The tune wrung from old keys reached into the quiet corners of the mansion, seeping under doors and ruffling curtains made of tulle and lace. It was neither cheerful nor somber but lively in the fashion of player pianos used to lull gamblers and thieves into smoke-filled saloons.
Hubby stares grimly at the tube as his team fumbles the ball. “Damn.” Monday night football holds no magic for him, neither had the New Yorker managed to pull me in. After martinis we’d managed a half bottle of wine each. Next would be chamomile tea, a quick check of email and off to bed. Our ritual every night at home, however, the morning would bring a change in routine. Mt. Shasta at sunrise. I planned to bundle up at dawn and sit on the veranda with my camera.
It was our sole reason for stopping at a B&B far from the highway and miles outside the tiny town of Shasta – the chance to see the fabled sunrise over Shasta. To witness the power of the crystal mountain, my obsession since a brief glimpse from the Amtrak many years before. I was sure it wouldn’t disappoint.
“Since the game stinks, let’s go down and find out what’s going on,” I suggest. Surprisingly hubby agrees. I suspect he wants to check on the bird.
From the top of the wide staircase we can see the back of a man playing piano seemingly at the altar of the throbbing mountain. He is hunched over the keys, explaining the tune to a man listening intently on his left. The listener glances at us as we descend the stairs. His look is not welcoming. Is there a private party going on? One for only certain guests at the B&B? The pianist turns and smiles in our direction. I’ve seen the man before but can’t think of where. I’m tempted to tell hubby I’ve changed my mind but we’ve been spotted and so we continue our descent.
At the bottom we are welcomed. “I see you’ve been lured into our web!”
The voice comes from a woman lounging on the velvet divan as if she owns it. “This is my find, “ she tells us indicating the piano player. “We ran into him on our evening walk around the lake and clicked immediately.”
“The piano playing is lovely. We just couldn’t stay up in our room.”
She, to whom I evidently owe the evening’s entertainment, continues. “He writes his own songs!”
The pianist stops his improv and spins on the bench to face his audience. Besides the woman on the divan, there are four outdoorsmen standing near the billiards table, cue sticks in hand. High ranking ex-military would be my guess. One of them gives the woman lounging on the divan a smirk which she does not see but the pianist does. He chuckles, surveys the group without a word, then turns and begins to play another tune, this one more like a dirge. The colonel puts another log on the fire. The flames leap, tiny fire sprites pirouette in the black hole. The outdoorsmen resume their game.
In a high back chair in the corner is a lone woman. She’s younger than the rest of the guests and reads a book while sipping blackberry wine. She is pretty in a dignified, I want to be left alone sort of way, more of a Sandra Bullock than a Angelina Jolie. I can’t help but wonder if she is traveling alone or if there is a husband upstairs watching the football game.
The man who’d been sitting next to the pianist moves to the velvet divan to ferret out a corner, a space to plant his shrunken derriere next to the women, evidently his wife. She makes some remark about how he used to be a surgeon. “I’m a retired surgeon,” he counters, “not a used to be.”
“Humph,” she snorts. “He’s played all around the world – in Hollywood and New York.”
Obviously she is referring to the pianist and not her husband. As the tune gains in melancholy the surgeon’s wife holds court. They live in an affluent bay area suburb but they’re not “those kind of people.” I want to ask what kind of people are those kind of people but hold my tongue. There’s no way of saying such a thing without sounding snide.
When the crescendo sinks into minor keys, the young woman in the high back chair rises to leave the room. The pianist stops. The woman freezes. Suddenly he is in front her.
“I like to ask audiences to meditate on a color – any color. The emotions that color evokes, the images – that kind of stuff. And then I’d improvise a tune, feeding off those emotions and images. What color do you think I just played?”
The young woman shrugs her shoulders. It dawns on me she might not speak English.
“Blue,” he says. “The color you were thinking.”
Again she shrugs her shoulders. He leans into her face, his colorless eyes locked on hers. His face is long and pale, his hair thin and grey. He wears a dark blue morning coat from a different century. I have seen him in nightmares.
Booo! (to be continued)