A Symphonic Afternoon
by Irving A. Greenfield
Mario’s fourth epiphany occurred in Avery Fisher Hall. He came into Manhattan from Fairfield, Connecticut, to attend a 2 o’clock performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the featured soloist, a young Russian violinist, who would play Dvorak’s Violin Concerto.
Mario bought a ticket for the cheapest seat—a third tier box seat—though he readily could have afforded to buy a center orchestra seat. But he was there to immerse himself in the music and not be distracted by the conductor’s bouncing movements. In his opinion, having a conductor was just another example of showmanship and had nothing to do with the music.
Though there was an elevator to the third tier, Mario slowly climbed the marble steps. He told himself it was good for his heart, and therefore worth enduring the pain in his arthritic knees and hip joints.
Settled in his seat, Mario laid his coat neatly over his lap, took out his white metal frame glasses and began to read the program notes. He read carefully. None of the three pieces to be played were familiar. In addition to the Violin Concerto, there was another Dvorak composition, the “Overture” to The Devil and Kate, and Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony, the Little Russian.
When he finished reading the program notes, Mario replaced his glasses in the outside breast pocket of his brown tweed jacket; and the folded program went into the inside breast pocket to show Anya, his wife. But he knew that she wouldn’t even bother to feign an interest in how he spent the afternoon. Rather than think about Anya and become upset, he gave his attention to what was happening in the concert hall. A French horn player and a trombonist tuned their instruments. Two violinists began to bow.
Suddenly the woman on his left said, “Isn’t it exciting to see and hear such a talent?”
He was about to answer, because the soloist will be on the conductor’s left, we will not see him. That would have been an accurate statement. But instead, he smiled and said, “Certainly to hear him.” Though it was half an answer, it seemed to satisfy her.
More of the players drifted to their places. The timpanist tuned his drums.
Mario’s attention was again diverted by the woman next to him. She said, “I have a subscription. I spent the morning in the museum and come here in the afternoon. Friday is my culture day,” she laughed.
Because it was an open invitation to engage in conversation and the woman seemed to be so jovial, Mario answered. “I’m in the city for the concert,” he said looking at her. She had gray hair done up in a bun, tortoise frame eyeglasses and wore a white jacket with a green sweater under it, and black slacks. In his opinion, carelessness not fit for a concert hall. He, on the other hand was fittingly dressed for the occasion: wearing a white shirt, a Brown tie and tan slacks and a brown Harris Tweed jacket, perfect attire for the afternoon event.
“I live within walking distance,” she said.
“I don’t think I could take the city on a full-time basis,” Mario responded. “I’m always thankful when I return home.”
Her round face became pensive, and several moments passed before she said, “I like the country, especially the seashore. From time to time, I go to Cape Cod or Sag Harbor. I’ve done paintings of each of those places. But the city—well, it throbs and I like the throb.”
Out of courtesy, he asked, “Should I know your work?”
She laughed, “I’m just an amateur painter with a means to indulge my amateurism.”
He was going to say she was in an enviable position. But he was in one too. He had been left a considerable sum of money by his father and received a substantial monthly pension check from the university where he had taught philosophy for thirty years.
“Painting provides me with another language, a way of expressing myself,” she said.
It was the way she said it—the self-congratulatory tone that immediately rankled him.
During his thirty years of teaching, he had heard and had read so much about self-expression that he had come to believe it was just another excuse a certain type of person would use to avoid responsibility either for an act of omission or commission. He wondered which of the two it was in her case.
“I’m not very good, but I have a great deal of fun being not very good,” she said with a smile.
Mario wanted to end the conversation before the woman said something that would disturb him. At sixty-six he was easily disturbed. Luckily the house lights dimmed, and there was a burst of applause for the concertmaster who began tuning the orchestra.
“Enjoy,” the woman said.
Mario managed a smile.
The conductor came on stage, and the applause was louder than it had been a few moments before and lasted longer. Eventually the applause subsided. A heavy silence filled the hall broken by several staccato coughs. Then, the music began.
The first selection, the overture to The Devil and Kate, didn’t last long enough to impress Mario. But the audience applauded wildly. The conductor took his customary walk offstage, returned and left again for several minutes while the stagehands rearranged the chairs to accommodate the additional instrumentalists for the Violin Concerto.
“The last piece had such lovely dance music,” the woman next to him said. “You could just feel the youthful exuberance.”
“Perhaps that youthful exuberance was a youthful lack of ability,” Mario suggested. “And to cover, if you will, to hide what he lacked the talent to express.”
The woman looked as if she were about to answer; but another burst of applause signaled the arrival of the conductor and the soloist.
The house became quiet and the music started.
