Why? Because it was time.
Hazel Jones would come to live with Gallagher in the red-brick house he’d bought for her in Watertown and of course she would bring her son. For the child’s sake she had consented, they would remain as long as seemed expedient as long as the man believed he loved her for the gravedigger’s daughter had not the right to bypass such an opportunity and when two years later the child was offered a piano scholarship at the Portman Academy of Music Gallagher would buy a house in Syracuse and they would move there.
My little family they were to him. Never in his adult life had Chet Gallagher been so happy.
It was meant to be. It was the breath of God. That my son would be a pianist, he would play before large audiences and they would applaud him.
“But why do you care so much, Hazel?”
Gallagher put the question to her gently. He was smiling, and stroking her hand. Always he was touching her, caressing her. He adored her! But the stubbornness in her, the curious adamant unyielding will, concerned him. Her primitive soul he thought it, then was ashamed of himself for such a thought. For he did adore her, he believed he would die for her. And the child he loved too, though not as he loved the mother.
“Because”-Hazel paused, wetting her lips, confused or seeming-so as at such times she seemed shy, uncertain, her eyes avoiding his so that Gallagher could not confound her with his equanimity-“music is beautiful. Music is-” It was here that Hazel’s voice dipped in that way Gallagher found both charming and maddening, you had to lean your head close to hers, to hear. And if you didn’t hear, and asked Hazel to repeat what she’d said, she would shrink away in shyness, self-conscious as a young girl: “Oh, nothing! It’s too silly.”
Afterward hearing the solemn muttered words he had not quite heard at the time Music is the one thing.
“” Why do fools fall in love‘…“
Why the hell not? He was forty-two years old and not getting any younger, smarter, or better-looking.
Laughed at himself in the bathroom mirror, shaving. This was the face he’d used to shield his eyes against-literally!-seeing at any hour and especially in the clinical unsparing light of a bathroom mirror. No thanks! But now, Hazel Jones downstairs in the kitchen preparing breakfast for him and Zack, a woman who actually liked to prepare breakfast and wore a floral-print apron while preparing it, Gallagher was in a mood to confront his own face without that old urge to slam a fist into the mirror, or puke up his guts into the sink.
And he loved, the boy, too.
My boy. Occasionally even My son he would hear himself say, in casual conversation.
My little family he kept to himself and Hazel. My new life he kept strictly to himself.
“Music isn’t ”the one thing,“ darling. There are plenty of other ”one things.“”
Was it so? Gallagher, a former child piano-prodigy, burnt out and for a time suicidal at the age of seventeen, certainly thought so.
He wouldn’t tell Hazel this, however. Of the many things Gallagher rehearsed to tell Hazel, this was one he would not tell her out of a fear of upsetting her, wounding her.
Out of a fear of telling the truth.
No longer was Chet Gallagher playing jazz piano at the Malin Head Inn, he’d moved one hundred miles south to Syracuse to a house within three blocks of the music school where Zack now took intensive lessons with a pianist who’d been one of Hans Zimmerman’s favored prot'eg'es. Zimmerman had arranged for the scholarship, there would be other costs and some of them considerable if Zack was to embark upon a serious professional career. Gallagher had not needed to tell Hazel that he would pay for this embarkment, happily he would pay what was required. No longer did Gallagher play much jazz piano, wanting to avoid smoky bars, occasions for drinking too much, occasions for meeting lonely seductive women, oh Christ he so much preferred staying at home evenings with his little family he adored.
Out of a fear of telling the truth.
Yet Hazel was reluctant to marry Gallagher! It was the great mystery of his life.
A mystery, and a deep hurt.
“But Hazel, why not? Don’t you love me?”
As always Hazel’s reasons were vague, evasive. She spoke hesitantly. You would almost think that words were thistles, or pebbles, scraping her throat. The Gallaghers would not approve of her, an unwed mother. They would despise her, they would never forgive her.
“Hazel! For Christ‘ sake.”
He held her in his arms, she was so distressed. Gallagher didn’t want to upset her further. Now that they were living together he was more able to gauge her moods. Like an upright flame Hazel Jones appeared, the eye was drawn to her, dazzled by her, yet a flame is after all a delicate thing, a flame can be suddenly threatened, extinguished.
Unwed mother, despise. Forgive! Gallagher winced at such clich'es. What the hell did he care, if the Gallaghers disapproved of his liaison with Hazel Jones? They knew nothing of her, really. The most absurd, malicious things were said of her, in Albany. And now that Gallagher was openly living with her…They would never meet Hazel, if he could avoid it. By now, Gallagher was very likely disinherited. Thaddeus would have written him out of his will years ago.
“Is it money you’re worried about? I don’t need their money, Hazel. I can make my own way.”
It wasn’t exactly true: Gallagher received money from a trust established by his maternal grandparents. But he’d returned to newspaper work, he was producing radio programs. If Hazel was anxious about money, he would make more money!
He would protect Hazel Jones, that was a principle of his character. He wanted to think this was so: he was a man of principle. Even his father, supremely indifferent to the sufferings of masses of human beings like most “conservatives,” was nonetheless loyal, at times fiercely and irrationally loyal, to individuals close to him.
