"Musick Shall Untune the Sky"

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by Richard French - Meet the author

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"Musick Shall Untune the Sky" is the lead story in this collection. Two women attend a conference of classical musicians in Toronto. Mrs. Fortier, who's at one of the high points of her career, has only a few hours to prepare and deliver a speech to hundreds of professional musicians. Nan, much younger, serving as her temporary secretary, is passing through a difficult transition. Does Mrs. Fortier make Nan's situation worse or better? Can Nan pull herself together and help her employer or does she make a lifelong enemy?

This collection also includes three poems about city life, art, and the perceptions of creative observers. It finishes off with an assortment of blogposts, four that feature modern-day composers and their ability to persevere.and two modest efforts to drescribe infectious pieces of music. See more details below

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More about "Musick Shall Untune the Sky"

Looking for a spark for what I hoped would be the best, though last, years of my working life, I went to a convention of musicians in Toronto, a morning’s drive south of where my husband and I have lived for twenty years. After a morning at seminars, I settled in the Confederation Room at the old Mountjoy Hotel with Nan, my assistant for the week, to listen to a colleague rant away that classical musicians would attract larger audiences if we appropriated the strategies of pop culture. I didn’t agree, so the sounds of approval from 300 or so listeners brought me a fit of heart-sink. 
“I liked what that Gregor Owen had to say,” Nan remarked when we went to the lounge after the question period, “about a new culture forming under our noses.”
“He said the obvious,” I replied. “The atmosphere is always changing. Our challenge is to find what will last and stick with it.” 
Nan had her own view of the situation:
I asked Mrs. Fortier how much money people who think like her will make. She had no idea. I saw a discussion coming and tried to smooth things over. “You set a good example,” I said and risked creating a false impression. She answered with the tedious modesty people like her hide behind that she wasn’t the one to say. I promised to give her a book that once belonged to my father, with whom she’d had an affair years before.
She knew my great aunt Theresa, too, who once taught her, and was also friendly with my mother, who lives on the road because of her ad business.
“Don’t let your imagination run away with you.” She sounded like she was giving a lecture. “Your dad and I were friends only for a short time.” Ah-ha! Her experience with him was like mine.
 “Still, the old days....” she muttered dreamily, “but I can’t to take something that was precious to you.”
“Nothing connected to my father is precious to me. “I’d have thrown the book out, but I thought you’d like it.” 
We left the crowded lounge. Nan promised to be on time the next day. I went to my room on the 12th floor. Though I’m usually ready for bed by ten, the busyness of the day had me so churned up that I called Nan’s aunt Theresa for a steadying word. “There are so many big egos here that I scarcely know where I fit in.”
“Your time will come,” Theresa predicted, “and sooner than you may suppose. Tell me what you think of Nan.”
“She offered me a book of Drydens poems that belonged to her father. What was she thinking?”
“She’s never got over the fact that her father left the family for an actress in Los Angeles. She wants to cut all her ties with him. She may not tell you, but her heart belongs to music. She studied viola, but when her father abandoned her, she decided she couldn’t trust anything, so she switched to singing and song-writing. Now she’s interested in publicity. Like her mother. What’s next? You can’t do much for a person who keeps changing her mind. She’s had her troubles – mostly of her own making. Don’t be surprised if she asks for money or help. I wouldn’t blame you, Celia, if you decided not to bother with her.”
I thanked Theresa for relieving me of an uncomfortable responsibility. The years have taught me that I’m not good at resolving the hurts of others. Besides, Nan and I were both so wound up that any tie between us would become a tangled knot.
“If Nan doesn’t learn what matters,” Theresa said with a wavering voice, “she’ll sink deeper into trouble.” Her words trailed away, a sign that illness had made irreversible inroads.
I slept well in the ample Mountjoy bed, woke early, skipped breakfast, and went back to tinkering with a quintet I’d set aside decades before after my romance with Nan’s father fizzled out. I’ve resented that my life is an exercise in compromise. What would it be like to spend a month writing music? 
