These stories are dedicated to Pierre Lioni Ullman, with gratitude for his courage.
“I’m looking for something gallant but not the usual.”
“Have you heard Michael Haydn’s keyboard works?”
“Yes, Joseph’s brother.”
”I didn’t know he had a brother.”
Dewey Clark handed the library patron a recording of Michael Haydn’s keyboard works and went back to his desk. It was almost 3:00 in the afternoon. He had to leave work by 4:00 to make it to the dentist by 4:30 to have some adjustments made to some recent work. After that, he was supposed to view an apartment. He looked out the window. Everyone on the sidewalk below seemed to be hunched over and holding on to their hats. He called Nic.
“Nic, Dewey Clark here.”
“Hey, I was just thinking about you. I’ve got the van to deliver some pipes. Can I take you to either of your appointments?”
Dewey had been staying with Nic for the last few weeks while he looked for a place to live.
“I have to be to the dentist by 4:30 and have an appointment to look at an apartment at 5:30.”
“I got a lot of work done today. I’ll pick you up at 4:00 and take you to both.”
“Don’t you have anything to do?”
“I usually go to evensong with Henrietta on Tuesdays, but she’ll understand. I’ll try to be in front of the library in the red utility van.”
Dewey helped a few more patrons and went back to his desk to check email and look at his calendar for the next few days. It was hard to believe that it was already April. The winter had been long and fierce; this year spring was only a date on the calendar. There had been a snow storm on March 31st, and the temperature had often hovered around freezing in the early part of April. Maybe by Easter it would be warmer. “When was Easter this year?” he thought, flipping through his calendar. “Oh, yes, my birthday” - April 17. That was more than two weeks away, and there was plenty else to deal with.
Nic was always on time. Dewey climbed into the white utility van, full of organ pipes and different sized boxes.
“Hey there, Bro! Got some pipes in from Germany today for an organ I’m working on downtown. Which way are we driving?” Nic was a chatty one, and Dewey still had to adjust to all the verbiage and Nic’s easy slang.
“…up in Henrietta’s neighborhood, Amsterdam, near 113th. I’m sorry you had to miss evensong with Henrietta.”
“She understands. Hey, do you have plans for Easter? We’re going to St. Thomas, and then back to Henrietta’s building. Kirsten is going to make lunch. She asked if you’d be available.”
“I don’t know, well…”
“Do you have plans?”
“I haven’t seen Kirsten…” He couldn’t finish. Nic, for all his loquaciousness, knew when to stop and wait.
Nic’s friend Henrietta introduced Dewey to Kirsten Larsen, an older woman in her building who was somewhat homebound and wanted to listen to more music. Kirsten and Dewey became friends quickly, and he enjoyed her. She had impish looks that belied the gravity the challenges in her life had given her. It was nice having a friend. His wife Greta, a classically trained cellist, had an erratic schedule as a free-lancer and was often on tour. Kirsten didn’t seem to mind the inconsistency of his availability, but Greta… He looked out the van window. There had not been room in his marriage for other friendships. He rethought that. The complete thought was this: there hadn’t been room in his marriage for other friendships because there was not room for him.
“Do you have plans for Easter,Dewey?” Nic asked again as the stop light turned green.
“I’ll just be calling my parents.”
“Do you always call them on Easter?”
“No. This year Easter is on April 17 which is also my birthday.”
“…a birthday on Easter! Are you the oldest?”
“I don’t have any siblings. I had a twin brother, Arnold, who died when we were two.”
“I’m sorry. Were you identical or fraternal twins?”
“I’ve heard identical twins can feel almost like one person. Maybe you were too young when he died to experience that.”
“No, we did experience that.”
“Have you missed him over the years?”
Dewey nodded in ascent. The traffic was moving along; they were almost at the dentist’s office.
This was his third trip to the dentist in a month. The dentist was an Asian immigrant from a large family, and, from what Dewey could tell, the whole staff was related.
“Mr. Clark is here!” exclaimed the young man at the desk. Another young man came to take his coat and another, dressed in scrubs, lead him to the dental chair.
