In Attendance

“In Attendance”

A Short Story


She couldn’t remember a time in her adult life when she wasn’t suffering. She found it even more an assault upon her senses that she was sitting at the symphony, the one place she could suspend just a bit of her suffering, only to find a concrete kind of fellow sitting cross-aisle from her, wearing jeans and flip-flops, displaying a massive slab of a foot that was flapping his flip-flop out of rhythm with the music.

She had learned from her doctor she was seeing to breath deeply in through the nose, and exhale slowly through her mouth whenever she needed to break her suffering for a spell, or to lessen the initial pain from the poke of a needle, or from the intrusive medical test…or just for patience.

She sat alone at the concert as was her custom, leaving her husband of 30 years to sit at home and drink and fart his way through whatever sports offering of the evening.  Tonight, he told her with a grin on his bearded face as she was heading out the door, it was college basketball on tap. He never asked where she was going or why she was dressed so tastefully. He didn’t want to know how ill she was.  He only wanted to be left to watch, and drink. How she wanted to kill him.

There were many opportunities the gods had given her throughout their marriage to kill him. Why she never acted upon the gifts from the gods was as perplexing to her as the tempo of Beethoven’s 3rd movement of his eighth symphony that had just began.

The slab of foot cross-aisle was completely out of sync with the music. And why wouldn’t it be, she thought. The world of idiots always had made their way into her life, even the temporary variety of idiots that one might have a chance encounter with at the grocery store, at work, at the restaurant, even at the symphony…why some wretched moron, wearing jeans and flip-flops to a symphony concert wouldn’t find its way into her personal worldview, with one of the ugliest slab of foot she’d ever seen, well, she wasn’t surprised. The gods seemed to be tempting her beyond her control.

The deep breathing wasn’t helping, and with the slab of foot bouncing out a rhythm that was in direct contradiction to that of Beethoven, her teeth clenched, her heart rate increased, and with eyes closed, wondered if there truly was a place called Hell and if a mercy killing could be an excuse that might prevent her from spending eternity there, if there was such a place.

The 3rd movement ended, and not being able to take another moment of the torture, she darted out of the concert hall and quickly made her way to the bar in the lobby. A double vodka would get her mind right and her body reeling from the booze she knew she couldn’t drink.

Two double vodka’s down, with a third one in her hand, she was, she thought, though not entirely certain, properly lit.

Images of others in attendance were blurred as they brushed by her with the formal intermission, not noticing that she had planted herself against a pillar in the middle of the lobby so as not to fall flat on her face.

What a disgusting horror this is, she thought.  She couldn’t keep the pain in check that she knew the alcohol would bring, interacting with the meds she was on, but her mind was completely at ease, and completely inebriated.

She started sipping on her third double vodka, still leaning against the pillar. Finally, she thought, the right mixture of anger and pain was there. All her efforts to suppress her pain and continue on, to keep the smiling face, to keep the tears at bay would no longer be needed. She knew at last she could summon all misery, pain and suffering and harness all of it to end her madness.  But first, she thought, she must inflict pain before her end.

She remembered that one of her favorite pieces was being played during the second half of the program. Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” was so appropriate, she thought, with its earth shaking finale, the Appian Way, the music would propel her to act.

That was it, she thought.  She would keep the music of the finale playing in her mind, keep singing the melody loudly as she drove home. Just as the triumphant Roman soldiers marched along the Appian Way into the newly-rising sun, she would walk triumphantly into to her home, find her husband laid out drunk on the couch and not kill him…no, too easy. She would inflict pain that he would have to live with for the rest of his days – maybe not the mental and physical pain she had endured for years but a pain that he could never escape from. And she would not only meet his indifference towards her all these years, she would exceed it.

With a glorious purpose ahead of her, she discarded her drink, gathered herself and took small and careful steps back toward the concert hall. She seated herself, ensuring she looked not the least bit different than when she left.  Make-up still perfect, black silk dress set at the length of her knee when she sat, and though her mind was swirling, she knew she had to keep it together to hear the finale for the purpose in her mind to be lit.

The orchestra began playing. She looked for the slab of foot to be back in its place so that her anger could be kept present and brewing.  It was gone. She looked behind her, thinking it had moved…no where to be seen. No matter, she settled in and waited. The finale began, she closed her eyes in anticipation of the triumph – her personal triumph at last.

The sounds of an empty concert hall was all she heard as she opened her eyes. She couldn’t fathom why there was no applause, no standing ovation. The stage was empty. She couldn’t manage to stand. She looked about her. Nothing and no one to be seen except a concert hall attendant on the other side of the hall, making his way toward her.

She located her purse, managed to find her compact mirror and took a quick look.

Grotesque, malformed, distorted was all she saw staring back at her. There was no triumph here, she thought.  Only the grotesque face of a woman alone, sick and defeated.

“We are all grotesque”, she found her mind remembering a quote of an author she loved reading but was too drunk to remember.

The man had made his way to her. She still hadn’t the strength to stand, so she sat, waiting for the final embarrassment and humiliation of it all.

“Helene,” he said softly, extending his hand, “time to come home. I’ve…I’ve been out of my mind from worry…you didn’t come home when you normally do after the symphony. I rushed down….I rushed…no worry, time to come home”.

And as she took her husband’s hand, struggling to rise, she thought again of how grotesque we all can be but how the mystery of grace to overcome our own hideousness is always afforded us, in small ways our minds cast off as insignificant and are mostly ignored.


Tonight’s musical offering:

Respighi: Pines of Rome (finale – Appian Way) – Slobodeniouk – Sinfónica de Galicia – OJSG

(for a powerful sensory experience, headphones on, with volume cranked from the very beginning, and stay with it through the wonderfully slow crescendo to a nearly over-powering, triumphant ending.)

Photo by James Forbes on Unsplash

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