I arrived at the Mountjoy with my laptop fifteen minutes late. Fortier didn’t say much. She gave me an agenda to type for a discussion group she was leading and instructed me to copy onto fresh paper the second movement of her beloved quintet. She wanted to give me a lesson in discipline and promptness. I accepted her instruction, but I hope for more than that.
Nan looked distracted and ill-at-ease, doubtless from the weight of the troubles Theresa had alluded to. I imagined she’d spent the night before dallying with people of means and ambition, seeing a dozen situations she wanted to throw herself into. I reproached myself for wondering about the private life of a nobody and trying to guess where she’d gone off-track – promiscuity? addictions? minor law-breaking? Or something she hadn’t the experience to heed – a distant sound like the echo of emptiness. 
Fortier was pleased when I brought her the book I promised, which she put on the walnut dresser without opening and said thank you – no doubt hoping to set me another example of good manners.
 The first presentation of the day was as distressing as I’d feared. Gregor Owen rumbled and grunted about mixing the popular and the highbrow – the opposite of what he’d said three years before. Notorious for the bloat and extravagance of overlong, misshapen, clangorous orchestral works, he dispensed conventional ideas that were as unpolished as skipping stones – a talent disintegrating right before my eyes, and he wanted to take as many of the rest of us down with him as he could.
I sat with Mrs. Fortier in the afternoon while various senior citizens wheezed about promoting their cherished classical music. “So many words, so little that’s useful,” she said afterwards, smug as a duchess who knows what ordinary mortals don’t – that her day will come. She missed the point – that what people once meant by “day” doesn’t apply any more.
My son Ralph stopped by on the way to a date as I worked on my quintet. He was hesitant to say much because I’d recently spoken disapprovingly of his lady friend, whose father and grandfather had done well dragging copper from the earth while her mother swam about in community activities. The family lacked taste and the sensitivity to hear the cries of their own souls. Ralph was indignant when I warned him that Mary Ellen’s relatives would lure him into their breezy lives and his talents would wither. Now it looked as if their luster was wearing off and he’d begun to feel uneasy about promises he’d made. He needed a different sort of woman, warmer, not besotted by gemstones and Paris. I remembered Nan.
A gust of memories intruded as I browsed through the book Nan gave me – of my friendship with her father, my disappointment when he latched onto someone else before he met Nan’s mother, of how our friendship led me to music (one of the themes in my quintet comes from a tune he used to whistle) and eventually to David, a clever geometrician who brought me to Canada from Michigan and could still annoy me with his saxophone when he felt up to it.
 Mrs. Fortier was already at work when I got to the Mountjoy half an hour ahead of time. Because she had less for me to do than before, she suggested we visit the coffee shop – to find out if we had more in common than our ties with certain people. “Oh, I’d love to,” I said with a show of enthusiasm I struggled to put on. She looked at me doubtfully while I set my laptop on the luggage rack at the foot of her bed. She must have thought I was waiting for a handout. She didn’t understand that I needed more than a one-time assist. I didn’t know what to ask for; I thought “love” would do but not what we usually mean when say that word. 
I liked the embers of vitality in the old Mountjoy, where David and I once spent a holiday, glad it hadn’t succumbed to decay – the cordial greetings of the staff as we traipsed through the halls, the modulated cheerfulness in the coffee shop, the melodies of Haydn and Mozart that floated from hidden loudspeakers even when musicians with varying talents and motives weren’t underfoot. 
Fortier told me that my great aunt said hello. I could guess what they talked about – that Theresa worried about me, that she’d feel terrible if I got into trouble. What she called trouble, though, is only the side effects of exploring. She traveled a straight line all her life, so my situation looks dubious. I like unexpected turns. I had an inkling that Fortier was more open than Theresa, though she didn’t know it. “My first job helped me get established in the city,” I said, “to find an apartment and a roommate. I quit my second job at an insurance company because I couldn’t do figures. I’m glad I had the experience, though. I’m also grateful you’ve taken me on for a few days.” 
