“Juliet! Come down!”
“In a minute…”
She rubbed her hands on a red and white checkered cloth as she
headed back into the kitchen, walking slowly across the freshly mopped
floor. The microwave beeped insistently until she reached over and
pulled the door open, releasing the scent of hot, wilted green beans,
yesterday’s vegetable reheated. Sliding the cloth deftly under the
glass dish, Kate carried it across the kitchen to the table to join
the meatless lasagna.
The last spring sunlight was streaming across the table in low shafts
tinged with red. She pushed past two chairs to stand by the window,
looking at nothing while she ran over plans for the weekend in her
head. Find a sitter for Friday night, buy new shoes for the concert,
call Irina and invite her and Alex to dinner. Kate stood motionless
as the sun caught at her hair, waking an answering red in the
richness of brown. Sylvan was a good word to describe her…at any
moment she seemed ready to step through the window and disappear into
the woods surrounding the house with only a flash of chestnut eyes to
remember her by. The kitchen clock striking six startled her into
motion again, so that she moved too quickly and slammed her elbow into the
window. A muffled “oh!” of frustration escaped her as she grabbed at
her elbow. Rubbing it, Kate walked out to the stairs and paused at the
“Juliet! Oh Juliet! Wherefore art thou, Juliet!”
“Mom! You know that’s not right!” Julie said, exasperated, as
she came pelting down the stairs. Her voice trailed behind her as she
headed into the kitchen. “Juliet says that to Romeo – and
she isn’t asking where he is, she’s asking why he’s Romeo and from the
wrong family. What kind of English major were you, anyway?”
“A very good one, thank you very much. I only do that
because I like saying it, and besides…hey, put that down! We’re
about to eat.” Kate stared sternly at her impulsive daughter.
Julie guiltily put down the apple she’d been about to
munch…then went on the attack. “How can we eat? Dad isn’t even
But Kate had her response ready. “He called and said he’d be
working late at the studio tonight. A burst of inspiration.”
“Oh, great…maybe he’ll write a song for me!” Julie said, as
she went to get a glass of water.
“Maybe he will.” Kate said, a little wistfully, as she looked
at her daughter. Even at a slightly awkward fifteen, the promise of
beauty lit up Julie’s face. In a few years, scores of boys would
doubtless be writing her love poetry and songs about her emerald eyes.
Julie had inherited all of her father’s dark good looks, with long
black hair and a slight figure. Kate sometimes thought she should
have named her Ariel instead…she was so like a sprite sometimes
in the way she moved. But it had been hard enough to convince Johnny
to let her name the child Juliet. Kate had only won that argument
by pointing out that Julie was a perfectly good nickname, and the
child wouldn’t be scarred for life with a difficult name. He would
never have let her choose Ariel.
Suddenly she was overwhelmed by a bear hug as Juliet threw
her arms around Kate.
“I love you, mom!”
Kate laughed. “I love you too, hon. But what was that for?”
“You just looked sad all of a sudden. Let’s eat!” Julie said,
with her usual impulsiveness, and they sat down next to each other at
the large tiled table.
Some hours later…
Kate gazed with apprehension at the glass baking dish. The
grease had caked on after four hours left sitting on the table, and
the cheese that had baked to the sides would doubtless take fierce
scrubbing to remove, since she had forgotten to put the dishes to
soak. She’d been so eager to start the new Card novel she had bought
that weekend, and she was enjoying it, though it wasn’t quite what she
had been expecting. Kate had gotten hooked on his Ender’s Game series
back when she was a serious science fiction fan, but this new novel
was more Stephen King-ish…a sort of family suspense, though thankfully
without the typical blood and gore. She sighed, picked up the baking
dish and carried it over to the sink. She filled the dish with hot
soapy water and then brought over the other things from dinner. She
was tempted to make Juliet do it, but the child had already started
practicing. Funny how it was such a chore to get her to do her
homework or wash some dishes or even read a good book, but she was
always eager to go and practice. Even when it was just scales, over
and over and over again until sometimes Kate wanted to go and slam
down the cover on the piano, Juliet had the most intense concentration
on the keys. The other thing, along with her looks, that she had
inherited from Johnny. She might be a brilliant pianist someday, but
Juliet’s shining personality was all her own.
As Kate settled into the comfortable rhythm of dish washing
she sank once more into reverie. Kate was known for being able to
drift into a daydream in the middle of anything. It was why Johnny
had forbidden her to drive a few months after they’d met; he was
concerned that she would start drifitng in the middle of a four-lane
highway and drift right over into the other lane…or another car.
Right now the tempestuous Rachmaninoff piece carried her back to a
summer seventeen years ago, when she’d been only an English major and
Juliet not even an idea.
