Overview

At eighteen, Paul Porterfield's dream is to play the piano at the world's great concert halls, yet so far the closest he has come has been turning pages for his idol, Richard Kennington, a former piano prodigy on the cusp of middle age. Then, on vacation in Rome with his mother, Pamela, Paul encounters Kennington a second time. A love affair begins between the two - one that is complicated when Pamela misconstrues Kennington's attention toward her son as a sign of interest in her. Alarmed by the situation, ...
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The Page Turner

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Overview

At eighteen, Paul Porterfield's dream is to play the piano at the world's great concert halls, yet so far the closest he has come has been turning pages for his idol, Richard Kennington, a former piano prodigy on the cusp of middle age. Then, on vacation in Rome with his mother, Pamela, Paul encounters Kennington a second time. A love affair begins between the two - one that is complicated when Pamela misconstrues Kennington's attention toward her son as a sign of interest in her. Alarmed by the situation, Kennington flees Rome for New York, where Joseph Mansourian, his manager (and lover) of twenty-five years, awaits him; Paul, too, goes to New York to study at Juilliard. They do not see each other. Yet the brief affair will affect their lives in ways that neither could have predicted. "Why can't people have what they want?" It is around this question that David Leavitt's new novel so movingly pivots. By turns comic and heartbreaking, shrewd and intimate, The Page Turner testifies not only to the tenacity of the human spirit but to the resiliency of the human heart.
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Editorial Reviews

Time
Spectacularly effective fiction.
Peter Kurth

For a writer whose name has lately become almost synonymous with literary controversy, and as one of the acknowledged lights of contemporary gay fiction, David Leavitt has always written in a surprisingly conventional, non-inflammatory tone. His last novel, of course, the ill-fated While England Sleeps, was pulled from the shelves on both sides of the Atlantic after Sir Stephen Spender charged him with plagiarism, and was only reissued in the United States after Leavitt agreed to rewrite it. Later, one of the novellas in Arkansas, his triptych of writerly woe, having been sold for serialization to Esquire, was killed by the magazine's editor, who feared advertiser objections to its sexual content. The memory of these disasters and the media attention that followed might account for the fact that Leavitt's latest offering, The Page Turner, offers nothing in the way of surprises. It's as if Leavitt were hedging his bets and covering all bases in an effort to avoid a third run of the gantlet.

The Page Turner is a slight, ruminative book, too short for its scope, the story of the love affair between Paul Porterfield, an 18-year-old aspiring pianist, and his musical and artistic idol, the former child prodigy Richard Kennington. When we first meet Paul, he is about to graduate from high school in California, intent on a concert career and getting ready to study at Julliard. He meets Kennington unexpectedly in San Francisco, when he is asked at the last minute to step onstage as page turner for his hero. Their brief encounter leaves Paul in a whirl of desire and the normally fastidious, 40ish Kennington struggling with an erection when he ought to be thinking about Beethoven.

"He closed his eyes," Leavitt writes, "tried to will it away, for he couldn't very well walk out on stage like that. And yet despite his efforts to fill his mind only with the Archduke, an image of Paul on all fours, with his shorts around his knees, materialized immediately on the insides of his eyelids." But when Paul and Kennington finally do have sex, having met up again accidentally in Rome, Leavitt discreetly draws the curtain on the scene -- he is concerned not with his characters' sexual activities, but their human and emotional needs. Complicating the relations between Kennington and Paul is Paul's unhappy mother, Pamela, recently dumped by Paul's father and mistaking Kennington's attentions to her son as a thinly veiled desire for her. Then there's Kennington's much older lover and manager, Joseph, who provides the disillusioned counterpoint to Paul's and Kennington's Roman interlude.