I assured Nan she didn’t have to explain herself to me. I doubted she knew what it meant that people differ from each other. She spoke to every person who came her way with the same tone, thinking that eventually she’d find someone she was in harmony with. “Your problem is what mine used to be – your father. Most men don’t act the way he does.” 
“I don’t like to talk about my father,” I said. “My mom has plenty to say about him. She’s usually away because of her business. She thinks clearly about work and money and lets everything else take care of itself.”
“She must miss you.” Mrs. F. couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“You’d never know it,” I answered, bitter as a forgotten child.
She was still groping and said she hoped the convention interested me.
“Oh, yes,” my mood changed (I forced myself some) and then settled down again. “It will help me with the public relations company I want to start.”
“Not music?” Mrs F. took a bite of her pastry and brushed a crumb from the corner of her mouth. Her eyes went still, as if she’d found a new place inside her feelings.
“Where’s the future in it?” 
I asked Nan about her social life. No regular boyfriend, but she was seeing the assistant director of a gallery not far from the Mountjoy. “It’s hard to get to know people here, but I love the shops and museums and high rises, especially at night. It’s true I feel like a stranger from outer space, but that won’t last. I’ll spread my wings and the whole city will be mine.”
“Nan,” I wanted to say, “It’s not that you want to move in from outer space. You’re hoping to create a planet of your own, where everything is attractive and you get what you want right away.” Her craving for company, similar to my own at her age, would hold her back. She’d suffer bouts of anguish and self-dislike – and not understand why. “It takes a while to establish yourself,” I said.
“Oh, Mrs. Fortier,” she gushed stupidly, looking as if a strong wind were pushing her. “You’ve struggled to develop your abilities; you’ve made sense of your life; people know who you are. The governor general will give you a medal.”
What an absurd person, I thought. I mentioned Ralph, she drew back with an intake of breath, reconsidered, and took a step or two closer.
One of the few surprises of my grown-up life smiled at me that afternoon – a head-turning partial fulfillment of Theresa’s prediction that my day would come.
An ambulance hurried Gregor Owen to an emergency room after a late-night drunken fistfight in front of the opera house. The planning committee asked me to give a talk in his place.
Suppressing thoughts about fate and just desserts, I found that ideas came quickly when I got down to work – a leftover from my teaching years and from helping David prepare lectures. 
 Mrs. F. tried to sound as if nothing had happened when she told me her news. “It comes with a price. I’ll have to focus my energy and lose sleep.”
I didn’t offer to help. She invited me to take the rest of the day off – it was three in the afternoon – and come to her room at ten. “I don’t usually ask for favors, but I need your help.” And then a pleading note. “I’ll pay you extra.”
I planned to attend an opening at Anton’s gallery. “It’ll be done by nine. I’ll scoot right over.”
“Please be on time,” Mrs. F. said, crisp and cool, an old-time schoolmarm.
She smirked when she saw my grimace. “I may be scatterbrained,” I said, “but I’m loyal. I work hard when I have to.”
“This is one of those times.” She couldn’t resist twisting the blade. I left her room before she had a chance to mention her son again, but maybe she wouldn’t, since she knew I was from outer space.
 I spent the tail-end of the day at a seminar and happily skipped the evening cocktail party where I knew I’d feel lonely and fearful of presenting a cut-rate version of myself. It was harder to miss the concert later, but I stuck with my work. I didn’t worry if a sentence here and there fell flat, for I don’t expect perfection these days, even in my compositions. I still strive for economy and clarity, of course, and some critics say my work is austere, but I’ve learned from my husband that you can never please everybody.
I gazed out the window during my breaks at the midtown traffic – a line of red lights moving out of the city and streams of white and yellow lights coming in – silent, rhythmic, appealing, but earthbound. I felt a nudge, as if a force from beyond space and time and sight had hold of me and led me on. 
I got to the hotel a few minutes before ten, still giddy from the opening. I was sure Mrs. F. thought I couldn’t work, because she asked me to tell her about the well-known people and hangers-on I’d just met who wanted me to think they’d created a better world inside the big one. I finished typing her speech by midnight so I could go back to party I’d left, which had moved to someone’s condo.
