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After the noise there was always, always a quiet. Elliot had noticed this when he was very young and it had made him want to scream.
The violinist, still in his every-day clothes, stood in the back of the concert-hall. Wasn’t there a poem he’d read once, about how every man is an island? He couldn’t remember; the thought occurred to him suddenly and without illumination. With only the stage lights on—a fine wooden stage, smooth and new—the seats were dark. Elliot stood behind the very last row, hands on the fabric backs of the chairs.
He breathed out.
In the group they all breathed together. On the stage, but they could have been anywhere because they no longer saw or smelled or tasted, it was only hearing, vague commands followed. All they could see were each other’s bows and sometimes eyes and the eyes were the only parts that mattered.
Elliot’s violin was golden-painted and at the baton it woke up. His eyes were blue and he stared at the conductor’s deep-seated ones, dark and hollowed. Intense. Burning.
For Elliot it was always pretending to obey.
His back was so straight and his body so taut, everything, tensed and pulling and pushing and he drew his bow hard and digging and it played with the strings but never flightily it always belonged and deep too. Playing the melody which is the point and the message over the plucked beats, he touched eyes—gray—eyes—green—eyes—brown—with his own, cello looking up and nodding, viola, second violin.
He did not need to look at his stand-partner because he felt him and together they were like one but everything was inside Elliot, everything was him and he was beyond the ground his feet sunk into, beyond the flat concert-hall ground. He was beyond the faces below that received.
Elliot talked to the stars and all around him they sang back. He said things and proclaimed and danced and did not know what any of it meant. Rather, he knew it meant something.
The only thing he knew for sure was that it proved time a lie. It always did. It made the numbers and units he lived by meaningless and made-up. Always.
Elliot talked to the stars.
It was 9 pm.
Dax breathed out. “That was long,” he murmured, working his sweaty hands. Elliot beamed—he pulsed, he radiated—he jumped onto Dax’s back with a loud whoop.
“Great performance, everybody!” He cried, waving his arm and a cello laughed and nodded, a viola shrugged. “That rocked,” he repeated decidedly, dismounting the large violinist, swaying with surprise as his feet reached the ground—he balanced himself against the wall.
“Elliot,” Dax sighed, bending down to pick up his instrument case. “do you want a granola bar or something?”
“Are you sure? You really look—“
“I’m fine, Dax, I’m not hungry.”
They were milling towards the green-room’s door—musicians tired, excited, energized, relieved, thick around them. The conductor, tall and raptor-like, was proceeding hastily through the ranks, loudly congratulating and encouraging his thralls. He took Elliot and shook him heartily by the hand.
“Good job, concertmaster. Aha!” He laughed, beaming at the thin violinist. “Very good. As always—you lead well, Mr. Frey.”
“Thank you, Ariel.”
“Oh, Elliot,” Dax murmured in his ear, and the man turned from the beautiful flutists he was hailing, surprised. “Anne and Hop are here, we should probably find them.”
“Oh, yeah. Probably—bye guys, catcha later.”
Elliot saw the woman first—she was standing against the wall, polished in nice clothes over stiff heels. Standing straight, arms sagging around the large viola case at her front. Hop, beside her, jumped forward at the sight of them.
“You guys! That was so good! It made me want to jump out of my seat—such energy!” He exclaimed, skin pulled tight in his large smile, all teeth showing, eyes crinkled, crow’s feet.
“Thank you—thank you so much for coming—“
“Ah of course!”
The woman, arms crossed as she watched, stepped forward, dark eyes on Elliot.
“Did you know you stick your tongue out?” She inquired dryly, Hungarian accent, and Elliot raised his eyebrows, surprised.
“What? What are you—“
Her deadpan face folded into a pleased smirk as they turned, milling slowly towards the door.
“Yes, you were.”
“What! What are you talking about! That’s absurd—“
“Ask Hop, he was sitting next to me.”
“Hop, did I?”
“That’s ridiculous, Anne.”
“No, you looked ridiculous.”
Elliot was silent a moment, following her contemplatively. The performance high was already beginning to wear off. He was beginning to remember his stomachache. He came back quickly.
“So, what, are you going to discount the whole performance because of—“
“I never said I was discounting anything.” She stopped at the door, pushing it open with a look. “Although I dislike coming to such late concerts. I do have a life, you know.”
