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“It’s quiet up here.” The old landlady said, breathless from the climb. She
shuffled over to the window and drew back the curtain. “You’re five floors
above the street, you won’t hear anything up here.”
“Does the fireplace work?”
“Like a charm,” she said proudly. “I’ll get you a bucketful of coal. Just
be careful of the smoke, I only cleaned the curtains last week.”
The young man walked to the window and looked down - a long way down. Far
below he could see the sign “Dorset Inn” swinging slowly in the wind. He could
eat there. Far back, near the kitchen, away from the bar. No one would notice
him back there. Furthermore, who would bother to climb five flights of stairs
to see him in this run down rooming house. Yes, he would be out of the way.
He turned to the landlady. “What should I expect from the plumbing?”
She smiled nervously and looked away. “You should expect it to be a little
slow in the mornings,” she said. “It may take a while for the toilet to flush
in the mornings -- and of course there is only hot water on Saturdays.” She
changed the subject quickly. “The gentleman will not need a key for this
“Why is that Madame?”
“You are on the top floor, sir, No one will pass your door.”
“It sounds good to me, Madame. You won’t forget about the coal, will you?”
“I’ll send my nephew. My knees you know -- it would be ten flights up and
down -- unless ... unless.”
“The gentleman cares to get it himself. It’s in the bin in the back yard.”
“I’ll wait for your nephew. Goodnight Madam.”
He waited until he heard her footsteps on the stair, then he closed the door
and locked it with the key she had given him. He struck a match and lit the
oil lamp on the table -- he liked the apartment. One room. A sink and a stove in
the corner, a fireplace in the other corner and a small bed by the wall near
the door. A table, which he would use as a desk stood by the window
overlooking the street.
It was at this table that he planned to write the final chapter of Madeleine
He opened his suitcase and removed the notebook from the side pocket. He
thumbed through the pages to his last line, the one he’d written shortly after
tragic death. Almost immediately he heard her voice. It was in her lower
register and then it climbed smoothly -- effortlessly, without increasing in
volume. It was the aria from the third act of Andrea Chenier. He could see her
plainly, her blond hair severely pulled back in a style that emphasized her
Madeleine’s voice could penetrate to the last row of the balcony; it could
cut through the tangled web of the orchestra and yet caress the ear of the
audience in the first row.
How to put all this into words! Words could not begin to describe her
physical beauty or her musicality. Only her presence could do that, and he shut
eyes to see her again. With his eyes closed he saw her as clearly as if she
were in this room with him. Her fabulous voice floated through the shabby room
like a muted violin.
So long as he kept his eyes shut he could see her, yes ... and hear her too.
Would it be possible to keep her with him always? Could they be together again
as they were when he accompanied her? They had worked long hours on every
program, covering every detail, getting her phrasing right; her gestures. The
merest flash of eye contact was all they needed to communicate. At the end of
concert she would extend her arms to him and he would stand and go to her and
together holding hands they would take their bows together. He’d be careful
to bow only slightly in acknowledgment and to stand well behind her as she
curtsied. There would always be bouquets from the audience and she would pull a
rose from one and offer it to him. They called it the “thank you” rose.
He left the book open to the last page and looked at his watch. Nearly six --
growing colder too. It might be better, he thought, to get something to eat
at the inn across the street before beginning the final chapter of Madeleine
Pavia. He got his coat and hat, then glanced at the cold fireplace. He picked up
the empty coal scuttle -- he’d fill it when he came back from the inn.
The food was heavy. The wine, red and raw. It was a meal that a lorry driver
would eat with gusto, then suffer in silence from indigestion all night. From
his table at the rear of the restaurant he could see a drifting cloud of smoke
hanging over the bar and making its way slowly into the kitchen. There was
rough talk at the bar and occasionally a man would look his way and in a barely
concealed undertone make a remark that would generate coarse laughter from
everyone except the bartender. Paul sensed it was meant to provoke him. He was
the only man in the Dorset Inn wearing a tie, his shoes were polished, his coat
and hat were folded neatly on the chair across the table from him, and he sat
with his jacket buttoned.
He reminded himself that was not the way he wanted it. He wanted to be alone,
and ignored. He was starting a new life now and he didn’t want anyone to stop
by and pass the time of day. He was wise enough to ignore the remarks and
eventually the men at the bar turned their backs on him.
“You musn’t mind the hoodlums, luv. They like nothin’ better than t’pick on
strangers.” A fat woman sitting two tables from him smiled at him revealing a
missing upper front tooth. She was eating chips and held a half empty ale mug
in her left hand holding her pinky out straight as if it were broken. In the
poor light it was difficult to tell what color her dress was -- but it was
dark and it emphasized the fat doughy skin of her face and arms.
