In Concert

 I looked up from the orange tree I was watering and saw an Ibis stark and white against the cobalt sky. 

It was flying slowly towards the darkening horizon away from the fine of the setting sun. I watched it winged away and grew smaller in the distance. It remained brilliantly defined and I imagined I could count it individual tail feathers. I was mesmerised by the solitarily bird gliding into the night. The image was fixed in silhouette on my retina. Where was it going?

The sight of this small white bird moving across the vast and empty blueness stirred me and I began to hum the counter melody of "Now is the hour when we must say good-bye" not that I think much of the song itself only it has associations with departures and reminders of good-byes. I suddenly became aware I was hosing the top of my boots and I had cold feet. I wondered, was it an omen.

Despite the light rain which had begun to fall during the evening I still felt optimistic as I arrived at the Conservatorium to hear a performance by the Australian String Quartet.

It was my third in a series of concerts and by now I felt comfortable with this lovely venue and I knew some friends who regularly attended so I had a reason to dress up. I always try to wear a new bow-tie each time. It’s amazing the variety of them made. I know there's a chance I might run out of new ones but I suspect there will be more ties in my life than concerts.

Not long after I got there I received a message from my friend Jamine saying something unexpected had cropped up at home and she was sorry she couldn't make it that night. I felt a little put out over this. A bit let down but also in a way I was relieved as well. I enjoy my friends almost as much when they are not around as when they are. Especially Janine. She of the mop of silvery blonde hair. I am always unsettled by blonde hair. It has the strange unbidden power to alter time evoke memories of other places and offer discomforting images of alternate lives.

I can see myself as a bumbling teenager trying to catch the eye of any adorable seventeen year old beach goddess. I walk past and do a hand stand but fall flat on my face. She turns to a girl friend and laughs scornfully but I am deliriously happy because at least she notices me. But, of course, Janine really isn’t seventeen and neither am I although I think I might still be ready to fall on my face to be noticed.

So while I missed the vibrant warmth and vitality of her company, I felt saved from the confronting imagery her blond presence sometimes evokes.

The most obvious consequence of her non-appearance became apparent when I entered the performance hall and took up my position at the end of row "A" beside the empty seat. I had space on either side. The chair was softly upholstered in an attractive red material and its arms looked restful and secure but however I looked it served only to define for me my singular condition.

My companion for the evening was a vacant seat.

I don't mind going out on my own but on that evening I hadn't expected to. I had been full of expectation and that had been violated. My personal space barriers had been neutralised to accept the proximity of my companion and now my nerve endings felt raw and radiated a pathetic and futile attempt to make contact with someone like sea grass waving in an under water current while fish swam by at a distance.

In due course the concert started and I was pleased to see the make-up of the group. Whilst I haven't a long experience of musicians or string quartets most others have had male members who were either middle aged and balding or they looked like old fashioned corner shop keepers in cheap dinner suits instead of aprons. But this group was different. The men were still balding but the second violinist was young, attractive and female.

She looked like Lady Di. She had sport blonde hair and large eyes and her pretty bow lipped mouth was petulantly turned down at the corners. She was very lovely to look at. I couldn't help wonder if a resident hairdresser couldn't be on call for visiting artists, however. Perhaps that's why her mouth was turned down.

She was dressed in a green and gold embroidered top with a eucalypt green wrap around skirt that came below her knees. Appropriate colours for a national quartet. I saw the material was quite thin as she undulated rhythmically to her place on stage. But that feeling soon dissipated as I heard the operatic sounds of Verdi swell throughout the hall.

I don't care what anyone says Verdi means Aida or La Traviata and show stopping arias like Libiamo. He doesn't mean classical German String Quartet. I kept looking and half hoped to see a robust tenor in a white shirt and red cummerbund belting out La Donna a Mobile from the side of the stage.

Instead of feeling disgruntled I found myself gazing at the rounded thighs of the second violinist as she perched elegantly on her chair playing away as expertly and as technically perfect as her fellows. There is a certain primitive part of me I try to keep contained that likes well rounded thighs and if a woman is sitting down in a skirt of thin material, they're displayed to perfection. Poor Verdi. I didn't notice the triumphant E major close to the final movement.

I glance at the empty chair beside me as if I expected a comment or response to the music.
The second violinist strolled back on stage for the second item on the program. Apart from the violin she carried on one hand, she could have been sauntering down a catwalk modelling a slinky after five gown, I thought. The material of her dress moulded itself to the muscles and contours of her body as she walked. I notice I couldn't see any tell tale line of underwear. No panty line. It wasn't that I was particularly looking. I'm just naturally observant.

They began to play a piece by Australian composer Richard Meale. I enjoyed this. But I couldn't stop my mind from wandering and it mostly wandered to the clothing worn by the lady member of the group or the possibility of a certain lack of it.

I felt uneasy about these thoughts but I couldn't seem to control them. It wasn't my fault. There was space all around me and I was floating in it. My thoughts were drifting free, of their own volition.
As the music progressed I became imbued with a sense of aloneness and melancholy and the barren redness of the seat covering beside me was a potent symbol of past farewells and a reminder to me that whatever chorus I contrived to sing out the echo that returned was, ultimately the sound of my voice only. I retreated further, from this place as each bar of sorrowful music beat distance between me and the other members of the audience.

I felt guilty, I should apologise to this stranger in whom my interest was so personal. So invasive. But, in a way, she wasn’t real to me. I felt as detached from her as from the others up on stage. She appeared remote as if in a painting and I was an observer. They seemed mainly to play out of respect for the composer and for each other and the audience was permitted to witness the event but not necessarily participate in it. I was invited to be voyeuristic and I felt on this evening as if I were looking through a window at a private ritual.

Where she had offered herself for public display and consideration, I, during the evening, felt increasingly a non entity and those people high in the balconies on either side of me I felt were falling towards a vacuum and closing into the space I had occupied.

It was about this time I was overcome with a sense of dread. At any moment I knew I would hear a voice call out loudly "And tell me, are you wearing any?" And with horror, as the audience, as one, turned accusingly to me, I knew the voice was mine. Shame and disaster was inevitable. I chewed hard on my bottom lip and tried hard to concentrate on the pain.

Interval came just in time to prevent me from drawing blood or disgrace. A friend said to me, "You look as if you are in a dream." "The music," I replied and I smiled with relief as people moved around me I could redirect my thoughts in conversation. I can't remember if my talk made any sense but I know I didn't mention clothing.

One attraction for me at Musical Viva concerts happens during the interval. At the two previous evenings portions of Pecan Pie had been served. I have always been fond of dessert, especially Pecan Pie. It didn't matter to me that it was a defrosted, commercially prepared offering. It still made me happy and satisfied. In some ways I think Pecan Pie is a bit like sex. Even when it's bad it's good.

It shouldn't have come as a great surprise to me but when a friend returned with the slice of chocolate cake I couldn't help but feel cheated. I'd been counting on the reassurance and sugar boost from the pie to help pull me together. As it was, for the first time in my life, I was disappointed to eat chocolate gateau.

Despite myself I did feel better when the second half of the program got under way. That is, until the second violinist appeared at the side of the stage and made her way slowly and with articulated pelvic tilt to her chair.

~ Robert Farley

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