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Woodwinds

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Therese Belivet is nearly 20 minutes early. Clutching a clarinet case tightly against her leg, she steps out of the December evening into the warmth of St. Paul’s Chapel. She is sure she’ll be the first person to arrive. However, after doors shut quietly behind her, she is surprised to hear sounds of an oboe. A scale is being played, filling the musty old church, notes lifting toward the ornate ceiling, twisting wildly, then tamed, up and down, adagio then allegro, tremolo to forte, eighth notes switch to thirds then morph seamlessly into quarter notes, winding sweetly about the landscape of an E-flat major scale. Therese has never heard a scale played like this. Never. Therese has never heard anything sound so beautiful. Ever.

Vibrations flow into every crevice of the chapel before carefully landing inside Therese. Dumbfounded in a dark corner of the cathedral lobby she hides, immobile, absorbing every nuance of pitch and tempo, savoring how each note sounds like it is being pulled and coaxed from the instrument with the slightest caress while a powerful vibrato extends the helpless notes into surrender. Delicate and overbearing, complex and simple, the scale becomes the single point of Therese’s awareness. She takes one tiny half step forward summoned toward the sound and its maker.

It’s just a scale. What the hell's wrong with me?

And, then she sees her.

The oboist is a fair skinned woman who sits on the far left side of the church. Her eyes are closed. Her shoes are off and bare feet are planted firmly on the marble flooring. She is utterly lost in her music; unaware of anyone else being with her in the church. Strong fingers glide up and down the intricate oboe keys while she rocks side to side, cropped blonde hair sways, long bangs brushing across her face and crashing briefly against her nose. She seems to disappear into an enigmatic language only she and the instrument speak.

Therese keeps walking mouse-like toward the front of the church feeling unsteady.

The scale stops.

Intense pale eyes open in a flash as the oboe player is aware of the consuming nature of the younger woman gazing at her from some 30 feet away. Everything in the room becomes ancient, entombed. Neither speak a word, lost in a thick cocoon of stillness that wraps them together.

A bony woman enters the church. Her cello case crashes loudly against the door breaking the spell between the two other women. The cellist looks at Therese, notices the clarinet case and smiles. “You must be our savior clarinet replacement?”

“Oh, yes, I’m a friend of your French horn player, Daniel.” Therese explains her apprehension about not being ready to perform with the group in just three weeks. The cellist is kind and encouraging, mentioning there are still two more practices. This does not console Therese. She walks with the cellist to the opposite side of the church from where the oboist sits. They put their instruments together, continuing small talk. Therese finishes clarinet assembly with a quick twist of the bell piece, quite aware of the oboist not joining the conversation and gazing vacantly at a stained glass window. Therese pretends to care about the cellist’s continued questions about where she studied clarinet and what she thinks of Columbia University. Therese can only think about what the oboist’s voice might sound like and how she could include her in the conversation. Think Belivet. But her tongue is thick and useless and every time she tries to make eye contact with the oboist, she is still looking away.

The church doors open. Two men approach. One is Therese’s friend who waves; the other is a distinguished, but flustered dark-haired man. “You made it!” Daniel hugs Therese. The other man extends his hand. “I’m Harge Aird,” he smiles briefly as wavy hair dangles windblown against his forehead. He thanks her for filling in for the group’s winter performance on such short notice.

“Oh, it’s no problem, really,” she says bashfully knowing Harge is not only the ensemble’s conductor but one of the deans of Columbia’s school of music. “I’m glad to help but very sorry about your clarinetist, um, Jack was it?” “Yes, Jack Taft,” says the conductor somberly. “It was a very unfortunate accident.” Harge takes his coat off and begins organizing chairs and music stands for the rest of the orchestra. “I’ll introduce you to everyone,” he says, “once they all arrive.” His originally cordial manner changes suddenly when he and the oboist exchange a strained look causing the blond woman to shift uneasily in her chair, traces of an eye roll surface before she turns away from him quickly and fumbles through her music.

All the chairs are assembled for the small chamber ensemble. Players continue milling in, noise levels rising as musicians get situated. Therese chats with Daniel. The oboist glances at them several times, but never makes eye contact, averting her eyes whenever Therese looks toward her. Despite other musicians now being near her, the blond does not interact with anyone. She gets up from her chair and saunters to the back of the church, cell phone in one hand oboe in the other. Therese pretends to listen to Daniel. Her head lifts slightly toward the back of the church.

“Therese? You seem preoccupied. Is everything alright?” Daniel smiles at her. She doesn’t ask him questions about the woman who plays oboe. But, she wants to.

“I’m sorry, I’m just a little nervous about catching up to speed with the group.”

“I told you, it’s pretty casual. Remember only 20 of us…just a few professors, Columbia grads and graduate students who put on a number of chamber performances each year.”

“Okay,” she tries to sound at ease, but knows very well it’s harder to hide in a smaller group. She will need extra practice to pull this off.

“Remember, even though it’s only one performance, Therese, this will look good on your application should you decide to apply to grad school here." He whispers his final thought into her ear: “And, it won’t hurt to make a good impression on Harge Aird.” With a nod she squeezes her friend’s hand before she heads toward the section of the stage where woodwinds are seated. When she asks where she should sit, the director answers. “Clarinet is to the right of oboe." He points to the empty chair next to where oboe sits. Christ. Therese looks at the empty chair as though it’s a pit of snakes. She’s prepared to dive into it head first if it means sitting next to… her. She stands there studying the chair stupidly before sitting down. The oboist’s elegant gray leather bag is sandwiched in between their two chairs. Therese thinks about moving it fully under the other woman’s chair mostly so she can touch it and rummage through its contents. Under the oboist’s chair sit a pair of stylish leather shoes: boxed heel low black pumps with mosaic designs etched throughout the shoe and heel. Therese happily imagines the woman reading messages on her phone somewhere in the church…in bare feet.

Harge addresses the group by announcing they’ll wait just a few more minutes until everyone arrives. When the oboist returns Therese is caught off guard, wetting her reed by sucking on it. How stupid she must look. Her cheeks flush. She watches as the woman tries to get to her chair by slipping in between her music stand and the flutist's next to her. The flutist is distracted talking to a musician behind her and at the exact moment the oboist tries to squeeze in between music stands, the flute player turns around abruptly, bumping into her. This knocks the oboist into her music stand, which shakes before scattering all of her music onto the floor. Before all papers hit the floor, the oboist bends down quickly in an attempt to catch a sheet drifting mid-air at the instant Therese does the same. A page from a special arrangement of Edvard Grieg’s “Wounded Heart, Op 34” almost hits the floor just as it is captured in between Therese’s right hand and the oboist’s left. Their hands cradle the paper softly. The oboist is on bent knee surveying Therese with a sensitive smile that leaves her lips as fast as the sheets of music fell on the floor. The apologizing flutist helps gather the other music from the floor.

Harge, a man of few words, stands in front of the group and quickly introduces Therese as a recent graduate of the University of Iowa music program here visiting her friend Daniel. While he’s talking, the oboist finishes organizing her music. She pulls black reading glasses from her jacket pocket and slides them above her nose in one refined push. She is completely aware of the clarinetist pretending not to notice her despite registering every painstaking movement she makes. She's noticing all of it. All of it.

The conductor goes through each musician quickly, all business, saying only their first name and instrument. Therese is barely listening, waiting for only one introduction.

“On oboe, Carol.”

Carol.

Chapter Text

Therese has heard the names of all ensemble members, though she only cared to learn one name. She lingers on the sound of it, acknowledging its extraordinarily perfect meaning.

Carol: a hymn. Yes.

The group begins tuning. As is tradition for orchestras, everyone tunes to an A played on the oboe. The conductor motions to Carol. She sits up rigid and proud, playing a single A-note like it is a beacon in a darkening fog. Strong, steady, boldly the A rings out and everyone makes minute adjustments accordingly. Therese alters her pitch slightly to match by loosening her overly tight embouchure, acquiescing, yielding to Carol and her effortlessly sublime “A”.

Harge rolls up his sleeves. Always wearing perfectly pressed white Oxford shirts and solid-colored ties. “Tonight I’d like to work mainly on Pavane and Elegiac Melodies. Therese, these are most demanding pieces for you we’re performing. So, let’s get right into it, shall we?” He looks at her with a smug wink.

They begin with Gabriel Faure’s Pavane Op 50 in F-sharp minor. This ensemble arrangement prominently features the group’s wind instruments: flute, clarinet, and oboe, including solos for each instrument respectively.

Therese practiced all of the ensemble’s music a few times the day before, after Daniel gave it to her. Otherwise, she’ll be winging it. She feels a sudden tightness in her gut and bites her upper lip.

Harge’s arms rise, head cocks forward as baton cues the strings first. Violins, viola, cello and bass begin softly. He yells out “pianissimo” and then “largamente” and the musicians drop their volume to a dignified whisper. The woodwinds enter several measures later.

Therese suddenly feels timid. Her rapidly darting eyes interpret notes on the page as complex code: black dots she suddenly can’t navigate. Then, she becomes completely cognizant of one thing. Carol is next to her. Carol’s upper body moves smoothly, making tiny circles. Round and round, then she rocks forward and back. Forward and back. Graceful, unhurried. No one will make her hurry. No one. Calm washes over Therese as she follows the sounds of Carol’s oboe, reaching out for it, hands clutching onto the oboist’s arm in a blinding storm, walking with her, then running. Running to safety.

Carol sets the tempo, increases volume, pushing in some places, letting up in others, guiding Therese through the maze of black dots falling like rain from a cruel sky. The clarinetist is nearly playing blindly, feeling she could close both eyes and still be led safely by Carol, led completely through the music. They take breaths at the exact same moments. They are together.

Perfectly. Together.

Carol feels it, the clarinetist connecting with her music, matching her, this young woman from the Midwest. Iowa was it? She is floored by how natural it feels to play alongside this strange, quiet creature. It’s effortless, navigating with Therese, shepherding her through what are surely unchartered musical seas for the clarinetist. Carol feeds her cues and watches her respond at exactly the right instant.

Where did you come from? What planet or Iowa cornfield do you call home?

Flute, oboe and clarinet hold onto an F-sharp. Therese matches Carol’s vibrato, their instruments singing out, voices mixing together, making it difficult to discern where each begins or ends. At measure 24 a flute solo takes over. Carol turns her head toward Therese, a look of disbelief on her face. Their eyes meet and a reciprocal message is exchanged: Holy shit.

While the flutist plays her solo, Harge leans toward her, setting the pace with energetic hands. He notices the exchange between oboe and clarinet. Feeling their ease performing together for the first time, everyone in the room feels it. He’s heard Carol practice this piece with the group’s former clarinetist, Jack. They never sounded like this. They were simply two people sitting next to each other who happened to be playing the same song. That’s all.

But, Carol and Therese…

Their flawless and instinctual musical union sends a trickle of envy throughout every cell in Harge’s stiffening body. The trickle rapidly grows into a river. He watches them catching tiny loaded glances at each other in a way he’s never seen Carol look at anyone before. But it’s mostly how the complex oboist turns away delicately, shyly from Therese when their eyes meet. Yes, this unhinges him the most.

Therese’s solo approaches in two measures. Harge secretly hopes she finds it difficult. She commences with a sweet G half note, attacking it and each full-bodied note that follows, performing not for the esteemed conductor or anyone else in the room, except... She breathes life into the wooden stick held within her petite hands. Her music reaches Carol’s inner ear, triggering brain cells to fire, exciting entire ensembles of cells. Her brain busily maps out low to high note frequencies in an orderly fashion. Cells continue firing excitedly, oozing out rich messages throughout Carol’s receptive body. She is in sensory overload. Her breathing becomes slow and irregular. She turns her head so slowly and slightly toward Therese, watching her clarinet bobbing up and down. Up and down, disbelieving what she’s hearing. She is warm and safe, swimming away on a rolling blue wave of intoxicating slurred notes.

She’s playing for me. This is all for me.

Harge experiences every infinitesimal change in Carol’s posture, her sensuously flushed face, her relaxed facial muscles, the way she’s utterly absorbed inside Therese’s solo. His face jumps from pink to red in a matter of microseconds. He suddenly and dramatically stops the solo.

“Therese, you’re rushing!”

“It’s to be played andante, not allegro.” He hums the melody, an example of what he’s looking for, then loudly taps his baton on the edge of his music stand in time with what he considers acceptable.

Carol looks toward the conductor. Bullshit. She opens her mouth to speak. A nearly audible “B” sound almost spilling out. Then, she stops herself.

“Try it again,” he raises his baton arrogantly as though preparing to lead Therese into combat.

“Okay,” Therese responds modestly, puzzled by this turn of events. Carol picks up on the young woman’s unease. She replays her solo section.

“Still a bit rushed. But better. A bit better.”

Carol thinks You’ve got to be kidding me. She gives Therese a smile that could heal the dying, communicating her disagreement through the faintest tilt of her head, eyes focused now on the girl’s clarinet rather than her face. Carol’s expression is full of steely encouragement and Therese feels it strengthen her.

The practice wraps up at 8pm. Harge reminds everyone they only have two more practices until the concert on the 21st. He passes out an updated list of musician contact info. “I finally got around to updating the list and I know this could be easily emailed out, but I’m old school. I had my assistant print it because you all know I’m from the 20th century. We like paper.” When Harge gets to Therese, he hesitates before handing a sheet to her. “Oh, I guess you don’t need one,” he says directing his comment more to Carol than to Therese.

“No, I guess not” she says. But of course she wants that list. Of course she wants it.

Harge hands the oboist the updated list.

“I don’t need that,” she says coldly.

“Carol,” he speaks in a serious tone peppered with remote undercurrents of condescension, “I’d like to speak with you. Do you have a minute now?” Therese can’t help but hear, sitting awkwardly in such suffocating and close proximity. What she hears is not "I’d like to speak with you” but “Carol, I’d like to have complete control over you.”

“As a matter of fact, Harge,” Carol says pushing music into her gray leather bag, “no, I don’t have time right now.”

“It will only take a minute.” She is putting her long black coat on over a tailored gray business pant suite.

“What’s this about Harge?”

“Let’s talk in the lobby,” he motions to the front doors.

“Fine,” Carol flips hair back from her face then begins walking away, taking long, unwavering steps toward the lobby. Harge sets down the contact lists he’s not finished passing out. “I’ll leave these here. Grab one on your way out. See you next week.” He catches up to Carol. Therese watches sadly as the space between them grows. She is about to disappear into a corner of the chapel lobby (in nearly the same spot where Therese was transfixed earlier, listening to her scales). Then she turns around. She turns around. As Carol looks at her for perhaps only 5 fleeting seconds, she seems very far away, yet close enough to touch. Lonely eyes speak two despairing words.

Save me.

Therese forlornly shuts her clarinet case and gathers her things. She looks for Daniel. “I’ll be right back. Just need to hit restroom real quick. Wait right here.”

“Sure” she says.

She’s thinking of Carol. That’s it.

When voices in the lobby rise, she tunes in completely. She can’t make out what is being said, despite trying, her ears acting like sniffing dogs eager to uncover any clues. Then she hears Carol’s voice tinged with irritation and fatigue. “Oh, please, Harge.” The front door opens immediately and Carol walks through it as though she’s disinterested in ever returning. He is holding onto her wrist. She flicks his hand away. The doors shut and he is left standing there.

Therese looks away and walks toward the back of the church to escape Mr. Aird.

One of the violinists approaches the conductor as he walks back into the chapel. She is probably a graduate student Therese guesses, clearly enamored with the man as she acts overly familiar, asking too many questions about one of the courses he’ll be teaching next semester. She is oblivious to either his mood or circumstances. After he packs up, the two of them leave together. The woman stands a little too close. He is distant and disinterested.

Daniel, still in the restroom, leaves Therese the sole person remaining in the church. She walks to where Carol was sitting, glancing at her chair wondering, worried. Praying, though she is not religious and doesn’t know why she’s sending words of support into the great unknown for a woman she doesn’t even know.

Damn it, why am I concerned about this woman, she’s a stranger? I’ve not even spoken to her. Well, not with words anyway.

Then she sees them. Carol’s black reading glasses are resting on her music stand. She looks toward the front door. The woman is long gone by now; she’d never catch her. Therese picks up the glasses holding them as though they are made of blown glass. She is happy with them just resting there in her hands, knowing all the things they have helped Carol to see. She imagines the woman’s soft blue eyes looking through them and out into the world. But most importantly she imagines Carol looking at the musical notes on the page and then she imagines Carol seeing her. She places the glasses in her coat pocket tenderly, as if she’ll be carrying home a baby bird.

“Ready to go?” Daniel returns. She notices his copy of the updated contact list. It sits on top of his horn case. “Hold this for a sec, will ya?” He hands her the list.

Therese can’t help trying to read it, eager to learn something. Anything.

And, there it is. The first name at the top reads: Carol Aird.

Carol who?

Carol what?

A-I-R-D!

What the hell?

Chapter Text

Carol

With a click of her fob key and one last glance over her shoulder she practically dives into her cashmere metallic Lexus sedan. Leather bag and oboe case fly onto the passenger seat, thrown and shoved in a single, athletically powerful motion. She drops down into the leather seat lifeless and worn out. She lowers her head until her forehead rests on a taupe colored steering wheel gripped tightly in between clenched fists.

She’s walked fast from St. Paul’s to here, oboe case swaying like a pendulum in time with a livid, hasty tempo, snow mixed with rain spitting tiny wet flakes into her face. Each step expands the distance between her and Harge. The locked car is her temporary sanctuary.

“Let me go, Harge. Let me go.”

It's a plea whispered desperately with warm breath hitting cold air that floats up, up. Let me go. The whispered wish appears on the windshield then quickly fades away.

Tear-filled eyes, a key in the ignition, fumbling fingers pushing buttons and Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor becomes her chosen traveling companion.

“Let me go.”

Volume inches up as Carol’s sedan heads north on Church Street, loud, louder still until it roars, vibrating off every surface in the car. She drives fast, too fast cranking a left onto Reade Street, new tears wiped away with a sleeve. The orchestra strings cry out their demands with an almost sinister assertion of power. Wind instruments reply, led by the most angelic oboe, beckoning gently, yet assertively resonating the instrument’s rich voice, reasoning with the strings and changing the tone of the piece altogether. A driving energy feels like a negotiation between various sections of the orchestra propelling the music.

Road conditions change. Wet snow turns to ice. Carol is oblivious to the veneer forming beneath her. A yellow light, brakes slam and the slide begins. Lexus lunges sideways like an out of control sled. Carol, her car, her oboe, her bag, Harge holding on, not letting go, it’s all careening sideways, out of control and into the intersection as violins screech out split second sixteenth notes with a dangerous fury.

 

Therese

Dan’s apartment is small, but neat. Therese sits on his living room couch; it’s been her bed while she visits. She holds Carol’s glasses, running her fingers over thick black edges and in places where there are hints of light brown tortoise shell. The whole way home she kept one hand protectively wrapped around the glasses, sheltering them in her pocket. She wonders what it would be like to look through these lenses to see into Carol’s world with her own naïve eyes. It scares her to think about it. She tucks the glasses gently in between soft clothes in her suitcase.

The discovery of Carol’s last name is still a shock. She questioned Dan about why he didn’t tell her she’d be playing alongside the conductor’s wife. His reason was sincere enough: not wanting to make her more nervous. She shouldn’t be mad at him since he’s the one who convinced fastidious Mr. Aird to even let an unknown girl from the “sticks” play in his ensemble.

“Well,” she told Dan, “the conductor clearly wasn’t impressed with me and doesn’t even seem to like me, I blew it, didn’t I? I’m sorry I let you down. It feels pointless to even consider grad school here now.”

“Your solo was perfect,” he reassured her, chalking up the conductor’s strange behavior to over-perfectionism. The young man is not discerning enough to understand the true issue driving Harge’s “conduct”. All the musicians, especially Harge Aird, a gifted violinist himself, caught on to how well she played, particularly with his wife.

“What do you know about Carol?” She asked Dan and immediately felt foolish as the words catapulted out of her mouth.

He suggested Therese Google Carol and poked her arm with a grin explaining how little he knows about either Aird. He’s finishing up his first class with Professor Aird and Carol used to work with woodwinds at the university-- that’s all he knows.

Therese doesn’t tell Dan she is sick since stepping foot in the chapel. She doesn’t mention her compromised immune system, outgunned. She caught it so quickly, immediately after listening to one infectious scale while cowering unprotected in the chapel. It makes her angry to be sick; she has so many decisions to make about her life.

Standing in Dan’s tiny kitchen, she feels claustrophobic and is overcome by the need to run. She changes clothes, grabs her iPod and heads out into the cold Manhattan night.

She walks fast, tries to clear her head, but feels ready to fight. Someone. Sputtering snowflakes land softly on her hair. She remembers the sad look on Carol’s face before she left the chapel. Then she thinks about Harge Aird. She shuffles through most of the classical music on her device, until she finds the song she needs. Therese begins to run.

Drum and electric guitar start steady, restrained, until they explode in Therese’s ears at the exact moment Carol begins driving fast along Church Street. Red Hot Chili Peppers rapid snare drum pounds a steady beat while Mozart’s strings scream madly. Rapid sixteenth and eighth notes mix together frantically pounding against each other, pounding hard, crashing into each other as the songs connect.

White heat is screaming in the jungle/Complete the motion if you stumble

Therese runs faster; Carol pushes down on the accelerator.

Music, the great communicator/Use two sticks to make it in the nature

Therese turns a corner and hits a patch of ice; Carol slams on the brakes.

The world I love/The tears I drop

Mozart’s woodwinds cry out as a bass guitar pops out E-sharp, A, B, D… Powerful guitar riffs make furious love with screaming violas as Therese’s shoes find no traction. The brown Lexus hurdles sideways in slow motion as Therese throws her hands out in front of her to brace for the fall.

Use my hands for everything but steering/Can’t stop, the spirits when they need you/This life is more than just a read-through

 

Carol

She fights the slide, turning the wheel hard. Counterclockwise, round and round, hands spin. It’s all a dream: a slow absence of reality. It’s all moving larghissimo, 24 painstaking beats per minute. Mozart’s symphony still blasts, but now accompanies her terror. Sweet oboe solo rises above the orchestra, crying with delicate vibrato, holding on, reasoning, trying to calm angry strings that eventually crash in again and overtake the woodwind.

Violins screech with determination while she slides into the intersection, blond hair slapping against cheeks, a terrified look on the face of a taxicab driver who she barely misses.

During it all, she is outside the car, standing on the sidewalk. Watching. How did she get here? It was easy really, simple missteps, a gradual loss of control, bit by bit until she no longer follows the true rhythm…of her own heart.

Let me go, Harge. Let me go.

Hand over hand, counterclockwise, now clockwise, trying to correct this wild slide, fighting until the car eventually lands all the way through the intersection, grinding brakes burn, tires smoke, pungent smell of sizzling rubber. With trembling limbs and racing heart, she moves the car forward slowly. Slowly. She manages to steer herself to the side of the road. With engine off she sits there. Still, stunned. That’s when it becomes perfectly clear. She knows now what she’s been trying to do with Harge. She’s been trying to correct a skid.

Breathing in and out rhythmically, in and out, filling her quivering abdomen, her thoughts wander to the clarinetist, the girl from the middle of nowhere.

Her forehead rests once more on the steering wheel. And again it becomes hard to breathe.

 

Therese

After picking herself up off the sidewalk, she limps until finding a place to sit. She pulls her phone out and types in Carol’s cell number. She only saw the number once on that sheet of paper, but she committed it to memory.

Carol, this is Therese, the clarinet player from practice. I found glasses you left. If you need them before next rehearsal, I can bring them to you. She waits. Nothing. And waits. She goes back to Dan's apartment and lies on the couch staring at the ceiling. Still. Nothing. 45 minutes pass. And then.

Therese, would you meet me tomorrow 1pm? Do you know Joe Coffee at the university?

Yes. And, yes.

Chapter Text

Piano Keys

Carol Aird knows what she is about to do later this afternoon-- meet the curious girl from the Midwest-- is not a good idea. It is not a good idea for her and even worse for the chestnut-haired angel who plays the clarinet as if possessed by the devil.

But, it cannot be stopped. It transcends unsophisticated concepts such as good or bad and leaves behind the only rational course of action: surrender. A detonator ticking, their connection leaves no disconnect cord and they are destined to… explode.

She heads out of her newly rented apartment early en route to a Friday ritual of morning yoga. There is frost in the air as she heads north, rubbing cold gloved hands together. Her mind wanders to last night-- it seemed to drag slowly after receiving Therese’s “yes” text. A marriage of euphoria and melancholy pulsed throughout her body the entire night, mixed messages making her sit up late, restless. She couldn’t sleep initially, poured herself a glass of wine. And then another. She wandered to her newly purchased studio piano full of a need for release. Some kind of release.

Instinctively fingers of her right hand found the keys: G#, A#, F. Her left hand on bass keys joined with diminished G# chord. Notes flooded over the entire keyboard. Feelings masquerading as sound escaped, a wonderful cry from the belly of the piano where hammers, flanges, capstans repeatedly made contact tenderly at first then with a primal need originating from somewhere deep, hidden amongst layers of Carol’s own complexity.

Not able to play as long or loud as desired for fear of disturbing neighbors, she quickly wrote down the melody that poured from her insides. Hair tied in a ponytail fell wildly loose as she documented the sounds onto a sheet of music staff paper.

Later, in bed, her eyes passed over the notes, revisiting the melody softly in her brain until the notes on the sheet of paper became a blur and she fell asleep holding onto the paper, holding onto the song.

 

Computer Keys

Therese wakes up early. It is Friday morning, December 12. She will meet Carol this afternoon.

Dan already left for early morning physics lab. She eats a breakfast of toast with peanut butter, a banana and coffee. Her laptop waits on the tiny dining room table and it’s time to continue her research on master’s of music programs. She spends 20 minutes on this task before her thin fingers wander unhurriedly first over the C key, then the A… She’s typing so slowly the computer keys make delicate, melodious little clicking sounds. The first hit: The New York Philharmonic homepage.

What? Carol Aird plays with the New York Philharmonic?

In the list of musicians, there she is, a close-up photograph of Carol holding her oboe, wearing what appears to be a black sequin gown. She’s not smiling nor looking directly at the camera. Her bio reads:

Carol Reed Aird joined the New York Philharmonic in April of this year as second chair oboe. She held the same position with the New York City Opera Orchestra from 2011-2013. Ms. Aird has appeared as soloist with the New York Symphonic Ensemble, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra as well as various ensembles at both Columbia University and the Manhattan School of Music. She was previously on the woodwind faculty at Columbia University. She holds a bachelor’s from Boston University and a Master’s from the Manhattan School of Music.”

Therese reads it three times before closing the laptop. She stares out the tiny kitchen window, feeling small and insignificant and not at all up to the tasks unfolding here in New York. She feels unprepared for all of it: playing with Columbia’s chamber ensemble in two short weeks, fitting in with these Ivy League musicians and figuring out what she should do with her music. She lets out a deep breath that’s suffocating her.

She goes back to her computer and reads about music programs at schools in the Midwest. Home.

 

Apartment Keys

Harge Aird knows what he’s about to do is wrong. But, he does it anyway. At 7:45 am he parks his black BMW two blocks south of Carol’s newly rented apartment. He knows the address, she told him—something she will soon regret. But even without her disclosure, it would be easy enough for him to find it out amongst their shared friends.

He knows she leaves for yoga early on Friday mornings—all year she rarely missed a session. He sits in the coffee shop across the street waiting. At 7:55am Carol appears out of the apartment’s front entrance, yoga mat poking out of her back pack. She walks north.

When she is out of sight, Harge walks to her building and buzzes the manager’s office. He knows he shouldn’t. But, he does it anyway, propelled by sadness and madness. When it comes to matters of the heart, passion and reason never exist simultaneously. A young woman’s voice is heard “Yes?”

“Hello, this is Professor Harge Aird, I’m a senior professor at Columbia’s School of Music. My wife, Carol Aird, signed a lease for our unit #324 recently.” He goes on to explain he’s just returned from a concert trip out of town where he thinks he lost his apartment keys.

“My wife left already and can't be reached. Could you possibly let me into our unit quickly, I just need to grab something for work? I have identification.”

Harge is lucky. On this day the woman manning the office is young and inexperienced and easily charmed by the voice of a confident, older man. She is filling in for the entire next week for her uncle, the usual apartment manager who is recovering from a medical procedure. She buzzes Harge into the building after verifying the last name Aird on the lease. When they meet in her office, he immediately senses his power of influence over her. He flashes a photo ID as well as a toothy smile and manages to convince her to let him into the apartment.

