Woman in Chains Ch. 04byAdrian Leverkuhn©
"She sounds psychotic to me," Judith Somerfield said as they stepped out on the front porch. She didn't know what else to think...
Todd Wakeman was shook up, confused, and while he couldn't quite put a finger on what had just happened -- he wasn't ready to jump on the psychiatric bandwagon just yet.
"I don't know. She seems focused, almost intact, at least when talk centers on music. Emotionally? I'm stumped there. More like a lesion, or a stroke, but there's nothing showing up. Nothing about this case is making a helluva lot of sense right now." He helped Podgolskiv down the steps; they began walking down the sidewalk. "What do you think of this stuff with the music, sir? What did she call it? The Starlight Sonata?"
To Wakeman the old Russian seemed troubled and distant; he felt that Podgolskiv was still sharply focused on what Tomlinson had said at the piano. To Wakeman very little of what was said in there had made sense, but he had seen a change come over Podgolskiv near the end. What she said had shook up the old man, had made all too much sense to him, and he couldn't shake the feeling that Podgolskiv had seen something upsetting in there. Though the old man still seemed very preoccupied, there was more to it than that. He had been startled, knocked off balance, and perhaps that was why Podgolskiv seemed reluctant to speak now. Even the way he walked now seemed stilted, unsteady...
The old man stopped; he turned and looked up at the sky, at the stars, and a tired smile creased his face. He seemed to give voice to a silent prayer, then he turned toward the physician.
"I think perhaps we should have some tea; then we can talk for a while," he said finally. "First, you see, there is a story I must tell you. We need talk no further about these matters until we do so."
"Well, God knows I love a mystery," Somerfield said.
"Good," Podgolskiv said with a wry smile, "then perhaps one of you would be so kind as to help me find my car."
It took a while to drive back into the city and find a parking space, but eventually the two medics and the old musician made it to a bar in the Village. The place was off an alley, down a half flight of disreputable stairs; the place was dark and smoky, a jazz quartet played quietly in a far corner. Conversation was muted, and most of the people seated were nursing a coffee or cognac.
"Wow!" Somerfield said when she sat down. "This is like the fifties. Way cool."
"Oh, I don't know. I understand by 1950 this place had already had its fair share of the spotlight," Podgolskiv said with a smile as he shrugged. "But things thing's fall apart." He shook his head, tried to ward off the melancholy that had dogged him for years now. "Anyway, I have been coming here for years, and there is usually an interesting crowd hanging about."
"I'll bet," Wakeman said. "I've been in the city for ten years and I love jazz, and I've never heard of this place."
The old man smiled knowingly. This hole-in-the-wall was off map, and deliberately so; it had been since prohibition. It was a hideaway, a forgotten corner for musicians to gather, to relax and talk, or to get lost in -- if only for an evening.
"It's a special place," he said, "and if you act like physicians I may get in trouble for bringing you here." He looked at them with a full measure of seriousness, and when he saw that they believed him he smiled, laughed at their easy innocence. Irony, he thought, was so often lost on youth. They ordered drinks, Irish coffee anyway, and sat quietly while each gathered thoughts about them like an old sweater on a cold night. Everything the scientists had taken in at Tomlinson's house now seemed hard to digest, made no sense. And why was music so central to this mystery?
"So," Wakeman said when he could stand it no longer. "The Starlight Sonata. What is it?"
"What?" Somerfield said. "You mean it exists!"
"Oh, very much so. At least in part."
"You've been working on a piece of music called The Starlight Sonata? Does she... is there anyway Tracy could have known that?"
"It hardly seems possible. We haven't worked on it in years."
"How long... what do you mean, we?"
"We? Ah. In this case I mean my brother and I."
"And gee," Wakeman moaned, "I guess, well, I suppose this brother, well, he just happens to be your twin?"
Wakeman stared at the old man; he was dimly aware that his left eye was twitching and he rubbed it. "Is he alive?"
"Oh yes. At least I think so."
"You think so? Where is he; where does he live?"
"On his boat still, if I'm not mistaken."
"Well, crapola," Somerfield deadpanned, "this just gets better and better."
