A Weekend in D Major
Constance drifted in from the platform, a melody of loose silk and pearls in the key of romance. She trailed behind her a gossamer shawl haphazardly scattered with black musical notes. The notes crashed together as Constance spun around to find the station clock. It was nearly twelve.
“Excuse me,” she trilled, “where’s the side entrance? I’m meeting somebody there. A composer.”
The sleepy station manager, unimpressed with this information, pointed to a grubby glass door. Constance sat down in front of it and squinted at the clock. Her eyes were getting old. But, she reflected, it’s only the heart that matters in the end. Besides, everyone knows that love is a youth tonic.
Constance arranged herself like a sonata. She cracked open the clam of a pocket mirror and tucked a few hovering grey hairs back into her beehive. She draped her clothing tastefully around the seat, imagining the marble folds of a Greek statue. Once everything was just so, she resolved to sit absolutely still. Nothing was going to upset her composure until the big moment. Nothing.
Just then, a tall man, who had been hovering behind her for some time, tapped her on the shoulder. It was the station manager. He regretted to tell her that her dog had died.
Constance blinked. “He did what?”
“Died. I’m awfully sorry, Madam.”
Constance let a few heartbeats pass. Then she removed her gossamer draping and commanded, “Wrap him in my shawl and leave him with my things. Later I shall have him interred.”
The startled station manager opened his mouth, but words failed to find it. He closed it again, and did as he was told. A few minutes later the shawl, with its morbid contents, was carefully placed on top of the lady’s luggage. Constance ignored it. She watched the door.
Finally, with an anguished shriek of hinges, the Composer arrived. Constance knew it was him because he rode in on that terrible sound as though on the back of a dragon. Also, he had a moustache.
He wasn’t quite as Constance had imagined. Ralph was short and lumpy, with a halo of black fuzz around a glistening head. His weak, watery face seemed to exist only as a backdrop for his eyebrows, both of which deserved its own hairdresser. Constance was suddenly reminded of her poor, dead spaniel.
“How d’you do,” Ralph huffed, wiping sweat off his bald spot. “I take it you must be Constance. Mind if I call you Connie?”
She almost slapped him. Instead, she reached out her hand, palm down.
He shook it. “I’ll help you with your bags, shall I?”
She pointed at her crumpled shawl. “My dog.”
Ralph glanced around the station, hoping there might be a different Constance somewhere. There wasn’t. He sighed. “Well then. Onwards and upwards.”
They left with that same desperate moan of the door. Constance walked behind him, nursing a quiet triumph. A genius, she thought, watching him struggle against her belligerent luggage. My genius.
They had met online. It was only a brief romance, but she knew it must come to a terrific crescendo when he said he wrote music.
“What kind of music?”
“Oh, instrumental things mostly.”
“You mean, you compose?”
“Yes…compose and arrange, that sort of thing.”
Constance nearly jumped from her seat. A real composer! Within minutes, she was hanging off his arm as he received a prestigious award for his work—an Oscar…no, a Grammy…no! a knighthood! The cameras crashed and shattered with flashing lights. He hid behind her shyly—those creative types were always shy!—while she waved away the swarm of reporters. “Oh, no, it’s nothing to do with me, really! Ralph works extraordinarily hard. He’s a genius.”
“But you’re his muse, aren’t you,” said one of the photographers.
Constance blushed. “Me? Oh…I don’t know.”
She sat there for a while, making sure the imaginary photographer captured her good side. Then she opened her eyes. What excitement the future held for her! Full of fame, full of love—full of music!
Constance knew nothing about music. But she didn’t let that deter her from planning their love affair in advance. After all, she could always learn a thing or two. To that end, she spent a whole afternoon listening to the classical station on the radio. She didn’t understand a thing, but by evening decided she quite liked Mozart.
Constance refrained from looking up her composer on the internet. Googling! It sounded like ogling. She thought it was rude. Instead, she delved into his soul from afar. Constance began to imagine the way a composer must think—his inner language. In an instant, a whole new world opened to her. The whoosh of passing cars, the tapping of high heels, the jingle of a dropped coin—surely, to him, these emanations were something more, an intricate tapestry of sound. Somehow, they must all intertwine into a unified whole, steeped in a kind of esoteric resonance. Or was it dissonance? She wasn’t sure. She would have to ask him.
