© 2021 by Robert Moskowitz
Loretta loved this score. She particularly loved this part of it. The conductor motioned for emphasis and she followed his cues, playing the required notes, thrilling to the sounds she could coax from her viola and the way her music fitted in so cleverly with the sounds emanating from the dozens of other stringed instruments rendering this first, so wonderfully soulful, Largo portion of Richard Strauss's Death and Transfiguration. As always, she was transfixed and transported by the emotional power of the music, and felt strangely exhilarated yet weak and emotionally wrung out by the time the last notes died away.
She sat quietly in her seat for a few moments, spent, then roused herself to smile and stand up in response to the conductor's signal, who himself was responding to the audience's enthusiastic applause, which quickly swelled into a thundering ovation. Over several minutes, as he liked to do, the conductor dramatically acknowledged and thanked the audience with his gestures of appreciation, with repeated theatrical exits from the stage and almost immediate re-entrances, with extravagant bows, and with his own applause pointedly aimed at one, then another member of the orchestra whom he chose to highlight for the audience.
Afterwards, her conflicting feelings of ennui and enthusiasm stayed with Loretta as she made her way to the orchestra's changing room and went through her usual routine of methodically packing her instrument and preparing to go home. This had been a wonderful opening night, far exceeding her expectations. Several of the other musicians -- including friends, colleagues, and the inevitable rivals -- attempted to converse with her, but she had very little energy left for banter, thought, or intrigue. Tonight she could respond only with nods, shrugs, and brief head shakes or smiles. After what seemed an interminable process, she was able to sit for a few minutes, content to be alone with her feelings, before leaving the concert hall and making her way back to her loft apartment.
* * *
She had barely settled in on her sofa, one leg tucked under her, enjoying the aroma and warmth of a mug of chamomile tea when David, her lover, used his key to open the door. Momentarily alarmed, she relaxed when she caught the first sight of his long blond hair, quickly followed by his wildly grinning face. She smiled weakly at him in return.
"How'd it go, Button?"
She smiled a little more broadly at his pet name for her, and sighed deeply.
"Can't you please remember to lock the door. You know how I feel about that."
David gave her an impatient yet caring look, then turned and made an elaborate show of locking her apartment door.
"Good. So? How did it go tonight?"
She relaxed a little, feeling comfort in the solidity of his presence.
"Oh, you know. It's a great piece of music." She paused, reflective. "I played OK." She paused again. "Afterwards, Gustavo gave us three nods. From him, that's a lot of praise."
"The old crank. He'd have criticized the longhairs." Loretta smiled inwardly at David's sneering reference to the towering masters of classical music, and lightly enjoyed the irony as he unconsciously tugged at his own lengthy blond locks.
"Well, he has high standards." She tilted her head slightly to one side, her way of indicating tolerance for others' shortcomings. "How did your gig go?"
"It got canceled."
"Oh...." She felt a pang of disappointment for David, who showed no sign of it.
He sat down next to her and put on a brave face, which she took to be a coverup for what he was actually feeling.
"Don't ever be a musician, Button."
She laughed momentarily.
"Like you could do anything else," he admitted, grudgingly.
He took her hand, caressed it, and brought it to his lips for a brief kiss. She smiled at him and took another sip of tea.
"Any reason?" she asked.
"For the cancellation."
He gave her a wry smile, briefly, then turned his attention back to her hand.
"Well, Joe got into a fight with someone drinking at the bar." He gently squeezed her hand.
"That happened last time, too!" Loretta knew David was a wild man, but not a fighter. On the other hand, Joe, the band's drummer, would sometimes rather fight than eat, or even make love to one of the women who were so available to him and the band.
"Yeah. That was the time." David caressed her knee gently and leaned a little closer. "The owner must have thought about it, or someone convinced him of something. Suddenly he decides we're not right for his club."
She shook her head slowly in sympathy. The room was chilly, and smelled lightly of lavender.