They walked out into the rainy darkness, lit far-up by small streetlights. They’d gone out the backdoor, and the desolate parking lot moved here and there with other men and women in black performance attire, hoisting a double bass into their car, talking or laughing or silent.
Dax yawned. He was an absurdly tall man with a sturdy, large frame, huge fingers that always looked strange to Elliot around the tiny fingerboard of his violin. But he didn’t play clumsily, not at all. He quirked a smile, unlocking his car.
“Have a good night, Elliot.” squinting, he added, with a look at the sky, “Better get out of here quick, though.”
“Yeah—geez—“ the rain was getting worse every second, and the other musicians abandoned their talking to hurry into their cars.
Elliot’s was ugly and tan-colored, a low-to-the-ground sedan. He rushed in, drenched, throwing his violin case into the back seat and himself into the front—slamming the doors shut, he stopped, panting. Dripping.
The water poured onto his windshield and he lay back in the seat. Breathing out.
He was tired, now. He pulled his knees up to his chest as his stomach growled, he sighed nauseously, searching for a bottle of water. There was none.
In the darkness Elliot Frey thought he didn’t much want to drive in the weather. There was nobody at home anyway, that needed him. The dog would be alright—there was food in his bowl.
In the darkness Elliot Frey lay back into his seat, closing his eyes. Breathing. The rain pounded.
Emil was a structural engineer. He was a pyrographer.
He’d studied and worked and gotten his license; he’d married her young and had a kid young too. Because the Hungarian girl was always welcome in his apartment; the young student at the Royal Academy of Music with her heels and her bag and her freckles.
She would clean things for him.
He’d have his pencils, all sharpened and organized. His rulers and compass and equations and everything, moving slowly, definitely. Hours on hours he would burn, a little every night, into the wood. Serene perfection. It always brought him calm.
They moved to the suburbs and he would come home late because he would motorcycle around the block on his Suzuki Marauder until he felt alright enough to go inside. And there they would be.
And finally, after the hours and the hours and the hours, slow without caring, he would sit back and exhale and it would be done. Locklear, A + E, 2004. A wooden heart-plaque, he’d hang it on their door.
On the 16th of February, 2012, the Suzuki Marauder was hit on the side by a pickup. The wheel was ripped off; the rider was dead before the paramedics arrived.
Upon the gravel, lining and skirting and flanking and coming up to the building, was a veritable garrison of parked motorcycles. Being late as he was, Elliot was able to walk about these beasts in relative privacy. More like a fog, really, than privacy—people were walking by on the street, cars trundling past, it was an altogether dry day and Elliot, black clothes draped or clinging about his thin frame, was surveying the scene with light eyes at once piercing, focused, and completely and utterly not so.
There was no one to say anything to, no one to perform anything for, and so he went in. He went in by the single, front door, painted a darker blue-green, to find himself in a cream-colored hallway. You would have only needed to look at it in a picture to feel its stifling quality, although large. There was no door on the other end of the short entrance-way, only a large, square opening with promises in the noises behind it.
He followed it like a cat, long sneakers padding heel-to-toe, head cast slightly down but eyes straight ahead on the entrance, inspecting.
Arriving late at anything can work a strange change on anyone. It often does not come on until one is before the entrance, beholding or about to behold the hordes of people that somehow, miraculously, arrived on time, and that somehow, miraculously, have become a sea of sinister eyes to be escaped.
Elliot’s cheeks, however, were not a-blotch with nervousness, shyness, or embarrassment. Elliot was not in the habit of escaping people. If he did, it was because he willed it, not the other way around. Elliot entered the doorway with a suddenness and then paused. Facing him were rows of backs. He made a sudden move from his stillness, attacked an empty chair in the back with fast strides, countenance stonily focused but cheeks patched with red.
His exhale was barely audible and less visible, nostrils wide, he let his face rest for a moment on the throng before him. He hadn’t realized he’d been dreading it, sitting here. Even in the back.
Where was Anne—where was she—Elliot’s heart flipped in apprehension as he twisted and craned like a discreet marionette until he caught a glimpse of her curls. They were brown as always, curly as always, frizzy as always beneath a black hat. Anne had the silliest taste in clothes, he had always thought. She worried too much about them. All he could see was that edge of hair and hat and a stiff dark shoulder, no face. She was sitting completely still and beside her, lower, was a head of different brown hair, straight and sleek, a black flower clipped upon it. He could bet she wasn’t crying.
