THE BAD BOY BLUES
Now, once every week, Adolph was as happy as a clam at high tide. He held tightly to every pearlescent moment in the dim hallway at the top of the stairs outside of Miss Brundage’s apartment when Shifra’s piano lesson ended and before his began.
Adolph’s inspiration of romantic genius was to contrive each week a different little gift to hand to Shifra in order to hold her a minute longer within arm’s reach. It became an intimate expectation. It started when he offered Shifra the bright pink cream cheese candy cookie which Sarah had made for him as a reward for his musical adherence. Adolph had been at a loss for something new to say to Shifra and so he had caressed nervously the shirt pocket over his heart wherein there was a pink cookie and a blue cookie.
Adolph’s fingers did the thinking and he said, “I brought you a cookie,” and he withdrew the pink cream cheese candy cookie with a heart pattern sketched into it and he held it out to Shifra. Their fingers touched.
Shifra crinkled her eyes and gave Adolph a delighted smile, “Oh, Adolph. Thank you. How sweet.”
Adolph said, “My mother makes them. The pink ones are mint. I have a blue one. Blue ones are banana flavored,” and he grinned and shrugged, “Don’t ask me why.”
Shifra was pleased to inform him, “The Hawaiian banana is called the blue banana because when it isn’t ripe yet it has a silvery blue color.”
Adolph’s affection for Shifra boiled above the flame of her intellect. Shifra was a year older than Adolph but in his mind she seemed much wiser, certainly wiser than himself, a beauty unto itself that he would admire and fear at the same time. In their passing conversations Shifra would sometimes mention a novel that she was reading and recommend it to Adolph and then Adolph would try to find it in the library and skim passages to discuss.
During one encounter Shifra had commented in passing that she really must read something by Albert Camus, the French novelist who had won the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature. Adolph then searched and found a charming miniature hardcover edition of The Stranger and he presented it to Shifra at the top of those stairs one day.
Shifra indeed was charmed, saying, “Oh, Adolph, you didn’t. You shouldn’t have. I love it. It will fit in my purse. It is perfect, thank you.”
The next week as she exited Miss Brundage’s apartment Shifra lifted the book out of her purse and she was excited to tell Adolph about her favorite line from the book, reciting, “I laid my heart open to the gentle indifference of the universe”.
Adolph smiled but he was confused, asking, “But do you think that God is indifferent? He loves us.”
Shifra suddenly challenged him, asking, “Did he tell you so Himself?”
Adolph thought of the example of how God must have ordained their love but he was suddenly fearful of telling her how he felt. Could not she already know how he felt? Was not she refraining shyly from confessing a love for him?
Shifra broke his thoughts, saying dryly, “God spoke to my mother through cancer.”
At that moment Adolph heard Shifra’s boyfriend Herman yelling up the stairwell, close, saying, “Shifra? Hey! What are you doing? Let’s go!”
Shifra glanced wide-eyed at Adolph and quickly hollered down, “I’m coming,” but her hand was shaking suddenly as she tried to push the book into her purse and then she dropped it, shouting quickly, “I dropped something out of my purse.”
Adolph had reflexively tried to catch the book, fumbled it, said, “Shit!” and then he bent down to pick up the fallen little volume.
On the stairway landing below, Herman appeared and looked up, asking, “Are you talking to someone?” and then he saw Adolph standing back up erect and sheepishly waving the rescued book at him and Herman fumed loudly, “Mother-fuck!” and he bounded up the stairs.
Shifra held out her hand, saying, “Herman. Stop. Adolph is just helping me. Adolph has the piano lesson after mine.”
Herman stopped a few steps below and roared, “He does?! You never told me that!”
Shifra tried to feign indifference, shrugging, “Why would I?”
Meanwhile, Adolph stood his ground quaking but knowing that his only chance was to play complete innocence, saying, “Hey, Herman. What’s up?” but his voice quavered.
Herman was athletic and quick, leaping onto the stair landing and throwing his fist into Adolph’s cheek, saying, “My fucking fist is ‘what’s up’, asshole!”
