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"The Horn Players (Stackable Variations)", short story excerpt

Thursday 3/26/20

Two Mozart scholars meet in the library stacks at the conservatory. One hums the opening of the Jupiter symphony, the other the Dies Irae portion of the Requiem. One face glowers. The other looks purposefully blank. They don’t talk. They leave from opposite directions of the aisle without passing. One remembers to take down the book they came in for, the other forgets. They walk at different speeds, one andantino, the other moderato. One starts to cry, one will if they don’t commence moving faster. Neither hums anything.

Two Mozart scholars are arguing about Don Giovanni. They haven’t talked in some time. One says that it is primarily a drama with comedic overtones. The other says it is mostly a comedy with some notes of drama. The believer in the greater quotient of comedy listens without drumming fingers on the table. Normally they drummed fingers. Finger-drumming had been a problem in the past. Their fingers drummed in 2/2 time. Mozart rarely used 2/2 time. “I have missed you,” the restraining drummer says. It’d be better if this were a café, they think, and not a library. There would be coffees. Something to reach for. “Everything is signed now,” says the Mozart scholar who finds Don Giovanni more dramatic than comedic. They have a small thermos with coffee in it. “Always practical,” thinks the other Mozart scholar.

“Was Mozart practical?” one Mozart scholar asks another. “Or was he a dreamer?” They want the questions to be statements. They want the questions to make statements for them. To be suggestive. To kindle—maybe hope. “You know the answer,” another Mozart scholar says. “He was anything but practical and look where it got him.” There is a scowl in the voice that also transports pain. Sometimes the Mozart scholar who wonders if Mozart was practical or a dreamer wonders if Mozart could have been so moved by his emotions that he killed someone. Could he have snapped? The meeting is not going well. They have moved from the center of the quad where they were passing each other to a gazebo structure adjacent to a science building with a unisex bathroom they had sometimes used like rutting teenagers. “Old time’s sake,” one of the Mozart scholars says, a couple shakes of the head in the direction of the science building. “Now who’s dreaming,” the other replies. The voice could have sounded stronger with more conviction. A conductor would have called for a retake in rehearsal. “What the hell is ever a rehearsal?” one of the Mozart scholars wonders.

A Mozart scholar at the only grocery store in the New England college town sees another Mozart scholar at the end of an aisle trying to decide on Apple Jacks or Raisin Bran, knowing the other Mozart scholar well enough to know that they will not simply purchase both, but then each carton goes into the cart. They both admired Mozart for writing horn pieces with specific players in mind. Most composers were not so particular. They liked that Mozart did not worry that his horn pieces would not sound right when the players he had written them for were gone. The Mozart scholar with the two kinds of cereals was with a Berlioz scholar with Debussy leanings, which was considered very rare. Perhaps fittingly, the Berlioz-Debussy scholar was known for being limber and romantically pungent, a word Mozart used a lot in his letters, which could be quite bawdy. It is early in the morning and the one Mozart scholar thinks the other Mozart scholar is probably re-fueling to do more of what they were doing.