Concerto in F Flat Minor for Oboe and Flute

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

alienated middle age man searching for meaning in his life


When the lights came up, Ivan said that he thought that the concert had gone on way too long. What a fraud to charge $150 per ticket x 2 tickets and then give them 2 screeching wind instruments parrying with each other for more than 2 hours. Yes he knew what he was saying, that he had gotten too much for his money, like private school or university kids paying huge tuition complaining of too much homework. He had heard snoring, folks shifting in their chairs, coughing and sniffling all night - at the expense of the concert which was no good anyway.

At work that week he had come up with the most elegant solution to his firm’s recent woes. The fix was to hoard the floating inventory until the pass through could take effect. They were supposed to be out celebrating. But he still felt ill at ease, unappreciated at work and at home. Plus his gout was flaring after the huge dinner they ate before the concert, which included plenty of wine, which made it worse. 

His wife came through for him whenever he needed, so that was not the problem. What was the problem he didn’t quite know, except that it was one thing after another. Tonight it was the concert and the gout, or was it; he wasn’t sure. The powers that be at work treated him OK, so that was not it either. No, it was something else. Each time he began to grasp onto some promising insight into becoming the person he felt destined to be , it vanished like a chimera or a distant ship on the horizon. 

Im getting by OK, he thought; I have no reason to be sour or discontented. Or if I do, I don’t 
know what it is. And if I don’t know, who would know. He got in the car with his wife and they headed towards home. The topic came up of summer camp for their youngest, who was special needs and had never been to camp before. This child always cried with him, not with her mother and he had no idea why. He asked his wife why the child always cried with him ; it made him feel like a walking talking rain cloud, She didn't know either. It would be nice if just once, someone would appreciate him for him.

Even though he worked all hours, Ivan's pay checks became inadequate to cover their monthly expenses; what with the crying child and her huge summer camp tuition, the rest of her unique needs, a burned out transmission in his wife’s car, and crazy property taxes. He constantly fought with feelings of inadequacy as a husband and father as well as with  an existential gloom blown into his mindspace on the wings of perpetual doubt. He thought about going back to a counselor for therapy; he had tried it before but the band aid fell off of the wound right after he stopped going. Medication hadn’t helped either. Plus it was all so expensive. No, the unknown pathogen roaming his soul was deeper than therapy or medication. 

What it was that he needed to rise above who he was he was at a loss to figure out. It was a grand mystery of the first order, the proverbial needle in a haystack. His friends were supportive although he felt not supportive enough. He didn’t expect a  ticker tape parade for himself, but some consideration of ‘his situation’ was certainly warranted. Oddly, however, even he couldn’t have told you exactly what ‘his situation’ was, except possibly to lament that it felt like waking from a dream and not being able to remember it

Once they arrived home he resolved once again to be more kind and relaxed, more easy going even while going nowhere. The baseball game was on TV; his team was getting killed. The crying child was upstairs with his wife laughing and frolicking. He paid the babysitter and saw her out. Now his pockets were really empty. He grabbed a beer and went back to the baseball game. Just then a car came screeching around the corner outside their house. It stopped outside, music blaring, and dropped off their older child. Ahhhhh, one less thing to worry about. 

Or was it one more thing: this child, though still underage, reeked of pot and had a beer in his hand. The child ran up the stairs without saying more than a syllable to Ivan. He heard the teenager's bedroom door open and slam shut. Now he was downstairs in the living room alone. His family was upstairs; he didn’t have a clue why no one wanted to be with him, although clearly they didn’t. Even the dog went upstairs after Ivan took her out. He tried to focus on the game, but it was over, not over in fact, just over for his team. Why was he even watching, he thought. He grabbed another beer and began to pace and ruminate.

Why was all this happening. He didn’t know. He couldn’t get to the root of his disaffection, the source of his morose , disagreeable effluence.He shut off the TV and went upstairs to get ready for bed. On his way, he checked his phone to see how his stocks had performed that day. Lousy, everything was down 15% year over year. His retirement goals appeared increasingly unreachable. His investment advisor really messed up on his portfolio; and he never took Ivan’s calls. Financial disequalibrium: Ivan saw it as an outgrowth of 'his situation.' He wasn't wrong. 

At times Ivan heard in his head the Russian spoken by his grandparents when he was a child. He didn’t know what it meant, but the recollection of it had a comforting resonance and quality for him. They had put him on their knees, kissed played with and spoken to him in a language he didn’t understand. Ironically when they died he seemed to recall losing the only people who really loved and understood him.

Just so now, he felt on the outside of the conversation. Either he or the other person he was speaking with seemed to be speaking a different language. He joked with his wife that he would take a foreign language course to learn ‘teenager.’ However, he knew in his heart that this was not funny. His youth was over. But was middle age supposed to be this gray. Was the man inside him really so rudderless. He couldn’t think through the problem further as his mind and nerves were shot from the over-full day behind him. The cacophony of the concert still blared in his head. 

As he climbed the steps he heard his wife in their bathroom doing her evening routine and toiletries. Her companionship and steadiness were they only things that kept him alive he sometimes thought; or that  enabled him to hold onto his tottering equilibrium. But the more she encouraged him and offered her support the deeper he sank into himself and ‘his situation.’ It seemed to Ivan that if he only worked a little harder at becoming the man in the mirror he would emerge from the shadows and conquer his fears and demons, however vague and elusive they were. He was in his own way without an exit strategy.

As Ivan waited to use the bathroom, he really had to pee. Sometimes  peeing relieved his gout. Should he go back downstairs or wait? Inside the mens room at work one day, he caught two guys going at it in one of the stalls. It kind of turned him on. Was he gay? That's it, I'm gay, he thought. But that notion quickly left him as his wife came out of the bathroom. He ran in and did his things then went to their bed. The light in the bedroom was already out. He whispered good night to his wife; she mumbled something and turned over. The ringing in his ears from the concert was finally dying down. 

The friction between Ivan and the inchoate forces buffeting his soul grew. He would sleep it off and then start all over again the next day. He never woke up refreshed. In his dreams, his car was searched by police, police finding nothing in it and still he was arrested. In another recurring dream, his dog told him to get away from her and go walk around the block himself. The human dog inside Ivan barked to be let out. There seemed to be no end to his micro humiliations, awake and asleep, conscious and sub-conscious. He thought about having an affair, but who would want a balding graying thickening buzz-killer like him. 

As he closed his eyes that night, Ivan thought again of his Russian grandparents, his work and the day ahead. Was it all really so bad he thought. He didn't know. He wanted to know  if his tenure and place in the universe were marked for disaster and or eternal melancholy. He had never wanted to know something so bad in his life: if his spirit was dead or alive; or if he had a spiritual side. Or even worse, what was the spirit and spirituality.. He somehow got hold of the idea that these were the key and controlling questions surrounding his destiny that needed answering before anything else. This tiny window peeking down into his soul and out upon the universal landscape was enough to quiet the ringing in his ears as he drifted off to fitful sleep. 

Submitted: July 25, 2022

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