“I’m embarrassed to tell my wife I’ve misplaced keys. Is it possible for me to get another set without telling her? My track record lately for losing things has caused some friction between us. Can we keep this our little secret?” He laughs at just the right time, in the perfect tone, convincingly, sickeningly.

She will have copies of keys made for him. They will be ready for pick up the next day.

The young woman walks Harge to Carol’s unit on the third floor. She opens the door for him and the significance of her lack of judgment at this moment will eventually lead to the closure of future metaphoric doors for both of them.

Harge doesn’t even know what led him here, to Carol’s new place. What does he think he’ll find? Perhaps evidence of a new lover: a man’s clothes in the closet, a woman's, condoms in a drawer, or he fears most clarinet music scattered, spread about the table? Maybe it’s the chance to exist among her things for a minute and pretend it’s not ending. He stands in the entryway, knowing yet again how wrong it is to be here.

He takes in the tiny touches of Carol: a vase of her favorite flowers, hyacinths, on the dining room table, framed New York street photography hanging neatly in the entryway. He wanders to a studio piano. The rich cherry wood finish is shiny, a Carol purchase for a new life without him. His thick fingers strike a C key, then an A.

He let’s the woman at the front desk know he’s leaving. “You’ll lock our unit up then?” he smiles.

“Of course, Mr. Aird.”

“And, remember, mums the word to Mrs. Aird.”

She waves him off and gets into the elevator to lock the unit back up.

He walks out of the apartment building. He will be back tomorrow to pick up the keys. He knows Carol has a concert tomorrow evening. He'll pick them up then.

 

Church Keys

Therese is the first to arrive at Columbia University’s Joe Coffee. She is exceptionally lucky to find a table in this crowded university hub during finals week. Natural light, even on this winter day, floods through floor-to-ceiling glass windows on all sides of the building that overlooks Broadway and 120th Streets. She scans the room one more time to make sure she didn’t miss finding Carol already here.

The need to look busy overcomes her. Perhaps she should hold her phone and shuffle through text messages? Or find a newspaper and look like she’s reading? Yes, these are options; yet, what she really wishes she could do is push her face against the windows and watch, like a puppy dog, and wait for Carol. She decides to look at her phone.

When Carol walks through the front doors fifteen agonizing minutes later, Therese can feel her. She’s here. But the younger woman does not look up. No. She wants to be found by Carol.

Carol scans the room, certain she will not run into Harge because he teaches a class until 3:30pm. Also, he finds it ill-advised for professors to frequent places students socialize. He dislikes her habit of regularly getting coffee here. “It’s bad form, Carol.”

“Therese?”

Carol’s voice is clear and penetrating, ironically reminding Therese of the pure sound of an oboe readily audible over other instruments in even large ensembles.

“Carol,” Therese looks up.

“I’m sorry I’m late. Have you been waiting long?”

“Oh, no, I just got here a minute or two ago,” she lies.

Therese cautiously removes Carol’s reading glasses from her purse. They are wrapped in a clean handkerchief that she bought solely to transport them in. She slides them, still in the cloth, across the table to Carol who is removing her dark brown North Face parka. Carol smiles at the care Therese has taken over her own carelessness.

“Thank you, Therese. Can I buy you a coffee, or something? You’ve been very kind. I would have been disappointed to lose my newest prescription reading glasses.”

“Oh, you don’t need to do that, I’m just glad I saw that you’d left them.”

Therese is overwhelmed, unable to imagine how this woman, oboist for the New York Philharmonic, could possibly relate to her or find her interesting. Carol reaches out her hand and places three fingertips gently on top of Therese’s hand.

“Please, let me.” Her voice is raw and cracks faintly.

Therese is incapacitated imagining these fingertips flicking the shiny silver keys of Carol’s oboe at precisely the right moment. Yes, she would let this woman do almost anything.

“Yes, um, okay.” Her mouth is open slightly as she follows Carol to the counter.

They both order espressos and cookies and return to the exceptional table Therese found for them. It looks directly across the street to Riverside Church, the enormous Neo-Gothic structure, the tallest church in the U.S.

”Where’d you learn to play clarinet like that?” Carol takes a tiny sip of her drink.

Something in the way the older woman asks, disarms Therese. She forgets about pedigrees and ivy leagues, controlling husbands and her own unknown plans. She opens gently and slowly to the oboist until she finds herself pouring, sliding out all over Carol.

Therese tells her how she was a foster kid until she was 14. She’d been shuffled from home to home. Then, she was adopted at 14. She says her parents saved her and noticed her natural musical abilities. “They introduced me to the clarinet.” She describes her parents, middle class Midwesterners, who are anything but average. An ardent music lover, her mom, in particular, encouraged Therese, carting her to piano and clarinet lessons, attending all her concerts. She’d never seen her parents more proud than when she got a full music scholarship. And, when Dan invited her to visit, her parents embraced it, telling her to stay as long as she needs to, wants to. “Rezzy, have a good time, NYC is surely more interesting than Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” they told her before she left. “Take time to figure out what you want to do next.”

Carol listens to every detail, realizing the wide chasm that separates their experiences. She wishes she could fill those gaps with whispers in the dark and more touches with her fingertips reaching across the table.

When it is Carol’s turn to share details about her own life, she aptly manages to duck and weave.

“So, Daniel, your friend, is that boyfriend?” As soon as Carol asks, she hears her question fall flat, out of tune.

Rather than answer, Therese replies, “So, Harge Aird is your husband?”

Carol’s posture turns instantly rigid, she sits up straight, a spring in her spine activated, pursing her lips slightly she looks out the window lost in not knowing the best way to navigate a response.

“I’m sorry,” Therese stammers “I don’t mean... I don’t know why I said that?”

“Yes you do,” Carol looks at her honestly, bravely. She looks at her hands then down at the Portuguese marble flooring under her feet. “Harge and I are divorcing… slowly. It’s proving rather, well… complicated as I’m sure you sensed yesterday.” Carol’s already shared too much, she doesn’t want to talk about it, the therapy and marriage counseling last year, the divorce papers she filed that he won’t sign, her new apartment. Taking tiny, gigantic steps forward and away from him, the steps she’s been taking for months… years...trying to correct the skid.

Rather than pry, Therese says the most perfect thing Carol could possibly hear right now. “No, Daniel is not my boyfriend.”

“Therese, I’m not coming to the last two practices. But, I will be there on the 21st for the performance.”

Therese looks away.

“Would you like to meet me a time or two before the concert? I can help you get ready, to, well, blow Harge’s little mind.”

They make plans to meet on Sunday, 5pm. Carol will pick her up outside Dan’s apartment. They’ll practice at St. Paul’s. All masses are over by then and Columbia ensemble members have a standing invitation from the church to use the facility. Carol, as a former music professor, still has church keys. As they make plans, Carol’s phone buzzes repeatedly. She glances at it briefly. “I have to go, Therese.” She is rushed, like Cinderella before midnight.

“See you Sunday.”

Chapter Text

Saturday - Therese

It’s frigid and blustery in Manhattan. Therese walks toward campus to meet Dan and his girlfriend for lunch. Her reddish-brown hair hangs down to her shoulders, a green stocking hat covers her head. She’s on her cell phone chatting with her parents as she does most Saturdays.

“I don’t think I fit in here,” she says. “I should bag this East Coast master’s in music and settle for a school closer to home. Maybe get a teaching degree in music and work in high school, even back home?”

“Honey, you’ve outgrown us and Iowa. Have these people you don’t fit in with heard you play?”

“Well, yes, some… it’s complicated.” Her voice trails off and she feels like crying into the phone confessing to her parents how terribly mixed up she is. “I’m thinking at least Columbia and New York doesn’t feel right, for now anyway.” But, the thought of never seeing Carol Reed Aird again…How silly, she thinks, making decisions about her future based on a woman she just met who’s involved in a messy divorce from a man who Therese would have to see regularly if she was a Columbia graduate student. Not to mention the man doesn’t like her which makes chances of getting into Columbia even slimmer.

Therese wants to tell her parents about the Philharmonic oboist who thinks she’s talented and who she’ll practice with tomorrow at 5:30pm. She wants to tell them how the sound of Carol playing an ordinary scale is the most wonderful thing she’s ever heard.

But, she doesn’t tell them about any of that.

 

Saturday - Carol

Carol watches trees sway dramatically outside her apartment window. She’s nearly ready to meet her dearest friend, Abby Gerhard, for early lunch. The café where they meet is one of their typical spots. Though small and shabby, it serves excellent food. Norman Rockwell paintings decorate each booth. They greet one another warmly.

“I’ve already ordered, I’m hungry and you’re late,” Abby has an infectious habit of being direct and humorous simultaneously. She wastes no time directing conversations where they need to go: “Talk to me, Carol, how is everything? Is Harge still an ass?” This is the same question she’s been asking since Carol married him four years ago.

Carol barely laughs then sighs.

“He’s in denial. He thinks we can still salvage this marriage. The more I move on, even move out for God’s sake, the more he holds on.” Leaving her faculty post at Columbia was a sacrifice she thought worth taking to gain distance from him, but all it did was make him more possessive, more demanding of reconciliation.

Abby shakes her head and squeezes Carol’s hand in solidarity.

There is brief talk of Carol’s recent visit to her lawyer’s office. Since New York is a no-fault state, Harge’s contesting the divorce won’t ultimately stop it, but can prolong it and he’s taking up precious time being “delusional” and bickering over settlement terms.

“We may need to go to court, to divide things up and finalize this without his signature, I don’t know.” Carol is clearly fatigued with it all. Abby changes the topic. They discuss their plans for the day. Abby and her girlfriend will shop for a rug then see an evening movie. After lunch, Carol is meeting Gabriel, the Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist and tonight is her first of many holiday performances of Handel’s Messiah.

“Why are you meeting the clarinet guy?”

“He’s loaning me one of his Buffet clarinets.”

“Aren’t you bored enough with oboe?” Abby always laughs hardest at her own jokes.

Carol decides her friend doesn’t need to know details. She’s vague. “It’s for someone in the Columbia University ensemble group.”

“Oh, Christ, Carol you’re still playing in that, with Harge?”

Abby’s right. She stayed at first out of habit and now she’s hopeful he might sign the papers if she remains in his life “somewhat”. It makes Carol sound like the delusional party.

“You’ll be happy to know I’m skipping the last two practices and after our concert December 21st, I’m done.” She doesn’t tell Abby she’ll be practicing with someone from the group. She doesn’t tell her how there was a spark when she and the young clarinetist made music together and how she can’t wait to see her again tomorrow.

No, she doesn’t tell her about any of that.

 

Sunday

It’s 4:55pm and Therese stands outside Dan’s apartment, coat clutched tight with one hand, clarinet case held in the other. Waiting for Carol brings skies twirling ominously, temperatures drop and winds from the north moan: warnings of something powerful to come. Three minutes later Carol’s Lexus slides up like an ethereal carriage to sweep them away to some far away land. There is no parking directly in front of the apartment building so Therese jumps in quickly, making the driver behind wait.

“Hello Therese,” Carol tries to contain how happy she is to see her.

“Hi Carol.” Therese’s heart beats faster. They comment on the stormy weather and how they hear winds may be over 50 mph later. Carol says storms excite her; Therese says they scare her. They drift into comfortable quiet charged with anticipation. The leather seats in Carol’s car are supportive, but soft and warm. The oboist had turned on the passenger seat heater five minutes earlier. The Lexus glides down cold, dark streets passing blowing twigs and stray pieces of trash. The two women feel safe in the protective bubble of Carol’s car that separates them from the madness of the world around them.

“I’m expecting to see the wicked witch of the west pedaling her bike out here right about now, aren’t you?” Therese laughs at how funny and corny Carol can be. Therese takes everything about this moment in: how clean the inside of the car is; its beautiful taupe interior; the small hairbrush, chap stick and hand lotion sitting in a shelf under the stereo; the coffee resting in a cup holder… She watches Carol drive with strong hands on the wheel, the way she checks her blind spot quickly, confidently, hair tossing back and forth like a hoop skirt twisting during dance. Therese has never thought driving a car could be beautiful. It is when Carol does it.

Carol catches glimpses of Therese in her periphery, almost aware of how the other woman’s insides, like her own, are a blender perpetually on high since Thursday evening, churning up everything, altering them both. She can almost feel how each of them is being rewired… to fit together.

“Would you like to listen to music?” Carol breaks the silence.

“Okay.” Therese is curious what kind of music Carol would listen to while driving around the streets of New York. She selects a popular rock station. Both of them, one with a classically trained ear and the other with a natural gift, can’t help analyzing everything about the song that plays: its D-flat major key signature, alternating E-flat five and A-flat seven chord structure. An accordion plays rolling eighth notes and triplets to start things off. Therese is surprised Carol would enjoy this slightly hard rock music, watching her left hand tap the steering wheel. They both become lost in the song.

I need to move/I need to fight/I need to lose myself tonight

I think with my heart/I move with my head

Carol uses her keys to unlock the chapel. “I should probably return these keys,” she whispers “but this is my favorite place to play. I often come here alone at night.”

Therese stands behind Carol, captivated by this grand church with its Northern Italian Renaissance style, arched windows and dome topped with green ceramic tiles. She notices the plaque affixed to the red brick and limestone exterior marking the historic building’s 1906 dedication. The first time she was here Therese didn’t take note of all these things. Being here, alone with Carol tonight... it’s different. She’s seeing everything for the first time.

The wind whips at their backs as they rush inside. Though a light is on in the lobby entrance, the rest of the church is dark. Carol finds the light switch and it all comes to life.

“Did you know the architect who designed this church, his great masterpiece, is buried here with his wife? Well, their ashes are here anyway.” Carol points to a section of the church indicating exactly where they were laid to rest.

“Therese, I have something for you.” She hands her a clarinet case. “It’s on loan from a clarinetist I know. I think you’ll like the way it sounds. It’s a very well-made instrument.” Carol hands Therese an $8,000 French clarinet owned by the Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist. The younger woman does not know how to respond.

“Oh, Carol.” Her mouth drops open. “You didn't need to do that. Are you sure it’s okay for me to borrow it?”

“Of course, Gabriel has many clarinets. He won’t miss this one for a few weeks. Put it together and try it out.” Carol begins gathering two chairs and music stands. “What type of reeds do you use?” she inquires while Therese finishes putting the clarinet together. The reed she was about to put into her mouth is handed to Carol, her eyes wide with wonder about what the oboist will think of it, this thin piece of wood that vibrates between her bottom lip and instrument mouthpiece. Carol side-eyes the reed then hands it back without comment. She gives Therese a box of new reeds. “Here, use these. La Voz #4’s. Or at least we’ll start breaking them in tonight.” Carol places her own double oboe reed into a small bottle of water. “Like to soak?” she looks at Therese playfully.

Therese drops one of the new reeds into the water next to Carol’s reed. She watches them soak in the same water, staring at the touching reeds for an unnaturally long amount of time.

Carol suggests they focus on the Pavane Op. 50. It includes the clarinet solo Harge criticized. “Let’s dissect this piece and put it back together.” She’s suddenly intense, all business. They tune their instruments to one another, the storm outside growing stronger though they are barely aware. Carol’s back arches delicately as they begin, eyes meet with a resonating whole note. Neither woman has felt this whole playing a whole note before, holding onto it together for its full four beats. They listen captivated by the thought of their warm breath changed into sound waves commingling, sister instruments from the same family joined sympathetically.

Therese likes the feel of the new clarinet in between her hands. She’s a Kia driver behind the wheel of a Porsche for the first time. The sound is richer, fuller than what she could ever produce on her humble clarinet. She beams. “Oh, Carol, thank you!”

“I’m glad you like it.” Carol listens as Therese plays her solo and sounds as good as any professional clarinetist Carol has ever heard. “Good, good, but try a little more lilt and drag on this run,” she points to a section of the music.

Therese looks at her blankly “Lilt and drag?”

“Here…” Carol reaches for the clarinet and begins to play, demonstrating what she means. Her full lips wrap around the mouthpiece where Therese’s lips have been. The thought of it sends a charge of energy through Carol’s chest. She closes her eyes, dragging and lilting notes out of the Buffet clarinet, almost able to taste Therese’s peppermint toothpaste.

The clarinet is handed back and Therese immediately places her lips where Carol’s mouth has been, searching for the taste of her.

They play through the entire piece mixing, fitting and flirting their way through each note. Carol pulls out a metronome and sets it to 35 beats per minutes, slower than it needs to be—it’s all part of her method of dissecting music. It takes a great deal of stamina and control to perform more slowly than is required. Fast needs manual dexterity, yes, but slow takes real artistry. They pull and hold onto each note, pull and hold. Lilt and drag.

Carol stands. “Play a note, any note and hold it.” Therese picks a C natural. Carol bends slightly and places one hand on the front of Therese’s abdomen and one hand on the small of her back. The sound quivers slightly.

“Breathe more from here too.” Carol’s hand rises slightly higher, hovering over her ribs, then stops. The sensation of it: Carol’s hands on her, almost holding her up, Carol leaning down into the smaller woman, her hair brushing the side of Therese’s face. Smells of perfume, laundry soap, deodorant, body lotion, breath, sweat… Carol moves away laboriously an inch at a time, away from Therese. Each step killing them both incredibly slowly—grave. A 25- beats- per- minute-agonizing-slow-death. Their eyes latch with a short-lived flicker of something savage before they each turn away.

“Carol, excuse me, I need to use the restroom.” Therese tries to find composure, leaning against a bathroom wall. The entire time Therese is collecting herself, Carol sits quietly, stunned. What the hell am I doing?

When Therese returns, they begin work on a special arrangement of Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, Op 34 Wounded Heart symphony.

“The original music for this piece is meant only for strings; this is an altered version for our small ensemble to include winds and brass instruments.” Carol pauses for a long time. Therese glances at her, puzzled.

“Carol?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s just…" Wounded Heart has a way of overwhelming Carol, touching her. She’s not sure why, she’s performed plenty of sad music in her career. There is something about this piece though, its cadence, sweetness and sorrow. She doesn’t know how to explain it.

They play it with a newfound connection; flawlessly on their first run. Their music bounces off every historic beam, light fixture and tiled wall in the chapel, oboe and clarinet a polarity of sounds rising  to the top of the 91 foot central dome.

“Perfect, just perfect,” Carol’s voice is faint and then it shakes and falters. Tiny tears form in the slightly wrinkled corners of her eyes. 

“Are you alright Carol?” At the precise moment Carol is about to reply “No, I am not,” a massive tree along the grid that powers St. Paul’s, topples down hard, losing its battle with the wind. When it falls it takes down power lines and several poles with it. Circuit breakers seize. The chapel and much of Manhattan is in total darkness.

“Carol?” Therese, the woman afraid of storms and the dark, reaches for the other woman’s arm in the thick blackness of the chapel. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, probably a power outage from the storm.” Carol finds her phone and turns on the flashlight. “Let’s look outside.” They walk to the front door, Therese still holding onto her arm. They find a sea of complete darkness. It looks as if they are sole survivors peering out from their bunker into a ruined city. Therese catches a glimpse of the side of Carol’s face now illuminated by the phone flashlight; small tears trickle partway down her cheek. Carol stands halfway outside in darkness and halfway inside in darkness. The sight of it all, Carol’s tears, the dark city, it's too much. Therese is overcome as though the lost power turns itself back on inside of her. She no longer feels afraid of the storm or the dark or her unknown plans or Carol’s complicated life or most of all the way she feels about this woman. She's not afraid.

Therese grabs onto Carol’s wrist, like Harge did in this same spot three days ago. She yanks her hard, back inside the church. Wind slams the door shut. Therese holds onto Carol’s wrist tighter, pulling, guiding her farther inside the church, into the safety of the darkness as Carol’s phone light fades and she follows, surrenders, submits to her feelings for Therese. They stand together lost and found. The only sound is the moaning wind and their irregular breathing between occasional sighs.

“Therese? Do you…I’m not…” Carol’s voice is weepy, a gasping whisper that fades. She can’t articulate what she means. It doesn’t matter. Therese knows. Knows. She pushes into Carol with her whole body, they move back toward a cold clay tiled wall and Therese slides Carol down it slowly. They hold onto one another and drop to their knees as in prayer, Carol’s head falling into Therese’s neck, gentle sobs break out of her in bursts that release her sadness into broken pieces. Stained glass art of St. Paul preaching to the Athenians on Mars Hill surrounds them as sounds of a symphony about a wounded heart linger in the air and spirits of an architect and his wife chant a nocturne softly in the darkness.

Chapter Text

Therese’s Solo

They kneel in a corner of the dark church, breathing fast, dilated pupils search for light, unable to see each other, finally seeing each other. Carol’s head buried in Therese’s neck until the younger woman maneuvers and lifts her from her hiding place. Therese’s hands slide all over Carol’s face, probing as a blind woman would, touching, searching to see her. Fingers glide over the wide bridge of her nose, slide over eyes, eyebrows, feeling lines and creases, wanting to crawl inside them, craving every detail of this woman. Carol.

The oboist moans as she gives Therese complete control over her head, neck, arms… her entire body. Head dangles, flaccid and trusting in the young woman’s small but firm, commanding hands.  

Therese glides insatiably over flesh, roaming curve of cheekbone, jawbone, running over thick bone ridges above Carol’s eyes. With her hands she can feel how beautiful and sad this woman is. But, mostly Therese feels how much Carol wants to be… loved.

Holding onto the back of Carol’s head, Therese drags her free hand slowly down Carol’s neck to her chest, which is rising and falling hard. Carol begins to lie back as Therese holds her, guides her kneeling body softly onto the hard floor.

Carol lands on marble as Therese moves on top of her. Mouths come together at last, at last in a firm and rolling concerto of moist lips circling each other, rolling and twisting over and over, opening and closing, sucking sounds mixed with air rushing out of noses and into each other’s mouths and all over faces. Carol pushes her tongue deep inside Therese’s open mouth and begins to swirl it against tongue and tooth and gum. An “oh” escapes from deep inside her lungs traveling out through her mouth and into Therese’s. Eyes flutter trying to stay open, then shut in the thick dim of the chapel where light barely trickles through each stained glass window. Fingers rake through hair. Nose cartilage bends and smashes as they fit together like two missing jigsaw pieces colliding into each other, in reunion.

Carol pulls Therese’s ear to her mouth and with a hot, urgent whisper lets two words fall from her blood-filled loins, an earsplitting whisper of instruction passed from mentor to apprentice:

“Play me.”

Therese is frozen, unbending and inebriated with arousal. She slides off Carol and sits at her side holding her hand, considering how to fulfill the request. She leans in and lays her hand over Carol’s heart, feeling her rhythm, the pace of what keeps her alive, the ticking hurried and steady, this instrument Therese’s never played. A soft kiss is placed on Carol’s cheek still tasting of dried tears. Therese breathes into Carol’s mouth, filling her with air from deep in the clarinetist’s abdomen and up higher still within her lungs—both of the places Carol taught her to breathe from. The woody taste of clarinet reed mixes with oboe reed, breath mints and sweet saliva. Therese’s solo on this new instrument… it is about to begin.

Her hands slowly unbutton the oboist’s blouse.

“Therese.”

Carol moans as she lifts herself up off the floor just enough to let Therese slide behind to unfasten her bra, then lifts it over and up, releasing breasts that sag gently and slightly, dropping into Therese’s waiting hands and mouth. The soloist drags her mouth and the sides of her face across Carol’s perfect chest, her blouse wide open, fingers wander all over the upper part of the instrument, instinctually playing as though Carol was built for her, touching, pressing, caressing and covering parts and pieces at exact, correct intervals. Sweet, perfect moans and groans and childlike whimpers escape Carol: notes of ecstasy falling from the sheet of music Therese sight reads from even in this blinding darkness.

The clarinetist slides her entire head over the oboist’s firm abdomen, dragging her hair across the middle section of the instrument held between her hands, towing her head like a mop across a bare floor. When the soloist reaches the waistband of Carol’s jeans, she furiously unbuttons and unzips, increases the tempo. Denim yanked down the remaining length of the instrument until waistband meets the tops of Carol’s suede slip-on-boots. Bent legs spread apart wide like ribs cracked open during surgery, revealing Carol’s beating heart, exposed for Therese who crawls on top of her and reaches hands inside the oboist’s underwear. Carol thrashes her head from side to side, blond hair covering eyes, strands land wet and twisted in her mouth, she reaches for the soloist violently with arms and hands. Underwear is tugged completely, traveling all the way down to where bunched pants meet ankles and the tops of Carol’s boots. Therese hesitates for an unbearable three seconds before pushing fingers deep inside Carol, filling her, the oboist’s head skewed to one side, glowing cheeks resting against marble flooring. Chasmal moans begin to seep out of the instrument.   

While she’s being played Carol opens up completely to Therese who pushes herself deep, deep in time with the ticking of Carol’s exploding heart. Carol is a raging symphony of clarinets, oboes and strings, her brain flooded with dopamine, lighting up her cortex like the 4th of July. A glorious, haunting chord of F, B, D# and G# explodes from Carol between her primal gasps as Therese pushes her whole body against her in and out, in and out, sliding and rolling all over her in between caresses of engorged breast or slip of a tongue in between Carol’s shuddering lips. The chord Therese and Carol produce together is an unusual augmented fourth, augmented sixth and augmented ninth that oozes with agonizing intensity, beckoning for resolution.   

Therese’s solo keeps pumping in and out of Carol, the instrument belts out a three-line-mantra religiously repeated again and again in this sacred space of worship:

Harder Therese.

Harder Therese.

Please.

And then, as though the universe opens in a glorious flash of light that introduces Carol to her maker, her body still rocking rhythmically, two notes rip out to the tops of the chapel marking a culmination of Therese’s solo. A crescendo reached, the instrument shudders in waves of musical resolve, shaking beneath the soloist. The final two notes echo off every one-hundred-year-old wall of the pitch-black chapel:

 Oh. God.  

The notes light up the darkness, a sheet of lightening satisfying the church with brilliant, hair-raising electricity. The musician holds onto her instrument’s hips delicately, tenderly as Carol continues to rock and jolt in sporadic waves until she reaches an eventual fantastic finale, thighs and arms stretch out uncontrollably as in seizure.

Carol screams, screams from intense pleasure, screams from pain, screams for lost years she can’t get back spent with a man she doesn’t love, who can never love her like this, touch her like this, play her the way the clarinetist can. Her back arches viciously. Therese continues to hold. Hold onto her.

Solo Harge

Harge sits in complete darkness in the house he used to share with Carol. He takes another drink of whiskey. Carol is writhing on the floor under Therese in a dark corner of St. Paul’s as he wonders if she is okay. Is she alone, like him? The inky darkness settles within him like a bad mood. Should he text her to see if she is okay? He wants to, still wants to protect this woman that he gradually suffocated. He opens a drawer in his desk and takes out the key he “acquired” to Carol’s new apartment. He holds it, touching the ridges that unlock the door to her new life. He puts the key back in the drawer. And for now, tries to forget her.

Carol & Therese – Solo

Therese pulls Carol up off the floor. They lean against a wall standing, holding each other, still recovering. Sounds of a solo performance swim in their heads as their bodies are changing, eternally connecting as one. Together they are forever a solo; never a duet.

They will go to Carol’s apartment next. It is communicated without verbal invitation or acceptance. Both know this night of surrender will not end here. A brief, suspended moment of silence, here in their chapel, is simply intermission.

Carol takes Therese’s hand and leads her purposefully toward the front of the church where they put away their instruments poorly guided by cell phone light. Therese helps Carol chaotically button and zip herself back together. She notices Carol’s reading glasses that sit, nearly forgotten again on her music stand. She grabs them with little care and crams them into her coat pocket.

Carol’s flashlight guides them outside where they stand only long enough to lock the church. They start out walking fast, Carol in the lead looking back at Therese. Stay with me. Tousled hair sways, faces flushed and instrument cases bang against each other. Carol reaches out her free hand and grabs onto Therese’s arm. Come with me. Carol begins to run, run toward her parked car, Therese at her side, easily matching the pace as they rush off to their next performance.  

 

 

Chapter Text

10:05pm – Sunday, December 14, 2014 - Moderato

They are nearly halfway to Carol’s apartment. Both try to catch glimpses of each other but are hampered by sparse light supplied by the car’s instrument panel. Orange and blue digits give off a glow that makes the car more like a small airplane hovering through night skies. Carol is captain who pilots them to a remote final destination where they will disappear into each other.

It isn't easy for the driver to pay attention to the Manhattan streets she carries them over, but a powerful image of being spread out on cold floors screaming into the rafters, as Therese helps her see God, reenters her brain. With one hand, the car is steered to the side of the road while the second hand reaches to turn on the dome light. Carol needs to see Therese now, in whatever light she can harness. She tenderly collects her passenger’s face in between hands shaped like a prayer held with expectation, eyes looking, seeing another human who makes her feel spiritual. Reborn.

