fiction
published in Sou'wester
copyright@paul pekin 2001

 

 
 

 Trauermarsch


 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 asked.

 "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 not brought 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 not bend in any place from the hip on down.  "Well,"  he said,  "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 lobby on a wheel chair, his broken leg extending whitely before him.  Mrs. Keilly, who luckily had not been home to see how the accident occurred, was waiting, along with their oldest son, Ken.  She was a fine looking woman in her mid-fifties who knew very well he had probably tripped over one of those speaker wires she was always warning him about, but also knew better than to bring this up now.  "The whole leg!"  she said, visibly awed 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.  "Maybe we should have tied a flag to this thing,"  Mr. Keilly joked, but neither 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 very often or very seriously.   At work he was simply referred to as "Bud,"  and there was no one at all who suspected he secretly danced 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 some required almost no investigation at all.  Mr. Keilly understood this 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 cast.

 "Why did you do that!"  Bill shouted.  "Now you'll never be able to convince them you did it on the job!"

 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 required.  Mr. Keilly's mother had taught him never to lie.  Like so many other 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, Mr. Keilly and Jocko had crossed swords.  There was a saying among county employees--"Don't 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; there 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 as an 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 apartment below the Keillys, a widow with silver hair whose age was her most closely guarded secret.  Mr. Keilly occasionally encountered her on the sidewalk, leading a miniature schnauzer on a bright red leash.  She was a pleasant enough person, even moderately sane, and Mr. Keilly never hesitated to exchange greetings with her.  "Did I wake you last night?"  he would say.  "Did you hear my stereo?"   The later the hour, the more Mr. Keilly was inclined to turn to Bartok and Shostakovich, but Mrs. Wilkie, the widow, never noticed.

 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 friends with that woman."

 "What?  You're jealous?  She's over seventy!"

 "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 in sex" 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 that huge white cast and twanged it like the string of a violin.   This was such a singularly delicious sensation he resisted the temptation to take several of those little white pills the doctor had prescribed.  With the aid of a bedroom chair, he dragged himself down the hall and into his study.  The album cover of the Haydn symphony was still lying on the 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 his fill.  Listening to this music, Mr. Keilly decided there was a direct relationship between pain and pleasure, hardly a profound observation, but certainly more than one would expect from a county employee.

 The next morning phone calls began coming in from his friends at work.  Almost any one of them could have called last night, but in Mr. Keilly's office it was customary to make your personal calls on company time.  The callers all expressed their condolences and were equally divided between those who felt he should have somehow dragged his 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 been weakened.

 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 fault in him.  "He's a straight arrow" they would say, and wonder how he had 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 four personal days off each year, all holidays including Pulaski Day and allowed them to accumulate time-due overtime almost without question?   Mr. Keilly had, in fact, been home "burning off" some of this overtime when his accident occurred.   "If you had been at work,"  she told 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 father's example, were married to strong women, but Joey's wife was by far the strongest.  Mr. Keilly could well imagine Hecate, tall, raven-haired and sharp-chinned, laying down the law.  "Your father will be all right!"  Mr. Keilly 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 Hecate's activities.

 After hanging up, Mr. Keilly sat back and thought about his daughter-in-laws.  Hecate was a vigorous ambitious young woman, totally loyal to her parents who, not very well educated, never once guessed they had given their daughter a witch's name.   Cornina, Ken's wife, had pointed this out the very first time the two women met with consequences that still shaded family relationships.   Some people, it seemed, had memories like elephants.

 Mr. Keilly was listening to the climatic duet between Princess Turandot and her unknown suitor when there came a timid rapping at his living room door.  This, of course, could only be a fellow tenant since any outside visitor would be required to use the bell.  Was the music too loud?  Mr. Keilly turned it down and dragged himself to the door.

 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 said.  "I'm 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 chair."

 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 poor man!"