He leaned in closer for an open-mouth kiss. She almost spilled some tea. He slowly, deliberately took the mug from her and turned away to place it on the nearby coffee table, then turned back and caressed her, gently, but with some urgency. He leaned in again for another kiss. She relaxed, sighed, and kissed him back. She still felt spent from the concert, but David's energy and need always triggered something affectionate in her. She began to feel the familiar flutter in her stomach and that wonderful yearning for him that often enflamed her. His hands and lips felt so warm in the chilled loft.
Whatever else he did and didn't bring with him to their relationship, he was a wonderful lover. She was grateful for that.
Afterward, they lay side by side, kissing lightly and saying nothing, listening to water flowing in pipes in some other nearby apartment. Afterglow was probably the only time David's customarily high energy momentarily gave way to lassitude.
"Do you want to stay over?" she asked him, lightly kissing his shoulder and caressing his bicep.
"No. I'm meeting Phil. We've got a new song we're trying to finish." He pushed up off the sofa and stood over her, smiling happily.
Loretta was secretly pleased. She enjoyed David's company, and liked when he slept over. It was pleasant and comforting to have his warm, strong body next to her in the narrow bed. But he invariably wanted another round of sex in the morning, and sometimes in the middle of the night, as well. She was usually happy to make love with him, but sometimes -- like tonight -- just as happy not to feel his insistence intruding on her own thoughts and timetable.
She got up from the sofa, used the bathroom, and snuggled into the warmest of her robes. He went to the kitchen and made himself a cup of coffee.
"You're almost out," he called out, motioning at her with one of the coffee-maker's cartridges.
"There's more," she assured him.
She warmed up her tea and sat with him as he savored the coffee. She crossed her legs and rocked one foot idly back and forth as he sang her parts of the song he and Phil were writing. Like other songs the pair had written, it was a simple tune with a simple bridge. They didn't have all the lyrics yet, but she very much liked one of the lines he sang: "Wanting too much hurts more than wanting too little."
"That's pretty," she told him, "Full of yearning."
"Like me," he grinned, and gently squeezed her hand.
"Maybe," she admitted. "But in you the yearning gets swamped by the allegro. You never sit still long enough for the yearning to get comfortable and stretch its legs."
"I'm thinking of calling it A Summer Song." She thought about that for a moment. It didn't feel right to her.
"I think you should call it Too Much Pain."
David sat still, looked at nothing in one corner of the room, then in another. After a long moment, he turned back to her.
"That's good," he told her, seriously moved. "That's real good."
* * *
Loretta dressed in a simple blouse and skirt for the next day's rehearsal. As usual, she walked the few blocks from her loft to the concert hall. Unusually, she was one of the last to arrive. As she hurried up the steps to the artists' entrance, she spotted a tall, thin man, nicely dressed, moving hesitantly toward the doorway. He arrived a few steps ahead of her and, noticing her approach, held the door open for her.
"Thank you," she said, and ducked in. She caught just a hint of a very nice cologne. He continued to hold the door after her, apparently not sure of which way to go. She turned back toward him and tilted her head slightly to one side.
"You look lost," she suggested. He gave her a smile that lit up his face and, it seemed to her, the whole area around him.
"Yes. I am." He spoke with a very appealing French accent. She felt a strong urge to help him.
"Where are you trying to go?"
"I have an appointment with Mr. Dudamel." Loretta was surprised. She had no inkling Dudamel ever met with anyone less than legitimate musical celebrities. She wondered if this person were such a one. She also hoped her face didn't reveal her surprise and curiosity.
"You look surprised," the man said, with a warm smile and a tiny laugh, "and curious."
"Mr. Dudamel is busy all the time," she explained. "I didn't think he had time for ... well, I only see him with ... well, it's very hard to get an appointment."
"I know," he replied. "I've been trying to get him to see me for more than a year."
"So I guess you don't want to be late," she said.
"No," he said.
They looked at each other for a long moment. The moment stretched out between them, somehow inviting rather than awkward. She took in his eyes, his shock of brown hair, his carefully trimmed beard, his lips curving upward into a gentle smile. She lost track of time. After what seemed to her like five minutes but was probably just a few seconds, she gathered herself and motioned along the hallway with her hand, somewhat awkwardly, she thought.