Carol moves in like a lullaby and touches her lips sweetly to the passenger’s mouth while her left hand finds seatback controls and presses, lowering them both back and down, back and down. They descend gradually: water drops falling off dew-covered leaves, the seatback mechanism hums quietly against the unquenchable longing they suffer for each other.   

6:41am – Sunday, June 23, 1974 - Larghetto

“One final push, you can do it." The father-to-be is holding onto his wife’s hand. Sweat rolls down the woman’s forehead; she uses the final bit of strength to push this child from her swollen uterus. “It’s a girl!” A nurse hands the child, still connected to its mother, to her father.

They waited so long for her. A series of miscarriages, a difficult pregnancy, induced labor three weeks past her due date and over two days of arduous, prolonged labor. It began with twenty hours of contractions and no progress. The child turned toward her mother’s abdomen: cephalic posterior. Despite efforts of her parents and medical staff, this girl did not want to be born. Yet.

It’s not time, it’s too early the infant whispered into the celestial cosmos, knowing she was arriving too early, before someone else, and would now have to wait. Wait. For. Her.

And so, she came into the world begrudgingly, like glacier trying to stay put.

She came so slowly. Carol.

9:33pm – Wednesday, March 1, 1989 - Presto

The teenager is frightened, face gripped with pain, holding onto her mother in the elevator, barely getting to the hospital in time. A panicked nurse motions for a birthing room to be opened immediately. “You’re dilated 10 centimeters. Why didn’t you get here sooner? This baby’s coming fast, this baby’s coming now.” Mother and daughter, stupefied, don’t answer. It all just changed… quickly. Three weeks early this baby cannot be stopped; she is furiously busting her way out of her mother’s tender womb.

“Am I here in time, is it too late?” the newborn's soul screams out knowing someone is waiting for her. Would she be waiting? Still?

She came into the world impetuously, fast like the unprotected teenage sex that landed her here.

She came so quickly. Therese. 

10:31pm – Sunday, December 14, 2014 - Largo

Carol’s apartment feels cold already without heat since the blackout. She gathers a few candles found in the bathroom, lights them and hands one to Therese who stands just inside the entryway looking… ready.

“Are you hungry, Therese? Do you want something to eat?”

Therese is starving. But food can wait. She and Carol can’t. She nods her head. “No.”

Carol holds Therese’s hand as they walk down the hallway both still bundled in winter coats, Carol’s purse slung over her shoulder. They hold burning candles, looking like glowing apparitions traveling through a corridor of time together. Carol walks slowly. She can feel Therese close behind. Wax drips onto the top of her hand, but she doesn’t feel it, oblivious to anything except a pounding in her chest and each lumbering footstep taken toward her bedroom.  

Candles are set on the white nightstand next to Carol’s queen size bed. Candlelight dances across the room making swirling designs appear on the white comforter. Therese wants to notice things about this room: the sacred place where Carol sleeps and dreams. She wants to be interested in mid-century artwork hanging near the bed, titles of books strewn across a pillow or stacked in neat piles on the floor. But all Therese notices is Carol.

They face each other. Blinking. Breathing. Carol drags her purse off one shoulder and digs down, feeling for something. She pulls out her metronome. Therese watches, wondering as Carol turns it on.

Click-click-click-click ... it spits out 126 close beats per minute. Allegro.

Carol, looking directly into Therese’s eyes, turns the setting down.

Down.

Slow.

Click ... click ... click ... 44 languorous beats per minute.

Largo.

The clicking metronome is placed on the nightstand.

Carol cocks her head slightly to the side, a way of asking her lover if she understands.

Therese closes her eyes. She understands.

Carol begins to unzip the clarinetist's coat. Click-click-slide.

The coat falls to the floor, a feather dropped from a skyscraper. Carol sets a 6/4 tempo where six steady bests fill each measure. In F-major, piano keys barely breathe notes in a staggered row. One after the other 1-2-3-4-5-6. Simply, honestly a cello carries out stretched, drawn out cries and sighs, mirroring the notes about to be dragged painfully from Carol and Therese. Raw. Honest. Note-after-note. They have time.

They will come together.

Carol slides out of her coat, then removes Therese’s sweater and shirt with long hands grazing stomach and breasts, lifting garments overhead. Carol takes in the sight of her then moves in closer one step, two steps 1-2-3-4-5-6 and unhooks the clasp from behind while brushing straps down shoulders and arms until the first undergarment drops to the floor.

They face away from each other, the back of Therese's head falling onto Carol’s chest. Arms wrap, breasts stroked with the soft skin on the palms of hands and undersides of arms: soft flesh pushed back and forth over even softer flesh. So slowly. 1-2-3-4-5-6. Therese loses sense of time, moving her head against Carol like a baby being rocked to sleep. Click… click… click. They stand beside the bed holding each other, a delicate pendulum of rocking motion back and forth.

Second-inversion broken chords in the right hand of the piano and sustained notes in the cello slowly ascend and descend as Carol propels them onto the bed. Falling together, flickering candlelight dances across their bodies. Rolling over and into each other, remaining clothing is discarded with deliberaton in time with the conductor's pace.

Carol feels Therese’s need to hurry. She won’t let her, firmly placing a hand on the younger woman's stomach breathing into her ear: “Slow down.” Bell-like recurring, rolling sounds in the upper piano registers keep Therese’s tempo down as her legs open unhurried, exposing all of herself to Carol whose hands slide down lower legs, assisting feet then calf muscles to fall against her bare back.

Clicking sounds of a music box that needs to be rewound, Therese rocks into Carol, pushing an exploring tongue deeper inside of her. The piano carries its bell-like voice with repeating broken chords and low, sustained F notes vibrating in the bass. They are together, in time. Neither early or late, their notes introduced at the right time into each musical phrase. Hands and arms pull a blonde head from behind, farther, deeper as they speak to each other. Rocking together 1-2-3-4-5-6 until Therese arrives exhausted and full, gasping out a name. Breathless and slow, her voice completes this musical sentence.

The metronome keeps largo time into the dimming light, candles nearly without their wicks about them. The women intertwine into new positions, unfolding like a row of mirror images. “Still with me?” Carol brushes hair out of Therese’s eyes as they slide eagerly restraining fingers inside each other. Digits move slowly, the beginning of a new phrase, movements elongated with grinding hip accompaniment, sinking inside one another perfectly in sync.

Yes.

Of all the humans that have walked the earth, what are the odds Carol and Therese would be here at the same time, let alone in this room entangled in this bed, loving each other? Now.

1-2-3-4-5-6.

Timing. In music. In life. In love.

Mind-blowing, beautiful timing.

Is. Everything.

They come together and apart throughout the night paced in time with continental drift. Reflections of each other mirrored in the steady pulse of their music until they progressively fall asleep under Carol’s giant comforter breathing slowly, tangled, aware of the magnificence that they exist. 

Now. 

6:36am – Monday, December 15, 2014 - Allegro

Carol’s cell phone rings. She stumbles out of bed, trying not to wake Therese, unhooking warm limbs. She steps down onto the floor, landing on Therese’s coat where reading glasses were shoved into a pocket last night. The glasses snap promptly under her weight. “Damn it.”

She reaches for her phone.

“Mom? What is it?"

“Slow down.”

 

 

Chapter Text

2004 – Dissonance

Therese is at her clarinet lesson, like every Saturday. She and her teacher are practicing a duet they will perform as part of her recital. Therese accidentally plays a middle C while her teacher plays a B. Therese apologizes, noticing how bad the two notes sound together. “Why don’t all notes sound good together?” she asks. Her teacher says it’s something not fully understood even by musicians and neuroscientists. The mathematical relationships between the many different frequencies that make up sound don’t always add up for our brain. Harmony is only guaranteed for certain pairings, certain intervals of notes work well together. The rest… they clash. That’s dissonance.  

 

Monday, December 15, 6:35am

Therese stirs. She faintly hears Carol talking in a muffled voice in the kitchen. A digital clock is blinking-- the power is back on. She turns on a nightstand lamp and looks around Carol’s bedroom. She wants to study and touch everything in it. A red wingback chair sits in the corner of the room near a bookshelf filled with music and art books, a framed picture of Carol as a scrawny little girl sitting at a piano, next to a man Therese assumes is her father, sits on a shelf. Clothes hang orderly in the closet organized by color, mostly blue, grey and black suits and brightly colored scarves. Therese wants to bury her face in all of them.

Carol’s voice gets louder. “Why the hell did he call you?” Each word is clipped, staccato. Therese gathers her clothes from the floor and dresses quickly now aware something is wrong. She puts her ear to the closed bedroom door, against better judgment, and listens:

Damn right I moved out.... I didn’t tell you because I knew what your response would be.  Are you serious? Christmas? What?

No. Harge and I are not spending Christmas together with you.

Another baby? You’re both out of your minds. 

It’s over, Mother and you, as much as Harge, need to get over it. I’m sorry my life is ruining your perfect Christmas letter... Stop meddling and Jesus Christ, stop talking to Harge about me.

Carol throws her cell phone down, heart throbbing in an adrenaline bath. She’s a warrior in a mother-daughter clash going strong for 40 years. There are not winners in this battle, just two losers. Conservative, controlling, conceited, condescending, competitive, cold, calculating: Carol’s mother. I’m never good enough for her. It began with the long, difficult birth; it never stopped. Mother and daughter two notes played together with cringe-worthy-unpleasantness. Carol’s mother wanted her, a child, so much, until she got her. Fussy baby, she won’t nap, such a willful, sensitive child, always banging about on that piano making up nonsense songs or with her nose in a book. “Carol, make new friends,” her mother would say as she grew older, “perhaps a nice boy from the right family. How about William up the street? His father owns a law firm.” Not petite enough, outgoing enough, confident enough, connected to the right people enough. Not enough.

Therese, fully dressed, finds herself standing next to Carol who is leaning into a granite kitchen countertop, head sunk low, red robe wrapped loose around her willowy body. Therese can’t see her face but is aware Carol is breathing hard, a race horse after a derby. The oboist wants to punch somebody, anybody, maybe herself most of all.

“Carol, are you alright?”

“I’m fine.” Carol half looks up, eyes bloodshot and wild, the look people get after drinking too much in a smoky tavern.

“You don’t look fine.”

“I said… I’m fine, Therese.” Carol’s words by themselves mean one thing, the woman says she’s fine, but her tone is quite another matter. Words are clipped, shortened with impatience as in the way she says Therese’s name-- she can’t be bothered. She broadcasts at 395 hertz snapped, slapped and spat. The frequency of Carol’s tone resonates with Therese as dismissive, a timbre translating roughly into: don’t bother me, don’t comfort me and Jesus, don’t touch me right now…just… don’t... even…  

 “Oh.” The younger woman turns her head to look at a wall where vintage black and white photographs of New York streets hang. Her face is burning hot.

On the dining room table Therese notices Carol’s reading glasses. They rest split in two on a stack of oboe music.

“Your glasses-- I put them in my pocket, what happened?” Her voice wavers slightly.

 “I stepped on them this morning.” Carol shakes her head. The glasses signify yet another defeat for her.

“I’m sorry, Carol. I should have given them to you rather than shove them in my pocket. I’ll buy you a new pair.”

An irrational outbreak of anger hurls out of Carol. It would not matter what Therese said or did. It would all irritate this freight train of furry blowing from the oboist, a blast of hot wind coming out of her powerful lungs squawking into a metaphorical oboe she blows into with red face full of rage. Carol blows her top and detonates all over the one person least to blame: Therese.

“You don’t need to buy me new glasses for fuck’s sake. It’s not your fault I stepped on them. Do you have any earthly idea how expensive these prescription glasses are? You can’t just walk into any drugstore and buy them. Just let it go, will you?” Carol’s words are a dodge ball hurled at Therese with fanatical accuracy and intensity. The ball is meant for her mother or Harge or herself or all three, but instead smacks Therese squarely in her incredulous, innocent face. The clarinetist stands shocked, whacked in the face by a woman she plastered and twisted her naked body against less than an hour ago.

“I have to go, Therese. Stay as long as you like.” Carol is inaccessible, an isolated island surrounded by no trespassing signs. Walking to the bedroom she’s still talking to Therese oblivious to the effect of her vitriol mood. She gathers clothes for the day, listing off foods Therese might find in the refrigerator. Just as she says “leftover pasta” the front door shuts hard. Fortissimo.

“Therese? Wait.” Shit, shit. What have I done?

It’s too late. Therese already hurled herself down three flights of stairs, taking four steps at a time. She gets outside and begins to sob uncontrollably but, she keeps on running. Carol’s curt tone is monochromatic and cold reverberating against the younger woman’s skull, a malignancy spreading throughout her whole body, touching each place Carol’s lips, hands, legs, fingers and tongue have handled. Carol’s tone wounds her as painfully as would a sharp fishing knife slicing through her hands. A run turns to a walk as hurt turns hastily to anger: If I’m too unsophisticated and stupid to know how to replace your pretentious, world class, fancy ass designer reading glasses, why do you keep losing them, you ungrateful, forgetful bitch?

Carol follows after her shouting her name multiple times without regard to neighbors she might wake. Lobby doors flung open as her robe loosens to expose a bare chest to no one, though she could not care less. She looks for Therese in all directions.

I’m sorry, Therese, I’m so sorry. Forgive me. Please.

But, Therese is long gone. And she took her “average-Midwestern-girl-clarinet” with her and left the uppity Philharmonic Buffet instrument in Carol’s apartment. Carol will find it. And then, she will cry.

 

1992 – Tone

Carol’s father made life with her mother survivable. He always knew just what to say to Carol to make her feel better about recurring conflicts between mother and daughter.  Today she and her mother disagree about Carol’s plan to attend Boston University to study music performance. “Oh, Carol, do you really want to keep playing this oboe as a grown woman?” It isn’t what her mother says. It never is. It’s always about how her mother speaks to her more than the words she speaks. It’s always about the tone. Carol’s discerning ear picks up on the complex relationship among wavelength, sine, frequency, amplitude, hertz, decibels, pitch… Her brain processes all the pieces and interprets the meaning: “You disappoint me.” On days like this, her father has a way of finding her, his daughter, the greatest love of his life, the reason he stays with Carol’s mother. They talk and walk and his tone will soothe and encourage and make her believe she can accomplish anything, that all things are possible.

 

Monday, December 15, 9:39am

After Therese pulls herself together two hours after leaving Carol’s in pathetic shape, something happens. Clarity. Everything becomes clear. She’s lingered here in New York long enough. It’s time to get off the pot and face reality that she has no future here with music school and certainly not with Carol. She makes plans.

She will not apply to music schools in New York. After the concert on the 21st, she will leave this place and not look back. She would fly home today, but a commitment is a commitment. It would reflect poorly on Dan if she doesn’t finish things up with the ensemble. Her name is placed on standby to catch the earliest flight home on the 22nd. She will go to the two remaining practices this week and contain herself around Mr. Aird. She will pretend to know nothing of his wife and their messed up, dysfunctional family. She will not let on that she is acquainted with how his wife smells when she’s climaxing or the way her voice gets higher and nasally, like an oboe, in the treble and soprano ranges, when she’s lying on her back just looking at Therese.

She will play at the final concert on her trashy clarinet, sitting next to Mrs. Aird, and feel nothing. She will not let Carol wield power over her or reduce her to a sniveling child. Be damned oxytocin, the hormone released by the hypothalamus during sex that binds her to Carol Reed Aird. Don’t fuck me up oxytocin. She will continually remind herself of how much baggage Carol drags around with her—enough to fill an entire 747.

She is nearly finished with her online application to Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, near Chicago. She just needs to follow up with letters of recommendation from two University of Iowa professors. She applies to their two-year Master’s of Music in Performance, Woodwinds Program. She also applies to the University of Iowa Master’s of Music, Woodwinds Program.  After sitting on her hands here for too long, she makes all of these decisions and completes applications in less than six hours. She calls her parents to tell them her plans. Lastly she texts Dan to firm up where they’ll meet a few of the ensemble musicians tomorrow evening for dinner before practice. The rest of her time between now and Sunday will be spent being a tourist and having fun… without Carol.

 

  Monday, December 15, 1:01pm

 When Carol Reed Aird storms into her “husband’s” office slamming the door behind her, the first thing she notices on his desk is a framed photo of herself holding her oboe—a Philharmonic marketing photo. The picture is a reminder to other professors and students that he is part of a musical family, a power couple in the professional musician circles. He can’t let that go. Even though it’s gone. They are as far apart as any two notes can be and most people on the faculty are figuring that out.

“For Christ’s sake, give me that.” She violently rips the framed photo off the desk and tosses it into her book bag.

“Why the hell did you call my mother and tell her we would be spending Christmas with her?” Carol almost spits the words at him.

“You need help, Harge. Seriously. Please talk to someone. You need to. Now. Promise me you’ll get help. I am not spending Christmas with either you or my mother. We are not a couple anymore, Harge.”

Despite his position of importance and his musical talent, Harge is insecure and lonely and still in love with the idea of Carol as much as having feelings for her, feelings she cannot reciprocate.  

She demands he sign the “fucking” papers already and stop dragging his feet. “And, sell the house, Harge. We’re never living there together again. We got married for the wrong reason. You have to know that. Don’t you know that? Let’s make it right. Please.”

They talk further, Carol’s voice calmer the longer she faces her oppressor. He seems to be getting it, finally getting it. He says he will talk to someone and agrees that he’s having a very hard time adjusting to life without her. She tries to replace her anger with understanding, tries to channel how her father would advise her to handle things, if he were still here.

Before Carol leaves, Harge explains that his father is ill. “It would mean a lot to me if you would hang around after the concert Sunday to see him. He’ll be there at the party after. He thinks the world of you, Carol. Please come to see him even if it’s for a few minutes.”

“Will you sign the papers and finalize this if I do?” she is at her wits end in knowing how to sever ties with this man.

He gives her his word. He will sign the paperwork before Christmas.

 

Monday, December 15, 9:11pm

 Carol stares at her cell phone. Therese stares at her cell phone.

Carol breaks first.

Carol: Therese, can we talk? I have a Messiah concert tomorrow at 7:30pm. Would you come to it? We can talk before or after. I can pick you up.

Therese: No. Ensemble practice is at 6:30pm and meeting friends before. But mostly, I don’t feel like talking to you or seeing you right now, Carol.

Carol: I’m sorry, Therese. I took things out on you. You have every right to be angry with me. But please, can we talk another day this week then?

Therese: What would you say to me? ‘Sorry I can only open my body to you, but not my life.’ Do you really see us having any kind of future together? Your life is complicated enough and I don’t think you know what to do… about me.

Carol: Why do we have to do this by text? Why can’t I meet you now? I will go wherever you want me to go.

Therese: Carol, I’m flying back home as soon as I can get a flight after Sunday concert. I’m not applying to any East coast grad schools. It’s what’s best for me. I’ll see you at the concert. Hopefully it won’t be too awkward. It was going to end anyway. Rather it be sooner than later.  

Carol cannot believe what she is reading. It’s as though someone else has confiscated Therese’s cell phone and is writing boldly, coldly. What she doesn’t know about Therese is that once she is wounded she surrounds herself with protective, nearly impenetrable body armor. She hides her tender, hurt feelings in order to survive. The plane trip home is a decision for her future as much as it is a giant middle finger pointed directly at Carol. The goal is to wound Carol in retribution. But Therese in truth wants nothing more than for Carol to race to her, drive maniacally. Right now. She wants the door to Dan’s apartment to come crashing down with Carol on the other side, busting through broken door pieces, begging for forgiveness. She wants Carol to cradle her in long, smooth arms while running hands across her face—those hands that have touched places on her body even she has never traversed. Then she wants Carol to hold her smothering her with kiss after kiss after….

Carol:  Please Therese don’t leave New York this way. Why can’t I see you, even if it’s only one time to apologize and say good bye? A strangling lump forms in Carol’s throat as she types “say good bye.” Yet, here she is, technically still married, no, make that “knotted.” And, what did she expect, for Therese to move here and they’d live happily ever after? No, that’s not what Carol expects, but it’s exactly what she wants. Better, safer to deny the improbable than pursue it. Under layers of denial and complexity Carol wants nothing more than to pursue the improbable.

Therese: One more thing—please let me know the cost for replacing your glasses.

Carol: Therese, I need to see you before Sunday, before you leave. And, I don’t care about the stupid glasses. I care about you.

Therese: People who care about me don’t make me feel like you did this morning.

Carol: What can I do Therese? Isn’t there anything I can do to make this better? I feel horrible I made you feel so badly. I’m so sorry. I know it’s no excuse, but my mother has a way of making me crazy.

Carol groans as she types this last text that Therese will not answer. She chokes back tears, her throat begins to burn as the dam holding back emotion and despair is about to rupture.

She waits, disappointed each time her phone dings and it’s a message about a concert venue change, Philharmonic practice, her lawyer or anything other than Therese. She stops waiting at midnight, the final defeat to end this horrendous day. She wants to call Therese, but it’s too late. And, from Therese’s tone… it’s just too late.

Carol eventually finds sleep after listening to Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, imagining it’s Therese who plays for her. The clarinet tone is full and deep and rich and warm, just like her feelings for Therese. And each beautiful wavelength is complex and full of layers, textures smothering them both, expressing how they feel about one other. The slow, dream-like sounds of the clarinet, harp and stringed instruments wrap around Carol as she is transported, into her own dreams, to a place where they can be together and never hurt each other with dissonance or tone.

Chapter Text

Tuesday Afternoon, December 16 – Carol

From the minute she wakes after tossing, erratically dreaming she can’t find Therese while running through a house of mirrors, Carol puts on a brave face. She has no appetite and forces herself to eat toast and cereal. Her stomach is unsettled, overcome with the reality that she will not see Therese possibly ever again after Sunday. It is devastating, too surreal to even process. Physical, emotional and mental pain she suffers analogous to grief.

Carol drags herself out the door and to a recording studio in Brooklyn. As part of her freelance work, she often plays oboe for projects like this one, a movie soundtrack. She doesn’t even recall the name of this movie. Some drama, maybe a romance she thinks. It doesn’t matter. Today especially she doesn’t care, physically present, sitting in a stark white studio, music stand in line of sight, recording tech giving cues. Her track to be mixed with other players later, she does her part solo. She is neither emotionally nor mentally in attendance and it requires several takes to lay down the track-- more than typical for her. She checks her phone after the recording is complete, hopeful Therese had a change of heart and performed CPR on her kill of… them. She sinks down in her car seat discovering no new Therese life lines. Breathe Carol, breathe.

She meets Abby for lunch at a soup and salad place, though she still hasn’t much of an appetite. Playing with her soup, continually swirling her spoon in brain-dead circles, Abby watches without Carol even aware of her audience. “What’s up with you, Carol?”

“Hmmm?”

“Earth to Carol, is that alphabet soup? Are you trying to spell a word?”

“What?” Carol looks up despondently, dark circles under her eyes.

“Are you sick? You look unwell.”

“No, I’m fine. Really. Tell me about your day.” Carol tries to appear upbeat.

Abby doesn’t buy it. “I see through you, fess up sister, what gives? You look like a sad little puppy.”

Carol drops her head onto her hand, supported by arm and bent elbow resting on the table. She closes her eyes for a moment then opens them to reveal small, young tears. “Abby, I… I am sad.” She lets out a suppressed murmur.

“Carol, I’m sorry, what is it? Is it about the divorce? Is Harge being even more boorish?”

It is not Carol’s intention to reveal details of her emotional state. She wants to clutch her misery tightly inside, hoping her body is strong enough to squash it. But it all comes seeping out of her wounded heart. She cannot hold it in any longer.

Carol shares the whirlwind of details starting with that first day playing music in St. Paul’s. It began as naturally as breathing or sleeping or in Carol’s case as easily as music.

When Carol finishes, Abby’s first comment is: “Applying to grad school? She sounds young.”

“I know.” Carol shakes her head. “Well, she took a few years off to help her family run their dairy farm while her father was ill. She’s 25.”

“So,” Abby reaches her hand out and squeezes Carol’s, “she’s young, not currently speaking to you, in large part because of a fight with your piece-of-work-Mother, broken reading glasses, you’re trying to get divorced, and to top things off, she’s moving back to the Midwest on Sunday?”

“Yeah, that about pretty well sums it up.” Carol scrunches lips together in defeat and wipes new tears with a linen napkin. “And, Abby, can you blame her, would you want to be involved with me now?”

“Well,” Abby thinks carefully before answering. “The timing’s bad.” She pauses and squeezes Carol’s hand harder. “But, when it comes to matters of the heart, I say fuck timing.”

Tuesday Evening, December 16 – Therese

Therese walks toward the restaurant where she’s meeting Dan and two ensemble musicians for dinner prior to tonight’s rehearsal. She’s still processing what happened yesterday. Since waking, her head orbits with second thoughts about steely resolve to essentially cut things off with Carol. Her childhood taught her to build up sturdy walls of protection that can’t be blown down amidst cycles of moving from one temporary home to another. Don’t get attached to anyone or anything. Missing Carol already gnaws and claws and feasts on her gradually, her heart fresh meat devoured in miniature chunks by a family of vultures knocking down her protective walls.

She’s barely eaten all day and every hour reconsiders texting Carol: meet me, I miss you, I can’t even make it one day apart … She sends nothing, pride and sensitivity still at the helm of USS Stubborn.

When Therese arrives at the restaurant, Dan is already there. He’s received texts that the other two are running late. They sit at a corner table and order drinks. “How was your physics final?” she asks.

“Brutal.” Therese looks out the window distracted watching car lights reflect onto restaurant windows, shaking her head feigning interest in physics. She’s hundreds of miles away emotionally and mentally. Her body takes up space in a chair across from Dan, yet, she exists elsewhere.

“You seem distracted and sad. Is everything okay? Are you second guessing your decision about grad schools and leaving this weekend?” Dan reaches for his just-served-beer.

“Oh, no, I need to get home for the holidays and I think I made the right decision. It’s just…” Her voice trails off and Dan sees a pained expression commandeer her face. She turns to conceal it, looking out the window again.

“It’s just… Carol Aird?” Dan’s question is spoken compassionately and with certainty.

“What? How …?” Therese stumbles over words sloppily whisking away “Carol tears” flowing, a tide washing onto “Therese beach” dribbling down the length of her face into places Carol’s lips and nose and hair and hands have glided across with gasping wonder.

Dan pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and hands it to her. “I saw the way you two looked at each other and played together. Pretty hard to miss. Then all your interest in what I know about her. And, have you forgotten your disappearing act Sunday night after the power went out? I didn’t buy your text ‘staying with a friend’. Sure, right.”

“I’m that obvious?” She pats her face with his handkerchief.

He doesn’t answer, rather looks at her with a patient, brotherly head tilt. “It’s me, come on, time to level.”

“Dan, I, I think I’m, I’m… Dan, I…” her voice softens so he has to move closer to hear three words fall out of her, into the air like a whisper of fresh, multicolored flower petals floating on a slow-moving river: “I love her.”

He leans in, puts a hand on her shoulder. “It happened fast, yeah?” His eyes full of understanding.

She nods, calculating the pace she and Carol travel from oboe scales to pounding and rolling so slowly into each other all night long in time with a metronome.

“We had a terrible fight yesterday. She was irritable and short, hurt my feelings and you know how I get when that happens?” Therese fills Dan in on the details. “I should have stood my ground and fought it out, not bolted. And, you mustn’t share this with anyone. She’s in such a stressful place with Harge Aird, his knowing would make it worse for her. It’s all so complicated. ” Tears spring again.

“It doesn’t sound complicated.” Dan moves across the table to sit next to her. He hugs her. “It sounds pretty simple.”

The flutist and violist join just in time to see Therese being comforted. Dan makes a joke about her sadness: “She won’t see me for a while after she leaves in a few days. Poor girl is distraught.” This helps her pull herself together while everyone laughs.

The flutist, Jen, immediately hits it off with Therese. She has a friend who’s a grad student at Northwestern studying music. “If you end up going there, I’ll put you two in contact.” Therese feels better distracted by conversation with new friends.

“Did you all hear the gossip about Professor Aird?” Jen asks. She spills the music department gossip about Carol apparently storming into Harge’s office on Monday afternoon, slamming the door and their doozy of a heated argument. “His assistant stuck her ear against the adjacent wall for most of the conversation. Carol wants a divorce now but he’s hanging on. She huffed out of there without a word.”

Dan notices Therese squirm in her chair like it’s been lit on fire. Is Carol alright? How hard she’s trying to swim out of thick rope binding her to this man who wants to keep her with him in the same net.

