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Petrushka by Martin Green.


Don Selkirk picked up his iPad and sat down in his living room chair. He’d come home from playing tennis and had taken a shower. He was feeling pretty good. He was 75 and had slowed down a little but could still make some good shots. His wife Ruth was off somewhere, probably at a club or committee meeting. The Northern California retirement community where they lived had plenty of both.

Selkirk tapped a financial app on his iPad and checked the day’s stock market activity. His stocks, he was pleased to see, were up. They’d come back from their 2008 lows and financially he was doing well. Who’d have thought he’d ever had so much money back when he was in his twenties, out of college and drifting around?

The iPad was a recent acquisition. His son Gary, who was a software engineer, had insisted he get one. His desktop computer, he’d told Selkirk, was obsolete; devices like the iPad were the way of the future. Who’d have thought he’d have three sons, a software engineer, a lawyer, an advertising copywriter, all doing well. When he was 35 and still a bachelor his mother had given up on his ever getting married.

Selkirk tapped on a news app. The news was the usual: the economy still shaky, despite the rising stock market; the clowns in Washington still fumbling around; random shootings all over. Well, he was 75, he really didn’t care that much any more. He tapped on a music app he’d just installed. Curious to see what he’d get he typed “Stravinsky” in the search box and all at once heard the opening of ”Petrushka,” the tinkling sounds that herald the carnival. And just as suddenly, a scene appeared before his eyes, as if was watching a movie: he was in his college dorm room listening to “Petrushka” on a phonograph (did anyone know what those were any more?), while his roommate Byrd explained the music to him, his other two roommates also listening, serious Dave with a book and not-so-serious Lee just lolling around, tossing a tennis ball from hand to hand.

Selkirk rarely thought about his college days. When he did, he felt they were pretty much a waste of time. He certainly hadn’t made the most of them. But now he saw the old rickety furniture, the messy papers and books all over the place, which Dave insisted they clean up weekly. He saw Byrd, lithe and graceful, smart and sophisticated, the one who’d introduced him to music. It had started with Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” which Byrd considered his own theme song. Then on to “Petrushka,” then on to other composers. It didn’t stop there. Byrd was also a jazz fan. He’d taken Selkirk to the jazz clubs they’d had in Manhattan then. He’d also introduced Selkirk to the theater, taking him to Broadway shows that college students could still afford at that time. God, Selkirk couldn’t believe how ignorant he’d been back then. He’d been smart enough at his studies, that was how he’d gotten a scholarship, but he knew almost nothing about the outside world. He didn’t even know there was such a thing as Wall Street, not to mention stocks and bonds.

As Selkirk listened, the scene before him faded, as did his good feeling. His three roommates were now all gone. Not that he’d stayed in touch with them, but the alumni magazine that followed him no matter that he’d moved around the country and never given his address, always listed deaths. Dave had gone at an early age, then Lee, then Byrd. When he was floundering around after college, he’d thought about them, imagining their successes. It wasn’t a good time for him to contact them. Later, when he was finally settled down, it had seemed too late.

And now it was too late to tell them how much they’d meant to him, especially Byrd. And when he was gone? There’d be no one who’d remember those nights when they’d listen to music, discuss the issues raised in their philosophy classes, talk about anything and everything, then around midnight go to the cafeteria that was still open, have coffee and Danishes, flirt with the waitress, and continue to talk, talk.

He heard the door open and his wife Ruth came in. “I heard the music,” she said.

“Yes, Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’.”

“Are you all right? You look funny.”

“I’m okay. I might be getting a cold.”

“I’ll make some tea.”

“Good.” Selkirk turned off his iPad and went into the bathroom. He washed his face with cold water. That was better. He knew it was no use regretting the past. He knew Ruth was waiting for him to come out so they could have their tea and she could tell him all about whatever club or committee meeting she’d been to. But the music of “Petrushka” was still playing in his head. Maybe he wouldn’t listen to it again.



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