CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Joseph hands Stravinsky the telephone.

It’s Diaghilev. He informs him that they’ve just received a donation of three hundred thousand francs to finance a revival of The Rite of Spring.

Igor’s hand darts to his brow. “Who?”

“I don’t know. Anonymous, it seems.”

“I can’t believe it!”

“I thought you’d be pleased.”

Apprehensive suddenly: “I want it performed properly this time, Serge.”

“Of course.”

On an impulse. “And I’ll conduct it.”

“Let’s not jump ahead of ourselves.”

“I want it to be good.”

A rider pulling on the reins. “Don’t worry. Things will be different.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Those people were brought up on Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. They weren’t prepared for what they heard.”

“You think they’ve changed?”

“They wanted a fête. You gave them a female orgasm. Not even Dr. Freud was ready for that.”

Igor laughs. “And now?”

“After a war and a revolution, they should be ready for anything.”

Igor continues, breathless with excitement, and with a confiding if not quite confessional air, “I’m working well, Serge.”

“You’ve been busy?”

Igor tells him about the five-finger exercises, the concertino and symphony, how he’s experimenting with different tempi, different instruments operating in different time signatures, how he’s working on it in blocks, but that he wants to get on with The Rite now, and is desperate to revise the string parts, and has already amended the second horn group in his head.

A silence follows.

“How’s Catherine?”

Shrinking visibly: “Not too well still, I’m afraid.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” After a pause, his voice deepening: “Have you been behaving yourself, Igor?”

He doesn’t answer.

“I’ve heard a couple of whispers, I must say.”

“Who from?”

“Never you mind.”

“It’s Misia, isn’t it?”

“It might be . . .”

“She’s a real snake-in-the-grass, that one!”

“She’s a generous patron.”

“She’s not to be trusted.”

“Never mind her. You just make the most of your time there, old boy.”

“You think it was Coco who donated the money?”

“I doubt it. She has other ways of supporting you.”

“Not you, too!”

“You should be happy. We’ve just received a huge donation.”

“I am happy.”

“Good.”

After setting the phone back on its cradle, Igor curses, “Misia. That bitch!”

Friday, Coco and Igor go to the races. Saturday, they can be seen together at Le Boeuf sur le Toit—a small bar in Montparnasse where a black band plays Mozart and jazz and the regulars dance on the tables. Monday, they rendezvous along with the Serts at the cinema in the center of Paris. They both enjoy watching films. They’ve already seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. And tonight they have tickets for The Mark of Zorro.

Inside the cinema it is warm. The chairs are square and uncomfortable. Coco’s legs move away from some ache and come to rest against Igor’s. In the dark they feel an intimacy, a restfulness that contents them both. It’s good to get away from the house in the evenings, and away from their work, too. Here, together, they feel heedless and free.

The movie is exciting with plenty of action. Seeing Douglas Fairbanks perform his acrobatics makes Igor itch to rehearse his own exercises. His legs flex involuntarily with each new stunt.

He is struck, too, by the accompanist. A young man in his early twenties, he sits openmouthed in the pit, staring up at the screen in front of him. He accents the motion he sees, adding chromaticism to the black-and-white images as they drizzle across his face.

There is no question of any connecting music or bridging passages. The jumps are too abrupt. He needs to respond instantly to the visual effects. Igor nods with approval at the young man’s ingenuity, his precise sense of timing, his sensitivity to mood. But he winces at the flatness of the piano, especially in the higher registers. It seems almost to slow the action down. He wonders if the pianist has managed to rehearse, and has seen the film before, or whether the performance is genuinely spontaneous.

At the same time he’s galvanized by a moment on the screen: Zorro roughly embraces his woman, pulling her toward him with an encircling arm. The woman—blowsy, dark-haired, gypsyish—arches submissively as he bends low to deliver a kiss. Witnessing this, Igor feels a sweet ache, a remote throb of semiengorgement tighten inside his pants. He shifts awkwardly in his seat, surprised that the film has stirred him in this way. Coco guesses correctly the source of his unease. And with a note of throat clearing to cover his dismayed excitement, he allows her fingers for a few frank seconds to steal across his thigh.

Seeing this in the corner of her vision, Misia raises an eyebrow. A little later, she whispers to Coco, “I see things are going well.”

“Satisfactorily, thank you.” Coco nods, smiling.

Emerging from the cinema some time later, they are surprised to find it dark outside. The two couples head for a nearby bar. Seated at a table near the window, José and Igor discuss the film. José thinks Zorro improbably athletic. He argues that he couldn’t possibly throw himself about like that and survive. It is all camera trickery, he maintains. But Igor is convinced that the action is authentic. He has read somewhere that Fairbanks is a gymnast and that he performs all of his own stunts. They make a small wager.

