by Jiri Klobouk
MOSTLY BEETHOVEN (excerpt)
Lane pulled his chair closer to the television. An announcer with a dotted bowtie introduced a Japanese String Quartet live from Carnegie Hall. World renowned Toshiko Yoshiko played cello. First on the program was composition No.15 in A minor, Opus 132. Musicians swayed from side to side and Lane rocked his body accordingly. He had to hold back his emotions. Beethoven wrote the masterpiece deaf as a doorknob.
Years ago his mom Sandy bought him a violin. She would have preferred piano but hadn’t money or room for it. She cleaned houses for rich people in Tallahassee. With violin under your arm, Lane, she said, you conquer the world. In New York at 86th and Lexington, you’ll play something pathetic. People will throw creased banknotes into your baseball cap. Some talent hunter might recognize your potential and arrange engagement for you on Broadway. Manhattan is magic island. I went there searching for your goddamned father. Joe blows trumpet in some cigarette -smoke-filled bar. He could play Armstrong’s “Blueberry Hill,” hoarse voice and all. So fiddle, my boy, and show you weren’t born good-for-nothing.
After Lane returned to his keep, he had to pluck his nose. Eman covered the toilet bowl with his scabby ass and stunk like a skunk. Tonight was the night they’ll pop off. They’ve been in the slammer for fifteen years. Another nine lay ahead of them. They were suffocating like mangy dogs caught in a snare. Lane had filed the window bars for months. The buzz of the file reminded him of a bow sliding over the strings of his beloved instrument. He was twelve when he performed Beethoven’s sonata in the school auditorium. He received a thunderous ovation. He bowed in every direction. Mom Sandy in the first row crumbled a wet hanky. After they came home she said, “And this is the road, boy, you’ll take off on from now on.”
Lane spit on the file. “Before long Issy’s gonna fall into my arms.”
“Ya didn’t bump her off?”
“Be with it, man. That was Betsy. My good wife. At dry cleaners she fished out Issy’s fancy panties from the pocket of my checkered jacket. Shot herself.”
“Lane’s Issy waitin’ for him, yaknow.”
“We’ll find you a chick.”
Lane got used to the halfwit. He devotedly listened to his balderdash. His never-ending chatter about Issy. About his dad in New York. Mom Sandy in Tallahassee. Or, for example, who Dostoyevsky was. Issy never paid a visit or sent him a package with a homemade delicacy like some guys got. In her only postcard she assured him she’s taking care of his violin. Clear evidence she has been waiting for him. It began one Saturday morning when Betsy sent him to the Farmer’s market in Hampston to buy a dozen brown eggs. She was to bake a braided egg loaf. Issy was suntanned thirtyish with snow-white teeth. Her hair was black as Carmen’s. Her farm was less than two miles out of town. Lane began to visit her frequently. She guided him through her kingdom. In the pig stall pigs grunted. In the chicken coop hens sat on eggs. In the barn cows mooed vapidly. Horses neighed in their enclosures. Red-eyed rabbits chewed nettle in cages. In the smokehouse Issy hacked from a huge rump hanging on a hook a delicious chunk of smoked meat. In return Lane played on violin. Her eyes were shut tight. Her curved eyelashes shivered from excitement. An inseparable union of bodies and souls. They held hands. Fire crackled in the kitchen stove. Lane made her acquainted with his life mission. She hadn’t had a clue who Beethoven was. When they made love she whispered, “You know what, Lane, if by any chance something happens to you and you can’t come, I will take care of your fiddle until you finally return.” After the incident at the dry cleaners with her panties in the pocket of his checkered jacket, Betsy screamed for three days, slept for three days, and when she woke up she shot herself in the head. That’s how he described it to Sheriff McWright. He wouldn’t have any of it. “After all, Mister,” McWright said, “it was your gun and your fingerprints.” When Lane told him he wouldn’t hurt a fly, McWright replied, “Give me a break, Mister.”
“Rosa also bumped herself off,” Eman lisped. “Am in the kitchen cuttin’ onion,
yaknow, she walks by, stumbles over a cat and pins herself on knife I held in my right hand.”