He kept his gaze trained on her for a long moment before sitting back again, strangely disappointed. What had he expected, Elliot asked himself? There, the fatal glance, he had seen them, he had seen the two of them and there they were. Apparently alive, apparently breathing. It was at that point that Elliot began to hear the words of the man standing up, beside the coffin in a black suit. It was also at that point that he realized he didn’t have a program, only tissues. He sat on his hands.
Elliot loved to be sad and he hated it. It sucked to be sad about someone, he thought. It sounded divine and yet here they were and it really wasn’t. What was Anne’s problem? What was Anne’s stupid, silly problem to get married so young, and to have a kid with a man who rode a motorcycle? What was Elliot’s problem? How had he ended up here? He, who didn’t love Emil, how had he ended up here?
He had studied heroes and he knew that no good hero loves anyone to the point where they give up themselves and yet they love everyone, they would die for anyone, and so what was this?
It sucked to be sitting in the back of the room and thinking and sad with nobody to see it because no one else cared, they were all too busy sobbing.
He was thinking, he was thinking in that undercurrent how is it possible to leave the everyday, and real-life, for this vortex? How is this real? He felt like his chest was burning. It felt like a long time but it ended too, just like everything else.
Elliot was following the coffin with blank eyes and wondering what it felt like to be in it.
“So was he in a gang, or something?” Nettie asked, eyes raised from the crumbs she was sweeping on their glazed kitchen floor. Elliot, who had not considered the possibility, shrugged.
“I dunno. I don’t think so—I mean, somehow I can’t see Anne tolerating anyone anything less than entirely legal.” At that he laughed, rolling a stray marble between his fingers. The table was too low for his long, thin legs and he adjusted them uncomfortably, yawning. “They were probably all his friends.”
“That’s just terrible. Hmm. That’s so terrible—your poor friend—have you talked to her? How is she?” Nettie shook her head, eyes sad, as she rose from her squat, emptying the dustpan into the trash. Elliot stretched his arms above him and shook his head.
“Nope. I don’t know about her,” he stopped, considering. He shrugged. “She’s…pretty stoic. I don’t know if she could ever cry about anything.”
“Poor girl.” Nettie shook her head again, stacking the dirty dishes from lunch. Elliot looked up from the giant list of side-effects and warnings he’d unfolded from Grace’s newest medicine bottle. His sister watched him, silently.
“What? Oh, Anne?”
“Yes—that’s her name. Poor thing.”
Nettie put a hand on her husband’s forearm as she spoke; she was just as big as him, she was blonde but it was coarser and wavier and more golden than either of her children—dyed that way, now. Her eyes were darker, her skin tanned in the sun; it was spotted too, in places. Her upper arms were larger now, her waist. She had the earnest, piercing look in her darker blue eyes blonde women can have, and, to her son, it was always unpleasantly inescapable. Her joints crackled and popped whenever she bent down and Elliot knew why.
“Elliot,” Grace sighed, raising her eyebrows at him. He looked up. “please, give it back. It’s alright, it’s working great—“
The Rodgers’s moved into number 26 when Elliot was four. They had moved from a worse place. Elliot could not much remember it—he’d been at the age where you look at the world and remember how things look but not any feelings about them—the outside world causes no fear, no loathing.
Only his parents lived there now, second floor (the highest floor). The building was all wood and painted brown. You got down to the bottom with outside stairs. It was slippery when it rained.
“Oh, and Gracie,” Nettie looked up, smiling. “I’ve got that patch you needed for your bike.” Grace, snatching the medicine box and papers from her brother, stepped quickly to the door.
“Thanks, mum—here, it’s down by the street.”
“Did you lock it?” Elliot asked suddenly, standing up as if to follow them, and Grace smiled tiredly, rolling her eyes.
“No, Elliot, I’ve never had my bike stolen and of course you know it’s because I just trust to the stranger and leave it free and open—“
“Elliot, talk to your father. We’ll be back.”
Grace’s bike was pistachio. Not green. Just like her shirt was ecru and her blanket lavender—her bathrobe deep berry and her rug mauve. Pistachio. Elliot sighed and sunk into the couch, putting a hand to his temples.
“How’re things, dad?”
The man opposite him shrugged benignly.
