by David W. Landrum

The four of us sat in Jeff’s office. He picked up a remote.

“Ariadne, are you sure want to see this? It’s insulting and crude.”

“I’ll see it or hear about it sooner or later. I want to be among friends when I listen to what he says.”

Besides Jeff and me, Thea, Jeff’s wife, was there. Jeff sighed and cued the computer to send the recording to the big screen on the wall opposite us.

The blue turned to an image of the comedian Kevin Hayes sitting next to Joy Bittner and Christie Heck.

“So you heard about Ariadne Tsopei playing a concert for Senator Willis Crowder and Vice President?”

She had played a short program for a small audience at the White House. Hayes never tired of attacking the Vice President and the conservative senator who had been in my wife’s audience that day. The women on the television program nodded at his question.

“Well, I saw the tape. When she played ‘Variation on Hail Gladdening Light,’ the three of them looked like were having an orgasm together—well, maybe it was an epiphany!” The TV audience laughed. Hayes held up his right index finger. “No. wait. I’m getting Heaven and the bedroom mixed up.” More laughter and applause. When the laughter died down, he said, “Of course, in an interview she said that as a teenager she had seriously considered becoming a nun.”

“Yes,” Bittner said. “Sid, can you roll the tape from that interview?”

The image changed to Ariadne interviewing on the Today Show. She discussed her popular composition “Suite from Ancient Litanies.” She had worn white that day and looked especially beautiful.

“Those are from ancient hymns of your church, I know,” the interviewer said. “And you said in the liner notes that you gave a lot of thought to entering a convent—becoming a nun.”

“I did. I thought very seriously about this.”

“Obviously, you decided against it—you’re married with a child. Why did you?”

Ariadne smiled her pretty smile. “I simply decided I wasn’t cut out for religious life and thought I could serve God better just doing what I do well.”

They cut the clip off there.

“So she got married. She became a wife, not a nun. I know as a nun you pray a lot, do things like that. What is it you do as a wife?” Heck asked, spreading he hands wide.

“Have babies. Have orgasms,” Hayes answered.

“Or epiphanies,” one of the women said.

They all laughed.

“Unless,” Hayes continued, again hold up his right index finger, “the birth of her child was an immaculate conception.” He paused and added, “I don’t see why anyone would want more religion, like you would get in a convent. I wanted less of it when I was growing up. I mean, our church used to sing a hymn—‘What Wondrous Love Is This?’—that had this line in it, ‘When I was sinking down / Beneath God’s righteous frown.’ That used to scare me as a kid. I pictured a God looking like the one Michelangelo painted on the Sistine Chapel, and he was frowning and scowling at me—though I guess it was wondrous that anyone that pissed off at you could love you at the same time.”

Again, laugher and applause sounded from the audience.

“I guess that’s a religious mystery,” Bittner put in.

Amid the squealing, guffawing, and plaudits, Bittner turned. The camera zoomed in on her.

“We’ll be back after a word from our sponsor.”

Jeff clicked the remote. Silenced ruled for a moment. Ariadne rested her forehead on her thumb and fingers. I put my arm around her and kissed her hair.

“I’m sorry, honey.”

She shook her head to indicate her disgust, but also to tell me she was all right.

“I absolutely cannot believe people would say such things on national television,” Thea said, rising. She came over, knelt beside Ariadne and touched her gently.

She was crying by now.

“I’ve got a good mind—” I began.

“Don’t even think about it, Samuel,” Ariadne said, breaking out of her tears. “Don’t do anything, don’t say anything. You would only get in trouble.”

“Why don’t we go into the lounge?” Jeff suggested.

We went into the next room. Thea got out of decanter of (irony here) Redemption Rye Whisky and poured some for us. Thea took it with water, Jeff and I with ice; Ariadne liked hers neat. We drank in silence.

“People are reacting,” Jeff said. “Hayes and his two female fluffies are getting lambasted on Facebook. Of course, FOX and all the conservative sites are after him. No one else is saying much to condemn his speech. The Vice President said it was crude and unbecoming of a gentleman. Of course, Hayes will use that in his next monologue, just wait and see. He operates like that.”

A long silence followed. Penelope and Michael, our children, were with Ariadne’s sister. Ice clinked in our glasses. People sipped their drinks. I felt the tension in the room go down a little.

“When is your next concert?” Thea asked.

“Friday. I’m doing a round in New York.”

“A round” was a term she used for a full weekend of activity: concert on Friday night, a workshop or master class Saturday morning, concert Saturday night, Sunday matinée and Sunday-night concert. As I recalled, the concerts were all sold out and the master class was full.

Thea looked over at me. “Are you going with her, Samuel?”