It's hard to know what Leavitt's message is, apart from the glaringly -- and sentimentally -- obvious. "Don't have any illusions about pain," Paul's piano teacher has told him. "Only a child believes that joy is infinite and suffering is short." Leavitt writes sweetly, as usual, while flitting all over the map in his effort to deal with all of his characters equally. It's a mistake: The Page Turner is too thin to carry the weight of so many sadder-but-wiser souls. -- Salon

Chicago Tribune
A wizard at blending levity and pathos, Leavitt writes gracefully about wounded, acutely self-conscious characters.
LA Times Book Review
Confessional, audacious and outrageous...This is classic Leavitt -- writing with subtlety, maturity and compassion about the complexity and fragility of human relationships.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This flat novel of music, ambition and love is unfortunately not the enticing work-in-progress by the fictional "David Leavitt" in the far more accomplished and entertaining novella "The Term Paper Artist" from the collection Arkansas. Eighteen-year-old Paul Porterfield hopes for a career as a classical pianist and is thrilled to achieve his "debut" turning pages for his idol, the vaguely van Cliburn-esque Richard Kennington. This would be the only intersection of their careers were it not for a coincidental encounter later that summer in Rome, where Paul and his philistine mother, Pamela, are on vacation. Mutually infatuated, Paul and Kennington carry on an affair unbeknownst to Pamela who develops her own crush on Kennington. Kennington abruptly leaves because of an emotional crisis at home in New York the beloved dachshund of his longtime manager and lover dies, but the summer fling spoils in Manhattan, as Paul now at Julliard faces his lack of talent and Kennington cracks under the middle-aged pressures of being a former child prodigy. Neither character's sketchy story, however, has much emotional weight. Only Pamela, one of Leavitt's characteristically strong maternal figures, transcends her stereotype. Her farcically frustrated ambitions barely keep up the tempo in this dubiously titled orchestration of tired themes.
Library Journal
Leavitt, in his first novel since the controversial While England Sleeps Houghton, 1995, proves once again that he can accomplish much through his clean, spare narrative style. A master at creating the internal dither we experience when we misunderstand our surroundings, Leavitt relies on irony to explore the world of mismatched characters as they attempt to create, but mostly ruin, relationships. Paul Porterfield is the title character, an 18-year-old would-be pianist who is called upon to turn pages for his musical idol, the fortysomething Richard Kennington. They fall in love a few months later. Add to this mix Paul's mother, who also falls for Kennington, and Kennington's much older male lover of more than 20 years. Mistrust, abandonment, and betrayal abound, and each character knows all too well what those things are. But the hope for love is plentiful, and that is the substance of the novel. With each turn of the page, we uncover the mystery of love in the characters' lives as they experience it. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.Roger W. Durbin, Univ. of Akron Libs., Ohio
Elizabeth Gleick
...a perfectly enjoyable read....The Page Turner is a portrait of the aspiring artist as a young man....the author achieves clarity, even flashes of poetry. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Another intimate and knowingþalbeit also wearingþportrayal of gay life in America from the author of such well-received fiction as, most recently, last year's Arkansas. Leavitt's venue this time is the world of classical music performance. We meet his protagonist, Paul Porterfield, as a hopeful 18-year-old pianist who is chosen to turn pages at a concert performed by his idol Richard Kennington. Paul is smitten, and when a trip to Rome with his mother coincides with Kennington's Italian tour, he seeks out the older man. It's apparent that Richard will not abandon his sustaining relationship with his manager (and lover) back home, Joseph Mansourianþand also that Paul's brush with musical genius will doom him to a parallel frustration (as his elderly tutor warns: "It's best to decide now whether you can bear accenting a secondary role"). Paul, Kennington, and Mansourian are all introspective characters whose ruminations are presented in generous detail (though Paul remains somewhat opaque until relatively late in the novel)þas is Paul's mother Pamela, who's at some times a doting nincompoop straight out of sitcoms, at others a credibly aggrieved woman who's lost her adulterous husband and is determined not to lose her son (to a man who, she briefly believes, loves her). The charactersþ interactions occur in a world where virtually everybody is linked either by being gay or by having a gay loved one. If this hothouse atmosphere feels oppressive, it must also be said that the book is graced by brisk dialogue and sharp, suggestive images (of flight and fall, and, interestingly, of cats), and that sudden shifts from simple observer to godlike omniscience innarration keep the reader intrigued as well as exasperated. Leavitt marches on, to a tune that's becoming monotonous. This is a writer who needs a new subject, or at least a new perspective on what looks increasingly like the only subject he's interested in.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544087767
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 7/26/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • File size: 399 KB