“Same old, Elli.” His voice was soft and getting wispy. Elliot watched, afar-off as he was, eyes trained guardedly as his father lit up—in a moment, at a thought, straightening up to reach for the camera on the table beside him. “I’d forgotten—I got a nightingale.” He whispered, smiling faintly as he clicked the camera on, and Elliot leaned his face into his hand.
“Oh yes—here, you’ll love it, it’s a gorgeous bird—see?”
Gerald, Elliot’s father, was blond too. His was very light, like Elliot’s; cut short and feathery. He had drifty, blue eyes, pale like his skin. He was a quiet man and one not prone to hysteria, excitements, or ever yelling. Elliot took the camera to look.
Gerald folded his hands and they were a little small; he smiled sweetly, a little apologetically at his son; Elliot thought he always looked a little sleepy.
“Nice, dad—nice. Dawn or dusk?”
“Dawn. Dawn is always the best time. Here—there are some swallows, you know how beautiful they are—oh, and I forgot.”
“Hmm?” Elliot’s eyes felt sleepy, too. The house was too quiet and soft and dim for anything else, not after a morning of nothing but practicing, of staring at music right in front of your eyes and losing yourself and forgetting about anything else, anything like this. Elliot yawned.
“Birders United Kingdom’s asked for another article.”
“Really? Hey, dad—“ Elliot leaned back into the couch, surveying his father. Silent. “wanna have a drink?”
“Sure—if you want to.” They drank red wine because that was all Gerald Rodgers ever had. And not the cheap kind either—he thought about his drink, it was not something to be consumed mindlessly. Elliot would say he was the same way but that would be a lie.
They sat across from each other and drank. Elliot watched his father. They did not speak.
Elliot was, technically, a professional musician. He was first violinist of a chamber group made up of other professional musicians. He had graduated King’s College with a degree in violin performance. However, he was also 25 years old and did not have enough reliable gig work (much of which he turned down, for various reasons). He was rather too proud to work in the service sector and so had found himself as the sole unskilled assistant in a Biologist’s insect-lab.
The Biologist, Dr. Fishback, was enthusiastic enough that he had an assistant (he had not been able to find any young scientists willing to take the job; his lab was generally thought of as something of a sinking ship) that he did not require Elliot to come in at specific times. Instead, he had to work a certain amount of hours in a day or a week, which suited the musician very well.
The lab was small, it was a perfect rectangle, the walls and the floor were flat and uninteresting as the benches of smooth black. Elliot recopied a stack of jumbled field-notes with his mind firmly in one place: to be outside. Yes, to again walk on grass or something interesting, to again breathe unpredictable air that tasted like something, to feel it on his skin.
The lab had no windows. To Elliot’s romantic sensibilities, it was one of the worser places he could have been in the entire country of England. He dreamed of freedom.
However, this was better than making coffee. It was better than catering other peoples’ events, it was better than cleaning toilets. Elliot could bear none of those things. To serve? No, not like that. Not in the petty things. He served them in his music.
He had plans to escape this less-than-ideal side-hustle as soon as possible.
Anne stayed in Hungary all the rest of February and March too.
It is funny how, no matter how sure we are that things will never be the same way again, they can somehow all keep going. Elliot received his check, he bought Rosco his medications, he went home and practiced the rest of the day. The days past and sometimes flirted with the idea of getting a little warmer but mostly they changed their minds. The Leda Quartet did not meet. Anne was gone as easily as she had been there.
He sat in a small, polite chamber music concert and was the only person there under the age of 70. He took the bus and if someone had asked it would have been to save on gas but really it was so that he could read.
Elliot was not a big reader; he preferred music. However, he was a man entranced by heroes—more properly, a boy entranced by heroes, for that is how it had started. It had started back as long as he could remember. When he read about them he was them.
He lay on the green daybed—soft velvety minky, luxurious and against the largest window of his messy apartment—and considered such champions. He had a running list.
His favorite was Beowulf. Beowulf was perfect. Nearly as good as the Norse Gods. Elliot was thinking about how great it would feel to have a whole court be in awe of you, of how you had strangled Grendel with nothing but your own strength. About how you would have no children and no queen but many, many followers, and how you would be buried overlooking the sea.
It was a sweet fantasy, and decidedly his favorite.
Elliot picked up the phone.
“Hey,” he drew the word out, lingering long on the middle sound, “Dax, you around?”
