Copyright© Autumn Writer 2006, 2007
The final two strong, staccato chords completed, the piano fell silent. A sharp rap-rap sounded on the door to the practice room. The student looked up, annoyed at the interruption.
"Yes," she replied. "Come in, please!" she called out a little louder.
The door swung open, the janitor leaned in. "I waited until you were finished with your piece."
At least she thought that he was the janitor. He wore the tan work clothes with the college symbol on the left chest pocket that all the janitors wore. He had a vacuum cleaner in tow and a tool belt hung around his waist. What else could he have been but the janitor? There was something about this young man that did not fit the part. The janitors were older, grizzled men. They always appeared to be in a bad mood and never spoke to the students. This janitor was much younger, and nice looking, in her estimation. He wore long sleeves, so much of his physique was hidden from view. She noticed that he was slender, yet appeared angular and wiry.
"I just need to clean up in here; would it be alright?" He flashed a toothy grin.
"I only have another twenty minutes," she replied. "Could you come back then?"
He didn't leave as he should have. He advanced inside a step, dragging the vacuum cleaner along with him. His wide grin remained, but now he was closer to her. His eyes were leveling themselves right into hers. It made her a little uneasy. She glanced down at the keyboard.
"Sorry," he said. "I'm new at this job—part of work-study. I'll know better next time."
Of course! She remembered him from the dorm. She had seen him a few times with his friends, or bounding away with loping strides to class. She didn't know him, not even his name. She didn't want to. Why wasn't he going to leave her alone so she could finish?
She pretended not to recognize him. "That's okay; I'll just get back to practicing now."
"Actually, I was standing outside the door during the whole time that you were playing. I shouldn't have—I should have been working. I hope you don't mind."
The statement lit an ember of curiosity. Here was a janitor who was not a janitor. A man who said he was leaving but remained standing in front of her piano, grinning unabashedly as she tried to dismiss him. He was a young man who she should know, but did not. He was popular and athletic, with many friends who must enjoy sports and beer and cars. Yet, he had stood outside her closed practice room door for fifteen minutes while she played classical music.
"Did you like the piece that I was playing?" As soon as the words exited her lips she was scolding herself. This was sure to lead to more conversation, less practice, more feelings to sort through.
"Yes, I did. What is the name of it?"
Now she knew that she had entered into a ridiculous maze! This young boob had purported to enjoy her music, but couldn't name the piece that he enjoyed so much. He had hidden his identity behind a janitor's outfit, but his telltale friendliness had given him away. He was killing time at her expense. He would rather idle about than go away and do his vacuuming. Her habit of suspecting all men was paying off as the facts unfolded.
She knew that he had no interest in her music. For sure he had none in her. Although he was standing over her, he could barely see her tiny frame behind the grand piano. It was a good hiding place. It was only there that she felt "special" as music flowed out of her long fingers. Everything else about her didn't deserve attention.
She was short in stature, possibly five-three. Her slender body had few of the curves or bumps that many young women delighted in flaunting. Her hair was neither jet black, nor light brown. It settled on a shade in between. It had no waves or curls. It hung down to where she trimmed it, halfway between the bottoms of her ears and the base of her neck. She wore glasses. She had considered contacts once, but why bother? She knew that when she graduated in the spring she would have to get some kind of makeover before she went out looking for a job. In the meantime, a cloak of drabness would preserve her reclusivity.
She decided to play along with him.
"It's entitled 'Moonlight Sonata'. It's by Beethoven."
"I enjoyed listening to it. I think that you did a nice job playing it."
"This guy is slick," she thought, "and he's not giving up." Well, she would not give in easily, either.
"What did you like about it?" She was certain that he didn't know an arpeggio from a G-clef.
He didn't flinch at the challenge. "I was outside the door. It was hard to tell exactly because the sound was muffled."
"A good parry," she thought. The challenge of his repartee offered a diversion.
"Sit down in that chair. I'll play it for you again."
He seated himself in the corner chair. She proceeded to play the piece, all three movements, for the next fifteen minutes. She was determined to play it well. She used every talent. She played as though in an audition. She could not answer why she took the trouble to do so. She only knew that she felt compelled to give her best to it.
She finished playing. She had done so flawlessly. He stood. The toothy grin was gone, replace by a sincere and pleasant expression.
"Thank you. That was really nice. You did that so well. I appreciate it. I've taken a lot of your time. I should go now."