Meet the Author

David Leavitt's first collection of stories, Family Dancing, was published when he was just twenty-three and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Prize. The Lost Language of Cranes was made into a BBC film, and While England Sleeps was short-listed for the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. With Mark Mitchell, he coedited The Penguin Book of Short Stories, Pages Passed from Hand to Hand, and cowrote Italian Pleasures. Leavitt is a recipient of fellowships from both the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He divides his time between Italy and Florida.
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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

"Paul! Let me fix your tie!"

All at once his mother was on him, her hands at his throat.

"Mother, please, my tie's all right --"

"Let me just tighten the knot, honey, you don't want to have a loose knot for your debut --"

"It's not my debut." "When my son sits up on a stage in front of two thousand people, I consider it a debut. There, much better."

She stepped back slightly, smoothed his lapels with long fingers. Even so, her face was close enough to kiss: he could see her crow's-feet under make-up, smell the cola-like sweetness of her lipstick, the Wrigley's on her breath.

"That's good enough, Mother."

"Just one little adjustment --"

"I said it was good enough!"

Writhing away from her, Paul hurried across the wings, to where Mr. Mansourian, the impresario, awaited him.

"Well, well, well," said Mr. Mansourian, "if you're not the best-dressed page turner I've ever seen. Come on, I'll introduce you to Kennington."

"Good luck, sweetheart!" Pamela called almost mournfully. She waved at Paul, a tissue balled in her fist. "Break a leg! I'll see you after the concert."

He didn't answer. He was out of earshot, out of the wings, beyond which the hum of the settling audience was becoming audible.

Mr. Mansourian led him up steep stairways and along antiseptic corridors, to a dressing room at the door to which he knocked three times with sharp authority.

"Come in!"

They went. In front of mirrors Richard Kennington, the famous pianist, sat on a plastic chair, bow tie slack around his throat. He was drinking coffee. Isidore Gerstler, the famous cellist, was eating a cinnamon-frosted doughnut out of a box. Maria Luisa Strauss, the famous violinist, was stubbing out a cigarette in an ashtray already overflowing with red-tipped butts. Her perfume, capacious and spicy, suggested harems. Yet the room had no softness, no Persian carpets. Instead it was all lightbulbs that brightened the musicians' faces to a yellowish intensity.

"Good evening, folks," Mr. Mansourian said, shutting the door firmly. "Richard, I'd like you to meet Paul Porterfield, your page turner."

Haltingly Kennington revolved in his seat. He had dark, flat hair, short sideburns, eyes the color of cherry wood. Fine ridges scored his face, which was slightly weather-beaten: not old-looking exactly, just older-looking than the pictures on his CDs suggested. As it happened, Paul owned all eight of Kennington's CDs.

Kennington smiled. "Pleased to meet you, Paul Porterfield," he said, holding out his hand.

"Thank you, sir," Paul answered, and accepted the hand with caution; after all, he'd never had the opportunity to touch anything so precious before. Yet it did not feel different from an ordinary hand, he reflected. Nor did anything in Kennington's handshake transmit to Paul the magic that happened when he sat down in front of a piano.

"This is an honor for me," Paul went on. "I've always been a great admirer of yours."

"Very kind of you to say so. And may I introduce my cohorts?"

Isidore Gerstler, still involved with his doughnut, only waved. But Maria Luisa Strauss winked at Paul, shook out her long black hair, played with the gold ankh that hung between her freckled breasts. "I've never seen such a well-dressed page turner," she said.

"So what are you working on, Paul?"

"Kreisleriana right now. My teacher's Olga Novotna, by the way. She said to send you her regards. And on my own, Webern. Miss Novotna doesn't approve of Webern, so --"

"Old Olga Higginbotham! Isn't she dead yet?" Isidore Gerstler interrupted.

"No sir, she's not."

