LXXXI. Dinner with Moriarty

July 29, 2012 — I entered my blog. The metal security door clanged shut behind me. Loud music blared throughout, reverberating off the walls, catwalks and even down from the cupola: Puccini’s “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” “The beautiful dream of Doretta” from La Rondine, “The Sparrow.” Someone was singing – the Phantom: “Come eat salad under an umbrella,” he sang off-key, at the top of his lungs, his interpretation of the Italian.

I found him. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Why is the music so loud?

This story has a soundtrack: Go to my “The Dream” playlist on my player in the right sidebar, scroll down and click on number 20, “Schubert: String Quintet in C, Op. 163, Adagio. (Pablo Casals plays the cello on this recording.)

“I salute the insincerity of others,” he proclaimed, thrusting his half-opened hand into the air, as if in effort to remix his plight. “So much for trust and a dream.”

And, then, unexpectedly, he sobbed a shuddering sob.

“Ohhh, what happened?” I asked, and I reached to put my arm around him, but he stepped away, in a kind of a cowering move.


He lifted his head. “I had a friend,” he replied. “We have a rapport, like kindred spirits,” he began. “Or so I thought. We have engaged in a few deep and meaningful discussions recently on matters regarding the human spirit, the human condition. She gave me some reading and told me to contact her when I finished and we’d talk. I did and she never responded to my email.

“Even people like that can be insincere,” he went on. “Superficial. Like a Valley girl. Was she on mood elevators, do you think, or what?”

“Come. Sit,” I said. “I’ve just prepared dinner. Share it with me. We can’t let you become a hungry ghost.” I poured us some wine, a red velvety blend that held a hint of chocolate.

I set our plates before us. We sat opposite each other at the table.

“Not only that,” he said, flaking off a piece of baked wild salmon and lifting it on his fork. He held it midair, as if loaded on a cherry picker. “There are your long-time friends who said they would create the graphics for your paperback book cover, the story of our work here, and after a month, put new, higher-paying jobs first, and then had the gall to say, ‘You didn’t expect your book to sell that many copies, did you? It’s not like you have anybody waiting for it, have you?’

“And then your brother when Emma’s life insurance money came in, divided between you two as beneficiaries — after her former employer’s contracted human resources company dropped the ball for a month, finally telling you it got lost in cyberspace — your brother telling you, then, that he was keeping his half, even though you had told him that the life insurance funds were designated to pay Emma’s funeral expenses.

“I don’t know how you do it,” he said. “What keeps you going?” He swung the fork to his waiting mouth.

“I was stunned,” I replied. “How could my brother, of all people do this? Well, my brother thought about it overnight and decided to pay. It wasn’t his money; it was Emma’s and she paid into it all her life, from the time she was hired by that company in the nineteen fifties until the day she died, just to pay her funeral expenses. Had my brother not reconsidered, at my age I would have been in debt for that five thousand dollars, his half, for the rest of my life.

“I couldn’t be angry,” I went on. “I could only wonder what I had done somewhere in my lifetimes to accrue this karma. I thought, ‘This may have been the last conversation I will ever have with my brother.’”

I reached for another leaf off my artichoke. The artichoke resembled an ottoman. I had whittled the leaves off of it, dipped in olive oil, lemon juice, butter and garlic, and it was low and cushy with a high, pointy center. The tips of some of the leaves were tinted a rich purple, so my artichoke ottoman was multicolored.

“I thought of my friends’ karma and my brother’s karma, and I thought woe are they.”

“Good for you,” he said. With his knife he bulldozed the basmati rice into a heap on his fork, swishing it upwards with a flourish and into his mouth. He grabbed the stem of his wine glass with his other hand and inhaled as he took a draft of the mellow stuff. He looked into my eyes as I spoke.

“But, then I thought, what about my karma? How does this affect me? How am I supposed to work together with my friends and my brother to grow yet again spiritually, after all these years of caring for Emma and all the rope ends I dropped from.”

“Yes, and what did you come up with?” he asked, reaching for the wine bottle and filling his glass halfway.

“Patience,” I said. “I could not allow myself to be angry. I just had to accept the situation, love them for who they are and where they are in their own evolution and go on my way with mine. If I had to deal with creditors and bill collectors and judgments for the rest of my life, then I must, I thought. I didn’t know what else to think at that point. It was like letting go of the end of yet another rope.”

He took a deep draft from his glass. He emptied it and poured himself more. I was glad I had an extra bottle on hand.

“And, then, fortunately, the next day, after my sleepless night, my brother came through.”

“For you, good, he came through,” he said. He peeled off two leaves from the artichoke, scooped them through the liquid dip, lifted them to his mouth and pulled off the meat, leaving teeth marks, like tire tracks across a tender lawn, on the green and tossed them into the bowl I had placed in the center of the table for spent leaves.

“And, for me?”

“Well, maybe as I have thought for my two friends,” I said. “Should they contact me again, I will tell them they need contact others whom they hold in higher esteem than they do me, and bid them go well, with love. Unless your friend comes through with a viable reason for not responding sooner, if I were you, I should do the same.”

He pushed his chair back, laying his napkin on the table. “Come,” he said.

I got up and followed him. We climbed to the upper levels of my blog and from there up the winding staircase with the peeling painted walls to the cupola.

We stood side by side before the windows. “You have to assume you may never hear from her again,” I told him. “Cut the ties of the attachment. It’s liberating, like a breath of fresh air.” I opened a window. The aroma of the sweet summer grass wafted up to us.

“Look,” he said, and pointed.

There across the meadow stood the blue deer. The deer’s head was down, submerged in the tall reeds down by the stream. It was foraging for food, it’s dinner. It did not look up.

“It’s doing what deer do,” said the Phantom, and he began to hum.

Twilight came, wrapping us in a mantle of indigo. A near full moon rose in a gauzy haze above the trees lining the far side of the stream. A distant airplane, its landing lights yellow in the haze, cut across the moon’s path, just beneath it.

Then he sang softly the words, “Sing for me. Sing for me. In the beautiful dream of Moriarty, I sing for myself.”

—Samantha Mozart