Mrs. F. asked if I was going out.
“Why don’t you come?” I spoke on the spur of the moment, not knowing why, and realized right away that she’d see disorder in my heart.
“Not tonight,” she said firmly. I noticed that something in her was trembling. 
Poor migrant to the urban world, I must have looked a fright to her, as if I’d turned my life into a surfeit of misanthropic denial. “Don’t stay out all night,” I warned. She hurried down the hall, headed for a spaceflight that could easily end in a crash.
I took a journey, too, only a mental one, as I leafed through the volume of Dryden’s poems she’d left with me, sure that it was a birthday present I’d given her father in hopes that he’d come to appreciate the loveliness we can create when we apply ourselves. He never did. His problem, not mine. I lost myself the ode to St. Cecilia. “Musick shall untune the sky,” Dryden wrote – a mysterious phrase that I lurked in thoughts as I worked on my quintet.
My husband called the next morning. We talked about Ralph and Nan. David said it’s wise to be patient. “Something that seems unlikely at first can turn out surprisingly well.”
I went to the Confederation Room early to look over my talk in the cool atmosphere that beige and gold-painted furnishings created. I didn’t see Nan at the social hour or the coffee break before my presentation. I assumed she’d partied late and couldn’t move from her bed.
The convention brought me one more rabbit out of its hat. The committee had planned to premiere a work at the final concert, but the composer withdrew his piece because of arguments with the players. Since the sonata I submitted came in as runner-up, the chairman asked if I had a new work for several instruments they could perform. He said that my quintet would be ideal.The Confederation Room was nearly two-thirds full. A clutch of journalists sat by themselves, prim and skeptical – something like the way I am on a bad day. A photographer moved from place to place. I didn’t see Nan and hoped she hadn’t put herself beyond usefulness.
I’d spoken to large groups during my teaching days, but never before to a gathering that had such a high opinion of itself. I felt a surge of confidence as I crept to the podium, encouraged by a wavelet of applause.
A third of the way through, jitters gone, I saw Nan standing against the back wall in a bright red coat; I spotted her again, coat still on, inching along a side wall, then moving in front of a row of curtained windows, then sidling past the journalists to the front of the room. She may have thought she was making a big discovery, a free explorer of the future, but to the rest of the world, she was a distraction. 
I promised Anton I’d help him organize his next exhibit, so I decided to stop in at the Mountjoy on the way to catch the beginning of Fortier’s speech. I liked the way she started. I saw a new side to her. Cool, of course, in control of herself; she spoke so we could hear every word. What surprised me was that she carried herself like a master, with passion and belief in herself. I moved closer to the podium. 
I pressed on: artists forsake our callings if we pretend we’re sheep in a flock. We don’t ignore tradition, technique, and the conditions of the times, but the best work comes when we open ourselves to receive life’s mysteries – growth and decay, joy and sorrow, passion and grief. Friendship. Love.
Not the sort of thing Miss Red Coat was accustomed to hearing, and then I thought more charitably that she was fidgety because she hadn’t had the chance to discover her talent and trust it. She darted out the door as soon as I was done. How would I find her and tie her to a chair so she could help me copy the parts of my quintet?
My audience was larger than one, however. The applause as I finished came more warmly than when I began. I went to my room after lunch and flipped through the phone book. I called the gallery where Nan worked part-time, her apartment, and also Theresa, who said that Nan needed to become someone others could depend on.
I felt as if I was making a fool of myself as I moved from bistro to bar near Anton’s gallery. I wasn’t surprised to learn that waiters in three places said they knew a former would-be musician who affected bright colors and tortoise-shell glasses. The maitre d’ in a restaurant about to close for the afternoon said that Nan had left fifteen minutes before, possibly for a coffee shop across the way.
She and three others sat at a table near the front, among them a man with a black sweater and a well-tended mustache whom I took to be Anton.
