Chester Prime was lost, but in a moment of clarity, he realized he had no desire to be found.
When he opened his eyes, a hazy grey mist wet them, and he blinked away the sand of sleep, turning westward toward the ocean. He couldn’t remember which one. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter.
He had dug up the earth under the tree by the house. The house was always an ugly piece of work, and as he chucked the shovel onto the small hill of brown dirt and red clay, he realized that it was not long for this world, either. Too much dry rot.
Now he stood facing away from the rising sun, shivering a little. He reached for a cigarette and lit up, allowing the noxious inhalation to warm his chest. There was no one else to whom he could offer the pack, so he stuffed it away.
Three weeks ago, Chester listened as Moira played the cello with long strokes, bow slightly angled, the smell of rosin dust and horsehair enveloping her. His sister’s long calloused fingers slapped lightly on the cello’s neck, her body swayed as she practiced the Poco Adagio of Dvorak’s String Quartet Op. 61. Beatific was the only word that could describe her at that moment. Chester snapped a series of shots. Later, he scrolled through them and found that moment, printed it out, and framed it.
The cigarette burned out so Chester flicked the butt into the sandy grass. He took a deep breath. Maybe facing the day was the only way to move forward. Picking up the black violin case beside him, he made his way down to the beach below.
Sandra and Roy were waiting for him on the flat rock just a few feet from the ocean’s reach. They had already set up the chairs and music stands. Barefoot and clad in cream linen, they watched him warily.
Five days ago, Sandra had called Chester, asking him to come to the beach to play. We’ll do Mozart, or something cheesy like that. Moira would have liked that, she said, Or maybe some Dvorak? Chester hung up the phone. Later that afternoon, Roy sent him a message: Are you okay? Chester deleted both messages and turned off his phone. The next morning, he found himself waiting outside the home improvement store at 5:30, looking to buy a shovel.
Roy approached Chester, the dry sand dunes and the viola in his left hand making progress slow. Where have you been? We’ve been trying to get ahold of you for the last four days! Chester didn’t answer. Instead he plodded to the rock, put the case down and toed his shoes off. He rolled up his black trousers. He sat in the second chair from the right and gazed out at the horizon. The ocean would serve as their conductor today.
Three days ago, Chester had driven home to the house that looked like it would fall down sideways. Crooked houses made for crooked people, or at least that’s how Chester felt. So, many years ago, he had taken off with her as quickly as he could, even though she thought it had character. Now, he couldn’t go straight to the house, so he had just driven around the neighborhood slowly. Old ladies came out onto their porches with tea but Chester knew they were really just keeping an eye on him. He slouched in the seat and turned into the driveway overgrown with moss and weeds.
Sandra, sitting in the first chair, tuned up her violin and then played an A for Roy and Chester. They all took their time, bare feet grounded as if the rumblings of the ocean could direct their movements. Chester closed his eyes, even though he knew Roy and Sandra were looking at him. He could hear Sandra’s intake of breath, the cue to begin. And so they played.
They played without sheet music. They played without noting the passage of time. They played without feeling the cut of the wind against their linen clothing. Their music soared over the lap of the waves at the sand, the rock still taunting Poseidon’s greedy fingers. Chester was so lost in the music that he entered a reverie of sorts, halfway between reality and Dvorak’s Poco Adagio.
Two days ago, after subjecting himself to an uncomfortable night’s sleep on the threadbare and possibly pest-ridden davenport, Chester rose before the sun. In the wan light, he retrieved the shovel and began to dig. He ignored all early morning imperatives to eat or drink or relieve himself. He found an unsteady comfort in the rhythm of the shovel’s cut into the earth and subsequent chuffing of dirt. It was four feet long by three feet wide by six feet deep, to insure against discovery. Satisfied with the hour’s labor, Chester went back inside the house to retrieve the hole’s occupants.
As the last strains of the quartet married the wind and departed for the ocean’s abyss, Chester allowed the bow to dangle from his fingertips. He stood and walked toward the ocean, unresponsive to its icy touch. Soon he was knee-deep, and the bow floated away. The violin, taking on salt water, was relinquished to the ocean, which swallowed it whole. Sandra and Roy hopped the waves to grab Chester’s arms. They gently but firmly guided him to shore. He made no resistance.
One day ago, red clay mixed with brown dirt covered the hole under the tree. Chester sat a few feet away; it looked like a fresh scab, it looked just like her grave in the cemetery. He wondered if anyone would come looking for the cello or her photograph. He doubted it.
(written 16 april 2018)