These stories are dedicated to Pierre Lioni Ullman, with gratitude for his courage.
“Recording library. Dewey Clark speaking.”
“Henrietta Clark from the 42nd Street Library. I have often been asked if we are related.”
“I have also been asked. But we are not. How can I help you?”
“I believe that you do not lend recordings, but I am wondering if exceptions are made for employees.”
“In a way. I have a neighbor who is, for the most part, homebound. She works at home and listens to the radio and books on tape while she works, but she would like to listen to some music.”
“I may be able to work something out, but we have a large collection. What would you be looking for?”
“I know quite a bit of orchestral music, and she was a ballet dancer….”
“In her 60’s. Why?”
“Why is she homebound?”
“I think the years of dancing took a hard toll on her body…”
“What is her personality like? What are her interests?”
“She is Scandanavian – not very talkative. She likes icons and…”
“I have two recordings of two different liturgical works by Rachmoninov. They are long but varied. When could you pick them up?”
Dewey Clark left work promptly at 5:15 that day, leaving a routing envelope at the front counter for Miss Henrietta Clark – no relation, he assured the desk person – and took the train uptown where he lived with his wife, Greta.
“Hello, Mr. Clark?”
“This is he.”
“Henrietta Clark, here. Thank you for the suggestion. It was a perfect fit. Miss Larsen would like to know if you are psychic.”
“That is good for a chuckle. My wife would say that I am not.”
“Do you and your wife live in the city?”
“Yes, near Columbia.”
“So do I! Miss Larsen is in my building. We’re on 113th Street.”
“Greta and I are up a little further, just behind Union Seminary. Would Miss Larsen like any more recordings?”
“I am sure she would.”
“I think something lighter would be good to follow up with that. I have a recording of a Schubert Quintet that is sure to add tinsel to the room. If she is in our neighborhood, I would be glad to drop them off myself.”
“Is that against policy?”
“I often take things home to study. I like to be able to recommend recordings with the confidence of personal knowledge.”
“Thank you, Mr. Clark.”
Dewey Clark left work that day promptly at 5:00 that day, having shaved 15 minutes off his lunch hour. This would allow him to drop off the recordings on time and be home when Greta was expecting him.
Dewey Clark was thirty-three years old. He was born and raised in Boston. His twin brother died of appendicitis when they were two years old, and his parents, traumatized by the death, never had any more children. His father was an English teacher at a private high school, and his mother taught piano lessons. A culture of literature and music pervaded the household and kept it functional through the years of grief. Dewey Clark pursued an undergraduate degree in music history and a double masters degree in music history and library science. In graduate school, he met Greta Stein, a cellist, and they married when Dewey was twenty-eight. Dewey was hired by the library system in New York City as a music librarian, and Greta, being talented and resourceful, carved out a career as a freelancer.
He got off the train at 110th Street and walked up to 113th, turning West off of Broadway. He was going to deliver two recordings to the neighbor of Henrietta Clark. The woman’s name was Kirsten Larsen. Since Ms. Clark had mentioned that Miss Larsen had been a ballet dancer, he did some research. In truth, she had been a ballet star and had been married to one of the most influential men in the ballet world during that time. Her husband was not only known for his prowess as a dancer and choreographer but also as man who made many connections with wealthy patrons, people in power, and other movers in the art world. The marriage and her career seemed, from his estimates, to have been over for a little more than twenty-five years.
The doorman sent him up the elevator, and Miss Larsen was waiting in the hallway for him.
He had an image of what a sixty-something woman would look like, and he was taken aback by the discrepancy. In the hallway was a very short, quite slight, striking woman dressed in a flowing silk tunic – black – that went to her knees and black stockings. The tunic was an unusual shape and covered with gold embroidery. Atop this was a face with high cheekbones, slanted blue eyes, and gray hair that was wrapped in braids around her head.
“So you are the psychic music angel.”
“Miss Larsen. Let me introduce myself: Dewey Clark.”
“Please to meet you, Mr. Clark. Would you like to come in for a minute?”
He checked his watch. He could stay for seven to ten minutes and still be home on time.
The apartment was simply furnished, almost sparse, and quiet. There was one wall that had a small assortment of icons that he inspected.
“Are they originals?”
