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32: Surprise



When an ordinary morning
In its everyday disguise
Comes somersaulting over
And accosts you with surprise
Then the tune which you were humming
Without much thought and care
Turns into something other
Than a carefree country air
With the swiftness of a swallow
Or collecting of a bet
That solitary little tune
Has now become duet


Mist’s crisp presence began moving out through Gap in early morning with some friendly urging from Sun, who wanted to warm everything up after Rain’s generous offering from the day before and the chill of Mist’s damp, bright ceremonial veil.

     Gulls appreciated this thoughtful gesture and sat in quiet drifts of smooth grey and white feathers, wings folded, webbed feet tucked out of sight, as they lounged and preened along the beach in sunshine.

     Patterings from the feet of early foragers were heard along shore in the wet sand and in the underbrush, as birdsong filled the trees where berries offered there were stowed into hungry songsters seeking breakfast, while bay Spirits blended quietly with their chosen favourite places again, pleased with the outcome of the Waterfall event.

     When BRIGHT LEAF set out from shore heading for TJUTELA, most bay residents were just beginning to get over their morning yawns and stretches as they headed for coffee and teapots, unaware of the fact that anything out of the ordinary had happened earlier in the dawn.

     David, busy setting things to order in a locker, glanced out the companionway to see Ulf and Gurth, leaning over the taffrail, tails waving, as they gave little murmurs of greeting to an approaching visitor.

     “Welcome aboard,” he called loudly, giving his attention back to the locker.

     He finished searching into the farthest corner and, satisfied that everything was in order, turned to find Rose in the cockpit, being entertained by Ulf and Gurth.

     “Oh! Hi Rose,” was his greeting to this unexpected arrival, uncertain as to whether he should smile or just shut up and wait for developments.

     “Hi David.”

     It was she who smiled, which he found encouraging, feeling that she wasn’t there to add more of the same pointed comments she’d loaded him with earlier, or worse, tell him to get lost.

     “Great to have you aboard. Come on down.”

     Seeing things in an unusual state of disarray as she stepped down into the cabin, she remarked,

     “Are you housecleaning—boat cleaning?”

     “Excuse the disorder, but I’m getting things shipshape for the trip home. Think I’d better shove off tomorrow morning. It’s a nice early tide. Apart from that, I was listening to the weather report and it sounds like it’s going to break up pretty soon now. Gotta leave before I have a really rough trip home.”

     “Oh—we’ll all miss you.”

     He thought there was genuine disappointment in her voice, and some anxiety when she followed up her remark with,

     “I hope I didn’t scare you off this morning.”

     “No—of course not,” he assured her. “I have to get back and look after things there. I’ve really overstayed my welcome a week longer than I should have, and I was talking to Gram this morning. Seems they had a bit of a big wind there yesterday and a neighbour’s tree got blown over into her garden, so I told her to hang on until I got in and we’d fix it. Good that somebody needs a stupid, profligate, old gambling man.”

     “I’ve really insulted you, haven’t I?” she told him with regret in her voice, taking particular note of his last words.

     “It’s okay,” he told her, giving a little conciliatory laugh and shrug of pretended indifference, but having already betrayed his feelings. “I’m used to it. Everybody gives it to me but it bounces off. Over time I’ve developed a hide as thick as a rhinoceros.”

     Her soft laughter dispelled the air of tension he had felt around them, as she told him,

     “You do bounce back beautifully, and I appreciate that. It was unforgivable of me—but—please forgive me anyway.”

     “You got it, and you don’t have to bet on it—it’s yours right now.”

     “Thank you so much, and I’m very impressed that you’ve quit gambling.”

     “Who told you that!?” he asked in surprise.

     She realised she’d revealed something which she hadn’t intended to, and covered up quickly with,

     “Well—what was that stuttering performance on the wharf all about when you were looking at that boat last time we were in town?”

     “I wasn’t stuttering was I?” he defended himself, using an old dodge of answering a question with a question.

     “You’re pulling that ‘back on you’ bit again,” she smiled. “Every time you started to say ‘I’ll bet’, you stopped and said something else.”

     “Just trying to get rid of a bad habit of speech,” he excused himself, glancing out the companionway.

     “If you really wanted to do that you could probably have started with ‘geeze’,” she countered, “And I can tell by the way you turn your head and won’t look at me that you’re fudging again.”

     He brought his gaze back to hers, grinning guiltily.

     “Never could get even the teeniest little white lie past you could I?” he surrendered. “You have no right to look into my eyes and gather information from my very own secluded inner retreat like that. Okay. I kind of made a promise to somebody that I’d quit.”

     “Yes, Grandfather told me.”

     David looked shocked.

     “Grandfather snitched on me?!” he asked in disbelief.

     “No he didn’t. I got it out of him.”

     “How the hell do you figure all these things out?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.

     “I have my ways.”

     “Tell me, does this mean I can’t talk to Grandfather privately anymore without you finding out all about it?” he queried, feeling a little betrayed.

     “Certainly not!” was her emphatic assurance. “It’s just that I’m pretty persistent when I want to be and maybe he thought I should know about this.”

     “He didn’t ask me if I thought you should know,” David told her with a bit of accusation in his voice.

     “Maybe he figured I should know something that important about a man who’s expressed the wish to become Shalisa,” she excused Grandfather, then added, “It was a really good endorsement for you, actually.”

