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a short story by ELIZABETH DOBBS


Anton stroked Mandolin. The cat had showed up at his store more than ten years ago and adopted him. At first he'd left food for her in the alley next to the store. As time went by he began feeding her just inside the back door, letting her stay in the stock room, and finally allowing her to move in and roam freely about the small music shop. She liked to stretch out in the front window in the morning when the sun pooled among the CD's which were displayed on pedestals of differing heights. As the music of a Verdi opera filled the air of the shop with its rich layers of sound, Anton stroked the little gray and white cat. She was growing thin and her fur had lost its luster. He left Mandolin to her sunbath and went back to the counter to finish preparing an order.

When Anton was a child his father taught him to play chess. An immigrant from Russia where chess was played with ferocity, Nikolai had planned a career as a chess champion for his son since before his birth. God has a cruel sense of humor; Anton was hopeless at chess, but Nikolai couldn't quite believe it. For years his father struggled to teach him to attack aggressively, to pursue relentlessly, to sacrifice pieces when necessary without pity. Nikolai was alternately patient and wrathful, doling out morsels of encouragement, then snatching them away with a cruel belittlement. Finally, when Anton was a teenager, his father gave up. If he couldn't be a chess champion, then by God, he would be a great architect.

The phone rang. It was Pete, a cellist who played in the original baroque style on a handmade replica of a Stradivarius.

'Nikki can't make it tonight,' Pete said. His speaker phone voice sounded as if he was sitting inside a metal barrel.

Anton said, 'Are we surprised? The girl's a flake.'

'Yeah, but she plays a mean recorder.'

'So when can she make it?' asked Anton.

'Wednesday night.'

'If it has to be Wednesday, then so be it. Time is running out, though.'

'I know, I know,' Pete said. 'If we don't get enough rehearsal time, we're going to sound like shit,' and a loud off-note from his cello blasted into the phone.

Anton laughed, but it wasn't funny. He didn't want to play in a group that sounded like shit.

The phone call left him feeling annoyed. He ran his hand over his bald pate, then smoothed down the neatly clipped hair on the sides. The Verdi CD had finished playing. Anton replaced it with a recording of The Academy of Ancient Music playing the Concert for the Prince of Poland, a collection of four concertos composed by Vivaldi and presented to the Prince in 1740. The victorious joy of the opening chords of the Sinfonia in G Major filled the room with color, but Anton awaited the feminine delicacy of the viola d'amore stepping lightly into the shop at the opening of the Concerto in D Minor, followed closely by her consort, the courtly lute, which was Anton's instrument.

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Copyright © 8 June 2003 Elizabeth Dobbs, USA


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