"Kessler wrote the Second Symphony for her," said Maria Luisa Strauss. "She is O."

"I never understood why she changed her name," Kennington said. "Isn't an American name good enough? Well, we should go over the program. Pull up a chair."

Paul did. Brown circles stained the laminated surface of the table, which was empty except for a stack of scores, an eyeglass case, and a plastic bag that appeared to contain knitting.

Kennington opened the first of the scores. "So, we start with the Tchaikovsky --"

"A wonderful choice, sir, if I might say so."

"I'm glad you approve. Oh, and we take the standard cut in the variations."

"Fine."

"Then after the interval, the Archduke. No problems there. And if the audience behaves and we decide to do an encore, it'll be the andante from the Schubert B-flat. I presume you're familiar with the Schubert B-flat --"

"I own your 1983 recording of it with DeLaria and Miss Strauss."

Miss Strauss smiled.

"Well, you've clearly done your homework," Kennington said. "It isn't often that I get such a gung-ho page turner. In Ravenna once I had an old lady called -- if you can believe it -- Signora Mozzarella. Remember, Joseph? Charming but palsied."

"Signora Mozzarella is legendary in the land of Dante," Mr. Mansourian observed.

"Page turning is an art in its way, I suppose," Kennington went on. Then, taking a sip from his coffee cup, he abandoned -- to Paul's lasting regret -- this fascinating train of thought. "Well, I guess I'm ready. Tushi, you ready?"

"Yes, Richard."

"Izzy, you ready?"

"Yes, Richard."

"Has everybody gone?" Mr. Mansourian asked.

"Oops. Thanks for reminding me." Wiping cinnamon from his fingers, Izzy hurried into the bathroom. He didn't close the door.

An unzipping presently sounded, followed by the virile sound of flowing urine.

"Oh, please!" Mr. Mansourian clapped a hand against his forehead. "Folks, need I remind you there's a lady present?"

"Hey, Izzy, save some for me!" Kennington shouted. "I'm thirsty! "

Tushi rolled her eyes and blew a little kiss at Paul, who blushed.

"You've got to excuse us," Izzy said, zipping up. "After a few weeks on the road, we get punchy.

"Don't worry," Paul said. "I'm sure when I start my performing career, I'll get punchy too."

"Well, let's get a move on, then," Mr. Mansourian said, and opened the door.

"Good-bye," Paul said.

"Good-bye," Kennington said.

Paul followed Mr. Mansourian into the corridor.

Paul, who was just eighteen, had never turned pages before. Oh, certainly, he'd wanted to; indeed, had hinted both to Miss Novotna and Mr. Wang, his high school music teacher, how grateful he'd be for the opportunity. Nothing had happened, however, until Judith Schmidt, the musicology Ph.D. candidate at Stanford who usually took the job, decided at the last minute to attend a Shostakovich conference in Arizona. A gap opened up, one that Paul, to his delight, was asked to fill: thus houselights, backstage, the opening in the curtain through which he now glimpsed the immense Steinway, throbbing before a slice of unsettled audience.

Beside him, Mr. Mansourian was giving advice. "Just have a good time out there," he was saying. "Only be sure not to turn two pages by mistake. Richard slapped a page turner for that once."

"Don't worry. I've been practicing with my mother."

"Ah, your mother. I imagine she's taken her seat."

"I hope so."

Mr. Mansourian placed his hand on Paul's shoulder in what might have been a paternalistic gesture.

"So what are your plans, son? Hoping to make a career of it?"

"Not hoping. Intending."

"You must be very good indeed."

"Miss Novotna says I'm the most promising pupil she's had in years."

Mr. Mansourian, who had heard this kind of thing before, suppressed a smile. "Then I guess it'll be the C track," he said. "Conservatory, competitions, concerts. Yes, I can see it all. From the Cliburn to Carnegie Hall, from Carnegie Hall to an exclusive contract --"

"That's lumping ahead of things a bit," Paul interrupted. "But I do intend to go to Juilliard, if I'm accepted."

