by Clive Aaron Gill
Keith, a balding, bearded man, stood at the front door of the redbrick and limestone townhouse on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
“Is Steve here?” Keith asked.
“And who are you?” asked the butler in a firm tone, raising his thick, joined eyebrows.
“Keith Wilson. I believe Steve is expecting me.”
“But… but, Mr. Steve said you would arrive next month. I’m afraid he’s playing at a concert this evening and…”
“Is his mother here?”
“Ms. Hilda is at the concert. They’ll be back in an hour for the party. My name is Tobin, sir. Come in, please. Allow me to help you with your luggage.”
Tobin led Keith into the library with a view of Central Park. “Make yourself at home, sir. I’ll tell Ms. Hilda’s cousin you’re here. Would you like a drink?”
“Water, no ice, please.”
Tobin brought a tall glass of water.” Excuse me while I prepare for the party. Feel free to freshen up in the bathroom, sir.”
Keith returned from the bathroom and saw a short, slender man sitting on a coral sofa.
“Hi, I’m Arthur, Hilda’s cousin. I understand you knew the family in South Africa.”
“Steve and I were school friends. When I called him a few weeks ago, he invited me to stay here for a few days.”
“I was at a conference in Chicago. My flight was delayed and I and arrived too late for the concert. Did you spend much time with Steve?”
“We studied together, and we fished and swam together. We laughed a lot,” Keith said, smiling. “When girls jilted us, we consoled each other.”
“Sounds like a close friendship. I remember when Steve was fifteen years old, his father died. Hilda supported Steve and herself, working as a dressmaker. She told me that a high school music teacher said, ‘Your son can have a brilliant career as a violinist, if he works hard.’”
“Oh, yes,” Keith said. “Then, at the age of twenty-one, he received a scholarship to study at the Juilliard School.”
“They moved here and stayed with me. I was excited when he became a member of the New York Philharmonic.”
“Me too. Hilda wrote about his wife who’s a cellist in the orchestra. In another letter, Hilda said, ‘Steve had a sensational debut at Carnegie Hall! And he used a Stradivarius violin!’”
“That was a miracle. Please excuse me. I need to get ready.”
Keith knitted his brows and tapped his fingers on the coffee table. His mouth gaped in a yawn. He walked to the mantelshelf where he saw a silver cup with Steve’s name on it.
Loud and energetic voices engulfed the townhouse. Tobin hurriedly slipped on his black tailcoat and white gloves. Keith started to follow him. “Please wait in the library, sir. I’ll tell them you’ve arrived.”
Keith stared in surprise at Tobin’s back, while Tobin hurried to the front door. A few minutes later, Keith peeked around the library door and saw Tobin carrying baskets of flowers. He saw women wearing fine jewelry and gowns, and men dressed in black ties and dinner jackets.
Hilda appeared in the library doorway wearing a long black dress and a gold necklace with colored gemstones.
“Keith, my dear. Sorry about the misunderstanding. How are you? You look tired.”
They hugged and she patted his back.
“I’ve had a long day, Hilda.”
Steve’s lengthy, ringing laughter rose above the loud chatter.
“You arrived tonight of all nights,” Hilda said. “Oh, God! What’s to be done? All the people here… the conductor, the mayor, the benefactors. It’s Steve’s celebration… his night.”
“If… if you think I ought to leave… I have no idea where to go in this city, at this hour.”
He gripped his travel case and shook with anger.
“Stay right here, Keith.”
Hilda rushed into the living room where admirers surrounded Steve. She beckoned him to join her. While the guests’ lively conversations continued, she whispered, “Son, Keith is waiting for you.”
She returned to the library. “In that living room, you know… all those influential people. His wife, poor girl, can’t avoid them. His career comes first. You get my meaning? I also don’t care to mingle with high-society people. Let’s wait awhile. Would that be all right? We’ll reminisce about the good times. Okay? I always remember you as a good lad. Tobin will bring us dinner soon.”
Keith’s grumbling stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
“Have you seen the reviews?” Hilda asked. “The critics love Steve.”
“Will he come to the library? I mean… at least I want to see him.”
“Of course. Just as soon as he has a minute free. How long is it since you saw him last? Ten years?”
“Closer to fifteen.”
Tobin wheeled in a serving cart and ladled avocado-cucumber gazpacho into two bowls.
Keith chewed an appetizer. “This is… wow… great.”
“You were the only one who believed Steve when he yelled for help, after his boat overturned in that lake,” said Hilda. “You knew he couldn’t swim.”
“Yes, I remember… as if it happened yesterday. That’s when he ruined the watch his dad gave him.” Hilda asked about her old friends in Cape Town. Waves of mingled words and bursts of laughter continued from the dining area.
“I’m disturbing your meal,” Hilda said. “I’ll stop asking questions until after we’ve eaten. Have some wine.”
Steve hurried into the library.
Keith stood, with a flushed face. “Steve… ”
“My friend,” Steve said, in his deep voice. He gave Keith a strong hug. “How are you? Sorry, I got confused with the timing of your visit.”
“Good to see you.”
“You were a great tennis partner. You pulled me through the tight games.”
“We did enjoy those tennis matches.”
“Ah… I’m embarrassed to tell you that none of the guest rooms are available. We’ll get together, ah… next month when I return from my European concert tour. In the meantime, you have Mother with you here. You’ve always been a favorite of hers.”
Keith remained silent.
“I love you, my good friend. Let me give you another hug.”
Steve returned to the dining room.
“You’re not eating any more?” Hilda asked, in a nervous tone.
“No,” Keith said, his head down. He drew a deep breath.
“Come, come… eat something.”
“I don’t … I can’t.”
“Steve was right about you being a favorite of mine. When you were with him, I trusted you to rein in his rash behavior.”
“Sorry, I’m leaving.”
“What? Just like that?” asked Hilda, gripping his elbow.
“At least wait until I tell Steve.”
“No, he doesn’t have time for me. He belongs with those important people. Do you hear how they’re laughing?” He hid his face in his trembling hands.
“What are you saying?” Hilda asked, in a pained tone.
“I’m heading out.”
In a voice strangled by sobs, she said, “Yes… I suppose you’re right.”
“What a dumbbell I am, Hilda. I hadn’t understood. Steve is living in a different world… a world that’s foreign to me.” Keith seized his travel case. “Tell him… tell him good luck from me. Please don’t come to the front door. Goodbye, Hilda.”
“Oh, Lord!” She hugged him and kissed his pale, wet cheek.
“I almost forgot,” he said. He reached into his bag. “Please give this to Steve. He’ll know… ”
“What is it? A silver cup? It looks like the one on the mantelshelf.”
“It’s exactly the same, except this one has my name on it. He and I each received one when we won a doubles tennis tournament. We’ve often talked about the two cups getting together.”
Keith walked out and ignoring the rain, plodded away from the townhouse.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright © 2017 Clive Aaron Gill