The Stones of Years Ch. 03byAdrian Leverkuhn©
(note: part one of the story appeared under the title "Woman in Chains")
The Stones of Years
She was everywhere – and nowhere...
... Everywhere he turned – at auditions and rehearsals, at lessons and work details – she was everywhere – and nowhere.
He could not get her out of his mind, or her lips, especially the way her lips had found his. Oh God, those lips! The memory of the feeling drove him mad! Even the thought of them and his stomach was afire again, his eyes clouded by the visions of her moving into his arms again and again. He had never felt anything like this before, not ever. In all his life he'd never heard anyone talk about feelings such as these. And Lev had always taken it for granted that in this place there was hardly room for such wondrous hope. But then words from another afternoon crossed his brow...
'No hope. Isn't that what I told her... by the lake? There is no hope here?'
Hope was, he saw, everywhere... and nowhere...
He had been gliding through lessons earlier that afternoon – a piece he'd never seen before, by an American named Gershwin – and he had become lost in the music for a time – but soon she was there again, in the air all around him, as if she had come to him on silken clouds. She was taunting him, leading him on to the Promised Land, taking him right to the very ledges of extremes, and no matter how hard he tried that afternoon the music hardly made any sense to him. This sensation of being cut-off from his senses left him feeling unsure of himself; it was as if the very ability to breathe had been compromised by her presence throughout the room – and in this blind panic all ability to interpret meaning within the notes on the page had somehow slipped from his soul.
He felt naked and alone, unsure of the power within his hands, unsure of everything he had always taken for granted.
'Is this what Misha feels?' he said to himself... 'My God!'
He had done well at his audition; it had been decided he would perform with the symphony when they toured military facilities this winter, and while he was excited at the possibility of seeing life beyond the camp he realized in a rush he didn't want to be away from his brother. Not ever... and then he thought of Tina again...
"Where are you today, Lev?"
He was suddenly aware that he had stopped playing, that he was staring into the clouds of his hopes and dreams. That was when he heard Mr. Collins speak.
"What?" he heard himself saying – but it was like hearing a voice in another room
"You are somewhere else today, Lev. Is there a problem? Would you... is there something you need to say?"
Collins was, Lev thought generally, a decent enough teacher even if he was a little too attentive. He was young, maybe thirty and a Canadian. Rumor had it he had moved to the Soviet Union to study music and decided to stay when he met someone and fell in love. Unfortunately, that someone had been, the authorities discovered, a man as well; both had been sent to camps years ago; not to the same camp, obviously, and Collins was as a result deeply depressed and morose all the time, but the poor man was a very capable teacher nevertheless. He had introduced Gershwin to the staid Eastern European musical community within the camp and had become something of a sensation as a result. Collins might have performed with the touring musicians himself but for a crippling case of stage fright.
"No, Pete, Comrade Collins... I'm alright. Just didn't sleep last night, that's all."
"Pete is fine, Lev. So, is it Tina?"
Lev turned bright red. It felt like his face was on fire! "No!" he barked defensively.
"Uh-huh." Lev looked over and saw the knowing look on Collins' face and his flesh burned even more fiercely.
"So, what does this music remind you of?" the teacher said, changing the subject.
"I don't know," Lev said. "I've never heard anything like it before."
"Yeah? Well, wait until you hear it with the orchestra! It really comes alive then."
"So, just what is it all about?"
"I don't know if there's an easy way to sum it up, Lev, particularly since you don't know much about America..."
"Much? Comr... Pete, I don't know a thing about this place, America. I'm not even sure I know where it is!"
"Yeah? Well, what have you heard?"
"You mean beyond the capitalist-imperialist stuff? I don't know. Maybe something about slaves, and maybe a civil war."
"Well, yeah, that's a place to start. There were slaves in America, and they fought a war to abolish slavery. True. But do you know when all those slaves were released a lot of their music and folklore was released into the mainstream of American culture, particularly their religious music? Do you know where the slaves came from?"
"Africa, for the most part. They were Negroes. Have you heard that word before?"
"Is it from the Latin, for black?"
"Yes, very good. These people, from Africa, they have black skin..."