Across from them, Coco tells Misia about her jaunt to Grasse to see Ernest Beaux and how she’s been busy this last week dispatching samples to clients. Then in whispering tones she updates her on the latest from Bel Respiro. Igor tries hard to listen. He resents Coco confiding in her and wishes she wouldn’t do this. He is more than a little concerned about the looseness of Misia’s tongue. She’s an incorrigible gossip. He hates the way she twists and distorts things. And if she has blabbed to Diaghilev, then who else has she told? He can’t stand the woman; her flame red hair and her oriental fans. It is all he can do to be civil to her.

They leave the bar around midnight and relish the cool night air. The sky is thick with stars. The couples kiss and part, and the Serts hail a cab.

Coco says to Igor, “We could stay the night above the shop.”

“Shouldn’t we get back to Garches?” He is thinking of Catherine and what she will say, but he is also mindful of his work. If they were to spend the night in Paris then by the time Coco was up and ready, and by the time they returned to Garches, a whole morning would have been lost. And he has so much to be getting on with.

She draws a cardigan jacket around her shoulders. “It’s late. The apartment’s only minutes away.”

“I know, but . . .” Igor shrugs apologetically. “. . . It would only mean trouble.”

“All right, all right.” She’s disappointed. She’s worked hard today. Tired, after a few glasses of wine she is also vaguely amorous. “I just thought you might like to spend the night with me, that’s all.”

“I do . . . It’s just that—”

Frustrated, suddenly: “Save your excuses. I don’t want to hear them.”

But something has been niggling him, too. After a silence, he asks, “What were you saying to Misia?”

“Is that why you won’t come back, because you don’t like me talking to her?”

“Of course not. I’m curious, that’s all.”

“Mm.”

Insistent: “So? What did you say to her?”

“Nothing.”

“You were talking for a long time.”

“We talked business.”

“You weren’t gossiping about us.”

“And what if I were?”

“Is that wise?”

“If you must know, I think she’s jealous.”

“Jealous? Why?”

“Of my helping you out.”

“Oh?”

“She’s rather seen herself as your patron, and I’m not sure she’s keen on me butting in like this.”

“She doesn’t own me.”

“She’s a jealous woman.”

“She’s a gossip.”

With a new firmness in her voice: “She’s a friend.”

“Well, I’m sick of her interfering.”

“Interfering?”

“Yes.”

“You should have said. I thought you liked it when people gave you money.”

Cowed: “You know what I mean.”

“And I’m sure you know what I mean, too.”

“Well, I’m not sure I like her knowing too much . . .”

“No?”

“In fact, I don’t like her knowing anything about us.” His features stiffen; he knows she’s watching him.

“Are you ashamed of people finding out?”

He finds her intensity disconcerting. “Ashamed? No.”

“What, then?”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“What other reason can you have for not wanting people to know?”

Painted into a corner: “Be reasonable, Coco. I have a family. A wife, children.”

“Well, I don’t.” The gap between her eyes narrows into a frown. “And if I want to confide in my friends, that’s my business, not yours.” Were there a door between them, he knows that it would slam.

They reach the car. The presence of Coco’s chauffeur puts an end to any further discussion. It is their first real fight, and both of them feel agitated and upset. Each feels the other has been unreasonable and stubborn. Driven home, they both surrender to a juvenile impulse to sit apart and say nothing. Their grievances harden in the silence.

Igor can’t understand why Coco entertains a hanger-on like Misia. It’s true, he has accepted her money in the past. But the alternative for him was destitution, poverty. Ordinarily she’d never be a friend of his. And as for staying the night in Paris, perhaps he should have seemed more eager. But can’t she see that it would be terribly insensitive given his position, and that anyway he has work to do in the morning? As it is, the two of them enjoy a nice routine in Bel Respiro. Why spoil it? There’s no need.

At the same time, Coco can’t fathom his unwillingness to spend the night together for once. It seems so little to ask, and this after she has given him so much already. She can’t believe that he’s so selfish. She finds their life back in Bel Respiro sordid, suddenly, mean and cheapening. She’s furious at what she sees as his rejection. For a minute, her mouth is lipless, grim. In the darkness next to him, her profile is a stone.

Staring out, Coco sees the moon appear, now to the left, now to the right of the car. Leaves in the hedges glimmer vividly. Headlights pick up the f licker of insects an instant before they smash against the glass. For a split second she glimpses a fox. Then there’s a sound, a muffled thud. She thinks they hit it. Her fists clench instinctively and she winces, sure of it now. No one says anything, not even the chauffeur, who must sense the tension behind him. A horrible taste enters her mouth.

As they round finally into the drive, the house seems drowned in shadows. A single light burns in Catherine’s room. The car slides to a halt. For a moment Igor thinks he sees a patch of shadow amid the general glow, before—and this time he is certain—he sees the curtains twitch and close.

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