Tuesday Evening, December 16 – Carol

Carol parks her car up the street from St. Paul’s Chapel. It’s 6:10pm. Therese’s ensemble practice begins in 20 minutes. This should give her time to see her, talk to her in person, even if it’s only for 2 minutes, 50 seconds, even the chance to look into her eyes 5 seconds. She gets out of her car and walks to one side of the church. She stands under a tree dressed all in black for her 7:30pm Philharmonic concert: black dress, black pumps, black coat. The last thing she wants is to be seen by Harge so she pulls her coat collar up around her neck and looks at the ground. After five minutes she hears the familiar, wonderful sound of Therese’s voice. Therese. Carol peers around the corner, clandestinely glancing to see Therese and her friends 50 feet away. They are all laughing-- Jen the flutist has her arm around Therese. What the hell? The closer they get to the chapel doors, the happier they seem. And Carol backs up, one step, two steps, head lowers. Carol incorrectly perceives a cruel distance widening between them: two clocks out of synch. Carol analog and running behind; Therese digital in good time. She’s happy. Why shouldn’t she be, with people her own age?

Carol slinks back in the shadows and walks quickly up the street, out of sight. She can hear the distance between them grow tick, tick, tick the tempo, it’s all out of whack and Carol is swallowed by a progressive wave of loneliness.

Carol, you damn fool. She drives to Lincoln Center. Fast. Get me outa here.

Practice – Therese

It hits Therese immediately. Carol isn’t here in their chapel. It feels small, yet massive and hollow. She forces herself not to look anywhere near the corner behind her, the place their bodies joined in the dark. Harge waltzes in perfectly coifed. Practically the first words he utters: “Carol will not be here tonight. She has the first of her Philharmonic Handel performances tonight. She sends her best and will be here for our concert Sunday.”

Yuck. Sends her best? Therese wonders how he can pretend. Faculty and students know he and Carol are not in sync.

“One more thing,” Harge rolls up his sleeves, “this will be our last practice. I have a conflict Thursday. But we’ll make the most of tonight. Also, remember the reception to follow our concert in the main church meeting room upstairs. Feel free to bring a date.” His dark eyes meet Therese’s instantly. Both know they each think of the same person.  

“Woodwinds, try to make the most of Carol not being here.”

You can say that again. Therese finds she and her clarinet marooned without the oboist’s presence rocking next to her, keeping time, holding on, pushing away at precise moments. She misses her entrance on Pavane Op 50 several times in a row.

You can’t play without my wife holding your hand. Harge enjoys her missteps.

“Therese, you seem distracted. Everything okay?”

“Sorry, I’m feeling out of sync.”

She pulls it together and suffers through the rest of the practice. It finishes at 8pm leaving Therese feeling she endured a transcontinental flight stuck in the middle seat. “Therese, would you like to go get a cup of coffee?” Jen is swabbing out her flute.

“Thanks Jen, can I take a rain check, maybe another time before I leave? I’m gonna hang back and practice a bit longer by myself.”

“Want company to practice with?”

“Thanks, Jen. I feel like being alone.”

Everyone clears out leaving Therese with her thoughts and her clarinet. She practices 30 minutes, escaping into sounds that flow easily out of the instrument, filling the empty Carol-less church with her misery. She puts her instrument away and sits down in a church pew with her iPod. She’s recently downloaded new music, all featuring Carol’s instrument. She closes her eyes and listens to a piano oboe duet. It’s one of the last pieces of music French composer Saint-Sans wrote before he died in 1921. It is sweet and slow and filled with gorgeous pauses: like the moments of silence with Carol, never awkward, their beating hearts filling voids. She imagines the oboe is Carol’s voice speaking only to her. Every limb in her body relaxes and her mind wanders to a place where it is easy for them to be together. She thinks about the significance of this being the composer’s last work, his last words. That’s when it hits her and… she moves. Fast. It’s almost 9pm. Carol’s concert should be done by 9:30. Perhaps she can make it there in time. Even if it’s for only five minutes, 30 seconds: I’m sorry I overreacted. Talk to me about what’s going on in your life. She’s running down Church Street her arms waves to hail a cab.

She arrives at Lincoln Center at 9:25 flying out of the cab without getting her change. She runs toward Lincoln Center as though her life depends on getting there in time.

Concert – Carol

When she arrives at Lincoln Center Carol texts Abby: “Are you free to meet for coffee after my concert tonight? Say 9:35 on the west side of Lincoln Center? Sorry for short notice. No problem if you can’t.” Abby texts back she’ll be there, sensing her friend’s afternoon sadness extends through tonight.

Carol barely makes it through the concert and only because this piece is routine by now, a recurring performance each holiday season. Her brain on autopilot tells her lungs, hands, eyes, mouth what to do. Her mind lifts out of her body. She isn’t there.

After the concert Gabriel, the principal clarinetist approaches Carol. “Did your friend like the Buffet loaner?”

“Yes. Thank you, Gabriel. I’ll get it to you next practice. I think she's done with it.” More like she's done with me.

She spots Abby right on time waiting outside. She waves.

Therese turns the corner running toward Lincoln Center with her clarinet case.

Carol, elegant in her tight-fitting black dress approaches Abby.

Therese slows down seeing Carol fall into a stranger’s arms burying her head into this woman’s neck. She gets a flashback to the other night in the chapel when Carol fell into the safety of her arms like that.

What the fuck? She stands frozen, dumb.

Carol pulls her head up and turns, sensing someone watching. Therese. The clarinetist looks at her, glaring from across the plaza, misunderstanding and now on the run.

“Therese wait. Oh, shit Abby.”

“Go, Carol. Run.”

Carol hands Abby her oboe case, removes her 3” heels, hikes up her tight dress above her knees and takes off like her life depends on catching Therese.

“Wait Therese. Wait!”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. The pavement is cold and rough against her feet.

Therese’s hand is waving, signaling a cab, any cab. One stops. Carol behind, breathing hard, calf muscles burning. Therese opens the cab door, turning to see Carol barreling down on her. She sits down fast, shuts the door watching the oboist still running, running. The cab starts to pull away. The oboist grabs the door handle and shouts “Stop” louder than she’s ever said anything in her life.

The driver turns to see a tall, out-of-breath woman running alongside his cab who is opening the back door.

“Jesus Christ, lady.”

Carol swings the door completely open and grabs onto Therese’s wrist.

Their eyes meet with intensity, two opposing forces of nature.

Carol pulls her wrist forcefully.

“Get out.”

 

 

Chapter Text

2009 – Therese counterpoint

Therese is running late to her Baroque (1600-1750) History college course. Today's lecture will focus on the concept of counterpoint, which fascinates her. She does not want to miss class. Bach, in particular, was known for incorporating counterpoint into his compositions. Rather than a main melody and an accompanying harmony, music composed using counterpoint contains a melody played in combination with another melody. Both are independent of one another in rhythm and texture. As Therese's professor explained counterpoint: “It is something that is different from something else in an unusually pleasing way.”

 

2014 – Cab chase scene continued. Counterpoint - Bach’s G Minor Piano

Therese stares through the cab window at Carol running toward her, disbelieving this woman is still chasing after her. A passionate dance about to erupt between them each will push and pull toward and away from the other. Their pleas and cries not in harmony, but standing alone, two melodies played in combination, one no more important than the other.

Two counterpoints: punctus contra punctum. Point against point.

Therese should stop the driver, say something, but she can’t, fueled by a pairing of infatuation and injury, a young, fragile heart flame hot with ache for Carol. Paralyzed, she pines for the oboist to chase her relentlessly every day, pursue her cab to hell and back. This pursuit is perhaps the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen aside from Carol’s naked body rising on top of hers or the creases in the corner of Carol's eyes when she smiles.

Chase me down this cold pavement, colder than the marble church floors where you twisted and turned with pleasure. Come for me again.

The cab starts to pull away. The oboist grabs the door handle and shouts “STOP” louder than she’s spoken anything in her life. Carol yanks the door open as though she’s saving Therese from a four-alarm fire rather than from her own stubborn, sensitive self.

Their eyes meet with intensity, two opposing forces of nature, distinct melodies played at the same time.

Carol pulls Therese’s wrist forcefully.

“Get out.”

Therese is immobile. Still.

The cab is stopped, driver shouting at both women as he waves short muscular arms in the air. He asks Therese if she needs help, does she know this woman trying to haul her away.

“Hell yes she knows me,” Carol answers for Therese, “but she keeps running away from me like a little girl who needs a spanking.”

“Get out of the cab now Therese. I CANNOT believe you let me run after you. Why won’t you stop and talk to me? You bolt out of my apartment, tell me you’re flying home without even letting me apologize, you don’t answer my pathetic, groveling texts. And NOW you let me chase you barefooted while you watch me out of your cab window without saying a WORD.” Carol grabs both of her wrists. Therese tries pushing her away by leaning into Carol as hard as she can. "Let me go." Carol pulls her and manages to move Therese halfway out of the cab. Therese yells in protest and rears her head into Carol's chest.

"Damn it, Therese."

A small crowd of passersby is forming. A man walking two fat pug dogs asks if he should call the cops. A few people try to take pictures with their phones, hoping the flash will be enough to capture this nighttime scene of a woman in concert dress wrestling another from a cab.

“Ladies, ladies, take your love spat out and away from my cab NOW.”

“Therese, you might as well take this cab all the way to the airport now so you can run away from me sooner. Why bother to stay for the concert? Run back to Iowa today.” With that, the final point of her melody, Carol releases Therese’s arms. She’s done. Overcome, she turns and walks away waving a hand in the air dismissively.

The driver yells “therapy ladies” as Therese abruptly darts out of the cab, shocked into action by Carol’s unexpected surrender. The cab disappears into the night as Therese steps up the pace in pursuit of a retreating Carol.

"That's it, you're done yelling and lecturing me? I don't get a chance to explain anything, tell my side? Typical."

"Typical? What's that supposed to mean?"

They stand in the middle of the sidewalk shouting at one another, the crowd that gathered near the cab thins.

"It means just what it means. You don't give me a chance, Carol. You're too busy talking at me or down to me. You don't think you share in any of the blame? You think the way you talked to me at your apartment was the way a person who cares about another person communicates? Do you need me to draw you a picture?"

"Yeah, please, draw me a picture. I'm the villain, you're my victim. I get it." The oboist is limping, discovering she’s injured something: an ankle twisted during her cab chase. Therese watches her limp toward the side of a nearby Italian restaurant.

“You’re hurt.” Therese closes the gap between them.

“My foot is the least of what hurts.” Carol’s voice defeated. She leans against the side of the restaurant. I can’t eat, I barely sleep. You’re killing me, Therese. Do you know that?”

I’m killing you? Oh, please, give me a break.” It’s Therese’s turn to explain. Counterpoint. She starts off small and then a swelling, her melody different than Carol’s, but still beautiful, not in harmony, but its own distinct sound that doesn’t match, but the sounds twist together hauntingly.

"You think you're the only one who can't sleep, can’t eat? You think I'm not affected? You think it's worse for you, but it's worse for me because I can’t have you, and I’m not talking about the fact that you’re still technically married, I’m talking about how you pull away. You’re remote and unpredictable.”

Carol turns her head to the side, suddenly unable to meet the young woman’s eye.  

Sixteenth notes spill from the piano, bass clef holding down the tempo with eighth notes tracking close behind.

“I cannot reconcile how much I think about you with how little I know about you. I heard you say something about a baby on the phone to your mother. What was that about? Did you have a baby? I don’t know anything about you because you close up anytime I try to get too close with questions about your life. Unless we’re rolling around in your bed, then you’ll let me get close.” Therese’s voice is getting louder and Carol is gradually meeting her eye, though her face is pained and tears begin to transport mascara from eyelashes to cheeks. She sighs heavily.

"Therese, things are more complicated for me right now than for you. Why can't you understand that?" she leans down to inspect her twisted ankle.

“And you know what else, Carol? You treat me like I’m a simpleton—that whole bit about your reading glasses not being purchased off the shelf. You think I’m some bumpkin girl from Iowa who isn’t good enough for you?”

“No, no I don’t think that, Therese.” She wipes the corners of her eyes and sighs deeply.

“Why did you ever marry him, Carol, why did you?" her voice is angry and rising.

"Therese, don't make more of a God damned scene than we already have."

"See what I mean, you're doing it again," the clarinetist moves in closer, inches from the oboist's face, "you're pulling away when I ask you a personal question. Enough with the whole mystery thing, why do you hide... and from me?" She begins to cry from anger as much as sadness. Carol grabs her by her shoulders. Therese pulls away.

"Stop, Carol. You don't get to make it better by touching me."

"Fine." Carol drops her hands back at her sides.

"And who was that woman you were with tonight? You ask me why I run… as much as I want to run to you, I run the other way because I’m afraid you’re going to eventually crush me. Stomp all over my heart. And finally, I can’t stay here in New York indefinitely. I have to make plans for my future too. Other than you, what could possibly be keeping me here?”

"For God's sake, Therese, that woman is my closest friend. I've known her since the 3rd grade. So what, I was hugging her. Big f-ing deal... I didn't have my hand down her shirt. Don't draw such quick conclusions about a situation, Therese. You're being immature. Grow up."

Therese is listening, her ears turning red, burning at the "immature" comment. "Carol, I am young. You think I can help that? Do you think I wanted to fall for someone 15 years older? I didn't choose it. How about I grow up when you open up. How's that for a mature idea?"

"Do you want to know why I was hugging her, that woman?"

"Don't bother explaining, I'm so incredibly immature, I'll not get it."

Carol rolls her eyes. "I was hugging her because I miss you and I was so damned sad thinking you were gonna fly home and I'd never see you again or get a chance to apologize. You never gave me a chance, Therese. You just ignored my texts. It was cruel. All I did after you didn't reply was mope around. But all you can do is jump to conclusions. You're so wrong, Therese. You're just wrong." Carol's voice is shaking. "That flying home, end of story routine was shitty and you know it, Therese."

Tears begin to sting and burn at Therese's eyes as she looks up into the night sky exposed and raw. "I know it, it was shitty. I did it partly to hurt you."

"Well, it worked."

They stand looking at the sky together, the impasse between them begins to let up.  

Therese reaches her hand out until their fingers instinctively intertwine and lock as naturally as two magnets attaching. They both pull, pull each other at the same time, their entire bodies finding a comfortable, effortless fit, the one that nature intended when they each were created. They are home again, arms wrapped tightly, heads buried in necks.

Therese reaches a hand tenderly to Carol's cheek. Lips meet like a whisper sharing a sensitive secret, opening and closing sweetly against one another around and around as they taste tears earned from the battle. Affettuoso.    

They stay this way for several minutes until they are standing next to each other, fingers connected, staring at the night sky, breathing in and out. Each breath extinguishing remaining anger. Carol is the first to speak: “Therese, I’m so hungry. Would you get something to eat with me? I’ve been to this Italian place, the one we’re leaning against. It’s good. We can talk. I want to talk, I promise to try and answer your questions, or at least give it a start… Do you like Italian?”

Therese nods in agreement and helps limping Carol into Violino’s, the Italian restaurant cleverly named in homage to its close proximity to the New York Philharmonic’s home at Lincoln Center. Carol has eaten here numerous times before or after concerts.

“Miss Carol,” the owner, Sal recognizes her. “Are you hurt?”

“Yes,” Therese answers. She’s injured her foot. “Can we get some ice for it please?”

“Sure, sure.” Sal yells for a bucket of ice and a towel. Therese and Carol are seated at a corner table near the back of the restaurant. Once they sit down, Therese examines the foot. Carol’s ankle is swelling.

“It’s nothing, Sweetheart. I’m fine.”

They prop her injured foot onto a wooden chair. Therese puts both of their coats under the foot to elevate it more.

Sal asks how Carol injured herself. “I was running after… I was running late.”

The women order a large salad and plate of Fettuccini Alfredo, which they will split. The ice arrives and Therese takes great care in making an ice pack. She handles Carol’s ankle delicately, when she touches it Carol feels no pain, but a warmth traveling from ankle, up both legs rapidly spreading to all sorts of other places throughout her body. Therese sets the ice on the most swollen section of the ankle. She holds it in place as Carol begins to tell Therese the story of how she met Harge and why they married.

 

2009 – Carol - without affettuoso

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be accompanying a guest pianist performing Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s piece, Liebestraume. The conductor explains the mood of the music. Affettuoso: the Italian musical command meaning tender or affecting. “We will try to make love to the audience,” he says.

The direction is given the night a new violinist joins the symphony. He sits two rows behind Carol violin cradled on his lap, thick dark hair wavy and tussled whimsically. He is thinner, brighter, less complicated and controlling and more secure than he is now. Eyes land on her with immediate intensity and craving-- she is a meal to be eaten. He is affected instantly by her, an unbalance of influence immediately set in movement. It will grow stronger each day. She not affected equally: the things he does will not stir emotion deep within her soul. At their culminating worst she will be able to wound him with just a look while he will be unable to hurt her with even his permanent absence from her life.

 

2014 Carol’s apartment – con affettuoso - Franz Liszt’s Liebestraume (German for Dreams of Love)

They leave the restaurant. Carol’s left shoe not able to fit because of her swollen ankle. She gives Therese her car keys and instructions on where she’s parked at Lincoln Center. Therese returns 15 minutes later with the car, Carol waits inside Violino’s after its 11pm closing time. Sal and Therese both help Carol hobble into the car. Carol asks Therese to drive, she’s just feeling very tired.

They are silent during the ride to Carol’s. Therese glances at the oboist whose eyes are closed, her head resting against the window, breathing slow and peaceful. She’s fallen asleep exhausted from the past 2 days. At a stoplight the clarinetist reaches over and closes the front of Carol’s coat that is wide open across her chest, making sure she’s warm. She lets her hand glide down her arm as she pulls away, a lingering touch on her sleeping companion.

Therese’s head is heavy with what Carol shared over dinner. How she met Harge in 2009. He was charming and shared an ambition and love of music. Her mother loved him; his father adored her. She was content to just date, never planning to marry, happily single, independent. In a weak moment, in a lonely moment, they made love. She became pregnant. “It only takes one time,” Carol reminded her. “Getting married seemed the best option.” But, the pregnancy developed complications. At 20 weeks Carol was placed on bed rest, her case so severe she had to stay at a hospital, victim of an incompetent cervix. “Can you believe that?” Carol said jokingly while twisting fettuccini onto her fork. “Only a man could have come up with that term.” The baby was born too soon, at 22 weeks. A baby girl: she lived almost a full day.

“I’m so sorry, Carol.” Therese softly touched Carol’s arm across the table.

“We decided not to name her. I regret that now. She is buried in Chicago, where we lived at the time. Her grave marker says “Baby Girl Aird, May 3, 2010 – May 3, 2010. That’s all.”

When they arrive at Carol’s apartment Therese gently nudges her softly, shaking her shoulder. “You’re home, wake up.”

Therese helps her into the apartment and then into pajamas and bed. She gets a washcloth from the bathroom and a bar of soap. She lifts each of Carol's feet from under the covers and begins to remove all signs of a barefoot run down dirty New York streets. She is especially gentle with the left foot, treating it as though it were made of tissue paper. After both feet are tucked back in, frozen peas are placed on the injured ankle. Ibuprofen tablets are found in the medicine cabinet.

“Here, take these.”

“Yes, thank you nurse Therese.” Carol bats her sleepy eyes.

“Are you comfortable, Carol?”

“Yes, I am… now that you’re here.”

“Ok, well, um, I think I should leave so you can rest. I should go.”

“No, don’t. Please stay.”

An outstretched pause fills the space between them.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Carol pats the empty space in bed next to her.

Therese changes into a tee shirt she finds in a chest of drawers. The one she picks is gray with New York written in white lettering. It smells of a sweet mixture of laundry soap and Carol. She slides into bed gently, noticing the infamous broken reading glasses sit on the nightstand. Tape holds them together at the bridge. Carol sees her looking at the glasses. “New ones won’t be ready until next week. It’s a quick fix.” They both smile, but nothing more needs to be said.

“Come here,” Carol reaches for her and Therese wraps herself around the oboist affectionately, buried in her arms, careful not to brush up against the injured foot. They look into each other’s eyes and rub noses, eyes flickering with sleepy passion and contentedness.

Poco Allegro, con affetto – a little faster, with feeling. Play me with feeling.

Therese, lying on her side, faces Carol. She pulls their heads as close as possible then runs fingers through blond hair in swirling, twirling patterns.

The piano melody is sweet and gentle. Six/four time, four flats. The same melody repeating, but varied each time.

“Therese?”

“Yes Carol.”

“I’m thinking we should get out of New York together. Just a night or two before the concert on Sunday... would you like to go on a little getaway with me?”

“Yes, yes I would.” There is no hesitation, no need to consider anything but being together as long as possible.

Therese reaches on the nightstand and grabs the glasses. She opens them and in a deliberate and gradual motion slides them onto Carol’s nose. They rest lopsided and tape on the bridge makes Carol look like a mad, seductive scientist. Therese’s hands rest on Carol’s ears as she moves in toward her placing soft kisses lasting mere seconds each on nose, cheeks, forehead, chin, lips and finally a long kiss is planted directly on one of the eyeglass lens. A long moan releases from the oboist, her head falls back on her pillow and hands pull her lover closer. The glasses will dangle catawampus on Carol’s face in a few hours, after they've had several hours sleep, Carol gasping with passion, the frozen peas fallen onto the floor, pain in her ankle ignored as Therese gently brings her to the edge and over. Once. Twice.

Therese moves her lips up to Carol’s ear and whispers “Do you know what TLC really stands for?”

“Tell me, Sweetheart.”

“Therese Loves Carol.”

Carol smiles. Her raspy voice whispers “Then, do you know what TLC backwards stands for?”

Lips move toward an ear to spell it out more clearly, hands move lower, breathing out the answer unhurriedly and with affecttuoso.

 

 

Chapter Text

Wednesday, December 17- Early Morning

Johannes Brahms Lullaby, Op 49-4

Therese and Carol ride in a cab en route to their getaway, the destination a secret Carol won’t divulge. They hold hands. When the cab stops at a light the women look at each other blissfully, excited to be escaping the city together. All is perfect, too good to be true, until they are unexpectedly jolted by a loud thump on the cab’s roof directly above Therese’s head. Held hands slip apart as Therese looks out the window shocked and horrified to see a red-faced Harge Aird outside the cab yelling angrily, his hand banging against the cab roof. He pries open the door violently.

“Get out!” he shouts as he yanks Therese by both wrists with thick hands hot against her skin, removing her with frenetic force. He pushes her down hard onto the cold curb. “Stay away from my wife, I’m the conductor, take your clarinet and go the hell back home.” He slides into the cab next to Carol, the door swings shut abruptly. Therese hears him shout “FASTER” as the cab weaves in and out of traffic flying away with Carol.

Therese sits on the curb dumbfounded. It’s freezing. She begins to shake…shaking… shaking. She can’t stop the shaking.

“Therese, you’re dreaming.” Carol keeps shaking her distraught bed mate’s shoulder sympathetically, but can’t wake her. “No, no.” Therese’s voice is scrambled, distressed, she’s tossing reaching searing limbs in multiple directions, whimpering. Carol is kicked in the leg hard as the dreamer’s body shifts and fights something or in this case, someone, tormenting her. “Stop.”

“Therese? Sweetheart, it’s alright, you’re alright. It’s a dream, you’re having a bad dream.”

Carol sits up, stroking Therese’s arm as the young woman, covered in sweat, continues muttering undiscernibly before abruptly jolting straight up. She gasps out “Carol”.

“I’m here. I’m right here.”

Disoriented and wild-eyed she assesses the room, a trapped animal searching for an escape. Her erratic breathing and pounding heart make it difficult to focuses on half-asleep Carol and her concerned face. “I’m here.” Therese plunges into her arms still mumbling, trying to explain the disturbing vision she slept through. “Harge tried to take you away in a cab. I was riding with you… and then…” She clutches Carol even tighter and touches her face sloppily making sure she’s real.

“It was just a silly dream, I'm right here, safe beside you.” They fall back down into the bed, Therese’s head resting on a comforting chest, arms and legs wrap around every available inch of Carol. Therese’s breathing eventually becomes regular, her head rises and falls in time with Carol’s every soothing breath. Her body gradually unclenching as Carol softly hums Johannes Brahms “Lullaby”, Op 49 No. 4 stilling Therese with steady thumping of her own heart beating in time with the song she purrs: Ba ba bum, ba ba bum

Twenty minutes pass and Carol stares at the ceiling wide awake and preoccupied. The clock reads 3:31 am. Damn you Harge, showing up in my bed. She wiggles out from under Therese smoothly, the bed barely moves as she pulls each of her arms free. Weight is put on her left foot. It feels better, less swollen, but still sore. She picks up the thawed bag of peas from the floor and heads to the kitchen.

While she makes coffee her mind wanders from one topic to the next. Harge and the divorce… Therese going home soon… the fast-approaching holidays... She doesn’t want to think about any of it. Her plan for Christmas is to ski with Abby and a few friends in Vermont. Now, though, the idea of being apart from Therese… Breathe Carol. It is mystifying, these strong feelings for someone she’s known briefly. A wild, uncontrollable bond connects them. Their bond is an aggressive ride at an amusement park hurling riders up and down and sideways, holding on to anything for dear life, reaching for stomachs as everything spins. When the ride is over, the ground a welcome source of contentment; but, after the spinning subsides they run back in line to ride again and again.

Carol is pouring coffee when inspiration strikes. A getaway for a night or two is abandoned. It’s not enough. We need to get away, not just a getaway. She grabs coffee cup in one hand cell phone in the other and furiously begins to make plans while Therese sleeps peacefully.

Wednesday, December 17 – 9:00am Mourning

Chopin Prelude in E-Minor, Op. 28 No. 4

Harge sees the same therapist he and Carol saw after their premature baby didn’t survive, then again last year while trying to salvage what was left of their marriage. He scheduled today’s session because she begged him to “see someone.” Though he wonders if her appeal contains a double meaning, as in Harge, get therapy AND see someone, find someone other than me. Date, move on.

“Hello Harge.” The therapist is a thin, well-dressed man in his 40s who himself has never been in a serious relationship that’s lasted over five years. He has trust issues and is promiscuous. A disconnect between his lifestyle and profession no different than roofers whose shingles need repair or a veterinarian with cats at home who are not up to date on vaccinations. His advice is still sound whether clients follow it or he leads a life of example. The men shake hands.

Harge wastes no time getting to the point. His wife moved out, filed for divorce. He very much wants to work things out. She does not. She encouraged him to go back to therapy to help him “let go.” While he speaks the therapist is reminded of his earlier sessions where both husband and wife attended. He recalls Harge did most of the talking while Karen… was that her name? He looks through their file… no, Carol, would occasionally nod her head, arms folded, but seemed disinterested in being there or more significantly disinterested in being with her husband. A perceptive man, the therapist sensed discontentment, Carol like water, Harge the oil she separates from. She was distant, especially after their baby did not survive. He remembers her looking at walls, through walls, at her hands while Harge reached for her hand, trying to comfort her, putting his arm around her. She was not there… with him. The therapist wished she would schedule a solo session, so he could attempt breaking her silence, cracking her psyche code. If only he could see her now: Carol yielding, fitting with someone else. Carol liquid, Therese a drain she gladly slides down, pouring herself into the other woman, their naked bodies rocking as every fiber of Carol glistens with contentment. What good could therapy possibly do her since finding Therese?

“I think she’s found someone else.”

“What makes you say that?”

Harge explains the new person at ensemble practice, a young musician from out of state. He thinks Carol is attracted to this person. He does not disclose his suspicion that his wife is falling for another woman, not because he feels any more defeated by that element. No, Harge feels most defeated by the inconceivable notion of her moving on with anyone while he is stuck.  

“Why have you not signed the divorce papers?”

“Well,” Harge hesitates. He looks away, trying to contain his emotion.

“It will mean it’s over.” He presses his hands together uncomfortably.

“You’re experiencing the stages of grief, Harge. You seem stuck in stage one and two: denial and anger.”

The therapist advises him to be kind to himself, but even kinder to his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Harge swallows hard when hearing the words “ex-wife” spoken so casually, as if the man’s discussing baseball scores.

“Sometimes marriage is like a puzzle,” the therapist leans in, “and, the key is to remember that you can try and force the wrong pieces to fit together, but they will never make a pretty picture.” If Carol and Harge are like puzzle pieces Harge is a corner piece and their being mismatched is less noticeable to him, connected to her with only one simple tab. However, Carol is a multifaceted jigsaw piece with complex tabs and slots waiting for just the right piece to fit beside her, inside her. Being with Harge, she is bent and overextended uncomfortably trying to fit with his one outstretched tab.