Mr. Mansourian slipped a business card into Paul's breast pocket. "Keep this," he said. "Come play for me if you like. I've got a piano in my suite at the Clift."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Or we could have a drink." His stare suddenly grew cautious. "That is, if you're old enough to drink."

"Not legally."

"A Coke then," Mr. Mansourian threw out, and swallowed so hard Paul could see his Adam's apple bob.

Out in the auditorium, Paul's mother had indeed taken her place, in row twenty-two of the orchestra. Left of the aisle: Paul had told her that real music people always sit left of the aisle, so they can see the pianist's hands. Having draped her coat over the seat in front of hers, she was now scanning her program with a red-lacquered fingernail.

"No, it doesn't mention him anywhere," she said to Clayton Moss, who, along with his wife, Diane, had escorted her to the concert.

"I don't think it's customary," Clayton said. "I mean, I've never seen a page turner listed in the program. Diane, have you ever seen a page turner listed in the program?"

"Not that I recall." Diane was rummaging in her purse. "Anyone care for gum?"

"Did you realize that Kennington made his debut when he was fourteen? Fourteen! And put out his first record when he was sixteen!" said Clayton.

"But it's ridiculous! No thanks. I mean, they list all sorts of people -- hall manager, stage manager. Why, the page turner's much more important than any of them. The pianist needs the page turner."

"Personally, I couldn't agree with you more," Diane said. "Personally, if it were Teddy up there, I'd be livid."

"Fourteen years old, and on a concert stage," Clayton said. "I wonder if that's right, in the end. If it damages a kid."

Pamela was thinking she might write a letter. She had written a letter the year before, when Paul had been disqualified from the youth concerto competition ... not that it had done any good. No one cared what a mother had to say.

Pushing a fringe of hair from her eyes, she snapped open the black purse that rested on her lap. An odor of L'Air du Temps wafted from the aperture. Extracting a tissue, she dabbed at her lips.

"Sure you don't want some gum?" Diane asked. "A caramel? Cough drop?"

"Probably you think I'm just being silly. No thanks. But what can I do? I'm so proud of him. I mean, he's good, really good. I know you haven't heard him, Clayton. Still --"

"I've always said, if there's one thing I admire about Paul Porterfield, it's his stick-to-itiveness," Clayton said. "Especially when you consider most of these kids, with their Internet and who knows what. But Paul! Now there's a horse of a different color. I always tell Diane, that boy knows what he wants. He's disciplined, ambitious. He could be the next Van Cliburn."

"By the way, is Paul going to the Optimists' Club awards dinner this year?" Diane asked. "Teddy went last year and loved it."

"No, he's not," Pamela said frostily, and fixed her gaze on the empty stage. Optimists' Club indeed. It sorrowed her to have to keep company with people like the Mosses, who showed such little insight into the creative mind. Whereas Pamela, though possessing no creative talents of her own, at least recognized genius when she saw it; indeed, had recognized it the first time she'd heard Paul tap out a tune on the piano, the week before his fifth birthday. Even then, he'd been grasping for euphony.

She rubbed her eyes, tried to block out the fresh, intrusive memory of Diane's voice. She didn't like having to go to concerts with the Mosses, but there it was. She was not one to do things alone, and Kelso had refused. "So what if he's page-turning?" he'd said. "When he plays, I'll go." Kelso, in her view, was unforgivable, and yet his absence at least afforded her the relief of not having to worry about his falling asleep.

An enormous man with a shiny bald head now made his way to the seat in front of Pamela's. He looked at her coat, his ticket, her.

"Madame, is this yours?" he asked, indicating the coat.

"Oh, is that your seat? Sorry." She gathered it up.

Snorting, the man sat down. Immediately the back of his immense head supplanted the piano. In that unfortunate way of bald men, he'd grown what few hairs he had very long, then brushed them forward over his scalp.

Now if Clayton were a gentleman, she thought, he'd offer to trade places with her. But clearly Clayton wasn't a gentleman because he didn't do anything. Which was typical. Nothing ever worked out the way she hoped. Even so, she wouldn't have dreamed of asking Clayton to change places with her, both because she was too proud and because in truth she rather relished the prospect of a little public suffering.

