Today’s post is the nineteenth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL).
You have all the previous installments HERE.
And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.
Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!
#19: “Oh, Phil and his ‘I’m so young’ performances”
“Alice, welcome, come inside,” Pamfil said. Alice had showed up at his September 2003 party with vanilla ice cream, her sister’s apple pie, and some boeuf salad she had made herself.
Alice headed to the kitchen table and laid out her offerings. “I came too early,” she said, “but Ettie was in her own world at the piano with her headphones, and I needed to get away.”
Pamfil gave her a hug.
“Who else has come?” Alice asked, stepping away to peek into the living room.
“The two beloved female thirds of Trio Anima,” Pamfil said, his gaze lingering on Alice until she disappeared from view, wondering why she wore black pants when a dress would have hugged her curves so much better.
Alice walked up to Silvia, happy to see her again. They kissed on both cheeks, and then Silvia started some Lara Fabian on the computer and turned to Clara, who was lying on her back on Pamfil’s couch enjoying the music. “Can you improvise something?” Silvia asked her friend and music partner. “I want to sing this.”
Clara stood up and headed to the piano. “I think I can do something.” She started playing an ad lib arrangement.
“Wait,” Silvia called. “I mean, go on, do your thing. I’ll look for the lyrics.”
A few moments later she was by Clara’s side, printed sheet in hand, singing a Lara Fabian song to the latter’s makeshift harmonies. Alice watched from the couch, her torso and head swiveled toward the two women. They both wore tight shirts and knee-length skirts, albeit in different colors, and they played as one, each of them easily adjusting to the other’s performance.
Pamfil came into the room moments after the song began, sat down next to Alice, and put his arm around her. Alice turned her head, smiling both on account of Pamfil’s gesture and as a way to show her delight at seeing Silvia and Clara making music together.
When the song was over, Clara invited Pamfil next to her for a rendition of Otis Redding. Pamfil didn’t have the greatest pipes, but he had a nice baritone timbre, and Otis Redding’s songs, which he always sang lower, suited him well. As he crooned to Clara’s accompaniment, Silvia beat the rhythm on Pamfil’s desk. Trio Anima had seemingly forgotten about Alice, but Alice was beside herself with joy, as she didn’t have much of a voice but loved it when Pamfil’s trio cut loose and sang and played pop songs. And they had lots of fun with it, as Pamfil loved to improvise when he dabbled as a singer.
After their little recital the other guests started pouring in. First came Marcel and Anca, and then Anca’s friend Daria, Vlad, and five others. They all came laden with food and drinks—beer, wine, whiskey, Baileys, carbonated soft drinks, and iced tea; some brought music as well.
As Daria, Anca’s journalist friend, was new to Pamfil’s parties and had somehow missed Vlad at Anca’s parties as well, Pamfil made the introductions.
“You’re friends with Anca?” Vlad asked as they moved away from Pamfil.
“Yes, we took a course in graphic design together. Before Anca got her job as a teacher at Arte,” Daria said. She went into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine, Vlad in tow.
“Teaching French?” Vlad asked.
Daria gave him a guttural assent as she helped herself from a platter crammed with veggie rice pilaf, green and black olives, and baked fish fillets.
“So you’re Anca’s age?” Vlad inquired.
“I don’t see the logical connection, but yes, we’re the same age. I’m twenty-six,” Daria said.
“I’m twenty-eight,” Vlad said, looking at the back of her fifties-style A-line dress, where she had a heart-shaped cutout.
Daria turned to look at him. “Yes, you look twenty-eight.”
Vlad’s face fell.
“What’s the matter?” Daria asked, noting the change in Vlad’s mien.
“I was hoping to look older,” Vlad said seriously, his eyes downcast.
“You for real?”
“Very,” Vlad responded with a smile, glancing back at her.
“Go on, get something to eat!” Daria urged him.
“I’m not hungry. I’m only thirsty,” Vlad said. He held his beer bottle higher for emphasis.
“Let’s sit down,” Daria said. She made herself comfortable on the couch and tucked into her food.
Vlad sat down in an armchair, looking at her.
“Are you sure you don’t want to eat anything?” Daria asked. “There’s plenty of food for everyone.”
“Yeah, but it’s late.”
“Yes, it is. But I barely ate anything today,” Daria said in between mouthfuls.
“Why? What did you do today?” Vlad asked, eager for the conversation.
“I wrote. And wrote. And wrote,” Daria responded. “Here, have an olive,” she invited, pushing the plate Vlad’s way.
Vlad picked a green olive and then a black one. “They’re very good,” he said. “I should eat more olives.” He took a long swig from his bottle. “They taste great with beer, by the way!”
“I know,” Daria said, her lips curled in a grin.
“So what did you write?” Vlad asked, helping himself to another olive.
“What did I write?” Daria echoed.
“You said you wrote and wrote and wrote today,” Vlad said with a rather dour mien.
“Ah, that,” Daria said, loading her fork. “I wrote two articles.”