“No, but I don’t think they need to be, do you?” Before he could answer, she added, “Do you attend a church?”
“I was raised in a High Church family in Boston. We attended Church of the Advent, but my wife doesn’t care for church. So, no, the answer is, I do not.”
Kirsten Larsen looked at the icons and then at him. “Where would you attend?”
“I suppose the Cathedral since I am close.”
“I am a member of the Cathedral and so is Henrietta Clark.” They both looked back at the icons for a moment.
“Please sit down.”
He checked his watch, “For five more minutes. Miss Larsen, this may be forward, but I must ask you about your tunic. It is so unusual. Did you get that while traveling?”
She laughed, “No. My, I haven’t traveled for almost as long as you’ve been alive! I made it. I have been doing work mending vestments for churches, and, when I don’t have any projects, I design and sew outfits for myself.”
“It is lovely and quite striking on you.”
“Thank you. What did you bring me to listen to?”
“A Schubert Quintet – a little break from all of that thick Russian liturgical music – and something presumptuous.”
“Well, I did some research. I’m sorry, but I was so curious. I learned about your earlier work and of your Norwegian heritage, so I brought a recording of some very old Norwegian folk songs, some a capella, and some simply accompanied with Norwegian fiddle.”
“How thoughtful of you!”
“Were you ever in Norway?”
“No. Denmark, but not Norway. So, your thoughtfulness will get me partway there…”
Dewey Clark looked at his watch. He had exceeded his time, but if he ran, he could make it home.
“Miss Larsen, it has been a pleasure. I really must go.”
Before she could get up out of her chair, he was gone.
“What have you brought today?”
“Well, you said you had visited Denmark, so I thought of Nielsen. I love his Helios Overture. Along with it, I brought Brahms Tragic Overture and Wagner’s Rienzi Overture – a study in overtures.”
Kirsten laughed, “And a bit more literary than you realize. I heard the Nielsen last February…”
“Were you caught in that explosion?”
“Yes. In fact, I was with Henrietta and her young man, Nic. Do you know him?”
“No. Miss Clark has a boyfriend?”
“Of sorts, I think. Well, life is complicated, you know. So, yes, I heard the Nielsen and then was part of the explosion. Do you have time to come in?”
“Yes, a little more than usual. Greta is on tour.”
“Greta must be your wife. Is she a musician?”
“Yes, a cellist. She freelances.”
“She has a string quartet, and they are in Japan for two weeks. You used to tour quite a bit, didn’t you…I’m sorry, maybe…”
“Mr. Clark, if you don’t mind the stories of an old ballet dancer…”
“Well, I am certainly old enough to be your mother…”
“I suppose. My mother is fifty-nine.”
“Then I am older than your mother. Where do your parents live?”
“Boston, in the same home I grew up in.”
“I had a twin brother who died when we were two.”
“I’m sorry. What was his name?”
They sat silently. The sun was setting; new shadows appeared on the walls.”
“Mr. Clark, I should offer you something. Tea?”
“Yes. Please call me Dewey.”
She looked at him as she pushed herself up off the chair, “Dewey. I hope you will address me as Kirsten.”
“Do you need help?”
“Just keep me company in the kitchen. My mother used to say that, and so I would pull up a stool next to the counter while she cooked and baked.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“In a small town in Western Wisconsin. All Norwegians. Can you imagine?”
“I don’t know anyone of Scandanavian descent. My Boston upbringing was populated with WASPS, and the Irish and Italians.”
“Greta sounds like a Scandanavian name.”
“German. Her mother was the daughter of a German Lutheran Pastor, and her father – Barry Stein – was Jewish.”
“Is that why she isn’t religious – too mixed up of an upbringing?”
“Something like that.”
“The tea is done. I have some biscotti from the Italian grocery on Broadway.”
“Can I carry something?”
“Why don’t you take the tea tray.”
They sat across from each other, and Kirsten poured tea.
“Well, we have asked each other questions and given no answers,” she said, laughing, “Maybe you’ll have to bring some more music tomorrow, if you have time.”
“I could. Like I said, Greta will be on tour for two weeks.”
“You brought three pieces – all overtures. Which should I start with?”
“Would it bother you to hear the Helios given that you heard it before a traumatic event?”
“It was traumatic but also beautiful. Somewhat of a long story. Let’s say that it brought about a beautiful surprise.”