The hall lights dimmed. Immediately the buzz of audience chatter shrank to a whisper.

"It's starting!" Pamela said to Clayton, and craned her neck to see. Aside from the piano and Kennington's bench, the stage's only occupants were three chairs and two music stands. Presently, no one joined them. Had the dimming been a false alarm? The collective held breath of the audience tautened as the seconds passed. It was as if an immense bubble were forming over the auditorium. Then some people stepped onto the stage. Applause popped the bubble, applause that had as much to do with relief as enthusiasm. The cellist came first, chubby and pink, his face framed by coarse curls. Next followed the violinist, a dark woman in a black skirt and leotard. When she bowed, her body went limp like a rag doll, her hair, as lustrous as the piano itself, fell forward and nearly brushed the floor.

Finally there was the pianist. A younger man than Pamela had expected, he appeared distracted, as if it were just dawning on him that he was in a public place. Pushing through the applause as if it were foliage, he moved to his bench. Paul, trailing, took the chair at the piano's left, then settled the score on the desk.

While the cellist and the violinist opened their own music, the pianist whispered something to Paul, in response to which he took off his watch and stuffed it into his breast pocket.

"Look at him!" Pamela nudged Clayton with her elbow. "Oh, but his tie! He must have fiddled with it."

"It's fine, Pammy."

The bald man turned. "Ssh!" he said, and Pamela colored. He opened a score over his lap.

Closing his eyes, the pianist clasped his hands for a few seconds, as if in prayer, then, when the theater was silent, nodded to his partners, who nodded back.

They began to play. As for Pamela, very quietly she scooted forward and pressed her knee against the back of the bald man's seat. He raised his head. A vein pulsed behind his ear. Serves him right, she thought, folding up her coat.

It was toward the end of the Tchaikovsky and of course it had to be Tchaikovsky that Kennington, much to his chagrin and surprise, began to become aware of Paul; that is to say, aware of him as more than just a black arm that shot forward every time he neared the end of a page, held the corner steady between thumb and forefinger, and in response to the subtlest of nods, with sparrowlike swiftness, turned it. Invisibility is an asset in any page turner: on stage, he must efface his presence as much as possible, make it seem as if the sheets are flipping of their own accord. And in terms of unobtrusiveness, Paul was faultless. He never turned a page too late or too early, never sniffled or shook his leg. Yes, the watch had been a mistake, but this Kennington forgave, attributing it to inexperience. In any event Paul had taken it off as soon as he was asked to do so. And still, even without the watch, Kennington found himself growing conscious of Paul, of his slightly parted legs, the folds of black wool at his crotch, the white shirting where his Jacket fell open; indeed, so distracted was he that when the Tchaikovsky ended, and the boy, well versed in the ways of page turners, gathered up the scores and stood aside for him to pass, Kennington hurried backstage and headed immediately for the water cooler. Even at this distance, Paul's heavy, almost medicinal odor prickled in his throat.

When the houselights came up, he asked if there was some-place he could go by himself. He had a headache, he said. The stage manager led him to an empty dressing room, where he sat before a scratched and battered table, the lights off, his fingers on his temples. Unlike Izzy Gerstler, he was not an experienced libertine; nor was it his habit to be driven to dementia by page turners. And yet something about Paul's nervous meticulousness, his good manners, the razor-sharp part in his hair, alarmed Kennington. He could not say why, exactly. Perhaps it was the degree to which Paul seemed an echo of himself, years earlier. As a boy, making his first tournee of Europe, he too must have given off that musk of animal discomfort. Also the tingle of unexpressed need that now clung to Kennington's suit, picked up like static electricity from a wall socket.

A knock sounded. "Five minutes!" the stage manager called, and Kennington stumbled onto his feet. To his embarrassment he had an erection. He closed his eyes, tried to will it away, for he couldn't very well walk out on stage like that. And yet despite his efforts to fill his mind only with the Archduke, an image of Paul on all fours, with his shorts around his knees, materialized insistently on the insides of his eyelids. On the insides of his eyelids he was stroking the arched behind, the line of pale hairs that ran from the small of the back into the cleft between the buttocks. And Paul was begging him, he was saying, "Please, sir. Please." This wasn't in itself unusual. In fantasy at least, Kennington liked being begged. He liked withholding before satisfying. It was all rather like a curtain call.