As the therapist says “the key is to remember…” Harge instantly thinks of the key he has to Carol’s new apartment. Part of him wants to confess it, admit right now he knows he did a very bad thing and hand over the keys, weapons he needs to surrender. This should be the sole reason he is here today-- all other talk equivalent to fleas on an elephant’s ass. Nevertheless Harge keeps entirely silent on the matter.

Wednesday, December 17 - 6:50am Getway or Get Away?

Therese wakes to the smell of eggs and coffee. Carol walks in the bedroom fully dressed in dark jeans and brown sweater, her hair in a ponytail she is carrying a tray with coffee, eggs and toast.

“Your foot’s better?”

“Much. Feels little weird but it’s not sprained, maybe strained.” The tray is set down on the night stand. Therese wonders what all the fuss is about and why is Carol up and dressed so early.

“I decided to spoil you after your awful night seeing Harge. And, I realized this morning I never actually apologized to you last night for, well for my moodiness… and you know, well… everything.”

“Keep bringing me food and I’ll forgive most anything. This looks good, I’m starving.” She takes a big bite of toast and sits up energetically.

“Something funny about you dawned on me this morning.” Therese’s voice is muffled by food in her mouth.

“Only one funny thing, huh?”

It dawned on Therese that the first time she saw Carol, in St. Paul’s, she wasn’t wearing shoes, then of course last night she performed her barefoot prestissimo. “That’s funny, don’t you think?”

Carol smiles. “Well, you’ve seen a lot more than my bare feet. At least I wasn’t running after your cab bare-assed.” She laughs a hearty, deep laugh full of interesting musical textures and tones-- Therese could listen to it replaying on an endless loop.

“Alright sleepyhead, are you ready for my thoughts about our trip? I have a radical idea. Are you feeling adventurous?”

Carol asks her what she has going on the rest of the week before Sunday night’s concert.

“Well, Thursday practice was cancelled. So I’m wide open, except Jen and I talked about doing touristy stuff on and off this week.”

“Oh,” Carol looks down at her coffee cup. “Jen, the flute girl, huh?”

“You’re jealous?” Therese is happy, chuckling at the thought of it.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Me? Jealous of a silly flute player? If you want to hang around people who play instruments without reeds—well, it’s your business.” Carol smiles broadly, brushing hair out of her eyes. She continues picking up clothes left on the floor last night and tidying the room.

Therese still laughs. Carol thinks she looks unbelievably cute giggling in between bites of egg and sips of coffee. “You’re gonna choke, try chewing and breathing.” Both know they each would change plans, even a meeting with a favorite friend or even celebrity, in order to be with each other, but are enjoying this banter too much.

“Ok, fine, you’ll just have to blow off your flute friend, pun intended. I have something to propose.”

“Tell me, tell me, what’s your radical idea?”

Carol lays out her thoughts: they don’t need to be back until Sunday afternoon. She has two Messiah concerts during the week, but found a replacement to fill in and left a message with the conductor telling him she has a family emergency. She’s just waiting to hear back from him, but what can he say… sure it will be fine. “That means we could go somewhere farther away and stay four nights.”

“Go on.”

“How do you feel about sunshine and warm water?”

“Carol, don’t tease me. What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about escaping with me to Miami.”

Therese jumps up. “What? Well, um, yes!” But then she’d be happy if Carol wanted to car camp for two nights. “YES! Oh, yes Carol. I think your radical idea is… amazing. But how much will tickets cost without advance booking?”

“Don’t worry about it. Think of this trip as my Christmas present to you, to me, to…us. Plus I have frequent flier miles so it won’t be as bad as you think.”

Carol has a philharmonic friend, the harpist, who owns a condo on Miami’s North Beach. A few musicians, including Carl, stayed there last year. The condo is available this week. There’s a key box on the door and Carol was already texted the code this morning—the harpist is clearly an early riser.

“And, I’ve checked flights, if we rush like hell, we can catch a noon flight and be there by 3:00pm. Today.”

Although there aren’t seats available together on the plane, there are two seats left. “What do you say? If it’s a yes, I need to book this baby now before the seats are gone.”

“I say, this is an extraordinary idea-- yes, yes, book it!”

“Alright then!” Carol grabs her charge card and iPad. She snags the two remaining seats: crappy middle seat 1 and crappy middle seat 2. “Sorry, both seats are middles and separated by about nine rows. Ugh, but at least we’ll be on the same plane, right?”

“Come on girl,” Carol swats Therese’s behind. Get moving, we need to haul ass if we want to pull this off.”

Cue Astor Piazzolla “Libertango” – Cover by The Duo Gitarinet

Soft as a feather, clarinet and guitar perfectly match the music’s seduction and secretiveness building into an explosion of passion, energy and speed to accompany a mad dash to JFK International.

Dirty dishes from breakfast flung into the dishwasher, they nearly crash into one another reminiscent of contestants on The Amazing Race about to begin a competition navigating the globe together. Carol pulls a carryon suitcase out of the closet, hair falling into her eyes, Therese slides too quickly into her jeans nearly falling over in the process.

“If we don’t’ stop at Dan’s for anything that would save time. Just borrow from me and we’ll get the rest of what we need there…. things like sunscreen and swimsuits.” She winks.

Therese agrees saying they should plan to live like minimalists. “How many clothes will we really need?” Therese eyes Carol suggestively.

Carol is reading a message on her phone “Naughty girl.” She confirms hearing back from the Philharmonic conductor who is fine with her plan. “I just need to book the rental car and we’re ready to go.”

Therese is dumping things into the suitcase: underwear, bras, tee shirts, dresses, flip flops she finds buried deep in Carol’s closet, she goes into the bathroom next and finds toiletries. She yells out to Carol “Do you have any hats, say baseball caps? And remember your sunglasses.”

“Check top shelf of the closet, right side for hats. Thanks for the reminder about sunglasses, I’m putting them in my bag now.

“Found them!” She throws the hats into the suitcase.

“Our instruments, should we bring them?”

“No, let’s give our lips a rest… well….” Carol adds some blouses and a few shorts to the pile, smiling coyly at her lip comment. “Let’s hit it.”

They leap into Carol’s Lexus by 8:44am. New York traffic slow as expected.

Guitar strums hard, clarinet trills an open G to A-flat, dynamics cresting.

“Therese, I need to get in the right lane, roll your window down and get that driver’s attention, maybe bat your eyes and flirt a little. Just do whatever it takes. Then get online and see if Grand Central Parkway or I-678 will be faster.” They are as successful negotiating traffic as they are playing music or each other’s body in concert.

They make it to JFK in 39 minutes, sliding into an overnight parking lot. “Hurry,” Carol grabs her purse while Therese reaches for the carryon. They run to the overnight parking check-in fueled by adrenaline.

Libertango musicians tightly belt out succinct notes while the travelers dash from one line to the next, clarinet tone clear, ripping out, a bell in the night, run after run, pulse-pounding guitar syncopates, articulates and accents at precise instants matching the clarinet, following yet driving the energy.

The car check-in line moves quickly, Carol turns over her keys. They dash for an airport shuttle line. Therese yelling “What airline is it again?” She’s on tip toe watching a line of shuttles moving near.

“American Airlines.”

A man standing next to them asks where they’re traveling. When he hears their flight leaves at noon he says “Good luck, you’ll need it getting through security this time of year.”

“Thanks, Chief” Carol says sarcastically. He looks at her not knowing what to make of the comment. She doesn’t care.

They make it to the terminal. Therese’s cell phone time reads 10:31.

“Carol, do you think we have a prayer making it through security in time?”

She doesn’t answer reaching for Therese’s small hand and pulling her toward an escalator. They run up, up, passing people standing casually reaching the level where check-in is located weaving through the crowd, still holding hands. Therese drags the carryon behind her like a rag doll, it hits occasional legs or feet of miffed fellow travelers.

“Look for a free computer to check in—we’re signed up for e-tickets.”

“There’s one,” Therese is out of breath. She types in her info; a boarding pass spits out. Carol enters her info. Success: two boarding passes and they are on their way running to stand in the next line.

Clarinetist blares out the tango, closing his eyes, feeling the beat reinforced by the guitarist.

Glazed-over faces stand in the security line tuned into phones, ear buds shielding each passenger from the next. Every color of backpack imaginable represented along with every color of skin and body shape. Therese and Carol join the line, becoming part of a cacophonic impressionistic painting of humankind.

They arrive at gate C-12 lungs blazing.

“Final boarding call for flight 1218 non-stop to Miami International Airport.”

“Just in time,” a perky agent takes their boarding passes. “Hurry ladies.”

They are seated in 17B, a middle seat on the left, and 26E a middle seat on the right. A mother and her fussy baby wait for Therese in row 17. Bearded, tattooed 20-something grunge-band boys wait for Carol in row 26. As she tries to sneak in between them she nearly says: “Hi, I play oboe.”

Before Carol has buckled her seatbelt, a flight attendant, more angel than human, taps her shoulder and whispers: “There are two no- shows in row 28, seats E and F. Would you and your friend like to sit together?”

“Definitely,” Carol jumps up. The pilot announces their tarmac queue as she scurries to row 17. “Therese,” she motions for her to follow. They both move faster to row 28 than they’ve moved during the entire morning’s tango tear.

Carol can hear Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus ringing in her heart as she and Therese settle into window and middle seats respectively in row 28. They squeeze each other’s hands in victory.

The clarinetist uses circular breathing, inhaling through his nose simultaneously while his mouth continues to produce sound. He looks nearly ready to pass out, but finishes the tango victorious.

Their plane is next in line for take-off. Therese adjusts ear buds. Carol, up since 3:30am, will not stay awake long. “What are you listening to?” she puts her hand out to take an ear bud. Lately all Therese seems to listen to are oboe concertos. She confesses to Carol that currently a lot of what she’s stored on her device are oboe pieces.

“Well, Sweetheart, don’t make me listen to oboe on vacation. What else do you have?”

Therese describes Oren Lavie, an Israeli folk singer, a favorite of hers. Carol listens, her head leaning on Therese’s left shoulder. She closes her eyes too tired to grasp the profound connection of the song’s lyrics to her own life-- before Therese.

Locked in a room that is nothing but walls And you search for a chair But there's nothing at all And the one thing you find when you look at the floor Is a key, but there isn't a door Locked within a room of memory Locked within a room you stand Locked up away with no light of day Locked in a room you begin To find your way out You find your way in

Key Signatures – Carol 1984

Ten-year-old Carol Reed sits at the piano. Her mother wishes she would go outside and play with friends, but she prefers making up songs and looking at notes on pages of a song book resting on the piano’s music rack. She traces the squiggly symbol at the beginning of the music. Her father returns from work and immediately looks for Carol as he does after each work day.

“How was school Cee Cee.” He calls her by his special nickname, the initials for Carol Christine, her first and middle names.

She has little to say about the school day, but eagerly talks about her after school clarinet lesson. Her voice is soft and sweet and she moves to sit on the arm of her father’s chair. “Daddy, do you know what a key signature is?” Carson Reed, a gifted trombone player in younger years, knows what it means, but feigns ignorance, letting his daughter shine. He listens intently as she tells him a key signature is a map, a key for the musician, guiding them through a piece of music. She holds up a page from her song book. “See the sharp symbol on the top line of the treble staff? That means F’s are to be played as sharps everywhere, unless a natural or flat sign shows up someplace before an F.”

“At first, “she says, “I thought key meant what you use to open a door.”

“Well,” her father says “I guess in a way, when you play what the composer wrote, you are unlocking a door."

She will forever remember this conversation with her father. As a grown woman learning a new piece of music, she interprets symbols on the page,especially the first important symbol identifying the foundation of the piece—its key signature. She hears her father’s words about symbols being keys that unlock doors to a composer’s heart and mind.

December 17, 3:32 pm – Car keys

“We’re sorry, Ma’am,” there are no compact cars left.

“That’s what I reserved online. What are you saying?”

“If you don’t mind, we’ll offer you a different vehicle type.”

“Fine, fine, just so our rate doesn’t change, unless you’re offering us bicycles instead.” Carol and Therese are simply elated they’ve made it this far considering Get Away Miami was an idea born hours ago. She pulls out her driver’s license and finishes the paperwork.

“No change in the rate, Ma’am. You are from New York, huh?” the young attendant looks at Carol’s license. He is bored with this job-- the only part providing pleasure is meeting new people and chatting them up. “I have a cousin who lives in New York, in Brooklyn. Runs a snow plow business-- hates me for living in friggin’ Florida. Ha.”

The women exchange an amused smile with one another.

“No work for my cousin here, know what I’m saying? And, lucky for you beautiful ladies it’s supposed to break winter records rest of the week; high 70s and low 80s.”

“Damn,” Therese says with a smile squeezing Carol’s arm.

All the paperwork is completed. “Ok ladies you can find your car waiting in slot C-18. Look it over for any dings or scratches and note it on the form. Then hand forms over to an attendant before you leave. Here are the keys. Enjoy your stay and Happy Holidays.”

It is still light out, sunset not for over an hour. A light, warm breeze fans across both their faces as they walk slowly to slot C-18, no need to hurry after their frenzied dash to make it here. They are drunk on relief. Together.

They get to slot C-18 and find a brand new crystal red metallic Chevy Camero convertible sitting there, its thin rectangular headlights squint at them provocatively, its long, winding grill a wicked grin: “Welcome to fucking Florida, orchestra nerds. Get In!”

And they do. Therese squeals.  

Cue music: “Quando Quando Quando”.

Carol starts the car and pushes the button that releases the canvas top, it arches back, a tango dancer confidently bending, bending until only sky and air greet clarinetist and oboist. Carol pulls the gear shift into drive; Therese stops her with a touch of the hand. They turn to each other and lean with agonizing slowness, millimeter by millimeter. Their lips collide tenderly, soft billowy clouds cumulous and cumulonimbus touching frictionless. The clarinetist’s face fits perfectly into outstretched hands and the oboist moves against her deeply with no urgency. Their embrace communicates in the same effortless way as their harmonious music and love making, explaining all the things to each other their words can’t.

You mean happiness to me

Oh my love please tell me when

Just say it’s me you adore

Their hair blows in the open air as slot C-18 is kissed goodbye and they bomb off toward I-95 Northward in a red Camero still smelling of new car. The sun descents in the West—it seems too good to be true—but this is just the start of four nights of warmth, passion and discovery, the beginning of many things they’ll do and see together. Getting away in Miami and soon…

The Florida Keys.

 

Chapter Text

Wednesday Evening – Therese and Carol Samba

The condo is remarkable, more upscale than Therese imagined with its view of the ocean from a large master bedroom, modern kitchen and tasteful coastal furniture and nautical décor throughout. A shiny black Yamaha studio piano sits with sophistication in a corner of the living room beckoning both women to expose fragile love songs they’ve privately written or dreamed about one another since meeting.

Carol clarifies that the harpist who owns the condo comes from a wealthy family. “She couldn’t afford a second home like this on her philharmonic salary.”

“Carol I can’t believe this. Thank you for bringing us here.”

The oboist ambles toward her and places an affectionate kiss on a blushing cheek appearing as a lipstick ring in the color “pink cloud”-- an adoring signature written on Therese who blissfully inhales the smell of Carol’s vanilla lip balm while being embossed. They feel a strange shyness being close while in this new place, seeming somehow different people. It’s a chance to pretend they can begin afresh, slower this time. An intimate, unhurried Samba dance, held back from one another with gentle restraint unlike their New York coupling, progressing in a matter of days: Therese first hearing Carol’s sweet oboe scales then both scaling each other’s bodies like rock walls, hands exploring every sensual curve and cranny, holding on for dear life during each ascent.

They walk to the oversized cream couch in the living room and plunk down.

“We need to plan how to pack everything into three and a half days.” Carol takes off shoes rubbing her left foot-- the one injured chasing a cab.

“Here, let me.” Therese rubs in penetrating circles unknotting injured tissue.

“To the right, ah, yes.” Carol lays her entire sinewy length on the couch closing eyes and begging her masseuse: “Don’t stop.” Therese won’t, never letting go quickly of any part of this woman, even a sweaty foot. Not long from now, during one of the many times when their infinitesimal restraint will be left toasted in the dust, toes from this very foot slide up and down Therese’s lower leg while the two women sit together in a hammock. She’ll marvel deliriously at the thought of the toes being responsible for miraculous things like Carol balancing, standing, walking, running, even caressing her leg…

 “Carol, let’s buy orange juice and drink it every day while we’re here.”

“Well, you’re easily amused. We wouldn’t want you thirsty, now would we? I’m glad we flew all this way since you can’t get orange juice in Manhattan.” Carol lifts an eyebrow invitingly. Therese hits her with a sailboat-decorated pillow.

When their laughing dies away they decide to go out for dinner, somewhere casual.  Therese grabs her cell phone before they leave and captures the first of many pictures she’ll take this trip pulling Carol onto the bedroom balcony, ocean behind, heads touching. “Smile.” Carol’s eyes are closed in the picture; yet, she looks happier than she’s been in months, years… because, she is.

They order fish and chips at a restaurant within walking distance of the condo and take it to the beach, eating while the sun sets in the west.

Samba de Verao begins.

They walk arm in arm barefoot kicking up sand playfully. Stars appear gradually-- blinking constellation patterns and faint, distant planets come out in patches. “I think I’ll work on my relationship with time while we’re here,” Therese says thoughtfully looking up at Carol.

“How do you mean?”

She’ll live in the moment and not over think what’s next.

Notes, light and clear, clip languidly, dragging yet staccato rolling flirtatiously from the piano. Rhythms and meters conjure two bewitching dancers nearly touching as they strut about a dance floor.

They sit in a beach chair, the taller woman leans back first, Therese fits in between her legs as long arms wrap around her resting a chin on top of her head. They sit mesmerized, completely hushed listening to the music of gently crashing waves.

Therese speaks first. “What do you think we’re doing here?”

“I think we’re relaxing in a chair. Umm, what do you think we’re doing here?” “No, I mean, cosmically, ‘Miss Sarcasm,’ as in what humankind is doing here.”

“What we’re doing on this planet?”

“Yes.”

Carol scoots closer, her arms move up to wrap around Therese’s shoulders. “I think we’re rotating.”

Therese slugs Carol’s arm pretending playfully to be mad, getting out of the chair and running toward the water leaving the older woman sprinting behind. Dip and spring, turn. They are two chemicals that react when put together: water and liquid nitrogen, magnesium and dry ice. Step-close-step-close, the dance of the Samba. They stand in the water up to their ankles. Uncertainty of their individual and coupled futures all falls away; their fingers connect in a promise of impending change, intimate and gentle, as a lively Brazilian dance pulling them together and sweeping them away.

 

Harge Samba

He decides he’ll attend the Philharmonic’s Wednesday night Messiah concert and wait after to see Carol. He wants to take her to coffee and tell her he’s following her advice and seeing the same therapist they used to see. He hopes this will make her happy and more sympathetic toward him. When the curtain rises he is immediately aware of her absence. He excuses himself at intermission and goes backstage, being acquainted with many of the musicians. He approaches the oboist filling in for Carol. He steps toward her: step-close-step-close, the dance for information begins. “Hello Harge,” she recognizes him having played in several ensembles together. He puts out his hand to greet her. She tells him she hopes everything is okay with Carol’s family emergency. She of course knows no details of the fabricated “emergency” or of Harge and Carol’s estrangement or Harge’s present dance for details. Dip and spring, turn. He acts as though he knows the details of Carol’s life. “Oh, thank you.” He excuses himself quickly.

He sits in his car and immediately texts Carol: Where are you? I went to Messiah tonight hoping to talk to you about some news. Your replacement told me there’s some kind of family emergency.

 

Wednesday Night – Samba South Beach

E Luxo So plays softly in background.

They drive to a shopping center not far from the condo in South Beach. Neon lights of the art deco district swirl around them like a wild, colorful and out-of-control merry-go-round at Mardi Gras. Indescribable, pungent smells of spices from a melting pot of foods brought her by hundreds of thousands of Hispanic immigrants: Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Central Americans and South Americans, pervades this trendy party Mecca, where dancing and drinking into all hours occurs daily. The convertible glides through a cornucopia of colors and provides little barrier between them and the hedonistic, stunning playground that is South Beach. They catch glimpse of each other, cool air wafts into the car. “Should we put the top up?” Carol asks.

“No, I like it down, don’t you?”

“Yes.” They are free here so far from New York, Florida an alien planet they investigate in their rented Camaro spacecraft. They pass one gorgeous hotel after another, commenting to each other on architecture or overly trendy, stylist or outlandishly dressed men or women walking, biking and rollerblading.

Carol thinks about how Therese reminds her of a sponge, taking everything in with intelligent, perceptive eyes, looking at this new world in the same way she looks at Carol each new day, probing, devouring. This afternoon, as their plane approached the city for landing, Carol watched her stare intensely out the window fascinated by turquoise waters and a colorful sprawling city taking it all in with Carol beside her, their bodies touching, a religious experience for both of them.  “Oh, Carol, it’s so beautiful.”

Yes, yes you are, Sweetheart.

Éta samba cai pra lá /This samba falls that way

cai pra cá /falls this way

cai pra lá/falls that way

They do their shopping at Coconut Grove needing swimsuits most importantly.

“I think you’ll look good in this.” Carol holds up a two piece brown suit and black board shorts. Therese finds the most revealing, smallest possible two-piece number that is an eye patch bra and single string bottoms. She throws it to Carol: “Here, try this on.” Carol throws it back rolling her eyes “Yeah, right.” They find a maroon two piece suit for Carol with navy board shorts and a black rash top that she insists on given her pale complexion. “You’ll brown up like a bean here, won’t you?” Carol looks at Therese’s olive-toned skin, placing their bare forearms side-by-side, the contrast in pigments obvious.

They find crocs and sunglasses for Therese and decide to splurge on two informal, bohemian dresses, a yellow one for Therese, cream for Carol.

Last stop is a grocery store for sunscreen, bug spray, food to stock up the condo and “… don’t forget the orange juice.”

They get back by 10pm, unpack and finally sit on the balcony in reclining lounge chairs; Carol sipping wine, Therese drinks orange juice and wine, a disgusting combination according to Carol.

“Why did you stay with Harge after losing the baby?”

“It was easier to stay than leave.” The trouble she’s having leaving now proof of it.

“Did you know during the last ensemble practice he said you couldn’t attend because of a Messiah concert, but that you wished everyone well?”

“What the hell?” Carol shakes her head. Therese asks if Carol is afraid of him. “Not afraid. Frustrated and drained.”

“I don’t think he should know we’re here together,” Therese is solemn. “He is unstable where you’re concerned, pretending you’re still together. It’s strange, Carol. Don’t you see that?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Carol’s mood shifts like the tide and she looks off into the sea of stars beyond their balcony wishing the earth were as big as the universe and she could more easily hide, lose her connection to him out in that open ocean of shimmering bodies of light.

“I’m sorry, Carol, I’m, I’m just worried about you for some reason lately. Maybe it’s that stupid cab dream talking.”

“I’m the one who’s sorry, Therese. Next time I get short with you use a cattle prod on me, okay?” She won’t admit it, but Carol is concerned more lately too, ever since seeing her picture displayed sickeningly on Harge’s desk, but  she spares Therese, shielding her from her mess, but it’s getting harder, the two unable to stop a Herculean force pushing their lives together into an intricate knot.

They decide not to tell anyone they’re here together, not family, not Dan or anyone else from ensemble. “I’ll text my parents, Dan and Jen now, tell them all I hopped a train to explore other East Coast schools for a few days. I have a cousin who lives in Boston-- I’ll say I’m staying with her.”

Carol initiates a subject change. “Have you thought more about your plans, Therese?” Carol quietly hopes she’s reconsidering grad schools in New York or at least East Coast, dropping encouraging hints about Therese being talented enough to go anywhere she wants. What she means by “anywhere” is near me. “Have you thought about the Manhattan School of Music? I have lots of connections there still and at Northwestern where you’ve applied.” Carol immediately wishes she hadn’t said it. “Oh, Sweetheart, just forget it, unsolicited opinions are horrible, aren’t they?” She touches the rim of her wine glass, back and forth her fingers twist. Therese finds courage to say what’s on her mind.

“Carol?”

“Hmm?”

“I like being here with you because it’s ours. New York is yours.”  

“I know. If you end up somewhere far away, I can always visit.” Carol says it even as the words scorch a crater-size hole in her heart.

“It just can’t be Columbia University. Do you understand?” Therese takes her hand.

“Yes, of course I do.”

Then Therese takes Carol’s wine glass from her and sets it out of reach. She sits down in her lap, back curving against Carol’s stomach and soft breasts. Arms fold all around her. They rub cheeks while Carol says they shouldn’t spoil things by talking any more about this future business. “Let’s live in the present, shall we?”

They hold each other gently kissing ear lobes and cheeks, then become still again, just holding on. Therese takes Carol’s right hand in hers and travels every crease of palm, studying life line and love line with soft fingers.

“Will I live a long life?” Carol whispers.

“Oh, yes.”

“Tell me.”

“You live to be 111.”

“Will I live alone?”

“Of course not, we will live together: you and me. And, when you are 111 I will be… she does the math quickly… 96, and I will take care of you.” Carol lets out a sigh so fragile only angels hear it. Therese goes on to tell their story, how they will live out their days here together growing old in the sun and never returning to Manhattan or Iowa, making all kinds of music together by day… and night. Carol will teach at Miami University and practice yoga every morning on the beach while Therese composes music by day on their piano that overlooks the ocean and plays jazz clarinet in night clubs two days a week. Carol tries to wait up for her, but always falls asleep. Therese finds her sprawled out on the couch, a book folded on her chest and tenderly kisses her open lips before covering her with a blanket. They become certified scuba divers, buy a sailboat and travel the world, anchoring in all sorts of exotic places, diving deep amongst sea turtles and tropical fish.

“What will we name the boat?” Carol is sliding fingers back and forth across Therese’s hand.

The clarinetist thinks for a few seconds. “We will name the boat Key Signature.”

“Perfect.”

Therese rests her head on Carol’s chest, both gradually closing eyes, drifting to sleep dreaming of growing old together sailing the world.

Forty minutes pass. Carol wakes first her leg asleep, a crick in her neck: “It’s after 1am. Let’s go to bed.”  

 

Miami Morning Mood – Samba, Thursday, 6:03am

The condo is dark, except for a nightlight in the bathroom, sunrise over an hour away. The screen door to the balcony is open, welcoming cool ocean air. Carol is now completely awake. Perhaps it’s the ocean sounds, being in a new place away from the daily routine… she doesn’t know, but something primal in Carol is unleashed, an unfathomable space inside her body opening, a cresting wave releasing years of pent-up desire crashing into dry land in this private oasis with the woman she loves. A heated animal rush of want travels up her body from toe to hair follicle, waking each sensitive, deprived nerve.  Therese sleeps serenely beside her, Carol anxiously watching her chest rise and fall.

Edvard Grieg, Morning Mood, Op 23

The flute softly accompanied by strings sings out so like a lively bird welcoming a new day. Then the oboe returns the morning call, stately and clear, beckoning to her lover, in Carol’s case, a slumbering clarinetist, to rise. The wake-up call builds and swoons with desire until a full orchestra demanding the start of a new day screams out: Wake up, dear Therese, please wake up.

Wake up and play a duet with me. Please.

Carol stares at Therese hoping her searing eyes will be capable of rousing her, but Therese does not stir. A defeated Carol goes to the bathroom, gets a drink of water, splashes cold water on her flushed face, stretches on the balcony… trying anything to distract her mind from this thick, erotic fog.

Damn it, Carol, calm the fuck down. Let her sleep.

She remembers Harge waking her in the middle of the night or early in the morning to meet one of his urges. She disliked it, being woken in that needy way by his demanding hands exploring her uninvited while she tried to sleep.

Morning Mood fades out, One Note Samba begins.

She makes it until 7:30am pent-up yearning rises with the sun and all her waiting depleted. She crawls into bed pajamas discarded on the floor. Carol is about to whisper, or more aptly “beg” Therese to wake when she notices the brunette mutter and twist within the sheets. The twist is measured and sensual, hips rocking gentle and erratic while eyelids flutter, a satisfied humming sound escapes her lips Mmmm. Then a distinct “Oh, Carol” and another longer Mmmm.

“Dear merciful God, we’re doing it… in her dreams.”

Carol decides it best to turn good dreams into reality. Her hands, like poetic notes of the Samba explore mysteriously, roaming up and down then settle on an abdomen, lips kiss neck, cheeks whispering “please…” trying to slide herself into Therese’s dream.