“Oh, Mrs. F.,” she said, “I was about to look for you.”
“Come along,” I replied. “I’ll explain on the way.”
Nan introduced me to the others. Anton mentioned a friend who said he admired my work. Anton looked like a man of erratic passions who could move from charm to anger without a rational reason – like Nan’s father. 
We walked to the Mountjoy through a light rain. I tried to make the best of it. I said I felt ashamed she had to come and get me – yet it did her good to escape the hotel for an hour. “The couple Anton and I were with are opening a club next month. They want me to handle publicity.”
“You shouldn’t settle for the first thing that comes along,” Fortier said. I thought of several retorts I could make and kept them all to myself. “Talent withers when you don’t use it.”
“You said that in your speech.” I could see that we were on the way to a discussion. “You sound as if you’re trying to rescue me.”
“That would be a full-time job.” The acid in her voice rustled and crackled. “But I can offer advice as we walk.”
“You were so good today,” I said. “You gave us plenty to think about.” I wondered if it was possible to sound insincere yet really mean what you say.
“I hope you’ll learn to hold yourself in high regard.” Fortier stepped smartly over a puddle, knowing that everything would be all right on the other side.
I didn’t care for the way she cocked her head, so I answered back, like an urchin whose mother never trained her. “Some of us are blind to what’s obvious to others. They’re lonesome and want friendship, but they don’t know what they’re looking for.”
“My dear, we must work,” Fortier said after a beat. “Look deeper. Be more human. Expect heartbreak or good fortune. Perhaps both.”
A cloud opened as we hurried across Avenue Road. The pavement shimmered in the light.
When we got to her room, she showed me how she wanted her dear quintet copied onto music paper. I finished my work just after midnight.
She said it would be hard to find a taxi. “Why don’t you spend the night in the empty bed.”
I said that I could walk to Anton’s place.
She looked as if her blood pressure was sinking fast. “Are you happy with that arrangement?”
“What I like about it,” I explain, “is that it’s not an arrangement. With Anton, I don’t feel I’m in a confined space. He’s introduced me to a hundred interesting people.”
“What about family life? Children. Permanence. Maybe you and Ralph...it might be the most creative step you both could take.”
“Your son!” I exclaimed, though I’d already guessed what she was thinking. “Maybe we can talk later. I need to get going.”
 What an embarrassment, I thought. I’ve overreached myself. “The concert tomorrow night – or tonight – will you be there?”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Nan said.
“Sometimes to an old fogey like me you young people seem to have no feelings, as if you didn’t care. I was hoping you’d be an exception.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Nan said and backed out the door with her hand out as if pacifying an unpredictable creature in a zoo.
I felt shriveled again after she left. The best I could hope for was that I’d learn how to talk to the younger generation and that Nan and Ralph would see the good I had in mind.
I climbed in between the cool sheets and entered the world of John Dryden with the help of a warm, dim light, grateful for the imagination of a sinuous artist who didn’t neglect his talent  and for the possibility that a vein of creativity would flow through the years ahead. I put out the lamp after half an hour and held my breath that daylight would bring no new distractions.
Ralph’s call the next morning woke me. Two of the papers, he said, carried write-ups of my talk and one of them put a survey of my compositions in a sidebar. “Your dad will be pleased,” I said and extracted a promise from him to visit. I surmised from the tone of his voice that he and Mary Ellen had hit choppy water. “Nan Judson has been working with me all week. She seems at loose ends. You and she should get together.”
“I hardly know what to say, Mother. Nan surely has interests of her own.”
I brought the quintet to the planning committee after breakfast and arranged to attend rehearsals.
The concert took place two blocks from the hotel. Uncertainties smoothed over, the musicians conveyed, with a few missed notes, the joy and passion and darkness, too, that I wanted to express. “It was wonderful,” Nan whispered. “I felt like it was my work, too.”
“In a sense it is.” The crew rearranged the chairs on the stage. “Perhaps we’ll work together again, but I won’t ask you to sacrifice your ambitions to do menial chores for me.”
