A Storyby Joel Gardner
It was night, the Sage City concert had just let out, and we all—seven of us—made our way to the hole in the fence around Lake Paran, a pond really, right in the heart of North Bennington. The night was warm. It was summer. Tchaikovsky’s Sixth (the Pathétique) was still surging in my head, a mud-caked monster of cellos and violins I had managed to pierce with my French horn, a few bright, clear notes still ringing in my chest as we walked. I had just turned seventeen and this summer moved up to first chair. The opening of the program had been a concerto for woodwinds, some of the parts hand-inked, just for the night’s performance.
The composer of the new piece walked with his wife behind me as I led the way through the fence. I glanced back every so often, held back a branch, or warned of a root or stone one of them might trip on. I tried not to look back too often—tried not to get caught looking—but I couldn’t help myself. I had never seen a more beautiful woman. The slightest of creases formed on her forehead as she gazed down at the ground, thinking or remembering: present, yet in a dream. Nia had a small blade of a nose and a smile not easy to read, red lips from a Sargent painting. She swept away a lock of hair, ink dark, as she stepped over a root. She may have been thirty. She carried herself across the ground in a floating gait, a subtle difference to her movement I ascribed to the idea—ridiculous, I knew—that possibly she didn’t need to touch the earth like the rest of us, but in making a show of attention to the ground, hoped to hide her gift of subtle levitation.
Once through the fence, now stepping out onto close-cropped grass, we approached the concession stand, shuttered, smelling faintly of rank grease, of moldy bread, of scorched cotton candy. My father, the famed (Tanglewood, Berlin) Maestro Thompsen, strode in the lead, a bottle of wine in one hand, pipe in the other, belting out a stanza of a poem in German. My sister, following some distance behind the rest of us, called to her two friends, kids from town who didn’t play anything, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em!” She’d slipped a ratty army jacket over her white concert blouse, the sleeves hanging down to her fingertips. Her blond shock of hair, somehow already a tangle, fell over the collar of the coat. The three paused to light up at the bleacher seats set in concrete ranks overlooking Lake Paran. Below, a dented aluminum rowboat nosed into the dock, ringing against it from time to time, moving on an unseen breeze.