"His office is down this way. Here, I'll walk with you."
"Thanks," he said, and let go of the entrance door. She led him along the hallway to the conductor's plush offices and watched as he pushed through one of the double glass doors. He turned to her, smiled and waved shyly, then disappeared inside.
She stood in place for several breaths, watching as he spoke to Dudamel's assistant. Then she headed for the musician's room, feeling a little lightheaded and wondering who he might be.
That day's rehearsals went well for her. As usual, she lost herself in the music. The effort to find and express the composer's emotions, recorded so meticulously in the complex score, consumed her. She had great respect for Strauss, Mozart, and so many others, remarkable men who had possessed an uncanny ability not only to feel the very deepest human emotions but to find the melodies and instrumentation that would express and convey them through orchestral performances to generation after generation of appreciative audiences. David was also a composer, of sorts, but his songs were so different, so visceral and energetic, written strictly for drums, bass, and two guitars. Rarely did he hear a need for additional instruments, certainly not her viola. His bandmates were fairly accomplished, despite being mostly self-taught, and she enjoyed his music. But it rarely moved her as intensely as did the music of the great masters.
The orchestra spent several hours rehearsing in the main concert space, the air heated and yet antiseptic, working with the concert master through various passages of Masonica, a Mozart cantata. Without any fanfare, Dudamel himself suddenly appeared from a side door with the tall, thin stranger in tow. Diffident, yet somehow at home in this large performance space, the young man stood quietly a few steps behind and to one side as the great conductor waited for a natural pause in the music, then spoke, as if to a family.
"I've been listening in my office, and for the last few minutes," here, he pointed dramatically, "through that door. It's coming together very nicely. Thank you, Raphael," he said, and bowed slightly in the direction of the first violinist, who until Dudamel's appearance had been the preeminent personality in the room and the rehearsal leader. Raphael nodded once to Dudamel in acknowledgement of the great man's compliment.
Dudamel again addressed the orchestra.
"I want to introduce you to Marcel DuBois." He turned and indicated the newcomer, who bowed formally, once, twice, three times to the musicians in the three sections of the orchestra laid out before him. "Marcel is a marvelous composer. I have been aware of his work for several years, and I have at last convinced him to take a residency here, with us, while he completes a new symphony he has been developing for," he paused and turned toward the younger man, "how many years?"
"Four," Marcell answered quickly, in that charming accent Loretta had enjoyed earlier at the building's entranceway.
"Four years," repeated Dudamel, with some enthusiasm. "Now that he's officially a colleague of ours, let's give him a warm welcome."
The members of the orchestra variously waved their bows, nodded their heads, or applauded, as working musicians encumbered by their instruments will often do. Loretta added to the welcome with her own warm smile, and was pleased when Marcel at last spotted her among the ranks of musicians and smiled to her in return.
Hours later, as she was packing up to go home, she noticed a few of her colleagues gathered near the doorway. They were conversing with Marcel, who seemed slightly overwhelmed by the attention and not sure how to behave under the onslaught of their questions and curiosity. As she skirted the group to leave, Marcel caught her attention with an overly loud "Excuse me."
She stopped and looked at him. What could he want?
"May I talk with you for a moment?," he asked her.
"Of course," she said. The people gathered around Marcel moved discreetly away in various directions. Loretta and Marcel strolled along the hallway toward the artist's entrance where they had first met.
"I didn't think my first day would be so intense," he confided to her.
"It must be very exciting."
"Oh yes. But overwhelming, too. A residency with the L.A. Philharmonic. A chance to work with Gustavo Dudamel."
"You'll get used to it. His bark is not nearly as bad as his bite."
"You'll get used to it."
"Yes. Eventually. Probably. But in the meantime, I'm glad to have met you and I hope we can be friends."
Loretta stopped in mid-stride. He was singling her out? She started walking again.
"I hope so, too," she heard herself say with considerable enthusiasm.
Again he held the door for her and again they looked at each other a bit longer than necessary. She broke the gaze and started walking home. Although she didn't see it, Marcel stood holding the door open until she disappeared from his sight.