“Then listen in this order: Helios, Wagner, Brahms.”
“The Wagner has a surprise, and the Brahms will sum it all up.”
“I feel like you are writing a prescription. What will you bring tomorrow?”
“What is your mood?”
“Why is that a mood?”
“I am Norwegian; I was a dancer, and I’ve been homebound for over twenty-five years. None of these states of being are chatty.”
“Now? Now I have made a friend.”
Dewey looked up from his teacup at this tiny woman with elfish, slanted blue eyes, exotic gray braids wrapped around her head, and a tiny figure swathed in yet another embroidered tunic, and smiled.
“Kirsten? Dewey Clark here.”
“Yes, Dewey. How nice to hear your voice.”
“A new recording came in today that I’d like to bring over.”
“That would be wonderful. I haven’t finished the ones you brought…”
“Oh, of course not. I think this recording is exciting, though, and I have the time…”
“After work? Would you like a bite to eat as well?”
“I could pick something up on the way. There is a bread bakery near 105th that has some good rolls…”
“And I have cheese and dates. Should I have a pot of tea ready?”
“So,” she said as they settled themselves down with a platter of snacks and a teapot in front of them, “What did you bring?”
“Oh? May I see?”
Handing it over to her, he continued, “The recording contains two of his small a capella works – the Ave Maria and Pater Noster – but also Petrushka and Les Noces. It is a compilation/repressing of some very early recordings of his…”
“Yes. My husband had quite a bit of contact with this conductor…”
“In my research I saw that he had many connections to the movers and shakers of that time. Do I assume that you had contact with these people as well?”
“By virtue of proximity.”
“Yes, where he was, I was, so I met them. They had no interest in me except maybe as some sort of decoration.”
“You don’t make it sound very attractive.”
“It isn’t. On the surface it is; in the newspaper it is, but it doesn’t take long for someone to see that it is all a game. It is about power and appearances. It has little to do with art, and it has no soul. In the end, it became as unattractive for me to watch his pursuit of power and prestige as it would have been to see him inebriated in public.”
“What did you make of it?”
“Make of it?”
“Well, why do you think he did it or, for that matter, anyone?”
Kirsten stared at her teacup. “I asked myself that for a long time, even for a long time after I was married. Any pursuit like that – power and control – is like any other compulsive pursuit: it keeps people from themselves. Why would someone not want to be separated from their self, their core? It is crazy when you step back from it, right? Your self is all you have. It is what God gave you to care for and to offer the world. I think there are a number of reasons why someone would do this, but, in the end, none of them justify the separation.”
“Do you think you were separated from your self?”
“It didn’t occur to me until much later that I even had a self.”
“Well, what did you bring today?”
“I had one of my Music 911 calls today, and I thought of you.”
“People often call wanting to know what music would be good for a particular life event, if you will.”
“They call more often for difficult situations than happy occasions.”
“Can you tell me today’s event?”
“A family had just discovered that their adopted daughter has a congenital disease for which there is no treatment.”
“What did you prescribe?”
“There is an American composer who has written some works that are very repetitive, and, as a musician might say, a lot of white keys – not chromatic. You’d think this would sound too happy, but there is something sad about the way it ambles. Anyway, that’s what I suggested, and I brought you a copy.”
“I want to learn, and I think the mood of this is something I will understand. What was the hardest call you ever had?”
“They are all hard.”
“Pain is pain. There was one recently that made an impression on me. A man called. He had been out drinking one evening and was late to pick up his wife. While she waited for him, she was assaulted badly. His guilt was palpable, even over the telephone.”
“What did you suggest?”
“The adagio from Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony – heartfelt but not grim.”
“You have a gift of understanding music and people. What did your parents listen to when your brother died?”
“Well, I was two years old like he was. My mother played Bach and Brahms on the piano most of the time that she wasn’t teaching.”
“He liked to whistle hymns from church.”
“Dewey, I had an idea.”
“I go to daily mass at the Cathedral in the morning. Since you do not work on Saturdays, would you like to join me?”
“Greta is still on tour, so I am free. What time?”
“The mass is at 8:30. I could meet you there.”
“I’ll come here at 8:10, and we can walk over together.”