"What?!" Lev burst out laughing. "You must be joking!"
"Have you never seen...?" but Collins stopped in the middle of his thought. Of course this kid hadn't seen an African; he'd grown up in a Soviet concentration camp! He'd never seen an American either. This kid's life had been defined by snow and ice, by hauling rocks around gravel pits to amuse sadistic men like Kushnirenko.
"Lev, it's not important. What is important is that America is this impossible land where people from all over the world go; they go to escape camps like this one. To live on their own, make their own way and their own money, and people have, Lev, people have gone there in huge numbers. People from all over the world have gone there, and America has turned into this crazy make-believe place where people go to make their dreams come true."
"But Pete, don't people only dream in their sleep?"
Collins laughed, but at the same time he wanted to cry. Had everything been taken from this boy, from these people? Even their dreams?
"I don't know Lev, maybe they do. But maybe, just maybe, there's another kind of dream."
"What has this got to do with the 'Rhapsody in Blue'?"
"Absolutely nothing, Lev. And everything. Tell me... have you ever heard of New York City?"
"No. Well, maybe..."
"Ah. Well Lev, once upon a time..."
"And Misha, there are buildings in New York City made of shiny steel that reach up into the clouds, and everybody has an automobile and lives in one of these shiny towers; they go... they go to the theatre every night and to museums and out to watch movies..."
"Movies? What is... are you talking about, Lev?"
"I don't know for sure, but Pete said it was like they had a special camera that takes pictures of people as they move, and you can hear the words as they speak, and there is even music..."
Misha burst out laughing, and Lev looked hurt.
"It's true, Misha. Pete told me about these movies, and about one of them. It is called 'The Wizard of Oz', and it is about a talking lion and a man made of tin..."
...but Misha laughed even harder now, and Lev picked up his bread and stomped out the front door and ran off toward the lake...
Valentina Lenova watched Lev running toward the lake; she knew where he was going. Yes. She knew...
"Mama, I'm going for a walk," she said into the gathering darkness as she picked up a sweater.
"You crazy girl! It's freezing outside!"
"No it's not, Mama!" but she was already out the door, gathering her old green sweater around her body and walking quickly toward the lake. The sun was still above the trees, if just barely. She knew it would be dark in a half hour, and that it would get very cold indeed after that.
She walked as quickly as she could, but she didn't want to draw any attention to herself...
He was sitting on the log, that same log where she knew he would be; she came to him quietly and sat beside him.
He didn't say a word; in fact, he seemed almost angry.
"What is it, Lev? Is there something wrong?"
He looked off to the west, beyond the far horizon, beyond even the sun.
"I think everything is – wrong," he said, finally. "I don't think life is supposed to be like this."
"Like what, Lev?"
She watched as he looked around the meadow and the lake, but there was something faraway in his eyes – faraway and calling him. It was like he was looking for something, or for somebody, far, far away. Suddenly her mind was filled with images of stars... vast fields of stars... and they were singing to her... calling out to her...
"Lev? Where are you now?"
His eyes remained fixed, fixed beyond the far horizon, yet she smiled. She put her hand on his leg, and waited...
His eyes fluttered, she felt the muscles in his leg stiffen.
"Lev? Come back to me, Lev..."
He turned to her now, turned to her words and looked into her eyes.
She reached for him, reached for his face, first with her hand – then with her mouth.
All was instinct now; all wuthering need come undone as the sun fell from the sky.
She felt the warmth of his breath again, his breath on her lips, and she smiled as the stars sang out to her.
His restless dreams came as one endless torment all through the night. He felt her by his side, felt her slender fingers drawing formless shapes on his thigh, and always, always he felt her lips on his. He turned to her again and again; saw the glistening tip of her pink tongue moving between her just oh so barely parted lips, her smooth pink lips, and she fell into his arms again and again. He could smell her hair, feel it brush his face as evening breezes lifted them both into a world of never-ending tomorrows. Her hands were always on his face, holding him as he had longed to be held for so long – oh! the unbelievable intensity of that warmth – the endless galvanic convergence of skin on skin.
Oh! Would that it never end!
Yes, she was everywhere...
