The car pulls up and Henry unfolds from his seat before offering a hand to his Eleanor. Hers rests in his incidentally, if not accidentally, and her face turns to Symphony Hall over his shoulder as the words unpack themselves.
What, no coat spread beneath my feet? I daresay you’ve lost your touch, my dear man.
Her mouth was what had caught his ear at the diner thirty-two years ago today, and he offers her his smile as he did then though the exchange is by now as well-worn as his faded tux, which has long sagged at the shoulders and bulged at the elbows and knees, weary of standing ovations (at least four per year for thirty years, he realizes with a faint shake of his head).
Eleanor and Henry are 50 and 58 years old, respectively. Today is their thirty-first anniversary.
The principal cellist in Boston is Sean Ahearne. He is thirty-eight years old today. On the day of Henry and Eleanor’s wedding, Sean was staring up at a blue Irish sky, busy turning seven. His arms and legs were stretching out from boyhood, his jaw firming, his blood pulsing to American punk music. Tonight Sean rests his bow against his knee as the orchestra paces around and kneads various impending melodies until it finally nests into a single tune. The crowd, with a few final throat-clearing coughs, settles into the dark. Sean’s bow snaps to attention.
The first time Henry asked Eleanor about him was after a winter concert in their second year as season ticket holders. What do you think of that Ahearne fellow, anyway? he said. Bit of an interesting haircut for a principal player, don’t you think?
Eleanor nodded twice and said nothing as the sky let itself out in a drizzle. The cellist’s hair was long and loose, and had that evening threatened to fly straight off his skull in the crescendos. Henry’s wife watched beads of water race down the cab’s windows.
Oh it’s going to be such a crowd-pleaser tonight, Henry, would be a shame to miss it, she’d said after he asked her if she was sure, really sure, she wanted to go tonight. Maybe they could surprise the kids up in the city, he didn’t so much say as think aloud.
Besides, you know they have their own lives now, she told him. And it was Beethoven.
As the house lights dim, Henry watches Eleanor watch Sean, who watches the conductor.
The second time he’d asked her about the cellist was on the way home from the symphony benefit dinner ten–or was it eleven?–years ago, where Eleanor had leaned in close to Sean (or had it been the other way around?) and Sean had smiled in return. What was that all about, Henry said. And Eleanor told him it was nothing, nothing at all.
The house lights are up and Eleanor is out of her seat, stretching as much as one can reasonably stretch at such an event without inviting judgment. How about that stroll? she asks. Henry supposes, and offers his arm.
Outside it snows. The couple walks in silence awhile, thirty-one years hot on their heels. How about that Beethoven fellow, then? Henry says. Eleanor nods twice. He is something, isn’t he?
He certainly was, is all Henry can think to say.
Inside, Eleanor drifts toward their seats, thoughtlessly resting her hand in Henry’s. He lets the hand slip. I’ll be right in, he says, I forgot my…
Typical you, she says, offering him half a smile.
His tux sighs, relieved to be excused the obligation of another ovation.