Adolph’s head spun sideways but Adolph was shocked to find himself still standing, thinking that Herman must have “pulled” his punch, maybe for Shifra’s sake.
Herman looked quizzically at Adolph and then he snatched the little volume of The Stranger from Adolph’s fingers, bellowing to Shifra, “What the fuck? So, this asshole’s the one who’s been giving you all those fucking little crap trinkets, isn’t he!? Not Miss Brundage! Liar!”
Shifra coiled and then hissed at Hermann, “So what? He’s just a friend, oh, you know what I mean, another student! So what?”
Herman trembled in anger, saying, “So what? So what? I’ll show you ‘so what’,” and he sheared the little volume of The Stranger into two handfuls, and then he threw the disintegrating book down the stairwell.
Shifra gasped, “Oh! Fuck you, Herman! Just fuck you!” and she trampled down the stairwell.
Herman turned to Adolph and shook his fist in Adolph’s face and then he turned and raced down the stairs chasing Shifra.
Miss Brundage opened her door, asking into the hallway, “Just what is all the commotion out here? Oh, Adolph, hello. What is happening? Oh, my goodness, what happened to your cheek? You’re all red!”
Miss Brundage cupped Adolph’s face in her two hands, saying, “Oh, dear, dear. What has happened to you, my dear boy?”
Adolph couldn’t turn away free of Miss Brundage’s embracing hands as he muttered, “I slipped on the last step, that’s all. I lost my balance. I fell. I’m OK. Really.”
Miss Brundage stood on her toes and kissed his cheek lightly, “Dear boy, come inside and sit down. We don’t have to begin right away. Have some tea and listen to a recording I just bought.”
Adolph muttered, “Recording?”
Miss Brundage served Adolph some very sweet tea and bade him sit upon her small settee that faced the record playing console. She put on the Van Cliburn recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, giddily, the way Adolph’s sister Judith would play an Elvis record and then Miss Brundage sat down beside Adolph and closed her eyes, gasping and sighing at the brilliant passages.
Miss Brundage leaned against Adolph and whispered, “You could be playing like that if you had started lessons at three-years old the way Van Cliburn did.”
Adolph set down his tea and shrugged. He was daydreaming about revenge.
Herman was the sour note that Shifra insisted upon playing over and over again. Why? Girls thought Herman was good-looking, “I suppose,” thought Adolph, and Herman was an athletic type, “Big deal,” thought Adolph.
Herman had a reputation as a “bad boy”.
Adolph could not fathom Shifra’s choice. Adolph actually had spoken of Herman to Shifra upon previous occasions. Adolph was always loathe to remind her of Herman during their moments together but Adolph was beset by frustration like a horse gnawed by horse-flies.
Shifra had replied to Adolph once in a gushing soliloquy.
“Herman usually gives a bad impression to people; I’m not sure why. Partly because he’s very careful about whom he lets inside himself. He really loves people, Adolph, but because he is so sensitive he appears the opposite – an ‘I don’t care’ attitude, but it’s merely a defense mechanism. Anyway, you have this bad opinion of Herman – like he’s all for himself or something. If you only knew how unselfish, generous, and considerate Herman really is, but I can’t convince you. Adolph, you think he’s taking me for a ride. You can’t be convinced of Herman’s sincerity. You think I’m naturally trusting and that I believe what I want to and I’m being taken.
It really hurts me, Adolph, to have such a beautiful and meaningful thing as my relationship degraded so, and especially by you. Oh, Adolph, you are immature in some ways, and you can’t conceive of or understand love. I mean true love, the love of one’s life and being not just a fascination. Nobody can I suppose, until they experience it, and then they probably can’t explain it or understand it.
Adolph, it’s like you believing in God – it’s illogical, but to you it is more real and truthful, and beautiful than anything else.
I don’t profess to know what love is; I haven’t even experienced it, but I’ve been in contact with it and I know that in it lies the dignity of Man – the meaning, the purpose, for those who find it.
But what of those who don’t?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me there are half-realities and semi-truths as I experience life only on a mundane level – not very much or very fully. You can’t imagine the joy of making one who loves you happy – to be blessed with the ability to make the world beautiful for one to whom you owe so much and for whom you have such tender emotions.