“I wasn’t planning to. I was going to stay home with the kids, but I want to now.”

“Guys,” she said—Ariadne was from Indiana, where the term “guys” or “you guys” did not necessarily refer to men but to people in general— “I’m a big girl. I am old enough to play by myself.”

We smiled at her small pun, but Thea backed me up. “I think Samuel ought to go,” she insisted. “I know Lissie and Colette will be with you, but I think you need your husband along. You might be swarmed by the press. Who knows what those people might say to you?”

She nodded, looking down.

A second glass made us feel less tense. We decided on a place for dinner. When my wife called Penelope, she begged to stay at Aunt Laura’s with her cousins. Ariadne gave her permission.

“But I’ll get you and Michael in the morning,” she said, “and you can have breakfast with Daddy and me. I want you and your brother to be home with Daddy and me before I go to New York.”

After she hung up, we went out to eat. In the restaurant, people recognized her and came up to offer their sympathy and voice their indignation about Hayes.

Two years ago, Ariadne had released an orchestral version of the Elizabethan song “Go from your Window.” Like Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” it emerged as an unexpectedly popular tune, got on the charts, climbed to number four on Billboard, and sold close to a million copies. Because she was pretty, appeared on television a lot, and did versions of popular songs on classical guitar, she had become more of a celebrity than most classical players did. She thanked the people who come up to her in the restaurant. She always behaved graciously toward fans.

“The thing is,” Jeff asked, partway through the meal, “what do you want to do? Do you want to make a statement?”

“I won’t respond to that kind of talk—but I’m sure other people will.”

Encouragingly, social media outlets and even some major media outlets censured Hayes for his crudity. Still, he had a wide fan base that supported him. It was doubtful that even widespread censure of his behavior would affect him. We finished eating, said good-bye to Jeff and Thea, and went back home

****

In the two days before we left for New York, Ariadne played guitar incessantly. Other than meals, spending time with and going on a couple of outings with the children, and periods at night when we read together and enjoyed the simple pleasure of being with one another, she stayed in her studio with her guitar, a pen, and legered music paper. I knew she was composing and knew to respect her privacy during this time. The Greeks used to say that when an artist found herself caught in the grip of creative expression she was possessed by one of the Muses. When Ariadne wrote music, I could understand what they meant. She seemed under the control of an outside force. She looked wild-eyed and driven, preoccupied like she heard music playing from afar. Distant, remote, she obeyed the creative energy flowing through her mind. She would stop for a while to engage in a game of Candyland or Chutes and Ladders with Penelope, or build Duplo blocks with Michael, or all four of us would go outside to play in the snow, and her state of supernatural possession would lift. But afterward the creative spell would come over her again and she would head for her studio.

The upshot to the times when she fell into creative mania was that when the creative spirit took hold of her, she would come on to me at night when we went to bed and again in the morning when we woke up. Inspiration by the muse had a most pleasant side-effect.

At lunch I asked her if she was composing. Like most artists, Ariadne did not like to discuss a work in progress (I’m the same way when I’m painting). I had learned in our years of marriage when and how to broach the topic.

“I’m doing a series of variations on a couple of hymns,” she said. “It’s going well.”

I could tell she did not want to discuss it further. Her tone indicated obligation to heed the voices, the energies, the currents of creative motivation that had stimulated her mind and heart.

She continued to write. The morning we were to leave for New York, after a pleasant embrace, I asked her how the writing had gone.

“Finished,” she said, smiling. “I’ll let it sit for a while and play it for you when I know it’s in final form. I might even trot it out at the master class and see how people react to it.”

We spent the morning doing things with Penelope and Michael. We went ice skating and sledding at local parks, visited the children’s museum—a place our kids loved—and, after lunch, dropped them off at Ariadne’s sister’s home. We caught a taxi to the airport.

On the flight over, Ariadne clicked out of creative mode and became her warm, pleasant, chatty self. The Muse had given her back her spirit. She talked and read Classical Guitar and Guitarra Magazine. Reading about music seemed to make her more cheerful.

Artists like other artists. Ariadne and I met in college. I was studying to be a painter. She liked my work because I tended more towards realistic and traditional styles.

A lot of artists marry later in life because they want to establish their careers before they settle down. Ariadne and I married when we were both 22, and mostly at her urging. She came from a devout family, was religious herself, and did not believe in sex outside of marriage. When we fell in love we decided, even though we were young, broke, and still in school, to make it so she and I could get it in on without violating her values.

