By Dennis Taylor
I liberate my tuxedo from its stale-smelling garment bag. A confused moth flutters weakly toward my lackluster dress shoes below. I spray and wash the entire shirt, with its yellowing collar, pits, and cuffs, until it is soaked. Same with the cummerbund and bow tie. They remind me of aging cheese. I wash all of these alone on the hot cycle, a waste of water and energy. The pants need dry-cleaning and pressing, but lacking time, I iron-sharpen the creases. I inspect the coat for moth holes. None.
This fastidiousness started after I’d asked *her* to be my female-identifying second-adult high school youth group adviser with me. “Sure,” she’d said. I didn’t notice her initially—beyond my appreciation for her fulfilling the church two-adult safety policy. It was at the overnight retreat that I became aware of her. Her sophomore son was a member. During the bonfire, someone asked what the chords were to the song we were singing, and he’d interjected, “F-A” then added, “R-T!” She laughed. She found him entertaining. Me, too. Earlier, she hardly chastised him for writing “Holden Tudiks” on the whiteboard. When they asked, please can we swear? she furtively nodded to me across the fire.
I invited her to take the couch, secretly hoping there might be enough room for me, too. Next morning, I woke her before the others. She looked striking, snug in her sleeping bag cocoon. I wanted to stroke her shambolic hair. I tapped her shoulder. “Morning.” She smiled.
Tonight, I will perform Bach’s “Air,” arranged for piano, and my instrument: the horn. It’s the church stewardship kickoff party. The theme is *Rising Up*, which the teens euphemize and howl over. I texted her that I would be a penguin. (The attire for performers is black and white.) She thought literally. Her eyes widened when she saw me. She falteringly introduced her hefty husband. I sat with them and tried hard not to stare at her. My wife, working late, couldn’t make it. I did not regret this.
“You may not know that in addition to being a youth advisor, I was once a classical musician,” I tell the surprised audience. (I don’t think she knew either.) “I retired at fifty. I own this tuxedo. It’s fodder for moths these days.”
I used to be good. I wanted this to be evident to counterweight the mismatch between us. I learned (from Google) about her four-thousand square foot house. My house is microscopic comparatively. Did she collect information about me as well?
The “Air” begins. I sustain a long note, while the piano’s left hand imitates the gentle, pizzicato bass. Surprisingly in tune, I risk a crescendo, chance some vibrato, which I rarely did back in the day. I remember not to press the upward slur after the long note. I play it softly, pinpointing the center to excite the overtones that sympathetically tremble in the hall. I never sounded this good.
She typically sits across from me during youth group meetings. There’s a no-shoes rule, and she often brings her knees to her breasts, and I can see her perfectly pedicured pink toenails. I don’t dare stare elsewhere. After, we would always part cordially. “Have a good week.”
Once, I sat behind her during worship. We were in the foyer spillover seats, both catching the sermon before youth group. She wore a fuzzy, milky sweater. I watched her absently massage her right shoulder. Stress spot? She kneaded gently, making the slightly freckled skin rosy. She wore no ring despite, I knew, being married.
The “Air” is for string orchestra with the violins *sul G*, which means only on the “G” string, the deepest of its four. This restricts the instrument’s full range and color, yet it’s an exquisite tonality. Bach’s contrapuntal genius is that each of the orchestral instruments is self-determining, creating enchanting musical tension that resolves finally when they meet at the finish. Still, the independent progress toward that magical cadence is metrically messy, requiring prudent navigation.
At the Zoom parent meeting last week, I pinned her. I noticed she wore lipstick. She looked younger, despite some crow’s feet (like mine) and sun damage. She wore a dark vest, and underneath, a T-shirt with some words. I couldn’t read them until she stretched for her wine glass, conveniently placed out of sight. Her vest gave way: “Mi amore.” That was when I knew for certain.
The following Sunday at youth group, I cued up the climate justice video. The spirited teens were suddenly engaged, like curious puppies. I glanced across to remember what she looked like. She was staring at me in a different kind of way. She quickly looked down at her knees and brushed off imaginary lint.
The climactic moment is coming, a long sequential passage beginning softly and growing louder as it ascends. It could make or break the performance using too much pressure. I need to use some. How much? Here it comes. This is not high for the horn typically, but after the long, arduous sequence, it is hazardous. Even though this is the high point and should be loudest, I approach it delicately. It resonates in a way that I worry reveals too much of my heart’s preoccupation.
Bach didn’t compose his “Air” for horn or piano. It’s a movement from his third orchestral suite. A purist would wince at the present musical pilfering. Horn and piano? Would Bach roll in his grave? I wonder: Must things cling to their original intent? Can’t there be acceptable alterations?
Long ago, my wife broke her first marital covenant for an arrangement with me. I could hardly sleep for being chosen then. I recall this as the final cadence approaches. Yes, Bach would roll in his grave. Careful now.
After the concert, she hugs me before leaving. We clutch each other, our cheeks colliding. I contemplate kissing her in front of her husband.
“That was beautiful,” she says.
I sigh. “See you Sunday.