“Is that you, Elliot?” Dax sounded distracted and fairly tired. Elliot was rather disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm.
“Yours truly. You around?”
“Yeah, do you need something?”
Elliot rose and began to click shut the clamps along his violin case.
“Can Hop get away from his kids yet?”
“Gee, I don’t know,” Dax sighed, “they’re still sick—“
“He’s probably fine enough for a rehearsal.” Elliot spoke louder and faster, overriding whatever it was Dax had been about to say. “I bet he can get away—I mean, can’t his wife take care of them—“ He stopped. The other end was mute. This was a common problem with Dax. “Hel-lo? Is the line down?”
Another moment of hesitating silence.
“What about Anne?”
Elliot paused for a moment.
“What about her?” He flicked with affected unconcern at the edge of his shirt hem.
“I still don’t think we should practice without her.”
Elliot sighed—long, long-suffering.
“Oh come on, Dax! She’s still in Hungary—who knows when she’ll be back—we can’t just sit here forever with nothing to do— Just once won’t mess us up.”
“She got back. She and her kid.”
“What! How long—I mean—“
“A week. She’s—I mean, I know you want to rehearse, Elliot, but—maybe we should do something for her instead.”
Elliot paused. He moved his weight from one foot to the other, squinting out the sunny window. The truth was he did feel for Anne. But meals felt clumsy, flowers felt clumsy—I mean, what were you even supposed to do—
“Don’t worry about Anne. There are lots of people looking out for her—did you see all Emil’s family at the funeral? She’ll be fine, and when she’s ready, she’ll come back and practice with us again, but before that—“
“I just think it’s got to be hard.” pausing, his voice rung with sympathy. “She really loved Emil. She kind of put everything into him, I mean, other than Renata he’s the only family in the country she’s got.” Dax spoke quietly. Unchallenging.
“Well why don’t you go bring her flowers or something.” Elliot snapped back testily, quickly seeing the practice he’d been looking forward to dissipating, quickly seeing the rest of the afternoon on the daybed. The second violin didn’t understand. He didn’t understand having to fill days, having to organize your life, hours, minutes. He didn’t understand going up and down.
Again, silence. This feature of Dax irked Elliot especially.
“Well, come on! What do you want to say, then?” He exclaimed, laying back down heavily and hitting his head on the bed-frame. “Ouch—damn this—“
“I’ve already sent her some stuff.”
Elliot lowered himself carefully down, forearm braced on the windowsill.
“Oh. Ok.” The little admission had subdued him, mostly because it had surprised him. He could hear it in the words coming out of his mouth.
“I tried to call on her a couple days ago but she wouldn’t have me. She told me she was too jet-lagged.”
Elliot sucked in a quick breath of air. He felt rather miffed that she had gotten back and he hadn’t even known it.
“Typical.” The first violinist was tapping his finger on the windowsill. He could hear the retreat in Dax’s voice, and it was making him feel guilty—and now he looked (and felt) pretty selfish—here was Dax, quietly doing all these things for Anne, and they hadn’t even crossed Elliot’s mind—I mean, he couldn’t really be blamed—
“Anyway, I think Hop is probably sick.” The voice on the phone continued quickly, quiet and low and dull. It sounded like an escape effort. “I haven’t heard from him in a couple days.”
Elliot hung up. He looked around; nothing in the room lent any help, he gazed back down at the phone. There was a missed call.
Bambridge School (yesterday)
He looked around the room and breathed out, distractedly. He got up.
Elliot chose the left turn, driving for a few minutes with a scowl on his face before pulling into a new town. He slammed his hands on the sides of the steering wheel in frustration.
Of course he wasn’t about to call Dax, tell him he was going to Anne’s house, and ask for directions—the idea was insufferable. Elliot could feel, just envisioning it, everything Dax would be thinking on the other line.
However, as he had only ever been to Anne’s house once before, and then being guided by her own militantly delivered directions on the phone—he himself paying more attention to replying in an equally militant fashion than to the turns he was taking—it really didn’t help Elliot much at all.
He turned the steering wheel and backed out, u-turning onto the road he had come down on. This was far from the first time this sort of thing had happened to him on that drive.
Elliot turned on the radio, which made things even worse. He knew it even before he pressed the button; he found himself too frustrated to turn the thing off, and so the pair of them proceeded in a very unfortunate state back up the road.