We got married, celebrated, consummated. Her parents paid for us to go on a honeymoon to Greece. Neither of us could stop being who we were, so she brought a guitar along and I brought a sketch book. I did sketches of the Parthenon, the Porch of the Maidens, and various sites in Athens; she worked on pieces by the Greek composers Nikos Athanassakis and Nikos Harizanos, and on the only guitar piece John Tavener wrote. Ariadne got pregnant the third year we were together. Having a child might have hijacked her career, but during the months of her pregnancy and the year after, when she stayed mostly at home with our daughter, she started to write music. The same was true after Michael was born a year later.

Several high-level guitarists discovered and performed her compositions. Quickly she joined the ranks of such guitar-composer luminaries as Andrew York and Sergio Assad. This also boosted her popularity as a performer. Soon she had a full tour schedule, played in some of the top venues in the US and Canada, and was seen on TV. When “Go from your Window” hit the pop charts, her career was made. She performed on television, toured, and recorded. She had a broad and diverse fan based. The last two years she had done everything from recitals to writing the soundtrack for a motion picture.

As we flew, I grew restless. The frustration of someone verbally abusing my wife on national television, making crude remarks about her, and mocking her religion rankled me. I wanted to knock a couple of Hayes’ teeth out, though I knew I did not dare to even threaten him. He had a phalanx of lawyers to protect him, and it would ruin my wife’s career if I did anything in response to his obscene badgering.

We descended into JFK. I looked over at her.

“You okay?” I asked. She had not spoken much.

“I’m fine. I was upset, but I won’t let what happened the other day affect me.”

I had been checking news sites while Ariadne was caught up in practice. The prevailing mood favored her. People felt outrage at Hayes’ jokes. Demands that he apologize had multiplied. Other entertainers and several politicians had denounced him. Hayes remained unapologetic.

A swarm of reporters awaited us in the main terminal of the airport. They surrounded us when we entered and plied Ariadne with questions. I wanted her to give them a hand wave, dismiss them, and not take the bait. Journalists lurk like sharks, looking for an inflammatory statement to fuel the fires of controversy and give them a drama to broadcast to audiences eager for sensationalism and celebrity gossip.

“What is your reaction to Kevin Hayes’ remarks?” one shouted out.

She stopped, turned to the woman, and said, calmly and even, “I’m disappointed that a man of such wit and intelligence would say such things as he said.”

“You’re offended?” another journalist asked.

“No. Not offended. I’m saddened. Kevin Hayes is a man who has the gift of making people laugh, and there is so much need for laughter in the world as it is today. It’s sad that he has stopped doing what he does so well and has taken to attacking and demeaning people.”

“You think he’s stopped doing what he does well?”

She did not answer.

“Do you know he plans to attend your concert tonight?”

This nonplussed her, but only for a second.

“I did not know that; but I’ll be happy to have him in the audience.”

“After what he said?”

“I play music. I’m happy when people come to listen. Now, you’ll excuse me. I have a concert tonight and I need to practice.”

By that time Lissie and Collette, her personal assistants, had shown up. They brought two beefy bodyguards with them. The men separated Ariadne from the journalists and we made our way outside. At the door, a bevy of photographers with flash and motion picture cameras awaited her. We got to a taxi. Lissie and Collette headed for their cars and said they would meet us at the hotel.

Ariadne sat tight-lipped throughout the drive. We went up to our suite of rooms and got settled. She checked her guitar. Seeing it was in good shape, we relaxed, drank, and talked. I held her hand but knew it would be best to let her speak first. I waited a long time. She said nothing. I decided I ought to break the silence.

“So he’s coming to the concert?”

“I assume the information the reporters gave me is correct.”

“Sounds like something he would do. What are you—” I stopped and rephrased my question. “What do you think.”

She turned to face me. “Think? I think I want to practice.”

Ariadne got up and went to the bedroom. After a moment, I heard her begin to play.

This concerned me. Ariadne did not normally practice before a concert. She called doing so “compulsive practice” and said it was not good. “It raises your anxiety level. You never want that to happen.” I decided she must be more upset than she let on.

Through the door, I heard pieces she often did as practice warm-ups: Tarrega’s “Estudio Brillante” and “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” and “Variations on a Theme by Mozart” by Sor. The notes on the two quick pieces flowed with amazing fluidity and speed: she did them faster than most guitarists and twice as fast as she usually played them. Before a concert, Ariadne usually played some scales to loosen up her fingers. The emotion she felt had altered her routine. She was upset. I hoped her distress would not hamper tonight’s performance.

She started playing a hymn tune. I called the kids and told her we had arrived safely. Penelope asked if she could take to her mother.

“Mommy’s practicing.”

“Mommy doesn’t practice before concerts,” she said, her voice assuming the authority children will often assume when they know an adult has said something inaccurate.

