Chapter 5: CALM WATERS

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

Reads: 29

NUMBER ONE

A Novelette

Nicholas Cochran 

Chapter Five

 

“So far, so good,” sighed Zach to Elena Reesna, MacDonald’s tall blonde Swedish secretary while she leaned on the corner of his desk, “but I’m getting a lot of help. Cec Johns came up with a great idea, and George Samuels and Davey Gronn helped me measure and chalk the exact position for his chair,” now smiling, “and then Pete from Props—I didn’t catch his last name—brought me about ten bowls. I’ll never need that many; but anyway, for his finger dipping; you know, to heat them up. He also brought along a large meat thermometer,” now laughing, “the purpose for which . .  . . . .” shaking his head while laughing louder. Elena joined in his merriment, displaying her straight and perfectly set teeth between her somewhat overly made-up lips. Zach felt warm whenever she was near him.

“Sounds like you’re either marshalling all your troops or they’re all feeling really sorry for you,” pursuing her laughing gene in a teasing but affectionate way. Zach noticed that her figure moved in very moving ways beneath her sheath dress whenever she laughed.

“Well, Valerie has been really helpful, you know, with a lot of details and such.” Elena’s joy seemed to ebb. Zach immediately understood, “but what I really need is some advice from you, Elena; because you’ve met him before, more than once, right—with Russ?” Her retreating joy paused before beginning to return.

“Oh, mein Got,” waving her hand. Zach appreciated the various languages that Elena would sprinkle on her English, a result of her upbringing in Sweden plus several excursions to the Continent. This made her more intriguing and complex to Zach.

“I tell you, Zach, he’s, well, he’s . . . unique,” laughing again, “I really can’t figure him out; but he’s definitely a genius; and he’s street smart as well. And get this, he just loves the Mary Tyler Moore Show; can you believe it?” She straightened her back, creating more marvelous movements under her dress, “and then of all things, I got talking to him about philosophy; philosophy. You knew I took some in university; well, I can’t quite remember how it started with him, but it did start and the next thing I knew I was actually enjoying talking with him,” pausing, “then I also realized that I kind of liked him when we were talking. He told me he had been reading about this American or Russian or something woman; Randy, or Randall maybe; I’d never heard of her, so the conversation just sort of died. Then Russ came in, and I left. Odd, though,” standing up straight and pursing her lips, changing her essence from warm—almost giddy—to sober and contemplative.

“Hell, I never even took philosophy,” Zach said while frowning, “what did you say the name of that woman philosopher was?”

“Randed, Randy, Brand . . . or maybe Rand; he didn’t tell me her first name.”

“Hunh; well I’ll ask one of my wise friends who she is; and who knows? Thanks Elena.”

Politely, “my pleasure,” and moving her figure a little more than necessary under the sheath, she turned and retreated to her desk in front of MacDonald’s office.

*

Over the next four days, through the two studio television concerts, Zachary learned both by example and through exposition, what it meant to be Number One.  More importantly, was his appreciation of that invisible sliver of space between Number One and Number Two. Those ‘weird’—not to say, annoying—‘things’ Garth Grant insisted on doing—or wearing, now seemed perfectly normal—no; they were prerequisites for maintaining his place at the pinnacle of pianists; especially, as the undisputed world champion of Beethoven.

Everyone who observed Zachary and Garth during those four days on the set or in various rooms of the ‘max-stat’ area, naturally assumed they were fighting over something. Heads close together; arms thrown out in all directions; one standing quickly—or sitting emphatically; one or the other shouting loudly: “oh horseshit.” or “are you really serious?” Often, the volume reached painful.

Surprisingly, on all those occasions, Garth Grant and  Zachary Kell were simply seriously into debate and discuss; religion: Ayn Rand; baseball; Bach; the Leafs—and especially, the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Valerie talked with him for an hour as well as printing out a number of salient features of the characters, the plot, and the ironies.

There were Zachary’s travels around the world; places that Garth visited, both on and off the piano-concert circuit. In all of these areas, debate and discussion often led to dogma and certitude, which—naturally—created passion and conflict. Thus, the positions and gestures—and barely-controlled screaming. But, oddly—very oddly to Garth Grant—they each found someone who they could yell at and mock, yet continue as warm friends, eating sliders and drinking fine ales after hours on College Street or sometimes in the KCR.  Zach thought of taking Garth to the Celebrity Club across Jarvis from the Radio Building. He quickly abandoned the idea simply because he knew that hauling Garth along would not only put pressure on his friend but also probably piss him off. Garth was not your normal celebrity and, as Zach was discovering, did not have your celebrity ‘veneer’. At some point, Garth would probably insult everyone and flip them the bird—in a half-fingered woolen glove.

