A short story about people who devote their lives to other people.
The Last Intermission
by Harry Buschman
Jerry stared at the patient in the hospital bed and looked nervously at his watch. “Why did it have to be today?” he asked Carol. It was getting late. He had to go over the nocturnes again, there was something in them he wasn’t bringing out. He drummed his fingers on the windowsill and looked at her.
She hadn’t taken her eyes from Walter.
The nurse came in and checked the IV drip, then smiled at the two visitors, “He’ll be dropping off soon,” she said. “He should sleep for hours. You can leave then.”
Jerry looked at his watch again and whispered to Carol. “What do you think?
She made a shushing sound and put her finger to her lips, and in a voice so low he could barely hear her, said “It’s only a matter of time I guess.”
“Do you think he knows we’re here?”
They waited a minute until Walter’s eyes closed and his breathing became deep and steady, then Jerry spoke up again, “I don’t know how I’m going to get along without him, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for Walter.”
“You’ll find another agent, Jerry.”
“I only had to think about the music, he did everything else – I feel so alone.”
“You’re not the only one who’s going to miss him you know, I loved him too. What’s more, he loved both of us, don’t look at me like that.” Jerry turned away, walked to the window and stared out at the fog drifting over the hospital lawn. “He loved you too much to take advantage, you know that. I would have let him, I think, but both of us loved you too much.”
He put both hands to his face and brushed his hair back. “I didn’t think he was that far gone, you know? I knew it was cancer, so did he – but I thought – we all thought.”
“He wanted you to think that, Jerry. I knew it. You should have known it too.” She shook her head in pity, “You’re like a child, aren’t you. We kept everything from you.” She opened her purse and took out a letter. “I want you to hear this….”
Carol, Carol, how beautiful you are when you’re sleeping. Your lips slightly parted, your breathing as gentle as a baby’s. There’s a glow about you – perhaps it’s the light, but more than likely it’s coming from you. It’s a privilege to be here with you … to be in your presence while you sleep. I am the most fortunate of men and I only wish I could say the things I really mean.
But there will come a day, I promise you, when I find words to fit your beauty. Be patient with me Carol ….
“Did he write that? It’s beautiful.”
“No Jerry, you did. Before we were married – you don’t remember, do you?”
The first half of the concert went passably well, but Jerry was not completely satisfied, the Beethoven pieces were too powerful, they focussed the attention of the audience on the music rather than the pianist. Beethoven had a way of overwhelming the performer, diminishing him. That was one of the things Jerry didn’t like about Beethoven.
But the second half. The Chopin! That’s where he would shine! He ran over the fingering again in his mind and he was sure he could do some things even Chopin didn’t think of doing. He sipped the Perrier and stretched out full length on the chaise.
The muted murmur of voices from the crowd outside in the green room were barely audible here in his dressing room – he would allow no visitors. Not ‘til later. After the Chopin.
The crowd outside the door fretted as Carol and the stage manager reasoned with them. “The maestro must concentrate on the Chopin, he cannot – must not be disturbed. He will be happy to meet you after the performance. Please return to your seats. Intermission will be over in ten minutes. Remember, you will not be permitted to enter the auditorium after the performance begins.”
Almost all of them were women, elderly and all of them were mesmerized by the maestro’s intensity of expression, his tousled hair and the impetuousness of his playing. He reminded many of them of near forgotten flings with other impulsive youths in their younger days. “How unkind of the management!” … “If he only knew we were standing here, I’m sure he would come out and talk to us.”
It was something Carol had been through again and again. No one could get in to see Jerry at intermission, only Chopin. On second thought, she reminded herself, even Chopin, if he were alive, would not be admitted during intermission. She marveled in the beginning how ego and arrogance made Jerry what he was; did he really think the people came to hear him rather than the music? She didn’t wonder any more.
The ten minute bell chimed softly and the ladies reluctantly headed back to the auditorium. They wore expressions of petulance, like children denied an extra ten minutes before bedtime. Carol and the stage manager breathed a sigh of relief.
Before returning to her seat, Carol knocked lightly on Jerry’s door. He would rouse himself, she knew, limber his fingers on the mute keyboard and do his exercises. Before returning to her seat she made a quick phone call to the hospital.
She regretted it. Walter died in his sleep shortly after they left. The nurse was upset that he had to die alone.
Carol stood at the artist’s entrance to the auditorium. The thought of listening to Jerry play the second half seemed impossible now. She had a momentary impulse to go back, burst into his dressing room and shout, “Walter’s dead, Jerry! Still feel like playing?” Pampered child. Fragile temperament. The facts of life would destroy him. No, she could listen no longer, neither could she watch him play. She was not in the mood for music. The thought of Walter not being here to listen with her or to share Jerry’s triumph ruined it for her.
Instead of finding her seat down front she walked up the side aisle of the auditorium and pushed her way through the upholstered exit doors. She stood with her back to the wall and heard the burst of applause that signaled Jerry’s return. She could almost see him bowing ever so slightly before sitting at the piano. Smiling the shy shit licking smile of fake humility that he had practiced so long in the mirror. He would then extend his arms in front of him to draw his cuffs up snug to his wrists and look heavenward as though expecting a blessing from Chopin. How phony it all was, how self-serving!
It was over for her. She could stand it when Walter shared it with her; but not alone. Not without Walter.
She fished in her purse for the old letter––“there will come a day I promise you …” She read it one more time, then crumpled it up, its dry creases digging into the palms of her hands.