“Kirsten,” the voice said on the telephone, “This is Henrietta Clark from upstairs. Dewey Clark asked me if I could pick up the recordings he lent you. He needs them back in the library and can’t come himself.”
“Kirsten, Dewey Clark here.”
“Dewey, thank you for calling. It has been over two weeks, and I wondered if I should call you. Are you okay?”
“Oh, yes, just busy.”
“Work is busier at the library? Is there a reason?”
“I had to take some days off to help Greta, and that put me behind.”
”Is she okay?”
“Oh, yes, just fine. I have some recordings that I’d like to drop off on the way home tonight, if you are interested.”
“That would be very nice. I will look forward to it.”
Kirsten met him at the door, and he handed her an envelope.
“I don’t have time to come in or even to discuss what I brought, but I hope you like it.”
Before she could reply, he was gone.
“Kirsten, Nic here.”
“Oh, Nic, it is always good to hear your voice on the phone. Why are you calling?”
“Henrietta reminded me that the Feast of the Annunciation is on Wednesday. They are having a special Mass at St. Thomas during the lunch hour. If you want to come, I’ll be happy to escort you.”
“Nic, I would love to. Thank you for thinking of me. Will Henrietta be there, too?”
“Yes, saving us places as usual.”
“Tell her to save one more. I think we should invite that music librarian Henrietta introduced me to.”
“Dewey Clark here.”
“Dewey, this is Kirsten Larsen. I am sorry to bother you at work, but I had an idea?”
“Henrietta and Nic and I are attending the noon hour Mass at St. Thomas on March 25…”
“The Feast of the Annunciation.”
“Yes. Would you like to join us?”
“Over lunch hour? Yes, I think that will work out just fine.”
“Henrietta has some in with the rector there and saves us the same place each time – third pew from the front on the left.”
“I’ll look for you.”
They all arrived about fifteen minutes before the service began. Nic and Dewey were introduced. Nic and Henrietta sat next to each other. Kirsten was next to Henrietta, and Dewey sat on the end of the pew, by the center aisle. There were some extra chairs and stands near the choir stalls. Henrietta leaned over and told Kirsten and Dewey that there were some guest instrumentalists joining the choir for an anthem during communion.
As the choir members were taking their places at the communion rail to receive the sacrament, the ushers began bidding the parishioners in the front rows to form a line for their turn. Dewey helped Kirsten to stand and offered his arm as they walked up the three steps to the altar area. At the same time, the choir members were taking their places, and the guest musicians were situating themselves in their chairs, adjusting their stands.
Kirsten saw Dewey look over at the musicians and felt his arm go slack. She looked over at the musicians and saw a beautiful woman sitting with her cello, looking at Dewey. Kirsten looked out of the corner of her eye back at Dewey who was looking straight ahead.
After they received communion and found their pew, Dewey said he had to leave.
A week later, the doorman called up to Kirsten, “Your friend Mr. Clark is here. He said he had not called ahead, but he would like to know if you will see him.”
“Please send him up.”
Kirsten waited at her door as usual. Dewey appeared. He had no package of disks in his hand. Kirsten looked up at him.
“Dewey, come in. Please sit down,” she said, motioning to the couch, “Can I get you something?”
He declined by shaking his head. Kirsten looked at him again.
“Dewey, tell me how you are.”
He declined again by shaking his head.
“We chat so much, so I wonder why you are not talking today.”
He parted his lips slightly to reveal that his three of top teeth were missing.
Kirsten looked at him, “How can I help?”
Dewey looked down at his hands that were folded together on his lap. Kirsten got up and went to a shelf that held her limited collection of recordings.
“I met a harpsichordist through Nic and Henrietta. She sent me this recording that she made of selections from the Well-Tempered Clavier played on an old Austrian harpsichord. I had never heard these pieces on harpsichord -- something about the lack of dynamics that I have a yen for now and then. Anna, the soloist, told me that Bach wrote these on his own time, that is, not for work. She said she sensed he wrote them as retreat -- a tidied up universe.”
Kirsten put on the recording, the thin sounds of the harpsichord mirroring the thin light of dusk in a city apartment.
She sat down next to Dewey and took his hand and kissed it, “We can just sit here for awhile and listen.”
Dewey leaned back on the couch with his eyes shut, his hand still in Kirsten’s, as the daylight ebbed.