E.J. sat on her back porch, savoring a glass of wine and listening to her bass wind chimes. The sky had rich hues of deep amethyst, brilliant pink and a trace of orange that alluded to the sun which was only moments past the horizon.
A warm breeze caressed her arms and kissed her ears, sparking a memory which caused her to shiver most delightfully.
***Eighteen months earlier Tom Matthews had begun his internship at the library. E.J. enjoyed talking to Tom, encouraging his eagerness. He was now a full time staff member and, over the months, E.J. found herself spending more time as a volunteer. First, there was the Oktoberfest, an open house featuring books with an autumnal theme. There were also tasty treats on hand and E.J. made popcorn balls. Tom was very enthusiastic in his compliments and she promised to make an extra half-dozen, just for him.
Come December, she had served her homemade eggnog at the staff Christmas party and young Matthews had positively glowed with holiday cheer. There had been a lot of hugging going on, so it had seemed nothing out of the ordinary to kiss Tom under the mistletoe. E.J. still could hardly believe she had really done it, except the memory of Tom's lips on hers warmed her from head to toe. How she had wanted to deepen the kiss! A week after the party, the library had closed early for holiday break. Because she thoroughly delighted in the young man's company, E.J. invited Tom to join her and a few close friends at a holiday supper and concert.
On the evening of 26 December, approximately seven dozen people gathered in the dimly lit sanctuary of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Local virtuoso Michael Finlay, home from a European tour, wrought beautiful music from the baby grand; sounds the instrument was meant to make. The event made society news.
Michael Finlay, master pianist, was in town recently, celebrating winter holidays with his family. To thank the community for their support while pursuing his career, Michel gives a free concert whenever in town. The town always responds with a generous love offering.
Music is not exempt from the laws of ownership, but the question is whether Michel "possesses" the music or it possesses him. Although he has a way of making it his own, it seems to be a symbiotic relationship. Finlay becomes one with the instrument. His intensity was palpable and the joy of performance no less so.
He began with Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor Op. 23, which had the haunting beauty of minor key compositions. The Ballade filled the room with the swell of sound and emotion, becoming a dance of controlled frenzy.
Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 evoked the comfortable shadows of nightfall. There was a teasing, non-frightening eeriness, chasing a will-o'-the-wisp. The last note hung in the air a moment - like a child reluctant to end play despite the lateness of the hour.
Opus 17 No. 4, a mazurka, caused the soul to dance. Watching the tilt of Finlay's head, one could imagine him hearing Chopin across the distance of time, his fingers reproducing perfectly the music of the master.
Fantaisie-Impromptu is aptly named. This C-sharp minor Op. 66 had a surreal quality. Part of the fantasy was the illusion of other instruments. The young maestro's touch is so light and quick, one wonders that it produces sound at all. For a moment the piece evoked "Flight of the Bumblebee."
The first set concluded with Polonaise in A-flat Major Op. 53. Again, one could hear Chopin's influence on artists who came after, namely Gershwin, specifically "Rhapsody in Blue."
Following a brief intermission, Michel resumed his seat at the baby grand. The second part of the evening's program was Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58. As he began the first movement, Allegro Maestoso, one could sense playful dignity and majesty. This reporter rode the music into the second movement, Allegro Vivace; a lively (vivacious), delightful, delirium.
The soothing languor of the Largo movement soon gave way to the fourth and final movement, Presto ma non tanto. One's Italian might be somewhat less than wished but, from the mood of the music, one could take the meaning to be "quickly but not too much." It was in this part of the music the discerning ear picked up a hint of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic."
Ceding to audience request, Finlay favored the crowd with an encore, but said there had enough Chopin and played a Schubert piece.
The evening was a thorough pleasure, a chance to see an artist in the perfection of his craft. Finlay's high notes do not strain to reach the heights - they soar aloft and gently light in the place they are destined to be.
Whenever the chance is available, one should attend a Michael Finlay concert. The audience will leave with a sense of hope and delight.
*Making their way out of the sanctuary, concert goers spoke of their delight. The men of the church had prepared a light meal of mini quiches, bite-size cheesecakes and wine. The fellowship hall had a festive holiday air.
Tom and E.J. linked arms, as they went along the sidewalk and his arm rested comfortably at her waist, after their coats were hung. The seasonal camaraderie wove its spell. By the end of the evening, wine enhanced the enchantment and holiday glow settled on the pair like so much stardust. They were momentarily oblivious to the world around them and in the magic of the moment, the couple kissed and time stood still.