No, the thing that unnerved him was that the fantasy seemed to be having him rather than the other way around.

Another knock. "Mr. Kennington?"

"Okay," he said, and pulling himself together, headed downstairs. In the wings Paul stood where he had left him, apparently not having moved for the entire length of the interval. "Feeling all right, sir?" he asked, his cheeks pink, gazing at Kennington with horrible sincerity.

"Better now."

They returned to the stage. In the orchestra the last stragglers hurried to their seats, applauding even as they ran. Opening the score, Paul tried not to look at the backs of the bowing players, the lights, the blur of human pandemonium in the midst of which, somewhere, his mother sat, probably waving at him. It was embarrassing even to contemplate.

At last Tushi, arranged in her chair, nodded to Kennington. The audience quieted, and the Archduke began.

It is the rare privilege of a page turner to hear a pianist almost as he hears himself: to hear his humming, the occasional grunts that escape through his teeth, the dull clack of his nails against the keys. And not only hear, but see; study. As Paul was learning, Kennington didn't move a lot when he performed, didn't lunge or writhe on the bench, or drape himself over the keyboard in an attitude of sublime transfiguration. Instead his face remained impassive, even expressionless. He kept his lips together, his back straight, supple. And those hands! Earlier, they had seemed unremarkable to Paul, but now, in the throes of doing, they revealed their rarity. Precision and unity, that was the formula, each note offered with an eloquence that somehow never distracted from the larger narrative in which it was bound. His hands were themselves a kind of music.

Forty minutes later, when the trio ended and the applause began, Paul obediently picked up the score and followed the musicians off the stage. Izzy Gerstler was wiping his mouth with a wrinkled handkerchief.

"So what say we let the blue hairs have a chance to clear out, then give them the Schubert?" he asked.

"Fine," Tushi said. "Richard, you up for it?"

"What? Oh, sure."

They did not move. From the upper tiers the music students stomped rhythmically, insistent that the musicians should now play their appointed roles in that approach-avoidance ritual known as the encore -- an insistence they knew better than to oblige too quickly. After all, a certain coquettishness is expected from great artists. Not to keep your public waiting would spoil the game.

Finally, in wordless agreement, the trio filed out onto the stage, bowed, filed back. In row twenty-two Pamela Porterfield rose to her feet.

"Bravo!" she shouted.

No one else was standing.

Embarrassed, she sat down again.

"Diane, have you got any aspirin?"

"Sure thing, honey."

"You all right, Pammy?" Clayton asked.

"Oh, I'm fine. I just have this crick in my neck from stretching to see over that man's head. Thanks." She rubbed her left shoulder. "You were lucky, Clayton. You didn't have anyone in front of you."

Instead of answering, Clayton clapped. Diane put on her coat. Already most of the subscription holders were hurrying out, eager to be first in line at the coat check or the valet parking. Idiots, Pamela thought swallowing the aspirin, the kind of people who unwrap hard candy during the slow movement, or applaud before the end, or talk. Why, once she and Paul had sat next to a man who'd actually brought along a transistor radio to a recital, so he could listen to the World Series. The management had had to be summoned.

"So what'd you think?" Diane asked. In the narrow aisle she was already buttoned up, purse in hand.

"I liked the Beethoven better than the Tchaikovsky," Clayton said.

"Really? I liked the Tchaikovsky better than the Beethoven."

"How about you, Pammy? Which one did you like better?"

Pamela, still seated, said nothing, as the trio, wearing expressions of reluctance and indulgence, stepped back onto the stage. This time Kennington led. They carried instruments, music. Those people who happened to be in the aisles grabbed whatever empty seat was closest. Chatter and applause ceased utterly, as if a vacuum had sucked away sound.

The Mosses, looking disappointed, sat down again.