Thaddeus, too, had women; or had had women when he’d been younger, fitter. A primitive and seemingly insatiable sexual itch the man had satisfied with whoever was available. Yet, Thaddeus had remained a “faithful” husband in society’s eyes. He had not betrayed his wife publicly and perhaps in her naivet'e (Gallagher wanted to think) his mother had never known that Thaddeus had betrayed her at all.
Gallagher heard himself ask, plaintively, “But don’t you love me, Hazel? I certainly love you.”
His voice broke. He was making a fool of himself. He seemed to be accusing her.
Hazel moved into Gallagher’s arms, as if too stricken to speak. This was proof that she loved him: wasn’t it? Pressing herself against him as, in their bed, she pressed against him, never resisting now, warmly affectionate, her arms around his neck, her mouth opened to his. He felt her heartbeat, now. He felt the quickened heat of her body. It came to him She is remembering another man, the man who hurt her. Gallagher felt an impulse to break her in his arms, as the other had done. To break her very bones, gripping her tight, burying his hot furious face in her neck, in a coil of her red-glinting hair.
He hid his contorted face, he wept. Tears no one need acknowledge.
Not in Watertown, and not in Syracuse had she had a glimpse of any man who resembled the man who’d masqueraded as her husband yet it came to her in a swoon of bitter certitude If I marry this man, if I love this man the other will hunt us down and kill us.
He could make money for his little family, certainly Chet Gallagher could. “Hazel Jones, you have the gift of happiness! You have brought such happiness into my life.” It was so: Gallagher was a young man again. An ardent lover, a fool for love! A man who’d once joked that his heart had shrunken to the size of a raisin, and was of the wizened texture of a raisin, now Gallagher’s heart was the good healthy size of a man’s fist, suffused with hope as with blood. His face appeared younger. Always he was smiling, whistling. (Zack had to ask Gallagher please not to whistle so loud, the tunes Gallagher whistled got into Zack’s head and interfered with the music Zack was playing in his head.) He drank red wine at dinner, that was all. He ate less compulsively, he’d lost twenty pounds in his gut and torso. His hair was still falling out but what the hell, Hazel stroked his bumpy bald head, twirled her fingers in the wiry fringe that remained, and pronounced him the most handsome man she’d ever met.
His ex-wife had wounded Gallagher sexually, other women had disappointed him. But Hazel Jones obliterated such memories.
Virtually overnight, Gallagher had gone from being a man who went to bed at 4 A.M. and staggered awake next day at noon, to being a man who went to bed at 11 P.M. most weekday nights and woke at 7 A.M. He produced a series of radio programs (“Jazz America,” “American Classics”) that originated in Syracuse, at a local station, and was broadcast eventually through New York State, Ohio, Pennsylvania. He’d been befriended by the editor in chief of the Syracuse Post-Dispatch, a Gallagher-owned paper, yet one of the more independent of the chain, and had begun writing newspaper columns for the editorial page on ethical/political issues. Civil rights, school desegregation, Martin Luther King, Junior. Racial discrimination in labor unions. The need for “radical reform” in New York State divorce law. The “morally suspect” war in Vietnam. These were impassioned columns, leavened with humor, that soon drew notice. Chet Gallagher was the sole liberal voice published in the Gallagher newspapers, a controversial presence. When the editors endorsed, as invariably they did, Republican candidates for office, Gallagher flamboyantly criticized, dissected, exposed. That he could be as critical of Democratic candidates was a measure of his integrity. Angry letters were published condemning his views. The more controversy, the more papers sold. Gallagher loved the attention! (His columns were never censored in the Syracuse paper, but other papers in the Gallagher chain sometimes declined to print them. These decisions had nothing to do with Thaddeus Gallagher, who rarely interfered with the operations of any of his papers if they were making profits. Very likely, Thaddeus read every column of Gallagher’s, for he was a man who kept a close scrutiny on all aspects of Gallagher Media, but he never made any comment on his youngest son’s columns, so far as Gallagher knew, and he’d never exercised his power to censor a column. It had long been a principle of the old man to detach himself from his youngest son’s career as a way of establishing his own moral superiority to him.)
And so, Gallagher was happy. To a degree.
Is she married? Is that it? And not divorced? She has lied to me, is that it?
Unbidden the thought came to him, even when they were making love. Even when they were sitting side by side, clasping hands, listening to the child Zacharias play piano. (His first public recital, at the Portman Academy. Aged nine, Zack was the youngest performer of the evening and drew the most enthusiastic applause.) Sometimes he was stricken by jealousy, a misery like tight-coiled snakes in his gut.
Hazel had told him she had never been married. She spoke with such pained sincerity, Gallagher could not doubt her word.
More and more, Gallagher wanted to adopt the child. Before it was too late. But to adopt the child, he must be the mother’s husband.