     “Mmm,” considered David, “Now there are just the remaining problems of stupid, profligate and old man. Can’t do anything about the ‘old’ part, and I’m not too sure I want to do anything about the drinking and having fun part at the moment. I could probably work on stupid next though, if I don’t backslide on gambling. Might be a good one, considering how stringent the screening board for entrance into this fraternity is. Could be a lengthy process. Maybe by the time I’m ninety I’ll be ready for acceptance as a brother Shalisa.”

     They looked at each other and laughed a little, as she told him,

     “Well don’t overdo it. If you become perfect you’ll turn into a terrible bore.”

     “Ah!” He slapped the table with his palm. “Glad to hear that at least I’m not a bore.”

     She regarded him with a speculative glance before she replied,

     “I think you’re becoming a manipulator.”

     “Oh, I’m already one of those,” he laughed, flexing his fingers at her.

     “That’s not the kind of manipulating I meant,” she corrected him, “And I didn’t say you weren’t a bore—I said you’d turn into a terrible one.”

     “Don’t fence with a wordsmith lawyer who gives with one hand and takes away with the other,” observed David glumly. “Guess that means I have to be the person of the first part before we can couple it with the adjective of the second—right?”

     “You’re making progress on the ‘stupid’,” she encouraged him.

     “Okay, how do you get that pat on the back away from me?”

     “Give me a little time and I’ll think of something.”

     “Grandfather, do you really want to back this woman up?” enquired David, looking out a porthole as though he saw Grandfather walking on the water out there. “Good thing you didn’t live in Salem way back when. They’d have burned you for a witch.”

     “Better than being the one beginning with ‘b’ which I was this morning,” she told him. “I’m sorry and really ashamed of myself for behaving that way toward you.”

     “Agh—sometimes we’re all guilty of that,” he dismissed it, “And I knew you weren’t really mad at me, it was something else. I shouldn’t have gone poking my nose into your very private and personal world. It was just—I thought what you were doing was so terrific I wanted to be part of it, sort of approval by association.”

     “How did you know what I was doing?” she asked, surprised in her own turn.

     “Oh,” he returned, giving her a knowing grin, “I have my ways.”

     “I think we’re both a little too smart for our own good,” she laughed, remembering her remark to him that morning.

     “Does get us into things doesn’t it?” he agreed. “Sometimes my flute and I don’t know when to mind our own business and you were right to tell me so.”

     “No I wasn’t, because your flute playing was the saving grace of the whole thing,” she told him with deep sincerity. “It was there exactly when I needed it. I’m the one who has to apologise. I shouldn’t have said those things to you. You’re right of course. I was mad about something else and I took it out on the first person who turned up.”

     “Mad at men maybe?” came the question.

     “At that moment, yes,” was the honest reply, “And you happened to be the one who turned up and got dumped on without deserving it.”

     “Let’s accept each other’s apologies and forget it,” grinned David, glad to know he hadn’t been the specific target.

     “I certainly accept.”

     “Me too—I also speak for my flute. I was just getting ready to make some hot chocolate. How about joining me?” he offered, hoping to end the subject on a happy note.

     “I’d love some.”

     “I’m putting brandy in mine to ward off a chill,” he told her as he stirred the chocolate. “Want yours spiked too?”

     “Yes please,” she accepted. “The water was cold, and I guess you stood down below a long time in that chilly mist.”

     “Not quite as long as you were out there, so I know how cold you must have been.”

     “You should have joined me in the sauna,” she smiled. “I was reasonable by that time.”

     “I figured I’d joined you enough,” he demurred, poured brandy into the two mugs , handed one to her and offered, “Good health—and not too many cold showers.”

     “Are you making jokes again?” she asked with suspicion, seeing a certain recognisable look in his eyes as he said it.

     “Yeah,” he admitted. “Can’t keep a good man down for too long, and I’m told a good woman won’t get down in the first place.”

     They broke up into laughter and spilled chocolate on themselves and the table, while Ulf and Gurth joined in the fun, wagging and pushing for attention as the confrontation earlier that morning was lost in the process.

     “Did you ever consider becoming a career musician?” asked Rose after they’d wiped up the mess, voicing a question which she had thought of often, as she remembered the sound of the distant flute while she’d stood before Waterfall.

     He shook his head with a little laugh of self-depreciation.

     “When I was younger, yeah but—gave it up.”

     “How come? You really are very good. Your playing is so beautiful—like this morning.”

     “Geeze, thanks,” he replied , surprised, then explained, “But—nope—too undisciplined. I didn’t really make that decision by myself. I’d planned to follow that path, but I realised in time I couldn’t. A very wise and intelligent man set me straight about that. Took me awhile to understand what it was he told me, but eventually it got through to me.

     “When I was a kid I was honoured with being chosen as soloist for an evening with a youth orchestra. It was a group of young people who were also honoured with guest conductors of formidable stature wanting to encourage up-and-coming musicians to be the best they could, and to give them some experience in the real world, under the direction of someone who could draw in a discriminating and paying audience which didn’t consist mostly of friends and relatives.

     “I was so excited and exhilarated about it I think I lost my head. I decided to make a really unforgettable impression—and did I ever. On the great evening when my big moment came and I was introduced as soloist, I walked out onto the stage with my top hat on, faced the audience, tipped the hat off, rolled it down my arm and along my flute, caught it in my left hand, reached in and took out a bunch of flowers and threw them one by one out to the audience. They loved it. Guess they thought it was part of the planned performance.

