Friday, May 11, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 13

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, after a flashback to the morning of Sebastian's suicide, people are getting ready to leave the Crevecoeur farmhouse when Zoe (Sebastian's granddaughter) discovers her car won't start. Kerr offers to drive her and her son Xaq and their friend Cameron to the Allentown Airport on his way home.

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Chapter 13
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"Yes, it's going to be a longer drive, but it's not really out of my way – glad to be able to help."

I’d said this while we were pulling away from the farmhouse, beginning our journey. Wanting to reassure Zoe this change in her plans wasn’t an imposition on mine, I acknowledged what happened and hoped for the best. Having fortified us with a thermos of strong coffee and a bag of snacks, Mary waved a brave good-bye from the porch until we rounded the bend in the driveway and were out on the road.

The others were understandably quiet. It would be a late night for me – my main concern was just staying awake and focused – and maybe my passengers wouldn’t need to play games to keep from getting bored. This was going to be fine with me – unfamiliar with these back roads, I didn't want to be distracted, missing a turn somewhere.

Zoe was upset that her car died on her – "what impeccable timing," she complained – but at least it had happened at the farmhouse and not late at night on some back road miles from the airport. But this was only masking her concern for her father, whatever had happened here, tonight. She hated not knowing what was going on.

Holding the phone tight in her hands, she willed it to ring with good news. She hated not being there when he came back – or worse, getting off the plane only to discover they’d found his body.

They hadn't been getting along for some time, she mentioned, several months going by without any contact. She'd hoped this visit would restore some sense of balance to their relationship: at least, that was the plan. This 'new' piece of her grandfather’s – one he’d dedicated to her – sounded like a good reason to get together and work things out.

But here she was, going off right away, not even staying around to play the second orchestra concert, much to Kent-Clarke’s annoyance. She couldn't risk telling him Chicago was more than just another summer concert gig.

He'd already brought up the old argument about a good, reliable living with a steady income as opposed to "just having fun," every discussion about "career choice" clobbered by his inflexible conviction she was being irresponsible.

Now she had her own child to raise: didn't she think it was more important to put his security ahead of her own?

Glancing up in the rear-view mirror, I saw Xaq sound asleep, resting his head gently against Cameron's shoulder, a picture of contentment. He’d been a well-behaved boy, as I’d expected, no doubt finding us adults boring. Cameron, listening or not, was looking obliviously out the window into the passing night woods. I suspect he'd heard all these arguments before.

Though I didn’t know him, Cameron was a quiet young man, aloof and serious. Zoe obviously thought a lot of him and trusted him around her son, where a kind of big-brotherly bond formed between them.

Zoe began telling me how Victor argued with her about leaving Xaq with him and Mary, letting him stay there on the farm while she was gone: it was only going to be for a week. It's not that it would’ve been a problem, but it began to stiffen her resolve, giving her another reason to stand her ground.

She'd wanted Xaq to come along with her, get a feel for Chicago, see how he liked it there. Life in Brooklyn was okay, but he didn't have that many friends. Maybe Chicago would be different. If she got the job, Victor might feel she was moving further away on purpose, as if New York hadn’t been far enough.

Zoe promised herself if Xaq didn't like it, she wouldn't take the job, not that she had many other opportunities like this. If she and Victor got back on track, was that reason enough to stay?

Though I didn't want to say anything, Zoe's comments made it clear there were more issues about Victor's disappearance than I’d thought. Before, I assumed it was hearing some unexpectedly powerful music written by his father. Combine that with the guilt he perhaps still experienced regarding the argument before Sebastian's death, the impact could be much deeper, more intense. But perhaps the impetus for his suddenly leaving the house was not the music he was listening to but one of the performers he was listening to, the realization he was reliving the dilemmas of generations.

Here was his daughter – to whom her grandfather had dedicated this quintet – presenting her most passionate argument defending her decision to become (and stay) a musician, and ably demonstrating a talent that had skipped Victor’s generation. He realized he didn't have talent: was he only now understanding that Zoe did? He’d heard her play before but never like this.