She felt suddenly remorseful. She had played the piece to expose him. She wanted to embarrass him in his ignorance so that he would cease bothering her. Now, she suspected that she might have been in error. She couldn't allow him to leave with the last word.
"Well, what did you like about it?" she reverted back to the original theme.
She hadn't meant to challenge him again. She just couldn't find any other route of conversation. She had little practice at small talk, and especially with men.
"Sometimes," he started to answer, "a person just likes something without knowing exactly why. That is what it is like between me and this piece of music. That is what it is between me and some other things, too."
There was silence for long moments. He had turned the tables on her. The double meaning of his words hung like smoke in a room. She had aimed to pierce him, but his answer showed her that no hypocrisy existed to form vulnerability. She felt guilty at abusing him. He was a very likable person. She needed a recovery.
"What are you studying?" she asked.
"Accounting," he answered. "I'm getting out this spring."
The answer puzzled her.
"I don't know many accountants who enjoy this art form. I'm pleasantly surprised," she conceded.
The toothy grin returned. He sensed progress, forged ahead.
"Someday, when you're a famous soloist and rich, you will appreciate the accountant's art form." He thought that the joke would compliment and amuse her.
"I'm going into teaching," she replied.
Oops! A rebuff. She hadn't meant it. She was so clumsy in these encounters.
It didn't faze him. "I'm Louis—call me Lou," he announced, as if it were something that she needed to know.
"I know," she said. "It's on the name tag sewn to your shirt."
More silence followed. He was looking at her expectantly; she looked back confused.
"You don't have a name tag sewn onto your blouse."
"Julie," she said. She was blushing; she was so clumsy in these situations.
"Thanks for playing "Moonlight Sonata" for me, Julie. Sometime maybe we'll dance to it."
Her technical instincts took her over. "You can't dance to that!"
Oh no, another rebuff, issued before it could be taken back.
He wasn't hurt. He just smiled back at her.
"Have you ever tried to?"
"Well, no. I would never try to. It has no rhythm for dancing. Besides, its fifteen minutes long." A fifteen minute contact would be worse torture for her than the rack.
With that, he raised his hand to his forehead to salute a "good-bye for now". He grabbed the vacuum and strutted down the hall. As she was putting her sheets of music in her tote bag she heard him vacuuming another room.
"He never did vacuum in my practice room," she thought to herself.
On her walk back to her dorm she kept wondering how one could dance to the 'Moonlight Sonata'.
"Moonlight Sonata" is a beautiful piece of music, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1801. He was thirty-one years old when he wrote it. It has three movements. Beethoven did not give the piece its romantic name. In the times when it was written, that task was left to the publisher of the music. Beethoven's name for his composition was merely Opus 27, No. 2, Sonata Quasi una Fantasia (Sonata in the Style of a Fantasy). Its title adds mystery to the music. What could have been the turnings in his mind as he framed the evocative strains?
A hint might be that he dedicated it to a young woman, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. The lovers' ambitions were ruined by her father, who questioned Beethoven's financial prospects. Beethoven never married. Was he crushed or still hopeful? It is known that at his death a small portrait of his lost love was found in his desk. It is a sad story. Perhaps the composer's emotions and desires were expressed in "Moonlight Sonata".
The first movement of the Sonata is the approach of lovers toward each other. It is played slowly, softly, tenderly. At the start the lower notes of the melody approach the higher range of the scale.
"May I touch you?" he asks. There is no reply from above. Again, he sends a plaintive and gentle entreaty, "May I touch you?" Absence of response follows.
How to interpret the non-reply? Is it a refusal or indecision? Has the intended heard him from deep below her? Has she been dissatisfied with his effort?
He is undaunted; he must try again. He will not shed his tenderness. He reaches higher. "May I touch you?"
A reply! "Perhaps."
He redoubles, reaching ever-higher on the scale. He can no longer merely plead. He declares. "I must touch you!"
She speaks not a word, but extends her arms into his. They dance together, first in her world of higher notes, then down to his of lower chords, and then back again. Around they dance, exploring and touching one another, peering into the other's range from which the lover has emerged.
They revel in the contact of touching and being touched. It is a tender feeling out, probing the potential of each partner to give and receive. The patient "andante" continues unceasing. She feels his tender approaches. She yearns for the strength of his bass chords. He holds back, wishing to caress her with tenderness, but he cannot disguise his prowess completely.