“What about?” Vlad asked.
Right then Silvia and Pamfil walked to the piano.
“New song!” Silvia announced.
“Silvia and I will sing ‘Plaisir d’amour’ for you,” Pamfil said.
Everybody cheered and clapped.
Silvia moved to the side of the piano, placing a hand on its top and waiting for Pamfil to get comfortable with his guitar on the piano stool.
As Silvia and Pamfil began to sing about love, with its fleeting joys and the pain that lasts a lifetime, everyone stopped the scraping of plates and their discussions and turned to the piano to enjoy the evening’s surprise.
Vlad quietly commented to Daria that you wouldn’t guess that Silvia was actually a cellist.
When the short musical interlude was over, Pamfil applauded Silvia, and she bent to kiss him on the cheeks.
“They should change their act,” Alice said, speaking to Anca as they enjoyed some apple pie on Pamfil’s bed. “Have you noticed that Silvia never plays her cello here?”
“How are you doing, girls?” Pamfil said, approaching them.
“We were saying that you should maybe change direction,” Alice said, her plate in her lap.
“I don’t know, start something more modern? With your guitar, you and Silvia singing,” Alice said.
“My guitar? You must be kidding,” Pamfil said, locking gazes first with Alice and then with Anca. Anca smiled.
“Your voice, then. Hire someone else for the guitar,” Alice insisted.
“And get rid of my violin playing, just like that?” Pamfil asked with a smirk. “Have you eaten yet? Make sure you do while there’s still time.”
“Some people really like to cling to their old ways,” Alice said to Anca when Pamfil left.
Anca looked at her friend and said nothing. “Would you like some wine? Or Baileys? I’m going to get some for myself too,” she offered after a few moments. She headed into the kitchen to pick up some drinks for both of them and there ran into Silvia, who was ending a conversation with Vlad and Daria and wearing a large grin. Anca gave her a hug and complimented her.
Silvia smiled brightly by way of thanks and headed to the computer to rearrange the playlist. “Vlad agreed to strip for us tonight,” she told Clara, brimming with excitement. Vlad may not have been the smartest man in Silvia’s book, but she was quite enthralled by his physique.
“Really?” Clara responded, unfazed, looking from Pamfil’s desk to where Vlad and Daria were talking and clinking wine glasses.
“He’s the only one who hasn’t done it yet,” Silvia said, her eyes twinkling.
“So how was the party?” Henriette asked her sister the next morning.
“Good. You should come to the next one,” Alice said. “I mean, how long are you going to avoid Phil?” she added as she fixed her coffee.
“I think I’m at that point where I’d rather have new experiences than hold on to this masquerade,” Henriette said.
“Oh, Phil and his ‘I’m so young’ performances,” Henriette said, pouring herself coffee from the moka pot into her Chagall-windows mug. “He’s old enough to know better.”
Alice stayed silent for a few seconds. “He’s hosting great parties, I must say.”
Henriette sat down at the kitchen table opposite her sister. “Yeah?”
“I think he’s trying to hook up Vlad and Daria,” Alice said with a smile.
Henriette added some milk and honey to her coffee. “What does Daria do? I forget.” She swirled a teaspoon in her mug.
“She writes for Alina and designs websites,” Alice said.
“I know she’s younger than us, but how old is she?” Henriette inquired.
“Why do you ask?”
“She writes for Alina. And designs websites.”
“She has older colleagues at Alina,” Alice said.
“But she also designs websites. All young people do that these days.”
“She’s twenty-six, Ettie,” Alice said, hoping to end this sudden disagreement. She took a sip of her coffee.
“She’s young,” Henriette repeated, piqued.
“And you, at thirty-six, are old,” her sister retorted.
“Too old to live with you,” Henriette shot back. “We should sell this place and buy new apartments on credit.”
“We don’t have enough money to pay mortgages, Henriette.”
“Then we should make more money.”
“I like my life,” Alice said. “My choices, I mean.”
“I don’t get you!” Henriette exploded. “You push me to work harder and harder, and you ‘like your life.’ But of course! All you do is write and travel. It’s not like you’re pulled in all these directions at the same time, without time or money to recharge your batteries.”
Alice looked at her sister in silence, taking the latter’s acrimony in stride. “Sorry, Henriette, that I’m not more talented,” she spoke after a few beats. Her calm was that of someone who has felt and said that many times.
“I hate it when you say that,” Henriette snapped. “It’s simply not true. And as I told you so many times, comparisons are odious.” She set her Mainz mug down with a bang and got up. “I need to make some changes,” she grumbled, grabbing her coffee mug and putting it in the sink. “I’ve been stagnant too long. I need to travel more to feed my soul.” She made to leave but then turned back and started washing the dishes.
“Then do that, travel,” Alice said after a while, getting up from the table herself.
“It’s no fun traveling alone,” Henriette said. She gave Alice a sad look, hugged her, and then left the kitchen and went into her room.
To be continued . . .