 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 this woman in her apartment, she took an odd way of showing it.  "Go ahead,"  she would say.  "You have my permission."  "With this leg?"  Mr. Keilly asked.  "Well, it's just your leg,"  she replied.  "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 command, of delicious afternoon naps illustrated by the most vivid dreams.  Suddenly 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.  "What 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 was 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 asked. 
"What's wrong?"

 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 word 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. 
"Don't tell anyone, but I just can't keep this to myself.  Bud . . . ."

 Mr. Keilly waited for his brother to finish.

  "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 of them."

 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 and keep the secret from Joy who, waiting in the other room, must surely hear his voice.  "Albert,"  he said, more than once.  "Don't despair."

 As soon as he hung up, Joy was waiting for the story.  "It's Dougie,"  he told her. 
"He has cancer.  My brother is almost out of his mind."

 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 bed that night, he had to remind himself that his brother's son was dying, and his brother was already in grief.
 Instead of grief, Mr. Keilly dreamed he was conducting a newly discovered oratorio by Handel.  It was glorious music and a pity there was no way to preserve it when he suddenly awoke, right in the middle of a bass-baritone aria that would have pleased George Frideric himself.

 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 long minutes waiting for something, anything, to return and identify itself, but nothing did, and the magnificent aria, which only a moment ago seemed so 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 relief

  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 favor.  "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 your doctor!'"

 "Bud!  I'm asking a favor!"

 "And I'm telling you I can't do it.

 There was a long silence.  Jocko was thinking.  Mr. Keilly decided to help him out. 

"Maybe we could go over whatever you got over the phone?"

 "No phone,"  Jocko snapped.  "I gotta 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."

 "What papers?"

 "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 away.

 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 folder.  "Let's 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 broke leg."

 "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 Callahan whispered:

 "You getting any of that?"

 "Come on, Jocko.  Let's see what you got 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, an employee who had lost her claim--and her job as well, when a well placed wire-tap recorded her boasting she would toss her neck brace down the courthouse steps 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 for 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.  "It's not that.  It's just that . . . we got to kill it.  You know how it is when those cunts start giving head."

 "You can't kill it.  It's a matter of record!"

 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 service."

 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 sponsors. 

"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 game is played?"

 "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 suppressed his anger.  His face went from bright red to pale white.  "You can't 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 we'd never get out.  You just tell the Prez that everything in that report is going 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 him."

 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 coffee and sat knee to knee with Mr. Keilly while he explained the complexities of his 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 posthumous.  "Piano?"

 "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 that young Franz Schubert must have foreseen his own early death while composing these pieces?

 "Thirty-one.  He died at thirty-one."

 "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 smiling about.

 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 did.  In the moment before they fell into each other's arms, he was sure that all questions had been answered and what came next must be incontestably right.

 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 woman 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 fool."

 "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 yesterday.  They say you get over things, they say life goes on, but it isn't quite that easy, you can't live with a man forty years, then bury him and forget it.  I still wake up in the middle of the night and reach for his pillow, and when I do I remember.  How is it possible that somebody could be gone?  Gone?"

 She was crying again, sharing a grief she could no longer bear alone.  Mr. Keilly took her into his arms again, this time without passion, and petted her gently.  She was a lonely woman, 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 hold.

 "Have you thought about it, Bud?  I mean . . .  Have you really thought about it?"
 "Jocko . . .  "  Mr. Keilly looked down at the half written letter.  What did it matter if a few thousand tax dollars were stolen by this one instead of that one?  Why should he stand by and watch another man destroyed?  What was life itself if not a risk?   "Jocko,"  he said.  "Give me another day on this?  Let me sleep on it, okay?"

 "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 thought.

 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 summer.  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.  Just the Trauermarsch.  Not that lovely Adagietto.  Let me, if only for a few moments, feel sorrow such as others do.

 But Mr. Keilly, listening to the Mahler's noble chords progressing forward, steadily forward, at a pace both dignified and true, could not prevent his heart from filling with joy.

the end