Closing his eyes, Mario listened intently. The soloist played deftly and with emotional involvement. The music was intricate, and Mario found himself drifting away from it. Anya was the cause. She was his third wife. Lily was his first. He had been married to her for twenty-three years, long enough for his son, Paul, to graduate from college. He had endured almost a quarter of a century of marital and agony. He would have ended it sooner; but he not only had a son to consider, he also at that time had been a practicing Catholic.
The marriage ended without any explosion, not even a whimper. On a Friday afternoon he walked into the kitchen and said, “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.” Lily didn’t even bother to look up from whatever she was doing, washing her hands, Mario remembered.
Four years later, Mario married a former student of his, Ellie. The marriage lasted two years. The woman was pathologically jealous; and he was guiltless of any marital indiscretion.
Shortly after his divorce from Ellie, his father died. His mother had died while he had been married to Lily. With a sizable inheritance from both his parents, he no longer had to scrape by on a professor’s salary out of which he had to pay two alimonies. His new status had enabled him to consider marriage again. By this time, he had met and had fallen in love with Anya, an Indian woman.
Of his three wives, Anya was the most beautiful and twenty-three years younger than he. She had a classic Indian face, black flashing eyes, waist-long, black hair that at times seemed to be iridescent, and exquisitely proportioned body. Her beauty captivated him; held him spellbound. Looking at her nude body not only gave him erotic pleasure but also artistic delight. Her breasts were high in fall with large pink nipples. Her ivory colored skin had a unique scent, especially when she oiled it with body lotion. And, unlike his supremely first wife, she thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of sexual intimacy.
Mario frowned; and the flow of the music caught him again. But the frown lingered. His own sexual needs and her ability—obviously her desire to fulfill them waned as he became more cognizant of the intellectual disparity between them, or so it seemed. But in truth he was aware of the difference between them before they married. She was an ordinary woman with no more than a secondary education while he had a doctorate in philosophy and taught aspects of it, especially those connected with Platonism, at the University. He hoped his overwhelming feelings for her would compensate for her lack of intellectual maturity. Even with this hope for their future, he came close to cancelling the marriage, but couldn’t see any way to do it and continue to maintain his dignity.
The sudden eruption of applause wrenched Mario away from his thoughts and back into the concert hall.
“Wasn’t that wonderful?” The woman next to him asked.
“Yes, quite spectacular,” Mario answered.
“It’s soulful music,” she said.
She laughed. “You know—the longing that is expressed. Something just beyond reach.”
Mario cocked his head to the left and raised his eyebrows.
“Haven’t you ever had that feeling that—you know something is out there but you can’t grasp it? I feel that way about my painting. Even with my dabbling, I feel I could do something… something better. But it’s not within my grasp.”
Mario nodded gravely. He understood what she said. “Yes, I know exactly what you mean.” His tone of voice matched his considered nod.
The conductor returned for the last number on the program, The Little Russian Symphony.
Mario thought about the woman’s words. They expressed something about his own ideas about art, but they also expressed his concept of love—the passion, the sexuality, and the intellectual ties between a man and woman. He knew his problem: he wanted to be loved absolutely; and none of the women he married were capable of that kind of absolutism. Lily was passionless. Ellie’s accusations killed his desire. Though Anya had the passion, but she mistook soap opera reality for REALITY never bothering to think about those things that he spent his life thinking about. Once he asked her what she thought about good and evil; and she answered, “They exist.” He waited for some sort of development, a follow-up. But none came. “Why do they exist?” he pushed.
Anya shrugged. With her eyes glued to whatever nonsense she was watching on the TV she said, “Does it really matter?”
Mario wanted to scream, Of course it matters. It matters very much. But he restrained himself and walked out of the room.
Suddenly Mario sensed the end of one of the symphonies’ movements was coming. But because he had not been following the music, he had no idea which one it would be.
The music’s last three chords sounded and the applause exploded.
To Mario surprise the symphony had ended.
“What a delightful afternoon!” The woman next to him said; and she clapped vigorously each of three times the conductor reappeared on the stage.
The applause subsided. The house lights came up; and the people began to gather up their coats and move into the aisle.
Mario followed the woman.
When they reached the corridor behind the box, she said, “It was a pleasure to speak to you.” She held out her hand. “My name is Florence Winter, but my friends call me Flo.”
Mario took her hand and shook it. “The pleasure was mine,” he responded “I’m Dr. Mario Fusco.”
“A medical doctor?” She asked.
“To my father’s disappointment, only a Dr. of philosophy,” he answered. They were still holding hands, and he liked the feel of her hand in his.
“I’m impressed with anyone who has the stamina to get any kind of doctoral degree,” she said.
Mario nodded and released her hand.
“Will you be here next week?” She asked looking at him as they walk toward the stairs.
Mario hesitated looked at her as if he was seeing her for the first time, and with a smile, he answered: “Yes, I think I will.”