Several years earlier…
Kate and two of her close friends had been attending a series
of classical music recitals in an effort to become more ‘culturally
enriched’. They were free graduate student recitals, and so far Kate
had only fallen asleep in one of them; a vocal recital by a very
intense young man singing in incomprehensible German and by a soprano
alternating with English madrigals. She’d enjoyed the English songs,
but couldn’t keep from dozing through the seemingly endless German
pieces. She’d kept coming though, usually with Beth and Ingrid as
company. Tonight, though, they’d ditched her for the promise of pizza
with two fraternity guys, so she was alone and lonely as she entered
the small concert hall. Determined to at least enjoy the music, she
sat in front, directly in front of the huge grand piano. It dominated
the room, flanked by some green ferns on one side and a probably
defunct pipe organ on the other. She couldn’t tell from that distance
whether the ferns were real.
The audience was particularly unruly that night, speaking in
loud whispers as they waited for the lights to dim and the recital to
begin. Kate caught snatches of the words “brilliant”, “temperamental,
though”, “so talented”, and a sighed “gorgeous” from a cute freshman
behidn her as the pianist walked across the stage and sat at the
“You’re not his type” his friend whispered snidely. “He goes
for leggy blonde babes.”
“I don’t care,” the slim freshman responded. “I can still
dream, can’t I?”
If you had asked Kate at that moment if she agreed with the freshman,
she couldn’t have answered you; she honestly hadn’t noticed. All her
attention was focused on his hands lying calmly for a moment on the
keys. Long, pale hands that looked as if they could easily encircle
her waist. Strong fingers that came crashing down on the keys as he
began the first piece. A delicate touch that later wound its way
wistfully through the andante movement. As the concert went on, she
couldn’t keep her mind on the music for the thought of those hands,
and how she wanted them on her body. She was so very lonely just
Hours afterward, she waited patiently near the pipe organ
while the crowd of awed well-wishers congregated near him. Kate
swayed lightly while she waited, a slight figure almost hidden by the
swarm of people. But somehow he saw her. Somehow his eyes locked on
hers for a brief moment and she smiled at him, offering…something.
Then he was caught in the people again and drawn away. It was after
midnight when the last one left, and he walked away towards the doors
and shut off the lights and she thought he hadn’t noticed her standing
there after all. But then he turned and came back to her. A question
was in his eyes as he leaned over her, his slim height dwarfing her as
she stepped out from the wall and into the light from the window.
Kate stood on tiptoe to answer, kissing him as her long auburn hair
fell away from her face. He kissed back, gently for a moment. Then,
as her arms wound up around him and she pulled him towards her sweet
body, the pent-up tension of the night and the long recital and the
many people broke over him in a wave and he was suddenly kissing her
He reached out and picked her up and placed her on the bench,
facing away from the piano. Slowly he unbuttoned her white cotton
dress, from its scooped neck all the way down to her knees where it
ended. Kate let go of him long enough for him to slip it off. She
was dressed in nothing else on that hot night in mid-August. He moaned,
low in his throat, and then was kissing and tasting and licking her
body, still fully dressed in his formal suit. She was pushed back by
the force of his touch and she leaned her elbows heavily against the
piano, creating an odd discordant sound as she arched up against him.
After a few minutes he picked her up and laid her down on the scratchy
institution carpet near the potted ferns. It was a long time before
she was able to check if they were real.
Eventually they surfaced, long enough to introduce themselves
and pick bits of crushed bitter fern off each other’s bodies.
“Kate. And you, of course, are Jonathan Q. Taylor.”
“Johnny, actually. Jonathan is to impress people who think
all classical musicians must be aristocrats with potloads of money.
I’m just a poor grad student from Denver, so I decided to fancy up my
name for the program. I invented the Q.” He smiled as he said it;
the first smile she had seen from him that night. That smile lit up
his long, brooding face which otherwise was a little too handsome, a
little too cruel. It was then that she decided that she wanted to see
“I love your smile” she told him later, when the light of
early morning was warming the room. He laughed. “No, really.” Kate
“I believe you.” Johnny said softly. “That’s why I was
laughing, actually. From anybody else, that would be just another
line, but I coudl tell you were telling the truth.”
“You just met me. For all you know, I could be a champion
liar.” Kate said, somewhat indignantly.
“Nope. Your eyes have this funny way of going all wide when
you really mean something. When you looked at me earlier in the crowd
they did that. I don’t think you know how to lie at all.” Johnny
Kate bristled for a moment, but then laughed and relaxed. She
wasn’t very good at staying angry, and he was so beautiful in the
light, with ferns hanging down around his shoulders. ‘Puck in the
woods’, she thought briefly. She told him, “My family says that
too…that my eyes go wide, I mean. I’ve never seen it, but I guess
Johnny smiled down at her, and she reached up to brush the
hair out of his damp face. “Let’s see whether I can get it to happen
again” he said, and stretched out his long, strong hands towards her.
