Why should the devil have all the good tunes?
- Rowland Hill
Years ago in Concord.
Prologue: The Pump House
A screech like a budding cellist announced Aaron’s arrival at the Red Line terminus. His last lesson of the day lingered and haunted.
“More pressure on the bow, please. A little more rosin, maybe.” His mumbles attracted the stare of an elderly lady with a mesh sack packed with yams.
Trapped in a fugue, he exited the train and rode the escalator up into the parking garage.
Emily. Davis Square. The eight year old daughter of a Tufts professor. Ignored all his jokes. Not one fleeting smile during the entire half hour session. Sore fingers. Gritted teeth. He might as well have been drilling and filling her cavities.
Kids like that, their parents should let them quit. What was the point? First chance they got, they would abandon playing music for life. Why not help her find the right instrument, give her a chance to kindle her own musical fire if it was there to be kindled? Let the poor kid improvise, if that’s what it took.
Music should not be torture. It should be its own reward.
Sheila had never seen it that way, of course. Aaron worked hard, seven days a week, all hours of the day. It seemed like a lot, scribbled in the squares of his calendar, yet never seemed to tally up to a decent living.
That, in a nutshell, was the rotten seed that spoiled his marriage. Sheila’s job at the library had paid the bulk of the mortgage and provided the health insurance. In her eyes, Aaron had no career. He had only been screwing around all these years.
Legs on autopilot, mind afloat, he still managed to locate his car in this concrete labyrinth. He opened the door and tossed in his fiddle case.
North Cambridge in May. Crisp. Tainted. Lilac and diesel. He spiraled down the ramp, handed five dollars to the Ethiopian in the booth and tore out of Alewife for the hills of Arlington and Belmont.
To all outward appearances, Aaron lived a life of grudging compliance with the judge’s Order for Protection. Commuting back to his room at the Acton Motor Lodge, well beyond the specified two-mile radius, he kept to Route 2, never daring to venture into the quaint business districts that had so enchanted Sheila when they were searching for the ideal place to raise a family. She might be there right now with the girls, buying tea cakes or browsing through the toy shop.
He could understand why the judge would award custody. But to deny all visitation rights? Why? Because he was loud? Of course he was loud. He was a Levine. But he had never, would never touch her in anger. Never. Sheila knew that. Didn’t she?
Pulling into the motel parking lot, all he had in mind was a glass of wine and some Chinese takeout. But as he unlocked the door and stared at the calendar hanging in his kitchenette, he remembered it was Friday. That meant pizza and popcorn and DVDs with the girls when he was still man of the house.
He changed into sweats and for the third time that week, pretended to head out for a jog. Just beyond the grounds of the motel, he ducked into the woods, cutting through a thicket of saplings to the commuter rail tracks. He turned and followed along the gravel bed, back towards Concord.
A dead elm with an axed ‘x’ showed him where to veer towards the river. He slogged through piney swamps to a hip-deep ford that tugged at his thighs as he crossed over to the slick mud of the opposite bank.
He followed a path well-worn by his frequent prowls. Two hundred yards through red maple and quaking aspen, the land rose through a patch of knotweed, leveling off at the edge of a lawn he had mowed a thousand times. He crawled the last few yards on his elbows and lay in the weeds, gazing at a garden overgrown with weeds, the broccoli and lettuce already gone to seed. Pangs, deep and dull accompanied the sight of their little white house, with the clapboards he had scraped and painted through three cycles of weathering, the roof he had re-shingled as his marriage deteriorated.