"So you're saying that America was a – what did you call it – a 'melting pot'? That people from all over the world came there – come there – to escape injustice, and that as a... that one result is that America is full of almost every kind of music there is?"
"Yes, Lev, and nowhere does this all come together with more force than New York City. It's one of the largest cities in the world now, but no other city in the world is as diverse. Gershwin, George and his brother Ira..."
"Were they Jews?" Lev asked.
"Yes, yes they were, are. Ira is still alive, I think."
Lev nodded. "Did Ira write music, too?"
"He mainly wrote lyrics, the words to songs George scored."
"So what has this got to do with a melting pot? I still don't get it..."
"Well, let's take a look at another Gershwin tune before we tackle the 'Rhapsody'. In the 1930s George wrote an opera called Porgy and Bess..."
"Yes Lev, Porgy. Porgy and Bess are, well, they're poor people, poor black people, who in the opera are from South Carolina, from a town called Charleston. Porgy is a disabled beggar and Bess is a prostitute..."
"A prostitute? Someone who sells sex for money... Lev?"
The boys eyes were wide, uncomprehending, shocked.
"Sex?" he said.
"Oh, never mind."
"But what is it... this sex for money? Is it what boys and girls do together?"
"Right – uh, well, sometimes. Now Lev, well, but, but, that's not the point. The opera opens with a song called "Summertime." It's one of Gershwin's most famous songs, and it illustrates the point I'm trying to make perfectly. The opera opens with a bunch of negroes standing around..."
"Negroes? You mean..."
"Black people, Lev. Africans. Now listen to the melody..."
Collins began playing the notes.
"What do you hear?"
Lev listened, his eyes closed tightly while Collins played. His head turned slightly at one passage...
"Its structure is like a lullaby!" he cried.
"Exactly! Gershwin found the basic idea for the melody in a Ukrainian lullaby called 'A Dream Passes by the Windows'. Now, listen to the melody with the lyrics. Collins began singing as he played:
And the livin' is easy
And the cotton is high'
He stopped playing. "Now what's going on in this passage?"
"I don't know this thing... a catfish? What is this?"
"Well, a catfish is a fish with the face of a cat... Lev!"
But the boy was laughing again, slapping his knees. "Oh, I get it! A cat-fish! It's an allegorical beast!"
"No, no, Lev, it's a real fish..."
"What?" said Lev, now wide-eyed and unbelieving. "Real?"
"Yes, but listen, Lev, what's happened here, in general terms, in this passage?"
"I don't know." He was scowling now, lost in a thought... "A fish like a cat?"
"Well, yeah, Lev. A catfish. But the music, Lev, it's a Ukrainian lullaby, right? The form. Right?"
"So what's happening in the story?"
Lev shrugged. "Things are good."
"Yes! Its summertime, fish are jumping in the river, crops are growing, so things are good for these people. Now listen..." He began to play again:
'Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry'
"It is a lullaby!" Lev shouted.
"Right! The opera opens with a mother singing to her baby, but it's a song of hope, almost a prayer. Your daddy's rich, your mother's good looking; the mother is singing about all the things her family is not, indeed, can never be, because they aren't white. Now the important part:"
'One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky'
"I see!" Lev said. "Yes, a prayer!"
"Right! The Gershwin's fused a negro-slave spiritual, a hymn sung in the fields while slaves worked the crops, and right on top of a Ukrainian lullaby! There is no end to the pain of this life, the mother tells her baby, until he rises to the sky, to heaven. Then it finishes like this:"
'But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by'
"Can you play it through," Lev asked, "from the beginning?"
When Collins finished he looked at Lev and was surprised to find him openly weeping.
"Lev, are you alright?"
The boy stood and walked to the window across the cold, barren room. He pressed his face to the cold glass and looked at the forest and the meadow, both now wearing their first mantle of winter snow, and at the lake. The rippled surface of the lake lay beyond his reach now, dappled by silvered breezes, and suddenly the thought of living through another winter in this place was more than Lev could stand.
"Why, God? What did I do?" he asked the frosted reflection he saw in the glass.
"What? Lev? What did you say?"
The boy grew silent, but after a moment he returned to the bench and sat down beside his teacher again.