Small details and nuances: a one note Samba and a one-track mind Carol.

The clarinetist opens her eyes sluggishly; out-of-focus seeing a cloudy image of Carol hovering over her—is she real or my dream? Gray eyes wild and pensive peer into her soul as familiar with it as an old worn pair of jeans.

“Carol, what’s gotten into you?”

The oboist pushes the younger woman’s tee shirt up, up over her head answering: “I’m hoping you.”

They make love, Carol holding onto mission style wooden headboard slats, her head crashing repeatedly into the boards, blond hair blinding her swaying in time with riffing saxophone: “Jesus Christ, Therese. Yes, just like that.” Oh Therese ringing out multiple times in F-sharp major.

They will grind out several more duets during this deliberate Miami morning groove: Therese straddling Carol on the piano bench as keys bang inadvertently against Carol’s yoga-toned back; then taking turns propping a leg onto a hip wedged in a shower corner reciting each other’s blessed names gutturally, voices assimilating with thick shower steam. Carol:  F-major, F-major, F-major. Therese: C-major, C-major, C-major. An unrestrained morning mood explodes into a jazzy, provocative symphony of repeating plateaus and resolutions… both with and without great restraint.

Their flushed and humming bodies finally make it to the beach at noon where they crash, two satisfied lumps, reading side-by-side in reclining beach chairs and then swimming, two happy fishes, for the rest of the afternoon splashing and floating, holding hands under the water. Therese’s skin bronzing, Carol’s turning light pink.

Standing in the surf together Therese turns to Carol: “We didn’t see many sights in the city today, did we, Carol?”

“No, I guess not sights in the city. But still, there were sights.” A half-cocked, devious grin takes over her sun-burned face.  They both laugh, not giving a damn they didn’t do touristy things that day.

“First thing tomorrow morning we’ll hit the Keys,” Carol says as they gather their things and head back to the condo to change for dinner out on the town.

Two men who Carol and Therese noticed watching them closely for the past 30 minutes are walking toward them purposefully. “Don’t look now…” Therese whispers.

“Wanna have some fun?” Carol is up to no good.

“Always.”

Carol grabs her face fearlessly and kisses her standing there in the open, slowly, swirling lips in a steamy 20-second kiss. The two men buzz off after the 10th second.      

After dinner, lying in bed, they chat about their plan for tomorrow. “If we can keep our hands off each other, maybe we can get out of here and on the road before noon.”

Carol checks her messages. She reads Harge’s prying text, which she won’t answer, about her “family emergency.”

For FUCK’s Sake.

And she realizes Florida isn’t far enough away.

Chapter Text

The Keys – Harvesting Salt

Music: "Wave” - Carlos Jobim

It is dark when they leave the condo heading for their final destination: Key West. Carol takes the wheel first. They navigate together west onto Highway 836, south on Florida’s Turnpike and finally southbound on US 1. One hundred sixty-five miles through upper, middle and lower keys, driving first over the 7-mile bridge, red Camaro a boat floating them across a turquoise piano, hitting high and low notes along the way.

“Do you know why they call these islands keys?” Therese is reclined in her seat reading from her cell phone.

Carol glances at her; it makes her happy Therese sharing information with her like this. When Harge would share something he’d learned, it was more about him: look what I know, look at me. But with Therese it's different. It's just genuine sharing two explorers on US 1 connecting by learning the same things. Carol feels a closeness over something as ridiculous as the meaning of the word “key.” It's wonderful.

“Carol?”

“Hmmm?”

“Are you listening?”

“Honey, I’m doing much more than listening to you; trust me, I’m hanging onto your every key… note… I mean word.”

Therese blushes. 

Therese reads out loud how Spanish explorers called the islands Cayo meaning “little island” since the Keys are low, narrow reefs-- the widest, broadest island, Largo, only ½ miles in diameter. Cayo is pronounced “kah-ya.” Eventually it was Anglicized into current word key.

“Well, my, what other lessons will you have for me during this trip?” Carol tilts her head seductively and raises both eyebrows at Therese.

“Do you want to learn about salt?”

“Oh, God, you’re serious, aren’t you?” Carol overacts her boredom at the idea of a lesson on salt's history, but rather enjoys seeing this geeky side of Therese.

Therese is not hindered and tells Carol about early Key settlers in 1839 beginning to harvest salt crystals from evaporating salt ponds. It was used to preserve food.

Carol starts laughing and can’t stop.

“What’s so funny? You don’t like learning about salt? It's useful and it's well, like, all around us right now.”

“No. Please no more salt talks. I can't take it." Carol's full laugh fills the Camaro and Therese's heart, as it always does.

“How about we go make our own history and you stop reading me history of the Keys?” Carol turns on the radio and they continue bombing south on US 1.

 

Text “Assaults”

They switch drivers in Conch Key. Carol says she’ll shut her eyes for a few minutes. Before she has a chance, her phone buzzes with incoming text messages. Against her better judgment to forget New York, she reflexively reads them.

Abby: Carol, the Pain in Your Side has sent me several texts asking if I know where you are. Since I don’t, I haven’t replied. What should I tell him, if anything?

She wants to suggest Abby tell Harge to fuck off, but realizes that will only put Abby in the middle.

Carol: Hi. Sorry. I’ll text him. Don’t bother to reply. Hope you’re doing well. We’ll talk when I get home this weekend.

Furiously she texts Harge knowing if she doesn’t respond he’ll likely contact the police in search of a Harge-suspected-missing-person.

Harge: I am fine, but stop checking up on me. We are NOT a couple anymore. Quit this crap.

She puts the phone down thinking this will be the last of it. It buzzes way too soon.

Harge: Sorry I was worried about your well being. I wanted to remind you that my father is in town. He’ll be at the ensemble reception and is asking about you. He’s very ill and would like to see you, as you promised you’d be there. Where are you?

Carol wants to write “fuck, fucking, fuck, fuck.”

Carol: Yes, I said I’d be there. Stop texting me.

Before closing her eyes to rest she reaches over and puts her hand on Therese’s knee, it anchors her, makes her feel calm, she shifts in her seat so she’s facing toward her. Therese senses her stress but gives her space and privacy, taking one hand off the wheel she holds onto Carol’s hand knowing this woman is a sea creature whose hard outer shell is failing to protect her soft, smooth insides.

 

Island City House – Carol’s salt

They arrive at Island City House, the historic hotel Carol booked. Their room is miraculously ready early. “You’ll be staying in the Cigar House,” the man working at the front desk eyes them both curiously wondering if they are family, friends… lovers. He hopes the latter. When he sees the way Carol watches with her whole body and mind as the younger woman begins to walk away first, he’s convinced gladly of the latter.

Therese is speechless when they arrive at their room, overlooking the outdoor pool and gardens. Made of red cypress wood, Cigar House built to replicate a cigar factory that once occupied the site 100 years ago. A wraparound wooden porch with a hammock and two Adirondack chairs is just outside their front door overlooking the pool. Before opening the door, Carol looks at Therese: “Ready?”

“Yes!’

The door opens into a paradise furnished in tropical plantation style, rattan furniture, Bahaman ceiling fans, French doors and hardwood floors. “Holy shit!” Therese has never seen anything like it.

“Carol! How did you do this without booking it weeks ago? How did you find this?”

“I got lucky… now let’s hope I get lucky again tonight.” She winks at Therese.

Carol sits down first in the hammock. Therese, dressed in a tee shirt and her new board shorts, follows. They gently sway back and forth enjoying the feel of this place. Time moves more slowly here. Carol’s toes glide up and down the clarinetist’s smooth legs.

“Don’t keep doing that if you want to go snorkeling or see anything here other than this hotel.” Therese says it but doesn’t care if they never leave this hammock for the rest of their lives.

After ten minutes of touching toe to leg, Carol’s left hand reaches into Therese’s hair, fingers grab a handful of it pulling Therese’s neck toward her mouth, Carol turned vampire sucks and bites in a blue haze of delirium.

“Damn it, Carol.” “When does the snorkeling boat leave?”

“We have 20 minutes.”

They shut the door to their room, touching with a new sense of closeness. On the Queen sized bed their bodies, remote planets, interfere with each other’s orbit, spinning too close with a gentle savagery, one knocking the other off her axis. Therese reaches for Carol, whose face is flushed and insistent, brain bathed in a single swimming urge to be touched and loved by just this one other person. Therese’s mouth tastes all of her wetness, salty parts of Carol’s body, sucking and drinking her in, a human salt lick, this sea anemone from a nearby orbiting planet. Carol’s hips rock gently against Therese salty tears of ecstasy pour down her cheeks-- they too are tasted, kissed away.

Dressed in suites and board shorts, they both run out of their room late, headed toward the dock hand-in-hand, where they will hopefully meet a catamaran that will take them out to a reef for an hour of snorkeling.

 

Old Salt

“Call me Smith” says the snorkeling boat captain. A leathery old salt of a man, tattoos of a flamingo on one arm, an anchor on the other, he points out where fins, masks and snorkels are stored. “Everyone take your equipment now and make sure it fits. And everybody swims with a partner or group."

A young man, about Therese’s age who came alone, has been watching Therese closely since getting on the boat. He asks her if she will be his buddy.

“Well, I already have a buddy. But maybe we three can be pals?” She looks for approval from Carol as the young, handsome, dark-haired man who bares a slight resemblance to Harge looks on. Carol shrugs her shoulders “Sure.” She means no.

He introduces himself as Dave and thanks them for letting him tag along. He continues to stand too close next to Therese. Carol tries not to mind. Carol minds.

“Are you a very good swimmer, Carol?” Therese turns to her, trying to pull away from the stranger. Carol tells her she was a lifeguard during both high school and college summers. She was even on Boston University’s swim team.

“What was your best stroke?”

“Breast stroke, of course, Sweetheart.” She answers with her signature wink.

The boat anchors and everyone begins putting on gear. Carol helps adjust Therese’s mask while Dave starts trying to make small talk to both of them, but Therese is clearly his target as he looks only at her. At one point Therese catches Carol roll her eyes when he asks where she is staying.

“We’re” and she emphasizes we’re “staying at a hotel not far from here, I can’t remember the name,” she lies. Carol is delighted, beaming.

The old salty captain roams amongst the crowd making sure everyone’s gear fits. “You’re a tall drink of water,” he looks Carol up and down. She laughs a deep, uninhibited chuckle, it comes from someplace beneath her feet. While Dave is trying to learn about Therese, Carol decides to distract herself by talking to Smith. She learns he’s been guiding these snorkeling trips for over 25 years. He can’t help notice Carol looking away often while they chit chat. It's obvious to him she's watching Therese and the young man distracted and growing more jealous by the minute.

Everyone begins jumping into the water. “Shall we?” Dave turns to Therese who is furious Carol has stranded her.

“Fucking hell,” Carol can’t believe she’s come all this way to see some young guy who looks like Harge go snorkeling with her Therese.

“Hey, Romeo,” Smith waves at him. “Guess who needs a partner?”

“Huh?”

“Me. You’re swimming with me. I decided I need a dip.” Smith is putting his mask on and motioning for the young man, who now looks disappointed, to dive in before him. Carol can see the old salty Popeye grin at her through his mask, proof that things are never as they seem. Even an old sailor with leather skin and tattoos can look after a sister. She mouths “thank you.”

Carol and Therese are the only ones left on the boat, other than an employee who mans the helm.

“Why did you leave me alone with him?” Therese is shaking her head.

“Oh, something about him reminds me of Harge and… well, I had to get away. I’m sorry, you're right. I shouldn't have left you. Don't be mad.”

They jump in the water, fragments of tension still swimming between them until they enter the serene world below, a colorful, delicate utopia, an intricate web of cracks and crevices, cavities home to plants and sea creatures.

Music: Debussy’s “Reverie”

They are together pointing out things, a Queen Angelfish and Stoplight Parrotfish grazing on coral polyps, bright blues and greens and yellows: 500 species of fish in these reefs. They hold hands after a while, each lost in their new world.

The key of F major, Andantino sognando, walking pace... swimming pace.

Dave, teamed with the old salt, watches the women swim by hands linked. He doesn’t try to talk to Therese on the return trip, which would be difficult anyway as she and Carol sit in a secluded part of the boat leaning into each other, Therese’s arm wrapped tightly around Carol’s waist as they get lost in each other looking out into the blue-green oasis skimming past still dreaming of what lies beneath.

 

A Grain of Salt

Two hours before sunset they drive to Bahia Honda State Park to one the most glorious beaches of the Keys with its pristine white sand. Therese takes pictures of Carol in her cream sundress, Carol takes pictures of her in the yellow dress and a few pictures of them together with Carol’s long arm, a selfie stick, extended outward.

Music starts “I Follow Rivers” - Lykke Li

They take off their dresses, revealing swim suites underneath. Wading out into the warm green water Therese remembers Carol being a life guard. She watches transfixed as the tall, lean woman dives into the water and begins swimming, her strong legs kicking, propelling her body with deep, graceful strokes of long arms, such delicious strokes of those beautiful arms. When she takes a side breath in perfect rhythm with her radiant body, it takes Therese’s breath away, one of the most magical things she’s ever seen.

Oh, save me. Save me. Carol.

Carol is treading water 200 feet away when Therese decides it’s a good time to pretend she needs help, splashing and yelling: “Help, Carol, my leg is crapping. Help.”

Carol begins swimming fast toward her, not certain what's wrong. When she gets there she sees Therese smiling, playing she’s in trouble.

“You little shit.”

“Save me, Carol.” Her playful smile disappearing, replaced with a deep hunger and irresistible sincerity.

Carol treads water next to her, turning her firmly onto her back. No words are exchanged as Carol’s arms wrap around her center preparing to perform a cross chest carry. Therese feels Carol’s firm breasts pressing against her back as her lifeguard savior drinks in a deep, extended breath before digging her body under the sea and commencing a powerful side stroke scissor kick with long, muscular, smooth legs propelling deep beneath them both. They glide for three seconds, then another powerful surge: kick, glide 1-2-3, kick, glide…. Carol’s head emerges from under the water for another deep intake of air, her cheek rubbing into the back of Therese’s head as she fills lungs. The clarinetist, on her back floating, dragged, pulled by her sleek warrior mermaid body tautly wound around her like a note made of silk pushing from Carol’s oboe across their turquoise paradise. Carol’s eyes sting from the salt, her right arm acting like a rudder digs down, then up, pulling and leading them through the water. They reach shallow water and face each other, Carol breathing hard, wiping salt water from her eyes.

“Save me, Carol. Save me.” Therese whispers it into her ear, biting an ear lobe while pulling her head away. Carol understands and takes Therese’s hand in hers. She leads them both back out into deep water still breathing hard.

The clarinetist follows step by step until the water is up to her shoulders. She puts her arms around Carol’s long neck, winding legs around her waist while the oboist’s lips begin to stroke hers deep, deeper. Below the surface hands are swimming all over her. Save me. Carol. Save me.

 

Sunday Morning – Rubbing Salt in Wounds

Back in the Miami condo Carol is up early. They’ll have a few hours today before catching a 1pm flight home. She’s packed snacks for the airport and organized their things for the trip. She’s reading the news sipping coffee when she hears whimpering sounds come from the bedroom.

“Therese?” she stands in the doorway watching the woman still sleeping tossing head side-to-side, more whimpering.

Carol glides into the room and sits down next to Therese at the edge of the bed. She moves in closer to whisper gentle wake-up, you’re dreaming messages. She touches Therese’s face precisely as the dreamer jumps up, heads bash hard against each other, Therese shouting “Harge, don’t!”

“Jesus, Therese” Carol is grabbing onto her head flabbergasted. “Damn it. Ouch.” But the other woman doesn’t even know where she is, still coming to.

Therese eventually sits in the middle of the bed, head in hands trying to pull memories out of her mind, processing them. Carol joins her.

“Why Harge on the brain again? You’re supposed to be relaxed from all the sun and fun.”

Therese tells her of this nightmare: Harge chasing Carol, her left foot injured as it was from the cab chase, bandaged up in the dream, she couldn’t run fast enough. Therese watched it all happening from somewhere—she couldn’t reach Carol. “I couldn’t get to where you were. He grabbed you and wouldn’t stop shaking you. It was awful.”

Carol pushes her close. “Fucking Harge bothering my angel.” She kisses her forehead. “I’m the one who should be having Hargemares, not you.” Carol hugs her, trying to console, though she can’t hide a growing apprehension, a preoccupied expression spreads across her face.

They eat breakfast together sitting on the balcony; two snow birds watching rain clouds and cool weather roll in off the ocean. It’s an unpleasant reminder of their homes pulling them both back and eventually in possibly very different directions. A melancholy hangs in the spaces between them reaching spindly, ugly tentacles into both their hearts. They sit quietly, already having talked themselves into a deep hole on and off during this trip dissecting “what’s next”, their lives together or apart, a kind of science experiment containing a clear question, hypothesis, experiment, observation, analysis—or in their case, over analysis—and yet still no conclusion.

Therese breaks the silence. “Being here with you… I don’t want it to end.”

Carol stares off into the void, her stomach in knots, nods in agreement. She tells Therese she knows she will soon be returning to another world: “My sweet alien.” Carol tries to smile but her lips twist up instead. She doesn’t want Therese to see her unhappiness, starting in her cerebrum, the place where sadness begins, triggering an endocrine system to release hormones throughout the ocular region. Sodium chloride, water and stress hormones release a bath of emotions flooding Carol all at once. She excuses herself. “Therese I need to get something, I’ll be right back.” She walks to the bathroom and shuts the door. Therese waits 10 minutes before knocking.

“Carol you okay? I’m coming in.”

Therese pushes the door open finding Carol sitting on the tile floor.

“I’m sorry, just ignore me, I’m being a basket case in here. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Don’t let me bum you out. You should go.”

Therese sits down next to her not knowing what to say.

The clarinetist pulls the oboist’s forehead together with hers, holding onto blond hair, staring into sad eyes, never wanting to let go sitting on cold tile floor in a bright white bathroom.

Music “Just Like a Woman” – Charlotte Gainsbourg cover.

She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does

And she aches just like a woman

But she breaks just like a little girl

No matter how tightly they fit together now, in a few hours they will still need to leave this place and…

 

Face the music.

 

 

Chapter Text

Wrong Direction

Carol’s car idles in front of Dan’s apartment while Therese runs inside gathering all of her things. They’ll stay together one last night before Therese flies home, eking out every shard of time left until then: glass shattering into jagged pieces they try to hold onto slowly. Larghissimo. Stay.

It’s not been spoken out loud, but each understands a natural break approaches, a bridge in their musical score. The break necessary to offer Carol more time to adequately peel Harge Aird from her side, the one he’s still clinging to even as she’s walking away from him into a new direction. And Therese? She still needs to decide her own direction and where she wants to land in all of this.

Preoccupied, they say few words during the drive to Carol’s apartment wishing they were 1,000 miles south of here. They remain quiet so as to avoid pontificating more tiresome “what if” scenarios. What if Therese goes to school in New York? What if Harge never leaves Carol alone? What if they could run away together and never look back? Profound silence feels similar to their time hours earlier in Miami, insecure inching through a crowded security queue. Speechless and scarcely aware of the chaotic milieu of frenetic travelers moving fast, compressing them together toward a plane they do not want to board. A claustrophobic fog descends upon both women standing anesthetized by a crushing sense they are about to move in the wrong direction by stepping into a northbound jet.

They arrive at their departure gate, Therese overly helpful, attentive: “Carol, are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you have something to read? Do you need me to get you anything before we board?” She’s overcompensating, trying to make Carol feel better about their trip back to reality by babying her, treating her like an expectant Mother overcooked at two weeks beyond her due date. But Therese cannot make Carol younger and unencumbered or herself older and established. Their music’s key signature is preset and on a steady heading: true magnetic north. A hand reaches toward Therese squeezing a shoulder, a nonverbal message simple and untrue: I’ll be fine. Please don’t fret about me.

A perky woman’s voice blasts out over the PA: “Now general boarding Flight 1221 non-stop to JFK International from gate C-22.” From a bored boarding line Carol looks back through the seemingly endless hallway of C gates. Her eyes follow a stream of shiny white institutional linoleum tiles and unimaginative brown gate signs: C-22, C-21, C-20... keep following that pattern of signs, Carol, it will lead you to freedom. She wants to bolt down the hallway, roaring beyond signs and tile floors, Therese in tow, wind in their hair sprinting urgently dragging them out of this suffocating airport and into a salty turquoise sea where she’ll wrap her smooth arms once more around Therese’s chest pulling them out into the current, deeply, saving them both.

They compare boarding passes to evaluate how far apart they’re seated: Therese in row ten, Carol 17 insufferable rows behind in seat 27F. F these seat assignments. “At least it’s a window seat.” Carol smiles mechanically, lips up-turned, teeth faintly visible, but poignancy in her eyes undermines anything her face might be doing to persuade Therese of her contentment. There will be no flight attendant tapping Carol’s shoulder to share pleasant news of two neighboring empty seats. Therese will ask the businessman next to her if he’d switch with her friend. But a neurotic flier he researched seats and found this one next to Therese to be the safest on the plane. “I’m not giving it up.” If Carol were here she’d have something humorous to say about seat 10C being the only one capable of withstanding fiery crashes.

Flying solo they feel as far apart as if traveling on two entirely different planes.

Therese reaches her seat first. Carol watches her settle in feeling vulnerable standing in the aisle without her, pushed forward too soon by a steady, unrelenting throng of restless travelers behind her.

“Goodbye Therese.”

Carol wants those three extra hours to talk or not talk to Therese during this flight. She can hear a gonging clock in her head—she is Cinderella, time’s running out and she’s about to turn back into a pumpkin when Therese leaves for home.

The clarinetist catches a final glance of the oboist before she is trapped in between two sets of carryon luggage being hurled into overhead compartments, shot-puts flung forcefully by passengers in front and behind her.

Therese removes ear buds. Pumping music into her head right now is too much. Her head already filled with so much noise in addition to aircraft sounds that will be enough music for one flight. She’ll get lost in the sounds studying them with a musician’s ear: shaking, whirring and whining engines, rising and falling wing flaps and landing gear. She’ll be aware of the chimes that ding when the aircraft reaches 10,000 feet—a signal to flight attendants that it is safe to walk about the cabin. She’ll scrutinize steady aerodynamic noises throughout the flight, droning whooshing sounds of air molecules striking the fuselage. But the strongest sound will be the voice in her head analyzing the quickly approaching juggernaut that is the holidays. She aches to invite Carol to Iowa. But Carol and Iowa in the same sentence sound as natural together as mud and the New York Philharmonic. Philharmonic oboist tromping around on a dairy farm? And what would her parents say about it all? Midwestern Mom and Dad, this is the woman I’ve not told you about. I’ve been making insanely wild, mind-blowing love with her while I was supposed to be thinking about graduate schools. I just met her, she’s 15 years my senior, we went away together to Florida and FYI, she’s trying to divorce an impossibly possessive husband. You did catch that she’s a woman? Carol, meet the folks... She opens her backpack and pulls out a small white box, lifting the lid she peeks at the sterling silver bracelet she secretly bought in a shop in Key West while Carol was in the restroom. A heart charm designed to look like a pad lock dangles from the end of the bracelet, a keyhole at the heart’s center. The bracelet is Carol from the instant she touched the locked heart with her fingers. Locked in a room you begin to find your way out, you find your way in. She closes her eyes. She’ll not open them again until this bird lands, the sound of reverse thrusters and wheels touching down on a cold New York runway.                      

Carol, settled in window seat 27F discovers to her exasperation newlyweds next to her returning home after honeymooning in Key West. Christ, just my luck. She does not want to hear the details of their wedding or their time snorkeling together. Somewhere over South Carolina she does. She buzzes for a flight attendant right about then. An attendant arrives not soon enough. She asks for whiskey. It burns on the way down as she leans into the window tuning out cacophonic newlyweds who discuss Christmas plans with each other. Freaking Yuletide. She’s imagining Iowa this time of year-- Chicago’s as close as she’s ever been. The smell of cows and farms peppered across rolling hillsides could be nice. Waking up Christmas morning next to Therese would be nice. Don’t be ridiculous, Carol, she’ll be with family, you’d be an awkward addition. Get a grip. She’s going home without you. The thought crosses her mind that Therese’s parents may influence her not to return to New York if they learn their daughter’s been involved with an older, not-yet-officially-divorced… woman. She folds her arms and closes her eyes while the whiskey visits all her organs. Listening to the steady white noise of engines humming she lets herself go… to sleep.

 

Director’s father being direct

Harge takes his black suite out of the closet, the suit he always wears to performances. His father, Aaron Aird, is staying with him in the guest room next door. He’ll need help from his son getting in and out of the car on the way to the concert, his body severally weakened from weekly cancer treatments.

Father and son are quiet over dinner, Aaron a wise man who people listen to attentively whenever he rarely speaks. “Son, if she doesn’t want to stay, why would you want her to? You’ll both be unhappy. I know Carol, she is a kind woman. Relationships don’t always last. Things sometimes end.” He thinks of his own mortality as he speaks. Harge looks at him unhappily not wanting to hear the truth from the smartest man he knows.

“It’s good you’re bringing a date to this concert, Harge. That’s a step in the right direction.”

Aaron isn’t aware of the enormously unhealthy attachment his son still has for his “wife.” A date will accompany Harge to the concert reception, but she is a mere pawn he hopefully and foolishly thinks will elicit jealously.

 

Taking direction from Therese

Therese and Carol get ready for the concert, one showers while the other brushes teeth. The quietness between them still screams out loud. Therese bought a black dress to wear to the concert last week. A Ralph Lauren Draped Jersey dress, short sleeves, knee length. Carol watches her trying to pull up the back zipper by herself. “Here, let me.”

Therese turns around so her back faces Carol who is putting one hand on Therese’s hip while pulling up the zipper with her other hand careful not to catch any delicate skin in zipper teeth. She spins Therese around by her shoulders so they face each other again. “Damn. You look… You take my breath away.” Carol stares, freezing this moment, knowing she’ll need to thaw it out later when she is despondently missing this radiant woman with bronzed skin kissed by the Florida sun.

“Carol it will be obvious you and I went somewhere sunny together.” Therese does not like the idea of it at all for one reason: Harge. She firmly tells Carol to sit down. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“I’m putting make-up on your face to cover the pink.”

“That will be hard to do, don’t you think? And, let him know we went away together, more proof I’m moving forward and he should too. How about we hold hands when we arrive?” Carol laughs. Therese is not amused in the least.

“It’s not funny Carol and flaunting is not a good idea. I told you he’s not sane when it comes to you. Just listen to me. You need to listen to me and stop joking around.” Her recent bad dreams still haunt and influence her tone. Carol knows Therese is right; her sarcasm and jokes her way to handle a situation she doesn’t know how to handle.

“Please just take my direction on this, will you Carol?”

Therese begins dabbing concealer on Carol’s slightly sunburned nose and cheeks trying to be gentle amidst frequent sounds of “ouch.”

Carol puts on her dress. It’s a La Petite Robe di Chiara Boni Jersey ruffle-detail dress. Black, long sleeves, boat neckline, knee length with ruffled detail at the skirt. Made in Italy. She’ll pair it with Adrianna Papell Hollis evening pumps. She slides understated silver earrings in each ear watching Therese watching her. No words, no touching, except with eyes.

They grab coats and instruments. Therese notices Carol’s reading glasses sitting on the kitchen counter. “Carol, won’t you need these?”

“Damn it, why am I always forgetting them? Yes, I need them if I want to find my way around a page.” Carol turns the doorknob, Therese stops her, setting the clarinet case down and placing one of her hands on Carol’s wrist. They look at each other knowingly. Carol in turn places her free hand on Therese’s other wrist. Their hands and wrists linked by fingers, flesh and bone in such a way that each hand points in a different direction: north, south, east and west. They stand attached tracking each other while trying to...

get their bearings.

Chapter Text

The Concert – And Dance

Carol’s Lexus is a temporary sanctum sailing precious cargo across Manhattan streets. It carries them to their 7:30pm concert at St. Paul’s. Though neither woman can detect it, phantom music fills the car. Its melody menacing and fanciful, conveying two opposing emotions in concert.

There may be trouble ahead

But while there's music and moonlight and love and romance

Let's face the music and dance

Soon we'll be without the moon, humming a different tune and then

There may be teardrops to shed

So while there's moonlight and music and love and romance

Let's face the music and dance

Carol parks a few blocks from the church. They’re early as planned, allowing Therese time to slip in first, then the oboist 10 minutes later. The passenger leans into the driver’s seat, wrapping arms around her lover bracing them in a protective huddle. She steps out of the car, Carol leans over the passenger seat keeping their hands linked each possible moment. Carol watches the beautiful tanned woman walk away blowing a kiss Therese won’t see that lands as a whisper pressed into her neck.

