published in Sou'wester
copyright@paul pekin 2001
Mr. Keilly was dancing to a Haydn symphony when he caught his foot in a speaker wire, fell, and broke his leg. Even as he lay there, in agony, astonishment, and utter relief that no one had seen this folly, something in his spirit wanted to leap up and continue the dance.
"How did you do this?" the doctor
"I tripped over my own two feet,"
Mr. Keilly replied.
"It's a very common break," the
doctor said, naming in Latin the unfortunate bone.
He seemed disappointed that Mr. Keilly had
him something more challenging.
The doctor was a young man, younger even
than Mr. Keilly's own sons who, if the truth be told, could not be
really described as young any longer. He and another young man
stretched Mr. Keilly's leg out straight, wrapped it in gauze, and
slathered on a heavy layer of plaster
which grew hot as it hardened and left Mr. Keilly with a leg that would
bend in any place from the hip on down. "Well," he
"You won't be dancing for awhile."
When, Mr. Keilly wondered, had he
mentioned a single word about dancing? He sat very quietly
watching the doctor write a prescription.
The doctor was all business now, no more talk
about common bones and the like. He delivered to Mr. Keilly a set
of instructions and warnings, things Mr. Keilly must do or must not do,
things he could expect and not expect, and turned him over to a
nurse. "Is he to be admitted?" she asked. "No,"
the doctor said. "He insists he wants
to go home."
They pushed Mr. Keilly out into the
a wheel chair, his broken leg extending whitely before him. Mrs.
who luckily had not been home to see how the accident occurred, was
along with their oldest son, Ken. She was a fine looking woman in
mid-fifties who knew very well he had probably tripped over one of
speaker wires she was always warning him about, but also knew better
to bring this up now. "The whole leg!" she said, visibly
by the sheer size of the cast.
It was quite a task getting Mr. Keilly
home in an ordinary automobile. Ken had to lift up the hatch,
clear out the
rubble, push the seats forward, and slide him into the space where
groceries usually rode. There he sat, that white leg extending
into traffic, while
they drove, as slowly and as carefully as is allowed in the city.
we should have tied a flag to this thing," Mr. Keilly joked, but
straight faced Ken nor his mother saw anything funny.
Mr. Keilly was in no way a remarkable
man. Had he not broken his leg, there would be little reason to
write a story about
him. People who knew Mr. Keilly tended not to think about him
often or very seriously. At work he was simply referred to
"Bud," and there was no one at all who suspected he secretly
to Haydn symphonies.
A long time employee of the County
Streets and Highway Commission, his duties were to investigate the
claims of various employees who insisted they had been injured on the
job--usually they sprained their backs getting in and out of
vehicles--and to report on the merit or lack of merit of said
claims. Everyone, of course, was a political appointee
which meant some employees required less investigation than others, and
required almost no investigation at all. Mr. Keilly understood
clearly. Mr. Keilly was a political appointee himself.
When he called the office he found
himself speaking to his long time friend Bill.
"You broke your what!" Bill cried.
"Listen, can you drive? Oh, never mind, I can pick you up
tomorrow morning. All we got to do is get you through the
door. You can say you tripped on the steps. You know how
dangerous they are . . . "
Mr. Keilly patiently explained that he
had already been to the hospital and the leg was firmly encased in a
"Why did you do that!" Bill
shouted. "Now you'll never be able to convince them you did it on
Mr. Keilly mumbled something about the
pain being too great to postpone treatment for an entire day.
Even more to
the point, he knew himself incapable of the performances such schemes
Mr. Keilly's mother had taught him never to lie. Like so many
mothers, she had perhaps taught too well.
After he had talked to his supervisor,
Mr. Keilly wished this were not so. Jocko Callahan would not hear
of him coming to work in a wheel chair or on crutches.
"You've got sick time, use it! We can't
have you back here until we get a doctor's okay."
Many years ago when they were equals,
and Jocko had crossed swords. There was a saying among county
get mad, get even." Jocko was still getting even.