Nan had another idea. “I’ll make a lot of money soon and commission works from you.”
“I’ll wait for the check.” I didn’t smile. Nan seemed to believe her own dream, so it wasn’t harmless chatter.
The chamber symphony that came after the intermission pleased me with unexpected rhythms and perky harmonies – a cascade of sound that suggested abundance and generosity.
I felt alone and let down after Nan fled into the night-time city. An ache of nostalgia throbbed away as I walked back to the Mountjoy.
It was hard for me to pack in the morning and leave an unexpected highpoint behind. Each piece of clothing I put in one of my cases awakened a memory of the days just gone by. I could almost imagine the devastations of loneliness and isolation that would assail us as David and I grew older and weaker. I seized the hope that the generous spirit that brought me to music and taught me to tolerate my husband wouldn’t deprive us of fruitfulness. Closing my luggage, I sighed at the likelihood that a mingling of joys and sorrows would continue to accompany us until we reached outer space.
I called Ralph to tell him I was on the way home and to remind him of Nan. I also tried to reach Theresa, but Nan’s mother answered. Theresa was in the hospital after a stroke; she might not live more than a few days. I promised to stop by on my way home.
I was about to ring the bell captain when Nan called and said in a muffled voice that she’d talked with her mother and wanted to ride as far as Rocky Creek with me to say good-by to Theresa. She’d be at the Mountjoy in thirty minutes.
An hour passed; I tapped my foot. The first thing I noticed was a fresh bruise on her left cheek, which she explained with one word, “Anton”. She didn’t want to talk about it.
She said more when we got on the road – that the people who wanted to open a club had left town and that Anton had serious money problems. “I can’t prove it, but he’s selling forgeries. He hit me after I said he wasn’t capable of living honestly.”
“That’s disgusting,” I said. “David would never dream of hitting me. You’re well rid of a toad like that.”
“For good,” Nan said firmly.
I told her when we reached the highway north that the book she’d given me had brought me several ideas for a piece in Theresa’s honor. “She helped dozens of people. She must have inspired you.”
“Years ago.” Nan looked fixedly out the window at a grove of fir trees. “She’s a relative, not my mentor. I’ve mostly figured things out on my own. That’s why I say I’m a creature from outer space. It was Anton, in fact, who put that idea in my head.”
“I thought you were going to forget him.” I reproached myself for sounding like an administrator who doesn’t know the people she counsels. There must be millions like Nan, at the start of independent lives, without anyone to help them. “I’ve made the useful discovery that life often gets better.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that.” I felt more comfortable with her *now that she’d buried her annoying trill of enthusiasm.
As we moved closer to the rocky north, I saw more traffic on the highway than when David and I traveled it regularly. Change all the time. Even the music I like is becoming a rarity, but it will never die out completely.
When Nan spoke again, she found words more pleasant than our silence. “You seem like quite a loving person.”
I said I’d never thought of myself as that. “I spend days at a time hardly seeing anyone but David.”
“It’s in your work,” Nan said.
“A late development, I’m sure.”
I heard music as I looked up at high, fluffy clouds that obscured the sun. I imagined that stars I couldn’t see were singing, creating a ceaseless flow of harmony, a zodiac of tunefulness. I’d experienced this kind of sensation only once or twice before and not for years – a pell mell rush of sounds that called to me to take the trouble to arrange and bring to maturity. Was it wise to make the effort now? 
 I looked out the window. The car felt heavy, as if something I wanted kept moving away. Mrs. Fortier asked if I’d sing her one of my songs. “It’s not the time or place. Besides, I’ve decided to go into public relations.”
“Not even one?” I’d never seen an old person drive as fast as she did. She slowed down when we reached the road that would get us to Rocky Creek in a couple of hours. “Theresa told me you planned a career as a violist.”
“Years ago,” I answered. “Then I learned how the world goes. It takes forever before you do anything good. You have to give up your life and trample on your feelings. You put up with so much before anyone takes you seriously.”   