She takes over their melody; she is tired of waiting. He senses her ardor, returns her entreaties with more force. They have now abandoned all coyness and reserve. Each foray from one of them earns an equal response from the other. They are discovering, probing, pleasuring, multiplying their mutual strokes upon the senses. Each has found the other's rhythm. They have embraced each other's harmony.
The second movement is a brief scherzo. It is a cheerful prelude to that which is to happen. It is a connector from the tender entwining to the fulfillment hoped for.
The lovers no longer dance between the worlds of one to the others'. They have created their own universe. Their sounds are neither high now low. They have blended into chords of both of them. That which once was can no longer define them.
They speak in unison, signaling agreement in purpose. They are happy; their happiness invades all around them. They are ready for totality.
Movement three: the lovers are eager and anxious. He sheds all pretexts. He will use his strength of bass notes to rush headlong into her ranges. The tempo is no longer andante, shifting to the more demanding allegro. As he approaches, she welcomes him. He leaps, then again, a little higher yet. Now she sings back a sweet chorus to him, she opens herself; he thrusts his notes into her. She will not stop him. Their tones blend together, but neither tender nor light-hearted. There is urgency in their needing. For every query, there must be an answer. Each action demands a response. They force themselves together; they will not break apart.
The lovers find each other wrapped within themselves. They journey together from high to low, reveling as they pass each chord. They start the trip again, only with even greater embellishment. Now, as one, they have discovered a whirlwind of pleasure.
They pause, refreshing their energy. A staccato questioning: "Are they ready for culmination?"
They embark anew. The finish is short at hand. They cross familiar ground which they regret leaving behind, but the finale beckons them. Their senses are firing at dizzying speed. They can barely continue to maintain unison, but somehow find a way. Finally, suddenly, they arrive at their destination. A frantic acceleration, then two strong staccato chords; they achieve the ecstatic climax of their lovers dance.
Thus, is the "Moonlight Sonata".
In the dining hall the next day Lou called out to the slender figure at the salad bar.
"Hey, Miss Beethoven, wait up!"
The voice, spoken with unmerciful volume, was familiar. She spun around and recognized him waving at her from fifty feet away. It was so embarrassing to be yelled out to in the crowded dining hall. Why had he used that name on her?
He saw her look and knew that she had recognized him. "Julie, let's have lunch together!"
The most discrete thing that Julie could do was acknowledge him. She was planning on a quick meal by herself so that she could get some extra practice time. She had, however, no choice for she was certain that if she ignored him he would yell out once again.
They met midway and walked together to an empty table. She set about unfolding her napkin and arranging her utensils, not looking up. He spoke, not to her but at her, "That's your whole lunch, just that salad? Won't you get hungry later? You might faint!"
She couldn't guess why he should be concerned about her health and hunger. She answered him with a question as she looked up, "Well, where's your lunch?"
"Actually, I already ate," Lou said. "I thought that I might get to sit with you while you ate."
"Why would you do that?"
Julie was perplexed. She had only spoken to this young man a single time when she was practicing the night before and he pretended that he needed to vacuum her practice room. He was treating her as though she was an object of interest. She didn't believe that she merited it. She felt a little uncomfortable in the role.
"I bought something for us." He reached inside his jacket pocket. She began to utter an objection, but he was too fast.
Flourishing his hand from jacket, a small manila envelope attached, he blurted out, "These!"
He continued, "Beethoven's Fifth, performed by the University Symphony, eight o'clock Saturday night."
Julie's puzzlement grew. She was completely unable to predict this young man who at one moment was loud and forward, the next sensitive and sincere. She recalled last night in the practice room. She had misjudged him then, too. Before she could stop herself she smiled and said, "Why thank you! That is very nice of you. I had forgotten all about it."
Lou shot back, with characteristic ebullience, "Great! I'll pick you up at seven thirty, and we can walk over to the auditorium." He suddenly rose, "Gotta go, late for a class!" He strode off, but stopped abruptly and turned. "You won't have to bother sewing a name tag on your blouse," he yelled back to her
As she watched him stride away a thought dawned on her, "Wait! He didn't buy the tickets. Students get in for free."
As she was preparing for her date with Lou, she scolded herself for being nervous. She shouldn't have been interested in him. She would have brushed him aside several times, except he always seemed to get his word in faster than she could. Then he would do or say something nice, and she would allow him in her presence a while longer. It wasn't that she didn't like him. Julie just disliked complicated personal contacts. They were always so distracting. Ultimately, one party or another would misread things, hurt would follow. Why volunteer for sadness? She had been able to avoid this for a long time.