He cursed himself for his incredible lack of memory concerning his earlier drive. It really was quite amazing, what arguing on the phone with someone could do to your recall of anything else.
It seemed to Elliot like ages before he finally found the town. It was, in reality, the one right next to his own, but he had not quite put two-and-two together. Once there it took him at least another three-quarters of an hour to finally land on the edge of the little cookie-cutter suburbia of Anne, and if he hadn’t had to keep his hands on the steering wheel he thought he’d pull his fingernails out.
Elliot Roberts drove into “Oaks Residence”, past the large stone wall bearing that name in tarnished metal letters. He took the right fork, passed sterilely executed landscaping that left the whole scene feeling rather sparse. He went past identical concrete steps, identical and well-spaced trees, eerily similar mulching jobs, and the like. He took the moment to liberally dislike all of it, which, for Elliot, was not hard at all.
Eventually, a blur of identical houses later, he found himself back at the fork. He sighed.
Elliot Roberts took the left fork. He took the left fork, sneered at the vertex of sameness around him, and wondered what sort of people would allow themselves to be inside a dull house with twins all around it, a house over which they had no apparent decisions of even thought.
He found he had a little respect for the ones with garden decorations, whirligigs, and wind-chimes. They redeemed themselves slightly in his mind.
Elliot Roberts drove back and forth on the road, gazing at all the houses with narrowed eyes. One of them was Anne’s. However, there was not a one with a motorcycle in the driveway. This made things for Elliot rather inconvenient.
He drove along the street in one direction. 2520, 2521, 2522, 2523, 2524….
He narrowed it down to four options. This was a careful elimination process. The first step was to knock out all houses with no distinguishing features. That was easy. His four options were: a house with a birdbath, one with a pair of children’s boots outside, one surrounded with low-to-the-ground, carefully tended flowers, and one with a very attractive sculptural array.
Elliot drove back down the street. He had never seen Anne have any sympathy at all for small animals. She also disapproved of nudity.
He drove the other way, past the houses again. The children’s boots were very convincing. Anne did, after all, have a child in her house. But there were also messy, homemade window-clings peppering the windows. This made Elliot unsure. Try as he might, he couldn’t imagine Anne engaging in such an haphazard craft with her daughter.
He finally decided on number 2534. He pulled up into the small concrete driveway, he got out of the car, marched up to the step, and knocked.
The reason for this discriminating choice was the row of modest flowers around the step. While Elliot could not quite envision Anne gardening, he did rather expect that her house would be one of the spruced-up ones. Surely she would want her home to be, even just slightly, her own.
“Hello?” A small, old woman peered around the door. Elliot blinked. It had taken him ten minutes of back and forth driving and staring to decide this house was the one, and he was by now rather sure of himself. “Is there something I can do for you, young lady?”
Elliot pursed his lips and smiled politely. There were few things that bothered him as much as his looks. He took a quick breath.
“This isn’t the residence of Anne Locklear?”
The old woman narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.
“I don’t know any of those. Sure she lives here, dearie?”
Elliot laid his hands very forcefully in his pockets, adopting a still tighter grin.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Do you know what she looks like? I do see people going back and forth, I might recognize her.”
“Ah, younger, she has dark brown curly hair, she has a kid who’s maybe five—actually, probably six—“ Elliot searched his mind quickly, the woman’s eyes lit up.
“Oh yes! Never had a word with her, but I have seen them coming and going. Not a very sociable woman, I will say—the house to the right of the one with the ‘no dog poop’ sign, you see—“ she leaned half out around her door, drawing Elliot’s gaze with a thin spotty finger down the block. “That one.”
Elliot gazed at it a moment. It was completely and utterly a blank.
“Yes, dear. Now have a nice day.”
“Thank you.” He replied quickly as he turned away, eyes trained on his newly defined target. He walked at a fast pace down the flat, white sidewalk, sneakers bending. He turned behind him once and the old woman was still watching, peeping out around the door. He made an about-face and arrived at Anne’s step.
He walked past the stock window-box (empty), a stock side-window. Somewhere down below he was nursing a disappointment in her. He would never have chosen this house for the world.
Elliot was surprised by the realization, as he approached the un-ornamented door, that it had been nearly a month since he had seen Anne. It didn’t feel that long. He shook his head.