Mr. Keilly sat down and figured out his
sick time. He had been earning one day a month for the last
fourteen years. Mr. Keilly had a lot of sick time
coming. For what did he need a lawsuit? There was money in
the bank, a good pension when he needed it, and he was protected by
civil service from any serious mischief Jocko Callahan might wish to
attempt. Thus reassured, he relaxed. His life, after
all, was settled; there were the two grown-up sons, the grandchildren;
was an accomplished and capable wife; there was this apartment.
Mr. Keilly was especially pleased with
the apartment. It was roomy, easily maintained, paid for, and
most important of all, soundproof. He could play Le Sacre du
Printemps at full room volume and the neighbors would not even suspect.
"So what are you going to do now?"
Mrs. Keilly asked. Her proper name was Joy although she was not
always filled with it. Going by her tone, one would have thought this
man, who had not taken
a sick day in fourteen years, just naturally sat around doing nothing.
If theirs was a curiously acerbic
marriage--not only did they sleep in separate beds but in separate
rooms--Mr. Keilly never seemed to notice anything amiss, remaining
cheerful even when his wife was not. Sex, apparently, was not a
high priority in his life.
Even his fellow workers saw Mr. Keilly
unusually cool cucumber, this in a department where adulterous
relationships were the norm, and the quickest way for a young lady to
score points with the bosses was to eagerly give head.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly in this atmosphere, almost
all of the women liked "Bud" even though they jokingly
spoke of him, behind his back, as "The Priest."
There was a woman living in the
the Keillys, a widow with silver hair whose age was her most closely
secret. Mr. Keilly occasionally encountered her on the sidewalk,
a miniature schnauzer on a bright red leash. She was a pleasant
person, even moderately sane, and Mr. Keilly never hesitated to
with her. "Did I wake you last night?" he would say.
you hear my stereo?" The later the hour, the more Mr.
inclined to turn to Bartok and Shostakovich, but Mrs. Wilkie, the
When she discovered her neighbor had
fallen victim to an accident she climbed up the stairs and timidly
rapped on his door. Joy Keilly answered.
Mrs. Wilkie was carrying a lemon cream
pie identical to the ones Joy had seen on sale at the Jewel. "I
saw you bringing him in," she explained. "How did
such a terrible thing happen?"
"He says he fell over his own two
feet," Joy replied. "Watch your step. We have a lot
of loose wires in this house."
Mr. Keilly was delighted to see a pie,
especially lemon cream. "Get out the plates," he ordered.
"You have twelve weeks to sit in that
chair," Joy warned. "You had better watch your calories."
"It was my husband's favorite,"
Mrs. Wilkie said.
After she had left, Joy could not resist
an unkind word.
"I didn't know you were such good
"What? You're jealous? She's
"She's still got a good leg on
her," Mr. Keilly's son said.
"Oh, I didn't mean that!" Joy
cried. "Your father . . . "
She was about to say "isn't interested
but decided to leave this thought unexpressed.
"Not only that," Mr. Keilly said
with a wink. "She makes a darn good pie."
"Well, if that's what you like,"
Joy said, "Go right ahead. You have my permission."
"She's mad at me," he explained to
his son. "She blames me for breaking my own leg."
"I can't imagine who else to
blame," she said.
That night, lying in bed, Mr. Keilly
began to experience the pain the doctor had warned him to expect.
It was as
if every pulse of his heartbeat reached into some nerve hidden beneath
huge white cast and twanged it like the string of a violin.
was such a singularly delicious sensation he resisted the temptation to
several of those little white pills the doctor had prescribed.
the aid of a bedroom chair, he dragged himself down the hall and into
study. The album cover of the Haydn symphony was still lying on
floor, next to the wires he had tripped over, and the little amber
on-light was still burning on his stereo. Somehow he managed to
put Haydn back onto his proper shelf and find a serenade by Mozart, the
one for 13 wind instruments
that goes on and on and on until even the most avid Mozartian has had
fill. Listening to this music, Mr. Keilly decided there was a
relationship between pain and pleasure, hardly a profound observation,
certainly more than one would expect from a county employee.
