She was so much part of the confraternity of orchestras. The rivalry among the players, drowned out by the exaltation of the music they created together. The gossip—because she was not one of them, both the men and the women trusted her with indiscretions that they wouldn’t risk with one another. And when he had differences with guest conductors from Bulgaria or Japan or God knows where, their egos as complex as the pronunciation of their names, his exasperation found relief, as he unburdened himself in bed of the podium dramas and moved on to the haven of lovemaking. If she was in a low mood—the -bungles of an inefficient colleague at work, or her father’s “heart condition” and her mother’s long complaints over the telephone about his disobeying doctor’s orders with his whiskey-swilling golfers—the cello would join them in the bedroom and he’d play for her. Sometimes until she fell asleep to the low tender tones of what had become his voice, to her, the voice of that big curved instrument, its softly buffed surface and graceful bulk held close against his body, sharing the intimacy that was hers. At concerts, when his solo part came, she did not realize that she was smiling in recognition, that this was a voice she would have recognized anywhere, among other cellists bowing other instruments.
Each year, the music critics granted, he played better. Exceeded himself. When distinguished musicians came for the symphony and opera season, it was appropriate that he and she should entertain them at the house, far from the pad they’d once dossed down in. Where others might have kept a special piece of furniture, some inheritance, there stood in the living room, retired, the cello he’d learned to play on loan. He now owned a Guadagnini, a mid-eighteenth-century cello, found for him by a dealer in Prague. He had been hesitant. How could he spend such a fortune? But she was taken aback, indignant, as if someone had already dared to remark on his presumptuous extravagance. “An artist doesn’t care for material possessions as such. You’re not buying a Mercedes, a yacht!” He had bought a voice of incomparable beauty, somehow human, though of a subtlety and depth—moving from the sonority of an organ to the faintest stir of silences—that no human voice could produce. He admitted—as if telling himself in confidence, as much as her—that this instrument roused in him skilled responses that he hadn’t known he had.
In the company of guests whose life was music, as was his, he was as generous as a pop singer responding to fans. He’d bring out the precious presence in its black reliquary, free it, and settle himself to play among the buffet plates and replenished wineglasses. If he’d had a few too many, he’d joke, taking her by the waist for a moment, “I’m just the wunderkind brought in to thump out ‘Für Elise’ on the piano,” and then he’d play so purely that the voice of the aristocratic cello, which she knew as well as she had that of the charity one, made all social exchange strangely trivial. But the musicians, entrepreneurs, and guests favored to be among them applauded, descended upon him, the husbands and gay men hunching his shoulders in their grasp, the women giving accolades, sometimes landing on his lips. It wasn’t unusual for one of the distinguished male guests—not the Japanese but especially the elderly German or Italian conductors—to make a pass at her. She knew that she was attractive enough, intelligent enough, musically and otherwise (even her buffet was good), for this to happen, but she was aware that it was really the bloom of being the outstandingly gifted cellist’s woman that motivated these advances. Imagine if the next time the celebrated cellist played under your baton in Strasbourg you were able to remark to another musician your own age, “And his wife’s pretty good, too, in bed.”
Once the guests had gone, host and hostess laughed about the flirtatious attention, which he hadn’t failed to notice. The cello stood grandly against the wall in the bedroom. Burglaries were common in the suburbs, and there were knowledgeable gangs who looked not for TV sets and computers but for paintings and other valuable objects. Anyone who broke in would have to come into the bedroom to catch sight of the noble Guadagnini, and face the revolver kept under the pillow.