Kate was brought back to reality by the shock of ice-cold
water on her hands. She jerked them out of the water, leaving the
half-scrubbed dish to fall back into the pool of soapy water with a
muffled clang. She’d been daydreaming long enough to run out of hot
water. Kate made a mental note to tell Johnny to wait until morning
to take his shower. The slow strains of a Chopin nocturne sang
sweetly in the night. Kate glanced at the clock and saw that it was
almost ten. Time to get Juliet off the piano bench and in front of
her textbooks. As she turned towards the hall leading to the living
room she noticed a small scrabbling noise. She glanced back over her
shoulder, and saw the shadowy shape of a figure through the frosted
glass of the kitchen door. She’d left the porch light on for Johnny.
Somebody was fumbling with the doorknob. She raised her voice in a
half-muffled call to her duaghter. “Juliet!”
“Coming…” Juliet continued playing – she had almost finished
the nocturne. The figure soon tired of his attempts to actually open
the door, and started pounding on it fiercely. The fragile glass
shattered under the continued assault, crashng inward in a few large
pieces and many tiny fragments. A hand reached in and carefully,
almost calmly, undid the lock and turned the knob. And then he was
The noise had brought Juliet running into the room, and as the
man entered, she stepped in front of her mother.
“I’m sorry about the glass,” he said softly. “You should have
just let me in.” Several days growth of beard hung heavy on his face,
and the scent of alcohol came clearly across the room. He stumbled
slightly as he stepped across the glass strewn floor into the carpeted
The women stood silently, Juliet poised to attack and defend,
Kate simply waiting to see what happened.
“This is a beautiful house, you know that?” he muttered.
“And that was beautiful music you were playing, dear. And you are two
beautiful women.” Juliet had changed for bed before starting to
practice, and stood dressed now in only a thin blue nightshirt. In
the wind from the open door it clung to her slender body, outlining
every half-developed curve.
“Julie, go upstairs.” Kate said quietly. Juliet looked up at
her mother, somehow managing to look pleading and defiant and
terrified all at once.
“No, stay, beautiful,” he said, reaching out a calloused hand
to touch her soft black hair.
“Go now, Julie! Just go!” Kate commanded. Juliet had flung
herself backward, away from the reaching hand and with one last glance
at her mother, she fled into the hall and up the stairs.
“What did you do that for?” he said, reaching out to grab her
shoulders and shaking her so her head swung back and forth. “Think
you’re good enough for me? Well, you’re not! She’s beautiful.
You’re old! You’re old and ugly!” His voice had risen to a shriek,
muffling the sobs coming faintly from upstais. He pulled back one
hand and slapped Kate hard across the face.
“No…” she said, pleading with him, almost inaudibly.
“What did you say! Shut up! Just shut up!” And with that he
shoved her to the floor and pushed up her skirt, holding her trapped
beneath him, pinned beneath his heavy weight. She lay there limply,
An endless time later…
He was sobbing. His head was cradled on Kate’s shoulder, his
arms pulled up tight against his chest, below her soft breasts.
Ordinarily, sobs like these would have torn at Kate’s soft heart.
Now, all she felt was the pain in her elbow where he had slammed it
again against the floor, a sharp, biting pain which somehow obscured
all the other hurts. All she desired was to get away, to take Juliet
and some money and run away from this house. Home ot Chicago, to
family, to old friends. Away from this wreck of a man sobbing in her
He finally stopped sobbing and started apologizing. Again.
“I’m so sorry, Katie; I’m so sorry. You know I would never
have hurt her, don’t you?”
“Of course you wouldn’t have, Johnny” she responded
mechanically, deciding to leave in the morning. He would go to the
studio in the morning, to sit in front of the piano and stare at the
blank sheets of paper, waiting for the inspiration that no longer
“She’s so precious to me. You are so precious, so lovely.
You two and music are all I have, you know that. You and music…”
He broke down into tears again, taking huge gasping breaths in
between. She held him against her and made soft murmuring noises as
she planned her escape. Tonight had been the end.
“I love you, Katie. Stay with me always? Promise me you love
me?” He tilted his head back so his sad dark eyes were staring into
hers, bleak with his despair. For a moment, her heart was wrenched
once more. Kate said, “Of course, Johnny. I’ll always love you”, but
in her mind she continued, ‘and I’m leaving you tomorrow’.
And her eyes were so very, very wide.
November 20, 1993