The next morning phone calls began
from his friends at work. Almost any one of them could have
night, but in Mr. Keilly's office it was customary to make your
on company time. The callers all expressed their condolences and
equally divided between those who felt he should have somehow dragged
broken leg untreated into the building and claimed the accident
happened there, and those who insisted it was not too late to claim he
had injured himself the day before and not noticed it until he was at
home. One imaginative woman suggested he admit the leg had been
broken in his own
home but insist it had been weakened in some way by his county service,
however she was not imaginative enough to suggest exactly how it had
Mr. Keilly liked all these people,
scoundrels that they were, and, because he had always been a fair
investigator, was liked
in turn by them. Even people whose claims he had denied saw no
in him. "He's a straight arrow" they would say, and wonder how he
ever gotten his job.
Once the phone calls died down, Mr.
Keilly realized he was not only alone in his apartment, but would spend
many many more hours alone in it before things got back to
normal. Joy, of course, had her own job, and a good one as an
officer for a large downtown bank. There was no question
she regarded his job with a certain amount of scorn, not so much for
its low pay as for what she regarded as its preposterous
perks. What private enterprise, she asked, gave its employees
personal days off each year, all holidays including Pulaski Day and
them to accumulate time-due overtime almost without
Mr. Keilly had, in fact, been home "burning off" some of this overtime
his accident occurred. "If you had been at work," she
him, "it never would have happened."
Being home alone in this quiet
comfortable apartment, was so very pleasant Mr. Keilly indeed did feel
a certain sense of guilt. For the next twelve weeks, while his wife was
out doing battle with
the corporate world, he would be lying on the couch, listening to
Puccini, and reading all those books he had been buying from that mail
order discount house. He would even have the luxury of
challenging his chess computer to proper game.
On the first try, it handily beat him,
but then he settled down, took his time, and consulted his chess books
for advice between moves. Slowly, inexorably, he pushed his
unimaginative opponent into a corner and finally stole one of its
bishops, after which, upon his instructions, it resigned just as any
sensible human would do. Contented, he rested his thoughts for
several moments, and then set about choosing an opera for the rest of
the afternoon. Turandot, he decided, would be just about right.
This time when the phone rang it turned
out to be his number two son, Joey. Joey was filled with
apologies. He would have called last night, but Hecate had needed
his presence at a school
meeting. Both of Mr. Keilly's sons, perhaps following their
example, were married to strong women, but Joey's wife was by far the
Mr. Keilly could well imagine Hecate, tall, raven-haired and
laying down the law. "Your father will be all right!" Mr.
would have obeyed her himself.
Mr. Keilly's sons were good men.
Like him they worked hard, took care of their responsibilities, and
were polite, honest and decent in their dealings, but, so far as he
could tell, neither had any pleasures, unless they too had some secret,
such as dancing to Haydn symphonies. "I'll be over to see you
sometime this week," Joey promised. It went without saying
that the visit would have to be scheduled to fit the framework of
After hanging up, Mr. Keilly sat back
about his daughter-in-laws. Hecate was a vigorous ambitious young
totally loyal to her parents who, not very well educated, never once
they had given their daughter a witch's name. Cornina,
wife, had pointed this out the very first time the two women met with
that still shaded family relationships. Some people, it
had memories like elephants.
Mr. Keilly was listening to the climatic
duet between Princess Turandot and her unknown suitor when there came a
at his living room door. This, of course, could only be a fellow
since any outside visitor would be required to use the bell. Was
music too loud? Mr. Keilly turned it down and dragged himself to
It was the widow, her silver hair so
immaculately combed it almost seemed a single sheet of precious
metal. "Oh, I've disturbed you," she said. "How
thoughtless of me." She was
carrying what appeared to be another pie.
"It's okay," Mr. Keilly
slow, but I get there. My son is supposed to bring over some
crutches for me tonight. I've decided I will not have a wheel
On the stereo, the muted voices of
Princess Turandot and her unknown suitor concluded their duet and the
record clicked to a stop. "Oh, that was beautiful," the
widow said. "What is it?"
"Turandot," Mr. Keilly said
proudly. "If he can solve the riddle she must marry him. If
he doesn't . . . whack! Off with his head!"
It was music, he was tempted to add,
which easily justified the existence of the European privileged classes
who had made it possible.