“Are there any girls in your family?”
“My mother!” he said, laughing, “It is considered good luck to have a son; my mother had seven!”
The oldest brother was the dentist.
“How is the partial feeling?”
“Okay. I’m not sure how good it is supposed to feel.”
“Does it hurt?”
“No, it just doesn’t feel real.”
“It isn’t, but in time it will feel familiar. You never told me how this happened. I know we had a tough winter. Did you slip on the ice?”
Dewey had not told anyone how it happened. He went to see Kirsten the day after, but she was wise enough not to pry. Nic had taken him to each dentist appointment, but he didn’t ask. Henrietta didn’t say anything, either, but she looked at him in a way that told him that she saw and that she knew. The next time they saw each other, Nic handed him a large jar.
“Henrietta said you might like some of her squash soup. She purees it. She told me to tell you that.”
By then he was living with Nic while he looked for his own apartment. The first night, Nic got him set up on the couch and showed him around the kitchen.
“If you ever want to talk about it,” Nic offered, “I can listen.”
Dewey took a long time trying to form an answer, but Nic stepped in.
“Well, you know, tonight I’m looking through some pictures of portative organs built in England in the 17th century. Want to join me?”
They sat at Nic’s kitchen table, drinking warmed cider, looking at pictures of old organs. Dewey looked, and Nic provided non-stop commentary.
Dewey told Nic he would find a place within a month. Nic said he could take as long as he needed. The company was nice. Dewey nodded in agreement. He also enjoyed the company, but he didn’t want to impose. Nic lived on the edge of Harlem, about twenty blocks from where Henrietta lived on 113th. Dewey liked Henrietta’s neighborhood and was hoping to find something in that area. Kirsten and Nic and Henrietta had become somewhat of a family to him, and Greta had moved closer to Mid-Town.
“There was an accident at home,” he told the dentist. The dentist looked at him and nodded.
Nic was waiting outside in the white van.
“The white van helps me to park in loading zones!” Nic said, laughing, as Dewey climbed into the van, “and all I have to do is point at those pipes to scare people off,” he said, laughing some more, “Where’s the apartment?”
“Just two blocks south of Henrietta’s, closer to Riverside.”
“Can you swing that on a librarian’s salary?”
“Greta comes from some money.”
“That’s okay. It’s going to come up.”
They were at a stop light.
“Nic, were you ever married?” It wasn’t usual Dewey to ask personal questions of anybody, but he thought he’d see what it was like.
“Almost. It’s a long story and not pretty.”
“You and Henrietta?”
“No. Not because we don’t love each other. Can’t you tell we do?”
“And not because there’s anyone else. I think we’ve found what works. Got to be willing to be odd to get through this life, that’s what I think. Ever thought about that?”
The apartment faced Riverside Park and had windows to the East. Nic followed Dewey and the agent closely, once in awhile getting out some measuring tape or inspecting an electrical outlet. Nic’s phone rang, and he left the room to answer. By the time he had returned, Dewey was signing the papers and was ready to leave.
“This is the one.”
“How many have you looked at?”
“One. Who was on the phone?”
“Henrietta. She fosters kittens and sick cats. Did you know that?”
“Anyway, she just got a call that there are some kittens who lost their mother. I’m going to pick them up and take them to her. Want to come along?”
“Sure, but I’m a little hungry.”
“Oh, well, I guess I am, too. There’s a bagel place on the corner by Henrietta’s. How ‘bout that? Just to go?”
Nic deftly maneuvered the van through the after work traffic, dropping Dewey off to fetch some food.
“Can you get me some coffee, too?” he yelled out the window.
“No! Day’s not over yet!”
Back in the van, Nic drove with one hand, eating with the other, and talking between bites.
“You need some shelves in that place. I’ll build you some.”
“Well, that’s nice, but don’t you have work to do?”
“Holy Week is coming up. All organ building comes to a halt, so I’ll have extra time. Hey, you haven’t said if you’re come to Kirsten’s on Easter.”
“Sure. What time?”
“I don’t know. Just come to church with us in the morning, and we’ll figure out the rest then.”