"You think so?" Podgolskiv said, his voice full of bitterness. "Then you need to listen now. Listen while I tell you a story. Then you tell me if things are better. I will be interested to know what you think. Yes... very interested. Because I have to tell you, I think I am growing a little afraid."
As Tracy Tomlinson retreated further and further from her feelings, as she in effect grew further removed from the recent past, another disturbing yet equally curious metamorphosis was occurring not far away. With each passing day, Becky Parker, Tracy's twin sister, seemed to accrue emotions that were not her own. She was, in fact, drowning in a huge reservoir of despair that had flooded uncontrollably into her life. She had no idea why these emotions had found her, but she certainly knew what they were, and they left her weak and frightened.
Those who had known the girls when they were children would not have been so surprised. The link between the two girls had always been strong, but over the past few days, after Tracy's awakening, the torrent of newfound emotion had simply overwhelmed Becky. In their communion, when their eyes had joined, the process had begun.
Something happened in those first moments -- when the sisters first saw one another -- something powerful and unsettling and emotionally wrenching for both of the girls. As Tracy withdrew from her emotions in those first startled moments, as she withdrew from the power of the vision that had sustained her for months, Becky had been forced into the vortex of her sister's experience, into the very center of Tracy's denial. She found herself surrounded by her sister's emotions -- and yet, they weren't her sister's emotions at all.
And she had remained inside this nonsensical vortex ever since.
All the pain Tracy might have felt about the loss of her husband was absorbed by her sister.
All a mother's sorrow over the loss of her children rained down on Becky.
All the confusion that one might feel upon waking from an extended sleep came to Becky as if the void was now a waking dream, and as she wandered through this bewildering landscape each day the power of the dream swept aside other thoughts and carried her along in the currents of her sister's recent experience. She grew a little quieter each day, more passive -- at least outwardly -- as the force of her sister's passage overwhelmed her.
In the first hours of this metamorphosis, Becky was riven by the inexplicable undertow of emotion that came to her; with each passing day she slipped deeper and deeper into the starscapes of her sister's dream. And yet she remained curiously apart from that other world in one crucial way: she remained consciously aware of her "true" physical surroundings. Now, each day she struggled to keep the two apart -- but she was slowly losing this struggle. She tried to function normally, to eat and bathe and care for herself, but with each passing day she found even these simple tasks harder and harder to accomplish.
Earlier that evening, when Podgolskiv and Wakeman and Somerfield had come to her sister's house, while Tracy and Podgolskiv sat at the piano and played the Rachmaninoff Concerto, far away, on the far side of the city, Becky walked into her apartment's bathroom and looked into the mirror.
What she saw left her breathless with unimaginable happiness.
She reached out, placed her hand on the mirror...
"I first had the dream," Podgolskiv began, "when I was seven. We still lived in Russia, the Soviet Union as it was then, on a small collective in what is today Lithuania. A farm -- we were farmers, of a kind, though my parents had once lived in St Petersburg. We lived, my parents and my brothers and sisters and I, in a two room house, and my father told us we were lucky, even prosperous, to live as we lived. We were Jews, you see. Neither the Germans nor the Russians treated the Jews with great care as you know, but my parents survived, they always survived. I was born a few years after the war, a few days after Israel was reborn, and I mention this only in passing because it was my parent's greatest hope as we grew up that we be allowed to immigrate to Israel.
"I remember most sitting by my mother's side when she cleaned dirt from potatoes; while she worked she told us about Israel, about how good it would be once we lived there. I can still see her, you know, cleaning the soil off with a brush, rinsing the potatoes, the numbers tattooed on the inside of her arm. I never knew what those numbers meant. Not for many years."
The old Russian sipped from his mug, his eyes as clear as the memories that now held Wakeman and Somerfield so completely. The room seemed very still; to Wakeman it felt like distant spirits had come to join in this telling of the old man's tale. He was struck by the disconcerting idea that Podgolskiv had been summoned to tell this tale and that somehow Tracy and her story of puppets and chains was bound up in this account as well. Wakeman looked at Podgolskiv, at the skin on the man's hands, wondered just what misery those hands had known.