The widow stayed over an hour. She
made fresh coffee and served it with the pie, this time peach, and she
carefully tidied up the kitchen when they were finished. She and
Mr. Keilly listened to the final act of Turandot and Mr. Keilly
explained how the last two scenes had been finished by another composer
after Puccini's death. "Imagine leaving something like that
behind," he said, and the widow, misunderstanding, said, "The
In the days that followed the widow
became a regular visitor, the only regular visitor, since Mr. Keilly's
sons were very much kept on the go by their wives, and his friends at
work did all their
calling by telephone. If Joy was displeased by the presence of
woman in her apartment, she took an odd way of showing it. "Go
she would say. "You have my permission." "With this
Mr. Keilly asked. "Well, it's just your leg," she
"You don't have that other thing in a cast, do you?"
Mr. Keilly had never known such lazy
delicious days, days of rising late and eating slow leisurely
breakfasts, of quiet mornings
with good books, the world's most glorious music constantly at his
of delicious afternoon naps illustrated by the most vivid dreams.
he would find himself in the small town of his boyhood, tumbling on the
pile of corn cobs behind the grain elevator, or at his first job,
pouring molten metal into molds, or in the alcove of the old high
school building with that Mexican girl. It was not so much what
he did in these dreams that pleased him, but the miraculous
reappearance of past places long forgotten. He would wake almost
convinced he could float weightlessly across the room, out the window,
and over the street, bad leg and all.
It seemed better not to mention these
things to Joy. When she came home the music went off, the
television went on,
and the starving faces of Somalia appeared at the dinner table.
a world we live in," she would say, shaking her head in
despair. Mr. Keilly, who had read that starving people often
hallucinated and had marvelous
visions, remained silent. But he could not fail to wonder--which
worse? To be without bread or to be without Beethoven?
At such times he would look at his wife
and wonder why it was so cold between them. Could the fault
really be his? Could a man who found such pleasure in mere breathing
really be indifferent to sex?
That evening Albert called from
California. The moment Mr. Keilly heard his brother's voice he
knew that the news was going to be bad. "What is it?" he
Albert was a year and a half older than
Mr. Keilly, the good student who'd gone on to be a successful
engineer. For years their families were close; then he had moved
west. "It's Doug,"
he cried. "It's my Doug. That damned kid . . . "
Mr. Keilly was shocked at grief in
his brother's voice. For a moment he imagined his brother's son,
affable, good natured Dougie, dead on some California highway.
But it soon became clear such was not the case, Dougie was alive, but
sick in some dreadful way.
Weight loss, hospitals, endless doctor's visits. Cancer was the
that came to Mr. Keilly's lips, but he hesitated to voice it.
"Is it really that bad?" he
asked. "What are the doctors saying?"
"I'll tell you what they are
saying," Albert said, his voice dropping to a whisper.
Mr. Keilly waited for his brother to
"The kid has AIDS," Albert
moaned. "Oh, God, oh Christ, don't tell anyone, anyone. I
don't know what's worse, knowing he's going to die, or knowing he's one
Mr. Keilly spoke to his brother for over
an hour without once mentioning his own broken leg. What was a
mere leg, when your brother was about to lose a son? It
must be horrible to lose a son this way, if a son still alive should in
fact be thought of as lost. He had always liked Doug, always
found him carefree, personable, and cheerful, a welcome contrast to his
own dutiful boys. No, he thought, Doug won't die. They'll
find a cure, he'll be fine, and he may yet meet
a woman who will change the rest. But he could not say this aloud
keep the secret from Joy who, waiting in the other room, must surely
hear his voice. "Albert," he said, more than once.
As soon as he hung up, Joy was waiting
for the story. "It's Dougie," he told her.
When she pressed him for details, he
concocted some story about bone marrow and blood and further tests
required before the
diagnosis could be complete.
"You never get anything straight,"
Joy complained. "And of course the doctors don't tell it
all!" If there was ever a woman set against doctors, Joy was
it. In her opinion about all they were good for was to keep sick
people alive until they had wrung the last dollar out of them--even if
"they put you through hell." And that is what she and Mr. Keilly
finally talked about, instead of the terrible
tragedy that was actually taking place. When Mr. Keilly went to
that night, he had to remind himself that his brother's son was dying,
his brother was already in grief.