All in all Elliot couldn’t help feeling just a little heroic, after all his struggles to arrive. Here he was, the only one, there was no car aside from hers in the driveway. He had intended on bringing her some sort of large dish of substantial food, but gazing at the options in the prepared foods case at the grocery store rather disgusted him. He never quite could separate the stomachs of others from his own.
But the lack of pasta dish could not keep down that feeling of heroism. It perhaps even heightened it—he had saved the mourners from a disgusting, heavy meal. Elliot nearly felt a little smug. He knocked and put his hands behind his back.
Elliot tapped his foot, turned about awkwardly and surveyed the neighborhood around him. He could never understand places like this, inhabited and yet ghost-towns. He turned back and rung the bell.
He heard it echo, muffled, within. One second.
“Anne?” He knocked again. “Hullo in there? Anybody at home?”
He turned again—yes, it was her car in the driveway, he recognized the small navy-blue station-wagon, a Volvo, four-door.
She mightn’t be home, he thought. It felt strangely futile to have gotten all the way here for nothing.
Elliot picked up his phone and called her. He pressed his ear to the door.
There it was, he caught the muffled sound—Anne’s cell-phone was in the house.
It rung and rung and rung. It eventually stopped.
Elliot grabbed the knob (gold-painted metal, the paint was coming off) and shook it.
“Anne! Anne, are you in there? Can you hear me?” He was prickling, now, around his temples. Perhaps it was this strangely uninhabited place (not in fact very strange, but Elliot did not, as a rule, spend much time in any sort of suburbia), he didn’t know, but things suddenly felt irrationally urgent to him.
He stopped shaking the door. He took a step, turned back out to look at the silent street, the silent houses on either side. There was a carefully placed ten feet of textureless, flat grass between each. Perhaps someone had picked Anne up and she’d forgotten her cell-phone. Easy enough.
Suddenly a movement above him caught his attention—Elliot’s head whipped towards it. At the top of the window beside the door, at the upper corner of the blinds—yes, it had moved—yes, there had been two little brown eyes, there had been a lock of messy hair—
“Renata! Hello!” Elliot knocked on the window. The blinds shook hurriedly again. Elliot waited. Nothing. Nothing, you could have thought you’d imagined it, the house was again dead.
“Renata! Let me in!” Elliot went back at the knob again, jerking it in a turn, and everything suddenly gave way, he fell forward—
Elliot Roberts caught himself on the doorframe in surprise. He looked back at the knob. The door had never been locked in the first place.
Elliot Roberts closed it slowly and carefully behind him, turning his head to look around. He had never been inside Anne’s house before.
His eyes took in a little front hall, bare aside from the small rain-boots, women’s spool heels, girl’s sneakers, and a pair of men’s loafers for work. Every pair was standing with a precision not attained by accident. Elliot gazed down at them numbly. He looked up—there was thin table of dark wood above the shoes. Upon it was a box of keys and a pair of woven zebra statues. He shook his head and kept on.
He turned into a kitchen. The pantry door was open, there was an open box of crackers on the counter, but beyond that everything was organized impeccably and in baskets or jars or jars in baskets. All the dishes were clean. That surprised him.
“Renata?” Elliot’s call was considerably quieter, he surveyed the room. “Hello?”
It is rather odd to roam free in someone else’s home. It was on the one hand incredibly interesting, but it mostly made Elliot feel uncomfortable.
Beyond the kitchen was a living room. Elliot entered with steps of catlike caution.
“Hello? I know there’s somebody at home.” He was prickling again. Talking helped.
Entering, there was a couch of a soft gray tweed, and silence—he suddenly noticed something askew in this impeccable abode and it caught his eye, he bent down at the corner of the sofa. Peeking out was an edge of red paper, folded into a point. Elliot got down on his hands and knees, peering underneath.
Reds, blues, greens, yellows—hoards of folded paper greeted him and a pair of animal brown eyes in a snap, he withdrew as the hidden creature squawked in surprised alarm, he heard the thing hit its head on the bottom of the couch before a small girl appeared like a flash on the other end, gone even faster into the kitchen.
Elliot blinked. Again, silent. Again, uninhabited. From there the floor went down a few inches to a sort of lower level long step, to a lower room that led to the bedrooms.
This held a piano, large windows with blinds, music, stands, instrument cases, a basket of toys, there was a wedding picture up on the piano and a painting on the wall—and there was a woman, laying on the ground on her side with her back to Elliot.
