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24

So quickly it happened, he would replay it many times in his memory. Always he was invisible, helpless to intervene. If something had happened to his mother, helpless.

Thinking I didnt warn her. It was like I wasnt there, no one saw me.

Out of nowhere the man appeared.

Out of nowhere staring at Hazel Jones as if he knew her.

Though in fact Zack had been seeing the man for perhaps ten, twenty seconds. Zack who never took notice of anyone had been seeing this man watching his mother from a distance of about thirty feet, as Hazel walked on the graveled path through the park, oblivious.

There was a repair truck parked in the roadway nearby. The man must have been a repairman of some sort, in soiled work clothes, work shoes. In cities (they lived always in cities now, and traveled only to cities) you learn not to see such individuals who are not likely to be individuals whom you know, or who know you.

Except this man was watching Hazel Jones, very intently.

This day! Free time for Zack. The day following a piano recital. For perhaps seventy-two hours his senses would be alert, aroused. He continued to hear music in his head yet the intensity of the music abated, and the need of his fingers to create it. His eyes felt new to him at such times, raw, exposed to hurt. They filled with moisture easily. His ears craved to hear, with a strange hunger: not music but ordinary sounds. Voices! Noises!

He felt like a creature that has pushed its way out of a smothering cocoon, unaware of the cocoon until now.

The man in work clothes was no age Zack could judge, maybe Gallaghers age, or younger. He looked like one whom life has chewed up. He was perhaps six feet tall, yet there was a broken, caved-in look to his chest. His lower jaw jutted, his skin was coarse and mottled and flamey as if with burst boils. His head appeared subtly deformed like partly melted wax and strands of colorless hair lay like seaweed across his scalp. A ravaged-angry face like something scraped along pavement yet out of this face eyes shone strangely with yearning, wonderment.

Its him.

Is it-him?

An afternoon in September 1968. They were spending the weekend in Buffalo, New York. They were guests of the Delaware Conservatory of Music. A party of six or seven persons, all adults with the exception of Zack, were walking in the direction of the Park Lane Hotel where the Joneses and Gallagher were staying. They had had lunch together at the Conservatory where, the previous evening, the young pianist had performed; he would not be twelve until November, but had been accepted as a scholarship student at the prestigious music school, and would play with the Conservatory Chamber Orchestra the following spring.

Hazel and Zack were walking more slowly than the others. By instinct wanting to be alone together. Ahead, Gallagher was talking animatedly with his new acquaintances. He had established himself as Zacharias Joness protector, manager. Vaguely it was implied that Gallagher was the boys stepfather and when Hazel Jones was called Mrs. Gallagher the misassumption was accepted in silence.

The remarkable young pianist Zacharias Jones was the subject of the adults conversation as he had been the subject of the luncheon but the young pianist himself was not much engaged. He, him, the boy he overheard, at a distance. Long hed been adept at detaching himself from the attentions of others. In the roadside caf'es where his hands had first discovered the piano keyboard he had begun knowing that it made little difference what others said, what others thought, there was only the music, finally. From Hazel Jones hed learned to be both here and not-here simultaneously; how to smile even as your mind has retreated elsewhere. Zack behaved rudely and impatiently, at times. He would be forgiven, for he was a gifted young pianist: you had to assume he was playing music in his head. Hazel too played a continuous music in her head, but no one could guess what that music was.

During the lunch in the Conservatory dining room Zack had glanced up at Hazel Jones, to see her watching him. Shed smiled, and winked so that no one else could see, and Zack had blushed, looking quickly away.

They had no need to speak. What was between them could not be uttered in words.

Make his debut. Zacharias Jones would make his debut in February 1969 with the Delaware Chamber Orchestra among whom there were few musicians younger than eighteen.

February 1969! At the luncheon, Hazel had laughed uneasily saying it seemed so far off, what if something happened to

Others looked at Hazel so quizzically, Zack knew that his mother had misspoken.

Gallagher intervened. Showing his devils-point teeth in a smile remarking that February 1969 would be here quickly enough.

Zack would play a concerto, yet to be chosen. The orchestra conductor would be working closely with him of course.

Feeling at that moment a sensation of alarm, the cold taste of panic. If he failed

Afterward, Hazel Jones had touched his arm, lightly. They would allow the others to walk ahead through the park. It was a wan warm sepia-tinted autumn afternoon. Hazel paused to admire swans, both dazzling white and black, with red bills, paddling in the lagoon in surges of languid energy.

How the company of those others oppressed them! Almost, they could not breathe.

After the previous evenings recital, Gallagher had hugged Zack and kissed the top of his head playfully saying he should be damned proud of himself. Zack had been pleased, but embarrassed. He was deeply in love with Gallagher yet shy and self-conscious in the mans presence.