I felt a rush of disappointment so palpable that the air seemed to grow thin. In my younger days I might have pointed out to Nan that her father was also given to making excuses. “I hope you’ll try to build, not just drift.”
“Oh, yes,” Nan said. “I’ll have a lot of money.”
“You might,” I answered, but doubtfully, for the ideas that come from the tops of our brains are more fleeting than the settled-down ones that usually mean more to us. 
We were silent again until I asked if I could turn on the radio.
“If you must,” Fortier said coolly, as if she dreaded the abomination I’d come up with. The news was on – fighting here and there, a murder, the drumbeat rhythms of political speech. Then: “The noted composer Gregor Owen died in his sleep in a Toronto hospital.”
“Wouldn’t you know?” she said. “What a waste.” 
I said that he’d seemed like an interesting man, who worked hard to get where he was. “It just shows you. No one’s really safe. Live while you can.”
“Gregor caused his own problems,” she said, “He kept changing his mind. He was in love with death.”
I turned off the radio to think, but wondering about Mrs. F. got in the way. She probably thought that my love for night life came from my father and that I was a coward for giving up music and that I ought to marry her son Ralph, who needs someone with the courage to help him break out of confinement.
“My dear girl,” she said. “You’ll never be happy if you jump from one thing to another. Stick with music. What you need is a friend who’ll bring out the quality Theresa saw in you.”
I told her that I understood why my life must look messed up to her. “Things come at you so fast and you hear so many different ideas. I love music best, but I’d be a creature from outer space for a long time. Public relations helps me fit in.”
Mrs. F. said that I’d learn something from publicity work to help me when I went back to my true calling, as she foresaw I would. “It’s not bad to come from outer space,” she said. “Think what you can give other outsiders. Let me show some of your songs to a man I know who can help you.”
“That might work,” I said and waited for her to mention Ralph. She didn’t, but I knew what she was thinking.
 The stiffness I’d felt for years seemed to be loosening up, and I realized with a shock of remorse that arthritic feelings hadn’t been a pose with me but a habit. I was happy that Nan brightened at my idea. I’d always wanted a daughter and had once craved Warren’s child. Now it seemed that in a curious, off-hand way, at least for the duration of a car ride, I might have my wish. I remembered that friendships are tenuous, of course, but if she and Ralph... 
I looked out the window. What if I asked Mrs. F. to stop at the side of the road so I can race through fields that shine with a rich green of a rainy summer. Running – not away from confinement and boredom and other peoples’ troubles, but toward joys and fulfillment. I can sense it without really seeing. My life will be different from Celia’s – she invited me to use her first name – with a sharper, more daring line of ups and downs, but our battles will likely be similar.
“Young lady,” she said, “you’ve pulled me out of my rut and shown me I can do better than to stay wrapped up in one or two things.”
“Could be,” I said. “Maybe we’ll fly around space together for a while – you rescuing me and I rescuing you.” 
 I gripped the steering wheel. David taught me to take what people say with a grain of salt. I foresaw that Nan and I would irritate each other like sand in an oyster shell before either of us achieved her goal.
I looked at the sky for relief. Cataracts of music poured down – voices and the sounds of strings, drums and brass, all coming together – with harmony and form and forward movement. I needed to act quickly or lose the moment forever. “Young lady, can you drive this car?” I spoke with haste and irony, mocking my own ambitions, for I’m a country composer, not Bach or Stravinsky. “Ideas are coming that I need to gather up and arrange in a beautiful order. Do say you can drive. Otherwise, we’ll have to sit by the side of the road and not reach Theresa on time.”
I’d brought Nan to a moment of decision: would she tame herself or rebel? I couldn’t say what her fondness for exploring would do to me.
“I’d love to drive,” she said. “I’ve watched you. You need more help than you realize.”
The sounds kept coming – as bright as primary colors, subtle as a lake breeze, more powerful than any distraction. But what a load of work, sharp sacrifices – adding and stretching so that misanthropy wouldn’t prevail. Loveliness would come speedily, rivers of tunefulness and harmony and enchantment.


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