It was very quiet in his room. The
luminescent digital clock on the bed stand read 3:21. What could
have awakened him
so unexpectedly? Mr. Keilly lay in the darkness for long
minutes waiting for something, anything, to return and identify itself,
nothing did, and the magnificent aria, which only a moment ago seemed
vivid, dissolved forever.
Several mornings later he was at his
desk, trying to draft a letter, when the phone rang. It was Jocko
Callahan's secretary who immediately put him on hold.
Ever since his brother's call, he had
been at this letter, doing his level best to put something on paper
that at least looked sincere, but every word that left his pen seemed
tainted and perceptibly false. The interruption came as a welcome
After a few moments Jocko's nasal voice
was on the line. Of course this putting you on hold
business was a
sham. A man like Callahan wouldn't call at all unless he needed a
"How's the leg, Bud?" he started off, as if he really cared.
"I'm on crutches," Mr, Keilly
said. "I get around."
"That's great. Can't keep a good
man down, right? Well, what about it? Do you think if I
sent someone to pick you up, you could come down to the office for a
couple of hours this afternoon?"
"No, I don't," Mr. Keilly
said. "I'm burning up my sick time, just as you said I should."
"Ah, well, we just have a few things I'd
like to go over . . it's not like I'm asking you to work or
anything--but don't get me wrong, I'll see that you're paid . . . "
"Sorry. It'll just have to wait
till I've got an okay from the doctor."
"Bud, this is important."
"Look, if I come down and there's a
problem with this leg, you know what they'll say. 'You didn't
have an okay from
"Bud! I'm asking a favor!"
"And I'm telling you I can't do it.
There was a long silence. Jocko
Mr. Keilly decided to help him out.
"Maybe we could go over whatever you got over
"No phone," Jocko snapped.
talk to you. Face to face!"
Face to face? Mr. Keilly
fingered the letter he had been working on. Dear Albert, it
said. I hope you know I have the deepest . . . Was
that any way to address a brother?
"Listen Bud," Jocko's voice became
soft and friendly. He's in trouble, Mr. Keilly thought. I
know that voice. "Why don't we do it this way? Why don't I
drive over to your place? We have to go over these papers and it
just can't wait."
"You'll see, you'll see."
The idea of Jocko Callahan in his
apartment had even less appeal than a trip to the office, but now Mr.
Keilly was getting curious. Whatever this was about, he suddenly
wanted to know.
By the time Jocko Callahan arrived, an
hour later than promised, the widow had come upstairs with another pie
and was in the kitchen making coffee. When the bell rang, she
buzzed Jocko up
and met him at the door.
"In here, Jocko," Mr. Keilly
called. He was in the study with his broken leg propped on an
ottoman. A quartet by Clementi was playing softly on the
stereo. The letter to his brother, still unfinished, had been put
Jocko Callahan followed the widow into
the room, a manilla file folder under his arm, his eyes, always
suspicious, wide and alert. He was one of those men nature never
intended to work in offices, big and muscular with thick laborer's
hands that had grown soft with
disuse, and a belly so large it rolled over his belt. "Nice
place," he muttered
Mr. Keilly reached for the
have a look."
"Ah . . . Can we be alone, Bud?"
"Mrs. Wilkie is just like family."
Jocko grinned, displaying his broken
yellow teeth. "Come on now, Bud. You know these reports are
confidential. Don't go giving me a hard time just cause you got a
"I have to go downstairs," Mrs.
Wilkie said quickly. "Just watch the coffee doesn't boil over."
"No, no, no," Mr. Keilly
said. "You stay in the kitchen and watch it. This will only
take a minute. I can't be dashing after coffee pots on these
crutches, can I?"
As soon as they were alone Jocko
"You getting any of that?"
"Come on, Jocko. Let's see what
that's so important."
"Aw, it's nothing," Jocko
said. "Almost nothing. It's just that Benson bitch.
You remember that, don't you."
