Surviving Mozart

Prologue: 2144 Sunset Lane, Bethesda, Maryland. Summer.

  Tools chime against the flask when the bag touches the ground. A night fog cools my face. Kneeling, I nudge the cellar window; it nudges back without moving; Newton's Third Law. I place my palm against the window and bop with my other hand. Nothing doing. I consider the pry-bar, but I hate to use force so soon. Tools are noisy, and they leave marks. I lift with one hand against the sash while I bump with the heel of the other. One bump, because when things go bump, bump in the night, nobody sleeps through that. The sash shudders a half-inch, grunting against the sill, the voice of a disgruntled spouse. Still, it moves. As Galileo said - and suffered for saying.

  I lean against the Volvo in the driveway and sweat in the damp of deep night, a-prickle for challenges, lights, cops. I find a new dent by the headlight; Ginnie is careless of things that belonged to me. As I turn to scowl at the dent, my heel bumps the sash. The window swings in and knocks a plastic jug off the sill. The jug falls with a sloshy bop, echoed twice a second by my heart. But again, no alarms. I ask myself what I think I am doing, and I recognize in that the first ebbing of nerve. Nerve, nerve. The thing will be to get myself in this window, to get centered again and to press ahead. I put my head and a pencil flash in the open window, checking for noisemakers. There are none, now that I have knocked them all to the floor. I reverse, and worm my legs through the window. The butt is the crux of it; it could get stuck in spite of sweat and spandex and rehearsals. You can make all the mockups you want, clamp them to your bathroom doorway and wiggle through twenty times running. You can't give your model the doomful mass of your ex-wife's home, the home you once had, and she took. The sweat and danger of the real thing, the grit and splinters that catch -

  But no, look: I am through. I have broken the barrier. I stand on a stone laundry tub inside the window and reach back into mist to gather up the clinking sack. I step to the floor, shaking, silent as shame. From the sack comes the faintly glowing flask of martinis. I sip, and in a moment I am fine again; silken, clairvoyant, untouchable. I see in blackness the spark of my frosted breath.

  Like a thief now, up the cellar stairs to a place where what I am doing is no longer reversible. To the place where they live, Ginnie and my children.

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Click here for information about Thanks to Mister Merrydown, the sequel to Surviving Mozart.