“It’s been nice,” said Sascha.
“Only the best.”
“We won’t talk again. Good-bye,” said Sascha.
“Good-bye,” both said.
At dawn there was a small clear cry somewhere. Not long after, Douglas entered his wife’s hospital room. She looked at him and said
“I know,” he said quietly.
“But he left word and someone else is here.
He approached the bed as she pulled back a coverlet.
“Well, I’ll be damned.”
He looked down at a small pink face and eyes that for a brief moment flickered bright blue and then shut.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“Your daughter. Meet Alexandra.”
“Hello, Alexandra,” he said.
“And do you know what the nickname for Alexandra is?” she said.
“Sascha,” she said.
He touched the small cheek very gently.
“Hello, Sascha,” he said.
ANOTHER FINE MESS
The sounds began in the middle of summer in the middle of the night.
Bella Winters sat up in bed about three a.m. and listened and then lay back down. Ten minutes later she heard the sounds again, out in the night, down the hill.
Bella Winters lived in a first-floor apartment on top of Vendome Heights, near Effie Street in Los Angeles, and had lived there now for only a few days, so it was all new to her, this old house on an old street with an old staircase, made of concrete, climbing steeply straight up from the low-lands below, one hundred and twenty steps, count them. And right now …
“Someone’s on the steps,” said Bella to herself.
“What?” said her husband, Sam, in his sleep.
“There are some men out on the steps,” said Bella. “Talking, yelling, not fighting, but almost. I heard them last night, too, and the night before, but . .
“What?” Sam muttered.
“Shh, go to sleep. I’ll look.”
She got out of bed in the dark and went to the window, and yes, two men were indeed talking out there, grunting, groaning, now loud, now soft. And there was another noise, a kind of bumping, sliding, thumping, like a huge object being carted up the hill.
“No one could be moving in at this hour of the night, could they?” asked Bella of the darkness, the window, and herself.
“No,” murmured Sam.
“It sounds like …
“Like what?” asked Sam, fully awake now.
“Like two men moving-“
“Moving what, for God’s sake?”
“Moving a piano. Up those steps.”
“At three in the morning!?”
“A piano and two men. Just listen.”
The husband sat up, blinking, alert.
Far off, in the middle of the hill, there was a kind harping strum, the noise a piano makes when suddenly thumped and its harp strings hum.
“There, did you hear?”
“Jesus, you’re right. But why would anyone steal-“
“They’re not stealing, they’re delivering.”
“I didn’t make the rules, Sam. Go out and ask. No, don’t; I will.”
And she wrapped herself in her robe and was out the door and on the sidewalk.
“Bella,” Sam whispered fiercely behind the porch screen. “Crazy.”
“So what can happen at night to a woman fifty-five, fat, and ugly?” she wondered.
Sam did not answer.
She moved quietly to the rim of the hill. Somewhere down there she could hear the two men wrestling with a huge object. The piano on occasion gave a strumming hum and fell silent. occasionally one of the men yelled or gave orders.
“The voices,” said Bella. “I know them from somewhere,” she whispered and moved in utter dark on stairs that were only a long pale ribbon going down, as a voice echoed:
“Here’s another fine mess you’ve got us in.” Bella froze. Where have I heard that voice, she wondered, a million times!
“Hello,” she called.
She moved, counting the steps, and stopped.
And there was no one there.
Suddenly she was very cold. There was nowhere for the strangers to have gone to. The hill was steep and a long way down and a long way up, and they had been burdened with an upright piano, hadn’t they?
How come I know upright? she thought. I only heard. But-yes, upright! Not only that, but inside a box!
She turned slowly and as she went back up the steps, one by one, slowly, slowly, the voices began to sound again, below, as if, disturbed, they had waited for her to go away.