     “Hey, it was spring, I was eighteen and totally full of myself, and the world finally seemed to be treating me right. I stood there enjoying the laughter and applause, making exaggerated stage bows like any good magician would, and I was just about to tap my hat back on my head before taking my place when I turned—and saw the face of—the Maestro!

     “That look should have slain and cremated me on the spot. I almost dropped my flute—and I’ve already told you what a disaster that can be. So I leaned down and slid my hat across the floor to the first violin who was turning purple trying not to laugh out loud, and he took his foot and quietly booted my hat under his chair while I stepped over to what I thought was my place.

     “The Maestro held me in that spot with his eyes for a few seconds more, then indicated with a stab of his baton where he wanted me, turned his back with abrupt finality and addressed the orchestra.

     “I played virtuoso. I knew I’d better. One tiny false quaver and I thought he’d have halted the proceedings and told me to leave, and his persecution didn’t stop at roasting me with his eyes and putting me down by turning his back on me in that peremptory fashion. I figured the applause which followed my piece was all for him, and as I was trying to get myself the hell out of sight but fast during intermission, I was told the Maestro wanted to see me in his dressing room. I thought of just fleeing the premises and never returning again, but I went.

     “I knocked, there was a silence and just as I was ready to run like a scared rabbit he called,

     “Enter!”

     “I sucked in my breath, stiffened up, opened the door, got two steps inside the room and he ordered,

     “Close!”

     “And as I did that he said,

     “Stay!”

     “I stopped where I was, clutching my hands behind me, quite certain that he wasn’t going to ask me to sit down and have tea. While his batman stood quietly aside he paced back and forth in front of me a couple of turns, smacking his baton into his hand, then squared off in front of me. I thought he was going to give me a thrashing, which I probably deserved, but instead he put it over his shoulder like a rifle and said, looking down his elegant nose at me,

     “Young man, I conduct an orchestra not a carnival band. Your abominable performance insulted not only myself but the entire company.”

     “When I heard that I totally freaked. I thought, ‘Oh geeze! Is my playing that bad?’ A judgement like that coming from such an eminent person meant finis to any one on whom it was pronounced. I forgot my hat and flowers bit and was considering my future career in ditch-digging when he continued,

     “Shame young man! Shame, shame, coming on stage wearing a hat. Have you no manners? Bad enough, but then the circus tricks. Every one of the musicians in the orchestra have spent uncounted numbers of hours to become the fine, cohesive, interpretive group they are and you treat them like three-ring roustabouts. It is a great pity that one who has such a gift with music should abuse it in such a fashion. You have it in your power to develop this talent and what do you do? Behave like a clown! It takes discipline, young man—dedication, concentration and practise, practise, practise. It is not a joke. You must give your all to it.”

     “I just stood there paralysed, partly with relief because it wasn’t my playing he was shredding, and partly from the verbal beating he was giving me and fear of what might come next, until he asked,

     “Well?! Have you nothing to say?”

     “By this time I was really quaking in terror. I started to stammer,

     “Maestro—I offer my profound apologies—I didn’t intend to insult you—I... .”

     He cut me off with,

     “Enough! It is not I alone who has been so grossly treated. You must apologise to the audience, and the entire membership of that orchestra. As well as myself, they were the ones you so publicly offended with your idiocy—every one of them, and particularly the first violin. You must do so on stage when intermission is over, before your next solo, so people will know you are not an ignorant, uncivilised lout. Do that, or you can leave the concert hall immediately and we will delete further solo flute performances from our program for the evening.”

     “I just stared at him, horrified by my sentence. Get out in front of the orchestra and audience and apologise—and after that give another solo?! While I tried to swallow that he waved his fine conductor’s hand at me and said,

     “Go!”

     “Since I was only two steps away from the door I actually went out backwards making a little bow of respect and submission, closed it quietly behind me, shaking from being chewed out and the prospect of what waited for me onstage, while wondering if the whole orchestra had complained en masse—particularly the first violin, because he was my buddy and I didn’t think I could ever offend him with anything.

     “As I let go of the door handle and took a deep breath, yanking at my collar and tie, trying to get myself together, I heard this great burst of laughter from the Maestro’s dressing room as he said to his batman,

     “I hope that’ll teach that young rogue not to steal my thunder and turn my stage entrance into nothing by comparison. He got more applause than I did—twice! I scared the piss out of him. Do you think he’s going to run away or will he actually get up there and prostrate himself? What fun!”

     “I couldn’t believe it. It had nothing to do with manners. I’d bruised his ego. I thought, ‘I’ll get you, you old beggar!’ and I went and threw some cold water on my face and collected my wits.

     “Came stage time. I marched out there again with my hat on at a rakish angle, ran it down my flute, swept it out in a low bow toward the conductor and said,

     “My earlier small performance of legerdemain was intended as a compliment to our Maestro, the brilliant musician magician who is in complete control of all these wizards of musical artistry giving you and he their all in the performance this evening and who, for the moment, has become my teacher and mentor. May we have an extra round of applause for the Maestro—as well as our orchestra—which has learned so much so well from this consummate perfectionist of the podium?”

     “The audience applauded like WOW! He gave me a look of total shocked disbelief, broke into peals of laughter, came over and hugged me, saying in my ear,

     “Salut! You young devil! May I never have to tangle with you again. Now just give me another exquisite performance like your first and we’ll be even.”

     “He jerked my hat out of my hand, made an elegant graceful bow to the audience with it, then with a beautiful well-aimed toss he pitched it beyond the timpani player and strode back to the podium, bringing down the house. I figured that sound would soothe his injured pride.