Acting upon that impulse, Constance sent Ralph a short communiqué on their dating website: “I think I’ll come and see you for the weekend.”
And, like a thunderbolt, she did.
Ralph squeezed all her possessions into the trunk of his car, except the dead spaniel. Constance thought it best to carry this item on her lap. During the drive they didn’t speak much. Ralph tried a number of times to initiate conversation, enquiring about her journey or the weather, but her reply always fell flat. Instead, they listened to the incessant metronome of the windscreen wipers.
Many measures of silence later, he unlocked the door of his flat.
“Well, here it is. It isn’t much but…” He waited for her to say something. She didn’t. “…but it’ll be comfortable enough, I hope,” he finished on his own.
Constance nodded graciously and swept in.
It was a horrible place. It smelled damp. “That’s the bedroom.” He gestured to a flimsy door hanging out of the pallid wall. “You’ll be staying there. And I’ll be out here, on the sofa.”
The sofa looked like something a dinosaur had regurgitated due to its being inedible. She wrinkled her nose. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Me? Oh, no, not at all. I kip out here anyway, some nights, when I have trouble sleeping.”
“And where do you work?” she asked hopefully.
“Oh…” He scratched one of his prolific eyebrows and gestured to a small desk in the corner. “Just there, I guess.”
It was a terrible disappointment. Constance had expected beautiful chaos, piles of notebooks, musical scores, and tiny scraps of paper containing improvised shreds of brilliance. But the timid little desk was empty, save an electric keyboard plugged into a steely laptop. They reminded her of the sterile instruments in a dentist’s surgery.
Constance looked around. There was nothing else. She had pictured a piano, at least. She put her dead dog shawl right down on the desk.
“Play me something of yours,” she demanded.
“Oh, all right then.” He looked around, suddenly lost in his own home. A stack of CDs offered salvation. “Here, listen to this.”
He put it on. A pause—and then a sugary sound dissolved into the air, which Constance assumed to be an introductory prelude, like some kind of musical packaging. Then it stopped.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“What…what was that?”
“It’s an advertising jingle. For washing powder.” He raised his large eyebrows a whole octave. “You don’t like it?”
“Oh, I—” she faltered.
“It may not sound like much—but the advertising world is cut-throat.”
“It’s not easy to make a living doing this stuff.”
“Of course not.”
“You don’t look so impressed.”
“It’s just that I expected—”
“A real composer,” he finished for her.
Constance gasped and theatrically clapped a hand to her chest. “Oh, Ralph, how can you say that? What must you think of me?”
He pulled on a sheepish smile. “I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have said that. I’ve done other things too, you know. Television. Even a film score once.”
He said this with such humble pride that Constance forced herself to be kind. “Why don’t you give me a tour of your home?”
There wasn’t much to show. It was a dilapidated bachelor pad with a narrow kitchen and the smell of wet dog. Everything looked as though it might break if you pulled on it too hard.
“Will you be comfortable in here?” he asked, setting her bags down in the bedroom.
“This is most awkward…but I must find somewhere for my spaniel.”
“The dead one?”
He squinted. “What did you have in mind?”
They unloaded the freezer. It was packed with ready meals in flat cardboard cartons. Once it was empty, Constance slid the shawl inside. Ralph, meanwhile, sorted through the frozen dinners.
“I suppose we’ll just have to eat all this food now,” he said.
She frowned. “I suppose we shall.”
That first night they went to bed without learning much more about each other. Constance tossed and turned on the squeaky mattress. Her back hurt. Soon she heard Ralph snoring out in the living room. She turned on the bedside lamp, tiptoed over to the door, and peeked out. The mound on the fossilised sofa rose and fell with each terrific snore. Constance sighed, and promised herself that she would survive this weekend—whatever it took.
In the morning, Ralph awoke to the unfamiliar sound of female chatter. Surprisingly, this didn’t cause him any immediate panic. Then he remembered about Constance.
The back door, which led to the courtyard garden outside his flat, was ajar. Ralph approached. Constance was speaking to someone.
“But you mustn’t think me ungrateful! Ralph is a very kind man. And supremely talented.”
“Is he?” said a voice that made Ralph feel slightly sick.
“Oh, yes. I heard some of his music last night. It was sublime!”
“You don’t say.”
Ralph emerged to find his neighbour, Greg, cleaning his glasses with the slow superiority of a slug polishing a lettuce leaf he was about to eat. “Oh, good morning, Ralph. I was just getting acquainted with your lady friend.”
“Hello. Lovely-day-isn’t-it,” breathed Ralph, wishing the sky would fall in. Ideally, he thought, it would fall directly on Greg.
“I was just telling dear Constance here that I’m having a party tonight. You should come.”
“Oh yes, Ralph!” Constance fluttered. “I’ve already accepted the invitation!”
“Ah. Hm. I see.” Ralph rubbed his moustache. “Actually, I think we already have other plans. Sorry, Greg. Maybe next time.”
“Too bad,” said Greg. He looked them both up and down, and, Ralph could swear, left a thin trail of slime behind him. “Well, never mind. I’ll let you two love birds get on with it.”
When Greg had retreated into the depth of the garden, Ralph turned to Constance and hissed, “Why did you do that?”
“Tell him we were coming to his party—without asking me first!”
“I didn’t realise I needed permission,” Constance huffed. “Anyway, we don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Do you have anything for breakfast?”
He had nothing but defrosted food packets and a stale box of cereal. Constance insisted on taking him to the supermarket. It was just down the street, but he rarely went. She strutted around casually, reading the ingredients in each packet, while he shuffled behind her, glancing over his shoulder, and urging her to hurry up. Luckily, none of his other acquaintances got up before noon on a Saturday. When they made it home again without incident, Ralph slumped in relief. He suddenly remembered there was an ancient packet of cigarettes hidden away on top of a kitchen cupboard.
Constance had talked the whole time. She said things he didn’t understand—he sometimes even wondered whether they spoke the same language. She had a way of mixing utter banalities with obscure metaphysics which made his head spin. “I think you should get some salt—not ordinary salt, Himalayan salt—did you know that mountaineers have spiritual epiphanies when they reach the peak, they say that every mountain is a sacred place, why do you suppose that is? Anyway, Himalayan salt is better for you—it’s pink.” The worst was when she tried to talk about music. “I think every sound falls into place, connects in a kind of ethereal symphony—you know, like string theory—but then, who arranged it? Who is the grand composer? And I suppose we should ask him why we have to endure that awful crinkling sound of plastic packets—don’t you just hate it in the cinema, when people are eating sweets?”
Constance began to unload the shopping in the narrow kitchen, and Ralph gazed longingly toward the top of the cupboard for his cigarettes.
“Listen,” he said, “Let me do that. There’s only room for one in here anyway.”
“No, no, I insist. You’re my guest. I’m making sandwiches.”
He successfully ushered Constance back out into the living room and closed the door. Then he scaled the cupboard to its plywood summit and found the trusty cigarettes, just as he’d left them years ago; cold turkey. He lit one on the gas stove.
Ralph smoked, and took his irritation out on the sandwiches. Himalayan table salt! Mountaineers! String theory! He slapped each one on a plate and smothered it with margarine.
When he was ready to open the kitchen door again, he was hit with a kind of gurgling and cooing sound. It was Constance. Still talking.
Ralph groaned. “Now what?”
He found her crouched on the sofa wearing a pair of headphones. She held an ancient cassette player in her lap, and was babbling over it like it was a baby.
“Marvellous…yes—yes! Oh, lovely, simply lovely!” She looked up, eyes ablaze. “Ralph, this is beautiful! What tenderness! What violence! It’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Where did you get that?” Ralph managed to squeeze through his teeth. Constance gestured to a box of cassettes on the floor.
“I found all this under the bed. They are yours, aren’t they—your music? They’ve got your name on them.”
“That stuff’s very old,” said Ralph. “Put it away.”
He yanked the headphones out of the player’s socket. “I said, put it away! You’ve no right to go through my things! If you wanted me to play you something, you should have just asked!” His hands were shaking, and his face was hot. Suddenly he felt very ashamed. Constance pulled headphones down around her neck, looking like she might cry. “I’m sorry,” said Ralph hastily. “I’m very sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”
“I was only curious about your music.”
“I didn’t want to make you angry—never!”
“I couldn’t sleep last night, the mattress was terribly uncomfortable, I thought maybe it was the slats. I got up to have a look under the bed and that’s when I found them. I wasn’t prying. I meant to tell you, honestly I did, but we were so busy talking about other things, there wasn’t a moment—”
Ralph almost laughed. “It’s alright, Connie, really. I’m sorry I got so angry.”
To his dismay, this only made her explode in tears. He sat down on the sofa to comfort her.
“I’m such an ogre!” she sobbed.
“I’ve caused you nothing but trouble. And that party invitation I accepted this morning.”
“It’s nothing really!”
“But I could see it in your face, I embarrassed you. Now you’ll have to make excuses to your friends. I’ve made such a mess!”
She was so pitiful. Ralph looked down at his hands.
“Oh…it’s not that big a deal, actually. And we can still go to the party. That is, if you’d like.”
She sparkled. “You really mean that?”
“Sure,” said Ralph, thinking that it was only lunchtime, and he could still talk her out of it.
He couldn’t. She spent the whole afternoon getting ready, and finally emerged in a cocktail dress that looked like it belonged on a black and white screen—complete with a feather boa. Ralph counted his blessings. It could have been a ball gown. Or a wedding dress.
“Are you going like that?” She frowned at his jeans.
“Yes. This is all I have.”
“Haven’t you got a suit, at least?”
“Not one that fits anymore.”
She sniffed. “Very well. Give me your arm.”
Greg lived in the other block of flats on the opposite side of the courtyard garden. They found him pouring crimson slush out of a box into plastic wine glasses. “Ah, Ralph! You made it!” Greg turned to the other guests crammed into his living room and announced: “Hey everybody! Ralph’s brought his new girlfriend!”
For some reason this was met with applause. Maybe because most of them were aging actors, and the theatre had grown on them, like old leather shoes. Ralph scanned the crowd. It was the regulars. Aspiring musicians, poets, painters—all past their prime. An unshaven heap of week-old clothes peeled itself out of an armchair to shake Constance’s hand. He introduced himself: “Andy. Novelist,” saying the words like they were the names of his two worst enemies.
“What shall we get for the delightful lady?” said Greg with a noxious smile.
“Bubbly,” said Constance.
“There’s some Pepsi on the table, love.”
Andy, novelist, saw disaster coming. He pointed into the midst of the gathering and said, “Oh, isn’t it that film director? What’s he doing here?”
Greg’s eyes flashed with sudden determination. “Excuse me,” he said hurriedly, and pushed two middle-aged actresses out of his way. Everyone knew that Greg had a film script he had been working on for the last ten years which was bound to get a BAFTA nomination, if only somebody would give it a chance.
Ralph looked around the room with growing unease. The guests, to the man, were ardently discussing their latest creative endeavours. No one mentioned their day job, or how they were scraping by. They covered the holes in their pockets with talk about art. Art was king. It was the solution to everything from world hunger to the refugee crisis. It was the bread and butter of humanity. And one day it was going to make them all famous. Not that anyone admitted to caring about such things, of course—they all agreed that it was terribly vulgar to be popular. Still, inwardly they dreamed of one day, that day, perhaps tomorrow, or next year, which would make everything worth it.
Constance poured herself into this mix like exquisite champagne. She shook hands, made jokes, and said plenty of things no one could understand. But, to Ralph’s surprise, they accepted her without question. In fact, they adored her. Constance was everyone’s biggest fan. She fawned over them, complimented their work though she had never seen it, and gasped in delight to find herself in a room of so many rising stars.
All at once, the party began to take on an entirely different tone. Eyes glowed. Backs straightened. Ralph could have sworn the room miraculously got younger by an average age of twenty years.
“What do you think of her?” he asked Andy, when they stepped out for a smoke.
“She’s a character, that’s for sure! But Ralph—”
“She’s just not you.”
“I know,” Ralph admitted regretfully. “But still…she’s got something, hasn’t she.”
Andy was about to reply when a wave of laughter crashed out of Greg’s flat and washed them back in. The film director, who was no more interested in reading Greg’s screenplay than he had been last week, was poking fun at the host’s record collection.
“Trying to be cool like those hipsters, eh, Gregory?”
“No. I just have a thing for vinyl,” said Greg defensively, like he was justifying a foot fetish. “It’s traditional. I’m a purist.”
“Tradition, huh? What do you play these on—a gramophone?”
“On that,” Greg pointed at an old stereo system.
The film director appraised the stereo with a grand gesture. “Hey, look at all this technology! This must have been really cool back in the 80s. It plays cassettes and everything.”
“Greg had a girlfriend who made him a mixtape about thirty years ago,” chimed in a boozy poet. “I bet he still listens to it on that thing.”
The onlookers laughed. Greg loaded his guns and looked around for a convenient target.
“Tell me, madam,” he asked, suddenly turning to Constance, “what did a bottom feeder like Ralph do to deserve you?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Constance readjusted her feather boa with singular contempt.
“No, but I’m curious,” Greg pressed. “How did he seduce such a fine lady? Hmm, Ralph? She seems to think you’re a real composer—nothing less than a genius!”
Constance arched her back. “Ralph is a genius! You should hear his work—it’s full of heart, full of meaning—“
“Oh, that’s rich!” Greg shot back, “Washing powder adverts—deep and full of meaning!”
“You don’t have any idea! Here, I’ll prove it to you!” Constance marched over to the old stereo, took a cassette out of her handbag, and popped it in.
A tinny, odd sound came out. Andy turned up the volume and roared, “Shut up, everybody!”
They did. They listened. The tinny noise resolved itself into a violin, pursued by a thrashing cello. The two met, paired, argued, separated, and picked up other instruments in the chase. The music was, as Constance had put it, full of tenderness and violence. At least it had been to Ralph, once, a long time ago. He reflected that the musicians had hardly done it justice. But they were only students—they were all students back then. He wondered where they were now, and whether they had made it. Or did they, too, find one day that dreams had an expiration date, and people now just expected them to get out of the way?
“Hey, that was pretty good,” said Andy once the music ended. “Though I think it’s a bit old fashioned, isn’t it, Ralph?”
The words snapped against Ralph like a rubber band and shot him back into the party, surrounded by Greg’s entourage of aging bohemians. Something in him strained, twisted, and burst like a broken string. In an instant, Ralph found himself next to the stereo. He ripped the cassette out of the player and grabbed Constance by the arm. “We’re leaving!”
He marched off, clutching her wrist painfully until they had made it across the courtyard back to his flat. Constance yanked her hand out of his grasp with an offended grunt. He didn’t apologise.
“Well, I’m speechless, just speechless!” Constance was rambling on again. “To think of them, doubting your talent—well they know now, don’t they?”
“What? What do they know?” Ralph shouted. “I suppose you think you’ve done me a favour. You think you’ve impressed them? They’re probably all laughing at me right now. Or pitying me! ‘Poor Ralph, he had something once, I wonder what happened to him?’”
“They’re only jealous of you! They’re just a bunch of fakers. Nothing but masks—there’s not a one among them who is genuine.”
“You want to talk about fakers? You, in your feather boa, and talking like you’re out of a…a…moving picture! This isn’t the 1930s! This is the modern age! What about your mask, Constance? Who are you pretending to be? Strutting around my home, acting like I should be grateful to you for coming here uninvited, and putting your dead dog in my freezer! You’re not some twenty-year-old model able to get away with whatever you want!”
For once, Constance really was speechless. She stared at him, eyes bulging. Then she turned on her heel and stormed out into the garden, slamming the door.
Ralph growled and stalked through the flat. He found himself in his bedroom, surrounded by her possessions. He scowled at each of them in turn. Her coat hung on the back of the chair. She was leaving tomorrow. Good riddance! He lit up a cigarette. He was sorry he’d ever spoken to her at all. What was he thinking of anyway? What was she thinking of? Two old fogies messing about on a dating website. It was kids’ stuff.
A terrible loneliness crept out of the shadows and sat next to him on the bed. No, he was being unfair. They were completely unsuited for each other, surely, but they weren’t crazy. Just two people run aground in the internet age. Ralph put out the cigarette and opened the window.
“I’m sorry,” he told the coat on the chair. “I overreacted.”
The coat just bristled. Ralph tried again.
“I know you just wanted the best for me. And I’m flattered. But…you have to understand—I’ll never be who you want me to be. Not the artist, not the man. You’ll spend all your time listening, judging…correcting. Telling me how to write this or that, what to do, how to do it, when to do it—like my ex-wife. And then eventually, there’ll be nothing left of me, only advice and admonitions, and crumbs of impulses that never came to anything. And that’s when you’d leave. When she left, Constance, it was like a forest fire—there was nothing but ashes dead tree trunks, a no-man’s-land of agony and self-doubt. I can’t even hear the music anymore, you know. It’s like my heart clammed up. Maybe it just stopped talking to me out of disappointment.”
There was a shuffling noise behind him. He turned around. Constance leaned in the doorframe, picking at the chipped paint. For a long time, she didn’t look at him, and Ralph wondered if she ever would.
Finally, she said, “His name was Sammy.”
“My dog. Well, actually, he wasn’t mine. Not really. He’d belonged to other people most of his life. But then he got old, and I guess they decided that it would be better if Sammy didn’t live with them anymore. At the shelter, where I found him, the volunteers were going to put him down. They said he didn’t have long to live anyway—weeks, even days maybe. But I thought, how terrible it must be to be surrounded by people all your life, to have fresh air, walks in the park, your own bed…but then, at the end, to see nothing but the inside of a cage, and the blank wall of a vet’s clinic. So I convinced them to let me have him. I took him on the train and held him up to the window. He watched the whole time. Then we got off, and he trotted around a bit. I figured he must like the smells—smell is like sight or hearing to dogs, you know, a whole world we’ll never know about. Then he found those big flowering shrubs they have in pots on the platform. He climbed into one, and went straight to sleep. I thought it was better not to wake him. And, well, I guess he never woke up at all.” She smoothed the skirt of her dress. “I suppose you’re right about me. I’m old-fashioned. I like these silly clothes—I sell them in my shop. My niece tells me it all belongs in a museum. She takes pictures of me to put on her Instagram—whatever that is.”
He smiled. “My son’s the same way. He makes fun of me because my phone still has buttons.”
“Then I guess we have something in common after all.”
“I guess we do.”
They buried Sammy the next morning between two rose bushes in the garden outside Ralph’s flat. They had trouble finding a suitable coffin. The spaniel’s body had frozen solid in an awkward position, and it did not fit into any of Ralph’s old shoeboxes. He found a cardboard box from an Amazon delivery, but Sammy would have had to lie diagonally, tail in the air, and Constance wouldn’t hear of it. Finally, they decided to put him in him as he was, wrapped in her shawl.
She left that afternoon. She made a great fuss. “Really, I must go, I won’t change my mind, so please don’t try to keep me!”
He didn’t. He just drove her to the station.
“Take care of Sammy,” she said. “Don’t forget to water him twice a week. His roses, I mean. And you will write, won’t you?”
“Oh…sure. I’ll tell you how I’m getting on.”
She waved her gloves dismissively. “No, that’s not what I mean. I meant your music.”
“Oh, that.” He shrugged.
“You ought to compose a piece about these past few days. About us. Call it, ‘A Weekend in D Major.’”
“Why D Major?”
“I don’t know. That’s something musical, isn’t it?”
Constance persisted: “Oh, Ralph, promise me you will!”
Ralph looked up at the clearing clouds. The air smelled of fresh rain. The previous night they had talked until almost two in the morning. Then Constance had shut the bedroom door, and he’d sat on the petrified sofa, staring at the blinking light on his computer. It occurred to him that life was inevitable. Like a train coming at you.
“All right. Why the hell not,” he conceded.
“Well then…I hate goodbyes.”
And, just like that, she was gone. Ralph watched her walking away through the station’s glass door. Soon she was lost in a mass of bodies, luggage, coats, newspapers—all moving together, rhythmic and thundering. It was strangely unified, this sea of colour and motion, as though it was guided by some innate irresistible law—maybe gravity, or time; or else, some unearthly, commanding, impossibly delicate music.
© 2018 Nina Telegina
Nina Telegina is a writer, performer, and poet. She is a storyteller with an eye for drama, absurd adventures, and unusual characters.