* * *
During the following week, she and Marcel had spoken once or twice a day, each time feeling a tiny spark, a growing chemistry between them. They had shared a lunch on one of the concert hall's private patios, and at one point their hands had momentarily brushed against each other. A day after that, he had asked her to dinner, and she had immediately said "yes."
Now Loretta stood in front of her closet and surveyed her options for the evening. Casual? Dressy? Sexy? Professional? She selected one of her newer dresses, blue, that fitted her perfectly and didn't make her look fat. She remembered with pleasure the day she had bought it, wearing jeans and a tee-shirt, at a discount store she frequented downtown. She kept her makeup to a minimum, and added a gold necklace with matching earrings and medium heels. It was too warm for a coat so she carried a black merino wool shawl, plus her favorite "night out" purse.
When she walked into the restaurant, Marcel was already seated. He stood up and watched attentively as she threaded her way through the empty tables. They shook hands: there was nothing but collegial friendliness in the gesture, she thought. Or was there? He indicated the seat next to him, rather than across the table. She took it. The restaurant was warm and comfortable, with a single white rose in a vase on their table. She enjoyed the earthy fragrance. It mixed nicely with the scent of his cologne. They sat amid the quiet clatter of restaurant noises and chatted amiably about music, about the orchestra, about getting along in Los Angeles, yet she remained acutely aware of the happy flutter in her stomach that told her something more than professionalism was in the air. He spoke of his symphony, the progress he was making and the challenges he still faced. She told him about her climb up through several regional orchestras to her current position with the Philharmonic, the disappointments she had weathered and the difficulties of a being a woman in what was largely a man's profession. They both expressed their desires for more opportunities, greater professional success. They ordered wine. They ordered dinner. They drank and ate, unhurried, unexpectedly comfortable with each other. Neither of them wanted dessert or coffee. Out of nowhere, he took her hand in his.
"I really like the way the color of that dress sets off your eyes," he said. The flutter grew more pronounced.
The ride to his apartment was a matter of a moment. He lived in a large room, sparsely furnished, with only a few art prints on the walls, a thin sofa, a pullman kitchen, a table with two chairs, and a hallway leading somewhere into the dark. He poured them each a glass of wine, which they took to the sofa. It was more comfortable than it looked. He took her free hand in his. They kissed. He was gentle, even hesitant. She made herself soft and pliant.
For what seemed like moments but must have been hours, they talked quietly, now and then kissing softly. After a while, they fell asleep.
* * *
After a long, hard week of demanding rehearsals and difficult passages, Loretta felt eager and happy to accompany David to the local amusement park. He led her onto the monster roller coaster and kept her there more times than she thought possible. David's enthusiasm never faltered. She drank in the sights and sounds of throngs, of machinery whirling through the air, of loud music and squealing children. David carried a backpack from which he extracted delicious sangria and crisp celery sticks dipped in peanut butter. They ate and drank. They stood in line and walked around the park until her feet were sore. They sampled ride after ride until her butt was sore. Loretta had a wonderful time and went to bed exhausted!
* * *
When she woke up, it was a beautiful, cloudless Sunday. Marcel picked her up in a rented car and drove her to a picnic by a quiet river. She hadn't known such a lovely, quiet space existed so close to the bustling city. She had prepared a salad and roast chicken. He brought several bottles of wine and an angel's food cake. They ate with their fingers and drank from the bottles. The spent hours just watching the currents of water slip past several large boulders in the middle of the stream, listening to different birdsongs coming from high in the overarching trees, photographing small animals and deer as they came to drink from the river.
* * *
There came a day when Loretta felt she had mastered her part in the musical program the orchestra was rehearsing. Over and over again, she played the passages with verve and deep emotion. She lost herself in the music and thrilled to every note.
Afterwards, she was packing up, alone in the musician's room, when Marcel approached her.
"You were just great!"
