By David Snider
The rain falls like a metronome. Naomi sits next to you on the piano bench, brooding, flipping through sheet music in her mind. You barely know she’s there.
Your hands hover over the keys, then descend. The music plays, slowly at first, until it begins coming back to you, how it goes.
Somewhere else the sun beats down. The others have gone up Mt. Katahdin, sweating, slapping at horseflies, leaving Judith and Naomi and you behind at the lake. Judith drops her clothing to the rocks and dives into the clear water, her lithe body undulating.
Somewhere else is buried under snow. As your hands remember notes—the correspondence, the phrasing, the lightness or heaviness of notes—your feet remember snow, wading through miles of it in the middle of the subarctic night to get to the rooms up the hill at the college where the pianos lived so you could play unmolested for hours, working it out measure by measure at a glacial pace.
It took two years to get it down.
Ten days ago, after you made your way from Philadelphia to her grandparents' home in Passaic, Naomi said, “They're from the old country. They survived Auschwitz. They never speak of it, of course, but sometimes I hear it in their voices. On those nights I don't sleep.”
“I wouldn’t either.”
“They left yesterday for their cabin in Nova Scotia. It’s all right. I told them you’re a wandering Alaskan. They said you could stay here with me for as long as you like.”
Judith swims out to the middle of the lake. You want desperately to join her, but that would mean not being able to see her. So you lounge among the rocks with Naomi beneath the hammer of the sun.
“She's always been the gorgeous one,” Naomi says. “Light as a feather.”
“Thanks,” she laughs, “but I don’t believe you. Always second fiddle.”
You reach the center of the concerto, which requires the breadth of your entire body, but your mind is up in the hills, where Naomi drove you on that first night to the sudden view of Manhattan. The towers spearing the sky, at once terrifying and seductive.
“This is where we came, back in high school. To get loaded, or make out. A handful managed to accomplish both.”
“So, what? Are you gay or something?”
“Me? I’m not anything. I mean…I can’t bring myself to believe in anything.”
“Ha. I know that feeling.”
Every afternoon you take the bus into New York, where you drink coffee, watch a play, prowl the streets, listen for saxophone echoes near the East River bridges, drink more coffee, devour cheesecake, write awful poetry. You return every morning at three, when Naomi’s safe asleep. You pause at the threshold of her bedroom, and check for her soft and steady breath. Then you tiptoe to the guest room, where you lie sweating in the too-soft bed. You fall asleep at sunrise and dream of skyscrapers, concert halls, ice cream, the Aurora Borealis, a thousand faceless storm troopers, ten thousand miles of snow.
Judith steps from the water, her body reflecting the heat and light. You say, “You should never have to dress.”
Naomi says, “Yes.”
You roll into the climax. Notes congregate like snowmelt, tributaries, rivers. They resolve into the same glowering D minor with which they began, but it's the ocean now, where everything that came before ends, and everything else begins.
The rain, furious against the windows. Lightning, thunder, chaos, flood.
Your fingers rest on the keys, as the echoes from the final chord hang in the air.
“Wow,” Naomi says. “Bach?”
You nod. “I can’t believe I remembered it all.”
“But you did.”
Thunder and lightning strike as one. The power goes out.
Naomi leans into you. “They’re coming home tomorrow, in case you forgot.
You turn to her, your fingers tangling in her curls. Her hands frame your face, her lips warm and wet against yours. She tastes like good lasagna and great Syrah, and your last thought, before you remember to forget to think, is that you've never been so hungry in all your life.
All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.