Around the farmhouse,
it was June as
long as you remembered—purple lilacs, plush grass, phone poles
smelling of creosote, the fresh-tarred road. Then Hudak appeared,
cigarette at the sleeve-end of the overcoat he wore, even in summer,
lounging on the far side of the screen door. The sound of the rusted
spring as it swung open, and you let him in.
The black case lay on the drop-leaf table. Unlatching it, lifting the
lid, you saw the sunlight candle on the belly, run up and down the
tapered neck, eddy in the ribs and inlay. Lombardy ochre over crushed velour,
he whispered over your shoulder, leaning forward, brushing the softness
it rested in with the back of a finger. The bare grey walls fell away
from it, the curtains shuddered, the brute vases huddled in cupboards.
When you tucked to the chin rest, you looked querulous, or dreaming.
Scales were a form of sleepwalking, the first tunes an obligation, like
making your familiar bed.
Soon “Humoresque,” and the quick pizzicato,
mice skittering behind
baseboards. Cicadas meant the busy season, faraway conventions, your
father often gone. A night came when you rose to close the window.
Downstairs, your mother singing for the first time since the funeral,
though the ball game on your radio was long over. The corn dryer
droned, tossing the kernels like tiny dice. The new farmhand stood in
the lamplight of the barn, smoking, his army jacket on, his collar
turned. Yellowjackets burrowed into windfall apples. The stories
The Boy Virtuoso of Jaszbereny, he’d studied with Hubay till
things went bad—trouble with the army, the stupid Rumanians,
government doctors. The last time they’d let him visit his
mother, she was hissing and cursing in her little cell, lurching
against restraints. An archangel had raped her; St. Stephen the Martyr
had shown her the body of her blessed mother, whose mouth was moving,
though her limbs were severed….He left off there, stood staring,
tightening his bow. It was made of brazilwood, strung with Russian
horsehair. Before you played, he made you imagine them—their wild
manes and flared nostrils—galloping for miles, then stopping to
dredge with their noses a fresh-running stream, bodies frothing and
steaming in the morning sun. Only the peasant players could capture it,
he said, and then he showed you.
Each fall the maple kindled first. A burst of sheeted flame, a
sweetness and a cauterization, closing summer up before hurricane
season, and the big nor’ easters. You could still find trumpets
of late-blossoming honeysuckle in the birl of vines. If you pinched the
tip and pulled the stamen through, you got one droplet of sugar water
that you touched your tongue to. After, it was new year, the first week
of school. Brad Brewer had drowned in the Delaware over summer, and
would not take part in the Science Fair. In November a new president,
said the Weekly Reader. Eisenhower was like ancient history, said your
father. The fresh-cut silage smelled sweet for a day, lying in its
cinderblock pit. Then the farmer drew the canvas, and the rot set in.
That first Friday you stepped down off the bus to hear Hudak playing,
over the wild asparagus and purple chickory, a pasture-length away.
The Serbs, making joyful
music in a minor key. The gypsies, owning nothing, and dancing.
The game was Refugee. Sliding face-down under barbed wire, you tried to
avoid the nettles around you and the strung-out stars plucking at the
back of your thick jacket. You were ten, half way between the farm boy
who pursued you with his BB gun and the scout you’d commissioned
and sent ahead.
After Donna made landfall, a calm set in. Our three huge spruces stood
fog-enshrouded into afternoon; the lesser evergreens spun like augers
from a landscape sodden with last night’s rain. He ticked the
windowpane with his bow-tip, motioned you over to the low sill. His
mother and father were those smoke-souls drifting down the path through
the lower garden, obscure beyond the first bend. His sister was the
skirt and blooded sweater he abandoned in the rubble of Budapest. You
shouldn’t mourn your drowned friend too much, or your little
brother. You must practice stubbornness; you must drive your sorrow
upwards through your right shoulder and through the bow; you must
callous your fingers on the steel-core strings.