     “We got two encores at the end of the evening. I walked out of that hall ten feet tall when we were finished, went to a party with the first violin and a lot of other performers and got roaring drunk. But—you know—what he said about discipline and dedication sank in. It took time, but it reached me, thank goodness, or you’d probably be seeing a nasty, neurotic, irascible, imperious flute player, travelling around delivering beautiful performances, sulking and snarling and wishing he were somewhere else, like at Shalisa Creek Bay.

     “I found out I wasn’t willing to spend the rest of my life inside practise rooms and concert halls while the whole beautiful world was out there singing and dancing and calling, and I was sweating and striving to bring out the music everyone was applauding and snoring to, while most of them didn’t have a clue as to the sacrifices people make to give it to them. I couldn’t give up days full of sunshine and excitement and laughter for applause and glory. I don’t need that, and there’s too much other stuff out there I wouldn’t do without. I love my music, but it’s only one part of me. I’m not willing to give my whole life to it. That’s what it takes and that’s what he told me and if you can’t do that, leave it alone.”

     “You really are different,” she told him, “And the world may have lost a wonderful musician, but I think it got an even better happy man. We should all learn as much along the way.”

     “For sure I’m still learning,” laughed David and tipped a little more brandy into the mugs.

- - -

Early on the morning of his departure, just before Tide turned for the outward run through Gap, David said his goodbyes to those ashore and rowed back to TJUTELA, ready for his homeward sail. As he was getting the dinghy aboard he saw BRIGHT LEAF paddling out toward him. A bit puzzled, he regarded the approaching canoe, thinking it odd since he’d already taken his leave of the occupant. As he finished fastening the dinghy in its davits Rose came alongside.

     “Hey,” he smiled down at her, “Forget something?”

     “Yes actually,” she told him. “May I come aboard? I won’t keep you from making the tide.”

     “Come on aboard. There’s lots of time.”

     She tied BRIGHT LEAF astern and as she stepped into the cockpit she said,

     “All set for the trip?”

     “Yuh,” he returned, and got the feeling that she had waited until the last moment so that she might speak to him alone, and he was right.

     “I have something for you,” she told him with a smile.

     From her pocket she took a necklace, strung of dried wild rose hips, alternated with small, bright orange-red arbutus berries, and to which a little woven pouch was attached.

     “Consider this the tranquil spirit you always wanted to have accompany you and the dogs and TJUTELA from this place.”

     Surprised and astonished he replied,.

     “Well—geeze!—do I really deserve this?”

     “You earned it yesterday morning, being there when I needed you, even though I didn’t show appreciation right then. Afterwards, this spirit asked to be allowed go with you, so—I said yes.”

     “That’s beautiful Rose,” replied David, regarding the gift, but meaning the import of her words as well . “You interceded for me. Thank you. For sure I’ll have good weather now and a great sail home.”

     She held the necklace out, he stooped a little and bent his head so that she could put it on him, and as she did so she said something in the Shalisa tongue.

     “Do I get a translation?” he asked, surprised again.

     “Have a safe trip home David.”

     “Couldn’t be otherwise after this,” he told her.

     Then, on a sudden impulse prompted by the surprise and delight of the moment, he reached out and hugged her, saying,

     “Hey Big Sister, you’re something else,” then, realising that in his pleased enthusiasm he had crossed over the line of reserve which had always been between them he let her go and stepped back quickly, saying in an embarrassed tone,

     “Ooops!—I think I’ve overstepped myself. I got carried away. Sorry.”.

     She saw the blush come up in his face as they looked at each other.

     “Too bad,” she laughed softly. “I was rather taken with the gesture. You don’t have to apologise—I’m not that much of a goody.”

     He gave a little laugh of his own which held both relief and confusion in it, then told her, repeating himself,

     “Thanks again. We’re going to have a great sail home.”

     “Okay. Take care,” she replied, hesitated for a moment, but as he still just stood there looking at her she turned away, went over the stern and into BRIGHT LEAF.

     “Maybe you can give us a call and let us know when you get there,” she suggested, looking up at him before she released the canoe’s painter from the boat’s stern.

     “I’ll do that for sure,” he agreed, gazing down into her smiling face.

     She saluted him with her paddle, turned the canoe and headed back to shore.

     He stood there watching her for a few moments, then told himself,.

     <You bloody fool! You blew it. You just stood there like an—agh!>

     Tucking Tranquil Spirit carefully into the neck of his tee shirt, he raised the anchor and headed out on the start of his homeward journey.

     Ashore, Rose watched as the yawl went through the Gap, sailed clear, and with one last wave from David, it slid out of sight behind the cliff.

     “Tranquil Spirit,” she murmured, repeating the words she had said to David in the Shalisa tongue, “Give him peace of mind.” Then she added as an afterthought, “And—do you think you could get him to drop that ‘Big Sister’ bit?”

     Feeling suddenly alone, she went slowly back to her house.

- - -

In the still light darkness of early evening Yu Ching Li went down the ramp to the little floating office and found David leaning against the old inoperative gas pump there at the end of the barge and, although his eyes seemed to be gazing far off over the water, Li knew that the man standing there was looking within himself.

     “You are here but far away,” was his greeting.

     David was startled out of his thoughts by his friend’s voice.

     “Geeze!—Hi Li. You surprised me. I didn’t hear you coming. Just looking at Sea worrying about the changing weather.”

