The symphony hall was not far away. There was a little time yet before the concert since the sun had just about set. They spent the time looking at the posters and reading about the season’s offering, and Nathan confessed that he used to have season tickets.
“I had to give it up when my ears started to go,” he said. “God knows that when you get older, all of the senses start to go, one by one.”
“Can you hear me now?” Mya whispered.
“Yes I can.” Nathan whispered back, and she laughed again. Nathan thought it was a great pleasure to hear her laugh and he wondered if she was ticklish. She was, and in short order they were both on their knees laughing as hard as any two people had ever laughed. Finally, as Nathan got hold of himself, Mya had a thought.
“Oh, but I have never heard a symphony before. Mother only listened to country music. What exactly is a symphony?”
“What is a symphony?” Nathan puffed. “What is a symphony?” He grabbed her hand, pulled her to her feet and rushed her inside. They snitched a look at the program and ran up the stairs to the box seats, Nathan hoped that the performance was not sold out. “I used to sit here,” Nathan said as he caught his breath. He was certainly under forty years old by then, but not by all that much. Mya, who was not winded at all, had to be maybe and finally an honest eighteen, maybe. They sat and Nathan explained all he could about Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and then after an intermission there was going to be a waltz by Strauss and a piece by Mahler. By the time he finished, the hall was beginning to fill up and Mya began to get excited. Nathan gave her hand a fatherly pat as if to say, just wait, when an older woman came to sit in his seat. Mya nudged him and he got up as quickly as he could, but it was not quick enough. The woman’s shoulder went right through his shoulder.
The woman paused and looked at the ceiling as if searching for the air conditioning vent. She pulled her shawl up fully around her shoulder and took the next chair over so Nathan got to sit down again. Mya tried to hold back a laugh and Nathan wiped his brow. “That was close.” He spoke to the woman, but of course, the woman heard nothing. He turned back to Mya but she hushed him. The orchestra was warming up and the lights were going down. Beethoven was wonderfully done. Nathan could not resist pointing out his favorite part in the piece, but he saw that Mya was moved to tears so he really did not need to say anything. When it was over, he thought that Mya applauded more than anyone, and then it was intermission.
The old woman beside them did not look like she was going to move, so Nathan politely said, “Excuse us,” even if she could not respond. Of course, their legs inevitably went through her legs, and Mya stopped them at the curtain for a moment to watch. The woman bent down as if searching for the source of the breeze. She pulled her dress all the way down to cover her legs. Mya did finally giggle a little, but there was no little girl sound in it.
When they got downstairs, they found it very crowded and very difficult to get around without walking through people. Several men turned up their collars at the sudden cold, and some women adjusted their shawls and sweaters, but really, Nathan and Mya disrupted very little. Nathan felt bad, briefly, that he could not get them some of that famous watered down orange drink. They found the water fountain but Mya said that even in the hospital all she could do was wet her lips. The lights flashed and that startled Mya for a moment. She grabbed on to Nathan, but he assured her it was nothing to worry about. They went back up the stairs, more slowly than the first time, but when they arrived, even as the orchestra began to warm up once more, they saw that two late arrivals were sitting in their seats.
Nathan had a thought, and without saying anything, Mya asked, “What is it?” She was beginning to know him rather well, too, and she could read the excitement etched across his face and eyes.
“Come on.” That was all he said, and they were off, running again, going down the stairs two at a time. The lights were off by the time they broke into the orchestra seating. They reached the stage as the applause for the conductor abated. Nathan dragged Mya right up on the stage. She looked more than once, nervously at the crowd even if she knew the audience could not see her. By the time the first strains of the waltz began, he had her in the back corner of the stage, opposite the percussion section, where there was some room to move around.
“What is it?” Mya finally insisted.
Nathan smiled and lifted his left hand. “The waltz,” he said. “We should be dancing.”
“Oh.” Mya put her hand to her mouth. “But I’ve never danced like that before,” she protested.