"Okay, so I have to learn this song too?" Lev asked.
"No, no, just the Rhapsody."
"I want to learn to speak American. Can you teach me?"
The old man leaned over his drink, lost in the rhythms of other days and other dreams while he remembered, or tried to remember, all that he had worked so hard to forget. His eyes were tired now, tired of all he had seen in this life, tired of the smoky, dimly lit world he had stolen from his brother.
'But there was no other world for me...' he said to himself.
"So your brother learned to speak..."
"Yes, Dr Wakeman; Pete provided the epiphany, provided, if you will, the keys to the kingdom. Without his timely input none of us would be sitting here right now." The old man chuckled at the thought... "On such a strange, tortured creature does our fate hang even now. Odd, isn't it."
"Odd?" Judith Somerfield scoffed. "How so?"
Misha Podgolskiv laughed openly now, but the smile that creased his face was tired too, he knew; too tired. Everything about him felt too old and too tired – all used up, he said to himself in his pity, but this only made the smile he revealed now cut more deeply into his face, made the open wounds of memory even more raw.
"Odd?" he said as he looked at the young girl. "Don't you find it odd that a Canadian misfit, running from his rich father no less and suddenly finding himself in a Soviet Gulag, would soon be extolling the virtues of America – America, for goodness sakes! – and to a Lithuanian prodigy – and a Jew, let us not forget – who at that very moment in time was falling in love with a girl he had first seen in his dreams when he was hardly old enough to walk? Odd? Odd? That this young prodigy would get it in his head that America was where his destiny lay? That his every waking moment would soon become consumed with the idea of getting to America? Even this young woman, this girl, really – whom my brother loved without measure... she fell almost completely by the wayside as dreams of New York came for him in the night!"
"Really? But, why? You say they fell in love?"
"Oh yes, they did, they did indeed."
"And what of the other girl? What was her name?" Somerfield asked. "Sara, didn't you say?"
Podgolskiv looked away for a moment and Somerfield thought she heard the old man sigh. Soon he cleared his throat and looked at her again, his eyes misty and withdrawn.
"I thought, you see, she loved me. But that wasn't the case. No, not at all."
"She? Sara, you mean?"
... They were sitting in the meadow by the lake, the four of them, a billowing spring now fully alight on the awakening land. Yellow and violet flowers swayed in full bloom; bees drifted from one ripe blossom to the next while the hot sun high overhead beat down on pale winter skin and turned shoulders crimsoned red. Two boys talked and two girls laughed, they each ate bread and butter sandwiches and drank tea made of dried herbs. Carefree clouds as white as new cotton rose in the heat and climbed majestically to kiss the edge of the sky; distant clouds gray and pregnant with rain danced along far horizons.
"So what was it like," Tina Lenova asked Lev. "I can't even imagine what Warsaw is like these days."
"It was amazing, the crowds – well – just amazing," he replied as he looked off dreamily toward the west. "I have never had such food in all my life, and I heard the most amazing music in the world. Four boys from England who call themselves Beatles. I heard a song on an American station called Norwegian Wood. It was so beautiful it made me weep..."
"An American radio station in Poland?" Sara Lenova laughed as she spoke, her voice dripping with scorn and derision.
"Yes, yes. It is called Radio Free Europe. The people in Poland listen all the time to music and news from America all the time. It is amazing. And these Beatles..."
"So, all of this stuff is real?" Misha asked, but Sara just shook her head. "All that Professor Collins has told us about America?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Sara said. "All that nonsense about..."
"Sara!" Tina interrupted. "When you have been to Warsaw again you can tell us what you have seen, but for now would you let him finish?" Tina looked at Lev again, saw the hard look in his eyes as he looked at Sara, but after a moment he turned back to Misha.
"I think much of what he told us must be true, but I can tell you one other thing with certainty. The further one gets from Moscow the happier people become, and to hear people in Poland talk about Russians and the Soviet State is to hear people talking about the devil. They are afraid. I had to..." but Lev stopped talking; it was as if he'd just remembered something important, some promise made, perhaps, or a vital understanding recalled, so he pulled back, looked down at the ground.