Nandini Ramanathan '23
A Beethoven was playing somewhere in the background. A string quartet, it sounded like, a familiar one, one of the good ones. She had heard it before, she thought. Hadn’t she? She had, indeed, she had. Time was weary of her these days. But she was sure this was familiar, it must be. Beethoven was long dead. This was— a fugue, that was the word. A fugue. One of the masterpieces, she thought. An opus. It would have numbers after it, didn’t they all? She could not remember the numbers. But it was a fugue, she was sure.
“Do you remember the numbers?” she asked the cat perched on the armchair beside her. The cat stared at her and did not respond. She picked up the cold cup of leftover tea on the coffee table and downed it in one gulp, sinking into the sofa with a sigh. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. Do you know, I don’t think anyone remembers the numbers. Unnecessary information. If everyone already knows which one you’re talking about you don’t have to specify, I suppose. No matter that everyone doesn’t really— but I suppose that isn’t important. What was I saying?”
“Your daughter’s coming tonight,” said the cat.
“Tonight, you say?”
A pause. The fugue continued to play. She got up and paced around the room, prowling in ever-tightening circles. What day was it now? It was Monday, yes, Monday last— no. Not Monday last.
“Which Monday is it?” she asked aloud. Her voice echoed strangely through the house.
“This Monday,” replied the cat. She stared absently at it for a moment.
“Right, right,” she said, resuming her pacing. Her eyes darted along the ground. The present, that’s where she was now. She was planning to stay, she thought. Unless she needed to leave. There were numerous reasons she might need to leave, now that she came to think of it. She could not remember now.
“I don’t need to leave, do I?” The cat flicked its tail. “Hey, answer me.”
“No,” replied the cat.
She crossed the room, left to right, then back again. She did not look at the cat. She was becoming more and more intensely curious about the Beethoven, the fugue. She still could not remember the numbers. Perhaps she would go back and ask. Someone would know. People used to know these things. It was worth a try, to go back and ask. She would try. Nodding sharply to herself, she stepped decisively and vanished into thin air. The cat blinked, flicking its tail again.
Some minutes later, she returned, hair tousled. The cat watched her with unblinking green eyes. She smiled at it. It looked at her, waiting. Finally, it jumped off of the chair and walked to her, sniffing her shoes. “Where did you go?”
“Vienna. 1906. I wanted to see if Beethoven had the numbers.”
“He was dead then,” the cat pointed out.
“Yes. Fin du Siècle, though. A good time.”
She looked up, peering into the darkness of the next room. The music was still going. Odd, she had thought it would be over by now. Almost, perhaps. She should know that. It was familiar, she was totally sure now. Beethoven Opus 131. C-sharp minor. Terrible key, C-sharp minor, but so beautiful. She’d played in it once, perhaps, or maybe not. Time was leaving again. It always did.
“You shouldn’t leave like that when you know your daughter’s coming,” said the cat reproachfully, then perked up its ears. A knock sounded on the door.
“Speak of the devil!” She sailed over to the front door, opening it with a flourish. “Hello, Edith.”
Edith led her back to the sofa, and she sat there watching as she made dinner. Soup. A strange feeling, to watch her daughter cook. She had done that for her, before, when she was a child, and would come home from school. She’d worn pigtails back then, with ribbons in her hair. She was so much older now. She came home from work, these days. Had her own house. Played classic rock in her kitchen, instead of the childhood Bach, or Mahler. Perhaps that was her own fault, Mahler was really too much for a child. It was no wonder her life was so different now. It was so different, though. How the times had changed. Once upon a time, she would make dinner, put on a piece, time herself to finish before it stopped—
The fugue hadn’t stopped, she realized. How long had it been? Long enough that it should have finished by now, certainly. Edith was almost done with dinner.
“Isn’t the music going to end?” she asked.
“What music?” questioned Edith.
“The music. The Beethoven. It’s been playing since…”
“There’s no music,” replied Edith uncertainly.
“No music,” she muttered. There wasn’t, she realized. The silence echoed through the house. “I suppose there isn’t. But I could have sworn, I could have sworn…”