Maestro Online - Thomma Lyn Grindstaff

PART ONE: Concerto

Chapter One

What an evening, playing to a packed house at the Down Beat. Annasophia hoped she'd given the audience what they'd come for and more. When she sat at the piano and played and sang, it wasn't as much as she performed her music as her music performed through her. The feeling, always heady, intoxicated her audience as much as it intoxicated her. Yes, mutually drunk on music.

Tonight, though, Maestro had been on Annasophia's mind. He hadn't been feeling well and hadn't been to see any of her shows in about a month. Before then, though, he'd hardly ever missed her shows. Before he had retired, he'd been a Professor of Piano at Southern Mountain State University, but long before then, he'd been a critically-acclaimed concert pianist.

How someone like Wilhelm Dahl had ever wound up in East Tennessee, Annasophia couldn't guess. But what a lucky break for her! He had taken her, as a child, on as a private student, and she couldn't have had a better teacher, whether for music or for life. He had shone a light into life's possibilities, warm and wide paths that held hope and not fear, peace and not emotional roller coasters.

Maestro had sounded a little better when she had talked to him on the phone earlier that afternoon. He'd even said he would try to make it to her show. When he came to her shows, he always sat as close to the stage as he could manage. But he hadn't been there, and Annasophia was getting more and more worried.

On her way home from the Down Beat, she pulled her mobile phone out of her purse and punched in his number. Ring, ring, ring, ring. Maybe he wasn't home. Just as she was about to give up, his voice reached her ear. She had to strain to hear it. “Yes, dear Anna. How was your show?” His German accent, smoothed over from years of living in the United States, sounded like velvet on her ear.

“Great,” she said, smiling. Man, she missed Maestro at her shows. Performing her music always felt freeing, but just knowing he was in the audience always made her feel all the more free. She didn't want to hammer home how much she missed him, though. It would only make him feel guilty. Maestro would have been there if he had felt like going, and she didn't want him feeling guilty. “How are you?” she said instead.

He didn't say anything for a moment. She couldn't even hear him breathing. Maybe their connection had been cut off. But then he said, “Not feeling very well, I'm afraid. I...”

“What?” She had thought he probably was suffering from a flu bug, but if that were the case, then the bug was hanging on for an awfully long time.

“...having trouble eating.” His voice was growing weaker.

“Can I come over and see you?” she asked. “Maybe I can help.” She didn't say so, but she might have to make sure he got to a hospital.

“...don't know... Anna, my dear,” he said. He spoke so softly, and worse yet, it sounded as though he weren't holding his phone close enough to his ear and mouth. Like his hand was as weak as his voice. He must be much sicker than she'd thought. Sicker than he'd let on.

She felt as though someone had kicked her in the guts. “Hold the phone. I'll be right over.”

In downtown Johnson City, the streets were clogged with traffic at a few minutes past ten. The old buildings seemed to crowd in on her, and she focused on the road ahead, not the other cars. The more she thought about Maestro, the more closed in and anxious she felt. Take a deep breath, she told herself. Breathe. It was something Maestro had taught her, long ago, when she had been a little girl playing at concerto competitions. That way, the judges never intimidated her. She would do her best not to let anxiety intimidate her now. She didn't like to think about it, but Maestro, at seventy-six, wasn't exactly young.

She took another deep breath and relaxed her fingers on the steering wheel. Worrying only borrowed trouble. “Rip it all out, and cast it away,” she sang, lyrics from her song “Glass Ceiling.” She'd played it for her last encore. The interstate highway, as boring as it was, surely would feel better than the downtown streets did. Once she got there, the traffic was lighter, but the interstate highway still gave