It was warm enough in the early weeks of school to have the windows open. She could hear students walking below and talking. It was almost time for Lou to arrive. She was sure he would be right on time. He lived in the opposite wing of her dorm, the male section. He would have some surprise at hand, but she could not guess what.
She heard an unknown male voice yell out, "Hey, Lou, what's with the monkey suit?"
The familiar voice yelled back, "I'm going to be buried in it, but I have to see if it still fits." A big laugh followed from the inquisitor.
"Oh no! He's wearing a tux." That would have been an embarrassment that she would not endure. Most students that attended the concerts wore jeans and a sweater. She ran to the window and found him walking briskly toward the front door of her wing. A huge relief, he had on a navy blazer, grey slacks, shirt, striped tie. "Those boobs," she thought. "They wouldn't know the difference between a tux and a pair of pajamas." At any rate, she scrambled to dispose of her sweater and find a black blazer to wear over her khaki slacks.
Lou stood at the door. She hadn't noticed before, but he was carrying a small bouquet.
"I thought that you might like these," he said as he thrust them at her.
Julie couldn't believe how sweet Lou could be when he tried hard. One of the flowers in the arrangement was a tiny red rosebud. "Would it be alright if I just put these in some water, and put this little red one in my lapel?"
They walked out of the dorm, toward the auditorium. She found herself trying not to like him, but he was seeping into cracks in her reserve.
"It was nice of you to bring me the flowers, Lou." She could smell the small red rose just inches below her chin.
They sat quietly at the concert. They said little, just listening to the music. It wasn't his favorite style, but it wasn't bad either. At intermission they parted to find the rest rooms.
Lou was detained as he exited the washroom. He had run into one of his Accounting professors, and they made small talk for a few minutes. He finally spoke up, "It's been nice to see you, sir. I think I'd better get back to my date." The two men separated with a handshake, and Lou turned to where he thought he would find Julie.
He spied her, back against the wall across the lobby. An older man stood over her. They were talking, but Julie looked nervous. He saw her shake her head "no". The man reached his hand out and fingered the rosebud on her lapel. Lou disliked the aggressive move of the older man. Julie stepped back a little, but there was no room to move.
Lou strode to where Julie and the man were standing. "Was I missed?" he called out. He heard Julie answer something, but he was not paying attention to her. His eyes were on the man standing with her.
He was tall, wore a van dyke. Some men use the beard as a mask to hide behind when they know that their expressions would portray the ugliness of their thoughts. Lou put him at about fifty-eight. He was taller than Lou, but not as strong and robust. His skin had the color of a man who had known neither exertion nor toil for a long time. His bearing gave one the sense that that did not regret the loss. He wore a tweed jacket with a turtleneck underneath, the uniform of the ruling class of professor-nobility. He undoubtedly viewed Lou's shirt and striped tie as 'bourgeois'.
Julie broke the silence as they eyed one another. "Franz... I mean... Professor Hartmann, please meet my date for tonight, Louis."
They thrust out their right hands, shaking them in a superficial way. The older man looked down at Lou, "Ah, I remember you. You are an employee in the custodial staff."
Lou answered, unashamed, "Yes, sir, I am."
Julie spoke up, "He is part time, Professor; it is his work-study job." She wondered why her explanation seemed like an apology.
"Then, what are you studying, young man?"
"Accounting, sir." Lou did not like this pasty, condescending man. It was very rare that Lou could not find something to like in a person. He knew the type. He demanded the service of others, but served no one. His position and power forced the yielding up of favors.
"Very interesting, Julie, an accountant."
Julie grabbed Lou's hand and pulled him, eager to get away. "Intermission's almost over. We better get back to our seats." Lou had not realized how strongly this frail girl could tug on him, until that moment.
As they sat together, Julie felt a warmness sitting next to Lou. After the exchange with the pasty professor, she was glad to be with him.
"Who is that guy?" Lou asked her.
"He's... just... a professor in the music department that I used to... do work for when I was in my freshman year."
Lou pondered why Julie had such difficulty with the explanation. He decided not to ask her; it was none of his business.
"He was either going to tell me to empty the trash or do his tax return," he spouted. "Either way he would have wanted it done for free."
Julie elbowed him lightly in the side. "The music is starting".
As they walked back to the dorm an autumn rain was lightly falling. Despite the drizzle, they walked slowly to prolong their time together. She wondered if he would try for an invitation to her room.