That Benson bitch was Allison Benson,
who had lost her claim--and her job as well, when a well placed
recorded her boasting she would toss her neck brace down the courthouse
as soon as she had taken the county for every cent it had.
Mr. Keilly leafed through the
report. It was all there, the telephone transcripts, depositions
from witnesses, even
a signed statement in which Benson relinquished her claim in exchange
an agreement not to prosecute.
"What? Is she starting up again?"
"Worse." Jocko wiped several beads
of sweat from his broad forehead. "She got to the Prez, gave him
a little head, you know how those cunts do, now they're claiming we
violated her constitutional rights."
"How? You had a court order for
those taps, didn't you?"
Jocko extended his big hands.
that. It's just that . . . we got to kill it. You know how
is when those cunts start giving head."
"You can't kill it. It's a matter
Jocko grinned. If I had teeth like
those, Mr. Keilly thought, I would never open my mouth again.
"Records can be changed. That's
what I want to talk to you about."
"No," Mr. Keilly said. "I
don't change records."
"Don't be a fucken two-shoes! I
said she's making it with the Prez. You know the score. He
can break you or me anytime he wants."
"Not me, he can't. I'm civil
Jocko wiped his brow again. In
spite of his years with the county, he was still a temporary appointee
or "T.A." There were dozens like him in the system, people whose
entire careers rose and fell with lightning speed at the whim of their
"Look, Bud. You don't got to do
nothing. It's all typed up. All you do is sign. The
cunt gets her job back,
the Prez gets his dick sucked, and I owe you. Ain't that how the
"And when the indictments come
down? Who stands up for me? Forget it, Jocko. We did
that investigation fair and square, didn't we? Didn't we?
If anyone asks, I'll give it to them straight."
"You . . . " Jocko
anger. His face went from bright red to pale white. "You
do this to me. I'm talking to you as a friend. Do you
realize what could happen to me if I don't get this changed?"
"Yeah. You're out."
"Out? Out? If that were
all! Bud, for God's sake, I've got a wife and kids, I'm not well,
you know I've been seeing the doctor, do you want to kill me, just
because of some damn scrape we had years ago? I didn't think you
were that kind of a person!"
Mr. Keilly sat in open mouthed
astonishment. The man was actually begging. For a moment he
almost felt his heart soften.
"Sorry Jocko. It's a swamp and
get out. You just tell the Prez that everything in that report is
to stay exactly the way it is."
This conversation did not end quickly or
easily. It went on for long noisy minutes with Jocko Callahan offering
first threats, then pleas, then promises, at one instant ready to
explode in anger, in the next, dangerously close to tears. At
last he stormed out of the apartment and the widow came quietly back
into Mr. Keilly's study.
"What a terrible man," she said.
"Oh, he's just like the rest of
them," Mr. Keilly said. "I guess I even feel sorry for
Sorry or not, there was a great surge of
exhilaration in Mr. Keilly's heart. He had stood up to his
old nemesis and made him sweat, but, more important, he had done the
right thing. Why should the taxpayers of this county spend
thousands and thousands of dollars to support yet another outright
fraud? Moveover, the longer he thought about Jocko's story, the
more he doubted it's veracity. The President of the County Board
was a man over seventy who, with all his power and influence, seemed
unlikely to require a woman like Allison Benson. No, Jocko seldom
told a partial truth, let alone the whole truth, and what really lay
behind this incredible visit would always be a mystery.
Mrs. Wilkie brought in the pie and
sat knee to knee with Mr. Keilly while he explained the complexities of
job. "You have to watch these guys," he said.
"Otherwise they'll put you in the trick bag."
Maybe it was just the unexpected elation
of the moment, but she suddenly seemed younger and softer than ever
before. As usual her silver hair was immaculately combed.
Her stockinged legs, crossed at the ankles, could have belonged to a
twenty-year old, and there was a faint fragrance of scented bath about
her. He felt a curious urge
to embrace this woman.
"Well, let us have some music," he
said. "Something to take away the taste of our friend."
He fumbled through his stack of
recordings and came up with a set of Schubert Impromptus, the opus
"I used to play," the widow
confessed. "When I was a girl. That was a long time ago."
