To Maggie McNamara
Gaby got home around six. Opened her box and took out the mail. Climbed the stairs to her third floor apartment, dog-tired from a day standing before her sixth-grade classes, trying to teach them a piece of music they did not want to learn. Everything her students wanted to learn was out on the streets and not in her classroom.
Rifling through her mail, she found the special letter she had expected for the last few weeks. The one from Carl. She dropped her other mail on the table without looking at it. She lifted Carl’s envelope to her nostrils and smelled it. It had his scent.
She decided she would save it for a treat later. Besides she knew what it contained. A ticket to join him in L. A. She laid it lovingly on the coffee table. Then made herself a cup of tea and concentrated on the work ahead. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to crank it out.
Taking her tea and scone over to the computer, she booted it up. It was Friday night and time for her to respond to the email from her editor. His email contained three letters asking relationship advice. Her editor expected a response from “Aunty Jabberwocky” by Saturday afternoon.
The letters often were several paragraphs long. For each, she gave the editor a required two hundred and fifty to three hundred word response. Most of the time she wanted to respond with “Get a life”. But she didn’t. Her editor wouldn’t like it. He wanted a positive outlook from her. Something to soothe bruised egos and help them on their way.
She opened the email and read through the letters quickly. Though they were each different, they were in many ways the same.
“I’ve been married ten years. Now my husband is cheating on me.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Shoot the son of a bitch.” Advice she would never have followed since she was afraid of guns.
Or “I am seventeen years old and I am so lonely. My boyfriend left me because I wouldn’t have sex with him.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Ask the b/f why God gave him two hands.” Advice she never followed. She had lost her virginity at fifteen, giving it to a seventeen-year-old who wouldn’t even ask her out on a date.
Or “My mother is dating a new man. She wants to know if she should accept his proposal for marriage.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Tell her to accept. It will be a great way to get Mom off your hands.” This too was advice Gaby would never have followed if she had known who her biological mother was.
Sometimes she wondered how she, of all people, ended up doing relationship advice. She was no damned good at relationships. All of hers fell apart.
Four years earlier, she had been looking for a way to bring in some extra money for a cruise she wanted to take. So she answered an online ad for a local newspaper. “Need advice columnist. No experience necessary but the applicant must be able to write.”
Steve, her editor, liked her honesty and hired her on the spot. He figured anyone who had done as poorly as she had in the relationship department would have some ideas on what might work for other people. He slid a couple of relationship books across the desk and ordered her to go read them, then said he would email her the first three letters the following Friday. The answers were expected by Saturday afternoon for the Sunday edition of the newspaper.
In the beginning, she went to work at the job with a gusto that surprised even her. And the relationship advice she sent out was some she got up the courage to take herself. Each new guy she dated became Mr. Possibility. That is, until he became Mr. Dud. Over the four years, she had taken on four relationships, each one looking better than the previous. The first three ended with a thud. Then finally, at forty, she met the One.
Carl had everything she was looking for in a man. He was tender. His jokes made her laugh. He was a great Mr. Fixit. There was never any putdown from him the way the others did. He seemed to be able to read her mind when he would come out with the most outlandish suggestions. If she had believed in soulmates, Carl would have been hers.
He was twenty-five. But it wasn’t a problem for him. He told her that older women always attracted him. The younger ones, the ones his age, fell flat. And he felt like he and Gaby were perfect for each other.
When they first met at a dinner party, Carl had done several small roles in avant garde plays. For the year they were together, his skill as an actor and his roles grew. A month earlier, he had gotten a role in the pilot for a new series. It was to be shot in L. A. If it panned out, he told her that he would send for her. No use for her to give up her job if the pilot was not picked up.
So here she sat at her computer, writing relationship advice, and not sure where she stood. At least, until tonight and the letter. The letter on the table.
She finished her email, then hit send and off it went to Steve for the Sunday edition. It was back to the kitchen nook for another cup of tea.
While she waited on the water to boil, she picked up the envelope with his letter and her ticket to paradise and smelled it once again. His faint odor, the odor of the earth, wind, water and sun. Just one whiff of him was enough to drive her into ecstasy. The kettle whistled. Like a train whistle, she felt lonely would soon be long gone.
She pulled out a bag of mint tea, her favorite, and dropped it into the cup. Over the bag she poured the hot water. She waited for the bag to steep in the water. Her waiting seemed like an eternity. The cup of tea was ready. She walked it over to the coffee table, set the tea down and settled on the sofa.
Her trembling hand picked up the envelope. She sliced it open with her letter opener. Afraid to touch its contents, she shook them onto the table.
Five one-hundred-dollar bills fell out.
She shook the envelope again and nothing more. She ripped into the envelope. It was empty. No letter. No note. Nothing. The envelope had contained only the five hundred dollars Gaby had lent Carl to go off to California for his pilot.
Her body slumped deep into the sofa. She did not feel pain. She did not feel her heart break. She did not feel the loneliness.
Where once there were dreams, there was now only emptiness. Where once there was hope, there was now only a void. Where once there was a woman, there was only an old haggard body, ready for the Angel of Death to carry her off not to Paradise and not to Hell. To limbo, that gray netherworld where lost souls go to live out their forevers.
Across the room and on a bookcase, she spotted a black case. She tried to pull herself together but she could not. Her body sunk deeper into the cushion. She pushed herself off the sofa and onto the floor. If she could reach the case, everything might be better. Her hands pulled her dead body closer and closer to the bookcase. Finally she reached it. She raised her arm, her hand barely touching the case. She strained and managed to make the case fall onto the floor, almost hitting her in the head. She pulled her body up against the wall and unsnapped the black case.
In the case was a trumpet. She lifted it out of the case. She took the Yamaha 14B4 mouthpiece, spat into it, then rubbed it dry on her dress. She inserted it into the trumpet.
She managed to get herself into a standing position. The trumpet somehow gave her the energy to make her way to the window. The world of the city stood before her, and a lightly lit street below. A drunk stumbled out of a bar and into a dark alley.
Gaby lifted the trumpet to her lips. At first, nothing came out of the brass instrument. Then a little peep. Pretty soon she had that trumpet making a sound, and then more sound.
The sound she played filled her body, each breath giving the trumpet more sound. Soon it went to that deep secret part of herself that she had shared with no one, not even Carl. She became the sound and the sound became her, a requiem rising toward the heavens, mourning for what had been, a grief for what never was.
She breathed into that trumpet the way God must have breathed into the first man. The music became a living thing. She was in the deep water of the sound she played, heading further and further out to sea.
Her neighbors, who were prone to complain about any noise, did not complain. For some, the music sounded as if it was announcing the Second Coming. For others, it reminded them of all the loses they had ever had. For still others, it was the most beautiful noise. The music reached down into each of their souls and made them feel as if they had never felt before.
The music ascended like incense rising into the heavens, and the angels wept. It was that kind of noise.