Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

Book: Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin Read Free Book Online
Authors: James W. Ziskin
dearest to share good food, wine, and music with us. Just a bunch of sunburned Jews from New York looking for an excuse to get drunk and play the instruments our parents guilted us into learning.” Laughter rippled through the room.
    â€œTonight we’re going to play a piece that we’ve been wanting to do for years. We haven’t had the nerve to perform it in public till now, so please don’t be too hard on us; we’re just amateur hacks, after all.” He retook his seat then turned to the audience again. “I nearly forgot. As always there’s a prize for anyone who can name it. The folks staying here at Arcadia Lodge are ineligible, of course, since they’ve heard us rehearsing it for weeks.”
    Everyone applauded. Isaac turned to his fellow musicians, made eye contact with them, and on a silent count of three he dipped his head. They launched into the first movement of an energetic piece in a minor key. I knew it instantly. One evening, shortly after VJ Day, I had taken notice of this piece of music as it drifted from my father’s study. I had heard Fauré many times before that, of course, as my father particularly enjoyed his chamber works. I could recognize it at the drop of a needle. But that evening in 1945, a couple of months after my ninth birthday, was the moment when listening to music became less of a parlor trick for me and more a true joy. I remember creeping up the corridor where I stationed myself next to the study’s open door, invisible to my father inside. The smoke from his evening pipe burned like incense, wafting through the air, out into the hallway, as if on the music. I breathed it in deeply, unconsciously. It wasn’t that I loved the smell of pipe smoke; it was just there, part of my world. Daddy’s smoke. Cavendish tobacco, sweet-smelling with hints of vanilla and walnut. An intimate, familiar scent that pervaded the rooms I inhabited as I child. And it was usually accompanied by its partner, lingering just underneath: the sharp, but not unpleasant, odor of alcohol. If the sweet pipe smoke represented the mildness in my memories, the whiskey was the spice.
    The four movements spread out over about thirty minutes. Miriam’s precise, at times powerful, at times gentle, playing stunned me. Not only was she good, she was playing in a room with thin acoustics on a modest old upright that had spent God knows how many humid summers and bone-chilling winters untouched in the Great Lodge. It was clear to me that she was by far the most talented of the amateurs, who were all fine musicians in their own right. I felt a new willingness to accept her oddness as the price to pay for her talents. Who said remarkable people had to be normal? I resolved to try harder to get to know her.
    When the fourth movement drew to its spirited end, I realized I’d hardly taken my eyes off Miriam the entire time. The audience rose to its feet and roared with applause. The musicians stood and laughed and took exaggerated bows. All except Miriam, actually, who remained seated on her bench, looking back at the assembled with an expression akin to indifference, but not quite. Perhaps it was vague curiosity. It looked as if she were studying us under glass.
    I smiled brightly as I clapped till my hands hurt. Aunt Lena applauded vigorously as well. And Max, still holding onto his long-since-drained glass of port in his right hand, thumped his left against his thigh in appreciation. My eyes darted around the room, taking in the reactions of the crowd. Everyone approved, including Jakob Eisenstadt, who bounced his cane on the wooden floorboards and laughed, his face glowing red. Then my gaze snagged on the shadow against the far wall. Waldo Coons was staring at me, loose-jawed, with hollow eyes, looking like Frankenstein’s monster’s ugly brother. I shook a shiver off my shoulders and turned to the enjoyment. When I glanced back a moment later, Waldo had

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