     “It is not only Sea which feels a need to think of change,” returned Li. “It would seem you also have a problem with which you are deeply involved.”

     “Yeah,” agreed David. “How did you know?”

     “You told me, standing there, leaning against the pump and not being here, but somewhere else. I caught you quite unaware.”

     “You read me well,” agreed the younger man.

     “We two are in tune. One plays a note, the other resonates.”

     “Seems to work that way,” admitted David. “Let’s hit the office. Kinda chilly out here.”

     The two went in, entering the cosy space into which few people were ever invited anymore. Once it had been the epicentre of a young man’s growing business. Now it was the place of a grown man’s privacy.

     As the door closed behind them David said,

     “I’m glad you could find time to drop by. Like I said when I phoned, I was wanting to get your opinion on something that’s bothering me.”

     “Is it so? I felt that, when you called. No doubt your resourcefulness and agile mind will get you out of this safely.”

     “Uhuh—bit of help now and then sure comes in handy though. How about a beer?”

     “Oh—I think—something more elegant is needed for a sensitive subject,” was Li’s opinion.

     “You think it’s not a beer problem. Yuh. Wine then. I’ll b—I think plum wine might be appropriate.”

     “Delightful.”

     “That’s why you’ve brought a bottle of that along—right?”

     “You also know my path,” laughed Li, handing over the bagged article which he took from an inside pocket of his jacket.

     “Thanks Li—wish I knew my own,” remarked David, as he accepted the offering.

     “Do not wish that,” cautioned his friend. “It might come true, and ever after life would be exceedingly dull.”

     “Experience or philosophy?”.

     “Little bit of both. My path has little or no deviation it seems. Somehow though, when your young life tripped over that known path—ordinary things began to proceed in an exceedingly undull fashion, much to my delight.”

     “Geeze!” Laughter. “I seem to get everybody entangled in my wanderings.”

     “You brighten every path—well known or strayed onto, and I am sure there are ladies who remember their strolls along some of them with you.”

     “You make me sound like a roué. They were all quite willing—maybe even the instigators.”

     “This one isn’t?”

     “Am I so obvious?” enquired David.

     “You have an expressive face which, at the moment when the ladies were mentioned, shone with an interesting light. As well, your voice on the phone held a certain tone.”

     The younger man turned away with a smile, brought candles and lit them, putting soft dim light into the space. He went about placing things on the low table before the couch, then paused for a moment to lean on the windowsill and look out at the waterfront before him, taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, watching the reflected candle flames flickering on the water by the office barge and seeing just risen Moon lighting a path across Sea for those who would take it.

     Li sat on the couch, removed his shoes and folded up his legs buddha fashion as he often did here when he felt a discussion was going to last more than a few minutes. He felt that now.

     David left the window, pulled his old oak chair over to the table and sat opposite Li, then reached out and poured wine into the two small fragile china wine cups he had set on the table.

     “Let us,” he smiled, “Invite Moon to join us.”

     The two men raised their cups to Moon and drank. This indicated to Li that his visit to the office was not ‘let’s have a drink, solve the problem and go’. This was, ‘I need to talk’. It meant Moon would be present a long time and politeness would not allow such a friend to stand by as a non-participant all the while. Li settled himself comfortably and sat at ease, waiting, but as the thoughtful silence lengthened he realised a beginning was being elusive.

     He regarded his young friend quietly. David often came to him, or asked him to this office for a discussion of ideas, business deals, or just friendly talks about things in general, whatever the two men might find on their minds at the moment. Conversation and laughter had always flowed freely. This long, silent hesitance was unusual.

     Looking at the flute which lay on the table, and thinking to start conversation in a manner he knew was always a facilitator and would likely lead to the real matter as things progressed, he reached out, ran his little finger along its shining length and said,

     “It is a night for fine music to flow.”

     The prompting seemed to be just right, because David refilled the cups and, rather than replying directly to the remark, he asked,

     “Tell me Li, have you ever wanted to put a musical score together with another musician but, somehow, the melody and the construction eluded you?”

     <He asks me about music? He does not need me for that art. He knows it well. Instead he brings soft candlelight, sets out wine and cakes and arranges them carefully on the table before us. He watches Sea outside play with the reflected flickering flames. He regards Moon and sighs. He looks at the flowers on the table and leans toward them to enjoy their fragrance. He does not pick up his flute to play as he so often does. His thoughts are far away from the familiar notes of sound. He speaks to me of something else.>

     “You wish to join your music with another instrumentalist who has a different repertoire, unfamiliar and unexplored perhaps?”

     “Right.”

     “Shall we speak of it broadly or with specifics?”.

     “I think we need to consider both,” David returned. “I honestly don’t think I know what I’m getting into. I’m a bit confused.”

     “Ah. You have been essentially a solo musician for some time but now you feel you need to try a duet once again. Perhaps it would help if we knew of which music you speak. Is it that which stirs and incites with impetuous and reckless cadences and leads one to abandon caution and reason in its formation in order to lose oneself in its frenzied, consuming, fiery sounds? Or that which can become cloying, and cools the interest after a few performances and is quickly put aside for the next tune? Or is it that with an underlying, encompassing emotion which never becomes too fiercely obsessive, but has a depth and warmth to be desired which draws one always to it—a clear sound of absolute pitch, which reaches out and takes hold of the unsuspecting mind, inspiring a wish to be heard over and over again? This last has infinite hidden themes, which offer exploration and endless possibilities for variation, even within the same score and of which one never tires.”