In his soul, Gallagher loathed the very idea of marriage. He loathed the intrusion of the state into the private lives of individuals. He quite agreed with Marx, he’d used to quote Marx to inflame Thaddeus, for Marx had got it right, mostly: the masses of humankind sell themselves for wages, capitalists are sons of bitches who’d slit your throat and collect your blood in vials and sell it to the highest bidder, religion is the opium of the masses and the churches are capitalist ventures organized to make money, secure power, influence. Of course, laws favor the rich and powerful, power wishes only to engender more power as capital wishes only to engender more capital. Of course the industrial world is pitched to madness, World War I, World War II, always the specter of World War, the ceaseless strife of nations. Marx had got most of it right and Freud had got the rest of it right: civilization was the price you paid for not getting your throat slashed, but it was too damned high a price to pay.
Getting a divorce in New York State in the mid-1950s! Gallagher was one of the walking wounded, almost a decade later.
“Asshole. Whose fault but my own!”
The irony was, he’d married to placate others. His mother had been very ill at the time, she would die shortly after the wedding. The tyranny of the dying mother’s role in civilization cannot be overestimated! Gallagher had returned from overseas wishing not to succumb to despair, depression, alcoholism like other veterans of his acquaintance, for an entire generation the only salvation had been marriage.
Gallagher had been young: twenty-seven. Grateful not to have been killed and not (visibly) crippled. As a way of showing his gratitude for being alive he had hoped to placate others, above all his parents. A mistake he would not make again.
Living in Albany, capital of New York state, Gallagher had been aware of the intrusion of the state into individuals’ lives, even as a boy. Impossible not to be aware of politics if you live in Albany! Not the politics of idealism but grub-politics, the politics of “deals.” There was no goal higher than “deals” and no motive higher than “self-interest.” Gallagher’s disgust reached its peak in 1948 with the sordid politicking that accompanied the Taft-Hartley law which the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress passed over Truman’s veto. And Dewey’s sneering campaign against Truman, to which Thaddeus contributed a good deal of money, not all of it a matter of public record.
He’d quarreled with Thaddeus, and moved away from Ardmoor Park. He would never be on comfortable terms with the old man again.
That Hazel Jones should consider herself unworthy of the Gallaghers, and of him! Preposterous.
To his shame he heard himself begging.
“Hazel, I could adopt Zack as my son, if we were married. Don’t you think that’s a good idea?”
Quickly Hazel kissed Gallagher saying yes, she supposed so.
“Someday? Zack is growing up, the time is now. Not when he’s an adolescent who won’t give a damn about any father.”
Wanting to say won’t give a shit about any father. The anger in him was mounting, to desperation.
In the music room at the rear of the house Zack was playing piano. Must have struck a wrong note, the music broke off abruptly and after a brief pause began again.
Seeing that he was upset, Hazel took Gallagher’s hand that was so much larger and heavier than her own, lifted and pressed it against her cheek in one of Hazel Jones’s impulsive gestures that pierced her lover’s heart.
For the Young Pianists’ Competition in Rochester, in May 1967, the boy was preparing Schubert’s “Impromptu No. 3.” At ten and a half, he would be the youngest performer on the program, which included pianists to the age of eighteen.
The next-youngest was a Chinese-American boy of twelve who was being trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and who had recently placed second in an international competition for young pianists in that city.
Day following day and often into the late evening the child practiced. Such precise, cleanly struck notes, such rapidity of execution, you would not have thought the pianist was so young a child and if, like Gallagher, you were drawn to the doorway of the music room, the child’s intense unblinking eyes would remain fixed upon the keyboard (the piano was no longer the Baldwin upright but a Steinway baby grand Gallagher had bought from Zimmerman Brothers) and his small fingers striking the keys as if of their own volition for the piece must be memorized, not a note, not a pause, not a depression of the pedal left to chance.
Gallagher listened, entranced. No doubt about it, the boy played more beautifully than Gallagher had done at his age, and older. Gallagher would boast He’s inherited all I had to give him. Quite a talent, isn’t he!
By degrees Gallagher was becoming the child’s father. Strange that he did not much wonder who the child’s true father was.
In the doorway of the music room Gallagher lingered, uncertain. Waiting for the boy to break off practice at which point Gallagher would clap enthusiastically-“Bravo, Zack! Sounds terrific”-and the boy would blush with pleasure. But the practice continued, and continued, for if Zack made the smallest error he must return to the beginning and start again, until Gallagher at last lost patience and slipped away, unseen.
Didn’t I promise you, Ma? You would be proud.
“Zack” is his name. A name out of the Bible. For he is blessed of God, Ma. None of us would have guessed!
My son. Your grandson. His face will be known to you, when you see him. It’s a face you will recognize, Ma. The father is not in him, much.
His eyes, Ma! His eyes are beautiful, like yours.
Maybe they are Pa’s eyes, too. A little.
At the piano, I hear him and I know where he is. In all the world he is here, Ma. With us.
He is safe in this house.
I should not have left you, Ma. I stayed away so long.
Sometimes I think my soul was lost in those fields. Along the canal. I stayed away from you so long, Ma.
I am paying for that, Ma.
If you hear him, Ma, you will know. Why I had to live. I love you, Ma.
This is for you, Ma.
It is called “Impromptu No. Three” by Schubert.