The cat shelter was in an old store front with fixtures that hadn’t been updated since the 1950’s. They knew Nic and handed him a large crate containing two kittens.
“Tabbies. Did you know that?”
“My mother liked cats, so, yes, I did know that. She was fond of American Short Hairs.”
“Here, you hold them. I’ve got to drive.”
Once again, they were flying through the city, cruising southward towards Henrietta’s apartment. Dewey peered inside the crate. The two kittens were curled in a ball.
“I can’t even tell where one begins and the other ends.”
Dewey scheduled a week of vacation beginning April 11, the day after Palm Sunday, in order to move into his new place and finish up his dental work. Plus, it was Holy Week. He had not attended the liturgies of Holy Week since he married Greta, so he would use the time for this as well. The movers came on Monday, bringing his belongings from storage, and some furniture he ordered arrived the same day. On Tuesday, he began unpacking while Nic began building shelves for his books, recordings, and stereo equipment. For part of the time, their work was accompanied by music that Dewey chosen for the occasion: Beethoven’s First Symphony and some of Haydn’s later symphonies.
“I thought you’d pick something like the Rite of Spring,” Nic said, laughing.
“I don’t have the energy for political statements, that’s why I picked these.”
“Because they lack political commentary?”
“Yes, and because they have the energy I need.”
They didn’t listen to music when they were working in the same room. Nic could and did talk on and on which didn’t bother Dewey. The company was nice, and Nic was always interesting.
“Hey, I’ve got a question.”
“Why do you call your parents on your birthday? Shouldn’t they be calling you?”
“I never really thought of it.”
“Are they still in Boston?”
“That’s not very far from here, is it?”
“You’ve never been?”
“Not a long train ride. I would take it sometimes when Greta was going to be on tour.”
Nic was silent as he wrestled with the last of the shelving into place.
Dewey had a dental appointment on Tuesday which he walked to from his new apartment. It was starting to warm up. He made a note to take a walk in Riverside Park after the dentist to see if the daffodils were blooming.
“I think this is the last time I’ll need to see you until your regular check-up. How is it feeling?”
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“How do you think it looks?”
“I haven’t checked.”
The dentist held up a mirror. Dewey was supposed to look at his teeth which he didn’t want to do because looking at them made him remember why they had to be replaced in the first place, and he could only take in so much of that memory at a time. He used the opportunity to look at himself, not to look at himself as Dewey but to look at himself to think about what Arnold might have looked like.
“You usually come after work. Are you off this week?” one of the brothers in the office asked.
“Yes, I’m in the process of settling into a new apartment, and it is Holy Week. I’m using the time to move, to finish up here, and then to go to the Holy Week services.”
“Where do you go to church?”
“The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and on Sunday I am joining friends at St. Thomas.”
“One of our nephews sings in the boys’ choir at St. Thomas. We will be there, too!”
On Thursday, he walked over to Henrietta’s building which was also Kirsten Larsen’s building and escorted Kirsten to the Maundy Thursday liturgy at the Cathedral.
“Dewey, this is such a treat,” Kirsten said to him, holding onto his arm as they waited to cross Amsterdam Avenue, “I’ve never been to this liturgy.”
“Well, it’s at night, and I didn’t have anyone to go with. You’ve come to this?”
“Not here. When I was an undergraduate, I attended, but I haven’t since.”
The light changed, and they crossed the street and made the journey up the long flight of steps.
While they were walking out, Kirsten pointed out an icon that was on display. It was of the last supper.
“They look like brothers, don’t they?”
On the morning of Good Friday, Nic called.
“Hey, Bro! I have an idea.”
“I want to do a little touch up work next week on the shelves, and you’ll probably be back at work. Right?”
“So, could you lend me an extra key and let the doorman know that I’ll be coming in?”
“The thing is, with all the hubbub this week, it would probably be better if I got it today. Could you leave it with the doorman?”