Podgolskiv looked down at his hands. "My parent's desire to leave Russia... well, the political powers, yes? They were less than helpful as it turned out. We were transported to Siberia; my father died of cholera our second summer there and after that my mother continued agitating, demanded we all be allowed to immigrate." His voice faltered, withered for a moment, then he summoned his courage and continued. "Well, she disappeared. We never saw her again, and the state took over. But put all that aside for a moment; there is one thing about all this I think important, that you must know, before I can continue.
"When we were very small our father would take us out into the fields at night and show us the stars. He had been a teacher at one time, but his views were suspect. Anyway, he became a farmer but he always loved the stars. He would take all of us out on clear nights and show us the constellations, but always on our birthday he would take just my brother and I out. He would find two stars in the sky, and like they were old friends he would point them out to us.
"'Those are Arcturus and Spica,' he would tell us, and he told us we could always look up to them on our birthday and they would point the way to Israel. 'Never forget that,' he told us. And I don't think we ever did. At least not at first.
"Our Guardians of the State discovered hidden talents in both my brother and myself. We learned to play the piano, to write music, to perform -- and we were like puppets on a string, he and I. But it was a very short string. Perhaps leash would be a better word.
"He was the better musician, always. His mastery was complete years before I became a merely accomplished musician. In time he would become famous, world famous..."
"Really?" Somerfield interrupted. "I don't recall a Podgolskiv..."
"Ah. Perhaps you know him by another name. The name he took after he fled the Soviet Union. Perhaps you've heard of Leonard Berensen?"
Wakeman and Somerfield blinked; she was stunned, completely dumbfounded.
"He's your brother!?"
"Oh yes. If not for him I would have never come to New York, or to Julliard. That was, of course, after the fall of the Soviet Union, after the film scores and the musicals, after the first three symphonies and after he became such a celebrity. He was very good to me, for a time." Podgolskiv sighed as memories teased him, then ever so softly he added: "Before he ran away."
Wakeman was wide-eyed, incredulous. "I'm sorry... but the dream? Where does the dream fit into all of this?"
"I think perhaps I'll have a whiskey. Would either of you care for one?"
They both did, as it turned out.
Tracy Tomlinson sat behind the piano again; she was silent now, alone with the music that held her attention so firmly. She leaned over the keyboard, pencil in hand, furiously put notes and chords to paper, paused from time to time to play an unfamiliar chord or work through a difficult passage. She could hardly remember Podgolskiv now, or the conversation she'd had with him earlier that evening. Her mind was filled with music and light, her every waking moment dedicated to listening to the music of the chains she heard so clearly -- and to transferring the sounds she heard into notes on his paper.
She rarely stopped to eat or drink, did so only when her mother came into the room and insisted. This body seemed immaterial to her -- it was a transient thing, a medium of expression, and she resented the demands this body placed on her time.
Which was why she stood impatiently now and stretched, then walked to the bathroom. When she had finished she stood and started back to the piano -- but she hesitated, stopped short when an impulse passed through her like an electric charge; but the impulse left as suddenly and she felt disjointed, out of phase. She blinked, confused now, but she looked into the mirror by her side, saw her body as it once had been a very long time ago, years before this body came to be. She was resting on the sand -- and was she smiling? -- and suddenly she remembered what it was like to smile.
She turned to this most distant reflection of herself and raised her hand to the mirror -- it was almost an act of selfless remembrance; she felt her own skin like an echo on the surface of the glass, felt the joy of his hands all around her once again, and in that moment he was with her again, and happiness washed over her like a sunrise. She began to forget the water and the ice and the chains...
His smile, the warmth of his hands on her face, his lips seeking hers -- she remembered it all as she fought off the darkness once again. She longed to hold onto herself as she once had been, to linger within this echo of happiness, but above all she longed to look into his eyes one more time.
She felt her body turning but she was no longer aware of where she was. She could not tell if she was in the bathroom of a house on Long Island or on a beach that belonged to his dream, or if her tortured body was being dragged across an icy lake. Nothing made sense, but nothing had in the time that had passed with their parting, but she could smell him now, that smell of sun-warmed skin and salt-kissed air, and she knew he was beside her again.