     “Have you ever come across music which contained all three elements at one time?” came the enquiry.

     “I have not found it so. I do not believe you have either. Perhaps at the beginning one might think so, but as the music progresses these things become plain. That which burns consumes. That which clings smothers, and passing fancy is just that. Total involvement is most satisfying, leading to fine compositions of fulfilment.”

     David considered.

     “Yuh, so—I think I’m into the third one. It did sneak up on me but—how does a person know for certain? To build on a theme which has a false premise usually leads to nothing—frustration and disappointment and finally rejection of the whole thing as flawed theory—a collection of notes with which an attempt was made to turn it into something beautiful and lasting, but it finally becomes only slightly aching and melancholy to the senses, leaving a feeling of inadequacy and defeat.”

     “Let us clarify a little further,” suggested Li. “The first score of which I speak is mad, unbridled sounds, defying rules and ignoring needed guidelines. This is usually produced by the folly of youth which has not yet learned the beauty of restraint, although fools are of all ages and some never learn the difference in sound. This is often played by a duo which throws everything in with uncaring abandon, and no thought for sensitivity or balance, so that such a liaison can only be regarded as conflagration resulting in ashes.

     “The second is of debonair use, uninvolved, as background sound, light and frivolous, to be enjoyed at times and ignored at others, and which fades away even as the music itself leaves the instruments it has been created with—duets of seductive interest to both, but transitory and finally rejected, to be visited later, aimlessly or not at all.

     “The third—a man is fortunate indeed to be allowed to share in such a composition. It involves complete absorption, taking possession of the spirit as well as requiring instrumentalists who are always furthering and fashioning their technique to greater accomplishments. I myself played such music together with another once, but the piece was never finished. What fragment of it remains is still bright and beautiful, even through time.”

     Li paused, his eyes on the wine as the light of the candles shimmered there, seeing his own thoughts reflected, then he asked,

     “Which kind do you consider now?”

     “Looking at it this way,” returned David thoughtfully, “It’s more like the pleasant warmth you spoke of with the third—like drawing close to a well-tended fireplace which always welcomes but doesn’t consume the fuel offered with too much flame too quickly, and if left to itself can be expected never to become cold because, if just a touch of kindling is applied the whole thing comes alive again. It’s just been waiting there—banked. The presence of glowing coals has its own expression which can touch in a deep and fundamental way.”

     “That is well said,” agreed Li, “But there is something else to consider here. Would one set aside the background music at last as unworthy of further effort, or do you plan to incorporate such vague and often disturbing sounds into this score? Will you also step outside this theme for the more intense and searing fiery works as well, or will you devote all your attention to this involving and infinitely more satisfying work at last? To keep this flow of superior music continuous it requires your entire self.”

     David gave a little laugh.

     “I think I’ve heard that before, and I can’t give my entire self. I have many facets, all asking for my attention.”

     “What I intended is,” returned Li, “The part of yourself which is to be given to this work. Of course there are other things in one’s life, but each can receive the same dedicated attention. Do you feel this could be given here?”

     “I can’t tell yet. Maybe it’s because I haven’t gone that far with this idea of a new duet. I’m not clear in my mind about it, and wonder if I should continue. There was one melody of the second kind which led me all the time but—it doesn’t hold my interest much anymore—and doesn’t everybody listen to it? After all, it’s always there in the background, trying to get noticed and—although we get burned sometimes by the first, there’s always that fascination of running a finger through flame swiftly enough to see if you can escape without harm. Maybe it’s my gambling nature, that I should treat with all three.”

     “I do not believe,” Li told him, “That the third will be possible if the other two enter your focus. Let us speak of the second first. It depends whether one responds or dismisses it as simply pleasantness like other things which please us slightly, but with which one does not have to become involved. That is why it is in the background. We put it there. We do not listen closely but pass over it, ignoring it as the whole proliferation of tunes we simply do not have time for. Sometimes it can even be irritating if one’s concentration is on other things—but can you not ignore this, or do you yourself listen and become distracted?”

     “Yeah,” admitted David, “I guess I listen. I haven’t lately though, so it seems I can set it aside. Like you say it simply doesn’t draw my attention anymore.”

     “And of the flame—does the moth return once more to burn his wings?”

     “Your nuances and subtleties regarding choice certainly would seem to be capable of leading a person to clear, pure sound,” observed David, flinching inwardly at still fresh scars.

     “Listen well to we who have played such a diverse repertoire for so long,” Li advised. “Since you feel you have indeed been fortunate in finding this third category, why are you hesitating to proceed with this beautiful work? Is it because you still enjoy the other themes, or because you feel you are not capable of this new work, or is it as you have suggested, one which you will not continue to develop further for fear of—what?”

     “It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that what I’m contemplating here is different—deeper and, yes, I’m afraid to rush into it because I don’t know if I’m capable of handling it properly. Yet I think it’s something I’ve been trying to find and bring out of myself for a long time, free of flaws and doubts and anxieties. Something I’m at ease with and I can relax with and not worry about offending the other instrumentalist whenever we get together because they feel that way too—the perfect piece of music a person only makes once and then they say—that’s my best.”

     “You speak of perfection,” returned Li with caution in his voice. “To call something perfect is to set it aside as finished. It is well to strive for this—but to attain it is to say there is nothing more to attempt and whatever comes after is still beautiful but somehow never again will anything else reach such a height. That is sad indeed—an end to everything. It is yourself telling yourself that you have nothing more to give or receive which is worthwhile. Let it be your best for that moment in time, but always think that your best can be bested.”