A few musicians are on stage when the clarinetist arrives. Harge is backstage talking with someone. He spots her immediately overcome with the radiance of her tanned skin. It illuminates bouncing off of her lighting up the old church. Something about her is changed, a less youthful, more confident aura surrounds every movement. Carol enters ten minutes later, audience members trickling into the chapel alongside her. She stands out from all of them floating, not walking, in chic black heels that seem not to make contact with the floor. Her body slithers and sways erotically as she harnesses memories of the FL Keys, passion oozing all over church walls, floors, ceiling, or anyone in her path. The place where the bottom of her wraparound dress meets opens and closes with each footstep. When she sees Therese immediately setting up onstage she brushes bangs out of her eyes walking toward her a homing pigeon carrying a single message: I want you.

Harge is helping his weak father find seating when Carol saunters by, completely unaware of either of them while in her Therese trance. He nearly brushes her shoulder as she glides by in flight toward the clarinetist. He can feel a heat, a sensual pulsating glow about her the result of spending four of the happiest days of her life with Therese. She finds her chair next to the clarinetist and begins to assemble her oboe.

He watches her discouraged and disappointed, starting to open his mouth to call out to her when his father stops him grabbing a wrist with as much firmness as the ailing man can assemble. “Son, I’ll say hello to her after the concert. It’s alright.” His father begins to detect the depths of his son’s unhealthy attachment.

 “Thank you all for coming this evening,” Harge gets the concert started. “Before we begin I’d like to dedicate this concert to Jack Taft our clarinetist who died earlier this month. And thank you to Therese Belivet, a visitor from Nebraska, for filling in on short notice.” He purposefully gets Therese’s home state wrong as well as mispronouncing her first and last name. Carol and Therese share an enormous, overflowing plate of eye roll.

The group tunes to the oboe while conductor notices her hair looks lighter, her skin pinker. Both women are flushed, but not from the sun--Therese concealed most of that with make-up hours ago. Evidence of their love making is what he observes. It seeps from every cell of both women and soon blasts out unabashedly from their instruments. Make-up incapable of concealing rapture shared in bed, against a wall, in the shower, on a piano bench while hitting high notes and in the sea. He watches the clarinetist look lovingly at Carol while the group tunes to her A-note. He clenches his teeth.

They begin with Edvard Hagerup Grieg’s Wounded Heart, Op 34. The moment they begin to play notes on the page, they feel an intense connection despite their goal of keeping the evening all business, just getting through it. They can't. Quite together sitting apart they instinctively rock and roll in time with long slurred phrases. The conductor motions for the tempo to increase. He doesn’t need to. Therese and Carol have already made the adjustment, the ensemble following them, not him. They are raw, instinctual, magnetic making music allegretto espressivo as if performing naked, dancing provocatively exposed under the watchful eye of a jealous conductor and an audience enraptured watching only two of the performers. Them.

Harge tries to make eye contact with all his musicians, but his vision rests primarily on oboe and clarinet watching as their bent legs slide millimeter by millimeter closer, still closer.

Come here Therese. Here I come.

Knees are touching. They each sigh and pant into their instruments. Carol shifts her body moving with Therese, the clarinetist presses her knee deeper into Carol’s. Forearms brush against each other, elbows touch as a run of slurred triplet notes escape their open mouths. The oboist makes music as though her hands are running all over the clarinetist’s sunbathed body, stroking and exploring warm, brown curves wishing they weren't separated by clothes and decorum. Therese thinks about her advice to Carol to not flaunt their love in front of Harge. Fuck it. This is bigger than both of us. She makes brief eye contact with him communicating a straightforward message with an intensity even she is surprised by: Stay away from Carol.

He stares at her, his face red. Rage makes his body want to collapse though he keeps it together. For now.

 

The Reception – Trouble Ahead

The audience gives a standing ovation after the last piece of music is complete. All still under a bewitching woodwind love spell. “Where did that sensational young clarinetist come from?” One Columbia woodwind instructor asks another professor standing near her.

“I don’t know, but she and Carol Aird were unbelievable. Were there even other musicians onstage? It felt like they were, well… very intimate. If you know what I mean, didn’t it?” In reply the woodwind instructor claps more furiously.

Therese and Carol notice the audience’s attention focused on them. They try not to smile too much, especially to each other. They want nothing more than to dive into each other’s arms. “I wish we could skip that damned reception,” Carol whispers. After the clapping concludes people begin to file into the upstairs meeting room.

They both mingle, starting out together, but separate naturally pulled into different conversations. Therese notices Carol spending a lot of time talking with Gabriel, the principal Philharmonic clarinetist. They both slip outside at one point. She tries not to be curious or a little jealous. She’s both.

Therese puts appetizers on her plate, mostly food attached to toothpicks. When she gets to the end of the buffet line she is face-to-face with Harge Aird. His father stands on one side and a woman on the other, his date. She is tall and blond, like Carol, but unlike Carol she's completely unaware of how diluted her soon-to-be inebriated date is.

“Hello Therese.” His eyes are glassy, wild, he holds a Scotch in one hand, his date's hand in the other.

“Hello.” She smells alcohol on his breath from #3 of a parade of pity drinks to pass his thick lips this evening.

“Therese I’m looking for Carol. My father would like to visit with her. I don’t suppose you know where she is?”

Therese tells him Carol stepped outside though in her rich imagination she says Carol is naked back at her apartment waiting patiently for her in bed.

“Therese this is my father Aaron Aird and my date for the evening Angela Holmes. Angela is the harpist for the Philharmonic.” His words are starting to slur more than the notes in the Grieg piece the ensemble just performed.

While Therese is shaking hands with Aaron and Angela one thought consumes her: didn’t Carol say the Miami condo is owned by the Philharmonic harpist? “Nice to meet you Therese. You’re very talented. You and Carol… wow! I’ve never seen two musicians so… in sync.”

Harge's upper lip quivers, he takes another sip of his drink.

“Thank you.” Therese feels uncomfortable. She looks at the floor. Poor Carol about to navigate guaranteed Florida questions in front of this awkward collection of people: one dying, one insane and getting more drunk by the minute, one clueless and Therese dead in the water, sandwiched in this dysfunctional mess.

 

Oboe Concerto #2 in D Minor Op. 9 - Allegro

Carol reemerges from the back door and spots the cluster fuck immediately: Aird Father and son, Therese and holy fucking Christ “Angela-Miami-condo Holmes" all standing in a clump staring at her.”

She is immobile, soundless on a frozen body of water trying to figure out how the hell to skate off this thin ice. She sees one of the religious stained glass windows in the front of the church and prays to it before putting one skate in front of the other. The oboist about to give a solo performance accompanied by an orchestra from hell.

 

Sweet Holy Mother of God get me through this night.  

 

Chapter Text

 
Fallout

December 21: winter solstice. The shortest day of the year abruptly changes into a long, harrowing night shifting lives for the better. For the worse.

It’s cold outside, but even without a coat Carol prefers biting chill to going inside where she’s expected to mingle. She just wants to go home. With Therese.

“Thank you, Gabriel.” She closes her car trunk where she’s tucked away the French Buffet clarinet just purchased from him, principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic. She covers the instrument with a blanket to conceal it from Therese on their drive home. Her plan to give the clarinet tonight-- an early Christmas gift before Therese leaves for Iowa. Tomorrow. She doesn’t want to think about that. It makes her panicky.

Take this night in small doses Carol, or you’ll fall apart.

She enters St. Paul’s Chapel reception room, hair tied loosely in a knot above her neck, heels clicking with authority while moving across tiled flooring. Immediately she sees a social storm waiting impatiently for her like a patient with a bladder infection in a long queue at the doctor’s office. The four of them stand awkwardly: Harge, his father, Philharmonic harpist Angela/FL condo owner and dear, sweet Therese landing in this group innocent victim of bad timing. She appears to need rescue a “help me, I’m stuck between a rock and a Harge place” expression on her face. All four stare at Carol. It unnerves her.

For Christ’s sake, is my hair on fire?

When she approaches, Harge slides his free hand not occupied by a drink, onto the middle of Angela’s lower back. It’s a fake display for Carol—his hope she falls into bite-sized pieces of regret seeing him with another woman. Angela, perturbed by the hand removes it before Carol has a chance to care less.

Carol is on a mission en route to Aaron Aird, who she greets with a warm embrace. The smell of his son’s liquored breath smacks her olfactory nerve — yet another bothersome way for him to put any part of himself in her way. “Hello Aaron. I’m very sorry to hear you’ve not been well. How are you?” She leans in with poise pressing sunburned cheek to gaunt face, shocked at the change in him: cancer a natural disaster ripping through his body a house to flatten and make unrecognizable to the people who used to live there. Embracing him feels no different than what she thinks hugging a skeleton would be like. 

He melts seeing her, their father-daughter bond rekindled. His demanding business affairs, her busy orchestra and freelancing schedule and current estrangement from Harge leave a space between them understood though regrettable.

“I’m still fighting this damned thing,” he says squeezing her hand. “You look lovely Carol and what a concert. You and the clarinetist I just met,” he gestures to Therese, “stole the show.”

Harge ravenously takes a hit of his drink disgusted his father is one more person to fawn over Carol and Therese’s performance.

“Carol,” Harge looks at her smugly, “I believe you know Angela from Philharmonic?”

“Yes, of course, wonderful to see you.”

“Angela is my date this evening.”

“Whoa Harge, I’m here just as a friend.” The woman laughs fearlessly at the ridiculousness of his suggestion. She’s beginning to understand why she was invited this evening.

Five-four-three-two-one: “Carol, how was your trip to Miami?” And, there it is.

Therese tries to think of distractions to steer away from Florida. Perhaps blurting out a preposterous subject change: Did you know clarinets originate from early hornpipes of Ancient Greece? But she’s quiet and Carol must fend for herself on this cruise ship from hell.

“My trip was fine, thank you.” Carol looks at Therese blinking seductively; no one else notices it’s so damned subtle. What a fine trip they had indeed. 

Carol tells Aaron if there’s anything he ever needs please call her. They compare numbers stored on cell phones, confirming everything’s up-to-date.

Five-four-three-two-one: “How do you know where Carol took a trip?” Angela, explains innocently that Carol stayed at her condo last week.

Shit.   

“What the hell were you doing in Miami, Carol?”

“Harge, mind your business and manners.” His father is embarrassed. Angela’s eyes widen in disbelief. Therese moves closer to Carol as a wave of molten lava begins to flow slowly through her small veins.

“Excuse me?” Carol takes a step toward him.

 “Who the fuck did you go to Miami with?”

0.01 decibels of hush spread through a room full of people turning heads. Carol doesn’t answer, statuesque, rigid. Therese’s hand moves so their knuckles brush against each other, two solid stones ready to make fire.

“Son, calm down.” Aaron’s voice is stern. "I'm sorry, Carol."

“I will not quiet down and don’t apologize to her. She should apologize. She’s still my wife and gallivanting around before our divorce is final.”

Carol can’t take it anymore. “So much for the expensive therapy. It’s not working. You should get a refund.”

The show unfolds fast from here, a poker game where no one has a good hand. Carol is shaking; Therese feels it in her fist brushing in little quivers against her own. She pulls her by the hand so she’s not standing as close to Harge.

“It’s her, isn’t it?” He watches angrily as Therese maneuvers Carol, a skater with her sand bags, guided by a protector off the ice. He dies inside seeing Carol submit willingly to this woman.

“You’re involved with this… this….” he searches for something derogatory. “Carol, you’re involved with… a kid?”

“Did you call her kid? She’s more mature at 25 than you’ll ever be, you moronic, insecure fuck.”

The harpist walks toward the back door. “Aaron, Carol, Therese, if you’ll excuse me. Good night.”

“Where do you think you’re going?” Harge follows catching her by the sleeve.

“Hey!” she pulls back with fieriness unexpected from an ivy-league-educated harpist who slaps his thunderstruck mug. “Let go of me you drunken jackass. No wonder Carol wants a divorce.” Round two: she slaps him again, this blow damages ego and reputation more than the initial wallop.

“The first slap was for me. That last one,” she looks at Carol, “that was for her.” She brushes her hands together an “I’m done with you” gesture. Head held high, she waltzes out the door.

The reception hall clears fast of students, professors and guests uncomfortable but eager to go home scrutinizing and gossiping about every detail of the evening. It took Professor Aird 10 years to build his reputation at Columbia and five minutes to destroy it.  

Carol, emboldened by the ”punch” in Angela’s exit, grabs Harge by his arm and whispers fortissimo into his inebriated eardrum: “Sign the goddamned papers tomorrow or I take this fucking circus to court where they’ll divide it all up for us and I’ll expose what an unstable, incompetent ass you are. I’ve got a room full of witnesses, not to mention your father who doesn’t need this stress, you selfish prick.”

Carol turns warrior, sledgehammer in hand she takes charge, busting through the evening’s rubble. “Therese, find Dan. He needs to drive Aaron home in Harge’s car. Now.”

Carol demands Harge turn over car keys, which he does pathetically, clutching his drink, the only friend he has left.

As they watch the car leave, it occurs to Carol how much more difficult landings are than take-offs. Starting things is easy: all the possibilities. She imagines trying to end things with Harge is like trying to land an aircraft. She’s buckled, ready for rubber to meet runway while he’s going mental in the cockpit fighting the captain trying to pull throttle lever up, up.   

They leave Harge to fend for himself at the church. He can get a cab after he sobers up to the truth about all the things ending: Carol, his father, and probably his career. It’s all falling away.

 

Iowa Snowfall

Therese is rocking and rolling next to Carol at the concert making sweet musical love about the time initial snowflakes fall from an Iowa sky in her hometown. By the time the storm ends 10 hours later it will break 100-year-records. The Cedar Rapids airport shuts down all operations by 5am Monday.

 

Head over Heels

Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat Major – Op. 28, No 15 – Chad Lawson piano

They arrive at Carol’s apartment by 10:45pm, falling into each other’s arms on the burgundy leather sofa. They know their time is limited so neither wastes any talking anymore about the emotional evening. What’s done is done.

“I have something for you.” Therese reaches into her purse. She hands Carol a jewelry box wrapped with a red bow. A tag tied to the bow simply reads: “TLC.”

Carol opens the silver bracelet with the padlocked heart, the one Therese found for her in the Keys. Tears fall onto sunburned cheeks, events of the evening and Therese’s leaving tomorrow finally hit her hard. 

“I will never take it off.” She says it while Therese helps her clasp the bracelet onto a delicate wrist.

She thinks of the clarinet she smuggled in a large shopping bag. She’ll wait until morning. Compared to the bracelet, it feels too little and too much.

“Carol?”

“Yes Therese.”

“I’m about to tell you something that might come out all wrong and weird. I want to say it anyway.”

“Say it.” Carol moves closer and holds her hand.

A natural pause fits between them pulling them together while Therese struggles for the right words.

“Oh, I’m just gonna say it. It’s strange.”

“Say it.”

“I wish you could get me pregnant.” Carol’s face looks surprised, flushed, aroused by the wonderful, impossible idea of it.

“Well, I can’t Baby. What makes you want that?”

 “I just wish I could be the Mother of your children. Someday. That’s all.”

Carol laughs, kissing the top of her head holding her closer telling her if true love created new life rather than just sex, fewer people would be born.

They fall asleep on the shortest day, longest night of the year, a sliver of a winter moon winks at them through Carol’s balcony window as they fall deeper and deeper.  

 

It all Falls to Hell

Mykola Duytrovich Leontovych’s “Shchedryk – Carol of the Bells”

Somewhere around 11:30pm Aaron Aird realizes his son is still not home. His first worry isn’t about him but an instinctual, overwhelming concern… for Carol. He calls her cell phone twice. There’s no answer. Her phone buried deep in her purse on the dining room table. It buzzes on low volume while she and Therese, still in concert dress, sleep through the ring tone their limbs twisted together on the couch like an ancient oak.

Harge begins his ascent up the marble staircase to Carol’s apartment around 11:36pm tripping and slurring his way up to the third floor.  A traditional Ukrainian folk chant with prehistoric origins, a carol in repeating four-note patterns, is suspended all around him, dauntingly steady as he reaches her apartment door and…

turns the key.  

Chapter Text

Therese’s Clarinet

Her first clarinet belonged to her adoptive mother Beth Belivet. A student model made of plastic, the material of inexpensive clarinets. A Bundy clarinet, it came in a wide brown case lined with fake brown fur. There was a drop-down compartment to hold music and ample space for reeds, cork grease and swabs to clean out spit after playing. Her mother taught her how to carefully put it together from the bottom piece, the bell, working her way up to the mouthpiece. She instinctively knew how to hold the instrument, where to place fingers and the shape to make with her mouth. She outgrew the first clarinet easily, upgrading to a new instrument in two years. Before leaving for college her parents gave her the wooden Selmer CL211 Intermediate Bb clarinet. It sits under a piano bench in a New York City apartment, touching the instrument case of Carol Reed Aird’s exquisite Bulgheroni oboe D’Amore.

Under Carol’s bed, a Christmas gift waits for Therese: a professional French-crafted clarinet. Its construction of the finest African blackwood known for its increased resonance and rich, complex tones. The clarinet beckons, calls out from the prison of its case. Play me. But an uncertain future awaits with a melody whose first note sounds of discord.     

December 21 – 11:41pm - Therese 

They fall asleep together after the concert still clad in black dresses, heels strewn on the floor. The apartment radiates with a dark stillness, not even a nightlight shines. The dim light from nearby a streetlight provides the only light coming through the balcony window. It colors their slumbering faces with a faint, warm glow. Therese sleeps on her right side, one arm wrapped around Carol's waist. Their bodies instinctively fit together, two birds making a nesting place of the narrow couch. A grey fleece blanket Therese covered them with begins to slip, resting more on Carol. Therese tucks her head in between Carol's warm shoulder and even warmer neck. Her right arm, twisted under the arch in Carol’s back, falls too into a deep sleep that cuts off the entire flow of circulating blood to that limb. This unfortunate condition won't be discovered until Therese tries to use both of her arms in the fight of her life.

The key in the door lock turns. The door opens. Harge Aird stands in the black darkness with his dark eyes adjusting to the lack of light. Alcohol and psychosis, two wickedly perilous sisters, dragged him to this point of no return. He holds onto the door, guiding it to a quite closing behind him. Standing here, among them, in this sacred place, in this dark place, he is a criminal: intrusive, repulsive, indefensible and completely out of his mind. Standing askew it seems unfathomable he get here in this condition. But, he did, making a swaggering, sickening ascent up the marble staircase leading here, to where they sleep. One step, two … not knowing which way to maneuver an unsteady body. Trying to see, his pupils dilate, the darkness in his eyes growing to let in miniscule light. He can hear their soft breathing, together, in unison as it becomes the nearer the two women are to one another. He stands more still at the sound of Therese shifting her leg, draping it across Carol. He takes one small step in the direction of that sound.

Standing over them, he listens. It's too dark or he's too inebriated or both to notice how the curves and lines of their two bodies fit together. Not with the sharpened, hard edges he tried to make fit in places unwilling to accept him. He moves an inch closer, hearing Carol's breathing. He remembers it, even the taste of it against his cheek or in his ear. How he used to watch her sleep on nights he desired things of her body should could not concede with her heart.

Carol's arm moves so that her bracelet hangs off her wrist. Its beautiful promise waits there, in jeopardy.

He kneels by the couch. And in a matter of seconds the dormant protector lurking within Therese awakens. Her subconscious, as though dosed with iced rain, alerts her that she and Carol are not alone. First the initial panic arrives like medieval church bells clanging a warning. Operating at speeds thousands of miles beyond what her body can process, her mind turns furious alarm clock shouting "GET UP. GET UP NOW." A sick sixth, seventh, eight sense floods her waking status and despite the lack of light, she can see him or feel him. Standing there. Perhaps her premonitory dreams knew it would all come to this. THIS. Her heart rate climbs from resting 67 to fretting 220 beats per minute, pounding a turbulent flow of blood to her ears. Harge grabs Carol by her wrists. His thick fingers make contact with her bracelet, digging it between his flesh and hers. Therese tries to say something, make a sound: “NO” or “STOP” or “dear sweet GOD, stop this.” The only sound that manages to escape her is a weak gasp of swallowed air, fear and panic devoured whole. She's holding her breath, her lungs incapable of filling with enough air to make a sustained vibration of vocal chords. There are no chords for the terrified musician.

Carol is pulled from the couch and dragged to the floor. Therese reaches for her while attempting to fight him off. Rising up as Carol falls, she realizes her right arm hangs dead at her side -- a useless, sleeping soldier. The futility and pain of it, trying to make use of an unusable limb while Carol lands on the floor with a dull thud. Everything’s retarded, motion still frames passing, a handheld camera shutter speed of one never ending second. These images are a complete blur. The pace crawls despite her racing heart, accelerated respiration and mind run amok in chaotic circles every direction and in no direction. This unfolding horror is exponentially worse than her foreboding nightmares.

How did he get in here? This CAN'T be happening. Holy God what should I do? Carol? Carol, what should I do?

The most horrible sound Therese Belivet will ever hear is Carol’s wind being knocked the hell out of her as she crash lands onto the floor.

The shaking starts slowly, Harge's hands on Carol, lifting her upper body off the floor by her shoulders. She's reduced to a flimsy puppet, a lifeless dummy he attempts to control. His words cannot be understood, his emotions possess a language all their own, his despair turned violent. The overripe smell of alcohol blows off of him, smacking Carol's face along with an incoherent, meaningless drunken slur. Saliva droplets land on her cheeks, her forehead and his spit splatters into the soft edges of her hair.

He lifts Carol so she’s sitting up in the kind of shock that comes from disbelief, a woman fallen from a boat submerged into a dark, icy sea. She cannot move her body, her mind in slow-motion tries to orient. Hair falls from a stylish twist, hairpins drop like sad rain washed out of a polluted sky along with the color in her face.

She manages to harness what little strength she can in her delirium and disbelief. A single word drips from her lips, a laborious birth given to it amidst the shaking and numbing pain. “Therese.”

Carol’s Oboe

When she turned 15 she decided to make the switch from clarinet to oboe. Her mother suggested she rent the peculiar instrument. “You rarely stick with things anyway, Carol.” But her father thought better, buying her a used student model. She still has it, tucked away in her closet. It's difficult to part with anything given to her by her late father. On the recommendation of teachers through the years, she's upgraded in accord with her swift progress until purchasing her current oboe. It's the one she uses to perform with the New York Philharmonic. It feels like an extension of herself, the exquisite instrument, a Bulgheroni Oboe D'Amore. The oboe's Italian name, meaning of love, suites Carol to a tee as it brings joy and love to her life. It currently rests under her piano, beside Therese’s clarinet case. Two lovers touching, hidden away in the darkness.

There will only ever be three great loves of Carol’s life: her father; her oboe; and Therese Belivet.

December 21 – 11:41pm - Carol 

Alessandro Ignazio Marcello “Concerto for Oboe and Strings in D minor”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjLoOmDddgk

Her eyes open, aware of something or someone. Is Therese holding onto her wrist? Why so tight? The hand that grabs her digs into the new bracelet making imprints of the chain pattern, pressing it into her body with a force that breaks her skin. She realizes her tragic circumstances the instant the familiar smell of his breath laced with alcohol finds her. Holy Christ. Thoughts like seizures cluster a flashing strobe light in Hell's discotheque. She cannot process THIS. This unthinkable invasion.

Carol doesn’t consider the obvious questions of how or why he’s here. She simply exists. It's a moment of complete chaotic alarm. She simply survives microsecond-to-unending-microsecond. Her reality conceals itself within a thick, expanding haze. She's being pulled down, down. The pain is instant when her body finds the floor and a pair of black heels that dig into her back. And then, the shaking, seismic, it rattles her flesh, then her bones. Any fight she may have left with this man is being rung out of her, wetness squeezed from a dripping towel. Her blood pressure drops and her breathing becomes more shallow. Sinking, she's sinking, gasping for air. A weakness consumes every part of her, her organs depleted of the fuels required to fight. Carol Aird cannot breathe.

Dear God. Don't let her watch me die. Please. Not like this.

The sweet sound of Carol's favorite Marcello oboe concerto comes to her from Heavens or the sweetest corners of her imagination, lifting and distracting her. Harmonious angels, a gentle contrast to this heinous scene. Trills of an ethereal oboe accompany her despair. She reaches toward the music as words she cannot comprehend spray her like wet fists pounding her bruising flesh. The beauty of the music begins to drown out the ugliness she's enduring.   

Before she's entirely lost in the resonating oboe, reaching toward it speaking her name, she calls out amidst this shaking and her own internal trembling. Carol calls out to the solitary living angel, the only one who can help her now.

“Therese.”

December 21 – 11:45pm - Therese 

The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army”- (Glitch Mob Remix)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYFJjwXtsU4

Hearing Carol utter her name in this most deplorable, desperate moment of need turns Therese's prior fears into a savage storm. Her mission turns hellbent. Her orders clear: SAVE CAROL. 

"LEAVE HER ALONE." She screams it as much with her body as her voice, now turned into a fist.

Relentless, alert, a wall of water bursts from a cracked damn about to rupture Therese's wrath all over this room. She feels in the darkness for something, anything to hurl at him. Her right arm still dead hangs at her side as a scarecrow’s straw limb.

In the darkness she reaches out with her functioning hand, feeling in the dark, hitting table legs and sliding across the floor on her knees until she finds it. Her weapon, the first solid, movable object. She grabs onto it and pulls it to her body with a fury. Carol’s oboe.

The oboe case in her left hand, she is armed and ready.

Pounding drums, bass guitar, electric guitar screams...

I’m gunna fight ‘em off

A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back

And the message coming from my eye

Says leave it alone!

His hands find Carol’s neck. Therese hears coughing, choking, Carol begins a listless and limp kicking.

Therese considers running, screaming for help into the hallway of the apartment. Would it be too late? There’s enough noise coming from Carol’s unit that someone should be concerned, calling the police by now. No help's on the way. Neighbors across the hall are away for the holidays and the man next door stares at a screen, a video game addict wearing headphones. Fake gunshots and car chases his reality as actual violence occurs on the other side of the wall.

Still on hands and knees Therese bumps into the edges of things: piano bench and bookshelf. Paperbacks and bound sheet music fall, knocking her head on their descent. Her knee bashes the side of Carol’s foot as she lunges for him. A tribal, primal cry leaves her lungs from a forgotten, ancestral place. She transforms in response to the repulsive sound of Carol’s life being drained from her. A renegade archangel, she hold the instrument case ready to swing blindly through the inky madness hoping to hit him somewhere, anywhere. Gt, chest, back, arm…

“Get OFF of her.”

Left arm swings the oboe case with atomic strength equal to her love for Carol.

"Crack.” A low, stupefied groan drains from him. He falls, releasing Carol before falling to the floor, unconscious. 

Carol gasps and claws for air as would someone rising to the surface after being trapped beneath deep water. Frantic, crying she's disoriented, a conglomeration of her hot tears commingled with his alcoholic sputter plaster her face, her neck, her hair.

Therese turns on a light. She sees Carol’s terrified face. Sheet white with bloodshot eyes that look crazed, unfocused, she's full of anguish and shock. Coughing, she can't yet speak, trying first to breathe. She's confused while furious and though the shaking is over, Carol still shakes. Violently. She says something that Therese can’t comprehend; it comes out in a series of primitive grunts and moans. She gets up and commences with pacing and disoriented babbling. Therese grabs for her. “Carol. Carol, you're all right now.” She grabs onto Carol's arms and presses her hands against her. "It's me. Therese." The effort serves to orient Therese as well. Awaken them both to the newfound status of their safety. “Carol? Look at me. We need to call the police.”

Therese walks to where Harge landed on the floor. She bends down, cautious to confirm that he’s still breathing. She chokes out a relieved “he’s alive.”

“Therese, you need to get out of here. I will call the police after you go.” She’s spinning, looking around the room for her phone and her wits.

“I will not leave you.”

“Yes, yes you will.” Harnessing control over her adrenaline, Carol with more wits about her, digs in her purse. She hands car keys to Therese. “Here, take my car. You can leave it at the airport. I’ll get it later. Get your suitcase, your clarinet ... everything. Load it up and get out of here now. And, Therese ... don’t contact me. I’ll call you when I can. Hurry.” She almost whimpers the last few words, pushing Therese toward the bedroom where her nearly packed Iowa-bound suitcase waits.

“Go. Please. And, Therese… you were not here. Do you understand me?”

Therese, beginning to cry doesn't answer. She looks away.