Almost offhandedly, Kennington struck the first chord of the Schubert. It is a piece that brings to mind the moment of departure at a train station; that makes the fingers stretch to touch a last time; that makes you think, yes, the life of sensation, and no other. Indeed, Kennington's playing of it transfixed Paul's attention to such a degree that at one point he nearly forgot to turn the page. But fortunately he caught himself, and from then on he made certain to keep his eyes on the score instead of the keyboard.

The andante lasted a little more than eight minutes, after which the musicians got up, bowed again, and left the stage. Ritual demanded further curtain calls, further stomping for a second encore that was not forthcoming: with the exception of Izzy, who could have played all night, they were too tired.

"That's it!" the stage manager shouted as the houselights went up. Roars of disappointment sounded from the upper balconies.

People left.

In a corner of the wings, meanwhile, Kennington was drinking water from a cooler: cup after cup, gulp after gulp.

Very quietly Paul approached him.

"Sir?" he asked, holding out his hand.

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry to interrupt you. I just want to say that you played splendidly tonight."

"Thank you."

"I'll never forget it, not for the rest of my life. Sorry about the watch, by the way."

"Oh, that was no problem."

"Also, I realize that I nearly missed one turn during the encore.

"It was nothing. From my point of view you were perfect. Flawless, even."

"I appreciate that, sir, even if it isn't true."

"Please don't call me sir. I'm not that old. I'm not your grandfather."

"But I didn't say it because I thought you were old. I said it because I think you're great."

"Well, that's a little better, I suppose." Filling his cup again, Kennington looked at Paul, who with a kind of studied obduracy was refusing to meet his eye, fixing his attention instead on the men in overalls who were moving the piano off the stage.

"So do you live here in San Francisco?" he asked after a moment.

"In Menlo Park, actually. That's down the peninsula. But I was born in Boston." Paul smiled. "You're from Florida, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am."

"I only mention it because I have aunts in Florida. In Hallandale."

"That's the other end of the state from me. Holmbury is near the Georgia border."

"I know where it is. I looked it up in the atlas. I'd like to go to Holmbury some day and pay my regards to Clara Aitken."

"How do you know about Clara Aitken?"

"Judging from what you said in that interview in the November 1986 issue of Gramophone, she must have been quite a teacher." He blushed.

Kennington laughed. "It sounds like you know more about me than I know about myself."

"What can I say? You're a role model to me, sir -- I mean, Mr. Kennington."

"Richard."

"Richard." Paul grimaced, blushed.

"There, that wasn't so bad, was it? And anyway, wouldn't you agree that it's much more pleasant to be called by your own name?"

Paul seemed to consider the question seriously. Then he said, "Well, I'd better be going. Good luck with the rest of your tour. And thank you. Again."

"Thank you, Paul," Kennington answered; yet he did not take the hand Paul held out. Instead he stepped closer. "In a way, I'm sorry you have to go."

"Why?"

"Well, I was thinking we could have a drink together, or..."

Paul's eyes widened. "A drink? But people must be taking you out!"

"No, no one's taking me out."

"But I came with my mother, and I haven't got a ride home. I couldn't --"

"That's fine."

"Not that I don't want to. Of course I want to ... only how would I --"

"Paul!"

"Well, you could take a taxi. I'd be glad to --"

He turned. His mother was striding toward them, flanked by the Mosses.

Instantly Kennington drew back, drew away.

"Darling, I'm so proud of you!" Pamela said, filling the air with her scent of cola and perfume. "You were wonderful!"

"Mom, please --"

He looked over her head for Kennington. From where he'd stood Diane Moss pulled a camera from her purse.

"Say cheese!"

"Cheese!" Pamela said.

A flash went off. For a moment its reddening waves blinded Paul, who blinked, signaled with his arm. "Wait!" he almost called. But the darkness had picked up Kennington, and carried him away.

He still held the music. What was he supposed to do with the music?

"Honey, are you all right?" his mother asked.

"Fine," he said. "Excuse me, will you?" And he went off to ask the stage manager where to leave the scores.

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