     “Well, maybe I used the wrong word,” acceded the younger man. “Maybe what I meant was whole, in the sense of knowing what you have now is all you need to work with and anything else is unnecessary. It’s the total source of inspiration because it’s so diverse.”

     “If you treat with this third music, it must not be left in neglect to be taken for granted. It must be always present in your mind. If it is totally absorbing, you will always be honing and polishing and thinking about it. There is always room for just one more jewel of a note with such a work, or a different mood of expression, a variation, a scherzo or a whole set of new works to be brought forth, and you will never tire of striving to do this. Once the duet is formed the repertoire is endless, and full of discovery as each suggests to the other their own favourites and likes and dislikes.

     “As for rushing things, it is wise to make haste slowly, but make haste toward this goal nevertheless. There are others who also have ideas for melodies, and who would also invite this other musician to join them, perhaps to be crafted into one of the first two propositions, which would silence forever the beauty of the elusive sound you seek to create with this other artist. It is plain you have not reached that point of clarity which you seek. You say ‘afraid’. David Godwin has fear?”

     There was silence for a few moments and then David replied,

     “Fear of blowing it. I feel as though I’ve approached another performer who plays with a touch and colour which is totally different to the others I’ve heard—something very delicate and fragile—yet created from great strength, but ready to turn away at the first inkling of a false note from me, and I can feel the same uncertainties are there with that elusive essence I’m after. I feel as though I’m being weighed and judged, as though my worthiness to be allowed to play in this duet is being swung in a balance, and if I keep on proceeding in the usual fashion I probably won’t be found so. I’ll wind up with a disaster—for me at least. The guitarist would probably stand firm.”

     “Fragile things must be handled with infinite care. You have not had any dealings with such things?”

     Again there was silence, then,

     “Actually—no. The other players I’ve been with have all been more like a whole orchestra which almost buried me in its sound—very—robust, and their music—usually loud and strident, more like discord but—it had it’s own invitation for my playing—except I always felt like second fiddle in the whole production.”

     “We all enjoy happy boisterous sounds and it does no harm to stand back while another leads as long as you also are allowed your place in the performances—but this has not pleased your responsive ear completely?”

     “I thought so a couple of times but, it always stayed boisterous and never played with even one single sensitive phrase I could relate to, or made occasion for my music to be heard as other than accompaniment, instead of equality.”

     “The music of your flute is yours to perform,” advised Li. “I know your music. It is capable of great and deep sensitivity. Such a project as this new duet should never be left to idle and pine in your mind, or perhaps you will build a block against it from the idea that you are not worthy or able to involve the other. I would say, if the other does not respond, either no invitational music has been sounded or they do not wish to join. It is yours to decide and perhaps to lead with the first opening bars.”

     “I get the feeling this musician would join—probably even leading with an opening better than I can. In fact, a couple of times I think this has happened, except I was too uncertain of myself. Do I wait for another signal from the other side, or sound my own beginning?”

     “Each can invite in turn, or there need not be such a set start. When music is in harmony, both know the other so well that leading is unnecessary. There is total understanding between the two as they play together. The sensitivity you speak of brings each to the correct interpretation. Both participate equally and either will know how to enter the score at the appropriate place when the other begins.”

     “What if both musicians are used to leading?”

     “How can there be music from such an arrangement? Two cannot conduct at once. There will be chaos. I believe there is much thought to be put into this work of yours before it can be taken up by both. Understanding between the two is essential. Duets are total commitment and cooperation. Dominance negates one player. Would the music be written by yourself alone, to be played by two?”

     “No—I’m not that selfish. With what I have in mind, that would be impossible, and it has to be both who participate in writing the score.”

     “Then, if you have not asked the other to join in, do so and let it be known that this is no trifling dinner music—but there must be a beginning, and on equal terms.”

     “Maybe—after listening to you—I think I have begun.”

     Li opened his eyes wide, his usual expression of surprise.

     “You only think you have? Ah. Here is the doubt and confusion. Why do you doubt?”

     “Well—I brought the score out impulsively and it wasn’t expected. I was under the spell of the moment so to speak. The music was totally spontaneous and I kind of surprised myself with it. Maybe I wanted approval before anything properly written was there to be approved or added to, and before anyone was wanting to hear it.”

     The two sat in silence until Li said at last,

     “Spontaneity is a fine thing. It would indicate to me that there is indeed interest and commitment on your part, but if the other musician is unaware of the invitation, or feels it is just an offhand gesture and you will abandon the effort after a couple of attempts, it will not go well.”

     “I think the other musician was willing to pick up the beat, but then I had doubts and so I set it aside as maybe just my imagination.”

     “It may be you did not listen closely enough. A sharing between two instruments, each helping the other to greater finesse in all undertakings, is most pleasing to those concerned—but—do I hear the past tense being used here?”

     “I’m on the edge of making it that way, before I start something I feel is too... .”

     David stopped speaking.

     “I feel the word ‘dangerous’ hovering around, and perhaps also ‘difficult’. Dangerous and difficult for whom?”

     “Both of us. I think this musician has been solo for awhile too. We’re both seemingly happy with what we have, so why spoil it?”