"Oh, not so long," Mr. Keilly said
gaily. "Just think, if we had known there was music like this in
the world, none of us would have ever quit practicing.
He stood by the stereo for a moment
waiting for the Andante in G flat to modulate into it's second
theme. How anyone alive could resist music that reached so deep
and touched so many secret feelings
was impossible to imagine--or was this his own fancy, knowing as he did
young Franz Schubert must have foreseen his own early death while
"Thirty-one. He died at
"Of what?" the widow asked.
Mr. Keilly lowered himself into his
chair. He and the widow were face to face, not three feet
apart. "No one today knows for certain, but it seems to have been
syphilis. In those days, of course, there was no real treatment."
"How sad," the widow
whispered. "To find death in the act of love."
Or to find it in the arms of a
prostitute, Mr. Keilly thought. Or in the arms of another
man. Immediately he remembered his brother's son and what he
remembered most clearly was how Dougie had always found something worth
The widow listened to the music with her
head bowed. Mr. Keilly, looking into her silver hair, his heart
filled with Schubert and the terror of life, for the first time in a
very long time felt his blood rise, and it seemed he could not be alone
in this. Carefully, he extended his hand and touched her
shoulder. It was a gesture so simple
and so common it hardly seemed possible it could thrill him as it
In the moment before they fell into each other's arms, he was sure that
questions had been answered and what came next must be incontestably
She was a small woman, her body thin and
firm and surprising, and she clutched him with unexpected strength,
burying her face against his shoulder. Beneath her nylon blouse
he could feel the ridges of her spine and the strap of her bra,
discoveries at once strange and inevitable. The scent of her
bath, so delicate, so muted, so even secret, entered his head with such
an overwhelming rush he almost felt he had flown back into the
mysteries of those afternoon dreams. Then, just
as he was fingering the buttons of her blouse, he understood that the
in his arms was crying.
What have I done? he thought, but
even as he thought it he knew that these tears had nothing to do with
him. He held her closely then, and tenderly, while the stereo
played out the last bittersweet harmonies of a boy who had died in
Austria over one hundred and fifty years ago. It was all he could
do to keep from crying himself.
At last the widow raised her head.
"Oh, you kind man," she whispered. "I've made a fool of
myself, a total
"I deny it," he said.
"Please . . ." She pulled away,
fumbled for a tissue. "What would someone think if they saw us
this way? Oh, I'm sorry, I'm just such a fool, suddenly I found
myself thinking of Robert--I
never called him Bob, you know--and it was as if it had only happened
They say you get over things, they say life goes on, but it isn't quite
easy, you can't live with a man forty years, then bury him and forget
I still wake up in the middle of the night and reach for his pillow,
when I do I remember. How is it possible that somebody could be
She was crying again, sharing a grief
no longer bear alone. Mr. Keilly took her into his arms again,
time without passion, and petted her gently. She was a lonely
and he ought to have known.
About an hour after she left, working at
his desk on that letter to his brother, he received another phone call
from the office. This time Jocko Callahan did not put him on
"Have you thought about it, Bud? I
mean . . . Have you really thought about it?"
"Bud. Thanks. I mean that,
Bud. Thanks. I won't forget this, I promise you.
Thanks, Bud. Thanks."
He's that sure of me, Mr. Keilly
thought, hanging up the phone. Maybe there's less to me than I
Leaning on his crutch he struggled over
to the record cabinet and began leafing through the albums.
People were starving in Somalia. His own two sons could not, at
least not without a struggle, genuinely smile. His wife was
remote and abandoned. His brother in grief. Downstairs, the
widow was alone with her little dog. And he, with his broken leg,
had Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and the
others. He had this pleasant apartment, warm in winter, cool in
He had his books. He had his afternoon dreams.
By what right?
If he must play music, he could at least
choose something appropriate.
It had been a long time since he put on
the Mahler Fifth. Just the first movement, he told himself.
Trauermarsch. Not that lovely Adagietto. Let me, if only
a few moments, feel sorrow such as others do.
But Mr. Keilly, listening to the
chords progressing forward, steadily forward, at a pace both dignified
true, could not prevent his heart from filling with joy.