“Choppin’ onion is an art, man. You gotta chop inwards. If Beethoven would chop onion, and Antonie Brentano—called Tony, his immortal love—gonna pass by, it could never happen that she’d pin herself on the knife Beethoven was holdin’ And you know why? ’Cause he’s genius.”
“Mine pinned herself.”
“’Cause you are dodo.”
“Stop callin’ Eman names. Eman doesn’t like it.”
It was ten o’clock. Lane blew the fillings off the file. He was about to whistle to Eman a lullaby he composed for Issy. Guard in the corridor ordered them to stand at attention. They have to report their names to confirm their presence in the hell’s hole where they by the order of law belonged.
After it was over Lane began his futuristic yarn. “Let me tell you, dodo, in no time you’ll spread your wings like wild turkey. Below span bridges, and rivers flow alongside cornfields, baseball fields and supermarkets. Chevys, Fords and Buicks are cruisin’ six-lane highways. Without realizin’ it you sit in one of these posh Cadillacs headin’ for Texas. Nota bene, make sure your tires have the right pressure. With the right pressure in your tires you’ll get as far as Houston, put on sunglasses and try luck in some oil conglomerate.”
“What about grub?”
“Eman gets chew here three times a day.”
“Issy’s great cook. Her specialty is frog legs.”
The moment Lane said “frog legs,” the bar got loose. A dark hole of night gaped into his face.
Eman pulled up his pants. “What’s next, prof?”
“We gonna sneak under one fence, go over another and disappear into a forest.”
Eman better move his ass. He climbed the chair, tied up the sheets and squeezed himself into the darkness. Lane followed. They stumbled across the courtyard. The big guy had scouted where the first fence could be lifted. The nearest watchtower was submerged in pitch blackness. They scaled the second fence like monkeys. It bellied like a sail on a schooner. Up by the stone pillar they dived to the other side. They waded through stinky suds. In five minutes they plowed into the forest.
“Here we are, man,” Lane breathed heavily. “Even the Count of Monte Cristo wouldn’t pull off somethin’ like this.”
“What’s next, prof?”
“Chuck hid two outfits in a tunnel under the road. We’ll dress like dandies and stop a car.”
Eman flopped under a tree. He knew one thing for sure. While Lane had Jessie, mom Sandy and dad Joe, he had no one waiting for him. Most so-called parents smacked him or denied him chew or drink. One couple was Korean woman and one-eyed man from Trinidad. Eman liked both until one day he overheard their plan to dump him to crocodiles in Louisiana swamp. That made him wretched. A number of people insisted they were his siblings. One pretending to be his sis introduced herself as Amalie. She claimed she liked him. Then she licked clean whatever he had on his plate. Her next idea was that they make a baby together. When Eman dropped his pants she began laughing she almost fell out from window. Occasionally he went to school. He couldn’t stop gliding his butt. Children made fun of him that he lisps, limps and is short. His teacher tried to improve his language skills by pointing out that fish is not spelled fysh. Eman told him that all he cares is fysh was an animal that swyms in water. He excused himself from the class claiming he had looseness of bowl.
On way to john he scribbled with chalk on walls fysh swyms. He sat on toilet tearing toilet paper into tiny pieces. He blew them in air. They swirled all around him like snowflakes. He never before saw such fragile beauty. When he was twenty-one he met Rosa at the bus stop. He had his hands in pockets. She inquired why he stuck out his tongue on her. He replied if he sticks out his tongue on her heknows nothing about it. She was also a disposed-of child only ten years older. She described herself as manic followed by bouts of depression. She had a habit to ask people on the sidewalk whether by any chance they could be related. Most of them quickly crossed the street. Rosa then attacked Eman with her fingernails as if he was responsible for the rejections. Once she bit him in his nose. He had to seek doc’s attention in emergency room.
They marched along the bubbly creek. The moon emerged from behind the cloud. Cars were passing by on the elevated road. The stream of water turned right. It disappeared into a tunnel under an embankment. Lane felt slimy walls with his hands until he reached an enclosure. From a plastic bag he pulled out one outfit.