“Then time you learned young lady. Come, come,” he insisted. She took his hand and he lifted her other hand to his shoulder while he set his hand gently on her waist. “Just do what I do,” he told her, and they bumped legs. “I mean the opposite. When I step forward, you step back.”
“Oh.” Mya turned a little red and decided her only recourse was to keep looking into Nathan’s eyes. He looked into her eyes as well and waited for the right time to start, and then they waltzed. She was so unsure at first, but it was not long before she got it. The waltz was not a complicated dance. By the end of the Strauss piece, Mya was moving with delight, so gracefully and effortlessly, and Nathan was feeling a bit awkward as only a man can feel when dancing with a beautiful young woman. He stepped back at the end to look at her. Her school clothes were gone and she was dressed in a lovely gown, all pink and sparkling and a little bit low cut, he thought. He still had on his suit, but his shirt was tight and spotless. The suit looked like it just came from the dry cleaners and he was wearing a tie. He had not worn a tie in years
Then it was over and while the people applauded, Nathan leaned over and kissed Mya’s cheek, and she kissed his. Nathan thought that this was like dancing with his daughter on her wedding day. It was a dance he never got to have. His daughter ran away when she was eighteen and when she came home she was already married. It was not that she eloped, though. She lived with the scum for two years first.
Mya thought something quite different. She still had to get a little on her tip-toes, though not much, and she kissed him softly right on the lips. “You could be my boyfriend,” she said.
Nathan’s eyes got big for a minute before he grabbed her hand roughly and dragged her backstage and down the hall. They went out the stage door, actually walked right through it without realizing it. She shouted the whole way, “Let go, let go!” and tugged against his big hand. He did not speak, but thought terrible things. When he got her outside, he found some stacks of crates in the alley and he threw her down to sit on a crate, not to hurt her, but to not take no for an answer. Then he spoke.
“Stop it.” He shook a finger in her face. “I’m eighty-four and you are just seven years old.” He knew that was a lie when he said it, but his mind was still telling him that. “I don’t mind being your grandfather. I don’t even mind being your father, but I’ll have no talk about boyfriend and girlfriend.”
“And why not?” She shot right back at him, not intimidated in the least.
“Because I’m too old for you, I mean way too old,” he yelled.
“Don’t you think that is for me to decide?”
“You can decide anything you like. I don’t care.”
“Well, I don’t care either. I don’t need you hanging around, you know.”
“Oh no? Where are you going to go?”
“I don’t know.” Mya shrugged. “What do you care?”
“I don’t care.”
“Well, I don’t care either. I’m grown up and I can take care of myself. I don’t need you.” She folded her arms, turned her head and stubbornly refused to look at him. Nathan paused. He just realized something he had overlooked.
“But I need you,” he said, softly. “Your insight and willingness to go through all of this no matter what is the only thing that has kept me going.”
“Really?” Mya asked. She turned back to face him, her eyes grew terribly wide with surprise.
“Really,” Nathan confirmed, and he lowered his eyes, unwilling to look into hers.
Mya got up and put her hands on his arms, not hugging him exactly, but inviting a hug. He responded by squeezing the breath out of her, and she found a few tears. “But don’t you know?” she said. “You saved my life.”
“I tried to.” His answer suggesting that he failed.
“No, I mean really. I thought you were nice from the very beginning, and I was right. I was wonderfully right. Don’t you know you are the most wonderful man in the whole world?”
“Hardly,” he said and looked once again into her eyes and loved her smile.
A voice came from overhead where there were likely some apartments, though they could not see a speaker in the dark. “Hey, buddy! Could you keep it down?”
Another voice joined the chorus. “Take her home and screw her brains out, you’ll both feel better in the morning.”
“Come on,” Nathan said and Mya was right with him. That last was certainly a line he was not going to cross, but the taking her home bit made some sense. His condo was not all that far away, and they walked hand in hand, but both were quiet. Neither was willing to bring up the boyfriend-girlfriend thing again; but in Mya’s heart, that was the way it was already, and Nathan kept telling himself it could never be that way.