind invitation to be your guest during the Tchaikovsky competition next June in Moscow. I am afraid I must regretfully decline, since my schedule during the coming year prohibits any extensive travel arrangements. But I very much appreciate your generous offer of hospitality.