Carol reaches for her chin. "Okay?"

Therese, still looking away, shakes her head. She fumbles around, gathering her things from the bedroom. Carol picks up the oboe case from the floor, not ever taking her eyes off of Harge lying in a pile on the floor. Her angry breathing and racing heart still rest at enraged. She rushes to the kitchen where she washes off the handle and the entire oboe case. With calculated firmness she presses her hands all over the case and handle, forcing her prints to cover up every single place where proof of Therese had been.

911 – 12:01am December 22

Carol stands at the top of the outside stairs dialing 911. Her body still quakes uncontrollably.

Therese sobs in the garage below, starting Carol’s Lexus. Halfway out of the parking structure she stops and considers turning back, rushing to Carol’s side. “Fuck!” she says instead, stepping on the accelerator. She keeps on going away from the scene of the crime.

Operator: 911 Emergency Operator. What's your emergency?

Carol: My almost ex-husband broke into my apartment. He’s drunk and crazy. I don’t know how he got in. I think he must have made a key. It was dark. He was choking and shaking me to fucking death. Voice shaking. Crying.

Operator: Where are you now? Are you still in the apartment? Where is he?

Carol: He’s still in the apartment. I’m outside in front of my building. He’s injured. Unconscious … maybe. I don't know. I accidentally hit him with my -- (pause) my ... oboe case. I couldn’t see. It was so dark.

Operator: You hit him with your what, Ma’am?

Carol: Jesus, it doesn't matter. Just please, send help. Hurry. (She provides address).

Operator: Don’t hang up. I’m going to dispatch the police, okay? Don’t hang up.

Carol: All right. Please hurry.

While she waits for the police, Carol makes two phone calls. The first one she makes to Harge’s father, telling him his son's been injured; the second call she makes to her divorce lawyer. “Please call me back immediately. I may need a lawyer ... soon.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Broken

The police arrive 11 minutes after being dispatched. Lights flash. Sirens silenced. 

Carol shivers in the cold standing at the top of the stairs outside her building. 

Two police officers arrive at the scene first. “Are you Carol Aird?”

She nods, her teeth chatter with more panic than cold. 

They briefly discuss the details of the crime. 

An aid car arrives, one medic rushes to her, covering her with a blanket, taking vital signs while talking her down as she’s processing nightmarish details of the evening. One police officer and the other medic make their way up the stairs to her apartment while Carol remains with an EMT. 

The EMT works with Carol, noticing skin torn and punctured in various places around the circumference of her wrist. He touches carpal bones searching for fractures; she flinches when he palpates the tip of her capitate bone. “I’ll clean these wounds, bandage you and put a supporting brace on your wrist for now. You’ll need an x-ray as soon as you can, might be fractured.” He begins to unclasp her bracelet. She pulls her arm back.

“No, please I want to leave it on.”

Ordinarily the medic would insist on removing the jewelry; however, considering her state of mind and ordeal, he complies. “All right, Carol. Let’s work around it.” He tells her he can’t believe the bracelet didn’t break based on the condition of her wrist.

“Someone very special gave it to me.” She trembles, emotions held back emptying out, a cascading cold mountain stream turns river jumping its banks to find dry land. He puts his arm around her as she tries to fight the tears she pushes from her eyes with her good hand. 

The two officers and another EMT stand outside Carol’s apartment. Weapons ready, a knock their warning shot fired: “NYPD back away from the door.” They find him in the same place Therese and Carol last saw him, but he’s sitting up, rubbing his head. The EMT leans down to take his pulse. “Sir, are you all right?” Harge, seeing the police officer’s badge, lifts his head, dumbfounded, trying to make sense of the situation, awakening slowly from from a oboe-induced concussion. He opens his eyes fully, taking in the severity of what he’s done and why these people join him here, at Carol’s, the scene of his crime. The drink and the concussion unite, possessing him to stand in fear, a zombie unwilling to die or take credit for this horrible crime. 

The medic tries to hold him down. But Harge Aird is a man on the run. Possessed, he blots beyond them and through the open apartment door. Everything’s tilted and swimming in a cauldron of blurr. He heads toward the top of the stairs, three flights of marble beckoning him toward the peril. 

“Come. Come this way.” The police officer tries to grab his coat, his arm, anything as he blazes by, his eyes feral with sin and shame.

Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” accompanies his escape, strings hiss against a rising choir.

At 12:27am on December 22, 2014 gifted violinist, professor and conductor Harge Aird begins the greatest decrescendo of his life. Right foot meets the second step of the grand historic staircase at an awkward angle sending him hurling, falling and twisting, bones hitting hard marble. The stairs each an individual ivory key on a massive, twisting piano and his body hitting key after with sounds of cracking -- a great concerto he performs, a final musical score with notes ringing to high Heaven. To Hell.

His radius bone breaks first followed by several bones in his right hand, then his left. Finger joints of the great violinist shatter as police and medic watch him deconstructing, they are helpless as he breaks apart: a chromatic scale of falling notes C, B, B-flat, A … busting keys within the conductor with each progressive hard marble step.

When it’s over, when the falling stops, he’s travelled two flights of stairs. A broken man: the worst of it an acute subdural hematoma. The least of it: everything else.

Before they blaze off with him in the back of the ambulance Carol is approached. “Would you like to ride along with your husband?”

“No. No I wouldn’t. He’s not my husband anymore.” She knows that the piece of paper supposedly binding them never could, especially after what’s done.

She presses down on the wrist brace; it makes contact with the bracelet, her emblematic wedding band. She wants to feel it grind into her injured flesh and bone.

I’m alive. I’ve alive. Because of Therese.

The ambulance scurries into the night, its sirens howl, red lights flash urgent and sad. Hollow, Carol watches it disappear into the night, devoid of any feelings for this broken man who tried to break her.

He’s comatose, pupils unresponsive. They immediately radio Mount Sinai Hospital trauma center with status. Emergency specialists are standing by and ready to treat him.

I started a joke which started the whole world crying

But I didn't see that the joke was on me oh no

I started to cry which started the whole world laughing

Oh If I'd only seen that the joke was on me

I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes

And I fell out of bed hurting my head from things that I said

'Till I finally died which started the whole world living

Oh if I'd only seen that the joke was on me

 

Breaking Down

Carol rides to the police station for questioning. It’s standard procedure in cases of this nature. The police want to know how he got a key, the only plausible explanation for criminal entry. Eventually the police learn of the apartment building’s negligence: an inexperienced woman charmed by a handsome college professor who she grossly misjudged as lucid. 

Carol, though encouraged to press charges against the building’s ownership doesn’t. She will never again be questioned about the events by law enforcement. Closed case. She will rarely speak of the event to anyone.

The police drive her to the hospital where she meets Aaron and they learn together of Harge’s serious condition. Perhaps he will pull through with extensive rehabilitation. 

She feels nothing, stolid and hollow as she holds Aaron while he breaks down over the injury of his only child: first his son’s mind and now his son’s body.

Abby picks Carol up at 3:11am and drives her to her favorite hotel. Carol can’t bear the thought of going back to her apartment right now, maybe ever. She needs to sleep, but she’s too tired and too wired. Keyed up.

“Do you want me to stay with you?” Abby asks as she hands her a glass of water and a valium brought from her home pharmacy “stash.”

“No. I just want to be alone. But thank you, darling.” Carol doesn’t really want to be alone. The second Abby leaves she calls Therese hoping she can come to her before flying home.

Abby pulls covers tightly over Carol, kissing her forehead and telling her to call if she needs anything. “I can go with you later today to pick up what you need from your apartment.”

“Thank you.” Carol rests her head on a pillow as the calming sedative begins to take effect.

After Abby leaves, Carol reaches for her cell phone. She tries to punch in her phone security code as numbers on the glass screen sway and dance away from her. Soft and fuzzy the room sedated too as Carol drifts into a benzodiazepine slumber. The phone slips from her hand and she slips into another world.

 

Past the Break of Dawn

Carol eventually wakes hours later, well past 11am. "Oh no, I’m too late, I’ve missed her.” Fumbling and stumbling she finds her phone on the floor with only a 2% charge and her charger left back at the apartment. “Damn.” She uses the hotel phone. No answer. She leaves a message, holding back tears, her voice unsteady, winded. “Therese, you must be on your way home. But, I need to talk to you. Please call me when you can. My phone is out of charge, so call the number I’m calling from. I’m staying at the Library Hotel downtown. I’ve checked in under Carol ... Reed.” She says the name with new buoyancy. “Please call me soon. Therese, I ... I … love you.”

 

Breaking Up

When Carol calls Therese, she’s on the phone with her parents for the third time of the morning—they’ve chatted several times about the snowstorm and airport shutdown. When she hears a call coming in she’s hopeful it’s finally Carol. No, it’s an unrecognized NYC number. Disappointed she lets it roll to voicemail.

She puts on her bravest voice. She’s about to tell her parents so many things. Things she’s wanted to share as well as a decision she’s just made about the trip home. 

“Mom, dad … I’ve met someone.” It comes from nowhere and not as she planned. But then, that’s how it all began with Carol. “She’s a musician, an oboist. Her name is Carol. She’s just gone through something traumatic, something I’d not like to talk about right now. But it’s very important that stay in New York with her. Over the holidays and ...” She begins to cry, her voice breaking up all the way from New York to Iowa and back again.

 Belivets don’t initially know how to respond. It’s all so sudden. Their daughter in love. And. With. A woman. 

They say they want to know more about the oboist. And, they do. “We support you, dear. So, do what you need to be supportive of her. We’ll celebrate the holidays later this year. It’s just a date on a calendar.” Her mother says, hiding her disappointment, but sensing the gravity of the situation. 

“We look forward to meeting your oboist Carol” her father breaks the silence and soon after they end the call.

 

Lucky Break

Carol looks out the window of her hotel room on the seventh floor wondering how far away Therese is at this moment. Will she ever want to come back to New York after last night? Is she gone forever? The oboist’s eyes fill with tears as the clarinetist, roars toward the hotel, having just listened to the voice mail from a mystery NYC number. 

Therese drives Carol’s Lexus as though she’s being pursued by the mafia, tires squeal, corners turned with too much sharpness passing holiday shoppers and decorated light posts, signs and storefronts promising pictures with Santa. Every red light is cursed, each green light a tiny miracle. Her phone tells her the way: “Your destination is on the right in 300 feet.” She struggles to breathe standing in the lobby of the Library Hotel at 299 Madison Avenue. It could quite possibly be one of the most beautiful sights. The twelve stories of classic brown brick, a grand and elegant historic building, not because of its impressive classic architecture but because Carol Reed exists somewhere inside.

Out of breath, she searches the lobby looking for Carol. Anywhere, everywhere. Hoping to find her with a nose in a book sitting in one of the rich brown leather wingback chairs or relaxing on a wooden bench in the outdoor seating area hidden amongst plants and wooden chairs. “I’m looking for the room number of a guest who checked in this morning. Her name’s Carol Reed.”

“Is Ms. Reed expecting you?” the hotel receptionist asks.

“Yes. Well, no. I mean, she knows me.”

“Just one moment … what is your name?”

“Therese.”

The receptionist calls Carol’s room.

“Hello.”

“Carol Reed?”

“Yes.”

“There is someone in the lobby to see you by the name of Therese. Shall I send her up?”

“Tell her I’ll be right down.” Carol holds onto the side of the nightstand to steady herself.

Therese paces in tiny circles while Carol runs down the hall and waits for an elevator, pacing too, in circles that grow larger with her anticipation. 

The car creeps up to floor seven. Hurry, God damn it. The ride from floor seven down to one is like an Amtrak train picking up and dropping off passengers at every podunksville stop. A maddening number of holiday-spirited people join the train at each floor — pure anguish for Carol being pushed farther into the corner of the car. Part of her remains in a state of disbelief — how is it possible Therese didn’t already leave? She should be in the air or on the flat lands of  Iowa by now.

When the doors open their eyes meet, the north pole of one magnet attracts the south pole of the other. Elevator riders disembark, scattering like ants as Therese inches closer to the elevator doors, a half step at a time through the ants that separate them. Carol holds the door open button with her uninjured hand. They stand. Carol numb and tall and still foggy from the sedative lingers inside the elevator, Therese at the threshold. Both still wear disheveled black concert dress and Carol’s messed up hair but a golden glow that surrounds. And  they breathe and stare. Breathe some more. 

Carol lets go of the hold button and reaches her hand to Therese who takes one giant step across the threshold, fitting them at last, together.

The doors shut, encapsulating their bodies that mold and fold so that no one can come between them. Lips reach, searching, they rock, chimes in a soft breeze, moving side-to-side. The music starts, Rachmaninov “Symphony No. 2, 3 rd Movement , only they can hear it, stirring, romantic piece, the start of a poignant waltz, notes and silences pulling tighter around them. 

The elevator climbs up, up floating them to floor two. Carol’s wrist brace touches Therese’s face as she kisses the clarinetist’s cheek. Up, up again to floor 3. “Therese you’re still here. How?”

“A snowstorm.”

“What a wonderful and lucky break … for me. For us.” Up to floor 4: still not picking up other riders, they whisper and weep and breathe soft and slow onto each other’s neck, mouth, tousled hair. At floor 5: “Therese, Harge fell down several flights. He’s very … he may never recover. It’s too soon to tell, but … ” Floor 6. “Therese, my darling. You saved me.” 

Floor 7: doors open. A man and woman stand waiting to get on the elevator, stunned by two female riders kissing passionately, Therese leaned against one car wall, Carol pressed against her. The couple, too embarrassed to climb aboard remain stilled. 

The doors close with the wistful woodwinds inside. They ride all the way to the 1 st floor before Therese, still shocked from learning of Harge’s fate, realizes they’re in free fall. A group of guests enter the elevator as the two pull apart and fit into a back corner of the car. 

When they reach floor seven for the second time, Carol guides them down the hall in this boutique hotel with its themed rooms based on the Dewey Decimal library system. This floor is “The Arts” and Carol’s room #700.005 is quite  appropriately the Music Room. 

Seven floors to get here. Seven, a fitting number corresponding to the seven basic notes of any scale. C major, for example: C, D, E, F, G, A and B.

The oboist closes the door locking them inside. They will play music gradually and then all at once. Concert dress optional. Song after song they syncopate, accenting weak beats then momentary disturbances of a regular rhythm between two perfectly harmonious woodwind instruments: “Therese, my angel.” A rich bitonality -- two keys played at once. “Save me again” she says. And they make new music together, the air between them with increased pressure,lips manipulated and extending the range of their instruments to produce a variety of new, deeper tones.

Therese pushes sweat-soaked hair from Carol’s forehead. “I’m staying here with you over the holidays. I’m not going home.” 

Carol smiles at the word home, closing her eyes to stop her tears. She presses her lips to a warm cheek and for the first time in a very long time, she feels her own sense of home.

When they finally fall asleep, it’s almost the next day. Wispy snowflakes fall out of a pink New York sky. Carol’s head rests on Therese’s chest, her braced wrist elevated on a pillow beside Therese and their fingers threaded together. The events of the prior day begin a gradual fade to black while they are safe within the music room. 

 

An Extraordinary Break – December 30, 2014

Carol know Aaron Aird had an affinity for collecting stocks and real estate the way other people collect stamps, coins or snow globes and trolls. He’s done it without braggadocio for decades as he does most things. A rare species, Aaron’s talent knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. His son, friends and business associates knew he was a successful real estate investor, but no one except his attorneys understood the far reaching extent of his wealth. 

On nearly the last day of 2014 Aaron sits down with his attorneys to make a crucial adjustment to his estate. In light of his son’s mental and physical state and his own quickly approaching mortality, he tries to make amends for some of the damage done.

Aaron slides a piece of paper with the name, SSN, date of birth, address and phone number of the person added to his beneficiaries. 

The name reads: Carol Christine Reed.

Chapter Text

Daisy Chain - December 25, 2014

They spend the day walking around the city arm in arm visiting the enormous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and window shopping block after unhurried block of closed stores. The day begins still in their cozy room at The Library Hotel with another enjoyable breakfast in bed. Carol is not ready to return to her apartment after the horrible events of Sunday night. Abby has brought her whatever she needs from home, including the Buffet clarinet present for Therese hidden away under Carol’s bed.

An early Christmas dinner will be spent with Abby, her partner and some of Carol’s Philharmonic friends at Eleven Madison Park, an upscale American restaurant open Christmas Day. They decide to walk there and back. Strolling and chatting never about the past, only about their future.

“Have you thought more about returning to your apartment, Carol?”

“Yes. I don’t want to live there anymore. Will you help me find a new place to live?”

“Carol, I’d rather if … well … what I mean to say is …“ Both the right words and courage go dark against the greater light of Carol’s needs.

“What?” Carol presses her fingers against a stopped jawline.

“No, really, it’s too forward of me. You’ve been through enough with my complicating things.”

“Complicate things. Please.” Carol’s breath is warm and filled with anticipation as it fills Therese’s ear.

“I want to help you find a new place for us to live.”

Well. ” She stands straighter, her head cocked in a cautious veneer of discernment regarding the possibility and sanity of this proposal. Her upper lip quivers, revealing her genuine euphoric reaction. “Does this mean what I think it means?”

“I’ve decided to apply to music school here, in New York. Preferably at Manhattan School of Music, where you did your graduate studies. And if I don’t get in, I’m determined to try again.” 

The corners of Carol’s lips transform into a brightening smile she tames, stopping herself from laughing listening to the pace of Therese’s voice growing more frantic as she continues sharing details of her future plans. “I’ll get a job if I can’t get into grad school right away. I can give private lessons to high school students or middle schoolers, whoever, I just need to be near … you.”

“My darling, I’m sure you’ll get in. But, are you sure about all of this? Is this what you really want?” She takes a step backward, the newly created space between them meant to symbolize a decision-making process of head rather than heart. 

“Yes.” Therese says with conviction and certainty. Every step of her life preordained, a means of getting to this place. To Carol. 

The chain of events takes flight without delay or an excessive contemplation as often occurs with things not truly meant to be. Carol’s connections pulverize red tape and school bureaucracy, the oboist proving “instrumental” in making phone calls that aid in Therese’s late application being considered and an audition scheduled. The spring of 2017 graduation finds a tearful Carol in the audience alongside Therese’s parents witnessing Therese receiving a graduate degree with an emphasis on composition from the Manhattan School Woodwinds Department. 

But as they lie in bed during the final hours of Christmas Day 2015, the search for their new home together not yet in motion and their future together still embryonic links in the chain, Therese asks Carol how her injured wrist feels. 

“It’s fine, it only hurts when I twist a certain way without this brace on.” She rubs the side of the brace as though massaging what lies beneath. 

Therese moves closer and takes Carol’s wrist in between her hands. She pulls apart the Velcro straps gently so as not to cause pain, slipping the brace off as though it is a delicate piece of lingerie. She sets the brace on her lap. When she notices Carol still wears the bracelet under the brace, she sighs, her fingers touching the chain links gently with the tips of two fingers. Carol lies down and closes her eyes while Therese strokes and caresses her injured wrist, gliding fingertips as a paintbrush marking over the pain, smoothing new color out across each bone up to the oboist’s fingers and back down again toward the wrist, nerves of Therese’s fingers almost capable of healing whatever is broken.

“Don’t stop.” Carol moans. “Please.”

Therese goes back to touching each link of the chain, rubbing it in gentle circles, wondering what each chain link might represent … points in her life with Carol. The day they find their first apartment, learning each other’s daily routine ...  Where will the chain of events lead them? Will it last? Will the chain break? 

Theses puts the brace back, re-strapping it onto the injured wrist, leaving the bracelet on since she knows better — Carol will have nothing of removing it. In two years it will break though, beyond repair after snagging on a coat button. The broken chain will find its replacement, a much finer silver chain bracelet given on Carol’s 44th birthday.  

“Merry Christmas Therese.” Carol’s cheek feels warm against her, even her feet. They are never cold.

“Merry Christmas Carol,” Therese’s hands find even warmer places under the soft sheets, “I have something I want to give you.”

“Well,” Carol winks, “you do, do you?”

“Yes,” Therese says with hands that wander wrapping her body until they’re tangled together into a single melodious note that touches and moves, their eyes linked solemnly, “Oh God” echoing off the four hotel walls, turning their Christmas night into a holy and very non-silent night.

 

Broken Chain - May 23, 2015

Carol and Therese are both at his side when he passes. His fight with cancer finally over. Aaron Aird dead at age 81. They learn of Carol’s inheritance the following week. Fortunately she’s seated in the legal office when she hears the news, a faint slide part way out of the chair. The money doesn’t change them in the long run. They always find what matters most: each other and their music. No amount of money can afford the price tag attached to either of those things.

They carry out Aaron’s philanthropic goals, giving generously to the arts and Humane Society while adding music education causes of their own. Of course Harge’s needs are addressed by Aaron’s estate, a trust created to cover his medical care for the remainder of his life, a brief number of years of no consequence to the conclusion of this story. 

Carol and Therese both continue working, knowing idle hands are the devil’s work. Carol continues playing with the Philharmonic in addition to getting back her Columbia University part-time teaching position in the Woodwinds department. Therese becomes ignited with a passion for writing music. She freelances as a clarinetist while throwing herself fully into composing, bouncing ideas off Carol’s ear each night. “Listen to this …”

“My God, you wrote that, Therese? Where did it come from?”

“From you…”  

 

Chain of Title - November 2, 2015

They move out of their Manhattan apartment and into a house some 35 miles north of the city, a town called Armonk. A contemporary masterpiece, a work of art, their home most valuable because of the love they fill it with. A grand piano the focal point of the house off the main entrance. They keep their apartment, staying in the city some weekdays to be near school initially for Therese then her freelance work and close to Columbia and Lincoln Center for Carol.

 

Ball and Chain - September 9, 2016

On the grounds of their Armonk home they marry at 4pm on Friday, September 9, 2016. Silver wedding bands are exchanged to match the keys on their woodwind instruments. On their one year anniversary engraved letters TLC and CLT imprint their feelings on the inside of each band.

The wedding ceremony reflects their style: elegant but understated. They walk each other down the aisle while Angela plays the harp, a rendition of pop song “Love Me Like You Do.” The first time Therese heard it playing on her car radio she told Carol how she pulled onto the side of the road, moved to be still and listen to the song’s beauty. “Something about it, so reminds me of you” Therese said, humming the melody trying to sing the lyrics. 

You’re the light, you’re the night

You’re the color of my blood

You’re the cure, you’re the pain

You’re the only thing I wanna touch

Never knew that it could mean so much, so much

The Belivets attend the wedding, traveling from Iowa to see their only daughter marry the true love of her life. They stay at Carol and Therese’s home for a few weeks while the newlyweds honeymoon. Carol’s mother and third husband make an appearance, something Carol doesn’t expect. They’ll leave early, making up an excuse to slip\ out before the knife even cuts through the cake.

“Figures.” Carol whispers as they watch her mother leave. “I didn’t think she’d come at all … what money will buy, huh? An appearance.”

Abby and her partner attend; Dan and his girlfriend; new friends from Therese’s graduate school; Columbia University professors; and musicians from the New York Philharmonic.

They dance into the night, basking in the glow of the Belivet Reeds.

 

Key Chain

“Chain Reaction” sung by Diana Ross and The Bee Gees’ provides a backdrop for this upcoming scene.

Travel becomes customary, the Florida Keys a regular destination. They make a tradition of going in December, staying at the Island House, trying to book the same room where they first stayed. A red convertible of some kind their customary wheels, driving across the seven mile bridge with the top down, each time reminding them of the first time.

You took a mystery and made me want it

You got a pedestal and put me on it

Get in the middle of a chain reaction

My arms will cover my lips will smother you

With no more left to say

We talk about love love love

 

Word Chain with Reed Belivet - February 28, 2028

The red velvet curtains should open soon. Carol Reed’s name on the program, a solo performance of “Mozart’s Oboe Concerto” accompanied by the NY Philharmonic. The audience shuffles, getting situated. 

Therese sits in the second row, center stage, the most perfect view of Carol’s performance awaits. A ten-year-old girl fidgets next to her. 

“When will I see Mom?”

“Soon.” Therese pushes back brown hair out of the girl’s pale gray eyes. “Why don’t we play the Word Chain game while we wait?”

The first category chosen is “musical instruments.” The young girl starts first: “Oboe.” 

Her mother smiles. “Hmm, ok, mine needs to start with an E, right? How about English Horn?”

“Good one, Mom.”

Before another turn of the chain game, the curtains open. The girl jumps and instantly spots her mother walking onto the stage. “There she is” she whispers and her face wrinkles up as it does when the girl gets excited. 

Carol waves to her family, winking to her daughter, tiny butterflies travel in a chain linked from her stomach to her heart. 

The oboist adjust her reed, standing in front of the orchestra. The conductor nods and the oboist plays a single, clear, resounding A note. The orchestra adjusts to her pitches. Silence falls. The young girl fidgets in her seat and once more her mother smiles to her. The oboist nods to the conductor. This time she’s about to begin. 

The daughter loses herself in the music, much as her mothers do, sensing nuances in the music: some things lessons from her parents, other things innate. Therese turns to watch the child, a spitting image of both her mothers: fair skinned and thin with lanky arms and legs; brown hair and dimples. More important than her features, it is her mothers’ love of music she inherited, easily picking up both piano and cello. The sounds of vibrating strings and hammered keys perpetually filling their home with sweetness.

After the concert they tuck their daughter into bed. Pulling the covers tighter around the soon-to-be-sleeping child, Carol remembers Therese’s impossible wish from a few years ago. She pushes hair from the little girl’s eyes and kisses her forehead. She stands in the doorway watching Therese kneel down to kiss the child too.

Carl smiles and closes her eyes, hearing the ghost of Therese's words, they comes to her like a stirring little lullaby. To one day be the Mother of your children. 

 

Infinity Chain - April 11, 2047

The end is the beginning. That’s what the musical concept of circle progression, the ultimate in harmony, teaches:

“Returning at the end to the starting chord.”

Therese finishes up the end of a long day. She’s worked at the recording studio most of the day, barely finding time for lunch, finalizing the soundtrack for one movie and getting started composing music for another. 

The evening light cascades across her tired face. She begins to swipe her house card key onto the door sensor. The faint sounds of an oboe swirl toward her and she stops flat. She walks around to the back of the house where her entrance will go undetected, moving slow, still hearing the faint notes penetrating her senses, her footsteps slow and in step with the music’s time. She opens the back door to the sun porch, closing the door with a slowed quiet. Natural light fills the glass addition of the home, comfortable chairs and a bevy of colorful flowering plants fill the space. Hyacinths in vivid purples, pinks and white, like audience members of a private concert join her as sits down to listen. 

Just listen. As she did that first time.

With slowness she places her leather bag on the floor. The oboe sounds get louder, originating from the living room, a scale being played with artistic mastery, each breath of the musician filling their home, notes lifting toward the vaulted ceiling, twisting wildly, then tamed. Up and down. Adagio, allegro, tremolo to forte, eighth notes switch to thirds then morph seamlessly into quarter notes, winding sweetly about the landscape of an E-sharp major scale. 

Therese has never heard a scale played quite like this. Never. She has never heard anything sound this beautiful. Ever.

Cue Andrea Bocelli “Vivo Per Lei.” It pays homage to music, which the composer refers to as “her.” 

Therese’s footsteps are light, as a child on tip toe, approaching the source of the sound. It makes her almost unable to breathe when she sees her: the oboist sitting on the piano bench of a grand piano. The musician’s eyes are closed. Behind the oboist a painting hangs of their daughter, now a grown woman living overseas. 

The oboist’s bare feet press firmly into the wooden flooring. She’s not here, not really, for she’s lost in her music. Found in it too. Her strong fingers glide up and down the oboe keys and she rocks back and forth, her cropped gray hair sways, long bangs brushing against her face. She disappears into an enigmatic language only she and her instrument speak. 

Therese’s lungs fill with air that she releases in heavy bursts, watching this woman who, though over seventy years old, appears ageless.

I live for her because from now on

I have no other way out because you know

I’ve never truly betrayed music

I live for her because she gives me pauses and notes in freedom

If I had another life, I’d live it

I’d live it for her—the music

I live for her

 

The scale stops.

Intense pale eyes open in a flash as the oboe player eventually becomes aware of her tacet audience. 

Neither speaks a word; both speak thousands. A duet ensues of their shared lives recognized in a warm, growing smile that diffuses between them, a melody building into a crescendo so profound, no words could ever express it. Only music can. It wraps and pulls and twists them together.  Forever. 

 

FINE

 

Dear Reader,

Thank you for accompanying me on this musical journey. I hope you’ll never listen to music in quite the same way again. I know I won’t.

~Soundtracker