Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 15

The next day, Elizabeth Sherwood was back in school. She picked up the threads of her disrupted schedule, thanked everybody who asked after her health, and on passing Leroy Johnson in the corridor she gave him a wink that was so fast and so unexpected that he was still wondering an hour later whether or not it had happened.

Ben Shorofsky continued to marvel at the way in which Troy Philips was progressing. He was taking voice classes and his grasp of theory, though a little slow, was getting better.

'Well, Troy,' he said at the end of their weekly tutorial, 'how's everything going?'

'I thought you were supposed to tell me that,' Troy said.

'What I meant was . . . '

'I know,' Troy said quickly. 'It was a joke. Everything's fine, thanks, Mister Shorofsky. My teachers back at Chase say they've noticed an improvement in the work I'm doing there, as well. I can't really explain it - I just feel better about everything.'

Thank God for music, Shorofsky thought to himself as he walked down the practice room corridor after the session. Opener of minds as well as hearts. The satisfied glow that the thought gave him died a little as he heard the muffled strains of a familiar cello line coming from behind one of the doors of the practice cubicles.

A delicate enough piece, it was being murdered. It was like a lullaby being thrashed out with all of the passion of The Ride of the Valkyries. It was like an adigio played with hammers on a kettledrum.

It was Julie Miller's scholarship piece.

Shorofsky listened for a while, and then knocked and entered.

Julie looked up as he came in. She'd been getting a little overheated, playing the same intricate sequence of bars over and over and getting less satisfied with every attempt.

'Miller,' Shorofsky said, 'why are you torturing the passage? We both know you can do it, you proved that yesterday. It was perfect, absolutely perfect.'

'Thanks, but if it was so perfect, why didn't I win?'

Shorofsky closed the door behind him. 'Because perfect is impossible,' he said.

'But you just said . . . '

'I was talking about technical perfection; flawless bowing, flawless fingering, a flawless rendition of every note on the stave. That's possible, and that's what you delivered. But musical perfection . . . never,' Julie was looking confused, so Shorofsky went on, 'Tell me, do you think Casals was the greatest cellist in the world? Or Rubenstein the greatest pianist? Or Galway on the flute?

'Who knows?' Julie said. They were questions without answers.

'Exactly! Certainly they all possess tremendous technique, but is this why hundreds line up in the rain to buy tickets? To hear technique? No and absolutely not. They line up to hear these people make music. Am I making any sense at all?'

'I think so,' Julie said, but it was a struggle. Ever since she'd started with the instrument, her entire focus had been on technique; it had had to be, because she'd only been starting out on the long road of practice and polish that would make technique a second nature that would live in her fingers without taking up all of the concentration space in her mind.

Shorofsky pulled over one of the music chairs, and sat down beside her.

'Listen to me,' he said, and his expression was so serious that it was almost grave. 'During the war, technique was my survival. Each day I would practice, for hours. It was my "great escape" from all the pain around me. But it was only after the war that I could put all of my feeling into the notes. Only then did I play music, real music.' He hitched the chair a little closer. 'It was the feelings that changed the technique; changed it into music. It's what you're going to have to do. Miller, there will be other competitions. That's why I'm telling you all this. Because, win or lose, you must take the joy and the diappointment and put them here.' He leaned across, and patted the strings; they hummed a little, momentarily stirred into life. 'Put Julie in here, and they'll line up for blocks.'

'Even in the rain?'

Even in the rain.'

'I'll try,' Julie began, but it seemed that she was going to have to save her efforts for a little later. The practice room door burst open, and Doris Schwartz came in.

She stood before them for a few moments, gasping for air. She looked as if sh'e sprinted a circuit of the entire school to find Julie, and now that she'd found her she didn't have the breath to deliver the message.

'Julie,' she managed at last. 'Hurry up, your dad's on the office phone.'

'Who?' Julie said, disbelieving.

'Your dad,' Doris repeated. 'Now, come on.'

For a long moment, Julie didn't move. Not a muscle. Doris did her best to jerk her out of it.

'Julie,' she explained with over-extended patience, 'the cord won't reach. We've got to go to the phone.'

Julie made a half-move to get up, as if she was waking out of a dream.

'Miller,' Shorofsky said, 'trust me. I'll guard the cello. Go.'

Somebody must have misheard. She hadn't spoken to her dad in months, maybe as much as a year. The call was for someone else. Perhaps even some other Julie Miller.

But she went.

The hold light on the office phone was still flashing when Julie and Doris got there; whoever it was on the other end of the line, he hadn't gone away. Julie picked up the receiver.

'Hello?' she said tentatively.

'Peanut? Is that you?'

There was no mistake. 'Hi, daddy,' she said, doing her best to sound as if she wasn't nervous.