Paul smiled at her absently, not wishing to encourage further conversation.
He signaled for the waiter and stood up to put his coat on. The waiter totaled
up his dinner on a scrap of paper, licking his pencil at frequent intervals.
“That’s one and six for the pork pot pie -- the wine’ll be ...”
“Add a stein of ale for the lady in the dark dress.”
The waiter turned to look at the fat lady, who quickly downed her half empty
glass. “Yer lucky day old girl,” he shouted, “This gentleman just stood you
to another round.”
He paid up quickly and walked out. The fat lady pushed her empty stein aside
to make room for her refill. She smiled fondly after Paul and shouted after
him, “Yer a prince, young man -- and a gentleman through and through.”
Paul hoped every dinner would not be like this one. He didn’t realize he
would stand out so noticeably in a run down tavern like the Dorset Inn -- “It
might be wise to look elsewhere,” he thought. He stopped at the curb and looked
at his window on the fifth floor. The lamp in his room seemed as small as a
votive candle. He picked up the coal scuttle he left in the lobby and walked
through the building to the rear yard.
By the time he reached the fifth floor with the heavy scuttle he was
breathing heavily, he realized how difficult it would have been for the old
he knew he would have to do this himself at least once a day. Someone had
laid a fire - and there was a full scuttle of coal on the brick hearth. “Ah!” He
thought, “The landlady’s nephew - wish I’d known.” He hoped he could depend
on him, and yet ... it meant his room was open for inspection by the landlady
and her nephew ... he made a note to get a better lock for the door.
As these thoughts ran through his mind, he was conscious of a living presence
in the room with him. The room was small enough that he could see into every
corner of it. It was empty, and yet ... there was a presence. It was a feeling
he often had since Madeleine’s death, as though someone was looking over his
shoulder -- and there was a faint scent. Where could that come from? Perhaps
someone who lived here before; a woman no doubt. The scent was sweet, not sugar
sweet, but pleasant with a touch of spice -- somewhat like cloves. Madeleine
used them when he first met her. She said it was because she would do her
scales in the morning before breakfast and she was afraid of offending old
Korsach. Didn’t want to give him anything to complain about. As if he would! But
still, that’s the way Madeleine was. So apologetic. So timid -- in the
That’s why he was here, to make it plain - to make sure her adoring audience
knew it wasn’t his fault. It was because of the change in her.
It was the Greek hotel builder, Andropas, the bastard! It all started with
him and it ended with a $300,000 diamond necklace. She wanted to wear it at her
last concert in Brussels. “Ridiculous,” he told her. “No one will hear you
with that thing around your neck -- besides it must weight ten pounds.”
It wasn’t only the necklace, of course. It was Andropas. With his yachts and
villas and race cars and hide-a-ways along the Gold Coast of the Mediterranean.
Paul rubbed his hands together. That’s what he was here for. That’s why he
rented this room; to write the final chapter to the story of Madeleine Pavia,
and to justify ... to explain why he had to do what he did.
Before walking to the little table by the window, he checked the room again.
The feeling of someone there with him was still powerful. He shivered slightly
and then opened the book .... the last two pages were written in lavender
ink! Madeleine used ink like that ... the handwriting was hers! Her pen lay next
to the book. He recognized the gold tracery inlay -- it was still warm,
warmer than the room.
Strangely enough he wasn’t frightened. That surprised him. He almost expected
the words to be there -- he knew the last word would be hers. “I stood at the
balcony railing looking out over the city. Paul was standing at the piano
with the music in his hand.”
Yes, that much was true. Then what did I do, Madeleine? I did what I had to.
You were about to make the mistake of your life, your millions - yes millions
of devoted fans - for a pig like Andropov. So I put the music back on the
piano and walked out on the balcony ... to beg you one more time. You refused.
said the singing meant nothing now! Let the people play records, let them
leave you alone. What would old Korsach say? Believe me, if he had the strength
to do it, I would not have had to do it.
I watched you fall. Our eyes locked at one point, and your glance was not an
accusing one. I even thought, for a moment, there was an expression of relief
- as though you expected it - and thanked me for it. I think at that moment
you realized, maybe for the first time, the terrible responsibility that comes
with talent, Madeleine. Your voice was not yours to take away, it belonged to
Paul read the last purple lines of the book. They were written without rancor
-- almost as a confession that her tragic death was appropriate, far more so
than her arbitrary retirement would have been. He could have burned the book
and maintained his innocence, but it was better this way.
Her words would be the final chapter. He closed the book carefully and placed
it on the chair by the table. He moved the table aside and stood at the open
window looking into the street five storys below.
©Harry Buschman 2005
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