They came upon the door to the vestibule that separated the men's and women's section of the dorms. She waited for his advance on her bastion. She half-hoped that he would attempt it. She would refuse, but she might enjoy his display of desire.
They stopped and he spoke to her, "Julie, I'm glad that we could have this date tonight."
She nodded her assent; he went on, "I probably won't be around very much this week, so I'll ask you now. Would you like a date with me for Friday night?"
At each of their previous meetings, she had been drawn in by some device of his. Now she had to decide, yes or no, if she would see him again.
"Where are we going?" she asked and answered in one breath.
"I'll call you next week after I check on something"
There was nothing more to discuss. A long pause ensued, which he broke by gently grasping both her arms at the shoulders. He leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the cheekbone.
"Good night, Julie. I'll be thinking about you."
Her phone rang on Thursday evening. It was him. It would be dinner, maybe a movie. Would that be ok?
Julie was ready when Lou knocked on the door at seven. She had put on black slacks that were neither dowdy nor suggestive. She wore a deep purple sweater of merino. It was her best one. He wore the same navy blazer with the grey slacks and striped tie. He carried the same kind of bouquet. She was touched by it. She released the same red rosebud and pinned it to her sweater.
Lou led Julie to his car, an old Saturn, and they started off. He drove to a part of the city where she had never been. It was not a slum, but not rich, either; more of an industrial area. She wondered why they were there, since so many restaurants abounded in College Town.
The car stopped in front of a small restaurant with dark windows. A neon sign in blue above the door read in two lines of script: "Mr. Dominic's Italian Cuisine". "We're here!" Lou announced.
Julie would never have chosen this restaurant. It was not a comfortable part of town for her. The darkened windows prevented someone on the outside from peering in. There was no way to predict what would be inside. She would have selected a place that was more transparent. It would have been an exchange of plainness for safety. That would have been fair enough. She would not have risked later regretfulness.
As they walked to the door Lou turned to her and said, "This is a very special place."
In the vestibule they were met by a short, portly, Italian man. He was in his mid-forties, balding, curly black hair. When he saw Lou he approached him with open arms. The two shared a big abrazo, slapping each other's backs as they hugged.
"Louie", he cried, "'it's good to see you. Your table is ready, a nice one in the back of the dining room."
Lou started the introductions. "Dominic, say hello to my friend, Julie. Julie, this is Dominic, another good friend of mine."
"Julie, we're very happy to meet you and to have you in our place." Dominic took her hand gently.
As they walked past the bar toward the back of the restaurant, Julie glanced around. The dining room was darkened, lit only by the single candles flickering on occupied tables. Each table was set with a red and white checkerboard tablecloth. There were about fifteen tables, about a third full with patrons.
As they arrived at the back of the dining room Lou helped Julie with her chair as Dominic lit the candle. He said, "Lou, what's with this reservation? You know you've always got a table at this place ANY time you want it."
"C'mon, Dominic," Lou answered. "You know this place will be packed in forty-five minutes."
A waiter was passing by. Dominic turned to him. "Rocco, bring up the '67 Chianti for this table." Dominic turned back to the couple, "We've got your meal all ordered. The veal is extra-special tonight."
The waiter cast his eyes to the ceiling. "Are you sure that you want the '67, boss?"
"Go!" he cried, and Rocco disappeared.
The waiter returned with the bottle of Chianti and handed it to Dominic. "Rocco, get these goblets out of here and bring over some real wine glasses." The waiter brought over three small plain glasses, such as one might drink orange juice from in the morning. Dominic filled each glass and Lou and Dominic raised their glasses. Lou gave Julie a small nod, and she raised hers, too. "Salud!" the two men exclaimed together, The glasses clinked, and they drank the first glass of wine. "Rocco," said Dominic, "tell Assunta that Louis is here."
The wine had a dryness that Julie had not tasted before. It could have spoken of hardship and bitterness as it made her lips pucker. To Julie, though, it was a fitting wine to be drinking with Lou and this friendly Italian man. With no sugars laced into it for sweetening, the acidity spoke of realness and sincerity. To her surprise, she liked the taste.
As Dominic refilled the glasses, Julie's pensiveness grew. She could not understand many things. She felt herself a foreigner, but welcome. Lou should not fit in here; why did he fit so well? She should be uneasy, but she was having fun.
As the empty glasses from the second turn at the wine hit the table, Dominic's mood became serious. "You know, Julie, Louis, here saved my business a few months ago".
Lou retorted quickly, "Dominic, that's not true! It was the Marinara that saved it!"