     “The concept of ‘afraid’ is once again here,” Li pointed out. “You have never been afraid to try anything before, but now it seems, this proposed partnership has both of you hesitating to step out and try something new. Perhaps you have both been disappointed from such ventures. It is always easiest to keep the status quo. It is so comfortable—but where would the world of music be if no one ever stepped beyond what has been—if Bach had not been followed by Haydn and Mozart by Beethoven? Yes, there may be discordant notes, but corrective playing and tuning brings them into sweet line if the musicians have the courage to go on. As for spoiling, have you not thought two could bring a richness to music which one alone can never attain? To fall alone is indeed failure without comfort. With two who are in accord, each helps the other up should a false sound be heard.”

     “Well, actually, I feel that it could be spoiled for myself but I don’t know about the other musician. Who says I have anything to offer as an addition to what’s already there? Maybe the richness there doesn’t need my poor addition. Li—how do I find out without coming right out with it and asking, because if I do that and the answer’s no—I lose a lot. Right now, at least I can hear the other one if we both play solo.”

     “I am amazed! I believe my gambler has lost his nerve.”

     “No—it’s just—I don’t want this to be a gamble.”

     “You want a sure thing? This is not you.”

     “Yeah—well—I haven’t been me for quite some time now.”

     Li laughed softly.

     “I have noticed. You are right. It is not to be gambled with. One should not appear insincere in the eyes of the other you wish to impress. Serious intent must be dressed in serious effort.”

     “I don’t think that’s a problem. It’s just that the duets I’ve had up to this point make me less inclined and less enthusiastic with each one. That’s the doubt. I’m getting used to solo. I like it. It’s my path, I think.”

     “Perhaps it is not a path you are walking now,” suggested Li gently, “But a rut.”

     David’s head came up and he held Li’s eye for a few moments before he said,

     “Oh geeze—you really do see things differently. Nobody’s held up a mirror for me like that lately. You think I’m getting old and stale and stodgy and set in my ways?”

     “Let us talk of these things. You are now just past thirty—it is not old. Stale—routine can be deadening and it appears to me that you are following a routine here lately, with business and other daily affairs. Stodgy? Comfort can encourage placid torpor. When you do not wish to do something new yourself who else will want to try it with you? The world is full of good things, not all of them at our right hand. Some of them take effort to obtain, requiring the following and sometimes the making of a new path. Perhaps we get lost in the dark, trip on a root, fall in a pond, find ourselves in a swamp, meet aggressive dragons. Is this not all part of the journey? And if the path leads only back to home again—what have you lost except perhaps only overly anticipated expectations?”

     David took a sip of wine, considering.

     “Yeah, but—some bumps and swamps in the road are hard to handle. Some of them change people permanently. What would it do to me? I’ve seen bitter people and those who keep on crying over the past. They seem to have been disillusioned so much they’re not able to help themselves anymore. They give up permanently. Am I being selfish to ask that question?”

     “I do not believe so. Forethought is always good but it must not set up obstacles which may not even exist, and wasting time on the past is indeed a useless endeavour. It is gone, never to be changed. Deal with each impediment as it arrives.”

     “Okay, I think I have been falling into stodgy and stale,” admitted David. “Thanks for the kick in the butt.”

     “A gentle push is sometimes all it takes,” laughed Li. “Now for the idea of the rut, let us say at this point that it is not a rut you are in at all, but that a rock stands in the path holding you at a standstill. A mountain is plainly seen. Rocks can be hidden deeply with only the top which you have come up against showing above ground, hindering your forward momentum, and it needs to be removed before you can proceed with the furthering of this path. If you feel this is so you must dig this rock out and set it aside so that you may continue on your way.”

     “I think you’ve hit a vital spot,” admitted David. “I’ve kind of suspected that there’s something there blocking me. There was another musician who played duet with this guitarist, but it seems, not any more.”

     “This may be the rock,” stated Li.“It would be well to know if such obstacles can be removed before proceeding.”

     “Maybe I’d better see if I can find out, but I’m not sure how to go about it without interfering where I shouldn’t,” replied David doubtfully.

     “There is one firm way to approach this guitarist,” came the advice. “You must concentrate on crafting your music to please just this one. Note by note and bar by bar, this whole new score can be created for this purpose, with room left for the other to participate. Make it such an engaging, restrained, graceful, passionate, sincere effort that it would be impossible for the other to hear it as anything but what it is and not wish to join in if so inclined. Work on it, polish it, refine it, and as the presentation is made, the other will make a choice. I believe you have already made yours.”

     “Hadn’t thought of it that way,” admitted David.

     “Perhaps you have thrown your music at others without much thought, just for fun, on impulse as you have said, or—because you want very much to share. If the last, you must stop thinking ‘me’ and consider ‘us’. It is the cooperation and harmonious interaction which enhances and blends a duet together.”

     “Yuh, I hear you. I think I’ve been a little too unaware, just letting things take their course and tramping along doing my own thing. I do need to work on it.”

     “Perhaps it may be that you have not encouraged the guitarist to see all sides of your work yet, but only the light-hearted, amusing pieces, very enjoyable but not entirely engrossing for a serious artist.”

     “You make sweet serious music yourself here,” smiled David. “It’s always best to speak to a Master about these things. You’ve been there before me. I’ll think about all this. You’ve made me see things I hadn’t considered before—didn’t really know they were there.”

     “That is my young dragon. I look forward to hearing how the first careful presentation of your music is treated for consideration.”

     “Me too,” smiled David reaching for the wine. “Hope it comes off. Let’s drink to that.”