“She wanted to.”

“Tell her I miss her.”

“I’ll have her call you and your brother. Now tell me what went on today.”

She gave me a list of activities. Laura is energetic, and when Penelope and Michael stay with her, they are treated to an almost ceaseless round of activities. They come home to complain that our family “never does anything.” Penelope always adds, “Aunt Laura takes us all kinds of places—and she has four kids.”

We talked. Ariadne continued to practice. I told Penelope her mother would talk to her later.

The concert was at 7:30. At 5:00, she emerged from the bedroom.

“You practiced,” I said.

“I thought I needed to tonight.”

“Why?”

“I’m playing some new pieces. I’m not as familiar with them as I should be.”

I remembered she had written some new pieces the last few months, though it did not seem she would be unfamiliar with them; I had heard her working with some hymn tunes, though I doubted she would perform anything she had just come up with in the last couple of days. I hoped Hayes’ insults and crudes remarks would not adversely affect her abilities as a performer.

Ariadne did not eat before playing. We would dine afterwards. At six we went to the venue for a sound check. This was the most boring part of accompanying her on tour. I stood around while technicians bustled here and there conferring on lighting and checking sound levels. Ariadne went to the ready room. I stood around. I could have brought a sketch pad, but to draw well I need to be relaxed. And, when the show starts, what you do with the pencils and sketch pad?

They opened the doors to the concert hall. An usher escorted me to my seat, front row, center stage. I sat, relaxed, stretched, and waited. A minor burst of whispering got my attention. I looked over and saw Kevin Hayes sit down three seats away. He was just a little off from center stage—in a location where Adriane would be certain to notice him.

An overwhelming urge to punch him out arose. Of course, that would be insane and would advance his shallow-minded campaign to damage my wife’s spirit and her career.

That thought brought on a revelation. Hayes had shown not shallow-mindedness but contempt. Contempt of what? Of the conservation politician for whom Adriane had played? Of her personally? Or did he despise traditional religion and morality? Did he harbor childish, petty spite towards the morality she represented?

I felt my anger turn to incredulous disgust that led into something like sympathy. It was the sort of sympathy you must reluctantly embrace. Anger is not the kind of feeling that such a disposition merited.

I sat three seats away from him. He was alone. Probably he had made special arrangements to get a front-row seat and had not brought anyone with him—no one to sit beside him and share his attitude. A leer on his face, he leaned back as the lights went down and Ariadne walked on stage.

She had worn her “angel outfit,” as Penelope and I called it: a trim white dress with sequins. She did not wear gowns when she performed, and the white outfit made her look sexy and chaste at the same time.

She bowed, sat down, positioned the guitar, and went into Giuliani’s “Grand Overture”—fast, intricate, and, like most Nineteenth-Century guitar playing, offering numerous occasions for dramatic interpolation. The audience hung on every note. I could not help glancing over at Hayes. He sat and smirked, though I fancied her skill as a guitarist impressed him. She finished, thanked the audience for their enthusiastic response, and said she would do two more early pieces. She played Napoleon Costa’s “La Source de Lyson” (a favorite of mine) and Sor’s “Sonata in C major.” She knew the audience wanted original music, and, after the nineteenth-century sequence, she played the popular “Gladsome Light,” which used four ancient hymn tunes, on which she did variations. The piece—beautiful, gentle, complex in its transformation of the original tunes but never very far away from them—sent its spell over the audience. As many times as I had heard it, it still quieted me, its melodic power washing over my spirit. Caught up in it, I came back to myself when she finished. A hushed moment passed, the audience cheered and broke into applause so prolonged that Ariadne stood and took a small bow. The remainder of the first half of the concert consisted of more modern pieces.

When intermission came, I went to the lobby and had a whiskey. Ariadne never wanted me to come backstage to see her during breaks. She did not want to lose focus and spent intermissions alone, sipping a glass of wine. I saw Hayes laughing and joking with a group of people, the center of a circle of adoring fans. I tried not to look—not because I despised him (I did) but because I resolved he would not become my focus this night. Luckily, I ran into some of my friends. We talked until the lights flashed, signal for us to resume our seats.

Ariadne began the second half of the concert with Dodgson’s “Partita for Guitar,” a piece of music I knew she loved. She did pieces by modern Greek composers and a piece by Andrew York. After applause from that died down, she said she had a new work to premier.

“I wrote ‘Gladsome Light’ from hymns my church sings. But there is a rich heritage in early American hymns. This new composition uses several hymn tunes from American traditions—and a couple of English melodies that were popular in the US. It’s a sequel I call ‘Wondrous Love.’”

She sat down and began.