*A month or so following the concert, after cataloging a particularly large book order, Tom had suggested they go to lunch, telling E.J. to pick a spot and asking her to drive, he having taken the bus. She drove to an upscale sandwich shop she frequently patronized. They were seated near a window, at a cozy table for two. While they waited for their orders to arrive, E.J. admired the flowers in the window box. Making small talk, she mentioned some of the plants she intended for her garden. He responded that he was hoping to grow some herbs and start a bee hive. They ate and chatted, losing all sense of time, until Tom's cellphone rang - his boss wondering where he was. E.J. blushed, feeling embarrassed but Tom simply said, "I guess I had better get back." She dropped him off, murmuring a brief goodbye, and drove home, still flustered, feeling somehow like she had been "caught" at something. The good thing about being a volunteer, not to mention a well-heeled patroness of the library and the arts, was not being subject to a time card: She dropped him off and made her excuses to leave for the day. Her attraction to Matthews soon brought her back. Any repercussions she may have expected, seemed to exist only in her imagination.
As spring moved into summer, the two found themselves spending more and more time together. They soon realized they really were a couple - in the conventional sense of that word, as applied to social interaction. Even in this day and age, the combination of older woman and younger man, leads to more than a few sidelong glances. For the most part, though, Tom and E.J. were oblivious, reveling in the warmth of their growing friendship. More often than not, the activities they chose were things they could do together.
*Tom and E.J. spent a lot of time together but also had activities they did alone or with other people. E.J. went to travelogues and wine tours; Tom had his bowling league. Neither required "clearance" from the other when accepting an invitation but if something included a Plus One, each kept the other in mind. Things went on this way for over a year.
As passions intensified, it became apparent that serious dialogue was required. It was Tom, who first broached the subject. As the two cleared supper dishes and set to washing them, Tom mused, "I wonder if we'll be doing this in ten years?" E.J. gave a noncommittal murmur and the young man continued. He said he was feeling an inclination to settle down and make a home. Was she on board with that? She acknowledged enjoyment of his company and confessed the thought had fleetingly crossed her mind. The dishes finished, they sat down to continue their discussion.
Matthews acknowledged pursuing a relationship with her would mean not fathering children; not a deal-breaker. He also stated he was aware the age difference would likely mean he would end up caring for E.J. in later years. E.J. was, quite frankly, flabbergasted. She was also deeply touched that Tom had given this so much thought. Finally, she sent him home, having kissed him fervently, saying she needed to process this.
It would prove to be a sleepless night for Ms. Somerset. Since the first time she had explored her feelings for Tom, she had steadfastly resisted any temptation to fall in love. Actually, she had figured Tom would eventually want to marry someone closer to his own age, and raise a family. To realize the depth of Tom's love for her, shook her to her core. She wondered, were she to go forth with a relationship, he might come to resent her. Were that to happen, she felt it would devastate her - even more than freeing him to be with another woman. She spent the remaining hours of the night, making plans and writing letters.
Neither could pretend nothing had happened, but mutual regard kept things from becoming awkward. Reserved, perhaps, but not awkward. They were still together, but mostly in the presence of others. Just below the surface though, was the reality of forestalling the inevitable. Tom and E.J. agreed to go out of town for a weekend and discuss their future. Driving separately, they arrived at their destination. Time was finite and there was the outcome of a life-influencing matter, to determine.
Never one to hedge, E.J. thought it best to address the issue of their future, as soon as was seemly. Over dinner and wine, she said to Tom, "I have been flattered by your attentions, dear. Much as I have enjoyed your company, I never imagined you would fall in love with me. I do love you - but I am not in love with you. You are a wonderful man, and deserve a partner who is absolutely, totally, in love with you. I am not that partner." Tom was not yet ready to watch his envisioned future come to naught: he implored E.J. to give him - them, til the end of the month. Considering what was at stake, it seemed reasonable. There was a street dance going on, nearby and they gave in to the music, letting it take them out of their doubts. As night gave way to streaks of pink, the two made their way to a little diner for coffee and a bite to eat. They made their way back to the hotel ...
E.J. did her best to get through remainder of month without feeling she was "humoring" Tom but she was already drawing away from him. Her feelings were muddled: she had yearned to be found desirable - yet was unready for this young man, when he proclaimed his love for her. Sorting through her emotions, she realized she was so comfortable in her physical surroundings, she did not have any wish to threaten that comfort by getting involved in an all-consuming romance. She felt an obligation to make all this clear to Tom. Even as she realized these things about herself, she wondered if she were denying both of them a chance at happiness. Ultimately, she concluded there was no one path - or person, to happiness; she would end this romance with a clear conscience.
There had, of course, been tears and questions but no recriminations. Both parties exhibited maturity and grace, as they said their goodbyes. E.J. closed up her house and left town, feeling distance was her greatest ally, at this time. Tom focused on work, to numb his disappointment - but still believed he would find contentment, maybe even happiness. In the cyclic nature of life, every end contains a seed of new beginning.
Someday, I will have to write more of this story. My own life is on hold right now, and there is difficulty seeing past the immediate.
jbd 23 April, 2018