Pride puzzled Zack Jones! He had never understood what pride was.

Nor did Hazel seem to know. When shed been a Christian girl shed been taught that pride is a sin, pride goeth before a fall. Pride is dangerous, isnt it?

Pride is for other people, Zack. Not us.

Zack was thinking of this when he saw the man in work clothes, at the edge of the roadway. The park was not very populated, traffic moved on the road slowly, intermittently. No one in view was dressed in work clothes except this individual who was staring at Hazel as if trying to decide if he knew her.

It was not unusual for strangers to stare at Hazel Jones in public but there was something different about this individual, Zack felt the danger.

Yet he said nothing to his mother.

Now the man had decided to approach Hazel, and was walking toward her with surprising swiftness. Suddenly you could see that he was a man who acts with his body. Though he looked unhealthy with his caved-in chest and boiled face yet he was not weak, and he was not indecisive. Like a wolf coming up swiftly and noiselessly behind a deer, that has not yet sensed its presence. The man made his way slantwise across a patch of grass in which please! do not walk on the grass was prominently displayed, and along the graveled path. Massive plane trees bordered the path and sun fell in coin-sized splotches on pedestrians as they passed beneath.

There was something of the deer to Hazel Jones in her high-heeled shoes and stylish straw hat, and there was something of the wolf, coarse-haired, ungainly, to the man in work clothes. Fascinating to Zack to see his mother through this strangers eyes: the scintillant chestnut-red hair, lacquered flash of red nails and red mouth. The perfect posture, high-held head. For luncheon in the elegant Conservatory dining room Hazel had worn a very pale beige linen suit with several strands of pearls and a wide-brimmed straw hat with a green velvet ribbon. Zack had noticed people looking at her, in admiration; but no one had stared rudely. After the Rochester Young Pianists Competition when Zack, the youngest performer, had received a special citation from the judges, photographs of the honored pianists and their parents were taken and one of the photographers had told Hazel, Youre so beautiful with your hair and skin tone, you should certainly wear black. And Hazel had laughed, disdainfully, Black! Black is for mourning, and Im not in mourning.

Now the man in work clothes had caught up to Hazel and was speaking with her. Zack saw his mother turn to stare at him, startled.

Maam? Excuse me?

Blindly Hazel groped for Zack, who stood out of reach.

He saw the panic in her face. He saw her frightened eyes inside the Hazel Jones mask.

Just Im wondering if-if you know me? Like do I look like anybody you know, maam? My name is Gus Schwart.

Quickly Hazel shook her head no. She would regain her composure, smiling her polite, wary smile.

Ahead, Gallagher and the others had not noticed. They continued on, in the direction of the hotel.

Maam, Im real sorry to bother you. But you look familiar to me. Used to live in Milburn? Its a small town maybe a few hundred miles east of here, on the Erie Canal? I went to school there

Hazel stared at him so blankly, the man began to falter. His scabby face flushed red. He tried to smile, as an animal might smile showing yellowed, raggedy teeth.

Zack stood close by to protect his mother but the man took not the slightest interest in him.

Hazel was saying apologetically no she didnt know him, she didnt know Milburn.

I been sick, maam. I aint been well. But now Im over it, and I

Hazel was tugging at Zacks arm, they would make their escape. The man in work clothes swiped at his mouth, embarrassed. Yet he could not let them go, he followed them for a few yards, clumsy, stammering, Just you look kind of-familiar, maam? Like somebody I used to know? My brother Herschel and me, and my sister Rebecca, we used to live in MilburnI left in 1949.

Tersely Hazel said over her shoulder, Mister, I dont think so. No.

Mister was not a word Hazel Jones ordinarily used, not in this tone. There was something crude and dismissive in her speech, that was unlike Hazel Jones.

Zack! Come on.

Zack allowed himself to be pulled with Hazel, like a small child. He was stunned, unable to comprehend the encounter.

Not my father. Not that man.

His heart beat heavily, in disappointment.

Hazel pulled at Zacks arm and he jerked it from her. She had no right to treat him as if he was five years old!

Who was that man, Mom? He knew you.

No. He didnt.

And you knew him. I saw that.

No.

You used to live in Milburn, Mom. You said so.

Hazel spoke tight-lipped, not looking at him. No. Chautauqua Falls. You were born in Chautauqua Falls. She paused, panting. She seemed about to say more, but could not speak.

Zack would taunt his mother now. In the aftermath of the encounter in the park he felt strangely aroused, unsettled.

In the aftermath of the recital he was free to say, to do anything he wished.

He was furious at Hazel in her linen suit, pearls and wide-brimmed straw hat.