*

Almost at once, Zachary immersed himself in the workings of the top tier music world. The more he asked, the more Grant told. Finally, on Thursday evening, Zach asked the ultimate question. “What does being ‘Number One’ really mean in your world Garth?”

Paddy was supplying the ale and pretzels; Zachary the select nuts; and Garth was buying the sliders.

“Well, my friend,” with undisguised warmth, “it’s no different than baseball, really; or any sport.  It’s also very clearly in acting, writing—even philosophy, I suppose. There is always a pecking order, a ranking. There can only be one Number One,” taking a good quaff of Arrogant Bastard, “you must do everything to stay there; everything  Zachary, “another Bastard quaff, “if my finger temperature—or my body temperature—falls just one degree, whether it’s real or perceived; if I feel a draft on my neck; if the piano keys are slick; if the pedals are too giving; the piano is too shiny; my chair too low, or high—on and on. And if anywhere, or from anywhere; from around any corner or from out of any open vent, or from under any key—there lurks anything that creates just a scintilla of inexactitude, then that tiny wee thing is more than enough to sink you. You’re toast. Shit. If you’re lucky, you’ve only fallen to Number Two; but you’re probably headed out of the top ten.” Garth drained his glass. “And it’s not for the money, Zach,” shaking his head, “no, nope, not at all; or for fame either,” nodding again, “you know how much I hate all this publicity; all this crap I have to do; like what we’re doing now for instance; this studio crap; this Massey-Hall-Concert-tomorrow-night crap; no offense.”

“None taken . . . of course.”

“But Jesus,” sighing, “really Zach, all I want to do is just play the piano; I want to be the best piano player in the world—ever,” taking the initial sip from a new glass, “but I can’t separate these two; just to play; but to be the best to play. And so I rant and rave; I wave my arms—and give you a bad time . . . hunh; I give everyone a hard time,” gulping some beer and biting into a pretzel; then turning to face his new friend and confidant, “I can’t help it, Zach . . . I’m scared.” He grabbed his glass with both hands as if he were about to sink beneath the bar and find himself floating in space—sensate; but with no piano.

*

Upon opening the swinging doors of the top balcony of Massey Hall, Garth and his Steinway appeared to Zach as a tiny animated scene in the middle of a vast empty stage. Inside the expanse of the huge relic, practicing for tonight’s concert was winding down. Despite lights being switched off, cameramen shouting ‘seeya in a couple’, and other preparations for the evening concert in suspension, Zach continued to search. He was relentless in his attempt to track down and flush out the elusive draft that Garth’s body was feeling from somewhere among all these rows, aisles, and balconies—and more rows; coming from somewhere, tucked up under the skirts of this grand old lady of Yonge Street.

Tonight would end all the catering and fussing. Although Zach was accustomed to the problems of keeping Garth on top, he wondered, not if he was going to miss such a challenging ward, but just how much he would miss the ward and the challenge of solving his problems.

Zach arranged everything for Garth and Chuck Chambers, the A.D. scheduled to monitor Garth’s live performance. He wrote out Garth’s instructions, laid out all his clothes, his tuxedo, his warm garb—including scarves, sweaters and the half-finger wool gloves, and turned up the thermostats. He also stocked the Diet Pepsi cache; arranged the warm bowls for finger soaking, (complete with thermometers—Garth had taken possession of the massive meat thermometer for a souvenir) and finished all the othe preparations.  Zach was through. The schedule called for Chuck to simply listen for ninety minutes and call it a wrap.

Zach firmly hugged his friend, while warmly and sincerely wishing him a perfect paramount performance. He also repeated merde a dozen times. Zach drew back from his dear friend and released the longest, most relieving, most soothing breath he could remember. He was drained, so much so that his dash for home was no more than a shuffle. Yet home it was. Home, to relax; to finally and completely liberate more than a whole week’s worth of worry. His body craved relief. Tensions from both good and bad times over the past week virtually numbed his sectors of sensation. It was done. It was R&R time.

End of Chapter Five


Submitted: February 27, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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