On the Saturday before Easter, Dewey spent his first day alone in his new apartment. The other days Nic had been there at least part of the time. He had spent plenty of days alone in the apartment that he and Greta shared, but she was always, in one way or another, present: maybe she’d call and ask him to look for something or she had left him a list of things to take care of while she was gone. His days had always been ordered around her. Living with Nic was easy enough, but Dewey found himself watching and trying to defer. He knew this had not been needed, but it was a habit. When had the habit formed? He wasn’t even married to Greta for a decade. He had no siblings to share time or attention with, though, when he thought about it, there was always the grief that pervaded the household, a large, heavy object that he always maneuvered around. He read once that the death of a child is the most painful thing a human could endure. His parents endured and remained married. They were good enough to him, but he was also aware that his existence reminded them of Arnold who no longer existed.
Now he was alone. He got up and went to the kitchen. He stood at the counter wondering what to do next. He made some coffee and looked at it. He made some hot cereal and set it on the table with his coffee. When Greta had been on tour, he would have gotten out the lists she left him or checked for any emails from her. If she had been home, the protocol was obvious: see what she needed, be available if she needed something. He moved his breakfast to the window facing the park and watched a family of four working in the little garden on the median strip. The parents worked together, and the two boys played tag.
On Easter morning, he walked to Henrietta and Kirsten’s apartment building. Nic was going to meet them, and they would all share a cab down to St. Thomas.
“Nic had a call from a church to do some emergency work,” Henrietta told him, “He should be back in time for lunch.”
The three of them rode down to St. Thomas, and the driver took a route through Central Park. It had rained early in the morning, and everything in the park glistened.
Fifth Avenue was bustling with Easter celebration. There was a tradition of hats – women in florid Easter hats and bonnets, men in top hats. Kirsten, knowing of the long-standing tradition, had created a turben for herself. Henrietta wore a beret.
“I didn’t’ know about the hats,” Dewey said, apologizing.
“That’s not what we’re here for,” Kirsten replied.
Someone shouted Dewey’s name. It was one of the men from the dentist’s office. He scuttled through the crowd to greet Dewey.
“Mr. Clark, Happy Easter!”
“The same to you. Will your nephew be singing?”
“Yes, and he sits on the end of the pew on the organ console side, so it will be easy for you can to him.”
“It will be like watching a family member,” said Dewey, remembering the kind treatment he received over the past few weeks at the dentist’s office.
Henrietta had some places saved for them. Nic came just as the organ prelude was beginning.
“Did you get things taken care of?” Henrietta asked him.
“Most things, but I’ll need to leave right after communion because there’s one more thing I’ll need to get finished.”
“Won’t the service be over at their church?” Dewey asked.
Nic smiled, “I was in too big of a hurry to ask.”
Henrietta, Kirsten, and Dewey walked out of the service and through the crowd on the sidewalk with the intention of hailing a cab back to the Upper West Side.
“Dewey,” Kirsten said, “I would so much like to see you apartment.”
“I would, too,” said Henrietta. “Could we stop in and then walk over to Kirsten’s for lunch?”
“Well, I suppose. I think it is tidy enough. What if Nic shows up at your place?”
“I don’t think he’ll be done that soon,” answered Henrietta.
Dewey hailed a cab for the three of them, and Kirsten asked the driver to take them via Riverside Drive.
Dewey opened the door. His apartment was filled with people. The first people he saw were his parents.
“Happy Birthday, Dewey,” his mother said, kissing him on the cheek.
“Dewey, good to see you,” his father said, offering his hand, “You can thank Nic for getting in touch with us.”
Dewey said nothing and then looked around the room some more. The dentist and his brothers were in the room, along with various wives and children. Even the boy who sang in the choir at St. Thomas was there.
“How did you get here so soon?”
“We had a cab waiting.”
“The choir sounded wonderful, and I liked watching someone who I had a connection with.”
The young boy smiled and nodded.
Nic sauntered forward, “Happy Birthday, Bro! Now, we have a gift for you. Come over here.”
There was a carpeted perch in front of the window that had not been there when Dewey left in the morning. Sitting on the top were the two tabby kittens Nic and Dewey had picked up earlier in the week.
“We thought you should have some roommates. Henrietta and I thought the two brothers would like it here.”