She turned to him now, turned to face him and the unfathomable beauty of his eyes. Her eyes filled with wonder when she saw him, for his eyes danced in the light of ten billion suns...
Wakeman swirled the whiskey around in the bottom of his glass; he watched as ice mixed with amber and new patterns formed in the chaos. He was unsure whether he felt more like the ice or the whisky. Never had so many of his life's basic assumptions been so directly challenged. What was the word? Anomie? Was that what he felt now? Or was the choice really between hot and cold -- could there be no middle ground?
The three of them had spoken of other things for a while, as if by mutual agreement they would take a break from the night's unfinished business. And while Wakeman could feel the questions hovering expectantly over Podgolskiv, he wasn't sure the answers would be painless. Perhaps, he felt now, they hung as the blade of a guillotine over the condemned.
Somerfield turned to Wakeman from Podgolskiv; she shrugged, looked lost.
Wakeman looked at her, his own loss befuddling, then he turned to the old man:
"So, Berensen is your brother? When did he come over to the West?"
"The late-70s, I believe. Your Mr Carter was still president. You were how old then, Dr Wakeman?"
"You've seen a lot of change in your life, haven't you?" Somerfield asked.
"A bit, but less than you might imagine. Music tends to obscure a great deal when it becomes the focus of your life. Other things become, oh -- less relevant, I suppose."
"Medicine can be like that, I guess," Somerfield said. "Consuming, I mean."
Podgolskiv smiled at the irony. "Perhaps so. I used to see such clarity in music. Now I find only questions, and the answers no longer seem as important to me as they once did. Isn't that -- silly?"
"I don't think so," she said earnestly. "No, not at all. That's what science is all about; questions lead to a conclusion, but the conclusion all too often leads to other questions. The answer that seemed so important is just a point along the way; it soon fades as the new concept replaces the old."
Podgolskiv nodded but did not look up from his drink while Somerfield spoke. He tilted his glass, looked down into the amber like he was looking at the very meaning of life -- and was not at all happy with what he'd found. He looked at the age spots on his hand, his yellowed fingernails, and objectively he knew they were his, but still, they looked so foreign, so -- alien.
"The worst thing about growing old," he said after a while, "is that it's in color."
"What?" Wakeman said, startled.
"When I was little, back on the collective -- in Lithuania, the only photographs I knew were of old people, and they were always in black and white. I used to think that in the olden days life must have been so; that everything and everyone in the time before I was born was black and white. In time I began to think that only older people were black and white, that only the young could be -- colorful. In those old photographs people looked so natural in black and white, so pure. Color has done nothing but make such things real." Podgolskiv looked up from his glass, looked at Wakeman, and he smiled.
"Is that so bad?" Wakeman asked.
Podgolskiv shrugged. "As long as one does not confuse what is real for the truth. Truth is not so easy to find."
The old man took a deep breath, rubbed his eyes. He had decided to talk now:
"The dream came to us in deepest winter..."
"Us?" Wakeman interrupted.
"Yes, to Lev and myself. The same night. A woman, on a beach. In chains; the woman was wrapped in chain, bleeding from them, as a matter of fact. The dream, or dreams, seemed to have everything in common, but after Lev and I discovered what had happened, when we compared notes, so to speak, one key difference emerged. The woman in my dream was an older woman; the woman in Lev's dream was very young. No older than we were then."
"What did the two of you make of that?" Somerfield asked.
Podgolskiv looked at the girl. "The truth has not been so easy to find, young lady. At least not until tonight." He wondered how far he could go, how much of this retelling they would believe. He decided to tell them as much as he could.
"One fact emerged that night: both women said much the same to us in our dream. Not exactly the same thing, but close enough. Or so we thought. The young girl in Lev's dream said that she had come to help him begin something -- music. The old woman in my dream told me she had come to help us finish what we had begun. 'Because it is time,' she said."
"Isn't that what Tomlinson said?" Somerfield asked, suddenly alert.