I got up and put twenty dollars on the table where he might find it. After all, he had won the bet, hadn’t he?
Why had I done it? Well, I couldn’t very well have left him out in the middle of the high school auditorium aisle dancing alone, could I?
On my way out I looked back. Bug saw me and waved, his eyes as brimmed full as mine. Someone passing whispered, “Hey, come on, lookit this guy!”
God, I thought, he’ll be dancing all night.
Me, I could only walk.
And I went out and walked until I was fifty again and the sun was going down and the low June fog was coming in early over old Los Angeles.
That night, just before going to sleep, I wished that in the morning when Bug woke up he would find the floor around his bed covered with trophies.
Or at the very least he would turn and find a quiet and understanding trophy with her head on his pillow, near enough to touch.
ONCE MORE, LEGATO
Fentriss sat up in his chair in the garden in the middle of a fine autumn and listened. The drink in his hand remained unsipped, his friend Black unspoken to, the fine house unnoticed, the very weather itself neglected, for there was a veritable fountain of sound in the air above them.
“My God,” he mid. “Do you ‘hear?”
“What, the birds?” asked his friend Black, doing just the opposite, sipping his drink, noticing the weather, admiring the rich house, and neglecting the birds entirely until this moment.
“Great God in heaven, listen to them!” cried Fentriss.
Black listened. “Rather nice.”
“Clean out your ears!”
Black made a halfhearted gesture, symbolizing the cleaning out of ears. “Well?”
“Damn it, don’t be funny. I mean really listen! They’re singing a tune!”
“Birds usually do.”
“No, they don’t; birds paste together bits and pieces maybe, five or six notes, eight at the most. Mockingbirds have repertoires that change, but not entire melodies. These birds are different. Now shut up and give over!”
Both men sat, enchanted. Black’s expression melted.
“I’ll be damned,” he said at last. “They do go on.” He leaned forward and listened intently.
“Yes …” murmured Fentriss, eyes shut, nodding to the rhythms that sprang like fresh rain from the tree just above their heads. “… ohmigod … indeed.”
Black rose as if to move under the tree and peer up. Fentriss protested with a fierce whisper:
“Don’t spoil it. Sit. Be very still. Where’s my pencil? Ah…”
Half peering around, he found a pencil and notepad, shut his eyes, and began to scribble blindly.
The birds sang.
“You’re not actually writing down their song?” said Black.
“What does it look like? Quiet.”
And with eyes now open, now shut, Fentriss drew scales and jammed in the notes.
“I didn’t know you read music,” said Black, astonished.
“I played the violin until my father broke it. Please! There. There. Yes!”
“Slower,” he whispered. “Wait for me.”
As if hearing, the birds adjusted their lilt, moving toward piano instead of bravado.
A breeze stirred the leaves, like an invisible conductor, and the singing died.
Fentriss, perspiration beading his forehead, stopped scribbling and fell back.
“I’ll be damned.” Black gulped his drink. “What was that all about?”
“Writing a song.” Fentriss stared at the scales he had dashed on paper. “Or a tone poem.”
“Let me see that!”
“Wait.” The tree shook itself gently, but produced no further notes. “I want to be sure they’re done.”
Black seized the pages and let his eyes drift over the scales. “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary,” he said, aghast. “It works.” He glanced up at the thick green of the tree, where no throat warbled, no wing stirred. “What kind of birds are those?”
“The birds of forever, the small beasts of an Immaculate Musical Conception. Something,” said Fentriss, “has made them with child and its name is song-“
“Is it?! Something in the air, in the seeds they ate at dawn, some whim of climate and weather, God! But now they’re mine, it’s mine. A fine tune.”
“It is’” said Black. “But can’t be!”
“Never question the miraculous when it happens. Good grief, maybe those damned wonderful creatures have been throwing up incredible songs for months, years, but no one listened. Today, for the first time, someone did. Me! Now, what to do with the gift?”