An Exquisite Corpse in the Orchestra

Story no. 24.

By two PM Kevin is imagining a pair of shoes so large the Statue of Liberty would be dwarfed by them. He thinks of wingtips that one could pop the Titanic into to stretch them properly, a massive pair of loafers that could be used to bail out the Great Lakes.

“You’ve got some big shoes to fill, dude,” says Ziggy Thomson, the first trombonist, when they are introduced in the coat room.

“Hope you get settled fast, because you’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Bernardo Giordano calls to Kevin from the corner urinal when he goes to use the bathroom.

“You have a very big role to fulfill, young man,” Anne Garcia-Lopez tells him severely from behind her bass violin. Kevin can hardly see her cap of shiny black hair over the instrument’s shoulder. She stands on a stool to play, but she still bounces up to her tip toes.

“You should have fucking heard him rip through Devienne’s fucking concerto for bassoon and orchestra,” exclaims Georges Antonopoulos, the third horn, in tones of reverence. “It was like God had blessed his fucking instrument.”

“He told me,” says Dmitri, the fourth cello, cigarette dangling over his lip, “that he played Villa-Lobos for his submarine crew when they were stationed in the Barents Sea.”

“You ever been in the fucking military, kid?” Georges asks Kevin.

“I just graduated from Oklahoma State, sir,” Kevin says politely.

“I heard Jabari went to Harvard,” Ziggy says. He is smoking something that is not tobacco.

“I believe he attended Yale’s Institute for Sacred Music,” Anne snaps.

“But of course he did both,” says Bernardo. “Did Jabari ever tell you about playing jazz for Fidel Castro in Havana?”

“They Cuban Ministry of Culture invited him,” Hannah von Seederstein murmurs. “They had to fly him in through Mexico.”

“But he was really working for the CIA,” volunteers Lawrence, the percussionist, from the back of the practice room. “They wanted him to collect information for an assassination attempt.”

“It didn’t go through.” “It didn’t go through.” “It didn’t work out. . . ”

“But the Cubans found out, so it didn’t work, and he had to flee in a fishing boat,” Israel Schneckel adds.

>Dmitri scratches his Rasputin-like beard. “And then he got picked up by a Nigerian tanker.”

“With his bassoon?” asks Kevin.

“With his bassoon.”

“He had to spend four months in Nigeria. They wouldn’t believe he was an American citizen.” Olatunji Oyabowe shrugs and shakes his head.

“That is where he acquired the pet monkey,” Anne inserts.

“He got in real good with a rich senator in Lagos,” Ziggy says thoughtfully. “Took him on a hunting safari in South Africa.”

“He’s got a lionskin in his apartment,” Hannah says. No one asks how she knows this. “It crept up on their encampment while they were during the night. It would have killed the senator if Jabari hadn’t shot it.”

>Bernardo accepts a cigarette from Dmitri. “He finally got out of Nigeria by romancing an Italian noblewoman with a private serenade.”

“Ravel,” three of the violas, Irene, Moriko, and Gabriela, sigh together.

“After he auditioned for this orchestra, there was no question of taking anyone else,” Guillaume Temoigne asserts. He is the first violinist, and the room falls quiet to hear him. “Afterwards, Manuel, our practice conductor, and I took him out for dinner at the Sauvegard.”

“Most expensive restaurant in town,” Ofelia the harpist mutters out of the corner of her mouth to Kevin.

“I have never received anything but exquisite service at the Sauvegard, but that night they failed to mention that the appetizers, croutons de la Bourgogne, had been simmered in a delicate broth of oysters and rosemary prior to being sauteed,” the violinist continues. “Manuel, being a dedicated vegan, tasted the odor of animal pain immediately, and was so distressed he began to choke.”

“Jabari was so quick-thinking he threw the flower pot across the table. It hit Manuel in the stomach, and he spat out the crouton,” Gabriela twitters.

“That was before the restaurant caught on fire, of course,” says Dmitri.

“Why did he leave the orchestra?” Kevin asks.

“To get married,” Israel says.

“To the janitor of the Metropole Theater,” says Hannah. “His name’s Bill.”

“They bought a zoo,” Ofelia says.

“Jabari wanted Onion — that’s the monkey’s name — to have a family,” Zacharias Betswelter, third clarinet, pipes up from the back.

“The true tragedy of the matter is that you will never hear him play the Rite of Spring,” Anne says, and the room nods in mutual sorrow.


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