The sequence began with “What Wondrous Love Is This?” in a low range that let the melodic complexity of the song speak for itself. She allowed its power to resonate before her segue into “How Firm a Foundation,” masterfully done with the low strings firm against the melody and the verse played completely in natural harmonics toward the end of the song. I wondered if she would include “Amazing Grace,” but she avoided it, probably due to familiarity, and launched into “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” (an English hymn, she told me later) and in the end came back to an intricate, beautiful set of variations on “What Wondrous Love Is This?”

The house remained silent as she played. No one coughed or shifted positions. The audience sat transfixed. When she finished, thunderous plaudits followed; cheers and shouts of brava made a loud din. When Adriane rose and took a bow, the volume of cheering increased (by this time, everyone, including Hayes, had stood). She smiled. I could tell she was moved that the crowd had liked her arrangement of hymns so much. She left the stage. The applause and, now shouting, continued. She came back with her guitar. The cheering quieted. She sat down and began to play “Zarabanda Lejana” by Joaquin Rodrigo.

The piece cast its spell of quiet on the crowd. I loved it as much as Ariadne did. She went through the formal but oddly dissonant and modern cadences that made the piece so brilliant and so contemporary. As with the composition she had premiered, the familiar “Zarabanda” held the audience in thrall.

She finished, rose, bowed, smiled, blew a kiss to the audience, and left the stage.

I rose and stretched. Friends came up to chat and compliment Ariadne’s playing. They especially liked the variations on early American hymns. “Of course,” more than one fan said, “you’ve probably heard it before.”

In fact, I had not.

Ariadne usually previews a composition, and I have had the privilege of hearing her works in embryonic form and then finalized before anyone else enjoys them. But she had not previewed this one. As far as I knew, she had not worked on it before last night. It had been in response to what Hayes had said. I looked around but did not spot him. More friends talked with me, their words inevitably lauding how well my wife had played and the excellence of the hymn sequence she had given to the listening world.

I was thinking about going back to the lobby for another drink when I saw Hayes. I resolved not to go over and punch him. Gratifying as that would have been, I would be playing right into the hands of the vulgar crowd to which he belonged (besides landing me in jail). I wandered to the bar, picked up a whiskey, and turned to see Hayes standing near me.

Up close, he did not look as glitzy as he did on television. No make-up, I suppose. He looked dull and worn out.

“Mr. Culver, your wife played beautifully tonight.”

He had found out I was Adriane’s husband and that she had not changed her name when we married. I rallied enough to nod and thank him for the compliment. An awkward silence—in contrast to the happy buzz of conversations all about us—fell.

“I got a little out of line when I talked about her on Wednesday,” he said.

I did not want to seem tongue-tied, so I answered, “I daresay you did.”

“Yes, and I want to apologize.”

“You need to apologize to her, not to me.”

“I plan to. I was wondering if you might allow me to do as much tonight.”

At first, I was at a loss for words, but I suddenly felt clear-headed and knew exactly what my reply would be.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Mr. Hayes. Concerts exhaust Ariadne. She doesn’t need any drama just after finishing one. Your remarks were public; your apology should also be public.”

He winced. “Yes. You’re right.”

I bowed. “Good-night, sir.”

Anger coursed through me. I chided myself for not smacking him in the mouth and, simultaneous, lauded myself for showing such remarkable restraint as I did. I walked to the auditorium, went backstage, and, with permission from security, tapped on her door.

“I noticed him,” she said.

“He was three seats down from me.”

“I hope he liked what he heard.”

“The sequence with ‘What Wondrous Love Is This?’—was that for him?”

“Yes. I like it that you said ‘for’ him. At first, I thought of it as ‘against’ him—a jab, a punch, a way of getting even. But as I played through it and remembered the words, it struck me that it’s a song about grace—how wonderous God’s love is. When I started thinking of it that way, I saw it not as a way to get at him but as a way to minister to him, and the composition came together. I recorded it to make certain I didn’t forget.”

There are times when faith does not seem real. For me, it’s most of the time. But there are times when grace emerges like the sun chasing off the dark and cold. Ariadne succeeded as a channel of grace much more often than I did. Her grace frequently came to me. It had come, I believed at that moment, even to a man who had cruelly ridiculed her.

Her music had been played with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt.

We sat together in silence and sipped our drinks.


DAVID W. LANDRUM teaches Literature at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Linnet’s Wings, Chantwood, Amarillo Bay, 34th Parallel, decomP, and Fantasia Divinity. His most recent novellas, The Court of the Sovereign King and Sinfonia: the First Notes on the Lute, are available through Amazon.


Photo: “Guitar” by Ran Zxzzy