And what were the arguments they’d been having? Children always argue with their parents. It's part of the definition of having children, at least these days, that at some point you will doubtless experience this realization: no matter what you think, you will hear the same words thrown back at you that you had once thrown at your parents. They may be translated into a different era's "language" or possibly involve some new technology but essentially, yes, the message is the same. Tonight, Victor had, I was convinced, been standing there when he experienced that epiphany.

Was it that he couldn't face Zoe, admit she was right – or at least had the right – or did he suddenly understand his father, by reminding him of past mistakes, was showing him he was wrong? How far sideways it might have knocked him, I couldn't say, but the revelation certainly could have been strong enough to unnerve him.

It's not that Sebastian would have known how this karmic wheel would turn out. Zoe was only six years old and just starting lessons when he died: how did he know it would come full circle?

But you had to admit the neatness of the completed circle was pretty amazing, even for somebody as obsessively organized as Sebastian. Had he seen it would resolve itself in this time and in this place? When did it finally occur to Victor that his father, from beyond the grave, was warning him about his relationship with his daughter?

If anything, it could only be a coincidence, but a very powerful one. Perhaps that explains why Victor had been so mysterious about the piece, not telling anyone how he'd found it. Would he have been aware of all its component parts as he put the performance together: have the parts copied, arranging with Zoe to play it and contract the other musicians, to have the read-through at the farmhouse (and not, for instance, at the Collier Mansion)? Were there more reasons behind who was being invited to this or were we merely random witnesses?

Still, none of this explained that end-date I’d seen on the last page but it made the coincidence all the more striking. Victor had made a specific effort to leave the date off Dima’s photocopied score. So, when he showed me the manuscript, had he expected me to notice it? Had he maybe even wanted me to notice it?

It's possible, considering what Zoe'd been saying the last few minutes, she had no idea of the significance. How could she? To her, she's playing something by her grandfather whom she didn't know and having an argument with her father that was on-going and predictable. While the two may have been coincidental, they wouldn't be anything more than circumstantial.

Yet there must have been some nagging fear about the consequences: she might have been aware, in hindsight if nothing else, about the argument that may or may not have led to Sebastian's suicide at the pond.

"Wait, you missed the turn. You should've turned left at the fork." Zoe apologized for not keeping her mind on the road. I had no idea where we were much less what direction we were headed.

“Fork…?” Turning around and heading back to the intersection, I would never have seen the sign in this darkness, overshadowed by some trees. Only a few miles from the farmhouse, and here I was, already lost, possibly the same road I'd missed when I arrived.

"It should only be a few miles till we get to White Crow Road."

Cameron spoke up for the first time. "Why is it called 'White Crow' Road?"

"I'm not sure," she said, "that's what it's always been: probably some albino crow had been seen in the area years ago..."

"It’s bad enough, living out on Lonesome Ridge Road," I said.

"Well, it is out there," sounding eager to return to her thoughts.

The road twisted through the woods, following a steep embankment on the right side. Two miles later, we came to a stop sign, the intersection with Route 902, no more than a narrow two-lane country road. A simple faded sign for the unimaginatively named village of Hill Top pointed right, up a steep slope. We were to turn left.

Mary suggested we continue on 902 till it ended at Route 443, eventually connecting with the Northeast Extension, just south of Lehighton. Zoe confirmed this was shorter than dealing with White Crow Road back through Collierville.

Surfacing from her latest reverie, Zoe began mid-thought, "when Dad married her a few years after Mom died, I really disliked her. I'm not sure why that was – I guess just because she wasn't my mother. I mean, I was 26 years old and had a son of my own by that time, but I just couldn't accept her.

"Now, we're great friends and I know how important she is to my dad's sanity, after his being laid off and all. Plus I understand, after the divorce, how important that kind of support can be. But I started seeing the same patterns again, how he and Grandpa argued over me, and now he's arguing with me over Xaq."

She continued looking out the window, staring at nothing in particular. "I don't want him to be hurt the way I was.”

"And then," she added, "Dad has to go and pull a stunt like this..."

= = = = = = =

To be continued

- Dick Strawser

The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2012

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