'You got a date for lunch on Wednesday?'

'Lunch?' What was he talking about? 'Uh . . . no. Are you coming to New York?'

'I'll be there about ten-thirty. How about if I pick you up at twelve o'clock? We'll go someplace nice. That sound okay?'

Someplace nice. That probably meant fresh linen on the tables, every table in its own alcove made private with flowers and potted palms, every alcove angled towards a big picture window with a view of the Manhattan skyline through tinted glass. There'd be lobster on the menu, and the music would be live. An awfully long way from a Popeye's Fried Chicken.

'Sure,' she said, feeling anything but. 'Are you on business, or . . . ' She let it hang.

'Very important business. I've got something I want to tell you.'

'Like what?'

'Hey, that's unfair. I want to tell you in person. It's that kind of news.' He waited to see if there would be any more reaction, but there was none. 'Wednesday, at twelve o'clock?'

'Twelve o'clock.'

''Bye, Peanut.' ''Bye.' Julie cradled the phone. It had been impossible to tell what he had in mind, and now she was going to have to wait to hear. Almost a year with just the occasional dashed-off letter to keep in touch, and on her birthday an expensive present brought by messenger service and probably picked out by his secretary; now she was supposed to sit and be torn up by anticipation until he landed at JFK. Oh, daddy, understanding the other person's point of view was never one of your strong points.

Anticipation wouldn't describe what she was feeling. Dread might come a little closer to it.

Doris Schwartz had plenty that she ought to be doing, but she couldn't tear herself away from the practice room door. Julie had dived out of the school office as if she'd forgotten that Doris was there.

Shorofsky had gone by the time that she got back to the practice room, but he'd stayed true to his word and brought in a passing freshman student to watch the cello. The boy, a little Hispanic who'd shown an exceptional talent for the flute, was staring at the instrument as if expecting it to speak.

Now, Doris listened to Julie attacking the same passage, over and over. No more than four bars would go by without some mistake, and then she'd go back to the beginning and try again. Everytime, the attempt got shorter. Finally Doris was startled to hear a distict thump as the music book hit the door only inches from her ear.

She knocked, but didn't go in.

There was a gap of a few moments, and then the door opened and Julie looked out. She didn't appear to have been crying, but her eyes were bright with suppressed frustration. She stepped back to let Doris enter.

'Julie,' Doris said with real concern, 'is everything all right?'

Julie picked up the book, which was lying face-down behind the door with some of it's pages creased up underneath. 'Oh, hi, Doris,' she said with a breeziness that was obviously forced. 'I just . . . knocked my book over by accident.'

Some accident, and they both knew it. There was an awkward kind of silence, and then Doris said, 'Nu?'

'No,' Julie said, misunderstanding. 'Actually, it's an old book.'

'Not the book. Nu. It's a yiddish word. It means "well"?'

'Oh. Well, what?'

'Well, good news or bad news?'

Julie's smile was strained. 'No jokes, Doris please.'

'It's not a joke, it's a question. Your father, the phone call, was it good news or bad news?'

'Oh, that,' Julie said, suddenly evasive. 'That was nothing.'

Doris wasn't about to let go. 'That was nothing? From the look on your face when you hung up, I thought he reversed the charges.' She paused, and then; 'Or worse?'

Julie hovered for a moment, but she could see that Doris was determined to follow this one right down to the ground.

'It was that easy to see?' she said.

'Yeah, it was that easy to see. Now, come on. These ears are hungry for details.'

'Really, there's . . . nothing to tell.'

Doris watched her for a long moment, and decided that so much was enough. If Julie wasn't prepared to meet her halfway . . . she started towards the door.

'I'm just scared,' Julie said suddenly, and Doris turned back.

'Of what?'

'He said he had something important to tell me.'

'And you just automatically assumed that it's bad news. You know, you really . . . '

'The last time he said he had something important to tell me,' Julie interrupted, 'it was that he and mom were getting divorced.'

'Ah.' With a precedent like that, it would be hard no to get apprehensive. Doris said, 'But listen, maybe it's good news. Maybe they're getting back together.'

'Back together?' In its own modest way, the idea was something of a bombshell. It simply hadn't occurred to Julie. But the more she tried it on, the better she liked it.

'Yeah,' Doris pressed on, 'A reconciliation. That's what my folks did. They were split for a while, and then they worked it out and got back together.'

'I never thought of a reconciliation.'

'Well,' Doris said, moving to leave, 'think about it now.'

'I will,' Julie said. 'Thanks.'

'Don't mention it. Ciao.'

'Ciao.'

A reconciliation. Oh, wow. Oh, please.

Julie lifted the cello, took her bow in hand, and started to play. Her technique was perfect. The music flowed.
 
 
 

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