She smiled and moved into his arms, loving the feel of him and loving even more that he understood and appreciated her feeling for the music and her ability to help bring it to life. They kissed, deeply, lingeringly, but quickly broke apart when the door banged open and three horn players entered. Loretta and Marcel looked at each other with mild alarm. Had they been seen? But their secret seemed safe enough from the three men, who talked and laughed with each other without showing any sign of awareness.
* * *
A few nights later, David came over, as he often did, but surprised her by taking her out to an exclusive downtown club. A friend had arranged VIP access for them. The danced to high energy tunes spun by a talented DJ in a private room. The music was deafening and the air was fragrant with countless flavors of vapes. Loretta wore her highest heels, and very much enjoyed all the attention she received from the slim, well-dressed men who crammed every inch of the club. She liked that David was so protective, his testosterone apparently working overtime, putting an arm around her or positioning himself like a bodyguard whenever one of the young men tried a move on her.
* * *
Marcel shared her love of Renaissance painting and was happy to get them tickets to an exhibit at the downtown museum. When the day came, they strolled hand-in-hand amid the Botticellis, Titians, Bruegels, and Da Vincis.
At one point, she went to use the bathroom and left him alone in one of the galleries. When she returned, she saw a young woman in friendly conversation with Marcel.
"That's so fascinating," she heard the young woman say to Marcel. Loretta walked a little faster, came up to them and took Marcel's arm, smiling warmly. He looked at her and smiled in response.
"Hi," Loretta said to the young woman, who seemed a little surprised at her familiarity with Marcel.
"I always love his insights into the Renaissance," Loretta commented, with a bright smile. The young woman nodded in agreement.
"Which painting were you talking about, hon?" she asked Marcel, eagerly. The woman seemed uncomfortable.
"Well, thanks," she said to Marcel, with finality, and moved off. Loretta triumphantly made eye contact with Marcel and gave him a loving smile. She could see he didn't fully understand what had just happened, but she nevertheless enjoyed herself immensely.
Later, there was a lecture she found fascinating and enlightening. She held Marcel's hand tightly throughout the talk.
* * *
The next day dawned rainy. It was Saturday, and Loretta slept late. When she finally awoke, she felt too lazy to start her day. She could only lay there, hearing the rain, feeling the cool breeze through the open window, smelling the freshness and cleanliness it brought, and feeling absolutely miserable.
"You must be crazy," she told herself. Her current situation was nowhere in her plan. In love with two men, good men, both of whom wanted to -- and knew how to -- make her happy, she ought to be jumping for joy. But instead she wanted to run and hide.
Rather than too little love in her life, like so many people she knew, she felt she had too much. She felt incredibly alive with David. His high energy and immeasurable enthusiasm for life infected her and triggered boundless feelings of hope and optimism she rarely felt in his absence. With Marcel, she felt connected to something meaningful, something permanent, something beautiful. Perhaps it was the music. Her feelings with Marcel seemed quieter, deeper, more passionate, and stayed with her long after Marcel had gone home. Together, the two men helped her explore and express an amazingly wide range of perception, of personality, of experience, and ... yes ... of personal power. She felt herself to be a much stronger, better person than she had been when she first came to Los Angeles.
But she wasn't a selfish person. She couldn't feel right hoarding all this love for herself. It wasn't fair to the world. More important: it wasn't fair to David and Marcel. They were loving her openly, honestly, with all their hearts. She wanted to return their feelings, but she was torn between the two men. In the midst of her ebullient happiness with David and his slam-bam energy, she couldn't rid herself of thoughts of gentle Marcel. Spending time with Marcel, whose quiet, miles-deep feelings and sensibilities moved her to her core, she couldn't help but tingle, trembling with the excitement and rush that David brought her.
And yet she was required to keep these feelings to herself. Each of them would be devastated to learn how she felt about the other.
If she were noble, if she were strong, if she were honest, she'd choose one and allow the other to find another path to happiness. But the thought of hurting either one was .... No, that was a lie. What really stood in the way of her making a choice was her own happiness. She couldn't bear the thought of giving up either one of them. What she was doing might be unfair, but she hadn't the strength to do anything else.
She lay in bed for a long time, listening to the rain, and cried softly.