But it’s equally as difficult to conceive of the utter frustration and despair of not being able to return that love – to merely sustain that love with a temporary happiness lacking security and the satisfying knowledge that eternally you are loved.
There is the responsibility of love. Being loved means being accepted despite faults and shortcomings. But they do exist and they hurt the one who loves with an exceptional cruelty. It means having the power of influencing one to extremes; the power of granting happiness and contentment or condemning one to misery, frustration, or unhappiness.
I seem to have an uncanny talent for twisting even the good to bad – to make the most beautiful thing in my life a grotesque ugliness.
I’m sorry. I guess it shows I’m depressed and slightly upset. I’m like that frequently.
I shouldn’t bother you with it, but I usually can’t hide my emotions when I should and I can’t express them when I want to and should.
I really seem to manage to botch everything up and hurt me and everyone who wastes their time on knowing and caring about me at all.
I’ve got quite a few hang-ups, Adolph, you’d be surprised. Now you’ll probably ask me like what.
I don’t know if I can explain because I either don’t know or don’t understand.
I’m sorry Adolph.”
Adolph had thought to himself, “Shifra, you read too much.”
When Adolph emerged from this troubled daydreaming Miss Brundage was saying, “I do have a surprise for you, Adolph. I am presenting a recital of my pupils, and I hope you will want to perform.”
Adolph asked, “To perform?”
Miss Brundage assured him, “Yes. Oh, it will just be a gathering of parents and some old acquaintances of mine. It will be like a traditional chamber recital from long ago. You are one of my more promising pupils. Please say you will attend.”
Adolph asked, “Will Shifra be performing?”
Miss Brundage sat back, “Shifra? Why, yes. Why?”
Adolph quickly explained as nonchalantly as he could, “I heard her play at a concert. I was wondering if we could learn a duet, you know, together?”
Miss Brundage was cautiously supportive because the idea was irresistible as a performance for her recital but she had a vague queasiness, a feeling of losing control, and she said, “Interesting, Adolph. I will have to think about it. I’m not sure if there is time to learn a duet properly before the recital but it is an interesting idea. You are a very clever pupil, Adolph,” and she hugged his shoulders.
The next week when Shifra emerged from Miss Brundage’s apartment Adolph was prepared to hand to Shifra a special gift: a leaf of sheet music, a duet for flute and piano that he had written, painstakingly dedicated to Shifra. It was Adolph’s first composition. It had come to him, magically it seemed, as he sat at the piano in his house, plinking keys absent-mindedly and pining for Shifra. Adolph thanked God a hundred times.
Shifra received the scroll of sheet music from Adolph in the hallway, saying, “Oh, Adolph,” but it sounded like pity to Adolph, confusing him. With a pained smile Shifra rolled her eyes over the hand-written notes and her eyes glistened with the friction. She told him, “Miss Brundage told me about your duet idea. I think it would be interesting, I mean, wonderful,” and then she hesitated, and Adolph had a sinking feeling as Shifra took a deep breath and said finally, “I have wonderful news, Adolph. Herman and I are engaged.”
Adolph felt like Herman had finally landed a fatal blow. He said, staggered, “Engaged? How, how will you live? Does Herman even have a job?”
Shifra stood stiffly erect and said proudly, “Herman is enlisting in the Army.”
Adolph filled the ensuing silence by repeating, “Army?”
Shifra began to chatter, “Yes, and we’ll have a house on the base, and our groceries will be cheap, and we will have medical benefits, and I’ll get to travel, and…”
Adolph interrupted, saying, “Yeah. That really is fucking wonderful,” as he brushed past Shifra and then opened Miss Brundage’s door without knocking.
Miss Brundage was near the piano and she looked over, surprised, “Adolph?”
Adolph said bluntly and cruelly, “I’m quitting!”
To be continued…
This is a section of my entry for Carl Reiner’s Writers’ Contest; to read Carl Reiner’s Chapter 1 go to: [http://carl-reiner.com/contest/?utm_campaign=]
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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS