Beethoven’s Sixth, on the Danube

This morning I was woken by the sound of Beethoven’s 6th, the Pastoral Symphony, stealing through the window blind. The morning light was full of tangerine oranges and wispy blues all singing softly, tempting me to dress and climb the stairs. I peeked through the blind, the light stealing my heart leaving me breathless. Shoes, I needed those and pants. I pulled things from the dresser and my suitcase manically. I didn’t want to miss this. Black leather jacket to top the list, black cap on my head and my mother rolling over in bed in protest.

“You’re nuts.”

“Mom, it’s Beethoven. Wake up! Your camera is calling you.”

“It can call me after breakfast.” She closed her eyes and refused to be part of the morning.

The Danube was a dark brown; streaked with white highlights showing the rocks below. Mini-rapids, the place where small fish lose sight of their direction and rise to the surface. Duck weed seems to be more precious that rubies, flocks settle their wings and puff their feathers to keep out the cold. Ducks, swans, geese and cormorants called huskily to each other,”It’s come, fall has come. Look, the ship has stirred the bottom of the river. It’s time to fish.”

Small houses lined the shore, but the water level was four feet lower than it should be. The cormorants squawked and protested the riverboats passing. I was transfixed. The sun had just hinted of its arrival. “Wait for me,” it called. “I won’t be long now.”

Yellow trees stood holding their leaves in protest of the chill. Their stylish coats alternated with the brown of duck blinds and cottages. Fog wound itself out of the ground. The teasing of an orderly morning to come was just the beginning, for the clouds overhead had decided to dress in short swirls and gaudy whites stood out from the early blue sky.

I stalked the elusive photograph, looking for that special moment of perfection. Swans descended from the sky calling the morning hours. Church bells rang the hour in the distance. I could feel Beethoven, see Beethoven, and touch Beethoven. The symphony rose in my heart with the sun. “Believe in me,” the sun sang. “I haven’t forgotten you.” Beethoven would have been amused that an older lady dreamed of watching him walk.

I pass the pilot house where the Captain is at the helm. He is good man, knowledgable of the river, with a crew who seem more a family than employees. I remove my hat and salute him. He waves and smiles at me. The morning is rising, the fog lifts and the reflections on the water are colorful: yellows, greens, browns, and blues. I am overwhelmed. I can see the dreams of those who walked while composing. The music is in my head, I am the only one on deck waltzing to Strauss. The music broadcasts itself through my bones, echoes in my toes, and leads me from port to starboard. I was born to be here, listening and looking.

My camera clicks on its own. The sun is over the woods and the deck of the ship promises coffee. The crew of the ship have finished their morning cup together and head to the galley to feed all of the guests.

I lower the camera and bow to the sun. Tomorrow I will flirt with the clouds, winds, rain, and cold again.

The Sword

The sword is a romanticized weapon of extreme sharpness, beauty, and brutality. It brings death face to face. The skill and training are the indicators of noble truths. The sword is a lie.

The rifle takes the personal interaction between enemies and makes death more impersonal, less brutal, and more deadly. When Earth’s UN Council on weapons met, rifles and technology were banned. It was thought that the sword would humanize the battles between country and country, race against race, and religion against religion. What the council did not count on was man’s love of brutality, power, and hatred. Unarmed planet-wide, governments began to fail. Assassins were honored as heres for the deaths they took. The planet’s government fell to extremists.

“You didn’t attend your class on self-defense today. Why?”

“Granddad, I don’t want to kill or hurt others. I know you mean well, but if we keep weapons of any kind, we will always be a target of violence.”

Granddad turned a virulent red, coughed into his handkerchief and sputtered, “Don’t be a damn fool. If someone comes through that door, you will become mincemeat or worse. I’m not hanging on to life just to make you unable to take care of yourself.”

The coughing fit continued as Annie hurried to the sink to get a glass of water. The nozzle on the sink prevented water from being wasted, but it slowed the amount of water available. With the glass finally half full, she hurried back to her Granddad.

“Come on, Granddad. I have the water. Take a sip.” His coughing fit gradually stopped. “Granddad, why do you think we have a bullseye painted on our family? What happened in the past that no one will talk about?”

Granddad just sipped his water, tears forming in his eyes and escaping down his cheeks to his neck. The coughing ended. His memory filled with the blue eyes of the woman he had loved who had been murdered over an empty purse. The murder had been bloody and made the headlines. Eventually the murderers were found and prosecuted, but the hurt lingered, always hovering in moments of dreams, stress, or despair. She had been beautiful, his wife, always on the run to do something good for someone who needed it. Now his granddaughter, an orphan, was his greatest worry. Three family members hacked to death, one precious and kind granddaughter left.

“Granddad, the world is supposed to be kinder now. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

She tucked her granddad into his favorite chair with his favorite blanket. Watching him drift off to sleep, she counted the minutes until his first snore. Sneaking out of the room, Annie went down into the basement. Behind the freezer were three long narrow cases. She quickly opened each, removed the rifles from their resting spots, and made sure the ammo was loaded and ready. Locking the cases, she took them up to the second floor master bedroom. The room had been decorated so that there was no way anyone could access it without paying a steep price. She turned on her blue tooth, short wave radio and scanner. Listening, she heard the scanner report a rape at the entrance of her neighborhood. It had been done at the edge of a sword.