You did know that man. Damn liar you did.

He nudged Hazel. He wanted to hurt her. Why did she never raise her voice, why did she never shout at him? Why did she never cry?

He was looking at you so hard. I saw that.

Hazel maintained her dignity, gripping the rim of her straw hat as she crossed a roadway, hurriedly. Zack wanted to rush after her and pound her with his fists. He wanted to use his fists to hit, hit! Halfway he wanted to break his hands, that were so precious to the adults.

Gallagher and the others were waiting for Hazel and Zack, beneath the hotel portico. Gallagher stood with crossed arms, smiling. The visit to Buffalo had gone as well as hed hoped. Gallagher would look for a new house, in the Delaware Park area which was the most exclusive residential area in the city; in Syracuse, he would put their present house on the market. If he hadnt quite enough money for a spacious old house in Delaware Park, possibly hed borrow from a Gallagher relative.

The look in Gallaghers face when Hazel came to him: like a light switched on.

Zack was trailing behind Hazel hot-faced, sullen. He must say goodbye to the adults, shake their hands and behave sensibly. The attention of strangers was blinding, like stage lights. Except onstage you have no need to stare into the lights, you turn your attention onto the beautiful white-and-black keyboard stretching in front of you.

Zack would be returning to Buffalo, in less than a month. He would take piano instructions with the most revered member of the Delaware Conservatory, who had studied with the great German pianist Egon Petri when Petri had taught in California.

If he failed

He had not failed, the previous evening. Hed played the Schubert Impromptu which Hazel so loved, and a newer piece with which hed been less satisfied, a Chopin nocturne. The tempo of the nocturne seemed to him maddeningly slow, the pianist had felt exposed as if naked. Not music to hide inside!

Still, the audience had seemed to like him. The Conservatory faculty, including his new teacher, had seemed to like him. Waves of applause, a waterfall drowning out the hot beat of blood in his ears. Why! why! why! why! He was dazed at such times, scarcely knowing where he was. Like a swimmer who has nearly drowned, struggling desperately to save himself and in this way drawing the attention of admiring strangers who applaud. Gallagher had told him to be proud of himself, and Hazel who was less demonstrative than Gallagher in public had squeezed his hand, allowing him to know that she was very happy, hed played so well.

You see? I told you!

And so, Zack had not been defeated. He had not failed, yet. And he would practice harder, ever harder. Predictions had been made of him, lavish predictions he must live out. He felt the bitter weight of such responsibility, he resented it. Overhearing Hans Zimmerman remarking to his brother Edgar My youngest pupil has the oldest eyes. Yet he was giddy with relief, he had been spared. This time.

He would go upstairs to their suite in the Park Lane Hotel and fall onto his bed and sink into a deep dreamless sleep.

Mother and son went upstairs to the ninth floor, Gallagher remained behind to have a drink in the hotel lounge, with the conductor of the chamber orchestra. How tireless Gallagher was, plotting the future! His life was his little family, he adored without question. Upstairs Hazel removed her stylish straw hat and tossed it in the direction of the bed. Before she could see where it might land, shed already turned away. Neither she nor Zack had spoken since Zack had shouted at her. In the elevator ascending to the ninth floor they had not looked at each other, nor touched. Zack was very tired now, fatigue was overtaking him like an eclipse of the sun. He saw his mother standing quietly at one of the tall windows, gazing down toward the park. He went to use the bathroom, making as much noise as he could, and when he returned Hazel was still standing there, leaning her forehead against the windowpane. Always when they checked into hotels Hazel would examine their rooms for cleanliness and she would not neglect the windows, frowning to see if they were polished clean or if they had been sullied by a strangers forehead. Zack observed her in silence. He was thinking of the man in work clothes, who had not been his father. Who the man was, Zack would not know. If he went to Hazel, to peer at her face, he would see that it was a vacant face, no longer young and not very beautiful. The eyes would be without luster, the light drained from them. The shoulders were beginning to slump, the breasts were becoming heavy, graceless. He was furious with her. He was frightened of her. He would not speak to her, however. Certainly Hazel was aware of him, her sons hot accusing eyes, but she would not speak. Alone together, mother and son often did not speak. What was between them, knotted together like a tangle of guts, they had no need to utter.

Zack turned away. Went into his room adjoining the adults suite, shut the door but did not lock it. Fell onto the bed not removing any of his clothing nor even kicking off his shoes that were dusty from the park. Woke with a start later that afternoon to discover that the room was partially darkened, for Hazel had drawn the venetian blinds, and there was Hazel Jones lying beside Zack on top of the bed, fully clothed as well but with her high-heeled shoes kicked off, sunk into a sleep deep and exhausted as his own had been.


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