The Music Lover

Gordon Spires lived across the courtyard from Leonard Hillman, concert master of the M— Symphony, and his lover, Kyoung Wha Jun, the second violinist. Leonard and Kyoung Wha often practiced together outside in the courtyard, under the brim of a large oak tree. The neighbors would hear them playing Debussy or Brahms and sometimes something contemporary that they wouldn’t recognize.

Gordon liked to listen to them. He was in love with Kyoung Wha, who was slender and lovely, and he believed that she secretly returned his affection but could only reveal it through her music. So when she played Mozart, it was because he was Gordon’s favorite, and when she played Bach, it meant that she was biding her time, and when she played Tchaikovsky, it was surely a sign that she was ready to run off. For it was well known that Leonard beat Kyoung Wha when he was drunk, that he cheated on her with the first violist, and that he had not quit smoking like he told Kyoung Wha he would but snuck cigarettes after matinee performances. At least these things were well known to Gordon, who was sickly and often home during the day.

One Sunday afternoon in late autumn, Kyoung Wha and Leonard played Beethoven. From his bedroom window, Gordon could see them, Kyoung Wha in a pleated blue skirt with prim white blouse, her long bangs swinging in her face as she swept her bow across the strings of her violin; Leonard, his narrow face impassive, eyes closed, chin tilted up at an unpleasant angle. Gordon could distinguish the rich, vibrant tones of Kyoung Wha’s playing from the darker, ruminative vibrations of Leonard’s, and he attributed the mistakes—rushed tempo, inconsistent meter, mawkish drawing out of notes—to Leonard, who was, in Gordon’s opinion, the inferior of the two musicians.

Taking careful aim, Gordon threw a Monopoly piece—a silver hat—at the rounded, balding place at the back of Leonard’s head. Leonard did not stop. Gordon threw the wheelbarrow, the thimble, and the Scottish terrier. He used more force.

“What the —?”

Beethoven came to a halt. Gordon peeked to see Leonard rubbing his bald patch, looking up at the oak tree, then down to the ground. Leonard shrugged at Kyoung Wha, who shrugged back. They resumed playing.

The next day, Gordon lobbed a satsuma, just grazing Leonard’s left temple. Leonard leapt from his chair. Kyoung Wha seemed to look straight at Gordon then, smiling sadly. Even crouched below his bedroom window, he could feel her smile penetrate his heart like the most tender of arrows.

A few days passed before they played outside again, Leonard setting up in what had formerly been Kyoung Wha’s spot, farthest from Gordon’s window, Kyoung Wha moving farther from Leonard, into a sunny patch that did not get much shade. Her face in sunlight looked faded to Gordon, wan, and when she played—Mendelssohn this time—he heard the silent suffering as separate notes from the ones that overlapped with Leonard’s, inhabiting the spaces between. She was even more beautiful in her despair, black hair against pale complexion, in an autumnal ensemble of mauves and rusts.

Gordon heaved a bottle of multivitamins, but it overshot its mark, landing, with a muffled plop, in a giant hosta.

It rained for several days after that, the afternoons overhung with mist. Gordon saw Kyoung Wha come into the courtyard in a yellow rain slicker. He thought her green rain boots splendid, as were the orange bill and bubble eyes on her hood, which were meant to make her look like a duck.

On the first clear day, Leonard appeared without Kyoung Wha. He began to play Mahler, his feet planted like andirons before a hearth. Gordon disliked the implication that music could simply go on without her. He wondered where she was, what Leonard had done to her. The lights were off in their apartment. He could see the white fringe of an afghan against the window, resting on the back of a blood red sofa.

Gordon palmed a large rock shaped like a dinosaur egg, with a rough, pock-marked surface. He raised the window and hurled it. The rock rainbowed up and out, hitting Leonard squarely on top of the head and bouncing off. The strings of the violin made a distressed, bleating sound as Leonard slumped sideways out of his chair, then fell face first against the brick walkway.

Time passed. The lights went on. Gordon saw Kyoung Wha come out, heard her call Leonard’s name. Approaching his body, she kneeled, bent to retrieve his violin by its broken neck, got up, and stumbled back inside. The lights went out.

Gordon listened, but all he heard was the sound of distant traffic.

Softly, he closed the window.



The Music Lover was published in Long Story Short in 2009.