Changing clothes to blend in with night colors, she opened the rifle case and took her M-16 out. She had a job to do. All she needed was an animated cartoon and a super hero persona. Later, when the police arrived to question her as part of their evidence collecting, they told her of a strange tale. A man who had been armed with a knife and sword, had been found handcuffed and tied to a tree. There was a thank you note attached to the collar of his shirt.

“Thank you, officers. We appreciate the effort you put into keeping us safe.”

Granddad coughed and reached out for his glass of water as the news came on. Annie sat next to him on the sofa.

“Look, girl, that happened just down the street. Go to your lessons from now on.”

“Okay, Granddad.”

Staring into the Abyss

You left me for work, you say, screaming as you went out the door. Your words are filled with hate, confusion, disgust. The throwing ceases with the door slamming shut, and now it’s only a matter of time. The phone will ring, and you will cry, “I didn’t mean it. I’m so sorry. You know I love you. I’ve always loved you. I’m so sorry.”

My part of the conversation will go as usual, “Hello? It’s all right. It’s all fine. You have to stop yelling now. Stop it. Take some deep breaths. It’s not so bad. Calm down, I’ll see you in the morning. Everything will be just fine.”

Everything I dreamed falling in love would be is only a pipe dream. They say only fools fall in love, and it is true. I was a cute little blond full of energy, wanting someone to love me. I was a first class fool.

Our marriage started with you drunk and disorderly. It started with my denying there was a problem. I was fine at work, where the guys would tease and try to cop a feel. I could out dance, sing and play them into the ground. You could come home from work, cursing that the road was wrong and you couldn’t pay for the apartment we lived in. You didn’t make enough. I was pregnant before we knew it. You told me that someone was trying to kill us. I lost my job, the apartment upstairs where the MP dropped only one shoe a night, and my dreams. I couldn’t go home, and the throwing started then. The door did hit my face.

That day you called me from the payphone. “Honey, I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry.”

I ignored the pain, used the powder, and looked into your eyes trying to see my dream. Dad would have killed you, but I couldn’t go home to hear about what foolish childish dreams I had had. No, my mother would have been too much to bear.

In part, my mother modeled this for me. My father yelled. He split the kitchen table in half with a butcher knife. He yelled as he threw her across the room for having loved him. I couldn’t go home there. I pick up the phone, “Hi mom, I need to go back to school. There are no jobs for me here. Tell Dad I love him.”

It was something not spoken of in polite society. Your mother let us move to her home. It lasted a whole month. You smoked, lied, drank and ignored your mother who was ailing from having teenagers at home. She was as polite as you, “Get the fuck out of my house.” So I did.

We didn’t have food to eat. When the baby came, I walked to the social service’s office five miles away. You stayed home and drank. I had the baby. I had only enough bus fare to take the bus one way. They belittled me. Everything must me my fault. Ignorant woman that I was to have gotten pregnant so early. They thought I was a teenager, but I outgrew you by four days. On the way home, I hawked my wedding ring so that we would have a bit of cash. Thirty dollars for a cigar band. On the way home, I stopped to buy food for us. Orange juice, frozen pizza, formula, salad: these were for us both. I was starving. You ate the pizza while I showered and put the baby down for a nap. I drank the juice.

You took care of the baby while I found a job. Minimum wage to fold household goods. The manager told me I had one month to fix the department. I finished in one day. Everything tagged, Everything in its own place. He offered me a management job if I could move to Tennessee. Our car was dead. The company closed at the end of the month. Your parents blamed me for our poverty. How could such an educated woman live in squalor? You were expunged from the US Army’s roll call.

My aunt and uncle tried to straighten you out. They fixed me. I could smile at their house. I cleaned, worked for my aunt, and the second baby arrived. They gave us up.

We separated. I was to return to the Army, but they told me I had to give my children up for adoption. That wasn’t going to happen. I worked at a bank of hopelessness. It didn’t cover our rent or childcare. You drank and slept while the baby slept on your chest.

I pulled us together. I set rules, worked my way through a graduate degree, got a teaching job. Your son failed first grade. He called his classmates, “You little shit birds.” You got detention from his teacher, a minister’s wife. Your daughter had large eyes, a timid nature, and fear.

You got a job, and all turned into sunshine. Your boy worried us to death, your daughter fought at school. She swore like her brother. I took care of the swearing. I had power.

Then like a fool, I broke. My brain fried. I had trouble walking. I would sleep through teaching. Your mother told me to slow down. Your father drank. Your mother cried, and I bled for her. It was too much for her. She died. He drank.

You stayed sober, but despaired. Everything I did wrong, you looked at me with leaden eyes. I kept telling you I loved you. Tonight was the last.

After you called tonight, I went to the park and looked across the Potomac. As the sun went down, I did the only thing I could do to let you know how much I loved you. The water was cold.