* * *
For her birthday, David took her out to dinner in a remote district, at a small restaurant she'd never heard of. He was greeted like a long-lost cousin when they walked in, and when they'd finished the exquisitely prepared meal, the chef came and sat with them. Loretta quickly learned they had grown up together, and she loved hearing the stories of David's childish escapades, early musical efforts, and teenage romances. David seemed embarrassed at first, denying everything, but ultimately took his friend's story-telling in good spirits. Watching the two men talk and laugh with each other so comfortably, Loretta felt she understood much more about David, and about why he had made some of the crucial choices that had led him to this point in his life.
* * *
Marcel's family came to town for the holidays and rented a house. Marcel brought her along one night as they all gathered to celebrate his residency and the progress he was making on his symphony. He played a few passages on an electronic piano he had brought with him. Loretta was excited and deeply moved by his music, and automatically recognized that it could be expanded and made more powerful by a full orchestra. His family also seemed to take great pride in what he played. She felt pleased and impressed that his parents were so loving, and his two sisters, twins, so happy and accomplished. She began to understand why Marcel had so pleasant a personality and seemed easy going with everyone he met, despite the pressures and challenges he was facing in his career.
* * *
On a bright, sunny day, Marcel was walking toward the concert hall, without a care in the world, whistling a recently composed phrase from his symphony and thinking about possible variations when the bus hit him.
It took many hours for the news of Marcel's sudden and tragic death to spread throughout the members of the orchestra. As it became known to more and more of the musicians, there was a great deal of crying and expressions of disbelief as individuals each came to professional and personal grips with the loss of their relatively new but well-liked colleague.
Because Marcel and Loretta had kept knowledge of their romantic relationship more or less a secret from members of the orchestra, no one expressed any special remorse or sympathy to her. They assumed she felt much the same as they did: sad, but not devastated; thoughtful, but not torn apart. They had no inkling of the wretched turmoil churning inside her. She, in turn, couldn't share with any of them the full depth of her sorrow and sense of loss. All the colors had drained out of the world, her senses were numb. She had no volition. As with his symphony, any possible future she might have envisioned or realized with Marcel was now cut off, unfinished, unrevealed and permanently unrevealable. The emptiness seemed unbearable.
She somehow got home and lay down, but she was unable to cry.
* * *
For days, Loretta sat, uninterested in her usual routines. She remembered Marcel's shy smile, his lilting accent, his gentle hands. She recalled some of their good times together. She wondered if he had felt much pain at the moment of his death, and she fervently hoped he hadn't. She wondered about his symphony, and whether he had been able to complete it. He had been so close, she knew, and she wondered if that part of him would be able to live on, like the symphonies of the great masters, or whether it would be forgotten and possibly lost forever. She had no copy of his score, and no standing to try and obtain one. She was just one of his dating partners, she supposed, as he had been one of hers. An important one, to be sure, but nothing more. Not a wife. Not a family member. And now even that informal connection was erased.
She moved, listlessly, unable to get comfortable on the sofa, unable to feel at home, even here in her apartment.
She heard a key in the door, and barely looked up to see David pocket his key and carefully lock the door behind him. He clowned around with the lock for a moment, but she didn't laugh. He sat down beside her and excitedly leaned in for a kiss. She allowed it.
"We got it, Button!"
She looked at him impassively, waiting for details.
"A contract!" He looked at her expectantly. When she didn't react, he added: "Mega records! An album! The old bastard finally came through!"
She nodded with a wan smile.
"He loved the new song, and your title!"
David looked at her, wondering why she wasn't sharing his excitement and joy. He stood up and pulled her hand toward him.
"Let's allegro to the other room, Button. I've missed you so much. When I got the call from Mega, all I could think of was that I wanted you to be with me."
She followed him into the bedroom and watched as he flopped on the bed and urgently patted the space beside him. She slipped off her shoes and carefully lay down next to him. He rolled toward her and pressed his lips on hers. The familiar fluttering and feeling of pleasure was building inside her and she went with it, as she always did with David. After a moment, he kissed her passionately. At the very same moment, her eyes glistened and the tears began to flow.