Authors: Susan Wilson
he orchestra has risen to greet the conductor. He shakes the hand of the principal violinist and then raises his arms. They begin the first chords of Mahler's Fifth Symphony and I try to focus on the music, on the faces of the musicians, trying to loosen up the listening muscles with a familiar and powerful piece.
The audience is appreciative but anxious to hear the featured piece, a new, never-performed concerto by a man whose music is more usually associated with rock concerts than symphony orchestras. The conductor, without an introductory word, gives the downbeat.
Instantly Ben's familiar motif begins and I am plunged into memories so thick I choke back tears. At first the low instruments, the tubas and double basses, the baritone horn and dark tympani, explore the theme. Then the cellos and bassoons imitate and embroider. Finally, the flute, a lone voice above the crowd, begins to sweetly sing the melody. I did not really know Talia Brightman. I have not heard her work, listened to her CDs, so I do not think of her. I think of the birds calling in the thick woods around the lake. I think of the hum of a mosquito and the splash of a trout breaking the surface of the water. In my mind's eye I see the dawn and feel the dirt beneath my running feet. I close my eyes and feel Ben's touch.
Her passing had been peaceful, he said, her breathing increasingly shallow, fading like the last note in a song, slowly diminishing. He'd lain with her in the hospital bed, holding her and talking with her until he involuntarily fell asleep. When he woke, she was gone and the long months of waiting were over.
“Are you all right?” I'd asked, studying his face.
“Yes. I think so.” He squinted past me, watching the dawn breaking-over Grace's cabin. “I think that I'll be okay. I've been mourning Talia for such a long time that I don't feel a difference in the intensity yet.”
“But now you can heal.”
The second movement of the concerto is the adagio, a slower, contemplative movement which evokes so clearly the gentle rocking of the raft. I think of his grief, spread out over eighteen months, mourning the loss of his love long before she died. Ben told me that he mourned more fully the loss of Talia's love long before the accident. Her withdrawal from his life. He mourned for the death of their passion and their life together. Seated in this small auditorium, listening to Ben's music, I realize that I, too, have been in mourning for the loss of love. What Ben and I have now we appreciate all the more. We both know how fragile love can be.
The final movement is amazing to me. I had never heard even a fragment of it and am delightfully surprised at its brightness and joyful sound. The flute is playing against the mimicry of a viola, back and forth; in a kind of jazzlike one-upsmanship, they seem to challenge each other. At last they blend and the last note fades away, diminishing into the silence of the spellbound audience and I feel the goose bumps prickle my arms. The conductor teases us and keeps his arms aloft until the reverberations die completely. He brings them down and the audience erupts. I am so proud.
Finally, reluctantly, Benson Turner rises from his seat beside me and takes the stage. He shakes hands with the conductor and is embraced by the flautist, then bows to the audience in a remarkably humble acknowledgment of our applause. Ben catches my eye and winks. I give him the thumbs-up.
Sean and I, we let something go. It wasn't Eleanor's fault. It was ours. But, in letting it go, we have both found something which has become precious to us. My kids have a new baby brother. I am both a first wife and a second. Alice has made room at her Sunday table for Ben and me.
Grace reaches across Tim and takes my hand. “Isn't it wonderful?”
She might mean Ben's music or my life. I nod, too full of emotion to say anything aloud, but she knows I think that, as always, she's absolutely right.