It gave him a visceral shock.
Her feet were bare (this was odd for Anne), she was wearing a mint cardigan and a flower-print skirt. She was not moving. She was laying, in an impeccably kept room, in the midst of a whirlpool of official-looking forms and every phone in the house.
Elliot, who knew little of jet-lag, still had a feeling that it did not entail this.
He did not know what to say. He did not know what to do. He felt, however, that he needed to say or do something.
Seeing Anne, registering Anne—it shouldn’t be so surprising to come upon someone in their own house. But it was.
“Uh, Anne.” His voice came out quieter than he had expected. Elliot was not in the habit of talking quietly unless there was a dreamy or romantic reason. This was neither. He walked cautiously around to her front.
Her eyes were open, completely open, staring at nothing.
Elliot swallowed quickly.
“Anne, are you alright—“
“I can’t do this anymore.” She did not turn her gaze to look at Elliot. Her voice sounded dull and low, sticky, not a single tear. Elliot looked nervously at all the papers; it gave him something to do.
“Is it paperwork about Emil?” Elliot asked, picking one up. Anne did not answer. He looked down at her and then skimmed the document.
It was not about life insurance, it did not have anything to do with death. It was from Her Majesty’s Home Department. He looked down at Anne again.
“I have to leave the country. They’re not going to renew my visitor’s visa. I was gone too long. I have to take Renata back to Hungary.” She spoke drearily, not looking back.
“Could you please go away.”
“Anne,” he stuttered, “what—what are you talking about—“
Anne didn’t answer.
“Can I make you guys some food or something?” Elliot offered, trying to find something to say. Again, nothing.
Elliot began to suspect that she had not been washing any dishes.
He laid down the piece of paper. He turned and walked into the kitchen.
“Renata,” he called loudly, not looking up as he opened the fridge. “I’m making you lunch.” It was not the hour for lunch. Elliot did not think this was terribly important.
The fridge turned out to be very unhelpful.
“Renata,” he called again, opening the pantry, “please come out.”
Elliot hated making lunch. In fact, he disliked food preparation of any kind. He surveyed the pantry rather despairingly. He pulled out a can of tuna, and, after ravaging every cabinet in the kitchen, a plate.
There was a window over the sink through which he could see part of the unmoving form of Anne. He looked back down at his work.
“Renata!” He found some orange juice in the fridge.
Elliot sat the plate of tuna and crackers and the cup of juice on the floor beside Anne. He tried not to look at her. He got back up and went out of the room.
“Renata!” He bellowed, grabbing a long curtain and shaking it, rattling the metal rungs against each other. He threw open a closet. A Tuperware container stuffed with mittens fell onto him from where it was stashed above the coats. He did not find what he sought.
Elliot looked under rugs, he lifted up furniture. He peeked behind the tv, he searched behind the shower-curtain. He returned to the kitchen.
He looked in the fridge, he looked in the freezer. He looked under the sink.
He cast a frustrated glance through the open window, above the stainless steel basin. Anne remained, exactly as he had left her. He looked up sharply at a movement in the corner of his eye, only to see the tip of a rumpled sock whipping itself out of the way, out of sight atop a cabinet. Elliot jumped upon the counter, grabbing the top edges of the cupboard.
Renata, small limbs of smooth brown, messy pink play-dress, drew back. The animal eyes were fixed on him. The looked frightened, frightened as a rabbit’s would with foxes dancing in the reflections. Elliot drew in a breath. He tried to calm his heartbeat, lower the volume of his voice.
“Uh, Renata,” he spoke quietly, fumbling. Making up whatever it was he needed to say. “I made you some food. Can you please come out?”
The girl withdrew further, mutely shaking her head.
Tune in next Friday to read more!
[questions from the author: do you think the second scene, of Elliot and his friends after the orchestra performance, is necessary? Do you think it would be better cut out, or do you think it is a good way to introduce our characters?
Secondly—Any ideas for Elliot’s last name? It was originally Smith, except there is already a famous musician that was named Elliot Smith. What I liked about Smith was that is was basically the most boring last name I could possibly find, which is what I want for Elliot—it has to leave him underwhelmed and irk him, prompting him to pick a stage name. Currently it’s Rodgers but any better ideas are very welcome.]
FIND CHAPTER 2 HERE!